Friday, August 16, 2013

The Sum of All Libertarian Fears: Yesterday's Mingo County Debacle

Libertarians fear few things as much as Big Government.  Imagine an evil and a Libertarian could connect it to government somehow, somewhere.  They echo our Founding Fathers' concern with too much power centralized into one or a few hands.  Libertarians also prefer the possibility of social misbehavior to legal correction in many cases.  Not because anyone wants to see people suffering from their own bad judgment, but because no human being can be trusted to exercise authority without full accountability.

Mingo County yesterday proves their case.

In yesterday's edition, two of the most egregious federal indictments to come from a long term investigation were covered, complete with links to the indictments.

If true (because we have to assume innocence until the government proves its cases), this is a prime example of arrogance in power run amok.  And it confirms every fear held by Libertarians....and libertarians, for that matter.

In one case, County Commissioner David Blaisdell leans on a local company to give him special favors under threat of pulling the lucrative deal it has with the county.  He wanted snow tires for his own car with the government discount.  To get what he wanted, Blaisdell allegedly threatened the store owner through voice mail.

The second case describes Judge Michael Thornsbury trying to repeatedly frame an individual only identified as "RW."  Thorsnbury was sleeping with RW's wife and wanted her to leave him.  She would not, so the judge used every level available to him.  He tried to get a Homeland Security official to plant drugs.  He tried to manipulate a grand jury.  He conspired with a State Trooper to harass the poor man.

Don't be tempted to pass this off as backwoods Boss Hoggism.  These men are educated individuals who lost all scruples when it came to abusing power.

What is the difference between Thornsbury and former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer?  Spitzer illegally abused the power of his office to gather information to benefit his own campaign.

What is the difference between Blaisdell and the federal government?  They threatened telecommunications firms to gather information to use against the Associated Press. They harassed Tea Party groups with the power of the IRS.

Mingo County's malefactors played for petty stakes.  And they will go to jail for their arrogance.  But too many in the federal government have abused the vast power at their fingertips.  We cannot be certain that the information they obtain will not be used for political ends.

None of them will go to jail.

Libertarians and many conservatives understand the connections and fear the consequences.  Mingo County's problems are not isolated issues, they are part and parcel of any government given too much power and never held to account.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Night That the Lights Went Out In Mingo

It seemingly never ends.   The tales of Mingo County corruption grow more absurd with each passing generation.

This morning, Mingo County Commissioner David Blaisden was indicted and arrested on federal charges.  (Indictment)

What did he do?  The Mingo County Commission had a contract to purchase tires from a local shop at a discounted rate.  Blaisdell allegedly (and one uses that word loosely since he allegedly left a voice mail that was allegedly kept by the alleged victim) threatened to cut off the contract if he refused to sell discounted tires for Blaisdell's personal vehicle.

That was a prime example of ridiculous penny ante corruption mixed with an unhealthy dose of hubris.

Even worse was the indictment that followed against Circuit Judge Michael Thornsbury on unrelated charges.

Judge Thornsbury (Indictment)  tried to convince the local Homeland Security officer  to plant drugs in the truck of a local man identified only as RW (if on Twitter, check out #StandWithRW)  RW happened to be the husband of Thornsbury's secretary.  By now it's easy to guess that the judge and his secretary were having a affair.

When the drug planting scheme failed, Thornsbury tried to pack a grand jury to indict RW on grand larceny.  RW was to be accused of grand larceny in the case of scrap drill bits, which a company had allowed him to salvage for free.

Needless to say, they are all Democrats.

Update:  According to Hoppy Kercheval, a West Virginia State Trooper was involved in attempts to harass the unfortunate RW.

How to Fight the Cyber Wars

Over the past few years, the United States has suffered countless cyberattacks.  Some disable government agency sites, others shut down bank websites, ATMs, and other services.  Others try to steal personal information that can be used for all kinds of fraud.  And still other attackers simply want to cause mischief. For example, today the Assad backing "Syrian Electronic Army" shut down the Washington Post.

