Thursday, August 29, 2013

Gas and Tinfoil

History doesn't repeat itself all the time, but sometimes it rhymes.

When Obama comes out and proclaims that we have incontrovertible evidence that Syria is using WMDs causes me to put on my tinfoil hat and will force America to question, among many things, where the Syrians obtained a stock pile of sarin gas. Though there is documented suspicion of Syria’s chemical weapon capabilities, the fact that these weapons are typically stockpiled as a deterrent and over the years no official proclamation was made that they existed.

We also must recall that intelligence prior to the invasion of Iraq indicated that Saddam’s Iraq had sarin gas and amidst large speculation that such weapons were moved to Syria, the use of sarin gas in Syria might prove to vindicate the Bush Administration’s assertions that WMDs were, in fact, in Iraq. Where, ironically enough, we also had proof that the deadly weapon had been used by the regime in power against its own people.

In January, 2006, former Iraqi General Georges Sada publicly declared that Saddam’s military transferred large stockpiles of chemical weapons to Syria using civilian aircraft with the passenger seats removed. “There are weapons of mass destruction gone out from Iraq to Syria, and they must be found and returned to safe hands,’ Mr. Sada said. ‘I am confident they were taken over.’”

Sada, a top officer in the Iraqi Air Force, claims that 56 trips by two Iraqi Airways Boeings were used to smuggle the weapons into Syria under the guise of civilian flights. “Saddam realized, this time, the Americans are coming,” Sada said. “They handed over the weapons of mass destruction to the Syrians.”

In March, retired Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney spoke publicly about the likelihood of WMDs in Syria and the high probability that the weapons were moved to Syria immediately prior to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

If the Obama administration authorizes military action without UN approval, we can expect that the White House will claim that this military action is, somehow, radically different from Bush’s military action. We will find ourselves debating even more the merits and fallacies of a robot led war both from the capacity for the President to wage such a war and it’s long term implications on our relations in the region that we seem to have a fetish with attacking with our flying death machines.

Further, Americans shouldn't expect to hear any apologies from those on the left to Bush or his supporters. Syria’s WMD usage might seem to vindicate both President Bush’s intelligence reports, and his reasoning that led him to take an action when no direct threat to the United States was apparent. In this scenario, we have a mountain of evidence as with Iraq, but it appears we have no intention on entering the country looking for proof in the aftermath. History will have nothing on which to vindicate or condemn these actions.

It would be nice if we could get some commandos inside to take a closer look at the ‘made in’ label that these weapons are cased in. The argument against that being the obvious risk, not necessarily to the commandos that would put themselves in incredible danger to find out the truth, but the danger of the truth itself and the portrayed legacy that President Bush was a liar and vigilantly.

Taking off my tinfoil hat now…

In the end we are left with a policy against other countries that appears to have drafted by the same batch of people that programmed Apples mapping app. It twists and turns in an incoherent way, be it the need to avenge an assassination attempt on daddy, or is needed to make someone’s words, as hastily as they were spoken, not be opened to mocking and ridicule. Trying to compose the criteria and a scale for intervention in another country is about as consistent as throwing darts at a dart board… blindfolded... from 50 feet away….drunk.

Questions that probably won’t be answered until after a strike (and even then…):
  • What scale is appropriate?
  • What targets are viable?
  • What parties do we support in the conflict?
  • What is the exit strategy?
  • What parties do we require approval from?
  • What is acceptable collateral damage?
  • What legal authority are we citing?

Friday, August 23, 2013

10 Actors Better for Batman then Ben Affleck

Let me start off with this, I don't hate Ben Affleck, I actually enjoyed Daredevil for what it was worth. Though it is pretty low on my list of Marvel movies, I didn't walk out of my local theater demanding my money back. I was schocked when I heard his name officialy released so soon after reading about rumors that Christian Bale was still trying to get wooed back into the cape and cowl. Ben is a funny guy who is likable enough who has his moments from time to time in a dramatic role. But as an action star, I feel he is a bit blase. I could also speak volumes about the number of actors who are doubling up as franchise action roles (Chris Evans as Human Torch and Cap'n America, Ryan Reynolds as Green Lantern and Deadpool, or James Marsden as Cyclops and that panzie from Superman Returns.)

