The Strong Do What They Can and the Weak Suffer What They Must

I normally stay out of the domestic politics side of things here at Balloon Juice, especially around the current Presidential primaries – on either side, other than posting debate open threads. But I’ve been watching tonight’s GOP Primary Debate on delay – I set the DVR as I had some stuff to do and I’ve just gotten to Dana Bash’s questions on Social Security. As I listened to the different candidates’ answers to her question I was struck by Mr. Trump’s response. Mr. Trump, as part of his answer to the Social Security question, delineated a number of the places that we have military personnel deployed on a more or less permanent basis. While I’m paraphrasing, he stated that we protect Saudi Arabia and Japan and South Korea and we don’t get anything for it. That the Saudi’s were, at one point, making a billion dollars a day and they weren’t doing anything for us, despite our protecting them. And that we’re going to renegotiate and get better deals for what we’re doing militarily and that will provide the funds to shore up Social Security.

This is a very important glimpse into how Mr. Trump understands foreign and defense policy. Intimating that the US would, under his leadership, negotiate foreign basing of US military personnel and security alliances in exchange for payment is a major break with how the US has and continues to do business. What Mr. Trump is proposing is that America would stop being a superpower and instead become an empire. This is something that not even the most hawkish neo-Conservatives or neo-liberal interventionists have proposed. At least not publicly or in any forum I’ve ever seen or heard.

The US, despite being the remaining superpower, is not an empire. We do not require tribute from those we partner with or protect. This is why, despite some political rhetoric that the Iraq invasion and Operation Iraqi Freedom would pay for itself, we didn’t seize Iraq’s oil fields or take over their petroleum resources, processing, and distribution system and infrastructure. The reality of what we do is just the opposite. Quite often, through various programs covered under Foreign Military Sales and other military to military diplomatic programs, we pay for some of our partners and allies to participate with us. And at other times and with other allies and partners, they pay to purchase our weapons and training packages. These interactions, both those that we pay for and those that our allies and partners do, can run the gamut from providing material and equipment and training to providing financial assistance for foreign military officers to come and attend our Professional Military Education programs.*

What Mr. Trump is suggesting in his answer about where to get the money to shore up Social Security is a radical change to how the United States does business. It means changing the United States from being the sole remaining superpower into being an empire. Empires seek tribute in exchange for their beneficent protection. One of the major changes in Athens, and Athenian democracy, a change that was not for the better, occurred prior to and as one of the contributing factors to the Peloponnesian War when it started abusing the tribute collected by the Delian League. While American democracy and Athenian democracy are not very analogous, the Athenian slide into empire should stand as a cautionary tale for the US and place charging for basing American military personnel beyond the pale. The Athenian envoy to Melos stated, in one of the most important and cautionary portions of Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War, that: “the Strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must”. The taking of tribute and the path of empire leads to the Athenian destruction of Melos and that is not a path that the US should follow.

* Full disclosure: during my assignment as the Cultural Advisor at the US Army War College (2010-2014), I was the academic advisor (front line supervisor), the primary research advisor, and/or the faculty/community sponsor for almost a dozen senior foreign officers attending the US Army War College resident course as International Fellows. In my professional opinion the presence of these gentlemen in the schoolhouse provided as much, if not more, benefit to the American officers in the resident program than it did to these officers themselves. They brought unique perspectives to the global strategic problems that we were grappling with in the seminar room, as well as important cross-cultural perspectives to critical and strategic thinking and how to go about making strategy and policy.

Open Thread: Who Says Debates Don’t Get Results?

This seems significant, if only for the record books:

Officials at Concerned Veterans of America are lashing back at the two Democratic presidential frontrunners a day after both panned the group’s proposals in a national debate…

CVA has advocated restructuring the Veterans Health Administration as an independent entity and giving veterans more access to private care options with federal dollars, both radical shifts from the current system. But they reject the accusation that the plans amount to “privatization” of the department…

CVA officials have repeatedly declined to discuss funding sources and trustee information for the group, but numerous news reports have linked the group to the Koch brothers network of conservative activist organizations.

Both Sanders and Clinton — along with numerous mainstream veterans groups — have promised to fight privatization of VA services. CVA officials have said privatization and offering more health care choices are distinctly different things.

In a statement Friday afternoon, Democratic National Committee officials supported Sanders and Clinton.

