Friday, April 29, 2005

Storm Warning

New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman, in his piece in today’s Times entitled “What, Me Worry ?” denounces the Bush administration for having “no big idea” on the home front despite big plans for foreign policy “worthy of a presidency and America’s long-term interests.” Mr. Friedman, who is a more thoughtful liberal then average, cites as cases in point America’s broken school system, particularly high schools and the related unwillingness or inability of the administration to deal with rising economic competition from Asia, most particularly China and India. Immigration, intellectual property law, and many other areas touched on today by Mr. Friedman, and in several insightful articles of his recently, all need to be addressed to adequately cope with what he styles, the “flat world” produced by high technology and globalization.

If you’re wondering why the administration has big foreign policy plans, but “no big idea” on the domestic front, leave the editorials and the op-ed page and go back into the news section of your paper. Yesterday, Congress finally managed to accomplish virtually its most important function, passing a $2.6 trillion budge resolution for Fiscal Year 2006. Well, barely passing it, in the House of Representatives, the vote was 214-211, and in the Senate 52-47. If, like El Jefe, you find numbers and money incredibly tedious, keep reading, and you’ll find the solons quarrelling over filibusters, appointments, and everything but the color of the paint (gee, red or blue?) in the Senate washrooms.

Of course the President concentrates on foreign policy. It’s easier. If the President decides he wants to invade Iraq, pressure Kofi Annan, sell F-16’s to Pakistan, or make a trade deal with Japan, he is generally dealing primarily with expert bureaucracies and military organizations run on rational lines which are easier to pull in his direction then 535 little kings and the organized interests behind them.

Congress, of necessity plays a lesser role in foreign policy, and often the aforementioned vested interests have less power here, and often, less skin in the game. F-16 sales to India or Pakistan affect favorably a few congressional districts where such aircraft are built – and of course the interest of millions of Indians or Pakistanis who do not have a vote. By contrast, if you’re a President or a Congressman, and decide you want to make people really sweat, what do you do? Want to get people seriously mad at you? Propose a reorganization of elementary, secondary or high school education in the United States; or restrictions on immigration; or, for that matter, a reform of Social Security. Good luck, Congressman, no more junkets or appearances on Today for you, and please don’t let the door hit you in the behind on the way back to Podunk, Montana.

The American political system is biased against the production of legislation. It was designed that way. When modern American lawyers study constitutional law – they are concerned primarily with the Bill of Rights and the Fourteenth Amendment. The nuts-and-bolts of legislation and the actual operation of the Federal structure are ignored unless we have a disputed election as in 2000.

Trouble is, the system was originally designed in the 1780’s to be operated by a very narrow political oligarchy, who more or less agreed among themselves on how they saw the world, and who kept real political power safely concentrated back in their home state legislatures. It was emphatically NOT intended to serve a centralized, world-wide empire, such as we have today. It certainly cannot operate such an empire when the empire is internally divided – as ours is.

But Mr. Friedman is right, you see. The concerns he sees are, for the sake of our children, and theirs – going to have to be dealt with. A raft of others: the low personal savings rate; personal and public debt; immigration; the place of religion in our society; and many others need attention. These issues are going to be addressed, one way or another, or they will address us, no doubt unpleasantly, and the world is not going to wait while we get our house in order.

The answers to most of the questions confronting us are out there, and aren’t great undiscovered mysteries. I know half a dozen schoolteachers and rocket scientists who, between them, could probably tell you what was wrong with the schools, and how to fix the problems. The same is true of these other issues, also. But the solutions aren’t going to happen for the present, and the problems will continue to fester and grow. Because the division in our country is real too, and it is not over trivial issues, and is not the sort of chasm that can be papered over with conciliatory words and simple political compromises. The Red and Blue State division so apparent last November is really over first principles. Solutions to our problems are not painless, and are going to produce LOTS of losers. And these losers have real political power at present.

Perhaps worst of all, our internal difficulties and division are occurring when a foreign challenge to our continued complacence and prosperity is becoming increasingly likely. A symptom of the changing environment is obvious at American gas pumps every day. Rapidly industrializing powers – China and India, are gobbling up commodities and capital at a frenetic rate. One-fifth the world’s aluminum, a quarter of its copper, a third of the steel and half the world concrete production are being bought up by China. China is now the second largest oil importer, after the US. Economic development, of course, is not necessarily a threat, but it is producing the need, seen by Mr. Friedman, for us to work much harder, and in general be more competitive and up to the mark.

