Wednesday, August 29, 2018


Lead sentence intoday's Washington Post: “Republican candidates appear to be coalescing around a central line of attack for the midterm elections, describing their Democratic opponents as protesters at odds with American patriotism.”

Since we seem to be celebrating all things 1968 this year, I guess it shouldn't be surprising that Republicans are resurrecting Richard Nixon's most cynical and divisive ploy—branding dissenters as un-American and haters of our sainted troops. The WP story quotes the newly nominated Republican Senate candidate in Arizona, Martha McSally characterizing her (also newly nominated) Democratic opponent, Kirsten Sinema, as a protester not a patriot because she opposed US military action after the 9-11 attacks. “While we were in harm’s way in uniform, Kyrsten Sinema was protesting us in a pink tutu and denigrating our service,” McSally, a retired Air Force colonel, said.

That strategy worked for Richard Nixon against both Hubert Humphrey in 1968 and George McGovern in 1972. George W. Bush and Karl Rove were equally successful with a similar strategy in 2004 against John Kerry. In the latter two of those elections Republicans were able to redefine decorated war veterans as anti-American and disrespectful of American forces serving in combat because they questioned America's war in Vietnam.

So, once again, the stage is set for another election filled with lies and distortions. The WP article cites the additional example of Ted Cruz of tarring his opponent for US Senate in Texas, Beto O'Rourke, for disrespecting the American flag and veterans by defending the right of black athletes for kneeling during the national anthem to protest racial injustice. Republicans don't have much to offer the electorate these days, so it makes sense for them to divide the nation with whatever weapons are available. Using false patriotism as a cudgel has worked before, so why not try again.

The strategy is cynical. As a veteran I don't see where my military service gains or loses meaning based on how people choose to participate or not participate in civic rituals. Like the American War in Vietnam itself, what I did in the Army contributed nothing to America's safety or security.  It has no inherent meaning beyond the hard-earned knowledge that comes from experience and whatever I could do to help my buddies stay alive.  We lost the war and yet our freedoms were not curtailed or destroyed by our victorious adversary.  Far more dangerous threats to our freedoms are the politicians like Richard Nixon, G.W. Bush and now Martha McSally, Ted Cruz, Donald Trump and the many others who brand dissenters as beyond the pale.

It's funny, too, that these proud defenders of American freedom object when we exercise those rights for purposes which they disapprove. Apparently the freedoms that our troops defend are only supposed to be exercised in certain ways. “Freedom isn't free,” I am often told but those same “patriots” decrying protest and labeling protesters un-American leads me to think that only certain freedoms are allowed.

And that is not freedom at all.


Monday, August 27, 2018

Out of the Haze. For Now.

Olympia had a slight trace of rain last night. Not much by Pacific Northwest standards but most welcome. In late August Washington is pretty dry; the last rain I can recall was the brief shower that hit the Subdued Stringband Jamboree two weeks ago. Along with the dryness, which is normal, Olympia has experienced days of unhealthy air due to smoke from western wildfires. Last week was especially bad with air quality reaching very unhealthy levels.

Yesterday was an antidote to all of that. Brisk winds blew throughout the day, clearing the away the last remnants of smoky haze. By evening a very gentle mist was in the air under, just enough to barely feel but enough to release that sweet feel of newly-dampened earth. Just days before walking and breathing felt unpleasant. The trace of rain that fell during the night heightened the effect. For the moment at least breathing deeply feels like inhaling life itself.

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Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Subdued Musings

What impressed me most about the 2018 Subdued Stringband Jamboree was its professionalism, musical diversity and relaxed ambiance. For an all-volunteer effort, the Jamboree was well-organized to host and entertain some 2,000 people. Tent's, RVs and various other structures filled the campground at the Deming Logging Show (essentially a fairground and campground dedicated to all things logging) along with two performance stages, some smaller performance spaces where music continued into the wee hours after the stage amplifiers went quiet, food vendors, information booth, merchandise tent and a first aid station.

All of that was simply the infrastructure that allowed the music to go on. And go on it did. The music began at 5:00 pm Thursday and went on through the night, only shutting down near dawn and beginning again later on Friday morning. Friday was much the same and rolled into a 9:00 am opening on Saturday that featured performances by the Bellingham Circus Guild before continuing into another full day—and late night—of music. More music than I could sit and listen to but even if I wasn't directly watching the stages, I could always hear the sound. It was pervasive and engaging even at a distance.

