Archive for the ‘politics’ Category

A Leninist view of Roy Moore

November 13, 2017

I am not a Leninist, nor even a Marxian, but in a long career watching the Soviet Union (remember them?), I ran up against their ideas often enough. Here’s how they might look at the Roy Moore case.

The case of Roy Moore presents an interesting dilemma for Democrats and moderate Republicans. On the face of it, he is creepy, in a way that no politician has been able to survive. If this wasn’t the Evangelical South, and a Trump Presidency, and a knife-edge Republican majority in the Senate, it would be, as a Bush CIA Director once said, a slam-dunk, and he’s out. But it isn’t, ’cause they are, so he ain’t.

Marx and Lenin and the early Socialist thinkers have something to say about this. They call the problem one of contradictions. Like the existence of great riches and great poverty under capitalism. At some date, those contradictions will advance to the point that they bring the system down, and it will be replaced with something else. Here’s Lenin (The Heritage We Renounce, 1897):

The enlightener believes in the present course of social development, because he fails to observe its inherent contradictions. The populist fears the present course of social development, because he is already aware of these contradictions. The “disciple” [of dialectical materialism] believes in the present course of social development, because he sees the only earnest hope of a better future in the full development of these contradictions. The first and last trends therefore strive to support, accelerate, facilitate development along the present path, to remove all obstacles which hamper this development and retard it.

Stripped of its unreadable munge, it says that the person who really understands the system will push to accelerate the contradictions, to bring about the new order.

The GOP is a sick parody of its former self, interested only in gaining and holding power. We could see that throughout the Obama administration. In the midst of the greatest economic collapse since the Great Depression, their only objective was to make him a one-term President. They seriously damaged the country and ruined the lives of millions of Americans, all for the goal of power. And once they took office, their total policy stance was, if Obama did it, we can undo it. What’s needed is a way to restore proper balance to the American political scene, and to do that, the GOP as presently constituted, must go.

But in order for that to happen, it has to happen from inside the party itself, and that has to be driven by a grass-roots demand for reform. And the only way for that to happen is if the party, as constituted, is subject to a total repudiation at the polls. And the only way to do that is for the GOP become good Marxist/Leninists — by, you know, electing and seating a sexual predator as a Senator for the year before the 2018 elections.

 

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You had one job…

November 7, 2017

One electoral year ago, Donald Trump won the Presidential election despite trailing in the popular vote, because he won 304 votes in the Electoral College. Some people have a problem with this.

There have been a number of calls over the years for the abolition of the Electoral College. Recent ones have been by Democrats, and of course were opposed by Republicans (who have managed to use the EC to elect two Republican Presidents — generally agreed to be the two worst Presidents in modern history — despite losing the popular vote). On the one hand, Democrats have argued that the EC is outmoded and that election results should depend on the will of the people. On the other hand, Republicans have argued that (although I can’t find any evidence of this) the EC was in the Constitution to protect the rights of the smaller states.

My argument is that the Electoral College should be abolished because it has proven incapable of doing its job.

Michelle Goldberg: I think we’re learning that the Constitution may, in fact, be a suicide pact. It’s a source of constant astonishment to me that the country has handed over the means to destroy civilization on this planet to an unhinged lunatic who lost the popular vote and was installed with the aid of a hostile foreign power. It’s such an epic institutional failure that it calls everything we thought we knew about this country’s stability into question

.

As the Mayor of Charlottesville, Virginia said (almost a year before the marches), the reason the Electoral College was created was to keep people like Trump from becoming President.

It’s all there in the Federalist Papers #68 (emphasis mine):

The process of election affords a moral certainty, that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications. Talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity, may alone suffice to elevate a man to the first honors in a single State; but it will require other talents, and a different kind of merit, to establish him in the esteem and confidence of the whole Union.

The problem is, the Constitution was designed at a time when states were more or less insulated from each other by distance and communications limitations. It was hard for a person with talents for low intrigue, etc., to become popular nationwide. Now, from a communications standpoint, we’re all one country, all one village.

In addition:

Nothing was more to be desired than that every practicable obstacle should be opposed to cabal, intrigue, and corruption. These most deadly adversaries of republican government might naturally have been expected to make their approaches from more than one querter [sic], but chiefly from the desire in foreign powers to gain an improper ascendant in our councils.

The trouble is that, over the years, changes to the EC process at the state level have done away with the capability of electors to influence the election. Many states now require the elector to vote with the will of the majority of the population of that state, or face a fine. Indeed, electors who break this rule are called faithless.

This flies directly in the face of the original intent, and I’m surprised those laws haven’t been declared unconstitutional:

It was equally desirable, that the immediate election should be made by men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station, and acting under circumstances favorable to deliberation, and to a judicious combination of all the reasons and inducements which were proper to govern their choice. A small number of persons, selected by their fellow-citizens from the general mass, will be most likely to possess the information and discernment requisite to such complicated investigations.

The argument that electors should be restricted to voting for whoever got the most votes in their states is actually a strong argument for awarding the office based on the  national popular vote. And in any event, if all the electors are is a rubber stamp for a state’s Director of Elections, then they could be replaced with a rubber stamp. One you don’t have to use very often.

 

Nothing to see here, folks

November 6, 2017

So, that’s a wrap. It was Texan on Texan, domestic dispute, an armed society is a polite society. No bigger story than Texans being Texans, and characterized by a standard Texas phrase: Some guy just shot up the

Horrific? Yes. But you voted for this, Texas. You (and by you, I mean probably three quarters of the adults in that church*), voted for the laxest gun laws in the country, the poorest enforcement, and a medical system that makes it all but impossible for most of your people to get help for mental (or, indeed, any other medical) problems. Your votes, for politicians, laws, taxes, were one long march to Sutherland Springs.

You voted for a government that could say that their thoughts and prayers were with the victims, and by the way, the way to prevent future occurrences is more guns in church.

You have your reasons, and your principals, and you went into this with your eyes wide open, knowing it could happen because that’s the way you built it. If you build a road through your fence and you don’t install a cattle guard, your cattle will get out. If you build an uncontrolled intersection across a freeway, you have to expect traffic accidents. If you build an unregulated fertilizer plant in the middle of town, you have to expect that one day it might blow up and flatten the community. If you allow unregulated access to guns, you are going to get gun deaths.

This isn’t a Second Amendment issue. This is an issue of fact. The Constitution allows you to own guns, and Texas law and culture interprets that permission such that ownership is both widespread and uncontrolled.

You own this, Texas. You designed the system and you, even now, fiercely defend it in the face of known and demonstrated dangers, saying that your Texas way of doing things trumps dead kids and shattered churches and decimated communities.

It’s yours, Texas, so don’t bitch.


* 72% of the county voted Republican last election, and the other 23% were probably western edge spillovers from San Antonio.

About that election

November 3, 2017

This is just a quick post to remind folks that we are talking about a number of different issues WRT the 2016 election, and sometimes they are not easy to keep apart. I’ll have additional links later.

  1. Agents of influence, AKA Russian trolls poisoning the media discussion. Appears to be confirmed by reliable sources
  2. Direct Russian interference: Russian hackers breaking into the DNC computers and offering their take to the Trump campaign. Did they do it? Did they make the offer? The jury is out on the first one, and while some Trump campaign staffers are under investigation for lying about their contacts, there’s not yet solid proof that anything was offered or that the contacts themselves were illegal.
  3. Indirect Russian interference: Russian hackers breaking into DNC and other Democratic campaign sources and releasing edited versions to the press. Those press reports picked up by the GOP campaign. Apparently confirmed.
  4. Insider dump (or Russian covert operation) of DNC data to Wikileaks, which released it. US has characterized Assange as being in the pocket of the Russian Intelligence Services. I think it’s simpler. Obama and Clinton got the Swedes to trump up sexual assault charges against him so they could extradite him to the US and try him on espionage charges for the Chelsea Manning leaks. Assange declared war back, and did everything he could to damage Clinton. Getting Trump elected was a side benefit.
  5. Clinton taking over the DNC unfashionably early in the primary season, and milking them for all she could take. Note that this is qualitatively different from any of the above. It’s not normal (and if Trump had done it, what would they have said?), it’s probably not ethical, but it doe’s not appear to be illegal. I’ll have more to say on this in a later post. And a later update shows a second agreement that kills most of the non-ethical aspects.

What’s in a Name?

November 3, 2017

Some decades ago, when I was paying more attention to the industry, there was a minor bunfight in the writing community over the the terms SF vs SciFi.

SF is what writers do. SciFi is what SF writers sometimes call themselves.

Naming is important, because that’s the label a community displays to the outside world. It establishes what George Lakoff would call the frame, which defines the discussion. Because of this it is important not to accept an opponent’s label, because then you are arguing on their terms.

A good recent example is the label Alt-Left. It was originally a centrist descriptive about those on the far left. It then got hijacked by the Alt-Right apologists to provide a frame that allowed for a false parallelism (both sides do it) and demonisation (they’re coming right at us!), and then conflated with the term AntiFa, which is dedicated to direct action, and has a longer history of real organizations behind it, dating back to before WWII. This is a gift to the Alt-Right frame any opposition as violent anti-capitalists. We had an Alt-Right back in the 30’s. It was called the German-American Bund.

Here’s a suggestion. The Alt-Right is portrayed as “powerful, vicious, steeped in neo-Nazi ideology, nativist white supremacy…” That’s not wrong, but it’s incomplete. My reading of that definition is … Nazis. The Alt-Right are Nazis, are proud of the term, and only use the Alt-ernative because all civilized outlets would otherwise ban them. This is not a violation of Godwin’s Law, because that’s about an egregious insertion of the term into an otherwise unrelated discussion.

So, if the Alt-Right are Nazis, what about those who quite rightly oppose them? How should we frame them? What historically accurate name could we give them, that would not evoke false parallelism?

What about Americans? That would include my father and my uncle and all those members of The Greatest Generation who fought and died to prevent Nazis from taking over the world.

Americans. Good name.

Trump in Afghanistan

August 22, 2017

If draining the swamp in DC isn’t working, the obvious alternative is to move deeper into a different quagmire.

Trump has announced that we will be playing whack-a-mole with terrorists in Afghanistan for the foreseeable future. So, nothing has changed. We won’t be doing “nation-building”, which is good, because the US Army isn’t trained for that (and doesn’t want to be), and the various State Department entities aren’t funded for it, and it would take a lifetime or longer to complete. Besides, Afghanistan really isn’t a nation. It’s a collection of tribal entities under a handful of local warlords, and the power of the central government doesn’t extend much beyond pistol-shot from Kabul. I almost said corrupt local warlords, but that’s only by our standards. The Afghans have a different view of life and their relation to their leadership. Which brings up another point. Afghan loyalties run family, then tribe, then, weakly, region, with national coming in a long way out of the running. Why does this matter? Because it matters to them.

The primary social interaction between communities in Afghanistan may well be the blood feud. Think Hatfields and McCoys, writ large and decades long. You kill my cousin and you have made blood enemies of every person in our extended family. Every terrorist is somebody’s cousin. Or brother. Maybe the Taliban core leadership is from elsewhere, but everybody surrounding them is local. You put a drone through the window of a Taliban headquarters and you kill leader A, who will soon be replaced. You also kill locals B through K, who have cousins. It will never end. The Soviets were a lot more callous than we are about civilian casualties and collateral damage, and they couldn’t do it.

A final point. Trump has said we will not be announcing troop numbers. That policy will be of limited use, and will mostly work to our detriment. Why? Because the Afghan government will know how many troops we are moving in and out of their country, if for no other reason than they provide most of the on-the-ground logistical support. And if the Afghan government knows, the Taliban knows. To make the chain a little longer, if the Afghan government knows, then the Pakistani intelligence services know (and metric tons of our support comes through Pakistani ports), and if the Pakistani intelligence services know, then the Taliban knows.

You know who won’t know? The American people, the press and the taxpayers and the voters. This is not a way to provide OPSEC, it’s a way to hide the magnitude of the upcoming losses.

One commenter calls it “a recipe for unending colonial style war waged by the US in South Asia.”

Trump in Poland — That Speech

July 9, 2017

Early last week a photo taken in 1937 on Jaluit Island turned up on the media. It showed a bunch of distinctly unoffical-looking officials, along with a man displaying a good example of male pattern baldness, and a genderless person in pants and a shaggy haircut, seated and facing away from the camera. People looked at the picture and immediately said Noonan and Earhart!

On the one hand, this is a good example of people seeing in a photo what they wanted to see. PI’s do this all the time and are well aware of the trap. If you are out looking for tanks, any roughly square assemblage of rocks can look like a tank. If you are looking for Noonan and Earhart, you will see Noonan and Earhart.

On the other hand, you have to consider context — where was the image taken. If you are looking at a photo of a tank park, it’s more likely to be a tank than if you are looking at a city park. If you are looking at a photo taken in 1937 on an island that’s the administrative center of a Japanese mandate, and only 1,000 miles from a possible Earhart crash site within that mandate, you can perhaps be forgiven for thinking of her.

Photos, thank goodness, have ground truth. It’s a tank, or it’s not. It’s Noonan and Earhart, or it’s not. You may never know the truth, but it’s out there. This is not true when talking of human perceptions and emotions.

