Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Wall of Words: Trump and the Democrats Face Off Across A Philosophical Border

Associated Press

It’s a new day in America. We have returned to a government digging its heels. Populist outsider Donald Trump fights against the establishment, a growing army of politicians assisted by a ratings hungry media attempts to isolate him and his agenda from the American people.

There’s a philosophical wall between President Donald Trump and the Democratic leadership headed by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. That wall is about whether and how the federal government of the United States should secure its border.

The President wishes to create a tangible and credible deterrent that materially changes the politics and economics of crossing the border to a mode where illegal activity is minimized. He asked for assistance from Congress to do so in his State of the Union address on January 30, 2018.

Following that address, Congress passed a budget that contained nothing of what the President asked for. Instead, Congress sent the President the 2019 Budget in September that make Trump swallow a bitter pill to get the Defense Department funded and kicked the can down the road on the border for a showdown in December 2019.

The political maneuver made Trump recoil in disgust and swear that he would never let Congress do that to him again.

Well came to be December 2019 and Congress tried to do it again. With no “can’t do without it” budget appropriation to force Trump to sign it available, Congress attempted to put in little more than lip service budgeting to border security; something that the White House had strongly signaled was a “never again” move.

The result was a partial government shutdown beginning on December 22, 2018 furloughing around 800,000 federal workers out of a civil service workforce of 2.79 million. That’s worth about $2 billion in missing paychecks every two weeks according to US Office of Personnel Management. Trumps wall would cost $5.7 billion, roughly six weeks of the affected workforce’s payroll.

Let’s be frank. That’s not a lot of money for America. Particularly so in the context of the societal costs of the presently less secure border system that the President stated was around $500 billion a year, almost as much as the defense budget. So why are the Democrats continuing to kick the can down the road at each turn? Surely, it’s not about the money.

I am reminded of the besieging of another president against whom another establishment army determined to thwart his quest to save the soul of his nation, Abraham Lincoln. The analogy isn’t as far off as you think. The question in Lincoln’s time was whether to let go of the United States of America as the founding fathers envisioned it or fight to preserve it. We see America divided arbitrarily again, this time not North vs. South, but Coastal vs. Heartland. The vision at stake is the same, should America as we know it be abandoned.

This is the elephant in the room that establishment Washington does not want to face. The thing that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Chuck Schumer “disagree” with President Donald Trump about what to do.

Trump is clearly trying to preserve traditional America. It’s clear he is sincere in his belief that his call to Make America Great Again is something he believes and that he is doing everything he can to bring that vision to fruition. He is being opposed blindly at every turn.

Associated Press/Alex Brandon

Pelosi and Schumer also want to preserve their version of America. Theirs is a one of an establishment political class that acts as the caretakers of America reigning over ordinary Americans as willing vassals of the land. It’s a rose-colored vision of Democratic Camelot. One where importing willing vassals to outnumber unwilling traditionalists is a good thing.

But I’m not so sure that establishment America isn’t about to see this blow up in their face.

The Democratic Party is flush with a new crop of representatives and senators who would change America even more than them. In their America, traditional American culture is the enemy to be wiped away without mercy. Bringing in immigrants to help make that change happen is about the only thing they have in common with their establishment cousins.

The change metaphor can be stated another way. Tradition minded Americans are the new native Americans and the immigrants are coming not to assimilate but to settle on the land and eventually send the traditional Americans off to reservations.

The new breed will all be Democrats of course. Or so Pelosi and Schumer think. I’m not so sure. I worry that, just like the Europeans discovered a century ago, catastrophic revolution is more likely as social cohesion erodes into animus. These things do have a predictable pattern.

Me? I’m really not of a mind to take that much of a risk on losing the core of American culture. I see too much value in it for this country and for the world. American pluralism that respects Americas founding values as the most important beacon for human rights and liberty on this planet. It’s something worth preserving.

Compared to kicking the can down the road endlessly on border security, I see much more merit in the principles of Donald Trump’s approach of securing the border to create the equivalent of what US immigration history in the 20th century called the “immigration pause” where people from Europe stopped coming in large numbers. This slowdown in people coming to America in the early 20th century enabled assimilation.

More important, it enabled the adoption of traditional American culture to take root in the second and third generations of immigrants. It facilitated a Great America culture that would eventually save the world from the Axis and planted the seeds for a view of universal human rights that would see the United States experiment with something called the Great Society.

What’s not to see in the merit of an America that sees that securing the border is about securing the viability of our culture? Why shouldn’t ordinary Americans, including the 2.79 million federal civil service employees and the 5 million federal contractors that work with them let Congress know that preserving the Nation’s culture means something to them.

Personally, I’d pick up the phone and call Congress and tell them to spend the measly $5.7 billion already and see where it goes.

Now if only Donald Trump could Tweet a Gettysburg Address of his own.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Trump Changes Strategy in Syria


Acrimony and unease grip America’s global stability community as President Trump signaled his intent to extract the last remaining US advisors from eastern Syria. With his power as Commander in Chief, the President informed the entire diplomatic, military and intelligence arms of the US government that the end game point in the battle against ISIS for the United States has been reached. The outcry was immediate and vociferous including the resignations of Defense Secretary James Mattis and US Envoy in the fight against ISIS Brett McGurk in protest, their advice to maintain a long-term US presence in the region having been rejected. The US mainstream media, in an odd twist, went into a rare moment of introspective journalism asking if this meant the beginning of the end of Americas “endless wars”.

Elsewhere in the world, recrimination by French President Emmanuel Macron over the Trump’s decision included accusing the US of being an unreliable ally; for the record, Syria is a former French colony. The concern was echoed in the rest of the European Union with nations there asking if the EU needs to purse a global force projection agenda independent of United States leadership. Forces of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan began massing across from Kurdish held territory in Northern Syria clearly anticipating with relish the prospect that US is about to throw them under the bus.

But is Trump’s move reckless? Or does the president see trends in the world that he sees vital to the fate of a nation to step up to? Let’s look at the hand of cards he has.

The endgame of ISIS in Syria and Iraq is near. The philosophical threat of ISIS, the desire for an independent Islamic Caliphate, has receded into a nightmare for its supporters being ruthlessly hunted by everyone, ally and adversary. What is emerging now is a matrix of regional power players over which the US has a very weak hand in influencing directly. Syria is a playing field where the Russians, Turks and Iranians are going to sort it out at the expense of the indigenous natives including the Syrians and the Kurds; yeah same song, different stage. Who gets to be the next Armenians? Just saying.

Leverage in the Middle East going forward can only come from two things. One, is convincing the Russians that they don’t have to be there; that there are more important things to deal with like getting their tiny $1.3 Trillion GDP up and that 80 of 85 districts insolvent problem of theirs under control before they crater internally. Second is diffusing the potential larger war in the Middle East between nuclear armed factions possessing intermediate range delivery weapon systems. Meddling in Syria going forward by the US would make headway in these two areas of US national interest impossible.

