Saturday, July 7, 2012

If not me, then who?

“If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?” (Ethics of the Fathers 1.14)

These last few post have been looking at Marco Rubio's contention that the only out of our (U.S.) current fiscal problems is through growth.  When he says "only" he means only.  Nothing but growth, so any movement by government to generate revenue to reduce the deficit and pay down our debt is off the table if it has any chance of impacting growth.

According to Rubio, we need to leave the money in the economy (keep taxes where they are) so that it will be invested back in the economy creating growth and thereby creating new and better tax payers which will provide the government the revenue it needs.

I contend that this theory, though sound and plausible, will not work because the money that is not taxed and would be received as revenue is not put back into the economy where it creates these new and better tax payers.

Case in point is how Mitt Romney invests his money.

When I asked the question: How many jobs did Mitt Romney's $5.46 million  that he got to keep because he paid 15% and not 39% taxes create, it was not to poke fun at him or paint him in a bad light.  It is simply to point out a fact, that is, investment is predominately designed to increase the wealth of the individual, not to create jobs.  That's the model used.  that's the model Bain Capital uses.  That's the reality in play and the reason Rubio's "growth only" model will not work.

It can't work because guys like Romney invest their money in ways that benefit them.  Heck, for the most part, we all do it.

So if a fiscal policy advocated by Rubio of "growth only" and no taxes - which is pretty much held in lock-step regard by the Republican party - is dependent on investment by "job creators" like Romney, and guys like Romney are not investing in things that create new and better tax payers, how valid is Rubio's idea?

It's not valid.  Not because it's not a sound theory or plausible, but because in reality it is not happening.  Rubio's theory is completely dependent on guys like Mitt Romney investing in things that will create more and better tax payers.  Romney, on the other hand, invests in things that bring in the highest return for him and his family.

Rubio's "growth only" could work but only if we force that revenue they keep be invested in projects that create American jobs.  The reality is this:
The unemployment rate was unchanged at 8.2 percent, the Labor Department said in its report Friday. (1)
Reality shows that since the lower taxes put in places by Bush, as well as an environment under a Republican President and Republican Congress, investment by guys like Romney has not generated the necessary jobs needed by the Rubio model to generate the revenue we need to run our government.

If it seems like I am beating a dead horse with this, I am.  If a model does not produce the results you need then the model is wrong regardless of the theory or soundness behind it.  Reality shows over and over again that the "job creators" are not creating the jobs we need.  They are "job creators" only in the sense that the theory of "growth only" makes them so.

In reality, guys like Romney are nothing more than investors.  If one thinks they create jobs with their wealth then you are fooling yourself.  Their wealth creates jobs only when it benefits them.  In a way, it would be like calling yourself a "philanthropist" because once and a while you drop change in the Salvation Army bucket at Christmas.

So why beat this dead horse?  Because it is the predominant Republican model for how to achieve the revenue to decrease the deficit and pay down our debt.  It is a model that relies on guys like Romney.  And we know how guys like Romney behave.  They do what is in their best interest, and right now, a 15% tax rate is what benefits them.

Which brings us to this question:  Is it Romney and his rich cohorts responsibility to create American jobs with the money they keep because we let them pay lower taxes because we want them to invest?

If it is not Romney's responsibility to take that $5.46 million extra money he got to keep because he is a "job creator" and is taxed at a lower rate than everyone else, to create new and better tax payers, who's job is it?

If the private sector won't do it.  And the guy that wants to be our president isn't doing it, then who will produce the revenue we need to run our government and pay down our debt?  Where will it come from if it is not going to come from new and better tax payers that Rubio stresses will materialize from a "growth only" model?

Growth only will not work because guys like Romney do not spend their money on projects that create new and better tax payers.  It does not work that way even though, in theory, it should.  Romney does not spend his money that way and neither does the rest of the "job creators."

If they won't then Rubio's model will not work and a different approach is needed to bridge the gap between what we need in revenue and what we currently bring in.  Rubio needs to change his tune because he is the rising star within the Republican Party.  As long as he sings the "growth only" song, the others will sing from that same songbook.

If you want "growth only" then guys like Romney need to be punished when their investments do not generate new and better tax payers.  Or, we admit that it is not guys like Romney's responsibility to create jobs for Americans and stop calling them "job creators" and tax them at a rate necessary to bring in the revenue we need to run our government and pay down our debt.

"Now, who is going to bake this bread?" asked the little red hen.

"Not I", said the cat.
"Not I", said the duck.

If not Romney, who?

Next Post:  How smart is a guy who does not see this reality?


Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Does $5.46 million invested in Bain Capital create new tax payers?

Under Marco Rubio's premise that growth is the "only" viable course of action for deficit and debt.  The Rubio model, if I understand it correctly from his interview with Jon Stewart, is based on the idea that keeping money in the hands of the citizen will lead to investment which will lead to more tax payers.
"The government will generate more revenue and that revenue will be used to pay down the deficit."
That, in a nut shell, is his belief.  That, in a nut shell, is the Republican's economic model.  Not $10 in cuts for $1 in tax.  Nothing of the sort other than leave the "job creators" alone and let the money roll in to the government from their investments.

In theory, that seems plausible, but in reality it does not work that way.

Here is why.  Let's look at the reality of the right now.  If lower taxes mean more investment which creates new and better jobs for Americans, then the money that has been taxed at this lower rate should currently be used to create new jobs.  If that is how the Rubio model is supposed to work, then that is indeed what we should be seeing, you know, the reality.

If the Rubio model is valid and will work to pay down our deficit and debt, then the actions by those who are taxed the lowest, the ones who invest - the "job creators" - should be dumping that untaxed money - their lower taxed income they get to keep because they pay 15% and not 36% or 39% - into the economy and a net increase of new tax payers should be the reality we see.

Is it?

Here is, instead, what the reality is that we currently see.  If Mitt Romney, a guy who wants to lead us and will put the Rubio model into play, benefits from a decrease in his tax burden under the guise that he is a "job creator" then shouldn't his actions - the reality - show us the benefits in the form of new tax payers?

I'll get to the question on if it is the responsibility of guys like Mitt Romney to create jobs in a later post. Right now I am trying to see if the Rubio model is valid.

What were the actions - reality - of Mitt Romney?  If he is a job creator and needs to be unhindered with any additional responsibility for our country's current and former bills so that he will invest.  And if that investment is the keystone of the Rubio economic model for creating new tax payers which will "generate more revenue and that revenue will be used to pay down the deficit," do the actions match the rhetoric?

Here is what columnist John Young has to say about Romney's investments and how they relate to job creation.  It is titled "Mitt Romney: Job Killer."   That does not sound to promising if guys like Mitt Romney are needed to make the Rubio model work.  Remember, Rubio states numerous times in the interview that growth is the only way.  When asked by Stewart how that will take care of the deficit and debt, Rubio responds that investment creates new tax payers.  "Tax increases don't generate growth," Rubio states.  "If you leave it in the economy they will use it."

Here is the question I would ask Rubio.  Use it how?  Not theoretical, but in reality.  We are coming to a point where two competing goals are coming into play.  Does Romney's investments need to produce jobs to make the Rubio model work, or does Romney's investments need to generate growth for himself?

