1/31/08

How it all works

Three contractors are bidding to fix a broken fence at the White House in D.C. One from New Jersey, another from Tennessee and the third, Florida. They go with a White House official to examine the fence.

The Florida contractor takes out a tape measure and does some measuring, then works some figures with a pencil. "Well," he says, "I figure the job will run about $900: $400 for materials, $400 for my crew and $100 profit for me."

The Tennessee contractor also does some measuring and figuring, then says, "I can do this job for $700: $300 for materials, $300 for my crew and $100 profit for me."

The New Jersey contractor doesn't measure or figure, but leans over to the White House official and whispers, "$2,700"

The official, incredulous, says, "You didn't even measure like the other guys! How did you come up with such a high figure?"

The New Jersey contractor whispers back, "$1000 for me, $1000 for you, and we hire the guy from Tennessee to fix the fence."

"Done!"replies the government official.

1/29/08

The ominous lesson of Tet

From the UK Guardian:

The Vietnamese death toll after America's defeat 40 years ago is a terrifying pointer for the Iraq retreat

Mike Marqusee
Saturday January 26, 2008
The Guardian

Next week marks the 40th anniversary of an event that seemed to turn the world upside down. In the early hours of January 31 1968, soldiers of the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam and the army of North Vietnam launched what came to be known as the Tet offensive (it coincided with Tet Nguyen Dan, the lunar new year) against the US military and its local allies.

The insurgents struck simultaneously across the country, targeting more than 100 cities and towns in what the historian Stanley Karnow describes as an offensive "of extraordinary intensity and astonishing scope ... audaciously shifting the war for the first time from its rural setting to a new arena - South Vietnam's supposedly impregnable urban areas". Military installations, police stations, prisons, government offices and radio stations came under attack. Most spectacularly, a group of 19 commandos fought their way into the US embassy compound in Saigon, where they held out for six-and-a-half hours - long enough for the images of defiance to be broadcast around the world.

Hue, the ancient capital and the south's third-largest city, was only recaptured by the US after 25 days of house-to-house fighting. Atrocities against the civilian population were committed by both sides, and by the battle's end 116,000 of the city's population of 140,000 were homeless.

NLF and North Vietnamese casualties reached terrifying proportions. Perhaps a half - 45,000 - of the soldiers engaged in the initial offensive were killed. What is more, they were unable to hold any of the ground they had seized. The aim had been to spark a popular uprising in the South. When that did not materialise, partly because the communist party was weak among urban workers, the US's superior armaments prevailed.

The US counter-offensive was ferocious and indiscriminate. Urban areas held by the NLF were pulverised. Within two weeks, 630,000 civilians had been made refugees. On February 7, when the US recaptured the charred wasteland of what had been the town of Ben Tre, a US major told the press: "It became necessary to destroy the town in order to save it." Soon after, in the course of flushing out alleged collaborators in Saigon, the chief of South Vietnam's national police was filmed calmly shooting a bound prisoner in the head. This image also went round the world, further eroding US claims to moral purpose.

Years later, General Tran Do, one of the architects of the offensive, commented: "In all honesty, we didn't achieve our main objective, which was to spur uprisings throughout the South. Still, we inflicted heavy casualties on the Americans and their puppets, and this was a big gain for us. As for making an impact in the United States, it had not been our intention - but it turned out to be a fortunate result."

For an American public reared on a belief in US supremacy, Tet was a shock. For three years they had been assured that the war in Vietnam was being won. Now the disparity between US government claims and the reality on the ground became untenable. The antiwar movement was vindicated. In the New Hampshire primary, held on March 12, President Lyndon Johnson was embarrassed by the strong showing of antiwar candidate Eugene "Gene" McCarthy. On March 31, two months after Tet, he announced that he would not seek re-election and offered to open negotiations with the North Vietnamese, who accepted on April 3.

Tet caused fear and trembling in the corridors of power, but in the wider world the spectacle of the greatest power on earth defeated by an army of poor people inspired millions. The student revolts for which 1968 is famous took off in the wake of Tet, first in Germany and Italy, spreading subsequently to the US, France, Mexico and Pakistan.

However, the US war in Vietnam was to continue in its destructive fury for another four years. US policy did change after Tet - towards "Vietnamisation", in which reliance on air power increased. US casualties fell, from 16,000 killed in 1968 to 600 in 1972. On the other side the toll rose. Perhaps half the 5 million killed in the war, according to Vietnam government figures, perished during these post-Tet years.

Here is the ominous lesson for Iraq. There are few things as dangerous as an imperial power in retreat. Yes, the war is discredited and the major presidential candidates promise to reduce US troop numbers. None, however, seems prepared to abandon the mission in Iraq, which is also propped up by an array of corporate interests. As Vietnam showed, the alternative to a prompt and complete withdrawal is not a happy compromise, but prolonged devastation. <

Mike Marqusee is the author of Redemption Song: Muhammad Ali and the Spirit of the Sixties

Curb-checked by God?

"Yo dude! You learn your lesson?" DinkyDau Billy hollered as we walked into The Holy Land Quickee.

"What do you mean, dude?" I asked.

"I heered God done curb-checked you for pickin' on Fundies," he explained.

"Are you serious?" Leece asked, reaching over and adjusting my sling for me.

"There was two Fire-breathin' Fundies in here not fifteen minutes ago yukkin' it up as yer just desserts," Billy advised.

"So they think God goes around like some chollo, dressed in a wife-beater, breaking arms? Huh. I wonder what kind of gang signs God and his homies flash? Isn't that kind of ...Old Testament?" Tookie was curious over the apparent mix of covenants.

"Fundies are an interesting mix of Old Testament and New," I said, "whatever they can twist to suit their purpose."

"I guess they's never read Hebrews 8 and 9," opined Billy.

We sat quietly, reflecting upon how the arrogance of self-righteousness can corrupt even the seemingly incorruptible.

"Hey! hey!" exclaimed Billy, "I heered you's thinkin' a doin' yer doctorate at Manchester Nazbo!" This was directed to Leece, who looked surprised.

"Where did you hear that?" she asked.

"I wuz over ta Village Inn this mornin' and the dishwashers tole me."

"Dishwashers?"

