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    How many ebola cases before a travel ban is justified?

    Posted by TM Lutas on 17th October 2014 (All posts by )

    The usual formulation for discussing air travel bans is how many ebola cases making it to the US before President Obama is forced to stop air travel to and from west Africa. But there’s another variant of the question, how many ebola cases in the US before others will stop air or sea travel to and from the this country?

    I do not think it likely that we will reach such numbers in this outbreak but it’s an interesting change from the usual breathless journalistic speculation of the US imposing a ban. If we don’t keep our house in order, others will isolate us to keep themselves safe.

    10/22
    Update: Since this post was written the arrival of travelers from the ebola hot zone have been restricted five airports where screening has been put in place and just now the CDC has announced that all arrivals will be under 21 day observation from entry in a sort of loose post entry disease defense regime. If they travel, they need to notify the CDC and they need to call in daily temperature readings and report any ebola-like symptoms. This might work, and considerably reduces the possibility that we will be under travel ban because we let ebola come in and get out of control.

    Posted in Health Care, Politics, Transportation | 6 Comments »

    Simple Question: Why are property taxes public but income taxes aren’t?

    Posted by TM Lutas on 9th October 2014 (All posts by )

    In the US, property taxes are public record. Income taxes are not. It’s viewed as an intrusive violation of one’s right to privacy to view a person’s 1040 without good cause but everybody can go over the property taxes without justification. After a bit of research there doesn’t seem to be a lot of discussion why that is. It’s like there’s deep consensus that this is the way that things should be but no justification laid out in living memory to keep things this way. I agree with the consensus, that property tax records should be public. I just don’t like the thought that I don’t know why and I don’t know why income taxes are categorically different.

    Posted in Politics, USA | 11 Comments »

    Open thread – simple questions

    Posted by TM Lutas on 20th September 2014 (All posts by )

    I’m finding that a lot of our assumed shared vocabulary isn’t as shared as we think it is. Whether it’s “ISIS is not Islamic”, what is “combat” or “war”, or even what is “equality”, we fight an awful lot about issues that depend on terms that we haven’t defined well at all or have tribally defined them and assign our tribal definition of the term to somebody who holds a different definition.

    Simple questions can clarify this sort of thing.
    What is Islamic
    What are the various categories of military action
    How do you assess equality

    So what simple questions have you found to be thought provoking or interesting? My current list will be in comments.

    Posted in Deep Thoughts | 14 Comments »

    How we should respond to the unaccompanied minor crisis

    Posted by TM Lutas on 31st July 2014 (All posts by )

    If your opponent expects you to pull, don’t pull; push.

    The whole unaccompanied minor federal operation is racist to the core. Were a parent in Illinois to put their kid on a freight car to California with the plan that the kid make his way to Los Angeles where a cousin would pick him up, CPS would put that kid in foster care and seek to terminate parental rights. So where are the cases? Why aren’t the state courts being flooded with cases? Why hasn’t there been a federal injunction filed to identify where these kids are being placed so that the state child protective services can start files? Why are we treating these kids differently than we would if they were american kids with a similar fact pattern.

    Why do we even need to go to court at all to assure that all levels of government are able to do their duty? Why is the Obama administration not only not taking care that these kids not fall between the cracks but are shoving them into the cracks as deep as they possibly can with their refusal to inform state authorities where these kids are?

    You can be assured that the termination of parental rights (and thus rights for the parents to get visas if these kids are ever legalized) will change the calculus that sends these children alone across the border, and quickly.

    The question I have is why isn’t Governor Jindal, Governor Perry, and all the other governors who are protesting these actions not activating their own bureaucracies to do their job and treat these kids exactly like they would treat any other kid in the like circumstance?

    Posted in Current Events, Immigration, Obama | 10 Comments »

    Vatican Awkward?

    Posted by TM Lutas on 14th July 2014 (All posts by )

    Germany beat Argentina in the world cup finals
    The next meeting of Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis should be interesting.

