Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Obama's successes

Obama's successes are fairly well known (and despised by the GOP).

The death of Bin Laden, the passage (and sustance) of the Health Care bill, and the two Supreme Court Judges, and the destruction of DOMA

In addition, he dealt a near mortal blow to Fox News, by proving them oh so very, very wrong about his election.  


It is looking more and more to me like he will also get a win major immigration reform.

The reason he has won is that the GOP is dysfunctional.  They got caught up in the idea of beating the liberals at all costs, even at the cost of what's good for the country.

As such, they moved very far to the right, so as to avoid compromising in any way shape or form. 

The thing is, as much as this ensures that the President will be a Democrat for the foreseeable future (at least the next presidential election - the GOP continues to push candidates that have no chance of winning), it is bad for the country.

The US needs a loyal opposition, not just an opposition.  The entire concept of Democracy depends upon it.

We need a Republican Party to yell at the Democrats for letting the NSA invade privacy.  We need a Republican Party to yell at government agencies from time to time, just to keep them honest.

We need a Republican Party to ensure that we get the best possible Democratic candidate, and not just some schlub that knows the right people.

And honestly, the GOP needs us Democrats as well.  Without our shining example, they would continue to believe their favorite lies - chief among them is that Americans like the GOP's political philosophy.

But most importantly, the GOP needs as incentive to raise their game.  They need to forget about the Minor leagues (state governments) and get back into the Majors.  They need to focus upon the things that americans focus on.  

Instead of letting the Democrats steel Healthcare right out from under their presidential nominee and make it our issue, they could have made it their issue.  They failed.  They failed BIG time when it came to healthcare.


Honestly, what they really, truly need is for the GOP to take David Frum's advice.

Specifically, they need to get rid of their sacred cows, talk about income inequality, deal with environmental issues instead of deny them, accept Healthcare, and stop labeling Obama as the devil incarnate. 

Because quite frankly, at this point it is obvious to all Democrats and quite a few independents that Obama is a very good President and their attempts make them look as stupid and out of touch as a Holocaust denier.


Monday, July 1, 2013

Interesting take on China

There is an interesting speech given by Eric X Li at TED.


In it he offers five basic statements:

  1. Democracy is not for everyone
  2. China does quiet well with it's non-democratic, Bureaucracy
  3. Bureaucracy is not for everyone either
  4. Democracy has it's own problems that China doesn't.
  5. China does have some problems but it is working to solve them and will succeed.

I agree with the first three.   I don't believe Democracy is for everyone.   To have an effective Democracy you truly need many things, including but not limited to an intelligent, educated public.   You can't run a democracy with people that are too stupid and uneducated enough to sell their votes cheaply.


China has been doing well in large part because it has a path to follow, blazed by the west.  Bureaucracies don't innovate well, but they follow very well.  As long as they are behind the west, they can follow at breakneck speed.  But they can't innovate.

Which of course is why I agree with part 3.

Now for the last two.  Those I find to be laughable.   All the problmes that US democracies have, China has as well, they just don't publicize them.

Key problems that the US currently has include Congressional stagnation caused by dramatically different political views.  China has that as well, they just cover it up by letting one side win and burying their opponents.  

Other issues that the US deals with include things heavily involved with morality, of which China ignores one side completely.   Whether it's homosexuality, abortion, torture, we lead the way on issues they sweep under the rug.

Ignoring an issue is not dealing with it.  The US looks so combative because we face the major issues head on, rather than sweeping the other side under the rug.

He brags about China's leader's experience, and the lack compared to US politicians.  Experience is the enemy.  We want innovative solutions, not the same old stuff.  We want new blood, which is why terms like maverick, new blood, outside the beltway, are all positive terms.

Honestly, if we already knew the solution, then it is easy to solve the problem.  That is why bureaucracy works so well in those situations.

But the US is not following the path of another country. We are blazing the path. China is, to use a  Nascar analogy, drafting behind us.    We solve problems that NO ONE knows the solution to.   To do that, you need the innovative power of Democracy, not Bureacracy.

