Wednesday, March 30, 2011

What If They Gave a War and Nobody Wore a Uniform?

Anybody who thinks we are not at war with Libya just does not understand how we wage war. 

The  911 Commission recommended that covert operations be moved from the CIA to the US military.  Rumsfeld wanted this, wanted CIA resources to report to him, and set up a special intel division of the Pentagon to run the lash up.  My best guess is that he was going to give the mission to Joint Special Ops and have them report directly to him, maybe or maybe not informing the CJCS.  But the CIA won this fight and has enlarged its clandestine services.  Every time I am in DC I am struck by how many radio ads I hear encouraging people to apply for these jobs. Yet the CIA has very limited major weapons systems, so my guess (and remember, I am just an interested guy watching open source stuff) is that the 911 Commission's recommendation has been inverted.  Military assets are now supporting CIA ops rather than the other way round.

Again this is my best guess about what we are seeing in press reports about Libya.  If the Prez in fact signed a finding to send the CIA to Libya on the ground, and if AC-130s are conducting coordinated strikes, and if CIA operatives helped rescue the down F-15 pilots, etc etc etc . . . then there is no question that we have "troops" on the ground.  The only question is whether or not they are wearing uniforms.

I guess the uniform question matters in that even if we have a lot of people on the ground (I think the Woodward book said there were several hundred CIA ops and about the same specops on the ground in Astan in 2001) we can pretend that it is not a war as long as they are wearing LL Bean boots and not GI boots.  The prestige of the US is not really at stake until a guy with a shoulder patch shows up.

But the Libyans know we are at war.  And so do all our other friends and enemies and undecideds around the globe.  And here is the problem with war -- you can't afford to lose.  If you commit yourself and have to back off, then your opponents smell blood in the water.  Always attack weakness.

And so here we are.  The President has committed us to war with boots on the ground in Libya.  And as a smart guy said on TV tonight, "You can't deliver weapons by UPS.  And the rebels can't train themselves to use the new stuff.  Especially if it requires ground to air coordination."

We had better figure out how to win it, or at least how to pretend it is a win. Because we are in it now, for better or for worse.

CIA Sends Teams to Libya; US Considers Rebel Aid
Mar 30, 2011 – 8:45 PM

Friday, March 18, 2011

Before the US Picks Up the Libyan Burden

Now that representatives to the United Nations have courageously voted for somebody else to go do something about Gaddafi’s murderous treatment of his own people, they can return to their snug apartments in New York City and leave it to members of some nation’s military forces to do the dangerous part. But whose husbands, wives, children and parents should go in harm’s way to solve this problem?
Well one solution would be for the nations that sold this lunatic the aircraft, air defense systems, tanks, artillery and ammunition that he has been using to put down the democratic revolution. It would certainly be just for Russia to spend its money and risk its forces to clean up the mess it created. And the prospect of watching the decrepit Bear with its fantasies of international relevance struggle across the Mediterranean to put down the monster it created is enticing.  But in this case it is probably wise to leave the lid firmly in place in the ash can of history.
But somebody has to fly multiple bombing missions through hostile air defenses, destroy the missile and radar sites, intimidate the ground forces into a cease fire and withdrawal, and roll them back if they resist.  Once engaged, somebody has to provide additional forces if Gaddafi calls their bluff or raises the ante.  Somebody has to be prepared to fight and win at the cost of blood and treasure.  Who should it be?
Here is my pick for the “Final Four” to play the bloody game:  #1 Italy #2 Malta #3 France #4 Spain. These are the nations that intervened to save the dictator 25 years ago when President Reagan sent American aircraft and crews to “send a message” in response to a Libyan terror attack in Berlin.
Just to remind us all of the behavior of this international outlaw – Gaddafi actively supported the Red Brigade, Red Army Faction, and other terrorist groups around the world.  In 1986 Libyan agents operating out of East Germany attacked a disco frequented by US troops in Berlin. In response to this and numerous previous attacks, President Reagan ordered Operation Eldorado Canyon.  More than 40 aircraft from carriers and bases in Great Britain mounted the attack against multiple targets. Bombs narrowly missed Gaddafi himself.
This miss is not surprising since a senior Italian politician warned Gaddafi of the impending attack, and the Prime Minister of Malta called to advise him when aircraft were on the way.  France and Spain refused to allow the US to cross their airspace, adding 1300 miles and several hours to the raid each way, and requiring additional mid-air refueling.  Two US Air Force pilots were killed by the waiting air defenses.
While it would be great to see these representatives of the UN’s moral authority spring into action, many are already calling for the US to be involved.  My answer is “not so fast.”
After our attack in 1986, the UN General Assembly adopted resolution 41/38 which condemned the US action as “a violation of the Charter of the United Nations and of international law." Our current President has been big on issuing American apologies to many others in the world.  Here is a great opportunity for him to extract an apology from the UN – and an admission of mistake from the four “friends” who betrayed us 25 years ago -- before committing any US personnel to this endeavor.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

