The Demand For Change

Regardless of which side of the aisle your political leanings fall, one of the few things that we can get people to agree on politically, is that government is inefficient.  The larger the government, the greater the inefficiency.

We all aslo admit that there are some things that government does that are really important.  The questions always boil down to, “Is the issue worth the amount of waste?” The answer to this question is often what divides us us.

The left knows that there is a lot of bureaucracy and down right fraud that occurs in our safety net programs such as welfare.  In their mind, the ends justify the means.

Even the most hawkish of people on the right know and many have seen, how the military creates rules and systems that produce the ideal environment for fraud, waste, and abuse.  Yet they feel that national security trumps any of these drawbacks.

Neither side would be against making their systems more efficient- so long as the end result continues to occur. And, of course, they would prefer we start trimming the budget by cutting the other guys programs.

The fact is, the federal budget is so big and laden with so many inefficiencies that each side can continue to point at the other sides problems in order to deflect criticism of their own.  “Before we  even stat to look at project X,” they will say, “we should focus on the largess of project Y over there.”  Ultimately it becomes an argument of the virtues of projects X and Y, forgetting the fact that they both are wasting money. George-Washington-Presidential-Dollar-Coin

Which brings me to the continued effort to refine our currency system.  A recent CNN article described how most of the dollar coins remain out of circulation due to a low demand.  The Government Accounting Office estimates replacing dollar bills with dollar coins would save $150 billion per year.

We also know that the government continues to mint pennies and nickels that cost more than a penny and nickel to make.  Think about it, the denominations of coinage that are least likely to be used, the kind of money least likely to be picked up on a sidewalk, are the very coins that we as a nation lose money on replacing.

It’s not like we’ve never changed currency before.  In a 2012 NY Times piece, David Owen pointed out that when the US dropped the half-penny from circulation it had the same buying power as today’s dime.

So, why are we still doing things that literally waste money?  Because American’s don’t want to change.  It’s that simple.

Which makes me wonder. If we can’t get behind an idea that only saves the government money, without any other consequence aside from our personal  convenience, will we ever be able to solve the bigger issues that affect the lives of real people?

Of course, some will say that $150 billion a year isn’t that great a percentage of the budget.  Many of those same people would also be quick to point out this waste if it was associated with a cause championed by their political rivals. Unfortunately this is an issue with no political adversary, so it has to fight against something even more difficult to defeat, political apathy. It’s not an issue that separates one side from the other, so it’s not worth it.  Much like the penny on the sidewalk, it’s an issue not important enough to pick up. No single raindrop believes it is the cause of the flood.

I’d like to see the use of the gold dollar coin increase, but do so as a political statement against Washington ineptitude.  Coins travel and right now gold coins are uncommon enough that they cause the receiver of the coin to pause for a moment.   Let’s replace the thought of “What do I do with this coin?” to “Yea, Washington wastes money.”

Who knows, perhaps some larger organization, like No Labels for example, can pick up on this concept and advertise a “Dollar Coins Against Government Waste” type PR Campaign.  This is the kind of conscious raising idea that would serve as reminder each time they change hands that government can and should be better stewards of our resources.  And each time we lament the fact that we now have four coins  in our pockets instead of four singles in our billfold, we will be reminded that we as a nation can ‘t begin cleaning up the inefficiency in Washington until we are prepared to offer up any change ourselves.

Want to know more about the Dollar Coin issue?  Hit up the Dollar Coin Alliance.

Empty Spots In The Parking Lot

The parking lot at the Annapolis Exchange and Commissary is tiny.  To make matters worse, after 9-11 they had to add barriers to keep people from parking too close to the building, which had a secondary effect of making each row a dead end. It’s impossible to drive around and look for a spot, if you choose to head down a row, you better know there is an actual space waiting for you, otherwise you will be executing a three point turn (or seven point turn in some cases) to get out.

Adding to this mess is general old age of the pavement that causes cracks and potholes as well the construction that is going on adjacent to the facility.  So you get my drift when I say that parking is never easy here.

If you time your visit right and go on “off hours” you can generally see far enough ahead that it’s at least manageable. An inconvenience at worst.  But yesterday was one of those days that I went at the wrong time. Not only was this trip right before Thanksgiving, but the weather was really lousy, too.  Cold…..rain…..a little sleet.  It took a while, but after a couple of slow laps around  the maze and seeing a few spots taken by other people just as I was getting close, I finally found a spot. About as far away from the exchange as you could get and still be on the property.

