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November 2012

Some things to be thankful for...

Sitting here on a day off, just before making some dishes for my dinner with the locals.  Not been posting for a while due to my assignment, but I wanted to share some fun stuff so you could pass the time if the relatives are getting on your nerves.  Mine are far from here, but in my thoughts, and I'm thankful to have them in my life.

I'm thankful for my country, my chance to serve it, and to help my brothers over in harms way.  I am thankful each and every day for that chance and the opportunity to be a part of it all.

Now, some very funny videos that I'm thankful for.  Each of these remind me of a fun time growing up- wish they were all still with us.  Some are not----

Continue reading "Some things to be thankful for..." »

Thanksgiving Thoughts

As today occurs, for each of us in its own unique way, I ask that you take pause and reflect on what this day means to you. This is a big holiday for some. This is a bittersweet day for others. This is just a day to eat, work, or play for yet others. 

Let's pause to share warm thoughts and good cheer for those who cannot celebrate the day in the way they wish to because of their situation, their job, or a decision to make a compromise. Tomorrow you can lament what is, what is not; what could be, or should be, but is not. I ask that, at least for TODAY, be happy with where you are today, what you're doing today, and those with whom you are sharing this day. 

From Facebook:

This Thanksgiving, crowded dining room tables all across the country will have an empty chair. A chair that is usually filled by a loved one who is stationed overseas fighting for our country.

This Thanksgiving we want all of our troops to know they are loved and they are missed. Please help spread the word by SHARING this picture. It may be a small gesture, but it is important we keep what really matters in mind during this season of giving thanks.


Enjoy your day!

Book Review - The Aden Effect

Pirates getting some well-deserved damage, a collection of folks who wish to do us harm, disgraced military men seeking redemption, sounds like a good recipe to me. I will even forgive the fact that The Aden Effect is all about the Navy.It's a helluva good book.

Claude Berube has written a great story filled with characters who are likeable or hateable but always entertaining, and even more important believable. He has plenty of personal and professional knowledge about the arena he writes about and it comes through in the dialogue and story lines. But the book doesn't get so far down in the weeds that you have to be an insider to understand what is going on. In addition the scenario and issues in play are sadly all too possible and it wouldn't surprise me to see them in the headlines.

Yemen is a mess, although singling it out in that region isn't really fair. There are few non-messes. The Arab Spring was a changing of the guard from known tyrants to unknown and all too often unfriendly groups. The Islamist elements were kept somewhat in check by the tyrants, now we have no idea who to deal with and not much influence on who will end up running things. In the midst of this soup sandwich,  The Aden Effect follows a trail of murder, conspiracy, terrorism and traitors high up in our own government.

Berube's "hero" Connor Stark is an excellent addition to the panoply of acerbic, jaded, ex-military, problem children who can act in ways our official officials just can't. Those pesky rules and regulations and chains of command really do get in the way of getting the job done. Consequently, Stark ignores them and strides around, I guess swaggers would be more nautical, and kicks ass in all the necessary ways. This book was fun and intelligently written, you will enjoy it.

Legal rationale for Israeli self defense

The Palestinans are serial war criminals.They violate the UN Charter regularly by calling for the destruction of Israel and their indiscriminate rocket attcks and other acts of terrorism put them well outside the pale of civilized countries. The fact that they are not condemned by the UN is one of many signs that organization is not an honest broker. The American Center for Law & Justice does some useful lawyering in pointing our exactly how the actions of the Palestinians constitute crimes and justify the self defense actions of Israel to remove a threat to its citizens.

They discuss self defense, the Law of Armed Conflict, the principles of Distinction, Necessity and Proportionality.It is an excellent legal answer to Israel's critics and has been provided to the UN, Congress, the White House and a bunch of other folks. Do yourself a favor and read it.

Book reviews: "The Dark Hour" and "The Black List"

The following book review(s) is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of the B5 crew's reviews by clicking here or on the Books category on the far right side bar.

Robin Burcell has written back-to-back novels, The Dark Hour and The Black List, coming out this holiday season. The reason for this was that life events delayed her writing for a few years. If you have never read any of her previous books, publishing two books so close together is actually good news because the reader does not have to wait for a new novel. To get a better understanding of the characters, The Dark Hour should be read first.

