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All content © 2002-2005 Anne Zook

March 07, 2005
Things I Ponder

Is poor taste contagious or is the whole group just as short-sighted as they seem to be?

A lot of us conservatives believe that we'll be celebrating the end of the liberal lock on the airwaves."

Okay, so, a properly asked question answers itself.

So. The blogger at "mediabistro" got a White House press pass. It's amazing to me how quickly, in these conservative days, even the most 'radical' of social insurgents fight to become part of the mainstream.

It's a mystery to me that people get so wrapped up in protecting themselves from...I dunno, someone saying, bad boy! or something, that they'll let people die before openly and honestly facing their problems.

Or maybe this particular story, which comes as no surprise to many of us, has an awful lot to do with the DoD's corrupt contracting process?

Is raising the retirement age a good thing or not? More and more seniors are choosing to stay on in the workplace. For those that want to do so, I say hooray. But what about those who don't? Clearly you can "retire" whenever you want...the key to the debate is when you start collecting benefits (and how much you're entitled t0).

If we take as the starting point for discussion, an "average life expectancy" of 77.2 year, then what we're talking about is asking people who have no other resources to cut their "golden years" from 10 to 9. And that's the average, which means a substantial number of people will die before age 77.2, which no doubt includes a disproportionate percentage of the poor and disadvantaged.

Bottom line...I think I disapprove. In the end, it comes down to social class. Those who have the kinds of jobs they'd like to stay in after 65 (now 67) are probably the ones who have the financial resources to choose their own retirement date anyhow. Those who will really suffer are those who will get no choice. Those who have only the weekly paycheck to live on. We've already tacked two years onto the time these people have to work. Now we're considering tacking on another year. Since this is likely to be the same class of people more prone to dying before the "average" age of 77.2, we're taking a disproportionate bite out of their well-deserved retirement years.

Really, there's a whole, long debate buried in there, isn't there? Should people "have" to work? Should people be "entitled" to retired? How much of life should be spent contributing to the machinery of the economy?

But I don't have that kind of time (or expertise).

Is Iraq the new Vietnam? Maybe it is. It's about more than body count. War crimes committed by overstressed, badly led troops, for instance.

Look, I'm not living in a fantasy world. I know war is ugly and brutal. It's...well, it's war. But, as I've said again and again, what war does to those who fight it, win or lose, is the number one reason you should avoid war if at all possible.

And, speaking of the Bush Administration being "emboldened" to continue along their disastrous path, I see John R. Bolton has been tapped to be the new U.N. delegate. (Offical bio.) (Not to be irrelevant, but, hey, John? If you're going to dye your hair, dye the moustache, buddy. You look ridiculous.)

Another Bush Administration wingnut? I'm thinking...yeah. It seems very likely. (But that doesn't make him dumb.

I find myself wondering if there's some kind of punishment for the UN's reception of the USofA's regressive, fundamentalist anti-abortion stance at the conference on women's rights?

(Am I the only one who was embarrassed by how backward we're willing to appear to the world? I'm just saying. "Leader" of the Free World? Not so much us these days.)

But, we were talking about Bolton. Punishment? Probably not. It's just more warmongering. By the time they get done, the Bush Administration will have warmongers in every seat they can find.

Selma. It was forty years ago today. I wanted to research a big, long essay on this over the weekend, but I spent the time fighting comment spam, instead.

Posted by AnneZook at 10:41 AM


Comments


If we take as the starting point for discussion, an "average life expectancy" of 77.2 year, then what we're talking about is asking people who have no other resources to cut their "golden years" from 10 to 9. And that's the average, which means a substantial number of people will die before age 77.2, which no doubt includes a disproportionate percentage of the poor and disadvantaged.

Anne- recall that when Social Security was developed, life expectancy was shorter and thus so was the retirement age; however, the average age of workers entering the labor force was also younger (around 15) than today. Given the age today (looking at BLS numbers I'd estimate it to be around 20-21), raising the retirement age to reflect greater longevity also ensures balance in the number of years we expect the "average" laborer to work. Perhaps we as a society want a goal to reduce that figure, but raising the retirement age from 62 to 65 to 67 merely keeps pace with the notion we are entering the work force (full time, on average) later as well.

from your link - Recently in Vancouver, former United States Marine Sgt. Jimmy Massey addressed a small crowd and clearly described human rights violations and direct violations of Geneva conventions in Iraq. He talked about how the military taught recruits to hate another culture and did not give them the tools to appreciate or understand adequately those who they were being sent to kill and to liberate.

This is from an article over a year ago:

Soldiers endure lethal training and a crash course in Arab culture at JRTC before tours in Iraq

By Christopher Prawdzik

"Assalamu alaikum" is Arabic for "peace be with you."

