761 Days of POO Left

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America must survive 761 more days of POO (being a Prisoner Of Obama).

If Republicans can just nominate a sane candidate who actually likes America (and wants to guide us back to it), we can begin rebuilding from the rubble. All we need do is convince Independents that the GOP is putting up an adult who understands and likes the Constitution, who appreciates and respects the separation of powers, who values our allies and disdains our enemies, and whose word is good. Do that and we can take a breather from “historic” candidates (first this, or first that); been there, done that, got the shambles to show for it.

We learned some things, though:

· History’s most successful culture doesn’t need “fundamental transformation”;

· Naïve kumbaya with enemies only results in being taken advantage of;

· It’s better to talk to politicians of the other party rather than whine about lack of cooperation;

· Repeatedly ignoring popular majority opinion robs the executive of political capital;

· Economic policy should actually help the economy;

· Businesses create jobs, which create profits and wages, which create increased taxes (at the same rates);

· Don’t cripple fossil fuels until the replacement is economically available;

· It’s best to actually have a foreign policy;

· When sanctions begin to work, get concessions, rather than promises, before you relax them;

· Amateurs really shouldn’t play in the cockpit.

In order to save us from 1,461 days of POOP (being Prisoners Of Other Progressives[1]), the GOP must prove that they can responsibly govern. Pass bills that are succinct and simple enough to be explained to, and understood by, us “stupid” American voters. Listen to all of the people – if an idea does not enjoy majority support[2], Republicans need to explain why it is necessary, and if that fails, abandon the idea.

Government serves us, not the other way around, but not in a free-lunch sort of way – the idea that government (read: everybody else) owes us something must be discarded if we ever wish to have rational policies. The function of government is to establish and protect a geopolitical space within which its citizens may exercise their basic right to live free of oppression, from within or without. Read the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution … it’s all in there. We are not to be cared for by government, government is to keep the world at bay so that we may live by the fruits of our efforts, freely associate, and think, speak and pray as we wish.

The only way that government can reduce the gap between wealth and poverty is to drag the wealthy down toward poverty. Enterprise, always trying to increase markets, tends to lift those poor willing to participate up toward wealth. Economic mobility is the miracle of market-republicanism – while the absolute number of the poor may remain somewhat static, the individuals within it tend to be upwardly mobile to the extent that they are willing get educated and apply themselves. Examples are rampant. Those “too cool for school” will continue to serve us fast food, or try to steal it from us.


[1] They’ve so sullied the “Liberal” brand that they no longer wish to use it.

[2] I would suggest using RealClearPolitics’ average poll results as a general guide.

Do We even Have a Learning Curve?

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Sony is only the latest, but under the news cycle are the computers of Americans that are being hacked daily. There are multiple lessons to be learned here, most would seem to be fairly obvious, but apparently not.

First, don’t write anything online that you wouldn’t say to your mother, in print, in the New York Times. Second, don’t use “password” for your password – as was the case in one of the hacked Sony executives … no kidding!. Third, if you’re a company or someone who deals in sensitive information, exercise due diligence and erect firewalls, encrypt sensitive data and use adult passwords which are frequently changed.

Before we are subjected to the hue and cry of the “Freedom of Speech” crowd, this has nothing to do with the First Amendment, it’s about what we used to call “common sense.” Assume you’re gonna get hacked and write accordingly. If you’re wrong, nothing lost; if you’re right, you won’t wind up in the New York Times having written something you would never say to your mother. It’s something we used to call “civility.”

I know that I’m in the minority, but hacking is bad. We’ll hear about “White Hat” hackers that are either harmless (the “fun” crowd) or beneficial (the “see what can happen?” crowd). They like to differentiate themselves from the “Black Hat” hackers like Iran, PRC, DPRK, etc. Well, Ed Snowden (sheltered in Moscow) considers himself a White Hat, what do you think? Bradley Manning (residing in Leavenworth Military Disciplinary Barracks) considers himself a White Hat, what do you think? Anonymous (hiding behind Guy Fawkes masks) and other hacktivests think of themselves as White Hats, what do you think?

I know, as someone who normally preaches nuance to others, this seems an odd position to stake out, but I’m also a believer in right and wrong, and some things are plainly wrong. Pedophilia, for example. Now granted, there are anecdotal instances where hackers actually do good – we have Red Teams whose job it is to constantly test our most sensitive databases, those working in our national defense, etc – but they are the outliers. Reading someone else’s mail is wrong, but that doesn’t mean we should make it easy for the thieves.

