Russia’s next move: Belarus and Turkmenistan

The media is laser-locked on the non-war with Iran and impeachment. In typical Russian fashion, Russia has been able to fly under the radar and stay out of the news. But the recent resignation of the government showed that its not quiet in Russia.

Putin continues to make moves to solidify his power in Russia. We already knew that. Putin’s larger goal is to recreate the USSR. He wants the Russian empire to extend again from the Pacific to Lithuania, the Arctic to Kazakhstan. While he’s made moves, successfully, in Ukraine, its come at a cost. The Russian economy shrank considerably, suffering under pretty severe sanctions, sparking protests in Moscow. Putin isn’t stupid, so his next moves will come in Belarus and Tajikistan, and they’ll look vastly different.

Yup, that’s a nasty drop. From Wikipedia.

Belarus has always been close to Russia, and as the next door neighbor to NATO, gives Russia a way to intimidate the nearby countries of Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. But Belarus has been happy with its independence. It’s ethnically different from Russia, has its own currency, and is relying more on European Union support. A Ukraine-style invasion isn’t likely.

Instead, expect to see Putin setup Belarus as a failed state and use legal agreements to bring them into the fold. Putin has tried to get Belarus to rejoin Russia, using a 1999 Union Treaty to start discussions, but this hasn’t worked. But Putin has more levers, especially economic ones. Since most of Belarus’ oil and gas comes from Russia, Russia will no longer give Belarus a discount, worth about 10 billion dollars a year, unless it walks down the path of Belarus/Russia unification, including a single currency and unified government. President Trump’s warning about Russia using oil as an economic weapon will likely get played out in Belarus in 2020.

Turkmenistan is different. Bordering Russia and Afghanistan, it is landlocked except for a coastline on the Caspian Sea. With large natural gas reserves, Turkmenistan needs export routes, and has been pursuing a pipeline under the Caspian Sea. More importantly, much of its oil and gas is purchased by Russia or China, making it vulnerable to Russian economic measures.

Putin will likely pursue a different path with Turkmenistan. Turkmenistan’s border with Afghanistan remains dangerous, and an IS affiliate known as the Islamic State in Khorasan is continuing to cause problems. Russia has kindly offered military assistance, giving it a legal way to move military forces into the country. Over time, this will give Russia more influence in the region, especially as the United States removes troops from Afghanistan.

Putin will likely first pull economic levers to get Turkmenistan back into the Commonwealth of Independent States, a treaty that Turkmenistan hasn’t ratified yet. Then, expect there to be multiple “terrorism” problems that require Russian assistance. Over time, this will turn Turkmenistan into a larger version of Belarus, with an eventual goal of unification.

It’s not all hopeless. The US can use its export of petroleum to wean these countries off of Russian oil dependence. Cheap, safe nuclear power could be exported to eliminate the need to burn oil or gas for electricity. Media, hospital care and technology, all areas that the US and Europe are leading on, could make these regions profit and want to more align with democratic ideals. It’ll require us to care about an area of the world that most people can’t find on a map, but if we do, it could stunt Russia’s world domination desires.

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.

Preserving freedom of reviews

There is a lot of debate on controlling free speech on the internet, specifically when that speech is hateful or controversial, and not surprisingly when it relates to a Presidential election. But free speech is also under assault when it comes to business, specifically bad business. The internet is increasingly where we research, conduct and review business, and when that business isn’t good, our bad reviews can carry significant weight. In the past, if a business wronged you, unless you were willing to file a lawsuit, the most you could do was tell your friends not to go there. The internet, and specifically reviews left on Google, Yelp, the BBB, and other websites, has changed that.

Because reviews have a lot of power, they can do a decent job changing behavior. This summer I hired a contractor to level out a low area of our property and cut up a bunch of trees. He came out, leveled the area, and finished about half of the tree work. Because he had another pressing job, and because I was not rushed on the trees, I said he could come back the next week to finish the job, and I paid him in full. Big mistake. I came back from a short underway five weeks later and the job still wasn’t done.

