Saturday 20th of April 2024

supporting the local battling industry of cronyism...


The Pentagon’s crony capitalism, aka military procurement, never sleeps.

According to reports, Amazon Web Services (AWS) is the clear frontrunner to win a sole source, 10-year, $10 billion contract from the Department of Defense (DoD) to handle all of its cloud computing. 

The case for a sole provider, however, is underwhelming, with critics saying the idea of putting all of the DoD’s computing on “one cloud” is unheard of. Congress should direct the Pentagon to do the right thing, not collude with a new member of the multi-trillion-dollar military-industrial-counterterrorism complex.

Amazon’s current market capitalization exceeds $750 billion, making it the second most valuable publicly listed company in the world after Apple. Post-retirement employment or consulting opportunities for DoD personnel involved in procurement concentrate the mind wonderfully. 

The lamp of experience teaches that military procurement is to procurement as military music is to music. The Pentagon would be bankrupt if it held no government monopoly on the armed forces. The day before 9/11, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld reported that $2.3 trillion in spending by the DoD could not be documented. Although required by law, the DoD has never been audited (though it’s supposedly in the midst of its first one now). In the meantime, a recent internal audit of the Defense Logistics Agency found that the agency could not provide proper documentation for more than $800 million worth of construction projects, among other abnormalities. No private investor would invest a penny in such a financially feckless enterprise. Even Saudi Arabia’s fabulously wealthy ARAMCO underwent an outside audit in contemplation of stock sales.

The DoD’s byzantine but also lackadaisical procurement standards give birth to chronic financial disasters. These include Lockheed Martin’s huge Air Force C5-A transport plane’s cost overruns and performance deficiencies; General Dynamics’ Electric Boat Division’s production of the Navy’s SSN-68 Attack Submarine at a hugely inflated sum despite major construction flaws, and, more recently, Lockheed’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the most expensive weapon system in the nation’s history (and still in testing stages after nearly 20 years).

Lax procurement safeguards also invite corruption. Thus, Darleen Druyun,principal deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force, was convicted of bribery in 2004 for awarding a $23 billion sole source leasing arrangement with Boeing for 100 KC-767 mid-air refueling tankers in exchange for a lucrative post-retirement position with the mainstay of the military-industrial complex.

More recently, two U.S. Navy captains and a commander faced court martial in the so-called “Fat Leonard” scandal in which a charismatic Malaysian businessman was able to bilk the Navy for $35 billion in fuel charges, mostly by bribing officers with lavish gifts and prostitutes. Some 200 people have been connected to the scandal with at least 18 Navy personnel pleading guilty to federal crimes or charges under the Uniformed Code of Military Justice. Leonard Glenn Francis, also known as “Fat Leonard,” continued to get lucrative DoD contracts for years despite repeated calls for investigation.

The DoD’s contemplated 10-year exclusive cloud computing contract with AWS predictably carries earmarks of procurement amateurism, bias, and even influence peddling. Other suppliers are no slouches, including Microsoft, IBM Corp., and industry groups representing rivals such as Oracle Corp. They know that, according to this Bloomberg report, that Amazon has increased its lobbying presence in Washington by 400 percent over five years and has lobbied Congress on no fewer than 24 issues (each would include dozens of laws and regulations, including relaxing rules for flying commercial drones, for their deliveries, specifically). 

According to recent reporting from the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), Amazon spent $37 million on lobbying last year and gave $1 million to candidates of both parties.

Those efforts appear to have paid off last year with the passage of the so-called “Amazon amendment,” a provision tucked into the defense authorization bill that will establish a program facilitating government purchasing through e-commerce portals like

A full-court press on specific agencies is no different. According to Bloomberg, Amazon’s lobbying netted the cloud contract for the CIA, and an earlier contract with Pentagon for $950 million.  In 2016, Bezos was appointed to the Defense Innovation Advisory Board, to ostensibly help the Pentagon with new technologies. He also hosted Defense Secretary James Mattis at Amazon’s Seattle headquarters in August 2017.

It doesn’t hurt that the revolving door of top Pentagon officials who retire and then work for industry players, or serve on their boards, only to push and lobby for contracts and weapon systems the military doesn’t even necessarily want, is notorious. In 2010, then-Boston Globe correspondent Bryan Bender analyzed the career paths of 750 “of the highest ranking generals and admirals who retired during the last two decades.” He found that, “for most, moving into what many in Washington call the ‘rent-a-general’’ business is all but irresistible.”

From 2004 through 2008, 80 percent of retiring three- and four-star officers went to work as consultants or defense executives, according to the Globe analysis. That compares with less than 50 percent who followed that path a decade earlier, from 1994 to 1998.

According to POGO, citing statistics from the watchdog group Center for Responsive Politics, 59 of Amazon’s 90 lobbyists are “revolvers” who had previously worked somewhere in the federal government.