Half a Loaf

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The Feinstein Report was released on Tuesday – its official title is the “Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Report on Detention and Interrogation,” but it’s not. It’s the “Democrat’s Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Report on Detention and Interrogation,” but that’s too long, so I’ll just call it the “Feinstein Report”. It achieved its goal – she was able to give CIA a slap on the way out the door, because, as she herself said, “Once the Committee comes under Republican control, the report would not see the light of day.” So the release was admittedly a purely political stunt.

Senator Feinstein says that coercive interrogations didn’t produce any actionable intelligence. That’s debatable. It produced bits and pieces that had to be examined in light of existing knowledge. What she fails to explain – and as chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI), she very well knows – intelligence gathering is an incomplete jigsaw puzzle salted with pieces that don’t belong. You take what you get from a detainee and check it against the rest of the pieces you already have. It may fill-in some of the mosaic, or it may not. But you add it to the puzzle pieces you have. In other words, we had a haystack of data collected from all sources, and what coercive interrogations give us was the GPS coordinates for the needle.

Abu Zubaydah (AZ) was the first high value target (HVT) captured in Afghanistan. He was rendered to Egypt[1] for interrogation, but we had become impatient with the unreliability of third-party operations and CIA asked for the authority to conduct their own interrogations outside official DoD guidelines. This was granted with the proviso that the FBI would also be in on the sessions. This led to the establishment of “black sites” in Afghanistan and third-party countries to be used for HVTs. AZ had been severely wounded during his capture, and CIA had a doctor on hand for all sessions. After a while, differences between the FBI and CIA got to the point where the FBI lost interest in the project and left.

During this period, a schedule of “enhanced interrogation techniques” (EITs) was drawn up and submitted to the administration for approval. This consisted of four levels: 1) sleep deprivation, diet manipulation and enforced nudity; 2) attention grab, face holding and insult slap; 3) confinement box and wall-standing in stress positions; 4) waterborading. The program was submitted to CIA’s legal department (CIA has more lawyers then agents), and when cleared was submitted to the White House, which submitted it to DoJ for vetting. The program was approved while insisting that every instance of waterboarding needed written approval from the president. Both were given to CIA in writing, and AZ was the first to be subjected to EITs (including waterboarding). The Gang of Eight (leaders of each party from House and Senate Intel Committees) was briefed and were supportive. There were multiple briefings by senior CIA officials of the Gang of Eight, and eventually, whole intel committees, on the use and results of EITs.

Did AZ give us Osama bin Laden? No. He gave us Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM), the architect of the 9/11 attacks. Did KSM give us Osama bin Laden? No. He admitted to decapitating Wall Street Journal’s Danny Pearle and would up “holding class” for CIA on al Qaeda’s (AQ’s) organizational chart. Very valuable. He led to the capture of an AQ combat commander, who was also given EITs and told us that bin Laden was off-line (thanks to a New York Times article describing how we were tracking him through his cell phone), was using couriers to give and get information, and gave us a pseudonym of that courier. After much midnight oil cross-checking and by process of elimination, we were able to determine that the courier was in Pakistan and was best known as Abu-Zaid al Kuwaiti (AK; born: Khalid Bin Abdul Rehman Al-Hussainan; c.1965), and set CIA assets about finding him and observing his activities. That led us to the compound in Abbottabad, and that led us to SEAL Team Six standing in Osama bin Laden’s bedroom.

The Feinstein Report makes a great deal, as do so many others, over CIA’s use of “torture,” yet nobody, not the Geneva Conventions, not the United Nations, not the American legislature, has bothered to define the term – basically, you can use it for anything you don’t like. Once the author unilaterally “establishes” that torture was used, they then proceed to claim the actions were therefore illegal. CIA had clearance, in writing, at multiple points, by DoJ, that the EITs were approved at the highest levels and were legal. The agency sought and received command authority clearance for every use of waterboarding, and had frequently-issued re-affirmation from DoJ. All in writing. One of the first things Obama did as president was to try and criminalize George W Bush’s CIA, and after a three-year inquisition, found nothing indictable. They could find no crimes involved in CIA’s detention and interrogation of terrorists. Nothing illegal.

