Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day

Celebrated by multiple names and states since 1868, Memorial Day was established as a Federal holiday in 1967 and officially set up for remembrance of our fallen soldiers on the last Monday of May in 1971.  The holiday is perhaps the most somber in our list of nationally recognized holidays in that it is a day for us to reflect and consider the sacrifice made by those in uniform for our country.

Many of us will celebrate the holiday first as a three day weekend away from the normal routine of our work-lives.  We'll relax and rest, spend time with our families at the lake, around the grill, watch a ball game, go to a movie and not think too much about why we have this holiday in the first place.  It's normal, especially in our desensitized present that we focus on family and not on the many who died for which this holiday has been set aside.

I'd like to think that most of us will pause, even for a moment today and think about those known and unknown to us that have died in service to this country.  It is right and proper to have a moment of reflection that that the freedoms we enjoy as a people have been purchased at a terribly great price.  We have a debt of unknown quantity that we owe these people who have perished in conflict both at home and in places few people would be able to find on a map should they be so inclined to look.

If you take the time to read this article, please also take a little time to think about some one you have known who was lost to war.  Think about their families and the absence of fathers, brothers, husbands, wives, mothers, sisters and daughters who went away because they were commanded to and never came home.  Think about the voids caused by their deaths  for their loved ones and friends.  Think about the promise lost and what might have been. Think about the songs never written by the young musician who went to war. Think about the invention never created by the young wondering mind who left his or her dreams to take up arms in defense of a country that in many cases didn't deserve their sacrifice.  Think about the kids who will never have a catch with their dads, or won't have their moms around to have those conversations in a way that only moms can.

Over the course of our young history, the United States has been involved in over 70 conflicts both at home and abroad that has left over 1.3 million dead and another 1.5 million wounded.   Our country seemingly, has continually been engaged in conflict large and small, and always the end result is some one's child dies.  While we can clinically and objectively debate the idea of a "Just War" all day long, a war is still a war.  Soldiers and civilians die.  Parents lose their children and children lose their parents. Forever. It's a sobering thought that we have had only one decade (1820s) in the history of our nation where we have not been at war somewhere and suffered the loss of our sons and daughters in combat. 

What does this say about our country?  I know, I know, there is evil in the world.  It is a reality that we must be able to defend ourselves and our allies.   Because of who we are, we are looked up on as the defenders of what is good.  We have had to fight and die for ourselves and those in other countries we've pledged to protect, but are we, as a country so accustomed to this state of things that we simply accept it as an inevitable reality?  What can we do to end this presumably never-ending cycle of violence and death?  Who is working on this?  We spend almost a Trillion dollars per year in preparing ourselves for war.  How much do we spend on preparing ourselves for peace?

Most likely I will never see it come to pass, but I long for the day that we will have another decade or two or three where we do not lose one son or daughter in armed conflict.  All of us who live in this country should make it an enduring goal of our nation and demand that our government work harder to avoid going to war rather than the seemingly easy way we do this today. 

If we could achieve such a thing, what better memorial for those that have fallen would there be?  God bless the memories of those who have fallen on behalf of all the rest of us.

Tell me what you think.


Sunday, May 20, 2012

We Need to Listen to this Republican

OK,  somewhere in Hell an air conditioner just kicked on.  What's Dennis saying here? What is one of the most liberal people ever to write a blog post doing say we need to listen to Republicans?  Well,  while I am indeed an avowed liberal, but I do listen to some Republicans, because to paraphrase John Stuart Mill, "Not all Republicans are stupid".  However, the point of this post is to listen to a specific Republican, and that person is former General of the Armies and the 34th President of the United States, Dwight David Eisenhower. 

The event that inspired this article was the recent passage by the House of Representatives of the Defense Authorization Act, which approved, despite a veto threat from the White House $642.5 billion dollars, which exceeded the White House's budget request.  The House of Representatives put more spending into the authorization than the Pentagon needed, as if by some level of wisdom the House Armed Services Committee knows more what the military needs than the military does.

Well, so, what is the big deal? We've always spent a lot of money on the military.  Yes, at least since World War II we have, and that is a big deal.  Our budget for defense of the realm in 2011 was 41% of all known defense spending in the world.  In 2011, our expenditures of $711 billion dollars was $34 billion dollars more than the next 15 countries combined. The US expenditures were 3.3 times the amount that Russia and China combined spent.  

