Thursday, November 11, 2010

Veterans Day 2010

[Full disclosure:  I am an American military veteran.]

Here it is again, Veterans Day, likely our most misunderstood day of remembrance.  If you are a veteran I thank you for your service and I join my fellow Americans in honoring you.

It began in honor of those who served in WWI, a war that ended at 1100 on 11-11-1918.  It is celebrated elsewhere, named Remembrance Day or Armistice Day.  It was Armistice Day here, too, until 1954 when it became Veterans Day.  It was the fourth Monday in October from 1971 to 1978, in the frantic quest for more 3-day weekends.  That was settled in 1978 and it helps us remember what it commemorates.  It was a near-universally observed American holiday once, now not so much.

This is Joseph Ambrose, now gone as are all his fellow WWI vets.  They served in the War to End All Wars.  It didn't though.  He's carrying his son's coffin flag, KIA - Korea, 1951.

How many American armed conflicts can you count?  Not all of them, I bet.  Too bad.  Those veteran's sacrifices are already forgotten.  That's one of the reasons we honor them today.  Did you know that there is a memorial at SGU honoring US dead?  I didn't either.  SGU?  Southern Grenada University.  May I ask, how many war memorials on campuses near you?  Fewer than there should be?

Memorial to fallen Americans in the 1983 invasion of Grenada.

They're veterans too, of course, those fallen 19, as is everyone who ever put on an American uniform that they didn't want to wear, got that first brutal haircut, learned things they never knew existed ("pugil sticks", anyone?), were sent places they didn't want to go in order to do things that they usually didn't want to do.

We especially remember those veterans who were taught to use lethal weapons and told that they had to kill people that they didn't know much about, and about whom they were told almost almost nothing that was true.  Then they were sent home to pretend that nothing much really happened at all.

This isn't Memorial Day.  That day is dedicated to that special cross-section of veterans who gave all in the defense of their country, killed in the line of duty.  Maybe you've read my Memorial Day blogs.  If not, I hope you'll take a look at this one and this one and remember our fallen warriors every day.

No, this is Veterans Day.  We live among you, we work next to you, we share your fears and passions and dreams.  We may have gotten to our place in the world differently than you but here we are.  Some don't like us, some revere us too highly but mostly we are the background music of America.  Music like this, as sung by Ray Charles.  He usually started with the third verse, the verse that speaks directly to veterans, then sang the first, so that's the way I'll write it here:

America the Beautiful

O beautiful for heroes prov'd
In liberating strife,
Who more than self their country loved
And mercy more than life
America!  America!
May God thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness,
And ev'ry gain divine.

O beautiful for spacious skies
For amber waves of grain
For purple mountains majesties
Above the fruited plain!
America!  America!
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

* * * * *

Go thank a veteran today.  No, not me, someone else.  And tell your kids why you did it.  Pass it on.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Forty Years Ago Today

I've been meaning to start writing this for days.  Didn't.  Maybe I thought the day wouldn't come.  That happened before, forty years ago, that day I thought might never come.

Forty years ago  today I went to war.  Drove from Reno to Travis AFB, got a send-off kiss, boarded a civilian Boeing 707 with a couple of flight school buddies and left my world behind.  This anniversary never bothered me before.  Most years I didn't notice.  This year is different.  Don't know why.

We had mechanical problems that delayed our departure in Honolulu.  There was enough time to call my old Sgt. Major, CSM Bernard J."Mick" Meehan.  He picked the three of us up, took us out and got us drunk before we had to re-board.  Fine man, Mick.  Brave and noble and tough, very old school.  He'd been my ROTC Sgt. Major at Cal Poly, severely wounded (again) on Hamburger Hill (he got a mention in the book) and was on a recovery assignment at Hickam AFB, something to do with mapping, or at least that was the story.

I was blissfully unaware, in more ways than one, of what was in store for me.  I had logged a couple hundred hours of pilot time in flight school, was type-rated in Hueys and IFR and I thought I could fly.  Thought I was invincible, too; maybe that was a prerequisite.  We stopped somewhere en route, maybe Guam.  I don't remember de-planing there but I may have been suffering a hangover. 

We landed at Bien Hoa, Republic of South Vietnam.  If you paid attention (I don't hold it against you if you didn't), Bien Hoa was the site of major battles during Tet '68.  I clearly remember getting off the plane in Bien Hoa.  Most everyone remembers the tidal wave of over-heated rotting-vegetation JP-4 laden air that overwhelmed you when they first opened the door.  Amazing how soon we ceased to notice it at all.  

Down the airplane gangway to the tarmac, past another line of GIs who were walking past us on the way to "our" plane.  There were whistles and taunts and cat-calls;  "You'll be sorry!"  "You gonna die, GI!", uplifting things like that. 

We were bused to the 90th Repo Depot at Long Binh, then the largest US military base in the world.  I noticed the heavy wire mesh on the bus windows.  Keeps the occasional grenade-thrower at bay, we were told.  Sure enough, no grenades but now I was thinking about them.  Got to the 90th, got a bunk assignment in officers quonset hut quarters (made grenading officers that much more convenient, it occurred to me) and walked around to stretch my legs.  There was a list of names and where they were going and when and where they were to ship out.  I wasn't on it yet.  