When Somebody Else's Chickens Come Home to Roost

Randy Larsen (see  )    has long observed that natural disasters actually seem to stimulate the economy, as people replace homes, businesses, etc.  Well here is his observation played out on a global scale.
Turns out that a record earthquake, terrible tsunami, and multiple nuclear disasters have driven the value of the Japanese currency UP dramatically -- so high that their economic recovery may be hampered because their exports will cost so much.  Why would the value of the Yen go UP after such disasters?
Answer:  Because investors all over the world have confidence that Japan will rebuild. In the process they will cash out bonds around the globe (especially in the US) and received huge payouts from insurance.  So there will be a lot of cash flowing toward Japan, and a lot of economic activity as they rebuild.  (Good time to own cement or wood production, by the way.)
And as a result, the value of the US dollar is down, as people anticipate that we will have to pay higher interest to fund the debt instruments that Japan will cash in. 
Turns out it is hard to avoid the consequences of irresponsible behavior on our part.  see
And by the way - the destruction and human loss in Japan are beyond words.  But from a strategic perspective, expect them to come back stronger than before, as old means of production are replaced with state of the art equipment and processes.  Their human losses cannot be replaced.  But their responsible behavior will be rewarded in the long run.
To donate to Japan relief see 

Monday, March 14, 2011

30 min Interview on US Global Strategic Situation

In February 2011 Dr Dave McIntyre had a 30 min interview with Bill Oliver of WTAW on the turmoil in the Mideast, and the global security situation as a whole.  Copy and paste

