Tuesday, April 18, 2006

April 17: Various posts

Permission to Speak Freely

I'm sorry high school and college kids no longer have to face a couple of years of mandatory military service. That may be a strange thing to say for a guy who protested the draft back in the 60's. Maybe it's the inevitable aging process. Or maybe it's the perspective you get from the higher altitude of experience.

What got me thinking about this is the extraordinary statements being made by recently retired US generals. Those who never served in the military really don't understand just how extraordinary it is for career military officers to say the things these guys are saying about their former civilian superiors.

I hit Marine Corps bootcamp on July 7, 1965, a wimpy kid from suburbia. The first thing we were told was that we were the lowest forms of life on earth. And that meant lower than civilians. I was to learn as time went on that that was not just drill instructor blather. It was a genuine, deeply ingrained reverence that permeated through to the highest ranks of the military for civilian control. We were repeatedly told that the lowest civilian we met on the street outranked the highest grade military officer. And that was not show. They believed it, not just as a principle, but a sacred trust.

I know... those who never served will likely see that as corny, empty rhetoric, window dressing, quaint -- at best. But those who did serve know of what I speak. We get it.

That's one reason I bemoan that two generations of kids have since been spared a stint in uniform. It changed my life in ways I now understand and appreciate in ways I could not back then.

No, this is not a column about re instituting the draft. I just want to make the case that you pay close and respectful attention to the recent statements by retired top Pentagon brass. Because never in my life did I ever expect to hear these kinds of things coming out of the mouths of such men. Never. Here's a sampler:

General Paul Eaton, who oversaw the training of Iraqi army troops in 2003-2004:
“(Sec. Of Defense Don Rumsfeld) has proved himself incompetent strategically, operationally and tactically. Mr. Rumsfeld must step down."

Maj. Gen. John Batiste, who commanded the 1st Infantry Division in Iraq in 2004-2005:
"I think we need a fresh start" at the top of the Pentagon... We need leadership up there that respects the military as they expect the military to respect them.”

Marine Lt. Gen. Gregory Newbold, who held the key post of director of operations on the staff of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 2000 to 2002:
"We won't get fooled again... Rumsfeld and many others unwilling to fundamentally change their approach should be replaced.”

Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni, who serced a chief of the US Central Command which oversees Iraq and the rest of the Middle East:
"The problem is that we've wasted three years...absolutely, Rumsfeld should resign.”

Lt. Gen. Wallace Gregson, who until last year commanded Marine forces in the Pacific Theater:
"A lot of them (other generals) are hugely frustrated. Rumsfeld gave the impression that military advice was neither required nor desired" in the planning for the Iraq war.

Army Maj. Gen. John Riggs:
Described his peers as "a pretty closemouthed bunch" but that his sense is "everyone pretty much thinks Rumsfeld and the bunch around him should be cleared out." He said h e believes Rumsfeld and his advisers have "made fools of themselves, and totally underestimated what would be needed for a sustained conflict."

The administration is trying to counter these devastating statements by noting none of the generals voiced such reservations during the lead up to the war. And, because so many Americans now lack any direct experience with the military, the tactic may just work. After all, it's easy to dismiss these retired generals just that easily. “So, where were your qualms when we really need them, General?”

I know the answer to that question – and it's not the answer the Bushies want you to get.

When an officer has a particularly sticky problem with the actions or orders of a superior officer he/she can “request permission to speak freely, sir.”

Well, that was tried – by Army General Eric Shinseki – and he was promptly and unceremoniously “shit-canned.” (Another term only my fellow vets may find familiar.)

The Pentagon's civilian leaders sent a clear message to the rest of the Pentagon brass... “Do what we want or we'll find a junior office who will.”

With the “permission to speak freely” option off the table, the brass was left only with their prime directive: civilians rule.

So, their silence leading up to war was not cowardice or careerism, as some have suggested. It was instead the manifestation of that deeply ingrained principle that civilians not only out-rank them, but that the most dangerous thing that can happen in a democracy is for the military to start preempting civilian leadership.

We can quibble over that notion, of course. We can wave around the Nuremberg principle that “just following orders” is no defense for wrong doing. I agree. But let me tell you, my experience in the military left me with a deep respect for the way the American military views it's place in our democracy. They really do believe civilians rule. And I would have it no other way. And, neither should you.

Which is why we old vets understand better than most how gut-wrenching it must have been for these recently retired officers to go public. I am certain it was not the way they wanted to end their lifetimes of service to their country. Because, as far as these men are concerned, under normal circumstances, such behavior smacks of treason.

