Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Blog

News Roundup 2/21/18

  • Lt. Col. Daniel Davis explains how the military spending is hurting the economy. [Link]
  • The US adds a second Navy ship to the Black Sea as a show of force to Russia. [Link]
  • France supports the Iran Nuclear Agreement as written. [Link]
  • The Washington Post looks at the Afghans who clean up from the US war. [Link]
  • The Afghan government claims to have killed 28 militants. [Link] The Taliban kill at least eight Afghan Police. [Link]
  • Forces allied to Assad enter Afrin in support of the YPG. [Link]
  • US weapons, provided to Syrian rebels, are appearing on jihadist black markets. [Link]
  • Syrian airstrikes have killed 250 civilians in the past 48 hours. [Link]
  • The evidence is mounting that Saudi Arabia is targeting civilian infrastructure in Yemen. [Link]
  • Peru’s president rejects calls for him to resign. [Link]

Keeping Up With the Syrian War

A guest poster at Patrick Lang’s blog has a summary of recent events and military positions.

Thanks Obama

News Roundup 2/20/18

  • A Baltimore jury awards $37 million to the family of a woman murdered by Baltimore police. [Link] Baltimore ranked first in homicides per capita in 2017. [Link]
  • South Korea’s President says the Olympics have eased tensions with North Korea. [Link]
  • At least 17 people have been killed in a garbage pile collapse in Mozambique. [Link]
  • At least 18 people were killed in a suicide bombing in Nigeria. Boko Haram is suspected to have carried out the attack [Link]
  • Mehdi Hasan blowback series on blowback covers Israel and Hamas. [Link]
  • Two Afghan Governors are refusing requests from the Afghan President to step down. [Link]
  • Nearly 100 people have been killed by Syrian bombing rebel-held areas near Damascus. [Link]
  • Israel is arming at least seven Syrian rebel groups. [Link]
  • ISIS ambushes and kills 27 members of the Iraqi Shi’ite militia. [Link]
  • The Brazilian Army has been deployed to Rio De Janeiro to restore order. [Link]

 

The Feds Misplace $21 Trillion and a School Shooter

Americans are rightly chagrined that the FBI had known that Florida mass killer Nikolas Cruz was a threat but didn’t follow up on the information.

But Americans shouldn’t be surprised.

In addition to misplacing a potential shooter, the feds have misplaced $21 trillion.  If they can misplace $21 trillion, they can certainly misplace one bad guy.

A February 13 story in City Journal details how the $21 trillion was misplaced.  It seems that when federal agencies can’t balance their books, they just plug in a number to make them balance. (https://www.city-journal.org/html/americas-missing-money-15725.html)

Between 1998 and 2015, the departments of Defense and Housing and Urban Development alone made “unsupported adjustments” of $21 trillion to their books.  That comes to about $136,000 per American household.  It also comes to more than the annual gross domestic product of the nation.

Yawn!

That’s the reaction I’ve gotten after publishing articles over the years about how the feds cook the nation’s books.  I’m either a lousy writer, or Americans don’t give a damn, or the lovers of big government in the media have been largely silent about this.  Or maybe the reason is all of the above.

The following is an excerpt from an article of mine that was published on Dec. 31, 2014:  “The government’s auditor, the General Accounting Office, has determined once again that the financial reports of the United States are not trustworthy.   The GAO said that the statements are so full of ‘material weaknesses’ that it cannot be determined if they are in ‘compliance with selected provisions of applicable laws, regulations, contracts, and grant agreements.’” (http://www.jpands.org/vol22no3/cantoni.pdf)

Business executives would be jailed for such sloppy accounting.  Better yet, their businesses would go out of business and be replaced by more competent and ethical firms.  Nations also go out of business, but this can take centuries.

Double-entry bookkeeping was invented four centuries ago by an Italian, but the feds still haven’t mastered the simple concept.  So why do we expect them to have mastered much more difficult tasks, such as keeping tabs on bad guys, alerting Americans to Russian meddling in US elections, or reordering the Middle East?

The feds are masters at self-promotion, however.  They have convinced Americans that to keep the nation safe, they need bigger budgets, more personnel, swanker buildings, and more sophisticated snooping and eavesdropping software.

At the local level, public-school teachers and first responders also have mastered self-promotion.   Local governments have had to cut back on such services as filling potholes and maintaining infrastructure in order to pay their rich pensions and retirement benefits.  The states and cities that have caved the most to public-sector unions tend to be wholly owned by the Democrat Party and will benefit the most from Trump’s infrastructure plan, thus being rewarded for their profligacy and corruption in buying the votes of their union interest groups.

