Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Donald Trump's Ball Game: Calvin Ball

I finally realized today that President Trump is a skilled practitioner of Calvin Ball.

What's that? You ask. Google the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes.

Here's the description of the game:

Friday, October 6, 2017

National Security Consequences Of Donald Trump

In 1919 the British economist John Maynard Keynes, disappointed at the Treaty of Versailles, published a brilliant little book, the Economic Consequences of The Peace.

His main point was less about economics in the usual sense, and more about national security. In fact, he foretold the European economic collapse of the 20's and 30's, the consequent rise of authoritarian dictatorships and eventual war.

Thus, the consequences of Versailles were more about national and international security matters rather than more direct economic concerns.

Keynes wanted a settlement focused on rebuilding the economy of Europe. The Allies wanted to pursue national advantage.

They mostly saw the world in terms of a zero-sum game. That is, if you win some advantage, I suffer an equal  loss.

That seems to be Donald Trump's view.

Bad economics. Bad strategy. Disastrous negotiating technique.

We built a better world after the end of WWII. Stronger economy. More lasting peace. Greater prosperity.

Not a zero sum world.

Donald J. Trump is a pitiful excuse for a President of the US. I have seen them all in action since FDR. And followed them all carefully. Most surround themselves with good people. And listen,

That's the best way.

DJT can ruin it all.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Vietnam War On PBS

I have been watching the Ken Burns film on the Vietnam War. It is now available on streaming video: Watch the Entire Landmark Film 'The Vietnam War'

New on the PBS Streaming Video Channel

Friday, Sept. 29, 2017


The Vietnam War

A Film by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick

Watch all 10 episodes of the epic story of the Vietnam War as it has never before been told on film, featuring testimony from nearly 100 witnesses.

It is a terrific series. I learned a lot from it and recommend it to all Americans. The interviews with participants are particularly well done, especially interviews of Vietnamese participants, both North and South, and interviews of veterans.

My personal connections to the war began in 1961 at the Army language School, when Special Forces troops began showing up to study either French or Vietnamese language. The next connection was in 1964 when I was Weapons Officer of USS Higbee, steaming South from Yokusuka August 3-6 to join naval forces in the Tonkin Gulf after the attack on USS Maddox August 2, 1964. Over the next two years, my ship established the coastal surveillance patrol to intercept Vietnamese vessels transporting weapons and personnel from the north to the Viet Cong. During that time, we fired about 10,000 rounds of 5-inch projectiles at targets up tp 9 miles inland.

I never served in-country, but had some grasp of what was going on.

I can't say that watching the film is enjoyable, but you will learn a lot.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Collisions At Sea - Not Necessary

The collisions of USS Fitzgerald and USS McCain are still something of a mystery, since the investigations have not been made public. But more and more information has been disclosed.

Most recently, it has been revealed that equipment installed on every ship to avoid collisions by transmitting information to other ships about position, course and speed, has been routinely turned off. As a result, other ships have had difficulty detecting USN ships by radar.

In a recent statement, the Chief of Naval Operations explained that the Navy's stealth technology makes it very difficult for commercial ships to detect its ships by radar or even visually. Apparently, ships have routinely turned off their Automatic Identification System (AIS) even in crowded sea ways. This may explain why the Philippine container ship that collided with USS Fitzgerald knew it had collided with something, but didn't know it was a ship.

It may be that ship personnel turn off the AIS in crowded waters because it frequently sounds an alarm of a pending collision and this becomes annoying. Something of this sort may have contributed to McCain's collision with a tanker in the approaches to Singapore.

According to Congressional Testimony, the Navy will no longer routinely turn off AIS equipment (

But this can't be a complete explanation for the collisions. My conjecture is that officers of the deck and other bridge personnel have become too reliant on automated radar and steering systems and may not be doing such a simple thing as looking out the window.

I recommend greater emphasis on basic seamanship skills.

Read up,for example, on the Andrea Doria and other examples of collisions at sea.

Monday, September 11, 2017

The First Time I Saw Tampa

The first time I saw Tampa, we were getting ready for war.

It was 1940, I was not quite four years old, but I knew that war was coming. I knew it from the newsreels at the movies. But mostly I knew it because my dad was in the US Army Air Corps, and I saw the P-39's, the P-40's, the B-18's and C-47's flying overhead.

We lived in an upstairs apartment, and Mother sent me down to the front yard every morning to pick a grapefruit for breakfast.

Tampa was a small town. We got around by walking or by taking the street car. Sometimes we would take the streetcar to the end of the line, where we would watch the sea. I was fascinated by the conductor flipping the seat backs in the other direction before starting back the way we had come.

After about six months, we moved to Tallahassee. Another air base. Different airplanes. We were there on December 7, 1941. Moved to Mississippi in 1942 during the war. Didn't get back to Florida until 1969. In 1942, Mississippi was much like Florida - poor, economically backward, racist.

I didn't make it back to Florida until 1969. Operated three ships out of Mayport, Florida.

By 1969, Florida was modernizing and that was a good thing.

Mississippi was another thing entirely.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Puerto Rico, Irma, and International Relations

As Hurricane Irma bears down on Puerto Rico, I am reminded of a friend and shipmate, and also of a blustering captain who may not have been the sharpest knife in the drawer.

