Open Skies, Game Theory, and what’s next for treaties

The OC-135, the (very old) airplane the US uses for OPEN SKIES flights, from Wikipedia

Recently President Trump pulled the United States out of the Open Skies Treaties, continuing his push of leaving treaties he feels aren’t useful. Given that we’ve pulled out of the INF Treaty, redone NAFTA, and scrapped a few other treaties (like the JCPOA), are we closer to war, and what treaty is next on the chopping block?

Trump renegotiating deals, and in some cases leaving them altogether, isn’t a surprise. A quick read of his book The Art of the Deal, or a study of his real estate deals, or just watching a few episodes of The Apprentice, would tell you that Trump is all about big deals. He doesn’t nibble at the edges of a small deal. He goes in for the big deal, or nothing at all.

A big reason for that is waiting for the big deal typically maximizes the leverage he has. If you give something away first, and the other side doesn’t reciprocate, you lost a portion of your negotiating power. It’s like giving your kids dessert before dinner on the promise they’ll eat both. Sure, it could happen, but if the dinner isn’t finished, you can’t threaten to withhold dessert.

President Trump always looks to maximize leverage, which means pressing on points that do something while ignoring those that don’t mean anything. For example, very early on he called out a number of NATO countries and threatened to withhold US defense money. A critical media made it out to look like he was threatening to leave NATO. Ironically, this worked completely in his favor. The chances of Trump leaving NATO were pretty slim, because it wouldn’t gain much (by the way, the only country to have done so was France when it left the military portion of NATO). But with the media making it look like he would, and a re-surging Russia acting like it wants to re-establish the Soviet Union, many NATO nations upped their funding. Trump won pretty “bigly” in that case.

If you think the whole “negotiating” piece is a sham, you shouldn’t. In fact, Trump has said on many occasions exactly what he’s doing. Here’s a NYT piece from 2016, where Trump was being interviewed by David Sanger and discussing missile defense and Japan:

TRUMP: Or, if we cannot make the right deal, to take on the burden themselves. You said it wrong because you said or — or if we cannot make the right deal for proper reimbursement to take on the burden themselves. Yes. Now, Hillary Clinton said: “I will never leave Japan. I will never leave Japan. Will never leave any of our ——” Well now, once you say that, guess what happens? What happens?

HABERMAN: You’re stuck.

TRUMP: You can’t negotiate.

HABERMAN: Right.

TRUMP: In a deal, you always have to be prepared to walk. Hillary Clinton has said, “We will never, ever walk.” That’s a wonderful phrase, but unfortunately, if I were on Saudi Arabia’s side, Germany, Japan, South Korea and others, I would say, “Oh, they’re never leaving, so what do we have to pay them for?” Does that make sense to you, David?

It’s crystal clear: President Trump will threaten to leave, and then ACTUALLY leave a deal, if it’s not to his liking. That gives him the most leverage to get the other side to comply.

Open Skies is no different. The deal was first brought up in 1955, but was only recently ratified in 2002. It’s supposed to allow unfettered access to anywhere in the signatories countries. The US upholds that end, and as a military member, I’ve been notified before when the Russians plan to fly over an installation I’m working at. Russia began denying access to key areas, including exercise areas and parts of Georgia.

From President Trumps point of view, Russia gets a good deal and the US is slowly losing any advantage for the deal, so he pulled out. Both sides can pull other intelligence assets to make up the loss, but Russia will take a harder economic hit to do that than the US. This gives the US an advantage, and makes a subsequent deal easier. But the next Open Skies deal, if it was to happen, wouldn’t look like the old one. Trump will drive a hard bargain. I wouldn’t be surprised if he demands something completely absurd, like a drawdown of Russian forces from Kaliningrad and the Arctic, with verification flights to ensure compliance.

Now the Open Skies is going away, what’s next? My first thought was Nuclear Test Ban, since the US never ratified it, but the President already beat me to it. Expect the media to really blow this one up, which again plays right into the President’s hand. I would expect him to use this as leverage over China, because he could:

  • Threaten to arm Japan and/or Taiwan with nuclear weapons
  • Threaten nuclear weapons on hypersonic missiles
  • Change US policy and bring back tactical nuclear weapons
  • Negotiate a better nuclear deal with India, to include selling them nuclear submarine technology. Not only would that make China angry, but it would strip Russia of arms sales!

Another deal on the chopping block is the Outer Space Treaty. Trump already announced moon mining. I’d expect him to be looking for partner nations to mine the moon and asteroids. It’s a good chance to bring in non-traditional partners like Brazil, India and Japan that have this technology, but also places like Indonesia and parts of Africa where geography makes launching satellites easier.