The price? The natives. The Syrians. The Kurds. The Iraqis. The Afghans. The legacy of the 400,000 people who died because the United States naively believed we had the power to deliver them from evil. We got lucky in Grenada. Lucky in Bosnia. Lucky in Kuwait. We bit off more than we realized in Afghanistan and Iraq.

I can understand why James Mattis, who lost brave men and women under his command, and Brett McGurk, who forged deep friendship and trust with the natives in the fight against ISIS, would be deeply hurt by this turn of events. They fear for the next 400,000 people who will die in the coming decade if this new game doesn’t work.

And they are right to be fearful. The Fertile Crescent, the former Garden of Eden, has been a layer of Dante’s Inferno for a very long time. Personally, I’m not sure their leaving in protest at this time will help delay the onset of the deaths of the next half million. I’d have stayed to try to save the humans I could while this new strategy found its footing.

I will note that Donald Trump is not the first US President to attempt to end an “endless war” scenario. In the 20th Century, President Richard Nixon did the same over another former French colony painfully trading America’s national prestige for eventual regional stability.

Then the Bush-Clinton-Bush era made us bold because we took on the mantle of being the world’s policeman; the defender of universal human rights. The planet gladly let us while selfishly turning the surface of the earth into collection of locales where human rights are far from universal. We spent treasure and blood in a quest that was always going to reach a limit point; just like every crusade before it.

In the 21st Century, Donald Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama repositioned the United States to be a supporting character in world affairs as opposed to the prime mover of outcome agendas. With such a weak hand, the US must now find a path to world peace.

So help us God.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

A Look Underneath the Hood at Why the New York Times is Attacking Facebook


On Wednesday November 14, 2018, the New York Times declared war on Facebook. Under the guise of an article titled “Delay, Deny and Deflect: How Facebook’s Leaders Fought Through Crisis”, the Times lambasted the social media giant accusing the company of internal turmoil at the highest management levels and dubious lobbying activity beginning in 2017 and into 2018.

The Times expose paints Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg as an evil figure on the order of the evil queen Maleficent who personifies dark cloud of social media willing to use every insider tool at her disposal to ensure power and influence of her company. The article also paints Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg as a disingenuous two-face who pretends to care on the outside but has the persona of a heartless automaton on the inside.

NYT printed, “But as evidence accumulated that Facebook’s power could also be exploited to disrupt elections, broadcast viral propaganda and inspire deadly campaigns of hate around the globe, Mr. Zuckerberg and Ms. Sandberg stumbled. Bent on growth, the pair ignored warning signs and then sought to conceal them from the public.”

That’s a pretty strong and caustic accusation. Interestingly, also an accusation that’s been leveled at social media’s primary rival for political influence, the mainstream media that the New York Times is very much a part of. The specter of selective and biased journalism, so-called “yellow journalism”, isn’t new. The phrase “all the news that’s fit to print” goes back to newspaper tycoons like William Randolph Hearst. The Times has certainly done it’s share of participating in the “resistance” to the administration of US President Donald Trump and is a hardly considered a bastion of fair and balanced reporting anymore as it struggles to maintain market share in its very crowded corner of the media industry where liberal slant publications are packed like sardines into a dwindling total readership base.

And honestly, the New York Times spoke with a forked tongue itself last week. The expose attacked Ms. Sandberg for using her Democratic Party connections particularly with Senator Charles Schumer as a vehicle to stem threats to her firm inferring the possibility of either expensive influence buying or possibly even political collusion. The echo chambers on the internet picked up the lead right on cue turning the senior senator from New York into a lightning rod for criticism. And if you think that’s accidental, I have a bridge for sale.

The forked tongue by the Times came in the form of an opinion editorial published on November 16, 2018 by columnist Michelle Goldberg titled “Democrats Should Un-Friend Facebook” where Ms. Goldberg turns the tables and accuses Facebook of being responsible for helping Republicans win politically by giving them access to the platform; an opinion many Conservatives see rather oppositely. If you think this isn’t a classic political “trial balloon” article too, I’ve got another bridge to sell you.

Personally, I’m very suspicious of the New York Times’ motivations. The bottom line is that NYT thinks social media’s biggest platform is bad for their business. And well they should, like most print businesses, the “Gray Lady” has seen circulation decline since the arrival of the Internet and is down to around 500,000 printed copies per day, half of what it was in 2008. The New York Times, a for-profit business, has turned online circulation currently estimated at around 2.9 million users including paid and unpaid readers of its articles. When you go on the net, you run into Facebook. Facebook has 2.27 billion users worldwide with 240 million of them being in the United States. On its best day, NYT is one percent of Facebook USA and 1/10th of a percent of Facebook Global.

In a lake full of big data, the New York Times is a guppy. And on a social media engine like Facebook where content either has to be placed by purchasing positioning using FB’s advertising engine, which cuts into profitability, or virally cited by one of those 2.27 billion eyeballs, or a “bot” masquerading as an eyeball, they’ll remain a guppy.

Is the “Gray Lady” a sacrifice on the altar of Silicon Valley?

Never ever make the mistake of thinking any “flame war” that erupts on the internet does not have a reason. And in this case, the reasons are not hard to find. What the New York Times describes as a “distraction of personal projects” for Mr. Zuckerberg and Ms. Sandberg are their very focused efforts to execute a strategy of eyeball / mindshare ownership of the internet through a series of strategic acquisitions and cross platform integrations to span generational silos such as Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram and the ascendance of their Messenger system to become one of the primary means of one-to-one communication on the Internet. Team Zuckerberg has been displacing competitors such as Yahoo, Google and Microsoft’s Skype using a combination of public forum and private messaging tool offerings. In some countries, it’s become the primary means of communications supplanting even text messaging because FB Messenger doesn’t cost phone users per message charges or have phone records of traffic that prying governments can monitor in real-time.

All this is a preparatory staging to Facebook’s next monetization step on the internet, establishing advertising, marketing and transaction fulfillment space on the internet. By owning the audience’s means of communication, Facebook seeks to undermine and disinter-mediate some of the position of established online shopping giants such as Amazon, Ali Baba and eBay. Notice please, the global nature of the business case scope and the titanic sizes of the behemoths jockeying for position.

Notice further that the other Kings of Silicon Valley are acquiring media companies. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos just bought the Washington Post and is placing a “yuge” headquarters presence in the City of New York. Other acquisitions include Saleforce’s Marc Benioff bought Time and Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of Steve Jobs, bought The Atlantic.

Mr. Bezos’ corporate presence will make him one of the bigger tenants in a town that has an inconvenient truth vacancy space problem. You really think part of the calculus of someone like Bezos isn’t to counter the eyeball ownership advantage of Facebook/Instagram, Twitter, et al? Wake up and smell the coffee.

In an interview for Recode.net November 5, 2018, NY Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger was quoted as saying “the New York Times is not for sale”. That may not be a position he can maintain forever.

“Do no evil.”

In social media, even the best edited long form article by a publication like the Times has to compete on a level playing field basis against the virality of a Tweet by @realdonaldtrump or an article on AmericaOutLoud by some schmuck named Santiago. I cannot imagine that this “new normal” does not drive NYT’s management bonkers. The internet took control over deciding what “news is fit to print” away from them.

