The Missing Weapon at Dunkirk

 

©2017 Steve Feinstein. All rights reserved.

 

Although most people under 40 are astonishingly unknowledgeable about it, a great worldwide armed conflict known as World War II took place from 1939-1945 in the European and Pacific regions. It is relevant and important to know and understand because the outcome of World War II put into place the political, economic and geographical conditions and relationships that make the world what it is today. An understanding of the ramifications of WWII is central to comprehending how today’s world came to be. People under 40—heck, even under 60—would do themselves a huge favor if they learned some history and saw how that history affected today’s world.

The 1939 war in Europe was caused mostly by the consequences of the unresolved complications and volatile conditions that persisted following the end of World War I in 1918. World War I took place from 1914-1918 and was a struggle for the control of Europe, primarily between the Germans on one side against the French and British (aided by America after 1917) on the other side. Germany remained particularly unstable in the years after the end of the Great War (as WWI came to be known) and in retrospect, many historians feel that another war in Europe was inevitable.

The inevitability of another European war after 1918 became reality on September 1st, 1939 when Germany turned eastward and attacked Poland. Having built up its military forces in direct contravention to WWI treaties, Germany overwhelmed Poland in a matter of a few short weeks, using their newly-developed Blitzkrieg tactics. Unlike the ponderous, static, slow-motion trench warfare that dominated World War I, Germany saw the potential of combining fast-moving armored forces with close-support air power (dive bombers and fast low-altitude bombers) to deliver a decisive, overpowering blow to their enemy’s critical targets in the very early stages of the action. (Germany’s Blitzkrieg tactics were so successful that the term has now become part of the popular lexicon, meaning any quick, overwhelming action, whether in sports or business or some other endeavor.)

Following a relatively uneventful 1939-1940 winter (a time period that came to be known as the “Phony War”), German resumed its hostilities against Europe in the spring of 1940, turning its attention westward. German forces blasted through the “Low Countries” of Holland and Belgium and swung around to invade France from a point behind its main defensive eastern border with Germany. Following World War I, France fortified their eastern border with Germany with a massive wall of concrete and armament called the Maginot Line in an effort to prevent any future invasion by Germany. But Germany attacked Holland and Belgium to the north and west of Germany, through the supposedly impenetrably dense Ardennes forest and they swung into France from behind the Maginot Line. France’s expensive, full-proof defense against German aggression proved to be a worthless folly.

As German forces poured into France, the French military was disoriented, confused and demoralized. Despite having numerical superiority over Germany in planes and equipment, the French utterly failed to mount an effective defense of their homeland. Desperate and panicked, France pleaded with Britain to send men and materiél to their aid.

The British did so, in the form of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF), consisting of several hundred thousand troops along with tanks and aircraft. It was a wasted effort, as the British could not buttress the listless and disorganized French forces against the brilliantly-trained, highly-motivated German army. Germany’s blitzkrieg tactics decimated the allied formations, inflicting severe losses and taking great swaths of French territory.

Sometimes, what might seem to be a small decision at the time can have huge long-range consequences, with repercussions that last decades into the future, even to the point of altering the course of history. Such was the case in the battle for France in May of 1940. British Air Marshal Lord Hugh Dowding made the decision to not send any of Britain’s valuable Spitfire fighter aircraft to France for the fight against the Germans. The Spitfire was generally regarded as the best fighter plane in the world at the time (narrowly edging out Germany’s BF-109 and Japan’s Mitsubishi Zero-Sen). Dowding correctly recognized that Britain would soon be in a one-on-one fight for survival against Germany and any hope Britain had of fighting off the German air force (the Luftwaffe) rested squarely on the shoulders of their small contingent of Spitfires.

As I wrote in 2008:

The British proved themselves prescient when they sent only second-line Hurricane fighters to fight against the Germans in France. In spite of vehement French protests, Air Marshal Lord Dowding (head of Britain’s Fighter Command) refused to allow any of Britain’s valuable front-line Spitfire fighter planes to be “wasted” in what he knew would be a losing effort in France. Better to husband them for England’s solitary fight to come against the Germans after France’s capitulation.

By the end of May, the German forces had cornered the remnants of the allied armies into a small, vulnerable pocket in Dunkirk, near the coast of France.  It appeared that the European war would soon be over, as the German army was poised to finish the job. Exactly what happened next is the subject of some controversy, but the lessons for military planners reverberate as clearly today as they did then, some 68 [77] years ago.

Rather than sending in their armored, tank-equipped Panzer divisions to destroy the virtually defenseless allied forces, the Germans held them back. Instead, the finishing task was given to Germany’s air force, the Luftwaffe. Military historians have posited that perhaps Germany’s armored Panzer divisions were stretched too thin and had outrun their supply lines, and thus needed time for rest and recuperation. Another popular theory has it that the head of the Luftwaffe—Hermann Göring—was envious of the glory that his Army counterparts were getting from their numerous overwhelming victories, and he wanted to prove that his air force was worthy of similar accolades.

But regardless of the reason, the German air force was given the responsibility, and it failed. That decision remains one of the greatest military blunders of all time. The Luftwaffe flew sortie after sortie, attacking the Allied armies, but couldn’t finish the job. Instead, the British organized an amazing sea-borne rescue effort and sent hundreds of ships and boats of all kinds across the Channel to rescue the beleaguered soldiers. Everything from Royal Navy transport ships to private fishing boats participated in the effort. The RAF flew cover and fought off the German air attacks. Although their losses were high and virtually all their equipment was left on the beaches of Dunkirk, almost 400,000 Allied soldiers were rescued, and survived to fight another day.

The Spitfire was the missing weapon in the fall of France. If the British had sent Spitfires to France and wasted those invaluable, irreplaceable front-line fighter planes and pilots in the weeks prior to Dunkirk in a hopelessly futile effort to save France from the German onslaught, then surely the German Luftwaffe would have succeeded in destroying the Allied armies on the beaches of Dunkirk. Absent the Spitfire, there were no British fighter planes that could defeat the BF-109 in head-to-head combat. British Hawker Hurricane and Bolton Paul Defiant fighters had already proven themselves outclassed by the 109 and suffered sharp losses in direct combat. In the likely event of significant Spitfire losses in the battle for France (even if just mostly from normal high-stress military service attrition and accidents), the Germans would have ruled the skies over Dunkirk and their bombers—unhindered by numerically-significant Spitfire opposition—would have exacted a decisive, fatal toll on both the trapped Allied soldiers on the beach and the beleaguered British ships and boats that were trying to help.

But that was not the case. There were enough (barely enough!) Spitfires to keep the German air force at bay in the skies over Dunkirk. Lord Dowding’s decision to withhold Britain’s priceless Spitfires from the losing, pointless exercise in France was unquestionably one of the most important, consequential decisions in military history. Few history books even mention it and neither does the otherwise-excellent current movie Dunkirk, but the “no Spitfires sent to France” decision ranks as one of the very most important military judgments of all time.

A clear indication of the Spitfire’s unmatched excellence came from an unlikely source, none other than General Adolf Galland, high-ranking German ace, who became head of all of Germany’s fighter forces later in the war. When asked by Hermann Göring (Reichsmarschall of the Luftwaffe) what he needed to be more successful in battle, Galland famously replied, “I should like a staffel [squadron] of Spitfires for my gruppe!

At the very end of the movie Dunkirk, there is a dedication screen that reads, “Dedicated to all the individuals whose lives have been impacted by the events at Dunkirk.” It’s an intentionally subtle and brilliant statement by producer Christopher Nolan, since everyone in the world since 1940 has been “impacted” by the events that took place there. Had the Germans won the war in Europe—and they were within a hairsbreadth of doing that at Dunkirk—the world would be a drastically different place today. Everyone’s lives would have been impacted. But Britain’s heroic Royal Air Force—led by those courageous pilots flying their Spitfires—didn’t let that happen.

 

 

Trump’s Withdrawal from Paris Climate Agreement a Huge Non-Event

 

©2017 Steve Feinstein. All rights reserved.

 

President Trump’s recent decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement has been cited by his critics as proof of his callous ignorance of critical environmental concerns in favor of his big-business colleagues and partisan donors, and by implication, further proof of his generalized unsuitability to be President.

The multi-national Paris Agreement is largely based two assumptions:

  1. Mankind will continue to rely on and overuse fossil fuels as the predominant energy source for transportation and heating, thus perpetuating the problem of anthropogenic Global Warming.
  2. The Paris Agreement is central to civilization’s ability to stop and reverse climate change before it reaches an irreversible “tipping point.”

Both assumptions are demonstrably false; therefore, the entire basis for the Paris Agreement is, at best, embarrassingly naïve and, at worst, an outright fraud.

Fossil fuels (oil, gasoline and natural gas) are currently the primary energy sources for heating and transportation, but our reliance on them for these purposes is already declining precipitously, independent of any international climate “agreement.” Use of alternative non-fossil fuels has increased dramatically from less than 5% before 1990 to over 13% in 2014 and may well increase somewhat in the future as their technology improves and their cost declines. However, so-called renewables are a dead end energy solution, whether their use is increasing or not. There is a practical upper limit as to what actual portion of the world’s total energy use renewables can provide, agreed upon by most objective energy analysts as being far less than a majority—or even a significant—percentage of the total. Absent their Government subsidies, it’s questionable if renewables would even be a factor at all.

Far more important to the current energy picture in terms of reducing CO2-emitting fuels is the use of fracking (led by the United States) and the resultant mother lode of natural gas that’s been unlocked and has replaced “dirty” coal. CO2 emissions in the United States are already down to early 1990’s levels, primarily because of the increased natural gas supply made possible by fracking. The potential for natural gas to replace coal, and therefore reduce CO2 emissions, is even greater worldwide, since fracking has only just begun outside the United States.

There is a great desire among most people to choose a “green” energy source when it is close in price to a polluting fuel and an even stronger desire among 1st-world economies to be free of the shackles and whims of politically-unstable OPEC-influenced world oil pricing. The Paris Agreement is not needed to increase non-fossil fuel demand nor is its presence the reason for the already-growing use of alternative fuels. These developments are taking place now, with or without Paris. The Agreement is a non-factor.

The Paris Agreement itself is not a binding, enforceable international “treaty” of any kind. There are no penalties for non-compliance. The Agreement is strictly for show, a way for the major Western economies to make themselves feel good about leading by example and showing recalcitrant CO2 offenders like China and India that they too should take voluntary steps to reduce their environmentally-damaging emissions. For American politicians, the Agreement is a way to show their targeted environmental supporters that the Government is actively, tangibly doing something to combat climate change. The vote-influencing effect of the Agreement is probably its most substantive outcome.

However, the Paris Agreement itself does nothing to actually reduce global warming. In words spoken on December 9, 2015 by our direct representative, the estimable then-Secretary of State John Kerry,

… The fact is that even if every American citizen biked to work, carpooled to school, used only solar panels to power their homes, if we each planted a dozen trees, if we somehow eliminated all of our domestic greenhouse gas emissions, guess what – that still wouldn’t be enough to offset the carbon pollution coming from the rest of the world.