So, here is the big deal.   The amount of defense spending in this country far exceeds the rest of the known world and it doesn't need to.  We have since the end of World War II increased our military presence in the world to where US military operations have an estimated 1000 bases or installations in about 130 countries across the world.  Why do we need military bases and operations in all of these places?  Surely, we can do with fewer?  Given that many of these bases are in allied countries, and they themselves (If you just account for our main allies:  France, UK, Germany, Japan, Canada, South Korea and Australia) account for $313 billion in expenditures themselves.  Why can we not reduce the amount of spending on our own Defense, since much of that expenditure shows up in troops and bases in our allied countries?

Well, one reason is probably what President Eisenhower was talking about when he said this:

President Eisenhower's warning about undue influence by the Military Industrial Complex was a prophetic statement.  The amount of business done in the United States by Defense Contractors, whose primary customer is the United States is astonishing.  Last year the top 14 Defense Contractors by revenue made a collective $351 billion dollars.  This list includes companies such as Boeing, Lockheed Martin, etc.  So, there is an enormous amount of money to be made in building airplanes, ships, weapons systems, communications and logistics at the expense of the US taxpayer.   I'd like a ship named after me, wouldn't you? 

Look, we need to be secure. One of the central responsibilities of our government is to promote the security of the United States. So, we need a military.  I'm not sure however that we need a military that is so gargantuan that it dwarfs every other in the world.  I'm not sure we need to continue to build nuclear weapons, but we do. I'm not sure we need to build weapons systems that the Pentagon says they don't need, but we do.  What has happened is that we have done what Eisenhower warned against in terms of setting up an industry that is so influential it is difficult to control.  Lobbyists for the Defense Industry rival any other roaming Washington.  Congressional representatives fight like crazy to keep military bases in their districts.  Defense Contractors spend millions of dollars on trade shows, "fact-finding" trips, demonstrations, etc. all to seduce generals and admirals and Congress into thinking they must have the newest thing.   We do need to spend on Defense.  The question is, how much?

We need to keep this acquisition of military might in perspective, and we have failed to do so.  It is astonishing how we will fight over funding for food stamps but we will hardly squeak about funding for the military.  It's not patriotic after all.  How would anyone dare "not supporting the troops"?  This meme has gone so far over the top that no reasonable person in Washington would dare seriously proposing draconian cuts to Defense spending because it would paint them as weak or un-patriotic.  I can hear Sarah Palin now, crowing about how un-American some politician might be because he or she would like to build a few less guns and spend the money on books or food or some other non-essential item.

The Republicans in Congress today have backtracked on the deal they made last summer regarding spending cuts.  They have actually increased the level of Defense spending in their bill than what was agreed to and said they'd make up the difference by more cuts in social programs.  Evidently, these Republicans didn't listen to Ike either when he said the following: 

"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some fifty miles of concrete pavement. We pay for a single fighter plane with a half million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people. This is, I repeat, the best way of life to be found on the road the world has been taking. This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron. […] Is there no other way the world may live?"

Dwight David Eisenhower, “The Chance for Peace,” speech given to the American Society of Newspaper Editors, Apr. 16, 1953.

So, here is one liberal  recommending to Mr. Boehner, Mr. Cantor, Mr. Ryan, and more importantly Mr. Romney saying "listen to your elders gentlemen, they have quite a lot to teach you".
I know. I know. Like I said,  somewhere in Hell, an air conditioner just kicked on.

Tell me what you think.


Friday, May 11, 2012

A Step Forward

In an interview this week with ABC's Robin Roberts, President Obama stated that he had come to the conclusion that same sex couples should be allowed to marry.  He said he had evolved to this decision after several years of contemplation and conversation with friends, family and associates.  

