Saturday, March 28, 2009

* Each new administration brings with it catch phrases to sell its programs as aggressively as a pharmaceutical company convincing large portions of the population that they suffer from fibromyalgia or erectile dysfunction. From “The Great Society” to “Global War on Terror” to “Abstinence Only” both good and bad policies are wrapped in sound bytes that are the envy of Madison Avenue. The Obama administration is no different.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates tells us that the troops we are leaving in Iraq will no longer be called “combat brigades.” The new term for these military forces will be “advisory and assistance brigades.” Since change is good the Defense Secretary did not stop there. The U.S. Command in Iraq will be re-designated "transition force headquarters" after August 2010. The Army must have felt that the Secretary needed an upgrade in sophisticated phrasing. Instead of "Advisory and Assistance Brigades" the Army is using the term "Brigades Enhanced for Stability Operations" (BESO). This may be progress linguistically but falls far short of Obama’s campaign promise to remove U.S. troops from Iraq by the middle of 2010. There is no word yet on how the Iraqis feel about re-labeled combat troops being in Iraq after the already agreed upon removal of U.S. troops by June 2010. My guess is that they are still trying to translate "Brigades Enhanced for Stability Operations" into Arabic.

Presidential administrations also tend to be competitive in some respects with previous administrations, especially if they represent a different political party. The Obama team is no different. In a recently leaked e-mail to Pentagon staff, Dave Riedel of the Department of Defense's office of security review wrote: "This administration prefers to avoid using the term 'Long War' or 'Global War on Terror'" -- a message he asked recipients to "please pass on to your speech writers." The preferred catchphrase is “Overseas Contingency Operation (OCO).” Some may say that OCO sounds more like an emergency appendectomy while visiting Uzbekistan but I kinda like it. “Global War on Terror” is a bit neoconnish for my taste and not very stealth. Using “Overseas Contingency Operation” allows us to sneak up on those terrorist bastards before they know what hit them.

As I observed this creative use of language I began to think of other phrases or terminology that do not contribute squat to solving problems but at least distracts one from the burdens of the day:

~ Instead of noting 700,000 job losses per month we should call them “interim disemployment economic adjustments” or IDEA. Somehow, 700,000 IDEAs has a much more positive connotation than “jobless” and will more quickly restore the confidence that we are told the economy needs.

~ Much of the economic tsunami that has enveloped our country can be attributed to Wall Street’s invention and abuse of derivatives. These are instruments made up of mortgages that often should not have been granted, then packaged and re-sold to other financial institutions with the intent of further re-selling them to other geniuses. When the housing bubble burst (home values precipitously fell) the weakness of these “financial instruments” became apparent and the proverbial shit hit the fan. Perhaps a derivative should have been called “Duck!”

* Protecting the Troops ~ and other works of fiction - I have commented on a number of occasions about the shoddy and incompetent work private contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan committed while building facilities for US troops. At least 18 military have died from electrocution. Years have passed as this problem has been ignored and covered up. “Task Force Safe” has now been instituted to inspect these buildings. Their findings: “Thousands of buildings at U.S. bases in Iraq and Afghanistan have such poorly installed wiring that American troops face life-threatening risks, a top inspector for the Army says... Of the nearly 30,000 buildings the Army's "Task Force Safe" has examined so far, Childs said more than half "failed miserably." And 8,527 had such serious problems that inspectors gave them a "flash" warning, meaning repairs had to be completed in four hours or the facility evacuated.” More than 70,000 buildings in Iraq have yet to be inspected. More than half of the less-than-inhabitable structures to date were constructed by Dick Cheney’s best buds KBR, using cheap and inexperienced foreign labor. Among the many disgraces that history will associate with Bush’s Iraq invasion will be the Bush administration’s abandonment of the troops and the screwing of the American tax payer by private contractors.

* If you cannot afford your prescriptions there is a solution ~ eat more fish – A pilot study funded by the EPA found that, “Fish caught near wastewater treatment plants serving five major U.S. cities had residues of pharmaceuticals in them, including medicines used to treat high cholesterol, allergies, high blood pressure, bipolar disorder and depression. The next time I need a re-fill prescription for Lipitor I’ll ask my physician for a fishing license. I will lower my cholesterol for free with the added advantage that the relaxation of fishing will help me avoid the need for blood pressure medication. Perhaps a degrading environment is not as bad as those liberal fear mongers make it out to be.

* What do the financial gurus under Bush and Obama have in common? They have strong ties to the financial world they are supposed to oversee and they opposed oversight and regulation of the financial services industry as it greedily spun out of control. They were given responsibility to police their friends and a broken system they helped create. That does not leave me with a great deal of confidence in Geithner and Summers and the team Obama has chosen to navigate the shark-infested waters of this economic crisis. It is not change I can believe in.

* Laboring for fairness - When an issue is complicated how does one know whether to be for or against it? In the case of the Bush presidency I learned that if Bush was for something, I was against it. This was not a purely partisan Pavlovian response. It was a result of observing failure upon failure upon incompetence. In the case of unions I strongly believe that it is time for the labor movement to be stronger as part of the renewal of America’s economy and to keep the middle class from facing extinction. My contrarian Bush principle applies to the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) - a measure intended to make it easier for American workers to form unions. Who is against this Act? AIG, Citigroup, Bank of America, FOX News, Wal-Mart, The Heritage Foundation and a host of other major corporations and organizations on the right of the political spectrum – a movement designed to protect and enhance the well-to-do royalty of our society at the expense of the overwhelming majority of Americans. What do the EFCA naysayers have in common? Their actions and philosophies are at the very core of what bankrupted the American economy and the capitalist soul. Capitalism is a proven viable economic system, IF, it is tempered with government oversight and an empowered labor force.

* “It is one of the characteristics of a free and democratic nation that it have free and independent labor unions.”
Franklin D. Roosevelt

“Our labor unions are not narrow, self-seeking groups. They have raised wages, shortened hours and provided supplemental benefits. Through collective bargaining and grievance procedures, they have brought justice and democracy to the shop floor.”
John F Kennedy


Sue Katz said...

I'm a union girl myself, an activist in the National Writer's Union (UAW). The erosion of unions in this country is a scary trend, and perhaps the Employee Free Choice Act will create a less hostile environment in which working people can organize. But the big unions also need to get their act together in so many ways. From membership nepotism (sometimes a sexist father/son line) to compromising coziness between corporate and union leaders, there's a lot to be done. Thanks Stephen for raising all these important issues.

Ruth Z Deming said...

I laughed out loud when reading about taking your pills by eating more fish. And - get this! - the authorities assured us these trace amounts have no effect on us. One thing we learn in modern life - and spurred on by your columns - is the necessity of questioning our officials.

Excellent point about the new terminology employed by the Obama administration. You certainly do notice things, Stephen. Perhaps you should be a poet.

April, by the way, is National Poetry Month.