Monday, May 30, 2005

Rolling Thunder

Operation Rolling Thunder was the bombing campaign against North Vietnam. From late 1964 to the summer of 1968 we attacked targets from the DMZ to the border with China from bases in Thailand, South Vietnam and carriers in the Gulf of Tonkin. We suffered brutal losses operating under restrictive rules of engagement in a flawed policy of gradual escalation that seemed more attuned to domestic politics than serious war fighting. Rolling Thunder is the subject of my first book of combat experiences titled, “When Thunder Rolled.” It created a group of now aging warriors who gather each year as members of the Red River Valley Fighter Pilot’s Association—the River Rats

This year the reunion was in Washington D.C, just across the street from the White House and only a short walk from the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial. I hadn’t been to the Wall in six years, and the last time I was there I came away mad at an America that would memorialize veteran’s of most wars with soaring white monuments, glorious in art, sculpture, scope and vista. My memorial was black and buried, almost invisible if you weren’t sure exactly where to find it. You could walk within a hundred yards, unaware of the marble wall with those 58,245 names. A dog-eared directory chained to a pedestal lists them and provides direction to the panel and line where you can find the memory of your friends and comrades. Frankly it wasn’t an honor or a glory to be there. It was depressing.

I got to Washington on Wednesday of last week. On the way in from the airport you could see the first gatherings of the big iron that is Rolling Thunder now. The Thursday paper suggested 150,000 motorcycle riders would be here for the parade on Sunday. By Friday the estimate was well over 200,000 and Saturday it had soared to nearly 300,000. The throaty roar of Harley-Davidson was everywhere. The bikers are older than most that you see in Middle America. These guys tend to be over fifty with gray hair, a lot of wrinkles, a few tattoos and leather vests that are festooned with Vietnam war unit patches, ribbons, medals and slogans. They reek of patriotism, not Pennzoil. They are vets and family members and folks who simply remember what it was to give for your country and your buddies in a war and then be reviled when you came home. They’ve adopted the name Rolling Thunder
for their pilgrimage to the Wall each Memorial Day and they wear it well.

When you walk the Mall in the capital this week-end you see something that isn’t reported very prominently in the main-stream media. There are thousands of families walking somberly, holding the hands of their little children and carefully pointing out the symbols and history of America to a new generation. They are at the Wall and the incredibly beautiful World War II memorial. They are silently looking up at the seated Lincoln, the standing Jefferson, the pancho-clad soldiers arrayed in the Korean War Memorial, the White House with the barriers that we now take for granted in a world of terrorism. There is respect. There is pride. There is a return to faith in the principles that have made America so special in the world’s history.

The Rolling Thunder parade rolled, four-abreast from the Pentagon, across the 14th Street Bridge, down Constitution Avenue to the Capital and then back to the Wall and the Lincoln Memorial. For nearly eight hours, motorcycles rolled down the streets with people waving American flags, wiping a tear occasionally and feeling good about our country again. The final number of bikers estimated in the ride has reached 400,000.

Today, the President has just finished laying the wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington. Anyone who can’t feel good about American when you view that ceremony simply isn’t paying attention.

And, at lunch on Sunday afternoon, a small group of fighter pilots and wives visited the Old Ebbitt Grill just around the corner from the hotel. When the meal was over, the waitress quietly thanked us, recognizing the logo on our shirts from the River Rat and Vietnam POW reunion. The restaurant would be honored if we would allow them to pay for all of the drinks with our meals. It’s a long way from the taunts of “baby-killer” from the war resisters that met us when we came back through San Francisco in those days of the war.

Yep, you won’t see too much of it in the major newspapers. But, America is back. We’re proud to be Americans. We are the brightest hope in the world for a better life for all people. We’re big, we’re strong, and we’re loud and pushy. We’re Americans and we’re damned proud of it regardless of what you might have heard.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Political Questions

First hour of first class in virtually every political science class I ever taught, I would have the students introduce themselves. Not the usual, “I was born at a very early age,” sort of bio data, but a four question survey to get everyone loosened up and set the stage for discussion of political science things. Give us:

1.) your name,
2.) your reason for taking the course,
3.) your previous political experience if any, and,
4.) your political hot-button issue.

