It’s Hardly Shocking the Navy Fired a Commander for Warning of Coronavirus Threat. It’s Part of a Pattern.

Capt. Brett Crozier, fired this week from command of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, joins a growing list of Navy officers who attempted to raise concerns about the safety of their ships and crew, only to pay with their jobs.

Crozier wrote a letter dated March 30 warning that an outbreak of the coronavirus on his ship was a threat to his crew of some 4,000 sailors unless they disembarked and quarantined.

We are not at war, and therefore cannot allow a single sailor to perish as a result of this pandemic unnecessarily,” Crozier wrote. “Decisive action is required now.”

We do not know all the facts that prompted the letter. But we know that once it was published in the San Francisco Chronicle, the acting secretary of the Navy, Thomas Modly, relieved Crozier of command. Crozier, 50, had been a rising star in the officer corps. He will remain in the Navy at his current rank, though his career future is uncertain. In viral videos, Crozier’s sailors can be seen cheering him loudly as he disembarks the Roosevelt, alone, before driving away.

Navy experts believe that the cumulative effects of the service’s decisions over the past several years to punish those who speak out will result in silencing sailors with legitimate concerns about their health and safety.

“This may have the effect of chilling the responses of other commanding officers because it will be perceived, fairly or not, as a shoot the messenger scenario,” said James Stavridis, a retired admiral and former head of the United States Naval Institute, who called for an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the dismissal.

The Navy’s top officer, Adm. Mike Gilday, initially praised Crozier’s attempt to warn his superiors. But the next day, Thursday, Modly, the Navy’s civilian boss, reversed course, telling reporters that he fired Crozier because he lost confidence in the officer for not using a secure email network to properly route his complaint.

Crozier’s unclassified email wound up with 20 or 30 other individuals and at some point was provided to the Chronicle reporters. Modly said the public airing of the complaint had unnecessarily alarmed sailors and provided enemies with information that exposed weaknesses on one of the country’s most important warships.

As part of our 2019 investigation into the incidents in the Navy’s 7th Fleet, its largest overseas presence, ProPublica found repeated instances of frontline commanders warning superiors of risks the fleet was facing — a lack of training, exhausted crews, deteriorating ships and equipment. Those warnings, all sent through the normal chain of command, were met with indifference.

Disaster in the fleet struck in June 2017, after the USS Fitzgerald, a destroyer, collided with a cargo ship in the Sea of Japan. Two months later, a second destroyer, the USS John S. McCain, collided with an oil tanker in the Singapore Strait. The two accidents cost the Navy 17 sailors — the biggest loss of life in maritime collisions in more than 40 years.

Navy investigations laid blame on nearly the entire chain of command in the 7th Fleet, punishing commanders and sailors for failing to properly train and equip its crews and ships.

Adm. Joseph Aucoin, the head of the 7th Fleet, was fired. Vice Adm. Thomas Rowden, who oversaw training, was forced from his job. Cmdr. Bryce Benson, captain of the Fitzgerald, was recommended for court-martial.

But ProPublica reported that all three men had repeatedly tried to warn higher-ups of dangerous safety issues in the vaunted fleet, based at Yokosuka, Japan. They argued to their superiors that the Navy was running ships in the 7th Fleet too hard, too fast. Their warnings were dismissed.

Benson, the Fitzgerald commander whose court-martial case was dismissed, said that Crozier “was right to strongly advocate for the safety of his crew and it was wrong for the SecNav [secretary of the Navy] to fire him for doing so.”

Senior leaders “continue to under-resource ships at sea and are slow to respond to commanders’ pleas for assistance,” said Benson, who is now retired. “From one tragedy to the next, senior Navy leaders continue to break faith with the fleet.”

Dismissing Crozier, Benson said, “sends a clear message to commanders: The authority and responsibility that you enjoy is yours alone and an absolute liability even when under resourced and thinly supported.”

Modly emphasized that he did not intend his actions to discourage officers from coming forward to report their concerns through the chain of command.

“I have no doubt in my mind that Capt. Crozier did what he thought was in the best interests of the safety and well-being of his crew. Unfortunately, it did the opposite,” Modly said at a press conference.

But Crozier’s firing has raised alarm anew that the Navy is more interested in its public image than in fixing problems raised by its sailors. It did not go unnoticed by fellow officers that Crozier was dismissed within two days of his letter becoming public. Such haste is unusual, and raised questions about the due process afforded to Crozier.

Some now believe that the cumulative effects of the Navy’s decisions over the past several years to punish those who speak out will silence sailors who have legitimate concerns about their health and safety.

“His removal sends a really strong message that coming forward will end people’s careers,” said Mandy Smithberger, a military expert at the Project on Government Oversight. “Before this I’d say that risk was more so implied through both social and professional retaliation. This is much more explicit.”

Crozier’s firing comes amid increased concern that the Pentagon is not acting quickly enough to protect whistleblowers. Glenn Fine, the principal deputy inspector general for the Defense Department, testified that the agency has shown a reluctance to punish officials who take punitive action against whistleblowers.

