Fighting For Common Ground – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “Fighting For Common Ground, How We Can Fix the Stalemate in Congress” by Olympia Snowe, published in 2013.

Born in Augusta, Maine in 1947, the author was of Greek extraction. In the mid-1970’s, when she ran as a Republican for the state Senate in Maine, she rode a bicycle around to personally knock on doors to get votes. In the mid-1980’s, the NIH was still (!) providing federal funds for medical research only on men. In 1987, the Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Health and the Environment acknowledged this abomination. Finally in 1993, the author and others pushed through legislation that created an office of the NIH that conducted research on women, that spurred additional research on women at other organizations.

The author wrote that in the early 2000’s, Karl Rove proposed an evil plan involving five issues, with the goal of keeping the Republicans in power indefinitely. In George W. Bush’s second term, the Republicans pushed for and got a federal education mandate, but the other four initiatives were never fully implemented (fortunately): a Christian agenda, privatization of Social Security and healthcare accounts, and some immigration reform.

The author spent a large portion of this book lamenting about how gridlocked Congress has become due to the hostility between America’s two major political parties. Republicans had traditionally believed in maintaining a balanced budget, but that went out the window with the uncontrolled deficit spending in the George W. Bush years.

In early August 2011, Congress members went on their summer recess, shirking a boatload of important business. As a result, America’s national debt rating was downgraded by Standard and Poor’s for the first time in history.

Read the book to learn about the author’s recommendations on how to change the Senate’s protocol and rules in order to improve its functioning, civility and ability to compromise to achieve consensus.

West of Kabul, East of New York

“For all of us, surrendering to diversity is probably the only plausible path left to attaining unity. The international community is supposedly committed to helping the country rebuild, but the lost world will not be constituted. Whatever rises from the rubble, will be something new…”

The author wrote the above about Afghanistan, presumably after 9/11.

The Book of the Week is “West of Kabul, East of New York, An Afghan American Story” by Tamim Ansary, published in 2002.

Born in Kabul in Afghanistan in 1948, the author, who had an older sister and much younger brother, lived a childhood typical for his time and place– primitive living conditions, but in a communal space with multi-generational households of extended families.

In the mid-1950’s, the author’s father, through his former classmate, got a job on a U.S.-sponsored irrigation project, helping to further Afghanistan’s technological advancement. The goal was to “…sell the harvest for cash abroad, and use the currency to buy machines.” The author’s family lived in a corporate village with American expat families. They had Western leisure facilities– tennis, swimming, bicycling, square dancing, American music.

However, the project failed because the Helmand river branches changed their courses, so salt contaminated the water. Later on, water shortages, rather than lack of know-how or aid, caused crops to fail, when land reform (alleged equitable re-distribution of land among the peasants) was instituted.

In 1959, royal-family females were allowed to doff their veils, and coeducation was introduced at the local high school: about one hundred boys and four girls. Ironically, it was the Communists who forced the schools to educate the females, but (Muslim) Afghan leaders with old-school tribal and clan sensibilities got angry at that. Religious zealots (mullahs) in Kandahar incited a riot, in which some people died. “Within hours, the government put tanks on the streets [in Kabul] and jets in the air.” It had actually been a planned anti-Western campaign, but luckily, it failed.

Grades at the school, in a rural village, were based on only exams thrice every year in each of eighteen subjects. A few men (in their twenties) from the Soviet-trained military were sent there to get educated. Schools in Afghanistan’s cities got aid from the West.

The author’s mother was an American citizen, so when political turmoil flared in Afghanistan, and the author was awarded a high school scholarship as a sophomore in America, he, his mother and siblings moved to the United States. The author’s father was a citizen of only Afghanistan, but he could have become a college professor in America. Nevertheless, he chose to stay in his native country.

In the early 1970’s, the author found a community that mirrored his childhood’s– with an extended counter-culture “family” in Portland, Oregon. In 1979 (the year the Soviets invaded Afghanistan), while in Morocco, he met Sunni Muslims who didn’t pray in the mosques.

One of them explained that, “Because the religious scholars have sold themselves to the governments… When the people are lost, the gangsters are safe.” There must be the right balance of power and integration between a nation’s leaders and the people, politically, economically and culturally (including religion). If the government acquires too much power, the people become lost. If the people acquire too much power, there’s revolution.

Individuals’ mentalities are shaped by their experiences. The author’s much younger brother, Riaz, when he became an adolescent, apparently had a bad experience of culture shock after the family moved to the United States. Riaz’s early Afghani childhood in the late 1950’s must have been a comforting, happy experience. For, in early adulthood, he turned to radical Islam in finding his identity.

Read the book to learn how the author coped with reconciling the cultural clashes he encountered in his life.

Precarious

PRECARIOUS

sung to the tune of “Aquarius” with apologies to the Fifth Dimension.

When the boss was in the White House
and his cult confronted cops
then violence guided their protest
and hate did steer his props.

This is the dawning of the age of Precarious.
The age of Precarious.
Precarious! Precarious!

Scare-tactics and grandstanding,
hypocrisy, mistrust abounding.
Only falsehoods and derisions.
Hyper-hostile party divisions.
Economic devastation
and government’s deliberation.
Precarious! Precarious!

When the boss was in the White House
and his cult confronted cops
then violence guided their protest
and hate did steer his props.

