September 2nd, 2008

An explanation is in order...

So, the major parties' tickets are set; while the Democrats have officially nominated their candidates, the Republicans are yet to do so. As the teams of Obama-Biden and McCain-Palin duke it out for the high offices, it seems I should set out exactly why I prefer the latter of those two pairs.

I've been a libertarian for over seven years. I voted for Al Gore in 2000, but it wasn't until eight months after that election that I found a political philosophy with which I was truly comfortable. The ideals of limited government, low taxes and spending, maximum liberty, and the original intent and text of the Constitution appealed directly to me - especially in college, when I still (rightfully or not) felt kind of suffocated by the influence of my parents. The more I read, the more I liked it. I haven't joined the Libertarian Party, but I follow the work of the Cato Institute and similar institutions closely. I voted for LP candidate Michael Badnarik in 2004, and gave $250 to Ron Paul's unsuccessful campaign for the Republican nomination. This year, the Libertarian Party nominated former Congressman Bob Barr; I don't feel comfortable supporting him, in some part due to his role in the impeachment of former President Clinton.

Returning to what John Stossel once called our choices of "donkey meat and elephant meat," we have a lose-lose proposition before us. In the Republicans, we have a war hero and former prisoner of war - and a Navy man to boot. McCain also presents himself as a maverick who has repeatedly bucked the GOP establishment. While that may be the case, he does not have a concrete plan for extracting our nation from its current situation in Iraq. He, like our current Commander-in-Chief, desires to base a withdrawal on "conditions on the ground." While it seems nice, it's still an open-ended commitment - and it doesn't at all take into account the wishes of the Iraqis. He also was co-sponsor of one of the most insidious assaults on the First Amendment - the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, better known as McCain-Feingold, after its chief sponsors. It appears to me like he'd follow his predecessor with claims of ever-expanding executive power, right in line with every President of the past eight decades.

So why might I back McCain-Palin on November 4? It's a purely tactical vote - they're the best chance to stop Obama and Biden. Those two have many admirable qualities and policies. Obama's ambition and Biden's experience - particularly in the realm of foreign affairs - make them a formidable combination. But if it's real change the American people want, they should look not to the Democratic ticket. All I've heard from Obama over the course of this campaign is more of the same - that is to say, bigger and more intrusive government. He wants to cut taxes on the middle class; they'll undoubtedly be accompanied by tax hikes on the wealthy, whose money could be put to far better use in the private sector. He seems to sing the classic Democratic tune - more programs, more spending, the Federal government has to do more (which, in turn, means it will do worse). He does have a firm timetable for pulling American troops out of Iraq, but there's no indication that he'd reduce the global military footprint that has us stationed in over a hundred nations across the globe. He opposes drilling in ANWR, while at the same time saying he'll break our dependence on foreign oil within a decade. In a perfect world, the decision on exploration of the Alaskan wilderness wouldn't be an issue, because the Federal government wouldn't even own it. But given present conditions, any decisions on trying to strike black gold there should be made by Alaskans, through their legislature and their suddenly-in-the-spotlight governor.

Neither one of these choices is anything close to ideal. No matter who comes out on top, we'll see greater spending, diminished individual liberty, and the expansion of Washington's influence on everyday American life. This isn't what the Founding Fathers envisioned, and it certainly doesn't comport with the Constitution they wrote for us. We may yet see a day where these storied principles reassert themselves on the political landscape. The feverish (if relatively small) support for Ron Paul's candidacy shows that there's an appetite for real change, if the message can be spread wide enough. But at this juncture in history, slowing the creep of the Federal government may have to be good enough. With the Democrats expected to augment their majorities in both houses of Congress, they'll be able to do a lot more if they have a White House with a predisposition to sign into law the bills they send up. A Republican in the Oval Office might be able to at least buy some time for the message of liberty to pick up steam. And so, two months and two days from today, I'll be counted in favor of the Governor of Alaska and the senior Senator from Arizona.

here we go again...

Last week, the Navy put out a message that readjusts the multiples on which reenlistment bonuses are calculated for the various eligible rates. Just as was the case last October, all submarining nuclear trained personnel in Zone A (less than six years' service) will see a jump in the payout for a given pay grade and additional service obligation. Another similarity to six months ago was my reaction to the higher multiples (specifically, the jump to 10.5 for my NEC of 3353). The count (now down to 259 days) continues without reconsideration of my course. I should note now that it would be very difficult to turn back and re-enlist at this stage. For one, I am missing the very important Electronics Technician Maintenance School, about which I have complained here previously. For two, even if I had a positive opinion of the Navy on the whole, I am faced with the prospect of significant additional time on the Submersible Death Trap should I again recite the affirmation. There's a chance that I'd get off the boat at or earlier than my current EAOS - the training unit in Ballston Spa is currently short on sea-returnee instructors. However, I'm inclined to agree with the sentiment expressed by one of my colleagues. Once the command has secured a Sailor's re-enlistment (and thus boosted its retention numbers), that man's ultimate fate is of no concern - and thus the boat will endeavor to retain him for as long as possible. Those last few sentences are a lengthy way of saying that I don't trust the command to be looking out for my well-being. It's on me to do what's best for number one, and remaining steady on course toward Goal No. 1 is the best way to make that happen.

As for the macroscopic picture, the Navy continues to believe that the solution to undermanning in the nuclear community is to throw more money at the problem. From what I've heard over the last several days, it's not going to make much of a dent. With that, I'll share some interesting proposals that have been floated by one of my more senior co-workers. He's a sea-returnee, and he recently had the chance for a brief chat with some high-ranking Naval brass. His first idea was aimed at quality-of-life, the lack of which is one of the main detractors to staying Navy. He proposed that all sea tours be shortened to three years. As it happens, there's been some recent movement in this direction; while a nuke Sailor's first two tours have not been shortened (they're 54 and 60 months respectively), all subsequent tours are now thirty-six months, no matter one's pay grade. (Previously, E-6 and below would do five years on a boat, regardless of how many tours they had under their belt.) The other radical change he proposed would have completely reshaped the bonus structure. Instead of paying small ransoms to buy a few additional years' service at a time, my esteemed colleague proposed spreading the maximum amount a Sailor can pull down in bonuses (currently $200,000) over the course of a career. There would be a large lump sum at the (mandatory retirement) point of 20 years, with the remainder spread in increasing yearly increments, starting at five or six years. I like the idea; it rewards those who choose to make a career of the service, while throwing away very little on those inclined to leave after a single shore tour. He'd also tie retirement pay (that is, the percentage of base pay in the pension) to paygrade; this, along with the 20-year service cap and current high-year tenure requirements, would make the Navy a much more competitive organization, and thus increase productivity. I'm honestly not sure what it would do for Zone A retention. But I think it'd produce a better force in the long run.