Obama Going all George W. Bush in the Middle East?

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 19th, 2011

Fighting Wars on the other Side of the World

In 1775, the shooting in the American Revolutionary War began.  The world’s superpower, the British Empire, had planned on taking some arms away from local rebels.  Some shots were exchanged at Lexington and Concord.  And the small British force retreated to Boston.  The rebels harassed the British column the entire way.  The war did not begin well for the British.  And it would end like it began.  Not well.  The British formally recognized the United States of America 8 years later with the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1783.

The British outclassed the Americans in every way but one.  Lines of communications.  The British lines were some 3,000 miles back to Great Britain.  About a 6 hour flight today.  Then, a couple of months by ship.  By contrast the Americans held the advantage of short, interior lines.  We could ‘hit and run’ and melt back into the surrounding country.  Like we did in 1775 during that British retreat.  As we did throughout the war.  Though General Washington wanted to defeat the British in a decisive battle, he would not get the chance to meet the British in such a battle until 6 long years later at Yorktown.  Unable to win a decisive battle, he did the only thing he could.  Not lose a decisive battle.  The American Revolutionary War was a war of attrition.  The British sued for peace when the cost of continuing the war was greater than the British people were willing to pay.  As wars are wont to be with such long lines of communications.

Military planners have learned this lesson.  You are probably familiar with a more recent war that was similar.  Where a world superpower was involved in a war of attrition half way across the world.  In South Vietnam.  The Americans came into the conflict to support South Vietnam from Communist North Vietnam.  There is no South Vietnam today.  Like the British some 200 years earlier, we won the military engagements but just couldn’t win the war.  When the cost in blood and treasure became too great, we met in Paris, too, to end the war.  We signed the Paris Peace Accords in 1973.  And we learned the British lesson of 1783.

Winning the War is Easier than Winning the Peace

When Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, George H. W. Bush assembled an international coalition and threw the Iraqis out of Kuwait.  Operation Desert Storm was an overwhelming victory.  However, Bush was heavily criticized for ‘not finishing the job’ in the Gulf War.  His critics said we should have gone on to Baghdad to remove Hussein from power.  We didn’t.  For a couple of good reasons.  First of all, the coalition included Arab nations.  They only joined to repel Hussein from Kuwait.  Not to remove him from power.  The other reason was that if we toppled Hussein we would own Iraq.  And we would probably end up there for years trying to ‘win the peace’.

Following the Gulf War there were uprisings throughout Iraq.  The world watched hopeful that he would be overthrown by his own people and democracy would break out.  It didn’t.  He suppressed the rebellions brutally.  So brutally that no-fly zones were established in the north over the Kurds and in the south over the Shiite population.  But we didn’t invade.  And he remained a thorn in our side.  And his people suffered.

After 9/11, the US invaded Afghanistan.  Then Iraq.  The official reason was his weapons of mass destruction that he never documented destroyed.  He had used chemical weapons against the Iranians.  And the Kurds.  Being a ‘supporter’ of terrorism there was worry he might provide these weapons to a terrorist.  So there was that reason.  The other reason was a little more convoluted.  Osama bin Laden was a Wahhabi Sunni.  He had ties in Saudi Arabia.  And there was a large Wahhabi population in Saudi Arabia providing funding to al Qaeda.  The Saudis were reluctant to shut down this funding for fear of a rebellion by the Wahhabis against the House of Saud.  But there was one thing that worried them more than the Wahhabis.  Shiite Iran.  By invading Iraq we forced their hand.  They had a vested interest in seeing us succeed in Iraq.  And in our war against al Qaeda.  We made progress against al Qaeda and their Taliban hosts in Afghanistan.  And the Saudi started to shut down their funding.  The Iraq War was a success.  But the one drawback was that we now owned Iraq.  And winning the peace was nowhere as easy as winning the war.  As George W. Bush learned.

Obama Commits Military Force in Libya

The US has some very important friends in the Middle East and North Africa.  Among these are Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.  To name a few.  These are nations with Sunni populations and/or Sunni governments unfriendly to Iran.  Egypt made peace with Israel and kept the Suez Canal open for international trade for decades.  Saudi Arabia peacefully coexists with its neighbors and is the largest oil exporter in the world.  Except for the oil embargo of 1973, they have maintained the flow of that oil at market prices to Western economies.  The US Navy’s 5th Fleet is headquartered in Bahrain.

These nations aren’t perfect.  Saudi women can’t drive a car, for example.  But they’re stalwart US allies.  One of these nations was pretty progressive as well as being a staunch US friend.  Egypt.  Egyptian women were about the freest in the Middle East, second only to Tunisia.  Egypt and Tunisia, though, were suffering economically.  Had high unemployment.  And a Muslim opposition unhappy with their ‘Western’ ways.  The largest organized opposition group is the Muslim Brotherhood.  And they can be best described as being more simpatico with Iran.  When Egypt had their uprising, the Obama administration called it a democracy uprising and called for Hosni Mubarak to give up power.  Without considering who would step into that power void.  Which did not go over well with Mubarak.  Or the Saudis.

Now Libya is burning.  Qaddafi is attacking his own people.  The US dithered for weeks.  While the Libyans cried for help.  Even other Arab nations cried for our help.  But we did nothing.  Even though Qaddafi is not a US friend.  And was a sponsor of terrorism.  As the carnage mounted, though, someone took action.  The French of all people (see U.S. Missiles Strike Libyan Air-Defense Targets by David Kirkpatrick, Steven Erlanger and Elisabeth Bumiller posted 3/19/2011 The New York Times).