This is not an argument on greed, although an argument as to how much we owe our fellow citizens could be made, that's not what I want to look at in terms of the validity of running a government predicated on the idea of needed revenue from "growth only" which is dependent on investment that creates new tax payers which leads to more revenue for their taxed income.

Here is how a guy like Romney invested his money.  According to John Young:
For better (investors) or ill (your neighbors), Romney's company, Bain Capital, was absolutely a huge player in employing the fine people of India.  Now, we all know that outsourcing boosts corporate profits, and lowers prices for services or products. Of course, the same can be said for illegal immigration. It's all part of the "global economy" to which we are all shackled.
This is a reality.  Investing in India was good for Bain Capital but it did not create any new tax payers needed for the missing revenue we need here.  Doonsbury also brings up this issue in today's comic.

This is where the competing interests collide and why the Rubio model of "growth only" will not work.  What is good for the investor is paramount in the current US model.  Here is another problem on why untaxed money is not used for growth that creates new tax payers:
One thing to say about the type of business that made Romney drip with wealth while so many tread water, is that it reflects an economy whose course is increasingly difficult to change.      
Take big-box retailers. Bain Capital is credited with helping office-supply giant Staples, among others, get through rough times. Retailing behemoths are a way of life for Americans today. At the same time, they arguably are the biggest reason why the U.S. economy is so hard to steer anew when things go awry. Our nation has much bigger, and much fewer, retail employers than in previous generations.
What's the problem with that?  How does this void Rubio's "growth only" model?  According to John young:
Two massive factors — outsourcing and oppressive big-ness — tie policymakers' hands when they try to do something about the economy. And both factors have made a lot of money for a few in the moneyed — Romney-ed — set.
If the "lot of money" is going to folks who we will need to depend on to make a growth only model for government tax revenue work, then these folks will need to change their current business model to stop outsourcing and employee more Americans.  And what is the chance of that happening?  It's not greed as much as it is this reality of thinking:  I am willing to do only so much for those around me, after that, you are on your own and my responsibility ends.

So if I am willing to do X and X + 5 is needed, where does the +5 come from?  It's not coming from guys like Romney = guys we call the "job creators."  He is a beneficiary of a system that is stalked in his favor at the expense of others.  Did Romney invest that $5.46 million in activities that helped his country or helped himself?  We know how Bain Capital made its money and we also know Romney put his money into the Cayman Islands.

Now it gets tricky.  If we accept that it is perfectly okay for Romney to do what he wants to with the money he legally made, that what he is required to pay in taxes is all he must do, then the Rubio model will not work because it is dependent on Romney investing what is not taken as a tax into activities that generate new American tax payers.  And that, looking at Bain Capital's business model, is contrary to what generates wealth for their investors.

Rubio and Romney believes that the current tax structure is adequate and that he has done all he is required to do.  Romney's obligations to the US have been met:
“I pay all the taxes that are legally required and not a dollar more. I don’t think you want someone as the candidate for president who pays more taxes than he owes.” (1)
"Legally required" and "not a dollar more" are perfectly fine for the individual, but we have a country where the individual's fellow citizens are not doing well.  We have a country who cannot meets it current obligations - deficit - and keeps piling up more and more debt, whose interest payments go to guys like Romney and China.  Romney and his cohorts pay only X when X+5 is required.  Rubio will accept no other model that may require guys like Romney to pay more than X.  If that - tax increase - is off the table how do we address our problems if the dependent variable - the Mitt Romney "job creators"-  are not investing their money in areas that create American Jobs which creates American tax payers to produce the revenue we need? Phew!  Out of breath on that one...

The question I would ask Rubio is:  What if guys like Ronmey don't - or will not - invest their untaxed money into growth that creates new American tax payers?   Should we force Romeny to only invest in projects that generate new American jobs?

If it is not Romney's responsibility to "pay one dollar more" and it is not the responsibility of Romney to invest in companies that create American tax payers, who's responsibility is it to get the government the +5 it needs?  The reason we have such a problem is because of the business model guys like Romney use to generate their personal wealth and the power they hold to create laws and policies that benefit them personally.  They have no further obligation, as in "not a dollar more."

And yet Rubio believes that these guys are the way out of our mess if we just leave them be and "close the loopholes."  Romney wants to become president and control an economy that he has benefited from and sees no reason to change.  That's like the wolf guarding the hen house:
While the U.S. government tries to balance its books, offshore corporations and people with the means of sheltering their wealth deprive the Treasury of those dollars, though they benefit from the "land of the free" in every way. (2)
Rubio will accept no tax increase on guys like Romney believing them to be the job creators needed for the "only growth" model to succeed.  Yet the deficit grows and the debt grows, and guys like Romney grow richer at the expense of their fellow citizens.

If Romney is not investing in endeavors that generate new American tax payers, why would we expect any of his cohorts to be doing the same?

So who does have the obligation to pay down the deficit and the debt?  If not Romney, who?

Next post: If not me, then who?


Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Does Mitt Romney's income come from investments that help Americans?

In my last two posts I have been exploring Marco Rubios contention that the only way out of our current US fiscal predicament is through growth.  And to get that growth me must not increase taxes on those the Republicans commonly refer to as "job creators" - as in guys like Mitt Romney.

Marco Rubio wants to get the government the revenue it needs through growth that creates new tax payers.  That growth comes from those folks that have the money to invest.  The more money they are allowed to keep from lower taxes, the more investment they will make and the more growth we will have creating more tax payers thereby more income for the government.  Win-win-win-win.  Wins all around!

This theory, a similar type of  "trickle down economics" ideology, is predicated on the actions of those that currently hold the bulk of the available money in our society, those often referred to as the "one precenters."


Out of 117728 households, 1181 have income greater than $250K.  1181/117728 = 0.010 or 1%.  It is important to look only on income and not on wealth:
Income is what people earn from work, but also from dividends, interest, and any rents or royalties that are paid to them on properties they own. In theory, those who own a great deal of wealth may or may not have high incomes, depending on the returns they receive from their wealth, but in reality those at the very top of the wealth distribution usually have the most income. (But it's important to note that for the rich, most of that income does not come from "working."  G. William Domhoff
If the primary means of funding our government is through revenue generated from taxes, does a tax rate of 39% for the "one percenters" help us more than the 15% guys like Romney are paying now?

In my last post I asked:
So if a guy like Romney, one of those "one precenter" types is also going to be called a "job creator" then how will his income - which is investment income - be affected by increasing the cost to the business by adding jobs or increasing the pay?
In order to pay 15% Romney's income had to come from capital gains and not from wages.  According to CNN:
Romney took in $21.7 million in long-term capital gains over the past two years. Of that, $12.9 million was in so-called carried interest.  Carried interest is a share of profits paid to general partners at private equity firms -- such as Bain Capital, which Romney left in 1999. General partners manage the firm's investments. If those investments are sold at a profit, the carried interest represents a portion of those profits above a minimum rate of return.
So Romney makes money from investing his money - income - in firms like Bain Capital.  What else produced capital gains for Romney?  According to CNN:
Brad Malt, a lawyer who serves as trustee of the Romneys' blind trusts, said Romney pays all U.S. taxes on income from the trusts' foreign investments. Further, he said Romney has no role in choosing how the blind trusts invest his money.  "The blind trust investments in the Cayman funds are taxed exactly as if Gov. Romney owned his share of the funds in the United States," Malt said.
Hmmm.  Okay, so Romney takes his money not used to buy gas and food and pay for his standard of living and invests it.  That's exactly what Marco Rubio believes is the right course for the US; allow guys like Romney to keep more of their income so they can invest it by giving them a 15% tax rate on capital gains and not 39%.