It is customary for an officer reporting to a ship to pay a courtesy call on the captain.

In 1957, Navy Reserve Lieutenant Jose Ortega-Otero, a graduate of the United States Merchant Marine Academy, reported to USS Cabildo, where he was to become the Chief Engineer.

When Jose called on the captain, the commanding officer detected an unfamiliar accent.

"Where are you from?" Captain Kelsey asked.

"I'm from Puerto Rico," Jose answered.

"What are you doing in the American Navy?" Captain Kelsey asked in puzzlement.

"I was about to be drafted into the American Army," Jose explained.

Schoolbus History

Interesting event this morning in Oriental celebrating the 100th anniversary of the first public school bus in the state of North Carolina that began operation on this date in 1917.

This was a revolutionary development demonstrating the dedication of the State of North Carolina to public school education in rural areas of the state.

It is a result worth celebrating.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Play Taps For Democracy

This evening's White House announcement of a pardon for former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio could mark the death nell of American Democracy.

That may sound extreme, but Democracy requires rule of law. Otherwise, a dictatorial tyrant can ignore the constraints of constitutional democracy with impunity.

That seems to be happening.

Defense of our democracy will require courage.

Perhaps our democracy will be rescued by the three career generals running the government.

Maybe democracy will be rescued by the Republicans in charge of the Senate and the House.

Maybe not.

One of the most thoughtful voices I know writing about our national turmoil is a retired Navy Warrant Officer named Jim Wright. He used to live in Alaska but now lives in Florida.

He uses clear language, which tends to be a bit blunt. The kind of language sailors use.

Some people may find sailor's language offensive.

I love it, though I (mostly) don't speak that way.

Check it out: (

Monday, August 21, 2017

Another Deadly Collision - This Time Near Singapore

Another Arleigh Burke Class Destroyer assigned to the Seventh Fleet collided this morning at the entrance to the Malacca Strait with a much larger ship, this time a tanker. Significant damage to the destroyer (USS John S. McCain - named for the father and grandfather of Senator McCain of Arizona), which has entered port in Singapore. Ten sailors are missing, and a search is underway. The Navy has ordered a pause in operations to try to figure out what is going on. Some suspicion that there is a systemic fault of some kind.

I have a couple of ideas.

More to follow.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Translation: President Trump Is A Raving Lunatic

Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee is a courtly Southern gentleman of the old school. He speaks clearly, but with constraint. So when he says something, it sometimes needs to be translated.

Today in Chattanooga, Senator Corker observed of Trump: "The President has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability nor some of the competence that he needs to demonstrate in order to be successful," Later in the day he observed: "We should hope that (Trump) aspires that he does some self-reflection, that he does what is necessary to demonstrate stability, to demonstrate competence, to demonstrate that he understands the character of our nation and works daily to bring out the best of the people in our nation."

I grew up in the South and am fairly good at translation. What he says means: "Donald J. Trump is a raving lunatic."

For what it's worth.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Let's Be Clear: We Don't Need Statues Glorifying Traitors

Charlottesville's decision to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee was not because he owned slaves - it was because he committed treason against the United States.

Moreover, he knew he was committing treason. As did Jefferson Davis, General Beauregard, J.E.B. Stewart and many others memorialized by statuary.

Remember: we have no statue of Benedict Arnold.

By the way, some of my ancestors owned slaves and some fought for the Confederacy. There are no statues to them nor would I want any.

Saturday, August 12, 2017


Just a reminder:

Article 3 - The Judicial Branch
Section 3 - Treason

Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.
The Congress shall have power to declare the Punishment of Treason, but no Attainder of Treason shall work Corruption of Blood, or Forfeiture except during the Life of the Person attainted.

Points to remember:

Robert E. Lee committed treason.

Jefferson Davis committed treason.

Many others committed treason, including some of my ancestors.

The elected officials and commissioned officers knew at the time they were committing treason.

Soldiers drafted by the Confederacy had no choice. Their leaders did have a choice.

It is time to remove statues glorifying traitors.

Our best known traitor of the American Revolution, Benedict Arnold, has no statue in his honor despite his important victory at Saratoga. General Arnold was wounded in the foot in the battle. 
There is a statue at Saratoga of Benedict Arnold's boot, though it does not identify him.

Maybe that's a good precedent. We can put up statues to Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis in Mexico.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Locked And Loaded - Give Me a Break!

Donald J Trump's latest bluster was the boastful phrase: Lock and Load!

It turns out that is a phrase used by actor John Wayne (born Marion Robert Morrison) in the movie Sands of Iwo Jima.

No wonder Donald Trump borrows phrases from John Wayne. Neither of them ever wore their country's uniform for real. They use bluster to conceal that reality.

Like Wayne, Trump is playing a role. He isn't as good at it, and unlike Wayne, Trump can really cause people to die. Americans can die. Unnecessarily.

John Wayne was a chicken hawk. So is Donald Trump.

Trump is also a man without honor.

Now he wants us to go to war with Venezuela? What is that about?

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

United States And Korea

In 1949 a classmate in a country grade school in Oklahoma told us he had joined the National Guard.

He was big for his age - he had just turned fifteen, and could easily pass for eighteen. Like many farm boys, he was a good rifle shot and was at home around firearms. The big attraction was that they paid him for going to drills. It was a really good deal - good enough to lie about his age.