Retired two-star Maj. Gen. John Batiste, who commanded the Big Red One - the Army's 1st Infantry Division - in Iraq until November, said Rumsfeld must go for ignoring and intimidating career officers. "You know, it speaks volumes that guys like me are speaking out from retirement about the leadership climate in the Department of Defense. (Full Story)

So, no one should take their statements lightly. This is serious business ... especially at the very moment those same civilian leaders are grunting eagerly over satellite images of Iran.

Meanwhile on the lighter side

Washington, DC (APE) -Jeannette Huster, mother of embattled Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld today became the latest in a succession of high-profile persons insisting on his resignation. She spoke to press members from the Pentagon, having been clandestinely smuggled past security by anonymous Pentagon officials. In the past month, no less than four high-ranking retired generals have stepped forward to criticize Mr. Rumsfeld to no avail, so it remains to be seen what if any effect this latest call for his resignation will have upon the Bush administration. (Full Story)

April 12, 2006

Did We Wait Too Long?

We are sitting on three ticking time bombs:

* The Public/Private Debt Bomb
* The Global Warming Bomb
* The Energy Bomb

I worry a lot about all three. But it's that last one I was mulling this morning. In particular I was wondering this: “Have we waited too long to develop alternatives to fossil fuels?"

Of course we did. We could of. We should of. And, if we had been wise, we would of. But we didn't and now the fat's in the fire... our fat.

So here's the deal. Looming on the near horizon is what could be best described as the perfect(ly-awful) storm:

* The industrialized west is more dependent on fossil fuels today than ever,
* while peak oil production worldwide is dropping like a rock,
* and while overpopulated Asian nations. specifically China and India, are rapidly industrializing,
* at the same moment the social/political/military conditions inside the largest oil-producing countries are falling apart.

If you asked me to imagine a more precarious situation – for the West – I could not. Our way of life hangs on the thinest of thin threads. Believe me, the prospect of $3 a gallon gas this summer is the least of our worries.

If I were a heroin addict and my suppliers were Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Iraq, Iran and Nigeria, I'd go cold turkey tomorrow.

Of course, we don't have that option. We can't go cold turkey on petroleum because our entire social/industrial/economic complex is built on the stuff. We are living on the razor's edge. If al Qaida and their kind were smart they'd forget about attacking the West. They would attack the oil producing, refining and transportation infrastructure in their own neighborhood.

Imagine what conditions would be today if, instead of blowing up the World Trade Center, and sending suicide bombers into Spain and England's subways, they'd instead invested those two-legged dumb bombs into blowing up oil facilities over the last four years.

We've just been lucky they were not that smart. They were Islamobots, driven by religious nonsense rather than strategic sense. Notice I said “were” and not “are.” Because they are taking notice and you can bet your SUV that as you read these words they've noticed that the West's real vulnerability is not our “decadent” lifestyle, but the oil that fuels it.

Hugo Chavez certainly has taken notice:

CARACAS, Venezuela — In the uneasy world of petroleum politics, fears that Venezuela will nationalize its oil industry may not rank at the moment with possible war in Iran or civil unrest in Nigeria. But Venezuela's recent actions directed at foreign energy companies are contributing to oil's relentless march toward record prices. In New York futures trading Tuesday, oil pushed past $69 before closing at $68.98 a barrel, up 24 cents..... worries that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez might seize key fields containing large deposits of heavy oil in the Orinoco Belt also are spooking the market. Last month, Chavez grabbed majority control of 32 smaller foreign-operated drilling projects. (Full Story)

Meanwhile in Nigeria, another major oil source for the West, things are as things have always been in that part of Africa. The fat hogs are fighting to stay at the trough and the lean hogs are demanding their turn. And, if the lean hogs aren't given their turn at their country's oil trough, they blow it up. (Story)

Iraq, potentially the world's third largest oil producer, can't even pump enough of the stuff to fill domestic demand and are importing the stuff. This is one place the Islamobots have figured out that the best way to cripple an economy that runs on oil is to blow up anything with the word “oil” on it.

Oh and speaking of Iran – how much oil do you think will be coming out of that country if their desire to join the world's nuclear club ends by having the snot bombed out of them by the US and/or Israel? Besides the damage to Iran's infrastructure that would do, the Iranians are virtual gatekeepers for oil from other Middle Eastern countries shipped through the narrow Straits of Hormuz.

Oh, and did you catch the story last week about Iran's new super-high-speed torpedo?

