Saturday, April 25, 2009

Farewell to the USAF???

Paul Kane lashes out at the good old USAF in his recent NY Times OpEd. Yes, he is right that the USAF has no major on site role in the current hostilities in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yup, they are not "sharing the pain".

Sorry, Mr Kane, but life itself is not fair. To make airpower a permanent subservient element of the other three services would be a foolish move. What we don't need today, we may very well need tomorrow. The current military services do not duplicate all the capabilities of the USAF. Perhaps we should turn the Navy over to the Army, as the Army had tremendous experience in operating floating vessels.

And, of course, the USMC's mission could easily be absorbed by the Army, which already has infantry, armor, artillery, amphibious vessels and aircraft.

I have no objection to tweaking the roles and missions of the services, especially as it pertains to aircraft operations, but there are benefits in having proponency for operations in the air in the hands of a separate service. Just as long as it isn't a strangle hold.


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Revamping the DOD

Well, I know it has been discussed elsewhere, but one of the gang mentioned this NY Times OpEd, and I have no reluctance to discuss some of the flawed thinking in it.

I don't know a lot about Mr Kane, and simply stating that he is "a Marine veteran of Iraq " says not much more than "Eddie Slovik was an Army Veteran of WWII".

I won't address his "disband the Air Force" or "Universal National Service" ideas just yet, but save them for two separate threads to keep the dialogue focused.

But, I will address his thoughts on "Up or Out" and manpower planning.

There are some drawbacks to "Up or Out". Yes, the services lose some good people. The difficulty is that the services only need "X" number of captains, for example. If Captain vacancies are limited by allowing the least competitive to remain as long as they wish, then good Lieutenants cannot advance, and the lesser qualified Captains perform the jobs that more promising Lieutenants might be promoted to and fill. There have been "Selective Retention in Grade" programs to allow twice passed over officers to remain in uniform as a manpower management tool, and this exception to "Up or Out" is a fine idea. Note the use of the term "Selective". Sometimes trying to maximize manpower quality can be tough. I am reminded of what the Colonel from the Marine Officer Selection Office said to us when visiting our college campus, "We select our officer candidates with one thing in mind. Not every Lieutenant will become Commandant, but every Commandant was once a Lieutenant. Thus, to the best of our ability, our material for Lieutenant should be material for the top as well." Potential for advancement helps provide a good pool of candidates for higher level billets.

Unlike private sector employment, the military can not seek a pool of permanent, career first-line workers. There are a variety of reasons for this, not the least of which is that aged riflemen are not as capable of the rigors of the trade as young bucks. Also, unlike the private sector, the military cannot tap other employers for people to laterally transfer into the NCO and Officer ranks. They have to grow their own. Part of that "growing" is winnowing, unfortunately. The age old addage of "Mission first, then the welfare of the troops" is the only way the military can succeed.

The military is, by public policy, an organization of designed capability, and thus of a defined size. It must maintain it's warfighting capability within this defined size. Further, it is totally depended upon UNITS to accomplish its mission. It is not a collection of individual players. Thus, it tries to use manpower management tools to staff the ranks for current and future needs, yet cannot "overhire" as a tool for the future. Civilian employment has similar tools. When a company has too many employees in a given category, they conduct layoffs. Very often those selected for furlough are not the least able, but the least senior. Were it not for age discrimination laws, many would be the older, higher paid, to save even more money, and in fact this is often accomplished by incentives to retire.

There is a limited place in the military for "Selective Retention in Grade" or technical specialists (WO Aviators, for example) that can be less subject to "UP or Out". But it is not a "One Size Fits All" solution.

Assailing "Up or Out" has great emotional appeal, as well as the financial accounting suggestion Kane makes. And, they might just be fine for organizations that do not have to be near 100% capable of accomplishing a defined LIFE OR DEATH mission at all times. I am just not convinced that the manpower and operating tools of American private sector business are 100% appropriate for the defense of our country. They were clearly not so for the defense of our economy!


Sunday, April 12, 2009

It's Great to Talk "Shop" Again!

