Arrias on Politics: Healthcare, the Nobel Peace Prize and National Security

Healthcare, the Nobel Peace Prize and National Security

My primary care doctor just told me he’s leaving his current practice, as did my last doctor a bit over a year ago. The reason both walked away is the administrative burden of our current healthcare system.

Yet, I read an article the other day that claimed that if the nation had a single-payer system we would save $500 billion per year on… administrative costs. Well, the doctors I know (and the doctors they know) are quitting because of the intrusive, administratively burdensome mess generated by the “Affordable Care Act.” Further, my own (30 year) experience working for the Department of Defense suggests the one thing you could guarantee was that, short of some draconian actions, rising administrative costs and complexities were the only certain things under the sun. In short, anyone who thinks we’re going to save administrative costs by expanding government’s role in healthcare (or anything else), has no experience with government at any level, ever.

The point is important because that $500 billion per year is the key projected savings that would supposedly make a single-payer system cost effective. It’s also worth noting the single-payer system would provide healthcare to an additional 40 million people, but there’s no substantive discussion about producing more graduates of nursing schools, or medical schools, or of expanding current residency programs. So, consumption will increase (more people receive healthcare) but the number of people providing healthcare will remain basically unchanged. And costs will go down? Sure.

So, it’s important that we – the nation – address the current problem now, before it becomes a crisis. But the concern extends far beyond healthcare.

In China, (where they have nationalized health care (and de facto government control of everything else)), they “managed” to let a Nobel Laureate die. Liu Xiaobo, an outspoken critic of the Xi regime, died last week of cancer, having been moved from prison to a hospital only last month, and then apparently having been selectively denied proper care.

The point is that China, despite its repeated claims to being a great, peaceful and modern country, remains an oligarchy that brooks no opposition, and is intent on expanding its hegemony, first in the immediate seas around East Asia, then to all the Western Pacific, and eventually, well…

Put it this way, China just established a military base in East Africa and their naval units conducted live-fire training in the Mediterranean Sea.

China is also threatening India over disputed borders, and while busily insisting on its good intentions is, in fact, assisting North Korea’s evil leader. Nor has China forgotten the Middle East, announcing just this past week its intention to extend overland trade routes through Pakistan and Iran and on through Syria to the Mediterranean.

The long and short of it is that the world, after nearly three decades with few great powers confrontations, is now facing two aggressive great powers – Russia and especially China, and several rising powers (Iran and North Korea) that have ill intentions to the US, the West and our allies.

Copyright2017 Arrias
www.vicsocotra.com

Arrias on Politics: North Korea is a real problem; maybe China can help?

On July 4th Kim Jong Un, North Korea’s autocrat, watched his engineers launch a missile into the Sea of Japan. Shot in a ‘high loft trajectory,” the rocket flew about 600 down range but rose more than 1700 miles. This trajectory, if flattened out (like a baseball player hitting a “pop-up” versus hitting a shallower fly ball) would allow a re-entry vehicle – a warhead – to reach Hawaii and Alaska.

In short, Kim has an intercontinental ballistic missile. Does he have a nuclear warhead that fits atop this missile? If not now, soon.

So, what now?

As Charles Krauthammer pointed out, “our nuclear non-proliferation strategy” has failed. North Korea has nuclear weapons; others will follow. Ukraine had nuclear weapons, surrendered them on a promise from President Clinton, and is slowly being reduced by Russia. Libya had WMD, surrendered them, then was virtually destroyed by Obama, Clinton et al. North Korea paid attention; it’ll never voluntarily surrender its nuclear weapons.

(Did Iran pay attention? We’ll see in a few years…)

So, who helped North Korea?

What country provides 90% of North Korea’s trade? Keeps them alive when times get tough? Has defended them against UN Sanctions? Who even sold them the truck that carried the missile fired last week?

The answer: China. (As Damon Runyon observed: “the race isn’t always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but that’s the way to bet.”)

China also helped Pakistan with their nuclear weapon program (search “AQ Khan” on the internet), probably helped Iran, and probably was helping Libya and Syria, both of whom had nascent WMD programs. Expecting China to help disarm North Korea is expecting the leopard to change its spots.

So, while President Trump tried to “play nice” with China, China is part of the problem; to contain North Korea means containing China. China helped create this problem; China likes this mess, likes that it’s consuming US attention, as China pursues its strategy. China wants to make it too hard, too expensive, for the US to sustain its presence in the Western Pacific; China wants South Korea, Japan and others to recognize China’s hegemony, pushing the US out. North Korea is their proxy, a tool to use against the US. Any solution to contain North Korea must begin with recognizing that fact.

Further, we must recognize that our actions will have strategic implications for decades as other countries consider whether to acquire a nuclear arsenal. The old strategy failed because we – the West, the US, UK, and France failed to stop various nuclear weapons programs before they came to fruition. We must learn from that failure.

So, what to do?