It was on the way back from the exchange that I saw the sign for the Gold Star Family Spots.  It was right there next to the spot for expectant mothers, flag officers, and Master Chiefs.  I had seen it before and to be honest I have never seen anyone use it. In fact, I’ve even wondered if it’s been used at all, I mean…come on… this is the Naval Academy.  People don’t deploy from here into harms way. I know they will in the future, but not now….so how many fallen service members have families that are really shopping at this little commissary on the Severn River?

Gold Star Parking Spots at the Annapolis Echange.

Gold Star Parking Spots at the Annapolis Exchange.

I actually got a little cynical.  After spending ten years in Camp Lejeune, the home of the Second Marine Expeditionary Force, I know about the toll of war.  I’ve been deployed and lost Marines from my unit.  I know they have families. I’ve been to the memorial services. 

Camp Lejeune could almost have a Gold Star Parking Lot. I started to wonder if the reason the signs were put up had something to with “jumping on the bandwagon”.  I know I shouldn’t have felt that way, and even chided myself for letting the thought hit my brain. I do admit, though, that every once in a while it happened.

It was yesterday, walking back to my car in the cold and rain, through the dreary labyrinth of poorly parked vehicles that I saw the spot from a very different perspective. The solitude of this real estate reminded me of the POW/MIA Table that you see at a formal military dining event. Like the empty table with its clean white cloth and singular place setting, these prime parking spaces served as reminder about the nature of the business we are in, a reminder that all of us have families.

It was the emptiness that struck me.

Moments like this remind us that life isn’t always perfect and things don’t always go as planned.  They remind us that we should be truly thankful for the things that are most important. They remind us that there are a lot of really good people out there who are celebrating the holidays with an empty seat at the table. For some this may be the first holiday without a loved one, but for others it may be now a regular occurrence. I won’t presume to know, but I imagine the idea that time heals all wounds doesn’t quite cover it.  

We should be thankful for what we have, because “There but the grace of God go, I”.  I won’t ever look at those spots the same way again. I’m glad they are there, even if they never get used.

Passing Along Untruths: Sheeple Of A Different Shepherd

It’s no secret to those who know me that I absolutely can’t stand internet rumors, especially the politically charged ones that get passed around Facebook.  I have to say, it’s been a rough couple of weeks on this front.

First there was the Obama Wants Marines To Wear Girly Hats falsehood, then there was the Tom Cruise Thinks Being in Movie Is Like War selective edit/misquote and now we have the Chris Hayes of MSNBC Is Disgusted By Veterans satire story being passed around.  The link to the original Chris Hayes story that appeared on the SATIRE page Daily Currant is here. For the record the “about” link to the Daily Currant clearly states it to be a satire site.

For extra fun check out the comments below the Currant Story. I wonder if the moderator is laughing at the idiots that post there, or are they happy that they got a rise out of them?  One things for sure, they are letting their advertisors know how much traffic the site gets. $$$$$

The real thing that drives me crazy is the how quick we are to pass these stories around on Facebook.  It’s tribalism at it’s worst.   And for what it’s worth, I gotta say that those friends in my news feed that pass this stuff around are the same ones who call their political rivals “low information voters”. 

C’mon….if your computer gets Facebook it also gets Google.  The more the story looks juicy and worth sharing, the more you should check it out.  If it only appears on the fringe sites, that should be a clue. If those fringe sites have the exact same story, word for word, that should be clue.  If the story only refers to something being “reported”, yep…..that’s another clue.

To make matters worse, when people are told that the info they shared is, in fact false, a frequent response is…..”So, that guy is still an idiot (or worse).” As if it’s OK to lie about people you don’t like.  Not sure if there was any fine print on the Tablets From Sinai, but I doubt it. False witness is false witness.  At what point do people start to feel bad for passing along bad gouge to their friends?

It appears, that at least in the world of Facebook Memes- there really are sheeple out there.  The scary thing is that they just don’t realize who they are.

Life of Pi: Richard Parker and the Combat Veteran

I finally got around to watching Life of Pi over the weekend.  I knew that it was a visual masterpiece, but what I wasn’t prepared for was how it made me think about the combat veterans of today (and the past).

