Thursday, July 28, 2005

Government & Pensions

The Gazette editorial on pensions this morning went into the pension fiasco here in WV and across the country. Somehow they find some consolation in knowing it is a national problem and not just a local problem. I find that fascinating.

There are two things the editorial doesn’t address. The first is failure of the local, i.e., state, pension bond sale rejection rationale. All the swirl of finger pointing and legal actions notwithstanding, many people don’t trust state government to act in a fiscally responsible way. Although the bond issue may well have solved the immediate problem, the calls for special sessions to address pay increases for selected groups, e.g., teachers, would have bled most, if not all, of the savings plus made the pension problem even worse.

The second is that everyone complains about the size and cost of government, WV state government in particular. Oddly enough, people don’t seem to recognize the correlation between requests for services and cost. Are there things that could be done better or more cheaply? Is there waste in government? Without a doubt, the answer to both questions is yes. Some things could be done better and there is absolutely waste; pick up a newspaper any week or almost any day it sometimes seems and you will find an example. But one simple fact remains and that is people want government to supply certain services. Many of these services are things we used to do for ourselves – take a look at some of the education programs if you need an example. If people are willing to abdicate their responsibilities to government programs, government is happy to grow to accommodate. Remember the story about rice bowls; one is considered successful in government not by providing efficient, cost effective services but by establishing new programs to meet a “need” established by a government survey. If any government is reduced to only necessary services, the price tag can be reduced. Will it be reduced? That, my friend, could be a completely different story. But we’ll never know so long as we insist on more and more government programs.

Legal or Right?

There is an article in this morning's Gazette on the coal silos and the Manchin-Blankenship continuing saga. The most interesting part to me was something the governor said. I quote from the story, "Manchin said he had faith in the professionals at the DEP to do what is legal and right."

Too often those two words mean opposite, or at least different, things.

Monday, July 25, 2005

National Will

100 Decisive Battles, copyright 1999, Paul K. Davis. I just finished the book. Good read if you’re interested in that sort of thing. The book was one of the sources for the piece below on Megiddo.

The next to last decisive battle discussed in the book is the Tet Offensive in January 1968. It made me think a little about the recently departed William Westmoreland. It is fairly easy to dissect events nearly 40 years after the fact. Everyone knows what happened – massive attacks in the south by both the NVA and the Viet Cong, the guerilla arm of the armed forces. Nearly 100 targets were attacked including five of the six major cities, 36 out of 44 provincial capitals, and most, if not all, of the major military bases in the south. Tet was preceded by a massive effort to relocate supplies to the south and at least part of this was detected by US intelligence. General Westmoreland reported to Washington that a major offensive was imminent but was ignored, even when the diversionary attack on Khe Sanh began on January 21. The results, as they say, are history. Hue fell. The US embassy was attacked but never fell.

One hates to sound merely glib. However, as noted in the book, and despite some anti-war efforts in the US, at the beginning of 1968 most thought the war was being won. This was in part due to the weekly news reports of enemy casualties. That changed radically after Tet.

Within a few weeks all the gains of the NVA and Viet Cong had been regained, including recapture of the ancient imperial capital, Hue. To quote from the book, “Everything the Communists had hoped for failed to materialize. The peasant population did not rise up and welcome them as liberators. Indeed, when the U.S. and ARVN troops reentered Communist-held towns, the Viet Cong were usually turned over to them. The government … remained as strong as ever. The dream of establishing strongholds in southern cities never happened. It was the greatest tactical defeat that the Communists ever suffered in this war, and afterward the Communist leadership could do little more than wonder how their plans could have gone so far awry.”

The Viet Cong were nearly decimated in the literal and classical sense. Exact casualty counts are unknown but, according to the book, it is generally accepted that the Communists lost 40,000 dead. One would expect the count of wounded to be much higher. Because of these losses, there was a very real opportunity to inflict a fatal blow against the North.

There are two points to be made. Rather than use my own poor words, I’ll use Mr. Davis’:

“Worst of all, it was all on the evening news, watched by the entire country. Even the presence of General Westmoreland standing in the embassy compound failed to assure the public. Could it be all lies? The public came to believe the early reports that the Communists had, temporarily, occupied the embassy. Untrue, but later denials were viewed skeptically.

What the U.S. public saw was Viet Cong in the embassy compound. What they did not see, because the news cameras did not follow, was the massive U.S. and ARVN counteroffensive that smashed the Communists forces. The perception of stalemate, if not defeat, entered the American psyche.”

Many of us remember what was reported in the days following. The media did NOT cause the fall of Saigon nor did it cause the failure of U.S. policy. However, and in my opinion, the media did contribute to both through their failure to accurately depict the events of the time. Can you say unbiased?

“After the Tet Offensive, the American people seemed to want not victory, just an end to the war. Although it took five more years for final arrangements to be concluded, the war had long been lost. The struggle in Vietnam, the only serious U.S. setback in the entire Cold War era, was in the end not a struggle of military might, but of national will.”

National will. Do we have that?