Business shells out a fortune to deal with cyberattacks, over $388 billion in 2011. And the expanding problems that come with it will increase as well.  At some point, some system will shut down that is not just a nuisance for a business' customers, or readers of an online paper.

Some experts believe that pretty soon, people will die. McAfee Labs experts told CNN last January that nation-states will increasingly sponsor and suffer from cyberwarfare.  And at some point, people will actually die as a result.  That could push the online cold war into a hot phase fairly quickly.

China, Syria, Iran, among others are suspected of launching attacks.  And the United States and Israel have initiated skirmishes of their own.  According to an Associated Press account from last spring, the Pentagon has assembled 13 separate teams to battle the threat.

Tangential thinking....

I am wondering if the 13 different Defense Department created teams are capable on their own of engaging in this kind of warfare.  Obviously they should be a part of it, especially because experts predict that military forces themselves will be targets.

But here's an idea.  Bring back the Office of Strategic Services.

The OSS is the precursor of today's CIA.  It wasn't the father or the grandfather as much as the crazy uncle of today's buttoned down intelligence bureaucracy.  The OSS was established by Franklin Roosevelt in the early stage of World War II.  He appointed noted Republican, William "Wild Bill" Donovan, who would eventually earn the rank of general.

Donovan believed in hiring the most talented people possible, regardless of background.  He also never saw an idea not worth looking into.  Famous playwrights and chefs served in the OSS, including Julia Child.  Some ideas were simply awful, such as assembling a collection of German pornography to drop on the Reichschancellory in hopes of driving Hitler insane.  Army Air Force chiefs responded that they preferred to bomb the place and kill the Fuehrer, if possible.

On the other hand, the OSS built up guerrilla movements (okay, one of them was Ho Chih Minh), undermined Vichy French control of North Africa, established contact with the head of German military intelligence, and did a fairly credible job.  After all, they did start from scratch.

The OSS was famous, or infamous, for a freewheeling style.  It was the home of the "so crazy it just might work" mode of operation.  James Bond, with his panache and gadgetry, resembled more the agent of OSS than the MI 6 of today.

It would not work to bring back the OSS for its tangible world work in intelligence gathering and operations.  We actually have too many different bureaus and organizations scrounging around.  A new OSS would scour the country for top talent and channel it towards cyberwarfare, both defense and attack.

A new organization is necessary because it needs an organizational culture all its own.  It may need to recruit individuals who have had parking tickets, are less than physically fit, may have consumed drygs at some point, etc.  America's cyberenemies come from regimented and strictly authoritarian systems.  The best way to drive them cyber crazy is to gather a freewheeling group together to foil it.

This means foiling attacks and launching our own.  Find creative ways to apply Sun Tzu to the online world.

Not that previous efforts by the US been without effectiveness or creativity.  When a virus shut down Iranian nuclear computers to the tune of AC/DC's "Thunderstruck," that was a nice touch.

Anyway, cyberwarfare is real and it is a growing threat.  It is only a matter of time before the cyber version of Pearl Harbor strikes,  People will get hurt or killed.   We must be ready to attack, defend, or quickly rebuild.  And have the flexibility to innovate on the fly.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Baltimore Cop Saves Pooch From Ruffians, Breed Specific Legislation Called Into Question

Recently, Baltimore police officer Dan Waskiewicz responded to a vicious dog call.  Many of these go unreported in the media and usually end up in the capture of killing of the dog.  The officer did not find viciousness in the dog so much as the ruffian children chasing it down the street, pelting it with rocks and bottles.

Baltimore's CBS affiliate reported that Officer Waskiewicz called the dog over.  He meekly responded with his tail between his legs.  When the policeman bent over to examine him further, the dog responded with kisses.

Waskiewicz put the dog into his squad care where he received more thankful kisses.  A spokesman for the Baltimore Humane Society praised the officer's "astute response," adding that he certainly saved a dog's life.

The catch here is that the rescued dog inspires reactive fear at the mere mention of the type or the sight of its bricklike head.  Waskiewicz saved the life of an American Pit Bull.