By that time I had met a senior warrant officer on his third tour.  I hung on his every word.  He was going back to the 1st Cavalry Division, for whom he had flown in the past.  He'd been a med-evac pilot, a breed of particularly lunatic and brave aviators, and he convinced me that was what I wanted to be and where I wanted to be.  Plus, of course, The Cav has that cool yellow patch.  Plus again, I was young and foolish.

When the time came I told them it was The Cav for me (ho-HO!), got my orders and we flew out together on a C-123 to 1st Cav HQ.  Couldn't help but notice when we got in the landing pattern that all the artillery was firing.  That's a clue that you may not be in the safest place you've ever been in.  It's also a clue that there are people who want to kill you within artillery range and we had probably just flown over them.  I didn't even wave.

We reported to the S-1, the CWO and I.  The chief got exactly what he wanted and was welcomed back into the fold with pleasantries and comradeship by all present.  Good deal, I thought, and when he left I told him I'd see him in a few.  Nope. Never saw him again.

Then it was my turn to report and report I did.  "Got any idea what you want to do?"  I smiled my best friendly smile:  "Yes sir, I want to fly med-evacs like the chief who was just here."  

"No.  Here's your orders.  You'll be going back to Bien Hoa as soon as you can find a lift.  Dismissed."

Whoa.  Just like that?  Where was MY friendly welcome?  They needed med-evac pilots, didn't they?  And didn't I just volunteer to be one?  And "NO"?  And what WAS an Assault Helicopter Battalion anyway?  I knew all those words but I'd never heard them strung together like that.  "Assault?"  Like, I'm going to be assaulting something?  In a helicopter?  Waiiiit just a minute.  In a helicopterMe?

Begged a ride back to the flight line.  Got on another C-123 and back to Bien Hoa, where I had landed oh, three days before.  I was already going in circles.  Didn't have the faintest idea in the world where B/229AHB/1CAV was or even if I was on the right base.  I asked around like the hopeless newbie I was.  Aside:  You've never really been a newbie until you've been a newbie in a combat zone.  Talk about a green bean!

I discovered that I was supposed to be looking for the 229th AHB HQ.  AHB.  Assault Helicopter Battalion.  There were those words again.  Further discovered that I was on the Air Force side of Bien Hoa and I was supposed to be on the Army side.  I didn't even know that bases had sides and I was on the side where I wasn't supposed to be.  Figures.

Hitched a ride with some sympathetic driver and reported to 229AHB HQ.  No more ceremony than when I reported to CAV HQ.  Was told to go to B Co. HQ and report to the CO.  At least I knew that company level was the end of my reporting in and that some kind of beginning was in sight.

That was it, the end of a transition that began 40 years ago today, ended 39 years ago tomorrow and changed my life forever.  I'm writing this to fix certain events in my mind and to share them with whomever might care to read about them.

This isn't about what was to come.  The fear, fatigue, boredom and occasional horror that is part and parcel of war, even for aviators.  

No, this is just what happened to me forty years ago today with a few more days added on.  The transition from garrison soldier to combatant in 120 hours or so and from young man to old in a year.  It made me who I am today... and I damn it for that.

* * * * *

All war is deception.  --  Sun Tzu

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Cancer Schmancer... and Rick Dancer

Cancer Schmancer.  That's the name of actress-comedienne Fran (The Nanny for six seasons, and much more) Drescher's 1997 book.  You can read an excerpt from it called In The Beginning HERE.   

Fran's life hasn't been at all like the nanny she played.  She has endured awful experiences and a dreadful disease, the latter compounded by a series of missed diagnoses and blundered opportunities.  Many of us would have given up and withdrawn to await the seemingly inevitable, heads in our hands.  Fran didn't.

Rick Dancer is a medium-sized frog in the Oregon pond.  He's very well known; a former Eugene TV news anchor turned businessman, family man and unsuccessful 2008 candidate for Oregon Secretary of State.  He knows everyone who's anyone and everyone likes him, even though they may not have voted for him.  He's handsome, fit, articulate and personable.  And he has cancer.

Cancer.  It happens and it respects no one.  It takes without remorse.  Rick says it gives, too.  Gives in ways he never expected and so profoundly that he calls it "the best thing that ever happened to me."  I can't quite get to that but who am I to question him?

Rick is a passionately spiritual man.  He gave the sermon at our church last Sunday, the second time I've heard him there.  The first time was during his campaign and I chalked it up to political chutzpah, plowing the church ground and hoping that votes would grow.  I think I was wrong.

This time he talked about Christians dying in order to live, an unusual topic.  He clearly contemplates his own death and just as clearly fears it.  Still, he knows there is more for him when he passes, as pass we must.  He is confident, even though trepidatious.  [NB:  Actually that's not a word but you understand it, don't you?]  He shared his fears with us, and his experience, strength and hope.  It was a moving experience and I'm glad we were there.

As we walked out of church Rick greeted us and shook our hands.  I took a moment and said "This is my wife.  She's a cancer survivor (I didn't mention "twice") and she's fourteen years past being told she was beyond hope."  What the doctor actually said back then was "You'd better put your affairs in order.  You've got less than sixty days to live."  Rick didn't say a word at first.  He just glanced back and forth between us, finally murmuring "Thank you."

