Thursday, June 16, 2011

America at War III

Full moon on the rise in the evening, on its way down when I start my route, big, full moon set as I finish delivery. Bella luna.

I see that Congress is upset with President Obama's decision to commit United States forces in Libya. Citing the War Powers Resolution, many republicans and democrats want their say in who we bomb. Strangely, I get the impression that they want their say, not becasue they believe that we shouldn't be involved, as most republicans faulted Obama for not acting more quickly in the early days of the Libyan people's protests, but to merely have their opinion asked. Again, while our elected officials engage in political battles for power, even more money and resources are being expended in military conflicts.

If you haven't checked out please so do. It gives a running total of the cost of the two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001. A total for each and a total total. Staggering!

I googled "cost of bridge repair". There were umpteen articles listed from newspapers around the country discussing the growing crisis in repairing our aging bridges a big percentage of which are in their mid 40's. One of the articles, using 2009 data, said that the cost to our states to repair its bridges had increased dramatically up to over $70 billion, but that the federal aid to help with this cost had increased only slightly, to a bit over $5 billion. It also said that much of the federal aid was generated from the gas tax, 18.4 cents per gallon, and that this tax hadn't been increased since 1993.

So assuming that an increase in the gas tax is out of the question, how many fewer bombs must we drop to divert $70 billion to the states to repair our aging infrastructure. Or, how many fewer stealth bombers must we manufacture? Or, to be positive, how many thousands of troops must we bring home from Iraq and Afghanistan? How about how many military bases must we close?

The more I research, the more I read, the more I "google", the more I believe that the war on terror is bankrupting America and that the terrorists have taken our strengths, our belief in democracy and freedom and the rights of individuals, and are using them to win the war, not through battles on the field or taking plots of land, but by causing us to divert our resources away from the welfare of our citizens into the bottomless pit of military conflict.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

America at War II

As I said in my last post, I just "listened" to two books about the war in Afghanistan.
Many people forget that the United States started hostilities in Afghanistan before beginning the war in Iraq and that our initial thrust into Afghanistan was limited in its scope. Special ops forces on the ground working with the native tribes to pinpoint Taliban strongholds and bomb them from above. Little direct combat by US troops, little loss of American life. Most of the infighting done by the tribal forces who were not happy with Taliban rule. And very successful. It seemed real clear that winning the fight against an embedded enemy was best accomplished through the use of those who lived in the country with the support of superior American air power and technology.

Then came the invasion of Iraq. This time, massive ground forces were used in conjunction with that now famous shock and awe air campaign, and the enemy was again, quickly subdued. While I have extreme doubts about why we needed to invade Iraq, militarily, both "wars" were extremely successful. In each case, the military objectives were quickly met.

So, why is it that we find ourselves, many years and literally, a trillion dollars after these great military successes, still involved in armed conflict in both countries, still spending billions of dollars a month in Iraq and Afghanistan?

After listening to Lone Survivor, I would bet that the author, Navy SEAL, Marcus Luttrell would say that the answer is because we didn't let the military do the job they are trained to do. We didn't let the United States military expend its full force upon those "turban heads" and kill each and every one of them. We let politicians make our war decisions when we should have been listening to military leaders.

Instead of truly embarking on a war on terror by unleashing our own unique American brand of military terror, we took our collective foot off the pedal and engaged in efforts to win hearts and minds.

We wanted the very people whose country we devastated, whose brothers and fathers we killed and wounded, whose homes we destroyed, whose economy we wrecked, to now embrace us as their saviors for ridding them of their leaders, be it the Taliban or Saddam.

We changed from being engaged in a military campaign to find and kill Osama Bin Laden, root out and emasculate Al Qaeda, scatter the Taliban to the wind, and remove the threat of weapons of mass destruction from the hands of an ego maniac to being engaged in attempts to prop up more friendly, but corrupt regimes and "nation building".

Anyone who reads me regularly may be surprised at what I have just written. So let me ask you this, is what I just wrote incorrect? Would we not have been able to kill even more terrorists, probably find Bin Laden faster, and annihilate the Taliban if we let the military have its way. If we had not grown a conscious?

And maybe we would even have all that oil bubbling under ground in Iraq as well.

What exactly, has our $1.2 trillion bought us? Peace of mind? More security? More friends in the Arab or Muslim world? If our real goal was the first two, peace and security, how much war does it take to achieve peace? How much security does killing, which always turns on the revenge instinct in humans, buy us? And if it is the third, if it is friends that we are trying to gain, then I don't see any logic to bringing death and destruction onto a country then expecting them to be happy with us.

Why is it that all those hand wringing over the national debt seems to be led by the same people who have no issues with our huge defense budget? Why aren't they lamenting that our children and grandchildren will be saddled with the cost of our wars if we don't re-evaluate our use of the military?

Perhaps a better approach is a truly peaceful one. Not peace through war, peace through killing anyone with an idea, or god, or philosophy that differs from ours, but peace through cooperation. Peace through trade which is mutually beneficial. Peace through understanding ideas that seem foreign to us because killing a person for his ideas will never, ever, ever kill that idea. Peace through an open hand not a closed fist.

