American Elephants


President Obama’s “Pivot” to The Minimum Wage by The Elephant's Child

The United States is sending ground troops to Poland, the Polish defense minister says after meeting with Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel. But not to worry, this is not a major escalation. Supposedly they are sending a company, about 150 soldiers, for exercises with the Polish military for a short stay, or something like that.

The Ukrainians asked for military aid, we denied them weapons, but sent MREs and military style socks, and reportedly helmets as well. They were trucked into Ukraine as it was thought a military cargo plane might be too provocative.

President Putin, on the other hand has something like 40,000 troops massed on the Ukrainian border, but says they are just there as a precaution since there is so much unrest in the Ukraine. The officers above the rank of Major in the Ukrainian military all came up through the Russian military, and they aren’t going to fight Russians.

The Russian President denies that the militants in the Ukraine have anything to do with Russia, and he is quite helpless to stop them. Although the pro-Russian activists seem to have had military training, their weapons and equipment are all Russian, and their use of tear gas and stun grenades is inconsistent with a spontaneous local militia. Last Thursday Mr. Putin referred to Ukraine as part of “New Russia.” Even when Mr. Putin openly declares his goal, Mr. Obama prefers to ignore it. The Wall Street Journal said:

The larger problem is that Mr. Obama can’t seem to admit that his assumptions about the world are being repudiated by the week. He came to office believing his own campaign rhetoric that the U.S. was unpopular mainly because of President George W. Bush. He would end these misunderstandings through diplomatic engagement, especially with our adversaries, who would respond in kind to our good will and moral example. Nowhere in the world has that happened.

Diplomacy in Geneva has come up with about what one would expect. After seven hours of negotiations they agreed that “all parties including separatists and their Russian backer, would stop violent and provocative acts, and all illegal groups would be disarmed. A joint statement made no presence of what the U.S. has said are 40,000 Russian troops massed on Ukraine’s eastern and southern borders. Kerry said that Russia is “absolutely prepared to begin to respond with respect to troops,” provided the agreement is observed.

The U.S. has sent 12 F-16 fighters and 200 support personnel to Poland. NATO’s secretary-general Anders Fogh Rasmussen said that the alliance would fly more air patrols over the Baltic region and allied ships would deploy to the Baltic.

Polish Defense Minister Tomasz Siemoniak said the United States, having announced a “pivot” to Asia, needs to “re–pivot” to Europe, and European countries that have cut back on defense spending need to reverse the trend.

The idea until recently was that there were no more threats in Europe and no need for a U.S. presence in Europe any more. Events show that what is needed is a re-pivot, and that Europe was safe and secure because America was in Europe.

According to the New York TimesMr. Obama has concluded that he will never have a constructive relationship with Mr. Putin. As a result he will spend his final two and a half years in office trying to minimize the disruption Mr. Putin can cause, and otherwise turn to other foreign policy area where progress remains possible.

The White House is preparing to nominate John Fl Tefft, a career diplomat who previously served as ambassador to Ukraine , Georgia and Lithuania.  Administration officials were leery of sending Mr. Tefft because of concern that his experience in former Soviet republics that have flouted Moscow’s influence would irritate Russia.

Obama is less concerned with irritating Russia now, and is reportedly pivoting to the George F. Kennan strategy of containment.

The more hawkish faction in the State and Defense Departments has grown increasingly frustrated, privately worrying that Mr. Obama has come across as weak and unintentionally sent the message that he has written off Crimea after Russia’s annexation. They have pressed for faster and more expansive sanctions, only to wait while memos sit in the White House without action. Mr. Obama has not even imposed sanctions on a list of Russian human rights violators waiting for approval since last winter.

Mr. Obama says that Ukraine is not a major concern for Americans. He has concentrated his public schedule around “important” issues like job training and the minimum wage. Since Mr. Putin is not interested in a partnership, Mr. Obama is not interested in the Ukraine or Russia. But then, he’s not much interested in foreign policy at all—though it’s the major part of his job description.

David P. Goldman, writing as “Spengler” says Americans are playing Monopoly, Russians are playing chess. Ukraine is a basket case with a per capita income a tenth of that of the European Community. They are deeply in debt to the Russians and dependent on Russian energy. Putin will let the West take charge of the Ukrainian disaster until it festers, and then pick and choose what he wants. And what he wants is a “new Russia.”



