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Saturday, June 29, 2013

Wi-Vi

MIT News reports on a new surveillance technology, dubbed "Wi-Vi":

Researchers have long attempted to build a device capable of seeing people through walls. However, previous efforts to develop such a system have involved the use of expensive and bulky radar technology that uses a part of the electromagnetic spectrum only available to the military.


Now a system being developed by Dina Katabi, a professor in MIT’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, and her graduate student Fadel Adib, could give all of us the ability to spot people in different rooms using low-cost Wi-Fi technology. “We wanted to create a device that is low-power, portable and simple enough for anyone to use, to give people the ability to see through walls and closed doors,” Katabi says.
The system, called “Wi-Vi,” is based on a concept similar to radar and sonar imaging. But in contrast to radar and sonar, it transmits a low-power Wi-Fi signal and uses its reflections to track moving humans. It can do so even if the humans are in closed rooms or hiding behind a wall.


As a Wi-Fi signal is transmitted at a wall, a portion of the signal penetrates through it, reflecting off any humans on the other side. However, only a tiny fraction of the signal makes it through to the other room, with the rest being reflected by the wall, or by other objects. “So we had to come up with a technology that could cancel out all these other reflections, and keep only those from the moving human body,” Katabi says.

NSA Spied on European Union

Der Spiegel reports:

Information obtained by SPIEGEL shows that America's National Security Agency (NSA) not only conducted online surveillance of European citizens, but also appears to have specifically targeted buildings housing European Union institutions. The information appears in secret documents obtained by whistleblower Edward Snowden that SPIEGEL has in part seen. A "top secret" 2010 document describes how the secret service attacked the EU's diplomatic representation in Washington.


The document suggests that in addition to installing bugs in the building in downtown Washington, DC, the EU representation's computer network was also infiltrated. In this way, the Americans were able to access discussions in EU rooms as well as emails and internal documents on computers.

The attacks on EU institutions show yet another level in the broad scope of the NSA's spying activities. For weeks now, new details about Prism and other surveillance programs have been emerging that had been compiled by whistleblower Snowden. Details have also emerged that the British intelligence service GCHQ operates a similar program under the name Tempora with which global telephone and Internet connections are monitored.



The documents SPIEGEL has seen indicate that the EU representation to the United Nations was attacked in a manner similar to the way surveillance was conducted against its offices in Washington. An NSU document dated September 2010 explicitly names the Europeans as a "location target"



The documents also indicate the US intelligence service was responsible for an electronic eavesdropping operation in Brussels. A little over five years ago, EU security experts noticed several telephone calls that were apparently targeting the remote maintenance system in the Justus Lipsius Building where the EU Council of Ministers and the European Council is located. The calls were made to numbers that were very close to the one used for the remote administration of the building's telephone system.



Security officials managed to track the calls to NATO headquarters in the Brussels suburb of Evere. A precise analysis showed that the attacks on the telecommunications system had originated from a building complex separated from the rest of the NATO headquarters that is used by NSA experts.
Read the whole thing. It would be interesting to know how far up this goes. This type of spying crosses the line from national security into national policy, and the NSA shouldn't be making policy. That is the job of the American people acting through their elected representatives and, to a lesser extent, the President.

After DOMA, Now What?

The Supreme Court has struck down Bill Clinton's signature legislation to protect heterosexual marriage, the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibited the federal government from giving perks and goodies to homosexuals that marry. Homosexuals are pleased because it advances their agenda. Obama and leading democrats are pleased because it distracts from all the scandals. Libertarians are pleased because they think government should not be involved in marriage.

The decision (together with the Zimmerman murder trial) have certainly proven a godsend to Mr. Obama, who is suffering through a lavish vacation to Africa. However, as Andrew Klavan explains, homosexuals are being played for the fool:
Still, I can’t help but feel that the real story, the big story, is that gay people, like black Americans before them, are being played for fools by what Andrew Breitbart used to call the Democrat-media complex. Surely, the all-Supreme-Court headlines should really read something like, “GDP shrinks to nothing due to the fact that government is overspending on entitlements while simultaneously spying on American citizens and abusing the power of taxation to suppress political speech at the same time the administration is mishandling world events so that the United States has become an impotent laughing stock whose ambassadors can be murdered at will while tyrants thrive… oh, and by the way, the Supreme Court ruled… something that will make very little difference to the overall state of the nation.”


Instead — so help me this is true — the New York Times ran a story on the dwindling GDP as if it was a good thing — because the stock market rose when investors decided the Fed wouldn’t stop printing fake money to pump into the economy after all, because the economy still stinks so… whew, that was close! The Huffington Post said the crummy GDP was due to — wait for it — government austerity! Have the folks at HuffPo lost the capacity to blush? As for the IRS and Benghazi scandals — if you’re watching network news, there is, almost literally, nothing to see here. And you can pretty well bet the network news directors will make sure that the next few days will be all gay marriage all the time.

My point is that we are in the grips of a truly corrupt, abusive, incompetent, and philosophically unAmerican administration. If it were led by a white Republican, the media would be disassembling it brick by brick — and rightly so. But it is run by a black Democrat, so instead, reporters are lying, covering up, and shouting “Squirrel!” to distract us whenever the truth starts to emerge.
I understand how emotionally satisfying it must be to win court cases like this — I do. But gay Americans (who, after all, live in the same republic, the same economy, and the same world as straight Americans) ought to get hip to the fact that this time, they’re the squirrel.
Stephen Green thinks that government should be out of the marriage business entirely. He writes:
[M]arriage shouldn’t come with any tax, health, or government pension benefits. It simply isn’t the government’s business to lavish things on people for being married.
Perhaps ... and perhaps with no fault divorce the government crippled the marriage institution so much that it should stop meddling with it any further. But monogamous heterosexual marriage is extremely important to a healthy society, so it behooves the government to protect and nurture it.

David Goldman recently observed:
Whether we think it expedient or not, there is ultimately no compromise with the so-called sexual revolution, because it eventually will kill us: if we fail to subordinate sexual passion to family life, we will join the demographic death-spiral that likely will reduce Europe’s population by nearly half, from today’s 767 million to just 395 million at the end of this century, with nearly half of the survivors over the age of 60. There is no risk in not putting up a fight. I elaborated this argument in my 2011 book How Civilizations Die and in reviews of recent books by the Catholic writers Mary Eberstadt and Robert P George.
 A reader pointed me to this article on "Monogamy and the Uniqueness of European Civilization." The article is intended as an argument against polygamy (whose supporters, correctly, see acceptance of gay marriage as opening the door to other marriage relationships, including polygamy). However, it is also relevant to the gay marriage argument. The author notes:

[M]onogamy has had socially beneficial effects for Europe. I have argued that monogamy is part of a suite of traits underlying Western individualism, including the nuclear family, exogamy and a de-emphasis on the extended kinship group. (An archeological excavation of a 4600-year old site in modern Germany found evidence for monogamy and exogamy, both strong markers of individualism; PNAS 104[47] [2008], 18226-18231; the article notes that such findings do not imply the universality of monogamy and exogamy, and indeed, I have it on good authority that graves in Middle Eastern sites indicate extended families; Abraham and his wives as depicted in Genesis would be an example). Monogamy appears to have been essential for Western modernization because it resulted in a low-pressure demographic profile necessary for the accumulation of capital (see here, p. 43): When economic times are poor, there are large numbers of unmarried men and women, whereas in a polygynous society like traditional China, poor economic times simply lowered the price of concubines for wealthy males; all females mated, so there was constant pressure on resources, and strong selective pressure in favor of successful males (see also below). 

Monogamy implies a leveling of reproductive opportunities, so that even wealthy males must confine their mating to a single wife and relatively poor males have the opportunity to mate. On the other hand, polygyny leads to a low-investment style of parenting in which all females mate and males tend to pursue additional mates (i.e., mating effort) rather than putting a large investment in the children of one woman (see here, p. 18).
 The article also notes research showing:

[N]ormative monogamy reduces crime rates, including rape, murder, assault, robbery and fraud, as well as decreasing personal abuses. By assuaging the competition for younger brides, normative monogamy decreases (i) the spousal age gap, (ii) fertility, and (iii) gender inequality. By shifting male efforts from seeking wives to paternal investment, normative monogamy increases savings, child investment and economic productivity. By increasing the relatedness within households, normative monogamy reduces intra-household conflict, leading to lower rates of child neglect, abuse, accidental death and homicide.
Whether a nation expressly adopts polygamy, the destruction of the institution of marriage will create a polygamous type of culture, where women increasingly compete for fewer men, resulting in a handful of men essentially enjoying harems (which was the object of the sexual revolution), and many other men left without positive marriage outcomes. Looking at communities where marriage has broken down, we do, in fact, see increased crime rates including rape, murder, assault and robbery. Thus, as marriage continues to be eroded throughout society as a whole, we will gradually see the downward trend in crime reverse.

