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Wed Jul 24, 2013 at 06:18 PM PDT

Proud of my party

by sdelear

On the Amesh NSA amendment:

Democrats:  Yay 111; Nay 83
Republicans: Yay 94; Nay 134

We may have problems (I can think of about 83), on the other hand tomorrow is going to be interesting on the Republican side.


From the Washington Post:

On the line with the SEAL was the drone operator and a “collector,” an NSA employee at the agency’s gigantic base at Fort Gordon in Augusta, Ga. The collector was controlling electronic surveillance equipment in the airspace over the part of Afghanistan where the CIA had zeroed in on one particular person. The SEAL pleaded with the collector to locate the cellphone in Afghanistan that matched the phone number that the SEAL had just given him, according to someone with knowledge of the incident who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

The collector had never before done such a thing. Before even intercepting a cellphone conversation, he was accustomed to first confirming that the user was the person he had been directed to spy on. The conversation would then be translated, analyzed, distilled and, weeks later, if deemed to be interesting, sent around the U.S. intelligence community and the White House.

On that day, though, the minutes mattered.

“We just want you to find the phone!” the SEAL urged. No one cared about the conversation it might be transmitting.

The CIA wanted the phone as a targeting beacon to kill its owner.

By September 2004, a new NSA technique enabled the agency to find cellphones even when they were turned off. JSOC troops called this “The Find,” and it gave them thousands of new targets, including members of a burgeoning al-Qaeda-sponsored insurgency in Iraq, according to members of the unit.

So the NSA and CIA have been targeting drone strikes at cellphones without first taking the time to be clear who is carrying the phone and what they might be doing.  That's how you end up blowing up weddings, political meetings, and groups of teenagers hanging out at a cafe.

Equally disturbing the NSA is collecting and storing information on every American with a cell phone that would allow them to quickly carry out their assassination via drone.  (I should also add that if you have a 4G enabled tablet, it would seem the government can follow it even when turned off).  Among the things the government absolutely should not be doing is secretly tracking citizens in a way that would allow for their extrajudicial killing.  

It is time we renewed the ban on the US government performing assassinations.  Once that capability has been created it is far to easy to abuse.


Thu Jul 18, 2013 at 09:42 AM PDT

Justice for Abdulrahman al-Awlaki

by sdelear

From the New York Times:

SANA, Yemen — I LEARNED that my 16-year-old grandson, Abdulrahman — a United States citizen — had been killed by an American drone strike from news reports the morning after he died.

The missile killed him, his teenage cousin and at least five other civilians on Oct. 14, 2011, while the boys were eating dinner at an open-air restaurant in southern Yemen.

. . .

The attorney general, Eric H. Holder Jr., said only that Abdulrahman was not “specifically targeted,” raising more questions than he answered.

My grandson was killed by his own government. The Obama administration must answer for its actions and be held accountable. On Friday, I will petition a federal court in Washington to require the government to do just that.

Abdulrahman was born in Denver. He lived in America until he was 7, then came to live with me in Yemen. He was a typical teenager — he watched “The Simpsons,” listened to Snoop Dogg, read “Harry Potter” and had a Facebook page with many friends. He had a mop of curly hair, glasses like me and a wide, goofy smile.

In 2010, the Obama administration put Abdulrahman’s father, my son Anwar, on C.I.A. and Pentagon “kill lists” of suspected terrorists targeted for death. A drone took his life on Sept. 30, 2011.

The government repeatedly made accusations of terrorism against Anwar — who was also an American citizen — but never charged him with a crime. No court ever reviewed the government’s claims nor was any evidence of criminal wrongdoing ever presented to a court. He did not deserve to be deprived of his constitutional rights as an American citizen and killed.

Early one morning in September 2011, Abdulrahman set out from our home in Sana by himself. He went to look for his father, whom he hadn’t seen for years. He left a note for his mother explaining that he missed his father and wanted to find him, and asking her to forgive him for leaving without permission.

A couple of days after Abdulrahman left, we were relieved to receive word that he was safe and with cousins in southern Yemen, where our family is from. Days later, his father was targeted and killed by American drones in a northern province, hundreds of miles away. After Anwar died, Abdulrahman called us and said he was going to return home.

