Wednesday, April 1, 2020

How do you replace two carriers at the same time? And other questions from the pandemic

Beginning my military career in 1985 meant starting amidst the Reagan build-up of the military.  We had more planes, ships, bases, and personnel then ever to thwart the Soviet Union.  It also meant that there was an inherant swagger amongst the military.  Reagan's build-up had help overcome the stigma of military service that was rampant just 10 years earlier during and immediately after the Vietnam war.

Perhaps it is the lingering of effects of those heady days that cause me to react with such uttering incomprehension at the following; both of the US Navy carriers on station in the Pacific have been forced to port due to the coronavirus. Both  CVN-71 USS Theodore Roosevelt  and CVN-76 USS Ronald Reagan crews have succumbed to the coronavirus.  Two of our nuclear powered carriers, the ultimate expression of US military power projection, guarded by the most sophisticated destroyers, frigates and attack submarines the world has ever known rendered useless by a virus.

The wildest war times scenarios of an attack by the Soviets always involved large scale attacks or the use of nuclear weapons.  Attacks post the Soviet Union saw more asymmetrical attacks via terrorists or cyber warfare.  In none of these cases was it ever imagined that the entire Pacific fleet would be sent to their home ports to wait out a virus.

For those keeping score, the leaves CVN-72 USS Abraham Lincoln the only carrier still afloat (albeit in the Middle East), at least for now.  The rest of the US carries are in various stages of maintenance back home.  This is unimaginable for unlike being attacked or damage, with the pandemic taking out our ships there is no get well date.  We can just dispatch another carrier in the blink of an eye and even if we could, there is no saying that their crews would not succumb to the pandemic as well.

These are truly ugly times.  My last few posts have been more about the pandemic from the perspective of how it effects everyday life.  Now looking at how our military capabilities are also being effected is very unsettling.  The US Air Force and US Army are experiencing outbreaks at their bases as well.  So far the effects on their mission capabilities are unknown.  In the case of both of these branches, they will also have to compete with states governors who are deploying Army and Air National Guard resources in response to the pandemic.

The US Air Force spent a lot of time and money on me to learn how to think through all types of scenarios.  I must admit, this one has me stumped.  There is no end date, as more people succumb more capabilities will be reduced or lost and there is no reserve to call upon for they are subjected to the same limiting factors.  Worse is how the pandemic is effecting our combat support, logistics and medical.  Military and civilian healthcare workers are being pushed to the brink.  Truck drivers, cargo pilots, material handlers, port workers, and even grocers are all facing a reduction in capability as more and more of their workers succumb.

The best option I see is trying to keep those personnel not already sick as healthy as possible for as long as possible in hopes that those that are sick now recover soon.  Shelter in place, exercise and eat right.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

The New Normal version 2020

The "New Normal" was a term born of the days right after 9/11 to describe how drastically things had changed and that we would not be going back to the old normal.  The days immediately following the attacks saw aircraft grounded across the country.  Entrance to federal facilities were restricted to absolutely the most essential personnel (another term you hear today from that time).  Everyone was on edge waiting for the next attack.

Some twenty years later and we are seeing the same things again.  Businesses closed.  Those that are open are deemed "essential" and only "essential personnel" are working.  Unlike 9/11, medical personnel are being pushed to the limits and by most models, we are still weeks away from the peak.  People are quarantined in their homes to varying degrees across the globe.  Here in Ohio, we are allowed out for walks, grocery shopping and doctors appointments.  In DC, there is now a $500 fine for being caught outside your home.

All of this and more is leading to a new normal, one unlike what we saw with 9/11.  First is the huge economic impact from the cancellation of professional sports seasons to the shuttering of the Big Three automakers.  Many restaurants have closed due to a lack of staffing.  Those that are still running have to rely strictly on carry-out/delivery service to stay afloat.  This has prompted Taco Bell to consider even after the pandemic to switch to an all-drive thru/delivery format.