So investment is happening, but is it generating growth in the form of new tax payers which is what Marco Rubio's model is predicated on for generating the revenue the government needs to operate and to pay down our debt?  We either cut spending and increase taxes on the 1% - as Jon Stewart contends - or we only focus on growth of our economy.

The devils in the details.  For "growth only" to work - as Rubio believes it will - it must produce new tax payers.  This growth is dependent on guys like Romney - the one precenters with the money to invest - investing in new business that create tax paying employees who are currently paying zero income tax now.

Romney is investing, and growth is happening, but is that investment and growth creating the new tax payers Rubio believes will produce the needed revenue for our government?

If Romney generates income form foreign investments, that money is not directly producing a new american worker who will now pay taxes.  If Romney puts money into the Cayman Islands, that money is not - directly - producing new employers in the US and therefore will not produce new tax payers.  And if Romney, like his fellow one precenters, invests their money in companies like Bain Capital, is that money - that investment Rubio speaks about - the "only way" to generate the revenue needed to pay our bills and debt?

At the 15% tax rate, Romney was allowed to keep $5.46 million dollars.  The government, with its deficit and debt, allowed Romney to do this because of the belief in the Rubio model.  If Romney invests that money in foreign companies, the Cayman Islands, and into Bain Capital, is the Rubio model of "growth only" more myth than plausible?

Once again, let me be clear on this.  The issue is not about Mitt Romney.  I would probably do the same type of investing, though I am a little more keen on keeping it on US soil.  The issue is on "growth only" as a means to fund the government.  Mitt Romney is what "growth only" is dependent on.  Foreign investments and Cayman Island accounts are not going to make Rubio's model work since it does not create new tax payers and only creates income that is taxed at 15%.

Next post: Does $5.46 million invested in Bain Capital create new tax payers?


Monday, July 2, 2012

Mitt Romney's $5.46 million dollars created how many new tax payers?

First off, let me get this out of the way.  If I were in Romney's shoes, I would make the same statement he made:
“You’ll see my income, how much taxes I’ve paid, how much I’ve paid to charity. I pay all the taxes that are legally required and not a dollar more. 
The argument I want to make in this post is not on how much, or how little, Romney pays in Federal taxes, it is simply about whether the money he keeps from not being taxed 39% instead of 15% is used to create jobs that create new tax payers that then provide the revenue for the government.  That's the only way the Marco Rubio's model of "the only solution is growth" will work as a means for funding our current governmental needs and paying down the debt.

If the money Mr. Romney keeps is not used to produce new tax payers than the government will continue to run a deficit and the debt will increase.  Period.

According to CNN:
Romney and his wife, Ann, filed a joint 1040 reporting $21.7 million in 2010 income and $3 million in federal taxes. They also said their 2011 income was $21 million and tax bill was $3.2 million.
That is an effective Federal tax rate of 13.8 percent.  If, as one of those making greater than $250,000 Romney were to be taxed at 39% as proposed, the government would see an increase in its revenue of $5.46 million dollars from the Romney's.

The argument made by Rubio is that the $5.46 million is better left in the Romney's hands than given to the government.  Hard to disagree on that principle, but...the Rubio model of "growth is the only way" to manage the deficit and pay down the debt is predicated on the United States increasing the number of tax payers.

That can be done in one of two way:  1. Employee those who are currently not employed and go from zero income tax to some income tax being paid.  2. Increase the salaries and take home pay of those currently working.

The problem with those two requirements is that they run counter to what the business person has been trained to do for his/her company.  That is, do as much as possible for as little money as possible.  This, along with the common notion that the largest cost to a business is labor, puts the business in a position to drive down wages and employee as few employees as possible.

So if a guy like Romney, one of those "one precenter" types is also going to be called a "job creator" then how will his income - which is investment income - be affected by increasing the cost to the business by adding jobs or increasing the pay?

According to CNN:
The reason Romney's rate is so low -- despite having one of the highest incomes in the country -- is because his income was derived almost entirely from capital gains and dividends from his extensive portfolio of investments. And that form of investment income is typically taxed at just 15%, well below the 35% top tax rate for high earners.
So can guys like Romney be "job creators" when their income is derived from investments that are predicated on keeping costs low?  Theoretically they can, assuming that there is constant growth so that the demand drives the need for more employees and higher wages.  Without that demand, however, we are at the mercy of guys like Romney who control the money needed to invest in new business, education, and infrastructure to get those goods to market.

So back to my question: Did the $5.46 Romney got to keep because he does not have to pay a 39% tax rate create more new jobs and higher wages to make this model - the one Rubio swears by - more effective than what would be done with that money had it gone to the government as additional taxes?

Now it is easy to get lost in the taxes part of the discussion.  No one wants to pay taxes and everyone wants to pay as little taxes as they can.  But the fact of the matter is, if you live in a democracy you must pay for the services that democracy provides.

This is not a debate on what is a fair tax.  Romney says “I’m proud of the fact that I pay a lot of taxes.” And that he does, but is it enough to pay for the government that he, I and you (if you live in the US) benefit from?

At this point in time we have both a deficit and a debt that is dragging our country down.  If Rubio is correct and letting guys like Romney keep that money so they can invest it and create new tax payers, then we need to see some proof that that is indeed what is being done with that money.

Why?  Because we know that the government does create new jobs through job programs as well as investing in new technology and education for the future.  The government does this with tax revenues from guys like Mitt Romney.  Rubio and his cohorts contend that guys like Romney do the same thing, and they do it better.

Do they?

Next post:  Does Mitt Romney's income come from investments that help Americans?


Sunday, July 1, 2012

Marco Rubio's One Trick Pony

Okay...okay, "one trick pony" is not really the right phrase, but "Excalibur sword" was used by Jon Stewart in his interview with the Senator on the June 25th Daily Show.  Nobody gets to the heart of an issue in an interview like Jon Stewart.  The man is great at seeing how the rhetoric doesn't match the reality.

Marco Rubio said over and over "the only way to solve the problem is growth."  Now on the surface this makes sense, but it really no more an "only way" than winning the lottery is the only way for me to become a millionaire.

Somehow this seemingly bright and articulate man drank the kool-aid and actually believes that anything that  hinders growth - regardless of the benefits or soundness - will never be acceptable to Republicans.

"How do you shrink the deficit?" Jon asks.

Grow the economy"  Rubio responds.  "The government will generate more revenue (through jobs produced from that growth producing more tax payers) and that (tax) revenue will be used to pay down the deficit."

This ideological purity is based on an acceptance of the "job creator" concept.  That is, if you let the rich - those with money to invest - keep their money (e.g. 15% instead of 39% tax) they will invest it in growth and a person without a job "paying zero taxes" will become a person making 50 to 80K a year which will then be taxed.

"I would most like to see much rather those people (rich) take that money and invest it," Rubio tells Jon, :to grow their business or start a new one.  And you (Jon) would much rather have them give it to government and the government would spend it on something."

How can an idea that sounds valid - growth producing jobs which produce tax payers - not be the prudent course of action?