Friday, June 28, 2013

3 Worlds in the Habitable Zone of a 3 Star System

From Space.com:
An international team of scientists found a record-breaking three potentially habitable planets around the star Gliese 667C, a star 22 light-years from Earth that is orbited by at least six planets, and possibly as many as seven, researchers said. The three planet contenders for alien life are in the star's "habitable zone" — the temperature region around the star where liquid water could exist. Gliese 667C is part of a three-star system, so the planets could see three suns in their daytime skies.

Incentives Work

The Daily Mail reports:
Encryption is increasingly messing with government surveillance efforts, U.S. officials admitted Friday.
Government authorities fulfilling legal wiretap orders encountered more encryption blockage in 2012 than prior years, the officials with the U.S. Administrative Office of the Courts also stated. 
 I'm sure it will skyrocket in the next few years. And what are they going to do about quantum networks?

Some Research on Firearms and Crime

If this study had supported greater gun, it would have been splashed all over the media. Slate, of all places, reports on a government study which reaches conclusions supporting many of the arguments gun owners have been making for years:
1. "The United States has an indisputable gun violence problem," according to the article. Although, I would note that overall violent crimes rates in the United States are actually lower than most other countries with significant gun control, including Britain.
2. Crime rates are falling, overall. 
3. We have 300 million firearms, but only 100 million are handguns.
4.  “Handguns are used in more than 87 percent of violent crimes,” the report notes.  
5. Mass shootings are rare. “The number of public mass shootings of the type that occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School accounted for a very small fraction of all firearm-related deaths.” “Since 1983 there have been 78 events in which 4 or more individuals were killed by a single perpetrator in 1 day in the United States, resulting in 547 victims and 476 injured persons.” However, the article indicates that there were 335,000 gun deaths between 2000 and 2010. 
6. "Gun suicide is a bigger killer than gun homicide." Again, however, I would note that Australia's gun ban, while successful in reducing suicide by gun, had no impact in the total number of suicides--people just found a different method of killing themselves. 
7.  “Almost all national survey estimates indicate that defensive gun uses by victims are at least as common as offensive uses by criminals, with estimates of annual uses ranging from about 500,000 to more than 3 million per year … in the context of about 300,000 violent crimes involving firearms in 2008.”  
8. Drug dealers carry firearms for self-defense against thieves and competitors; common citizens feel safer owning firearms.  
9. Denying access to guns to people under restraining orders saves lives.  
10. Sales of firearms to criminals can't be blamed on criminal intent of gun dealers. 

"The Simulacrum of Self-Government"

Mark Steyn peels back the curtain on just one day of Washington, and points out:

As I say, just another day in the life of the republic: a corrupt bureaucracy dispensing federal gravy to favored clients; a pseudo-legislature passing bills unread by the people’s representatives and uncomprehended by the men who claim to have written them; and a co-regency of jurists torturing an 18th-century document in order to justify what other countries are at least honest enough to recognize as an unprecedented novelty. Whether or not, per Scalia, we should “condemn” the United States Constitution, it might be time to put the poor wee thing out of its misery.
Somewhere, rule of the people, by the people, and for the people, got replaced by an overweening concern for the rights (or desires) of a few. Anyway, read the whole thing.

(H/t Instapundit).

Even More Government Surveillance

The Center for Investigative Reporting informs us that California is using license plate readers to photograph and record data about people's cars, which information is then loaded into a database that can be accessed by local, state and federal law enforcement.

At a rapid pace, and mostly hidden from the public, police agencies throughout California have been collecting millions of records on drivers and feeding them to intelligence fusion centers operated by local, state and federal law enforcement.


With heightened concern over secret intelligence operations at the National Security Agency, the localized effort to track drivers highlights the extent to which the government has committed to collecting large amounts of data on people who have done nothing wrong.


A year ago, the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center – one of dozens of law enforcement intelligence-sharing centers set up after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 – signed a $340,000 agreement with the Silicon Valley firm Palantir to construct a database of license-plate records flowing in from police using the devices across 14 counties, documents and interviews show.

The extent of the center’s data collection has never been revealed. Neither has the involvement of Palantir, a Silicon Valley firm with extensive ties to the Pentagon and intelligence agencies. The CIA’s venture capital fund, In-Q-Tel, has invested $2 million in the firm.
The jurisdictions supplying license-plate data to the intelligence center stretch from Monterey County to the Oregon border. According to contract documents, the database will be capable of handling at least 100 million records and be accessible to local and state law enforcement across the region.


Law enforcement agencies throughout Northern California will be able to access the data, as will state and federal authorities.
In the Bay Area, at least 32 government agencies use license-plate readers. The city of Piedmont decided to install them along the border with Oakland, and the Marin County enclave of Tiburon placed plate scanners and cameras on two roads leading into and out of town.


Law enforcement agencies throughout the region also have adopted the technology. Police in Daly City, Milpitas and San Francisco have signed agreements to provide data from plate readers to the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center. A Piedmont document indicates that city is also participating, along with Oakland, Walnut Creek, Alameda and the California Highway Patrol.


Katz-Lacabe, who was featured in a Wall Street Journal story last year, said he believes the records of his movements are too revealing for someone who has done nothing wrong. With the technology, he said, “you can tell who your friends are, who you hang out with, where you go to church, whether you’ve been to a political meeting.”
 The license plate readers are also being mounted on patrol cars, so they can monitor your license plates even in your driveway.

The scary part is that since we are creatures of habit, we develop patterns in our travels. This system would allow police to easily spot vehicles that venture out of normal routine. In fact, it could be programmed to automatically log vehicles that deviate from a certain routine, or track the movements of a given vehicle. I agree with Glenn Reynolds that this system will probably be used more often to stalk spouses or girlfriends/boyfriends than actual, legitimate law enforcement purposes.

Moving on, Judicial Watch reports that "it has obtained records from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) revealing that the agency has spent millions of dollars for the warrantless collection and analysis of Americans’ financial transactions. The documents also reveal that CFPB contractors may be required to share the information with 'additional government entities.'"

So, if you travel to a Tea Party activity, or donate to a Tea Party group, don't be surprised if the IRS audits you.

"Cracker" Is A Racial Slur

From Mediate:

As #CrackerGate seemingly came to a close during today’s edition of the George Zimmerman murder trial, star witness Rachel Jeantel told the defense lawyer during cross-examination that it is the norm within her local community to call white people “crackers.”
The derogatory term for white people had become a focus of the Zimmerman defense team after Jeantel told the court on Wednesday that the late Trayvon Martin had referred to the defendant as a “creepy-ass cracker” shortly before his own death.
I think "cracker" is an extremely offensive term, rising to the level of hate speech, where even a single use of the term can create a hostile racial environment.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Obama At The Door of No Return

President Barack Obama has spent the afternoon touring a Senegalese island where Africans were shipped across the Atlantic into slavery and he called the visit a 'very powerful moment.'

Obama says visiting Goree Island Thursday with his family helps them fully appreciate the magnitude of the slave trade. They toured the museum at the Maison des Esclaves where slaves were gathered before going through the 'Door of No Return' and being forced onto ships bound for North America.
Obama also said that, as an African American and an African-American president, the trip gaves him even greater motivation to stand up for human rights around the world, and the visit came just hours after he clashed with his Senegalese hosts over gay rights.

He said the island is a reminder of what happens when civil rights are not protected.
Perhaps he can later visit the airport from where his father flew to America.

I can't believe that the Black community buys into Obama's attempts to paint himself as one of them. His ancestors weren't American slaves. In fact, it is more likely that they assisted in capturing and selling slaves into the Middle-Eastern slave markets or other tribes. But it is typical Obama--making hay from the tragedy of others.

