Archive for September 2017

The Great Leader is a Bust

From the NYT:

President Trump lashed out at the mayor of San Juan on Saturday for criticizing his administration’s efforts to help Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, accusing her of “poor leadership” and implying that the island, which lacks electricity and has limited cellphone service, water and fuel, was not doing enough to help itself.

In a series of early-morning messages on Twitter from his New Jersey golf club, where he is spending the weekend, Mr. Trump dismissed the statements by the capital’s mayor, Carmen Yulín Cruz, as political and asserted that his administration had organized a response by federal workers who are “doing a fantastic job.”

The Mayor of San Juan, who was very complimentary only a few days ago, has now been told by the Democrats that you must be nasty to Trump.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 30, 2017

…Such poor leadership ability by the Mayor of San Juan, and others in Puerto Rico, who are not able to get their workers to help. They….

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 30, 2017

Mr. Trump said his critics in Puerto Rico should not depend entirely on the federal government. “They want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort,” he wrote. “10,000 Federal workers now on Island doing a fantastic job. The military and first responders, despite no electric, roads, phones etc., have done an amazing job. Puerto Rico was totally destroyed.”

He does not seem to understand the difference between an island and say Houston. Well, he did say big water around it, really big water. And as he and his colleagues did their best to not help the island when the banks and corporations were raping them, now they blame them for their plight. The mayor of San Juan just got tired of kissing ass and nothing happened. Even the General deployed down there has said he does not have the resources.  But the DIC blames Puerto Ricans.  I wonder if they are brown makes a difference?

Yesterday I blogged what should have happened day one after Maria. He sat on his ass and did not pay attention. And as always there is no truth to power (everyone is covering their asses) so everything is working out fine. “Your doing a great job Brownie.” Now when people are desperate, he blames them instead of solving the problem.

Oh, and it is really rich that he is doing this from his New Jersey golf club. I hope he got two scopes of ice cream on his desserts. The man has no idea how to manage and he does not give a flying fuck about the little people. As a leader, you solve the problems first, then later look to see what went wrong. This was a ticking time bomb and it finally went off. He has no idea how to keep his eye on the ball, or which ball is the one he should be watching. Can’t wait to see how he is going to handle North Korea.

This really, really smart man is a dotard. Kim Jong-un got that dead on. Maybe all the folks in Puerto Rico need to take a knee next time they play the national anthem. Maybe then they would get some attention.

Oh and one other thought.  Maybe it is time to give those folks in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands the vote.  Then we might not get an idiot for President.  Just how dispicable can he get before Republicans quite legitimizing him?

I Don’t Think Puerto Rico is Hard

Yes, it is the DIC’s (Dotard in Charge) Katrina. This was not hard if you were paying attention. The place was flattened and he did nothing. I would have deployed an assessment team, declared martial law, deployed the military to set up distributions centers, temporary hospitals, portable generators, and temporary living facilities. What was the DIC doing? Tweeting about taking a knee. He is an idiot. He could not anticipate this because he has no empathy. Now they will explain how they could not of known, yada, yada, yada, when what you see is his veneer ripped off. This guy is going to deal with North Korea, Iran, or our economy? You idiots that voted for him ought to take stock. Oxymoron, idiots taking stock.

And Then Saigon Fell

It is the morning after and I feel wrung out. The last episode of “The Vietnam War” was last night. I was pulled in many different directions. Back when it actually happened I was training in B-52s, this time my mission was the destruction of the planet as you and I know it. One might wonder why after I completed my tour in RF-4Cs I did not just hang it up then, I was definitely not Air Force material and the B-52 quite frankly sucked. Well, I was coming back from South East Asia to my family in the States and I did not see any options.

I had been out of the country in the Far East for five years. I wonder how many in the military today have faced that same quandary? With the new training as a B-52 Radar Navigator (bombardier), I had to finish my new commitment to the AF after my training, but when I did, I pulled the plug in 1979. For the first time in my life, I was true to myself. But back to the point. When Saigon fell I was glued to the TV. But I was kind of numb. I had put it all away. It had been coming for a long time. I watched Cambodia and South Vietnam degrade from the air in combat reconnaissance missions flown in 1973/74. Then, afterwards, I did not think about it much. Ticking time bomb for many of us.

This time when I watched it again, I was not numb. I was a bit depressed and really, really saddened by the whole tragedy. In the end, we were just as incompetent as we had been throughout. I wanted to save all those Vietnamese refugees, stop the advance of the North Vietnamese, and of course that was nonsense. Yes I felt we betrayed them in the end, but the option was a never-ending war. It still amazes me that they have more or less forgiven us.  There is a lesson there.

I guess what sadden me the most is the absolute stupidity and futility of it all. Not just for us, but for the Vietnamese too. Even some of our former adversaries  questioned the cost in lives lost. And looking at Vietnam today, why did we do it? Why did so many people have to die for what? I guess that is the ultimate lesson if we are listening. I wonder if we are listening because so far I see no real discussion of the series or what lessons we should take away are.

Ken Burns tells us that the divisions that were created in that war live on today. I am not sure what he means and what those are. Yes, we are divided today, but those divisions are born out of ignorance, fake news, in a world where truth is considered relative, and blaming and simple-minded solutions to complex problems reign supreme.  Vietnam taught me that truth and reality hits you right in the face whether you want it to or not. And when you ignore it, the cost in human lives and our humanity are high. I would love to have a one-on-one with Mr. Burns to hear his lessons learned.  The series tried to achieve balance, but I don’t think the lessons are balanced.  Generally they tell us war is futile enterprise.

