Monday, March 18, 2013


The Chancellor said the financial situation in Cyprus was ‘an example of what happens if you don't show the world that you can pay your way’, adding: ‘We are not part of the bailout.’ Daily Mail

An island of 1.1 million, Cyprus has been a point of contention between Greece and Turkey for decades.  It may now become a flashpoint for the rest of the European Union.

The problem was created when Cyprus went to get bailed out, Germany insisted that the depositors (not the bondholders) pay part of the tab. On Tuesday when the banks open, every depositor will have some or all of their money seized.  According to Business Insider, "Accounts over 100,000 euros will have 9.9% seized. And then the Eurozone's emergency lending facility and the International Monetary Fund will inject 10 billion euros into the banks to allow them to keep operating."

Cypriots tried to run on the ATMs but found them to be shutdown.  This in-turn caused the British military (which maintains a base on the island) to assure their troops and families that they will have cash.  The British are not going to be impressed in this latest financial catastrophe from the EU.

This is where is gets even more interesting, guess who the majority of depositors are?  Greeks?  Turks?  Brits?  No, none of the above. Half of these depositors are said to be Russian oligarchs and other non-residents.  Putin especially has been acquiring vast sums of gold while the world occupies itself with Iran and Syria.  Cypriot banks offered Russia another means of depositing their wealth beyond their borders.

The people of Cyprus are not going to handle this well.  Spain, Italy Ireland and Greece depositors did not lose their money.  Now what if another EU countries even remotely thinks they need a bail out?  Depositors won't wait and will make a run on their banking institutions forcing the banks to go bust.

If this problem reignites the European financial crisis, the EU will have to turn to the United States and the US economy would not be able to handle the strain.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Training for 'all-out war' with the West

A friend called me the other day and asked, "Did you know we are technically at war with North Korea?" He was getting at the cutting of the Red Cross hotline between North and South Korea, as well as the increasing threats Kim Jong Un has been making concluding with the live fire artillery exercise on the border.  However, the US and North Korea have been at war since June 25, 1950 (the beginning of the Korean War).  Wait, some readers may ask, didn't the war end in 1953?  No, a cease fire was agreed to on July27, 1953 but this was not a peace accord, merely a cessation of fighting.  The US and North Korea have been involved in the world's longest stand-off.

The Soviet Union (and now Russia), China and Iran all find it far more advantageous to keep North Korea as a threat to the United States.  As long as North Korea can fire off ballistic missiles or look like it might attack South Korea, the United States can never take its attention completely off of the Korean Peninsula.  This means the US can never fully focus its attention elsewhere (say Syria or Iran).

The posturing going on now is nothing new, typical relations heat up in the spring as the weather thaws on the peninsula leading to assumptions of hostilities beginning in the spring or early summer.  The scenario has been predicted for decades.  What makes this round a little more sinister is the US has never been at war for so long before.  At the same time US forces are stressed, Iran and Syria remain problems that may require military action.  Compounding the problem is a young leader in North Korea (Kim Jong Un) and the first female president in South Korea (Park Geun-hye).  There is no case history to base how these two new leaders will handle conflicts on their border.

North Korea will see the US sequestration as a potential opportunity.  The US military is facing reductions in forces and services due to sequestration.  Ten years of the global war on terror have left US troop battered and tired.  Aircraft and ships are being idled.  Training dollars have been cut which adversely impacts readiness.  If hostilities were ever to re-ignite, now seems an opportune time.

Daily Mail

Monday, March 11, 2013

It has been an interesting week.

Senator Rand Paul filibustered for 13 hours during which time he questioned the Obama Administration policy on drones.  Paul was rewarded for his efforts by having both Senator John McCain and Senator Lindsey Graham (both follow Republicans) tell him to basically sit down and shut-up.  McCain's censure was most egregious when you consider his outspoken commendation of the use of torture under the Bush Administration.  How can the potential use of drones against Americans at home be any less concerning?

