Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Quick Hitter

Syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker has the perfect characterization of Barack Obama:
Obama is like the guy who ignores the “merge ahead” sign, speeds along the outside lane past other drivers waiting their turn, and expects to be let in at the front.
And you know what? I HATE that guy!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Some Pics

I don't normally post many, okay, I don't really post any pictures in this space. But I figure those of you reading this probably want to know what this place looks like. So, here goes.

This is my trailer, in all its glory. It's about, I don't know, 8' wide by about 18' long, with about 7' ceilings. (I'm saving up for a double-wide!) These first two pictures are the layout as I found it.

So, the first thing I did was to take apart the bunk beds. (Bunk beds? What am I? Six?) Then I put the desk across from the bed so I can see the laptop from my bed. Here's the 'After' picture.

Much better.

I have some pictures of some of the sights around the base, but I'll post them later. For now I will leave you with a couple of pictures of the dust storm we had yesterday morning.

Just a beautiful day in the neighborhood.

At Least We Aren't The Only Country Suffering From PC Run Amok

Several years ago I signed up for the daily 'Expat Bulletin' from the British newspaper, The Telegraph. (Don't ask me why, I can't remember.) Lately, I have been horrified by some of the stories I read in it. This must be a case of misery loves company. Rather than comment extensively on each story, which would take me days, I'm just going to give a link/blurb.

Witness warns police of threats against his life and property and is subsequently killed by illegal immigrant.

Children in the UK aren't being taught to behave either.

Vocabulary police are active in Britain, too.

NHS is near bankruptcy and the government still spends money on touchy-feely programs.

Woman who was not screened for criminal background prevented from taking her severely disabled son to school. (This one is particularly distressing.)

'Yuck' could be racial slur among preschoolers. (Another one that is particularly distressing.)

Britain's most senior jurist says Muslims should be able to adopt facets of sharia. In other news, camel's nose sighted under tent.

Christian couple fired for declining profits in pub where they had banned swearing, stage protest by barricading themselves inside.
(Do as I say, damn - watch that mouth!)

25% of Britons to be vetted for crimes against children says new government bureaucracy.
(Companion piece to mother barred from taking disabled son to school.)

It's hard to know who is to blame for this one, but it's probably lawyers.

Can someone please explain to me why the EU has a rule about the size of kiwi fruit?

Apparently the police in Britain don't have better things to do.

I wonder if they got the idea from the pamphlet distributed by the Mexican Foreign Ministry with tips on how to enter the U.S. illegally.

You get the idea. Britain is in thrall to the forces of PC as much, if not more, than we are.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

In Transit To Iraq

After successful completion of CRC, it was time to deploy. I drove from Fort Benning to Atlanta, dropped off my rental car and flew to Washington, Dulles. Thank goodness I was on United. I was able to use a 500-mile upgrade to upgrade myself to first class. Domestic first class is nothing great, but I get so few opportunities to use those upgrades that I was glad for the chance.

From Dulles, I got on another United flight to Kuwait. I haven't been to Kuwait since the end of 2003. The last time I flew there, I had to go through Frankfurt and then connect to a Lufthansa flight to fly to Kuwait City. Since that trip, United has opened a direct flight from Dulles to Kuwait. Thanks to my travel on the State Department contract, I still had a couple of system-wide upgrades. These things are gold for the frequent flier on United. You get six of them per year if you attain the highest status with Mileage Plus. They are like 'Get Out of Jail Free' cards. You can use them to upgrade one class of service without using any miles. So I was able to fly to Kuwait in business class. Unfortunately, I still didn't fly on one of the United aircraft with the upgraded business class cabins. One of these days...

For the flight to Kuwait, I had stayed up all night the night before so that I would be able to sleep most of the 12 hour flight. This was kind of a mistake, since I would be arriving in Kuwait at 5:00 pm, but it sure made the flight go faster. After dinner, I racked out and only awoke with about 30 minutes until landing.