Pit bulls are often targeted by "breed specific legislation" referring to statutes aimed at curbing the ownership and breeding of certain types of dogs deemed dangerous.  Two years ago, Waukesha, Wisconsin considered banning pit bulls except for commercial uses.  These would include owning them as guard dogs in junk yards.

Last April, Bluefield, West Virginia and its surrounding county of Mercer battled over the breed ban.  Bluefield banned pit bulls within city limits and ordered the dogs to be taken to the county animal shelter.  Mercer County refused to prevent owners from reclaiming their animals, saying that they "we're not on the dog containment business."  The mayor threatened to take the county to court, despite the absence of a state or countywide ban.

Organizations such as Pit Bull Rescue Central claim that the fear stems from hysteria and misinformation.  Pit bulls were bred to withstand violent attacks in dogfighting competitions.  Breed advocates claim, however, that they are no more inherently violent by nature than many other types of dogs.  They emphasize that responsibility for dog behavior lies with owners and how animals are trained and treated.

Another problem is that "pit bulls" are actually not a specific breed, but a group of breeds with similar characteristics.  They include the American Staffordshire Terrier.  This means that authorities often cannot identify what is and is not actually a pit bull.  One city's breed specific legislation was written so poorly that the councilman who proposed the ban saw his own labrador retriever seized.

Officer Waskiewicz's experience does raise questions about breed specific laws aimed at pit bulls.  An inherently violent animal in a terrifying experience usually wouldn't react with meekness in that situation.  Certainly bad owners make bad dogs.  But increasingly, education and awareness have caused many to question blanket laws banning certain breeds

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

What About Russian Relations? Obama's Lost Credibility

The Kremlin influenced news outlet Russia Today this week compared Obama's foreign policy stature to Vladimir Putin's using a sports metaphor from European soccer (Barcelona versus Wigan Athletic.)  It was somewhat kinder that one published earlier here, which compared Putin to the Harlem Globetrotters and Obama to the perpetually fated square losers, the Washington Generals.  The Globetrotters simile is more apt.  They dominate with panache and style while their ill matched competitors always seem confused and, well, square.

Putin, like the Globetrotters, plays a different game that Obama and those around him cannot comprehend.  This is understandable.  Putin once worked in the KGB, responsible for some of the most successful psychological operations ever seen.  His worldview developed in the context of a global conflict of perceptions with the United States.

Obama's vision has never really transcended Chicago.  His politics are Chicago.  He surrounds himself with bit machine politicians.  Secretary of State, for Obama,  is a box to keep one quiet or a reward for prior support.  Imagine if Harry Truman appointed Sam Rayburn as secretary of state and only listened to the advice of Tom Pendergast.  How many rings would Stalin have run around the Man from Missouri?

Democrats love to accuse Republicans of knee jerking back to Cold War archetypes.  And Obama has gotten sucked into the old mano y mano competitions that Nikita Khrushchev employed successfully at times against John Kennedy and unsuccessfully against Vice President Richard Nixon.

That does not mean, however, that Russia aspires to global revolution. Putin, instead, conducts himself internally and externally much in the same way as the old czars of the imperial age.

Russia, since Peter the Great in the early 1700s, has swung back and forth like a pendulum.  Peter the Great imposed Westernization onto Russia in the same way that an abusive parent would force a child to eat broccoli. Westernization was good for Russia, but it never fully developed a taste for strong relations with the West.  Out of necessity, or the affinity of the leadership, Russia does "swing" towards the West occasionally.  Catherine the Great established intellectual contacts with Voltaire and Jefferson.  Boris Yeltsin worked closely with Bill Clinton and Western experts to construct a free market Russia among the shambles of the dead Communist Soviet Union.

On the other hand, Nicholas I cut off all contact with the West and Joseph Stalin initiated the Cold War.

The anti-Western turn is a combination of a reaction against the West and a reaffirmation of traditional Russian identity.  Russia suffers from an inferiority complex that has led it in the past to assert that most of the world's great inventions, such as radio and telephones, actually came from there. With inferiority comes a craving for respect.  And Russia perceives that Western respect only comes from a show of power and force.