After trying to get him to respond via email and phone, I left a sharp, 1 star review on Yelp. I got a call the next day, we setup a time to finish the project, and I changed the review to 4 stars once the job was complete. Lesson learned: reviews are a good tool, and never pay in full for uncompleted work.

I just solved another dispute that took 2 months. I made a reservation for military travel, but a week before I had to change due to a change in our mission. I called the hotel to cancel, and was told they would give me a credit, as in, I could come back and visit them in the future. I asked for them to reimburse the government credit card instead, because I didn’t know when I would travel there. The gentleman on the phone said he would try.

Three weeks later, and no reimbursement. Calling them again, they said they would try. No change. I called the government credit card company, who called them asking for a refund. Still nothing. I paid the bill (government cards are linked to your personal credit, so you owe regardless) and filed a dispute with the card company. Still nothing.

Online it is then! First a 1-star review on Google. Then Yelp. Then filing a grievance with the BBB. After they ignored the BBB, the BBB rating plummeted from A+ to C-. Yay for me, but I was still out 100 dollars. Then, last night, an email appeared from the manager, apologizing for the issue and refunding my money. I’ll write him back tonight and update the reviews.

This is how reviews should be: opening a dialog to solve a customer grievance. It forces business to improve customer support, and if they ignore it, it warns others to avoid them at all cost. Amazon understands this, and the review system on Amazon is one of the huge drivers behind its now almost ubiquitous use in America. This free speech is under assault by businesses seeking to squelch reviews, in most cases with lawsuits. As there is an awful lot of trolls and others that leave negative reviews for no good reason, this is understandable.

I would offer a different take. Negative reviews are an opportunity for good customer service. They give business a chance to evaluate themselves against an exterior standard. Any reader of Peter Drucker knows that business must use external standards to evaluate their performance, and a negative review, even if unjustified in the business’s eyes, is that external standard. Rather than trying to squelch it via the justice system (something that will become increasingly harder with current legislation), businesses should relish the opportunity to turn an angry customer into a happy one.

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.

Losing the weight for the New Year

A lot of people make New Year’s resolutions. Just this morning my local gym was full of people. At 5:30 in the morning! Normally at that time its me and two other people…and I suspect it will return to that group size again by January 31st.

Yup, that was this week.

But that’s being judgemental. We all know that you will fulfill your New Year’s resolution! You are waaaay better than all those other slobs.

Maybe. Since many of you will make resolutions to lose weight, you should know that I did just that a few years ago. I was weighing in at 225 to 230 pounds. While I would pass the tape test for the Navy, I hated it. For the longest time, I just accepted that I was big, or big boned, or had some fat gene, or some other excuse. And then one day, when I got taped yet again during our semi-annual physical test, I just got mad, and I told myself I would lose weight. One year later, I stepped on the scale at a physical test and didn’t get taped. I nearly hugged the young Petty Officer who was weighing me. It was probably awkward.

So if you said you’d lose weight, read on, because I will walk you through how I made it happen.

Step 1 is admitting that you are overweight and if you don’t fix it, it will kill you. Plenty of people want to lose “5-10” pounds, but that’s hard because your body is happy to sit at your current weight, and your entire schedule makes you that way. Admitting that you are fat, and that it will kill you if you don’t fix it, helps you make the hard choices about changing your habits.

Seriously. Fat will kill you.

Once you admit you’re fat, step 2 is learning how to cook. When I was well over 200 pounds, eating out was a regular thing. I wouldn’t think twice about grabbing a burger, fries and a drink. But eating out is terrible on your diet. You don’t pick ingredients. You get lots of added sugar. It’s more expensive than cooking, which means you buy cheaper crap food for when you do eat at home. Eating out kills your diet, no questions asked.

So learn how to cook. Make a meal plan for the week, buy groceries and stick to it. I used to make a big plate of lasagna and cut it up for lunches during the week. It’s harder to say “I’ll just grab a burger” when your lunch is already packed. When you eat out, skip the appetizer. Also, drop the soda habit. Seriously. It’s empty calories. You get nothing but high fructose corn syrup and other garbage ingredients in soda. Drink water: its free, fills you up and is actually good for you.