If all the industrial nations went down to zero emissions –- remember what I just said, all the industrial emissions went down to zero emissions -– it wouldn’t be enough, not when more than 65% of the world’s carbon pollution comes from the developing world.

The second assumption of the Paris Agreement—that the earth will soon reach an irreversible, disastrous tipping point if dramatic action to halt anthropogenic warming emissions is not taken immediately— is similarly flawed. To begin with, there is no scientific proof of that, nor is any “proof” possible. The notion of a tipping point is merely a totally unsubstantiated talking point that has entered the climate dialog in remarkable coincidence to the non-fulfilment of past years’ predictions of warming-induced calamity and devastation. Shorelines have not crept miles inland, wiping out cities, ports and civilization along the way. Manhattan is still not under water. Pestilence and disease are not on the rise. If the undefined notion of a “tipping point” is valid, it would appear that we we’re not even close to reaching it yet.

It would likely require a geologically-significant time frame for a tipping point to occur—probably on the order of several centuries. As the capabilities of low- and non-carbon-based energy sources increase and their cost continues to decline, it’s quite reasonable to predict that within a very short time—50 to 100 years—the portion of energy that the world derives from low- and non-CO2-emitting sources will be large enough to make the entire emissions-caused-warming issue moot. Recent studies suggest that battery pricing is declining more rapidly than previously thought, such that electric vehicles will dominate auto sales as soon as 2040, displacing an amount of oil usage equal to Saudi Arabia’s entire output. That will cause a paradigm shift in both the CO2 emissions and geo-political components like nothing before ever has. And Paris has nothing to do with it.

Therefore, President Trump was entirely correct to see the valueless proposition of the Paris Agreement to the United States. The Agreement calls upon developed countries to come to the financial aid of less developed nations in order to assist them in curbing their carbon emissions, but the Agreement itself has no emissions enforcement mechanisms and full compliance—a very iffy proposition at best—won’t make a dent in worldwide warming anyway. It’s a disingenuous sham, designed only to make a favorable visual impression on those who don’t pay close attention and it wilfully ignores the legitimately-questionable scientific basis for the entire warming argument, the rapid technologically- and market-driven advancement of alternative energy, and the very short geological time frame before which the entire anthropogenic emissions-caused climate change issue becomes totally irrelevant.

Good riddance.

 

 

 

 

I’m Wrong, You’re Wrong

©2017 Steve Feinstein. All rights reserved.

The Democrats have a good thing going. It’s unclear exactly how they arranged it or why it is that no one has really noticed it before and called them out on it. But they are very clever and they deserve full credit for pulling it off. It’s just another piece of evidence that when it comes to hardball politics/media manipulation, there is only one team even playing the game, much less a contest of any sort being waged.

Their gambit? The Democrats have constructed a reality whereby they get to blame Republicans outright for any transgression they commit—real or contrived—whether it be some verbal or policy slight against a favored special-interest group, a tax advantage they give to their “wealthy donor” electoral base, an unfair reduction in rights and privileges to the deserving just for the fun of being mean-spirited, environmentally-damaging political decisions made out of ignorance or uncaring short-sightedness, or a disruptive, counter-productive introduction of religion and morals into the public discussion in a blatant, hypocritical violation of the doctrine of ‘separation of church and state.’

The Democrats actually go further than simply tying such actions to Republican politicians. In fact, they routinely tie calamitous events to Republicans in general, office holders and supporters alike, and blame Republicans for intentionally creating the circumstances that enabled the event to transpire in the first place. A perfect recent example of this was a few years ago when Sarah Palin—a favorite Democratic fall girl—produced a “map” identifying targeted Democratic Congressional seats, with a crosshair graphic on the seat. Democrats howled that Palin was advocating actual gun violence against those Democratic officeholders and claimed that her actions specifically contributed to gunman Jared Loughner’s actions when he shot AZ congresswoman Gabby Giffords along with several other people. That was ludicrous, since Loughner’s mental illness was well-documented and had nothing to do with Palin’s strategic electoral map. In fact, there’s not any evidence that Loughner even knew who Sarah Palin was.

Yet when it serves their PR purposes, Democratic politicians—secure in their confidence that the liberal media will back their play every step of the way—feel free to conflate long-understood clichés and figures of speech with the literal meaning of that phrase when the literal meaning serves their political agenda. “In the crosshairs,” of course, is just an ages-old colloquialism for a matter to which one is turning one’s full attention and effort. You have to be a truly special kind of partisan to think you could convince others otherwise. But to the Democrats’ everlasting credit, they continually put it out there, knowing that the charge on Page One is seen by everyone, but the correction on page 12 four days later goes by virtually unnoticed.

Conversely, when a Democratic politician or a Democratic supporter is unavoidably trapped into acknowledging some inexcusable misconduct, abdication of responsibility, obvious lie, or insulting, insensitive speech, the typical Democratic response (assuming that a liberal media-backed outright denial of reality is not an option) involves some grudging admission of a temporary lapse in their usually impeccable judgement, followed by the inevitable dragging of Republicans along to share their guilt.

Here are some quintessential Democratic responses to flagrant Democratic misstatements and actions:

  • Both sides need to tone down the rhetoric.
  • There is plenty of blame to go around on both sides.
  • This situation requires immediate, focused bi-partisan attention.
  • Both sides are guilty of overreaction.
  • Both sides need to focus on what’s important and turn down the vitriol.

These kinds of Democratic proclamations are all-to-familiar to anyone paying any semblance of attention to the news. The recent revelation that President Obama knew months before the 2016 election that Russia was attempting to influence the U.S, election but that the Obama administration actively and intentionally decided against taking any action to thwart Russian interference has been greeted by the liberal media with bare-minimal (if any) coverage. When one Democratic lawmaker (Adam Schiff of CA) said, “I think the [Obama] administration needed to call out Russia earlier, needed to act to deter and punish Russia earlier, and that was a very serious mistake,” he was very quick to add, “I have to contest what President Trump is saying, because for Donald Trump who openly egged on the Russians to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails and celebrated every release of stolen documents—to criticize Obama is now a bit like someone knowingly receiving stolen property blaming the police for not stopping the theft.”

Perfectly scripted, right from the Democratic playbook: If you have to acknowledge an error on your side and there’s no possibility of denial, then bring the Republicans along for the ride on the Blame Train and imply that they’re at least as much at fault, even if you have to contort the facts in order to do so.

Schiff’s statement of Trump having “openly egged on the Russians” during the election campaign is an outright falsehood. As we said, “Charge on Page One. Correction to follow four days later—maybe—on page 12.” That’s no small semantic error: Trump may have cheered on Julian Assange’s announcements of more damaging DNC e-mails to come, but he didn’t know, nor did anyone else at the time, that the Russians may have been behind them (It’s still in question, an unsettled matter.) Replacing Assange with the Russians is willfully disingenuous on Schiff’s part. Skillful also, knowing he won’t be called out on it in a major public forum.

Another current example is CBS Evening News’ correspondent Scott Pelley’s astonishing utterance that the shooting of Republican congressman Steve Scalise by Bernie Sanders supporter James Hodgkinson may have been “to some degree self-inflicted.” In the Democrats’ world, no bad action can possibly be completely the fault of a Democratic politician or avowed Democratic supporter, lest that action cast the Democrats or their positions in a bad light. On the contrary, when a Democrat acts badly, it must be at least partially the Republicans’ fault, as this example proves once again.

It’s a good system that the Democrats have worked out for themselves: When they’re right, they take all the credit. When they’re wrong, they only get half—maybe less—of the blame. We’d all like to live in that world.

 

 

 

Made out of Mettle?

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Filed Under General on Jun 8 

Made out of Mettle?

© 2017, Steve Feinstein. All rights reserved.

I don’t know if it’s a male-female thing or not. Probably somewhat—I’d venture an off-the-cuff guess and say that nearly every guy thinks about this from time to time, but probably far fewer women give this any thought at all. Some do, no question, but less than half, I’d say.

Now that my totally subjective, unfounded impressions are out of the way, let’s get down to the subject at hand. The thought that has continually crossed my mind from my late teens right through today is this: How would I fare in a life-or-death combat situation? Combat, where my own life depended on my own actions. Combat, where I could choose to put myself in danger in service to a greater good or play it safe, save myself, but come up short with regard to a good situational outcome.

Note that I’m not talking about a deadly situation that involves protecting loved ones or a circumstance where self-preservation or self-defense is at play. In those cases, the survival-protective instinct takes over and most people will automatically do what they need to do to ensure the continued existence of their family or themselves.

The combat-type situation I’m talking about is very different. This situation requires action on your part that puts you in potential life-threatening danger in order to complete a task for the benefit of others. Military combat, fire fighting, police work—these are the situations I’m referring to. These are the life tests that many people think about but may never know the answer to for sure. On some deep level, it matters, but for some, it’s easier to simply repress the question since the likelihood of a situational test presenting itself is almost nonexistent and if the person has even the slightest reason to doubt themselves, they’ll simply choose not to think about it.

I had the opportunity recently to meet Chris “Tanto” Paranto, a U.S Ranger and Blackwater Security operative who defended the American Embassy in Libya on September 11, 2012 against a horde of attacking terrorists. The attack resulted in the deaths of American Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans, but the unbelievably courageous, heroic actions of Paranto, along with the few other American defenders, kept the attackers at bay long enough for twenty other Americans to escape to safety.

This is not a political article. The circumstances that led to the terrorists’ attack, whether or not any American military assistance could have arrived in time, whether any after-action reports were politically-motivated or not, none of that is germane to this discussion. Enough has already been said on those topics.

However, as Paranto spoke to us, I was struck by his commitment to the task at hand, the responsibility he felt to aid others in a larger cause beyond just himself as an individual and the humorous, ironic joy he and his compatriots experienced in their overwhelmingly dire situation. “You never think about dying,” he told us that night. “If you think about dying—about how you can avoid dying—you’re going to die. We simply did what we had to do, what the circumstances demanded of us. When we had time to think about things—which wasn’t often—we simply cracked each other up with off-the-wall jokes.”

He continued, “We had a military scanner to monitor the U.S. communications taking place. Problem was, our scanner was about a minute or two delayed from real time, so it was useless. The scanner would say, ‘100’s of hostiles approaching from a mile away,’ when we were already killing the b*st*rds as they tried to scale the walls. Then the scanner would say, ‘Spectre [C-130 gunship] is on the way,’ but it never showed up. Then the scanner would say, ‘F-16’s incoming from Aviano’ [the U.S. Air Force base in southern Italy, the closest airbase to Libya], but they never came. Pretty soon we were joking, ‘Hey, Christmas is coming,’ because that’s what you do, that’s how you react in these situations. You never think about dying or how to stay alive; you just think about what you have to do and you stay loose.”