    Posted in Humor | 1 Comment »

    Picketty’s Introduction

    Posted by TM Lutas on 9th June 2014 (All posts by )

    Thomas Piketty has written a monster of a book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century. I find myself in strange agreement with Brad DeLong, that the collective conservative response is weak. I had a patch of time that left me twiddling my thumbs waiting for some pretty long database operations to finish over the past four days. So I went and decided to fisk the book. I just finished the introduction. It took four posts, Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV and overran the spare time I had available from a database import and indexing task by about 12 hours.

    Now I know why the criticism is so weak. Piketty is a target rich environment and doing a line by line analysis is simply exhausting. But it’s the only way to be sure.

    Posted in Book Notes, Business, Economics & Finance, Public Finance, Society, Taxes, USA | 18 Comments »

    43 years ago

    Posted by TM Lutas on 4th March 2014 (All posts by )

    Forty three years ago, my parents found out that even a babe-in-arms has to have a separate airline ticket paid for. That ticket was for me to get out of Romania. I was just 2 years old.

    My father’s sister, Sylvia had bought 3 tickets, one for each of them and third which my parents thought covered the two half fares for the both of us but was issued for my brother, George (who I miss very much but that’s a very different story). They had one day to get money they did not have to Sabena airlines, in a different country, and pay for that ticket, across the iron curtain that divided east from west in those days. All this was before the Internet had made things so easy. The Sabena clerk was absolutely positive my parents would never make it for the flight the next day. Such things were impossible in 1971.

    My father didn’t have the phone number of his sister and the US embassy didn’t have a phone book for that area of Jersey to look it up for him so my mother swung into action and called one of the few cousins she knew the Nazis had not killed. Katus Fishbein was my mother’s, father’s, brother’s, daughter (her cousin) and had been in my mother’s, parent’s wedding party. She was very religious, an ultra-Orthodox jew (which becomes relevant later). She wasn’t sure we’d be good for it. After all, we’d be penniless arrivals and who knows what sort of guy cousin Juliana had married. She had recently found out that cousin Juliana was alive just a year prior via a postcard her uncle Joseph had written to her brother and was somehow in her father’s papers. She wrote back to that address and even though the address had had its name changed (three times by then) the postmaster delivered the letter. All she knew was that Juliana’s husband was a christian. So she called another (mutual) cousin and that cousin, Clara Fein, vouched that we’d be good for it. My mother hadn’t a clue that cousin Clara had survived WW II. Cousin Clara hadn’t known that her uncle Joseph’s family had survived until that phone call.

    So the Sabena clerk in Bucharest opening up the office found my parents waiting for her at the doorstep and a telex from the home office saying that the fourth ticket was paid for twice. The Sabena home office apparently had my father’s sister’s number and had separately informed her. Aunt Sylvia came through without asking.

    Of course, the adventure wasn’t over. At customs, they inventoried our possessions to make sure we weren’t stealing from the socialist fatherland. My parents were allowed three hemp cloth diapers for me, for instance. My mother still uses one of those diapers to make sure that she doesn’t burn delicate clothes when she irons. They checked me for ear rings. No gold except simple wedding bands was allowed.

    We all missed our flight connection and got a flight for the next day. Unlike the previous flight which had been due to arrive at 5PM Friday, it arrived at noon on Saturday. Aunt Sylvia got notified about the day change but somehow missed the time change.

    When my parents finally arrived, it was the jewish sabbath and ultra-orthodox cousin Katus had asked cousin Clara to meet us at the airport. So there were my parents, two kids, two suitcases, and not a penny to their name. And here come a pair of people, absolute strangers shouting out my mother’s name and hugging and kissing and conducting them to their car. The last time Clara had seen her cousin she was seventeen and my mother was three years old.

    In the back, my father whispered to my mother “who are these people?” My mother whispered back “I don’t know.” Cousin Clara’s husband heard, laughed, and all was explained on the way to their apartment.

