Wednesday, April 09, 2014

10th Anniversary of Pfc. Keith Matthew Maupin's Disappearance

Maupin's remains were recovered in 2008.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Repost: The 'You Break It, You Own It' Theory on Benghazi

In light of the recent Benghazi testimony from Michael Morell, this post originally made on February 9, 2013 is reposted:

The following is a theory on the apparent disinterested nature and dissonance President Obama had over the Benghazi attack discussed at the Senate Armed Services Committee on February 7, 2013.  It's inspired by Secretary of State Colin Powell's Pottery Barn rule on Iraq: 'You Break It, You Own It', as posited by New York Times columnist Tom Friedman.  It's also prompted by the question, 'If the President was against a policy of arming the Syrians, why do we have a report that arms were being shipped from Benghazi to Syria by way of Turkey?'. (The question might evoke memories of the 'You Can't Handle the Truth!' scene in a 'Few Good Men'.)

It's only a theory and attempt to connect some very curious 'dots' that have been reported.  Like any theory, it can be proven wrong, but history shows that informed speculation has a utility in uncovering the truth.

Theory:  President Obama was not intimately involved/engaged with the operational defense of the Benghazi Consulate because he was upset that key members of his National Security Council had circumvented his policy against arming the Syrian rebels.  His disengagement was his way of disassociating himself from a policy gone wrong; a policy he originally opposed.

The Facts in Support of the Theory:
  • The National Security Council (NSC) includes the Secretary of Defense (Leon Panetta), the Secretary of State (until recently Hillary Rodham Clinton; now John Kerry), the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (General Martin Dempsey),  the Director of National Intelligence (James Clapper) whom was reported to by the Director of Central Intelligence (David Petraeus) and the National Security Advisor (Tom Donilon).
  • The February 7, 2013 New York Times story 'Senate Hearing Draws Out a Rift in U.S. Policy on Syria' notes the following (emphasis added):
    In his first term, President Obama presided over an administration known for its lack of open dissension on critical foreign policy issues.

    But on Thursday, deep divisions over what to do about one of those issues — the rising violence in Syria — spilled into public view for the first time in a blunt exchange between Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, and the leaders of the Pentagon.

    Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta acknowledged that he and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, had supported a plan last year to arm carefully vetted Syrian rebels. But it was ultimately vetoed by the White House, Mr. Panetta said, although it was developed by David H. Petraeus, the C.I.A. director at the time, and backed by Hillary Rodham Clinton, then the secretary of state...

    ...Neither Mr. Panetta nor General Dempsey explained why President Obama did not heed their recommendation. But senior American officials have said that the White House was worried about the risks of becoming more deeply involved in the Syria crisis, including the possibility that weapons could fall into the wrong hands. And with Mr. Obama in the middle of a re-election campaign, the White House rebuffed the plan, a decision that Mr. Panetta says he now accepts.

    With the exception of General Dempsey, the officials who favored arming the rebels have either left the administration or, as in Mr. Panetta’s case, are about to depart. Given that turnover, it is perhaps not surprising that the details of the debate — an illustration of the degree that foreign policy decisions have been centralized in the White House — are surfacing only now. A White House spokesman declined to comment on Thursday.

    The plan that Mr. Petraeus developed, and that Mrs. Clinton supported, called for vetting rebels and training a cadre of fighters who would be supplied with weapons. The plan would have enlisted the help of a neighboring state.
    This line of questioning was pursued by both Senators McCain and Graham during the hearing.
  • A mysterious Libyan ship -- reportedly carrying weapons and bound for Syrian rebels -- may have some link to the Sept. 11 terror attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Fox News has learned.

    Through shipping records, Fox News has confirmed that the Libyan-flagged vessel Al Entisar, which means "The Victory," was received in the Turkish port of Iskenderun -- 35 miles from the Syrian border -- on Sept. 6, just five days before Ambassador Chris Stevens, information management officer Sean Smith and former Navy Seals Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty were killed during an extended assault by more than 100 Islamist militants.

    On the night of Sept. 11, in what would become his last known public meeting, Stevens met with the Turkish Consul General Ali Sait Akin, and escorted him out of the consulate front gate one hour before the assault began at approximately 9:35 p.m. local time.

    Although what was discussed at the meeting is not public, a source told Fox News that Stevens was in Benghazi to negotiate a weapons transfer, an effort to get SA-7 missiles out of the hands of Libya-based extremists. And although the negotiation said to have taken place may have had nothing to do with the attack on the consulate later that night or the Libyan mystery ship, it could explain why Stevens was travelling in such a volatile region on the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

    When asked to comment, a State Department spokeswoman dismissed the idea, saying Stevens was there for diplomatic meetings, and to attend the opening of a cultural center...

    ...The cargo reportedly included surface-to-air anti-aircraft missiles, RPG's and Russian-designed shoulder-launched missiles known as MANPADS.
  • The following two video excerpts from the committee hearings document Senator Graham's inquiry into why President Obama only had one conversation with Secretary Panetta and General Dempsey.  Note that Panetta never talked to Hillary Clinton and Hillary Clinton spoke directly with the President and the National Security Advisor, Tom Donilon.

    (Update: It appears from Secretary Clinton's testimony (link to C-SPAN video: Sec. Clinton on Her Activities on 9/11/2012) that she also spoke to the President just once during the attack, though she wasn't asked that question directly in the link provided.)

    (Update 2: Confirmed that Secretary Clinton only spoke once with the President as well. See the questioning by Representative Dana Rohrabacher from the House Hearings between 1:04:35 and 1:09:45:

    Dana Rohrabacher: “When did you see the President?”

    Secretary Clinton: “I talked to the president at the end of the day, but I had been in constant communication with the National Security Advisor. I’d been in secure video conferences with high level officials in the White House, in the Defense Department."


