Dear America…How To Read A Budget Request

Dear America

I’ve spent the morning looking at a small slice of Trump’s FY2018 budget request…specifically Trump’s budget for the Department of Homeland Security. It may be pretentious of me, but I’m gonna assume that the vast majority of you haven’t read it. I am also going to presume that you will never read it…just like you never read Obama’s or W’s. Reading a budget request…or an actual appropriations bill…requires a lot of patience and practice. The patience of Job comes to mind. Reading and understanding a budget request is an art form that is highly underrated. I imagine you have gotten your information concerning Trump’s budget request through your preferred media source…unfortunately the journalists and talking heads presenting you with budget request information haven’t read it either…any and all information they are conveying is based on summaries provided by other sources…or…if they are lucky…a smart intern that combed through it and wrote a synopsis for their news organization. The further you are away from the source the further you are away from the facts. At best, the information you are receiving is 2 to 3 sources away from the actual budget request. Like the old game of “telephone”…the further down the line you are…the more inaccurate the message becomes.

The reason so few actually read the budget request…or why people like me get paid to read it is because of this:

17 BR

It.Is.Fucking.Huge…and boring. The smaller book is the actual “budget request” and the larger volume is the appendix…which contains the facts and figures that support the information in the smaller volume.

Here is a not-so-quick or easy step-by-step way to read a budget request:

  1. Know the difference between the “budget request” and “appendix”…I explained that already.
  2. Know your timeline for reading it. If you are working on a deadline…and most of us who read budget requests due to our jobs have a deadline…know which part of the budget request pertain to your area of expertise…naturally there is a table of contents.
  3. Know where to find the budget request. The budget request is online…there is no excuse for anyone being ignorant of what is in the budget request because it is publicly available here.
  4. Remember…this is what Trump is requesting…this is not what the government is going to get in FY18…this is just what Trump is requesting.
  5. Know that the budget request is the completed work after ALL federal agencies, departments, and entities have submitted their budget information to Office of Management and Budget…OMB basically takes all their information and then writes the budget request…tailored to the president’s guidance.
  6. Know that all the information you might need MAY NOT be in the budget request…each federal agency, department, and entity has their own supporting documents…called Budget Justifications…these justifications are the foundation of any answer a federal entity is required to provide when asked “why do you need $1 billion for toilet seats?” by congressional appropriators. Those of us who read the budget request also read the justifications that are related to our areas of expertise.
  7. Know that there is never enough time to read the budget request cover-to-cover until you’ve already moved on to reading and reviewing actual appropriations bills…and by then you are basically comparing what Congress actually appropriated last year to the budget request to the proposed appropriations for this year…it’s a never ending cycle.
  8. Know that if there is a delay or issue with Congress appropriating funding…there will be a political kabuki dance of limited funding bills specifically targeted for a single federal department or group of departments OR there will be a continuing resolution that usually results in locking in present fiscal year funding at past fiscal year funding…this gives federal entities heartburn…because it is hard to prioritize and plan actions and programs based on limited or static funding…no one likes a continuing resolution…no one.
  9. Know that in the end you will have spent countless hours reading and researching budget request numbers that will be presented as one total in the actual budget request, a different number in the tables presented in the appendix, and then different numbers in the individual budget justifications…this is where the art of budget request reading comes in…you have to learn why each total in each document is different and how they are eventually reconciled…unfortunately any attempt on my part to explain that reconciliation would be even longer than this blog post…and you’d be considering suicide due to boredom before you are half way through it…trust me there is a reason…and sometimes that reason is “somebody made up a fucking number.”
  10. Make a decision…do you trust the source of your information on the budget request…or do you not really give a shit…because honestly those are the only reasons why you wouldn’t read it. Either you believe what others tell you what is in it or you really don’t care.

It’s not easy…it’s not fun…it’s not worth the effort…UNLESS you feel the need to educate yourself as a citizen…unless you feel the need to see how the present presidential administration prioritizes government funding. The budget request is undoubtedly the number one policy statement a presidential administration can make…all other governmental actions and policies flow out of the budget request. How Congress responds to the president’s budget request is the number one policy statement it makes in response to the President…and THIS is why reading the annual budget request is important…if you actually give a shit…

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Bolivian War Crimes Against Llamas: A Review of Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands

“serious violations of the laws and customs applicable in international armed conflict” and “serious violations of the laws and customs applicable in an armed conflict not of an international character” – Rule 156. Definition of War Crimes, International Criminal Court

Oh…I’ve committed war crimes. While deployed to Bolivia as part of a shadowy SpecOps unit (Ghost Recon), I have shot, run over, and thrown grenades at an alarming number of Bolivian civilians and at least 6 llamas. The reason I was in Bolivia and raising hell is because a Mexican drug cartel, Santa Blanca, has become a pseudo-Bolivian government entity…the Bolivian government’s paramilitary forces, Unidad, are working with Santa Blanca. Bolivia is a narco-state in every way except in name. Bolivia is fucked up…and my team and I weren’t there to fix it…we were there to kick ass and take names…we were there to win. To win AG Session’s war on drugs…and avenge the Santa Blanca’s torturing and killing of an undercover DEA agent…my team and I deployed to and royally fucked up Bolivia…

