Friday, August 17, 2018

A Couple of Thoughts on Omarosa, Security Clearances, Etc.


Thought #1: Government employees have precisely zero reasonable expectation of privacy in the performance of their duties. The working areas of the White House should be completely covered by 24/7 live-streaming cameras with mics so that the people the White House claims to work for can monitor their activities at will. Yes, that should include the Oval Office. In the absence of that, no, I don't see any problem with Omarosa Manigault Newman keeping a digital recorder on her person and recording anything she considers important, relevant, or otherwise useful.

Thought #2: While I disagree with the whole idea of "classified information" for reasons that Thought #1 should make obvious, if such a system is going to exist, security clearances should be automatically revoked when those holding them leave government employment. Per the system, they no longer have any "need to know" classified information.

Some Asides:

One of the justifications for someone like John Brennan keeping a security clearance after leaving government employment is that it's convenient in case some successor wants to consult him and get his advice. That's risible. Does anyone really believe that the Safety of the Republic depends on John Brennan, or any other individual, offering an opinion on an issue based on current access to classified information? Brennan keeping his security clearance isn't for the benefit of the government, it's for the benefit of Brennan. Its sole present purpose is letting his new employers -- NBC/MSNBC --  tout him to their audience as a Very Important and Unusually Well Informed Person.

One objection to Manigault Newman's recording of her firing by White House chief of staff John Kelly is that she brought a recording device into the Situation Room. My question is: Why the hell would Kelly take her to the Situation Room to fire her? The Situation Room is the venue in which highly sensitive matters of national security (that presumably couldn't be discussed in a White House with that 24/7 streaming I mention above) are supposedly discussed. The objection here should be that Kelly abused the Situation Room by using it to conceal stuff that was not classified, not that Omarosa exposed him for doing so. It's kind of like the DNC email dump in miniature: "Waaaah, shame on you for outing us, not shame on us for doing what we did!"

As for the notion of "nondisclosure agreements" for government employees: Not only no but f*ck no. According to the prevailing mythology they are OUR employees; Donald Trump is just someone we've hired to oversee them. If a shift manager at McDonald's got caught trying to make the cashiers sign agreements not to disclose stuff to the corporation's CEO, that manager's ass would be canned post-haste, and rightfully so.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Some Thoughts on the Lunch Lady Retirement Fund Scandal


From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

For four years, nearly half-a-million dollars quietly vanished from cafeteria registers at two schools in Connecticut. No one noticed the money was missing from the schools in New Canaan until 2017, when the school district installed an enhanced accounting system, authorities said. Now two sisters are accused of allegedly pocketing $478,000 in cash from New Canaan Public Schools in a scalm [sic] that authorities say dates back to 2013.

Let's make the best case possible for two lunch ladies being able to steal $478k in five years (2013-2017) ...

The New Canaan School District includes a total of five schools and a student body of 4,210.

So, let's assume that these two lunch ladies worked at two separate schools and that they were the largest ones (presumably the middle school and high school rather than any of the three elementary schools). And let's further assume that the population split between those schools is 50% spread across the three elementary schools and 25% each at the middle school and high school. So the total number of students handing money to these ladies would be 2,105, on the most pro-theft-opportunity assumption (that all of the students pay for lunch, and do so in cash).

The school year in Connecticut, as in most states, totals 180 days. The full-price hot lunch is $4 at both Saxe Middle School and New Canaan  High School.

So, 180 days times $4 times 2,105 students = $1,515,600 per year. Times five years, total of $7,578,000.

Let's take a look at the assumptions above before moving on.

We're assuming that every student ate lunch every day.

We're assuming that every student paid the full price for lunch, and paid in cash.

And we're assuming that every last dime of that cash was handed to one of those two lunch ladies.

In which case, these ladies are accused of stealing 6.4% of the schools' gross lunch revenues, one dollar out of every $15.88.

But of course those assumptions are unduly tilted toward maximum theft opportunity.

Some students probably brought their lunches. Others probably skipped lunch some days. Even though New Canaan is a very-high income town, probably at least a few students received free or reduced-price lunches. These two women were almost certainly not the only people accepting money at the lunch counter, and they probably did not each work all 180 possible days every year for five years.

And while a new accounting software setup was implemented recently, the school district allowed payment at point of sale by check or money order, and pre-payment by check, money order or electronically before that (at least as early as the 2015-2016 school year -- the Wayback Machine gets errors on earlier years).

I would be very surprised to learn that as much as half the money assumed above passed through these two pairs of hands. If the number was that high, then they were stealing 12.8% -- one dollar out of every eight. And I strongly suspect that the cash payments came to a lot less, and passed through more hands, and that thus the percentage allegedly stolen by these two amounted to a lot more, than that.

Well, maybe they did steal that much over that long. But if they did, the school district's accountants were asleep at the switch for five years too.

Trump on the Hustings: Harmful or Helpful?


Dick Polman writes at The Atlantic, on complaints that Donald Trump is too personally involved in the midterm campaigns with endorsements, personal appearances, etc.:

With diplomatic delicacy, Republican strategist Matt Mackowiak told me that Trump’s “highest and best use over the next 80 days should be fundraising,” especially “in the 10 red-state Senate races with vulnerable Democratic incumbents,” and maybe in the 15 or 20 House districts where the Trump base is more sizable than the opposition. That’s the standard formula for presidents with lousy poll numbers: George W. Bush didn’t stump extensively in the 2006 midterms, nor did Barack Obama in 2010 or 2014. But Trump doesn’t hew to tradition. As Ohio Governor John Kasich told ABC News last week, “Donald Trump decides where he wants to go.”

In 2006, Bush's party lost control of Congress. In 2010, Obama's party lost control of Congress. Not exactly a strong supportive claim for the efficacy of the "standard formula."

Interesting piece, though.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

A Little Population Factoid


Because, for reasons having to do with a question I had about what gets covered in the news and why, I was doing a little math and thought it interesting enough to share.

Did you know that about 1/3 of the US population lives in only four of the 50 states (California, Texas, Florida, and New York)?

Cognitive Dissonance, Trump Edition


Per Wikipedia:

In the field of psychology, cognitive dissonance is the mental discomfort (psychological stress) experienced by a person who simultaneously holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values. This discomfort is triggered by a situation in which a belief of a person clashes with new evidence perceived by that person. When confronted with facts that contradict personal beliefs, ideals, and values, people will find a way to resolve the contradiction in order to reduce their discomfort.

Camera One: Donald Trump is a true alpha male genius. Accomplished businessman, astute at evaluating his opponents' weaknesses and his hangers-ons' motives and relentless in exploiting those weaknesses and motives to get the outcomes he wants. A steamroller of a human being who will Make America Great Again!

Camera Two: Donald Trump is a mewling, helpless blob of formless jelly, forced minute by minute to take whatever policy shape the sinister cabal of Deep State influencers he surrounds himself with demand of him. He operates from the of best motives, and truly does want to Make America Great Again! but is just too much of a moral weakling to stand his ground against a John Bolton or Mike Pompeo, and too much of a mental midget to understand that they're manipulating him.

The same people see Trump through both of these two cameras. Whenever he seems to be getting something done that they perceive him as having promised them, it's Camera One. When he seems to be doing exactly the opposite of what they think he promised them (i.e. "[w]hen confronted with facts that contradict personal beliefs, ideals, and values"), it's Camera Two.

In reality, Trump promised so many mutually exclusive things to so many different groups of people that he is constantly going to be "keeping" one set of promises while "breaking" another. He's neither a true alpha male genius nor a mewling, helpless blog of formless jelly. He's a lying, scamming, narcissistic, sociopathic con artist who's very good at creating the cognitive dissonance described above and getting quite a few people to see him as simultaneously both of two things other than what he actually is.



Monday, August 13, 2018

Things That Beggar Belief, #7311-7313


#7311: That a reality TV personality would get elected president.

#7312: That that reality TV personality president would then hire another reality TV personality (in fact, one whom he had twice reality-TV-"fired") to work at the White House.

#7313: That others in the reality TV personality president's White House entourage would be the least bit surprised or upset when the reality TV personality staffer acted like a reality TV personality during and after her White House employment.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

"Some battles ... are worth fighting, regardless of the outcomes"


That's US Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI), talking about her attempts to bring #MeToo issues into the Senate process of questioning, and confirming the appointments of, federal officials. I find the sentiment interesting in general, not with regard to the specific venue or cause in question.

For the two decades and change that I've been involved in the Libertarian Party -- and I'm sure it was happening long before that -- a standard anti-radical slogan has been "pick your battles." Which is actually wise advice as far as it goes. But it's generally used not in its wise sense, but in this sense:

"We shouldn't advocate radical solution X because advocating X won't result in us immediately getting X. Let's instead advocate a very moderate sub-set of X, or even something that's not quite Xish at all so that [insert one of two unlikely outcomes here -- 'that a deal will get made,' or 'that the Very Important People Who Run Things will take us seriously']."

Two problem with those claims:


  • 99.9x% of the time, the Libertarian Party and its candidates have no leverage whatsoever to "make deals" that result in policy changes. True, we're not going to immediately get X, but we're also not going to get a credible offer of that very moderate sub-set of X or whatever, because we have nothing to trade that the parties in power want. In point of fact, the only thing we have any control of at all is what we offer the people inclined to vote for us. And offering some weak tea compromise on X is effectively giving away some of those votes, because those voters can already get the weak tea version from one of the parties that actually wins elections by working within those parties.
  • Similarly, those votes are the only thing that the Very Important People Who Run Things take seriously, and then only in races where a Libertarian candidate might affect the outcome of the election ... by advocating something the VIPWRT's candidates aren't offering.
In this, the LP's position is very much like Hirono's.

She doesn't have the votes in the Senate to make her #MeToo values official policy. Unlike the LP, she might be able to use her vote to make small, extremely partial side deals in return for her support on other things, but that probably wouldn't get her very far toward where she wants to go.

What she has -- like the LP -- is an occasional bully pulpit opportunity.

Unlike the faux "pragmatists" in the LP, she is not under the illusion that weakening the message she preaches from that bully pulpit will get her any of those deals, or make the VIPWRT majority in the Senate "take her seriously." Her only hope is to offer the full, un-softened version of what she's after and hope that the people whose votes the VIPWRT candidates want will start demanding it.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Concerning the Podcast ...


Yes, it will be back. I'm kind of itching to do a new episode, but between scratchy throat (since New Orleans) and a big workload that's too boring to go into, not yet.

In the meantime, some time back Joel Schlosberg said he'd be glad to get an archive up at Archive.org (so that the existing episodes don't disappear if I switch platforms and stop paying Soundcloud $120 a year to host it here in a couple of months). He's off to a start on that.

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

"Excluding Indians not taxed ..."


I wrote a Garrison Center column on "the citizenship question" back in February.

The controversy: Whether or not the US Census should include questions relating to a respondent's citizenship status.

My answer in the column was correct as far as it went: The purpose of the census is to count noses, period, end of story. Any other demands for information exceed the census's constitutional mandate.

But there's another good argument that a "citizenship question" specifically has zilch to do with that mandate. Let's look at the text from Article I, Section 2:

Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.

The "three fifths of all other persons" referred to slaves, of course, and that became irrelevant with the 13th Amendment.

But what's the relevance of "Indians not taxed?"

Simple: A popular sentiment leading up to the American Revolution was "no taxation without representation."

This text, by codifying the reverse of that -- no representation without taxation -- affirms the original. Indians living within the claimed jurisdiction of the US who were not taxed were not to be counted in the census ... and everyone who paid taxes was to be counted in the census.

Non-citizens might not be able to participate in choosing their (supposed) representation (by voting), but they still got that (supposed) representation by being counted in the census such that their numbers were reflected in the apportionment of US Representatives. And, as the now vestigial text on slave counting indicates, they got full representation.

QED, there's no constitutional reason for the census to ask a citizenship question, because a non-citizen counts exactly as much toward congressional apportionment as a citizen does.

The usual disclaimer: Yes, I am still an anarchist and want to see the system described above smashed to bits and salt sown in the earth where it once stood. I'm setting aside questions like whether or not the state should be allowed to exist, whether or not the constitutional system constitutes anything like legitimate "representation," etc., above for the purpose of considering the question on that system's own terms.

Monday, August 06, 2018

I Am So Sick of "Safe"


In justifying its decision to remove Alex Jones's presence/material from its site, Facebook tells us that "[w]e believe in giving people a voice, but we also want everyone using Facebook to feel safe." Some thoughts:


  1. Bad business move, Facebook. These "I don't feel safe" people will never "feel safe" enough to stop demanding that you reduce the content options other Facebook users enjoy because feelzfeelzfeelz. And there are more people in the "other Facebook users" category than in the "make anything that might conceivably scare me go away" category. At least, I think there are. For the moment. Keep this shit up and that ratio will change as those of us who want more out of social media than finger painting, rainbows, and unicorns abandon ship.
  2. There is no such thing as a right to "feel safe." Your feelings, including those relating to your "safety," create no moral obligations on the part of anyone else. If the ability of some weirdo to post weirdo stuff on the Internet makes you "feel unsafe," that's your problem. Quit trying to make it everyone else's problem. Get therapy, or grow the fuck up, or, heck, learn how to use Facebook's "block user" function to create your own little island of "safe" feelings, instead of expecting the rest of us to walk on eggshells to save you the trouble of learning how to live in the real world.

The Thing to Notice About Paul Manafort's "Fraud" Trial


What Paul Manafort is charged with, in simple English:

He is accused of working in Ukraine, earning money in Ukraine, keeping that money in Ukraine (or at least not in the US), not telling and/or lying to the US government about it  (that's the "fraud" alluded to), and not giving the US government a cut of it.

Only three governments on Earth have the gall and temerity to demand that their subjects pay tax on income earned outside the countries they rule. Those three governments are the governments of North Korea, Eritrea, and the United States.

In fact, the US government demands that its former subjects continue to pay income tax for some years after they move abroad and renounce their US citizenships.

That's some control freak greedhead bullshit right there.

Even if Manafort did what he's accused of (in this particular trial), the jury should acquit him.

Sunday, August 05, 2018

A Word I'm Getting Tired of Seeing


Every so often, it really catches my attention on a particular topic. The last couple of weeks that topic has been files for DIY gun-making at home.

The mainstream media portrayed the settlement between the US State Department and Defense Distributed as the former "allowing" the latter to make such files available. Defense Distributed's opponents claim that it shouldn't be "allowed" to do so.

Ten headlines from a quick Google News search, starting with the thing mentioned above:

AG Bob Ferguson sues Trump administration over decision to allow public access to 3D-printed guns
Ohio judge sued over refusal to allow transgender teens to change names
Deri vetoes municipal efforts to allow businesses to operate on Shabbat
Dental Board votes to allow arrested dentist to keep practicing despite Governor's concerns
China urges U.S. not to allow stopover by Taiwan president
Rauner signs bill to allow medical marijuana in schools
SEC Commissioner: ‘No Reason’ Not to Allow Bitcoin ETF
New Zoning Rules to Allow Short-Term Rentals
Judge rules in favor of Sterling Heights to allow mosque to be built
Stamford reps: Reject zone change to allow freestanding fitness centers in office parks

Each of those headlines treats as settled the claim that a given government body has a legitimate power to "allow" ("[t]o grant license to; to permit; to consent to") or not "allow" someone to do something.

I don't consider it settled at all. I'll try not to mangle reader/commenter dL's statement on the libertarian attitude toward such things:

The libertarian position vis a vis the state and Peaceful Activity X is

DON'T NEED YOUR FUCKING PERMISSION

Saturday, August 04, 2018

Boo, ACLU


I'm on lots of email lists, including the American Civil Liberties Union's "This Week in Civil Liberties" roundup. The latest edition just hit my inbox a few minutes ago. The featured stories:


  • Trump Administration's Census Cover Up
  • Listen Now: How to Fight an Algorithm
  • The Victorville Horror
  • Ports of Despair
  • It Ain't Meatballs
  • Your Rights on Standby
  • Elementary School Kids Don't Belong in Handcuffs
Completely missing: Easily the most important free speech story of the week and month, possibly of the year (I'd put it in a dead heat with FOSTA).

As of yesterday, the attorneys general of 19 states and the District of Columbia are suing for repeal of the First Amendment (supported, of course by the establishment's lapdog media and several Hollywood whiners).

The ACLU has never been perfect (especially on the unalienable human right to possess the means of self-defense), but at one time it could be counted upon to stand tall for free speech. Maybe O'Brien had its leaders dragged off to Room 101 and tortured until they begged him to do it to Cody?

Thursday, August 02, 2018

I Don't Buy Many Albums These Days ...


... but I expect I will buy Confessin' the Blues when it comes out on November 9th.

It's a compilation of important blues songs "curated" by the Rolling Stones.

Why bother buying it when I've already made it into a Spotify playlist? Liner notes, etc. Plus, a portion of the proceeds goes to Willie Dixon's Blues Heaven Foundation. And we don't have any of that newfangled Bluetooth MP3 stuff in our 1999 Toyota 4Runner, which means if I want to listen to anything but Tamara's stack of Grateful Dead and related material (not that there's anything wrong with that!), I have to bring something in CD format or take a shot in the dark on finding something on radio.

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

The Libertarian Party's "Constitutional Crisis": A Way Forward


Over at Independent Political Report, Caryn Ann Harlos describes a "parliamentary Gordian Knot" emerging from the Libertarian Party's 2018 national convention. Short version:

The convention adjourned after a first round of balloting to elect the party's new Judicial Committee. The election was held by a form of modified approval voting: Vote for as many of the candidates as you like (there were a bunch, including me), the top seven are elected so long as they receive votes from a majority of delegates.

None of the top seven vote recipients got such a majority, but no further balloting could be done, as the convention had adjourned by the time the first-round ballots were counted. And since the former Judicial Committee was dissolved as of the convention's adjournment, there is now no "appeals court" for actions of the Libertarian National Committee.

As Caryn Ann points out, the LNC has no authority, nor should it have any authority, regarding the composition of the body which judges its actions on appeal. She has suggested a mail ballot of the delegates as a way past this situation. I don't oppose that, but this is my proposal:

The top seven vote recipients should constitute themselves organizationally -- that is, elect a chair and establish their Rules of Appellate Procedure -- and simply begin functioning as the Judicial Committee.

No, they shouldn't ask the LNC for permission, nor should they take cognizance of any attempts by the LNC to dictate their composition, etc. The only authority the LNC has with regard to the Judicial Committee is to deny any proposed changes to those aforementioned Rules of Appellate Procedure after their publication.

Yes, what I am proposing is in violation of the bylaws. But the bylaws have already been violated ("The Judicial Committee shall be composed of seven Party members elected at each Regular
Convention" -- that election was interrupted and not completed), so the question is not "how do we avoid violating the bylaws?" but rather "how do we proceed with minimal further violation of the bylaws?"

Leaving any decisions on this in the hands of the LNC would clearly take the whole matter entirely outside the scope of the bylaws.

Continuing the election by means of mail ballot would be acceptable (contra the claims of some, there is bylaws language recognizing a continuing role/power on the part of delegates after adjournment), but I'm not sure it would be practical, as we could go several more rounds and might not even be done by the next convention, and there's not an established procedure or rule in place to do it.

At the moment, the top seven vote-getters possess the closest thing to a delegate mandate that exists vis a vis the composition of the Judicial Committee. They should act per that semi-mandate because it's better than no mandate at all, which is what the LNC has.

If there are no appeals to the Judicial Committee between now and the next election (and the LP once went for 30 years without any such appeals), the whole matter stands more or less moot.

If there are appeals to the Judicial Committee between now and the next election, there needs to be a committee to hear those appeals ... and the longer the top seven vote-getters wait to announce themselves as that committee, the more time the LNC has to ponder meddling in the matter, making any "constitutional crisis" problems worse than they have to be.

Cut that Gordian Knot, Top Seven.

Wilson 1, Nelson 0


US Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL):

The administration has surrendered to the crazed demands of a self-described anarchist who is going to put this up on the internet. He wants to sow chaos. He said so, in our country and across the world by making these blueprints widely available ...

Cody Wilson:

What's going to make me comfortable ... is when people stop coming into this office and acting like there's a debate about it. The debate is over .... The guns are downloadable. The files are in the public domain. You cannot take them back. You can adjust your politics to this reality. You will not ask me to adjust mine.

Welcome Stephan Kinsella to the Libertarian Party!


Per an "Edgington Post" interview at the end of last night's episode of Free Talk Live:

I recently just joined the LP for the first time ever, and one of my goals is, I'm gonna try to get involved and try to push them to adopt an anti-patent-and-copyright plank in their platform ...

I did not push for recommending such a plank while serving on this year's platform committee.

Why? Because adopting such a plank needs to come after a real internal debate in the party on the issue. There's no point in bringing a plank to the convention floor if the delegates haven't already been thinking about the issue for long enough, and attentively enough, that they're ready to weigh the arguments offered in floor debate.

The debate has been raging in the larger libertarian movement for decades, and in the last few years has begun to resolve toward consensus on the correct position (that "intellectual property" isn't property), but the party has lagged far behind the movement in terms of even paying attention to the topic.

Kinsella is someone with the weight to pick that fight, force it to be had, and win it.

"Code is Free Speech. Free Speech is Freedom."




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