    )

    Pay close attention to how Senator Graham gets Panetta and Dempsey to state on the record that they only had one conversation with Obama and how he starts his second round of questioning re-confirming the arms shipment policy difference detailed in the New York Times article above:

    Video 1:

     

    Video 2:

  • An obvious question should come from these facts and reports.  With the on-the-record testimony that President Obama was against shipping arms to Syria, why were arms being sent to Syria (transiting through Turkey)...at least according to the Fox News report?  
Conclusions/Speculations:
  • The arms were being shipped to Turkey, instead of directly to Syria, to provide plausible deniability.
  • Somehow, key members of the National Security Council were able to put together a plan to get arms to Syria in spite of the President's objection.

    The President may have finally relented but said something to the effect of, 'OK...but if things blow up you're on your own...you get to clean up the mess' to his NSC members that were in favor of the policy.  Or in Tom Friedman's words, "You Break It, You Own It".

    This may explain the lack of engagement Senator Graham was pursuing above on the operational details of Benghazi, even to the point of continuing with a planned visit to Las Vegas on September 12, 2012.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Amazing Parasitic Mind Control

Devolution

Texting for long periods 'could lower life expectancy': The United Chiropractic Association warns that bad posture due to mobile phone use could shorten your life :
Texting and using mobile devices for long periods of time could lead to lower life expectancy, chiropractors have warned.

The forward-leaning posture that many people adopt when texting, going online, sending emails or playing games on phones and other mobile devices increases the risk of an early death in elderly people, and there are fears that younger people could also be knocking time off their lives...

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Monday, March 17, 2014

Organic Chemicals Self Assemble

Intelligent Design need not apply, both figuratively and literally.  More evidence:

Study shows short peptides can self-assemble into catalysts:
A team of researchers with members from Syracuse University and the University of California, has found that naturally forming peptides can self-assemble into catalysts. In their paper published in the journal Nature Chemistry, the team describes how they designed seven peptides, allowed the resulting molecules to self-assemble into amyloids and then noted how many of them could catalyze the hydrolysis of esters...

...To learn more, the team created seven modest peptides, each of which were constructed from just seven amino acids—putting them together in a dish, with a dash of zinc iron to help move things along, allowed the peptides to self-form into different sheet-like fibril amyloids. During testing, four of the amyloids the team created were found to be able to catalyze the hydrolysis of esters.

The results of the team's experiments suggest that enzymes didn't necessarily have to spring forth fully formed from the primordial soup for life to begin, perhaps amyloids came first, serving as an intermediary, or a sort of blueprint—over millions of years the amyloids could have given way to the much more complicated enzymes, leading eventually to living organisms.
Related (Amino Acids occur natutallly): Life Ingredients Found in Superhot Meteorites—A First: New evidence that space rocks may have seeded life on Earth.

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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

What Did The President NOT Know And When Did He NOT Know It?

Washington Post: Feinstein: CIA searched Intelligence Committee computers:

The head of the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday sharply accused the CIA of violating federal law and undermining the constitutional principle of congressional oversight as she detailed publicly for the first time how the agency secretly removed documents from computers used by her panel to investigate a controversial interrogation program.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said that the situation amounted to attempted intimidation of congressional investigators, adding: “I am not taking it lightly.” ...

Saturday, February 01, 2014

The Curious and Counter Intuitive Number -1/12

Smithsonian Magazine writes about the mathematical oddity of the number -1/12 in The Great Debate Over Whether 1+2+3+4..+ ∞ = -1/12 .

It turns out the 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + .... = -1/12 is utilized in quantum field and string theory.

If one considers Euler's Identity ( e^{i╥} + 1 = 0 ) and re-formulates it as e^{i╥} = -1, the curious relationship noted above can be represented in a way that brings into play three other mathematical constants (e, i and ) in provocative and counter intuitive musings:

1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + ... =  e^{i╥} / 12

It's probably no accident that the imaginary number i has been so helpful throughout history, allowing us to mathematically delve into another 'dimension' for problem solving in fields like electrical engineering, also shows up in the infinite sum of positive integers relationship.

Just as interesting is that the number 12 shows in up in a dimensional variation of string theory.

Hopefully Coming to A Bumper Sticker Near You

#Benghazi: When Foggy Bottom Got Caught With Its Pants Suit Down

© Porkopolis.blogspot.com, 2014. All rights reserved.

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News Flash: Laws of Economics Are Still in Effect


Morning Joe's Mika Brzezinski's confusion not withstanding, it should not come as any surprise that business owners will continue to innovate and lower their expenses in the face of rising labor costs.

The Wall Street Journal's opinion piece The Employee of the Month Has a Battery details the automation efforts of several restaurants utilizing tabletop ordering devices to replace waiters.

The exact same argument was made here in 2006 to counter the assertion that illegal immigration provides irreplaceable cheap labor:
...One can argue that cheap labor is keeping U.S.-based agriculture from further automating and reducing it's labor content...That cheap labor is providing a disincentive to fund further research and development that reduces the labor content in agriculture.