I am not naive enough to think that we do not need our military. There will certainly be times when our disagreements with a country or group will require a military response. But I can't imagine why we would ever need to spend billions of dollars with massive ground troop movements to express our perspective, or find a true enemy of America when we have military men and women like the aforementioned Marcus Luttrell.

America at War

Major weather front moved in a few days ago and produced grape sized hail at our house. When we ran out to the sun room to close the windows, the sound of the hail bouncing off the roof was deafening. When I ran outside to close my wife's car windows there were hard, cold, white bits of hail in the front and back seats. Such strange weather.

A friend of mine recently gave me two audio books to listen to while delivering papers. Both concerned instances which have occurred during the War in Afghanistan. "The Horse Soldiers" tells of the initial phases of the war when special op troops were deployed to assist the Afghan nationals in their war on the Taliban. This campaign of directed bombing of targets identified by these on the ground, special op warriors produced a series of incredibly swift and successful victories and eventually led to President Bush's infamous declaration that major warfare in Afghanistan was over. It is an inspiring tale of American warfare superiority and individual fortitude and heroism.

The second story is called "Lone Survivor". It takes place in 2005, two years after then President Bush's speech (see above). It details the Navy SEAL operation which claimed the lives of three of the four SEALS, then also led to the loss of life for a few dozen more special op forces helicoptered in during a rescue attempt of the original four. While it does not depict American military might in a winning form, it is an amazing recount of the bravery, courage and character of the Navy SEAL program in general and the four SEALS in particular who fought against overwhelming odds on that lonely mountaintop.

I enjoyed both audio books. They provided info on the war in Afghanistan of which I was not aware while also reminding me of the unbelievable men (and women) who comprise our military, and in particular our special ops forces. You see, it is possible for a liberal who believes that war is wrong and should be avoided at all costs to still admire the people who are asked to fight for our country. The horrible way we treated the Vietnam veterans as if it was their decision to fight that terribly wasteful war should never be repeated. The American soldier is your brother, sister, neighbor, co-worker, son or daughter, a band of patriots who so love our country and what it represents that they are willing to die for it, and whether the war they die fighting is popular or unpopular, their sacrifice is the same and should be recognized as such. As an American, I would hope we remember this when we feel the desire to castigate someone in the military, and as a liberal I expect I will always believe that the best way for me to support these American heroes is to get them home.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Olympic Bid


I wonder if those that proclaimed that climate change was fake when we had lots of snow and cold temps will reconsider their thoughts as they swelter in our current upper 90 to 100 degree weather today. Or will they say that a few days or a week of a particular weather does not prove anything. HMMM. I guess that logic didn't apply when they commented on the cold days.

It was announced today that Comcast was awarded the rights to broadcast the next four Olympic games, 2014, 2016, 2018 and 2020. The cost, a mere $4.4 billion. Yes, billion. Comcast news is of more interest in this area than most because it has its roots in the Philadelphia region and it is the parent company for both the 76ers basketball and Flyers hockey teams. We have watched the company grow from an obscure cable TV provider to a behemoth in the communications industry.

What is particularly noteworthy is that, as current owner of NBC corporation, Comcast knows that NBC lost over $220 million in 2010 as broadcast provider for the Vancouver Olympics yet this gigantic $4.4 billion bid, almost $1 billion more than the next bidder, was called "a path to profitability".


I wrote more here, and thought I posted it but apparently not as I now realize that everything after this was lost.

In a nutshell, I wrote about the fact that while Comcast, a company with Philadelphia roots is willing to invest over $4 billion dollars to broadcast the Olympics in hopes that this investment will attract viewers, hence advertisers, and justify this monstrous outlay of money, the Philadelphia school district is struggling to bridge a shortfall which has already resulted in the layoff of 1500 teachers.

I also commented about how when a business invests huge amounts of resources in hopes of future profits, when the government proposes "stimulus" spending as the Obama Administration did two years ago, there was major outcry from the right (and in some cases, the business community) claiming this was irresponsible spending. Why is investing money to attract TV dollars good business but investing money to avoid bankruptcies and home foreclosures not a good idea?

Some might answer that a poor business decision produces monetary losses while a poor economic decisions by the government just causes higher taxes. I would counter that in the case of Comcast, an Olympic failure to create profit might just result in higher cable bills down the line. I also wonder if that $220 million loss indicated above might have been used to offset profits, which means a lower tax bite which means the American taxpayer paid for that poor decision as well.

My final point was that perhaps we should embrace the beast (in this case, Comcast playing the role of the beast). If indeed, Comcast (or an huge corporation) is able to use losses as tax write-offs, then perhaps we should marry these large entities to our financially struggling school districts. Maybe that $220 million tax credit could bypass the middle man and go directly to the schools. Still a tax credit but used for a much better purpose. And maybe the kids could get free cable as well.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Widening Perspective

A beautiful week since my last post. Temps in the 50's overnight and the low 80's by day. Low humidity. Perfect weather to be outside working or playing. It is easy to understand the allure of habitats that have this weather pattern all year long. Of course, perhaps I would miss the pretty morning snow squalls that I have described in past posting. Perhaps.

