Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Campaign to Eliminate Santa's Little Black Helper

Most Christian nations have similarities in their end-of-year celebrations, often observed to commemorate Christmas on 25 December or Epiphany on 6 January (with some slight variations in Orthodox churches and those of other sects). 

A third option is to observe the feast day (anniversary of the death) of Saint Nicholas on 5 (or 6) December, and within the Netherlands that takes the tradition of a Sinterklaas, robed in the vestments of a bishop (as the original Nicholas held that post in Myra in present-day Turkey, a Christian bishopric until the Seljuk Turks rolled over it in the early 15th century), visits the children to deliver gifts in the form of traditional candy and sweets placed in their shoes, in exchange for the thoughtful remembrance of the children leaving apples and carrots for Sinterklaas' horse.  The parallel to the later American Santa Claus is obvious, as we derive much of our tradition from the story. 

The Dutch have differences too, and one has come under fire from the Gauleiters of Political Rectitude, now from the United Nations. 

Most of the St Nicholas figures in Europe have assistants of some sort, and in the case of Sinterklaas, that assistant takes the form of Zwarte Piet ('Black Pete'), though in recent decades he is in many cases no longer simply a single assistant but a group – Zwarte Pieten.  The reason for the name should be obvious:

The idea many years ago was that, like other such holiday duos in Europe, the two would serve as a sort of Manichaean lesson for the children – St Nicholas bestowing candy and gifts on the good children, and the assistant reporting on and delivering the benign (or not so) consequences to the bad.   In time, Piet has assumed more the attitude of a mischievous elf and helper.

For the Dutch, the story has developed that Sinterklaas and his Zwarte Piet(en) arrive by ship from Spain.  Piet has already reconnoitered all the homes by listening in to determine if the kinderen have been bad or good, reported in the book that Sinterklaas carries as he makes his rounds astride his horse that flies from rooftop to rooftop, with his Pieten delivering the gifts through chimneys or through the back door, for Sinterklaas has the master of master keys. 

Whereas the American Santa Claus leaves his elves behind at the North Pole, Sinterklaas brings his Pieten to join in the festivities and street celebrations, and jolly little elves they are, with their blackface, red lipstick, sedate afro wigs, snappy velvet feathered berets atop some semblance of a Moorish costume.  For a Moor he was, back in the days when he first appeared, and that made all the sense in the world during those times when the fight between Christianity and Islam was believed to be literally a struggle between good and evil, a fight for the salvation of souls. 

I was introduced to the tradition many years ago while doing a training stint with the British Royal Marines, who maintain a close working relationship with their Dutch counterparts.  Early December in the field found the two cultures in an amicable juxtaposition of festivities – the UK Marines (by way of the attached 29 Commando Royal Artillery) had the excuse of celebrating the feast of St Barbara, the patron saint of artillery and explosives, followed closely by the Dutch Commandos returning the favor with Sinterklaas, all somewhat ad hoc and therefore that much more fun.  I have a vague recollection of someone dressing up as the bearded saint, but what really sticks in my mind is the large Dutch Kaporal, normally rather gruff yet nonetheless witty, doing an absolutely hilarious and side-splitting turn as a Zwarte Piet on steroids.  It took a lot of Courage (the English beer, not the attitude) and Heineken to really appreciate what a grand time we had. 

And did I say blackface?  Ah, there you are – blatant racism that is, at least according to the varieties of Professional Indignants who are famous for their shakedowns and power thrusts.  Not only are the Pieten in blackface, but they're servants – how demeaning.
Allow Dan Goad of the web log Taki's Magazine to explain in a not-for-prime-time commentary:
I understand the "servant" part, but isn't it good to be black?  This shit is always so confusing.  And is there anything that Black Pete does or symbolizes that is more derogatory toward black people than the very existence of, say, Flavor Flav or Lil Wayne? … 
This isn't about sensitivity, it's about power – specifically, the power to dictate to others what their history and traditions actually mean, whether they want to hear it or not…. 
The UN [Human Rights Commission] suggested that black Dutch citizens' human rights were being violated…. No mention was made as to whether the Dutch majority had any right to promote and maintain their own identity…. 
Thankfully, mercifully, and quite refreshingly, the Dutch populace has told the world to go fuck itself.  A "Pete-ition" in support of Black Pete on Facebook gathered over two million likes in the matter of a few days.  And according to a poll of nearly 10,000 Netherlanders, 96% said the debate shouldn't even be occurring.  It's almost as if the entire Dutch nation has applied blackface to its posterior and is mooning the world.
Amid all the guilt-tripping about atoning for colonialism, it bears noting that most accounts suggest that the Black Pete character is based on Spanish Moors – you know, the Africans who invaded and occupied Spain for over five hundred years.
They should know something about colonialism.  They were doing it long before the Dutch were. 
The letter from the UNHCR that set off the current row came from Verene Shepherd, a Jamaican professor of Social History, but after the dust-up, a UN spokesman quickly repudiated the letter.  In addition, the Belgian representative to UNESCO (Belgium shares the tradition to a great extent) further tried to clarify the embarrassment:
[Shepherd] is just a consultant who abused the name of the UN to get her own agenda into the media... [it is] nothing more than a bad move in a game by pressure groups in the Netherlands.
The four signatories of that letter do not belong to a competent organ of UNESCO, but just used paper with a United Nations letterhead, actually from the High Commissioner of Human Rights.
It's not surprising that the UN contributed to this opera buffa.

