Monday, May 30, 2011

Remembering Our Heroes

Each May we celebrate Memorial Day in remembrance of those who have died in service to our country, though out of honour to the immense debt we owe them we should remember them every day of the year.  With their very lives they bought our freedom.
Originally Memorial Day was referred to as Decoration Day owing that name to the custom of decorating with flowers the graves of our nation’s heroes. General John Logan, National Commander of the Grand Army of the Republic was the first to proclaim the creation of Memorial Day and it was observed officially for the first time on May 30, 1868 with flowers being placed on the graves of the Union and Confederate soldiers in Arlington National Cemetery. Following World War I the purpose was changed from just honouring those dying in the Civil War, to include all who have died fighting on behalf of our country.
Unfortunately now days, a number of Americans have forgotten the real meaning of Memorial Day treating it as another three day weekend. When we forget our veterans, we forget the very spirit of service and sacrifice that is the essence of our country. Freedom comes with a price and we have an obligation to remember those that paid it.
In May 2000 hoping to restore the real meaning of Memorial Day, President Bill Clinton supported a “National Moment of Remembrance” calling for all Americans to pause for one minute at 3:00PM every Memorial Day to, “remember and reflect on the sacrifices made for so many to bring freedom for all.”
In West Michigan, the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans established in 1886 has a long history of serving Michigan veterans. The first soldiers to live at the Home were those from the Civil War and the Home has been serving veterans from every military conflict since that time.
On May 30, 1886, a cemetery was opened on the grounds for those soldiers who passed away while residing at the Home. That cemetery continues to be used today, 124 years later.
For many years the Boy Scouts have decorated the cemetery with United States flags to honour our fallen soldiers. This is a monumental task with over 5,000 graves, but takes the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts only a short time to accomplish.
Every year on the Wednesday prior to May 30, the traditional Memorial Day, a short ceremony is held. The scouts then march across the bridge to the cemetery behind the honour guard to plant flags on each and every grave. Last week the annual ceremony was held and flags placed on the graves. God bless our scouts and volunteers.
Today as the calendar allows us to celebrate Memorial Day on its traditional date of May 30th we honour our heroes and pause to remember their sacrifice and service. Every day across the world American heroes still give their lives for our freedom. Through them the spirit of our country lives on. Let us never forget them!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Dissent to Grand Rapids Press’ editorial:Why emergency financial managers need broad powers

Friday, March 11, 2011 The Grand Rapids Press ran an editorial entitled: Why emergency financial managers need broad powers. Shocked by their naiveté and lack of understanding of the current statute and the legislation signed into law, I dutifully e-mailed them a dissent on March 24th in an attempt to clarify the situation and explain why the new law was not only unnecessary but detrimental to our democratic government. 

Dissent as written by me doesn’t seem to be received well by the Press editorial staff. I’m not sure they really grasp the concept of honest, fact based opposition to their editorials. As our paper it should be their responsibility to present both sides of disputed issues.  Fortunately Grand Valley Labor News is a forum open to free discussion. Therefore, I present to you my dissent to the Press’ March 11th editorial; complete and unabridged.

Sweeping authority for emergency managers is now law. The consent of the voters is eliminated.

The Press editorial while noting some inherent dangers in this law never-the-less pronounced it necessary by citing two reasons: “A financial manager needs to be able to quickly turn around a failing school district or local government. Without sufficient powers, he or she is little more than a figurehead using the same tools as the city commission or school board being replaced”.

“The penalties have to be tough to encourage local governing bodies to get their own houses in order so nobody has to come in and clean up for them. This legislation would provide strong incentive for commissions, school boards and employees to work together to stay out of receivership.”

It appears the Press like many legislators failed to read the previous law pertaining to emergency financial managers: The “Local Government Fiscal Responsibility Act 72 of 1990”.

Given the broad authority possessed by the emergency financial managers under Act 72 reasonable justification for the new law disappears in the face of the facts.  

