Category Archives: World Hellhole Report

Another 17 Moments of Spring

“17 Moments of Spring” is very Russian. Very, very Russian. It was the most popular television serial since its release in 1973, and its broadcasts are typically associated with increased demands on power stations and severe drops in criminal activity. Everyone is glued to their televisions, fascinated by the KGB-produced spy thriller.

The main character, Maxim Isaev a.k.a. Max Otto von Stierlitz, is no James Bond. James Bond is far too jovial and carefree for the idealized KGB agent that Stierlitz exemplifies. The series focuses on minutiae, careful analysis of documents, meticulous interrogations, and has scenes where the main characters simply show facial reactions to replayed tapes of bugged meetings or where they exchange silent glances – one of those scenes goes on for six entire minutes. Americans would lose their mind with those kinds of demands on their attention spans. Russians can’t get enough of it.

This brings me to the events swirling around the Trump administration regarding members of his campaign making inappropriate contacts with Russians. One revelation has Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, working with Russian Ambassador to the USA, Sergey Kislyak, to create a back channel of communications to Moscow involving specialized Russian gear, designed to evade detection by US intelligence. Yet, the revelation came from Kislyak using a channel that US intelligence monitored. US Senator Lindsey Graham said that that doesn’t add up. Why would they go to all that effort to set up a back channel only to essentially announce it to US intelligence?

Watch “17 Moments of Spring”, Mr. Graham. In spite of numerous inaccuracies, it does nail down one key element – the mind of a Russian spy. It was, after all, produced by the KGB as a sort of “Top Gun”, entertainment designed to improve their image. Why would Kislyak do those things? To set a trap, of course.

Kislyak may even be reprimanded by his superiors, just to make things look even better, but it’s clear that they drew Kushner out, played him like the amateur he is, and then arranged for evidence of his being unfit to hold a security clearance to fall into the hands of US intelligence, thereby discrediting an advocate of neo-conservatism in Trump’s inner circle. The Russians are quite happy to have isolationist Steve Bannon whispering in Trump’s ear. That’s the guy that at least does not increase pressure on Russia, if not relieve it. Kushner, who the US media once seemed to look at as a moderating influence on Trump, was also more in alignment with neocons like Graham in keeping the USA involved on the global stage.

And now we see why Graham is scratching his head in public. He wants Kushner to stay close to Trump, so that he can keep Bannon at bay. But, leaked facts are facts… if Kushner has scored an own-goal with his zeal in setting up a back channel of communications with Russia during the transition period… he can’t have that security clearance… he can remain an advisor, sure, but he will have to read a lot of newspapers, because he won’t be getting any more security briefings.

When the USA meddled in Ukraine’s politics, it was obvious that the USA was toppling a pro-Russian leader and getting a pro-USA guy in there. It was so obvious, we even knew that Joe Biden’s son was on the board of directors of the fracking company that was about to set up operations in the Donbass region. Russia’s reaction was threefold: retake the Crimea and make it part of Russia; start a pro-Russian rump state in the Donbass, and; return the favor of election meddling to the USA.

Part of intelligence is the art of finding conaspirational individuals who will further some of your ends, even if they oppose your ultimate goal. In “17 Moments”, Stierlitz is able to play Martin Bormann against the influence of Heinrich Himmler. In real life, I’m sure Russian agents were able to influence men in the FBI and CIA to go down certain paths of action that served well their ends. That’s just what Russian agents do.

But this case with Trump is almost comical in its dimensions. It’s certainly a laughing-stock. And, sadly, jokes once used to mock the seriousness of the series and Stierlitz’ razor-thin escapes now fit perfectly on the Trump administration. I will close with one:

Donald Trump is meeting with his National Security Council. Sergey Kislyak enters the room with a cookie platter. Kislyak places the platter on the table, opens a safe, removes all the documents, waves bye-bye, then leaves.
Secretary of Defense shouts, “What the hell was that?”
Donald Trump says, “That was Sergey Kislyak, spying for the Russians again.”
Secretary of Defense: “Why didn’t you do anything about it?”
Trump: “I’ve tried in the past, but he always manages to wriggle out. Not worth the effort going after him… Must say, though, he did bring us all cookies…”

Who Watches the Watchers?