Along with the Homeland Security benefits of halting illegal immigration, we could see an increase in good ole' fashion American ingenuity that would lessen our dependency on cheap labor. Our future would see more innovations like trunk shaker machines, robotic fruit pickerssheep shearing robotssatellite controlled harvesters and flexible agricultural automation.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Collection of Essays and Posts on Same-Sex Marriage

Limited government libertarians should utilize logic-based (not emotion/authority-based) arguments when considering expanding a state's role with regard to recognizing and partnering (yes...partnering because legal marriage is a tri-party agreement between spouses and the state/community) with same-sex (or polygamous) marriages:

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Federal Judge Shelby's Ruling on Utah Gay Marriage in Conflict with United States v. Windsor

Federal Judge Robert Shelby on December 20, 2013 ruled that Utah's law on same sex marriage violates the U.S. Constitution (see: NYT: Federal Judge Rules That Same-Sex Marriage Is Legal in Utah):
...The court holds that Utah’s prohibition on same-sex marriage conflicts with the United States Constitution’s guarantees of equal protection and due process under the law..
This ruling is in direct conflict with the following assertion by the U.S. Supreme Court in the recently settled  United States v. Windsor (emphasis added):
..(b) By seeking to injure the very class New York seeks to protect, DOMA violates basic due process and equal protection principles applicable to the Federal Government. The Constitution’s guarantee of equality “must at the very least mean that a bare congressional desire to harm a politically unpopular group cannot” justify disparate treatment of that group. Department of Agriculture v. Moreno, 413 U.S. 528, 534–535. DOMA cannot survive under these principles. Its unusual deviation from the tradition of recognizing and accepting state definitions of marriage operates to deprive same-sex couples of the benefits and responsibilities that come with federal recognition of their marriages...
Clearly the Supreme Court will now have to settle the conflict.  Either states have their own

  • "definitions of marriage" agreed on by that state's citizens or 
  • " prohibition on same-sex marriage conflicts with the United States Constitution’s guarantees of equal protection and due process under the law"

Monday, December 23, 2013

Information Asymmetry: Parallels in the Ridicule of the KKK and Obamacare's Pajama Boy

The very popular book Freakonomics dedicates Chapter 2 to information asymmetry.  The explanation of this dynamic in economics won Joseph Stiglitz the Nobel Prize.

The authors document how  ridicule is used as a counter-measure to the KKK's information asymmetry (emphasis added):
This chapter deals with how Real Estate agents and the Ku Klux Klan are similar. It goes on to say that they are our keepers of information and the information asymmetry causes them to have the power over people. The comparison comes to the fact that both parties have important information and are withholding that information. The two can also be said to have information that is dealing with Fear. Ku Klux Klan breeds fear through violence with its secret society while real estate agents deal with the fears of selling your house (largest financial transaction for most) for too little money or not selling it all.

The author starts out by giving a slight history of the Klan and how getting the information of the Klan out in the open led to its downfall. One man Stetson Kennedy and “John Brown” infiltrate KKK meetings and gather their secret information. They then take it and ridicule it on a national radio program, “The Adventures of Superman”.  Now that their secret information was disseminated it brought with it the dissolution of the KKK’s power. After this the Klan became unpopular and looses many members...
Ridicule, as an art form, is at its highest in Victor Davis Hanson's Pajama Boy Nation (HT: Instapunditand hopefully Obamacare will suffer the same fate as the KKK:
...Somehow we as a nation went from the iconic Marlboro Man to Pajama Boy — from the noble individual with a bad habit to the ignoble without a good habit — without a blink in between.

There are lots of revolting things in the Pajama Boy ad. After all, how can you top all at once a nerdy-looking child-man dressed in infantile pajamas while cradling a cup of hot chocolate with the smug assurance that he is running your life more than you his?

The Liberal Body-Snatchers


Still, there are one or two even scarier thoughts.

One, did the Obama appendage, Organizing for Action, really believe that such a sad-sack image might galvanize anyone about anything?  And two, did they really think that Pajama Boy would resonate with any young people outside of the New York-DC circus, as if to assume he would be persuasive: stay cool with retro geek glasses, pajamas, and hot chocolate like Pajama Boy, and then, presto, rush out to buy an Obamacare policy?

Out here in the rural middle of California — or most anywhere 30 miles inland from the coasts — Pajama Boy would last about two seconds pruning vines, or walking about the local Wal-Mart parking lot with his hot chocolate. Yet put him where his foot-padded pajamas bring dividends and for the last five years we all have lived out the consequences of his ilk’s ideological dreaming...
Related:  Social Commentary Through Juxtaposition

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Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Emperor Has No Malo

The Wall Street Journal's editorial, Obama Repeals Obamacareconjures the title of the post; an appropriate double entendre for the 'home of the malo'-bound-vacationing president.

From the editorial:
...What an incredible political turnabout. Mr. Obama and HHS used to insist that the new plans are better and less expensive after subsidies than the old "substandard" insurance. Now they're conceding that at least some people should be free to choose less costly plans if they prefer—or no plan—and ObamaCare's all-you-can-eat benefits rules aren't necessary for quality health coverage after all...

WSJ: NSA's Business Model Is Questioned

In How Game Theory and the Immune System Can Inform Us on the NSA Public/Private Phone Record Debate the argument was made that:
...The NSA's mission to provide intelligence for our national defense/'immune' system is made more complex by burdening it with the restrictions of 'privacy'.  Contrary to the chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence's arguments, we can allocate resources to service providers to keep customer information private (relative to the government) behind a barrier; yet readily accessible (à la NexisLexis-style business-to-business access) when authorized by the FISA Court.  Like the immune system's Blood-Brain-Barrier, some costs are worth paying for the benefits when developing an optimal defense strategy that has to take into account competing interests.
The Wall Street Journal is now reporting that implementing this strategy was already tested and proven in 1999 with a program called ThinThread.  What's more, it turned out to be "too cheap" to implement (emphasis added):
...The current NSA model relies largely on amassing as much data as it can obtain and trying to sort through it all later.

In its place, the presidentially appointed review panel suggested a drastic and fundamental change..."Software that would allow...intelligence agencies more easily to conduct targeted information acquisition rather than bulk-data collection."

The panel proposed a feasibility study. but form NSA officials say such a transition is certainly doable. "That's exactly what we did," says form NSA official Ed Loomis. "It's not only feasible--the government threw away the software that did it."...

...ThinThread was also handicapped because it was too cheap. With a $3 million price tag, the program couldn't compete with a $4 billion program called Trailblazer that was backed by major contractors...

