Thursday, May 31, 2007

Na Na Hey Hey for Saxby

Georgia Senator Saxby Chambliss is vulnerable to a Democratic challenge according to a local poll last week. To us Georgians, good ole Saxby is the overly tanned embarrassment who defeated Max Cleland by putting pictures of Osama bin Laden in his ads. It is time for him to go.

Word is that the Democrats had written Georgia off, which is ridiculous. Georgia has a lot of conservatives, but we have a lot of liberals, too. Remember that Martin Luther King, Jimmy Carter (not that I'm a fan), Julian Bond, Sam Nunn, Ralph Abernathy, Andrew Young, Clark Howard, and many more liberals are from Georgia. Not to mention the B-52's and REM.

Know what else? The conservatives here are pretty nice. And reasonable.

The point is that Democrats can and do win in Georgia. They need a strong candidate. Unfortunately, no obvious name comes to mind.

Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin would be good. She has turned around a city government that many of us here considered corrupt and incompetent. She has a reputation for being effective and tough. She's a black woman, and as far as I can tell the business community loves her. She also has great presence.

The former Democratic Governor Roy Barnes is mentioned, but he doesn't seem interested. Vernon Jones, the manager of Dekalb County, will probably run, but he's kind of a nut. Julian Bond is only 67, but he lives in DC and may be too liberal to win. But he was pretty funny on the Colbert Report.

I'm sure there are plenty of ambitious, well coiffed aspiring Senators that I'm not aware of. But for now I like Shirley.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Supporting Those Troops on Memorial Day

Last week, two Democrat(ic) Senators, Obama and Clinton, voted against a bill to continue funding military operations in Iraq. For this they were promptly accused of voting to deny our troops the resources they need to fight, or just plain voting for surrender.

Tie - Er - Sum.

The troops, in the form of General Petraeus, are telling the President they can get the job done. So who is the President to say otherwise? And who do those Senators think they are, meddling in war stuff? This is man business. The generals should decide whether we stay in this war, or if we need more troops, or if we should withdraw.

Only, it doesn't really work that way.

Soldiers have a soldier's mentality. Not all of them, of course, just the best ones. Soldiers in the US Army and US Marine Corps have volunteered for a job to fight and kill and suffer and die for their country. The pay is low. The facilities are sparse. Getting medical attention or other benefits for military families is often like going to the DMV. And the government constantly chips away at promised "benefits" like military pensions and their children's mental health treatment, to save money.

But they do it anyway. For us.

They deserve a lot better.

When a soldier is told, "You and 10,000 troops will forcibly enter the city and secure it" he doesn't say, "Well sir, I can't do it with less than 30,000." He says "Yes, Sir." He doesn't say, "I'll need this list of stuff to proceed." He asks, "What equipment will I have?"

An American soldier's mind is wrapped around the idea of success. He believes that he can and should succeed. He believes that he has the best equipment, the best training, the best intelligence, and the best fellow soldiers in the world. This is part of the basis of the American soldier's faith in his mission. He believes it can be done if he lives up to his part.

The other part of the soldier's faith lies in his belief in his leadership. An American soldier believes that his willingness to die for his country will not be spent lightly. He believes that his leaders, up to and including the President, will think hard before sending him to die. And he believes that if he is sent to die, it will be for the safety of the country. It will be worth it.

That's the deal. It is, in my mind, a sacred covenant. I do not believe that we have been keeping our end of the bargain.

Soldiers are not political scientists or global strategists. For many, if not most, soldiering is their first real job. They are our kids. An Army General might be 45 years old.

It is not the job of soldiers or Generals to decide when the country goes to war, or withdraws from war. That is the job of Congress and the President. It is also the job of Congress and the President to raise and equip the Army.

Withdrawing our troops from Iraq is not a surrender. We will not have long lines of American POW's being held by the Mahdi Army. Nor is it even a retreat, since there is no imminent danger of any military loss. It is a not a military decision. It is a political decision.

So what? Well, exactly. So what? It's a political decision, so let's make a political decision. Why all the baloney? We owe it to our troops to demand an honest discussion about why we are in Iraq and whether we need to remain.

