Saturday, June 13, 2009

Relocating to the MilPub

We have decided to relocate to the MilPub Tap Room, a warmly lighted place where everyone is welcome and several have already accepted the invitation to participate.

Our thanks to JD Henderson for letting us borrow Buggieboy to keep some of the old Intel-Dump gang in touch for the past year or so. Please amble on over and join the crew.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Lunatic Fringe

Over some wine and cheese last night, an Oxford educated, local retired Greek cardiologist and I pondered a variety of things, large and small. In a semi-joking way, while discussing the differences between American and European socio-political culture, he said that in the area of lunatic fringe violence, America seems to have it backwards. In Europe, it's the left wing fanatics that are known for violence and assassinations. Conservative political leaders need greater security than left wing ones. In the US, he observed, it seems that right wingers are the people to fear. He, as do most Europeans, fear for an liberal, African American President's safety.

Paul Krugman seems to have the same view!

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Heart Breaking News

Today's IHT had this piece on Soldier suicides. I thought about it a lot today, and wonder if this is an unavoidable result of expecting a relatively small volunteer force to conduct an excessively long campaign.

My thoughts, of course, are based on anecdotal experience, but the fact remains that the US has not called called upon soldiers to face such stress in the past 100 years. While the Doughboys of WWI, the GIs and Marines of WWII, Korea and Viet Nam may have seen much more direct combat action, there is a vast difference in the human dynamics of today's AVF GWOT GI and his predecessors.

1. The twin operations in Iraq & Afghanistan have gone on longer than WWI, WWII or Korea.

2. While we fought for seven years in VN, troops were assigned to combat tours primarily on an individual replacement basis.

Number 2 is the one that occupied my thoughts today. During VN, it was common to see one's comrades in arms leave the service. In fact, "ETSing" was a regular occurrence. Similarly, we came and went from the combat zone as individuals, and when not in RVN, our activities were focused on the job at hand, not refitting and retraining to redeploy. And, we enjoyed more than 12 to 14 months between deployments, and rarely served with the same people on subsequent combat tours. Further, the average time in combat with the soldiers in a unit was 6 months, as rotation dates were spread out across the year.

Today's AVF soldier cannot escape Iraq/Afghanistan. After about 6 months stateside, he and those he recently served with begin the refit/retrain cycle to deploy again - together. Thus, the soldier might very well serve five or six years, including multiple in theater tours of 12 to 14 months, with the same fellow soldiers the entire time. The bonding has got to be intense.

At first blush, this bonding might seem a good thing. Yet, I clearly remember that leaving my colleagues in VN was more difficult than any other PCSes, and I had been with them an average of six months. They were still in harm's way, and I was going to "safety". The relief of surviving the tour was offset by worries for those left behind. Further, there was no "shame" on those who simply served their contractual terms and returned to civilain life. The draft ensured a constant flow of new talent.

But today's soldier does not face the "normality" of people leaving the service as commonly as we did in VN. He knows that the Army is hard pressed to fill it's ranks and that retention is critical. Further, he is much more closely bound to those around him than we were in VN, and believe you me, we were tight. I can easily see where some Soldiers might wish to move on in their lives, yet feel as if doing so would be tantamount to deserting their buddies. In short, almost trapped with no honorable way out.

Iraq/Afghanistan is our first protracted campaign using an all volunteer force. There have been several signs of stress induced behavior. Marines killing themselves in significant numbers by reckless motorcycle riding. Spousal abuse. And, suicide. And, there really is no end on the immediate horizon. Perhaps we need to re-evaluate the assumptions of the AVF, and address its real limitations, or more accurately, the limits it places on US power projection.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

I never did like the guy!

Back in the good old "Intel-Dump" days, my favorite moniker for the then serving SecDef was "Secretary Rumsnamara". As time passes by, more and more of the players of that time are providing insights and vignettes that paint this clown as a disaster of immense proportions.

There's an old Jackie Leonard one-liner that came to mind early on as I observed Rumsnamara, "She'd be a good looking broad if it weren't for her face and figure." In those politically incorrect days of the 50's, Leonard was simply stating that in terms of the two principal components of "looks" the subject woman failed, and that failure obviously was complete. After all, what was left?

Of course, there are more than two necessary attributes to quality leadership. But as one views the life and actions of Mr Rumsnamara, he comes across as lacking, if not in virtually all, at least all the primary virtues of a leader. GQ magazine just published an article about the man, and, while pretty revealing, it isn't "pretty". I was truly enraged by this crap, as well as his campaign to transform network military analysts into “surrogates” and “message force multipliers”. Perhaps my "Rumsnamara" was too kind a label, and "Goebelsfeld" could be more appropriate.

Here's a man who was definitely not a team player, seemed to be more interested in serving himself than his nation and was an obstructionist at heart! Is it any wonder that slowly, more and more retired senior officers stepped forward and did the unthinkable - called for his resignation?