Begin with a broader strategy, one encompassing all of East Asia, a comprehensive containment of both China and North Korea, while working to eliminate the Kim regime, and unifying the Korea peninsula under Seoul.

– Offer allies and friends (South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Vietnam, Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Australia) deals on weapons, training, aircraft and ships

– Negotiate stationing additional reconnaissance and attack aircraft in these countries

– Deploy additional military assets to Korea, Japan and Guam

– Condemn China’s efforts to strong-arm East Asia, insisting on the rule of law – Last year an international court ruled China’s claims to certain SCS islands were without standing; China responded by threatening the Philippines

– Announce a third party embargo; anyone — including China — trading with North Korea cannot trade with the US

– Close international banking loopholes that allow North Korea to move money through other countries

– Cancel Chinese participation in any US military exercise

– Review Chinese acquisition of any US corporations

– Aggressively expand US Missile Defense testing and training

– Work with India, Saudi Arabia, et al to apply pressure on Chinese movements into SW Asia and the Indian Ocean

– Fund development of a new generation of nuclear weapons

Finally, change the “tone” of the dialogue; deterrence only exists when the “other guy” believes you have the will to inflict real punishment. So:

Conduct a nuclear weapons test, sending the world a clear signal of US seriousness. Then, announce plans to begin discussions to move nuclear weapons back into the western Pacific.

The old strategy has failed. For our own future security, the US needs to demonstrate a new strategy and a new level of will. The time to do that is now.

Copyright 2017 Arrias
www.vicsocotra.com

Arrias on Politics: Serving the National Interest

The media spends a great deal of time these days in what can comfortably be described as howling at President Trump. At the same time they’ll tell you it’s their responsibility to serve and defend the national interest, “humbly” reminding us it’s their “duty to seek the truth” and “to speak truth to power.”

So, consider some (but not all) of the problems generated since 2008:

– National debt doubled
– US interests all but abandoned in the South China Sea and East Asia
– North Korea’s nuclear weapon and missile programs expanded
– US economic growth anemic for 8 years, leaving the US with its lowest workforce participation rate in decades
– International norms asserted, then ignored, failing to act when Syria used chemical weapons against its own people
– Functioning state (Libya) turned into a failed one, US interests in the Middle East damaged further
– Quality of life in inner-city America goes from bad to worse
– Russian influence in the Middle East expands substantially – at the expense of US interests – White House turns blind eye
– Iranian influence in the Middle East expands – also at the expense of US interests – White House turns another equally blind eye
– Health care system that was in trouble and growing in cost every day turned into one that’s on the verge of breaking completely

For 8 years the previous Administration so damaged US interests that it will take years and trillions of dollars to fix (if it can be fixed); and it will almost certainly mean that at some point in the future US forces will engage in a war that might otherwise have been prevented; Americans soldiers and sailors will die.

But no one in the media suggested any of the above was ‘un-presidential.’

Rather, most of this is ignored by the bulk of the media. Unwilling (or unable) to address real issues, they work themselves into a lather over Mr. Trump.

President Trump is trying to correct all the above – and more; to simply work for US interests and address a host of inherited problems, problems that leave us on the edge of disaster. Meanwhile, Mr. Trump suffers continuous attacks from nearly everyone in the press, people who claim objectivity as their standard. When he responds to these attacks he is pilloried as un-presidential.

We live in an age where Hollywood celebrates “stars” having babies without the benefit of marriage, even as the problem of fatherless households in our inner cities has become perhaps the key indicator of a life of crime for those children; where members of a certain organization are caught on film apparently discussing harvesting and selling of body parts from aborted babies and the film-maker is the one charged; where public figures and politicians publicly use language that would make a sailor blush, and they are applauded for being “brave” and “tough,” but when the President is found to have used locker-room language in a private conversation he’s pilloried as crude.

Do I think the President shouldn’t conduct ad hominum attacks, nor make comments about people’s appearance? I guess it would probably be best if he didn’t. But in a world where standards of public discourse are so low that its hard to know what isn’t acceptable, where a previous president had the temerity to dodge a question under oath by responding that “it depends on what the meaning of is is” and not only got away with it, but is hailed as a great president by the same media that attacks Mr. Trump; where the public trust is stood on its head and government spends without regard to the next generation; I find it hard to get worked up over the President’s nasty remark, particularly when the target of his remark has suggested the president is criminally insane.

When we consider all the problems on the President’s plate, I understand his frustration and the desire to poke back at the screaming, intemperate members of the press. Perhaps, if they really want to move beyond all this, the press might consider actually discussing the mess the country faces and then maybe engaging in a rational discussion of problem and solutions rather than their never-ending caterwauling. The nation needs to address these issues; President Trump was elected to do just that. Perhaps the media might consider trying to help, rather than generating noise.

Copyright 2017 Arrias
www.vicsocotra.com

Arrias on Politics: Whither Syria? Whither the US?