But why can’t the Pentagon see its way clear past all of the heavy sell for these sole-source contracts? Diversity of risk is business gospel, i.e., don’t put all your eggs in one basket, and the DoD’s nuclear triad is anchored in that truth. Multiple suppliers diminish the risk of non-performance. They also diminish the risk of technological obsolescence, which is exceptionally high in our digital age of warp-speed advances. They lessen the risk of hacking from Russia, China, Iran, North Korea, and other enemies of the United States. Indeed, AWS has sold computing equipment used in its cloud services in China to its local partner there, Sinnet Technology Co. That collaboration heightens the risk of China hacking into AWS’s cloud services to DoD. 

Multiple suppliers lessen the risk of procurement corruption like the Darleen Druyun-Boeing scandal by making concealment problematic. Druyun’s email correspondence revealed a consistent pattern of favoring Boeing in price negotiations; she had previously tilted two other contracts towards Boeing worth $500 million while arranging Boeing jobs for her daughter and her daughter’s fiancé. The more players involved in a procurement award, the less likely it is that corruption will escape detection and exposure by a whistleblower or otherwise.


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the most profligate public agency...

Everyone hates government waste. President Trump believes it is “our moral duty to the taxpayer” to “make our government leaner and more accountable,” and his political opponents seem to agree.

And yet, when called to vote on an extra $80 billion a year for the most profligate public agency in the country, the overwhelming majority of U.S. senators asked no questions. The Pentagon not only escaped serious budget cuts while everything from national parks to Meals on Wheels has been squeezed, but it actually almost got more than it asked for in the spending bill the Senate approved on September 18.

The Pentagon’s latest increase alone — never mind its base budget, which runs hundreds of billions higher — is a sum large enough to make public colleges free across the country, and by itself is worth well over 80 percent of Russia’s entire military budget.

It’s worth asking: Where does the money go?

“We’re the largest bureaucracy in the world”

Consider the reaction if the Environmental Protection Agency buried evidence of $125 billion in bureaucratic waste. At the very least, we would see congressional inquiries with Republicans foaming at the mouth and Democrats solemnly stating their commitment to safeguarding your tax dollars. At most, we would hear calls for some kind of criminal investigation.

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the fear budget...

Last week, the House Appropriations Committee advanced a lavish $674.6 billion Pentagon spending bill for fiscal year 2019. That means Congress is preparing to spend even more on defense, which isn’t at all shocking. To even marginally decrease defense spending, according to its champions, would be disastrous. After Senator Rand Paul proposed a “penny plan” to balance the budget with minor cuts, Senator Lindsey Graham warned his peers that the initiative “creates the one thing we can’t afford, which is unpredictability.” This attitude shapes Congress’s treatment of the defense budget, even though “unpredictability” is intrinsically inescapable and feverishly spending in an effort to evade it costs us the very liberty that our military ostensibly protects.

Over two millennia ago, the Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, “Everything changes and nothing stands still.” He was right, and not only in the cosmic sense, but regarding the tumult of modern geopolitics. Unexpected alliances, the development of new weaponry, and erratic fluctuations in financial markets can all alter a military’s defensive capabilities in an instant. So, like most prudent nations, we invest heavily in an array of measures that allow our military to be effective in inauspicious circumstances—except, unlike all other nations, that amounts to an inexplicably colossal sum.

America’s military has over 800 bases worldwide, more than any other nation or empire in history. In order to staff, equip, and maintain this body, the U.S. spends more on defense than China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, the United Kingdom, India, and France combined—to great effect. According to the Credit Suisse Research Institute, the strength of the American military exceeds that of all other countries, based on factors that include its quantities of soldiers, tanks, and aircraft. If any nation is prepared to brave the whirlwind of geopolitics, it is the United States. Yet legislators still claim that the military is experiencing a “readiness crisis,” which necessitates further fattening of the defense budget.

This “crisis” is often exaggerated or confused by its proponents because “readiness” is an ambiguous term that hints at urgency without ever specifying a threat. In that vein, arguments often focus on the health of particular programs while failing to contextualize them within clearly defined geopolitical aims. Whether a certain squadron of pilots is getting enough flight hours is a very different question than whether the U.S. is ready to maintain its current commitments abroad or hold its ground in a world war. Emotion, not genuine geopolitical insight, drives popular support for inflated defense spending, and, in the words of horror writer H. P. Lovecraft, “the oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear.”

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reinventing the square wheel...

If you are a regular reader of this show, er I mean this site, you would remember that every so often we invent the square wheel again as a philosophical means to transcend the useless impractical pragmatic hypocrisy of politics. We also investigate what the next invention of Darpa, the creative department of the US defence painful systems, is going to be — like the old gun that shoots around curves, using the soccer ball technology of "curveball". But what we should worry about in this fair dinkum country is that the southern skies are going to fill up with big drones: 


The Turnbull government will spend nearly $7 billion on massive, long-range surveillance drones that will dramatically expand Australia’s ability to spot military ships on the seas of Asia and tighten joint operations with the United States in the region.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull will on Tuesday announce the purchase of the country's first Triton drone, which has the wingspan of a Boeing 737 and will easily be able to complete a lap of the South China Sea after taking off from the Northern Territory.


