Memorial Day Considerations

On this Memorial Day, my thoughts go to those who have served their nation. I, of course, think of my shipmates on the USS Greenwich Bay (AVP 41), USS Enterprise (CVN 65), and the Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay. I especially think of Martin Brown, a shipmate on the Greenwich Bay, who died recently. Martin was a perfect sailor and a close friend. I also think of relatives who served in the Revolution at Kings Mountain, the Civil War at Gettysburg, World War I on a battleship, World War II on Hawaii, and Guam and Korea, at Pork Chop Hill. 

The Korean War veteran, Uncle Bub Niven, was a Sergeant in the Army Medical Corp. He wrote to me and said,”If you ever join the Army, make sure it’s the Salvation Army,”  After the war, I asked how he made Sergeant, and he said, “I was the only one left.” 

What this means is that we all have a duty to serve our country in some way, and the most poignant way is in the military service, where we risk life to protect our fellow citizens. This willingness to sacrifice has a life long effect on veterans and makes them great and responsible citizens.

I have walked the ground over which my relative, Malcolm Niven, attacked. It was a moving experience and we should all, on this Memorial Day, walk in the shoes of those who have gone before us and share their commitment to our country. Happy Memorial Day, remember.

Why the Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are Politically Sustainable

The New York Times front page today, May 26, 2013, has a story about how the Afghanistan and, earlier, Iraq, war dead are treated on their return to the United States. There is a major difference between these wars and Viet Nam because of the effect of the Outer Tactical Vest and the new, Improved Outer Tactical Vest. This vest protects the torso from 7.62mm bullets and shrapnel, and there are many stories of soldiers being hit by multiple rounds and surviving. The effect of this vest on the politics of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars is dramatic, as the KIA totals are politically manageable.
     Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD, and Traumatic Brain Injury, TBI, are conditions suffered by war veterans. I am sure these conditions have afflicted war veterans forever, Odysseus maybe, but they have been magnified in Iraq and Afghanistan. Brock Hunter, a Minneapolis lawyer, represents Afghanistan and Iraq war veterans who have criminal problems that are, in part, caused by traumatic events during their deployment.  In a recent speech, Hunter described Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).
    Mr. Hunter cited statistics that indicate  the politics of the tactical vest. There have been 2,500,000 personnel that have served in the two wars. Of these, 300,000 suffer from PTSD caused by the emotional and physical stress of war. There are also 320,000 veterans who suffer from Traumatic Brain Injury caused by an explosion that would have killed them in an earlier war, only to have their brains and a good portion of their bodies devastated in their survival.  
    In Viet Nam,  2,100,000 served and  over 52,000 died. The long lists of  KIA made the war politically unsupportable.  Soldiers wore rudimentary vests in Viet Nam, but the new vest is so effective it allows combatants to survive events that would have certainly killed them earlier. A doctor friend who works at the VA told me of a patient that lost his arms, legs and eyes to an explosion. This casualty was a survivor of the tactical vest. There have been 8,000 US and coalition deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq.  
    The politics of the vest means that because so many survive, KIAs remain relatively low and the war is politically sustainable. If just 15% of the Traumatic Brain Injured had died, deaths would  be at Viet Nam rates, and it would be impossible for a President to continue the wars. Hence, the new, improved, nearly impenetrable, tactical vest is making war politically possible by saving the grievously injured combatants, who only count as wounded.
    The vests are an important improvement to combatants’ equipment, but I do think we should know that Afghanistan and Iraq are as horrible for our troops as Viet Nam ever was, lest we think we have developed some sort of safer warfare and grow tolerant of its anguish.

How to Manage a Team and Win the Pennant

The Major league season is past the quarter pole and has taken a very interesting turn as teams that were predicted to dominate are disasters.
    In the  AL Central,  Cleveland and Detroit are tied at the top and KC just behind. Detroit will win that one, but Cleveland is good and is playing very well. KC may surprise all of us, but I don’t think they have enough yet to win in the long season.
    In the AL East, the Yankees, Red Sox, Orioles, and Rays are all over .500 and only Toronto is failing . Of course, readers of this blog will remember that I predicted the Jays would win it all. That was because, on paper, they had a very good team, but it is playing horribly with key players not performing, see Bautista’s record.  
    In the AL West, the Angels are horrible. With Trout, Pujols, Hamiltom, Trumbo and Hendrick in the batting order, this team should score lots of runs, but it is not and can’t pitch. A real and expensive disaster.
    In the National League Central, the Cardinals, Reds, and Pirates are within 2.5games. This was predictable, and I have suggested the emergence of the Pirates for two years. This division is the prime example of baseball culture dominating.
    In the NL East, the Braves, Nationals, and Phillies are within 3.5 games. The Phillies are doing it by sheer desire. The Braves and Nationals are wonderful teams, great players, good pitching and both teams drip baseball culture. The Braves have had that feature for decades; the Nats have developed it over two seasons, a tribute to Lerner and company.
    In the West, we find the worst disaster of all time. The D’Backs, Giants, and Rockies are over .500. The Dodgers, the highest salaried team in MLB, is in last place. (See update below!) With good hitting, they are not scoring runs.  Contrasting the Dodgers and Giants is a study of baseball culture being dominant in SF and deteriorating in LA.