Mr. Li. knows a lot about China's history.  But fails to understand why it has succeeded.  He fails to recognize that it's success is on the back of the work done by the West.   Just as we taught them how to make cars, computers, etc, we also taught them how to run a country.  

He thinks China will continue it's growth.  He predicted that China will become the largest economy in the world.  That is likely - population counts.  He also predicts it will do well on a per capita basis, that is not going to happen.   When you pass the lead car, you can no longer draft, and that's the only economical technique they know how to do.  They can't get anywhere near us without the drafting.  I can see their per capita rising to about half of what the US will have, but not much more than that.

He thinks corruption will be curbed but not eliminated.   That is likely.  He also thinks they will do a good job of curbing.  I doubt that.  Their system by it's very nature lends itself to corruption.   Bureaucracy is not good about curbing it's corruption.  Their culture and system is about respect, not challenge, which lets corruption flourish.

He also thinks that economic reform will accellerate.  I disagree.  It is already near the economy they are drafting against, they have to put on the brakes to avoid cruising past the west's car.

He also thinks political reform will continue, which is a given, and the one party system will hold firm, which I also agree is likely to happen.  It takes a generation to realize your mistake, and they haven't made the mistake yet.  China has at least 40 years of one party system left to go.   

Not because their system works so well, but because they are blind to the fact that they are drafting behind the west's economies.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Three Surpreme Court Decisions.

There are three interesting Supreme Court decisions I want to talk about.  Two of which I agree with and one is clearly a bad decision by 5 out of 9 judges.


First the bad decision.  SCOTUS had no business tearing apart the Voting Rights Act.  (Huffington Post News story)


They specifically declared the formula in Section 4 unconstitutional. "The formula in that section can no longer be used as a basis for subjecting jurisdictions to preclearance.”

Specifically they said that our country has changed and they the formula must be updated.

This is a bad decision because they admitted that at one time the formula was good.   Roberts said  "Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to current conditions"

But you see, that is CONGRESS's decision, not the Courts.  The court is there to determine if the Congress overstepped it's bounds, NOT to determine if they did a good job or a bad job.  If Congress has the power to  make that determination, they have the right to do so poorly.

Honestly, I believe that Congress should simply say, screw it, EVERYONE has to be subject to jurisdiction for preclearance.   That is, every single state and every single county should be forced to ask the DOJ if their voting procedures are racist.


It would end a lot of vile and corrupt practices, such as gerrymandering.

Second, the good news.  SCOTUS said that the Federal Government must recognize the Marriage of Gays, done by states.  Gays are people too, and as such have the rights to obtain the legal status of married, with all the tax, medical, etc. benefits. (CBS news story)

This is fairly obvious and not that surprising.  Scalia himself predicted it would happen 10 years ago  - although he was too preejudiced to understand it is a good thing.  He was kind of like an old racist from the 1860's saying "Why if we free the slaves, they might marry our white people."  Yes, his prediction was true but he was too prejudiced, and frankly, illogical to see that it was not a bad thing.


Thirdly, the Supreme Court also confirmed a lower courts decision that said being homeless does not mean you are not allowed to own anything.  Specifically they stated that the state of California could not take the possessions of homeless people and destroy them simply because they were on 'public grounds' and the homeless people had stepped away from them (to go to the bathroom or get on a food line.)  (Death and Taxes Blog)

Note, California had previously stolen and destroyed such possessions including identification (such as driver licenses, social security cards, etc.) and cellphones (if you don't have an address, a cellphone is vitally important to stay in touch with people.)

Frankly it was a rather evil attempt by the state of California and not that surprising that the Supreme Court sided with the homeless people.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Why Obama Should Pardon Edward Snowden

First, for purposes of this article (and only this article), I am going to make a false assumption.

We will presume that the NSA's actions are entirely legal, appropriate and in no way an invasion of privacy or an abridgement of American rights. Edward Snowden has clearly committed a crime of treason and by all rights should go to prison.