    Cross posted: Flit-TM

    Posted in History, Humor | 16 Comments »

    Obamacare, the Scrooging

    Posted by TM Lutas on 14th December 2013 (All posts by )

    People signing up for Obamacare are being robbed by the government. This time it’s not metaphorically, like when your perfectly satisfactory insurance plan is made illegal and all the compliant plans are more expensive and have worse terms but literally. People are having their accounts debited improperly during the Christmas season. And because it is being done by the government, there is little recourse to sue due to sovereign immunity and, of course, those most injured haven’t the money to hire representation anyway. I think Pope Francis calls it ‘despoliation of the poor’.

    Double debits, wrong day debits, wrong amount debits, these are all standard hazards with any sort of Electronic Funds Transfer (ETF) system. There’s nothing particularly new about these issues. It’s all part of the back end errors that those dastardly Republicans have been hyperventilating about and Democrats have been pooh poohing for weeks now.

    You never know when Tuttle will turn into Buttle in one of these systems. But what’s in a name?

    Merry Christmas

    Cross posted: Flit-TM

    Posted in Big Government, Health Care, Obama, Video | 20 Comments »

    LTC Robert Bateman ignores the law

    Posted by TM Lutas on 9th December 2013 (All posts by )

    It is alarming when a serving military man publicly ignores the law. It is doubly so when he is not only a Lieutenant Colonel but also a professor who has taught at the military academy at West Point. LTC Robert Bateman’s recent Esquire blog misstates the law and misunderstands the role guns play in US society.

    LTC Bateman asserts “As of 1903, the “militia” has been known as the National Guard” and links to an analysis of the act. The reality is quite different if you actually read the first paragraph of the act.

    That the militia shall consist of every able-bodied male citizen of the respective States, Territories, and the District of Columbia, and every able-bodied male of foreign birth who has declared his intention to become a citizen, who is more than eighteen and less than forty-five years of age, and shall be divided into two classes—the organized militia, to be known as the National Guard of the State, Territory, or District of Columbia, or by such other designations as may be given them by the laws of the respective States or Territories, and the remainder to be known as the Reserve Militia.

    In other words, the heart of his argument that the militia is not the whole of the people rests at the very beginning on a lie. In the case of an ignorant youth, this might be excused but not a high ranking military professional who has had the responsibility of teaching our future military leaders. It is inexcusable. Given further legislative developments since 1903 regarding discrimination based on sex, I doubt that even this definition of militia is supportable at present because it is too narrow but even this outdated definition is an ocean compared to the teacup that LTC Bateman wants to leave for 2nd amendment rights.

    Since it’s established that LTC Bateman doesn’t necessarily respect the truth, it’s important to check on the rest of his assertions. One of them is that “Weapons are there for the ‘well regulated militia.’ Their use, therefore, must be in defense of the nation.” The police are not in the national guard, does their use of arms defend the nation? Are they a well regulated militia? Is he calling for the disarmament of the police? Perhaps he does, perhaps he doesn’t. By the terms of his argument, they shouldn’t be armed but perhaps he did not want to completely embarrass himself. The alternative is that he is arguing that the police are a militia. This militarization of the police is an entirely different kind of problem, no less disconnected from the American tradition or problematic for our liberties but different than the question of their armament.

    LTC Bateman repeatedly says in this article “hunting is valid”. Then again he also says that weapons “must be in defense of the nation”. So why is hunting valid? I’m guessing because it polls well enough that gun controllers would earn permanent minority status if they were to be perceived as anti-hunting and he personally knows a few hunters who he’d like to continue to see socially.

    Another assertion is that “No 7-11 in history has ever been held up with” a black powder musket. That might be true though black powder firearms robbery is not exactly unheard of, though rare.

    A little investigation yields the possibility that the whole thing is part of a joke of a presidential run which includes such gems as the forced deportation of gun owners (unclear whether they can come back afterwards) and bringing back the draft. So one viable theory might be that he’s just kidding here.