At the Kuwait airport, I checked in with the Air Force and waited for a shuttle bus to take us to the transit base, Ali Al Saleem Air Base (AAS). We were herded on to buses and driven to AAS. I was kind of surprised that they made us keep the curtains closed. Perhaps it was for our safety, since everyone on the bus had at least a Secret clearance.

At AAS, I checked into the billeting office and was assigned to a tent. Then we went to another desk where we surrendered our passports so the Air Force could get us visas. Finally, I went to another desk to get on the list to fly to Baghdad.

The tents at AAS where you stay waiting for your military (MIL) flight are large tents built on foundations with six sets of bunk beds. Upon entering my tent, I was pleased to see a familiar face. Bob Tsui (pronounced like 'tray') had been a traveler on my last contract, but on another team (Alpha). He also worked for Stanley. It was great to have someone to show me around and offer advice on what kind of things I would need in Iraq. Bob is working on a Marine contract in Fallujah now.

I spent two days at AAS. I didn't really sleep while I was there. One reason was because I had slept on the flight to Kuwait. The other was because there are several formations and roll calls every day. The formations are where they call your name for your flight. They have those every four to six hours. If you miss your formation, you may miss a chance to catch a flight. I was scared that if I slept I would oversleep and miss my ride.

After two days, I finally was assigned a seat on 'Convoy-01'. I put on my body armor and helmet, gathered up my duffels and went to the holding area. After a wait of about an hour, we were driven out to the flight line to embark our aircraft. In this case, Convoy-01 was a Lockheed C-130J from the Japanese Air Self Defense Forces. We took off mid-morning and by midday I had landed at Baghdad International Airport (BIAP).

I was finally 'in country'.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Minimum Wage Myths

On today I found this extra-shoddy piece of editorial disguised as 'Latest News'.

For years the media have been distorting the truth about the minimum wage in order to gain sympathy for raising it. This piece is a textbook example of this type of shoddy reporting. In fact, I think they probably just keep this same story in a 'Boilerplate' directory on their computer networks and trot it out every so often and just update the numbers.

First of all there shouldn't even be a minimum wage. When you artificially set a floor on the price of a good, then you necessarily restrict the demand for it at some given levels. That is just basic economics.

And there is plenty of research that demonstrates that the minimum wage hurts precisely those workers it is designed to help: low-income teens from poor neighborhoods. If there were ever an example of the "We-Must-Do-Something-To-Be-Seen-Doing-Something" style of politics, this is it. Perhaps that is why one of its biggest champions has been Ted Kennedy.

So, let's begin carving up this story, shall we? First we have the title, "Minimum-wage workers live on the edge". Ooh, sounds scary, doesn't it? It's supposed to. Of course, like Obama's message of unspecified change, it really doesn't tell us much. If one lives on the edge of a cliff, a crevasse, an abyss, well, yes, that is bad. But if one lives on the edge of a golf course, a lake or a nude beach, being on the edge can be all right.

Next, following the formula for puff pieces like this, the writers tell us a sad story about someone who is affected by whatever it is they are blowing the lid off of, in this case, the evils of the minimum wage. This article is no exception. We are told a story about Timothy Davis, a 21-year-old who works full time at Wendy's in Atlanta. It describes Timothy's struggle to make ends meet while working for minimum wage for five paragraphs.

This is hugely disingenuous because it is anecdotal evidence and does not give the reader a sense of the proportion of the problem. Also, in this case, it is a bad anecdote upon which to base your argument. The article's opening sentence tells us that three months ago Mr. Davis decided to rent an apartment and move out on his own.

Ok. Let's stop right there. When politicians and reporters demagogue this issue they always portray the minimum wage as something which it is not and was never intended to be. The minimum wage is an entry level wage. It is the least amount of money the law will allow you to work for. It is not designed to be a wage upon which one can build a life, buy a house or support a family.

So, even though the article is trying to get me to sympathize for Mr. Davis, already I don't because in the first sentence the writer has already told me that Mr. Davis has poor decision-making skills. If he is working in a fast-food restaurant and is making minimum wage, Mr. Davis should have looked at moving in with some friends so the rent would be cheaper and the cost of the utilities can be shared. Or perhaps he should be living at home until he can get some kind of job training that will allow him to earn more. What he shouldn't be doing is living in an apartment by himself in a major metropolitan area.

