Deferred Maintenance is America’s Exceptionalism

The Daily Escape:

West Cornwall Covered Bridge, West Cornwall, CT – photo by Juergen Roth Photography. The 172’ bridge spans the Housatonic River.

America runs on deferred maintenance. We won’t do a thing today that can be put off for another day, another year, or several years. The ongoing disaster of the collapsed condo at Champlain Towers South in Florida is a perfect metaphor for America. A quick look at some details is instructive.

The NYT had a story about the conflicts among residents and the Champlain Towers South condo board. A report indicated that major repairs were needed to maintain the structural integrity of the building. But the repairs weren’t popular with the residents: (brackets by Wrongo)

“Steve Rosenthal, 72, a restaurant advertising executive, went to the gym in the building nearly every day. Afterward, he would stop at the pool, where he could see a crack on a third-floor balcony that he described as ‘atrocious.’ But he called the $135,000 assessment [to fix the problems] on his condo, a corner unit with double balconies, a ‘second mortgage’.

It’s an upscale building, but it’s not the Ritz or the Four Seasons….The people that live [here]…aren’t Rockefellers or Rothschilds. We’re upper middle class, I guess, and a lot of us are retired’….When a neighbor knocked on his door, 705, with a petition against the assessment, Mr. Rosenthal signed it. The first payment was due on July 1.”

BTW, Rosenthal survived the condo collapse. He was rescued from the intact part of the collapsed building, and he’s staying in a Residence Inn a few blocks away. Worse, Rosenthal has filed a lawsuit against the condo board for negligence and against the property for shoddy construction!

America is filled with assholes like Rosenthal. They’ve taken over – they dominate our politics (I’m talking to you Mitch). They dole out promotions to other assholes. They punish anyone who tries to do the right thing. They tell us how to vote, and who to love. (Hat tip: Jessica Wildfire)

Their attitude that “This seems bad, but if I have to pay to fix it, count me out” is the position of many, many Americans, regardless of what kind of deferred maintenance is being considered. Fixing our roads? Sorry, no gas tax increases. Better school buildings? Property taxes are too damn high. Better Internet? Why? Better health insurance? Socialism!

DC politics is infested with a “we can’t afford this” knee-jerk reaction whenever the subject of dealing with America’s deferred maintenance is on the table. And of course, that’s the thinking that deferred the maintenance in the first place.

It’s particularly bad when the subject is how to deal with climate change. What incentives are there to alter behavior to prevent change that will have most of its effects after 2050? The answer is none, except for an intangible feeling that you’ve done the right thing for posterity.

Current stakeholders (regardless of whether they have a stake in a property, a city, or the entire country), willingly defer maintenance to the next generation of stakeholders, when it will be much, much more expensive. Eventually, the problem can’t be remedied. Like In the Florida condo, that’s when things start collapsing, and people start dying.

Perhaps someone should have said to the condo residents: “You can probably play Russian roulette without dying, but do you really like your odds?

There was a 1981 ad by Fram Oil Filters  that had the tag line: “pay me now or, pay me later.” Imagine, accountability and wisdom brought to you by Madison Avenue! When we move from car maintenance to the country, the answer is you’ll pay WAY more later. We’ve been blowing off serious repair and replacement of our infrastructure for decades.

We’ve blown off making sure that all Americans have safe bridges and roads.

We’ve blown off making sure that all Americans have basic health insurance.

We’ve blown off immigration reform.

We’ve blown off gun sanity.

We’re blowing off moving from fossil fuels to renewables.

Do you see the parallel in how we respond to these issues? First, there’s a warning, then there’s evidence, followed by denial, delay, and ultimately, disaster. There’s no problem, if there is a problem, it’s too expensive to fix. Maybe we can fix it in a few years, eventually followed by incalculable cost and misery.

We’re the only rich country that kicks the can down the road on anything that’s politically difficult. You know that’s true if you’ve been to an airport in China or Europe. If you’ve taken public transit in Europe or Hong Kong. If you’ve seen the ports in Rotterdam or in Asia.

Time to kill all the assholes.

