Wednesday, November 27, 2002


I woke up this morning in my own heated apartment on a comfortable bed. I'm sitting at my own computer, while watching a movie on my own television. I have access to clean running water, to good food, and to top-flight medical care. I can walk a short distance through my very safe neighborhood to a public park, where children play and people take their dogs to romp. I have access to the latest current events and to thousands of years of human knowledge both by logging onto the internet and at my public library. I can vacation (and have) all over the world with the ease with which people used to travel to the nearest market. All this I have access to with an income that's below the national average. My son, who is far nicer and far better adjusted than I was at his age, has the day off from his fine public school, at which he has teachers who genuinely care about him. I see my mother and stepfather every week, and my nieces almost as often. I have a good woman in my life. In short, I'm the luckiest sumbitch who ever set foot on earth, or at least that's the way I feel. Sure, I have some minor annoyances in life, but who doesn't? I've had disappointments, but who hasn't? I never played third base for the Cubs (my one great regret), but I have a far happier, far more comfortable, and far luckier life than I possibly deserve. Thank you, America.

(No more posting until Monday; stop surfing the internet and go spend time with your families)

Tuesday, November 26, 2002

CBS News/New York Times Poll. Nov. 20-24, 2002. N=996 adults nationwide. MoE ± 3 (total sample).

"If George W. Bush is renominated as the Republican Party's nominee for president in 2004, do you think you will probably vote for George W. Bush, or vote for the Democratic candidate, or don't you know yet?"

....................Bush..... Democrat.... Don't Know Yet.... Don't Know
ALL............... 32............ 18................... 47..................... 3
Republicans... 73............. 0................... 26 ......................1
Democrats.......9............. 45.................. 45...................... 1
Independents.. 21........... 10................... 65...................... 4
"Do you think the Democrats should give Al Gore another chance to run and nominate him for president in 2004, or do you think the Democrats should nominate someone new in 2004?"

........................Gore......... Someone New...... Depends.....(vol.) Don't Know
ALL ...................27................... 62.................... 3...................... 8
Republicans....... 19................... 71.................... 1...................... 9
Democrats......... 33................... 55.................... 4...................... 8
Independents..... 26................... 60.................... 4..................... 10

Doesn't look like good news for George Bush or Al Gore.
Only 32% of voters would definitely vote to reelect Bush, and a quarter of Republicans are open to voting Democratic. A safe incumbent would have far better numbers that this when he doesn't even have an opponent yet.
Meanwhile, an absolute majority of every group wants the Democrats to nominate someone other than Gore (not that we can't discount the Republicans who won't vote for a Democrat no matter what).

Looks like there's a lot of running room for the right candidate.

Defense Spending

I'm treating this as a different topic than Defense Policy, which is about what we do with the military. This is about what we spend on the military and where it goes.

When I was in the Navy, we bought a 12 foot fiberglass ladder for $1800. The reason it was so expensive, despite being a rather ordinary ladder, was that the Navy had come up with rather detailed specifications for it. Since the Navy didn't buy many of these ladders in a year, no large companies bothered to make ladders to fit military specs. Since there was no competition, the guy in Alabama who assembled the ladders in his back yard (yes, we got them from a guy working out of his back yard) could charge what he wanted to for them.

The reason we had rather detailed specs for the ladders was because there are a ton of officers in the Pentagon who write specs for a living. There are many reasons we have a ton of officers in the Pentagon writing specs for a living, but chief among them is that the ratio of officers to enlisted men is four times greater than it was in WWII and those officers have to do something. That something is often writing specs for things that don't necessarily need very detailed specs. Being good officers, the people we put in charge of the specs do a very thorough job and often end up requiring an item which isn't built or sold anywhere in the world. When this happens, the military ends up buying $1800 ladders, $400 shatterproof ashtrays, and $2000 toilet seats because making a few of something to exact specs is dreadfully expensive.

We've also had an entire culture grow up in the Pentagon around the Powerpoint presentation. Not only are there officers who make Powerpoint presentations all day every day, but not knowing how to use Powerpoint could serious harm a young officer's career (I wish I was making this up). Unfortunately, in such a giant peacetime organization, office skills sometimes get emphasized at the expense of combat skills.

Having a military officer do one of these jobs is far more expensive than having a civilian do the same job (because of training, retirement benefits, and ongoing expenses like healthcare). Unfortunately, we've gone the wrong direction in the last decade or so, eliminating hundreds of thousands of civilian military emplyees and getting either active duty military or outside consultants to do their jobs (if there's one group that's guaranteed to be expensive, it's consultants). There is absolutely no reason why we need military personnel doing administrative jobs in the Pentagon or anywhere else in the US (overseas is different). Civilians can get security clearnaces, and are a lot easier to train and keep. There's no reason a typist needs to know how to use a rifle unless he's going to be typing in a combat zone.