American and European forces began a broad campaign of strikes against the government of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi on Saturday, unleashing warplanes and missiles in a military intervention on a scale not seen in the Arab world since the Iraq war…

The campaign began with French warplane missions even before the end of an emergency summit meeting in Paris, where leaders, reacting to news that Colonel Qaddafi’s forces were attacking the rebel capital city of Benghazi on Saturday morning despite international demands for a cease-fire, said they had no choice but to act to defend Libyan civilians and opposition forces.

France has a Muslim problem.  They had some riots a few years back in some Paris Muslim suburbs.  Where young Muslims were unemployed.  Unhappy.  And not all that willing to assimilate into French culture.  Though they want to live in France.  So there’s been tensions between the French and their Muslim population.  So it says a lot that France was on point in this attack on a Muslim country.  Yes, at this time the international community, including some Arab states, approve of this action.  But you play with fire whenever you attack a Muslim country.  Especially if they have oil.  And Libya has oil.  In fact, it’s some of the finest oil in the Middle East.  A low-sulfur sweet crude.

When the international community was coming together against him, Qaddafi was defiant.  Warned us to stay out of their internal affairs.

“Libya is not yours. Libya is for all Libyans,” he wrote in one letter, read to the news media by a spokesman. “This is injustice, it is clear aggression, and it is uncalculated risk for its consequences on the Mediterranean and Europe.

“You will regret it if you take a step toward intervening in our internal affairs.”

Colonel Qaddafi addressed President Obama as “our son,” in a letter jarring for its familiarity. “I have said to you before that even if Libya and the United States enter into war, God forbid, you will always remain my son and I have all the love for you as a son, and I do not want your image to change with me,” he wrote. “We are confronting Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, nothing more. What would you do if you found them controlling American cities with the power of weapons? Tell me how would you behave so that I could follow your example?”

Could this be why the Obama administration was so reluctant to act?  Because of a father-son relationship between Obama and Qaddafi?  You gotta admit this is a strange thing for Qaddafi to say.  Makes you wonder just what was the extent of Obama’s apology tour in the Middle East.  One thing for sure, it will give fuel to those who think Obama is a Muslim.  I mean, it just doesn’t help when the bad guy calls you a son.

Regret?  We should take that threat seriously.  After some military encounters with Libyan losses in the Gulf of Sidra Qaddafi retaliated with the bombing of a German disco frequented by US troops.  When we discovered his connection to that bombing we bombed Tripoli.  In retaliation for that bombing he had a bomb smuggled aboard a 747.  Pan Am Flight 103.  Brought down on Lockerbie, Scotland.  So he has a history of getting even.  Which we need to be on guard for.

Obama now Owns Libya

So it’s war.  Missiles are flying.  People are dying (see Libya: British forces launch missile attacks on Gaddafi by Colin Freeman, in Benghazi and Sean Rayment posted 3/20/2011 on the UK’s Telegraph).

Explosions were reported at an airport east of Tripoli as a British Trafalgar Class submarine and US Navy ships and submarines stationed off Libya fired 110 Tomahawk missiles at 20 targets in what one source described as a “night of carnage”.

The missiles targeted Libyan command and control centres, radar installations and surface-to-air missile sites. Libyan officials said the attacks were “barbaric” and causing civilian casualties…

British sources and Pentagon officials said Nato would undertake a “battle damage assessment” of Libya’s military during daylight hours and would decide whether to continue with further attacks.

Sources at the Elysée Palace said Britain, France and the United States had assumed the “leadership” of the coalition in early talks between the Prime Minister, Mr Sarkozy and Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State. The “extremely purposeful conclusion” of the early talks was endorsed by the full meeting, where speakers included Ban Ki-Moon, the United Nations secretary general.

Well, President Obama has his third war.  Pretty impressive for a guy that said he would get us out of Iraq (he didn’t).  That he would fully prosecute the Afghanistan War to victory (he hasn’t).  And he wouldn’t nation-build like his predecessor.  George W. Bush.  He now may.  There’s no way Qaddafi can withstand the military force now aligned against him.  So he will lose.  But what then?  Who will fill that power vacuum?  In an already unstable and changing Middle East?  He can say what he wants about Iraq and Afghanistan, but it’s different with Libya.  This happened on his watch.  And he now owns it.  It will be up to him to win the peace.  Or lose it.

Those naval operations against Libya will be based out of Bahrain.  I sure hope he doesn’t encourage any more ‘democracy’ uprisings while we’re using that base for combat operations.  It would be a shame to lose that base during the middle of these operations.  And by a shame I mean a complete and utter disaster.  Because that would greatly extend our lines of communications.  And history has shown what that can do in war.

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LESSONS LEARNED #47: “Liberals crave attention because that’s what narcissists do.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 6th, 2011

Walter Cronkite Turns the Tet Offensive Victory into Defeat

Walter Cronkite didn’t have a clue about combat in Vietnam.  The Tet Offensive was a disaster for the Viet Cong.  But you wouldn’t know that listening to Cronkite.  The war was now unwinnable.  And he said this after the biggest military defeat the North suffered.  (The north were the bad guys).

The plan was to cause a general uprising throughout South Vietnam to overthrow the South Vietnamese government everywhere.  It failed.  We killed senior and experienced soldiers in the Viet Cong wholesale.  And the Viet Cong ceased to exist as an effective army.  From Tet forward they would only use hit and run ambush attacks.  A Fabian strategy.  Like Washington did during the American Revolution.  When he, too, was up against a military superpower.

The key to using the strategy of Roman general Quintus Fabius Maximus is simple.  But costly.  You got to be willing to endure a lot of hardship for a long time.  This means a lot of your soldiers will die.  And your people will suffer for the want of the basic necessities of life.  It’s a war of attrition.  You just have to be willing to sacrifice a whole lot.  By extending the war indefinitely, you make the war more costly than your enemy is willing to endure.  When they reach the breaking point, they quit.  And you win.  It’s an effective strategy.  But, like I said, costly.  They tend to be long wars.  The American Revolution lasted 8 years.  Vietnam lasted some 10 years (America’s combat operations).