Since 2015 Senators McCain and Graham have called for more US troops in Syria. First they called for 10,000 troops, then 20,000 and then 50,000. Now, the numbers have climbed to 150,000.

To be clear, this isn’t about the additional troops Secretary Mattis sent into Iraq and Syria (or into Afghanistan); Secretary Mattis has clear, limited goals in Syria and Northern Iraq – working with Kurds et al to destroy ISIS, and it won’t require 10,000 more troops. Though, there’s a cautionary note: no one can fully account for everything in war. General Maxwell Taylor was adamant he understood exactly what was happening in Vietnam — until suddenly he didn’t.

(Consider, as US presence in Afghanistan moves toward its 16th year, we not only see Taliban endurance and Al Qaeda resilience, we now have Chinese army patrols in the Wakhan corridor in eastern Afghanistan…)

So, if these two Senators want many more troops in Syrian, a few questions need answers.

First: what’s their desired end state? Defeating ISIS isn’t enough; ISIS will be defeated. Then what? Which fanatical Jihadists replace them is unknown, but one will emerge. Meanwhile, presumably, the large US presence in Syria would remain to stabilize northern Iraq and northeast Syria, and engage in nation-building.

Nation-building has a bad reputation, and should: it’s exceptionally difficult. Advocates point to Europe and the Marshall Plan as proof it’s possible. But Europe in 1945 was different: populations were highly literate, there were strong common social and political ties to western thought, and democracy had strong roots (even Germany, emerging from 12 years of Nazi rule, had been a constitutional monarchy for 100 years).

Japan was different, but the Japanese “renaissance” (the Meiji Restoration of 1867) adopted many of the forms and mores of European (and particularly British) society. And, in all cases, social standards meant that virtually the entire population accepted the surrender. There were no insurgencies, and there was little organized crime or violence directed at the US; the people acquiesced in the surrender and were willing to obey and take direction.

And, these countries (and Korea in 1953) had suffered massive destruction during WWII. Rebuilding was imperative; there would’ve been no survival for much of the population if the nation-building had not been thoroughly embraced by the people.

In short, these countries were ideal for nation-building.

Yet it still took several decades for these societies, operating with substantial US presence, to re-emerge as fully functioning societies. Japan, which recovered most rapidly, was fully functioning just a decade after the war’s end. But, Japan benefited from having 1/3rd the casualties Germany had, as well as having an extremely homogenous population with a high degree of national cohesion.

How does that compare to Iraq or Syria? Iraq has three major populations: Shia Arabs, Sunni Arabs, and Kurds. Shia Arabs – closely tied to Iran – constitute perhaps 60% of the population, Sunni Arabs 20%, and Kurds 15%. Just the Sunni – Shia spilt, the great fault line in the Islamic world, makes nation-building difficult to imagine. Additionally, the Kurds have viewed themselves as separate from the rest of the Arab world for 1,000 years. Any plan must address the growing Kurdish identity and it’s impact on power-hungry President Erdogan in Turkey.

And Syria? Do the senators envision “solving” the Syrian problem, of forcing Assad to leave? Or would they call for partitioning Syria despite Russian presence and support for Assad? What cost are the Senators willing to pay for that?

Syria is the antithesis of a cohesive population – Syrian Arabs, Palestinians, Kurds, Turks, Assyrians, Armenians; 74% Sunni, 13% Shia, 10% Christian, 3% Druze. Some argue that only a dictator could unify Syria. Perhaps not. But nation-building wouldn’t be easy.

Before the US precipitously left Iraq in 2011, before Iran moved forces into both countries in 2013, before Russia returned to Syria in 2015, this might have been conceivable, if we’d had a clear end state that made sense. But now, both Russian and Iranian forces are present in significant numbers, and Assad’s survival appears quite certain.

So exactly what achievable, desired end state justifies tens of thousands of US troops?

Syria is in a horrible condition. But rushing in without first answering some hard questions would only make it worse. Let’s be clear on what we expect, what costs we are willing to pay, what risks we’ll accept, and exactly how all this will benefit the US before we go any further.

Copyright 2017 Arrias
www.vicsocotra.com

Arrias on Politics: Bumper Stickers and the Constitution

I saw a sign the other day that said something along the lines of: “I don’t know where you came from, but I’m glad you’re my neighbor.”

‘Glad’ means happy, delighted. It is more than simply neutral, it’s a positive thing; in this case it would be that: “it’s good (for me) that you’re my neighbor.” The owner of the sign is, as it turns out, stridently opposed to Mr. Trump.

So, was the owner of that sign really glad? What if the new neighbor to whom the sign is directed is cooking meth in the basement? Or running a child slavery ring? Maybe they’re converts to the worship of Ba’al and Tanit and are going to start making human sacrifices in the back yard? What if he supports Trump?

I thought of that sign again the other day after Congressman Scalise and several others were shot.