The last one I’d expect to see go away is our treaties on drugs. This goes beyond legalizing marijuana. The drug enforcement cost in America is massive and yet is not particularly effective. Legalizing and taxing the drug trade could not only take money away from cartels, but also increase the safety for drug users. I’m actually surprised it hasn’t come up yet, but it wouldn’t surprise me if Trump proposed big changes to drug control.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency.

Russia’s Hunger Games

Images from Kadykchan, Russia

While debates continue to rage online about what the true death toll of COVID-19 is, one thing is for certain: Russia and China’s numbers are 100% false. As of this morning, the John Hopkins COVID dashboard is recording 2,537 deaths for Russia and 4,637 deaths in China. If you trust those numbers in countries with 144 million and 1.44 billion, then I’d hate to see your investment strategy.

For Russia, the virus is particularly deadly. Russia’s demographics have all the wrong characteristics for resisting the disease. Russia’s population is considerably older, with an average age around 40 years old. This is skewed heavily, with women living on average almost 10 years longer than men. Stereotypes aside, Russian men have considerable alcohol problems, and compounded by a high smoking rate, the population isn’t exactly healthy.

All of this is made worse by a crumbling hospital infrastructure. While Russian health care is universal and government funded, it suffers from a high level of bureaucracy and lack of funding. Worse still, because of the high concentration of the countries wealth in Moscow verses the rest of the nation. This causes health care to decline significantly the farther away you get from Moscow, causing places like Siberia to suffer considerably more. If you needed a place that resembles The Hunger Games, Russia would be a great fit.

We won’t get the true COVID-19 numbers from Russia, as the government will clamp down on them considerably. But given their setup, be ready for true devastation. Personally I would watch satellite pictures of light intensity, because I would expect areas, especially remote ones, to become uninhabited.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency.

The Iran War Powers Act, and what it (doesn’t) mean

Qasem Soleimani, Commander of Quds Forces during National AGIR commanders conference, from Wikipedia

There is much to-do about President Trump’s veto (that was not overridden) of the Iran war powers resolution. On its face, a bill that says President Trump can’t just declare war on Iran seems to be a good thing, given the crazy number of places we have committed our Armed Forces to so far. I was curious what the bill actually said, so I did a bit of digging. At first, it was difficult to get the right bill because there have been multiple bills introduced by various members trying to restrict war with Iran. The one that was recently vetoed was S.J. Res. 68. You can read the PDF version here.

It’s a pretty short bill, so let’s dive into it! We’ll skip the fancy header stuff and get into the meat of it:

Congress makes the following findings:
(1) Congress has the sole power to declare war under article I,
section 8, clause 11 of the United States Constitution.

Well, no issue there. In case you only read the amendments to the Constitution, this is squarely in Article I.

(2) The President has a constitutional responsibility to take actions to defend the United States, its territories, possessions, citizens, service members, and diplomats from attack.

Sounds about right.

(3) Congress has not yet declared war upon, nor enacted a specific statutory authorization for use of military force against, the Islamic Republic of Iran. The 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (Public Law 107-40; 50 U.S.C. 1541 note) against the perpetrators of the 9/11 attack and the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002 (Public Law 107-243; 50 U.S.C. 1541 note) do not serve as a specific statutory authorization for the use of force against Iran.

Sure… but how does this apply if you’re a terrorist funded by Iran? Iran is running a proxy war against the United States, and the U.S. has responded in kind. Both nations are fighting each other in the shadows, but hesitating to attack each other directly, although there have been the occasional assassination attempt. Essentially, this says you can’t use these two pieces of legislation to justify war with Iran.

(4) The conflict between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran constitutes, within the meaning of section 4(a) of the War Powers Resolution (50 U.S.C. 1543(a)), either hostilities or a situation where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated by the circumstances into which United States Armed Forces have been introduced.

That is correct, see the USC text here. Then again, you could say this applies every time we conduct a Freedom of Navigation transit. It’s pretty vague. A U.S. Carrier Strike Group would be always “equipped for combat,” so anytime it goes anywhere its meeting this criteria.

(5) Members of the United States Armed Forces and intelligence community, and all those involved in the planning of the January 2, 2020, strike on Qasem Soleimani, including President Donald J. Trump, should be commended for their efforts in a successful mission.

Yay, I guess? Did they just give a shout-out to the President? Who snuck that in?

Even Democrats give me credit!

(6) Section 5(c) of the War Powers Resolution (50 U.S.C. 1544(c)) states that “at any time that United States Armed Forces are engaged in hostilities outside the territory of the United States, its possessions and territories without a declaration of war or specific statutory authorization, such forces shall be removed by the President if the Congress so directs”.

