Category Archives: Political Banter

We take a level headed, logical, point of view on the political state of America and abroad. We discuss ideas and a better way forward.

The Right Side of History on Torture

I’ve said a lot of things on this blog. Some of which I was dead wrong about and some of which I was right on the money.

I was right about torture and “enhanced interrogation” when I wrote about it three years ago: Every Intellectually Honest American Should Agree: Stop Torture and I think it is worth another read.

Here is a great thread about the latest declassified CIA documents on torture (including the fact that it doesn’t work) on reddit.

The State of the Media

There is a lot going on right now. ISIS, Ebola, Russia, Ferguson, Roits (or protests depending on your view), the militarization of the policy, racism, the list goes on.

Had this been a year or two ago, when I was fired up about politics, I would have a lot to say on the matter. But these days I find myself more and more disinterested in the things that they try to sell us on the television.

I feel like these incidents live and die with each news cycle, with a few twitter hastags, a viral video or two, then they’re gone. Sometimes they come back if the news cycle is slow – other times we never hear another thing about it.

Propaganda, Divide and Conquer

The news is disheartening to me these days. Not because there aren’t interesting things to dissect, but rather because there are too few people actually trying to dissect it. Pretty much everyone takes what they see on TV at face value and regurgitates the standard talking points – dependent upon their perspective political, racial, of social leanings. The truth, more often than not, goes unseen.

I just feel like someone is always pushing an agenda rather than reporting the news. To me, there shouldn’t be such a disparity between MSNBC and Fox News. When did it become acceptable to blatantly support a political party, and moreover, report the news that way? When the media starts pushing an agenda news immediately becomes propaganda – and propaganda is dangerous.

I guess I just want people to at least watch news in that light. With an understanding that everything we see is about an ideological agenda. There is no reporting. All we have now is organizations who are paid to entertain the masses, increase ad revenue, manufacture drama to the highest magnitude possible, and ensure that their listeners have to pick a side.

None of this can be healthy for the country.

IRS Email Scandal – Does Sonasoft reveal what happened?

Today I was reading Sonasoft’s blog post denying that they have the IRS’s email archives and I noticed a few nuances that I wanted to point out. Their main point that is repeated several times is as follows:

“Sonasoft does NOT have IRS email. Sonasoft NEVER had access to IRS email.”

This is interesting because they stress that Sonasoft does not currently have IRS email (which is true) and that they never had ACCESS to IRS email. They do not say that they “never had” IRS email or that the email wasn’t archived – only that they did not have access. Presumably because the IRS was using a Sonasoft product (SonaVault) and not the Sonasoft arching service.

I believe that this is just another instance of performative language that is “legally accurate”, but purposely deceiving. They never deny that data was deleted or archived on their servers.

The “access” language is interesting to me because I believe Sonasoft is attempting to tell everyone what likely happened.

Sonasoft has safeguards and special algorithms to protect the SonaVault Email Archive from mischievous IT administrators who might be tempted to delete or tamper with the archived email. Any attempt to delete or modify the SonaVault email archive will capture the altered text, date stamp the attempt, and send out various alerts to IT personnel and management that an attempted breach occurred; the original email will not be changed in any way. The only way that email can be deleted from the archive is through SonaVault’s expiration policies. The Administrator can set retention policies to purge the archive of emails that have reached an expiration date, which is often set to be a seven-year period.

Basically, as I read it, Sonasoft is saying that they did not have access (i.e., did not have admin access to change the policy settings), but it is probable that an IRS admin did. Which is what I think happened. Someone inside the IRS was probably told to change the configurations to dump email archives.

Sonasoft also gives us the key to finding out who deleted the files right in the blog post:

There are many options to safeguard expired email, and purging the email requires several steps so that email cannot be ‘accidentally’ deleted. In addition, all purge policies are recorded and become part of the permanent log that cannot be tampered with.

They key to understanding who deleted the IRS emails and by extension who ordered the files to be deleted is in the administrative logs. A savvy lawyer should subpoena the administrative logs, determine which administrator changed the configuration settings to delete the archived emails, and determine who made the decision to do so.

Why A One-Size-Fits-All Minimum Wage Doesn’t Work For America

It seems to me that federally enforced on-size-fits-all minimum wage legislation is an ineffective way for policy makers to improve the standard of living for this country’s people.

I completely agree that something needs to be done. There are a thousand different ways we could improve the standard of living for the entire country. Simple and effective ways we could close the income gap between the richest and the poorest among us, but $10.10 an hour isn’t one of them. Frankly, it’s lazy policy making.

