by Mike Lofgren
America’s love affair with lunacy continues undimmed. Along with flat-earthers, anti-vaxxers, and fans of perpetual motion, according to a May 21 Ipsos poll, 53 percent of Republicans now assert that Donald Trump is the current President of the United States.
There is a tendency in the reality-based community to regard these folks as obscure lunatics who yell at their TVs in trailer parks when they’re not ruining a relative’s Thanksgiving dinner. Unfortunately, this epidemic of delusional belief embraces a more exalted layer of the social spectrum, a group on which the maintenance of our democracy—deeply flawed as it is—may hinge.
This May, 124 retired generals and admirals published an open letter claiming that President Joe Biden stole the election. Traditionally, this letter would have been unthinkable, but a sizable contingent of former flag officers—people whose decisions once held lives in the balance—has gone full QAnon, writing: “Under a Democrat Congress and the Current Administration our Country has taken a hard left turn toward Socialism and a Marxist form of tyrannical government which must be countered now by electing congressional and presidential candidates who will always act to defend our Constitutional Republic.”
(A small but telling note: the letter employs the phrase “Democrat Congress,” a grammatical barbarism that has done duty as a rhetorical device for Republican operatives for at least 40 years, demonstrating that the signatories are rabid political partisans rather than constitutional scholars).
The screed goes on, asserting that “we are in a fight for our survival as a Constitutional Republic like no other time since our founding in 1776,” a claim that makes us wonder how the signers ever graduated from their service academies, since a little incident called the American Civil War is an important part of the academies’ military history curricula.
They also question “the mental and physical condition of the Commander in Chief.” Given the endorsement of the letter by a raving lunatic like Lieutenant General William Boykin and convicted Iran-Contra criminal Vice Admiral John Poindexter, one just might infer a degree of psychological projection on the part of the signers.
The letter garnered condemnation from other retired officers and military analysts, but also a surprising complacency from former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Admiral Mike Mullen, who noted that no retired four-stars signed it and only a handful of three-stars: “It’s not very senior… In our world it’s not very significant in terms of people.”
It may be cold comfort that there are “only” retired three-stars on the letter, but what about those officers who are still serving?
It turns out that the same month the letter appeared, a lieutenant colonel was removed from his command after appearing on a conservative podcast touting his book Irresistible Revolution: Marxism’s Goal of Conquest & the Unmaking of the American Military, which claims that Marxist ideologies have infiltrated the military.
It is noteworthy that he was only cashiered after the podcast, whereas the book already was in print. Previously, it would have been inconceivable that a military officer could even receive permission to write an ideological screed like that. Ordinarily, they are allowed to write freely on military or technical topics, but political diatribes are strictly off-limits. Someone in the command structure was very lax.
Nevertheless, it was predictable that the Right would see him as a persecuted member of the military who fell afoul of political correctness. And sure enough, Matt Gaetz came through.
There is considerable irony in the fact that both the letter and the colonel’s rant denounce “socialism,” the premier bugaboo of right-wingers everywhere. At one level, it is of course the usual childish nonsense that has been disseminated for decades by the kind of mentality that once denounced fluoridation as a Bolshevik plot. Yet in a sense that is quite the opposite of what they intend, these people might have a point about socialism infiltrating the military.
All these self-styled guardians of the Republic, whether retired flag officers luxuriating in their beach-front homes in San Diego, or active-duty military vandalizing the Capitol building, are beneficiaries of socialism. Their profession has a 20-year retirement, free lifetime health care for retirees, housing allowances, food allowances, privileges at heavily-subsidized commissaries and PXs (which, fittingly, somewhat resemble the special stores the old Soviet nomenklatura had), free fitness centers, golf courses, and the list goes on.
With the demise of the Soviet Union and the capitalist transformation of nominally “Red” China, socialism as a hegemonic political system is confined to backwaters like North Korea. The U.S. military is now the biggest socialist enterprise remaining on earth.