    I’m inclined to a different one, that we should feel sorry for LTC Bateman and his recent stroke that has apparently affected his mental capacity. Our ire should be saved for Esquire magazine and its editorial staff that has encouraged this man to nationally embarrass himself.

    cross posted: Flit-TM

    Posted in Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, RKBA | 35 Comments »

    Totalitarian Capitalism

    Posted by TM Lutas on 4th December 2013 (All posts by )

    I’ve been pondering Pope Francis’ recent writings and have come to certain conclusions about some serious miscommunication regarding what the Pope is doing. Contrary to a lot of the Francis miscommunication corpus, I don’t think that this is the Pope’s fault.

    Capitalism is not, properly speaking, a totalitarian system. It requires a separate moral system, a guide to provide purpose to all the buying and selling. It can fit to a wide variety of moral systems which is a good reason that capitalism ends up being global.

    Capitalism’s limits to economic acts create a space for morality to survive and thrive and are natural fetters to the system. These are the fetters that would interest a churchman. Unfettered or unregulated capitalism is totalitarian. If you’re worshipping mammon. If you find value only in your bank account, if there is no other system that informs your purchases and your production, then you have a serious problem. The fetters of government regulation in the economic sphere are irrelevant to Pope Francis because he’s not a politician and not an economist. He has a different scope for his job and vocation.

    This is a virtue problem and one that has real world, practical effects. The difference in the education levels in virtue in the American colonies at the start of its revolution and Bourbon France at the start of its revolution are a major factor in why the former succeeded and the latter was ultimately a failure that died in the terror.

    Pope Francis’ gig is ultimately to inculcate virtue and prepare us for Heaven. Occasionally this means he falls into the jargon of his profession which, like all professional jargon, is sometimes confusing because in different professions, the terms have different meanings.

    cross post: Flit-TM

    Posted in Christianity, Civil Society, Religion | 25 Comments »

    Bitcoin deflation

    Posted by TM Lutas on 29th November 2013 (All posts by )

    Today, right this minute, we have a massive natural experiment in deflation going on. The demand for Bitcoin (BTC) is far outstripping any increase in supply. If this were a national currency, the central bankers would have been institutionalized for their nervous breakdowns quite some time ago. It would be front page news every day and panic would rule the airwaves.

    None of this is happening with Bitcoin. BTC insiders, movers and shakers seem pleased with the increase in value for their currency and the worry is the appreciation of the currency will go away, not that it will continue. Bitcoin pessimists like Paul Krugman, not surprisingly, believe that deflation will lead to transaction collapse and hoarding. Reality, so far, disagrees with them.

    I think that the problem is that nobody among the pessimists understands what BTC is for. It’s never going to be the legally mandated monopoly currency in any significant economic zone. The ethic of the BTC community works against that. This means that BTC is not competing against the US dollar, the euro, or even the renminbi.

    What bitcoin does very well is create a space for moving currency without the ability for it to be stopped. That challenges national currencies in crisis that want to impose currency controls to stop money leaving their borders. You can’t stop BTC transactions without draconian controls on communications.

    As a practical matter, you can’t stop a coin key from crossing borders. It also creates an incredibly small unit of currency. The smallest unit in the BTC world is the satoshi, or 0.00000001BTC. Is there any currency in the world that equals one satoshi? Until bitcoin reaches the point where its smallest transactions (looking at ads and other microtransactions) can no longer be done with single satoshis, BTC will not suffer transaction reduction to to value increase.

    Current pricing would seem to imply something of a damper on BTC transaction flow when BTC rises above $100,000 USD per coin. In other words, the cheapest, cheapskate ads are offering a hundred satoshis for a second of your attention in a world where 1BTC is approximately 1,000USD. We have a long way to go before those transactions cease to be denominated in BTC. And even then, there will be prestige associated with working in BTC which will keep interest in the currency relatively high and larger transactions flowing around the $100k level. Any reduction will bring back a number of the bottom feeders from other currencies.