Major League Baseball (MLB) is still trying to figure out how to have its 2020 season.  The latest idea is to have a compressed season with a late start in June...and no crowds!  As foreign as that idea is, to have professional baseball played in empty stadiums, what is even stranger is everyone's acceptance of the inevitability of this scenario.

Of course the politicians are all trying to outdo each other in a race to stem the pandemic without alienating their core constituents.  This lead to a very interesting and ugly confrontation over the weekend.  President Trump, a native New Yorker, decided the situation in his home state had become out of control.  Trump's go-to policy of insults via Twitter against New York Governor Cuomo had failed.  Trump facing an alarming crisis with a failing economy and going into re-election (something that seems so insignificant now) had to up his game.  Trump decided to that it was best to isolate the entire state of New York.

Governor Cuomo is also a lifelong New Yorker and did not back down and upped his own game by announcing quite publicly that any such move to isolate the state of New York by the Trump Administration would be nothing short of a declaration of war!  President Trump, unusual for his normal bluster, back-tracked and instead issue a travel advisory.

What the media and general public missed is a confrontation between an overzealous federal government and state government.  The exact situation the framers of the Constitution foresaw in creating the 2nd not the part about bearing arms, the part about a well regulated militia.  Trump and his administration learned why each state has a National Guard and unfortunately for Trump, New York has one of the largest National Guards in the country!

The Trump Administration isn't the only government that has tested the limits of authority under the new normal.  Serbia seems to be following suite.  Israel has also taken extreme measures to restrict the flow of its citizens.  Most concerning, is more and more countries (including the US) are trying to get a handle on what they deem as "fake news" by monitoring, filtering or outright shutting down social media.  In these times, social media has become the de facto way of assembling to share political discourse.  We should all be worried about governments capriciously shutting down communications under the guise of the new normal and protecting the citizens.

There is much more to cover but I want to leave you with one final thought.  We have been told repeatedly to wash our hands as the best means of preventing the spread of the virus.  Yet we still have to buy food which we pay for often times in cash.  Even elementary school students now that cash is one of the dirtiest things we handle during the day and you always wash your hands after handling cash.  Don't be surprised if the US digital dollar doesn't make another appearance down the road.  If not to help prevent the spread of pandemic disease, then at least to help curtail the illegal businesses that are sure to develop during this global lockdown.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Potential Martial Law?

Noise and panic caused by the response to the pandemic makes it hard to sort out the truth from the hype.  Regardless, the appearance of this article supports a concern I have had now for several days.  As we continue to see more and more austere restrictions being placed on the American public (and as Mark Osterholm has stated, "Quarantine without criteria"), you have to wonder how much longer before we inevitably land at martial law.

Newsweek just published an article entitled "The Military's Top Secret Plan If Coronavirus Cripples the Government". It should not surprise anyone familiar with the government and the military that such contingency plans exist.  What is concerning is that someone felt it necessary to share the existence of these plans with a journalist.  Or perhaps it is just a psyop move to test the public's reaction to martial law?

In either case, now is not the time to dismiss such articles as the work of "liberals" or "conspiracy nuts" as the plans for continuity of operations are very real (I know, we were working on these during the preparations for the avian flu 15 years ago).  Unlike other scenarios, the threat from coronavirus means that essential all of the government leaders are vulnerable and come succumb to infection at the same time and/or die.  This would create an almost unimaginable situation where the military assumes command of the US government from civilian leaders.  The US has always had civilian control of the military, reversing could have long-term consequences for our country.

The real question that needs to be asked before it becomes too late is if we were to go under martial law, what conditions need to exist before we see marital law being lifted?  If civilian leadership is replaced by the military, how long will that exist? How would the US civilian government be reconstructed?  Here in Ohio we just had to postpone the primary elections due to concerns about the pandemic.  What if those conditions continue to exist and the aren't allowed out to vote a new government in for an extended period of time?

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

March 18, 2020, still wash your hands!

Here in Ohio we are more or less shutdown (barring what the governor says at his 2:00 conference).  Nationally we've seen the NBA cancel, the NCAA tournaments cancelled. NHL cancel, the MLS cancel, MLB postpone opening day, and the E3 conference cancel.  Most schools have closed switching to on-line delivery of lessons.  Bars and restaurants have closed, going to carryout or delivery options only.

