The BCRA is a modest reform of Obamacare that curtails the growth in Medicare spending over the next decade (assuming a future Democrat administration and Congress don’t cancel these modest attempts at slowing the rate of growth) and loosens the mandates, although it does keep a sort of penalty for going without insurance for several months. This is now painted as practically murder by progressives. And the CBO with their crystal ball predictions of 22 million losing their health insurance have also been a key factor influencing voters.

It’s working. For Democrats.

Look at how quiet GOP Senators are. They aren’t saying a thing, or they’re casting doubt, or they’re outright dismissing the bill. The latest polls showing the unpopularity of the proposed legislation have clearly influenced the GOP. And no amount of skillful process-managing can bridge the enormous ideological differences between GOP Senators. One “common-sense” euphemism after another about doing things right and getting it down and makings sure we nail it down, can’t change that fact.

Maybe Charles Krauthammer is right. Maybe we are witnessing the slow death of the ideal of healthcare as a private insurance proposition and not as a social right that voters are entitled to. There is no real insurance in Obamacare, but rather the use of the existing insurance industry as a tottering scaffolding to drape subsidies, taxes, penalties, and mandates over the top of it’s creaking framework.

Until it starts collapsing, in state after state because insurance companies are going broke following the ACA’s rules.

Perhaps an idea like Universal Catastrophic Insurance, where voters have a guaranteed protection against major medical expenses but have to pay most of their monthly or weekly or daily medical expenses, could be a way out. Given how voters have reacted to current GOP efforts at merely reforming Obamacare, that’s unlikely however.

What happens next? Can McConnell pull off a miracle? It’s looking very doubtful at this point. His final attempt at compromise between a Senator Lee and a Senator Collins, for example, might involve front-loading money to help lower-income workers with their health insurance and back-loading cutbacks (which are really just reductions in the rate of growth of Medicare).

If this fails, then what? Does this mean that Obamacare is an established entitlement, and as such, will continue to expand and involve more and more government rules, regulations, taxes, fees, penalties, and on and on? And will this even be cheered on by a majority of voters? If so, then Elizabeth Warren is right. Voters really just want universal health coverage and it’s up to Democrats to sell them on the idea without all the half-truths and complex mechanisms inherent in the ACA.

Imagine. President Warren meeting with the Canadian Prime Minister and the two of them heading up to Camp David to relax and have a long chat about government-owned-run-and-operated healthcare and how to finish the job. And finish off private health care in America.

Yes that’s an over-the-top scenario. One that will hopefully never come close to happening. But healthcare in America is at a historical crossroads one feels, and it is not clear that private healthcare will predominate in America in the future. Senators should keep that in mind over the next few weeks. Especially GOP Senators.

I’m Wrong, You’re Wrong

©2017 Steve Feinstein. All rights reserved.

The Democrats have a good thing going. It’s unclear exactly how they arranged it or why it is that no one has really noticed it before and called them out on it. But they are very clever and they deserve full credit for pulling it off. It’s just another piece of evidence that when it comes to hardball politics/media manipulation, there is only one team even playing the game, much less a contest of any sort being waged.

Their gambit? The Democrats have constructed a reality whereby they get to blame Republicans outright for any transgression they commit—real or contrived—whether it be some verbal or policy slight against a favored special-interest group, a tax advantage they give to their “wealthy donor” electoral base, an unfair reduction in rights and privileges to the deserving just for the fun of being mean-spirited, environmentally-damaging political decisions made out of ignorance or uncaring short-sightedness, or a disruptive, counter-productive introduction of religion and morals into the public discussion in a blatant, hypocritical violation of the doctrine of ‘separation of church and state.’

The Democrats actually go further than simply tying such actions to Republican politicians. In fact, they routinely tie calamitous events to Republicans in general, office holders and supporters alike, and blame Republicans for intentionally creating the circumstances that enabled the event to transpire in the first place. A perfect recent example of this was a few years ago when Sarah Palin—a favorite Democratic fall girl—produced a “map” identifying targeted Democratic Congressional seats, with a crosshair graphic on the seat. Democrats howled that Palin was advocating actual gun violence against those Democratic officeholders and claimed that her actions specifically contributed to gunman Jared Loughner’s actions when he shot AZ congresswoman Gabby Giffords along with several other people. That was ludicrous, since Loughner’s mental illness was well-documented and had nothing to do with Palin’s strategic electoral map. In fact, there’s not any evidence that Loughner even knew who Sarah Palin was.

Yet when it serves their PR purposes, Democratic politicians—secure in their confidence that the liberal media will back their play every step of the way—feel free to conflate long-understood clichés and figures of speech with the literal meaning of that phrase when the literal meaning serves their political agenda. “In the crosshairs,” of course, is just an ages-old colloquialism for a matter to which one is turning one’s full attention and effort. You have to be a truly special kind of partisan to think you could convince others otherwise. But to the Democrats’ everlasting credit, they continually put it out there, knowing that the charge on Page One is seen by everyone, but the correction on page 12 four days later goes by virtually unnoticed.

Conversely, when a Democratic politician or a Democratic supporter is unavoidably trapped into acknowledging some inexcusable misconduct, abdication of responsibility, obvious lie, or insulting, insensitive speech, the typical Democratic response (assuming that a liberal media-backed outright denial of reality is not an option) involves some grudging admission of a temporary lapse in their usually impeccable judgement, followed by the inevitable dragging of Republicans along to share their guilt.

Here are some quintessential Democratic responses to flagrant Democratic misstatements and actions:

  • Both sides need to tone down the rhetoric.
  • There is plenty of blame to go around on both sides.
  • This situation requires immediate, focused bi-partisan attention.
  • Both sides are guilty of overreaction.
  • Both sides need to focus on what’s important and turn down the vitriol.

These kinds of Democratic proclamations are all-to-familiar to anyone paying any semblance of attention to the news. The recent revelation that President Obama knew months before the 2016 election that Russia was attempting to influence the U.S, election but that the Obama administration actively and intentionally decided against taking any action to thwart Russian interference has been greeted by the liberal media with bare-minimal (if any) coverage. When one Democratic lawmaker (Adam Schiff of CA) said, “I think the [Obama] administration needed to call out Russia earlier, needed to act to deter and punish Russia earlier, and that was a very serious mistake,” he was very quick to add, “I have to contest what President Trump is saying, because for Donald Trump who openly egged on the Russians to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails and celebrated every release of stolen documents—to criticize Obama is now a bit like someone knowingly receiving stolen property blaming the police for not stopping the theft.”