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Calling 'BullShit' on Speaker John Boehner: "...I'm as conservative as anyone around this place..."


Yeah...right. That's why Boehner voted in 2004 for the HR 4818 Omnibus bill.


Heritage.org at that time described it as follows:

Another Pork-Laden Omnibus Spending Bill
By Brian M. Riedl and Keith Miller

As runaway spending pushes the cost of government over $20,000 per household and the federal budget deficit past $400 billion, Congress continues to pile an endless supply of special interest projects onto the backs of weary taxpayers.[1] With the recently-passed fiscal 2005 omnibus spending bill (H.R. 4818), Congress is expected the break its own record-set in last year's budget-for pork projects, with new grants for such items as therapeutic horseback riding and a school mariachi music curriculum. This performance is simply embarrassing and highlights the need for reform of Congress's obviously broken budget process.[2] 

Historically, Congress funded grant programs and then asked federal agencies, governors, and mayors to award the grants competitively to the most capable applicants. But over the past few years, Congress has increasingly bypassed these agencies, governors, and mayors and selected grant recipients on its own. Thus, the Franco-American Heritage Center and the Greater Syracuse Sports Hall of Fame have been chosen by Congress this year to receive earmarks, the legislative term for pork projects. No longer do grant seekers simply submit persuasive grant proposals to unbiased agencies. Now, they must master the Washington influence game and hire lobbyists to win federal funds.[3] 

Predictably, an entire lobbying industry has emerged to secure pork projects for those willing to pay for their services. Organizations and local governments seeking federal money can choose between dozens of powerful lobbying firms who effectively trade campaign contributions for earmarks.[4] 

Auctioning pork projects to the highest bidder reduces the number of merit-based grants distributed by federal agencies, governors, and mayors. These shortages, in turn, induce Congress to expand merit-based programs-and then earmark those new funds as well. Consequently, the number of pork projects skyrocketed from under 2,000 six years ago to 10,656 in the 2004 budget. Total spending on pork projects has correspondingly increased to over $23 billion...[5]

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Yes Malala Yousafza, Culture May Indeed Affect How We Think

Ms. Malala Yousafza is developing a deep reservoir of pathos and ethos for her brave and defiant response to the attack on her beliefs.

While condemning those that would stop Malala on her quest to educate herself, we must not accept this young and yet to be educated mind's arguments on education itself as the 'be-all-end-all'.

In her interview with ABC News, Malala asserts that there is no difference between a doctor or engineer from the East or West; implying that culture doesn't influence the understanding/thinking processes of the fundamentals for those that pursue those careers.  On its surface, this seems like an admirable pronouncement that  'we are all the same' when it comes to training our minds in educational pursuits regardless of the culture that one is raised in.

Hopefully, by the time Ms. Yousafza's education is complete she will be exposed to ground-breaking research that is revealing just the opposite.  That revelation will be in the true-spirit of the education she seeks.  Note that the differences detailed below are not an argument for one perception being better that the other. The differences are simply that; each with strengths and weaknesses when looked at from an evolutionary psychology perspective.

From: 'Does Culture Effect Brain Function? SBU Joint Imaging Study Suggests Cultural Influences Play a Role In Neural Activation':
STONY BROOK, N.Y., January 18, 2008 – People from East Asian cultures use their brains differently than people from American culture when solving the same mental task based on simple visual perception. This finding is based on the results of a brain imaging study by researchers from Stony Brook University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Stanford University. The finding shows for the first time that the culture one is raised in and the extent to which one identifies with that culture influences brain activity patterns. The study appeared in the January issue of Psychological Science in a research report titled “Cultural Influences on Neural Substrates of Attentional Control.”

Co-investigator Arthur Aron, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology at Stony Brook University, and colleagues developed the study from established cultural concepts in psychological research. More specifically, American culture values the individual, and therefore emphasizes the independence of objects from their context, compared with East Asian cultures, which emphasize the collective and interdependence of objects based on context.

The researchers tested the brain patterns of 10 East Asians recently arrived in the United States and 10 Americans during a mental task. Each participant made quick perceptual judgments related to the task while in a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner. The participants’ responses to the task tested their perception of the independence or interdependence of objects as the fMRI measured the neural basis of their responses.

The task involved participants viewing a series of diagrams, each consisting of a vertical line inside a box. Participants decided whether each square-and-line combination in a series matched the one before it, using one of two rules. One rule required them to ignore the context and match the absolute line lengths ignoring the size of the squares. The other rule required them to take the context into account and match the proportions of the lines to their squares. Participants from both cultures were scanned while making judgments using both types of rules. The primary question was whether the pattern of brain activity would differ when making judgments using the two kinds of rules.

“Our major finding was that the frontal-parietal brain region known to be engaged during attention-demanding tasks was more activated for East Asians when making judgments ignoring context but was more activated for Americans when making judgments when they had to take context into account,” says Dr. Aron. “The finding illustrates that each group engaged this attention system more strongly during a task more difficult for them because it is not generally supported by their cultural context.”

The researchers point out in their report that the findings show how experience in and identification with a cultural context may shape brain responses associated with the basic process of attentional control. The fMRI result illustrates how cultural differences in the preferred and encouraged judgment style in the task powerfully influences brain function, completely reversing the relation between task and activation across a widespread brain network.

Another important finding was that the degree of this culture-specific brain-activation pattern was greatest for individuals who most strongly identified with their particular culture. To gauge cultural references, the researchers had participants answer a separate questionnaire on social and cultural identities.

Dr. Aron notes that ultimately the study findings complement those of behavioral studies and provide important and novel neurobiological insights into cultural differences.

Dr. Aron’s colleagues include Trey Hedden, Ph.D., lead author of the report and a research scientist from Stanford University and MIT; Sarah Ketay, Ph.D., Stony Brook University; Hazel Rose Markus, Ph.D., Stanford University; and John D.E. Gabrieli, Ph.D., of MIT.

