Sunday, December 27, 2009

#188 Obamacare and the House of Lords II

... because the U.S. Senate as it exists today (continuing from last post) is virtually bankrupt as a deliberative/legislative body. And this is why I can't blame the head of our Executive branch overmuch, and that includes the area of health care. He's fighting a formidable dragon--nay, dinosaur--in the shape of that most exclusive club in America.

First of all, like the old House of Lords left over from the monarchical ancien regime, our Senate can effectively veto or amend out of existence the laws made in the House of Representatives (our "Commons"). Further, the Senate itself is hindered from changing the law or making new ones because of its own obstructionist rules of order like filibuster/cloture--rules that are contrary to the majoritarian principles of the Constitution. The vox populi is thus choked with a double garrote.

The Voice of the People just doesn't seem to penetrate the walls of the Senate chamber. For example, only a handful of our popularly-elected President's judicial and other high-level appointees have been approved by the full Senate; the rest are being tortured on the rack by the star-chamber committees. All it needs is one Republican + convoluted parliamentary tricks to delay things forever. Opposition become obstruction. You surely have noticed lately, when you step back a bit from the fray, that the debate seems to be more about numbers than about ideas.

On another front, the majority of the "Lower House"--that is, Congressmen proportionally representing and doing the voting for more than half the population--PASSED a Climate Change bill. Months ago. The Senate has effectively vetoed this bill by ignoring it. While good things proceeded apace on a global scale in Copenhagen, our parochial little Senate embarrassingly mires this important problem in a parliamentary slough.

As to Health-Care Reform, the "Commoners" are for it. By vast numbers. According to the polls, three-quarters of us would rather NOT see millions of Americans suffer and die and lose half their minds and all of their money under the current system. To help correct it, a majority of us favors some sort of government-run program as an alternative to private insurance. Where have these voices of the people been heard?--the House, of course, logically so, and thankfully. On Nov. 7, H.R. 3962, the Affordable Health Care for Americans Act was passed, restoring those missing words from Obama's speech in August (DM #186). An Exchange will be established, a marketplace of insurance plans, it reads, "including a public health option."

Will the Senate hear the voice of the majority of the electorate speaking through the majority of the House of Representatives. Or hear those other representative voices in support of the House bill like AARP, the Natl. Nurses Union, and, surprisingly, the American Medical Association? Well, the Senate dropped Public Option long ago, and just yesterday Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is threatening to call for the REPEAL of the watered-down, Big-Med-friendly bill the Senate just passed! Arrogant and incorrigible is that most powerful and exclusive good-ol'-boys-club in the land.

No, if you want kill a bill, send to the Senate. Or have it originate there, and watch it die. The Senate works very well if nothing comes to a vote. That's because this modern-day House of Lords favors the status quo ante, no matter who's in the majority--ultimately no better than a minority for either party against the tyranny of obstructive parliamentary rules. Nobody's in charge. Takes sixty Senators to stop a filibuster according to the cloture rule; takes a preposterously arbitrary sixty-seven to CHANGE any rule, including the cloture rule! Totally UN-democratic, and, I would argue, against the spirit of the Constitution. Yet it takes but a handful of small-state Senate Republicans, representing about 5% of the American people, to bring the entire Legislative branch of our government to a halt.

Only solution: a populist hero in the House of Commons, umm ... Representatives, must introduce a bill--again I nominate brave little Dennis Kucinich--to abolish the United States Senate.
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Saturday, December 26, 2009

#187 Obamacare and the House of Lords

President Obama's vision for an equitable and effective American health care system by reforming the old one--a vision shared by about three-quarters of the electorate--is probably not in the cards this year or next. Goodness gracious, you ask, Why the hell not? This is a #$@ &%$# DEMOCRACY, for crying out loud. Well, not exactly: our system of government has never been a "direct democracy," on the classical Greek model, otherwise we would have all raised our hands, counted them up, and passed health-care reform long ago.

As a matter of fact, we're just about--take a bow--absolutely unique, in the annals of world history. Give us arbitrary labels like constitutional democracy, republic, representative democracy, etc., and their definitions are bound to be self-reflexive, and applying only to us. The closest to the American political system, the U.K., is only a tiny bit constitutional (Magna Carta/common law-wise), with rare recourse to judicial review, and so overwhelmingly representative as to be tantamount to complete parliamentary sovereignty. No separate Executive powers at all. But of course there used to be. They were called a King. However, even after Parliament installed the figure-head royals William and Mary in 1688, giving the precincts of Westminster absolute rule over the land--Constitutional Monarchy hadn't really worked too well since it's inception with Charles II--a kind of "executive-branch" VETO POWER resided until not so long ago in the House of Lords.

When I briefly touristed and balconied the "Upper" of the two Houses of Parliament--the queue for Commons was way too long--it was a cue for a nice nap. Our Framers modeled the U.S. Senate, as a conservative-compromise measure, on that legislative body of hereditary Peers of the Realm, who are now, however, not only non-hereditary and 100% appointed, but entrusted with primarily insignificant matters of ceremony and protocol. The day I was there in 1973, the heated debate was over something about the proper order of the harboring of boats on the Thames. As for making laws of any national consequence (read: involving money), they have been rendered virtually powerless. Moreover, there's always an annual, populist hue and cry to render them--in Britishese--"redundant" (give 'em the sack) altogether. Right now on the Commons table is legislation to abolish the existing House of Lords, unless it become 100% elected, and its name be changed to the "Senate"! For real. But it wasn't always thus.

As recently as the Parliament Act of 1911, the Lords had the power to reject laws enacted by Commons out of hand, or to amend them at will, even if unacceptable to the "Lower House." No longer. Even though they deal mostly with insignifica, all Lords legislation must, through negotiation, receive the imprimatur of Commons--the power of that popularly elected body being understood as always in the ascendant. Not so in the bicameral Congress of the United States. Our "Upper House" is the House of Lords of old ... (more)
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Thursday, December 24, 2009

#186 Obamacare and Obama

The Obamacare we knew and loved last year is simply no longer the same as what its Presidential namesake seems to be embracing now. Big difference?--the PUBLIC OPTION (you saw that coming, of course), or at least what is known by that lately taboo moniker.

Now that both the House and Senate have passed the threshold of passing their respective cobbledydoos, neither passing for real Health-Care Reform--What has happened to the likes of John Q. Public Option, a plan which is only a second-rate alternative for the real thing: Mr. Single Payer? For tax-payer-funded, non-employment-based, private-insurance-free (let 'em eat Life Insurance)--that is, truly universal health care, should have been the enlightened way to go. But even its shadow-self, the Public Option, lives only precariously in the House bill, while being entirely snuffed-out of existence in Senate deliberations fairly early on. Thanks to greedy Big-Med lobbyists and grafty small-state Senators.

Obama's campaign package last year included it. He loudly promised some sort of government-run alternative to private insurance, and furthermore said that in no way could he sign a bill mandating the latter's purchase, lacking a public alternative. Well, Public Option in the Senate bill is out, while Private Health Insurance Mandatory Everybody Must Purchase Policy Or Else ... is in. Yet Obama claims some sort of victory there. Would he break his promise and sign such a bill now, if, after conference-resolution, the Senate version in principle prevails?

As late as July of this year the President was still explicitly for the Public Option. Here's the key sentence from the transcript of his radio address:

Any plan I sign must include an insurance exchange--a one-stop shopping marketplace where you can compare the benefits, costs, and track-records of a variety of plans--INCLUDING A PUBLIC OPTION, to increase competition and keep insurance companies honest.
Strong, unequivocal, oath-like words. Yet one month later, things had changed. He made the same speech in August at historic Broughton H.S. here in Raleigh (DM #134), with a couple of telling exceptions. In the transcript, the first part of the sentence is exactly the same as above, but notice the glaring four-word lacuna in the second half, and the deferential replacement-phrase at the end :

Any plan ... an insurance exchange ... compare the benefits ... a variety of plans [oops here] to increase competition and keep medical costs down.
The Obama shuffle. He's a canny politician who seems to want any kind of WIN here--it would really be his first of real consequence--at any cost. (He's yet to navigate through Congress his AfPak "surge" funding, which, alas, he'll get.) But the President has a chance to redeem himself vis-a-vis Health-Care Reform. The House and Senate still have to negotiate and get their separate bills together as one. Obama swears to be in the thick of things. And he's got the little lever to move the world in the House version of the Public Option. Who knows?--maybe the rather less-than-scrutable guy has been in stealth-mode all along.
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Thursday, December 17, 2009

#185 The Middle-East Quagmire--a "Told-You-So" Quote w/o Comment


Headline, McClatchy Newspapers, 12/17/09:

Eikenberry Assures Afghans U.S. Will Stay Beyond 2011


KABUL, Afghanistan--U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry Thursday further signaled that a strong AMERICAN MILITARY PRESENCE WILL REMAIN in Afghanistan LONG AFTER July 2011, when President Obama plans to end his troop surge.