The down side came the following summer when the North Korean army attacked across the 38th parallel into South Korea. Oklahoma's "Fighting Forty-Fifth" was the first National Guard unit called up to be sent to Korea.

The young man's parents lost no time letting the National Guard know he was under age.

Like others of my generation, I spent my high school years in the shadow of Korea. Graduates were drafted right away and sent off to war. Even after the armistice of 1953, we knew if war was not to be in Korea, it would likely be in some other place.

It would be war or rumors of war for the foreseeable future.

I prepared for war by entering the Naval ROTC.

America's first conflict in Korea took place in 1871. Korea did not welcome foreign merchant ships and treated shipwrecked sailors harshly. Their treatment of American sailors led to a punitive expedition.

We sent a naval force and put marines ashore. A force commanded by Commander Winfield Scott Schley, later a hero in  the Spanish American War.

We have missed many opportunities to negotiate a permanent settlement to Korea, but it always takes longer than we have before another election.

A key misstep in my view was the decision in 1956 to introduce nuclear weapons into the Korean peninsula. We are reaping the results of that decision now. North Korea's response was a combination of belligerence and passive countermeasures. Most significantly, they dug reinforced caves which eventually served as protected sites for their nuclear development programs.

The Honest John nuclear missiles and the nuclear howitzers that we installed in Korea had very limited capabilities and were obsolete very soon. They were removed by President Bush long after they ceased to be of any use.

But the hardened enclosures remain an enormous obstacle to preemptive attack.

Another case of "be careful what you wish for, lest you get it."

Now we need some thinking adults in charge of strategy, including diplomatic strategy.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

John McCain - Man Of Courage

I never met John McCain. He graduated from the Naval Academy in 1958; I graduated from NROTC in 1958, which puts us in the same year group, with the same date of rank.

He flew airplanes; I drove ships (destroyers and cruisers). In the 1980's I served in the Pentagon in Plans and Policy - he served in Congressional Relations.

So our paths never crossed.

I often disagreed with him.

But I never doubted his courage or his integrity.

He has more strength and courage in his little toe than Donald J. Trump has in his whole body.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Democracy And Rule Of Law

Democracy is more than just elections.

The Soviet Union had elections.

Joseph Stalin usually received 98 or 99% of the vote.

The Soviet Union didn't have rule of law. The fictonal Ivan Denisovich was sentenced to ten years in a labor camp for suspicion of an offence. Actual Soviet citizens were sentenced for making jokes about Stalin.

Soviet citizens, like those of Tsarist Russia before them, lived in mortal fear of even minor bureaucrats.

One of my favorite stories by Anton Chekhov is titled "Death Of A Bureaucrat." It describes the terror faced by a minor official who accidentally sneezes on a senior civil service official, keeps apologizing obsequiously and fears the senior official does not excuse him. He goes home to bed, turns his face to the wall and dies of mortification.

When our soldiers came home from World War II, they were determined to prevent our country from going down that path. We might not have been a perfect democracy in 1941 or yet in 1945, but we aspired to be as perfect as we could be and to continue perfecting that state.

What defends us from autocracy is democracy and the rule of law. Not just a casual regard for laws, but a deep respect for law.

Five years ago, our elected officials in the Town of Oriental turned away from rule of law and toward arbitrary exercise of authority in favor of the wishes of the wealthy and the powerful.

When elected officials in a democracy abandon rule of law in favor of influence or some other value, that is a betrayal of democracy and of its citizens.

Last Friday's meeting of the Oriental Planning Board was an attempt to address the consequences of a five year old betrayal.

More to follow.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Navy At Fault in Fitzgerald Collision

According to YAHOO News, preliminary investigation shows the Navy is at fault in the collision of USS Fitzgerald with a Philippine Container Ship.

Here is one published report:

"What caused the bizarre June 17 collision between a U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer and a Philippines cargo ship that killed seven U.S. sailors off the coast of Japan?
It looks like some answers may finally be forthcoming.
An initial investigation has found that the USS Fitzgerald’s crew did not respond adequately to signals, did not understand that the other ship was drawing near, and may have failed even to summon the commanding officer, according to CNN.
“They did nothing until the last second,” said one defense official.
“There were many people who should have spoken up,” another official told Fox News.
The far larger cargo ship hit the Fitzgerald on its starboard side at 1:30 am after veering sharply in a failed attempt to avoid it, gouging out a deep gash that left the Navy destroyer listing to one side. After the deadly collision, the Fitzgerald was towed to the U.S. naval base at Yokosuka. Three Navy sailors, including the commanding officer, were evacuated to medical facilities in Japan. Divers salvaged the bodies of seven American sailors.
It was the deadliest U.S. naval event since the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000.
Multiple investigations have been launched to figure out how a radar-equipped, sophisticated vessel like the Fitzgerald was apparently unable to avoid a much larger ship.
International navigation guidelines state that “the vessel which has the other on her own starboard side shall keep out of the way.”
A Navy spokeswoman warned that no conclusions should yet be drawn from the initial probe.
“We are in the early stages of the investigation process to develop a comprehensive picture of what caused the collision and do not have any definitive information to release at this time,” Rear Adm. Dawn Cutler, U.S. Navy Chief of Information, said in a statement.
“It is premature to speculate on causation or any other issues,” said Cutler. “Once we have a detailed understanding of the facts and circumstances, we will share those findings with the Fitzgerald families, our Congressional oversight committees and the general public.”
This is not a surprise.
I still want to know exactly how it came about. I now have enough information from this news report to make a guess. 
My guess is that the Officer of The Deck that night may not have been looking out the window. He should have been. USS Fitzgerald was equipped with the latest, most automated radar, the AN/SPY-1D radar. It should have automatically established radar tracks for ships and aircraft in the ship's vicinity. But the scale of the display may not have been right for nearby surface ships. 
In any event, no matter how automated the ship's sensors may be, the Mark I Mod 0 eyeball (otherwise known as seaman's eye) is still necessary for safe operation of ships at sea.
That's why I want to know more about what happened that night.
In any event, one thing is certain: one person is responsible for the safe operation of the ship - the Captain. Others may also be responsible, but there is no doubt about the Captain.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