True, but missing a section. The previous portion, 5(b), allows the President to essentially deploy the military for up to 60 days before he has to remove them. Kind of important. Should read the whole text, available here.

(7) More than 100 members of the United States Armed Forces sustained traumatic brain injuries in the Iranian retaliatory attack on the Ain al-Assad air base in Iraq despite initial reports that no casualties were sustained in the attack.

And initial reports are normally wrong, so the point here is what? Iran shot a bunch of missiles at us and nobody died? Some people get a Purple Heart and a VA disability bump? Sure, its just a statement of fact, but to what end?

I’m not downplaying the damage here, it sucks that people got injured. My bigger point is that it doesn’t matter to this bill in the slightest.

(8) Section 8(c) of the War Powers Resolution (50 U.S.C. 1547(c)) defines the introduction of the United States Armed Forces to include “the assignment of members of such armed forces to command, coordinate, participate in the movement of, or accompany the regular or irregular forces of any foreign country or government when such military forces are engaged, or there exists an imminent threat that such forces will become engaged in, hostilities”.

100% true.

(9) The United States Armed Forces have been introduced into hostilities, as defined by the War Powers Resolution, against Iran.

Introduced? Against Iran? Here’s where you can lawyer-away. The troops were in IRAQ. They were attacked in IRAQ. President Trump authorized a strike on General Soleimani in IRAQ. Not Iranian soil, Iraqi soil. He even notified the Iraqis. The troops in Iraq are in no way sufficient to invade Iran. We’re not even shooting across the border…General Soleimani was killed in Baghdad, which is over 200 km from the Iranian border.

Maybe I’m wrong, but this simply sentence seems like its reaching a bit. Troops that were already there (not introduced) and are helping Iraq (not fighting Iran) are somehow now engaged in hostilities against Iran? Please, if a lawyer wants to drop a comment to explain this, I’m all ears. I just don’t see it.

(10) The question of whether United States forces should be engaged in hostilities against Iran should be answered following a full briefing to Congress and the American public of the issues at stake, a public debate in Congress, and a congressional vote as contemplated by the Constitution.

Sure, couldn’t agree more. Congress hasn’t lost the ability to declare war or turn off the military funding tap, neither of which it has decided to do. And, to be fair, President Trump hasn’t put military forces in Iran, nor is he massing troops on the border to do so.

(11) Section 1013 of the Department of State Authorization Act, Fiscal Years 1984 and 1985 (50 U.S.C. 1546a) provides that any joint resolution or bill to require the removal of United States Armed Forces engaged in hostilities without a declaration of war or specific statutory authorization shall be considered in accordance with the expedited procedures of section 601(b) of the International Security and Arms Export Control Act of 1976.

Yup, but again, the soldiers involved were all already in IRAQ, and there to help the Iraqi Army.

SEC. 2. TERMINATION OF THE USE OF UNITED STATES FORCES FOR HOSTILITIES AGAINST THE ISLAMIC REPUBLIC OF IRAN.

(a) Termination.–Pursuant to section 1013 of the Department of State Authorization Act, Fiscal Years 1984 and 1985 (50 U.S.C. 1546a),
and in accordance with the provisions of section 601(b) of the
International Security Assistance and Arms Export Control Act of 1976,
Congress hereby directs the President to terminate the use of United
States Armed Forces for hostilities against the Islamic Republic of
Iran or any part of its government or military, unless explicitly
authorized by a declaration of war or specific authorization for use of
military force against Iran.

OK. So, pray tell, what hostilities? Did we shoot missiles into Iran? Did we invade some piece of Iranian territory? I’d like to know.

(b) Rule of Construction.–Nothing in this section shall be construed to prevent the United States from defending itself from
imminent attack.

Well that’s good to know!

So I’m not seeing the big deal with this bill, besides that its a bunch of grandstanding. It’s a lot of fluff and it’s accusing the President of conducting operations against Iran, without saying WHAT operations he’s engaging in. It also is attempting to link soldiers that are already in IRAQ as somehow having something to do with IRAN. I get it, the countries are only one letter apart…but seriously.

How this piece of legislation feels

I’ve had a few people quote President Trump’s tweets about “raining fire down on Iran” if they attack our Navy vessels. OK, I’ll bite. For starters, imminent attack and self defense are still protected, so President Trump threatening to use them is a giant nothing-burger. Did he threaten to invade Qeshm Island? If so, I’d be all onboard saying that’s a really bad idea without a war declaration.