But development is only part of the picture. At the same time, bankers estimate that the total portfolio of bad loans held by China’s state banks amounts to perhaps a third of China’s Gross Domestic Product. Meanwhile the Chinese government faces internal threats to its legitimacy, is pursuing a serious international (or internal, if you buy the Chinese line) dispute with Taiwan, a long time American ally, and has winked at loud and sometimes violent nationalist demonstrations against another American ally, Japan. Meanwhile, across its Korean border, another Chinese ally charitably described as unstable brandishes nuclear weapons at all and sundry. Asia has become a giant great-power war breeder.

The collapse of the Roman Republic has interested me my entire adult life, but I never thought I might live long enough to see a reprise. The Romans’ problems were so eerily similar to our own: How to run a great empire with a government designed for a tiny city-state, while at the same time coping with serious military threats on their empire’s periphery ? They really tried, but the Romans couldn’t solve their problems either, so they lost their beloved Republic and their ancient ruling class and after lots of upsetment, got the Emperors. And most people, when this finally happened, were sick of chaos and glad for the change. Yes, our houses are more comfortable, and our food and medicine better, but I don’t think we’re any smarter than Marius, Sulla, Cicero or Caesar – probably, if anything, less.

Perhaps I’m a little alarmist, but I don’t think so. Our size, wealth and from most of the world’s problems have always assured us a soft landing in bad times. But the toast lands jelly-side down sometimes.

29 April 1975

Today is the 30th anniversary of the fall of Saigon, capital of the Republic of Vietnam, to the North Vietnamese. Despite almost 60,000 American deaths from the early 1960’s to 1972, and millions of South Vietnamese dead, the armed forces of the Republic of Vietnam were ultimately unable to maintain that country’s liberty and independence, particularly after the Democratic majority in the Congress of the United States cut off arms, ammunition and fuel to our beleaguered former allies.

The generals and soldiers of our sometime enemies, the People’s Army of Vietnam, have every right to be proud when they think of their army’s splendid spring campaign of 1975, that toppled South Vietnam in about 55 days. The end result was never seriously in doubt however, because the Soviet Union and China, unlike the United States, ensured their own Vietnamese allies had all the fuel and weapons they needed.

It’s hard to blame the Nixon administration, and its chief negotiator, Henry Kissinger, much, for the sham Paris Peace Accords of 1973, which abandoned South Vietnam to its enemies. Public opinion demanded a rapid American exit from that war, on almost any terms, and Nixon and Kissinger, given their hopeless bargaining position, probably extracted the best terms possible: i.e. a “decent interval” for the Americans to complete their withdrawal before the communist armies overran South Vietnam.

The “Agreement on Ending the War and Restoring Peace in Vietnam” which Secretary of State William Rogers put his name to for the United States, neither ended the war nor restored the peace. Two more years of bitter fighting followed, before the final North Vietnamese offensive in the spring of 1975. During those two years, South Vietnamese soldiers and their Marine brothers often put the lie to the old canard that the ARVN couldn’t, and wouldn’t fight. But it’s hard to fight on when your planes have no gas, and your tanks no spare parts.

Cutting and running– er, withdrawing, from South Vietnam was politically inevitable. In retrospect, what seems completely inexcusable to me (besides, that is, the failure to insist on and receive a full accounting as to our PW’s and MIA’s) was the failure to provide – following American withdrawal – the South Vietnamese with the weapons and supplies they needed to defend themselves.

Besides the moral bankruptcy of leaving people in the lurch who had openly and publicly supported the United States, the cutoff of aid to South Vietnam dishonoured our dead, and ensured their sacrifices were in vain. If America thought it necessary to abandon South Vietnam to its enemies, then why was this not done in 1966, prior to 60,000 American dead, not to mention millions of Vietnamese ?

In particular, the Democratic leadership in the United States Congress from 1970-1975 bears a heavy responsibility for the final collapse of South Vietnam and its consequences – the abandonment of thousands of persons, compromised in the eyes of the Communists, for their pro-US positions, who should have been evacuated in the spring of 1975; for the minimum of 65,000 executions of pro US Republic of Vietnam officials, and others who irritated the new communist overlords; the “reeducation camps” and other prisons reserved for millions more; the pathetic “boat people” and other refugees; and the prison camp country that the communists made of South Vietnam after the collapse, that is only now beginning to moderate, a little.
The Congressional Left and its allies in the media did everything possible to block the Nixon and Ford administration’s efforts to get even a little help to the South Vietnamese, and to their equally embattled Cambodian allies. The sick part was that so many of these people were and are proud of what they did, one of many reasons I’ve never been able to stomach the Left.