The Subdued Stringband Jamboree had plenty of strings and traditional music but the program was far more diverse than the name implies. I heard everything from the hard-edged rock of Kitty and the Rooster to the divine three-part vocals of the Hothouse Jazz Band, the amazing guitar-accordion work of the Ditrani Brothers and Alexis P. Suter's gospel-blues. Other bands and individuals I noted included the Louis Ledford, Kenny Roby, the Crow Quill Night Owls, Petunia, Robert Sarazin Blake, Sabine Shannon, the Sweet Goodbyes, Baby Gramps, the Sons of Rainer, Corwin Bolt and the Wingnuts, and the Hot Jazz Scandal. Along with the usual guitars, fiddles, mandolins and there were trumpets, trombones, tubas, saxophones, clarinets, washboards and keyboards.

Most of the musicians were from near by Bellingham, Washington and other parts of the Pacific Northwest. A few came from other parts of the country. One thing all of the musicians had in common was their profieciency and professionalism. None were well-known (to me, at least, but all knew how to put on a good show. From the laconic to the exuberant, they played and sang like seasoned performers, even as they changed line-ups and joined other performers for a set. I was amazed at their ability to simply sit down with another band and play seamlessly with them. Some of that may be due to familiarity; most have known each other for years in the region but even so, the musical interplay was impressive.

The professionalism was enhanced by a fine sound system on both the Flat Stage and the adjacent Slanted Stage. Instruments and vocals sounded clear and crisp throughout the viewing area. Right in front of the stage the sound was and all-encompassing presence that shut out the rest of the world and, as noted earlier, the sound carried across the entire campground.

The Flat Stage was the main stage venue for the Jamboree. It was spacious and well-lit. The speakers were hung from towers on either side of the stage and hidden behind fabric. Just below the stage was an elevated walkway that allowed kids (of which there were plenty) to get up close to the music and the musicians. Occasionally one would steal the show for a few moments. The Slanted Stage was just to the left of the Flat Stage and was the venue for acts while crews changed out gear and did sound checks on the Flat Stage. The Slanted Stage—so named due to its slanted roof—was a much smaller structure and a tight fit for a few acts but the sound was no less than the Flat Stage.

The whole affair was relaxed an informal with few barriers between musicians and the crowd. I could wander into crowd standing in front of the stage to see and hear the musicians up close and let the sound wash over me. Or I could place my chair higher up on the hill to watch from a less ear-splitting distance. Over the three-day event I had the opportunity to meet and talk to the musicians. One was camped next door, another group was a few spaces away. As a rule, I stay away from crowds but at the Jamboree I mingled and met many people. We were all connected by the music, the shared experience of creating an ephemeral community on a hot August weekend. I can't remember ever feeling so at ease in such a large crowd as I was at the Jamboree.

My Jamboree experience continued into Sunday where I volunteered as part of the clean-up crew. It gave me a real appreciation for the leel of effort and organization needed to pulloff this event. In less than eight hours the campground transformed from a tightly packed community of a few thousand complete with substantial structures and support services to an open field with a few camps still scattered about along with some gear and trash bags awaiting pick-up. The stage that was the center of the community was deconstructed in a few hours. All that remained in that space was the orange boom lift used in the process. By the following day all traces of the 2018 Subdued Jamboree would be gone from the Deming Logging Camp.

And in 2019, it will all happen again.


Saturday, March 24, 2018

The Art of War

This week has witnessed the escalation of Donald Trump's trade war against the world and the selection of John Bolton, a man who is comfortable with idea of actual shooting wars against Any US adversary, as National Security Advisor.  Neither action bodes well for Amreican economic security or influence in the world.  The trade war minimizes one of the most effective tools for avoiding actual shooting wars.  Trading with other nations establishes relationships that typically preclude military conflict.  Trading partners are more likely to seek to resolve disputes with diplomacy than attacking each other.  Trump's trade war turns that relationshp on its head by asserting that US interests are superior to all others.

Same-same with soon-to-be National Security Advisor John Bolton who takes the America First concept all the way to military action against any nation that does not accept American hegemony.  Fifteen years after cheerleading the disastrous US invasion and occupation of Irag, Bolton insists that the US military action n was correct and beneficial.  He will most likely encourage Trump's innate militarism.  In comparison a trade war seems like nothing of consequence.

In fact, a trade war is war.  Armies are not shooting at each other but the logic is the same.  In either case one nation believes that its interests are so threatened by one or more other nations, that it must agressively assert its interests to the detriment of those others.  The means differ--tarrifs versus armed force--but make no mistake, the point is to take something from another unilaterally without mutual consent.  War also means the other may retaliate and begin an escalating cycle of hostility and resentment.  Throw in ill-informed, nationalist politicians pandering to their base and it's easy to see how trade wars can morph into actual shooting war.

Donald Trump thinks trade war is "easy to win?"  John Bolton thinks war is always the answer

I do not see this ending well.