That’s not what is happening. Essentially, we have a President that is totally fine making bombastic claims when another country threatens him. It’s his personal style and likely part of his negotiating strategy. We can argue about whether this is effective, and I think there is plenty of room for debate on that. I personally think it isn’t always the best strategy to use with our allies, for example. I’m not the President, so I don’t get to make those choices, and for people that really don’t like that style, there is the voting box come November.

To accuse President Trump of engaging in hostile acts directly against Iran, but then not being able to name them, and trying to disguise it as an attempt to reign in a President that is trampling on Congressional rights is nothing more than stupid grand standing. We continue to be promised World War III with President Trump, and it continues to not happen.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency.

Will COVID-19 change your care level in local elections?

From https://penobscotbaypress.com/news/2018/oct/31/voting-information-for-election-day-november-6/

Everyone wants to talk about President Trump. Even when the President isn’t focusing the media attention on himself (which is pretty rare), people want to discuss what he’s doing or not doing. If you wander onto social media, the overwhelming number of political posts are about President Trump, followed by Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden.

Given all that focus, you would think that the President has an outsized influence in our daily lives. But unless you work in the federal government, that’s not really true. In fact, your local judges and politicians have a far greater impact on your daily life, and yet most people can’t name but a handful of them.

Let’s look at your average day. After you get up, you drive into work. The roads are managed at the state level, with some states spending significantly more in administrative costs than others. Your gas tax varies widely from state to state. Whether your hair stylist or braider needs a license is mainly state controlled. Whether you can buy alcohol on Sunday, or at night, or from a private store, is controlled by your state.

The COVID-19 responses in your state are mostly controlled by the governor. While Michigan and New York have capitalized on media coverage, the reality is that most governors seem to have done OK. I’m not a fan of our governor, but his response to COVID-19 and the restrictions he put in place made sense. I can still shop and get take-out from restaurants, without getting pulled over by the police and having my trunk checked for essential items.

The rules in place get funded and reinforced by the state legislature, and yet I struggle to find people who know anything, even the name, of their state representative. These people have a huge influence on your daily life, and people actually get to choose them every few years, and yet most have no idea who they are.

Schools are even worse. School board elections are so mundane, and yet most people figured out that despite the administrative costs paid by your property taxes, most schools couldn’t build a distance education plan to save their lives. I’m having to teach my kids math and science because the math and science teachers aren’t allowed to lecture more than an hour a week because of the school administration. After having that stupid rule explained to me, I’ve taken a larger interest in school board elections.

The COVID-19 pandemic was a chance for many people to reevaluate portions of their life. Could you spend long periods of time at home? Could you stay connected with others when you couldn’t travel? But perhaps most importantly, it exposed most of us to how well or not well our local elected officials run our government. That experience should drive your vote this year.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency.

The Navy is losing the information war, one Captain at a time

The USS THEODORE ROOSEVELT, from Task and Purpose

As more details emerge concerning CAPT Crozier of the USS THEODORE ROOSEVELT, its becoming clear he has a distinct possibility of being reinstated as commanding officer. Given his circumstances, people have asked me if the Navy learned any lessons from this.

My answer is, no.

The Navy is in the middle of grappling with information warfare, and its not doing a great job, mostly because there is a significant age (and thus cultural) problem in its senior officers. The average age of an admiral hovers around the 50’s, meaning most were born in the late 1960s (or earlier!) and spent their childhood without internet. They entered the Navy in an era when information could legitimately be controlled while underway. Censoring mail and family grams was normal. When bad things happened, the first response is to close off the news, solve the problem, and then tell everyone what happened, and during that process, it was (in the past) totally OK to hide details and be opaque. In general, these officers grew up in a time when information could be totally controlled.

The environment is very different now, and these old responses don’t work. CAPT Crozier would have grown up with some internet access, and he is probably more savvy online than most of his senior officers. When his boss tried to clamp down on information flow, CAPT Crozier easily worked around it. It was an ugly black eye to have a video showing him leaving to cheering Sailors, and it likely wasn’t an accident that this happened. In warfare terms, CAPT Crozier was flying an F-18 against an opponent using a biplane. It wasn’t a fair fight.

Despite this really ugly fight, the Navy is unlikely to learn anything. Contrary to popular myth, the Navy isn’t inherently a learning organization. It learns through death and injury. When Sailors die, or when ships get sunk, the Navy learns really fast, mainly through firing people and changing operating procedures. But its unlikely anyone will lose their job over this incident, and the Navy won’t put out any additional guidance on how to handle these circumstances. We’ll only learn as flag officers start coming from people that grew up in an age when information had to be managed, not controlled.

