Let’s not overreact to lone wolf attacks

Byline: | Category: Above the Fold, Culture, Foreign Policy, Iraq, Military | Posted at: Wednesday, 22 October 2014

When I was a planner at U.S. European Command I was part of a group that looked at counter-terrorism planning.  One of the concerns we were addressing was the “lone wolf” attacker.  That was what we called an inspired individual who took it upon himself to, on his own, stage a terrorist attack.  I took the counter-intuitive position that the lone-wolf attacker was not a problem; instead he was an indicator of success.

Terrorism is not how the strong attack their enemies.  Coordinated terrorist attacks originating in the Middle East are themselves a counter-intuitive indicator of success.  That is because the American military (and its Western Allies) are far too strong to attack symetrically.  Al Qaeda never could hope to attack the United States militarily.  They never have had the resources to directly confront America with missiles and tanks.  So they have had to resort to organized terrorist attacks.

Lone wolf attacks like the ones perpetrated against Canada twice in the last two days are indicators that now even organized terrorist attacks often are beyond the abilities of al Qaeda and affiliated groups. Since al Qaeda’s losses suffered in Iraq and Afghanistan, they rarely have been able even to conduct organized terrorist attacks.  As horrible as these lone wolf types of attacks are, they amount to little more than murders, not wholesale attacks against the West.

And that was my point to the other planners at EUCOM: lone wolf attacks don’t need a  military solution.  When the enemy’s attacks amount to a few (obviously very tragic) murders that the police can handle, a military response unnecessarily expends more of our resources while it gives our enemies more credit than they deserve.

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Fighting the last war

Byline: | Category: Above the Fold, Culture, Economy, Government, Iraq, Military, Taxes & Spending | Posted at: Thursday, 3 October 2013

The nearly four-year-long stalemate of the Great War ended only because fresh American troops arrived on the front lines in the summer of 1918 at the rate of 10,000  a day.  Twenty-one years later the Allies envisioned another lengthy trench-style war when they relied upon a line of interconnected, powerfully-fortified concrete bunkers named after French Minister of War, Andre Maginot.  A generation after the First World War, and only six weeks after the second war began in earnest, the whole of France was under German rule.

A mere 100 hours after the American-led offensive to liberate Kuwait began, the war was over. A dozen years later a similar ground offensive was nearly as quickly concluded . . . but that war was only beginning.

It is human nature to extrapolate linearly from the past.  Investment advisers in the 1920s and  the 1990s, as well as real estate professionals in the oughts, forecasted incredible and continuous increases in value.  Climatologists 30 years ago observed sharply colder winters of the late-seventies and forecasted a new ice age; a generation later many of those same scientists watched temperatures climb and extrapolated that to a future of rising seas and scorched lands.

Here we are today, eighteen years after the last government shutdown and Democrats blithely predict a certain public relations victory while many Old Guard Republicans, still snakebit by the past, fear for their electoral futures.

Life has a way of not staying on script.

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Karl Rove would be proud

Byline: | Category: 2008 Presidential Election, 2012, Culture, Economy, Government, Iraq, Taxes & Spending | Posted at: Saturday, 8 September 2012

Given the continued existence of Guantanamo, the expanded wars in the Middle East, not to mention, expanded war powers at home, it shouldn’t be surprising that once again Barack Obama has chosen George W. Bush as his role model.

This is the 2004 election all over again. An embattled incumbent struggles with his popularity due to the perception that he has badly bungled the nation’s most important crisis, albeit one that wasn’t his fault since he inherited it shortly after taking office. The perception is reinforced by the Presidents’ focus on issues thought to be tangential to the central crisis. In 2004 it was the opinion that the war against al Qaeda was the big issue while an unnecessary war in Iraq was a poorly planned fiasco that made the real problem worse. Today the issue is jobs, while the generally accepted view is that the two-year-long focus on a health insurance program was both distracting and counterproductive. Furthermore, this week’s Democratic convention shows that Obama’s re-election platform is vintage Bush: The incumbent promises four more years of the same. Only, instead of more troops and more money, it’s more spending and more money

On the challenger side we have parallels with 2004 as well. Both are unsympathetic rich men from Massachusetts whose past includes prominence in the arena of the central crisis where the incumbent has demonstrated none. It was Silver Star awardee John Kerry eight years ago and it is successful businessman Mitt Romney today. Even their foibles are similar. The etch-a-sketch metaphor for Mitt Romney is a virtual replica of John Kerry’s wind-surfing video. Meanwhile it’s hard not to hear echoes of “I was for it before I was against it” whenever today’s challenger tries to explain away his former support for statist health care. Even the vice presidential challengers are similar: youngish white men from long-shot, though still competitive states, and whose experience appeals to their party’s base: trial lawyers in 2004 and budget cutters today.

But there are differences. In 2004 George W. Bush didn’t have the luxury of being able to lose a few votes and still win re-election. He won the Presidency the first time around by the slimmest of electoral margins and actually lost the popular vote. Bush needed to pick up voters and states to win a second term. Barack Obama can still win even if he drops a point or two from his previous result and loses a few states he once won.

Still, that should offer the current incumbent little comfort. His campaign has lost electoral votes due to redistricting and has already conceded Indiana. North Carolina, which he barely won by 5,000 votes four years ago, is also all but gone. As for constituencies, there are many where Obama has lost support. Young voters support him in smaller numbers this time and appear far less enthusiastic than they did before. There is a real risk that the Democrat will fall under 50% with non-governmental labor voters. Additionally, polls continue to indicate slippage with Hispanics, Jews, and Muslims. As for blacks, exit polls four years ago indicated a level of support that was within the margin of error of 100%. There is no upside left. Joe Biden’s “chains” remark was calculated to ensure that blacks came out to vote in numbers matching 2008’s levels so that Democrats don’t lose those numbers.

Even more alarming to the Obama Campaign should be his overall standing in the polls. Since July his approval ratings have stayed below 50%. Eight years before George W. Bush dropped only once below that level in the last four months before the race.

Confronted with similar challenges, Obama looks to have employed Karl Rove’s plan: highlight social wedge issues to drive up his level of support among a large constituency generally predisposed in his favor. Bush targeted Evangelical Christians; Obama bases his reelection campaign on getting even greater support from childless women. And the central argument by which Obama means to make his case to women is abortion. To me, it appears to be an argument that is both patronizing and simplistic.

I’ve spent the last few months in Germany where, true to the stereotype, outdated American pop culture rules. Yes, David Hasselhoff is still popular here, as evidenced by the fact that his 60th birthday two months ago was a leading story in the German news. One fifteen-year old song currently making the rounds over here is Meredith Brooks’ Nothing In Between. “I’m a bitch, I’m a lover, I’m a child, I’m a mother, I’m a sinner, I’m a saint . . . ” she refrains again and again. Though somewhat crudely, she makes the rather obvious point that, just like men, women are complex beings irreducible to a single description or category.

But Obama has chosen a view of women opposite that of Ms. Brooks. To today’s Democrat, if you have a uterus, you must vote blue. Code Pink metaphorically represents this strategy. Dressed in giant vagina costumes, they have reduced womanhood to an organ. Yes, I find it more than a little ironic that the transgendered part of the GLBT community overwhelmingly aligns itself with the party that wants to categorize people solely on the basis of their plumbing.

We saw evidence of the Democrats’ strategy over and over in Charlotte where seemingly every speaker highlighted abortion. If Republicans are the party of God (and they are not), it’s as if Democrats have purposefully chosen to be the anti-God—even to the extent that they willfully created the spectacle of their rancor over any reference to God in their platform.

So now that both parties’ conventions are over we have the script for the next two months. Republicans have consolidated their base around deficit reduction while they attempt to win over independents with a focus on jobs that they say Obama has mistakenly ignored. Democrats meanwhile propose more of the same to fix the economy, while they focus on demonizing Romney and attempt to frighten its most ardent supporters into maximizing their turnout. It’s a plan that has a chance of working. Romney, like Kerry, has just enough deficiencies that he very well could lose to an unpopular president.

But it’s a plan with great risks. One difference from eight years ago is that today there are now roughly twice as many independent voters. Throughout 2004 those unsure whether or not they approved or disapproved of the incumbent hovered between three and six percent. This year opinion polls show that between six and nine percent of respondents are unsure about the president. These are undecided voters whom Romney has courted and Obama has ignored. The Democratic convention made clear that Obama isn’t trying to win their support so much as he wants to make Mitt Romney unpalatable.

