Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Difference

It has been an interesting weekend; exploring the Internet and reading some of the blogs I follow.  Thanks to a site called “Legal Insurrection” I learned how some are dealing with what I would call buyers remorse, and how a conservative personality has created a University.
This article from Salon shows the emotional outpouring of the liberal author who fails to grasp the root causes of his hero’s failure, but carries the tired old war on capitalism and the evil right as the villains premise.  Thomas Frank, "We are Such Losers."

On the other hand I found the YouTube talk Who are the Racists? from Prager University interesting and logical.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Random Thoughts on Saturday, October 25, 2014

There were those who voiced outrage over the government’s response to the Hurricane Katrina/New Orleans disaster, using it to condemn the Republican administration.  Now there are those who voice outrage over the government response to the Ebola threat blaming the Democratic administration.  Perhaps we would be better served if we recognize a government that tries to do everything for everybody will do nothing well. Regardless of who is in charge?
When a group of people destroy businesses in the name of protest they shouldn’t be surprised when the business owners decide to move away and leave them with nothing but the destruction they wrought upon themselves.
Does threating large-scale protest if a jury does not find someone guilty really inspire confidence in our judicial system?
Why do we make newsreaders celebrities? What special talent do we think they have, beyond reading a teleprompter?
If a medical doctor is unwilling to appropriately quarantine himself during this “self-monitoring” period why would we believe an average citizen will?

Voter ID and Voter Fraud – both have their proponents and opponents.  Some claim the potential for large-scale fraud is so small voter ID is not required, and that having an ID disenfranchises those who are unable to get one.  We never hear about the percentages of those who would be disenfranchised.  How many potential voters are we talking about?  Is it 10, 10,000, 100,000 or more?  The Chicago political machine has a long history of supporting voter fraud, so they should be able to address the voter ID rules in the same way.  In fact, they are moving to the next level where regardless of which candidate you select on the machine the Democrats get your vote.  Remember -- in Chicago death is no reason to stop voting.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

No, There is no Bias Here, Move Along.

This is the kind of spin journalism that makes me question whether young people are capable of rational thought.  The headline alone makes me mad.  The basic premise that voters are driven only by emotion and the author’s belief that voters actually conspire to punish the President insults me, both as a voter and a rational citizen.
Mr. Newman spends his time explaining how great the President is doing compared to his predecessors but then goes on to say that while his performance on job creation, lowering unemployment and GDP growth are ho-hum, the stock market has done great, but that is really because of the policies of the Federal Reserve Board, and he doesn’t really control that anyway.  He also points out the stock market is quiet possibly on the verge of a correction, which I think we are seeing now.  So by the Newman’s own reckoning this President’s performance is to give it a word – average.
What we have seen for the last six years is a President who is more interested in condemning the opposition than seeking solutions.  Someone more interested in fund raising than raising America’s standard of living.  An individual focused on party politics and shifting blame than in solving the tough problems the nation faces.  With this kind of admiring press rationalizing his failures why should we expect different.
So let’s take a look at what he has done for the average citizen.  At the cost of rising deficits he has pushed a national health care law that will make the insurance companies and hospital corporations billions while significantly increasing the national debt.  Those who do not buy insurance will pay a penalty, if that part of the law is actually enforced by the IRS so at the end of the day taxes will go up either through increased insurance premiums or directly to the IRS.
In 2011, the median household income was $49,000.  Adjusted for inflation that is below what it was in 1989[1]
Last year 71% of college seniors graduated with an average of $29,400 in debt.[2]  It appears this push to make everyone attend college will make the colleges and bankers rich, but what will it do for the students?  Ms. Warren, D-MA, is arguing for debt relief, but I don’t see anyone talking seriously about controlling college tuition to make it truly affordable.  That would force the not-for-profit institutions to actually live within an actual budget and control costs, not something they are very good at.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics,[3] in 2013 there were 75.9 million workers age 16 or older who were paid at hourly rates.  Of these 4.3 percent were paid at or below the $7.25/hour federal standard.  Of that 4.3% roughly half were aged 16-24 and worked part time (less than 32 hours/week).  This issue seems to get an awful lot of attention when we are talking about 3 million workers out a total labor force of 156 million.  I think we would be better served talking about how to employ the roughly 9.3 million men and women who are actually unemployed.
As we know the President has spoken at length on both these subjects, but to what useful purpose.  To my way of thinking his use of these issues is not to really improve the lot of the common man, but to simply further his political agenda.  For the first two years of his term he had both the House and Senate solidly behind him and chose the most divisive legislation possible to push through.  Since then, with a Republican house and a Democratic senate he has pursued an agenda to stall all legislation, and upset the checks and balances our constitution provides.
So at the end of the day what will be the motive for the average voter?  To bolster the non-productive policies of an Executive and Congress that seems more interested in the division of the nation, or to reject those policies and seek a different course.  This whole idea that the average voter sets out to punish an individual by voting for the opposition reflects the fundamental mindset of the writer that personality is more important than substance.  I reject that mindset, as does the rest of the average middle class voting block. 


Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Cost of War

"Arms alone can give the world no permanent peace, no confident security. Arms are solely for defense -- to protect from violent assault what we already have. They are only a costly insurance. They cannot add to human progress."

President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Address before the American Society of Newspaper Editors, Statler Hotel, Washington, DC, 4/21/56
The financial cost of this long war is staggering, and because it is fueled by Islamic hatred of the West, in particular the Judeo-Christian societies of Europe, America and Israel, it offers no near-term resolution.  But dollars and debt are not the greatest cost we will pay in this war.
There is a slow realization among the military leadership of the terrible cost of conflict on the human spirit.  I am not sure the civilian politicians can ever grasp the price this nation is paying with our future. 
In past wars we sent our soldiers, sailors, airman, marines and coastguardsmen off to war, they fought until either the war or their service was over, they were led by a small cadre of professional officers and non-commissioned officers, but for the most part they were volunteers or conscripts.  They historically fought as a unit, and were relieved as a unit.  There were exceptions of course, and we saw in the Vietnam War the idea we could just send the draftees over for their term and abandon them back into society.  What we didn’t know then, but should now, is the psychological trauma that war imparts on the survivors.
With this war we are sending our professional warriors back into the crucible time and time again.  I guess the simplest analogy would be to compare the impacts to concussions in football that are so much in the news these days.  We ask of our young men and woman unimaginable things, and they deliver time and time again.  I was fortunate this weekend to listen to the stories of an Air Force Master Sargent, who has served as an Explosive Ordinance Disposal expert for 12 years, talk of his experiences during four tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, and how he is dealing with the post traumatic stress from being blow up three or four times, watching his friends die, seeing young children torn apart by the bombs placed by the Islamic extremists that he could not safe, or blew up without realizing they were near by.
He talked about how we are just now realizing that skilled counselors, who can cut through the walls they build to protect themselves, can provide the tools to help understand and cope with the damage that has been done.  He spoke of four pillars of resilience that form the basis for successfully coping with the trauma and horror they experience. 
First comes the mental pillar, how can those who’ve seen so much find peace with the horrors?  The critical concept centers on something I’ve understood for a long time.  You have got to understand the demons, sort through what you can control and let go of what you can’t.  We see this exact same concept summarized in the serenity prayer that forms the basis of recovery in Alcoholic’s Anonymous.  God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the tings I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.  At the end of the day mental strength and recovery comes from an acceptance that only you can control your life and the hard choices must be yours and yours alone.
Next is the physical -- study after study shows that through proper diet and exercise the body improves and strengthens the chemical make up and supports the individual’s mental strength.  There is a story of an extremely obese man who suffered from severe depression.  His doctor had advised he was suffering from heart disease and he sought a way to commit suicide that would not be so obvious and affect the insurance payments to his wife and family.  So he set out one day to run until he suffered a heart attack which he new he would surely bring on.  Having no breath, he ran for about a mile before he collapsed in exhaustion and waited for the attack.  It did not come, so he slowly walked home vowing to run harder the next day.  Needless to say he ran so hard he collapsed again.  He repeated this every day for a week, and all the sudden he realized he had lost weight, his breathing had improved, and his outlook towards the future was different. If we want a positive outcome in our lives we must start with care of ourselves.
Then comes the social aspect of resiliency.  We need to value and accept our friends and family and not be afraid to look to them for the strength and compassion we need to make it though the rough spots.  Those who are alone, or feel so alone they are not part of a larger group are the most likely to have problems in their recovery from PTSD.  I would suspect, although I’ve not done the research, this is one of the biggest contributors to the large number of Vietnam Veterans who came home from the war, hating everything around them, who sought refuge in drugs and dropped out of society.
Finally, and certainly not the least important, is the concept of spirituality.  The recognition that your life serves some higher purpose and power.  If your choices are always about self-gratification then you will make increasingly poor choices.  For you to make sense of life and society you must have something to anchor your moral compass to, to turn to when you have to release what you can’t control and to help balance your needs and those of the larger society.