In the same vein, the FBI is petitioning Congress to spend billions of dollars for a new FBI headquarters, since it has outgrown the current HQ, due to the agency’s bureaucracy growing faster than its effectiveness, competency, and efficiency.

As an author of a book on bureaucracy, a longtime student of this organizational disease, and a consultant to organizations on how to cure it, I offer an Iron Law of Bureaucracy:  The larger an organization, the more bureaucratic it becomes; and the more bureaucratic it becomes, the more those at the top of the organization become out of touch with the bottom of the organization and turn into deadweight preoccupied with pay, perks, and office politics instead the organization’s mission.

Sound familiar?

Eventually, two watersheds are reached as bureaucracy takes hold:  First, a point of diminishing returns is reached, where each additional employee or dollar is less effective than the previous employee or dollar.  Then, sometime after that, a tipping point is reached, where each additional employee or dollar has a negative return.

It’s more than a coincidence that after Sears built the 100-story Sears Tower in downtown Chicago, it quickly lost touch with the marketplace.  And it’s more than a coincidence that the FBI lost touch with Nikolas Cruz after it had established a centralized department to keep track of leads about bad guys across the nation, thus diminishing the flexibility and judgment of local gumshoes.

Ballooning staff and corresponding bureaucracy are problems across all levels of government.  In 1941, there was one government employee at the federal, state and local levels for every 27.7 citizens.  Today, the ratio is one for every 14.6 citizens. If the ratio had kept pace with population growth instead of exceeding it, government would be smaller by millions of employees.

The growth of red tape has been even steeper, as measured by the number of pages in the Federal Register—numbers I won’t repeat here because they seem so farfetched that you might think I made them up.  Or the numbers might put you to sleep, assuming you’re not already asleep.

Federal bureaucrats, the White House, and Congress know that such numbers make citizens somnolent.  They also know that public schools and colleges that receive government money aren’t about to teach students about the problems of a ballooning government.  Moreover, the feds know that it is not in their best interest to streamline government.  Not only that, but lawyers comprise about half of Congress, and lawyers are horrible managers with little experience or interest in operational effectiveness.

Come to think of it, taking a nap is a better use of one’s time than trying to understand why the feds misplaced $21 trillion and the school shooter.  It’s the government, stupid!

Sweet dreams.

News Roundup 2/19/18

  • Mitt Romney will run for Senate in Utah. [Link]
  • The US government created the opioid crisis. [Link]
  • The Muller investigation indicts 13 Russian. [Link] Moon of Alabama responds to the indictment. [Link]
  • National Security Advisor McMaster says Russia meddled in the election. [Link]
  • Conn Hallinan explains how Russia and China are not “great power” threats to the US. [Link]
  • James Bovard explains why George W Bush is still an awful president. [Link]
  • The Intercept looks at the politics around the US drone base being built in Niger. [Link]
  • Four Israeli soldiers were injured by a bomb blast in Gaza. [Link] In response, the Israelis have started to bomb alleged Hamas positions in Gaza. At least two civilians have been killed. [Link]
  • Turkey’s High Court is being overruled by lower courts loyal to Turkey’s President Erdogan. [Link]
  • The Afghan government rejects the Taliban’s offer for peace talks. [Link]
  • The US used 321 bombs in Afghanistan in January. [Link]
  • The US coalition used less than 500 bombs in Iraq and Syria in January. [Link]
  • Turkey and the US agree to not attack each other in Manbij. [Link]
  • The YPG is reporting that they have reached a deal with the Syrian Army. In the deal, the Syrian Army will take border positions in Afrin to defend against Turkey. [Link]
  • Moon of Alabama debunks the most recent claims that Assad is using chlorine gas. [Link]
  • An Emirati serviceman was killed in Yemen. [Link]
  • The US carries out drone strikes in support of Yemeni government troop’s operation against AQAP. [Link]

 

News Roundup 2/16/18

  • The State Department Spokeswoman says she will be surprised if the US does not add new sanctions on Russia. [Link]
  • The US senior diplomat to Asia says the US has no planned “bloody nose” strike on North Korea. [Link]
  • The US will waste billions of dollars upgrading purposeless nuclear weapons in Europe. [Link]
  • The CIA claims it can disclose classified information to selected journalists in response to FOIA requests. [Link]
  • Rex Tillerson met with Turkey’s president and foreign minister. [Link]
  • A UN report shows US airstrikes in Afghanistan killed 295 civilians in 2017. [Link]
  • Russia says five of its civilian contractors were killed fighting for Assad in Syria. The contractors were killed in US coalition attacks. [Link]
  • Cyril Ramaphosa is elected as South Africa’s new president. [Link]

 

W. Bush Poll Numbers Way Up

Jim Bovard reminds us of some reasons to hate him.

