Tuesday, March 30, 2010

AT&T is Crying Woe is Me

I had to read these news stories several times to make sure I understood what all the crying was about; this one on AT&T taking a $1 billion charge for a new health care reform law and, of course, threatening to decrease its health care benefits to its retirees, and this one about 300 large corporations lobbying for repeal of the same, new health care reform accounting requirement. I guess what surprised me most is that I learned by reading these stories that President Bush and the 2003 Republican Congress gave away more of our tax money to corporations with that Medicare Prescription Drug Plan D of 2003 than to just drug companies. And then, on top of the give-away, those companies were allowed to take a tax deduction on the amount given them. Wow! That's like a double subsidy. Talk about a boondoggle!

Don't you remember Plan D? It's the plan that says Medicare, or a Medicare subsidized personal plan like Kaiser or Blue Cross, and I guess in the case of AT&T's plan, will pay a large portion of your prescription cost up to a limit, around $2,500. So, if your drugs cost you more than $2,500, you hit the “Gap,” and the Gap is where you pay full price for the drugs from $2,500 until you've paid around $4,500, and then Medicare (or AT&T) subsidies kick in again. It is a huge cost to those people who need high cost medicine. In fact, some poorer people just stopped taking their much needed drugs. The plan didn't financially hurt companies as much as it hurt the patient.

I can hear AT&T's CFO (Chief Financial Officer) now, “Look at this, CEO. This Prescription Drug Plan is going to give us 28% tax-free of any drug plan we have for our retirees and then let's us deduct that from our taxes, which adds another 35% of the 28% to profit, if we make a plan for our retirees. Then, we don't have to pay for the drugs when a retiree hits the Gap. Wow! We can also deduct any amount we directly contribute to the plan, that other 72%. This is like free money, CEO! And we don't have to sell a single phone to get it!” And off they went with a drug plan for their retirees.

Now, AT&T is crying because this so-called “Loop Hole” has been closed. A loop hole implies that the Congress and President made a mistake that gave out more than intended. Ha! Don't believe it. This loop hole was specifically intended by those lobbyist who actually wrote the Prescription Drug Plan D and the Republicans and Bush-II liked it.

AT&T, and those other 300 companies, are not going to create benefit plans unless they absolutely have to by law, or it is profitable. That, you can believe. And, since they can still deduct that 72% that they directly pay into the benefit plan, I'll bet that they don't reduce the plan by one single retiree. I'll bet that it will still be profitable to them to continue it. That, too, you can believe. They were not forced by law to have a drug plan for retirees, that was optional. They did it only to get the subsidy and tax break; the free money.

What we really need is Single-Payer Health Care. That would stop all of these give-away tax-free subsidies to corporations. AT&T would really scream bloody murder then. They may have to go to work selling phones for all of their profit. As for the news articles, I smell a rat in the Financial Department and their Lobbyist Corporation. It ain't what it appears to be.

By the way, I see that AT&T's stock price is bouncing back, up nearly $1.00 from yesterday's downturn hit by these news stories. Too bad. Had I thought about it yesterday, I would have bought a thousand shares of AT&T real quick while it was down so much. AT&T isn't going to lose money, you can count on it. I would have made about $1.00 a share just from yesterday. I may still buy it. It's a good bet.