    There are several wannabe BTC competitors waiting in the wings for the day that people want to conduct microtransactions smaller than 1 satoshi. They have established exchanges with national currencies and with BTC itself. when BTC grows in value sufficiently to give up the low end of its microtransaction market, the marketers will move on to alternatives until one of them gains enough advantage to be the next BTC.

    Ultimately, BTC is about mad money for a lot of people. As an experiment, I’ve mined BTC overnight and done micro-tasks using the thing in my spare time. Since April of this year, without any impact on my productivity, I’ve gotten the price of a fairly nice night out with my wife in BTC right now. It’s a piece, but only a piece, of an emerging 21st century wallet which diversifies currency use and manages transactions both online and offline. That wallet probably won’t fully emerge for a decade at the very least and more likely will take two to really standardize but it will be the death of the ability of national currencies to live on their past reputations. People will gain the ability to react to currency foolishness much more quickly. BTC will be an important part of that technology suite.

    cross posted: Flit-TM

    Posted in Economics & Finance | 9 Comments »

    Boehner should not honor Obama’s lawlessness

    Posted by TM Lutas on 17th November 2013 (All posts by )

    President Obama’s veto threat of the Upton bill to legally do what he is trying to do by illegal means, delay the individual mandate, has firmly established a sad fact. The United States has a lawless president. Impeachment would be a three ring circus and unlikely to be worth the effort. President Obama has indeed not let a crisis go to waste and is trying to legitimize presidential lawlessness by picking a test case where the he is doing lawlessly what the Congress wishes to do lawfully. It’s a threat of precedent, not a present threat to the lives and health of anyone today.

    A more appropriate response than impeachment would be to wake up America that there is an important and symbolic issue at stake. Speaker Boehner can do this simply by denying the President an honor. He can deny President Obama the use of the House chamber for the State of the Union address. A currently substanceless threat to our legal tradition is responded to by a substanceless slap of rebuke. Let the President write his address and let it be read from the well by a clerk.

    The idea that the President has so dishonored his office that he no longer can enter the House is a powerful image that alerts the people to a problem but does not stop us from carrying on with the serious task of government. Impeachment should not be our first resort. Who wants President Biden? This measure also has the advantage that it plays to Boehner’s strengths and requires no approval from anyone else. He can take this decision unilaterally. He should.

    Cross posted: Flit-TM

    Posted in Politics, USA | 21 Comments »

    Capitalism failure

    Posted by TM Lutas on 14th October 2013 (All posts by )

    From a system perspective, not a human perspective, compensation for work in capitalism is the system’s way of communicating to people that the system needs more or fewer people in a job. Not enough bricklayers means rising salaries and too many means lower salaries. The trend continues until the number of people doing the work roughly matches what is needed at the market clearing price and the people are generally satisfied with the compensation.

    So what does that tell us about the US distribution of population in the labor market? The distribution of compensation is highly skewed and madly demanding more people get into the job of running companies. It’s highly lucrative work that on balance tends to create labor demand. Our lack of labor demand and the resulting salary stagnation are not a harmless consequence.

    But people aren’t rushing into the CEO business anywhere near the numbers necessary to drive compensation down. It’s not like the current crop of CEOs is uniformly magnificent and we simply cannot do better. The wrecked companies littering the corporate landscape around the country are a testament to that. And failure at being a CEO would seem not to carry the same penalties as a spectacularly public malpractice for a doctor or lawyer.

    So why has CEO production not drawn attention of the same people addressing the “IT shortage”? Why doesn’t the CEO grooming process create more candidates that drive costs down? Why is shareholder value being squandered in so many cases in highly compensating a stream of short lived, not very good chief executives, who drive the company into disaster time and again?

    There’s something wrong with our CEO system.

    Cross posted Flit-TM

    Posted in Deep Thoughts, Economics & Finance, Politics, Society | 18 Comments »

    Normal legislative practice vs tea party terrorism

    Posted by TM Lutas on 10th October 2013 (All posts by )

    Normal Legislative practice:
    Vote for this must pass bill even though we’ve loaded it with pork barrel spending and changed a few bits of unrelated legislation into it. You’ll hurt the country worse if it doesn’t pass.