For officers, particularly those with experience in weapons acquisition, the gravy train doesn’t end with retirement. Aside from their retirement pay and other continuing benefits, they can snag a job with a defense contractor to peddle influence with their former colleagues. Far from being private enterprise, defense firms like Lockheed Martin or Northrop Grumman are hothouse plants, sustained only by the contracts the military steers to them; they would wither and die if subjected to the cold winds of actual market competition.
Proof of this is the F-35 fighter. The most expensive weapons program in history, the plane has been a snake-bitten fiasco from its inception, and it demonstrates that nothing succeeds like failure—as long as it’s too big to fail. As an engineering disaster, the F-35 ranks with the Soviet reversal of the flow of rivers into the Aral Sea.
No one can seriously argue that those who bear the brunt of battle should not be adequately compensated and granted all necessary benefits. The problem is that the vast majority of combat casualties are enlisted personnel, and only a small percentage of these will serve long enough to receive retirement pay, whereas colonels and generals by definition have enough service to receive retired pay as well as all the other benefits.
It doesn’t end there. Congress usually appropriates an annual military pay raise. The brass, of course, insist that these be across-the-board. Let’s say the pay raise is 3 percent. That means a buck private at $21,420 per year base pay gets a modest increase—$643—while a lieutenant general, at $199,296 base pay, receives almost $6,000. It amounts to socialism for the better-off, and it is curiously just like all the tax cuts of the last four decades: a windfall for the rich, crumbs for the working stiff. Each succeeding year of military pay raises will only increase the disparity.
The rationale for across-the-board pay raises is as an incentive to hold onto those with valuable skills. While this makes sense to keep a jet engine mechanic for whose talents a commercial airline will pay a premium, I am unaware that we have any difficulty retaining generals. In the case of my hypothetical lieutenant general, he also will likely be provided with a representational house, complete with an enlisted cook and driver, in order to ease the strain of command.
We can be rather safe in assuming that those 124 retired flag officers who wrote the letter decrying socialism knew whereof they spoke from their own deep personal experience: at the commissaries where they shop, and from the free health care they receive to the cut-price gin fizzes they drink at the local officers’ club.
This work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Mike Lofgren is a former congressional staff member who served on both the House and Senate budget committees. His books include: The Deep State: The Fall of the Constitution and the Rise of a Shadow Government, (2016) and The Party is Over: How Republicans Went Crazy, Democrats Became Useless, and the Middle Class Got Shafted, (2013).
Unidentified pedestrians strolling on Vaughan Mall, paying no attention to an ancient granite post set in a slab of old concrete. A bronze plaque set in the concrete reads as follows: “HISTORIC PORTSMOUTH STONE This stone quarried in Portsmouth in 1803, stood at the corner of Vaughan and Congress streets and marked the departure point of the stage coach to Boston. It also served as the central point from which milestones were set along [the] Concord – Portsmouth stage route.”
House Majority Leader Finally Gets [A Little] Scrutiny
“From taxes to gun rights, to school choice, religious liberty, abortion or election law,” tweeted NHPR on Monday, “Jason Osborne has helped steer a historic conservative push in the New Hampshire House.” Someone named Jason Knights replied, “So he’s responsible for turning us into Arkansas on the Atlantic.”
NHPR’s story on the House Majority Leader has something in common with the pugnacious emails Osborne sends to our inbox: they are absolutely must-read material. We got one such email the same day Rogers’ profile appeared.
“Granite Staters Should Run New Hampshire,” was the headline, and yes, it was ironic. Probably not intentionally, though.
Osborne is an Ohio native who moved to New Hampshire “more than a decade ago from Defiance, Ohio,” Rogers reports. “[H]is involvement in New Hampshire politics dates back to the Free State Project, a movement that aimed to recruit 20,000 libertarians to move to New Hampshire to expand freedom and shrink government.”
Osborne’s email accuses “our colleagues on the other side of the aisle [of having] forgotten and ignored [a] key tenet of federalism and instead seem complacent to let Washington, D.C. run amok all over New Hampshire.”