Well this happened in a video game…Ubisoft’s Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands…and it was fucking glorious. It was glorious because the game is an almost unbelievably large open-world game that seems to be about 50km x 50km and the game makes the country of Bolivia come alive…for the record Bolivians have their cars and trucks blessed by priests because the fucking roads are so dangerous…curving paved roads quickly turn into muddy mountain llama trails. GRW replicates the dangers of Bolivia roads in such a way that I was unable to drive any vehicle no more than 50m before I had hit another car, a llama, a Bolivian civilian walking on the side of the road, a tree, a guard rail, or a dog (I only saw one dog in the game and I, of course, ran it the fuck over…naturally my PS4 controller vibrated and there was a distinct “thud” that all of us who have hit a dog in real life know so horribly well). GRW kinda feels and looks like what you imagine Bolivia is…mountainous…deceptively beautiful…and full of fucking llamas that run amok.

Sunrises, sunsets, rain, thunderstorms, and fog engulf and enrich the game. After the first few hours of game play (where you are basically learning how to play the game), you start slowly recognizing the details of this digital Bolivia…and start being astonished at how perfectly rendered it is. As recent as two years ago, games of this size, or at least games that attempted to be this “big,” would have had significant issues with rendering…distant objects like buildings or mountains would be muted or fuzzy…odd glitches would constantly remind you that you were doing nothing more than playing a video game that teased you with size but only gave you a few hundred meters of detailed “play area.” GRW gives you kilometers of play area. When flying or riding in a hijacked, helicopter…the distant mountains…and fucking power lines…are easily seen but rarely avoided. This game is a feast for the eyes.

Of course, it is a game that has gotten mixed reviews…and of course, the criticism of the game is the same criticism that all games receive that are large and filled with missions that require repeated tasks. “Game play becomes rote.” “After 10 story line missions, all other story line missions become boring and familiar.” Well of course…because it is a giant ass game that requires numerous missions that feel and look the same at times…it’s not fucking real…and the game has a finish line that some players drive for immediately. To get to that finish line, you have to follow the long story line…

But…if you want to really to enjoy GRW…recruit 3 of your best friends…travel to this digital Bolivia…suit up in your favorite private military company attire…arm yourself with your preferred rifle, sub-machine gun, and silenced pistol…and start fucking some shit up.

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This ^ is one of my favorite private military contractor outfits…it is Trinity from The Matrix…and she is a known war criminal with at least 5 llama kills and 15 assassinations (by grenade) of captured Bolivian POWs. You don’t wanna fuck with a woman that doesn’t bat an eye when killing a llama…trust me.

You don’t have to kill every cartel thug or Bolivian soldier you see…you can sneak up (or run up) to them…grab them in a choke hold and then…you can use them as a bullet shield…you can walk around with your own private hostage/POW…you can push their asses into the trunk of a car (after slamming the face into the car’s side-paneling of course)…basically you can do anything you fucking want…short of sodomizing them…but don’t think that my gaming BFFs and I didn’t laugh about doing that. The reward of taking and abusing prisoners vastly outweigh the punishment…which is the game “kills” you…and then you have to start whatever mission you were on…but only after you have killed too many civilians or prisoners. I have no fucking clue what number of wrongfully killed civilians and prisoners is…but I can say that I have only been “killed” for abusing the Bolivian people about 2 or 3 times. Trust me the reward of fucking Bolivia up outweighs some minor setback of having to restart a mission.

This cooperative game play (you know…you and your buddies fucking up Bolivia) is what makes GRW so splendidly stupid and childish. I would be lying if I said that my gaming BFFs and I played GRW in a manner that reflected our actual age…because in reality…we play like we are 12 year-old boys. We cackle, giggle, scream, and curse (like any 12 year-old boy does when he is alone with BFFs)…and all of us are over 40 and all pretty much decent human beings with jobs, families, and responsibility. GRW allows full grown men to act childish…and I guess I have just written a review for a video game that is basically a ringing endorsement for violence and committing war crimes against llamas…and yeah…because the fun in GRW is the violence…and the freedom to exercise that violence with little or no repercussion.

It is a game…we know it is a game…but if you want to bring out your inner Blackwater mercenary, circa 2007 Blackwater merc…then GRW is the game that lets you raise digital hell. GRW lets you shoot llamas in the fucking face…GRW lets you grab drug cartel thugs and kill them in ways that are primarily only limited to your imagination.

Here is a list of the war crimes my gaming BFFs and I have committed in GRW:

  • purposefully run over civilians on and near roads;
  • purposefully shot or threw grenades at civilians both outside and inside vehicles;
  • purposefully captured and executed prisoners with every weapon available;
  • purposefully captured prisoners, placed in a vehicle, and then destroyed the vehicle using grenades and plastic explosives;
  • purposefully captured prisoners, placed in an airplane or helicopter, flown the aircraft to a very high altitude and then jumped out of the aircraft with a parachute and then watched the aircraft fall and crash while still containing the prisoners;
  • purposefully captured prisoners, knocked them unconscious in the middle of the road and then watched the prisoners be run over; and
  • purposefully captured prisoners, knocked them out on a rail road track, and then waited for the train…the train then ran them over.