Burcell, an FBI-trained forensic artist, used her experiences as a police officer, detective, and hostage negotiator, to write thrillers about Sydney Fitzpatrick, an FBI forensic artist. 

The dark hourIn The Dark Hour, Fitzpatrick travels to Amsterdam to sketch a witness to a high profile killing; while in the US there is an ongoing investigation of a Senator’s assassination.  These two seemingly unrelated murders become the center-point of a conspiracy to spread a plague around the world.  Burcell also teases with a sub-plot that has the reader wondering if Sydney’s future lover’s wife is alive or dead. 

The black listThe Black List has Fitzpatrick’s sometimes FBI partner baby-sitting his soon to be ex-wife after she became involved with someone whose life is threatened.  The plot takes off from there with a lot of twists and turns that come together by the end of the book.  The main plot is centered on the refugee program and delves into the corruption angle as well as the effect on national security since there appears to be no accountability.

Through the characters, Burcell is able to point out how unsavory individuals are allowed to enter the US through the payment of bribes to various officials. This enables certain individuals to move to the front of the refugee resettlement line, including possible terrorists. She commented, “It bothers me a lot that the US government gives a lot of money to these organizations.  These programs were suspended because of the security flaws. Imagine a terrorist attempting to come through this way.” Burcell also told BlackFive, along with the national security implications, she wanted to show the despair “where multigenerations of people have lived in the camp all of their lives. They come to know these camps as their homes where they must endure such abuses as human trafficking and prostitution.”

Besides a riveting and intense plot these books have characters that are likeable and insightful. Other characters include Fitzpatrick’s FBI partner, Tony Carillo; Zachary Griffin, a CIA type operative and possibly her future lover; his sidekick, James Tex Dalton, and scientists Dr. Lisette Perrault and Marc di Luca.  Burcell uses her earlier expertise of writing romance novels to enhance the characters, who are brought to life very vividly. She noted to BlackFive, “I did it so the reader would root for these people.  I wanted to paint more of a positive picture that adds depth to the character and creates some romantic tension.”

Could Sydney be her alter ego? She responded, “If I were born in an alternate universe, where I wasn't married, and didn't have kids, and could run around and save the world, then yes--she's my alter ego.  I always thought being in the FBI would be cool, much cooler than being a cop. But there's something to be said for settling down in one area and not having to move every four years like one must in the FBI. I wanted to be a secret agent when I was a kid. Do you remember the Man from U.N.C.L.E. series? There was a short-lived Girl from U.N.C.L.E.  Sydney gets to do the cool stuff I couldn't do because I like being a mom and living in one location, but she does it with my moral compass, for the most part.  I definitely use my experiences when it comes to the forensic art, and of course if there's any sort of investigating. But the saving the world part is totally made up.”

She told BlackFive that she has been dreaming about writing ever since the age of ten.  Her biggest influence was her grandfather, Al Santoro, known as “The Senor,” a Los Angeles sports writer.  After dinner he would read stories to them from authors like Hemingway.

The Dark Hour and The Black List have fascinating plots that relate to national security, are very well paced, and realistic. The characters are likeable and relatable.  The twists and turns in the books will keep the reader guessing until the very end.  Anyone that wants action-packed stories that are fast paced should definitely read these books.

Sequestration? Fiscal cliff? Either way, the military and veterans are going to "pay"

And I don't mean "pay" in a good way.  According to Military.com, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) believes that regardless of whether we're confronted with sequestration (or not) or the fiscal cliff (or not), it's time to cut back on military and veteran pay and benefits.

You see the wars are winding down and the time is approaching where it will be politically safe to ignore the military and veteran communities again.  And here's a great way to get that ball rolling:

This week Tom Philpott reported that the Congressional Budget Office has put a red “laser dot” on future pay raises, TRICARE, and future retirement benefits.

In their report, the CBO says annual military pay raises have exceeded civilian wage growth over the last 10 years. In fact the CBO estimates that military pay increased by 52 percent from 2002 to 2010 while civilian wages rose only 24 percent.