Another historical note is that the Netherlands arose from the horrific eighty-year struggle to gain independence from the Spanish Habsburgs, with the atrocities of the Gran Duque de Alba and the Spanish Inquisition, a war later subsumed into the cataclysmic Thirty Years War.  The fact that the Dutch entertain any notion at all of a grand guest and patron from Spain is ample evidence of their let-bygones-be-bygones openness to a reasonable diversity.  But then, reasonableness or even accuracy and truth are rarely ingredients in the grievance industry.

Monday, October 28, 2013

We Will Sell the Rope to the Hangman

As my faithful readers know, I was born and raised in Texas and immersed and nurtured in its unique culture, and I miss it so.  But fate and family have brought me to the outback of Oregon and I have made an acceptable accommodation despite the dominating political atmosphere of the big cities nearby. 

Nevertheless, there are good features of the state, not the least of which are its scenery, salmon, coffee, blueberries, and, due to the fortunate geographical fact that the Willamette River valley is the second-best place on the planet (after Germany) for growing hops, it is home to a staggering amount of micro-breweries and their product: the place is practically awash in beer.
One of my favorites, when I'm in the mood, is Ninkasi, out of the Land of the Lotus Eaters otherwise known as Eugene.  This opinion is shared with one of my sons who recently purchased a nice metal thermos bottle from their Bierstube: the narrow-mouthed 'black butte' in the 24-oz size, because it nicely accommodates a 22-oz beverage.  It works quite well in this regard, but has the additional advantage that, when struck lightly on a tightly padded object, such as one's knee, it produces a satisfying and spiritual tone of Tibetan quality.  (Ladies, don't seek a further explanation.  This falls within the category of a 'guy thing'.  If it had a small blinking light as well, it would probably fly off the shelves.) 

Naturally, I bought one too. 

I was washing it out with hot soapy water prior to its first use, because I am one of those people who read directions, and continued on to read: "[Trade name]'s bottles are designed in Bend, Oregon, and handcrafted in China at meticulously chosen factories that practice social responsibility, fair labor, and strong ethics." 

Excuse me?  A manufacturer "meticulously" chosen for its "social responsibility, fair labor, and strong ethics"?  In Communist China?! 

Where have these people been?  Certainly not to China, or if so, not outside the control of their handlers.  They should get out more and read up on the history of their friends, or just check current events.  Certainly they (or anyone else for that matter) should read the Belgo-Australian Pierre Ryckmans (writing as Simon Leys) and his scathing and quite readable critiques of China's Great Leap Forward and the still devastating aftermath, covered over by a thin patina of commercial success copied from the West.  But it's not like the human rights abuses in China are some sort of arcane secret; this is a very easy topic to research.

Of course, we hear variations on this all the time.  Around here, with a Starbucks, Dutch Bros, Human Bean, or smaller independent coffee kiosk on every corner, we see reference to 'fair trade coffee' all the time, but few actually recognize that it's a scam and whenever the subject comes up, no one with whom I have spoken grasps the irony that they are often dealing with Daniel Ortega's Sandinistas in Nicaragua or FARC-controlled areas in Colombia, and hardly anyone has a clue about the worsening human rights conditions in Venezuela or Bolivia.  Last week, I saw a Ché t-shirt on a completely oblivious attendee at a funeral service for a soldier.  If you are a left-wing dictator of fairly generous brutality, you are given a very wide berth indeed from the dudgeon of the sophisticated press; the spirit of Walter Duranty, secure in the faith of the Pulitzer committee that he retain his prize despite the magnitude of his deceit, lives on as a muse for main stream media.