“The jig is up,” said Eric Walker, spokesman for the DNC. “Vets shouldn’t be fooled by a right-wing front group whose main objective is not helping veterans, but electing Republicans like Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, and others who support privatizing the VA.”

In recent months, CVA officials have held a series of town halls to discuss their reform proposals, which have sometimes doubled as campaign events for Republican presidential hopefuls…

Am I over-optimistic?

Trump’s Charity of Choice

One thing that hasn’t been mentioned about the whole Trump skipping the debate nonsense, which has basically dominated our news cycle for the last 48 hours because it is so much easier to pay someone a few bucks to sit and wank on tv than it is to actually go out and report things, is the choice of which veterans charity Trump is using in his little dick measuring contest with Roger Ailes- the Wounded Warrior project.

When we last talked about these shitbirds, this is what they were up to:

The founder of a small Pennsylvania charity helping wounded warriors in that state says the group has spent more than $72,000 defending a lawsuit from the Wounded Warrior Project over their similar logos.

“We’re out of pocket a lot of money and I am sure they are out of pocket a lot of money,” said Paul Spurgin, the director of Keystone Wounded Warriors and a Marine who served two combat tours in Vietnam.


As you can see, they both are black and white and have soldiers assisting other soldiers. The reason this is such a priority for the Wounded Warriors Project is because, in my opinion and the opinion of many others, they aren’t a charity, they’re an elaborate grift. And when you are a grift, you gotta protect that brand.

Today, the NY Times released a scathing and very illuminating piece of investigative journalism on this scam:

In 2014, after 10 years of rapid growth, the Wounded Warrior Project flew its roughly 500 employees to Colorado Springs for an “all hands” meeting at the five-star Broadmoor hotel.

They were celebrating their biggest year yet: $225 million raised and a work force that had nearly doubled. On the opening night, before three days of strategy sessions and team-building field trips, the staff gathered in the hotel courtyard. Suddenly, a spotlight focused on a 10-story bell tower where the chief executive, Steven Nardizzi, stepped off the edge and rappelled toward the cheering crowd.

That evening is emblematic of the polished and well-financed image cultivated by the Wounded Warrior Project, the country’s largest and fastest-growing veterans charity.

Since its inception in 2003 as a basement operation handing out backpacks to wounded veterans, the charity has evolved into a fund-raising giant, taking in more than $372 million in 2015 — largely through small donations from people over 65.


The Wounded Warrior Project cuts a different profile. Under Mr. Nardizzi’s direction, it has modeled itself on for-profit corporations, with a focus on data, scalable products, quarterly numbers and branding.

In an interview at the organization’s four-story headquarters in a palm-lined office park in Jacksonville, Fla., Mr. Nardizzi, 45, said spending on fund-raising and other expenses not directly related to veterans programs has enabled the Wounded Warrior Project to grow faster and serve more people. It estimates that 80,000 veterans have used its services.

“I look at companies like Starbucks — that’s the model,” Mr. Nardizzi said. “You’re looking at companies that are getting it right, treating their employees right, delivering great services and great products, then are growing the brand to support all of that.”

Read the whole thing, and here is another piece for good measure:

But granted anonymity, the vet gave voice to what is at the very least a perception problem for the WWP: “They’re more worried about putting their label on everything than getting down to brass tacks. It’s really frustrating.”

The same veteran spoke of waking up in the hospital after an IED hit his supply truck—WWP, he said, had given him only trivial merchandise: a backpack, a shaving kit and socks.

“Everything they do is a dog-and-pony show, and I haven’t talked to one of my fellow veterans that were injured… actually getting any help from the Wounded Warrior Project. I’m not just talking about financial assistance; I’m talking about help, period,” he said.

Some gripe in interviews with the Beast about how the charity has become more of a self-perpetuating fundraising machine than a service organization. WWP certainly is successful at fundraising: It had revenues of more than $300 million, according to its most recent audited report, up from approximately $200 million the year before.

“In the beginning, with Wounded Warrior, it started as a small organization and evolved into a beast,” said Sam, an active-duty Army soldier who works with Special Forces. It’s “become so large and such a massive money-maker,” he says, that he worries the organization cares about nothing more than raising money and “keeping up an appearance” for the public with superficial displays like wounded warrior parking spots at the Walmart.