Once you start cooking a bit and cutting down on eating out, its time for step 3, actually exercising. Don’t bother with “calorie counting” for exercises. You’ll be dismayed at how few calories you actually burn on a run. Unless you’re a marathoner, you’re not going to burn that super-sized McDonalds off in a 1 mile run. But exercise isn’t really about burning calories during that run. It’s more about building muscle. Just resting, muscle will burn more calories than fat. Exercise boosts your metabolism, so you burn more calories during the day than previous, couch-potato you burned. Plus, with more muscle, you’re more likely to stay active. All those little gains are what makes exercise important in the long run.

So to actually start, get outside and walk. Then get some decent running shoes and jog. Then run a bit. Then, and only then, get a gym membership and start weight lifting. Running or using the elliptical machine might seem like a good idea, but it’ll only get you so far. Lifting weights will build that long term muscle you need. That goes for the girls and the guys. If you’ve never lifted weights, ask for help. Almost every gym has a weight lifting class. Once someone helps you build a routine, download an app to keep track of your exercises and weights. I happen to use Simple Workout Log, but you can use whatever works for you.

The last bit is the simplest and hardest: rinse and repeat. Every day, tell yourself that being fat is going to kill you. Every day, watch your diet, even for those little sugary snacks. Every day, get a bit of exercise in. That’s how you chip away at your weight. That’s how I dropped 30 pounds. It wasn’t overnight, it wasn’t magic, and it didn’t involve a pill. It took discipline and constant little battles to eventually win that large war.

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.

Minecraft makes gaming great again

Best economy ever, for villagers of all professions!

When I tell people that I play video games with my kids, I almost immediately get asked about what my Fortnite character looks like. If you watch TV at all, you’ve probably seen ads for Fortnight, Grand Theft Auto, and a variety of other video games. Almost all are first person shooters, featuring oversized weapons, gratuitous violence, and at least some partial nudity. Given the number of ads on TV, you might think these games are extremely popular.

I don’t play Fortnite, nor do I let my kids play it. While I like my violent video games (Skyrim belongs to the Nords!), my kids and I play Minecraft. You’ve probably seen it at some point. Blocky graphics. Diamond swords. Green and black monsters called creepers. You might think it looks dumb, but its the best selling video game of all time. Plus, rather than teaching your kids to brainlessly slaughter other people, it provides a lot of lessons about the real world.

Prepare to become compost, ISIS wannabe!

A quick Minecraft primer, in case you haven’t played it. It’s a sandbox game, meaning there isn’t really a story or quest to complete. You get dropped into a generated world where you gather blocks (dirt, stone, iron, etc.) and build…whatever you want. There are all sorts of enemies called mobs that can attack you. You can plant farms, cage off and breed animals for food and supplies, and even find villages, where computer controlled villagers will trade with you, using emeralds as the form of currency. There is sort of an end game in that you can find a place called “The End” and fight the Enderdragon, but even after that, the game has no real ending.

Maybe later this iron golem will write a tell-all book about being in the Minecraft special forces

The first thing you learn is that the world is a pretty cruel place. Not unlike our actual world, there are monsters that are content to watch the world burn. Homeless zombies poison you and turn friendly villagers into more zombies. Creepers act like ISIS suicide bombers, sneaking up and exploding, both hurting you and destroying whatever you happened to work on. Endermen, giant black creatures that teleport, will suddenly flip out when you look at them scream and attack you like a triggered college student protester. Especially at night, it feels like you might be safer walking down the streets of San Francisco…wait, never mind, its not quite THAT bad, but its still unnerving.

Minecraft cows chanting “Build the Wall!”

To combat this, you have to care and build defenses. That means you build walls. And you make Minecraft pay for it! You also build a military by creating iron golems, who roam your village and kill attacking bad guys. If you don’t, for some misguided peace loving reason, your villagers will be massacred by either zombies or pillagers, roving bands of characters that destroy any villagers they find. Those walls need gates though, to let in legal immigrants and let you go about your business. Despite threats to the contrary, most of your villagers don’t actually move to Terraria or Canada after you build walls.