Now, given that 'fact', I still say President Obama should pardon Edward Snowden, with certain conditions (specifically he must return to the US to answer questions in front of a closed session of congress and no longer talk tot he press about anything that happened prior to his pardon, and agree to never again reveal any information whatsoever about his work for the US government).

Why should we do this?

First, given the situation with Julian Assange, we already know the likely outcome for Snowden.  Most likely he will remain outside of US clutches, in the worst case locked up in an embassy of a foreign country. If we offer a pardon, we can at least avoid the embarrassment of having another Assange case out there.  Ending bad publicity is itself worth it.

Second, obtaining him will not end the issue, it will instead make it worse.  If we get him back it will look like we are holding a political prisoner, even if (as we presumed in this article) he is a traitor to this country and deserves no less than life in prison.

Third, capturing him will in not way discourage others from following in his footsteps.  Instead it will do the opposite.  Look, this is no man selling secrets to obtain a better life.  He had a better life and gave it up for principle.  He (and many others in this country) considers himself a patriot willing to give a six-figure job, a model girlfriend, and a home in Hawaii, all to fight the nasty evil dictatorship.  It doesn't matter that he is wrong and the US is a benevolent democracy.  He (and those that agree with him) considers himself to be Nathan Hale.  He regrets that he has but one life of pleasure to give up for his country.

You do not discourage heroes by imprisoning them.  That ENCOURAGES them to fight on.     The people that think we need to discourage copy cats are right - but trying to put Snowden in prison will not in any way discourage them. 

Fourth, the way you convince honest, honorable men to lay down arms is to offer them trust and forgiveness, not jail.  It discourages others by making them look stupid, not heroic.  What, the hero is bravely standing up to fight against the injustice of being told he is pardoned and can go on his way????

Fifth, it would stand as a beacon to other countries showing them the fair, democratic way to handle dissent.  By pursuing Snowden we give China, Iran, and other countries moral standing. See, the US is no better than they are, we have our own 'political prisoners'.   By pardoning Snowden, we show them that a truely powerful country can handle a bit of dissent - as opposed to dissenters as criminals, we forgive and forget.

Sixth, we get control of the situation back. He will have to agree to certain conditions, we get to question him and we can stop further leaks of information other countries may want.



I see little if any upside from pursuing a criminal case against Snowden.  I see huge international political capital to be generated if we pardon him.


Monday, June 17, 2013

We don't need Morphine, we have Asprin????

One in a while I see people complaining about the problems of major bulwarks of our civil defense, often using the existence of other, relatively minor legal protections as an excuse to get rid of our most important rights.  For example some claims that we don't need the fifth amendment because we have laws against torture and unreasonable punishment.

But you see, the rules against torture are actually rather weak  I would call them paper thin..  Government torture happens all the time.   I am not just talking about being water boarded by the CIA, I am talking about police officers routinely using pain on criminals.  Part of the problem is that the line between torture and other, reasonable activities is rather blurry.  Hit a guy?  Is it torture, self defense, or an accident?   Or perhaps you were trying to get him to obey a reasonable order.

The fifth amendment however is a huge giant wall, one or the strongest protections we have. Punish a guy for not answering a question, that's a fifth amendment violation.  We easily see that and know it is wrong.

Lets talk a bit more about the thin line between torture and legal activities.  Cops love Tasers and they don't restrict them to preventing violence.    In fact, the very famous line "Don't Tase me Bro."  came from such an incident.  The guy was not a danger to anyone, he simply was refusing to cooperate with the police.  He wouldn't leave an event, and wouldn't give up the microphone.  (Source)

The cops tased him not because he was a threat, but to force him to obey.  They caused him pain and physically controlled him.  Some would say that is torture.  They hurt him to convince him to obey.   They didn't put hand cuffs on him first, they made no attempt at all to control him without pain, they moved directly to pain.  