Another risk is in the medium to long term. For one thing, building your organization’s core message around the childless isn’t exactly a model likely to yield inter-generational success. Secondly, pinning your party’s hopes on the most vocal advocates of a highly controversial social issue, when there is near universal agreement that other issues are more important, gives your party’s megaphone to those who are both extreme and irrelevant. Sandra Fluke is this year’s Terri Schiavo. For every already-Democrat she inspires to vote, she turns off at least one independent for the crime of insulting them by ignoring larger issues. Karl Rove’s plan to drive up Evangelical turnout in 2004, while it worked then, gave rise four years later to Mike Huckabee, who is perhaps the most demagogic and dangerous major presidential candidate to have run for office since William Jennings Bryan beclowned himself and his party in the late 19th century. It should have taken years for the GOP to disassociate its reputation from Huckabee’s form of Evangelical theocracy. Except now it appears that Democrats look ready to rush into their own version of anti-First-Amendment totalitarianism that, instead of forcing adherence to religious views, forces opposition to them. Most Americans hate both extremes of this tangential debate. If Obama does win, you can be sure that the most extreme pro-abortion voices will shriek even louder in 2016. That can’t be good for Democrats.

Returning to poll numbers, the President’s strategy appears to me to be less likely to work now than it did for Bush in 2004. Bush straddled 50% support almost throughout 2004. If you’ve got half the vote, you can afford to focus your efforts on turning out your base. Barack Obama almost never sees poll numbers that high. Particularly among likely voters, this President is mired around 46 to 48 percent. Coupled with 2008’s remarkably high turnout among usually low turnout youth and minorities, it’s hard to see him hitting 50%.

But give Obama points for consistency. After 2010’s complete Democratic collapse in the worst mid-term congressional landslide in at least a generation, there was much speculation that Obama would, like Bill Clinton before him, pivot to the center. He did not and still does not. Refusing to offer any significant legislation where he could meet Republicans on common ground, he has staked his future on the past two years of no accomplishments while he stokes his party’s disdain for the other side. I think that it is a strategy destined to fail.

But if he succeeds? I suspect that we’ll see yet one more Obama-Bush parallel: a slim-majority reelection of a mediocre president whose own party’s second-term support dissipates in the absence of an electoral challenge.

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2012′s Predictions

Byline: | Category: 2012, Culture, Economy, Government, Iraq, Military, Taxes & Spending | Posted at: Thursday, 29 December 2011

Now that we’ve had the chance to review last year’s results, let’s go forward to 2012′s predictions:

1.  It’s the end of the Euro as we know it.  Someone is going to leave the currency union.  If Germany was wise, it would be them.  (Sure, a strong Deutschmark would put pressure on their exports, but it would give huge buying power to its people–not to mention, having Euro-denominated debts would greatly reduce its debt load.)  But inertia and obstinacy, especially among political classes, is a powerful thing.  More likely is that Portugal, Ireland, Greece, or Spain will be kicked out of a “full” currency union.  Chaos will ensue.

2.  Before the Euro breaks apart, first will come a failed Italian debt auction in February.  The ECB will finally flood the system with cash.  After a few days of rejoicing, reality will set in.  Gold will soar eventually above $2,000.  The Euro will fall below $1.10.  Germany will get nervous.  In short, nothing will have changed, except that more bankers will have been made whole on their bad debts at the expense of taxpayers.

3.  While long-term investors should look at what is happening in Europe as reason to disassociate themselves from unsustainable sovereign debt, in a world awash in “free” money, there remain few real long-term investors.  Instead, the “flight to safety will push up the prices on treasuries.  The U.S. ten-year note will spend almost the entire year at or under two percent, and will even flirt briefly with one.

4.  Even with interest rates ridiculously low for another year, the housing market will not recover.  The problem is and will continue to be the banks’ holding back of a shadow inventory of 6 million homes either in foreclosure, or badly behind on their payments.  Until that clears the market, real estate will not find its bottom.

5.  Another drag on the economy will be 2012′s Kredit Anstalt moment.  Not sure if it will be BNP, or DeutscheBank, or someone else (there are so many bad banks from which to choose), but a major European bank will fail, and fail spectacularly.  There won’t be enough money to bail them out and the ripple effects will shock the world.  World stock markets will collapse.  Countries will try currency controls to contain the crisis, but will succeed in only making it worse.  By the last quarter of the year, the phrase “global depression” will be freely used.

6.  The Fed will end the year still fighting a mythical deflation monster with an arsenal of ridiculously low rates and gimmicky asset purchases.  As a result, inflation will be coming to America.  Brutally so.  But not in 2012.

7.  There will be less employed people in America at the end of 2012 than at the beginning.  Still, because of the vast swaths of the disenchanted who simply leave the job market, the unemployment rate might appear to be little changed, or perhaps might even improve.

8.  Europe’s PIIGS will have two new members:  Belgium and France.  Each will end the year paying more than 6% on its 10-year debts.

9.  Iran and Israel will not come to blows.  There will be no bombing of Iranian reactors.  But the heated rhetoric will not dissipate either.

10.  Iran will come to blows with the United States.  Not sure how or where it will come, but they will launch a successful symbolic strike at what they perceive as impotence.  However, war will not be the result.  What will result is $120 oil, adding to the economic catastrophe.

11.  Russian revolts will continue until they are violently put down.  Think Tiananmen on steroids.  Putin will hold power.  At any cost.  Europe, enslaved by its dependence on Russian natural gas, will timidly express “grave concern.”  There will be calls for America to withdraw from the 2014 Winter Olympics to be hosted in the Russian ski resort of Sochi.  Not wishing to repeat Carter’s 1980 Moscow performance, President Obama will ignore the advice, but to no avail:  he will be pilloried for being even weaker than Carter.

12.  2011′s Arab Spring will result in 2012′s Arab Winter of Discontent.  Egypt will continue to be a mess.  Turkey will be teetering on the brink.

13.  NATO will announce that it will end its involvement in Afghanistan in 2014.

14.  Speaking of NATO . . .   The annual NATO conference in Chicago in May will be a disaster as the splintering economies of several NATO members prompt calls for the alliance to dissolve.  Even worse, is the fact that it is simultaneously scheduled to coincide with the G8 Conference, also in Chicago.  Like rotting fruit to maggots, the spring meetings will draw tens of thousands of anarchists, militants, communists, and Methodists.  It will be 1968 all over again as the city is consumed by riots and a heavy-handed police response.  Pundits from left and right will savage President Obama for the sheer stupidity of allowing these two events to occur in his hometown just six months before the election.  Occupy Wall Street will completely beclown itself, taking down its President with it.  He will never again poll above 43% approval among likely voters after May.

15.  The first economic surprise of the year will be that Europe’s failings will show that CDSs are not in as bad a shape as everyone had feared. 

16.  The second economic surprise of 2012 will be ETFs.  The complicated investment strategies will be exposed as Enron-like impenetrable schemes.  At least one big respected investment house will collapse as a result.

17.  Now to the elections . . .  Republicans will pick up between 8 and 12 seats in the Senate, taking control of the upper chamber, but not achieving a filibuster-proof majority.  Among the gains will be Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Virginia, and Wisconsin.  The surprise of the night will be Florida.  Bill Nelson will lose.  Linda Lingle and Scott Brown will  finish excruciatingly close races–close because in both liberal states, President Obama will vastly underperform expectations due to low turnout.  In fact, 2012 will be the lowest turnout election since 2000 as blacks, youth, non-government unions, and social conservatives see their numbers fall off from 2008 and 2004.  Harry Reid will depart the Senate.

18.  Republicans will gain 10 to 20 more seats in the House.  Along with the ouster of five or more moderates in the primaries, the Tea Party wing of the GOP will wield enormous power in the lower chamber.  Nancy Pelosi will announce her retirement.

19.  President Obama won’t win more than ten states.  California, New Jersey, and New York will all give him less than 53% of their vote.  The only states he wins west of Maryland will be Illinois and some of the ones that border the coast.  Only DC gives him greater than 55%.  The down-ticket effect on state races will be even worse for Democrats than they were in 2010. 

20.  President-Elect Romney will immediately let down his base by the nomination of a major financial industry insider as Treasury Secretary.  This will be the first of many disappointments that will follow in 2013.

Bonus prediction which will take years to see if it comes true:  2012 will be the last year that a Republican is ever elected President.

UPDATE:  I received quite a few comments and emails asking what I meant about the bonus prediction. 

In turbulent times it is far easier for those out of power to offer revolutionary reforms than it is for those in power to reform themselves.  Power nearly always acts to preserves the status quo.  Mitt Romney is the status quo.  I believe that President Romney will have a GOP super-majority in the House and a large majority in the Senate.  He will be given an enormous opportunity to undertake reform, but he will be unable to do so.