Trump intends to hire thousands more Border Guards. Ostensibly, that can be a good thing. More jobs in distressed areas, things like that. But there’s a cloud for that silver lining: whenever the US Government has a mass hiring program, standards for hiring are lowered. Background checks and polygraph tests are skipped and we wind up hiring some bad hombres that later make headlines for use of excessive force, diverting evidence for their personal use, or, worst of all, be involved as inside men for organized criminal activities.

We’ve already got a big problem with cartel moles in the US Border Patrol. Hiring people to go to remote places like Presidio, Texas, where the nearest grocery store is about 90 minutes away, increases the chance that someone way out there, alone in the dark, will fall victim to a bullet or a bribe.

Some Congresspeople have said we could skip background checks by hiring former veterans, but that’s not such a cheerful idea when one realizes that already we have issues with former veterans getting hired by cartels to penetrate organizations that skip background checks for veterans.

So what good is a wall that’s manned by people that are paid to look the other way and to turn off the cameras when criminals want to cross it? At that point, it’s no longer a wall, no matter how high it may rise. It’s just a particularly nasty speedbump.

To say that we’ll deal with that via more stringent controls is dangerously naive. We’ve already got endemic corruption along the border that our current stringent controls were supposed to deal with. And shouldn’t the stringent controls be applied at the time of hire, not afterward? Remember, in this scenario, we got people to work in desolate regions of the US border precisely because we lowered standards. No lowered standards, no people to watch the wall, which potentially saves the cartels some money that would have otherwise been spent on bribes or ammo.

I’m not presenting a bleeding-heart, think of the children reason to not have a border wall because other people have put forward those stories and, frankly, folks most in favor of the wall don’t care for such stories. But I know that they do care about security and fiscal conservatism. To spend billions on a wall that produces a false sense of security is a massive fault against both such standards. That money can be better not spent and thereby not increase the deficit. Or, if the border is in dire need of reinforcement, then it is imperative to use funds to strengthen, not weaken, the Coast Guard, increase controls at the border and for heaven’s sake, repair relations with Mexico, which is only fighting the War on Drugs – La Guerra Contra Narcotrafico – as a favor to a nation it considers to be its friend. If Mexico is not our friend, then it does nothing to stop the flow of criminal activity and those trucks roll north, past bribed guards who see nothing, nothing at all.

And before you suggest something like legalizing heroin to take away those profits from criminals, ask yourself, “If I was a criminal and couldn’t make money smuggling heroin, what else could I profit from smuggling into the USA?” That’s the thing that will fill the trucks instead of what you just legalized.

In my view, the solution along the border has more to do with improving the way we handle immigration and drug addiction. These are tough problems and saying that building a wall will solve them is only a fool’s escape from realities. Building that wall is a form of giving up, like saying, “There’s a wall and, therefore, no problem.” But, as I’ve illustrated above, this border thing is so complicated that the wall soon becomes part of the problem.

So, who exactly pays the ultimate price of this wall?

Rob Peter’s Coast Guard to Pay for Paul’s Wall

Yes, I know Trump said he’d get Mexico to pay for “The Wall.” I’ll believe that when the Treasury of Mexico cuts the check. In the meantime, Trump’s people are proposing moving some budgets around to pay for that big, useless wall. One such proposal is to cut the Coast Guard budget by 14%. Link: The Independent

The Coast Guard is our floating wall, some of the most involved people in the security of America’s borders. In fact, quite a lot of the USA borders a major body of water. And if there’s a big wall and a closed border crossing at Brownsville, then that smuggler of drugs and/or people is going to load everything and everybody on a boat and sail it past an overworked, understaffed Coast Guard. That’s just stupid, cutting the Coast Guard budget to pay for a wall that will block the places where most of the illegal traffic isn’t going.

Remember my example? I stipulated that the border crossing was actually closed. That’s not likely to happen. It’s those border crossings where most of the trucks roll across with their loads, legitimate and otherwise. If one wants to stop the otherwise stuff, then there has to be better searching and control on those crossings. Next up is the sea traffic, which is where our Coast Guard comes in.

Face it, some of the easiest ways to move bulk goods involve trucks and boats, not mule trains crossing the Sonoran Desert or the Sierra Madres. If I was in charge of blocking illicit traffic, I’d put money into searching trucks and boats and kick a few bucks more towards intercepting small aircraft. A wall? Please. That’s totally useless. I don’t care who you voted for or what human rights are or are not violated by a wall. A wall is stupid, especially if, in order to get it, we practically invite everyone to travel by sea instead of land.

