Friday, August 30, 2013

How To ID a Lie: Syria Edition

A preliminary U.S. government assessment determined that 1,429 people were killed in the [Syrian] chemical weapons attack ~ State Department Report
And twenty-nine. I don't know how many people were killed. Neither does John Kerry.  It would take feet on the ground investigators and many autopsies to determine this with precision. The State Department is guessing over a thousand deaths, give or take a few hundred, rounding up.

And twenty-nine. So, why the very precise number? Details sell the con. Say "fourteen hundred" and people will assume you are guessing. State a specific number and it sounds like you have facts. Make it an odd number because they sound more precise than even numbers. The more significant digits you have the more people will believe you actually did the calculations.

And twenty-nine. When I see a number this precise in a situation where such precision is impossible I recognize it as a lie. Once I recognize a lie I disbelieve everything else that source says on the subject.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The History of US Military Middle Eastern Adventures

The Middle East has been an American military play thing for 60 years.

US bombs Libya in 2011.
1953 - Iran
The CIA organizes a military coup to over throw the democratic government of Iran and installs a brutal dictatorship under the pro-American Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. The blowback from that adventure are still being felt today.

1957 - Eisenhower Doctrine
Citing "International Communism", President Eisenhower declared that the United States had the right to intervene militarily anywhere in the Middle East that it wishes.

1957 - Syria
A CIA funded coup failed in August when the Syrian Army officers turned the bribe money over and confessed the conspiracy. In September, the US massed 50,000 soldiers on the Turkish-Syrian border, threatening to invade.

1958 -Lebanon
The pro-American Christian President Camille Chamoun of Lebanon was unpopular within his country. The US sent 14,000 troops and a fleet of 70 ships to insure he stayed in power until he could be replaced by another pro-American Christian.

1970 - Jordan
The US Sixth Fleet supports the Jordanian monarchy during a civil war with Palestinians. Reaction by the Soviet Union dissuaded the US from landing troops. Jordan prevailed without US troops. This civil war was the Black September remembered by the terrorists during the 1972 Olympics.

1979 - Afghanistan
US provides military support to Mujahideen several months before the Soviet invasion of the country. The intent is to destabilize the pro-Soviet government in the country. Indeed the goal of the military support was to induce the Soviets to invade and get bogged down in a quagmire.

1980 - Iran-Iraq War
The US urges Saddam Hussein to invade Iran and during the subsequent war provides arms and aid to both sides of the struggle.

1982 - Lebanon
President Reagan sends Marines as part of a "peace keeping" mission that was actually part of a coordinated action with Israel to expel the Palestine Liberation Organization from Lebanon. The Marines retreated after their headquarters were bombed.

1986 - Libya
President Reagan orders the bombing of Libya's two largest cities in retaliation of an explosion in a Berlin nightclub that killed two Americans.

1991 - Kuwait
In 1990 Iraq occupies Kuwait, saying the territory had been stolen from them in 1961 by the British. The US organized a multinational force of nearly one million soldiers to liberate Kuwait the next year. Since then the US has maintained a constant military presence in Saudi Arabia.

1991 - Iraq
After liberating Kuwait the United States urged Kurds and Shi'ites to rebel against the Hussein regime in Iraq. When they did the US stood back and let them be slaughtered.

1998 - Afghanistan
The US bombs Mujahideen camps in retaliation for embassy attacks in Africa. These Mujahideen were the same people, including Osama Bin Laden, who the CIA armed and funded in the 1980's.

2001 - Afghanistan
In retaliation for the 9/11 attacks, the US launches an invasion with the intent of overthrowing the Taliban government (succeeded) and wiping out al-Qaeda (failed).  The occupation and war continues to this day.

2003 - Iraq
In retaliation for the 9/11 attacks that Iraq had nothing to do with, the US launches an invasion with the intent of overthrowing the Saddam Hussein government and establishing a pro-US puppet state.

2008 - Syria
US Special Forces attacked civilians in eastern Syria because they were suspected of helping Iraqi insurgents.

2011 - Libya
US led a coalition of NATO forces that bombed Libyan government facilities in support of the rebels in the Libyan Civil War.

Middle Eastern countries that have been attack by the US in the past year:
Afghanistan - Part of the continuing US military occupation of the country.
Pakistan - Numerous drone strikes.
Yemen - Numerous drone strikes.

Monday, August 26, 2013

War With Syria

How many Middle Eastern countries haven't we bombed yet? We'll soon be able to cross Syria off that list.

Yes! The Syrian regime is horrible.
Yes! Their use of poison gas on their own citizens is evil.
Yes! Obama would look weak if he ignores the line in the sand he drew regarding poison gas.

On the other hand,

No! The al-Qaeda rebels that would replace the Ba'athists now in charge would not be an improvement.

Scrape away the overblown rhetoric and the Syrian Civil War is a continuation of the Muslim sectarian war between Shi'ites (Iran, Syria's rulers, and Hezbollah) and Sunnis (al Qaeda, the Syrian people, and Saudi Arabia).

