Thursday, July 28, 2005


I'm going to expand on that last post to discuss segments in more detail. Before I do that, however, I want to point out something I think very important.

It's a common aphorism that everyone tends to fight the last war. Hidden in that is another truth - there's a nasty tendency to focus so hard on the current war that we're not prepared for the next one.

Now, you have to focus on the current war. If you don't win the current one, the next one is immaterial. The thing to avoid, however, is winning by optimizing for the current war AT THE EXPENSE OF the next war.

Our current war would be ideally served by a hard-hitting force -- a war force -- of about what our active duty forces are now, plus two other elements: a targetting force; and a VERY large nationbuilding force. I intend to get into all that in the next few posts, but the point is that we have another couple of potential wars for which we must be prepared.

Like it or not, we may have to fight China - either in China or in some proxy battlefields - and we cannot sacrifice our ability to do so just to better fight the current war. Instead we should balance our forces so they can (with minor adjustments) fight both wars. Oh, not at the same time, but heel-to-toe is a distinct possibility.

China isn't the only possibility, just the "conventional large" scenario. There are other possibilities against which we need to be prepared. That is, to ensure our existing force has at least the core requirement necessary to hold while we assemble and reorganize as necessary to continue. And I use China because the current anti-global-insurgency is very close to being the opposite end of the spectrum of military conflict from it.

So any plans which require abandoning our ability to at least delay China (or a new Russian empire, or one of South America's big nations deciding to unify that continent by conquest, or... well, any plans that abandon our ability to deal with that beyond "stop or we'll nuke" should be viewed with extreme skepticism.

On the other hand

Now that I've sneered at the fact we're trying to mulligan, I have to point out that I think we NEED to do it. Of course, I've been saying for a long time (as a couple of early posts I brought along to this blog indicate) that while I thought the described strategy for conducting the war on terrorism was good, the execution was terrible. It was flawed in two significant ways, giving us wholly unnecessary handicaps. While I'll specify both flaws in a moment, I can summarize it by saying it appeared the administration expected both Afghanistan and Iraq to be replays of Grenada and Panama with a healthy dash of Desert Storm.

The first, and to me most important, flaw is the failure to engage the public will. We were told NOT to expect to sacrifice. "Just do what you normally do, spend money, we'll take care of this little problem." There were occasional notes that the whole war would be a long undertaking, but each phase - Afghanistan, Iraq, [fill in the blank] - would be swift and relatively painless.

On September 12, 2001, President Bush could have announced an expectation of huge deficits, longterm economic stagnation to only be offset by extra effort from everyone, and a need for increasing the military tenfold (by draft if necessary), and over 80% of the nation would have said, "OK." That's what the polls said. Everyone - EVERY US CITIZEN - knew we were at war with someone who'd just "covered" Pearl Harbor. Cinch the belt, put aside the leisure things, and get it done so we can go back to being the nation everyone envies - that's a big reason we ARE the nation everyone envies. er, WERE the nation... I'm not sure it's completely true anymore. Instead, "oh, it's no bother. We've got what we need, we'll just keep you informed as we go along. Just stay on with your normal lives."

Thus the first step (IMO) of this mulligan should be a very difficult thing: "We were wrong., we're going to have to call on the citizenry to sacrifice after all." The difficult thing for this administration appears to be saying, "we were wrong," not calling for others to do and give. Passing that, though, the rest becomes a gain. Contraintuitively, sacrificing will actually strengthen us. It will engage the national will. Oh, it means things will get tighter scrutiny - especially as its coming out that not only weren't there WMD but that a number of folk in charge saying there were knew otherwise. But that scrutiny's coming anyway. No, the major gain is engaging the national will. Or in corporate speak, getting the public to "buy in to the process."

As I said, though, I think there was a second flaw to be overcome. As it happens, the preliminary information about the new strategic plan indicates the leadership may indeed be in agreement. Basically, there's this failure to recognize that what we're fighting is a global insurgency. It's not a nationstate (or set of nationstates) using this criminal organization as a cutout. Instead, it's this criminal organization that has safe-harbors of one sort or another in a number of nations. Note that I'm using the adjective criminal to mentally separate it from the concept of being a government sponsored organization. It's an NGO with the goal of supplanting governments worldwide. For the Bond fans, it's more SPECTRE than SMERSH. Except that you don't have a in Blofield in charge of it all. In that respect it's more similar to, well, the French Restistance or Russian Partisans of WWII. Many smaller organizations of various sizes, all with an identical macro-objective, but each with its own agenda of subordinate goals.