Yes, it was all so very long ago now, and I guess that’s supposed to help a little bit. I wasn’t there, and had, so to speak, no oar personally in the water on that one, but I cannot even imagine how angry it would all still make me if I were a vet, or a refugee, or if I had lost someone.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Time for Lunch...

Da Boss was in an ecumenical mood today, and took us to lunch at Masraff’s, a local noveau American/Southern European cuisine restaurant. Super yummy. El Jefe had the Sea Bass stuffed with crab with steamed vegetables, and some really excellent bread. The wine was a California Chardonnay, Bernardus, (02, I think) from around Monterrey. Nice and light, on the sweet side, just right. Was a super good lunch. Have no idea how El Jefe will manage to focus on work this afternoon. Hopefully the large cup of coffee staring at me will help.

Mixed Bag Post

Yes, El Jefe is back in his capital, and has been given a rapturous greeting by his millions of devoted fans, High Patronesses FLINKY and MILO, and anyone else possibly of importance.
Both Heir and his Dad El Jefe agree that camp was fun, El Jefe just wishes he was going. Climbed around on mountains, shot rifles, bows and arrows, and went canoeing, and sundry other stuff. Sleeping accomodations, well, wern't the Ritz, especially at night when it got downright COLD.
Back in town, facing the sad, sad music of work; yet another week with a rent car. (El Jefe's in a couple of, ahem, unfortunate accidents); a busted refrigerator and various other catastrophes. No problems that a trip to a Mexican restaurant and a few very large Margaritas wouldn't solve.
Mixed bag post today. The giant Airbus A380 (capacity of 555 passengers) made its maiden flight at Blagnac, France this morning. El Jefe confesses a certain fascination for this behemoth, largest passenger aircraft ever built, but he is also glad to see that Airbus’s American rival Boeing just booked a $7 billion order for eight B777-200 LR’s, 15 B777-300 ER’s and 27 B787 “Dreamliner” jets.
Boeing’s bet seems to be that the A380, designed to fly hub-to-hub, is too big to be commercially profitable, and that the way to go is with a smaller aircraft, designed to fly to more destinations. Hence, the shorter range “Dreamliner” which can carry 255- 296 passengers. So far, Boeing’s gamble seems to be paying off.

The Republicans in the Senate seem to be prepared to go ahead with their “nuclear option” and change Senate rules to squelch the filibuster for judicial appointments. Stupid, stupid, stupid. The Republicans should, as Dick Morris argues this morning in The Hill – call the Democrats’ bluff and make them really filibuster – complete with endless quorum calls, late night sessions, cots in the cloakrooms, etc.
Once the public sees the Democrats tying-up all public business over some judge in Mississippi, people are likely to see the justice in halting filibusters. But as long as the present pattern of simply conceding when the majority lacks 60 votes continues – without actually pushing the minority to filibuster – it just looks like the Republicans want to cut off debate for their own petty purposes.
Hmmm, today in history. That’s interesting to me, so… In 1812, US troops entered Toronto (then called York) Canada. In 1861, Abraham Lincoln suspended the use of the writ of habeus corpus in several states in the United States. This action was later challenged successfully in the Supreme Court in Ex Parte Merryman. No problem there, though, Lincoln simply ignored the Supreme Court. Other stuff today: in 1941, German troops entered Athens; and in 1822 today was the birthday of the great General and author (but poor President), Ulysses S. “Sam” Grant. Check out Grant's memoirs sometime -- even though my sympathies are with the other side -- I think he wrote a great book.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Off for the Boonies

As the courtiers weep, El Jefe is off for the boonies of central Texas, land of no cellphones, restaurants, cosmos, wine, TV, books, or all the other things that constitute civilization. Sort of like the song at the end of Gilligan's Island: "no phones, no lights, no motorcars...." come-on, sing it. In any case, El Jefe goes, with the Heir, to visit Heir's summer camp. SWMBO will be left to her own devices.
El Jefe hastens to assure the world media, his goombas, his capos, mistresses, other henchmen and hangers on, that he will indeed return, no doubt to much rejoicing. But till next week, adios.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Squandering Opportunities