To the Afghan government: "Act with urgency." To the Afghan people: "We will not abandon you."

"After eight years of assistance to Afghanistan, many Americans and many members of Congress are impatient to see results," he said, while assuring that "OUR MILITARY COMMITMENT WILL NOT END OR DECLINE EVEN AS OUR COMBAT FORCES WITHDRAW"

Eikenberry suggested that the JULY 2011 DATE for beginning a U.S. troop drawdown is FLEXIBLE.

"THIS IS NOT A DEADLINE, despite what some people in the United States and Afghanistan have said," Eikenberry said. He added that American WITHDRAWAL in 18 months is "ENTIRELY BASED ON THE CONDITIONS THAT EXIST AT THAT TIME."
I'll let the forlorn soldier in Tom Lea's famed WWII painting, "The Two-Thousand Yard Stare," provide the commentary today.
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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

#184 "Whither ... the Testicular Fortitude ... ?"

To semi-quote my question from last post. Well, just today, some small amount of ball-age was discovered in the U.S. House of Representatives in the person of--defying human anatomy--Rep. Nancy Pelosi, Speaker. She represents one bicameral half of the Legislative branch of our tripartite Government under the Constitution-- as if you needed to be re-schooled after all the preceding bloggery--that is authorized as a Separate Power to hold the President in "check and balance." In this case, TO PUT A STOP to a BAD WAR.

As reported by McClatchy (on-line):

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Wednesday that it's up to President Barack Obama to persuade reluctant Democrats to FUND his Afghanistan troop build-up--his most important foreign policy initiative--because she has no plans to do so herself.
Put in overly-popular parlance ... that's balls. Though not mentioned in the the article, the elevated testosterone level is fully justified by that good ol' Constitutional clause proclaiming Congress's power "To raise and support armies ... [by] appropriation of money ... [etc.]" Stop the funding; stop the war; or, short of that, at least force a penniless White house and Pentagon to adopt different strategies to resolve this exercise in futility, and to get us the hell out. Which is what everybody wants. There are other ways to "win" a war than throwing troops at it. A Bush/Obama "surge" is another step deeper into the quagmire. It's heartening that a Pew poll reports that 51% of the American people are against escalation--to call it by its right name--even after the President's speech last week.

But it'll never happen. First of all, the troops are already on the way, despite the official Jan. 1 start-up date for the increase. In our military-saturated state of North Carolina, the government installations are emptying and deploying--Camp Lejeune disgorged a bunch of Marines last Friday, to a typically-hyped send-off.

Moreover, and crucially, Congress will NEVER stop the funding. It never has in recent history, and never will. Not as long as an Imperial Presidency is in power, and unchecked. Ms. Pelosi's intentions are good, but a funding bill for Obama's first escalation in March--the only one we can possibly forgive him for--passed EASILY through the House. This one maybe not so easily, but it will pass. Ironically, the opposition party, the Republicans, will make it a shoo-in.

Wouldn't it be nice if some wild-eyed, anti-war Representative--I'll nominate brave little Dennis Kucinich--wended himself over to the Supreme Court building and handed the Justices a brief. In it he would ask them simply to declare the undeclared war in Afghanistan unconstitutional ... and save us all a lot of trouble.

But, as the old proverbial exclamation goes, "Balls!" said the Queen, "If I had 'em, I'd be King."
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Monday, December 14, 2009

#183 Our Unconstitutional Middle-East Wars III

It's clear that both the letter and spirit of the founding laws of the land relegated the President to a decisively secondary role in matters of War. In that case only, by implication--no provision for a standing army--would Congress raise and regulate the armed forces needed, but would fund them for only two years. Supervenient upon all of this was the war-powers clause of the Constitution: "Congress shall have the power ... To declare war." Then , and only then, could the Commander-in-Chief lead those legislatively funded and regulated troops into battle. If he couldn't get the thing over with in two-years, however, the money would pro forma run out (a modern "sunset law"!). Interestingly, there's no provision for what happens when the money machine stops--because, I believe, the Framers just couldn't imagine any reasonable justification for American troops to be overseas in the first place, and consequently took no thought of an extended stay.

Now, every President swears to uphold the Constitution upon taking the oath of office. Up until mid-last-century that has seemed to work pretty well, at least in matters of war. President Wilson, a true man of peace--with his Nobel to prove it-- never really wanted to send my Granddaddy, Corporal C.A. Edmunds, to the Argonne Forest to get a bullet in his hindquarters, but he had to after the German's reneged on their post-Lusitania promise, and began again their unlimited submarine warfare. Wilson waited, however, for Congress in due course to DECLARE our entrance into the "Great War," before he put any American troops in harm's way "over there." In contrast, President Roosevelt was itching to send my several uncles overseas--not necessarily to lose their legs, as one did--very soon after the Germans were up to it again at the beginning of WWII. (He had been "lend-leasing" war-stuff like crazy to our future allies long before Pearl Harbor.) But FDR waited, nonetheless. Even after the foregone conclusion of the Japanese attack, he needed to make the famous "day-of-infamy" speech before Congress, and ask for its permission to go to war.

So what happened? Well, our Presidents have become Kings--fulfilling the worst fears of our Founding Fathers. Much has been written about the age of the "Imperial Presidency," and whether the imbalance between the separate powers began as early as FDR or as late as Nixon ... so I don't have to. Suffice it that we haven't had a "Silent Cal" in the office of Chief Executive since Coolidge. No, in the last 60 years or more they have led us into one UNDECLARED war after another, with disaster in every one of them. Like European absolute monarchs of old, they have reverted to making unaccountable warfare for illegitimate reasons--"glory, revenge, personal aggrandizement, partisanship," and in sum "to engage in in wars not sanctified by justice, or of the voice and interests of his people"--to reprise John Jay's words of two posts ago.

That's why the Separation of Powers is so important, Constitutionally, especially when it comes to War. That "Commander-in-Chief" moniker is likely to go directly to a President's head, and end up crowning it. John Jay was speaking of the declivities of European kingship; later in the Federalist Papers (#75) Alexander Hamilton (pictured above)--despite being a strong supporter of a strong Chief Executive--identifies the reason why American Presidents, if not held in "check and balance," could morph into Kings:

The history of HUMAN CONDUCT does NOT warrant that exalted opinion of HUMAN VIRTUE which would make it wise in a nation to COMMIT INTERESTS OF SO DELICATE AND MOMENTOUS A KIND, as those which concern its INTERCOURSE WITH THE REST OF THE WORLD TO THE SOLE DISPOSAL OF A MAGISTRATE created and circumstanced as would be a PRESIDENT of the United States.
Or, to translate this grand example of florid and involuted 18th-Century Ciceronian prose into modern idiom: You can't trust 'em. Or, power corrupts, and absolute power ... etc. It's only human nature, in Hamilton's decidedly Hobbesian view. So he tries to reassure his audience that such abuse of power on the part of our "magistrate" concerning "intercourse [love it] with the rest of the world [read: War]" would be impossible under the new Constitution, because such power would simply NOT be there in the first place. In no way would the President's authority be similar to that of an Old World Monarch in matters of War:

... in substance [his would be] much INFERIOR to it. It would amount to NOTHING MORE than the SUPREME COMMAND AND DIRECTION OF THE THE LAND AND NAVAL FORCES ... while that of the British King extends to the declaring of war and to the raising and regulating of fleets and armies; ALL OF WHICH BY THE CONSTITUTION WOULD APPERTAIN TO THE LEGISLATURE.
"Nothing more ... " Alas. Whither has gone the testicular fortitude of the Legislative branch of our Government? Or of the Judicial branch, for that matter? For what's happening today under the Obama administration ex jure, and what has happened forever under the legislative aegis of the "Gulf of Tonkin Resolution " of 1964 (Johnson), or the "War Powers Resolution" of 1973 (Nixon) or the ""Authorization of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution" of 2002 (Bush)--is all of it clearly UNCONSTITUTIONAL. At least as the Founding Fathers would see it.
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Sunday, December 13, 2009

#182 Our Unconstitutional Middle-East Wars II

The Founding Fathers, the authors of the Federalist Papers, and the Framers of the Constitution presumed that with its adoption they exempted America from the ever-ongoing warfare that had devastated Europe for centuries. They were pretty much right, for about 150 years (the 1812 thing being an unfortunate Revolutionary leftover). Excellent work, by any standard. It was only in the cause of self-defense that we had to fight the two World Wars, but they violated the letter of the Constitution nary a jot nor tittle. Congress declared; the President warfared--in each case, and in that order.