Disarming Our Warriors by The Elephant's Child

We are defanging our military. What’s more, is that we are taking away their basic human rights to defend themselves, their Second Amendment rights to bear arms in their own self-defense, while asking them to volunteer to defend us. Moreover, we are choosing time and time again to deny them the mental health and veterans’ benefits, while giving more money to entitlements for other communities. Meanwhile, shootings on bases have occurred now multiple times, and 22 people in our armed services commit suicide daily. This is unacceptable–hear why in this Afterburner with Bill Whittle.



A Secretive Government Trying to Avoid Blame. by The Elephant's Child

I wrote just recently about the backlog of disability claims, the backlog of requests for medical exams that was rolling over and over, month after month, and how they dealt with this by just destroying veterans medical records or requests—in a program called “System Redesign.” They didn’t have the resources to do all those exams. They were getting around 3,000 requests a month and only had the resources to do about 800, so they just cancelled the backlog. They figured that a lot of those patients either had their studies somewhere else, had their surgery or—died.

Now it appears that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) blocked the release of the names of hospitals where 19 veterans died because of delays in medical screenings. CNN reported in January that 19 veterans died as a result of delayed gastrointestinal cancer screenings, while another 63 were seriously injured. CNN obtained internal documents from the VA listing the number of “institutional disclosures of adverse events,” bureaucracy-speak for a mistake that gravely harms or kills a patient.

The documents did not list the hospitals or clinics where the “adverse events” took place. A Tampa Tribune reporter asked the VA for the names of the hospitals and was told that he would have to file a FOIA request. His FOIA request was denied.

The House Committee on Veterans Affairs launched a website this week highlighting the VA’s habit of failing to respond to press requests. Yes, press exposure of your failings can be embarrassing or worse, but that’s why the FOIA law requires agencies to respond within 20 days. I wrote about that recently too. No federal agency wants to expose their misdoings or shortcomings to public scrutiny, or press scrutiny— though the press, is for the most part, such a slobbering lapdog for the administration—because people could get fired, the agency could lose funding.

And now there’s another shooting at Fort Hood, with at least 4 dead and many wounded. Will this be another case of “workplace violence” where those injured do not get the benefits to which they are entitled? I just wrote about that too. I take no pleasure in writing about these things, I write because I worry. Our government is increasingly attempting to avoid any possible blame. That may be a natural failing, but it is unacceptable. Americans rely on an open and transparent government in which officials appreciate the honor of being entrusted with high office—and strive mightily to live up to the office. It’s a matter of character.



Navy’s Retention Rates Are Hurt by Focus on Social Issues. by The Elephant's Child

Commander Guy Snodgrass, a Navy F-18 fighter pilot and former Top Gun instructor, wrote at the Naval Institute website that the relentless focus of the senior leadership on social issues — things like women in combat, sexual assault prevention — has demoralized junior and mid-grade officers alike. He said the Navy “has a looming officer retention problem” and added that special operations forces, such as Navy SEALs had their “worst year in history” for retention.

He lists long wartime deployments as a leading retention negative.

He also tackles a touchier issue, what some sailors have referred to as “political correctness,” such as the banning of uniform patches that might offend someone. [...]

“Put simply, there is no dollar amount that can be spent, or amount of training that can be conducted, that will completely eradicate complex issues such as suicide, sexual assault, or commanding officer reliefs for cause—yet we continue to expend immense resources in this pursuit,” he says. “Sailors are bombarded with annual online training, general military training, and safety stand-downs—all in an effort to combat problems that will never be defeated.”

Snodgrass partially attributed the growth of the military’s social conditioning programs and political correctness to pressure from Congress.

I have read elsewhere that contrary to all the flap about women in combat, and the questions about adjusting standards so women could qualify, that few women are actually interested in serving in combat. The president’s interest in downsizing the military both in personnel and equipment, as indicated by his FY 2015 budget request, surely plays a part in retention problems.



Obama’s Fantasy World Is Dangerous to Our People by The Elephant's Child

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President Obama’s budget for FY 2015 was widely heralded as “dead on arrival.” Spends too much on all the wrong things, and it will never get by the House of Representatives. Fortunately.

But reporters continue to dig into it to try to understand the president’s priorities. We know the major outlines—he’s big on redistribution of wealth,  and wants millions to waste on climate restraining efforts.

We’re in the middle of the seventeenth year of a complete lack of observable global warming but the investment in catastrophic climate change is huge, and nobody’s going to give up with or without a fight. How is Obama to reward his supporters if he cant funnel subsidies to them through the guise of saving us from a nonexistent  rise in temperatures caused by a benign rise in carbon in the atmosphere. But I digress.