Fortunately, the word is out, and vets are savvy to it, and hopefully more of the public will become aware. Here is my former CEO, who is basically my political photo negative and vice versa. Politically, we agree on nothing other than that we both think the only reason John Brennan still has a job is he has naked pictures of everyone in Washington:

They are SHIT. One of THE biggest wasters of donations. Their CEO (Nardizzi) is a horse’s ass who pulls down over 300k/yr in salary. Two other execs are in the six figure range as well. They just built a lavish new HQs and actually PAY those celebrities for the commercials. WWP spends less than 10% of the funds they raise on vets themselves…

Friends don’t let friends and family donate to the Wounded Warrior Project.

More About the Morons and Iran

AL covered this already, but I have to admit I was kind of flabbergasted by the response. That doesn’t mean I was surprised by it- I fully expected it. I mean I was just flabbergasted by the extent of the idiocy of it all. I mean, what in the flying fuck did they EXPECT to happen when our ships went into someone else’s waters? Even if it was an ally like Britain, they would have sent someone out.

And the fact that this was such a docile encounter is kind of shocking. In my mind, it went something like this:

Navy: Derp.

Iran: Hey guys, whatcha doing?

Navy: Umm, uhh, fishing?

Iran: No, you’re not.

Navy: Ok. You got us.

Iran: Alright, come on now.

And then they gathered their stupid asses and broke-dick crafts up, gave them some pillows and delicious looking snacks which were most assuredly better than anything I can get in this Mediterranean food desert I live in and without question the fucking god awful Halal MRE’s we’d have chucked at their guys. I mean look at this:


First off, those rugs are amazing. Second, I would love some pillows like that but Thurston would chew the fuck out of them. Third, if I saw this while I was on active duty, I’d have thought “I could use some fucking R&R, too.” And then, within fifteen hours, faster than any travel agent I know could arrange a ride home from Iran, they were back in US custody.

That’s it. That’s what big bad Iran did. Oh, yes- they made us apologize. Horror of horrors. We just stumbled into their yard in a drunken stupor, they brought us inside, gave us some snacks, sobered us up and called mom and dad, and we had to say “my bad” while we were getting in the minivan on the ride home.

Now, think for a second what we would have done had a bunch of Iranians been caught floating off the coast of Virginia Beach. Do I even need to give you ideas of McCain or Cotton or one of these other idiots might have handled the situation were they in charge? Thank goodness our military is professional and would not freak out like our elected Republican leaders would

BTW- one of those sailors was black. Which means it is safer for a heavily armed black man in Iran than it is in a park in Cleveland.

I Blame Obama

Here’s a piece of unequivocal good news with which to start the last full year of the Obama presidency:

The executive director of the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, which coordinates the federal response on the issue, said in a letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio this week that [New York] city had “effectively” ended chronic homelessness among veterans.

Lives change:

In 2015 alone, the city placed more than 1,000 veterans in permanent housing, according to city officials. Several weeks ago, at Clinton Avenue Residence, a new 43-unit development in the Bronx specifically for veterans, several men dragged garbage bags with their belongings through the gleaming lobby and into their studio apartments.

“I woke up and there wasn’t a person sleeping three feet away,” Eric Peters, 54, an Air Force veteran who has been in and out of homelessness for decades, said the next morning.


New York City is doing better than many places, though not uniquely so.  Homelessness among vets is down 36% nationwide, and, as The New York Times reports,

 Houston, Las Vegas and New Orleans, among several cities, [have] effectively ending overall veteran homelessness, meaning they have identified all homeless veterans, not just the chronic cases, and placed them in homes.

Why has this happened? Because:

The city’s efforts are part of a broader federal initiative, started under President Obama and aimed at ending veteran homelessness in the United States. The federal housing agency, working in partnership with the Department of Veterans Affairs, has now distributed 79,000 rental assistance vouchers to veterans across the country dating to 2008.

Three cheers for both the hard work being done at both the national and local levels.  I hope the program serves as a model to tackle homelessness writ large — but I have no problem with selecting veterans as the first to demonstrate that the world’s last superpower does not in fact have to house its people in cardboard boxes.

But I do want to point out what’s obvious in this crowd, and should be so in the wide world:  this is what respect — and more, support — for those who serve our military looks like.  The next time your wingnut acquaintance spouts about the Muslim Kenyan Usurpers disregard for the armed services, point this out to her or him — and ask him which GOPster has made this a priority.