"Yeah. Yeah. They got it from one a the waitresses. You wuz over there last night fer dinner," he explained.

"We're looking at it," I interjected.

"Yeah. Yeah. Kin I sleep on yer couch if I come over? I ain't been ta Merrye Olde since I was at Oxford," he said. Billy had studied for awhile at Oxford Divinity when he was going for an M-Div.

"Well, of course you can," Leece said, "but we haven't decided for sure yet."

"Yeah. Yeah. Wanna Diegoburger?" he asked "my treat?"

"He's in high smootchbutt mode," I whispered to Leece, "milk it for all it's worth."

Leece kind of giggled, "I'll pass on the burger, but how about some chocolate ice cream?"

Now she was cookin' with gas.

1/26/08

State of the Union

Good one from a pal:

This year, both Groundhog Day and the State of the Union address occur on the same day. It is an ironic juxtaposition of events: one involves a meaningless ritual in which we look to a creature of little intelligence for prognostication, while the other involves a groundhog.

1/23/08

"What Lindner really said..."

In her letter to the editor on January 11, Ms. Burke took Cheryl Lindner gently to task for stating that Jehovah's Witnesses are not "Christians". The article, as written by that Gossman-Steeves person, says this:

"How are we searching out persons of the Jewish faith, the Muslim faith, Jehovah's Witnesses or American Indians who practice a 'non-Christian' based organized kind of religion?" she asked. Lindner emphasized that she is not for or against the invocation, she just wants equal representation."

Lindner did not say that Jehovah's Witnesses are not "Christian". She was referring to American Indians (let's hope Lindner will not be crucified -can I say that?- for not referring to them as 'native Americans') who practice...well...native religions. I kind of like the Navajo myself, though I am by no means as well-versed on Navajo theology as I would like to be. But we wander afield...and we haven't even gotten to the Mormons yet, whom most Christians will tell you are cultists. Just ask that paragon of Christian virtue, Bob Jones III. But wait! Bob Jones III has endorsed Mitt Romney, a Mormon. Don't politics make odd bedfellows? Can I say 'odd bedfellows' without seemingly accusing them of...gayness? Or will I get in trouble for that? Jones the Third is, after all, a down home Fundamentalist and we all know how they feel about gays. Perhaps I will be boycotted. That seems to be the Christian thing to do. It worked for Walmart and "Merry Christmas", though I cannot find the phrase "boycott if you don't get your way" anywhere in The Beatitudes, nor in the Sermon on the Mount. In fact, it seems at odds with "...turn the other cheek..." and "...I give you a new commandment...", but I'm just a heathen; what do I know? Should I consider the Fundamentalist snitfit over Walmart and God on our nickels in the same light as Martin Luther King, Jr., and Liberation Theology?

Back on track, more or less, about this separation of Church and State thing:

The Founders knew what they were doing when they kept government and religion separated. We can argue till the Second Coming whether they were Deists or Christians or something else. We can find "God" mentioned in their writings and on government buildings. We can even find references to "Christ" in their writings. But what about John Adams, and James Madison, for just a couple of examples? More to the point, what about Thomas Paine, one of our greatest American thinkers and political contributors, who pretty much despised religion in general and Christianity in particular?

John Adams, our 2nd president and who, along with his wife Abigail, formed a fine composite mind having great influence on the establishment of our system of government, said this: “The government of the United States is not in any sense founded upon the Christian religion.”

James Madison, our 4th president and often credited as the 'father of the Constitution', said: "During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What have been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the Clergy, ignorance and servility in the laity, in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution."

Thomas Paine said: "Is it not a species of blasphemy to call the New Testament revealed religion, when we see in it such contradictions and absurdities" and "It is not a God, just and good, but a devil, under the name of God, that the Bible describes."

Yep. These guys may or may not have been Deists, or Christians, or something else. One thing is clear, however, and that is that they did not want religion and government mixed.

I agree with them. I thank God for their clarity of thought. Today, we see "Christian" churches splitting up because the congregations can't agree on the color of the new carpet in the sanctuary, or some other vital theological point. We see "Christians" denouncing Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons as "heretical" and "cultists"...yet Mitt Romney says, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of Man", and at least some of the Articles of Faith of the Mormon Church look remarkably like some of the stuff you'll find in...oh...the Articles of Faith of the Nazarene Church, for example. We have an incredible number of denominations, all claiming to be "Christian", yet all so differing in their interpretation of "God" and "Christ" and how the Deity(ies) is/are or is/are not to be worshipped that they cannot agree on the concept of the Church Universal or even on the divine nature of Christ, and so go their separate ways. Can you imagine what would happen if one of them held the governmental reins? The Christian Right goes on about how we must become a "Christian" nation again. OK. Whose version? Yours? Mine? Tony Bolen's? Brian Williams'? M.J. Romano's? Father Jude's? Mitt Romney's? Barack Obama's? George Bush's? Hillary Clinton's? Or, God help us, Bob Jones III? Or would we prefer the "Christian nation" that slaughtered the American aboriginees and stole everything between the east coast and the west coast that wasn't nailed down, as part of that Judeo-Christian-driven Manifest Destiny? That's what governments do. Is that what religions do as well? Or is it a unique trait of a religious government? Where and how are "Christian" concepts manifested in... Manifest Destiny? Is the current American Christian sense of entitlement to govern a residual of Manifest Destiny?

Personally, I have difficulties with the "Christian Right", often referred to as "Fundamentalists". These are the ones making the most noise about our "Christian nation" and "Christian government". They are incredibly self-centered, self-righteous, and intolerant. They treat gays like scum. They look down their noses at the poor SOB who, defeated by life, is draped over the bar down at B.J.'s, pickling his brain and his soul on a nightly basis. They rail against doctors who perform abortions. They point fingers at 'sinners'. I could go on, but we've all seen this, and yes, I suppose my view of the "Christian Right" makes me somewhat intolerant as well. But I ask you, would Christ refuse to break bread with a gay person? Would Christ refuse to associate with that poor SOB down at B.J.'s? Would Christ turn up his nose at the doctor who has performed abortions? Or would he say, "Come...follow me..." as he did with Matthew? I believe that Christ would embrace them all. I believe that today, you would find Christ down at B.J.'s, looking for those lost sheep. Why should Christ be in today's churches, with the sanctified and the petrified, who haven't sinned, if they are to be believed, since sometime in the summer of 1956 (or thereabouts) when the wave of sanctification overtook them? What would be the need? If you go down to The Lighthouse you will find Bibles for men; Bibles for women; Bibles for cops; Bibles for firemen; there's even a golfer's Bible. There are all kinds of special interest Bibles. But where is the Bible for Hookers? Where is the Bible for The Town Drunk? Where is the Bible for The Gay Blade? Where is the Bible for the Tattooed Ex-con? You won't find them, for those types of people are undesirable, you see, and might contaminate the Church were they to enter the sanctuary. Or so it seems.