Imagine a World where there are no Possessions

There was division in the North Vietnamese government.  There was Soviet influence.  Chinese influence.  And Vietnamese resentment of outside influence.  First it was the Japanese.  Then the French.  Then the Americans.  And now the Soviets and Chinese.  Luckily for us, big combat won out as a strategy.  Hence the Tet Offensive.  And utter failure.  When some were ready to sue for peace, Walter Cronkite threw them a lifeline.

The liberal left holds up this period of history as a time when they changed the world.  When young people participated in the national debate.  Well, they did.  And really [deleted expletive] things up.  These young heard a few things from some radical college professors and thought they knew everything.  But they were still a bunch of ignorant hippies.  Ignorant hippies, that is, with Walter Cronkite now on their side.  The counterculture was in full swing.  These kids attacked everything American.  Supported communist leaders (Che Guevara, Mao Tse-tung, Fidel Castro, etc.) and tried to start a communist revolution in America.  Really.  Imagine a world where there are no possessions.  Power to the people.  That was John Lennon pining for a communist utopia.  Our enemies couldn’t ask for anything more.  Cronkite and these kids emasculated America.  And we would pay dearly for it in blood and treasure.

These liberals got the attention they craved.  And they were so sure they were right.  About everything.  Infallible.  And wanted to tell others what to do.  Well, these hippies did.  They went on to become university professors.  And they’re now teaching our kids.  Vietnam was the turning point.  It’s when the world lost respect for America.  Not for the reason the Left would have you believe, though.  They lost respect for us because it was the first time we tucked up our skirt and ran away from a fight.  Vietnam would forever be the war we gave up on.  Poor JFK.  The hero of PT-109.  His war in Vietnam would not go into the win column.  Because of a bunch of stupid, long-haired, stoned hippies.  He must be spinning in his grave.

Jimmy Carter’s Détente Almost Assured Nuclear Destruction

The Seventies were a bleak decade.  Because these hippies came of age.  Still full of themselves.  Believing they were making the world a better place.  But they were only making it more dangerous.

After our humiliation in Vietnam our enemies saw us as a paper tiger.  Who didn’t have the nerve to stay in the fight.  Or the will to get into a fight.  The world never came closer to ending when the liberals were in power during the Seventies.  The Soviet Union was getting away with murder.  Jimmy Carter was attacking our allies in Central America.  While kissing Soviet and Chinese ass.  He never attacked their human rights violations.  And no one committed more human rights violations.  But he attacked our allies.  Who committed a negligible amount of violations compared to the two big communist powers.

Jimmy Carter’s détente was a joke.  The Soviets had no respect for him.  To them Carter was a strategic opening.  They concluded that Carter wouldn’t launch his nuclear missiles until after the Soviet missiles hit their U.S. targets.  Reagan they feared.  They had no illusions that he would launch his missiles as soon as we detected Soviet missiles inbound to the U.S.  But not Carter.  This changed nuclear doctrine for the Soviets.  They went from Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) to a first-strike doctrine.  Because they were sure they could beat Carter in a nuclear war.  Never before has the world come closer to nuclear annihilation.  And we didn’t even know it at the time.

The Social Sciences were Made for and by Hippies

What the counterculture hippy left did during the Vietnam War extended the war, damaged the prestige of America and almost gave us nuclear annihilation.  And if that wasn’t bad enough (and don’t you think it should be?) they did even more damage domestically.  Successfully humiliating us on the national stage only empowered them.  The hippies of the Sixties became college professors, journalists, movie stars, television stars and politicians in the Seventies.  Now think about this.  What did the hippies do in the Sixties?  Think Woodstock.  Sex, drugs and rock and roll.  These hippies were stoned all of the time while they were in college.  (If you don’t believe me Google Timothy Leary, Haight-Ashbury, flower children, psychedelic rock, counter culture, or any other Sixties icons.)

And these hippies just weren’t smoking pot.  They were doing some hardcore drugs.  The big one was LSD.  A hallucinogen.  It’d really [deleted expletive] you up.  So you know these hippies weren’t studying to be brain surgeons or rocket scientists.  No, those degrees required advanced math.  And studying.  Which they couldn’t do when they were [deleted expletive] up all of the time.  So they took some of those easier degrees.  One of those social sciences.  Like black studies.  Or women’s studies.  Or Native American studies.  Or communications.  Where all you had to do was bitch about white men on your exams and they’d graduate your ass.  Of course, there wasn’t much you could do with these degrees.  Except teach at a college.  And that’s what a lot of these hippies did.  And destroyed generations of kids.

Well, after being on top of the world during the Sixties a little reality settled in during the Seventies.  Some realized they were about as useful as a paperweight.  And they couldn’t stand that.  They believed they were smarter than everyone in their youth.  Now they were realizing they were dumb as posts.  And it’s hard to feel superior to others when you’re dumb as a post.  So you do something about that.  You become active.  In something.  You show off that brain.  That college degree.  You support a cause.  Or go into politics.

Journalists and Celebrities Just want to be Loved

That’s the path a lot of liberals took.  But not all.  Some are too young to have lived through the Sixties.  But their college professors no doubt did.  So they keep the spirit of the Sixties alive.  Though a little lighter on the drugs these days.  Some don’t need mind altering drugs to get high.  Love of self is enough for some.  Which is the drug of choice for a narcissist.  Journalists and politicians in particular love this drug.