Three days ago, Trump made a speech in Krasiński Square, Warsaw, thanking his Polish hosts. Depending on how you define the context, the speech can be seen as anodyne, Presidential, racist, Riefenstahlian, or power mad.

The full text of the speech was released by the White House. Admittedly, it might not be accurate. It could be the prepared text, and he might not have followed it. It includes applause and shouts from the crowd, which could have been poorly translated. For example, they could have been crying czarna dzum, which is Polish for Black Plague. But let’s assume that these words are the words he, or his staff, thought worthy of saying.

It’s not a long speech, less than 150 lines containing less than 3500 words — maybe 70 short paragraphs — of content.

The first twenty paragraphs are the usual thanks to the host country and callback to our long history together, totally in line with Fallows’ description of how Presidents talk overseas.

The next eight or ten recount the Poles valiant stands against the Nazi (i.e. German) and Soviet (i.e. Russian) invaders and oppressors, and end by celebrating Poland’s place in NATO as one of the pillars of a strong Europe and a strong West. So far, so … coherent … even if it did spend more time zinging Germany than Russia (Angela will not be pleased).

The next six paragraphs define the three dimensions of the new existentialist threat to The West: The ongoing attacks by radical Islamic terrorism, the destabilizing activities of Russia, and the steady creep of government paperwork. These threats come from South and East, from inside and out. One might reasonably assume that the Inside threat is paperwork, the Southern threat is radical Islam, and the Eastern threat is Russia.

Then, eight paragraphs extolling the achievements of Western Civilization, and five boasting about how we got other NATO members to spend more.

These are followed by the two controversial paragraphs, paragraphs that set the will to prevail at the center of our defense of the West.

We have to remember that our defense is not just a commitment of money, it is a commitment of will

the will of its people to prevail and be successful and get what you have to have.

the confidence in our values to defend them at any cost

enough respect for our citizens to protect our borders

the courage to preserve our civilization in the face of those who would subvert and destroy it

Seven wrap-up paragraphs about Polish will during WWII (another shot at the Germans), a couple of dance-off lines and it’s done.

So, let’s get one thing out of the way at the start. Trump is not suddenly “Presidential” because of this speech. He’s a lightweight, and people from Oz, and things at the bottom of ponds know it. As with his first “Presidential” speech, he has workmanlike speech writers, and he managed to stay on script.

Now, what’s the context of those two paragraphs? First, within the speech, they were preceded by some battle of civilizations imagery that sets the West against Islam, Russian attacks on our institutions, and, of course, bureaucrats. Outside the speech is a modern Europe that feels itself under stress more from refugees than radical Islamists, that feels threatened by the Russian pushback against NATO expansion, that … well … isn’t really bothered by a bureaucracy that makes it hard to build golf courses wherever one wants. Behind the words of the speech is the world-view of its creator, Stephen Miller, and that of his staff colleague, Steve Bannon.

Depending on where you live, different parts of that speech speak to different parts of your brain. Are there people who will see it as a call to defend the best elements of the Judaeo-Christian West? Certainly. Are there those who will read the same words and find in them a call to drive out those who are not demonstrably White and Christian? Of course. Are there those who see the first, and cannot understand how people could claim the second? Here he is.

There is a saying in Washington, DC: Perception is reality. How people see an event or a policy is, effectively, how that event or policy is. I think the takeaway is that everyone’s perceptions about the speech have elements of the ground truth. A Bannon can see those paragraphs as a call to throw back the non-White and non-Christian elements that contaminate our nation state. A Fallow can comment on that without being a person who hates Western Civilization. A Dreher can gain extra clicks by stirring the pot.

And if you want to go beyond the immediate situation, a Brin can detect an element of the manic phase of the Republican worldview.

Gun Control

June 25, 2017

Update, October 2017: Before you read my essay, read this one to get a better feel for the background and history.

I am not a gun enthusiast. In the AF I qualified on both the M-16 and the .38, but was never called upon to fire them for real (In VietNam, I did come close a couple of times). At home, I’ve never owned a gun, and only once ever had guns stored in the house – a friend was waiting to move into his new house and asked me to keep his shotguns. I have not thought through all the policy implications, but here’s a couple thoughts on the arguments over gun control and America’s right to bear arms.

A Well Regulated Militia
My interpretation of the Second Amendment (not that the Supremes ever asked me), is that it should be read in its entirety:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

Tortured arguments about 18th Century punctuation apart, to me that implies that every person who owns a gun is also subject to being part of a well-regulated Militia. And that means they should be subject to some minimal level of formal training (and who could be against training for gun owners?), and registered with the Militia, subject to callup if the State requires it. They wouldn’t be in the Reserves, nor even in the Guard. They’d be the Militia, available if the Guard and Reserve both fail (or, say, are over fighting in Pakistan). Their Constitutional right to own the weapon should not be infringed, but they should be subject to swingeing fines if they fail to uphold their Constitutional responsibilities. David Brown, over at The Week, has a much-better thought-out version of this idea.

In Switzerland, they actually do something like this. They have universal military service, most of which is spent in the reserves, and soldiers are required to keep their weapons at home. When they finish their period of service, they can elect to keep the weapon.

Defending the Castle
Second, according to the gun lobby, one reason to own a gun is home defense. If you have a gun in your home, and are properly trained, you are in a position to defend yourself and your family and your belongings. In other words, a weaponized house is a safe house. OK, let us, as they say, look at the numbers. Let’s follow the money.

A. The numbers are pretty straightforward. Guns kill Americans. Guns kill women at higher rates. If you are awakened by a prowler in your darkened house at 2AM and you exercise your right of property defense, you are far more likely, when you turn on the lights, to find your prodigal son, back from a late night karaoke party than you are some sort of evildoer. If a woman is found shot dead in her home, the first and most logical suspect is her estranged boyfriend. So, the numbers are pretty bleak. But what about the money?

B. From a monetary standpoint, if a weaponized house is safer, then weaponized homes should qualify for lower insurance rates, both homeowners insurance (say, get a gun credit just like you do a burgler alarm credit), and medical insurance (like non-smoker’s rebate, due to less chance of being beaten by thugs). Yet even the Affordable Care Act contains prohibitions against doctors or insurance companies collecting information on gun ownership. There’s a number of possible reasons why this is so.

  1.  One is that the weapons=safety argument is false, and the people making it know it’s false and they are using a legislative trick to prevent being penalized for their lies.
  2.  On the other hand, this could even be seen as part of a widespread conspiracy to undermine the ability of the insurance companies to make money by offering lower rates to gun owners.
  3.  Or, finally, this could be part of a conspiracy by the insurance companies to require them to offer the same rates to everyone, and thereby make additional profits by gouging the responsible gun owners.

I’m in favor of Reason 1, lying liars. Why? Because the NRA has essentially admitted this: “NRA officials say they requested the provision out of concern that insurance companies could use such data to raise premiums on gun owners.

Opposing Tyranny
America is proud of its heroic, Revolutionary past, where the Patriots rose up to overthrow a tyrannical government, and thus established armed opposition to tyranny as part of our national culture. Thomas Jefferson said that a little rebellion was good for a Democracy, and that we should experience one every generation or so. This justified two hundred and fifty years of distrust of “the government”, and led a certain segment of the population to decide that it was their duty to arm themselves against the day they would be called up to once again oppose tyranny. Of course, any illusion that a group of fanatics, armed with deer rifles, are a match for a modern military force is just that, an illusion, or maybe a delusion.

These are the people who believe in the theory of the Deep State, and who periodically (every time a Democrat gets in office) buy more arms so they may fight it. They are the ones who oppose all record-keeping on guns, ammunition, and gun violence because they believe such records could be used by the government when it comes to take their guns. Of course, such a list already exists. It’s called the membership roll of the NRA. And if NRA has the list on a computer, you can bet that NSA also has that list.

Discussion
The problem is, we are a violent society. It’s rooted deep in our DNA. In other words, we, as a society, are mentally ill. An insurance company would call it a pre-existing condition.

So, what is to be done? Ban all pistols, and strictly control all rifles and shotguns like they do in England, the Mother Country from whence our society came? (Full disclosure: I lived in England for four years, wandered major cities after dark, and never felt unsafe one day in my life there.) Can’t be done, you say. Remember our roots as a rebellious collection of lawbreakers? OK, suppose we ban all pistols, and strictly control all rifles and shotguns like they do in Australia, that dumping ground for as rebellious a collection of lawbreakers as you’ll see in the whole Anglo-Saxon world? We’re far too sick for that, you say? OK, why don’t we take the lying liars at their word, embrace the NRA, and make the NRA’s own gun safety rules a federal law? Here’s Stonekettle Station’s proposal. The formal part starts about seven screens down, at the poster picture. Basically, it says the NRA guidelines should become the law of the land, particularly the part about personal responsibility for any weapon you hold or handle. This won’t even begin to halt all gun crime in the US, but it will put a dent in it. It’s a start.

BTW, here is a summary of the effect of strong gun control in Australia and Japan.

Heinlein said that an armed society is a polite society. To which I add — eventually. And it requires that you value politeness above all other things. And that you don’t mind having a high mortality rate.

At least Trump didn’t make him head of VA

June 18, 2017

In June of 2014, then Senator Sessions commented on wounded veterans and “entitlements”. I thought it might be worthwhile linking to my response.

The baseball shootings

June 17, 2017

In the wake of the shootings at the GOP practice baseball game, the Dems are reportedly worried that their rhetoric has gone too far. Have they forgotten what it was like in the early days of the uppity Obama administration, when armed and angry white men prowled around the periphery of Democratic rallies? Yes, one late night commenter recently held up a severed Trump head. And was chastised for it, and apologized. Do you remember what talk radio was like after Obama was elected? Do you  remember the Gabby Gifford shooting, and Sarah Palin’s PAC blog with cross-hairs? Do you remember any GOP leadership saying that maybe the right wing rhetoric has gone too far, or any talk radio host apologizing? No, because they didn’t.

Both sides don’t do it.

I’ll have a little bit more to say on gun control tomorrow. I wrote a very nice, well researched, piece on gun control, which has since vanished from WordPress. No idea. I’ll have to reconstruct it, but not today.

Be careful what you wish for

May 18, 2017

I’m not the first person to point this out (today!), and I suspect there will be a lot more in days to come, but impeaching Trump might not be the panacea the Democrats seem to think it is.

From the standpoint of lessening the threat to the planet, it’s probably a good idea, because, you know, football.

From the standpoint of protecting the hard-fought gains of previous Democratic administrations, maybe not so much.

The thing is, Trump takes a bull-in-the-china-shop approach to politics — thrashing around and disturbing the normal processes, and making it difficult to get things done. One reason that nothing significant has happened in the first 100 days is that the Rebpublicans are in just as much disarray as the Democrats when it comes to passing legeslation. There’s no ability of the White House to press its agenda, because the President doesn’t know how, and isn’t interested in learning.

So what happens if he gets impeached? Well, then we have President Pence, and do we really want one of those?

Pence is a born again Evangelical who dispises everyone who isn’t a white Christian, and dismisses those white Christians who aren’t male, and rich. He’s so doctrinaire that the first thing his (Republican) successors did was to start quite deliberately the process of unravelling his legacy.

Here’s a Rolling Stone article from earlier this year. I take issue with their poking fun at him for calling his wife “Mother”. That’s a Mid-West practice that merely identifies him as someone from a certain place and age group. My in-laws did the same thing. Having said that, the rest of the article is damning.

The other half of the problem is, unlike Trump, Pence is a politician who (sort of) knows how to get things done. Odious things. Things even Republicans want to walk back, but still. If Pence had been elected, we’d most likely have AHCA as the law of the land today, and Muslims and other foreigners would be blocked from entry.

There’s an old Aesop’s Fable about a pond that had a log for a king, and and the pond dwellers were upset the king never did anything. So they prayed for a new king, and the Gods sent them King Stork, who immediately started eating all the denizens of the pond. In our case, the choice isn’t between King Log and King Stork. It’s more between Mr. Toad and King Stork, and I’d rather see the Republicans thrashing around for the next four years.

Comeygate isn’t going anywhere

May 14, 2017

Despite the current uproar over the timing and manner of the firing of the FBI director, I don’t think anything will come of it, directly or soon. It’s been compared to the Saturday Night Massacre of the Watergate Scandal, but I don’t think it will have the same impact. Here’s why:

First of all, there’s the popular reasons, the ones bandied about in recent days. Both houses of Congress are in GOP hands, unlike during Watergate. Both sides are strongly polarized and antagonistic, unlike the more bipartisan days of the Cold War. And in 1973 the GOP had leaders who were willing to put country before party. Our illusions about that possibility died the death during the AHCA voting.

Yet another reason, not yet mentioned (as far as I know), is that it’s too soon. The Watergate break-in happened in June of 1972, and the scandal had 16 months to fester before that infamous Saturday night earned Robert Bork the nickname “Cox-sacker”.  That was seen as the tipping point by all but the most rabid Nixon supporters. Today, we are still in the “oh, it’s just partisan infighting” stage. Trump’s base is still supportive, and there’s not yet a smoking gun to convince them there’s something there.

For that matter, I’m not yet convinced that this scandal has a truly treasonous core.  A lot of inappropriate things have been done, many of them likely illegal, in a real estate developer petty graft sort of way. Impeachable? Yes, if you use getting a blowjob in a White House coat closet as your baseline, but not yet “high crimes and misdemeanors”. Not yet.