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Friday, March 16, 2018

A Day That Will Live in Infamy

Today, 16 March 2018, is the 50th anniverasry of the My Lai Massacre, perhaps the most notorious of America's shameful acts in our war against Vietnam.  Not an anniverasry to be celebrated but one that should always be remembered.  The nation was shocked when freelance reporter Seymour Hersch broke the story 18 months later.  Our national consciousness did not admit that American soldiers could flat out just murder as many as 500 people.  I guess by now we've come to some gudging recognition of that disturbing fact. Still, we prefer to blame it on a few "bad apples" and ignore the environment in which atrocities occur.

The enviornment for My Lai was mass violence.  As documented by journalist Nick Turse in 2008 the US launched "Operation Speedy Express" in the Mekong Delta in December 1968.  By the time it ended in May 1969, the operation claimed " enemy body count of 10,899 at a cost of only 267 American lives.  Although guerrillas were known to be well armed, the division captured only 748 weapons." 

A "Concerned Sergeant" wrote multiple letters describing official command policies that had led to the killings of thousands of innocents, what the sergeant described as a "My Lai each month for over a year."  The investigations that followed documented the systematic murder of civilians but resulted in no prosecutions.  Three decades later, fllowing up the Concerned Sergeant's letters and declassified military records, Turse investigation painted a "...disturbing picture of civilian slaughter on a scale that indeed dwarfs My Lai, and of a cover-up at the Army’s highest levels."

Add to that the hail of bombs, bullets, artillery, and defoliants dropped on Vietnam in the by American forces during our war there.  Some of that ordnance continues to maim and kill to this day. 

It is right and proper to remember My Lai.  Equally important is to remember the totality of American violence unleashed on Vietnam and the many victims.


Thursday, February 15, 2018

Will the US Nuke Russia Over Election Interference?

A Washington Post op-ed this morning lays out what seem reasonable approaches for defending the integrity of US elections.  The proposed first step is for the US to state that that it views any foreign attempt to influence our election processes through covert or clandestine means as an attack on the fundamental underpinnings of our system of government, that we will not tolerate such activity, and reserve the right to respond to such activities.”  
A second step recommends that Congress consider codifying the Obama administration’s designation of election systems as critical infrastructure.

The words "attack" and "critical infrastructure" caught my eye.  Those same words appear in the recently completed Nuclear Posture Review which states the US may use nuclear weapons in response to non-nuclear attacks which include cyber attacks on critical infrastructure.

If nuclear weapons are a valid response to attacks on critical infrastructure and election systems are critical infrastructure, then interfering in US elections is and attack on critical infrastructure could warrant a nuclear response.  At least that's where the logic leads.

The fact that our alleged president wholly rejects the idea of electoral interference and is therefore unlikely to take any action, much less launch a nuclear attack, is cold comfort.

A low threshold opens many doors.


Thursday, February 08, 2018

Donald Trump Is Right About North Korea

Caught your attention, didn't I?

Hard to believe but Trump is correct when he says he unherited the North Korea problem.  Obama did not end the state of war between the US and North Korea.  Neither did George Bush 2.  Or Bill Clinton.  Or Bush 1.  Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, Richard Nixon, Lyndon Johnson, or John Kennedy did not end the war either.  Dwight Eisenhower managed to negotiate an armistice to end the shooting but could not pull off an actual treaty to end the hostilities between the US and North Korea.  So now it's Donald Trump's turn.

Being correct about his predecessors' failure to end the Korean War does not imply that Donald Trump is at all suited to deal with the war's 65-year legacy of mistrust and hatred.  Our narcissist-in-chief is wholly unable to look at the war and the cold truce that has existed ever since see the war from the North Korean perspective.  Without that perspective, the US lacks any basis for even beginning to seek the common ground needed to negotiate an end to a war that most Americans thought ended decades ago but now raises the spector of nuclear war.

If Americans have forgotten the the Korean War and its uneasy armistice, the North Koreans have not.  They remember the mass killings and indiscriminate bombing unleashed by US forces between 1950 and 1953.  They watched the US station 35,000 troops in South Korea with another 40,000 in Japan and a long-range bombers in Guam, all aimed at North Korea.  An attack has been expected for decades and  Trump's blustering about "fire and fury" only reinforces that view.

So, yes, Donald Trump is right to say that he inherited the North Korea problem. Since he is a man prone to blame others, that comes naturally.  What doesn't come naturally to Donald trump is the ability to understand his adversary or pursue the difficult task of resolving differences.

Now would be a very good time to contact your Senators and Representatives to ask that they support the Markey-Lieu Bill (S. 220 and H.R. 669) to restrict the President from launching a nuclear first strike without a declaration of war by Congress.