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Imagine. You are flying your little Cessna with confidence over Lake Amadeus, listening to some Mozart in the earphones, when you meet with one of these giant grey birds. You'd be shitting yourself, would you not?


Ah, and for the square wheel see:


The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has created a new transforming wheel it says is suitable for rough terrain as part of its Ground X-Vehicle Technologies program. However, sharp-eyed and skeptical social media users said that the project looks like an incredible waste of taxpayer money.

DARPA showed off its Reconfigurable Wheel-Track (RWT) in a video, with the custom wheels shown to be able to transition from a standard round wheel into a triangular track, depending on terrain. DARPA boasts that the wheel will improve the "mobility, survivability, safety and effectiveness of future combat vehicles without piling on armor."

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We now have to work harder to find "a new philosophical image to transcend the useless impractical pragmatic hypocrisy of politics"... The bastards are catching up with us.

buying things for cash or on credit?

Since 20 January 2017, the arrival at the White House of a believer in productive capitalism has shuffled the international order to the detriment of financial capitalism. Imperialism, which until now had always been blindly defended by US Presidents to the point where we identified it with US foreign policy, is now based on bureaucracies, and in the front line are the administrations of NATO and the EU.

Donald Trump, acting as he said he would during his electoral campaign, is very predictable. However, his capacity to change the system is absolutely unpredictable. So far, he has not been assassinated like John Kennedy, nor forced to resign like Richard Nixon [1], and continues on his path, one step forward, one step back.

The Western powers have forgotten this, but in a Republic, the unique role of elected representatives is to control the administrations of the states they govern. However, progressively, a form of « pensée unique » has taken hold of them all, transforming the elected members into senior civil servants and the states into administrative dictatorships. The conflict between President Trump and his predecessors’ senior civil servants is simply a tentative to return to normality. It is also a titanic battle comparable to that which opposed the two French governments during the Second World War [2].

Scalded by the NATO summit of 25 May 2017, during which Donald Trump imposed the addition of the war against terrorism to the objectives of the Alliance, and by the G7 summit of 8 and 9 June 2018, where Donald Trump refused to sign the final Declaration, the NATO administration attempted to preserve the objectives of imperialism. 
- First of all, it signed a joint Declaration with its counterparts from the European Union on the evening before the summit, [3]. By doing so, it guaranteed the link subordinating the EU to NATO, instituted by Article 42 of the Treaty of Maastricht. This Declaration was signed by the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, and by the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker. Tusk is of Polish origin, born of a family which worked in secret for NATO during the Cold War, while Luxembourg citizen Juncker is the ex-representative responsible for the secret services of the Alliance in his country (Gladio) [4]. The European senior civil servants know that they are in danger since ex-special adviser to Donald Trump, Steve Bannon, came to Italy to support the creation of an anti-system government with the clearly-announced intention of dynamiting the European Union. 
- Secondly, the NATO administration imposed the signature of the first draft of the Joint Declaration at the start of the summit and not at its end [5]. There was therefore no discussion of the Alliance’s anti-Russian doctrine.

Aware of the trap that had been set for him, President Trump decided to surprise his civil servants. So while all the participants expected a speech about the minimal financial contribution by the Allies to the common war effort, Donald Trump questioned the very foundation of the Alliance - protection against Russia.

Convening the Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, at the residence of the US ambassador in the presence of the Press, he observed that Germany nourished its economy with gas from its Russian « friend » while at the same time asking for protection against its Russian « enemy ». By pointing out this contradiction, he relegated the question of finance to second place, which, nonetheless, he did not abandon. Above all, a week before his meeting with President Vladimir Putin, he rendered null and void the long indictment against Russia contained in the Declaration at the beginning of the summit.

Contrary to the comments in the Press, this remark by President Trump was aimed less at Germany than at Stoltenberg himself. It underlines the negligence of the senior civil servants who administrate NATO without ever questioning NATO’s raison d’etre.

The confrontation between the White House and Brussels continues [6].

On one hand, NATO has just endorsed the creation of two joint command centres (at Ulm in Germany and Norfolk in the USA)… and the increase of its personnel by 10%. Meanwhile, the European Union has just created the « Permanent Structured Cooperation » (a capabilities programme which enjoys a budget of 6,5 billion Euros) and France has added the « European Intervention Initiative » (an operational programme). Contrary to the speeches about European independence, these two structures are submitted to the Treaty of Maastricht, and are therefore at the service of NATO. They add to the complexity of European bureaucracy, to the great satisfaction of its senior civil servants.

On the other hand, President Trump has discreetly opened discussions with his Russian counterpart with a view to withdrawing both Russian and NATO troops from their front-line positions.

