I'm just not sure where this leaves us.

Saturday, November 21, 2009
It was recently suggested to me, rather upsettingly, that I might have some "mixed feelings" about Major Nidal Malik Hasan, the Fort Hood shooter of recent note. This was meant to say that I might be sympathetic to the man and condone his actions. I'm still not sure why this accusation was flung at me, but I believe my accuser thinks that my liberal political tendencies cause me to be sympathetic to an (allegedly, by the way) hostile view towards my own country; that I had been "brainwashed" by my cultural circumstances, growing up in California and spending some time in the ultra-liberal Bay Area.

Before I move on, I would like to note that growing up in California, I lived in a Libertarian household and had little exposure to anything other than conservative media. I had no reason to question these ideals and I didn't. Later on living near San Fransisco, I had very naive nationalistic ideas as a young private marching to the sounds of the post-9/11 war drums. Paradoxically, it was in a church in the Great Republic of Texas that I first recognized the credibility of Liberal ideals, and it is only now, living in the NY 23rd congressional district, known for regularly running Conservative party candidates and not having elected a Democrat in twenty years before 2009, that I have begun enunciating any liberal thoughts I might have had. If anything, I have been "reverse-brainwashed." I'm doing it all wrong.

Socrates commanded, "Know thyself."

Sunday, November 15, 2009
One thing I like about writing the Soldier-Citizen-Sapien blog is the opportunity to explore these three named and nested identities as an exercise in formalizing my thoughts. Ultimately, I hope the work I do here begins to shape an ethic that I can refer to, and that others can as well.

Now I'm talking about ethics, and I'm talking about identities, and tonight I'm talking about nature. Human nature. When I say the word "Sapien" I am referring to the human identity. It is the broadest of the three that I work with here at S.C.S.

Tonight I'm going to explore the identity of human nature and some ethical implications. There will be some references to the giants who have done a bulk of the intellectual heavy lifting in this arena, but I think I've stumbled upon something extra that I want to point out.

Who signed me up for this?

Friday, November 6, 2009
A few years ago I lived with a large and variable group of roommates totalling between two and twelve people, all of whom are now lifelong friends. It sounds silly to have twelve roommates, I know, but that's the nature of the military sometimes-very little private space.

Anyway, the nature of the boys I lived with being what it was, we spent a whole lot of time trecking around the Big Sur coastal mountain region just south of Carmel, California. It was a fun little group to be a part of. Lots of hiking and backpacking and other outdoor activities. It was always neat to be a part of such a neat social clique.

My friends and I did everything together. That's another thing about being in the military. You are usually on the same exact schedule as everybody else. We went to classes together, ate together, slept together, showered together, got haircuts together...we did everything together.

It was always fun...until it wasn't anymore.

By way of introduction...

Monday, November 2, 2009
Currently, the beginning of several essays are scrawled on the pages of my spiral bound notebook. I had the fortune to visit Justin and his family a few weeks ago. It was a chance to renew old friendships and reminisce. I was blessed with the opportunity to serve in the military with a group of exceptional individuals(Justin being one of them.)

I have been grasping for an outlet to the jumble of thoughts and inner dialogue for sometime now. Justin has offered the opportunity to contribute to this project as a co-contributor. I am excited to see where this goes. I mostly look forward to the interaction and development of ideas this forum can facilitate. I anticipate a rocky start as my voice here develops. I hope to contribute as regularly as school, work, and family allow.

Having fulfilled my commitment as a soldier, with multiple overseas tours of duty, I now approach a new life as a civilian. My point of view is tinted with the lessons and experiences of a military veteran. Concepts such as duty, self-sacrifice, and service take on deeper meaning after actual application. I believe in the ideas expressed by the Soldier-Citizen-Sapien ethic.


Some New Changes

Thursday, October 29, 2009
Up until now this blog has been a personal project for me to put my thoughts into words and provoke your response. I even used to call it a diary, even though it was very much public. I have been pleased with the feedback I get on the site and in syndicated media.

For quite some time now I had considered expanding the project, introducing collaborators who supported what I now call the Soldier-Citizen-Sapien ideal or ethic. With their help I could make an even more attractive forum for thought and discussion. That expansion is happening now.

You will notice some changes the next time you visit this site. The look has changed and some of the language has changed. I am introducing at least one new collaborator, a superb friend of mine and true believer of the broad S.C.S ethic. I am certain that more will follow to enhance the volume and quality of content on this site.