More News About USS Fitzgerald Collision

Last week the navy moved the damaged destroyer USS Fitzgerald into dry dock 4 at the Naval base at Yokosuka, Japan, in order to more carefully inspect the damage from the ship's collision with a container ship. The main question is whether the ship can make it back to a shipyard in the states or whether she must be towed or otherwise transported.

So far, it looks like the damage is more extensive than originally thought. The hull was twisted in the collision, much like you twist a wet rag to get the water out. Torsional damage of that kind can make repairs more difficult.

A good CNN article spells out how the navy will investigate and what the probable consequences will be. In a word - there will be responsibility and accountability. This is the way government should work.

And here's another article worth reading:

I have long believed the world could be improved by being more like the navy. At least in the matter of people in responsible positions taking responsibility.

Friday, July 7, 2017

A Collision (Or Grounding) At Sea Can Ruin Your Whole Day

Last month, after the USS Fitzgerald collision with a container ship and resulting loss of life, US Navy spokesmen pointed out that such collisions are extremely rare.

I promised to explain the collision based on my own knowledge and experience, but only after the Navy investigation completes its work. Until then, any analysis would be just guesswork.

I am rethinking those assurances. I still think it best to wait until the investigation is over, but it has occurred to me that we can learn a lot from some of the prior rare examples from the 20th century. I know a bit about some of these earlier incidents.

Here are some cases:

NH 66721 Honda Point.gif

September 8, 1923 Honda Point, California

The fourteen ships of destroyer squadron 11 were steaming from San Francisco to San Diego simulating wartime operations. All fourteen ships were Clemson class destroyers less than five years old. The squadron was commanded by Captain Edward Howe Watson, an 1895 graduate of the US Naval Academy, embarked in the flagship USS Delphy. 

The flagship was responsible for navigation, the other ships of the squadron followed in Delphy's wake in a column formation at a speed of twenty knots. The flagship was fitted with a new electronic navigation device, a radio direction finder (RDF), which detected a signal from Point Arguello at the entrance to the Santa Barbara Channel. The ship's officers had no experience with RDF and distrusted its bearings.

As a result, the ship was navigating by "dead reckoning," - calculating the ship's progress along its track using rpm to estimate speed. A week earlier, Japan was hit with the Great Kanto earthquake, which devastated Tokyo and generated unusual swells and currents all across the Pacific. These swells and currents may have retarded the squadron's progress down the coast.

Shortly after 9:00 p.m., in dark and foggy weather, the navigator calculated it was time to turn to enter the Santa Barbara Channel. Delphy was actually several miles northeast of the calculated position and ran aground on the rocky shore at 20 knots. The following ships attempted to turn away, some turning to port and others turning to starboard, but seven destroyers were lost. This was the largest peacetime loss of US Navy ships. 

Captain Watson accepted full responsibility and argued against any court-martial of other officers.

1950 USS Missouri Grounding, Chesapeake Bay

On January 17, 1950, USS Missouri (BB063), the last of the Iowa class battleships to be commissioned, ran hard aground in Chesapeake Bay near Thimble Shoals light in plain view of senior Army and Navy officers quartered near Old Point Comfort. The ship ran aground during an unusually high tide, making salvage difficult. She was refloated 1 February and towed back into drydock for repairs. The incident greatly amused the press, because of President Truman's personal interest in the ship, and greatly amused Army and Air Force officers because of Navy discomfort.

The ship's commanding officer, Captain William D. Brown, had taken command on December 10th as the ship's three month period of repairs was drawing to a close. Brown, a veteran of thirty years of naval service, had a distinguished career commanding submarines and destroyers, but had never commanded such a large ship.

The investigation uncovered a number of shortcomings in shipboard organization as stipulated in U.S. Navy Regulations. The principal organizational shortcoming was the subordinate position of the ship's navigator, who lacked direct access to the ship's captain.

After the Missouri grounding, Navy Regulations were changed to stipulate that the ship's navigator, no matter how junior, would be designated as a department head.

On a personal note, in 1955 I went aboard my first naval ship on a training cruise out of Norfolk. The ship was USS Iowa (BB-61), a sister ship of Missouri.

Another personal note: when I was about to be commissioned, I was asked what job I wanted. I indicated I wanted to be navigator. In 1958, I became navigator and department head at the age of 21. After that time, I was always at least a department head at sea.