Do we really want "Christian fundamentalists" or anyone else with a theological axe to grind holding sway over the Corridors of Power?

Are "Christians" their own worst enemy?

1/17/08

The statistical proof of liberal intolerance

Michelle Malkin writes a good one over on her blog:

The statistical proof of liberal intolerance

Some excerpts:

When I was on the book tour for Unhinged: Exposing Liberals Gone Wild, critics predictably countered by playing the moral equivalence card. Show them how intolerant, racist, sexist, hateful, conspiratorial-minded, and violent the Left can be, and they sputter “B-b-b-b-b-ut the Right is just as bad.”

Spend anytime in the blogosphere and it’s clear that the two sides of the political galaxy are not created equal. One side burns effigies of American soldiers and craps on the American flag. The other does not. One side wraps itself in assassination chic. The other does not. One side indulges in vicious Sambo photoshops, rank religious bigotry, death wishes, gloating over the illnesses of public figures, and fill-in-the-blank derangement syndrome. The other does not.

and:

To put this into perspective, note that even Saddam Hussein (when he was still among the living) got an average score of eight from Americans. The data tell us that, for six in ten on the hard left in America today, literally nobody in the entire world can be worse than George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.

The BDS crowd often points to conservative Clinton-haters in the 1990s to argue that the Right was just as hateful as the Left is now. That, too, is not supported by statistical evidence. Brooks notes:

In 1998, Bill Clinton and Al Gore were hardly popular among conservatives. Still, in the 1998 ANES survey, Messrs. Clinton and Gore both received a perfectly-respectable average temperature of 45 from those who called themselves extremely conservative. While 28% of the far right gave Clinton a temperature of zero, Gore got a zero from just 10%. The bottom line is that there is simply no comparison between the current hatred the extreme left has for Messrs. Bush and Cheney, and the hostility the extreme right had for Messrs. Clinton and Gore in the late 1990s.

Corruption in Illinois

Rezko, the star defendant in the case described in the following article, is a major contributor and fundraiser for Barack Obama. You would think that Hillary's staff would be on this, milking it for all it's worth.

The problem is, it isn't worth much not politically. In fact, Hillary is most likely going to keep her distance from this one.

The reason for that? Another 'star witness' in the case is Joseph Cari. Cari was, among other things, the finance chairman for the Democratic National Committee, and he has kept his fingers in the DNC pie. And, he has taken a plea bargain to extortion and kick-back charges in Illinois, and is cooperating with Federal prosecutors in this case. He is as crooked as a dog's hind leg. As finance chairman of the DNC, he would have been very close to Bill and Hill. She really isn't going to want that stench clinging to her campaign, so you are not likely to see her making much of this Obama connection.

Of course, the main stream media might go for it, but then, it is Barack, so maybe they won't. If there was a Dubya connection, they'd be in a feeding frenzy.

Here are some of Cari's connections:

* Illinois General Counsel, Carter for President, 1980.
* Illinois General Counsel, Mondale for President, 1984.
* Political Advisor, Biden for President, 1987.
* Finance Committee, Kerrey (D-Neb.) for President, 1991 – 1992.
* Democratic National Committee:
o Counsel to Rules Committee, 1980.
o National Finance Chairman, 1993 – 1994.
o Member, 2000-2005.
* Chairman, Democratic National Finance Committee, Gore for President, 2000 [15].
* Member, Executive Committee of the Democratic National Committee, 2000.
* Chairman, US Senate Democratic Campaign Committee, Finance Chair 1995.



Rezko lawyers want tapes of conversations

By MIKE ROBINSON
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

/Published Wednesday, January 16, 2008/

CHICAGO — Defense attorneys for one of Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s leading fundraisers asked a federal judge Tuesday for tapes of phone conversations between the government’s star witness and a former alderman.

The request came as prosecutors and attorneys for Antoin “Tony” Rezko prepared for the real estate developer and fast-food entrepreneur’s fraud, attempted extortion and money laundering trial, which is set for Feb. 25.

Rezko has been a major contributor to Blagojevich’s campaign fund and is believed to have raised thousands of additional dollars for him and various other Illinois politicians. Rezko is charged in a 24-count indictment with pressuring businesses seeking work before two state regulatory boards to make campaign contributions and payoffs.

Once the estimated eight- to 12-week trial is over, Rezko still will face federal charges that he swindled General Electric Capital Corp. out of $10 million in connection with the sale of two pizza restaurant chains.

At Tuesday’s hearing, Joseph Duffy asked for tapes of phone conversations between lawyer-businessman Stuart Levine and Edward Vrdolyak, a former 10th Ward alderman and Chicago political powerhouse now charged in a separate case with plotting to squeeze a developer for payoffs.

Levine, a millionaire political contributor to Blagojevich and several leading Republicans, has pleaded guilty to scheming with Rezko and is expected to be the prosecution’s star witness at the trial.

At the hearing, federal prosecutors noted Duffy already has had access to the tapes of the Levine-Vrydolyak conversations and transcripts. But Duffy said he needed the tapes themselves, and prosecutors agreed to provide him and co-counsel William
Ziegelmueller with copies.

The upcoming trial is starting to attract a national media spotlight because Rezko also was a contributor and fundraiser for presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill. Reporters from The Los Angeles Times and NBC News, as well as local newsmen, were on hand in Judge Amy St. Eve’s courtroom Tuesday.