For those that are not aware, the movie features a young boy who spends many days on a lifeboat adrift in the ocean.  In the movie he retells the story of his adventures (so it’s obvious he survives the ordeal).  Also on the boat with him are a number of animals that were cargo aboard the ship.  A zebra with a broken leg, a wild hyena, an orangutan  and a Bengal tiger.  During the over 200 days at sea, the hyena kills the zebra and the orangutan, before itself being killed and eaten by the tiger.  This left only Pi and the tiger (named Richard Parker) on board forcing them to learn to live with each other.  They survived by eating fish and birds before finally washing up on a Mexican beach, at which time Richard Parker departs into the jungle, never to be seen again.

At the end of the movie Pi explains that he had also told his story to the Japanese media after it happened, but they found it too hard to believe.  He says that he then told them another story, this time however there were no animals on the boat, but real people instead.  The zebra and orangutan were not zoo animals killed by the hyena, but instead were a crew member and Pi’s mother, who were both killed by the ships cook.  Richard Parker was not a Bengal tiger who ultimately killed the hyena, but instead was the animalstic, survival  mode of Pi’s brain and that Pi had killed the cook. The question at the end is which version does the listener choose to believe.

This story does a tremendous job of demonstrating the struggle for identity of someone forced to do things both unimaginable and against their nature in order to survive which is why I found it very easy to draw parallels to those who experience combat.

Although in neither of my two tours to Afghanistan was I ever called upon to fire a weapon, my job as the Leading Chief of an Aid Station for an infantry unit put me in direct dealings with those young men that did. I know that these men needed their Richard Parker as much as Pi did.  Even in the movie, after Richard Parker falls out of the boat and is about to drown, it is Pi that helps him back in. This he does because he realizes that without him, he will die as well.  It was a risk he had to take.pi

In the story Pi spends some time off his boat and on a makeshift smaller raft, giving him some separation from Richard Parker, but at other times he goes back onto the boat to share the little food he has with the tiger to keep it nourished.  He also finds ways to train Richard Parker in order for them to live together. This delicate balance is maintained until they reach land and Richard Parker leaves for good, off into the jungle.

Just as Richard Parker departed to allow Pi to move on with his life, combat veterans need to let their Richard Parker escape as well.  The same force that was required to keep them alive is incompatible with life on the “dry land” of society.

This is a timeless tale and has meaning for more than just those of this time.  My grandfather fought in World War II and those in his generation rarely talked about what happened.  It was probably good that there was not as much media presence in places like Tarawa and Okinawa.  Just reading some of the first hand accounts shows that those involved in those conflicts did things they weren’t proud of and certainly did things they weren’t ready to come home and talk about.

There is a little Richard Parker in all of us, and many combat vets were forced to coexist with their Richard Parker in order to survive.  It was tough but necessary. They may have had to even help their Richard Parker on board and find their own way to sustain it, just as Pi did.

Pi also had a foundation of family and faith which, though tested, helped him overcome some unspeakable events.  It may have also helped him to let the tiger go and move on when the time came to do so. Perhaps this story can help others move on as well.

** There is a ton more symbolism in this movie and I encourage people to watch it.  I’m in the process of reading the book as well.  I’ve seen many other takes on this story and how it relates to the search for God, as well as other things.  It’s definitely a discussion starter.

Dr. Ben Carson: Too smart for the media

Dr. Ben Carson makes too much sense for the media.

First there was Dr. Carson’s speech at the National Prayer breakfast that put him in the spotlight for speaking truth to power.  The six weeks since that time has been filled with regular appearances on Fox News offering his opinions on the current administration as well as the state of the nation as a whole.  Now we have the Ben Carson apology tour for remarks he made on Sean Hannity’s show last week.

It was the last question of the interview and the answer took all of 40 seconds, but, that at least for now, is driving the news cycle. I actually didn’t know about the issue at all until I first saw him on CNN yesterday trying to set the record straight.  It was through this apology tour that I came away more impressed with Dr. Carson, and a little less impressed with the media as a whole.

