What the U.S. Doesn't Need: J.R. Labbe

Who is J.R. Labbe? Some woman who writes for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Why is she important? Because her writing is an example of the mindless drivel that pours from the pens of U.S. journalists like the radioactive sludge from Monty Burns' nuclear plant into Lake Springfield. Except bad journalism doesn't breed twelve-eyed fish. Just ignorance.

J.R. took it upon her poor old Texas shoulders to rebut an article written by the guy who designed the A-10 Warthog and F-16 Fighting Falcon about why the U.S. doesn't need to spend $65 billion dollars on a few hundred F-22 Raptors. J.R., whose military design credentials include being deputy editorial page editor for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram (read, "none at all"), says the U.S. does need a bunch of super-fighters and is prepared to take on one of the smarter guys in military aviation to prove it. Except. She fails miserably. So, what follows is the response I wrote to her, concerning her article. I suggest checking out her article for context.

Dear J.R.,

I suppose I should have expected the tough wrangler talk you displayed in your column "F-22 is still what the US needs," given the TV oil-man whom your sobriquet recalls. But I think even the J.R. of Dallas had too much good business sense to come up with anything as silly as you did.

"This is good news," you write, "and not just for the more than 1,800 Lockheed Martin employees who build the plane's midfuselage at the company's Fort Worth plant." Quite a rationale; the size of our military force should be determined by the number of jobs it will provide. Come to think of it, I think FDR justified the US military build-up after Pearl Harbor the same way.

Your suggested words for England, the military man in charge of overseeing F-22 production; "Ending the program at this stage would be a boneheaded move for both defense of the homeland and our ability to dominate the airspace over our global allies, interests and deployed troops." This line suggests you endorse him acting as even more of a bonehead. Defense of the homeland? Do you really think there are a buch of Japanese Zeros looming on the Pacific? Who is going to project an aerial force on the CONTINENTAL UNITED STATES? Venezuela? China?

Your ignorance of defense strategy is matched only by your ignorance of our potential foes' air forces. Sure China's got a new plane in the hangar, and it's about as effective and well-designed as the Osprey, which is to say, a malfunctioning, money-pit, hunk of junk. And Chavez, by the way, already has a bunch of F-16's (which are about all the country can afford; getting rich off oil like Venezuela has buys you a handful of old planes, not a fleet to fill the skies like the Luftwaffe).

Also, the "awesome war birds" you write of will have little effect even if the rest of the world teams up to throw their fighter jets at us all at once, because to build your "magnificent planes" is fine, but you might recall that they are not flown by computers but rather, humans. And our budget to train those pilots to fly your planes is reduced because people like you insist on your F-22's and F-35's (probably because they make for prettier pictures than pilots) and there isn't enough money for everything. So we have the planes, and no one to fly them. It's kind of like Don Rumsfeld's statement pre-Iraq that we should "forget Afghanistan; there are no good targets there." You may also want to consider that these blockbuster planes, recall, again, the Osprey, are rarely as useful as the in-the-trenches budget builds like the A-10 Warthog which has flown countless sorties in our current conquests compared to your F-22's zero.

You jump on the bandwagon to turn Russia and China into our future bogeymen. But who, I ask, will fly Russia's future fleet? A bunch of 85 year old Kossacks? Russia will mostly be owned by China in twenty years and will have a population at that point on par with, say, Wyoming, given the average population age and dearth of young people. I also encourage you to continue your liberal use of quotes around the term "allies" when referring to nations like China and Russia as the best policy when dealing with other world-powers who make us jealous in their youth and economic good-fortune is to treat them like petulant younger siblings. Nice foreign policy work!

Finally, you write, "the F-35 [apparently another plane you’ve got a fixing to get into the air] is a magnificent plane. Its projected ability to carry out missions against fixed or mobile ground targets is eight times more effective than legacy aircraft." That's some interesting Enron-accounting. The F-35's FUTURE ability to carry out its missions WILL BE eight times more effective than legacy aircraft. As you note that no F-35's will be ready for about another five years, I wonder whether you did in fact consult Arthur Andersen for those figures.

What the U.S. still needs is not 183 F-22's. What the U.S. still needs is for people in our media who discuss subjects which they are wholly unqualified to discuss intelligently, to recognize their ignorance and abide by a variation on something all our parents used to tell us: "If you don't have anything intelligent and well-informed to discuss, then don't discuss anything at all."

