The Too-Friendly Skies

Dragging their feet on arming pilots, the Administration is also moving, as an economy measure, to reduce the number of armed Air Marshals.

The Transportation Security Administration wants to reduce the number of air marshals to save money, even as the government is warning about the possibility al-Qaida may try more suicide hijackings.

The TSA is seeking approval from Congress to cut $104 million from the air marshal program to help offset a $900 million budget shortfall. It’s unclear how many of the estimated several thousand air marshal jobs would be affected.

Not to suggest that they don’t have good plan, or anything…

An Email From New York

Tenacious G just forwarded me this email which is making the rounds in her legal circles. Snopes doesn’t disavow it, and Christy Ferer is in fact the Mayor’s liason to the 9/11 Victims’ families.

Subject: A Request From Baghdad

Christy Ferer is a 9/11 widow who recently was a member of a group of celebrities (including Robert DeNiro and Kid Rock, among others) that took an Armed Forces Entertainment Office and USO-sponsored trip to Iraq to show support for the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines still over there. Following is an e-note she sent her escorts about the experience. In her cover note, she said she intends to submit it to the NY Times for publication. It is really powerful, and very moving, and will make you proud that you have chosen to serve your country, and proud to be an American. Enjoy…and thanks as always for all you do for America’s Air Force!

Brig Gen Ron Rand

When I told friends about my pilgrimage to Iraq to thank the US troops, reaction was under whelming at best. Some were blunt. “Why are YOU going there?” They could not understand why it was important for me, a 9/11, widow to express my support for the men and women stationed today in the Gulf.

But the reason seemed clear to me. 200,000 troops have been sent halfway around the world to stabilize the kind of culture that breeds terrorists like those who I believe began World War III on September 11, 2001. Reaction was so politely negative that I began to doubt my role on the first USO / Tribeca Institute tour into newly occupied Iraq where, on average, a soldier a day is killed.

Besides, with Robert De Niro, Kid Rock, Rebecca and Johns Stamos, Wayne Newton, Gary Senise, and Lee Ann Wolmac who needed me?

Did they really want to hear about my husband, Neil Levin, who went to work as director of New York Port Authority on Sept.11th and never came home? How would they relate to the two other widows traveling with me? Ginny Bauer, a New Jersey homemaker and the mother of three who lost her husband, David and former marine Jon Vigiano who lost his only sons, Jon, a firefighter and Joe, a policeman.

As we were choppered over deserts that looked like bleached bread crumbs I wondered if I’d feel like a street hawker, passing out Port Authority pins and baseball caps as I said “thank you” to the troops. Would a hug from me mean anything at all in the presence of the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders and a Victoria Secrets model?

We arrived at the first “meet and greet”. It made me weep. (why?) Armed with M16s and saddlebags of water in 120 degree heat the soldiers swarmed over the stars for photo and autographs.

When it was announced that a trio of 9/11 family members was also in the tent it was as if a psychic cork on emotional dam was popped.

Soldiers from every corner of New York, Long Island and Queens rushed toward us to express their condolences. Some wanted to touch us, as if they needed a physical connection to our sorrow and for some living proof for why they were there. One mother of two from Montana told me she signed up because of 9/11. Dozens of others told us the same thing. One young soldier showed me his metal bracelet engraved with the name of a victim he never knew and that awful date none of us will ever forget.

In fact at every encounter with the troops a surge of reservists — firefighters and cops including many who had worked the rubble of Ground Zero — came to exchange a hometown hug. Their glassy eyes still do not allow anyone to penetrate too far inside to the place where their trauma is lodged; the trauma of a devastation far greater than anyone who hadn’t been there could even imagine. It’s there in me, too. I had forced my way downtown on that awful morning, convinced that I could find Neil beneath the rubble.

What I was not prepared for was to have soldiers show us the World Trade Center memorabilia they’d carried with them into the streets of Baghdad. Others had clearly been holding in stories of personal 9/11 tragedies which had made them enlist.

USO handlers moved us from one corner to the next so everyone could meet us.

One fire brigade plucked the 9/11 group from the crowd, transporting us to their fire house to call on those who had to stand guard during the Baghdad concert. It was all about touching us and feeling the reason they were in this hell. Back at Saddam Hussein airport Kid Rock turned a “meet and greet” into an impromptu concert in a steamy airport hangar before 5000 troops.