Results were predictable. Reasons for taking the course were the trite, “to learn more about blah-blah-blah”, or the obvious, “to get an A” or “because it’s a requirement.” Previous experience ranged from “voted”, to “protested/picketed”, to "campaigned" for Joe Bagadonutz when he ran for school board, to worked in the local office of U.S. Senator Phineas J. Phogbound.

The hot-button issue was the real meat I wanted to butcher. A few simpering sycophants had nothing that really blew their skirt up; nothing about which they were upset; nothing for which they would take to the streets, write a campaign check, or knock on doors to correct. Most, however, would raise the familiar litany of America’s gripes. Some opposed war, some wanted environmental safeguards, some were against globalization (whatever that means this week), some wanted lower taxes, some wanted higher wages, some wanted universal health care, and inevitably, some were pro-life and pro-choice.

Abortion is the quintessential issue of American ideology. It, not Social Security, can be called the true “third rail” of politics. It’s the place where a candidate misstep can provide the irrefutable evidence of unsuitability for office for half of the electorate. And, it is going to be revisited in the coming months by those non-partisan (sarcasm intended) seers of the Supreme Court who will be providing some additional convolutions of language and logic to tell us whether or not a state can legislate to require parental notification prior to allowing a pregnant teen-ager to have an abortion. (If you need proof of the strong mind-set of nearly everyone regarding abortion, think about how you already knew what the proper outcome of the court should be while reading the previous sentence.)

The lesson to be learned from the discussion of all of the hot-button issues was that the role of the political scientist was NOT to be an advocate for our particular position on issues. Having now had the opportunity to express their major political concern, for the remainder of the semester they would be asked to strive for objectivity rather than emotional advocacy. The fact they were to learn was that political questions inevitably have two opposing sides. Each side believes strongly in their position. Each brings rational (in their own mind) justification for their preferred action. Each denies the logic of the opposition. And, unfortunately, each demands a “perfect” policy which will never achieve sufficient commitment from a large enough majority to be enacted.

If we all agree on a course of action, there is no political question. We simply pass the required policy and press on. There’s no significant political debate on whether or not we should outlaw murder. Only when there is conflict do we get political activity, and then we must try to find what possible solution might be palatable to enough of the players to make some progress. My students’ job would be to try to dissect the rhetoric of the advocates and determine what the real question was. Then, if they really felt ambitious, they might seek to define what an achievable governmental action might be.

Abortion? Pro-life vs Pro-choice? What’s the question here? More coming soon.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Find Me A Skeptic

I was taught and in recent years I taught, that it is prudent to question everything but most importantly to question those things that you know already to be true. What did I say? Read the opinion pages, the syndicated editorials, the seldom-really-news, news pieces of the daily paper. What you find increasingly is a blind, willful acceptance of a litany supportive of what the author believes. That’s what caused the fall of Dan Rather. That’s what triggered the recent stumble of Newsweek. That’s what drives the political debate of the great unwashed masses of America. Give me a quote that supports what I already know to be “true” and I’ll suck it up. Give the quotee a title from some ultra-high-falutin’ think tank and I’ll repeat it forever as support for my position.

Today we’ve got Marie Cocco from the Washington Post. (Note that I refrain from the puerile referencing of the paper as the “compost”!) Quantanamo a Moral Cesspool

Get this. She absolves Newsweek of guilt for the false story about Quran flushing. The condemnation she spews is aimed at the White House and the Pentagon. That’s right, telling lies that we’d like to be true resulting in death, destruction and damage to the US internationally isn’t so bad, the really bad thing is having the temerity to point it out to Newsweek and the nation. Messenger-cide?

Then, we get a whole series of quotes and attributions to support the fact that what Newsweek falsely reported really, truly, could have happened, maybe, possibly. Marie starts with a thesis, as should all good writers. Her thesis, which she will attempt to prove is that the incarceration facility at Quantanamo (I assume she means the prison and not the whole Naval installation, but who can be sure,) is a “moral cesspool, created and perpetuated by an administration that is drowning this nation’s reputation in a swamp of malfeasance.” Wow, and I thought sex in the oval office with interns was a moral outrage. Who would have thought detention and interrogation of anti-American terrorists was so bad?