But let’s unfold this evolution of new media vs. old media one additional unveiling of the curtain further and ask, is Facebook evil? It’s certainly huge. It’s certainly rich. It’s certainly coming out of a phase of innocence where the presumption that content would sort itself out because people are smart and able to tell real from fake and objective from manipulative has given way to realizing that an open platform will be taken advantage of by interests motivated by all manner of subterfuge in the name of some end justifying the means. Is it evil to have been naïve? Is it diabolical to have designed a content micro-casting engine so well, it allows 2.27 billion people on this planet to have their own personalized virtual world bubble? Was there intentional malice on the part of Facebook or the other social media engines to disrupt the social fabric of the United States and turn it into an animus filled Balkan morass? Honestly, I don’t think so.

I have seen nothing so far that indicates that Facebook has done anything but deliver a perfect bubble for every eyeball. I see perfectly well that this is how an engine that caters to human interests and intentions should be technically designed to work. Such systems create new ecosystems, clusters and networks of affinities, what humans call groups of friends. I can see that the creators of these system would want to eventually monetize their efforts into markets as a classic extension of age of electricity Marshall McLuhan Madison Avenue marketing and advertising theories. And I can see that these disruptive innovations on the internet would eventually cause a massive shift in how information and economics flows through society.

What I do not think Mark Zuckerberg ever dreamed would happen in this college dormitory was that evil humans would exploit his platform and use it as a mechanism to recruit armies to fight culture wars. But that’s the problem that now besets the company he founded. And I’m not really sure that responding to a curve ball like this would not make anyone stumble a few steps coming to terms with it.

But I’ll assert this next. What people with dark hearts fear isn’t so much that Facebook can be used to exploit the frailties other humans. No. What they fear is that Facebook is still an equal playing field where any group can try to get away with something. What they fear most is that their enemies will succeed before they do. I think this is why you see efforts to impede companies like Facebook from implementing future technologies on their platforms that can keep playing fields fair appearing in the sphere of public policy debate. The last thing that dark forces want is to allow social media to continue to improve so that their subterfuge becomes instantaneously transparent.

And those dark forces come in many shapes. I would highly recommend to Ms. Sandberg and Mr. Zuckerberg to grab the complete video log of the “After the Digital Tornado” conference held in December 2017 hosted by Kevin Werbach at the Wharton School. I attended this symposium held just four months after the date of the meeting noted in the New York Times article. It was where the leading academics first labeled the big internet companies including Facebook as dangerous entities that needed to be brought to ground by constraints and regulations. I was an uncomfortable practitioner at this gathering of academics and did not agree with their conclusions. However, their research and theories continue to manifest and work their way into public policy.

Then again, the internet moves far faster than academia or government realize. I can tell you right now that somebody at Facebook is going to read this article and from here they will eventually find one I wrote sitting on Arianna Huffington’s Thrive Global “Three Steps to Take Control Back from the Media Anyone Can Do”, https://medium.com/thrive-global/three-steps-to-take-control-back-from-the-media-anyone-can-do-924e8a4b518e. And from there I bet it’s just a matter of time before social media platforms will all learn to un-spin yellow journalism for users in real-time, identify the actual agents behind agendas, laudable and nefarious, also in real-time, and educate people in how to actually get to the real source material behind the noise and digest it in real-time. Then we can return to the presumption that content will “sort itself out” because social media will assist people to be smarter and able to tell real from fake, objective from manipulative.

Whether there’s still a place for outlets like the New York Times in the form it exists in now when that time comes, who knows. And to be frank when that time comes, who will still care?

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Suspicious Border Incursions


Photo: Jorje Cabrera, Reuters

There are “caravans” marching north though Mexico originating from the Central American countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. Presently around 1,500 miles away, they get out of their trucks to march for the benefit of cameras with uncannily precise timing to arrive on the precipice of the U.S. November midterm election.

Is your spider sense tingling? Are you wondering if this is a scam? So am I.

These people are portrayed as refugees; but are they? They aren’t acting like it. There’s a pretty straightforward script about how refugees are handled on this planet. The international law on asylum is that the asylum seeker is supposed to present themselves to the authorities of the first international border they reach upon fleeing their countries. For Central Americans fleeing north from their governments, that country is Mexico; specifically, the southern border of Mexico.

The way it is supposed to work, Mexico, with aid from the international community, is supposed to set up refugee camps. The coordination body for this is U.N. High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR). It is from these camps, that other organizations such as the US Office for Refugee Resettlement are supposed to process persons to qualify eligible refugees for movement from the camps to a third host nation. If this were the Middle East, the analogy would be people in Iraq and Syria fleeing ISIS going into U.N. camps in Jordan.

Here’s where it gets weird. That’s exactly what the UNHCR, Mexico and United States are trying to do in this case. This is not a money issue. The US, Mexico and the UN have the money and resources to support a proper refugee camp. We’re talking 1,500 people per caravan which is a drop in the bucket compared to the 11 million Syrians, Kurds and Yazidis displaced in the Middle East.

But wonder of wonders, these people are refusing to go into camps and process as refugees. Somebody’s giving them a better deal than the internationally sanctioned solution set. Instead, they are marching towards the US border escorted by, and it seems funded by, American activist handlers. What does that tell you is really going on here? Again, are these people really legitimate refugees from their own governments? If so, what exactly are they fleeing?

Let’s dig a little more.

First, these marchers do come from three relatively small economies. Guatemala has a $75.6 billion GDP nation, El Salvador a $24.8 billion GDP and Honduras has a $22.98 billion GDP. But here’s the thing. As of 2017, the GDP’s of all three of these countries was growing. Yeah, you heard that right, growing. Note that all three of these governments are imploring their citizens to return. And they were doing that before Donald Trump threatened to cut off aid to them. What’s the underlying stress that may be besetting Central America? Here are my observations.

First, this may very well have simpler explanations that have nothing to do with being refugee problems. People leaving otherwise improving economic conditions speaks more to internal forces having to do with economic opportunity inefficiencies within these nations. One of the organizers of the caravan is a Honduran ex-lawmaker named Bartolo Fuentes who’s apparently been organizing caravans since last September as reported by the New York Post and Daily Beast. These are normally small groups numbering in the 200 range. According to the NYPost, the swelling in numbers for this caravan may have been triggered by a woman referring to “assistance” in an interview on Hoduran TV news channel HCH. Mr. Fuentes reported a surge in phone calls following the broadcast.

What does that mean? Could this be local politics in Central America gone viral on the world stage because of the internet? It's certainly not the first bizarre consequence effect we've seen happen.  Or, it may be simple economics in action. It costs an average of $7,000 USD to pay a coyote to smuggle a person to the United States. A caravan with “assistance” reduces that cost per traveler considerably … and potentially upsets the human trafficking economies extending from Central America to the United States. Think about the implications of that one buckwheat.

OAS considerations.