Dan Rather appeared to have a personal vendetta against George W. Bush.  He referenced documents on air critical of Bush’s Air Force service before the presidential election.  He said on air that experts at CBS authenticated the documents.  Well, they didn’t.  Worse, they were forgeries.  Rather, who appeared to be envious of Cronkite’s fame, wanted a little fame for himself.  He wanted that big story.  To influence a presidential election.  Instead, he ended his journalism career.

Celebrities are narcissists.  They have great big egos.  And a lot of fame.  But it’s an empty fame.  Most make a living by pretending to be other people.  Or they can sing.  Or look good while just standing still.  It’s nice but eventually they want more.  To be more than a pretty face.  A pretty voice.  A good pretender.  So they flex their minds to show off their all around superiority.  Ted Danson warned us that the oceans would be ‘dead’ in 10 years…20 years ago.  Cher warned that George W. Bush would force all the gays and lesbians into New Jersey should we elect him.  Cameron Diaz said Bush would legalize rape.  (Last I checked he didn’t do either.)  Sean Penn praises Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez while their people suffer some of the worst human rights violations.  Does he do this because he favors human rights violations?  Or is he so smart that he can’t believe he’s ever wrong?  (For the record, Penn doesn’t choose to live in Cuba or Venezuela.  So it would appear that although he speaks out in favor of Marxism over capitalism, he prefers the comforts of capitalism for himself.  So I think it’s fair to conclude that he is at least a hypocrite.)

Elite Intellectuals with an 8th Grade Education

The Vietnam War to liberals was like Christ’s crucifixion to Christians.  It defined them.  Made them.  It was the first inklings of their powers.  And they liked that power. 

They prolonged the war and killed hundreds of thousands more (Americans, Vietnamese, Laotians, Cambodians, etc.).  They had something to protest for almost a decade.  This empowered them and made them feel invincible.  The world was theirs.  They could do anything.  And some did.  Some even became terrorists (e.g., the Weather Underground). 

They were elite intellectuals.  Elite intellectuals with maybe an 8th grade education.  They knew nothing.  But believed they knew everything.  They destroyed a decade.  While their heads were filled with dreams of sugar plum fairies and illusions of grandeur.  Virtually unemployable in the real world, they took these feelings of superiority to our colleges, Hollywood, newspapers and television networks.  Where they lived insulated from the real world.  And continued their destruction.  Craving attention.  Constantly shouting ‘look at me’.  Never caring about the consequences of their actions.

Liberals are not inherently evil.  The destruction they cause is not on purpose.  They’re just a bunch of idiots.  They typically lived isolated from the real world.  In positions that can influence the masses.  And they tend to be charismatic.  Of course, there are exceptions to this rule.  Such as Al Gore.  Who you would find in the dictionary if you looked up ‘not charismatic’.  But he craves that attention more than most.  And is one of the biggest idiots out there.  He still believes in global warming even though those emails leaked from the University of East Anglia showed they were manipulating the global warming data. 

But Al Gore is not an idiot.  Idiots don’t make enough money to buy mansions on the ocean.  But he did.  While warning people about the danger of global warming.  And rising sea levels.  That will flood our seashores.  Like the seashore he just moved to.  You see, even he doesn’t really believe in global warming.  So he’s not an idiot.  He’s just a charlatan.  Praying on the people’s gullibility to make himself a millionaire.  He may not know anything about science, but he’s highly skilled in the arts of fleecing.  While making himself feel important.  Giving himself value (in his own mind).  Stroking that ego while he spends his days just dicking around in his big, empty mansion.  And this is liberalism at its best.  Empty shells of people.  Trying to feel good about themselves.  By pretending to do good for others.

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FUNDAMENTAL TRUTH #22: “The only problem with health care these days is that it’s approached from a cost basis more than a medical basis.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 13th, 2010

THE PROBLEM WITH cost cutters is their vision.  They see costs.  Not the big picture.  Rockefeller was a notorious cost cutter.  Even determined he could save money by using a few less welds on his oil barrels.  But he saw the big picture, too.  He grew sales.  Something that cost cutters have trouble doing.  He didn’t.  In fact, he was so good that it took the government to stop his sales growth.

Roger Smith was a numbers man.  He managed costs.  Starting in the accounting department of GM, he reorganized GM to make better sense.  On paper.  To make nice, neat, bookkeeping-like ordered sense.  Things tend to work better on paper, though, than in reality.  Suffice it to say that few laud Smith as the greatest CEO of GM.

Robert McNamara was also a numbers man.  And he ran the Vietnam War by the numbers.  He carefully determined what U.S. forces could NOT attack.  (Any place outside South Vietnam was basically a sanctuary for the enemy.)  And he introduced the body count.  There was no strategy to win.  Just a policy to verify you were killing more of theirs than they were killing of yours.  Wars of attrition, though, take years.  And lives.  On both sides.  Americans don’t like sitting back and waiting for enough of their sons to die to declare victory.  McNamara failed to see the big picture.  Strategy.  He just tried to make the combat efficient.  Which did little to inhibit the enemy from making war. 

Managing costs is important.  It can improve profits.  But it can’t grow sales.  And if you can grow sales, you’ll be able to pay your costs.  Even if they are high and inefficient.  Few companies fail because they have a cost problem.  They file because they have a revenue problem.  They lack sales.  Cost cutting cannot fix this problem.  It can temporarily help reduce operating losses.  But if you don’t increase sales, you’ll probably fail in the long run.

There are detail people.  And people with vision.  Rarely are people both.  Rockefeller was.  Smith and McNamara were detail men.  They could not see the forest for the trees.  And this is the problem in health care.  We’re not looking at the big picture of medical care.  We’re looking at the details of cost. 