Barack Obama, when he took office in 2009, had that same opportunity.  But he was beholden to his status quo: labor at the auto firms, government employee unions in the states whose budgets were bolstered, the green lobby, and Goldman Sachs.  Parties in power are hamstrung by the interests that brought them to power.  Incrementalism is the only thing they have to offer.  It is only those out of power who are unconstrained by the necessity to hold on to it.

Over the next four years I expect numerous so-called “black swans,” events that are thought to be unpredictable, but arise only because shared assumptions are shattered.  Today we assume that money has value because government says that it does.  We assume that governments will honor their social spending obligations.  We assume that Western Europe will remain a peaceful and prosperous place.  We assume that China’s capitalist trajectory is ever upward.  We assume that developed nations never wage war on each other.  Enormous resources rest on these assumptions and others.  

Soon these assumption  will be tested.  Some (most?) will fail and enormous problems will be the result.  Solutions to those problems cannot come from those in power, any more than the solution to the housing crisis can come from the banks whose very viability rests on the belief that the value of their mortgage assets will recover.  The powerful will always act to preserve the status quo–and when it fails, they’ll attempt to preserve the illusion of it.  You need only to see what has happened with the Euro over the past year to understand just how much effort those in power will expend to preserve an illusion. 

Over the next few years I expect very bad things; things which require solutions, not illusions.  A Republican Party which holds all the levers of power, will shoulder all the blame.  As for the Democratic Party, as long as it embraces redistributionism it will always have a natural constituency.  It can never go away. 

In short, at the height of crisis, when Democrats offer only redistribution and Republicans have been repudiated, I expect that a third party will emerge.

NOTE:  Thanks to Glenn for the link!  While you’re here, please, look around at things like this.

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2011 Predictions: the Scorecard

Byline: | Category: 2012, Culture, Economy, Government, Iraq, Regulations, Taxes & Spending | Posted at: Thursday, 29 December 2011

Before giving my predictions for the coming year, let’s grade last year’s results:

1.  Neither Italy nor Spain will require a major bailout . . . much to Europe’s growing chagrin.  The default of either country would be the death knell of the Euro.  Instead of a heart attack, the patient will linger with terminal cancer and be further weakened by chemotherapeutic attempts to shore up confidence in Greece, Portugal, and newly stricken Belgium. 

Nailed it!  Next year, however, will be different. (1-0)

2.   Austria will join the growing list of countries of economic concern.

Nope.  Hasn’t happened . . . yet.  Even though the spread between German and Austrian notes has increased from a 25-50 basis point range in the first half of 2011 to 100+ points for most of the second half of the year, the sovereign bond market hasn’t yet put Austria on the deathwatch list. (1-1)

3.  Germany will continue to be damned if it does, damned if it doesn’t.  Its debtor neighbors will resent having to continue begging the Deutsch for dough.  But once they get it, they’ll resent even more the restrictions that come with the loans.  Through currency, Merkel accomplished what Frederick, Bismarck, and Hitler never could by force:  a Continent united under rule by Berlin.  It won’t continue.  At some point resentment will bubble over into conflict . . .  However it ends, it won’t be pretty.  It won’t end this year.  But it will end soon. 

Exactly correct!  Living here in Germany for most of 2011, I see it from both sides.  Germans resent having to bail out their indebted brethren, while their deadbeat relatives hate the Germans for the fact that they are indebted to them.  The end will be ugly when it comes.  (2-1)

4.  The biggest foreign economic surprise of the year will be Luxembourg. 

No way.  Luxembourg has weathered all storms well.  Its citizens, on average, are the wealthiest of the EU.  But before Luxembourgers get too complacent, they should keep in mind that a collapse of the European banking system will hit little Luxembourg especially hard.  (2-2)

5.  No American state will default on its debts in 2011.  Even California will somehow muddle through, though it will issue IOUs instead of money for months.  The following year, however, won’t end so well.

Yes.  California and Illinois didn’t default.  However, that won’t last forever.  (3-2)

6.  At least one mid-size American city will go into bankruptcy.  Others will be queued up behind them. 

Sort of.  Alabama’s Jefferson County (home to Birmingham) has filed for bankruptcy.  Pennsylvania’s Harrisburg is next in line.  On the other hand, the Meredith Whitney-predicted fear of cascading municipal defaults did not happen.  So the second half of this prediction–that it would become a major political hot potato hasn’t either.  (3-2-1)

7.  Early 2011 optimism will give way to a dark economic reality.  The only question:  is it a double-dip?  Or did the first recession never really end?  The one area where almost everyone agrees:  Keynes is dead.  Paul Krugman never gets past denial.  Incredible as it might seem, his lamentations grow even more shrill.

Spot on.  Especially the Krugman part.  (4-2-1)

8.  Gold will fall early in the year, dropping into the 1200s, if not lower, before June.  The bond crisis and a growing consensus that the Euro is in its final days will inflate gold to back over $1400, where it will end the year before really taking off in 2012.

Nope.  I had thought that the first half of the year would have contained better market news than it did, and that that would have pressured gold down.  Instead we just muddled through the doldrums, keeping gold high.  Then when things went bad this summer in Europe, gold shot up briefly to $1900.  It’s still more than $200 higher than I thought it was going to be–and I was one of the few offering a pessimistic economic prediction for 2011.  That’s how bad 2011 really was.  (4-3-1)

9.  Multiple economic crises and presidential politics will combine to make the President announce that American combat forces will be gone from Afghanistan by the end of 2012 and all forces will depart by 2014.  NATO will announce that its Afghanistan mission will end in 2012.  The last American brigade will leave Iraq in 2011. 

Half right.  Iraq is over.  Afghanistan is nowhere near an end.  (4-3-2)

10.  President Obama will receive pressure from activists on the internet left and pundits from the middle to drop out of the race, but then what?  Hillary Clinton will not run for President.  Russ Feingold will not run.   Howard Dean will not run.  The simple fact is that there is no room to Obama’s left and no Democrats remaining to his right; hence no challenger.  Instead, most realistic Democrats will resign themselves to the fact that they are likely to suffer an enormous presidential defeat, and no one of any consequence steps up to be the next McGovern.   By year end Barack Obama will have only token opposition in a race to secure a nomination that no one wants.

Half wrong.  Occupy Wall Street was evidence of the pressure on Obama from the left that I predicted.  And I was correct that there appears to be no Democratic challenger.  On the other hand, it’s not all “gloom, despair, and agony” in the Democratic camp that I predicted.  Of course, that probably has less to do with how bad the Democratic electoral situation is than it has to do with how lacklustre GOP candidates have been.  So far it’s been a race between Mitt (Bob Dole without the war record) Romney and a series of anybody-but-Romneys that have included two minor leauge candidates (Bachman and Perry), a smooth-talking Lothario (Cain), the absent-minded professor (Gingrich), and the guy who has a lot of good positions but is also an addled anti-semitic racist nut (Paul).  (4-3-3)

11.  Republicans, meanwhile, will provide lots of electoral entertainment.  By the middle of 2011 the pundits will announce that the race is a contest between Mitt Romney and Sarah Palin.  Neither will be the favorite by the end of the year.  Instead, the shortest man in the race will cast quite a long shadow.

Nope.  The only part of this that I got right was the Sarah Palin part.  As we enter the election season, Mitt Romney is still the favorite.  Of course, keep in mind that in all three of the most recent contested primaries, the year-end leader  ultimately lost the race for their nomination (Dean, Clinton, and Romney).  Unfortunately, the man whom I thought would be leading the race by now didn’t enter the field:  Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels.  (4-4-3)

12.  Republicans in Congress will be a big disappointment.  There will be many individual bright spots, but not enough Paul Ryans to overcome the Lisa Murkowskis.  A real third-party challenge will begin to coalesce.  2012 will begin with the question: will the splintering of the GOP be enough to cause the re-election a President with a sub-40 approval rating?  It becomes the Democrats only hope and the media’s clarion call to highlight disaffected conservatives. 

Yes.  Republicans have been a disappointment in Congress, not having held the line on spending.  And I do expect that the media will coalesce around this meme of GOP division in 2012. (5-4-3)

Now to 2012′s Predictions . . .

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Is Iraq over?

