Monday, January 11, 2010

BG may be right...

...but the whole idea of actually fighting a conventional war against a conventional adversary is getting more and more implausible. First, I think we've lost our fighting edge and our overall competence in matters military. More importantly, this isn't even anywhere near our gravest issue. Our nation is in serious trouble, to the point where one wonders if we can even survive another fifty years. Who's going to get us? Who's going to bring the nation that's done all of those wonderful things over the past 200+ years, the "City on the Hill," to its knees. Those dastardly terrorists? China? Russia?

Nah. It won't be another nation. And it certainly won't be terrorists unless the American people collectively die of hyperventilation from fear that, "gasp, there might be 19 more guys with boxcutters."

It's become pretty clear to me that the fault lies not in the stars. It's with us, the cowardly lion of a nation, the infant that cries for more, more, more, and then engages in a tantrum when it doesn't get its way. Here's something that might tell BG why I don't think an industrial war is even possible:

We're in deep shit. Fighting wars is the last thing we should be thinking about. Want more? Mull this over a bit:

And you know what's absolutely terrifying about this grim news concerning state and local pensions? That problem pales in comparison to the onrushing trainwrecks of Medicare and Social Security. Medicare is first, only about seven years from now, with Social Security following in about 25.

Why are we even talking about wars? Bg's out there doing a war where we're supposed to be rebuilding Afghanistan and taking care of its people, right along with our generosity with Iraq and its people. We really can't even take care of our own people now—I mean, shit, universal health care is somehow considered subversive—but one can only guess what it's going to be like in 5-10 years. And yet, because of our cowardice and the ineptitude of our government, we think it's OK to divert trillions of dollars that would take care of Americans to military endeavors involving chasing rag tag malcontents numbering in the hundreds. The hundreds! Think of it. Four-star generals as squad leaders.

OK, so Bg assures me our military is on the ball, hot shit, can knock the socks off anyone out there. The 1927 New York Yankees of armies. Yeah, they're screwing around right now in these third-world places, but when it really counts, you bet, you can count on them. But then I come across this:

And I wonder. What I'm hearing from the horse's mouth, the actual 2-star running the whole intelligence apparatus (and I've heard intelligence is fairly important in doing this COIN stuff) is that the last eight years were wasted. The lives, the money, shit, man, all of it wasted. And then I really start wondering about Bg's thesis, about how this wonderful military that has so few people, but costs so much, would really do in an all-out, serious war. I wonder how the mental giants, the great captains running those wonderful efforts we've seen in Iraq and Afghanistan, I wonder how they might stack up against a wily Russian or Chinese general. And how our troops, growing ever more used to working in police actions, whacking the odd wog, might perform against seriously disciplined troop formations with modern weaponry.

I don't want to know. And I also know that folks in Europe don't want to know. Bg and other serving military folks often complain about the failure of NATO nations—other than long-time sucker Britain—to invest heavily in our wars. Well, I'll edify these GIs: First, the Euros don't want to kill their kids in fruitless endeavors. Secondly, they know they've made promises to their own people—pensions, etc.—and they don't want to fritter away their treasure on chasing the wind.

I say, good for the Euros. As for America? Americans all love John Wayne—kind of fits with our fantasy view of the world—so I'll end with a quote from the old draft dodger: "Life is hard. It's harder when you're stupid."

What would you call a nation that squanders its youth and its treasure fighting to make the world safe for the commercial interests of nations it views as "threats?" Everybody does realize we're making it possible for China and Russia—nations that Bg actually considers fighting in that fantabulous future war—to make lots of money, right? Would stupid work?


  1. "The downfall of civilized states tends to come not from the direct assault of foes, but from internal decay combined with the consequences of exhaustion in war." - Sir B.H. Liddell-Hart

  2. Publius,

    If the US is financially fucked - and I think it is - there is always the chance that when the collapse comes some adversary will take advantage of that. Take China. I used to think we'd never fight with them, but three things have given me pause. The first is that China is developing weapons and military capabilities specifically designed to fight the United States. Secondly, nationalism is growing in China and that's not a good trend. Third, China is our bookie. I still think it's unlikely we'll fight China anytime soon, but you just never know.

    As for the state of our entitlements, this has been coming down the pike for years and will soon reach the point of collapse. That's what happens when government increases benefits, fails to control escalating costs and fails to generate enough revenue - all at the same time. It doesn't help that most state and local governments are held hostage by public employee unions and their lobbyists. Well, the piper's gonna get paid somehow. California won't be the only state to ask Uncle Sam to borrow money from China to pay government worker benefits. We've been taxing future generations for half a century - why stop now? Who knows, maybe we'll earn a war with China when this racket Congress is running finally collapses and we can't pay our bookie.

  3. Publius,
    All our discussions hinge on 1 fact-either one accepts the correctness of US wars, esp the PWOT, OR 1 doesn't. All flows from there.
    My thinking is evolving slightly , or i'm becoming aware of the implications of my thoughts.
    We in the US feel that all that we do is justified and we are the good guys. This approach nullifies humanism since we are nationalistic. This is a basic rub that we fail to acknowledge.
    We are entrenched in anti democratic action and we'll kill anybody that says otherwise.
    Not only is the economy mangled but so to the political system that elects a candidate percieved as anti military and then proven otherwise.
    The leaders do not rise to the top- only the scum.
    We're dead as a philosophy and our nation state will follow this road to perdition.

  4. Hmm,
    The solution seems fairly straightforward to me.
    Increase taxes, get a real grip on health care expenditure and reduce corporate welfare spent on luxuries like the military-industrial complex.

    For guidance go look at any of the other industrialized nations.

    As a first step, I suggest reducing the level of political corruption, and that means campaign finance reform.

  5. Ael,

    Some of those are good suggestions. However, I think the top priority has to be dealing with the structural deficits in our entitlement programs, the costs of which are increasing much faster than inflation. They are literally eating our economy up. Unfortunately no one from either political party wants to seriously deal with the issue.

  6. AEL,
    Raising taxes would be a good solution IF the gov't could provide corresponding benefits, but somehow i doubt their ability to do so.
    Euros have higher taxes but they have equivalent social programs to justify this added burden.
    If we could get it right higher taxes is the only answer, coupled with cutting military boondoggles.
    It's strange that the economic sector is a key problem in todays USA, but yet Congress/POTUS are not pursuing serious changes in the system.
    The consumer is always left holding the bag .

  7. Andy: Because to do so would require many elderly and poor people to drop from "hanging on" to "Dickensian" levels of poverty.

    My in-laws are a good example. Reduce their Social Security payments and their income drops below the lower-middle-class level. They lose their house. Where do they go? Their older daughter is a single woman living in an apartment in Cambridge. Answer: they come live with us. An an 1,100-squre-foot house. In Portland.

    The pain the reduction of these programs would cause - the pain the lack of them caused back in the late Twenties and Thirties - is what makes them so difficult to address. Until you change human nature, they will continue to be so.

    As for China, we'd be foolish to ignore her as a potential rival. But I'd argue that we'd also be foolish to start casting her as the Great Satan of the 21st Century.

    1. China has never been an imperial power outside of East Asia. "Nationalism", in Chinese terms, has typically expressed itself in terms of accumulating bits of her near abroad - places like Vietnam, Burma and the Koreas. Those places are either too impoverished or too prickly for China to grasp in the near (20-50 year) future.

    2. China has also typically been first a mercantilist empire. Her motto might well be "Let others make war. You, happy China, sell stuff." Chinese economic ventures are spreading out from Afghanistan to Capetown. As any merchant will tell you, unless you're in it for conquest (and the possibility that China is intent on conquest in, say, central Asia, would argue that the Chinese are as foolish as we are and I see no sign of that) the game's not worth the candle.

    3. The Chinese government has no legitimacy with its own people outside the largesse it provides them - Copenhagen proved that. An armed conflict with the U.S. would, even if the Chinese got the better of the exchange - be extraordinarly painful for the Chinese people and that's assuming it DIDN'T go nuclear.

    4. And it would. Almost certainly, if the two nations fought each other directly. That's why the U.S. and the Soviets never confronted each other except through proxies.

    So preparing in a general sense for conventional war = common sense. But to spend too much time getting twitchy about China at the moment (with the concurrent probability that throwing our dire warnings about "Chinese nationalism" and the intented targets of Chinese weapons will turn prediction into reality...) seems like an unproductive choice AND a good excuse for the usual suspects to gin up an arms race against the Chinese...

  8. And on the subject of our current governmental situation, here's Jim Fallows all over the question of "Are We Rome":

    What I find interesting about the Fallows piece is:

    1. He does a pretty good job discussing the strengths and weaknesses of the American people and American society. I don't agree with all his conclusions, but I think his reasoning is sound. You can disagree with it, but I don't think you can dismiss it out of hand.