More broadly, what Central American nations do share, actually the entire Western Hemisphere and the Organization of American States, is a common problem called Venezuela. That socialist state is a basket case of a national failure. Venezuela’s economy has collapsed thirty-seven percent (-37%) since 2014 from being a $482.4 billion GDP nation to a maybe $300 billion GDP country today; that’s a loss of $182 billion of GDP by Venezuela. That math basically means that Venezuela has evaporated wealth greater than the combined economies of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. The stresses put on Venezuela’s neighbors because Nicolas Maduro is nincompoop of a socialist despot even by socialist’s standards is a problem now beginning to resonate throughout the New World.

My instincts say Maduro is triggering the Western Hemisphere equivalent of the refugee problem besetting Europe. We are facing a problem very similar to the walking wave of people seeking economic opportunity while hanging on to their cultural identity.  They, like their migrant counterparts in the EU, are escaping a no go home scenario. The similarity to what is challenging Europe is uncanny; except the problem for the New World isn’t Muslim refugees displaced from their homes in Syria, Kurdistan, Libya, or Sudan, it’s Venezuelans displaced from their homes.

The Venezuelans need that $182 billion of lost GDP to survive and like their Muslim counterparts in the Old World, they are pursuing a scrounge at the expense of their hosts path to that desperate survival. Central America is being invaded by Maduro’s refugee hordes.

So far, no one has the guts to do something about the cancer that is Venezuela’s blight upon the Americas. This is not going to get smaller as Central and South America’s economies continue to crater under the weight of the spread of that pathetic socialist failure.

The Gringo Factor

Stranger still, groups in the US are seeking to exploit the plight of the innocent for their own political purposes, most embarrassingly, by activists and globalists in the United States. The political elite Gringo’s are being ugly Americans using these people like pawns. I doubt they even actually care what happens to them, or their countries.

Here’s my reality check.  Cooler heads than the American hotheads are beginning to voice their concerns.  Eventually, I think the suggestion of Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto to US President Donald Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that the countries of North America, who have strong economies, will have to solve this problem as an Organization of American States problem. It will become front burner policy.

My suggestion to President Trump is to seriously consider these posits. We may need to build a coalition of the willing to help Central and South America find a better future without a Maduro led Venezuela. We may need to re-cast how US aid to Central America can be better used to further decrease the attraction of economic migration from these countries. And, we may have to deal with the economic food chain of human trafficking in the New World.

There are global repercussions that accompany this strategic realization.

Meditate on this more I shall.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Trump Shuffles House of Cards at the UN

photo: AP/Mary Altaffer

During the first minute of his speech on the 25th of September 2018 to the United Nations General Assembly, president Donald J. Trump received a greeting of muted laughter. For the near hour of the speech that followed, you could have heard a pin drop in the cavern. Trump minced no words. He was brutally clear to everyone in the General Assembly that the United States of America meant business. The repercussions of that speech will be world changing.

Foremost In the president's message to the world was his rejection of globalism represented most by the governing apparatus of the United Nations and its supporting agencies. The UN had been born in an era of global power concentration at the end of World War II. It has functioned as such since then concentrating the real power over the planet in the Security Council. This model husbanded the planet through the Cold War and a period of post-Colonialism in the aftermath of it. But much like his domestic presidency is a recognition that established bureaucracies can become bloated by elitism and hubris, so can the world stage.

I found it poetic that this message to the world that the time has come to set central control aside and embrace a more plural form the world governance was delivered in the General Assembly where decades of evolution adding nations represented in the room have brought necessity to evaluate the issue of how nations relate to each other to the forefront.

This has been evolving for some time. The world has become more regionalized with confederations, some cooperative and some adversarial, emerging on the planet. The European Union has gone through several cycles of growing pains, so has Russia and its Confederation of Independent States. These two regions of the world have now existed in their present forms for longer since the fall of the Berlin Wall now longer than the entire length of time the Cold War wall existed. The Middle East and Africa have undergone radical change from a landscape of colonies to amalgams of nations. The world became plural in an image, quite honestly, modeled after the original hopes of the United Nations and financed, in many cases, by the treasure of the United States. Mission accomplished. Hooray for us monkeys!

In his speech, Trump challenged this now more plural world to begin to live up to its potential. In doing so, he announced that it was time to win the world of American dependence. He pointed out that for America to navigate into its own future such a change was a necessity. He implied that this necessity applied to every other nation as well. The stunned silence in the room was surely no surprise to the American delegation delivering this 21st century tough love message.

I smiled to myself as I listened to it not because I am an isolationist, but because I am an American. I’m pragmatic about the practice of global stability and national policy. I found my thoughts drifting back to a much younger United States of America. In the 1790’s and leading up to the War of 1812, the United States was a beacon of freedom to a Western Hemisphere dominated by colonial masters. They coveted how the United States was thriving in its social and power experiment. Throughout the Americas, people saw the emergence of a free and independent nation and wanted the same for themselves. America's leaders struggled with the requests for aid throw off the world powers of that era and cast them out of the New World. There was acrimony about it at the time, and regret. America's leaders knew we were not rich enough or powerful enough come to the aid of our neighbors and risk the combined might of Europe against us. Mind you the British did try. Lucky for us, we survived the War of 1812. More importantly for the world’s future, we chose to lead by example that would become a hallmark of our future conduct on the world stage. We took the position of tough love showing our neighbors what was possible, to inspire hope even if (no because) we were unable to do it for them. We recognized even then the wisdom of teaching others to fish.

If you think about it openly, the world is in a similar position today following the abandonment of colonialism worldwide. There are only two nations rich enough to vie for hegemony on this planet. This would be the multi-trillion economies of the United States and China. No one else has this potential. Both nation’s societies are presently in flux. One is pursuing hyper-patriotic centralization of social values controlled via the technology of universal social scoring. The other tumultuously hangs on to its internal pluralism using technology in an endless series of trials by fire, well technically flame wars, to bring everyone’s egos to ground.

Stepping back and looking objectively, both nations are experiments in the future of complex societies for this planet. Opposite in approach, these two nations are the templates for where technological humanity must find a future. Clearly neither model has found its sweet spot yet. Is what it is. What will be interesting in the next decade is whether the US and China come to blows over these templates or find a way to manage their polar forms of leadership in concert for the benefit of the remainder of the world.

Perhaps we’ll find a new détente. Hopefully, the UN General Assembly noted in its silence of President Trumps speech, the bilaterally messages between the Unites States and the nations single out by the US, that included carrots and sticks, loud and clear.

I believe that the American delegation’s message to the United Nations in 2018 will go down in history as a reminder by the United States of the same message it has stood for since its birth.
For whatever acrimony the news of the day makes of this inconvenient truth, President Trump did his job as our messenger effectively.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Fantasy Trumps Reality; It’s Not Bots, It’s Us



The ability of the Internet to cause storms of social upheaval has reached epic proportions. Since the November 2016 election the Internet has been used by political parties to ferment acrimony in the national debate far beyond anything we ever saw in terms of campaign influence efforts by any party foreign or domestic. The degree of malicious animus that the entire world is seeing us undergo is, quite frankly, embarrassing. We have literally descended to high school clique mean people politics.