The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health and supported by the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT.

Greece v. Galloway and a Fernando Wood in the making: Senate Chaplain Barry Black

On Sunday, both ABC News This Week and Fox News Sunday fawningly profiled Senate Chaplain Barry Black in their programs for his castigation of the Senate during the government shutdown; inserting himself in the public policy debate.  (Update 10/16/2013: Senate chaplain: 'God's purposes will prevail')

The Sunday programs that cover public policy could not see the irony in uncritically covering an un-elected individual's use of his religious authority against elected officials in the Senate the same week that the Supreme Court will start dealing with prayer in government meetings in Greece v. Galloway.

Lest one think that Mr. Black's 'Charlton-Heston-like-holding-of-the-tablets-deep-voiced-just-grow-up-and-act-like-adults' condemnation is harmless, consider the historical evidence of an elected official's use of the authority he perceived he had in making a public policy argument.

From the post 'Prayer at Local Government Meetings: A Bad Idea':

The recent highly acclaimed movie 'Lincoln' has a historical conflict dramatized with the Copperhead and New York Democrat Congressman Fernando Wood making the following argument against the 13th Amendment President Lincoln was spearheading:

"Congress must never declare equal those whom God as created unequal."


Congressman Wood was also quoted using the following argument:

"The Almighty has fixed the distinction of the races; the Almighty has made the black man inferior, and, sir, by no legislation, by no military power, can you wipe out this distinction.

Our history is replete with individuals that have used the authority they felt their interpretation of religious doctrine gave them to implement public policy. 

Thousands of years ago, Aristotle noted that there are three basic forms of argument: Pathos, Ethos and Logos; or arguing from emotion, authority and logic.  Starting a public meeting with an invocation gives the religious doctrine referred to in the prayer the imprimatur/authority that it will be used in the public policy debates/discussions held within the meeting. 

Some may counter that many public deliberative bodies in the U.S. hold similar historical practices; including both bodies of Congress.  Though one can appreciate the role customs have in public meetings, that would be an argument using emotion and authority instead of logic to justify the practice. 


Freedom has to be protected by a governing process that is itself protected from the Fernando Woods of the world; individuals that would use the authority of the 'Word of God' to justify their actions.  The tragedies our nation suffered during 9/11  and the young school girl, Malala Yousufzai, shot in Pakistan recently because she advocated educating girls should remind us that Congressman Wood, metaphorically, lives on.

A modern-day, extreme example of the use of ethos (authority) some feel emboldened with when they interpret religious doctrine:   Sentenced to death for a sip of water: As her religion faces persecution across the Middle East, a Christian woman explains why she faces hanging in Pakistan for the crime of ‘blasphemy’

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Tuesday, October 08, 2013

MUST! MUST! MUST! C-TV: Senate Committee Looks at Social Security Disability Fraud

It is rare in our nation's history to see documented in sworn testimony in a Senate hearing witnesses literally admitting to unethical (and possibly criminal) behavior. That is what you will see in the following C-SPAN video.

There may be a huge political fight going on in Washington over the budget and Obamacare, but bi-partisanship broke-out between Democrats and Republicans as they tore into the individuals testifying on Senator Tom Coburn's investigation into Social Security Disability Fraud.

Related: CBS 60 Minutes covered the issue this past Sunday, but the C-SPAN video will blow away anything that's covered by that report:



Also, NPR had an investigation: Unfit for Work

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Can only 50,000 Simultaneous Users on Healthcare.gov Take Down Obamacare?

The title of this post is inspired by David Freelander's recent article 'Can Internet Trolls Take Down Obamacare?'

Freelander's efforts to find Healthcare.gov's Achilles' heel would have been better served by looking at the USA Today article 'Obama adviser: Demand overwhelmed HealthCare.gov' (emphasis added):
...U.S. Chief Technology Officer Todd Park said the government expected HealthCare.gov to draw 50,000 to 60,000 simultaneous users, but instead it has drawn as many as 250,000 at a time since it launched Oct. 1...
So there is no need for Freelander's "trolls" to bring Obamacare to its knees; just slightly more than 50,000 to 60,000 simultaneous users. Future historians may find that Mr. Park not implementing "Best Practices for High Volume Web Sites" along with bad economic/social policy was the reason for Obamacare's downfall.

Update: And when applicants do get through, it appears that a stunning number of them are providing incomplete information to process the application: 99% of Obamacare applications hit a wall.  Maybe the administration will soon be begging for a 1 year delay.

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Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Must C TV: The Curious Mr. Beale

Update (12/20/2013):  From a devastating Wall Street Journal Editorial: John Beale's EPA (emphasis added):
...Beale's attorney John Kern says his client "has come to recognize that, beyond the motive of greed, his theft and deception were animated by a highly self-destructive and dysfunctional need to engage in excessively reckless, risky behavior." Mr. Kern adds that Beale was motivated "to manipulate those around him through the fabrication of grandiose narratives" because of "his insecurities."
Are we now supposed to believe that in contrast to his other lies, the work Beale chose to perform at EPA is the product of careful and honest analysis? What Congress needs to examine is whether the policies that the head of EPA says were shaped to a large degree by Beale were also based on fraud. Oh, and what Gina McCarthy [the EPA Administrator] knew or suspected, and why she so admired a fraudster.
C-SPAN has posted Tuesday's hearing into the investigation of the former high ranking EPA official, John Beale, that pleaded guilty to fraud; including cheating the government out of almost $1 million.

The details of this case, like the Mr. Beale's claim that he was working for the CIA at the same time he was working for the EPA, are unbelievable and more appropriate for a farce than a real-life inspector general investigation.

There probably will be add on investigations into Mr. Robert Brenner, a former EPA colleague of Mr. Beale, that testified to suspicious dealings as well in the case.