If you've been here with me at soldiercitizensapien.blogspot.com for a while, I look forward to your continued attention to what this project is becoming. If you're just noticing us, I encourage you to give us a good look. I can only anticipate that the content will become richer and more regular. I doubt you will find yourself regretful you decided to join us here.

I will continue to post on Fridays. My collaborators will introduce themselves in short time. I'm looking forward to seeing how far this project can go.


I want my bubble back

Friday, October 23, 2009
[First of all, I'd like to introduce a terrific friend of mine who has joined me here as a collaborator and contributor. Matt is not only a good man, but he was indeed my best man five years ago and we've had a friendship that has lasted many years. He has joined me in order to add to this project and contribute to the annunciation of the Soldier-Citizen-Sapien ethic. I would also like to offer an enthusiastic greetings to Matt's family and friends who are reading this (and me) for the first time. I look forward to any part of the discussion you care to add.]

Now on with it...

There has been quite a bit of debate, well, just about everywhere on the resolution of the global financial crisis and subsequent recession. In the U.S. there has been debate at least as early as the 2008 presidential campaign about how to deal with the recession, and get back on track towards growth.

Now sitting from my perch of stable employment, it was easy for this question to come to me, although it might not be altogether fair of me to do so:
Why is everybody so eager to rush back into growth?
The big financial bubble had just collapsed. Why were we in such a hurry to charge that imaginary capital back up and create a new one? The only debate that was going on was how to get back on a track towards growth, but nobody I saw was really debating why getting back on track was desirable in the first place.

Is it just assumed that growth is what we want to be doing? Need to be doing?

Nobody wins when everyone's losing. (updated)

Thursday, September 24, 2009
General (that's one-two-three-four stars) Stanley McChrystal has caught a lot of hell this week over a report he sent to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates requesting a boost in the number of troops assisting in Afghanistan. (unclassified report here) By the language he uses, referencing previous denied requests for troops, I am suspecting he is going to be asking for something in the vicinity of thousands. Like perhaps 10,000+ new troops for Afghanistan.

After my quick read of the report, I've been able to figure out that Gen. McChrystal thinks we are not doing so hot at fighting the insurgency because: (1)we are failing to snuggle up to the people and make them get used to us and like us the way an insurgency is supposed to be "fought", (2) we're not keeping Afghanistan's leadership honest and corruption-free, and (3) we are not managing the prisons and detention camps appropriately, so that they've basically become collectives for new insurgents.

General Stanley McChrystal would like you to know: we suck at Afghanistan.

But THAT isn't what got him in trouble this week. What got him in trouble was saying that if we didn't get these troops into Afghanistan within twelve months we "risk an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible," and our efforts "are likely to result in mission failure."

I'll admit that language shocked me too-"mission failure"-but then I had to think about it. I had to think pretty hard, too.

(edited) What does "mission failure" mean in Afghanistan? The way I understand mission failure is that it occurs whenever you do not achieve mission success. So what does "mission success" mean in Afghanistan? I dug back into that report and I notice on page 2-20 there is paragraph called "V. Assessments: Measuring Progress" that basically announces that ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) needs to come up with some goals and some metrics to determine what "progress" means. In other words the criteria for"mission success" have not been defined yet. Either that or the top NATO commander in Afghanistan has not been informed of them.

(updated) Let me reiterate my definition of mission failure: mission failure occurs when you fail to accomplish your mission. If there is no definition for mission success, then there is no definition for mission failure.

So I don't think there is such a thing as "mission success" and I think that also means that there is such a thing as "mission failure" in Afghanistan. And if you think that increasing casualties, a turning civilian population, a corrupt government, and a growing insurgency in prisons can be "mission failure", then we've already failed the mission.

(updated) General McChrystal also writes in his report on page 1-4 that "resources will not win this war, but under-resourcing can lose it." Here, he is still talking about losing a war that there is no criteria for winning or losing. This might be tricky: mission success does not result from avoiding a loss in the war. It works the other way around. This request is about having enough troops to prolong the conflict, because with the situation the way it is (not on the ground, but on the mission orders) this war is literally "un-winnable." By General McChrystal's own words, these extra troops will only stave off defeat, but will not win the conflict.

This reminded me of something.

A few weeks ago, I was orienting a group of ROTC cadets to a paint ball arena on their first bout with another team. I told them the strategy they needed was simply this: WIN!

I told them a little bit about how to do it. The exercise was to communicate, move and shoot. Just like daddy did it, and just like his daddy did it. They listened to that advice a little bit, but they all liked hearing me say that all we had to do was "WIN!"