Thierry Meyssan

Pete Kimberley


see also:

why trump is facing resistance: skull and bones, the elite of the empire...

business not as usual...

hiding the black hole in their breeches...

The Pentagon is often described as a black hole of government spending. Just how bad is it these days? The Defense Department spent $21 billion in taxpayer money over two years without telling anyone what services were rendered or which companies benefitted. 

Normally, watchdog groups can at least identify the agency’s frivolous spending and tease out who the major beneficiaries are. But under something called Other Transaction Authority (OTA), the Pentagon can award money without the usual disclosures or due diligence normally required of federal contracts. Voila! A black hole.

Officials claim that OTA helps the the Department of Defense (DoD) court smaller, non-traditional contractors in places like Silicon Valley by avoiding some of the burdens of a more restrictive competitive bidding process. But loosely written rules and a lack of required congressional communication make OTAs Trojan horses for unaccountable spending that benefits some of the DoD’s most entrenched contractors.

According to a recent report from Federal News Radio, the Pentagon spent $21 billion on 148 OTAs between 2015 and 2017. This number, obtained via the Pentagon’s public affairs office, is at odds with the $4.2 billion logged by the Federal Procurement Data System. So why does the DoD give two different numbers on OTA spending? Because OTAs are not subject to the regulatory and disclosure guidelines required for most contracts, the Pentagon can get away with not reporting them as procurements—in other words, as part of the grand total.

The growth of spending across the federal government has led to the creation of a litany of laws designed to curb procurement waste and abuse. The Competition in Contracting Act (CICA) of 1984, for instance, requires federal agencies to give companies at least 30 days to respond to an agency solicitation (posting) for a task that needs completing. According to the statute, “The contracting officer must promote competition to the maximum extent practicable.” And any deviation must be documented in writing and reviewed. But laws are only as strong as loopholes allow them to be. And even the OTAs that do show up in public records demonstrate a confusing, unruly process where large players dominate. 

In February, the Pentagon announced a $950 million no-bid contract to REAN Cloud, LLC for the migration of legacy systems to the cloud. As an Amazon Web Services consulting partner and reseller, REAN Cloud was likely favored due to Amazon’s recent $600 million cloud project for the Central Intelligence Agency. Creating an unusually large contract with little oversight or competition led to ample criticism of the Pentagon, as lawmakers demanded an explanation from DoD. In response to the brouhaha, the Pentagon announced in early March that the maximum value of the contract would be reduced from $950 million to $65 million. 

As it turned out, though, even the Pentagon wasn’t exactly sure how to apply the murky requirements of OTA. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) ruled in May that the REAN contract did not accord with federal law, in that REAN was granted an award without even really considering going through a competitive bidding process. “Vague and attenuated” statements from the Pentagon to potential bidders in the beginning of the process ensured that the process would not be an open one. After the cancellation of the REAN deal, the Pentagon finally seems open to competitive bidding for cloud migration. 

Unfortunately, OTA is still alive and well across the DoD procurement process. In June, the Defense Information Systems Agency joined the growing list of agencies dabbling in OTA, noting that “many of the companies we’re dealing with are small start-ups.” But as the REAN Cloud case shows, many companies appear “small” but have far larger partners. According to statistics in the Federal News Radio report, “Only $7.4 billion of the nearly $21 billion went to…nontraditional companies.” The problem is created in part by the use of consortiums, which are comprised of multiple companies, which vary in size. The consortium can decide how money is allocated for an award, allowing larger businesses to benefit disproportionately out of sight of the DoD and taxpayers.


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Red from top.

the american pie: subsidies on top of tariffs...

Congress created the usual special interest frenzy with its latest iteration of the farm bill. Agricultural subsidies are one of the most important examples of corporate welfare—money handed out to businesses based on political connections. The legislation suffered a surprise defeat in the House, being viewed as too stingy. But it is certain to return.

Fiscal responsibility is out of fashion. The latest federal budget, drafted by a Republican president and Republican-controlled Congress, blew through the loose limits established under Democratic President Barack Obama. The result is trillion-dollar deficits as far as the eye can see.

Spending matters. So does the kind of spending. Any amount of corporate welfare is too much.

Business plays a vital role in a free market. People should be able to invest and innovate, taking risks while accepting losses. In real capitalism there are no guaranteed profits. But corporate welfare gives the well-connected protection from many of the normal risks of business. 

Business subsidies undermine both capitalism and democracy. Allowing politicians to channel economic resources toward their preferred ends distorts investment and trade. Moreover, turning government into an engine of illicit profit encourages what economists call rent-seeking. Well-organized special interests usually triumph over the broader public and national interest.

Explained Mercatus scholar Tad DeHaven, then a budget analyst at the Cato Institute: “Corporate welfare often subsidizes failing and mismanaged businesses and induces firms to spend more time on lobbying rather than on making better products. Instead of correcting market failures, federal subsidies misallocate resources and introduce government failures into the marketplace.”