More To Come

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Amelia Earhart Update

In May 1937, a month after I was born, Amelia Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, took off in Amelia's Lockheed Electra, headed Eastward on a projected circumnavigation. On June 28, after flying over Africa,Southeast Asia and Western New Guinea, they crossed the towering Owen Stanley mountan range of Papua New Guinea, landing at the airfield at Lae, on the north coast. They spent the next four days preparing for the most critical phase of the Pacific crossing, the flight from Lae to a refueling stop on Howland Island. She took off from Lae July 2 1937 and was last heard from July 3. She never reached Howland and no trace of her flight was discovered, despite a vast air/sea search.

From the outset of the disappearance, events stimulated speculation that Japan was somehow involved. It was already clear that Japan was readying her Trust Territories in the Pacific to be used as bases in a planned war with the United States.

Five months later, in December, 1937, Japanese army aircraft involved in military operations in Nanking attacked and sank the USS Panay, a Yangtze River gunboat, with loss of American lives. Japan apologized and paid an indemnity, which the US accepted. Nevertheless, it appeared to be a deliberate attack.

Meanwhile, back to Lae.

Recently a photograph discovered in the classified section of the National Archives seems to show Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan at Jaluit Island and Earhart's airplane on a barge being towed by a Japanese ship. The ship's name is the same as the ship reported by natives to have salvaged the Earhart aircraft. Native reports also claimed that Earhart was imprisoned on Saipan and later executed. These details have not been verified.

The Japanese Army in 1937 may already have been planning an invasion of the North Coast of New Guinea to establish bases from which to march over the Owen Stanley Range and capture Port Moresby. This would allow them to attack Northern Australia by air.

Five years later, after the attack on Pearl Harbor, on March 8, 1942, Japanese marines waded ashore at Lae and the nearby village of Salamaua. A joint naval task force of Australian and US vessels raced to counter the Japanese invasion. The force included US aircraft carriers Lexington and Yorktown, who launched 52 aircraft from each carrier at dawn March 10. The aircraft flew over the mountain range and caught Japanese ships by surprise as they were unloading.

The final score was four transport ships sunk, one cruiser out of action, requiring repairs in Japan, two Japanese destroyers out of action. The US carriers lost only one aircraft.

So Lae, the airfield that Earhart left from on her next leg, proved important to Japanese plans.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017


I used to read Pravda (Truth) and Izvestia (News) in Russian. Not to learn either truth or news directly, but to uncover clues as to what the truth or the news might be, or at least what the rulers of the Soviet Union wanted their readers to think was the truth or the news.

It was a more complex task than it might seem.

In October, 1962, the US Ambassador to the United Nations, Adlai Stevenson, announced that the Soviet Union had placed offensive nuclear missiles on Cuba, a mere 90 miles from military targets in the United States. The Soviet Union denied it.

The world chose to believe the United States even before Ambassador Stevenson displayed aerial photos of the missiles.

The world believed the United States because in the past our official statements had been true, even when lies might have seemed advantageous.

In most cases, the truth turned out to be stronger than lies.

In May 1960, President Eisenhower admitted that he had known about and approved of U-2 flights over the Soviet Union, correcting an earlier CIA cover story.

So the world often gave us the benefit of the doubt and a great deal of credence.

But what will happen when the world comes to believe our president and the people around him never tell the truth?

This last weekend the New York Times compiled and printed a comprehensive list of lies - at least one a day - that President Trump has told since he was inaugurated.

This matters.

I have many anecdotes.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Forty-Five Years Ago: Committee To Reelect The President And Undo Rule Of Law

Forty five years ago, a band of burglars perpetrated what was later referred to as a "third rate burglary."

The target: Democratic Party Headquarters. The customer: Committee to Reelect The President (AKA "CREEP). The purpose: to collect information on the Democrats. The goal: reelect President Richard Nixon.

What exactly did Nixon hope to find? It still isn't clear. What is now clear in the aftermath of Russian cyber attacks on the democrats is that even innocuous information can be manipulated to seem ominous.

What is even more clear is that the burglary was an attack on democratic norms. It was also a attack on the rule of law.

This wasn't Nixon's first burglary. There was an earlier burglary on the office of Daniel Ellsberg's psychiatrist. That didn't glean much useful information, either.

I learned several things from the incident:
1. Richard Nixon was dishonest;
2. Richard Nixon was unscrupulous;
3. Richard Nixon did not trust democracy;
4. In 1972 the attack on rule of law did not succeed because:
5. There remained a degree of integrity in the Republican Party;
6. Professional Civil Servants continued to do their jobs in service to the country.

In 1972 as a nation, we still believed in democracy and endeavored to make it better.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

USS Fitzgerald - What Happened?

Earlier today I was asked several times if I could explain what happened to bring about the collision between USS Fitzgerald and a large container ship three times her size.

The truth is, I don't know. It should never have happened.

Neither should the sinking of the Titanic.

At 2:00 a.m. I imagine Commander Bryce Benson, who had taken command of Fitzgerald about a month earlier, had no idea that his ship was in peril. Sailors sleeping below decks on the starboard side forward had no idea that they were in peril.

The ship was operating only about 56 nautical miles from their home port of Yokosuka, Japan, an easy two hour steam. The sea was calm, the night was clear.