If we only view this clown in terms of the GWOT (Iraq/Afghanistan) and Katrina, it is staggering to consider the amount of damage he did to our country and others. Add to that the pain, injury and death he needlessly inflicted upon individuals, and he easily sits amongst the greater villains of all time.

Of course, Rumsnamara was enabled by Bush/Cheney and Company. Without their style, goals and objectives, he would never had the free hand to do the damage he did. And that damage is profound, as he shaped the senior ranks of the uniformed military to fit his desires, and that shaping will be lurking in the background for a few years to come.

Please, President Obama, spend the time and resources to investigate, expose and prosecute, as appropriate, the people who took our nation down this lawless and costly road. We, The People, deserve better!

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Is the Noose Tightening?

It is hard to read the "responsible" press and not find an article or editorial pertaining the the practice of torture by the Bush administration. Today's IHT reported on the backlash that John Yoo and Jay Bigbee face as a result of their outlandish memos claiming that previously outlawed treatment of detainees was legal. It would appear as if many of their fellow members of the bar and academia are uncomfortable with them in their midst, making them as unwelcome in US circles as they are in the Spanish circles seeking to prosecute them.

This editorial cries for full disclosure.

It very well might become increasingly difficult for the Obama administration to follow a line of "only looking forward". As nasty, embarrassing and divisive as a full inquiry might be, it seems to me that the support for punitive as well as curative action is growing.

But then, I'd really like to see these vermin suffer for the abominable acts they so gleefully approved. No claims of objectivity on this old geezer's part.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Farewell to the USAF???

Paul Kane lashes out at the good old USAF in his recent NY Times OpEd. Yes, he is right that the USAF has no major on site role in the current hostilities in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yup, they are not "sharing the pain".

Sorry, Mr Kane, but life itself is not fair. To make airpower a permanent subservient element of the other three services would be a foolish move. What we don't need today, we may very well need tomorrow. The current military services do not duplicate all the capabilities of the USAF. Perhaps we should turn the Navy over to the Army, as the Army had tremendous experience in operating floating vessels.

And, of course, the USMC's mission could easily be absorbed by the Army, which already has infantry, armor, artillery, amphibious vessels and aircraft.

I have no objection to tweaking the roles and missions of the services, especially as it pertains to aircraft operations, but there are benefits in having proponency for operations in the air in the hands of a separate service. Just as long as it isn't a strangle hold.


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Revamping the DOD

Well, I know it has been discussed elsewhere, but one of the gang mentioned this NY Times OpEd, and I have no reluctance to discuss some of the flawed thinking in it.

I don't know a lot about Mr Kane, and simply stating that he is "a Marine veteran of Iraq " says not much more than "Eddie Slovik was an Army Veteran of WWII".

I won't address his "disband the Air Force" or "Universal National Service" ideas just yet, but save them for two separate threads to keep the dialogue focused.

But, I will address his thoughts on "Up or Out" and manpower planning.

There are some drawbacks to "Up or Out". Yes, the services lose some good people. The difficulty is that the services only need "X" number of captains, for example. If Captain vacancies are limited by allowing the least competitive to remain as long as they wish, then good Lieutenants cannot advance, and the lesser qualified Captains perform the jobs that more promising Lieutenants might be promoted to and fill. There have been "Selective Retention in Grade" programs to allow twice passed over officers to remain in uniform as a manpower management tool, and this exception to "Up or Out" is a fine idea. Note the use of the term "Selective". Sometimes trying to maximize manpower quality can be tough. I am reminded of what the Colonel from the Marine Officer Selection Office said to us when visiting our college campus, "We select our officer candidates with one thing in mind. Not every Lieutenant will become Commandant, but every Commandant was once a Lieutenant. Thus, to the best of our ability, our material for Lieutenant should be material for the top as well." Potential for advancement helps provide a good pool of candidates for higher level billets.

Unlike private sector employment, the military can not seek a pool of permanent, career first-line workers. There are a variety of reasons for this, not the least of which is that aged riflemen are not as capable of the rigors of the trade as young bucks. Also, unlike the private sector, the military cannot tap other employers for people to laterally transfer into the NCO and Officer ranks. They have to grow their own. Part of that "growing" is winnowing, unfortunately. The age old addage of "Mission first, then the welfare of the troops" is the only way the military can succeed.

The military is, by public policy, an organization of designed capability, and thus of a defined size. It must maintain it's warfighting capability within this defined size. Further, it is totally depended upon UNITS to accomplish its mission. It is not a collection of individual players. Thus, it tries to use manpower management tools to staff the ranks for current and future needs, yet cannot "overhire" as a tool for the future. Civilian employment has similar tools. When a company has too many employees in a given category, they conduct layoffs. Very often those selected for furlough are not the least able, but the least senior. Were it not for age discrimination laws, many would be the older, higher paid, to save even more money, and in fact this is often accomplished by incentives to retire.