Like I said…your personal list of Bolivian war crimes is limited only to your imagination. What is unfortunate…like a lot of idiots…we felt the need to document our war crimes.

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The above photographic evidence shows me (in camouflage) and my BFF (code named HappyDingo) knocking out and placing drug cartel thugs and Bolivian military members on train tracks…naturally we hung around to see the train pass by. This is why GRW is a great game…you get to play in a big “sandbox” and do the shit you would never do in real life…war crimes be damned…this is fun.

*Note: The real government of Bolivia formerly protested the making of this game because they felt it depicted their country in a not-so-good way…they’re right.

Dysfunctional Strategy: Trump’s Foreign Policy

Captain Willard [Martin Sheen]: Hey soldier…who’s in charge here?

soldier: ain’t you?

Apocalypse Now

Low hanging fruit is the sustenance of anyone who is either professionally or personally driven to write. The low hanging fruit that has caught my attention over and over…especially in the past couple of weeks…is this growing narrative that Trump may actually be learning a little about international affairs and that his foreign “policy” platform of America First…that he campaigned on heavily…is starting to emerge. Stop…just fucking stop…regardless of those who work on US foreign and national security policy and their almost innate desire to find some sort of pattern within the chaos of Trump’s foreign “policy”…there is no policy…there is no strategy. There is no order in Trump’s foreign “policy”…it is just ever-increasing chaos.

Let’s pretend that you have 15 minutes with Trump to talk foreign policy…you might want to talk about intelligence reports, you might want to point out DoD concerns and studies on threats and near-peer competitors (Russia…China). You might talk about US treaties, trade agreements, and allies. This would be a wasted 15 minutes. If you realize that would be 15 minutes of wasted breath, you may choose to go academic on Trump. You might start talking in pedantic phrases and discuss the national security strategy (NSS) environment and the preferred process in which a NSS is developed, reevaluated, and then amended. Again…you just talked for 15 minutes and Trump is looking at you as if there is a dick growing out of your forehead. If you had 15 minutes and wanted to break foreign policy and NSS down for Trump you might resort to an oversimplification of US national interests…US national interests are the reason why you have to have a foreign policy and a NSS…and then you find yourself talking in simple terms and phrases.

The accepted standard for simplifying why nation-states do the shit they do is based on Terry Deibel’s Foreign Affairs Strategy: Logic for American Statecraft.

The national interests of the United States, indeed of any state, seem to fall naturally into four broad categories. [p.125]

Simply…and specifically…the national interests are:

  • physical security;
  • economic prosperity;
  • value preservation at home; and
  • value projection overseas. [p.126.]

All of these are basic and understandable concepts. Physical security means the nation, its citizens, its interests, its allies, and its infrastructure are secured from physical (and now cyber) attack and destruction. Economic prosperity means that the nation’s economy and the industries and services that provide America’s wealth is protected and nurtured in a manner that ensures profit and prosperity (ideally for all of the nation and not select individuals or industries). Value preservation at home is…and it is a little tricky at first to get…the concept that the governing political body defends and preserves the ideals that we, as a nation, identify as our values…the very things the Declaration of Independence espouses and the Constitution guarantees. Finally, value projection overseas means that we, as a nation, project our values and ideals through interaction with other nations and people…a perfect example is the ideal that the US promotes the concept of democracy abroad.

If you had 15 minutes to educate Trump, explaining why there is a need for a coherent foreign policy and a viable NSS may be the best route. Unfortunately, regardless of your 15 minutes of breaking complex shit into bite-able pieces of shit…Trump would still go forth and be completely tone-deaf on foreign policy and NSS.

Evidence of Trump’s inability to even remotely form a coherent and rational thought on foreign policy begins with the fact that there are individuals…smart foreign policy/NSS individuals that get more than 15 minutes of his time. SecDef Mattis and NSA McMasters are both very-well read and very-well educated on foreign policy and NSS. The mere fact that these two men have had multiple opportunities in the past 100+ of Trump’s administration to educate Trump and that he still fucks up every foreign policy issue is a testament to the horrifying fact that Trump has no fucking clue…and either he is purposefully ignorant or he is mentally unable to grasp foreign policy. A quick summary of some of Trump’s foreign “policy” statements and actions shows idiocy that masquerades as foreign policy.