The President has indeed evolved on this matter, but it seems his evolution has taken him full circle to his stance in 1996, where he was supportive of same sex marriage then, while a state senator from Illinois.  One can only guess as to why he changed his mind the first time, then reverted back to a stance that he held 16 years ago.  Some of the more cynical folks out there have suggested it is purely political as he knows he needs to ramp up the base in order to be reelected.  Perhaps they are right. Perhaps this statement was purely political in nature.  The statement was followed up with a rather weak indication that he also believes the matter is an issue for the states to decide.  Who knew President Obama was a Federalist?  So maybe that is all this is, a planned effort to get the base ramped up as we move hard into the general election cycle.

But, maybe not.  The President has for some time shown where he stands on the issue of gay rights.  First, he pushed hard and won repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell legislation, that odious law that said gays and lesbians could serve in the military as long as they didn't tell anyone they were gay.  Getting this law repealed was not an easy matter.  Many in Congress wanted nothing to do with the repeal and several in the military fought it tooth and nail.  To be fair, Secretary Robert Gates and Admiral Mike Mullen, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs were advocates of repealing the law and they, along with the President are to be given credit for getting the energy behind the repeal.  The President has also informed the Justice Department to stop the enforcement of DOMA, or the Defence of Marriage Act, another law signed by former President Bill Clinton in the early 1990's.   The President has consistently spoken out about his belief in fairness and equal rights for gays and lesbians.  This position is not new, so I'm not surprised to hear him say he's in favor of same sex couples being able to marry. I think this is a progression personally for the man and he is being careful both from a governance standpoint and a political standpoint as to the next steps.  That is why the "states rights" tap-dance was included in the interview. 

It is not hard to understand this.  If he came out swinging like Teddy Roosevelt did against the Trusts in the early 1900's, he would in my view inadvertently set back the cause of marriage equality several years.  If there is anything we can easily understand from our history is that change is slow and incremental.  Forcing change of this nature down the throats of the citizenry before they are ready will cause a fierce resistance such as was seen in the late 1950's and early 1960's when Civil Rights legislation was passed and finally starting to be enforced by the Federal Government.  Hundreds of black people were injured or killed by those opposing equality for African Americans.  As to same sex marriage, I believe the country has progressed significantly in its view of societal acceptance of different lifestyles, but it is highly evident that people have expressed their disfavor of same sex marriage at the ballot box.   Today, only 8 states have legalized same sex marriage, while 40 have some level of statute prohibiting it.  31 states have constitutional amendments that speak to some level of prohibition of same sex marriage or defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman.  So from the evidence, the country doesn't seem ready to accept this.  Now we need to be careful, because the voting results in these states doesn't necessarily mean the country as a whole is not in favor of same sex marriage.  It means those who voted aren't.  There is a difference.   Polling across the country shows a much different picture.  In general, the nation supports same sex marriage by a 47% in favor to a 43% opposing.  When you look at those under the age of 40, that difference swings to over 60% in favor of same sex marriage and less than 30% opposing.   So, we see a massive age gap in this issue.  Baby Boomers like me seem to be more slow to progress on the issue, but our kids have gone way past this to the point they think it is a non-issue.  I know my kids do.  Most of the kids (those under the age of 30 are kids to me) I know are in favor of same sex marriage or are at worst, ambivalent about it.

So here we are.  We have a country that is divided on the issue. Progressives can find numbers and statistics that support their claim and conservatives (social ones) can find statistics to support their claims.  However, what is clear to me is that the country is moving in the direction of acceptance.  It has been slow and I believe will continue to progress forward, but like Canada, The Netherlands, Spain, Argentina, Israel, South Africa and at least 5 other nations have done, same sex marriage will eventually become legal and protected in this country.   It is the right and proper thing to do.  We have seen this country become more enlightened over its short history.  African Americans are no long considered property.  The same is true with women.  We have come to the conclusion that the Republic will not fall if couples from two different ethnic backgrounds get married.  Inclusion and integration have made this country stronger.  We have overcome the fear based prejudices that caused us to create insidious Jim Crow laws, or laws that discriminate against women in terms of pay equality, or laws that allow for the purposeful discrimination of people because of their sexual orientation.  We are moving forward, albeit like a glacier some-times but forward none-the-less.  This is a good thing, and I hope I'm still alive when we can sit down and marvel at how idiotic it was to prohibit same-sex couples from being able to get married.

So, thank you Mr. President.  Your words have moved the glacier forward, even if it was just a little bit.

Tell me what you think,