What is noticeable as they dig into the budget is that in the wake of a world in turmoil, where it seems that everywhere passions and anger are rising, the cuts to our national defense are indefensible. Now we learn that the cornerstone of U.S. Naval power is eliminated under the Obama budget. The president is seeking to abolish two highly successful missile programs that experts say have helped the U.S. Navy maintain military superiority for the past several decades. The U.S.Navy has been responsible for keeping the world’s sea lanes open and safe—no small matter.

The Tomahawk missile program—the world’s most advanced cruise missile— is set to be cut by $128 million under the FY budget proposal and completely eliminated by FY 2016, according to budget documents released by the Navy. The Long Range Anti-Ship missile, an experimental anti-ship missile not yet capable of passing basic tests. The number of actual Tomahawk missiles acquired by the United States will drop significantly from 196 last year, to 100 in 2015, and zero in 2016. The stock would be completely depleted by 2018.

The Navy will also be forced to cancel its acquisition of the well-regarded and highly effective Hellfire missiles in 2015.

The proposed elimination of these programs came as a shock to lawmakers and military experts, who warned that cutting these missiles would significantly erode our ability to deter enemy forces.

Seth Cropsey, director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for American Seapower, said “It doesn’t make sense. This really moves the U.S away from a position of influence and military dominance.” If someone were trying to “reduce the U.S. ability to shape events” in the world, “they couldn’t find a better way than depriving the U.S. fleet of Tomahawks. It’s breathtaking.”

While the military is seeing budgets cut dramatically, and equipment scaled back—the Tomahawk cuts seem not to be due to a lack of funds.  The administration seems to be taking the millions spent on the Tomahawk program and investing it in an experimental program that experts say will not be battle-ready for at least 10 years.

Putin has on the border of Ukraine 20,000 troops, artillery, and attack helicopters. The Ukrainians asked for weapons, we said no, but offered MREs (meals ready to eat). Putin essentially said Russia was swindled at the end of the Cold War, swindled of its empire, swindled of its colonies and swindled of its own territory and I’m here to get it back. He’s also establishing bases in South America.

China is attempting to make the South China Sea its own private pond. Japan’s Prime Minister Abe  is attempting to reform their pacifist constitution, and re-arm.  North Korea, Syria, Iraq, Iran. Clearly a time to reduce our power in the world—so we won’t be thought to be a bully.

And the president can’t be bothered to attend National Security meetings?



A New Cold War? by The Elephant's Child

Michael McFaul is the former U.S. Ambassador to Russia. He left his position last month. From a March 15 Facebook post:

I am very depressed today. For those of us, Russians and Americans alike, who have believed in the possibility of a strong, prosperous, democratic Russia fully integrated into the international system and as a close partner of the U.S., Putin’s recent decisions represent a giant step backwards. Tragically, we are entering a new period with some important differences, but many similarities to the Cold War. The ideological struggle between autocracy and democracy is resurgent. Protection of European countries from Russian aggression is paramount again. Shoring up vulnerable states, including first and foremost Ukraine, must become a top priority again for the US and Europe. And doing business with Russian companies will once again become politicized. Most tragically, in [the West's] seeking to isolate the Russian regime, many Russians with no connection to the government will also suffer the effects of isolation. My only hope is that this dark period will not last as long as the last Cold War.



The Background to Current Events: by The Elephant's Child

Timothy Snyder’s Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin is the essential history to current events. We tend to think of World War II as “the good war,” celebrated in movies and fading memory. It was good in the sense that it was a war waged against true evil, but it was a desperate war in which the whole world was threatened. But we tend to forget the Cold War, a time when kids hid under their desks, and people built fallout shelters. Before World War II even began, index America’s wartime ally Josef Stalin had killed millions of his own citizens—and kept killing them during and after the war. Before Hitler was finally defeated, he had murdered six million Jews and nearly as many other Europeans. At war’s end, both the German and the Soviet killing sites fell behind the iron curtain, leaving the history of mass killing in darkness.

Bloodlands is a new kind of European history, presenting the mass murders committed by the Nazi and Stalinist regimes as two aspects of a single history, in the time and place where they occurred: between Germany and Russia, when Hitler and Stalin both held power. Assiduously researched, deeply humane, and utterly definitive, Bloodlands will be required reading for anyone seeking to understand the central tragedy of modern history.

Timothy Snyder has done a series of articles for the New York Review of Books about the current crisis. Worth your time:  “Fascism, Russia, and Ukraine,” “Ukraine: The Haze of Propaganda,” and “Crimea: Putin vs. Reality.



Fort Hood — Four and a Half Years and Waiting! by The Elephant's Child

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The 2009 Fort Hood shooting is ancient history for most people. But the House Homeland Security committee will hold a hearing regarding various aspects of the administration’s response to the 2009 Fort Hood shooting.

Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX) wants an explanation for why the incident is still being classified as “workplace violence” as opposed to terrorism. He wants to know why victims of the attack still have not received Purple Hearts, and why benefits for the families of all survivors have not yet been provided. This is a cause that Texas Senators Ted Cruz(R-TX) and John Cornyn (R-TX) have been pursuing.

The victims say they feel abandoned by the U.S. government and by their military. The Pentagon last year fought efforts to award the Purple Heart out of concern that doing so could harm Hasan’s chance at receiving a fair trial.

For The Record contacted the Army 15 times since December requesting an on-camera interview, but was given only an emailed statement saying that while the Army has no “intelligence or findings to date that indicate Hasan was under the direction or control of a foreign element, we stand ready to act accordingly should any evidence to the contrary be presented. If the U.S. Congress acts to change the standard, we will adhere to that direction.”

More than 80 survivors and victims’ family members have joined in a civil suit against high-ranking officials seeking compensation and answers — yet they feel their suit has hit a “roadblock.”

The victims and the attorneys who represent them say their civil suit has been blocked from proceeding by numerous excuses and legal motions set in to place by the Army and the Department of Defense. They say the current motion to stay the civil case and temporarily halt the proceedings is to give the base commander the opportunity to review the transcripts of Hasan’s trial. In a federal court, transcripts are immediately made available at the end of a trial, but that’s not the case in a military court martial like Hasan had.

This is a shameful situation. Is it all about the embarrassment of high officials at the extent to which they ignored warning after warning because of simple political correctness? Or will revealing that — trace the orders to be politically correct lead to the Pentagon and top brass?

It is not as if the American people are unaware of the administration’s delusion that if we are just nice to Muslims, the problem of terrorism will go away. We can talk. Reasonable people can find ways to agree.  The illusion keeps popping up in Libya, in Egypt, in Syria, in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in dealings with Iran. But we’re just not as good at “conversation” as we think we are. Our opponents remain deeply unimpressed, and welcome our weakness.



The Syrian Catastrophe by The Elephant's Child

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The Obama administration’s Syria policy has been a blunder of historic proportions. When he might have intervened effectively, he dithered, When he did intervene it was ineffectual. When the situation was manageable, it was neglected. Nevertheless, this is not the responsibility of the U.S. government. It is the responsibility of Bashar Assad and his supporters, al Qaeda and other radical Muslims who have forcibly taken over the opposition to Assad.

This photograph was taken late last month. The scene is Yarmouk, a district of Damascus that is populated mostly by Palestinian “refugees” and has been the scene of heavy fighting. The U.N. is passing out food packages and the starving people are hoping to get something to eat. This is truly an example of a picture being worth more than a thousand words. (Click to enlarge)

(h/t: Powerline)



Backlog of Veterans Claims Piling Up? — Just Destroy Them! by The Elephant's Child

December 30, 2013: The Obama administration’s Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Eric Shinseki said that it is on track to eliminate the disability claims backlog.  For the first time since Barack Obama was elected president, the veterans claims backlog will end this year lower than it began.

Department of Veterans Affairs officials say they’re on track to end the backlog entirely sometime in 2015. At the start of December, the claims backlog —the number of cases unfinished for more than 125 days — sat at just under 393,000 cases. Critics call that an embarrassingly large number, especially considering that the White House pledged to fix the problem almost four years ago. But the peak was 608,000 in March.

Shinseki credits mandatory overtime for the agency workforce and new computer processing systems that pushed to agency to come out of paper to go into electronics.

February 14, 2014: Employees of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) destroyed veterans’ medical files in a systematic attempt to eliminate backlogged veteran medical exam requests, a former VA employee told the Daily Caller.

“The committee was called ‘System Redesign’ and the purpose of the meeting was to figure out ways to correct the department’s efficiency. And one of the issues at the time was the backlog,” said Oliver Mitchell, a Marine veteran and former patient services assistant in the VA Greater Los Angeles Medical Center.

“We just didn’t have the resources to conduct all of those exams. Basically we would get about 3,000 requests a month for [medical] exams, but in a 30-day period we only had the resources to do about 800. That rolls over to the next month and creates a backlog,” Mitchell said. “It’s a numbers thing. The waiting list counts against the hospital’s efficiency. The longer the veteran waits for an exam that counts against the hospital as far as productivity is concerned.”

By 2008, some patients were “waiting six to nine months for an exam” and VA “didn’t know how to address the issue,” Mitchell said.