Drug War Failure--Meth

The whole reason why we can't buy Sudafed over-the-counter, even though it is an over-the-counter drug, was to reduce the production of methamphetamine. I figured at the time it was B.S.--a drug manufacturer is not going to the local Walgreens to buy a few boxes of pseudoephedrine. Nonetheless, state after state passed laws requiring you to go the pharmacist and present identification in order to buy a box of Sudafed, but still restricting the amount you can buy.

Well, it is clear that this has worked out as well as the rest of the so-called drug war. From Catholic Online:

Worldwide seizures of methamphetamine grew by 73 percent. From 51 tons in 2010 to 88 tons in 2011. All of the seizures were reported by the U.S. and Mexico according to the report.

The report also states:
 
The highest methamphetamine seizures were reported by Mexico, where seizures more than doubled, from 13 tons to 31 tons [i.e. the most in the world], and surpassed for the first time those of the United States which seized 23 tons in 2011, up from 15 tons in 2010.

Most methamphetamine laboratories continue to be reported by the United States, where their numbers quadrupled from 2,754 in 2010 to 11,116 in 2011.
* * *
The drug is addictive, dangerous, and deadly, and it remains cheap as the Mexican cartels pump industrial quantities into the United States, made to about 90 percent purity in massive chemical laboratories along the Pacific coast.
Worse yet, according to the article,  the Sinaloa cartel is the primary manufacturer and smuggler of these drugs into the U.S. (See also here). The Sinaloa cartel is alleged to have ties to the U.S. government, and was the beneficiary of the "gun walker" program. Interestingly, opium production in Afghanistan seems to have done very well under Obama's watch.

Heroin use is also increasing.

So, since the restrictions on Sudafed are not working, can we get rid of them?


Eating Their Own

The Washington Post reports that the Justice Department has advised Retired Gen. James E. “Hoss” Cartwright that he is the target of investigation on a leak concerning the Stuxnet virus. Cartwright served as deputy chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff  under Obama. The stuxnet computer virus was discovered and decoded by anti-virus software researchers.

I can't tell if this is part of Obama's penchant for neutering retired senior generals, or legitimate. We may never know.

Humans Evolved to Throw Things

From Nature:

Sporting feats such as baseball's 100-mile-per-hour fastball are made possible by a suite of anatomical features that appeared in our hominin ancestors about 2 million years ago, a video study of college athletes suggests.
And this ability to throw projectiles may have been crucial for human hunting, which in turn may have had a vital role in our evolution.
“Throwing projectiles probably enabled our ancestors to effectively and safely kill big game,” says Neil Roach, a biological anthropologist at George Washington University in Washington DC, who led the work. Eating more calorie-rich meat and fat would have helped early hominins' brains and bodies to grow, enabling our ancestors to expand into new regions of the world, he suggests. The study is published today in Nature.
Although some primates occasionally throw objects, and with a fair degree of accuracy, only humans can routinely hurl projectiles with both speed and accuracy, says Roach.
Adult male chimpanzees can throw objects at speeds of around 30 kilometres per hour, but even a 12-year-old human can pitch a baseball three times faster than that, he notes. In fact, the quickest motion that the human body produces — rotation of the humerus, the long bone in the upper arm, at a rate that is briefly equivalent to 25 full rotations in a single second — occurs while a person is throwing a projectile.
Roach and his colleagues found that human power and precision in throwing are down to adaptations mostly related to the shoulder.
Read the whole thing. More here.

Liberal Policies Have Consequences--the Breakup of the American Family

NBC News interviewed Judith Levine, who argues that poor women have lost trust in institutions and men, and that this distrust is just another form of inequality. That may be so, but it is "inequality" that is a result of these women's life choices, not imposed on them by law. In any event, I found the following statement to be interesting:

You also talk about how boyfriends and romantic partners are part of this vicious cycle.
Some low-income men are trying to do well by the women in their lives. But many women told stories of boyfriends who were violent or, in less extreme cases, were not supportive of women’s attempts to make it in the workforce, boyfriends who would promise to watch children and then would get drunk, or not show up at the last minute, which caused women to lose their jobs. Due to all these experiences, women were very hesitant to want to get married. And so they go it alone, for the most part, and they don’t have two incomes and a household, they don’t have help managing the strain of balancing work and motherhood in low-wage jobs.
What Levine is really saying is that the pool of good men has dried up. Levine comments hints that she would absolve these women from responsibility for this outcome, but their situation was the result of a series of bad life choices, each compounding the prior. They have a hard row to hoe ahead of them.

The issue of the drying of the pool of good men is complicated. I will bluntly suggest that a lot of these women probably have no interest in "good men" that would be willing to settle down with them, but that is another issue. Rather, it is the declining incentives of being a father--a topic which I have raised before. So, another article on this issue from the Christian Post (h/t Instapundit)--"From Father Knows Best to Father Doesn't Matter."

In America, roughly 39,000 suicides take place each year – 30,000 of which are committed by men. Ironically, most suicide literature will usually have a woman depicted on front with little attention paid to the mental health and wellness of men. ...

The number of American males valuing marriage is plummeting. According to Dr. Helen Smith, author of Men on Strike, approximately one-third of American men do not value marriage. Even college-degreed men, whom usually marry at a rate of over 80%, are beginning to no longer value marriage even as the number of women valuing marriage is skyrocketing. When men get married, research is proving that their connections and support groups dwindle – thus isolating them socially and emotionally. This is evident with the popular "man cave" as it is representative of how society and families now treat men. In prior decades, the man was "king of the castle" and adored for his hard work and sage advice. Today, men have become the butt of family jokes as they get the worst parts of the house where they have to carve out a nook to get a little relief and control. And, should a divorce happen, men following the Christian ideals of family life usually get hurt the most financially, emotionally, and with the loss of their own children.

Socially, men are looked down upon more than at any other time in history. Men are seen more as criminals than social pillars. ...

Verily, the greatest impact on men boycotting society has involved the future well-being of our nation's children. It is well known that fatherless children are more likely to grow up impoverished and victims of neglect, abuse, and sexual molestation at significantly higher rates. However, the true impact of fatherless homes isn't understood until the data is reviewed in greater detail.

The U.S. Department of Health notes that 63% of youth suicides come from fatherless homes – five times the normal average. The Center for Disease Control notes that 85% of all children who have mental or behavioral disorders come from fatherless homes – 20 times the normal average. The Journal of Family and Culture once noted an over 100% increase in juvenile self-identification as "homosexual" once a father leaves the home. Pediatrics journal noted in 2011 that homosexual teens are five times more likely to commit suicide than heterosexual teens. Fatherless teenage girls are 711% more likely to have children as a teen, 53% more likely to marry as a teen, and 92% more likely to get divorced. Over 50% of women in prison came from fatherless homes. Over two-thirds of teens in chemical dependence programs come from fatherless homes. And, according to the National Principals Association, some 71% of high school drop-outs come from fatherless homes.
 Read the whole thing.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Ancient Egyptian Statue Turning By Itself

The Daily Mail reports on a small (10 inch high) Egyptian statute in a glass case at a British Museum. Curators are puzzled because the turning only began recently, but conditions at the museum have not been changed. Also, the statute only turns a maximum of 180 degrees, and only in a circle.

I would guess pranks or some vibration causing it to rotate. An omen would be more interesting, though.

Buying Palm Oil Hurts the Environment?

I was glancing through this article on air pollution in Singapore, apparently at critical levels now because of widespread forest fires in Sumatra, when I saw this: " Initial investigation shows that palm oil companies from Indonesia, Malaysian and Singapore are behind the fires."

The Immigration Bill Incentives Hiring Illegals Over Citizens


Just look at the tortuous way the bill deals with immigrants’ access to the Affordable Care Act. The bill denies health insurance coverage to the eleven million undocumented workers, who will become “registered provisional immigrants” (RPIs), and to over 100,000 guest agricultural workers (who will get “blue cards” rather than “green cards”). Only after immigrants become permanent residents, which in the case of the eleven million undocumented will take a minimum of ten years and as long as 15 years, will they become eligible for Obamacare.