Monday, March 29, 2010

From The Beatles to L. A. and Bob Dylan

Good Lord. What have I gotten myself into? At 4 o'clock in the morning on January 17 th, 1964, my first full day at Naval Training Center, Great Lakes, I sat straight up in bed wondering what that ungodly noise was. Boot Camp started with a banging, literally. Someone is using a baseball bat in a corrugated steel garbage can, swinging the bat around and around against the corrugated ribs – a rude awakening. Someone yelled, “Okay, okay. We're awake goddamn it.” “Up and at 'em you dirt bags. Fall in.” Things were not looking up. It didn't get any better.
Breakfast, too, on that first day was terrible. Powdered eggs, canned bacon, a bruised apple, a bowl of very thick oatmeal and baked beans were heaped on my tray. Baked beans for breakfast! I gagged. The oatmeal, too thick, looked edible at least, but the sugar dispenser was empty. I didn't dare get the one from the next table. I sat alone, still in my civilian clothes, and nibbled at the eggs and bacon and gagged again. Nothing was edible. I couldn't eat it. What do I do now? Leave the tray here? Take it someplace? Where? I watched another recruit in uniform take his partially eaten meal to a half-door and hand it in, like my high school cafeteria I remembered. I followed his lead. Nobody yelled at me for not eating my food. I was safe.
So, on an empty stomach I went off with my company for ID cards and uniforms. Down a long isle we walked along the stacks of uniforms on the floor. We striped off our civvies, down to our birthday suits, and began putting on our uniforms right there in that long hallway. There was no privacy, no modesty. It was, somehow, worse than that high school locker room I experienced. We boxed up our civvies to be sent home. We wouldn't need them for a long time. Navy Blues, however, fit me very well; thirteen buttons closed the front flap. That was the strangest goddamned thing I'd ever seen. Why not a simple zipper? Brock missed a button. “Do you have to pee, sailor?”
“No,” Brock answered.
“No, what?”
“No, I don't have to pee.” he answered again.
“Don't you mean no, I don't have to pee, SIR?”
“Yes,” Brock answered.
“Yes, what?”
“Yes, SIR.” He finally understood. So did the rest of us, except George Washington...
“Then button up your uniform, dirt bag.” Brock began to fix his uniform. “No, not that way. Undo ALL of the buttons and start from the beginning.” A second later, “No. Don't button them all up yet. Stand at attention.” Brock stood at attention with his fly open, a cold Great Lakes, January wind blowing and his open-fly Navy issue skivvies, the worst underwear ever devised, clearly exposed. Very humiliating. We heard a snicker somewhere in the back of our formation. “Who was that?” our company leader, a temporary fill-in recruit just-like-us Company Commander (CC) as it turned out, asked.
“George Washington,” a black guy answered. There was a pause. We heard several more snickers.
“Come up here, comedian. Let me see your brand new ID.” The temp CC looked at the card for several seconds, and finally looked up, “I'll be damned. Your name really is George Washington.” Someone laughed out loud.
So, with a turn of fate, the entire company was introduced to its most memorable, unforgettable characters, Kenneth Brock and George Washington. Washington's affect on us started on that day and lasted the whole thirteen weeks of boot camp. Brock's notoriety came a few weeks later. I can't tell you the names of anyone else in our Company, except those two. By the end of the first day all of us realized we had a clown in our company. Washington was funny. What he said and the way he said what was on his mind, unasked and out of the blue, the most innocent remarks, at the most inopportune moment, struck all of us as funny. Later in the barracks, Brock complained about how cold it was standing at attention with his fly open. “Shiii,” George says, dropping letters from his words and using the vernacular of his Philadelphia, black neighborhood home, “fust unerwear I ever had. It ain't cole.” We laughed.
We began our boot camp training. Our permanent Company Commander was a First Class Petty Officer Commissaryman, a cook. His red hash marks and rating badge on his sleeve, I later learned, meant that he had a disciplinary blemish on his record. Gold hash marks and badge indicated no blemish. Never-the-less, he was good. He never raised his voice and he never called us names. He appointed the recruit company officers, from among our ranks, on the first day; our Recruit Company Commander (RCC) and squad leaders. “Clark,” he said, “you're Squad Leader Six.” As surprised as anyone, I took my place with the other squad leaders and he handed out our assigned areas; sleeping quarters to the first squad, toilets to the second, and down the line to my squad – the clotheslines. George expressed my sentiments for me, “ You tellin' me we have a squad for clotheslines?” in disbelief. We laughed. And, with that question our CC met George, proven once again by reading his ID card and the response we knew was coming, “Your name really is George Washington.” We laughed. So did our Company Commander.
George couldn't march and we marched everywhere, all the time. He was unable to adjust his step to the cadence of the marching column. If you saw his column coming straight at you, you would see everyone's shoulders square-on, in rhythm, but his shoulders peaked out one side, then the other by half a foot or more, and his rhythm was slightly off, cycling with the group one minute, then in the opposite direction the next. He took long steps, but instead of taking shorter steps, adjusting with the others, he simply tried to stay between the guy in front and the guy behind. “Goddamn it, George, will you stop walking on my heels,” we heard. Or, “Damn it George, will you hurry up,” we heard from the guy behind him, and the whole column would look like a slinky, expanding and contracting to accommodate George. “George, you'll be our Flag Bearer,” the CC finally said. That solved the problem for the column. George carried our Company Flag at the tail end of the formation. Another bearer carried the American Flag in front of the company. All George had to do was stay roughly behind the left column. He managed to stay within a three-foot square area, which is to say he wandered a bit. That didn't solve all of his marching problems, however.
We learned all kinds of marching maneuvers, left and right face, left and right obliques, to the rear – march! George was like a swinging tail on turns, much like when we were kids perhaps skating, holding hands, and the last in line would flare out going faster than those in front. George was a step or two behind all of the rest of us. To-the-rear, MARCH! A 180 degree turn in the opposite direction; he'd crash into the column suddenly coming toward him and destroy the formation. “Gimme' some warning, goddamn it!” We howled with laughter, barely able to keep formation. The cadence caller would say, “you have to pay attention, George. You can't have your mind wandering all over the place.” “My feet hurt. Can't listen to you if my feet hurt,” George said. We laughed more. Finally, the CC took George for new wider, double-wide shoes and that helped to some extent. As innocent and as serious as can be, for everyone to hear, George pipped up, “I didn't know they was double-wide shoes.” We laughed until we cried.
Fridays were inspection days for all the companies, either on the parade grounds or in the parade hall in bad weather. We stood at ease, relaxed, feet apart and hands behind our backs, until the inspector was close by, then ATTENTION! We came to eyes-front, serious look on our faces, hands straight to our sides, feet together attention. The inspector was steps away. “Wait a minute! My skivvies is in my crack,” George announced. Well, that did it. All of us, losing our concentration, clenched our teeth to keep our faces straight, tears of laughter flowing down our cheeks, as the inspector stepped in front of the first recruit and looked him up and down. “Are you crying?” he asked. That made it worse, but we managed to keep our teeth clenched. The inspector stepped in front of the next guy and looked him up and down. We all saw a change come over the inspector's face as he stepped back and looked over several more faces in the company. “You're all crying,” he said, and that broke all of our ability to contain ourselves. We collapsed laughing, all composure gone, just barely managing to stand in one spot. The shock on the inspector's face was something to behold. He went on to the next company, not finishing our inspection. “That's the damndest thing I've ever seen,” he said as he walked away. George caused us to fail several inspections.
If there was something out of the ordinary going on, George was in the middle of it. In our second or third week, a strange noise at night, usually around one or two in the morning, began waking several of us up. Clunk-cinch, clunk-cinch, clunk-cinch, in perfect rhythm, on and on. The first night we lay in our bunks looking around in the dimly lit barracks for the direction and source of the sound. The sound stopped after a while and we went back to sleep. The next night was a repeat of the first, we listened, tried to identify the sound, it finally stopped and we went back to sleep. On the third night George asked loudly, “What the hell is that noise?” and several began laughing and the noise stopped after a while. The next day in ranks George made several comments about “Ghosts in our goddamned barracks. Can't sleep with ghosts bumpin' and poundin',” which started us laughing. The noise continued, however, and the RCC and a few of us, including, of course, George, got out of our bunks to see if we could find the source, all of us with the hair on the back of our necks standing straight out, totally aware of the eeriness of the situation. Had there been a sudden surprise, we would have jumped cleanly out of our skin, or died of a heart attack. The sound eluded us for several more nights.
George found the source. “Com' 'ere,” he called to us quietly and we all gathered around him. Brock was marching in his sleep, clunk-cinch, clunk-cinch, with each step causing one bunk leg to rise and fall, clunk, and a “ cinch” noise of the bunk spring and his blanket popping up and fluttering down. The guy below him was sound asleep. Instinctively, the RCC grabbed Brock's arm to wake him up and, shockingly, Brock bounced out of his bunk to full attention, eyes-front, hands to his side, perfectly straight. He was still asleep. We curbed our impulse to run and looked at each other. “Now what?” George asked. After several minutes, Brock climbed into his bunk and relaxed. He slept quietly for the rest of the night.
The next day, the CC suggested that we could request Brock to be “sent back.” All of us had already heard of being sent back, and through hell or high water we were determined not to have that happen to us. It meant starting again, from day-one, with a new company. We were determined to get this nightmare over with. So, it was decided that we would handle the situation, somehow. We tried several things for the next several nights; quietly talking to Brock to wake him, telling him to stop, ordering him to stop and anything else we could think of. Brock would pause, in some cases, but for the most part he stopped when he chose to stop, it seemed to us. By then, the whole company watched and suggested things to do, but nothing seemed to work. Whether from impatience or a guess or a hunch, it was George, again, who said the magic words. George said in a loud, strong voice, “COMPANY, HALT! AT EASE!” Brock stopped marching and woke up bleary-eyed, barely awake. “What's going on?” he asked. We rolled on the floor laughing, loud enough to wake up the entire base, rib and stomach muscles hurting and tears of laughter flowing. There was always one Company Commander of the six, the Watch Commander, on watch around the clock. A few minutes later he opened our door and asked, “ What's going on up here? Horse play?” Our company was reported for loud and boisterous behavior after hours. I can't deny it. It was loud and boisterous.
We finally reached “Service Week,” our sixth week of boot camp where we were assigned various base duties from temporary Company Commanders to guard duty to the mess hall and we were allowed more freedom in the evenings to go to the Canteen and Saturday liberty in Chicago, which usually meant State Street at a movie and a restaurant meal or two, for a real hamburger, or even a bar for those old enough. I had a terrible cold, the worst I've ever had, and the CC wanted me to go to the dispensary, the medical clinic, but I wouldn't do it. I had no intention of being set back, or even chancing that remote possibility. I was determined to finish with the company I started with. Three days of high fever and fluid on my lungs made guard duty in the bitter cold of late February miserable, but I managed to make it through. I was getting better by the end of the week and went to the Canteen with the RCC and a couple of other guys. That's when I heard, for the first time, “She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah. And you know that can't be bad...” and another song, “Love, love me do...” and “I want to hold your hand...” all by the same group.
Who's that?” we asked. The Beatles, we were told. In six weeks time while we were completely cut off from the world, the entire world had changed. That Saturday at around 9:00 A.M. I and two others were at the station catching a train to Chicago and State Street. There was not much happening on State Street at that time in the morning, we learned. The first thing we noticed was long hair – on men, with bangs. We were shocked. And, we laughed at the idea and asked each other whether we'd seen anything like that before boot camp, only six or seven weeks ago. We didn't think we did. We ate a real breakfast at a coffee shop. As a few hours passed more people appeared on State Street and the movie theaters opened and we went to a movie about noon. I don't remember the movie we saw, but I do remember the Movietone Newsreel. The theater was nearly full and most were high-school age girls, which, of course, was exactly to our liking. But, we soon learned they were there for the Newsreel. The Beatles, the first time we saw them, emerged from a plane in Los Angeles, waving to a crowed of screaming and swooning girls along the edges of the tarmac. As soon as the Beatles appeared on screen, the entire theater erupted with girls screaming and yelling and jumping, pulling at their hair and clothes.
It is rare to remember a thought a person has of only a week ago. We may remember attitudes or ideas or the general circumstances of an event. I can remember George and the laughter and roughly the words he spoke and when he spoke them, but more than likely he didn't speak those exact words, but my guess is very close. Memories play tricks on us. But in that theater that day, I remember clearly what I was thinking. I liked what I was seeing. It looked like fun to be a part of that. I had a tinge of regret for joining the Navy at that instant. What, I asked myself, if I had waited just a few more weeks before joining the Navy? I wouldn't have joined at all. I knew that I would miss a big, probably important, change that others will experience.
And, that's what happened. We, of course, made it through boot camp, made all the more pleasant by George's humorous antics and Brock's weird sleep-marching, and I went on to Storekeeper School at Newport, Rhode Island. Newport was an uncomfortable town to be in with closely cut hair and wearing a uniform. There really were signs on lawns that said “Sailors and Dogs – keep off the grass.” I tried raw oysters, touted as a delicacy, and nearly vomited in front of a dozen restaurant patrons. I went to the Newport beaches and learned that I didn't care for swimming in the ocean, but the beach scenery was great. But, I did, surprisingly, gain an understanding of and I enjoyed the school, consisting mostly of Navy bookkeeping, supply orders and typing. I finished near the top of the class, including typing over 70 words per minute on a manual typewriter. Until then, I had never finished near the top in anything. It was a new feeling.
But, it was lonely at Newport and I was glad to get it over with. I left one week before the Newport Jazz Festival and long-haired people, men and women, were already gathering in the town. Dad and Durward picked me up at the Evansville airport. It wasn't long before I was back in Ross' Poolroom (Was that its name? Didn't Bill Ross own it?) with Mike, Pudge, Ronnie and others, enjoying myself, although they were not around as much as they used to be. They were busy at college or with girlfriends or jobs, or maybe their wives. I don't remember if it was that visit home from Newport, or home after Vietnam a year later, that Mike ask the critical, criticizing, question, as only he seemed to do, “Don't you grow your hair long?” Everyone laughed and I was embarrassed. No, I couldn't grow long hair – I was on a different path, in the Navy.
A little over a year later, after one year in Vietnam and out of touch there as well, I was walking toward the USS Princeton's enlisted man's brow for the first time, with my duffel bag on my back, checking into a new duty station home-ported in Long Beach. Had I had the ability to look into the future, I would have paid attention to the supplies waiting on the pier to be lifted aboard the Princeton that day, specifically to the huge rolls of non-skid for the hanger and flight decks. Each roll contained 500 feet. Only two months later I would order 5,000 “ rolls,” not “feet,” costing $100,000, instead of the correct amount, $10,000, from the Pearl Harbor Supply Center on our way to the Western Pacific Theater. In a panic after seeing my mistake, I ran two miles to the Supply Center to get the order back, just in the nick of time, saving myself from a lot of grief. It became an unforgettable memory. A lot of in-the-nick-of-time events occurred since that became unforgettable memories.
Long Beach was both a sailor town and a Hell's Angel town, about which there are suitable sea stories for another day. We tried to get out of Long Beach, though, to L. A. and Sunset Boulevard, the “Strip,” where there were plenty of pretty girls our age and fun places to go. After we returned from the Western Pacific, out of touch with the world and nearly a year later, I heard new music, just as surprising to me on our return as the surprise we experienced by the Beatles' sudden emergence. “Come you masters of war, you who build the big guns...” Bob Dylan. The song was about me and, after Vietnam, I agreed with the words and the cause it spoke of. Since I couldn't join it, I bought a guitar and I and other, much better, real musicians on ship began to gather in the Supply Office after work for nightly sessions. Somehow my plunking the strings managed to fit into their strumming and picking as we learned the latest songs. We had a good time there, too.
Hey mister Tambourine Man, play a song for me,
I'm not sleepy and there is no place I'm going to.
Hey Mister Tambourine Man, play a song for me,
In the jingle-jangle morning I'll come following you...”
...Bob Dylan, 1964.
Oh, and thanks, George, for the laughs.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Setting the Record Straight

Recently there were two cases in the news that were disturbing to me and I feel that I need to set the record straight if I can. Both cases were in worldwide newspapers, the one about Captain Holy Graf, Commanding Officer of the USS Cowpens, who was recently fired, made news in the London Times, and the other case you probably heard about was Congressman Eric Massa admitting to “ tickle fights” on Fox News with his Congressional Staff and while in the Navy.