There is a limited place in the military for "Selective Retention in Grade" or technical specialists (WO Aviators, for example) that can be less subject to "UP or Out". But it is not a "One Size Fits All" solution.

Assailing "Up or Out" has great emotional appeal, as well as the financial accounting suggestion Kane makes. And, they might just be fine for organizations that do not have to be near 100% capable of accomplishing a defined LIFE OR DEATH mission at all times. I am just not convinced that the manpower and operating tools of American private sector business are 100% appropriate for the defense of our country. They were clearly not so for the defense of our economy!


Sunday, April 12, 2009

It's Great to Talk "Shop" Again!

One of my friends in our village, Nikitas, is a 78 year old retired Greek Navy Admiral who was THE JAG before talking a final assignment in the Defense Ministry. He's a fellow US Naval War College grad, lives in a modest house on an acre of land or so and makes fabulous wines. It's a refreshing treat to see retired flag officers who choose to live modestly, as opposed to the opulent lifestyles our guys enjoy, usually benefiting from selling their souls to defense contractors.

His two sons are currently serving Naval officers, and both have been to Newport for Command & Staff College. I pass my issues of the NWC Review to them after I finish reading them.

Panagiotis, his older son just returned from a 5 month deployment to the Somalia region, where he was the legal advisor to the Greek flotilla commander. As in the past, he's on the island for the week before Easter (we're a week later than the West this year), and we played "catch up" this morning over coffee following the Palm Sunday service in our village church. His brother arrives on Monday.

Panagiotis laid out the difficulty of patrolling 1.5 million square miles of international waters, heavily trafficked by all kinds of vessels. He said it's prime fishing waters, fished by boats from a variety of countries. It's not a "counter-terrorism mission", but a classic naval law enforcement mission, maintaining freedom of navigation and keeping the sea lanes open. It's just not possible, legally or logistically to check every ship in the region to see if they are involved with pirate operations. He did offer some insights into pirate tactics, NATO interdiction tactics and the like.

Brought back warm memories of being at Newport, and it was a pleasure speaking to a military man who isn't blinded by the phony GWOT. Our talk did wander to that, and he was frank in his disdain for the last administration's approach to things military. He did assure me that the US Navy fully understood the mission in the region. The Spaniards took command of the NATO flotilla from the Greeks.

While Panagiotis never mentioned it, his dad did brag on his son's ship's performance in the theater. Four prevented attempts, and five captured pirates.

Add our chat to the successful rescue of the Maersk Alabama's Skipper, and today was a wonderful day for an old Marine/Soldier!


Friday, April 10, 2009


Karl Rove writes in the Wall Street Journal that "President Barack Obama "'has the most polarized early job approval of any president' since surveys began tracking this 40 years ago. The gap between Mr. Obama's approval rating among Democrats (88%) and Republicans (27%) is 61 points. This "approval gap" is 10 points bigger than George W. Bush's at this point in his presidency, despite Mr. Bush winning a bitterly contested election."

Mr. Rove then criticizes the President for this "approval gap," blaming Mr. Obama's "actions and rhetoric." Mr. Rove claims that in the face of Republican attempts to help shape policy, Mr. Obama's response has been a "brusque dismissal that "I won." Mr. Rove claims that Mr. Obama has left Republicans out of the deliberative process, hence this "approval gap" among the American people.


Even now my jaw hangs open at such a blatant dismissal of logical reasoning.

Mr. Rove, citing a poll from the Pew Research Center, has concluded that a president currently holding staggeringly-high approval ratings among the American people is "divisive." Think about that. If an amazingly high percentage of Americans approve of Mr. Obama, he should be considered "divisive."

Well, after all, it is true that Republicans appear to have a very low opinion of Mr. Obama, while Democrats view him favorably. That is the "approval gap" cited by Mr. Rove. For this Mr. Obama's rhetoric and actions may very well be to blame - when you vote for a losing candidate because you disagree with the winning candidate, the winning candidate is likely to do things you disagree with. Remember, if you vote AGAINST a politician because you DISAGREE with him, you are likely to DISAGREE with him even after the election.

But that is not the logical fallacy here. Mr. Rove is an acknowledged master at twisting and distorting facts, but the fallacy is not that Mr. Obama is doing things his political opponents disagree with - that does not make Mr. Obama responsible for some disagreement. It means Americans can agree to disagree, and they settle on what to do by voting on it - with some of us guaranteed to not prevail in our opinions on what we should do. After the last eight years of conservative rule, many of us know what it is like to disagree with the decisions made by a president. There is an "approval gap" between Mr. Obama's party and the party that opposed him - not exactly something that should shock anybody. But that is not the glaring fallacy here.