This also explains why Navy isn’t good at information warfare. Do you see Navy countering misinformation well? Not really. At best, Navy commanders engage on social media via their public affairs officers. But posting on the command’s Facebook page isn’t enough to go viral and get your message out. And yet you see commanders claim, time and time again, that because they posted articles and gave the occasional interview, they “maneuvered” in the information environment. Meanwhile, Russia and China run rings around the Navy, easily maneuvering against their stories and constantly pushing their own agenda.

While we don’t want to admit it, in the information realm, we are flying the biplane, and our adversaries are flying jet aircraft. It’s not a fair fight, and won’t be for sometime to come.

This post (clearly) represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency.

This post was edited on 4/27/20 because I mistakenly listed the HARRY TRUMAN instead of the ROOSEVELT. That was an honest mistake, I had been working on something else and swapped the two carriers.

On Conspiracy Theories

People never cease to amaze me. I am used to reading Chinese, North Korean and Russian propaganda. It’s comical to read, but sad when you think that 20% of the world’s population has to read this garbage due to censorship.

So imagine my frustration when a friend sent me this:

And I’m pouring myself a glass of plentiful water being like

How are you supposed to respond to these things? It’s not the first time, and over the years, I’ve tried various strategies. The three I’ve settled on I like to call Truth, Ridicule and Instigation.

Truth

You can always fight lies with truth. A while back I was trying to sort through the hype about the HPV Vaccine. My doctor at work said it was fine, but I had heard stories about it acting as a contraceptive. So I dove in, reading an awful lot of technical papers. Turns out, the one study that said the vaccine was a contraceptive was poorly done, and every Catholic source I found said the vaccine is fine, although also recommending it not be mandated.

Ridicule

Watch Baghdad Bob in action at about the 7 minute mark!

The invasion of Iraq exposed many Americans to the Iraqi Information Minister, Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf, or more commonly known as Baghdad Bob. During the invasion, we were inundated with interviews where Baghdad Bob would deny claims that any American forces had entered Iraq or Baghdad, with such memorable quotes as “They’re coming to surrender or be burned in their tanks.” and “There are no American infidels in Baghdad. Never!” Americans, in typical American fashion, were not impressed, and soon al-Sahaaf was featured on countless memes, YouTube videos and even had a website devoted to him.

From http://www.holtorf.com

Instigation

Instead of fighting the allegation, you force it one level deeper. When someone asked me whether 5G caused COVID-19, I told them “Only the Huawei 5G. That’s why we have to build 5G from Verizon.” Or when someone claims that climate change is a government conspiracy, I tell them “It’s worse than that. Ever since the U.S. captured the Nazi weather machine in Svalbard, our scientists have been making all sorts of dangerous changes!”

A good instigation has a kernel of truth that is easy to find on the Internet. In the 5G case, its the push by the U.S. to build their own 5G infrastructure. In the climate case, its the (true) fact that the Nazi’s had a weather outpost on Svalbard that was one of the last places to surrender during the war. Heck, the Nazis even had a weather station in Canada! Maybe the Inuits were working with the Nazis to overthrow the Canadian government…nah, couldn’t be true, could it?

You can easily do your own instigation, and you should! The best format is:

  • Hyperbole – Actor – Kernel of Truth – Outright Lie –

My favorites are:

Hypberole:
It’s worse than you know…
I have insider information…
A study that was covered up said…
I found this site on the Dark Web that said…

Actors:
The radical left
The vast right-wing conspiracy
The underground Communist movement
Russian spies
Vatican II
The Nazis
The Illuminati

Truth and Lies are easy, a bit of Googling and you’ll learn some interesting history. Occasionally, places like the Onion help you out, like when they reveal that government vaccine trackers malfunctioned.

Instigation seems cruel, but the more I used it, it made me realize two things. First, when you learn about history, you realize that governments are made of people that are flawed. Conspiracy theorists will connect a few dots of information to come up with some wild accusation, while the reality is a lot more mundane. I tell people that the golden rule for government conspiracy is “Never attribute to government conspiracy what is better left to incompetence, greed or lust for power.

Applying that to the current status of Michigan’s COVID-19 shutdown is perfect. The current Governor is a jerk. She’s using the crisis to push her own agenda, beat down on people she doesn’t like, and it wouldn’t surprise me if she profits from it in some way. But is she part of a bigger conspiracy? Doubtful. You’d be giving her too much credit by saying that.

The other thing I realized is that we’re all sucked into conspiracy. Plenty of people reading this will think they are somehow too smart to be fooled by conspiracy. To that I say, you’re not. Lots of people believed Bernie Sanders and/or Donald Trump was being funded by the Russians. People doubted whether Barack Obama was a U.S. citizen, despite the FBI having investigated the matter. People still believe there are UFOs at Area 51.