While I like to tell those stories of Navy experiences that become, over time, sea stories, and I'll continue to tell them until my memory defeats me, there is another side of the Navy that is more rewarding and usually as much fun as those stories. That side is the professional side of Navy life. At some point in a Navy person's career, usually in the first four years, it will dawn on them that what they do matters to their shipmates and to the whole operation of the ship or station and that being good at what they do makes life much easier and safer. They begin to take training and practice seriously and to try to understand the concepts of leadership and discipline. The Navy preaches leadership and discipline all the time. Even when those words were not specifically spoken, the underlying lesson is always leadership and discipline. They go together. Discipline, by the way, is not a drill sergeant shouting orders or passing out punishment.

The concepts of leadership and discipline are about as illusive as anything that I know of. Ask a hundred people what they are, and you'll get a hundred different answers. In my day, we read studies, measured performance, conducted studies, attended classes, held drills and competitions, and inspected, constantly evaluating our skills, abilities and behavior for the key traits that would help us be better and shedding those that don't. The idea was to skew the bell curve so that our average sailors were our top performing, 4.0 sailors. We wanted to change the 80-20 rule; 80% get it, 20% don't. We wanted better odds by having more get it. Those who got it were self-confident and dependable, who could do it alone if necessary. So, we sent Joe, the pal, the comedian, the ingratiator, or at the other extreme the unhappy, grouchy, perhaps verbally abusive sailor off to do increasingly more important jobs alone and we inspected the results. So to the young, new sailor, Joe, “Good job, Joe! Whoa. Look at that heavy part on that top shelf. Let's put it down closer to the deck so it doesn't come flying out in a storm and cracking you on the head. The worst it can do down there is break your toe. Put a batten on it. Do you know what a batten is, Joe? This is a batten.” Or, 40mm canon training, “Now you're getting it, Joe. Swing that damn gun like you mean it. As fast as you can. Hold on, too. Put your heart into it. Don't worry about breaking it. If it breaks, we'll fix it. Shoot him first. Oh, after the drill, inspect that gun-stop. You don't want it to swing too far and shoot your own ship.” Joe learns. It's the same with Joe the officer. Push it to the limit. The better Joe gets, the less homesick and lonely he is, he fits in better, he begins to suggest improvements, he begins to talk to you as an equal and rank becomes less important, “That's a good idea, Joe. Would you ask Jim to take care of that?” I've just promoted Joe to take care of another, younger sailor. He's as proud as a peacock and I no longer have to worry that Joe won't get it.

The Navy's top award for leadership is the Battle “E,” for Excellence. A ship that paints that “E” on its tower is a leader. It could be counted on to take on any mission it was designed to do and it was usually chosen first among its peers to undertake those missions. It goes to the best ports, visited by high dignitaries, perhaps even the President or a foreign Premier, represents the United States in foreign ceremonies and events. Places and things that you never imagined that you would go and do – you go and do. It was a double-edged sword, however. On the one hand being good was rewarded with recognition, promotion and honors, and on the other hand you were chosen to go first, leaving your home port and family, into any situation. Before winning the Battle E, the ship had to compete in a number of other competitions; Supply Excellence “E,” Engineering E, the Ney Award (Food Service), Gunnery E, Submarine Warfare E, etc. The entire ship had to be very good in all skills related to the ship's mission that made a ship excellent. That meant a willing and capable team of officers and chiefs leading a crew of junior enlisted personnel. These were not easy tests. It was hard work with audits, inspections and drills, over and over again, and every crew member had to participate. That annoying, irritating inspector is in your stuff. Joe is angry, “That asshole hit me for five discrepancies. Those things are fine. There's nothing wrong with them.” “Hang in there, Joe. He's probably frustrated, and would rather be home in bed with his wife. Go fix those things so he'll be happier tomorrow.” Sure enough. The inspector sees that the discrepancies have been quickly fixed, and he's happier; he's been taken seriously. He thinks better of Joe and Joe responds better. This all sounds like drudgery and unnecessary work, and some crew members felt that way, but in that critical moment when everyone's well developed skills make a difference, it has been in historical events and will be in those to come the difference between life and death. There is simply no place else to go on a ship – you had better know what your doing in that critical moment, or else. Well, you could go to the life rafts, but that's really not a choice.

The USS Cowpens won the Battle E and that's why I'm skeptical of the news reports about its Commanding Officer, Captain Holy “Horrible Holy” Graf. The Navy, like the other military services, doesn't air its dirty laundry to the public, and American civilian citizens, if any thought is given to the situation, shouldn't want it to. We should want the Navy to be a self-managed, well-managed organization, to take care of its own, to hold its own accountable and to render justice on its own. Otherwise, it wouldn't be a very good military force for the country. That's why I believe that what did leak out about Captain Graf isn't the whole story. What's missing is that team of officer and chief leaders that lead the crew, and supported her and who won that E; that 80-20 rule – the 80%, or better, that got it.

I can't imagine a tougher job for a woman than being a Commanding Officer on a war ship mostly populated by men. Not even a corporate CEO compares. She had to work twice as hard as a male Commander would. I'm not saying that a woman can't do it. The fact that the ship received the Battle E tells me that Captain Graf did it better than most men. She's in a very high percentile of achievers. Ships go years, try as they might, without winning Battle Excellence. But, I can see that the Navy is pushing the cultural envelope in her assignment. That, too, is what we should want the military to do; to break down those cultural barriers so we have the best people in the best assignments. I don't doubt her foul language, though. I've experienced, both men and women officers and senior enlisted, who, when pushed to the point of exasperation, can dress a junior down with such language and stare that makes them feel no higher on the species list than a frog. That too is a learned skill, although I think “the look” is more effective than foul language in getting results. I think that's what happened on the Cowpens. She started out well, with mostly a cooperating and willing crew, but a few male officers and enlisted couldn't quiet make the transition to having a woman CO. Gradually her orders and ideas were questioned, and likely criticized and perhaps ignored by the disgruntled few, 20% or less of the crew, and over several months or a year she began to insist more and more that her orders be followed. That small portion of the crew became more complaining and disgruntled, mostly without good reason, and they began getting louder. The situation disintegrated from there. It could have easily come to a point where she was lashing out at everyone, including those undeserved, good crew members in front of others. That Seaman I was on the Princeton would have simply taken the lashing without response, but that Master Chief I became would not have. Live and learn. That Master Chief would have said, “Captain, we need to talk..., privately,” and I would have told her in private not to do that again as calmly but forcefully as I could, hopefully without anger, but with a look of my own making. I don't believe she behaved badly 24/7. But, I'll bet there were several “private” conversations like that with one or more of her Chiefs.

The other thing that she was accused of and that made the news was “endangering” her crew by “ drag racing” and “playing chicken” with another ship. The proof they gave was this picture. (Actually, the ships are not all that close. I've seen ships closer; i.e., the Lockwood swapping paint with a Russian Destroyer and similar ship-chasing on the USS Beacon.) The Naval investigators found no evidence of the accusation. I side with the investigators. I don't doubt a bit that the two ships were racing or playing chicken, however, and that's what we want them to do. I can guess, 99% sure, how this happened. Either as part of a war game drill, to practice and hone war fighting skills, or as an agreement between the two ships' Commanding Officers for the same reason, these two ships are trying to “out gun” each other. In the picture the one (USS McCain in front) is trying to stay out of the Cowpens' gun sights, and the Cowpens is trying to put the McCain in its gun sights. It “is” a game of chicken and “can” result in a collision, so the deck officers had better be good. The purpose of the drill is to make them better. Mistakes do happen, but I know that those at the wheel were so tense and alert that mistakes are rare. They were pushing the envelope with big, expensive toys and learning where the edge was at the same time. The only “chickens” were those who complained, not understanding the purpose of the drill or that lives may depend on the skills learned. It's a risky business. They need to realize that.