To counter this will take a great deal of effort. Effort in terms of manpower, brainpower, and money to begin. The various pieces must be identified, isolated, and eradicated. Where they've supplanted all (or most) of the government - such as the Southern Alliance of Afghanistan (aka the Taliban) in 2001/2002 - "simple" and direct military action can be taken to begin with. Where the nation is fairly strong we have to help it (or let it help us) find the cells buried deep within while avoiding turning the nation against us. This is, basically, anti-insurgency. It's just on a larger scale.

One last thing before I go - the reason it's REALLY going to cost a lot in time and effort and money. That's because the nature of the beast is such that we can't just cut it out and walk away. I'm going to compare the situation to a garden. If you want a good garden, you can't just turn the soil and walk away. Heck, you can't even stop after you plant the seeds (and you can't just throw the seeds anywhere, either, not for best results). You need to tend it - to water it, to weed it, to mulch it, to watch for bugs and other problems. Yes, the garden analogy can be carried too far because in the end we DO want to have it stand on its own. But the basic concept still works.

It's going to be work. And we're going to have to quit looking at nations as the villains, and we're going to have to invest our money, our time, and our lives in winning. And if the leaders of this nation fail to tell us we need to do so - indeed, to act as though it's just a setback in another Panama or Grenada or Desert Storm - then we won't invest ourselves. We will not have bought in with the national will. And we'll pay the price.

So on the other hand, the pseudo-mulligan gives us another chance. I find I've no strong confidence that the current administration will use that chance successfully. But I hope....

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Mulligan Army

Three items about the future of the army (well, to be fair one's the military in general) have hit the lines today, and together I think they presage some interesting times.

First, there's the report from the New York Times that the Army is going to rebase most of the overseas based units (50,000 soldiers, from Germany and Korea mostly) in the US.

Second, there is this quick one - two punch of articles that combined indicate the US plans to and Iraq's willing and eager to see a significant reduction of forces in Iraq by next year.

Finally, there's this announcement that is allegedly going to be soon followed with a declassified version of a significantly new strategy in fighting the war on terrorism.

Putting them together it looks to me like the folk in charge are trying to have a mulligan - a do-over. Oh, don't get me wrong. There's been a constant tension in foreign affairs philosophies in our nation between isolationism and interventionism - and getting everyone home has been a longterm goal of the former. But in the midst of a war - an attack on US - pulling folk home isn't just to get them away from there, but rather a preparatory move for something else.

I see three not-mutually-contradictory threads in all this. First there's the obvious - we're trying to win a war, and we're in trouble because our assets aren't flexible. We've no reserve. And the stated goals for both Afghanistan and Iraq haven't been accomplished and indeed seem further away than ever. Back up, reorganize, and focus on the real fight is a good idea, I think. But that's not the only reason.

The second reason is local politics. Iraq is rapidly becoming a burden to those who supported it. By ending it, those in charge can claim to be following the public will - reducing their "wrong way" numbers right before an election. It allows (and intends) to assuage deep pain and frustration among the families of those called, and attempts to restore the appearance of leaders keeping focus on the ultimate objective, in turn restoring the "right way" numbers.

The third reason is less obvious. It's the fact that recruitment is DOWN - way down, looking like less than 3/4 of already reduced recruitment objective down. And retention in the 'decision point' is not looking all that hot either. [Decision point. The majority of recruits - officer and enlisted - are single. Somewhere between 4 and 8 years, however, they get married. And right near that point most of them realize that they can still get a "full" civilian career if they leave now, but if they extend their service their civilian careers will be shortened, with resultant cuts in retirement benefits. As a specific example, military service does NOT apply to Social Security benefits.] Re-examine the preceding plans and you'll see that there's an attempt to reduce the big pains that are hurting both recruitment and retention.