This is obviously bad health policy. Low-skilled immigrants who work in physically strenuous and polluted settings will be denied preventive coverage and treatment for chronic diseases, and if they acquire serious illnesses—tuberculosis, cirrhosis of the liver, and several cancers are common among immigrant farm workers—they will have to go to sequester-squeezed emergency rooms.

But it’s also bad economics. It creates an incentive for employers to hire the new immigrants over citizens or green-card holders and to provide neither with health insurance. Under the Affordable Care Act, employers with fewer than 50 workers do not have to buy health insurance for their employees, but businesses with 50 or more workers—which employ about three-quarters of American workers—either have to provide insurance or pay a fine for those workers who buy insurance through the exchanges the act creates. The fine is ordinarily $2,000 but can run as high as $3,000.Businesses with 50 or more employees that choose to pay a fine rather than provide insurance will not have to pay fines for the RPIs or blue-card holders because they are not eligible for the exchanges. So employers will be able to save from $2,000 to $3,000 a year by hiring a new immigrant over an American citizen. For salaries that hover between $15,000 and $25,000, as they do in many immigrant-heavy industries, that’s no small savings....
 See also this article from Investors Business Daily.

Where Was the Tea Party?

... asks Peggy Noonan.

One of the great questions about the 2012 campaign has been “Where was the tea party?” They were not the fierce force they’d been in the 2010 cycle, when Republicans took back the House. Some of us think the answer to the question is: “Targeted by the IRS, buried under paperwork and unable to raise money.”

The economist Stan Veuger, on the American Enterprise Institute‘s blog, takes the question a step further.

The Democrats had been badly shaken by the Republican comeback of 2010. They feared a repeat in 2012 that would lose them the White House.

Might targeting the tea-party groups—diverting them, keeping them from forming and operating—seem a shrewd campaign strategy in the years between 2010 and 2012? Sure. Underhanded and illegal, but potentially effective.

Veuger writes: “It is a well-known fact that the Tea Party movement dealt the president his famous “shellacking” in the 2010 midterm election. Less well-known is the actual number of votes this new movement delivered—and the continuing effects these votes could have had in 2012 had the movement not been demobilized by the IRS.”

The research paper Veurger and his colleagues have put out notes that, in Veuger’s words, “the Tea Party movement’s huge success [in 2010] was not the result of a few days of work by an elected official or two, but involved activists all over the country who spent the year and a half leading up to the midterm elections volunteering, organizing, donating, and rallying. Much of these grassroots activities were centered around 501(c)4s, which according to our research were an important component of the Tea Party movement and its rise.”

More: “The bottom line is that the Tea Party movement, when properly activated, can generate a huge number of votes—more votes in 2010, in fact, than the vote advantage Obama held over Romney in 2012. The data show that had the Tea Party groups continued to grow at the pace seen in 2009 and 2010, and had their effect on the 2012 vote been similar to that seen in 2010, they would have brought the Republican Party as many as 5-8.5 million votes compared to Obama’s victory margin of 5 million.”
 With that in mind, it is important to ignore the media spin on the story in order to protect Obama.

Acting IRS commissioner Danny Werfel on Monday told reporters that the now-infamous “Be On The Lookout” list was far broader than was originally disclosed in the Treasury Department inspector general’s report. Reports from outlets including the Associated Press, which I cited in my original report, and now Bloomberg News, confirmed Werfel’s account, indicating that various versions of the list not only included terms like “tea party,” but also “progressive,” “Occupy,” and “Israel.”

A November 2010 version of the list obtained by National Review Online, however, suggests that while the list did contain the word “progressive,” screeners were in fact instructed to treat “progressive” groups differently from “tea party” groups. Whereas screeners were merely alerted that a designation of 501(c)(3) status “may not be appropriate” for applications containing the word ”progressive” – 501(c)(3) organizations are prohibited from conducting any political activities – they were told to send those of tea-party groups off IRS higher-ups for further scrutiny.

That means the applications of progressive groups could be approved on the spot by line agents, while those of tea-party groups could not. Furthermore, the November 2010 list noted that tea-party cases were “currently being coordinated with EOT,” which stands for Exempt Organizations Technical, a group of tax lawyers in Washington, D.C. Those of progressive groups were not.
 While the Democrats falsely accused Bush of "stealing" the election from Gore, it is becoming increasingly clear that Obama did, in fact, steal the election of 2012.

U.S. Surveillance Not Suited to Catch Terrorists

Yesterday, I cited to an article by Angelo M. Codevilla on the NSA scandal. Although I had not emphasized this point yesterday, one of Codevilla's criticisms of the NSA programs was that it, in fact, was useless against a sophisticated terrorist:
In fact, the expansion of the US government’s capacity to intrude on innocent communications happened just as technology enabled competent persons who intend to hide their communications to do so without fail. This means that the US government’s vast apparatus is almost completely useless against serious terrorists or criminals, and useful primarily to do whatever the government might choose to innocent persons.

In sum: Ever since the 1970s, the art of code-making has surpassed the art of code-breaking – period. Hence, on the high end, anyone can purchase voice and internet communications software that are beyond the capacity of anyone to access without an electronic key. On the low end, anyone with a few hundred dollars can buy dozens of pre paid cell phones, each to be used to make or receive a single call and then be thrown away. NSA’s million square-foot facility in Utah, and all the antennas and computers in the world, are useless against that.
Bloomberg News has an article reaching a similar conclusion--that the NSA program cannot usefully be employed against terrorists, but only against citizens.

The infrastructure set up by the National Security Agency, however, may only be good for gathering information on the stupidest, lowest-ranking of terrorists. The Prism surveillance program focuses on access to the servers of America’s largest Internet companies, which support such popular services as Skype, Gmail and iCloud. These are not the services that truly dangerous elements typically use.

In a January 2012 report titled “Jihadism on the Web: A Breeding Ground for Jihad in the Modern Age,” the Dutch General Intelligence and Security Service drew a convincing picture of an Islamist Web underground centered around “core forums.” These websites are part of the Deep Web, or Undernet, the multitude of online resources not indexed by commonly used search engines.

* * *

“People who radicalise under the influence of jihadist websites often go through a number of stages,” the Dutch report said. “Their virtual activities increasingly shift to the invisible Web, their security awareness increases and their activities become more conspiratorial.” 

Radicals who initially stand out on the “surface” Web quickly meet people, online or offline, who drag them deeper into the Web underground. ...

* * *

Communication on the core forums is often encrypted. In 2012, a French court found nuclear physicist Adlene Hicheur guilty of, among other things, conspiring to commit an act of terror for distributing and using software called Asrar al-Mujahideen, or Mujahideen Secrets. The program employed various cutting-edge encryption methods, including variable stealth ciphers and RSA 2,048-bit keys.

* * *

Even complete access to these servers brings U.S. authorities no closer to the core forums. These must be infiltrated by more traditional intelligence means, such as using agents posing as jihadists or by informants within terrorist organizations.

Similarly, monitoring phone calls is hardly the way to catch terrorists. They’re generally not dumb enough to use Verizon. Granted, Russia’s special services managed to kill Chechen separatist leader Dzhokhar Dudayev with a missile that homed in on his satellite-phone signal. That was in 1996. Modern-day terrorists are generally more aware of the available technology.

At best, the recent revelations concerning Prism and telephone surveillance might deter potential recruits to terrorist causes from using the most visible parts of the Internet. Beyond that, the government’s efforts are much more dangerous to civil liberties than they are to al-Qaeda and other organizations like it.
 So, it is ineffective at catching terrorists, but really effective at mapping political dissent.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Prosthesis Could Help Memory

Fox News article about a brain implant that helps the brain transfer information from short term memory to long term memory. It has been successfully tested in rats, and found to assist both those with problems with short term memory and those with normal short term memory.

Why the NSA Snooping?

There has been quite a bit of backlash against the NSA's unprecedented data collection on American citizens. Unfortunately, there is little hope that Congress will reign in the NSA because its activities have the full support of the political and corporate elite--the ruling class. In fact, we have seen a rare "circling the wagons" from both sides of the aisle in Congress, as well as major figures in the media.

