Thursday, January 18, 2018

Insanity: Doing the same thing over and over, expecting a different result. (Albert Einstein)

France, after losing 1.7 million of their citizens in World War I, finally emerged victorious but traumatized.  They were scared to death the Germans would some day re-militarize and attack again.  To prepare for this eventuality they built a 450-mile-long, 15-mile deep series of interconnected fortifications, known as the Maginot Line, with its fixed-in-place guns pointed toward Germany.  It stopped short of the Ardennes forest as that was considered an impenetrable natural obstacle.  Their only unguarded eastern border was with Belgium, where the French planned to mass their forces if the Germans were to ever attack via that route.  They were feeling pretty secure.

While the Maginot Line looked formidable, a few enlightened military leaders of the time, among them Charles de Gaulle, thought differently.  They preferred a more mobile defense centered around tanks and airplanes.  They knew if the Germans should break through at any one point, they could react and respond quickly.  Their view did not prevail.

On May 10, 1940 France's worst fear came true, in spades.  The Germans attacked, but not directly toward the Maginot Line, which the French were prepared for, or through Belgium, where the French had troops poised to defend, but through the supposedly natural barrier of the Ardennes forest.  The Germans punched through, then swung north to outflank the French and British Expeditionary Force (did you see the movie Dunkirk?), and south where they came in BEHIND the Maginot Line with its immovable guns pointed in the wrong direction.  Game, set, match.  The French defenses folded like a card table. 

Fast forward 78 years and now it's the United States concerned about its southern border, and rightly so.  Drug smugglers, gun runners, human traffickers, and others have their eyes on us.  They want in.  The border security system we have now is only marginally effective.  Those who say we need something more are completely correct.  But as history should have taught us, those who say we need a massive, enormously expensive, fixed-in-place structure are completely wrong.

The Maginot Line didn't work for the French in 1940, and a Trump Wall won't work for the US in 2018.  What we need is security that is maneuverable, strong, and fast reacting.  Imagine, for example, a sizeable fleet of small manned patrol aircraft, and many more drones than we have now, too, backed up with the ability to very rapidly bring in overwhelming manpower anywhere along our border to deal with any intruders.  

Our adversaries are smart.  State-of-the-art security measures that might work today will likely prove to be laughable just a few years from now. That's how fast technology is changing.  The Maginot Line became a metaphor for expensive efforts that offer a false sense of security.  Let's not make that same mistake all over again with a tall, low-tech wall.  Let's be smart for once.


Monday, January 15, 2018

And the beat goes on....

Before I ever heard the term "sociology" I was fascinated by the subject.  Why did our society develop the way it did?  Why do we live the way we do?

Sometimes we're too close to the forest to see the trees.  Things are changing dramatically before our eyes, but I sometimes think we're too busy to truly recognize how revolutionary this change has been.  Here's what I've seen in just my 67 years walking upright:

My family did their weekly grocery shopping at Wyatt's.  When we went out for dinner (which was often in my house) we usually went to Plaza Cafeteria or Harris Restaurant or CreMel's.  To get our prescriptions filled we went to Payne's Drug Store, which was just a block away from our other local pharmacy, McKnights.  Our theater was the Plaza in downtown Garland.

For a good hamburger we went to Scott's Cafe.  (I was named after the Scott family.  It must have been a damn fine hamburger!)  Payne's Drug Store's soda fountain was our go-to place for ice cream, too.  Our sporting goods store was on Garland Road near Duck Creek (I can't remember its name).  We bought furniture from Rick's Furniture, and appliances from Hollingshead's.  We bought cars from Ken Pruitt Buick, R O Evans Pontiac, Freeman Oldsmobile, or Jackson's Chevrolet.  Mr Thedford was our mechanic.

For a new bicycle or lawnmower or anything hardware we went to see Mr Lloyd at Plaza Hardware.  (There were a lot of businesses named "Plaza" in our town.  Wonder why?)  Our news came from one of the two Dallas newspapers (and 30 minutes a day from Walter Cronkite).  Homes were built by local builders.  I remember ours was built by a Mr Satterwhite. 

The best barbecue came from Moore's, the best donuts came from the Asian family whose name I can't recall, and our tamales were made by the Hispanic man that sold them from a push cart on the town square.  Mom bought her clothes from Stern's, and dad and I went to Jim Holland's Men's Wear or Ken's Man's Shoppe.  Our bank was the First National.

Did you notice a common theme here?  Every business I mentioned was locally owned by one of our neighbors.  Today these have all been replaced by national chain stores, run by people we'll never meet, often from a thousand miles away.  Home Depot put Plaza Hardware out of business.  Pharmacies are now monopolized by CVS or Walgreens.  Restaurants are now most likely to be named Chili's or Applebee's or McDonald's or Red Lobster.  Most people get their groceries from Walmart or Target or Kroger.  Whether you realize it or not almost all car dealers are now part of giant dealership conglomerates.  24/7/365 cable news now dominates how (and what) we learn what's going on in the world.  On and on....