Byline: | Category: Foreign Policy, Iraq, Military | Posted at: Monday, 17 October 2011

Released quietly over the weekend was the news that talks between US and Iraqi officials have broken down leading to a near-complete withdrawal of American forces from Iraq by the end of the year.  While there is a chance that this is part of a typical Arab negotiating ploy–threaten to walk away from the deal in order to gain a positional advantage–if in fact this is the end of US involvement, it is a good thing for both countries.

I spent two tours in Iraq: the first during the Surge and through the Charge of the Knights  offensive and the second a year later during the turnover of authority to Iraqi officials.  The changes I saw during both tours were immense.  As a result of the Surge, US casualties dropped significantly; by May of 2008 there were days at a time without American deaths.  When I returned the second time, there were weeks and months at a time without US combat casuaties.  (For a contemporary take on the changing security situation in Iraq, read this.)

I left Iraq the last time on election day, March 3, 2010, with much the same attitude that I had when I left Germany on September 5, 1995.  I knew both times that the US had accomplished its mission in both countries and that I would never be back in either nation in uniform again. 

Of course, today I’m back with US forces in Germany.  While I’m here at US European Command, a higher headquarters that has a regional planning focus, there are still three ground maneuver brigades and roughly 40,000 American forces in Germany more than twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall.  Quite frankly, it is preposterous that US ground forcess occupy German soil long after there is any threat to Germany. 

While Iraq is not nearly as stable as Germany, it is far more stable than most prognosticators would have predicted just a few short years ago.  In short, just as in Germany, our work in Iraq is done.  The rest is up to the Iraqis.  They are as capable governmentally and militarily as they can get with our assistance.  So it is a good thing if American forces depart the country sooner than later. 

Now if we could just get ground forces out of Germany where our work is done (and Italy, and Japan, and South Korea) . . .

*Note, these opinions are mine alone, and do not reflect the position of DoD or of EUCOM, where thousands of American military and retired military expats love their American taxpayer-supported European lifestyle.

UPDATE:  Thanks to Glenn for the link.  While you’re here, please take a look around.

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A Winning Platform for 2012, part 1: Five Wars We Should Stop Waging

Byline: | Category: 2012, Foreign Policy, Government, Iraq, Military, Regulations, Taxes & Spending | Posted at: Tuesday, 12 July 2011

America is engaged in five costly wars today.  Two have been won.  Three have been lost.  And it’s time for America to withdraw from all five.

America won the war in Iraq.  Call it the Flypaper Theory, if you want, but America not only deposed a despot, we destroyed a menace.  Al Qaeda, ignorant of geography and history, left Afghanistan for Iraq and lost on the battlefield of America’s choosing.  It was long, it was costly, and it was brutal at times.  But American Soldiers, Sailors, Airman, and Marines–and let us not forget the contribution of our 33 coalition members–carried the day.  Iraq is as stable as we can hope, and Al Qaeda died in Mesopotamia, where legend says life began.  What happens from here is up to the Iraqis themselves.  It’s time for us to declare victory and leave.

America won the war in Afghanistan too.  At least that’s true if we consider the fight there from the point of view of the original objective, which was to ensure that Afghanistan could no longer be a base from which Al Qaeda could plan, train, and launch future attacks against the United States.  That is no longer true.  What is also not true is that the “country” of Afghanistan can advance even to the point where Iraq currently is.  Afghanistan is an amorphous location on the map, the land equivalent of seas labeled “Here there be monsters.”  Declare victory, draw a line, and let it be known that what happens inside that line is their business.  What happens outside that border is our business.  Then leave.

The third war is in Libya.  It was a folly from the start.  There was very little potential upside.  But the downside is the possible demise of the NATO alliance and the loss of American face.  We’re closer to the latter.  I still can’t believe that we let ourselves get suckered into a war by Italy and France.  Declare defeat, leave Libya with our tail between our legs, and hope that NATO and our honor can survive.

The next two wars are similar to Libya in that we have no hope of a victory–at least not given our current tactics.

The war on drugs is over.  Drugs won.  Legalize marijuana.  Don’t even bother taxing it; it’s too easy to grow.  As for cocaine and the harder stuff . . . I’m sorry to report that it’s going to be with us for a while.  I wish that weren’t the case, but we can’t afford the border interdictions, the invasions of privacy, and the formidable policing and prisons.  The bad news is that a lot of people are going to die at their own hands.  The good news is that a lot of people who were going to die from drugs anyway are still going to die at their own hands, and we’ll save a lot of money as a result.  Cold, callous, and cruel, I admit.  But it’s high time (pun intended) to admit that society bankrupts itself when it takes on the task of protecting people from themselves.  Nobody is any better for it, and we’re all poorer as a result.  Don’t worry, there is one upside.  Schools, industry, and banks will find that negative drug tests are a pretty reliable indicator of future success.  Admissions, hiring, and loans will be subject to private drug testing.  That will likely do more to encourage the end of a drug culture than any advertisement of a frying egg or Coast Guard frigate could ever accomplish.

The last of our five wars is the war on poverty.  Poverty didn’t win, but it isn’t in retreat either.  What is in retreat is the notion that people’s lives are improved as a consequence of giving them what they didn’t earn.  Did extending home ownership to those who couldn’t afford it make their lives better when the result was foreclosure?  Do college loans that cripple a new couple under a pile of six-figure debt before they’ve ever made their first house payment serve anybody but the banks who made the loans?  America has the wealthiest poor people, and the least appreciative.  Let’s try a new tack: let the prices of houses, college, and medicine fall to where they would naturally be were it not for the government propping them up.  The poor will find many more opportunities as a consequence of the cheaper prices that result from a free market.  The way Washington waged war on poverty was to define poverty up.  Sure, we should help the truly needy.  But not everyone needs everything.  Protect the very least among us and let the rest of us be free to fend for ourselves.

Wars are a terrible thing to wage and thus, should not be entered into lightly.  Each one requires the nation’s full commitment, a viable strategy, clear and attainable objectives, and a plan to leave.  Today America is fighting five wars it apparently has no intention to leave.  But wars cannot successfully be waged indefinitely.  It’s long past time to leave.

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It’s been a year

Byline: | Category: Culture, Economy, Government, Iraq, Media, Military, Taxes & Spending | Posted at: Wednesday, 27 October 2010

It’s been a year since I’ve last written in this space. I’ve been busy. I went back to Iraq for another tour, and then I spent another three months overseas in another theater. On top of that I’ve been writing a book. (More on that later.) That, combined with a sense that I needed some time off from my blog . . . and a few weeks turned into a few months, and then into a full year. (Truth be told, I was ready to post something a month or so ago, but I’d been gone so long that I forgot my own password.)

One of the things I worked on during my hiatus was an essay expressing concern about the increasing use of the military in domestic affairs. Keep in mind that I’m a career Army officer and a contractor to the Department of Defense–and yet, I’m deeply troubled by some recent trends I’ve seen.

I ask that you take a look at it and tell me what you think. But first, two points: one is to not get hung up on the Tea Party. I used them as a vehicle to display what I view as a growing disconnect between America’s leaders and voters. I could just has easily used a liberal grassroots group to demonstrate some of the problems. And quite frankly, liberals concerned about Big Corporations and conservatives alarmed at Big Government are really two sides of the same taxpayer-funded coin, both of which vehemently disagree about how they’re being spent.

The second point is that I wrote most of this back in January and quickly updated a few references to better illustrate some points. But since this was originally an academic essay, I’ve used footnotes instead of embedded hyperlinks. Sorry for the un-blog like nature of the format, but quite a few of the footnotes provide greatly needed additional detail that I didn’t want cluttering the essay itself, so I decided to keep them.

One other note on the format: this is written from the perspective of a senior Iraqi commander who is describing the situation in America to his leadership back home.

As for the future, I hope to update more often than annually. And I’ll keep you apprised of some of my ongoing projects as they develop. So without further ado . . .


What follows lies somewhere between fiction and prediction:


Why show me this, if I am past all hope! Good Spirit, Your nature intercedes for me, and pities me. Assure me that I yet may change these shadows you have shown me, by an altered life?

Memorandum For: General Anwar Al Mahil, Chief of Staff of the Army, Baghdad, Iraq

SUBJECT: Lessons Learned from the American Coup

Dear Sir:

Praise be to Allah and to the Prophet Mohammed.

Attached is the report on my findings of the origins of the American Coup. In short, a collision of economic, cultural, and political forces converged to create the perfect setting for a military overthrow of the American civilian government.

It was predictable. In fact, Charles Dunlap, an American Air Force officer, had described much of what occurred twenty years beforehand. He even nearly predicted the date: 2012. However, widely read though his report was, it was little acted upon by the military or by the nation’s civilian leaders.