There are several problems I foresee of which two stand out. The first is that people don't forget. It's not a game, we don't have a rewind button. It's not a rebound, it's an attempt go grow from the current status. The second problem is money. Oboy, is it money.

We're moving 5,000 soldiers to Fort Carson (for example). The housing for the soldiers and their families isn't there, neither onpost nor in Colorado Springs. In the longish term it means more housing has to be built - both on and off post - with dollars being spent. In the short term it means housing shortages which means higher prices for existing residences which means either families and soldiers get shortchanged OR we spend more supplemental money.

Another cost of moving is that we're looking at moving ALL instead of SOME. Presently we move about a third of the assigned personnel in Germany every year, and pay rent for the land on which our bases sit. We're going to triple that cost (moving), AND we're going to have to pay for the land, and we're probably going to have to pay clean-up costs.

And that's just for the peace-time (relative) part of bringing most of our overseas forces home. Add in the cost of moving those units' equipment and it begins to stagger the budget.

But there's something that's not in the above that's going to be more fun. I recall (and do not have available) that the Army is intending to develop "lily pad" bases in several less-developed nations. They'll be short-term deployments for soldiers - battalions at a time, swapping out with other battalions in turn, providing a core around which brigades (sorry - units of action) can form on need. Each base will cost money. Stocking the bases will cost, as will supplying them. Add in the need to transport a battalion every six month or so and it gets downright scary.

No, there's no such thing as a mulligan in real life. And attempts to do so are painful and expensive whether they succeed or not. I hope the folk making these decisions put the costs in front of us - no more "100 billion is preposterously high for an invasion of Iraq" remarks. Otherwise, it won't be a mulligan.

It'll be a catastrophe.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Practical Paranoia, part 4

Wow, a month and a half late. Can you say, "not at the top of my priority list?" For those of you reading regularly, my apologies, and then off to the show.

As it's been a while let's make a quick summary. I think there are three "chicken little" scenarios that are in the realms of possibility for the US within the next year or so. These are peak oil, the popping of the housing bubble, and economic doldrums. This series was a brief discussion, then each was to have a bit of a general "so if I think it's coming, what should I do" topic. Because it's one thing to see the train coming, and it's another to get out of the way. (And yet a third if you figure out how to successfully sell tickets, but I'm going to try to do that in a later post.) This, number four, is "economic doldrums". I've made it a bit of a catchall - recession, depression, with overly strong inflation or deflation contributing. It's the fact I'm trying to cover both these last that's given me my delays. On with the show.

The major thing about an economic doldurm is that money needs to stretch further than what it used to need. So the major planning is to do one of two things: planning for more available money; planning for stretching what you've got.

So, how to we plan to have more available money? Two ways, actually. One is to set aside savings NOW for spending LATER. This is very hard for most of us - we want our toys, and we want our nights out and we want our clothes and... It's a given that most of us in the US spend everything we get up front. I'll return to this because I've some suggested solutions, but I want to mention the other way. The other way is to plan a second source of income. er - not only monetary income, but sources of goods and services. For almost everyone this will feel like (and for all intents and purposes will BE) another job. For those already working two or three jobs this isn't going to help - not directly, anyway. For the rest of us, think of what you've got. For example, I'm a librarian, and I do computer work at the library for the library. I can use those skills for bonuses: I can fix and modify computers; I can teach people to use computers (both the basics, and how to do what we call 'information literacy'); I can teach people how to effectively use the library (though this may require going to the library and may slide right back into the risk of conflict of interest). Additionally, I can: tutor (English and Math obviously, US history, US government/civics); grow and trade herbs and veggies; prepare food (cook it, make pre-cooked meals for eating during the week, etc); drive passengers; and several other things. Worth noting is that some of these require licenses. Others are borderline about needing licenses. And the etc shows that I've other skills as well. I'm a good teacher, too, so many of the skills can be taught instead of doing - something that can be worth a fair amount of barter as well, but which can eventually lead to being 'out of work due to competition'. Perhaps it's obvious that I'm prepared to earn more money. I'll lose free time, but I won't go broke.