After five paragraphs, the authors finally give us some context of the problem. We are told that, "[a]ccording to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2.3 percent of American hourly workers -- 1.7 million people -- are paid at or below the federal minimum." That is 2.3 percent of hourly workers, not all workers. We are told that 1.7 million people are working at minimum wage. According to that same Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2006 the size of the entire US workforce was 151.4 million people. In other words, this is a problem for 0.011 percent of the total workforce. Kind of puts things in perspective.

Let's read on a bit further, shall we? In paragraph eight we learn that, "[m]inimum-wage earners tend to be unmarried part-time workers in service-industry jobs who are under 25 years old and have not completed high school." In other words, the average minimum wage earner is the most uneducated and unskilled worker in our workforce. Frankly, at $6.55 these workers are likely overpaid, not underpaid. If what you are doing takes no education and no skills, how much do you really expect to make at that particular endeavor?

Paragraph eleven begins with this sentence, "About 60 percent of minimum-wage employees work in the leisure and hospitality industry, primarily food and drink establishments. However, many of these employees receive tips as a significant portion of their income." In other words, not even all of that 1.7 million figure cited in paragraph five are really even earning minimum wage. So really we are talking about less than 0.011 percent of the workforce. Hardly an epidemic.

The article continues on to describe the hardships that such workers endure, such as "find[ing] ways to cut corners, watering down milk and filling up on 'cheap and filling carbohydrates instead of protein,' which can lead to health problems". We are told that Mr. Davis "doesn't buy gasoline, choosing instead to rely on Atlanta's mass transit system."

A Google search turned up a link to the Employment Policies Institute's website that informs the reader that "[t]he average family income for employees who will 'benefit' from the recently enacted $2.10 minimum wage hike is $46,889. Why? Six out of seven of these employees either live with their parents or relatives, have a working spouse, or are single and don't have children." In other words, six out of seven minimum wage earners are not, like this story's lead, Mr. Davis, "living on the edge".

And here is another fact that's editori - that is, "reporters" don't think you need to know.
Virtually all minimum wage employees will see their incomes rise as they increase their value to employers by gaining skills through experience. Analysis of US Census Bureau data shows the median raise these employees receive is six times higher than that of employees earning above the minimum wage.

This traditional growth out of entry-level employment explains why less than 1% of employees above the age of 25 are working at the minimum wage.

In short, CNN is guilty of playing fast and loose with the facts in this so-called news story to give its readers a distorted picture of the plight of the minimum wage worker.

I know. You're shocked.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Is Obama Ever Wrong?

Check out this item from WTOP News. Apparently, Senator Obama was going to visit wounded soldiers in Germany, then changed his mind. And he blames the Pentagon.

I guess the visit with wounded soldiers lost some of its luster when he found out that campaign staff and the press couldn't accompany him.

Do you suppose that would have stopped Senator McCain? Or President Bush?

So much for 'change'

I just saw this item on CNN.

I am shocked! Shocked, I tell you. It seems Barack Obama went to Iraq, left, and still hasn't changed his mind about the war.

So much for his being the Great White Hope of the Democrats.

Well, of course he didn't change his mind. Despite the fact that he went on one of those famous Congressional "fact-finding" missions, Obama managed not to find a single fact while in Iraq. He went over there knowing that his decision to oppose the war was one of the key things that got him where he is today. It would be political suicide for him to change that view now.

Heck, he can't even admit that the surge worked. Instead, when pressed for a comment about the surge, he gave the self-serving answer that we don't know what would have happened had we just listened to him.

Assuming he gets elected, and that proposition looks "iffier" every day, he is going to fit in just fine. Face it, folks, Obama is just another Democrat, committed to the idea that America isn't any better than any other country and that there is no problem that government can't solve.

"Change We Can Believe In", indeed!


