Cyber-Security Minister Never Used a Computer

Cyber-SecurityThere’s an absolutely fascinating story hitting the news about the Cyber-Security minister recently appointed in Japan. Yoshitaka Sakurada was unable to answer relatively simple computer related questions, eventually said he had never used a computer in his life, and went on to say he didn’t think it would be an issue.

Is he right? Is he delusional? Must the minister of Cyber-Security have intimate knowledge of computers? Must any manager have a strong understanding of the job her or his workers are performing?

At first glance it would seem a manager is in the best position to succeed if she or he has firm knowledge of the work being done, but management philosophy doesn’t necessarily support this idea. It is generally considered a good idea to promote an excellent worker into a management position over a project with which she or he is unfamiliar. The idea being that if the manager is overly hands-on it is detrimental to the project. The job of a manager is to get the most out of people, not do the actual work.

It’s quite possible Sakurada will be an excellent Cyber-Security Minister. His specialty might be in managing people and that’s good enough. It’s also possible that his lack of knowledge over the division he is managing might prove a liability in the minds of those working under him. He might end up being a terrible minister. The point is, we don’t know. That’s what performance-based evaluation is all about.

The person who promoted Sakurada to Cyber-Security minister needs to accept responsibility for the outcome of this move. That’s the way it should be. We can certainly say a person appears to be unqualified for a position. We can argue that a recent trade involving our favorite sports team was misguided. We can criticize or praise any such decision, that’s well and good. But we can’t know the outcome until we see the results.

What is vitally important is to assess the results with critical thinking skills. The person who appointed Sakurada wants him to succeed and we see, all too often, excuse after excuse, spin after spin, justification after justification, to explain why failure is actually success. That’s the real problem. Not the hiring of Sakurada or anyone else for that matter.

It is important to make the hire for good reasons rather than political expediency. That being said, it’s also important to withhold judgment until a body of evidence is presented. Good hires turn out bad and bad hires turn out well.

The best strategy is to hire the person you think best qualified and if they are unable to handle the job, accept responsibility and move on. The worst strategy is to hire someone not particularly qualified and make every excuse in the book to keep them in the position. Sadly, when it comes to politics, we often see the latter.

In this case, we’ll see.

Tom Liberman

Angry and Intolerant this is Who We Are

Angry IntolerantA number of angry, intolerant, unreasoning, and disgusting attacks have taken place recently and everywhere I see politicians and others talking about how “This isn’t who we are.” The reality is that this is exactly who we are. We might not like looking in the mirror. We can certainly pretend we don’t want this, don’t fuel it by passing along intolerant rhetoric without regard for truth, but the reality is this nation has become increasingly angry and intolerant.

Not a day goes by without a friend of mine on social media, people who undoubtedly consider themselves to be decent, moral, and kind; saying something nasty about a person who disagrees with them on some social or political issue. Moron! Idiot! Sheep! Trying to destroy our country!

Not a day goes by when a media personality doesn’t angrily denounce and make outrageous claims about the fate of the nation if a particular person is allowed to get away with their agenda.

Not a day goes by without an angry politician vilifying someone from the opposite party for their vision of the United States.

We are angry and intolerant. That is what the people of our nation are today. Perhaps it was different in the past and maybe it will change in the future but not today. This is exactly who we are as a people. If you agree with my politics then I will support every vile thing you say, I will excuse every disgusting action you take, I will pass along any lie that supports you. If I disagree with your politics there is nothing about you worthwhile. You are out to destroy this nation and there is no lie, no misinformation, no twisting of the facts that I won’t pass along in an attempt to hurt you.

This is exactly who we are. This fact is displayed loudly by the politicians we elect, by the news shows we watch, and by our own vitriolic and unreasoning mindset available on display at the social media platform of your choice. I see it every day, over and over again. You cannot convince me with your meaningless words, spoken only after horrific tragedy, that you, that we, are not in some way enabling the violence.

The more the anger rises, the greater the chance for violence. We are angry, we are intolerant, and some people are twisting this irrationality into violent and deadly assaults.

Don’t tell me what we are not. Show me.

Tom Liberman

Expansion of Executive Power via National Security False Flags

National SecurityThe Constitution of the United States is fairly clear about separation of power between each of the branches of government. In a nutshell: The Legislative Branch makes laws, the Executive Branch enforces laws, and the Judicial Branch interprets laws. The Executive Branch is generally quite limited although, when it comes to issues of national security, these limits are often relaxed. Those limitations, or more specifically, what constitutes national security is my topic today.

Let’s examine foreign treaties to get started. The President of the United States gets to negotiate treatise with foreign powers, including trade agreements. These agreements become binding when the Senate agrees with a two-thirds majority. How these treaties can be broken is somewhat open to interpretation but, by and large, it has been only when Congress agrees to do so.

Likewise, we can take a look at the power to declare war. This is supposedly only the purview of Congress. There are other examples but let’s leave it at that for today.

This all being said; Executive Power is given a great deal of discretion when it comes to matters of national security. If the security of the nation is at risk, the courts have shown the president a great deal of deference in what can be done. This is a problem if the president decides virtually every single issue facing the nation is a matter of national security. This is a dangerous precedent to be setting for any president or any party. It is inevitable that another party or president will eventually come to power and once we’ve decided that trade with Canada, border crossings, gang violence, the price of steel, and who knows what else is a matter of national security; we cede all power to the Executive. The Constitution was written specifically to prevent this sort of behavior.

The question then becomes what defines national security? If we take a broad interpretation it means anything that might pose a threat to some citizens of the nation. A narrow view would be anything that threatens the nation as a whole. The current administration takes a broad view, possibly the widest interpretation in the history of our country. Whenever the Legislative or Judicial Branch does not accede to the wishes of this Executive, the next words we hear are National Security, usually followed by an exclamation point or three.

You can support the current Executive in this fantasy of national security concerns but I suggest to you this way of thinking is extraordinarily short-sighted. Tomorrow is a new day, a new executive. You might regret granting such power.

I have a decidedly narrow take on the idea of national security. I wish you would join me.

Tom Liberman

What do Unused Water Bottles in Puerto Rico say to You?