YOU WOULD THINK that doctors would oppose the government taking over health care.  Because when governments do, they tend to put salary caps on doctors.  Kinda diminishes the return on all that costly medical training.  I talked to two recently who favor a national solution.  Why?  Because of costs.  They like Medicare.  Because it’s simple.  Most of their patients are seniors.  So the bulk of their billings are uniform.  Medicare reimbursements.  They like anything that simplifies their overhead costs.  Private insurance companies don’t do this.  They’re not all the same.  Different people to call.  Different procedures.  Different approved tests.  Different paperwork.  And more of it.  And a bigger staff to handle it.

Doctors hate paperwork.  No doctor ever went through medical school because they wanted to shuffle paper.  Or because they wanted to fend off malpractice lawsuits.  Doctors are under a bureaucratic assault.  They spend more time with paperwork than with patients.  And paperwork does have a cost.  As do frivolous lawsuits.  A government takeover would standardize the one.  And, hopefully, eliminate the other.

I understand these doctors’ concern.  But they can’t see the forest for the trees.  Government is not going to approach health care from a medical basis.  They’ll approach it from a cost basis.  They’ll use statistical analysis.  They will manage care to maximize cost efficiency.  They will approach health care like Smith did in GM and McNamara did in Vietnam.  They’ll crunch the numbers.  Then determine what health care is cost effective.

THEY PROBABLY NEED no introduction.  Most people are family with the British comedy troupe called Monty Python.  Funny, a bit naughty and rather bookish, they’ve appealed to the masses across generations.  They spent a lot of time researching before making some of their movies.  Reading books.  The realism it adds made some of the funniest scenes.  A Roman centurion gives a Jewish terrorist a Latin lesson at the point of a sword (Life of Brian).  Dennis the constitutional peasant arguing with King Arthur (Monty Python and the Holy Grail).  And this scene from The Meaning of Life during a live birth lampooning the British National Health Service:

Nurse:  The administrator’s here, doctor.

First Doctor:  Switch everything on!

[They scramble to do so.  Machines turn on with flashes and sounds.  The administrator enters.]

Administrator:  Morning, gentlemen.

First and Second Doctors:  Morning Mr. Pycroft.

Administrator:  Very impressive. Very impressive.  And what are you doing this morning?

First Doctor:  It’s a birth.

Administrator:  Ah, what sort of thing is that?

Second Doctor:  Well, that’s when we take a new baby out of a lady’s tummy.

Administrator:  Wonderful what we can do nowadays.  [A machine makes a ‘ping’ sound.]  Ah!  I see you have the machine that goes ‘ping’.  This is my favorite.  You see we leased this back from the company we sold it to.  That way it comes under the monthly current budget and not the capital account.  [They all applaud.]  Thank you, thank you.  We try to do our best.  Well, do carry on.

This is funny.  Because it’s true.  When we approach health care on a cost basis.  You must show you need and use every piece of expensive equipment you have so it stays in the budget.  And the administrators administrating health care don’t understand health care.  They understand and make their decisions based on numbers in columns.  And speaking of numbers in columns.

 ONE THING STANDS out more than everything else when looking at numbers in columns.  In one cost column in particular.  Of all the costs in columns, one dwarfs all others.  The costs in treating very sick and very old people.  You can cut and trim the budget everywhere else but you won’t make a dent in overall costs.  Unless you cut and trim this one column.  Manage these costs.  Do some statistical analysis on these costs.  For if you cut THESE costs, it will make a difference.  It could even stave off bankruptcy without having to further raise taxes.  Yes, we can make the system more financially sound if we just stop treating so many sick and old people.

But it’s a body count mentality.  You have to willingly accept a defined number of additional deaths.  The Soviets were willing to trade 10 lives for one against the Nazis.   A steep price to pay.  But it did wear the Nazis down and lead to victory.  There was a similar ratio in Vietnam with America on the better side of that ratio.  But it was still too high a price for Americans.  It goes against our nature to think in terms of ‘acceptable’ losses.

But there will have to be a line that health care will approach but does not cross.  Where there are ‘acceptable’ losses.  Statistical analysis will take into account probable remaining years of life in a potential patient.  If few, the system will assign an appropriate value of care to match the health care expenditure with the expected return on the medical treatment.  People with more probable years of life left will receive more health care treatment.  People with fewer years left will receive less.  We’ll help manage their pain until they no longer feel that pain.  For it would be inefficient to spend a lot of money on someone who is going to die ‘soon’.

Perhaps I can best summarize this in song.

When you were young and your heart was an open book
You used to say live and let live
(you know you did, you know you did you know you did)
But in this ever changing world in which we live in
Makes you give in and cry
Say live and let die
Live and let die
Live and let die
Live and let die

(Live and Let Die, Paul McCarthy)

And that’s what bureaucrats will use all that statistical analysis for.  To determine who to let die.  You can sugarcoat it anyway you’d like, but it comes down to this.  A bureaucrat, not a doctor, will have the power of life and death as they decide what health care is appropriate and prudent.  As it must be under a system where bureaucrats distribute limited resources on a cost basis.  They will have no choice but to deny care that is not in the budget.

ONE PUZZLING THING about health care is that it is perfectly acceptable to approach it from a cost basis but not on a revenue basis.  For it is immoral to profit on health care.  Pity, because introducing market forces is one sure way to bring down costs.  People are willing to pay for medical services.  They pay for abortions.  And abortion clinics are readily available.  The free market laws of supply and demand work for abortions.  And so they would for other outpatient medical services. 

Instead of running a battery of tests because an insurance company requires this incremental approach of the cheap stuff first, you could go to an MRI (or some other expensive procedure) clinic and pay out of pocket.  Because they do nothing but MRIs, they achieve economies of scale.  The clinic makes money by offering low cost, high quality MRI scans that result in a high sales volume.  You benefit because you miss less work.  The doctor benefits because he gets your MRI scan results without additional paperwork to process.  I’m sure a market is there just waiting for an entrepreneur to come along.  I mean, if you can make money by performing abortions, you should be able to make money with some non-invasive, high-tech machines.