Fran showed us her strength in the book.  Rick his, by speaking out so publicly and eloquently and hopefully.  There are others, you know.  Others who aren't as glib as Rick or Fran, who suffer without being able to express their fears, to ask for help, to see nothing but... nothingness.  My darlin' wife Edythe writes.  Things she isn't comfortable saying to my face I can read on her blog at  

We watched "The Bucket List" earlier this year, starring Jack Nicholas and Morgan Freeman.  Fine movie, that, but I didn't know she actually had a bucket list until a short while ago.  On the list?  A ride on a big Harley.  A Harley?  I've known her for 30 years and I never knew that.  

Our friends Rick and Denise did a wonderful thing.  Rick rides a Harley Road King, the very definition of a BIG Harley.  A couple of Sundays ago Rick put Edythe on the back seat (with Denise's permission and encouragement).  Off they rode, with Edythe fully decked out in Denise's black leathers and black-and-pink helmet.  It was really a sight to see.  Denise and I and Andy and Saunders followed along in our Tahoe, out of sight, finally meeting them at The Oakland Tavern, a 100-year-old+ joint in the tiny town of Oakland, Oregon.  

We enjoyed each others' company, laughed, ate wonderful Reuben sandwiches, drank root beers and listened to Edythe's breathless tale of the trip.  Afterward we drove back, Edythe with us for the return trip and Denise in her rightful place on the Harley.  We stopped along the way at a decrepit ice cream stand in Rice Hill, OR, where we ate the best ice cream cones ever.

Before the trip, Edythe - herself the victim of missed diagnoses and blundered opportunities - was trepidatious.  There's that word again.  She had to muster all of her courage but in the end she said "What's the point of having a bucket list if you don't follow through when someone gives you the opportunity?"

This story is about three people - Fran, Rick and Edythe -  who haven't given up.  Why, then, should you and I even think of giving up?  Bad day?  Keep some perspective.  Are our problems so much graver than theirs?  Are our futures less promising?  Are we so immune to the pleasure of the company of friends or of a warm summer evening that we just can't get out of ourselves?  Get over it.

Cancer Schmancer.  Way to go, Fran.

Gay pride parade just to support friends?  Way to go, Rick.

A ride on a BIG Harley?  Way to go, Edythe.

On really, really bad days you can still help a friend.  On the good ones, nothing is impossible.  Don't get confused about what makes or wrecks a day for you, just assume it's going to be a good one.

Mel Fisher found the Spanish treasure galleon Nuestra Senora de Atocha after 16 years of trying, years that cost him dearly.  Every day he woke up and said "Today's the day!" and one day it was.

Today's the day for me, too, and maybe for you.  There's only one way to find out.  Live it to the fullest.  Ride that Harley.  Find that treasure.  Pick that tomato you planted in May.  Kiss your love.  Swing that kid.  Remember friends and keep them close.

* * *

Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not the absence of fear.

Mark Twain

Monday, June 7, 2010

Pennsylvania Today... You're Next

We tax all the others and pass the revenue on to you

Back in April Pennsylvania's gov. Ed Rendell said "Budget shortfall?  We ain't got no budget shortfall."  Or something along those lines, as I noted HERE and HERE.  

And no way could it be a bil, nosirree.  Why, it was only $700 mil just two months ago.  A BIL by June 30?  Fageddaboutit.

He was kinda right, too.  It ain't gonna be a bil.  Nope, gonna be TWO BIL, is what it's gonna be.  May's tax revenue was short another $125 mil, but who coulda seen THAT coming?  Not Ed, not through his rose-colored glasses and bullet-proof windows.  On Friday he lost another $825 mil outta next year's budget in fedMed extension stimulus funds that the prez had promised.  Next year isn't looking all that good in Penn and it starts in, um, 21 days.

BTW, wasn't the stim supposed to be about the private sector and "Jobs, jobs, jobs!" (thank you NancyP) and not about propping up state and local gummints?  But I digress.

Last month Ed and his budget director told Penns that the deficit was only gonna be maybe $750 mil.  He had previously promised a surplus but chalk that up to political enthusiasm, not real-life lying.  In only 60 days the def went from $700 mil to $2.1 bil.  

What the heck do they pay those guys for?  The deficit TRIPLED in two months!  Thank God for huge pensions.  Ed's gonna need his.  Imagine how bad this woulda been if Ed hadn't been working his tail off.

So what's the cure?  The Penn legislature thinks they have the answer.  Yep, sin taxes... on cigars and chewing tobacco.  Stogies and chew, sure thing, that oughta do it.  

But, you know, what happens if people actually cut back as a result of sin taxes?  Wouldn't that be a problem, with less revenue and all as a result?  

This from, trying to spin the new taxes:  "And, the best news is that a tax on smokeless tobacco and cigars will reduce consumption by younger Pennsylvanians, lowering long term health risks and potentially saving lives."   And, um, lowering that planned revenue?  And say, are you having THAT big a problem with kids smoking all those cigars?  

Sing it again, WilleN: "Run that by me one more time."   

They are HARD pressed for "the best news" in Philly these days.

Course, ArnieS would just pee his workout shorts for that small a deficit.  His is bigger than Ed's.  Deficit, I mean.  By a factor of ten. 

Wait!  Ed!  What about a tax on taking out the garbage?  What?  And put all those cigar-smokin' kids out of work?  How will they afford their smokes and pay all those sin taxes?