I sadly see the Iraq war as a repeat of the failure to learn the lessons of Vietnam. We destroyed the Taliban and al-Qaeda mostly from the air in Afghanistan after we were attacked and if we would have just finished it by getting Ben Laden and then gotten out, one could say we did learn something. But we invaded Iraq on a made up reason (sound familiar?), and then totally ignorant of the factions and political motivations of the country, tried to nation build, an island of democracy in the Middle East. It was Vietnam all over again. And it is still ongoing.

Oh and my lessons learned from Half Way Through the Vietnam War Thoughts? Well in Iraq our government lied to us, the generals who fought it were mostly clueless using the tactics of the last war, and the biggest lie of all is that we are fighting to protect the Constitution, freedom, democracy, and our country. The biggest assault on our Constitution, democracy, freedom, and our country is the person now holding the Oval Office and the people who elected him. A man who tries to explain to us patriotism and never served anyone but himself. A man who was a draft dodger and knows nothing of history. A man who has no understanding of our Constitution and its founding principles.

When you see real patriotism, dissent in the face of large opposition, like  defying the status quo to take a knee during the national anthem to point out some of our injustices to try to make us better, and you deride it, see it as a slap in the face and an attack on the flag, you know we have learned nothing and understand little.

So I guess that is where Burns and Novick left me. Have we learned anything? There are so many parallels to today from the stupidity and counter productivity of violent protests, to simple-minded thinking about what is possible in someone else’s country. But I fear that many will look at all our failures and just say if we were smarter, with better tactics, it could have been won. They have no idea to this day what that war was about.  And again the question is won what at what cost. When Vietnam fell, the wanton killing stopped, the country evolved, and it is their country to decide how it is to be run. They seem to be doing okay today.

There is one parallel here between what the Burns’ series The Civil War taught us and what the Vietnam war taught us as previous adversaries can now show the respect and even affection for each other. In the brutal conflict of war, bravery and the sacrifice to our fellow combatants forges a bond that goes beyond almost anything else. And maybe there is some closure there in forgiveness.

But still, I am left saddened, a little depressed, and feeling guilty about that war and my participation in it. It absorbed my life from 1964 until 1979 when I left the Air Force. All those lives, Vietnamese, Korean, Australian, Cambodian, Laotian, and American, for what, the next election? The Vietnam Memorial has always been a humbling and powerful reminder to me of the cost of human hubris. I cannot go there without shedding tears for my fellow Americans and what we lost. The artist, Maya Lin, who came up with the design, and those that picked it knew something about the lessons of that war.  It wasn’t without controversy. The memorial screams the lessons and cost of war, while honoring our dead.

Some of the best days of my life were flying in an RF-4C, having “slipped the surly bonds of earth“, being part of a tight-knit group who had a mission, and we served that mission faithfully. Maybe the lesson is that in all the tragedy of the loss and destruction of that war, the very best of what we can be came out more than the very worst. To enter into such an enterprise again must only be made by those who have suffered the costs before and know the terrible costs to come, not only in lives, but to our humanity.

So again I am going to put this away, maybe a little more settled this time thanks to Burns and Novick. I ordered the soundtrack to the series, because the music defined the times. I am going to make a compilation of the songs from it that were part of my experience. Then I am going to pick a warm evening, maybe this weekend, sit on my patio overlooking my vineyard and watch the sunset with a bottle a very nice wine, slowly drink the whole thing while I listen to the music that defined me and my emotions in that time, and maybe cry a little bit. We should grieve for our lost innocence, those we lost, and most importantly, forgive ourselves. Then we should learn what we can and move on.  That’s what I am going to do.

The Vietnam War – Getting One Thing Right, POWs Coming Home

As I watch this train wreck, not the documentary, but our Vietnam nightmare, I was reminded last night of one thing I took part in that the military and specifically the Air Force, got absolutely right. That was Operation Homecoming when the POWs came home. I know because I was there in the Philippines as an escort officer for one of the POWs. So let me tell you the story of my experience in all of this.

As the negotiations dragged on in Paris, it was clear that we were going to repatriate the POWs so the Air Force kicked into action. One day in my squadron at Kadena AFB, Okinawa, I was told to report to specialized training for those selected to be POW escorts. I was “selected” by line of sight management. I wasn’t flying that day and I was available. There were two of us from my squadron, a pilot named Don Jones, and myself, a Weapons Systems Operator (if you consider navigating and operating the cameras weapons) (back seater). Nobody really believed this was going to happen and I am sure if my squadron commander had thought it through, he would have picked someone else, but that is how the chips fell. Escort Officers were to be the first contact with the POW after the medical teams to access their health (mental and physical). Basically you were going to run interference for him and stay between him and the outside world until he was comfortably reunited with his family and was comfortable with you getting out of the way.

The training was well thought out. As a combat aircrew member we were trained and refreshed with the POW experience in case that was our fate. But this was something extra. My small group met with ex-POWs who had been released early and they had gathered their experiences and lessons learned to guide us on how do this. They noted that POWs will be inundated with family friends comrades and it could be too much. A really important thing was to give them space to get acquainted with their family again. They were a tight knit group that through all the torture and mistreatment and fared fairly well. Try to keep that support group in tact and step in only when necessary.