Capt. Vargas from the Bronx tapped me on the back . He enlisted in the Army up after some of his wife’s best friends were lost at the World Trade Center. When he glimpsed the piece of recovered metal from the Towers that I had been showing to a group of soldiers he grasped for it as if it were the Holy Grail. Then he handed it to Kid Rock who passed the precious metal through the 5000 troops in the audience. They lunged at the opportunity to touch the steel that symbolized what so many of them felt was the purpose of their mission-which puts them at risk every day in the 116 degree heat and not knowing if a sniper was going to strike at anytime.

Looking into that sea of khaki gave me chills even in that blistering heat. To me, those troops were there to avenge the murder of my husband and 3 thousand others. When I got to the microphone I told them we had not made this journey for condolences but to thank them and to tell them that the families of 9/11 think of them every day. They lifts our hearts. The crowd interrupted me with chants of ” USA, USA, USA.” Many wept.

What happened next left no doubt that the troops drew inspiration from our tragedies. When I was first asked to speak to thousands of troops in Quatar, after Iraq, I wondered if it would feel like a “grief for sale” spectacle.

But this time I was quaking because I was to present the recovered WTC recovered steel to General Tommy Franks. I quivered as I handed him the icy gray block of steel. His great craggy eyes welled up with tears. The sea of khaki fell silent. Then the proud four-star general was unable to hold back the tears which streamed down his face on center stage before 4,000 troops. As this mighty man turned from the spotlight to regain his composure I comforted him with a hug.

Now, when do I return?

Open-Source Litigation

Check out Groklaw, a weblog that seems most focussed on the business and legal issues underlaying current SCO-storm in the open-source world. I have a feeling that the outcome of these cases is going to be damn important in the next decades.

UPDATE: See comments.

My Lunch With Sumi

Most of the people – software developers and architects – on the team I’m working with are from India. I took one of them out to lunch today – a new engineer named ‘Sumi’ (actually it’s much longer than that and I’d probably spell it wrong if I tried). She’s Telugu, one of he subpopulations of India related to the Tamil, and because she’s an intelligent and attractive young woman, she’s somehow managed to meet quite a few Americans in the four months she’s been here.

At lunch she talked about them, and was asking me in amazement “Why is it that when I talk to these young people, they are ashamed of being Americans and they tell me that they wish they were Indian? Do they know what it’s like to be Indian? I am Indian, and I love India, but after being here for a little while I think I love America better.”

I asked her why. “Is it the money? I know that you can do better economically here.”

“No,” she explained. “I actually took a cut in pay to come here. I was a manager back in Bangalore. I like it here because here I am free to be what I want to be, and not what my father or my aunts want me to be. I can follow my own heart and feel like I am making my own life for myself.”

Welcome to America, Sumi. Personally, I’m glad you’re here.

(note that these are quotes as close as I can remember them from 15 minutes ago)

Trent Goes French

The net assessment of national security requirements and its translation into grand strategy is a highly specialized field of academic study who best practitioners are currently working on or are consultants for the National Security Council and the Department of Defense.

From comments to this post, below

I was kind of astounded to see Trent say this, not because I felt the attack (I have pretty thick skin and only get moderately annoyed when the guests actually puke in the punchbowl), but because it makes my argument regarding Bush’s policies for me and represents such a profound misunderstanding of what America is about that I can’t let it go unanswered.

And I get the delicious task of pointing out to Trent how parallel his thinking is to his hated French.In France, the path to power – whether in one of the administrative cadres of the Government (and then on to politics) or in one of the large corporations – is through ‘les grandes ecoles’ – the elite universities. Middle class students sweat their Bac (exams) in order to get onto a track that will give them an opportunity to get into one of these schools. Upper class kids – the ones with connections – work on their scores as well, but have their paths smoothed through parental connections. My ex-wife, for example, went to ENSAE, the aerospace/engineering school in Toulouse, while one of her sisters went to ENA (and now works for UNESCO), and another to the Paris Conservatory (their version of Julliard).

The French political system is built on ‘expertise’; it assumes that the intensive study that is required to get into one of these schools and the hard work that students do once there delivers not only a wide array of long-lasting personal connections (see the recent blown French effort to rescue Ingrid Betancourt, a presidential candidate one of de Villipins’ former students from FARC), but a superiority of outlook and knowledge that entitles them to rule.