Then, we get the supporting documentation. I’ve cut these down to simply the attributions to make my point regarding the need for skepticism. Tell me if you think the statements from these sources could possible be biased or self-serving. You’ll need to follow the link above to read what they said, I’m simply demonstrating the sources.

“several detainees have said so…”
“journalists around the world…”
“lawyers and former military personnel…”
“three released Britons…”
“an interrogator referred to as ‘Brooke’…”
“Saar then describes in his book…”
“lawyer Tom Wilner says a guard told his Kuwait clients…”
“a different lawyer…”
“the International Committee of the Red Cross…”

Am I the only remaining person who thinks that detainees have a motive in discrediting their captors? Do I err in being suspicious of journalists? Does anyone really trust lawyers? Does someone who just wrote a book want to be controversial? Did the International Committee of the Red Cross do very well with regard to spotting torture in Hanoi or Baghdad when US military were held?

And, then Ms Cocco finishes her diatribe with the required reference to Abu Ghraib, a note that no senior officers or civilian policy-makers have been rebuked, and a coup de grace, that the President alone “dug this hellhole and plunged us all into it.” She overlooks that those involved have been court-martialed, that those above have been exonerated and that most skeptics have been satisfied with the thoroughness of the investigation.

So, the guilty (Newsweek) aren't to blame and the innocent (the military leadership and the administration) haven’t been properly punished. Only in America could such logic earn a paycheck in the nation’s capital’s newspaper.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Flush This

Why do they tweak so easily? And, once tweaked, why then do they go on a rampage, burn their own shops, overturn their own cars and kill a bunch of local folks? I know all about cultural differences, and I understand the emotionalism that attaches to religious symbols. But, I still don’t understand the wisdom of destroying everything around you in a fit of high moral outrage when someone tells you that someone thousands of miles away reportedly did something, somewhere that you might find offensive.

I’m talking about the fictitious Quran flushing at Quantanamo. Flush This

Let’s just stand back for a moment and consider the physical probability of the act. You’ve got a toilet. It flushes semi-solid waste with a congressionally mandated 1.6L splash of water. Now, you’ve got a religious book. It’s a minimum of a couple of hundred pages of fine print on thin paper, with a leather, cardboard or cloth binding. Try it yourself in the privacy of your own home. Take Jane Fonda’s or Hillary Clinton’s ghost-written "auto"-biography and place it carefully in the porcelain receptacle. Now flush. Try again. Let soak for an hour or two. Flush once more. Now, get mop to clean up overflow and consult Yellow Pages for plumbers to unclog toilet. It simply doesn’t work.

But, I suppose one would have to have some familiarity with the appliance in question to apply that logic.

Of concern here is not a bunch of third-world, illiterates responding in knee-jerk fashion to the encouragement of the fundamentalist ideologues, but the responsibility of an American news magazine to confirm beyond the shadow of a doubt such inflammatory accusations before publication. Didn’t they learn a thing from Rather-gate? Do they really hate their own nation so much and distrust the morality, ethics and motivation of their own military so sincerely that they will publish this drivel?

Now, fifteen people are dead, thousands more who don’t read the retractions (or for that matter anything) will forever believe the newly established urban legend and Newsweek simply says, golly we’re sorry. If one were consciously trying to undermine the creation of democracies in the Middle East, jeopardize our troops and embassies, and destabilize the region by fomenting hatred for America, it would be hard to find a simpler and less costly strategy than that of Newsweek. Simply publish some outrage, watch the fires burn and blood flow, then note on page 26 of the B-section two weeks later that you were wrong.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Food Fight!

Ahhh, the dark under-belly of American politics is once again exposed. The posturing, the anti-military bias, the “give peace a chance” mantras, the “bring our troops home” posters, the “no blood for oil” bumper stickers, the search for the peace dividend so we can stop supporting war and start supporting lazy, ignorant, pregnant welfare-queens. All of that gets put by the wayside when BRAC comes to town.

