Tuesday, June 02, 2020

Beware the Ides of June

As we watch this vast stress test on democracy - who elected good state and local leaders and who did not - one thing is clear; there will be a reckoning in this nation in mid-June.

One of two thing will happen, and neither will be good for the relationship between the people and the politicians.

First, in response to COVID-19 we intentionally caused the largest economic crisis since the Great Depression, a crisis we still do not know the depth or breadth of. As such, by the police power of the state, we forced people in to isolation, kids out of school, people out of jobs. We prevented businesses from operating. We stopped much of civil society from happening and people getting together. This was all to "flatten the curve" by keeping people from gathering in large groups. In many locations, it became a crime.

In many of those same locations, bad mayors and governors allowed tens of thousands of people to gather this week, protest, riot and loot in tightly packed groups of people - the worst at night, running, yelling, sweating and fighting with each other.

In two weeks we will see one of two things:

1. There will be a spike in COVID-19 cases, halting the opening of the economy and putting another layer in to our economic down spin. The people will look to their political leaders to ask why they let this happen by being permissive to back actors while at the same time bearing down on regular people.

2. There will not be a spike in COVID-19 cases, opening the question as to why our political leaders crashed the economy to begin with.

Either of these will further weaken the center. People will go to the fringes. In an election year, we know how this goes.

Right now, I don't have answers - but I do know this; never before have a people been so rich and yet led so poorly.

On a not unrelated topic, if you did not catch yesterday's opening to the Tucker Carlson show - love him or hate him - give it a listen.



Monday, June 01, 2020

In the End, it Always Comes Down to Leadership

Given we’ve touched on similar issues a bit over the years, I would not be a good blog host if we did not offer at least one opportunity to discuss the protests and riots spreading across the nation after the killing of George Floyd under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer.

PRIME MOVER:

First I want to separate out those who are protesting his killing. These protests are peaceful, needed, justified, and probably the most American of American things. That is not the issue. We have a legitimate problem of long standing with police abuse of power, especially towards African Americans. We’ve covered this topic before, regular readers know my opinion about the warping of police culture, excessive militarization, and its secondary effects.

No, I want to talk about the riots – those who are taking advantage of this situation to promote chaos, enjoy a little violence laden LARPing … or just generally steal and destroy.

LEADERSHIP:

This was mostly avoidable – at least on a national level. Why? As with most things that go wrong, it has to do with bad leadership making bad decisions early on, compounding dangers until they create a critical mass and become self-sustaining.

The cop in Minneapolis was a known bad cop. Look it up yourself, but he had over a dozen complaints against him. His fellow cops, the local police union and the local prosecutors – including my favorite (D) presidential candidate, now-Senator Klobuchar (D-MN) - they all failed to hold him to account and to get him away from the power he so clearly enjoyed abusing.

In all areas where the police power of the state is given to people, you have to be aggressive in weeding out bad players. Politics, union policies, and misguided “loyalty” stops this from happening. If you have good strong leadership, you can burn through those barriers. The law enforcement leadership before, during, and after the killing of Floyd hopefully will be studied in detail as a latent cause of all that followed.

Next the mayor of Minneapolis and governor of Minnesota. From the start, especially the mayor, you had two men exceptionally unsuited for high office.

In democratic systems, you get the government you vote for. Will there be a change? Hard to see. Minneapolis has a single party system. Democrats have run the city for 46 of the last 47 years. (D) or (R), single party systems inevitably become incompetent and corrupt. There are exceptions, but not many. Weak people rise to the top. Q.E.D.

As for the governor, he seems to simply be a man out of his depth. He seemed poorly advised and not self-ashured enough to know when he needed to step in the vacuum created when the mayor in his major city curled up in a fetal position. Yes, both the governor and the mayor were both weakened by a rather rigid reliance on questionable ideology, but that was a secondary factor. The primary factor was simply they were not up to the job.