Despite this, I'm still seeing some social media posts that refuse to believe the severity of this crisis.  As of this post, Ohio has 67 confirmed cases in 16 counties (like here).  The naysayers point to these numbers as proof that the measures taken in Ohio are disproportianate to the cases.  What they seem to be missing or unwilling to accept is that those low numbers of infection are due to the extreme measures taken by the governor.  (And no, postponing the March 17th primary to June 2nd doesn't deny your constitutional rights.  If you are bothered by this, maybe next time get your dead ass into the Board of Elections and vote early!)

I saw another post pointing out that the Chinese coronavirus hospitals are closing (link here). So see coronavirus is already over they conclude.  There are several things wrong with this conclusion.  First and foremost, we know China withheld critical information at the beginning of the outbreak.  What makes these social media experts feel that China is now telling the truth?  Perhaps China is closing the hospitals simply for the optics to prevent their economy from collapsing.  The other problem with FB expert posts concluding the worst is over is perhaps the Wuhan situation has already burned through everyone it can kill, the rest are now carriers.  Finally, just because Wuhan is apparently recovering that doesn't mean the rest of China is.

Let's just say the news about Wuhan is accurate and truthful, that doesn't mean we should drop our guard.  Yes people are losing wages.  Yes I know you're already tired of spending this much time home with your spouse and kids without any distractions (the release of Black Widow and several other blockbusters have been pushed back MONTHS!).  Yes I know that suddenly toilet paper and hand sanitizer have become black market gold.  Take this time to relax and realize by staying home you and your family are helping to prevent coronavirus from spreading.

Here in Dubtown, a positive side of the shelter in place protocols has been a significant decrease in the homeless population roaming our streets aimlessly.  Also people do seem to be much more focused on helping each other and local businesses so there are some good points to remember as well.

Take this time to read.  Watch or take some on-line courses.  Get outside and breath some fresh air.  Stop worrying about what China or other countries are doing and focus on this one.  And while you're at it, don't forget to wash your hands!

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Coronavirus 2020

You step away from the keyboard for a while and then when you come back, all hell has broken loose.  Coronavirus has hit the collective minds of the smart phone carrying generation with a fury that it will likely not be able to match in reality.

For reasons that elude me, coronavirus has terrorized the  attention of the American public more than the seasonal flu.  According to the CDC and US Health Dept, on average 10,000 or more die every year from the seasonal flu.  That's more than all of the coronavirus deaths combined so far (yes, I know China very forthcoming with data but then why the panic?) yet coronavirus has captured that minds of the public like nothing since the ebola break out a few years ago.

From a sociological point of view, this seems to be rooted in the distrust of all things Chinese.  Chinese produced pet foods a few years ago earned a bad reputation for being manufactured with ingredients that were harmful to pets.  Chinese manufactured products don't have the best reputation for quality control.  China's reputation for human rights abuses (think Tiananmen Massacre in 1989 or the continual riots in Hong Kong) creates a lack of trust in how the Chinese government will deal with a pandemic illness.  Therefore when details of coronavirus first started making the news, most assumed that the Chinese would cover up the information.

The United States and the American public has become extremely polarized under Trump.  You are either for or against, right or left, Republican or Democrat.  No middle road tolerated anymore thank you very much.  Just look at the Democratic candidates going into Super Tuesday.  All moderate candidates have had to sit down and allow Joe Biden to try to save the Democrats from the socialist Bernie Sanders.  The same polarization effects how you perceive coronavirus.  You are either terrified that it will be a global pandemic wiping out mankind or it is nothing more than an over-hyped cold (the same way people view climate change).

How the coronavirus will spread and the severity of its spread remains to be seen, however its economic impacts are already being felt.  Of all places, we can see this hitting Hollywood.  The latest James Bond movie Chinese opening is being delayed indefinitely. No one is going to the movies in China for fear of catching coronavirus.  This means the biggest overseas market for movies is effectively shutdown.  To give you an idea, Avengers Endgame could never have achieved is record breaking $2 billion without China.  The Hollywood types are scared their blockbuster movies won't be able to make back nearly as much money without the Chinese market.