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Monday Wake Up Call – Memorial Day, 2021

Unknown soldier, US Cemetery, Normandy, FR – 2016 photo by Wrongo

Today is the 20th Memorial Day since we invaded Afghanistan. For those 20 Memorial Days, Americans have been complicit in our government’s sending American soldiers into a series of wars that everyone now knows were both too costly and ultimately, self-defeating.

The American public’s job? Apparently, to say that we “support the troops.”

The “thank you for your service” mantra has become an ingrained reflex, like saying “bless you” when someone sneezes. Our default position is to thank, but not to think. For most of us, Afghanistan is like elevator music. It’s been ever present in the background, but we barely notice it.

What is American patriotism in the 21st Century? It isn’t about moral courage or deeply ingrained love of country. It’s about sad-button Facebook emoticons, 20%-off Memorial Day mattress sales, and flags and burgers on Monday.

Shifting from foot to foot during a yearly moment of silence, while thinking about dead soldiers, assuming that their deaths were part of an unfortunate but necessary action to preserve American “freedom” isn’t enough. Soldiers and veterans need a nation that can find the courage and conviction to stop misusing them.

Maybe 2021 is the year when we can finally look in the mirror and admit that we are really a nation of 330 million bumper-sticker patriots. The kind of people who are willing to sell out future generations to pay for endless war, no matter who gets killed, if our politicians and the Pentagon believe it’s the right thing to do.

Maybe this is the year we finally realize that the War on Terror took 20 years because Americans are afraid to question America’s grand strategy in the Middle East. Or question why military spending has to be so high. We have come to believe that kind of thinking should be taboo.

So, time to wake up America! Enjoy your burgers and beers, watch the Memorial Day celebrations in your town, or on TV. But tomorrow, don’t forget about the plight of our veterans and those currently still serving. And don’t get up tomorrow thinking that the politicians who vote for more war deserve any more support.

To help you wake up and to celebrate the 80th birthday of Bob Dylan, let’s listen to “Masters of War” from 1963’s “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan”. Sadly, it’s still relevant 58 years later. The song is a condemnation of the people responsible for the atrocities that accompany war, and it was written about the Vietnam War. In the song, Dylan says to the masters of war:

“You might say that I’m young
You might say I’m unlearned
But there’s one thing I know
Though I’m younger than you
That even Jesus would never
Forgive what you do.”

More:

”And I hope that you die
And your death’ll come soon
I will follow your casket
In the pale afternoon
And I’ll watch while you’re lowered
Down to your deathbed
And I’ll stand over your grave
‘Til I’m sure that you’re dead.”

Watch:

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We’re Not a Failed State, We’re a Failed Society

The Daily Escape:

Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, CO – photo by exposurebydjk. These are the highest dunes in North America.

Wrongo has written quite a bit lately about America’s fracturing social cohesion, and increasing white grievance as the greatest threats to our democracy. Here’s Wrongo on social cohesion:

“In the past, we had a set of unwritten expectations that members of our society were expected to comply with, like voting, paying taxes, and displaying tolerance for others. Even those deminimus expectations are fraying today.”

The COVID pandemic has many here and abroad saying the US is a failed state. George Packer argued this recently in the Atlantic. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) says calling America a failed state is:

“…not only wrong, it’s irresponsible at best and dangerous at worst…. So stop saying that.

Ok DHS, the US isn’t a failed state, but we may be a failed society. We seem to have decided that while we have the means to succeed, we no longer want to try. From Duck of Minerva:

“Failed states lack the resources, equipment, and government capacity to provide public safety and public services. States like Somalia, South Sudan, and Yemen fit this description. The governments of these countries can often barely project authority beyond the walls of their government buildings.”

This doesn’t describe America. We are the wealthiest, most powerful country on earth. We’re home to more Nobel laureates than any country. Our universities are the envy of the world. Our technology sector is the world’s most dynamic.

We’ve lost the will to use our vast strengths to make America a better place for its citizens. If America had the will, we would have blunted the COVID-19 threat, as have New Zealand, South Korea and Germany. Those countries all have far more social cohesion than the US.