Secretary of State John Kerry did not wait long to predictably condemn Iran's nuclear weapons program and frame it as a clear and present danger to the United States (even though any weapons Iran is able to develop can't strike the continental US).  In my opinion, Kerry's comments lead North Korean President Kim Jung Un to declare his country would "mercilessly drive American aggressors off of the peninsula" (yes South Korea, this means you too).  The non-aggression pact may become a thing of the past.

Kerry has not been on the job long enough to make much more of an impact.  Syria is tearing itself apart with little to no impact discernible from US and UN efforts to end the violence.  US and NATO casualties in Afghanistan are at an all time high and Al Qaeda is going through a resurgence.

Perhaps this is what has lead Janet Napolitano to have DHS purchase over 1 billion rounds of ammunition of various calibers and now 2,700 Mine Resistant Armored Protection (MRAP) armored vehicles (source:  DHS has also ordered 7,000 5.56x45mm NATO "personal defense weapons" (PDW).  At the same time, DHS released more than 2,000 illegal immigrants recently released by the Homeland Security Department because of budget cuts (source: Star Tribune).

Remember, Department of Homeland Security consists mainly of the US Customs and Border Protection, US Citizenship and Immigration, US Coast Guard, FEMA, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, US Secret Service, TSA, Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) and the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office.  From this list, I see five or maybe six agencies that are armed.  Out of the five or six on the list that are armed, only the US Coast Guard is a military organization.  The others are strictly law enforcement (the US Coast Guard also has law enforcement powers).

All of the agencies already have budget lines for weapons and ammunition.  The huge stockpile of ammunition by DHS has conspiracy tongues wagging about martial law.  I don't buy that but the huge order is unusual at best unless DHS is anticipating some major insurrections at home.

The acquisition of the MRAPs are much harder to explain.  I can't imagine the streets of say Detroit being mined requiring the use of such vehicles.  Even if some kind of armageddon scenario from the worst 80s movie you could imagine happened, why not just contact your local National Guard or US Army unit and borrow one?  Having 2,700 in your inventory is bizarre and expensive.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Swiss Army knives are allowed

TSA has decided to allow passengers to carry small knives.  The Southwest flight attendants unions feels this is unsafe.  Of course, where was their concern prior to 9/11?  It is ridiculous that these were banned in the first place.  Worse, TSA screeners had to spend time worrying about these items instead of focusing more on behaviors.

Passengers are also no conditioned to be passive to a possible threat the way they were prior to 9/11.  The modern air traveler will not put up with anyone threatening flight crews or fellow passengers.  Terrorists today will also have to worry about air marshals shooting holes in them.  So no, the change in TSA policy isn't going to create more terrorist attacks.  It will make it a little less ridiculous for travelers.

TSA allows knives on planes, flight attendants union calls decision 'dangerous'

Sunday, March 3, 2013


A good friend of mine, who is a self-confessed federalist as well as attorney, would argue that the existence of drones that can spot weapons on people isn't a big deal.  People who aren't doing anything illegal has nothing to worry about.

My problem with this latest development in the domestic use of drones is they are contrary to our most basic legal principle; innocent until proven guilty.  Even though state and federal laws are based on British common law (notable exception being Louisiana which is based on Napoleonic law), the United States differs in that would do not believe a suspect is guilt until proven innocent (as is the case in England).

Drones snooping around in the skies presupposes guilt. The mindset is one that encourages an authoritarian stance by government officials and one of oppression by the public.

I also have a problem with an over reliance on technology that the use of drones encourages.  Drones may be very sophisticated (only to become more so in the future) but they are not omniscient. They cannot tell intent.  They can not determine if it is a single lone gunmen or one of many.  It can only detect.

Spending more money on drones and technology means less will be spent on analyst to interpret what is being observed.  If more drones are operating, they can only be as effective as the number of agents to conduct the arrest procedures.  We are still a few years off (hopefully!) from Robocop, so that means manpower.  What good is it to be able to see that guy in the woods is carrying a weapon if there is no one in the same zip code to arrest him?