  • Korea…North and South…Trump swaggers about (as does members of his cabinet) talking about dealing with North Korea if “China doesn’t.” Trump and cabinet make statements about deploying a US aircraft carrier strike group to show the seriousness of US resolve, when in fact, the strike group had not been deployed for that mission at that time. Trump then makes statements about South Korea needs to pay for the US missile defense system that protects it…then Trump meets with China’s president and claims that there is a common understanding…
  • Russia/Syria/NATO…Trump’s administration, campaign, and potentially his personal connection to Russian influence and blackmail is a developing story. Even without this cancerous and ever-growing stain on Trump…US foreign policy right now is a tossed boat among the rising waves close to a rocky shore. Trump says Russia will get out of Crimea and Ukraine…Trump talks about working closely with Russia on the Syria/IS issue…then Trump launches Tomahawk cruise missiles at a Syrian airbase…after informing the Russians of the attack…who in turn informed the Syrians. Within the last 24 hours, Trump has reiterated the idea that the US and Russia should and will start working closely on the Syrian issue. While Trump and his surrogates tell NATO to start paying their bill on defense of Europe…while handing…literally fucking handing…German Chancellor Merkel a fucking bill for what he says is the past and current amount Germany owes. With friends like us, who needs enemies?
  • Iran…Trump rattles his sword at Iran…yet continues to either ignore or accept Russian-Iranian ties…or in other words…Trump and his surrogates either prattle in bellicose terms about Iran and its nuclear weapon ambitions…or it is dead silent.
  • Trade/treaties…what trade deal or what treaty has Trump not promised to renegotiate? At what point did Trump come to the self-aggrandizing conclusion that is midnight musings on the “business” of foreign policy are a perfect substitute for decades of evolving US foreign policy?
  • Regional relations…Mexico pay for the fucking wall! Brazil, please give a good deal on a Trump Tower. Canada…your milk is spoiled and your lumber is full of termites…trade war muthafuckas! Fences make good neighbors as Robert Frost wrote…don’t be surprised when Canada and Mexico build their own fucking wall.

Of course, articles in the Washington Post may talk about Trump’s evolving or learning curve toward the new GOP conservative concept of isolationism and dubbed “America First.” If conservative foreign policy experts and analysts want to believe that Trump is learning how to be a president and that his latest actions are examples of him seeing the light…then I am perfectly fine with watching them fool themselves. If flag-waving, chest-thumping Trump voters want to believe that this jester of a man…this fool…is America’s champion in the post-Cold War world…then fine (but first I want to ask these voters what the fuck “post-Cold War” means…because I’m willing to bet a year of my salary that most cannot articulate the paradigm shift in international relations which was the result of the Soviet Union’s demise and the expanding stature in which the US found itself in the late 90s).

In the end, we will all…every American…be better prepared for a long line of national security crisis after crisis that is happening now and will continue to happen as long as Trump is making the final decision (NATO you’re fired! Russia…wanna try to be our apprentice?…oh you want America to be your apprentice?)…and as long as Trump is shadowed by a US military officer carrying the nuclear football…there will be no peace of mind…there will be no breathing room…there will be no reduction in stress.

Unfortunately, America (with, what is beginning to appear more likely every day, Russian assistance) has elected a complete and utter idiot as its president…a man who cowardly avoided military service…failed…repeatedly…at his life long profession of “business.” At 70+ years, an idiot doesn’t suddenly become a stellar student of international affairs…at 70+…an idiot remains an idiot. Trump is in charge here…he just has no ability to lead or learn how to lead. Don’t hope for anything better and quit believing it might get better…it isn’t going to get better. We.Are.Fucked.

 

War: Presidents? Congress? Who The Fuck Decides?

The Media…Facebook friends…anonymous government officials…conspiracy theorists…bloggers…and your fucking angry uncle are all constitutional law experts when it comes to Trump’s missile strike on Syria. The more microphone and internet space is provided, the more the space is filled with opinions and thoughts. Everyone thinks they know what the fuck they are talking about…and they all say things like: “…the Constitution says…the War Powers Act…blah, blah, blah.”

So here I am filling in my little area of digital space to provide a (somewhat) quick and easy guide to the War Powers Act, some historical context, and the one acronym that isn’t being used too often outside the insider baseball world of national security…AUMF…Authorization for the Use of Force.

War Powers Act

  • The legal mumbo jumbo is P.L. 93-148 (87 STAT. 555), the War Powers Resolution and called the “War Powers Act” was passed by Congress over President Nixon’s veto in 1973. The WPA is codified in US Code in Title 50, Chapter 33, Sections 1541-48;
  • “resolution” is misleading…it is a law;
  • Constitution says President is Commander-in-Chief (Art.II, Sect. 2); and Congress make declarations of war, and to raise and support the armed forces (Art I, Sec.8);
  • Over time the President’s role as CINC and Congress’ role to declare war has caused questions about war and the use of military force;
  • WPA is a direct result of the Vietnam War and addresses the concern that results when the introduction of US military forces abroad could lead to their involvement in armed conflict;
  • WPA is primarily to “insure that the collective judgement of both the Congress and the President will apply to the introduction of United States Armed Forces into hostilities,” and that the President can only exercise his CINC responsibilities once Congress has authorized the use of military force;
  • WPA requires the President to consult with Congress before introducing the military into hostilities or situations where hostilities are imminent;
  • WPA establishes a 60 day time limit on the President’s reporting to Congress;
  • WPA requires that the military must be removed from hostilities unless Congress approves the military action OR if Congress is physically unable to meet and deliberate due to a physical attack on the US;

From Nixon to now, Presidents have had serious asshurt about the WPA and say it is unconstitutional (SCOTUS has deemed otherwise). Because of this, the WPA has been controversial…and it is an on-going issue due to the worldwide deployment of the US military. Since its enactment, Presidents have submitted over 120 reports to Congress pursuant to the WPA.