Torture is not used just to get information.  As per the US legal definition:


(1) “torture” means an act committed by a person acting under the color of law specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering (other than pain or suffering incidental to lawful sanctions) upon another person within his custody or physical control;


Tasers are supposed (i.e the company says their purpose is to) to be used not to obtain compliance, but to deal with dangerous situations.  As per Wikipedia:

"Tasers were introduced as non-lethal weapons to be used by police to subdue fleeing, belligerent, or potentially dangerous people, who would have otherwise been subjected to more lethal weapons such as a firearm."

Instead, they are often used as 'pain compliance' devices.  The difference between pain compliance and torture?   If you are under the control of the cop, it is torture.  If you are not yet under their control, it is pain compliance.  Who decides if you are under their control?  The cop.  With no second judging of his decision.
Torture is a relative word.  Hence the controversy under George Bush where moronic lawyers tried to argue that water boarding is not torture.   But there are many circumstances where torture is perfectly legal.   It is easy and COMMONPLACE for cops to claim you were resisting arrest and therefore use pain compliance.

They can even make that claim if you are already arrested, in handcuffs, in prison, and on the floor crying. They just have to claim you were not complying.

The fifth amendment is the big gun.  It is the brick wall.  Other laws are the small arms, the velvet rope.  We can't depend on the rope line to hold back the cops, we need the brick wall.

In part because if we have the brick wall, as opposed to just a rope line, it lets the cops slam you up against the brick wall, without worrying about going over it by mistake.  If we have just a rope line, then cops will mistakenly cross it.

You don't demolish the brick wall because we have a velvet rope.  You don't get rid of morphine because we have aspirin.  The Fifth Amendment, which protects US citizens from self-incrimination is the strong protection and we must keep it that way.

It doesn't just stop torture, it stops many other problems caused by the police.  For example it stops the government from punishing you for not revealing something that you don't know (no matter how much they THINK you know it.  It also helps stop the government from learning things they have no right to know - such as your sexual orientation, accidentally or on purpose.  
Similarly, laws against excessive prosecution are not enough.   We need some ways to incentive criminals, some discretion by the government.   Given that we want to the cops to be able to talk to the criminals, and even bribe/punish them, we need strong laws that stop them from going too far.   If the cops won't even let you remain silent, that's going too far.  Honestly, if we really need the information, we can always offer immunity.

If immunity is not worth the trade, then don't demand they speak.

Friday, June 14, 2013

On Snowden Leaks

First let me discuss the facts about the Snowden leaks.

  1. Snowden was an employee of a private contractor.  He did not work directly for the government.
  2. Snowden had access to top secret information.  Specifically he ran computer programs that had the ability to obtain certain specific information about people's electronic communications, including american citizens.
  3. He leaked the existence of those programs to the press.
  4. He fled to Hong Kong
  5. He then publicly admitted what he had done.
  6. He claimed he did it because he had moral objections to the existence of that tracking abilitiy, believing it to be an immoral and unethical invasion of american citizen's privacy, that should be illegal.
  7. Some members of the government want him arrested for treason
  8. Some members of the government want to arrest the press for releasing that information.
I have not talked about this for a while because it is a complex issue.

First, let me talk about crime in general.   Intent, or the mental state of the criminal, is key to most crimes.

If you go to a car that looks like yours, put the key in, it works, and you drive off, then most people don't think you have committed a crime - even if it turns out to be someone else's car (car manufacturers re-use keys, so this can happen - it used to be common).

Similarly, the difference between:  Murder (tried to kill), manslaughter (tried to hurt, but killed), gross negligence (didn't care if he got hurt/died so did not take precautions), and an accident (took reasonable precautions but he died anyway)  are all about intent.

Mr. Snowden's actions clearly indicate he was attempting to be a whistleblower, not a traitor.

  1. He leaked to the press, not to a foregin nation or terrorist organization
  2. He publicly admitted responsibility, risking jail time
  3. He only released the information about what the government was doing.  He with-held sensitive specific information, instead of releasing everything he had access to.
This brings us to the first question:

Should it matter what he was trying to be?  That is, should we judge him by the results alone, or take into account his intent/motive?