Could I do that? Could I pass that test and simply do what had to be done without regard for myself? I’ve never served in the military or been a firefighter or a policeman. My dad was on the front lines in combat in World War II, as a member of the 338th Field Artillery Battalion in Italy. He was literally on the very front lines of combat, serving as a forward observer, watching as his company’s cannon shells fell on German positions and relaying radio instructions back to the gun battery, so they could adjust their fire for the best results. The Germans hated the American forward observers, obviously, because they were the ones zero’ing in the destructive artillery fire down on their heads.

One day, the Germans spotted the house on the hill where my Dad and his squadmates were, and they trained their 88mm artillery on that house and leveled it with explosive fire. There were lots of American casualties and that event was where my Dad earned his Purple Heart for being wounded in action. He didn’t speak about his actual combat experiences very much at all and I never pressed him on it. But the soldiers did their jobs, without hesitation, day in and day out, without any fanfare or expectation of attention or adulation. My dad did, however, have a never-ending stream of amusing wartime stories to tell me, about finding food in the countryside as they traveled northward up Italy during the Po campaign, about going off on wild Jeep joyrides in their off hours, about grabbing small souvenirs along the way and then being told, “Hey, you can’t take that,” and many other tales of friendships and shenanigans. Perfectly in keeping with Paranto’s telling of crazy jokes to keep them balanced and focused.

There is nothing in my life experience that compares to this. The “question” for me is frustratingly unanswered. Yet I do have one instance to draw upon, however peripheral and superficial it might be.

It is this:

Way back in 1980, I went to work for Panasonic, the big Japanese electronics company. It was an outside sales position and Panasonic provided company cars to their on-the-road sales force. I was only 26 at the time and having a major-league sales position with a major-league company like Panasonic was a really, really big deal to me at that time. The company car was icing on the cake—I used to think that only big-time salespeople who’d been with their company for 20 or 30 years and were really high achievers got a company car. Our neighbor when I was growing up, Sherm Cohen, was a long-time salesman for one of the big paint companies (I think it was Sherwin-Williams). He was the prototypical 1960’s salesperson—gregarious, aggressive, humorous, larger-than-life. Every year, a brand-new Pontiac Gran Prix graced his driveway at 26 Lawler Road. I was always in awe.

My Panasonic car was a brand-new Chevrolet Monte Carlo, a 2-door coupe with air, a big V-6 and fancy wheels. Quite a car. I never could’ve afforded this kind of car on my own at that point in my life. I felt almost uncomfortable driving around in it, as if people were thinking to themselves, “What is that young kid doing with a car like that?” when I got out of the car in a shopping center parking lot after stopping for lunch.

I’d been with Panasonic for maybe a month or two when I went to visit my sister. My sister was three years older than me, and had always been, shall we say, “spirited.” She’d led an incredibly tumultuous life, with substance issues, relationship issues, kids at a very young age, all kinds of things. You can fill in the blanks in your mind and you wouldn’t be far off. If at all.

Anyway, she and her husband at that time had just lost their apartment, for the usual reasons. They were barely earning enough to maintain a household, much less one that included three kids, ages four, six and eight. Out of money and options, they were on public assistance and newly living in the so-called “projects,” in a small ground floor 4-room apartment in a two-story building. I went to visit, quite mindful that this was the bad side of town, so to speak, but this was my sister and I wanted to be there.

I pulled up in front of the building and parked on the opposite side of the street, the only side parking was allowed. It’s dusk-ish and the sun will set in about an hour. The street is buzzing with people from the neighborhood, playing ball, laughing, talking, hanging out. My shiny new Monte is as out of place in this setting as a tuxedo is in the Fenway bleachers. As I walk up to my sister’s front door, I feel the piercing stare of 40 eyes on my back. It’s a relief to be inside.

We visit. The kids are happy to see Uncle Steve. The youngest two are delightfully unaware of their circumstances; the oldest, close to nine, knows what’s happening and is very quiet. My sister, her husband and I exchange stories: they tell me of their overly-optimistic, somewhat unrealistic plans to make things better for themselves; I tell them pleasant generalities about my new job and some of the amusing people I work with, including my Mafioso/Godfather-like sales manager at Panasonic. It’s a nice enough visit.

I’m there for easily two hours, maybe more. All the time I’m there, I’m keenly aware of where I am and I’m listening intently out of the corner of my ear to see if anything untoward is happening outside. All the while, it looks like my full attention is focused on the conversation with my sister and her kids, but I’m always surveilling the situation, on the lookout. For what, I don’t know. Just on the lookout.

It’s probably a little after 10:00 p.m.. It’s totally dark outside. I’m thinking I should be going. I hear the sound of kids’ voices, not little kids, older kids, around 10-14. They’re laughing. It’s a malevolent laugh, an up-to-no-good laugh. I’m thinking to myself, “Kids that young should not be out on the street alone at that time of night.” It’s a weeknight—a “school night.”

The laughing seems to be coming from right in front of my sister’s apartment, right where my car is parked. I hear the sound of breaking glass, like a bottle dropping onto the pavement, followed by high-pitched, frenzied laughter and what sounds like the commotion of kids running away in all directions when they’re fearful of being caught committing vandalism.

I jump to my feet when I hear the breaking glass and bolt to the apartment’s front window. There, I see a broken, flaming wine bottle—a crude Molotov cocktail—rolling toward my car. In about two or three seconds, the flaming bottle will be right underneath my car—my brand-new Chevrolet Monte Carlo, the one I’ve had for all of two months at my new job.

It’s funny how fast—lightening fast—your mind works in extreme crisis situations. Thought after thought, scenario after scenario, outcome after outcome are all ricocheting through my consciousness:

  • “The bottle will just roll to the curb on the other side of the car. Nothing will happen”
  • “The road is pretty flat. It’ll come to rest right under the car.”
  • “If it stops under the car, how long will it take for the fire from the bottle to ignite the grease and oil on the underside of the car’s chassis?”
  • “If the car catches fire, the fire spreads to the gas tank and the car blows up, will I get fired?”
  • “If I run across the street now, can I unlock the door with the key (that’s the way it was done in 1980), get in, put the key in the ignition without fumbling from nervousness, get it into Drive and pull safely down the street, away from the flaming bottle?”
  • “What if the car catches fire while I’m in it? Will it blow up? Will I die? Is this worth it? Shouldn’t I just let whatever’s going to happen happen?”

I didn’t hesitate. As I looked out of the front window of my sister’s apartment and all these thoughts raced through my mind, I decided I had enough time, it was worth the risk, and my chances of success were high enough to satisfy my instantaneous risk-reward analysis.

So I ran across the street, key in hand. Incredibly nervous but steady-handed enough, I inserted the key correct-side up into the door and unlocked it. I sat down very quickly behind the wheel and put the key into the ignition, wondering if I was about to be blown up or engulfed by flames (“Please let me die rather than be horribly disfigured by fire but still alive.”). The car started unhesitatingly and I pulled the column-mounted shift lever down to D without an uncontrolled adrenaline-induced overshoot to D2 or L. In a second or two, I was two houses down the street and the flaming bottle was safely in my rearview mirror, burning itself out.

From the time I heard the bottle break while talking to my sister until I was safely away from the bottle’s flame was probably 8-10 seconds, maybe less.

It seemed like a lifetime. Perhaps it was.

 

 

 

 

Perception is Reality

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Filed Under General on Jun 3 

Perception Is Reality

© 2017 Steve Feinstein. All rights reserved.

“Perception is reality” is a truism in most areas of human experience, but perhaps more so in politics than any other realm. Zealots on all sides know that if they can create an enduring, indelible image—whether positive or negative—in the minds of the populace, that perception will supersede any inconvenient facts that are more reflective of the actual situation.

Here are just a few wide-ranging examples from the past half-century:

Perception: The Tet Offensive was a major defeat for the U.S. in Vietnam

The Vietnam War was a conflict born of Cold War sensibilities and doctrines that said that the spread of communism anywhere in the world was an existential threat to the national security interests of the United States and therefore that threat should be stopped. Very generally speaking, that was the impetus for our taking the lead role in supporting South Vietnam resisting the aggression of Communist China-backed North Vietnam. U.S. involvement started in the early 1960’s under President Kennedy. Following Kennedy’s death in 1963, President Johnson greatly expanded the scale of America’s engagement, with hundreds of thousand of U.S. troops deployed. The war itself enjoyed reasonable public support since it appeared that we were making solid progress in weakening the opposing forces and diminishing the communist threat.

That impression of U.S. progress was shattered in January 1968 when 85,000 communist fighters launched a multi-pronged offensive against several South Vietnamese cities and strongholds. The attack—which came to be known as the Tet Offensive, so named for the Vietnamese New Year holiday period—came as a great surprise to American military leadership, who’d previously thought the communist forces were incapable of mounting such an attack. In America, public opinion for the war turned sharply negative, since the perception was that the communists had scored a great victory and dealt a huge setback to our mission.

Reality: The truth is that after a very brief interlude of initial enemy success, American and South Vietnamese forces inflicted very substantial casualties on the communist forces and quickly regained the initiative, taking back virtually all the territory that was briefly lost to the opposing side.

Nonetheless, the perception of a great defeat for America persisted, reinforced by the U.S. news media, who began saying that they’d been mislead in the past by overly-optimistic Government reports on the war’s progress. Now, the “truth” was out for all to see: The U.S. Government couldn’t be trusted, the communists had achieved stunning, unexpected success on the battlefield and the war in Vietnam was going to slog on interminably at great cost and with no realistic prospect for clear-cut victory. Anti-war protests, draft card burning and draft-dodging escapes to Canada became the norm. A fissure in American society materialized that many say has since lead to countless debilitating intergenerational social conflicts, and that the country’s view of the mainstream media and the government’s honesty has been irrevocably damaged as a result.

Perception: Robert Bork was racist and misogynist, and that’s why he was rejected for the Supreme Court

Robert Bork was a highly-respected scholar and judge who was nominated to the Supreme Court in 1987 by President Reagan to replace the retiring Lewis Powell. Powell was known as a moderate, a swing vote in closely-contested decisions. Although Bork’s innate intelligence and basic legal qualifications were not in question, Democrats were aghast at the prospect of the conservative Bork replacing the moderate Powell and thus tilting the balance of the Court sharply to the right. Powell had voted in the majority of the 7-2 January 1973 decision that affirmed a woman’s right to have an abortion. Should R v W or any variant thereof come up again, Democrats were certain that Bork would vote against their interests.

The same day that Bork was nominated, Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy of MA made a speech on the Senate floor that lives to this day as possibly the high water mark for the most outrageously partisan, gratuitously insulting, completely divorced-from-reality personal hack job masquerading as a serious policy address ever given in the annals of Senate speeches. In words that accurately define forever his true colors of “Partisan advantage first, always and only,” Kennedy said,

Robert Bork’s America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists could be censored at the whim of the Government, and the doors of the Federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens.

Astonishing words coming from a supposed highly-respected leader of the country.