“We have seen a disturbing trend in the DoD disagreeing with the results of our investigations or not taking disciplinary action in substantiated reprisal cases without adequate or persuasive explanations,” Fine testified in January to the House Committee on Oversight and Reform. “Failure to take action sends a message to agency managers that reprisal will be tolerated and also to potential whistleblowers that the system will not protect them.”

Navy commanders may be fired at any time by their superiors. And the captains of Navy ships are uniquely responsible for any mishaps on their ships.

A study published earlier this year of more than 2,000 disciplinary cases found that Navy commanders were historically dismissed for “crimes of command” — such as a ship colliding with another vessel or running aground.

More lately, however, the study documented that it has become harder to tell if those punished are being disciplined less because of their performance and more because they had either internally or publicly called the Navy out for neglect.

“In the modern Navy,” wrote Capt. Michael Junge in the Naval War College Review, “a commander is most likely to be removed for personal misconduct or when the crime of command includes one or all of the following elements: death, press coverage, or significant damage to the Navy, whether materially or to its reputation.”

Why Donald Trump feels invincible

People who think they are invincible tend to find out that they are not in the harshest way possible.

.. one could understand Trump’s behavior if he was doing nothing but winning — except that he isn’t. Most of the coverage suggests Trump feels liberated in particular by his decisions to levy steel and aluminum tariffs and plan on a summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un. But let’s review those two moves. The former is bad policy and bad politics, and it failed to win the Pennsylvania special election for the GOP. The latter may or may not happen, but it is very likely to not end well.

The best interpretive framework through which to understand Trump’s leadership is psychological rather than ideological. One would think that a president with historically low poll numbers, facing an investigation by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III of growing seriousness, heading (in all likelihood) toward a disastrous midterm repudiation that could lead to his impeachment, and presiding over an administration run on the management principles of Maximilien Robespierre might be acting out of desperation. On the contrary, White House insiders indicate that Trump’s increasingly flailing decisions are the function of a president gaining in confidence. Having decided that he has gotten the hang of the job, Trump has lost patience with opposition and constraints. He seems not frightened but giddy.

.. Trump feels he’s winning because he is not losing as much as everyone has claimed.

None of the crazy stuff Trump said or did — from boasting about the size of his nuclear button to firing the FBI director running the investigation into his campaign — merited more than a shrug from investors. And when the market finally did hit a turbulent patch, in early February of this year, it wasn’t because of anything Trump had done; it was triggered by a boring old economic indicator, an upbeat jobs report that made investors worry the Federal Reserve might raise interest rates. Even Trump’s globe-shaking announcement last week of big tariffs on imported steel and aluminum only had a temporary effect. Stocks initially plunged on fears of a disastrous trade war, but they recovered nearly all the ground they had lost in just three days, as traders figured Trump would water down the actual policy.

.. White House staffers have been counseling presidents against rash actions since the invention of White House staff. The way they do this is by warning of dire consequences if their advice is not followed.

Indeed, this was the tactic that Cohn and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin used to try to forestall the tariffs.

.. In the end, however, they were wrong. Trump has such a short-term worldview that if something calamitous does not happen immediately after he does something, it bolsters his assumption that he’s bulletproof.

Despite doomsaying

  • predictions of a crashing economy if he was elected, the economy is still chugging along. Despite dire warnings that the
  • tariffs would trigger a trade war and a global economic scare, that has not happened yet, either. Despite much clucking about
  • the impropriety of shifting from “maximum pressure” on North Korea to a planned summit, no alliance has been torn asunder.

.. I am not saying any of Trump’s moves are great ideas. But they haven’t triggered immediately catastrophes either. If an adviser keeps warning you that bad things will happen and then they have not yet come to pass, you would start to doubt their worth as well.

.. If Trump thought about it he would probably realize some of his self-initiated moves, like

  • firing James B. Comey, have been calamitous. And as White acknowledges, it is possible “Trump really does pose a massive systemic risk, and
  • markets just can’t see it or can’t price it.”
  • A botched summit could lead to war on the Korean Peninsula.
  • All of Trump’s myriad miscues could come back to haunt him in the midterms.

But nothing bad has happened yet, so Trump will continue to feel emboldened. Essentially, he is acting like he is invincible. And people who think they are invincible tend to find out they are not in the harshest way possible.

Fraudulence of the Fiscal Hawks

In 2011, House Republicans, led by Paul Ryan, issued a report full of dire warnings about the dangers of budget deficits.

.. Citing the horrors of big deficits, Republicans refused to raise the federal debt ceiling

.. How big were these horrifying deficits? In the 2012 fiscal year the federal deficit was $1.09 trillion. Much of this deficit, however, was a direct result of a depressed economy

.. If anything, we should be using this time of relatively full employment to pay down debt, or at least reduce it relative to G.D.P.

.. They are providing more stimulus to an economy with 4 percent unemployment than they were willing to allow an economy with 8 percent unemployment.

.. Republicans weren’t just vehemently opposed to fiscal stimulus; they were also vehemently opposed to monetary stimulus. Basically, they were against anything that might help the economy on President Obama’s watch.

.. imposing austerity in a depressed economy, then running up the deficit when we’re already near full employment