$10.10 an hour means different things in different parts of the country:

I think it is difficult for people in different parts of the country to understand what $10.10 an hour means to one another. Someone in New York City probably thinks that $10.10 an hour is slave wages while someone in Jackson, Mississippi (capital of MS) probably considers $10.10 an hour a livable wage. That is because the average cost of living varies wildly from region to region in the United States.

Average Cost of Living

Housing Prices Vary Wildly Across Major Cities: 

We can quickly compare median sales prices for homes across the country (source):

City Median Sale Price
Manhattan, NY $1,175,000
Jackson, MS $184,502
Seattle, WA $435,000
Atlanta, GA $245,000
San Francisco, CA $945,000

Gas Prices Vary Wildly Across Major Cities: 

We can quickly compare gas prices across the country (source)

City Regular Mid Premium Diesel
Manhattan, NY $4.052 $4.216 $4.354 $4.479
Jackson, MS $3.440 $3.642 $3.812 $3.737
Seattle, WA $4.035 $4.152 $4.255 4.109
Atlanta, GA $3.692 $3.871 $4.045 $3.893
San Francisco, CA $4.225 $4.342 $4.440 $4.291

Note: There are similar variances for food and clothing costs.

It is important to realize that these major variances are across major cities. If you compare rural areas to cities the variance is even more dramatic. So why does anyone expect a one-sized-fits-all minimum wage to work across the country?

The Solution: A Livable Wage that Fits

If we want to increase the minimum wage it seems like we need to make an effort to understand what that wage is in each part of country. We should not pick a number that everyone is expected to implement across the board. The country is to diverse for that to be successful.

What may be a fit for Seattle, WA would probably be overly burdensome to businesses in Jackson, MS. What may work in Jackson, MS would probably be insufficient in Manhattan, NY. So why do we treat wages the same when costs across the country are provably and undeniably different? This makes no sense to me.

Instead, it seems like we should empower our communities and local policy makers to actin the best interest of their constituents by providing the people living there with critical data and information to make better decisions for themselves. And if we are going to implement something federally (which I don’t think we should) – shouldn’t we at least make an effort to make it work for everyone?

We are a great country because of our diversity. There is something, somewhere, for everyone. We have always embraced that mantra. I don’t think we should stop now.

The Indoctrination Process

Six children and one women sitting in a circle holding hands. There heads were bowed and the women was mumbling softly. The children paid close attention.  As I jogged by the group one child looked up at me, almost afraid to be caught, with one eye barely squinting open, and immediately returned to the correct posture.

I slowed my jog to a walk so I could see the events unfold in more detail. In the front yard of the old house there was a small television with cartoon characters in the same posture as the women and children. I noticed that the children’s mouths were mumbling at the same cadence and volume as their teacher’s, but I couldn’t make out the words.

It was a vacation bible school camp. One just like the kind I had attended dozens of times as a child too.

In retrospect I remember all of the things I was taught as a child. How I was taught to think and not think. Not to question, to have faith without evidence, and to obey authority. The cost of disobedience was worse than death. Hell. My parents, grandparents, and the rest of my family enforced these ideas too. I believed it all without question.

When I think of it now this seems so unfair. It is such an obvious process of indoctrination that I can barely believe that such an institution, in its present form, exists at all. The use of authority, media, entertainment, and group-think to ingrain a since of loyalty  and respect to an organization and its belief system.

When you think about it, it’s not too different than how any society works. Even here in the land of the free.

“The use of authority, media, entertainment, and group-think to ingrain a since of loyalty  and respect to an organization and its belief system.”

Patriotism enforced by a since of community , unlimited hours of (un)reality TV available for consumption, a media network that pumps ideas into the psyche of the public, and a since that we owe it all to those in charge. We hold our leaders up like infallible idols – as long as they belong to the correct political party. A false since of choice.

This form of indoctrination works. It has been and continues to be used. We just can’t recognize it because we are part of the process. But once you recognize that such a thing exists it’s a lot easier to be yourself. Not what they told you to be.

The Economics of Compounded Growth

Our economy slowly grows at around 4% a year. This is a given. An expectation. Anything less is seen as a failure, anything more is an achievement.

I read an article today that did a good job of putting that kind of growth into perspective.

“Let us imagine that in 3030BC the total possessions of the people of Egypt filled one cubic metre. Let us propose that these possessions grew by 4.5% a year. How big would that stash have been by the Battle of Actium in 30BC? This is the calculation performed by the investment banker Jeremy Grantham(1).
The trajectory of compound growth shows that the scouring of the planet has only just begun. We simply can’t go on this way.

Go on, take a guess. Ten times the size of the pyramids? All the sand in the Sahara? The Atlantic ocean? The volume of the planet? A little more? It’s 2.5 billion billion solar systems(2).”

This idea makes me wonder: Where is our breaking point? Where is the point in which we can’t sustain growth any longer? And what is our contingency plan?