Reality: Bork was highly qualified, but was never defended by the Republicans

In reality, Bork was nothing like Kennedy described. He was, in all honesty, a more conservative judge than Powell, and no doubt would have taken a somewhat more originalist standpoint on many issues than Powel had taken, but that did not in any way diminish his fitness to serve on the Supreme Court.

The Republicans never did mount an effective rebuttal to Kennedy’s unfounded attack. They never really defended Bork. This incident arguably began the modern era of Democratic mastery of the art of using the major media to their advantage, since Kennedy’s speech was played again and again on TV and radio, without an effective or serious response by the Republicans, who just didn’t seem to have any idea how to deal with it.

The reality of Robert Bork’s intellectual and legal qualifications may have been one thing, but those qualifications were utterly and completely swamped by the popular perception of his unsuitability for the position brought about by Kennedy’s deftly delivered character assassination on the Senate floor and Kennedy’s instinctive understanding of how to leverage a liberally-leaning media to his advantage.

Perception: The rich don’t pay their fair share of taxes

This issue is a staple calling card for Democrats, who continually imply that all wealthy entities—Republicans, mainly—duck, dodge and otherwise avoid their responsibility to pay the taxes they rightfully owe. Democrats are only too happy to put forth the idea that rich Republicans use all manner of shady, questionable tax loopholes to evade their tax obligations, thereby forcing the “average guy” (who doesn’t have access to sophisticated, expensive tax advisors) to shoulder the burden of paying the majority of the nation’s taxes. This overall sentiment is summed up perfectly by leading Democrats as they cite their favorite example, their proposed “Buffet Rule.” Democrats claim that billionaire investor Warren Buffet pays a lower percentage in income taxes than his secretary, so there should be a “rule” that above some arbitrary income level, a so-called “rich” person must pay an arbitrarily-set high percentage of income tax—above the percentage that a secretary would ever pay. That Rule, say the Democrats, will ensure that the rich always pay their fair share, which as everyone knows they’re not paying now. That’s the perception.

Reality: The reality, of course, is that the rich are paying their fair share and more. Far from a disproportionate amount of tax burden falling on the low-to-middle income wage earners, the rich pay the vast majority of taxes in this country, “loopholes” and “accounting tricks” notwithstanding. As seen here, the top 10% of wage earners pay over 70% of Federal Income Taxes. When the Bernie Sanders of the world say, “We’ve got to make sure the rich pay their fair share,” that’s just code-speak for raising taxes on the upper income earners to fund more Democratic vote-buying Government handout programs. The reality, of course, is that Democrats are never in favor of raising taxes in order to buy more F-22s; they want to raise taxes on “the rich” in order to fund more social spending programs, which will influence votes in the Democrats’ favor.

Conclusion: These are all completely different cases, but the common thread among them is that the facts of each circumstance are wildly at odds with the popular perception of them. In each situation, an erroneous, inaccurate version of reality was deliberately and fraudulently forced upon the public by partisan factions in order to shape popular opinion and manufacture support for a favored political position.

The exponential growth in the past decade of alternative news sources and social media beyond the traditional network TV news broadcasts and major big-city newspapers is a double-edged sword. While one can certainly ferret out more detailed and balanced information on any given topic by exercising some rigid intellectual discipline along with healthy doses of skepticism and common sense, there is an even bigger rise in the easy availability of rumor-, innuendo- and agenda-driven “news.” This makes the danger greater than ever that inaccurate perception-based stories will become popularly accepted as authentic, while the reality of the situation—either less interesting or not as convenient a fit into a pre-determined narrative—fades unceremoniously into the background.

What’s in a Name?

© 2017 Steve Feinstein. All rights reserved.

Naming. The final frontier.

Either Marketing has identified a brilliant long-range strategic opening that will revolutionize everything or Sales has won their argument and we’ll be producing a “me-too” fast-tracked defensive response product to counter our biggest competitor’s latest gizmo.

Either way, Industrial Design comes up with some pretty concepts of what it might look like, Engineering designs the actual thing so it will perform the way it needs to, and finally, Mechanical Engineering makes sure it all fits together and the factory can actually manufacture it.

Marketing decides how much it will sell for (based on the material and labor cost and market conditions), Sales gives their forecasts (it would have been more but Marketing priced it a little too high), and Purchasing places the order with the overseas factory, telling them to put a ‘rush’ on it (as if that will really make a difference, as if every single customer they have doesn’t tell them to ‘rush’ everything).

But….somewhere along the way, this gadget has to have a definite, hard-and-fast, unchangeable name. It’s got to be called something. Lots of things need to be molded or printed or created digitally: logo badges, names on the product’s chassis, boxes, user manuals (ok, no one reads them, but still), price lists, web pages, ads….lots of stuff.

A name. We need a name.

How do you name something? How important is the name? Does the name really affect the sales and market acceptance of a product one way or the other? Naming is a difficult thing. People have wildly differing views on the topic, based on their own experiences and their perception of their own expertise.

Product naming falls into a few major categories, so we’ll look at each one. Bear in mind that everyone is a bloody expert on the subject, with ironclad, unimpeachable reasons, examples and logic as to why their thoughts and opinions are beyond any second-guessing whatsoever. Really. There are lots of very smart, insightful people involved in this, and none of them can possibly be wrong. It’s very important to understand that from the get-go. There’s only one certainty: Everyone thinks their own ideas about product naming are correct. Just roll with it.

Here are the naming categories:

Alpha/Numeric

(Audi) A4

(Atlantic) IWTS-30 LCR

(Sony) XBR-49X900E

(Acoustic Research) AR-3

(Honda) CR-V

This is the model number approach. The simple method is to use easily-remembered, short model numbers that can take on an identity of their own. Audi’s A4 is a perfect example. Acoustic Research, the famous stereo speaker company from the 1960’s-70’s, used their own company initials (“AR”) and a short model number.

Audi and AR illustrate two different ways a company can go about creating model numbers: Either in ascending/descending order of price/performance (the Audi A3, A4, A5, A6 etc. go up in price/performance as the model number increases) or in time/sequential order: the AR-1 came out first, followed by the AR-2, AR-3, AR-4, etc. This was not a price or performance order: the AR-4 was the least expensive of them all, followed by the AR-2. If a product is truly excellent and garners great critical acclaim from reviewers and strong word-of-mouth from consumers, then the model numbers take on a life of their own, without even having to mention the company name. If a car aficionado asks what you’re driving and you say, “An A4,” they’ll know what you’re talking about. Ditto the Honda (although this is neither sequential or price ascending): Say, “I have a CR-V and I love it,” and people know exactly what you’re talking about. No mention of “Honda” is necessary.

Then, given the brilliant insight and unquestionable logic and expertise of certain senior business executives one has been privileged enough to work with over lo, these many years, you learn that there are certain so-called “heroic” model numbers that must be reserved for very special products and circumstances: 1, One, 10, 20, 50, 100, 1000. Don’t waste those on ordinary products. At the same token, don’t miss the opportunity to bestow upon your ground-breaking, paradigm-shattering invention the heroic model number it so richly deserves. Who knew?

There’s another category of alpha/numeric model numbers. These are created when the company doesn’t expect the model number itself to be a consumer-facing bit of information. Usually, it’s just a series of numbers and letters that make sense mostly to order-placers and inventory-takers. In these cases, the company’s general category description carries the weight for the consumer, not the actual model number. The Sony XBR-49X900E is a perfect example. It’s a Sony (well-recognized as being a good TV), it’s in the XBR family (Sony’s ‘better’ TVs), but that long number is not intended for the end user. It’s not a marketing device.

In this alpha/numeric model number category, there are often instances where the model number itself is somewhat descriptive of the product. Panasonic, for example, had a series of color televisions some years ago that were very precisely described by their model numbers:

CT-25R stood for Color Television 25-inch, Remote control. The CT-19R and the CT-19 were the 19-inch models and one of them had remote control. Guess which one….

Another major category is the Proper Name category. In this naming convention, the product is given an actual name. Not “John,” but a proper name nonetheless. Like these:

Proper Name

(Honda car) Accord

(Toyota car) Camry

(ION speaker) Block Rocker

(Diamondback mountain bike) Cobra

(Boston Acoustics radio) Receptor

 

Cars seem to go back and forth between Proper Names and Alpha/Numeric model numbers:

Buick LaCrosse

Cadillac Eldorado

Cadillac CT6

Toyota Corolla

Toyota RAV4

Chrysler Pacifica

Chrysler 300C

Mazda Millenia

Mazda CX-9

Honda Civic

Honda CR-H

BMW 330i

Mercedes-Benz C300

Mercedes-Benz Sprinter

Then there is a naming category that combines a Proper Name with an alpha/numeric number. In these cases, the Proper Name is usually the name for a category of products, and that is the name by which the product is best known.

Excellent examples of this are the iPhone and the Galaxy. The model number denotes the variant, the size, how much memory it may have, screen dimension, etc.

Combination Proper Name-Alpha/Numeric

(Samsung) Galaxy S8+

(Apple) iPhone 7S

MacBook Pro 13-inch

MacBook Pro 15-inch

“I have a Galaxy. I used to have an iPhone but I think the camera’s better on the new Galaxies.”

“Which one? The one with the exploding battery? Ha!”

“No, the new one, with the big screen. What is that—the 8?”

See how that conversation works? They never mention ‘Samsung’ or ‘Apple’ because “Galaxy” and “iPhone” carry the weight of identifying what they’re talking about. The Samsung owner didn’t say “8+,” they just said “8” with ‘the big screen.’ That’s enough.

So those are the general categories that product names fall into. Does the name really make a difference to the success or failure of a product?

No.

Sorry, but the bottom line is no, it doesn’t really matter, howls of violent protest to the contrary notwithstanding.

Here’s a story for you old-timers, you close observers of political history. This is a political truism, but it applies perfectly to product marketing also.

Back in 1992, when Bill Clinton was running for President, he hired two incredibly insightful people as political strategists and operatives: James Carville and Paul Begala.

Smart cookies, they were. They set up a nerve center that became known as the War Room. Here, Carville and Begala would sift through all the news reports, press releases, headline stories, reports from their field personnel, etc. every day, and then they’d respond immediately to anything that was negative. Clinton’s team would answer even the slightest negative story with full force and quash it before it could get a head of steam.

They were a brilliant, aggressive, proactive political team. They had their eyes and ears open, their finger on the pulse. They knew what was really important to voters and what was just so much noise, to be ignored and swept aside. They identified what the hottest issues were and they had Clinton speak to those issues and not waste time with minor distractions.

Carville came up with one of the most memorable lines in the history of political campaigning:

“It’s the economy, stupid.”

That’s what the voters were most interested in. Did they have a job? If they had one, did they feel secure and did they have a good feeling about their future prospects? Would the economy stay strong and expand? Would their kids get jobs? That was the big issue leading up to the November 1992 election.

Remember, we’d just defeated Saddam Hussein in February 1991 in Desert Storm, the first Gulf War. The U.S. military had performed magnificently and came home in well-deserved glory, to great adulation. But by the summer of 1992—with the country just pulling out of a mild economic recession—the Gulf War 18 months earlier might as well have been 18 years earlier, for all the difference it made in the 1992 Presidential Election.