    2. But I think his conclusion - that the U.S. government and our governing classes are dysfunctional and need to be defenestrated but not by some revolution or coup but, rather, some mystical, fluffy process that appears to involve magical ponies and/or space bunnies - is risible.

    Look at us. We have managed to install a self-perpetuating political elite (that has sucked in most of the press and news organs as well) that shows all the classic signs of Roman-Senatorial-incestuous-self-interest. Clearly, these people will make no move to jeopardize their own power and perks, or those of their corporate allies and masters, until the very barbarians are at the gates of the Capitol.

    I think Fallows sees the truth - that the alternatives are there and pretty stark; autocracy or rebellion. But to say the words would be to move towards making them true, and he can't do that.

  9. Most Americans seem to ignore the long-term problems and believe in greatness and exceptionalism while a minority seems to be too pessimistic. The third group in between seems to be extraordinarily small or hide well.

    The commitments for the future (such as pension funds) aren't such a neck-breaking problem as it appears to some. In fact, all the official and guessed debts are only as bad as you allow them to become.

    1) Begin to save. Develop small budget surpluses (also in trade balance!)and save enough capital for investment (instead of public & private consumption).

    2) Make sure there's enough industry. 10 or 20% GNP industry is not enough. Move up to 25-30% by shrinking consumption.

    3) Get this done without starving the poor; consumption needs to be reducing by the public (DoD, for example) and the upper middle class and above.

    (You won't be able to gain much by reducing the consumption of the upper class because their consumption is small on the national level and they're already the ones who invest much more than they consume.)

    Getting this done requires that the nation understands its problems and throws overboard its myths, such as

    (1) the perceived need for $ 500-1,000 bn "defense" expenditures per year (instead of per decade).

    (2) the assumption that consumption leads to growth (it does as much as your feet's movements provide the energy for your car).

    (3) the notion that the nation is advanced and exemplary as it is (it's rather behind Europe in regard to many topics by up to 120 years).

  10. Seriously Publius, seriously?

    The previous post was posted in response to a comment of whether or not we could win a conventional war, at no time did I say or imply:

    "China and Russia—nations that Bg actually considers fighting in that fantabulous future war"

    "Bg and other serving military folks often complain about the failure of NATO invest heavily in our wars."

    "OK, so Bg assures me our military is on the ball, hot shit, can knock the socks off anyone out there."

    For the last statement, I surely argue that the military can win a conventional war, but also stated the assumptions of pulling out of Iraq, Afg and having some time to recoup, refit and retrain. And I didn't say "is", I implied "will be". I believe that leaders like MG Flynn will help us get there, as he points out many issues that we company grades have been screaming about for 7 years now (see my articles in MIPB 2003-2007). This caveat helps to put some context to this overstatement of my argument.

    I do say some crazy stuff, I just like to be quoted accurately and fairly. Okay, I am done getting defensive, now to the substance of your posting....I do like the article about the intel, I will have to dive into that more later.

  11. Bg:

    WRT China and Russia, I guess I'd reply by asking, "Who else?" England? France? Iran and North Korea are minor leaguers, esp. with Israel and South Korea hanging around. You're the military guy. You're the guy who says our military can win the conventional war, something your leadership also says. I'm just the guy filling in the blanks.

    You're right, you've haven't complained about NATO, but a whole lot of other military folks have. Check Gates's statements.

    Oh, so you have to withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan first? And then you have to have time to lick your wounds? What makes you think the world works like that, that an aggressor would actually wait for you to get whole again? They're not all going to be like Saddam Hussein in 1990-91, you know. Now would be the time to strike, while you all are screwing around in the back forty. Make no mistake, any move by a big guy is going to be when you're asleep, which you all are now. Remember Pearl Harbor is more than a catchy slogan.

    Something else you should consider, Bg. The way our politicians and your military leadership have scripted the play is that you boys are going to be playing in Afghanistan for many years to come. All part of that wonderful Long War, don't you know. So would it be fair to say that your optimistic read on our military's chances in a conventional war only comes in to play in, say, 2020? That's only ten years off, which means I'm drastically tightening the time line your COINdinista friends cite for this Long War they want to savor for 50 years.

    That's real comforting. Just think, the US military might be ready to fight a conventional war in ten years. And here I was, all worried.

    I don't think you realize just how screwed and vulnerable you—as a serving member—and all of the rest of us—as Americans—are as a result of George Bush's grand adventures. And Barack Obama's perpetuation of same.

    Flynn? Don't get too excited. He's just covering his ass, trashing those who came before, and suggesting that if he gets the impossible, everything will be golden. Just another hero, a general savant, just like his boss. You do realize what he's saying about guys like you, right? You can apparently be replaced by some civilian plucked off some college campus. Or maybe one of those COIN expert think tank dudes. Yeah, I can see Kagan one or two out there.

    You guys are starting to worry me. You're believing your own bullshit.

  12. "Oh, so you have to withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan first? And then you have to have time to lick your wounds? What makes you think the world works like that, that an aggressor would actually wait for you to get whole again?"

    If any, the GWB adventures had the utility of showing us that there IS NO SUCH AGGRESSOR RIGHT NOW.
    He would have shown himself if he had existed. In other words: Much of the NATO military power is excess power, bound to needless wars.

    We should really downsize, ready for rapid expansion - and experimenting to crawl closer to the new optimums without paying in blood for it.

    I'm actually quite happy with the very modest German military budget (which is less than the combined NSA&CIA budget afaik) of about 1.4% GNP. The size is ok, but there's room for improvement in the use of the budget.

  13. Publius-

    Like bg's, your post doesn't come unexpected.

    As I said before I thought bg's post both abstract and spot on. It was clearly in reponse to jim's comment on my thread and I thought at the time that jim had gone "a bridge too far" . . . not that I disagree with the politics, as ya'll well know. I took bg's post to be not about politics but concerning strategic theory, which is something I'm into. I would ask that "strategic theory" be added to the identifing keywords of bg's post/thread.

    This whole thread is a well-tread road for a gloomy cat like me, so I'll keep it brief as not to repeat myself annoyingly ;-)> . . . howsabout a couple of quotes, from 1951 and 58 years later, and see if ya'll make a connection . . . first that from 1951:

    "The Achievement of America in developing social policies which are wiser than its social creed and closer to the truth than either Marxist or bourgeois ideology is subject to two important reservations. First, the debate in the western world on the institution of property was aborted in America. . . Since property is a form of power, it cannot be unambiguously a source of social peace, it cannot be unambiguously a source of social peace and justice. For every form of power, when inordinate or irresponsible, can be a tool of aggression and injustice. However, since property is not the only type of power in society (not even of all economic power), it cannot be the sole source of injustice. Since some forms of property represent the security of the home, and others protect against the hazards of the future and still others are instruments for the proper performance of our social function, some forms of property are obviously instruments of social justice and peace. . . A democratic society [] preserves a modicum of justice by various strategies of distributing and balancing both economic and political power. But it is not tenable to place the institution of property into the realm of the sacrosanct. Every human institution must stand under constant review. The question must be asked, what forms of it are viable under what specific conditions? In so far as the absence of a Marxist challenge to our culture has left the institution of property completely unchallenged we may have become the prisoners of a dogmatism which will cost us dearly in some future crisis.

    The second weakness in the American political economic situation is that the lip service which the whole culture pays to the principles of laissez-faire makes for tardiness in dealing with the instability of a free economy . . ."

    Reinhold Niebuhr, "The Irony of American History", pp 103-5, 1951.

  14. Chief,

    All good points on China. As Neils Bohr said, "Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future."

    That was a great article, thanks for the link. Like you, I don't agree with all his conclusions, but he does a good job of examining the issue and presenting the arguments.

    It reminded me of my formative years in the 1980's as a dumb, impressionable teenager. At the time, Japan was the great menace that was going to bury the USA. They were coming in, buying real estate, buying companies, etc. They seemed to dominate us and the talking heads on TV pined over their perceived economic advantages. Hollywood, naturally, came out with a bunch of movies with that theme.

    Today, of course, that all seems silly. Japan is still in its lost decade and I'm pretty convinced we're about to follow them with a decade or two of stagnation of our own.

    So I'm sympathetic to the arguments in the article that "we've been here before" and we'll eventually come through. Despite that sympathy, though, I'm still pessimistic about the future. I’m fairly convinced that four decades of deficit spending and the inherent unsustainability of our government finances is coming to a head and will cause a major crisis within the next 20 years. The article talked about our crumbling infrastructure which is all too true. The feds spent $73 billion on transportation this fiscal year, which sounds like a lot, until you consider that we paid $383 billion in interest on the national debt. That’s half the defense budget and dwarfs the budget for every other federal department except HHS. That’s almost enough money to pay for every federal department except defense and HHS! The number is projected to go to $700 billion a year by the end of this decade. And consider that the interest we’re paying is very low – less than 1%. If that goes up then we’ll be paying even more.

