As my wife and ISIC (Immediate Superior In Command), reminds me, opining, responding to, or worse, instigating a diatribe via social media is bad for business. In the last century, word of mouth, newspaper, radio and television advertising, storefronts and mail order were means to get products and services to consumers. Developing repeat business from clients was more easily obtained and was often a local market. It is almost exclusively through social media or websites that consumers are aware of an entrepreneur’s product or service today. Social media giants such as Facebook, Twitter, Meta (Google), Tik-Tok or distributors such as Amazon are the primary means to advertise an entrepreneur’s wares. Inciting negative publicity can diminish a product or service’s availability on these platforms. (These companies also depend on consumers to regularly return to their platforms for profitability.)
As a result, when an inflammatory post, or even something innocuous that may appeal to an entrepreneur’s morals and personal beliefs, social media can quickly become a murky pool in which the original intent or comment is lost. As we have seen frequently, companies such as Facebook or Twitter can limit exposure for certain content. It might be a battle of wills with one claiming censorship and the other inflammatory rhetoric, but small businesses cannot afford loss of market share. This is the unfortunate reality today that we be friendly toward all.
A Chinese high altitude balloon carrying equipment has been carried along in the atmosphere over the United States this past week causing all sorts of ruckus. Their government has responded to United States that it was accidental, and not intentional, violation of our national sovereignty. While the balloon has maneuvering capability and seems to possess a sophisticated payload, the Chinese government claim, that it is an off-course weather balloon, is laughable. It would have been more credible had they claimed it was high altitude survey of their investments in the United States (the Chinese have invested some $200 Billion in the past quarter-century in US businesses and real estate). Though the U.S. Defense Department says the balloon has not ventured over sensitive military installations, and the Government has not ordered it to be shot down, one wonders whom is leading who on. At a time when the Chinese government has trillions of dollars at their disposal, building aircraft carriers, orbiting space platforms, and conducts espionage via HUMINT (spying on government officials, theft of intellectual property and technology by foreign agents) and COMINT (intercepting radio transmissions and hacking into computer networks), this balloon seems to be very low tech espionage for an adversary.
To gain military or economic advantage, nations have engaged in surveillance or intelligence gathering of their rivals for millennia. With the invention of radio communications, ELINT (electronic intelligence) grew exponentially as each nation devised more sophisticated means to mask their operations. With the satellite era, FISINT (foreign signal intelligence) was developed to intercept and analyze telemetry, determining a potential adversary’s capabilities and intentions. All of these have prompted increasingly sophisticated means of securing them from observers.
Determined adversaries view the long game to achieve their objectives. Years before the Second World War, Imperial Japan was sizing up the military capabilities of the United States to thwart their territorial ambitions. The US was then also decrypting their communications, which facilitated the Allies in reversing their early military successes and shortened the war in the Pacific. Since the end of World War II, the Cold War competition between two nuclear-armed adversaries seemed only to conclude when the economic cost to the Soviet Union became unsupportable. At the same time, China has also developed nuclear weapons, and provided enormous support to North Korea and North Vietnam militarily and economically, in two conflicts with the United States. In negotiations beginning with the Nixon Administration in the early 1970s, the economic benefit of a global market open to China has created their global power.
China is a different economic competitor and adversary. More students in China pursue engineering and science training than in the US or in Europe. International corporations with offices in the PRC have nationals working around the globe. With wealth from international consumers, the PRC has provided foreign aid to build (Chinese) militarily and politically-useful seaports, industrial capacity, and resource development around the globe. A balloon floating over the United States might be calculated to test our response, as a metric to China’s long-term foreign policy objectives. Two years of a global pandemic that originated in the PRC due to a failure at a government virology lab, and subsequent obfuscation by their government and officials in foreign nations (with ties to the PRC), lend themselves to being tools of future conflict. Another balloon carrying a biological agent does not seem farfetched.
The PRC has conducted increasingly bold military maneuvers near Taiwan, and is likely monitoring regional powers’ response to its client, North Korea’s, missile tests. However preoccupied the United States is with domestic problem, overt military action against Taiwan in the coming year may be a last option in their Party chambers. Through a century of international agreements, should an adversary attack a treaty partner (Taiwan), the United States will enter the fray. A surveillance balloon over the United States might be a metric to gauge whether the United States populace would be prepared to support that.
After this was published, it appears that the United States did shoot down the balloon as it crossed over into the Atlantic airspace. -February 4,2023. We know it had no civilian-use payload, as it would otherwise have been launched from a Walmart or an Amazon facility – the route most Chinese products go through.