Historical Context

Here are some major examples related to the WPA:

  • 1975 President Ford submitted a report to Congress as a result of his order for the military to retake the Mayaguez, a US merchant vessel which had been seized by Cambodia;
  • 1981 President Reagan deployed military advisers to El Salvador but filed no WPA report to Congress. Congress filed a federal lawsuit in an attempt to for Reagan’s compliance with the WPA, but the US District Court hearing the suit declined to be involved when the judge saw a political question…whether US forces were indeed involved in hostilities;
  • 1982-1983 President Reagan sent a unit of Marines to Lebanon to participate in peacekeeping operations. Reagan submitted 3 reports to Congress but didn’t cite the 60 day time limit. Over time the Marines came under enemy fire and some called for the Marines withdrawal. Congress, in an agreement with Reagan, passed P.L.98-119 in 1983 which authorized the Marines to remain in Lebanon for 18 months. Reagan signed the law and was the first time a President signed legislation invoking the WPA. The eventual bombing of the Marines’ barracks in Beirut led to their eventual withdrawal;
  • 1990-1991 President H W Bush sent several reports to Congress regarding military force buildup in Operation Desert Shield. HW Bush took the position that he did not need congressional approval to carry out UN resolutions which authorized member states to use “all necessary means” to eject Iraq from Kuwait; however, he did ask for congressional “support.” Congress passed P.L.102-1 which authorized the President to use force against Iraq if the President reported that diplomatic efforts had failed to remove Iraqi forces from Kuwait. HW Bush did so report and initiated Operation Desert Storm;
  • 1993-1999 President Clinton used the US military in various operations, such as air strikes and deployment of peacekeeping forces in the former Yugoslavia. These operations were pursuant to UN resolutions and conducted in conjunction with NATO member states. Clinton issued numerous reports to Congress but never triggered the 60 day limit. Some Members of Congress did not support these operations but were unable to pass legislation that limited the President’s actions. A federal law suit was filed saying the President violated the WPA when the 60 day time limit passed before he ordered air strikes on Kosovo. President Clinton stated that the WPA was constitutionally “defective”. US District Court ruled in the President’s favor and SCOTUS refused to hear the appeal.
  • 2001 In the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Congress enacted P.L. 107-40 which authorized President W Bush to “use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001…” For the first time, “organizations, or persons” were specified in a congressional authorization to use force pursuant to WPA.
  • 2002 Congress authorized W Bush to use force against Iraq pursuant to WPA, in P.L. 107-243.
  • 2013 The (then) Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) introduced legislation that would have authorized President Obama to use military force to intervene in the ongoing Syrian civil war. The bill specifically contained provisions about the use of chemical weapons. The bill did not pass.

AUMF

  • AUMF is “Authorization for the Use of Military Force”;
  • It is the term that means Congress authorizes the President, with their authority under WPA, to deploy and use military forces in hostilities or in areas where hostilities are imminent;
  • AUMF is often the cited phrase used in legal suits and discussions when the constitutionality of a certain military deployment or action happens with or without congressional approval.

Why Any of This Fucking Matters

  • There is NO AUMF for Trump to use force in Syria;
  • There was NO AUMF for President Obama to use force in Syria…even though Obama did order air strikes and military assistance to Syrian opposition groups;
  • Trump never reported to Congress prior to launching cruise missiles at a Syrian airbase;
  • Trump did not report to Congress prior to deploying a Marine unit to Syria earlier this year;
  • Congress COULD file a federal lawsuit demanding the end of all US military operations in Syria, which would require (like other historical military deployments) federal courts (up to, if necessary, SCOTUS) to hear the case;
  • Legal precedent shows that, in the past, federal courts have sided with the President (Balkans, 1990s)…or at least required the President and Congress to reach an agreement on the deployment of military force (Lebanon, early 80s);
  • Many constitutional and WPA experts (I am not one) argue that WPA is now toothless due to congressional inaction or willingness to allow presidential CINC authority (as cited in the Constitution) to supersede congressional declaration of war authority (as cited in the Constitution);
  • Congress, COULD (at a minimum) require Trump to inform Congress of his immediate, short-term, and long-term strategic goals in Syria. Congress COULD require Trump administration officials such as the SecDef and SecState to meet with and testify before about the Trump administration Syrian strategy;
  • FINALLY, congressional inaction may result in it further relinquishing its constitutional authority to declare war, thus further allowing the increase in presidential power as related to war and limiting the enforcement of AUMFs.

Then again…maybe none of this matters…what the fuck do I know?