Lenin is often quoted as the source of the observation that the West has an abundance of "useful idiots", and that "the Capitalists will sell us the rope with which we shall hang them."  In an earlier academic environment, a fellow traveler once challenged that there is no source for Lenin having made these exact quotes, and for the sake of argument in that discussion I was willing to cede the claim but I rejoined with an established quote from the artist Yuri Annenkov, a protégé of Lenin who copied the following from Lenin's personal notes before wisely emigrating to Paris after Lenin's demise (as he was showing a tendency to favor Trotsky, a rather unhealthy interest in the eyes of Stalin): 
Lenin, by Annenkov
To speak the truth is a petit-bourgeois habit.  To lie, on the contrary, is often justified by the lie's aim.  The whole world's capitalists and their governments, as they pant to win the Soviet market, will close their eyes to the above-mentioned reality and will thus transform themselves into men who are deaf, dumb and blind.  They will give us the credits … they will toil to prepare their own suicide.
But when I see such patently absurd claims such as the like on the water flask above, my mind goes to wonderful 1970 book by advertising great Jerry Della Femina, a book that was to provide the basis for the recent hit television series Mad Men.  The title derives from a moment of sardonic frustration during a meeting about pitching the advantages in the early 1960s of selling new market technology from Japan, a nation then still freshly remembered as the primary source for the atrocious Pacific portion of World War II: From Those Wonderful Folks Who Gave You Pearl Harbor. 
I am reminded too often that nothing much has changed.

Friday, October 25, 2013

RIP: Specialist Cody Patterson, 75th Rangers, US Army

I have written some remembrances before, of people famous and not quite so, but who should be remembered for the edifying virtues that they lived.  This is an opportunity to write again of Specialist Cody Patterson, promoted posthumously and bequeathed with the Bronze Star (V) for valor, someone who would otherwise be a common soldier, who will too soon be looked upon as another name on a plaque at a war memorial.  (In the local case, that war memorial is at the National Guard Armory, because such a memorial to the fallen of the families of this area is forbidden to mar the pristine lawn of the county courthouse and disrupt the atmosphere of the protestors who lounge about the square.)  Such sentiment about the dead of war has typically brought to my mind Carl Sandburg's poem Grass ("…What place is this?  Where are we now? ...")

The cortege proceeds through Cody's small town of Philomath, Oregon, flanked by over a thousand mourners, his official escort and friend, my son, seated in front. (Larry Hood)

The Sophisticati have set about diluting the honor in the public mind of those who have sacrificed themselves for our country.  The Viet Nam Memorial tells only that the names affixed are of the dead, nothing more than a giant black tombstone.  The World War II Memorial is ultimately only an homage to the states and territories of the United States during the war, artificially set apart into Atlantic and Pacific halves, and stars mark the numbers of dead.  There are attempts to deliberately obscure faces of statues in order to achieve a politically correct homogeneity, even when the identities of the honored are known.  Even the Martin Luther King Memorial suffers from political cleansing. 

The cortege enters town.  My eldest son, of the 1st Cavalry Division, renders a salute along with Cody's nieces.
But for our small community, the people themselves overcame this enforced ennui to assemble in the thousands to pay their respects to the sacrifice of SPC Cody Patterson, who fell in action responding to a Taliban ambush.  Some press accounts list him as a victim of a suicide bomber, but a more accurate description of the events show that the bomber along with a female accomplice had already detonated, causing other casualties, and a Ranger K-9 had detonated a mine while pursuing a fleeing enemy.  Likely knowing by then that other mines were undoubtedly present, Patterson, along with Sergeant Patrick Hawkins, nevertheless moved to the assistance of the fallen and were in turn killed by other mines.  Captain Jennifer Moreno was killed in like fashion, responding in her original capacity of a trained nurse.  I am uncertain of the details surrounding the death of Special Agent (SGT) Joseph Peters in that same action, but I am generally aware of the circumstances of the other 26 casualties, and I cannot let stand the reported opinion that they all were mere victims – they are all heroes, bravely doing what needed to be done in taking the fight to the enemy (who rightly suffered despite our casualties) and in rendering aid to their Ranger cohort. 
A small portion of the crowd, near the entrance to the service. (Corvallis Gazette-Times)
The venue for the service was the largest in the area, an auditorium at Oregon State University.  (Cody, a lifelong fan of the rival University of Oregon miles away, would appreciate the Oregon Ducks banner on the stage.  Everyone present would have to agree.)  One television station in Eugene (there is no local station) reported that "hundreds" attended the service – not true.  The attendees easily numbered in the thousands: the overflowing auditorium seated 1200, over 2000 stood in somber attendance outside (at least the ones I could see when I entered). 

The Ranger contingent marches in. (BizPac Review)

One factor adding to the enormous turnout was the published threat from the noxious Westboro 'Baptist Church' to stage a demonstration at the service.  (Details of that contemptuous coven of bogus Baptists can be found here.)  I had already contacted two pillars of our small community to start a quiet, back-channel, quick-response group just in case the WBC threat materialized, as it has been my habit to regard seriously anyone who makes a threat.  We were heartened at the huge response from this one effort, but the linchpin of creating our social media effort soon discovered other such groups nearby, so we threw in with them.  It is rare to find a group such as the WBC that is so despised that it can coalesce such disparate elements as the local LGBT&c grouping with the Americans for Prosperity, but there they stood, literally right next to each other, in a solid phalanx against any incursion. 