So I went back to my squadron and continued my flying until January of 1973, when all of a sudden it happened. They were going to be released. I was immediately sent to Clark AFB, Philippines to await their arrival with my other fellow escorts. Now the North Vietnamese would only release 40 at a time and the POWs demanded that it be by earliest shootdown date forward. We would not get the names of who was to be released until 24 hours prior to their release. The POWs were to spend 3 days at Clark under going Medical assessments and any necessary urgent care, sequestered out of the public eye at the Clark AFB Hospital, and then be flown to the United States to be reunited with their families and be assigned to the hospital there for follow-up care. All these guys were emaciated, had not had a toothbrush in many years, and been beaten severely, so this was not an unreasonable plan.

Watching the first group arrive at Clark Air Base in Burns’ and Novick’s documentary brought it all back. I was there in the crowd welcoming them home and crying my eyes out. There were all of us escort officers awaiting our assignment, steely eyed aircrew members all wearing sunglasses to hide the tears of joy and emotion in our eyes. That general they showed greeting Everett Alvarez, the first guy shot down, was the guy who headed up the POW program and he was one hell of a fine man. I remember him telling us that every Tom, Dick, and Harry of every rank was going to try to get into the action, meet with the POWs, whether ex-commanders, or high-ranking officials and we were to block them. They only wanted trained experts (so to speak) meeting with these guys in the early going. These guys (POWs) needed their space to decompress. If we needed anything just call him, and he would take care of it. And he did.

The waiting was interminable. My guy was released on March 4th. I was called as soon as the list was released and given his complete file, including his Air Force record, current grade level, status of his marriage, children, finances, sensitive information, everything. We escort officers were there to give them back their lives. There were red flagged files that indicated there was potentially troubling information (your wife divorced you, took all your money, child died, parents status, etc.) and special procedures for handling that because in most cases they did not know. But I was fortunate and my guy, an RF4-C pilot was not one of them. I am not going to name him, because well, that’s for him to do. While this is about him and what I learned, he still deserves his privacy.

I studied that file and knew it backwards and forwards. When the POWs arrived they were formally greeted at the ramp where they landed then off to the hospital for an initial check, then they were cleared to meet with their escorts. I was nervous. I had a man’s life in my hands. He had been shot down in January 1967, so you do the math. He had children he barely knew. I was also concerned about his mental condition. Ha! These guys were amazingly resilient. As I was soon going to learn, in some ways they were mentally more ready for their challenges than I was. Then I got the call. Your guy is waiting for you.

There was an amazing air of comradely within the group as I met my guy in his room at the hospital. Here is the thing, and I don’t think I can adequately describe or explain our connection. These guys were connected. They had depended on each other to get through their captivity and deal with the torture and forced confessions. They were open books. They had developed an amazing openness to their fellow human being and I was immediately accepted into that group. It was the best of humanness we rarely ever see and I have never experienced that level of acceptance and openness again. All those defenses that we have and don’t even think about were all down.

My guy was anxious to call his wife, which was my job to set up as soon as they were ready. We had private booths set up and I just knew this going to be tough. There were stories of that first call going awry, even in several cases an announcement of a pending divorce that the wife wanted to tell them personally. That was not the way to do it, but they thought they were doing the right thing. I was fairly certain I did not have any of those issues (and I did not). His wife was wonderful woman who had stayed out of the political limelight, saved his money, and kept the family together, so I was on easy street*. So I placed the call and got her on the line and then handed him the phone and left the room, an emotional wreck. He was fine. He had practice this call for six years.

The rest of the stay at Clark was hectic. Remember the press and the public were being kept at arm’s length. We made a trip to an elementary school where the POWs meet with the kids. The kids were climbing all over them and there was such a moment of joy and love that I wore my dark glasses throughout the visit. One navy commander dressed in his navy uniform was wearing sandals because after all those years without shoes, he could not wear them yet. The kids loved that. We made a trip the Base Exchange, me with his finances and cash, to buy cloths and other things they needed. My guy and most of the others wanted to look normal and they had no idea what normal was. I personally thought some escorts advice on clothing was questionable. I think we also bought a very expensive Nikon camera because he had been dreaming about this in captivity and a UPI reporter had told him what the best was. He could afford it. He had earned it.

One official duty I had was to debrief him about who else he had seen alive in captivity. A first hand experience. There were many that just disappeared and so the Air Force was trying to build a database of last seens to challenge the North Vietnamese with. Did not work out so well. I explained to my guy what the purpose of the debriefing was and started the recorder, but he wanted to talk about his torture. Every one at some point broke and living with that was very hard for them. The command structure within the POWs came up with a new code of conduct which said resist to your utmost ability and then when they do break you, and they will, give them the minimal. That would be a win, not a failure. It allowed them to survive and not succumb to deep depression, but there was still a sense they somehow failed their country and wanted to get it off their chest. It was not pretty (the torture) and I had spent much of my earlier career wondering just how I would hold up in the same circumstances, whether I would measure up. It was gut wrenching. As for the list of names, well these guys had passed around (knock code) everyone they had seen or heard of and they could list off 200 names in a flash. It kind of defeated the purpose because we were looking for eye witness sightings.

Then it was time to fly to the U.S. I will never forget the night before. We were to depart at 0800 hours the next morning on a C-141, stopping in Honolulu for refueling, and then on to the Air Force Hospital in San Antonio Texas, where he was going to be reunited with his family. So about 0200 I get a call from my guy and he wants me to pick up two cases of Johnny Walker Black and get it on the airplane. Don’t ask. He had been talking with some of the other POWs and it occurred to them that they could get it duty free and, well it had been almost 6 years since he had had a drink. Now this was the thing about being an escort officer, you could call anyone and you could get things done very quickly. Colonels would jump for captains. It was loaded on the plane.