Obamania has reached such a deafening crescendo with Grand Tour of Europe that I feel I would be remiss in not commenting on it. I hadn't wanted to, since it would only add to the din, but I feel like I have to.

First of all, let's deal with the obvious. Barack Obama is an undistinguished politician who is his party's nominee because of his race. I say this without malice and it would have been equally true that sex was the determinative factor had Hillary Clinton become the Democrats' standard-bearer.

Close your eyes. I am going to ask you to imagine a politician. His name is John Smith. John Smith is a telegenic, articulate, middle-aged man. He has impeccable academic credentials. He had a short career in the private sector and then returned to his home, a large urban city, to become a community organizer. He spent three years working with a community development organization before attending a very prestigious law school. He excelled in law school and graduated with high honors.

He returned to his hometown where he resumed his work in community development, working with underprivileged residents before joining a small law firm specializing in civil rights legislation.

After four years practicing law, he runs for the state legislature. He gained accolades for his work trying to improve the situation of the underprivileged residents of his state. Next comes an unsuccessful run for the House of Representatives.

Four years later he wins an impressive victory in the Democratic primary in his campaign for a seat in the US Senate. His expected opponent, the Republican incumbent, drops out of the race five months before the election. With less than three months before the election, the Republicans decide to run a candidate with national name recognition but few ties to the state. Smith wins the election.

During his first term he works with several Republicans on some key issues, such as border security and immigration. Still, he remains a largely unknown quantity.

Before completing his first term, Smith decides to explore running for the presidency largely on the basis of a keynote address at his party's national convention that propels him into the national spotlight.

Seriously, would you vote for him? Would you expect him to become the star of a bona fide media circus? Perhaps, you might say, one day with more Senate experience and maybe some executive experience, he may be considered presidential timber. After all, for an elected official, Senator Smith is still a young man.

But as is? I just don't see it.

Consider some other relative newcomers who have surged to prominence. Let's start with Fred Thompson. He captured the country's attention, briefly, but then petered out. And I would argue that Mr. Thompson had both more experience and more name recognition (having had a successful acting career) than Mr. Obama.

Mitt Romney had a very successful private-sector career as a CEO, before rescuing the 2002 Olympic Games in Salt Lake. He followed that by winning the governor's mansion as a Republican in the Democratic stronghold of Massachusetts. By any measure, Mr. Romney has significantly more experience than Mr. Obama.

A similar argument could be made for Michael Bloomberg. Also, these two men are capable of self-financing their campaigns. Mr. Obama is the black John Edwards, without the hugely successful career as a trial lawyer and the resultant money with which to finance his campaign.

So what to make of this hysteria? First of all, there is no doubt that Obama is the subject of genuine enthusiasm among younger voters. But that was true of Howard Dean in 2004 and he imploded spectacularly. And I would argue that they youth vote is unreliable and fickle. (Even though E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post argues that this is the year - finally - when the youth turn out en masse. I'll believe when I see it.)

Frankly, I think Obamania is largely a media-driven phenomenon. The media are the ones who determines who gets coverage and in what measure. And I think their decision to get behind Obama was determined by two factors: his vote against the Iraq War, which the media detests, and his good fortune in not being Hillary Clinton. Mrs. Clinton's cold calculating persona along with her naked lust for the presidency, combined to make her that most fatal of qualities in a candidate, unlikeable.

What I find most maddening and mystifying about Senator Obama is how little of substance he seems to say. His campaign slogan, "Change We Can Believe In", tells us nothing. Change in and of itself is neither good nor bad, unless we know what we are changing from and towards. If I offer to "change" $100 into $50 for you, is that a good deal for you? Of course not. And if I ask you to give me $100 without telling you what it is for, are you likely to give it to me? Again, of course not.

I think Obamania is going to backfire. In the midst of all the hysteria, what the media hasn't told you is that Obama and McCain are basically in a dead heat now. And now Obama's campaign is beginning to smack of pride and narcissism.

I hadn't realized that up until a few months ago, Mr. Obama used to adorn his podium with a seal, complete with a motto in Latin. In the words of columnist Charles Krauthammer, "Who does Obama think he is?"