And it worked too. Out of a total of a dozen or so bouts in two weeks of paint ball I only lost one of them. I told each of them the same thing and they all fought in about the same way. But there wasn't much guiding them other than my one-word strategy.

The fighting continued until one side was completely wiped out, or time ran out. Whoever held the most ground, or "killed" the most of their adversaries by the end "won" the bout. Sometimes, it wasn't clear who had won, and I merely claimed victory for my side out of pride and habit.

So I think this is what decides a mission's outcome when there are no criteria for success or failure. Sometimes, one entire side is going to get killed off, which can take a long time to do in Afghanistan. Or maybe one side is eventually just going to claim victory and everybody can move on to the next bout.

But, unfortunately, there isn't anyone holding a clock to let us know when we reach the "time-limit" in our big match in Afghanistan. And meanwhile, General McChrystal is doing his best to make sure we don't "lose".

Never Forget

Friday, September 11, 2009
The intentions of this blog being what they are, it would be absolutely negligent of me not to remark on the tragedy eight years ago.

The 9/11 attacks are a substantial historical benchmark in the United States and in many other parts of the world. They have had social, cultural, and political implications everywhere in part because of the nature of the attacks themselves, but also because some of the world-changing events that have followed.

So we say "Never Forget" in remembrance of 9/11, but what are we pledged never to forget?

3,017 people died or are presumed dead in the 9/11 attacks themselves. We will never forget them.

More than 4,000 troops have been killed in "War on Terror" operations in Iraq and Afghanistan since 9/11. We should never forget them either.

Other actions in the "War on Terror", either by troops or terrorists, have cost an estimated 62,006 people their lives as well. If the "War on Terror" is a direct response to the 9/11 attacks, perhaps we should not forget them either.

I've tried to filter my thoughts about 9/11 through the three personae I attempt to use in this blog in remembrance of all of these that have lost their lives as a result, and as an exercise in developing my own thoughts about the attributes of each character.

The Soldier is ashamed of 9/11. It is the Soldier's duty to protect the people from attackers who would harm the innocent. The soldier would trade his life for any of the civilians who died at the World Trade Center. Many Soldiers died at the Pentagon in the act of serving their country on duty. The Soldier's loyalty is to his comrades-in-arms and the people he protects. The Soldier never forgets because he refuses to let any more harm come to the people he is pledged to defend.

The Citizen demands answers for the attacks on 9/11. It is the Citizen's duty to ensure that the government is prepared to provide for the defense the country, and to demand that a proper course of action be taken to prevent an attack from happening again. The 9/11 commission investigated and made a report documenting the events of 9/11 and making recommendations for ensuring the future defense of the United States. The Citizen watches his leadership and does his part to contribute to the well-being of the nation, any way he can. The Citizen never forgets because his memory will serve as the motivation to demand answers from his leaders and ensure that they perform their task of defending the state.

The Human Being weeps for those who were killed in the attacks, and for every person who was killed on their behalf in retribution. The Human Being weeps for the humiliations and torture performed in prisons and detention centers in the name of justice or in the name of self-preservation or defense. The Human Being's duty is compassion for his fellow man and taking care to preserve their rights to life and freedom, as the Human Being enjoys naturally. The Human Being never forgets, because the death of another man should be the thing that affects him the most, and the torture of another man, or restriction of his natural rights is suffering almost unbearable to observe.

I won't forget 9/11.

9/11 is one of the reasons I do what I do, and one of the reasons I write here in this diary.

Right place, right time, right uniform.

Friday, September 4, 2009
"...right place, right time, right uniform..."

Those were the words spoken to me by a Command Sergeant Major I came to know after some time spent in his battalion. He was giving a squad of us junior soldiers advice on how to get to the level he had achieved in his career, and become a Sergeant Major. "All I've had to do is be in the right place, at the right time, in the right uniform," he said. It's a oft-repeated guideline to success for troops in the Army.

Many went home that night thinking, "is that all I have to do?"

I went home that night thinking something very similar. "Is that all somebody has to do to become a Command Sergeant Major?" This seemed like a troubling thought.

Here's my problem. I think that in any organization, the cream of the talent should rise to the top. People get promoted on their merit and succeed to higher and higher ranks and positions. The people at the top should be the best at what they do. A CEO should be the most capable to lead a company successfully, understanding every aspect of his business. A Command Sergeant Major should be capable in every aspect of "sergeant's business": training and leading troops, preparing them for combat and moving them in their formations.