We don't yet know who had the conn. We don't know whether Captain Benson was on the bridge or in his sea cabin.

Some of these details won't come out until after the navy completes the investigation.

We only know that something went badly wrong.

Fitzgerald bristles with lethal weapons, with sensors probing the air, sea and ocean depths surrounding the ship. Everything moving in the ship's vicinity is detected, tracked and recorded by her many digital computers. Everything said over the interior telephone systems, every radar or sonar contact, every radio transmission or received signal is digitally recorded to be played back and analyzed.

I can speculate as to the cause, but even though I helped design the ship's equipment and have operated similar ships at sea very near the site of the collision, it would only be a guess.

Rather than engage in guesswork, I would rather remind us of what is certain - USS Fitzgerald is a mighty warship, whose crew willingly encounters the hazards of operating at sea. This is well expressed in the first verse of the Navy Hymn:

Eternal Father, strong to save,
Whose arm hath bound the restless wave,
Who bidd'st the mighty ocean deep
Its own appointed limits keep;
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
      For those in peril on the sea!

For the rest of it, I'll wait for the investigation report.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Catastrophe At Sea: USS Fitzgerald (DDG-62)

About 0230 the morning of June 16, 2017, USS Fitzgerald, a 20 year old guided missile destroyer of the Arleigh Burke class, operating near the volcanic island of O Shima, about fifty miles southwest of Yokosuka, Japan, collided with a Philippine-flagged container ship on the way from the port of Nagoya, to the port of Tokyo  in a calm sea on a clear night.

Damage to Fitzgerald was extensive both topside and below decks, she took on a lot of water, a number of sailors were injured, and seven sailors are missing. Two crew members were evacuated by helicopter to a hospital ashore, including CDR Bryce Benson, her commanding officer, who took command last month. The ship's executive officer has assumed command.

There is no information as to what caused the collision, but one report indicates that the Philipine vessel reversed course in a u-turn about 25 minutes before the collision. Fitzgerald has returned to her base at Yokosuka under her own power, flooding is under control, and the ship is in no danger of sinking. Commander Seventh Fleet has promised updates as soon as more information is available.

USS Fitzgerald is one of fifteen guided missile destroyers and three guided missile cruisers designated as anti-ballistic missile ships.

Admiral Arleigh Burke was the most distinguished destroyer squadron commander of World War II, who went on to become Chief of Naval Operations. He brought about many improvements in the capabilities of the navy and was an inspiration to my generation of officers.

I had the great pleasure of meeting him and working with him at annual Naval Academy foreign affairs symposiums. A great man.

I also had the honor to work on the design of USS Arleigh Burke (DDG-51) at RCA after I retired from the navy.

Very sad to learn of USS Fitzgerald's collision.

The sea is a demanding task master.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Quisling And Fifth Columnists

It was clear when Donald J. Trump announced his candidacy for president that he thought he was running for the office of dictator. It was equally clear that many of his supporters wanted a dictator.

For those of us with long memories, this is reminiscent of an earlier time when, especially in Europe but also in this country ("America First"), authoritarian dictatorships were seen as the wave of the future. Dictators (e.g. Mussolini), it was said, could make the trains run on time.

Dictators turned out not to be the wave of the future. Democracies prevailed in World War II. When our troops came home in 1945, we recognized the victories in Europe and Asia as victories for democracy and we built a post war world around democracy. But recent surveys suggest that millennials no longer believe it important to live in a democracy. I hope they don't learn their error the hard way.

In the meantime, the 1930's and 1940's enriched many languages with words for people of an authoritarian bent.

In Norway, following the 1940 Nazi invasion, Vidkun Quisling, a former army officer and defense minister,became prime minister. He was a collaborator during German occupation. He was executed in 1945, and his name became synonymous with Nazi collaboration.

Before the German invasion, the way was prepared by Norwegians sympathetic to fascism, sometimes referred to as the "fifth column," a term arising out of the Spanish Civil War.

Both "Quisling" and "fifth column" became terms of opprobrium for persons disloyal to their own people and to democracy.

Now we live in a time when our own president seems to venerate the authoritarian tyrant who leads Russia. Not good. How did we get here? What can we do?

What if we don't want a dictator?

One of the most telling facts from the senate hearings last week and yesterday is the deep lack of Republican curiosity about Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Let's be clear. The Russian effort to affect the outcome of our election was an intelligence operation by a hostile power to damage our democracy.

It appeared to succeed, though we can't yet know how many votes were affected. Apparently none were hacked in any voting machines, though some 39 state boards of elections had their voter registration records hacked.

What we do know is that this was a big deal,  using well developed Russian techniques of propaganda, disinformation, false news, cyber warfare and other approaches,

I am not a professional intelligence officer, but I know a bit about it. I had not kept up with recent developments in cyber warfare. So I consulted a recent book, The Plot To Hack America, by Malcolm Nance. Very informative.

Can we protect ourselves? Somewhat, but not completely.

Watch out for Cyber Bears.

The senate seems to be getting on the case. Today they voted 97 - 2 to take away the president's power to lift sanctions on Russia.

This may be a big deal, depending on what the House does.

As they used to say in radio: "don't touch that dial!"