And the letter of Ur-Constitutional law is strict! More so in matters of war than the chicken-hawks in Congress would want to acknowledge, even as they self-servingly cry out for "original intent" in most matters of Constitutionality. The BlogMan is no Constitutional scholar, but he can point out the words, and it turns out that the wily old Signatories of our founding document (pictured above) had the President pretty much hog-tied when it came to War--by what they said, and didn't say. Whether one calls it "strict construction" or "original intent" or something else, a close reading of the relevant passages makes one wonder how in the world Iraq and Afghanistan could be happening, or that Vietnam ever did.

For there are two other "clauses" touching on War, while never saying it, in that gang of eighteen under Section 8 of Article I--entitled "Congress shall have the power ..."--in addition to #11: "To declare WAR ...." One of the others is this: "To raise and support ARMIES, but no appropriation of MONEY for that use shall be for a longer term than TWO YEARS." For troops and materiel of any kind and anywhere. And for, to repeat, only two years. That's about right. If we count, over the last few decades, only the ludicrous invasion of little Grenada, and the even more risible, "rock-n-roll" occupation of Panama.

And who will be in charge of these two-year wonders? Why, the Commander-in-Chief, of course. Nope. Congress. For further down the list (there's no real logical order to the thing) comes the third clause: "To MAKE RULES for the GOVERNMENT of the LAND AND NAVAL FORCES." In other words, the Legislative branch would seem to be in complete charge of who and what and where they are. The whole megilla. Moreover, when you put all three clauses together, it appears that those venerable Constitutional Conventioneers (my heroes more than ever), meeting in Philadelphia long ago, intended for the Congress, in times of both War and Peace--insofar as any federal Armed Forces were concerned--to be in charge, while not necessarily leading one.

That would fall to the President and Commander-in-Chief, as per the next Article of the Constitution, "Executive Power." Right? Well, so it may be inferred. For this Executive role is far from clearly defined, and far down the list of relative importance--nay, if anything it seems to be little more than a ceremonial appointment. Again, it's not awarded a whole Section, and this time not even a whole Clause. Here's Article II, Section 2, Clause 1, "Command of military; Opinions of cabinet secretaries; Pardons"--

The President shall be COMMANDER IN CHIEF of the ARMY and NAVY of the United States, and of the MILITIA of the several States, when called into the actual SERVICE of the United States; he may require the Opinion, in writing, of the principle Officer in each of the executive Departments ... [etc.]; and he shall have power to grant Reprieves and Pardons ... [etc.].
Notice that the post of warrior-chieftain has about equal status with committee chairman and pardoner ... to overstate. But notice too: nothing about the Army and Navy at war, as if the Framers were somehow reserving that term for Congress, for its powers back in Article I. And they didn't envision a standing army, anyway, so the appointment would be a relatively empty one. It would be Congress actually running the military, remember, and furthermore the Framers truly didn't envision any future wars, on their own soil or any others' --a state of mind totally and sadly lost to us today.

Much less would they have predicted some future military-garbed Commander-in Chief-manque' who might parade around a carrier-deck in foreign waters with a "Mission Accomplished" sign behind him. Nor would they have envisioned the President sending the "Militia" of the several states to some overseas desert-outpost, either. The military "Service" they had in mind in that second half-sentence for what is now the National Guard would be to fight the Redcoats if they had the temerity to come back (they did) ... but mainly to put down riots. Which ... if there were a major one today ... would be a major problem, since all the soldiers of our state militias are out-of-state by about 10,000 miles. (more)
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Saturday, December 12, 2009

#181 Our Unconstutional Middle-East Wars

Can you just imagine the reaction of Jefferson, Madison, or Adams ... or Franklin, Hamilton or Jay (at right) ... or a fortiori George Washington, he of the "avoid-foreign-entanglements" valedictory--when confronted with the question: "Sir, What do you think of our current President sending an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan?" Okay, I know this little bit of business borders on the intellectually naive, but, playing along, if you could get an answer before they all dropped dead all over again in apoplectic shock, you know what it would be. Beginning with the obvious, even in the 18th Century: "Why, son, everybody knows that Afghanistan is the Graveyard of Empires! How did our troops get there in the first place?!" This would be followed by myriad other founding-fatherly objections. So very many, and so well-known, that I can leave them to you. Except for Constitutionality.

Though I'm sure many were swayed by the President's speech last week--I predict his approval ratings going up a few notches (which is good for doing good in other crucial areas)--but for those who legitimately were not ... take heart. Not only would the Founding Fathers find the Bush/Obama [oops] desert adventures preposterous, they would declare them gravely unconstitutional. Nothing new here, I know, but it should be said again. In fact, "WWOFFD?" might be a good T-shirt blazon for the kids in these war-anguished times. But really, it's what our FF's wouldn't do that is the point. If they were in Congress, the vote to DECLARE such military adventurism would simply never have come up. Constitutionally, the CONGRESS makes war; only then does the PRESIDENT wage it. In that order. It's a little more complicated than that today, for one reason only: the War Powers Resolution of 1973.

More of that later, but first: it's surprising just how little is said about War, in the Constitution. No single Article of the seven is devoted solely to the subject, nor a single Section of an Article. In fact, it's only THREE WORDS of one half-sentence, located in Article I, Section 8, Clause 11, bundled up with 17 others of seemingly equal importance like coining money, establishing a post office, and pursuing pirates. Under the general rubric introducing the Section--"Congress shall have the power ..."--will appear in due numerical course the little #11: "To declare war, grant letters of marque and reprisal [i.e. seizure of property], and to make rules concerning captures on land and water." That's it.

So little is said, I believe, because there was so little concern. The Framers apparently thought their wars were decisively over. And with the new and improved version of the (flawed) Articles of Confederation, now to be called the Constitution of the U.S., foreign powers just wouldn't have a chance against such an undivided national state. It also didn't hurt to have a vast ocean between us and Europe, either ... and NOT to have a KING. Wars would henceforth be a European problem, the "sport of kings"--as it had always been--on the hunting grounds of a fractious and fragmented Continent. A newly "constituted" America would be immune to all of that, and by its very nature immune from making such senseless warfare. John Jay argues as much in three of the Federalist Papers he authored, dealing with the influence of foreign powers. Here's an excerpt from FP #4:

It is too true, however disgraceful it may be to human nature, that nations in general will make war whenever they have a prospect of getting anything by it; nay ABSOLUTE MONARCHIES will often mke war when their nations are TO GET NOTHING BY IT, but for the purposes and objects MERELY PERSONAL, such as a THIRST FOR MILITARY GLORY, REVENGE for personal affronts, AMBITION or PRIVATE COMPACTS [Halliburton, Blackwater?] to AGGRANDIZE their particular families, or PARTISANS. These and a variety of motives, which affect only the mind of the SOVEREIGN, often leads him to to engage in WARS NOT SANCTIFIED BY JUSTICE, OR THE VOICE AND INTERESTS OF HIS PEOPLE. But INDEPENDENT of these inducements to war ...
But are we? Well, we don't have a Monarch, but an "Imperial Presidency" has sufficed for the past six decades. (more)
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Thursday, December 10, 2009

#180 Obama/Gates and the New Culture of War II

By far, Obama's most haunting sentence from the AfPac War speech is the first one from the "Stonewall Jackson" paragraph quoted in last post:

So as a result, America will have to show our strength in the way we end wars and prevent conflict.
"Prevent conflict," though loosely open-ended, would seem to be benign, if our preventive strategy up to this point hadn't been blood-thirsty interventionism. But it's the phrase just prior that really set me to shaking in my Libertarian boots--"THE WAY WE END WARS."