Everywhere I go, I meet a veteran with a story that teaches me something about us as Americans. Some I meet are veterans of WWII and Korea, and some are quite a bit younger as veterans of combat tours in Afghanistan or Iraq. Others recall some detestable conduct they experienced from fellow Americans – incidents of racism, bigotry, or suspicion- but joined the military because of the promise that America meant to them. Some gave up promising careers to go defend America after September 11th. And quite a few I meet are immigrants who were willing to give up everything including their lives, to join the military, fight for the United States and earn citizenship.
Do you know the meaning of each fold of a properly folded American flag?
-George x, veteran and filmmaker
In a little motel office not far outside Yosemite National Park, my wife and I met the “staff”, George, who today was the snow shoveler, registration clerk and information concierge. We chatted this evening when we went looking for hot water to make cocoa, and he was very proud to share with us a story and a video about the American Flag. As a foreign-born American soldier, he earned citizenship through his wartime service. As a film student not long after his enlistment ended, a conversation with a Vietnam veteran sparked the momentum to make a documentary on the meaning of the Flag. With the participation of several notable Hollywood actors and military veterans, he produced the film directed by John Duffy. George gave us a DVD copy of “The Flag” which he promised “gives something to watch when the TV reception here is not good”.
Even as a retired Navy Senior Chief, I couldn’t immediately recall what the 13 individual folds of the flag I lowered and folded 3 decades ago meant, when it was my duty to execute with precision at Evening Colors. But the United States ensign has meant a great deal to me and my family for generations. Like one of the scenes in the film recreated what spurred a Vietnam vet’s interest in getting this film made. The idea that Americans would think it appropriate to burn an American flag, for whatever protest they have with our Government’s bureaucrats and elected officials, still wells up the same response from veterans. Like me, it might be fury at the disrespect shown veterans who have defended the principles, people, and homeland of the United States; and disappointment that people, never having suffered what most of the world has endured, trash symbols that give them more freedoms and choices than most.
First Fold: A Symbol of Life
Second Fold: Symbol of our belief in eternal life
Third: made in honor and remembrance of the veteran departing our ranks, and who gave a portion of his or her life for the defense of our country to attain peace throughout the world
Fourth: represents our weaker nature; as American citizens trusting in God, it is Him we turn to in times of peace, as well as in times of war, for His divine guidance
Fifth: tribute to our country. In the words of Stephen Decatur, “Our country, in dealing with other countries, may she always be right, but it is still our country, right or wrong.”
Sixth: is for where our hearts lie. It is with our heart that we pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
Seventh: is a tribute to our Armed Forces for it is through the armed forces that we protect our country and our flag against all enemies, whether they be found within or without the boundaries of our republic.
Eighth: is a tribute to the one who entered into the valley of the shadow of death, that we might see the light of day, and to honor our mother, for whom it flies on Mother’s Day.
Ninth: a tribute to womanhood. It has been through their faith, love, loyalty and devotion that has molded the character of the men and women who have made this country great.
Tenth: a tribute to father, who has also given his sons and daughters for the defense of our country since he or she was first born.
Eleventh: represents the lower portion of the seal of King David and King Solomon and glorifies God of Abraham (honored by Jew or Muslim)
Twelfth: represents an emblem of eternity and glorifies God the Father, the Son and Holy Ghost.
Thirteenth: when the flag is completely folded, the stars are uppermost, reminding us of our national motto, “In God We Trust.”
Ed: This list is explained in the documentary, and this same description is given on military.com; some websites, including government sites, incorrectly attribute the folds to represent the original 13 colonies.
Veterans and their families must take the initiative to obtain healthcare we are due as a result of military service. Veterans must recognize that any large bureaucracy moves slowly as a result of myriad policies, procedures, and claimants seeking redress. But recognition of one’s “adversary” does not mean avoiding redress of wrongs. As history taught, determined veterans and others exposed to ionizing radiation associated with nuclear weapons used against Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as well as the Nevada desert and Pacific atoll ranges, were determined to obtain treatment from the Government. Similarly, civilians, shipyard workers and veterans’ exposure to asbestos insulation dust caused lung damage and incidents of cancer; public pressure resulted in nationwide asbestos removal and medical treatment for the afflicted. Certain cleaning solvents (e.g., trichloroethylene up through the 1970s) and repeated exposure for decades to PCBs – Polychlorinated biphenyl – used as insulating and coolant agents, sickened people and forced cleanup and care for those affected. Toxics leached into drinking water within military installations, exemplified by the Camp Lejeune Marine Base and elsewhere originating decades ago have become legal issues. Recently, the Government was forced to assume responsibility for troops exposed to toxics from Burn pits, disposal of trash and sewage with ignited diesel fuel – at camps during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Among veterans who were deployed to the Mid-East since the Gulf War in 1991, a number have maladies that resist determining a cause. Since the 1990s, medical professionals have identified about a third of Gulf War veterans suffering problems grouped as Gulf War Syndrome.