The most recent of these being the nomination to the Supreme Court of Brett Kavanaugh where, at the last minute after a seemingly clear path to confirmation had been achieved, an accusation exploded into “court of public opinion” virality. It doesn’t matter to many people whether the accusation is founded. It doesn’t matter that the State of Maryland, where the incident allegedly occurred, has already stated that in the 1980’s the law was that such an infraction by a minor would have been a 2nd degree misdemeanor for which the statute of limitations has long expired; and would have been expunged from the record upon the age of majority.

No. What matters is that the obsession of all parties, of an entire nation, is to sacrifice Kavanaugh like a lamb on an altar over an obsession with another man, President Donald Trump. He’s the real “bad boy” that women have that love-hate fantasy with as noted in that old 1970’s feminism text, Nancy Friday’s “My Secret Garden”. Entire genres of both pornographic scripting and victim archetype psychotherapy have evolved from that book.

Today, it seems that total Internet bandwidth utilization is split 50/50 between these two themes. Well, the social media acrimony half also shares its allocation with all the other mundane functions of the internet. All of it makes money from combinations of actual purchases, ad serves, or user data mining marketing intelligence. We are the product. Yeah that’s right, looking at the raw traffic data tells you a lot about America.

We are also the fuel that keeps this cycle of meanness going. The thing about the internet is that it’s a totally level playing field of democracy. Tumultuously fair. Everyone’s voice counts equally, albeit with amplifications that come from the gossipy effects of combinations of money and sex appeal. Anyone can Tweet. Anyone can make a snarky Facebook post. Anyone can generate a meme. These are all tracked, cataloged and sorted into data mining information for sale right along with your browser cookies of what you are looking at even if you think you are expunging them by the way. Regardless, the cumulative effect on the human brain as we “monkey up” trapped in our biological evolution to be creature of stimulus-response, is that we begin to believe that what appears on the LED screens is real. It’s not. The internet is just like TV, it’s a “boob tube”, pure entertainment for the mind. Something primates do while waiting for the meteor to hit.

To be sure, the big internet companies take this phenomenon very seriously. Not because they care about people’s mental health mind you. It’s because they know that every fad has a half-life and sooner or later, Facebook could become Prodigy and fade into oblivion. Like their television counterparts who are seeing the public’s interest decline because the noise saturation level of the medium has reached abandonment behavior levels, the internet giants are seeing their own credibility questioned more and more. There’s a big debate over what to do with the monopoly positions that companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter have achieve in the mindshare of adult America. I note “adult” with emphasis, the kids have their own places on the internet they use. The sites adults argue about are called “old people” watering holes. You ought to know this if you are reading this article that in internet dog years, you are an old fart.

The Internet debate rages from academia to government. The academics, mostly left leaning, who in the 1990’s argued vociferously for an open and unregulated internet free of influence from “the man” have, in the last couple of years, done a 180 degree about face. The last conference on this I attended in November 2017 called “After the Digital Tornado” http://digitaltornado.net/schedule/ was interesting in that eventually this same 1990’s academic brain trust used the same arguments of Heidegger, Kafka and Marx to argue for a conversion of the market-based Internet into a central government regulated utility internet. No really. You can use the same body of academic reference base to create any outcome posit you want. My considered strategic net assessment analyst reaction to the conference, with decades of heuristic and mathematical modeling under my belt? Groucho trumps Karl. Always has, always will.

Now government is getting involved. On Friday September 21st 2018, The White House released a document titled the “National Cyber Strategy of the United States of America”, https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/National-Cyber-Strategy.pdf It’s a 40 page document that parallels many of the recommendations from a book by Tim Maurer named “Cyber Mercenaries”. It’s a very well written, if deeply academic language laced, examination of cyber policies and strategies around the world that fairly describes the issues different countries face in dealing with cyberspace and the state and non-state actors within it. The US strategy statement elucidates our perspective and aspirations within this larger global playing field.

But there are dangers not noted in the latest White House document. Concepts of governance become moot when the baseline tech shifts back from central server to distributed infrastructure models. That’s coming. It’s called the Internet of Things (IOT). The “things” keep getting smarter to the point that they become mobile self-contained data centers, that’s what a self-driving vehicle is while it’s parked and plugged into an outlet. It’s R2D2. The lobbying of the monopoly companies to retain their market share is intense. But think about it, there’s no reason why social media needs to be a one stop portal. There’s no reason why Amazon should be the only company store that matters, that it should replace the post office, UPS and Fedex. One of the laments of the academics I do agree with is that the Internet used to have hundreds of them; that the Internet used to better fit the design of a competitive market space where on single company had greater than fifty percent market share. That is wasn’t a landscape of pseudo-utilities with unregulated staffs not subject to internal controls on behavioral norms. Economic interest wise, big companies and big governments like cozy rooms. That’s ultimately a bullshit reason for how to design the internet too. Posit in your head for a moment if social media was a society of 100,000 small servers, each governed by a sysop, the net would be self-neutral via natural counterbalancing. All these central control computer programs and intrusive data mining systems would either be superfluous or governed via a very different set of norms and expectations. My point here is, we are still in the stage of baby steps even if our egos try to tell us otherwise.

But the danger to the US in cyberspace is that our own domestic ineptitude, as seen in how our people are so vulnerable to the cancerous effects of “low information” viewer social media, are the seeds of our own destruction in the global race for dominance in cyber norms and behaviors. We presently do not hold the moral high ground of behavior. It means we are on a path to lose the cyber war asymmetrically. We will concentrate on infrastructural security raising barriers to entry to innovation even as the global technology base develops futures designed on completely different infrastructure models from the ones our bureaucracies know how to regulate. We will concentrate on managing down “bots” while at the same time artificial intelligence is making it that you cannot tell an internet robot from and actual human, and the robots actually will eventually serve you better as they evolve from toys into “droids”. What have not even begun to do is teach humans to separate fantasy from fact, to learn to live beyond being audiences of LED “boob tubes” willing to believe the shallowest of lies because it gives us a biological endorphin rush.

We have a long way to go.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

President Trump Needs to Establish a “Brennan Rule”


The feud between former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (DCIA) John Brennan and President Donald Trump points out an important clarification that needs to happen with respect to former officials engaging in active public debate to current administration policies and strategies.

There is nothing inherently wrong with Mr. Brennan disagreeing with the President. He is an experienced and insightful man with a long history serving his country. He has his own opinions as an independent pundit that he is very much entitled to. Where he has gotten himself into trouble is the use of his security clearance as a professional bona fide to imply he is a person of authority in current public policy debate. Personally, I doubt Mr. Brennan himself would imply this; but, he is in the employ of media organizations, the so-called 4th estate, that can and do imply to the public that his words carry such weight. They do not. Official weight comes only from the present officials in power holding the offices, doing their duty.

