Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Veterans on the Hill Day

Today is invasion of the respect thefunny hats* at the state capital- the annual lobbying day for the collective veterans service groups.  Represented together by the Commander's Task Force, this group is made up of the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, AMETS, Disabled American Veterans, Jewish War Veterans, Marine Corps League, Military order of the Purple Heart, and the Vietnam Veterans of America.

Unlike the dozens of lobbying groups lined up to demand a chunk of the budget surplus announced last week, the Veterans groups have no big funding requests this year.  Instead, the agenda is about technical fixes to previous legislation, such as relaxing the rules on where dollars raised by Support our Troops funds can be spent, and improving the Veterans Preference process for hiring by Minnesota companies.

Not on the official agenda but showing support from the legislature this year is the idea of making military retirement pay non taxable.  Minnesota is one of only a handful of states that treats military pay just like ordinary income, giving us a competitive disadvantage when veterans are planning out their retirements.

So watch out for the funny hats at the capital today, and take the chance to thank a veteran for their service.

*'Funny hats day' was the phrase coined by Rachel Stassen-Berger a few years back, and changed at her request to 'Respect the funny hats day'.  If you get a chance, ask one of the funny hat brigade where all of the pins came from on their hat.  You'll get a two minute history lesson.

Monday, February 23, 2015

MOA terror threat

Rep Tony Cornish has good intentions in noting that the Mall of America is a gun free zone (aka criminals wet dream) but realistically, there is little chance that the Mall would ever buck the pressure from the anti gun crowd to change their policy.

The next best solution, would be to have Bill's Gun Shop or Cabela's to open a store at the Mall of America, complete with indoor gun range.  It would draw in 2nd amendment supporters who understand much better than the average civilian how to defend themselves, and deflate the public image of the Mall as a very soft target.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

When the first paragraph says it all

I've never seen one paragraph that better epitomizes the failure of the high tax liberal ideology.  Taxes can either raise revenue or punish behavior, but they can't do both at the same time.  From the Startribune today-
Less than two years after Minnesota raised its cigarette tax to one of the highest in the country, cigarette smuggling has become a growing business in the state. Now officials want more money to combat the problem.
The huge sin tax that the DFL created to help balance the state budget is now causing an increase in crime.  Instead of realizing that high taxes encourage people to find ways to avoid those taxes, the state of Minnesota wants to spend more money to enforce the high taxes that people find odious.

Is it out of the realm of reasoning for the DFL to understand that lowering taxes removes the incentive to to cheat on paying taxes?

Monday, February 09, 2015

Longshoremen unions threaten to derail US economy

In one of the biggest stories you haven't heard anything about, unions that control the port activities all up and down the west coast have been engaged in a months long work slowdown.  Despite average salaries over $145,000 and some of the most generous healthcare benefits in America (better than Congress) the International Longshore and Warehouse Union wants more.  Ironically, much of what they want is immunity from Obamacare impacts on their health benefits.

After months of coordinated work slowdowns, the Pacific Maritime Association  shut down operations this weekend, and the potential for a full shutdown is now very real.  Estimates of the impact of a shutdown are over $1 billion in lost income per day, not to mention higher costs passed on to every retailer that relies on good imported from Asia.

Monday, February 02, 2015

Why I wont see American Sniper in the theater

American Sniper is now the top grossing war film of all time.  It follows Navy SEAL Chris Kyle through his time in and out of Iraq, recounting his experiences as the most successful sniper in US military history.  As a veteran of the Iraq War, you couldn't pay me to go see this movie in the theater. Not for the reasons you might suspect, and certainly not for the reasons most liberal/progressives would give.  I wont see this movie in theater because Kyle's words hit far too close to home.

Since I haven't seen the movie, I wont pretend to talk about it.  But having read the book, I understand the gist of what will appear on screen.  While I could never compare myself to Kyle in terms of battlefield accomplishments, I recognized far too well the mental anguish he struggled with, as well as the struggles between serving and being a husband and father.