The coup and its violent aftermath—the sham tribunals, the executions, the purge of the military’s own professional corps—are beyond the scope of this report. In all of its horrifying detail, the brave and intrepid citizen-journalists of the resistance have ably captured that record for posterity.

Instead, the focus of my report is two-fold: Why did it happen? And how could it have been prevented?

On a personal note, I am deeply saddened by what I’ve seen. Our nation owes a debt of gratitude to the bravery of the men and women of America and the persistence they showed in their long efforts to usher Iraq into a democratic era. If only they had paid as much attention to themselves . . .

As always, Iraq can learn a great deal from the Americans. This chapter of American history, unfortunately, is a lesson in what not to do. Allah willing, we will take this lesson to heart.

Your most humble servant, Muqtada Al Assari
Commander, Multi-National Division-Washington

United Nations Peacekeeping Force-Iraq Contingent

Washington, D.C.

The first hint of the coming clash came from the impromptu rant of an exasperated television commentator. Reminiscent of a scene out of a popular Hollywood movie. [2] Rick Santelli’s reference to that seminal event in American history, the Boston Tea Party, connected with a frustrated public. [3] Just a few months before, America’s voters expressed their disgust with what Washington had become. They voted not so much for a candidate, but to send a message that what they wanted were leaders who were “uncorrupted and unco-opted by evil Washington.” [4] What they felt they got instead was “added sewage to the cesspool.” [5]

The problems stemmed from a sense of a growing disconnect between Americans and America’s government. For as long as the economy was strong, as it generally had been for most of the quarter century leading up to the coup, the deepening rift remained hidden. However, between December 2007 and December 2009 the unemployment rate doubled to 10%. During the same period, while 8.5 million Americans lost their private sector jobs the number of government employees jumped by almost one million. [6] Further alienating the people from their government was that by 2009 the average federal employee earned $71 thousand a year while private sector employees were making only $40 thousand. [7] As one voter exclaimed, there was a sense that Washington had created “a growing public sector that’s being funded by a shrinking private sector.” [8] In the years that followed, Americans would long for the days when only 10% of the country was out of work.

Americans also saw their elected leaders spend trillions of dollars taken from them in taxes, to prop up failed financial institutions, automobile manufacturers, and insurance companies, while they themselves lost their jobs, their houses, and their hope. When the nation’s banks—many of which were recent recipients of tens of billions of taxpayer dollars—gave their employees $145 billion in bonuses, it sparked outrage from disparate groups from all political sides.[9] Meanwhile, bankers lavishly supported the incumbent politicians who helped them. [10] There was a sense that big government and big business were colluding against the people themselves.

Out of this cultural chasm grew the Tea Party movement. Originally misinterpreted as a Republican Party-led group, the Tea Parties that followed were primarily opposed to the massive size of government. [11] The group became especially popular among the increasing number of political independents who no longer identified themselves as either Democrats or Republicans. [12] Areas, which were once reliably Republican or dogmatically Democratic, became increasingly independent. [13] By the end of 2009 this renegade movement had become more popular than either establishment party. [14]

The Tea Party movement itself had its prominent leaders, like Sarah Palin, a former Vice Presidential candidate, and Glenn Beck, a radio and television personality. However, it was more accurately a leaderless movement. Instead of being controlled in a hierarchical manner, the movement spread virally through a networked community. One pundit repeatedly referred to it as “An Army of Davids,” a reference to the Bible’s diminutive giant-slayer. [15]

On the other side were the nation’s traditional power brokers: including, academia, the media, and both major parties. One New York Times columnist called them the “educated class,” a characterization dripping with the condescension the Tea Party both loathed and loved. [16] The problem for these entrenched groups was that the increasingly popular Tea Party existed outside the establishment—and these groups were the establishment.

As Americans witnessed expanding collusion between government and large corporations, the Tea Party movement involved not just libertarians , but grew to include many liberals. Anti-big corporation liberals and anti-welfare libertarians found common ground in efforts to end corporate welfare. Nowhere was this more evident than in the bipartisan anger directed at the billions of dollars in taxpayer-funded bank bailouts. [17] One prominent liberal blogger expressed a sentiment exactly in tune with the Tea Party faithful, “Our system is too broken to be fixed by politicians . . . change is going to have to come from outside Washington.” [18]

Other establishment groups came under increasing fire. The American people, for example, sensed a growing collusion between the establishment and the media and against the individual. [19]

America had weathered these kinds of storms before. Congressional elections every two years afforded Americans the opportunity to completely change who represented them. Many times in the recent past, voters did just that. [20] What was different this time was that even when the voters switched parties in 2008 and again in 2010, the results did not change. [21] As one pundit exclaimed, “People want what they voted for; they don’t like the bait-and-switch.” [22]

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. The U.S. Constitution supposed a very different relationship between the people and their government. It was in the House of Representatives where citizens were to be most immediately represented. There government would be “restrained by its dependence on its people.” [23] Frequent elections were the intended means to limit the House from being “seduced” by the “more permanent branches of the federal government.” [24] However, over the years the power of incumbency grew. Especially since the 1930s the nation’s political leaders systematically concentrated power so that it became increasingly difficult to dislodge those in control. [25]

The Founders’ ideal was that the nation’s leaders would come from the people, and then quickly return to the people. It was not an accident that in the same year that America ratified the Constitution, the infant nation’s “Queen City of the West” re-christened itself in honor of Cincinnatus, the Roman general, who after he did his service to his nation, quietly retired to his home rather than take the offered reins of Rome. [26] For more than a century, America lived by that ideal. Until the 1900s the average House member’s length of service was a mere six years. In the years after World War II, the average tenure in the House grew to 20 years. [27] The rise of a permanent political class was not something the Founders foresaw. However, it did develop, and the American public was increasingly unhappy about it. [28]

Concurrent with the rise of a professional political class was the creation of a large permanent military. Again, the nation’s Founders did not foresee this development. Yet, between the attack on Pearl Harbor and the Cold War that soon followed, America came to accept the need for greater defense capabilities. What did not evolve, however, was the development of checks to balance the stronger military. In the Founder’s view, this would come from “the natural strength of the community” which would always be “an over-match” for the army. [29] Further restraining the army against the people was that the populace would not be “habituated to look up to the military power for protection.” [30]

This was a development of great concern to Charles Dunlap. [31] For years the military remained the only branch of the federal government in which a majority of the population expressed high confidence. By 2009 an astounding five times as many Americans trusted the military to do the right thing than trusted Congress. [32] When the crisis later erupted, Americans naturally turned to the military for help. However, this would prove their undoing. If only the people had listened to Alexander Hamilton’s 200-year old caution: “The people are always most in danger when the means of injuring their rights are in the possession of those of whom they entertain the least suspicion.” [33]

After having rejected Republicans in 2008, then the Democrats two years later, and still seeing that nothing had changed, outraged Americans opted for an entirely fresh start in 2012. When the American establishment still thwarted the voters, violence ensued.

Trouble started during the campaign season when the Tea Party found that ballot access laws in a dozen states kept the new party’s candidates off the ballot. Polls showed the party’s presidential candidate well ahead of those of both Democrats and Republicans, but it became increasingly clear that none of the three candidates would win a majority of the electoral votes necessary to win the election. The Tea Party candidates for Congress also faced an uphill battle. Many of their nominees were unable to meet the strict rules imposed to keep them off the ballot.

When the November election finally came, the Tea Party’s presidential candidate won well over half of the popular vote. However, because the party was denied access to the ballot in many states, there were less than the 270 electoral votes necessary to give the party’s nominee a win. That then threw the election into the House of Representatives.

There, the situation was no less murky. The Tea Party’s congressional candidates looked like they had won 225 seats—barely enough for a majority. Unfortunately, dozens of them found themselves the victims of a trend of judicially contested elections that had accelerated since 2000. [34]

To the Tea Party’s supporters, it looked like collusion. Election boards, which by law in many states were made up of only Republicans and Democrats, dismissed absentee and write-in ballots for the flimsiest of excuses. [35] Day by day the Tea Party’s margin of victory shrank. When Congress convened in January, it did so without 30 members—all of them districts where the Tea Party candidate looked to be ahead, but where the outcome was in doubt.

It got worse. Even though the Tea Party was the largest bloc, Republicans and some Democrats combined their votes on a compromise choice for Speaker of the House. The public was outraged as never before.

The result was the largest protest Washington had ever seen. More than two million angry Americans descended on the nation’s capitol. Things quickly got out of hand. Determined to “take back the House,” the crowd literally did so. For nearly two weeks, the protestors staged a “sit-in” of enormous proportions. Congress was unable to convene to select a new president. Noon on January 20, 2013 came and went. For the first time in 224 years, America was without a president.