Apples and carrots, the backbone of any Minecraft economy

Once your village is protected, spurring the economy is key. Farmers are key villagers that get little respect. Not unlike real America, farmers don’t get a lot of love until there is a shortage. Your villagers can’t breed and create new villagers unless they have enough food and beds, and your farmers will constantly hand food to them at various intervals, without you doing anything. My kids caught this once and it started a conversation about how important farming is overall to our country. Not bad for a game with 8 bit graphics!

The best economy ever, all through trade schools. Why aren’t we funding those instead of “free” college again?

Now you can go and harvest and build everything yourself. You can mine down and find diamonds, which make the best armor and weapons in the game. But its really time consuming, and as my kids are discovering, its far easier to pay an armorer for a diamond chestplate. But that villager doesn’t just start selling diamond armor from the outset. You have to build that villager’s business, buying and selling with him until he is leveled up sufficiently. Once your villagers are leveled up, it becomes quicker to rebuild after a setback. The first time my character died, it took me an hour to build back all the stuff I had lost. Now, it takes a mere ten minutes of trading to be ready to take on the world again.

Even Minecraft has Bernie supporters 🙁

There is one final, sad character I’ve discovered in Minecraft: the Nitwit. He wears a green shirt and roams around your village like every other villager. The Nitwit wakes up later than other villagers and stays out at night later than others. Most importantly, he doesn’t do anything. He can’t trade with you. He doesn’t work a field like a farmer. He doesn’t sell leather, or buy paper, or make maps, or build swords. Nope, he literally walks around, breeds, and takes up a bed. If you go to kill him though, you’ll make the other villagers mad, and your iron golems might attack you.

So you tolerate the nitwit. You hope that maybe someday that person will grow up, attend trade school and be a functioning member of society. Sadly, this is where Minecraft departs reality, because while you can stop supporting Bernie Sanders in real life, Minecraft coding prevents nitwits from changing into something useful. They do provide a convenient moniker whenever your kid’s liberal teacher talks about the “greatness” of liberal ideals. Who knew that Minecraft, created in 2011, could be so predictive of America’s future.

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

Why calling out Russia matters

Maritime Safety Information Bulletin, from the Jacksonville Coast Guard Website

In the midst of all the impeachment news was a Maritime Safety Information Bulletin issued by the Coast Guard concerning the Russian vessel Viktor Leonov, an intelligence surveillance ship that has been prowling the East Coast. The vessel has been in international waters, which while annoying to the United States is in fact very legal. However, unlike in previous years, this year it decided to behave in an unsafe manner. The bulletin spelled it out pretty clearly:

The United States Coast Guard (USCG) has received reports indicating that the RFN VIKTOR LEONOV (AGI-175) has been operating in an unsafe manner while navigating through USCG Sector Jacksonville’s Area of Responsibility. This unsafe operation includes not energizing running lights while in reduced visibility conditions, not responding to hails by commercial vessels attempting to coordinate safe passage and other erratic movements. Vessels transiting these waters should maintain a sharp lookout and use extreme caution when navigating in proximity to this vessel.

Maritime Safety Information Bulletin, U.S. Coast Guard

The VIKTOR LEONOV’s operations should be a lesson as to why we build and maintain a Navy and Coast Guard. Navies aren’t cheap…the 2019 budget for the Navy alone is $194.1 billion dollars. In comparison, the United Kingdom spent about $79 billion on their entire military. The cost of not building a Navy is far worse though. The VIKTOR LEONOV is only a surveillance vessel, but she is likely preparing the battlespace for any future conflict in the Atlantic. The only credible deterrent to her operations is a solid response from a Navy, which she has received since entering the Western Atlantic.

Countries without Navies can’t enforce their Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ). Every country is given exclusive rights over resources within 200 nautical miles of their coast. While that sounds nice in theory, in reality other countries are quick to take advantage of any countries inability to patrol their EEZ. China is exploiting EEZs to illegally fish in the South Pacific and Indian Oceans, as far away as South Africa. Small nations are struggling to keep out the hoardes of Chinese fishermen, who bank on China’s use of economic power to stop any action against their illegal fishing. China has also shown its willingness to illegally drill in another countries waters for oil, which it did in Vietnam in 2014. Even the United Kingdom illegally used waters for fishing, fighting three different “Cod Wars” with Iceland before recognizing Iceland’s EEZ.