And while it’s true that Trump has failed the country, our society no longer feels that we have responsibilities to each other, or to the nation. We have lost the willingness to make personal sacrifices for the good of the community.

Individualism is a crucial part of our national ethos, but it has morphed into selfishness precisely when we need to see ourselves as all in this together. The result is that we’ve shown that we’re incapable of mobilizing the capacity to address the worst threat to public safety of the 21st century.

COVID is the just the third major crisis in the 21st century.

The first was 9/11. Back then, rural America didn’t see New York City as filled with immigrants and liberals who deserved their fate, but as a place that had taken a hit for the rest of us. America’s reflex was to mourn, and mobilize to help. The ensuing Iraq War and partisan politics erased much of that sense of national unity, and fed a bitterness toward the political class that hasn’t faded.

The second crisis was the Great Recession. Starting out, Congress passed a bipartisan bailout bill that saved the financial system. Outgoing Bush administration officials largely cooperated with incoming Obama administration officials. The lasting economic pain of the Great Recession was felt only by people who had lost their jobs, homes, and retirement savings. Many have never recovered, and inequality has grown worse.

This second crisis drove a wedge between Americans: Between the upper and lower classes, between Republicans and Democrats, metropolitan and rural people, the native-born and immigrants, ordinary people and their leaders. Social bonds had been under growing strain for several decades, and now they began to tear. The lasting effect was increased polarization and discredited governmental authority.

Self-pity turned to anger. Anger at Muslims or Mexicans or gays or fancy-pants city folks (or all of them mashed together) offset by a group identity of white grievance. America’s tone changed to defiant anger and hostility.

This was the American landscape that the Coronavirus found: In the cities and suburbs, globally connected desk workers were dependent on the essentials, a class of precarious and invisible service workers. In rural America, it found hollowed-out towns in revolt against the cities. In Washington, Corona found a government that had lost its ability to rally, or work together for the common good.

In America’s president, Corona happily found Donald Trump, the perfect fit for this decaying society. When a corrupt minority rules a dissatisfied majority, there are consequences.

We have literally fallen on our asses. So much damage in a relatively short period of time. Our republic is much flimsier than we thought.

We need a second period of reconstruction in America. The first reconstruction failed because our society failed it. The second reconstruction must fix our failed society.

It will be long and difficult.

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Pandemic Is Getting Worse

The Daily Escape:

Sunrise, Green County WI – June 2020 photo by Keith D. Leman

Last Tuesday, VP Pence rejected the idea that the country was seeing a second spike in coronavirus cases as the pandemic continued. He wrote an article in the Wall Street Journal, entitled “There Isn’t a Coronavirus ‘Second Wave’”.  

Maybe he thinks that’s the case.

The US and the EU have comparable populations, but the current state of their respective COVID-19 outbreaks are vastly different. New data released by the European Center for Disease Control and Prevention show that there are around 3,000 new COVID cases in the EU each day.

In America, we’re now recording about 30,000 new cases of the virus each day, ten times higher than Europe. And while some US politicians in the US say the difference is due to discrepancies in testing, the US and the EU are conducting roughly the same number of tests per million people.

And new cases are growing in the US. Here’s a look at the seven-day rolling average of new COVID cases in the EU and the US since March:

It looks like a second US wave is on its way, regardless of what Pence or Trump says. Everything out of the White House on the pandemic has been bullshít. The pandemic has revealed that we have no leadership, no self-control, and no willingness to sacrifice for the common good.

The federal government’s response to the virus has been misguided. We could have undertaken a national effort to produce N95 masks for every person. With those masks, which reduce the chances of inhaling the virus by 95%, along with proper instructions on how to wear and handle them, the country could have remained open, and people remained safe. Of course, that assumes mask wearing isn’t considered an affront to our freedoms.

Now, the country has opened back up. We are almost as ill-prepared as when the pandemic started. Many of us have gone back to our former ways, pretending the virus is gone. Yes, we can go back to work, but we need the protection of high-quality masks.

Here’s Calvin with some truth:

America is doomed.

