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Sunk Costs

A battle for the books. Obama's pothole problem. Going for broke. Plus more.

6.11.08

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WE SKUNKED THEIR BATTLESHIP
Re: Hal G.P. Colebatch's Stephen Hopkins vs. the Germans:

As a graduate of Mass Maritime Academy and have many Kings Point graduates as friends, I am proud to read this article and hope that these Merchant Marine Seaman do receive their long overdue metals. Thank you once again for this story!
-- George R. Kalat
MMA Class of 1945

This a story of the old America! When men were men and women were women and ne'er the twain would meet save on the horizontal.

Today if this scenario existed, the Skipper of the Hopkins would have to radio the U.S. and describe what he was looking at. Then someone in the bowels of the Pentagon would have to identify the so-called enemy ship.

That done, a factotum would scurry to Ms. Pelosi's office and ask her permission to engage the enemy. Ms. Pelosi would ask him/her to come back in a few hours. She "needs to see if we've talked to the Germans."

Meantime, our intrepid messenger runs to Harry Reid's. Harry says he "has to contact the UN Law of the Sea Commission and advise them on the contents of the shells we propose to fire and only if their permission is granted. Then we'd have to check with the Czar of All Things Environmental to see if shooting contravenes our own pollution laws and if not, get a Senate committee to approve the requested actions by the Hopkins. By the way do you know what is in those shells?"

Jump back to the Atlantic... the Hopkins is aflame, its crew dead or wounded slipping in the fiery gore running down the side of the quickly sinking ship. With a mighty metallic groan the mortally wounded ship and her dead and dying crew slip beneath the waves, her guns never fired.

Aftermath: The appropriate Admiral is hauled before Congress where he is castigated and ridiculed. His reputation is entirely besmirched, his family shamed and his career ended and with a pension forfeit.

The Congressional report squarely lays the blame on this Admiral "for his abject failure in providing three days notice to the Congress of the need to shoot so the appropriate approvals may be gained. This dereliction of duty resulted in the loss of a ship and the lives of the entire crew, who by the way, we strongly support."

In a footnote the report also finds that the shooting by the Germans resulted from the provocation of "the Captain of the Hopkins in turning his stern guns towards them."

That's how we do it today.
-- Jay Molyneaux
North Carolina

I don't think the tale is quite as forgotten as you think. I read this story when I was a boy. It was published in one of my American Heritage book subscriptions. If I remember right, Cadet O'Hara was the son of
another Navy man. His father had taught him that in a naval gun battle, you should always fire at the other ship's water line. Supposedly it was that lesson that was responsible for the fatal damage to the Stier.

I'm not sure I remember the details correctly, (I'm sure other knowledgable Navy Spectator fans will correct me) but I've never forgotten the name of the liberty ship involved. It is a great "David vs. Goliath" story of heroism.
-- Paul Doolittle
CDR (USN-Ret)

I am reminded of Lord Nelson's dictum: You can never condemn a captain for engaging the enemy. Nelson would be proud of the Stephen Hopkins, her captain and crew.

I am also reminded of the recent disgraceful surrender of Nelson's putative descendants who cravenly surrendered to Iranian gunboats.
-- Richard Rude

Hal Colebatch has told a fascinating and oft overlooked story of American merchant navy heoism. However, the Stephen Hopkins sinking of the Steir was not the only American sinking of a German surface warship. On October 18, 1943 the American submarine Tarpon sank another merchant ship raider, Michel, 60 miles off the coast of Japan.
-- Edward Finglas
Marblehead, Massachusetts

MAKING LISTS
Re: Jeffrey Lord's LBJ's List and the Conservative Challenge:

Jeffrey Lord overlooked the contribution of Lord's old boss, Ronald Reagan, as well as that of the Georges Bush to the Great Society. None of them, especially Reagan, made any attempt to repeal or to even reduce the Great Society programs. George F. Will wrote a metaphysical truth in 1986 after Reagan bragged at the Illinois State Fair about his increase in farm subsidies: Reagan is not recognizably conservative.

Will is absolutely correct about something else. Americans are philosophically conservative and operationally liberal. In plain English that means that a liberal is a conservative who is talking about his government benefits-such as the ones Lord listed.
-- Dick Graham

Mr. Lord is correct in saying that conservatives must illuminate as much as possible the failure of Lyndon Johnson's Great Society programs -- and the fallacy of expanding them. But we must not lose sight of the fact that with Obama, substance means little. We can tear apart each policy or talking point, yet the masses will continue to swoon.