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

A Cabinet Of Billionaire Sycophants

Yesterday's scene in the cabinet room of all the cabinet members declaring their personal loyalty to Donald Trump was disgusting. It showed what Trump had wanted of James Comey but didn't get. It was not an example of serious people doing the country's business.

In my eighty years, I have never seen or read of such a scene in America.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Comey Testimony - Some Thoughts

I've been reading, watching TV and listening to commentary for the past few days. Conclusions: America's democracy is under serious attack.

The attackers are Russia and the American GOP.

Russia has been attacking our democracy since about 2008.

The GOP has been attacking our democracy since at least 2,000 but in some areas since about 1948.

Only we can protect democracy.


Don't wait for the Lone Ranger.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Comey Hearing

I'm getting ready to watch the Comey hearing.

I have some preliminary conclusions and am waiting for the hearing to either confirm my thinking or call it into question.

I'll have more to say later.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Russian Election Interference

My Russian is a bit rusty, but I still speak it. It has been a few years - maybe a couple of decades since I followed Russian politics in detail, but I have studied Russian and Soviet history, politics, national security policy, etc. since about 1956. So I know a thing or two about Russia.

I have been deeply involved in American elections and related legal and regulatory matters for the past decade. I have spent my adult life in defense of democracy both here and in allied countries.

I'm not an expert, but I know a thing or two.

I spent the Watergate years in Washington DC. I had friends and colleagues in the Pentagon, the White House, the State Department, the Congress and the press. I was interviewed for a job on the National Security Council Staff, but the incumbent decided to stay, so I went to the Pentagon instead..

I know more about international than domestic affairs, but I know a bit about that, too.

I mention these things to make a point - I know much of what I know not from reading books, but because I was there. And I paid attention. I've been paying attention for more than seven decades.

I read books not necessarily to learn things from scratch, but often to refresh my memory or sometimes to fill in some blanks.

Today I'm reading The Plot To Hack America by Malcolm Nance. What a terrific book.

Nance speaks Russian and Arabic and has been in the intelligence business for more than three decades.

I find him immensely credible.

Plainly Russia tried to steal the 2016 US election for Trump.

Did they actually pull it off?  They got the outcome they hoped for, but did they cause it?

I think they did, but I can't prove it. One must avoid the post hoc, ergo propter hoc fallacy.

Other possible factors? Jim Comey's intervention, which may have been triggered by deceptive active measures by the Russians. Hard to prove.

There has been heavy criticism the past few days of Hillary Clinton's explanations.

I say baloney.

After every airplane crash, the site is inundated with investigators. Many participants have conflicting interests at risk.  The airlines hope to show that a pilot or some other crew member was at fault. They would be equally pleased at a finding of some structural or design fault in the aircraft. Pilot error lets the manufacturer off the hook.

You get the idea.

But the airline industry as a whole wants to know what caused the mishap so the problem can be fixed.

Someone needs to do that kind of autopsy with failed campaigns. Not to assign blame, but to know what happened. And to fix it.

We all need to know in case the outcome was the result of an attack on democracy.

That's where I would look first.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

D-Day Anniversary Allied Landing In Normandy

Morning Joe this morning on MSNBC called attention to this being the anniversary of the June 6, 1944 allied landing at Normandy. It was the largest amphibious landing in history. Remarkable.

Joe called attention to participating allies, mentioning the UK and Canada.

There were, in fact, nine allied nations whose forces took part in the landing. The main Allied forces came from the United StatesUnited Kingdom, and Canada, but another nine nations sent units, the rest being AustraliaBelgiumCzech Republic, FranceGreecethe NetherlandsNew ZealandNorway and Poland. 

We should not forget the others.

Someone should tell the White House.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Thoughts On Russia

I am a bit puzzled by how anxious Donald Trump and the people around him are to make nice with Russia.

Let's put Russia in perspective.

The per capita GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of Russia is about the same as Mexico. So why isn't Trump and Co. making nice with Mexico?

Russia doesn't make anything the rest of the world wants to buy. What they sell is oil and gas.

There isn't much of an international market for matryoshka dolls.

Russia's GDP is declining.

We will not become prosperous by deals with Russia.

Today's Russia is a kleptocracy. Vladimir Putin is the chief kleptocrat.

Russia is a closed society.

Her most talented young people seek futures elsewhere.

Reminds me of Mississippi.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Russia - Long History Of Autocracy - And Fake News

I am not an expert on Russia, but I know a thing or two.

I started studying Russian history, government and culture in 1956. I speak the language. I worked for years in the Pentagon on Soviet policy issues, studied Soviet economics, Soviet naval affairs, foreign policy, etc. Still, I am no expert.

I am appalled at the ignorance in the White House concerning Russia.

I was taught Russian by former Tsarist naval officers, former Soviet generals, Russian scholars, doctors, lawyers, schoolteachers, etc.  I wouldn't trade that experience for anything.

I can neither confirm nor deny that I ever knew any secrets.

I am a certified expert in national security policy and in naval warfare.

And I served in Washington during Watergate.

In time, I'll have more to say.

Remember, democracy is under attack.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Covfefe - I don't know what it means, either

Trump tweeted a new word last night - "covfefe."

No one seems to know what it means.

I won't even hazard a guess.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Donald J. Trump Disrespects Veterans; Disrespects Europe; Disrespects Democracy

Watching TV coverage of President Trump's first foreign trip, I was reminded of Casey Stengel's question during his first season with the newly-formed NY Mets: "Can't anyone here play this game?"