* * * * *

Number one I think we should impose a fee or tax on the transportation of trash per mile.


We've been working our tail off and lead by that example.

both:  Ed Rendell

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Back Page News

We tax all the others and pass the revenue on to you

It was on the back page of our local rag this morning.  You can be forgiven if you overlooked it, it was just an anniversary. OTOH, it was a pretty big event back in the day.  On this date 66 years ago more than 10,000 men died for you.  In one day, on one 50-mile stretch of beach. Think about it.

The anniversary of the invasion of Normandy was still a big event back in 1994, on the 50th.  I remember the allied leaders meeting on the beaches, saluting the vets, promising everlasting gratitude for their sacrifices.  Everlasting doesn't mean much these days.  There was a smaller celebration in 2004 and not much of anything this year.  What's left to say and who is there to say it to?  

Here's what they saw when the ramps dropped:

My friend Ray, gone now, went ashore on Omaha Beach the night before.  He departed a submarine in the English Channel, then he and his men rowed their rubber rafts ashore.  He was a combat engineer, a lieutenant, and his mission was to clear some assault paths between the maze of obstacles that the Germans had placed on the beaches in anticipation of the invasion.  It wasn't his first time on Omaha Beach.  He'd been there before.  

Granted, it was too little and too late to do much but they did their best.  When they were done they dug in  at the base of the cliffs of Pont du Hoc and waited first for the shelling, then for the invasion.  While he was at the base of the cliffs he could look directly behind at scenes like this, and he could help:

Then up the cliffs he went, becoming an ad hoc infantry platoon leader for the next few weeks until he re-joined an engineer unit.  He survived the invasion and the next 11 months of war but many of his men didn't. Here's a detail from a bronze at the National D-Day Memorial.  It's what he did when he climbed the cliff.  Take a good look.  He's doing it for you.

When you look back at Omaha Beach from the Normandy American Cemetery, you get a glimpse of the task that the invading armies faced:

Looking another direction, you can see the price they paid:

Say something to someone about Normandy today.  If you can find a D-Day vet, by all means thank him.  They're hard to find, though, and they don't often make known what they did.  But say something, to a neighbor maybe, or a friend.  Make sure your kids know about it, about them, about worlds that ended and worlds that opened up that day.  It's the least you can do.  We can never repay what we owe them but we can tell their story, the story that my newspaper failed to tell.

That back page article in today's paper?  It wasn't about the invasion, not really.  It was about the crumbling cliffs at Pont du Hoc, the cliffs that Ray hid below, then scaled.  The story?  They're eroding away, as all cliffs must, and the effort being made to restore them.  That was the best the AP could do, a story that could have been written on any other day, a story about eroding cliffs.  

The real story, of course, is of eroding memories, those of the participants and our own.  When we stop remembering events of such colossal world import, who will restore US?

No D-Day editorials today, either.  It has become politically inconvenient to acknowledge American sacrifices.  I could find only one other nod to D-Day in the paper:  Charles Schultz's immortal D-Day tribute, showing a photo of Ike exhorting his 101st Airborne troops on the afternoon of the 5th.  They would jump, and die, in just a few hours.  Snoopy is there, too, as everyman and representing all of us, geared up and looking at Ike.  The simple caption:

June 6, 1944 - To Remember - 

Thank you, Ray.  Thank you to all who served and fought and suffered.  I remember who gave my children their freedom. 

by Graham Nash

You who are on the road
Must have a code that you can live by
And so become yourself
Because the past is just a good bye.

Teach your children well,
Their father's hell did slowly go by,
And feed them on your dreams
The one they picked, the one you'll know by.

Don't you ever ask them why, if they told you, you would cry,
So just look at them and sigh and know they love you.

And you, of tender years,
Can't know the fears that your elders grew by,
And so please help them with your youth,
They seek the truth before they can die.

[Counter Melody To Above Verse:
Can you hear and do you care and
Cant you see we must be free to
Teach your children what you believe in.
Make a world that we can live in.]

Teach your parents well,
Their children's hell will slowly go by,
And feed them on your dreams
The one they picked, the one you'll know by.

Don't you ever ask them why, if they told you, you would cry,
So just look at them and sigh and know they love you. 

I remember the first time I heard that song, in 1970 in Vietnam.  It still affects me the same way it did then.  Click the title and watch the video.  

* * * * * 


Friday, May 28, 2010

Memorial Day - 2010

We tax all the others and pass the revenue on to you

It is Memorial Day weekend.  There are flags on new graves again this year, graves of men and women who did not imagine themselves dead as a result of combat this time last year.  New American martyrs who last year hoisted a cold one to those who could no longer join them but with whom they are now forever joined.  Before the end of this weekend there will be newly killed Americans to remember next year.  As ever was.

I always think of Larry Swarbrick, my friend the gentle giant, on Memorial Day.  He was killed in Vietnam, in a particularly mean way, forty years ago this coming August, ambushed in some God-forsaken place called Thua Thien Province.

You didn't know him.  Most of us alive today were then yet to be born.  I know almost no one who remembers him.  But I remember.  I hope I always will.  Allow me to introduce him:

If you were there, you know.

As happens every year, some will wish me a Happy Memorial Day.  I no longer take umbrage.  They care, at least enough to know that there's something about this day that should prompt them to say, well, something.  To someone.  Maybe to anyone who once wore the uniform.  You know, the uniform that most Americans have declined to wear. 