Despite some successes in Iraq, the Bush White House and the Republican Party seem hell-bent on squandering the advantages they won at the polls this last November. This is apparent on at least three fronts (1) the Bolton UN Nomination; (2) judicial nominations; and, (3) Social Security reform. Mr. Bush and the Republican bosses need to quit coasting and get in the game. The Social Security issue is worth its own post sometime, if I'm ever really bored, (cause it's boring), but a couple of points about the other two issues.
(1) The Bolton UN Nomination. Can't anybody play this game ? It's been obvious since the President announced Mr. Bolton's appointment to the UN ambassadorship that the Democrats (in particular Christopher Dodd) and, more importantly, the left-overs from the Powell State Department days were gunning for Mr. Bolton. Despite all this, the White House and the Senate managers seem to have been caught flat-footed by the intensity of Democratic opposition. They failed to defeat the nominaton on the merits, so the dirty tricks boys have gone looking and come up with a grab-bag of former co-workers with gripes. All very predictable. But most importantly -- they didn't make sure all their own guys were on board before they had their TV hearing yesterday. Stupid, Stupid, Stupid ! Dumkopfs ! Make sure the fix is in before you go on TV. Why didn't Richard Lugar know Voinovich had a problem before he convened the committee ?
The Senate Foreign Relations committee needs a new boss, somebody who isn't a milquetoast. And if this comes out jelly-side down, it should be a cold day in Hell before Voinovich ever gets another highway project, military base, or any more pork from this administation. And no tickets to state dinners at the White House, or invites to the Kennedy Center either.
This isn't over yet, but it's time to think in terms of Bolton going down. Gotta come up with a way to make lemonade out of the Bolton lemon. Make the Demos regret their victory. In lieu of Bolton, come up with somebody likely to be even more unpleasant to the State Department faction that wants to make nicey-nice at the UN. Somebody who will really drive the Ivy League professors bonkers. "Attention, please, attention....Senator Zell Miller, paging Senator Zell Miller...please answer the red telephone in the blue concourse..."
(2) Judicial Nominations. The Republicans are currently mulling over a plan to amend the Senate rules to allow a simple up or down vote on judicial appointments, in order to prevent the Democrats from filibustering Republican judicial nominations. Effectively, the Democrats can, at present, force Bush to have two-thirds approval to appoint a judge. I agree completely that the Democrats have totally abused the Senate rules, and that they will continue to do so, and that a lot of qualified judges will not be confirmed at this point. Priscilla Owen and William Pryor in particular.
However, I also agree with Dick Morris that the Republicans' forcing the issue on the filibuster would be a disaster at this point. By the time you've got your hangover, it's too late to go out on the town and party. The headache here is the price of the misguided Congressional interference in the Terri Schiavo mess. If the Republicans change the rules now and eliminate the filibuster, they will confirm the worst fears of most independent voters that the Republican Party means to force its views on religion and sex on the whole country.
No, I don't agree with this view, but it's a perception that has been reinforced by the Schiavo business. Instead of pandering to votes they already have, I wish the Republicans had done their homework, intelligently introduced their judicial nominees to the country, and tried to make the political case for getting rid of the filibuster. But they wanted to grandstand with Ms. Schiavo instead, and now they are set up to pay in terms of being unable to appoint meritorious persons to the bench.
As distasteful as it is, forget the rules change and let the Democrats play their filibuster game for the present, hopefully as often as possible, and for as long as they want to. Oh, and Senator Frist ? Forget that White House thing for awhile, okay ? You've got a D-minus on your present gig, and it's still headed south. Fix It, Doctor!
Before we can fix the Democrats, they have to be put in the wrong. The game now is to position them for the 2006 elections. Rather than setting themselves up to be tarred (falsely) as "extremists" the Republicans need to concentrate on getting the Democrats to paint themselves as "obstructionists."
In general, for the present, the entire Republican strategy should be built around giving the Democrats all the rope they will take. The Democrats are at present a minority party. They control no national center of power. They cannot reward supporters with offices and jobs. Like Newt Gingrich a few years ago, they have to take aggressive and bold positions to attract donations, and to keep their base motivated. They should be encouraged, nay begged, to do this. to pander to their most committed followers' most self-destructive instincts. Let them filibuster, obstruct and thwart and delay -- all the better to hang their sour attitude around their necks at the polls. In particular, encourage their pacificism and their anti-militarism in foreign affairs. Goad them here any way possible. The pacifist/lefty streak is their weakest point -- too many Democatic Senators next up for election are in Red States -- and this the part of the Democratic worldview that is most out of step with the post-9 /11 world.
But most importantly, the Republicans need to wake up, quit taking victory laps, and get their kaka together. They need to get a plan, and stick with it. The Demos are united at present. They have to be, their backs are to the wall. If the Republicans want to keep them there, they'd better remember that.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Big Selloff in El Jefe Stock Market