"Tax increases don't generate growth," Rubio states.  "If you leave it in the economy they will use it."

Okay, so let's look at this objectively:

Assuming that growth is the only answer, will the government or the individual produce the jobs needed to produce the revenue needed to run the government and pay down the debt?

First, let's get a few "facts" on the table so we can take them off and objectively answer the question:

1) New business require funding to get off the ground.
2) The government wastes money with bureaucratic requirements and inefficiency.
3) The obligations of the government are just that, obligations, and must be paid for regardless of benefit to the individual paying the tax.
4) The purpose of a business is to generate wealth for its stake/stock holders.  How that wealth is defined is irrelevant to that goal.

If you cannot accept all of these, then you drank the kool-aid and my argument will fall flat.  I am wanting to explore the idea that growth is "the only to solve the problem."  If it is the only way, then growth must take place in a way that produces the tax payers needed to fund the government's current needs.  That's Rubio's understanding and, if I take him at face value in this interview, he will not accept anything that can be seen as hindering the potential for that growth.

Right now, the idea of a tax increase - any tax increase - is seen as hindering growth and will never be considered by Rubio and I suspect, the rest of his Republican cohorts.  Okay, so let's accept that any additional tax will hinder growth thereby creating a new tax payer.  For growth to be "the only way to solve the problem" then all money not taxed must be invested in growth that generates more tax payers (from no job paying zero to a new tax payer making $80K).

Well maybe not "all the money" but more of it must be used to create growth and new tax payers than what the government would create if it, instead, received said money through additional taxes on the person.

This is, in my opinion, a fair question to ask.  Let's look at Mr. Romney as an example of "how the only way to solve the problem is growth" plays out in the real world.  First, let's make sure we have the word growth defined.  Rich folks have seen their fortunes rise and they are doing "pretty well" as Jon says, speaking of himself as one of these well off folk.  Growth, as Rubio makes the case, must create new tax payers from those currently not paying taxes (listen to the interview).

So the question now is (and not to pick on Mr. Romney but his tax rate and revenue is known), how many new tax payers - growth - did the untaxed money Romney got to keep create?  If guys like Romney are job creators, do they actually create more jobs than the government would create if it instead taxed them at 39%?

For Rubio's "only solution is growth" model to work to both fund our government and pay down the debt, new tax payers must be made at a rate that exceeds what the government would create and/or do with that money.  If you think guys like Romney are job creators, then we should see all that untaxed money go into creating jobs for our fellow citizens, or else Rubio's model will not work and he is hindering what is best for America by not allowing other models to be considered.

Did Mitt Romney's untaxed money create the necessary new tax payers to make Rubio's model a plausible course of action and not just an ideological myth?

Next Post: Mitt Romney's $5.46 million dollars created how many new tax payers?


Sunday, June 10, 2012

Vietnam - CIA And The Generals

I am working on a book, my first (second if you count an unpublished novel), dealing with General Nguyen Ngoc Loan (pronounced "low-ahn"), the guy who was both filmed and photographed shooting the prisoner during Tet Offensive of 1968.

I find the story fascinating, especially the manipulation of the events and the man (Loan) in order to rectify a particular point of view.  In the bigger picture of this one famous event, is the whole situation of Vietnam from 1966 to 1975.

As part of my research, I have tried to read as much information on General Loan and Tet as I can get my hands on.  One of the sources of information that has come available are secret document from the CIA and the Administration that are now available online.  I recently went to the Johnson Library at UT-Austin and got myself a research pass to look at the documents there.  I am going to look at Eddie Adam's journal from 1968 next time I am in town.  The Adam's collection is also held at UT-Austin.

I just finished reading a declassified CIA book called "CIA and the Generals: Covert Support to Military Government in South Vietnam."

Source: FOIA-CIA

This, in my opinion, along with the Powell Doctrine should be "must" reading for anyone given the power to commit their nation's blood and treasure to further a goal.

Despite what General Brady (the guy who started me down this path of understanding Vietnam) may think, it was not because, as he puts it:
[o]ur defeat came from the elite in the courtrooms, the classroom, the cloakrooms and the newsrooms, from cowardly media-phobic politicians and irresponsible, dishonest media and professors from Berkeley to Harvard.
How a Two-Star General can be so clueless on what took place in Vietnam, the country and war he was fighting in, is a perfect example of why we "lost" in Vietnam.  In two words, it can be summed up as "The Generals."  More precisely, it can be described as the ineptitude of those in charge.  And by inept, I mean lacking in the the general suitability for the task at hand, the inability to learn and reason.  General Brady is a prime example of this, as were the Generals running South Vietnam in 67 - 75.  They may be good at military management where you bark and order and see it get performed, but they lack the ability to understand the dynamics in play when that authority has no bearing on the situation and wisdom and compromise are what is necessary.

One thing you glean from reading this book is that the US understood we were not going to "win" back in late 1967, before Tet, before Walter Cronkite, before John Kerry.  We held out hope, but it was doomed because of the ineptitude of the Generals that were the government offed in response to the Communists of the North.

Let me sum it up for you, using the CIA's take on this time and place:
[this book] traces the tortuous course of events in Saigon following the fall of President Ngo Dinh Diem. Ahern strikingly illustrates Saigon Station efforts to work with and understand the various military governments of South Vietnam which followed Diem, and carefully details CIA attempts to stabilize and urge democratization on the changing military regimes in order to save South Vietnam from Communism.
Read that section in red.  That was our problem, that was why we were doomed to fail or have it drag on and on and on.  Same thing with Afghanistan and Iraq.  Without a stable government that the people being governed can get behind, no amount of resolve, money, bodies, or non-defeatism will make a difference.

The US was there to "save" the South from Communism.  That goal was not of interest to the Vietnamese people:
[t]he essential point as Polgar [CIA Chief of Station (COS)] saw it was that Nguyen Cao Ky and then Nguyen Van Thieu had succeeded where their predecessors failed by establishing security and by offering the fundamentally apolitical peasant the prospect of improved living standards. (page 135)
Polgar's DCOS [Deputy Chief of Station], Conrad LaGueux, was less confident that the massive American investment in the rural economy had produced greater loyalty to the regime: in his retrospective opinion, "the VC had extensive popular support." (page 135)
That took place in 1973.  You see, while we were "saving" Vietnam, the people - the "apolitical peasants" were wanting Communism.  That was a reality and a dynamic in play starting early on in Vietnam.  It was in play in the early 60's, 67, 68, 73, and finally to its conclusion in 75.  We were saving people from something they could care less about in the first place.  We [US] feared Communism.  The Generals feared Communism because they would lose their livelihood.  But the people - the hearts and minds we needed to make this work - could care less.

"Care", in this case, was a result of their living conditions.  The Generals in charge of the South (the Government of Vietnam -GVN) were too inept to fully comprehend this, so the "sweat cancer" of corruption and self-gratification prevailed in the South.  The Communists offered something other than the Generals.  The Generals, themselves were fractured between northerners (Ky) and southerners (Thieu) and they were all at odds with the Buddhists who resented the Catholics who were put in charge of running the government by the French.  South Vietnam was a mess, and there we (US) were trying to make it into something it was not ready or willing to be.