The hardest part of war was not the fear of me being killed-that was a reality we all had to adjust to.  By far the hardest part of war was the fear of what was happening to our families while we were deployed.  In the book, Chris's wife Taya chimes in at significant points to recount what she was feeling and thinking about her husband.  Though her pride in her husband is pervasive, her fear for his safety and resentment of his sense of duty is impossible to ignore.  Her anger towards her husband and recriminations for his absence are, I have no doubt, very close to the feelings my wife had while I was gone.

Similar to Kyle, I volunteered to deploy to Iraq.  In fact, I refrained from telling my wife for months that I had volunteered, instead making it sound like my deployment was inevitable.  Much like Kyle, I wanted to serve and felt a sense of duty-my country was at war and it was my job to fight.

The worst moments I remember from Iraq were not the one of being in danger.  The Army trained me well to react according to tactical principles, and when I was engaged with the enemy, I was honestly far too busy reacting as I had been trained to be overly scared.  That's not bravery, but more a lack of reasoned thought of my situation.  In the military we trained over and over to react to situations regardless of emotion, essentially a military mathematical formula.  IED explosion=pre-planned react to IED scenario.  Enemy ambush from close range=turn and assault.  Battle drills remove fear and emotion from the equation.

By far the hardest moments of being deployed came from the emotional toll to our family's lives.  In 2004, while deployed as a peacekeeper to Kosovo, my then 3 year old son had spent so many weekends with my brother and his wife that he started calling my brother 'Daddy'.  As a husband I was grateful to my brother for taking my son on weekends and letting my wife have a break; as a father I felt like an complete failure.

In 2006, I had the surreal experience of telling my wife in an email that my truck had been hit by a large IED, but that we had all miraculously walked away with a few bruises.  Battalion policy was that any soldier treated by a medic after a combat incident would have their family notified by phone from the local National Guard unit.  I wanted the word to come straight from me, but on the night in question, the morale phones were down, so email was my only option to let my wife hear it from me instead of from some lieutenant who would have only known the bare minimum facts as reported.  It was three more days before I could talk to her in person and assure her that I was fine.  She later commented that several stiff drinks were needed to calm her down after reading my email.

Also similar to Kyle's experience, we faced the wrath of military lawyers second guessing our actions.  'Memorandums of Concern', polite Army jargon for 'we're watching you' began to circulate for any incident in which we fired our weapons without overwhelming proof that the target was hostile.  Never mind the fact that the military lawyers writing them had rarely set foot in a combat zone, let alone been part of any combat mission outside the wire.  From privates to sergeants to officers, we all worried that doing the right thing in protecting our fellow soldiers could actually wind up landing us in jail, and away from our families even longer.

The reason, plain and honest, that I wont see American Sniper in the theaters is that I have no desire to experience that intense range of emotions in front of complete strangers.  I will certainly see the movie when it comes out on DVD, and hopefully with my wife, because we can now look back on those emotions and know that we are among the lucky minority who survived the war with our marriage stronger for having been put to the test.  But like anyone who has been through a traumatic experience, it will still be hard to relive, even for a moment, the emotions that we felt at the time.

To those who see American Sniper as a glorification of war, you are sadly mistaken.  War is a occasionally necessary but terrible thing; there is no glory in war, unless it is to prevent a war from happening.  To those who see evil in Kyle's recount of his time at war, you are mistaken as well.  Evil was the intent of our enemy in Iraq, whether it was killing innocent Iraqis or hiding amongst civilians to kill Americans.  Standing up against evil is not in itself evil, and if you doubt that just ask the US servicemembers who killed German soldiers to liberate the Nazi Holocaust camps. 

Chris Kyle's story is a reminder that as far freedom has advanced across the world in the last two centuries, there are still plenty of areas where naked brute force rules the day.  While America should always strive for peaceful solutions, the reality is that military force is still needed in our 'civilized' world, and likely will be for several generations to come.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Dr King's Dream

As we observe Martin Luther King Day in America, I think it is a fine time to review the qunitessential passage that King passed on to us from his famous 'I Have A Dream' speech.

"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

In a day and age when we have a black president, it ought to be obvious that we judge men and women on their character and not their skin color, but that is regretably not the case.  This nation still treats whites different than blacks, like when a white cop was assumed by the media to be guilty of murdering a black teenager, despite evidence that the teen had robbed a store and tried to take the officer's gun.