For whatever reason, Senator Feinstein’s one-sided report threw CIA behind the bus (there’s no more room under Obama’s bus), and that could only have been done intentionally. Two years earlier, CIA had spied on SSCI computers to make sure none of the classified materials given to staffers was getting into unclassified reports, and that was wrong. Senator Feinstein was rightly outraged, demanded an apology and got it. But that wasn’t enough, so we get her parting shot at CIA as she goes out the door as chair of the committee.

Since President Obama’s de-fanging of CIA and efforts to empty Guantánamo, the intel effort has become a take-no-prisoners operation (since they can’t be effectively interrogated), providing only targets for drone-strikes. We have lost our human intelligence resource in the battlespace. Since Senator Feinstein’s release of the Democrat’s report, we have stripped ourselves of third-party cooperation in the future as foreign intelligence services will be unwilling to share their secrets with us if they think they’ll be named later in public reports. The release also makes CIA risk-averse as officers will be very reluctant to carry out risky operations if they think they will be politically crucified for doing so down the road.

The EIT and black site programs were shut down in 2009, and all told, fewer than 100 detainees were held at black sites, and fewer than 30 were subjected to EITs. Only three were waterboarded. So the one-sided Feinstein Report didn’t reveal anything new – the world already knew about the program – wasn’t needed to stop the program – it hadn’t been active in nearly five years – and yielded only the disabling of CIA from doing its job by making it vastly more difficult to collect intelligence by any means, all during a time of war.

Congratulations.


[1] This practice began under Reagan and reached its zenith under Clinton. It was determined that third-party interrogation was unreliable, and that brought on the Black Site program.

GruberGate

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King v Burwell, the US Supreme Court case regarding what the law says versus what the administration is doing, could hinge on what Jonathan Gruber has been recorded as saying about how ObamaCare was written and sold, because legislative intent is a legal tenet that could weigh heavily on the Nine Wise Souls contemplating the case.

Here’s what’s at stake. Dr Gruber stated the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (hereinafter ACA) was “written in a tortured way so CBO wouldn’t score the mandate as a tax,” which they did not. Florida v United States, in June of 2012, decided the issue (the mandate is a tax), but what is of import here is the legislative intent. Through the whole of the effort to “inform” the people what ACA was and how it works – a remarkable feat as no one selling the thing actually had read it. But aside from that, from President Obama’s “not one dime of taxes” to countless Democratic legislators assuring us that the penalty for not acquiring an approved policy was a “fee” not a “tax,” we were assured that more patients could added to the same number of doctors and that would improve the quality of care without deficit or increased taxes. Yet when Florida v US was being argued before the Supreme Court, the solicitor general argued that the mandate was legal precisely because it was a tax and therefore within Congress’s purview. That is what the Court ultimately found. Government admitted that the mandate was a tax, after denying it while trying to get it passed. Bait and switch. Dr Gruber says that the language of ACA was intentionally “tortured” because a tax-based mandate couldn’t be sold politically. They lied to us, and they lied to CBO.

This duplicity shines on King v Burwell because it involves another bait-and-switch situation, meaning that legislative intent, again, comes to the fore. Low income and lower middle class enrollees are eligible for tax credits to offset part of the premium for the policies they choose. The problem arises because the language of ACA specifically allows for these subsidies only to those enrollees who purchase plans on exchanges established “by the states,” which, in another part of the Act is defined as states taken individually and the District of Columbia. This was to serve as incentive for the states to set up their own exchanges. As it turned out though, only 16 states (now down to 14) did so, leaving most Americans to the federal exchange, which, by the language of the law, aren’t eligible for subsidies. The administration claims this is merely sloppy writing and that all enrollees were intended to be eligible all along. Dr Gruber addresses this issue directly, stating that “if states don’t set up exchanges, [their] citizens won’t get the tax credit.” In other words, the language of the law was intentional. Only state exchanges are permitted to offer tax credits. It’s black letter law.

Dr Gruber, on another occasion, mentioned that RomneyCare only worked because Ted Kennedy and he were able to “rip off the feds for $400 million a year.” It is clear that not only is Dr Gruber sanguine about deceiving people about the true nature of his ideas, it seems to be de rigueur to his methodology. Speaking again about ACA, he says that “lack of transparency is a huge political advantage … and was really, really critical for the thing to pass.” Critical to understanding Dr Gruber’s utterances is how well they fit the facts. It is now clear that deception was liberally used during the debate leading up to the vote – “you can keep your plan” was known at the time to be false (ACA only works if everyone is forced into an approved plan); “not a dime of taxes” was known at the time to be false (ACA was “tortured” to hide the fact that the mandate was an enormous tax); “this will bend the cost-curve down” was known at the time to be false (they intentionally made no mention of the 300+% increase in deductables, more than offsetting any savings in subsidized premium cost); on and on. So Dr Gruber’s admission that lying to the people (and CBO) was part of the game-plan is normative for the convoluted process used to pass and implement ACA.