The flight back was uneventful except for the stop over in Hawaii. A friend of my guy and his wife requested to see him as we stopped over gassing up. I asked him what he thought and he was okay with it. They had a teary reunion, which I stayed out of, but they brought him a dozen roses to give his wife when he got off the plane in San Antonio. That was a very nice touch. As we approached San Antonio he got a little nervous (wouldn’t you). “How do I look?. What is the first think I should say?” kind of questions. Then we landed. Families, media, and the general public where all at the flight line. Escorts were to get out of the way and way out of the lime light. Like all the rest of the program, this was not about us.** I hurried out a rear exit away from the light of the press so I could photograph a record of his meeting with his wife. It was beautiful. Again, not a dry eye in the house.

The rest of it went fairly well. My guy and his wife were put up in the VIP quarters. After sometime with his kids getting to know them, they went with their grandparents so my guy and his wife could spend some time together. I was there to run errands and blocking as required. I did have a long discussion with his parents, which I am sure broke their hearts, about giving him some space. That was a biggy we learned from our training. But they did it. We had one tough session together one night as he, I, and his wife were sipping some of that Johnny Walker Black and he broke down wondering why he survived and so many others did not. Survivor’s guilt. Remember my job was to listen not to be an amateur psychologist. After about a week there I broached the subject of going home. His was a little resistant at first, but he and I worked out a time table.

These were tough, tough guys, but they got through it as we get through life, depending on each other, only more so than most. They were losing that support group as they reintegrated into normal life. We knew this day would come and we had trained and prepared for it. The day I said goodbye to him, my parents, (my dad was a retired General in the Air Force) picked me up. I introduced them to my guy and then we said goodbye, hugged, and we were both crying. I think my parents were a little shocked. Grown men crying and hugging. Then after a short visit with my parents it was back to Kadena and my family. And guess what. I was then headed to Thailand to fly combat, 89 missions over Cambodia, Laos, and South Vietnam as the war, now Vietnamized, progressed and Cambodia fell apart. I got three Air Medals (merit badges) for participation in hazardous aerial combat. Yeah, the war was over for some, but not us in reconnaissance, and all I think about on all those missions was, what if I become a POW now? Crazy right?

It was an amazing experience. I saw my guy the following summer when I was down in Florida for counter insurgency school and I thought he looked fat. He wasn’t, just had put on normal weight. After that, we both kind of moved on. It was one of the amazing experiences of my life, wondering how if I was shot down, would I perform, and then to be in the midst of repatriating the POWs, guys I was in awe of. I learned one thing for sure. There is no black and white, and the human being is an amazingly adaptive creature. The Air Force did this as right as it could be done and I was extremely grateful and proud to be part of it.***

*This is not to imply that divorce or political action were bad. Shit happens in life and they all did what they needed to survive. It was just hard, but life is hard. Wives were in a horrible bind and getting politically active was a two-edged sword. The North Vietnamese were going to use it to try to break you in captivity, yet they wanted to do something to get their husbands home.

I will make one comment here about Jane Fonda and war protestors who flew the North Vietnamese flag.  They knew we were wrong, but that did not make the other side right.  It is one thing to protest the war, it is another to put our POWs at jeoporady as Jane Fonda did when she call them war criminals.  We were not war criminals, we were fighting a war that our Constitution required us to fight and she aided and abetted the North Vietnamese.  POWs suffered for her visit. There were a lot of Fuck You Jane Fonda patches being worn on our informal flight suits (party suits) back then.  She was young and stupid, but then weren’t we all.  And if I have learned anything, it is to forgive.  The Vietnamese have certainly forgiven us and I don’t know why.

**There were several escort officers removed when it was preceived that their behavior put themselves before the POWs.  And rightly so.

***This is not the whole story and if you really want to learn about their experience, their conflicts, their feelings, I suggest you read one of their accounts. There were war protestors among the POWs, there were deaths that some things other POWs were responsible for, and there accusations of collaboration.  There is also the amazing story of how they learned to communicate, to depend on each other when they thought they were done, and survive in impossible conditions. This just my experience as a minor player in this amazing story.

And a Chicken in Every Pot!!!

I am listening to the DIC (Dotard in Charge) talk about his tax cut plan and lie through his teeth about he or his wealthy friends not getting big breaks.  I am thinking he must really think we are stupid, and then I look at Alabama’s nomination of a right wing nut (more religion in government (whose religion?), and outlaw gays) to run as their GOP candidate, and maybe he is right.  But let us just stick with the tax “reform” plan.

First question you might want to ask is how do we pay for all this cutting?  One, if he were rational, would start from the understanding of what we need to invest in future, add that to our current obligations and figure out how much money we want to have coming in.  Now this would include what is a reasonable debt (based upon % of GDP) and how to pay for programs in the future.  Then understanding our income needs, we could look are reforming the tax code to simplify, and decrease/increase where it makes sense.

Now we could argue about expanding Social Security by allowing the tax not to be capped at a certain income level.  We could argue about Medicare for all and how to pay for it with a trade-off of higher taxes versus no private insurance bills.  But we are not doing that, we are cutting, cutting, cutting, and what of the deficit.  Oh wait,  I forgot, tax cuts pay for themselves except of course, they don’t.  So the first question to be asked is how does this devastate the deficit.  I happen to be one who thinks a reasonable debt is okay and necessary, but make no mistake, they guys who want a balanced budget don’t give a shit about the debt when it comes to tax cuts, and will cut programs like healthcare (Medicare and Medicaid), education, R&D, infrastructure spending, and Social Security to keep their cuts.