Sunday, March 13, 2011

A Complex and Uncertain Story: The Importance of the Japanese Reactors

In trying to decipher the conflicting reports over the Japanese reactors, the most important single point to understand is this:  nuclear issues are complex and uncertain – they defy short simple explanations.  For example, the outcome of an event in a reactor built over a water table 50 feet deep might be entirely different  if the same reactor were built over a water table 350 feet deep.  Radioactive particles that can be brushed from your skin without danger might cause a horrible death if you swallowed them. Different people might react quite differently to the same dosage of radiation. What gives one cancer might not affect the second at all – and might cause a genetic defect in the children of a third. The situation is ripe for dueling 60 second messages on TV, and is likely to leave audiences confused and skeptical.
Additionally, despite official pronouncements, we do not know the actual status of the reactors in question.  Is the sea water used for emergency cooling being contained, or running back to the ocean with its load of radioactive materials?  We just don’t know.  But here are some things we do know.
First – how the reactors in question work.  Left to itself, the specially blended radioactive “fuel” in reactors gets very hot. Water cools this heat and in the process is converted to steam which spins turbines with its high pressure. The turbines spin generators that make electricity. In the process the steam is cooled back into water that goes back into the reactor to cool it again, and again be converted into steam for the turbine.
This system is quite clean and quite safe. 
·         As long as the decayed fuel “waste” is disposed of.
·         And as long as the closed loop of fuel and radioactive water is not breeched by attack or accident.
Concerning Waste:  At nuclear power plants waste is held underwater in a “cooling pond” until it can be collected and buried deep in a safe location. In the US, one location (Yucca Mountain in Nevada) has been certified and prepared for such waste storage at a huge taxpayer cost. But Senator Harry Reid of Nevada has blocked use of the facility.  So waste is building up in cooling ponds nationwide. In Japan, the status of the cooling ponds at the damaged reactors is unknown. 
Concerning Accidents:  Western designed nuclear power plants have multiple redundant safety features.  In a crisis, “control rods” that absorb energy and reduce heat and power are quickly and automatically inserted. Additional pumps driven by special back up systems kick on automatically to provide additional cooling water. A double walled “containment faculty” keeps pressure in check around the hot core. Multiple other highly reliable systems surround the critical parts of the reactor.
Concerning Attack:  All the critical elements that protect against accident receive double security against attack.  The famous containment “domes” that mark many plants are safe against any but the most direct attack by penetrating bombs available only to nation states.  Pipes, pumps, etc. are protected from ground attack by platoons of specially trained security forces.  Drills are conducted frequently. No defense is foolproof, but the defense of nuclear power plants comes pretty close.
HOWEVER – Human error is always a concern. It cannot be completely eliminated. For example, at Three Mile Island, faulty sensors caused operators to react inappropriately and override the automatic safety systems.  And at Chernobyl operators made even greater mistakes, shutting off safety systems to “test” them, without the robust protective measures of Western reactors.
The problems of accident and error may be compounded when multiple crises cause multiple failures. Measures adequate for even the strongest earthquake (like back up pumps, communications, and generating systems) may fail in the face of a tsunami. And plans for a tsunami may count on outside experts and supplies not available when an earthquake (or a storm, or a volcano, etc.) isolate the site of the disaster. When cascading failures raise unanticipated problems, spur of the moment solutions (like pumping in seawater) may turn out to be errors that cause unanticipated consequences of their own.
And an attack can be worse because an adaptive enemy may be working as hard to frustrate your emergency plans as you are to put them in place.  For example, they might ambush experts coming to help, delaying response and  destroying irreplaceable  expertise.
Well what is the range of problems experts are dealing with in Japan?  How bad can it get?  Please see paragraph two  above:  nuclear issues are complex and uncertain – they defy short simple explanations.” 
The good news is that even in the worst case, this is not likely to look like Hiroshima – that’s not what a meltdown does.  The bad news is that in the best case some radiation is going to hurt somebody, impact life in other countries, and cause an intense, scary and emotional debate about the future of nuclear power .  Advocates are likely to lose. The price of oil, gas and coal will jump as a result.
To provide a bit more detail:
·         In the best case, some radioactive vapor has already escaped into the atmosphere, ash from a containment explosion has drifted downwind, and seawater is washing over a radioactive core to cool it.  Where to you think radioactive vapor, particles and seawater are going? Nobody is going to be producing food, drinking milk, or eating fish from impacted areas for a while.  After Chernobyl, “impacted areas” included many far away countries.
·         In the worst case, the core will be exposed, burn at 5000 degrees Fahrenheit, pass through the cement building holding it, the rock below, and eventually hit ground water where a flash steam explosion might distribute it for thousands of miles (if particles are picked up in the upper atmosphere).
At least for now everyone (including the press and even anti-nuclear groups) is holding off on hysterical pronouncements, because they also know that  nuclear issues are complex and uncertain – they defy short simple explanations.”    But make no mistake, despite being wrong, the short simple explanations will be coming from both sides.  Unless pronuclear forces launch a very clever and convincing campaign, the scary “it could happen here” pitch is likely to win.  And that means a big reduction in power available in the US and elsewhere, along with a big price increase for all other energy.
No matter how this story turns out for Japan, the strategic implications for the US are expensive.
To donate to disaster assistance contact .

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The More Things Change . . .

The more things change, the more they stay the same
When I enter the Army (back during the Indian Fighting days of 1967), the PT test as i recall it had 5 items:  push ups, grenade throw, overhead rungs, run dodge and jump, and 1 mile run. 
Over the next several years items were added and subtracted for various reasons.  The grenade throw gave way to the low crawl, which gave way to the crab walk (who thought that one up?). The run dodge and jump was replaced by the 150 yard man carry.  (wow - big hump - especially for little guys carrying a member of the football team)  The one mile run became the two mile run.  Sometimes other events came and went -- like the standing broad jump.  Or pull ups for the airborne.  Or the 600 meter shuttle run for staff officers. (I am cramming 20 years into one paragraph here - but the overall story is correct.)
When the war was over the Army had more time to focus on physical fitness. One thing they quickly learned was that in some of the many locations scattered around the world, requiring any facilities at all (like overhead rungs, lanes for low crawl, etc.), was counter productive. If commanders did not have the facilities to do the test right, sometimes they skipped it completely. So over time, senior leaders finally reached the conclusion that a standard test anybody could administer anywhere was better than a tougher test that some people could not or would not do.  And the eventual solution was a 3 event test: push ups, sit ups, and 2 mile run.  Rejiggering the standards for age and sex has continued for years, but the events have been standardized Army wide for a long time.
Along the way the Armor School at Ft Knox (where tank and armored warfare were once taught) had the interesting idea of refocusing the physical test on tasks more related to those expected of armored crews in combat - like breaking track or carrying heavy parts. With the post-Vietnam (which means up to Desert Storm) Army more focused on instilling discipline than uniformity, junior leaders actually had quite a bit of flexibility. And in our armored cavalry unit in Germany we took the idea of combat related physical training much farther. We introduced the two man stretcher-carry, the three man machine-gun-and-ammo-carry-and- set-up, and the road wheel dash. Eventually standardization won out, of course. And it has been push ups, sit ups, and 2 mile run for decades now. 
Or perhaps "until now," since according to an AP report the Army is instituting new tests including a 180 pound drag (simulating a wounded soldier) and a combination shuttle run and broad jump, (simulating a combination shuttle run and broad jump).   See
Breaking the tradition of old soldiers, I have no complaints about this change. Hey if it works, great.  If not, change it again.  But I can't help observe that all old ideas eventually seem new again. I thought of this last week when Sec Def Gates announced that after this war, the US will not put troops on the ground in Asia or the Mideast again. So we won't really need a traditional army in the future. 
Like the shuttle run and the wounded soldier carry, seems like I have seen that one before.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Federal Reserve Too Smart or Too Dumb?