A Navy isn’t cheap, but its cheaper to have one than watch another nation plunder your resources. It’s better to fight in waters far away from the Western Atlantic than on your own door step. As tensions continue to rise between the US and peer competitors, the Navy and Coast Guard will be the first to push back against any attempts at aggression on our shores.

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

Does Russia even need a carrier?

Russia’s aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov on fire. Image from Reddit.

Russia’s only aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, is on fire, and not in a good way. A large fire spread throughout the ship during recent welding work, and has so far killed one crew member (likely more, due to the extent of the fire). Anyone that has seen the fires aboard Forrestal can’t help but make an eerie connection.

Fighting the fire aboard the Forrestal. By Official U.S. Navy Photograph – This Image was released by the United States Navy with the ID USN 1124794 1124794#mw-category-media.

You would think this would be big news, but its barely scratched the Google News feed. Given that its Russia’s only carrier, you’d think this might change their Naval strategy or ship building priorities. For Russia though, this might prove to be overall a good thing.

Unlike the United States, Russia doesn’t have nearly the amount of foreign interests around the world. Most of Russia’s interests are right next door to them, in Eastern Europe and the South and Central Asia. These nations don’t require a Navy to reach. When war broke out in Syria and the Kuznetsov couldn’t launch and recover planes, Russia shifted to using other nearby airbases.

This is quite different from the United States, which uses aircraft carriers to project power around the world. The U.S. has multiple islands, two entire states and a number of Caribbean and Pacific territories to defend. Additionally, there are a significant number of Americans overseas, as well as a number of American owned companies that do business around the world. The U.S. needs a Navy to protect all these interests.

Russia’s Navy, in contrast, exists to foil the U.S. Navy. The small Russian economy can’t produce 11 supercarriers. Instead, Russia builds small, extremely capable vessels (such as the Buyan) that are fast, difficult to track and yet carry capable weapons such as the Yakhont anti-ship missile. Russia also builds an extensive and capable submarine fleet, with anti-ship missiles for use against carrier strike groups and fast attack submarines against U.S. ballistic missile submarines.

Remember too that Russia doesn’t need an outright win in any U.S. conflict. It’s sufficient for Russia to slowly take back former Soviet Union territory and keep the U.S. out of a conflict. Georgia and Ukraine are prime examples of Russia “nibbling on the edges of NATO” but keeping the U.S. at bay. In a possible large conflict, Russia would need a quick strike that would hurt the U.S. and convince them to do nothing. A strike on a carrier strike group from a Russian submarine, or an exchange of fire from a small Russian vessel against a NATO surface group, might be sufficient.

So for Russia, it would come as no surprise if they scrap their carrier. It doesn’t fit their naval strategy, and the cost to repair would be far better used building more submarines and smaller, more capable surface vessels. While we might laugh at them for this, given our wasting of money on stealth destroyers that can’t deploy or small ships that can’t fight, perhaps we have something to learn from the Russian Navy.

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.

Investing in Active Shooter training

From Twitter

It’s been a bad week for the Navy. The bad news of two dead in a shooting in Pearl Harbor, HI, followed by three dead from a Saudi flight student in Pensacola is simply devastating. In a less publicized case, a Sailor died after a person ran a gate, traveling 81 miles per hour before he slammed into Petty Officer Oscar Temores’ car, killing him. This follows a string of other shootings in previous years, from the NOSC at Chattanooga, TN in 2015, to the USS Mahan (in Norfolk at the time) in 2014. These aren’t particularly dangerous areas of the country, so what, exactly, is going on?

First, some militarizes in the cases. Most don’t involve legal private firearms. They are either US Navy firearms (Pearl Harbor, Mahan) or illegally obtained weapons (Pensacola). And in all cases, its still illegal to have private firearms on a Navy installation.