Not yet.

L’Affaire de Comey

May 11, 2017

I’ve been following some discussions on why the Democrats are riled up now about Comey being fired, when they were all for him being fired back in November. There’s a number of intertwined issues here, and we need to be sure our conclusions on one don’t color our approach to a different one.

1. The Clinton emails investigation and the associated announcement. Comey mishandled the whole thing, whether or not you believe Clinton did something actionable. He violated FBI guidelines — the decision, and the announcement, should have been left up to the DoJ.

2. The second email announcement. What had Democrats in a twist was the second announcement, a week before the election, that the FBI was investigating a second set of emails. This was not only a violation of guidelines, it was in direct contravention to advice given by DoJ.

According to Nate Silver at 538.com, this influenced the outcome. As far as I can tell, Silver is pretty much a ‘by the numbers’ statistician, who analyzes polling statistics. He is a liberal, but doesn’t let that influence his analysis.

By the time Comey came out (48hrs before the election) with a third announcement, that said ‘my bad, nothing new’, the damage had been done.

From that standpoint, what Comey should have been fired for was having the FBI take a political action that influenced an American election.

3. The Russia connection. I’m not sure there’s anything there, other than normal graft, but I am not at all sure. To a certain extent, it’s a stick the Democrats can use to beat the GOP. Just like Whitewater and Benghazi and the emails. The biggest pointer to malfeasance in office is the attempt at a coverup via the Comey firing.

4. The firing. If Trump didn’t like Comey’s actions over the emails, he should have fired him in January. Instead, he waited until the Russia investigation was well advanced, and Comey was asking for more money for it. The story the White House is supporting won’t stand up to scrutiny.

So what Comey shouldn’t have been fired for is continuing an investigation on external influence on an American election. And the Democrats are right to be upset about it.

BTW, here’s one line of thought on Trump’s mindset. It’s extracts from a 40 section tweet-storm (and example of a misuse of Twitter. You don’t pump out a thousand word essay 140 characters at a time).

Universal Basic Income: Gilbreth and Socrates and the philosophy of work

May 9, 2017

I had forgotten about this, until it crossed my mind while I was thinking about the earlier article. Cheaper By the Dozen (1948), by Frank Gilbreth, Jr., and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey, was one of the books of my childhood. Gilbreth, Senior, was a time and motion specialist, always seeking a better way, one that would save time. Here’s how the book ends:

Someone once asked Dad: “But what do you want to save time for? What are you going to do with it?”
“For work, if you love that best,” said Dad. “For education, for beauty, for art, for pleasure.” He looked over the top of his pince-nez. “For mumblety-peg, if that’s where your heart lies.”

There are those who would look askance at such a life, but they are wrong. When Socrates said “The unexamined life is not worth living“, he should have gone on to say that this attitude was a social construct, designed to make the elite sons of the aristoi feel good about attending his classes, something unavailable to the bulk of the peasantry. Throughout history there have been untold millions of people who led happy, fulfilled lives despite the fact that none of their achievements ever had the word great attached to them.

In Life you set your own victory conditions, and a perfectly valid life can be had seeking to improve your skills at mumblety-peg, if that’s where your heart lies.

 

Universal Basic Income and the philosophy of work

April 29, 2017

There’s an interesting article over on The Week. It’s by Damon Linker, and it’s about “The spiritual ruin of a universal basic income“.

Universal Basic Income (UBI), as you may know, is the proposal for the government to give everyone a basic living wage, whether they work or not. Combined with universal access to affordable medical care, it would remove the two main worries of modern life.

Part of the reasoning behind it is that artificial intelligence and robotic automation (AI&R), are killing all the jobs, and we need to either find something for people to do, or pay them for doing nothing. We find ourselves on the cusp of a revolution, even mightier than the Industrial Revolution itself. Pretty soon we will move from a society of scarcity to a society of plenty.

One of the problems is the lingering morality of that revolution, indeed, of all of history up to this point.  The old world was driven by scarcity. You worked for your living, or you were a freeloader. OK, if you were rich you were a special kind of freeloader, living in a Potemkin village called “job creator”, but mostly it was workers and layabouts. In modern times, conservatives want to limit the support you get, in an effort to force you to find work — the assumption being that if you don’t have to work, you won’t. The liberals want to give you more help finding that new job, with retraining programs and the like, but both sides want you to get back on your feet as soon as possible. So, what if it isn’t possible?

Those who forecast the impact of technology tend to overestimate the short term effects, and underestimate the long term. Bell thought that every town would soon have a telephone. Diesel thought the market for cars was limited, because there were only so many people who could be trained as chauffeurs. The long-term impact of AI&R can be roughed out already, but we don’t really have a handle on what long-term means in this situation.

One possible scenario is this: X number of years from now, we will have a small financial elite, who own most of the money. There will be a somewhat larger professional class, who have meaningful jobs running the AI&R economy, or providing high level services, like entertainment (or maybe not, consider the popularity of vocaloids). Their income will be 1% of what the elite are “earning”. And then there will be the vast, overwhelming majority of citizens who no longer have jobs and have no way of getting a job, and who earn nothing. These unfortunates will be given a minuscule stipend, or ‘dole’, and will live in the most wretched of conditions.

The theory is that UBI would fight this, first, by being large enough to remove the wretchedness, and second, by being a basic entitlement, given to all. Yes, all. The financial elite, the ones who hit 100 x UBI in stock income a few minutes after the new year starts, would still get it.  The working elite, who may bring in 2 X UBI per month, will get it. And the non-working poor will get it, not as a gift but as a right. No stigma. It’s one result of the society of plenty. The question that Linker asks is, will it work?

Most people simply aren’t equipped to lead lives of self-directed flourishing. In a world of widespread, permanent unemployment, we’d be far more likely to see throngs of people spending their days giving themselves over to obsessive video gaming, immersion in virtual-reality porn, and drug addiction, as they desperately grasp for a chemically induced substitution for the real-world fulfillment now placed permanently off limits to them. It would be a psychological and spiritual disaster.

I can see it being a problem. And if it’s a problem, it will be a bigger one than just layabout angst. Consider youth — easily bored, old enough to act without supervision, but with poor impulse control. That’s a recipe for crime, gang warfare, terrorism; not for poverty or ideology, but for something to do.

Linker recommends hanging on to the old jobs as much as possible

Maybe the left needs to … start proposing new ways to disincentivize businesses from embracing every form of automation that appears on the horizon. (Think of a steep tax on goods and services produced with certain forms of technology.)

In essence, we would pay companies to hire people to do jobs that robots could do better. In a way, this is on par with the old Great Depression “paying people to rake leaves in national forests.”

A different approach is changing how we do primary and secondary education. We stop training people to be good little cogs in the industrial machine, and educate them on how to live when independently wealthy in a constrained sort of way. The concept of fulfilment through work, as discussed in the article is yet another artefact of the society of scarcity. Persons who have gotten the equivalent of the UBI, through disability payments or the like, often become depressed. That’s because they are unemployed in an age that values employment above all else. Change what constitutes a life of value, and you change the reaction to the UBI.

We could go even further, and change our definition of what self-directed flourishing is. If people sit around in a library, reading complex tomes and thinking deep thoughts, that’s an active life of the mind. If people sit around in a VR headset, solving ever-more complex puzzles and improving their twitch muscle reaction time, that’s — what? A desperate grasp for a substitute for real world fulfilment? We all can’t be Einstein, and there’s not enough motel wall space in the world to hold the paintings of everyone striving for artistic fulfilment.

As I said a few months ago, in a different context, there was a mid-80’s spoof in the April edition of, I think, Analog magazine. It was an announcement for a new game, a game called Life (not Conway’s, but, as one slowly realized, real life). The article talked about possible adventures on a water-world with multiple continents and thousands of cultures, and an expansion pack to extend the game to the planet’s airless moon “as soon as we straighten out some issues with a subcontractor”.

The takeaway line, which has stuck with me to this day, is this:

In Life, you set your own victory conditions.

You get to set those conditions, and you get to decide if you have won. Maybe we need to re-think what victory means.

Government Isn’t Business

March 27, 2017

Back in the day, Bill Clinton and Al Gore set out to redefine government in the mould of modern business. The idea was that government would be more efficient if it worked more like a business. There were some good ideas here, but the basic concept failed, and not just because the follow-on governments of the Party of Business rejected the ideas (because they were thought up by Democrats), but because the basic concept is wrong. The practice of government is not like business, any more than the practice of medicine is. Businesses have customers, and seek to extract maximum profits from those customers. Government has citizens, and seeks to promote the common welfare. In business, the bottom 20% of your customers are the ones you shed. In government, the bottom 20% of your citizens are the ones who need your help the most.

This difference in basic motivation results in widely differing approaches to, among other things, decision-making and negotiations. In his book, The Art of the Deal, Trump talks about showing his opponent the down-side of not accepting the deal. When working with the city planning people in New York city, he would ask for exceptions to existing regulations — because successful real estate development in the city is based on managing exceptions — and show the planners the ugly buildings he could build if he stuck to the code. BTW, the same year I read TAotD I read an autobiography of a different NYC real estate developer (don’t remember the author) who said that he had never had to ask for a exception. In the AHCA negotiations with the House Freedom Caucus, he essentially demanded agreement, with the threat that if they didn’t support him, ACA would remain the law of the land. We saw how that worked out.

Now, Trump wants to follow in the footsteps of Clinton and Gore, to make government more efficient, more like business. He has selected Jared, I am not a nepotist, Kushner to head up a SWAT team that will make government more efficient. In addition to not knowing what a SWAT team does, what he doesn’t understand is the fact that the Founding Fathers didn’t want efficient government. They wanted government that was difficult to suborn, that was structurally incapable of fostering a dictator.

Pick your battles

February 13, 2017

A few seasons ago, there was a short format (7min) anime titled Tonari No Seki-kun (My Neighbor Seki-kun). It was about a girl (Yokoi) who sits next to Seki-kun in class and watches all the madcap antics he gets up to in the back row. In the first episode, he builds a complex falling-dominoes layout on his desk, complete with stairs and crossovers. In the second episode, he draws a chessboard on his desk and plays shogi — Japanese chess — Game of Thrones style, complete with beheadings and regicides. The pattern of each episode is the same: Yokoi tries to pay attention to the teacher, but gets drawn in by the outrageous things Seki-kun is doing, ending up as a participant, or even an accomplice. When she tries to stop him, it’s her frantic actions that get disciplined by the teacher. There’s a political lesson to be learned from all this, given that the US has just elected a Seki-kun as our President.

tonari-no-seki-kun

I have to state at the start, for those who may be unclear on the concept, that our President is not an anime character. For one thing, Seki-kun carries out his little projects without disrupting the classroom, whereas Trump-kun is trying to disrupt things, to stir the pot, to keep his opponents — everyone who isn’t him — off balance. What is the best response to this? Spoiler: don’t be Yokoi.

Here’s a selection of some of the outrages Trump has committed in his first weeks in office. Threatening to destroy the career of a Texas state representative who opposes asset forfeiture. Attacking the “so-called judge” who opposed his immigration ban. Nominating as Ambassador to Austria some businessman whose prime qualification seems to be that he’s a “Sound of Music” fan. And in general, acting in such a way that even members of his staff are alarmed.

Any of these things would be fatal to the administration of a real politician, and I’m sure you can think of another half-dozen or so. But Trump don’t care. As someone said about one of my former bosses, “he does for fun the kinds of things other people get ulcers from doing.” The key to dealing with Trump is to not sweat the small stuff.

Yes, he needs to be called out for unacceptable behavior, but then leave the shouting and the tweet-storming and the pearls-clutching to the talk show hosts and other trained professionals. Don’t end up in an adrenalin coma. For one thing, it won’t accomplish anything. For another, it will only be more red meat for his base “lookit them liberals running around like headless chickens!

Instead, put your effort in those things that will return the most gain. Opposing the immigration ban. Opposing Repeal and Replace for the ACA. Opposing Sessions as Attorney General.

That last is a good example. The Attorney General is in a position to destroy respect for law and order in this country. Who holds that office is arguably much more important than who the Secretary of Education is. Forcing a tie on Sessions, and forcing Pence to own the tie-breaking vote, is much more important down the road than a similar vote on DeVos.

 

 

 

Three week hiatus

January 2, 2017

Sortof. For the next three weeks I’m not going to read or write about anything political. Why? Because it will pretty much be a waste of time and electrons.

Look, we know the Trump regime will be bad, but we have no way of knowing how bad. To the extent that he has plans, or maybe primal urges and proclivities, those plans will, as they say, not survive contact with the enemy. We all have a pretty good idea of what Democrat and Republican politicians want, and we have a fuzzier idea of what Liberal and Conservative Americans want. Trump is going to have to operate within that framework. We should all work to strengthen that framework, but that is something we should have been doing all along.

As for the details, until he actually assumes the toga and begins doing, or trying to do, things, we can only guess. The newsies don’t know, his Cabinet (whoever they turn out to be) doesn’t know; hell, Trump doesn’t know, and can’t know. Not at this point.