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New post on Yahbut

Leece has a new article up over on Yahbut:

The Gospel: Making Jesus' message applicable to everyday life


1/12/08

A short history of BRAC

Base Realignment/Closure has been a political hot potato since the end of World War II, during which many poverty-ridden areas - such as eastern North Carolina - became dependent on the military-industrial complex. Prior to 1977, there was little oversight of the Department of the Defense as it went about closing one base or opening another. Some argued that this was fine, as it allowed the generals and admirals to structure the force according to the military's perception of strategic and tactical need. Others saw it as a means of allowing the military a way in which to meddle with politics. It was very easy for the military to work a backroom deal with one politician or another, trading votes for funding of one project or another, for increasing military spending in any given political district. This was nowhere more evident than in eastern North Carolina, which is home to several military installations. Not the least of these is the Marine Corps Air Station at Cherry Point, which is host to what is now called the Fleet Readiness Center East. When I was there, it was first the Overhaul and Repair, and then the Naval Air Rework Facility, or NARF. It has over 4,000 employees. FRCE has been a frequent target of what is now called BRAC since immediately after World War II, and all through the '60's and '70's, as one NARF vied against others for 'contracts' to overhaul the fleet's aircraft. The political blood-letting was awful in those days. The anxiety levels were ulcerous in intensity. The political process surrounding base closures and force realignment has existed since the early days of the nation, but it became a force unto itself with the demobilizations immediately after World War II. The entire process was thoroughly polluted by the huge amounts of money and political influence that developed out of the military-industrial complex, against which President Eisenhower so eloquently warned.

The process and its politics has been around under one name or another for more than six decades.

In 1977, President Carter signed Public Law 95-92, which, among other things, "...required the secretary of defense to submit any requests for closure or realignment of a base to Congress as part of the annual appropriations process. Each submission had to be accompanied by an analysis of the budgetary,economic, strategic and environmental impacts of the proposed changes, and was ultimately subject to congressional approval. Such procedures made closing bases very difficult in practice,and no major closures occurred between 1977 and 1991..."

What Carter and the Congress had achieved with PL 95-92,was not oversight, but deadlock.

Come 1988, Public Law 100-526 established the Defense Authorization Amendments and Base Closure and Realignment Act as law. This was the first so-called "BRAC" as we now know such bodies. It recommended the closing or partial closing of 145 bases, including full closure of 16 major installations. A major installation was defined as one with more than 300 civilian employees. Note that 'military personnel' did not play in determining what was major and what was not. The commission was disbanded after it submitted its report.

Then in 1990, Defense Secretary Dick Cheney submitted a list of recommended closures. Congress had what can only be described as a royal hissy fit, accusing the administration of unfairly targeting installations in primarily Democrat districts. The leader of this hissy fit was Les Aspin, then chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. This led to the second formal BRAC, which was to consider base realignment and closings in three separate and distinct rounds, in 1991, 1993, and 1995. Note that these are non-election years. The BRAC members were selected through a process in which both parties were involved. The president could accept the commission's recommendations in whole, or not at all. He could not partially accept the recommendations. If he refused to accept the list, he had to provide the rationale to the Congress. The president could not stop the process, which was a major change from the 1988 law. The 1990 law also required environmental restoration, retraining and job placement for affected civil service employees, and new fiscal processes. You can see how closing an installation with 4,000 employees, most of who are Federal civil service, could take on an entirely new look with that re-training and job placement provision.

In 1991, the Department of Defense submitted a list of recommended closures and force realignments. The commission did the same. They were fairly close to each other, and President Bush approved the BRAC recommendations in July 1991. Congress had the opportunity to pass on a resolution of disapproval, but did not.

In 1993, Defense Secretary Les Aspin (remember him? He was the fellow who led the Congressional hissy fit back in '88, with a shoe on the other foot now) submitted a list of 165 bases, while the '93 BRAC submitted a list of 175. President Clinton approved the list finally established by the commission, and again, Congress failed to act on a resolution of disapproval.

In 1995, the lists between the Department of Defense and the '95 BRAC had some significant differences. Clinton still sent the list forward to Congress, but this time included written concerns that California and Texas were being unreasonably hit by the closures. This time, the House acted upon a resolution of disapproval, but it was defeated. The Senate did not act upon such a resolution. The disagreement led to the privatization of the jobs that would have been lost in Texas. Those of us who spent more than a couple of years in the military followed this one with considerable interest, as it really marked the beginning of the huge civilian/private sector maintenance and services contracts that are so common-place today. There is more than one retired senior officer or senior non-commissioned officer who has his fingers in those particular pies.

Then, some Congresscritters took the closures, particularly that of the Philadelphia Shipyard, all the way to the United States Supreme Court - and lost. The courts ruled that the process was not subject to judicial review, at least at that time under that particular enacting legislation.

An now we have the latest BRAC. Each of these BRAC's has been initiated by different legislation, with somewhat different rules, and a more formalized process, but whether or not the process is more fair than it was more than sixty years ago is the subject of considerable argument at any affected installation.

The end result, however, is the same. Somebody is going to lose a job; somebody is going to have to sell out and start over; somebody is going to have to retire. This whole thing has been an albatross around the necks of those of us who have worked for Department of Defense as civilians, or served in the military - or both - and/or who have relatives caught up in either set of circumstances. To us who have lived this time and time again, the stomach-knotting anxiety is nothing new.

1/10/08

Pay in vets’ work programs ruled tax free

Release No. 01-01-08

Jan. 9, 2008

Pay in vets’ work programs ruled tax free

WASHINGTON (AFRNS) -- Payments provided to veterans under two specific programs of the Department of Veterans Affairs -- the Compensated Work Therapy and Incentive Therapy programs -- are no longer taxable, according to the Internal Revenue Service. Veterans who paid tax on these benefits in the past three years can claim refunds.

Recipients of CWT and IT payments no longer receive a Form 1099 (Miscellaneous Income) from VA. Veterans who paid tax on these benefits in tax years 2004, 2005 or 2006 can claim a refund by filing an amended tax return using IRS Form 1040X. Nearly 19,000 veterans received CWT benefits last year, while 8,500 received IT benefits.

The IRS agreed with a U.S. Tax Court decision earlier in 2007 that CWT payments are tax-free veterans’ benefits. In so doing, the agency reversed a 1965 ruling that these payments were taxable and required VA to report payments as taxable income.