Look to the logical sub-text: wars are a given, and America's involvement in them so inevitable that it's not the conflict itself but rather the OUTCOME that becomes most important. We'll show 'em, you betcha. I guess how we handled the end-game in Iraq can stand as a model for all nations--IF it weren't for the fact that we'll be quagmired in the *&%$# @$#& place for generations to come. A lot more practice would seem to be in order for "future wars."

And that's how Defense Secretary Gates puts it ... almost. Contrary to one of my favorite Boy Scout songs ("Down by the Riverside" based on Isaiah 2:3-4 )--"Gonna put away my sword and shield ... Ain't gonna study war no more"--Bob Gates and his minions are gonna, with a literal vengeance. Study war, that is. (Even though I'm sure he was a Boy Scout, too.) In a 60 Minutes interview (via HuffPost) last May, Gates spoke of how the Pentagon would support Obama's renewed focus on Afghanistan:

I wanted a department that could frankly walk and chew gum at the same time, that could WAGE WAR as we are doing now, at the same time we PLAN AND PREPARE for TOMORROW'S WARS.
"Tomorrow's wars" ... alas. Once again, I say it's long overdue that we return to the original name for what Mr. Gates is Secretary of--Department of War--for so it has ulteriorally been since McNamara. How did this Republican neo-con get into the Obama administration, anyway? But he's not the only one. In a NYT article (rptd. HuffPost July '09), one Michele Flournoy (interesting first name?) was profiled and quoted in her evidently influential capacity as Undersecretary of Defense for Policy. So doubtless she was present for the three-month colloquy on Afghanistan. That being the case, her contributions perforce reflected the following mentality:

A major question ... within the Pentagon is how to balance PREPARATIONS for FUTURE counterinsurgency WARS, like those in Iraq and Afghanistan, with PLANS for conventional conflicts against well-equipped potential adversaries like NORTH KOREA, CHINA, OR IRAN. [a breath-stopping "Hoooooly Shit!" is needed here ... sorry]. Another quandary, given that the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan have lasted far longer than the American involvement in World war II [a simple "Noooo Shit" will do here], is how to PREPARE for conflicts that could TIE UP AMERICAN FORCES FOR DECADES.
So I suppose we might as well get used to the new culture--nay, "cult"--of war in America. Shouldn't be that hard. Sooner or later, in her dystopian view, becoming accustomed to serial and perpetual warfare would seem to be as easy as sitting down to the family dinner table. For Ms. Flournoy blithely concludes that, since the conflicts of tomorrow are a complex mixture of conventional battles, insurgencies, and cyber-threats,

We're trying to recognize that WARFARE may come in A LOT OF DIFFERENT FLAVORS IN THE FUTURE.
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Wednesday, December 9, 2009

#179 Obama/Gates and the New Culture of War

Let's return to those two disturbing (to me) paragraphs in the text-version of Obama's AfPak speech last week. Not only has our new President allied himself with the failed policies of the last administration in conducting the Middle-East War--is Robert Gates really a secret Bush/Cheney mole?--but Obama has apparently pledged us to a future and perpetual state of war. The BlogMan hopes he's wrong.

The speech, however, did little to dispel that notion. Before making it, the President and his advisers went under a "cone of silence" about the war for three months for a "review" of its current conduct:

... the review has allowed me to ask the hard questions, and to explore all of the different options along with my national security team, our military and civilian leadership in Afghanistan, and with key partners [?]. Given the stakes involved, I owed the American people--and our troops--no less.
And what did this heavy-duty "brain-trust" come up with? A "surge." They might as well have phoned it in. More aggression, occupation. This is the best they could do? Of course the premises dictating the context of the confab were probably all wrong to begin with for any hope of peace. To be fair, Obama has said forever that he would pursue the war in Afghanistan. But then, if so: what was the three-month deliberation all about. There might have been a glimmer--Obama now having seen the blood at his feet and the slough of carnage on the horizon--that he could have taken the right course and get us the hell out. Statim. But no, too much I fear of "Defense" Secretary Bob Gates and General Stan McChrystal--career militarists--in the mix for that.

You can hear them in those two ominous paragraphs of speech-text, which I'll re-quote with emphases added, beginning with:

Let me be clear: none of this will be easy. The struggle against violent extremism will NOT BE FINISHED quickly and it EXTENDS WELL BEYOND Afghanistan and Pakistan. It will be an ENDURING test of our free society, and our LEADERSHIP in the world. and unlike the great power conflicts of and clear lines of division that defined the 20th century, our effort will involve DISORDERLY REGIONS and DIFFUSE ENEMIES.

Watch out you "disorderly" peoples ... we'll send in the troops. And to qualify as "enemies" of America, you don't have to be terribly well-defined. To be a "diffuse" threat is good enough. And then there's the next one:

So as a result, America will have to SHOW OUR STRENGTH in the way that we END WARS and PREVENT CONFLICT. We will have to be NIMBLE and PRECISE in our use of MILITARY POWER. Where al Qaeda and its allies ATTEMPT to establish a foothold--whether in Somalia [has he forgotten total failure there?] or Yemen [?] or ELSEWHERE--they must be CONFRONTED by GROWING PRESSURE and strong partnerships.
Res ipsa loquitur. C'mon ... Can you read the above as anything less than a retro-manifesto of America as Policeman of the World? There can be little doubt that Obama has decided to cinch the mantle of War-President tightly about him. And moreover to take very seriously the "commander" part of Commander in Chief. Just listen to his "military power" being "nimble and precise" and exerting "growing pressure." Sounds like a tactical field-manual. Might as well have been Sun Tsu or Napoleon or Stonewall Jackson on the TV podium last week. I can hear old Stonewall now (from his letters) positing his like-minded kind of military strategy in, eerily, much the same words: "Find the enemy and strike him, invade his country ... move swiftly and strike vigorously ... and always keep the skeer on him."

Too bad it's against the rules of the Nobel Committee to award the Peace Prize posthumously. (more)
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Monday, December 7, 2009

#178 The Middle-East War: Withdrawal-Withschmrawal

Despite President Obama's disclaimer in his AfPak speech--"We do not seek to occupy other nations"--yes we do. Although the blood-letting of American troops in Iraq seems to be down to a trickle, for the latest example, the poor civilians of that quasi-nation still donate blood by the gallons, and since we're responsible for re-starting our bellum absurdum there, we'll have to be there to catch it, or not, but be there just the same ... and OCCUPY the hellish place INDEFINITELY. That's simply the way America and its Armed Forces have operated over the last 60 years ... with only one exception: Vietnam. But more about that, and even Germany, later.

Wisely therefore, while Mr. Obama gave us a definite time-span of 18 more months for war ... not so for withdrawal. I think he knows in his heart that once he has now taken this fatal step toward escalation, there's no getting out. To avoid that, Obama would have to do the right thing, the Monte Python thing, and "Run away, run away"--something that for some reason no President has ever done. Even though it's common sense in every other walk of life. Cut your losses; don't throw good money after bad; know when to hold 'em ... etc., etc. But nooooo, le jeux sont faix now for Obama, and the losing roll of the dice can be read easily "between" the following lines:

Taken together, these additional American and international troops will allow us to accelerate handing over responsibility to Afghan forces, and BEGIN the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011. Just as we have done in Iraq, we will execute this this TRANSITION RESPONSIBLY, taking into account conditions on the ground. We will CONTINUE to advise and assist Afghanistan's security forces to ensure that they can succeed OVER THE LONG HAUL.
Already, just yesterday, even these fuzzy time-schemes ("begin" is the weasel-word in the first sentence) have begun to be eroded by Obama's own people--namely Gates and Clinton--who spoke to the only definitive date of July 2011 as being far too early, thereby pushing the imaginary withdrawal schedule even farther into a vague future. In the Graveyard of Empires.

