Sunday, December 17, 2006


Wouldn't you love to get inside the head of Garry Trudeau? Honestly, I always smile, especially when he fillets the obvious. He's had two cartoon strips recently that jangled my chimes. One was some Vietnam vet sitting in a VA group probably. He tells his story: night sweats, can't hang onto relationships, scared of the dark (these are all my problems). The leader of the group goes around the room and says to this one guy, OK, what do you want to talk about today. He says, "I just want to say I'm thankful that I am not like him"--meaning the Vietnam vet. I guess you would have had to be there but to a vet, it is funny, really funny. As my Dad use to say, might as well laugh as cry.

The other cartoon panel had to do with Iraq; the General says "the military might be broken." The interviewer, Trudeau's character, says something like, "well, maybe we ought to think about the draft?" Then a resounding NO, like Bremer said when he was screwing up Iraq, "don't mention Vietnam to me." NO, no, the characters says, look at what the draft did to our generation. Then he says, "who is here that served back in the day? (The draft). No one and then, we are assuming the prez says, "well, you guys were lucky. I was stuck in the National Guard for five years. A voice says, "four." And then the last panel, "Oh, thank you Dick. At least I didn't have "other priorities." Dick, we assume says,

I had to think about the next war. So we would get it right. That's why we're winning. You have to smile.

Thursday, November 23, 2006


Even the most harsh critic of the neocons: Chaney, Pearl, Wofowich, Rumsfelt would not say these men are dumb. But, obviously, based on history and fact, they were wrong. Deposing Saddam didnot bring even a relative peace to Iraq nor the Middle East. We pursued a failed policy and all but the zealots agree that we are in a mess. So, it is surely possible to be smart but dumb and wrong at the same time.

One of my semi heroes and, it pains me to say this, as us Southerners have a view, "do not speak ill of the dead"-- Milton Friedman, already mentioned at another time but based on an article in Newsweek, warrants additional comments. It is his philosophy about the Volunteer Army that is wrong. Nothing personal, Milt. He said, "a military draft is undesirable and unnecessary. We should man our armed forces with volunteers." What is often left out of Milt's saying about the draft, however, is an "add on", "a military draft is undesirable and unnecessary. We can and should man our armed forces with volunteers as the United States has traditionally done except in major wars." ARE WE IN A MAJOR WAR? Yes, the war on terrorism.

I would love to have talked to Mr. Friedman because I agree with Newsweek, he is definitely one of the most influential men of the last hundred years. Often, I am not so sure that someone like Friedman, God bless his soul, is wrong, rather he is not right. Or, maybe we need to approach the same issue in light of new data or in our case, a new time, i. e., the war on terrorism.

What about our Volunteer Army. 2 questions? Is it successful and is it a good Army. Absolutely, it is successful in terms of fielding a military and a good one. On the surface, the present military is probably as good as any we have ever had. The first question, is it successful? From that point, it is a matter of perspective. The Volunteer Army simply is not representative of our American free society and this is what makes the Volunteer Army morally indefensible.

A very relative factor is always left out of the equation and it is somewhat definitional: when I say the Voluteer Army, I mean, all the "forces." However, much of the volunteer military has always been voluntary: the Navy, the Marines, the Air Force, and all of the elite forces such as Green Berets, Navy Seals--an entire Division, the 82d Airborne Division has always from its inception been voluntary.

Milt railed against the draft from a position of his time that really didn't make sense but also, because of the inequity of the draft. Who can interpret this Friedman statement: "the draft is wasteful because determent of students, fathers and married men jams colleges, raises the birth rate and fuels divorce courts." What in the hell does he mean? And, I love this one, "universal national service would compound the evil--regimenting all youth to camouflage the regimentation of some."

To give Mr. Friedman his due, I think one big point is that the draft was inequitable because it was not administered fairly. Where I think he is off the mark is that Universal Service simply provides an opportunity to serve. The fact that it is compulsory is simply an update on the times. Youth, if forced to serve, no exceptions, will do it and when it is over, my prediction is they will say, "I did it, I gave back and I'm the better for it." Friedman didn't like the draft, universal service, price controls, minimum wage standards. He's consistent.

Well, in life, I think there have to be some controls and restrictions. To me, youth serving their country is not so much a control as a freedom to serve.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Military Draft or Universal Service

Congressman Rangel, I applaud your commitment to reviving the draft and certainly agree with it. However, I don't think it will fly. For the last 12 years or so, I have been promoting the idea that we need Universal Service. We need something unifying and what better to do it than requiring those 18-26 to give 18 months to 2 years in service to this great country. As you can imagine from your own experiences, mostly I have been a voice "crying in the wilderness."