Excuse El Jefe, but he's really out of it and feeling a little cornered. Lots of things are combining to give me a real case of the blahs (to use a nice word for it). Rather upset in fact. If my mood was the stock market, the Dow would be down, down, down.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Pope Benedict XVI

The Catholic Church has a new Pontifex Maximus -- Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, the first German Pope since the Eleventh Century. He will be known as Benedict XVI.
El Jefe is not Catholic, so he is able to look upon the new Pope with a certain degree of detachment, but this is a choice that is almost guaranteed to drive the Left bonkers. This was the guy they didn't want -- the liberal bete noire. The former "Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith" is known as a hard-liner conservative on most issues. Not sure I'd agree with the new Pope on lots of things, but still --it's going to be such fun to watch all the Right-Thinking People, who've been vaporing breathlessly about an African or Hispanic progressive Pope for weeks -- go absolutely gaga.
Would be even more fun if the Senate Foreign Relations Committee votes favorably on John Bolton today. El Jefe's cup would positively runneth over. Of course, cardiac wards across the country would be jammed with Liberals thinking the Apocalypse was here...

Monday, April 18, 2005

18 April 1942

Today is the anniversary of the “Doolittle Raid” – when 16 land based U.S. Army Air Corps B-25 bombers, flying from the deck of U.S.S. Hornet, a ship not designed to carry or launch such large planes– gave Japan the first installment of payback for Pearl Harbor, by bombing Tokyo, Yokohama, Nagoya, Yokosuka and other land targets in Japan.

Only six months after Pearl Harbor, American naval and military power in the Pacific was on the ropes. The papers were full of news of defeat after defeat. The day Admiral William “Bull” Halsey’s task force, built around aircraft carrier Enterprise, sailed out of Pearl Harbor to join Hornet at sea (coming from San Francisco), the American garrison on Bataan, in the Philippines, surrendered to the Japanese – the largest mass surrender of US troops to a foreign enemy in history. America badly needed some kind of good news. President Roosevelt insisted that a way be found to hit back at Japan.

The idea for the Doolittle Raid was conceived when Captain Francis Lowe, attached to the staff of Admiral Ernest King, the Commander in Chief of the U.S. Fleet, visited the new carrier Hornet at Norfolk, Virginia. Hornet, (CV-8), commissioned in October of 1941, called “The Ship that Held the Line” by one of her chroniclers, had just one crowded year of life before being sunk by the Japanese, but her service summarizes the first year of the Pacific War: the Doolittle Raid, Midway, the invasion of Guadalcanal, convoy escort duty, the Battle of the Eastern Solomons, sunk at the Battle of Santa Cruz (27 October 1942).
In any case, on his visit to Hornet, Captain Lowe saw, at a nearby airfield, an outline of a carrier deck painted on the tarmac for practice landings. Lowe inquired of another officer, Captain Donald Duncan -- whether large, land-based bombers could fly off an aircraft carrier. Duncan looked into the matter with Hornet's captain, Marc Mitscher, (one of the finest naval officers this country ever produced), and they soon found that B-25's, land-based bombers, with much longer range then smaller naval aircraft, could fly off of an aircraft carrier, (although not return). The means of raiding Japan had been found.
The mission was prepared in great secrecy. The volunteer bomber crews, and their commander, the famous pre-war stunt pilot, Colonel James “Jimmy” Doolittle, had to learn short-range takeoffs at land bases – there was no way the Navy could risk damage to a precious aircraft carrier by allowing the crews to practice on board ship. When training was complete, the bombers were hoisted on board Hornet at San Francisco. Hornet and her cargo of bombers met Enterprise at sea on 13 April, and the thousands of crew members of the carriers and escorting vessels, speculating about the presence of Army bombers on a Navy ship, finally learned their real mission when Admiral Halsey signaled by flag and blinker: This Force is Bound for Tokyo.