But it was not for lack of trying.  55,000 dead Americans and hundreds of thousands of dead Vietnamese can attest to that effort.  Our defeat was not at the hands of the media or Berkeley professors, it was inept men who controlled the situation that lacked the wisdom and aptitude to fully comprehend the dynamics and reality in play.
But even at its best, it perpetuated the almost schizoid Agency (and US Government) approach to the political aspect of the conflict. The GVN had to be invigorated and reformed, and the peasantry must be won over to the government side. CIA did indeed recognize the need to 'develop peasant leadership, at least at the local level. But it never questioned the contradictory imperative that this be done without disturbing the social and economic structure bequeathed by the French colonial regime. (page 228)
We knew it was a task that relied too much on an oversimplification of human endeavor.  We feared Communism so we did what we thought would curtail it.  Threw money and bodies at it.  But Communism meant nothing to the Vietnamese other than it was non-French and non-US and non-military control.

We knew it was doomed before Tet of 68.  We knew but continued down a path deemed appropriate and sound by inept men we put in charge of such decisions.

So I'll close this post with this little bit of behind the scenes information (pages 135 & 136):
One of Polgar's officers in the Indications and Assessment Branch (lAB) remembered the working level as less sanguine even than LaGueux. Robert Vandaveer had run the Station's office in Hue for two years before he came to Saigon in mid-1973 to join IAB.
Explaining the reason for this assignment, Polgar told Vandaveer that the "social democratic" bias of the branch, staffed by DI (Directorate of Intelligence) officers, needed to be balanced by a DO (Directorate of Operations) presence;
Vandaveer took this to mean that Polgar wanted to see more commitment to the government cause and less agonizing about its weaknesses.
The COS did not prohibit reporting bad news, but he did impose strict standards of verification, and a requirement that such reporting be "put into perspective." In practice, this meant that reports of government corruption, individual instances of which were hard to confirm, were seldom disseminated. And when a village headquarters, for example, was lost to a Communist landgrabbing operation after the Paris agreement, the report had to specify the much greater number of villages remaining under Saigon's control.  
The requirement for "perspective" did not apply to good news, and Vandaveer thought that when retired Major General Timmes made his periodic tours to debrief his ARVN contacts on the Station's behalf, Polgar accepted his usually upbeat reporting at face value.
As Vandaveer saw it, the divergent views of management and the working level reflected a Mission-wide phenomenon, with the Mission Council clinging to an optimistic, "get with the program" mentality that echoed the style of the now-departed US combat forces. Station analysts, on the other hand, looked at the reporting of Hanoi's infiltration of men and supplies in a "mood of foreboding," and many street case officers were entirely cynical about the integrity of the South Vietnamese political process.
That's not coming from General Brady's "dishonest media" that's what the CIA has described about the attitude of those in charge of "winning."

"Get with the program" is always shorthand for ignore the reality and accept an inept leader's magical thinking.


Saturday, June 9, 2012

Chevy Camaro plays "hide the battery."

Enterprise Rental Car gave me a 2012 Camaro to drive this last week.  Felt like a guy in a midlife crisis, but what the heck.

So being from that generation where muscle cars ruled, we popped the hood to take a look at the engine.

Hey, where is the battery?

Let's look in the owner's manual...

...under "battery" which just seemed logical to us.

OK...turn to page "10-30"....

Says turn to page 10-6 for battery location...

Which tells you to....

Go to page 10-30!

So where is the battery?  Nothing in the manual tells you where it is (we're not that stupid - we figured it was in the trunk or under the back seat).

Aha!  Google search!

Which leads me to a site called "MotorZ" that tells me it is in the trunk, and this gives this warning:
Don’t shut that trunk!  We did this Quick Tip not because the battery is difficult to get to, but because there’s a design issue with the 2010 Camaro and I wanted to make sure Camaro owners knew about it… because I got hit with it myself.  Once you disconnect your battery, do not close your trunk! Since there is no keyhole in the trunk to open it with a key, and the push button on the driver’s door to open the trunk runs off electricity (not to mention the button on your remote won’t work either), there’s no way to open it back up!
Really?  You build a really cool car with this type of design flaw and produce a manual that is devoid of this fact as well as lending any useful information on just where that critical component is located.  

Good thing Chevy gave me four pages on how to operate my seat belt and radio knobs!


Thursday, April 26, 2012

Wars kill people. That is what makes them different from all other forms of human enterprise.

[Written last year]

You know where that title came from?  Colin Powell.  That's from his paper: U.S. Forces Challenges Ahead, 1992 in Foreign Affairs;  Vol. 71 Issue 5, p32-45, 14p.  What's in that paper is also referred to as the "Powell Doctrine."

You know what else he said in that paper:
We owe it to the men and women who go in harm's way to make sure that this is always the case and that their lives are not squandered for unclear purposes.
Look what John Kerry said in 1971:
...In our opinion, and from our experience, there is nothing in South Vietnam, nothing which could happen that realistically threatens the United States of America. And to attempt to justify the loss of one American life in Vietnam, Cambodia, or Laos by linking such loss to the preservation of freedom, which those misfits supposedly abuse, is to us the height of criminal hypocrisy, and it is that kind of hypocrisy which we feel has torn this country apart....
Look at what Robert Kennedy said in 1968:
This has not happened because our men are not brave or effective, because they are. It is because we have misconceived the nature of the war: It is because we have sought to resolve by military might a conflict whose issue depends upon the will and conviction of the South Vietnamese people. It is like sending a lion to halt an epidemic of jungle rot.
Why would we use the term "squandered" if that were not a possibility for the men and woman who are asked to serve?  Obviously Powell was speaking from some historical grounding.  If we are the greatest country in the world, surely we would never "squander" these lives.  Correct?

Look at what else Powell says:
When the political objective is important, clearly defined and understood, when the risks are acceptable, and when the use of force can be effectively combined with diplomatic and economic policies, then clear and unambiguous objectives must be given to the armed forces. These objectives must be firmly linked with the political objectives.
Decisive means and results are always to be preferred, even if they are not always possible. We should always be skeptical when so-called experts suggest that all a particular crisis calls for is a little surgical bombing or a limited attack. When the "surgery" is over and the desired result is not obtained, a new set of experts then comes forward with talk of just a little escalation--more bombs, more men and women, more force.
History has not been kind to this approach to war-making. In fact this approach has been tragic--both for the men and women who are called upon to implement it and for the nation. This is not to argue that the use of force is restricted to only those occasions where the victory of American arms will be resounding, swift and overwhelming. It is simply to argue that the use of force should be restricted to occasions where it can do some good and where the good will outweigh the loss of lives and other costs that will surely ensue. 
See that?  "A new set of experts then comes forward with talk of just a little escalation--more bombs, more men and women, more force."  Golly jeepers, doesn't that sound just like Vietnam?  And what about those absolutists who think we could have won if we dropped more bombs, kicked the press out, sent more troops, and used every tool and resource we had against the enemy.  Had we just had the will....