Official accounts state that those despicable hypocrites were a "no-show", but more than one reliable source reported that a van drove up to the fringes of the crowd to the south, mistakenly too close, so close that the mourners were packed so tight around it that the demonstrators couldn't even exit.  The crowd thinned out after the service to the extent that the vehicle was able to safely depart. 

Whether ultimately accurate or not (and who could credulously believe a denial from those clowns?), the fact of the matter was that the thousands grouped around the service and the family gave the protective care that a community should provide.
In a related story but not usually linked to the combat action with Patterson and the others above, SGT Joshua Hargis received the Purple Heart while being treated for his grievous injuries.  Thought to be unconscious, as he should have been while being treated at that point, he nevertheless struggled to return the salute of the regimental commander of the 75th Rangers who had just pinned the medal to Hargis' pillow.  "Grown men began to weep."

SGT Hargis was the K-9 handler involved in the attack.

(H/T to various sources, including Libertas and Latte.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Captain Swenson Receives the Medal of Honor: Citation

Captain Will Swenson has received his Medal of Honor in a ceremony at the White House.  Background can be found in the series of articles I have written that detail the lurching and questionable progress this long journey has taken (see previous article for a start).

The official citation reads as follows:

"The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, March 3, 1863, has awarded in the name of Congress the Medal of Honor to

Captain William D. Swenson
United States Army

"For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty:

"Captain William D. Swenson distinguished himself by acts of gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as embedded advisor to the Afghan National Border Police, Task Force Phoenix, Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan in support of 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, during combat operations against an armed enemy in Kunar Province, Afghanistan on September 8, 2009. On that morning, more than 60 well-armed, well-positioned enemy fighters ambushed Captain Swenson's combat team as it moved on foot into the village of Ganjgal for a meeting with village elders. As the enemy unleashed a barrage of rocket-propelled grenade, mortar and machine gun fire, Captain Swenson immediately returned fire and coordinated and directed the response of his Afghan Border Police, while simultaneously calling in suppressive artillery fire and aviation support. After the enemy effectively flanked Coalition Forces, Captain Swenson repeatedly called for smoke to cover the withdrawal of the forward elements. Surrounded on three sides by enemy forces inflicting effective and accurate fire, Captain Swenson coordinated air assets, indirect fire support and medical evacuation helicopter support to allow for the evacuation of the wounded. Captain Swenson ignored enemy radio transmissions demanding surrender and maneuvered uncovered to render medical aid to a wounded fellow soldier. Captain Swenson stopped administering aid long enough to throw a grenade at approaching enemy forces, before assisting with moving the soldier for air evacuation. With complete disregard for his own safety, Captain Swenson unhesitatingly led a team in an unarmored vehicle into the kill zone, exposing himself to enemy fire on at least two occasions, to recover the wounded and search for four missing comrades. After using aviation support to mark locations of fallen and wounded comrades, it became clear that ground recovery of the fallen was required due to heavy enemy fire on helicopter landing zones. Captain Swenson’s team returned to the kill zone another time in a Humvee. Captain Swenson voluntarily exited the vehicle, exposing himself to enemy fire, to locate and recover three fallen Marines and one fallen Navy corpsman. His exceptional leadership and stout resistance against the enemy during six hours of continuous fighting rallied his teammates and effectively disrupted the enemy's assault. Captain William D. Swenson's extraordinary heroism and selflessness above and beyond the call of duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, Task Force Phoenix, 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division and the United States Army."

A wrong has been righted, and my sincere congratulations to Captain Swenson.

In further news, there are reports that now that he has been truly vindicated in the highest way, he has requested to return to active duty.

Medal of Honor: Washington Post Contrives a Controversy With Capt Swenson

David Nakamura of the Washington Post has written an article published last Sunday that purports to expose a controversy swirling around differing accounts about the Battle of Ganjgal in Afghanistan in 2009.  The Military Times has picked up on the allegations and ran with them, citing a "rift" between Army Captain Will Swenson, due to receive the Medal of Honor at a White House ceremony today, and Marine Sgt Dakota Meyer who received the MoH two years ago for his actions in the same battle. 

Captain Will Swenson

Nakamura's account maintains that "… Swenson remains skeptical of Meyer and the publicity he has sought", though Nakamura does not provide a quote from Swenson or a source.  Nakamura goes on to say that the Army Medal of Honor web site has posted an account of the battle that used information that Swenson provided, and quotes Swenson as saying that it is "not going to mutually support other stories". 