So, what makes good neighbors? At the simplest level it’s someone who fits in, who isn’t going to affect me negatively. They maintain their house and property (I don’t want my house to lose value); obeys the law (who wants criminals next door?); is considerate (any heavy metal music at 2 AM every night?); and follows basic rules of common politeness (chickens are okay in the country, not so much if you live in suburban Washington DC, where I saw the sign).

Will the neighbors care if someone paints their house shocking pink? A little, perhaps, but it depends on the neighborhood. If the house is 15 feet away, that’s one thing; if its 500 feet away, as with my neighbors in southeast Virginia, that’s another.

But that’s the simple part.

What about someone who has a different religion? Among my immediate neighbors I know there are Catholics, Methodists, Baptists, Jews, Lutherans, AME, Hindus and atheists. As far as I can determine, no one appears to care. There are also Republicans, Democrats, Tea Partiers; Trumpers, Clintonistas and Never-Trumpers. Everyone still talks. Is there a common thread?

Yes, there is; that thread is the Constitution.

Everyone in the neighborhood understands one simple thing: we stay within the boundaries of the Constitution. No one talks about it, but it’s clearly understood. The citizenry are the source of power, government works for us, the rules apply to everyone and everyone follows the rules – and we all know what those rules are. And then there is the Bill of Rights. Everyone may not be able to quote it verbatim, but everyone understands its essence.

We all also understand something else: we all know where our property stops and starts. There are a few walls, a host of drainage ditches, and seemingly everywhere, lines of trees and hedges, clearly delineating where one yard stops and another starts.

Which really signifies respect: respect for each other, respect for each other’s beliefs, respect for property, respect for the law.

But in some parts of this nation that respect seems to be unraveling. Particularly in California where, for example, free speech on college campuses seem less free, or similarly in New York or New England. Or even on a baseball field in a Washington, D.C. suburb.

This is dangerous terrain we are crossing. If we are to avoid anarchy, chaos and violence, there has to be acceptance of rules and limits. If you believe that a particular individual is not legitimately holding office there are legal procedures you can pursue. That is how a civilized society functions. The only justification for stepping outside the law is when moral imperative outweighs obedience to that law. But to accept that imperative is also to accept the consequences of any further action.

Asserting that President Trump is not legally the President makes for interesting cocktail circuit conversation but no one seriously accepts that; he won the election and there is no serious legal challenge to that statement.

Asserting anything beyond that, that the Trump administration is fundamentally immoral and must be resisted outside of normal political give-and-take, therefore places any such believer outside the law. There is no middle ground. You may resist passively or actively. But you are still outside the law and must suffer the consequences.

Which brings us back to the question of bumper-sticker philosophy: What makes a good neighbor?

Respect for the law. That’s something to be glad about.

And after all, no one is glad James Hodgkinson was their neighbor. Right?

Copyright 2017 Arrias
www.vicsocotra.com

Fix Counter Terror Now

Once again: 7 dead, 50 injured as I write this, though those numbers will change. Around the world, Islamic terrorists have conducted a series of terrorist attacks that have left at least 149 dead in the first week of Ramadan – the Islamic month of fasting.

As President Sisi of Egypt pointed out, the long-term solution begins with Islamic leadership recognizing the need to rethink how they understand Islam. His commentary has been endorsed and repeated by leadership in Jordan, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere, to include President Trump two weeks ago. Call it what you will, a reformation, rethinking, a new look; the long-term solution requires the Islamic states, and their leadership, to lead their people to a new understanding of their religion, one with no room for violence.

But that will be an effort of generations. In the meantime, what must we do?

Begin by recognizing that for any would-be terrorist, these attacks show that there’s no need for sophisticated weapons or training or support in order to produce real terror: driving a truck into a crowd and then hacking pedestrians with a machete is not something that can be functionally prevented. Long-bladed tools for clearing brush are available around the world. Everyone has a driver’s license. Seriously supposing that something can be done about access to trucks, or knives, is foolish. But, it does point out that it’s time to stop looking for some obscure legislation to provide additional security.

But what concrete actions can we take in the short term?

Begin by recognizing that what’s happened recently in England and elsewhere – simplistic, violent attacks on targets chosen more or less at random – can happen in the US. Bombs aren’t needed, guns aren’t needed, sophisticated ‘targeting’ isn’t needed. To point out the excruciatingly obvious, future attacks will be perpetrated by either American citizens who’ve adopted the violent behavior of fanatical Islam, or the attacks will be carried out by newcomers. Will more detailed vetting of would-be immigrants help? Of course. So, our immigration policies need to be tightened up. The Supreme Court needs to act on this issue now.

How do we identify those among us who decide violent, fanatical Islam is their path?

We need better information collection. This isn’t a task for the intelligence community (IC); it’s a task for states and cities and town, though the IC must help. The federal government must better manage that information, processing and integrating it with existing information, then sharing with other cities and states. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) must lead this, both among other agencies and with our information exchange with other nations. Are there Constitutional issues about enhanced collecting, processing and sharing this information? Yes. But we all – Congress, the courts, the IC, the FBI, DHS, the states and cities, and the citizenry – need to work together to solve these problems. And there must be tight relationships with key elements of the IC and the DOD to allow for seamless – and Constitutional – pursuit of terrorists whether in the US or overseas.

