Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Twenty Years Lost

In 1776, the population of the United States was 2.5 million. Out of that tiny human reservoir emerged the figures of George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and all the rest of the founding fathers. The supply of quality leaders and thinkers seemed without limit. By 1865 and the end of the Civil War, the U.S. population had grown to 7 million. From that somewhat-larger talent pool came Abraham Lincoln, Robert E. Lee, and Frederick Douglass. Men of integrity and intellect still seemed to be available for public service back in the year,1865, and there was reason to think that the trend would continue throughout the life of the country. Today, our country’s population is approaching 300 million. And what do we have to show for this huge increase in numbers from which to draw the best and the brightest? Two pathetic decades of The Bush family, Dick Cheney and the Clinton family.

The founding fathers and the other iconic leaders in the past were characterized, not just by the greatness of their achievements, but also by the sense of urgency which they attached to those achievements. Our early presidents and legislators didn’t wait until the mid-nineteenth century to draft the United States Constitution. Abraham Lincoln didn’t satisfy himself with just marking time during the American Civil War so that he could pass it off to the next president. The sorry fact, however, is that even these great men from the past would not be up to the task of solving today’s problems. But it’s tantalizing to imagine what they might have done twenty years ago.

Dependence on petroleum energy from abroad. Climate change from massive CO2 emissions, mostly from sources in the U.S.A. Southern border immigration which now is almost unstoppable. A healthcare system now ranked #37 in the world at providing good health. A national image around the world that inspires utter disgust, not for American citizens, but for American government. And finally, a Social Security system that may not survive for future generations. These problems are so intractable that I actually pity the next president who will inherit them. Whether it’s McCain or Obama is irrelevant. Either one represents a welcome change from the last twenty years, but neither one can do much of anything about the problems which have languished since the Reagan administration.

Here’s the sadness. Many, if not all, of the problems were identified twenty years ago, and much could have been done to at least start on viable solutions back then. Compounding the tragedy is the fact that none of the problems seem to have a curve of deterioration that’s linear. Instead, most of the problems are characterized by a threshold, or “tipping point” as it’s now called, and in some of the cases, that threshold has already been crossed. Quite simply, for some of the problems it’s too late for solutions, and we can thank our last three presidents for getting us to this point. They approached their job like a teenager flipping burgers. The just wanted to hold on until closing time without getting fired.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

DNCC Update from Denver

The front of the local newspaper today showed a full-page photograph of a Blackhawk helicopter next to the Denver City and County Building. The accompanying story told us what we already knew: The low-altitude skies over downtown Denver are buzzing with military choppers full of Special Forces ops in armored battle gear and carrying assault rifles and other advanced weapons. The commandos call themselves, “The Tip of the Spear.”

Naturally, we all figured that this was preparation for the upcoming DNCC Convention in August. It did, however, occur to me that the level of lethal armament shown by Tip of the Spear seemed out of proportion for any simple confrontation with belligerent picket sign carriers. I wondered if, maybe, the creationists in Kansas had somehow armed themselves to the teeth, and were preparing to sweep across the Colorado border in August and vanquish the evolutionists gathered at the convention. That would explain everything. But, then, a Tip of the Spear spokesman said that the “training exercise” had “absolutely” nothing to do with the upcoming convention. The word, “absolutely” was included for emphasis.

According to the Tip of the Spear spokesman, the choppers and commandos are just doing routine practice to fight the global war on terrorism. (The practice has been going on for three days and will continue throughout the week, during both daylight and nighttime hours). According to the Tip of the Spear spokesman, Denver was chosen only because it presents a typical urban environment. The armed assault practice is just to “familiarize army personnel with the precise layout of downtown Denver and the ethnic makeup of the surrounding neighborhoods.” But, again, the spokesman said that all of this is unrelated to the upcoming DNCC Convention. He should have also restated the government position that Oswald acted alone.

Governments lie. They do it all over the world, and they do it all the time. With all that practice, wouldn’t you think they would get better at doing it? I suspect that what we are seeing in Denver this week is not just the Tip of the Spear, it’s also the tip of the iceberg.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Beware of That Patriotic Lapel Pin

I became a patriot in 1948, when I began to learn about my country in second grade. At that time, the GDP of the United States was one-half of the GDP of the entire world, and the manufacturing and industrial capability of the country was one-half of the world’s total capacity. 88% of all the cars in the world were American made, running on American roads, and fueled with gas refined from domestic oil being pumped out of the ground in Texas, Oklahoma, and California. Our food production was sufficient to feed the world because the global population was only about two billion. Our military arsenal contained, maybe, a half-dozen atomic bombs, the only such devices anywhere on the planet. Not surprisingly, the American notion of patriotism was intimately tied to the notion of supremacy. The two went hand-in-hand, and that equation was totally valid in 1948.