I want to return to how to save money - it's a failing I've observed a lot. The problem appears to be pretty simple for most of us: it's just too easy to access and spend our money. This includes credit cards - even though we may have locked away part of the money, we can surrogate spend with the credit card and then pay out of our locked funds. Still, locked funds are a start, so let's go there first.

You need the assistance of your financial institution - bank or savings and loan. Basically, you will have them AUTOMATICALLY draw a portion of your payroll check into a savings account of some sort - an account which you've made just a bit more difficult to withdraw. At the least, no checks and no ATM/debit card on that account. For a higher level of difficulty, require a bank officer co-signature on the withdrawal slip. To push it a step higher yet, set it in some sort of fund that requires AT LEAST a day to move into your hands. No, not a CD as those have a fixed duration and you can't get it if you need it - though using this autodraw for CDs is another good option for investment that I recommend, it should be second to establishing savings.

Now either way you've got a bit more money available - either stuff set aside, or the ability to get more, or both. It's there if things go south. But as I said there's another option: doing without.

I really recommend taking time now to figure out what you can do without, and how you're going to keep from going mad while doing so. Eating out is enjoyable on many levels. Internet access, cable TV, DVD purchase and rental - all are things that may have to leave your budget. Be careful, of course, to identify what you'll need. For example, at least part of my 'moneymakers' are connected to my computer, which includes my internet access. Cutting that access would remove that source of income, so it's got to remain (but with the intent of the cost being recouped in other income). Don't be unrealistic - for example, while I like to read books you may not, and saying you'll start reading (or taking classes or anything else you've not done before) even though you don't really like it much means you'll be, well, you're going to have a hard time getting through it all. So in your things to do include just how you're going to have human contact. Not just work (or second job) but people with whom you can socialize just because you enjoy their company.

So the basics of coping are to determine what you can do to cover the shortages - more income, less expense. Boring, really.

Next session, though, I want to play a bit of mix and match and a touch of speculation. Because I suspect that not only can you get by, but if you're imaginative and can spot the subtle cues you can actually get ahead.

Friday, July 15, 2005

On evidence

There's this new article out that claims Rove was told by Novak. And what amazes me is the number of people treating it as the REAL gospel.

Let's ignore for a moment that folk speaking on Rove's behalf have had several contradictory statements (ranging from he never said anything through he only started after the article was out and he never said her name and never heard anything about here before Novak asked him...).

This article alleges to be reporting on what Rove told the Grand Jury. Let's apply a reality check - not definitive I admit but certainly strongly indicative.

There are four bodies of people who might have known Rove's testimony - three directly, one tightly. The first is the staff of the prosecutor. Prior to this, how many times have they discussed details of what was said or done in the Grand Jury? (I believe that would be none - to include the President and Vice President's testimony.) There is the Jury itself - same question, same answer. There is the court staff - the stenographer(s) and bailiff(s) and all that sort of folk - and again the same question generates the same response. And then there is Rove's attorney and support. Same question gets the answer, "several."

So we have one group in which leaking is historical MO and three where this is a severe aberration. It doesn't prove the so-called leak is just another attempt to soothe Rove's image in the public eye. It does make it likely, however.

Again and again - we do not know what testimony and evidence has been presented to the Grand Jury, that Fitzgerald has found relevant and reliable. We know some of the subpoenas presented. We know what some of the witnesses SAY they have said. And that is it.

It may come up "no charges are justified". It may be "everybody in the government not protected by Constitutional articles is facing charges." I suspect it's somewhere in between.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Rove's (not yet) culpability

I'd like to walk down the chain of facts for this current "outing" fiasco - at least one chain - to point out why I'm not yet willing to say Rove needs fired/jailed.

Plame worked for the CIA - fact. At least, I've not yet seen anyone disagree with that.

Plame's CIA employment was classified information - fact. Now while I've written elsewhere on this I need to repeat it for readers here. "Common knowledge" (and it's equivalents of "everyone knows" or "everyone in the know knows") does not remove a classification status. Changing the status of classification is a documentable (read, there's a paper trail) event. You and I can speak all we want of (for example) 'that missile silo outside nowhere, Wyoming' that we drive by almost every day with no consequences. But if an airman joins us and says, "Yep, I was there and it's a missile silo outside Nowhere, Wyoming." then he revealed classified information. The fact it was common knowledge did not remove the silo's classification status.