One of my friends in our village, Nikitas, is a 78 year old retired Greek Navy Admiral who was THE JAG before talking a final assignment in the Defense Ministry. He's a fellow US Naval War College grad, lives in a modest house on an acre of land or so and makes fabulous wines. It's a refreshing treat to see retired flag officers who choose to live modestly, as opposed to the opulent lifestyles our guys enjoy, usually benefiting from selling their souls to defense contractors.

His two sons are currently serving Naval officers, and both have been to Newport for Command & Staff College. I pass my issues of the NWC Review to them after I finish reading them.

Panagiotis, his older son just returned from a 5 month deployment to the Somalia region, where he was the legal advisor to the Greek flotilla commander. As in the past, he's on the island for the week before Easter (we're a week later than the West this year), and we played "catch up" this morning over coffee following the Palm Sunday service in our village church. His brother arrives on Monday.

Panagiotis laid out the difficulty of patrolling 1.5 million square miles of international waters, heavily trafficked by all kinds of vessels. He said it's prime fishing waters, fished by boats from a variety of countries. It's not a "counter-terrorism mission", but a classic naval law enforcement mission, maintaining freedom of navigation and keeping the sea lanes open. It's just not possible, legally or logistically to check every ship in the region to see if they are involved with pirate operations. He did offer some insights into pirate tactics, NATO interdiction tactics and the like.

Brought back warm memories of being at Newport, and it was a pleasure speaking to a military man who isn't blinded by the phony GWOT. Our talk did wander to that, and he was frank in his disdain for the last administration's approach to things military. He did assure me that the US Navy fully understood the mission in the region. The Spaniards took command of the NATO flotilla from the Greeks.

While Panagiotis never mentioned it, his dad did brag on his son's ship's performance in the theater. Four prevented attempts, and five captured pirates.

Add our chat to the successful rescue of the Maersk Alabama's Skipper, and today was a wonderful day for an old Marine/Soldier!


Friday, April 10, 2009


Karl Rove writes in the Wall Street Journal that "President Barack Obama "'has the most polarized early job approval of any president' since surveys began tracking this 40 years ago. The gap between Mr. Obama's approval rating among Democrats (88%) and Republicans (27%) is 61 points. This "approval gap" is 10 points bigger than George W. Bush's at this point in his presidency, despite Mr. Bush winning a bitterly contested election."

Mr. Rove then criticizes the President for this "approval gap," blaming Mr. Obama's "actions and rhetoric." Mr. Rove claims that in the face of Republican attempts to help shape policy, Mr. Obama's response has been a "brusque dismissal that "I won." Mr. Rove claims that Mr. Obama has left Republicans out of the deliberative process, hence this "approval gap" among the American people.


Even now my jaw hangs open at such a blatant dismissal of logical reasoning.

Mr. Rove, citing a poll from the Pew Research Center, has concluded that a president currently holding staggeringly-high approval ratings among the American people is "divisive." Think about that. If an amazingly high percentage of Americans approve of Mr. Obama, he should be considered "divisive."

Well, after all, it is true that Republicans appear to have a very low opinion of Mr. Obama, while Democrats view him favorably. That is the "approval gap" cited by Mr. Rove. For this Mr. Obama's rhetoric and actions may very well be to blame - when you vote for a losing candidate because you disagree with the winning candidate, the winning candidate is likely to do things you disagree with. Remember, if you vote AGAINST a politician because you DISAGREE with him, you are likely to DISAGREE with him even after the election.

But that is not the logical fallacy here. Mr. Rove is an acknowledged master at twisting and distorting facts, but the fallacy is not that Mr. Obama is doing things his political opponents disagree with - that does not make Mr. Obama responsible for some disagreement. It means Americans can agree to disagree, and they settle on what to do by voting on it - with some of us guaranteed to not prevail in our opinions on what we should do. After the last eight years of conservative rule, many of us know what it is like to disagree with the decisions made by a president. There is an "approval gap" between Mr. Obama's party and the party that opposed him - not exactly something that should shock anybody. But that is not the glaring fallacy here.