10. Timothy Olyphant - This lukewarm big screen action star's career was justified when he transitioned to television (see what I did there). Perhaps it's time to give him another franchise role where he can use that voice of his that crawls under his adversaries skin.

9. Karl Urban - I know, I know, Dredd sucked, but if it proved anything it's that Kerl has a great jawline and can deliver lines like a chain smoker. Throw in some plus action sequences from the Bourne movie and you got a pretty good action star. His role in the Star Trek franchise shows he can pull of a little charm and wit as well, that could go far with a Bruce Wayne impersonation.

8. Bradley Cooper - Some people are rolling their eyes at this point, saying that he has the same flays of Ben as being just too nice and likeable, but I just don't feel that we've seen what this guy can do with a role yet, and that is considering his Oscar nomination. The 6 or 7 people that saw 'A-Team' loved it, and the guy has shown commitment to a franchise with going through a final 'Hangover' movie knowing the numbers probably weren't going to blow anyone away.

7. Liam Hemsworth - A rising star that could commit to the role for years through any reboots or JLA series that may be planned. You know he would commit wholly to this role, not wanting to be out shined by his brother, you know, Thor. Action star stamp of approval was given with his role in 'Expendables 2'. I feel he could surprise a lot of people much like his brother did delivering Shakespeare in his franchise role. We'd just have to put up with Miley Cirus running around yelling "I'm Mrs. Batman!"

6. Clive Owen - If you aren't looking for a Batman for the next 15 years, then Clive could absolutely nail the role of a slightly aged Batman who really needs to consider retirement. I'm not totally convinced the near 50 year old actor can fully drop the British accent though.

5. Michael Fassbender - Breaking my own rule of actors being placed in multiple comic book universes, Micheal showed a very good acting range in 'X-Men: First Class' although the jump from good guy to bad guy was still a bit rushed with limited screen time, he had a great monologue at the end. He also bared some great acting chops in 'Shame' and other roles.

4. Vigo Mortensen - Talk about an top shelf actor who has been lurking in the shadows. Every few years this guy gets a nomination for an Oscar or Golden Globe, but hasn't been tapped for a franchise role since 'The Lord of the Rings', which I don't know if you are one of the 3 people who haven't seen those films yet, they were awesome.

3. Hugh Jackman - One of the early runners for the role that Christian Bale eventually won, this is a great action star who absolutely commits to a role. I have little doubt he can go from charming billionaire to animal-istic stud with no problem. And, since there apparently is no rule on how many superheros one actor can tackle, I say let him at it.

2. Joseph Gordon-Levitt - I watched Dark Knight Rises again, and at the risk of giving away a spoiler, the number of hints of his Detective Blake character assume the cape and cowl are glaring, add that to the fact that I can't name a single role of Joseph's that I've been disappointed with him. He'd have to hit the gym hard to try and overcome some peoples trepidation of going with a smaller framed Batman, but I have a lot of faith that he could pull it off.

1. Christian Bale - It's never easy seeing someone else becoming the face of a franchise, nor is it done successfully all that often, especially in the Batman Universe. So, I say to Christian, PLEASE DON'T LET IT HAPPEN! The Dark Knight trilogy was phenomenal. And to see such a gem even having to be handed over fills me with fear that it will be dropped and shattered. Pay him $50, or even $60 million a film, it will be worth it. Kidnap his dog and keep it hostage, find his favorite restaurant and threaten to shut it down, take away his internet porn, I don't care, just find someway to bring him back in before Man of Steel 2 shooting begins, PLEASE!

Other actors I considered for this list: Brad Pitt (I liked World War Z), Tom Hardy (Reveal Banes Jaw + Hide the rest of his face = Totally new actor!), Taylor Kitsch (Hey, I thought John Carter was alright.), John Hamm (Bruce Wayne a huge yes, Batman not so much, the next George Clooney?), and Alexander SkarsgĂ„rd (Good Actor, but I just can't see it)

Friday, August 16, 2013

The NSA makes me as mad as...