 Under Act 72 elected officials obstructing the emergency financial manager can be removed with due process and the vacancy filled by a vote of the people. Manager’s orders bind local officials and all employees. Additionally, the manager can: make, approve, or disapprove appropriations, contracts, expenditures, or loans, the creation of any positions, or filling of vacancies; review payrolls or other claims before payment; exercise authority to renegotiate existing labor contracts and act as an agent of the local government in collective bargaining with employees or representatives and approve any contract or agreement; consolidate departments, transfer functions; appoint, supervise, and remove department heads; reduce, suspend, or eliminate the salary, or other compensation of the chief administrative officer and members of the governing body during the financial emergency; except as restricted by charter or otherwise, sell or use the assets of the local government to meet past or current obligations, provided the use of assets does not endanger public health, safety, or welfare. Topping it off the manager can place a millage on the ballot.

How much more power was needed?  Apparently, Governor Snyder thinks the power to dissolve governments and consolidate them without a vote of the people.

Communities are under financial stress largely because the Michigan Senate and House of Representatives voted to raid Revenue Sharing funds previously pledged to municipalities.

By law 21.3% of the first 4 cents of sales tax spent within a community goes to it for police, fire, and other local services. Since 2001 legislators have taken 78% of the municipalities’ share of sales tax revenue for a total of $4.2 billion. Restore those funds and most cities will be fiscally sound.

Governor Snyder placed $200 million in a new program for cities meeting his criteria on how to operate. If they “fail”, cities won’t receive funding owed them, thereby plunging them into fiscal distress and ending up with an “emergency manager” who can dissolve and consolidate local governments without a vote of the people.

Schools face a similar scenario. State funding cuts, might mean an emergency’s declared, whereby an “emergency manager” takes over, dissolves and consolidates with voters out of the picture.

Taking power from the people and placing it in the hands of a state appointed bureaucrat is offensive, an affront to democracy, and possibly unconstitutional.

Do either the Press editorial writers or Governor Snyder remember the wisdom of John Adam’s, “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”

"THIS ARTICLE APPEARS IN THE MAY 2011 ISSUE OF THE GRAND VALLEY LABOR NEWS" Rick is a Contributing Editor and as author can post this in his blog. Original can be found at 


Bye, bye, bin Laden is what I posted on my Facebook Page 11:40pm, May 1st when I learned Naval Seal Team Six killed him during a daring mission in Pakistan.  Perhaps too flip a comment for the end of someone’s life, but it was spontaneous and honest using humor to deflate the importance of a mythical terrorist mastermind. In reality Osama was a paranoid coward dispatching gullible followers to their deaths as human bombs while he burrowed away like a rat in a nest. 
Gallows humor isn’t inappropriate, it’s cathartic.  George Bernard Shaw described it best. “Life does not cease to be funny when people die any more than it ceases to be serious when people laugh.”  Still the death of any human being is no trivial matter and while we condemn Osama bin Laden’s evil actions (or more accurately plans since he lacked the courage to personally carry them out himself) no one can know the condition of his soul. In that matter God alone will render judgment.
Osama is gone, but al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations still exist.  We’re fighting a Hydra. Cut off the head and two more takes its place.  Hercules killed the Hydra by cutting off each head one by one then cauterized the open wounds preventing them from growing again. Dismantling al Qaeda, which translated into English means the base or foundation, cell by cell with persistence and perseverance is our best long term strategy. May 1, 2011 will be remembered as the day America’s best shattered the psychological cornerstone of this terrorist foundation. 
It will be a long struggle, or jihad, to use bin Laden’s own term, but we have a template for success.  Not massive troop deployments risking our soldiers and draining an already overextended federal budget, rather tactical surgical strikes by drones or special ops.
Terrorist leaders everywhere are looking over their shoulders knowing any time an elite American military unit can crash through the door no matter where they’re hiding. That’s the victory achieved by taking out Bin Laden, along with some solace provided to the victims’ family members and the survivors of September 11, 2001.  Their loved ones were avenged and will be remembered long after this demented terrorist is assigned to the trashcan of history reserved for petty tyrants and assassins.
CIA Director Leon Panetta put it best in his message to CIA employees, “The raid was the culmination of intense and tireless effort on the part of many dedicated Agency officers over many years.  Our men and women designed highly complex, innovative, and forward-leaning clandestine operations that led us to Bin Laden.  One operation would yield intelligence that was carefully analyzed and then used to drive further operations."