Suddenly it is revealed, that everyone wants peace and no one wants war, however, everyone wants to have a military base in their backyard so they can have jobs, barbershops, tailor shops, tattoo parlors, pawn-shops and various small occupied-nation-transplant owned ethnic restaurants. Although it would be good to dismantle the military and spend all that money on the “working poor” who don’t work and the less fortunate who are simply lazy, we all would like to retain a monument to the military in our town just for old time’s sake. And the $$$.

The Base Realignment And Closure list was released Friday and now everyone is in maximum palpitation mode demanding that their particular fiefdom be preserved. Congress-critters who yesterday morning were more than happy to vilify the military in general and the war in Iraq in particular are now screaming that they must have their local bases or the entire state which they represent will fall off of the economic precipice and into the nearest ocean, even if the base is in S. Dakota. So, what gives?

When an ox gets gored, the owner gets upset. If the ox is subsidized from afar and the owner reaps considerable economic benefit from the labor of the ox, then the owner will really be mad. The greater good that accrues to the entire village as a result of the goring is going to be overlooked as the ox-owner tallies up the personal costs for that greater good. When the local military establishment gets threatened, neighbors will lose jobs. Shops will close. Home values may slump as the market gets saturated temporarily by military and contractor relocations. It can be traumatic.

But, it has happened before. And, if we take a moment to stand back and see what the outcome was where it previously occurred, we might be reassured. Anyone but me remember places like Lowry AFB, Ent AFB, Williams AFB, Amarillo AFB, Kelly AFB, or Walker AFB? All gone today. But, where each one stood there has been urban, commercial and industrial development that brought new vitality, new jobs, a better environment and incredible community growth.

Certainly the thought of a significant jolt to the local status quo is frightening. Base closures, however, don’t happen overnight. Drawdown and planning take time. As they occur, transition planning and community participation minimizes the impact. The lights don’t go out in an instant, but rather dim slowly over several years. As the lights recede, new lights are installed.

Here in Colorado it’s easy to be smug. We made out well in the new BRAC recommendations. We’ll gain a lot of new jobs and new missions. But, we’ve taken our hits in the past. Here in Colorado Springs, we can still see vestiges of the old Ent AFB. Now, it’s the home of the US Olympic Training Center—a valued community resource and a major tourist attraction. In Denver, the former Lowry AFB now offers beautiful housing sub-divisions, winding streets and parks, a vigorous technical center and a lot of commercial development. In Roswell at the old Walker AFB, they’ve become a major training area for large commercial airliners—plenty of low traffic airspace, great weather, low cost of living, and existing infrastructure made the conversion a win-win situation for everyone.

The fact is that the Cold War is over. The nuclear stand-off with the forces of darkness has transitioned to an unconventional war on terrorism that doesn’t require the same configuration of our military. You don’t hunt down an Al-Qaeda operative with a SLBM loaded nuclear submarine. We need to change our equipment, our organization, our training and our priorities. In doing so, we’re going to save some money, increase our efficiency and necessarily modify our infrastructure.

Are people going to be impacted? Sure. Are congress-critters going to be jeopardized by individuals who lose their jobs and hence blame the local politician? Undoubtedly. Is it necessary? Absolutely!

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Fear of Flying and FAA Failure

Wow, what a drama in DC yesterday. In minutes the alert level goes from yellow to orange to red. Cops are running into the legislative chambers waking up the congress-critters. Nancy Pelosi loses her shoes, Frank Lautenberg loses his bearings, Ted Kennedy loses his lunch, John Kerry puts himself in for a Purple Heart for stubbing his toe on an errant intern that got in his way.

In seconds, there are cameras everywhere recording people running through the streets and intersections in a macabre replay of New York City 9/11. What are the odds that there would be so many TV cameras already in place and providing feeds to the major media within seconds of the event? Are there cameras everywhere in the Capitol waiting for disaster? Do I need to be extra careful at the end of the month when I’m in Washington for a little reunion business?