Is the pinnacle of "sergeant's business" being in the "right place, at the right time, in the right uniform?" I suggest that there is more to it. Or there ought to be.

After a seven-year suspension, the Army Qualitative Management Program (QMP) is being reinstated. The QMP will assess around 19,000 senior NCOs and determine whether it is desirable to have these NCOs at the very top of enlisted leadership. This shouldn't sound crazy. Page 1 of Army Field Manual 601-280 states that the number one goal of the Army Retention Program is to

"Reenlist, on a long term basis, sufficient numbers of highly qualified Active Army soldiers"

We want the very best to stay in. The highest qualified are the most desirable. When I was trained in Army retention, the "highly qualified" describer was emphasized as one our most important criteria for a reenlistment candidate. It was more important than meeting retention mission requirements. It was more important than anything that had anything to do with retention.

What the QMP is looking for is senior NCOs who have records of misconduct. Things like DUIs, removals from leadership positions for cause, failure to complete necessary schooling or failure to perform well on regular evaluations (NCOERs). These NCOs that are identified as undesirable will be given the option to apply for immediate retirement. If they do not choose to retire, they will be separated within six months. That's the deal.

The senior NCOs being targeted and identified by the QMP are NCOs I would not categorize as "highly qualified" for retention. I think the QMP is a good thing. If it manages to do what it is supposed to do than I think it can eliminate a few of the Command Sergeants Major out there who believe that in order to succeed, you only need to be in the "right place, at the right time, in the right uniform."

There is still something more to be said here. How do we find ourselves with enlisted leaders in the senior NCO grades that have DUIs or letters of reprimand in their background? Why is the QMP even necessary? Why was it suspended for seven years? I suppose there is still a problem with the overall promotion scheme, beginning at the lowest levels. This is a problem I am still trying to work out my own explanation for, and so you'll have to wait for another episode.


Army "Buddies"

Thursday, August 20, 2009
A few months ago my wife and I had some friends over for a barbecue at my house. They were (still are) a nice couple with a young son in school, whose father I had begun working with in the late summer. He was a great guy, our kids got along fine, and our wives did as well. It was a good fit all around. We had spent almost one night each weekend at each other's homes for supper and coffee for the last few months and I was beginning to see that these were folks who I could expect to know as friends for a long time.

I believe it is like that in the Army. Despite grand distances and great lengths of time between visits you will usually refer to people you've met along the way and your Army "buddies", and along with their families you think of them as friends. This guy was now my buddy, and our families were now friends.

My buddy had the honor of receiving an award in Washington D.C. at a formal reception attended by many high ranking Army officers. There were many impressive names you would know being in the army in attendance. People I refer to as "Army rock stars" when they're not around, and "Sir" or "General" when they are. He and his wife were seated next to a rock star and his wife at the gala, and the ladies were chit-chatting.

My friend was talking about all of the wonderful friends she'd made along the way traveling with her Army husband. When she said the word "friends" the general's wife began to correct her. She explained that there was a difference between "friends" and "acquaintances" and that one ought to be more distinct about who she referred to as a friend. "Friends" were lifelong companions like the ones you met in school and continue to see all the time, and what my friend encountered in her travels with her husband in the Army were "acquaintances." Apparently, she had been able to convince my friend of her point of view, for a short while anyway. Meanwhile I had been sitting across from her nervous that I might be an "acquaintance" of the only couple I had been able to make "friends" with in the area. My wife assures me that she was able to reassure our friend that we would be the type of "friends" she could look forward to having for quite a while. To this day we are really close to that couple.

I bring all this up to say that I'm very sad for that general's wife who has no friends but is proud of her large pool of acquaintances. I believe this has something to do with her involvement in her husband's career, where it is likely that she and he both are compelled to socialize with folks for professional reasons, and not necessarily to spend time with people they like and enjoy. A large part of their professional lives has bled into their personal social life. I imagine as a general there is a large part of the job that takes place outside of the office. Not necessarily on the golf course like you see in movies (although it could be possible) but at functions, ceremonies, etc.

I evaluated my own social relationships with folks I worked with using this new categorizing system of "friends" and "acquaintances." I realized that I have very few "acquaintances" (a term I've never liked using to begin with) and many many dear friends who are either my Army "buddies" or their families and I look forward to meeting with them whenever I can. I'm glad to say that I have these people in my life, even if it means I'll never get to be a general.