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Monday Wake Up Call, Memorial Day – May 25, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Reflection of sunrise at Vietnam Veterans Memorial – 2012 photo by Angela B. Pan

(There will be no column on Tuesday, 5/26. We will resume on Wednesday.)

Most years, today is about honoring those who have died in America’s wars. But this year, we should also be honoring all of those who have died from COVID-19. In the 80+ days since the first American death from the virus, around 100,000 people have died from it.

Let that sink in. The 2020 virus toll is now greater than America’s combined combat deaths in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq. Yet, many people think that concern about the virus is simply a political move designed to keep Trump from being reelected.

Let’s take a look back at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery. It is dedicated to deceased US service members whose remains were never identified. On March 4, 1921 Congress approved the first burial of an unidentified American serviceman from World War I in the plaza of the new Memorial Amphitheater.

Then on November 11, 1921, another unknown WWI soldier was brought back from France and interred in the tomb. President Warren G. Harding officiated at the interment ceremonies. During his remarks at the ceremony, Harding said this:

“Our part is to atone for the losses of the heroic dead by making a better Republic for the living”.

Harding was president from 1921 to 1923, when he died, apparently of a heart attack. Despite his being in office only two years, Harding managed to appoint four justices to the Supreme Court.

We see Harding as a failed president, but if all presidents made “making a better Republic for the living” their highest objective, America would likely be a much better place today.

The AP reports that, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs, more than 1,000 veterans have been killed by the Coronavirus, but that number does not include hundreds more who have died in state-run veterans homes. Most people know someone who died.

Despite that, Coronavirus deaths are being politicized. Trump says the numbers are exaggerated. Many Republicans say that masks and social distancing aren’t necessary. Some still compare the rate of deaths from the yearly flu to COVID-19 and say “what’s the big deal?”

On this Memorial Day, we seem to be hopelessly divided. Polls show that just 53% of Democrats have a great deal of confidence that medical scientists are acting in the public interest. But among Republicans, just 31% express the same “great deal” of confidence in them, a 22 percentage point difference.

Perhaps looking at a little more history would help. America was founded on principles of mutual help, compromise, and provision for the common defense in a hostile world. Ben Franklin said at the signing of the Declaration of Independence, that “We must all hang together, or surely we will all hang, separately.” What he meant was that unity was essential to achieving victory in the Revolutionary War.

Our Constitution codifies the golden rule into civic responsibility for finding solutions to shared problems. The expectation is that will be accomplished through reasoned debate as a part of the legislative process.

But our infatuation with neoliberal economics has brought us unregulated greed. That has led to failures of the commons. Management of health care by MBAs means we can’t provide our own medicines, or our own PPE. We can’t even maintain enough ICU beds on standby for peak needs.

The pandemic has shown us that we’re poorly equipped to handle both a humanitarian disaster and an economic crisis at the same time. What’s far worse is that those existential threats didn’t unite us.

If these twin threats weren’t enough, what possible threat will it take to unite us?

What may finish off America as a global power is our failure to learn from our mistakes. We live in a time of black or white answers, of friends versus enemies. We’ve forgotten how very useful understanding what is happening in the grey areas can be.

The virus isn’t going away with words or photo ops. And propping up the Dow Jones isn’t going save us either.

American Exceptionalism is over. We’re finding out that in most of the ways that count (healthcare, employment security, and unity) we’re performing at a mediocre standard.

Do we still have what it takes to correct our slide?

Time to wake up America. On this Memorial Day, we need to remember our dead, but we also need to remember what it takes to live and work together for a common cause.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – March 15, 2020

This news should hit America like a hammer:

We started seeing Coronavirus on the same day, but we diverged almost immediately. One country effectively managed the crisis, the other not so much. The South China Morning Post reports:

“With about 8,000 confirmed cases and more than 65 deaths, it was until recently the country with the most confirmed cases outside China – but South Korea has since emerged as a source of inspiration and hope for authorities around the world as they scramble to fight the pandemic…..

By carrying out up to 15,000 tests per day, health officials have been able to screen some 250,000 people – about one in every 200 South Koreans – since January.”