Because the law enforcement leadership in Minneapolis, the mayor and the governor failed to act appropriately, bad actors were able to throw gasoline on the righteous anger responding to this senseless death. From there it spread, and you’ve see the results for yourself. If they had responded properly early, the contagion of violence could have been largely contained in Minneapolis, but they failed and now we have to deal with the rest.

Some places, Atlanta, Baton Rouge, and Flint are a few examples, you saw better leadership. They stepped in – leaders to the front – early and stopped things from getting out of control. In other places another method best when used with up-front leadership, 6pm-8pm curfews followed by serious enforcement also tamped down on back actors. In some places like Louisville and even in DC and NYC, you had valid protesters, turn on bad actors trying to turn protests in to riots, even turning them over to police.

What we have now is a great laboratory nation wide on who has good leaders working with institutions with high social capital, and which cities will suffer without either or both.

TERRORISTS:

Now to our Black Block; ANTIFA. The fact these are a problem should not be a surprise. They showed up in 2016 and were there for everyone to see after Trump’s inauguration. In summary, they will use any legitimate protest and an opportunity to bring violence for the sake of violence. They want to radicalize the people. They deserve the full weight of the State on their head. I wish all of them ill.

Of course, in the background we still have the COVID-19 outbreak going on. I remember reading a few weeks ago, the author(s) names escape me, a concern that having so many people in isolation while their jobs and lives waste away in front of them, was creating a pile of tinder waiting for a spark. Well, this was it. I don’t think you can discount this in trying to understand why the protests spread so fast.
COVID-19:

In the knowledge that a virus does not care why we do what we do, you have to wonder if there is any thing more handy for COVID-19 than a bunch of people running round in packs at night yelling and spitting on each other? We will find out in 2-weeks what COVID-19 thinks. An interesting accidental experiment we are running here.

CITIES:

We may be past the peek of new urbanism. The last 30-yrs has seen the slow drive to revive big city living from the nadir of the late 60s to late 80s. Remarkable progress has been made in bringing back retail and residential. I’ve seen it. I remember what NYC, DC, Norfolk etc was like in the late-70s to mid-80s. I’ve seen what they became in the last decade. How do they pick up after the 1-2 punch of COVID-19 and the looting and burning? I have no idea, but I don’t think the smart money is going to invest there any time soon.

WHAT’S NEXT:

That leads to the larger economy. COVID-19’s devastation still is not fully understood by the public, but it is there. Economies do not like uncertainty – civil unrest does not help at all – especially compounding on top of a pandemic.

Where to from here? Many more cards need to come out of the deck, but so far 2020 is not giving us a good hand.

Help where you can and be careful who you listen to and who you ignore. Layered on top of this is the fact this is an election year – the absolute worst time to try to keep people together.

All we can do is talk with well meaning people of all stripes, and focus together on the bad actors – those who loot, burn, and vandalize. Listen to each others concerns. Listen to their worries. Hold police, politicians, and self-appointed community leader to account if they don’t do the same.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

AI, Autonomous Systems, Emerging Tech & the Future of War with Chris Brose - on Midrats


The relentless advance of knowledge and technology has always been with us. The speed and impact of the advance can vary, but the key - especially when it comes to those advances related to warfare - is to at least pace the advance, and if possible, be at the front.

There can be box canyons, false trails, mirages and other dead ends you may follow, but mixed in with the wrong is "what's next."

Are the USA and its allies ready for the changes in artificial intelligence, autonomous systems, and other emerging technologies that are already here or right over the horizon?

This Sunday from 5-6pm Eastern to discuss this and related issues in his book, The Kill Chain: Defending America in the Future of High-Tech Warfare will be Christian Brose.

Brose is currently Chief Strategy Officer of Anduril Industries, a technology start-up that develops national defense capabilities, and Senior Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He served as Staff Director of the Senate Armed Services Committee (2015-2018), where he was the youngest person to hold the position in the committee’s history. Before that, he served as Senator John McCain’s senior policy advisor (2009-2015). Brose was previously a speechwriter to two secretaries of state, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, and a member of the State Department Policy Planning Staff.