Even by Albany standards

Friday, June 12, 2009
I don't have a whole lot of commentary for this one but I think it's necessary to bear witness to the reindeer games going on this week in the New York state Senate. The thrust of it is that two renegade state senators have flipped the majority body upside down and bogged down the last scheduled week of the session with drama and intrigue. This last week of the session also happens to be the most important week in the legislature as the body reputedly does 30-40% of it's work during this important week. In addition to this, NY Governor David Patterson has set a state gay marriage vote in the lap of the legislature, to be voted on, yea or nay, before the session is over. But instead of earning their paychecks this week, this is what has happened...

On Monday, June 8, 2009, Democrat Senators Pedro Espada Jr. (Bronx) and Hiram Monserrate (Queens) participate in a leadership vote for the state Senate, joining with the Republican minority to form a brand new majority and naming Sen. Espada the new Senate president. They say they are not switching parties but merely voting for leadership reform. Watching this happen the Democrats try to adjourn to shut the leadership vote down, but fail. Blind-sided and probably embarrassed, the "former" Democratic majority split, leaving the Senate floor, locking the doors and shutting off the lights. Then they went to their lawyers to see if a judge couldn't give them their majority back. Here is a blow-by-blow of the Senate proceedings on Monday.

Governor Patterson comes out against the Senate and their shenanigans telling them to "act like adults" and calling the whole process "ridiculous" and "despicable" and saying they they had humiliated government "even by Albany standards" which is evidently a thing people say here in the Empire State. While he initially decided to recognize the former Senate majority leader, Malcolm Smith, he said later on Wednesday that he wanted the Senators to get back in the chamber, take a vote, and he would go with whoever they decided. He admits that he has no legal power to make things happen in this dispute. Based on communications between Governor Patterson and the state legislature, I detect that he doesn't get along too well with them, but he's no favorite of theirs either. He has been bopping them on the heads about the budget all year (and ever since he's been governor for that matter).

As of yesterday, the NY Senate has been holding sessions with 30 Republicans and the 2 Democrat defectors (dems from the former majority don't even show up), although Monserrate seems to be on the fence about his decision still. The new majority has had trouble keeping him in the chamber and it is uncertain whether he is really committed to this new coalition.

What I find spectacular is that every article you can find about this fiasco is sure to mention the iffy reputations of the two defecting Democrats. It is often announced that Senator Espada has had trouble keeping his hands out of charity funds in order to finance his political campaigns and Monserrate was arrested last year for slashing his girlfriend in the face with a broken glass. So, not exactly the classiest of characters participating in this coup, but I wonder if these two are representative of the rest of the folks working the Senate in Albany. Governor Patterson's "even by Albany standards" quote seems very appropriate.

It is also remarkable that Espada, as the newly elected Senate President, is next in line for Governor Patterson's job if anything bad should happen to him. Patterson himself seems to break the mold of a NY politician, relatively clean compared to Elliot Spitzer, his predecessor, who resigned in the wake of a call-girl scandal, and Pedro Espada Jr., the embezzling turncoat Senator who could be the governor in a heartbeat.

My larger question is: what the heck is going on in state governments? I mean, this is typically the resource pool for the manpower we get at the national leadership level, right? Not too long ago the President himself was a state senator (who himself attributes his election to the Illinois Senate to a scandal and some luck).
Perhaps I shouldn't be surprised. I'm an outsider to NY politics so this all seems very amusing, but when I reflect on the state where I was born, we elected the Terminator in a contest that also included celebrity Gary Coleman and about a thousand other candidates in a news-making circus election season. But I also have to reflect on Governor Rick Perry's antics from Texas with his recent comments about state secession and the like.

What in the world is going on?

Cap-and-trade is so hot right now.

Friday, June 5, 2009
Let me get this strait…

We cap carbon emissions as a desirable level. Then we issue tradable pollution permits. How this is done is an important step which I can address in a footnote but I’m going to move on.

The tradable permits have a price. That price determines whether it is going to be worthwhile to stop polluting or reduce emissions. If it costs less to buy a permit than reduce my emissions (technology, lost revenue), I’m buying that permit! If it costs more to buy a permit than user cleaner technology, then I’m going to clean up my plant or reduce output to control my emissions.

All this settles out to a sexy little efficient scenario where all the people who can easily reduce emissions will do so and those who can’t won’t do it. The costs of reducing emissions will the lowest it can be and the annual carbon emissions level will be set at…whatever… [edit: whatever congress/EPA feels like it should be set at]

So everybody’s good right?