Yes it does matter.   By giving a reduced/no punishment for whistle-blowers as opposed to traitors, we as a government and a culture gain the following:
  • Incentive for whistleblowers as opposed to simply spying for foreign powers.  (leaking to the press rather than a foreign organization, admitting your actions)  We as a nation are much better off if we know what they know, rather than being left in the dark about them knowing our secrets.   It also saves us money in the investigation, prevents innocent people from being targeted, and allows us to fire him immediately (which we did), as opposed to leaving a spy in our midst.
  • Incentives for whistle-blowers to report actual crimes (even if you don't think Snowden was a whistle-blower.   By treating people trying to be whilstle-blowers better than traitors, we encourage people to be whistle-blowers, as opposed to terrifying them into submission with possible false claims of treason.  
  • The knowledge that whistlblowing is legal/punished less than treason also encourages us to TRUST the government.
These are all valuable qualities that governments can not buy except by treating people trying to be whistleblowers different than regular traitors that do it for money.

The technical definition of treason says either "wages war against the US, adheres to enemy, giving them aid or comfort".  Snowden clearly did not intend to do any of those things.  He should not be treated as a traitor, if for no other reason than to encourage other people considering revealing top secret information to leak it to the press and publicly admit their guilt as opposed to leaking to China and keeping their identity secret.

Next up, did he do it by mistake?

Second question:

Was he really a whistle-blower, or just a traitor?


Polls show that Americans have mixed views on Snowden.  The numbers are all between 40% and 60% approval dissaproval.

It doesn't matter.  You see, you don't convict someone of a crime if 40% of people think he's innocent.

This is America.  If there is reasonable doubt, you go free.   40% thinking he is a patriot is reasonable doubt.

It's too close a call to send a guy to jail for something many of us consider to be a patriotic act. 

We don't even need to know if he actually was a whistle-blower.  We just need to ask does a reasonable person have reasonable doubts about his actions?   At least forty percent of our population does.   Therefore he is innocent.

More about this later (see the last issue).

This brings us to the third question:

Should the NSA be contracting our 'suspect' work to private industry, as opposed to doing it in hourse?

This answer is a clear NO.  This is a horrendous mistake on the part of our government.  Even assuming the electronic surveillaince in question is legal and appropriate, it should in NO way be done by private industry.

We don't let military contractors operate nuclear weapons.  The weapons in question are too powerful and too dangerous.  They may build them and even maintain them, but we insist they hand them over to the US government and we guard and operate them.

You don't let private contractors do the work that has extreme issues.   We don't let them control our nuclear issues and we certainly should not let private contractors spy on American citizens. 

What's appropriate for the US government to do is not always appropriate for contractors to do.

Even assuming the espionage in question is appropriate for the US to do, it can not in any way be appropriate for us to pay private contractors to do.


Should the electronic surveillance in question be legal?

To answer this question, lets start out discussing what should be happening.

I expect our government agencies to be MORE concerned about security than our privacy.  They should be trying to push up as close as possible to the wall of what is legal.  It is not their job to safeguard our privacy, it is their job to safeguard our country.

If they are not taking risks and getting close to the edge of what is legal, then they are failing.

Traditionally the 'movie' traitors do something like the following:

  • Reveal technical secrets on how to make top secret devices
  • Reveal top secret names of people who operate in secret and  would be at risk if their identities become known.
  • Reveal top secret locations that cold be targeted by enemies.
  • Reveal specific military plans currently being executed, allowing the enemy to counter-act them.

He did none of these things.  Instead he revealed the current practices of the USA, not it's current plans, nor even the possible capabilities (just because Snowden couldn't listen to your phone calls doesn't mean no one else working for the US government can't)

They claim that by maintaining secrecy of our current practices, they can make it harder for the bad guys to counter them.  Note, our capabilities keep increasing, so the bad guys still have to take more precautions than just avoid what they know we used to do.

There is a technical term for this type of secrecy:  "Security through Obscurity"  If your opponent does not know how you do things, it makes it harder for them to defeat your efforts.   But if you check the wikipedia page I linked to you can instantly see what a bad reputation Security through Obscurity has.