In South Korea, they text the results to you on the next day, and it’s free. We may never see either of those things become a reality.

America has tested a total of about 4,900 people (we think), since authorities are unable (unwilling?) to confirm the exact number of tests that have been carried out.

Seoul’s handling of the outbreak emphasizes transparency, and relies heavily on public cooperation in place of hardline measures such as lockdowns. But America is exceptional, right? Trump said this a few days ago:

“So much progress has already been made, especially when you compare it with other places.”

Rather than follow the lead of our ally, South Korea, Trump seems to have picked the North Korean approach of downplaying and cover ups. What a genius. On to cartoons.

The world we’re living in:

A strategy that isn’t working for us:

The supposed best system is failing us:

Lyin King will close in November:

Empty suit equals empty shelves:

Our new world:

Harvey’s heading to his new pen:

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Monday Wake Up Call – July 22, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Grinnell Glacier Overlook, Glacier NP, Montana – 2019 photo by e_met

Americans don’t like geopolitics. Columns about the world situation have been Wrongo’s least-viewed since the start of The Wrongologist blog in 2010. Today may be time for Americans to wake up, and think about our evolving and dangerous situation with Iran.

You know the basics: The US pulled out of the Iran Nuclear Deal in 2018. We reinstituted sanctions, the most important of which came into effect in November 2018, covering sales of oil and petrochemical products from Iran.

Since then, Iran has found it difficult to sell its oil, since the payments would be cleared through a vehicle called SWIFT, which is the payments backstop of the international trading system. SWIFT provides a network that enables more than 11,000 financial institutions worldwide to send and receive information about financial transactions in a secure, standardized and reliable environment.

No one wants to buy oil, and settle the deal through SWIFT because the US will become aware of the deal, and penalize the bank(s) or companies that worked with Iran. Another payment system is emerging, INSTEX, which will circumvent US sanctions, but it may be too little, too late, given the precipitous impact sanctions have had on Iran’s oil sales.

Things have now heated up. First with the seizure of an Iranian-flagged oil tanker by the UK in Gibraltar two weeks ago. It was ostensibly on its way to deliver oil to Syria, and the US asked the UK to seize the ship. What followed was tit-for-tat: On Friday, Iran seized a UK flag oil tanker in the Straits of Hormuz.

The US media is calling Iran seizure an unprovoked “attack” on a British flagged ship. Britain justifies its Gibraltar action as just keeping the sanction regime in place.

Here’s where things become dangerous. The neocons in Washington and in the media are seeking immediate and tough action, portraying Iran as an imminent threat to free trade, and to the West’s oil supply. Trump regrettably, is ignorant of Iran and Middle East history, and may not have the ability to avoid employing military force.

There is a dangerous delusion within the Trump /Bolton/Pompeo National Security team: They believe we are so militarily dominant that Iran will not dare fight us.

That is a strategically dangerous place to land. Our best option is to resolve the current tanker seizures with diplomacy. The UK and Iran could agree to resolve the situation and release the respective ships. All other options involve shooting and possibly, a military escalation involving others, including China and Russia.

If key Iranian infrastructure is targeted, nobody really thinks Iran will sit passively, and let us attack critical targets.

Iran has a robust, if not totally modern, military that could engage in counter strikes on US/UK targets in the Middle East. That would certainly involve our naval assets in the Persian Gulf. Now, suppose US aircraft are downed inside Iran (Iran has Russia’s S-300 antiaircraft system, but not the newer S-400). Trump would come under intense pressure to escalate. Any US pilots that survived being shot down, would give Tehran a big bargaining chip. Would Trump bargain, or would he continue to fight?

Iran would be damaged, but it would survive. The religious leadership’s hold on Iran would be strengthened. Trump’s political fortunes could take a hit from that portion of his base that is against foreign entanglements, as well as the other 60% of America.

The DC neocons are certain we can bomb Iran into submission. That is a fantasy, just as it was in Vietnam and Iraq.

All indications are that the Iranians aren’t going to cave. They’ve proven for decades to be very pragmatic. They may choose to talk. If Trump is smart, he’ll take a sit-down with the Iranians before things get out of control, and before the DC neocons and their Israeli friends push things beyond a point of no return.