While Dr Gruber’s delivery is arrogant and snarky, the content seems to be valid.

The Court could strike down the entire law (in all of its 1,700+ pages of plain text, there is no severance language[1]). But it won’t do that. Although if any part of the law is declared invalid, the law, as written, is invalid, but to declare ACA null and void would leave utter chaos in its wake. If a portion of the law is found to be invalid, the wiser course would be to strike down that portion only. This would probably be done in conjunction with a remand to the Congress to bring the language of the law in line with practice. This would leave the intervening period between remand and re-signing without tax credits for those on policies from the federal exchange.

In practice, this would prove to be problematic as the new Congress would likely just remove the mandate altogether, thus eliminating the discontinuity. If the president didn’t sign that revision, it would go back to Congress, leaving those on policies from the federal exchange still without subsidies. No telling how long this food fight would last, or how it would come out.

The Court could allow the illegitimate practice under the Necessary and Proper clause (Article I, Section 8, Clause 18 of the Constitution), which authorizes Congress “[t]o make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing powers.” But that would seem a stretch since it’s not the law that overreaches but the implementation of it. The practice is illegal, not the language.

This ruling would need to ignore any thought of legislative intent – which they may choose to do – since the only spokespeople claiming the intent was to include all enrollees have a history of lying about the bill at nearly every turn. And they would need to explain away the very specific language limiting subsidies to those enrolling through exchanges established by a state. Or, they could interpret “state” to mean either an individual state or the “state” of federal government, in which case they would need to explain away the definition of “state” contained within the law itself.

I honestly don’t know how the Court will decide this, although language and legislative intent seem pretty clearly aligned in this case (but they have surprised me before). Whichever way it goes, it settles nothing politically. The process of the write-up and passage so poisoned the well that ACA may never be a calm issue between congressional sides.


[1] A severance clause is a boilerplate clause to ensure that, if any of the provision of the law is found to be illegal, invalid or unenforceable, the rest of the law survives and continues to be valid.

the Search for ET Revisited

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I discussed the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence in these pages previously[1]. My position has been manifold – that the probability of ETs has a lot of 9s in it; that civilization-building ETs are probably more distant from us than they are advanced; and that the logistics and economics of interstellar exploration preclude any but incremental advance – that these civilizations simply haven’t arrived in our neighborhood yet. These views are based on the fact that we have comprehensively searched out to 8% of the galactic diameter[2] and found no recognizable signal.

Two other theories exist: what I call the Pogo approach – I have seen the aliens and they are us; and civilizations tend to destroy themselves above a certain degree of technological development.

Walt Kelly, creator of the old Pogo comic strip, had his title character claim that he “had seen the enemy, and he is us,” which is, in its own right, an interesting philosophical take on things. But the paraphrase succinctly describes the “Ancient Aliens” crowd’s belief that far back in the dark regions of our pre-history, aliens visited Earth for a salad of reasons (depending upon to which ancient alien theorist you are talking), and in the process, manipulated the DNA of creatures they found to produce a thinking animal that then could be enslaved to do the physical labor they required, and that has led to us. This would explain, the theorists say, the gaps in our record of the development of primates into hominids into Homo sapiens.

But that thinking assumes that the absence of evidence is evidence of absence – that because we don’t have “missing links” between this sub-species and that one, therefore aliens supplied the necessary modifications. Overlooked is the fact that these theorists suffer the same absence of evidence problem – they can produce no dramatic introduction of altered DNA sequencing that point to outside manipulation. To me, the Pogo theory falls into the category of “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” It’s an interesting theory, but wholly without supporting evidence.

At present, I discount the Pogo Hypothesis.