Happy new year all.  Going to be an interesting ride in this year of our [insert pasta shape here] 2016

Image:  Ladislav Medňanský, Reclining Soldier, c. 1916.

The Military/Civilian Divide: Updated

An interesting piece by Scott Beauchamp (yes, that one) in the Guardian:

But before we pat ourselves on the back for having a progressive military that’s “on the right side of history”, a parallel and equally profound change should complicate our adulation: millennials are content to send their gay, female and Sikh friends to die on their behalf without a willingness to sacrifice themselves.

The seemingly honest efforts of the Department of Defense to make the composition of the military vaguely resemble a slice of the actual American populace are undermined by the fact that most Americans of military fighting age don’t serve. More precisely, they don’t want to serve. Which wouldn’t be hypocritical if they didn’t also want a “boots on the ground” military response to the Islamic State.

According to a poll conducted by the Harvard Institute of Politics, 60% of people between the ages of 18-29 support the commitment of American combat troops to fight Isis on the ground. At the same time, 62% of those same people say they wouldn’t join the fight themselves. The military doesn’t have an inclusivity problem. Americans, specifically millennials, have a military exclusivity problem.


The director of the Harvard Institute of Politics, John Della Volpe, gave his explanation of the poll he led earlier in December of why millennials don’t want to fight in a war that they support as being indicative of “a deep distrust … about all things relating to the government”. Which seems facile, considering they support the government waging the war in the first place.

A more accurate interpretation might be the exact opposite, that after more than a decade of relying on a minuscule 0.5% of Americans to serve in the military, and during that same time using the military as a blunt, multi-purpose tool to solve America’s problems overseas, has led millennials to see the military as a force that constantly engages foreign enemies without requiring any direct sacrifice from them personally. When President George W Bush suggested that Americans prepare for war by shopping, he untethered an entire generation from the wars being waged on its behalf by a negligible number of its cohorts.

Even though millennials’ attitudes about war are handed-down, there still exists a moral imperative to reject the inheritance. Supporting the rights of women, LGBT and religious minorities to serve in the military is fine, but asking that they kill and die on behalf of a war that you yourself refuse to participate in is, to resuscitate a word, dishonorable.

An interesting point- if you distrust the government so much, why are you so willing to trust them to send other people off to war? Additionally, this just exacerbates the civilian/military divide. When I was on active duty decades ago, there was already an us v. them mentality about the them not understanding. It’s grown even worse, and this sort of thing exposes part of why that is the case.

I’ll let Sooner and Adam chime in with their thoughts and update this post if they have any.

———-UPDATE 12:38 AM———-

Adam L Silverman: John asked for Sooner or me to put our thoughts in, and I just got through the comments, and am now adding my take. I think there are several overlapping issues going on – and they are ones that the military is itself concerned with. My experience with this is mostly on the Army side, so please keep that in mind. The first is the separation of the Force from the citizenry. The worry is that Americans will not just see military service as something others do, but will view the military as, essentially, a permanent, self selecting/all volunteer mercenary force. This certainly goes against how the military sees itself. Military personnel, especially those who are making the military a career (and in some cases have attained sufficient rank to see a bigger picture in their chosen profession) understand themselves to be part of the Profession of Arms.* And this is, to be honest, what was so wrong with how the Bush 43 Administration approached using the military after 9-11. By telling everyone that the best thing they can do is go shopping because the All Volunteer Force (AVF) has got this, it disconnected the citizenry from those who went to Afghanistan and/or Iraq. Moreover, the fact that this is the first time I know of that war has been waged and taxes or a dedicated revenue stream (war bonds) have not been implemented further signaled that what was taking place in Iraq and Afghanistan was not something most Americans needed to worry about.

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This Is How the System is Supposed to Work

Sgt. Bergdahl is going to face two court-martial charges– desertion and something something with the enemy, as just reported by NBC News.

As I have stated repeatedly (and Sooner has as well), this is how the system is supposed to work. You bring American soldiers home any time you can. You don’t decide “ehh, fuck em” and leave them behind for the enemy. If they have done something that violates UCMJ, you bring them home and let military justice take its course.

I will note that the timing of the announcement seems to be planned (hastily, probably) to undercut any sympathy that his “Serial” appearances might create, but I have no evidence whatsoever to support that and think so only because I am a cynical bastard older than the age of two. So, of course, that’s evidence enough to blog, amirite?