 

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

HealthCare.fail

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Sunday, September 01, 2013

Lest We Forget: Beslan's 9th Anniversary

As 9/11 comes upon us, we should also remember that the town of Beslan suffered an inhumane tragedy as well just 9 years ago.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Rare and Insightful Analysis on Health Care in the United States

A must read for out-of-the-box thinking and analysis on the United Stated health care system is the Columbia Management's report to investors 'Squirrel Chatter II' article from the June 30, 2013 Semi-Annual Report (page 8):
Health Care in the United States

Critics of the U.S. health care system note that the World Health Organization (WHO) ranked the United States thirtieth in the world in life expectancy despite the fact that the United States spends more money per capita on health care than any other country. They argue that health care in the United States is inferior to health care in many other developed countries.

Scott W. Atlas’s book, In Excellent Health, Setting the Record Straight on America’s Health Care, analyzes the consequences of poor lifestyle choices made by many Americans and how the U.S. health care system operates compared to health care systems elsewhere. His book cites numerous studies indicating the U.S. health care system does a great job addressing the health concerns of Americans and is likely the best system in the world.

Life Expectancy

The United States is much more violent and accidentprone than other developed countries. Homicide rates in the United States are ten times that of the United Kingdom and five times that of Canada. Death rates from transportation accidents in the United States are 250% that of the United Kingdom and 160% that of Canada. Murder and accidents account for the majority of deaths among young adults in the United States, and deaths at young ages substantially impact life expectancies.

Robert Ohsfeldt’s and John Schneider’s book, The Business of Health, attempts to quantify the impact of fatal injuries on life expectancy. Using linear regression, they calculate that after standardizing for fatal injuries alone, the United States would edge out Switzerland by 0.3 years and have the highest life expectancy of any country in the world.

Other studies indicate that violence and accidents account for much, but not all, of the life expectancy shortfall in the United States. A National Academy of Sciences panel addressing cross-national health differences issued a paper that indicated 57% of the life expectancy gap for males under age 50 and 38% for females under 50 is explained by higher violence and accidents in the United States...

...Atlas states that the, “… only real crisis in America’s health care today is the unsustainable and increasing burden of health care costs…” and recommends free market reforms. Health care costs are not the topic of this essay, but world-class health care clearly is expensive, and costs in the United States are exacerbated by detrimental lifestyle choices. I also believe that poor government policies result in few incentives for cost restraint...

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Tea Party-like movement in the Philippines

Sunday, August 11, 2013

"Real Reporter" George Stephanopolous doesn't Correct Senator Menendez's Claim that U.S. has not "had an attack on American soil since September 11th"

Just a few days after Senator Feinstein proposed an amendment to a journalist shield law that would make the law only apply to journalists she described as “real reporters”, real reporter George Stephannopolous left unchallenged the assertion by New Jersey Senator Menendez that the U.S. has not "had an attack on american soil since SEPTEMBER 11th".

Menendez made this claim as a justification for the NSA data collection programs that are being debated (emphasis added):
..When we have our sources and methods known by our enemies, we undermine the national security of the United States. I would say it's easy since we have not, thank god, had an attack on American soil since September 11th, to minimize the threat, but it's real. And the terrorists only have to get lucky once...




Amazing! It was just four short months ago that the whole city of Boston was shut down from a terrorist attack and "real reporter" George Stephanopolous couldn't remind the Senator of this fact?

Life within Us

Complexity is an emergent property of all systems.  It arises when energy and matter are ordered against the universal tendency to dis-order; or entropy.

This dynamic was artfully explored by physicist Brian Cox in the very thoughtful BBC series Wonders of Life.  Cox used Erwin Schrödinger book What is Life as the basis for his entertaining and educating musings.

In introductory biology classes, students are taught that 'Life' is found along a spectrum of complexity.  From:


In 1996, Stephen J. Gould argued that bacteria should be considered the most successful life systems evolution has produced so far.  More recently, scientists like Bonnie Bassler are researching the mind-boggling, complex, competitive and symbiotic dynamics bacteria participate in.  We're now learning that our bodies are hosts to (or human cells are tolerated by) 2,000 species of bacteria whose cells outnumber the body's own by a 10-1 ratio in both competitive and symbiotic relationships.

However,
  • if one uses the same argument in The Thoughtful Universe of distilling a dynamic to its essence;
  • and consistent with Brian Cox's and Schrödinger's arguments that the organization of energy and matter in 'complex' structures going against the entropy grain distinguishes/identifies 'Life';
there is as dynamic found in the Universe that is richly complex, involves matter, energy and could be thought of as the ultimate symbiotic relationship.   

As you read this, trillions of particles in your body are popping in and out of existence via the process of quantum particle dynamics.  Is there another dynamic in the Universe that involves energy, matter and can be argued to be more complex than that?:

Friday, August 09, 2013

Prayer at Local Government Meetings: A Bad Idea

The Obama Administration is supporting prayer at local meetings in briefs made to the Supreme Court this week.

This is wrong and a bad idea.  Here's why:

The recent highly acclaimed movie 'Lincoln' has a historical conflict dramatized with the Copperhead and New York Democrat Congressman Fernando Wood making the following argument against the 13th Amendment President Lincoln was spearheading:

"Congress must never declare equal those whom God as created unequal."


Congressman Wood was also quoted using the following argument:

"The Almighty has fixed the distinction of the races; the Almighty has made the black man inferior, and, sir, by no legislation, by no military power, can you wipe out this distinction.

Our history is replete with individuals that have used the authority they felt their interpretation of religious doctrine gave them to implement public policy. 

Thousands of years ago, Aristotle noted that there are three basic forms of argument: Pathos, Ethos and Logos; or arguing from emotion, authority and logic.  Starting a public meeting with an invocation gives the religious doctrine referred to in the prayer the imprimatur/authority that it will be used in the public policy debates/discussions held within the meeting. 