That was the last time I heard his voice. He was killed just two weeks after his father.

This raises a couple of questions:
"Not Specifically Targeted" does that mean he was killed in a signature strike?

What the hell our we doing bombing cafes to kill children?  This is the kind of thing that we once condemned the PLO for.  When it comes to describing actions that make you a terrorist, I would say blowing up dinners and killing a bunch of children comes pretty high up on the list.

Continue Reading

The New York Times is accusing the left of being revolutionary:

The rhetoric of the Tea Party — the far right of the Republican Party — asserts a quite different view: that Obama’s mode of governing represents a betrayal of our revolutionary ideals and calls for a  “mission . . . to restore America’s founding principles.”  Although few Tea Party members advocate armed opposition, many, like the original Tea Party, are committed to much more than the conventional elective and legislative efforts to thwart the goals of “liberal” government.

Ever since Obama’s initial election, they have been willing to employ almost any “acts of disruption” short of civil disobedience or insurrection.  They routinely use filibuster to oppose legislation, obstruct the implementation of laws (especially the Affordable Care Act) already enacted, and put on indefinite hold appointments to key administrative and judicial positions.  In this sense, they are indeed a revolutionary party.

On the other side of the political spectrum, recent developments — particularly Edward Snowden’s leaks about government surveillance programs — have evoked similar revolutionary sentiments from the far left.  Glenn Greenwald, the journalist who published Snowden’s information, maintains that it shows a “government [that] continues on its orgies of whistleblower prosecutions, trying to criminalize journalism, and building a massive surveillance apparatus that destroys privacy.”  Snowden himself sees such actions as “an existential threat to democracy.” Similarly, Noam Chomsky says the surveillance program is an example of how “governments combat their primary enemy — which is their own population.

We may well think that a proper response to a government so opposed to the fundamental rights of its citizens would be “disruptive action” to negate its power — which is precisely what Snowden undertook.  We might further think that at this moment, at least, both the far right and the far left are revolutionary parties: both insist that disruption is necessary because the current government, like that of our 18th-century British rulers, is violating our fundamental rights as citizens and so has lost legitimacy.  The principles of our original revolution, it would seem, once again require revolutionary action.

There is a lot of charter on the net wishing for revolution in America today (go read Slashdot).  At the same time I see no evidence that the progressive left has become violent or revolutionary.  Pissed off and seeking to influence our representatives, yes.  Violent, not so much.  Opinions like the one expressed by this New York Times columnist seem more likely to cause a situation (such as the protests some are planning tomorrow) to spin out of control.  We are a heavily armed and heavily divided country.  Equating Progressives, possibly the last group calling for a restoration of government legitimacy, with revolution strikes me as irresponsible and dangerous.  Calling a large portion of the political spectrum, both right and left, revolutionary before a day of planned mass protests risks upping the chances of a violent confrontation.  Perhaps the protests planned for tomorrow fizzle.  Perhaps they don't.  The New York Times should still know better than to brandy about the term revolution.


Sun Jun 23, 2013 at 01:36 PM PDT

The NSA's threat to Capitalism

by sdelear

Government can now take idea and innovations from the worlds non-white population and redistribute them to white American males.  According to Bloomberg:

technology, finance and manufacturing companies are working closely with U.S. national security agencies, providing sensitive information and in return receiving benefits
In 2013 the US went from a first to invent to a first to file patent system.  Whoever files the documents first gets rights to an idea.  With the abilities that the NSA has gained the government can now see ideas as they form.  In doing so the US Government has acquired the power to take ideas from those that they deem less worthy and give it to those that they consider more deserving.  Intelligence and skill now matter less than being the right sort of person, at the right sort of company, and have the blessings of the intelligence community.

This is a creeping sickness on international capitalism.  How can anybody rationally allocate capital when what matters most is the government secretly providing a leg up to undisclosed companies?  Now that the extent of NSA surveillance has been made public the well of ideas may run dry.  Who is going to go invent the next microcomputer in their basement if they know their ideas will be stolen by the government?  

