Monday, August 30, 2004

The Real Story of Tax Cuts 

So many blogs, especially among the more Republican sites, have trumpetted the Detroit News' editorial about how Bush fails to get deserved credit for tax cut benefits as a great acknowledgement of the President's policies and a repudiation of the Democrat memes of "tax cuts for the wealthy" and "the rich don't pay their fair share". While it does serve both of these purposes, I saw a more sinister message in the data presented.

If you look at the lower two income groups you see that the lower 20% went from paying -4.3% to -5.7% of their income into federal taxes under Bush. While this is not explained in the article, I see no other conclusion than to say that this group now receives 5.7% more than they earn based upon government largess in the federal income tax code. Likewise, the next lower group went from 1.9% to -0.1%, or, in other words, from tax payers to tax consumers. The net result is that now at least 40% of American voters actually have a personal incentive to vote for raising taxes. I have always objected to politicians literally buying votes from lower income constituencies with my tax dollars. This trend is another Ponzi scheme, like Social Security has become, and will end either with the collapse of the "gimme" programs or a complete disenfranchisement of the tax base. Let us hope it is the former.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Running the Swift Boat Battle to Ground 

In the midst of all the flying accusations, counter-accusatons, exagerations and flat-out lies, William Rood's Chicago Tribune editorial was a welcome objective piece that should serve to remind all of some important truths, both by what he did and didn't say.

First, he was clear and forthwright about that which he was and was not going to speak on, and with good reason. Those who are (rightfully so, I believe) questioning Sen. Kerry's claims and service history would be just as well served to be clear about what they are specifically addressing and the basis for which. While the majority of claims being made directly by Swift Boat Veterans for Truth adhere to this standard, many who are using their arguements second-hand play a bit looser with the "facts" and tend to engage in questionable segues. Likewise, Mr. Rood was very clear that he had no personal knowledge about the Purple Heart incidents nor the Bronze Star incident, so for Kerry supporters to parade this editorial as some sort of panacea to make all questions vanish is just wishful thinking. The basic truth is that Kerry, like any other human, is capable of acts both courageous and craven and that his service in Vietnam does not necessarilly have to be characterized by a single nature.

Another very important thing that is talked around but rarely given what I think is the appropriate consideration is the very real differences of experience between different people in a highly stressed situation. For a very clear sense of the complete lack of "big picture" experienced by those in a combat situation read this excellent write-up on a fire fight experienced recently in Iraq. Though I have never been in a like situation I have no problem believing that combat, even under the best of circumstances, is always a confusing jumble of sensory experiences informed by individual terror, confusion and mortal uncertainty. For multiple individuals to find themselves in their own Rashomon scenario is no surprise, especially 30 years later after fantasies, misunderstandings and confusion has had plenty of time to harden to a believable facimile of memory. For example, in the Bronze Star incident, the agreed upon "facts" are that PCF 3 was hit by a mine, the other boats opened fire on the river banks and Rassmann fell overboard. In the midst of the boats lighting up the shore, the natural confusion following an explosion and being in the river, I find it very believable that Rassmann might have thought he was under fire, even if he was not. Is it not a more reasonable conclusion to reach that he was, in a stressful and dangerous situation, mistaken rather than immediately believe that all the SBVT are maliciously lying for partisan political reasons?

Finally, it starts to shed a little light on one of the military's "dirty little secrets". Believe it or not, members of the military will sometimes exagerate their accomplishments to build up their records or garner awards. Now, I'm not talking about out-and-out lies, but for every mission, operation or examination that goes well, there are often many people whose award recommendations, evaluations or Fitness Reports (FITREPs) cite them as "essential" or "critical" to the success. Also, as is the case for all forms of written communications, there is a distinct military style that will sometimes emphasize certain things over others in order to achieve the desired effect. For example, the Silver Star incident, as described by Rood, clearly shows initiative and aggressive engagement of the enemy that meritted recognition. However, an award write-up that says "LTJG Kerry came up with a plan to agressively engage VC ambush points and directed the three boats of his group in closing and counter-attacking" just doesn't sound quite as heroic as one that decribes him beaching his boat and pursuing the enemy on foot. The action as described by Rood, in my oppinion, is much more deserving of recognition than simply shooting an individual VC and far better demonstrates the level of leadership one would want from a junior officer, but the more individually heroic write-up may have been done to better ensure those up the chain of command, who would have to be convinced of the incident's merit without any direct knowledge of it, would approve the award as written rather than down-grade or disapprove it. Did it deserve a Silver Star? Well, while I may have reached a different conclusion if I had been there, that was the call of the commanders present and the approving authority.