According to the Constitution, the new vice president should have taken control. Without an Electoral College majority, that meant that the senate should have decided that race. However, unwilling to choose a vice president while the presidential outcome was still in doubt in the House, the Senate never acted. Next in line to the presidency was the Speaker of the House—the very same one whose selection was viewed as illegitimate by a majority of Americans. To a great number of citizens it looked like Democrats and Republicans conspired to thwart the will of the American people.

Hysteria gripped the nation. Some wondered if, without a commander-in-chief, the nation was at risk of an attack. Worse than the hypothetical, was how constitutional uncertainty effected economics. The stock market collapsed. Bond yields nearly doubled in a week. There were runs on banks. The price of gold shot to more than $3,000 an ounce. An already unstable economy spun out of control. The media whipped up the frenzy, highlighting the threat that the blockade of the Capitol posed to the nation as well as to public safety. Even many of the Tea Party’s supporters were concerned that the protests had grown out of control. A frantic search was on for a peaceful resolution. And so, Americans placed their trust into the hands of the only group in America that had the trust of the people to do the right thing.

The new House Speaker, whose position was next in line to the presidency, but whose legitimacy was suspect, ordered the military to seize control of Capitol Hill. A most undemocratic scene unfolded: the Army protected the people’s representatives from the people themselves.

The coup wasn’t quite as immediate as Dunlap envisioned. There was no “Permanent Military Plenipotentiary” or “General Brutus” to occupy the White House. Congress reconvened, and the House selected a President: the same new Speaker. To win over the public, the Senate named a popular senior military officer to the vice presidency. It was a powerful symbol, vividly exposing the symbiotic relationship between the military and government itself. Each owed their power to the other. And once the military had crossed the Rubicon of injecting itself into domestic politics, it became easier to do it again and again. That was especially the case after the military quashed dissent from within its ranks.

That there was discussion in the ranks about the legitimacy of the political crisis, should have surprised no one. However, the response to the discussion was swift and severe. Three years before an Army officer who vocally disagreed with national policy took it out violently on fellow soldiers, killing 13 of them at Fort Hood. In response, the military trained its members to be aware of those “asserting that US policy and authority is illegitimate.” [36] Goaded by the nation’s civilian leadership, the military vigorously quashed discussion about the legitimacy of the military’s actions. Among the most senior of those purged, was Lt. Gen. Charles Dunlap. In a professional journal he warned that however bad the potential violence might have been, it was less injurious to the long-term health of the body politic than to allow the military to decide the election. He was forced to resign. Dozens of other dissenters soon disappeared from the military’s ranks. Civil-military relations were no longer a proper topic for the nation’s military professionals. It was no surprise that when Congress soon eliminated the remaining vestiges of Posse Comitatus, the military objected not at all.

Far from objecting, military leadership actually advocated the expansion of authority into the domestic realm. This was largely due to the economic collapse, which had a huge impact on the nation’s tax receipts. The military found itself in competition with other departments and agencies for a declining number of federal dollars. This added role justified, in their eyes, even larger defense budgets. They were not about to upset their keepers by raising uncomfortable questions of constitutionality. Congress, in turn, rewarded their fealty handsomely.

Congress owed its power to the military. The military knew it, and they exacted their toll. Defense spending would always have the upper hand, even as economic decline eroded many other spending programs. The future saw greater military involvement in political life, from providing armed escorts to government officials, to securing polling places, to maintaining comprehensive databases on American civilians, to infiltrating raids on “un-American” groups, which, of course, included many Tea Party organizations. [37] The civil war itself was still a couple years away, but the events surrounding the 2012 election made it inevitable.

There were ways to have prevented this. At its heart, the coup was made possible by the gradual removal of balance from America’s delicate system of checks and balances. Once it was determined that there was a legitimate need for a standing peacetime Army, there was little thought given to how to constitutionally restrict its size and scope. Similarly, the rise of a “professional” political class was another unbalanced evolution.

Both of these changes unenvisioned by the nation’s founders were largely the result of federal finances. Generations of government had grown flippant in their concern over the concept of unsustainable deficit spending, thus removing even mathematical limitations to the military’s budget. Since the size and scope of government was unconstrained by any spending limits, government grew far faster than the economy. This lasted right up until there was a crisis of confidence in the ability of the government to make good on its debts. When investors fled the world’s currency of last resort, what were formerly viewed as sacrosanct economic rules no longer applied.

As for the increased longevity of Congress, it too came about as a result of the federal budget. More spending resulted inevitably in business spending an increasing amount to influence that government spending. Entrenched business interests bought, and thus further entrenched, incumbent politicians. It was a cycle wholly unbroken until the rise of Tea Party risked completely fracturing it.

These were largely socio-political problems over which the military had little influence. But what they could influence was the ability of its members to be a part of it. Many of those entrenched business interests were retired senior military leaders who cashed in on their connections in order to increase the size of the defense budget. Increasingly common was the former soldier or military retiree who returned to the military in a quasi-civilian role. This development was not unlike what was occurring in government in general, and most especially among elected officials, who rotated between their government jobs and lucrative positions on the periphery of their former public roles. [38] Like the military, government in general had become a closed loop society increasingly insulated from the population it supposedly served. The Defense Department should have recognized this as a problem, and advocated for a wall of separation between senior military retirees and military lobbying.

The military should also have advocated for a wall of separation between itself and many of its domestic duties. Especially after the attacks on September 11, 2001, the American military became increasingly involved in American life. After the creation of the Homeland Security Department, seemingly every crisis—floods, earthquakes, cyber crimes, immigration—had a security component that required a deeper Defense Department presence. And then the “domestic enemies” list began to grow.

Every American service member pledged to “defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” However, that is not the same thing as defending the government against all its potential enemies. Especially when it came to domestic defense, threats to the Constitution were more likely to come from the powerful within the system than from a few miscreants on the outside. From ferrying public officials on military aircraft, to putting out forest fires, to taking charge of emergency relief, “No,” should have more often been the response to requests to expand the military’s role at home. At the very least, the military should have downplayed its role. For example, it should never have allowed itself to be the public face of disaster relief in the form of daily uniformed press briefings, such as occurred in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill. For that both accustomed political leaders to depending on the military to perform what were essentially domestic political roles and habituated the American public to a greater military presence in their daily lives.

By 2012 all the ingredients were in place for an American coup. As always happened when the powerful attempted to hold on to power for too long, conflict was inevitable. And when that conflict was on the verge of becoming bloody, the American people looked to those to whom they were accustomed to turn in a crisis. Just as Alexander Hamilton warned, power is always most dangerous “in the possession of those of whom [the people] entertain the least suspicion.”

——————————————————————————–



[1] Dickens, Charles.  A Christmas Carol: in Prose: Being a Ghost Story of Christmas.  London: Bradbury & Evans Printers, 1858.    90.

[2] In the 1976 Oscar-winning film Network, a frustrated television news anchor, Howard Beale, wanders off-script and tells his audience, “I don’t have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad. It’s a depression. Everybody’s out of work or scared of losing their job. The dollar buys a nickel’s work, banks are going bust, shopkeepers keep a gun under the counter. Punks are running wild in the street and there’s nobody anywhere who seems to know what to do, and there’s no end to it. . .  I don’t know what to do about the depression and the inflation . . .  All I know is that first you’ve got to get mad. . .  So I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and yell, ‘I’M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!’”  Beale’s rant was met with a chorus of similar yells from people all across the city.  http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0074958/ .

[3] CNBC commentator, Rick Santelli, reported from the floor of the Chicago Board of Trade and expressed the concerns of a number of the traders about the moral hazard of proposed economic solutions to the ongoing recession and financial difficulties.  He suggested the people protest through a “Chicago Tea Party,” which caused Wilbur Ross from inside CNBC studios to presciently predict that would cause the government to respond with the National Guard.  “Rick Santelli and the ‘Rant of the Year’,” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bEZB4taSEoA .

[4] Heilemann, John and Halperin, Mark, Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime.  Quoted in:  Wehner, Peter, “The Once-Appealing Barack Obama,” Commentary Magazine.  January 18, 2010.  http://www.commentarymagazine.com/blogs/index.php/wehner/218526 .

[5] Wehner, Peter, “The Once-Appealing Barack Obama,” Commentary Magazine.  January 18, 2010.  http://www.commentarymagazine.com/blogs/index.php/wehner/218526 .