Barack Obama:  Didn't serve.  Claimed his uncle helped liberate Auschwitz in 1945.  Problem is, Auschwitz was liberated by the Red Army.  Oops.  Claimed his grandpa enlisted the day after Pearl Harbor.  Nope, he didn't.  Claimed the same grandpa "marched in Patton's army."  Nope, didn't.  Oops and oops. 

Joe Biden:  "I didn't serve in Vietnam.  I don't want to make a Blumenthal mistake here." -- Jokingly, at Walter Reed Army Hospital this past May 25.  He didn't serve anywhere else, either.  The joke was on the patients. 

Bush 43:  Served in the reserves and without note. 

Dick Cheney:  "I was otherwise occupied."

"That Bill Clinton went to great lengths to avoid the Vietnam-era draft, that he used political connections to obtain special favors, and that he made promises and commitments which he later failed to honor, are all beyond dispute."  Snopes. 

Bush 41:  Served with honor in combat in WWII. 

Reagan:  Enlisted, then commissioned, honorable stateside service in WWII. 

Jimmy Carter:  Served with honor in a boomer. 

John Kerry:  I admit to a bias against, but he served honorably in combat.  I respect him for that and I do not question the nature of his service.

Even Elvis served, and with honor, back when it was compulsory and expected of all able-bodied men. He was otherwise occupied too, and he could have avoided serving.  Unless, that is, you believe that mega-stars can't buy their way out of most anything or that Col. Tom Parker didn't really have any pull in Tennessee.

I was otherwise occupied too, but I served.  My day of honor is November 11, not Memorial Day.  You can give me a brief nod of thanks then if you must, but not this weekend.  Please, not this weekend.  This weekend is for Larry Swarbrick, for Chance Phelps, for my dad.

Memorial Day is also for Sgt. Ed Rivera, although he didn't know it.  Sgt. Rivera died last Tuesday, May 25, at Bethesda Naval Hospital, of wounds he received at some God-forsaken place called Contingency Outpost Xio Haq, Afghanistan.  The same May 25, remember, that Joe Biden was making jokes about his own non-service just a few miles away.  Biden laughing, Rivera dying.  Could anything better illustrate our remove from the suffering of men and women who are giving so much for us?

Thank you Larry, Chance, Dad, Ed.  You gave all.  I will remember you this weekend. 

* * * * * 

Civilians seldom understand that soldiers, once impressed into war, will forever take it for the ordinary state of the world, with all else illusion.  The former soldier assumes that when time weakens the dream of civilian life and its supports pull away, he will revert to the one state that will always hold his heart.  He dreams of war and remembers it in quiet times when he might otherwise devote himself to different things, and he is ruined for the peace.  What he has seen is as powerful and mysterious as death itself, and yet he has not died, and he wonders why. -- Mark Helprin, A Soldier of the Great War

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Richard "Hulk" Blumenthal vs. Jeremy "The Fighting Sailor" Boorda

We tax all the others and pass the revenue on to you

You've likely heard Richard Blumenthal say that he served in Vietnam.  No?  You can watch him HERE.  It's as unequivocal as a pol's words get.  No, he did NOT serve in Vietnam.  He was a Marine reservist who wasn't called to active duty for other than training.

OMG!  Politician's LIE?  Yes, sad to say they do.  DickyB isn't the first and there are countless more to come.  They are venal and, in the main, serve only themselves.  Poor us.  In his defense his campaign says he only told that particular lie, um, four times.  On the record where he could be video'd, that is.

Jeremy Boorda was the first man to rise from the ranks to become Chief of Naval Operations, our highest Navy office.  Adm. Boorda DID serve in Vietnam, and honorably.  Problem was, he later chose to wear a "V" device (for Valor) on a couple of low-level medal bars.  He wasn't authorized to do so and when he was exposed he killed himself in disgrace.

OMG!  CNOs lie?!  Yep, same answer.  We are all weak and we all fail. 

Should DickyB take the same way out?  Well, doesn't seem he WANTS out.  Yesterday he said "I have made mistakes and I am sorry. I truly regret offending anyone.''  But I have a chance to be a freakin' senator and I'm not going to let those lies get in my way!  (OK, I made the last sentence up.)

DickyB said "in Vietnam", not "during Vietnam."  I could overlook that once.  Maybe.  But four times?  Trust me, serving in Vietnam isn't something anyone ever gets confused about, except perhaps in senility.

Disclaimer:  I served in Vietnam.  No, really.  Hmmm, Oregon has senators too, and I haven't been caught in a public lie yet.  Maybe I oughta give it a shot.  Maybe something like "Vote for Chuck - You haven't caught him lying yet and he isn't faking his insignificant medals!"  Not much of a ring, I guess.  

Shouldn't lying to further one's political agenda disqualify you from public service?  Yes it should, but only if you think honesty should be a requisite trait of US senators. 

DickyB's got a good chance, too.  His one viable opposition candidate, an actual Vietnam vet with real medals, withdrew.  Now it's Linda McMahon, CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment.  

The good:  She is a VERY successful businesswoman and WAY rich.  

The bad:  Her entire industry is based on a lie.  The word "entertainment" in the company name means "Warning:  This isn't a real sport.  We know who's gonna win."  Oh, and she doesn't have any medals.