Making a decision means framing an issue into answerable questions. Since we are already in Iraq, let's skip asking why we are there. It matters, but not for the purpose of deciding how to go forward.

Let's ask, "Why should we stay in Iraq?" Here are some possible reasons.

1. We need to defeat the terrorists or they will follow us home.

This is a fool's errand. Terror has been with us for a long as history itself. We cannot eradicate it any more than we can eradicate rats in our cities. Each generation will have to stand guard and deal with these challenges as they arise. If the people fighting us in Iraq want to attack us here, they don't have to wait. They could do it now. Fighting them there does not mean we will not have to fight them here. This argument is an erroneous variant on America's long standing military strategy of power projection, which works well against nation states and grounded forces, but is not 100% effective against revolutionary groups.

2. We need to secure the Iraqi oil reserves for our use.

This makes more sense, but nobody says it out loud. Iraq's known oil reserves are second only to Saudi Arabia's. That's a big prize, and should not be given up lightly. America imports 60% of it's oil. We need a lot of oil. We really need it. Russia and the Arabs have both demonstrated a willingness to use oil as a political weapon. China is trying to acquire oil rights across the world. Right now we effectively control Iraqi oil. Giving up that control might be stupid. Without oil, Americans go hungry and freeze to death in the winter.

3. If we don't secure Iraq the insurgency will spread throughout the region.

First of all, without the oil we wouldn't give a hoot. The Arabs could, and probably will, continue to fight among themselves ad infinitum without Americans losing much sleep over it. But given the oil, we need to be concerned with middle eastern governments controlled by Islamists like those in Iran (I know they're not Arabs) who will use the oil to spread Islam through Europe and the world. This leads us to . . .

4. The Clash of Civilizations.

This is another one we don't like to say out loud because we don't want all of the Muslims or Arabs to think America is against them. Because we're not, maybe. Unless they want Islam to become a worldwide empire from Indonesia to India to Turkey to Spain. With the ultimate goal to destroy the predominance of western civilization. It could happen. Maybe Iraq will come to be seen as the first battleground of America's strategy of containment of Islam. If we tied this reasoning up with our need to secure the oil, I could be convinced that this war made sense.

OK. So why should we leave?

1. If Iraq is so important, why aren't France, Italy, Spain, and Germany there? And why are the British leaving?

Good question (if I say so myself). Those countries are a lot closer to Iraq than the US. How come they are not worried? A jet can fly from Iraq to Italy on one tank of gas. Do they know something we don't?

2. Our troops are doing the grunt work for all of western Europe, and we are paying for it.

Maybe this is why. We are being played for suckers.

3. They'll still sell us the oil, even if they hate us.

If they won't we can go back. Or just blockade them from selling to anyone else.

4. We are not making things any better.

Our guys on the ground did their job. The President, Vice President, and their gang of incompetent cronies screwed up what was a daunting task to begin with. Can you imagine how they could have done a worse job? How? At this point Iraqi Premier Maliki wants our troops to move out of the cities so his people can take over. So let's go.

Our soldiers have done enough over there. Unless we are going to take over the country for the long term, let's stop pretending that Iraq is suddenly going to come together in good order.

We support our troops first by not abusing them. We need to demand that our Iraq policy be clear so that our military objectives are clear. The steady killing of our guys without any clear benefit needs to stop.

The President needs to stop hiding behind the troops. The President is supposed to lead. We need to face the fact that this President and Vice President do not treat our troop's lives with due care. It is appropriate that Congress step in and use it's constitutional powers to protect the country from the President's recklessness. It's not just the right thing to do. We need our Army to be in good shape. We cannot afford to let President Bush damage it.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Pardon Me


Immigration reform. It's the latest red herring from our friends in le Maison Blanc to get our minds off our kids being killed in the Surge or the Iraq War or the Global War On Terror, or whatever we're calling it this week. But let's not digress. It's Immigration Week.

A new "bi-partisan" immigration bill popped up from seemingly nowhere at the end of last week. I saw it on the news. A whole bunch of Democrats and Republicans were on camera, saving me the trouble of having to think about whether it was a good plan or not, by decisively declaring that indeed it was. Well, thank goodness for that. Democrats, Republicans, Mexicans, even President W, who normally hates multilateralism, was joining in the fun. Everybody seemed to be onboard. It almost seemed too good to be true.