Some may counter that many public deliberative bodies in the U.S. hold similar historical practices; including both bodies of Congress.  Though one can appreciate the role customs have in public meetings, that would be an argument using emotion and authority instead of logic to justify the practice. 


Freedom has to be protected by a governing process that is itself protected from the Fernando Woods of the world; individuals that would use the authority of the 'Word of God' to justify their actions.  The tragedies our nation suffered during 9/11  and the young school girl, Malala Yousufzai, shot in Pakistan recently because she advocated educating girls should remind us that Congressman Wood, metaphorically, lives on.

Update (08/27/2013): A modern-day, extreme example of the use of ethos (authority) some feel emboldened with when they interpret religious doctrine:  
Sentenced to death for a sip of water: As her religion faces persecution across the Middle East, a Christian woman explains why she faces hanging in Pakistan for the crime of ‘blasphemy’

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

O! the Hypocrisy: American Citizens' Privacy


Reuters is reporting that the DEA is using information gathered by the NSA for investigations:
Reuters has uncovered previously unreported details about a separate program, run by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, that extends well beyond intelligence gathering. Its use, legal experts say, raises fundamental questions about whether the government is concealing information used to investigate and help build criminal cases against American citizens.

The DEA program is run by a secretive unit called the Special Operations Division, or SOD. Here is how NSA efforts exposed by Snowden differ from the activities of the SOD:...

...The SOD forwards tips gleaned from NSA intercepts, wiretaps by foreign governments, court-approved domestic wiretaps and a database called DICE to federal agents and local law enforcement officers...
Here's what then Senator Obama said in 2007 in a speech at the Woodrow Wilson Center:

This Administration also puts forward a false choice between the liberties we cherish and the security we demand. I will provide our intelligence and law enforcement agencies with the tools they need to track and take out the terrorists without undermining our Constitution and our freedom.

That means no more illegal wire-tapping of American citizens. No more national security letters to spy on citizens who are not suspected of a crime. No more tracking citizens who do nothing more than protest a misguided war. No more ignoring the law when it is inconvenient. That is not who we are. And it is not what is necessary to defeat the terrorists. The FISA court works. The separation of powers works. Our Constitution works. We will again set an example for the world that the law is not subject to the whims of stubborn rulers, and that justice is not arbitrary.

This Administration acts like violating civil liberties is the way to enhance our security. It is not. There are no short-cuts to protecting America....

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Monday, August 05, 2013

Libertarianism is not Anarchism!

George Will on ThisWeek ( via transcript, emphasis added):
...WILL: Well, actually there is a rising libertarian stream that Chris Christie has said is a very dangerous thought. So let's be clear about what libertarianism is and what it isn't.

It is not anarchism. It has a role for government. But what libertarianism says, it comes in many flavors and many degrees of severity, it basically says before the government bridges the freedom of an individual or the freedom of several individuals contracting together, that government ought to have, A, a compelling reason and, B, a constitutional warrant for doing so.

Now if Mr. Christie thinks that's a dangerous thought, a number of people are going to say Mr. Christie himself may be dangerous...
Video:

 
Libertarians in general adopt Adam Smith's economic philosophy:
It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

It's a Matter of Scale

In 1977,  The documentary Powers of Ten described the Universe through the lens of scale:



Until physicists develop a  theory of everything  we utilize the lenses of quantum field theory and general relativity to make sense of dynamics at the very small and very large scales.

Human dynamics is often looked/analyzed  through the lenses that reveal patterns at different scales.  Consider the disciplines of micro/macro-economics and individual/group psychology.

Our politics would benefit from an appreciation that scale matters.  Michael Shermer's book 'The Science of Good and Evil: Why People Cheat, Gossip, Care, Share, and Follow the Golden Rule' uses the lenses of anthropology, psychology and evolution to make the case that "everything is the way it is because it got that way". 

One of the primary insights of the analysis Shermer makes is that many human dynamics were forged by evolution over hundreds of thousands of years in small, tribal settings.  We as humans have only been socializing in large coalitions (towns, cities, states, countries) for a relatively short time compared to our long history as a species.

When you hear a politician making pathos (arguing from emotional) and ethos (arguing from authority) arguments for social policy, keep in mind that our adaptive skills for compassion evolved in small group settings where the complimentary skills of shame counter-acted freeloading behaviors.  

Charity has a diminishing return as it scaled up beyond the ability of charitable individuals' to discern that their altruism is not being abused.  Food for thought in the age of PigfordObama phones (update) and food stamp fraud.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Now That's Punny!

Via the New York Post's reporting on the New York City's mayoral race (emphasis added):
Anthony Weiner’s already limp mayoral campaign suffered another huge blow yesterday, when his campaign manager reportedly abandoned the sinking ship.

Danny Kedem quit as Weiner’s campaign point man following a disastrous week on the trail, the New York Times reported this morning.

With Kedem out of the already shrunken campaign staff, the longshot City Hall bid appeared to be floundering.

A campaign spokeswoman would not confirm or deny the report.

Weiner stood firm despite his travails yesterday, spending much of the day in his apartment shooting a campaign ad...
And via twitter:
Anthony Weiner's campaign manager quits after realizing he's Anthony Weiner's campaign manager.

NY POST Investigation Into Food Stamp Fraud

Friday, July 26, 2013

Can Anyone in Washington Do Simple Math?: New Homeland Security Facility Will Cost 17 Times More Than Washington D.C.'s Average Commercial Real Estate

BusinessWeek is reporting that the Homeland Security Department will be spending $4.5 billion on a new headquarters; that's up form the $3.9 billion the facility would cost in their initial report in April of this year.

From the April news story, we learn that the headquarters will be 4.5 million square feet.  That works out to over $866 per square foot.