If a U.S. soldier must enter a house in Iraq, it's the first thing that should come out of his mouth.

"Once [soldiers] start learning those few words and communicate with [Iraqis] as they walk into the towns, it really helps break that barrier," said Ali Al-Arashi, a cultural adviser at the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC) here, where many U.S. troops undergo final preparations before deploying to Iraq.

"Greetings are part of breaking the psychological barrier between you as a soldier occupying a country or helping the locals in Iraq."

Breaking that barrier has become critical to U.S. soldiers gaining and maintaining the trust of Iraqis while combating a persistent insurgency in some regions. This is what troops in Iraq have passed on to those training follow-on forces. It's one part of an evolving training manual being taught at places like JRTC.

The comparisons with Vietnam are so problematic - but many folks who simply oppose war, or this war, can't get beyond body counts or very simplistic analysis in wanting to associate OIF with Vietnam in order to pick up the negative baggage that comes along with the label.

When interests of states and non-state actors collide, there will be conflict. Conflict takes many forms and war should be the one of the last measures taken. I think a better comparison is right after World War II and how the US formulated its grand strategy to deal with the Soviet Union. I went back to read Keenan's Long Telegram which became the basis for NSC-68 and compare it to the 2002 US National Security Strategy.

I believe people, like Wall Street analysts looking only a quarterly numbers for companies, tend to get short-sided - are we winning? What does "victory" look like? The movements in Saudi Arabia and Egypt toward some voting reforms (yes, minor but look at how long our own history shows in terms of making progress in the area of civil rights); elections in Palestine; and pressure on Syria finally to begin some withdrawal in Lebanon probably wouldn't have resulted without OIF. The war has not diminished, but increased US influence in the region.

But that aside, in the end, war (application of force) is not sufficient to bring about victory. There is far more to be done in the realms of other components of power - diplomacy, economic, and information.

I like this line from Keenan: We must formulate and put forward for other nations a much more positive and constructive picture of sort of world we would like to see than we have put forward in past. I'm concerned about some aspects such as the detainee situation at GITMO or overreach in terms of domestic liberties that forget we have to achieve victory while retaining our essence as a nation (like your quote from Franklin on your blog).

As Keenan also wrote: Much depends on health and vigor of our own society. World communism is like malignant parasite which feeds only on diseased tissue… Every courageous and incisive measure to solve internal problems of our own society, to improve self-confidence, discipline, morale and community spirit of our own people, is a diplomatic victory over Moscow

I think the Administration would do well to update that thought in a 21st century version if we are indeed in a global conflict with extremists.

Posted by: Col Steve at March 9, 2005 12:42 AM

Col Steve -

Once again, I'm not ignoring you (or at least only temporarily). I've been thinking about this comment for the last 24 hours and have quite a few thoughts....

Posted by: Anne at March 10, 2005 01:28 PM

Social Security

In my view, Col Steve, it isn't good enough to try to keep pace with where we were fifty or sixty years ago. We need to improve things.

That brings up a lot of more complicated issues, I know, around what constitutes "improvement."

Iraq

Honestly? I believe that most soldiers in Iraq are truly committed to making contact, protecting civilians, and truly improving the lives of Iraqis. I really do. But not everyone. And even those who want to do right, need good leadership to point them the right direction when things get crazy and confusing. When I diss the way things are being handled in Iraq, I keep both of those ideas in mind.

The comparisons with Vietnam are so problematic

Such comparisons are problematic, and I know it. I thought for a long time about that link, but in the context I was using it, I think the comparison was valid. A messy war, a strong insurgency, an "alien" environment where anyone and anything could turn against the soldiers, and things like that.

I suppose it's arguable that all wars are like that to some extent...so every war is 'like Vietnam'. As I've said again and again, war brutalizes those who fight it (and others). Which makes it, I think absolutely vital that we not fight a war where our priorities are confused, where the outcome desired is not clear or reasonably achievable, and where the soldiers themselves are not able to distinguish between the right thing to do and the wrong one.

Such confusions allow those bad elements who are inclined to "go bad" to do so, confuse the other soldiers until they can never tell when they might make a misstep, and lead to war crimes. (Maybe my problem is that I can never foreget that there will be a day when these soldiers are home, looking at their mothers and fathers and spouses and children and remembering what they've done....)

All the more reason why solders, if they must fight, are entitled to better leadership at the higher levels than reports make it appear that they're getting.