The Navy was right to remove her because the situation could not continue regardless of who's fault it was. But, the Navy was also right in reassigning her instead of forcing her out entirely, as some recommended. If she advanced to Commanding the Cowpens, which is a fighting ship that only the best advance to, then she is very intelligent and skilled in other fields, such as planning, war strategy and tactical maneuvering ships and ship squadrons. The Navy needs her. Best of luck to her.

My opinion of Congressman Massa, who “tickle fights,” is 180 degrees from that of Captain Graf. From his behavior as a Congressman, and as a Naval Officer, as reported, I expected to learn through researching him that his Naval career didn't last long, that he was “asked” to leave early in his career. But, that's not the case. I was surprised to find that his Naval career lasted 24 years. He was a 1981 Naval Academy graduate and he retired as a Navy Commander (O-5) in 2005. Still, advancing to Commander in 24 years was, at best, mediocre, so he must have had disciplinary problems along the way. I believe that it is still Navy policy that if a person doesn't advance fast enough to meet Navy minimum standards, they will be ask to resign, and I think Massa was close to that point.

His behavior was beyond acceptable behavior, of course. A crew who learned about it would have been extremely uncomfortable around him and probably didn't do a good job as a unit. That's what those 20% or less who don't get it does to the unit. I get the impression that he behaved that way more than once, so, if reported, he would have received first a verbal warning, then a letter, then passed over for promotion, maybe twice, and finally he would have been asked to resign. It never got that far, apparently, but we don't have that information, so we don't know. Perhaps the Navy handled his case well by making sure he didn't advance to more responsibility. Captain Graf, as a comparison, was a full Captain (O-6) at 24 years, CO of a first-class ship and well on her way to Admiral rank until she was relieved of duty that was probably the only disciplinary problem she encountered in her 24 years.

My gut tells me that he has homosexual tendencies and his case will make decisions on “don't ask, don't tell” that much more difficult to make. It isn't for the Navy to decide morality. It's a discipline question. I can't imagine being assigned to one of the discussion groups charged to come up with a recommended policy and then making a constructive contribution to the group. That would be a tough assignment. I don't see much difference between his behavior and a heterosexual male groping, or worse, a female shipmate. In the former, his sexual preference, and perhaps motivation, is hidden; in the latter, the sexual preference is open and known. As a Chief of a command, I would know better how to handle the disciplinary action in the latter case, because motivation is better known or guessed, and I could recommended to the command my suggestion on what disciplinary action to take after one or more sessions with those involved. My mind is split on don't ask, don't tell. It's a difficult question. But, from a command Chief's perspective, I'd like to know what motivates a person to do what they do, if that's at all possible. Then, perhaps, you know the cure.


Thursday, March 25, 2010

Get a GD Clue, Joe

Sometimes you have to say something, even if it hurts. I've been reading another blog about Joe (and probably Josephine as well), a confused Joe and Josephine American, cousins to John Q. Public (who I believe and hope is smarter than Joe), who doesn't understand the health care reform bill, and the fix-it bill now in the Senate, and who suggests the Republicans will win this coming November, God forbid, and who perhaps supports Republican obstructionism to block every damn bill in Congress, whether it's good for the country or not and whether it completely shuts down the country or not. Joe insists that President Obama and Democrats explain to him what they're doing, even though they've been explaining to him what is in the bills they've been fighting for for over a year. I guess by now, with a year gone by, Joe, if you don't understand, then you're not listening or you have stubbornly, like a child, made up your mind not to listen. If Joe can't have it “his” way, he's going to pout, like the Republicans are doing, and not govern this country at all. Let 'er sink. That'll show 'em.

Joe is the same guy who says, “That Wall Street will kill this country,” yet he turns around and votes for the same guys who turned Wall Street lose on the country by deregulating business so they could do their damage unrestrained. Joe can't connect those dots to the guy he voted for, like John Boehner or Mitch McConnell or John McCain and Sarah Palin or some other Republican.

Joe, like Joe the Plumber, says Social Security is a tax burden and should be eliminated entirely, or turned over to Wall Street crooks, yet Joe doesn't have a retirement plan and without Social Security, Joe can't retire. Joe doesn't know how to invest and he doesn't want to learn. Joe has never bothered to learn that Social Security is the best investment he'll ever make or who else contributes to it. So, Joe doesn't know that high-income Americans don't pay into Social Security most of the year, a Republican idea, because they make too much money, yet he pays into it the full year, a victim of economic inequity put on his head by Reagan. In fact, Joe doesn't know how many times Reagan screwed him with tax cuts for the rich. He still likes Reagan, though. Reagan was a “man.” He's a fan of FaceBook's “ Reagan Conservatives,” that, by the way, is a Political Action Committee determined to mislead and victimize Joe even more. Joe listens to Limbaugh, O'Rielly, Beck, Hannity and Palin every night inciting his anger with complete crap that convinces him his freedom is at stake if he doesn't support the very people that got him, and his country, in the mess it's in. He loves Beck's bullshit blackboard, where Beck chalks out ideas pulled from the darkest region of the human body. “The Government will take your gun, Joe!” that somehow, in the most illogical round-about route through his ass, Beck claims comes from social justice that Beck labels “ Communism.” “They (politicians) are all the same, anyway,” Joe says. “What make the difference?” Joe's too lazy to find out. Joe would rather stay a victim and, “let 'er crash,” than do something. He'd rather everyone be a victim, not just him. He'd rather have something to bitch about and pout about. Whine, whine, whine. That's what Joe wants to do.

In fact, Joe can't recognize a good politician from a bad one, because he doesn't care to spend the time to learn who they are or what their beliefs are or what they've done. He just likes the noise they make or the church they go to. That's enough for Joe to form his basis to vote. Even when public records prove, beyond any doubt, a birth date and place of a person, he'd still rather believe rumor and innuendo and words of hate. He believes that his shotgun on his wall is diligence. “Yup. Thar's my gun. Right thar. Thar's my freedom.”

Actually, Joe, diligence is educating yourself about your country. It's about finding out truths that help you distinguish between what is and what is not myth, rumor and lies. It's about distinguishing truth from bullshit. You don't have to read every bill passed in Congress. There are good resources that report what those bills contain and how they affect the American people and don't take a lot of time to read. There are easily found reports and articles on the people you vote for that will help you make a better decision. And, no, they are not all the same. Some are good civil servants for their country. But, if you don't want to get up off your ass to educate yourself, then I can't help you. You're the problem, Joe, not Obama or the Democrats. They don't owe you anything unless you're willing to go the distance, to engage in a reasonable discussion to solve problems, yourself. Get a goddamned clue, Joe.

Oh, and by the way, Joe, and you too, Josephine, kiss my ass, unless you want to start learning something, here, by the St. Petersburg Times, a good ole boy conservative newspaper, about the health care reform. It's not the best plan, especially after being whittled down by Republicans, but I guess you could continue to be suckers for the Insurance companies, and stay a victim. And, please take the next step and read more about it. You might learn something, God forbid.


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Limbo the Barber and Hong Kong

Limbo always talks about Hong Kong when he cuts my hair and we have knowledge of Hong Kong that we can share. He says he learned English by watching 1950s Cary Grant movies before he immigrated to the United States. He worked as a tailor in Hong Kong as a teenager. As soon as he said “Tailor,” old memories churned up my first visit to Hong Kong in 1966 on the USS Princeton (I was on the ship in Subic Bay, 1966, when this picture was taken). The more we talked, the more old names of people and places came back to me. I was twenty-one years old in August of 1966 when we pulled into the Hong Kong Harbor. I was also a brand new Third Class Petty Officer (E-4) and eligible to Shore Patrol duty, the duty of the Navy policing its own in port.

Hong Kong was our last Western Pacific stop before going home to Long Beach. So we were excited. A long cruise was nearing its end. By that time, however, I was an old salt. I'd already spent a year in Saigon, Vietnam and experienced five or six port calls in Subic Bay, Philippines. Neither of those cities could be called centers of chastity and virtue by any stretch of the imagination; they were rough and rowdy and, of course, dangerous. In other words, fun. I had already experienced the dreaded “Manila Rum” blinding drunken stupor in Subic Bay during which someone, I never learned who, carried me back to the boat that would ferry me to the ship and they carried me aboard in a stretcher, the wicked rum that was only slightly less debilitating than the bhamy-bah (33 in Vietnamese) beer formaldehyde poisoning that put me in the Naval Support Hospital in Saigon for five days of chalky Kaopectate diet. So it was with some degree of experience that I went to the hanger bay inspection and port briefing with a cavalier attitude the day before we pulled into Hong Kong. “Muster all hands in the hanger bay for inspection and briefing,” the ship's speaker announced and we formed into our divisional ranks in our dress white uniforms.

I remember that uniform and that inspection. I was still wearing Navy issue in those days, which would change with that Hong Kong visit, at least for one inspection. So would my shoes, those black Navy issue that I spent an hour or more spit-shinning and always managed to scuff on the walk from our “compartment,” a Navy term for our bunk room, to the inspection. I can't count the times that our division came in second or third place in divisional competition because I scuffed my shoes. “Damn, Clark. Can't you walk ten feet without falling all over yourself?” How many times had I heard that? There's no accounting.