Now, it is true that some pay way to much in taxes.  They are the ones who really need a tax cut, and they have no power.  Those that have power have already massaged the system.  You don’t really think that while we have the highest corporate tax rate, they actually pay that right?  Of course they don’t because they have gamed the system with their money and the gaming continues with the DIC out there lying through his teeth.  So let’s see the details and see what this really costs us, but unless they can pass this with 50 votes, it is probably dead meat.

In many ways one has to ask, what is the strategic plan of Republicans and how does this fit into a vision of  a great tomorrow.  It doesn’, and it is repeal and replace and cut taxes and the devil is in the details.  It assumes as always that government is bad, regulations are bad, and markets should be free to solve all problems.  It has never worked and this is more of their nonsense.  But hey! who does not want a free ride?  That is what America has become.

“The Vietnam War” Continues

Bomb Craters in Cambodia

I had forgotten that Dick Nixon committed treason to get elected in 1968. Talks were finally going to begin in Paris for peace in Vietnam helping Humphrey’s campaign for president and the Nixon campaign did a backdoor deal with South Vietnam not to show up until after the election promising them a better deal than the Democrats. Johnson would not expose it because he did not want the people to know these conversations were wire taped. Sound familiar? The Iranians would not do a deal on the hostages until Reagan got elected, and it is becoming fairy obvious that the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians. Must be a Republican thing.

Americans, while fickle, had figured out the brutality of the war. This is another point where you want to stop and think about winning that war and at what cost. Was it worth the human sacrifice? My Lai killed between 347-504 unarmed old men, women, and children. How many in free fire zones and bombing and artillery fire?  Sure you “won”, but everyone is dead. This is where Kent State became such a shock to the country. Kids on the campus were protesting and the National Guard opened fire on them.

What would have happened if the National Guard had just walked away? Nothing, but you can’t let those kids win can you? So now we shoot our own kids? Note the hate letter the parents on one student killed there got (An ROTC scholarship kid just watching the action). Kind of sounds like the hate Donald Trump is sowing today. There is another truth here, emotion trumps rational thinking.

And like Johnson, Tricky Dick figures out it is unwinnable, South Vietnam is a mess, the government corrupt as ever, so the question becomes how to get out with “honor”. Oh, I know! Let’s pretend we have stood up the South Vietnamese Army and we are turning it over to them. Again, sound familiar? Now we are late 1969, early 1970 and note the body count, ours. So now how many more have to die while we withdraw with honor? And don’t forget we had now invaded Cambodia and Laos with ground troops (we were already bombing the shit out of it). I remember flying over Cambodia and seeing nothing but crater holes from B-52 strikes for miles.

So we are starting to wind down the war (on the ground) and we are trying to pull out knowing full well the South Vietnamese cannot stand against the North and the VC, and that “withdraw with honor” is going to cost almost 10,000 more lives. And to get the North Vietnamese to the conference table, we are getting ready to crank up the air war over the North.

I am training, learning my trade, in Okinawa, Korea, and Japan (when I was stationed at Okinawa it was not part of Japan but under U.S. military control). I was trying to delay as best I could, hoping that the war would be over, but my time was coming and probably some of the best story telling in Burns’ and Novick’s story is about the conflict we all felt about this war. I discussed mine in Ken Burns’ Vietnam. I still think those that went to Canada or jail were the real brave ones. They stood for something.

But I think what is most remarkable at this point of our journey in Burns’ and Novick’s story is that the nation had turned against the war, and now there was no question we were throwing bodies away for some measure of “withdraw with honor”. What does that mean if you are dead. Oh, and that bullshit about we are fighting for freedom and democracy, to protect your right to protest, to defend the Constitution is just that, bullshit.

That is probably the other big lesson from Vietnam which is true in most wars. What did wanton killing of Vietnamese have to do with our Constitution? Were we hurt when it fell? Where were the dominos?The country was against the war, and Tricky Dicky told us he was not listening.  Once again, sound familiar.  Both he and the Dotard in Charge (DIC) redefined reality to support what they were doing.

All those names on a cold granite wall and we learned nothing. My time was coming, I knew it was stupid, insane,  and immoral and I took solace in the fact that I wasn’t killing anyone with taking pictures. But I was facilitating it. I wish to this day I could have been stronger. So now we bring on the air war to bring the North Vietnamese to the negotiating table.  And all I could think of is will this insanity ever end.

Think about it.  We entered into a massive bombing campaign to really get an agreement to leave the South Vietnamese government in place so it looks good when we left, and to do that we killed 10,000 more kids and untold number of Vietnamese.  And when the whole thing finally collapsed as we all knew it would, what were all those live for?  Defending the Constitution?  Bull shit.  And ask your self, have we learned anything? Do we see the same ignorance in office today?  Yes we do.  I am beginning to wonder if we should ever elect a President who has not served in a war and knows what it really costs.

Opinion Panels and Tribalism

One of the things you hear and is becoming conventional wisdom is the idea we just need to listen to each other, and that tribalism is how we verify our ideas. To me they are both bull shit. First better listening and polite dialogue, I think, is really a good idea if we had people with open minds and a definition of what a fact is. I was watching Oprah on 60 Minutes last night try to get people to understand each others concerns. And they were talking their feelings. One woman was expressing her fear of what the Republicans might do to Obamacare and its promise to protect those with pre-existing conditions (annihilate it), and clearly a Republican who says we can agree at least on Obamacare needs to be fixed. So what is the problem?