Angelo M. Codevilla writes about the ruling class consensus on domestic spying. After summarizing and debunking the arguments in favor of the domestic surveillance program, including its inability to actually obtain useful information from communications between sophisticated users, he writes:

The fundamental reason [the government engages in such spying] however is the US government’s reluctance to make and stand behind judgments about who, specifically, may be legitimate targets of investigation. If collection is universal, the collectors don’t have to explain to others (or even to themselves) why they are targeting this person or group and not another. Possessing the data in secret, they can then decide in secret who they are really interested in. That flight from responsibility is also why, in 1978, the intelligence agencies pressed Congress to pass the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), under which the agencies submit their requests for detailed targeting, in secret, to a court that decides ex parte and in secret.
* * *

It is not speculation to expect that these powers will be used for what they are indeed useful. To recapitulate: “Constant Informant” can find patterns of communication between people who are not trying to mask them, while PRISM makes everyone’s cyber activity accessible. This allows the US government to pick and choose and build cases for any reason against any person on whom it has such data. From Obama to Rove, our ruling class denies any intention of doing that. They cite the fact that focusing all that data onto on individuals is subject to approval by the FISA court.

But that court acts not just in secret, but ex parte – hearing only one side. FISA was intended to be a rubber stamp, and has been one. To anyone’s knowledge, it has never turned down any of the government’s thousands of applications. It will continue to be a rubber stamp because there are no judicial criteria for what is and is not a legitimate national security concern.

The relevant question about the uses of the NSA programs, then, is simply “against whom, in the broad American public, is the US government likely to turn its animus? Alas, the ruling class has shown itself all too able to treat domestic opponents as public enemies. But that is another story.
 Yes. That, currently, is the story of the IRS and EPA targeting conservatives and other non-politically correct groups.

However, there are entrenched bureaucratic and commercial  interests supporting internet surveillance and cyberwarfare, as explained in great detail in this article from Wired Magazine entitled "The Secret War." It is a lengthy article (in fact, I have not had the opportunity to read the whole thing) but provides insights into the domain controlled by General Keith Alexander, director of the National Security Agency; chief of the Central Security Service; and commander of the US Cyber Command.

A Cautionary Tale for the Boy Scouts

Fox News reports that the Girl Scouts, despite becoming more inclusive, have suffered a significant decline in membership in recent years, resulting in budget problems, and a corresponding decline in volunteers. There are also internal divisions on the course of Girl Scouts and funding of pensions. From the article:

Since 2003, the Girl Scouts have undergone what they describe as a "complete transformation" aimed at making their programs and image more relevant to a diverse population of girls and parents. Changes have affected uniforms, handbooks, merit badges, program materials, even the logo and the fine print on the boxes of Girl Scout cookies.

"Our brand, as iconic as it is, was misunderstood — it was dated," Chavez said in an interview in her Manhattan office Friday.

Yet today the Girl Scouts have about 2.2 million youth members, down from more than 2.8 million in 2003. Donations to the national office and local councils plunged to $104 million in 2011 from nearly $148 million in 2007.
* * *

However, the changes have not stemmed the membership decline. GSUSA Treasurer Joan Wagnon reported in March that revenue from membership dues was down 3.8 percent over the past year and nationwide cookie sales for 2012-13 were down about 4.5 percent.

The national headquarters' operating budget relies heavily on efforts of the local councils, notably the $12 annual dues paid by individual Girl Scouts plus revenue from sales of uniforms and merchandise. The dues are scheduled to rise to $15 later this year.

The Girl Scouts note that many youth organizations have been losing members, for reasons including competition from youth sports leagues and a perception by some families that they are old-fashioned. The Boy Scouts of America's youth membership declined from 3.3 million in 2002 to about 2.6 million last year.

During that period, the Boy Scouts — who have no formal ties with the Girl Scouts — have been entangled in controversy over membership policies that excluded gays and atheists. The GSUSA provided a contrast with inclusive membership policies, although it suffered some defections from families who felt it had become too liberal.

Some adult Girl Scout members say the recent program changes have gone overboard in de-emphasizing traditional outdoor activities and replacing them with curricula that replicates schoolwork.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

GM Wheat Discovery Threatens U.S. Exports

The Guardian reports on the finding of genetically modified wheat apparently growing "wild" in a farmer's field in Oregon.
The stakes are high for America's wheat exports, with Japan and South Korea cancelling shipments; for Monsanto, which faces lawsuits from farmers for falling wheat prices and a consumer backlash against GM products; and for the US government, which must shore up confidence in the safety and integrity of the food supply.
Although Monsanto claims to have destroyed all its GM wheat it had tested, and that this incident is sabotage,  the article notes one researcher believing sabotage is unlikely. The article also notes other incidents of GM crops by Monsanto spreading from test fields to other locations. The wheat in this case was discovered by a farmer who sprayed a field with Roundup, to find certain grasses survived. Fearing a new resistant weed, he had the grass tested. The GM wheat was modified to be resistant to Roundup.

Why is Global Warming Stagnating


SPIEGEL: Just since the turn of the millennium, humanity has emitted another 400 billion metric tons of CO2 into the atmosphere, yet temperatures haven't risen in nearly 15 years. What can explain this?
Storch: So far, no one has been able to provide a compelling answer to why climate change seems to be taking a break. We're facing a puzzle. Recent CO2 emissions have actually risen even more steeply than we feared. As a result, according to most climate models, we should have seen temperatures rise by around 0.25 degrees Celsius (0.45 degrees Fahrenheit) over the past 10 years. That hasn't happened. In fact, the increase over the last 15 years was just 0.06 degrees Celsius (0.11 degrees Fahrenheit) -- a value very close to zero. This is a serious scientific problem that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will have to confront when it presents its next Assessment Report late next year.


SPIEGEL: Do the computer models with which physicists simulate the future climate ever show the sort of long standstill in temperature change that we're observing right now?

Storch: Yes, but only extremely rarely. At my institute, we analyzed how often such a 15-year stagnation in global warming occurred in the simulations. The answer was: in under 2 percent of all the times we ran the simulation. In other words, over 98 percent of forecasts show CO2 emissions as high as we have had in recent years leading to more of a temperature increase.

SPIEGEL: How long will it still be possible to reconcile such a pause in global warming with established climate forecasts?

Storch: If things continue as they have been, in five years, at the latest, we will need to acknowledge that something is fundamentally wrong with our climate models. A 20-year pause in global warming does not occur in a single modeled scenario. But even today, we are finding it very difficult to reconcile actual temperature trends with our expectations.
Storch goes on to state two possibilities for incorrect climate models: (1) global warming gases (including CO2) have less of an impact than believed, or (2) climate scientists have underestimated the impact of natural causes of climate change. He also notes that too many climate researchers have approached the issue as "preachers," rather than scientists, and that the science is never settled. Read the whole thing.

Update on Comet ISON

I haven't seen much in the main-stream media on Comet ISON lately, but EarthSky recently published an article (June 13) providing an update, and includes an April 13 photo from the Hubble telescope. The article notes that, assuming ISON survives its brush with the Sun in November, it will be brightest in November, but so close to the Sun that it will probably not be observable without using special equipment. December should be the best month for seeing ISON.

Twinkies Make a Comeback

From the Daily Mail:
Hostess is betting on a sweet comeback for Twinkies when they return to shelves next month. 
The company that went bankrupt after an acrimonious fight with its unionized workers last year is back up and running under new owners and a leaner structure. It says it plans to have Twinkies and other snack cakes back on shelves starting July 15. 
Based on the outpouring of nostalgia sparked by its demise, Hostess is expecting a blockbuster return next month for Twinkies and other sugary treats, such as CupCakes and Donettes. The company says the cakes will taste the same but that the boxes will now bare the tag line 'The Sweetest Comeback In The History Of Ever'.
After Hostess disappeared, our local grocery store began stocking Little Debby brand products as a substitute. Their version of the Twinkie is called a "cloud cake," and I actually like it better. We buy these as treats for our kids, and they also seem to like them better than the Hostess.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Friday, June 21, 2013

Why Liberals Kill

Selwyn Duke writes at the American Thinker about the moral ambivalence that allows liberals from the French Revolution, the Nazis, the Soviets, Maoists, and so on, to so willingly engage in killing their fellow humans. Duke writes:

This brings us to a truth about the modern left. Generally speaking, like all relativistic people, liberals don't have principles.
They have feelings.
And feelings change with the wind.
Of course, some have learned the hard way - mostly through debating liberals, only to find they're virtually immune to reason - that the left isn't intellect-oriented but emotion-oriented. But the question is, why do liberals deify their own feelings?
The short answer is that they have little else to deify.
* * *

I've long pointed out that the most basic difference between the people we today call liberals and traditionalists isn't the apparent ideological divide. It is that the latter tend to believe in Moral Truth whereas liberals are almost universally moral relativists.