A School Shooting: Pull Out the Old Scripts

Last night I went to bed after watching a couple of hours of coverage on various networks about the horrific school massacre in Florida.  This morning I got up at 4:45 and began watching more coverage.

When retiring last night, I mentioned to my wife that it was curious that no mention had been made in the news about the killer’s family situation, and, specifically, whether he grew up with his dad in the house or was he from a broken or blended family without his natural father.  I also wondered if he had been on a psychotropic drug.

This morning the news said that the shooter’s “adoptive” mother had recently passed away and he was living in a trailer park.  True to form, it didn’t immediately cross the minds or lips of the news commentators and reporters to wonder where his dad was, as if a father is about as important in a boy’s life as a chest of drawers.  Only later did it come out that his father had died when he was a child.

All of the talking heads also mentioned in passing that about 4,000 students attend the school were the shootings took place.  Then they segued into a discussion about the need for more security in schools and more analyses of early-warning signs.  This was followed by a parade of so-called experts who said the same thing, which is the same thing they say after every school shooting.

Strangely, not one of them questioned why a school would have 4,000 students or wondered how a school of that size could ever be anything but a big bureaucracy that follows the rules but misses important nuances, variables, signs, and clues.  They probably don’t question this because they attended a school of similar size.

A school of that size boggles my mind, not because my mind is exceptional, but because I attended a Catholic high school that had 400 students.  It was virtually impossible for a student to get lost in such a school or for school administrators and teachers to be out of touch with parents.

It also boggles my mind that public schools have full-time “resource officers” (aka cops) on campus, with a police car usually parked near the front door.  To me, this is sure sign that something is amiss inside the school—and in our larger culture.

Public schools have become this large due to economies of scale.  It is more efficient and less costly to have thousands of students instead of hundreds at one school.  But here is what is overlooked in this bean-counter calculation:  School costs have ballooned tremendously over the last half-century, due to the red tape inflicted on schools by the federal government and state governments.  The more red tape, the more administrators; the more administrators, the more overhead; the more overhead, the more students that are needed to cover the overhead; and the more students, the more impersonal the school culture.

At the same time, parents have demanded a full offering of extracurricular activities, especially sports.  They want winning teams that attract college scouts, which usually requires expensive athletic facilities and a large school body.  By contrast, there is a small school near my house in Tucson that ranks nationally in the top five for academics but will never rank nationally in sports.

Of course, the news coverage on the shooting pulled out the old scripts about how the killer was able to buy a semi-automatic rifle.  Of course, politicians on the left pulled out their old scripts about the need for better gun control.  Of course, politicians on the right pulled out their old scripts about the Second Amendment.  Of course, nothing will change.

Nothing will change because neither the media, academia, nor politicians want to talk about obvious sicknesses in the American culture—sicknesses that they themselves have embraced and perpetuated.  This isn’t the place to go into details, but let me give one example, an example that most people will dismiss as insignificant and the ranting of a prude.  The example has nothing to do with the school massacre but is representative of how people accept the popular culture or are afraid to go against the grain for fear of being politically incorrect.

As my wife and I watched the national and local news last night and this morning, we were struck, as we always are, by the unprofessional dress and demeanor of the female newscasters.  In our corporate lives, we would have told employees not to come to work dressed like that—that being extremely tight outfits, cleavage oftentimes showing, long hair carefully and seductively placed, and skirts hiked up to the nether region so that horny guys can get a peep show when the women sit down in front of the camera.

Fox News is the worse, and judging by the preponderance of commercials for male enhancement snake oil on the network (and on talk radio), its audience includes a lot of horny guys.

What’s wrong with women dressing this way?  Well, in addition to being unprofessional, it’s a double standard.  One doesn’t see male anchors and newscasters dressed in muscle shirts and tight leather pants with bulges showing in a certain spot.  They would be ridiculed if they did and wouldn’t be treated seriously.  But if someone has the temerity to ridicule women for their seductive dress, the person is seen as an unenlightened throwback who wants to dress women in corsets and high-neck collars and keep them confined to the kitchen.

And to go back to the school massacre, it’s inappropriate and insensitive for female newscasters to be dressed flamboyantly and seductively while covering the deaths of high school students.  It smacks of showing up for a funeral wearing a cocktail dress.

The point is, if we can’t be honest about this, we sure can’t be honest about sicknesses in our culture that might be major contributing factors to the high incidence of school shootings.

 

Time for a New Works Progress Administration

My fellow libertarians will become hysterical with this commentary and send me to the intellectual gulag.  Conservatives and liberals will join hands with them.

Why?  Because they won’t like my alternative to Trump’s plan to rebuild America’s infrastructure.