Well it has to do with facts. Feelings are nice, but they can sadly badly mislead you. The woman above has a right to be scared because the Republican Plan while it keeps existing conditions in theory, allows the states to wave coverage and says nothing about limiting cost, so sure they cover existing conditions at only $100K. Now the guy was wanting what we all want, lower costs and better care. Okay, me too. So how do you get that? Well, you got to know the facts, not opinions or feelings, but facts.  Fact, all other nations have universal care, most do not use the market place, and when they do it is highly regulated, and their costs are half our’s with better outcomes.  So why can’t we get there and why if they can afford it, can’t we?

So the obvious answer is to look at all those other systems, take what works, be inventive, and change Obamacare accordingly.  So why don’t we do that?  Because many Americans feel Obamacare must be repealed forgetting the nightmare of serious illness the previous system was.  And when you examine the things we need to do to get cost under control, and provide affordable care to everyone, these are the things that mostly move the system away from marketplace which is heresy to the Party in charge.  But, I don’t care what you feel, I only care about facts and neither should you.  You don’t want to do what it takes because you feel the market place provides the best solutions.  If I give you a 100 places where market place has failed us, well, those facts don’t matter.

And the reason for that is tribalism.  The Red tribe hates government (except their Medicare and Social Security) so government solutions cannot be considered.  The tribe reinforces the belief in our feelings.  The tribe even develops think tanks to cull facts to prove their case.  But culling does not give us truth, just facts to support our feelings (See Cheney on WMD).  So when you mix tribes in the opinion discussions, you certainly expose each side to the other sides “facts”, but most of them have it wrong to begin with.  Now we are back to the issue of what is true.  Who moderates the facts?

Now, I don’t think this is hard.  Climate change exists because the preponderance of science verifies it.  Because you can cull some minor disputes and say it is in question is nonsense.  But in tribal thinking that is where we are.  I am an engineer and I believe in the scientific method.  I love the quote, “Science does not give a shit what you think” (I have a tee-shirt to prove it).  The point is that science and its use of data allows us to arrive at the best version of truth we can no matter how we feel about that truth.  Politics and ideology simply try to skew the data to trick us into following one path or another that meets the parties emotional needs.

We need to get back to finding solutions based upon science and data, and if those solutions don’t work, we modify our approach.  Here again is where the Republicans went off the deep end with ideology.  We all agree Obamacare could be better (especially if the present administration wasn’t trying to sabotage it).  So what are the fixes?  Well one side says we just need to destroy it without any ideas about that. That is ideology at work.  Their tribe has been chanting Obamacare sucks and it has become the conventional wisdom until they figure what they are losing when it goes away. Feelings and tribal beliefs out of control.

Now here is an example.  If you accept finally the truth and consequences of global warming, then the question is what is the best way to control carbon rmiddiond into the environment.  We can have a legitimate argument about whether cap and trade or a carbon tax would be the best way to do that.  But now we are arguing about means, not ignoring the problem.  And data can inform us.  If we select one and it is not as effective or has other deleterious effects, we can change.  That is impossible today. The Red tribe can’t even admit to the problem.

Now the Red Tribe has sold government is bad (big government), taxes are too high, regulations kill innovation, and the market place unregulated is the best way to solve problems. Let’s not forget state’s rights*.  Now I can find instances where all of this is true.  I can also find instances where the opposite is true.  But what the Red Tribe has done is then build a false strawman.  If they believe the above, Democrats, the Blue tribe, must believe the opposite.

And nothing could be further from the truth.  The Blue tribe is much more science and data driven.  When big government works (Medicare anyone? How about FEMA? How about Obamacare?) they are all for it.  If it issues regulations that stymie growth and turn out to be counter productive, they are against it.  Taxes are a mixed bag and sometimes we have to poney up for the things we need. Most of our issues today are ideology driven from the Red side, whether it is tax reform, spending, immigrants, Iran nuke deal, climate change,

The blue tribe has its blind spots, but science, fact, and data are more likely to hold sway.  That’s why the preponderance of scientists are Democrats.  The Red tribe has shown their inability to see gray.  So I want to end this tribal/opinion way of thinking.  Accepting tribal thinking is counter to the ideals of democracy.  Opinion panels without a moderation of facts, are a waste of time.  Ind of like our current approach to our newsmedia.  It is bullshit.  It is destroying America.  Try to remember that the Red tribe’s icon, Ronald Reagan, warned us in 1961 that Medicare will bring a socialist dictatorship.  How many lives has it saved and allowed those of us over 65 to actually afford healthcare, yet the Red tribe is still trying to kill it.  It works and they want to kill it, not improve it, kill it.  It is ideology run amok. I rest my case.

*Right now they are selling state control of healthcare.  Didn’t that work out so well for voting rights, segregation, pollution control, to name just a few giant failures?  Remember the Constitution and where it came from?  It came from the states running amok.  So make no mistake, the Red tribe is trying to hand off the costs to the states so they are out of the game and then the states can be blammed for the cutbacks.  I don’t mind giving local control to better decide how to deal with local conditions, but with lots and lots of strings to ensure affordable healthcare to all.  Right now that is exactly what you are not getting.