Frankly, I was surprised I hadn't heard about it before. Then I found out why. It was done in secret. Really. About a dozen Senators and the W-House got together and wrote it up. And it's great. They promise!

Here are some of the Secret Senators: Arlen Spector, Lindsey Graham, Ted Kennedy, Jon Kyle, Mel Martinez, Diane Feinstein, John McCain, Harry Reid, Saxby Chambliss, Salazar, Leahy, and Menendez. Sorry, but I don't know all of their first names. Some I like, some I don't. I like Spector. I like Kennedy, I campaigned for him in college. I like McCain, but not as much as I used to. Saxby Chambliss is my very own Senator, but as near as I can tell he's just an old school draft dodging chicken hawk. The rumor around here is that he is a real jerk to be around. Our other Senator is Johnny Isakson, who even the Democrats seem to like, but he's not in this senatorial secret squirrel club.

Sorry - tangent. Back to the Mexicans, I mean immigration. This whole deal smells fishy to me. Very, very fishy. And I'll tell you why.

First, apparently the full text of the bill was not even available to be read until yesterday (Sunday, according to the Washington Times), and they want to start debating it today. I downloaded it to Adobe, and it came in at a cool 433 pages. Holy cow that's a lot of reading for one Sunday night. Those Senators must be wicked good readers. They want to allot one week for our 100 Senators to debate this 433 page bill. They don't work on Fridays you know. I guess our politicians have learned to keep their comments brief. Another surprise.

Beware. This is a classic con man's gambit. Don't give the victim time to think. You must decide now!!! Either vote yes or alienate all of your Hispanic voters as well as your corporate sponsors who employ them. So what's it going to be Saxby? A yes vote or early retirement? Do you want to be responsible for all of the Georgia chicken plants closing down?

The next thing I don't like is the shell game this bill's sponsors are playing with the amnesty issue. We are assured that this bill contains no "amnesty." Why shouldn't it? Well, amnesty basically rewards people for breaking the law, by letting them retain the fruits of their crime. Even the folks who want to let all of the illegal aliens stay know this. They don't even try to argue that we should just pardon all of them. Instead they try to fool us into thinking we are not, when we are.

By the way, amnesty is the exact same as a pardon, only for a large group of people. It is generally used when a government decides that enforcing a law against a large group would be more trouble than it is worth. Amnesty and amnesia come from the same root. So basically it means "let's just forget the whole thing."

I hate to join the "is not," "is too" debate on amnesty, but here I go anyway - IT IS AMNESTY. In fact, it is TRIPLE AMNESTY.

How do I pardon thee? Let me count the ways.

1. No trial or jail time for breaking the law by breaching the border. Deportation is not punishment. It is just putting the criminal back to square one. Punishment would be 90 days in the clink, followed by deportation.

2. No deportation. This allows the criminal to keep the fruits of his crime.

3. Class Z visa. This grants the criminal an additional reward for his crime. He or she now has been granted legal status in the US. They have a legal right to be here.

Diane Feinstein was spouting some baloney about the bill not granting amnesty because the criminal aliens would have to earn their citizenship. Who's talking about citizenship? She is playing bait and switch here, which is illegal in the private sector by the way. 12 million illegal (criminal) aliens are about to be pardoned for their crimes, allowed to keep the fruits of their crimes, and then also given a reward of a Class Z visa. That's not just amnesty, that is triple amnesty. But these Senators are trying to fool us by talking about citizenship instead.

Why would they do that? Why are W and Ted Kennedy suddenly buddying up on this? Were they sitting at the Queen's reception, exchanging old college "man, one time I was so wasted . . . " stories, and discovered that they both loved Tex-Mex? Did W turn and say, "Hey Teddy, heh heh, you know what would be a real hoot?" No, it's something much more sinister.