HEALTH CARE SERVICES will not become more affordable and more readily available by cutting costs.  If the bean counters try, they’ll damage the quality of health care.  Because the bean counters rarely look at the big picture.  You need someone with vision.  Because no cost cutter ever saved a business.  Or made the world better.

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LESSONS LEARNED #16: “The military part of the military has been a success story. The Big Government part of the military has not.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 3rd, 2010

BIG GOVERNMENT DID NOT create the greatest military power of all time.  It’s not a top down success story.  It’s a bottom up success story.  You win wars by winning battles.  And you win battles with a rifle in your hands.  Those who matter don’t hear the clash of arms from afar.  They hear it from within the battle itself.

The successes of the military are due to the people who fight the battles.  They are not due to governmental bureaucrats.  In fact, you can say the fighting people achieve success despite the governmental bureaucrats.  I can give you a list of esteemed military personnel that would agree with me.  Here’s an abbreviated list:  George Washington and Robert E. Lee.   Of course, you can’t ask either of them because they’re dead.  But the history speaks for itself.  Their most difficult enemies were the politicians.  And the ones on their side.  Not the enemies’.

THE AMERICAN REVOLUTIONARY WAR was a lot like the Vietnam War, only without the Ho Chi Minh Trail.  Both had the mightiest military power in the world taking on a military lightweight.  Therefore, both used Fabian tactics.  Like Roman general Quintus Fabius Maximus, the underdog avoided major engagements with the enemy.  (Excluding the Tet Offensive, of course, which was very un-Fabian-like.)  Theirs was not to win.  No, theirs was not to lose.  For he who fights and runs away lives to fight another day. 

But the big difference between these wars was supply.  The Viet Cong and the NVA had the Ho Chi Minh Trail.  No matter how many of them you killed or how many of their supplies you destroyed, more just kept coming down that trail.  George Washington and his ragtag armies, on the other hand, were, well, ragtag.  Plead as he might for supplies the Continental Congress delivered little.  Including pay.  His armies were chronically under-supplied, under-fed and under-paid.  But still they carried on. 

When they took winter quarters in December 1777 on the barren hills on the west side of the Schuylkill River in eastern Pennsylvania, they had not received any supplies from the Quarter Master General since the previous July.  Now the winter at Valley Forge was not the coldest during the War, but it was cold.  Especially if you were barefoot and half naked.  And this was the condition of the average soldier.  While the British quartered themselves in the warm houses of Philadelphia and enjoyed the comforts of regular meals and warm beds, the Americans left trails of blood in the snow from their bloody, bare feet.  They slept by fire for warmth.  Shirts as well as blankets were lacking.  And there was a lack of food, for man and animal.  Hundreds of horses starved to death that winter.

But the British did well that winter.  Why?  Why did they have food, drink, clothing, blankets and forage for their horses?  Because not everyone felt the Spirit of ’76 as earnestly as others.  Thomas Paine, just before the Battle of Trenton a year earlier (at perhaps the low point of morale in the Army) wrote, “These are the times that try men’s souls: The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.”  There were no summer soldiers or sunshine patriots at Valley Forge.  They were in warm houses.  Well fed.  And making money.  From the War.  There were supplies, yes, but there were more profitable markets than Washington’s armies.

So while graft and speculation made some rich, the Army suffered at Valley Forge.  The Continental Congress did little for them.  The states did little for them.  They suffered that ordeal alone.  Together.  And they became better soldiers.  Benjamin Franklin wrote a letter of introduction for a Prussian captain, Baron Friedrich von Steuben.  He came with exaggerated credentials.  Franklin said he was a general under Frederick the Great even though he was only a staff officer.  And an unemployed staff officer at that.  But he knew how to make and drill an army.  And he did.  Washington held the Army together.  The men persevered.  And the army that emerged from Valley Forge could face any European army on the field of battle.  And they fought on.  And about 4 years later, General Cornwallis would surrender at Yorktown.

THE UNITED STATES offered the command of the Union Army in the American Civil War to General Robert E. Lee.  He declined.  He could not raise his sword against his own country.  Virginia.  So he would fight on the Confederate side in what they called the War of Northern Aggression.

There is an interesting exchange in the movie Gone with the Wind before war breaks out.  Rhett Butler is discussing the South’s prospects with his fellow southern gentlemen. 

RHETT BUTLER: I think it’s hard winning a war with words, gentlemen.
CHARLES: What do you mean, sir?
RHETT BUTLER: I mean, Mr. Hamilton, there’s not a cannon factory in the whole South.
MAN: What difference does that make, sir, to a gentleman?
RHETT BUTLER: I’m afraid it’s going to make a great deal of difference to a great many
gentlemen, sir.
CHARLES: Are you hinting, Mr. Butler, that the Yankees can lick us?
RHETT BUTLER: No, I’m not hinting. I’m saying very plainly that the Yankees
are better equipped than we. They’ve got factories, shipyards, coal mines…and a fleet to bottle up our harbors and starve us to death. All we’ve got is cotton, and slaves and…arrogance.

No.  The South’s prospects were not very encouraging.  And the North’s advantages would make up for her failings.  In time.

The American Civil War was not a war of Fabian tactics.  The First Battle of Bull Run (or the First Battle of Manassas as the Confederates called it) was a shock.  Casualties (killed, wounded and lost) were high.  About 4,800 in total.  No one had anticipated such carnage.  If that wasn’t enough to sober them up, then came Shiloh in the West.  This 2-day battle claimed about 23,750 casualties.  This exceeded the total of the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812 and the Mexican-American War combined.  By the time the Civil War was over, casualties would top 1,000,000.  Over 600,000 Americans would eventually die.  Including a president.