Drones are too sexy and contractors stand to make too much money for the clock to be turned back.  We have to keep asking ourselves though what all of this technology means for our quality of life.

DHS built domestic surveillance tech into Predator drones

Friday, March 1, 2013

March the 1st, S-day

Two clips from the AFA Daily Report:

"Sequestration took effect at midnight on March 1, as congressional leaders were unable to broker an 11th-hour deal to prevent it from kicking in. The Pentagon, facing up to the possibility of no deal, has been hoarding cash since mid-January, repeatedly warning that it can't absorb the sequestration cuts without profound effects on the military, especially on readiness. Though war-bound units will have priority, the Air Force will have to lay off or furlough tens of thousands of civilians, and some flying units may be idled for months at a time. Returning those people to proficiency will be a long and difficult process, and in the meantime, the Air Force will indeed be hollow. Sequestration is just part of a "perfect storm" of fiscal crises affecting the service, though, as the never-ending budget continuing resolution and debt ceiling battles also take their toll."

"Air Guard Potentially Grounding Large Fleet Portion: The Air National Guard is facing the likelihood that it will ground or significantly reduce flying hours on a large portion of its fleet by week's end, except for "critical wartime missions," according to the National Guard Bureau. Several sources told the Daily Report that the budget continuing resolution and impending cuts from budget sequestration were about to force the Air Guard to cancel flying hours on all but essential missions if no progress occurred on budget negotiations. Barring any late night deals on Thursday, the sequester kicks in on Friday, March 1. NGB spokeswoman Rose Richeson told the Daily Report that Air Guard funding in the CR, which expires on March 27, "greatly underfunded" flying hours and did not account for the ANG's front-loaded depot maintenance schedule in Fiscal 2013. That's because the CR appropriates at the levels in the President's original Fiscal 2013 defense spending request and does not factor the changes made to that original request in this fiscal year's enacted defense authorization legislation, she said on Feb. 27. The Air Guard has identified cost-saving measures and will operate a reduced number of fully mission-capable and partially mission-capable aircraft "by the end of this week," said Richeson. The most critical missions, such as aerospace control alert, search and rescue, airborne firefighting systems, and pre-deployment activities, will continue to operate, however, she noted."

The impact of the first quote may not be apparent.  Civil servants in the military serve as the continuity that uniformed personnel usually cannot perform.  Uniformed military personnel have to move around for promotion, learn new skills, or help improve unit readiness.  Civilians remain in place and serve as subject matter experts.  Furloughing civilians may have made sense since they do not deploy as part of a warfighting unit.  However, support services and research will be tremendously hampered by these furloughs.  And remember, these furloughs are across the entire federal government (except of course for Congress and the Senate).

The impact of the second quote may even be more arcane.  The Air National Guard is responsible for air defense of the United States.  It was the ANG that scramble F-15 fighters to intercept the airliners on 9-11.  It was the ANG that flew combat air patrols (CAP) over DC and New York.  Reducing flying hours means pilots skills are being compromised.  It means maintenance crews are sitting around idle.  Readiness will be effected and the longer sequestration remains in effect, the longer it will take to get those skills back up to speed.

The myth is that units and personnel being deployed to contingencies won't be effected.  True, those rotations won't be effected but what about the cuts to training that take effect at home station?  Even if the argument is training for deploying troops isn't effected, support and services for those that are not deploying will be cut.  Readiness is still effect.  Why?  If you have not been on an active duty base, many of the functions one would think as being performed by military personnel are actually performed by civilians or contractors.  Furloughs automatically reduce availability of services.

Sequestration will have broad and profound impacts on things we take for granted.  Food inspectors are being furloughed.  This could have the effect of reducing the amount of fresh produce available which will increase the cost at the grocery.  Federal law enforcement will be affected even if sworn personnel aren't cut, their support personnel (technicians, clerical, maintenance) will be subject to furloughs.

The ability for the United States to respond to a national disaster or attack is now greatly compromised.