Ted, who loves all food and is used to strange bedfellows, sees this as a chance to enlarge the Democratic voting base, Mexicans generally being working class and Catholic. W wants to live up to the Bush family legacy of pandering to big business, by securing the continued import of cheap labor. (See Wal-Mart, US Chamber of Commerce, National Restaurant Association, etc.) Hidden in all the hoopla is the little nugget that employers of illegal aliens will also get amnesty. Win - win! Republicans please their donors and Democrats get more voters.

Well, I still don't like it. For one thing, I don't like things crammed down my throat. I never read new laws unless they directly affect my business. But I'm going to read this one out of spite.

For another, I don't like the amnesty thing. It's not fair. The argument that we can't afford to deport 12 million illegals is nonsense. Did you know that we arrest about 750,000 people a year for marijuana possession? I bet that costs a bundle. How about we just ticket them $500 apiece? Then we save a bunch on jail and court costs and make $350 million to boot. I'd rather pardon the pot smokers. What's the worst they do? Eat all of your cookies?

Here's a plan: If we fined the companies that employ illegal aliens $10,000 per head day one, and then billed them $100 a day until their particular alien was deported, we could make the whole program self-funding. That statement is at least as true as any budget proposal W sends us about the Iraq War. So why not just believe it and proceed?

I don't really know the answer to how to deal with illegal aliens, but this ain't it.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007


Where is he going?

Friday, May 11, 2007

A Lesbian Gym Teacher?!

I know that you will be as shocked as I am to discover that a girl's high school gym teacher in Gloucester County New Jersey is a lesbian! Yes, that's right. Just like Dick Cheney's daughter. (For more info and pics on Mary Cheney, see the Edwards For President website.)

Since today is Friday, let's make this post quick and . . . well, quick and short.

A few items of interest raise their heads in this short story. The teacher, a woman, was doing something sexual with a 17 year old student. The specifics are politely excluded from the news coverage. The student was a girl. That's how we know it's a lesbian thing. (Good detective work, Brisco.)

Softball and field hockey are mentioned. A picture of the teacher is included. She looks kind of cute.

The "relationship" (that's the word they use) is said to have been "consensual," and lasted at least a month. This is important, because the teacher has been arrested.

So far, so good. When it comes to teachers and students, we need to enforce a strict "do not fondle" rule. And we do. We can't afford to have any exceptions to it. It's a bright line rule, as lawyers say. You cross the line, and WHAMMO, you are out of there!

Otherwise we end up with, "Well I only did this, and she said it was OK, and I thought . . . blah, blah, blah." Tough. WHAMMO! Off with his hands!

But, oh yes, but . . . I see two problems here that I believe need to be addressed.

First is how we deal with pedophilia. Yuck. Well, everyone is referring to the student here as a child. OK, legally 17 is still not adult age. But assault on a 17 year old is not child molestation as most of us think of it. Bad? Of course. Jailable? Certainly. But to call it child molestation dilutes the issue of child abuse by mixing it up with adult crime. It does not help the cause.

Second is over-prosecution. Our bad teacher in Jersey has been charged with three crimes. The news only specifies that one is first degree sexual assault. I looked it up. It doesn't fit.

The "age of consent" (not a legal term by the way) in New Jersey is 16. But if the Actor (that is a legal term) has authority over the Victim, then the age is raised to 18, and a Victim between 16 and 18 constitutes second degree sexual assault for such "consensual" friskiness. "Consensual" is quoted here because the law assumes that consent cannot be freely given where the Actor has such legal authority over a Victim of such an age.

All of that makes a lot of sense. Lots of smart, concerned people spent a lot of time developing this legal scheme, and it has developed over many years. Most of us would gladly shoot a child molester. But we also have to allow our kids to transition to adults. It's a tricky business. Here we have a very good, workable legal doctrine to protect our youth.

What's not so hot is when a zealous prosecutor decides to throw the book at someone by adding charges that obviously do not apply. That may not be the case here, but it looks like it. Often this is done to show toughness by the prosecutor. A prosecution is seen as more successful if the conviction is of a more serious crime. Most cynically, it can be done knowingly, to scare a defendant into pleading guilty to a lesser crime. None of this is appropriate prosecutorial behavior.