While corporate welfare suggests money for big business, firm size is irrelevant. There is no substantive difference between, say, the Small Business Administration and the Export-Import Bank. Both turn capitalism into a rigged game of Monopoly.


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Read from top.

ah... what a lovely waste... er... war...

The National Defense Strategy Commission began as a congressional panel to review America’s national defense strategy. It turned into yet another justification for ever-greater military spending. In the panel’s view, America is weak, isolated, beleaguered, and endangered. Unless military spending is greatly increased, Washington will lose its ability to run the world and a new dark age will envelop the earth.

Indeed, the barbarians are already at the gates. Complained the NDSC: “The security and wellbeing of the United States are at greater risk than at any time in decades.”

That, alas, is to be expected since “America’s military superiority—the hard-power backbone of its global influence and national security—has eroded to a dangerous degree.” Foreign conquest may be just one battle away. “Rivals and adversaries are challenging the United States on many fronts and in many domains,” the NDSC says. Not just China and Russia, but Cuba and Venezuela. What is a superpower to do?

In the face of this extraordinary danger, warned the commission, “America’s ability to defend its allies, its partners, and its own vital interests is increasingly in doubt.”

But what “vital interests” are threatened? No one can conquer America. If the nation’s economic prosperity is at risk, it is due to domestic policies. The greatest threat to the international trading system comes from President Donald Trump. Energy supplies are abundant; no one threatens to impede American access to the energy market except the Trump administration, which is attempting to force out Iranian oil. No one can stop U.S. ships or planes from transiting the globe.

As for geopolitics, who threatens America’s interests anywhere? Whatever their disputes, the United States and Europe remain allies, and even the latter faces no meaningful threat from Russia, which is dwarfed by the continent’s combined economy and population. In the Middle East, Washington is aligned with the region’s nuclear-armed superpower, Israel, as well as the Gulf States and most everyone else against a weak Iran.

North Korea threatens the U.S. only as part of its desperate effort to deter American military intervention against it. The Republic of Korea, with twice the population and an astounding 50 times the GDP of the North, is well able to defend itself.

Only China looks like a serious competitor, and it is surrounded by potential rivals with which it has been at war in recent decades: Japan, Russia, Korea, Vietnam, and India. Moreover, Beijing’s ostentatious abandonment of the policy of “peaceful rise” has encouraged its neighbors to balance against it.


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Read from top.

drowning in half-ass training...


From Jeff Groom


Leonard Wong, a former Army lieutenant colonel turned researcher, conducted a rigorous study at the direction of the U.S. Army War College to determine the burden of administrative training requirements placed on soldiers. His team’s findings were released in April 2002 and found that company commanders had to fit 297 days of mandatory training into 256 available training days. Reporting again in 2015 after interviewing dozens of Army officers, Wong found that the burden of training requirements created a culture where “subordinates are forced to prioritize which requirements will actually be done to standard and which will only be reported as done to standard.” From one officer, “we can probably do two or three things in a day, but if you give us 20, we’re gonna half-ass 15 and hope you ignore the other five.” Several phrases that consistently appeared in the study’s interviews were “hand waving, fudging, massaging, or checking the box.” In other words, administrative training requirements created a troubling culture of dishonesty and deception. 

What is the nature of this training? Some training, such as the rifle range or conditioning hikes, contributes to readiness, but a great deal does not. From my time in the Marines, here’s a non-exhaustive list: Anti-Terrorism Training, Uncle Sam’s Operational Security, Violence Prevention Program Awareness (no this isn’t a joke; there is a program to teach warfighters to be non-violent, instituted after the Fort Hood shootings, which were a terrorist attack, not workplace violence), Semper Fit Tobacco Cessation, Combating Trafficking in Persons, Cyber Awareness Training, Sexual Health Training, Sexual Assault and Response Training, Records Management Training, Suicide Prevention, and Risk Management. This “training” consists of nothing more than computer-aided tutorials which must be repeated each year. In practice most Marines just click through the programs as fast as possible so rosters can be completed.

In addition to this mandatory training, officers are required to manage and administer dozens of programs that correspond to the operation of their respective units. These include: Postal Affairs, Combat Marksmanship Program, Equal Opportunity Program, Historical Program, and the Performance Evaluation System, to name just a few. 

Programs for morale and welfare have also grown exponentially with the war on terrorism, even eclipsing readiness and capability in priority. Shortly after the government shutdown of October 2013, then-defense secretary Chuck Hagel ordered back to work furloughed Department of Defense civilians whose “responsibilities contribute to the morale, well-being, capabilities, and readiness of service members.” 

Though they supported families amidst back-to-back deployments during the long years of Iraq and Afghanistan, is it reasonable now to maintain nearly 160 golf courses across the world when less than half of Marine aircraft can fly according to standards? While combat operations have drawn down, the opposite has not occurred. As in any bureaucracy, necessary improvements always lag behind need, sometimes by years. 