Now this second generation of retail businesses are themselves fighting for their lives.  Thousands are closing every year, and it's estimated that 20% of America's malls will close within five years.  Retailers are calling this time absolutely apocalyptic.  

Today we're entering the Age-of-Cyber-Everything, and the prototype is without doubt Amazon.  (Thank you Mr Bezos, or curse your Mr Bezos....TBD.)  Millions of hometown businesses were replaced by a few thousand national chains, and now those are well on their way to being replaced by...what...ultimately just a few hundred MEGA players?

I find this fascinating, and somewhat frightening, too.  Wonder what's next?  Interesting times....


Friday, January 12, 2018

So tell us...have you stopped beating your wife?

Donald Trump's worst enemy is without doubt his own mouth, and it has his lawyers sweating...umm...bullets.

Yesterday I heard several legal experts who were asked if Donald Trump has to speak to Robert Mueller's investigators under oath.  Their unanimous answer:  yes he does.  Some Supreme Court decision awhile back (Nixon...Clinton?) said if subpoenaed, the President must appear and answer questions.  Trump's lawyers can indeed try to negotiate favorable terms for him, but Mueller is in the drivers seat.  "I don't remember" will likely backfire as these slick gubment prosecutors can ask seemingly innocent, unrelated questions that are all really leading up to the same answer, one they already know the answer to.  

Where Bill Clinton's Rhodes Scholar mind carefully considered the question before he answered "it depends on what the meaning of 'is' is", Trump will just blurt out whatever first comes into his mind.  He doesn't understand the concept of "the powerful pause" before answering.  Proof?  See yesterday's "shithole African countries" comment.

They said if President Trump's lawyers can't negotiate a deal whereby he can answer written questions with written answers carefully crafted by them, they'll likely advise the President to just pardon everyone remotely involved and then resign.

Interesting times.


Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Why have Republicans gone all weak-kneed?

Back in the bad old Cold War days the terms "Russia" and "Communist" and "Soviet Union" were commonly interchanged.  By the time the Soviet Union officially collapsed in 1991, communism as a social movement had long since died.  Even the Soviet leaders knew communism was a failed economic philosophy, even though they couldn't say it out loud.  At the end they were just trying desperately to hold on to power, and they couldn't.

Russia's current President, ex-KGB agent Vladimir Putin, has never forgotten the power the old Soviet Union once wielded, and is obsessed with seeing Russia regain its lost prestige in the world.  Today Russia is essentially a vast organized crime family.  Putin is the "Don", and he enables Russia's rich oligarchs, and they in turn support him. They're old school thugs.

Back in the Cold War days America's preeminent anti-communists were Republicans.  They were the hard-line hawks and the Democrats were considered the doves.  Any time "Russia" was uttered, Republicans sat up straight and clenched their fists.  They were itching for a fight, looking for an excuse to slap down the despised Russians.

So what happened?  Republicans have gone soft.  Today all our intelligence agencies, as well as foreign intelligence agencies, 100% agree the Russians are doing everything they can to weaken the cohesiveness and the will of the west.  They've pulled out all the stops in their effort to harm us, short of a hot war.  They use our social media to clandestinely foment social unrest here.  We've caught them red handed doing it.  

We know for a fact they have at least tried to reach out to candidate Donald Trump's campaign in 2016, hoping to influence our election.  Yet today's Republicans are showing no teeth, no backbone, no willingness to stand up to Russia.  Yes, Republicans voted for more sanctions against Russia, and President Trump signed it under protest....and then never implemented it.  They all just say, " Russians in here.  There's no story.  Everyone go home."  And if anyone calls them out, they threaten them with a lawsuit.  Republicans seem more concerned about punishing who said it than pursuing what they said.

Why are Republicans, our former hawks, our most vicious protectors of American democracy, now so willing to look the other way at Putin's shenanigans?  I don't get it.


Sunday, January 7, 2018

Better late than never

While it might be five or six years too late, it looks like the FBI is finally going to look into a possible "pay-to-play" scheme involving Obama's Sec State Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Foundation.  I wrote a blog post about this 18 months ago.

Here's the suspicion:  Any application that had to go through the State Department for review and approval could have been expedited or slow walked (or worse) at the "suggestion" of Sec Clinton.  Simultaneously, private citizen Bill Clinton was accepting substantial contributions on behalf of the Clinton Foundation and/or being paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to give speeches by entities who had applications pending before said State Dept.  Your two-bit oil-infested country might get State Dept approval to buy a dozen F-22's if you contributed, or sent home empty handed if you didn't.  Did this actually happen?  I have no idea.  But the opportunity was certainly there for the taking. 