25.75 Days

As I write this, President Trump is now 25.75 days into his administration. In that time, there has been a major court challenge to one of his executive orders, an ethics violation by his chief of staff, massive acrimony between his press secretary and the White House press corps, a resignation of his National Security Advisor, and a number of security breaches as unvetted civilians mingled with the Japanese Prime Minister’s state visit to the USA. Normally, stuff like this takes much longer to develop and unfold in an administration, but this is the worst presidential honeymoon I can imagine.

Democratic resolve to resist everything Trump is doing and his acrimonious relationship with GOP insiders aside, there’s another force that seems to be working to undermine President Trump: the intelligence community.

We’ve had presidents and advisors with questionable, shady dealings in the past that didn’t get anyone canned because the intel community in the USA was either involved or favorable to those dealings. But when Nixon passed over Hoover’s #2 at the FBI to head that agency when Hoover died, that man became Deep Throat and he brought down a president. It didn’t have to be Watergate, that just happened to be a topical scandal that presented itself. There were a number of other crooked things that Nixon’s administration was involved with: if Watergate hadn’t happened, one of those would have sufficed.

But it wasn’t just Nixon that went down. It was a large part of his top staff that fell from grace, even including his vice president. He had crossed the FBI, and he paid a dear price.

It’s now 2017, and Trump is finding out what happens when one angers the CIA in one’s presidential campaign. It’s not just that he insulted the agency. Trump campaigned against much of what the CIA is involved in and placed himself as an enemy to the agency. In return, they let him set himself up for a fall.

If the CIA were loyal to Trump, they could have let him know it was best to steer clear of a National Security Advisor with questionable contacts with Russia. Instead, they let Trump go with his choice and then, in just under 25.75 days, they provided enough evidence to torpedo the guy. Who else have they let slip through, only to destroy later?

Trump represents more than just a personal threat to the intel community. Because his populist, nativist movement is hostile to the CIA, they can’t just take down Trump and be done with it. Before they destroy the man, they have to destroy is ideas. As Trump’s staff have their failures made known, watch for the national media to educate one and all of the folly of their ways. Watch for stern, disapproving lectures from GOP senators that are close to the intel community – McCain and Graham come to mind – about the sad things that Trump and his associates are involved in.

The opposition he faces in the Democratic party will have its own day of humiliation, should they dare to support Sanders or anyone like him again. Clinton was undone by the FBI and it seems to me that Trump’s undoing is a quid pro quo agreement with the CIA, who finds him as odious to their ends as Clinton was to the FBI’s.

How to Have a Financial Collapse

It’s easy. Get rid of the regulations that keep the banks from doing insane stuff. It’s easy, and Trump is getting underway with that very action. The process is simple. It’s known as the Minsky Cycle, which is then followed by the Fisher Cycle. The Minsky Cycle describes how things get completely out of hand and, in the middle of a euphoric bacchanal brought on by deregulation and speculation, a moment arrives at which investors panic and the economy collapses. At that point, the Fisher Cycle describes the resulting depression and how it persists in spite of efforts by the government to make things better.

The sad thing is that while those two cycles are some of the most accurate models to emerge from modern economics, they fly in the face of the grand beliefs of the neoliberal economists that believe only free trade and the gold-plated anarchy of deregulation will save the world. Since those neoliberals are also running the world’s major private banks as well as the central banks, they’re always promoting policies to further their ideological views, even when those views always end in tears. Their battle cry is “This time is different!” as they pilot financial machines toward the abyss.

That President Trump has chosen a Goldman Sachs banker for his treasury secretary came as no surprise to me. His speed in junking banking regulations, as well, is no surprise. With markets at all-time highs and debt structures in Europe ready to collapse, the ensuing financial collapse will also be no surprise.

Protip: If you want to make a nation great, keep its banks on a tight leash. Letting them run free never ends well.

Mobocracy in Berkeley

I heard reports this morning of how protestors in Berkeley violently raged against a speaker to the point where the speaker canceled his appearance and several people were injured. Now, this speaker says some despicable things, but America is about freedom of speech, even detestable speech. If I don’t like what someone is saying, I have a right to a peaceable assembly to protest. The guy that says stuff I don’t like, he also has a right to peaceably assemble. Nobody has a right to smash windows, start fires in the streets, or get into a fight.