    Imagine what we could do with that $383 billion each year! And the sad part is that that number doesn’t even consider the looming insolvency of our entitlement programs.

    Congress is squarely to blame for this mess and I don’t see any signs they’ll change. They are little more than enablers of the rent-seekers that keep them in office with money, partisan favor and gerrymandering.

    I don’t see any way out of the financial predicament we put ourselves into. We’ll soon approach the debt-to-GDP peak we had at the end of WWII only without any of the economic advantages we had then and a lot more things we have to pay for. Even assuming we don’t have a lost decade like Japan, we are unlikely to see the kind of growth-rates necessary to grow our way out of this problem, even assuming Congress displays some responsibility.


  15. Thought this from yesterday's NY Times about China-US relationships was interesting:

    I'm with Cohen. I don't think China's anywhere near going to war with the US. I think FDChief's comments about China's history are on the mark, but I think we're going to see some trying times, esp. as the Commies try to keep the lid on. How best to deal with internal pressures and strife if you don't want to change? Well, by golly, let's get nationalistic and find us a foreign bogeyman. I think that's what we'll see.

    I also agree with Cohen about the arms sale to Taiwan. We really are dumber than dirt. It becomes increasingly clear that the mainland boys don't intend to invade Taiwan any time soon; Taiwan is their number one trading partner. Mercantilists go for the money: always.

    Taiwan and Israel: our two long-time love affairs that cost us very dearly. Would that we were as practical as those potential "adversaries" in Beijing.

    Sven, I agree with this:

    "If any, the GWB adventures had the utility of showing us that there IS NO SUCH AGGRESSOR RIGHT NOW. He would have shown himself if he had existed. In other words: Much of the NATO military power is excess power, bound to needless wars.

    "We should really downsize, ready for rapid expansion - and experimenting to crawl closer to the new optimums without paying in blood for it."

    I know your "we" includes the US and I believe you're right on. But what do we poor Americans do when our political masters have committed us to years and years of trying to bludgeon fly-like terrorist groups with the sledgehammer of serious military force? With a little nation-building thrown in for good measure, of course.

    Sven, never said this before, but I'm happy you found us. I don't always agree with you, but you're a welcome voice.

  16. Publius,

    IRT, "Who else?," I don't have an answer, I did mention in the posting that I really don't foresee a conventional threat anytime in the near future, but since we should prepare for all contingencies, we should have the dialogue (and it was in response to a statement made by Jim). What I was hoping for was to present a point of view, one that I knew would be unpopular, with the hope that it would bring about counter arguments and recommendations for how to improve things.

    "Now would be the time to strike, while you all are screwing around in the back forty"

    Agreed, but point #1 above, we don't see anyone with the intent or capability within the next 5 years. (and Sven makes a nice point, if there was someone capable, someone probably would have done it) And as I stated, I fully believe that 5 years from now, we will be mostly out of Afg and Iraq because I don't think it will be politically feasible to remain. The "Long War", will still be around, but look at Yemen and Somalia as examples of how the US Govt will work those areas. (I mention this not to draw a critique of those actions, just as an example of force commitment in the Long war).

    For those reasons I felt my 2nd assumption was valid, that we will have a few years to regroup and retrain.

    Oh, I am familiar with MG Flynn. He is coming from the "Special" community, which means by default he probably has a distaste for the "general purpose forces" and how they do business (I don't blame him). I still haven't read the article, but just the fact that it is a critique, I like it already. As a Corps, the MI branch is severely messed up on so many levels. I am looking forward to read it simply because these issues need to be aired out. Even if he doesn't solve them, someone else in my generation can.

    You may call it believing my own bullshit, I read that as one of two things: One, being delusional and not being aware of what spews out of your mouth, or two, being deceptive and beginning to believe your own deception.

    I don't believe I fall into category two, so that must mean I am delusional. Fair enough, how can you not be a little delusional and still wake up day to day shoveling the shit on our plate. But, one man's bullshit is another man's fertilizer. I suppose instead of being delusional I like to think I am an optimist, who lives in a pile of realism (shit) every day. I can either shovel that shit into bigger piles or I can use it as fertilizer. I choose the later.

  17. BG,

    I've read MG Flynn's piece and it has a lot of flaws, but at least it started a discussion.

  18. Andy,

    We started this discussion in 2004 when a few of us where asked to come to Huachuca to tell the MI branch about our experiences and lessons learned. I started reading the MG Flynn piece, but it was too painful. I see recommendations on how to "fix" the current problem in Afghanistan, but what about recommendations fix the systemic problems throughout the organization? This jumped out at me:

    “Too often, when an S-​​2 officer fails to deliver, he is merely ignored rather than fired. It is hard to imagine a battalion or regimental commander tolerating an operations officer, communications officer, logistics officer, or adjutant who fails to perform his or her job.”

    So painful. Because we refuse to admit the real systemic problem. The S2 is ignored because he is a junior CPT with little to no experience (50% of intel CPTs serve as Bn S2s as their first intelligence assignment, myself included, I was a terrible Bn S2, I didn't have a clue what I was doing). These young captains can't stand up to the S3 or XO field grade officers. His NCOIC often isn't even an intelligence analyst, but instead a combat arms NCO getting staff time. And the S2 isn't fired because there is no one else to do his job. We still refuse to put qualified female officers in Bn level intelligence positions within combat arms units.

    This also dovetails into previous my argument that conventional fights are easy, for decades we've been okay with a junior captain serving as a S2 because the job of a Bn intel officer was easy. Lay a DOCTEMP over the terrain, create a SITEMP and then your more experienced leaders (S3, XO and Cdr) will choose the ECOA most likely to occur. Only hard part was setting up a collection plan to answer 2 or 3 key questions. It was a monkey's job. Those Bn S2s out there today are getting destroyed because the job is overwhelming and really, really hard and as an organization we are setting them up for failure. I still argue those who survive will be able to pick up the old style of S2'ing in a matter of days.

    My recommendation, every MI billet needs to be bumped up one pay grade. Females should be able to serve as Bn S2 officers (we already have females officers in Infantry Bns serving in support roles) I brought this up to the CG for the Army intel corps back in 2004. Almost every senior captain and major agreed with me. She treated me like I was being ridiculous and unreasonable.

  19. Ael,

    I am with Jim on this one, I would gladly pay more taxes if there was any reasonable expectation that the money would be well spent. We give more money to the government, it will just be pissed away on more pet projects, stimulus bills that do more stimulating of political careers than anything else, and funding wars that we don't need to be fighting.
    How a government organization runs a budget is comical, the rule is that if you get x amount of $ one year, and you don't spend x, you are penalized by getting less money the following year. There is no reward for being under budget, there is in fact a penalty for not spending it all. Therefore you always see millions (billions?) of dollars pissed away at the end of the 4th quarter every year to protect their budgets. Just one small example among hundreds.

    Nope, until the government proves it can spend my money wisely, I would prefer just to keep it here where at least I know I can do some good with it. As a Gen Xer, I have no expectations what so ever that I will get any Social Security, nor I am counting on a society that will care for me when I am too old (or too tired) to earn enough money to pay to live. I consider my personal retirement account and pension (which scary enough is government based) to be my life line.

    Let's try something novel, instead of paying more taxes, let's pay less, or hell, next to no federal taxes for a year and don't allow the government to go over budget. We will find out real quick what projects we don't need and which ones are critical to our nation.

  20. BG,

    I'm sure we could go though a couple cases of beer together over intel problems. I'm not too familiar with the problems in MI (I have my own issues to deal with), but what shocked me most was the fact that platoons on the ground are not reporting information up the chain and what information is collected isn't passed down at RIPTOA. I can't figure out why you guys (ie. Army) do not require an intel debrief for every patrol and action and why more intel people haven't been pushed to lower levels. Hoarding your intel people at HHQ isn't going to do you much good if there's no one in the field getting the info on the ground. At least that's how it appears to me as outsider. Heck, in the Air Force, even our tankers doing donuts in the sky have to debrief with intel at the end of every mission.

    And the solution MG Flynn proposes is to send out a bunch of journalist/analysts to the units to collect the data. WTF?

    But what pissed me off about the article was his complaint that intel isn't relevant because it hasn't provided pop-centric COIN intel on the population. Gee, general, you think it might have something to do with your PIR's? Or the fact that the mission focus in Afghanistan over the last five years changed every six months to a year? Or the fact that you and your boss in JSOC turned Army SF into door-kickers and/or sent them to Iraq instead? Etc. Etc. Etc.