First off, I wish Sean Hannity would have pressed Doctor Carson a bit more on his answer. I think given a chance to clarify at the time may have made this whole thing a moot point.  But, television works on some serious time constraints and I’m sure Sean knew there wasn’t any time for that left in his show. I think Sean thought it was a softball question that would illicit either a simple or at worst “canned” response.  Instead he got a guy that tried to cram his complex views into a tiny soundbite and ended up with an awkward answer and no time to make it better.carson-wolf

The remarks were quick to be picked up by the other networks raising questions about his potentially offensive views. It’s almost as if they were hoping to find him a homophobic religious zealot. I saw the apology tour interviews on CNN as well as MSNBC and it looked like both networks were at least prepared for something other than honesty and sincerity.  In both cased Dr. Carson stated that (a) it was a poor choice of words, that (b) he wasn’t comparing homosexuals to pedophiles, that (c) he understood how it could be perceived as such and that (d) it was not intention to draw that comparison. He then categorically apologized.  In an age where most guests try to spin their way out of trouble, Dr. Carson owned up to it.  Bravo, sir.  That is how you defeat an embarrassing situation.

In interviews both  Andrea Mitchell and Wolf Blitzer followed up Dr. Carson’s initial explanation with questions essentially reframing the original question, as if they weren’t expecting to get a real answer on the first try.   Mitchell, in particular, seemed flustered by the fact that she was likely not interviewing the scary homophobe she anticipated, and was now stuck with a set of questions that he had answered in the first thirty seconds.  Both interviewers came back around to the fact that it used to be illegal for different races to marry later on in their interviews despite the fact the question had lost mush of its relevance based Carson’s previous answers.  It was obvious they were not used to an honest guest and were not prepared for the interview to go a direction they had not anticipated. If you haven’t already done so, i encourage you to check out the links to each interview.  Blitzer’s was far better than Mitchell’s, but both could have been better

It turns out Dr. Carson seems more intent on protecting the English language than supporting any specific conservative social cause.  He keeps going back to the fact that no one gets to change the meaning of a word.  When he talks  about specifics though, he believes that all people, (including gays) have the right to form legal unions in order to facilitate the transfer of property and establish visitation rights. He went so far as to voice support for their ability to adopt children in the Blitzer interview.

It was telling that Carson admitted he needed to learn the art of handling the media. This is why everyone in the media missed this opportunity.  Instead of making sure they got to all of their prepared questions, they should have reacted to his statements with more followup questions. No one asked the question “How would feel about granting same sex couples 100% of the legal rights as married couples if we used/made up a new word to describe it (civil union, perhaps?).”  It looked to me like that was what he was trying to say, but his brain got tied up talking about compring oranges and bananas. Instead of trying to really understand Dr. Carson, both hosts instead moved on. I guess they had to make sure they found a way to go back to their questions about marriage laws of the early 20th century prohibiting multi-racial unions.

One thing I was pleasantly surprised with was the exchange when  Blitzer asked if the fact that other people in the media had made the slippery slope argument about homosexuals, bestiality and pedophilia, if that may have influenced Carson’s choice of words when answering the question on The Sean Hannity Show.  When Dr. Carson said that it may have been a “subconscious reason he choose those words”, that was some refreshing honesty, not typically seen in a news interview.

Dr. Carson is a smart, well read, man with a large vocabulary.  He is the kind of person who understands subtle nuances, and his point is that we shouldn’t expand the definition of a word just because we expand the scope of legal rights for a group of people.  When we invented the light bulb we didn’t expand the definition of the word candle, even though they both produce light and heat.  I think he just wants a different name.

So does this put him on the right or the left of the issue?  I have yet to see his explanation tour hit Fox News, if he does (or already has) I will be interested to see how they handle it, because, on this issue, he does not fit the conservative mold, at least not completely.   I also wonder if Dr. Carson isn’t going to go from darling of the right, to darling of the left.

Ben Carson is coming across as a libertarian, which is really going to screw up our media industry.  There are reports that he may go to work for Fox News after his retirement, although Dr. Carson was quoted as saying that there has been “more than one network” that has approached him about the idea.  I am curious to see how any network takes on someone with such diverse opinions.

In the end, I think he has genuine views and it is good to have him as part of the discussion.  I just hope the media machine doesn’t put him into a corner where only one side wants to listen to him, or worse yet, drives him away from the conversation completely.