Perfectly scripted, right from the Democratic playbook: If you have to acknowledge an error on your side and there’s no possibility of denial, then bring the Republicans along for the ride on the Blame Train and imply that they’re at least as much at fault, even if you have to contort the facts in order to do so.

Schiff’s statement of Trump having “openly egged on the Russians” during the election campaign is an outright falsehood. As we said, “Charge on Page One. Correction to follow four days later—maybe—on page 12.” That’s no small semantic error: Trump may have cheered on Julian Assange’s announcements of more damaging DNC e-mails to come, but he didn’t know, nor did anyone else at the time, that the Russians may have been behind them (It’s still in question, an unsettled matter.) Replacing Assange with the Russians is willfully disingenuous on Schiff’s part. Skillful also, knowing he won’t be called out on it in a major public forum.

Another current example is CBS Evening News’ correspondent Scott Pelley’s astonishing utterance that the shooting of Republican congressman Steve Scalise by Bernie Sanders supporter James Hodgkinson may have been “to some degree self-inflicted.” In the Democrats’ world, no bad action can possibly be completely the fault of a Democratic politician or avowed Democratic supporter, lest that action cast the Democrats or their positions in a bad light. On the contrary, when a Democrat acts badly, it must be at least partially the Republicans’ fault, as this example proves once again.

It’s a good system that the Democrats have worked out for themselves: When they’re right, they take all the credit. When they’re wrong, they only get half—maybe less—of the blame. We’d all like to live in that world.

 

 

 

Oh joy oh joy! We get to talk about health care again.

So. We now have the Senate’s Better Care Reconciliation Act – that’s BCRA – and it’s a watering down or subsidizing up of the American Health Care Act – that’s AHCA – which itself was a clear start, but nothing more than a start, at partially dismantling the Affordable Care Act – or the ACA – which we all know is Obamacare.

Do you really want to go through all the changes in rather overwhelming detail? Read Christopher Jacobs’ review in The Federalist. If there ever was a healthcare policy wonk, he’s it.

Do you want to know what the “family glitch” is? Chris Jacobs helpfully explains it’s when members of a worker’s family do not qualify for subsidies if said worker qualifies for employer-based health insurance. Even if said worker’s employer-based health insurance does not cover his family members. Thus the glitch. Apparently the BCRA solves the AHCA’s family glitch problem. Did you know that the word glitch probably comes from German or Yiddish? And was first used to refer to engineering problems at Cape Kennedy around 1965? And yes, apparently the BCRA solves the family glitch problem.

Ah but it’s not just the family glitch that was solved. We also have Avik Roy cheering GOP Senators for diving into the details of the AHCA and like navy seals triumphantly emerging on the surface with the AHCA’s section 202 in hand. Section 202 of the AHCA you ask? It involves a transitional schedule of tax credits rather than the flat tax credit that kicks in regardless of income under Ryan’s AHCA, and that was meant only as a bridge between Obamacare and Ryancare. What did the Senators do? They made it permanent so that the tax credits in the BCRA now depend on income, rather than being flat. That means lower income workers get more subsidies for their health insurance compared to the House’s AHCA plan.

That means, according to Avik Roy, that low-income workers and near-elderly working poor will now be able to afford health insurance that they might not have been able to under the AHCA. That’s surely what President Trump meant when he said we need a plan that is less “mean” didn’t he? He knew all about section 202 of the AHCA, didn’t he? Didn’t we all?

Then again maybe we didn’t. Health care policy in America is fiendishly complex with conflicts between hospitals, patients, doctors, healthcare workers, insurance companies, employers, employees, independent workers, small business owners, local government, state government, and the federal government. And taxpayers of course, which is a term that covers several of the already mentioned groups. And all the other groups I surely forgot to mention.

No single plan can satisfy perhaps even a clear majority of these constituencies. But most of us don’t have the time, passion, or focus to clearly think through the countless trade offs that any health policy in America necessarily involves. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. Health care is fundamental, and Obamacare is unsustainable without serious reform/replacing, or without way more taxes and subsidies. Those two truths mean everyone has to do a little research and decide what they think about healthcare policy. For their own and the country’s good. And yes, it’s a pain.

The Daily Beast lament that the Democrats have yet to “crack the code” for turning the resistance (to Trump of course) into political victory. What if they have the code but the code is wrong?

The resistance will not accept the legitimacy of President Trump’s election. Whether they be DOJ officials or intel community analysts horrified by Trump’s aesthetics, or street level radicals, or Sleeping Giants.

Sleeping Giants? They’re a progressive group that target right-leaning sites and corporations and try to scare advertisers away with high pressure name and shame tactics. And it seems to work. Is this a case of business merely trying to make sure they understand their clients – and maximize profits by minimizing losses according to Warren of the Warren (Henry) Report? Clients who are now in the majority deeply concerned with gender-flexible pronouns and will boycott your company? Or are they being bullied into ridiculous stances?

In other words, even though the resistance and the radical cultural and political politics they espouse can’t seem to gain enough traction with voters, maybe they can achieve their goals through economic boycotts and produce a change in behavior of large corporations rather than a majority of voters. Which is a much larger group.

This is Ben Domenech’s fascinating thesis in a recent issue of The Transom. And it’s a very troubling look at the corporate concentration in the hands of companies like Facebook, Google, Apple, and oh yes, Netflix. An overwhelming majority of advertising budgets get spent on these companies’ platforms. That means a key slice of speech in America is controlled by these four giants.

Wait a second. Hold on. Hold on. See where this is going? Because of the inherent networking effects that give successful technology platforms such dominance, they crowd out speech. That means we need government to break these companies up. So we can have free speech?? What strikes you as wrong with that statement?

In other words, can government create the conditions for a more diverse range of opinions in the world’s most powerful tech companies (and media companies because social media is really tech taking over media) by telling them and their shareholders what to do with their invested capital? Is speech, therefore, free? And can government mandate free speech?

Well yes, in a way. It’s called the constitution and especially the First Amendment. But that involves a warning not to prohibit, rather than to prohibit. Should the FANG gang (Facebook et al) be broken up into smaller pieces? You can argue that de-regulation of telecom in the 80’s helped pave the way for the 90’s boom and the explosion in communication technology that itself created the conditions for the FANG companies to thrive so wonderfully. But that was government getting out of the way, rather into the way.