A crisis is highly likely.  Much of American industry has come to center around Intellectual Property.  If America has the ability to steal ideas from foreign people (and quite possibly domestic ones) why should any foreign government honor American IP?  This cannot end well.


Thu Jun 20, 2013 at 03:39 PM PDT

Breaking: NSA Wiretapped Obama

by sdelear

A wistleblower has surfaced claiming that the NSA wiretapped Obama during his 2004 Senate campaign.

Russ Tice, a former intelligence analyst who in 2005 blew the whistle on what he alleged was massive unconstitutional domestic spying across multiple agencies, claimed Wednesday that the NSA had ordered wiretaps on phones connected to then-Senate candidate Barack Obama in 2004.

Speaking on "The Boiling Frogs Show," Tice claimed the intelligence community had ordered surveillance on a wide range of groups and individuals, including high-ranking military officials, lawmakers and diplomats.

. . .

"I was worried that the intelligence community now has sway over what is going on," Tice said.

After going public with his allegations in 2005, Tice later admitted that he had been a key source in a bombshell New York Times report that blew the lid off the Bush administration's use of warrantless wiretapping of international communications in the U.S. The article forced Bush to admit that the practice was indeed used on a small number of Americans, but Tice maintained that the NSA practice was likely being used the gather records for millions of Americans. The NSA denied Tice's allegations.

When the FBI wiretapped Malcolm X in the 1960s all they found out was that he loved his wife and kids.  I have the feeling wiretapping Obama likely had a similar result.  I have to wonder if the reason that Progressivism can't seem to beat Neo-Liberalism, no matter how much real world economic data we get, is that somebody behind the scenes in playing games.


Thu Jun 20, 2013 at 01:22 PM PDT

Reality Hurts and the Economy Sucks

by sdelear

The financial marks are in the midst of a convulsion.  Economic reality is reasserting itself.  The markets are learning that they depend on aggregate demand, not simply how well the 1% does.  I'm hesitant to make any predictions based on the financial markets.  Humans are not good at predicting what the markets will do next, and only somewhat better at predicting what the economy in general will do that.  That said, now would be an excellent time to push the progressive economic platform.

Several years ago, the markets came to an almost religious acceptance that debt to GDP ratios over 90% meant economic catastrophe.  Like any good con, it told market participants what they wanted to believe: namely that kicking poor people was a good thing.  Of course, this has certain problems for social stability.  As a result, money poured into the bonds of highly stable first world countries.  Interest rates fell.  In fact, interest rates fell so low that corporations that borrow money as part of running their business (this would be all of them) saw their profits reach record levels.  It wasn't that the economy got good, so much as labor and interest costs collapsed.

In fact interest rates got so low that US Government 10 year bonds paid less than the expected rate of inflation.  In the 1990s commodities prices reached a cyclical low.  Rising commodities prices, along with the view that hyperinflation was right around the corner, caused investors to speculate in commodities.  This produced increasing real returns on commodities.  And then the resource curse kicked in.  Because commodities prices had nothing to do with economic reality, commodities producing areas started electing politicians equally divorced from reality.

And now the music has stopped and it has all come to an end.

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Tue Jun 18, 2013 at 01:55 PM PDT

Wind Energy: A Response to the WSJ

by sdelear

The Wall Street Journal is running an opinion piece today explaining why they think wind energy will not work.  WSJ Op-Ed

Among the highlights:

But wind farms do take up space. The available data from wind-power companies, with which the Environmental Protection Agency agrees, show that the most effective of them can generate about five kilowatts per acre. This means 300 square miles of land—192,000 acres—are necessary to generate the 1,000 megawatts (a billion watts) of electricity that a conventional power plant using coal, nuclear energy or natural gas can generate on a few hundred acres. A billion watts fulfills the average annual power demand of a city of 700,000.
Wow, that's good news.  If we estimate around 340 million people in America then we will need a base of around 150,000 square miles to produce 485 gigawatts.  America has 3.7 million square miles and our Canadian neighbors have another 3.8 million square miles.  Not every one of those onshore miles is suitable for wind production.  On the other hand, the WSJ is clearly just looking for a big scary number without context.
Another inescapable problem for electricity grids: The power generated by a wind turbine varies with the cube of the wind speed. When the wind speed doubles—say from 10 miles per hour to 20 miles per hour—the energy output increases eightfold (2 x 2 x 2). Someone, or some computer, has to balance these huge variations on the grid by calling on standby generators to produce more or less power to maintain the stability essential to the grid.
Why yes, many electrical engineers went into this with the idea that it would be better to update our aging power grid instead of adding extra equipment to the turbine.  After awhile they gave up advocating for the smart solution and started looking for ways to better integrate wind onto our current power grid.  GE recently invented a new type of long life industrial battery that can be used to buffer a wind turbines output.  This seems to quickly be becoming a non problem.

Then there is the real reason that wind power is going to win.  A coal or even a natural gas plant spends a significant portion of its income on fuel.  A wind turbine swaps fuel costs for financing costs on a capital good.  If only there were some way investors could group together to purchase capital goods and then share out the profits.  We might even call this method of financing a stock and the payments a dividend.  Every dollar not spent on fuel for a wind turbine is a dollar going to some form of financial investor.  This has a tendency to set up a feedback loop of Wind Turbine -> $$$ for investors -> More Wind Turbines.  Prior American experience has shown that once investors discover they can make money building a form of infrastructure, that infrastructure tends to get overbuilt.  I expect the wind turbines will still be operating long after the last last coal plant closes.


Thu Jun 13, 2013 at 08:42 PM PDT

NSA: Aiding Insider Trading?

by sdelear

Bloomberg is reporting that the NSA may have paid off companies for illegal access by sharing intelligence data.

Thousands of technology, finance and manufacturing companies are working closely with U.S. national security agencies, providing sensitive information and in return receiving benefits that include access to classified intelligence, four people familiar with the process said.

I think the operative question is what kind of information is being exchanged.  If the NSA is providing financial companies with insider stock information, that would go a long way to explaining many of the income inequality problems in the country.  

Academic studies have shown that it is almost impossible to beat the market making stock picks.  With insider information you can beat the market, but at the cost of creating an inefficient and unstable marketplace (for examples of this see generally the crash of 1929).  You also give money and influence to idiots who's only qualifications are they espouse views the NSA wants to hear and are willing to cut deals with the NSA.

This is how you create a global system where financial leaders find it more important to adhere to ideology than to do whatever is pragmatically going to work best.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper criticized the news media Saturday for what he called a “rush to publish” information based on “reckless” leaks about the government surveillance tool PRISM.
“Over the last week we have seen reckless disclosures of intelligence community measures used to keep Americans safe,” Clapper said in a statement.
(a) Whoever knowingly and willfully communicates, furnishes, transmits, or otherwisemakes available to an unauthorized person, or publishes, or uses in any manner prejudicial to the safety or interest of the United States or for the benefit of any foreign government to the detriment of the United States any classified information—
(1) concerning the nature, preparation, or use of any code, cipher, or cryptographic system of the United States or any foreign government; or
(2) concerning the design, construction, use, maintenance, or repair of any device, apparatus, or appliance used or prepared or planned for use by the United States or any foreign government for cryptographic or communication intelligence purposes; or
(3) concerning the communication intelligence activities of the United States or any foreign government; or
(4) obtained by the processes of communication intelligence from the communications of any foreign government, knowing the same to have been obtained by such processes—
Shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both.
(b) As used in subsection (a) of this section—
The term “classified information” means information which, at the time of a violation of this section, is, for reasons of national security, specifically designated by a United States Government Agency for limited or restricted dissemination or distribution;
The terms “code,” “cipher,” and “cryptographic system” include in their meanings, in addition to their usual meanings, any method of secret writing and any mechanical or electrical device or method used for the purpose of disguising or concealing the contents, significance, or meanings of communications;

. . .
[b]The term “communication intelligence” means all procedures and methods used in the interception of communications and the obtaining of information from such communications by other than the intended recipients;[/b]

Recklessness is a legal term.  It is one step shy of knowing action.  Basically the DNI has just told the press that if they don't back off this story they might graduate to knowing action, and be subject to prosecution.