Second, there were some warning signs that weren’t followed. The Pearl Harbor shooter was about to go to Mast (equivalent of a court hearing), but was issued a firearm for his watch station. The Virginia Beach gaterunner had multiple law violations before he ran the Little Creek Gate. I’m guessing we’ll find the Pensacola shooter had mental health issues as well.

Lastly, where were the Navy’s police (called Master at Arms)? In all cases, they responded pretty quickly. Nobody can respond instantly though. The Pearl Harbor shooting was over in less than 60 seconds. Police quickly engaged the Pensacola shooter, limiting his damage to 11 people, but if you’re in a big auditorium space with hundreds of people and no instant police, the sad reality is it will take time to lock down, time a shooter can use to murder more victims.

It doesn’t help that the Navy is struggling to recruit young MAs (see the low 2019 numbers here), most of whom are doing the day-to-day “beat” jobs. Less young MAs in cars and at gates, less police presence, and increased police response time. MA jobs have decent promotion chances compared to other ratings, but part of this is likely due to a lack of candidates.

The Navy is spending a lot of effort in conducting active shooter exercises. They’ve become more frequent and more realistic. However, they are always focused on training the police force. But past experience shows a shooting might not last very long, and most people are injured or killed in the initial seconds to minutes. In that case, the quick response by bystanders makes or breaks the encounter. Attacking the shooter in those critical first few seconds may mean the difference between a mass shooting and a few injuries.

Shootings will continue to happen, and given the number of weapons on a base, we can’t stop them. But we can out-think shooters. They’ll expect passive victims that don’t fight back. We shouldn’t give them that.

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.

Was Secretary Spencer any good?

At Sea – Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer, right, speaks with Carrier Strike Group 8 Command Master Chief Petty Officer Michael Bates in the in-port cabin during Spencer’s visit aboard the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman, Feb. 25, 2018. Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Kaysee Lohmann

Now that Secretary Spencer is officially no longer the Navy Secretary, I’m able to openly ask the question: why is everyone up in arms about him being fired? People (military and non-military) were hot and bothered by it on Facebook. Perhaps I’m a cynic, but I’ll ask what should be the most important question: what, exactly, did Secretary Spencer do as SECNAV for two years?

If we judge his tenure by the shape of the Navy, it isn’t pretty. US Ship Force levels have been relatively flat. This is made worse by the continued deployment of ships to respond to, basically, everything around the world. The Joint Staff uses a process called “Global Force Management,” where each Combatant Commander requests presence of different forces. Aircraft Carriers in particular are the subject of much discussion, and when one breaks (like the Harry S. Truman), you have people arguing over how to surge another carrier out, rather than discussing whether a carrier is even needed in the first place. This causes our carriers and other ships to wear out, and given we can’t build them fast enough, we are left with a Navy full of worn out ships and crews.

Secretary Spencer had to have seen this, and yet in two years, we haven’t had any change. His long range ship building plan put us at 355 ships, maybe, in 2030. We’re building 10 ships a year…maybe. While it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison, China is set to overtake the US in ships by 2020. Numbers don’t account for crew readiness and weapon systems, but here again, the US is using relatively expensive weapons while China and Russia crank out increasingly cheaper missiles. Quantity becomes its own quality, and bankrupting the country to win the future fight isn’t a good option.

We could tackle this problem in a lot of ways. Building different ships, for example smaller carriers, would help get more ships to meet global requirements while saving higher-end ships for the big fight. Building a better shipyard infrastructure (getting away from having only a few places we can build Navy ships) could help lower the cost. Sharing ship designs with allies, similar to the F-35 program, could lower cost and make overseas repairs easier. Or perhaps we add in diesel submarines to help bring more submarines to the fight. Or we could build some smaller vessels, like the PCs of old, but with advanced striking power, to get a cheaper vessel that can fight in the littorals (the Littoral Combat Ship is anything but small or cheap).

But we have no innovation. The Long Range Shipbuilding plan sticks to traditional platforms, just calling for more of them. The one different platform, SSGN (converted ballistic submarines that shoot Tomahawk missiles and deploy SEAL teams) are going away, to be replaced by smaller Virginia submarines with specialized modules. Slightly innovative, but not enough to deal with China and Russia, who are designing very different Navies to fight very different wars in the future.