This is nothing less than an issue of operating in two completely different universes of reality. When you believe in Truth, morality is something objectively real to you, like matter itself. And most significantly, you view it as what it is: unchanging. This means that your yardstick for morality is the same whether convenient or inconvenient, whether you're out of power - or in power. It is unbending and non-negotiable. Oh, this doesn't mean absolutists can't betray their principles; man is weak and we all falter. But in the aggregate, it serves as a "controlling power upon will and appetite," to quote Edmund Burke, and thus mitigates man's do-what-thou-wilt default.

But what happens when a person doesn't believe in Truth? What then will be his yardstick for behavior? Well, if what we call right and wrong isn't determined by anything above man, then man himself is its author. But will it ultimately be a function of his intellect? Consider that the intellect's job is to use reason, a quality that the relativistic left ostensibly values. What is reason, however? It's not an answer, but a method by which answers may be found. But there can be no answers to moral questions if there's no Truth; hence, there then is no reason for reason.

This is why following relativism out leads us to a striking conclusion: Since we can't say that anything is objectively right or wrong, better or worse, the only yardstick we have left for behavior is feelings. Truth is a tale, faith is fancy, but emotion is certainly real. We can feel it - deeply. And, oh, how seductive is that siren of anger, envy or any passion? Just think how readily emotion inspires action.
 Read the whole thing.

Mission Creep

Reuters reports that the NYPD will be shifting surveillance resources from terrorism to fighting everyday crime. This type of mission creep tells me that the threat of terrorism has been grossly overblown, and used as an excuse by local law enforcement to buy lots of cool toys. And they will be used as toys.

The Why of My "Why Only Police Should Have Firearms" Series

The purpose of my series is not necessarily to make cops look bad. My purpose is to combat the meme common among pro-crime groups that various forms of gun control should be implemented, including limiting firearms to the police and military, because, according to them, only an "expert" can safely own, carry, and operate a firearm--and pretty much only the police and military qualify as "experts". (Even a lot of gun owners with police or military backgrounds seem to believe this). Related to this is that only certain types of people (police, etc.) can be trusted to not misuse a firearm.

The reality is that the police are no better at firearm safety and misuse than the typical non-police gun owner. They are humans and subject to the same foibles and mistakes as any other person. Like the general public, some are good, some are bad, and some are indifferent in their lives, their standards, and their jobs.

There is nothing magical or mysterious about firearms and responsible firearm use. Most anyone can safely use a firearm. The key factors are whether he or she is responsible, serious and considerate (i.e., aware of others' safety and needs) when handling a firearm. The pro-crime meme that only "experts" can be trusted with a firearm is a lie.

Record Low Number of Men in Workforce

Story here. Probably because the recession has hit traditional men's jobs (construction, manufacturing) harder than women's jobs. And the stimulus money was spent on women's jobs.

People Turning to DuckDuckGo Search Engine

CNBC reports that the popularity of DuckDuckGo is increasing in the wake of the NSA surveillance scandal. DuckDuckGo's claim to fame is that it does not store any personal data (unless you want it to).

The Meaning Map of America


Not all that it seems: It looks like a normal map, but once you start reading, it becomes clear that the 'Atlas of True Names' is not at all conventional

The Daily Mail reports on a "meaning map" which gives the English language meaning of place names. Additional photos, including close up images of different sections of the country, at the link.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Why Only the Police Should Have Firearms--Detective Leaves Loaded Gun in Public Restroom

Yesterday, it was reported that in Tampa, Fla., a 9 year old boy had found a loaded Glock handgun in a restroom stall at movie theater. (Warning: video automatically starts). The boy's father secured the weapon and turned it into police.
Police now have the gun and are searching for its owner.

But even if the owner had a permit and left it by mistake, the person could still face charges.

"We believe that this would meet the standard of willful and wanton disregard for the safety of others, to leave a loaded weapon where a child -- and in this case a 9-year-old found the gun -- that certainly put others at risk and we're just thankful that a very responsible abiding law abiding citizen found the gun and did the right thing," said Tampa Police Spokesperson Laura McElroy.
Except that the owner was a sheriff's detective.

About 90 minutes after a 9-year-old boy found a loaded handgun in a movie theater bathroom Sunday, sheriff's Detective Luke Hussey realized he was missing his Glock.

Hussey, 38, who has been with the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office for 13 years, was off duty that day. He had gone to Muvico Centro Ybor 20, according to the Sheriff's Office, about 3 p.m. and stopped in the bathroom before the movie. He put his Glock 26, a personal weapon, on top of a toilet paper dispenser — then forgot it and left.
What about the criminal penalties that had been threatened?
The Sheriff's Office announced Tuesday that Hussey is the subject of an administrative investigation that could result in suspension or termination.

"It's obviously a serious mistake," said sheriff's spokesman Larry McKinnon. "We're glad no one was hurt, that the gun didn't end up in the wrong hands."

He was unsure if Hussey had prior disciplinary issues and his personnel file was unavailable for review Tuesday night. He remains on active duty. Hussey will not face criminal charges, Tampa police said Tuesday.
Whew! No double-standard here. Move along ... nothing to see ... move along.

"Syria and Egypt Can't Be Fixed"


Syria and Egypt are dying. They were dying before the Syrian civil war broke out and before the Muslim Brotherhood took power in Cairo. Syria has an insoluble civil war and Egypt has an insoluble crisis because they are dying. They are dying because they chose not to do what China did: move the better part of a billion people from rural backwardness to a modern urban economy within a generation. Mexico would have died as well, without the option to send its rural poor – fully one-fifth of its population – to the United States.

It was obvious to anyone who troubled to examine the data that Egypt could not maintain a bottomless pit in its balance of payments, created by a 50% dependency on imported food, not to mention an energy bill fed by subsidies that consumed a quarter of the national budget. It was obvious to Israeli analysts that the Syrian regime’s belated attempt to modernize its agricultural sector would create a crisis as hundreds of thousands of displaced farmers gathered in slums on the outskirts of its cities. These facts were in evidence early in 2011 when Hosni Mubarak fell and the Syrian rebellion broke out. Paul Rivlin of Israel’s Moshe Dayan Center published a devastating profile of Syria’s economic failure in April 2011.



Sometimes countries dig themselves into a hole from which they cannot extricate themselves. Third World dictators typically keep their rural population poor, isolated and illiterate, the better to maintain control. That was the policy of Mexico’s Institutional Revolutionary Party from the 1930s, which warehoused the rural poor in Stalin-modeled collective farms called ejidos occupying most of the national territory. That was also the intent of the Arab nationalist dictatorships in Egypt and Syria. The policy worked until it didn’t. In Mexico, it stopped working during the debt crisis of the early 1980s, and Mexico’s poor became America’s problem. In Egypt and Syria, it stopped working in 2011. There is nowhere for Egyptians and Syrians to go.
 * * *

This background lends an air of absurdity to the present debate over whether the West should arm Syria’s Sunni rebels. American hawks like Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, to be sure, argue for sending arms to the Sunnis because they think it politically unwise to propose an attack on the Assad regime’s master, namely Iran. The Obama administration has agreed to arm the Sunnis because it costs nothing to pre-empt Republican criticism. We have a repetition of the “dumb and dumber”consensus that prevailed during early 2011, when the Republican hawks called for intervention in Libya and the Obama administration obliged. Call it the foreign policy version of the sequel, “Dumb and Dumberer”.

Even if the Sunnis could eject the Assad family from Damascus and establish a new government – which I doubt – the best case scenario would be another Egypt: a Muslim Brotherhood government presiding over a collapsed economy and sliding inevitably towards state failure. It is too late even for this kind of arrangement. Equalizing the military position of the two sides will merely increase the body count. The only humane thing to do is to partition the country on the Yugoslav model, but that does not appear to be on the agenda of any government.
 On a related note, Stratfor suggests that Assad's forces are unlikely to retake much more rebel territory, including Aleppo.