On a small scale though, we all fall victim to this. How many people think drinking 8 glasses of water a day is recommended? Or that flossing your teeth is a good thing? Despite living in the information age, we’re terrible at actually challenging our beliefs. We could read about vaccines and flossing, sift through campaign finance records, and learn about unique history…or we could share social media posts that appeal to our emotions instead of reason.

Humans are unique for many reasons, but perhaps the biggest is our ability to reason and logically question the world around us. Social media makes it too easy to be lazy, put people in stereotyped boxes, and accept old-wives tales as truth. We could all do better.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency.

For lack of all things, the Navy

From military.com

I wrote about the CAPT Crozier/SECNAV Modly affair last week, and couldn’t have been more wrong. I was disgusted to get information from others that pointed to a lack of a plan and a lack of care by many in the chain of command for the well being of the Sailors aboard THEODORE ROOSEVELT. What should have been a good news story of the Navy tackling the COVID-19 virus turned into a complete shit show, resulting in Acting SECNAV Modly resigning, a lot of hurt feelings on all sides, and a huge loss in confidence in senior Navy leadership. The only good thing we got out of it was no more “Vector” emails. Despite tons of good news stories for the Navy right now, especially the USNS COMFORT and USNS MERCY, the Navy headlines will be more bad than good.

So yes, I got it wrong. I was fooled by a good media performance early on, then watched everything descend into chaos. I do hope, if CAPT Crozier is found innocent, they put him back in charge.

Going forward, our Navy is in trouble in terms of leadership. To start with the situation, we have a Navy too small for what we ask of it. We’ve killed the Navy’s one saving point, mobility, by demanding presence per a Global Force Management schedule that doesn’t take ship maintenance into account. Yet we pay an astronomical amount of money for the Navy we have, mainly because our shipyards can’t produce a ship on budget or on time. Worse still, while the Army and Air Force had free reign of Overseas Contingency money, and a chance to recapitalize hardware, Navy still has old ships that are increasing in maintenance cost.

We need a strong SECNAV to get the Navy bureaucracy back on track, and yet to Congress, the Navy is somewhere on the bottom tier right now. Nobody cares enough to approve the President’s SECNAV choice, or to suggest someone else. Nobody cares enough to either build more ships or demand we scale back our overseas commitments. So this puts us lacking equipment and leadership.

But soon it’ll be worse, because we’ll be lacking people. When we put the Blended Retirement System in place, it was to make the system more “fair,” which for Congress means “cost less money.” The negative effect is that we’ll need more recruiting more often, because more people will leave earlier. Since it started in 2018, you’ll start seeing drastic changes in 2023 as Sailors that entered in 2018 leave in greater-than-anticipated numbers. For officers, who already have large incentives to leave after their 5 year initial contract, we’ll either have to throw huge bonuses at them to stay or live with gaps, keeping in mind in many cases, we’re already maxing out bonuses in many cases. If you’re an O-3 in 2023, would you stay in a Navy full of old ships, a declining retirement system and leaders that set poor standards, or would you jump ship for a civilian job?

The Navy’s approaching a crisis point. We’ll soon be lacking in equipment, leadership and people. Without some drastic rudder, the Navy will struggle to weather the upcoming storms.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency.

Two Navies, Two Stories, One Choice

200321-N-TL141-1039 PHILLIPINE SEA (March 21, 2020) An MH-60R Sea Hawk assigned to the “Wolf Pack” Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron (HSM) 75, takes off from the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) March 21, 2020. The Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group is on a scheduled deployment to the Indo-Pacific. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Dylan Lavin)

The Navy is in the news a lot. On one coast, the USS THEODORE ROOSEVELT, named after the iconic President, is in the news in a bad way. Her Commanding Officer, CAPT Crozier, was removed by the Secretary of the Navy because of a letter he wrote (and didn’t safeguard adequately) where he argued to evacuate most of his crew due to a COVID-19 outbreak because “Sailors do not need to die.” Reading the letter on its own (available here), without any other context makes CAPT Crozier look like a selfless hero, amplified when he was removed from command by Acting Secretary Modly and then cheered by his own crew.

Obviously, very concerned about the virus spreading, just look at that social distancing!

Like most stories, the surface belies the true nature of the medium. The largest fallacy comes from thinking the Navy wasn’t already acting to help the THEODORE ROOSEVELT. The Navy was moving, quickly, to find a suitable plan for ROOSEVELT. It had already secured 3,000 beds in Guam, which if you’ve ever been to the tiny island, you’ll realize is quite an achievement. Secretary Modly was in contact with CAPT Crozier personally, on multiple occasions before the letter was sent.