I had ancestors who were the targets of mob violence because the people around them didn’t like they way they lived or what they believed. I may wish that people wouldn’t say hateful, horrible things, but I don’t wish it to the point of wanting to inflict violence on them or their audiences. I detest mobocracy. It cannot be a solution, ever. It is only a way of destroying one set of problems by creating another set that is far worse.

I can understand people disagreeing with the racism, sexism, and fascism that has bubbled up into view, encouraged by the election campaign of Donald Trump – and his winks and nods in those directions are themselves deplorable – but I cannot see anything good coming from using violence and mobocracy to drive them back into the shadows.

Immigration Bans

Mr. Trump has begun to carry out his campaign threats to ban all Muslim immigration to the USA. In a limited move based mostly upon states being identified as being highly conducive to the development of terrorists by previous administrations, including the Obama administration, Trump issued an executive order that basically revoked visas of persons currently in transit from those nations: Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan, Iraq, and Iran.

Unlike other travel bans, which were phased in and allowed people in transit to complete their journeys, this ban cut travelers off at the knees. Although they were not singled out in the executive order as being Muslims, that is the de facto reality of the order. Given the context of Trump’s overt campaign statements and covert winks and nudges towards white supremacist groups during his campaign, one has to interpret this as only the beginning of his plans, not as a complete implementation of such.

While the logistics and diplomatic gyrations that would result from banning travel from NATO ally Turkey or the strategically important Kingdom of Saudi Arabia have yet to be realized, there is yet another disturbing element in Trump’s executive order, and it is one that speaks of fascism.

When courts ruled for a stay in the implementation of the executive order, there were persons in DHS that continued to implement it in defiance of the courts.

Let me repeat that in another way: when the judicial branch exercised one of its checks on the power of the executive, the executive chose to ignore the rule of law, which is most certainly a form of tyranny.

The greatest alarm should not be in the President calling for such an order, but for the persons that were determined to continue implementing it in spite of such implementation being illegal. These people do not support the Constitution or the laws of the United States of America, but the ideology of fascism and the doctrine that might makes right. Both are contrary to the spirit of America and certainly the latter is contrary to the law itself.

We live by laws in the United States and when we have disputes, we are to dispose of them via legal means. The courts can give a hearing on the executive order and, based upon the courts’ rulings, implement or withhold it as appropriate. Anything less than that is despotism, and we cannot have that.

While Trump was within his rights as President to issue an executive order, it was also the right of federal judges to rule on the constitutionality of such executive orders. It is NOT within the rights of DHS personnel to continue enforcing the executive order after the courts ruled for a stay on its enforcement.

A Quick Note…

A quick note to all the Republican partisans complaining about possible voter fraud: where were you in 2000 and 2004? Chickens come home to roost in politics. Remember how the GOP leaders said that Diebold voting machines being made by a strong GOP backer wasn’t an issue? Remember how the GOP leaders said that the claims of black voters being incorrectly identified as felons was overstated? Remember when a few Florida ballot boxes turned up with plenty of Republican votes, sometimes more than were registered in the precinct? Chickens coming home to roost.

Sure, this election is on track to be pretty much handed to Clinton, maybe even in a big way – Texas might go purple, if not blue. A lot of that is Trump’s fault, plain and simple. He’s highly offensive to a majority of Americans, more so than Clinton. But if the Democrats do anything shady or even illegal to slant the results in their favor, don’t come crying to me about it. The way 2000 and 2004 played out basically condoned mild to moderate voter fraud from the top on down.

I’m an independent voter that has been hugely disappointed with both major parties since the 1990s, and it sickens me how they have allowed the political process to be increasingly criminalized and the politicians to be telemarketers selling their votes to the biggest donors. I’ll agree that Clinton’s campaign has been doing some awfully sleazy things, but to any Republican – you have met the enemy, and she is y’all.