    Tea Party terrorism:
    Vote for this continuing resolution to fund the government while we change/defund the Affordable Care Act.

    See the difference?

    Me neither.

    Cross posted on Flit-TM

    Posted in Big Government, Politics, Tea Party | 2 Comments »

    Reality lives in the details

    Posted by TM Lutas on 24th August 2013 (All posts by )

    Sometimes you come across a comment that passingly mentions a central truth that you just want to climb up on a roof and shout it out to the world. That! Pay attention to that!

    Trent Telenko comments on his own excellent post:

    Reality lives in the details.
    You have to know enough of the details to know what is vital and to be able to use good judgement as to which histories are worthwhile and which are regurgitated pap.
    No one has bothered to do that with MacArthur’s South West Pacific Area, especially as it relates to the proposed invasion of Japan.

    Yes, reality lives in the details and we are living in a world that both has more of those details available and has fewer of those details capturing our attention. We leave important details unexamined and fixate on the exciting but unimportant details of celebrity and titillation.

    What makes the situation supremely frustrating is that it doesn’t have to be that way. Computers are both becoming cheaper and more powerful. We’re deploying new technologies such as the Semantic Web to fix it but the progress is agonizingly slow.

    Faster please

    Posted in Deep Thoughts, Human Behavior | 11 Comments »

    How to stop the Executive from running out the scandal clock

    Posted by TM Lutas on 18th July 2013 (All posts by )

    This Politico story on Benghazi led me to consider the question of what would need to be in place to stop the “we need you to stop talking about this until everyone forgets” strategy.

    Early on while everybody is still upset in the first flush of outrage, the executive branch needs to give a time estimate of how long it is going to take to get to the bottom of it all and once they blow that deadline, a critical mass of ordinary people need to have that come up as sort of a reminder. The blowing of the deadline should be its own, separate scandal. Congress should organize hearings at the deadline so that when the administration blows it, they can get as much information as has been learned since then, monitor the resources and energy placed in the scandal to determine if they’re slow walking the thing, and get a better date.

    Posted in Politics | 6 Comments »

    What would Trayvon’s law look like?

    Posted by TM Lutas on 14th July 2013 (All posts by )

    With President Obama inserting himself once again into the Trayvon Martin killing, now ruled self defense by a Florida jury, President Obama now is calling for us to answer the question “how we can prevent future tragedies like this”. The President thinks that “[w]e should ask ourselves if we’re doing all we can to stem the tide of gun violence that claims too many lives across this country on a daily basis.”

    I suggest that what is needed is Trayvon’s law. This unwritten, heretofore unconceived legislation would have changed that encounter so that Trayvon Martin would be alive today.

    So what would Trayvon’s law look like? I haven’t a clue because I think that what led Trayvon Martin into that encounter with George Zimmerman has a thing to do with guns or gun violence. But no doubt others will have legislation to suggest. It would be decent and just to consider Trayvon Martin and aim changes to the law so that he would be alive today had that legislation been passed a decade ago. But what would it look like?

    Posted in Law | 47 Comments »

    Citizen Intelligence curious fact of the day

    Posted by TM Lutas on 9th July 2013 (All posts by )

    During the process of putting together Citizen Intelligence, I sometimes run into some things that are quite simple, but are worth remarking on. I’ve decided to put them up here as an irregular series.

    Out of the ~89,000 governments in the United States, ~55,000 of them bond, or borrow money, about 61% of the total. That means 34,000 do not. Which of your governments live within their means and spend all their tax money on providing services and which of them have an invisible drain installed siphoning off unnecessary interest payments to Wall Street? How many of them could, with minimal inconvenience, add a few more percent in services or cut a few percent off their tax bills simply by not bonding or reducing their bonding to large capital items instead of borrowing for operations?