Before you sign a petition supporting CAPT Crozier, or think the Navy is some evil, vile organization that hates its Sailors, try watching Secretary Modly’s full press conference. I can guarantee it is not boring:

The Navy balances Sailor morale and welfare with the mission assigned to it. Contrary to CAPT Crozier’s letter, where he asserts we “…we are not at war, and therefore cannot allow a single Sailor to perish…”, that’s simply not true. The Navy executes dangerous “peacetime” missions every day. We fly planes, drive submarines, spy on enemies, rescue mariners in distress, ride out rough weather, and provide humanitarian assistance and disaster relief to areas that have multiple infectious diseases. Every day we engage in these activities, which occasionally kill Sailors, and while we balance our risk, the risk is never zero, because the American people expect their Navy to be ready for war, and readiness is never achieved with zero risk.

CAPT Crozier’s actions smell of grand standing. You can’t simply shutdown a nuclear aircraft carrier and park it like some cheap rental car. You always have Sailors onboard to monitor the reactor plants and maintain critical gear. CAPT Crozier even acknowledges that he has to keep at least 10% of the crew onboard. If he had proposed a rotation plan to maintain THEODORE ROOSEVELT while the virus burned itself out, he would probably still be in command.

On the other coast is another Roosevelt. DDG-80, the USS ROOSEVELT, is preparing for a deployment to Europe and a homeport shift to Rota, Spain. No doubt her Sailors are worried about COVID-19, as are their families. Instead of inspiring doubt and fear, her Commanding Officer is finishing deployment preparations, in a quiet and professional manner.

From https://www.dvidshub.net/news/365634/uss-roosevelt-prepares-homeport-shift-rota

Emotions run high when things are uncertain. Emotions feel good, and can even make you popular. But emotions cause you to make mistakes in war. Emotions, and emotional responses, sap your reasoning and break down your training. In war, when time and training matter, emotions get you killed.

If we’re being emotional now dealing with a virus with a mortality rate of 2%, and likely less than that for young people, how are we going to deal with a Great Power Competitor that has a higher death rate? Will we write letters to the press about the Sailors we lost in missile exchanges? Will we complain about driving into harm’s way?

When the going gets tough, do you want to be lead by someone ruled by their emotions, or someone who chooses to rule them?

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency.

Facebook moderators lose all sense of humor

My firewood stand apparently doesn’t meet Facebook guidance

When the builders built my house, they took out a lot of tall trees in the front yard so that wind storms wouldn’t drop really big trees onto my new house. Rather than pay to take the trees away, I had them leave the trees and I chopped them into firewood. Since I had so much firewood, I built a little stand to sell it by the main road. It’s an honor system, and so far only one jerk has stolen a bundle.

To advertise, I’d post a funny ad on Facebook Marketplace. In one case, it was about how politically-neutral the firewood is. In another, it discussed how my firewood was totally vegan and free from animal-testing. Simple, but humorous.

But recently, not good enough for Facebook moderators. COVID-19 has taken many things from people, and apparently it has taken the sense of any humor from Facebook. I posted about COVID-19 free firewood, and the ad ran for a while, getting good laughs from people otherwise stuck at home. Two days ago, Facebook shut it down, saying I wasn’t advertising something for sale. I protested, saying that I indeed did sell firewood, hence the picture. No dice, the moderators have removed my ad. Here’s what I wrote, judge for yourself:

So life is collapsing all around you due to Corona Virus. Your favorite sports team is canceled. Toilet paper is being rationed. Your local Karen is trying to make hand sanitizer from essential oils. Everyone has gone mad with COVID-19 fear. In these trying times, you need some security.
You need…firewood.
Yes, firewood. Think of its magical properties. Instead of huddling in your house worried about what paper remains to wipe yourself with, you can light a fire in the fire stand you bought from Home Depot, but never found time to use. Those flames licking into the sky are mesmerizing to watch and take your mind off of the craziness surrounding a virus with a less than 5% chance to kill you.
Even better, the fire from firewood burns viruses. If you left COVID-19 on a piece of my firewood and set it on fire, the virus would die. Firewood has a better track record than Karen’s essential oils and anti-vax children at cutting down on viruses.
Plus, you are guaranteed that my firewood has never traveled to China, Iran, South Korea, or any other CDC-listed country. It’s also never been to a wet market!
If you navigate to ——, right outside the —— complex, you’ll find the firewood stand. Unlike any large store that gouges you for firewood, my stand only asks for a twenty dollar bill for a full wheelbarrow of anti-viral, morale-improving firewood. Even better, its always available, since you don’t need to knock on my door (please don’t, I’m practicing social distancing). If you wake up in horror at your impending doom at midnight and need the reassurance that only a stack of firewood can give you, you’re in luck, because you can pay for and pickup the firewood at any hour, thanks to the light I installed.
Best part: I’m using the money to build a nice playground for my kids, so that while they aren’t at school they can entertain themselves without driving my wife crazy.
So swing by today, grab a stack of firewood, and face the impending Coronapocalypse with firey gusto!
Please share this post! People need a good laugh with the craziness. And it helps me sell wood. #firewood #COVID19 #coronapocalypse

Facebook’s response:

Request denied peasant!

