Of Mice and Marines

In 1990 I was a Lieutenant in the Marine Corps. I was deployed in Saudi Arabia and just days away from going into Kuwait as part of Operation Desert Storm. We had spent the past 6 months moving around the country training and getting set up for the ground battle that would force Iraq out of Kuwait.

mouseMy “partner in crime” was my bunk mate, ditch digger and radio operator. Some of the closest relationships that develops between Marines is the one between the officers and the radio operators, as they are literally inseparable during war time. The radio operators main function is to ensure that all communications operate seamlessly, and the officers main job is to always keep the higher ups posted and up to date about what is taking place.

Given that war is a 24 hour job, my radio operator and I would always have to split turns at night listening to the radio. Over a 6 month period it gets exhausting as neither of you is able to get a full nights sleep. When I would have to go to meetings to discuss battle plans, troop movements, etc.. my radio operator was responsible for making sure our hole (where we lived ) was dug down deep enough and properly reinforced. Marine holes can be quite creative and complex as they become your new home.

During this time it was not uncommon to dig a hole 6 feet deep and 4 feet wide to protect ourselves from air attacks… as well as have enough space for all the gear we had to carry around.The living arrangement was quite nice as it allowed us to have a fold out for our cots and provide a way for us to get some sleep. Because these holes were warm and protected, the small animal population found refuge in them as well. Snakes, mice and scorpions always found their way in to our “homes” and it was not unusual to hear shrieks from the Marines when they suddenly encountered these uninvited guests

The day before a battle, a tiny field mouse had found its way into our hole and literately scared the two of us half to death. Our panic made this creature get a bit crazy as he (or she) proceeded to run over our legs and though our sleeping bags! In the process of getting the mouse out of our hole we ended up killing it. Upon seeing the dead field mouse, I felt really bad for this little creature. When I turned to say something to my radio operator I could tell by the look on his face he felt the same way. The scene was ironic and bizarre in so many ways. We were about to go to war and here I was feeling a sense of sadness over the death of a tiny field mouse in Saudi Arabia.

Two days later, in the midst of a battle, I saw an Iraqi solider on the battlefield holding his intestines in as they spilled over onto the sand yet I felt no sorrow, pain or remorse. Then, shortly thereafter, I was in the city of Kuwait and saw a plethora of dead Kuwaiti women lying all around Kuwait City They had been executed when the Iraqi’s rolled into town.  My conscience turned itself upside down and I was able to justify in my mind why I felt no remorse for the Iraqi solider I had seen a few days earlier. He had clearly “gotten what he deserved.” After all, look what he and his cohorts had done to the women of Kuwait City.

Yet, after the war, I  learned that the Iraqi military was a mixed bag of conscripts and it was the elite troops that had raped and plundered Kuwait City and had tried to escape with all the riches once they knew the battle was lost. Many of those elite troops saw no action in the main war.  To the contrary, many of the Iraqi’s that I saw on the battlefield were supposedly dragged from their homes and forced to fight a war they had no desire to fight against an enemy they did not want to face.

Which brought me back to the poor Iraqi solider lying on the battlefield. What must he have been thinking as he lay dying in such a terrible way for nothing. Iraq was routed in 100 hours and this poor man’s life was tossed away by the leaders of Iraq.

To this day the death of that little field mouse and the juxtaposition of the Iraqis soldier’s death has been something I’ve never been able to reconcile.  Why would the death of a tiny animal bother me more than the fate of the poor Iraqi who died in the desert of Kuwait for no reason.  Yet I know this odd feeling was not mine alone, but that of  my radio operator as well.

So it all reminds me of the story of Richard Branson tells about him witnessed the slaughter of a dolphin and the pangs it gave him.  Paradoxically, and inexplicably, he has also said he felt no remorse aborting of one of his own offspring.

We seem to be hardwired to have extraordinary compassion for animals; they seem to be so at the mercy of we humans. But looking deeper, we find that like the Iraqi soldier, the women of Kuwait, or Richard Branson’s offspring…we are all at the mercy of we humans. Maybe there was something to John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men” after all.  Maybe it’s the importance of respecting and honoring all life, regardless of its size, gender, stage of development or even it species.

The True Price of Sports

As the football season winds down, the New York Jets and Giants will not be playing in the post season. The fans will not get to enjoy their teams at the Met Life Stadium where both teams call home.