We need better analysis. Improving analysis means investing in analysts, both in recruiting more analysts, and in providing more education to those already in the system. This is going to be a long fight; we need to take the time to train our people.

There are a host of new software tools that provide commercial entities increasingly detailed, complex “pictures” of consumer behavior and can model individual and group behavior; we must manipulate our information with the best software available.

We need an organization solely focused on counter-terror; a dedicated body of agents, investigators, assault teams and analysts. The FBI is a good organization, but it has many tasks, and many tasks always dilute any effort. We need a single focus organization. Split off parts of the FBI now involved in counter-terror – and any other federal agency currently engaged in counter-terrorism, and form a single-focus counter-terror agency, one with it’s own recruiting, training, etc. Engage in aggressive recruiting to ID and hire top people from across the country – in tactics and techniques, intelligence, investigation, cyber, information war, psychological war, etc., and establish a focused counter-terror agency.

Lastly, the time has come to look at this problem for what it is – without the blinders of political correctness and a willfully blind press: a struggle with fanatical Islam. Understanding that is an essential step in addressing this threat.

Copyright 2017 Arrias
www.vicsocotra.com

Arrias on Politics: Memorial Day Weekend

Editor’s Note: No one has summed up the spirit of this day more eloquently than Arrias. I am not going to bother trying to pen something. I
am going to post his thoughts and drive over to Arlington and give your greetings to Mac, Dan, Vince, Rick and Scotty. It is a privilege to be able to do it.

– Vic

Memorial Day Weekend

I have a picture on my wall, a copy of one that adorned
my Uncle’s Bill’s office, which I have taken from a book Bill wrote – the
Americal Generation – about the men he went to war with in
1942, members of various units within the 23rd
Infantry Division, the Americal Division.

The picture was taken in December 1941, a few days
before Christmas. In the picture are 12 young men and one older man – Tom Dorgan. They were the bulk of ‘Dorgan’s Baseball Club,’ and they were all friends from Dorchester, Mass., a section of Boston. Several of them, to include my uncle Bill (Bill McLaughlin)
had already been in the National Guard before Pearl Harbor, but after it everyone who wasn’t already ‘spoken for’ went to the nearest enlistment center and signed up. Many of the members of Dorgan’s Baseball Club joined the Marines that December and came to
be known unofficially as ‘Dorgan’s Platoon.’

The 12 young men in the picture are: Dick Hodgens,
Tom Mulkerin, Maurice Driscoll, Harry Holtzman, Francis X. O’Meara (also an uncle of mine), Jim Sullivan, Jack Daley, Billy Walsh, John Hassan, Bill McLaughlin, Charlie Martin and Billy Martin.

They are perhaps a bit more conservatively dressed
then would be a similar group today, but perhaps not – just young men in suits. The faces are, however, no different then what you would see in any bar or restaurant on a Friday night. They are young and alive, ‘full of piss and vinegar.’ In the lower right
of the picture Billy Martin has reached around FX ‘Red’ O’Meara and is tickling his chin and whispering something – one suspects it’s something slightly off-color – in his ear. Red is laughing.

I note them here because these men, as with many, many
others, deserve to be remembered. 2,500 years ago the Greeks would have built temples to them and written plays in their honor. Several centuries later the Romans did much the same thing. But such practices seem to have fallen from favor and we quickly forget
the courage, and the wisdom, that these men earned in the hardest school of all.

Bill would later describe them: “…These were all pretty
average guys who were just in to do a job and get back to civilian life.” Of these men Bill would later tell me that every single man in that picture received at least one Purple Heart; each received at least one Bronze Star and more than half two or more
(at the time, Bronze Stars were only awarded as combat awards, what are now distinguished as Bronze Star with V (for valor)), several received air medals, at least one received a distinguished flying cross, several of them received Silver Stars, and Billy
Walsh received the Medal of Honor – posthumously – on Iwo Jima.

Pretty average guys in to do a job…

I was fortunate; Bill survived the war, as did Red.
(My father and my 4 other uncles and 2 aunts also served and they all lived. And I heard stories from all of them. Most of the stories I heard when I was young were funny.) But as I grew older I started hearing the other stories. Bill was both an historian
and a superb storyteller, with an uncanny ability to remember poignant details. These figures came alive, coming out of the picture on the wall, with the humor and the hardship, and their stories taught a lesson in duty.

The ones who survived came home, and went back to work.
They helped to rebuild the nation after 12 years of depression and 5 years of war. They are all my heroes. And I thank God they lived, and that I knew them, and today I will spend a little time thinking about all of them.