Hillbilly Highway: Escaping the South

My granddaddy was a miner, but he finally saw the light
He didn’t have much, just a beat-up truck and a dream about a better life
Grand mama cried when she waved goodbye, never heard such a lonesome sound
Pretty soon the dirt road turned into blacktop, Detroit City bound
Down that hillbilly highway
On that hillbilly highway
That old hillbilly highway
Goes on and on – Steve Earle, “Hillbilly Highway

If I hadn’t left Alabama…if I hadn’t joined the Army…I don’t know what I would have done…but probably wouldn’t have been much in life. – Dad

If I hadn’t got kicked out of college in Tennessee…if I hadn’t joined the Army…I don’t know what I would have done…but probably wouldn’t have been much in life. – me

Steve Earle sings a twangy autobiographical song about family up and moving out of Appalachia…a migration below Moses’ level of biblical…but significant enough to fill Ohio and Michigan towns with hill people from the extremely rural areas bordering these two states in the south and southeast.  The “Hillbilly Highway” was a real phenomenon. In the 40s, 50s, and 60s, coal miners, farmers, moonshiners, down-and-outs, and common folk came out of the hollers (not ‘hollows’) of Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee, Georgia, and other southern states. They established hillbilly enclaves in industrial towns and cities…to return to the South for vacations, deaths, births, marriages, and sometimes retirement. You can see their descendants on any large Southern lake on their boats…you can see them parked in Southern state parks…Michigan and Ohio plates on their RVs…Southerners think Ohio and Michigan invades the South annually like some weird reversed songbird migration…in reality though, its just kin returning to the land their parents and grandparents pined for while toiling in Michigan and Ohioan factories and mills.

J.D. Vance describes this migration and his kin in his autobiography Hillbilly Elegy. Vance was primarily raised by his transplanted hillbilly grandparents who had escaped Kentucky for better options in Ohio. Vance visits…vacations…among his Kentucky kin. Vance points out the honorable and the horrible of these hillbillies. He describes the alcohol and drug addictions…the violence…the requirement of being honor-bound by one’s word…and the responsibility of defending family against all outsiders. Vance despairs and glorifies his family…his Kentucky. In the end, though, Vance is…at best…a tourist. He wasn’t from Kentucky…he was raised by Kentuckians.

I get this completely…as a son of transplanted rednecks from Alabama…I had a childhood of visiting…vacationing with…family in Alabama…but I not from Alabama. My parents were from Alabama…I was from wherever we had most recently been stationed by the Army…my dad’s employer. My dad may have retired in Tennessee…I may have attended high school in Tennessee…but I am not a Tennessean. At best, I am a man who spent his life bouncing from Army post to Army post…ultimately, I am a man who spent a little time in Tennessee until it was time for me to hitch my own ride out of the South.

Whenever one returns the ancestral lands of the South…one sees the fire-brimstone Sundays tinged with rampant self-loathing and anger that comes as a side-effect of being from, and living in, a place that lacks in education and opportunities…a place that isn’t so much segregated as much as insulated. It isn’t a place that sees the world and decides to reject it…it is a place that rarely sees the world but retains a fixed notion…a visceral belief…of what the world is.

Vance has received critical acclaim for this ‘love letter’ to hillbillies and Kentucky…Hillbilly Elegy has received rave reviews because of Vance’s ability to both despair at his family’s problems and hold them aloft…finding the good in them…honoring them in his own way. I would argue that Vance…at best…accurately describes Appalachia and its residents, while describing a good tale about a boy born to a alcohol and drug addicted mother…a boy raised by his transplanted Kentucky grandparents. Vance offers a quick and interesting window into a place most people haven’t seen or experienced.

While reading Hillbilly Elegy, I was both torn and drawn to the people that populate Vance’s childhood. I get the adult realization that the kin we knew as children are not the people we come to recognize as we get older. Dads, uncles, older brothers, and grandfathers become less heroic and more…typical…full of shit…men who bluffed and compromised themselves through their lives. We see the maternal women of our lives go from being caring and loving angels to broken and mean-spirited women who navigate a world that still reeks of paternalism and sexism. The hillbilly childhood of Pop Tart and Kool Aid breakfasts become adult coffee and cigarette breaks. J.D. Vance…at best…is a good tour guide to a freakish and angry Appalachian theme park. Vance lets you get a glimpse of a place that is in a multi-generational education drought while soaked in alcohol, pills, and meth. Tourists have to pay extra to see the deep and dark secrets…the murders…the drug addiction…the hate…the self-loathing…hidden in ramshackle sheds that sit behind the double-wide trailers…in the back yards…sheds that seem to be getting slowly engulfed by the dark and menacing tree line.

If you’ve never been to the South…Atlanta and Florida doesn’t fucking count…then I suggest picking up Vance’s book. It will confirm some of your stereotypes…it will confirm some of your fears on why they consistently vote against their self-interests…it will give some light to the dark place you can’t see through that may explain why these hillbillies could and did vote for charlatan like Trump…Hell! We are talking about a place that welcomed and absorbed drunk and angry traveling preachers that espoused the Bible as literal and disparaged the idea that Christianity could be studied through theological surveys or philosophical pondering. This book gives you a good taste of the South…a taste that feels a bit smokey and gritty…hints of whiskey…hints of cigarette…hints of sweet tea and fried food.