Please keep these in mind if you see someone who seems to be lost and searching for a way to deal with the day.  Don’t be afraid to talk with them, a small word at the right time can be the difference between a life well lived and a life tragically cut short.

Friday, October 3, 2014


I am one of the lucky ones.  I’ve led a life that was of my choosing.  It was not perfect, as I am not perfect.  I have made my choices, and for what those choices were worth, I’ve accepted the consequences.  I suppose it would have been nice if I had been born into a family where my parents encouraged me, and helped me achieve a greater potential, but as I look back, they shaped me into who I am.
As a conflicted teen and young adult I was not a very smooth individual, and perhaps that is true to this day.  I lacked the confidence to be myself, but for some unknown reason I knew who I was, and what I must become.
Fate, or the hand of God, has brought me to this place and this time.  I see the future and I remember the past; I find myself fulfilled more in the passing of knowledge than in the achievement of fame.  Perhaps, just perhaps, because I embrace a philosophy of stoic resolve that creates a comfort in being a quiet professional.
So let’s talk about some truths, or more correctly some Special Operations Truths[1], for I think they are valuable reminders not only for Special Operations, but also society.
Truth 1:  Humans are more important than Hardware
This is really the core of what makes Special Operations different from the conventional force, and if business and the government embraced it would reflect a significant philosophical shift in priorities.  For the USAF this is probably the hardest idea to grasp, for if you trace back to our foundation we’ve always been about technology.  Given a choice between getting the right people and getting the newest aircraft we will always choose aircraft.  Not once in a while, but every time.  We may talk about our people, and reflect on the value of our people, but they seem always to come second to the technology our leaders need.
And isn’t that true of business as well?  We seem to lose sight of the fact that a corporation is made up of individuals, with hopes and aspirations.  When the top of the corporation makes it about themselves and their lives they forget about the workforce that has grown the business and hopes for success so they can continue their lives.
Truth 2:  Quality is better than Quantity
One of the things that has characterized Special Operations has been its relative size to the larger organizations.  This truth is embraced by the US Marine Corp and has been at its core since 1775.  Looking back to Roger’s Rangers, Francis Marion, on to the Rangers, Raiders, and Air Commandos of World War II, we see getting the right people, training them to the highest standards and expecting excellence in their performance will pay dividends in ways that no one expects.  We see the same thing with a group of airman who, despite the oppression of the military in the 1940’s rose up to become legendary in their ability to protect the bombers they were assigned to escort.  Of course I am referring to the 332nd Fighter Group.
As a society we celebrate those small organizations that rise to the top, how do they do it?  What separates a Tesla from a GM?  What makes Honda different than GMC?  What has allowed the companies of Kia and Hyundai to rise above Chrysler and Ford in profitability?  Fifteen years ago Hyundai was viewed as a disposable car, I don’t think that is true today.  Why?
Truth 3 and 4:  Special Operations Forces cannot be mass-produced. Competent Special Operations Forces cannot be created after emergencies occur.
If you accept that quality is more important than quantity then obviously the screening and selection of the best will result in a time consuming processes.  One of the things that troubles me about our society is we think we have to treat all people equally and a child’s self esteem demands they win or be recognized for playing.  The special operator will dig deep within themselves and when others will surrender and go home, they will not allow themselves to fail.  This quality is what separates those who show up and those who succeed.  Expecting that you can find and nurture these attributes whenever you want leads to a false sense of accomplishment and failure.
Unfortunately we American’s have never understood this and have allowed those rare and unique people to be cast aside by the politicians who can never understand the mindset of those who would sacrifice their life for a friend.
What I see in the self-centered world of our business is that corporation leadership does not understand these truths any better than our politicians.  They will, without consideration of the skills, release the experienced personnel who’ve made the business in the hopes of hiring a cheap replacement.
Finally, truth 5:  Most Special Operations require non-SOF experience.
This speaks to the idea that as a small force Special Operations cannot do everything itself and expect to be successful.  I assume it was also recognition to appease those who would feel threatened by the elitism of a special unit.  If we look back to the Raid on the Son Tây prison camp we see a great example of how the US Navy flew diversionary raids to get the radar systems looking in the wrong direction.

[1] There are a number of possible sources for these, it seems reasonable it came from a 1987 Congressional report, and is authored by USA (Ret) COL John Collins, although I’ve heard them attributed to others.
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