Think about what a shutdown China means to our economy.  We use Chinese manufactured technology everyday, most of our clothing is manufactured in China, as well as auto components, and food.  Prices are going to go up for consumer goods regardless of how severe coronavirus really is.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

The Danger of Logical Fallacies

First, it was the Jesuits at St. Xavier who challenged me to ask "why is what your saying correct?".  Debate team further honed my ability to look at opposing arguments to better understand how to craft my response to their critiques of my position.  At the University of Cincinnati, I met people not only from different walks of life but also from other countries which taught me how to broaden my world view.  Courses in philosophy and history taught me to realize that the future rarely looks like the past.

The US Air Force spent 22 years sending me to various schools (intelligence applications, air-ground operations school, Squadron Officer School, Air Command and Staff College, Air War College) and various training seminars to learn about our past so that we would not make the same mistakes in the future.  Yeah, there are a lot of people responsible for teaching me to think and challenge what you think you know and to recognize when there is a logical fallacy.

Therefore, it comes as a bit of a disappointment that a US Army major has an article published that claims the Millennial Generation (or simply Millennials) are our Achilles Heel.  Yes, Millennials are digital adepts with different expectations than previous generations yet the Cavanaugh makes a surprising logical fallacy.  Namely, he condemns a newer generation mainly because it does not resemble the previous generations of recruits entering the military.

What is so surprising about his rather myopic view is he is writing about what it will take to win future wars, not past wars.  Wars up to and including the Vietnam War were manpower intensive despite increasing technological improvements.  Therefore having a large number of fit, disciplined and primarily male troops was a must.  However, conflicts since Desert Storm increasingly used technology not just to enhance troop performance but actually replace it.

In the First World War, so many troops died because generals were still trying to use Napoleonic tactics (long horizontal lines of soldiers charging one another) despite the innovation of the machine gun.  Even after encountering heavy losses due to machine gun emplacements, generals continued to hold fast to the old instead of coming up with new tactics.

Cavanaugh is guilty of similarly holding a newer generation to the same standard as his generation.  After all, his generation was prepared to deal with modern warfare by being physically fit, educated, disciplined and not dependent on technology so why shouldn't a younger generation?

However, are we preparing to fight the last war or the next war?  North Korea, Iran, China and Russia are our most likely opponents in any future conflict.  Out of those, only China can match our manufacturing capability but has thus far not been able to outmatch our military technology.  But a much better question is what do we think they even want to?

The digital world populated by the Millennials that Cavanaugh holds in such contempt is where the next battlefield will occur.  He correctly assesses that something like a cyber attack or massive electro-magnetic pulse (EMP) will cripple us and thus he feels will leave the technologically dependent millennials lost in the mayhem.

Of course if we stop using a strawman argument and actually think about the scenario, who do we think is developing those cyber weapons to attack us?  Most likely the very Millennials that Cavanaugh eschews!

Cavanaugh is not the only critic of Millennials by far and I'm not even really defending them.  My real point in this post is to show how logical fallacies can lead to seemingly expert opinions when in fact they are just regurgitating past tropes with nothing new to show for them.

Our political discourse has been reduced to nothing more than ad hominem arguments.  Rather than attacking a position, we hurl "Libtard" or "Trump Supporter" at each other.  We now view our news, celebrities, and issues strictly in an "us or them" mentality without regard to any merits of the other side.  Iran is an enemy because they are Muslim.  North Korea is an enemy because they have nuclear weapons.  China is an enemy because they are building bases outside their borders (know anyone else who does that?).  Russia is an enemy because it interfered with our elections (know anyone else who does that?). 