Time passes, and things change. Today, we are mostly known for being number one in prison population, divorce rate, drug use (both legal and illegal), cosmetic surgery numbers, illegitimate births, and of course, military spending. So it’s quite surprising that our notion of patriotism is still equated with supremacy in the minds of most Americans. I guess old notions have a hard time going away. As a result, a candidate for political office risks his or her career if they take note of the national deficiencies, and for everyone else, acknowledging our shortcomings is seen as a lack of patriotic pride. The patriot-supremacists have even co-opted the American flag lapel pin as their talisman, which can, by its absence, identify those heretics who might tend toward a lack of pride and a bit of national pessimism. The willingness to wear it identifies the true believer. People without the lapel pin are immediately suspect when it comes to their patriotism. The thing is, all lapel pins are now made in China.

Since most of the patriot-supremacists are notoriously paranoid about things like the Antichrist and the Federal Reserve Bank, I think that now is the time to give them another reason for paranoia, and spread the Internet rumor that all Chinese-made lapel pins are imbedded with powerful radio chips to enable the Chi-Commies to track everyone wearing the talisman. I defy anyone to disprove this.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Next Sound You Hear Will Be.......

I saw my first acoustic cannon two years ago, in 2006, when it was deployed to ward off pirates in the Straits of Malacca. My wife and I were aboard a small luxury cruise ship sailing northwest from Singapore. We’d left port there about midnight, and when we woke up in the morning off the coast of Sumatra, the deck of the ship had a new look. Watchmen were stationed at the rail with binoculars, and deployed next to them were parabolic dishes, black in color, looking like slightly larger versions of the Direct TV satellite antennas that you see mounted on houses in America.

Fortunately, one of our table mates in the ship’s dining hall was a retired army weapons specialist. He told us about the new equipment on deck, explaining that the acoustic cannon is a non-lethal weapon designed to disable humans at distances up to one mile. I’ve stayed in contact with him for the last two years. I telephoned him yesterday to ask about a rumor that’s making the rounds in Denver, a rumor that acoustic cannons are being sent to Denver for the August Democratic convention. He verified that the rumor is true.

I’m struck by a kind of cosmic irony in this. We invaded Iraq, wishing to give them a democracy so that they would be more like us. We may be seeing our wish come true. Our democracy is becoming more like theirs, with elected representatives disunited and partitioned by competing ideologies to the point of dysfunctional non-governance. The only piece of the picture of similarity that was missing was the insurrection in the streets. Now, however, we seem to be on the verge of seeing that, too, come to pass. Denver may give us our first glimpse of the ugly next chapter in this pathetic saga.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Political Correctness- It's Time To Give It Up

Anyone who has been reading The Stonecypher since I started blogging two months ago knows how I feel about our current president. It should come as no surprise that I support Barack Obama, but I have an underlying concern if he should become president. My hope is that he would be very good. He might even be great. But he will certainly NOT be perfect. When he stumbles and blunders (and he most certainly will do that), then supporters and detractors must all be free to criticize his mistakes without being accused of racism. Political correctness must go, and now is the time for that to happen. The Left needs to give it up. It’s the price that the Left must pay for this success to finally come their way.

The good idea behind political correctness was that people should not offend one another. The false pretense was that it’s all about tolerance and civility and celebration of diversity. It’s not. These concepts are just as phony as the notion fifty years ago that true patriotism was based on anti-Communism. Like McCarthyism in the early 1950s, political correctness is all about power. Power, and nothing more. The reality is that I can probably gain power over you by simply claiming you offended me. The claim itself need not even have any valid basis to it. There is, however, an important caveat to this, because not everyone can gain power in this way.

Under political correctness, heterosexual, Christian white males are at a great disadvantage. They’re the only group who can’t gain individual power over others just by claiming to be offended. White males would seem to have a disproportionate majority of the power these days, at least institutionally, but what I’m talking about is power at the social and individual level. Here’s an example: If a black person says that they deserve free money as a reparation for slavery, that person is taken seriously. If a white person says that— in the interest of historical congruity— slavery reparations should be paid in obsolete Confederate dollars, that person will be accused of racism. And an accusation of racism has the same effect today that the accusation of Communist ties had in 1953. Just the accusation alone can mean an instant end to a career and social standing. Any white male at the top of the institutional power structure can be toppled by an accusation of racism. So I ask you. Who has the power?