The press has been skating around this issue for years, I guess too timid or too star-struck by the Clinton's to make an issue out of it.  I once heard a reporter ask Bill if there was any truth to the suggestion, and he just answered with a straight face, "No, how could there be?  I'm a private citizen now.  I have nothing to do with making those sorts of decisions."  And the reporter just skipped off, happy as a lark.

Trouble is, a scam such as this would be extremely hard to prove.  The Clinton's are no dummies.  Surely they would never have said anything out loud or put anything in writing that would have connected the dots. But imagine the private dinner conversation at the Clinton's house as they were sharing some Sloppy Joe's and a Big Red:

BILL:  Say sweetheart, guess who stopped by the Foundation today with a nice donation?

HILLARY:  Why, I have no idea.  Who?

BILL:  That nice Crown Prince boy from Saudi Arabia.

HILLARY:  Awww, how sweet.

And three weeks later the Saudi's request to buy jet fighters and gold-plated Humvees is approved.  How convenient.

Yes, I know the Clinton Foundation spread a lot of cash around to legitimately deserving causes, but sources say the mafia is a major sponsor of neighborhood Little League baseball teams, too.  So what?

And take it step further:  What's to prevent the wife or daughter or son or brother, etc, of a major political figure....think House Speaker or Senate Majority Leader or even a major committee chair....from setting up their own "charitable foundation", too?  The opportunities for arms-length corruption are off the charts!

But here to me is the best maybe the Republicans will have to stop using Billary's possible grand larceny as a distraction.

   "There's no Russian collusion.  There's no Russian collusion.  But...but...what about Crooked Hillary, huh?  What about her?  Lock her up!"  

Oh puh-leeze.  I say investigate the Clinton's and the Trump's both, and let the chips fall where they may.


Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Mom....the other kidz call me dum. Make 'em stop, mom.

The dumbing down of America

Where did we go wrong?  When I think back to my youth I don't remember us being a nation of mouth breathers who couldn't find their way back home from the mailbox.  I suspect this is the reason Google maps was invented.  So we lose our ability to think?

I'm guessing it was the advent of cable news and shortly thereafter the invention of the internet that caused our gray matter to atrophy.  Today we're what I call "smart-dumb".  We seem to know a lot of things, but we just take what we're told at face value, no questions asked.  (Snopes exists for a reason!)

We used to read newspapers.  Reporters reported at length on fairly intricate matters, yet we could comprehend it all and form intelligent opinions.  Even back in elementary school "My Weekly Reader" was required reading, which exposed us little kids to current events and critical thinking.  Remember Time and Newsweek magazines?  I think only Time survives today, and it's barely big enough to line a bird cage.  Every newspaper had a team of investigative reporters who could smell out bullshit a mile away.  Today all we have are FOX News or MSNBC to tell us everything they think we need to know, and we just go "yuck, yuck" and question nothing.

It was 24-hour cable news that introduced us to the 30-second sound bite.  They apparently figured out 30 seconds was the outside limit of our attention span.  If an issue was too complicated to be boiled down to a 30 second explanation, we didn't need to know about it.  Then the internet just killed off what was left of newspapers and reporting.  Anybody could say anything on the internet and it was considered The Gospel.  If Hannity or Limbaugh or O'Reilly or their counterparts on the left said it, you could take it to the bank.  Nobody today has enough sense to recognize their concept of "alternative facts". 

Newspapers went online to keep readers, and in the process lost their advertisers.  To pare down payroll to match their new fiscal reality, reporters were pink-slipped.  News stories were often just pinched from the AP or UPI wire.  Only a few old-school newspapers held firm, such as The New York Times and the Washington Post.  I find it comical that many people today slam those papers, confusing their "news" sections and their editorial pages.  Most don't realize the stories they read in their local papers are most likely written by staff writers of the NYT or the WP....check the "byline" at the end of an article and see for yourself.

Just a decade or so after I graduated from college most institutions of higher learning reduced their requirements for a Bachelor's Degree to 120 semester hours from the 128 I had to bullshit my way through master.  Today I'm shocked when I read papers by college graduates who can't write a complete sentence.  How the hell did they get past freshman English and not learn that?  Are the inmates now in charge of the asylum?

Which brings us to....yes....politics.  I've never seen a more inept bunch of candidates than what our two parties give us to choose from every few years.  The few smart ones are corrupt to the core, and the others are just there for the free liquor and panty grabbing.  I don't think as a nation we could smell their bullshit if we were standing knee-deep in it.  The result is we have a President who conducts state business on Twitter and doesn't read the issue papers or daily intelligence briefs he's provided, but seems to have plenty of time to wuff down four Big Macs and a 12-pack of diet Coke every day.  *sigh*

So there you have it, my short narrative of where we are today and how we got here.  Did you enjoy this?  If so, can I get a yuck yuck?