But there is a 24/7 news hole that has to be filled, and despite their lack of knowledge, the newsies and the bloggers and the tweets will have to fill it — with something. Anything you read between now and the Inauguration (maybe between now and the State of the Union) will be pure speculation and click-bait. Save your adrenalin for when you’ll really need it.

Go eat some oatmeal. Go watch some anime.

Trump and Intelligence

December 18, 2016

As a career Intelligence professional (somewhat dated, I’ve been out of the business longer than I was in the business), I’m finding Trump’s relationship with the Intelligence Community very interesting right now. He has deprecated their contributions and rejected the usefulness of their efforts. Many people have said that this is just one more example of his stupidity. I don’t think so. At least, not totally. I think what we are seeing is a good example of what might be called operator bias.

Operators are the people who get things done. It’s the operators in an organization who bring life to its reason for being. In the military, they are the war fighters, the ship drivers, and blue four. In business, they are the CEOs and COOs. Their job is to accomplish the mission, fly the frag, keep the doors open. They chafe at anything that might limit their ability to do this, no matter the firmness and reality of those limits. They are the ones who say never tell me the odds. The ones who say think like a manager rather than an engineer.

Trump is 100% a businessman, an operator. He’s always looking to apply his art to another deal. Anything that gets in the way of that deal is an obstacle, not an ally. And if it persists, it’s an enemy. Trump is hot on the deal of a lifetime, and he’s due to close on it on January 20th. So, how is he going to act when the Intelligence Community tries to queer the deal, as he sees it? He’ll do what any businessman does when faced with an inconvenient fact. He’ll belittle it, downplay it, distract you from thinking about it. He’ll ridicule the source. If forced, he might offer some sort of cosmetic band-aid.

“That high voltage line runs right through the back yard of that house we’re looking at.”
I haven’t seen any two-headed cats wandering around.

“That used car you’re selling seems to be leaking oil.”
They do that when they’re brought in from a cold lot. It will seal right up once you run it.”

“I like this used car you’re selling, but it’s got 150,000 miles on it.”
You shouldn’t be obsessed with mileage.”

Afterwards, a thinking-ahead businessman might take action to — well, not to fix the problem, but to keep it from being a problem for him by suppressing further news of it. To the extent he can, he might retaliate against those who might keep raising the issue.

But it’s not the job of Intelligence to suppress an issue. It’s not part of our ethos, it’s not in our DNA. An Intelligence analyst lives and breaths the concept of Timely Truth, Well Told. In Intelligence, the cardinal sin is to know something and not tell the operators who need to know it. Like logisticians, analysts deal only in facts, but must work for men who merchant in theories. Intelligence, as they say, is our last defense against wishful thinking.

The Intelligence Community is actually pretty good about giving the President what he wants in the format he wants it in, from Reagan’s briefing book to Obama’s briefing Blackberry. If Trump wants his intel in 140-character bites, that’s what he’ll get.

The problem, as I see it, is that it doesn’t matter what the package looks like, Trump isn’t buying the product. He talks to his advisors, and he talks to foreign leaders and maybe he reads the New York Times (because that’s what New Yorkers do, even if they disagree with it) and then he heads off to make deals, and woe betide any Intelligence agency that gets in the way of the deal. And when something goes horribly wrong, as it well might, he’ll deny that it happened, deny that it happened that way, deny that it’s wrong, deny that it’s horribly wrong, and then — he’ll blame Intelligence.

Russia and the American election

December 13, 2016

I don’t know.

Intelligence analysts hate politics. Intelligence managers endure them. Intelligence executives exploit them. Today’s round of politicised Intelligence is about Russian attempts to influence the US election in support of Trump. On the one hand, you have CIA, an arrogant, but usually competent, agency mostly concerned with human source Intelligence, not computers, saying there’s a direct path back to Russian hackers (although not everyone agrees). On the other hand, you have the FBI, as incompetent a group of clowns as ever crawled out of a car, with special lack of smarts where computers are concerned, saying that they’re not so sure. Who we haven’t heard from yet is NSA, the agency charged with knowing about this kind of thing. On the other, other hand, Congress has gotten into the act, in a surprisingly bipartisan fashion.

I agree with Pat Lang, that there’s no way the FBI would be in cahoots with the Russians over this. However, given that the Republican who is the current Director of the FBI already did his best to influence the election for Trump, there’s no reason to assume that a pro-Trump stance isn’t continuing to influence their actions.

The documents in the case are the DNC emails published by Wikileaks. One side says the Russians were feeding them to Wikileaks editor Julian Assange. Assange had to be in the sway of the Russians, or why else just publish the DNC emails when it was likely the RNC could have been hacked as well? The other side says it was an internal DNC defector, and that’s why there’s no RNC data.  My take on this is that the US declared war on Julian Assange in 2010 and forced him to live in the Ecuadorian embassy for the last four years. He is striking back with the best weapons at his disposal, under the not-unreasonable assumption that a Trump presidency is the most harmful thing he could do.

Bottom line: this is a particularly egregious case of DC leak and counter-leak. There are even those who say this is another example of “both sides do it”.

The people who most indignantly condemned Trump’s questioning of Obama’s birth certificate as a scurrilous scheme to delegitimize his presidency, now seek to delegitimize Trump’s presidency. — Pat Buchanon

This kind of statement, even if it was a throwaway line in an article on a different topic, reveals a blatant disregard for reality. Statements by US government officials charged with responsibility for the topic are not to be confounded with the ravings of talk radio jockeys.

Right now, we, the people, have no idea where the truth lies, and we won’t, unless there are Congressional hearings, or another Snowden.

Don’t give Trump all the credit

December 11, 2016

I’ve been reading the news, like the news junkie I am, and it’s all about Trump — Trump appointed him, Trump appointed her, Trump’s new policies will transform this, that, and the other government programs. Trump is a loose cannon. Trump is nothing like a true Republican. The GOP will rue the day they handed the reins to Trump. You would think that he’s already a dictator, rather than being only an incipient autocrat.

In reality, Trump represents the heart and soul of the Republican Party. He is appointing to cabinet positions the same kind of people that the Republicans have always wanted in those positions: rich businesspeople with opinions directly opposite those in previous Democratic administrations. Think of all the headlines “Trump appoints an opponent of X to head the X department”. This is not Trump going off the rails, this is Trump adhering to the deepest, darkest wishes of the GOP core.

Or take budget deficits, and stimulus packages, and the like. The Republicans are the party of fiscal responsibility and low deficits, right? Wrong! The Republicans are the party who say they are for fiscal responsibility and low deficits. But which of our modern Presidents drove up our debt as a percentage of GDP? Reagan. Bush. Also, Bush. Who drove them down? Carter. Clinton. Obama didn’t because deficit spending is what you need to get you out of a near-depression. The Republicans love deficit spending, as long as it’s on their terms, on their projects, and isn’t done by some uppity Democrat.

By attributing all these actions to Trump, the person, we miss Trump the personification of the new GOP. We give them the opportunity to plausibly deny his actions, come the next election cycle, and skate out from under the blame. “We voted for Trump, and Trump failed us” the voters will say. NO. You voted for the most Republican of all Republicans, and it was the Republicans who failed you. Republican.

Don’t let our fascination with the showman in front of the curtain obscure the truth of the matter. When the histories are written, when responsibility is properly assigned, the word Republican will go down as one of those words that, like Quisling, evokes a regime fraught with deceit and betrayal.

Trumpsych

November 30, 2016

Herewith, a compilation on post-election/pre-inauguration discussions of Trump’s mindset.

Trump may have Narcissist Personality Disorder.

How to cope with NPD.

How to deal with Trump.

How to defend against the Trumpistas.

A somewhat longer piece on the same topic.

…and an alternative view.

So, is he a dictator?

Is Democracy doomed?

Mattis for SecDef

November 26, 2016

Military policy site War is Boring, has a generally favorable article on Trump’s consideration of retired Marine Corps general James Mattis for Secretary of Defense. However, their first sentence, quoting Mattis as saying that “it’s fun to shoot some people” removes the statement from it’s context and makes him seem like a natural for his nickname “Mad Dog”. Here’s what he actually said:

You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap women around for five years because they didn’t wear a veil. You know, guys like that ain’t got no manhood left anyway. So it’s a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them. Actually it’s quite fun to fight them, you know. It’s a hell of a hoot. It’s fun to shoot some people. I’ll be right up there with you. I like brawling.

While that isn’t a picture of sweetness and light, it’s a lot more nuanced and motivated than the truncated version indicates, as other observers have testified.

And Mattis has already made news by telling Trump that he was against torture, because he found that a pack of cigarettes and a couple of beers usually worked better when interrogating someone.

While I’m not certain I approve of a career military man as SecDef — I think that undermines the whole idea of civilian control — given the President we’re getting, and the possible choices he had, I think the appointment is a general plus.

Trump’s Nikki Haley Appointment

November 25, 2016

According to the Christian Science Monitor, Trump has named South Carolina governor Nikki Haley as his ambassador to the United Nations. The CSM says that this sends a message of inclusion, diversity, and reconciliation. I don’t think so.

Haley was a fierce Trump opponent during both the primaries and the election campaign itself. She is, as the article says, a strong woman and a strong governor, who fought hate and discrimination. None of her public positions would be approved of by Trump, none of Trump’s positions would be approved of by her. Trump is not known for rewarding opponents or the disloyal. So why would he appoint her to the UN?

Well, read that last paragraph again. She’s a strong GOP governor. She’s a strong woman, the face of the New South. She opposes Trump’s policies. If she accepts the UN job, she’s in a position that is none of these. Instead, she’s an employee. She’s Trump’s representative to an organization he despises, and her job will be to present his positions in the best way possible, parroting the party line. As ambassador to the UN, she’ll spend the next four years trying to defend indefensible positions and articulate inarticulate policies. As a governor, as a strong, effective southern governor, she’s in a position to build a launching pad to the Presidency. The GOP would love it if the first woman President were a Republican.

How can Trump prevent a Haley challenge in 2020? By kicking her upstairs to a powerless position.

The Election

November 22, 2016

So it’s been just two weeks since the event the Mary Beards of the 22d Century may well label the Fall of the Republic. After two centuries, the US has managed to elect its first proto-autocrat. Not a Hitler, nor even a Mussolini (who was reportedly well-versed in the writings of Socialist philosophers). Perhaps a Berlusconi. How did this happen? There are many theories out there, but almost all of them suffer from a too, too simplistic view of a complex systems problem.

The proposed reasons fall into three categories: (a) apolitical hatreds (racism, misogyny), (b) manipulated electorate (mainstream media, Facebook, voter apathy/suppression), and political discontent (class revolt, reaction to big government).

RACISM
Some commenters emphasize simple racism — the choice between multiracial democracy and white supremacy. Slate’s Jamelle Bouie does this, despite admitting that not everyone is racist all the time.

T. R. Ramachandran, president of a web-presence software company, produced a pages long and well-researched tweetstorm analyzing the data on various causes. His conclusion was that it was primarily, not exclusively, a racist/sexist cause, with very little economic underpinning.

MANIPULATION
There are two kinds of manipulation theories — government and non-government. The idea of government manipulation is based on the fact that many states implemented various voter suppression laws, designed to make it hard for Democratic voters — the poor and minorities, mostly — to vote. I haven’t been able to find anything current on that conjecture, but I do note that overall turnout was not as low as first reported. In fact, 2016 may have equalled 2012 in percentage of eligibles voting, and Clinton won a solid majority of the popular vote, just not in the right states. The key question is, did it suppress enough votes in key states to make a difference? We won’t know that for some weeks yet.

The non-government side of the manipulation argument turns on the actions of the main-stream media (MSM) in covering click-inducing trivia at the expense of real issues, and in treating the actions of both candidates as equivalent — Clinton’s email problems getting far more time for far longer than Trump’s actions, actions (racist remarks, sexist remarks, failure to release tax records) that in past campaigns would have spelled political death.  It also includes the extremely lopsided coverage, that gave Trump almost $2 billion in air time, when he spent only $10 million on advertising.

Of course, were the bogus news sites and fake news stories circulated on Facebook. It can be argued that these were only echo chamber amplifiers, and that those who read and believed the stories had already made up their minds.

Then, too, I would personally include the decades-old smear campaign by the GOP against the Clintons. Many people said they disliked Hillary Clinton personally. To the extent that that is not a reaction to an ambitious woman (and I have personally seen this kind of reaction by women, against ambitious women in the workplace), I’d say it’s the result of the ongoing double standard in press coverage. Although he attributes it to other factors, Michael Moore has pointed to one result:

90,000 Michiganders voted for every office and every ballot proposal on both sides of the ballot — and refused to vote for president.” …and Clinton lost Michigan by 11,000 votes.

The final manipulation, of course, was the stab-in-the-back on-again-off-again announcements about the FBI non-investigation of Clinton’s emails by Director Comey in the final week of the campaign. Given that Comey was originally a Republican appointee, kept on to show bipartisan dedication to justice for all, it’s likely that his actions were a deliberate attempt to sabotage her campaign.

POLITICAL
The political discontent argument, what one might call the peasant’s revolt, has supporters that range from Michael Moore (writing pre-election, and post-election), to Glenn Greenwald’s post-election essay in The Intercept and Joan Williams somewhat more thoughtful post-election essay in the Harvard Business Review, with some support from post-election press interviews. You could even factor in Allan Lichtman’s forecasts here.