Why not? Well, because it is possible, really, that honest people commit crimes. They may want to plead guilty, be judged by their peers, and serve their punishment. It happens.

What if that happens here? What if our bad teacher is sorry? What if she wants to apologize and take responsibility for what she did? Maybe she really wanted to be a good teacher. Maybe that still means something to her. Maybe she did what she did out of desperate loneliness and not predatory lust. Maybe she can't believe what she did and that it all turned out so wrong.

Maybe she's not some lesbian predator who wormed her way into the profession just to get a clear shot at corrupting our youth.

Or, maybe she is. And did.

Prosecution and trial are supposed to answer these questions. Bring clarity to dark questions. This piling on extra charges doesn't help. It forces the accused into a corner. The choice then changes from whether to admit or deny what she did, into whether to admit or deny something worse than what she did. That doesn't bring clarity. It adds extraneous issues and brings more confusion. Soon you have a jury that knows the accused did something, but realizes that it doesn't add up to the charges levied.

That does not help achieve justice.

This is not a "who done it?" Or even a "she done what?" The facts are on the table. The statutes are clear. The system can work well in this case if the people running it don't muck it up.

Let's watch and see.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Marine Joke making the rounds

A Marine is working on a Police Training and Transition (PTT) team. Two of his Iraqi Police trainees grab an insurgent, who calls out "By Hussein, let me go!" The IPs drop the insurgent, who runs away.The Marine, astonished, asks why they released the man, and the IPs explain: "He asked for mercy by Hussein, the son of the Prophet, and custom demands that we set him free." A week or two later, the Marine is captured by insurgents. He remembers the IPs, and decides to give it a whirl, so he calls out "By Hussein, let me go!" The leader of the insurgents stares at him for a moment, and then says to the others: "Not only is he an American dog, he's a Shiite too! Kill him!"

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

C'est la vie

Segoline Royal is not going to be the next President of France. Too bad. Reading the news has been such a Debbie Downer lately. The Segoline ooh la la factor would have brightened things up a quite a bit. At least for men. And I guess for women, too. But our Gallic gal is not destined for center stage. Yet.

So, no added dose of feminine mystique for now.

Not to ignore the worthy women currently occupying worldly seats of power. Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, seems like a competent head of state. But unlikely to cause much excitement. And here we have Nancy Pelosi and Hillary. Both competent and unexciting. Nancy dresses like Mother Superior and likes to remind us that she's a grandmother. Hillary has a man's voice and wears pants.

At the risk of being offensive (translation - I'm about to be offensive), what is intriguing about Segoline is her embrace of femininity in such a deliberate and wholehearted way. None of the American "I'm just as qualified as any man, so ignore my gender, while I attempt to appear publicly asexual." That's not a real quote by the way, I just made it up.

But, but, but - this whole femininity thing is, I believe, a tip of a much larger iceberg. One that affects us all. I think it reflects a difference in thinking about life that is as much masculine/feminine as it is French/American.

The real issue in the French election was the man, Sarkozy, who won, and wants the French to be more American. He wants our wine-sodden allies to get up earlier, a la Ben Franklin. Go from a 35 to 40 hour work week. I don't believe he suggested cutting the traditional French 6 weeks of vacation per year, but he generally wants France to work harder. To be more competitive.

I may be the only American businessman who thinks this is a bad idea.

But, our cheesy chums on the continent voted for him, 53 to 47, which sounds kind of close to me, but politicos consider it a pretty big win. So the French have voted to be more like us and work harder.

I love cliche's. Life is short. See? So I say work smarter, not harder. For most people I know, work itself is not a lot of fun, but it's masculine. Some Americans like to try to get rich at work, which can be fun. Success in your career can give you a good feeling. And some jobs give you a feeling that you are doing good in the world, like nursing or teaching. So sure, there's lots of important work to be done.

But that's not the work most of us are doing. Most of us work for a paycheck.

About that paycheck. Let's take a look at our economy. What exactly is it that we are getting for all of our hard work? When I drive down the street I see lots of fast food, gas stations and convenience stores. We are a service economy now. Mike Dukakis (remember him?) warned us about this when he debated George Bush (the other one.) He said that Republican job growth meant that we'd all end up making sandwiches for each other. Prescient.