    Note: Updated to make it clear that this is not about the classic large capital expenditure items that most would agree are legitimate projects for bond financing but rather borrowing that could be foregone and where, in some jurisdictions, they manage their cash flow well enough to do without the borrowing.

    Posted in Big Government, Economics & Finance, Public Finance | 3 Comments »

    Socially transgressive cultural conservatives – our icky future

    Posted by TM Lutas on 3rd July 2013 (All posts by )

    Real social taboos cost you hits in the blogosphere. The persistent reduction in hit count every time I touched the subject of gay marriage finally twigged me to the fact that secular marriage has an entire set of cultural taboos associated with it and if you touch them, people run away. Your hit counts drop. Try analyzing why you have secular marriage at all and people suddenly turn dense, obtuse, and conflate religious with secular marriage at every opportunity. No fear, I won’t go into it in this post. This is more of a meta commentary.

    Gay marriage advocates have skillfully deployed those taboos to achieve what they want, a change in public consensus regarding marriage that is playing out in the slow motion avalanche in favor of gay marriage. They are winning in large part because nobody wants to discuss to consensus what is secular marriage for. It’s too icky.

    Once secular marriage’s split from religious marriage norms becomes large enough, courageous believers are going to dive into the ick and explain it, in great detail. There will be Catholics, Muslims, Jews as well as others explaining what they haven’t had to explain before because of the prior consensus that, if not perfect, was at least close enough to their beliefs to be acceptable. Social conservatives who look like your grandparents will be talking about sex, about dominance, about female and male emotional frailties that generally only come up in rare “moment of clarity” fashion for most people. It will be the biggest orgy of social transgressiveness to happen in decades and the traditional tribes of social transgressiveness are going to be running for the door with their ears plugged up crying out “la-la-la I can’t hear you” in an absolutely clarifying display of hypocrisy.

    I can’t wait.

    Posted in Leftism, Morality and Philosphy, Religion, Society | 13 Comments »

    Which is the bigger treason?

    Posted by TM Lutas on 24th June 2013 (All posts by )

    In all the brouhaha over Snowden’s betrayal of his NSA obligations and his country I have yet to see a serious analysis outlining the full problem with this information. The nature of the information, how and why it becomes classified. Non-classified information gathered without a warrant but not accessible without a warrant is an interesting category. Why such information should be classified at all is an under-covered question though most people understand intuitively that there’s something fundamentally wrong with the government’s approach.

    In general this information has been accessible to lawyers in legal cases, ie not classified but has had short accessibility lifespans. Traditionally it has been fairly quickly thrown away because it is too expensive for private companies to maintain that volume of metadata for very long. Test cases are now underway where lawyers who have been turned down by the phone companies as their copies have been overwritten are now seeking the NSA’s copy in an effort to defend their clients from federal criminal prosecution. Criminal law discovery rules are rushing headlong towards a collision with the national security state.

    It is not at all clear that such information should be classified at all and that the first serious crime in the Snowden case might have been committed by as yet unnamed bureaucrats who improperly classified this information to begin with, possibly leading to unjust criminal convictions and obstructing justice for years now. Overclassification is a major issue of long standing in US governance. It creates legal jeopardy where none should exist and impedes government oversight crucial to the functioning of the US system of government.

    At trial (assuming there ever is one) the government bears the burden of proving that the information was properly classified in the first place. But long before this affair ever sees the inside of a court room, we need to hash out whether this classification was proper or should see the light of day.

    Posted in Law, National Security | 30 Comments »

    How often do governments just make restrictions up?

    Posted by TM Lutas on 5th June 2013 (All posts by )

    In an interesting aside regarding security preparations for the 2013 Bilderberger meeting, it came out that a number of no parking signs put up to prevent “vehicles parking on the verge of the Old Hempstead Road” were fraudulent, no law banning parking existed. This is something of a public service the Bilderberger group has provided to the citizens of Watford. Their government is perfectly capable of just making stuff up and restricting liberty on a fraudulent basis. This would not normally be something that would come to light. After all, who checks such trivial matters that the no parking signs on a particular street or verge are actually backed up by legislation establishing that parking is not allowed? You’d have to be a moral cretin to endanger the legitimacy of the state over so small a matter. Yet such moral cretins seem to be in power in Watford. How would you know whether they are not in power in your neck of the woods? It is not so easy to tell.