The fallacy is this: the implication in Mr. Rove's article is that this "polarized approval gap" makes Mr. Obama a divisive figure. He should therefore be less divisive - but how is that true given Mr. Obama's amazingly-high approval ratings? How can he be "divisive" if more Americans approve of him than they did on election day - an election he won handily, with all major networks declaring the election decided within minutes of the polls closing on the West Coast? Mr. Obama's election victory was not exactly a nail-biter. So if more Americans approve of him NOW than they did when he won his landslide victory, how is it that Mr. Rove can attack Mr. Obama for being "divisive" and cite real - and presumably accurate - polling data to support his position that Mr. Obama is driving us apart as a nation?

Because Mr. Rove fails to understand math. See, it works like this: voters each get only one vote. The candidate that wins the most votes gets elected. If he wins in a landslide, he has a lot of support. Even if some citizens really, really wanted him to lose, if a huge majority of Americans vote for a presidential candiate then he is not a "divisive figure," he is the winner of the election. If 10 weeks after taking office his approval ratings are even better than his margin of victory, the evidence does not support a finding that he is "divisive." In fact, the American People overwhelmingly approve of his performance so far.

But what about the data? Mr. Rove points out that most Republicans do not approve of Mr. Obama, while lots of Democrats (88%) do approve. Isn't that divisive?

Not when a lot of Americans decided to not support the Republican party in the last election. If you have 100 voters, and they are in two groups - Republicans and Democrats, and 100% of Republicans disapprove of you while 100% of Democrats approve of you, aren't you a divisive figure? Not if you got 90% of the vote. If only 10 voters disapprove - and they may very well REALLY disapprove - but you have the support of 90% of the electorate, then the People overwhelmingly approve of you and you are not a "divisive" figure driving Americans apart. Given your hypothetical 90% approval rating, you have united 9 out of 10 of Americans in support of you. But Mr. Rove will conclude from these same facts that you are the most divisive figure of all.

An "approval gap" between the dwindling and defeated Republican party, now only a majority in a handful of states, and the majority Democratic party, now triumphant, does not mean Americans are divided. They are in fact overwhelmingly supportive of our (note this Mr. Rove - OUR, yours and mine alike) new president. They are not more divided, they are in fact less divided than they were even on election day. Right now most Americans like Mr. Obama, including many who did not vote for him - he has been effective in gaining and maintaining the approval of the American people. There are those who would have preferred - and voted for - Sen. McCain, and yes, most of them disapprove of Mr. Obama just as on election day. But Mr. Obama won in a landslide, and his approval rating now exceeds his margin of victory on election day. Thus Mr. Obama is not a "divisive" president and Mr. Rove's misleading and untruthful editorial won't change that. Even a smart and experienced liar skilled in deception, like the masterful Mr. Rove, won't change a currently very unified and united American people facing unprecedented crisis after crisis into a divided and partisan on-the-brink-of-civil-war enemies who turn on each other.

But you can rely on Mr. Rove and those who still (somehow) agree with him to do their very best to try.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Education deserves a thread of its own!

In a previous thread, JP posted: "We need a national debate about what we expect public education to accomplish."

Well, folks, we may not represent a "National Debate", but the gang here debates well. I agree with JP. When you ask the question of what K-12 education should accomplish, you are most often provided with vague outcome descriptions.

Now, for starters, let's look at one aspect of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), testing. NCLB says that in order to receive a diploma attesting to satisfactory achievement in a 12 year curriculum, you must test satisfactorily during the 10th year! So, the standard for a HS diploma is based upon a test of slightly less than 10 years of that schooling. Is there something wrong with this picture?

And, what do we want these students to learn? Well, that shifts from edubabble fad to edubabble fad. Has anyone wondered what the lack of long term internal discipline and consistency in the field of education has done to the effectiveness of that education?

Lastly, and sorrowfully, I have to admit that I do not accept that every child in the US is capable of earning a meaningful diploma in 12 years. And, gasp - gasp -gasp, there are some who are incapable of earning one at all. There are a variety of reasons (both voluntary and involuntary) for this, but the reasons (causes) are inescapable and most likely incurable.

But first and foremost, JP's question must be answered, and what a "diploma" means must be narrowly and fully defined. And the debate has nothing to do with the expectations of students and their parents. What does our society need? We've spent a few decades catering to the students, and it doesn't seem to have benefited the greater society that much.


Monday, March 30, 2009

Spanish Lawyer: Ex-US Officials Must Face Torture Charges

Well, something many of of have been clamoring for may just come to pass! A Spanish lawyer has placed the wheels of justice in motion against a gaggle of Bush Administration stooges. The complain alleges the men gave legal cover to the torture of terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, by claiming that the U.S. president could ignore the Geneva Conventions and by adopting an overly narrow legal definition of torture.