All it would take is for the Iranians to threaten to sink oil tankers for the cost of insurance to go so high no shipper would be go near the region.

All it would take now is for all the folks who hate the US to get their acts together -- literally. For example, what could the US do if Iran blocked the straits, Hugo Chavez tighened his oil tourniquet and al Qaeda attacked several large Saudi oil facilities -- all around the same time? Nada. We could start sucking down our Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR,) but that would provide less than a two-month supply. After that, what? Attack Iran, Venezula and occupy Saudi Arabia? Not likely. We can't even pacify Iraq.

There aren't any real options. And that's the truth.

That's the razor's edge upon which our western lifestyle, economy and military strength, teeters. And it's our own damn fault. We ignored the obvious for too long. We lived for too long in our fool's-fuel-paradise. Driving gas guzzling SUV's made us "feel safer," while making us catastrophically less so.

Yes Virginia, we waited too long.

Time's up.

April 11, 2006

Humpty Dumpty's Glass

Lately I've been trying to figure out if the glass is half-full, or half-empty.

On the half-empty side we have Iraq, the ballooning national debt and, of course, global warming.

On the half-full side there's Bush's plummeting poll numbers, Republicans up for reelection dissing their own leader and a handful of Democrats actually venturing out from their five-year defensive crouch.

Half-full? Or half-empty?

Then yesterday I realized why I was having so much trouble deciding; the glass is neither half-full or half-empty. The glass is broken.

Look no further than the current brouhaha over immigration. This is not a hard problem to solve. Both the problem and it's solution are clear and simple.

The Problem: A first-world nation cannot have an open common border with an impoverished third-world nation.

The Solution: Secure the border. Then, after the border is secure, institute an orderly and manageable guest worker program. Implement real employer sanctions for hiring illegals and this time enforce them. Those already in the US illegally will need to register, get green cards and go to the end of the line for citizenship.

Simple. But those we sent to Washington to manage such problems for us can't get it done and in the right order. Any one with the IQ of a appliance light bulb knows that if we pass a guest worker program and offer to normalize those already here illegally, without FIRST sealing the border and policing US employers, more will come, just as they did after the 1986 Simpson/Mazzoli bill was signed by Ronald Reagan.

Duh! Double Duh.

So, why can't they get that? Oh, they get it, they just won't do it. Because the glass is broken. Republicans and Democrats have become independent contractors. They don't work for us, they're self-employed. They're job now is to get re-elected. Getting re-elected requires two things: money and votes.

The money they get selling their attention to those with the money. They votes they get by pandering to energized voting blocks – fundamentalist Christians last time, Hispanic immigrants this time.

Republicans were once the undisputed whores of corporate payola. Democrats got elected as poverty pimps, selling the poor and disadvantaged on the entitlements of victimhood.

But today the two parties are almost indistinguishable. Democrats have joined the corporate money chase for the same reason Willie Sutton robbed banks, “because that's where the money is.” And Republicans have noticed that the Southwest is no longer the sunny purview of rich white voters, but has turned brown and speaks Spanglish.

And, as if that didn't complicate the debate enough, the folks with the money have jumped in on the side of the Hispanic voting block. Companies are pumping money to both Dems and Repubs to insure things stay just the way they are. An endless flow of cheap labor from Mexico is the best thing to happened to corporate America in a hundred years. A surplus of cheap labor not only fattens company bottom lines but will be the final bullet in the head of America's once robust organized labor movement. A win/win for companies and illegal aliens and a lose/lose for the dwindling American middle class and the even more dwindling U.S. Treasury.

So, corporate money is flowing to parties to insure that either no strong new immigration laws be passed or, if they are, they will be largely window dressing. And, with midterm elections just 7 months away, and the Hispanic voting block showing it's numbers in the streets. members of both parties are busting a gut to habla espanol.

As I said, the glass is broken, which is why our borders are broken, our immigration policy is broken, our labor laws are broken, our budgets are broken, our tax code is broken, our environment is broken, our our strategic standing in the world is broken.

Most shocking of all is that the solution for much of it is so simple: public financing of Congressional and Presidential campaigns. Sure politicians will still pander to voting blocks. But public financing will break the back of the two-party monopoly and provide grassroots reformers a shot at making a difference.

Incumbents of both parties fear pubic financing more than they do any other possible reform. I learned that fact back in 1994 when I interviewed folks at the Clinton White House who, at the time, were pretending they were going to push through real campaign finance reform. I wrote that story 12 years ago, and nothing has changed - except for the worst. (Read "Doing Well by Pretending to Do Good") -- After reading that piece you will have to remind yourself I didn't file it last week.