The CWT and IT programs provide assistance to veterans unable to work and support themselves. Under the CWT program, VA contracts with private industry and the public sector for work by veterans, who learn new job skills, strengthen successful work habits and regain a sense of self-esteem and self-worth. Veterans are compensated by VA for their work which, in turn, improves their economic and social well-being.

Under the IT program, seriously disabled veterans receive payments for providing services at about 70 VA medical centers.

For more information, contact the VA at (800) 827-1000, or visit the VA’s Web site at www.va.gov. (Courtesy of VA Media Relations)

1/7/08

"Lessons I've learned"

Are these people really "the enemy"?

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This copy of a speech given at a "Dining In", a traditional formal military officers' dinner - usually an annual stag affair held by units on bases and posts, gives one an idea of the values and dedication characteristic of our military. This speech, truly exceptional, has been making the rounds among military officers. Thought you might appreciate it. It's certainly a tribute, especially to the United States Army Rangers.



Dining-in speech at U.S. Military Academy 2003, by Lieutenant Colonel Guy Lofaro

Let me say before beginning, that it has been my pleasure to attend several dinings-in here at West Point and hence, I have some basis for comparison. You people have done a fine job and you ought to congratulate yourselves. In fact, why don't we take this time to have the persons who were responsible for this event, stand, so we can acknowledge them publicly. I guess I am honored with these invitations because there exists this rumor that I can tell a story. Cadets, who I have had in class, sometimes approach me beforehand and request that, during my speech, I tell some of the stories I've told them in class.

For the longest time I have resisted this. I simply didn't think this the right forum for story-telling, so I tried instead, with varying degrees of success, to use this time to impart some higher lesson - some thought that would perhaps stay with one or two of you a little longer than the 10 or 15 minutes I will be standing here. I tried this again last week at another dining-in and I bombed. Big time. Of course, the cadets didn't say that. They said all the polite things - "Thank you, sir, for those inspiring words - You've provided us much food for thought - We all certainly learned something from you tonight, sir." And I'm thinking - yeah - you learned something all right. You learned never to invite that SOB to be a dining-in speaker again.

So in the interim, I've spent quite a bit of time thinking about what I would say to you tonight. What can I say that will stay with you? And as I reflected on this I turned it on myself - what stays with me? What makes a mark on me? What do I remember, and why? How have I learned the higher lessons I so desperately want to impart to you? Well - I've learned those higher lessons through experience. And as I thought further, I realized that there's only one way to relate experience - that is to tell some stories.

So I'm going to try something new here this evening. I'm going to give you your stories and attempt to relate what I've learned by living them. I'm going to let you crawl inside my eye-sockets and see some of the things I've seen these past 18 years.

Lesson One: Imagine you are a brand new second lieutenant on a peacekeeping mission in the Sinai Peninsula. You are less than a year out of West Point, and only a few weeks out of the basic course. You are standing at a strict position of attention in front of your battalion commander, a man you will come to realize was one of the finest soldiers with whom you've ever served, and you are being questioned about a mistake - a big mistake - that you've made.

You see, your platoon lost some live ammo. Oh sure, it was eventually found, but for a few hours you had the entire battalion scrambling. Your battalion commander is not yelling at you though, he's not demeaning you; he's simply taking this opportunity to ensure you learn from the experience. And you do - you learn that people make mistakes, that those mistakes do not usually result in the end of the world, and that such occasions are valuable opportunities to impart some higher lessons.

Then, out of the corner of your eye, you see your platoon sergeant emerge from behind a building. He's an old soldier - a fine soldier though - whose knees have seen a few too many airborne operations. He sees you and the colonel - and he takes off at a run. You see him approaching from behind the colonel and the next thing you see is the back of your platoon sergeant's head. He is now standing between you and your battalion commander - the two are eyeball to eyeball.

Your platoon sergeant says, a touch of indignance in his voice, "Leave my lieutenant alone, sir. He didn't lose the ammo, I did. I was the one who miscounted. You want someone's ass, you take mine." And you learn another lesson - you learn about loyalty.

Lesson Two: It's a few months later, and you are one of two soldiers left on a hot PZ on some Caribbean island. There's been another foul up - not yours this time, but you're going to pay for it. It's you and your RTO, a nineteen-year-old surfer from Florida who can quote Shakespeare, because his Mom was a high school literature teacher, and who joined the Army because his Dad was a World War II Ranger. The last UH-60 has taken off on an air assault and someone is supposed to come back and get you guys.

But the fire is getting heavy, and you're not sure anything can get down there without getting shot up. You're taking fire from some heavily forested hills. At least two machine guns, maybe three, maybe more, and quite a few AKs, but you can't make out anything else. You and your RTO are in a hole, hunkered down as the bad guys are peppering your hole with small arms fire. Your RTO is trying to get some help - another bird to come get you, some artillery, some attack helicopters - anything. But there are other firefights happening elsewhere on this island involving much larger numbers. So as the cosmos unfold at that particular moment, in that particular place, you and that RTO are well down the order of merit list.

You feel a tug at your pants leg. Ketch, that's what you call him, Ketch tells you he got a "wait, out" when he asked for help. The radio is jammed with calls for fire and requests for support from other parts of the island.
"What we gonna do, sir?" he asks. And all of a sudden, you're learning another lesson. You're learning about the weightiness of command, because it's not just you in that hole, it's this kid you've spent every day with for the last five months. This kid you've come to love like a kid brother.

There is only one way out and that's through the bad guys. You see, you are on a peninsula that rises about 100 feet from the sea. The inland side is where the bad guys are. You figure you are safe in this hole, so long as they don't bring in any indirect fire stuff, but if they come down off those hills, onto the peninsula, then you're going to have to fight it out. And that's what you tell your RTO: We either get help or, if the bad guys come for us, we fight. He looks at you. You don't know how long. And he says only four words. Two sentences. "Roger, sir. Let's rock." Appropriate coming from a surfer. Then he slithers back down to the bottom of the hole. Staying on the radio, your lifeline, trying to get some help. You are peering over the edge of the hole, careful not to make too big a target.

You're thinking about your wife and that little month-old baby you left a few days ago. It was two o'clock in the morning when you got the call: "Pack your gear and get in here." You kissed them both and told them to watch the news. Hell, you didn't know where you were going or why, but you were told to go, and you went.

