Friday, February 27, 2015

Curse You for Your Service

David Brooks’ column from the NYT ten days ago has been bothering me ever since.  He purports to be concerned about the PTSD that soldiers are subject to after combat.  Generally people think that soldiers suffer from PTSD because horrible things were done to them in war – they were shot, they saw their friends shot, etc.  Brooks seems to think that they suffer from PTSD because they have done horrible things in war; they return from war overwhelmed by the horrible, immoral things that they have done.  Brooks believes that America would be a better place if we just shot each veteran in the head as war criminals when they get off the plane from Iraq or Afghanistan.  Brooks’ column is based on the book, “The Evil Hours,” and therefore may not exactly represent Brooks’ personal thoughts on the subject. 

Brooks says, “[W]ar … is always a crime….  It involves … tainted situations where every choice is murderously wrong.”  He goes on, “The self-condemnation can be crippling.”  Veterans “often feel morally tainted by their experiences, unable to recover confidence in their own goodness.”   People don’t suffer from PTSD after natural disasters, but only after “moral atrocities.”  

Brooks apparently believes that self-defense is immoral.  If ISIS wants to murder his children, he should let them.  To kill the ISIS terrorist would be immoral and would subject him to the same self-hating PTSD that soldiers returning from the Middle East face.  But Brooks confounds two issues, a soldier’s individual, moral choices, and a nation’s moral choice to go to war or not.  If immoral acts were committed in the Middle East, it was because the United States waged an immoral war on rag-headed Arabs and Muslims just because they were Arabs and Muslims, not because they were a threat to the US that our soldiers needed to stop.  In Brooks’ opinion, everyone who volunteers to serve in the military is a war criminal, because war against anyone is immoral. 

I think Brooks is dead wrong.  I have felt for years that Republicans are unpatriotic cowards, and Brooks is firmly in that camp.  It was brought home to me personally when Newt Gingrich shut down the government on the day I was being transferred as a Foreign Service officer from Warsaw to Rome.  The shutdown left my wife and me homeless in Warsaw.  Fortunately a friend in Rome worked out a deal under which we were allowed to travel to the embassy in Rome, although the Republicans had technically made it illegal to travel during the shutdown, which would have left us on the streets of Warsaw, or more likely in a hotel in Warsaw at our own expense.  I was serving the US government, and the government walked away and said in essence, “We don’t care if you die.”  I care, and I will never forgive this government for abandoning those it sent out to do its work, whether military or diplomatic.  Brooks is firmly in the Newt camp abandoning those who defend this country, and denigrating their serve.  Brooks doesn’t say, “Thank you for your service.”  He says, “Curse you for your service.”    

Thursday, February 19, 2015


I think that President Ronald Reagan was one of the most irresponsible spendthrifts in the history of our country.  According to Wikipeida:

Spending during Reagan's two terms (FY 1981–88) averaged 22.4% GDP, well above the 20.6% GDP average from 1971 to 2009. In addition, the public debt rose from 26% GDP in 1980 to 41% GDP by 1988. In dollar terms, the public debt rose from $712 billion in 1980 to $2.052 trillion in 1988, a roughly three-fold increase.

This of course was while there was no war to fund, or even any serious economic threat.  Reagan’s Republicans hated poor people and welfare programs.  The Republicans under Reagan drastically cut taxes led by OMB chief David Stockman.  But then, Reagan turned out to be such a nice guy that he couldn’t make the cuts that the Republican budget cutters had planned on.  As a result, budget deficits ballooned; Reagan’s irresponsibility plunged the nation into a swamp of debt, from which we still have not recovered.

Obama’s deficit spending will probably be worse than Reagan’s but mainly because Republican President George W. Bush left him with a massive financial meltdown, requiring more spending to avoid a second great depression.  Obama has actually been paying Bush’s GOP debts.  

The following is a chart from the Washington Post showing the huge increase in the debt under Reagan: 

Bad News

Last week pointed out the terrible state into which American news reporting has fallen.  Brian Williams got suspended for not telling the truth about an experience in Iraq or Afghanistan, but the real problem was that the network news has deteriorated into worthless fluff.  The lead story is almost always the weather, because it is so easy to report -- no need for overseas bureaus, correspondents, language ability, etc. -- just put someone outside in the rain, the wind or the snow with a microphone in their hand, and you can fill up many minutes of time that is supposed to be devoted to the news.  The thing is, if the weather story if relevant to you, you can look outside and see what you need to know, or get a much more detailed local forecast, and if the weather doesn't affect you, why do you care enough to watch it for five or ten minutes.  As Carl Bernstein said on "Reliable Sources," it's really entertainment, not news.