And that leads me to question Lord's assertion that elections are not about candidates. One of the primary rules of electoral politics is "make your opponent the issue." While Ronald Reagan certainly ran on a solid platform, his painting of Jimmy Carter as a nincompoop was a major factor in his landslide victory. The same with Dukakis, Gore and Kerry. Once they became the issue and had to run defensive campaigns, the battle was all but won (for the GOP). And right now Democrats are putting far more emphasis into linking John McCain to "a third Bush term" than they are in attacking the Republican's platform. The GOP, of course, will hope to get traction in branding Obama a left-wing kook (not hard to do, but a strategy that begs the question, "will anybody really care?").
-- Dennis Bergendorf

Jeffry Lord's "LBJ's List" and its effect on a populous struck home as a conservative living in southeast Michigan in a Detroit suburb. Here we have a liberal to leftist assortment of Governor, both U.S. Senators, U.S. House member, Mayor and State and local congressmen. If any area of the nation should be wondrous uptopia to live in, it should be the Democrat-controlled Detroit area, right?

Wrong. Just the opposite. From poor roads and infrastructure and high taxes to failing schools and inner-city poverty, Detroit and some suburbs are in bad shape. And even though entire State and local government is firmly in Democrat control, the answer to any problem is always: it's "Bush's fault"!
-- Tom Van Eck
Riverview, Michigan

I just finished reading Jeffrey Lord's piece (linked from Rush) on what an Obama presidency might mean for a future "golden age of conservatism." I agree for the most part with his analysis but I have one problem. Even with the Reagan presidency and congressional control by supposedly conservative Republicans NONE of the legacy of LBJ is gone. With all the folks who were "appalled at the cost, the bureaucracy, the extravagance and the incompetence," the rebellion was stunted and only slowed the growth of government.

A bureaucracy created is a bureaucracy propagated. Even though Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are bloated and bankrupt (or headed that way) they are still around, through and beyond Reagan. The real problem with an Obama presidency will be the further siphoning of my money from my family to others and the sure knowledge that the Universal Healthcare bureaucracy he creates will survive us all and drag our children into the gutter. He must be stopped, now.
-- Bill Vick

If you give a man a fish, he will eat for a day. If you teach a man to fish he will eat for a lifetime. If you create a program that costs millions upon millions of tax payer dollars with no accountability that produces neither fish nor fisherman, then you bankrupt the working class to feed a bureaucracy that shall not vanish from the from the face of this earth.
-- Ira M. Kessel
Rochester, New York

So what's new?

When Jesse Jackson was running for President, someone asked why he didn't start with something more appropriate to his experience, like being mayor of a city.

The answer, attributed to one of his aides, was something like this, "Jesse Jackson doesn't do potholes."

Neither does Obama, apparently.
-- A.C. Santore

GO BROKE, GO BROKE AGAIN
Re: Barron Thomas's Real Estate Survival 2008:

Thanks for Barron Thomas's article. Please let "Tony" know that we're rooting for him to make it to the top again. And remind him of Robert (Rich Dad Poor Dad) Kyosaki's rule that most wealthy people have gone bankrupt three times before the wealth sticks.
-- Roger D. McKinney
Broken Arrow, Oklahoma

WITHOUT DELAY
Re: Matt Kibbe's Chuck Grassley, King of Pork:

One can almost track to the day when Republicans lost their way in congress: The resignation of Tom Delay. After that Texas Prosecutor's "Nifong-ing" of DeLay, the well tuned wheels fell of the conservative wagon. That of course trickled over to the Senate, where there are few strong individuals anyway.

The loss of Delay was what Democrats did to break the Conservatives' back.
-- P. Aaron Jones
Rahmallah, Michigan

SELLING SALMON TAGS
Re: Ralph R. Reiland's Beach Economics:

An interesting article, not about any specific political proposal or impact, but informative nonetheless. Would be interesting to see if the Spectator could coax similar articles from columnists or economists in different parts of the country. Is the pain of getting one pound of flounder better or worse than, say, paying for driving, parking, digging and shelling a pound of clams on the tideflats in Tomales Bay, California? Or the fees for catching salmon in an upstate Washington stream?
-- Michael

FACE TO FACE
Re: George H. Wittman's Talking With the Bad Guys:

Mr. Wittman's piece was a fine primer for the role of a Foreign Service and its diplomatic Corp, but left out one very important point. When should a head of state negotiate directly with another head of state?