If I was to be caught in a lie, that's who I'd want running against me.  Might not be Linda but she's the GOP's choice for now.  DickyB:  "Yeah, well, my opponent's an even BIGGER liar and, er, um... she lied to your kids!"  Did not!  Did too!  Poor us.

One of these people is going to be a senator and, thus reinforced, will immediately believe her/himself destined for the presidency.  What has America done to deserve that?  I don't know who's going to win this election but I do know who's going to lose.

Hello, loser.

* * * * * 

I have made mistakes. I regret them. And I have taken responsibility ... But this campaign must be about the people of Connecticut.   
Richard Blumenthal 

I venture to say we're going to lay the smackdown on him come November.
Linda McMahon 

With lies you may get ahead in the world - but you can never go back.
Russian Proverb

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

An Oops from Mike Mullen

We tax all the others and pass the revenue on to you

[Disclaimer:  I am a life member of the DAV]

Fox News reported today, after I wrote earlier about Mike Mullen's strange remarks:

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen has apologized to the Disabled American Veterans for a comment he made during an address to the Council on Foundations.

During the April 26 address, Adm. Mullen said non-profit groups, and not government, should take care of veterans.

Adm. Mullen said in a statement that it was a "poor choice of words."

"The point I was trying to make -- and perhaps not so eloquently -- is that the scope of the needs confronting our troops and their families is too great and too deep to be met only through the bureaucracy. Yes, the government must provide our veterans with educational opportunities, employment assistance and quality health care. But we must also recognize there are some needs best delivered and best administered at the local level," the statement read.

The Disabled American Veterans said it is the "exclusive responsibility of the federal government because it creates disabled

MikeyM, you blamed the skipper of the USS Cole for an unforeseeable event to which, in fact, he responded well and in accordance with his training, such as it was (and his training was your responsibility).

Let's apply the same vague standard to you, Mike.  You, who never fired a shot in anger, slimed the entire universe of disabled vets and you did it on the record.  Now it's your time to go.  Go, Mikey.  Shoo.  Get off the porch.

Pennsylvania and Turkey


We tax all the others and pass the revenue on to you

It only took a month for the Pennsylvania deficit to balloon from $700 mil to a bil.  If you can believe Gov. Ed Rendell (you can't) he couldn't possibly have predicted that last month.  See our April 4 column for details, such as they are.  NOW Ed wants "spending cuts, new taxes and revenue transfers" to address the problem.  Seems his income and corp tax forecasts were off by, oh, call it $376 mil.  Now the state senate is predicting a $1.5 bil deficit by... wait for it... the end of next month.  Nope, who coulda seen THAT coming?  Not Ed, that's for sure.

Good-bye Ed.

* * * * *

Sadly (and tellingly) for me, I neglected to write my Armenian Genocide column on April 24.  I wrote one a bit earlier but that's no excuse.  Remember that one?  And the one I wrote last year?  And my brief mention on March 12?  The inevitable has happened, as it is wont to do (Ed Rendell's myopia notwithstanding).  The Turkey-Armenia talks have broken down because, to no one's surprise, the Turks won't discuss their massacre of 1,500,000 Armenians.

And so it goes.  All those little kids' skulls and tiny skeletons in the desert?  You can just forget them.  Or you can try.  

There is plenty of shame to go around.

* * * * *

I see that Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, thinks that gummint shouldn't be responsible for the care and treatment of wounded and disabled American military personnel.  Say WHAT?!  Yep, here's what he had to say as quoted in a DAV press release a day or two ago:

 "I am not arguing in any way, shape or form that this should be the purview of our government because what I would like to see happen is community outreach to [servicemembers] and the government just be out of it," Mullen said.

Last November MikeyM said, regarding the Ft. Hood shootings, "We're at a point now where we really have to move forward to aid those families, the wounded and those who are suffering so much... (T)hat's really where we are putting our main effort."

That was then, this is now.  Things can change in six months, as soon as the news cows move on to graze greener pastures.

I thought Mike was a good guy until that brain fart.  Try telling the soldier with a recent TBI (traumatic brain injury) that his local docs back home will be his primary care-givers from now on.  You know, because they've seen so much of that sort of thing.  

I keep hoping to see a correction or retraction ("Sorry, I must have been drunk" would do) but nothing yet.  Failing that, it's time to call for Mike's departure, with thanks for his previously honorable service.

* * * * *

There is no cannibalism in the British navy, absolutely none, and when I say none, I mean there is a certain amount. -- Graham Chapman (of Monty Python)

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Katyn, Bishkek and You

We tax all the others and pass the revenue on to you

When the Soviets invaded Poland in 1939 they rounded up military officers, civil administrators, suspected Polish "agents", clergy, people with college educations, everyone who might oppose the invaders.  Then they shot them.  The most notorious barbarity is today known as the Katyn Massacre, although there were many others.  Wiki has a horrifying article.  If you take the time to read it, read it to the end and take a good look at the pictures.

The Soviets blamed the Nazis for decades and who could defend the Nazis, who were guilty of more and worse?  It wasn't until the collapse of the USSR that the truth came out.  The original orders still exist and they bear the names Stalin, Beria, Mikoyan and Voroshilov.  There's no doubt, and Katyn was only part of a larger ruthless slaughter.