A correlary to this "dirty little secret" is that even if John Kerry wrote his own award recommendations, as many have opined, it would not be uncommon and not necessarilly be an indication of an untoward action. The unfortunate truth is that commanders who do a good job recognizing when their people do well and rewarding them properly are very rare compared to commanders who do a good job recognizing when their people screw up and chewing ass when it is needed. While I can't speak for the other branches, Naval Officers are routinely expected to draft their own correspondence for review. This is especially true for FITREPs, where the practice not only allows one to refine their skill in writing performance evaluations but also to ensure one's boss is fully informed of what the individual thinks their most significant accomplishments are. While there may be a few CO's who rubber stamp whatever the junior officer writes, in the vast majority of cases reports and correspondance is very carefully reviewed and edited to either correct factual errors, add the CO's personal appraisal or to add "key words and tricky phrases" that have special significance for selection and award boards. In fact,for the last award I received I drafted the entire package and justification (at the Captain's request) and was very proud to see that it made it all the way through the Admiral and approved without a major revision. I would be surprised if John Kerry didn't write most of his own after-action reports and award recommendations. This, of course, doesn't do anything to prove or disprove any accusations of polishing his own cannon ball, but it should caution those on both sides of the issue. Without even allowing for the very real possibility of confusion and errors that are a natural part of war, the obvious potential for intentional misrepresentation of fact should inform any attempt by Kerry supporters to use award citations and after-action reports to rebut multiple eye witess accounts. It is equally unfounded for those opposed to Kerry to attempt to discredit the same reports based solely upon their authorship. The bottom line is that honorable men will produce objective documentation in good faith while those less honorable will produce more self-serving subjective records. The real question, as is often the case, is not so much what a specific piece of paper says, but rather what is the demonstrated character of the one who wrote the paper. In this regard, I feel John Kerry is rapidly loosing ground.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Completely Dumbfounded by Kerry at the VFW 

"We need a president who has the credibility to bring our allies to our side because that's the right way to get the job done in Iraq ... Every Arab country has a stake in not having a failed Iraq. But they're not at the table."

I was amazed to hear these words come from Kerry's lips at his speech to the VFW today. I could not, however, find these words in the transcript provided by Kerry, so perhaps this is one of those oh-so lauded off-script moments. I was hesitant to link the only source I could find for this, as for some any reference at all to Rush Linbaugh is perceived as an indictment of independent thought, even if you're just citing a recording of a speech someone else gave.

If it weren't for the audio at Rush Limbaugh's site, I might have convinced myself that I imagined it, as, without a doubt, it has to be one of the most bone-shakingly thick-headed stupid things I've heard in a very long time. Um, Mr. Kerry, who exactly are we fighting in Iraq now? Oh, a mixture of Iraqi Ba'athist hold outs supplimented by Syrian Ba'athists, Iranian Shi'ites and Wahabbis from Saudi Arabia and every other Arab country around. The exact same people who are violently opposing Iraqi Police, Iraqi National Guard and Coalition forces as they try and help the transitional government work are the ones John Kerry is bemoaning about not being at the table to help decide the fate of Iraq?!??!?!? The truth is that most Arab countries have a stake in a failed Iraq. A successful Iraq destroys the dream of pan-Arab socialism. A successful Iraq undermines their own power base and strength. A successful Iraq stands poised to economically roll over every single other country in the region with the possible exception of Israel.

It's obvious why the words aren't in the written copy. They are to detached from reality and indicate such a marked lack of understanding that anyone in John Kerry's staff that would have penned, reviewed or approved such a statement should be immediately marched to the parade ground and be drummed out of politics, complete with ripping their little lapel pin off and crushing their BlackBerry. I can't help but think this must have been a Kerry ad-lib, which is even more frightening. And while it seems all the vogue to bash the main stream media in your blog, I saw this nowhere, repeat nowhere, except Rush Limbaugh. Maybe that's the way some like it, as they can then impugn the source, but I just get that Alice and Looking-Glass feeling more and more every day.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Redefining What "Is" Is 

Much has been made in the blogosphere of the Kerry/Cambodia stories and their refutation by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. A recent op-ed on The Command Post included yet another discussion of Kerry's statement about being in Cambodia during Christmas '68 and President Nixon denying the presence of troops and how that was impossible since Nixon wasn't sworn in until January 1969, to which I offered the following comment:

 One Clintonesque parsing of the Cambobia/Nixon quote could hold that Kerry’s statement that he was in Cambodia and that Nixon had denied any troups were in that same country does not necessarilly require that the two events happened contemporaneously. For example, I can truthfully say “I vividly remember being in Japan in 1994. The irony of having a beer in the very same country which Douglas McArthur ran under the SCAP was not lost on me.” While in my case the statement is clearly understood due to the great difference in time between the events, I can find no logical reason for the temporal juxtiposition in Kerry’s but to obfuscate and implicate Nixon in his alleged incursion.