Walk into a Wal-Mart or Target and look at all of the crap we buy. That's what our economy is. Is that why we work so hard? I really think that the work smarter idea could be worked into our society. But it would have to be a revolution in social thought. A lot of our economy is based on producing, selling, and buying crap. Who needs that? At my house we literally cart several garbage bags of accumulated cheap toys off to either Goodwill or the dump several times a year.

Meanwhile our leaders tell us we cannot afford healthcare for everyone. Or to clean up all of the toxic waste dumps that pollute the groundwater. Or build more schools. Bullshit. We just decided somewhere along the way that those things were not as important as what we do spend our money on.

Let's work smarter on making life better. I think the French may be onto something with this lifestyle gig they've got going. Work should be about life, not the other way around. What if we restructured our economy to really reward things like cleaning the air or water, healing the sick, or teaching our kids. Maybe not give tax breaks to build factories to produce Coca Cola or Lincoln Navigators. We could drink clean water from the tap, like in olden times, instead of Coke. Maybe take the train to work. Whack soda and a car out my household budget and I could really save some dough.

I work hard, by most standards. And I feel guilty when I leave the office at the end of the day. I could work harder or longer to make more money. But frankly, I'd rather be kicking back with a frosty Blue Moon at the Taco Mac, trading witty banter with my wife while Florida pounds Ohio State on the big screen, and my kids mess around in the game room. Kind of an American version of the French cafe'. But I rarely get to.

We have all of the ingredients for all of us to have great lives here. But we add unnecessary stress about money and work. There's more to life than money and there's more to America than the economy. You live your life. You don't work your life.

Those French folks get this. And they're good at it. Good food and conversation. Smoking is allowed. They dress cool and don't seem fat. While eating a lot of rich food. I think a lot of them must walk home.

Life is made up of beautiful moments. I think I'll pick up some wine on my way home.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Costs of War - It Ain't Cheap

I support the troops. But George W. Bush, he's another story.

At the risk of typing out a long string of profanity, I am thinking about my President. I still capitalize the word President, though I notice a lot of people don't.

But back to Bush. He vetoed the war spending bill. No timelines for withdrawal. Cut and Run. Give our troops the resources they deserve. Don't second guess the military commanders. Etc., etc., etc.

Bush wants victory. Or at least success. He doesn't want to have any limits on what it takes to get it. And his veto was upheld, so our political system supported his position. But something tells me that there is, in fact, some limit to what America is willing to give to continue the war. How about we give it a little thought. What is this war worth to you?

I know it's hard to articulate. It requires us to know what we want, and then to say it. A good way to start this thought process is to create our outside parameters. The parameters that define our "buy it" or "don't buy it" decision. Though here it's more of a "stay" or "get out" decision.

We have already spent a lot. So far, this war has cost around 3,334 dead soldiers, over 50,000 wounded soldiers, somewhere around $800,000,000,000.00 of cash, the killing of an uncertain number of Iraqi civilians, and the destruction of Iraq as a functioning country. But these are sunk costs. We won't get them back no matter what happens going forward.

So, as difficult as it is to think that we just wasted all those lives and money, in order to make wise decisions for the future we need to set that aside and look at where we are today and where we can realistically get to.

First, what do we want? We want the Maliki government to bring all of the Sunni, Shiite, Kurd, and other groups into the democratic fold, respecting and participating in the new Iraqi government, recognizing it's authority to resolve disputes, give up their separate militias, love America, hate Iran, beg us to keep permanent military bases, and maximize oil production. Did I miss anything?

Oh yes, of course. If they happen to find Osama bin Laden, fedex his head and hands to the White House. (Apparently he can both run and hide.)

There, now that we know what we want, what are we willing to give up to get it?

Since this is not an all cash deal, we need to understand the currency we will be dealing in. We also need to understand that this is not a simple buy/sell situation. This is a high risk investment. That means we could lose everything we put into it, even if we pay full price. Let's say that again. We could put everything we have into Iraq and still not get what we want.