Recent data studied by the U.S. Census Bureau (2018) indicates that living veterans number about 7 percent of the U.S. population. While servicemembers might risk injury and death from combat, many faced hazards from the conditions they worked within while working and living with toxic substances. These substances may contribute or aggravate, even decades later, health conditions. While it seems logical that these should be diagnosed and treated as the responsibility of the Government, it is an unfortunate necessity to apply political pressure and bring public scrutiny when an illness is as a result of military service. In the modern era, many voices clamor for Government services. Veterans who do not clamor louder that other constituents may not get heard.
On social media, a former Green Beret, Scott Mann, succinctly describes veterans’ loss of confidence in the United States Government after the debacle which allowed the Taliban fighters who sheltered the 9/11 terrorist network to retake the country of Afghanistan. If the aim of the United States was to punish an ideology that murdered thousands in the United States, and to convince that ideology’s adherents to abandon those efforts, the cost in lives, injury, emotional and physical suffering over twenty years failed. Changing a fourteen hundred year old culture of Islamic traditions, tribalism, misogyny, and history of repelling foreign invasion by military occupation, electrification, and educating young women was unlikely to be permanent in one generation. It was the same lesson the Soviets learned and the British before them. The lessons that America’s hasty exit left in the minds of adversaries and allies, is that the United States can be defeated when drawn into a long, bloody conflict with facile understanding of its adversaries. It is the historical view that politics at home shifts America’s commitment. With such an eventual outcome, it emboldens her adversaries, economic and military, to convince nations with strategic geopolitical importance to partner with them. While nations like Russia rattle sabers (nuclear weapons, natural gas supplies) against Europe, annex the Crimea region and invade the Ukraine (which has proven to be Putin’s equally bloody miscalculation), Iran continues to develop weapons and relations with regimes that do not favor the US nor its allies; North Korea continues development of nuclear-capable missiles; and China builds bases, militarily-useful seaports and industrial capability globally. It also flexes naval power to remind the United States that it plans to eventually retake Taiwan. The seeds of future conflict with the United States, to support alliances or to defend trading partners, is being sown all the time. Meanwhile the United States military has experienced an internal conflict shifting resources and capabilities to align with societal change in identity- gender, attitudes ( regard for authority, character, politics). Accidents, expensive but short-lived weapon systems, and ethically-challenged members in the officer and enlisted ranks (bribery, sexual abuse, and “loss of confidence” in those chosen to command) reflect deficiencies in training, design, threat analysis, and personnel selection.
When a jury summons arrives in the mail, as a veteran and former Navy Chief Petty Officer, I feel the sense of duty to report when summoned. Not that I have ever once been selected to sit on a jury, I will still go down to the courthouse on the day I am required. I do not recall ever receiving a summons while I served on Active Duty in any of the municipalities where I lived. I think that military service excludes us from the jury selection pool. But last month I received a summons, and then asked to reschedule because I became ill with a cold. This week is my second summons starting day, and again I am ill. Actually, more annoying than the fever four days earlier, the stubborn sinus congestion persists. As a CPO, I should simply suck it up(!), and carry out the mission. Perhaps, it is that sense of duty, and the ability to detect a load of @#$# being shoveled by attorneys –sea lawyers– that has prevented me from being a juror so far?
Twenty-one years ago today, in the early hours of a late summer morning, evil attempted to destroy the American ideal. They thought by striking symbols, the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and the White House, they would succeed in their endeavor. They were wrong. Three thousand men and women, airline passengers and crew, working people, First Responders and members of the Armed Forces perished that day. Instead of fear, the terrorists ignited resolve, beginning first with the passengers in the plane above Shanksville, Pennsylvania who opposed them. Though perishing, the passengers halted the attack on one of Al Qaeda’s targets. Like the surprise attack of Imperial Japan sixty years earlier, a “sleeping giant” was awakened. Before the towers collapsed, Americans (whatever their actual citizenship) demonstrated this evil “holy” war was a failed attempt. Heroism, courage and sacrifice emerged that day.
