Say it ain't so, Joe

Today's look at war from the cheap seats

TGIF so long as you’re not somewhere in the path of Hurricane Dorian, and if you are, thoughts and prayers, I guess. I mean, we could drop a nuke on it, but seems unlikely. If you’re in Florida, seriously: stay safe, and know that the president is there for you.

I’m guessing he stole two of these quotes from Melania:

  • “It’s been interesting.”

  • “We all got lucky…it missed Puerto Rico.”

  • “It could be an absolute monster.”

Today’s natsectacular things:

👶 Citizen babies
👴 Uncle Joe’s favorite memories
🎤 It’s not cosplay, it’s a uniform
👩 Ladies learn the wargames
🤖 The robots are coming


This is what it sounds like when SJWs cry

When they’re not arguing over who hates fireworks more, vets or dogs, keyboard soldiers like to pillory the Creamsicle-in-Chief for yet another gaffe when it comes to his base. Which base, in this case, is members of the armed services, whose babies were totally going to be denied citizenship if they were born overseas.

Turns out that’s not…well…at all true, it’s just that the US Customs and Immigration Service (USCIS) is really bad at product rollout. Not as bad as Tesla is at auto insurance, but bad.

The policy affects kids in four flavors

  1. Children of parents who have never lived in the United States or established residency

  2. Children of couples including a U.S. citizen and a non-citizen

  3. Children of non-citizens serving in the armed forces

  4. Non-citizen children adopted by U.S. citizens

And the numbers?

Pretty staggering, according to one official speaking on background.

We ran reports of applications we received from APO and FPO addresses overseas -- that's the closest we could come to approximate those who might be applying with us from overseas, and it averaged between 20 and 25 per year.

Here’s what we need to know

  • If you’re the parent of a kid in the above categories, you need to apply for citizenship for that kid

  • In most cases, that was already a requirement, just now there’s a different form

  • USCIS has worked closely with DoD on this

  • Targets of this policy? US troops who are not already citizens, and those married to foreign nationals

Sure, I could have said “affected by” instead of “targets of,” but it’s hard to give this administration the bureaucratic benefit of the doubt when they keep trying to make America white again.

Still, it’s like 20-25 kids. Which isn’t that many, if your last name’s Duggar.


We were senators once, and remembered things

Today we can be thankful that this isn’t a story about how handsy Joe Biden is. I wish we could be thankful about how well he remembers things, but this is not that kind of story. It’s the other kind of story, one that gets better every time you tell it.

In other words, it’s the best kind of war story: a tale told by a politician, full of hope and lies.

Presidential candidate Joe “Touch Me Like We’re Family” Biden has been telling various versions of a story from his time in Afghanistan for years. And it gets…better…every time he tells it.

In the latest version, Vice President Biden was asked by a general to pin a Silver Star on a Navy captain who had rappelled down a ravine and recovered the body of a fallen comrade by carrying him out on his back. Said captain told the VP with tears in his eyes that he didn’t want the medal, because the soldier had died.

And, like most great stories, it’s too good to be true, according to the Washington Post.

In the space of three minutes, Biden got the time period, the location, the heroic act, the type of medal, the military branch and the rank of the recipient wrong, as well as his own role in the ceremony.

And Biden was a senator at the time.

He did get one bit right.

One element of Biden's story is rooted in an actual event: In 2011, the vice president did pin a medal on a heartbroken soldier, Army Staff Sgt. Chad Workman, who didn't believe he deserved the award.

Biden’s gonna Biden, and facts are overrated

Even more unfortunate is Biden’s response, that the “essence” of the story is true.

“I think it’s ridiculous. The essence — that there’s anything I said about that that wasn’t the essence of the story. The story was that he refused the medal because the fella he tried to save and risked his life saving died. That’s the beginning, middle and end. The rest of you guys can take it and do what you want with it.”

What Biden has done is what most of us do with our stories: they get better every time we tell them. There’s a military tradition of starting every story with “no shit, there I was.” What follows will be a great story. It may or may not be true.

Essence works if it’s a perfume, not a presidency

Where this gets problematic is that the moral high ground of veracity has already been ceded by the sitting president, who according to the Post has lied over 12,000 times since taking office.

Biden and the Democratic party cannot afford to be seen ceding anything to the president, who consistently dodges genuine criticism by calling things “fake.” And exaggerating a war experience is something that never ends well for anyone in the blue party.


Maybe it was laundry day

Everything else Maj. Ginger Tate owned was in the wash. That’s the only logical explanation for why an officer in the South Carolina National Guard who’s not on orders would put on their uniform and show up at a political rally and endorse a candidate for public office.

The other explanation is that the major didn’t know that per Department of Defense Directive 1344.10 she could…

Attend partisan and nonpartisan political fundraising activities, meetings, rallies, debates, conventions, or activities as a spectator when not in uniform and when no inference or appearance of official sponsorship, approval, or endorsement can reasonably be drawn.

…and that she could not…

Participate in partisan political fundraising activities (except as permitted in subparagraph 4.1.1.7.), rallies, conventions (including making speeches in the course thereof), management of campaigns, or debates, either on one’s own behalf or on that of another, without respect to uniform or inference or appearance of official sponsorship, approval, or endorsement. Participation includes more than mere attendance as a spectator. (See subparagraph 4.1.1.9.)

All politics is war

In times of war, politicians love to make it about the war. Unless of course the war is boring or doesn’t affect a lot of people. Except that in the 2020 cycle, war is going to figure prominently, as the current occupant of the Oval Office scrambles to make this campaign about something other than his abysmal domestic record.