The plan was for the task force to move in at high speed to a point 400 miles from the Japanese coast, and, about midday on 18 April, launch the bombers, and turn for home. The B-25’s would then go on to bomb targets in Japan, and then fly to friendly airfields in China. However, about 7 a.m. on the morning of 18 April, the force was spotted by a Japanese patrol vessel. The escorting ships quickly sank the snooper, but Admiral Halsey had to assume the picket got off a contact report and he had to make a decision: launch the planes now – at ranges almost too far for the pilots to be assured of a landing in friendly territory; or wait and risk contact with superior Japanese naval forces. The decision was obvious, although not easy, the pilots and bombers were expendable, the carriers weren’t. Hornet launched her bombers right then – 600 miles from Japan.
As it turned out, the picket ship HAD accurately reported sighting the American force, but missed spotting the Army bombers on Hornet's deck. The Japanese assumed they had an extra day before the ships came in range of Japanese targets. Plenty of time to prepare an ambush. Consequently, the arrival of the US planes over Japan on 18 April, earlier than anticipated, was a complete surprise.

The bombers arrived over Tokyo and their other targets about noon, bombing an oil tank farm, steel mills and power plants, the aircraft carrier Ryūhō (then under construction) and, among other things, breaking up a baseball game. The raiders then made for China, and now the price was exacted for the early launch: One plane crashed in the Soviet Union (its crew interned for the duration), the other 15 planes crash-landed at various locations in China. Most of the 80 pilots and crew survived, but the Japanese captured eight. Three of these men were murdered by the Japanese and one died in captivity.

The Japanese were shocked by the Doolittle Raid, which their propaganda machine quickly christened the “Do-Nothing Raid.” There was some truth to this slam – the military damage was negligible, but the psychological damage was immense. The Japanese generals and admirals had assured the Japanese people that American planes would never bomb Japan, and the commander in chief of the Japanese fleet, Admiral Yamamoto, personally apologized to Emperor Hirohito. More importantly, the Doolittle Raid goaded the Japanese Naval Staff to finally approve Admiral Yamamoto’s plan to do something about the U.S. Navy’s pesky aircraft carriers, which resulted in, among other things, the Battle of Midway.
UPDATE: A question has been posed re the significance of Midway. The Japanese, nettled by the Doolittle Raid, and in any case looking for a decisive showdown with the US fleet, found it at Midway Atoll (northwest of Honolulu/Pearl Harbor, at the west end of the Hawaiian chain). Unfortunately for the Japanese, the battle was decisive the wrong way. The Japanese, looking to ambush and wipe-out the US aircraft carrier force instead found themselves ambushed by the Americans. (who were reading the Japanese codes).

The battle (4-7 June 1942), ended with the Japanese losing four of the six heavy aircraft carriers that attacked Pearl Harbor (Akagi, Kaga, Hiryū, Sōryū). The Americans, for their part, lost carrier U.S.S. Yorktown (CV-5). The Americans could in time replace their losses, the Japanese could not. With the gutting of their carrier strike force, the Japanese were unable to keep the pressure up on the Americans, who then had time to regroup, launch an offensive of their own (the Solomons campaign) and eventually swamp the Japanese with their much greater industrial production.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Naval Nomenclature

Submarine U.S.S. Jimmy Carter (SSN 23) has recently joined the U.S. Navy. Although it is gratifying to see the Navy receive an augmentation of strength in this splendid new vessel (a modified SSN 21 Seawolf class boat), El Jefe confesses that he is less then pleased at the now well-established trend of naming US warships for politicians, some of whom are still living.

El Jefe admits that he finds Jimmy Carter a ludicrous name for a warship, considering that President’s attitude towards the military, but Democratic presidents who view foreign policy as another form of social work are not the only beneficiaries of the Navy’s misbegotten nomenclature policy. The ship list of Nimitz class carriers commissioned since 1975 includes, not only U.S.S. Dwight D. Eisenhower, (CVN 69), U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71), U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72), U.S.S. George Washington (CVN 73), but also carriers named for Presidents Harry Truman (CVN 75) and Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) – as well as ships named for two friends of the Navy from Congress – John Stennis (CVN 74), and Carl Vinson (CVN 70). The pattern is continuing: U.S.S. George H.W. Bush (CVN 77), named for the first President Bush, is even now building at Newport News.