It is wrong for Mr. Brennan to overly project himself into the affairs of the keepers of the current watch no matter how much he believes in his views of the world. He’s not the one in the room looking at the current lay of the land, with both the clearance and the need to know to make today’s decisions. He should defer to the people who hold the active-duty positions in government to affect the national policy of the United States of America.

For instance, Mr. Brennan as DCIA oversaw a period of operations in the Middle East where the US engaged in a campaign of using unreliable operatives that didn’t quite work out as hoped. The campaign was designed by his predecessor DCIA David Petraeus who, fresh from his experience gaming warlord vs. warlord in Afghanistan, had the idea of stabilizing the western portion of the northern Middle East using proxies against unfriendly governments. And so began a CIA led effort that armed unreliable Sunni factions of Saudi sympathizers in Syria that would ultimately give birth to ISIS and create an opening for Iran to attempt to create the so-called “Shia Crescent”. We couldn’t balance our strategy with Shiites because the Imams of that sect are from hated US enemy, Iran; so we turned to the Kurds which, because half of them are in Turkey, eventually strained relations with that ally. It was a brilliant plan designed to fail. I remember hearing Petraeus discuss this at a Reagan National Defense Forum at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California once. My net assessment instincts were tingling with alarm bells. The strategy violated basic sphere of influence with respect to the one player the CIA brain trust underestimated, Russia and its commitment to the official government of Syria, the Alawite tribes of Bashar al-Assad. The net projection did not compute. And in the end, the what did compute is what happened, the entire campaign to unseat Assad failed. Mr. Assad is today, mopping up the last of the opposition forces enabled directly and inadvertently by the CIA of 2012 to 2016.

I recant this to make the point that the current “cooks in the room” are dealing with a very different set of global stability circumstances than that of the pre-Trump era. I could have used examples from the situations in NATO, North Korea, the South China Sea and others. Even our relationship on what the best going forward strategy to deal with China, an economic competitive and influence balance problem, and Russia, a boundaries of influence problem with a heavily nuclear armed, 1/10th GDP size of its opponents problem. My point here is not that Mr. Brennan does not have opinions on these matters. My point is that he is NOT IN THE ROOM. Clearance be damned, he does not have the need-to-know to make current US policy and strategy decisions. That he has personal reservations about the team now in the room is immaterial. They are also diligent and experienced people. And I’ll remind all those who have been told this, the greatest ethic of all in national matters. “Beyond this point, there is no left of right, there are only Americans.” My problem with Mr. Brennan is that he seems to have lost faith in our nation and its remarkable ability to persevere. I never lost it when he was in power. I do not know why he fails to do the same now that someone else is.

Then comes the media problem. Mr. Brennan exacerbates the situation by expressing his views in the mainstream media, a medium currently struggling for relevance in the political landscape against its disintermediation by the Internet, a replacement medium that is increasingly being adopted by world leader ship as a primary pathway for expressing international policy bypassing traditional media. As the media struggles believing it self to be part of policymaking when it is in fact merely an observer of the process, it places former officials like John Brennan into a difficult situation. Personally, his advice and counsel are better served with in the traditional private world of consultative discussions between current and former officials that has been how we carry on the long-term corporate memory of the Nation. That Mr. Brennan clashes with the administration outside of these confidential circles is what causes the current problem that President Trump has been placed in a difficult position to deal with.

 I believe that it is important for the United States to clearly delineate between consultative efforts by former officials in support of the government from public punditry that may interfere with the conduct of the work of the current watch. In the past, we relied on the discretion of these former officials to understand this difference. In the current environment of former officials becoming part of an opposition message marketed news media, this ground rule and assumption begins to falter. The nation must now deal with a cost benefit trade off between the advice that a former official can give versus the damage that a former official can do. The most poignant example of this problem stands before us in the personage of John Brennan.

I would respectfully suggest to President Trump that a rule should be established that a former official who, of his own volition, chooses to leave the cadre of consulted former officials to become a member of an opposition motivated industry should relinquish all connections to the government as part of becoming a member of that media. It is in our national interest that both the administration and Mr. Brennan make it clear that anything he says on the air is formulated from his considered opinion in complete isolation from what is officially happening inside the security and stability policy processes of the government of the United States.

I believe it would be good for both the US government and for Mr. Brennan to formally declare a hard disconnect to make it clear that the debate and disagreement that may or may not continue going forward is based on truly independent and carries no color or implication of authority. Now, I do not believe Mr. Brennan would do this himself. But I believe his employers in the media are doing so as part of their campaign to market the good old days of the Obama administration to their resistance-oriented viewers. Ethically, I don’t think Mr. Brennan should be comfortable being in such an awkward position.

I personally encourage Mr. Brennan to stand on his own soap box alone and proud with his thoughts. I welcome hearing them. However, he should not sanction to imply that his thoughts continue to carry the weight of officialdom well after the end of his tenure in government service. I believe that at some point Mr. Brennan may end his participation in the media. At that time, when he is ready to re-enter the cadre of old guard consultative voices in confidence again; that is when reconsideration of regranting him clearance should occur. In the meantime, his best service to the Nation may be to be the boy blue sounding his horn in the wilderness of the mainstream media.

To President Trump, I would say that I think this is a fair test that all who have at one time served the United States in some capacity of confidence should embrace. We all took an oath. We all made a promise. We all know that that promise is for life. We all know that when our shift ends, we turn it over to the next guy. That’s what makes sense for a great America.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Trump’s Aggressive Shuttle Diplomacy; In Search of the Eurasian Border


President Donald Trump continues to prove himself to be a diplomat who thinks out-of-the-box. The NATO summit in Brussels, despite all it’s testiness and recrimination by his detractors, brings up several realities that the alliance needs to deal with if it is to remain relevant as a contributing body to future world peace.

As a longtime analyst, NATO, in my observation, has been morphing away from being a purely defensive alliance to becoming a de facto expansionist one in the European theater. In concert with the economic agenda of the European Union, NATO has been expanding its presence into eastern Europe coming ever closer to the traditional influence sphere of Russia in the last 25 years. As eastern European countries have discovered the attraction of Western economic advantages, they have sought to join the military alliance as part of their migration from what was the old Warsaw Pact. This has led to some interesting political clashes in this expanded Europe that puts active socialist experiments in Western Europe in league with recovering failed communist experiments in Eastern Europe. Within this loose union, this new European landscape has proven to have all of the hill and valley complexities that have marked such matrices throughout history; and it is a tenuous matrix as best, as the world has witnessed the players within the EU/NATO system experimenting, sometimes dangerously, to define the future of their sphere of influence.
                                                        
All of this ebullience has not gone unnoticed on the eastern border of the new NATO where the power shifts into the hands of mother Russia. In the minuet of set piece warfare that forms the long wave undertone of conflict for Europe ever since the end of the Hundred Years War, these subtle border shifts expanding eastward have the net effect of an invasion not unlike the threat of Operation Barbarosa was to the motherland’s Steppes in the mid-20th Century.