So the next time you find yourself about to enter into a Facebook or Twitter war, try to understand what the points are of the person you're pissed off at.  You just might find you have more in common than you realize and may, just may, be able to convince them to at least consider your point of view as well.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Chaos and nonsense

Upon his return from Helsinki, Mr. Trump flip-flopped (remember when that pejorative was used freely by conservative pundits to deride Mr. Obama and Hillary Clinton?  I wonder what happened....) his press conference comments  to the point I'm not certain he knows what he meant.  So rather than learn a lesson, he immediately went back into attack  mode on the NFL.

Meanwhile, nothing has changed in regards to North Korea which still possesses nuclear weapons.  NATO which still is spending the same amount of their GDP as before.  The EU has kissed American trade good-bye and won't be coming back.  We are still dropping tons of bombs on Syria with no end in sight.  But just in case you're not tired of winning,  Mr. Trump and his lackey John Bolton have decided to dust off the old chestnut of a "the danger of a nuclear armed Iran".

Since the inception of the Bush "Axis of Evil" and continuing through the Clinton era at the State Department, the scare tactic has been to pronounce Iran as a Middle Eastern (read Muslim) nation hellbent on acquiring nuclear weapons specifically to attack the US and Israel.  John Bolton continues this nonsense with his hawkish assessments of Iran.  Why do I say nonsense?  If we stop threatening Iran, they just might go about their business and forget that whole Shah of Iran stuff.

Oh wait, you mean when they took over our embassy in Tehran for 444 days?  Well yeah but in order to understand something that happened nearly 40 years ago, we have to go even further back in time.  All the way in fact to 1908 ad the founding of a company called the Anglo-Persian Oil Company.  A British millionaire assumed exclusive rights to prospect for oil for 60 years in Iran (Persia).  In exchange, the Shah received the equivalent of $2 million. 

The need for the Royal Navy to modernize from coal powered steamships and use oil instead meant that people such as Winston Churchill wanted to control their own oil supply and sever the British reliance on Royal Dutch Shell (this sounds awfully familiar for some reason?).  The Iranians wanted to have control of their own profits which of course were at odds with British national security interests. 

Lots of broken promises on both sides leads us to around 1941 when both the British and Soviets (yes Virginia, the Soviets were our Allies in WWII) invading and occupying Iran in order to secure oilfields and open a secure route to the USSR.  This resulted in Reza Shah being forced to abdicate in favor of his more western friendly son.  Naturally all of these shenanigans lead to a huge increase in Iranian nationalism.  Mohammed Mossadegh was elected Prime Minister and was a staunch champion of the Iranian nationalist movement. 

In a strange twist, Mossadegh was invited to the US in 1951 a brokered a deal that was very favorable for both the US and Iran.  However, the deal was dependent on the UK which believed Mossadegh was a lame duck.  Mossadegh was even more popular with the Iranian citizens than ever before, however by the British boycotting Iranian oil it meant that Iranians were poorer than ever. 

This was all portrayed by the US and UK as being very dangerous to their respective national security thus was hatched a plan lead by the CIA to oust the much more popular and democratically elected Prime Minister Mossadegh and replace him with Shah Pavlavi (Reza Shah's son).

By 1954, with the pro-Western Shah Pavlavi in place, the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company became British Petroleum or what most of us know today as BP.  In order to appease those that put him power, Shah Pavlavi created the SAVAK or Iranian secret police which committed all manner of torture, kidnappings and assassinations in their attempt to put out the Iranian nationalist movement.

Of course this only further incited the Iranian people who wanted the Shah out and led to the takeover of the US Embassy in Tehran.  The Shah was exiled in disgrace and Ayatollah Khomeini taking over as leader. 

That much abridged history lesson of US involvement in Iran is why I stated earlier, Mr. Trump and John Bolton need to just ignore Iran.  The history of the US in this region makes our motives appear disingenuous at best and a chance to rehash the past at worst.  Oh and we really don't need Iran's oil for our national security.  If you Google top 10 oil-producing countries the number 1 spot is held by the US at 15,599,000 barrel per day!  Iran in comparison produces only around 4,6669,000 bpd which is even less than those unruly Canadians at 4,984,000 bpd.