Why such high casualties?  A couple of reasons.  This was one of the first wars benefitting from the Industrial Revolution.  Better and more powerful weapons created more powerful armies.  And a network of railroads brought them efficiently to the battlefield.  Unfortunately, these armies still employed Napoleonic tactics.  Mass in formation, fire and charge with bayonets.  Rifled barrels, though, replaced smoothbore muskets.  This tripled the effective range of an infantryman’s weapon.  Improved cannon, like the Parrot gun, made cannon fire more devastating.  So, while they stood en masse and fired, and marched forward with bayonet, they faced a withering, accurate fire.  Before the Battle of Cold Harbor, life expectancy in battle was such that soldiers sewed their name inside their jackets.  Why?  They wanted their fallen bodies identified and sent home for burial.

Another reason for the high casualties?  Two of the best armies in the world were fighting each other.  American was killing American.  In the beginning, the Confederates had the edge.  Robert E. Lee and General Stonewall Jackson were displaying by far the greater competence in battle.  But that was in the east.  In the west, Generals Grant and Sherman advanced along the Mississippi River with dogged determination.

At the Battle of Chancellorsville, though, Stonewall Jackson would fall from friendly fire as he reconnoitered the front.  He lost his left arm.  Lee would lament that Jackson may have lost his left arm, but he had lost his right.  Jackson would subsequently die from complications of pneumonia 8 days later.  A couple of months from that, Lee would be in Gettysburg, the ‘high water mark’ of the Confederacy.  And after 3 days of battle, he would lead his defeated army back across the Potomac.  Meanwhile, in the west, Grant had just taken Vicksburg and, as a result, control of the Mississippi river.

Lee’s foray into Pennsylvania may have not been a wise move.  It was only the second time a Confederate army invaded the North (the last resulted in the bloodiest single day of the war – Antietam).  Battle in the north favored the North.  Shorter lines of communications.  Better network of railroads.  Coal mines.  Factories.  It was a bold plan.  But a poorly executed plan.  The armies came into contact, after all, because barefoot Confederate soldiers looking for shoes came into contact with dismounted Union cavalry.  That’s what was in Gettysburg.  Shoes.  That, and one big-ass road intersection that brought all those armies together.

Lee’s forces started the Battle of Gettysburg prematurely because of singular defect in the South.  Supply.  Lee faced the same problems Washington did.  The Confederate Army was superior to the Union Army at many times.  They often outgeneraled the North.  And often outfought the North.  But they took heavy losses.  As did the North.  But, as Rhett Butler pointed out, the North was in a position to replace their losses.  The South simply was not.  It became a war of attrition.  And the north simply outlasted the South.  And had the time to become a superior army. 

The problem was the very thing they were fighting for.  States’ rights.  The north was able to wage total war.  The South, try as they might, could not.  States had some warehouses full of material, but a state allotted its material stores for its own regiments.  A state may have had a surplus of shoes, but they held them for their own soldiers while others went barefoot.

The southern soldier suffered beyond human endurance.  Days would go by without food or provision.  Some would pick up horse droppings and pick out undigested kernels to eat.  When they broke out of the siege around Richmond/Petersburg, they marched for days to promised provisions.  When they reached the rail cars, they opened them to find unneeded equipment.  Not food.  But they still fought on, emaciated as they were.  Until they found themselves surrounded near Appomattox Courthouse.  When faced with the choice of surrender or guerrilla warfare, Lee chose surrender.  He saw one country destroyed.  He did not wish to see another.

WASHINGTON DID PREVAIL in the end.  Despite his government.  Lee did not.  In part because of his government.  All the while the soldier in the fight persevered through great privations.  But never gave up.  They fought, and died, together.  For God.  For country.  And for each other.  All the while, no doubt, cursing their respective governments.

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LESSONS LEARNED #15: “Most people would rather hear a pleasant lie than an unpleasant truth.” -Old Pithy.

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 27th, 2010

NO ONE LIKES bad news.  That’s why when someone says, “I’ve got good news and bad news, which do you want to hear first?” most people want to hear the bad news first.  Get the sting over.  Then hear the good news to help get over the sting of the bad.

People are so adverse to bad news they’ll even look for ways to ignore it as long as they can.  They’ll believe lies if the lies keep their pleasant little world pleasant.  Almost to any cost.  In 1944, the Germans were beaten.  There was a chance some soldiers would be home before Christmas.  So when some scattered reports came of movements on the German front towards the Eifel Region just east of the Ardennes, SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force) discounted them.  Explained them away as nothing.  Because the Germans didn’t launch winter offensives.

Until 1944, that is.  The Schnee Eifel battle, at the beginning of the center prong of a 3-prong attack, was the greatest American defeat in 1944/1945 Europe.  But this was only one of many battles known as the Battle of the Bulge.  This German winter offensive through the Ardennes was the biggest American battle of World War II.  And bloodiest.  In all, the Germans killed about 20,000 American soldiers.  Some after they surrendered.  Kampfgruppe Peiper spearheaded the Sixth SS Panzer Division.  Joachim Peiper would eventually lead this force through the Baugnez crossroads near Malmedy.  And into infamy.  The Malmedy Massacre wasn’t the only war crime, though.  There were others.

In the movie Patton, General Patton predicted this German offensive.  And there was some truth in that.  Third Army DID predict this.  But it was his chief of intelligence, Colonel Oscar Koch, who figured this out.  Patton’s battlefield successes were the result of strong intelligence.  And Colonel Koch gave him some of the best intelligence available on the Western Front.  In November 1944, he gathered the intelligence, analyzed it and predicted a time and place.  Of course, SHAEF discounted his findings.  They were sure the Germans were beaten.  Besides, the Germans didn’t launch winter offensives.