The PBS Newshour does a good job of reporting the news, and now so does Aljazeera.  Aljazeera makes the US network news shows look entertainment for idiots.  ABC has even developed its own way of speaking, eliminating most verbs, and replacing them with gerunds.  Instead of saying, "Obama was peaking to the press," ABC says, "Obama, speaking to the press."  And they are very prone to saying things like "right here," or "right now."  ABC seems to be trying to speak like newspaper headlines aimed at people with a sixth grade education.  ABC believes it is speaking to an audience with no knowledge of English grammar or geography, or anything else previously taught in high school.  They clearly believe the American education system is an abysmal failure.  ABC illustrates that today a college dropout like Scott Walker has a good chance of becoming President.

It's amazing that the Muslim/Arab network Aljazeera has a higher opinion of the American public than Walt Disney (which owns ABC) does.

Bill Maher had a great editorial on "New Rules" about how bad the network news has become.  We have learned that the executives of the networks have contempt for the American people and the future of the United States.

Zbig on Morning Joe

The best thing about "Morining Joe" is when Mika's Dad, Zbigniew Brzeznski appears.  He makes more sense than almost anyone else pontificating on TV.  Today he warned that the US should do everything it can to avoid being perceived in the Middle East and remaining colonial power hated by all who lived under colonialism for the past 100 or so years.  Many in the US seem determined to take on this mantel.  Robin Wright warned against being sucked into defending the artificial Middle Eastern boundaries created by the West after WW I.  The problem with this is that tearing up old borders and creating new ones may lead to more violence than trying to maintain the old ones.  Look at what is going on in Ukraine, where the Russians are trying to establish new boundaries.

It's too bad Joe or Mika did not ask Zbig about Ukraine.  As Pole, this has got to be an issue that is close to his heart and that is perhaps more difficult for him to be objective about.  After all, western Ukraine used to be an important part of Poland.  The borders of poor Poland have moved east or west over the centuries, depending on which power was predominant (Russia or Germany), and who won the last war.

On the Middle East, Mika asked her dad about Netanyahu's address to Congress.  Zbig correctly said that this invitation was a terrible idea.  It was an attempt to undercut Obama's policy and negotiations on Iran.  It was an attack by the Congress on the President.  Joe said it was a diplomatic response; Katy Kay said it was pretty strong.  I think it was a strong rejection of the Republican effort.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Friedman on Turkey

I like Tom Friedman.  Despite his being Jewish, he is usually very evenhanded in his treatment of Middle East issues.  However, I have a problem with his column in today’s NYT.  He starts off by criticizing Turkish President Erdogan for anti-Semitism, which is a valid criticism.  Erdogan probably is anti-Semitic, but he also probably has some reason to be concerned about Jewish animosity toward him.  Friedman, jokes about the lack of a real Jewish threat to Turkey, “So few Jews, so many governments to topple.”  

Then Friedman proceeds to cite statistics from Larry Diamond at Stanford about how democracy is failing all over the world.  He says that Putin and Erdogan are the poster children for this trend, concluding, “Rule of law in Turkey is being seriously eroded.”  I couldn’t find out anything about Larry Diamond’s personal background, but Larry Diamond is a typically Jewish name.  The closest connection I could find was that Diamond lectured at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem in 2013.  So, it seems that despite Friedman’s claim that Jews have no interest in Turkish politics, a man who is probably a Jew is fiercely criticizing Erdogan.  Of course many Gentiles are also fiercely criticizing Erdogan. 

I wouldn’t worry so much about this if I didn’t think there were more to it.  Friedman’s posturing that there’s nothing to worry about from us Jews -- we’re just sitting here in Jerusalem minding our own business – rings hollow.  A French Jew, Bernard-Henri Levy, led the campaign to assassinate Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, plunging Libya into chaos, which is terrible for everyone from the Libyans, to the Americans, to the Italians, but not for the Israelis, who rejoice when Muslims kill Muslims (or Christians).  Jews win without fighting.  But there is fighting going on, fomented by Jews in Israel, America, France, and probably other places. 

Of course the argument is that the Muslims are to blame, and they are.  But they have had a lot of help stoking the fires of their animosity, from the creation of Israel in the 1940s to the invasion of Iraq in the 2000s.  Turkish-Israeli relations were not helped by Israel’s 2010 attack off the coast of Israel on the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara, part of the Gaza flotilla raid, in which the Israelis killed eight Turks and one American.