My basic theme has been simply that it is immoral to ask such an infinitesimally small number of Americans to fight our wars. Columnist Ben Stein put the perfect idea on it, "In the old days, the rich, the famous, they all put it aside to fight. Now who fights for us: "Southerners, Hispanics from New Mexico, rural men and women from upstate NY. Small town boys and girls from the Midwest. No children of the powers on Wall Street go off and fight? They 've left the burden of defending an affluent nation to those who enjoy less of its affluence. They don't want to fight for a system that made them rich or a way of life that made them princes of finance."

I would add, and not original with me, "the kids who are in the military today are those whose economic prospects are less than stellar. They are high-school graduates who're not going to college because of costs, many young parents who need a regular paycheck and health care for their families."

According to DOD statistics, soldiers come from households earning between $32,000 and $33,500. " (The median American income is $43,300.)

The difficulty, in my opinion, with selling the draft is simply too much opposition to the military, war, etc. Few can argue with universal service. From various reports, we've got lots of activism: students are getting involved in Teach America and there's been a resurgence in the Peace Corp. And, many students went to help in Katrina.

Without a draft or any sort of Universal Service, kids by in large don't have any incentive to serve. I talk to parents of kids who are draft eligible with great regularity and simply unless there is an unusual circumstances, they don't think about it. Thinking has changed and more and more parents of eligible kids see the advantage of a Universal Service. Having a choice is the selling point. I started a blog called AllServe and constantly get comments about what a great idea this is.

What would a Universal Service do for America's kids? Lots of things, something like a common interest and experience, something that is nonexistent in our culture. Universal service would make a difference in changing our fractured America--a youth culture built around service. What I am discovering is that many Americans will go for Universal Service if youth is given an option. If they didn't want to choose from a list, let them define their own. American kids are smart and creative, we might be surprised at what they come up with and how willing they are to serve.

Universal Service could be phased in over ten years and promoted among our youngsters now. A success story and the way AllServe could work is an organization I've read about: Teach America. I only know what I've read. They are getting top graduates who could be in medical school or Wharton business or wherever--yet choose to do something meaningful before they start their careers. Teach America sends graduates into poor rural and urban schools for two years. For many, it has become a next step after graduation. These kids want to contribute to improving society while keeping their options open. At Yale for instance, Teach America, drew applications from 12% of the graduates, 11% at Dartmouth, and 8% at Harvard. All told a record 17,350 applied in one year.

Are our present kids a post 9-11 generation ready to opt more aggressively for public service? I think so. Many of those volunteering for Teach America don't know what they want to do. The thought is that not knowing what to do, why not take some time to do something meaningful for a couple of years and think about the future. The military is only one of the options. Universal Service will work.

Congressman Rangel, I applaud your efforts now as I did when you offered the bill on the draft once before. We missed our greatest opportunity for our kids after 9-11. Now, as I see it, we have another chance. With our "changed" Congress, Universal Service will fly and I hope and pray it will and think you are just the one to make it happen.

Saturday, November 18, 2006


Milton Friedman just died. Who is he? Wake up and smell the roses, he was a famous economist and bigtime promoter of free trade. But, his big claim to fame is that he was the first to suggest to Richard Nixon that we have an All Volunteer Army. Mainly his reasons were that if it were voluntary, those who chose it would stay longer. They would be better trained and have more esprit. Well, Milt, Dicky took your suggestion and the voluntary army has been successful only in numbers. There is no evidence that it is better trained or has higher esprit or that people stay longer.

The present day military is as good as probably any we have ever fielded. However, there's no real way to measure the Voluntary Army. What we have discovered and it doesn't take a Harvard scholar to know this, based on present leadership, the military is woefully undermanned with much of the expert knowledge and experience residing in the active military, leaving the Reserves and National Guard woefully inadequate for its fighting role. Granted the Guard and Reserves have done a good job catching up but when the history of the Iraqi war is written, I think that most of the issues of lack of experience and training will be at the feet of the Reserves and Guard. Think about it, by in large, the Guard and Reserve soldiers join up to play army, show up once a month, deal with a six pack or two, escape the wives/husbands. Suddenly, a war shows up and because we have reduced the size of the military to scandalous levels, we must deploy the Guard and Reserves. What did we expect? That being said, the Guard and the Reserves are to be commended for doing their duty and coming around.