The movements in Saudi Arabia and Egypt toward some voting reforms (yes, minor but look at how long our own history shows in terms of making progress in the area of civil rights); elections in Palestine; and pressure on Syria finally to begin some withdrawal in Lebanon probably wouldn't have resulted without OIF. The war has not diminished, but increased US influence in the region.

I disagree that our "influence" has increased or, at the least, I think our "influence" is now a matter of the fear we cause. I deeply regret that this is how my country looks to that part of the world - like an entity they must fear, lest we imagine some slight, invade their territory, and kill a hundred thousand or more of their citizens.

In any case, the "seeds" of more democratic governments were planted in the Middle East many years ago and have been germinating ever since. The Bush Administration's invasion of Iraq may or may not prove to advance such movements, but it didn't "cause" it. Democracy isn't a house plant. You can't "bring" it and drop it off that casually. Were the Bush Administration's actions the only "democratic influence" on the Middle East, well...we wouldn't be seeing much action at the moment. And any action we were seeing would be cosmetic, designed to appease us.

I like this line from Keenan: We must formulate and put forward for other nations a much more positive and constructive picture of sort of world we would like to see than we have put forward in past.

Really, very interesting.

I googled "Keenan" but didn't see anyone I thought might be the person you're quoting, and yet, I know I should know who this is.

(My apologies...ten hour days don't leave me much brain.)

Posted by: Anne at March 10, 2005 07:06 PM

Anne-

Try this - original text.

http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/coldwar/documents/episode-1/kennan.htm

In any case, the "seeds" of more democratic governments were planted in the Middle East many years ago and have been germinating ever since

I think we disagree about whether US influence is on the rise, but I agree with you on this - I don't think the changes are solely due to recent events. There have been many factors contributing to the decline of secular fascism in the region (although extreme religious ideology still has a hold) - but I'm pretty sure that, not so much the war, but our willingness to remain despite the costs (in life, resources, and opinion) has made a difference and increased our influence. Of course, all Presidents take credit more than they deserve for postive things that happen on their watch and often take the blame (rightly or wrongly) for negative things.

it isn't good enough to try to keep pace with where we were fifty or sixty years ago. We need to improve things.

Well, as I mentioned, we as a society might want as a goal to reduce the overall time the "average" worker is in the labor pool until retirement. However, I don't think it's unreasonable, given advances in life expectancy and quality of life, to ask people who are entering the work force later and later to work a few years beyond the retirement age set 70 (and updated rarely) years ago - especially given the demographics.

I do think in scanning the myriad of "reform" proposals there are common sense methods to keep the positive aspects of Social Security, shore it up, and introduce a method to move more (not all) of the responsibility on individuals without imposing burdensome short-run costs. Unfortunately, I don't see either party playing nice enough to take the best elements of proposals on both sides of the aisle.

I wasn't a big fan of the link in the Vietnam comparison, but agree that even from my own experiences (and Panama, GW 1, Bosnia, and Afghanistan (although I've only been a visitor there), war is ugly and brutal.

But conflict and instability are inherent features in the world. Warfare has been a human response to those conditions throughout history. I think the nature of warfare is fundamentally unchanging - organized force for political or ideological ends, but since war is at heart a human affair, the character of war changes as society, institutions, and technology changes. Even since Vietnam, I would argue for the US military this is quite true.

Yes, there is still the fog of war and the complex rules of engagement we have (due to the changing character) puts a premium on leadership, education, and training. But the article provides one anecdote as representative of the entire conflict - which is far from reality. We have far better trained, educated, and culturally aware leaders and troops than ever - and we're continuing to invest more and more in that (and this is despite a larger societal problem that we don't emphasis language, culture, geography, etc. as much as we should in the education system). We're holding people accountable for incidents we never would have before (yes, there is perhaps more scrutiny, but the US military was investigating AG well before the story broke).

That's not to say that this administration and senior leaders shouldn't be taken to task for failing to understand properly the implications if their planning assumptions were wrong (about the duration of the campaign, response of the people, mix of forces needed) or the necessity to issue faster and clearer guidance on big issues (appropriate interrogation techniques for one) - although speed of decision-making is not a hallmark of this administration. Some of the problems such as a State Department that can not conduct operations such as the CPA (which should have been a state department led organization - they are just getting around now to forming a prototype for the future) or the state of the reserves go back more than a decade across administrations and congress controlled by both parties.

Maybe my problem is that I can never foreget that there will be a day when these soldiers are home, looking at their mothers and fathers and spouses and children and remembering what they've done....)

True..but I'm also very encouraged that there will be a generation of young men and women who are forging a character with their experiences that will make the private and public (government, NGO, non-profits, etc.) sectors better serve the nation and its people.


Posted by: Col Steve at March 11, 2005 11:11 AM