Russia, for its part, has sought to adjust and consolidate its latter day version of a Maginot line making shifts to territorial alignments to fix haphazardly drawn borders from the aftermath of the Cold War. This has caused, and will continue to cause, a growing tension between the evolving nouveau Europe, a $14 trillion GDP federation, and the prideful but poor order of magnitude poorer eastern empire of Vladimir Putin. This economic disparity makes for a very real and volatile border tension reality.

But wait. Let’s take a step back for a second from our perspective as the outside third party. What is the national interest of the United States when looking at the evolution of these two very important spheres of influence that characterize most of the northern half of the Eurasian continent?

Clearly, we see value in both of these power spheres. We have a long history of interaction with both western Europe and Russia. We have cultural and strategic reasons for wanting to have productive relations with both. Simple pragmatism dictates that EU/NATO and Russia are both equally vital to our strategy to ensure global stability and world peace. These two spheres, along with China, are the fundamental building blocks of a likely future northern alliance that could at some point replace the peacekeeping function of the United Nations; an organization now suffering from the ill effects of too much autocratic world mediocrity and prejudice disguised as international democracy. Therefore, it does fall to the United States to be the bringer of tough love to the alliance.

And that is precisely what the president of the United States did at the NATO summit. President Trump recognized the self-interest of EU/NATO Europe to build a sphere of influence within which its evolving federation can grow. He then pointed out that if this is the aim of this new EU, it would have to fund it’s military border with the Russians much more indigenously. In his policy position, it is apparent to me that Donald Trump did the calculus of deterrence. It’s not that hard. He spelled out to the Western Europeans the simple formula that a 4% of GDP commitment to military spending is what it would take to sustain a fully credible deterrent of the type that would stabilize the border between the Western and Russian spheres of influence. It’s a simple global stability equation; one that both the Europeans and the Russians can, and very well do, understand. Mr. Trump, who if you haven’t been reading Twitter, understands that plain and direct messaging gets results when it comes to asserting influence, set the 4% line because it is a plain language message that even economists would understand. Yes, that was a dig. Here is the simple math. 4% of the GDP of Western Europe in aggregate spent on defense is roughly 50% of Russia’s GDP. It creates the conditions for resilient stability; an overwhelming deterrent advantage in the mission to stabilize a sphere of influence border.

Mr. Trump further recognizes the dangerous nuance that the spending pain by NATO has to be equitably distributed among all of the members. It creates this business concept called “buy in”. It is astute acumen by Mr. Trump. Every student of military history that has studied Europe knows that a failure to ensure parity in participation eventually leads to disastrous outbreaks of European warfare. Don’t repeat the League of Nations mistake; it’s bad. It was clear to me in Mr. Trump’s messaging that he had thought long and hard about far more complex elements than people give him credit for. The summit ended with grudging pledges of new commitment. President Trump called it a success; probably more of a strategic success that an everyone feels good one. As they say, sweat equity.

Back to all about “US”. What does that buy the national interest agenda of the United States? In global stability, everything is an enabler. Things are a turn within a tun within a turn. The next logical step is, for anyone paying attention, already coming into play.

On July 15 in Helsinki, Mr. Trump will meet with Mr. Putin in what will be a private bilateral relations discussion between two major military powers and world affairs influences. The USA will ponder thoughts with the nation most critical to enabling global stability in the lower 2/3 landmass of planet earth. It’s a tumultuous co-dependency for sure; but then again, so was perpetuating a Cold War for decades while waiting to find out if the Reich would rise again? What? You didn’t think that was a big part of why we both did it?

Economically, it’s another order of magnitude disparity. The US with it’s over $16 trillion GDP dwarf’s Russia; although, the two leaders do share parallel concerns about certain portions of their federations being economically problematic. Housekeeping is a universal pain it the butt. Still, President Trump will be bringing the vast richness of the United States, who’s GDP as a single nation equals and exceeds the entirety of Western Europe’s; and is matched by only one other trading partner, China, to the chat room. Economically, it will be a giant sitting down to talk to a dwarf, a very prideful dwarf. Militarily it will be a unique peer like no other on this planet having a heart to heart discussion about what to do to bring peace to troubled regions in the world; with the combined imperial power to make those changes happen.

Mr. Trump has set a very interesting stage indeed.

Parting Shot

I understand that the news media is captive to reporting the blow-by-blow minutia of events as they unfold. But this is not the way to view these events. This is more like watching the story arc of a grand play unfold. Ultimately, it is left to us, the citizens, to discern the movie from the soundbites.


Sunday, June 24, 2018

Childish Border Wars; Wrong Border?


US immigration policy has had a rough time of it lately. On January 30, 2018, President Donald Trump asked Congress to pass comprehensive reforms on immigration trying to end an arduous era of border policy by executive order that began long before his administration. So far, no joy as Mr. Trump faces bi-partisan opposition in the Legislative Branch seemingly more incentivized to kick the can down the road so as to preserve the immigration issue as a talking point for electoral politics. This has forced the Executive Branch to go back to effecting border policy via Executive Order; and oddly, put @realdonaldtrump, as the President is known on Twitter, in the same less than desirable muddling box as his predecessor Barack Obama.

Mr. Trump and Mr. Obama both share episodes of dealing with families arriving on the US border seeking asylum. Mr. Obama’s problems occurred in 2014 when a wave of people fleeing turmoil in Central America reached the US border after traveling through Mexico. The event overwhelmed the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Services as well as the those of the US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). The result was a rash of family detentions triggering the issue of child separations that Mr. Obama’s administration, also getting little help from Congress, coped with via Executive Order as it sorted out who could stay in the US and who had to return to their countries of origin. In Obama’s case, after trying to separate children and failing, and unable to detain entire families while their cases were pending, the federal government ultimately decided to use a form of electronic hostage taking as part of its enforcement strategy. Obama instructed the federal apparatus to place ankle tracking bracelets on the legs of the mothers, a direct threat to the central figure of these family units.

In 2018, the US formally changed the authorized ceiling of the number of refugees allowed into the country radically cutting the figure. This recognizes a policy change that began with the new administration that shifted US protocol from attempting to fill quotas to the maximum each year to one of practicing a higher-degree of scrutiny in who qualifies for the US refugee program. It is important to note that this pattern of “extreme vetting” has manifested in other ways including Trump’s day one ban on entry by persons from certain at-risk nations know to be sources of radicalized terrorism; a national security policy that was also pursued with less success by Trump’s predecessor Obama. In case you haven’t figured it out yet, presidents are, in the end, caretakers of national interests that precede and survive their tenures.

Recent Political Asylum Refugees
Year         Ceiliing Actual
2013 70,000 69,925
2014 70,000 69,987 Wave of Central American refugees.
2015 70,000 69,993
2016 85,000 84,995 Last year of Obama Administration
2017 110,000 53,716 First year of Trump Administration
2018 45,000 15,383     (est. ytd)

Mr. Trump’s administration now faces a new recourse dilemma triggered by a toughening of US policy in the direction of “enhanced scrutiny”, or using media’s adopted the hyperbole term from school politics, “zero tolerance” policies on the border. In Mr. Trump’s case, the shift in policy has run into same double-edged sword that beset his predecessor. The problem is triggered by a mismatch in timing in how US law works.