Scratch at the rhetoric still deeper and we can see that the U.S. is operating as Israel's cat's paw against their long time northern enemies. There are no U.S. interests here but plenty of Israeli interests.

Actually, the NSA will be thrilled by the U.S. bombing Syria. It will create an excuse for them to redouble their domestic spying program. We must fear Syrian terrorists!!!!!!!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The NSA and Rule #18

Leroy Jethro Gibbs on the television series NCIS has many rules. One, apparently, has been adopted by the NSA as an unofficial motto:
Rule #18: It's better to seek forgiveness than ask permission.
If the NSA wants to do something they just do it. If they get caught then, and only then, do they go to the FISA court for belated permission. If the court determines the NSA broke the law they are given a pat on the head and are told, like the priest said to the unreformed prostitute,
Go, and sin no more. Who am I kidding? You're going to sin up a storm but try not to get caught next time.
The only people at the NSA to get punished are those brave folks who blow whistles. They will face the death penalty for treason. Creatively breaking the law and pissing on the Constitution are the fast track to promotion.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Six Simple Rules for Living In a Surveillance Society

We are all being watched and our activities recorded with the information to be used against us at the convenience of some faceless NSA nerd. It is a reality we can do nothing about. But there are things we can do to make surveillance more difficult for our security overlords.

1. Keep Several Copies of Important Information Located in Different Countries. As the Guardian newspaper learned to its regret, if you keep all your eggs in one basket it makes it easy for Big Brother to come in and destroy that basket. Information needs to be copies and spread far and wide. If they had copies in the UK, US, Canada, France, and Haiti it would have been significantly more difficult for the All Seeing Eye to find and destroy all of them.

2. Use Handwritten Communication With a Simple, Unbreakable Code. High tech encryption algorithms are useless. Anything encoded by a computer can be cracked by a computer. But old fashioned private key encryption is virtually uncrackable without Big Brother knowing the key. It's importing to not write the key down, that's why your organic brain has a memory feature.

3. Don't Store Secrets On a Cell Phone. Sure, Smart Phones are convenient. But they are convenient for Big Brother too.

4. Don't Carry a Cell Phone With GPS. While we are on the subject of phone, why would your cell phone ever need to know where you are? Dumb phones can be quite useful.

5. Walk, Bicycle, Canoe. Modern cars have GPS, ubiquitous traffic cameras record license plates. Plane and train travel is monitored more severely than in the former Soviet Union. High tech surveillance has a hard time dealing with low tech transportation. Sure, walkers are subject the Stop-and-Frisk but I don't think even NYPD is stopping and frisking cyclists.

6. Use Cash. Cash is so anonymous that government will certainly outlaw it soon.  The mere possession of large amounts of cash is considered proof of criminal intent. Therefore, extreme caution is necessary when using cash but it is the only financial transaction that is not closely monitored.

It is possible, albeit difficult, to live outside the surveillance society. And I can't promise that trying to won't get your name on numerous terrorist watch lists.

Friday, August 16, 2013

NSA Exploits

Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. ~ Lord Acton
Since 9/11 the NSA has been able to get away with any abuse by squeaking "terrorism" and avoid any supervision by crying "national security." We were told to trust them even though they never gave us any reason to trust them. We were told to have faith in the oversight bodies like the FISA court and Congress.
The head of the FISA "court" (It is called a court but it does not act as a court by any traditional definition.) has acknowledged that his court is a toothless rubber stamp. They swallow whatever justification the NSA gives them like a trout swallows a fly. On those rare instances when the recipient of a FISA search challenges it (only two of the biggest corporations in the world, Microsoft and Google, have had the courage to do so) the FISA court simply fails to respond.

Congressional oversight is nearly as lax. The chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, my own senator Dianne Feinstein, is completely unconcerned by rampant NSA voyeurism even after the Washington Post got a leaked copy of an NSA audit that the agency had hidden from Feinstein. Their could be many reasons for her disinterest, my best guess is that the NSA has enough dirt to send Dianne and her husband to prison should she get feisty.

We are told there are laws (well, not really laws so much as guidelines) that prevent the NSA and its contractors from violating the privacy of citizens. Yet, when has a private contractor lost his contract for violating these guidelines? Answer: never. When has a top official at the NSA been fired for lax oversight? Answer: never. These laws (guidelines) are ignored with absolute impunity.

The NSA acts like people who have installed glass doors on the ladies restroom and then posted a sign reading, "Peeking Forbidden." The NSA is peeking with salacious joy and the one time someone had the balls to point out that fact the voyeurs have banded together to accuse the whistleblower of treason.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

What Is the Explanation?

I've spent a lot of time in hospital parking lots the past several weeks. I'm curious what it is about people who drive pickup trucks that compels them to back into parking places when they lack the driving skills to pull it off. They work the truck back and forth several times and generally give up occupying two to four parking spaces.

I've considered several explanations and the only one that makes sense is that driving a pickup truck kills brain cells.