Carville and Begala recognized this: “It’s the economy, stupid.” Key in on the economy. Speak about that, first, last and in between.

Good lesson. No, great lesson. For people in product marketing, it translates to this:

“It’s the product, stupid.”

The product. That’s what matters. Eventually, everything else will fall by the wayside if the product itself isn’t right: The price, the name, the color, where it’s available, everything—sooner or later—becomes meaningless if the product itself doesn’t do its job.

Let’s look at the Honda Accord and Honda Civic. Fine cars, well-built, competitively priced, great resale value, good fuel economy, peppy, roomy, reliable, nice handling, pretty good-looking. Perennial best sellers, deservedly so.

Would there be any difference whatsoever in their sales performance if the names were switched and the smaller car was the Accord and the larger car was the Civic? Nope, no difference. Know why? It’s the product, stupid. These are great products. They do exactly what great automotive products are supposed to do. They have a great reputation because they’ve earned it.

(By the way, a “product” doesn’t have to be a physical thing: It can be an insurance policy, a vacation package, an investment mutual fund, anything. Those are all products.)

There are some common-sense guidelines for product naming.

  • Make sure the name doesn’t have a double slang meaning that renders it a laughing stock or have some cultural/religious connotation that might be inappropriate to a meaningful portion of your market (like a model 666).
  • If it’s going to sold internationally, make sure the name doesn’t translate or read as something nonsensical or offensive in another language.
  • Make sure it’s not a resurrection of a famous failed product from the past. I doubt Ford will ever come out with another “Edsel,” but they could come out with a new “Thunderbird.”
  • If it’s alpha/numeric and you want people to remember it, keep it short and, well, memorable. BMW’s 3 Series, 5 Series and 7 Series do that well.

Get over the idea of “heroic” model numbers. There’s no such thing. The product makes the name or number, not the other way around. If you come out with this terrific gizmo that performs great, looks great, is a real value, makes everyone feel great about owning one and it never breaks, then people will remember the name, whether it’s “2” or “Spitfire” or “EPI-100.”

In point of fact, far too many people assign far too much importance to the subject of product naming. Products make their name memorable when they hit their intended market spot-on and score a bulls-eye, not the other way around. No clever product name ever rescued a bad product. Ever.

When someone in your company or organization gets on their high horse and starts pontificating about the vital life-and-death importance of the correct product name, do your best to just listen and smile. You know better. The most valuable thing you can do is don’t let the naming process bog down the development/introduction timeline. Pick a name and move on. Just don’t let any “666’s” get out the door

Why the Doolittle Raid Still Matters 75 Years Later

© 2017 Steve Feinstein. All Rights Reserved.

History is always relevant if we’re willing to learn from it. A good example is the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo Japan on April 18th, 1942. By way of quick background, the United States was forced into World War II after the surprise Japanese attack on our naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Japan had been aggressively moving against other countries in the Pacific realm for several years, taking territory and raw materials to satisfy its expansionist aims. The Japanese correctly saw the US Pacific Fleet, stationed at Pearl, as the biggest threat to their continued activities and so devised a plan to mount a surprise attack on December 7, 1941 against our forces. The surprise worked. The attack sank or disabled eight of the nine battleships in the Fleet (only the USS Pennsylvania, in dry dock, escaped major damage), destroyed dozens of aircraft on the ground and killed over 2300 US military and civilian personnel, all for the loss of only 29 Japanese aircraft.

The following day, December 8th 1941, the Japanese attacked our main air base in the western Pacific, Clark Field in the Philippines, destroying dozens of US fighters and bombers on the ground, effectively neutralizing our military strength in that region. Therefore, in less than two days, the Japanese dealt the US military two huge defeats, setting the stage for the fall of the Philippines and leaving the entire Pacific essentially unprotected from Japanese attack.

What is less known but unquestionably just as significant as the dual attacks on Pearl Harbor and Clark Field is the Japanese sinking of the British battleships Repulse and Prince of Wales in the South China Sea, just three days after Pearl Harbor, on December 10 1941. The British had dispatched significant naval forces to protect their interests in the Pacific, especially then-colony Singapore, from Japanese aggression. Britain, although a small country in terms of land mass and population, had long been among the world’s pre-eminent naval powers. From Admiral Nelson’s many decisive victories in the late 1700’s-early 1800’s (culminating with his defeat of Napoleon’s fleet off of Trafalgar in 1805) to Admiral Jellicoe’s leading the British Grand Fleet in all-out battleship warfare against the German’s High Seas Fleet at Jutland in 1916 to the powerful mastery of the seas enjoyed by the Royal Navy right through the beginning of World War II, British naval tradition was a source of national pride and identity, very much part of the fabric of their culture.

Only seven months prior (in May 1941), Prince of Wales had played a central role in one of the greatest wartime triumphs ever achieved by Britain: the sinking of the German battleship Bismarck. The Bismarck—a fast, modern, heavily-armed ship—was intended to be a North Atlantic commerce and cargo ship raider. If it managed to break out into the vast undefended expanse of the North Atlantic, it would be free to extract potentially crippling losses from the nation-saving material assistance coming over to England by convoy from the United States. “Sink the Bismarck!” became a national rallying cry in Britain in May 1941, as the deadly German ship attempted to make its way into the open waters of the Atlantic.

The Brits sank it, and the Prince of Wales played a major part, inflicting the initial damage on the Bismarck that led to its eventual demise. If ever an inanimate object—a warship—could become a national hero, the Prince of Wales did.

As stunned and shocked as America was after Pearl Harbor and Clark Field, Britain’s response was one of utter disbelief and horrified astonishment over the sinking of Repulse and Prince of Wales. As 1941 turned into 1942, the Philippines were falling to the Japanese in yet another humiliating defeat for America, Britain was deadlocked in a bitter struggle of attrition against the Germans in North Africa and Germany was inflicting incredible casualties on the Russians on the Eastern front.

The allies—led by America and Britain—were losing everywhere. Morale was low. Eventual victory seemed impossible. Something needed to be done. A bold, unexpected stroke to rock Japan back on its heels and give a beleaguered public something to cheer about.

President Roosevelt and Army Air Corps Lt. Colonel James Doolittle came up with a daring plan: Strike Japan from the air, using carrier-launched planes. Attack Tokyo, right over the heart of Japan, when Japan was at its militarily-invincible height. In a stroke of immeasurable luck, America’s aircraft carriers were not at Pearl Harbor at the time of the Japanese attack. They were out at sea on maneuvers. In a stroke of immeasurable strategic shortsightedness, Japanese Admiral Nagumo elected to withdraw his forces back to Japan instead of ordering a follow-up strike, in spite of the fact that Pearl’s air cover was gone. A follow-up attack could well have finished off the US Navy completely, since the carriers returned to Pearl later that day.

But the Japanese didn’t strike again and America’s carrier force was intact. So the plan was this: assemble a task force centered around the carrier USS Hornet and sail towards Japan. Once the force was about 400 miles away, they’d launch their planes and then reverse direction for a fast escape.

The Navy had no planes that could fly 400 miles to Japan, then fly several hundred more into China, where the plan was they’d land in more-or-less friendly territory and the crews would then somehow make it back home.

Doolittle decided to use 16 twin-engined Army B-25 medium bombers to fly off the Hornet. The B-25 had the range and payload capability that was needed for the mission, far in excess of any Navy plane then in service. Flying a large 2-engine medium bomber off a carrier’s deck had never been done before. The crews of five practiced for weeks on land airstrips painted to the Hornet’s dimensions. The B-25’s themselves were stripped of all unnecessary weight to make the task easier: The bottom gun turret was removed, the upper and side guns were taken out and replaced with wooden broom sticks painted black to look like guns, the heavy precision Norden bombsight was removed and replaced by a lighter, simpler device, and extra fuel tanks were installed to extend the planes’ range.

En route to target, the ships encountered a Japanese fishing trawler about 800 miles out from Japan. (Different reports over the years have put this distance anywhere from 170 miles beyond the 400 mile out launch point—570 miles out— to 400 miles short of the launch point—800 miles out.) The boat was quickly sunk by gunfire from an accompanying U.S escort cruiser, but there was no way to determine if the trawler was just a harmless fishing vessel or a radio-equipped spy ship disguised to look like a fishing boat. Unsure if their cover had been blown, Doolittle’s planes either had to launch immediately or the task force had to turn around.

All 80 of the B-25 crews said, “We go now!” Not a single dissent among the group, all of whom had volunteered for what was almost certainly a suicide mission.

Incredibly, all 16 planes—heavily-laden with fuel and bombs—took off successfully and headed towards Japan. They achieved complete surprise, struck a factory complex and flew away towards China without a single loss to Japanese defenses. It was a total success and the Japanese military planners and public alike were indeed awe-struck and rocked back on their heels. Not even five months after Pearl Harbor, amidst never-ending catastrophic news from every front around the world, American boldness and unfathomable bravery struck a blow for the allies and their people, lifting the morale and spirits of everyone, everywhere, to an incalculable degree.

This was Presidential leadership at its finest. Roosevelt understood the need for our country, and the British too, to have a ‘victory,” to buttress the will of the people to go on fighting, to end the string of bad news. The Doolittle mission didn’t accomplish anything of great material significance—the number of planes was too few, their bomb loads too small—and the idea of risking the loss of an invaluable American carrier task force for what was, in all candor, simply a publicity stunt was total lunacy, from both a logical and strategic standpoint.

However, rallying public support behind a difficult nationally-shared concern of major import is as important a task as a president has. George W. Bush was able to garner similar support and enthusiasm when he stood among the 9-11 ruins with a bullhorn and said, “..and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon!” Presidents Kennedy and Reagan were similarly and legitimately inspirational, any number of times.

But recent Presidents seem instead to get caught in the lower-level minutia-du-jour, whether it’s saying that a local town police force acted stupidly or proclaiming that a hoodie-wearing trouble-maker “could be my son,” or sending out electronic communications regarding an individual’s physical appearance. It’s been a while since we’ve heard a President lead a rally for public support of a great national scientific effort or deliver a reassuringly-fatherly address after a national emergency or tragedy, or present the country with a reasoned, logical, non-condescending explanation of why the country is about to embark on a difficult course that will result in the betterment of our situation in the long run.

History is a good teacher. Roosevelt’s decision to green-light the seemingly illogical Doolittle Raid serves as an excellent example of the sort of bold, big-picture, for-national-benefit actions a President should take. Actions that today seem to get lost too often in the instantaneous chaos of media-driven small-minded partisan conflict.

 

Epilogue—Results of the Doolittle Raid:

All 16 planes made it safely out of Japanese airspace, but being low on fuel because of the greater-than-planned flying distance, all crash-landed in either eastern China or eastern Russia. Three crewmembers were killed during the landings. Eight crewmen were captured by occupying Japanese soldiers in China; three were executed and five were imprisoned, one of whom died in captivity. The rest eventually made their way back and resumed their military service. Doolittle thought he was going to be court-martialed for losing all 16 planes and failing to get his crews home quickly, but instead, he received the Medal of Honor and a promotion to brigadier general when he returned home in June 1942.