But, there overhead are a pair of F-16s and a Blackhawk helicopter. In literally minutes, they’ve launched, vectored and intercepted the errant aircraft. (By the way those were JET Fighters, NOT fighter JETS—remember in WW II, we didn’t call them fighter PROPS did we?) In short order the Cessna 152 was nudged away from the center of the nation, the waffle butts of Congress were saved to go about their business of disassembling the Constitution and the flap was over.

So, what’s the story here? Well, from the point of view of a career aviator and not a media talking head, let me make a few observations. What do we know? We have a light airplane. It is a two seater with a student pilot and an instructor pilot. They are purportedly enroute from Pennsylvania to North Carolina to attend an airshow. Did they do anything wrong? Is there something to learn?

First, let us note that there are various kinds of airspace. No one, not private pilots nor airliners nor military planes can simply fly wherever they wish. You can fly under visual rules and you don’t always need to file a flight plan. But, there are certain chunks of airspace where you can’t go without proper authorization and some place where you can’t go under any circumstances ever. The space needing authorization is usually labeled “Restricted” and the no way/no how space is called “Prohibited”. There isn’t very much of that prohibited space in our free country, but the White House and the Capital are in the center of one of the few chunks with that designation.

Second, every licensed pilot learns what the various airspace types are. Every single one. Every map used for flying shows the space, so you can’t forget what is where. Even if you didn’t bring a map, few are so ignorant in aviation (at least I thought so until now,) that they don’t recognize the center of the capitol as not a place to go wandering.

Third, if you are going for a 400 mile trip in a two-seat tiny plane, you PLAN. You draw a line on a map. You measure courses and distances. You make a list of navigation aid frequencies to help you. You make a list of radio frequencies of agencies like Flight Service Stations, Air Traffic Control Centers, airport control towers, etc. You figure your fuel consumption and consider the weather. You write the plan down and you fly the plan.

Fourth, if you are an instructor with a student pilot you teach the student these things which are not already habit. That’s what you get paid for. You don’t simply hop in the airplane and head south looking for North Carolina.

Fifth, you look out the window and if you are an American you can recognize the Capitol, the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, the Pentagon, etc. If you see them, you know you aren’t where you are supposed to be. Period.

Sixth, as you fly you continue to look out the window. If you see F-16s closing on you, you acknowledge their presence so they don’t have to resort to flaring to attract your attention. What the hell were these fools looking at?

Now the media says no charges to be filed. FAA action is undetermined so far. Let me suggest that FAA inaction that certified this fool to be an instructor is the first cause. License should be suspended. For life! Student pilot should know better. License suspended for at least a year. Fines should be considered. FAA evaluator that certified the instructor should be suspended indefinitely. Club that owned the airplane and let these two dimwits take off for a weekend should have their charter revoked.

Ahh, but you say, “no harm, no foul.” What if the F-16s or the Blackhawk had been forced to fire at the aircraft? Where would the airplane have fallen? Where would the 20MM shells have hit in Washington DC? How many lives could have been endangered?

Yes, there was no terrorist threat. No one was loaded with C-4 and headed for the dome of the Capital. There were no chemical or biological agents to be disseminated. Just a couple of fools out for a fun week-end. And, thousands of dollars were spent. Thousands of people were frightened and unnecessarily endangered. And now we need to assess what is wrong with the system that allowed it to happen. The terror response was great, the pilot training and certification system is what needs first-aid.

As a final note, let us also recognize that the DC cops and the Capitol police did a fantastic job and responded very quickly. The AF guys in the Vipers did a great job safely and showed that response is up to the task. The Blackhawk guys were equally professional. And the local forces that responded all the way to the touchdown of the intruder were damn good.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Orwell-Speak and Fear-Mongering

The headline in the Denver Post was “Social Security Isn’t Welfare”. The original editorial by Froma Harrop in the Providence RI Journal-Bulletin wasn’t quite so “peace is war” new-speak, but the text still offers the same hysteria that something might be done to finagle the sacred creation of FDR. Social Security Isn't Welfare

Let’s start with some basics. If you make $100 this year and next year I promise to give you more, that’s a good deal. If the following year I promise to give you still more, that’s the concept of adjustment to Social Security benefits. If, however, I don’t give you quite as much—still more, but not as much more—have your benefits been slashed? A reduction in rate of growth is not a cut!