The US Immigration and Nationality Act (I.N.A.) § 208(d)(5) states that asylum interviews should take place within 45 days after the date the application is filed, typically the day a person presents themselves to US authorities, and a decision should be made on the asylum application within 180 days after the date the application is filed, unless there are exceptional circumstances.

The stress on the system today, as it was in Obamas time, is that there’s a Judicial Branch court order that impinges upon the I.N.A. timeline. It starts in 1985 when the daughter of actor Ed Asner’s housekeeper was detained by the then US Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). Her name was Jenny Flores. Jenny’s father had been killed in El Salvador and she was attempting to join her mother in the US, an illegal immigrant worker in the employ of Mr. Asner. The case exposed a problem of long term indeterminate detentions of minors in inadequate facilities within the INS system.

Initially adjudicated in 1987 during the Reagan Administration, it wound up a decade later in 1997 at the US Supreme Court where the Clinton Administration agreed to a settlement, the Flores Settlement, that would have far reaching implications. The Flores Settlement bars the detention of minors for more than 20 days and requires that children be held in facilities licensed as state-approved daycare centers, barring special circumstances.

This mismatch of timing caused Mr. Obama to take mothers as hostages because he could not get the courts to budge and is now causing Mr. Trump to pursue political lighting rod changes to US law. As part of the Executive Order to detain families together, US Attorney General Jeff Sessions is once again asking the US courts to adjustment the Flores Settlement. Mr. Trump is trying to avoid Mr. Obama’s jewelry solution; but he’s got to go through the US 9th District Circuit, one of the most activist in the country. My guess is it won’t end well.

That’s not the problem. This is! We are dealing with these people on the wrong border.

The international law on asylum is that the asylum seeker is supposed to present themselves to the authorities of the first international border they reach upon fleeing their countries. For Central Americans, that country is Mexico; specifically, the southern border of Mexico. The way it is supposed to work, that country, with aid from the international community, is supposed to set up refugee camps. It is from these camps, that other organizations such as the US Office for Refugee Resettlement are supposed to process persons to qualify them for movement from the camps to a third host nation. If this were the Middle East, the analogy would be people in Iraq and Syria fleeing ISIS going to U.N. camps in Jordan.

I do not understand why the US is not insisting that these conventions be followed. This is not a money issue. The US is a rich enough nation that we have the money to support such refugee camps unilaterally; heck, we pay for most of them around the world as it is. They are a good idea given that other Central and South American countries teeter on the edge of collapse of the kind that can and will lead to mass exodus.

One would think that the U.N. Commission on Human Rights would be all over this. BUT NO! Ok, so the U.N. are a bunch of useless puds as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley are quick to explain. Well fine then. To heck with the U.N., there’s the option of solving this as an Organization of American States (OAS) issue where, again, the North American economies can well afford to implement asylum infrastructure in the Western Hemisphere without needing help from the rest of the planet thank you very much.. Why is this not a top of mind conversation?  Why is this not part of the media narrative?  Why isn't this what gets asked about  on in Congressional hearings?

Personally, I’d advice President Trump to go all out on Mexico using trade and tariff leverage while offering the carrot of relief if Mexico cooperates in doing its part to set up proper refugee infrastructure to make the Organization of American States Great Again … so to speak.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Double Standards, Leadership Hubris, Softened Professional Walls Bring Out Human Frailty at the FBI



The Inspector General’s Report finally arrived.  The long-awaited proof of the powerful conspiracy to whitewash the “gross negligence” of Hillary Clinton.  On first pass, it’s a bit of an anticlimax play that speaks so much about the frailty of man in the face of power as Thomas Jefferson used to put it.

Dramatically, the saddest part in the 528-page report is a direct action by a Clinton.  Specifically, former President Willian Jefferson Clinton, imposing himself in a meeting with Attorney General Loretta Lynch on the tarmac in Phoenix.  The meeting “went on and on” saying nothing.  It created discomfort to the point that Lynch sought the advice of the ethics counsel and ultimately steeled herself to accept whatever the FBI recommended be done about Mrs. Clinton.  The reading between the lines is clear.  This chapter of the report is a love poem.  It’s a story about a man who knows the woman he loves has done something terribly wrong begging for mercy; how the mighty do have feet of clay.

But it’s also clear in this report that the double standard of behavior for public figures is a chasm from the public's.  The IG’s report’s preamble goes to great pains to says it avoids second guessing the course and outcome of the Clinton email investigation.  It mentions, but does not opine, on the pattern of mitigation of interpretation of US law that ultimately not only resulted in a declination to recommend prosecution but the removal of language in describing the offense that would have argued strongly in the opposite direction.  My fairness opinion on this after reading the applicable law is that someone should have gone to jail for violating 28 CFR 793(f), the "gross negligence" provision. That public figures get a pass on actions that would send ordinary Americans to federal prison is a cancer that begs introspection.

The eye of this storm in this report was James Comey.  He is the central actor in the play.  The one who’s choices caused everything else to pivot around.  The IG report is not wishy washy at all about its conclusion that Comey screwed the pooch twice by acting out of school when he should have followed procedure. Both times he committed failures of hubris speaking out of turn and bypassing chain of command.  The IG is correct in counseling that he should have gone by the book and let the external realities of the case wreak whatever havoc they should have.  The bottom line lesson for the future is that it’s better to let legitimate scandals happen than create artificial ones inside your own head.  It undermines trust and is an example of elitism in DC at its worst.  Sadly, it’s also petty.  If Comey had trusted in the design of how government and law are supposed to work in this country, much of this would have been different.  In theatric translation, where Loretta turned a deaf ear to Bill, Jim gave Hillary his heart.  Jim chose poorly.

As a result of Comey’s choices, the FBI was reduced to mediocrity, not by bad personnel, but by aimless purpose. That the IG found so many actions questionable and unconvincing should be no surprise; when you don't have equal protection under the law, clarity turns to mud.  Governance and law give way to politics and gossip; an entire country takes a ride on a roller coaster it didn’t have to. And here we are still in denial that 28 CFR 793(f) needs to be enforced.

As to the many supporting actors, Washington D.C. is a town of dangerous political diversity. It remains best navigated with bourbon and cigars.  There's nothing wrong with this. The system is designed to operate well as long as the wall between private like and professional conduct is maintained. Most people do so in the Beltway even as they enjoy the salacious aspects of capitol culture. That players will falter here and there is normal. Catching and counseling them is normal too. I did not really see that there was much more than common garden variety human frailty at work here.  Lovers get careless and mix play with their work. That doesn’t make them bad people.  Gossip worthy yes; but not enemies of the state. The system has the capacity to tolerate such humanity and keep working as long as leadership insists on professionalism in official activity.  The lessons documented in this part of the IG report applies beyond just the FBI. The IG is right to call for tighten up the ship.

Sound general quarters.  It’s time for drills.