Today there are apologists for Katyn, even deniers, and those who insist upon an historical context to help explain it away.  They are the same sort of historically bewildered folks who deny the horrors of the Holocaust (hello Iran), the Armenian Genocide (hello prez), American slavery (hello Gov McDonnell) and the persecution of Native Americans (hello so many of us).  Winners write the history, I suppose.

Fast-forward to last Saturday morning.  The elite of Poland's government and military, its current political opposition and its past anti-Communist heroes - the very people whose predecessors were murdered by the Soviet NKVD - were en route to Smolensk, Russia, for a joint Russia-Poland memorial to those killed at Katyn.  It was to be a healing event for both nations.  Their plane crashed, killing everyone aboard.  Looks like pilot error, an elite pilot thinking he was better than his ground controllers.  It happens, and this isn't an unknown outcome of such hubris.  There is no suspicion of external forces.

Poland is bereft of leadership.  The PM is next in line but he has little political infrastructure left.  The power vacuum is immense.  Surely Putin sees opportunity in this, a chance to nudge Poland back into the Russian fold.  Watch for Russia to increase its influence in Poland.  Watch for us to let them.

Russia has stepped forward before.  The Prague Spring of 1968 incurred a massive Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia.  In 2004 they poisoned the president of Ukraine with dioxin.  In 2008 they threatened to invade Poland over its US missile treaty.  That same year they invaded Georgia as well.  Invasions, threats and poisonings are just some of their tools.  Energy aggression is another, and a very effective and cheap one at that.  Russia is the main supplier of gas to northern Europe.

Russia seeks political turmoil in its neighbors and will foment it at its whim.  The latest example is the former Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan.  Legitimate unrest has led to revolution there, with hundreds killed in the streets of Bishkek.  Russia will step in to defend its bases and citizens in the same way it stepped in to "save" its erstwhile citizens in South Ossetia, Georgia.  Watch us protest, then ignore.  Again.

Eastern Europe - Central Asia - the Caucasus - Cuba - Venezuela.  Russia isn't quiet.  Russia isn't sleeping.  Russia is coming soon to a country near you.

* * * * *

I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia.  It is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma: but perhaps there is a key.  That key is Russian national interests.

Winston Churchill

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Whither Pennsylvania

We tax all the others and pass the revenue on to you

Repubs in Pennsylvania say their state could face a $1 bil deficit this year.  The Dem gov, Ed Rendell, says its too early to say... nine months into their fiscal year.  It's only $700 mil to date.  (Thanks, Business Week)

That's alarming on several levels.  If you can't forecast a state's deficit for a current year that is 3/4 over, how can we believe the 10-year cost projections for national health care that doesn't really ramp up for four more years?  The answer is, we can't.  No one really knows although some must profess to for the sake of politics.  

Penn budget negotiators made a deal last Oct to wipe out a projected 2-year deficit of $6 bil, with federal aid taking up some of the slack.  They promised no new taxes and predicted a rosy 3.2% growth rate next year.  Now they're telling their creditors not to count on that promise.  Turns out that deal ain't gonna happen.  Then they planned for a $525 mil deficit but they're already at $700 mil and growing.

Rendell's budget adviser says "If it doesn't deteriorate any further, and we have a shortfall of approximately $750 million, we can manage within that."  Well, maybe, but even that is with the feds forgiving a $275 mil state debt.  Has anyone forgiven $275 mil of your debt lately?

Just last week Penn legislators passed next year's budget based on that 3.2% growth figure.  Their senate appropriations committee chairman already says "Maybe 3.2 is higher than what we can reasonably expect."  One week.  That forecast was good for one week.

In California, no one has any idea what to do about their $21 bil (and growing)deficit.  State employees have been asked to take furlough days... but work anyway!  ArnieS promised several bil of spending reductions in Medi-Cal and prison spending but it didn't happen.  There is no relief on the horizon in CA.  The world's eighth-largest economy is in free fall.

It's no better here in Oregon.  Our state treasurer is taking away local property tax money and replacing it with promises to pay.  

Oregon is broke.  Oregon Gov Kulongoski proposed re-naming a bad stretch of road after a late friend of his, Randy Pape.  Cost of new signs?  $250K.  When the poop hit the paddle it was reduced to two signs for  $1,500.  Why not, say... NOTHING? 

This is the theater of gummint indifference and it plays near you 24/7/365.  Maybe Randy Pape was a great guy.  The ostensible reason for the re-naming is that he worked hard on gummint commissions.  WAIT A MINUTE!  He's working for US and he's supposed to work hard and effectively.  Now GovK says it wasn't him that proposed the re-naming after his old friend.  Well, yeah, he did write the letter proposing the re-naming but only because the highway commission asked him to.  Nice spin, Gov.

Government doesn't know how to run things.  (Hello, Health Care)  They only know how to keep spending to cover their tracks.  This is entirely independent of party politics, both are guilty.  When they run out of money they just take more of yours and tell you it's patriotic to pay taxes.  No, really.  And they pee it away on renaming roads after their friends and every other sort of self-aggrandizing crap you can think of... and health care.

California, New York, Oregon, Mass and several other states are already bankrupt measured by any conventional tests: assets v. liabilities, current liabilities v. current income, choose one, ability to meet current obligations.  So is the USA, which survives only on the full faith and credit of its pledge to lenders.