So, Milt, although your idea was good, it overall has been a dismal failure, especially in terms of representing our democracy. We have chosen to let a small portion of Americans fight our wars and this just ain't right. SHAME ON US.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006


Do you ever read Ben Stein? The reason Ben's done TV and now writes fairly regularly for the NY Times. A patriotic and always "supporting the troops" sort of guy. His latest article deals with how things have changed in what the military means to people. In the old days, it was something that everybody did: regardless of position in life: rich or poor. Of course, it was WW II but in this latest article he laments what has happened.

The old days, the rich, the famous, they all put it aside to fight. Now who fights for us: "Southerners, Hispanics from New Mexico, rural men and women from upstate NY. Small town boys and girls from the Midwest." No children of the powers on Wall Street go off and fight? They don't fight for the system that made them rich or won't fight for the way of life that made them princes of finance. So says Ben and I agree.

Ben says that Israel possibly should try on this theory: the reason that Hisbollah has bested Israel is that Israel has gotten soft. Israel, the shining light of military might beaten to a standoff by a very motivated and better led thousand or so fighters.

Ben says and I don't think I'm putting words in his mouth. "These people (hezbollah) see it as a privilege to fight and die for their beliefs, even if we think they're insane. And, the rest of them line up to blow themselves up for their vision of heaven. And all the while we are saying "let the other poor sap to it..I've got to make money."

This sounds like a tangent but it dovetails with The Unexcused Absence of the Upper Classes from Military Service. Stein is relentless, "how can we fight this fight with the brightest and best educated rushing off and working night and day to make money. How can we fight this fight with the upper class absent. If Israel cannot muster the will to fight in a big way, then the fat, faraway, USA will never be able to do it."

He was talking about how much we're in a bind, what about Iraq?Everybody hates us, etc.; then he said the ones that enable us to live such a good life in America are those who fight for us, whether we agree or not. And, this is what worries him most of all, we keep going about our stuff, collecting our goodies without any realization that it could end, that there are those like soldiers who make all the sacrifices.

He's right, we're in a war with people who are evangelized to kill us. I mean, nobody seems to want to admit that the Middle East is a strange, timeless place where nothing has changed for thousands of years. Hatreds that have existed for generations are not going away. These people can't be reasoned with. We will never understand it.

All that said, there are, as someone recently reminded me, as I was railing against our mismanagement of Iraq--there is some encouragement in the world: what? Europe is getting involved in Lebanon in keeping the peace. Finding a nugget here and there is a good thing.

Saturday, March 25, 2006


The third anniversary of the war in Iraq came and went without much fanfare. Not the old Vietnam style protests whether they did any good or not. And, the few that were held didn't get much attention and few young people showed up or had any interest it seems. Why? Simply, kids, like most adults don't have any vested interest in the war. It really is not affecting them. Life goes on and for youngsters, there's no draft, they don't have to think in those terms so why get excited--you have a war, you have someone else doing the fighting. What is the big deal!

In some ways, it is not that activism has gone the way of nothing. From various reports, students are getting involved in Teach America, there's been a resurgence in the Peace Corp. And, many students went to help in Katrina. Maybe it's just the idea of an abstract war going on somewhere else, not really affecting anybody other than those fighting or their families--the political spin of the government surely can't be discounted.


Without a draft or any sort of Universal Service, kids by in large don't have any incentive to serve. I talk to parents of kids who are draft eligible with great regularity and simply unless there is an unusual circumstances, they don't think about it.In a bitterly divided country involved in a very divisive war that rational people see no end too, the vast majority agree our troops should not be held accountable for the politics that led to Iraq becoming IRAQNAM.

And, for most of us Vietnam vets who think about it, our great legacy is the fact that most Americans who care and not all do, realize that soldiers who fought in Vietnam were blamed for a very sorry war--even for the lies on what we were doing in Vietnam and the mismanagement of battle plans we could not salvage. And, it is true that for most, we're determined not to make that mistake again. This time around, most of us salute our soldiers.

That being said, the vast majority of Americans are still willing for other people's kids to fight their wars. Three long years ago, when the invasion of Iraq was widely supported as an extension of the war on terror, the prospect of a military draft was occasional mentioned but more with rancor than anything else. Simply stated, across party lines, especially among the affluent classes, the draft was a word uttered in disdain if at all--noway, do we want our sons and daughters to serve the nation's military. Nothing has changed.


The politics of the draft reflected the vast majority of Americans thoughts. The volunteer Army was touted as all sufficient. Let's face it, all those hawks who supported the war and still do, don't have any "skin" in the game--doesn't affect them or their families? I'm not much of a Michael Moore fan as he's taken his antigovernment to an absurd level, not to mention making a sack full of money from his movies. But, there is a priceless scene in Fahrenheit 9-11, when he approaches Congressman wanting them to give the paperwork to their sons and daughters on joining the military. Got to love it. Congressional hypocrisy at its height: sending other Moms and Dad's kids off to war.