Yes, better by far to have libertarians from all over the country come to New Hampshire and run amok. And why limit the chaos to the Granite State?
“Last year,” Rogers writes, Osborne “gave $50,000 to Make Liberty Win, a PAC dedicated to electing libertarian-leaning lawmakers nationwide. That figure is an eye-popping sum by New Hampshire House standards.”
We can safely say that Osborne did not accumulate that $50,000 by salting away the $100 annual stipend legislators are paid. It more likely came from his family’s debt-collection business, Credit Adjustments, Inc., [CAI] which he now manages, according to Rogers. “Osborne said the pandemic posed challenges for his business, as some debt collections were put on pause over the past year. He said he’s had to shed more than two-thirds of his firm’s jobs. (His business also received a $4 million loan through the federal PPP program last April.)”
CAI’s biggest customer had been the Department of Education.
Bruce Vinciguerra standing next to an old granite post, recently re-set by city workers as part of the Islington Street Corridor Project. The stone, located at the corner of Islington Street and Frenchmans Lane, marks the one-mile point from the Portsmouth Stone, seen in the photo on the opposite page. If stones were conscious, this one would be having déjà vu.
Mile Marker Re-Set…Again
Tony’s Television and Video Service and Repair recently—and expertly—handled a small technical problem for us. On the counter we saw a carefully preserved 1990s-era news clipping from the Portsmouth Herald. A story by Lars Trodson, accompanied by a Ralph Morang photo, told how, during the 1960s, the mile marker shown in our photo, above, nearly ended up in the dump.
“About 30 years ago, resident William Carlton was working on Islington Street when he noticed the milestone in a heap of junk. ‘They were taking the trash to the Jones dump,’ said Carlton, and I said ‘that’s not right.’
“It didn’t get much farther than that. ‘I put it in my back yard and kept it there,’ he said. His daughter, now fully grown, used to climb on it. “About two years ago Carlton called [Bruce’s father, Louis] Vinciguerra and asked him if he wanted it.…
“Vinciguerra was interested in retrieving the milestone. He called City Hall to get permission to put it back. Red tape being what it is, the process took about two years, but now it’s finished.
“City Engineer Dave Allen and his crew of city workers assisted in helping restore this small piece of city history and Vinciguerra planted a small bed of marigolds at the base of the post.”
On Returning to Newsprint
On several occasions while the plague was at its worst—we hope we’ve seen its worst; with so many reactionary troglodytes in positions of power, we could be speaking too soon—we have used the paltry digital equivalent of this tidy little space to wax nostalgic and pine for newsprint.
In our paper of June 4th—in our what of June 4th?—in our paper of June 4th, we went so far as to posit the possibility that some calamity might still derail our attempt to resume our natural fibrous state.
Yes, failure was an option. Of course it was. This is not NASA. The editor is no Gene Krantz, nor is he Ed Harris playing Gene Krantz in Apollo 13.
More to the point, we are not Al Reinart and Bill Broyles, the screenwriters of that movie, who saddled our alleged culture with yet another bogus brainworm—as if John Wayne had not already filled the nation’s need for empty, posturing heroics.
That trope is right up there with Tom Brokaw’s so-called “Greatest Generation.” If that generation was so great, why did it abide American apartheid? Why did it send the poor of the next generation into a pointless slaughter, while letting the privileged cavort at college?
Every generation—every moment—is made up of greatness and meanness, inextricably mixed and mingled. That’s what makes life interesting.
Every moment is fraught with potential catastrophe, too.
Which is why, as we revel in our flexible, foldable, First Class-mailable state, we find ourselves oddly empathetic towards any mutt who finds his fangs sunk into a car tire.
When we were merely flinging strings of 1s and 0s into the aether, the only way to gauge success or failure was to steer our browser to Google Analytics and try to decipher a mess of marketing gobbledygook. Ho. Hum. Frankly we have no idea how we did. It was there. People read it or they didn’t.
The good news is that subscription renewals are coming in strongly. Meanwhile, out on the street, people are snapping up the paper.
The what, you say?
The paper, we say.