I received one of those political chain letters today.  You know, the kind that takes some article or another, totally misrepresents it and then urges people to “send this to everyone you know”.  These things circulate for years and do nothing other than piss people off.

The one I received this morning was about an article that appeared in the Washington Post in January of 2000.  Yeah, this thing has been making the rounds for almost 10 years.  I’m guessing that it hasn’t really been in active circulation for 10 years and that someone dug it up to prove some point about the current administration not doing enough for the troops and to get people worked up.

This is what passes for discourse today.  People dig up the most poorly written crap that they can find and throw it up as a straw man to be taken down.

I generally try to ignore these types of things, but there was something about this one that made me keep reading.  Perhaps I was in a bad mood this morning.  Whatever it was, I had to respond.  The following is what came out.  Perhaps in 10 years it will still be circulating.

If you read any of this at all, please read the whole thing.  I feel very strongly that people have stopped paying attention.  They’re all too ready to offend and be offended.  No one is adding anything to the discussion; they’re just hitting each over the head to make one little point after the other.  No one is looking at the big picture.  If half way through this you feel like I’ve hit you over the head, I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean to.  Please read to the end and get the big picture.

I read Cindy Williams’ original editorial (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A33607-2000Jan11.html) that was printed in the Washington Post.

I didn’t much like the article, but I do think Ms. Williams intentions are being misrepresented.  That is probably because of the way she goes about presenting her arguments.

Basically, the biggest problem with the article is that it is very poorly written.  The first problem with the article is that she offers her solution first and doesn’t mention what the problem is until the very end.  Then, her solution isn’t really a solution as much as an argument against someone else’s solution.  Finally, because her “solution” is an unpopular one to begin with, by presenting it first, she’s lost all hope of getting her point across.  The people who agree with her will get the point in the end, but the people whom she is trying to convince will never make it that far.  She needs to get her audience to open up to her ideas before she presents them.

In her article, Ms. Williams is responding to a report published by  the Center for Strategic and International Studies  (CSII).  The report says that “most military people feel they are not paid fairly”. She says that some politicians and lobbyists are using this as a way to get a further 25% pay hike.  She is not against the 4.8% that the military have already received, she is against the extra 25%.

She goes on to say that the actual figures in the report show that even though military people feel that they aren’t being paid fairly, that in fact, “our troops typically earn more money than 75 percent of civilians with similar levels of education and experience.”  She also adds that the military get extra benefits that most American don’t get, including “four weeks of paid vacation, comprehensive health care, discount groceries, tuition assistance.”

Finally, she points out that the report was  more about the “problems of morale and dissatisfaction across the military”.  Her argument is that rather than increasing salaries an additional 25% we should examine the “concerns about training and leadership, the demands of frequent overseas deployments and unmet expectations for a challenging and satisfying military lifestyle.”

She is saying that there are problems in the military that are bigger than just salary and that throwing money at the situation is not enough.  The military has problems with “morale and dissatisfaction” that money can’t fix.  She is trying to help, but one would never know it.

She should have started by saying that there are problems in the military with low morale and high dissatisfaction.  Then she should say that she believes that just increasing salaries isn’t enough to fix the problem.  She could then show that despite actually making more than others, most military people feel that they are not paid fairly.  This is proof that just increasing salaries isn’t enough to fix the problem. Finally, she needs to offer a real solution.  Just saying that “increasing salaries won’t work” is not enough.  She needs to offer a real alternative.  She does not.

And, one more thing, I don’t know if Ms. Williams wrote the headline for the article.  Usually the headlines are not written by the authors but by the editor.  So, assuming Ms. Williams didn’t write the headline, whichever editor came up with this one should be fired.  The point of her article is not that “Our GIs Earn Enough”.  The only purpose that headline serves is to make people angry, and it apparently made a lot of people angry.  (bonk!)

So, we get rebuttals, not sent to the editor at the Washington Post (who would trust him anyway?), but shot around the internet in emails like the one I received today.

The rebuttal starts by saying that it should be “printed in all newspapers across America”.  Now the bar is set as high as it can go.  What follows is so well thought out and so clear in its logic that all newspapers should be forced to print it.  Those who aren’t pre-disposed to the sentiments are on alert.