The all star cast includes: Alberto Gonzales; Douglas Feith; former Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff David Addington; Justice Department officials John Yoo and Jay S. Bybee; and Pentagon lawyer William Haynes. The complaint has a long road ahead of it, and only addresses lawyers who rendered legal advice enabling torture.

It's a start!


Thursday, March 26, 2009

GWB's "Ownership Society"

A recent article on line cites a 2007 Federal Reserve Bank survey that found that the average American approaching retirement had amassed a staggering $60,000 in 401(k) savings. Since that was pre-meltdown, one can only wonder what they are worth today. Perhaps enough for part of a "Golden Year in the Sun". The use of the singular is not a typo.

The article goes on to give insights into the number of firms that are going to reduce or terminate matching contributions to 401(k) and similar defined contribution plans. In short, more and more future retirees are going to be in less that stellar financial shape.

What gave me pause about GWB's "Ownership Society" and the attendant privatization of part of Social Security is that if you are living hand to mouth, as at least 50% of the population is doing, the investment in the future you are able to make is paltry, if any at all. Take Social Security and make part of it subject to the vacillations of the market, and today's paltry can look robust compared to tomorrow's down market.

For example, my Mom worked until she was 70, as it was her major form of entertainment. The last 15 years of that time, she pumped as much as she could into a 401(k). She retired in late Summer of 2000, and six months later began receiving mandatory distributions of her 401(k). Less than 2 years later, due to the market tumble following 9/11, every dollar she was forced to withdraw over the next 2 1/2 years had originally cost her an average of $1.50. She had no idea of what was going on, nor did I, as I was totally unaware that her monthly "pension" included these 401(k) funds until late in the game. My "bad" for not knowing where the money really came from, I guess. Had I known at retirement time, I would have encouraged her to move the funds from a stock based portfolio to lower yield, lower risk investments. But, since these were mandatory distributions, once the market fell, the damage was done. She couldn't halt distributions to wait for the market to rise.

"Ownership Society" is a truly Orwellian term. It refers to something that, for a significant portion of the population, really only exists in the abstract. As Yogi Berra would have said, "You can't own anything until you own it." Like it or not, the lower 50% of the income scale in the US do not earn enough to "own" a lot, and it takes a lot to retire. We didn't even encourage building equity in one's home the past 10 years. Placing the whole monkey on their backs is fine, but just don't make it look like a glorious, slam dunk ticket to a secure future.

But then, for the private firms that would receive this privatized Social Security money to invest, the scale of what they could own as a result would be staggering. And, as we have seen, the US financial industry truly has the everyday working stiff's best interests at heart.



AIG, I Quit!

This letter was published in numerous newspapers. My initial reaction was sort of sympathetic to the man's words. However, with the opportunity to mull it over, I now feel more inclined to view it as the puerile bleating of a whiner. So, I decided to write back.

Dear Mr DeSantis:

When I first read your letter, my gut response was “Way to go, Jake. You told it like it is.” But, Jake, after finishing a cup of coffee and allowing my mind to wrestle with your words, my visceral and intellectual reaction is now, “So who cares, you self centered fool.”

Why the 180 degree turn? Well, for openers, you are not the only one in our country with whom an employer, the financial community (including AIG), his neighbors and/or the government have broken faith. It’s just that the numbers seem bigger when applied to your case. At least in your eyes. AIG not only broke faith with you, it broke faith with all of us. Perhaps not your specific division, but the company as a whole, and in the short run, you and your division reaped benefit from the actions of the whole.

Secondly, I find it interesting that your magnanimous offer is to turn the “post tax” proceeds of your bonus to “those suffering from the global economic downturn”. Is this an attempt to paint the government as the enemy, lest they tax your bonus too heavily and thereby punish those already victimized by the AIGs of this country? Prior to the public outcry, were you planning to be so beneficent? Does your offered contribution amount to the slightest drop in the bucket of damage that AIG and it’s fellow travelers have inflicted upon the common working stiff as they recklessly sought profits. Can you produce another letter, over your signature, calling upon AIG to be more prudent back when the seeds of this disaster were being planted.

As to those whom your recently proclaimed donation is said to benefit, are you aware of the relative difference between their current suffering and that which you express in the claim against your million dollar bonus? Will you lose your home and find it difficult to put a roof over your family's head? Will you be unable to afford routine health care? Has your retirement been wiped out? Or are we talking about a minor lifestyle adjustment?

Yes, Jake, you worked 10 to 14 hours a day, expecting to receive a million or so bucks for a year’s work. Others had to work the same hours, hoping to receive some 40,000 bucks, make ends meet and still have a job at the end of the year to start the process all over again. Actions of firms like AIG shattered the modest hopes of a couple of million of these folks, and you feel like you have been singled out for shabby treatment?

I wish you well, Jake, even if I find your whining repulsive. If you really want to impress us, divest yourself of all the wealth you have amassed, buy a middle class home, spend a couple of years working 10 to 14 hours a day at the median income, try to restart a retirement plan from scratch and then report back how righteous you feel.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Too much freedom can be a curse!