It's up to you to tell your representatives at every level, from city council to the prez, STOP SPENDING, WE'RE OUT OF MONEY!  Even if national health care is the best idea in the world (we could argue), we can't afford it (no argument). 

* * * * *

Congress can raise taxes because it can persuade a sizable fraction of the population that somebody else will pay.

Milton Friedman, Nobel Laureate in Economics

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Tanning Beds and Strippers

We tax all the others and pass the revenue on to you

I'm tempted to open with something about having some "skin in the game".  Tempted, but nah.  You expect better.

Go to a tanning salon?  The cost just went up 10% thanks to a new tax on indoor tanning.  It's a sin tax.  If you want to expose yourself to harmful UV rays it's gonna cost you.  That's if you do it in a way that might earn someone else a profit while you change colors.  The American Academy of Dermatology singled out "indoor tanning" (my italics) as a health hazard, ignoring the fact that the sun tans with the same rays outside.  If you go to the beach to tan, no tax on that... yet. Just parking fees and the gas to get there and back.  Nothing is free.

Like the DC bag tax, this one is tied to someone's idea of a needy cause.  Instead of the Astoria River, the tan tax is going to pay for national health care.  Congress traded away "botax", a 5% tax on cosmetic surgery, and picked tanning salons at 10% instead.  The International Tanning Association isn't nearly as powerful as the American Academy of Cosmetic Surgery.  Pay up, tan girl.  It's for the children.

Remember when taking off your clothes in public was defended as free speech?  Happened right here in Oregon just last year.  Texas sees that as a taxable event, is what it is.  Yep, sin tax, 5 bucks a head to watch pole dancers at your favorite club.  "A naked money grab" is what the WSJ calls it.  Clever, those Wall Streeters.  This ain't about money or free speech, according to Texas.  Nope, it's about combating sexual assault.  Say what?  I've never seen an outdoor pole dancer and I can't help but wonder.  If tanning outside is tax-free, shouldn't stripping outside be free, too, and isn't that a logical extension of this debate?

This is sweet, from the same article:

The judges also challenged the state’s contention that its goal wasn’t to raise money or squelch free expression, but rather to deal with what the state described as the “combustible combination” of drinking and nude dancing.

What about the argument, asked Chief Justice Wallace B. Jefferson, that the state was hypocritically “profiting off the very thing it is condemning?”

James C. Ho, the Texas solicitor general, said the state could have criminalized the activities at issue, but legislators chose to impose a fee instead.

There will be no combustible combining in the state of Texas, nosiree, nor raisin' money nor squelching of no free expression.  Just wouldn't be right, don'cha know?  Don't want to criminalize conduct that already pays $56 mil in taxes and employs 8,000 neither.  People just might notice it when 8,000 strippers show up in court.  Nope, Texas sniffed a sin tax and enacted it, simple as that.  Wham, bam, thank you, ma'am.

Your turn is next.

* * * * *

People always ask me, did I learn anything when I was a stripper?  Yeah, I did.  One man plus two beers equals twenty dollars. -- Anna Nicole Smith

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Student Loans and the IRS

We tax all the others and pass the revenue on to you

There's nothing complicated about student loans.  You already knew that, didn't you?  If you want to go to college or any number of other schools you can save, borrow, get a scholarship or subsidy or go to work to pay the institution that grants you admission.  Simple.

The health care bill eliminated banks from the student lending industry and the costs and fees they charged student borrowers.  The gummint is taking over the industry, changing some of the repayment rules (to its own detriment, one should note, but that could change) and keeping the profits to pay the costs of its health care legislation.  If there are any, that is, after the gummint eschews those fees and charges.

Think about it.  The gummint decided to take over a (gummint-funded) private industry, renounced certain of its profit centers and intends for any remaining profits to be used to pay for its health care bill.

This requires a profound suspension of disbelief: 
  • First, that the gummint should supplant any private industry in a non-national security field. 

  • Second, that the gummint can run the industry better than the people who were already running it at a profit that could be taxed, keeping in mind that the parts that generated profits no longer exist.

  • Third, that it is in the best interest of the American citizenry that gummint should compete in the private sector.

  • Fourth, that the gummint won't use its lending authority to control which students will be allowed to go to which schools.

What vital national programs has the gummint run well and within budget?  Medicare, Social Security, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Chrysler?  Well, no.  Then why should we accept that they can run student lending (or health care or anything else) better than the people who are already running it?

When someone neglects to repay a student loan, who's going to collect the unpaid debt?  The Health Care Bill, of which the Education Bill is a part, already provides for the IRS to enforce its provisions and it allows the disclosure of previously confidential tax information to health care administrators.

May I suggest that the IRS might be well-suited and amply staffed, with its new enforcement employees, to collect delinquent student loans?  There are precedents.  The collection of delinquent child support payments is just one.  (Oh, you didn't know about that one?)

The problem is that the IRS is very often incompetent and chronically bumbling.  There were very good reasons that Congress devoted much of 1998 to investigating its massive internal failures and incompetencies.  

Recently the Sacramento IRS office sent two employees to visit a local car wash because of unpaid tax of two cents (yes, $0.02) and accrued penalties and interest of a couple hundred bucks.  These are the folks you want to enforce health care premiums and collect student loans?

Or have you heard differently?

* * * * *

Quis custodiet ipso custodes.