Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Whitney Young

I just watched the tail end of a documentary on Whitney Young. A couple of initial thoughts:

  1. I had never heard of Whitney Young. I was surprised as he seemed to be an integral part in the Civil Rights movement. Not sure if this is because Civil Rights aren't covered much in primary and secondary schools, which, as I remember, may be because time ran out and post WWII to Present was barely taught.
  2. The documentary pointed out that the Vietnam War disrupted Whitney Young's social programs as well as his relationship with Dr. King. I wonder how this country, even the rest of the world, would be different had the U.S. not entered the Vietnam War. The more and more I learn about that time in U.S. history, the more I see far reaching effects.
Definitely worth watching for more information on that period of time and on that movement.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

State of the Union

Anyone who hasn't yet should watch the President's State of the Union speech. While I'm pretty split on Obama's policy ideas, I really liked the positive tone and was very optimistic at the end. My biggest criticism of the address is on its scope. The United States has many challenges but what we need now is a national focus on one or two issues. Here is a non-exhaustive list of topics covered in the hour long speech: budget/debt, medicare, tax reform, manufacturing, energy, climate change, infrastructure, mortgage refis, education, college financing, immigration, domestic violence, minimum wage, Iran, Syria, trade agreements, AIDS, voting process,and gun violence. All important, but none addressed long enough,with enough emphasis or with enough singular focus to make it a truly national issue.

"Now is the time to reach a level of research and development not seen since the height of the Space Race. And today, no area holds more promise than our investments in American energy."

America needs a new space race. We need an issue to unify Americans because that's the only way something will get done right. As opposed to stop-gap measures that don't fix the problem but simply postpone it. My top priority to unite the country around would be entitlement reform. Our national debt is worrisome, and Social Security and Medicare have the largest long term implications for the national debt. My second priority would be education. Our failing education system will have dire affects long term and we can't tackle the long list of problems from the speech along with those to come in the future with smaller and smaller percentages of the citizenry receiving world class education.

While this critique is not unique to this year's address, now is a critical time to "be authors in the next great chapter of our American story."

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Borneo & WWII

I saw a pretty interesting documentary on the rescue of downed U.S. airmen in Borneo during WWII. In short, a B24 was shot down over the island of Borneo and seven of the crew were able to parachute out. They were assisted by the local Dayaks in avoiding capture by the Japanese who had control of the island. A commando force led by an eccentric British anthropologist parachuted in to start a guerrilla war against the Japanese and rescue any downed airmen. They were successful in both endeavors and the Allies eventually took control of the island.

What was most interesting to me was the construction of a bamboo airfield to extract the U.S. airmen and the re-institution of the Dayak practice of headhunting. The bamboo airfield especially, but really the whole story, is an example of how we push the boundaries of people and technologies during wartime, innovating out of necessity. Will it always take a tremendous conflict to unite the country in manufacturing 276,000 aircraft (FDR called for 125,000), put a man on the moon (a great speech!) or even mobilize 4.24 million soldiers (13.5% of the population in 1860)?

This story made me realize that I don't know a whole lot about the Pacific part of WWII. I would recommend this documentary despite the large number of dramatizations mixed in the story.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Push or Pull

NPR's On Point recently had an interview with Barry Posen and William C. Wohlforth titled Outlining A New Foreign Policy. The discussion centered on whether America should continue its interventionist policies, specifically in the Middle East, or should it "pull back", investing more at home. I find the non-interventionist policies very appealing for some of the same reasons mentioned in the discussion:

The United States has incurred very large costs while intervening in the world over the past decades, many times with questionable benefits to the United States itself (19:09 in the program). Ron Paul's quote in the Washington Post in 2007 may not be entirely accurate but I think it makes a good point:

"There's nobody in this world that could possibly attack us today. I mean, we could defend this country with a few good submarines. If anybody dared touch us we could wipe any country off of the face of the earth within hours."

However, no matter how appealing pulling back behind our oceans becomes, the United States remains a powerful player in an unstable world with the ability to have a positive impact. Furthermore, we have the reality that we have 68,000 troops in Afghanistan, Iran continues towards a nuclear weapon, conflicts in Mali have erupted, there is no Israel-Palestinian peace and unrest continues in Syria

In America and the World, a discussion between Zbigniew Brezezinski and Brent Scowcroft, both Brezezinski and Scowcroft seem to hold the idea that America has a very important role to play.  Scowcroft says, with Brezezinski in agreement, "... in the world as it is now, only the United States can exercise enlightened leadership.Not direct people what to do. But says, 'Gather round. This is the way the community needs to go.'... We're the only ones who can be the guiding light" (See also the caller at 36:40.) The sound clips in the On Point program from Hillary Clinton and President Obama also indicate that many of America's leaders, both Democrat and Republican, favor a strong foreign presence.

My view is that there seems to be a lot of irrational decisions on what poses as a threat to the United States, especially when it comes to "terrorism". (My opinion of our need for more rational thinking has be reinforced by books such as Liars And Outliers by Bruce Schneier, Top Secret America by Dana Priest and William Arkin, and Outliers by Malcom Gladwell - all books I recommend.) As Posen points out (7:08), I think we need to consider both the positive and negative consequences from our intervention policies; consequences both abroad and at home.