Then all of a sudden it gets real loud, and things are flying all around and then there's a shadow that passes over you. You look up and find yourself staring at the bottom of a Blackhawk, about 15 feet over the deck, flying fast and low, and as it passes over your hole you see the door gunner dealing death and destruction on the bad guys in those hills. It sets down about 25 meters from your hole, as close as it can get.

You look up and see the crew chief kneeling inside, waving frantically to you, the door gunner still dealing with it, trying to keep the bad guys' heads down, who have now switched their fire to the bird, a much bigger, and better, target. You look at Ketch and then you're off - and you run 25 meters faster than 25 meters have ever been run since humans began to walk upright. And you dive through the open doors onto the floor of the Blackhawk. There are no seats in the bird since this is combat and we don't use them in the real deal.

And you are hugging your RTO, face-to-face, like a lover, and shouting at him "You OKAY? You OKAY? You OKAY?" But he doesn't tell you he's OKAY since he's yelling the same thing at you - "You OKAY? You OKAY? You OKAY?" And then the pilot pulls pitch and executes a violent and steep ascent out of there and had you not been holding on to the d-rings in the floor and the crew chief not been holding your legs, you might have fallen out. Then you're over the water, you're safe, and the bird levels out, and you roll over to your back and close your eyes - and you think you fall asleep.

But then you feel a hand on your blouse, and you open your eyes and see the crew chief kneeling over you with a headset in his hand. He wants you to put it on so you do. And the first thing you hear is, "I-Beamer, buddy boy. I-Beamer."' You were in I-4 while a cadet, and that was your rallying cry. And you look up to where the pilots sit and you see a head sticking out from behind one of the seats. He's looking at you and it's his voice you hear, but you can't make out who it is because his visor is down. Then he lifts it, and you see the face of a man who was two years ahead of you in your company. He tells you that he knew you were there and he wasn't going to leave an I-Beamer like that. And you learn about courage, and camaraderie. And friendship that never dies!

Lesson Three: It's a few years later and you've already had your company command. You're in grad school, studying at Michigan. You get a phone call one night, one of the sergeants from your company. He tells you Harvey Moore is dead, killed in a training accident when his Blackhawk flew into the ground.

Harvey Moore. Two-time winner of the Best Ranger Competition. Great soldier. Got drunk one night after his wife left him and took his son. You see, staff sergeants don't make as much money as lawyers, so she left with the lawyer. He got stinking drunk, though it didn't take much since he didn't drink at all before this, and got into his car. Then had an accident. Then got a DUI. He was an E-6 promotable when this happened, and the SOP was a general-officer Article 15 and a reduction one grade, which would really be two for him because he was on the promotion list.

But Harvey Moore is a good soldier, and it's time to go to bat for a guy who, if your company command was any sort of a success, played a significant part in making it so. And you go with your battalion commander to see the CG, and you stand at attention in front of the CG's desk for 20 minutes convincing him that Harvey Moore deserves a break. You win. Harvey Moore never drinks again. He makes E-7.And when you change command, he grabs your arm, with tears in his eyes, and thanks you for all you've done. Then the phone call. And you learn about grief.

Lesson Four: And then you're a major and you're back in the 82d - your home. And one day some SOB having a bad week decides it's time to take it out on the world and he shoots up a PT formation. Takes out 20 guys. You're one of them. A 5.56 tracer round right to the gut. Range about 10 meters. And you're dead for a little while, but it's not your time yet - there are still too many lessons to learn.

And you wake up after five surgeries and 45 days in a coma. And you look down at your body and you don't recognize it - it has become a receptacle for hospital tubing and electronic monitoring devices. You have a tracheotomy, so there's a huge tube going down your throat and you can't talk, but that thing is making sure you breathe. And there's a tube in your nose that goes down into your stomach - that's how you eat. And there are four IVs - one in each arm and two in the veins in the top of your feet. There is a tube through your right clavicle - that's where they inject the high-powered antibiotics that turns your hair white and makes you see things. But disease is the enemy now and it's gotta be done.

And there are three tubes emerging from three separate holes in your stomach. They are there to drain the liquids from your stomach cavity. It drains into some bags hanging on the side of your bed. And they've shaved your chest and attached countless electrodes to monitor your heartbeat, blood pressure, and anything else they can measure. They have these things stuck all over your head as well, and on your wrists and ankles.

And your family gathers around, and they are like rocks, and they pull you through. But there's also a guy, dressed in BDUs, with a maroon beret in his hand, who stands quietly in the corner. Never says anything. Just smiles. And looks at you. He's there every day. Not every hour of every day, but he comes every day. Sometimes he's there when you wake up. Sometimes he's there when you go to sleep. He comes during his lunch break. He stays an hour, or two or three. And just stands in the corner. And smiles. No one told him to be there.

But he made it his place of duty. His guard post. You see, it's your Sergeant Major, and his Ranger buddy is down, and a Ranger never leaves a fallen comrade. And you learn, through this man, the value of a creed.

Lesson Five: And every four hours two huge male nurses come in and gently roll you on your side. The bullet exited through your left buttock and made a hole the size of a softball. The bandages need to be changed. Take the soiled wads out and put clean ones in. And a second lieutenant comes in. She seems to be there all the time. She's the one changing the bandages. And it hurts like hell, but she, too, is smiling, and talking to you, and she's gentle.

And you know you've seen her before, but you can't talk - you still have that tube in your throat. But she knows. And she tells you that you taught her Military Art History, that now it's her turn to take care of you, that she's in charge of you and the team of nurses assigned to you, and she won't let you down. And you learn about compassion.

Lesson Six: And then it's months later and you're still recovering. Most of the tubes are gone but it's time for another round of major surgeries. And you go into one of the last, this one about nine hours long. And they put you back together. And you wake up in the ICU one more time. Only one IV this time. And when you open your eyes, there's a huge figure standing over your bed. BDUs. Green beret in his hand. Bigger than God. And he's smiling.

"It's about damn time you woke up you lazy bastard," he says. And you know it's your friend and former commander and you've got to come back with something quick - something good. He's the deputy Delta Force commander, soon to be the commander. And you say, Don't you have someplace else to be? Don't you have something more important to do?" And without skipping a beat, without losing that smile he says "Right now, I am doing what I consider the most important thing in the world." And you learn about leadership.