Last night's transcript for MSNBC's Scarborough Country contains this gem from Lawrence O‘Donnel, MSNBC Sr. Political Analyst and Kerry defender:

 It doesn‘t precisely say that in Christmas of 1968, President Nixon sent me up there, because, as we all know, President Nixon was not yet President Nixon. He was president-elect Nixon at the time. And so that‘s an elision of the histories in way that makes semantic sense to me, rough semantic sense.

I believe the phrase "See I told you so" may be trademarled now, so I will refrain from too much crowing.

Friday, August 06, 2004

A New Strategy or Just the Same Old Tactics 

Sen. Gary Hart’s op-ed in the LA Times (A New Grand Strategy) is a clearly written piece that lays out what I agree to be very important themes that should be carried forth. I agree whole heartedly that the United States needs to clearly define and put forth a grand strategy that is both worthy of our efforts and resources as well as being true to our character and principals. I am surprised, though, that while I see that President Bush has done just that with his groundbreaking support of democracy in former totalitarian regimes, all Sen. Hart seems to see is the limited vision of "so-called neoconservatives" pushing pre-emptive war as a path to a "benign empire".

He is spot on in several other ways, though. A United Europe does present new challenges to what he refers to as "the Atlantic Alliance" and no administration, I believe, has ever given the level of attention to Asia that their population, military and economic impact deserve. As well, there is little argument that these challenges will, indeed, be well served by "new international institutions", such as the recently formed PSI (Proliferation Security Initiative). It is disappointing, though, that such promising common ground is then used as a starting point to only raise old canards and rehash the tired nefarious implications so often hurled at the current administration.

Once again we are treated to that favorite word of the administration’s detractors: "unilateral". This word has been so often used that it has almost become the Democrat equivalent of "you know" or "like". The unacknowledged truth in this use of "unilateral" is that what is really meant is acting contrary to France, Germany, Russia and China, as these four constituted the greatest part of significant opposition to the Iraqi campaign. And while I understand and share legitimate concern about perceived alienation of allies and loss of international consensus, casual use of the u-word has become a way to take a jab without having to address the serious question of at what point does an erstwhile ally become a neutral or, even, an opponent?

Another problem I have is reference to "the Bush administration's 'war on terrorism'". Perhaps I am inferring more from the choice of words than I should, but to couch it as such is imply that the war is either a specious construct of the administration or somehow does not effect or involve the entire country. Does Sen. Hart really doubt the need to confront those who would deal with us in terms of murder, blackmail and wanton destruction? Or does he doubt the necessity of a "war" to confront such a threat, preferring, instead, to rely upon the tried and disproved law enforcement model? I believe most rank and file Democrats across the nation recognize the reality of the war and would feel much a part of it in spite of their party’s rhetoric. While there were occasional contemporary references to the Civil War as "Lincoln’s war" and WWII as "Mr. Roosevelt’s war", is that really the side of history on which the Democrat party as a whole wishes to find itself?

My final point is with the three purposes Sen. Hart proposes as part of the grand strategy: ensure security, expand opportunity and promote democracy. I agree completely that these should be at the forefront in our national policy, and I would argue that in this regard the Bush administration is ahead of the curve. While Sen. Hart looks at the GWOT and sees only a "unilateralist and militaristic" methodology to the first goal, I believe President Bush has clearly laid out that theses three exact same goals are intimately entwined. The military action in Iraq serves the purpose to both provide immediate security gains as well as enabling the promotion of democracy and opportunity, the eventual fruits of which are even greater security without the need for military action. This administration clearly believes in the McDonald’s model for world peace (i.e. the contention that no two nations that both have McDonald’s franchises have ever gone to war), and while it may not strictly be true the fact of the matter is that democracies do not militarily challenge each other. Their citizens simply will not support it, as it presents too much risk and adverse effect on their own opportunities.

As I said at the beginning, Sen. Hart has many good points and ideas that I think could constructively add to where we, as a nation, go in the dawning days of this century. That so much effort is directed, though, toward casting dispersions toward the current administration may be more a factor of election year politics than heart-felt sentiment. If so, though, its only long-term effect is to further reinforce on both sides the tendency to distrust the other’s motivations and goals regardless of how plainly stated they may be. Albert Einstein said "The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them." Likewise, the creation of a bold new grans strategy for our nation cannot be accomplished in the face of the same short-sighted political tactics of half-truth and inuendo that led us to our current rancor.

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