The guardian release another PRISM slide today.  This goes directly to the question of if the government

The US media is not reporting on the new slide.  Instead it is full of denials from tech companies.  Under the law any spokesman who admitted to what is going on would face prison time.

It seems like the government is trying to threaten the media into killing the story.

Continue Reading

Fri Jun 07, 2013 at 11:16 PM PDT

PRISM and the One Ring

by sdelear

"In the place of a Dark Lord you would have a Queen! Not dark but beautiful and terrible as the dawn! Treacherous as the Seas! Stronger than the foundations of the Earth! All shall love me and despair!"

J.R.R. Tolkein wrote a series of novels about a ring so powerful all would kill to possess it.  Only the purest of heart could, not use it, but carry it until it could be destroyed.  Tolkein based the most obvious power of the ring, that of invisibility, on the Ring of Gyges.  This ring, so the the myth goes, allowed it's wearer to vanish.  With this, Gyges could watch and listen unseen to whomever he desired.  With it he could kill without his target even knowing he was there.  Plato argued that with such power no man could resist temptation and remain just.

The NSA's PRISM program (and other related programs) means this: with a couple mouse clicks someone at the NSA can know whom everyone reading this article is.  From there a couple more mouse clicks will tell them where you are and where you have been (cell phone metadata) and whom you associate with.  Every phone call you have made has been monitored.  Every e-mail you have sent.  Every purchase you have made with a credit or debit card.  The government, if it desired, could with PRISM make a list of all the activist members of a political party.  Maybe it arrests you.  Maybe it threatens to send your boss a summary of your porn viewing habits.  Or maybe it looks for local leaders whom are having financial difficulties and insures they find jobs on the other side of the country, destroying a political movements cohesion.

PRISM is something that should never have been built.  Its very existence is a threat to this country.  While it exists no political party or social movement can know that it has lost fairly at the polls.  Every single political leader in this country must confront that, compiled or not, the government possesses a complete dossier of all their doing.  

PRISM is so powerful that any party in power, even if they can trust themselves to use it wisely, dare not let the opposition take that power for themselves.  Further, any party not in power must logically fear PRISM so greatly that it does everything it can to seize power and thus control of the program.  Faced with an opposition using increasingly escalating and desperate tactics, the party in power will be sorely tempted to use PRISM as a way to curb unrest.  The very existence of the PRISM program is an invitation to a constant series of escalating power struggles.  This cannot end well.

For the good of the country the PRISM program must end and its databases must be destroyed lest it destroy us.


Tue May 28, 2013 at 12:26 PM PDT

Wall Street's Dirty Little Secret

by sdelear

Wall Street has a secret.  It is perhaps the most explosive secret in the country today.  It is a secret that, if it became known, could revolutionize the American political landscape.  It is hidden by unaccessible data and surrounded by a bodyguard of myth.  The secret is that almost every single "truth" you know about politics and the market is wrong.  

To understand the secret you need to understand several things:

1.  Research has shown that it is almost impossible to beat the risk adjusted return of a market index over a prolonged period of time.

2.  The S&P 500 Index is the preferred base index for doing academic research into the market.

3.  Some stocks in the S&P Index pay small dividends but have large share price growth (earnings are reinvested in the company).  Other stocks pay large dividends but have relatively little increase in share price (earnings are paid to stockholders).  In order to see how the market is really doing you need to look at the S&P Total Return Index, which includes both share prices and dividends.

4.  To get a real return you must subtract inflation (CPI-U for the numbers I'm about to give you) from the increase.  Sure the market might be up 10% in one year, but if inflation is running 11% you actually lost 1% in real terms.

5.  Because returns are compounded, what happens in the early years of a series can have greater impact then what happens in later years.  You can solve this problem by taking an arithmetic mean (averaging all the values together), though this may not be useful in many contexts.

So I took an arithmetic mean for each presidents tenure starting in 1929 (S&P data starts in 1926 so I couldn't go back further) base on data found here  I also computed average GDP growth bases on the inflation adjusted-chained-data found here  Follow me over the jump for the results.

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