But any attempt to do the same to the FANG gang should be viewed cautiously and with skepticism over what could result from government interference. If Google and Facebook and Apple want to honestly be companies with progressive and very liberal values then that’s their property right. Isn’t it?

Just Get Someone

© 2017 Steve Feinstein. All rights reserved.

 

The November 2016 election of Donald Trump has so incensed the liberal mainstream media and the Democratic establishment that they’ve become virtually unhinged emotionally in their zeal to delegitimize and torpedo his presidency. Far from “coming together as one country after a hard-fought election campaign,” the Democrats and their liberal media collaborators have embarked on a non-stop, all-out crusade to destroy the Trump administration, thereby somehow reversing and overturning last November’s election result. That is their objective, make no mistake: Disqualify, reverse and oust.

The Democrats’ disqualification vehicle of choice is some vague, unspecified illegal connection that the Trump people had with Russian operatives before the election that enabled the Russians to manipulate the American voting process in a targeted manner to alter the vote, away from Hillary Clinton, and give it to Donald Trump.

There are a lot of words and phrases being tossed around by hysterical, sanctimonious, hyperventilating sources, saying things like, “Trump colluded with Russia to influence our election!” “The Russians hacked our voting process!” “Clinton’s insider information was revealed by the Russians to Trump’s benefit!”

Beyond these breathless, screeching headlines, there aren’t any real specifics of any kind. When the question is asked to define “influence,” or “hacked,” or “colluded,” the answers that come back are mostly along the lines of, “Well, you know! They did! Trump lied! Our democracy is at stake!” But exactly what was done, the actual methodology, where, the specific people involved, how many votes were altered, how many counties were illegally shifted from Clinton to Trump, how those counties added up to state wins for Trump instead of Clinton, none of that information is forthcoming. After seven months of non-stop Democratic investigation, none of those details are forthcoming.

Absent any tangible, verifiable proof of Trump-caused election manipulation, we’ve now entered the next, highly-predictable phase: The Get Someone phase. The Democrats already “got” Michael Flynn, since Trump fired him early on for not being forthcoming about some foreign contacts and financial arrangements. The President fired him. He was criticized for it by the liberal media and the Democratic establishment. If he hadn’t fired him, he’d have been criticized for it by the liberal media and the Democratic establishment.

But Flynn wasn’t high enough; he wasn’t a big enough scalp to satisfy the anti-Trump fervor. Besides, President Trump fired him; he didn’t defend him and try to keep him on. It’d be oh-so-much better if we could force the resignation of a truly high-level Administration official that the Administration is actively defending. The bigger the scalp an opposition party can claim, the more embarrassment and damage they can show the world they’ve inflicted on their enemies. When the embarrassment and damage reaches a critical tipping point, the media talk about it non-stop, night and day, and the issue manages to pierce through the fog of indifference that surrounds most casually-attentive, non-partisan-engaged swing voters.

Here, the Democrats have a huge advantage. The sources from which those aforementioned “casually-attentive, non-partisan-engaged swing voters” get their news and form their opinions are overwhelmingly liberally-biased. Whether late night like Colbert or Kimmel, Comedy Central’s Daily Show, the network morning shows like GMA and Today that people watch while dressing or having a quick breakfast, and of course, CNN and the NY Times, these are all Democratic-sympathetic sources. The common default mode among them all is Positive Democrat, anti-Trump. Operating under the reasonable 40-20-40 rule that says 40% will always vote Dem no matter what and 40% will always vote Repub no matter what, the fact that the 20% swing segment gets their impressions and forms their opinions from overwhelmingly liberal sources means that there is a very high likelihood that the majority of the 20%-ers will swing Dem once the liberal media start harping on something “important” day after day after day.

The Democrats’ goal with non-stop hearings, investigations, panels and Special Counsels is to break through from being unidentifiable background white noise to being something important and significant that will become the overriding issue on peoples’ minds every day.

If the Democrats can get someone of high standing, anyone, and force that individual to resign or be fired in disgrace—casting a huge negative pall on Trump’s presidency—then the Democrats will consider themselves successful. That’s the end-game here.

Although Republicans may try to run some offense of their own in reverse (for instance, trying to subpoena former Obama administration officials over their role in supposed questionable activities or unethical behavior), history shows us that Republicans are astonishingly bad at playing hardball partisan games of this sort. When they do manage to get a witness before a Congressional panel, they never seem to have prepared the questioning strategy needed for unequivocal success. Instead they meander around with peripheral questions, grandstand for personal gain, or—incredibly—they fail to hold together as a party and some “flexible, high-minded” Republicans actually undercut their own party’s efforts in order to try to seem “reasonable” to the general public. That never works, of course. The liberal media never give any Republicans credit for being “reasonable;” all that happens is that those misguided Republicans sabotage their own party’s chances for success.

For the Democrats, the goal is get someone. Anyone. Call for endless panels, hearings and investigations. Hold press conferences. Show off for the cameras. Ignite the passions of the hosts at CNN and MSNBC. Provide humorous fodder for the Daily Show, Saturday Night Live and Stephen Colbert at the Republicans’ expense. Try to make Trump and his administration look like buffoonish lying thieves and use the overwhelmingly liberal media to influence the 20%-undecideds.

Getting someone of significance—holding a scalp up high for all to see (metaphorically, of course)—accomplishes that goal.

Over at thecipherbrief.com – the intel communityish newsletter with a heavyweight line up of expert contributors – John Sipher (no it’s not his site), a former CIA analyst, gleefully sets up a Catch-22 that many in the intel community hope leads to some way to impeach Trump.

After outlining the difference between a counter-intelligence investigation, which is open-ended and does not rely on the same standards of evidence or legal proceedings that a criminal investigation does, and a criminal investigation where evidence to convince a jury beyond a reasonable doubt is usually necessary, he tells those who are asking ‘where’s the evidence?’ to hush and sit patiently.