Met LifeIn 2010, with much fanfare, the fans were upgraded with a new facility that cost around 1.6 billion to build. It seems like an enormous amount of money for two teams that will play a total of 16 games a year.

Most stadiums are built with the hopes that the stadium will attract store, shops and vendors that will enhance that area. But ask anybody who has been to East Rutherford New Jersey and they will tell you that the stadium sits in the middle of nowhere on a highway with no other attractions nearby. In addition, given the sheer size of the stadium, its unlikely to be used for anything other than football.

What makes the building of this facility even more interesting is that the old stadium (Giants Stadium) still has an outstanding loan balance of $100 million. It was built in 1976 and no longer exists; yet the taxpayers of New Jersey are still on the hook for the outstanding loan balance.  With the stadium gone, there is simply no way to generate the revenue necessary to pay off the loan… which is why so the full weight of the debt falls on the unsuspecting citizens of New Jersey.

This fiasco is not an anomaly. Harris County, Texas still owes about $32 million in debt on the Houston Astrodome which opened in 1965. In fact, the nation is littered with stadiums that no longer exist but have outstanding loans needing to be paid off and its the taxpayers who unknowingly step up to do so.

Politicians and fans alike think of these sport franchises as their “beloved teams”… not fully appreciating that the owners view them  as a business. They are there to make money.  The Jets and the Giants have huge TV contracts that pay huge amounts of money. They’re making money while the taxpayers foot the bill.

Bottom line: There was nothing  wrong with the old Giants Stadium other than it did not generate enough luxury revenue. So New Jersey, which has around $30 billion in debt, gave up about $15 million in annual tax revenue so that the Giants and Jets could be more profitable.

The old Giants Stadium cost $78 million… yet the outstanding debt more than 30 years later is $110 million. How is this possible? Instead of paying back the debt as revenues were generated, funds were diverted to other projects. The politicians simply could not believe that the owners would ever tear it down. Then, as the owners and politicians of old moved on, the taxpayers of New Jersey get to pay off the old debt and pay higher prices of the new tickets.

While unsuspecting fans enjoy their teams at play, they fail to realize the burden far outweighs the benefit… and the scam just keeps on keepin’ on.

Where is the accountability and the outrage?


Negative Interest Rates

Last week Switzerland elected to lower their interest rates to negative (-25) basis points.  Most people roll their eyes when they see news like this when in reality in they they should be greatly concerned. It is almost unheard of for a bank to charge depositors a fee for putting money in their bank. However, but in this case, the Swiss bankers are getting nervous for what lies ahead.

negratesFor generations the Swiss have had the strongest and safest banking system with a real emphasis on privacy and, because of this, money has been pouring into the country.According to SNB President Thomas Jordan, the main factor in the bank’s decision was to slow down the inflow of Russian money into Switzerland.  Because of the drop in oil prices causing a financial crisis for the Russian ruble, wealthy Russians are sending money to Switzerland because of its “safe haven” status and concerns that Russia will nationalize the banks and, essentially, steal the peoples’ monies.

Since the crisis in 2008, central banks all over the world have been buying back bonds and printing money at a furious pace to inflate assets. However, with oil and other commodity prices beginning to fall, cracks are beginning to appear in the financial system.

Given the size of its country , the Swiss are not capable of handling this influx of cash and are trying to discourage money from coming their way. The Swiss don’t want the value of their currency to soar… nor do they want to import inflation. In an effort to stem that tide, they are employing measures to stop this from happening.

The fact is most small countries in the world can’t handle these massive types of inflows. There are really only three markets in the world that could likely handle this type of inflow: Japan, the United States and the European Union.

However these three markets are probably the most indebted in the world and have the largest bond markets. Because of  this, they are able to soak up most of the world’s reserves, thereby placing them in huge positions of power. The size of the debt markets gives them an unfair advantage and enables them to siphon off tremendous amounts of money. But in this instance the Russians are not sending their money to one of these markets but to a small European country.

The “great concern” I mentioned in the opening paragraph is this: Russian deposits into Swiss banks as opposed to Japan, the United States or EU implies they no longer trust the financial stability of the world’s three biggest investment blocks.


Daily Dose of Truth

The Lie

The Republicans lack compassion for those who would be affected by a government shutdown.

The Truth

Today, every Democrat member of the House of Representatives voted against the procedural Rule that, if successful, would have prevented passage of the Omnibus Bill and, therefore, shut down the government. But because 214 Republicans voted for the Rule the bill will go to vote and likely pass, thereby not shutting down the government.