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While We Still Have Time

In spite of the grimness of the times in which we live, there is still hope. If you feel, like I do, that the usual discourse about matters of critical concern tends to be superficial, misguided, and false, then you might find some solace and inspiration here. I will try to offer insight and a holistic perspective on events and issues, and hopefully serve as a catalyst for raising the level of dialogue on this planet.

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Location: Madison, Wisconsin, United States

I was born in 1945, shortly before atom bombs were dropped on Japan. I served in the U.S. Army from 1968 to 1971. I earned master's degrees in Economics and Educational Psychology, and certificates in Web Page Design and as a Teacher of English as a Second Language. I followed an Indian guru for eight years, which immersed me in meditative practices and an attitude of reaching a higher level of being. A blog post listing the meditative practices I have pursued can be seen here.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Warnings

One of the most difficult aspects of writing is the risk of getting something wrong. It can ruin the story, is embarrassing, and has to be corrected. Or should be corrected. In my previous post I got something wrong. It didn't ruin the story, but instead raised further questions.

A couple of recent TV shows featured Army generals being interviewed. Both of them wore formal uniforms, known as dress blues, while being interviewed. I thought it was some kind of public relations effort, a ploy to make the generals look more heroic and formidable than the standard dress green uniforms that have been worn for decades.

That may still be the case, but as it turns out, dress blues, or what looks like black, are the current replacement for the green uniforms as the Army service uniform. I assumed, based on my own Army experience that the fancier uniforms would still be for formal occasions. A simple detail, but assuming it turned out to be in error.

This was an easy mistake to make, but a mistake nonetheless. The question it raises is why it was decided that the Army would opt for the more ostentatious version of its dress uniform.  Ominous as well. There is historical precedent for military uniforms high on symbolism and flourish. I searched around for Nazi pictures, but most of them seemed clich├ęd and caricatured, almost satirical representations of evil Nazis. The one above depicts a more ordinary view of Nazis, two officers in a casual pose. We know the truth. These are SS officers. The SS is the abbreviation for the Schutzstaffel, the force in Hitler's military responsible for most of the Third Reich's war crimes.

General Keith Alexander, NSA chief who lied to CongressSome might think it outrageous that I would compare our modern military with Nazis. I'm comparing the uniforms. If you look at General Alexander's uniform at right you might think he is a hero on a par with Audie Murphy. He has never served in combat. His entire career has been in intelligence. He has lied to Congress. He heads the NSA, which has vastly expanded spying on "American" citizens, allies and world leaders from friendly nations.

Maybe someone in high places, like Congress, might want to ask why our military has made such ostentatious uniforms the everyday work uniform for its officers and enlisted personnel. It looks comical, but the intent isn't comical. It's hard to say what the intent is, but overdone uniforms tend to be warnings of things to come.

We have other warnings: histrionic demagogues in both houses of Congress, histrionic demagogues in our national media, a failing economy (in spite of all the rosy triumphalism, our economy is faltering), anger and unrest among the populace, scapegoating of Muslims, immigrants and people receiving government transfer payments like Social Security. As global climate change gets more severe, and our infinite-growth economic system can grow no more, we can expect internal strife to get worse. Far worse. We won't be able to say we weren't warned.

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I found a few extra pictures that didn't quite fit the story. Here's one of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey. Click on it.

Here's another warning.

Here's a song.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Dress Blues

General Keith Alexander, NSA chief who lied to Congress
When a system starts looking farcical it is in great danger. Ours has been looking that way for some time. It is now approaching grand farce.

You can pick any aspect of the "U.S." socio-economic system. The economy, the mass information media, the entertainment industry, the military, religious institutions, the cultural obsession with electronic gadgets, and, most glaringly, the political system.

Any of these aspects of our system could be looked at as farcical. The one most obvious in the news these days, though, is the national security apparatus, particularly as evidenced by the revelations about the National Security Agency (NSA). It seems every week a new outrage is being made known. The scope of the NSA's spying is seemingly boundless - collecting data on ALL domestic phone conversations, listening in on foreign leaders' conversations, spending tons of money for highly questionable results, and for lying about it all.

The most recent silliness was the thinly disguised propaganda effort that was broadcast on CBS's 60 Minutes Sunday night. A "reporter" with ties to the national security apparatus narrated a segment that made the case for the NSA, describing its work as benign, limited, and dedicated to getting the "bad guys."

The staging was most obvious when the "reporter," John Miller, interviewed the director of the NSA, General Keith Alexander. The interview itself was pretty pro-forma, softball questions, bureaucratic answers. The farcical part was that the general felt the need to wear his dress blues to the interview. Dress blues are the most formal versions of military uniforms, normally worn for special occasions like state dinners, academy graduations, various formal receptions, funerals of high-status military and political figures, etc. NOT 60 Minutes.

It must be a public relations trend. A few days earlier Army Chief of Staff General Ray Odierno appeared on the Charlie Rose TV show, and he also wore dress blues. He talked about getting the "bad guys" too. He was reminiscing about the invasion and occupation of "Iraq," the source, along with the invasion and occupation of "Afghanistan," of his chest full of medals. Nine rows of them in the picture above.

Odierno spoke glowingly of the capture of Saddam Hussain, and how the war against "Iraq" was against the "bad guys." Some time early in these recent wars the term "bad guys" became easy shorthand for anyone deemed worthy of killing. If we killed people, they were bad guys. That's as deep as it gets. Two "American" generals appear on nationwide television in their dress blue fancy uniforms to talk about getting the bad guys. Pardon me if I'm not impressed.


General Dwight D. EisenhowerI did a study back in 2008, comparing the current crop of generals with greats from World War II. The difference is stark and disturbing. One thing that stands out immediately is that the generals who won World War II didn't feel the need to exalt themselves with medals running to the tops of their coats. Dwight Eisenhower appears wearing just three ribbons. He of course also looked the part, someone you could imagine commanding international forces in a major invasion like D-Day. There are no pictures of him wearing dress blues. He never mentioned getting the bad guys.

How far we have fallen. We have a president who claims to be the most open and transparent, but who has had more whistleblowers prosecuted than all previous presidents combined. He authorizes the drone attacks on innocent civilians routinely. He defends his out of control spying as necessary for national security (read: getting the bad guys).

Most ridiculous of the president is that he is now saying that income inequality is the defining challenge of our time. I predict that in the three years he has left in office that he will propose NOTHING to deal with this very serious problem.

Douglas MacArthur in the PacificAnd, of course, if income inequality is the defining challenge of our time, where does global climate change rank? I don't know, but don't be surprised if you see the president wearing a set of dress blues.
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Here's a song about dress blues.

Here's a New York Times editorial on Obama's inequality speech.

Sad for the president and his national security minions, a Federal judge has ruled the NSA domestic spying program "significantly likely to be unconstitutional," a new designation.He also said the spying program is "almost Orwellian."

Here's a good definition of Orwellian.

In one of the great surprises known to modern man, General Alexander was found to have knowingly lied to Congress about how effective NSA spying has been. Here's a better rendition of the story. A lied-to congressman has this analysis.

Our president would prefer you didn't know about this. It is a perfect example of why we need open government.

Here's an interesting study of the practice of awarding fake medals in the military.

The Beatles had some fancy uniforms. They were more convincing. Sometimes an entire town can get all decked-out.