As we old gits tend to do, my mind recently wandered back some 40 years to my days at Ft Wolters, Texas. One of the finer pieces of wisdom I received there was from the base pediatrician. He wrote a great series of parenting pamphlets, and in one, he addressed the subject of offering choices to our young ones.

His sage wisdom? Limit the choices your child is offered, and once they decide, hold them to it. His logic? If offered unlimited choices, one has great difficulty in evaluating them all to make a sound decision. Further, life will indeed involve limitations at times, and the sooner we learn this, the better we will be able to deal with it.

Thus, he said, rather than asking your offspring the seemingly innocuous question, "What would you like for dinner tonight?", he recommended offering a choice between two selections, one of which would be served to the whole family. Further, he said that such decision making should not be offered every night, but just often enough to involve the child in occasional family decision making.

In broad terms, the good Doc summarized that self discipline cannot be developed when we are allowed to be "children in the candy store with an unlimited allowance". (Credit cards were not in vogue at the time). And, he continued, the offer of limitless choices ultimately becomes a greater frustration when one suddenly bumps up against the notion of not being able to have all two, three or four that are "tied for first place". Doc posited that if the menu of choices is so expansive as to cause decision making to be virtual random guessing, no decision making skills nor sense of responsibility is developed.

If only the good Doc had been at the helm of our society the past 30 years or so. We are now at an economic crossroads where difficult choices need to be made, and all too many of us are angry for having to do so, no less unable to do so. The "all you can eat for $5 buffet" is closing, and no one wants to return to a fixed menu.



Thursday, March 12, 2009

Sometimes an Education is Unsettling

My area of study, back when I thought a PhD would look nice following my name, was Labor Market Theory, particularly "Dual Labor Market" theory. There were basically two faculty/student "teams" studying the subject. Our team looked at the structural aspects, while the other looked at the sociological side.

To explain a bit. Dual Labor Market refers to a phenomenon in which there is a "Primary" and a "Secondary" Labor Market. Jobs turnover in the Primary market tends to be relatively stable, and earnings are strongly predicted by education level, years of experience, seniority on a job, etc. All those classic factors that instinctively pop into mind.

The Secondary market, on the other hand is characterized by high job turnover and very low earnings. The only statistically significant predictors of earnings are the prevailing minimum wage and hours worked. A PhD working in the secondary market will earn the same as a high school drop out. A person with 10 years on the job will not earn significantly more than the one hired yesterday.

While I was not seriously involved in the sociological side of the subject, several findings remain with me to this day. One was that if an individual works in secondary market jobs for more than two years, the odds of escaping that workforce diminish dramatically. Education, skill, training, and all the typical remedies for low earning do not work, unless it is retraining. For example, consider a graduate engineer with 10 years professional experience, who has to take a secondary market job(s) for a couple of years, perhaps due to a layoff. After about two years in secondary market employment, he suffers a high probability of remaining there. His probability of returning to primary market employment increased somewhat if he took, for example, a trade school course in auto mechanics and changed career fields, even if there were engineering jobs around. A career change was more promising than if he tried to return to engineering, even if he did more studies in engineering! In short, the Secondary Labor Market is the "Roach Motel" of employment.

As I said, my area of concentration was the structural side of the issue, so my insights into the sociology were limited. Thus, I can only offer the glimpse above. While this was back in the late 70's, early 80's, I can't help thinking about it today.

The good news is that if the above holds true, the laid off geniuses who brought this mess upon us might very well be flipping burgers for years to come! The bad news is that if middle class jobs stay off the radar for too long a period of time, many fine people may be trapped in their new found mess.

Another piece of bad news is that if people cannot readily return to a field where they have gained useful experience, that field loses the experience which they had gained. Sort of a brain drain.


Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Is the US Economy Sustainable?

For quite a while, I have felt that if the US economy was so dependent on consumer debt, there was no way it's growth could be sustained. Sooner or later, unless wages across the entire population rose more than the growth in GDP, the proverbial "minimum monthly payment" on consumer debt would surpass their ability to make those payments. In an economy such as the US, where consumer spending is such a major component of GDP, growth in consumer spending needs to be backed by growth in consumer real wages, or sooner or later, the house collapses. And it has.

I ran across an interesting article today. Someone seems to agree with my reasoning. I sure wish I was wrong, for my reasoning carried me to conclude that America needs a significant reset of its economy, and that means that either we accept a significantly depressed economy, or wealth must be distributed differently.

Note that I am not suggesting a "redistribution of wealth". But, somehow, more wealth needs to land into the hands of the masses for them to be able to spend without the assistance of excessive debt. In sort, if the rich keep getting richer and the poor keep getting poorer, the consumer spending of the rich will not support the economy. "Trickle Down" is pure horse-hockey.