Shame on your pathetic excuse for journalism. You're a disgrace to this country's fourth-estate.


Running Blog: The State of the Union Take 7

If you need the rules...

7:52 - I know this is long before the debate begins. But I'm watching the Newshour with Jim Lehrer on PBS and they've got this segment running where they sit down with about 12 people from Jersey and talk to them about the primaries in a round-table discussion. I'm here to report to you the problem with America: Americans.

Of the 12 people, there were two who showed some shred of neurological activity. The most vocal of the brain dead segment was a medical equipment salesman who argued, earnestly, for a president who would not show pragmatism when confronting the health insurance coverage for Americans and let the free market decide how it should shake out. Well, I'm glad at least he concedes that he's in the debate solely for his own coin and that the free market will make health insurance coverage about as simple as a 24x24x24 Rubik's Cube.

Then there was the Arab-American who wanted to vote for Mike Huckabee... I can't even touch that.

The two people who seemed somewhat aware of the world around them and the context they occupied were:

1) An "independent" security guard who conceded he did not have enough information on the candidates to decide who he thought would provide the best health care coverage and looked like he wouldn't make it to the election thanks to his poor health care coverage anyway.

2) A woman who ran a "health center" (I don't know what that is) who wanted universal coverage because she couldn't run her business if she had to keep providing health care coverage.

Anyway, the point is, Americans are idiots. I hope we have a recession, Romney gets elected, and this place ends up in the trash can. You all deserve it. A people couldn't be so ignorant if they tried. More to come when the speech starts.


"The Hardest Record Out Part 1"

If you didn't know then, homeboy, you know now. Funk Flex pimped that line on 50's "I Get Money" to ill effect. So I take it here for the start of a (fill in the blank)-part series henceforth known as "The Hardest Record Out Part x." To start we offer you Cam'ron "Pass the Dutchie."


We trekked to Red Hook last weekend to get some Fernet Branca from LeNell's and check out the "degentrification" reported in New York Magazine in November 2007. The place is more like a New England port town than an NYC neighborhood. The closest subway stop is the Smith and 9th-Streets F and G stop and that is about a 15-20 minute walk from downtown Red Hook which is only a couple of streets deep.

But if shuttered old houses laced with vines and stooped like Grandpa Simpson, gritty locals who hold onto $125 bottles of Red Hook Rye Bourbon until their deathbeds and otherwise down Duff Beer like Barney, and the distinct sense that you are in New York City but not of New York City is your thing - then Red Hook is home. Red Hook should be where the American Joyce comes from.

We talked to a local bartender about the wave of gentrification that rolled back from Red Hook in the past few years. He seemed no worse off for the customers that were supposed to arrive at his bar but didn't. He also hasn't warmed up much to the idea of a giant Ikea going into Red Hook or the people it would drag along.

Red Hook is not gentrified. It's a gritty place where muggings and robberies are occasional but rarely violent relative to the statistics of the rest of Brooklyn. It's the kind of place that's better off, in all respects, for not having gentrified.

Red Hook's degentrification didn't have much to do with civil action or the boozers at Bait and Tackle taking to the streets against the oncoming Yuppies with lead pipes and old oars. No, it was more mundane than that. It was the subway line 20 minutes away and the prospect that the Smith and 9th-Street station would close in 2009-10 for a year for repairs.

The only way to stop gentrification, is to make it inconvenient for the yuppie scum to live there.


American Gangster

In Saudi Arabia, George W. Bush sat in the royal palace swaddled in a floor-length fur robe and adorned with a gold necklace studded with emeralds, rubies, and diamonds enough to make Ghostface blush.

Heavy lies the crown.

This is the Tony-Montana-in-the-fancy-Miami-restaurant moment of the Bush regime: “Is this it?... Eating, drinking, fucking, sucking? Snorting? Then what? You're 50. You got a bag for a belly. You got tits, you need a bra. They got hair on them. You got a liver, they got spots on it, and you're eating this fuckin' shit, looking like these rich fucking mummies in here...”

We should all be waiting for the inevitable bad guy speech: “You don't have the guts to be what you wanna be. You need people like me. You need people like me so you can point your fuckin' fingers and say, ‘That's the bad guy.’”

Could there be regret on Bush’s mind? He doesn’t read newspapers, but somehow he must recognize the media is engorged by the thought of a new president. Do fewer journalists show up for Bush press conferences now? Do most just prefer listening to Ron Paul talk about dissolving the Federal Reserve?