In Germany, he asked to make his speech in front of the Brandenburg Gate, where John Kennedy famously uttered "Ich bin ein Berliner" and where Ronald Reagan challenged Mikhail Gorbachev to "tear down this wall". Obama can point to no such achievements. Trying to associate himself with these men who faced down a deadly enemy in the Soviet Union reeks of conceit.

Consider this exchange:
“It is not going to be a political speech,” said a senior foreign policy adviser, who spoke to reporters on background. “When the president of the United States goes and gives a speech, it is not a political speech or a political rally.

“But he is not president of the United States,” a reporter reminded the adviser.

And that gentle reminder was from a reporter. Even the people who helped him get where he is are softly suggesting he rein it in a bit!

I think he and his staff have gotten caught up in the hype. I think the more strategic course of action would have been to sit out the 2008 campaign and wait to be courted as a vice presidential candidate and gained experience in a national campaign. If he weren't successful on a national Democratic ticket, then I think he would have done well to serve a term or two as governor of Illinois or mayor of Chicago so that he would have some executive experience to bring to a presidential race.

I think the American people are going to decide that Mr. Obama has gotten a bit too full of himself. He is already acting as though he is the president when many people have not made up their minds about him. With his relative dearth of experience, I think they will decide that it's too much, too soon.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Quick Hitter

It occurs to me that an Obama victory in November will not be a victory for race relations in the US. The Democrats would nominate Krusty the Clown in an effort to retake the White House and dance on George Bush's political grave.

Reporting on Obamania in Europe

Here's yet another item I cribbed from Taranto and 'Best of the Web'. It's from a BOTW reader who is commenting on the fawning coverage of Obama's visit to Germany.

Here's the AP's opening paragraph.

In this city where John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton all made famous speeches, Obama will find himself stepping into perhaps another iconic moment Thursday as his superstar charisma meets German adoration live in shadows of the Reichstag and the Brandenburg Gate.

(An aside: I don't know about "superstar" charisma. I find him rather vapid, completely lacking in substance. Methinks the media is projecting a bit too much.)

Kennedy, Reagan, Clinton... Huh? Clinton?

Read on. It's hilarious.

The Associated Press story you quote refers to famous speeches delivered in Berlin by John Kennedy, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton.

We all remember the first two speeches, but what's Clinton doing in that group? Am I the only one who's forgotten the vivid imagery of 1994's "Chisels of Liberty" speech? Should I be embarrassed that I hadn't realized that those immortal (and pithy) words known to the most casual student of history, "Nichts wird uns aufhalten. Alles ist moeglich. Berlin ist frei," were actually first spoken by our 42nd president? Heck, I thought that was from Lincoln.

Or maybe the the AP is referring to Clinton's equally memorable 1998 remarks honoring the Berlin Airlift, the oft-quoted "Berlin Is Still Berlin" speech. If only I had a nickel for every time subsequent presidents, commencement speakers, and just plain lovers of the spoken word have borrowed that great line!

It might even be in danger of becoming a cliché. Sure it's an instantly identifiable and resonant phrase, but do we really need even one more newspaper headline using it for a play on words? "Cleveland Is Still Cleveland." "Beckham Is Still Beckham." "Bacon Is Still Bacon." Yeah, yeah, we get it. I imagine it's even worse in Germany.

The Editorial the New York Times Doesn't Want You to Read

You may have heard how the New York Times recently refused to run an op-ed on the war in Iraq submitted by Senator John McCain while running one submitted by Senator Barack Obama.

Here is the op-ed the Times didn't want you to read.

In January 2007, when General David Petraeus took command in Iraq, he called the situation “hard” but not “hopeless.” Today, 18 months later, violence has fallen by up to 80% to the lowest levels in four years, and Sunni and Shiite terrorists are reeling from a string of defeats. The situation now is full of hope, but considerable hard work remains to consolidate our fragile gains.