Instead of throwing hundreds of billions of dollars at crooked states, at politically-connected construction companies, and at unionized labor, as Trump’s plan will do, my alternative is to resurrect the 1930s-era Works Progress Administration.

A new WPA could be a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers and other illegal immigrants, could be an opportunity for the unemployed and unskilled in inner cities and in the deindustrialized heartland to learn new skills and work habits, and could be a work requirement for those on welfare or those with a real or feigned disability who are still able to do some sort of work.

See, there is something in this for everyone to dislike:  Liberals will dislike it because they believe that work requirements are demeaning to those on welfare or disability, establishment Democrats will dislike it because they are beholden to their union constituency, conservatives will dislike it because they believe that the free market will fix everything, establishment Republicans will dislike it because they are beholden to their business constituency, and libertarians . . . well, libertarians are covered in brain shrapnel from their heads exploding at the thought of adopting one of FDR’s socialist-like programs.

To all of them, I say:  The idea is better than the alternative.  It’s about tradeoffs, not ideological purity.

The idea come to my mind while hiking in beautiful Sabino Canyon, which is two miles from my house on the outskirts of Tucson.  The stone bridges, restrooms and other infrastructure in the canyon are marked with the initials “WPA,” and were so well-built that they are still in good condition eight decades later.

It’s the same with sidewalks in the older section of Tucson near the University of Arizona.  And it’s the same with the massive stone-lined drainage system and corresponding parks and paths near my boyhood home in St. Louis, Missouri, a system known as River de Peres.

Similar WPA infrastructure can be found in just about every state, including Midway Airport in Chicago, the River Walk in San Antonio (where I worked as a bartender), Dealey Plaza in Dallas (where JFK was shot), Schenley Park in Pittsburgh, and scores of architecturally-appealing schools, courthouses, libraries, stadiums, and other structures still seen as public centerpieces today.

A debate continues to this day about whether the WPA was a boondoggle or a boon to the economy, but judging by the infrastructure it left behind, it was a success.  In any event, putting the quantifiable and tangible aside, there were no doubt unmeasurable benefits of the program, such as a feeling of self-worth among the participants.  And in the language of the right, it probably engendered feelings of esprit de corps and citizenship; or in the language of the left, a sense of community.

In my insensitive, judgmental language, it’s frigging infuriating to see able-bodied Americans receiving taxpayer dollars while sitting on their fat asses amidst graffiti, trash, and decay.  Wouldn’t it be better for them, for their communities, and for society as a whole if they worked in an updated version of the WPA?

At its peak in 1938, the WPA employed 3.3 million people, or about 2.5% of the population at the time.  This would be equivalent to 8.1 million people today.  WPA workers were paid the prevailing wage for a given locale.

Economists say that the economic situation is different today—that unlike in the Great Depression, the nation is near full employment.  They’re full of baloney.  They calculate the potential labor force by including the number of people who are seeking work, and by excluding those who choose to sit on their fat asses—oops, sorry, there I go again—instead of seeking work.  If economists spent ten minutes looking at the demographics of the unemployed, they would find that there are at least 8.1 million of them who are quite capable of working but simply choose not to.  Heck, there are nearly eight million Americans on SSI alone.  Certainly, a high number of these have abused the system by feigning a disability or have legitimate disabilities that keep them from working in their former occupation but would not keep them from answering the phone or handling paperwork at the WPA.

What is truly different today is political leadership.  Whatever one may think of FDR’s policies, he was an inspiring leader who could get most of the nation behind his ideas.  Hillary, Donald, Bernie, Nancy, Paul, Chuck, et al. don’t come close.  Another difference is that in spite of today’s diversity dogma, it’s difficult to imagine that Americans of all races, ethnicities, politics, and walks of life could come together as a team to build even one bridge in Sabino Canyon.

Still, I’m sticking with my idea and don’t care if libertarians, liberals and conservatives shun me.  To quote Dr. Seuss, “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.”

News Roundup 2/14/18

  • Trump is unconvinced that Russia meddled in the 2016 election. [Link]
  • US Intelligence Agencies claim Russia will try to meddle in 2018 elections. [Link]
  • Berkeley votes to become a marijuana sanctuary city. [Link]
  • Philippines President Duarte suggests his soldiers should shoot women in their genitals. [Link]
  • The Afghan Army announces a plan to push 2,200 older officers to retire. [Link]
  • A US drone destroyed a tank operated by Russian mercenaries in the Feb. 7th attack. [Link] Scores of Russians were possibly killed in the attack. [Link]
  • Trump’s 2019 budget calls for $550 million to support the YPG in Syria. Turkey says the US support for the YPG does not change their plans. [Link]
  • Iraq will need $88 billion to rebuild from the ISIS War. [Link]

 

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