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Sunday, October 28, 2007

Thanks, but Why?
The fires in California have devastated thousands of people's lives and damaged a lot of property and land. I feel very bad for the people affected, even more than I felt bad for the people of New Orleans. I wish them well, my sympathy to them all, especially to those who lost loved ones to the flames. A horrible situation.

The Iraqis feel terrible too, but who let them donate money to California?

Their hearts are in the right place, but realistically, this is hurting them more than it helps anyone in California.
These wonderful people, and Iraqis that aren't in the murdering business can be wonderful people, collected $1000.00 to help the people of California. In Iraq, a thousand dollars is a big deal. It's probably a year's pay for most Iraqis, or at least a good chunk of a year.

In California, you can't buy anything for that money. A thousand dollars, for most Californians, is a few days of pay. Most of the houses are in the range of a half million dollars. The labor costs to distribute this donated money would probably exceed the donation itself.

The people of California do not need our help. It is the single most wealthy spot on this Earth. The people all have, or should have fire insurance. The laws in California have forbidden shake shingles for quite some time and there are numerous other laws to mitigate fire risk and damage. These fires were much worse than expected, but there was an awareness of fire danger and anyone who did not buy insurance has no right to pity.

That won't stop FEMA from rewarding those who buy million dollar homes but don't pay for insurance. The rest of us are required to subsidize their folly. So there is even less reason for us to feel a personal obligation to contribute to their recovery.

The officers working with those Iraqis were terribly irresponsible to encourage or abet these poor men giving their money to such a terrible cause. It's not even very good propaganda because it's not making it much in the news. It is little more than a futile gesture that will make their lives harder, and their lives are already too hard. Most Iraqis can't even dream of the luxury that the poorest in California live in.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

It's Getting Harder and Harder to Understand GW Bush
The latest in the news, but strangely not prominent in the news, is that our new friends, the Czechs are offended. I can't blame them.

You remember the Czechs? Yeah, those unfortunate people that keep getting marched over by one occupier after another? And no one bothers to help them?

Yeah, that's the Czechs I'm talking about. Hitler marched in and everyone yawned. Then after millions of people died to destroy Hitler's attempt at world or at least European conquest, we all sat back and clicked our tongues as the communists from Russia marched in and treated them far worse for forty years or so.

The Czechs are among the best people on this Earth, if you score that by their dedication to freedom and capitalism. They never gave up their culture of freedom, even in bondage. Once the Soviets collapsed the Czechs were among the first to re-establish a responsible, civilized government.

But now, look what's happened. The Bush administration has asked the Czechs to allow Russian soldiers occupy their country again. This is simply unbelievable.
G.W. Bush is exactly like his father in most respects, except even worse at public speaking. In this instance, I think this little stunt shows how he really believes in a world of one government, just like his Pa. And I'm not even going into the reports from Mexican president that Bush suggested a universal currency for North America. I used to think that only conspiracy theorists believed that, but apparently it was true.

So here's the details: The Czechs, in an effort to protect themselves from being taken over again, have joined with the United States and NATO and agreed to providing bases for mutual defense. Among those bases are radar installations.

For some reason, even though none of the former Soviet Bloc nations have been asked their opinion, upper level politicians of both stripes have repeatedly sent overtures to the Kremlin to join in NATO and conduct military operations together. Personally, I don't understand how if Russia is no longer a threat, why do we need NATO at all? If we still need NATO, then why would we trust Russia to defend us against Russia?

The obvious answer is that NATO is no longer a defense alliance, it's a government program and as such it can never end. Without a revolt, that is. Not that I'm advocating one at this time.

I think it's even more curious that our attempts to put bases in the Czech Republic, Poland, Azerbaijan, etc. are all being somewhat successfully thwarted by Russia. No one in this world has missiles for us to defend against except Russia. Why would we allow them to tell us what to do?

But even more important than the absurdity of including the Russians in our military installations is the idea that by even acknowleging that the Russians have a say in any of this is repulsive to the ideas of freedom that we claim for ourselves and that we give lip service to in support of other nations.

The Czechs and the other former Soviet Bloc nations know first hand, within most living memories how oppressive and murderous the Russians were to them. They are afraid of them still and want to remain free of them.

But we think that the Czechs should allow the Russians to have a base in their country.

Can you imagine after the Amerian Revolutionary War if our allies the French suggested we should allow the British to establish military bases in Boston?

Yeah, the Bush administration is that stupid.

Let's hope that the Czechs remain true to their national character and refuse to back down on this. I think they are displaying much more sense than we are.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Speaking of Uniforms
I know some officers that would have a cow about this, but someday our dress uniforms will be camouflaged.

Throughout history, dress uniforms have been superseded by field uniforms.

Our current dress blues used to be our field uniform as shown here in very poor images taken from "The Wind and the Lion." The role of the Marines in this movie is entirely fantasy, but the uniforms are correct.

Compare those uniforms with the current dress uniform.

If you look at World War I, you'd see that the field uniforms then are remarkably similar to our current service uniforms.