He might get a deal that looks suspiciously like the Obama Nuclear Deal. Then, he can come back and claim he got the best deal ever, a deal only The Donald could get!

If he sticks to his “I have to win, I have to be seen as beating the other guy” as his game plan, we are in for a long, dangerous summer.

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US Army Woefully Unprepared

The Daily Escape:

Double Arch, Arches NP, Utah – photo by Bryol. The size of the people in the foreground give an indication of the mass of these formations.

Are you aware that the US Army is transitioning away from the counter-insurgency mindset that we have used for nearly 20 years in Iraq and Afghanistan? Or that we are now focusing on fighting large-scale, conventional battles against foes of equal strength?

Who are we talking about when we say “foes of equal strength”? It means countries with large land-based traditional armies. One new objective is to train Army personnel to fight underground. That doesn’t mean in the claustrophobic Vietnamese tunnels our GIs fought in during the 1970s, it means urban warfare in subways, large tunnel structures, and sewers. These days, most big cities all have utilities, water, electricity, sewer, and communications underground.

It also means fighting in subterranean facilities. Military.com estimates that there are about 10,000 large-scale underground military facilities around the world that are intended to serve as subterranean cities.

Some of these targets are in North Korea, where vast infiltration tunnel networks can move 30,000 NK soldiers an hour directly to the border with South Korea. China and Russia also have vast underground networks, so presumably, they might be targets as well.

In a way, this is old news. In addition to Vietnam, history reminds us that during the Battle of Stalingrad, the Russians used their sewer systems to spring surprise attacks behind the German lines. In Iraq, US troops conducted search missions in tunnels.

In late 2017, the Army launched an effort costing more than $500 million to train and equip most of its 31 active Brigade Combat Teams (BCTs) to fight in subterranean structures that exist beneath dense urban areas around the world.

There are big problems, though. The US Army hopes to meet its goals for urban warfare by 2022, but Military.com says most young sergeants don’t know how to maneuver their squads:

“For example, sergeants in the majority of the Army’s active brigade combat teams (BCTs) don’t know the importance of gaining a foothold when leading squads on room-clearing operations, according to a series of report cards from the service’s Asymmetric Warfare Group, known as the AWG.”

It gets worse. They can’t do basic land navigation: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“Additionally, the Army’s Non-commissioned Officer Academy is seeing sergeants routinely show up for courses unable to pass a basic land navigation course using a map and compass.”

And even worse. sergeants show up with:

“…poor physical fitness and body composition, and….not able to qualify as Marksman using backup iron sights.”

This means that many sergeants can’t shoot straight without either an optic lens, or laser pointer on their weapon!

This is surprising. Sergeants are the backbone of the Army. They are supposed to be the best-trained, best motivated members of their units. The basic unit in the Army is the squad, so when sergeant squad leaders can’t do basic land navigation, or shoot a gun without technology, we have a huge problem.

Remember that for the past 17.5 years in Afghanistan, we have been fighting an untrained enemy wearing flip-flops. Of course, they know how to shoot without optics. Maybe that’s why they won.

Wrongo was in the US Army in the late 1960s. At that time, a Corporal (E-4) or a Sgt. (E-5) had to know squad and fire team maneuvers, hand signals, placement of personnel in attack and defense, and fire direction (how to direct remote artillery or planes to a ground target).  All of that required map reading. So, Wrongo finds this disturbing, as should everyone else.

If using a map, protractor and compass is too difficult for today’s sergeants, then we need more/better training. Infantry soldiers must be proficient in these skills. Even though today’s soldiers rely on modern technology, those technologies sometimes fail, and sometimes tools like GPS aren’t available.

For example, we know that GPS won’t work reliably in a tunnel or sewer, so we need a continued emphasis on knowing how to use those non-technical solutions that worked back in the day. All Non-Commissioned Officers (NCOs) should be able to meet these basic infantry leadership requirements. All soldiers should be taught land navigation, regardless of whether they wind up in front-line combat units or support units.