     Let’s pretend you are running a team. You will  need to look at what non-uniformed managers can do to keep it going or reverse a slide. I sat with a group of sports executives a few years ago and I asked “what management could do?” “Where could management make a difference beyond the selection of players.” In other words, once your team is selected, what options are there for improving performance?.
    Here are some suggestions, listed in no particular order,

Technique. Coaching can improve play through instruction and improved technique, but in the top professional leagues, this is incremental change, only.

Training .Players can be coached to be physically fit for stamina, quickness and speed. This also is an injury prevention and recovery program.

Body knowledge This is training again to have the player aware of his physical strengths and weaknesses and correct through weight lifting and other exercises. This has an injury prevention aspect as well.

Diet. This means eating to stay at the right weight, neither too much or too little. Players do lose weight and strength and this can be monitored and corrected.

Nutrition. This is telling players what to eat, fewer Twinkies, (Yes, they are back) and more protein. This is actually very important and nutritional counseling should be offered at the earliest days of a career.

Equipment: The players simply have to have the correct equipment from shoes to caps, bats, sticks, helmets etc. No secret here
Drug counseling. This is obvious for two reasons. First, drugs have health risks, and Second, a player that fails drug testing is lost to the team.

Mental training: Here counseling should be offered to keep players balanced during period of stress, like every day. Sports are marked by failure and players have to learn how to handle it. There are more mental casualties than physical career ending events. The simple management technique here is to make sure a player hears three positive comments to each negative one. This is to develop a positive attitude. For example, tell a player who just grounded out that he had a good swing, hit a good pitch and almost got it. This is the difference between missing a put and thinking you almost made a put. The latter attitude will sink the next one. I told Harmon Killebrew that he struck out on a great pitch, he said, “ I just missed it.”

Social style counseling: Part one: This is how to be a good teammate, building cohesion, and supporting others. Part two. Family and friends’ This means be careful of who you hang out with and keep your wife happy. Family peace helps a player and discord has an effect on the field.

    Implementation of these programs gets at developing a baseball culture, which is all about scoring or preventing runs. Nothing else matters. This requires total focus on baseball at every step, from the ushers, the concession workers and vendors to the players, 24/7, as they say. This is what the Nationals, Rangers, Braves, A’s, Cardinals, Reds, Tigers and Giants have, and the Dodgers have just recovered it and are now, August 10, five games ahead of Arizona. It is this culture that wins pennants and that culture is built with focus on the management elements listed above. 

Anti-Consumer Effect of the Internet Sales Tax

 The senate has passed a bill allowing states to charge sales tax on purchases made from out of state, on-line sellers. The current law allows such taxation if the seller has a presence in the state, such as a office, store or warehouse. The reason this tax is necessary is to provide a “level playing field” for “brick and mortar” stores because the internet sellers don’t charge tax. It is also said. that consumers “show room” products by going to the “brick and mortar” stores, checking out a product and then buying it on-line for less. My research among actual consumers has determined that neither claimed consumer behavior is real. Consumers want to see and feel a product before buying and they want it now.  They also want to have someone to call who is nearby when products don’t work. As to the “show rooming” claim, it is the opposite of what actually happens. Consumers go to the internet to find a product and then look locally to buy it. For example, a consumer wants a new dishwasher, finds the perfect Bosch washer on-line, then searches for a local retailer who also will deliver and install the machine. An online seller in Georgia can’t do this in Minnesota, but Appliance Smart can. By the way, sales tax savings are almost always off-set by delay and shipping charges, real disadvantages for the on-line seller.  Whenever I see a bill that offers fairness, I wonder to whom it is fair. In this case, it is big box retailers who have a national presence and must collect sales tax on internet sales anyway, states that have high sales taxes, who will be able to raise taxes with impunity, if the law passes, and, curiously, EBay and Amazon, our largest on-line sellers.  The real purpose of the internet tax bill can be determined by examining why the biggest of the on-line sellers support the tax bill. It all comes down to competition, that mechanism that protects consumers from anti-competitive practices that lowers product quality, reduces availability, and raises taxes, all to the considerable detriment of consumers and commerce. The internet sales tax bill will place a burden on smaller on-line sellers who are already dealing with the burden of shipping and being a remote, impersonal presence, that gives the “brick and mortar” stores a great advantage. If the distant retailer has to charge 7% more, so, too, can the local retailer.  That gets us back to Amazon and Ebay. Why do these major on-line sellers support an on-line tax bill? It is competition again. The collection and payment of the tax will not burden them, but will burden lesser competitors who may become challengers to EBay and Amazon. This tax bill is simply a mechanism to make smaller, emerging companies less competitive, allow “brick and mortar” stores to be less competitive or efficient, and lets states charge higher sales taxes.  The Senators who voted for this bill are supporting oligopoly in the market place and higher taxes in the states. Who gets injured? It is consumers who currently benefit from the robust and competitive retail market where on-line competes with “brick and mortar.”  I had the underlying principle for legislation explained to me by Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D,N.Y. who looked at me and said “There is only one question-Cui Bono ?- (who benefits)- and it should be the consumer!  In this case, the beneficiaries are the big box retailers and big on-line sellers, not American consumers, and that is being lost in this quest for “fairness.”