Every year, we buy at least a few planes that the military doesn't want or need. Often, we buy ships the Navy doesn't want or need. Every single year, Congress spends money the Pentagon doesn't ask for on items the Pentagon doesn't want or need because defense contractors are huge contributors to political campaigns. Huge. And money talks.

Of the things the military does ask for, its priorities are often seriously fucked. The top brass in the Pentagon should, in theory, decide what things are most important and prioritize budget requests accordingly. Spare parts and training, being relatively low dollar items with relatively high payoffs in readiness, should come ahead of big ticket items that may never actually see combat. They never do. You see, the big brass in the Pentagon is only human. And, as humans, they want to live comfortable lives both in the service and once they retire. There are only a few companies that routinely hire retired generals and admirals to million dollar salaries, and they're all defense contractors. Those contractors put a lot higher priority on big ticket items that have high profit margins than they do on low ticket spare parts and training that doesn't. They also don't offer million dollar jobs to officers who didn't share their priorities while in uniform. There's a tremendous amount of pressure on the top brass to confrom to the wishes of the defense contractors, not only from the firms themselves but also from all the other top brass who'll be working for them soon. And money talks.

When we do research on new military hardware, we tend to focus (for the same reasons) on big ticket shiny new toys rather than smaller budget items that might have more of a real world impact. The Bush administration is going to start researching a buying tactical nukes that we are almost guranteed to never use in combat. Meanwhile, we still don't have decent body armor for field troops, we don't have a lightweight artillery piece that can be transported by helicopter, and we're using the same basic firearm (the M-16) that came into service around the time I was born. But we've spent billions on a massive Crusader mobile artillery piece that can't be deployed to most likely combat zones because it's too big to go over 3rd world bridges and won't fit into most of our trasnport aircraft.

In pursuit of that big ticket to the corporate boardroom there is also a tendency to, shall we say, "fudge" test results. The most famous recent example was the "test" of a sea based missile defense platform in which the target had a GPS on board to make it easier for our missiles to lock onto it. This is not the first missile defense test to be rigged. I was never involved in testing Star Wars, but I do remember a test of one of our weapon systems (I won't say which one, in order to avoid compromising any classified information) in which the airborne target drone had to be towed over the ship three times at progressively slower speeds until we finally hit the fucker. I'm real glad that it was a drone and not a Soviet aircraft we were firing at. I'm not sure that Ivan would've been so cooperative.

Almost as famous is the Stealth series of planes, which don't appear to be particularly stealthy (if our experience in the Balkans is to be believed) and which the brass keeps trotting out in places like Panama where they have no chance of being shot down. Billions mored down the drain and we're not a bit safer. Even more troublesome are the Osprey (a helicopter substitute which has killed dozens of Marines) and the Bradley Fighting Vehicle, which several officers ended up sacrificing their careers to change (it's first incarnation was a death-trap). I wish we didn't have a set-up in which people have to sacrifice their careers in order to actually do their jobs, but we do. That good men make that sacrifice in order to save lives is both a testament to their courage and devotion to duty and a black mark on our entire command structure.

My suggestions for saving money and improving output:
1) Phase out over half (if not more) of the officer billets in the military.
2) Replace as many deskbound military personnel as possible with civilians (Basically, a military man's job is combat. If it doesn't involve combat, going into a combat zone, traing someone for combat, or planning a combat mission; then it probably doesn't need to be done by someone in uniform).
3) Stop purchasing unneeded items.
4) Make spare parts and training top priorities, money goes to them before any new weapon procurement
5) Have a tough civilian Inspector General's office which lies completely outside the chain of command, with total authority to conduct audits and tests at a moment's notice.
6) Have civilians who are not part of the procurement process conduct and/or audit all test of new hardware
7) Focus R&D on low budget items with high payoffs, and step back from big budget low payoff items (like Star Wars and tactical nukes)
8) Real consequences for waste, fraud, and abuse. At a minimum, those found fudging numbers or faking test results should be forced out of the service without benefits. If their behavior endangered lives, they should be court-martialed and imprisoned.

To me, #1 and #8 are most important. We've got too many officers with too many ambitions and too much time on their hands. We've also got too few real consequences for those who do things they're not supposed to (as long as they're the things sanctioned by the top brass). Until these are fixed, we'll continue to have problems.

For too long, the debate over the military budget has been a zero sum game. Some people want to increase the budget, some want to decrease it, but few pay attention to changing what we spend money on. If we cut down the amount we spent on paperwork and big ticket items, while increasing the amount we spent on spare parts and smaller items, we could increase preparedness and battle readiness without spending a dollar more.

If you read one thing today, let it be Al Gore and the Alpha Girls by James Capozzola over at the The Rittenhouse Review.

Monday, November 25, 2002

I don't practice Santeria, I ain't got no crystal ball.....

I can't, for the life of me, figure out why my permalinks are now pointing at the first post of that week's archives instead of to the individual post (even though the address refers to the individual post).

Everybody else having this problem?

Any ideas?