The TLDR version of this is, the White Working Class is hurting, and has been hurting for decades and neither party has done anything about it. The Democratic Party has given up on blue collar workers as part of their base, and the GOP has given up on democracy in general. Finally, the WWC had enough, and voted to throw an electoral Molotov cocktail into the works. They weren’t voting so much for Trump as against the current system.

MY VIEW
My view, as a General Systems Theory person is, All Of The Above.

The Peasant’s Revolt seems to be the heart of it. In 2008 and 2012 we voted for Obama because we wanted change, and we didn’t get it. Part of that is the obstructionist tactics of the GOP, they should only burn in Hell, who looked at a country that they had just plunged into what could very easily have become a second Great Depression and decided that their overwhelming priority, at whatever cost to the country, was to make Obama a one-term President. But part of the lack of change can be laid at the feet of the Democratic Party and Obama himself. After what the banks and Wall street did to destroy the economy and the lives and livelihoods of the middle and working class, there should have been lawsuits, there should have been criminal charges, there should have been people taken out and shot on the tarmac.

There was nothing. There wasn’t even much in the way of relief for those bilked out of their homes and life savings. Meanwhile, Obama was pressing for even more in the way of trade agreements which, rightly or wrongly, the WWC sees as a threat to their jobs. All Democrats were disappointed (OK, all Democrats who were not millionaires). And Clinton was seen as more of the same.

Meanwhile, on the periphery, you had the whites of the Old Confederacy voting GOP, because yes race and misogyny. Race because Clinton was going to be a female continuation of that man in the White House, who they saw as, well, uppity.

On the other hand, Ramachandran’s claim that economics wasn’t a factor because voters didn’t know what the candidates economic positions were doesn’t keep economics from intruding. Economics played a role because even the well-off WWC faced a bleak, uncertain future, and so did their children. People said that Trump would make things worse, and the response of the WWC was, how will we tell?

So what did the election process look like? In the beginning, there were two candidates who beat the populist drum and told the WWC that somebody finally cared — Sanders and Trump. Sanders (who really cared) had the bad luck to be up against possibly the best prepared and most qualified Presidential candidate of the modern era. Trump (who couldn’t care less) was up against a band of light-weights who got trampled because they were one-dimensional caricatures of what a GOP candidate might look like, and none of them were agents for change.

So, the message from the voters was, we want change, and if we can’t have change we can believe in, we want change that will scare the monied elites out of their greedy ways. It’s the electoral equivalent of burn, baby, burn, and it’s going to go on for four more years, unless he gets impeached before then. And the consequences will be incalculable.

 

Why I am voting for Hillary

November 6, 2016

A recent essay by (retired, disabled veteran) Jim Wright over on Stone Kettle Station resonates perfectly with my feelings. As I read them, his key points are that the GOP has abandoned all sense of humanity and true individual freedom and responsibility, has based its economic policies on grinding down the poor to serve the rich, and has thrown out diplomacy in its love for yet another war. This is all true, but it leaves out some issues.

He left out the fact that it was a Republican (elected by a politicized Supreme Court) who got us into the Iraq war, who perverted the Intelligence process, who spat on every professional standard I know (and if you want to swap that p for an h, I won’t argue).

It was a Republican who started us on the slippery slope to a surveillance state, who authorized torture of the innocent, and who doesn’t dare step out of the country for fear of being arrested as a war criminal.

He left out the fact that, in the face of a re-run of the Great Depression (brought on by Republican policies), the response of the GOP was to declare that their primary goal was to make Obama a one-term President. This is a naked admission that their driving objective is power, and they don’t care how they get it.

These things are also true, and combined with Wright’s arguments they make a strong case for not voting Republican.

But my vote, and I think, his, is not merely a vote against. It’s a vote for.

Hillary Clinton is a professional politician, and that’s a good thing. As a Democrat, she believes in the ability and duty of government to work to improve the lot of all the people, and not in the pursuit of power for its own sake. As a Clinton, she has survived a quarter century of accusations and innuendo. As a woman, she will bring a much-needed dose of serotonin to the office. All of those things make a vote for Hillary a no-brainer.

So, yeah, I’m voting for Hillary.

 

The Needy Ones

October 21, 2016

Rescue dogs are notoriously needy. Case in point is our black lab rescue. Her one goal in life is to be close to her human. When I sit down, my butt hasn’t hit the chair before she’s in my lap. Fortunately, she only weighs about twenty pounds. If I tell her to come, she can jump a three-foot fence from a standing start next to it. She doesn’t need attention or petting. She just wants contact.

You know who beats that for needy? Politicians.

A week ago I made one of the few political contributions I’ve made in my life. Balloon Juice, a collaborative website I follow, had posted a link to ActBlue, a website for donations to close-but-winnable political races. I live in a dead-red portion of an otherwise blue state, and the local Republican Congresswoman is well-nigh unbeatable. There is no place locally that my donation would make a difference at the margin, but the ActBlue website has 16 House and Senate races that Democrats might just win, and a few bucks might just help. So I donated. Ten dollars each. I was expecting that to put me on a number of e-mailing lists, but boy was I surprised.

Three hours later, I had my first message from one of the campaigns, begging for more money. A week later, as I was typing this, the 122d 123d begging email came in. They were running at about one every 90min, awake or asleep.

Don’t get me wrong. I knew this would happen. I still think I did the right thing. I still think it’s a worthy cause. I’d recommend that you follow the link above and make a contribution of your own. I have a bunch of emails that will convince you that your donation is urgently needed.

I’m just a little bemused at how needy the politicians are.

 

Sports, the military, freedom of speech, and social protest

October 13, 2016
Tommie Smith and John Carlos, 1968

Tommie Smith and John Carlos, 1968

My association with social protest at sporting events goes way back. In the mid-1960’s, runner Tommie Smith was my classmate at San Jose State. Half a century ago he was setting records right and left, and two years later, in 1968, he won gold at the Mexico City Olympics. His Black Power salute atop the medals platform was a way of protesting, and raising awareness of, the treatment of Blacks in the United States.

Almost fifty years later, NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick is refusing to stand for the National Anthem at football games, an action that soon spread even to high school sports. The reason is … the treatment of Blacks in the United States.

I can understand the NFL and the networks being embarrassed over this. I can even understand individuals disagreeing both with the position that Kaepernick represents, and his way of displaying it. The same thing happened to Smith, back in the day. What I can’t understand is those people who feel he is somehow being disrespectful of the US military.

Carlos Kaepernick and Erick Reid, 2016

Carlos Kaepernick and Erick Reid, 2016

Was he showing disrespect towards the United States of America? Yes. Certainly. That’s the whole point. He was saying that it does not deserve our respect because of the way it treats its citizens. Does that also mean disrespect for the military, as some have claimed? Because it’s a military honor guard that’s carrying the flag for the National Anthem? The same US military that paid pro sports millions of dollars for the publicity opportunity? Gimme a break.

If you ask those in the military, most of them get it. It’s called free speech and it’s one of the reasons that we in the military fought and fight for the USA. But if you only protect speech you agree with, then it’s not free speech at all. Justice Ginsburg understands this, even as she deplores his actions. It doesn’t matter if you disagree with Kaepernick’s actions, if you respect the USA, and you respect the military, then the only course of action for you is to follow Evelyn Beatrice Hall‘s summary of Voltaire: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

Trim Tabs and the Towers: A 15 year retrospective

September 10, 2016

Fifteen years ago, the towers fell. Ten years later, I wrote this essay about the idea of trim tabs, how they work on airplanes, and how they work in organizations. Specifically, I wanted to talk about how the idea applied in the aftermath to 9/11. In the five years since, nothing much has changed. Nothing except the justification and realization of my fears. Jump to the end for my current opinions.


In the old days, airplanes were controlled by the movement of wing and tail surfaces, driven by what was essentially piano wire directly connected via pulleys to the pilot’s controls. It was like an extension of the pilot’s body, because it was a direct physical link: hand, stick, wire, ailerons. Since the controls were extensions of the pilot’s body, they were driven by the pilot’s muscles. In those days, flying was physically exhausting because there were no automated systems like autopilot, or even altitude-hold, and all inputs were physical. Flying a two-hour mission in bumpy weather was like spending two hours bulldogging steers.

As airplanes became bigger and faster, this became a problem. When you move the stick, you are forcing a slab of metal to move against the airstream created by your flight. Remember when the back windows of a car would open? Remember riding along with the window open and your hand stuck out like an airfoil? If you tilted it the least little bit, it would take off, and it took all your strength (or a certain dexterity) to get it back into position. That’s the problem pilots encountered before the invention of power assist on flight controls. Moving a big metal plate against a fast-flowing airstream took all your strength, and maybe required the help of a co-pilot. There was a limit on what was physically possible. Enter the trim tab.

The trim tab, more accurately the servo tab, was a small rudder built into the much larger real rudder. The idea is that you move the small rudder this way, the much larger rudder responds by turning that way, and the whole ship or airplane responds. The idea dates from WWI. A real trim tab is a more or less ‘set it and leave it’ item, that creates a certain continuing flight regime (for instance, to offset a heavy load in the tail of the aircraft), while a servo tab is a true continuous flight control. However, since the organizational applications were talked about (by Buckminster Fuller, for starters) as ‘trim tabs’, I’ll stick with that.

What does all this have to do with terrorism? Just this. A terrorist act is an attempt to be a trim tab. If the terrorist group plays their cards right, they can cause a reaction in the target government that causes a counter-reaction in the populace. The basic idea is that the target government will over-react, increase oppression, and drive the populace into the arms of the terrorists. Properly executed, a terrorist campaign will get the government to do the terrorists work for them That’s one reason why most nascent guerilla movements use terrorism as a tool. The trouble is, that scenario can only play out when it’s native terrorists promoting a domestic cause against an oppressive government (which doesn’t have to be a foreign power, but often is). It doesn’t work that way when the terrorists are foreign, or the populace doesn’t feel oppressed, or the government is one that reacts with Norwegian calm.

Since Al Qaida was facing a different problem, they had to have a different immediate goal. Al Qaida’s goal was to target the US populace and government in such a way as to cause the US to overreact, both internally and externally, and to bankrupt itself the way the USSR did in Afghanistan.

Our reaction has validated AQ’s view of the US as a blind giant, ignorantly flailing around in response to stimuli we don’t understand. A measured approach to 9/11 would be to fill in the hole and turn the problem over to the FBI and the Treasury Dept. The world was on our side on 9/12, and we could have gotten unbelievable levels of cooperation. A strongman approach would be to follow the measured approach, plus invade Afghanistan, beat up on the Taliban, and chase AQ into the hills. The world would still be on our side, but the countries of SW Asia would begin to feel threatened, and would begin hedging their bets. Domestically, we had 99% of the US Muslim population on our side — the remainder being the disaffected youth who, like DYs of any persuasion hate the man. A measured domestic approach would be to armor the cockpit doors on airliners so it was impossible for another 9/11 to happen, and increase our police contacts within the Muslim community.

Instead, we embarked upon a decade-long attack on domestic freedoms, we demonized the Muslims in the US, we engaged in two wars in exactly the wrong place, the outcome of neither will be of any benefit to us. Let me emphasize that. In another year or five, we will be substantially out of both IQ and AF, and those two countries will be in whatever state we leave them. If we could have gotten them into that state for free, if the genie in the lamp could have delivered today’s Iraq and tomorrow’s Afghanistan without it costing us a dollar or a life, we’d still be worse off than we were in 2001. The fact that it cost trillions of dollars, and more American lives than were lost in 9/11 is just a side-benefit for the terrorists. I think The Onion’s headline on this year’s media coverage is appropriate: our nation would rather think about 9/11 than anything from the subsequent ten years.

So, here is the unexpected (by us), emergent, trim-tab-induced result. We have bankrupted our country, morally, politically, financially, and militarily. We have trampled on the US Constitution and the rights of citizens. We have squandered our post-Cold-War international advantages. We did it by reacting in exactly the wrong way to the 9/11 trim tab event. The terrorists acted. The government reacted in a predictably inappropriate fashion. The country and the economy responded by flying into the ground like a hijacked airliner. I can’t say the terrorists have won, but I can say they are well ahead on points. You can say that, hey, we’re still here, and Bin-Laden is dead, and Al Qaida a scattered, hunted remnant. But no suicide bomber expects to live to see the fruits of their sacrifice. I’m sure that if we could reassemble OBL from the inside of whatever sharks he’s now inhabiting, he’d say yeah, it worked. It was worth it.


So, what has changed in the five years since I wrote those words? Not a lot, except that our knowledge of things has expanded. As predicted, we still have a presence (read Americans being killed) in Iraq and Afghanistan. As predicted, neither of those countries has a successful government. As not predicted, the instability spilled over into Syria, and now our supposed ally, Turkey, and our opportunistic opponent, Russia, are working together to prop up the Assad regime, and destroy our friends, the Kurds (read domino effect). Guantanamo is still an extra-judicial detention camp, with 60-some prisoners, 40 of whom are too dangerous to release (read, they hate us), but are infeasible to prosecute because of their treatment (read, tortured, which may have something to do with why they hate us).