That’s what Memorial Day should be: a day when we all
stop and think. It’s not enough to simply set aside a day, attach a label to it, and then return to the grill. A memorial is nothing more then an object that serves as a focus for our memory. But, whether it is a picture on a wall, a folded flag, or simply
some obscure artifact with a relationship to someone known only to the holder, a memorial requires that we engage our intellect. Every memorial requires that we both know something about the individuals and events that are the focus of the memorial, and that
we spend the time to remember, that we dwell on the memory.

So, on Memorial Day, what we should be remembering?

The most obvious – and partially correct – answer is
that we should remember those who died in the service of our country. But, this is only a partial answer. To truly appreciate the sacrifice of all that have died for our country, we need to understand two things: first, we need to understand why these soldiers,
sailors, Marines and airmen, coast guardsmen, and a fair number of civilians (who are often forgotten) gave up their lives?

There is an old – and true – adage that soldiers in
foxholes fight for their buddies. But, while true, that is a bit too simplistic. From time immemorial soldiers have fought and died to protect their buddies, whatever side they were on. The riders of the Mongol hordes that ravaged central Asia fought and
died for their comrades. But no one remembers them.

There is a thread that runs through every war the US
has fought. And whether or not that war was in fact the product of the convoluted logic of cynical politicians who either willfully or inadvertently misled the nation – and those uniformed – the thread remains, and that thread is this: America fights for
right. Their will be the cynical who will deny this, and cite a long list of examples, probably starting in the 1800s, in an attempt to show that this or that war was nothing more than a power grab, a bit of ‘imperialism,’ an act of pure conquest.

But for the soldiers and sailors, for the men who actually
fought the nation’s wars, that has never been the case. Since the birth of this nation, the youth of this nation have left home, picked up their weapons and packs and headed to war out of a conviction that what they were doing was the right, the true, the
moral thing to do. Certainly that is what my uncles and my dad did. And two nephews. And a host of cousins. And a remarkable array of incredible friends of mine from all four services. Yes, certainly, they joined for adventure, for comradeship, even for the
pay. But beneath the youthful bravado there remains this thread, this belief that America did not fight for empire but for freedom and justice. The politicians, and many of the generals, may have been bitter, cynical practitioners of ‘realpolitik,’ but that
does not and cannot change the fact that the soldiers and sailors and airmen and Marines fought for what they believed was right.

We honor and remember them for that belief.

Second, it is important to remember what they gave
up. No one ever went off to war without a choice. Even when drafted there is almost always some means to avoid the front lines. The fact is that while everyone talks ‘a good game’ of avoiding the dangerous and difficult side of warfare, in the final analysis
few act on those words. Rather, they ‘shoulder their pack’ and move ‘towards the sounds of cannons.’ We, as a nation and a people, must be ever grateful that they do. But we need to be mindful of what those that died gave up, so that their deaths might provide
some meaning to our lives. They gave up their freedom and all the enjoyment of everyday life – for life in the service is devoid of a wide range of liberties that we all enjoy; they gave up their careers and dreams; they gave up their families and their loves;
and in the end they gave up their lives. Everything that they had or were, everything that they might do or become, offered up so that others may enjoy the blessings of freedom.

This great nation of ours is a land filled with nearly
infinite possibilities. We can do anything we set our minds to do. But it requires some sacrifice. No achievement comes without sacrifice. We are all charged with using our lives here on earth to improve the world around us, to make use of the gifts we have
been given to make things better. That will require some sacrifice. Those that we remember today have given, as Lincoln said, ‘the last full measure of devotion’ to the idea of America. Let us remember them, remember their sacrifice, and awake tomorrow determined
that their sacrifice was worth it, that we too will sacrifice a bit, that we will build a new and greater nation, one that will continue to be that ‘shining city on a hill.’

May they all Rest In Peace.

Copyright 2017 Arrias
www.vicsocotra.com

Arrias on Politics: Trump, Reformation and the Middle East

The historian Will Durant commented that the Reformation
“…(left) the Church purified… into an organization politically weaker but morally stronger than before.” In short, the Reformation didn’t change what the Church really believed, but it did serve to change how those in the Church thought about political power
and the various nations-states of Europe, and began the process of returning the Church to its origins, more apart from any state than part of one, seeking to help believers to reach an eternal reward vice a temporal one.

In a similar light, on January 1, 2015, Egyptian President
Sisi gave a speech calling for the end to violence and extremism in the name of Islam, calling not for a change in Islam – the religion, but a change in “the thinking we hold most sacred,” referencing the Koran. In short, Sisi was calling for Muslims to change
their thinking about how they view Islam and its relationship to political power.

The point was apparently not lost on President Trump.

President Trump has completed his first international
trip as president, and there were a number of newsworthy stories. But they all paled in relation to one event: his speech to the Arab – American summit (21 May). The speech marks a turning point in how the US, and hopefully the West, addresses Islamic fanaticism
and Islamic terror.

Speaking directly to the point of Islamic terrorism,
Mr. Trump stated:

“There can be no coexistence
with this violence. There can be no tolerating it, no accepting it, no excusing it, and no ignoring it.”