As Mr. Wittman noted, there are a myriad of options for communication between nations and their leaders. And, in fact, many of these options are used regularly among and between all nations. Some of these are "traditional" diplomatic channels and some are "back channel" assets. The point being that governments communicate with each other continually, on a variety of levels.

The rules change, however, when there is direct communication between Cabinet or Ministerial level personnel or Heads of State. Almost all such contact or communication is "official." The positions of the principles are already known to all parties, before the meeting, and practical negotiations are over. The meeting is merely a formality for public consumption.

Another thing to consider is status or standing. Generally, a person in a position of lesser power goes to see a person of greater power. The President of GM does not travel to Sam's Chevy dealership in Podunk to ask Sam to honor GM's warranties. He has a low level subordinate contact Sam concerning the matter. If that fails to achieve the desired result, then other means are used (sanctions, embargoes or legal action) to gain Sam's cooperation. Likewise, the Speaker of the House (the third person in line for succession in this government) does not go to Speak directly with a Head of State of a nation that is hostile to her own. Especially without the approval of the CEO of her country, the President. To do so heightens the apparent power and position of the country of the person being visited and lowers that of the other. And it undermines the effects of other channels of diplomatic communication.

Should the sitting President of the United States sit down with the President of Iran? Only if the Iranian President, and his Government, is prepared to acquiesce to the demands of the United States and the rest of the world. Why? Because the positions of the two parties are well known. And the weaker party has only to refuse to agree to anything to win the status war, while the stronger has to secure a binding agreement from the weaker to simply maintain its position. For the stronger party to go, seemingly hat in hand, to ask the weaker to stop doing something simply makes it that much more difficult to to gain the cooperation of other nations in the future. It is a bad move.

Now, the key phrase being bandied about among the Presidential hopefuls is "unconditional meeting." The only time such a meeting should ever occur is if two Heads of State bump into one another while buying a double mocha late in Starbucks. And then they should limit their discussion to the relative merits of bagels versus crullers for breakfast. To have unconditional meetings between hostile Heads of State is simply a disastrous idea. And that is why this issue has arisen in this campaign. McCain is using it to point out Obama's apparent lack of knowledge concerning diplomacy and also to paint him as being too weak to effectively deal with recalcitrant foreign leaders. Obama, on the other hand, is trying to paint himself as an alternative to President Bush, by saying that the President should have been able to secure the acquiescence if the Iranians by simply meeting with their President.

Teddy Roosevelt was, undoubtedly, one of the greatest diplomatic Presidents of all time. It might be a good idea for U.S. Presidents to follow his lead in these troubled times.
-- Michael Tobias

DEEP BLUE MISTAKE
Re: Mike Roush's letter (under "Sticks and Stones") in Reader Mail's Horsefeathers:

Mike Tomlinson refers to Senator Obama's membership in a racist church and Senator Webb's various offensive remarks over the years as well as both of their undistinguished careers and all Mike Roush can do is call him a name caller. Mr. Roush ought to try to answer a man's arguments instead. I look forward to his explanation of why being a member of a racist church for twenty years is acceptable behavior.
-- Clif Briner

Regarding the letter from Mike Roush, I doubt it took three years for "Elbert Hubbard, a writer and editor who died on the Titanic in 1915," to drown, since the Titanic went to her watery grave in 1912. Having made mistakes too numerous to mention throughout my life, I am sure Mr. Roush simply made a typographical error, and I hope he will accept this very minor correction, as I certainly agree with his point that calling names does not refute an argument.
-- Craig Bondy
Greensboro, North Carolina

And if calling vile names doesn't work, you can always mix up the facts. The Titanic sank in 1912. It was the Lusitania in 1915.
-- Charles Dana

CHILLY RECEPTION
Re: Dan Martin's letter (under "Staying in Shape") in Reader Mail's Horsefeathers:

I was a third-grader in Texas when Alaska joined the union and relegated Texas to second-largest-state status. Though a blow to our egos, we consoled ourselves with the belief (well before the age of Global Warming) that once all the ice inevitably melted we would once again be number one.
-- Glen Hoffing
Shamong, New Jersey

IF I MAY HAVE THE LAST WORD
The quality of your letters to the editor is very high. Far higher than any site. Interesting.
-- James Wilson

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