[6] The establishment data from the Employment Situation Summary released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics for December 2007 reported that nonfarm employment was a total of 138,495,000 jobs.  Of that, there were 22,388,000 government jobs, and 18,627,000 education and health service jobs.  http://www.bls.gov/news.release/history/empsit_01042008.txt .  Establishment data from the December 2009 report indicated that total nonfarm employment had fallen to 130,910,000, while the number of government jobs had climbed to 22,467,000 and education and health services employment had jumped to 19,456,000.  http://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.nr0.htm . 

[7] “For Feds, More Get 6-Figure Salaries,” USA Today. December 11, 2009.  http://www.usatoday.com/news/washington/2009-12-10-federal-pay-salaries_N.htm .

[8] “Frank Luntz Focus Group Explains the Election” Fox News, January 19, 2010.  http://homepage.mac.com/mkoldys/blog/lry285648945.html .

[9] “Banks to Pay Out Record $145 Billion in Bonuses,”  Real Clear Markets Video.  January 15, 2010, http://www.realclearmarkets.com/video/2010/01/15/banks_to_pay_out_record_145_billon_in_bonuses.html .

[10] “Since 2002, the [financial] sector has contributed more than $1.1 billion to congressional candidates . . .  The sector is among the biggest donors overall.”  Hamberuger, Tom and Heisel, William, “Heavily Invested in the Outcome,”  Los Angeles Times.  September 23, 2008.  http://articles.latimes.com/2008/sep/23/business/fi-polmoney23 .

[11] A Washington Post poll found in January 2010 that, “by 58 percent to 38 percent, Americans said they prefer smaller government and fewer services to larger government with more services.”  Balz, Dan, “One Year Later Assessing Obama: Testing the Promise of Pragmatism,”  Washington Post. January 17, 2010.  http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/01/16/AR2010011602950.html .

[12] According to a Pew Research Center survey, “ . . . the country [experienced] such a boost in independent voters that they now make up the largest proportion of the electorate in 70 years.”  Millner, Gloria.  “Independents outnumber Democrats, Republicans,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, May 22, 2009.  http://www.cleveland.com/open/index.ssf/2009/05/independents_outnumber_democra.html .

[13] Nowhere was the gain in independents more telling than in reliably-Democratic Massachusetts, which was the only state in the nation to have voted for the Democratic candidate in the landslide 1972 presidential election.  “Democrats outnumber Republicans by three to one in the state, but independent voters now outnumber them both: a majority of the state’s voters are no longer members of either party.”  Cooper, Michael, “In Senate Race, Massachusetts Bucks a Political Stereotype,” The New York Times, January 17, 2010.  http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/18/us/politics/18massachusetts.html .

[14] “The tea party movement is mostly famous for its flamboyant fringe. But it is now more popular than either major party. According to the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, 41 percent of Americans have a positive view of the tea party movement. Only 35 percent of Americans have a positive view of the Democrats and only 28 percent have a positive view of the Republican Party.”  Brooks, David.  “The Tea Party Teens,” The New York Times.  January 4, 2010.   http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/05/opinion/05brooks.html .

[15] Reynolds, Glenn, An Army of Davids: How Markets and Technology Empower Ordinary people to Beat Big Media, Big Government, and Other Goliaths.  Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2006.

[16] Brooks, David.  “The Tea Party Teens,” The New York Times.  January 4, 2010.   http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/05/opinion/05brooks.html .

[17] An example of the increasing cooperation between libertarian-leaning conservatives and liberals skeptical of corporations is illustrated by an exchange on Instapundit.com.  “A READER EMAILS TO ASK why I haven’t gotten behind Arianna Huffington’s ‘Move Your Money’ campaign. ‘Move Your Money is very John Galt, very Tea Party.’ . . .  I kind of like the idea, and while I doubt it will have as much impact as they suggest, it seems to me that moving money from bailed-out banks to smaller community banks is a good idea — sort of like buying your car from non-bailout car companies.”  By that time, it was already evident that the two of the three American automobile companies that received billions of dollars of taxpayer bailouts would never again be profitable, while Ford, which didn’t take federal funds, saw increased sales and returned to profitability by the end of 2009.  The American people were voting with their wallets against increased government spending.  Reynolds, Glenn.  Instapundit.com, January 7, 2010, http://pajamasmedia.com/instapundit/91273/  .

[18] Huffington, Arianna, “’Hope’ Has Been a Bust, It’s time for Hope 2.0,” The Huffington Post. January 18, 2010 http://www.huffingtonpost.com/arianna-huffington/hope-has-been-a-bust-its_b_427314.html .

[19] The Washington Post, one of the nation’s most prominent newspapers, came under fire when it was discovered that the Post’s publisher had planned to sell government and business officials access to her news and editorial staffs for as much as $250,000.  Allen, Mike and Calderone, Michael, “Washington Post Cancels Lobbyist Event Amid Uproar,”  Politico.  July 3, 2009.  http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0709/24441.html  .

[20] On four occasions in the previous 80 years the American electorate had voted for a significantly different Congress (the change of at least 50 seats and resulting in a turnover of the party controlling the House of Representatives).  Angry Americans at the depth of the Depression gave Democrats 97 new seats and control of the House of Representatives.  Tired of President Truman and the Democratic Party, the 1946 election resulted in Republican control of the House after they gained back 55 seats.  Two years later, Democrats retook the House against a “Do-Nothing Congress” when they won 75 seats.  Republicans regained control in 1994 by picking up 54 House seats amidst numerous Democratic scandals and a sense of government overreach.

[21] The Democratic Party took control of the House of Representatives in 2006 when they took 31 seats from the Republican Party.  Two years later they expanded their lead by adding another 21 Democrats to the House.

[22] “Brown’s Win and Obama’s Iraq,” The Anchoress, January 19, 2010.  http://www.firstthings.com/blogs/theanchoress/2010/01/19/browns-win-and-obamas-iraq/ .

[23] Federalist 52.

[24] Federalist 52

[25] Richard Winger describes increasingly restrictive ballot access laws which “began during the 1930s when major party politicians were eager to discourage labor from starting its own party.” Winger, Richard, “Ballot Access for Minor Candidates,” The Case Program, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, 1997.  http://www.hks.harvard.edu/case/3pt/winger.html .  Gerrymandering was another technique for protecting incumbent politicians against loss.  While the practice dates back to at least 1812 when the word was coined, advanced computing made the practice of drawing district boundaries to benefit incumbents much more highly refined.  “The 2002 congressional elections make this point starkly.  Only four challengers defeated House incumbents – the lowest number in modern American history.”  Mann, Thomas and Ornstein Norman, Brief of Amici Curiae in support of Appellants, League of United Latin American Citizens v. Rick Perry, Supreme Court of the United States, http://moritzlaw.osu.edu/electionlaw/litigation/documents/BRIEF_OF_AMICUS_CURIAE_Reform_Institute_Mann_Ornstein.pdf .

[26] Founded originally in 1788 as Losantiville, the Ohio city was renamed “Cincinnati” in 1790, the same year that Rhode Island became the 13th state to ratify the United States Constitution.

[27] “Throughout history the percentage of incumbents who sought reelection who were returned to the next Congress has rarely fallen below 70 percent . . . What does appear to have changed over time is the percentage incumbents seeking reelection.  For most of the 19th century this percentage was in the 60-70 percent range.  With the trend towards careerism that emerged in the late 19th century and accelerated in the 20th century, this figure rose to the 85-95 percent range.”  This translates to an average length of service in the House of about 6 years through the nation’s first 100 years.  More recent reelection rates bring the service length for the average incumbent to approximately 20 years.  Another way to think of these reelection rates is to consider that if the size of the House throughout history had been a constant 435 members—its modern size—that would translate to an average change of about 144 new members every two years, instead of the recent average of about 44.  Reelection Rates of House Incumbents: 1790-1994.  Congressional Research Service.  March 8, 1995.  https://www.policyarchive.org/bitstream/handle/10207/265/95-361_19950308.pdf.

[28] A Rasmussen Reports poll found that 50% of respondents felt that “high reelection rates result from rules that are ‘rigged to benefit members of Congress.’”  Only 28% disagreed.  From the survey report: “Over the last century, turnover in Congress has been declining dramatically. At the time the Constitution was written, the Founders expected a 50% turnover in the House following each election. That standard existed for most of the nineteenth century. Turnover fell to single digits for the first time in 1968. Currently, other than freshman in their first reelection bid, it takes an exceptional circumstance to defeat an incumbent.  “50% Say ‘Rigged’ Election Rules Explain high Reelection Rate for Congress,”  Rasmussen Reports, April 28, 2009.  http://www.rasmussenreports.com/public_content/politics/general_politics/april_2009/50_say_rigged_election_rules_explain_high_reelection_rate_for_congress.