 

Sources

Famous Bombers of the Second World War, © 1959 William Green, Doubleday & Co.

Airwar, © 1971 Edward Jablonski, Doubleday & Co.

Air Force © 1957 Martin Caidin, Bramhall House

American Combat Planes © 1982 Ray Wagner, Doubleday & Co.

The Two Ocean War © 1963 Samuel Elliot Morrison, Little-Brown

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rare Political Self-Conversions

 

© 2017 Steve Feinstein. All rights reserved.

 

It’s been said that the American electorate can be divided into three roughly equal parts:

  • 1/3 that pays virtually no attention to politics and policy, and if they vote, they either vote by habit or by whatever impression happened to catch their attention
  • 1/3 that are somewhat attentive, and have a rudimentary understanding of issues and the candidates’ stances
  • 1/3 that are rabidly attentive and involved, active in supporting and campaigning for their chosen causes

A strong case can be made that for the last two groups—the 2/3 that identify with a Party and an ideology—are very often are born into and grow up with a “baked in” voting ideology. It’s a rare occurrence that an individual makes a 180° ideological turn from their upbringing and converts to the “other side.”

There are two demographic groups in particular that are reliable Democratic voters, mainly because of their upbringing and environment: Jews and African-Americans.

For Jews, cultural/ethnic considerations play a large role in their liberalism. In his book “Why Are Jews Liberal?” author Norman Podhoretz posits that in the mid-20th Century, Jewish immigrants from Europe were drawn to American liberals, who had a kinder, more welcoming feel than the hard-hearted governments of Europe from which many Jews fled. This caused European Jews to identify with American liberals—Democrats—even though Jewish family tradition and culture is at least as close to modern-day Conservatism as it is to current Liberalism. The Conservative-leaning tenets of completing higher education and striving for significant achievement in respected, high-paying professional fields (law, medicine, finance, business, etc.) are staples of American Jewish life. Indeed, the humorous American Jewish clichés of, “You’ll go to college, you’ll get a good job, you’ll make us proud!” and “My son, the doctor!” are directly and accurately reflective of this.

Yet the Jewish vote since 1960 has been reliably around 80% Democratic. The only exception is the outlier year of 1980, when Ronald Reagan beat the hapless Jimmy Carter. But even that year, Carter won the Jewish vote 45-39%.

African-Americans tend to be an even more monolithic voting bloc than American Jews, siding somewhere around 90% with the Democrats. When President Obama ran in 2008, being the country’s first Black Presidential candidate, he garnered around 96% of the African-American vote. President Trump, having made a concerted effort to address that bloc with his now-famous “What have you got to lose?” line, managed to reduce that number by Hillary Clinton to about 88%, which is still an overwhelmingly lopsided figure.

The reasons surrounding the African-American community’s current status in modern American culture are complicated, without question, and difficult to pin down to just a few obvious causes. The long-term systemic prejudice and discrimination that has operated to their detriment in all aspects of American society are well documented and need not be recounted here. The reaction to these wrongs has been the creation and implementation of numerous Government “solutions,” be it welfare, Affirmative Action, various tax and grant programs (ostensibly open to any group but in reality targeted to minorities), and the like. The efficacy of such programs and entitlements is not the issue here. However, it can be convincingly argued that the very existence of—and indeed, expansion of—Government handout programs has contributed to a motivation-reducing entitlement mentality among the very groups such programs are intended to help.

Democratic politicians know that the African-American community has become dependent on these Democratic-sponsored assistance programs. The more cynical observer will unabashedly call it vote buying. But as someone once said, “No one will ever vote to end their own entitlements.”

If liberal doctrine is to offer tax-funded Government programs and financial assistance as the answer to society’s shortcomings and Conservative doctrine is to offer “opportunity to all” via the more difficult path of personal initiative and self-reliance, then it’s fascinating that some African-Americans—born and raised in an environment and culture that teaches them to play the victim, waiting for the inevitable, deserved Government payout—become Conservatives.

That African-American group—Liberal-born, waiting-for-the-handout—who become Conservative and eschew Government largess in favor of self-made gains, is a uniquely compelling group. They have traveled the farthest ideological distance of any voter, a full about-face journey from one extreme of the ideological spectrum to the other extreme. In making that long, emotionally-unsettling, restless journey—often as a young adult—they see things along the way that challenge and threaten the very truths they were brought up to believe. It takes an incredible degree of self-confident open-mindedness and intellectual courage to accept contradictory external evidence and allow it to change one’s philosophical allegiance.

Likewise for the small number of American Jews, born into inordinately liberal households, who nonetheless become conservative. Like their African-American counterparts, they voluntarily undertake an emotionally- and intellectually-arduous quest and manage to counteract their inherited political/social teachings in order to arrive at a philosophical destination diametrically opposed to the one in which they grew up.

African-American conservatives like Condoleezza Rice, Clarence Thomas, Thomas Sowell, Walter Williams, John McWhorter and Ben Carson, along with American Jewish conservatives like Charles Krauthammer, Mark Levin, David Horowitz, Dennis Prager, William Kristol and Ben Stein among thousands of others, have a clarity of conservative thought and expression—evidenced in their writings and speeches—that has unquestionably been brought about by the egotistically-challenging, eye-opening travails of their own personal ideological journey.

To put it simply, those African-Americans and Jews who have self-converted from Liberal to Conservative have developed an amazingly clear and effective way of explaining exactly why they now favor the conservative position.

There has unquestionably been some self-conversion the other way, from Conservative to Liberal. Media Matters founder David Brock went from right-leaning investigative journalist to loyal Clinton devotee in the late 1990’s. NY Times columnist David Brooks has, according to many, made a definite transition from “token NY Times Conservative” to “garden-variety Liberal.” However, most Conservative-to-Liberal self-conversions appear to be individual occurrences, not an outright rejection of the one-sided structural circumstances into which they were born and raised.

Indeed, for many born-and-raised Liberals, being Liberal comes easy and is never even given a second thought. For those individuals that undertake the arduous, voluntary journey from born-Liberalism to self-discovered Conservatism, it is an eye-opening trek that imprints on their consciousness an incredibly deeply-held conviction of their newly-discovered philosophical stance. With that conviction comes the ability to express and advocate on behalf of the Conservative cause in a persuasive manner that few people on either side of the political spectrum can match. The actual process of becoming “self-coverted” makes for extraordinarily impressive spokespeople.

 

 

Global Warming Is Irrelevant

© 2017 Steve Feinstein. All rights reserved.

 

There is probably no subject (outside of abortion) that has engendered more passion for a longer period of time—decades now—than Global Warming. Here are some of the issues and talking points:

  • Settled Science or Junk Science
  • Warmest Year on Record vs. hiding faulty or contradictory evidence
  • The threat of actually jailing Deniers (they even have a name, complete with a capital letter)
  • International conferences and accords
  • New regulations for businesses and equipment
  • Complicated Carbon Trading schemes
  • Dramatic declarations by politicians of Warming being a greater threat than ISIS
  • Photographic “evidence” of impending doom and impact on nature/wildlife
  • The routine, unquestioned conflation of daily weather events and long-term climate change

All of these are examples of the highly-charged, deeply-held views on the subject. I recognize and appreciate the intensity and vehemence with which the respective parties hold to their positions.

However, for the purposes of this article, let’s simply concede that anthropogenic Global Warming is real, not just a coincidental occurrence of cyclical climate patterns on earth and the relationship of those patterns to solar activity and the like. Let’s take the “Is man-caused Global Warming real?” question off the table and admit its existence.

However, even if there is certainty regarding the reality of man-caused Global Warming, it probably doesn’t matter.

Here’s why: The very same profit-driven capitalistic Western businesspeople who seem to stoke the ire of the Warmists so intensely are the ones who are well on their way to ending Warming—and long before it becomes any kind of permanent threat to mankind’s well-being.

Fossil-based fuels are simultaneously the most economically-efficient source of energy and the most politically-troublesome and ecologically-controversial source of energy. Historic relationships between nations, current foreign policy and military decisions, ecological impacts, everything is tied up in a convoluted, indecipherable cause-and-effect Gordian Knot because of fossil fuels.

Yet it is the popularly-maligned free-market capitalistic system, with its unsavory profits, rewards and unapologetic income inequality, that is the key driver to finding the eventual solution to our reliance on ecologically-detrimental carbon-based fuels. A veritable free-market fortune awaits the individual or company that delivers the first viable alternative energy system, one that is easily deployable on a mass scale across large geographic areas.

That promise of capitalistic reward has many companies feverishly pursuing different solutions. The potential of virtually unlimited free-market profits and a superior competitive market position are spurring private for-profit companies to find a viable alternative to carbon fuels. That’s undeniably true, and it’s happening primarily here in the U.S., primarily because of our freest-of-all-markets system.

An example is Lockheed Martin Corporation and their work in developing a new compact fusion reactor. L-M says a reactor small enough to fit on the back of a truck could produce 100 megawatts of electricity—enough to power a small city, without any carbon emissions. L-M estimates they’ll have a workable prototype within five years. Let’s double their likely-overly-optimistic estimate and say within ten years.

Electric cars, battery technology and solar panels are also improving all the time. They may not be totally economically-feasible in the free market at this time without Government tax subsidies and, yes, there is the undeniable irony that the electricity needed to recharge a Tesla or Chevy Volt usually comes from a greenhouse gas-producing fossil-fuel power source, but things in the battery/solar area are improving all the time. The percentage of U.S. energy provided by these “alternative” sources has increased from less than 5% before 1990 to over 13% in 2014 and will continue to increase in the future.

The Answer is out there and it’ll happen pretty soon, likely within 50-100 years, I’d confidently guess. Companies and individuals are working day and night to find The Answer—because of the rewards they’ll reap.

50-100 years is a nanosecond in terms of earth-geological-climactic time. A fraction of a nanosecond. When The Answer comes along 39 or 64 or 97 years hence, whatever minor “warming” has actually taken place, whatever small amount the seas have “risen” will all be halted and reversed.

The argument against that position is that we’ll soon reach some irreversible “tipping point,” after which no cure or remedy to the permanent destructive effects of Warming is possible. Yet there is no scientific proof of that, nor is any “proof” possible. That’s merely a totally unsubstantiated talking point, designed to rally the Believers and scare the Deniers. This, however, is scientific fact: 50-100 years is a nanosecond in terms of earth-geological-climactic time. And the practical, usable, non-carbon, non-warming Answer will certainly be discovered and deployed on a significant scale within that timespan.

Therefore, the entire anthropogenic Warming issue—whether real or imagined—is a non-issue. Profit-driven technology will solve it. As ironic as it seems, the Western capitalist economic system will be the savior of the earth.