The second alternative, known as Fermi’s Paradox, goes like this: knowing that there are millions of sun-like stars, and therefore thousands (if not millions) of civilizations, in the Milky Way, where are they? Why haven’t we heard from them? Enrico Fermi, the physicist that built the first self-sustaining nuclear reactor, thinks he knows. Dr Fermi postulates that when civilizations reach the technological prowess to develop advanced industries, they tend to destroy themselves before reaching the ability to reach out to other worlds. The paradox being that as we become more capable, that capability extends in all directions – good and bad. Lending credence to Dr Fermi’s hypothesis is his own work in nuclear physics. We have the ability to produce energy much more efficiently by manipulating the weak nuclear force than by burning oil and coal, but that same capability also allows us to produce the explosive force of millions of tons of TNT in a warhead that weighs mere hundreds of pounds and can be delivered thousands of miles away within yards of the intended point. What took the Mayflower 36 days in 1620 can now be covered (with three times as many people) in six hours fifty minutes, but we can also put a cruise missile into a specific office window from 1,550 miles away.

The preponderance of evidence supports Fermi’s Paradox, but as an exclusive reason for no alien visitations it requires that self-destruction is a doctrinal result of technological advancement – that all civilizations will destroy themselves nearly as soon as they possess the ability to do so. Or that, by whatever mechanism, only those within some threshold range of Earth have done so.

With millions of trials, one would think that at least some would have survived the experience, but may be far enough away that it will still be thousands of years before we could detect their presence. This is where Dr Fermi and I come together – that any (surviving) technological civilizations out there are simply too far away to make communication and/or visitation impractical to the point of exclusion.

The subject – along with that of UFOs – continues to fascinate me, but alas, I have found nothing to lift my opinion of visitation above skepticism.


[1] See the Search for ET, 25 November 2009.

[2] That is to say, that out to 8,000 light years, no one had the ability to produce recognizable signals by 8,000 years ago (which we would now be receiving). At distances of 1,000 light years, the criteria would be producing signals 1,000 years ago, and so forth.

Have We Learned Anything from Ferguson?

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Short answer, No. The same old race-baiters are crying the same old songs about police brutality, racial profiling and innocent people-of-color being suppressed by child-eating white devils. Topped-off by an issue tailor-made to rehabilitate President Obama’s legacy, and yet he closely allies himself with the vilest race-baiter of our time, Al Sharpton (of Tawana Brawley and non-payment of $4.5 million in taxes fame).

So, no, we have learned nothing.

To begin with, it needs to be recognized that xenophobia is hard-wired into the human brain as an aspect of the survival mechanism – strangers to the group are threats to the group, or so goes the autonomous reaction. We, the United States, have come a long way to intellectually recognizing the non-applicability of xenophobia in today’s world, but the change of instinctual behavior is glacial in its pace. That’s the backdrop to the problems raised by Ferguson.

Officer Darren Wilson racially profiled Michael Brown? Don’t be silly. He was advised (by police radio) that a convenience store was robbed of Swisher Sweets by a 6’5”, 250+ pound black man, 18 to 24 years old, wearing a hoodie, and a 6’ associate of slighter build. Officer Wilson spotted Michael Brown, a 6’5”, 280-pound black man, wearing a black hoodie, and his shorter friend, walking down the middle of the street, with Brown holding a handful of Swisher Sweets. That’s not racial profiling, that’s police work.

The whole hands-up-don’t-shoot meme was discredited by three, count ‘em three, independent autopsies, all of which agreed that Michael Brown did not have his hands raised during the shooting. The symbol of the Ferguson protest is based on a lie.

So, no, we have learned nothing.

Robert McCulloch’s decision to give the grand jury all of the evidence and let them make the decision of indictment was brilliant. The old saw that a prosecutor can get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich is generally true, because the prosecutor has decided that the defendant is guilty, and presents only that evidence which supports that view. In Darren Wilson’s case, the prosecutor decided to present all of the evidence and all of the witnesses, and let the grand jury to decide on guilt. They found insufficient cause to bring Mr Wilson to trial.

Did that salve the crowd? Of course not. They were bent on rioting, and a no-bill result gave them a cause – the white system has, again, allowed police brutality to reign supreme. The crowd’s reaction? They burned down their own neighborhood, consisting mostly of minority-owned businesses – it was Watts 2.0.

So, no, we have learned nothing.

Has anything come out of the strong-arm robbery, the shooting, the grand jury, the riot, the aftermath, that has potential to improve race relations? If so, I can’t find it. Are they now going to demand that the rest of us (read: tax dollars) rebuild their destruction? Of course.

So, no, we have learned nothing.