He then called on the Arab
nations:

“Muslim
nations must be willing to take on the burden, if we are going to defeat terrorism and send its wicked ideology into oblivion.”

The implication is clear: Islamic
terror will continue – or end – based on how the Muslim nations think about Islamic terror and it’s political nature; they can tolerate it, or they can attack it. As President Sisi said, it begins with changing how they think.

Unfortunately, a few days later
a fanatical Islamic terrorist conducted an attack in Manchester, England that left 22 dead and 116 injured, 23 critically. This was followed by an attack in Egypt that left 29 dead and at least 20 injured. These attacks serve to illustrate the threat remains,
and it remains chillingly vicious; in the first case attacking people at a concert, in the second a bus filled with people headed to a monastery to pray.

The attacks also serve to underline
what Mr. Trump pointed out, the solution cannot be provided from the outside; the US cannot eliminate the problem of Islamic terrorists; the solution must come from the Islamic nations. The US can, and will, help; but the Islamic nations must provide the answer.

It seems strange that, given
that quite obvious reality, there’s resistance – both in Europe and in the US – to the issue of controlling the flow of people out of the Middle East and into Europe and the US. The threat posed to the US and Europe isn’t from the nations of the Middle East
(Iran being the obvious exception), but rather, the threat is to be found hiding amongst the immigrants from the region. Any attempt to contain violence such as what occurred in Manchester (or Egypt) must begin, at least in part, with controlling the movement
of Islamic fanatics, particularly into the US (and Europe). Yet, political elites in the US (and Europe), and at least some in the US courts, suggest that the President doesn’t have the authority to do what the Constitution explicitly directs him to do – protect
the nation.

The issue in the US courts will grind forward, and
eventually end up in front of the Supreme Court, where, hopefully, some Constitutional clarity will be found. What will happen in Europe remains to be seen, but it’s hard to be sanguine about Europe’s immediate future.

Nevertheless, if Mr. Trump succeeds in nothing else
in the next 4 (or 8 years), but succeeds in supporting a movement towards a de facto reformation of Islam, his presidency will go down in history as a seminal period for America and the world.

Copyright 2017 Arrias
www.vicsocotra.com

Arrias on Politics: McGuffey and the Federal Reserve

Editor’s Note: Arrias takes on the bureaucracy this morning.

– Vic

McGuffey and the Federal Reserve

Without looking it up: what are the differences between Alexander Hamilton’s and Thomas Jefferson’s perspective on the role of the federal government?

Pundits often question the efficacy of Pentagon strategies, whether it’s Vietnam, tanker escort operations in the Persian Gulf, containing the Soviet Union, liberating Kuwait or fighting Islamic terrorist. And as a participatory democracy they have every right to question the DOD.

In fact, such questioning is important, and editorial remarks have caused meaningful review of strategies. Sadly, there is much less of this kind of questioning taking place outside the national security arena.

I was involved in discussions this past week that suggested that such questioning is long overdue across government. Consider 3 topics (though there’s a long list of possible subjects): the War on Drugs, Education, and the Federal Reserve.

President Nixon declared the War on Drugs in June 1971, after concerns were voiced about the rise in drug use on college campuses, as well as concerns about the number of GIs returning from Vietnam with severe addictions.

A University of Michigan study showed that, among high school seniors, 31% had used illicit drugs in 1975, this peaked at 39% in 1979, dropped steadily to 15% in 1992, then climbed to 25% in 1996 and has remained at approximately 25% since.

Various drugs came into and out of fashion during the past 46 years; cocaine use, for example, peaked in the 80s, fell steadily through the 90s, leveled off in the last dozen years, and now may be on the verge of increasing again; recent reports note the rise in opioid usage across the US. Since 1999, according to the CDC, drug poisoning deaths from illegal drugs has climbed from 8,000 to 32,000 – 11,000 from new opiates.

The US is currently spending (per the Drug Policy Institute) $51 billion annually on this “war,” but we seem no closer to winning now then we did in 1975.

What about education? The Department of Education was founded in 1979 to improve student performance. And, in 1981, for the first time in 18 years, average SAT score didn’t decline. But, by 1992 the average SAT score was still 5% lower than in 1960, though it’s risen slightly since 1992.

An American Institute for Research study in 2005 showed that 20% of college graduates had “only basic quantitative literacy,” meaning they would be “unable to estimate that their car had enough gas to get to the next station.”

Yet, the US spends more on education than any other nation, and also spends more per capita than any other nation. Since 1980 the average cost of a US college tuition has risen 1120% (as of 2012), twice the increase in healthcare costs.

What about the Federal Reserve?

Following bank panics in the late 1890s and early 1900s, the Federal Reserve was created to provide stability in bank credit, the goal being that by so doing, there would be fewer panics and value of the dollar would stabilize.