They are, by in large, from America's working class. Why do they join up? Let's subscribe to them the best of motives, patriotism. And, it is relatively true. When the parents or wives or friends are interviewed at their funerals, it sounds so much better to talk about their patriotism. In reality, however, they are kids where economic prospects are less than stellar. They are high-school graduates who're not going to college because of costs, many young parents who need a regular paycheck and health care for their families. According to DOD statistics, soldiers come from households earning between $32,000 and $33,500. (The median American income is $43,300.)

There is a sense of denial in the people I talk too who are willing to admit that we've left the burden of defending an affluent nation to those who enjoy less of its affluence. It isn't so much classic denial as they simply don't want to fess up. Occasionally, I'll have some of my buddies say, "well, they volunteered." True and we have to affirm kids for this but it does not alter the fact of who they are--many relate their service to 9-11 and duty, honor, country--who can kick that: however, it does mean that the wealthier surely didn't get overwhelmed with patriotism.


Vietnam vets are rare these days in government but there are a few. Vice President Dick Cheney has said he had "other priorities" during the war in Vietnam. And President Bush ... think missing meetings of the Air Guard. At some point, there may be some shame but it is not evident. I understand Cheney, the guy shot a buddy hunting, no telling what he might have done in Vietnam but what about men like Sen. John Kerry, John McCain, Chuck Hegel and former Secretary of State Colin Powell, Vietnam veterans who have seen young men die in combat. Don't they "get it," this fighting a war on the backs of working class Americans. They know better and AllServe was a factor in Vietnam, even if it was somewhat a pretext. At least all were duty bound because of the draft. It is unjust and immoral for a small segment of Americans to fight such a war in Iraq. There is no other argument in my mind that has credibility.

Saturday, February 18, 2006


I first read this in a newspaper column: teenagers concerned over their rights--roughly meaning that teenagers and parents are locked into a battle over teenager rights. What rights are those? According to the article, the teenagers get to choose whatever those rights might be.

What is this? Well, for one thing a cultural issue where by in large, kids from affluent homes need to "get a life." They are spending way too much time on the internet, text messageing their friends and cogitating their navels. And, parents are allowing it to happen. Who are the parents here?

Kids in control? Give me a break! Of course, when parents cede control to teenagers, they are going to take it. The flip side of the coin is that when kids don't have to face responsibilities, old fashioned things like a job for instance, what can we expect. Or, what about this for a radical emphasis: facing the military draft or even joining the military upon graduation, or at least some sort of Universal Service like the Peace Corps or Americorp. Their angst might just be a good thing, as opposed to how to get over on their parents and where is the next big party! JUST SOME THOUGHTS...

Sunday, January 29, 2006


I am constantly reading where some mother is communicating with her son in college, whether he has the right socks or maybe is eating properly; and, of course, the usual tenor of the article is that if there's any negative, must be the Mom's fault. On a related but more serious vein is a recent article I read with a title of "When we let them down, kids get high"--bored kids doing drugs. The article is written by a therapist who basically is lifting the responsibilty of taking drugs from the kids to being our fault--we're not listening to them. They are bored with life with a mantra that life sucks and consequently a way to make it not suck is to do drugs. OK!

According to the story, many of these kids know how to score Oxycontin, a pain medication derived from opium, along with the designer drug, methamphetamines with the ease of opening a coke can. Her statement, "It's happening here at beautiful Lake Tahoe, where people come to enjoy a nice vacation, where people drive SUVs the size of tanks and people are unwilling to face the reality that the local ski areas would probably have very few employees at all if they tested for drugs and enforced a clean and sober policy at work." Wow! What ever happened to kids doing homework, having an afterschool job, playing sports, hanging out with girl friends or boyfriends. And, more important where are the parents? Are they scared of their kids--no confrontation less they alienate! Give me a break.

I have a solution for the therapist who feels so strongly the plight of the teenagers she's counseling. What about the Army or Marines. What about kids knowing that at some point, bored or not, they are going to have to face the military draft or best case, some alternative. Why not? What do we think is going to happen to these kids who at eleven know how to get drugs and get high. They are going to be a burden at some point on society. Even with baby boomers today, many are facing health problems from their "summers of love' and these kids are going to be so much worse even if they make it.
If we at least get these kids in the military they might have a chance. There should be an AllServe and we need a system where those drugged out will do best in the militry where there is a possibility that they can get straighten out. Sound far fetched. Well, not any more than doing nothing.