A short listing of support programs in the military include: Military OneSource, Family Readiness Program, Military and Family Life Counseling Program, Family Advocacy Program, Community Counseling Program, DSTRESS hotline, Marine Corps Family Team Building, Operational Stress Control and Readiness, and numerous others. The redundancy and overlap of these programs prompted my former squadron to create a flow chart of yes/no questions, a jumbled maze of a document, to guide leaders in pushing troubled Marines in the right direction. Mentoring and caring for their subordinates using “intrusive leadership,” once the duty of Marine leaders, has been contracted to a new army of civilian DoD employees, further splintering military cohesion and esprit de corps. 

Hagel’s comments highlight one of the most dangerous negative effects of the civilian-military divide: the assumption by the American people that voluntary service members are only interested in “morale and well-being” in the material sense. Marine officers are taught that the purpose of military leadership is mission accomplishment, followed by troop welfare. The fallacy that has become the norm is that material happiness equals morale, and that morale correlates to readiness. But the opposite is true. Readiness boosts morale. Being given the resources and time to accomplish our missions is what makes the troops most content. 

Is some of this administrative training and support required to achieve readiness? Absolutely. But without real results the current system cannot be defended. The readiness crisis is real, but the military is accepting mission failure as long as the boxes are checked. For example, naval aviation had a flight time requirement of 100 hours per year. Many Marine pilots, including myself, did not get the minimum required hours over the last several years.

Service-wide frustrations with these activities were addressed in July 2017 when Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis ordered the formation of a working group to examine the “mandatory force training that does not directly support core tasks.” Recommendations were due in December 2017. When I left the Marine Corps in April 2018 I had not heard of any changes, and today close friends still serving confirm the status quo remains intact.

The military loves to quantify things. But because we don’t have the time, money, and resources to achieve readiness, we compensate by pursuing and cataloging things that don’t matter. And as we learned so painfully in Vietnam, not everything that can be counted counts.


In addition to time and the discretion for its use, the military requires trained personnel and functional equipment to achieve readiness. Several of the metrics used to calculate readiness pose the following sorts of questions. Does the unit have the number of helicopters or tanks on hand that are specified by their Table of Equipment and Organization and enough maintenance personnel? What is the operating status of this equipment? Is it in depot-level maintenance and not available for training or is it fully mission-capable and up for tasking? 

How the Swamp has created a situation where the military lacks working and adequate equipment lies primarily in the two major regional contingency (two MRC) strategy.

After World War II, the United States developed a new national security strategy under President Harry Truman. This policy was guided by National Security Council Paper NSC-68, created in April 1950. Citing the “hostile design” of the Soviet Union and rejecting isolationism and outright war, the policy recommended the “the rapid building up of the political, economic, and military strength of the free world.”

By 1992 the USSR had dissolved, but what remained intact was the capability to fight the USSR. As the old saying goes, if you don’t use it you lose it. Shuttering an armaments industry in business for 45 years with yearly budgets in the hundreds of billions wasn’t the same as closing a seasonal Halloween store.

Wasting little time, in 1993 the Pentagon under Defense Secretary Les Aspin came up with the workaround: the two MRC strategy. The idea was that the military would be sized to fight two major regional conflicts simultaneously.

Reporting in 2012 for Time magazine, Mark Thompson described the two MRC strategy “as a floor on just how much of a military we need to buy; if we need X to wage and win one war, it sounds logical that we need double that—2X—to prevail in two places.” He summarized that it “isn’t a strategy at all, but merely a capability.” 

In October 2017 the Heritage Foundation completed their yearly assessments of the military branches, using the two MRC strategy as the standard for grading capability. What type of capacity is required for a military capable of fighting two MRCs? For the Marine Corps, by far the smallest service, it means possessing more combat aircraft than the United Kingdom’s formidable Royal Air Force. Through the lens of the two MRC strategy, the crisis is fairly straightforward. By law the Marine Corps must fly and maintain enough aircraft to fight two big wars at the same time. This sorry state of affairs led the commandant, General Robert B. Neller, to declare in 2018 that the Marine Corps had “too many airplanes.” As noted in the Heritage assessment, only 40 percent of those aircraft could actually fly as of December 2016. An emphasis on quantity has negatively impacted the quality of the aircraft.

And digging deeper, that 40 percent even includes aircraft that aren’t fully mission capable. To be safe for flight is one thing; to be capable of attack is another. If certain weapon systems or sensors are not in working order, the aircraft can still fly, but is reduced to a flashy looking news helicopter, incapable of locating and shooting targets.

A similar story plagues the other services. In the Army, 21 Brigade Combat Teams  of 4,500 soldiers apiece are required for one major contingency. But in 2017, only three of the 58 were considered ready for combat.

Setting these expectations creates spending allocation problems. There simply isn’t enough money to fix, operate, and maintain all of our equipment. Analyzing the fiscal year 2018 military budget, more than 40 percent of the budget, or $272 billion, was alotted to pay and benefits of military personnel and their dependents before one bullet or bomb was purchased. After accounting for procurement at $115 billion and research and development at $82 billion, $223 billion was left to split between the four major services for operations and maintenance. 