Swenson at the World War II Memorial

As for the Military Times, one must remember that it and the other Military Times sites are creatures of Gannett Publishing and are not official sites of the military.  This is not the first time that one could look askance at an account in that paper and web site.  The story by Dan Lamothe carries the headline of "Rift between Medal of Honor recipients exposed" and quotes the Nakamura line about skepticism, but goes no further in fleshing out the allegation.  While differing aspects of the battle have been questioned, nothing indicates a problem between the two men. 

Swenson at the Meyer MoH ceremony

The contention was created by Jonathan Landay, a McClatchy Newspapers reporter embedded with the composite unit involved in the battle.  Landay, who was at the scene for only the first ninety minutes of the engagement, relied on statements from Afghan troops as a principle source. 

The fact of the matter is that whatever problem exists is due to the account put together by the Public Affairs Office of the Pentagon about Meyer, and the details are minor indeed compared to the overall events in the battle.  It is journalistic fodder to drum up some sort of controversy, but the story amounts to thin gruel. 
Sergeant Dakota Meyer
One major item was the number of Americans involved in the action, initially set at 13 but later set at 11, due to the fact that two of them were considered too far away to have a direct impact.  Another contention involves how many Afghan troops were picked up and evacuated from the kill zone on how many passes of the vehicles that drove repeatedly into the area. 

Another question from Landay is whether Meyer actually disobeyed orders to enter the battle.  Accounts show that he originally requested to do so but was told to remain where he was.  After the situation developed further, he again requested to go in but did not receive a reply.  It was then that he and SSgt Chavez-Rodriguez set out into the fight.  If that is the essence of Landay's questions, then this is clearly an effort to make something from nothing. 

Armchair critics would do well to consider that when one is engaged in a fight for his life, one typically does not pause to jot down notes about what happened precisely at what time and what location, or who might be nearby.  Even at my relatively advanced age, in a profession now outside of the military, I am occasionally involved in melees in a correctional facility and I have to school myself to note who responded and what each actor did during the incident, and I typically rely on comparing notes with the others and videotape.  In situations like the Battle of Ganjgal, the stress is amplified by a magnitude or two. 

As for a contention between Meyer and Swenson, I must specify the following: 

Meyer, upon learning of his upcoming reception of the Medal of Honor, wrote a letter to Obama to argue Swenson's case, incensed as Meyer was in knowing that Swenson had received no recognition whatsoever, and included that Swenson "was the centerpiece for command and control in a raging firefight that never died down….  Swenson controlled all the helos [once they finally arrived – a major aspect of the ensuing investigation].  He picked out targets and kept situational awareness, radioing cardinal directions and distances.  Not everyone can do that when bullets are continuously hitting the side of your truck.  Swenson was not the senior commander; he just took over and everyone deferred to him.  To the extent that anyone was in charge on the chaotic battlefield over the course of six or seven hours, it was Captain Will Swenson." 

Meyer was quoted shortly thereafter as saying that it was "ridiculous" that Swenson had been ignored.  "I'll put it this way: if it wasn't for him, I wouldn't be alive today." 

Meyer had the opportunity to have a 'beer summit' with the president the day prior to his ceremony, where he again lobbied on behalf of Swenson. 

Meyer has subsequently gone on to write and publish a book, Into the Fire, in conjunction with Bing West, former Assistant Secretary of Defense, in which he continues to argue for Swenson.

The effort of Meyer in supporting Swenson is not, I expect, limited to simple recognition.  There is every indication that Swenson was politically pilloried by some elements in the Army for his blistering comments in his after-action interview about the deadly lack of support from higher command, which eventually resulted in two officers receiving Letters of Reprimand, effectively ending their careers, which chided them for "negligent" leadership that "led directly to loss of life on the battlefield". 

Yet buried in the stories is the fact that the argument is with the story as published by the Public Affairs Office of the Pentagon.  No one is disputing that the actions of Sgt Meyer during the battle are worthy of a Medal of Honor; even Landay admits as much.  The later elements of these stories allege that the Marine Corps pumped up Meyer's story in an effort to have a MoH awarded to a living Marine, the first since Viet Nam, and cite the defense of the actions of the PAO by Lt Col Chris Hughes, but none of them state that Hughes is in the Army, not the Marines. 

Swenson went on to resign his commission and has been living in the area of Seattle, refusing all requests for comment until now.  He has not spoken of the controversy about his nomination or why it was lost (reason enough for a better inquiry), but one of his few recent comments is that he often escapes to the mountains near his home to find solitude in his "forced early retirement". 

A "forced early retirement"?  Now that alone is reason for a separate investigation.  Civilians can be protected as whistleblowers when they bring to light unfavorable information, as he did.  But how is Swenson any different from them?