Progress has been due primarily to an increase in the number of troops and a change in their strategy. I was an early advocate of the surge at a time when it had few supporters in Washington. Senator Barack Obama was an equally vocal opponent. "I am not persuaded that 20,000 additional troops in Iraq is going to solve the sectarian violence there,” he said on January 10, 2007. “In fact, I think it will do the reverse."

Now Senator Obama has been forced to acknowledge that “our troops have performed brilliantly in lowering the level of violence.” But he still denies that any political progress has resulted.

Perhaps he is unaware that the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad has recently certified that, as one news article put it, “Iraq has met all but three of 18 original benchmarks set by Congress last year to measure security, political and economic progress.” Even more heartening has been progress that’s not measured by the benchmarks. More than 90,000 Iraqis, many of them Sunnis who once fought against the government, have signed up as Sons of Iraq to fight against the terrorists. Nor do they measure Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki’s new-found willingness to crack down on Shiite extremists in Basra and Sadr City—actions that have done much to dispel suspicions of sectarianism.

The success of the surge has not changed Senator Obama’s determination to pull out all of our combat troops. All that has changed is his rationale. In a New York Times op-ed and a speech this week, he offered his “plan for Iraq” in advance of his first “fact finding” trip to that country in more than three years. It consisted of the same old proposal to pull all of our troops out within 16 months. In 2007 he wanted to withdraw because he thought the war was lost. If we had taken his advice, it would have been. Now he wants to withdraw because he thinks Iraqis no longer need our assistance.

To make this point, he mangles the evidence. He makes it sound as if Prime Minister Maliki has endorsed the Obama timetable, when all he has said is that he would like a plan for the eventual withdrawal of U.S. troops at some unspecified point in the future.

Senator Obama is also misleading on the Iraqi military's readiness. The Iraqi Army will be equipped and trained by the middle of next year, but this does not, as Senator Obama suggests, mean that they will then be ready to secure their country without a good deal of help. The Iraqi Air Force, for one, still lags behind, and no modern army can operate without air cover. The Iraqis are also still learning how to conduct planning, logistics, command and control, communications, and other complicated functions needed to support frontline troops.

No one favors a permanent U.S. presence, as Senator Obama charges. A partial withdrawal has already occurred with the departure of five “surge” brigades, and more withdrawals can take place as the security situation improves. As we draw down in Iraq, we can beef up our presence on other battlefields, such as Afghanistan, without fear of leaving a failed state behind. I have said that I expect to welcome home most of our troops from Iraq by the end of my first term in office, in 2013.

But I have also said that any draw-downs must be based on a realistic assessment of conditions on the ground, not on an artificial timetable crafted for domestic political reasons. This is the crux of my disagreement with Senator Obama.

Senator Obama has said that he would consult our commanders on the ground and Iraqi leaders, but he did no such thing before releasing his “plan for Iraq.” Perhaps that’s because he doesn’t want to hear what they have to say. During the course of eight visits to Iraq, I have heard many times from our troops what Major General Jeffrey Hammond, commander of coalition forces in Baghdad, recently said: that leaving based on a timetable would be “very dangerous.”

The danger is that extremists supported by Al Qaeda and Iran could stage a comeback, as they have in the past when we’ve had too few troops in Iraq. Senator Obama seems to have learned nothing from recent history. I find it ironic that he is emulating the worst mistake of the Bush administration by waving the “Mission Accomplished” banner prematurely.

I am also dismayed that he never talks about winning the war—only of ending it. But if we don’t win the war, our enemies will. A triumph for the terrorists would be a disaster for us. That is something I will not allow to happen as president. Instead I will continue implementing a proven counterinsurgency strategy not only in Iraq but also in Afghanistan with the goal of creating stable, secure, self-sustaining democratic allies.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Brilliant Essay by Andrew C. McCarthy

In the past I have recommended to my readers the writings of Andrew C. McCarthy on "National Review Online". He writes about the law and the War on Terror.

Mr. McCarthy is, according to Wikipedia, "a former Assistant United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, appointed by President Bill Clinton in 1993. He was most notable for leading the 1995 terrorism prosecution against Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman and eleven others. The defendants were convicted of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and planning a series of attacks against New York City landmarks. He also contributed to the prosecutions of terrorists who bombed US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, resigning from the Justice Department in 2003."