You can listen to the show at this link or below, but remember, if you don't already, subscribe to the podcast at Spreaker or any of the other podcast aggregators.

If you use iTunes, you can add Midrats to your podcast list simply by clicking the iTunes button at the main showpage - or you can just click here.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Fullbore Friday

In the fog of COVID-19's early weeks, we missed a significant passing. I'm going to steal most of this post from the RN, but I don't think they'll mind;
The Royal Navy has lost its last link with a rare breed of men who helped deliver victory over the U-boat.

Lieutenant Commander John Manners, who has died aged 105, is believed to have been the last of the Royal Navy’s World War 2 destroyer captains.

As commanding officer of veteran destroyer HMS Viceroy, Manners sank U-1274 just three weeks before the wars end, pummelling the German submarine with depth charges just moments after it had torpedoed the tanker Athelduke off the Norwegian coast.
...
He commanded two destroyers – Eskimo for six months, including the invasion of Sicily, and then, for the final 18 months of war and first weeks of peace, HMS Viceroy.

It was in Viceroy that he helped liberate the Norwegian port of Trondheim in May 1945 and disarmed thousands of German military personnel.

His actions in Norway were honoured by Oslo only last year when they presented a medal and diploma of gratitude to the 105-year-old at his nursing home in Newbury.
The crews of those small ships saved their nation ... and kept Churchill happy;
Among the debris subsequently brought to the surface by the U-boat’s demise was a case containing 72 bottles of brandy. One was put in a casket crafted by Viceroy’s ship’s company and sent to Churchill… who appreciated the “interesting souvenir”.
He seemed to have been a well rounded man;
He juggled much of his Royal Navy career with another passion: cricket.

His performance with the bat for the RN earned him a call-up for Hampshire’s county side. He made four pre-war appearances, scoring more than 200 runs, before his naval career took precedence.

He resumed his sporting career post-war, playing into the early 1950s and ending with a batting average of 31 from his 21 appearances for Hants.

Beyond his sporting and naval achievements, Lt Cdr Manners was an accomplished photographer; his wartime photographic archive was donated to the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, while upon retiring from the RN he chronicled rural crafts and life, producing four books on the subject.
An interesting sidenote, his entire family was fullbore.
Lt Cdr Manners was one of three brothers to serve under the White Ensign in WW2.

Sherard, who was captured by the Italians following the loss of HMS Bedouin and Rodney who served in cruisers, carriers and battleships.

The majority of John’s seagoing career was spent in torpedo boats and destroyers in the Mediterranean, Far East and, when war came, the North Sea especially, firstly in HMS Eglington escorting convoys along England’s East Coast.
What a life well lived in service. Rest well.



Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Have you Read Your Hopkirk?

If you are a regular here and you have not read the full Peter Hopkirk canon ... then shame on me.

If you had, you'd see exactly what is going on at the Chinese-Indian border.

Come on over to USNIBlog for more.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Russia's Libyan Public-Private Partnership Gets Some Aircover

That horrible mess delivered to the world by Obama's "Lead from Behind" dance with Canada, the European powers, and a few also-rans to kill Qaddafi continues to spew out problems.

Of course, there was no thought of follow-through when we decided to ... do whatever it was "we" did. It is almost comical that "they" were concerned with saving the people of Benghazi at the start of all this ... and just look at the wreckage that feckless action begat.

Throw in giving an opportunity for a Turkish-Russian proxy war to add temperature to their forces already at tension in Syria ... and what unnecessary risk thrown in the international system for so little.

No one has yet to be held to account, as it was the internationalists who created this mess, and goodness knows we can't let them look bad ... but we have what we have.

As things heat up, Russia looks to be more aggressively backing their play in Libya.

Via AFRICOM,
U.S. Africa Command assesses that Moscow recently deployed military fighter aircraft to Libya in order to support Russian state-sponsored private military contractors (PMCs) operating on the ground there.