We are being deluded by our military brass. We are no more ready to fight an urban war than we were ready to fight a counter-insurgency war in the Middle East. And why urban wars? What scenarios will get us into a fight in the big cities of Asia, or Europe? Or Russia?

Here’s a thought: How about the US doesn’t get involved in a foreign war where we have to “occupy” a city?

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Terror Delivered Via Joystick Is Here

The Daily Escape:

Winter sunrise, Mt Hood, OR – 2019 photo by dontyakno

The Russian company that gave the world the AK-47 assault rifle, the Kalashnikov Group, unveiled its KUB-BLA drone at the International Defense Exhibition and Conference (IDEX) in Abu Dhabi on Feb. 17.

This won’t be the first small-sized drone to be used in warfare. ISIS has already shown the ability to carry an explosive drone payload to a target. In January 2018, a swarm of 13 explosives-laden mini-drones attacked two Russian bases in western Syria. Each of those drones carried 10 one-pound bombs under its wings.

So, technology has again revolutionized warfare, this time by making sophisticated drone warfare technology widely and cheaply available to terrorists and under-resourced state militaries. Not a surprise that it is from the company that gave the world the AK-47, an automatic rifle that “democratized” infantry warfare.

The KUB drone is simple to operate, effective and cheap, according to Kalashnikov. Sergey Chemezov, chairman of Russia’s state-owned Rostec arms manufacturer, which owns Kalashnikov said:

“It will mark a step toward a completely new form of combat…”

The KUB is 4 ft wide, can fly for 30 minutes at a speed of 80 mph and carries six pounds of explosives, said Rostec’s news release. That makes it roughly the size of a coffee table that can be precision-guided to explode on a target 40 miles away, making it the equivalent of a “small, slow and presumably inexpensive cruise missile”, according to the National Interest website.

Apparently, the target market is third-world militaries.

KUB is similar in design to Israel’s truck-launched Harpy drone, which has been on the market for at least 25 years. The Harpy is jet-propelled, and much heavier than KUB-BLA. It carries a 51-pound warhead, and is in the hands of militaries in Azerbaijan, Israel, Kazakhstan, Turkey and Uzbekistan.

The Harpy is designed to fly for long periods, “loitering” above enemy territory.  A single Harpy reportedly costs around $70,000. A KUB will be substantially cheaper, possibly around $7,000, so an operator could purchase hundreds of KUBs and deploy them by the dozen to swarm enemy defenses.

The US wants its own suicide drone. The Air Force is developing what, in a burst of bureaucratic naming creativity, they call “The Low Cost Attritable Aircraft”, (LCAA). In 2016, they awarded Kratos, a San Diego drone-maker, a $41-million contract to design and demonstrate what the government described as a “high-speed, long-range, low-cost, limited-life strike unmanned aerial system.”

The low cost part is estimated at $3 million each, making it clearly an American product designed to much less expendable that a Harpy, and far more costly than a KUB. So, think fewer swarms and less US suicide usage than the drones of our competitors.

This means we have now entered the age of terrorism by joystick. The Pentagon understands the risks, and is seeking $1 billion for counter-drone measures in its proposed 2019 budget.

While there are limits to the damage a cheap suicide drone can do, the psychological effects of a small, but successful attack could far outstrip the actual physical damage. Imagine three suicide drones diving into the crowd at the Super Bowl. America would probably never play football outdoors again.

This is an unwelcome development that was also inevitable. Military planners have wanted air-to-ground weapons that were cheap, and liberated from the need to protect a human pilot.

A fleet of low-cost micro-bombers could be decisive in intra-state warfare, civil wars, and the kind of popular unrest that we experience today. Weapons like the KUB will undoubtedly find a home in the arsenals of various countries, particularly as the technology continues to improve.

The point though isn’t what one of these could do, but rather, what thousands of them might do. Soon, Russia, China and the US will be producing a mass market, cheap and destructive drone.

What could go wrong?

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Should America Intervene in Venezuela?