That’s because the FBI, in its counter-intelligence investigation, will take its sweet time in thoroughly combing through the evidence as Mueller’s prosecutors – among the best in the business apparently – set up endless interviews with whoever they feel will help move their investigation forward. Hopefully in their view means only one thing: towards a conviction. Even if it means one related to obstruction of justice and not collusion of any shape or form with Russian actors. But hey, that depends on what evidence they may theoretically turn up at some point during what may be a multi-year process. And until they do, it’s only a counter-intelligence investigation, which does not go by the same rules. Ha ha. Ha ha. No wonder John Sipher has such a big grin in his impressive photograph at cipherbrief.com.

And that’s a Kafkaesque open-ended process that could take years to complete, and is and will continue to undermine Trump’s presidency, even if doesn’t lead to an impeachment. Why? Because we have an FBI counter-intelligence investigation against a sitting president’s associates, and perhaps even the president himself. An investigation that may have originally been set in motion by Christopher Steele’s absurd dossier. There are several factors one can point to or blame: a D.C. bureaucracy and especially intel community wary of candidate Trump and openly hostile to President Trump; a churlish delight on the part of Trump himself to provoke and gloat; a self-righteous FBI Director, James Comey, who got burned by his decisions regarding Hillary’s server and was perhaps eager to compensate by going the other way; a Democrat opposition that is being pushed by a base that is still hysterically furious that Trump actually won; and a media that is working hand in glove with any and all beltway leakers.

But how the Russia probe got started is unfortunately so much history now, and the question for the administration is how to get out of this mess? Fire Mueller and also fire Rosenstein, who seems to think only he can fire Mueller? Instruct Rosenstein to tighten up Mueller’s mandate? Actually listen to your legal advice?

Or wait it out and meanwhile try to focus on your agenda? And hope the media finally tires of the Russia headlines they publish nearly every day? In the end that may be all that’s left for Trump’s White House. If they can balance the waiting with at least some major bills like tax cuts and healthcare reform of some kind. Unfortunately that will also mean being very careful when interviewed by Mueller’s prosecutors. And that will be a herculean task. Are they up to it?

Process where is they sting? Everywhere if you’re not careful. Ok, no that’s not a quote from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. But it may just be that process – that idol worshipped in the halls of Congress and throughout the labyrinths of many a government department or intelligence agency – is in fact a jealous idol. One that consumes unexpected victims who suddenly and unexpectedly find themselves about to be sacrificed to this jealous and capricious and all-consuming idol.

First of all, we now have the question of Comey’s leaking to the NYT through a friend. That would be Daniel Richman, Columbia Law School professor who played the role of intermediary in getting a portion of Comey’s memo of his meeting with President Trump to the NYTimes in order to force the appointment of a special prosecutor. And it worked.

But was Comey’s leak illegal?

It is a reasonable question to ask, especially seeing that the Russia investigation is now morphing into a possible obstruction of justice investigation, which in fact is really a focused search for any way to end President Trump’s term in office as soon as is possible without resorting to literal assassination attempts.

In other words, if we’re going to use process as a possible way to trap Trump or some of his current or former advisers or members of his cabinet into obstruction of justice charges, then isn’t it reasonable to ask if Comey’s leak is legal? That is, to ask if Comey was sufficiently respectful of the process idol? To assume you can appease the process idol with sacrifices of only one kind (GOP officials and/or Trump associates) is likely mistaken. Process once it gets going, can be a difficult idol to please.

Secondly, the closeness between Comey and Special Counsel Robert Mueller should also be concerning. They are friends and former colleagues who are now going to be on opposite sides of the witness stand, if you will. In an investigation that is supposed to be about objective, neutral, expert leadership of an inquiry involving the President’s associates. And what may be the top witness is a veritable bro of the special counsel leading the investigation? A special counsel appointed in order to remove DOJ officials from directly leading the inquiry because of questions about partisanship?

So, what will process bring us next? Is the president considering firing Special Counsel Mueller, as Newsmax Media CEO Chris Ruddy recently said on PBS? And was Ruddy’s leak meant to encourage or to discourage President Trump, with whom Ruddy has had a close friendship for some time?

And yes, the president himself has done more than his share in unwittingly sparking this process into life, with his tweets. He tweeted, Comey got even angrier and leaked (although evidence suggests Comey was going to leak anyway once he was fired and the president’s tweets just gave him the perfect excuse). Acting AG Rosenstein pressed the panic button and appointed a special counsel who happened to be the ex-FBI director and good Comey friend, Robert Mueller. And now the president is apparently considering firing Mueller. And perhaps Rosenstein?

And as an aside, Senator Feinstein has now considered the possibility of a probe into former AG Lynch’s suggesting to then Director Comey to call the Hillary email investigation a “matter” and not an “investigation.” Yes, Feinstein is a member fo the same political party as Lynch, but that isn’t stopping her from wanting in on the investigatory fun: an investigation to determine if the former AG acted inappropriately by suggesting an investigation not be called an investigation.

Process where is thy sting? Everywhere you look nowadays.

First it was class warfare. The first wave of marxism was all about eliminating private property rights and ownership in order to control the means of production and liberate the working class. By the latter half of the 20th century, the concept of liberation struggle (usually violent) was extended to gender, then race, then even age, and finally an increasingly bewildering range of categories of being as witnessed by trans liberation. The last of which went from a fairly marginal cultural place seeing it involves an infinitesimal portion of any given population, straight into the courts and legislatures across the country with astonishing speed.

But wait a second! That’s so old-school isn’t it really? There is only one true war of liberation that matters to the true cutting-edge freedom fighters of 2017. Information, flow freely across the globe! You have only your encrypted chains to lose! And unlike the narrow group of trans activists who have bludgeoned those who disagree with screeching name and shame tactics, the info-anarchists can come from anywhere: an Australian hacker-activist-possible abuser living in an embassy in London. An NSA subcontractor or two. A criminal group in the Ukraine or Russia or China or anywhere who pillage personal identity data to resell on the deep web. A top-level State Department Official who decides she really really doesn’t like President Trump’s latest tweet. A three-star General who wants his policies listened to a heck of a lot more by the White House. A journalist who loves a good scoop and righteously refuses to reveal sources even when lives are at stake because the integrity of the media is sacred as we all know.

We’re not all Keynesians now. We’re all hackers now apparently. At least all of us who matter.

Information wants to be free. Michael Moore has launched Trumpileaks and will take gossip/leaks/dangerous security information/anything from anywhere and anyone because the more information we all have, the better. And because maybe the leaks can help the Democrats take back the House and even the Senate and impeach Trump who we all know was put in the White House by the Russians. How do we know this? The leaks, follow the leaks. Go to the leaks and learn the truth!

And now in what is akin to Trotsky getting a pick-axe plunged into his skull, Wikileaks Assange is blasting an unnamed journalist at The Intercept for bringing in the FBI to review a leak the online media site received in the mail. From who we now know to be the uniquely named Reality Winner. A young former Air Force veteran working as a … you guessed it, NSA subcontractor. How dare any journalist be concerned whether a law was broken!! Or whether lives may be put at risk!! We want to know!! All of us!

Hackers have been counter-culture heroes of a sort for a few decades now. Nothing new there. But the view of hacking and leaking as a legitimate political policy tool is rather new. Michael Moore has apparently called upon “Patriotic Americans in Government, law enforcement, and the private sector … to blow the whistle in the name of protecting the United States of America from tyranny.” Or from the current democratically elected administration, in other words.

The X-files, after sitting in our subconscious minds for a couple of decades, has borne fruit. No, I don’t mean the remake. I mean that Mulder (and Scully to a lesser extent) are our heroes nowadays. In a world filled with conspiracy theories – some of them maybe even possibly and partially true – only a hacker and leaker can save us.

But it’s helpful to remember what event caused The X-files to tank in the ratings and be cancelled. And also helped us all to rid ourselves of all that fantasy conspiracy wanking? 9/11.

So as leakers see themselves as heroes and are feted by a press determined for the most part to see Trump as an illegitimate president, let us remember that what made us not want to watch Mulder and Scully for a long while is still very much around, in new and mutating forms that still threaten our way of life. What will it take to stop or at least slow down the current out of control leaking? I pray to God that it will not be another 9/11.

Made out of Mettle?

By

Filed Under General on Jun 8 

Made out of Mettle?

© 2017, Steve Feinstein. All rights reserved.

I don’t know if it’s a male-female thing or not. Probably somewhat—I’d venture an off-the-cuff guess and say that nearly every guy thinks about this from time to time, but probably far fewer women give this any thought at all. Some do, no question, but less than half, I’d say.

Now that my totally subjective, unfounded impressions are out of the way, let’s get down to the subject at hand. The thought that has continually crossed my mind from my late teens right through today is this: How would I fare in a life-or-death combat situation? Combat, where my own life depended on my own actions. Combat, where I could choose to put myself in danger in service to a greater good or play it safe, save myself, but come up short with regard to a good situational outcome.

Note that I’m not talking about a deadly situation that involves protecting loved ones or a circumstance where self-preservation or self-defense is at play. In those cases, the survival-protective instinct takes over and most people will automatically do what they need to do to ensure the continued existence of their family or themselves.

The combat-type situation I’m talking about is very different. This situation requires action on your part that puts you in potential life-threatening danger in order to complete a task for the benefit of others. Military combat, fire fighting, police work—these are the situations I’m referring to. These are the life tests that many people think about but may never know the answer to for sure. On some deep level, it matters, but for some, it’s easier to simply repress the question since the likelihood of a situational test presenting itself is almost nonexistent and if the person has even the slightest reason to doubt themselves, they’ll simply choose not to think about it.

I had the opportunity recently to meet Chris “Tanto” Paranto, a U.S Ranger and Blackwater Security operative who defended the American Embassy in Libya on September 11, 2012 against a horde of attacking terrorists. The attack resulted in the deaths of American Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans, but the unbelievably courageous, heroic actions of Paranto, along with the few other American defenders, kept the attackers at bay long enough for twenty other Americans to escape to safety.

This is not a political article. The circumstances that led to the terrorists’ attack, whether or not any American military assistance could have arrived in time, whether any after-action reports were politically-motivated or not, none of that is germane to this discussion. Enough has already been said on those topics.

However, as Paranto spoke to us, I was struck by his commitment to the task at hand, the responsibility he felt to aid others in a larger cause beyond just himself as an individual and the humorous, ironic joy he and his compatriots experienced in their overwhelmingly dire situation. “You never think about dying,” he told us that night. “If you think about dying—about how you can avoid dying—you’re going to die. We simply did what we had to do, what the circumstances demanded of us. When we had time to think about things—which wasn’t often—we simply cracked each other up with off-the-wall jokes.”

He continued, “We had a military scanner to monitor the U.S. communications taking place. Problem was, our scanner was about a minute or two delayed from real time, so it was useless. The scanner would say, ‘100’s of hostiles approaching from a mile away,’ when we were already killing the b*st*rds as they tried to scale the walls. Then the scanner would say, ‘Spectre [C-130 gunship] is on the way,’ but it never showed up. Then the scanner would say, ‘F-16’s incoming from Aviano’ [the U.S. Air Force base in southern Italy, the closest airbase to Libya], but they never came. Pretty soon we were joking, ‘Hey, Christmas is coming,’ because that’s what you do, that’s how you react in these situations. You never think about dying or how to stay alive; you just think about what you have to do and you stay loose.”

Could I do that? Could I pass that test and simply do what had to be done without regard for myself? I’ve never served in the military or been a firefighter or a policeman. My dad was on the front lines in combat in World War II, as a member of the 338th Field Artillery Battalion in Italy. He was literally on the very front lines of combat, serving as a forward observer, watching as his company’s cannon shells fell on German positions and relaying radio instructions back to the gun battery, so they could adjust their fire for the best results. The Germans hated the American forward observers, obviously, because they were the ones zero’ing in the destructive artillery fire down on their heads.

One day, the Germans spotted the house on the hill where my Dad and his squadmates were, and they trained their 88mm artillery on that house and leveled it with explosive fire. There were lots of American casualties and that event was where my Dad earned his Purple Heart for being wounded in action. He didn’t speak about his actual combat experiences very much at all and I never pressed him on it. But the soldiers did their jobs, without hesitation, day in and day out, without any fanfare or expectation of attention or adulation. My dad did, however, have a never-ending stream of amusing wartime stories to tell me, about finding food in the countryside as they traveled northward up Italy during the Po campaign, about going off on wild Jeep joyrides in their off hours, about grabbing small souvenirs along the way and then being told, “Hey, you can’t take that,” and many other tales of friendships and shenanigans. Perfectly in keeping with Paranto’s telling of crazy jokes to keep them balanced and focused.

There is nothing in my life experience that compares to this. The “question” for me is frustratingly unanswered. Yet I do have one instance to draw upon, however peripheral and superficial it might be.

It is this:

Way back in 1980, I went to work for Panasonic, the big Japanese electronics company. It was an outside sales position and Panasonic provided company cars to their on-the-road sales force. I was only 26 at the time and having a major-league sales position with a major-league company like Panasonic was a really, really big deal to me at that time. The company car was icing on the cake—I used to think that only big-time salespeople who’d been with their company for 20 or 30 years and were really high achievers got a company car. Our neighbor when I was growing up, Sherm Cohen, was a long-time salesman for one of the big paint companies (I think it was Sherwin-Williams). He was the prototypical 1960’s salesperson—gregarious, aggressive, humorous, larger-than-life. Every year, a brand-new Pontiac Gran Prix graced his driveway at 26 Lawler Road. I was always in awe.

My Panasonic car was a brand-new Chevrolet Monte Carlo, a 2-door coupe with air, a big V-6 and fancy wheels. Quite a car. I never could’ve afforded this kind of car on my own at that point in my life. I felt almost uncomfortable driving around in it, as if people were thinking to themselves, “What is that young kid doing with a car like that?” when I got out of the car in a shopping center parking lot after stopping for lunch.

I’d been with Panasonic for maybe a month or two when I went to visit my sister. My sister was three years older than me, and had always been, shall we say, “spirited.” She’d led an incredibly tumultuous life, with substance issues, relationship issues, kids at a very young age, all kinds of things. You can fill in the blanks in your mind and you wouldn’t be far off. If at all.

Anyway, she and her husband at that time had just lost their apartment, for the usual reasons. They were barely earning enough to maintain a household, much less one that included three kids, ages four, six and eight. Out of money and options, they were on public assistance and newly living in the so-called “projects,” in a small ground floor 4-room apartment in a two-story building. I went to visit, quite mindful that this was the bad side of town, so to speak, but this was my sister and I wanted to be there.

I pulled up in front of the building and parked on the opposite side of the street, the only side parking was allowed. It’s dusk-ish and the sun will set in about an hour. The street is buzzing with people from the neighborhood, playing ball, laughing, talking, hanging out. My shiny new Monte is as out of place in this setting as a tuxedo is in the Fenway bleachers. As I walk up to my sister’s front door, I feel the piercing stare of 40 eyes on my back. It’s a relief to be inside.

We visit. The kids are happy to see Uncle Steve. The youngest two are delightfully unaware of their circumstances; the oldest, close to nine, knows what’s happening and is very quiet. My sister, her husband and I exchange stories: they tell me of their overly-optimistic, somewhat unrealistic plans to make things better for themselves; I tell them pleasant generalities about my new job and some of the amusing people I work with, including my Mafioso/Godfather-like sales manager at Panasonic. It’s a nice enough visit.

I’m there for easily two hours, maybe more. All the time I’m there, I’m keenly aware of where I am and I’m listening intently out of the corner of my ear to see if anything untoward is happening outside. All the while, it looks like my full attention is focused on the conversation with my sister and her kids, but I’m always surveilling the situation, on the lookout. For what, I don’t know. Just on the lookout.

It’s probably a little after 10:00 p.m.. It’s totally dark outside. I’m thinking I should be going. I hear the sound of kids’ voices, not little kids, older kids, around 10-14. They’re laughing. It’s a malevolent laugh, an up-to-no-good laugh. I’m thinking to myself, “Kids that young should not be out on the street alone at that time of night.” It’s a weeknight—a “school night.”

The laughing seems to be coming from right in front of my sister’s apartment, right where my car is parked. I hear the sound of breaking glass, like a bottle dropping onto the pavement, followed by high-pitched, frenzied laughter and what sounds like the commotion of kids running away in all directions when they’re fearful of being caught committing vandalism.

I jump to my feet when I hear the breaking glass and bolt to the apartment’s front window. There, I see a broken, flaming wine bottle—a crude Molotov cocktail—rolling toward my car. In about two or three seconds, the flaming bottle will be right underneath my car—my brand-new Chevrolet Monte Carlo, the one I’ve had for all of two months at my new job.

It’s funny how fast—lightening fast—your mind works in extreme crisis situations. Thought after thought, scenario after scenario, outcome after outcome are all ricocheting through my consciousness:

  • “The bottle will just roll to the curb on the other side of the car. Nothing will happen”
  • “The road is pretty flat. It’ll come to rest right under the car.”
  • “If it stops under the car, how long will it take for the fire from the bottle to ignite the grease and oil on the underside of the car’s chassis?”
  • “If the car catches fire, the fire spreads to the gas tank and the car blows up, will I get fired?”
  • “If I run across the street now, can I unlock the door with the key (that’s the way it was done in 1980), get in, put the key in the ignition without fumbling from nervousness, get it into Drive and pull safely down the street, away from the flaming bottle?”
  • “What if the car catches fire while I’m in it? Will it blow up? Will I die? Is this worth it? Shouldn’t I just let whatever’s going to happen happen?”

I didn’t hesitate. As I looked out of the front window of my sister’s apartment and all these thoughts raced through my mind, I decided I had enough time, it was worth the risk, and my chances of success were high enough to satisfy my instantaneous risk-reward analysis.

So I ran across the street, key in hand. Incredibly nervous but steady-handed enough, I inserted the key correct-side up into the door and unlocked it. I sat down very quickly behind the wheel and put the key into the ignition, wondering if I was about to be blown up or engulfed by flames (“Please let me die rather than be horribly disfigured by fire but still alive.”). The car started unhesitatingly and I pulled the column-mounted shift lever down to D without an uncontrolled adrenaline-induced overshoot to D2 or L. In a second or two, I was two houses down the street and the flaming bottle was safely in my rearview mirror, burning itself out.

From the time I heard the bottle break while talking to my sister until I was safely away from the bottle’s flame was probably 8-10 seconds, maybe less.

It seemed like a lifetime. Perhaps it was.

 

 

 

 

Perception is Reality

By

Filed Under General on Jun 3 

Perception Is Reality

© 2017 Steve Feinstein. All rights reserved.

“Perception is reality” is a truism in most areas of human experience, but perhaps more so in politics than any other realm. Zealots on all sides know that if they can create an enduring, indelible image—whether positive or negative—in the minds of the populace, that perception will supersede any inconvenient facts that are more reflective of the actual situation.

Here are just a few wide-ranging examples from the past half-century:

Perception: The Tet Offensive was a major defeat for the U.S. in Vietnam

The Vietnam War was a conflict born of Cold War sensibilities and doctrines that said that the spread of communism anywhere in the world was an existential threat to the national security interests of the United States and therefore that threat should be stopped. Very generally speaking, that was the impetus for our taking the lead role in supporting South Vietnam resisting the aggression of Communist China-backed North Vietnam. U.S. involvement started in the early 1960’s under President Kennedy. Following Kennedy’s death in 1963, President Johnson greatly expanded the scale of America’s engagement, with hundreds of thousand of U.S. troops deployed. The war itself enjoyed reasonable public support since it appeared that we were making solid progress in weakening the opposing forces and diminishing the communist threat.

That impression of U.S. progress was shattered in January 1968 when 85,000 communist fighters launched a multi-pronged offensive against several South Vietnamese cities and strongholds. The attack—which came to be known as the Tet Offensive, so named for the Vietnamese New Year holiday period—came as a great surprise to American military leadership, who’d previously thought the communist forces were incapable of mounting such an attack. In America, public opinion for the war turned sharply negative, since the perception was that the communists had scored a great victory and dealt a huge setback to our mission.

Reality: The truth is that after a very brief interlude of initial enemy success, American and South Vietnamese forces inflicted very substantial casualties on the communist forces and quickly regained the initiative, taking back virtually all the territory that was briefly lost to the opposing side.

Nonetheless, the perception of a great defeat for America persisted, reinforced by the U.S. news media, who began saying that they’d been mislead in the past by overly-optimistic Government reports on the war’s progress. Now, the “truth” was out for all to see: The U.S. Government couldn’t be trusted, the communists had achieved stunning, unexpected success on the battlefield and the war in Vietnam was going to slog on interminably at great cost and with no realistic prospect for clear-cut victory. Anti-war protests, draft card burning and draft-dodging escapes to Canada became the norm. A fissure in American society materialized that many say has since lead to countless debilitating intergenerational social conflicts, and that the country’s view of the mainstream media and the government’s honesty has been irrevocably damaged as a result.

Perception: Robert Bork was racist and misogynist, and that’s why he was rejected for the Supreme Court

Robert Bork was a highly-respected scholar and judge who was nominated to the Supreme Court in 1987 by President Reagan to replace the retiring Lewis Powell. Powell was known as a moderate, a swing vote in closely-contested decisions. Although Bork’s innate intelligence and basic legal qualifications were not in question, Democrats were aghast at the prospect of the conservative Bork replacing the moderate Powell and thus tilting the balance of the Court sharply to the right. Powell had voted in the majority of the 7-2 January 1973 decision that affirmed a woman’s right to have an abortion. Should R v W or any variant thereof come up again, Democrats were certain that Bork would vote against their interests.

The same day that Bork was nominated, Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy of MA made a speech on the Senate floor that lives to this day as possibly the high water mark for the most outrageously partisan, gratuitously insulting, completely divorced-from-reality personal hack job masquerading as a serious policy address ever given in the annals of Senate speeches. In words that accurately define forever his true colors of “Partisan advantage first, always and only,” Kennedy said,

Robert Bork’s America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists could be censored at the whim of the Government, and the doors of the Federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens.

Astonishing words coming from a supposed highly-respected leader of the country.

Reality: Bork was highly qualified, but was never defended by the Republicans

In reality, Bork was nothing like Kennedy described. He was, in all honesty, a more conservative judge than Powell, and no doubt would have taken a somewhat more originalist standpoint on many issues than Powel had taken, but that did not in any way diminish his fitness to serve on the Supreme Court.

The Republicans never did mount an effective rebuttal to Kennedy’s unfounded attack. They never really defended Bork. This incident arguably began the modern era of Democratic mastery of the art of using the major media to their advantage, since Kennedy’s speech was played again and again on TV and radio, without an effective or serious response by the Republicans, who just didn’t seem to have any idea how to deal with it.

The reality of Robert Bork’s intellectual and legal qualifications may have been one thing, but those qualifications were utterly and completely swamped by the popular perception of his unsuitability for the position brought about by Kennedy’s deftly delivered character assassination on the Senate floor and Kennedy’s instinctive understanding of how to leverage a liberally-leaning media to his advantage.

Perception: The rich don’t pay their fair share of taxes

This issue is a staple calling card for Democrats, who continually imply that all wealthy entities—Republicans, mainly—duck, dodge and otherwise avoid their responsibility to pay the taxes they rightfully owe. Democrats are only too happy to put forth the idea that rich Republicans use all manner of shady, questionable tax loopholes to evade their tax obligations, thereby forcing the “average guy” (who doesn’t have access to sophisticated, expensive tax advisors) to shoulder the burden of paying the majority of the nation’s taxes. This overall sentiment is summed up perfectly by leading Democrats as they cite their favorite example, their proposed “Buffet Rule.” Democrats claim that billionaire investor Warren Buffet pays a lower percentage in income taxes than his secretary, so there should be a “rule” that above some arbitrary income level, a so-called “rich” person must pay an arbitrarily-set high percentage of income tax—above the percentage that a secretary would ever pay. That Rule, say the Democrats, will ensure that the rich always pay their fair share, which as everyone knows they’re not paying now. That’s the perception.

Reality: The reality, of course, is that the rich are paying their fair share and more. Far from a disproportionate amount of tax burden falling on the low-to-middle income wage earners, the rich pay the vast majority of taxes in this country, “loopholes” and “accounting tricks” notwithstanding. As seen here, the top 10% of wage earners pay over 70% of Federal Income Taxes. When the Bernie Sanders of the world say, “We’ve got to make sure the rich pay their fair share,” that’s just code-speak for raising taxes on the upper income earners to fund more Democratic vote-buying Government handout programs. The reality, of course, is that Democrats are never in favor of raising taxes in order to buy more F-22s; they want to raise taxes on “the rich” in order to fund more social spending programs, which will influence votes in the Democrats’ favor.

Conclusion: These are all completely different cases, but the common thread among them is that the facts of each circumstance are wildly at odds with the popular perception of them. In each situation, an erroneous, inaccurate version of reality was deliberately and fraudulently forced upon the public by partisan factions in order to shape popular opinion and manufacture support for a favored political position.

The exponential growth in the past decade of alternative news sources and social media beyond the traditional network TV news broadcasts and major big-city newspapers is a double-edged sword. While one can certainly ferret out more detailed and balanced information on any given topic by exercising some rigid intellectual discipline along with healthy doses of skepticism and common sense, there is an even bigger rise in the easy availability of rumor-, innuendo- and agenda-driven “news.” This makes the danger greater than ever that inaccurate perception-based stories will become popularly accepted as authentic, while the reality of the situation—either less interesting or not as convenient a fit into a pre-determined narrative—fades unceremoniously into the background.

Yes it must be tres jolie to fly to Paris and save the world from a possible 1.8 C increase in temperature over a multi-decade period. And then indulge in some of the City of LIght’s notorious (and no doubt notoriously expensive) temptations. But we shouldn’t assume that climate lobbyists and experts are quite at the level of a Dominique Strauss-Kahn. They may even be rather self-righteous zealots, in their own way.

Here’s the thing though. The future of environmental guidelines, rules, regulations, laws, by-laws, penalties, and general brow-beating may not be determined in places like Paris or Washington going forward. At least not in America.

Andrew Cuomo has launched a pledge (to go along with a presidential bid most likely in oh say 2+ years) to unite Jerry Brown’s California and Washington State under a set of regulations that will promise substantial reductions in emissions over the coming years. They will be the Three Musketeers of Climate Change, clasping hands in a holy trinity in order to save the exiled Prince’s Clean Power Plan.

You know something Andrew? Go for it! If your voters in the good state of New York want to burden themselves with additional taxes and regulations in order to reduce emissions that may be contributing to a slight increase in temperature, then they have that constitutional right. As a proud state in the United States of America.

And if the voters of the good state of West Virginia for example see otherwise and plan to support America’s withdrawal from the Paris Accord, ca c’est parfait aussi. Sure, Senate ratification – something Obama skipped because it would have been voted down and something Trump could theoretically use to deep six the Paris Accord – is a constitutional guarantee that any treaty has to have broad support. But how about if environmental standards became mostly a state matter?

Yes, pollution flows across state lines, but imagine trying to establish the level of a fine based on scientific estimates of what level of pollutants are estimated to have moved from somewhere inland – like Ohio – to say New York. Breaking News! Pollutants are now over Newfoundland! Canada demands reparations! Ohio tells them to get lost! Also happening right now! Juarez and El Paso sue each other!

Environmentalists would have us feel guilty for drought in Somalia. And give 70% of what we have to cure the problem, and give a few private-client bankers in Zurich some new customers. Everything is connected. Especially in Zurich.

How about instead, every state in America decides it’s own level of environmental regulations? Gasps of horror and denouncements from progressives/environmentalists. You can’t do that! Well, Cuomo just did. Didn’t he?

Donald Rumsfeld was right. Europe is old. Perhaps not as old a culture as China’s, for example. But the continent is buried beneath its history, its wars, its dead. And that means all the ghosts that haunt Europe often cause European states individually and collectively to fight the last war. So the question is: is Europe’s denial (not every country in Europe but a clear majority of Western European states) of the fact that they are at war with islamic terrorism a reflection of the fact that they’re still haunted by the Cold War?

Or WW II?

It may just be that is the earlier conflict that still defines European policy on all sorts of levels. Remember, while the Cold War divided Europe, it was largely fought by the Soviets and America. As well as China of course, with the Korean and Vietnam Wars and countless other so-called proxy wars following from that basic conflict. So the main axis of the conflict was Washington – Moscow. It was WW II, however, that was fought directly by the Europeans before America and the Soviets intervened or were pulled into the conflict by Nazi attacks.

The EU exists to ensure that Germany – or Italy – will never be fascist again. That was the root cause of it’s founding. It’s raison d’etre. Think about it. The end of the Cold War and the reunification of Germany were near-simultaneous events – as measured by the pace of history. When the Berlin Wall fell the Soviet Union was essentially finished, about to crumble from the unsustainable cost of it’s worldwide campaign to promote communism by any means necessary. And once Germany was reunited, a deep discomfort crept through the EU all the while optimism was officially pronounced. It’s as if Germany doesn’t even really trust itself, and needs hypocrisy and evasion to justify its progressive social policies on issues like immigration.

Until those policies help create a crisis that includes an increased threat of terrorism within its borders. Like in France. Like in Belgium. Like in much of the founding members of the EU.

And like in the UK.

So we have had a rather forced and slightly desperate policy of multicultural inclusion in a continent drenched in prejudice and tradition and history, and so we naturally get multiculturalism in Europe done with a detached and hypocritical outlook. Imposed by the elites and by a fairly large percent of the population who support these progressive polices. Until now. You couldn’t, for example, talk about the challenges that large scale immigration produces or you were practically opening up the gates of Auschwitz. Until now, as Merkel’s government actually starts to quietly take up some of the oh-so-reviled policies on immigration that the far-right parties called for in their impressive but losing electoral battles.

And in the UK, in the aftermath of the bombing of tweens, teens, and children at a pop concert in Manchester, we have the elites – the media, the politicians, the chattering class – instructing people on how to behave. Once again. To mourn, to light candles, to cry. But never to blame. Unless themselves and their culture. Never to anger. Never to rage.

In a series of articles in the National Review, and in a very hard-hitting piece at spiked-online.com, the view is expressed that anger, rage, and a measured but deadly revenge are not things to be avoided at all cost. They are, in fact, the only response to what is the latest act of terror in a war. With the UK, for example, targeting with extreme prejudice (to use a Vietnam-era military term) the safe havens from where terrorists often plan and train, a very strong message would be sent. But it’s more than any specific tactics. It’s how to acknowledge the fury one feels at each latest attack. And how in the words of Brendan O’Neill:

If the massacre of parents and their children on a fun night out doesn’t make you feel rage, nothing will. The terrorist has defeated you. You are dead already.

Let NATO heads of state smirk as President Trump reminds them who pays for much of their security. Let commentators blame the West and islamophobia for the crazed terrorist ideology that kills soft targets or flies planes into buildings. The West is at war with radical islamic terror. And war requires strong military action. Not another Iraq War. Not another endless Afghan campaign. But devastating tactical strikes, where possible. And it’s ok to be really f__ing mad.