But, that uniform was the pits. It fit loosely, the jumper hung on me two sizes too big at the waist with too short arm length and the trousers fit tight around the waist and like bloomers from my butt on down. Standard sizes just didn't fit my physique, even to this day. So, hearing all about Hong Kong tailors, I was determined to change my white uniform. At some point while anticipating a new uniform the words of the briefing filtered through, “you are advised to stay away from the 'Wan Chai' district and especially the 'Wan Chai Roof Tops.'” I glanced down the ranks to Patereau, a Cajun from New Orleans who had become one of my liberty buddies. “Liberty,” for those who do not know sailor terminology, means going ashore at ports of call for rest and recreation (R&R); in other words, Freedom. He winked. Aha! Now we know where to go for fun. Those Navy Port-o-call debriefers always let the cat out of the bag by telling you where “not” to go.

After the inspection, Patereau, LaDuche (another Cajun – I'll bet you can guess the nickname we gave him, even though his name was pronounced “La-Duke,” according to him), and Shaunessy, a black Irishman, he claimed, got together to plan our liberty time. I, as the ship's financial record keeper, had to work our first morning in port, until noon it turned out, because we (meaning me) had supplies to order from the British Hong Kong Government, using British purchase order (PO) forms; not the easiest PO's I learned to use. There was also the “ship painting” contract with Madam Chang (my memory has a conflict regarding her name – it could be Chang Li, Madam Chang Li, but simply Madam Chang has a more familiar sound) that I had to type. It was a non-cash transaction contract sprinkled with English labels and Chinese Kanji characters. The gist would be that we gave her a few tons of empty brass shell casings we'd collected on the gun-line and, in return, her work crews painted our ship. I was scheduled for Shore Patrol on our second day. So we all agreed to leave the ship together early on our third day in port for a full day in Hong Kong.

At 0700 the next morning I was once again in ranks on the flight deck, manning the rails, as we began our entrance to the Hong Kong harbor. Tug boats were pulling alongside, and the Harbor Pilot came aboard. I had a view of Kowloon, the city across the harbor from Hong Kong. By 0830, we were near our anchorage spot and about thirty sampan water taxis were hovering around us, vying to be first in line to take us, and our money, ashore. There was also a Chinese Junk, similar to this picture, but brightly painted in red with gold trim, tracking alongside. I heard someone close by say, “Madam Chang. The richest woman in Hong Kong.”

I met Madam Chang an hour or two later, but it was not our last meeting. The Ship's Supply Office was hopping. Supplies needed to be ordered from the list of available items that was only moments before delivered to us by the British. We were hot on it. The Princeton's Commanding Officer, a Navy Captain, Captain Shepard, came to the Ship's Supply Office at least four times that morning checking on our progress. He knew my name and my duties. He was never pleasant to our Supply Officer, our “SO,” a Navy Commander whose name escapes me, which was somewhat deserved. He made plenty of mistakes. Once he picked up my eye glasses by mistake, put them on and walked directly into the steel stanchion in the center of our office nearly knocking himself out. “Something is wrong with my glasses,” I remember him saying. No doubt! They weren't his glasses! They were mine for God's sake!

But, Captain Shepard was always pleasant to me although our conversations was always ship's business, questions and answers on supply orders and costs. “At ease,” he said and everyone around relaxed, but remained standing waiting for him to speak. He ignored the SO and spoke to me, “ Clark, how many bananas are we ordering?” The cooks want one-thousand cases, I answered, although ordering food was not usually among my duties, I did the paperwork in ports like Hong Kong. “Tell them to throw out the rot and watch for spiders. Tell the British how much rot we don't accept and how many damned spiders we find.” Yes, Sir. I wrote a note for the cooks, but I knew the SO would relay the order. He too was standing by, listening. “Is the contract for Madam Chang done?” No, Sir. I just got the Gunner's list. “How many tons are we giving her?” I looked at the list; eight tons, nearly two thousand casings. He nodded. “ Clark, you take it to Madam Chang when it's (the contract) ready. Go down at the Officer's Quarterdeck. She'll be tied up there.” Yes, Sir. “Make sure she understands that she must clean the stains off the side before she paints.” Yes, Sir.

“I'll send the S-1 Division Officer with him,” the SO chimed in.

“No need,” the CO said, “Clark can handle it.” I cringed at the idea of going through the Officer's Quarterdeck alone. The Officer of the Deck, usually a young Ensign fresh out of the Naval Academy or Officer's School and not much older than I insisted on a full inspection of enlisted men, both going and coming, even when minutes apart, just to make life a little more miserable for enlisted personnel. Yes, Sir, I said, swallowing the medicine given me.

But, to my surprise, the CO was at the Quarterdeck when I arrived. He personally granted me permission to leave the ship and waived me through. I descended the gangway to Madam Chang's Junk tied to the second ladder (stairways on Navy ships are called “ladders”). She spoke pidgin English, “Aye-Ya. They send Cherry Boy.” My face, no doubt, reddened with embarrassment. The term “Cherry Boy” did that to me early on. It signified underage, too young, or too young looking and virginity. The fact was that at 21, I still could get by without shaving and nobody would know the difference. In fact, I was routinely carded buying booze until I was around 35 years old. I simply had no beard and always looked many years younger than my true age. “I get you young girl,” Madam Change went on. I shook my head, declining her offer, and handed her the contract. “What? You don' wan' young girl?” She asked, surprise in her voice. No thanks, I answered. I'm here on business. “You makie mistake.” I'd heard all this before in Saigon and Subic Bay. No, I said, once more declining her offer. “ Okie dokie. You be sorry. My girls better than Wan Chai. They too clean,” implying, of course, that her girls were clean of transmitted diseases. No thanks, I said, once more declining. She looked at the contract. “No can do. Want all first, not half now, half fini.” That's what the CO wants, I said, and shrugged. He says half of the brass up front and half when you finish. “I got to pay coolies (laborers). No can do with half first.” I shrugged again and added, he also wants you to clean the drain stains before you paint. She shrugged and I waited. “Okay,” she finally says. “ Captain send too dumb Cherry Boy. Only follow order.” I smiled, suddenly realizing that she had a point. How better to seal the deal quickly than to send someone who knew no better than to follow orders to the “t,” without equivocation. I didn't know it then, but I would intentionally follow the same strategy in all of our subsequent meetings in Hong Kong visits on other ships. “You been Hong Kong before?” No, I said, and she gave me two cards for two bars in Wan Chai. “Give this. Give you, you friends free beer.” Thanks, I grinned. “Tell Captain we paint in one hour,” meaning that her crews would start in one hour. And cleaning? I asked. “ Aye-Ya!, you American!” she said, waiving her arm to shoo me off, “ Yea, yea. We clean shit.” She stamped her Kanji seal on a copy of the contract and I stepped back on my ship's gangway just steps ahead of her crew untying her lines and getting underway for Kowloon.

The CO was waiting at the Quarterdeck as I came aboard. “Did she sign it?” Yes, Sir. She's starting in an hour. “Good job, Clark. Did she offer you a girl?” Caught off guard, I paused at the unexpected question, finally saying yes, sir. “Did you take her offer?” Err, no, sir. I thought it best not to. “Well, that's probably best, but probably a mistake too if you intend to find a girl anyway. You can trust her word as long as you don't try to cheat her. Watch out for Wan Chai girls – not only for diseases but knives or gang friends as well.” The Captain said that in such a tone of seriousness that I took it to heart. It sounded like experience talking. In fact, compared to Patereau's relatively mild experience, it turned out to be good advice.

Since my buddies were already ashore by that afternoon, I went ashore alone, first to the British Seaman's Club, as suggested, to exchange money for Hong Kong Dollars. The club was on the second floor in the British Governor's building, along with the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, Bank of London and a few other important financial Hong Kong companies. The importance of the building, however, didn't preclude getting “ offers” as you entered the building and climbed the stairs. You were lucky if you didn't get groped. Some thought you were lucky if you did, a freebee of sorts. And, you'd likely hear, if you met a British seaman or solder on the stairs, say, “Bloody Hell! You'd think they'd clean out these bloody whores from the Govna's building.” or “Watch your pockets, Yank. Got to run the gauntlet.” Even there, you may get your pockets picked. But, I made it through with my stuff intact.

With Hong Kong dollars in my pocket, I made my way, somewhat lost, along the streets until I found a market of various shops stretching for several blocks. Every other one was a tailor shop; Chinese tailors, Indian tailors, Thailand tailors, you name the country and there was a tailor shop for it. I ended up in an Indian tailor shop and ordered my new dress white uniform and a pair of hand-made, black shoes that would pass for uniform shoes. “You pick up Friday?” No, that's too late. We're pulling out Friday. Can you make it Thursday? So, the deal was done; about $150 Hong Kong Dollars, $40 US, got me a new hand tailored uniform and shoes. I had money to spare. I would have a new uniform for Friday's departure inspection. I didn't have to worry about rushing to wash my uniform for inspection. I spent the rest of the daylight hours shopping the other stores. There were shops for Persian rugs, china sets, carved ivory, porcelain figurines and just about any other shop you could think of along Queens Road between the ritzier downtown-financial district and Wan Chai. In a few hours I had spotted a number of restaurants, bars, shops and other stores that would call me back to the area time and time again. Hong Kong was easy to get to know.