Now, if you look at SS today you’ll find some interesting things. Is your SS benefit taxable? Don’t answer until you check if you intend to make any money on your own. If you are unable or unwilling to make any more money, you won’t pay any income tax back on your SS checks. But, if you find that a lifetime of experience, training and education allows you to contribute to society guess what? You will be taxed on your Social Security benefit. And, if you make more than a paltry $12k per year you will have to start reducing your SS benefit by $1 for every $2 you make.

So, Ms Harrop, why all the frantic wailing? She says:

“Under the president's new proposal, workers earning over $36,500 in today's dollars see massive cuts in Social Security benefits. What would follow is easy to predict: Most workers stop regarding Social Security as an essential source of their retirement income. They start resenting their Social Security payroll taxes more than they already do. Some accuse the low-income beneficiaries of not having worked as hard as they did, or failing to save for retirement. In the end, broad support for the Social Security system crumbles, and Congress finds excuses for throwing it overboard.”

Get this Froma, most working people already have stopped regarding SS as an essential source. They take care of themselves and they don’t want nanny government fiddling with them.

In some sort of Owellian new-speak, she contends that SS is self-sufficient while blatantly ignoring the predictions of an unbalanced future.

“For the record, today's Social Security is not welfare. It is the least welfare-like of any government program. The workers pay for it entirely themselves, out of their payroll taxes. Unlike farm supports and Medicare, not a penny comes from the Treasury.”

Duh? You don’t pay for it yourself. You pay for it for someone else, in the fervent hope that someone else will pay for it for you when you become eligible. Get the distinction? The extra pennies in the past didn’t come FROM the treasury, they flowed INTO the treasury where they were spent by profligate legislators buying themselves votes by handing out bread and sponsoring circuses.

In a remarkable suggestion which seems contrary to her original thesis, she finishes by suggesting a draconian solution. If “political leaders want to turn SS into welfare” they should abolish the payroll tax and fund the benefit out of general revenues. Of course that would be unpalatable and she knows it. A huge tax increase might look good to the 40% of Americans who don’t pay any income tax to begin with and would certainly appeal to the redistribution aficionados of the far left, but it wouldn’t keep the politicos in office who depend upon massive campaign contributions from the folks who make money for themselves.

She wants more progressivism on taxes—really sock it to the “wealthiest X percent”. She wants “levies on corporate profits”—we can’t be advocating success or competitive industry can we? She wants more taxes on investment income. That should put a damper on the growing economy. In short she really advocates for a system that stifles creativity and independence while rewarding laziness and dependence. Sounds a bit--nay, more than a bit—Marxist to me.

She finishes with this:

“Do this, and you don't have anything resembling Social Security as we know it. You have a welfare program for indigent old people. This idea -- not original to me -- is simply a straighter path to the destination proposed by the president. In either case, you end up with a welfare program helping only poor people. That's the worst kind of welfare to depend on.”

Am I missing something here? Isn’t any welfare program one which helps “only poor people”? The rest of us don’t need or want welfare.

Rather than employ all of those destructive economic policies she proposes why not let us keep a bit of our own money and put it into investment accounts where we could be responsible for our own success, plan for our own retirement, enjoy the fruits of our own labor and build our own estates?

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Socialist Security Reform II

After ridiculing Nancy Reagan when she recommended that folks “just say NO!” to drugs, now the Democrats seem to be adopting the policy wholesale. I defy anyone to tell me something that the “progressives” (yes, that is meant to be sarcastic,) are proposing as policy to cure the ills of the nation. Simply opposing any and all that comes from the administration might be easy for them to implement as daily talking points, but it results inevitably in a pretty dismal record to run for re-election on.