Here is what Powell says about war:
All wars are limited. As Carl von Clausewitz was careful to point out, there has never been a state of absolute war. Such a state would mean total annihilation. The Athenians at Melos, Attila the Hun, Tamerlane, the Romans salting the fields of the Carthaginians may have come close, but even their incredible ruthlessness gave way to pragmatism before a state of absolute war was achieved`
The Gulf War was a limited-objective war. If it had not been, we would be ruling Baghdad today--at unpardonable expense in terms of money, lives lost and ruined regional relationships. The Gulf War was also a limited-means war--we did not use every means at our disposal to eject the Iraqi Army from Kuwait. But we did use over-whelming force quickly and decisively. This, I believe, is why some have characterized that war as an "all-out" war. It was strictly speaking no such thing.
Vietnam was not addressed in a similar manner as was the Gulf War.  For that matter, neither was invading Iraq and Afghanistan at the turn of this century.  Without clear objectives military might means very little in obtaining an end point.  Had the US body count been more, we would have demanded we get out of those two places in a similar manner as Vietnam, I suspect.  As I write this, we are still in Afghanistan.

What Kennedy and Kerry understood was what Powell would come to articulate in 1992.  

Kennedy said:
The fifth illusion is that this war can be settled in our own way and in our own time on our own terms. Such a settlement is the privilege of the triumphant: of those who crush their enemies in battle or wear away their will to fight. 
Kerry said:
Therefore, I think it is ridiculous to assume we have to play this power game based on total warfare. I think there will be guerrilla wars and I think we must have a capability to fight those. And we may have to fight them somewhere based on legitimate threats, but we must learn, in this country, how to define those threats and that is what I would say to the question of world peace. I think it is bogus, totally artificial. There is no threat. The Communists are not about to take over our McDonald hamburger stands. 
Now look at what Powell says:
When a "fire" starts that might require committing armed forces, we need to evaluate the circumstances. Relevant questions include:
  • Is the political objective we seek to achieve important, clearly defined and understood?
  • Have all other nonviolent policy means failed?
  • Will military force achieve the objective?
  • At what cost?
  • Have the gains and risks been analyzed?
  • How might the situation that we seek to alter, once it is altered by force, develop further and what might be the consequences?
As an example of this logical process, we can examine the assertions of those who have asked why [first] President Bush did not order our forces on to Baghdad after we had driven the Iraqi army out of Kuwait. We must assume that the political objective of such an order would have been capturing Saddam Hussein. Even if Hussein had waited for us to enter Baghdad, and even if we had been able to capture him, what purpose would it have served?
And would serving that purpose have been worth the many more casualties that would have occurred? Would it have been worth the inevitable follow-up: major occupation forces in Iraq for years to come and a very expensive and complex American proconsulship in Baghdad? Fortunately for America, reasonable people at the time thought not. They still do.
In 1968, reasonable people like Cronkite, Kennedy, and Kerry looked at what we were doing through a logical and objective process and understood that total warfare was never going to be an option, that the political objective was not clearly defined or understood, which - as they saw it, made the risk for continued effort unacceptable.

Because we could not effectively combine military force with diplomatic and economic policies, clear and unambiguous objectives would never be given to the armed forces.  There became no war for the military to win unless we wanted to opt for total annihilation, which to this day, is an option some, like General Brady and Kid Rock, would have no qualms in ordering.

Now lets look at what General Powell told Rachel Maddow, April 1, 2009:
Decide what you are trying to achieve politically and if it can't be achieved through political and diplomatic and economic means, and you have to use military force, then make sure you know exactly what you're using the military force for and then apply it in a decisive manner.
Now, the means he's [Obama] applying to it—21,000 more troops, hundreds more civilians, a billion and a half dollars a year to Pakistan—is that enough? Is that decisive? I don't know the answer to that question because even the greatest of all strategists must take into account the presence of an enemy.
In Vietnam it appears we had met the enemy, and that enemy was Ky and Loan.  So when Kerry said:
We are asking Americans to think about that because how do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Vietnam? How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?
It's that word 'mistake' that causes all the bitterness.  Did over 55 thousand Americans die for a mistake?  Surely we cannot think that fathomable, that our government did not do them right.  At some point opinion changed enough to bring the war to a close.  It took people going against the notion of my country right or wrong.  It took people questioning their duty to fight and die for a situation that did not make sense.

And the reason it started to not make sense was because bit by bit the picture of what was happening there became clearer.  You can manipulate the words and background all you want, but sometimes when you look at a cigar, what you see is just a cigar regardless of what your mind may want to compare it to.

So did our defeat in Vietnam come from, as General Brady states:
"the elite in the courtrooms, the classroom, the cloakrooms and the newsrooms, from cowardly media-phobic politicians and irresponsible, dishonest media and professors from Berkeley to Harvard."
Or did these folks see it for what it was. Were they cowardly, dishonest, misleading, liars, and bastards for speaking out?  Did they have an obligation - a right - to question the expenditure of blood and treasure?  Does the public ever have a right to tell its government involved in war, stop?

General Powell thinks so:
"I have infinite faith in the American people's ability to sense when and where we should draw the line."
Two US Generals, two very different opinions.  I think I'll listen to the more reasoned one.


Saturday, April 7, 2012

How Famine Works...

Heard this while listening to Fresh Air's Terry Gross interview Jeffrey Gettleman, who was set to receive a George Polk Award for foreign reporting.

Odd, after all these years I never understood how famine actually works.  This is a cautionary tale on why a society must take care of its people and how a total "everyone for themselves" model will lead to those who have and those who will die.

From the show:
GETTLEMAN: Famines are about distribution. They're not about total capacity to feed people. In Mogadishu there was plenty of food when I was there, so I was eating chicken, beef, vegetables. I was eating fine. We'd go to the hospital, we witnessed these people who had run out of food and were marooned in the city without any resources, and then we would go back to the place we were staying and we would eat fine.
And other people were eating fine on the streets of Mogadishu. That was what was so striking to me of watching this man emerge from the hospital with the body of his child in his arms and he's walking past pyramids of oranges and stacks of bread and sacks of flour. And that's what happens in all these famines. It's the same thing.
GROSS: So is it money? Like, you had the money to buy food; this man with the dead child in his arms did not?
GETTLEMAN: It's mostly money. And it's also a distribution problem. If you have money you can get food just about anywhere, except for areas that are really cut off and have blockages in them, like what the Shabab are doing. But once you get to the city, yeah, if you had money you could buy food.
But these people have lost everything they own. They've lost their animals, they've lost their homes, they've used what little money they had just to get to Mogadishu. So yeah, they don't have any money to get any food. And at that point, you know, you need specialized food. These kids need, you know, they need medicine. They need IVs. They need to be hospitalized.
You can't just hand them a banana when they're in that state. You know, their systems have been so compromised. So you know, it's a multi-layered problem that starts where they came from - that they were living on the edge, probably very poor, malnourished to begin with. And then they were driven out of their area, put on the run without anything to sustain them.
And then they show up completely broke in a place where there's no social safety net, there's no government to help them, and they're cut off from their families, their support network. So who's going to help them? And on that scale. I mean when we were in Mogadishu last year during the famine, there were hundreds of thousands of people like this
So who's going to help them?

The free market?  The same free market that is selling the "pyramids of oranges and stacks of bread and sacks of flour?"  This is where a bit of understanding the dynamics comes in and the simple solutions that people think will work fall apart.

The guy selling the oranges and bread cannot feed them, he could - but he would need to cut some off or else face the same prospect.  So even if he takes one or two under charity, many more are still in need.

Those who cannot buy food cannot pull themselves up by their bootstraps.  They are there for reasons that may or may not have anything to do with past decisions they made.  Right now they need food, and without charity or money they will starve.