    Ugh, I'm getting mad again just thinking about it.

    Finally, he rightfully complains about powerpoint and his preference for well-written narrative intel...and then he releases an unclassified "State of the Insurgency" analysis in powerpoint.

  21. BG,

    The irony is that the government would be sitting pretty at current tax levels if we didn't have to pay almost $400 billion a year in interest. I'm not sure what we got for all that borrowing. Meanwhile, the Dems in Congress writing this health care bill are using every nickle and dime trick and accounting gimmick to make it appear to pay for itself and stay under President Obama's cost cap. If we had that $400 billion a year we could pay to expand coverage to everyone and still have about $250 billion a year to play with. Instead, this bill will get passed, it's cost and revenue assumptions will turn out to be wishful thinking (as they always are) and we'll move even closer to national economic collapse.

  22. "I'm not sure what we got for all that borrowing."

    Hint: look at your LES at the end of this month.

    Since 1945 we've consistently acted as if the Defense budget was crafted by magic pixies. Gold-plated acquisitions? Pie-in-the-sky missile defense?

    No problem!

    For generations we put a hell of a lot of our military spending on the tab. But things really took a turn in 2001, when we decided we needed to have our guns while buttering the public with tax cuts, since asking the U.S. public to do more than slap a magnet on the Escalade would have been to open the party to questions nobody in the administration wanted asked and, beside, deficits didn't matter, right?

    Combine that with the degree to which the U.S. government has become a full-time-employment project for the people who work in government (which now apparently includes the large investment banks, HMOs, for-profit health care combines and Xe) and you have a pretty good idea why that money is gone and won't come back. Wishing we were a fiscally prudent nations is like wishing for a pony. And nobody wants to shovel the shit it'd take to make it happen...

    As far as the S-2 situation...what I took away from the Flynn article is that 1) gathering, interpreting, and disseminating intel is hard in a chaotic foreign land where your own people start from a position of 96% ignorance of the place, the people, the languages, the history, the tribal structure AND have no clear mission objective, and 2) we're not doing well at it.

    Well, duh.

    Complaining that junior captains don't "get" a part of the world where great nations have trained and assigned people to work lifetimes - who STILL have made simple and sometimes catastrophic errors in interpretation and judgement - is like complaining that Hostess Twinkies don't have that "fresh baked" flavor. What did you expect?

    Those of us who HAD bothered to read up on the place for about an hour or two back in 2002 pretty much knew that and recommended that we limit ourselves to a punitive expedition or, at most, setting up some sort of military assistance program on the down low to strengthen our local proxy and grab a hat. That wrestling with this pig was a BAD idea, and was likely to get us dirty.

    What you're arguing for is, in effect, to remake the MI branch into country specialists in central Asia. We could fo it...but WHY? What benefit would we gain from becoming the sole proprietor of the frigging place?

    Oh, and I'd like a nickel every time one of these bestarred geniuses vomits up these pearls of wisdom AFTER he retires.

    If this stuff was so rfreaking mission essential, why didn't you do it when you were in a position to have some effect, general.

    What a goddam clusterfuck.

  23. Chief,

    MG Flynn isn't some retired JO - he's McChrystal's J2. He was the J2 at JSOC and McChrystal brought him over.

  24. OK, so there is agreement that the leadership of the USA is corrupt, venal and dedicated to self-enrichment. They are pissing away the nation's opportunity and treasure while ignoring fundamental problems that demand immediate attention.

    The lessons of Rome and California indicate that there won't be any self-correcting action until things have become irrecoverable.

    The obvious question becomes: what are you going to do about it?

  25. Ael,

    Well, I'll tell you what I do.

    First I refuse to support any political party with my money or my membership. They are just different sides of the same coin. I will support specific candidates that I like, but those are few and far between.

    Secondly, I tell my representatives exactly what I think about the issues I care about.

    Third, I'm trying to financial prepare, as best I can, for a world without or with significantly reduced social security, medicare and military pension benefits. I think's it's unlikely any of them will go away completely, but I think the benefits they provide will have to be significantly reduced.

    Fourth, I participate in forums like this where I lay out my point of view which will hopefully convince others that the coming train wreck is real.


    You're right - the military is certainly part of the deficit problem. Not all of it, obviously, but a part. It's not popular to say, but I think some military people are probably overcompensated and most sufficiently compensated that there shouldn't be anymore pay or compensation increases except maybe inflation indexing. I think there should be a lot of reform in this area - there are too many special pays and it's too easy for people who don't deserve special pay to get some of them. I've also said many times the military procurement system needs a complete overhaul and we need to quit contracting for stuff that still requires a decade of R&D to field.

    I could go on and on and on of stuff I would do all across government, but of course Congress doesn't think in terms of practicality - they think in terms of bureaucratic and political power. So even stuff that everyone agrees should be done (like merging the CFTC and the SEC) can't be done because that requires breaking-up Congressional rice-bowls.

  26. My god my grammar sucks today. Sorry for the lack of proofreading.

  27. Andy,

    I know this is sort of off topic, but a huge sore point with me.

    " can't figure out why you guys (ie. Army) do not require an intel debrief for every patrol and action and why more intel people haven't been pushed to lower levels. "

    We do. Patrol debriefs are the standard. But the amount of information is enormous! The issue is that in this day and age of information sharing, we've never come up with a centralized, easy to follow reporting system to store and analyze all of this data. I've seen some attempts, some real good ones, but have you ever tried to build a database? Usually, a good database does wonders for the guy who builds it. But the other guy has his own magic database he wants to use and they aren't compatiable. And then, when you leave and pass that magical database to someone else, since they didn't write it, when something goes wrong (as often happens in databases) no one can fix it and the data is lost.

    Just like our country (the military is a microcosm of our society), no one wants to stand up and dictate," every must use this reporting system!" Data management is a critical skill that we don't have a job skill set for, but desperately need.

    And just a small clarification, this is a very common statement on this site:

    "Or the fact that you and your boss in JSOC turned Army SF into door-kickers"

    Do not confuse JSOC with Army SF. They are two completely separate entities. What Army SF did they did to themselves, JSOC had no role.

  28. Ael: Honestly? Keep my head down, work locally to try and make my Portland community as resilient as possible, teach my kids to think and analyze instead of believe.

    That's why I made the comment I did about the Fallows article. His conclusion is pretty inescapable - our national, and most of our state, politics are fucked up like a football bat. But he refuses to go further...which is, that the system is close to or beyond broken, and can't really be "reformed". It needs to be shaken out completely.

    1. The Senate, for one, is utterly dysfunctional. We either need to neuter it as the British have done their House of Lords, or dump it. It's ridiculous that 40 Senators, representing less than 25% of the nation's people, can hold national policy hostage. The modern use of the filibuster is a disgrace, and the "holds" system of executive appointments is even more so.

    2. Lifetime appointment of justices is rapidly becoming a problem, as the needs and priorities of the public changes well in advance of the outlook from the bench.

    3. And we can now all see the horrific result of allowing the incestuous union between regulator, regulated, lobbyist and legislator - a "government" whose primary function is the empowerment of th powerful and the enrichment of the rich.

    How the hell do you disentangle all this mess? Who has the power, the disinterestedness, and the will to do it? Perhaps a Washington or an Ataturk could, but where are you going to find someone like that coming up through our debased political process, where the FIRST requirement is to stop telling the unvarnished truth?

    Andy: I stand corrected. I came across the Flynn piece through Armchair Generalist ( and read the header to mean that Flynn HAD waited until retirement. Shame on me for not fact-checking.

    Now that I know he's still on active service, I have to wonder - why the hell did he out this publicly? And how is this coming back on him?

  29. bg: "Do not confuse JSOC with Army SF. They are two completely separate entities. What Army SF did they did to themselves, JSOC had no role."

    But...isn't JSOC the MACOM for the SOF? So if JSOC had wanted the SF to be something other than door-kickers, couldn't they have directed USASOC, JFKSWC, and the groups to go there?

    ISTM (this is quite the little acronym-y comment, eh?) that if the A-teams were Rangerizing themselves and JSOC wanted something else they were the first echelon above Army that had the authority to say stop.

    So the villian of the piece here is USASOC and the groups. But it sure doesn't sound like JSOC went out of their way to make anything better...