No, as much as our President would like to deny it--

For unlike the great powers of old, we have not sought world domination. Our union was founded in resistance to oppression. WE DO NOT SEEK TO OCCUPY OTHER COUNTRIES. We do not claim another nation's resources [not oil?] or target other peoples because their faith or ethnicity is different from ours [not the "gooks" of Vietnam?].

--we're there to stay. It's our history. For speaking of "empires"--we've got one, whether we like it or not. Bill Maher sounded the alarm last week on his HBO show. He did my homework for me, accompanied by his inimitably scowling wit. Enjoy:

Forget about bringing the troops home from Iraq [or Afghanistan]. We need to get the troops home from World War Two! Can anybody tell me why in 2009 we still have over 50,000 troops in Germany, and more than 30,000 in Japan? At some point these people are gonna have to learn to rape themselves ... Bush and Cheney liked to keep us all sphinctered up about how terrorists might follow us home. But actually we're the the people who go to your home and never leave. These are the facts: America has over 5000,000 military personnel on over 700 bases, with troops in 150 countries. We're like McDonald's with tanks. Including 37 European countries, because you never know when Portugal might invade Euro-Disney ... And why? How did this country get stuck with an EMPIRE? ... The reason is that once we land in a country, there is no exit strategy. We're like cellulite, herpes, and bad Irish relatives ... we aren't going anywhere. We love you long time.

Over the last half-century-plus, starting with Korea and no end in sight, the only exception to this rule has been a country that Bill didn't mention: Vietnam. We got outta there. On no uncertain terms. Therefore, the Vietnamical corollary to the American Invasion and Occupation Rule must be: The only way to be rid of the our military presence, once it's there, is to wait for it to devastate your country completely; to kill hundreds of thousands of your civilians collaterally; to sacrifice the lives of over 50,000 of its own senselessly; and, most important, for it to be defeated ignominiously. As for you folks in Afghanistan?... not quite there yet. We're destined to "love you long time."
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Saturday, December 5, 2009

#177 Obama and Serial Warfare

He's for it. At least that's one way of reading his Tuesday night speech justifying the AfPak escalation. The President offered little in the way of cure for our seeming addiction to military interventionism over the last 60 years (see my recent"Veterans Day" series)--especially from Vietnam onwards. You'd think there might be some positive "aversion therapy" coming out of it all. But no. The drug is apparently a powerful one. Here's the big giveaway close to the end of Obama's speech:

The struggle against violent extremism will NOT BE FINISHED QUICKLY, AND IT EXTENDS WELL BEYOND [!] AFGHANISTAN AND PAKISTAN. It will be an ENDURING test of our FREE SOCIETY, and our LEADERSHIP in the world. and unlike the great power conflicts and clear lines of division that defined the 20th century, our effort WILL INVOLVE DISORDERLY REGIONS AND DIFFUSE ENEMIES. [emphases added]
Good, I'm glad he narrowed it down. I'm sorry, but this sounds too ominously like Obama's fellow-Democrat and former President, John F. Kennedy, who got us into worlds of trouble in Southeast Asia. No more perilous four words --foreign, at that--have perhaps ever been spoken than "Ich bin ein Berliner" from his famous 1963 "jelly doughnut" speech, mentioned earlier (DM #170). JFK was proclaiming himself not only a citizen of Berlin, but a member of it's police department, and by extension taking on law-enforcement duties for the rest of the world. But he was simply reiterating more colorfully what he promised at his inaugural ("auguring" ill in foreign affairs for decades to come) two years earlier:

Let EVERY NATION know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall PAY ANY PRICE, BEAR ANY BURDEN, MEET ANY HARDSHIP, SUPPORT ANY FRIEND, OPPOSE ANY FOE TO ASSURE THE SURVIVAL AND THE SUCCESS OF LIBERTY ... This much we pledge, AND MORE.

The "and more" footnote is the killer. It's been getting us in trouble ever since. And don't we see these broad, fight-for-freedom-at-any-cost-anywhere brush-strokes re-limned on Obama's palette? Moreover, what are we to make of our President's vague "disorderly regions" and "diffuse enemies" that our "free society" might have to contend with in the future? Just as in Kennedy's speech, Obama is writing himself a carte blanche for military adventurism that can be cashed anywhere around the globe.

And he proves it in the very next paragraph ... a scary one, to my mind:

So as a result, America will have to show our strength in the way we end wars and prevent conflict. we will have to be NIMBLE and PRECISE in our use of MILITARY POWER. Where al Qaeda and its ALLIES attempt to establish a foothold--whether in Somalia or Yemen or ELSEWHERE--they MUST BE CONFRONTED by growing pressure and strong partnerships.
"Nimble" is a bit glib, don't you think? At best ill-chosen. It noisily warps into "Barack-be-nimble, Barack-be-quick" for me, unfortunately. (Yes, I'm angry.)
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Friday, December 4, 2009

#176 Afghanistan: Obama's Big Mistake

I'll give credit to Fox News, usually a big Obama-booster, for pointing out that not once during Tuesday's AfPak-escalation speech did the President use any form of the word, "win"--because he's too smart for that. He might "succeed" in waging temporary war for 30 billion for 18 months and getting us out in, let's say (because he didn't), another 12. That's 30 months, to be conservative and kind. But what's really filling up these empty calender dates and monetary figures? Thousands upon thousands of human lives ... lost.

And not just Americans, of course. I should repeat the following facticity about our hapless Middle-East War with every post: we kill TWICE as many civilians, as "collateral damage," than the militants do in deliberate attacks. Wouldn't it have been interesting if Obama had aligned his cost-of-war-calculus with "actuarial" life-or-death outcomes. "Let's see," he might have said, "at the current rate: x-number of U.S. soldiers killed per day + xx wounded + xxx horribly mangled in body and soul PLUS xx enemy soldiers killed and wounded + xxx non-combatant civilians including kindly old men, pregnant women, and fresh-faced schoolkids = a total of umpteen whothehellknows thousands for 30 months." Ka-ching.

But Afghanistan will be "secure." There's the rub. Al Qaeda notwithstanding, the President's speech in no way convinced me that we should give a rat's ass if that corrupt quasi-nation is secure or not. Sorry, THE AFGHAN PEOPLE ARE JUST NOT WORTH IT. As I've said before, at least in Vietnam we were dying senselessly for a better class of human being. In order to be sure you'll read it, let me reproduce (just this once) an excerpt from an earlier post (DM #167). It emdodies all that's WRONG about these people, their country, and our sons and daughters giving up their lives for it. Headline:

Father murders university-student daughter for falling in love with British soldier; police release and congratulate him ...

According to the Guardian (UK) May 2008 article, the father, Abdel-Quader Ali, works as a government employee in Basra. He was not charged, but rather put on salaried leave because of "bad publicity." He is still a free man. Moreover, in an interview, he takes pride in an act that he says any Muslim would do, if he honored his religion. "God is blessing me for what I did," he says. "Death was the least she deserved." Actually she got more. Torture. Mr. Ali stomped, suffocated, and finally stabbed the 17-year-old to death. When her mother screamed in horror for the girl's brothers to save her ... they instead joined in the carnage. Says the father, "My sons were men enough to help me finish the life of someone who just brought shame to ours."
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Thursday, December 3, 2009

#175 American President Sends 50,000 To Their Deaths in Afghanistan

I'll stand by that headline. For that's what Citizen Obama did Tuesday night. Why-oh-why is it that American Presidents--Republican or Democrat--grow up to be cowboys? Who like to shoot foreigners. He made the worst decision of his life.

Essentially here's what he said: Vital American interests ... need to secure Afghanistan ... sending additional 30,000 combat troops ... 18 months ... then withdrawal. So very precise! We know better.

Let's look at the numbers in terms of people and time. First of all, it ain't just 30,00o additional Americans who will be put at risk of their lives and limbs in that benighted and god-besotted land. Nope: Don't forget about that silent head-count of support personnel. As pointed out earlier (DM #167) in connection with his "troop-surge" in March, Obama will have to send an auxiliary 18,750 people-worth of engineers, intelligence experts, medical staff, military police, etc. That's the pentagon formula: 2500 non-combat folks for every 4000-member brigade in the field. BUT AN I.E.D. LAND-MINE DOES NOT DISCRIMINATE.