Men and women rushed into the burning buildings to save others, and some perished in doing so. In the ensuing months, fatherless and motherless children, widows and widowers, neighbors and strangers were comforted. The World these terrorists hated, put aside their differences, then united in crushing the safe haven in Afghanistan and sending its leaders to prison or to hell. Twenty years later, most Americans living today have at least one family member, co-worker, friend, or neighbor who served in the military after September 11th, some of whom returning with the scars of war. Though collective memory of nations fade, governments equivocate, and old ways persist, veterans still remind us of duty and responsibility of the defended. Ordinary citizens support, encourage, and volunteer to assist the injured, homeless, addicted, and refugee. Though many who have come of age in the two decades since question the purpose of the sacrifices in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and elsewhere, this day should be remembered and honored.
Embrace those who lost a loved one on that day. Put aside any differences in race, politics, religion, economic condition or gender. Thank a member of law enforcement, firemen, veterans and Active Duty service members for their dedication. Get to know your neighbor. Praise your God for peace and love. Most importantly, teach your children respect, honor, courage, and selflessness.
A skill that anyone with something to protect, whether consumer or a business owner, is developing shrewd thinking. Most understand that identity or intellectual property theft occurs through phishing in email and hidden code in compromised websites. However, old fashioned schemes to separate the unwary from their income, disguised as personal or business “services”, are no less successful a lot of the time.
An emailed newsletter from the California Office of Attorney General this week reported charges being filed against a man who defrauded veterans’ families with false college tuition waivers, for which he charged $500, netting him about $500,000. But this is far from the only scam that victimizes veteran and non-veteran alike. This afternoon, my mom n’ pop small business received a fairly sophisticated mailing (arriving by Postal Service) that wanted to assist my business with filing a California form – for $150 – that I have routinely filed, free of charge, with the state. This scam sends an official-looking form warning of the consequences of not filing required documentation, and is populated with the publicly-available information on your business, to confuse a novice business owner. Of course, this scammer assumes that small business people would react without having the experience to know that these things do not require a third-party’s assistance. But then the scammer knows that he or she only needs a few among thousands of new business owners to send them the fee, to enrich themselves.
The State of California’s OAG has been prosecuting perpetrators of this sort of scam for more than a decade. Apparently, this is some sort of mass mailing. However, any criminal who intends to defraud a military veteran should be forewarned. We have all been subject to the just-off-base” hucksters who have sold our young military men and women everything from revolving contract gym memberships, multi-level marketing schemes, herbal remedies, and vehicle-service contracts. A year or more into our enlistment, we all become a bit more shrewd in discerning what we are getting for our hard-earned pay. Most veterans have various sage wisdom (or cynicism) that all come down to “I may have been born at night, but not last night. Get lost!”
Keeping your identity, finances, and personal information secure, and especially when you are in business for yourself (and cannot afford Wall Street attorneys). It is a full-time occupation. While I would toss this obvious nonsense in the trash, I will instead forward this to the Attorney General as the website indicated. I’m perhaps too cynical about taxes, fees, and business. While this is California, I will imagine that there are thousand of other mailings in mailboxes or en route at this time..
“Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, Samuel Coleridge, poet, ca 1798
Among humans, particularly those living on the North American continent, the prudent planning and mobilizing a coordinated effort to prepare for difficult times, is most often too little, too late. However, individuals who are a bit more cynical about large bureaucracies’ promises and are more self-reliant as a result (terms which often describes military veterans), often see future hardships and prepare accordingly. We have stories passed down to us: all of Noah’s countrymen mocking his family’s construction of a boat in the desert; the mockers all drowned. An ancient Egyptian Pharaoh’s governor, Jacob, filled storehouses way ahead of a famine that lasted for years; he supplied the nations around them (and incidentally enjoyed a “family reunion” as a result). In the present day, “preppers” are mocked for assembling food, having power generators, accumulating stores and being prepared for defense in the event of pandemics, supply disruptions, and famine. Truthfully, with evidence of civilizations collapsing from these things, human beings are rarely capable of acting together in crisis.