 

***Update****  I saw a story on the Fox News website about Dr. Carson’s apology.  It focused much more on the fact that some students at Hopkins did not want him to deliver the commencement address this year.  It also mentioned that he said he was sorry for the comparison.  Interestingly, though, it did not say anything at all about his stated support for same sex couples to have legal standing under the law for things like property transfer and adoption, etc.

 

 

 

Other articles I found interesting when researching this post:

“How well does Fox News know Ben Carson”

“Carson Apologizes, Offers to withdraw from Hopkins speech”

“Does Ben Carson have a prayer?”

“Dr. Ben Carson should apologize to Obama” by Cal Thomas

My Congressman, Walter Jones (R-NC), blew it on this one.

Yesterday I learned that an Air Force Chaplain was receiving a Bronze Star for creating a Powerpoint about Muslim Cultures. I became aware of this thanks to my Facebook link to my elected representative Walter Jones (NC).  His Facebook post wasn’t just about this, though. Along with a link to his press release (that was really about a piece of legislation he had submitted in January about allowing  military chaplains to close prayers as they see fit) he posted the following status to draw attention to the press release:

“Yesterday I spoke out against the Air Force’s decision to reward one its chaplains a Bronze Star for preparing a PowerPoint presentation on how to respectfully handle Islamic materials.”

He based his Bronze Star outrage on a blog post from the National Review Online. It was a real stretch, though, to connect this to a piece of legislation he had recently submitted (House Bill 343) to allow military chaplains to close all prayers, even prayers outside of services, in the manner in which they choose.  For example, closing the benediction to a retirement ceremony or change of command with “In Jesus name” would be allowed.

I actually don’t have anything against most of the arguments individually, but I believe my Congressman made a poor decision to try to roll all this up into one bag. I don’t know what the primary issue is here.  Is it award inflation?  Is it HR 343? Is it a fight against political correctness? Aside from a little bait and switch with the headlines, Representative Jones also didn’t seem to have the whole story.

There absolutely has been award inflation over the past ten years.  Starting in about 2003 those of us in the military quickly learned that there was a difference between a Bronze Star with a “V” for valor and a Bronze Star without a “V”.  The majority of Bronze Stars awarded are awarded for administrative acts while in a theater of war and are frequently given as “end of tour” awards to senior members of the military.  We in the military have all learned that any award with a “V”, even a lesser medal, is cooler than a Bronze Star without one.walter jones

Also of importance, awards of this stature go through multiple levels of the Chain of Command before approval. This is why they take so long to be awarded.  This is the operational chain, by the way, not the administrative chain, so instead of being mad at the Air Force, perhaps he should question those at CENTCOM.

In regards to HR343; I believe this is a fine bill and see little to be offended by in it.  It’s short and to the point.  I assume no one would be offended if their unit was assigned a military rabbi for a chaplain who wanted to close a change of command ceremony with a plea to Yahweh for guidance and blessing.  I also think most military chaplains would have the professional courtesy to ask the guest of honor how they would like their ceremony to go.  So overall, I have no issues with HR 343, aside from the fact Rep. Jones is linking it to an issue that is both incomplete of all the facts and based on a small bit of xenophobia.

Walter Jones has impressed me in the past with his stance on some unpopular ideas, such as being against the continued expansion of drones, as well the war is Afghanistan.  Not an easy stance for a Republican, particularly one whose district includes Camp Lejeune, NC.  He’s also lost committee assignments due to taking a stance against his own party.  This why, despite my poor opinion of Congress as a whole, I continue to vote for him.

The original reporting about this Chaplain has come out with a clarification of the story to the point that the author now says regarding the traffic on the internet about this that, “Lt. Col. Jon Trainer, a NRO reader, has been in touch and convinced me that this isn’t quite fair”. They concluded stating that although there was nothing inaccurate in the original news story or the subsequent blog post, per se, they create “a misimpression about the centrality of the PowerPoint to Trainer’s Bronze Star.” And that they “wanted to provide this fuller context and take the opportunity to salute Trainer for his service to our country.”

Judging by the amount of “likes”, “shares” and “comments” of the Facebook post by Representative Jones, it would be nice to see him also come out with some sort of clarification.  Judging by the comments, it doesn’t appear his Facebook post did much to advance the cause of HR 343 anyway. It did strike an anti-Islamic nerve in many though.  If that was the intent of the post, mission accomplished.  If it was NOT the intent, but merely a “by product” or “unintended consequence”, it should be addressed. Silence on things like this is consent.