THE BATTLE OF the Bulge was only a small part of World War II, the biggest and meanest war in the history of mankind.  Nations mobilized their military, economic, industrial, and scientific forces to wage total war.  Civilians died, too.  En masse.  Whether by bombing of enemy cities or by organized genocide in occupied lands, civilians felt the horrors of war as they never had before.

So how did such a horrific war come to be?  It’s complicated.  Did it have to be as bad as it was?  No.  At least, France could have stopped Hitler earlier.  Before his military buildup.  But to understand this story, you have to go back in time. 

THE GREAT WAR, World War I, was the culmination of a series of disputes over European power and control of the Balkans.

The Crimean War of 1853–1856, the Austro-Sardinian War of 1859 and the Austro-Prussian War of 1866 stirred the pot up in the Balkans.  The Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871 established a new unified Germany as the dominant power of Europe as Great Britain and France were in decline (and ceded the Loraine-Alsace region from France to Germany).  And the Russo-Turkish War of 1877–1878 exploited the Balkan tempest.

Weaker nations formed treaties with stronger nations.  Entangling treaties.  Imperial interests in the Balkans of both the great and not so great powers further fermented the Balkan tempest.  Minority rule of the majority led to nationalist rebellion.  To quench this rebellion, the Austro-Hungarian Empire annexed Serbia.

This is a very cursory history but you get the picture.  There was a lot of anger.  And a lot of wrongs to right.  And territory to regain.  Or to simply gain.  And then on Sunday, the 28th of June 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria visited Sarajevo.  There a Yugoslav nationalist, Gavrilo Princip, assassinated him.  And then all of those entangling treaties kicked in and a world was at war.

IT WAS THE bloodiest and costliest war to date.  No one thought it would be, though.  You see, they learned a lot from the Prussians during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871.  Which was swift and conclusive.  Unfortunately, they learned little from the American Civil War (1861-1865).  For 4 bloody years the Americans demonstrated warfare where technology was ahead of military tactics.  And World War I was to look more like the American Civil War than the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871.  Long.  And bloody.  A war of attrition where you don’t necessarily win a decisive battle.  The other side just runs out of soldiers to kill.

World War I (1914 to 1918) saw horrific killing fields.  Artillery bombardments that would last for days.  Attacks through barbed wire into raking machine-gun fire.  Poison gas.  The death toll was staggering.  Great Britain and her Imperial forces lost over a million killed, over 2 million maimed and wounded.  France lost slightly more killed and almost twice in maimed and wounded.  Civilians were not untouched by war, either.  Blockade starved civilian populations.

The War devastated and impoverished these two countries.  They won the war, but only barely.  The entry of America was just too much.  More soldiers and material.  The killing could go on indefinitely.  So all sides sued for peace.  With the Americans on the Allied side, though, they were in a position to dictate the terms of the peace.  And boy did they.

THE TREATY OF VERSAILLES was punitive.  In the run up to war, there were really no innocents.  But to the victors go the spoils.  Official blame for the war fell on Germany.  She lost territory (France got back the Loraine-Alsace region) and all her colonies.  And she had to pay reparations.  The Germans were pissed. 

The Allies hoped to mitigate their war losses by German tribute.  But it was too much.  Even a member of the British delegation at Versailles, economist John Maynard Keynes, thought so.  In an effort to restore Great Britain and France as the dominant European powers, the allies probably went too far.  The economic burdens on Germany were too great.  Then hyper-inflation met Great Depression.  Angry socialists, communists and nationalists tore the nation asunder.  Until a uniter came along.  Adolf Hitler.

HITLER ROSE TO power legally.  Then he consolidated his power ruthlessly.  He renounced the Versailles Treaty.  And did a lot of things that showed his ultimate intentions.  Including writing a book years earlier about his ultimate intentions.  Mein Kampf.  Which was pretty detailed.  To anyone who read it. 

One of his first provocative acts was to place a negligible military force into the Rhineland in 1936.  The German High Command was a little skittish about this idea for they did not believe they had sufficient strength to successfully fight off a French response.  The French had superior numbers in military power.  But they were financially weak.  They had poured a fortune into the line of fortresses known as the Maginot Line.  They could not afford all out war with Germany, too, and they thought a military conflict in the Rhineland may lead to that.  And after going through the horrors of the Great War, they had no desire to do it again.  Whether it was a question of could or would is still debated.  But had they, one wonders how such action would have altered the course of history.

Hitler continued in a string of actions, explaining away each as harmless with no higher purpose.  Great Britain and France were growing uneasy but accepted his statements.  They wanted to believe.  They would do just about anything to avoid a return to war.  Even give away another sovereign nation’s land.

THE SUDETENLAND WAS an area along the Czechoslovakia side of their border with Germany with German inhabitants.  Hitler wanted to reincorporate them into the German state.  He promised this would be his last territorial acquisition.  And, at Munich in September of 1938, Great Britain and France took him at his word.  With Czechoslovakia not even present at this conference, they concluded the pact that ceded the Sudetenland to Germany.  All’s well that ends well.

British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain returned to London with a copy of the Munich Pact.  He would give a speech declaring they got “peace for our time.”  But they didn’t.  Hitler soon took the rest of Czechoslovakia.  With his two flanks protected, Hitler invaded Poland in 1939 and launched the world into war.  Again.  Only this time, it would be worse.

IT IS HARD to blame France and Great Britain’s reluctance to return to war with Germany after the devastation of World War I.  And those who do usually do so with the advantage of hindsight.  However, we know what the costs added up to in stopping Adolf Hitler in 1945.  And few would say that all out war with Germany in 1936 would have cost more.

Here’s the ugly truth.  The truth can be ugly.  And we hide from it at our own peril.

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