So what does that mean to this mental exercise? It means that our outside parameter is not a price we are willing to pay for success, it is the limit that we are willing to invest without succeeding, before we refuse to invest anymore. In other words, it is the maximum we are willing to lose.

We will also be dealing in several types of currency. First is cash. By the end of 2007, we will be sunk for a cool trillion bucks. That's a lot of money. Next is dead soldiers. At the current rate of slightly above 100 per month, by Christmas our war dead will be at around 4,200. Third is injured soldiers. Figuring about 800 a month in military wounded, we should be right at 60,000 by year end (although it is hard to find concrete data on this.)

I think this is enough to consider for now. If we try to quantify all of the costs like the mental and emotional scars on our returning soldiers, all of the dead and injured Iraqi people, increased world-wide oil prices, the continuing loss of a functioning country, and of course our national lost opportuity costs, it just gets too complicated. Overwhelming even. That might make the whole war look like a bad idea, and I don't want to appear unpatriotic.

So, cash, dead, wounded. That should be manageable.

First, figure our low, "buy" parameter. Usually this is the parameter that makes a deal a "no brainer" to get into. However, since we are already locked into this one, it will be the cost for us to get out asap. Figure that logistically it will take a year to get all the guys and gear home. That's about $200,000,000,000.00 cash. We could probably knock our casualty rate down by half by not having any new offensive operations. So figure 600 dead and 5,000 wounded over 12 months. That's the least this deal is going to cost us if we decide to cut our losses now.

But hold on a moment! Let's not get overly pessimistic about this option. Remember, we'll be trying to cut deals with all sides as we go. And there isn't any enemy sufficiently large and organized (like North Vietnam) that will automatically take over if we leave. So even though we are cutting our losses, it's not an automatic loss for us. Iraq has a lot of non-governmental social leadership floating around. Tribal leaders, religious leaders, militias. Chaos is not inevitable. These people were organized as a country before we arrived, and it is possible that they can pull themselves back together. We could leave and still come out OK.

Now the tough one. The "don't buy" parameter. How much more do we put into this project before we decide it's enough? Let's start with an absurd "all in" suggestion and work backwards toward the "no brainer" parameter.

We have 300,000,000 people and a $13,000,000,000,000.00 ($13 trillion) a year gross domestic product. We have about 1,400,000 military. So what price is obviously too high? Using Vietnam as a starting point, let's say that 60,000 dead soldiers is too many. Let's also say that $10 trillion is too much money. (I got tired of typing all the zeroes.) Let's also say that a million wounded is too many.

What do you think? Agree? Disagree? It's your decision to make. If in 2016 President McCain gets on tv and says that to pull out now would mean that our 60,000 dead soldiers had died in vain, would you say, "No, no more." Or would you pack your son's duffel bag and tell him how proud you are that he's serving his country?

Let's stop here and realize the point of this exercise. It is a grotesque calculation.

But you know what is even more grotesque? Not doing it. Continuing to feed our young soldiers into the meat grinder without a calculation of the costs. With no limit in sight. That's grotesque.

Condi Rice said nobody made any casualty estimates before invading. Am I the only one who thinks that is criminally negligent? My only comfort is that I don't believe her. She is a proven liar. Remember when she said that nobody could have imagined that terrorists would try to fly airliners into skyscrapers? How do these people keep their jobs?

We need to manage our costs in this war. Our costs here include the lives, bodies and minds of our most patriotic young people. It is criminal not to hold them dear.

When is enough enough? It's not rhetorical. It's a real question.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

May Day!

Today is May Day, the traditional first day of summer, and lots of Mexican immigrants are out to protest America's immigration policies. They are not pleased.

Most of the news accounts are referring to the protesters simply as "immigrants," but it seems pretty clear to me that we are all talking about Mexicans, and not so much folks from other places.

Now, I don't know a whole lot about immigration. But I'm not about to let that stop me from having strong opinions on the matter. Let's see if we can get folks to agree on a concept first. Then work out the implementation. Nationally, I think we are still arguing about the concept here. So I'm not buying all the punditry that Bush will get an immigration bill passed this year. Bush is not strong on leading people to agreement on a concept. After listening to him, I'm still not sure what his concept is.