  30. Well, to be honest, I think there stands a very good chance that we'll be pulling out of Iraq and Afghanistan this year, early next year.
    I'm currently in the middle of researching the Adjustable Rate Mortgage's that were used to lure buyers into the Subprime market, and as of right now I can say is that this summer up into early 2011 we're in for an epic shit storm of financial problems that will make the 2007-through-2009 look like a quaint hiccup.
    I thought for sure we would have felt the first of it, but I found out that the banks were desperately trying to forestall the inevitable by working through all those ARM loans.
    However, from what I've been reading it seems all they did was put off the inevitable ARM reset, and the accompanying loan recasts.
    So, ladies and Gentlemen, once I figure it all out I'll begin a new thread, but for now it's pretty much safe to say that the math is there, the problem is real, and the solution...irrelevant.
    I think we are now like the driver in that convertible in the mountains of California who attached JATO rockets to his car...once he fired them he was no longer a significant factor in the future of that vehicles destiny.

  31. Chief,

    "But...isn't JSOC the MACOM for the SOF?"

    No. JSOC is subordinate to SOCOM and is technically on equal footing at USASOC, who owns USASFC, which owns what is known as "SF",not to be confused with "SOF". (how is that for acronyms, and I even held back a bit)

    McCrystal was the JSOC CG, before that in Ranger Regiment, never did he have any influence of Army SF. JSOC has many times tried to make Army SF elements ordinate to their Task Forces, but it never happens. These two organizations are like oil and water. (despite the fact that one, JSOC, draws from the other, SF).

    Sorry, off point, but just a minor clarification to a very common misunderstanding of how SOCOM is organized. Here is an easy to follow diagram from our friends at wikipedia

  32. BG,

    Why are units worrying about a database much less creating one? That should be CFLCC's/USFOR-A's job (IOW, MG flynn) - the units are already doing the hard work, there's no need to burden them with creating and maintaining proprietary databases. CFLCC/USFOR-A needs to come up with a standard report format which units in the field fill in and send to up HHQ. That's it. This is what the air forces do - there's a standard mission report format that everyone submits within 2 hours of mission completion - and by everyone I mean the Air Force, Navy, Brits, Canadians, Dutch - anyone who falls under CFACC. The people at the CAOC take care of the rest.

    I do know the difference between SF and JSOC. The point I failed to make was that SF aren't being used much anymore for their traditional role and instead appear (to me at least) to be used primarily for DA missions - at least that's what I've been hearing. They could be out collecting the kind of information MG Flynn says we need and making contact and building relationships with the locals.


    I'm all for getting rid of the fillibuster as it currently exists in the Senate, but I'm very much against getting rid of the Senate or substantially changing its composition. The big advantage the Senate has over the House is that it can't gerrymandered. Plus, you get rid of the Senate then you might as well cease calling this country the United States of America since states would be about as relevant as counties in the UK.

    In the military I've learned that leadership and authority need to be pushed downward to the lowest level possible. One of the biggest problems in the military today is micromanagement. Want to do a patrol without a MRAP and all your PPE? Well, you'll probably need a full-bird or two to sign off on that. There's little trust in subordinates.

    I look at governance the same way. The closer governance is to the people the better it is and by better I mean more responsive to the people. Get rid of the Senate and the effect is to shift yet more power and authority to the federal government. Since our founding, the federal government has consistently grown in power compared to the states. For a long time this was necessary and for the good of the nation, but there comes a point where the growth of federal power should cease and hold steady. I think we're about at that point.

    We already see that the feds are quite responsive to bureaucratic and lobby interests probably more than anything else. I said in another post that when authority becomes concentrated then that is a like bright light attracting all the despots and rent-seekers like flies. We are already seeing some of that with the Wall Street revolving door with DC and the huge lobbying efforts.

    Likewise I disagree that we should get rid of lifetime judicial appointments. That would only further politicize the judiciary since they would now have to worry about keeping their position and open them up to favors for lucrative opportunities once off the bench.

    What we should really consider is term limits for members of Congress, especially the Senate. I would also love to get rid of gerrymandering, but that would take a Constitutional amendment since the courts have put their blessing on that practice.

  33. sheer-

    Any comment on what is going on in Iceland? What about the outstanding loans on commercial property? Or is that included in what you are talking about. Any comment?


    Now for the second quote . . .

    "The government stripped of any real sovereignty provides little more than the technical expertise for elites and corporations that lack moral restraints and a concept of the common good. America has become a facade. It has become the greatest illusion in a culture of illusions. It represents a power and a democratic ethic it does not possess. It seeks to perpetuate prosperity by borrowing trillions of dollars it can never pay back. The absurd folly of trying to borrown our way out of the worst economic collapse since the 1930s is the cruelest of all the recent tricks played on American citizens. We continue to place our faith in a phantom economy, one characterized by fraud and lies, which sustains the wealthiest 10%, Wall Street and the insolvent banks. Debt leveraging is not wealth creation. We are vainly trying to return to a bubble economy of the sort that once handed us the illusion of wealth, rather than confront the stark reality that lies ahead. We are told massive borrowing will create jobs and re-inflate real estate values and the stock market. We remain tempted by mirages, by the illusion that we can, still, all become rich.

    The corporate power that holds government hostage has appropriated for itself the potent symbols, language, and patriotic traditions of the state. It purports to defend freedom, which it defines as the free market, and liberty, which it defines as the liberty to exploit. It sold us on the illusion that the free market was the natural outgrowth of democracy and a force of nature, at least until the house of cards collapsed and these corporations needed to fleece the taxpayers to survive. Making the process even more insidious, the real sources of power remain hidden. Those who run our largest corporations are largely anonymous to the mass of citizens. The anonymity of corporate forces - an earthly Deus absconditus - makes them unaccountable. They have the means to hide and to divert us from examining the decaying structure they have created. As Karl Marx understood, capitalism when it is unleashed from government and regulatory control is a revolutionary force."

    Chris Hedges, "Empire of Illusion", page 143, 2009.

    Niebuhr's and Hedges's quotes provide the "bookends" to this era of US history imo. What comes next is up to us.

  34. Andy: Well, we've tried term-limits here in Oregon. The primary effect was to replace complacent, long-term incumbents with ignorant, short-term incumbents. Whatever.

    As far as the states becoming irrelevant, they're already well on their way there due to their inability to raise money (nobody wants to tax themselves) or run a deficit. California is just about ready to become the Iceland of the West Coast. We're not far behind.

    The problem with saying "get rid of gerrymandering" Do you just throw a rectangular grid over states and call them electoral districts? It's not like the current situation "just happened". The parties saw this as a solution to their problems of fighting for votes. That genie is out of the bottle - every other party, from now until the demise of the Republic, is going to want to do things the same way. Short of a constitutional amendment...and good luck passing that.

    bg: Ah. Interesting. Seems odd that a "Joint" command should be subordinate, but I see that your JSOC people are basically the "Delta-type" SOF units from the various services. Clearly you don't have the clout to take on ASFC.

    Andy: More to the point, the SF - the old-school, trainer/leader/advisor SF - should be the lead Army element in A-stan. The conventional maneuver elements should be kicking down a handful of "reaction force"-type units, but if there is ever going to be any sort of successful negotiation between Kabul and the Talibs the heavy military lifting is going to have to be done by the AP and ANA.

    Look at Iraq. The Shiite government wasn't ever going to get anywhere with the Sunni muj until they showed back in 2008 that they could take the JAM and the sunnis on the ground (with US air and arty help, sure, but, still...) By dumping assloads of conventional boots onto the ground in A-stan we're just duplicating the 2003-2007 situation in Iraq, where the promise of having an endless supply of American high-velocity-projectile-interceptors meant never having to say "Gee, I wonder which end of this fucker the bullet comes out of?"

    So JSOC, you're off the hook - SOCOM; what's YOUR fucking excuse?

  35. Thought you all might be interested in this post from one of my new favorite blogs:

  36. Chief,

    A the joint organization is subordinate to another joint organization (SOCOM).

    Completely agree that traditional SF foreign internal defense (FID) mission would have been ideal for Afg. We agree on this point at least once each thread. But it was made unfeasible when the build up for Iraq happened. Active duty groups stepped aside, and conventional forces assumed the role because there were not enough SF to do the job. This wasn't the beginning, you understand the culture war within SF very well. But IMO, I think SF Groups relegated themselves when they insisted that they not remain in Afg or Iraq as occupation forces. You gotta understand, for SF, the Afg invasion was sooooo cool. If the SF Groups got bogged down in occupation duties (FID), they wouldn't be available to return to their AORs and their pre-9/11 job. Therefore, the conventional forces took over the FID job. It was sad to witness. Let's not underestimate the rice bowl effect, as the conventional army of the late 90s was begging, pleading for a mission out of fear of becoming obsolete. When traditional big army guys like GEN Petraeus saw the chance to expand the role of the US Army in the Armed Forces, he jumped all over it.