The results tend to be mixed, at best. The corruption at high levels in France is almost unimaginable, even to me, and I have a good imagination. The current round of Elf-Aquitaine scandals, where the corporate and government interests collude – hidden behind a veil of ‘need to know’ and ‘secret strategy’.

The consequence is a lethargic political culture in France, and an overall disengagement between the average French citizen and their government. Policy and politics are the province of ‘the smart guys’.

Sadly, I’ll suggest that those who support Bush playing Richelieu (Den Beste, Trent, and others who suggest that a hide-the-ball play is the best plan for setting our foreign policy) are acting in full accord with this worldview.

Ours is not to reason why, our is just to shut up, support Bush, pay our taxes, and send our sons and daughters.

They’re missing a few things when they suggest that.

The most important thing is actually the simplest, which is that the genius of the American system is that there certainly are experts on game theory, diplomatic history, and policy who have substantive and valuable expertise in these areas.

And they all work for guys like me. Our Congress and our President are typically business men and women, lawyers, rank amateurs when it comes to the hard games that they study so diligently at ENA (Ecole Nationale d’Administration). And that’s a good thing, in fact, it’s a damn good thing.

It is a good thing because the unique power of the United States comes from our willingness to diffuse power down into the ranks – to act in ways outside what a small cadre of mandarins sitting at a capital can envision.

And that diffusion of power must be accompanied by a diffusion of belief.

I’m not looking for Bush to announce the date and time of deployments, or the next step he will take in negotiating with North Korea or Syria.

But if he really wants to mobilize American power – and I think that will be required to win this war – he has to share belief and power. He has to share it with the troops; with the parents who drive their children to recruiting centers; with the taxpayers who will be watching the flag-draped coffins unload at an air base in Delaware. Because this is going to be a long haul, and we’re going to need all those people’s hearts and commitment in it for the duration.

Leadership and Challenge

I’ve been discussing the need for Bush to articulate and sell his plans in order to build and maintain the public support that will be essential to winning this war. Trent has responded, disagreeing.

Calpundit posts on the same subject, and says:

I most definitely don’t accept Steven Den Beste’s crude view that the president shouldn’t tell the American public about his larger goals because “They don’t need to know, and can’t be trusted to know.” This is not a specific operational aspect of war that needs to be kept secret from our enemies, it’s an argument about the overarching principle behind American policy and America’s place in the world for the next several decades. If the American public … and the world … can’t be trusted with that, we should just pack up and go home. Steven should be ashamed of himself for writing such a thing.

He follows up with a post quoting James Woolsey, in an article in The Guardian:

America and the western world are at war with ‘fascist’ Middle East governments and totalitarian Islamists…..[The parallels with the Cold War are:] that it will last a very long time – decades; that it will sporadically involve the use of military force, as did the Cold War in Korea for example; but that an important component would be ideological. I would add that, just as we eventually won the Cold War – and when I say ‘we’ here, I always mean Britain, the United States, the democracies, our allies – it was in no small measure because, while containing the Soviet Union and its allies militarily and with nuclear deterrence, we undermined their ideology.

What they said, all the way.

And I’ll echo Kevin strongly in disagreeing with Den Beste and Trent (and other commenters who have supported Trent here); it is critical that Bush articulate and sell his vision for why we are at war and what the war will look like – not tactically or diplomatically, but historically – and a clear vision of what we are really fighting and what we are fighting for. Because we will win this war with ideology, belief, and determination, and the role of the leader is in no small part to express those and to embody them so that the rest of us will internalize them and come to act on them.

It is a high standard, but we have had wartime Presidents – including the rich, spoiled sons of privilege – who have met it, and by the time we win this war, we will have had one or more Presidents who have met it. The challenge isn’t beyond Bush, and I hope that he can grow to meet it.

Good News and Drama From France

More good news for Joe…tomorrow, unless something incredible happens (and that’s not likely) Lance Armstrong will win his 5th consecutive Tour de France, and Tyler Hamilton will finish 4th, having ridden for three weeks on a broken collarbone.