It would be hard to argue that Social Security is simply coasting along stunningly and no problem exists. But, when the discussion begins to range into numbers and details the language quickly becomes mind-numbing and the numbers overwhelm. The core constituency of the Democrats doesn’t deal with these concepts very well. Eyes roll up in heads and necks snap dangerously as the masses nod off. Conflict, as in the daily dose of soap opera is so much more exciting.

That may be why they don’t read the Wall Street Journal. But, if you want the numbers handled by someone with a level of expertise well above my bumbling, you need to take a look at Wall Street Journal on SS Reform by Robert Pozen.

I’ve got just a bit of experience with Social Security and it left me with “issues.” My father worked hard all of his life, but that life wasn’t as long as it needed to be to recover what he paid in to Social Security. He dropped dead at 58 and therefore all of his contributions went missing. Mom had also worked all of her life, so when she finally started drawing her benefit at 65, she didn’t get any of Dad’s cash, only her own. Imagine how many millions of folks shuffle off this mortal coil without claiming a penny of their contributions. That’s the money the wailing and weeping Dems want to keep from going into private accounts. That’s “your money” and you should be able to leave it to your family when you go.

When Mom checked out, it was on the 30th of April. She expired about 10:00 AM on the very last day of the month. She didn’t receive her April SS benefit however. We had to pay that back, since she hadn’t completed the month. She was alive on every day of April. She ate food, paid utilities, owed rent and had every expense of life throughout the entire month, but the SS system grabs your last month’s check as a matter of policy. Seems as though you ought to plan to die early in the month to maximize your benefits.

When I started claiming my Social Security recently I got another surprise. I went with the early option at age 62, since the tables all tell me I’d have to live past 78 to break if I waited until 66 and a couple of months for “full retirement.” My birthday is in September, so in the entire month of October I was retired and eligible. Ahhh, but SS doesn’t pay you for that first month. I didn’t get my first check until November. Was I not supposed to spend anything for a month? What a racket. They nick you for the first and last month of your retirement and don’t give you a nickel if you check out early.

Seems to me that something has to be done and it would make a lot of sense for folks with an interest to get on the backs, figuratively, of their congress-critters and demand some serious debate on this. You can’t “just say NO!” if you want to be re-elected.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Make My Day

The Non-Nuclear Option

The tension builds inexorably as we all sit on the figurative edges of our collective public seats waiting for Senator Bill Frist to drop the bomb. Or not. Frankly, Scarlett, no one in middle America cares. But, wait. It can’t be true. The Democrats are perverting the judicial appointment process by not giving the President’s men and women an up or down vote. The Republicans are attempting to pack the court with “people of faith” to correct the liberal legislating from the bench that has corrupted our court system. The people must be terribly concerned. Naaahhh. They haven’t noticed. Only a few hard-core political junkies are paying much attention. There’s more interest in how much Ms Wilbank’s dress cost and whether or not widdle Mikey Jackson had merlot or pinot noir in his soda can.

How about this for a solution? Let the Democrats filibuster!

I mean it. Let them filibuster. Don’t simply cave because they THREATEN to filibuster. Put the item on the agenda, call it to the floor and then let them go for greatness. Make them put up or shut up. Let them show the people who put them there exactly what it looks like. Don’t simply say you threatened to filibuster so we won’t bring the issue up. C’mon Senator Frist, you da man. Set the agenda. Let’s have a filibuster. Let’s stop the business of the nation while Bobby Byrd reads in his sonorous West Virginia Klan Kleagle voice from the Washington phone book.

We don’t need to remove the filibuster option from the convoluted rules of the Senate. We simply need to force the hand of the obstructionists. If they are correct in their assumption that the people want to be protected from these judicial appointments, they will make political hay while they have their day in the sun. But, if the lumpen-democracy doesn’t like their display, they will suffer at the polls come November 2006. Isn’t that the way it is supposed to work? It ain’t quite nuclear, more like a .44 Magnum of parliamentary procedure.

“Ah Ah, I know what you're thinking. 'Did he fire six shots or only five?' Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement I've kinda lost track myself. But being this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you've got to ask yourself one question: 'Do I feel lucky?' Well, do ya, punk?"