The National Security Agency has broken privacy rules or overstepped its legal authority thousands of times each year since Congress granted the agency broad new powers in 2008, according to an internal audit and other top-secret documents.

We aren't talking about dips into the grey area of the law either, these are violations that fly in the face of both the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Courts very lenient interpretation of current law, and breaking rules that where established specifically through Executive Orders. They range from blatant violations of citizens legal rights to typographical errors that resulted in unintended interception of U.S. e-mails and telephone calls that in several instances where never reported to congress. 

Couple these infractions with FISA officials stating that these programs are near impossible to grant appropriate oversight to and you have an underbelly part of this government that is so dark that even Al Sharpton won't march for it.

This story, as appalling as it is, is nothing new. I could rant here for pages and pages, but you can already guess what I would say, most of you only read this for my delightful euphemisms, so let's just skip straight to the chase.

The NSA makes me as mad as...
  • Waking up on the wrong side of a bed that over looks a cliff.
  • Reboot movies that come out 5 years after the franchise 'ended'.
  • Being charged for uneaten food on my plate at the all you can eat sushi buffet after you realize that it's day old day.
  • Giving Pepsi Max a try, only to realize that it tastes exactly the same as Diet Pepsi.
  • The Alanis Morissette song 'Ironic'. Cause it's not that ironic.
  • People who where slacks to work on Friday irregardless of casual Friday dress codes.
  • People who correct people for using the word 'irregardless'.
  • Ray Lewis, he knows why.
  • Unrated DVD releases that have no nudity.
  • Calling a missile shield a shield when it's really just a bunch of missiles going the other way.
...and of course...
  • Getting spied on by your government, then being told that I'm not getting spied on, then finding out that indeed I have been spied on, then being told that it's not that bad, then being told it's actually much worse then what I was told, then being told to trust them, then being told nothing cause apparently I'm overreacting and am supposed to move on to other things that are supposed to upset me like Rodeo Clowns. 
Which reminds me...
  • Rodeo Clowns, they know why.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Paying Bills the Government Way

Picture this, you are broke, I know for some of us this doesn't require a terribly grand stretch of the imagination, but go with me on this, you are broke, but you want to keep living the way you are living. 

You know what, back up a moment, you aren't just broke, you are really broke. You also have several credit cards that are maxed out. So, what do you do when the cable bill arrives in the mail? How about just crumble it up and toss it over your shoulder? What about at the grocery store? Let's say you just fill up your cart with all sorts of goodies and Cheerios and just walk right out of the store, patting yourself on the back because of all the time you saved by not having to wait in line.

If you just ignore the bills that are piling up around you, you could just make a (terribly false) claim that you are not in any more debt then you where the moment before you opened that first neglected bill. In real life the cable company probably won't turn off your HBO subscription the first day after the bill was due, and that appears to be just the case with the Federal Government.

The US Treasury continues to use "extraordinary measures" to be able to continue to spend well above previously budgeted legal level of $16,699,421,095,673.60 even though we continue to accumulate debt for the two months well above and beyond that.

According to the Daily Treasury Statements for the past 70 plus days, the federal debt has been stuck at exactly $16,699,396,000,000.00. Just $25 million and some change below the legal limit.

Even though the government's official accounting of the debt has not budged since May 17th of this year, the Treasury has continued to sell bills, notes and bonds at a value that exceeds the value of the bills, notes and bonds it was redeeming.

Jack Lew's Signature, or exhibit A of his plausible deniability?
In fact, according to the Daily Treasury Statement for May 17, the Treasury had by then already redeemed approximately $4,776,995,000,000.00 since the beginning of the fiscal year (which started on Oct. 1, 2012). As of that same day, the Treasury had already sold $5,354,508,000.000.00 new bills, notes and bonds during the fiscal year. That represented a net increase in publicly circulating U.S. government debt instruments of $577,513,000,000.00 for the fiscal year. This was the same day that Treasury Secretary Jack Lew (look at the signature on your recently issued dollar bill) sent a letter to House Speaker John Boehner. In the letter, Lew said the Treasury would begin implementing what he called “the standard set of extraordinary measures” that allows the Treasury to continue to borrow and spend money even after it has hit the legal debt limit.