George Bush is a gangster. The defacto kingpin of the most dangerous group of thugs in the world; Neoconservatives. Bush fits into a mold forged by other great gangsters of the 20th and 21st centuries; Jay-Z, Tony Montana, Tony Soprano…

The Montana moment is the most legendary – flush with cash, drugs, women, “The world is yours…” Montana bottoms out. Montana gives morality a try when, as wheelman, he kills a Colombian assassin whose target included as acceptable collateral casualties, a mother and child. As Rza writes in The Wu-Tang Manual, that change of course is the harbinger of Montana’s death. A life lived immorally does not easily adapt to morality. Bush doesn’t seem in danger of, say, exxing the King of Saudi Arabia and calling for an end to American support of tyrranical middle-eastern regimes. But on his first trip to the Middle East (after seven years in office) did he ever stop and think, “Look at this, this blood is on my hands, too.” (Probably, no.)

In a gesture worthy of King Hamlet, Tony Soprano – whose self-loathing was always on display, unlike the more guarded Montana – sits in Dr. Melfi’s office and curses his blood for infecting his son’s mind with the same depression as the father; “It’s in his blood, this miserable fuckin’ existence…my rotten fuckin’ putrid genes have infected my kid’s soul…” Soprano continues, “Therapy- this- I hate this fuckin shit! Seriously, we’re both adults here right? So, after all is said and done, after all the complainin and the cryin, after all the fuckin bullshit, is this all there is?”

We never saw Soprano reach a conclusion with his depression. The series end brought us inside the mind of Tony – sitting at that diner, wondering who would pull a piece and whack the Big Guy – and we saw and felt what he saw and felt; his anxiety that any person who walked into that diner could be the one that ended his life. That was our Soprano mind-meld and as close as David Chase would come to a cathartic conclusion. In the end I have more sympathy for Tony, the guy who pulled the triggers, than I do for Bush, who ordered someone else to do it.

Who is the Dr. Melfi of the Bush Regime? Condi? Laura? Tricky Dick? They don’t quite fit the bill. Pouring out sentiment to Cheney seems about as productive as doing so to Montgomery Burns – his shriveled black heart gives a feeble thump, and collapses again. Condi has no sympathy for Bush, and Laura isn’t smart enough to say anything helpful. But maybe with that pendant around his neck Bush confided to King Abdullah, “Is this it? After seven years, is this my work? Two subprime daughters, an economy with cirrhosis, 4,000 dead American children, 200,000 dead Iraqis, a legacy my people can’t wait to sweep under a rug…” Perhaps the old King, who has a vault of American cash that he throws around like the biggest dick in a pissing contest, leaned over to Bush and said, “In my book, you’re alright.” And then went back to his illiterate harem.

Paradoxically, it’s Jay-Z – with whom Bush has the least in common in terms of personal history – that I would say gives us a close-up of what I’d guess rattled around in W’s inner-thoughts on his flight back from the Middle East. On the American Gangster track “Success” Jay raps; “I used to give a shit, now I don’t give a shit more/ truth be told I had more fun when I was piss poor/ I’m pissed off, and is this what success is all about?/ a bunch of ****as acting like bitches with big mouths/ All this stress, all I got is this big house.”

Truth be told, Bush couldn’t say he had “more fun when I was piss poor,” ‘cause he never was poor. Jay-Z’s lines bemoan the same angst that Montana and Soprano did, but how Jay deals with it is different from either Montana or Soprano’s approach and more Bush-esq. Jay ends his verse on the track with, “****as said Hova was ova, such dummies/ Even if I fell I’ll land on a bunch of money/ Ya ain’t got nothing for me.”Jay gives us the vicious circle; quick success, the dissatisfaction that follows material wealth, then defends the external criticism that hits his personal anxieties by defending himself with the very material wealth that he knows to be hollow.
This is the cylce in which Bush trapped himself. Surrounded by constant reinforcement of his magnitude – the jewels, hotel suites, power, influence, pandering – Bush can see his faults, talk about them in his head. But he is too insecure to allow the probing of Dr. Melfi. He is too cavalier to give in to the emotional spillover of Montana. So, like Jay-Z, he wraps himself in his success – which is not actually success but rather resembles what succesful people sometimes acquire materially when they become succesful – and trudges towards the day he can just give up.