So there you have them. Some stories. I've tried to let you see the world as I've seen it at various points in time these 18 years. I hope you've learned something. I certainly have. Thanks for your time

1/5/08

Losing ground

Losing Ground: Colorado's Vanishing Agricultural Landscape and click on the link to download "Losing Ground" in PDF format.

Look at the past and projected agricultural lands losses for the southeastern Colorado region. Local governments have not been particularly successful in combating these loses of agricultural lands. We've all been seeing the resulting economic losses. Now the Army is poised to accelerate those losses dramatically. Meanwhile, local government opposition to the Army seems limited to some ineffective resolutions.

There is a coalition of ranchers and others who oppose the expansion. But with the passage of the Salazar-Musgrave amendment - which still has yet to be signed into law - the group seems to be drifting along. If you go to their website the latest thing they have is a three month old announcement of a meeting in Pueblo. The meeting was three months ago. Three months! Is that how stagnated this is? The best they seem to have come up with is an unholy alliance with the Sierra Club. Criticizing this alliance has resulted in the moonbats coming out of hiding and foaming at the mouth. Yet in Friday's Tribune-Democrat, Lynn Allen, who is apparently some kind of farm or ranch person, goes off about the Sierra Club and its 'evils'. Is Allen therefore an enemy of the Coalition? Does she know what she is talking about? Or is it simply OK to dis the Sierra Club if you ignore the linkage to the Pinon Canyon Expansion Opposition Coalition? Or is it simply OK if you have enough cowshit on your boots? That seems to be the test of worthiness these days.

There are several municipal governments and several county governments in the affected area. Why is there no coalition of governments to combat the Army's land grab? Why is the best we are seeing from our political leaders nothing more than toothless resolutions? Where is the political leadership?

Communities put a lot of money into economic development, yet if the Army kills the ranches, what kind of economy will there be to develop?

The Army is spending a half-million bucks and more to contract with a PR firm to sell the expansion. Marilyn Musgrave, apparently ignorant of how Federal appropriations work, expressed shock and dismay at this. Did she really think the Army was going to knock it off because of an amendment that had not even been signed into law? And has yet to be signed into law?

What are local communities doing? How about siphoning off some of that economic development money to run an ad campaign? A PR campaign showing the economic harm? Why can't these communities work together to pool resources - funding, political, legal, whatever they have? Why are the ranching coalition and our local governments behaving as though they are all separate entities? The ranchers want it all their way. They want our support, but they want us to keep our mouths shut. Question what they are doing and you must hate ranchers. Local governments? They are standing around wringing their hands and doing nothing.

The governments are standing around doing nothing, and the ranchers are all playing the rugged individualist, and the rest of us are going to end up watching our property values go into the toilet even more than they already are; the housing market will become a bigger joke than it already is; our jobs will disappear; our towns will turn to slumlike dumps, and the employee pool, already suffering, will shrink even more.

We hear about 'we need primary jobs', yet the newspaper continually carries advertisements by places like Lewis Bolt and Nut and DeBourgh, looking for employees. We have jobs. What we do not have is a reliable workforce. We do not have a reliable workforce because local governments, locked in the thought processes of the past, have done little but fiddle like Nero while the quality workers have moved away.

If the Pinon Canyon ranches are taken by the Army....you ain't seen nothin' yet. The opposition the Army faces is fragmented, disorganized, and ineffective. The Army is by organizational culture and mindset primed to exploit those very things in any enemy or opposition it faces. Our leadership is playing right into the Army's hands.

What are our political leaders doing? When are the ranchers going to grasp the fact that people in the towns are neither the enemy nor do we have an obligation to keep our mouths shut over ineffective strategies when our own lives, homes, and economic well-being are as threatened as are theirs?




1/3/08

The Armentrout water

"Speekin' a water," said DinkyDau Billy, as we watched more geese flying overhead, "how is Billie Johnson doon with that Armentrout water? He made a campaign promise up at the Kiva forum that he would launch a court fight to get them shares where we could use 'em. How's that doon?"

"Good question, especially considering the Supreme Court already ruled on it," Tookie replied.

"I don't think we're supposed to know about the Supreme Court ruling. That takes all the juice out of the campaign promise, doesn't it?" asked Billy.

"Could be. Could be. We'll have to wait and see."

"It is composting at its best"

From the CNN article, Green funerals feature biodegradable coffins:

" "It is composting at its best," said Beal, owner of The Natural Burial Company, which will sell a variety of eco-friendly burial products when it opens in January, including the Ecopod, a kayak-shaped coffin made out of recycled newspapers.

Biodegradable coffins are part of a larger trend toward "natural" burials, which require no formaldehyde embalming, cement vaults, chemical lawn treatments or laminated caskets. Advocates say such burials are less damaging to the environment."

Anyone for buying into DinkyDau Billy's "Kowpoop Kanoo" idea? An expanded version of the CowPot?

CowPots


"...idiots..."

We were sitting out in front of The Holy Land Quickee's, snuffling Juan Diego burgers, which steamed deliciously in the cool air. It was cool outside, but comfortable and a welcome break from the damp chilliness of the last few days.

"Hey. Hey. How's it feel to be the village idiot?" chuckled DinkyDau Billy.

"Oh, I dunno. I'm not so sure who's the idjit," I replied,"though I apparently must be given some credit for providing Munch with some kind of intellectual epiphany on December 28. That's gotta go for something, don't you think?"

"Maybe. He didn't contribute anything, though. He didn't make a whole lotta sense. Maybe you have to be 'average people' to understand him. Though I think he rather insults 'average people' by insinuating they are too stupid to understand any of this. I think maybe you hurt his feelings. Reading stuff requires him to think, and that gives him a pain between the ears," Tookie opined.

Billy snickered. Leece kind of rolled her eyes.

"Um...proof positive, I think, that it takes one to know one," observed Toot Sweet.

"Depends," opined I, "on whether we're talking about a 'village idiot' or just your basic generic 'idiot'. I was somewhat disappointed to find out that the local political leadership only considers me to be your basic idiot. Munch, at least gives me a bit more credit."