When we talk about free speech, censorship and violating ill-defined rules, it becomes a big deal to the small people of the world. If I needed that firewood money to live on, Facebook might be crushing my ability to make a living. What about a restaurant that hires people? Can they not use humor, or will that disgust moderators?

And the word “appeal” is misleading. It implies I had some process, when in reality I clicked a button, wrote a few sentences saying that I indeed sold firewood, then off to the ether with my request, which was promptly denied. I never met my moderator, never talked to him or her on the phone, or even chatted. I highly doubt anyone complained, given the popularity of the post. And its not offensive by any stretch of the imagination.

If someone is friends with Mr. Zuckerberg, maybe you can ask him to restore my firewood post? Otherwise, I might have to use Craigslist again.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency.

COVID-19 and rethinking grade school

Let’s be honest, nobody’s kid is this excited over Kahn Academy!
Techno Source introduces Kurio Xtreme-the Ultimate Android Tablet Built for Kids–designed for extreme play and the safest online experience. Featuring a faster Intel(C) Atom(TM) processor, Bluetooth technology and 24/7 customer support right from the tablet, Xtreme comes with $300+ of kid-safe content, including exclusive Kurio Motion body-controlled games. (CNW Group/Techno Source)

Like most people, my kids are now home from school. At first, I’m sure most kids celebrated, like mine did. Yesterday was a turning point for my youngest daughter though, because when she told me that she was going back to school in another week, I told her that wouldn’t happen.

My prediction is that we don’t go back to anything normal until at least April. While I don’t believe the gloom and doom, 12-18 month recession, Fallout-style post-apocalypse robbing your neighbor for toilet paper worldview that seems to get pushed around, I also don’t think this will quickly resolve itself. We are going to hunker down for a lot longer than anyone imagined. This is not like a hurricane, where the storm passes and normalcy is restored in around 1-2 weeks. It’s going to take a while.

In the aftermath, it’s going to change grade school education. Right now my kid’s schools are struggling with how to fairly teach classes. I say “fairly” because there are still kids that don’t have internet at home, so simply saying “Move your class online” isn’t always going to work. Worse still is that we have lots of parents that just don’t care about their kids education and viewed school as the babysitting service so they could go to work. Normally teachers could cover up this problem, but COVID-19 is tearing that scab off.

There will be a bunch of kids that will benefit from learning at home. People will be surprised to find that in terms of hours of education per day, schools are fairly inefficient at teaching high-performing children. That’s a combination of large class size and the 90/10 rule of poor performing children, where you spend 90% of your time teaching the bottom 10% of your class. At home, in the right setup, a high performing kid can blow through lessons quickly when there is no bullying, food fights, and other distractions.

When these kids go back to school, schools will want to hold them back. We’ll hear about “social development” problems of skipping a grade. But that’s not really an issue. The problem is we view grade level and age as linked, even though we know that some people mature and learn faster than others. In the past, these kids were one-offs because there just wasn’t a lot of them. It’s going to become much more obvious when thousands of kids nation-wide test high enough to merit skipping a grade.

The reverse is true too. Plenty of kids won’t test high enough to merit passing their grade. In many cases it won’t be there fault. Many kids benefit from the structure, discipline and food that comes with school, and too many have parents who can’t or won’t provide a decent home to learn in. We cannot abandoned these kids. As a nation, we should be planning to hold summer schools to catch these kids up.

Perhaps COVID-19 can change how view grade school education in general. Instead of linking age to grade level, we focus more on testing and placing kids according to their performance, giving kids that are high performing more challenges early on. This means they graduate sooner and have more chances at a younger age for higher education. For kids that struggle, why are we not regularly providing summer school? We know the kids that aren’t doing well. Making them come to summer school, both to finish their current grade and to get a jump on the next grade, might be the ticket to better performance. It also gives us an excuse to pay teachers more and give them full-year compensation.

COVID-19 sucks, but it might be what we need to change our old views on grade school education.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency.