Can the Pentagon disobey a Trump order for a preemptive strike on North Korea? Can China really make a grand bargain deal?

If President Trump orders an unwise preemptive strike against North Korea, can the Defense Secretary or top military generals disobey it?   This situation can become increasingly troubling after the Winter Olympics end February 25.

The idea came up in private discussion while “on the road” Monday (President’s Day).  A quick search of reasonably credible news stories and commentary does show some variation in perspective.

Back in August, 2017, after the DIA had reported that North Korea already had achieved some of the miniaturization necessary to put a nuclear warhead on an ICBM, Dan Lamothe of the Washington Post wrote an analysis suggesting that in most cases, top officials would have to resign if they didn’t want to carry out the order. It should be noted that more recently, others have questioned that DIA assessment. But it is probably easier to place a fission weapon (which can also cause an E1-level EMP) on a device than a thermonuclear weapon, as more recent events have subsumed.

Lindsay Maizland has a detailed simulation of what happens with a nuclear order on Vox from August, here. Call it “nuclear monarchy.”

But Marjorie Cohn, of Truth-Out, offers an analysis, republished on Huffington Post, in later November 2017 (one day before North Korea’s latest ICBM test) showing that military officials have a duty to disobey unlawful orders.  Part of this comes from the Nuremberg trials.  A preemptive strike that was disproportional to the provocation might arguably be unlawful. Placing civilians in harms way (whether in South Korea, Japan, Guam, Hawaii, Alaska, Canada, and especially the continental United States) sounds as if this could raise legal questions, according to the article.   The article is called “The Duty to Disobey a Nuclear Launch Order”.  It’s interesting to note that Truth-Out often presents far leftist articles and has been begging for donations; but this article sounds centrist and on the mark.

A good example of a totally lawful order would be shooting down a missile over the Pacific – which I hope we have the ability to do (Jan. 11).  A microwave attack (“bloody nose”) on North Korea’s missile infrastructure (which sounds dubious inasmuch as so much of North Korea’s gear is buried under mountains) would sound legal, but very risky if it could invite a barrage on South Korea (or at some time in the future real nuclear or EMP retaliation against the US).  The “decoupling” problem discussed previously could give Trump a legal rationale for a preemptive attack, based on my own experience in the Army in the past. But again, bargaining away the welfare of a civilian population for a strategic national benefit might be manifestly illegal.

Some of have suggested that a military rebuke of a presidential preemptive strike order could lead quickly to Trump’s removal from office, but others have said that such action undermines civilian control of the military and can lead to Latin American style military coups.

There are some stories about Obama’s trip to China this year and subterranean talks to get China to fine tune North Korean sanctions, regardless of reports now.  But the best I can find right now is an Atlantic article by Uri Friedman, Aug. 2017, where there is a suggestion toward the end that the US be willing to withdraw from protecting South Korea altogether (removing the “decoupling” problem) in return for China’s removal of Kim Jung Un or at least all of his nuclear weapons.

(Posted: Tuesday, February 20, 2018 at 2 PM EST)

The Mueller indictments, identity theft, social media, independent speech, and issue-focused activism

So, what is the impact of the findings of the huge indictments against thirteen Russians over fraudulent use of social media to sow political discontent and affect the 2016 elections?

Let’s start with a copy of the indictment, which is available on Politico.

One of the most glaring problems is count 41.  Identities of real US citizens were used to open social media accounts, paypal, and various vehicles for subsequent “propaganda” efforts.  I have not heard a lot of stories of people’s credit being ruined by this – I say this while noting at the same time the damage from the Equifax hack seems to have gotten worse, and there could be a connection.

In 2016, a fake Facebook account was opened in my name, but it was caught quickly by a friend and closed before any content was posted.  This has not happened to me on Twitter.  That’s one reason why the Twitter verification issue can matter – but it is hard to get if you are not an “established celebrity”. When I opened Instagram in 2014, I found a dummy account already there, with no content.  I had to close it to open my legitimate account.  I do not use  Snapchat, but it’s possible an account could exist that I don’t know about. It’s easy to imagine the possibility of an ordinary person’s being “framed” by a crime associated with this whole effort, although I haven’t heard that this has actually happened in conjunction with the Russian problem.  Still, for a particular individual it could cause an existential crisis.

I also note that I don’t normally run “other people’s campaigns” with my own social media pages, but I have to come back to that again.  Still, I suppose this could have happened.

Let’s move on to the whole issue of fake news, ads bought by fake companies, fake social media groups, and even the organizing of rallies and protests.  I generally don’t go to “rallies” unless I really know they are reputable.  I work alone rather than reporting through a group – which is itself a double-edged assertion.

My own Facebook feed comes from a balanced mix of sources.  I did not see a large volume of material from the sorts of groups mentioned in the indictment.  But because I blog myself, I go to many different news sources on my own, regardless of what social media feeds me.

It may seem odd that manipulating the news to affect an election is a crime (if done by a foreign agent). Normally fake news may subsume a civil libel risk, but domestically it is not usually a criminal matter.  But here has been legal controversy before over whether bloggers can “unfairly” affect elections of positive coverage of a candidate is viewed as a barter-like contribution (See Pingback on June 12, 2017 post).

And there is also the question about citizen journalism (the “Fifth” v. “Fourth” estate problem) and how much integrity it has.  In democratic countries, citizen journalism can add richness and nuance to policy debates and tone down hyper-partisanship and tribalism. This seems at odds with the idea that in other sectors of the public, amateur journalism seems driven by tribal sources, increasing divisions, and this is what the Russians exploited.

There is a tendency for intellectual “elites” who don’t spend a lot of time in social contact with others unlike themselves, not to care what others “beneath them” believe.  They may not notice if enemies are manipulating other bases of voters.  That also seems to have happened here.  (I actually recall shortly after my William and Mary expulsion in 1961, my father warning me, “Sometimes you really do have to worry about what other people think about you, whether true or not.”)

In general our free speech tradition has believed that an unfiltered firehose of information (or of “condemnation”, as the “dooce” site says) is a good check on politicians.  Authoritarian societies, however, see a lot of speech as “gratuitous” and as exacerbating social tensions over otherwise unavoidable inequality; hence the “skin in the game” problem.

I can remember, when I worked as a substitute teacher, than in social studies classes sometimes the jids had newspaper assignments (the Washington Post and New York Times always provided free copies). Some of the kids would make paper airplanes out of newsprint on articles about radical Islam – they didn’t have a clue.  I can remember in my own history class in high school we had pop quizzes on current events (this was before Kennedy was elected). In government class, we had to memorize the names of some of our local representatives and officials, so that we understood where activism could start.

That leads me to a proposal.  Social media – most of all, Facebook, should consider taking on the newspaper paywall problem (which is partly driven by business model problems and ad blockers).  Facebook could set up a subsidiary company to offer bundled digital subscriptions, so that users are encouraged to look at news in credible and professionally managed newspapers, which would have a reason to see participation (in bundles) as a sign of their credibility. My own resume, with experience in billing systems and especially consolidated billing, ought to make me a fit to work on an effort like this. Of course, Zuckerberg could see this as a distraction from his desire to see people reach out to each other more in personal matters in creative ways that used to be viewed as over the top by earlier generations (like mine).

I wanted to note that the way I manage my blogging and book publishing seems at odds or in conflict with my participating publicly in political or narrow-issue lobbying campaigns (right now, gun control, for example) organized by others over an urgent people-centered need.  (This gets bad with the “you even join us or you’re against us” meme – especially directed at independent speakers.)  Indeed, I can see if there were too many “of Me”, organizing could he harder.  I’ve never been a member of a union; as an adult without a family, I used to brag that I could lowball others in the workplace to keep a job if I had to.  I can say that, at any particular time, focusing on just one issue will protect or help one set of people but sometimes make it harder to help others later as the “speech capital” is expended on one issue.  I do not approve of political hostage taking (as with DACA), but issues are always multiply connected, and simple solutions won’t solve problems completely.

Note this New York Times op-ed:  The Russians wanted to get caught, to teach us a lesson about gratuitous speech.

(Posted: Sunday, February 18, 2018 at 8 PM EST)

Capital punishment, weapons, free speech, and stoicism, after another mass shooting

Given what happened this week on Broward County Florida (the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting), I wanted to get one topic that I haven’t taken up here before “out of the day”.  That is, capital punishment, the death penalty.

Hillary Clinton had said during the 2016 campaign that she believed that capital punishment should be reserved for the most extreme cases, namely terrorism, and for where there is no chance of wrongful conviction.  This event in Florida is domestic terrorism.

There is the Eight Amendment, and the ban on cruel and unusual punishment.  And the data keeps coming in, that a painless event is no sure thing for the condemned (and total painlessness may not be necessary).  I won’t belabor the details, but here are three references, “Death Penalty Info”, the New York Times about a case in Oklahoma, and CNN.  It is getting harder for states to get the drugs for lethal injection.  Ironically, beheading, which was so horrific with ISIS, is probably more humane than any of the legal methods.   I do remember the film “Dead Man Walking” by Tim Robbins (with Dean Penn) back in 1995. Timothy McVeigh was executed exactly three months before 9/11.  John Allen Muhmmad was executed about seven years after his spree in Virginia, Maryland and DC.  Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has been sentenced to death.  After Jack Ruby got the death penalty in 1964, Texas DA Henry Wade bragged about justice – Ruby would die of cancer early – as if the public really was getting retribution indirectly for Kennedy’s assassination.

The end of life is difficult in many circumstances.  When I was growing up, men often died of massive heart attacks.  We know now that these can be excruciating. Furthermore, we don’t know how time itself behaves at the end of life.  It may stretch out and prolong experience.

I won’t belabor what happened to the victims Valentines Day, but you can say that about all such incidents, including Las Vegas and Pulse.

The most obvious and glaring question is why, in Florida, as I understand it, you can buy an AR-15 at 18 but a handgun only at 21.  And it’s obvious there are gaping holes in our background check systems.

It’s pretty obvious that a civilian doesn’t need a military-style (“nuclear”) weapon for legitimate self-defense at home.  Well, the doomsday prepper crowd will disagree with that.  One of the problems with the extreme positions taken on the extreme Right with the NRA is that they imply a lack of confidence that society as we know it, with technology, law and order, can continue.  That itself is destabilizing. But there is a view, among a lot of combative people and with some enemies, that all civilians are potential soldiers (the whole draft and conscription mentality I grew up), and now this includes women. In that mindset, the obvious arguments for assault weapons bans (which Bill Clinton got passed [only to expire] and which I certainly supported in the 90s, even as I wrote about gays in the military) get weaker.

I need not dawdle over the damage done by an AR-15, but I do remember in the Army being told that the M-16 did a lot more physical damage than the M-14 that we were trained with in Basic.

Much of the civilized world is much less sympathetic to the existential right to self-defense than the US is, with moral implications for how personal risk-sharing is to happen.  Vox, for example, writes this about Australia.

A lot is made of the Florida suspect’s social media posts.  There is confusion as to whether he was an extreme Leftist or extreme Nazi-like radical, and whether he was sympathetic to ISIS.  He seems to have  had no consistent ideology but was disgruntled. (This the “horseshoe effect” in the ideology of political violence and authoritarianism). He reportedly admired both the Santa Barbara terrorists and Elliot Rodger.

I am concerned about the effect of social media on unstable people like the suspect, as a secondary trigger.  The day before the attacks I had, as a normal course, posted about the “Unabomber manifesto” in a discussion of violent people writing manifestos to be heard first.  That was linked by Blogger label to an earlier posting about Rodger.  What if police find he had just looked at  my postings before the rampage?  Very unlikely, but possible or imaginable and chilling.  Where does “personal responsibility” start?  This feeds into the “gratuitous speech” problem (Jan. 30).

There are demands from students and one parent in particular for people to “take action”.  A Vox editorial reduces this call (from one articulate student) to Congressional politics, removed from people.  Truth-Out makes this sound much more personal.  and seems to demand that introverted writers like me join up.

Here’s a piece by French Canadian Umarie Haque, “Why is America the Rich World’s Most Ultraviolent Society?”  He describes a personal value system based on “stoicism”.  I would call it existentialism.  I recognize that this attitude, if not addressed at some very personal levels within every community, can invite or justify political authoritarianism in time, which may be one reason for the political problems we have had since 2016. After a tragedy life goes on for the remaining (maybe “The Leftovers”). I don’t like to personalize or honor victimhood, and I would not want this done for me if my end came in a violent act, all the more if even partially politically motivated.  I do give to a victim’s fund through a trust, but I let the fund decide who to help, and privately, rather than make a (possible public on social media) choice myself of whom to “remember”.

(Posted: Friday, February 16, 2018 at 2:30 PM)

Trump presidency, alt-right influence could send US into fascism if a “singularlity” happens (hint: DPRK)

Sean Illing has an interview on Vox, with Christopher Browning, professor emeritus of history at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (“UNC”), author of the Holocaust study “Nazi Policy, Jewish Policy, German Killers”. The title of his article is itself eye-catching: “Comparing the alt-right to Nazism may be hyperbolic, but it’s not ridiculous”.

The interview does maintain that any comparison of Donald Trump to Adolf Hitler is misleading, because Trump does not have a well thought out ideology at all.  He sells what will attract a base, like a true huckster out of the movie “100 Mile Rule” (that is, “Always Be Closing”). Judging from the Billy Bush Access Hollywood tape in 2016, Trump may indeed follow that “rule”.

The other big comparison is that the civilian population in Germany had gone through multiple catastrophes in Germany with the loss of World War I, the reparations, and the hyperinflation. (Think Venezuela today.) No such widespread hardship exists yet for American civilians.  Indeed, there is gross inequality, of wealth as well as income, and I would say of cognitive fit into society. To do well today, you have to learn abstract thinking (like in Object Oriented software).  A lot of people don’t learn how to do that.

The one factor that could throw us over the waterfall is a singularity: a sudden unprecedented disaster, dwarfing 9/11.  North Korea right now is the most likely to cause that risk. It could occur as a nuclear blast (or more than one) from a DPRK missile getting through defense to reach an American city, or from an EMP attack (especially E1). That could leave Trump in a position to act as a true dictator, even with martial law.  That’s the main reason this article is important now.

I’ll add that I had a meeting this morning in which a salesperson for a media company told me he has a Faraday shield in his home.  The word is getting around.  There continues to be a big crack in the media coverage of this issue.

That brings up another topic, “decoupling”, which Vox recently covered in another article by Yochi Dreazan.  Because I had mentioned this concept (without name) in connection with my own military service during the Vietnam era, I have covered it on my book-related DADTNotes blog here.

Yet, there are encouraging signs, at least from Mike Pence, that the US might be able to start talks with North Korea, with fewer preconditions about nukes (Post article).  But Will Ripley reports on even new objections to the sanctions.

Getting back to Trump, I’ll share another article, from TruthOut, where Mark Karlin interview Mark Bray about Antifa, “At It’s Core, Anti-Fascism is Self-Defense”.  Look at also this article, “The Ghost of Fascism“,  by Henry Giroux on benign complicity.

This morning, CNN aired the Senate Intelligence Committee hearings (while I was in the meeting mentioned above).  Diane Feinstein got Pompeo to say that the US is uncertain as to whether Kim Jong In gets reliable information from his own fearful military about US intentions; but most of the sensitive discussions were going to be held in classified settings this afternoon, where it sounded like they would talk about decoupling.  There was also a lot of discussion of the continued expectation of Russian meddling and use of social media as a propaganda tool (as if citizens can’t be more responsible for interpreting what the see).

In closing, this video is especially important, right around 4:50.  Note the emphasis on the manifest destiny of the group as opposed to the individual, but this can lead to both fascism and communism.

Note how she pitches VirtualShield and VPN.

(Posted: Tuesday, February 13, 2018 at 2 PM EST)

Sinclair Broadcast Group asks news directors for PAC donations, challenging journalism profession’s insistence on objectivity

The Washington Post is reporting, in a story by Paul Fahri, that the Sinclair Broadcast Group in Hunt Valley, near Baltimore MD, has asked its news directors to consider making PAC contributions for its political lobbying efforts to secure the rights to buy more television stations (apparently).  The purchase of the Chicago Tribune could be at issue.

The request did  not go to reporters, anchors, or lower-level employees.  However, others in the news business consider this request unethical.

In most news organizations, journalists are prohibited from making political contributions to elections or PACS.

I could speak to my own experience.  I worked for NBC (when it belonged to RCA) as a mainframe (Univac) computer programmer from 1974-1977 in Rockefeller Center in New York City.  This was an interesting time in my own life, to say the least. We were never approached for such contributions.  I worked on general ledger and financial reporting systems, and one of the systems I worked on was the Owned and Operated Stations ledgers.   We nearly made a business trip to Burbank CA for that project. I did learn how sensitive an issue station ownership was in the business at the time.

But with several other jobs that would follow in my career, even lower level employees were asked if they wanted to contribute to PAC’s.  I never did.   In one situation, I was also prodded about giving blood, when it was illegal for me to do so.  In the past, some employers have made a public issue of getting payroll deductions from their employees to specific community charities like United Way, which might sound inappropriate in the news business.

I regard myself as an “independent journalist” now (I hope a sane one who doesn’t act on fake news, about “Crooked Hillary” or anyone else).  That means I normally don’t contribute to political campaigns or PACS’s  It also means that I don’t normally run fund-raising campaigns under my own name on social media for non-profits (which Facebook seems to being to try to goad me to do.)  There is a conceivable complication that my two trusts name three non-profits among the beneficiaries, but that has not been interpreted mean that I actively promote them in public.  If you ponder this a bit, you will realize there are reasons why political resistance groups (especially on the Left) do not like to see bloggers declare themselves as too “independent” to join up.

Sinclair Broadcasting, known as a “conservative” media company like Fox and OANN,  is to be commended for some of its coverage of defense and homeland security issues, including the risk of electromagnetic pulse attacks by enemies (conceivably North Korea, at least E1), or power grid damage from extreme solar storms.  It even conducted a “Your Voice Your Future” session from Green Bay, WI on the subject with the locally owned Washington DC station WJLA (which tends to be much more liberal) advertised for its News Channel 8 but did not carry.

Jessica Corbett of Common Dreams has a story about Sinclair on Truth-Out.

See Pingback to another Conflict of Interest piece on May 30, 2016 posting here.

(Posted: Monday, February 12, 2018 at 6:30 PM EST)

Trump administration wants to limit green cards to legal immigrants when needing public servicees

Vox, in a detailed article by Dara Lind, has reported on a proposed regulation within the Department of Homeland Security to deny certain immigration benefits to legal immigrants who have legally used certain public services, including Head Start for US-born kids, CHIP, and assistance in paying utilities for their homes. The immigration benefits denied might include green cards, or visa extensions. The Vox article has a PDF embed of the proposed regulation.

DHS reasons that these regulations would be necessary to keep otherwise legal immigrants from becoming “public charges”.

It isn’t hard to imagine the practical economic complications.  For example, some immigrants do manual labor for very low wages, and employers could lose them (as with the DACA debate) but arguably could be expected to pay them more.

A practical way to handle this, as Cato Institute has suggested in the past, is to develop a framework for lawful sponsorship programs following the patterns in Canada.  It is possible today for organizations (like churches) to “sponsor” refugees under the supervision of one of ten or so accredited social service organizations (including Catholic Charities or Lutheran Social Services, for example).  However, as noted here before, Canada encourages groups of perhaps five adults to take legal responsibility for support of refugees (who are legal immigrants) for set time periods (over a year generally).  That concept could be helpful in meeting the goal of preventing immigrants from becoming charges. Considerable social pressure exists on single adults in some communities in Canada to participate, typically supporting immigrants with the same nationality or origin and often the same religion (which can include Muslim).

It should also be remembered that many immigrant communities (especially Latino and Asian) are very effective in starting local businesses, typically more so than native “Americans” raised in a culture where you apply for jobs with someone else.  Many brand franchise stores (like McDonalds) are owned by immigrants or their immediate succeeding adult children, who have grown up in families that have passed on the skills of small business ownership to their kids. Also many totally independent small businesses (“Shark Tank” culture) are owned by immigrant families in these groups, although they sometimes have to deal with predatory practices of trademark or patent “trolls”, as Electronic Frontier Foundation has often documented.

The slowness in progress in resolving the DACA issue in Congress is discouraging, as was Nancy Pelosi’s recent need to put on a stunt of an eight hour speech on the problem.  This goes beyond Trump. It seems that a sizable number of “conservative Republicans” regard DACA kids as “not us” and feel that “morality” means “take care of your own first” in a zero-sum-game world.  I suppose, however, that I can imagine an intellectually driven moral framework for autarky and nativism.  It usually works out badly for the countries that try it.

Were DACA to die starting in March, there could be a large number of people who lose the right to work without being deported.  They would be looking for private persons to support them, who could in turn put themselves at legal risk.  This reminds one of the general lack of supervision in helping asylum seekers when compared to refugees.

It’s worthy to note that former vice president Joe Biden told Chris Cuomo that even as a legal matter, “equity” now requires fair treatment of Dreamers.

(Posted: Friday, February 9, 2018 at 11 PM EST)

Cato Institute holds forum on the unintended consequences of sex offender registry laws

Today the Cato Institute held a forum “You may be a sex offender if …”.  The purpose of the event was to show the unintended consequences of the draconian sex offender registration laws that started with the Jacob Wetterling Act in 1994, requiring convicted sex offenders to register with local law enforcement, and Megan’s Law, in 1996, which required states to publish the information.

The Cato handout pointed out very venial offenses can result in sex offender registration.  These could include urinating in public, visiting prostitutes (in some states), and especially cell phone sexting by teenagers – of images of themselves.

Walter Olson, senior Cato Fellow, moderated.  The link for the event is here and a complete video from Cato is present there.

The first speaker was Lenore Skenazy, publicly known as founder of “Free-Range Kids” and leading the anti-helicopter parenting movement. She began her narrative with a tale of a 12 year old boy put in juvenile prison for a touching incident with a sister at home.  He was compelled in treatment to confess to acts he hadn’t committed, and forced to register for years.

She also discussed the case of Zach Anderson, who at 17 had sex with a 14 year old girl who admitted she had lied about her age online.  Although his sentence was reduced, it will still severely limit his young adult life and employment (no Internet content).  The original judge believed that his Internet use had been gratuitous, and that he should have been responsible for knowing the real age of the girl.

Skenazy tried an experiment, handing out 3×5 cards to the audience (rather like English class in high school for a pop quiz) and asking yes or no, had you ever committed one of a long list of possible offenses that could result in mandatory registration.  The final count was 28 to 10, yes.

Dara Lind from Vox Media also spoke, emphasizing the public shaming part of the registry enforcement. Crime is controlled by punishment, deterrence, rehabilitation, and incapacitation, which is what the mandatory registration is supposed to accomplish. She made a comparison to the “rotten apples” banning of films associated with shamed actors or media executives in the recent sexual harassment scandals and the #MeToo movement.

But it’s apparent that the “incapacitation” is enforced by the community rather than by the state per se.

I asked a question from the audience about the possibility of being framed for illegal content, especially possessing child pornography, by attacks from others.  This could come through phishing, malware (similar to ransomware, and this has happened a few times), or possibly direct hacking of websites owned by a business or person. This could be a technique of a terrorist group or of a foreign enemy (compare to North Korea’s hack of Sony in 2014).  I mentioned that possession of child pornography has been mentioned as an “absolute liability offense”, at least in conjunction with a case in Arizona back in 2006.  Mr. Olson said that the idea of “mens rea” (“I didn’t mean too”) is better understood in the courts with respect to the Internet now than it was a decade ago, when Internet use might have been seen as more gratuitously motivated.  (Does that shift “rebuttable presumption” back to innocence?”) Skenazy said that the idea could be quite scary especially for the less educated users and mentioned a case where someone with autism was convicted of such possession when the person clearly did not understand the offense.

There was lunch upstairs afterward.  During the luncheon, a Washington Blade reporter mentioned that gay placement on sex offender registries had occurred when sodomy laws were on the books, until Lawrence v. Texas in 2003;  a few men had trouble getting their names removed when sodomy laws were ruled unconstitutional.  It was also mentioned that in Florida, police have the option of placing red signs on the residences of sex offenders, a literal scarlet letter.

The discussion noted that California had been the first state with mandatory sex offender registries, and that men of color are proportionally more likely to be on registries than white men or any females.

See the Pingback reference on the July 19, 2016 on my own personal brush with this issue back in 2005 when I was working as a substitute teacher.  Unlikely coincidences created the problem, but it seemed quite serious at the time.  There is a lot of detail there to look at.

(Posted: Thursday, February 8, 2018 at 9:30 PM EST)

Virginia’s power grid legislation makes some effort to address the security vulnerabilities; is this enough, or a model for the nation?

Recently (starting in October 2017), Dominion Energy in Virginia has run many ads, especially on CNN in local markets, about strengthening the power grid in Virginia for reliability.  And Dominion Energy has also indeed done some big time hardware maintenance. For example, it has replaced cables to some condominium and apartment buildings, warning consumers by direct letter rather than through building managements, with planned outages that last a few hours.

There is some controversy about the Virginia Grid Transformation and Security Act of 2018 (Bacon’s Rebellion explanation), which would provide the power companies with incentives to use more renewable energy sources, especially solar (despite Trump’s behavior), but more importantly encourage funding for infrastructure hardening against sabotage, including cyber attacks, and probably electromagnetic pulse or microwave (although the legislation doesn’t name that).  Again, some of the practical threats could include microwave flux devices and smaller nuclear weapons (which would produce an E1 threat to electronics) as well as large nuclear attacks or especially huge solar storms (which could produce the E3 cascading transformer burnouts).  There are modern ways utilities can ground transformers to make this possibility less likely. As I noted, in answer to my question at a town hall on January 15, 2018 in Alexandria, Rep. Don Beyer (D-8th district) confirmed that such efforts were happening.

Dominion also says that its initiatives will mean that over 1 million homes in Virginia will be powered by solar.

There is controversy over whether the bill allows Dominion to keep money owed to consumers.  For example, the Washington Post (Gregory Schneider) goes into the issue, and Bacon’s Rebellion goes into more detail. Very recently, Dominion Energy television spots have specifically supported the act.

There has been other controversy, such as a new transmission line near the I-66 interstate.

I would add that when I returned to northern Virginia in 2003 from Minnesota, I found outages more common than they had been in the 1990s.  The area was woefully unprepared for Hurricane Isabel.  In 2011, I purchased a generator for the estate house I had just inherited (and have recently sold). It came in handy for three days after the 2012 derecho.  But after that incident, power outages seemed to become less frequent.

Recently, I’ve also read somewhere that Virginia and Maine are the two best states right now for nailing down power grid security.

Much of the criticism from the Left concerns treatment of utility bills for low income consumers, taking for granted the infrastructure.  The Left is criticizing people for their personal habits, such as continuing to eat meat and dairy (a climate change contributor) and to insist on having the ability to drive long distances alone (meaning its’ hard to stop using fossil fuels completely).  The Right – especially the doomsday prepper crowd, makes personal dependence on technology a “singularity” among moral issues.

(Posted: Tuesday, February 6, 2018 at 12:30 PM EST)

Trump, even on better behavior, seems hostile to “outsiders”; Nunes Memo release apparently approved

Trump’s SOTU speech and all the shenanigans and legal minefields about the Nunes Memo, which I can’t keep up with hourly on a blog like this (although I’m very concerned about its implications for the integrity of federal law enforcement), bring us back to some essential realities about his presidency.  He believes in authority and chain of command, and that some groups of people (his supposed “base”) are innately superior to others and can reclaim what used to be theirs, even by (almost Commie-imitating) expropriation if necessary. Call it nativism if you like.  It’s not fascism yet but can quickly convert, especially if the US homeland is ever attacked big time.

Let’s go back to the narrowest issue of the day, asylum seekers.  USCIS has changed the rules for setting up interviews.  As attorney Jason Dzubow writes “Bye, bye scheduling … hello chaos”.  (He’s not referring to ‘Nsync’s song.) Now it’s last in, first to be scheduled.  It’s perpetual butting in line. Or perpetual yielding right of way. That’s supposed to discourage asylum fraud (May 10, 2017).

Furthermore, pending House legislation would raise the standard of what constitutes “credible fear” to “more likely than not”, which might disproportionately affect LGBT asylum cases.

I’ve had a few conversations during the past week on this.  As I’ve noted, having sold the trust house I had “inherited”, downsized (like the movie) into a condo, I’m no longer considering hosting. But I still think that those who would consider being hosts or assist asylum seekers in any way need full legal briefing on what their own responsibilities are. (For helping refugees, remember, social service agencies are very well set up to give legal supervision to volunteers;  for asylum seekers, for which by definition there is no money in most cases, they are not.)  One tricky issue could be assisting someone when they are coming into the country and have not yet applied for asylum.  That could get a “good Samaritan” into legal trouble, I suspect.  My understanding is that you cannot get a visa with the intention of asking for asylum;  if you do, it’s right to detention when you arrive.

So then we come to Trump’s attempts at reconciliation. Michael Gerson writes in the Washington Post “Even on his finest behavior. Trump can’t be gracious to immigrants”.  Indeed, he does treat people from “the outside” as not our “chosen people”, which doesn’t make much sense to the more noble idea of an American melting pot (with all colors, religions, sexual orientations and identities).  Trump’s idea play to the idea, if you would house an immigrant, why wouldn’t you house a domestic homeless person instead?  Well, not many people do that, and our own social services structures don’t support that.  Our volunteer world will support structured activities (Habitat for Humanity, installing smoke alarms, meals) which, if you think about it, maintains a certain personal distance from those in need in a lot of cases.  “The Natural Family” (like the 2007 book by Carlson/Mero) is supposed to take care of its own vulnerable, but we all know it often doesn’t.

There’s also the problem of the way anti-immigrant forces distort or cherry pick statistics to support their positions.  Yes, chain migration could be bad;  but in most cases it takes a long time for distant family members to get through the system anyway; so it has little practical effect.  In most cases, immigrants take the jobs Americans don’t want (watch Morgan Spurlock picking oranges for piecework), and some industries (like hotels) are very dependent on legal immigration. I guess everyone is a “Dreamer”.  I guess all lives matter (if we are willing to behave as if that were true.)   There is also the way we trot out the outrageous crime of the week (like on Milo Yiannopoulos’s “Dangerous”), and a few of them are committed by illegal aliens, but most are committed by Americans.  Reason has a couple of major pieces, one by Alex Nowrasteh on the use of crime statistics, and another about the “weaponizing” of Census. I worked for Census (in 2010 on the diennial and in 2011 on surveys) and Census data can never be shared outside the agency, even with law enforcement.  Nowrasteh also has a valuable video on CSPAN on deportations.

I’ve noted the cultural collectivism both on the alt-right (nativism) and the frank Marxism on the far Left, as discussed on here on Intellectual Takeout (wrong “consciousness”).

I’ll also reiterate that Trump seems to be trapped by his position on North Korea (previous post), and Georgetown’s professor Cha tried to help him find a way out of it.  I wish he would listen. A lot of civilians, even on the homeland, could pay themselves with their lives.

Also: Breaking as I finish this post: Trump has just authorized declassifying the Nunes Memo and it will become public (apparently without redactions); see also the DOJ letter.  It now belongs to the House Judiciary Committee (who has the football right now, not in the Super Bowl).

As of 1 PM: Here is the actual memo, unclassified.

The AP story includes the Counsel’s letter, too, embedded as a PDF.

Is the Nunes Memo a dud “On the Beach” (like Nevil Shute)? Vox article

Here’s the original Russian dossier (Oct 2016) from Buzzfeed.

And here we go again, the “one” controversial sentence on p. 3 of the memo, explained on AOL

And this was supposed to be a post in immigration when I started out!

(Posted: Friday, February 2, 2018, at 11:45 AM EST)

Trump’s SOTU leaves us thinking war with North Korea could be almost inevitable, and soon

During the day Tuesday January 30, the media was buzzing with the prediction that President Donald Trump would unleash an “eye opener” about North Korea that would dominate the headlines January 31, as part of his State of the Union Speech. .

So, here we are, post SOTU (which ran 80 minutes) on “February 0” with tensions escalating again, but back to where they were.

I had hoped Trump would talk specifically about missile defense (my Jan. 11 posting) and infrastructure security, maybe even with a frank warning to individual Americans about resuming attention to Civil Defense preparedness. After all, I’ve tweeted him a few times about this.  No such luck.

He is right in saying that the military needs to be fully funded (not just month-to-month, to get around shutdown threats) and that the U.S. needs to “rebuild” its nuclear deterrence.  But that’s not the bombshell for the media.  That’s a given. I give him credit for saying “hopefully never having to use it.”

(Go to 1.18.46)

He did say, “North Korea’s reckless pursuit of nuclear missiles could very soon threaten our homeland. We are waging a campaign of maximum pressure to prevent that from happening.”

What if pressure is not enough?

Trump trotted out the physical horrors undergone by Otto Warmbier (his parents were there) and then defector Ji Seong-Ho, who was in the audience.  Trump minced no words in graphic descriptions of their injuries and invasions of bodily sanctity.  I guess this was the “eye opener”, a little bit of verbal violence porn. Likewise, he had earlier given graphic descriptions of combat wounds and rescues in liberating Mosul from ISIS.

But, as some observers like Ezra Klein and Zach Beauchamp on Vox pointed out  (essay and tweet), Trump talked about Kim Jong Un as someone who must be removed, very much the way George W. Bush had talked about Saddam Hussein. The problem is that this time Kim Jong Un’s WMD’s could affect the American homeland, as well as South Korea and Japan.  The president seemed oblivious to this big distinction.

Then there is the entire flap over the well vetted intended appointment to ambassador to South Korea, Victor D. Cha, Georgetown University professor, over his objection to an administration “bloody nose” first strike on North Korea, as outlined in the Washington Post.  Cha responded by explaining his views in an op-ed in the Washington Post yesterday, just before the speech.  Cha did not explore the possibility that such an attack could be largely a microwave E1-level EMP attack designed “only” to take out computers and command and control in the country (which probably could not penetrate into its hidden mountain bases anyway).

CNN picked up on the story early January 31, as Will Ripley (the “no chest hair” comment to boys on a North Korean beach) reported that North Korea plans a huge military parade February 8 just as the Winter Olympics starts.  Dozens of Hwasong-15’s would be displayed, although we suspect many or most of them could be fake.  This would “scare the hell” out of ordinary Americans concerned about saving their own skins.

President Trump apparently believes (if I connect the dots) that he has a few short months or weeks to launch a preventive first strike war now, before North Korea has the credible ability to hit the continental US (especially New York, Washington, and Mar a Lago).  That is what sounds so scary. But, of course, Trump is bargaining away the lives of people in South Korea and Japan (including Americans), even if DPRK claims its missiles are pointed only at the U.S., out of spite. Furthermore, we have to keep in mind claims by Woolsey and others that Kim Jong Un could launch at least an E1-level EMP strike over parts of the US now.  While Trump correctly talked about the horrible conditions for most civilians in North Korea (eating dirt), he seems insensitive to the idea that most civilian Americans have a lot to lose personally (me) to war, pretty much like Miss Scarlet.  (See my Jan. 4 posting).

Furthermore, some DIA assessments late last summer indicated that North Korea had probably succeeding in miniaturizing the smaller fission weapons on its missiles, even if doing this on ah H-15 with a hydrogen bomb is much harder.

Of course, I’ve noted that some of these predictions attract conservative news outlets more than mainstream, leaving one open to fake news concerns (Dec. 22), and I can add that Oak Ridge and National Academy of Sciences have been publishing peer-reviewed technical papers on this problem since maybe 2009, with the media “too sinful to notice”.  And we can’t forget that North Korea, despite the sanctions, seems to have plenty of underground connections to other rogue and terror groups (who employ their workers so that workers can send hard currency back home). That raises the ante on conventional terrorism, especially nuclear-related (like dirty bomb threats), as well as possibly biological vectors (ABC had done a Nightline special on anthrax as a terror weapon back in 1999, two years before 9/11).  Taylor Wilson’s page on nuclear security at borders sounds relevant.

The period right after the Winter Olympics could become critical very quickly.  Will Ripley expects another missile test, perhaps right after the Olympics.  The game changer would be if North Korea really detonates anything at re-entry (or in orbit).  A detonation could endanger undersea cables.  Trump should constructively consider shooting down any missile that gets more than a certain distance from North Korea.  Several shoot-downs could destabilize the regime.

(Posted: Wednesday, January 31, 2018 at 10 AM)