Water BottlesThere’s been an interesting image of a large number of water bottles sitting on a runway in Puerto Rico circulating throughout the news and my social media feeds. It shows tens of thousands or perhaps millions of water bottles sitting on a runway apparently unwanted and unused. What conclusions have you drawn from this event? I’m going to tell you what conclusions I originally drew and then what I found out when I investigated the issue.

Government waste of my tax dollars. Some stupid government agency either ordered way too many water bottles, didn’t arrange for transport of the bottles to needy citizens of Puerto Rico, or simply forgot about them and left them on the runway. Then I did some research. In my original guess as to what happened I thought it was one of three stupid things; surprise, it was all three.

FEMA purchased, loaded, shipped, and unloaded far too many water bottles. The water bottles on the runway were not needed. FEMA didn’t release the water bottles to the government of Puerto Rico until they had been sitting in the open, exposed to the elements, for months. FEMA didn’t make any arrangements to distribute the water. Finally, someone noticed the water and contacted FEMA, who released them to the government of Puerto Rico, who then began to distribute them but found the water was fouled by its exposure. So, there it sits. Now someone has to clean it all up, again, using tax dollars.

Yay! Government hard at work as usual. Is it any wonder the disaster relief in Puerto Rico and other places has been less than stellar in its execution? I’m not saying disaster relief is an easy thing to do. There are many moving parts and a huge amount of coordination is required. We need professionals in charge of this sort of thing, not people who raised a lot of campaign dollars and want a nice salary. People suffer because of failed government and my tax dollars are given to bottled water companies for no good purpose. At least those businesses are happy.

My final question is to you. What did you assume when you read the story about those water bottles? Something different? Don’t lie.

Tom Liberman

Millions to Stop Drug Trafficking in Haiti to no End

Haiti Port au PrinceFor the last two years a pair of Drug Enforcement Agent whistleblowers have been fighting their way through the system in regards to an incident in Haiti. The big complaint is that a large shipment of drugs was found by dock workers and immediately looted by everyone including drug enforcement agents before anyone tried to stop it. This might seem egregious to you but it’s not my problem with events.

What I’d like to talk about is the $250 million of my tax dollars that have gone to Haiti with $18.7 million of it earmarked to train drug enforcement agents at the port in question. This is the War on Drugs. The tax dollars the United States sends to countries like Haiti supposedly to stop drugs is largely used to line the pockets of who knows how many people. The entire War on Drugs has created an industry devoted to taking that money and doing just enough to get more while pocketing most of it.

Haiti is a perfect example of this situation but hardly the only one or even the largest. The DEA has an enormous budget and employs huge numbers of people. They are tasked largely with prosecuting the War on Drugs. Does anyone think they are winning? Would there be more drug addiction, more violence, more harassment, more illegal seizures, more anything if the DEA were to simply cease to exist? I think it’s fair to say there would be less of most of those things.

The United States spent $250 million over eight years to help Haiti police stop drug shipments. That’s a quarter of a billion dollars. That’s a lot of money. Yet, it’s really not. Compared to what we send to other countries for the same reason it’s really just a drop in the bucket. After we spent $250 million of which, as I mentioned, almost nineteen million, went to secure the port at Port-au-Prince; the authorities not only allowed drugs to be taken from a ship docked there but some of them participated in the theft. Is that a good use of our tax dollars?

For two years DEA whistleblowers have attempted to call attention to this incident and been essentially silenced. One was so harassed by a supervisor that it affected her or his health. The names of the whistleblowers are not being released. With the amount of money the United States is throwing at people in Haiti and all over the world, it’s unusual to not want to steal it. You’re a weirdo if you actually don’t want to dip your hand into the never-ending slush fund. You’d likely be the same, face facts.

Almost everyone is stealing tons of money, no one is caught, the people who don’t steal get harassed and fired, more cash keeps piling in, there is no accountability, and no one cares. Tell me you wouldn’t participate. Go on, I dare you.

Tom Liberman

No Planning means no Military Parade

Military ParadeThere’s an interesting story in the news about plans, or lack thereof, for a military parade in Washington D.C. The parade was on but then it was off again. I wasn’t that interested in the story until I read the sequence of events that led to President Trump announcing the parade was cancelled, not that I think it is permanently cancelled, the president is a man of mercurial whim and anything can change. That being said, I think this incident gives us some insight into the nature of his administration. Lack of planning.

Trump wanted to have a military parade ever since he saw the Bastille Day celebration in France back in July of 2017 and has been credibly reported as saying he wanted something similar in Washington D.C. He’s been talking about this idea with various members of the Armed Services and others for over a year now. Apparently, his insistence finally started some action but this is what I want to discuss.

If you speak with the women and men charged with planning any sort of a parade, even a kindergarten march through the school, they will explain to you the necessity of making plans. Lots can go wrong in such events and a military parade through downtown Washington D.C. is something that I hope anyone, regardless of political affiliation realizes, is a complex affair. There is much organization and coordination between various groups required.

City officials were notified on August 8, 2018 to be aware planning for a parade was under way and they would be involved. The letter from Homeland Security listed one detail and that one being vague, it would happen on or around November 10, 2018. The announcement the parade was cancelled because of cost came on Aug 17, 2018. That’s eleven entire days. Which is hardly enough time to make a proper estimate, but it gets much worse.

The city didn’t receive any other information about the parade until Aug 14, 2018. Even then officials were not told how long the parade would last, how many people were involved, what route was planned, what military equipment was involved, or apparently much of anything. They were then asked to estimate the cost to the city!

It’s hard for me to put into words how idiotic is this request. How can anyone make an approximation without at least some information? The data given to them made it impossible to make an estimate. City officials then threw out a number, a mistake if you ask me, of $21.6 million. I’m guessing they looked at expenses for other such events with extra pay for police, fire, and emergency services, cleanup costs, etc. Still, they should have just told the White House they had no idea and needed more information before any sort of an estimate could be offered.

The Pentagon has apparently long resisted this parade and someone began throwing out numbers with one being $92 million. General Mattis, who would supposedly be in a position to know about the plans, in an overt admission said that no one had any idea how much the parade would cost and any estimates should be discounted. Mattis at least had the courage to admit no one planned a damn thing and it was impossible to guess the cost. Maybe he hoped no one would comment on the incredibly stupidity of the entire organizational failure. Wrong. General Mattis, you bear some responsibility for this nonsense.