The fact that his Facebook post and press release highlight the medal and the correlation to Islam, as opposed to actual the actual meat of the press release (support of HR 343), indicates to me that Mr. Jones may have been more interested in reaching people through headlines and Facebook posts than in engaging in rational thought on this one.  The terms “low-information voter” and ‘Sheeple” like to be used by those on the far right to describe people they disagree with with.  In this case, it seems the shoe is on the other foot. People need to question the stuff that fits their particular cause as much as they question things that do not.  It’s true, there are a lot of low-information “sheeple” in this country…..and lots of different shepherds.

Maybe Representative Jones wasn’t really going for the bait and switch, maybe he was counting on people to just read the headline as way to validate their previously held beliefs. This is the kind of thing that leads to our tribal culture when it comes to politics.  It feeds into the us-vs-them attitude and plays on peoples emotions instead of their intellect.  I expected better from Representative Jones.

Marco Rubio, the Dems, and the GOP

It looks as if, at least for the time being, Marco Rubio is the face of the mainstream Republican Party.  I’m not concerned with this at all.  In fact, on the whole, I kinda like Rubio.  At least enough to want to hear more.  He seems like a pretty straightforward guy, as politicians go, and I think he approaches his views genuinely.  Make it past those wickets and you’ve gotten my attention.  To be honest I haven’t yet read the Time article, nor do I think I know enough about him at this point to offer either my support, or my opposition.  I do, however, look forward to learning more.politifact_photos_marcorubio

Unfortunately, though, our political discussions are rarely based on facts, or even common sense for that matter.  Instead they are grounded in hyperbole, situational ethics, and one of my personal favorites; cognitive dissonance.  Assuming the Rubio trend continues towards 2016 (admittedly far from a sure thing), it will be interesting to see how both parties react to the shoe being on the other foot.  That shoe being a youthful one term Senator, energizing a minority demographic, with terrific speaking skills and gift for connecting with a plethora of other voting blocks.

The GOP already has a history of cognitive dissonance on things Obama has done, highlighted with a bit by Jon Stewart here. It’s funny, and insightful.  I have also written in the past about the selective memory and hollow arguments on talk radio.

But I also have full faith in the Democratic party’s ability to make fools of themselves, as well.  I wonder, will the same people who wrote articles defending Obama’s thin resume by saying things like, there are two problems with the attack on Obama’s inexperience: it isn’t true, and it doesn’t matter. be able to resist the temptation to question Rubio’s youth? In 2008 some pundits were doubling down by quoting Obama, as he referenced Bill Clinton. Candidate Obama said, ““I remember what was said years ago by a candidate running for president, ‘The same old experience is not relevant. You can have the right kind of experience and the wrong kind of experience.’ Well that candidate was Bill Clinton. And I think he was absolutely right., Will those in the media jettison that line of thinking because the subject is a Republican vice a Democrat?  I doubt it. I bet the hypocrisy happens. I see it coming a mile away.

What to do? Well, here’s three things I’d like to see:

1- Rubio needs to lead without campaigning.  He doesn’t need to be on the cover of Time, or take any trips to Iowa or New Hampshire.  If you want some gravitas, do it by leading the way on issues.  Jump in on the sequester and immigration. In so doing, Senator, please take a stand you can still conceivably defend three years from now. Don’t pander to the base now and try to run to the center later. Principles matter.

2- Democrats, please, please, please avoid going after Rubio on the inexperience thing.  That ship sailed in 2008. And when it did, you were at the helm.  What was good for the goose is good for the gander.  You will look like fools if you do this.

3- If the Dems do play the “inexperienced” card, they way for the GOP to answer it would be with positive facts about Rubio, not in pointing out the hypocrisy of the left. Otherwise we will just have more people shouting at each other about how bad/evil/mean/incompetent their opponents are, and not about any actual thoughts/ideas/plans for making a positive change in Washington.

I don’t know if this will happen. It’s obviously a long way to 2016.  I just hope those that will be involved think about this stuff now. Maybe if they do we can avoid some of the “silly season” that rolls around every 4 years.