    Posted in Big Government | 7 Comments »

    Who could have ordered Benghazi edits?

    Posted by TM Lutas on 11th May 2013 (All posts by )

    Sometimes it’s the dog that doesn’t bark that is interesting. The Benghazi attack talking points and their morphing from a discussion of Al Queda terrorism into a witch hunt against a dodgy film maker was designed to protect someone. The question is who? Who was worth embarrassing the US diplomatic and intelligence corps and discrediting us with the Libyan government who knew what was going on? The two popular figures are Barak Obama because, as President, he was in charge and Hillary Clinton because, as Secretary of state, she had responsibility over embassy security. But we all seem to be overlooking a third possibility. Vice President Biden was explicitly put on the ticket to give gravitas and experience to guide President Obama in sticky situations where he might not have experience. What if, 4 years into Obama’s presidency, Biden was still fulfilling that role and he took charge and completely blew it?

    Obama would not want his continued reliance on Biden for urgent matters of national security to come out during his reelection campaign. Biden would be looking to bury the affair and dirty up his 2016 expected rival for the presidential nomination. Clinton would be the logical choice to spill the beans through anonymous leaks and cut outs. She hasn’t yet, which makes the theory less attractive but doesn’t knock it entirely out of consideration. She could have played out the scenario and not liked where it led for her own future regardless of whether it is true or not.

    This is speculation but at least some of the media dogs chasing the story should have chased down this angle and asked the relevant questions. None seem to have done it.

    Posted in National Security, Obama, Politics | 26 Comments »

    Girl Genius is down due to DNS

    Posted by TM Lutas on 12th March 2013 (All posts by )

    For a certain style of geek, the week is not complete without stopping by Monday, Wednesday, and Friday to dip into the mad science world of Girl Genius, a creation of Phil and Kaja Foglio. The series is a three time hugo award winner, twice winning an Eisner award, and three time winner of the Web Cartoonist choice awards. In other words, it’s very good.

    But like many of their mad scientist creations, they’ve been let down by a minion, and their domain has expired. You can, however still reach it via IP number. But curses, the actual comic does not use relative addressing so you have to plug that in separately, like this to get Monday’s tasty bit of a world where mad science rules.

    Posted in Internet | 5 Comments »

    We are at war with North Korea

    Posted by TM Lutas on 11th March 2013 (All posts by )

    North Korea’s official newspaper carried the announcement today. The armistice is no longer in force. We are once again in a state of active war with North Korea.

    It is not just us, by withdrawing from the armistice, North Korea has reignited conflict with:
    South Korea
    USA
    Canada
    Turkey
    Australia
    Ethiopia
    Philippines
    New Zealand
    Thailand
    Greece
    France
    Colombia
    Belgium
    South Africa
    Netherlands
    Sweden
    Norway
    Denmark
    Italy
    India
    Luxembourg

    Since the armistice was signed by a North Korean general on behalf of China, somebody should probably ask China what its position is regarding the armistice and its obligations.

    Posted in Korea, National Security, War and Peace | 14 Comments »

    Queen to UK: Stay away from the NHS

    Posted by TM Lutas on 3rd March 2013 (All posts by )

    The Queen has fallen ill, gastroenteritis to be specific. She has been taken to King Edward VII hospital in London. This hospital bills itself as the leading private hospital in London.

    Why is she not staying at an NHS hospital? Gastroenteritis is not particularly complicated or unusual and should be well within the capabilities of any decent hospital facility of the most rudimentary type.

    The Queen of England’s main role is to provide an example, a symbol. She is doing so today with the choice of her hospital. But is anybody paying attention?

    Posted in Britain, Medicine | 15 Comments »