For the last few weeks I have been listening to the BBC world news report from 5-6:00 AM during my morning delivery. Like the TV version, the BBC world news presents news from the perspective of the people to whom the news is occurring as opposed to so much American news which seems to focus on how the news of other places effects us.

For instance, the BBC news about Yemen presents stories describing how the violence and unrest effect the citizens of that country. How alliances have formed, broken apart and reformed as the situation has evolved. Interviews with people on the street, generals, business men, politicians, all depict the wide variety of experiences that is life in Yemen.

American news on the other hand, seems to focus on Yemen as the new hotbed for Al Qaeda. No understanding of why this may be so, just that it is.

Are we so preoccupied with ourselves, our lives, that we are unable to learn about, or even try to understand other viewpoints, other experiences?

Or perhaps, to be completely paranoid, we are kept in the dark, purposefully. It is so much easier to justify the demonification of another people or country when all we know is that they are our enemy. To make matters worse, we are all so busy, good busy with our family and friends, and just busy trying to make ends meet, that we lack the time to invest in understanding the world around us. Again, perhaps for a reason.

It reminds me of the latest hand-over-heart, America-is-the-greatest anthem that is driving a certain possible presidential candidate and has attracted a great many "patriotic" followers. But when pressed for comparisons, the most vocal of this genre have not been out of the country, don't have a working knowledge of current events in other places, can't cite statistics or facts that back up their ideology. They are proud because they were born here. When I point out that people born in other countries are just as proud of their roots and history, and that, perhaps had they been born in another place they would have just as strong a sense of pride for that country as they do for America, I am met with... well, I guess you could call it befuddlement. It is if that possibility, that someone could be born in another country, that these American patriots could have been born in another country, and actually love that country, is just not possible. Almost an alien concept.

I have said it before, and will say it again; perspective is a funny thing.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Assisted Suicide

The weather has turned dramatically hotter in the past week so that I have been delivering papers in shorts, a tee shirt and sandals, windows down much of the time. The air rushing through the car, the smells of the fields I pass, and the abundant wildlife scurrying about the land, singing in the trees, flying across my field of vision all combine to make my early morning job a pleasure.

Today, Dr. Jack Kevorkian died. For those unfamiliar with the man, he has led a personal crusade to attempt to change our society's views on euthanasia. It is said that he assisted in the deaths of over a hundred individuals, in many cases through the use of a "machine" of his own making that injected a deadly dose of drugs, controlled by the "patient". For his efforts, he was lauded as a visionary who so believed in the rights of individuals that he extended that belief to include the right to make the ultimate choice; how and when to die. And, for his efforts, he was labelled Dr. Death, arrested for murder more than once and finally convicted of second degree murder eventually serving eight years in prison until he was released on parole after promising not to offer his services to the dying again.

Death. Clearly, the concept scares us. Even Jack Kevorkian, in his final days admitted to be afraid to die. We have our beliefs that promise eternal happiness if we follow the doctrines of ones particular religion, but it is the rare person who, if honest, doesn't prefer living to dying. For all the trials and tribulations that we face during our lives, most of us would still rather face our problems, feel the pain and sorrow, and experience the bad with the good because the alternative is completely unknown, and it is the unknown that scares us. "Rage, rage against the dying of the light..." as Dylan Thomas most famously wrote.

And yet, there are rare times when death is preferable. When the physical, emotional or mental pain is so debilitating that we crave an end. We especially see this condition in those fighting the horrible manifestations of diseases such as cancer, ALS, AIDS, etc. When life has become an endless series of painful experiences, and the only relief comes from constant, heavy sedation, what is the point of continuing. Or when ones life partner of 30, 40, 50 years dies, taking your whole reason for living with them. Or when the voices in your head are so loud and so constant that the only respite is the induced calm of narcotics, or surgery. It is these situations that Dr. Kevorkian tried to address. It was those such afflicted that sought him out to appeal to his oath as a doctor and to his humanity.

Strangely, we do have a medical process to enable suicide. The DNR (do not resuscitate) document can function as a legal means to enable ones death while absolving the medical community from any claims of neglect. While we might rationalize that this is a passive kind of suicide, it is a suicide nevertheless when one considers the amazing medical breakthroughs that can extend a life.

In the end, regardless of whether you agree with his methods or not, Dr. Kevorkian put his life and reputation on the line for his beliefs. In a time when beliefs seem to change with the winds of public opinion, it is rare to find a man with such resolve. For now, one might say he dies as an infamous individual. I wonder what history will make of his life and work in 10, 20 or 30 years when more and more of us reach the time when merely being alive is not enough. When the only rage left in us is the rage to reach the light.