Rove told people that Plame worked for the CIA - fact. At least, his attorney as well as Cooper's notes say he did.

Rove revealed classified information - maybe. This is the crunch, and it requires a subtle point: did Rove know that Plame's relationship with the CIA was classified? If he didn't know - if he was repeating "common knowledge" - then he skates. Let's set aside "he should have known" as "should have" isn't "did" - ask most any parent. If Karl Rove knew that employment with the CIA was classified information then he revealed classified information. If he knew that Valerie Wilson's employment by the CIA was classified, then he revealed it. If he did not know these items, then as despicable as I might find the revelation, Karl Rove isn't guilty of revealing classified information.

That last paragraph is key. It has to be met before the rest of the relevant criminal statutes can be tested - both the "outing a covert agent" and the various "releasing classified information" statues (Espionage, mostly, but there are a few others).

And until we know, Karl Rove isn't culpable.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Who was outed?

I'm beginning to believe that almost everyone's falling for the magician's favorite trick - misdirection. It's even more amazing as it's unintentional. Let's take a quick look at what I think is the critical section of 50 USC 421, common to paragraphs (a) and (b):

Whoever, having or having had authorized access to classified information that identifies a covert agent, intentionally discloses any information identifying such covert agent to any individual not authorized to receive classified information,...

Now everyone (including me) has been focused on "identifying a covert agent" as saying: This person, Valerie (Plame) Wilson, is a covert agent. And there's lots of talk of the splash effect on other connections, for example that Brewster, Jennings and Associates was exposed as a CIA front and that all her contacts are going to be reexamined by foreign agencies to see if one or more might also be intel specialists, and ... SCREECH. Slam on the brakes, we had a critical insight.

"Brewster, Jennings and Associates is a CIA front." Meaning everyone - EVERYONE - who introduced themselves as employeed by BJ&A in the past few years might have been CIA. More importantly, ALL senior officers were either CIA or connected to the intelligence structure. They'd have to be at least partially so in order to not get extreme reactions when agent X is plugged into the finance or sales office at the senior staff level.

(Hey, who is this Valerie Plame person who says she's part of my office? Why didn't I get to interview her, read her resume, see her references, or any of that. And why the heck if she's part of my office is she getting assignments I didn't give?)

Now the loophole is not the bit about covert agent, but about "knowing that the information disclosed so identifies such covert agent." At this point it's legal parsing - is confirming Valerie Plame was such an agent and so her cover was false by definition knowing the cover was false and that you disclosed that fact? (whew, that's tangled, but I think it gives the gist). The more I look at this the more likely it seems.

I don't think we're looking at a single count of violation of this statute. I think we're looking at multiple counts. Each count carrying up to either 5 or 10 years depending on level of knowledge, and each count mandatorily served consecutively per paragraph (d) of this same section:

(d) Imposition of consecutive sentences A term of imprisonment imposed under this section shall be consecutive to any other sentence of imprisonment.

Monday, July 11, 2005

The Plame Game

I've mused off this blog in various emails about what this, that and the rest mean. But I'm trying to avoid wild-eyed speculation except as lesson points for here. So instead, a touch of reality - a message to both sides of this particular divide.

There is one relevant fact: The appointed investigator is still investigating, and he has not spoken in regard to the investigation's course. Everything - EVERY SINGLE WORD - out there at this time about who done what and what it means is speculation. There is not something, and there is not nothing. We're in a holding pattern and will continue to be doing so until Mr. Fitzgerald completes and reports.

I will bend slightly and state that based on what the appeals court justices wrote in their decisions regarding Cooper and Miller that there is something there - something that implies Mr. Fitzgerald will be bringing indictments against someone. But against whom and what the charges might be is, well, I've seen decently supported speculation from both sides. Note that the Justices' decisions indicate that the speculators saying there's nothing there are mistaken - I'm saying that the ones suspecting it's moved to (say) Wilson have provided as well-supported a case as those suspecting Libby.

But again - it's all gas. We'll get meat when Mr. Fitzgerald (who appears to take seriously the rules which include not leaking to the world at large) concludes his investigation.