Immigration and the Mexican View of Our History

In a speech at the anthropological Museum in Mexico City on May 3, 2013, President Obama said it may seem that “we seek to impose ourselves on Mexican sovereignty,”  This sort of comment will pass over the heads of most Americans who are largely oblivious to our history with Mexico. However, it will hit Mexicans hard as they view the territorial limits of Mexico in the 1840s as their true limits and something they wish to recover. Mexicans view the “Mexican War (1846-1848)” like the Civil War is considered in Alabama; they call it “La Guerra de ’47.

I was also oblivious to this Mexican view until I had lunch with a Mexican law professor in Mexico City in July, 1985. At that time, I was studying Mexican Law as a student enrolled in a University of Houston program. During this lunch, the professor asked ,“What you think of this Chicano movement in your country?” I answered by saying, ‘I understand that there is a historical wave of immigration back and forth across the border reflecting job opportunities in the two countries. It is nothing of note.” He laughed at me as he said, “Boy, do you have this wrong. Here we call this La Reconquista (the reconquest) of old Mexico.” I was shocked by the comment and asked, in typical American bravado, And how do you suppose to do that?” He smiled and said, “The same way you did it to us.” I was floored as I quickly recognized that he meant that where illegal Anglo settlers moved into Mexican Texas in the 1830s and became strong enough to defeat Gen. Santa Anna’s troops at San Jacinto in 1836, illegal Mexicans would move into the United States. General Santa Anna made peace and ceded Texas to Sam Houston’s Texans. The  peace treaty has never been recognized by the Mexican government that claimed Santa Anna lacked authority, a plausible argument.  A map of Mexico in 1845 can be found here and it may surprise you.

Americans, in possession of Texas, now looked west and began to infiltrate Mexican California. John Fremont was the most famous “illegal.”. By 1845, tensions were intense and war was declared in 1846 over an incident where Mexican troops killed some Americans. The Mexican War, 1846-1848 found American troops in Mexico City and our Marines still sing of the “Halls of Montezuma” in their hymn. The war ended with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo that gave the United States the Rio Grande border and ownership of Las Californias Norte that we now call California, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, and parts of Wyoming and Colorado. The Gadsden purchase added to that in 1853 and the borders have not changed since then. The land shift has been dramatic, but is not recognized in the US. As I said, it is an important part of Mexico’s history and is something to which Mexicans pay attention.

My studies included Mexican land ownership laws. Now, no foreigner can have a clear title to land within 100 km of land borders with the US or Guatemala, or 50 km from the sea-coast. This is why foreigners never obtain a clear title to their condominiums in Acapulco, for example, but have to buy through a bank or Mexican citizen. I asked why this law was necessary and my professor said, “We’ve had a lot of trouble with foreigners on our borders in the past.” Sam Houston? I think so.

President Obama’s making reference to our imposing of sovereignty over Mexican territory seems to be recognizing that some Mexican claim remains. The law provides clear title obtained through conquest and treaty and that is the case here. but the reference to Mexico’s historical claims to the southwest is troubling as it may increase the tensions between the American and Mexican illegal immigrant populations. Then, when I read that the proposed immigration bill being considered in Congress may allow 30 million Mexicans to illegally enter the US, I’m very concerned that La Reconquista may actually be working, at least it is progressing very well up until now.

Cubs Threaten to Leave Chicago; Such Nonsense

A Chicago Tribune article today said that the Cubs may leave Chicago and Wrigley Field. This is such nonsense that it needs to be examined. The Ricketts family that owns the Cubs is taking the risk of severing the ties that bind the people of the North Side to the Cubs so that the team remains popular eventhough performance is poor. The Cubs are currently last in the National League Central with a 11-16 record, 5 games out of 1st after one month of the season.
Here’s the link to the Chicago Tribune article.