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Military Death Benefits Restored [Update: Senate Balks]

The House has passed a measure to restore standard death benefits to the military.  The benefits had come to a halt after the Pentagon Comptroller's interpretation of the continuing resolution for the Defense Department, the Pay Our Military Act, despite the clear instructions of the House leadership. 

The bill passed on a unanimous vote, 425-0, and now heads to the Senate.  Baring any further political machinations, the bill will be quickly passed and sent to the President for signature.
Defense Secretary Hagel, Army Secretary McHugh observe return of PFC Cody Patterson
As further insurance, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced that the Fisher House Foundation, among some others, has agreed to finance the benefits until such time as the Pentagon can reimburse it. 

Obama has directed the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and White House lawyers to craft a solution to the problem before the end of the day.  Left unexplained is, after this problem has percolated for several days, why the President waited until now to act.

The start of this financial and emotional quagmire began with the announcement by Pentagon Comptroller Robert Hale on 5 October that "Unfortunately, we don't have the legal authority to make those payments", which referred to the emergency death benefits of $100,000 accruing to a family for immediate needs, as well as further payments to cover other costs such as travel and funeral expenses. 

The House leadership immediately declared that the Comptroller drew too fine a distinction, not to mention a stupefying one, about a settlement that had already been agreed to.  The death benefits were specifically addressed during the discussion about the POMA, with Speaker Boehner saying that the Pentagon had "broad authority" to include the benefits. 

Representative Buck McKeon (R-California), Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said "Judging by the Department of Defense's own summary of those programs, we believed that 'death gratuities' would continue to go to the families of those heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice." [emphasis mine] 

In what I hope is a reply directly to Mr Hale, Secretary Hagel said, "I am offended, outraged and embarrassed that the government shutdown had prevented the Department of Defense from fulfilling this most sacred responsibility in a timely manner."

Update: There is no evidence that the Senate is going to take up the bill now that the Fisher House Foundation has agreed to cover the costs.  Will reporters be hounding Harry Reid about that?  (Not bloody likely.)  Would he have the same attitude about this that he does about children with cancer?

Update: As the days have gone by, it is now obvious that Harry Reid has no intention of allowing the Senate to vote on the bill.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Death Benefits For Families of Military Fallen Shut Down

Five American warriors have been struck down within the last few days in Afghanistan: a Marine, LCpl Jeremiah Collins, Jr, whose death is under investigation, and four members assigned to B Company, 3rd Battalion, 75th Rangers – SGT Patrick Hawkins and PFC Cody Patterson of the Rangers, 1LT Jennifer Moreno of the Cultural Support Team attached to the unit, and Special Agent Joseph Peters of Army CID, 5th MP Battalion. 

The four soldiers were struck down in a mission against an insurgent plot to attack an Afghan official, in the Zhari district near Kandahar.  Initial casualties were sustained when a platoon attacked the objective only to have enemy pre-set charges command detonated. As troops responded to the scene, at least one suicide attack detonated in their midst.  Early reports indicated at least four enemy KIA but have recently specified that the number of enemy killed and wounded is unknown.  Besides our four soldiers killed, some 30 were wounded, making this a Mass Casualty event, a dreaded but rare occurrence.  Ironically, one of the more notable Mass-Cas events occurred with this same unit, B/3/75, when they fought their way out of the Blackhawk Down incident in Mogadishu in 1993.
Cody Patterson on the left, his final companion to the right
This news hits our family personally in several ways, though we were perversely fortunate that it was not directly.  We knew Cody Patterson, though not intimately, but our children have been friends with him and his siblings.  Captain of the football team, he was a popular guy, elected "Mr Philomath High School" as a fundraiser for a children's hospital, and he volunteered to teach wilderness skills to children during the summer, alongside one of his friends – my son.  That son of mine is now engaged in his final act of comradeship: a member of the same deployed battalion of Rangers, he is escorting Cody home.  Another son at Fort Hood is trying to make it back here to meet them. 

As a community in this small town, as most small towns will do, we are reaching out to each other to make this final journey what it should be, and I and my family have been busy with all the others today. 

Imagine my bitter shock to find that death benefits to our soldiers are being withheld due to the shutdown.  A previous bill from the Republicans in the House to fully fund the military during this political showboat was passed through the Senate and signed by Obama, and that should have taken care of the problem.  But this morning an unnamed "Pentagon official" announced that the interpretation of the bill from another unnamed budgeteer holds that death benefits and reimbursements cannot be paid to the families of the deceased. 