Charles Hugh Smith posted a very interesting article at Daily Finance on 02/23/11.  In the first half of the essay he makes a convincing argument that inflation is spiking worldwide.  In the second half he explains why the Federal Reserve gets the blame.

For those not familiar with business terms, the explanation of the “Business Cycle” will be informative. My only criticism is that he skips over one important point. While a cycle of boom and bust is part of the DNA of capitalism, the length of stability, the size of the artificial boom, and the depth of the bust are influenced by human decisions.  More caution and hard work do make things better for longer; more greed and irresponsible risk do make things worse quicker.

But the more important point is that in an effort to eliminate the Business Cycle (a perennial socialist dream) the Fed has created a problem that has no easy way out.  Under capitalism, easy money is its own punishment; cautious investment its own reward.  But the Fed’s policies have pumped more money into the system without punishing and cleaning up the behavior of the past. Result: long term investors are stuck with debt while short term speculators are flush with cash.  Their speculation drives prices up but without a rise in jobs and productivity. So we get “stagflation,” not as an accident of nature but as the logical result of bad economic policy.

The big question is why?  Did the Fed really just mess this up, trying naively to save the world only to be bested by those bad old capitalist speculators?  Or did the masters of progressive economic theory realize that massive inflation achieves all their objectives: it redistributes from anyone who works and saves, and makes life easier for anyone with huge irresponsible debts.  Like say if you have spent $14 trillion more than you have, you get to pay it back in dollars that are not worth as much as those you borrowed. 

Is the Fed that stupid or that smart?

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Not So Fast: The End of the Color Coded Alert System