    Why are tactical units creating databases? Because they are hard charging and proactive. And because unlike the Air Force, no offense, there are too many variables. I know something about aviation, so I feel I am being fair when I say that airspace and airfields usually share the same core characteristics, with a little variation. Not so easy on the ground. In both Iraq and Afg, each battlespace is unique, where one TTP works wonders, that same TTP across the street is disastrous. Same goes with intelligence requirements, each commander has his own idea of what he needs to know. Add to this that very few understand how to generate intelligence requirements and develop collection planing in a COIN environment, it has never been taught. FMs, doctrine, etc, are meant so serve as a baseline, but every unit feels that their AOR is unique and they want to have control of their own information. Databases built by higher HQ tend to be too general to help the tactical unit, and there is little too no payoff in entering the data.

    There are ways to do it, but in my experience, I couldn't enforce a standard across a Brigade in Baghdad, let alone a whole country. It will only happen with a simple, easy to use but complete database that is enforced by the highest levels of command. And it must have tactical payoff to the collectors who are in fact the end consumers of the products (which many at higher hq seem to forget).

  37. BG,

    I understand that requirements and AO's differ, but I don't see how that makes it hard to have everything in one database, much less send info up the chain. It doesn't have to be complex - just the basics (DTG, MGRS, unit, etc.) plus a narrative section where you put the detail.

    Minimally, one could simply post the reports on SIPR in HTML or XML and let the search engine spiders find them, or you could create your own intellipedia space (which is built and hardly used) and put them there. How did you guys do this before you had databases?

    Right now I work with predator which means I am support to the guys on the ground. We have a lot of analytical capability plus the ability to bring additional assets and analysis to the table, but most of it goes unused because we have no idea what you're doing beyond immediate tactical neccessity. The most we ever get is a couple of GRG's with NAI's on them or maybe some very basic info on an HVT you're looking for. For us, Army intel is a huge black hole below brigade and TF level. Something as simple as the ability to google up the mission/patrol summaries (or whatever you call them) for the last few days would be a huge help and would improve our support.

    I feel your pain on the collection aspect. Air Force and Navy intel people don't get taught that either unless they they're going to fill an assignment specifically in collections at the majcom level.

  38. Chief,
    I'm in total disagreement that SF should be lead in the AFGH goat screw.
    Nobody should be doing squat in that shit hole.
    If Rangers lead the way then let them light up the pick up zones and let's retro out ASAP.

  39. Andy,

    The Senate can't be gerrymandered you say??

    The Senate is fully fucking RIGGED. A stacked deck is a stacked deck, and the very Gerrymandered House is MUCH more democratic than the Senate is.

    Gerrymandering should be prohibited -- let a non-partisan open-source computer program do reapportionment. It's idiotic to do it any other way.

    The solution for both problems is the same: the big states have to organize a cartel and systematical wage political and economic war on the small states until they agree to serious changes.

  40. Charley,

    You must be from California. Now that I look at your site, I see you are.

    Yes, the Senate is rigged, by design. I would prefer to break-up the big states and consolidate some of the small states before moving to a unicameral system. If we want do to that when we should scrap it all and implement a parliamentary system, but that's not likely to happen anytime soon.

    Again, I believe local governance is best and there are a lot of people that don't want California, New York and Texas shoving their solutions down everyone elses throat.

    I agree that gerrymandering should be prohibited - unfortunately it's become institutionalized thanks to SCOTUS decisions. Regardless, does anyone think Congress, filled as it is with professional politicians, is going to vote for a Constitutional amendment, or even a law, that would effectively throw many of them out of office? Yeah, me neither.

    As for your last paragraph, I couldn't disagree more. The root of the problem isn't the structure of our government - the problem is that we've allowed that structure to be systematically undermined by venal professional politicians and the powerful interests that support them. Getting rid of the Senate won't do anything to address that issue.

  41. Andy: I have to agree with Charles here. The Senate isn't some sort of magic wand. It was a political compromise - a fairly crude one, in my estimation - to get the small states to buy into the Constitution. I don't see why it's preservation is something deathlessly essential to our form of government.

    For one, the small number of Senators needed to commit some sort of skulduggery makes the Senate the perfect place for "venal politicians" and "powerful interests" to combine. The Senate's confirmation powers make it a perfect Skinnerbox for malefactors of great wealth and power to ensure that their elected rats keep pressing the right button that feeds them both the tax-dollar cheese.

    For another, it's inherantly anti-republican, in the same tradition as the Electoral College and several other of the Framers' designs, fully in line with the "revolution of the elites" tradition or our revolution, which unfolded as much to keep real power out of the hands of the Great Unwashed as to wrest it from King and his counselors.

    I don't see any great advantage to the notion that a minority of the people in our country can, through the Senate, hold the majority hostage. It may have the advantage of preventing some of the more nutty majoritarian acts (although we seem to manage to do stuff like Jim Crow and Japanese internment and Patriot Acts just fine...) but it has more significant downsides.

    Things like the abuse of the filibuster seem to me to be, not bugs, but features of a body whose fundamental purpose is to be anti-majority-rule.

    I'm not sure why you jump immediately to the conclusion that "the problem isn't the structure of our government". If we've learned anything about people, it's that they will adapt to their environment as much as they will change their environment to suit themselves. If you made a magical switch and put the baseball players back into the parks they played in in 1910 with the equipment and rules of 1910, I'll bet you that within a season they'd be using the strategies and tactics of the baseball of 1910. If you took five hundred citizens of 2010 Brooklyn and dropped them onto the steppe of central asia with the technological bag and baggage of a Scythian tribe circa 400AD I'd bet you money that within a generation the survivors and their descendants would be living more like steppe nomads than urban hipsters. ISTM that the size and structure of the U.S. government can't help but affect the behavior of the people in it.

    I think all here will agree that the U.S. government has not been working at full efficiency over the past 20 to 50 years. Certainly a lot of this has to do with the post-Reagan tax-cut-and-spend ideology that has worked its way into the public conciousness. But why NOT consider that some of this may stem from the Senate being a political compromise that has outlived its usefulness, a sugar pill that turns out to have a toxic center?

  42. Chief,
    I'm not so sure that it's all about the form of govt, although your cmts on the US Senate are spot on.
    ISTM that the breakdown is the fact that our leaders cannot really understand what they are doing ,or the gravity of their actions. This is not a slam but rather a simple observation.
    How many of us can really understand what a billion dollars really happens to be.?
    The magnitude is beyond the capabilities of our limited ability to understand.
    We do not use our evolutionary skills properly, since we seem to focus only on the wolves that are chewing on our ankles right at the moment.
    If we were evolved then we would do more long term planning, which imo just ain't happenin'.

  43. jim,

    "If we were evolved then we would do more long term planning"

    I completely agree that we need more long term planning, but I will take Chief's argument about the form of the government and go the next step. As I often argue, and as I feel Chief argued effectively, people are incredibly adaptable and people change their strategies to fit the environment.

    The longest you see anyone in our society plan for (with the exception of personal retirement) is 4-6 years (President and Senate). Within those 4-6 years, you break it up with elections every 2 years that can completely change the dynamics of the political environment. So in reality, we work 1-2 year planning cycles at best. Public companies and their quarterly stock reports also contribute to this problem as a company will cut 10,000 jobs to increase their revenue to avoid a bad quarter. Our system is not setup for long term thinking, there is no incentive to do so because if you don't focus on the short term (the wolves biting at your ankles, i.e., upcoming elections, that next quarterly report), you won't be around to meet your long term goals.

    I see a couple of solutions.

    1. IMO this one is a no brainer, get rid of the quarterly reports. Yes, yes, stock holders have the right to know what is going on in a public company, but let's compromise and make them annual reports. This way at the least the company is forced to look 1-2 years out, and don't have to cut 10,000 jobs this month to make a profit next month.

    2. This one is a throw away, have lifetime terms for Presidents and Senators. Nope, not going to happen for good reasons. Therefore, I propose we do the opposite. Limit Congressional terms like we do for the President. This way policy makers are more concerned about their legacy (which is a result of long term planning) than their next election.

    But as Andy suggests, how do we get those in power to limit their own power?

  44. Back in my grad school days, we discussed the various forms of municipal government, and how as municipalities grew in size from small villages to major metropolises, the type of government that was most effective changed. Cities cannot be governed by town hall methods, for example.

    Yet, at the national level, folks accept a governmental design, incorporating several sub-optimal compromises that was intended to govern 13 rather agrarian states, to be some sort of divinely delivered eternal and universal perfection. A couple of centuries, 37 states, a couple of hundred million people and a radically changed and increasingly complex world later, and folks cannot understand why we have dysfunction? The idea is still valid. It's just that the implementation no longer delivers what the framers' idea intended.