The worst part about all of this is that it seems like standard operating procedure for this administration. If you support it, please take note of how lack of planning is a sure-fire recipe for disaster. From tariffs, to immigration, to travel bans, the entire administration simply fires on the whim of the president. Maybe you like that, maybe you support that, but don’t come complaining to me when things go horribly awry. Without plans, as even the most ardent support of the president knows in their heart, chances are things will spiral into disaster.

Tom Liberman

Ajit Pai Thinks he Didn’t Lie about Cyber Attack

Ajit PaiIn the IT world there’s been a heated and interesting debate going on for over a year about a denial of service attack Ajit Pai claimed happened to the FCC after his Net Neutrality announcement. The veracity of the attack has long been doubted and now Pai finally admits the truth but he is, of course, innocent of all wrongdoing.

I wrote an article detailing the entire episode which you can read to learn more about the actual events but what I’d like to focus on today is the smug expression of joy that Pai utters in assuring us he did nothing wrong. I’m pleased that this report debunks the conspiracy theory that my office or I had any knowledge that the information provided by the former CIO was inaccurate and was allowing that inaccurate information to be disseminated for political purposes.

I suppose there is some chance Pai is an abject moron and wasn’t suspicious about the claim of an attack and therefore passed along the information in all honesty but I find that all but impossible to believe. Pai is an intelligent man whose parents are both doctors. He got an undergraduate degree from Harvard and a law degree from the University of Chicago. There is no possible way he is moronic enough to have believed the lies told to him by the former Chief Information Officer of the FCC. Certainly, he wanted to believe those lies because they made his own announcement regarding the ending of Net Neutrality apparently less controversial.

Those lies served his purpose quite well but there is no way he didn’t at the very least recognize the statements he was making were highly improbable. What a person of integrity does under such circumstances is wait before publicly repeating the lies. A person with character interviews other people and makes a determined effort to find the truth rather than immediately disseminating the information for political gain.

Pai is not any of those things. He is a self-serving punk who is now patting himself on the back because technically he didn’t lie. He repeated things that were almost certainly lies without making any effort to find the truth. If I do him the disservice of believing the statement he didn’t suspect something was wrong, then I’ll apologize for calling him a lying punk, he’s just a complete and utter moron. But, I’m fairly certain that’s not the case.

It’s this kind of delusional thinking that is destroying our country. Well, technically I didn’t know it was a lie therefore I’m in the clear. Please, don’t inform me of any important facts because then I’ll know the truth and I’m so much happier simply not knowing anything because it gives me plausible deniability. What a leader! Isn’t this the kind of person you want in charge?

Tom Liberman

Why Hate Crimes and Unmasking Antifa Legislation Show Political Hypocrisy

antifaThere is a new piece of legislation making its way through Congress that proposes an extra fifteen-year penalty for people who commit a crime while wearing a mask, Antifa. There is already similar such legislation in many states and the federal government for people who commit a crime motivated by hate. Who opposes and supports such legislation shows us the bankruptcy of the ethical philosophy of both Democrats and Republicans.

The gist of the problem is that government is trying to give extra penalties to people who commit similar crimes for different motivations or because they are wearing a mask. So now we have three classes of assault. If you assault someone you have committed a crime and are punished. However, if you do the same and are motivated by hate, you get an extra penalty. If you do the same and are wearing a mask, essentially Antifa, you get an extra penalty. The crime is the assault; not the motivation behind it or the clothes you wear while committing it.

Largely, Republicans are opposed to hate crime legislation because there is no need for it. Assault is a crime in itself. There is no need to add the person’s motivation to it. Democrats are, generally, for this legislation because people who commit such crimes deserve longer punishment and hopefully that will deter them.

Largely, Democrats are opposed to Unmasking legislation because there is no need for it. Assault is a crime in itself. There is no need to add the person’s choice of clothing to it. Republicans are, generally, for this legislation because people who commit such crimes deserve longer punishment and hopefully that will deter them.

I’m confident you can see the tremendous hypocrisy in this situation and I won’t spend any more time on that. What I will talk about is the enormous danger the government presents to all of us when it attempts to legislate such matters. What the government is attempting, in both cases, is to legislate against groups they see as aligned against their interests. In one instance it is Democrats against white supremacists and in the other it is Republicans against Antifa.

In both cases such legislation doesn’t reduce the risk of violence but increases both it and the danger of armed revolution. If enough people feel the government is willing to make up laws in order to put them in jail, they will simply attempt to create a new government. We see this path throughout history. In the United States we have the ability to vote in a new government and have largely avoided violent attempts at revolt.

Our government seems increasingly willing to imprison those they see as political enemies. This course of action is expressly forbidden in the Constitution of the United States. The Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, and Eight Amendments all attempt to prevent the government from enacting such legislation. They do so not only to protect the people but to save the nation from the inevitable violent revolt that such imprisonments eventually engender.

A politician must not take sides in political debate. She or he must simply present arguments and persuade people to vote accordingly. Anything else tempts disaster.

Don’t be a hypocrite, be a Libertarian.

Tom Liberman

A Study of Tariffs and Laws and the Tomato

tomatoWith all the talk of tariffs in the news these days, I’ve been doing a bit of research and came across an interesting Supreme Court case related to the Tariff of 1883 and the humble tomato. Our friend the tomato is almost universally referenced as a vegetable in common parlance, this despite the fact that it is undeniably a fruit in botanical definition. This became an issue when the two food categories were treated differently in said tariff legislation.

If you were a seller of produce back in 1883 and sold tomatoes the tariff became an enormous issue. You see, fruits were exempted from tariffs while vegetables were not. The government, being the government, decided to include as many things in its revenue scheme as possible and that included tomatoes.

A fellow named John Nix founded a company called John Nix & Co. which became the largest sellers of produce in New York. They shipped produce from Virginia, Florida, and Bermuda to the city. Naturally, Nix didn’t want to pay extra tariffs on tomatoes. This is one of the problems with such tariffs. They raise revenue, certainly, but that revenue is taken indirectly from tax payers. While Nix’s company certainly has to pay the tariff directly to the government, they recoup this loss by raising the price on their produce. Thus, any tariff is really just an indirect tax. That is beside the point.

The point here is that the case went all the way to the Supreme Court in Nix v. Hedden, Edward L. Hedden being the Collector of the Port of New York. Hedden collected that money and Nix wanted it back. From a botanical perspective, the tomato is undeniably a fruit and therefore clearly exempt from the vegetable tariff.

The Supreme Court decided, unanimously and against nature, the tomato is not a fruit, it is a vegetable. The argument being that it is commonly thought of as thus. It is eaten as dinner rather than dessert. Therefore, Nix had to pay the tariff.

Is there a moral anywhere to be found in all of this? I’m not sure. The government instituted a tariff that was vague in reference using simply the words fruits and vegetables in non-taxonomic terms. The Supreme Court decide what Congress was really trying to do was put a tariff on tomatoes even they are clearly fruit and thus changed the legal definition in regards to tariffs, although they had not the power to change the scientifically determined definition, for which we can all be thankful.

It does give us some insight into who is the one paying for these tariffs and why manufacturers and wholesalers tend to fight them to the bitter end.

And, of course, my summation. Even if the Supreme Court made Nix pay the tariff because the tomato is commonly thought of as a fruit, this does not change the nature of the tomato. It clearly fits the established definition of a fruit, like it or not. Me, I’ll go with science over government.

Tom Liberman

The Red Hen and Masterpiece Cakeshop

Red Hen Masterpiece CakeshopRecently the White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, was asked to leave a restaurant called the Red Hen because they didn’t like her political ideology as expressed in her job. Before that a bakery called Masterpiece Cakeshop refused to make a wedding cake for a homosexual couple because of their sexual orientation.

The two stories are intertwined in an interesting way for this Libertarian. The battle lines have been drawn, as they say. For me the two cases do not present any sort of ethical dilemma. As far as I’m concerned, the ownership of both The Red Hen and Masterpiece Cakeshop have every right to serve, or not serve, who they want as long as they do not run afoul protected classes. Neither homosexuals or political appointees are guarded by the Constitution, so far. From a legal standpoint, I support both businesses.

From a professional perspective and from a human level I would not have done the same if I was the owner of either the cake shop or the restaurant. I think if I am going to start a business of any sort, I should respect both myself and my customers, regardless of their sexual orientation or political philosophy. From a personal standpoint, I oppose both business owners.

It’s really that simple for me. I don’t have to think much about it. I don’t have to worry about my political ideology or my personal distastes. I have a job and I try to do it as best I can regardless of other factors.

I’m aware we can get into nuance here. What if a group of Nazis wanted to have a birthday party at my restaurant? Would I allow it? Particularly if they were going to display paraphernalia supporting hatred of Jews. I’m actually of the opinion that I’d have them although I’d probably require modest, rather than overt, displays of their beliefs.

If a person with a white supremacist or a rainbow tattoo wanted to dine at my establishment I think I’d have no issue and attempt to serve them the best meal possible. I think we’d all be better off if we treated each other fairly and with decency regardless of personal convictions.

Now, if the same person was loudly and belligerently expressing their hatred of Jews or heterosexuals while dining, I’d feel within my rights to ask them to please express their beliefs in a more subdued fashion. If they refused, I’d consider asking them to leave. As long as they were polite and treated my business with respect, I like to think I’d keep any problems I had with their philosophies to myself.

Certainly, many of the people who I helped with software development were of deeply held religious beliefs. I’m an Atheist. I didn’t let that stop me from doing the best job I could. So, I have some evidence to support my convictions as expressed here.

I do find it extraordinarily interesting that, to some degree, those who support Masterpiece Cakeshop are opposed to Red Hen and vice-versa.

I think this is where critical thinking and a consistent philosophical outlook can make the world a better place. Where everyone gets to have their food or cake and eat them too. A boy can dream.

Tom Liberman

Rodrigo Duterte has Finally Gone too Far

Duterte god stupidThe Philippine President, Rodrigo Duterte, has often angered people for many statements and policies but he has finally gone too far for the Christians of his nation. He called god stupid. This is enough for Catholic Bishop Arturo Bastes to declare Duterte a madman with dictatorial tendencies. Duterte’s other sins have not raised quite as much outrage from the religious community.

Let’s take a look at what the Duterte regime has done since he was elected in June of 2016. He has publicly urged citizens of the Philippines to kill drug dealers and drug users wherever they find them. He said, “Hitler massacred three million Jews. Now, there is three million drug addicts. I’d be happy to slaughter them.” He has described drug users as not human. Any number of the killings appear not to be related to drugs in any way but simply murders carried out with drugs as the excuse. The murders were never prosecuted.

Duterte ordered the military to attack towns in the Marawi district because they might be harboring ISIS terrorists. Those assaults led to the displacement of over a million people and an enormous amount of suffering that continues to this day as the infrastructure of the region is largely destroyed and many of the former citizens are living in unsanitary camps. The terrorists were supposedly evicted although the history of the lasting effects of such actions would suggest they will return quickly enough or simply move somewhere else.

All of that was tolerated, if not supported, by his believers. But now they say he’s gone too far. In discussing the biblical story of Adam and Even Duterte came to the conclusion that god set up a ridiculous test for the young couple and because they made a decision that god apparently wanted them to make, it is moronic for all of their descendants to be branded with original sin. His exact words were, “Who is this stupid god?” and “You were not involved but now you’re stained with an original sin … What kind of a religion is that? That’s what I can’t accept, very stupid proposition.”

Even his supporters, those who believe he did the right thing in encouraging citizens to murder one another without trials simply because they were drug addicts, think he’s gone too far this time.

I’m an Atheist and I think Duterte actually got this one right. I still think he’s an evil man despite his correct interpretation of biblical insanity. I still think he’s a murderous dictator. His being right in this instance doesn’t change my overall opinion of him.

My question is what does it say about a person who supported Duterte in his desire to kill drug addicts without any judicial proceedings, without any attempt to help them recover from their addiction, to make no effort to determine if they were even drug addicts or dealers at all but simply close his eyes to the murders; but who draw the line at his assessment of the concept of original sin as stupid?

You tell me.

Tom Liberman

North Korea and the United States through Various Presidencies

North KoreaThe recent meeting between President Trump of the United States and Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un of North Korea is an interesting turn in the tumultuous relationship between the two countries and I thought it might be worthwhile to examine that history. It all began way back in 1953 when the Korean War ended with the separation of North and South Korea.

The area between the two nations made up of the former Korea is considered a demilitarized zone and while there are no armaments in the zone, directly behind the lines is an area considered the most militarized place on Earth. There were a number of incidents between North and South Korea but basically the peace was held and the United States under Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson were happy with the status quo.

It was at this time North Korea began to realize their nuclear ambitions. With Soviet help, they built two nuclear reactors although could not yet produce material capable of making a nuclear bomb. It is this progress that might have spurned the actions that occurred next.

Plans for reunification of Korea took place in the early 1970s and one guesses President Nixon at least supported this strategy as there was no major U.S. intervention to prevent it. These talks eventually failed but it is the first time we see at least tacit approval for a softer approach to the relations between North Korea and the United States. It’s reasonable to conclude that the possibility of a nuclear powered North Korea spurred the talks seeking normalization.

During this time North Korea’s economy was on equal footing to that of South Korea but things soon fell apart as the disintegration of the Soviet Union led to the end of all economic support. This economic collapse resulted in immeasurable hardship on the people of the North Korea. It also spurred the North Korean government to move ahead with their nuclear ambitions.

Presidents Ford, Carter, Reagan, and George H.W. Bush basically sat idly as these events went on, apparently uninterested in establishing a lasting peace that might curtail these inclinations and equally uneager to engage in military conflict.

The North Koreans were making great progress toward developing nuclear weapons by the time President Clinton came into power. He hoped to engage with the North Koreans as a way of slowing the progress toward nuclearization and also relieving the tremendous suffering in that nation. We helped build a nuclear power plant that was far less able to produce materials needed to make nuclear bombs in exchange for the dismantling of reactors which could easily produce such material. The idea was largely to normalize relations as was last attempted when Nixon was president.

George W. Bush reversed this policy and insisted that North Korea be treated as a rogue nation. This along with the destruction of Iraq by forces led by the United States further pushed North Korea toward building nuclear weapons as quickly as possible, it also exacerbated the already terrible economic situation in that nation. At this time the nuclear power plant we helped build was raided and fissionable material of low grade was taken from it. This was fashioned into nuclear bombs of unreliable quality and an eventual nuclear detonation.

The North Koreans began to focus on rockets capable of delivering their small nuclear arsenal to distant targets and their launch of a satellite in 2009 scuttled President Obama’s attempt to reengage with North Korea as was done under Nixon and Clinton. Obama’s strategy seemed to be to engage in small treatise with North Korea but not attempt a large-scale attempt at negotiations as was promoted by Clinton and at least approved of by Nixon.

That takes us to the recent events. President Trump seems to want to engage in negotiations with North Korea. He sees that as a better way to achieve nuclear disarmament than aggressive policies of sanctions and threats of military action, despite his rhetoric to the contrary. This puts him more in line with the Nixon and Clinton presidencies.

Trump agreed to and held a one-on-one meeting with Jong-un which both the George W. Bush and Obama administrations thought would give North Korea an inadvisable standing as an equal. They always insisted upon multi-national meetings.

The United States has largely vacillated between three policies; a hard line, an indifferent line, and soft line. President Trump seems to be more eager for the latter.

The success or failure of Trump’s diplomatic policies is subject of much speculation, which I choose not to engage upon. We will see.

Tom Liberman

Lies of the FCC and Why You Choose to Believe Them

fccIn May of 2017 the FCC claimed a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack sent their website down when in reality it was complaints from concerned citizens about the proposed ending of Net Neutrality. Gizmodo writer Dell Cameron wrote an excellent piece detailing the lies and the chain of evidence that proves them. I’m not going to try and rewrite her or his excellent article, instead I’d like to examine why the FCC felt they could get away with such an obvious lie. It’s all about you.

As some background information I’ll reiterate events. When the FCC proposed eliminating the rules of Net Neutrality, comedian and television host John Oliver gave out the complaint URL for the website and urged people to contact the FCC. This also happened in 2014. Both times the website immediately went down.

In 2014 the commissioner of the FCC decided the truth was best. He simply said increased traffic and antiquated systems overwhelmed the system. In 2017 not only did the commissioner and his agents claim it was a DDoS, they also claimed it was also a secret DDoS back in 2014 but that it wasn’t reported. These claims were, naturally, lies, to cover up the enormity of the outrage over the proposed change in Net Neutrality rules. The current commissioner doesn’t want people to think there are actually a large group of outraged citizens.

Now, this lie by the FCC was blatant and obvious. At the time any number of commentators pointed it out. The timing of the supposed DDoS at exactly the same moment as the genuine anger of many people at the proposed new rules was clearly suspicious. Anyone with even a mild amount of critical thinking skills would naturally be doubtful of the story claimed by the agents of the FCC. I dare say very few of you would be bold enough to tell make such an obvious fabrication, you have too much integrity. So, why did it happen?

To my way of thinking it’s a relatively simple answer. Those who believe the current administration and support the agenda of the FCC will largely believe anything they say. Those who oppose will assume it is a lie even if evidence supports their claim. It simply doesn’t matter if you tell the truth or not anymore. Those who are in favor of your agenda will believe your lies and spread them earnestly and without question. Those who oppose will claim even your truths are simply lies.

That’s pretty much where we’ve gotten to in this country. It just doesn’t matter if you tell the truth or not, so why bother doing it? If you tell the truth you’re going to get hammered by the opposing side anyway. If you lie you’re going to be supported by your side as if you were telling the truth.

I’m of the opinion our leaders could spew forth utter gibberish and would gain the exact same amount of support and opposition as if they’d stated some sort of a policy. Well, to a certain degree it’s not an opinion, it’s a simple fact.

A young student in Georgia got up during graduation and gave a quote he claimed was one person and they all cheered. He then informed them it was actually a person from the opposite party and silence and booing ensued. His point was the same I’m making. The majority of people in this country just don’t care anymore.

Two plus two is whatever I want it to be.

Good luck to us.

Tom Liberman

Syria Leads the Conference on Disarmament, So What?

Conference on DisarmamentThere’s an interesting little story in the news in that an organization known as the Conference on Disarmament is being led, for the next four weeks, by Syria. “… one of the darkest days in the history …” of the conference according to United States ambassador to the conference, Robert Wood. I’m less outraged.

Let’s face facts. The country that has the most arms and inflicts the most harm with those arms is the United States. Where’s your outrage about that, Ambassador Wood? The United States has military bases all over the world and we interfere in the affairs of other nations militarily far more than any other country in the world. We have troops fighting in Syria right now. Do they have troops in the United States?

Don’t get me wrong. Syria as a nation has no moral authority to lead any sort of Conference on Disarmament but what country should be in charge? Switzerland? Actually, they were in charge just before Syria. How exactly this conference determines which of the sixty-five nations that belong to it is the leader gives us an interesting insight into the entire farce. Basically, each of the nations that belongs gets to be in charge for twenty-eight days before turning leadership over to the next in line. The idea was that smaller nations were to have some say in matters instead of letting the large nations dictate policy.

Good plan. Well, it’s difficult to write sarcastically so let me speak more plainly: Really bad plan. If the leadership of an organization changes every twenty-eight days how difficult is it to not only legislate policy but simply to come up with a plan? Apparently not easy, the Conference on Disarmament hasn’t been able to make a single policy in ten years simply because it can’t come to an agreement. Don’t mistake what I’m saying. It’s not that they haven’t been able to implement policy, it’s that they have no policy at all. They do nothing and will continue to do same for the foreseeable future.

That’s why I’m not particularly outraged Syria is leading a useless organization. If the nations of the world had a real interest in limiting the proliferation of weapons we’d probably see some movement on that front. The problem is they only want to remove weapons that are advantageous for those they perceive as enemies. Our own very useful weapons? We’ll keep those.

The United States wants to denuclearize the Korean peninsula? Would that include all the weapons aboard submarines and ships that traverse those waterways? Hardly.

It’s an organization that does nothing and has almost no chance of doing anything. Early on it passed some treatise banning nuclear weapon proliferation, chemical weapons, and biological weapons. That hasn’t stopped anyone from pursuing these things or prevented said weapons from proliferating to any degree. Nations simply ignore it when it is in their interest to do so.

What’s the point? None that I see. I’ll save my outrage for the refereeing in the NBA finals, I’m sure there will be something to actually complain about.

Tom Liberman

Toke Back Mountain Banned by Feds

Toke Back MountainSan Francisco establishment Black Hammer Brewery has been ordered by the federal government to stop brewing Toke Back Mountain. Now, many people will look at this as a marijuana-based issue but for me it’s all about freedom and the government overstepping its authority. Toke Back Mountain beer is brewed with a hemp-derived extract known as CBD or Cannabidiol which is not an approved ingredient in beer.

The reason the federal government has a list of approved ingredients is for safety. At least that’s the excuse the government uses to enforce their rules on people just trying to make a living or drink a delightful beer like Toke Back Mountain. For example, on the LD50 scale, caffeine is more toxic than cannabidiol. Caffeine is an approved substance. This fact shatters the façade of reasoning proposed by the government.

I do not understand why the government should list what can and cannot go into beer. I understand putting deadly toxins into food and beverages is a bad idea, I’m just mystified as to how these regulations prevent such behavior. Anyone who did put something horribly toxic into a product would instantly be discovered because people were getting sick. The only brewer that would do such a thing is clearly of criminal intentions or potentially just really stupid. Either way the government regulations don’t protect anybody. I guarantee brewers insert all sorts of things into beers they don’t list, particularly with the huge number of microbreweries all over the United States. Thank you, Jimmy Carter!

People die from food poisoning all the time in the United States and across the world. It is a serious issue but one which government regulations largely do more harm than good. It is painfully apparent to me why the federal government of the United States feels the need to tell every brewer in the country what they can and cannot put into their beer. It doesn’t have to do with safety but with revenue collection and authoritarian control.

I’m not sure exactly what hoops are required to get a substance on the approved list but I guarantee it isn’t cheap. I do know that it costs a great deal of money to get a new flavor approved in the vaping industry. I imagine the brewing industry is the same.

This is the heart of most regulations, revenue generation, not safety. Black Hammer Brewery pays no small amount of money just to be able to serve alcohol legally, liquor license prices vary by municipality. The cost of these licenses and regulations is passed directly onto the consumer. When you buy a beer a fairly significant part of the money is going to government agencies in the form of licenses.

I don’t want to get too far afield from my original topic. The banning of the non-intoxicating substance like CBD is simply government overreach. The federal, state, and local authorities have no legitimate reason to maintain a list of ingredients allowed into beer. This list, and the enforcement therein, costs me money every time I purchase a beer. This is encroachment upon my freedom.

I’m aware it seems trivial and statists argue the government needs to protect us from beer that might make us ill. I disagree and I think it’s not petty at all. We allow this sort of overreach in virtually every aspect of our lives and it makes us less free and less safe.

The free citizens of San Francisco are no longer able to enjoy Toke Back Mountain beer. That makes me sad. And angry.

Tom Liberman

Why Does Russia Want the United States Involved in Syria?

syria-bombingThere is strong evidence Syria carried out chemical attacks against those arrayed in civil war against it. This happened shortly after President Trump announced the United States would likely be withdrawing troops from the region. The predictable result was renewed U.S. presence in the area with pledges of commitment for ongoing support. It is clear to me this plays into the plans of our foes. The question becomes, why?

I think it is vitally important to understand the President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, is intelligent, an excellent politician, a strong patriot, and incredibly well-versed in political intrigue. President Trump was making clear indications he wanted to withdraw the U.S. from the conflict in the region that involves not only Syria and the rebel factions but also Turkey, Iran, and the people known as Kurds who are vying for autonomy. The Syrian chemical attacked crossed well-established boundaries established by Trump. Not even a year ago we launched a largely ineffective bombing campaign after a previous incident of this nature.

It’s clear to me that Putin was well-aware of the effect the chemical attack would elicit. He wanted the U.S. to launch airstrikes and renew their presence in the region. He wanted to reignite the fire of interventionism on behalf of the U.S. and other western countries, who joined in on the assault.