For all the regime's announcements of an imminent victory in Aleppo, it is important to remember the very significant obstacles. Many of these are in fact the same that prevented the regime from ousting the rebels from the city in summer 2012.

First, the main concentration of regime forces is a considerable distance from Aleppo and is largely isolated due to rebel efforts to sever its supply lines. The closest significant concentration of regime forces is in Idlib city, but those troops are mostly cut off from the south. Therefore, any serious advance on Aleppo would have to come from the main concentration of loyalist forces in the core. The closest realistic staging point for these forces to advance northward would be from Hama governorate.
* * *

Complicating the regime's future battle plans even further is the recent U.S. decision to increase the arming of the rebels. There will likely be a combination of more direct aid from the United States and looser restrictions on the quantity and quality of weapons that other states are already providing. The United States is moving toward a more prominent role in arming the rebels, but at least initially its involvement will be heavily tempered by its desire to avoid putting weapons, particularly man-portable air-defense systems, in the hands of extremist groups.

Regime forces are making progress, but they need a victory in Aleppo before they can legitimately claim to be close to undermining the rebellion. In order for the loyalists to seriously threaten the rebel position in Aleppo, they need to be able to reach the area with a force of considerable size and to keep that force supplied.

Planning for Insurrection

In the focus on telephone call metadata, the media is overlooking a perhaps even more lucrative source of data that the NSA is also collecting or potentially could be collecting: everything that you send over the internet (including VOIP calls), emails, anything in the cloud, and anything that syncs between your smart phone and a network (e.g., your calender and email).

I've been reading a history of insurgency and counterinsurgency operations recently, and the thought came to me that, whether it is currently used for it or not, the intelligence and law enforcement agencies have built a system to counter a domestic insurgency. That is, they have developed a close cooperation between federal military and law enforcement and local law enforcement; they have developed effective means of monitoring communications and movement; and they have data for mapping social networks (speaking of networks between people, not something like Facebook) and creating personality profiles. Now all they need is an insurgency.

And, wittingly or not, they seem intent on creating one. For instance, just looking over links published on Instapundit this morning or yesterday evening, I came across these articles:

--DHS agents conducting unlawful searches of private aircraft.

--An op-ed by Victor Davis Hanson discussing the various lies that have been made by Administration officials over the last several months concerning Benghazi, the NSA data collection, the IRS targeting of conservative groups, etc., and how it undermines democracy.

--An IRS employee admitting that the IRS used a numerical test for deciding whether conservative groups were too political; a test that the IRS had denied been used.

--The IRS targeting was nationwide, not just limited to Cincinnati or, even, Washington D.C.

--An article by Thomas Sowell about government surveillance and the erosion of trust.

--The increasing use of harassment charges against dissent.

This is just one blog in less than one day, and I didn't even pick everything I could have used to support my point.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Police Using Teargas is a Right

Turkey's President Erdogen is quoted as having said Tuesday that “shooting tear gas at people is the most natural right of police, and they can do it.”

USA Today: Why We Shouldn't Trust the Government

The USA Today editorial board has published an editorial warning about complacency in the face of widespread monitoring by the government. The main reason? No matter how benign it may be now, such information and techniques will be abused. From USA Today's editorial:

The message was clear: Nothing to worry about here. Trust us.

So what's not to like? The lessons of history. As Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn, said, "We know that when a capability exists, there's a potential for abuse." Safeguards like those in place today have repeatedly been overridden and promises like today's abandoned.

Flash back to programs created to deal with the "Red Menace" of the 1940s and '50s. The rising threat of communism spurred the intelligence agencies to collect telegrams sent overseas by foreign embassies — a twist on an old form of spying. Telecom companies of the day acquiesced in what was known as Project Shamrock. Then, in 1956, the FBI initiated a program called Cointelpro — for Counterintelligence Program — to disrupt Communist Party activities in the United States.

But by the 1960s, the programs had turned into lawless dragnets. The NSA was sucking up 150,000 telegrams a month, the vast majority of them sent by law-abiding Americans. Data were being traded among agencies. Meanwhile, the FBI was building dossiers on anyone that Director J. Edgar Hoover found suspicious, most notably Martin Luther King Jr. President Nixon created an enemies list and attempted to use the CIA to cover up the Watergate break-in.

Those abuses rocked the country in the mid-1970s when a Senate inquiry uncovered them. Congress created a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to prevent future abuses in the name of security.

Now, however, with the confluence of a terrorist threat and the existence of a once unimaginable array of computerized data, the country might need new protections, and complacency, particularly in Congress, is not the way to get them. It should gin up a robust debate, not gentle pats on the back and softball questions of the sort on display Tuesday.

On Monday, President Obama focused on what's not being collected without court orders — the contents of phone calls and the e-mails of U.S. citizens. That underplays how much can be learned from the details that are vacuumed up: numbers called, duration of calls and when the calls are made. Every parent on a family cellphone plan knows you can keep tabs on the kids simply by scanning the monthly bill.

On Tuesday, administration officials underscored the protections in place. For instance, phone records are deleted after five years, according to testimony. That's comforting, up to a point. But it is a policy, not a law. Future presidents can change it; future bureaucrats can ignore it; future scoundrels can use the records to dig up dirt on political opponents or even straying spouses.

No doubt, stopping terrorism requires tradeoffs. But it's not yet clear whether the foiled plots required the level of intrusiveness that's now routine. If history shows anything, it's that once government has the power to sweep up data, the power is used, and often abused.
And additional information shows that we should not trust the government even as to its testimony. It is clear that the head of the NSA deliberately misled Congress in earlier testimony where he stated that the NSA was not collecting information on Americans. Technically it was true because the FBI was obtaining the data then turning it over to the NSA. More broadly, it was patently false and misleading. He intended Congress to understand that no data collection was being undertaken.

So, why should we trust them now? As this story from the Daily Mail suggests, the intelligence agencies are merely circling the wagons. From the story:
The three-hour hearing had just wrapped up around 1 p.m. when NSA Director Keith Alexander turned to FBI Deputy Director Sean Joyce and praised him for his testimony.

'Thank you, Sean,' Alexander said, according to a clip of the exchange that was first reported by Ben Doernberg.

'Tell your boss I owe him another friggin' beer,' he added.
 The Washington Examiner reports:
James Cole, deputy attorney general, testified before the House Intelligence Committee on Tuesday that when it comes to metadata collection, "every now and then there may be a mistake."

Cole made the revelation while defending the National Security Agency against revelations that it collected and stored the phone records of innocent Americans. The use of such records are supposed to be limited to foreigners being targeted by an approved investigation, but sometimes, Cole says, "A wrong phone number is hit or a person who shouldn't have been targeted gets targeted because there's a mistake in the phone record."
 How are we supposed to know when such "mistakes" occur? The reports, if any, are classified. There is no recourse against the government, either for damages (if any) or to require them to delete the data.

Plus, it is more than just the collection of metadata. It is whole security and surveillance culture that has taken over Washington. RT News reports:
The FBI uses drones for domestic surveillance purposes, the head of the agency told Congress early Wednesday.

Robert Mueller, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, confirmed to lawmakers that the FBI owns several unmanned aerial vehicles, but has not adopted any strict policies or guidelines yet to govern the use of the controversial aircraft.
“Does the FBI use drones for surveillance on US soil?” Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) asked Mr Mueller during an oversight hearing on Capitol Hill Wednesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee. “Yes,” Mueller responded bluntly, adding that the FBI’s operation of drones is “very seldom.”

Asked by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California) to elaborate, Mueller added, “It’s very seldom used and generally used in a particular incident where you need the capability.” Earlier in the morning, however, Mueller said that the agency was only now working to establish set rules for the drone program.
 So, FBI agents could be spying on boyfriends, or ex-wives, or the neighbor they don't like, or Tea Party groups that are critical of government spending, or churches that oppose abortion, or whomever, but we would never know.

That a secret court reviews "requests" is no protection because their decisions are secret, there is no review and oversight, and the laws are so broad that an intelligence agency could be acting within the law but still outside the bounds acceptable to the public.

Also, see this article on why Democrats love to spy on Americans (although this seems to be a bipartisan problem); and this article on former NSA employees that corroborate Snowden. 