I can see naming ships for Eisenhower, Teddy Roosevelt, Lincoln, and Washington. I can even see Harry Truman and Ronald Reagan as justifiable names. But Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush -- living ex-presidents ? Two Congressmen (however credible their service ) ? That’s a bit much.

If you look carefully at the names of the vessels and the funding and commissioning dates, you can see the political compromises that went into naming these ships – the ships occur in pairs Washington and Lincoln; Truman and Reagan, Bush and Carter. Naming a ship for Harry Truman meant that the original name intended for CVN 75 – U.S.S. United States, could not be used.

The name change for U.S.S. Harry S. Truman illustrates one of the more unfortunate aspects of this contest in political puffing. An earlier U.S.S. United States, a sister ship of the famous frigate U.S.S. Constitution, won one of the most celebrated naval victories of the young U.S. Navy, capturing British frigate H.M.S. Macedonian in 1812. The U.S. Navy, like its parent the British Royal Navy – reuses famous names, or at least it did -- Hornet¸ Lexington, Yorktown, Enterprise, Essex, Boxer, Wasp, Constellation, Texas, Virginia and on and on. For a time, the U.S. Navy even borrowed the fine old British tradition of commerating victories over enemy warships by using the names of defeated enemy vessels -- the U.S. Navy for years had vessels named Macedonian, Java, and Guerriere -- all named for prizes taken from the British.
Modern naming practices slight over two centuries of naval history by passing over such names, or wasting them on less significant vessels. Given the Navy’s need to replace its warships, and to obtain political approval for same, it’s clear why this has occurred, but it’s still rather sad.

Thursday, April 14, 2005


Yes, yes, I know, El Jefe has been silent for some time, away from his capital, brooding on his estates, contemplating his billions on deposit round the world, his many palaces, (more even than Ken Lay in his salad days), his fanatically loyal armies of goombas, his bevies of comely mistresses, his vast wine cellars, cases of scotch, the fifty different types of ice cream in his coolers, his campaign to be elected Pope, or ruler of a small but wealthy country, etc., etc.

Fear not, the Great One is returning, and shall end his silence presently. Lots going on in the world. The John Bolton confirmation hearings (with enemies like his, he must be a prince of a guy); the Republicans in the House of Representatives, (showing again why another name for Republicans has always been the “Stupid Party” as opposed to their counterparts, the “Evil Party.”). If that’s not enough, there are always Euros and other assorted wackos to rave at.
Stay tuned.

Tuesday, April 5, 2005

Book Review: Washington's Crossing

I promise not to inflict my reading tastes on the public too often, but I noticed in the paper today that a book I recently read, David Hackett Fischer’s Washington’s Crossing, just received the Pulitzer Prize for History.

Washington’s Crossing is, of course about the American Revolution, and the pivotal New Jersey campaign of 1776-77. After a series of terrible defeats around New York, (which probably would have rendered the Revolution a minor historical footnote in British Empire history, had Sir William Howe been up to his job), the Continental Army, George Washington and the New Jersey State Militia rose to the occasion and gave the British a bloody nose. What looked like inevitable victory for the King’s armies turned into a long war. Washington’s Crossing is the story of how this reversal of fortune came about.

As the title indicates, the fact that there is a United States at all is due largely to George Washington. The eventual first President emerges as no Napoléon or Julius Caesar but still a good general, learning from his defeats around New York; holding his indifferently supplied, untrained and raggle-taggle army together; managing a surprise river crossing of the Delaware in a winter storm and clobbering British detachments at Princeton and Trenton while avoiding being flattened himself. The defeated British commander in the Princeton operations, Cornwallis, better known for losing later at Yorktown, thought this campaign Washington's finest work.

Of course, while fighting the finest army on the planet with raw troops who did not even have shoes, Washington had to keep one hand free to keep the politicians in Philadelphia off his back – these worthies all being convinced that they were better qualified to do his job. Had good sense not finally prevailed with the politicos, the British, in spite of everything, no doubt would have prevailed.

Washington, then, comes off well, and is perhaps worth a higher valuation of his generalship then I have hitherto given him. The British commanders, on the other hand, Howe in particular, appear to be due substantially lower marks. Howe passed up several chances to destroy Washington’s whole army around New York, apparently deliberately, because he perversely thought allowing his enemy to escape would facilitate a negotiated settlement. Fatal error – depriving the Americans of their one functioning army, at that point in the war, might well have opened the path to negotiations. As Fischer makes clear, the Revolution was very near to political, financial and military collapse in the fall and winter of 1776. The British would never have another chance at military victory.