And how is that new carrier catapult working out? Even Bob Work was able to get LCS module price back on track.

We didn’t get much with Secretary Spencer. Our Navy isn’t in great shape, and ground wasn’t laid to make it much better. When the Secretary then decides to openly disagree with his boss, what did he expect would happen? If your boss is telling you to do something, and its not illegal, you get to disagree in private, but if he insists, then you get to resign.

For everyone mad about Secretary Spencer, I have to ask why. Is it because it was Trump that fired him? Did you really think Spencer was doing a good job? Because while I have some issues with Secretary Mattis leaving (I would prefer he stay on), I don’t see how Secretary Spencer was making our Navy great 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.

The problems with Open Source Intelligence

Did you know the Chinese detonated an underwater nuclear device in the South China Sea?!?

Even the Russians are worried!

https://translate.google.com/translate?sl=ru&tl=en&u=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.fontanka.ru%2F2019%2F11%2F22%2F078%2F%3Fref%3Dt

The Chinese are dismissing the claim as coming from some racist website. Well, we don’t believe them, do we?

https://www.scmp.com/news/china/military/article/3039040/us-far-right-bloggers-south-china-sea-explosion-claims

Except…it probably didn’t happen.

https://www.gizmodo.com.au/2019/11/no-china-did-not-secretly-detonate-a-nuke-in-the-south-china-sea-to-signal-the-start-of-wwiii/

The military has been asked more and more often to include news articles, social media and other internet sources into their intelligence analysis. Called Open Source Intelligence (OSINT), this information can sometimes be pretty insightful, especially in the case of Humanitarian Assistance missions, when cultural and long standing issues reported by the media can become central to solving a crisis.

The Russians in particular are great OSINT analyzers. Russian operatives scour over contracts, budget requests and laws in various governments, gleaning information such as weapons requirements that speak to future strategies. While its an often grueling process, it can turn up intelligence that can guide future decisions, without the risk of trying to steal classified documents.

But OSINT suffers from fake news. The above “nuclear explosion” is just one of many dead threads. Old pictures of ships in port passed off as current. Troop movements that just don’t exist. The list goes on, and there is no way to eliminate the fake news from the real news.

There is one age-old trick though: verifying source data. Looking at the metadata stamps on pictures makes it easy to find old material. Reading the data from a medical study debunks many of their wild claims. And in the case of the nuclear explosion, looking at NOAA and other nuclear montioring sites, plus understanding the actual units of radiation measurement, make it easy to see a normal background radiation measurement.

We’ll never ban fake news, but perhaps fake news will make us a more skeptical news consumer.

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.

Hospital pricing, a long overdue change

Hospital pricing, from MSNBC

Going to a hospital is stressful. People generally go that are sick and want to get better. But even if you do, getting the bill in the mail a few days later can often send a shock to your system. After Rebecca died, I did get the final bill (that my insurance gratefully paid for), and the total was almost $100,000. Paying that out of pocket would have been pretty tough.

A little while back, I was visiting friends and one of them told me she had finally paid off the hospital fees associated with her little girl. It was shocking to me, since I’m blessed to have insurance and because her girl was two years old. But her insurance didn’t do a great job of detailing out-of-pocket expenses, so she and her husband got a bill that they just couldn’t pay in one chunk.

Thus, I was really happy to hear the news that President Trump pushed for price transparency rules that require hospitals to post prices. Initiatives like this have been moving forward before with varying degrees of success. Not surprisingly, hospitals and insurance companies are pushing back, but that’s no surprise. Every time an organization can hide their cost model it doesn’t benefit the consumer. Banks were like this years ago, and I’d argue social media sites are in this category now.

The more we learn about how hospitals charge people, the more people will shop around for routine procedures and force larger hospitals to embrace change. The only place this works now is in elective surgery. You can in fact shop around for LASIK eye surgery, and that has kept the surgery within grasp of most Americans, even ones without health insurance. As that same level of transparency gets applied to other areas of health care, we’re going to get better pricing, and stop saddling people with huge hospital debt.

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.