Should starvation be the only thing our government focuses on to "promote the general Welfare?"

How we, one of the richest societies ever, and we - the people - take care of each other is a reflection of our overall values and is what the Founders meant by "promote the general Welfare" as a necessary parameter of the constitution they set forth.

Does welfare - as we know it now - promote sloth?  Yeah, but dumping more and more responsibility to care for oneself on those with little money and support networks is just cruel.

I think there is a middle ground - not too much to hurt and not too much to hinder - that will help all.  Maybe that's what that Jesus dude meant when he said:
Verily I say unto you, Since you have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me.  Matthew 25:40
A few should not carry the whole burden for those who lack empathy or compassion, or for reasons known to them only, see some "brethren" as undeserving or not one in the same as them.

What did John Kerry say on April 22, 1971 that was false?

Lets be up front with this.  No one likes it when they are told that the reason they are fat is because they overeat.

The question regarding if that statement is true or false has nothing to do with it.  No one likes to be told something they don't want to hear.  And, if what they are told is false, well that's even worse.  You know, them's fight'n words!

The contention of the Swift Boat Vets for Truth is that:
"Vietnam veterans who had long resented his [John Kerry] false 1971 testimony that American troops routinely committed war crimes."
"Kerry's [testimony presented a] false portrait of American veterans as misfits, drug addicts and baby killers."
When you quote something, you can lose the context, that's why I provide the source.  It is possible that I have misconstrued SBV's statements, but in this case, I don't think so.

I have found a consistency in the absolutists portrayal of the press, Walter Cronkite, Robert Kennedy, and now John Kerry.  To call something false means it is not true.  To call something dishonest, means it is purposely false.  To call something misleading means that the author added or left out required facts.

Did John Kerry testify that "American troops routinely committed war crimes?"  Here is what he said on April 22, 1971 that relates to this charge by the Swift Boat Vets for Truth:
I would like to talk, representing all those veterans, and say that several months ago in Detroit, we had an investigation at which over 150 honorably discharged and many very highly decorated veterans testified to war crimes committed in Southeast Asia, not isolated incidents but crimes committed on a day-to-day basis with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command....
They told the stories at times they had personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks, and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam in addition to the normal ravage of war, and the normal and very particular ravaging which is done by the applied bombing power of this country.
We call this investigation the "Winter Soldier Investigation." The term "Winter Soldier" is a play on words of Thomas Paine in 1776 when he spoke of the Sunshine Patriot and summertime soldiers who deserted at Valley Forge because the going was rough.
We who have come here to Washington have come here because we feel we have to be winter soldiers now. We could come back to this country; we could be quiet; we could hold our silence; we could not tell what went on in Vietnam, but we feel because of what threatens this country, the fact that the crimes threaten it, not reds, and not redcoats but the crimes which we are committing that threaten it, that we have to speak out. 
So, yes, John Kerry accused some of his fellow vets of war crimes in 1971.  Was this a false statement?

According to an August 6, 2006 Los Angeles Times article "Civilian Killings Went Unpunished."
The files are part of a once-secret archive, assembled by a Pentagon task force in the early 1970s, that shows that confirmed atrocities by U.S. forces in Vietnam were more extensive than was previously known.
The documents detail 320 alleged incidents that were substantiated by Army investigators — not including the most notorious U.S. atrocity, the 1968 My Lai massacre.
Though not a complete accounting of Vietnam war crimes, the archive is the largest such collection to surface to date. About 9,000 pages, it includes investigative files, sworn statements by witnesses and status reports for top military brass.
The records describe recurrent attacks on ordinary Vietnamese — families in their homes, farmers in rice paddies, teenagers out fishing. Hundreds of soldiers, in interviews with investigators and letters to commanders, described a violent minority who murdered, raped and tortured with impunity.
Abuses were not confined to a few rogue units, a Times review of the files found. They were uncovered in every Army division that operated in Vietnam.
Retired Brig. Gen. John H. Johns, a Vietnam veteran who served on the task force, says he once supported keeping the records secret but now believes they deserve wide attention in light of alleged attacks on civilians and abuse of prisoners in Iraq.
"We can't change current practices unless we acknowledge the past," says Johns, 78.
Digging through the LA Times website I find this official government letterhead document:

Other places for information and records are:
So it looks like John Kerry's statement on April 22, 1971 is not "false" as the Swift Boat Vets for Truth and the author of "To Set The Record Straight" claim.  Surprise, surprise! as Gomer Pyle, USMC, used to say.

Did John Kerry portray "American veterans as misfits, drug addicts and baby killers." Here is what he said on April 22, 1971 that relates to this charge by the Swift Boat Vets for Truth:
It is possible that "baby killer" is implied by these statements John Kerry made:
We rationalized destroying villages in order to save them. We saw America lose her sense of morality as she accepted very coolly a My Lai and refused to give up the image of American soldiers who hand out chocolate bars and chewing gum.
We learned the meaning of free fire zones, shooting anything that moves, and we watched while America placed a cheapness on the lives of orientals.
"Baby killer" or killing of babies was not used in the speech.  Kerry does use the term "misfit" - but it is not directed at the veteran:
"And to attempt to justify the loss of one American life in Vietnam, Cambodia, or Laos by linking such loss to the preservation of freedom, which those misfits supposedly abuse, is to us the height of criminal hypocrisy, and it is that kind of hypocrisy which we feel has torn this country apart.."
There were no comments, other than the acknowledgment of atrocities, implying that vets were "misfits" or "drug addicts."

The SBV's may not like the fact that John Kerry told us what the problems were in Vietnam.  Like he said:
"We could come back to this country; we could be quiet; we could hold our silence; we could not tell what went on in Vietnam, but we feel because of what threatens this country, the fact that the crimes threaten it, not reds, and not redcoats but the crimes which we are committing that threaten it, that we have to speak out."
Argue all you want about whether he should have kept quiet.  Debate on the merits of pulling back the curtain and telling us what really goes on.   But if you are going to claim you are "for truth" you need to, you know, actually be "for truth."  And another know that statement "the truth will set you free?"  That's what Retired Brig. Gen. John H. Johns, a Vietnam veteran, meant when he said in the LA Times:
"We can't change current practices unless we acknowledge the past,"


Does opposing the war, wound those who are not opposed to it?

These last few posts have centered on the question of a right to question why I am being demanded to perform a certain act.  And in asking, If I disagree with that reason, do I have a right to refuse without being called a "coward" or "bastard", or "horrible?"

To accept unequivocally what someone else views as right, when it is not right, nor just, makes me what?

That question is difficult to answer when the acceptance is fundamentally offering your blood for something.  I am pretty sure that most people would think it reasonable question why they were being asked to do something with that as its ultimate cost.  And as the cost rose the questions of why would become more and more relevant to making a decision.  So why is questioning one's duty in a war off-limits or taboo?

Heck I know the primary answer to that.  War takes bodies.  Lots and lots of bodies.  More bodies than will come from those who see the effort as something they actually want to do.  You can't go to war without troops and you can't have the troops you require if some question the purpose and refuse to participate.  So it has always been framed as; do your duty for your country.

Vietnam, however, exposed an ugly side of America and that duty.  That is, what we were doing there had more to do with other, less noble reasons, than what we had been told we were spending blood and treasure for.