[29] Hamilton, Alexander.  Federalist No. 8 The Consequences of Hostilities Between the States From the New York Packet.  Tuesday, November 20, 1787.  http://books.google.com/books?id=fteKxvysVFoC&dq=federalist+papers&printsec=frontcover&source=bl&ots=6Df0lA7832&sig=1zHQYSMv_C1Li2DbGxBKnEvLZos&hl=en&ei=UtZJS_y_Bofl-QbNk-BL&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=10&ved=0CDoQ6AEwCQ#v=onepage&q=army&f=false

[30] Hamilton, Alexander.  Federalist No. 8 The Consequences of Hostilities Between the States From the New York Packet.  Tuesday, November 20, 1787.  Google Books accessed 16 January 2010.  http://books.google.com/books?id=fteKxvysVFoC&dq=federalist+papers&printsec=frontcover&source=bl&ots=6Df0lA7832&sig=1zHQYSMv_C1Li2DbGxBKnEvLZos&hl=en&ei=UtZJS_y_Bofl-QbNk-BL&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=10&ved=0CDoQ6AEwCQ#v=onepage&q=army&f=false

[31] “Americans became exasperated with democracy.  We were disillusioned with the apparent inability of elected government to solve the nation’s dilemmas.  We were looking for someone or something that could produce workable answers.  The one institution of government in which the people retained faith was the military.  Buoyed by the military’s obvious competence in the First Gulf War, the public increasingly turned to it for solutions to the country’s problems . . . Though not obvious at the time, the cumulative effect of these new responsibilities was to incorporate the military into the political process to an unprecedented degree.”  Dunlap, Charles, “The Origins of the American Coup.”  Parameters. Winter, 1992-93.  , 4.  http://www.uwec.edu/sfpj/Origins.pdf

[32] A Gallup poll taken June 14-17, 2009 found that 82% of Americans expressed a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in the U.S. military.  Only 17% of those polled said the same thing about Congress.  The military “has ranked No. 1 or No. 2 in Gallup’s annual Confidence in Institutions list almost every year since the measure was instituted in 1973, and has been No. 1 continuously since 1998.”  Saad, Lydia.  “Americans’ Confidence in Military Up, Banks Down,”  Gallup.  June 24, 2009.  http://www.gallup.com/poll/121214/Americans-Confidence-Military-Banks-Down.aspx .

[33] Hamilton, Alexander.  Federalist No. 25 The Same Subject Continued (The Powers Necessary to the Common Defense Further Considered) From the New York Packet. Friday December 21, 1787.

[34] At least since the 2000 presidential election, both parties have readily employed teams of lawyers ready to pounce on any real or perceived inconsistencies in voting.  Recounts and Republican legal challenges following the 2008 U.S. Senate election in Minnesota left the state unrepresented in the upper chamber until July 7, 2009, six months after the Senate convened.  Kim, Seung Min, “Franken Sworn in as Minnesota Senator,” USA Today, July 8, 2009, http://www.usatoday.com/news/washington/2009-07-07-franken-senate-sotomayor_N.htm (Accessed, January 18, 2010.)  Not to be outdone Democrats openly explored their legal options to delay the seating of Scott Brown should he win special election for a vacant U.S. Senate seat in Massachusetts.  Quaratiello, Frank, “Scott Brown Swearing-in Would be Stalled to Pass Health-care Reform,” Boston Herald, January 9, 2010.  http://www.bostonherald.com/business/healthcare/view.bg?articleid=1224249 .

[35] Tennessee is representative.  There, both the state election commission and each of the county’s election commissions are comprised of five members, which by law, are either Republicans or Democrats.

[36] The Fort Hood attack was the result of a militant Islamic Army major who had on numerous occasions publicly expressed his displeasure with the nation’s actions in the Middle East.  By 2010 the military had incorporated the Fort Hood attack scenario into its mandatory annual anti-terrorism training.

[37] Cass Sunstein, the head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs co-authored a paper advocating that the government infiltrate “conspiracy-minded organizations.”  From the report itself:  “ . . . . government officials would participate anonymously or even with false identities. . .  Sunstein, Cass R. and Vermeule, Adrian, Conspiracy Theories (January 15, 2008). Harvard Public Law Working Paper No. 08-03; U of Chicago, Public Law Working Paper No. 199; U of Chicago Law & Economics, Olin Working Paper No. 387. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1084585

[38] Here is just one example of the “deeply opaque” lobbying relationships between DOD, retired military officials, Congress, and the media:  “Defense Solutions, sought the services of a retired general with national stature, someone who could open doors at the highest levels of government and help it win a huge prize: the right to supply Iraq with thousands of armored vehicles.  Access like this does not come cheap, but it was an opportunity potentially worth billions in sales . . . The company signed Barry R. McCaffrey, a retired four-star Army general and military analyst for NBC News . . . Four days later the general swung into action.   He sent a personal note and 15-page briefing packet to David H. Petraeus, the commanding general in Iraq, strongly recommending Defense Solutions . . . ‘No other proposal is quicker, less costly, or more certain to succeed’ he said. . .  General McCaffrey did not mention his new contract with Defense Solutions in his letter to General Petraeus.  Nor did he disclose it when he went on CNBC that same week . . .   In his testimony to Congress, General McCaffrey criticized a Pentagon plan to supply Iraq with several hundred armored vehicles made in the United States by a competitor of Defense Solutions.  He called the plan ‘not in the right ballpark’ and urged Congress to instead equip Iraq with 5,000 armored vehicles.”  The author highlighted what he called, “an exclusive club has quietly flourished at the intersection of network news and wartime commerce.  Its members, mostly retired generals, have had a foot in both camps as influential network military analysts and defense industry rainmakers.  It is a deeply opaque world, a place of privileged access to senior government officials. . . “ Barstow, David.  “One Man’s Military-Industrial-Media Complex,”  The New York Times.  November 29, 2008.  http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/30/washington/30general.html  .

Comments (2)

Stop dithering while others are dying

Byline: | Category: Iraq | Posted at: Sunday, 4 October 2009

Over at Drudge I learned that I have something in common with President Obama:  we were both married on the same day–October 3rd, 1992

Something else I saw over at Drudge was that ten American Soldiers were killed in Afghanistan on our anniversary.  If you’re the President of the United States enjoying a fancy dinner with your wife the same day that ten of your countrymen lay down their lives for others, you should probably ask yourself:  What the hell am I doing?

Since General McChrystal rendered his report to the White House, no less than 50 American servicemen have died in Afghanistan.  How many more will die while the President decides what to do?

It sounds like he and Michelle had an enjoyable evening as they celebrated their anniversary together.  Cookie and I, however, got only as close as a Skype phone call.  That’s because I’m deployed again in Iraq, less than a year after leaving there last fall.  No, I’m not asking for any sympathy; I volunteered for both assignments.  But so too did President Obama volunteer for his current assignment.  And part of that assignment includes making a prompt decision once his senior commander on the ground tells him that he cannot complete his mission without additional resources.

There are legitimate arguments on both sides of the Afghanistan question:  scale back the goals, or send more soldiers to accomplish the current mission.  What is illegitimate, however, is deciding not to decide.  For while the President dithers, Americans die.  Are they dying in vain for a cause that’s about to be cancelled?  Or are they going to be followed by tens of thousands of reinforcements who are committed in a display of force that shows the President’s long-term commitment?  No one knows.  Not General McChrystal, not the soldiers in battle, not the widows at home.  Least of all, the President.

I don’t mean to suggest that the President must wear a hair shirt while American men and women die in battle.  He deserves and needs breaks from what is undoubtedly a stressful job.  But while he’s running off to Copenhagen in a disastrous attempt to bring home the Olympic gold, and while he pushed hard for Cap & Trade (now jettisoned at least until next year), and while he’s expended the summer (and his political capital) in an equally disastrous attempt to reform one-sixth of the American economy, Soldiers are dying and the American economy is failing.

So here’s my simple message:  Mr. President, stop playing around and get to work on the assignment you volunteered for.

Comments (3)

Out of the country

Byline: | Category: Iraq | Posted at: Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Sorry I’ve been posting so infrequently, but I’ve been away doing Army stuff since spring.  I’m finally settled down for a few months . . . in Basrah, Iraq, where I’ll be until some time next year.  Posting will be light.

Comments (2)