Three years ago, Edward Snowden pulled back the drapes and let some sun shine in on what our government had been doing in the dark, behind our backs, in our computers. Now we know that not only has the US Intelligence Community been unleashed on its citizens, in ways that are manifestly unconstitutional — and other ways that probably would also be, if the Republicans didn’t have (until recently) a majority on the Supreme Court. Those intrusive techniques have trickled down to the local police, who have conducted their own unconstitutional operations, and lied to the judges about it (or didn’t bother to lie, because the judges didn’t care).

And speaking of police, they are now armed with the latest in military hardware, courtesy of the unending wars, and their interactions with the citizenry have taken on many aspects of an occupying force, making a mockery of serve and protect. And if anyone complains, well, do you want the terrorists to murder us in our beds?

Has America become a police state? Heavens, no. We are still among the freest countries of the world. Too bad about slipping from that The Freest position. Have we laid the foundations for becoming a police state? It’s too soon to tell, but we are certainly establishing a framework on which those foundations could be built. Many of the elements are slotting into place: a militarized police force, contemptuous of its citizens, a ubiquitous domestic spy system that runs all the way up to the central government, a complaisant judiciary at all levels — all that is needed is a coming to power of a political party more interested in power than governance, headed by a like-minded demagogue.

If it looks like the American ship of state has careened out of control, scraping from one reef to another, that’s a tribute to the effectiveness of trim tabs.

9/11, Trim Tab Day. Remember it.

Happy 4th

July 4, 2016

The Fourth of July seems to have become a holiday devoted to celebration of the military. We have parades, we have fly-bys, we have speeches honoring the brave men (and now, women) who are overseas, serving and defending our country. We’ve always had some of this, but in the past it was the military celebrating alongside the rest of America, not America celebrating the military. What has changed?

I think part of it has to do with the ending of the draft. It used to be that everyone had served, or knew someone who served. Today, not so much. While there’s still a large group of people who know someone in the Reserves or the Guard, the total is way down from the 50’s and 60’s. More to the point, people no longer feel threatened by the possibility of conscription, so they can afford to wast some pleasantries on some uniformed stranger who is going off to die in some dusty country. Plus, it’s cheap. Like inflated job titles in some underfunded Silicon Valley startup, we can give fancy lip-service to someone we don’t want to give a high salary or effective post-service medical care to.

In addition, it’s good corporate policy to be seen being patriotic, by including a “thank you for your service” in their employee practices, by offering servicemen and women half off, if they come in uniform, or by building a new MLB ballpark at Fort Bragg. It costs very little — smiles are free, nobody who’s been stuffed in a uniform all week wants to slag around in it on the weekend, and the Fort Bragg logo on one end of the sign can be balanced by the Chevy logo on the other.

As someone who has served overseas in one war (VietNam), one almost war (Korea) and one Cold War (Europe), I am mildly put off by all this “Thank you for your service” propaganda. If you want to thank us for our service, stop getting us into stupid wars.

The Anti-Snowden

May 22, 2016

UPDATE: And after you read this essay, read this report, on a now-former DoD Inspector Generals official who tried to support the whistleblower laws.

U.S. News and World Report has an interview with Geoffrey Stone, described as a

… member of the National Advisory Council of the American Civil Liberties Union [and] member of a special review group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies.

Stone exonerates the NSA of running amok, by pointing out that

Every one of the programs the NSA was running in foreign intelligence surveillance was approved by the House and Senate intelligence committees, White House, the attorney general and the FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) Court. Every program was authorized and approved…. If there were extensive criticisms of the programs, the fault rests with the government entities that approved and authorized them.

I have always said that the problem doesn’t lie with NSA. The problem I have with this is that none of the groups Stone mentioned provided appropriate oversight. The Congressional intelligence committees are a bunch of know-nothings who are too busy trying to get re-elected to actually read any of the authorization documents. You can tell by looking at all the gasping and running around that was done after the disclosures. Maybe the committee chairs were witting, but the rest were complaisant and happy to remain in the dark. As for other possible sources of oversight, recent Attorneys General seem to think of themselves as aiders and abettors of whatever the President wants to do, and the FISA court is generally considered to be a rubber stamp and a joke.

Then, Stone puts his finger on the crux of the matter.

The risk is always there that some head of the NSA, or a J. Edgar Hoover or Nixon or LBJ would access those records for illegitimate reasons.

Exactly. We have secret laws, interpreted in secret ways, and approved in star chamber hearings. To that list of possible threats, we could add some future Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, or Donald Trump. This is how you start a democracy on the road to collapse — you institute bad policies for reasons of expediency, and you prevent those policies from being scrutinized by persons more concerned with good government than operational efficiency. Two or three Presidents later, you find those rules being used to attack political opponents.

About Snowden, Stone thinks he exposed too much.

I think if he had only disclosed the existence of the second 215 metadata program, then one might be able to make the case he did more good than harm because there were reforms adopted because of his disclosures

As for the rest of it

My involvement ended before all the consequences could be evaluated. I have no doubt folks in the government are quite confident of that (the subsequent damage). It’s quite logical.

So, he doesn’t know, but he thinks it hurt our collection activities. Except that when he gives examples, he admits that smart terrorists already assumed that NSA was listening, and so it would only be the dumb terrorists that would be caught. You know, like the ones who the FBI regularly entraps just in time for the next round of budget hearings.

Stone’s final take on Snowden:

I don’t doubt that Snowden was courageous and did what he did for what he thought were good reasons. But I think he was unduly arrogant, didn’t understand the limitations of his own knowledge and basically decided to usurp the authority of a democracy.

My personal opinion is that if it hadn’t been for the continuing drumbeat of revelations, from inside the US and overseas, the metadata revelations would have turned out to be another inside the Beltway, one-week-wonder, pushed off the front page by the latest round of political shenanigans, and that nothing would have been done.

Did Snowden’s revelations hurt the U.S. in its fight against terrorism? If there had been major damage, the agencies involved would have been trumpeting the news all over town. There’s been nothing. At least, nothing factual. There’s the periodic “it must have” and “it’s logical to assume”, but nothing that I have seen that is both substantial and concrete. And for what small impacts there have been, think of it as collateral damage, like you get from a drone strike.

As for usurping the authority of a democracy, sorry Mr. Stone, democracy had already been usurped by the very agents you describe in your first quote, above. And the defense that Snowden proposes isn’t the defense that you accuse him of inventing. It’s not “You can violate law if you have good enough reason to do it.”, it is “several agencies of the US government were committing acts that are both criminal and unconstitutional, and the purported methods of reporting them were closed to me.” And as an aside, the same laws that prohibit Snowden’s proposed defense include prohibiting that defense for revealing the 215 metadata program, so your argument is inconsistent.

So, my takeaway on all this? Yes, NSA, as usual, was acting within the constraints of law, as specified and approved by a whole range of government agencies. In doing so, they were the victims of an ongoing scam in much the same way that CIA interrogators were misled by John Yu’s DoJ opinions on torture. Edward Snowden, believing in both the Constitution and the new American motto for living “If you see something, say something”, essentially sacrificed his life to reveal the crimes. Could he have done it in a way that put fewer US programs at risk? Possibly. Could he have done it in a way that was just as effective but less sensational? Probably not.

UPDATE: And if you don’t believe me, here’s the story of a now-former DoD Inspector General official who tried to support the whistleblower laws.

Steve Balmer shows us why we can’t trust Trump

March 11, 2016

The business of America is business. The sole function of a business is to maximize shareholder value. A good CEO will do whatever it takes for his company to make a profit.*

Fifteen years ago Microsoft CEO Steve Balmer said that Linux is a cancer. Last week, he said that he was glad to see MS releasing SQLServer for Linux, and shrugged off his earlier statements because the Linux threat was now “in the rearview mirror”. He also said: “The company made a ton of money by fighting that battle very well… It’s been incredibly important to the company’s revenue stream.” So, he lied. And he lied to make money, regardless of the impact on the sharing economy.

Not only did Microsoft continuously misrepresent Linux and the GPL in their quest for a revenue stream, they also funded bogus lawsuits, that drag on to this day.

What does that have to do with Trump? Just this. He and Balmer are cut from the same cloth, the kind of businessmen who will say whatever it takes to make the sale, close the deal. His position on a topic can change in a heartbeat. Neither one is the sort of a CEO who will let the truth stand in the way of a business strategy.

So, if you want America to look like Microsoft, vote for Trump, and leave the truth in the rearview mirror.

*Within legal reason, of course, and keeping in mind that the risk of going to jail is just one of the risks of doing business.

TSA can’t do math. Either

January 26, 2016

There’s a couple of TSA reports over the last year that nobody seems to have linked up, perhaps because statisticians have better things to do than read TSA reports.

Last June, the TSA IG released a report that said that TSA inspectors at airports failed to find 95% of the contraband items (guns, explosives) used to test the system. In November, reports from Congress indicated there’d been no improvement. Perhaps in an effort to get 2016 off on a better PR footing, this month, TSA reported that their seizures of firearms was up 20%, to 2,653 and that 83% of them were loaded. Let’s do some math.

We have 2,653 weapons found. Some 83%, or 2200 were loaded. Now, we know that TSA regularly misses 95% of the weapons the IG tries to smuggle on, which implies that those 2200 loaded firearms represented 5% of the ones that were actually carried on board.

1. Question for the class. How many loaded firearms successfully boarded aircraft in 2015?

Answer:

.05 * X = 2200 = loaded guns found
X = 2200/.05 = 44000 = total guns smuggled
44000 – 2200 = 41800 = guns successfully smuggled

So, 41,800 loaded guns were successfully smuggled onto airliners in the US in 2015. That’s just over one gun every fifteen minutes.

2. Take home question for the class. Of those 41,800 loaded weapons on airplanes, how many were used in hijacking attempts?

3. Critical thinking question: What does this tell you about the real threat?

FOMC Follies

November 20, 2015

The release of the 27 October Federal Open Market Committee minutes shows them edging towards an increase in interest rates. This, despite the fact that we have not fully recovered from the Great Recession, and that history, in the form of the Great Depression, shows that a too-early tightening of the government belt can kill a recovering economy. One part of the summary deserves closer inspection.

A number of participants pointed to various reasons why the Committee should avoid a delay in policy firming [AKA interest rate increase]:

One concern was that such a delay, if the reasons were not well understood by market participants, could increase uncertainty in financial markets

And the FOMC is certainly not cabable of explaining things in a way that hedge fund managers could understand.

and unduly magnify the perceived importance of the beginning of the policy normalization process.

So if the process is so unimportant, what’s the harm in delaying the interest rate increase?

Another concern mentioned was the increasing risk of a buildup of financial imbalances after a prolonged period of very low interest rates.

But so far, as far as I know, no responsible person has suggested that such a buildup is occurring

It was also noted that a decision to defer policy firming could be interpreted as signaling lack of confidence in the strength of the U.S. economy

And of course the fact that we still haven’t closed the gap between current employment and output and the potential employment and output lost in the last near decade is no reason to have a lack of confidence in the current state of the economy in this fragile recovery

or erode the Committee’s credibility.

Because our image is more important than the US economy.

Some participants emphasized that progress toward the Committee’s objectives should be assessed in light of the cumulative gains made to date without placing excessive weight on month-to-month changes in incoming data.

And the overall cumulative progress is nowhere near what it should be or could be, even though we’ve had a good couple of months. It’s almost like the FOMC wants to raise interest rates because they want to raise interest rates and they will grasp any shred of evidence that will let them pretend to have a rationale for doing so.

The intellectual implosion of the GOP

September 27, 2015

A couple of weeks ago, Paul Krugman had an item in the NYT titled Charlatans, Cranks, and Apparatchiks, on the kind of people who support Jeb! Bush’s tax policies. He also had a link to a great comment on how they got started:

There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.

Patriot Day

September 11, 2015

As I have written before, Patriot Day is a sham and a scam, a fraud perpetrated by the criminals who highjacked the true meaning in order to increase their own power. The only real winner in the fourteen years since the founding event was Osama Bin Laden. If he had written the script, he couldn’t have come up with this good of an outcome. I’m not alone in thinking this. Here’s Tom Engelhardt on the topic.

And here is Bob Cringely, fourteen years ago, making some very cogent predictions.

My two cents on Trump

August 12, 2015

In 2008 the Republican Party suffered a massive nervous breakdown. This happened as a result of them unexpectedly losing an election that everyone but them knew they were going to lose. The fact that they were, to echo a Churchillian phrase, both beaten and puzzled, shows how tenouous their grip on reality was in the first place. Their loss was not only unexpected but it was a loss to a Democratic candidate who embodied everything they were against, everything they hated — a vast collection of traits perhaps best summarized in a single word “Uppity“. That sudden exposure to reality drove them absolutely stark, staring, barking mad.

How mad? Well, mad enough to think about sabotaging their own country. In their efforts to ensure that Obama was a one-term President, they did their absolute best to trash the economy. We know how to get out of a recession, even a Great Recession: the government spends money. Lots of money. During the Great Depression, Roosevelt’s biggest blunder is generally acknowledged to be cutting back on the spending too soon. But that didn’t matter. Now that Uppity was in the White House, the GOP switched from running some of the largest deficits in history to whining that anything other than a balanced budget would undermine the economy, the solidity of the dollar, and probably the sanctity of marriage as well.