Here is a link to an essay entitled "Suspend the Writ" that appeared on National Review Online today. In it, Mr. McCarthy demonstrates the dangers inherent in the recent Supreme Court decision Boumediene v. Bush in which Justice Anthony Kennedy sided with the Court's four liberals to grant habeas corpus rights to detained enemy combatants. I couldn't possibly do a better job than Mr. McCarthy in explaining the pitfalls of this horrific decision that was wrongly decided for so many reasons. It also goes a long way to explaining why Justice Kennedy is perhaps the most dangerous justice this country has ever seen.

I highly recommed this essay to all.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

In the Pipeline, Part II

I last left off my account of my transition to Iraq in Camp Dawson, WV. Before I dive in to my impressions of Iraq, I wanted to comment on the Army's orientation process.

All military and civilians deploying to the US Central Command's (CENTCOM) theater in Iraq must go through a weeklong orientation process at the Continental US (CONUS) Redeployment Center (CRC) at Fort Benning, Georgia (Home of the Infantry - although soon it will be home to the Army's Armor School).

How to describe CRC? The Army, as with any large organization is a bureaucracy. And like all bureaucracies, it has myriad paperwork requirements to satisfy. CRC is the Army's way of doing that and it is excruciating because the process seems to be geared towards special needs kindergartners.

Part of the problem is that military and civilians alike are processed together. This is not the most efficient way to do this since there are different strictures for each group. And even though many of the civilian contractors are former military, some are not. And it's just needless to treat civilians like military. I'm sorry. I have many skills and learn quickly but I don't respond well to being marched around like a soldier.

I could excuse some of the efficiencies if the Army were new to this deployment process. But they are not. They have been doing this, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year for five years now. There is just no reason for them not to have learned some of these lessons by now. Here's a prime example. One of the things that they do during CRC is to issue you your body armor. This is about 40 pounds of armor for almost your entire upper body, a gas mask, Kevlar helmet and first aid kit. Why on earth do they give you this stuff at Ft. Benning? Worse, they issue it to you before you have even finished CRC. Conceivably, at some point you may become non-deployable in which case you would have to give it all back.

Even crazier is if you refuse the equipment. There are many guys who are returning to Iraq or Afghanistan and who already have this equipment. If you don't want to have the gear issued to you, you need a memo signed by an O-6 (Colonel) or GS-15 or higher. If you don't have such a memo and don't want the gear, what do they do? They charge you $2900 for it. You read that right. If you don't repeat don't accept the gear, you have to pay for it. Excuse me?

Of course, none of this goes to answer the most basic question, which is, why don't they issue you this crap in Kuwait just before you enter the theater? No-one seems to know.

Here's another example of the lunacy. In order to deploy, you have to be medically cleared. Rather than give you a physical there, you have to get one before you go. I spent $360 for a physical and blood work prior to going. That expense is reiumbursable from Northrop Grumman. Presumably, Northrop Grumman will slap their overhead on it and bill that to the Army. So, instead of me getting a physical and blood work that would cost the Army about about $200, they are going to spend about three times that much for the exact same procedures.

Want more? Ok. In order to deploy, you also need up-to-date immunizations. When I went through medical clearance, I was informed that I needed three immunizations. Did the Army give me those shots? Of course not. They sent me off-base to a private clinic where I spent $190 for three shots. So, once again, Northrop will reimburse me, add their overhead to the cost and bill the Army. So, instead of immunizing me for about $50, they are going to spend roughly ten times that much for three shots.

Still want more? One of the other big things you do at CRC is get your CAC card. CAC stands fo Combined Access Card and it's your military ID that gets you on base, into the dining facilities, PX, gym, etc. They marched us onto a bus and drove us to an office where we were briefed, filled out some forms and then we waited. And waited. And waited. I and a bunch of other guys ended up waiting six hours to sit in a chair, have our fingeprints and photographs taken electronically and get our badges printed. Elapsed time from when I sat in the seat? About 12 minutes.