Sunday, July 24, 2005

Great Ironies

The first battle recorded by an eyewitness, and thus the first documented battle, took place on or about May 15, 1479 B.C. (Opinions vary about the date but a few years one way or the other over a span of 3500 years probably isn’t significant). Sure, we've been fighting each other for time uncounted. We just didn't write it down before this one.

This battle took place in and around the walled city of Megiddo, in ancient Palestine. The forces engaged were those of Egyptian Pharaoh Thutmose III and those of the Kadesh alliance, commanded by the King of Kadesh. The battle reestablished Egyptian dominance in the region and allowed the invading Egyptians to press on into Lebanon, continuing the outward expansion of the empire to its greatest expanse.

Ok. So that is kinda sorta interesting. But where is the irony? What is the point? The irony is in that this is the first recorded battle and in the Hebrew name for Megiddo – Armageddon.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Affable Conservative

I was reading the Gazette’s editorial on the John Roberts nomination to the Supreme Court. It wasn’t bad at all considering their usual take on all things Bush. At least it wasn’t bad until the very last sentence. After noting that the nomination was politically wise, they end with, “Now it’s up to responsible Senate Democrats to educate themselves and the nation about this affable conservative’s agenda.”

I conclude from that final sentence that only Senate Democrats are responsible and that this “affable conservative” clearly has an agenda. Perhaps they didn’t mean it that way. Perhaps Ragin' Red and Dave Peyton are alter egos of Don Surber.

Yet those of us with a conservative bent are considered divisive.

Monday, July 18, 2005

No! It's a giant squid!

Dave Peyton wrote a pretty decent piece in today’s Daily Mail. The article, and the play discussed in the column is in reference to the Octopus Party. I have to admit that some of the article rings true – it is certainly true that we always see the same names either in power or in pursuit of power.

At least it would have been a pretty good article if only he hadn’t suggested, as the play suggests, that Charlotte Pritt lost the nomination for Governor because she wasn’t a tentacle of the octopus. Reading the article, it appears that the sole reason she lost was because of this lack of connection with the octopus. It had absolutely nothing to do with her voting record or the loony comments she made.

I took the time to see what I might find about the play and came across a suggestion or two that might indicate why Ms. Pritt lost the nomination in 1992 and the general election in 1996. According to an article posted on Huntington News, “Without hesitation the former candidate for governor asserted, "I don't think George Bush won either of the elections. People are afraid to speak out because the climate in the country after 9/11 homeland security has turned us into a military state. With our freedoms of speech being curtailed and all kinds of civil liberties being curtailed, people who know what's happening are very concerned that we have complete control of the media right now by the right wing.””

Interesting! It seems that not only have we been duped by believing that George W. won the election but at least part of it is due to a vast conspiracy of the right and their knowing media outlet goons! Of course, the theme that we’re too stupid to vote is intimated, as well, in that “only people who know what’s happening,” are attuned to this conspiracy.

Elinore Taylor, the play’s author, worked on Pritt’s campaigns. I suppose that could have contributed to the losses. According to the article linked above, she charges that, “he kinda went Republican” when speaking of Bill Clinton.

At least Peyton’s article would have been pretty good if the tag line hadn’t been “Don’t blame democrats for the problem.” He says that the octopus has been in power for the last 75 years and not the Democratic party.

Come to think of it… perhaps that column wasn’t that great after all!

Monday, July 04, 2005

What a country!

General Quarters, General Quarters. All hands man your battle stations.

I was home on leave. There was some state of the world that is now long forgotten but those in the military were considering the possibility that a shooting war was in the making and that we would once again hear those words. I was standing on the boulevard at Regatta amid perhaps 100,000 other people attending the headliner concert. The crowd was having a good time and completely oblivious to my concerns and generally oblivious to the circumstances causing those concerns.

That was the moment that I realized that as small as it might be, what I did ostensibly for a living made a difference. My service played some small part in allowing 100,000 other people to forget whatever concerns they may have had in their life for a while and enjoy the moment without fear.

Generations have heard that call to General Quarters. Generations have responded. All so we can be at home on this day and cook out, go to concerts, watch a ball game, swim, ride, fish, complain about the state of the world or nation, and do all those things without the fear of a police state taking exception. As the catch phrase used to be, “What a country!”

Happy Birthday, America!

Thursday, June 30, 2005

For Rent

Headline in the Gazette: Mansion for rent

Why is this newsworthy? The mansion, along with offices of the other elected officials, has been rented out for years. … Or did I miss the article's connection to vote buying?

Eminent Domain, Indeed!

AP and CNN reports this morning:
"WEARE, New Hampshire (AP) -- A critic of the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling that governments may seize private property for economic development is suggesting the process be used to replace Justice David Souter's New Hampshire home with a hotel.

"The justification for such an eminent domain action is that our hotel will better serve the public interest as it will bring in economic development and higher tax revenue to Weare," Logan Darrow Clements wrote in a fax to town officials in Weare Tuesday."

While I don't expect much of anything to come of it, I can hope that justice comes to the Justice.