 

Perspective and the White Mob

I watched the 6th installment of The Vietnam War last night and it was 1968. That was a year. Martin Luther King was assassinated, along with Bobby Kennedy, race riots across the country, LBJ says he is not going to run, massive war protests, and the Tet Offensive. Makes today’s problems seem not so bad. It was the year I graduated from college and entered the pipeline for the war, although in the beginning, it just seemed like one great adventure. I too was going to save the world.

But it does provide a window into our mess today and gives it some perspective. It is amazing that we are facing North Korea and their growing nuke arsenal, an all out attack on healthcare, devastation in Texas, Florida, and the Caribbean, global warming trends unaddressed, talking about withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal that is working, and we are focused on football games where men take a knee. And why are we focused on that? Tweet tweet from the Dotard in Charge (DIC).

The man is despicable. How do you describe someone who professes to lead the nation and then bemoans new rules in the NFL that tries to limit the damage to the players bodies? And make no mistake, this is a racial attack. He can’t criticize the “good people” marching with the Neo-Nazis and the Clan, but if a black man takes a knee during the national anthem quietly protesting the systemic racism in our country he is all over them?

Then of course there is the white mob who booed the players and anti-trump protesters. Reminds me of the Romans watching Christians being feed to tigers. “Shut the fuck up, salute the flag, America is great, and now destroy your bodies for my entertainment.” And the sad thing is, the players are trying to make America great again by addressing one of our deepest flaws. But we have this loyalty test to the flag at sporting events and you clearly are not a good American if you don’t appropriately genuflect. That is what is going on here. Charles Blow reminds us this morning that the national anthem was written by a racist and there is a verse to prove it which we ignore.

I guess the only thing I really have to offer to this discussion is that pledges to the flag, national anthems and the prescribed genuflecting (standing, hand over the heart from the American Flag code and fear of the Nazis), are antithetical to what freedom really means. These are false showy presentations (like the require flag pin for a politician) to make us conform instead of asking hard questions. When Collin Kaepernick took that knee, he asked a hard question and it made people uncomfortable. “Hey, get on with destroying your bodies and let me live in my ignorant bliss.” The great thing is the response not just from the NFL but many sports teams, to take that knee. We are not lemmings. That is what makes America great.

One last thought here. When Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors mentioned that he was not going to the usual White House ceremony to congratulate the champions (photo-op of the president with champions as though he is one too, and yes they all do it). This issue may have been what raised this to a new level. But standing with Trump lowers us all to his level and how can a black man who can see this man’s racism pretend to respect him or the office he stands for?

It may be hard for Americans to understand the “Not my President” movement. We have always said an election settles it and we have to get behind the legitimately elected leader. But legitimate or not, and we can argue that one, the DIC represents ideas that are antithetical to our American ideal, from racism to misogyny. He is a man who lies repeatedly and does his best to divide us, not unite us. He incites violence. I for one would not go to the White House to legitimize this behavior and I am glad the Golden State Warriors aren’t either. He truly is not my president. Oh and if you think a Democrat would have done any of the things he has done and not be impeached, you clearly do not understand how far the Republicans have fallen and how craven they have become.

 

UPDATE: NASCAR gave Trump a vote of confidence as they indicated they would not participate in the protest.  White boy sport.  I always thought the country was going to hell when NASCAR and country music became mainstream.  Oh how right I was.

Halfway Through “The Vietnam War” Thoughts

Tough watching, but exactly as I remembered it. I actually think it is a masterpiece, especially telling the story from all sides, the protestors, the supporters, the South Vietnamese, and the North Vietnamese. It makes the point that there is one human condition and racism so necessary to killing in war is harder to achieve when you have empathy for your enemy. The one thing that comes through is the insanity of it, the wanton killing and massive death of civilians. Let us never forget the free fire zones or the “colateral damage” of napalm. When you cannot tell who your enemy is, it is time to get out.

Now I always laugh when I hear people talk about the lessons from Vietnam. They usually indicate that they didn’t learn anything. Here is what I learned*:

1.  Our government lies to us

2.  Generals (CEOs?) generally do not have a clue what is going on, because they hear what people think they want to hear.

I say that from much experience, but if you are watching “The Vietnam War”, it is clear that the government knew this was futile, but could find no way to walk away. If you bought their logic at the time, if we give up Vietnam, all of Indochina will fall (which I did not), they still knew it was futile and they were throwing lives away because they could not do the hard thing. It was hard to tell whether they were more afraid of a Communist Indochina, or that the voters would be pissed. My view was that it was easier to kill kids so the voters won’t be pissed (that is the Republican Party today on healthcare except this time it is the minority base and their donors).

I got that then as did many both in the military and in the protest movement although those for the war, like those today who support Donald Trump, were badly misinformed or ignorant of reality. It was clear to many of us that the war was unwinnable. I would make the arguments why, but Burns and Novick have done a great job of doing just that, and if I have to argue further, it is futile.  I guess if we killed everyone we could call that winning.  At any rate they lied to us and keep us in the dark about the extent of our involvement, the cost, and the futility of the cause (the corruption and incompetence in South Vietnam).

The second lesson was a lesson I learned early in my young career in the AF, generals hear what they want to hear, and people get promoted by telling them just that, what they want to hear. In Burns’ and Novick’s narrative it is clear that most of us on ground or actually doing the fighting/flying were well aware of the failure of our efforts, but the message never got carried up to the top, simply because they did not want to hear it and the war became the ticket to success.