This is the dawning of the age of Precarious.
The age of Precarious.
Precarious! Precarious!

As the votes got counted through the night,
can’t wait to inaugurate
to be the bearers of the new world order.
Only time will tell our fate.

We’re in the clutches of the age of Precarious.
The age of Precarious.
Precarious! Precarious!

Scare-tactics and grandstanding,
hypocrisy, mistrust abounding.
Evil, evil machinations,
germs-and-bullets consternation,
wrong-headed in policy courses
guided by historical forces.
Oh dear, us. Precarious.

It Doesn’t Take A Hero

The Book of the Week is “It Doesn’t Take A Hero” by General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, written with Peter Petre, published in 1992.

Born in August 1934 in Lawrenceville, New Jersey, Schwarzkopf as an adolescent moved to Tehran in Iran to be with his father, a military bigwig. He then became an expat in other worldly venues– a boarding school in Geneva in Switzerland, more schooling in Frankfurt in Germany, Valley Forge Military Academy in Pennsylvania, and finally, the then-tuition-free West Point.

Schwarzkopf was accepted by one of America’s premier military colleges, even though he wasn’t a spoiled rich kid who had connections. It was July 1952. Culturally of its time– the school took a photo, rear and side, of each new (male) cadet naked except for a jockstrap. As part of this humiliation ritual, for his first full year, the cadet posted the photo in his locker.

Schwarzkopf’s military training consisted of the usual divestiture socialization, and an honor code. The latter was a vow of ethical behavior: “…a cadet does not lie, cheat, or steal, or tolerate anybody who does…” The year prior to his matriculation, the school had suffered a cheating scandal– the first in its history– after which ninety cadets, including the whole football team, were expelled. Tutors had revealed copies of exams in advance.

Schwarzkopf truly believed in Vietnamization, and cared about South Vietnamese soldiers, not just American soldiers, who were killed in the war. In 1965, he got down and dirty with the men under his command in Duc Co, in the Pleiku area. His first combat tour was crowded with incident: he participated in seven major operations, was wounded, survived malaria and dysentery, and was awarded two Silver Stars and three Bronze Stars.

Schwarzkopf enjoyed his tour because he had skilled, cooperative– the cream of the crop– Vietnamese military officers working with him, who successfully executed their missions. He didn’t know that most everywhere else, that situation was a rarity. So he thought the war was worth fighting.

When Schwarzkopf returned to West Point to fulfill his obligation to teach, the school had trouble finding quality students because no one wanted to be sent to Vietnam. In summer 1969, when he returned to Vietnam, he encountered a combination of the novel “Catch-22” and the TV sitcom “F-Troop.” But it was reality– needless deaths and ruined lives. Not without numerous difficulties, he whipped his subordinates into shape.

In late 1973, after eighteen months of laborious study to determine which military bases should close due to budget cuts, Schwarzkopf and the other naive members of his task force learned the hard way about the American government. The task force had done a whole lot of work and wasted a whole lot of time for nothing. Their recommendations were ignored.

To add insult to injury, Schwarzkopf was passed over for promotion: “The whole thing had been rigged and I hadn’t seen it. Obviously Walker had had the job from the start; O’Shei and I had just been there for show.”

In 1990, Schwarzkopf did what he was best known for: commanding troops in the Middle East after Iraq invaded Kuwait. He did the planning to send battalions of all kinds to Saudi Arabia: tank, mechanized-infantry, artillery, ordnance, transportation, medical, signal, and helicopters; plus engineers, technicians and armorers.

A Pentagon official told Schwarzkopf that the United States should not want to destroy Iraq as a nation, because it would continue to need it as a stabilizing influence on Iran. The goal was simply to cripple its ability to wage war. Iraq’s neighbors, feeling threatened, wanted to teach it a lesson, as it had committed a major sin in attacking a fellow Arab nation. France had a thorny problem on its hands– it supplied weaponry to both Saudi Arabia and Iraq.

Anyway, top American government officials, including then-secretary of state Dick Cheney, watched the PBS miniseries “The Civil War” which showed fighting men’s brutalities and traumas in the United (?) States of the 1860’s. The emotional impact of that video should have deterred all humans from going to war. Nevertheless, as is well known, twelve years later, sociopathic chickenhawks had taken charge of the American government.

Even Schwarzkopf, as goody-goody as he made himself out to be, was a bit of a mythmaker. He wrote, “To our delight, the Patriots [missiles]… knocked the Scud from the sky… eleven interceptions claimed by Patriot batteries…”

Schwarzkopf stood by his assessment that the Patriot was great at defending military targets, as far as he was told. Perhaps he got bad information and believed it, as happened in February 1991, when ground troops were sent into Kuwait. He received “…erroneous ‘mission accomplished’ reports… The fact that two days had passed and no correction had been made only made matters worse. I felt as if I’d been lied to.” Nevertheless, the Iraqis captured about fifty (yes) POWs of varying nationalities, while Iraq’s enemies captured about eighty thousand (yes) Iraqi POWs.

Read the book to learn much more about: the author’s military and personal adventures in Alaska, Mainz in Germany, Grenada (hint– “… an abysmal lack of accurate intelligence, major deficiencies in communications, flareups of interservice rivalry, interference by higher headquarters in battlefield discussions, our alienation of the press…”) Washington, D.C., Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, and his family.