Illegals. Such a name. Ever wonder why they don't say "outlaw?"

Well, immigrating illegally is a little different than some other crimes. There is an idea that laws can be divided into two types: malum prohibitum and malum in se. That is, some acts are wrong because they are simply always wrong or evil, like murder and rape. Other acts are wrong because they are prohibited, like speeding or moving to Texas without a visa. Although most people ("right thinking people" we used to say) believe in a moral obligation to obey the rules, most people agree that inherently wrong acts are worse than simply prohibited acts. This is, I think, one of several important points of fissure in America's concept of how to frame the illegal immigration issue.

So today we have these visa-less Mexicans who walk among us so freely with their lawn mowers and paint brushes. Just how bad are they? Even bad at all? And why do they all go to Wal-Mart on Sunday night?

It wasn't their act of moving here that was bad. It was breaking the rules of our society that require getting bureaucratic permission to move here.

So what does that mean? It means they started breaking the rules of our society as soon as they arrived. Not cool!

But wait! Wouldn't you do the same thing? Does the poverty they are subject to justify their seeking a better life, even if they have to break the law? Wouldn't you risk jail and the desert to get your wife and kids out of poverty. Poverty that is instutionalized by an oligarchal social and legal structure in Mexico? Or would you politely accept your fate and await your reward in heaven? Me? I'd take my chances with the law.

What about the Mexican people who follow the rules to move here? Doesn't it make fools of those who follow the law if every few years those who break it get forgiven?

And what about Mexico? What is wrong with that place? Thin skin for one thing. If a US politician should remark that the Mexican government should be doing anything it becomes a faux pas majeure. Never mind that the place is such a toilet that it's own citizens are climbing over fences to get out.

So, in line with our latest approach to Iraq, shouldn't we hold the Mexican people responsible to clean up their own country and make it work? Why don't we help them do this!

Surprisingly, our government does not want Mexico to reform. This is because of a secret: our government works hardest for very rich people. To help the people of Mexico turn their country into a decent place would require reforms in land ownership and other socialist (gasp!) policies. This completely freaks our guys out. Hence they help (or just watch) the right wing Mexican President Felipe Calderon steal the election from the leftie Lopez Obrador in 2006. We are afraid of another Hugo Chavez in our midst.

But the long term US strategic interest is to have Mexico become a stable environment for its lower class people. Right now Mexico's poverty policy is simple. Poor people should move to the US. Bush actually likes this because of the cheap labor supply. That helps US business.

Side note - Did you know that farm workers don't get paid minimum wage? They are exempted from the law. If you've ever picked vegetables you know it's a tough job.

Anyway, I can't say I don't see both sides of this. Because of this cheap labor I haven't mowed my own lawn for years, and I've never painted my own house. And I can't communicate with the guys who do it, which doesn't seem to bother them or me. On the other hand I don't want to be outnumbered. Just ask the Iriquois what a liberal immigration policy can do.

The liberals seem split. The unions realize that cheap labor will result in the American working class getting screwed. On the other hand, idealists see that these are real people we are talking about. Let's not be harsh. Let's be fair. Why is a Mexican child less deserving of opportunity than an Amercian child?

This is where the immigrant advocates could get some real traction. But I think they are shooting themselves in the foot.

Americans are people of conscience. We want to be good. This is how Ghandi worked against England and MLK worked against racism, by appealing to the collective conscience of people. It could work here.

But I don't buy the "you are splitting up families" rhetoric I'm hearing these days. A woman comes to America illegally and has a baby. The baby is (arguably) a US citizen. The Mom gets deported. Oh no! We broke up the family! Wait a minute. Nobody said the baby can't go with the mother. To me this smacks of false hostaging of the children. So I end up dismissing the whole argument, figuring that if that's the best they've got, it's all baloney.

Immigrant advocates shoot their other foot by wrapping multi-culturism into the mix. Lot's of Americans favor immigration. But lot's of Americans believe in an American culture. Sure, there are lots of subcultures here. Even separate cultures. But don't expect Americans to welcome immigrants who say they want to replace American culture with their own.

So Happy May Day!