After a few hours at the bars Madam Chang recommended, where the booze was free as promised, but the girls' drinks were not – if you wanted company, which I did, I made my way back to the pier and the water taxis in a pedicab. I went aboard the Princeton about fifteen minutes before the midnight curfew. “Hey, Clark,” I heard as soon as I entered the S-1 Compartment, “Have you seen Patereau?” Patereau was missing without permission. Absent without Leave, AWOL. Oh shit.

By 0600 the next morning I was dressed in clean dress whites and my dirty whites were in the Chinese laundry at the Quarterdeck for one-day service. Thirty minutes later I was in a large water taxi, along with thirty other Shore Patrol on our way to the Hong Kong Police Headquarters to start our fifteen-hour Shore Patrol beat. It was pure drudgery in a hot and muggy Hong Kong in August. I could walk the same distance in the same heat and humidity on liberty and not feel a thing. But, on Shore Patrol, the heat was stifling. Perhaps it was the beer on liberty that made the difference. I, and my assigned Chief Petty Officer squad leader, began our beat.

About 1000 (10:00 AM) we got a call on our Army issue M-1 walkie-talkie telling us to report to a Wan Chai address for a roof-top disturbance involving a US sailor. It was close by, a five minute walk, so we were among the first to arrive, but we waited for the Hong Kong Police to arrive, as ordered. The police lead us down an alleyway filled with running sewage and garbage to a doorway that opened to stairs to the roof. Up we went, five flights to the roof and I got my first view of Hong Kong's worst. As far as I could tell, the entire city block of four and five story buildings were covered with hanging sheets and blankets forming small cubicles for privacy – if you could call it that. Ropes and poles held the sheets up and inside each cubicle was a bed, of sorts, usually just a pile of more blankets with an occasional futon. This is where most of Hong Kong's sex trade was transacted. I thought I had seen unbearable conditions in Saigon and Subic Bay, but I had seen nothing like this. Two conflicting questions came to mind; How could someone live like this? And What the hell do they do when it rains? I was critical at 21. It took me years to understand that the causes of these conditions were not personal choices of those living in it, but oppressive poverty usually caused by the affluent who didn't care.

We made our way through several of the sheeted cubicles, each with a girl sleeping or awake and minimally dressed, until we came to the cubicle with the trouble-maker American. All of us, four policemen and six Shore Patrol, crowded into the eight by six foot cube. “Clark! Am I glad to see you!” There, sitting on the futon, was Patereau in his skivvies. “Get your uniform on,” the Chief said.

“It's gone,” Patereau said. “ Stolen. She stole it. My money too,” he pointed at the girl standing beside the futon. And, then Chinese sing-song language bounced from the lead policeman to the girl and back, shouting, sounding angry and accusing to my ear. The policeman motioned for Patereau to get up and he grabbed a towel from the rope and threw it at him. “You lucky,” he told Patereau. “You could be killed. Don't worry about money.” So, wrapped in a towel, Patereau was lead off to Police Headquarters and a half-day in jail before a Shore Patrolman was freed up long enough to take him back to ship.

This story is already too long, so just let me wrap it up by saying that Patereau was the life of the party, the instigator and joker. We may have had a few good times without him, but not the great time that we had with him. Shaunessy, “Douche” and I hung together for the rest of the Hong Kong visit, enjoying free beer, that surprisingly kept on coming, at Madam Chang's bars and the company and conversation of its girls. We did not, however, indulge any more than that and it was only Patereau that stood in Doc's line to be tested for sexually transmitted diseases and a prescription of tetracycline, the usual remedy for gonorrhea in those days. He was restricted to ship in Hawaii on the way home, but he did not lose rank. He didn't complain. His roof top adventure became a sea story for all who could tell it.

As for Madam Chang, somehow it became known on the subsequent ships I served on that I knew her, which wasn't true, at least at first. I bargained the deals to get the USS St. Francis River painted twice, in 1968 and 1969, and the USS Ajax around 1975, although by that time brass casings were not used by the Navy. The Ajax agreement was a cash transaction and it was also before I made Chief Petty Officer. The last time I saw her, in 1978, I was on the USS Lockwood after I made Senior Chief Petty Officer. On our ship's third visit to Hong Kong, I finally spotted her junk pulling into a Kowloon pier and I went there as soon as I could. As I went aboard her Junk, even more elaborately painted than years earlier, with piles of cushions on the main deck for her and her assistants, she looked at me at first as if she didn't know me. Perhaps she had forgotten.

“Aye-Ya! Cherry Boy!” She yelled and got up and gave me a hug. “Long time, no see. Where you been?” Around, Madam Chang. I looked for you several visits, but didn't see you. I pointed out the Lockwood at anchor in the harbor. “You look good. Still young. Still Cherry Boy.” she said. “Still no want girl?” No thanks, Madam. I appreciate the offer. “Aah, you too good. How you do that? You not get horny?” Not so good, Madam. I've had my share. You're my friend. I don't take advantage of friends. “ Ah. You have anchor and star now. You big shot,” she said, pointing out my Senior Chief insignia on my collar. “You come my house tonight. I pick you up. Bring you friends.” Okay. I'll be waiting.

At 1630 Madam pulled alongside the Lockwood, making the water taxis move out of the way, and I and three friends went aboard. Among my friends was a young Chinese immigrant, Chin Lim, 21 or 22 years old, a member of my division on the Lockwood, Robinson (Robbie), a Senior Chief Gunnersmate, Chief Ivan “Ivan the Terrible Cook” Chute, a Canadian and chief cook. They were all wide-eyed and excited. They, like me, had never experienced a “personal, friendly” visit to Hong Kong. We were always visiting sailors in another port-o-call, with all that implied – not quite tourists, but not quite welcome either. As we passed Kowloon's industrial and commercial piers heading southwest, Robbie whispered, “Where are we going? Are we being Shanghai'd?” No, I said. I think we're going to be surprised. As the cities of Kowloon and Hong Kong dimmed behind us, we turned into a private inlet on the Kowloon side and pulled alongside a private pier. A Mercedes limousine was waiting for us at the pier's head. Her home, at the top of a steep hill overlooking the harbor and the two cities, was the most grand I had ever seen. Huge doors were opened for us and we were lead into the an extravagant entrance, down an ornate, antique Chinese art decorated hallway to a huge dinning room and a table that could sit fifty. A huge picture window showed the view of the harbor. If I doubted before that she was one of the wealthiest people in Hong Kong, I believed it now. A home like that on that much land in crowded Hong Kong and Kowloon was extremely rare that only the wealthiest could afford.

We had a lot of fun that night, talking and drinking until two, telling sea stories in turn. Madam had brought in two dancing groups, one very exotic and the other traditional, who joined us for dinner, drinks and conversation and stories. She filled every seat at the table. I told the story of Patereau and the roof tops and him being lead around in a towel – to roaring laughter. Chin took an interest in Madam's daughter, to which Madam responded, “No. Not girl I talk about. I get you different girl.” I heard a few years later that Chin left the Navy and married her. I hope he did.

As for that first tailored Dress White Uniform, I wore it to that Friday's inspection on the flight deck in very bright sunlight. It was only after I got in ranks that I noticed that the material was so white in the bright sunlight, that it had a barely noticeable bluish tint. Captain Shepard paused in front of me as he inspected us. “Clark, where in the world did you get that uniform?” Tailored, Sir. I picked it up yesterday. He kept looking at it. Finally he asked, “Is it blue? Or White?” I don't know sir. It seems to be very white. “Well, don't wear it to inspection again,” he said. Then he looked at my shoes and walked around behind me. “I knew I'd find a scuff mark,” he said as he continued down the ranks. “Clark can't walk ten feet without scuffing his shoes. Mark his division off one point.”


Monday, March 22, 2010

America - In Service to its People

I've been thinking about the passing of the Health Care Bill yesterday. My first thoughts, of course, was of those in our very large family, from my own children and grandchildren to all of my nieces and nephews down to my great, great nephews and nieces, that are or could be unlucky enough to be without health care for short or long periods in their lives. Now, America stands behind you, covering your back. A weight is lifted. Worry is lessened. I sincerely hope everyone of you live a long and happy life. Perhaps what Congress and President Obama has done in regard to health care yesterday will lighten your load through those rough spots along the way.

When America does something great and good, my thoughts invariably go back to those 20 years I spent in the Navy. There are a number of reasons I spent 20 years in it, but top among them is love for my country. And, when America does something good for its people, then the 20 years was worth it. It's on days like yesterday that I have no regrets about giving those years in service. I like the idea of doing something for the people who live here. I always have.

I have nothing to say to those who would deny or vote against the bill that passed or who create fear or who fear government. Neither do I want to hear what you have to say. Get over it. It was done for you, too.


Sunday, March 21, 2010

Health Care vs. Abortion Rates

I've been hearing a lot about counties that have socialized health care have low abortion rates. So, I decided to go look for myself here. UN data appears to support that claim (you have to sort the data by the “value” column, but be careful to note that several show up at the bottom that should be at the top because of a sort anomaly).

Since I can count, I can see that the United States is 47 th of the 61 countries listed, with 20.8 abortions per thousand women. All of the countries on the list that have socialized health care that I know of have lower abortion rates. The one thing I notice about all the countries with higher abortion rates is that most of them are or were communist countries or dictatorships and poor. We fall between Sweden (20.2 per thousand), probably the most sexually promiscuous in the world, and Bulgaria (21.3 per thousand), which was communist until 1990 and is still trying to become a freer democratic state but is poorer than dirt, although it did start universal health care in 1999. Bulgaria will likely pass us in a few years. I suppose we can side with either group, the more promiscuous or ex-communist, neither are my first choices.