Professor Fischer spend a little too much space for my taste on “social history,” that is, the obligatory salaam to race, class and gender issues so common in the academy today. I would have preferred a straight, traditional military history, but Professor Fischer weaves his social history discussion right into his narrative, so the story does not suffer too much.

To me, the most interesting part of Washington’s Crossing is Fischer’s treatment of British occupation problems in New Jersey. As the British would discover so often in that war, Tory support was greatest in places where no British troops were to be found. Much of the population of New Jersey, initially neutral, or prepared to be favorably disposed to the British, soon turned against the Crown when the heavy-handed British troops arrived looking for supplies, and not being too careful about which “rebels” they “requisitioned” them from.

In any case, the local inhabitants soon began an effective guerrilla resistance to British occupation which was at least as important as Washington's Army, if not more so – in running the British out of New Jersey. Considering that Americans have been running occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan these last several years, the story of British efforts to pacify New Jersey is very topical, and for me was alone worth the price of the book.

Professor Fischer’s Washington’s Crossing completely deserves its Pulitzer Prize. Anyone interested in the period of the American Revolution will want to have this book.
El Jefe is presently reading Conspiracy of Fools, the new Enron book. Maybe more on that next week.

Friday, April 1, 2005

Shoes and Pies and Salad-Dressing…For Now

Captain Ed over at the Captain’s Quarters Blog calls attention today to the political Left’s new reasoned argument of choice – the food fight. That is, attempting to silence and humiliate and possibly injure their political enemies by throwing food, and other things, at them.

The latest victim is pundit and sometime presidential candidate Patrick Buchanan, doused last night with salad-dressing by a demonstrator screaming “stop the bigotry !” during an appearance at Western Michigan University. Mr. Buchanan declined to press charges for felony assault. This follows a pie in the face on Tuesday for the conservative Weekly Standard’s editor, William Kristol, then speaking at Earlham College, a Quaker institution in Richmond, Indiana.

Finally, there’s the protester who threw a shoe at Pentagon advisor Richard Perle back in February, screaming “Liar ! Liar !”

The hard Left commonly refuses to engage its political enemies' arguments on their merits, and has for years resorted to the Fascist and Communist tactic of trying to shout-down or sabotage speakers of whom it disapproves. My own first exposure to the preferred Leftie method of reasoned debate was during a speech in 1979 or 1980 at the Student Union of the University of Texas by a former official of the Imperial Iranian Government.

This gentleman, who had fled Iran to escape certain execution by the present bandit regime (his brother was not so lucky), was barely able to say “good afternoon” before being heckled and shouted-down by the anti-Shah friends of the liberty and democracy the mullahs were bringing to Iran. Most of these persons were not Iranians, but American leftists, all on fire to stand-up for freedom by muzzling the speaker. After all, anything is fair if one is “speaking truth to power,” and if it’s done for the “people” and not for the “powerful.”

Instead of summoning the campus police to clear the room of the screamers so the rest of the audience, (the great majority) could hear what the man had to say, the organizers and the administration cravenly folded and cancelled the event. I’ve read this gentleman’s books, and I still, to this day, regret the lost opportunity to hear what he had to say in person. (Aside: fascist tactics only work when the authorities are weak-kneed enough to let them).

It was already obvious to most sentient life-forms that the mullahs were going to make the Shah positively look like Thomas Jefferson by comparison, and at the time, I wrote-off the Screaming Friends of Democracy as dolts and idiots. Revolution usually begets dictatorship, not liberty. On reflection, that rabble had instincts much more in common with the Fascist regime of the Mullahs then I realized. But even these people contrived not to throw things.

Conservative speakers need to be careful and keep their heads down and perhaps invest in flak-jackets. The defeats in the last two general elections, the policy choices of the Bush administration, and the evident approval of these things by the American people has stoked the rage of the hard Left to white-hot intensity. The turn of events in Iraq for the better, since the January elections, is just making the Left angrier, because the Bush administration, the Lefty True Believers think, is “getting away with it.”

Shoes and pies and salad-dressing. What’s next ? I’ve written at another place about what I’m afraid may be the answer to this question. Watch out, people.