When I asked the question:
Does my duty include shedding my blood so that Richard Nixon would not be the first president to lose a war, a relevant reason to do so?  
It gets even harder to answer when you ask the question:
Does my duty to shed my blood for my country's honor make it a relevant reason to do so?  
Still harder is to ask the question:
Is it my duty to do whatever it takes to provide honor and dignity to those who have fought and died before me in this effort?
That last one is what I have come to now understand may be the reason why some - I call them absolutists - are still bothered by those who dared to question our effort and specifically towards those who worked towards ending the war without a definitive "win."

Here, once again, is what General Brady said in his commentary that started me down this journey and these many blog posts:
The American soldier was never defeated on the battlefield in Vietnam; our defeat came from the elite in the courtrooms, the classroom, the cloakrooms and the newsrooms, from cowardly media-phobic politicians and irresponsible, dishonest media and professors from Berkeley to Harvard.
Now let's look at what the Swift Boat Vets have to say about John Kerry's 1971 speech to congress:
Sen. John Kerry's 2004 presidential bid became the catalyst for an unprecedented political movement by Vietnam veterans who had long resented his false 1971 testimony that American troops routinely committed war crimes.
During the Vietnam War, the original television networks and the leading liberal newspapers were near the peak of their formidable persuasive powers, able to dominate public opinion to an extent difficult to imagine today. In an age without cable news networks, conservative talk radio or the Internet, they were the only game in town. What these organizations chose to cover became news, and what they ignored did not. They used that power to instill Kerry's false portrait of American veterans as misfits, drug addicts and baby killers into the popular culture.
When John Kerry made his service in Vietnam the cornerstone of his presidential campaign during the 2004 election, the wounds he had inflicted on millions of Vietnam veterans were re-opened. Many could no longer be silent while a man who had repeated the propaganda of America's enemies rose to the position of Commander-in-Chief.
Now there was another ulterior motive to this, and that was to smear the guy some did not want for president.  But the criticism directed at him is nonetheless the same vitriol spewed out towards others who took the same tone.  And yes, I chose those words purposely because it pisses me off that some believe I have no right to question the cost in blood and treasure.

Here is what I take issue with:
In an age without cable news networks, conservative talk radio or the Internet, they were the only game in town. What these organizations chose to cover became news, and what they ignored did not.
What that statement postulates is this:  Had they controlled the message, public opinion would have been different and the outcome would have been different as well.  Okay...I'll buy that as a possibility.  Now let me ask four questions:
  1. Had the news of Tet and General Loan's execution of Nguyen Van Lem been reported by conservative reporters, would there have been a different story reported?
  2. Would the way conservative outlets have reported that news changed public opinion?
  3. If all the reporting was "liberal" and that reporting had "formidable persuasive powers" would replacing it with a "conservative" methodology generate the same "formidable persuasive powers" "to dominate public opinion?"
  4. Had the media and message been controlled and dominated by conservative media, and public opinion come to the same conclusion, would Walter Cronkite, Robert Kennedy, and John Kerry still be seen as pariahs by the right?
Basically, does manipulation of public opinion meet with approval if the end result is to my liking?  To assume that one side manipulated public opinion presenting a "false" impression also requires one to assume that the other side would manipulate public opinion by presenting what it deems as the truth.  That is, once again, had we shown the film of General Loan shooting Nguyen Van Lem and told the viewers, as Rollins contends:

Rollins: Television's Vietnam - The visual language of  Television News

What would have changed if we had been told the statement that was more than likely designed to convey a context more forgiving of the General? (see blog post).
"Many Americans have been killed these last few days and many of my best Vietnamese friends.  Now do you understand?  Buddha will understand."
 After all, we had been told what the General had said the day before in most major newspapers:
"They killed many Americans and many of our people."
How would that have changed the picture and made it "more complex?"  Well I think I may understand why folks like Rollins and Culbert think so.  Look at this statement from Rollins:
"No one noted at the time - and few noted later - that, at that very moment General Loan was shooting a single ununiformed soldier, North Vietnamese soldiers were systematically executing 2800 South Vietnamese civilian government and public school teachers outside the city of Hue."
Now look at Culbert's paper:

Culbert: Television's Visual Impact on Decision Making in the US, 1968

Now look at General Brady's San Antonio Express News article:
"And it was unlikely that the civilians would rise up for a party that massacred 3,000 innocent men, women, children and religious in Hue; some who were buried alive and clubbed to death to save ammunition. Who saw that in our media?"
Here is what I see.  Had the "conservative" side of the story been reported, that is, had we been told about the atrocities of the other side we would have concluded that they paled in comparison to what General Loan did.

If they killed 3000 citizens and we killed 2000, would that context change how we should view what we did?

Look at the context the New York Times did to try and blunt the force of the Eddie Adams photo:

NY Times Feb 2, 1968
Context was there.  It's just that people are a bit smarter than the absolutists, Culbert & Rollins, and the Swift Boat Vets against John Kerry think we are.  Look at how Culbert sees the Loan Execution affecting those that share a different view for our continued involvement in the war:

Culbert: Television's Visual Impact on Decision Making in the US, 1968
Really?  Is that what was shown to us?  Was what we saw manipulated so that it "purported to show the actual practice of justice?"  Was it "misleading" or did it show factually what it was - an actual execution, that in General Loan's view was not just necessary but demanded?
"I respect the Vietcong in uniform.  They are fighting men like me.  People know when they are wounded I take care of them.  I see they get to to the hospital.  But when they are not in uniform, they are criminals and the rule of war is death." (Harper's April  1972 article "Portrait of an Aging Despot" page 72)
Which begs the question: why were people: "looking for a reason to change their views on a matter of policy?"

Maybe the context was there all the time.  Maybe what was said, what we were told to believe, what we held as sacred and honorable, was not taking place.  Maybe all the "elite in the courtrooms, the classroom, the cloakrooms and the newsrooms, from cowardly media-phobic politicians and irresponsible, dishonest media and professors from Berkeley to Harvard" did was show us what we suspected, but hoped wasn't the case.

Which begs one more question: what would the "cable news networks, conservative talk radio or the Internet" have done differently?

Was the press "misleading" on the General Loan shooting?  Would the conservative press present it differently. or, recognizing its potential impact, suppress it?  Is the public better served seeing flag-draped coffins of soldiers killed in combat or should that be off limits?

Which brings me to the question posed in the title of this blog.  Did John Kerry inflict wounds on millions of vets because of what he said on April 22, 1971?  Culbert believes the General Loan footage and photograph were misleading.  General Brady contends that the media and and "professors from Berkeley to Harvard" were "dishonest."  The swift boat vets claim that what John Kerry said to Congress was a "false portrait of American veterans."

"Misleading", "dishonest", and "false".  Which taken together would seem to indicate that the truth has not been told.  I think I have presented enough information on what was actually said about General Loan and what the CIA and Jonson knew about the situation in Vietnam.  What I have not addressed is Swift Boat Vets for Truth's contention that John Kerry was a big fat liar on April 22, 1971.

Next post: What did John Kerry say on April 22, 1971 that was false?

Vacation over...again

Took a little bit of time off since my last post.  I'm going to finish up with a couple of drafts I started way back then.  The next two posts will be pending so as to keep things in a bit of an order.