How mad? Well, mad enough to to go insane over a non-existent gun control threat. Democratic Presidents are generally for gun control but are unable to do much about it. Carter was. Clinton was. But there were no loud-mouthed, wool-hatted, rednecked, right-wing extremists patrolling outside of their speaking engagements carrying firearms in support of the Second Amendment and comparing them to Satan, or Carpathia, or other Biblical figures. Mad enough to believe that a multi-state training exercise like Jade Helm was an attempt to take over Texas and steal their guns.

How mad? Well, four years later the GOP ran essentially the same campaign, with, OK not the same candidate but with his ideological and intellectual clone, expecting that this time they’d really win, and of course they lost, again.

But that’s history, even if it’s recent history, and even if there are people who still don’t have a home or a job, or a future because of the events of 2008 and the GOP’s actions afterwards. Let’s not sweat the small stuff. Let’s look to the nation‘s future. Let’s consider what’s happening with the GOP primary campaign in 2015. As satirist P.J. O’Rourke said last June about the possible candidates, they are all pygmies (to be fair, he’s including Clinton and Biden as well).

That’s not a list of presidential candidates. That’s a list of congressionally appointed members of a bipartisan blue-ribbon commission named to look into a question of pressing national importance such as “paper or plastic?”

Of course, the stand-out amongst them is Donald Trump. Everyone agrees he has no chance of getting the nomination, but he is certainly getting the attention. On the home page of yesterday’s Washington Post online there were seventeen headlines dealing with the Presidential race (some were repeats under different headings). Seven of them were about Trump. The New York Times online edition had nine mentions of Trump, and seven mentions of all other campaign personalities. Of course, a mention doesn’t have to be political. Three of the NYT mentions of Trump were various headers on Stephen Colbert’s Night Show. But the fact remains, that Trump is sucking up the lion’s share of the coverage. And that’s good for the GOP.

It’s good for the GOP because they are all pygmies. They are all failures, at business or government, or life. Each one of them has some one useful trait that has propelled them into the ranks of serious candidates. Not one of them has a collection of traits that would make a good President. And where they fall short, where their vision fails, they fall back on the tried and true GOP policy positions that lost the last two elections. They blow on their dog whistles until their lips are chapped, but gently, discreetly, and not in a way that might cause people to think they were extremists, or incompetents, just loud enough to alert the base. And then along came Trump.

Trump isn’t saying anything that any of the others don’t believe, he’s just saying it louder, with more bombast and bravado. He’s giving them political cover, making it possible to say the un-sayable, as long as they do it discreetly, and not like him.   But there’s more to it that that.

There’s a concept called the news hole. It refers to the fact that there is only so much time on national television news, only so much space on the front pages of national newspapers, only so much time available for reading even the most insightful of blogs. There’s even, and I know this is hard to believe, a limit on how much can be covered in one 24hr cycle of talk radio. And if it doesn’t get covered, then by definition, it’s not news. Every day editors of one stripe or another must decide what goes in and what goes away. It’s the basis for content analysis, a concept going back at least to the OSS exploitation of German newspapers in WWII.

By hogging the limelight, by filling up the news hole, Trump has limited the media’s ability to ask penetrating questions of the real candidates. You can see this in the numbers for the first debate, where even bleed’n Megyn Kelly was guilty of spending too much time on Trump, and not enough time on the other candidates. You can see it today on the home pages of the Washington Post and the New York Times. Even The Economist, no chaser-after of glib headlines, with five US Presidential campaign articles on the first page of their Politics section, mentions Trump twice and leads with his picture on a third article.

Of course, questions do keep being asked. Insightful questions like: Is Trump serious? Is there a way to beat Trump? Will Trump really pick Sarah Palin as his running mate? Sometimes they are even asked of the candidates: Mr. Candidate, how would you respond to Trump’s characterization of illegal immigrants?

Very few are the probing kinds of policy questions that would expose these pygmies for what they are. And that means that whoever gets the GOP nomination, almost a year from now, will have had a year to skate on the hard questions, will have dodged a year’s worth of scrutiny.

That’s the gift that The Donald is giving to the GOP, and they should be grateful.

Abolish TSA

June 2, 2015

You’ve been diagnosed with a chronic, possibly fatal disease. Your doctor writes you an expensive prescription to deal with it. Almost fifteen years later you find that 95 out of every 100 pills you have taken over the years were just plain aspirin. Your disease has not progressed. You haven’t died. Questions for the doctor: Do I really have that disease? Do I still need to take these pills? Do you have malpractice insurance?

That’s the situation we are in today with TSA. Their measures don’t work. Their measures have never worked. Given the low level of the terrorist threat, a simple Bayesian analysis shows they will never work. So what’s TSA’s response? We will tighten up our procedures.

Sorry, guys. Doing more of something that doesn’t work, doesn’t work.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t have any security. I’m saying that by TSA’s own numbers, nothing they have done since 2001 has made us any more secure than what we were doing before that.  We’ve been subjected to a ~fifteen year, ~$70Billion government scam. It’s time to revert to our previous protocol. It’s time for a $70Billion malpractice suite.

It’s time to abolish TSA.

Police Keep Misplacing Their Military Gear

August 28, 2014

It seems that America’s police departments have a hard time keeping track of weapons and Humvees and other military equipment the DoD gave them. A lot of it’s gone missing. And what do they say when the federal government asks about it?

I'm sure it's around here somewhere.

I’m sure it’s around here somewhere.

Veterans and Entitlements

June 17, 2014

In the almost-century that tha VA, or its components, has existed, it’s never been adequately funded to meet its responsibilities. In typical fashion, Congress has ignored it, except when some scandal has forced their hands. In the most recent decade, they have consistently refused to provide funding for those thousands of veterans injured in America’s Longest War. It took a series of vets dying practically on Senator John McCain’s lawn to trigger the latest stopgap measure. And stopgap it is, and no, it won’t be followed up on, not once the November elections are past.

Despite that, some Republican lawmakers still found it necessary to carp about the cost and the open-endedness of it all. Senator Jeff Sessions, of Alabama, a state kept afloat by Army, Navy, and Air Force bases, found it in his heart to say:

“I feel strongly we’ve got to do the right thing for our veterans. But I don’t think we should create a blank check, an unlimited entitlement program, now,”

Blank check. Entitlements. You know, Senator Sessions, every serviceman and -woman signs a blank check upon entry onto active duty. That check says they will obey all lawful orders given by their superiors. If those orders require that they die carrying them out, well, they knew that when they signed up. You can see it in the kinds of orders that are sometimes given: “hit the beach”, “take that hill”, “hold until relieved”, “come on you bastards, ya wanna live forever?”. The Coast Guard, responsible for rescuing mariners in trouble, no matter what the sea state, has a saying: “You have to go out. You don’t have to come back.”

We’re not that far past the anniversary of the Battle of Midway, the turning point of WWII in the Pacific. My father was with the Marine Defense Battalion on Midway Island during the battle. His introduction to it was his commander saying to them while they were still in Hawaii, three months after the fall of Wake Island, “You lads want to go bait a trap?” One of the heroic stories of the battle itself was the performance of Navy torpedo squadron VT-8. Torpedo 8 is famous because they pressed home their attack in the face of overwhelming fire, every plane was shot down, and only one man survived. What normally isn’t said is the fact that they knew, when they took off from their carrier, that if the Japanese fleet was where we thought it was, they wouldn’t have enough gas to get back. They still went. Blank check.

So yes, Senator Sessions, Senator Johnson, Senator Corker, we should create a blank check for these people. We should create an unending entitlement, because they did the same for you, in all your foreign wars and adventures. It’s one of the costs of engaging in those wars, a cost that should be fully recognized at the start. If you can order them in harm’s way, you can damn well care for what comes back. It’s their right. They’re entitled.

What we need to remember on Memorial Day

May 26, 2014

I was not going to write anything this Memorial Day, because there’s only a few simple facts that apply, and one grows boring, repeating them over and over. But I persist. After all, Delenda est Carthago. What prompted this was a typical feel-good Memorial Day email from my Congresswoman, Cathy McMorris Rodgers. Reading it, I found I had to reply.

Cathy,
Thanks for your Memorial Day message, but let me remind you that actions speak louder than words.

As a VietNam veteran, I have some suggestions as to what actions you, as a lawmaker, can take to honor those who died, or otherwise gave their lives in service to America.

1. Fund the VA, nationwide, at a level that will let them hire the doctors and staff needed to serve the workload associated with our wars, for as long as those who served need their service.

2. Fund the economic programs needed to make sure returning service members can find a job when they get out, and that they have a safety net until they find that job.

3. Fund the State Department at a level that will let them maintain adequate security at all their stations. Did you know that since the end of the Cold War, we’ve lost more ambassadors overseas than we have general officers?

4. Finally, keep us out of stupid wars and ill-thought foreign adventures. 6000 Americans died in Iraq and Afghanistan, and we’re less safe than we were on September 10th.

Do these four things, whoever is in office and whatever their party, and you will have the undying gratitude of those who served, and their survivors. Do these four things without regard to offsets or tax reform or other political cant. Do these four things because they are the right thing to do to support the troops, and because they represent part of the hidden costs of a robust foreign policy, a hidden cost you have to accept when you make the decision to engage.

It’s fine to remember the troops, and I thank you, but more importantly, you should never forget that it’s your laws and your funding that sends them in harm’s way and cares for what comes back.

The Ukraine: Lessons for Iran, North Korea, and others

March 27, 2014

The Ukraine (UA) became independent of the USSR in 1990, and inherited the third largest stock of nuclear weapons in the world, including mobile and silo-launched ICBMs, long-range bombers, and over a thousand cruise missiles. In 1994 they signed the SALT II agreement, and by 1996 they had given up all their nuclear weapons. In return for this, they got the Budapest Memorandum, which Wikipedia summarizes as follows:

Before voting on accession, Ukraine demanded from Russia, the USA, France and the United Kingdom a written statement that these powers undertook to extend the security guarantees to Ukraine. Instead security assurances to Ukraine (Ukraine published the documents as guarantees given to Ukraine), given on 5 December 1994 at a formal ceremony in Budapest (known as the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances), may be summarized as follows: Russia, the UK and the USA undertake to respect Ukraine’s borders in accordance with the principles of the 1975 CSCE Final Act, to abstain from the use or threat of force against Ukraine, to support Ukraine where an attempt is made to place pressure on it by economic coercion, and to bring any incident of aggression by a nuclear power before the UN Security Council.

Got that? No guarantees from anyone. Assurances that aggressive acts would be brought to the attention of the UN. They gave up their nuclear weapons and got promises in return, promises that (for good geopolitical reasons, as we’ll see in a later essay) have turned out to be empty.

What lessons are to be learned from this? The big one (other than the usual that diplomats lie, and countries don’t keep their word) is that if you aren’t a nuclear power, you don’t get no respect. If UA had kept even 10% of the almost 3000 warheads under their control, scattered amongst the various delivery systems, do you think that Russian troops would be on the ground in Crimea today, with 50,000 of them massing on the UA’s eastern border? Of course not.

The world is watching. And some countries are watching more closely than others. What lessons have North Korea and Pakistan and India and Israel drawn from this? Don’t give up your nukes. Ever. What lessons has Iran, and any other aspirant, drawn from this? If you don’t have a force in being, you get invaded. I’d say that, whatever the ultimate resolution, one of the outcomes of the Crimea Crisis — perhaps soon to be the Ukraine Crisis, perhaps with the possibility of becoming the next European War — is that the cause of global non-proliferation has been set back fifty years.

 

Malaysia Airlines flight MH-370 and the terrorist threat – 1

March 13, 2014

The best ongoing reporting on the search for the missing aircraft is from the website Aviation Herald.

One of the interesting side notes is the case of the stolen passports — two Iranian men used stolen passports to board the plane enroute to the Netherlands via Beijing. There is no evidence that they were terrorists. In fact, they appear to be freedom-seekers fleeing an oppressive government.

It is “much easier to get a stolen passport than most people think”. Some 10,000 passports are lost or stolen every year in Thailand alone. Perhaps a third of the people who board aircraft around the world, do so without their passports being checked against the Interpol stolen passport database.

So far as I know, no airliner in the last, say, five years, has been hijacked, blown up, or otherwise interfered with by terrorists using fake passports. This makes me ask the Fermi question, about alien intelligences: “Where are they?”  If it’s so easy to do, where are the tens, hundreds, nay, thousands, of sweaty jihadistas who want to blow up airplanes as a political statement? No, they don’t have a very good chance of boarding a US-bound flight, because we do 100% checking, but that wouldn’t keep them from attacking aircraft of friendly countries, or aircraft enroute to friendly countries.

Could it be that the threat is not nearly as high as DHS/TSA wants us to believe? That they are pumping up the threat just so they can keep us in line and their budgets growing? Surely not.

NSA as an autoimmune disease

January 26, 2014

An autoimmune disease is one where the body’s defenses turn on the body itself, where the various mechanisms for attacking intruders and disease mistake healthy tissue for diseased intruders. Some, like Type 1 Diabetes, attack organs that perform useful functions. Others, like ALS, and Multiple Sclerosis, attack the nervous system that ties the different parts of the body together.

Various of the NSA programs seem to fit this description. I’m not talking about the mass collection of American communications data that the President’s Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board recently declared both unconstitutional and useless. That’s a topic for another rant. No, what I’m talking about are their various actions to make the Internet, and all electronic communications tools, insecure and unsafe.