  45. FDChief is right. Our system is fatally flawed. Much as I venerate the Founders, they fucked it up. And it's too late to start over.

    Interestingly, I believe my cousin, Mr. Jefferson, would agree with me. We've not turned out as the Founders expected, but we also have to understand that they never expected that their descendants would view politicians as anything other than hired hands.

    When I get around to it, I'm going to do a post about this subject.

  46. Well, I disagree with you guys about what the problem is. Structural reform won't solve most of the more funadmental problems like how we elect our representatives, gerrymandering and the poison of corporate money and special interest lobbying in politics. IOW, you can have the greatest system in the world but if you continue to populate it with venal careerists then it doesn't matter in the end.

    In that sense, I think a good analogy is the intelligence community. Those in the beltway and the talking heads talk endless about structural reform and moving pucks around on the org chart to "fix" intel problems. But the real problems are much deeper an have to do with people, not organizations.


    You're right about one thing regarding the founders - they viewed political service as a temporary duty over the course of a life spent doing something else. They imagined people from all walks of life holding political office - not the professional life-long politician/lawyers (who become lobbyists upon retirement) we have today.

  47. Andy-

    They imagined people from all walks of life holding political office - not the professional life-long politician/lawyers (who become lobbyists upon retirement) we have today.

    So they saw the future of our country in the hands of Sarah Palin? The complexity of our nation and the conduct of its business, unfortunately, requires some professional folks involved, whether we like it or not. We, The People, elect the fools that have mangled our nation. Or are you saying that the common folk you champion are dolts?

    We saw what unfettered markets did to our country. Governments exist to govern, and governance is necessary for good reason. What FDChief, Publius and I are decrying (if I may speak for my two colleagues), for example, is a Senate that really cannot conduct business unless 60% agree to conduct that business. Or a culture where being in power is more important than doing what is best for our people. Or Congressional terms where one must begin turning one's attention to getting re-elected before one has even completed half of one's elected term. Is our world so simple that progress on major issues can be measured in less than two years?

    Yes, there are some human warts, Andy. But you might think of the structural warts that provide fertile soil for these hguman warts to flourish.

  48. Al,

    So they saw the future of our country in the hands of Sarah Palin?

    Uh, no. Not sure how you make that assumption.

    The complexity of our nation and the conduct of its business, unfortunately, requires some professional folks involved, whether we like it or not.

    There is a difference between "professionals" and "professional politicians." Most of Congress is made up of lawyers who haven't even practiced law in a long time. Do you think they have any idea what it takes to run a business, work a farm, make a payroll, live on a middle income, etc.? I'm all for more "professionals" as long as they're not professional careerist politicans. At a minimum I would like fewer lawyers and more people with real-world experience other than organizing campaigns and running for office.

    We, The People, elect the fools that have mangled our nation. Or are you saying that the common folk you champion are dolts?

    Well, in an unrepresentative two-party system where candidate selection is controlled by a minority, "we the people" are forced to choose between tweedle dee and tweedle dum. What are we supposed to do when your vote is reduced to the lesser of two evils? You either refuse to vote or choose the least odius. Of course, such a system primarily serves partisan interests and not the people's interests.

    Finally, the 60% percent rule in the Senate could be changed tomorrow if only a simple majority of Senators chose to. That rule is not in the Constitution, it's not a "law" and it's not a structural impediment to gettng things done. It's there because of tradition and because our venal politicians don't want to get rid of it. That's the only reason. It's pretty clear where the priorities of our politicians are since they would rather preserve the filibuster for the next time they're in the minority than get legislation they claim is "critical" passed.

    Regardless, this is all academic because if those human warts can't even get rid of a stupid tradition like the filibuster then there's little hope they'll do anything more substantial.

  49. But Andy, how dod "those human warts" get to be "those human warts"? Are you suggesting that there is something peculiar about our form of government that attracts these "warts"? Or that the warts are there just because we only want to elect warts who act only in their own selfish interest?

    I read a kind of sad article today about the "tea party" people. In it the teapartiers were all upset about some congressional race in NY state because the GOP - in a realtively liberal district - had nominated one of the four living Rockefeller Republicans in the last election (who was hounded and beaten by a winger who then lost to the Dem). They were upset because the "elites who run the GOP" nominated a RINO.

    They were mad because she was willing to give a pass on abortion.

    They wer mad because she was indifferent about gay marriage.

    I'll give these people something - they are crazy mad about the nearly-complete takeover of our government by the wealthy, connected and powerful.

    But instead of getting mad at the GOP for defenestrating the moderate Republicans, the sort of people who used to demand taxation on inherited wealth to prevent the establishment of a herditary aristocracy, the sort of people who used to demand the protection of family farms from agribusiness and small business from predatory corporations, who are they mad at?

    These same moderates for NOT hating on some gays and some abortions.


    Of COURSE the governing class isn't going to do anything that would reduce their ability to direct largesse to their rich and corporate masters. Of COURSE these same people are going to use every possible structural flaw in the U.S. Constitution to their own selfish ends.

    Of COURSE these parties serve "partisan interests"...because the very people whose interests they are fucking over, the sad, sorry little people in these tea party meetings, are letting themselves get distracted by the shiny pretties the oligarchs have used for a generation to distract them.

    "Look! Over there! Two homos! Look! A Negro on welfare! Look! A regulation preventing a small person from getting a small payout (but when you void that regulation my corporate master gets a BIG payout, hee hee...shhhh!"

    So the state of the parties - and let's call a spade a fucking shovel, the real problem here is the GOP, which has ceased even pretending to govern and has become all about tax cuts, largesse for the wealthy, gays, guns, abortion and winning elections - is the result of a gullible, uninformed, relatively foolish citizenry allowing the ruling class and their media lackeys to fool them.

    But the state of the government is exacerbated by the structural flaws built into the Constitution.

    Altering the structure of an organization is simple. It simply takes;

    1. The recognition that the structure is flawed, and

    2. The will to change it.

    I agree that the problem here is that the foolish fools - and by that I mean us, the U.S. public - not the "warts", US, because we elect them and prefer to hear them lie to us than face the unpleasant truth that we have mortgaged our future and are wasting the present fiddling over nonsense like porn, gay marriage and abortion. So I'll be the first to admit that because getting to #2 is nearly impossible it IS academic.

    But it's disheartening to listen to a smart guy like you not even be willing to go as far as #1.

    Then I KNOW we're fucked.

    I hope my kids' generation is smarter than we are.

  50. Chief,

    What do the tea partiers have to do with the Senate? Not much that I can see. Are they going to go away if the Senate goes away? Probably not. In fact, out of all the complaints you list, what will change by getting rid of the Senate? The foolish fools will still be running things. The lobbyists will still be there only now they can concentrate their efforts in one legislative body instead of two.

    You pretty consistently put the problems of this country at the feet of the GoP. Well, have you looked at your Democratic Party lately? The GoP is in the midst of a civil war, but thankfully we have the Democrats to keep the establishment running! Apparently they care more about keeping the filibuster than passing their healthcare bill.

    Now, I think there is a structural problem with how the Dems and GoP have woven themselves into the fabric of our election processes. By all accounts, the GoP should be dead and replaced by a more loyal opposition, but that's not going to happen because both political parties are institutionalized to an extent where they can't die - they just become brainless zombies until someone manages to take the reins.

    For an example of what I mean by the "institutionalizing" of our political parties, just take a look at Senator Lieberman's independent run. Partisan democrats cried foul claiming that he was usurping democracy the democratic process by not standing aside for Lamont. Partisan candidate selection has become so ingrained in our election system that people cannot tell the difference between an actual election for office and a political party's mechanism for candidate selection. Unless of course you live in Illinois where the Democratic primary is the "real" election, but that's another ball of wax.

    If you want to fix structure, that's a good place to start IMO. You don't need to rewrite the Constitution to make the system work much much better than it presently does. Also, have you considered that the changes you propose will have second and third order effects and thought about what those effects might be?

  51. Andy,

    Usually we agree, but this time, I will argue against you. I think you do need to rewrite the Constitution to make things work better from time to time. As wise as the founding fathers were, they were men of their own time. And the wisest thing they did was allow Amendments to the Constitution. They knew almost immediately they got something wrong, so they added the Bill of Rights.

    It amazes me, not to include the bill of rights, there are only 17 Amendments over 230 years. The most recent? 1992, about all things, Congressional salaries. This was an amendment that was in the works since the Constitution was founded. And that is the last Amendment since 1971, 40 years! Take away that one, and Prohibition ,which took another Amendment to repel, and that means we've only amended our Constitution 9 times in the last 100 years. Think how much our country has changed in those 100 years.