Obama tried to get away with this technicality last March, until it was leaked that his "modest" figure of 21,000 new troops really involved 34,000 Americans going off to war. And now he's doing it again. We are free therefore to revise his latest "surge" of 30,000 to a corrected figure of 48,750 soon to be in harm's way, on foreign soil. We can perhaps forgive his increasing the troop strength very early after taking office. It was Bush's war after all; maybe extras were necessary to help get the thing over with. But it's been eight months since then. He's self-admittedly had plenty of time and counsel for deliberating the decision of probably his administration, if not his life. There can be no pretense anymore of cleaning-up his predecessor's mess--this is stark ESCALATION. None dare call it aggression, I suppose.

As for the time involved? Fuggedaboutit. After 18 months we'll have to get out the carbon-dating kit. And the imaginary withdrawal period after that? We've got to pretend to win/lose the war first, and yet we've been on the verge of withdrawing for the last eight years. Really, I'd rather not take up any more "time"addressing an almost a self-ironic proposition. Except for this: At not a single moment during the decade we were at war in Vietnam did anyone ever dream that it would go on year, after year, after year. Until it did.

And THAT, Blogmanfans, brings me to the biggest disappointment in his speech. His dismissal of the lessons of Vietnam. In fact, I was shocked when he came out with the following:

First, there are those who suggest that Afghanistan is another Vietnam. They argue that it cannot be stabilized, and we are better off cutting our losses and rapidly withdrawing. Yet this argument depends upon a false reading of history. Unlike Vietnam ...

And I was truly amazed at the sophistry employed in making his argument from that point on. Even the "Giuliani" mantra of 9/11, 9/11 could appeal at this point only to the die-hard chicken-hawks over at Fox News--who faulted him, by the way, for not sending enough troops--or the jingoistic wing-nuts in Congress (and their tiny, absurd constituency) to whom he seems to have capitulated. Okay, not only is there a difference in pronunciation, but Afghanistan is not spelled the same as "Vietnam"--the former requires, first of all, a greater number of letters from the alphabet, some of which quite dissimilar from those of the latter, and arranged in a different configuration altogether. Most telling, I suppose , is that the two countries do not occupy the same planetary space.

But "a false reading of history"? Ye gods ...
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Monday, November 30, 2009

#174 Veterans Day ... V--the Home Front

We're all veterans. All of us alive today are literally and etymologically "old ones" (Latin root vetus, Fr. cognate vieux) when it comes to war--when it comes to the common-sense-defying serial warfare that America has been waging for the last 60 years. The war-weariness of especially us Vietnam-era, "home-front vets" has been insufferable Then not much more than a decade later we get Grenada, Panama, Iraq; then Yugoslavia, Somalia; then Afghanistan, Iraq again; then Afghanistan again, and now Pakistan--dumped on us. Hey, you VFW's had it easy, fighting from the gut--unphilosophically!--over life and limb, while we were left here state-side having to worry and brood guiltily, obsess morally and politically over whether you guys were getting dead and disabled for a just cause. Give us a break.

But can you imagine such a pollyannish poster above being hung anywhere in America today without invoking peals of derisive laughter? I don't know ... maybe if Lady Victory were sowing poppy-seeds. Yeah, that's the ticket. Plant a back-yard garden so our surplus agriculture can go to feed the lately impoverished Afghan farmer and his drug cartel. In the dark days of WWII, though, Americans were serious about their patriotic support, and homeland sacrifices, for the troops overseas. (The muscular Rosie the Riveter poster, which I'm sure you've seen, captured the spirit best.) Since I was born during that war, I would have (unknowingly) shared with my parents some of the hardships, such as food and gas rationing, associated with the war effort on the home front. Some of that is still with us: like my parents and grandparents before them, I always refer to a little improvised horticultural patch as a Victory Garden.

No, I'm happy to say that the better angels lurking in the heart of the American people have NEVER shown that kind of unequivocal support for war, after what I consider the warning-knell of Korea--so aptly nick-named the Forgotten War, at least until M*A*S*H used it purely as an anti-Vietnam metaphor. Since then, the Electorate has been about evenly split about undertaking a foreign war, and then, very soon after--prompted I believe by some Founding-Father super-ego in us all--we're against it. All it seems to take, thankfully, is a bit of hard-nosed TV coverage--and now the internet--to expose military adventurism gone wrong. A few body-bags and bloody-stumps will do it. Okay, not any more. We have to back-exstrapolate from coffins--recently banned from coverage--and V.A. hospital interviews. The ONE THING that Bush and Obama seemed to have learned from Vietnam: don't let the Free Press get too close to the blood and guts, or the people at home will turn against you. Notwithstanding, I take heart in the fact that the majority of Americans now disapprove of our war in Afghanistan, and that many of those polled mention Vietnam.

My first three sons are too old to serve, and safe, but not my last. Remember, it was inconceivable in the early 60s, when JFK began planting a few U.S. "advisers" here-and-there in Southeast Asia, that 50,000+ Americans would die there. But it happened. He was sowing dragon's teeth. My real concern, though, returning to the starting point of this series, is How much longer must my children and grandchildren be subjected to the mental and moral anguish of America at war? That's no small thing. I'm un-scientifically convinced that us war-babies and baby-boomers would have much healthier psyches if we weren't witness to the ceaseless shock and awe of Vietnam. Wasteland carnage ... destroyed villages ... coffins and body bags ... disfigured and all-but-disgraced VETERANS, many of whom are still with us. Sound familiar? The indelible My Lai Massacre has already been replicated a couple of times in the Middle-East War.

Yet lately I've been hearing oxymoronic noises about "WINNING the war in Afghanistan." Will you have a part in Victory?
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Saturday, November 28, 2009

#173 Veterans Day ... IV--Onwards and Backwards into Afghanistan

Yet another uncle of mine, by marriage--I had a bevy of good-looking aunts--was, like his father-in-law (yes) Corporal C.A. Edmunds, a veteran's veteran. Even more so. First of all, no mere Gumpish wound to the buttocks for Uncle Frank: during the Allies' last great squeeze that would stifle Nazi Germany and lead to V.E. Day, an exploding land-mine took off both of the infantryman's legs below the knee. What's more, after his state-side convalescence, the Veterans Administration its-very-self figured to put him on the payroll. Hey, a double-amputee war-vet with great spirit and an ingratiating personality (he had one) = perfect P.R. He worked with the V.A. till retirement, which he and my aunt are still enjoying in Florida, alive and well in their late-eighties. Talk about a survivor.

Uncle Frank got along well with or without his artificial limbs. Without was better. Not as much pain--pain that has never completely gone away. Whenever this particular war-hero uncle (among several on all sides of the family) took off his cumbersome prostheses and his no-heel-or-toe socks, we kids--especially this First Nephew--were allowed to cop a feel. Of his scarred and be-wrinkled stumps. After all, it was a cheap massage. And while we were always squirmifiably embarrassed, he seemed totally un-self-conscious about the whole thing. For me, at that young age, it was nothing less than exhilarating. In touchy-feeling the effects of a just-short-of-deadly land-mine, I was magically transported to the European Theater of the Second World War. Right down into the battleground of exploding meat and gristle. My WWI Grandfather Edmunds would TELL me bed-time stories of his battlefield escapades (literally: he was in a tactical retreat when he got the bullet to the bum)--my WWII Uncle Frank could SHOW. Just as well, because he never talked about it.

Getting around without prosthetic help, my uncle looked exactly like Specialist Andrew Soule', 25, pictured above, R&R-ing along the Salmon River in Idaho. An Afghan war-vet, he was blown up by a land-mine, too. (La plus ca change ... indeed.) It was by way of the Middle-East species of land-mine called an I.E.D. We've talked about them before (esp. DM #131). The device carried out its incendiary ambush beautifully, destroying a truck and effectively deleting at least one enemy soldier. To get Forrest Gump-ish once more, it may not have been the kind of "deactivation" that Specialist Soule' would have desired to mark the end of a military career--his cinematic counterpart, Vietnam-wise, was double-amputee "Lieutenant Dan," who would rather have been killed ... martyred heroically in the CAUSE. "Dulce et decorum est ..." again: Sweet and righteous it is ... to die for one's country. Gary Sinise's character in the movie descended into disillusionment and despair when he didn't. Only a Hollywood denoument would save him.