Russian military aircraft are likely to provide close air support and offensive fires for the Wagner Group PMC that is supporting the Libyan National Army's (LNA) fight against the internationally recognized Government of National Accord. The Russian fighter aircraft arrived in Libya, from an airbase in Russia, after transiting Syria where it is assessed they were repainted to camouflage their Russian origin.

"Russia is clearly trying to tip the scales in its favor in Libya. Just like I saw them doing in Syria, they are expanding their military footprint in Africa using government-supported mercenary groups like Wagner," said U.S. Army Gen. Stephen Townsend, commander, U.S. Africa Command.
MIG-29 and SU-24 are not their most capable platforms, but for that theater, you don't need to send your best, just your good enough. Being there is what matters.

As a nice side-bar to my snarky comment abouve, in Tyler's article over at The Drive, he gives a nice summary of the state of Russian MIG-29's to put it in context.

Another good primer on a topic at hand, Anna Borshchevskaya's DEC 19 profile of Russian PMC's over at the Foreign Policy Research Institute.

Am I concerned about this? Only in that it is another opportunity for a conflict over something worthless spinning in to a larger conflict. As for Russia or Turkey coming out on top? Libya has been in their sphere of influence in the past, so ... no net gain or loss for the USA. Not our war. I just hope responsible people can keep that mess contained.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Fullbore Friday

Lung cancer took him at the young age of 41 last week.

A story of our time not well known.

Attention to citation;
The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, March 3, 1863, has awarded in the name of Congress the Medal of Honor to

STAFF SERGEANT RONALD J. SHURER II UNITED STATES ARMY

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty:

Staff Sergeant Ronald J. Shurer II distinguished himself by acts of gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty on April 6, 2008, while serving as a Senior Medical Sergeant, Special Forces Operational Detachment Alpha 3336, Special Operations Task Force-33, in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Staff Sergeant Shurer was part of an assault element inserted by helicopter into a location in Afghanistan. As the assault element moved up a near vertical mountain toward its objective, it was engaged by fierce enemy machine gun, sniper, and rocket-propelled grenade fire. The lead portion of the assault element, which included the ground commander, sustained several casualties and became pinned down on the mountainside. Staff Sergeant Shurer and the rest of the trailing portion of the assault element were likewise engaged by enemy machine gun, sniper, and rocket-propelled grenade fire. As the attack intensified, Staff Sergeant Shurer braved enemy fire to move to an injured Soldier and treat his wounds. Having stabilized the injured Soldier, Staff Sergeant Shurer then learned of the casualties among the lead element. Staff Sergeant Shurer fought his way up the mountainside, under intense enemy fire, to the lead element’s location. Upon reaching the lead element, he treated and stabilized two more Soldiers. Finishing those lifesaving efforts, Staff Sergeant Shurer noticed two additional severely wounded Soldiers under intense enemy fire. The bullet that had wounded one of these Soldiers had also impacted Staff Sergeant Shurer’s helmet. With complete disregard for his own life, Staff Sergeant Shurer again moved through enemy fire to treat and stabilize one Soldier’s severely wounded arm. Shortly thereafter, Staff Sergeant Shurer continued to brave withering enemy fire to get to the other Soldier’s location in order to treat his lower leg, which had been almost completely severed by a high-caliber sniper round. After treating the Soldier, Staff Sergeant Shurer began to evacuate the wounded; carrying and lowering them down the sheer mountainside. While moving down the mountain, Staff Sergeant Shurer used his own body to shield the wounded from enemy fire and debris caused by danger-close air strikes. Reaching the base of the mountain, Staff Sergeant Shurer set up a casualty collection point and continued to treat the wounded. With the arrival of the medical evacuation helicopter, Staff Sergeant Shurer, again under enemy fire, helped load the wounded into the helicopter. Having ensured the safety of the wounded, Staff Sergeant Shurer then regained control of his commando squad and rejoined the fight. He continued to lead his troops and emplace security elements until it was time to move to the evacuation landing zone for the helicopter. Staff Sergeant Shurer’s actions are in keeping with the finest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force-Afghanistan, Special Operations Command Central, and the United States Army.