Within moments, Democrats took to the microphones to hang this on the Republicans.  A less cynical person than I would interpret this as another political opportunity to make this shutdown "as painful as possible" in order to score points in a most despicable way.
The interpretation hinges on the idea that the bill approved pay to active members of the military, but not to their families.  Republicans such as Speaker Boehner and Representative Buck McKeon (R-California) said that it was the clear intent of the bill to include death benefits.  After all, wouldn't it be a consideration that the payment would be to the estate of the deceased?  Some news reports state that the House was "warned", but Boehner and others said that this discussion was prior to the event and the subject of death benefits was specifically addressed.  Part of the outrage stems from the fact that some bureaucratic drones have ambushed this situation in what amounts to them telling Congress, which makes the laws, what the law should mean despite the clear direction from the lawmakers.

Specifically curtailed is an immediate $100,000 payment to the family to cover funeral and associated expenses, as well as all accrued and unpaid income and allowances. Additionally affected are expenses for travel to Dover AFB in Delaware (where all of our fallen are processed) to meet the remains and accompany them; cost of funeral expenses such as memorial services, caskets, and the like; and travel expenses for families to the bedsides of severely wounded servicemembers in US military hospitals in Germany. 

This needs to be fixed – now.  Waiting for the politicians to solve the overall budget problem will not help PFC Patterson's family, and the families of the other fallen comrades, who need this blithering obstacle removed.  They are dealing with too much already to have this bureaucratic insanity attack them.
Contact your Representatives and Senators.  Raise holy Hell.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Shutdown Kabuki (Update: Obama Golf Course Still Open)

I have returned from the wilderness, from Wheeler Ridge and Angel's Perch, and from no less a wilderness than Las Vegas (though only as a caravansary), to find another rendition of grand political theatre in the form of the government shutdown.


Several sources have asked for my observations on how this is to unfold, and its impact.  The questions remind me that it has been some time since the last political show, that being in 1996, though we have come close a few times since.  In fact, this marks the 18th time since 1974 that we have gone through this charade, but there has been practically a new generation that has come of voting age and awareness. 

Perhaps you have already perceived my attitude about this drama, fodder as it is for politicians and the press, which follows the script in almost breathless fashion, but the fact of the matter is that this is entirely for show. 

The last 'crisis' was marked by the MSM laying the blame on the doorstep of the Republicans, despite the fact that the GOP-led Congress passed a budget which was in turn vetoed by President Clinton.  The 1994 election had gone squarely against the Democrats, aided in most part by their back-room attempt (squired by the unelected Hillary Clinton) at bringing health care under federal control, then labeled derisively as HillaryCare.  (Is any of this starting to sound strangely familiar?)  The magnitude of the defeat was directly proportional to the subsequent effort of the Democrats and the press (but I repeat myself) to claw their way back to the top.  House Speaker Newt Gingrich was vilified at every opportunity in the most transparent ways.
Over a brief period of time, public perception became 2-1 against the Republicans for 'shutting down the government' despite Clinton's veto, and Republicans have been gun-shy of the tactic ever since. 

In fact, Charles C W Cooke of National Review Online provides a helpful template of the history of shutdowns: of the 17 examples, 15 of them were instigated by a Democrat-led House, eight of them when the Democrats controlled both the House and Senate, and five times when they controlled Congress and the presidency as well.  What makes this most recent budget battle unique is that Obama responds with his default position of leaving town to campaign instead of remaining to negotiate, which he makes a point of advertising, even going so far as to call the congressional actors to the White House to tell them that he will not talk to them.  Instead, he simply repeats his position by stamping "Me Too" onto whatever Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi come up with. 

Further, on a more fundamental point, Cooke answers the pundits who insist that re-electing Obama means that he can have whatever he wants:
Still, popular or not, the abject folly of making "majority rule" arguments in a system of equally ranked branches should be self-evident.  This truly is painfully simple: Republicans are the majority in the House, and the House's assent is necessary to a legal budget.  Indeed, if any of the players in the budgetary game is superior, it is the House.  Not only is it wholly wrong to pretend that the House is expected to acquiesce to the fiscal and legislative demands of the president simply because he won the last election, but it is dangerous – just one more step on the road to the imperial polity that the American system of separated powers was contrived to prevent.
Perhaps the Democrats and their pundits should peruse the Constitution to try to find somewhere in Article II where it says that the president is bestowed the powers of an emperor.  When the President submits a budget to Congress, which Obama has never successfully done, even on those few occasions when he tried (whereupon it was voted down even by the totality of the Democrats), the House acts upon it, making the necessary adjustments, only as a Constitutional courtesy.  (See Article I, Section 7, which begins with "All Bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with Amendments as on other Bills.") 

Another aspect of the shut-down tactic of this game is that the public must take note and be heedful that life without a fully functioning government should be painful.  Cuts must be made to demonstrate that.  The result of the first 'Taxpayers Revolt' in California, the 1978 Proposition 13 that rolled back the threatening and skyrocketing property taxes, resulted in the professional bureaucracy striking back with announced closures of police, fire, education, libraries – areas where the voter must feel the sting from their insolence of daring to challenge the power of the state.  That is one of the rules of the game, and it applies no less here, but now we have a broader means – more balanced news sources, talk radio, web logs – of seeing the background of the game and the plays as they unfold. 