Anyone, what have we been doing with the military for the past 10 years?  Oh, yeah, fighting two wars.

Notice the CBO isn't recommending cuts in the federal work forces pay and benefits which is consistently higher than the civilian community (and it is such dangerous work to boot).  Nope, it's the 1% in military that needs to be brought to heel.  And let's not mention the fact that much of the reason that civilian wages haven't risen in these past 10 years rests with politics and policies of the very government now considering cutting military pay and benefits.

Says the CBO:

The CBO says that any impact reducing pay increases might have on recruiting and retention can be mitigated by offering larger enlistment and reenlistment bonuses.   The CBO pay cap option would mean military pay would lose nine percent to private sector wage growth over the five-year period.

That assumes private sector growth.  Look around you ... how much of that are you seeing?  How much do you expect?  Yeah, me neither.

You'll love this next part from a grateful government:

The CBO also suggests an option to raise TRICARE enrollment fees, deductibles or copayments, actions also proposed by the administration last April.  For working-age retirees, those under 65, fee hikes should be phased over five years and use a “tiered approach” so that senior-grade retirees would pay higher fees than lower-ranking retirees.

Philpott reports that the CBO says higher enrollment fees not only would raise collections but also discourage retirees and families from relying on military health care versus civilian employer health insurance.  Higher deductibles and co-pays would restrain use of medical services too and also lower TRICARE costs.

Plan:  We'll make it so expensive you won't use it.  And that, of course, makes it effectively worthless to the retiree.  Feeling the love?

Key point from the story?

The plan to discourage retirees and families from relying on TRICARE has some support in the Senate.

Maybe you want to "discourge" that support (as well as the pay plan)?

As the author of the article points out, whether its about sequestration or the fiscal cliff, the avoidance of both has targeted us:

The servicemembers and retirees should be aware that the deal to avoid the “fiscal cliff” is likely to impact their families as much as the sequestration itself.



Jacksonian America

According to Dr. Mead, we don't much care about Just War.
Readers of Special Providence know that I’ve written about four schools of American thinking about world affairs; from the perspective of the most widespread of them, the Jacksonians, what Israel is doing in Gaza makes perfect sense....

Americans as a people have never much believed in fighting by “the rules.” The Minutemen who fought the British regulars at Lexington and Concord in 1776 thought that there was nothing stupider in the world than to stand in even ranks and brightly colored uniforms waiting to shoot and be shot like gentlemen. They hid behind stone walls and trees, wearing clothes that blended in with their surroundings, and took potshots at the British wherever they could. George Washington saved the Revolution by a surprise attack on British forces the night before Christmas; far from being ashamed of an attack no European general of the day would have countenanced, Americans turned a painting of the attack (“Washington Crossing the Delaware”) into a patriotic icon. In America, war is not a sport....

The whole jus in bello argument sails right over the heads of most Americans. The proportionality concept never went over that big here. Many Americans are instinctive Clausewitzians; Clausewitz argued that efforts to make war less cruel end up making it worse, and a lot of Americans agree.

From this perspective, the kind of tit-for-tat limited warfare that the doctrine of proportionality would require is a recipe for unending war: for decades of random air strikes, bombs and other raids.

I respect Dr. Mead, but this argument is half-baked. It's true that in Jackson's time America had no use for rules of war that would have rendered in incapable of fighting back successfully. It's likewise true that those same laws, now, are just another weapon to which you might lay a hand: they are the rules that allow you to treat unlawful combatants to a quick hanging or a trip to GitMo, because their lack of uniforms and discipline does not privilege them.

It's not that we don't get the rules. It's certainly not that they go 'over our heads.' It's all about war not being a sport. When we take to fighting, we mean to win.

And we do take seriously the women and children. Clausewitz's formula isn't against them, it's in their favor. Air strikes are one of the worst ways to wage a war, even especially a war of this type. Ask the Haqqani how kind our drones have been to their women. I have heard it said that the ideal weapon for this sort of war is a knife, followed by a rifle. Poison and silenced pistols are good too.