Apparently the answer is "no."

If we were dealing with simple incompetence, that would be alarming enough. But we seem to be dealing with something worse - actual malice toward Europe and toward democracy.

But there is also incompetence of a particular kind. An astonishing unwillingness to recognize reality.

What is said at official international meetings is important. There is both the substantive importance - the content of the statements; and there is a kind of ritual importance that may count for more.

Trump's refusal to reiterate the continued commitment of the United States to Article Five of the North Atlantic Treaty - at a meeting that unveiled a monument to 9/11, which is the first and only time NATO ever invoked Article Five - was a poke in the eye with a sharp stick to our allies.

Coming on the eve of Memorial Day, it was also a statement of disrespect to the brave Americans and Allies who invaded at Normandy, at Italy and in the South of France in 1944, fought their way across Europe, reestablished democracy. It reflected disrespect for the sustained defense of democracy in Europe.

What the president said (and didn't say) and the way he said it reflected not only disdain for NATO, disdain for democracy, but also immense ignorance of how international security is managed on a day to day basis.

Oh, by the way, he also doesn't understand the first thing about international trade. I'll offer a hint - we have flexible exchange rates and flexible markets. One result is that bilateral trade balances are meaningless. He doesn't understand that.

He doesn't understand a lot of things.

Why doesn't someone on his staff explain these things?

I wondered about that. Especially since the National Security appointments are universally viewed as an order of magnitude more knowledgeable than the civilian appointees. So I looked up the bios of the generals appointed to these positions.

What I learned is that none of Trump's "brilliant" generals has any substantive knowledge about Europe, about Russia, about China, about East Asia, about Latin America, or about Africa. All they know is Central Asia. I don't even see evidence that they have any particular knowledge about Iran.

This is not good.

It means that it is almost impossible for anyone to brief the president on issues in the rest of the world.

On top of that, our journalists have very limited access to the government leaders in those parts of the world, because many foreign bureaus have been closed. As a result, Americans find themselves largely cut off from information about the outside world.

Last week Germany took the hint and decided to lead Europe in its own direction. France had already repudiated Russian attempts to interfere with her elections.

Last year's House of Cards included an episode where a character said, "the president IS the people around him."

We are just beginning to learn who some of the people around Trump are. Not promising.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Trump And NATO - Making The World Safe For Democracy

A century ago last month, President Woodrow Wilson announced the entry of the United States into World War I "to make the world safe for democracy."

Wilson might have made the announcement as early as January of 1917, except for one thing - the world's most oppressive autocrat - the Tsar of Russia - was a key member of the alliance against Germany and Austria. But then on March 8, 1917  the Russian people overthrew the Tsar and established a parliamentary government.

After that, Wilson wasted little time entering the war against Germany, whose submarines were destroying unarmed and neutral American merchant ships on the high seas.

Wilson declared a number of aspirational goals, spelling some out in his famous Fourteen Points. Among them: "Open covenants openly arrived at;" (no more secret treaties); "National self determination,"

The commitments to democracy and to national self determination proved to have a powerful positive influence on allied efforts against the Central Powers. That effect may well have been more powerful than the vast influx of arms and men to the Western Front.

Thus, Democracy was one of the most effective weapons for the allies and continued to be effective in negotiating the peace. We should never forget that.

What did Wilson mean by democracy? Holding elections was not enough. He meant countries that governed themselves.

Wilson's biggest disappointment was his failure to persuade Republicans to support the League of Nations. That failure to involve the United States in the proposed collective security measure at least contributed to the outbreak of World War II.

Seeing that war on the horizon, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Winston Churchill tried again with the North Atlantic Charter in 1941. That charter became the foundation of the United Nations. The centerpiece: commitment to democracy and to national self determination.

At the time of the Charter, many observers of the international scene thought that authoritarian dictatorships were the wave of the future. Among those observers was Charles Lindbergh and his fellow members of the America First Movement. The Atlantic Charter declared otherwise:

The eight principal points of the Charter were:
  1. no territorial gains were to be sought by the United States or the United Kingdom;
  2. territorial adjustments must be in accord with the wishes of the peoples concerned;
  3. all people had a right to self-determination;
  4. trade barriers were to be lowered;
  5. there was to be global economic cooperation and advancement of social welfare;
  6. the participants would work for a world free of want and fear;
  7. the participants would work for freedom of the seas;
  8. there was to be disarmament of aggressor nations, and a post-war common disarmament.

Four years later, when our soldiers, sailors and airmen returned from the war, we all recognized the outcome reflected the triumph of democracy over authoritarian dictatorships. Over the following decades, we did our best (and largely succeeded) to extend the reach of democracy in the world.

This week in Brussels, President Donald J. Trump abandoned that effort.

This is a tragedy and an outcome up with which we should not put (to borrow from Churchill's observation about dangling prepositions.)

As we approach Memorial Day, please remember that many Americans have dedicated their adult lives to the defense of democracy. They have never sworn personal loyalty to any president (thanks to the foresight of our founders), but have sworn to protect and defend the Constitution, to which our loyalty belongs.

This is our oath to democracy.

Let's renew our global effort to defend democracy.