In the penultimate time trial (an individual race against the clock), his only potential challenger, German Jan Ullrich, crashed on a rainslick roundabout. Reading the live Internet feed as they started, it was obvious that at the starting ramp, Ullrich was anxious and Armstrong collected. Both raced at record-breaking speeds; they covered 49km in well under an hour.

This has been a Tour full of crashes, drama, and exciting events, as well as magnificent athletic performances by all the participants. Lance said: “We’re very lucky to be in a position like that. It was an eerie Tour. The mixture of physical problems, tactical errors and just bad luck, having crashes and near-crashes, it gives you mental stress and physical stress.

Lance joins Miguel “Big Mig” Indurain as the only winner of five in a row, and no one – not even the great Merckx – has won more than five, period. See you all next year…

Guys, I Get It

In the comments sections, it’s being pointed out to me that we’ll ultimately win whatever war comes our way, so my concerns about faith and endurance are misplaced.

That’s not news to me. Read this and I hope you’ll understand what I’m really afraid of.

…here’s my fear. I don’t want to be a part of a society that eradicated another culture; I don’t want to commit genocide.

Gephardt’s Speech

I know this guy posts a lot of comments here. but trust me…it’s not backscratching…go click over and read his analysis of “Gebhardt’s” (I couldn’t resist) recent speech on the war – good, bad, & ugly.

If I didn’t have a job, and sons, and a relationship, and I wasn’t spending all my time scribbling in a copy of Rawls, I could do as good a job as he’s doing. Really. No, really.

Faith and the Force of Arms

For someone who doesn’t go to church (except once in a while to hear my sweetie sing), I do seem to talk a lot about faith. I do because I believe that on a fundamental level, it is the intangible that really drives people; it is their faith in the future and each other that makes them willing to step up and shoulder burdens, take risks, accept loss, to move out of present comfort into pain in order to move to a future about which we can’t be certain.

I flippantly mentioned this below, in talking about Tyler Hamilton’s incredible performance in the Tour de France this year – riding with the leaders and even winning a stage with a broken collarbone. He could have withdrawn with no damage to his career, but some intangible drive…some inner fire, some commitment, some faith…kept him on the bike.

We’ve been having an e-mail conversation about this post on Stratfor:

The Bush administration’s continued unwillingness to enunciate a coherent picture of the strategy behind the war against al Qaeda — which explains the war in Iraq — could produce a dangerous domino effect. Lurking in the shadows is the not fully articulated perception that the Iraq war not only began in deception but that planning for the Iraq war was incompetent — a perception driven by the realization that the United States is engaged in a long-term occupation and guerrilla war in Iraq, and the belief that the United States neither expected nor was prepared for this. Ultimately, this perception could erode Bush’s support base, cost him the presidency and, most seriously, lead to defeat in the war against al Qaeda.

(emphasis added)

This is congruent with some of the critical things I’ve said about Bush; specifically that he hasn’t articulated or sold his plan. I think it is necessary that he do so, because ultimately this war will be won by the side with the stronger faith; we are matching our faith in our vision of the future against our opponents’.

Trent thinks my position is silly, and makes some strong arguments that I’ll leave to him to fill in; in summary, his view is that Bush has a plan, but can’t articulate it for political/diplomatic reasons, and that we need to simply trust him – that we can simply rely on his character.

My reply is “nope”.

Even if I stipulate that Bush has grown immensely wiser and more credible than he was in his early life…and I do believe that he has grown, although I’m not convinced that he’s grown immensely…I just can’t accept the notion that we’re sending our sons and daughters – hell, that I may send my son – because GWB says so.

And I don’t think that I’m alone.

Modern leadership involves propagating your vision – of a project, or a business. It involves creating faith which can motivate people to accept discomfort, pain or loss. When a team shares a vision, they have some understanding of the high-level plan which will make them more tolerant of not knowing the low-level plans.

But you can’t ask people to accept burdens based solely on one’s character any more. We are past the point of kings.

Clearly, this limits his freedom to practice Richelieu-like diplomacy by deception, as Trent suggests he may be doing.

Tough. I have a lot of faith in the American people, and I believe that there are a whole lot of those – like me – who would be willing to follow a President in spite of disagreements if we believed in and understood his vision and the overall path he proposed to take to get there.

Bush has set out parts of a vision, but we’re missing some key pieces. And I haven’t seen an path yet.

So I support him against the Hesiod Theogenys of the world…for now.