One crisis that gets a lot of discussion, but sees little to no actual action, is the lack of water. On on hand, the reality that the poles are melting – storehouses of trillions upon trillions of gallons of water – has generated a lot of governments to generate taxes, declare fines upon “offending industries”, and incur restrictions and rationing; few places are constructing defenses against rising oceans or storage capacity for rainwater. According to most experts, even an unimaginable immediate end to all global human activity “linked” to the warming of the planet will not reduce the effect for hundreds of years. If the oceans rise for the next 300 years, beachfront may be a few miles to ten of miles farther inland. Agriculture in the western States supplying much of the globe will not be supportable without other sources of water. Ideas are periodically “floated” to capture annual rainfall; these include storing “Monsoonal” summer rains in Arizona and other western deserts or piping westward floodwaters of north-central river systems which overrun their banks in Spring. Piping water over the Rocky Mountains from Minnesota to the West, however, is probably never going to be affordable. Thousands or even hundreds of desalinization plants ringing the continental coastlines might help relieve desertification, but the regulations, cost, and delivery is draconian. In California, one county, San Diego, took a dozen years or so, to approve, construct and operate ONE ocean desalinization plant. It supplies a little of San Diego’s needs.
** A play on “sea lawyer”, a pejorative used to describe someone who believes himself to be an authority, but is generally inexperienced with Navy practices and regulations. As a retired Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer, I am well aware that I am neither an expert on climate, a hydrologist nor bureaucrat specializing in water policies, but have some experience as a consumer as well as having observed naval desalinization practices to create potable water.
It is the summer of 2022 and our household managed to stave off COVID until early July. In spite of the furor of a pandemic since late 2019, we maintained a ‘common sense’ approach to wearing masks and being vaccinated. Small measures to mitigate the effect to our business, employees and clients. Since we perform services for a large number of people, requiring all parties to wear masks has also helped us dodge cold and flu viruses. But not entirely safe. Catching the latest strain of COVID was both annoying and caused breathing difficulty that lingered long after we tested negative for COVID. Were we not vaccinated I can only imagine how severe it might have been?
Whether the issues are public safety, the economy, food and product safety, or infrastructure (transportation, roads, etc), most citizens and most consumers are supportive of oversight that leads to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. But are government mandates to mitigate the spread of a virulent disease appropriate? Is public health in the purview of a constitutional government? And if so, which is the most appropriate agent – each local community, county, state or federal? Volumes could and have been written on these topics. Social media is overflowing with commentary on rights, wrongs, opinions, and conspiracies on these things.
As a military veteran, we were required to submit to vaccinations for everything from tuberculosis to anthrax. This was one of the measures to maintain a disease-resistant fighting force in areas our forces operated. And our nation was a party to international agreements on a whole host of topics that benefited one another. More than seventy years ago, the international community made health one of its responsibilities. Every few years a disease like the Swine Flu or Bird Flu, Ebola or SARS COVID-II, and infestations of insects, parasites, plants and animals are transmitted globally through international travelers and trade. Without governmental oversight, the response to an outbreak of disease, parasites, or organisms affecting local populations would neither have the resources nor experience to respond appropriately.
Under a lifelong commitment to protect national security of the United States, describing what my military peers and I did for a living was often reduced to generalizations and debunking some misconceptions that Hollywood movies make about protecting national security. Though there were some 1960’s-era generals at the time unopposed to being ordered to use nuclear weapons, the satire Dr Strangelove, lampoons that a rogue can instigate WWIII. Or at the dawn of the Computer Age, that a young civilian might connect to a DOD system, as in War Games, discounts that computers even then were isolated in secure networks. (However, a spy on the inside remains a hazard.) While thrilling, that rogue cells within the Intelligence bureaucracy could operate with efficiency and lethality outside of oversight, as in the Bourne films, seems too incredible. (However, the efficiency which the Russian security apparatus can eliminate political enemies highlights what sanctioned operations can achieve.) In Crimson Tide, a nuclear submarine commander (with a dog aboard(!) and officers might be near mutiny over whether to launch nukes is horrifying, but the crew selection and training process, security protocols and backup systems exist to prevent that. On the other hand, a glimpse into a typical mission day in the life of a nuclear-armed B-52 bomber is interesting in that it seems routine. For the last thirty years, nuclear war has seemed to be an artifact of history, but during the Cold War, military professionals conducted their duties in their flying “office”, preparing for a very real potential between nuclear-armed adversaries.
By accident, today I found a short film posted to YouTube, narrated by James Stewart, the renowned actor and WWII bomber pilot (and a Brigadier General in the Air Force Reserve) from 1959- the year I was born. For the last sixty-plus years, training has continued in that deterring war is most effective by trained and equally-lethal forces. With tensions rising again, with Russian aggression against Ukraine and China’s military reach growing, training will continue. Just as this short film depicts, each military professional does his or her duty hoping to go home at the conclusion of the “work day’.