The Internet is one of the most marvelous, if not the most marvelous, creations of the hand of man. It stands beside the space program in its sheer technical brilliance — and I speak as someone who grew up watching satellites being launched from his back yard. It has created new industries, enabled people with innovative ideas to compete in the marketplace, and tied the world together in a way that was inconceivable a mere thirty or forty years ago. It was designed as an open system, based on trust, and for the last decade and more, the NSA has worked to destroy that trust.

Consider their efforts to put backdoors in both hardware and software, to promote weakened crypto. Part of their efforts went into suborning the various cryptographic standards bodies in such a way that NSA personnel had full control over their actions. Even such organizations as the Internet Research Task Force’s Crypto Forum Research Group are co-chaired by NSA employees*. Other programs solicited zero-day exploits from US firms like Microsoft, or purchased them on the open market.

What this all amounts to is no less than attack on the basic infrastructure of global e-commerce. It’s as if you could no longer trust the road signs on the Interstate, or you found that an unknown number of overpasses had been wired with demolition charges. As others have pointed out, obscurity is no substitute for security. If there is a vulnerability in the system, be it one that was introduced by NSA or one that NSA found out about and didn’t tell anyone, sooner or later someone else (the Russians? Chinese? Mafia?) will find it and exploit it. Will we find out about it? Probably not, because the exploit will hide behind the NSA screen. Only an exceptional set of circumstances (as with the 2005 Athens Affair) would let the cat out of the bag. Now, maybe this won’t destroy the Internet. It will merely make it untrustworthy, incapable of securely handling financial transactions. Think of it as having just a mild case of multiple sclerosis. Thanks, NSA.

—————————————————

*The effort to oust this particular employee failed because the group chairman said that a mere co-chair had no powers. I’d respond by pointing out that there was a reason that the most powerful man in the old Soviet Union was the mere Secretary of the Communist Party.

NSA: The more things don’t change

January 18, 2014

…the more they stay the same.

So, here’s Obama’s speech. And here’s some commentary, and some commentary and some commentary. (UPDATE: here’s a belated commentary from Greenwald, and a line by line analysis by The Reg). Now, it’s my turn to do some commentary, on one specific part of the speech: bulk collection and storage of American communications data.

As far as I can tell, nothing much has changed, or will. Bulk collection and storage of phone call data will continue, despite the NSA-acknowledged fact that it hasn’t contributed squat to national security. I’d like to say it’s unconstitutional, but the government has worked very hard to prevent any associated cases from going to court. They say because of national security reasons. I say it’s because they’re scared spitless that SCOTUS will break up the party.

What the President proposed was that the data be held by someone other than NSA (this is in the speech, not in the official Presidential Policy Directive, PPD-28). That doesn’t pass the laugh test. Who would hold it? AT&T? You know, the communications monopolist that has spent most of the 21st Century profiting from illegal deals with NSA? Sorry, formerly illegal deals. A “third-party” company? One staffed by ex-NSA-ers because those are the only people with clearances? One that is beholden to NSA or DoD for the continuation of their contract? One that doesn’t have the status of government agency, and therefore can’t do lots of things that would protect this data from outsiders?

To my mind, if we are going to keep this data, then NSA are the best people to keep it safe. But, of course, none of these proposals can keep it safe from the US government and the intellectual and moral heirs of people like Richard Nixon and J. Edgar Hoover. That’s the main problem and that’s why safeguards were built into the Constitution.

Quite aside from the constitutional issues, what makes this so tragic is, we have no idea what other collection and analysis efforts are being stifled because all the resources are going into haystack maintenance. Even a massive organization like NSA is resource limited. There’s never enough analysts, linguists, database administrators, to do all the jobs that need doing. In the past, NSA has been accused of cherry picking — sitting on an easy target and then flipping through the requirements list until they found a line item that would justify it. It looks to me like that’s what’s happening here. Bulk collection of phone call and Internet data is easy — just pay the telcos to siphon it off for you. Collection against overseas communications that aren’t from Angela Merkel is presumably harder. Why waste time on the hard stuff when you can get 100% coverage of your US targets?

Support your local non-Democrat … the Brin Plan

January 14, 2014

As I said in an earlier post:

We have a deeply divided political system right now. Part of that is due to gerrymandering — drawing political districts so the opposing party has an overwhelming majority in a very few districts and a powerless minority everywhere else. …

What can be done to fix this? … Let’s start with the primaries. David Brin has an interesting proposal — if you are a gerrymandered minority, simply register as a member of the majority party, and vote for the most centrist of the contestants. Admittedly, this may require you to choose between Attila-the-Hun and Timūr-the-Lame, but it does give you an effective choice, better than the one you have now.

Brin has a good idea. He goes into greater depth here but doesn’t give some of the information you need to operationalize it. This essay will help.

One way to estimate the degree to which a given state or district is divided is to use the Cook Partisan Voting Index (PVI), a measure of how far the voters lean towards one party or another. Obviously, in a heavily partisan district, it’s almost impossible for a challenger from the other party to win, so the challenge to an incumbent comes from someone further from the center — yes, he’s Republican, but is he Republican enough?

How can you tell if you live in a gerrymandered state? Take a look at the PVI for your state’s districts. If you have two or three districts that are R+7 for every one that’s D+15, you’re gerry’d. A good example is Michigan, with 9 districts averaging R+4, and 5 averaging D+19. A more balanced state might be one like next-door Iowa. It has a total of four districts: D+4 and D+5, +0, R+5. If the divide was due to simple geography or demographics, you’d see something more like Washington state, which has a strong Red/Blue divide along the crest of the Cascades, separating the urban West (D+11) from the agricultural East (R+6).

In a highly partisan state the policy positions don’t get decided along party lines, instead, they get decided by divisions within the dominant party. That being the case, the only way you can influence those positions is by being a voting member of that party, and voting in that party’s primary. This means you have to start thinking politics early in the year, not just in September or October. In heavily red districts, the election is essentially over by late summer. Come November, the only thing getting decided is Municipal Sanitation Officer, and the referendum on Outlawing Poor People.

The idea of voting to influence the Reds is more important this year than ever. The few Republicans who were adult enough to push back against last fall’s government shutdown and threatened default will be subject to well-funded attacks on the right by Tea Party absolutists who believe you have to destroy the government in order to save it.

Of course, it doesn’t matter if your state is Republican-gerreymandered, or if you have the bad luck to live in a Republican enclave in a Democrat-gerrymanedered state, or even if you just happen to live in a district that’s natrually Republican. All that’s really important is that your distirict be safely red, say R+6 or above. Having said that, you’re more likely to be living in a red district if you’re living in a red state. Here’s a list of the top ten Red states that (as far as I can tell) hold meaningful primaries. I’ve left off states where the candidates are determined by party caucus, even if there’s a beauty-contest primary as well.

PVI
(R+)
State Primary
Date
10 TX 03/04/14
13 WV 05/13/14
12 NE 05/13/14
13 KY 05/20/14
14 AL 06/03/14
10 SD 06/03/14
8 SC 06/10/14
22 UT 06/24/14
19 OK 06/24/14
12 TN 08/07/14

Note that Texas holds its primary as early as May. Note also that Texas has some of the most anti-Democrat (and anti-democratic) voter restriction legislation in the country, so you need to start prepping now to have the proper ID and registration and so forth. Most of the rest vote in May or June, so you’ve got some time left, but do check on the voter ID requirements.

Once you have voted for your Republican in the primary, you can go on to vote for the Democrat (assuming there is one) in the national elections in November. That will let the politician know there’s more people on the left that he could be picking up votes from. My thought is, the only time you wouldn’t do this is if the Democrat is an obvious nut-case (free marijuana for all and defund the police!). People who vote for nutters like that are what used to be called Yellow Dog Democrats (I’d vote for a yaller dog, if’n he was a Democrat). Those kinds of folks are unpersuadable, and your Republican isn’t going to wast time on anybody who votes that way. You want to be plausibly persuadable, to make it worth his while to moderate his stance in order to get your vote.

Medicare for all

January 4, 2014

A recent online article in Newsweek made the interesting claim that “If everyone in the U.S. was on Medicare, the savings would move the federal budget from deficit to surplus.”

Being a military brat, and career military after that, I’ve spent my whole life in a “single payer” environment. I loved it. These days, as a Medicare-eligible, TRICARE-eligible, working civilian with employer-provided health insurance, I’m in much the same situation. I think that’s pretty good, as well, except that the paperwork has grown, from zero, to WTF? I found the quality of care from the military doctors to be as good, or better, than I’m getting now. Doctors are doctors.

The article started me thinking about what it would cost to extend the US military health care system to the rest of the population. I did some very quick, very sloppy, digging around. I found numbers and estimates (about half Wikipedia and half official handouts) of annual costs that are more-or-less comparable. Here’s my summary:

US Military, including reservists, dependents, etc: 10 million
US DoD Medical Spending: $53 billion

VA-enrolled Veterans: 10 million
VA Medical Spending: $50 billion

Total People: 20 million
Total Spending: $103 billion

Average Spending Per Person: $5150

Average US Medical Spending Per Person: $8000

Even if I’m off by as much as 50%, extending military health benefits to the entire population would still be cheaper than what the “free market” has foisted on us. And zero paperwork. Of course, that might impact recruiting.

So, yeah. Medicare for all, and maybe something better.

NSA and RSA

December 23, 2013

Headline-mongering websites are all yelling about how NSA paid RSA to install a backdoor into their products. There’s less here, and more, than meets the eye.

The news broke when Reuters published an article on how NSA had paid RSA $10million to make the NSA-developed Dual Elliptic Curve algorithm the default random number generator in their BSafe crypto tool. The article does not say, but this was presumably in 2005 or 2006.

In response, the various Internet news sites began running headlines along the lines of RSA took NSA money to put a backdoor in BSafe. Headlines like this gain lots of hits, but are somewhat misleading.

RSA responded by saying:

RSA, as a security company, never divulges details of customer engagements, but we also categorically state that we have never entered into any contract or engaged in any project with the intention of weakening RSA’s products, or introducing potential ‘backdoors’ into our products for anyone’s use.

This is as careful a case of lawyerly wording as you will see until NSA issues its next denial. Notice the “never divulges details of customer engagements” statement. This is a reasonable policy for a security company, but it shouts that they did take the money. But also notice the “with the intention of weakening” statement. Nothing they did was intended to weaken their product.

My take, which is only alluded to in the various reports, is that NSA, at the time a trusted player in the crypto field — after all one of their missions is Information Assurance, and they regularly provide advice to the private sector — approached RSA management and said they felt strongly enough about secure communications in these post-9/11 days that they’d gladly provide an additional business reason to use the algorithm. So NIST supports the algorithm. NSA is pushing it. And RSA already (they say) made the decision to use it back in 2004. That $10million is just found money.

In other contexts, this is called social engineering. You convince the target that the action you want them to take is the action they want to take. No, not in other contexts. In exactly this context: an evil-doer wants to exploit the gullibility of a trusting person in order to get them to install malware to their system. So, the headlines should say: NSA dupes RSA into installing malware. Or something like that.

By the way, this isn’t the first time that NSA has been under fire for having too much influence on commercial crypto security. Back in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, before Osama scared us all over a cliff, people were already questioning their actions. RSA will likely take a major business hit because of this, and neither they nor any other security products firm will be free of the taint of NSA manipulation for years to come.

On being over-patrioted

November 11, 2013

1. Fourth of July
2. Memorial Day
3. Patriots Day
4. Veterans Day
5. Thanksgiving
6. Presidents Day

All days on which we celebrate the Americans we’ve managed to kill in recent wars (2, 4), or praise God for his foresight in signing-on with such an obviously successful nation (1, 5), or disseminate propaganda on how it’s our patriotic duty to obey the government (3), or buy linens (6). To those of us who grew up in post-WWII America, served in her mid-century wars, and held what really was a bulwark of freedom against the Soviet Union, today’s government-sponsored, MSM-supported patriotism is a distorted, fun-house-mirror projection of what we served for.

Back in the 60’s, as I recall, there was a Senate hearing on some non-DoD budget topic, basic science research, support for the arts — memory fails, as does the Internet. At one point, a Senator asked a witness about what contribution his program would make to the defense of the nation. The response was “It’s part of what makes it worth defending”. One could make the same response when asked what enforcing all these Constitutional restrictions on DHS and NSA will contribute to the defense of America. We have come to a sorry state of affairs, when Germany feels it has to chastise us for failing Democracy, for abandoning good government in favor of power-grabbing paranoia and fear.

As Der Spiegel (The Mirror) editorial says, we’re losing the bedrock reasons for supporting patriotism in America. At one point, patriotism meant taking up arms to free our country from colonial exploiters. At one time it meant leaving our ploughs in the field and going off to defend America and the world against evil that was not only real, but effective. Now, it means joining the ranks of our huddled masses, yearning to be safe.

I like to use patriotic dates like this as an occasion for commenting on the state of the nation and the moral standing of our politicians, but I’m not going to comment on every day listed for every year that rolls around — there’s too many of them, the evil remains banal, and one can only remain mad for so long.

Truth-Teller Clapper

October 23, 2013

denies reports of NSA spying on France.

I wouldn’t lie to you. I mean, it’s not like you were Congress.