So how do these societal pathologies come about. Basically, an original good idea gets magnified. And not just a bit magnified, but magnified beyond all reason. McCarthyism started with the simple idea that there was a network of Communist spies at work in America. By the time it got magnified, you had the televised spectacle of an innocent person who might have once attended a Communist meeting out of curiosity, now being bullied by a panel of self-righteous senators in front of the entire nation as though that person could supply the names of all the spies in America, if only subjected to enough pressure. The pathology in all that wasn’t in what the senators were doing. Senators are always self-righteous. The pathology was in the fact that people all over the country sat in their living rooms and watched it on television and bought into it. Political correctness now has that same ubiquity in the United States.

These societal pathologies seem to come along every fifty years or so, and then they gradually melt away under the heat of their own absurdity. Now is the time for political correctness to go away. Surrendering this absurd power tool is the price that the Left must pay to give Obama a chance at a meaningful presidency.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Modern-Day Version of Cleopatra's Barge

Five months to go until the 2008 election, and new polls show that 82% of Americans think the country is on the wrong track. This causes me to ask two questions. The first and most obvious question is, “What the hell is going through the optimistic minds of the 18% who still don’t get it?” And the second and more subtle question is, “Would the 82% do what was necessary to turn things around if they knew what it would take?” Would they ever vote for a candidate who wanted to cut the defense budget by 70%? Would they follow a leader who suggested mothballing our carrier fleet? Could they ever be seduced away from the national love affair with the military?

It’s no secret to most Americans that we spend more on our military-industrial machine than the entire rest of the world spends on their combined armaments. We have a military presence in 130 foreign countries. These are supposed to be sovereign nations, but we figure our invasiveness should be okay with everyone because we’re the good guys. Anyway, that’s our story, and we’re sticking to it. The funny thing is, the ancient Romans viewed the world the same way. So how did we get to this point?

In 1947, the War Department and the Department of the Navy merged into what we now call the Department of Defense. The primary reason for this consolidation was to raise the status and clout of the military arm of Government so that it could compete for funding with State Department. In 1947, State had seven times the budget of Defense. And for the next 44 years of the Cold War, the strategy made sense. The problem is, the Cold War ended. But nothing changed militarily for the United States. And now the iconic personal image that America presents to the rest of the world is not that of a businessman or scientist or statesman, but the image of a fully-battle-armored Marine. The U.S. State Department is now nothing but a footnote. As for the rest of the world, they are too busy making America irrelevant to care what we do militarily. They know that global influence no longer correlates with military power.

The world’s largest publically-traded corporation and the world’s tallest skyscraper are both Chinese. In neighboring India, Bollywood has passed Hollywood as the film capital of the world. Six universities in India provide graduate education in science and engineering that surpasses MIT and Cal Tech. At least three dozen industrialized nations have a lower mortality rate than the U.S. because of better healthcare systems. Toyota is now the most successful car maker, and 54 nations have more efficient railroad and airline infrastructures. The ten largest shopping malls on earth are outside of the United States. Most multi-billionaires are foreign, not American. And the American dollar is quickly losing status as the major global currency. Quite simply, the rest of the world looked at everything that projected American dominance- all of our financial and cultural and technological triumphs- and they worked diligently to surpass us in these areas. But the most visible icon that was intended to project American dominance, our Naval super-carrier fleet, was profoundly ignored by the rest of the world. Nobody outside of the United States considers an aircraft carrier to be anything but a truculent modern-day version of Cleopatra’s barge.

And here’s the final irony. The United States has the raw power to destroy every human being on earth, but our Pentagon can’t win a modern 4th generation war. For those countries and cultures that still believe in projecting themselves through violence, they have learned during the last seven years that their wars can be waged on the cheap, using nothing more than brilliant imagination and handmade explosive weapons, and sometimes just suicidal commitment. Trying to intimidate that kind of enemy with an aircraft carrier is like threatening a pesky house fly with a ball-peen hammer.

In early 2007, the Pentagon released an estimate that the insurgents spend about $100 to kill one of our boys. Their costs are so artificially low because the insurgents use captured U.S. military hardware, and arms that have been diverted from supplies given to the Iraqi army, and residue from pre-invasion stockpiles, and, of course, munitions supplied by Iran. They fight their side of the war in the same way that the “good guys” in Star Wars fight The Evil Empire. This is what’s meant by 4th generation warfare. 9/11 was another example of this. By way of comparison, we spend about 50 million dollars to kill one of them (the trillion-dollar cost of the war divided by the 20,000 that we’ve killed so far).

All of this takes us back to the idea that America is on the wrong track. It’s not that we can’t afford our huge military expenditures. We actually spend a lower percentage of GDP on defense now than we did in the late 1950s. It’s wasted money, but we can still afford the cost. What we can’t afford is the global perception that we, as a country, are just big and stupid. To use an analogy from the school environment, the rest of the world is hitting the books and excelling at extra-curricular activities, and The United States is bulked up on steroids and focused only on the Friday night game.