Wrong. Everybody feels good. We are cutting emissions! Sure we are-in some places. In other places plants are just buying the permits so they can drive on. They pass the expense on to their customers and the bills go up in neighborhoods where the plant can’t cost-effectively lower the pollution output.

Meanwhile, while everybody has got their fuzzies from carbon control legislature, a constant flow of carbon-dioxide is going into the air albeit measured and “capped.” Perhaps it is assumed that every year we get a new atmosphere with a baseline amount of carbon-dioxide, and we can add to it a certain amount each year and then switch it out for a new one next year.

This is the Keeling Curve. It measures carbon-dioxide content of the atmosphere at Mauna Loa, HI in parts per million.

Notice something? That’s right, it goes up. More and more carbon-dioxide is put into the atmosphere every year. If you believe in the greenhouse affect and the theory of global climate change, this is a bad thing.

Okay, straw man effectively knocked out. Let me make a real argument. What if I told you the carbon-dioxide was necessary for plant life on Earth. It’s literally plant food. Plants do not exist without carbon-dioxide in the atmosphere. Well heck, put more of the stuff in the atmosphere. All that will happen is more plants will grow or they will grow bigger of faster.

Okay. Fine.

This is the Keeling Curve. Notice something? That’s right, it goes up. Which means more carbon-dioxide is going into the atmosphere. Some is getting taken out, but there is still a net increase in the amount of carbon-dioxide going up there. Carbon is going up at the rate of a smoke stack but is getting sucked back out at the pace of leaf growth. I’ve watched leaves grow. It takes a long time. Please don’t be so amused by the “cap” that you forget to ask where what’s left over is going to go.

We can argue that the biosphere will catch up...leaf growth is still growth, right? Finding the balance is the key. When we can emit as much carbon as will grow in foliage each year, there should be a balance, right? Right?

Well. What does your equilibrium state look like? (I prefer not to use loaded language, so I’ll go ahead and use images) The point is there has to be an eventual end-state to all of this extra plant food.

Something ought to be done that doesn’t just result in a steady flow of carbon each year to add to the world’s problems. The answer is reaching a carbon output level that is EXACTLY parallel to the natural amount of carbon that is naturally released into the atmosphere. That is to say: rotting detritus and chemical exchange on the surface of water. This means a switch to ZERO emission energy generation like wind and solar energy. If I must go on, I’ll do it in another segment.

For now, suffice it to say that I’m not really cap-and-trade kind of guy. Nice thought, but long-run ineffective.

I still owe you that footnote. Here goes. The question is whether the government issues permits free or auctions. I’m not going to triple-check my info for a foot-note but it looks like recent cap-and-trade legislation is talking about a mix of free permits and auctioned permits. 15% will be auctioned if memory serves.

If the government issues permits free, then NOBODY cuts emissions. They’ve got permits now for whatever they pollute. In addition to this, now they’ve got something to sell-for FREE. Environmental groups will probably be the only market for these permits which can be sold when better technology comes about to clean up pollution (which it should and will-it always does). The price will be low if not zero for these permits when they are sold.

Now auctioning off the permits actually has the desired affect of accomplishing exactly what I’ve described above. It actually does cause incentive to change technologies or find another way to lower emissions, because you’ve got to PAY to pollute. I think I also made it clear why that’s a lame idea.

Anyway, perhaps they’re thinking of a smooth middle ground. Meet up half way. Because as anyone who has passed third grade math will tell you, 15% is totally a good half-way point.

Anyhow, toodles. Sorry so long.


My recent letter to the President

Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Mr. President,

I write to you in frustration at your hesitation to take action against the Department of Defense “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” (DADT) policy. As I write this letter, many like me are demonstrating their support online for 1LT Daniel Choi who is the most recent and perhaps most notorious service member being separated from the service because of the statements he made regarding his sexuality.

Daniel Choi is a friend of mine, but not the first to be separated under the DADT policy. SGT Bleu Copas, who I attended language school with, was also separated under DADT. Both of these men are dedicated soldiers, capable linguists and outstanding Americans. Their expulsion from the U.S. Army is regrettable and shameful.

You have stated yourself that “equality is a moral imperative,” and have declared the repeal of DADT to be a measure of equality for gay Americans. Recently, your White House agenda page referring to this issue has diluted its language to remind us that the task of repeal must be done in a sensible way. I ask how it is possible to wait for a sensible way to resolve an issue that is a “moral imperative.”