“Though Bin Laden is dead, al-Qa’ida is not.  The terrorists almost certainly will attempt to avenge him, and we must—and will—remain vigilant and resolute.  But we have struck a heavy blow against the enemy.  The only leader they have ever known, whose hateful vision gave rise to their atrocities, is no more.  The supposedly uncatchable one has been caught and killed.  And we will not rest until every last one of them has been delivered to justice."

"Remember how you felt in the anxious hours after the attacks of September 11th, and how our Agency vowed to run to ground a vicious foe.  Whether you were here at the time or were inspired to serve at CIA in the months and years that followed, take heart in knowing that our Agency is doing its essential job for the American people, and for all humanity.  A promise has been kept.  And a war will be won.”
President Obama made the right call. Credit for effective leadership and decision making goes to our Commander-in Chief, his national security team and CIA Director Leon Panetta.   Anyone thinking the President’s timing was politically motivated is drinking GOP Hannity’s Kool-Aid.   A bump in the polls now won’t help in November 2012 and could have helped in possibly saving the Democratic House in October of 2008.   He made the right call, at the right time for the right reason, the best chance for the mission to succeed.
Most of the details are public. Everyone acknowledges the successful accomplishment of the mission and the lion’s share of the credit belongs to Navy Seal Team Six our most elite counterterrorism group, and other unnamed courageous operatives.  Their near flawless execution of a dangerous raid was done in less than 40 minutes, resulting in the deaths of bin Laden and three adult males. Tragically a poor woman used as a human shield by a coward was accidently killed. Two other women were injured, but most innocent lives unharmed in the noble tradition of U.S. Forces.  We had no American casualties. Information released to the public informed us bin Laden’s corpse was handled in a proper manner in accordance with Islamic custom; the burial was within 24 hours but at sea.
My sole objection to the entire operation is the insensitive code name Geronimo given bin Laden.  I hate political correctness and don’t practice it.  By now though, you’d think our federal government would understand how to respect people they’ve spent centuries demeaning and mistreating? Taking the name given the legendary Apache warrior noted for his courage and assigning it to a cowardly terrorist and Public Enemy Number One is an insult to the First People of our country.  There would’ve been righteous indignation if a well known member of any other ethnic, religious, gender, racial or sexual preference groups’ name was used in such a fashion.  President Obama dedicated to unity and civil rights should assume responsibility as Commander in Chief for this stupid mistake, issue an apology, make it clear it won’t happen again, and then move on.
Where do we go from here?  Furthermore, who are the Arab or Islamic countries we can trust as allies in the war against terrorism?  Why not quickly and orderly transition our forces out of Afghanistan, even Iraq, and especially Libya?  Most importantly, what is our end game?  Need we achieve it with massive military force and presence in the area?
Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai is corrupt, unreliable and not worth any American lives. Clearly the government of Pakistan cannot be trusted either. Yes, we’re low on allies in the area and there’s been cooperation and assistance at times from both countries but it only confirms an old Arab proverb: “Beware: some liars tell the truth.”  Leaders of Pakistan and Afghanistan act in their own best interests which would be fine and understandable if those interests actually served most of their citizens instead of primarily themselves and their loyal henchmen.
Apparently, bin Laden lived safely under the nose of Pakistan’s government without any interference. Additionally, just days before the successful American mission ended the terrorist’s life and captured reams of intelligence material; Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani was urging Karzai to look at a long term relationship with Pakistan and China for help in solidifying peace with the Taliban and restoring the Afghan economy rather than working with the United States. Not exactly how trusted allies act.
America needs to review its foreign policy and long term strategic goals, including what is our ultimate mission? Is it sustainable financially and most importantly in terms of human lives?
During the 60’s both Presidents Johnson and Nixon were urged to “declare victory and get out of Vietnam.”  Those calls went unheeded while casualties increased and deficits grew.  It was the first American war televised and played out in our living rooms almost daily.  Watching the firefights and coffins of heroes on nightly newscasts took its toll on our will to fight.   Inequities in the draft caused understandable resentment. Anti-war protests grew at home and societal changes swept the world while our military forces bravely fought on without a clear mission. America was divided right down the middle over Vietnam.  It became a quagmire we couldn’t extract ourselves.