A "standard set of extraordinary measures." Seems to me that on top of a clue, a budget, and some balls, Washington may want to look into getting a dictionary. The real question this all raises, how long before all this magic money shuffling catches up to us? Will it be the electric bill? The water bill? Your Social Security check? Your medicare payment? When a person lies about how much money he's secretly spending fueling a gambling or junk food habit, he's called an addict. What is it called when the government has to hide the fact that it's spending money just leaving the lights on? 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

We're From the Government...

"The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help.'" - Ronald Reagan

Yes, even thirty years ago people approached a government created solution with trepidation. It seems that at best the government is capable of creating a program that will require borrowing trillions from future generations to fund or at worse create a DMV style system that still fails to accomplish the task a newly developed department or agency was created for and charged with doing. I wanted to review some of the more spectacular failures and backfires of the government in this article and in a later post we'll start trying to see if a trend emerges.

1. Cracking down on Hackers

Increasing demonizing of hackers, for example by trying to add an extra layer of punishment on other crimes if they were done "on a computer." High-profile victims of this approach include Bradley Manning, Aaron Swartz, Jeremy Hammond, Barrett Brown and of course Edward Snowden.

Attempt to intimidate an entire community in case anyone there might use computers to embarrass the US government or reveal its wrongdoings is now starting to backfire: The U.S. government's efforts to recruit talented hackers could suffer from the recent revelations about its vast domestic surveillance programs, as many private researchers express disillusionment with the National Security Agency.

Recently, Gen. Keith Alexander of the NSA has claimed that the next great threat against America is a cyber attack, for which he is developing armies of hackers to build not only a national defense against, but also an assault army for. This creates a clash of needs from discouraging hackers and trying to hire them.

In the end, the government tries to cover up how it fights wars at the expense of risking it's effectiveness of fighting wars in the future.

2. Prohibition

For thirteen years, beginning in 1920, the sale of alcohol was banned in the United States. The desire was as potent as 100 proof whiskey hat it passed as a constitutional amendment and was ratified in January of 1920, prohibition went into effect and began what would come to be described as "the bleakest time in American history" by that elderly, alcoholic relative we all have.

Without the evils of alcohol abuse, it was hoped that everything from unemployment to domestic violence would decrease dramatically. People would be free to focus their energy on other things like church, work, finances and raising their kids.

A score of gangster wars fighting over illegal distribution channels, a speakeasy in every town, and another constitutional amendment summarizes this era in American history as the ultimate failure to change American's social habits.

3. Strategic Hamlet Program

All Asians look alike to us, and that politically incorrect and inconvenient truth was never more prevalent then during the Vietnam War were frequently the regular farm folk who we were trying to liberate in South Vietnam, and the commie bad guys we were fighting, were often the same guys. The plan was to place residents in isolated and gated communities under the protection of foreigners armed to the teeth and resentful for being forcibly halfway across the planet from their families, or 'Hamlets' and keep them there until they love us and resent those who would want to do us harm.

In the end, the program somehow led to a decrease in support for the South Vietnam Diem’s regime and an increase in sympathy for the North Vietnamese Communist efforts.

4. Medicaid

The popular program that was designed to not leave anyone behind in the health insurance industry simply because of their inability to pay, sound familiar?

But it was soon realized that basic care wasn't going to cut it. When the Medicaid program’s special hospitals subsidy was added in 1987, it was supposed to cost $100 million annually, but wound up costing $11 billion annually within five years, and Medicaid spending is set to double over the next 10 years from $253 billion in 2012 to $593 billion in 2022. 

Both Medicare and Medicade are exceeding the CPI and inflation, usually doubling it, meaning that this program continues to eat a continuously larger piece of that pie we like to call our wealth. The hope being that at some point here the nation will level out it's expanding healthcare costs, either through government imposed efficiency or scientists developing a pill that cures everything for $5. One of those is more realistic then the other.

5. Green Jobs Initiative

Half a billion dollars of the infamous stimulus plan of 2009 was earmarked to inject some life into the Green Jobs industry. Part of the Obama green energy program had the goal was to train 124,893 people, and place 79,854 (64%) in new green jobs. Two years in, the results of the green jobs program indicate that only 52,762 were trained, and only 8,035 got green jobs.