If you are from the South…and if you’re from Florida, you’re only Southern if you claim the panhandle as home…this book will, at best, have you nodding at the familiarity. Have you saying “no shit” when some story is told…some family member that is simultaneously held aloft for praise and then having their failings easily exposed. Self-loathing through deep contemplation is something Southerners are pretty damn good at…nothing Vance tells you will be surprising…and it may even become boring due to it seeming so familiar to your own life’s stories. I came away from Hillbilly Elegy feeling that I should recommend it to those non-southern…non-hillbilly…friends that think that I can explain the South…or Trump’s election…because my parents are Southern. This book gives you an idea of Southerners.

I prefer hearing about the trials and tribulations my kin through music…I like to think of my life through Steve Earle and Drive-by Truckers lyrics…but page after page of an Appalachian-focused autobiography that isn’t accompanied by dueling banjos is merely boring and over-wrought. Of course…what do I know…I’m not Southern…I was just raised on Pop Tart and Kool Aid breakfasts and Southern parents. Ignore me…I’m not Southern…I’m just still traveling that hillbilly highway and where I come from…whatever Southern I am…is forever fading quickly into the past behind me.

 

The Best Budget Message of The President

To the Republican Congress (not them SAD democrats) of the United States:

As I look back on these grate months as the best PRESIDENT, I am so happy by America’s being Made Great Again #MAGA! I am moving us forword. When I swore on that bible and assumed command of America #MAGA!, my nation was a mess. Obama was SAD! America was SAD!

Thanks to me and my bigly hands, and them grate American Trump voters #MAGA!, I rescued us! Best rescue you have ever seen! I have kicked fureigners out! I have made Boeing and other companies sign new deals! Today, my economy, America’s #MAGA economy is awesome.

I have created a bunch of jobs already! Just months in the job as supereme President I have #MAGA! Employment? Gone! Illegal workers stealing American #MAGA! jobs? On there way out! Ihave made the American #MAGA economy the envy of the world.

Even though I did this, their is work to do. The #MAGA Budget is not about looking back (WRONG!). The #MAGA Budget is about me taking us forword! The #MAGA Budget is about the bigly questions that defines the #MAGA America!

My Budget makes huge investments, needed huge investments, while sticking to the Republican budget agreement. Those sad democrats are the reason we had to have a budget agreement because they were giving all my money to kids, and blacks, and illegals with fake sociol secruity numbers! Big mistake! Sad!

First, America #MAGA is going to inovate in hotels, especially them big tower like hotels with gold plated toilets and thrones. Sorta like them hotels I own (but in a trust so I am seeing none of that moneys). Next I am gonna invest in http://www.bibleastextbook.com because the best Educaton Secertary, Betsy DeVos, is gonna make sure bibles is what kids will learn from.

I am also budgeting for an increase in Homeland Secuirty because that is how we keep them dirty jihady Muslims out, and how we kick all them greasy Mexicans out. I will make sure we have enough Immigration and Customs Enforcement stormtroopers that we can stop them at the WALL (#MAGA!) and root them out of there nests in California, Taxachussetts, and New Englandistan.

I am making budget for jobs. All sorts of grate jobs. Jobs at malls. Jobs at hospitals. Jobs at toll booths (because roads don’t pay for themselves!).

What am I not budgeting for? The environment, gays, poor people, educaton, SAD studies about global warming (hey it was cold last week here in DC! Way cold!), and anything that helps democrat voters (there are only 12 of them who voted millions of times, Bannon and Briebart told me that).

Finally, I am spending a gazillion $s on big military things! #MAGA Big planes, big tanks, small planes, small tanks, a bunch of aircraft carriers for those big and small planes. I am going to hire millions of young men and women who can’t find jobs AND then I am going to budget for a big war with Iran or Koreas or anyone other than Russia. To save money I am going to make Canada pay for all of there defences.

It won’t be easy. But with your taxes (not rich people’s taxes though, just your taxes) and me taking the credit for it, we can #MAGA. I am the best president and this is the best budget. Any budget presented before this budget pales in compareson. I will move us forword to invent stuff, to grow larger our opportunties and secruities, and MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN! #MAGA

Donald J. Trump @realdonaldtrump, @45POTUS

The White House (not to be confused with the Winter White House in Florida)

March 1, 2017

#MAGA

Cavalry State of Mind: A Book Review

If you ain’t Cav you ain’t shit! – traditional U.S. Cavalry saying

A book review of Jimmy Blackmon’s* Pale Horse: Hunting Terrorists and Commanding Heroes in the 101st Airborne Division

U.S. military leadership and civilian policy makers are once again eyeing Europe and Russia’s assumed resurgence as a near-peer competitor. Talk of issues like Russia’s new army divisions being established in its Western and Southern Military Districts has NATO generally, and the U.S. specifically dusting off Cold War era manuals and refocusing U.S. military efforts back on mechanized warfare. After 15 years of fighting wars that primarily consist of counterinsurgency (COIN) and counter-terrorism (CT) operations, many U.S. military and civilian leaders are wondering what COIN and CT lessons (learned over the past decade and a half) can be transferred with the U.S. military’s strategic pivot from Iraq and Afghanistan to eastern Europe as well as to the western Pacific. Colonel (Ret.) Jimmy Blackmon’s Pale Horse: Hunting Terrorists and Commanding Heroes in the 101st Airborne Division provides a guide on the lessons learned in Afghanistan that can be transferred to any future conflict. Colonel Blackmon’s simple premise of cavalry being a state of mind, with its inherent missions of reconnaissance and security, and how leaders empower and develop subordinates is both tactically and strategically sound for any battle, present or future.