The Daily Escape:

Bald Eagle on the Housatonic River, CT – February, 2019 photo by JH Clery

On Sunday’s Face the Nation, Trump was asked about Venezuela and whether he’d negotiate with President Maduro to convince him to exit. Trump put military intervention squarely on the table:

“MARGARET BRENNAN: What would make you use the U.S. military in Venezuela? What’s the national security interest?

DONALD TRUMP: Well I don’t want to say that. But certainly it’s something that’s on the- it’s an option.”

This seems to be part of a larger Latin American plan. The WSJ reports that the Trump administration’s plans include regime change in Venezuela, Nicaragua and eventually Cuba. This is a multiyear neocon project that has at least some bipartisan political support. It may require military force, as Trump indicated to CBS that he’s willing to consider. One thing that the WSJ reports is this:

“US law-enforcement officials say they have evidence Mr. Maduro directed state resources to create what they allege has become one of the most powerful international narco-trafficking operations in the world, and with links to Hezbollah, the Lebanese group designated by the US as a terror organization.”

So, there you have the first Western Hemisphere argument to “fight them over there, rather than fight them here”.

As we said on Saturday, nothing unites a country like a sovereign enemy on its borders. Venezuelans may hate Maduro, but they also hate the US. China and Russia may be worried about the $50 billion and $17 billion Venezuela owes each respectively. Turkey has also supported Maduro. Although they all are Maduro’s allies, it is unclear if they would be willing to help, should the US intervene.

The consequences of all of our former interventions should be screaming at us. But, John Bolton, Mike Pompeo and Donald Trump seem deaf to the messages. Bolton said:

“We think stability and democracy in Venezuela are in the direct national interests of the United States right now…The authoritarian regime of Chávez and Maduro has allowed the penetration by adversaries of the United States, not least of which is Cuba.

Some call the country ‘Cubazuela’, reflecting the grip that Cuba’s military and security forces have on the Maduro regime. We think that is a strategic significant threat to the United States and there are others as well, including Iran’s interest in Venezuela’s uranium deposits.”

Maduro is no prize. The Economist reports: (brackets by Wrongo)

In the past five years GDP has fallen by half. Annual inflation is reckoned to be 1.7m%…which means that Bolívar savings worth $10,000 at the start of the year [will] dwindle to 59 cents by the end….People are malnourished and lack simple medicines, including antibiotics. Hospitals have become death traps for want of power and equipment. Blaming his troubles on foreign conspiracies, Mr. Maduro has rejected most offers of humanitarian aid.

Juan Guaidó, head of the Maduro opposition, and President of the National Assembly, has support from the EU, and the Lima Group of 12 Western Hemisphere countries (including Argentina, Brazil and Canada). The US recognized Guaidó early.

The question is, should we intervene at all? And if the answer is yes, how should we intervene?

The US is still Venezuela’s main trading partner. Last week, we imposed curbs on purchases of the country’s crude oil, and a ban on imports from the US of the diluents that must be blended with the extra-heavy oil from the Orinoco Belt to allow it to flow through domestic pipelines. The first hits Venezuela’s oil exports, while the second curbs their production. This will reduce revenue from oil exports by more than $11 billion.

By ordering that payments for Venezuelan oil be put in bank accounts reserved for Guaidó’s government, the US hopes to asphyxiate the regime, expecting that the armed forces will then switch sides to Guaidó.

Venezuelans face the dreadful task of having to topple their own government. This primarily means persuading their army to change sides. Other nations can pledge moral support to Juan Guaidó. But sanctions and US threats may prove counterproductive.

Venezuela poses no threat to US security. Since GW Bush, we’ve found excuses to attack Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria. We’ve imposed economic sanctions on Russia, Iran and Myanmar. The gain for our security has been negligible.

Military intervention has become an occupational disease of America’s leaders.

The urge to help Venezuelans in need is natural. Doing nothing is painful and seems callous. But will intervening really help? Even states with despotic leaders are sovereign. They must make and correct their own mistakes, and ultimately, be strengthened by doing so.

Regime change in Caracas is one possible outcome of our intervention. Civil war is another.

It is a certainty is that American lives and money will be lost.

Trump must choose wisely if intervention is on the table.

Any bets on that?

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