Problem is ... since WWII there has been no cause. No casus bellum to die for, or sacrifice body-parts over. My grandfather's wounded hind-quarters helped defeat the Kaiser; my uncle's lower-extremities helped pay for victory over the Nazis. Just wars. And these were veterans who were proud, and proudly welcomed home, after righteously defeating the aggressor nations on foreign soil. No such happy homecomings have been in store for American veterans ever since. But, please, nobody tell young Andrew (my second son's name) Soule' that he lost his legs for nothing. (more)
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Thursday, November 26, 2009

#172 Veterans Day ... III--the Great Sequel

The Germans, though, were finally forced to throw in the towel at the end of WWII. No wimpy armistice here. Not a stand-off, cease-fire, truce. Rather, abject and unconditional surrender on the part of Nazi Germany; total victory for the allied countries. It was Victory in Europe Day, celebrated everywhere on 8 May 1945. In this famous snapshot, a Georgia sailor-boy, sent into battle by my Granddaddy Edmund's draft board, jubilates the occasion in Times Square. Well ... could of been. He's never been indisputably identified.

Again we got in late; again we won the war for them. And once again we reluctantly fought a perfectly righteous, DEFENSIVE WAR. We hadn't quite yet developed our penchant for belligerent interventionism that has characterized our foreign policy forever after. On the defense, and surviving veterans, were two of my blood-uncles from either side of the family. One of them was the son of that same WWI Cpl. C. A. Edmunds, named Pierce, who served in the second one as a rear-turret gunner. "Tail-Gunner" Pierce. Considering that assignment's casualty-rate, no need to point out how lucky he was to be alive to celebrate Veterans Day later in November of that victorious year. But wait ... it was still officially Armistice Day. Only WWI veterans need apply. And moreover it was still meant to be a sort of Wilsonesque PEACE celebration. But the war in the Pacific hadn't ended yet, really for years to come, as it turned out. Korea, Vietnam, and all that.

For even when it officially was, it wasn't. It seems to me that getting entangled in the "Pacific Rim" in the final stages of WWII--we had to, of course--was our undoing for another 60 years. The wars started to pile up-- interventionist, non-defensive wars carried out, for the most part, on the other side of the planet. And the VETERANS!--they now began to run into the millions. It must have occurred to some folks in Congress that the current "honor-thy-veteran" Armistice Day just wasn't cutting it for those un-dead warriors returning from battles fought apres WWI. So after the Korean War, a bill was passed and signed by President/General Eisenhower on 26 May 1954 extending recognition on Nov. 11th of every year to ALL armed-service veterans of ANY war, or no war at all. But here's the wrinkle: it was still to be called Armistice Day! But this, apparently on second thought, wouldn't quite wash. So on Nov. 8th of that year--in the nick of time--an amended bill was sent and signed, re-naming the federal holiday "Veterans Day." All pretense of any association with peace-making was thus permanently abandoned.

And rightly so. We were by then the policemen of the world, and would remain quick on the trigger for the rest of the century and beyond. Just this little bit of perspective should do it: TOTAL TIME American forces fought in BOTH World Wars = only HALF the time our troops have been fighting in Afghanistan ... so far. The Germans after the "Great War" had it right all along: Volkstrauertag. Mourn your heroic war-dead once a year (our Memorial Day) and be done with it. Veterans? Fugeddaboutit. We're all veterans. Moreover, veterans now could be veterans all over again after the next war ... and the next ... (more)
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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

#171 Veterans Day ... II--the Great War

My Granddaddy, Corporal C.A. Edmunds avoided the American cemetery at Flanders Fields, though several of his squadron are buried there. It was almost wiped out during one of the final Allied offenses against the Germans. It was in the Battle of Argonne Forest that he was Purple-Hearted in approximately the Forrest Gump area of his lower torso--"only a flesh wound." Not only did he survive the War To End All Wars, he was one of a handful of WWI vets alive when he died just a few months shy of 100. In fact, he became the veteran's veteran: as head of his county's draft-board for many years, during WWII and beyond, he was responsible for manufacturing them.

But who could have predicted that next war? Surely not my grandfather, ready to limp back to his Georgia farmstead. After all the obvious carnage that the new modern mode of warfare could produce--killing and maiming and warping a whole generation ... surely the Great Powers would have learned something from the "Great War." (To see how la plus ca change ... please refer to DM #127-129, the "Dulce et Decorum" series, where WWI France could double for today's Afghanistan.) They did, and didn't.

Germany, for one, never really accepted defeat. They didn't have to, technically. The war ended in an armistice = a cease-fire, a truce, a stand-off, if you will. Not a formal surrender--though the harsh terms imposed on the Germans, treaty-wise at Versailles, would make it appear so. Not surprisingly, what the allies celebrated subsequently and variously as our Armistice Day, Le Jour de l'Armistice in France and Belgium, and Remembrance Day in the British Commonwealth, was NOT and never-ever would be observed as such in Germany. For them, Nov. 11th became a memorial all right, but not for peace. The annual Volkstrauertag (trauer = "mourning") is for their fallen warriors, heroically dead on the losing side. Could just as well be called Valkyrie Day. Point is ... they never gave up. And thus the sequel to The War To End All Wars was less than one generation away.

The American commanders seemed to have a sense of this in the last days--indeed the final moments--of WWI. I alluded to Monty Python in the first paragraph, and here I'm indebted to one of them, Michael Palin, for providing an interesting sidebar on the events of Nov. 11th,"The Last Day of World War One" (BBC-2008). He hosted (and co-wrote/produced) a documentary so-entitled that was re-run on PBS this Veterans Day. According to the TV-doc, the allied officers in the field, especially our own "Black Jack" Pershing and his minions, were out for German blood right up till that "eleventh hour of the eleventh ... etc." Hostilities were officially to end at 11:00 pm, but everybody on both sides KNEW that the railway-car armistice would have already been signed at 5:00 pm on that day (news spread fast betwixt and across the densely populated trenches). So ... would the allied officers give these long-suffering Tommies and Doughboys a break? Not on your Nellie Duff. During the 6-hour interval, in order to punish the aggressor Kaiser-kampfers to the last possible "detail," the allies launched further offenses along the line, gaining meaningless territory, and senselessly losing more lives. The last to die was a Canadian, at one minute to eleven.

Fortunately ... my grandfather, Corporal C. A. Edmunds, A.E.F., was presumably resting comfortably somewhere behind the lines, nursing his backside. (more)
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Saturday, November 21, 2009

#170 Veterans Day--Raining on the Parade

Last week, while our non-vet Commander-in-Chief Obama continued to weigh his options vs. the Middle East War, Veterans Day (officially non-apostropheed, as if nobody wants ownership) was celebrated all over our lucratively-militarized state of North Carolina. It rained all over, too. Parades were canceled or marched indoors ... and I'm glad, rhetorically. In order to make a historical point. (There is a sufficiency of war-vets in my family to memorialize, thank you.)

Originally, November 11 was Armistice Day, federally ordained one year after the fact to commemorate the signing of the (lit.) "arms-stand" agreement ending WWI hostilities at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. It's still celebrated as such by our then-allied countries in that "war to end all wars." It didn't. And I'm unaware of any cease-fire pacts being signed lately. No, let Veterans Day stand rather for this country's perennial war-mongering, it's inexhaustible capacity find itself at-war with someone--somewhere and everywhere--serially and seemingly all of the time. In this soon-to-be former decade wherein my young grandchildren took their first steps, they have not known a moment of at-peace.

It wasn't always thus.

I think that in 1919 the world was genuinely optimistic--having seen the apocalyptic havoc that modern warfare can wreak--that we really weren't going to go through that again. After all, President Wilson and the American "dough-boys" had won the "Great War" in Europe in record time once we got into it, and the planet once again seemed "safe for democracy" ... except in the U.S. Senate. Wilson's idea of the League of Nations was well on its way to becoming reality across the old and newly-coined democracies of Europe (and remained so sans U.S. till after the next war), and everybody signed-off our President's famous "Fourteen Points" for achieving a lasting peace ... except the U.S. Senate. That's right, the world's greatest deliberative body misread the League of Nations treaty as Health-Care Reform, defeated it, and paved the way for WWII.