Unlike most war memoirs, Colonel (then Lieutenant Colonel) Blackmon’s book on commanding an Army aviation task force (7th Squadron, 17th Cavalry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division) doesn’t specifically focus on his experience, instead it focuses on the 7-17 Cav troopers and the infantry soldiers they supported in eastern Afghanistan’s Kunar and Nuristan provinces. As Col. Blackmon told me “my book isn’t about me, it’s about the soldiers, and it’s the story of their fight.” Col. Blackmon provides a view of the war in Afghanistan as it is fought from above, and provides insight into battles fought at Wanat, Korengal, and OP Bari Ali. This perspective provides the reader with a certain clarity that is rarely found in the media coverage of the war in Afghanistan.Task Force (TF) Pale Horse was not a traditional air cavalry squadron when it deployed to Afghanistan in 2009. TF Pale Horse was task organized with OH-58D Kiowa Warriors, AH-64D Apaches, CH-47F Chinooks, UH-60M Black Hawks, UH-60L Medevac, and Hunter unmanned aerial vehicles. TF Pale Horse didn’t just supply and support the ground forces; TF Pale Horse became a battlefield sensor. This sensor mission required every pilot, regardless of helicopter (or its traditional role of lift, attack, or reconnaissance), every aircraft crew member, and every member of the TF’s headquarters element to embrace the concept of reconnaissance and security. After every mission, pilots and air crews were to observe and report what they saw and encountered. Pilots were required to debrief the TF’s intelligence section following each mission. This cavalry state of mind of observing and reporting wasn’t something Col. Blackmon and his TF were specifically tasked to do, it was a mission that TF Pale Horse developed and executed to support the U.S. Army ground commander in the Central Kunar Valley.

In addition to imbuing every TF Pale Horse pilot with what Colonel Blackmon calls “a cavalry state of mind,” Col. Blackmon also, like all good leaders, empowered his subordinates and staff to develop new tactics and techniques. One such empowerment was the developing and encouraging the TF intelligence section to glean and analyze the information provided by TF pilots and air crew. This analysis resulted in what they called their enemy’s (named the “syndicate” by the intel section) Modus Operandi Template (MOTEMP). This MOTEMP helped TF Pale Horse interdict and disrupt the syndicate’s attacks on U.S. forces in the Central Kunar Valley. The syndicate’s MOTEMP showed a consistent, and complacent (a fatal mistake) process in which the enemy would get supplies and weapons from the bordering region of Pakistan, move these supplies and weapons through the Hindu Kush mountains to cache sites in the Central Kunar Valley. Following the movement and caching of supplies and weapons, the syndicate would meet, plan, and rehearse its next set of attacks. As with most counterinsurgency forces, the syndicate would then move to fighting positions, attack, coordinate follow on attacks if possible, and then regress. Because TF intel section’s correct analysis and identifying the syndicate’s stand operating procedure before, during, and after an attack, TF Pale Horse was able to begin interdicting and disrupting the enemy prior to it executing its attacks.

What Col. Blackmon’s Pale Horse shows is what good leaders have always known, and that is empowering subordinates to adjust the mission on the fly is a key ingredient in tactical success. The cavalry concept of reconnaissance and security cannot be successful unless every cav trooper believes in it. Col. Blackmon created a command environment which enabled attack, lift, utility, and recon helicopter pilots to become integral components of a cavalry outfit. Col. Blackmon empowered an intelligence section, led by a captain, to do what intelligence analysts do best and that is look at a puzzle or problem and then connects the dots based on good field reports and analytical acumen.

The concept of leading through empowerment of subordinates and molding a military unit into a single cohesive entity that is capable of interdicting and disrupting the enemy is not novel nor is it specific to Afghanistan. Even though Col. Blackmon’s memoir doesn’t provide strategic-level insight, it does provide an example of how military units should be led regardless of the type of unit it is, and it shows how a good command environment produces unique and effective ways to fight the enemy. Col. Blackmon tells a good war story of TF Pale Horse and its operations in Afghanistan if one takes his book at a singular level, but he also provides an example of how any fight in any area of operations or theater can be affected by the leader’s willingness to empower subordinates to innovate and then use those innovations in the fight. Pale Horse is more than a war memoir, it is a testament to the TF’s men and women, and it is a timeless guide on how to lead.

*Disclaimer: I am a friend and former National War College classmate of Jimmy’s.