Between the founding of the republic and 1834 (58 years) there were 11 recessions, lasting on average just over 2 years. From 1834 until 1913 (79 years – there was no national bank), there were some wide swings in credit, and there were 20 recessions, each lasting a bit under 2 years. Since 1913 (104 years) there have been 17 recessions (the two worst in the nation’s history) lasting on average a bit over a year.

However, the value of the dollar, which grew fairly steadily from 1776 until 1913 has been falling since, and has lost some 90% of its value in the last 100 years.

The point is this: the United States has spent a great deal of time and effort – and money – on these three endeavors: illicit drug usage, education, a stable economy. The general goals are sound: end illicit drug use, improve education, and stabilize the economy. There are similar grand goals for every federal department and agency. But, as with DOD strategies, each should be questioned as to their output. It’s a grand idea to improve education. But maybe the federal government is the wrong organization to tackle the problem. What we’ve been trying for the last 40 years isn’t working. Maybe it’s time we try some different strategies.

As for the question at the beginning of the article: it’s in essence the heart of the ongoing debate in American politics. And it was a question on the 6th grade “graduation test” from McGuffey’s Eclectic Reader from 1836.

Copyright 2017 Arrias
www.vicsocotra.com

Arrias on Politics: Gas Attacks and Cyber Hacking

Ypres, April 22nd 1915: the Germans launch a gas attack on the Western Front. Germany had twice attempted to use gas (October 1914 and January 1915), but both efforts failed to produce the desired results. At Ypres results were consistent with German hopes; along the 4-mile front where chlorine gas was used effects were so severe the Germans were shocked and failed to fully exploit the results.

After Ypres both sides used gas, and equipped their troops (eventually) with gas masks; all-told some 30,000 thousand died, and perhaps 500,000 were exposed. But gas didn’t turn the tide.
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During WW II all belligerents had gas stockpiles, but troops also had protective gear. The nature of combat – fast tactical operations covering large areas of terrain – also militated against gas and there was little use (Italy in Ethiopia, Japan in China). The Nazis gassed millions in the death camps, an evil beyond imagination, the one horrific exception.

Since then, except in three cases (Yemen – 1960s, Iran – Iraq War (1980-88), Syria’s civil war), gas hasn’t been used; for most of the world the threat of gas attacks has faded away.

Why?

The Geneva treaty of 1925 outlawing its use didn’t eliminate gas warfare; Italy and Japan both used gas in combat in the 1930s, as did others later (noted above). What changed was the two-fold realization that: 1) using gas against a well-prepared adversary would be of little overall tactical benefit, and 2) using gas would receive universal opprobrium. Even as Germany collapsed in 1945, they wouldn’t risk using chemical weapons against Allied troops.

They understood, intellectually and viscerally, that using chemical weapons would mean the nation, and the generals and politicians who ordered its use, would be held collectively and individually responsible. Use in combat had effectively ended; deterrence had worked. When deterrence failed, it was because the governments involved thought the world community would ignore them, or that they could hide their own involvement.

What has this to do with Cyber Warfare?

Actually, everything.

The recent large-scale malware attack affected people and organizations in at least 99 countries, with scary consequences; in England, for example, hospitals suspended admissions and in some cases delayed operations.

Interestingly we’ve had recent pronouncements from members of the national security community, to include leadership of the Intelligence Community, calling for cyber deterrence.

But that waters-down the concept of deterrence. Deterrence is NOT about proportional and “like” response; effective deterrence is a product of disproportional response. Deterrence works in a fairly simple way: “If you do ‘X’ to me, I’ll do X, Y and Z and maybe A, B and C to you.” You must demonstrate the capability and the will to do far more to the other guy than he can possibly do to you. He controls only the initial action, he does NOT control the nature or scope of the response. You must ensure he understands that your response will far exceed any benefit he might ever hope to receive.

In cyber that means that, whether a dozen Leninist radicals or a nation-state, if someone conducts a cyber attack against the US, the US will respond with:

1) A larger and more aggressive cyber attack, and

2) Something else: freezing their bank accounts, seizing all foreign holdings, perhaps 12 Tomahawk cruise missiles into their headquarters, perhaps some SEALs visiting them in the night; perhaps all four.

What can we learn from Ypres?

1) We need an international agreement that says simply cyber attacks will not be tolerated; the potential disruption from cyber is so severe that any group or nation that engages in such attacks, except under a declaration of war and inside the parameters of the accepted laws of war, is the enemy of all.

2) We need a stated policy: the US will retaliate against any cyber attack – swiftly and massively, far beyond the scale of the attack.

3) We need to make the investments to protect our key infrastructure from attack, just as nations equipped their armies with defenses against gas.

4) We need to make the investment in intelligence to provide rapid and reliable identification of the source of any cyber attack.

The various malware and cyber attacks we experienced in the recent past are the tip of the iceberg of what’s possible. We can protect the nation. But we need to stop studying the problem – as we have for the last 10 years – and act, and act now.

Copyright 2017 Arrias
www.vicsocotra.com