What does that math come out to? Each job costs tax payers about $62,000, more then the average wage for those jobs. President Obama’s first re-election campaign ad boasts of 2.7 million green energy jobs. But, nothing in the Departments of Energy, Labor or Commerce justifies such job claims. It was concluded that the vast majority of those jobs where either very loosely associated with 'green' industries, or existed prior to the 2008 election.

Of course this is just a smattering of countless other programs; No Child Left Behind (lots of money spent, no real results), Banning DDT (Malaria outbreak in Africa in the wake of banning this malaria killing chemical), The War on Drugs (Trillions spent, drugs are winning), Social Security (Currently running on IOU's.). One could go on and on, but what I'll dive into in part 2 is topics of who gets hurt when government programs go bad, what we learn from them, and what can be done before we leap into another 'fix' program.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Steve King for President?

With the finesse of a three ton boulder, Steve King has taken his congressional vacation and used it to have a 'secret' closed door meeting with some movers and shakers of the state of South Carolina.

Though the fairly short 'will he run' circus for the soon to be vacated U.S. senate seat has finally ended with the clear winner being Democratic contender Bruce Braley, who on top of having no challenger established three months after declaring his intentions to run, would also have my vote for in a heartbeat over Rep. King in a state wide election. In the wake of this decision, Rep. King chose not the route of bowing out of the spotlight, but rather is window shopping for an ever bigger spot light.

The theory goes as such, An Iowa native could have a good showing at the countries first in the nation caucus. Then, skip the Granite State on the theory that they will vote for a moderate McCain/Romney look alike, and then do as well as a southern bell a la Gingrich or Huckabee. Of course, this game plan has little to do with actually winning the Presidential nomination and a lot more to do with another topic that catches Steve King's fancy, Steve King.

Donald Trump has to visit Iowa whenever The Apprentice is getting ready to announce another season. Sarah Palin hints that she may run for this office or that right when it's time for a TV deal or when she's finished writing another book.

With so much xenophobic and loathing rhetoric, he never can really decide which statements he needs to stand by fully and which ones he hopes people accidentally attribute to the writer Stephen King. Perhaps he is just tired of pressing 1 for English, but Rep. King appears to have nothing but contempt for people who come here illegally. Some examples of him making or defending lewd and crude statements on a variety of topics can be found here, herehere, here, here, here, or here. Most of these intentional slips of the tongue have something to do with immigrants, be it likening them to cattle or stating as an authentic fact that 99% of them are drug dealers because he saw a Mexican once lighting a cigarette. He knows, he did spend a few days on the border. I won't ask how he became such as expert on other subject matters like dog fighting and rape.

What I'm trying to say, the message I hope you leave this article with is this: Don't vote for him. Don't vote for him in the South Carolina primary, don't vote for him in the Iowa Caucus, don't even vote for him in the Ames Straw Poll. My guess/hope is that by this point Steve King has to say something that would make your senile southern born great grandfather cringe to stay in the spotlight, and propping himself up by seeking a higher position as a means of obtaining said spotlight. With the senate race and governorship off the list, a presidential bid is the next logical move.

Perhaps this will launch a more lucrative national platform for him, truly following in the footsteps of that aforementioned Palin, Huckabee, Gingrich, and others. He could have a Sunday talk show where he talks about how bad the landscaping industry is or how he wish he knew how to work the parental controls on his TV so he could skip Telemundo. I'm not an advocate for illegal immigration by any stretch, but the lack of decency when addressing the immigration as well as other issues and a general 'looking down his nose' attitude that is reflected in his repeated, unapologetic comments over the years makes me have about as much respect for him as a legislator as I would have for a Mexican drug dealer as a pharmacist.

Alas, I give the man himself the last word about anyone who would call him brash or arrogant;

"My comments are anything but ignorant. They may have been the best informed in the entire United States Congress." - Steve King 7/25/13

Friday, August 2, 2013

National Whistleblower Appreciation Day

The following was part of the Chuck Grassley (R-IA) "Here's the Scoop" Newsletter. I'd like to see more then an 'appreciation day' for whistle-blowers, but it's nice to see a member of congress speak so highly (and rationally) about these individuals.