A military sized for two simultaneous regional wars requires massive contractor support in order to run training ranges, flight simulators, and higher-level maintenance facilities. In 2012 the contractor army stood at 670,000 and cost $129 billion to maintain.

Without the proper tools in capable hands, military exercises to prepare for war degenerate into nothing more than elaborate propaganda displays. On my first deployment, while on board the USS Bonhomme Richard off the coast of South Korea before Exercise Ssang Yong 2014, our executive officer emailed the aviation detachment the following statement: “Everyone needs to realize this is not a tactical exercise. This is a political exercise to show that even in fiscally constrained times we (Uncle Sam), can do a beach assault with all of our toys. What actually makes it to the beach is mostly irrelevant.” The “exercise” that followed resembled a cross between the Westminster dog show and a Leni Riefenstahl production.

The mock enemy positions, simple fighting holes dug a few hundred meters inland, in no way simulated a North Korean defense, there was no live fire, and the outcome of the exercise was predetermined: the Marines won. What Marines public affairs officers reported about the exercise was more valuable to our leaders than the training value extracted for the participants whose morale suffered accordingly. Trump was right to cancel them. Upon further examination, our leadership wasn’t being disingenuous. 

According to a Marine Corps Times article published in January 2018, the Marines want the Navy to man and operate 50 amphibious ships to be able to practice large scale amphibious operations as called for by current policy. Currently there are 32, down from 62 in the 1990s. The result? The Navy “could not fulfill 93 percent, or 293 out of 314, of the Marine Corps’ requests for amphibious training for the San Diego-based [Marine Expeditionary Force].” Current plans call for 38 ships by 2033, still well short of the 50 desired. 


Another facet of our equipment problems stems from the military procurement system. We now have a military that supports the procurement system, rather than the other way around, resulting in ineffective, unreliable, and irrelevant hardware plagued by cost and timeline overruns that span years and gobble up billions.

The Marine Corps’ latest ship-to-shore troop connector, the Amphibious Combat Vehicle, selected in June 2018, swims at seven knots in the water, the same speed as the 46-year-old Assault Amphibious Vehicle it replaces. This, despite deputy Marine commandant Lieutenant General Brian Beaudreault stating in 2017 that “we have to find a solution to getting Marines to shore, from over the horizon, at something greater than seven knots.” In between these vehicles was the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle, a high speed connector that churned through $3 billion and more than two decades before finally being canceled in 2011. 

As the Project on Government Oversight’s Dan Grazier has reported, unit costs for the $1.5 trillion F-35 program have more than doubled from $62.2 million in 2001 to $158.4 million today. The program is 12 years behind schedule and, most recently, program office officials have downgraded or altered potentially fatal or mission-degrading design flaws to avoid blowing through yet another development milestone. The cost of future modernization is now approaching $10.8 billion, easily clearing the threshold for an entirely new Major Defense Acquisition Program. Lockheed Martin wisely spread the pork across 45 different states employing 146,000 workers, undermining any congressional will to cut the program, resulting in the ultimate coup d’état of the defense industry over the military and taxpayers.

In fact, between 2001 and 2011 the Department of Defense spent over $46 billion on weapon systems that were ultimately canceled.

On the surface, the two MRC “strategy” seems reasonable: whoever has the most soldiers and highest quality equipment wins. Why are the streets of Paris lined with trees? So the Germans can march in the shade. In World War II they outmaneuvered a larger and better equipped French Army that had eight months to prepare for war and had a home field advantage. The conflict lasted 43 days. As TAC contributor and military historian William Lind has mentioned, American military theory is French-inspired and over 100 years old. But outside of that interesting and necessary debate, something much more nefarious is at play.


Trump’s national security strategy, released in December 2017, focuses on the return of great power competition with Russia and China. The strategy states that the United States must “retain overmatch—the combination of capabilities in sufficient scale” and also “must reverse recent decisions to reduce the size of the Joint Force and grow the force while modernizing and ensuring readiness.” 

As alluded to previously, the military-industrial capacity that found itself without an enemy at the close of the Cold War is now in the driver’s seat. Just as when a totalitarian government overtakes the legal system the motto of justice becomes “show me the man and I’ll show you the crime,” our defense policy motto has become “bring me a $717 billion defense bill and I’ll find you an enemy.”

With this strategy in hand, a new spending spree has commenced with the passage of the latest $717 billion defense bill, which includes 473 new Bradley fighting vehicles for the Army, $40 billion to fix the aviation crisis, 15,600 more troops overall, and, of course, a 2.6 percent pay raise to show the troops how much we love them.