"Say!" exclaimed Tookie,"that Clinkingbeard says there is nothing wrong with those ranchers getting support from wherever they can. I guess that means the Sierra Club?"

"I guess so," I replied, "since the Sierra Club is the only one I was bringing up."

"But in today's Fence Riding thing, whatsername goes on about how bad the Sierra Club is. Doesn't she support the Pinon Canyon Expansion Opposition Coalition?"

"Apparently not," I said, "because if she did, don't you think she would be extolling the virtues of the Sierra Club and an alliance therewith? So I guess 'Ridin' Fence' will be the next recipient of the 'village idiot' award?"

"Hmmmmmmm...".

"Hmmmmmm...indeed," I went on, "has anyone heard anything of the Coalition of Local Governments' plan to thwart the Pinon Canyon Expansion?"

"Coalition of Local Governments?" Toots asked, looking puzzled.

"Yeah. Yeah. Remember, we's thinkin' regional now, what with those really productive meetins with Lamar city council and what all, lookin' at ree-solvin' mutual problems," Billy pointed out, adding, "so I would think that the expansion of Pinon Canyon and the ensuing economic destruction would be hot items and how local governments are planning to deal with it is what we'd be reedin' about in the press."

"No, I think we're going to rely on a tear-jerker account of how hard-working the ranchers are, and that is going to cause the Army to throw up its arms (so to speak) in shame and withdraw from the whole thing," Tookie told us,"but you have to understand...if you agree with the emotional appeals, you are in a position to get more votes when you run for council. Everyone will like you. The fact that you accomplished absolutely nothing is beside the point. It also helps to sit on boards related to this thing. They won't recall that it was an effort that achieved nothing. It's a real vote-getting winner for local politicians, even if they have nothing to do with ranching."

"Yes. We don't want to corn-fuze the issue with all these quotes and cites from irrelevant things like Constitutional arguments in favor of private property. That's just ...idiotic..." Billy said, breaking into loud guffaws.

We all waited for him to get a grip, then settled back to watching the geese flying in waves across the sky.

"Do they know they ain't welcome in The Smile Hi City?" Billy asked.

"Don't be an idiot," Leece told him, "of course they're welcome. The pond isn't frozen, is it?"

1/1/08

Sylvesterian Morality

"Hi Billy. What are you reading?" asked Leece, as we sat down across from DinkyDau Billy in the Walmart Subway.

" 'A Soldier's Duty'," Billy replied, "it's about some of the ethical and moral issues facing the Army in today's society."

"I've read that one," I chimed in, "it's very good. It has excellent reviews from a number of very senior generals and admirals."

"Yeah. Yeah. With that Ames character, it has some 'Seven Days in May' overtones, too," Tookie added.

"Hey. Hey. Have you figgered out the Veto Question?" asked Billy, changing the subject.

"I think so," Toot Sweet replied, "I think the the whole thing turns on it being a pocket veto. It's very clear that it is a pocket veto. The business of sending it back to the originating house adds an interesting twist but is, in the Constitutional sense, of no consequence."

"That's my take on it too," said Leece.

"Hey. Hey. Speakin' a that Constitution and consequences, what about that Sylvester suggestion that since there are fewer ranchers in Nevada, the thing to do is take their land rather than down at Pinon Canyon?"

"Huh. Situational Constitutionalism? Right. Hey, you know, you can apply the same reasoning and the same morality to dealing with health cost 'issues'. I think Sylvester may have hit upon the solution to a multitude of problems," I said.

"How so?"

"Well...we know that health care costs have gone through the roof. We know that this is causing health insurance premiums to go through the roof. So what is the most obvious way to keep those costs down?" I asked.

"Hmmmmm..." Billy hummed, thoughtfully.

"I know!" exclaimed Tookie, "it goes back to that medical ethics thing. If you have a terminal patient, then just pull the plug on 'em. Why waste all that money and those medical resources on a patient you know is going to die anyway?"

"Yes. It is exactly the same concept. Do away with the few for the benefit of the many. We could also clean out the nursing homes as well. That would really knock down some costs. Then the funding and medical resources could be reserved for the more deserving," I said.

"But who determines who is the more deserving?" Leece asked.

"Aye. That's the rub, ain't it? Well, we could establish Review Boards, made up of our friends and neighbors, like Sylvester and some of those who think the same way. They have a real handle on the moral issues, doncher think?" I asked.

"Ah. I see. You mean like draft boards?" suggested Billy.

"Exactly. When you get really sick or really decrepit, the Review Board can send you a notice, like the old draft notices," I brainstormed.

"Yeah. Right. 'Greetings: We, your friends and neighbors, have noticed that you have been really sick and are becoming increasingly decrepit. Therefore, you are ordered to report forthwith to the Euthanasia Center at 2nd and Raton. This final service to your community will insure that the rest of us have enough medical resources to continue to function until we too become too sick and decrepit..."

"Stop! Stop! That's nuts!" exclaimed Leece.

"Not really. It's called 'triage'," explained Billy, "...but you interrupted: '...but by which time we will have figured out how we can be exempted from the process.' There are always exemptions, just like in the draft."

"I know what 'triage' is," argued Leece, "and this isn't it. What are you trying to do?"

"OK. It isn't 'triage'. It's 'bioethics'. Same difference in the end. You ignore 3500 years of Judeo-Christian ethics so as to take care of the selected and the special."

"It isn't limited to Judeo-Christian ethics," Tookie pointed out, "it fits the ethical picture of a number of cultures and societies."

"Yeah yeah yeah. But what's it got to do with Pinon Canyon and Nevada?" I asked.

"Situational ethics," Billy replied, "same difference. The nation has survived this long because more poeple than not have stood by the Constitution, down through the years. It's interestin' that here in Marlboro Country, home of the rugged individual, descended from tough pioneer stock, that there is so much talk about taking the easy way and pushing it off on someone else."

"Yes. I agree. The issue here is not saving the Pinon Canyon ranches by having the government go take someone else's property. The issue is about keeping the government from taking anyone's property."

"Yeah. But they don't want to hear that. You talk like that, you ain't on their side. Therefore, you is an enemy," Billy explained.

"Hmmmmmmm...".

"There's a lot of that goin' on around here," observed Billy.

"A lot of what?" asked Tookie.

"Humming. Tap-dancing, too, I think."