Maj. Tate’s timing could not have been better/worse, since this happened the same day that Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said this as part of his tight five at the Pentagon’s semi-regular open mic night:

“My commitment is to keep this department apolitical. And I believe the best way to do that begins with the chairman and I behaving in an apolitical way. And from there, the leadership that we demonstrate, the values we emulate, work their way throughout the force, and to me, that's the best way to do it.”

He reportedly said that with a straight face.


War rooms need women

When Lauren Bean Buitta wanted to serve her country, instead of joining the military, she went to a think tank. And since most think tanks are run by dudes, most of the jobs in national security (particularly at the senior levels) are held by dudes.

She opted to change that by founding Girl Security with this in mind:

National security is and will increasingly become a central topic in our public discourse.  Girls are affected daily by national security issues, and girls have opinions about these issues. While women are only one group underrepresented in the U.S. national security sector, girls offer a unique perspective on resiliency-one of our greatest national security strengths.

Buitta took her vision of putting women into the war rooms to RAND, and their center for gaming turning a bunch of female college students loose on the “Tangling With Tigers” wargame, set on the Korean Peninsula. The game, developed by female RAND analysts, is a Kobayashi Maru scenario, where no one really wins.

“There were no good solutions. The cons always seemed to outweigh the pros. It was just, what situation can you figure out that would have the most pros?”

That’s Meaghan Burnes, a history major who says that the wargame helped her decide to pursue a career in military strategy. The goal for RAND and the women in the room? To get more people like Meaghan in places where the decisions get made.

Meet the new war room, same as the old war room

Except that what’s happening isn’t all that disruptive, at least in terms of how the game was played by this group. Which, no surprise, was seen as a win by RAND.

A lot of the decisions, strategies, and conversations were very reminiscent of what we see with military officers and DoD actors,” Wasser assures the players. Asked how professionals would have played the game, she tells them: “Not much different than you.”

At the risk of the junk punch, the issue isn’t just about gender, it’s about thinking differently. And places like RAND are wired to think the way they have for years now. Because truly disruptive thinking threatens what matters to places like RAND the most, and that’s government funding.

Think thanks exist mainly to serve as an echo chamber for prevailing ideas. The value of bringing in young, female minds should be in seeing how it could be done differently. And it says something about the capacity of senior DoD leadership that a bunch of teenagers fought Korea the same way their elders would.


The robots are coming, and is that ok?

Sure, I could’ve gone with a Terminator GIF, but a flamethrowing Thomas the Tank Engine is the stuff of nightmares, and if I can’t unsee it, neither can you. Because what we all mean when it comes to worrying about Artificial Intelligence (AI) is that we’re going to get wiped out by robots.

Or see our dream of flipping burgers die a gloriously automated death.

This is probably something I should do in a longer forum, but it’s been a while that I’ve been saying that we’re about to hit an inflection point where less expensive automation is going to meet the needs of industries that need things done and can’t find humans to do them. It’s already happening in the trucking industry, where according to Bloomberg the driver shortage is expected to double over the next 10 years.

The US Air Force has similar challenges, with a shortfall of 2,000 pilots across active and reserve components at the end of 2018. The USAF claims the drain has been halted, but is, of course looking at other options. Like Skyborg.

So you took the Borg and Skynet and combined them into one terrifying thing. Because “Flying Death Robots” was too on the nose and Stealth was already taken.

What’s a Skyborg when it’s at home?

The Skyborg project is designed as a lower cost alternative to putting multiple F-35s in the air at one time. Because if you’re flying 4 x F-35s at once, that’s around $400m in hardward on the wing, and losing one is a bit of a hit on the wallet. So what Skyborg plans to do is field multiple lower cost (few million a pop) semi-autonomous aircraft to fly in conjunction with the F-35.

In theory, this would mean that one F-35 pilot could control a squadron of AI-enabled aircraft, and so instead of worrying about human pilots in pricey planes, you just have to worry if the damn thing goes full I, Robot and decides it’s better off without the humans.

But the humans are still in the loop

The argument is still that humans are making the decisions about who gets killed when. Even though those decisions are increasingly being supported by machines that help humans make those decisions. Because we’re rapidly moving from specific AI (“That is a missile, I will shoot it down now.”) to more general AI (“That person is behaving like a bad person. I will kill them now.”).

And the argument for putting more of those decisions in the hands of the machines will be a lot like the burger bot: by taking the more mundane/night sweat inducing jobs away from the humans, our robot counterparts are doing all of humanity a service.

I, for one, hope our overlords make mine medium rare.


The best of the rest

  • Robbing Peter to give a bed to Pablo, DHS is taking $271m from FEMA and the Coast Guard to help pay for beds for detained migrants. Just in time for hurricane season.

  • Because if there’s one thing he knows it’s numbers, Trump has said that 8,600 troops will remain in Afghanistan after any withdrawal that may or may not be part of a deal with the Taliban.

  • Even though Alan Jackson doesn’t know the difference between the two, the Israelis probably do, and so their bombing of an Iranian weapons depot in Iraq last month (just confirmed by US officials) was most likely not a mistake.

  • Not one to let a good crisis go to waste, Vladimir Putin showed off Russia’s Su-57 stealth capable fighter to Turkey’s Erdogan this past week a month after the US blocked Ankara from buying F-35s.

  • And because why not put more money into the hole that is the F-35, the Pentagon just awarded Lockheed a $2.4 billion contract for spare parts after a watchdog found that most of the fleet was being cannibalized to keep them in the air.


I stand corrected

In the newsletter, I said that yesterday was the first day of Space Force. It was not. It was the first day of Space Command. The Force will come later. And it will be with us…always.


Help me keep the lights on: $5/month, $50/year - and the first month’s free.

Or just ignore the button. It’s fine, really. Either way.