            Because the color-coded rainbow threat alert system from the Department of Homeland Security proved so incomprehensible to citizens, media and experts alike, it has been scrapped.  A replacement is on the way.
Many people complained that the old system scared them without telling them what to do. But scaring people is part of the point of a threat alert system.  Even in a time of reduced danger you should be aware that someone or something out there may be about to do you harm.  This encourages you to make preparations regularly and check them periodically. As the likelihood of an event rises so should your preparedness. And because that likelihood may be driven by your location or activity, the alerts should be tailored to your specific situation.
            Let’s examine a flexible 5 level system that is easy to use and will tell you exactly what to do. Stick with me for a couple of hundred words.  I promise you will be interested in the end.
            Level 1 is just your basic situation in the modern world: aware of the need for preparedness, but without any specific danger on the horizon. Whether you are heading a family, a school or a shopping mall, you should have a plan for dealing with a variety of emergencies, and you should pull it all out periodically and review it.
            Ok so far?
            Level 2 is for when something might be up, but there is not yet any specific threat – like when drought in your area might cause wildfires, or an unusually virulent strain of flu has been identified in another country, or a crazy person shoots up a high school which might lead to a copy cat at your location.  Let’s dust off the plans and update them even before our periodic review is due. 
            Still seem clear?
            Level 3 is for when something is up: a threat hangs in the air, it might impact you directly, but we don’t know where or when. A hurricane is forming off your shore; small wildfires dot your county, or a gang of thieves has been hitting jewelry stores in malls like yours in near-by cities. Time to take down the plans and actually practice them – have law enforcement stop by, review procedures with family and employees, maybe activate your telephone alert roster. People who run stores in some parts of your town live at Level 3 all the time.  So do facilities that might be the target for terrorists, or unbalanced employees. And executives who are subject to attack or kidnap. Lots of people (like law enforcement or first responders) will live their lives at Level 3, practicing heightened security on a daily basis. Others will stay mostly at 1 or 2.
            Doesn’t seem too hard to me – does it to you?
            Level 4 is a little tougher.  This is when specific threats develop to specific facilities, industries or locations. When a hurricane takes aim at a specific city, that’s Level 4. Or when a nut job with a penchant for a particular politician takes his gun and stomps out of the house. Or when a father overseas calls the American embassy and says “I think my son is going to blow up an American passenger plane.”  In fact, because we know there are plots in development all the time, the commercial aviation industry might stay at Level 4, while the rest of the country maintains a lower readiness profile.  At Level 4, potential targets should do everything possible to reduce their vulnerability, prevent attack, protect themselves, and be ready for quick response. They might close some entrances, tightly control passage through others, eliminate receptacles where bomb or guns could be hidden, beef up roving security, etc.
            Still, thinking up ways to secure people and facilities for Level 4 seems doable don’t you think?
            And Level 5 is when an actual attack is taking place.  Shooting has broken out, someone has breached the perimeter, one bomb has been found and there might be others . . . threats like this call for shutting down operations and locking down security.
            So is there anything in these 5 levels that you just can’t understand? Just can’t implement?
            OK, here is the interesting part.  I just described to you the color-coded alert system, but as Levels 1-5 instead of colors Green thru Red.
            The problem with the old system was the colors not the actions. You and I are used to choices 1 thru 5, or A thru E.  We just don’t think of Green-thru-Red as a priority of choices. So there was absolutely nothing wrong with the old system that a few cosmetic changes (like from colors to numbers) could not address.  And the old system had the advantage of reminding individuals, business people and local government officials that in the modern world there are some dangers all the time – and they have a personal responsibility to prepare with plans and resources and exercises that are refined as the danger grows more specific.
            So how about the new binary system we are adopting in place of the 5 levels – will it be an improvement?  Well all we have so far is a proposal which may change before adoption, so I won’t complain about any specifics.  You can review the initial ideas in a very good story at .  But what it touts so far is a flexibility to focus alerts on specific locations and specific sectors or targets for specific times – a capability we had under the old system but rarely used. Its other advertised advantage is focusing on “security professionals”  (Like mall cops? High school principals? Flight stewards?)  and relieving average citizens from all that pesky worry about terrorism and other threats.
            So at the same time the administration has done a good job of pushing individual and community resilience, and business continuity, it establishes a binary alert system that takes “non-professionals” out of the equation. Everyone else seems to be applauding.  I am not so sure.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The SSA Mess

     This article explains some interesting aspects of the current Social Security mess.  Like for example the fact that for years SSA has been taking in more than it spends, so it should have saved ahead to pay for new retirees.
     But much of what SSA raised it spent on people who paid in for a short period of time (like immigrants who work the minimum number of months then qualified for life), or who never paid in at all (like life-long disability cases).  What was left they lent to the Federal government which spent it as part of general funds, and gave the SSA IOUs in return.  Now that people who have paid into Social Security for their entire working lives – 47 years for me by the time I start to collect -- are retiring, the SSA needs our money back from the Feds.  But Congress and various Administrations have been so irresponsible with spending that there is nothing left.  The account I paid into for 47 years is nearly empty.  The only way for the Feds to repay the SSA money they spent is to borrow more – to issue new bonds – and thus to seek more loans from China that we must pay for in general taxes. 
     So we are all paying for Social Security twice – once when we paid the money to the SSA from our paychecks, and once when we pay income taxes to get our own money back.  And by the way, we pay income tax on the Social Security we receive. 
     So we are really paying THREE TIMES for every Social Security dollar we receive: once when we pay it in as FICA tax, once when the Feds charge us income tax to raise the SS money to give it back to us; once again when we pay taxes on our own SS money when we we finally receive it. 
     And yet although we pay in for decades and are taxed 3 times on every dollar paid out, the SS fund is going broke.  How can that be?
     The message from the people who spent our SS money instead of saving it is that it is the fault of retirees – we are living longer and we want our money back even though (in their view) we don’t need it.  They claim the problem is “greedy geezers.”
      I think that is nonsense.   What do you think?