Temporarily, however, as a result of the economy going over the edge, the only way to "prime the pump" of the masses' ability to spend is a redistribution of wealth, and Obama's tax policy is the only available tool in the tool box that can do that.

But, to get the rich to understand that they are better off in the long run to be slightly less rich requires a major culture shift. So far, all too many of them operate under the delusion that their personal well being is all that is needed for a robust society and economy. As more and more of the other 95% see that their economic well being is what really drives the economy, times in the US could get very interesting.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Unfortunately, however, we will have to sell the boat

As I listen to the robber barons of Wall Street moan and groan about salary and bonus limitations that accepting a taxpayer bailout involves, I am reminded of an incident some 38 years ago, when I was stationed at Ft Wolters,TX instructing helicopter flying.

Officer students attending flight school at Ft Wolters encountered new found wealth. It was a TDY assignment, and they drew flight pay. Thus, they were drawing full pay and allowances, PLUS $24 in per diem (Tax free), PLUS $150/month flight skins (taxable), and would do so for 11 months, or about $9,500 more than "usual" while in training. I the late 60's/early 70's that was significant bucks.

So, our dauntless students looked at this new found wealth and began to elevate their lifestyles with, most typically, new cars. Being able to easily make 11 monthly payments of $870 or more could buy a couple of cars back then, and they did. Our local auto dealers were more than qualified to explain how it was done. And, since flight school was normally followed by a year in RVN, where even more $$$ could be saved, some extended the plan to include the financial windfall of that.

But then, shock of shocks, DOD did its periodic review of per diem rates and found that they should only be receiving $21/day! Talk about gloom, doom and mayhem! LTs and CPTs scrambling to figure out how to stay afloat with $120/month less. We actually had to set up financial management classes to help them avoid defaulting. So, a number of us permanent party were given training on how to conduct small group ( 5 or 6 students) counseling sessions and we went for it. The sessions began by having each student express their plight and what they thought they must do.

At the first session I conducted, I was amazed at how shattered these guys were, and how stumped some were as to how to handle it. Some were outright hostile toward DOD over the change. The last one, however, seemed quite calm, and sure of a solution. He said that he and his wife had been quite prudent. Rather than buying a Corvette, like so many others, they stuck to the Ford Mustang. One for each of them, along with a Ford station wagon for "family use." They had only bought an amount of furniture that could fit in a U-Haul trailer(TDY moves don't cover household goods), another reason for the station wagon. They would pay a car-less student to drive one of the Mustangs to Ft Rucker for the second half of training.

In closing, he said, "So, you see, with a bit of prudent planning, and a willingness to sacrifice a bit, it need not be a crisis. Unfortunately, however, we will have to sell the boat."

I shared that story with my colleagues, and the student's final words became an oft quoted quip when one of us was expressing mock sympathy.


Friday, January 30, 2009

Down with the Old, Up with the New

Probably no photo of the Iraq invasion has been hyped more than the pictures of a statue of Saddam being toppled in Baghdad.

Since then, some of those who participated in toppling the statue have expressed regrets.

Now a new monument has been erected concerning the war.

Why would children at an orphanage assist an artist to memorialize the shoe recently thrown at George Bush?

From David Knowles:
But why are these Iraqis so ungrateful to our former president given that the tyrant who led them, Saddam Hussein, has been deposed and executed? Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that 5.1 million Iraqis were displaced by the war and the sectarian violence that ensued. According to the International Organization for Migration, that figure represents the largest human relocation in modern times.

Consider, too, the mind-boggling number of orphans caused by the war. The Iraqi Government estimates that the conflict has left 5 million children without parents.

Given these hard realities, perhaps a shoe-sculpture can be viewed as a civilized reaction to the legacy of Mr. Bush.

Surely a totally unexpected monument to your legacy, Mr Bush!


McConnell says GOP "must change"

"After crushing defeats in back-to-back elections, the top Senate Republican warned Thursday that the GOP risks remaining out of power in the White House and Congress unless it better explains its core principles to woo one-time faithful and new loyalists."

What is amazing to me is that McConnell thinks that the "core principles", as operationalized over the past 10 years,are attractive to more than a minority of the population.

As I read further, it seems that the GOP feels that their "message" is either not getting out or is misunderstood. Are they unable to understand that it is not a matter of "message", but the impact of their rule that has turned off so many voters.

What planet are these people living on?


Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get ????

Todays IHT had this piece on Wall Street. Seems the geniuses in the financial industry managed to rake in the sixth highest level of total bonus dollars in history. Not bad for a gaggle of boys who posted record losses, bankrupted many, and helped push the world into a near depression.

Granted, 2008's $18.4 billion in bonuses is down 44% from 2007. The average bonus for 2008 was only $112,000, or only 3 times the average US worker's annual wages. Three times the average worker's wages for losing other peoples' money. Or, in another perspective, it's three times the annual budget for the city of Chicago! And that's just the bonuses, not base salaries, stock options and benefits.