VA Greater Los Angeles Radiology department chief Dr. Suzie El-Saden initiated an “ongoing discussion in the department” to cancel exam requests and destroy veterans’ medical files so that no record of the exam requests would exist, thus reducing the backlog, Mitchell said.

Audio from a November 2008 meeting was obtained by the Daily Caller.

“I’m still canceling orders from 2001,” said a male official in the meeting.

“Anything over a  year old should be canceled.” replied a female official
.
“Canceled or …  your backlog should start at April “07″ the female official replied, adding “a lot of those patients either had their studies somewhere else, had their surgery … died, don’t live in the state. …It’s ridiculous.”

Congress has been after the VA for some time, trying to get information, responses, and explanations. This is just the first chapter is a long disgusting story. The government is not dependable. Promises are not kept. Contracts are not fulfilled. Politicians lie and cover up, and promise that which they cannot deliver, in order to get votes. Ethics start at the top.

July 1, 2013: The Backlog:

pic_giant_070113_SM_The-VA-Claims-Backlog-Files



Pentagon Plans to Shrink Army to Pre-World War II Level. by The Elephant's Child

What is the natural state of the world? Is it peace — or war? That’s one of the big questions, and much depends on your answer.

At the extremes are those who are sure that if we just lay down our arms, destroy them, and ask the world to follow our example, then there will be real and permanent peace. At the other extreme are those who believe that we are a fallen, quarrelsome species always looking for an opportunity to dominate another.

A conservative …takes the world as given, a place always full of sin, silliness and a rich surplus of stupidity—but also much goodness and mirth. The conservative fancies he views the world, as the philosophers say, as in itself it really is. Utopia is not his idea of a good time; it is not, for him, an idea at all, but an illusion.  If he is sensible, he understands the need to alter social arrangements that are cruel or grossly unfair. But the installation of perfection in a patently permanently imperfect world is not something he has signed on to deliver. This in itself ought to bring a smile to his face. Joseph Epstein

Headline in today’s New York Times: Pentagon Plans to Shrink Army to Pre-World War II Level. Not back to the level of 1933, when the Army of the United States of America was 16th in size, at 137,000 men. By December 7, 1941 — the army was 1,640,000, and after our entry into World War II expanded to 8,300,000 officers and men. About 5,000,000 served overseas. In 2011, numbers were 556,000. Secretary Hagel proposes 440,000 – 450,000.

Budget cuts and indifference to maintaining the “arsenal of democracy” have led to units that are not ready to deploy, and soldiers with weapons their grandfathers used. According to reports 85% of its brigades are not combat-ready.

The Navy is down to 10 carriers, even though there is currently a demand for 15 carriers. The Navy has tried to make up the lack by deploying carriers for longer than ever at sea, but the price has been high. Similar cuts are planned for the Air Force and the Marines.

British military historian Sir Hew Strachan, an expert on the history of war, says that the president’s strategic failures in Afghanistan and Syria have crippled America’s position in the world. President Obama is “chronically incapable” of military strategy and falls far short of his predecessor George W. Bush, according to one of Britain’s most senior military advisors. “Obama,” he said, “has no sense of what he wants to do in the world.”

Part of the problem, Strachan says, is that politicians are worried about allowing military leaders to give open and frank advice. Concern about the military speaking out shows a lack of maturity. You need their advice.

As of last October, President Obama has fired an unprecedented, and baffling, 197 officers. The military is being cleansed of any officer suspected of disloyalty or disagreement with the administration on matters of policy or force structure, leaving the compliant and fearful. Reasons range from “loss of confidence in command ability,” ‘mishandling of funds” to” inappropriate relationships,” “Inappropriate behavior,” to “low morale in troops commanded,” or simply no reason given.

For President Obama, the military of a once-feared superpower is an anachronistic vestige of an America whose exceptionalism and world leadership require repeated apologies. It must be gutted and fundamentally transformed into a force wearing gender-neutral headgear only useful for holding the presidential umbrella when it rains. It is to be “his” military and used only for “his” purposes.  Investors

I have no expertise in matters military, except a fairly good knowledge of history, and attention to what is going on in the world. Defense Secretary Gates was dismayed by the controlling nature of the White House, and found Obama to be deeply suspicious of senior officers and recommendations. All decisions were political. Osama bin Laden may be gone, but al Qaeda is growing and strengthening.  The American people now believe that Obama is not respected on the world stage, according to Gallup. Even if we are hated around the world, when disaster strikes, they call for American help—and we have been ready to provide it.



Sometimes a Picture IS Worth a Thousand Words. by The Elephant's Child

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(h/t: http://pjmedia.com/rogerkimball/)




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