Will it solve the readiness crisis? In the short term there will likely be relief, but as government shutdowns increase in frequency, with no end in sight for overseas contingencies, and debt projections reaching $33 trillion by 2028, the system will no doubt relapse into dysfunction. The hallmark of a “broken system” is a constant, unacceptable result despite changing initial conditions. Without the time to achieve the mission, without operating equipment, and without the proper allocation of resources the readiness crisis will continue unabated despite fresh infusions of billions. We have to choose between having a large, underfunded paper tiger military or a smaller, properly funded, lethal military. We can’t have both.

The military is drowning in the Swamp. Will she survive? For my friends still serving and for our country’s sake, I sure hope so.

Jeff Groom is a former Marine officer. He is the author of American Cobra Pilot: A Marine Remembers a Dog and Pony Show (2018). Follow him on Twitter @BigsbyGroom.


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Executives from a company responsible for providing food and water for deployed U.S. troops in Afghanistan have been charged with defrauding the government and creating a fake construction site to overstate progress on an $8 billion contract, the Department of Justice said in a recently-filed indictment.

The allegations came four years after the company's predecessor pleaded guilty to criminal charges that it fraudulently inflated prices for basic items it sold to the U.S. military. Both cases emphasized how the U.S. military has struggled to curb abuses of U.S. defense spending in America's longest-running foreign war as the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan enters its 17th year, analysts said.

On Nov. 27 the Justice Department charged Abdul Huda Farouki, Mazen Farouki and Salah Maarouf, three Virginia residents who worked with a Dubai-based company called Anham FZCO, with defrauding the U.S. military under an estimated $8 billion military supply contract.

The DOJ also accused them of laundering money, violating U.S. sanctions while shipping products through Iran, and photographing a fake construction scene to mislead contracting officers regarding their progress. The three individuals pleaded not guilty.

The lawsuit revived long-standing concerns over Anham's stewardship of taxpayer dollars, and also raised questions about the government's oversight of the Subsistence Prime Vendor - Afghanistan contract, known as SPV-A. The contract is seen as important to the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan because it ensures deployed U.S. troops have access to food, water and basic provisions. Servicing it is immensely challenging, however, because the contractor is required to build and maintain a distribution network in the middle of a war zone.

The last company to handle that work, a privately held Swiss company called Supreme Foodservice GmbH, pleaded guilty to similar charges in 2014 and paid $288.36 million in criminal fines following a congressional inquiry.

Scott Amey, general counsel with the nonprofit Project on Government Oversight, described the Pentagon's oversight of the food and water supply contract as "a game of catch-me-if-you can" in which the government is losing.


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pentagon plays poker...

WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF       Poker is a game of bluff, and acting without perfect information, and so too is war.


Over the past year the US Pentagon has installed an autonomous Artificial Intelligence (AI) Robo-hacker called Mayhem to monitor and protect its most critical systems from cyber attacks, and announced the creation of an AI that will “monitor the whole world for threats.” And if all that sounds like the beginnings of Skynet, the AI in the Terminator films that took over the world, using nukes and Terminator robots, robots with “human skin over a metal endoskeleton,” something that the University of Oxford also recently managed to re-create, then you might be onto something.


Now though, not satisfied with what they have created, the Pentagon has now taken an AI poker bot called Liberatus, which made headlines last year for beating the world’s top four human players at no limits Texas Hold ‘Em to win a $1.8million pot and adapted it for military use. And if that sounds odd, it actually makes perfect sense, because Poker is a game you have to try to win based on bluff and imperfect knowledge, and that almost perfectly describes war.

Libratus, which is Latin for balanced, was created by researchers from Carnegie Mellon University to test ideas for automated decision making based on game theory. Early last year, the professor who led the project, Tuomas Sandholm, founded a startup called Strategy Robot to adapt his lab’s game-playing technology for government use, such as in war games and simulations used to explore military strategy and planning.

Late in August, public records show, the company received a 2 year contract of up to $10 million with the US Army. It is described as “in support of” a Pentagon agency called the Defense Innovation Unit, created in 2015 to woo Silicon Valley and speed US military adoption of new technology.

Libratus’ defeat of poker pros in 2017 was seen as a milestone in AI because the card game has complex features lacking in the board games most prominently mastered by computers. In chess and Go, every piece is exposed for both players to see, making them what are called perfect information games. In poker, not all cards are visible, meaning that, as in many real-life scenarios, some information needed to calculate the true state of play is unknown.


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Climate activists protested outside the U.N. climate summit in Glasgow Monday spotlighting the role of the U.S. military in fueling the climate crisis. The Costs of War project estimates the military produced around 1.2 billion metric tons of carbon emissions between 2001 and 2017, with nearly a third coming from U.S. wars overseas. But military carbon emissions have largely been exempted from international climate treaties dating back to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol after lobbying from the United States. We go to Glasgow to speak with Ramón Mejía, anti-militarism national organizer of Grassroots Global Justice Alliance and Iraq War veteran; Erik Edstrom, Afghanistan War veteran turned climate activist; and Neta Crawford, director of the Costs of War project. “The United States military has been a mechanism of environmental destruction,” says Crawford.


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