It was February 19, 1777. The seeds of democracy were just taking root in America. Aboard the warship Warren, 10 sailors who were putting their lives on the line to help win America’s independence also determined it was their patriotic duty to blow the whistle on wrongdoing.

Understanding that reporting misconduct against their commanding officer would put their careers and good names at risk, the sailors plunged into uncharted waters. With no legal protection or court precedent to shield themselves against reprisal, these brave men ultimately became what we believe to America’s first whistleblowers.

The commander-in-chief of the Continental Navy sought retaliation and filed a criminal libel suit against two of the whistleblowers. The Continental Congress authorized legal expenses and full release of government records to enable the sailors to defend themselves in court.

Fast-forward 200-plus years, and it’s clear America owes generations of whistleblowers a debt of gratitude. While Congress has the constitutional authority to conduct oversight, trillions of tax dollars are sprinkled among some 2,000 federal departments, agencies, commissions and bureaus.

Thanks to the eyes and ears of citizens who have witnessed, investigated and reported waste, fraud and abuse occurring under their very noses, the federal government is forced to run a tighter ship and work harder to protect the integrity of government services and programs funded by taxpayers.

As a longstanding champion of whistleblowers, I have secured legislative protections and financial incentives to encourage private citizens to come forward with information that strengthens good governance, accountability and stewardship of tax dollars. Since passage of my 1986 whistleblower updates to the federal False Claims Act, the federal government has recovered more than $30 billion that otherwise would be lost to fraud.

Whether it’s ripping off the taxpaying public or ignoring the rule of law, whistleblowers stand on the front lines of defense to root out misconduct.

Inside government, too often, federal agencies try to suppress information, shoot the messenger or stonewall efforts for full disclosure and transparency. Landmark updates were enacted earlier this year to permanently extend protections for whistleblower communications with Congress and internal agency watchdogs.

Without the good work of whistleblowers, Congress would be less able to identify and solve mismanagement and fraud.

Since the earliest days of our republic, whistleblowers have stuck their necks out for the public good. Instead of looking the other way, they risk it all for the good of their country.

Consider whistleblowers at:

• the Department of Defense who exposed a too cozy relationship between defense contractors and the Pentagon. Remember the $700 toilet seat?

• the FBI who exposed a culture of intimidation and mismanagement, including Dr. Frederic Whitehurst who revealed flawed forensic science at its crime lab that undermined the integrity of our criminal justice system.

• the FDA who exposed potential conflicts of interest between drug companies and the public interest, alleging the agency was caving to companies seeking regulatory approval.

• the ATF who exposed the flawed gun-walking program known as “Operation Fast and Furious.”

The list cuts across the entire spectrum of Washington’s alphabet soup. From the GSA to HUD and the IRS, both private and public sector whistleblowers let the sun shine in on wrongdoing.

One week after the sailors’ petition was presented to Congress 236 years ago, lawmakers passed a resolution that encouraged all citizens to expose misconduct.

On July 30, 1778, the Continental Congress enacted the nation’s first-ever whistleblower legislation.

“Resolved that it is the duty of all persons in the service of the United States … to give the earliest information to Congress or any other proper authority of any misconduct, frauds or misdemeanors committed by any persons in the services of these states, which may come to their knowledge.”

In salute to our nation’s truth-tellers who in good faith and accordance to federal law come forward with information to uphold the people’s business and hold government to account, I authored a resolution that passed the Senate designating July 30, 2013, as “National Whistleblower Appreciation Day.”

Whistleblowers are pivotal pieces of the oversight puzzle. Their work ensures that our system of checks and balances operates effectively. I’ve asked Presidents to host a Rose Garden ceremony to honor these truth-tellers. Nobody has taken me up on the suggestion. It would do a lot of good to show these courageous Americans that, by telling the truth, they are continuing an important legacy to keep America strong. Let’s honor the whistleblowers who have helped change the course of history for the better.


Track this simple resolution as it passes the senate and moves to the house here.