But Dr King's dream was not one of vengenace or retribution, it was one of equality.  He dreamed of a society where people are treated equally no matter your skin color, or religion.  Al Sharpton and his fellow race baiting agitators would do well to remember this, and respect Dr King's legacy.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

A DFL slap in my veteran face

With the start of a new legislative session comes the news that a priority bill by the DFL will be 'free tuition' for high school students for a two year degree.  Typical of their limited experience with the current generation of military members and recent veterans, this idea of state paid college tuition for anyone is a direct slap in the face to those who earned theirs.

Like many veterans, I took advantage of the school benefits offered to me by the GI Bill.  In exchange for limited tuition assistance (capped at $4500 per year) I was obligated to serve a minimum of 24 months on active duty, 2 years of my life.  Those two years of service that qualified me for the GI Bill consisted of 6 months in Mississippi away from my family for mobilization training, and 16 months in a combat zone, where we were subject to conditions that most civilians would consider intolerable; no right to privacy while living in an open air tent, threat to life and limb from constant mortar attacks, Improvised Explosive Devices, and the old fashioned gun battle, and further separation from friends and family.

For that service, I along with many other veterans feel that we earned the school benefits we used after returning home.  I was obligated to submit mountains of paperwork, monthly verifications of my attendence, and acheive a final grade of no less than a C to keep my benefits.

In contrast, the DFL wants to give high school students a free two year college degree, no strongs attached and limited rules that would apply.  Minnesota students are already eleigible for Post Secondary Enrollent Options, which allow hard working high school students to double up on college classes while still in high school, a program which encourages hard work and ambition.  A free college degree would enable high school students to avoid adulthood for two more years, taking dual advantage of the fact that Obamacare requires their parents to carry them on their health insurance plans.  Free college for any high school student would draw an enormous number of non-motivated students, who will see college as a way to avoid having to get a job.

But most of all, free tuition to any high school student will devalue and disrespect the agreement millions of veterans made with their Uncle Sam-first you serve your country, then you get school.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Eating our own

The lamentable reaction to newly sworn Conressman Tom Emmer voting for John Boehner is yet another example of conservatives being more zealous in attacking fellow conservatives than liberals.  When making his decision to cast a ballot for Speaker, a couple of facts had to play into Rep Emmer's decision:
1) Voting against Boehner, even voting present, would have made him a freshman congressman voting against the most powerful congressman in the House.  Say what you will about Boehner's votes and tendency towards RINOism, but you cannot honestly say that he doesn't wield immense power in DC.
2) There were no viable options to vote for.  The Speaker position is not about who is most conservative, it is about being able to plot a course for the House caucus and being the public symbol of that message.  I agree with many conservatives that Rep Boehner has a terrible track record for representing the conservative position, but no one else made a good case for why they would be a better speaker.  Several candidates rose up under the 'anyone but Boehner' banner, but up until just days before the vote, no Republican congressman had the courage to step up and announce they were running for speaker.
3) Rep Emmer was not elected by only Tea Party Republicans in the 6th CD, nor does he only represent them.  He was elected by and represents every person in CD6.  The majority of Americans took no notice of the vote in the House, and even in the conservative 6th district, Rep Emmer's vote is likely already forgotten by the vast majority of the people who voted for him.

If there is an example of Emmer saying bluntly and directly that he would not vote for Speaker Boehner, then that video/audio should be brought forward to let the congressman explain his vote.  But over 24 hours later, no such evidence has appeared, and no activists have stepped forward to say "Tom promised me he would never vote for Boehner".  What seems much more likely is that conservatives who supported Emmer projected their own views on Emmer the candidate, and are now amazed that he isn't following their own unspoken wishes.

And lastly, there is a sense of irony that Minnesota conservatives are so loudly complaining about one of only three Minnesota congressmen who did NOT vote for Nancy Pelosi.  There are legions of conservatives in CD 7, 8 and 1 that would give their right arm for a congressman who would even listen to them, let alone vote along conservative principles.