Okay, I suppose the German people must again share the blame for the latter. Really all of it. What's the old saw?--"Get one German together, he broods; get two together, they argue; get three together, they march." Or something like that. And so the first half of the last century was an era of uncalled-for defensive war, on our part. We resisted entry into both world-wars till the Germans sunk our ships in the first one, and the Japanese did it again in the second one. Ah, the good old days. Nobody really wanted to fight the second one, the caught-by-surprise devastation of the first still holding most nations in shock ... except for Germany. Appeasement was the order of the day, until it was too late. Perhaps this was the sinister and ultimately self-defeating lesson learned and carried over to second half of our last century and dribbling over into this one, that has made us--sometimes in collusion with the latter-day League of Nations: the U.N.--so damnably interventionist. Kennedy's "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech sums up our long-distance blood-lust over the last 60 years. Ancient-Germanically though my blood may course, the Blogman has no wish to be a citizen of Berlin. I really do wish JFK had meant, "I'm a jelly-doughnut"--for so the urban legend goes that he misaligned his word with a (for-real) popular confection--but, in context, he didn't.

At 11:01 pm, Nov. !!th 1918, my maternal Granddaddy Cliff, by-then-veteran dough-boy, might have celebrated the Armistice with a jelly doughnut, but not with a Berliner. The young Georgian, Clifford Alonzo Edmunds, Corporal, American Expeditionary Forces, and his squad had already killed enough of them. That fellow on the right above looks a bit as he did, compared with our old photograph, taken at the same time and place. (more)
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Friday, November 6, 2009

#169 Hung Up ... on the Cross of Gold

Now here's the proper logo for Blue Cross, Inc.-- rather than the one in last post. Money. Coin of the realm. This is an Italian-Euro commemorative, which more accurately reproduces their countryman's "Vitruvian Man"--Da Vinci's famous anatomical flirtation with Hindu mythology (I must presume). A pretty coin ... silver center with perimeter gold, yet the image is still hauntingly cruciform.

What's stopping Health-Care Reform? To be honest, and to my shame, it's a question that I hadn't thought much until recent political events put it unavoidably on the table. Full disclosure: my kids were raised on Blue Cross (of SC). Employer provided. Never had to think twice about it; everything was covered. But things have changed; consciousness has been raised--especially about the un-covered.

To reduce the thing to its lowest intractable denominator: we must insure the un-insured. And the under-insured. Big-Health won't do it, for axiomatic reasons--they won't make a profit. Not to rehash a whole bunch of posts (but q.v. anyway if you will), short of the ideal, Single-Payer, the only ameliorative strategy at hand is non-profit Public Option, taxpayer supported. We can bail-out the banks and auto companies => we can give succor to the poor and sick ... dammit.

What's stopping Health-Care Reform? A more instrumental question: Why are our representatives in Congress having such difficulty in passing such obviously necessary legislation? Okay, the answer is also obvious at this point. But never has it become so clear just how closely some of our law-makers are tied-up with the "moneyed interests"--to use an old-fashioned term--than in the last few months. Put simply, these people are being PAID-OFF. And they're selling-out for sums tantamount to Graft and Fraud.

Just one example from my July post, "What Shall It Profit a Man ... " (DM #133). At that time the WashPost reported that Max Baucus, Inc., Chairman of the crucial Senate Finance Committee, had since 2003 received over $3 million in cash-money from Big-Med lobbyists--mainly health-care providers and insurance companies, including, of course, Blue Cross, his biggest supporter. They weren't just sending postcards back then. (The ranking Republican, Chuck Grassley, got only $2 million--hey, he's a Republican. An anti-Obama vote is in the bag anyway.) Sure enough and predictably, the Senate Health Care bill was voted out of the Baucus committee WITHOUT the Public Option, four months later.

What shall it profit a man ... ? Indeed.
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Thursday, November 5, 2009

#168 Hung Up ... on the Cross of Blue

The official heraldry disturbs, of late. Haven't checked with BC&BS on this (though I'm sure that not a single BlogManFan has any doubts as to where this is ultimately going)--but I assume the logo is meant to invoke DaVinci's famed drawing, "Vitruvian Man" (itself a little weird), in a highly stylized and minimalist way. Too minimal. We don't get to see the hands and feet, where the NAILS have been driven in.

Okay, not in DaVinci either. But what follows are a few things that have pointedly waxed me wroth about the Health Insurance giant over the past several weeks--even as Congress, too, continues to be "hung up" on Health-Care Reform legislation. Could have picked any of the Big-Med offenders, I guess, but Blue Cross of North Carolina is so eminently typical, and seems to have such an inordinately large and particularly malign influence over our local TV channels, and apparently over their advertising budget, as well.

Two weeks ago a Blue Cross P.R. flack got some air-time decrying Reform in any form, especially, of course, what he called the "government-run" option. This is news?! A complete simpleton can understand that it would cut into the profits of a profit-driven outfit. But spokesman Bob Greczyn--a handsome, avuncular, very white man, including hair--couched his opposition in familiar user-(un)friendly terms: "Oh yes, the consumers would ultimately suffer. It would cost billions and billions of dollars and raise OUR taxes by over 68% [?], and we'd have to pass that along. Insurance rates would definitely go up."

Two days ago ... what happened? You guessed it. Blue Cross filed for an 11% rate increase with the NC Insurance Commission. I must have missed the news report that Congress had passed the Public Option.

Was Bob Greczyn back on the tube? Nope. The NC State Employees Association, a quasi-union (we're still in the South, after all), got wind of it--along with some other BC&BS under-the-table shenanigans--and made the news. State workers are for the most part insured (read: monopolized) by Blue Cross--in fact, it insures more people overall (70%) than any other company in North Carolina--and they called a news conference to protest.

But here's what really got their goat: they discovered that, at the same time it was asking for a rate increase, Blue Cross was spending money on postcards sent to its vast roster of insurees, urging them to oppose the Public Option. By phoning up their Congresspersons, or some such. Which amounts to increasing rates to subsidize lobbying, or so it seemed. Outrage ensued. In fact, the State Employees Association announced their own web-site in rebuttal (closest they could get to a picket line) called, defiantly, stopbcbs.com. After the rally, a not-at-all-chastened Blue Cross guy was interviewed, and denied everything, saying in the process--get this--"What's happening in Washington is gonna cost 'em a lot more than a few postcards."

He's right about that ... and so very wrong. Postcards are a pittance compared to the exorbitant prodigality of the Big-Med expense account. Has nothing, not now or ever, to do with Washington. As mentioned in an earlier post (DM #120), a non-profit Public Option would save 20-30% right off the top because it would be NON-PROFIT. A tautology, forcryingoutloud. StopBCBS.com was quick-on-the-page to point out that "the virtual monopoly of Blue Cross of NC earned $186 million in profits for 2008--and paid their CEO nearly $4 million." They might have added that this in no way includes the "overhead" expenses for lobbying, marketing, and advertising--costs that the Feds wouldn't have to worry about at all. I'm reminded again of the quote by the overmuch-wooed Republican Senator Olympia Snowe (now there's a name) when asked why she couldn't support the Public Option: "Well, the Insurance companies might go out of business; they couldn't compete." She was serious.

And finally, speaking of advertising--Blue Cross occupies the most air-time on local channels than any other business. (This is what really got me started.) It's about equal to car dealerships. During the half-hour segments on our 24-hour news channel where the above stories were aired, for example, you might see two or three 2-minute spots for Blue Cross. Over and over. And targeted at the un-insured--"Those of you out there who need to buy your own insurance," the ad goes. Evidently seventy-percent of the insurance business in North Carolina can never be enough. Ironically, one the pitches in the ad is that "together we can help keep health-care costs down." By spending millions on advertising. Bruxism time.

With apologies to William Jennings Bryan, that's not really a blue cross up there: untold millions of Americans are being crucified on a cross of gold.
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