$866 per square foot is more than 17 times the cost of the average real estate in Washington, D.C. which was $48 per square foot in 2010 according to this INC Magazine article.

No one is minding the store.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Gay Couple Attempts to Force Ohio to Recognize Their Out-of-State Marriage

As predicted  when the Supreme Court ruled on DOMA, Ohio is now being forced to recognize a marriage of two males conducted in Maryland by a federal judge:
CINCINNATI - A federal judge granted two Cincinnati men who married in Maryland last week a temporary injunction, which means the state of Ohio must recognize their marriage until further hearings can be held.

The judge's decision marks the first time in the state's history a same-sex marriage is recognized.

Jim Obergfell made the case Monday in federal court as to why he believed the state law that does not recognize his marriage should be struck down. With his lawyer at his side, Obergfell told Judge Timothy Black his husband and the man he has been with for more than 20 years is dying...

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Detroit's Bankruptcy: Re-post of 'A Strait of our Tomorrow?'

Re-post of  the December 22, 2009 post 'A Strait of our Tomorrow?' in light of Detroit filing for bankruptcy:

In French, the word détroit translates to strait in English. Détroit was used to describe the geography of a navigation passage between Lakes Huron and Erie. Eventually, Detroit was used for the name of the city founded on the banks of the Detroit River.

Looking at the following report from Steve Crowder will leave you wondering if the City of Detroit is a strait to our country's tomorrow.



Related: From the Detroit Free Press: Driving Detroit: 1 City. 2,100 streets. 2,700 miles. What we saw. The videos, pictures and stories reinforce Steve Crowder's findings as does this excellent map highlighting areas that are 'Well-maintained', 'New construction', 'Mixed', 'Much abandonment' and 'Prairie'.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Illinois Senator Dick Durbin Should be 'Politically Bitch Slapped' for Messing with the First Amendment

From James Taranto's 'Is this Column Legitimate?' (emphasis added):
Uh-oh, Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, best known for likening American servicemen to Nazis, is looking to limit your First Amendment rights, if not ours. "Everyone, regardless of the mode of expression, has a constitutionally protected right to free speech," he writes. So far so good. "But when it comes to freedom of the press, I believe we must define a journalist and the constitutional and statutory protections those journalists should receive."...
As a thought experiment, can you see Thomas Paine (writer of 'Common Sense') petitioning King George for journalistic credentials in 1776?

Update:

  • Sen. Dick Durbin: It’s time to say who’s a real reporter
  • Law professor Glenn Reynolds: Who’s a journalist?: Don’t let Uncle Sam decide (emphasis added):
  • ...And Durbin is a constitutional ignoramus if he thinks that when the Framers talked about freedom of the press, they were talking about freedom for the press as an institution.

    Journalism is indeed an activity, not a profession, and though we often refer to institutionalized media as “the press,” we should remember that James Madison talked about freedom of the press as “freedom in the use of the press” — that is, the freedom to publish, not simply freedom for media organizations.

    In Madison’s day, of course, the distinction wasn’t as significant as it became later, when newspaper publishing became an industrial activity. It was easy to be a pamphleteer in Madison’s time, and there was real influence in being such...

    The ability to publish inexpensively, and to reach potentially millions of people in seconds, has made it possible for people who’d never be able to — or even want to — be hired by the institutional press to nonetheless publish and influence the world, much like 18th century pamphleteers...

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Supreme Court Recognizes States' Right to Define Marriage and Issues not Resolved by United States v. Windsor

The Supreme Court ruled that states have a right to define marriage and the federal government application of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) violates the Equal Protection guaranteed by the Constitution (emphasis added):
...(b) By seeking to injure the very class New York seeks to protect, DOMA violates basic due process and equal protection principles applicable to the Federal Government. The Constitution’s guarantee of equality “must at the very least mean that a bare congressional desire to harm a politically unpopular group cannot” justify disparate treatment of that group. Department of Agriculture v. Moreno, 413 U.S. 528, 534–535. DOMA cannot survive under these principles. Its unusual deviation from the tradition of recognizing and accepting state definitions of marriage operates to deprive same-sex couples of the benefits and responsibilities that come with federal recognition of their marriages...
Issues that arise from this ruling acknowledging "state definitions of marriage" and left unresolved include (partial list...will be updated):
  • If a state does not recognize same-sex marriages, does its courts have to extend judicial spousal privilege to a same-sex couple from another state?   
  • Will same-sex couples seeking divorce have to go to a state that recognizes same-sex marriage if they live in a state that doesn't?
  • Do same-sex married couples living in a state that doesn't recognize their marriage file two types of tax returns; married federal, individual state/local?
  • Are same-sex married couples not eligible for state retirement benefits available to opposite-sex married couples in a state that doesn't recognize the marriage?
  • 07/22/2013: Gay Couple Attempts to Force Ohio to Recognize Their Marriage
  • 07/29/2013: Spousal Privilege: Kentucky same-sex case to be landmark

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Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Who's minding the store?: 23,994 Refunds Totaling $46,378,040 Issued to One Address

Next time you see a Senator or Congressman at a town-hall try to make the case for raising taxes point them to this IRS Inspector General report and have them justify this waste (page 18):
  • Address: #1 Address Located in Atlanta, Georgia
  • Total Number of Tax Refund Issued: 23,994
  • Total Tax Refund Amount: $46,378,040
From the summary on page 1:
...The complaints alleged that IRS management is not  concerned with addressing questionable applications and is interested only in the volume of applications that can be processed, regardless of whether they are fraudulent.

The audit found that the ITIN application review  and verification process is so deficient that there is no assurance that ITINs are not being assigned to individuals submitting questionable applications.  Because of lax documentation requirements to obtain an ITIN, tax fraud can go  undetected.  Management also eliminated successful processes used to identify questionable ITIN application fraud patterns and schemes...