While I understand a little about the nature of the barriers you face in successfully gaining repeal of DADT, I am frustrated that your apparent support for this “moral imperative” has been little more than a note of solidarity to 2LT Sandy Tsao and similar utterances I have noticed in the news. I wonder how you honestly intend to use the “bully pulpit” you pledged to use to call for repeal of DADT. I have noticed no bullying behavior and have seen you behind no pulpits calling explicitly for repeal.

My wife and I both voted for you last year, and we do not regret that decision. I am not a single-issue voter although your actions in addressing this issue will be a part of my future decision making. I feel that your inaction on this issue, and failure to address it in a public way, as you pledged, degrades your credibility and your promise to me. Perhaps my greatest frustration is that you cannot or will not act on a seemingly easy issue from the vantage of a very high moral ground; and why not?

I beg you to take some action towards fulfillment of this very powerful pledge of yours for equality. To send some signal that you are interested in affecting a real change and not just sympathetic to the poor policy’s victims, rejecting the position that you lack any real control over the policy mechanism. If you were extremely bold, you might find a way to block or hinder the discharge of Daniel Choi, despite the DADT policy. Please don’t just send an apology note.

In closing, I would like to repeat some words that I am sure you are already familiar with. While you hesitate in making a difference with regards to DADT, and you let the system remain undisturbed, let the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. remind you that “we will have repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people.” I pray that you or I will not have to repent for your continued inaction against “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”.

With absolute greatest respect,


Scary Stuff

Sunday, April 26, 2009
What I think is interesting is how those closest to enhanced interrogations (i.e. the interrogators) have pounced on the airwaves saying how the information collected was useless for the most part. Meanwhile those closest to the top are saying that the information collected halted major disaster and provided good intelligence.

What alarmed me was this question. What changed in the information between the interrogators and the policy-makers?

I don’t think what follows is going to actually answer the question, but I think it’s important to highlight something I’ve thought for some time.

I think those who handle intelligence information on its way up are doing something wrong. By this I mean that the information that gets run up to the top may not be the information that was collected on the ground.

Consider this:

1) The people writing information reports know the questions that need to be answered.

2) Sometimes these people already know the answers, OR what they suppose should be the answer, OR what they think the commander thinks is the right answer. They just need the proof.

3) There is an incentive to get the answers, down to the individual and unit level in the form of awards, promotions and definitely prestige. There is also the genuine spirit that the work being done is for the right reasons.

What’s your conclusion from all this?

Techniques for changing information range from “sprucing up” the language of the report to omission, to outright making things up. It happens.

Let me tell you a story…

I had the privilege of working a fun little mission screening recorded conversation traffic that needed to be translated for possible juicy bits. It was something we did in our down time. I was the senior guy on the project and I got passed a report detailing something mildly exciting.

The guy who sent me the report was a real hotshot operator-high test scores. We knew it and more importantly, HE knew it. So I gave the conversation a listen. We didn’t hear the same thing. I didn’t hear anything like the report said. I wasn’t the high score tester like he was, despite having the longest time on the job. I passed it off to my number two guy. He heard the same thing I did-nothing. I turned it back to the hotshot who wouldn’t give it up, and he took it to the analysts who loved it and wanted to know more. They wanted a full-blown detailed transcript.
So the hotshot and I got to work. I spent the rest of the day on it. Hotshot spent an hour. The analysts worked off of his transcript until mine arrived with more details and less juicy content. They still wanted to send the report off of his copy.

We wound up bringing in the big chief and he shot the thing down, taking my side-thank goodness!

What is scary is that it took a fight to shoot the thing down. I was the senior man in the room. Why was there ever a question? How did the hotshot supported by a hungry analysis crew get this report on the big chief's desk.

This would have wound up being our first nugget after a long time working on low-priority busywork. There was a big incentive to "answer the question".

Scary right?

So I just want to wrap this up quoting a line from the Military Intelligence Soldier’s creed. I think it’s an important reminder when these situations come up.


Pork or Proper?

Friday, March 13, 2009

There is an argument in support of earmarks that applauds congress members for specifying how federal money will be spent and utilizing congress’ constitution-supported “power of the purse.” The alternative being that congress is simply handing money over to bureaucracy of the executive administration like a blank check. Okay not a blank check but a check that is only partially filled in with a payee and an amount with nothing in the “memo” line.

H.R. 1105 was signed by President Obama on 11 March 2009 and included over nine thousand earmarks totaling 1.8% of total funding or $7.7 billion. (These are the checks with “memo” lines)

H.R. 1105 passed with the sum of $410 billion, leaving a $402.3 billion dollar “blank check” for the administration.