I am wondering if Burns and Novick will tell the story of John Paul Vann that correspondent and author Neil Sheehan did in his book Bright and Shining Lie, about how someone who saw the failure of our tactics and the futility of the war got co-opted by his success as he moved up the chain. We will see next week. I used to have to fly with our squadron commander because he was a desk jockey in the pentagon and was at Udorn to punch his ticket for promotion. The man could not refuel the airplane (air to air) and I was there to get the gas. The war was a ticket puncher for advancement.

Now a present day example of both of these is how torture during the Bush administration was a failure of both principle and utility. In other words, it was against our basic values and it did not work. People will tell you anything you want to hear under torture and you have no idea the reliability of their information you do get. As the Senate Intelligence Committee’s Investigation on Torture found, it was counterproductive (turning more to al-Qaeda/ISIS), and the information was generally already available and gotten earlier and more effectively by other means.

So why did that not get up the chain? For both of the reasons above. The original information on WMD was obtained because that is what the V.P. wanted to hear and those below him figured that out and then they realized if you give the brass what they want to hear, you are the go to guy. So the information was culled to tell Cheney what he wanted to believe.

When the big wigs showed up to see how the war was going, it was dog and pony show time. It still is in many ways. We know from today’s politics that many people know what they want to believe and they ignore evidence to the contrary. So too our leaders, and they have to fight that and the fact that the system wants to feed them what they want to hear to “raise all ships”.  Me, I would always tell people what I thought and so would most of my contemporaries. Thus we were regulated to the background and when they did hear the truth, they were shocked, shocked, shocked. Then you must be some kind of radical.

There are so many parallels and lessons for us today in this story, but I think the one thing really important thing that has come through is the bravery of American kids who were in an impossible situation, and in most cases did amazing things that make you on one hand so very proud of them, and on the other, sick and angry that they were so misused. I was an adult and an officer and I knew what I was getting into. These were idealistic kids who made us very, very proud. It makes it all that much harder to visit the Wall and know the reality of that war and the way they were treated afterwards.

It will be interesting to see where we go next week, but so far the ride for me has been trying and yet familiar. Burns and Novick have got it right if anyone out there is listening. I haven’t heard any news coverage of this series or the lessons we might take from it for today’s issues and adding more troops in Afghanistan by the DIC (Dotard in Charge.)

Oh, and for those of you that just say if we could have changed our tactics, did more of the hearts and minds stuff, invaded Laos and Cambodia (we did illegally), bomb the North back to the stone age, we would have won that war, I simply ask you to define win. When every man woman and child is dead and you are the last man standing? There was no leadership in the South, just corruption. Like the Middle East, we are the invader and it really is their country and their destiny to decide, communist or not.

We are now getting into my territory as I went in the AF in 1968 and basically entered the pipeline to the war.  By then we knew it was a lost cause, but we still knew we had to go.  Insanity does not describe it. Burns and Novick will this week.

*There is one other lesson, but maybe I ought to save it till the end.  Oh well, here it is:  You can’t win other peoples war for them.  If they don’t have a good chance of winning it themselves you are throwing lives and treasury away.  And you said there were no parallels to Iraq and Afghanistan.  Ha!

Deplorable is the Nice Word for It

The DIC (Dotard in Chief) in Alabama:

“During an address inside the Wernher Von Braun Center that lasted an hour and 20 minutes, the president called North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un “Little Rocket Man”, said NFL owners should cut players who kneel for the national anthem and returned to familiar targets like John McCain and Hillary Clinton.

…Hours after John McCain torpedoed Republican hopes to repeal and replace Obamacare, Trump expressed his disappointment. He said McCain’s opposition was “totally unexpected and terrible”. He also chided the Arizona Republican for what he saw as hypocrisy. “Repeal and replace, John McCain if you look at his last campaign it’s all about repeal and replace and that’s fine, we still have a good chance [of repealing and replacing Obamacare.” He described his attempts to court senators on health care, saying “I’m on the phone screaming at people all day long for weeks”.

…Trump also returned to some of his favourite topics. He talked at length about the wall he hopes to build on the Mexican border, insisting it needed to be see-through. Trump said this was because drug dealers are currently using catapults to send 100 pound bags of drugs over the existing concrete wall and they are landing on people’s heads in the United States. He also responded the familiar cheers of “lock her up” directed at Hillary Clinton by telling the crowd “you gotta speak to Jeff Sessions about that”.

The president also dwelled on NFL players who take a knee during the National Anthem in peaceful protest. He asked the crowd, “Wouldn’t you love one of the NFL owners when someone disrespects our flag, ‘get that son of a bitch off the field right now.’” He told attendees, “If you see it, leave the stadium, I guarantee things will stop.”

Let’s see, belittling and egging on someone who feeds on threats and has nuclear weapons, attacking John McCain on a principled objection to the current process for repeal and replace (and has no idea what is in repeal and replace), screaming as leadership, see-through walls, lock her up, again promoting lawlessness, and finally attacking the free speech of football players in what was little more than veiled racism. Wasn’t that in Spain where they burned people at the stake for heresy. What’s the difference? Everyone must conform to der leader. Free speech in his mind is only free if you agree with the DIC.

Then there were the tweets: Earlier Saturday, Trump said Curry’s invitation to the White House was “withdrawn” because the NBA point guard was “hesitating…Going to the White House is considered a great honor for a championship team,” Trump tweeted. “Stephen Curry is hesitating, therefore invitation is withdrawn!”

Lebron James responded with this great line:

When Hillary called his followers deplorable, she was only half right. I think it is Despicable leads the Deplorables kind of captures it. I can’t wait to see how pro football players react tomorrow. I hope they all take a knee. I would. He is not my President. Resist America.