That's not the worst part, though. While I was there, I talked with another fellow who already had a CAC card. Recall that the first C stands for Combined (as in combined armed forces). He had to sit their all afternoon to get another CAC because the one he already had said 'Air Force Contractor' and not 'Army Contractor'. Now the CAC is a 'smart card'. It has a chip that has some electronic certificates loaded onto it. The Army, if it wanted to, could easily load their credentials on to a CAC printed by the Air Force. They just don't.

And they want us to do this once a year! In case you were wondering why I plan on staying longer, I can now answer that one of the reasons is to avoid having to go to CRC again.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Aren't they just making his point for him?

During lunch hour here in Iraq, we have the misfortune to be subjected to MSNBC's "Countdown" with Keith Olberman. I am not sure exactly when it was Mr. Olberman made the transformation from sportscaster to pundit. I do know that his transformation from sportcaster to tool is complete, though.

Keith's big story today was the resignation of Sen. Phil Gramm ('the man who brought us Enron and the current gas crisis' - who knew Phil Gramm had so much power?) as John McCain's national campaign co-chair. This is in the wake of Sen. Gramm's comments that America is becoming a nation of whiners.

So, what did the media do for the next four or five days? Whine about it.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Typical One-Sided Reporting

This week I came across a couple of examples of the deceitfulness of the reporting being done in the War on Terror.

No doubt you've heard about the nine soldiers who were killed in Afghanistan. It's a terrible loss. But I wonder if any of the accounts you've read put the battle into any kind of context. For example, did you read anywhere that the force of 25 Americans and 20 Afghans were attacked by a force of some 200 Taliban fighters? And did you also read that the Taliban KIA were estimated at 35 - 100? In other words the good guys killed anywhere from 4 to 10 times as many bad guys.

The second example was in an AP report on one Omar Khadr, 22. Mr. Khadr is a Canadian and Pakistani citizen. His father is described as being an al Qaeda "financier". Young Omar is being detained at Gauntamo Bay. In fact he holds the dubious honor of being the youngest detainee.

The article was written on the heels of video tape footage released by his lawyers trying to gain sympathy for poor young Omar. They hope that by bringing his detention to the attention of the Canadian public, the Canadian government will request his release. There is a description of how Omar asks for medical attention for wounds suffered to his arms.

What's curiously absent in the piece is the reason for Omar's detention. Then 16 year-old Omar killed a Special Forces medic in Afghanistan with a grenade. I think that is slightly relevant, don't you?

Pelosi Piffle

Remember how the media gushed about what a great Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi was going to be back in 2007? How she was tough and savvy, yada yada yada.

Didn't happen. Ms. Pelosi has led an essentially do-nothing Congress into its lowest approval ratings ever.

But it's all George Bush's fault!

Ms. Pelosi told CNN's Wolf Blitzer that President Bush has been a "total failure". I know I have probably said this before a hundred times, but I really believe that you have to have your sense of shame surgically removed to be a Democrat politician.

When questioned about Congress' low approval ratings, Pelosi predictably blames Bush. She interprets Congress' low ratings as public disapproval for failure to end the war in Iraq. A war the consensus of which is now going very much better than it had been. Of course this is just spin. Pelosi well knows that public opinion is now very much different vis-a-vis the war than what it was before the Surge.

Democrats are feckless idiots. Most people know this. It's just too bad that they have such a fawning audience in the national media.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Quick hitter

I know that I need to post an update about my transition to the new job in Iraq. I promise this is forthcoming once I get settled in at my site and can get hooked up to a proper (i.e. non-military) internet connection. But in the meantime...

Will someone please tell Brett Favre to shut up and retire already? I am really tired of this guy. Hey, Brett, you're a gutsy player who had a sure-fire Hall of Fame career. Now stop tarnishing that image by whining like a little baby.

I saw something on ESPN the other day about how he is now claiming he was "pressured" into retiring.

Puh-leez! I may have been born at night, but I wasn't born LAST night.