Thanksgiving Day is so important because it give Americans a purpose to reflect and be grateful and celebrate our liberty. Even though we may not agree or have voted many politicians into office, they are our leaders, and we may not support their beliefs but it’s out duty to support our nation. Every Thanksgiving I re-read, for President Reagan’s speech he gave on Thanksgiving in 1985. It’s on the best.

President Reagan closes his Thanksgiving address with, “My fellow Americans, let us keep this Thanksgiving Day sacred. Let us thank God for the bounty and goodness of our nation. And as a measure of our gratitude, let us rededicate ourselves to the preservation of this: the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

To read the speech in entirety click here. Happy Thanksgiving!

“Republicans have for too long been captive to industry lobbyists seeking special favors.” Those are Tim Carney’s words writing in the Washington Examiner. The motivating reason for Carney’s declaration is electoral of course, as well as political. Main street does not like corporate welfare, and lobbying is seen as an inside track to gain advantages for any given corporation or industry. K street does not play well on Main street. With midterm elections a few weeks away, the GOP – specifically what the GOP’s agenda will be when and if they gain control of the Senate – matters to the electorate and quickly cozying up to business lobbies is a worry for some party supporters. There are three easy, make that visible, targets for anti-lobbying crusaders to take on: The Export-Import Bank, Ethanol subsidies, and Sugar subsidies. Bobby Jindal has planted a stake coming out for the elimination of ethanol subsidies and righting the market distortions that they create. The Export-Import Bank is perhaps a less rational target, seeing they aid US corporations that sell abroad. A trade surplus is hardly something to run screaming from as a true populist, and helping US corporations compete against European and Asian competitors who receive all sorts of subsidies makes economic sense. One can argue that it is a violation of free market principles, but who goes first? Think of Boeing and the jobs – those in the US – it creates by selling its aircrafts around the world. Does Boeing lobby Washington? What do you think? Finally, Sugar subsidies mean higher prices for US consumers. Of course, cutting sugar subsidies will hardly play well in Florida and may come back to hurt GOP chances in the state in 2016.

There is the matter of free speech as well. SCOTUS has ruled that the First Amendment prohibits the government from restricting independent political expenditures by corporations. So as a matter of law, whether settled law might be too early to say, K street is within its rights to spend a lot of money to gain Washington’s ear. Direct contributions are still banned, so for business – big, medium, or small – K street is their most effective route, literally and metaphorically, to argue their case. That’s a rollback of some of McCain-Feingold and it might not sit well in Main Street. That is, until voters in any district realize that that an evil corporation has lobbied for a subsidy or rule change that means more jobs in their district. It’s the age old story of Federal politics in the US: get the government out of the economy except when it creates jobs in my district. Big business is bad, especially if it doesn’t lobby for favors that could mean a new plant opening up down the road. Every senator, whether GOP or Dem, knows this in his or her bones, and so it will be interesting to see how vigorously the Senate pushes an anti-K street agenda after November.

Voting in Mississippi is again in the spotlight with Chris McDaniel likely to challenge the June 24 run-off vote for Senator in circuit court. McDaniel, who has Tea Party support, lost a close race to GOP incumbent Thad Cochran, and has leveled accusations that Democratic voters – prohibited from cross-voting in different primaries – were illegally recruited by Cochran’s campaign. The McDaniel campaign compiled a list of crossover votes, “irregular votes”, and “improperly cast” absentee ballots. The total comes to about 15,000 votes which is about double Senator Cochran’s margin of victory. Unfortunately for McDaniel, the Mississippi GOP will not be hearing his challenge, and the courts seem the next move on his part.

Thad Cochran had graduated from college, served 2 years in the navy, gone back for his law degree and successfully campaigned for and won a seat in the House before Chris McDaniel was born in 1972. He has been in the Senate since 78, and if re-elected will likely break even more length-of-tenure records. He has been popular for a long time, or was popular in the past and is less so now. Aside from the question of whether he broke state voting laws – violations are considered a misdemeanor – it seems clear change is coming, if not as fast as McDaniel would like. The run-off vote might not be a scandal, but it does raise the issue of voter laws at the state level. The initial vote in early June and the run-off were the first time Mississippi’s new voter ID laws were put into practice. In the days before the June 3 vote, scrutiny was being cast over the voting procedure to ensure that voters were not denied their rights, and the state seemed to bend over backwards to make sure no one was denied a chance to have their say at the ballot box: 1000 government ID’s were handed out free to those who apparently lacked an acceptable photo-ID card. You had a choice of 10 types of ID cards you could present when voting as well. When the courts take up Chris McDaniel’s likely challenge, they will have to decide if, rather than being denied rights, voters in the primary run-off took advantage of their rights, or let someone else take advantage of their rights in order to win a close race.

What a Flag Represents

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Filed Under General, Latest News on Jul 29 

As the NYPD assigns a team of dozens of detectives to solve the Brooklyn Bridge case, we are left with two main concerns. Vulnerability to terrorism is the first one; how could four or five intruders have climbed the bridge and replaced the flags, including blocking out the spotlights, without being noticed? One of NYC’s most iconic structures was easily breached. It is beyond doubt that when their identities are established and more is known, measures will be put in place to ensure it never happens again. The why will be important to find out, but the how is even more important to help the NYPD establish the right procedures to stop this type of assault.

The second concern is symbolic speech and flag desecration. A few years ago, UCLA Law professor Eugene Volokh in an op-ed piece argued that American law has long recognized symbolic expression and verbal expression as legally and constitutionally equivalent. Symbolic expressions like freedom poles – a form of protest against government tyranny – were argued in court as a matter of apeech according to the professor. The First Amendment thus conveniently protects flag-burning and other desecrations. Well maybe not. Even professor Volokh admits that many Founding Fathers placed very clear limits on the concept of free speech itself. Flag desecration would have been seen as sedition, and was prohibited accordingly. It has been 25 years since Texas v Johnson and the swing vote in that case was Justice Kennedy who was appointed instead of Robert Bork, who would have voted the other way. Perhaps what is most infuriating is that most acts of desecration are not explicitly intended to express an idea, but are a instead an intentional degrading of an idea; the values that a flag symbolizes. Joe Rosenthal’s photograph of the 5 marines and the navy corpsman raising the Stars and Stripes on Mount Surbachi at Iwo Jima is one of the world’s most popular images and for good reason. No posed sculpture or painted image can capture the purpose and valor, and deliberate, unified action of those men. Three of them: Harlon Block, Franklin Sousley, and Michael Strank gave their lives in battle in the following days. When we know the names of those who desecrated the flags that once again fly from the Brooklyn Bridge, it will be good to keep in mind those marines who gave their lives defending the Stars and Stripes. Let us hope that SCOTUS at some point places limits around the concept itself of free speech, in recogntion of what some symbols, like a flag, represent.

On winning

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Filed Under General on May 21 

It’s taken me longer than times past to recover my willingness to engage in political discourse after the 2012 Presidential Election Cycle. I was honestly hopeful reason would prevail upon the American electorate and the collective would realize the fact the current administration had become an abject, unmitigated failure in every sense of the word. It was patently obvious to anyone who cared to look past the thin veneer of Team Obama that the President and everyone associated with him simply wasn’t up to the job of leading – let alone managing – the nation.

Election Day came and went and I was proven wrong. Americans, by and large, get the government they deserve. I don’t know what America did to deserve Team Obama, but it must’ve been some gigantic karmic cluster.

But I digress.

There are many reasons why Mitt Romney does not today occupy the Big Chair. Running against The One was always going to be an uphill battle even under the best of circumstances. Mitt needed a lot of help, and indeed a lot of luck, to run the table and send Obama back to Chicago, Hawaii, or wherever his Presidential Library is going to be. It was going to be hard enough fighting the liberal, left leaning Democratic Party and its publicity machine commonly known as the Main Stream Media.

What Mitt didn’t need, but got far too much of, was friendly fire. It came from all corners. Principal among the culprits were those hard-line, hard-right “conservatives” who constantly sniped at Mitt for not leaning far enough right for their liking. Yeah, I’m talking to the Paul-pods (both Ron and Rand) out there. You’re not helping the nation by publicly fighting an intra-party civil war while the rest of us are trying to win an election.

Right there with the friendly-fire people are the Tea-Party fueled whack-jobs who insist on drawing attention to themselves with asinine comments that give the MSM ammunition with which to attack the party’s standard bearer. Yes, I’m talking to you, Todd Akin. You took what was an eminently winnable Missouri senate race and pried defeat from the jaws of victory by introducing the concept of “legitimate rape” into a presidential campaign. Ditto Richard Mourdock in Indiana. Now we’re stuck with two hard left Democrats for six years. Thanks a lot guys. Please find your way to the political wilderness and don’t come back.

Now I realize the Tea Party comes from all sorts of pissed off Republicans and Libertarians who feel betrayed by the “establishment”. I also realize the vast majority of Tea Party people are not insane. That said, I have to look at the Tea Party track record. Tea Party candidates are the main reason why Dusty Harry Reid still controls the US Senate. Had the Republican party put forth more palatable candidates than Sharron Angle or Christine O’Donnell, we’d be looking at a dramatically different political landscape in DC.

Those, Dear Reader, are facts. Facts are stubborn things.

My point, and I do have one, is this: I’m tired of losing. I’m tired of seeing an incompetent President auger this nation into the ground with the help of a willing Senate and lapdog media. What’s more – I’m tired of my party shooting itself in the foot before the race even starts by a vocal minority demanding intellectual and political “purity” from candidates that make them unpalatable in a general election.

The Republican party needs to put forth candidates with the ability to win elections. If we don’t win elections we can’t govern. If the Tea Party is content to snipe from the sidelines as yet another  generation of left leaning progressives take the reins of power than it should continue to put forth the same caliber of candidates that it did in 2010 and 2012.

I’m heartened by the results of this week’s primaries in Kentucky and Georgia. Michael Barone – who has forgotten more about ground level politics than I will ever learn, looked at the results and said:

I think these Republican voters concluded that voting for candidates who stand up on chairs and yell, “Hell no!” would produce election results in which Republicans would lack the votes to do anything other than stand up on chairs and yell, “Hell no!”

Republican primary voters are casting their ballots in a way that suggests they’re trying to produce policy outcomes — in particular, repeal of Obamacare — and not just choosing the candidate who most colorfully articulates their anger and frustration: candidates who will sit down in their chairs and vote to repeal and replace Obamacare.

Winning elections is where the rubber meets the road. I’m all about winning now – mostly because the view from the mezzanine is getting pretty old.

Here endeth the lesson.

Could you apply to become a DEA agent? Nearly one in two wouldn’t even pass the admissions process, unless your youthful experiments with marijuana were deemed limited and experimental by the DEA. Over one in ten Americans who have or will consume cocaine would be better advised to not even bother. As Congress and the Controlled Substances Act face off against local State laws that allow medical marijuana use, we are faced with a medical, a law enforcement, and a public policy conflict. It used to be, and still is for some, a moral conflict as well, but this view is far less prevalent as measured by recent polls. Nearly half even favor decriminalizing recreational use of cannibis. Within the libertarian community there is support for the relaxing of restraints on this type of drug use, both for fiscal reasons, (the costly war on drugs), and under the banner of individual freedom as well.