    You are right, we don't need to rewrite the Constitution, but when did we forget as a nation that was can amend it as we see fit to ensure our government remains relevant and effective in a way fitting of what we expect of ourselves as a nation?

  52. Andy, after taking a harder look at the Amendments, you can probably put half of them in the category of "duh", such as woman suffrage and other civil rights stuff that simply wasn't politically feasible at the time of the Bill of Rights. But, IMO, the Amendment that best captures how the process should be used is the 20th Amendment. Back in the day, the new President and Congress didn't take office until March 4 after the November election. As communication and transportation technology improved, there was no longer the need for 5 months in between the election of the change of the government, so the new Amendment changed the date to Jan 20. In the big picture, it is a trivial Amendment, but IMO, it illustrates how the Constitution can and should be updated by Amendments as society and the world changes. With the exception of multiple civil rights Amendments and the income tax Amendment, there really hasn't been any "Game changers" in that 2nd half of our country's history.

    I like to say, if you don't like the game, don't hate that players, change the rules.

  53. Bg,

    No worries, I don't mind having a minority opinion.

    You are right, we don't need to rewrite the Constitution, but when did we forget as a nation that was can amend it as we see fit to ensure our government remains relevant and effective in a way fitting of what we expect of ourselves as a nation?

    I’m definitely not hostile to amending the Constitution or changing the game – I can think of several amendments I’d like to implement – but those are, I think, far different from what’s being proposed here.

    Regarding amendments, the problem, of course, is that there is very little consensus in this country and amendments require consensus. What would you propose?

  54. Andy,

    Dude, I don't know. Here you go, if Chief says that term limits don't work, let's do the opposite. Let's go for lifetime sentences for Senators (it is practically that way already). They get voted in by their State, and never leave until they tap out. And we give them life time salaries/pensions/benefits equal to what an O10 (General officer) receives, and make all other forms of income "unethical" until the day they die. If an ethics committee determines that the Senator does anything unethical (accept a gift, etc), he or she will be booted out and loses their pension and goes to jail.

    (No military bias, the reason I picked O10 is simply because I want to make sure that along with a pension and govt health plan there is a plan for the kids to get a good college education. That GI Bill is incredible).

  55. Andy: What the tea partiers have to do with the Senate is that right now the teabaggers are about the only people running around with their hair on fire about the U.S. government.

    As far as the Dems go, you're right, they're pretty much playing the same old game the same old way. It's despicable, but it's at least predictable.

    The GOP, OTOH, has just jumped off the fucking dock. Unable to govern, it has simply decided to sit down and pout like a tantruming toddler.

    So you want to change the players, not the game. OK, who's going to change those players?

    About the only people out there that seem to be really activated by all this corporatism are the teabaggers. And yet...

    Do they want MORE regulation of Wall Street felons and gamblers?

    Do they want to ensure that the government DOESN'T let Armor slip us tainted meat or Gerber poisoned baby food?

    Do they want MORE skepticism towards the malefactors of great wealth, more personal liberty for Americans, less of the military-industcial-congressional-complex that picks their pockets and breaks their budgets?

    Hell, no.

    They want people who will break down government, unleash the plutocrats and feed the long as the gays can't marry and the whores can't abort.

    THAT's that they have to do with the Senate. If the only people willing to "water the Tree of Liberty with patriot blood" (if you believe their more overblown rhetoric) have been so utterly spun and fooled by the very oligarchs they think they're confounding...then what possible chance is there that the rest of the overfed, complacent American public will do anything.

    So there will be no Constitutional amendments, whatever we say or do here.

    If there were, I'd say that starting with the Senate would be a good thing. I still haven't heard you say the Pacific Ocean of good it does. Why do we NEED it? What, other than a sop to Delaware, Montana and Rhode Island, does it provide the polity? What are the benefits it brings that offset its antidemocratic place in the U.S. government?

  56. And for God's sake, using Lieberman as an example of how our system could be improved?

    Lieberman? The guy who's had his head consistently up his ass since he was such a crappy VP candidate ten years ago?

    THAT Lieberman?

    Like I say, thinking that some sort of attitudinal change in the American public is going to change the government is the wishist kind of wishful thinking. Like I said - the tea partiers are the closest I can think of to Americans who want to shake things up in D.C., and the things they want to shake loose are the very things that are most going to hurt their poor simple asses.

    So the parties and the people who vote for them aren't going to somehow suddenly stop doing what they've been doing for the past 30 years.

    Ah, the hell with it. I'm actually getting disgusted with myself for arguing about this stupidity. The poor people, the little people, people like me, we've lost this cultural cycle. I, for one, welcome my new corporatist masters.

    The only hope I have is that the combination of the bought stooges and their buyers will continue as they have been doing, widen the income gap, continue to offshore jobs and dismantle the middle class, cramdown and disenfranchise the poor. It took the excesses of the Gilded Age and the corruption of the government in the Nineties to bring about the Progressive Movement, and the Depression to throw the moneychangers out of the public temple for a generation.

    Perhaps this cycle will peak sooner rather than later and I'll get to enjoy the sight of a latter-day FDR screwing the marginal tax rate on millionaires back to 90% and yanking back some of that obscene bonus money.

  57. Here's an ides, and it doesn't need an Amendment to do it, just a regular law added to the U.S. Code.

    Let's outlaw lobbying. Of any sort.

    No junkets, no glossy brochures, no gladhanding, no perky spokestits, no nothing.

    You get a bill, you read a bill, you get a staff report, you read a staff report, you debate, you vote.

    Would it cause problems, would legislators have inadequate information? Would that be bad?

    Would it be any worse than what we have now?

    I'm not so damn sure.

  58. That would require a much, much larger bureaucracy because the government has sourced out expertise from bureaucracy to lobbyists - and thus needs them to avoid total ignorance about whole sectors.

  59. Chief,

    If you read my post again, you'll see I didn't use Lieberman as "an example of how our system could be improved."

  60. Andy-

    As I stated above, municipalities learned over time that the form of Government that worked in 1776 didn't work for growing towns and cities in subsequent year, so they adopted new forms. I would suggest that our national government's structure deserves some consideration for being made more in tune with the country we now are, not the country we once were. Not saying I'm ready and able to state the changes needed, just saying that when addressing the obvious dysfunction of the US, one should not rule out the Constitution as it is currently written, other than the fact that the founders allowed for amendment. That alone says they knew that adaptation was a vital element of excellence and long term survival.

  61. Al,

    That's excellent. You make a very compelling argument - one I will have to think about some more.

  62. Andy-

    It's been a long time since my days in grad school, but there was at that time a significant body of research into the progression of governmental types for municipalities as the municipality increases in size and complexity. At the simplest level are the small New England "Town Hall Meeting" government of the whole, with maybe a paid, part time treasurer and secretary. Next up the line are part time elected councils assisted by a skeleton town staff. And so on until you arrive at major cities with full time elected councils and robust professional staffs. It's quite the continuum. Many of these structural designs are products of the last 100 years or less.

    In short, municipalities learned from experience and developed the structures to handle new and changed circumstances. After all, there weren't cities of 1,000,000 plus folks in 1776.

  63. Along with Al, I, too, have taken courses in governmental forms and functions. There has been a lot of great research conducted in the U.S. and elsewhere, with most of it available in English. As Al suggests, I don't think much as ever been to address radical or fundamental change to national governing bodies. It's mostly housekeeping and examining how to make the current form more efficient. Examples in the U.S. are those constitutional amendments Bg's noted: housekeeping. In fact, the Constitution is a housekeeping document.

    Never thought I'd say this, but I think we need radical/fundamental change. As the Chief notes, the Senate is no good. I'd pitch it. In fact, now I view it in my later years, I'd get rid of our entire form of government. The Senate clearly doesn't work, but if you really think about it, nor do the presidency or the House of Representatives. We venerate the president so much as head of government that we're afraid to discipline him when he misbehaves as chief politician. Span of control? Look at the House and Senate.

    Parliamentary system? True, it sucks big-time, but we're getting nowhere with our weird unique system, devised because of distrust of kings and parliaments. Shit, we've got that now, anyway, but we have none of the advantages of a parliamentary system, critically the ability to to do snap elections and throw the bums out. I'm starting to think that's worth putting up with the warts in a parliamentary system.

    I'll repeat it. The U.S. Government does not do the job for which it was intended. None of it. It needs radical surgery.

  64. Sorry I haven't been posting much lately, I've been heads down on a big project that has me working pretty much every day of the week (I'm typing this from work) but I've been following your discussion pretty closely.

    I think we've pretty much reached the point where Publius' last comment says it all. I think we are heading towards a Parliamentary system by default as well. Now how do we formally and peacefully transition to the new form of government?