So, that's how we put the glass back together. Only after that can we have a rational discussion about it being half-full or half-empty – or any chance at all that it will be either.

Karl Rove's Replacement Interviews for the Job

"So if I understand you correctly, Jesus, I nuke Iran and then invade N. Korea? Or do I nuke N. Korea and then invade Iran?


Editor's note: Please don't just hit reply to my email when you send me a response to a post. Because when you do that only I can see it.
Instead send your comments to: newsforreal@googlegroups.com
That way everyone can see how smart you are -- or whatever.

Pizzo's Simple Solutions
To Complicated Problems
(No. 2 in an occassional series)

Immigration Reform

Leave it to politicians to make something simple hopelessly complicated. I am, of course, referring to immigration reform. After listenting to C-Span all week I felt compelled to help these poor souls out. So, senators, representatives, White House folk, print this out and pin it your shirt for quick reference in the weeks ahead.

Important directions: WARNING: These instructions will only work if they are implemented in the exact order listed below. Try to implement them all at once, or in a different order, and they not only won't work, but will make matter worse.

So, by the numbers.

1) Who's Who: Establish an online Social Security data base available employers, police, banks and other recognized entities that already routinely handle Social Security numbers. An employer seeking to verify a number provided by a job applicant would simply log on, enter a person's name then the Social Security number they provided. The data base would come back with a simple answer – they either match or don't match.

2)Employer sanctions: Require employers check all their employees, current and future, against that database which will provide them a confirming printout for each employee who's number and name match. Employers then caught with illegal aliens on their payroll will be fined $500 for each one for a first offense, $1000 for a second offense, and face jail for subsequent offenses.

3)More Cops on the Beat: The Bush administration is already talking about hiring as many as 11,500 additional border control agents. Assign all these new agents to employer inspection duty in the 48 contiguous states. (Note: Only three employers were charged last year with hiring illegals. Until employers know they are going to be regularly audited they will continue to ignoring the law. And, as long as employers continue ignoring the law, so too will illegals. Hey Republicans, remember what your patron saint Ronald Reagan instructed: “Trust, but verify.”)

4)Guest Worker Job Center: Establish a formal guest worker program designed specifically to accommodate non-citizen workers seeking jobs in the US -- think of it as a kind of Monster.com for guest workers. This service would be available both online and at physical offices in each Mexican and US state capitol. Not only would US employers and Mexican workers connect here, but wages, work conditions, transportation and other worker/employer issues could be established and monitored.

5)Secure the border. I mean really secure the border. If I have to take my shoes off at airports to protect the US mainland from terrorists, the least I we can demand is that the same government that makes us do that seal the god damn border across which illegals cross, shoes and all, by the thousands every month. If they can't secure the border we should find someone who can. (Note: Securing the border becomes much easier once employer sanctions and an orderly guest worker program is in place and working. )

6)What to do about the 11 million illegals already here? Normalization? Let them go to the end of the line for citizenship? Okay.. a reluctant okay, but okay. But ONLY after reforms 1 through 5 are in place and operating smoothly. Not before. Not during. After.

Now, was that so hard?

I know, privacy rights folks will complain that establishing a Social Security number database would turn the Social Security card into a defacto national identity card. Well, I have a news flash for them: Too late. It already is. Get over it. Besides, uncontrolled immigration poses a far greater threat to the American way of life than establishing a reliable piece of I.D.

This database would also give police, banks and credit card companies a tool to combat ID theft. They would be able to quickly compare, not just the name and number provided, but the database would also take note of the city where the actual person holding that card was last known to live. Then if someone presents a Social Security card to a bank or employer in, say Arizona, that matches up with a card holder know to be living in Maine, a red flag would go up, even if the names match. The database service would then send up a red flag requiring further inquiry – 800-number provided.

Remember, the person(s) using this database to verify the status of someone would never see the actual information held in the database. They would just get a thumbs up, thumbs down or “call for additional information.”

There you are. Simple as that. Since the IRS never seems to have a problem finding me, even when I moved to different states, I suspect they already have a database something along these lines. The Social Security administration certainly does. So we just need to hire a half-dozen of those talented webby dudes or dudettes, (sporting ear rings in all the wrong places, ) to write a web interface that lets employers and police verify quickly if a person and the Social Security number they provide match.

In a normal, (non-governmental) environment such a task should take less than six months to write, secure and test. Then, since almost every employer in the US now has a web connection all they need to provide them is a URL, a user name and password.

So, what's the hold up?