This results in what is now a tradition called the Washington Monument Ploy, a sardonic reference to the old football Statue of Liberty Play.  It was named as such in 1969 when the director of the NPS shut down the Washington Monument and the Grand Canyon in an effort to restore funding.  The public quickly saw through this cynical tactic and, though funding was later restored, the director was forced to resign.  The nomenklatura today, though, is no longer under any such compunction to honorably correct such hubris. 

The most obvious example is the absurd theatre unfolding at the World War II Memorial in Washington DC.  In this supposed austerity suddenly thrust upon us for an unforeseen period of time, the National Park Service has been directed to have their people erect barriers around the memorial – a place that is, up till now, completely open and unmanned.  (For that matter, it is now technically illegal to set foot upon the grass of the entire mall.)  Extra personnel have been assigned to erect and watch over the barrier.  It was immensely satisfying to see the first collection of World War II veterans brought to DC, at no small expense, simply blow past the barriers in defiance of this Potemkin-like obstacle to a memorial dedicated personally to them.  The extra Park Police and National Park Service officials were flummoxed and had to resort to asking their chain of command for guidance, and one wet hen in NPS uniform, protesting the "trespass" onto a public area, refused to answer questions about why she wasn't furloughed.

Meanwhile, SEIU paid shills $15 an hour to picket the veterans.

The administration is breaking new ground, over-reaching in expanding justifications for shutting down popular tourist areas.  A passel of officials were dispatched to erect barricades (now starting to be called Barry-cades) across scenic overlooks on the George Washington Parkway, and were sent to Mount Vernon to close off that estate, despite the fact that Mount Vernon is run by a private foundation.  Likewise, a popular 17th-century farm in a Virginia park was shut down, with NPS police removing staff and volunteers, because it is associated in partnership with adjoining federal land.  The Claude Moore Colonial Farm has never been effected before, and it derives the totality of its income from fees and programs, thus the shutdown here imposed for the first time threatens to close the site permanently. 

There was an initial concern that the pay of the military would be effected, but Obama announced on Monday that military pay would not be withheld, in response to one of the bills that the Republicans are putting forth to finance the vital parts of the government.  Yet two years ago, with a threat of a looming shutdown, he threatened just that, along with a withholding of Social Security payments.  So which is it?  Either we are compelled by law and procedure to delay the pay of our military, or not – he can't have it both ways.  That is, unless his reaction to either case discloses his typical imperial penchant of blithely choosing which laws to obey or disregard. 

There are also the silly web site warnings that they are inaccessible due to the shutdown.  Of course they're accessible, just like mine has been available during my recent absence – you click onto it, and it's there.  This is like the government claiming that you can unprint a book, unless they expect us to believe that some apparatchik is powering the site by some organ-grinder crank handle. 

Even military cemeteries on foreign soil, like the one at Normandy, are now being closed for the first time.  Sure, you can probably cite some petty legal distinction that some could interpret to try to justify and excuse the extreme punishment to those who have saved for their whole life to visit the sacred place of rest of a loved one, but these examples are just part and parcel of the small-minded viciousness that underlie this circus, and they do not address the question of why, after all the past examples, are all these other sites both here and abroad being shut down in this particular 'man-caused disaster'.

"Gentlemen, you see that in the anarchy in which we live, society manages much as before.  Take care, if your disputes last too long, that the people do not come to think that they can very easily do without us."  --Benjamin Franklin, Constitutional Convention 1787

Update: There are now reports that the Barry-cades are being tied together with wire instead of police tape to hinder people moving them and to keep the public from entering public land.

I can understand that if you send the clerk home from the bookstore at the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, then close the bookstore.  But to shut down the entire area?  These are public parks, which belong to the people, not the government, and most certainly not to the administration.  We should take as an example the World War II veterans, and simply occupy these public areas as we see fit, in a demonstration of civil disobedience.

I suggest a run on wire-cutters, available at practically any hardware store for about $10 and up, and carry a pair in your back pocket.  (I trust that Texas will make exception to its law.)  This is just in case you run up against a federal obstacle to the public.

Update: While the list of questionable closures adds up, we find that there are exceptions for parks near Democrat legislators, as well as Obama's favorite golf course at Andrews AFB.

And what about National Public Radio?  Shouldn't that be shut down for the interim?  Democrats could always switch to MSNBC, which would at least give them an audience.  I wouldn't be surprised if Al Jazeera America passed them in the ratings.  (H/T: John Lock)

Update: From Day by Day: