Thursday, June 7, 2018

The G7 summit is a real-life example of The Prisoner's Dilemma

Leaders of the G7 
​(the seven largest developed economies in the world) ​
will gather on June 8-9 at the 
Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu, in La Malbaie, in the beautiful Charlevoix region of Québec, Canada.

One of my co-workers referred to it as the G6 + 1, as one of the seven participating nations has acted antagonistically towards the other.  That nation has been singled out for special attention at the summit.  The other six nations want to know WHY that nation has acted, as it has, in a hostile manner toward the others.

So it's not 7 nations, its 6 
1.   There are
​ really two groups
, and this is a real-life version of what is known in game theory as "The Prisoner's Dilemma", which explains why it is not in the best interest of the six to ignore the actions of the other.
The G7 was formed because all of those nations agreed to act as 
The decision that six
​ of them​
 now face is whether they should consider the seventh friend or foe.

The issue is protectionist trade tariffs.  One of the nations in the G7 acted aggressively toward the others in imposing 
​trade tariffs on imports from the others, 
in the expectation, probably, that those nations would not retaliate in kind.  To do so would mean a loss for everyone.  But here's the thing:  game theory would say that 
to retaliate would mean
​ that​
 the one nation who acted as a foe of the other six will pick up ALL the money on the table
​, and emerge the ONLY winner of the game.​

However if, at this summit, all parties agree to co-operate 
​ ​
in dropping 
tariffs, instituting free trade, they
​ ​
​will ​
reap benefits from
​ ​
that free
​ ​
​  ​

The one nation that has decided to act like an enemy of the others is betting that timidity will keep those other nations from calling this what it really is, hostility, and from calling that nation what it is, an enemy.

​Which is why this summit is so important.  Will six defer to one, or will they stand united against the rogue nation?

Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu
La Malbaie, Québec

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

5 years ago: June 6, 2013. A day that changed world history

A passage from Glenn Greenwald's 2014 book No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the Surveillance State:

At 5:40pm [June 6, 2013 in Hong Kong], Janine sent me an instant message with a link, the one I had been waiting to see for days. “It’s live,” she said.

NSA Collecting Phone Records of Millions of Verizon Customers Daily, the headline read, followed by a subhead: “Exclusive: Top Secret Court Order Requiring Verizon to Hand Over All Call Data Shows Scale of Domestic Surveillance Under Obama.”

That was followed by a link to the full FISA court order. The first three paragraphs of our article told the entire story:

The National Security Agency is currently collecting the 
telephone records of millions of US customers of Verizon, 
one of America’s largest telecom providers, under a top 
secret court order issued in April.

The order, a copy of which has been obtained by the Guardian, 
requires Verizon on an“ongoing, daily basis” to give the NSA 
information on all telephone calls in its systems, both within the 
US and between the US and other countries.

The document shows for the first time that under the 
Obama administration the communication records of millions of 
US citizens are being collected indiscriminately and in bulk – 
regardless of whether they are suspected of any wrongdoing.

The impact of the article was instant and enormous, beyond anything I had anticipated. It was the lead story on every national news broadcast that night and dominated political and media discussions. I was inundated with interview requests from virtually every national TV outlet: CNN, MSNBC, NBC, the Today show, Good Morning America, and others. I spent many hours in Hong Kong talking to numerous sympathetic television interviewers—an unusual experience in my career as a political writer often at odds with the establishment press—who all treated the story as a major event and a real scandal.

In response, the White House spokesman predictably defended the bulk collection program as “a critical tool in protecting the nation from terrorist threats.” The Democratic chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Dianne Feinstein, one of the most steadfast congressional supporters of the national security state generally and US surveillance specifically, invoked standard post-9/11 fear-mongering by telling reporters that the program was necessary because “people want the homeland kept safe.”

But almost nobody took the government's claims seriously.

– Excerpt from
​ ​
Glenn Greenwald's No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the Surveillance State  (2014)

Edward Snowden remains the best example of courage, manhood, and character I've seen in 20 years.

America is a fundamentally good country. We have good people with good values who want 
to do the right thing. But the structures of power that exist are working to their own 
ends to extend their capability at the expense of the freedom of all publics.
Edward Snowden, Hong Kong interview, June 6, 2013

Friday, June 1, 2018

What was the real reason Afghanistan was invaded?

There was a lot of international pressure on the political leaders of Afghanistan to hand over a suspected planner of the WTC tower attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001. That man was Osama bin Laden, a former mujaheddin fighter against Russian forces occupying Afghanistan in the 1980's. Bin Laden was the founder and leader of a tiny extremist group called al-Qaeda, which was opposed to the Taliban leadership of Afghanistan. The CIA estimated the strength of this tiny band ​at ​about 200 fighters. 

No more than 200 men.

When Afghanistan's Taliban government refused its demands, the United States decided they would use their armed forces to overthrow the country's government and eliminate al-Qaeda. In October 2001, the USA began bombing Afghanistan. They targeted bin Laden's al-Qaeda fighters and also the Taliban government of Afghanistan.

The war's public aims were to 1) dismantle al-Qaeda and 2) to deny it a safe base of operations in Afghanistan by removing the Taliban from power.

The War in Afghanistan became the longest war in United States history (now 16 years and ​8 months).

​It was a monumental mistake.​


Sunday, May 13, 2018

Behold the mighty Hoover Dam, 83 years old

America's Hoover Dam was dedicated in a formal ceremony on September 30, 1935, by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.  Nearly eighty-three years ago.

Hoover Dam, which forms Lake Mead, once one of the US's largest water reservoirs, was constructed over a five-year period (1931–1936) during the Great Depression.  The total cost of the dam was $49 million dollars when it was built, which would translate to $700 million if we tried to build something like it today.

For perspective, consider that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have cost, to date, $3,689 billion. [source]  Those wars cost the Americans 5,270 Hoover Dams.  

Maybe Americans could simply build 5,270 Hoover Dams
 (105 in every US state) and then blow them all to bits; they seem to like doing that with their wealth.  

Lots of things come to my mind, though, when I think of what Americans could do with that money.  I wonder why it never occurs to some Americans that they're simply flushing their treasure down the crapper.

My mother used to say, whenever I would spend my entire allowance on bottle rockets and firecrackers, "Son, you're just burning up your money."  Yeh, point conceded, but how I loved to watch it burn!  I guess some people just like a lot of noise and pretty sparks, huh?  :-)

The wars were wars of choice; no one forced Americans into them; Americans chose war over what they could have had instead.  It was a bad choice, an unwise choice, but it was also a choice they made with their eyes wide open. My dad always used to tell me:  "if you want to know what a man's priorities are, watch how he spends his money." People always find a way to afford the things they really want most.  Always.

Americans chose war.  Americans want war.  Lots of it.  By their actions; they demonstrate that. 

Not gonna criticize Americans.  We all know they're God's chosen people!  I'm not questioning that.

But I do think Americans would be far better off, after 17 years of war, to have built 5,270 Hoover Dams.  Just sayin', Millennial.  It'll soon be YOUR choice!

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Iran: No credible threat

On Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu revealed documents that he claimed prove that Iran lied to the world about its nuclear program for years, even after the 2015 nuclear deal with the world.  Netanyahu claimed an advanced secret Iranian nuclear weapons program that does not exist.

Within one day, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)  issued its own assessment (Tuesday) addressing those allegations of a "secret" Iranian nuclear program. Their assessment:  There are "no credible indications of any Iranian activities after 2009."

The IAEA, therefore, agrees with all 16 US intelligence agencies that have affirmed and reaffirmed that Iran abandoned interest in nuclear weapons years ago ... declaring that nothing has changed since the last National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran's "Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities" in November 2007, which declared that Iran was not pursuing a nuclear weapon capability.  US intelligence agency officials have stated that they continue to believe that Iran had not restarted its weaponization program, which the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate said Iran had discontinued in 2003. 

Iran's offensive military capacity has not changed since 2007.  Benjamin Netanyahu is way out in left field on this one.  He  tried to present old research as new evidence, and then claims even more secret activities that are still on-going. 

The reaction seems to be the general consensus across most of the world that Netanyahu's lying.  Again. 
This time, "Bibi's" latest preposterous claims have been met with the ridicule they deserve (and I find that delightful).

Iran hasn't launched an aggressive military attack on another country in over 200 years.  Other than empty rhetoric, Iran poses no immediate threat of doing so now; certainly not with nuclear weapons.  How do I know that?  I don't  ... but I have that on the authority of 16 U.S. Intelligence agencies.  All 16.  No immediate threat. [verify it]

Of course, I also have the wisdom of experience and the benefit of hindsight, and so do you.  We (you and I) know better than to believe unfounded claims to the contrary.  Lies.

Yet, I'm often asked, "how can you be so sure you're right about that?"  Because of what I've witnessed with my own eyes.  And, those eyes, I trust.
Recall that, immediately after the November 7 2016 US Presidential election, Israel massed tens of thousands of heavily-armed troops along the Gaza border and waited for the green light from Washington.  They were testing the resolve of President Obama.  That green light never came.  Instead, President Obama told Israel to stand down. His brokered "cease fire" was a way for them to save face.  Without a firm US commitment of support for the use of those troops, Israel stood down. And I was astounded.  I fully expected a war on Iran by that year's end.  President Obama prevented it.

President Obama, under relentless pressure from the government of Israel, the neoconservative warhawks in Congress and the AIPAC lobby, refused to give the Israelis the satisfaction of having the United States kiss their boots. President Obama is the first US President since George H. W. Bush (41) who hasn't made himself an instrument of Israel's policies of aggression.  And that took guts.

Benjamin Netanyahu was absolutely beside himself in fury.  He and his Likud Party were forced to stand down after the US refused to become involved in Israel's conflict in Gaza.

Netanyahu thinks Trump is his bitch now.  And that's what the world is waiting to find out ... is he right about that?


Sunday, April 29, 2018

All I need to know about Julien Assange and WikiLeaks

There's been a renewed attempt (by both of America's political parties) to discredit Wikileaks.  Why?

What was Wikileaks' crime?  Exposing the truth about America's wars.

All I need to know about WikiLeaks is that if it wasn't for WikiLeaks, we would never have known about the US military attempt to hide an incident in which civilians (including two journalists) were machine-gunned from helicopters while the gunners laughed.  That attack occurred three years before WikiLeaks released the "Collatoral Murder" video.  For three years it remained hidden.   There was absolutely no possibility that it would eventually have been revealed if not for the courage of Chelsea Manning and Wikileaks. 

If not for WikiLeaks, that airstrike would have been completely covered up.  In true Orwellian fashion, it simply would never have happened.  It would have ceased to exist as a truth. Because the government would have decided that it was a truth we were best kept from knowing.  Given their way, reality or history will always become what they choose it to be, and nothing more.  They will determine reality for us.  

"Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past"
George Orwell, 1984

If not for the brave people who have risked everything to bring truth to light, we would never have known about the 2009 Granai Airstrike in which as many as 140 civilians (mostly children) were killed, we would never have known about Abu Ghraib, the waterboarding of detainees, the secret prisons in which people are held indefinitely without legal recourse, the program of secret renditions, Guantanamo Bay.  Hell, go further back ... we would never have know about the massacre at My Lai in 1968.

Sometimes willful ignorance is not a suitable choice.  And it is never an honorable one.  Should it really require a major act of courage simply to accept the truth and to deal with it?  Something is terribly wrong in a society that prefers lies to the truth. Vast stockpiles of WMD, anyone? 

Why has the United States government tried so hard to discredit WikiLeaks?  To prevent more embarrassing releases?  Yes, of course. Protect corporate secrets?  Yes.  Frighten truth-tellers into silence?  Yes.  All of these things, yes; but mostly the US government wants to preserve its control over our access to the truth.  They want the power to make the truth whatever they choose it to be.  They want to control reality (or our perception of it, which is the same thing).  Does that sound sinister?  Paranoid?  Then so be it.  Because it's also the truth.

If the U.S. government is successful in silencing WikiLeaks; they will have struck a blow at truth.  Ultimately, though, they want to strike a blow, not at those who would publish truth ... but at those who would read it.  People like you and me.  They want you to choose ignorance.  Ultimately, their target is a public that is empowered and informed by the truth.  That's why they are dead serious about assaulting your right to know.  What about you?  How serious are you about defending it?

All I need to know about WikiLeaks is that we need it.  We need it badly. Because choosing to live by lies is shameful.

Courage is contagious.  And that's all I need to know.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Are you an "Oath Keeper"?

I was surprised to learn that Oath Keepers (founded nine years ago) still exists.  The group was founded in March, 2009 by Stewart Rhodes, a lawyer and former US Army paratrooper, coincidentally with the inauguration of President Obama.  Oath Keepers organizes former and current military and police to be prepared to resist all unconstitutional orders. As a result, they have been attacked by everyone from Bill O’Reilly on the right (who called them "anarchists") to Bill Clinton on the left (who linked them with "terrorists").

The "Oath" in Oath Keepers refers to the oath military servicemen and servicewomen and police take to defend the constitution. Stewart Rhodes claims he founded OathKeepers to help "defend the constitution from its enemies," most of whom, he believes are in or around the government.

Rhodes thinks neither liberals nor conservatives recognize the need to limit government to Constitutional bounds. "Picture a Venn diagram with 2 overlapping circles," he says. "People in each circle only object to what's going on when they are not in power. But there is a third section that, no matter who is in power, they care about the constitution and distrust those in power. My goal is to grow that third part of the population.” Among the "consistent Americans," Rhodes includes feminist author Naomi Wolf, Congressman Dennis Kucinich, and Congressman Ron Paul.  Two of them are liberals, the third a Libertarian; none of them are rightwing. Oath Keepers isn't partisan.

That all sounds great.  "We're not a political organization!" they claim loudly, "We champion liberty, American values, and upholding the Constitution, regardless of which political party is power."

Oath Keepers' lists Ten Orders We Will Not Obey. These include: "We will not obey orders to disarm the American people, conduct warrantless searches, detain American citizens as 'unlawful enemy combatants' or to subject them to military tribunal, impose martial law or a 'state of emergency' on a state, or invade and subjugate any state that asserts its sovereignty."

But wait.  Wait.  Just hold on a minute ... aren't these the very things the US began doing, in the name of its "War on Terror", 8 years before this organization was conceived?  Then why was this group founded only after the political party in power shifted?

The are the very same rightwing "patriots" who meekly and submissively accepted a major shift toward a police state 17 years ago.  They were silent about all of these things ... completely silent:

  • presidential claims of unlimited executive power
  • limitless imprisonment with no legal recourse
  • warrantless intrusive searches
  • warrantless wiretaps
  • creation of massive databases on citizens
  • repudiation of habeas corpus
  • redefining cruel and unusual punishment as "enhanced interrogation"
  • suppression of dissent
  • arbitrary no-fly lists
  • endless overseas wars

Isn't it ironic that this group was perfectly ok with all of these things as long as they were being done by a large, powerful, and growing federal government that was in the control of "their" political party?  Then, suddenly, after a change of power, they discovered their principles?  Just like that?  Or did they only oppose all these actions by the federal government because they don't like the political party in control?  That would make their motives political, not principled. That's loathsome.  They think all these things are fine, when they are being done to "others."  But if they think they're the ones who might be the targets, then, and only then, they choose to be upset?

These are people, who love to stroke each other at silly flag rallies where they talk about the right to own assault weapons.  But at a time when they needed to take a stand; at a time when true courage and principle were required; they stood down, and remained silent.  Compliant.  Submissive to authority.

When it took courage to stand up and oppose the actions of a runaway government; they were silent.  When public opinion was against those of us who opposed America's perpetual series of wars; they were silent.  When it took guts to oppose the things they claim to oppose; they remained gutless.

These aren't patriots at all; and they are certainly not leaders; these are weak followers of authority; the tools of that authority.

And now they want our respect NOW?   I don't think that's gonna happen.

Respect has to be earned; it's not a right.  And that, friend, is a true American principle.

Oath Keepers and True Patriots, 1941