Honestly, the food industry wanted to do a similar thing.  We laughed and told them NO.  We required them to list all the ingredients, if not the proportions.    They clearly have an interest in preventing their competitors from knowing what they put into their food.   Why didn't we let them keep their ingredients simple?   Because our personal interest in knowing what we are consuming is more important.

Similarly, our personal interest in knowing what information the government is gathering on us FAR exceeds any minor increased efficiency the government gains by having the terrorists not know for certain some of the things the government is doing.

Especially when a large portion (over 40%) consider the government's actions to be questionable, if not innapropriate.

If your actions are close to the wall between ethical spying and unethical spying, then you have to accept the fact that the public will get to examine at least the actions that are closest to the wall, if not the ones far from it.

You want security through obscurity?  Then do your stuff away from the wall.  Not right up next to it.

The NSA leak did damage security, the same way requiring food companies to list their ingredients damaged their profits.   That is, it damaged security a tiny, insignificant amount, and gave the country a massive amount of information that we desperately needed.

It is our job to determine whether your security measures are worth the effort.   Therefore you must reveal the most questionable security methods you use to the public.  If you want to keep something secret, then you create a public, more invasive 'throw away'  method and see how the public responds to you admitting you do that.  If they object, then you cancel the 'throw away' method and then reveal the one you wish you could keep secret and hope they accept it.

You definitely should not under any circumstances, keep your most invasive privacy violating security methods secret.  

Because the damage that your most privacy violating methods do the country will always be greater than the damage you are protecting.   If only in  destroying the people's trust in the government and creating a climate of distrust.


Conclusions:

Snowden may not be a hero, but he is definitely NOT a traitor.  The NSA has clearly made some bad decisions - having private contractors spy on American Citizens???? Shame on you for stupidity, let alone privacy violations

We need to slap the NSA down and have them re-think their strategies. 





Thursday, June 13, 2013

How to tell if you are a Partisan Fool.

There is nothing wrong with being partisan.  It just means you believe in a cause.  We should all believe in causes, and I pity the person that doesn't believe in anything.  I would go further and say:

If you don't have something worth dying for, then you don't have anything worth living for.

 But you can take things too far.  You can care more about your beliefs than they are worth.  Being willing to kill anyone that thinks a certain brand of cookies doesn't taste good is not a good thing.

Neither is putting the needs of your political party above the needs of your country.  Even if you think your party is correct and the other party is sent by the devil himself to destroy your country, you still can NOT put the needs of your party above the needs of the country.  Not even for a little bit.

So lets talk about the cases where people have their priorities backwards, where their partisanship has gone to the extreme and they are nothing but a joke.

Here are signs that you are a partisan fool:

  1. You do whats best for your party, even if it is bad for your country.
  2. You insist that EVERYTHING has to do with your group.  Anything bad you ascribe to enemies of your party, and anything good must be caused by your party.
  3. You can't conceive of a good person being both informed and not on your side.  You think the only reason good people are not for you is that they are ignorant/uneducated.
  4. You can't conceive of an informed person thinking your issues are irrelevant.  If they understand your issues than they must either be good people and on your side or bad people and your enemies.  No one is allowed to be informed yet remain neutral  (Thus you think the media must either be with your or against you, no neutrality)  "You are either with us or against us."
  5. You can't conceive of being wrong on even the smallest of side issues.  You think any scientific studies that prove you wrong must be invalid - done by the opposition and designed to fail.
  6. You defend (or refuse to attack) members of your own group even when you know they are wrong (or have committed a crime).


Political Parties are not the end all and be all.   The good of the country is far more important.

When you do these six things you are placing your partisan political party above the country, and have crossed the line from a loyal politically active person, and become a traitor to your own country.

It doesn't matter if you are liberal, conservative, fascist, communist, libertarian, monarchist, theocratic,republican, democrat, progressive, royalists, tory, whig, bull moose, or anything else.

Putting any political party above and beyond the country proves you to be a fool not worth listening to.   Political parties exist to serve the country, not the other way around.