Is the right of any individual, according to this view, to put what they wish into their bodies unconditional? Clearly not; even leaving aside the problem of minors consuming drugs, and not just cannabis, we place limits on drug use as a matter of social norms. Try coming to work at an air traffic control center high on crack, even in the insane case that it were legal. It may have happened, but one hopes any such event resulted in immediate dismisal. Try coming to any job high on any drug or drunk. Try consuming alcohol openly if you are pregnant. Beyond the debate over legality, society places conditions on drug and alchohol use as a natural reaction to the powerful effect they produce on those who consume them. Your landlord might evict you if you consume or grow marijana, for example. This is relevant to the battle between those states that have decriminalized cannabis use for medical purposes, (for now), and Congress and Federal law enforcement authorities. In a paper available at the Cato Institute’s site, Professor Robert Mikos of Vanderbilt University outlines in detail a legal way forward for liberalizing states. It deals with the anti-commandeering limitation on federal supremacy over state laws when the two are in conflict. By linking private, medical use of marijuana to possible, even likely, use of cannabis originally for medical use in interstate commerce — in other words for drug trafficking — the Supreme Court in Gonzales v. Raich deemed that medical marijuana use was “hopelessly intertwined” in the professor’s words with drug trafficking. This would seem to mean that the Controlled Substances Act preempts state attempts to decriminalize cannabis.

Not so fast says Professor Mikos. He introduces, or reminds us of, the anticommandeering constraint on the ability of Congress to preempt state laws. “Congress may neither dislodge states from nor keep states out of the state of nature” according to the professor. The state of nature defined as those private and societal forces which shape behavior and where “government has no distinct influence on behavior.” And guess what? In the state of nature, marijuana use would be “rampant.” In other words, Congress or Federal law officials are guilty of unconstitutionally overturning or disregarding state laws allowing for the decriminalization of cannabis, according to this view. If at some point in the future, the Supreme Court rules according to the principles outlined by Professor Mikos, it may mean that as a landlord you may have to tolerate a grow op in your building. And we may have another enormous medical problem that will saddle society with costs similar, if not quite as deep or widespread, to those that tobacco and alchohol cause. And maybe at that point, society will deem cannabis, whose smoke may contain over 50 carcinogens, almost as evil as say, tobacco.

Nihilism Is a Laugh

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Filed Under General, Latest News on Apr 21 

Michael Barone recently pointed his readers to a website where a science communicator wishes for the destruction of Cairns, Australia, with 150,000 inhabitants, to get us all panicked about global warming. In fact, the article suggests that an event as horrific as the wiping out of 150,000 folks would not even be sufficient to ensure the “conversation” the writer so desperately wants. Fortunately, that writer — one Brad Keyes apparently — and his website, Climate Nuremberg, seem to be an elaborate joke. With coy references to The Onion, what we have is a very sharp satire of the fanaticism and hostility that dissenting opinions provoke in the climate debate. So yes, it’s funny, but it’s also uncomfortable reading that perversely reflects the tone of said debate, especially from the righteously alarmist side.

A documentary a few years back asked the viewers to imagine Earth without any human life; it stated explicitly that it didn’t matter how, just imagine our planet without a single human on it and how the remaining life might adapt. Does misanthropic even come close to describing this attitude? It opens the door to the type of environmental terrorism that posits the complete disappearance of the human race as the only solution that would enable Planet Earth to exist in harmony once again. One could define it as environmental nihilism: a negation of mankind’s civilizing role if you will. Does the hostility which seethes throughout the alarmist side of the climate debate share this nihilism? There seems to be very little doubt over the results of the modellling that produces this righteous, hostile, apocalyptic anger. It is natural, however, even rational, to display a little skepticism in the face of their predictions of doom, even as one may have concerns about local issues concerning the environment. And that skepticism provides a necessary counterweight to the overarching programs of control and proscription that flow from such doomsday outcomes. So if Climate Nuremberg bothers you a little even as it makes you laugh, that’s a good thing.

It’s amazing what a polar vortex – or you can call it just a really cold spell in midwinter – can do. It can make Al Franken, Minnesota Democratic Senator, realize that grid security is no laughing matter. And staying warm and keeping the lights on when it’s below zero is far from a laughing matter. At issue is the EPA’s enforcement of emission standards that already have shut down around 20% of coal-fired power plants and could easily shutter another 20%. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy admits “it is an increasing challenge to maintain a reliable energy supply.” Is she backpedalling in the face of criticism from both sides of the aisle in Congress? Joe Manchin, Democratic Senator form West Virginia — where coal creates jobs — worries “how do we keep the lights on so people’s lives won’t be in danger?”

In other words, how important to the national grid are the coal-fired power plants? According to Lisa Murkowski, Republican Senator for Alaska, almost 90% of coal electricity that backed up the grid during the frigid weather this winter is due to be shut down. How would the grid cope with another cold snap without the current capacity produced by coal? It seems from Minnesota to West Virginia and parts elsewhere, people aren’t too eager to find out. Legislation in 1990 helped bring about reductions in coal power plant emissions but what worried environmentalists a few years back in 2008 was the contribution to global warming those same plants apparently make. “No coal plant can control its emissions of heat-trapping carbon dioxide,” Blan Holman, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, stated back then. We now have Climate Change rather than Global Warming and the former conveniently includes subzero weather in its worldview. Yes, coal-fired power plants need to continue to invest in clean technology – someday carbon capture and sequestration might even be a workable solution – but a significant shutdown of coal electricity generation will hopefully have to wait until the USA’s grid has enough reliable power to enable voters to keep their heaters and lights on in the middle of winter.

Have you even had time to bunker down and start filling out all those forms? And do you have a soft little spot in your heart for those “career civil servants who are dedicated to serving the American taxpayer in a fair and impartial manner” in the words of IRS Commissioner John Koskinen? The commisioner was facing an angry Congress, angry House Republicans to be exact, who are investigating the possibility that conservative political groups like the Tea Party were deliberately targeted for tax audits. So we have the possiblity that the IRS is politicized and uses its long arm to seek out political opponents and Commissioner Koskinen was desperately trying to assure us all that once the half-dozen or so investigations are done we’ll all feel warm and trusting towards our hard working tax men and women.

Pardon me if I don’t react with shock. The question seems more to be when has the IRS not been politicized in the last 50 or 60 odd years? Or in other words, who in which administration has succumbed to the temptation to use such a powerful weapon like the IRS with its endless banks of data on just about every citizen in the country? So yes, there is ample opportunity for finger pointing but it seems that all pointed fingers, if you will, lead back to 1111 Constitution Avenue NW. As William Buckley wrote several decades ago, “the trouble with policing tax-exempt organizations is that it simply cannot be done with justice.”

Think of it this way; from who is the IRS really independent? The powers that be in Washington or the taxpayers? How close do you live to 1111 Constitution Avenue NW? It is helpful to recall the rather severe wording of the Sixteenth Amendment, “the Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on income, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration.” Now that’s rather shocking in its blunt display of power. Do we need taxes? Unfortunately, yes. Do we need a system for imposing – and taxes are always an imposition – and levying them that sits a little closer to the millions of taxpayers around the country? This latest scandal seems to suggest a big yes. So, how are your taxes going?

Though, for the average citizen, the Presidential election of 2016 is years away, Washington insiders, political partisans, and the great machine that is American political parties in the modern era are well aware of the closeness of the election. Leave no doubt that in backrooms on both sides of the aisle there is a consistent discussion of who is going to be the most promising candidate to bring a third victory to the Democrats or change the course of the Republican success rate in the past two elections.

Former Senator and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton is, arguably, the most prominent front runner for earning the Democratic nomination in 2016. Her common and popular image among many in the electorate is of the strong wife who stood by her husband and helped propel him to victory, when (as a woman not a Democrat… I can say this) leaving would have been completely understandable. She has continues to remain a poster child for the Democratic Party (to the obvious frustration of one Mr. Obama who continues to see her as a thorn in his side in a “What Would Hilary Do?” sense), especially among women voters, and has some cross party appeal.

Though it appears the Democratic nomination may be somewhat defined (unless a new Barack Obama steps up and steals her thunder once again), the Republican Party appears to be a bit more disjointed and problematic, leaving some Washington insiders concerned. Not having a frontrunner already poses a problem to those prepping for a future win. I would argue that this is because the Republican Party is more diverse than those in the media and social circles want to portray. There is a diversity of opinions, positions, and beliefs. From gay rights to gun control, the Republican Party is not a homogenous group…of white, middle-aged men, but a growing Party that is consistently struggling with the old vs. new dynamic.

This disjointedness is both disconcerting and exciting. First, it opens the potential for electoral options that appear less boxed in and predefined. Simultaneously, it creates a problem in that it opens the potential for electoral options that appear less boxed in and predefined. Yes, the benefits and the problems are tied to the same issue. Not having a candidate front runner means that the party has no fearless leader but leaders for different demographics. This is promising in that the right candidate can bring in new peoples to the party and thus, propel electoral success of the Republican Party in 2016. It also means that there can be an issue of face and name recognition, as well as an alienation in the party that allows a less than ideal candidate such as Senator John McCain to take the nomination.

What say you? Do you believe that there is a front runner for the Republican nomination and if so who? What or who do you see as the future of the Republican Party and how will this impact the party as a whole?

Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan has faded from his once fame of being a Vice-Presidential nominee, but he continues to make his presence known on Capitol Hill. The young GOP superstar has proposed a budget this week that makes plans for fiscal restraint and promises of a debt free future for the United States. A longshot, the bill also contains the request for a repeal of Obamacare and changes to the structure of healthcare in the United States. Though a longshot, that the perpetual campaigner-in-chief will be sure to balk at, the Ryan Budget leads to a greater discussion of what the limitations are when it comes to discussing entitlements.

A tax by any other name would still be an entitlement, and that is exactly what Obamacare is. It is another set of regulatory restrictions meant to hold the American Public attached to a need for another program. Sure, employers are the ones that will be required to provide the healthcare offerings and they will be the ones to suffer directly through the penalties, but the essence is the same: hook people onto having someone else pay for a product that they themselves should be responsible to pay.

Will cuts in entitlement programs, or programs with the same goal, ever be a true and legitimate topic of conversation in today’s world? Will the American public be willing to talk about the entitlement programs that they have grown to love and need as a potential source of cuts, as they are part of the problem we are broke? In my opinion, for what it is worth, it is doubtful that this discussion will ever be had without concern and all out tantrum throwing. The government has successfully hooked people onto the belief that they need the government’s programs rather than empower them to make their own choices. The Obamacare legislation is sure to continue to this trend and the Ryan Budget may lose credibility out of the gate because it has made an attempt at restructuring. It may have been a bridge too far but at least one GOPer has the guts to bring it up and not back down.