You Want to End Islamic Terrorism? Don’t Have Another Republican President

Republican convention speakers were screaming about how Democrats won’t stop radial Islamic terrorists. Well, at least they didn’t put their organizers on jets and send them safely back to Saudi Arabia like George W. Bush did. At least they didn’t shake hands with Saddam Hussein like Donald Rumsfeld did. At least they didn’t sell arms to the Ayatollah like Ronald Reagan did. Maybe the best cure for radical Islamic terrorists is to *not* have a Republican president… I mean, didn’t Black September attack during the Nixon administration?

And before any Republicans get high and mighty and try to twist the truth to convince themselves that, somehow, a blowhard like Trump will make any difference over the status quo, the failure of intelligence and leadership in Benghazi was peanuts compared to the colossal failure of intelligence and leadership in 9/11. I agree that Syria is a huge mess, but it’s an extension of the neocon thinking that penetrated the US bureaucracy under Bush – the same thinking that brought on the nightmares of Iraq.

Trump is promising easy solutions that are also non-existent. To truly end Islamic terrorism, end US adventures overseas. To truly end racial unrest, stop engaging in practices that disenfranchise and marginalize minorities. To truly end violence against police, end the militarization of police that has some departments acting in a way that was unthinkable 20 years ago.

Even if Trump says he’s in favor of any of the above, he’s also a guy that will say anything to get what he wants. This is well known. He is everything that the Republican commentators have laid at the feet of Barack Obama, except while the accusations against Obama were overblown propaganda, this guy Trump delivers the goods. And the conservative media have done a full about-face to laud a man who is in every way like the Barack Obama they described.

I’m not going to give Clinton a pass, either. Face it, GOP, she’s so neocon, the Koch Brothers are backing her campaign. As in the Koch Brothers that bankroll everything that is holy and sacred to the Republican party. They are backing Clinton.

Either way, Trump or Clinton, we’re going to see a continuation of neocon policies. Either way, Trump or Clinton, we’re going to have a Republican president, who will do horrible things to people in the Middle East and continue to fuel radical Islamic terrorism with the twin policies of killing innocents at weddings and ignoring everything Saudi Arabia does to stoke the radicals.

This is why I support Gary Johnson and a full Libertarian ticket. Libertarians still have their ethics and principles and have the best chance of getting America on the path towards true peace. You want someone like a founding father that believes serving in government is a duty, not a chance to build a power base and then charge massive speaker fees after such service? You elect a Libertarian – it’s not a 100% guarantee, but the odds are in favor of a guy that will serve a few terms and then go home again, back to the people.

If I DON’T vote Libertarian, I’m throwing away my vote.

Segregation and Computing

Having seen just how rabid the segregation laws were all through the USA – not just the South – I wondered what would happen if segregation were still in effect today? I couldn’t imagine bigots being comfortable with the very thought of black data and white data intermingling. Bigotry is a form of mental insanity, and this insanity is typified by an obsessive compulsion to keep everything that touches or involves one kind of person totally separate from another class of person. These people segregated radio broadcasts and movies, for pete’s sake.

Data networks would have to be separate, with state communications safety commissions specifying which parts of the spectrum were for colored wireless networks and which ones were for white wireless networks. Wireless specifications would have to stipulate that the networks were separate but equal… even if the ones serving colored people had substandard equipment.

Wired networks, as well, would be separate but “equal”, with firewalls keeping the rules on what traffic should go where. This would naturally lead to different storage networks, different logon servers, different databases… all in the name of keeping things separate. Why should the records of a colored person be stored on the same hard drive as those of a white person? If they do not mingle in society, they surely should not mingle in the datacenter, or so the reasoning would go.

As an economist, this brings up the economic lunacy of segregation – why should a business be burdened with parallel systems, or deny a segment of the customer base services? It makes no economic sense, whatsoever. The same people that throw a fit about how Washington is meddling in their affairs are not above doing that very same sort of meddling on their own, even if it is more burdensome than the stuff coming out of DC.

As a network engineer, it would have been a nightmare trying to keep and prove all the data bits were truly separate from each other. Networks are designed to serve everyone. In networking, we give preference to services and types of traffic, not people.

But as a historian, I am sure that had segregation not been defeated and brought to an end, we would have such unwieldy rules in place. Their impact would be more than just economic and technical: they would be a further extension of the brutality of bigotry.

We cannot allow the rules of our world to be dictated by those who are mentally insane. Bigotry is insanity, and the cure for it certainly does not lie in holding a position of power.