Monday, August 12, 2013

It's Called the Memory Hole

DOJ changes history.

The practice of governments changing facts and official statements and making the previous facts and statements disappear was described in the novel 1984. In the novel, embarrassing items like past shoe production statistics were dropped into a small chute that led to a huge incinerator. In modern times all it takes is a few strokes on a computer to make history change or disappear.

But it's the same thing and you'd think any literate Administration official would know that he really can't get away with it.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

I Know Bob Filner

I know Bob Filner. Back when he was a San Diego City Councilmember I was involved local politics. I was more crewcut than bigwig, more nudger and tickler than mover and shaker. But I knew Bob. We were on the same side, politically. We had interactions, because I'm male they were not of the lascivious nature but they were still unpleasant.

I haven't written about Bob before now partly because of old instincts. Back in the day, Bob's allies knew to be afraid to talk about him. While he could be ruthless with his enemies he was worse with friends he felt had dissed him. Put simply, Bob Filner is a not a nice guy.

There was one time that Filner wanted something from me. Bob was trying to gerrymander City Council districts and wanted the Sierra Club, my organization, to support his map. He knew this was not an environmental issue and that he needed to put extra pressure on me. Filner sent his chief of staff to threaten me. If I didn't support his redistricting map Filner would destroy the career of a close, female, friend of mine.

I never forgot that.

Filner cut short his stay in pervert rehab. Every expert agreed that two weeks wasn't nearly enough time but Bob couldn't even pretend to rehab that long. The official story is he was cured early. Poppycock. Bob got tired of being in a place without ass kissing toadies and surrounded by people telling him how to be a better person. Filner told them to "Fuck off" and stormed out.

I know Bob Filner. There is no way his arrogance will allow him to ever take personal responsibility for his actions.

Friday, August 09, 2013

Secrets and Lies

The only reason for this new found "transparency" in the NSA spying program is because secrets have been discovered and new lies have to be presented. The NSA and FISA court will continue to be as transparent as black paint on a brick wall.
We will be told little, most of it untrue. The spying will continue to be mostly ineffective voyeurism for prurient and not national security reasons. It is disappointing that President Obama is so wedded to bureaucratic lies and liars who tell them.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

The Micawber Principal of Personal Finance

Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen pounds nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds nought and six, result misery. ~ David Copperfield
One of the things that has held me well in my life is the lesson I learned from this one line in the Dickens novel David Copperfield. I don't suggest following the life of the speaker of this line, one Wilkins Micawber. He was a good man who fell victim to vicious creditors, ending up in debtor's prison.

The lesson itself is sound, the difference between misery and bliss can be as little as six pence either side of income.

I prefer this lesson to the Polonius Postulate:
Neither a borrower nor a lender be;
For loan oft loses both itself and friend ~ Hamlet
Because there is a certain heartlessness to it. I am loath to borrow money, even using a credit card, and I will loan only such money as I am willing to give as a gift to a needing friend.

The Franklin Philosophy is simple:
Rather go to bed without dinner than rise with debt. ~ Attributed to Ben Franklin

And the Emerson Warning is appropriate to today:
Poverty demoralizes. A man in debt is so far a slave; and Wall-street thinks it easy for a millionaire to be a man of his word, a man of honor, but, that, in failing circumstances, no man can be relied on to keep his integrity. ~ The Conduct of Life

Sunday, August 04, 2013

Grifters: the 'Stop Hillary' Scam

There is a brand new "Stop Hillary" PAC raising money from gullible anti-Clintonites. Far be it for me to try to stop con-men from fleecing dimwitted crackers but I feel obligated to point out that for the next two years this PAC will have absolutely nothing to spend money on except lavish reimbursements to their own officers and family members.

Even after election season begins I can't imagine the Stop Hillary PAC will donate any money to any Democrat running for President not named Clinton. They may buy a little TV time in Omaha overpaying themselves, or friends, for production costs to no effect. They probably will accept bribes, all perfectly legal payments, to channel money to Republicans primary candidates.

The fascinating thing is that nobody in the world is rooting harder for Hillary Clinton to successfully run from President than this new Stop Hillary PAC. Only if that happens will they make out like the bandits they hope to be.

Saturday, August 03, 2013

American Police State: Clay Pigeon Division

We've had enough officer involved shooting in San Diego to identify how things are done. A single police officer who shoots an unarmed citizen generally finds himself in trouble. Questions are asked whether he used excessive force. Even after he is inevitably absolved by the District Attorney the officer faces civil suits.

That never happens when there are mass shootings. When a dozen police officers, or more, unload their weapons into a helpless victim their collective judgement is never called into question. This has led to an unwritten police policy, whenever one policeman discharges his weapon, every officer within range automatically fires all their bullets into the target.

While the Cleveland shooting may be an extreme example it is also an appropriate example, 47 bullets riddle two corpses, cops missed on 90 other shots. There will be some noise, perhaps some slight discipline, but in the end little will happen. When dozens of cops fire their weapons no individual is at fault. And police, yet again, get away with felonious manslaughter.