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Defeat in Afghanistan

France24 reports that the U.S. will shortly begin direct talks with the Taliban:
Senior US officials said on Tuesday that representatives will begin formal talks with the Taliban "within a few" days at a new office in Doha, Qatar.

The Afghan Taliban opened the office to help restart talks on ending the 12-year-old war, saying it wanted a political solution that would bring about a just government and end foreign occupation.

Senior Barack Obama administration officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to speak on the record, described the office opening to AP as a stepping stone to full Taliban renouncement of al Qaeda.
It really matters little whether the Taliban renounce Al Qaeda or not--Al Qaeda is already well established in other countries, and the Taliban will renounce any agreement with the U.S. as soon as they find it convenient. Besides, I doubt that the Taliban have a central leadership capable of enforcing any agreements among its "members." It is more of a philosophy than an organization.

The galling thing, of course, is that once the U.S. agreed to Afghanistan adopting a secular, Sharia based constitution, there was no point in continuing the war against the Taliban. At the point, we had failed in the goal of  producing a stable, Western style government.  I don't blame our military on bit--they have done an exemplary job. Hopefully the soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen that have served in Afghanistan have planted lasting seeds of hope and civilization. But, in the short term, Afghanistan is headed into another civil war.

The other major failure of the Administration is to wean Afghans off of growing opium for a cash crop. So, with the Taliban eventually regaining control over much of the country, we can expect the drug trade to continue unabated.

Senate: No Border Fence

Unspoken subtitle: "Come and get it!" ("It" being lots of free stuff).

From the Washington Times:
Senators on Tuesday rejected building the 700 miles of double-tier border fencing Congress authorized just seven years ago, with a majority of the Senate saying they didn’t want to delay granting illegal immigrants a legal status while the fence was being built.

The 54-39 vote to reject the fence shows the core of the immigration deal is holding.

Republicans had offered the fence as a way to build the confidence of voters skeptical that the government will enforce its laws, but opponents said building more fencing is costly, would take too long, and shouldn’t be dictated by Washington.

“I think we should leave that to the best judgment of the Border Patrol,” said Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican and one of the eight senators who wrote the immigration bill.

Sen. John Thune, South Dakota Republican, proposed the border fence amendment, which would have prevented the administration from granting any illegal immigrants a legal status under the bill until at least 350 miles of double-tier fencing has been erected, and would withhold full citizenship rights until 700 total miles have been built.

The border now has 651 miles of barriers, but only 36 miles are at least double-tier fencing. Another 316 miles are single-tier pedestrian fencing, and the rest — 299 miles — are vehicle barriers that still allow wildlife, and people, to cross.

“When is our federal government going to keep its promises when it comes to the issue of border security?” Mr. Thune said.


Revenge of the Sith

Bill Ayers says that Obama should be tried for war crimes. Interesting that Ayers is turning on his former apprentice. (Warning: video plays automatically on opening).

Monday, June 17, 2013

Sunni Rebels Blow Up Shiite Mosque

Even the Associated Press is beginning to notice that the Syrian civil war has less to do with Assad than with an internal conflict between different Islamic sects.

Racist Hate Speech From the Left

Joan Walsh, author of "What's Wrong With Colored White People," insults Sarah Palin over comments concerning immigration reform because Palin had the temerity to understand that the so-called "immigration reform" isn't about immigration, but is about votes. Ms. Walsh writes:
Note that Bush didn’t mention any specific race as being either more or less fertile. Native-born Americans of every race tend to have fewer children than immigrants.
Really Ms. Walsh? I would like to see the statistics that immigrants of "any race," whatever that term means, have more children than native-born Americans. Because while the U.S. is at or near replacement levels, all of Europe, Australia, and much of Asia have much lower fertility rates. So we can exclude those peoples from your list of immigrants that have more children. So what's left?

Of course, where Ms. Walsh is really disingenuous is pretending that "immigration reform" is somehow colorblind. Anyone with a brain knows that "immigration reform" is aimed at Hispanics ... and getting more Democratic votes. So, if any group is playing "racial politics," it is people like Ms. Walsh.

Ms. Walsh goes on:
Palin even brought up race right at the beginning of her speech, talking about how she likes to confront people with Obama bumper stickers on their “itty-bitty little purple Volts” (and you know what else must be “itty bitty.”)
Their brains.

Seriously, how do you get from "itty-bitty little purple Volts" to "race"? Did I miss some Obama Administration regulation restricting Volts to only a certain ethnicity?

What actually scares Ms. Walsh, and other liberals, is that conservatives have more children than liberals. Thus the desperate attempt by the Democrats to legalize millions of illegal aliens.

The United Nations Is Going To Lose Big

The UN is pretty good at some things, mediocre at most things, and pretty bad at certain things, such as "peace keeping." Yet, the UN is poised to begin a counterinsurgency operation in the Congo--one of the most difficult types of military operations to undertake. The Economist reports:

The Rwandan government backed Congolese rebels until recently but, shamed by their cruelty and by international outrage, it has abandoned them. That presents an opportunity too good to waste, so the UN Security Council is trying a new tack (see article), deploying 3,000 troops to fight at least some of the rebels. Soldiers from South Africa, Tanzania and Malawi wearing UN insignia will take on the irregulars who sow mayhem in Congo’s east.
This is the first time that the UN will send its own troops into battle. In the past the Security Council has authorised the use of “all necessary force” but has delegated the fighting to posses from willing nations. In the Korean war the Americans were in command. In Afghanistan and Libya NATO took charge. In Congo, however, the UN itself will be responsible for artillery fire, helicopter gunships—and the inevitable casualties. Should the UN really be doing this?
The Economist concludes that it is a risk worth taking. Perhaps. But before you answer the question of "should you be doing it," you need to answer the question of "can you do it." In this case, the answer will more than likely turn out to be "no."

Successful counterinsurgencies rely on good intelligence and troops that can hunt insurgents down in their own territory. And it requires a lot of patience. The UN undoubtedly lacks all three prerequisites. 

Good intelligence is dependent on local support. Does the UN have the support of the population in the areas they will be patrolling? Do they have enough troops to keep those areas secure so that populations feel safe to share information? 3,000 troops is going to be very thin to provide both security and offensive operations.

Can the troops hunt down the insurgents on their own terms, tracking them through the jungle and mountains and successfully engaging them? To a certain extent, aerial transport, such as helicopters, may give the UN troops a decisive edge in mobility, but they are still going to have to track the irregular Rebels through the bush.

Patience may be the biggest factor. Counterinsurgencies are long and expensive. Does the UN have the staying power? I doubt it. Instead of the support of just one government, deeply committed to prevailing, the UN contingent will depend instead on the goodwill of multiple governments, none of whom are deeply committed to the defeat of the rebels.

The Peasants Are Revolting

Political Islam reports on a defeat for political correctness at a joint DOJ (Department of Justice) and AMAC (American Muslim Advisory Council) in Manchester, TN, to discuss how a joke about Islam could be considered a hate-crime. The story states:

The Feds came to talk down to them since they are considered rednecks. Those rural white people who are not politically correct are called rednecks. Rednecks are the only under-class who have no protection or advocacy. They are the only group that can be mocked, ridiculed and made the butt of jokes. The worst of the ghetto blacks are forbidden to be called the equivalent of redneck, the N word. There is no RN word. Nope, they are rednecks, trailer trash, crackers, white trash and worse.


Another measure of society’s hatred of rednecks it this: if the shouters in the audience had been black, the media would have said that they were: “Speaking truth to power”. They would be reported as victims against oppression and fighters for social justice. But rednecks are called bigots and ignorant haters.

Edward Snowden on the Obama Administration

Snowden answered questions. Among his answers are some interesting beliefs regarding the current administration.

First,   "All I can say right now is the US Government is not going to be able to cover this up by jailing or murdering me. Truth is coming, and it cannot be stopped." So, he apparently is concerned that Obama might take extreme measures against him.

Second:
"There was a distinct possibility I would be interdicted en route, so I had to travel with no advance booking to a country with the cultural and legal framework to allow me to work without being immediately detained. Hong Kong provided that. Iceland could be pushed harder, quicker, before the public could have a chance to make their feelings known, and I would not put that past the current US administration."
I'm guessing that he has little confidence in our Nobel Peace Prize winning President to act peacefully. What do you think?