The author continues by mentioning Ms. Williams’ article in the “Washington Times”.  Unfortunately, the article appeared in the Washington Post, not the Washington Times.  This may seem picky, but the difference is a big one.  The Washington Post is the newspaper with the largest circulation in Washington, D.C. and is the city’s oldest paper, founded in 1877 (Wikipedia).  The Washington Times was founded in 1982 by Unification Church founder Sun Myung Moon and is subsidized by the Unification Church community (Wikipedia).

The author then goes on to say that Ms. Williams is Assistant Director for national Security in the Congressional Budget Office.  Ms. Williams did hold that position from 1994 through 1997, but now she is a senior research fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  Again, this may seem picky, but the author is trying to say something about Ms. Williams by putting her credentials at the top and either he has gotten it wrong or he is purposefully  misleading.

So, not two paragraphs in and there are already two major errors.  Some might be willing to look past this, but the bar has already been set high.  Does the author really think that misleading and incorrect information should be printed in every newspaper in America or is he just a little bit crazy?  Either way, those who don’t already agree with the author have already stopped paying attention and have already decided that what follows is all trash.  The author does point out that the Cindy Williams who wrote the article in question is NOT the "Laverne & Shirley" Cindy Williams.  I don’t know why he needs to tell us that, but it is absolutely true and the only true thing that he writes.

Side note: apparently some people have been attributing the article to the other Cindy Williams in an effort to get people angry at her.  (Bonk, Bonk, Bonk).

What follows is a letter that has been sent by a young airman to Ms. Williams.  However, before we get to the airman’s actual letter, the author offers a synopsis of Ms. Williams article.  He says that the article denounces the pay raise coming  service members’ way this year.  Again, anyone who’s read the article knows that Ms. Williams did not say anything against the current pay increases.  He then says, “Citing that she stated  13% wage increase was more than they deserve.”  I don’t even know what to make of this one.  I’m not even sure it’s a sentence.  Citing is to make reference to something.  Stating is simply to say something.  Not only did Ms. Williams not state that a 13% wage increase is more than they deserve, she did not cite anyone else who said anything like that.  It makes no sense at all.  I’m a big fan of using a rich and varied vocabulary, but throwing big words around and then completely messing it up is just stupid.  And, it doesn’t change the fact that that the point of the sentence is completely false.

If the author was trying to set a favorable tone for the airman’s letter, he completely failed.  He would have been better off just going straight to the airman’s letter.

The actual airman’s letter is a heartfelt description of his situation and hardships, all of which I assume are absolutely true.  I have no reason to disbelieve this particular airman’s story (unless he is related to the guy that attached the preface to top of his letter).

His name is A1C Michael Bragg.  As unfair as his situation is, his story doesn’t change Ms. Williams’ facts in any way.  While most of our troops make more than civilians with similar levels of education and experience, there are most likely some who are making less, maybe even significantly less.  I assume that this is especially true for the those service men with highly technical skills and experience like A1C Michael Bragg.  This only serves to prove Ms. Williams’ point (better than she ever could) that there are problems in the military that need more scrutiny than just giving everybody a 25% raise.  If this airman was given the 25% raise in question, he would still be making significantly less than a civilian doing the same job.  His $13,413.60 with a 25% raise would be $16,766.25.  This is still 80% less than the $80,000 jobs he cites.

Ms. Williams is saying that giving the entire armed services a 25% raise would not fix these types of problems. She is warning that politicians are happy to push through a 25% raise because it is much easier than trying to fix the real problems.  A1C Michael Bragg is complaining that he is making 84% less than he should, but defends a plan that would only bring him up to 80% less.  Ms. Williams is trying to point out the bigger problem and A1C Michael Bragg tells her to kiss his ass. (Bonk)  Unfortunately, neither one of them is helping the situation.

This is where we’ve come to today.  Everyone is too busy arguing that no one is making any sense anymore.  The sides have been chosen and the lines have been drawn, but nothing is getting fixed.  We’re all too busy arguing and hitting each other over the head to get anything done.

The rhetoric is making it all worse.  And by rhetoric I mean shitty writing and backward logic whether it appears in the Washington Post or is forwarded around email boxes like a computer virus.  All it does is make people angry.  Ms. Williams is trying to fix a truly bad situation, but annoys people with her insolence.  A1C Michael Bragg is truly in an unfair and messed up situation, but the best he can do is whine and tell people to kiss his ass.

When will people start making sense again?


P.S. : Does anyone know if the 25% increase ever happened or if the problems with morale and dissatisfaction were ever addressed?  I wonder if today’s military personnel are more or less satisfied.

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