It would seem that for this argument to be sane, that congress should use its “power of the purse” to a much greater extent than 1.8% of its constitutionally-appointed duty.

Now bogging congress down to earmark every penny is unreasonable but this argument about congress performing its duties falls apart pretty quick when it only does it two percent of the time.

H.R. 1105 contained $7.7 billion of pork. ($7,700,000,000)

Earmarks are pork. This is pork.


John McCain responsibly wags finger at H.R. 1105

Tuesday, March 3, 2009
Sen. John McCain beginning at 20:20.

Despite my recent voting practices I am VERY pleased to see John McCain leading the debate on H.R. 1105, Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2009, and calling out both parties for sticking thousands of earmarks into appropriations legistalion for the rest of this federal fiscal year.

Anybody with any sense knows that earmark appropriations are wasteful. I'm happy that it is John McCain's priveledge to "cast the first stone" so to speak on this spending.

I'm also thinking back to the election debates and wondering if I ever noticed John McCain get this intense before. He really seems in his element during this entire clip. I can honestly say that Senator McCain has impressed me in a way that I hadn't been before.

Two of my favorite highlights (both from the 26th minute):

“So, I guess we’re doing last year’s business. Does that mean that last year’s president will sign this pork-barrel bill?”

If this pork gets approved in the Senate I hope this appropriations bill gets turned right back around at the White House. We shall see.

“I want to freely acknowledge that Republicans were guilty of this as well.” 

I think this last quote speaks to McCain's integrity. I can see House Republicans ducking beneath this shotgun blast statement.

Thank you John McCain. 



Don't Ask. Don't Tell.

Monday, February 16, 2009
"Equality is a moral imperative." That's what Barack Obama said in an open letter in February 2008, describing the civil rights of the LGBT community.

In the president's civil rights agenda he calls for the repeal of the military "Don't ask, don't tell." policy that requires the discharge of servicemembers who perform homosexual acts or make statements identifying themselves as homosexuals. Here he cites the dramatic losses (300) of valuable individuals who served in the military as linguists, 50 of which were capable in Arabic. Here is a piece about one of those fifty patriots who were discharged under "Don't ask, don't tell." I can personally vouch for the superb character of the individual, who I count as a good friend.

At this time, Politifact.com's Obameter is tracking Obama campaign promise #293 - "Call for repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy" as a "no action" promise.

So what is the delay on this "moral imperative?"

No action?

There is the argument that Obama is waiting for consensus to develop in congress before making any moves at suggesting repeal. This is what prompted Servicemembers Legal Defense Network to conduct a 300-person rally in Washington on 13 March 2009. Nancy Pelosi says that repeal of D.A.D.T. is a priority and expects to pass it "when we have the votes."and is quoted in the last link.


No action?

Perhaps the "moral imperative" can wait until after midterm elections in 2010. That way some members can avoid the risk of upsetting voters that are against repeal. Obama will still be president in 2010 right?

Perhaps the "moral imperative" can wait until 2012. This way Obama won't risk a second term to the loss in support a repeal might make.

Maybe I'll be checking Politifact's Obameter late into the second term sometime around 2015 when it might just change to an "in the works" campaign promise.


(Thanks to two friends who reminded me I was upset about this)

Integrity in Washington

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

First, some old news...

26 Jan 2009 - Timothy Geithner is confirmed as Treasury Secretary although drawing 34 senate votes against his confirmation after news of his failure to pay $34,000 in self-employment taxes in time.

02 Feb 2009 - Nancy Killefer, first-ever named Executive Chief Performance Officer withdraws candidacy after findings of late payment of household payroll taxes which were paid after a lien was put on her home.

03 Feb 2009 - Sen. Tom Daschle withdraws from consideration as President Barack Obama's Secretary of Health and Human Services in the face of findings that he only recently paid back in the amount of $128,000; says that he is not a leader who "can operate with the full faith of Congress and the American people."

These three are all highly qualified individuals (Geithner, Killefer, Daschle) with many years of expertise in their fields that they bring (would have brought) to the Executive cabinet. They were perhaps the best possible people to work in those jobs.

The best people in Washington are being precluded from service because of a lack of integrity. (Don't tell me that an IRS efficiency official actually screwed up on her taxes and it took a lien on her home for her to notice.)

My larger question is: Can qualified people even be found in politics who haven't got some story like these?

This is the question I've heard most often one day after the fact and a big question I have myself. Where can integrity be found anymore? This government has got some serious housekeeping to do.