Russia also craves security.  And why not, after all, it experienced devastating invasions by Charles XII of Sweden, Napoleon, and Hitler.  They prefer to have their enemies far afield and rarely trust professed friends.  Russia puts its trust in territory.  Keep unfriendly states and alliances as far away as possible while dominating one's neighbors.  The Republic of Georgia a few years ago skirmished with Russia.  Now they have developed ever closer ties.  Belarus seceded from the Soviet Union to escape Great Russia dominance.  Now it has devolved into a near protectorate.

Security also comes from international stabilization.  The czars despised the idea of any revolution or upheaval against established governments.  For example, they warmly supported the United States government in its struggle against the Confederate States, even to the point of deploying warships for a visit to New York harbor.  They "helped" Austria in the 1800s by sending in troops to quell a revolt, without that country's invitation.  Russia's Syria position reflects this old commitment to what it has always seen as "legitimacy."

Russian foreign relations operate almost entirely on the basis of self-interest.  What enhances the prestige and the security of Russia will be pursued.  It serves Putin's goals that the United States be raised to the position of antagonist, regardless of what America does or does not do.

Of course the US sometimes plays into anti-Westerners' hands.  Criticizing the Chechen War in the 1990s was a terrible misstep.  Scolding Russia for its internal developments, negative as they may be, does not advance the US position.  Putin's consolidation of power does not threaten the United States, it is not entirely unpopular, and there is little that America can do about it.

Scolding Russia over gay rights and voicing threats about the Olympics does not hurt Putin.  It actually reinforces his anti-American message about international meddling.  What would really hurt the master of a nation strongly dependent on natural gas revenues is to lift all export controls and turn on as many drills as possible in the US.  When the international price of natural gas drops, Russia will be hit.  They will also understand that the US can hurt a country without bombing it.

That builds respect.  That increases credibility.

Also, make no more mention of anti-gay laws in Russia. Instead, let the gay athletes who will represent the United States compete with class.  Jesse Owens and America's Jewish athletes struck a blow against National Socialist doctrines on race and religion by winning  events and conducting themselves with honor in Berlin in 1936.  They can do the same in Sochi.

No more "resets" can happen under Obama.  He has no respect or credibility in the Kremlin.  The next president needs to bring people aboard who understand Russia.  Then the US can craft a position vis a vis that country that is productive without being subservient.

Monday, August 12, 2013

21st Century Cronyism, Same Old New Jersey

Raymond Chafin in Just Good Politics defined democracy as rewarding as much as possible those most responsible for getting you elected.

The former Logan County boss helped to expose the fact that some politicians consider their constituency to start with those who helped with the campaign, then those who cast their votes for you, then, and then only maybe, the rest of the people.  This is an underground culture of politics, lurking beneath the aboveground assertion that all politicians work for "the people."

This is why the New York Times  sounded the tocsin on Newark's Democratic mayor (and some say eventual presidential candidate) Cory Booker's techie startup called Waywire.

Booker's startup oozes with revelations common to the confluence of politics and big business.  He has strong connections with leading lights at Facebook, LinkedIn, Google, and other companies.  Many of them invested heavily in Waywire. Add to the list of investors the ubiquitous Oprah.  Although struggling now, it had been expected to perform strongly.

Even more strange, Waywire's brain trust included the 15 year old son of CNN president Jeff Zucker.

Booker certainly understands how to cover media, business, and political bases.

Columbia Journalism Review in their write up added that "Booker will still owe . . . favors even when it (Waywire) goes under."

This is a new twist on an old game.  In the 1870s, John D. Rockefeller bought out and propped up West Virginia politico Johnson Newlon Camden.  Camden served as Rockefeller's right hand man in West Virginia and rode his patronage to the United States Senate.  Doubtless, Booker had hoped that his company would provide him with enough wealth to start a run for president.

No need to worry about Booker going on relief anytime soon.  Until he announced his Senate campaign, he collected $30,000 for speeches presented at public universities. And yes, he did speak at West Virginia University.

Booker and his backers both worked hard to build this shady enterprise.  Booker expected wealth and strengthening connections with the novae of the tech world.  Certainly the tech riche expected some political help in return if Booker made it to the Senate or farther.