So, I don't think it's far fetched to say that someday, in about a hundred years, the full dress Marine uniform will have cargo pockets, camouflage, and an 8 cornered hat. And won't we feel silly for not allowing Marines to put gas in their cars on the way to work while wearing it?

Commandants and Uniforms
We're a nation at war and we have a new Commandant this year. What have been his most prominent acts so far?

1. Reverting back to 1986 and forbidding Marines from putting gas in their gas tanks while in uniform.

2. Trying, it seems, as hard as he can to insult the Commander in Chief by telling Congress that Iraq isn't important and that the war in Iraq is a distraction from our real purpose of responding to troublespots around the globe.

I'm filled with pride. Not.
On the first point, the Marines have this theory that the utility uniform is for field conditions only and that it is inappropriate to wear in public. This is certainly a valid viewpoint, but ever since Al Gray was commandant, we have been wearing our utilities more and more.

When I was a second lieutenant anyone not working in a hangar or in the field had to wear "charlies," the uniform with oxford shoes, creased trousers, and crisp button down shirt. Al Gray came along and anyone in a fleet unit wore utilities everyday except Friday.

Now even Marines working in the Pentagon wear utilites. They even have maternity utilities for crying out loud.

Yet this is a uniform too undignified to wear in public.

Sometime in the mid 80's, probably 88 or so, they changed the rules so that if you were driving to work you could stop at a gas pump and put gas in your car wearing utilities. Later, after I got out in 93, the rules seem to have changed again and people were allowed to go inside the gas station or run essential errands in utilities.

The reason these changes were made is because the result of not allowing the uniform to be worn in public, and yet allowing it at work, is that most people would drive to work wearing gym shorts and smelly t-shirts to change into uniform when they got to work. it defeats the purpose when people look even more slovenly.

Actually, the new Commandant's actions are an indication that utilities are becoming more acceptable and this backlash will soon be undone by the next commandant who will extend the laxer standards even further.

The second accomplishment of the new Commandant might appear to be inspired by one or more of the following:

1. I still think that there may be a bit of revenge against Bush for not backing up General Pace as the Chairman of the joint staff.

2. I also think there may be an interest in backing a perceived winning democrat party next elections, with an eye to gaining their favor when it comes to budgets.

3. I also think charitably that this might be heartfelt, and that the new Commandant takes criticism of past generals to heart for not demanding more of everything in order to fight the war, or challenge the national leadership to provide better ways to support national defense in a broader sense.

Number three would seem more likely if he weren't so preoccupied with making petty retro uniform regulations.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Muslims Sue for Peace
After six years of open warfare, Muslim scholars from around the world are suing for peace.

It's too bad they weren't talking this way on 12 September, 2001. I wonder what made them change their minds and finally start a discussion? Could it be that they're realizing that the war is being lost?

They still don't seem very repentant for supporting jihad and the attacks against the US, England, Spain, Bali, and others. But it's a start.

This is a good sign. The United States and its coalition partners are finally making progress, no thanks to the Pope, who keeps begging us to quit the war.

Now that we see we're having a good effect, we must redouble our efforts. Maybe someday they will see the light and apologize for not condemning the attacks on us. Maybe they will denounce oppression and forced worship.

I suspect this will be used by the moral equivocators, led by the Hitler youth pope, to beg us even more to end the war. But to me it appears that we're finally getting the enemy to make concessions and sue for peace. The best way to negotiate peace is with your foot on your enemy's throat.

This is a sign that we're winning, but the war is far from over.


Thursday, October 11, 2007

Blackwater and Blackletter Law
Okay, there's no blackletter law here, but I like the title anyway.

Blackwater, the "private security" company that operates in places like Iraq and Afghanistan under contract to provide security to various parties is under fire for its behavior in Iraq.

I'm not a fan of mercenaries, which is what they are. A lot of Marines I work with have joined up with Blackwater and other outfits and get paid quite well for it, and I'm happy for them. However, using mercenaries has historically been a problematic solution to military requirements.
If Blackwater were simply a security company, there would be few issues except that they have a lot of money. Anyone with a lot of money is going to have people coming after it through whatever legal means they can find. In this case, they killed some Iraqis, and for purposes of this rant I'll assume that the killings were inappropriate or at the very least mistaken.

In common law, a party is liable for damages for any wrong committed. The trick is deciding when a wrong is committed. Is the standard for the military appropriate for a private security company? Should private security companies have the same procedures as the military?

I should hope to god not.

Who are the individuals in this mercenary outfit? Some are American military reservists or former American military, and some are from whatever nation. The mercenary armies should comply with the laws of the nation they are operating in.

The problem comes when the nation they are operating in is hostile to the interest they are employed by. That is, if they are protecting Americans while at war with the Iraqi government, it's not kosher to say that they should comply with Iraqi law.

The Iraqi government is no longer hostile (at least on paper) to the US or others employing them. At some point in time, the special treatment secured by these mercenaries by the US government has become inappropriate. They should be subject to Iraqi law.