Or, we could shoot for the being like those with the lowest rates; Brazil, Poland, Panama, Mexico and Portugal. My hunch is that these are at the bottom because of the high percentage of Catholic population – but that's a guess. But, we could all become Catholics. On the other hand, India, which is not Catholic, is next at 6 th. Other than its attempt at socialized health care at the state or territory levels, I would have no idea what cultural motivation it would have to have so few abortions. Perhaps it's because Hindu marriages in India are for life and divorce is severely frowned on and kids are valued in whole families. India is mostly Hindu, so should we become Hindus to keep abortion rates low? Do pigs fly?

The data appear to say, however, that socialized health care systems in democratic countries have fewer abortions by as much as five to ten percent lower than the United States. Could it be that free access to health care will actually reduce abortions? That's what it says to me.

You have to wonder why a person (Congressman) would deny health care to 31 million people (the Health Care Bill will do that), including young pregnant women, based on mistaken principals and concocted beliefs. It sort of makes a person want to send those deniers to the doctor with a broken nose. God forbid that we look at some facts.


Friday, March 19, 2010

P-Oing The Dutch

General John Sheehan really pissed off the Dutch in his Congressional testimony on “Don't Ask, Don't Tell.” From what I remember about the United Nations' attempts to stop the Bosnian Serbs, the UN Forces hands were tied by NATO countries and Sheehan, NATO Commander in 1995, was supposed to support the troops with air cover. But, he didn't send the planes.

This article is likely a more accurate description of what happened than not regarding the Bosnian Serbs overrunning the Dutch contingent and killing 8,000 Muslims in Srebrenica. It agrees more closely to my memory of the news at the time; the Dutch were restricted on what it could do, i.e., it couldn't shoot back nor engage the Serbs, and called for airstrikes, but Sheehan didn't send them. Maybe Sheehan is just trying to cover his own ass. Scraping the bottom of the bullshit barrel is what I call it.


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Crazies Against America

Every day I read about a right-wing political action committee, activists group, news agency or commentator say “we've got to get the Constitution back...we're headed for tyranny...,” or something along those lines. Only yesterday I read about Virginia Thomas, wife of Justice Clarence Thomas, about whom most people know isn't the brightest candle in Washington D. C. and wonder whether there's a light on at all, starting a new political action committee, Liberty Central Inc. My first reaction was, “Ha! She's just putting her name in the pot to collect all that lobbying money being spent on the Republicans.” She's an opportunist. She said the very thing I hear from “Tea Partiers” every day, “we've got to get our Constitution back...” One would think that someone so close to a Supreme Court Justice would know, or have access to a Justice who should know, the Constitution and the ideas behind it.

Then today I read in the New York Times States' Rights Is Rallying Cry of Resistance For Lawmakers .” This article says that states across the country are legislating laws that make Federal Law invalid in their states. South Dakota is making Federal gun laws invalid in its state for guns made and used there. Utah says Federal health care laws are invalid unless approved by its legislature and it is taking federal land through eminent domain. Alabama, Tennessee and Washington are trying to make local police supreme over federal authority. Montana and Wyoming are making their own firearms laws. All of this, the states claim, is done under the authority of the Constitution's Tenth Amendment, entitled “States Rights.”

Here's what the Tenth Amendment says: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” This, it seems to me, is very clear English. It says that the states, or the people, can do anything that the Constitution has not given the United States government authority to do. That's it. There is nothing more to add, in my opinion, nor can there be any other interpretation.

So, you might ask, what has been delegated to the United States that would prohibit the states from making laws that fly in the face of federal law? That comes from Article Six of the Constitution, entitled “Supreme Law of the Land,” which says:

“All Debts contracted and Engagements entered into, before the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be as valid against the United States under this Constitution, as under the Confederation.

This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.

The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”

This, too, is plain English. It doesn't take a law degree to understand it. It says that the Constitution delegates to the United States government the authority to make laws that become “The Law of the Land” and any state law to the contrary is invalid, i.e., “ notwithstanding.” In other words, the states are “bound” to federal law, whether they like it or not. And, every federal, state, and local government official takes an oath to that effect. Plain and simple.

Yet, with the crazies against America so prevalent, 24/7, I have to ask myself, “Am I the one that is wrong?” You know what they say about a person who says, “ I'm not crazy. Everyone else is?” Well, am I the crazy one? Has my meager education really equipped me with the ability to read plain English? Am I missing something? So, even after reading the articles and amendments to the Constitution, and, in my opinion, having a clear understanding of what is written, I still have to go back to the Federalist Papers for a sanity check, to read what the founders had in mind when forming the United States. I've read them several times, and I always get a kick out of reading them the second, third, fourth and tenth time. What were they thinking?

It doesn't take long to realize that Hamilton, Madison and Jay, who wrote the Federalist Papers, were brilliant, well informed men. And, although they wrote the papers, anyone should be able to tell that there was a lot of discussion with Franklin, Jefferson, Washington, Adams, and all of those other Continental Congress members, and others who took action for and who had something to say for our new country, about what to say and how to say it in those papers. There had to be a lot of discussion because the papers discuss the proposed Constitution and new country, the United States, from every point of view, pro and con, and Hamilton, Madison and Jay could not have thought of all of those view points alone. But, to get a sense of what they had in mind, all I had to do was to read Hamilton's first paper, first paragraph. It says:

“To the People of the State of New York:

AFTER an unequivocal experience of the inefficiency of the subsisting federal government, you are called upon to deliberate on a new Constitution for the United States of America. The subject speaks its own importance; comprehending in its consequences nothing less than the existence of the UNION, the safety and welfare of the parts of which it is composed, the fate of an empire in many respects the most interesting in the world. It has been frequently remarked that it seems to have been reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and example, to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force. If there be any truth in the remark, the crisis at which we are arrived may with propriety be regarded as the era in which that decision is to be made; and a wrong election of the part we shall act may, in this view, deserve to be considered as the general misfortune of mankind.”

At the time this was written, the states were joined in a lose “Confederacy,” each making its own laws, having fights over boarders and tariffs, making trade agreements with each other, and otherwise behaving like each was its own country, which they were. As Hamilton says, it was an “unequivocal experience of...inefficiency.” It stunk. The new Constitution was proposed for “...the safety and welfare of the parts...,” i.e., the states and people. Joined together, all would be better off and not depend on “accident and force,” on the whims of some special interest group or politician. Not to accept the new Constitution would be “...the general misfortune of mankind.” In other words, the country was a mess up to that point in History and joining together as United States would fix it. Otherwise, we would be like Europe, a bunch of states probably speaking different languages with conflicting laws and armies.

So, after my sanity check, finding that the Constitution and Hamilton, Madison and Jay said what I thought they said, I have to wonder what Constitution and History book people like Virginia Thomas, Fox News, Glenn Beck, etal., are reading. In fact, this may be the first time someone really can say,”I'm not crazy. Everyone else is.” Maybe I should go so far as to say that there really IS a “stupid gene” that I sometimes joke about and that I'll someday be credited with its discovery. The whole idea behind the United States was to have an overall government that wrote laws for the entire country for the common good and to tweak those laws over time, through the representative process, to make them better, again, for the common good. It's a living thing that constantly changes for the better, or at least that's the intent, by majority rule. That's the way it is. But, to tear it apart by obstructionism or the chaos of each state having its own laws is simply wrong. There is no other way to describe it, except anti-American.

To anyone reading this who sides with Tea Parties, Glenn Beck and Virginia Thomas, I have to ask you Hamilton's question: “whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force?” If you're still not persuaded, maybe you don't want a United States at all. Maybe you should think about it. Read the Constitution and at least the first twenty Federalist Papers, but first clear your mind of all the junk you've been hearing from Beck, Thomas, etal.


Monday, March 15, 2010

The Miscreant Palin Gene

As some of you know, I am a self-proclaimed Palintologist. That is to say that I am a student of Palintology, the study of the Sarah Palin phenomena and the fans that follow her, with the ultimate goal of determining how far the human being will descend into stupidity before some force begins to resist further degradation of the human mind. The question is important to the entirety of mankind and to its continued existence, no less. Will resistance occur before we descend back to before the Bronze Age where, according to her fans, the dinosaur and humans lived together? Or will we simply descend to the Dark Ages before we begin our crawl back to sanity?

I thought I should share with everyone a new discovery that a few Palintologists have made – well, actually “all” Palintologists have made – the cause of the phenomena. Approximately 65 million years ago on the day that the giant asteroid crashed into the Earth around the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico, killed all of the dinosaurs, and formed the K-T Boundary that defines when the dinosaurs died and mammals began their ascendency (and, no, humans and dinosaurs did not live together – you pervert), the asteroid deposited a new miscreant gene that was fused with the lowly worm's genetic structure. So far we've traced this gene over those millions of years in various species that evolved from the worm and we've come to one conclusion – it is a self-destructive gene. Each time it appears, after periods of long dormancy, the species that it becomes active in takes on behavior that eventually destroys itself. It becomes extinct.