I cannot know for certain why Putin wants this, but I can speculate and I hope the powers that be in the U.S. are doing so as well. If we simply react to Putin’s provocations in a predictable way, the final outcome cannot be favorable for the U.S. and, by extension, for me.

As a Libertarian I support Trump’s instincts to remove us from these conflicts all together. We have enflamed the region with hatred by our various interventions over the years dating back to orchestrating the toppling of the Iranian government back in 1953. The more the U.S. tries to look out for their interests in the region, the more those who live their hate us.

Our machinations in Yemen at the behest of Saudi Arabia are not helping us, they are simply creating new generations of young people dedicated to destroying the U.S. Our interventions in Syria are driving a wedge between the U.S. and NATO stalwart Turkey. Putin is actively trying to establish a stronger relationship with Turkey which, if successful, would do potentially irreparable harm to NATO, perhaps even cause the breakup of the organization.

Putin also has a vested interest in gaining the alliance of Muslims who make up a significant portion of the population of his country and the nations around it. The more we interfere in the region, the closer we drive these people to Russia and Putin.

Perhaps Putin is orchestrating these events for another reason beyond my current divinations. He is crafty and the Game of Thrones he is playing has enormous consequences for the world and the U.S.

What I don’t like is the dance we are performing like automatons to the tune of Putin’s violin. It seems to me, if we continue to cavort to his music the inevitable outcome cannot be healthy for this country.

In the world of fiction, Tywin Lannister falls while Jon Snow emerges victorious. This isn’t a novel.

Tom Liberman

Protectionism and the Steel Industry

steel-tariffPresident Trump plans to establish a large tariff on steel and aluminum. He is an avowed protectionist and that generally means making it more expensive for foreign companies to do business in the United States. I wrote a blog specifically about the trade in automobiles and our agreements with Mexico in January of 2017 but the situation is different enough this time that I thought I’d revisit the subject.

The basic idea behind almost any tariff is that foreign countries are engaged in supporting various industries in their nation and this gives those companies an unfair advantage over competing companies in the United States. I will not be getting into a discussion about the long-term impact of trade wars and how industry in the United States might be negatively impacted if countries choose to retaliate against our trade laws. Nor will I be talking about what constitutes unfair trade and our own transgressions in that regard. I’d like to keep today’s topic on the simple idea of the immediate impact of the tariffs.

Countries that import aluminum and steel into the United States will have to pay more in order to do business in this country. In the case of steel, a whopping twenty-five percent more. This means companies in the United States currently producing steel will gain a competitive advantage. Those companies might hire more workers and open more plants to start producing steel at a price higher than is currently being sold by those foreign countries but at a lower price than after the tariffs come into play.

Let’s imagine a steel manufacturer in a foreign country currently produces steel at a price of X. A competing company in the United States produces steel at a price of Y. X is less than Y and therefore foreign companies are selling us lots of steel. However, X is less than Y*1.25 and thus United States companies will be aided. They will benefit. That’s the main idea behind protectionism and at this point you might be nodding your head and thinking what a great idea it is. There is, as they say, a rub.

Everyone in the United States purchases and uses products with steel and aluminum in them. From soda and beer cans, to cars, to packaging, to windows, to doors, to siding, to many household items, street lighting, electrical lines, and more. Steel is used in buildings, roads, appliances, guns, cutlery, watches, surgical instruments, and more.

When the price of steel inevitably goes up because of these tariffs then everyone who uses these items, and that means everyone in the United States, every man, woman, and child, pays more. If people have to pay more for one thing then they inevitably have less money to pay for other things. Perhaps a family decides not to get their deck rebuilt or decides to pass on that Nashville vacation this year.

The case against Chinese steel has merit. It is possible the government is helping industry manufacturer steel at a price that cannot be met by U.S. steel companies. The question we must ask is who is hurt by this practice and who is helped?

The answer is quite straight forward. The companies and people in the United States who produce steel are hurt as are the taxpayers in China. The people who are helped is everyone in the United States including the steelworkers who get various products at a cheaper rate.

That’s economics. If you can get a comparable product at a cheaper price then you do so. You should do so. That’s a good thing. That good thing is what tariffs subvert. These tariffs will help a small percentage of the people in the United States, there is no doubt about that. That’s the appeal. We see an industry and want to help it, not thinking about the larger ramifications of such policies.

Whenever I’m talking about subjects of this nature I always remember the underrated gem, Other People’s Money. Danny DeVito plays Larry Garfield and gives an impassioned speech about the last buggy whip manufacturer. If a company can’t compete, they need to get out of the business before they are totally bankrupt.

If the government steps in and increases the price of steel then United States companies will be able to sell their product in the United States but there alone. No other country will want our high-priced steel. Eventually the tariffs will fail, as they always do. Then the steel companies and you will be back where we started. The difference will be that you’ll have less money in your pocket.

That’s the facts. That why economists don’t like tariffs and protectionist policies in general. They stave off the inevitable at an enormous cost.

Do I feel pity for the steel industry and the workers? You bet I do. It’s a sad fact of life. Everyone can’t be a winner in the game. That’s the nature of the world and of economics. President Trump would be far better off using taxpayer money on retraining steel workers for industries that can compete. I’d be all for that.

I cannot, I will not support tariffs. They just don’t work.

Tom Liberman

Chinese Casino Owns Saipan

Saipan CasinoA company claiming to be a Chinese casino purveyor completely owns and largely operates the United States island of Saipan. The total corruption of government is something that happens in foreign countries, not in the United States of America, or so you thought.

Saipan is Commonwealth of the United States. This means it operates under United States law. Well, at least it did until a Chinese company called Imperial Pacific moved into town. They claim to own and operate casinos although they are really a money laundering organization. Wealthy Chinese citizens fly to Saipan, turn in enormous sums of yuan currency, play the tables for a few days winning or losing small amounts, and then collect their money in dollars, euros, or sterling. This allows them to take their money out of China, where it might be seized by the communist government at any moment, and transfer it to banks throughout the world where it less likely to be stolen. The middle people take their cut and that share has completely corrupted the government of Saipan.

The problem is they need the support of the local government in order to make this happen. Before the casino was finished, it still isn’t in full operation, it was doing about $2 billion a month in transactions. Imperial Pacific pays $15 million a year to the local government and has hired former U.S. Governors and high-level FBI and CIA officials to front its operations. These are merely bribes to ensure they can continue their operations without legal oversight. Lawmakers in Saipan have changed any number of laws in order to accommodate Imperial Pacific’s various schemes. The families of the leading politicians are all on the payroll one way or another, construction projects, zoning plans, land deals, etc.

The casino itself was built in an unsafe way by undocumented workers, all because the politicians of Saipan and their friends in the United States willfully turned, and continue to turn, a blind eye. There’s money to be made, after all.
That’s the moral of the story. Never has the world been so awash in money, enormous sums. When people try to resist this avalanche of cash they are simply ignored or punished. The only people who get ahead are those on the take. Government is swept away in the wave.

You might think the United States is immune to the malign influence of corruption, graft, and bribery. Those days are over. Wealthy democracies are slowly succumbing to this influence. Those who worship money are quickly coming into positions of power the world over.

What’s at stake? Your freedom.

Tom Liberman

Blue Apron or Food Stamps?

food stampsPresident Trump is apparently championing an effort to change the way food stamps are allocated to people in the United States who cannot afford to feed themselves and I wanted to examine this from a Libertarian point of view. The current program distributes food stamps which can be used to purchase a variety of products although there are limits on the type of food that is allowed to be bought. The proposal is to replace this system with ingredients which are then prepared by the recipient, in the style of Blue Apron.

I suspect the reason this proposal is being considered is the perception people who are getting food stamps use them on wasteful items like processed foods such as chips or on expensive items like steak, rather than using them for staple items. This perception is largely incorrect although not particularly relevant to my objections.

There is certainly a visceral appeal to the idea of providing simple ingredients using healthy options to the people who use food stamps. I also agree it is probably healthier for many of those who get food stamps. There are a number of problems with this plan although I’d like to focus on a single one. The plan assumes government knows better what foods people should eat than the individuals themselves.

While government might be right in some instances, it is a classic example of the arrogance of those who promote a beneficent and intrusive government. We know what is better for you than you do, just trust us to put the right things in the food and don’t worry about anything else, we’ll take care of you.

Now, there are other issues. It is certainly more expensive to contract this work out and where billions of dollars of government contracts are in play there is inevitable corruption. There is no doubt the companies who receive the bids to provide the food will end up skimping on ingredients and hurting some people. Still, with that said, my objections are purely Libertarian.

Government should not be the one to make decisions about what you eat. Even if you are poor, cannot afford to purchase your own food, and must rely on government help, that does not give a bureaucrat the right to make such decisions for you.

Personally, I think the existing restrictions on food stamps should be removed. If people want to purchase chips, candy, and steak with their government allotted stamps, that’s their choice. Certainly, it is a bad selection that has negative impact on the family in question, but it is their choice.

While this particular cause will most likely be championed by so-called conservatives, it is really extremely liberal. It is big government, just one with which conservatives happen to agree. This apparent paradox is quite consistent with what I observe about our current political divide. Principles mean nothing, it is simply a matter of what is expedient to whichever party you imagine is on your side.

When we cede power to government over the individual we slowly erode our freedom. Do you agree with government deciding on the food we eat? Even if it doesn’t affect you but simply the poor people who, for whatever reason, are dependent on government aid?

Tom Liberman

President Trump and the Friendship with Kim Jong-un

jong-unPresident Trump and the Wall Street Journal are disputing whether he used the word “I’d” or the word “I” in reference to his relationship with the leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-un. As a writer I find the use of words to be interesting and important. At their base, words are nothing more than sounds. However, these sounds are used to convey meaning and thus using the right words in particular circumstances can make a huge difference.

The disputed quote is as follows: I (I’d) probably have a good relationship with Jong-un. The quote using the singular “I” is the one touted by the Wall Street Journal while the one using “I’d” is that the White House and Trump claim is accurate. Let’s examine the different between the two.

If the Wall Street Journal is correct, Trump thinks he currently, most likely, has a good relationship with Jong-un. This statement is optimistic considering the two have engaged in a war of words from even before Trump came into office. Trump has called Jong-un by various derogatory names and the Supreme Leader of North Korea has returned the favor. Their relationship appears to be antagonistic.

On the other hand, if Trump’s version of the sentence is correct it means that under different circumstances he imagines he and Jong-un would have a good relationship. The exact nature of this other world is not explicitly stated but I’d guess it involves a situation where North Korea is not attempting to build Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles capable of dropping nuclear warheads on the United States.

What I find absolutely fascinating about this story is the vehemence coming from both sides considering the irrelevance of the difference. Whichever words are accurate they amount to exactly the same, horrific, thing. Jong-un is the leader of the most repressive, violent, and least free nation in the world. He has ordered the murder of his uncle, half-brother, and many others. His people live in abject poverty and worship him as a living god. He lives lavishly with many luxuries while many of the people in his country are starving to death. Trump believes he either does or could have a good relationship with this person.

I can state unequivocally I could not, under any circumstances, have a good relationship with Jong-un. He is the perpetrator of literal crimes against humanity. Were I President of the United States I would deal with him as the leader of another nation. I would attempt to negotiate a better way for his people, but I would not, I could not, have a good relationship with him. Anyone who imagines they have such a relationship, or actually has one, with Jong-un clearly does not understand the nature of this man. Someone who thinks they have a good relationship with Jong-un is sick. Their mind is diseased.

The thought of the suffering in North Korea directly and indirectly attributable to Jong-un makes me physically ill. The thought of those millions of people suffering unnecessarily induces rage. The idea of him enjoying conspicuous luxuries and total freedom while denying even basic amenities to the people is nauseating to me. He is a vile person, possibly the worst excuse for a human currently alive.

It matters not if Trump is deluded enough to think he does have a good relationship with Jong-un or whether he only imagines he might have one; it shows a disturbing detachment from reality. No decent human could possibly imagine they have a good relationship with such a monster. To do so is to ignore the suffering engendered by Jong-un, to pretend the world is other than it is.

I ask you, could you have a good relationship with Jong-un? Would it be possible with an understanding of what he has done, who he is?

I hope the answer is no.

Tom Liberman