LBJ vowed he wouldn’t be the first American President to lose a war; Richard Nixon had his secret peace plan, experts warned if Vietnam went communist other Southeast Asian countries would fall like dominoes, generals blustered, and defense contractors grew richer, while the hopes and dreams of millions of Americans disappeared forever with the deaths of loved ones. Returning living heroes were scorned by a small minority of bitter and ignorant radicals. Unfortunately even the nation they served wanted to forget the war.  Many were scarred for a lifetime by what they suffered in combat and even more by their treatment after coming home.
There is no doubt we could have won the war in Vietnam, we had the resources and the best military forces on the planet the American soldier has always been second to none, yet at what price and to what end?  Would we still be there as an occupying force, finally leaving when we reached bankruptcy?  A person fighting for their homeland never gives up especially with cultures thinking in centuries rather than years.
Consider the elephant and a bee.  Strength, size, and power all go to the elephant yet the bee uses its tiny dimensions, speed, and sting to terrify the giant. Elephants are so afraid of bees they have a specific warning of deep rumbling to alert each other when the buzz of a bee is detected and travel miles to avoid a confrontation.  I’ll avoid the irony specific to the GOP since both parties need to learn this particular lesson.
What is the lesson of Vietnam?  It isn’t a strict isolationism or fear of ever launching a war.  History needs accurate and prudent interpretation.  Vietnam taught us the necessity of a clear and realistic mission, the need for building a strong coalition of domestic, political, moral and even foreign support with the will, resources and ability to accomplish our goals. We also need to understand our enemy’s culture, determination, and resources.
After 9/11 we had all of that and the war against al Qaida and the Taliban in Afghanistan initially was popular, effective and appropriate. Then we somehow lost our focus, launched a pre-emptive war based on faulty intelligence and now we are in Libya fighting for humanitarian circumstances. A noble purpose but it opens up the possibility of America become the world’s police force except in countries where they violate the rights of their citizens but possess nuclear weapons, draining some of the nobility from our actions.
I don’t know all the answers but at least have a handle on the questions and asked them earlier.  They can be summed up by what is the end game, is it sustainable in every way and are the standards for a just war:  1. the damaged caused by the aggressor is lasting, grave, and certain; 2. All other effective and practical options must have been exhausted; 3. Success must be a strong possibility; 4. Your military action cannot result in an evil graver than the one you are trying to eliminate being met.
These questions are tough and the standards high but going to war and risking the lives of not only our armed forces, but the innocents in peril from unavoidable collateral damage, and even those of our enemy requires they be met.  So do future generations of Americans we are burdening with an ever growing debt.
Crass as it may seem finances factor in the decision.  Almost every empire or world power met its decline after being drowned by war debt.  Ironically the war in Afghanistan helped bring down the Soviet Union.  Are we immune? It would be irresponsible, foolish and dangerous to believe so.
Terrorism, as I mentioned earlier, has many heads and tentacles requiring a different battle plan. Surgical strikes; successful intelligence gathering; strong, but constitutional, homeland security measures; and even an effective, humanitarian campaign designed to assist the ordinary people of the Middle East and Asia may be our best weapons.  Evoking another Arab adage, “Do good to people and you'll enslave their hearts.” Every time a NATO or US military strike accidentally kills civilians our enemies are handed a recruiting tool.
One good question is left, are Osama bin Ladens born or made? If so what creates one? Deconstruct the origin of your enemy and you’re half way to real and permanent victory.
I have complete faith in our troops and generals but they need a clear mission with a good chance of permanent success.
President Obama needs to do the equivalent “of declaring victory and getting out of Vietnam.”  Bring our troops home in a swift, orderly fashion from Libya, Afghanistan, and Iraq.  Avoid foreign entanglements not meeting the just war standards and America’s long term interests. Rebuild our nation economically and start paying down our debt.  We are stronger and better than our enemies, let’s show them and maybe even convert them. That would be real hope and change resulting in an honorable action both parties and our citizens could support.