The fallacy is this: the implication in Mr. Rove's article is that this "polarized approval gap" makes Mr. Obama a divisive figure. He should therefore be less divisive - but how is that true given Mr. Obama's amazingly-high approval ratings? How can he be "divisive" if more Americans approve of him than they did on election day - an election he won handily, with all major networks declaring the election decided within minutes of the polls closing on the West Coast? Mr. Obama's election victory was not exactly a nail-biter. So if more Americans approve of him NOW than they did when he won his landslide victory, how is it that Mr. Rove can attack Mr. Obama for being "divisive" and cite real - and presumably accurate - polling data to support his position that Mr. Obama is driving us apart as a nation?

Because Mr. Rove fails to understand math. See, it works like this: voters each get only one vote. The candidate that wins the most votes gets elected. If he wins in a landslide, he has a lot of support. Even if some citizens really, really wanted him to lose, if a huge majority of Americans vote for a presidential candiate then he is not a "divisive figure," he is the winner of the election. If 10 weeks after taking office his approval ratings are even better than his margin of victory, the evidence does not support a finding that he is "divisive." In fact, the American People overwhelmingly approve of his performance so far.

But what about the data? Mr. Rove points out that most Republicans do not approve of Mr. Obama, while lots of Democrats (88%) do approve. Isn't that divisive?

Not when a lot of Americans decided to not support the Republican party in the last election. If you have 100 voters, and they are in two groups - Republicans and Democrats, and 100% of Republicans disapprove of you while 100% of Democrats approve of you, aren't you a divisive figure? Not if you got 90% of the vote. If only 10 voters disapprove - and they may very well REALLY disapprove - but you have the support of 90% of the electorate, then the People overwhelmingly approve of you and you are not a "divisive" figure driving Americans apart. Given your hypothetical 90% approval rating, you have united 9 out of 10 of Americans in support of you. But Mr. Rove will conclude from these same facts that you are the most divisive figure of all.

An "approval gap" between the dwindling and defeated Republican party, now only a majority in a handful of states, and the majority Democratic party, now triumphant, does not mean Americans are divided. They are in fact overwhelmingly supportive of our (note this Mr. Rove - OUR, yours and mine alike) new president. They are not more divided, they are in fact less divided than they were even on election day. Right now most Americans like Mr. Obama, including many who did not vote for him - he has been effective in gaining and maintaining the approval of the American people. There are those who would have preferred - and voted for - Sen. McCain, and yes, most of them disapprove of Mr. Obama just as on election day. But Mr. Obama won in a landslide, and his approval rating now exceeds his margin of victory on election day. Thus Mr. Obama is not a "divisive" president and Mr. Rove's misleading and untruthful editorial won't change that. Even a smart and experienced liar skilled in deception, like the masterful Mr. Rove, won't change a currently very unified and united American people facing unprecedented crisis after crisis into a divided and partisan on-the-brink-of-civil-war enemies who turn on each other.

But you can rely on Mr. Rove and those who still (somehow) agree with him to do their very best to try.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Education deserves a thread of its own!

In a previous thread, JP posted: "We need a national debate about what we expect public education to accomplish."

Well, folks, we may not represent a "National Debate", but the gang here debates well. I agree with JP. When you ask the question of what K-12 education should accomplish, you are most often provided with vague outcome descriptions.

Now, for starters, let's look at one aspect of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), testing. NCLB says that in order to receive a diploma attesting to satisfactory achievement in a 12 year curriculum, you must test satisfactorily during the 10th year! So, the standard for a HS diploma is based upon a test of slightly less than 10 years of that schooling. Is there something wrong with this picture?

And, what do we want these students to learn? Well, that shifts from edubabble fad to edubabble fad. Has anyone wondered what the lack of long term internal discipline and consistency in the field of education has done to the effectiveness of that education?

Lastly, and sorrowfully, I have to admit that I do not accept that every child in the US is capable of earning a meaningful diploma in 12 years. And, gasp - gasp -gasp, there are some who are incapable of earning one at all. There are a variety of reasons (both voluntary and involuntary) for this, but the reasons (causes) are inescapable and most likely incurable.

But first and foremost, JP's question must be answered, and what a "diploma" means must be narrowly and fully defined. And the debate has nothing to do with the expectations of students and their parents. What does our society need? We've spent a few decades catering to the students, and it doesn't seem to have benefited the greater society that much.