That's the easiest solution to the problem. But they are still exempt from Iraqi law. So the convoluted question is what laws are they subject to? It would be somewhat easier if the employees were Americans, then we could arbitrarily apply American law. But some are South African or whatever else. Usually terms of employment would name a jurisdiction, but in criminal law that might not be acceptable to the Iraqi or American jurisdiction.

All of this is fascinating and over my head as a second year law student, so I'll end that analysis for now.

An interesting point to me is to determine what the damages would be.

When an American military member kills an innocent Iraqi in a non-criminal action, we typically make a salatia payment. If I recall, the cost of killing someone was about $2000. Yes, we only pay about $2000 in most cases if we kill someone that didn't deserve to be killed.

No American would ever accept that for a punch in the nose, let alone a wrongful death.

Blackwater is being sued as a company in an American court. I kind of like that. This is not a criminal case, it's a civil case and the Iraqis have every right to bring it in an American court against an American company, or a company with significant contacts with the United States.

What is a New York court, with New Yorkers on the jury likely to award as damages, let alone punitive damages? I'll say a hell of a lot more than $2000.

Blackwater makes a lot of money at their business and they should be held accountable for any wrongs they commit. And this is why they should not be held to the standards of the US military. They are a for-profit outfit and should not be encouraged to profit while wrongfully killing people.

This is what the civil courts are for. The liability of causing a wrongful death will encourage these mercenaries to use appropriate caution when using force. They will have to explain their every decision and policy and justify any lack of means that could have prevented this death. The US military does not need to submit to this scrutiny because it is a government entity and its purpose is to use force to project its will on others. Because of the risk to national security, they need not have very high standards for safeguarding innocents except as they deem is useful to their own purposes.

Blackwater has no such mandate, and they additionally have a profit motive. If they make millions of dollars from using force, then it is reasonable to expect them to use means that can prevent deaths or other torts to the degree that it does not put them out of business completely so long as they perform a function that is socially desirable. This is a basic tenet of tort law.

That is, if an electric company can spend $10 and prevent powerlines from falling on people, causing thousands of dollars in damages, then to not spend that $10 would be negligent. If it takes $1000 to prevent $10 of damage, then it makes more sense to risk the $10 damage, taking into account the probability of it occuring as well.

For example, if Blackwater could have prevented this death by providing another ten vehicles to clear ahead of the people they were protecting, and this was a small cost compared to the liability of killing someone wrongfully, then to not provide those ten more vehicles would have been negligent.

I think taking this case to American courts is a brilliant move. Personally, I don't give two hoots about the Iraqis and the millions of dollars they're likely to be awarded, but I want their nation to get on its feet. If private mercenaries are forced to spend more of their profits to do a better job, everyone makes out.

The risk, of course, is if Blackwater determines that it can't afford the liability and leaves the country. If this is good or bad, I can't say. I'd like to think that Iraqi companies can pick up the slack, but I wonder at the ability of Iraqis doing so without inciting sectarian suspicions.

There are no easy answers. I like anything that helps promote the rule of law and increases the value of human life.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Marines Want to Leave Iraq
The New York Times reports that the Marines want to leave Iraq. They want to take over the entire war effort in Afghanistan instead. I think this is a wonderful idea for several reasons.

1. The Marine Corps gets to leave Al Anbar as winners. It's likely that the fickle tribes and sheiks in Al Anbar will flip again and things will get bad there again. If we leave Iraq, we can blame that flip on the army.

2. We can fight in Afghanistan without being burdened by the incredible bureaucracy of the army. On the other hand, the army does have a logistics system that works. The Marines use the wonderful Navy logistics system for its aircraft, and that works great too. But I wouldn't give two cents for the Marine ground logistics system.

3. Politically, the Marines have a tradition of being supported by the Democrat party. This ended in Viet Nam, but perhaps they want to return to those days since the Democrats are waxing in power again. It's a dangerous thing to speculate about, but interservice rivalry is still with us and if this gives the Marine Corps a leg up on funding its projects, there are some in the Pentagon who will try it.

4. Just like World War II was divided by the army in Europe and the South Pacific and the Marines in the Central Pacific (mostly), our war on terror might benefit from having Iraq and Afghanistan likewise segregated.

5. The Marines would get revenge for the insult to General Pace. The failure of Bush to support him in face of a naked political attack by the Democrats might just be enough for some in the Pentagon to endorse those that insulted him rather than the man who failed to defend him.

6. The Marines like to change scenery once in a while. Iraq is getting old, time for a new war to fight in.

7. The Marines would get revenge on the army's insult to their Force Reconnaissance Company that an army general tossed out of Afghanistan. We would, essentially, be kicking the entire army out of Afghanistan.

Yeah, I'm in a cynical mood today. In truth, I'm being sarcastic in calling this a wonderful idea. It has some merit, but I think the Marine Corps benefits a lot from operating side by side with the army, and so does the army.

But then again, if Al Anbar is peaceful, and the Marines are the nation's premier shock troops, it doesn't make much sense to leave them where they are.