The firms argue that it's necessary to pay this to retain "bright, hard working employees". If they were so bright, why did they set their investors up for calamity? Perhaps they really need employees who don't work so hard, and the losses could be less?

And, many of these firms were on the taxpayer dole with bailout/TARP money. Why did I (or more accurately, my grandkids) get stuck with part of financing rewards for people who couldn't turn a profit?



Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Campaign is over - now the work begins

Watching yesterday's Inauguration, I was reminded of the old joke about the Senator who dies and arrives at the Pearly Gates. He's offered the chance to choose between Heaven and Hell, and given a chance to spend a day in each place. In Hell, much to his surprise, he sees cocktail parties, yachting, golf, bridge tournaments and sunny beaches. Heaven is simply clouds and harp music. He tells St Peter that while Heaven seems nice, Hell seems less boring. St Peter accepts this and places the Senator back on the elevator. When the elevator doors open in Hell, the Senator steps out into pure fire and brimstone, misery and suffering. He accosts the Devil and asks, "What is going on. When I was here yesterday, this was a pleasant and lively place. Now, it's hellish!"

"Simple", say the Devil. "Yesterday we were campaigning for your vote. Today is a different story."

Through the campaign and in his inauguration address, President Obama promised a better America. Yesterday, he clearly denounced many of the practices and habits that have brought great harm to our country, the family of nations and this earth.

Both Mr Obama and the American people have a lot on our plates that needs to be corrected. He used the pronoun "we" regularly, and I find that dead on.

To achieve what Mr Obama speaks of, Americans must undergo a major cultural shift. I hope we can rise again to the task.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Mixed Emotions

There's and old saying that the ultimate in mixed emotions is watching your worst enemy drive off a high cliff - in your brand new Mercedes.

Well, this piece in the IHT raises such mixed emotions.

Deep in my heart of hearts, as well as firmly in my intellect, I am convinced that GWB & Co broke the law. Further, I would like to see him and all who enabled him pay for such transgressions, returning the functioning of our republic to that of a nation of law. Yet, on the other hand, I clearly remember the never ending story of GOP v. Clinton and the vast resources expended in that witch hunt.

There are arguments for and against a wide ranging investigation. Some of the "against" arguments say that it would cause a "chilling effect" on INTEL operations, as the agents who did certain things were assured by the administration that their actions were lawful, and would be hesitant to act decisively in the future. This kind of "Eichmann" defense is chilling in its own way.

One reason for the mess in Afghanistan was GWB taking his "eye off the ball" by invading Iraq. At present, I am tempted to think that that Mr Obama & Congress have a huge target to engage in terms of our collapsing economy. While I would like to see every torturer, every proponent of torture, and every tolerater of torture hung by his or her heels, perhaps we should let our elected officials get their arms around the economy first, and then turn to on investing time and energy in bringing the GWB criminals to justice.

To be frank, I would welcome a year or two without reference to, or reminders of Bush & Co. Condemn and outlaw the old practices on 20 Jan. Then give us all a break.


Thursday, January 08, 2009

Hearts and Minds

Those of us of the Viet Nam era remember so well the "Hearts and Minds" mantra. Of course, it was used to refer to the hearts and minds of other peoples we were trying to "free".

Today's IHT had three interesting pieces.

The first surely raises eyebrows. A Roman cardinal comparing Gaza to concentration camps. A bit strong? Perhaps. But taken in concert with the second article, one surely must recall a city called Warsaw. The only significant difference is that Gaza is far more than a city, and all of Gaza is a ghetto. It is difficult to describe it any other way.

Quite chilling is Khilidi's comment:

Far more revealing are the words of Moshe Yaalon, then the Israeli Defense Forces chief of staff, in 2002: "The Palestinians must be made to understand in the deepest recesses of their consciousness that they are a defeated people."

So, rather than win the "hearts and Minds" of the Palestinians, folks like Yaalon wish to crush them. With this mindset, can a workable accord, such as that suggested in the Lichfield piece, ever be reached? Do people with minds such as Yaalon have a heart?


P.S. While speaking of "hearts and minds", there are conflicting forces in my heart and mind. My maternal family hails from Kobryn, Belorus, where the Nazis diligently recorded their success in eradicating 99.9% of the Jewish population, all of my relatives included. My mind reels at the totality of this barbarity, and my heart is pierced by my innocent kinfolks' slaughter. I do cry "Never Again!" But then, statements such as understanding that "in the deepest recesses of their consciousness that they are a defeated people", is calling for genocide of the spirit. The reduction of a people to eternal underclass status in the notion that Jewishness trumps all others. Have people like Yaalon failed to understand the broader reality of the Halocaust? No one should suffer the fate of my kin - physically or spiritually. Never!