So, it is with some urgency that we must report the existence of the gene that is now active in Sarah Palin and her followers. We can't allow those who are now under the influence of the turned-on gene to influence others to turn on that genetic switch. The only action that seems to work as an anti-stupid agent against the gene, i.e., to turn it off, is to bray like a donkey. For God's sake, don't trumpet like an elephant. That seems to weaken resistance to the gene and make the condition worse.


The Health Care Conspiracy Against America and My Family

As I watched CBS's Face the Nation yesterday with Bob Schieffer and the confrontation between Representative Debbie Wasserman-Shultz and Karen Ignagni, President of America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), it dawned on me that we are in a battle against a conspiracy against the American people. It also dawned on me that the confrontation was rigged in favor of Ignagni with the help of Schieffer. The first thing was that Ignagni, sitting across the table from Schieffer, couldn't hear Congresswoman Shultz's, who was on a remote video feed, rebuttal or the issues she spoke about, and Schieffer attempted to recount what Shultz said to Ignagni. He did a very poor job of it. It also seemed very clear to me that Ignagni was following talking points that had been compiled by a consensus of insurance industry firms and politicians, mostly Republicans, against health care reform. Her comments were to arouse fear of reform while Congresswoman Shultz was trying to allay fears of reform. Even when the legislation essentially followed what the insurance industry wanted, Ignagni was still against it. In other words, Ignagni, who is the largest lobbyist for the insurance industry in Washington, and who has had a great deal of influence in the way the legislation is written, wanted no legislation at all. It seems to me that the legislation in Congress is more for the insurance industry than it is for us, “The People.”

Bob Schieffer did nothing to resolve the issues. He simply let both views hang in mid-air; on the one side fear of government sponsored health care claimed to be too expensive and too “socialist,” and on the other an attempt to reduce insurance cost and to insure 31 million uninsured less fortunate people. People who are afraid heard nothing to alleviate their fear. People who understand the issues, and I believe I do, continue to be frustrated that nothing was made clear, no definitive side was “for people.” In fact, Schieffer cut Congresswoman Shultz off for an end-of-segment commercial so that Ignagni had the last word.

In the final analysis anyone, in my opinion, should be able to see all the forces aligned against the American people, the consumer of health insurance. Huge amounts of money is given to lobbyist like Ignagni and Public Relations firms to galvanize fear of change to the point that we will likely have no or little change at all. The current legislation does nothing to stop insurance companies from continuing to do what they've always done; holding people hostage to its premiums, treatment plans and exclusions to care. If you want to talk “death panels,” it's the insurance companies that have them already, not the government.

I am a member of a number of activists organizations, such as moveon.org, colorofchange.org, boldprogressives.org and Sojourners so I can join the forces against those, such as the insurance special interests and lobbyist like Ignagni, who conspire against social justice for their own pocketbook. I don't agree with all of these organizations' philosophy and beliefs, but I know that the only way people who have limited income can fight against all of the misinformation and distorted fear mongering is to contribute collectively. Even then, the need to contribute is simply too much, such as this week when health care legislation is in its final battle in Congress and these organizations are in high gear to combat the distortion and lies. There is simply too much money being spent against America and I simply can't afford to give anymore. I hope someone else does. And the GOP is in high gear claiming “The People” are against health care reform, a blatant lie. Fear mongering also is in high gear.

We have only two options that will reign in the insurance companies; first is the Public Option and the second is Single-Payer Health Care. The Public Option would give those who can't afford health care insurance a way to be insured. It would compete directly with insurance companies and it would bring health care insurance costs down by the shear volume of people being insured. But, it would not solve the enormous inefficiency in the health care industry. We pay dearly for the inefficiency. For example, Canada, a Single-Payer system, has one insurance clerk processing claims for ten in the United States. Canada has one claim form for several hundred in the United States. It is Canada's system that was the primary reason that General Motors built factories in Canada, moving several thousand manufacturing jobs to Canada, because Canada's system is 1,000% more efficient and less costly.

Canada also does not have thousands of lawyers lined up to sue for health care costs, such as happened in New York City a week or so ago and where New York offered a settlement of $657 million to all of those whose health was jeopardized by breathing the World Trade Center dust. In another case in California a year or so ago, Anthem Blue Cross canceled policies of several thousand customers because they became sick, actions that are against California law. But, when the State Attorney General threatened to sue, Blue Cross filled the courtroom with over forty lawyers and boxes of documents for an extended, long legal battle that would last years. California backed down because it didn't have the money or lawyers to wage that battle. Blue Cross smiled and went on doing what it was doing – breaking the law. A single-payer system would have eliminated all of that legal maneuvering and tremendous costs to American tax payers who pay for court battles. Talk about a way to lower taxes! Single-Payer would do it.

There's also the worry all of us have when we get sick. Even when we are insured, we worry whether it will be enough or will the care be too expensive in spite of having insurance. Will the insurance pay? I have someone near and dear to me who is scheduled to have an aneurism looked at tomorrow. The aneurism has grown in size and so has the worry. Worry about what the doctor will say AND about whether the insurance will pay. Under a Single-Payer system, the latter worry would be nil.

Not one single person I know, family and friends, can guarantee that their children and grandchildren will have access to health care under our current system. We are simply passing on to them the same worries we have, perhaps worrying them to the point they become sick. Some in our family have already chosen not to be insured because it's too expensive. Try as they might, they can't afford it. Some grandchildren that I know would have no insurance at all if it were not for Children's Health Insurance Plan (CHIP), a government program for poorer children. There, but for the Grace of God, go us, if we haven't already.

Yet, we hear Ignagni and all the nonsense from insurance company sponsored advertizements, assisted by CBS and others, and we become afraid. There is absolutely nothing to fear from the Public Option or the Single-Payer systems and everything to gain. In fact, when we hear anyone speaking against these options, that's the time to run like hell in the other direction.


Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Crooked Big Banks and Greece

What can I say but, “here we go again?” If you listen to Republicans and Libertarians, those laissez-faire free marketers, who would let the ball drop where it may, and along with it the entire country, any country, you may be convinced to let the big banks and insurance companies fail because of the risky bets they made. Let them take the poison that they brewed in their cauldrons. But, you're not thinking. Because, failing along with the banks will be your retirement fund, every state pension fund, every trust fund your state and municipality (i.e., your city) has for things like road repair, transportation, utility infrastructure, and even election funding. All of it will be bankrupt or near to it. If you're a Tea Partier, then you probably think it's freedom to just let all the Fat Cat Bankers do what they want. I doubt you'll have your freedom if your city, county, state and country can't pay for elections; or when you'll have to work until you're ninety just to pay for food. You won't have health insurance – that's guaranteed.

So, this article says, “here we go again.” The world's biggest banks, Goldman Sachs, J.P. Morgan, Credit Suisse, UBS, Societe Generale, BNP Paribas and Deutsche Bank, loaned Greece more money than it could ever pay back and then they (the banks) bought Credit Default Swaps (insurance on the debt owed) so that, if Greece defaulted, AIG (and others) would pay the banks what Greece owed them. No-risk loans. And, to top it off, the banks hid the debt so that Greece could qualify for joining the European Union and the Euro Currency, which, I believe, allows a maximum of 3% of GDP debt and no more of a member country. Greece has 12% - 13% of GDP debt. The banks, according to the article, even created an “Index” (like a stock market) so they could bet, i.e., buy shares, on whether Greece would default or not. That's astonishing.

But, at least Goldman Sachs says it didn't do what Lehman Brothers did here – to the astonishment of all experts. Sachs didn't cook the books to make itself appear solvent when it had more toxic debt than it could bear, or so it says, yet it helped cook the books for Greece. Who is Sachs kidding? All of the big bankers raised their hands “to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth” to Congress, just like Lehman Brothers CEO and Chairman Richard S. Fuld, Jr., did. But, he lied through his teeth. None of these guys can be believed.

Fuld's attorney, Patricia Hynes, says Fuld didn't know “...what those transactions were....” But, here's how that went down. A few weeks before Lehman's financial reports were due, the Controller walked in Fuld's office with the Trial Financial Reports in hand. We're showing a loss, he says. “We can't do that,” Fuld says. “We'll lose our bonuses.” Well, how about we borrow $50 billion, show it as sales, then pay it back after the financial reports? “Yea, that'd work,” Fuld says. “Lets do that. Good job, Connie. Get the bonuses ready. Brilliant. Making money out of nothing.”

In the current perversion of language where the meanings of words are turned on their heads, this kind of behavior is called “business” or “taking care of business” or “normal banking” and “Freedom.” This isn't business and it isn't freedom. This is a scam, loan-sharking, cheating. This is criminal. They're crooks! The banks scammed Greece and defrauded the European Union. And, Greece, just as culpable, was gullible thinking it was getting something to good to be true – an offer they couldn't refuse. Lehman Brothers, too, scammed the world. These scams nearly brought down the United States and may very well bring down Greece, and Spain and Italy. This ain't over yet.

The real cause is misguided ideology, ideas that suggest that capitalistic markets can “self regulate” and that government regulation should be removed, such as is constantly suggested by the Republican Party. If we care about our children and grandchildren having a chance, we won't vote for misguided ideology. The next thing that will happen is that we'll have riots in our streets for economic and social justice. Without justice, there is no freedom.