I don’t know. Maybe we are already there. Maybe technology will let us keep going further than any of us ever dreamed. I don’t claim to know, but it’s certainly something we should all consider.

Problems and Solutions to the Broken Healthcare System

My wife and I recently had a little girl. Until that moment I had never been exposed to the healthcare and insurance ecosystem. I have been fortunate. I’ve never had an extended stay at the hospital, I’ve never been on prescription medication, and as an adult, I have never been to the doctor outside a checkup. Now I realize that the system is completely convoluted and non-transparent.

From what I can tell there are four major problems with the healthcare and insurance mechanisms.

1. Prices for healthcare services are unavailable, non-existent, or not published.
2. There is no crowd-sourced ratings system for hospitals (think yelp for hospitals).
3. Since everyone is insured no one cares about cost. This has resulted in higher prices.
4. The people have no power to control the quality or cost of the healthcare services.

These four problems ultimately result in a system that is too expensive, low quality, and where the people have no power to do anything about it.

Here are my proposed solutions:

1. Pricing for healthcare services are unavailable, non-existent, or not published.

Require all hospitals post itemized prices for their goods and services. Every procedure should have an itemized “menu” outlining what the procedure may cost. Since any given procedure is highly variable the menu should include “average cost”, “best case”, “most likely”, and “worst case” scenarios.

The menu should also include things like bandages, medication, and anything else a hospital could use to inadvertently pad the bill.  Great hospitals should even consider hiring a “budget specialist” who discusses costs and options with each patient.

These menus should be posted online and available before he procedure. This will allow individuals and insurance companies to shop around for a facility that meets the individuals’ need. This will also drive prices down since hospitals will be forced to compete based on price (or provide superior service to justify higher prices).

I would not eat at a restaurant that didn’t post prices so I should not have to receive healthcare services without prices either.

2. There is no crowd-sourced ratings system for hospitals (think yelp.com for hospitals).

There should be a crowd-sourced ratings system for hospitals. In my opinion this would have been a much better investment than healthcare.gov. When hospitals are forced to compete for business based on price and services the consumer benefits. Prices will ultimately fall and service will rise.

For example, in Atlanta there are several major hospitals in the metro area. For most procedures I have no idea what a service cost or who the best service provider may be. I usually just go to the closest major hospital. I imagine most people do the same thing.

A rating system would enable a consumer to quickly and easily search for a service provider based on thousands of consumer ratings. Ultimately a sick person cannot choose if they want to go to the hospital, but they can choose which hospital they visit. The power of consumer choice based on good information will ultimately force hospitals to compete.

3. Since everyone is insured no one cares about prices. This has resulted in higher prices.

The third major problem I see with the healthcare system are insurance companies.

Healthcare prices are so complex and expensive (for reason listed above) that no one can or wants to deal with it. We defer all responsibility to our insurers. Now, with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) we have no choice anyways. Ultimately this leads to a system where no one cares about prices because they will be paying the same insurance premium regardless. But this is a false premise.

Because no one cares about prices and live under the illusion that their costs are the same there is no incentive to seek more cost effective solutions. People rarely look at their hospital bill and pay whatever the insurer requires. This ultimately leads to higher healthcare costs and higher healthcare insurance premiums.

Healthcare insurers should provide incentives (lower insurance premiums) to individuals who shop around for better prices and value. This would ultimately lower insurance prices and force hospitals to compete again.

4. The people have no power to control the quality or cost of the healthcare services they receive. 

The biggest problem with our healthcare system is that the people receiving the services have no power to control prices or the quality of service they receive. The appropriate infrastructure is not in place. All of the power resides with the insurance companies and healthcare providers.

Insurance companies operate as powerful unions who dictate what they will pay a hospital for a given good or service. Insurance companies have large staff who perform complex pricing studies so they understand what people are paying and how much a product SHOULD cost regardless what a hospital charges.

This results in hospitals charging several times market value for a given good or service because they fully expect the insurance company to pay only a small fraction of that amount. Meanwhile: the consumer is screwed, hospitals charge too much, and insurance companies reek most of the profits.

Obamacare:

Obamacare has only served to strengthen this broken system by further empowering insurance companies and disenfranchising the individual. Since EVERYONE is now forced to have healthcare insurance this eliminates any opportunity for individuals to negotiate or bargain for themselves.

Ultimately, we live in a system where the insurance companies dictate how much they will pay hospitals and how much they will charge consumers. Meanwhile, there has been no progress toward a system that promotes competition, dives prices down, or leads to better services.

Should we be worried about Climate Change?

With all of the media-created controversy about global warming I can’t see past the propaganda to form an opinion.  It seems like every climate change discussion is a prize fight between two entertainers (i.e., not scientist).

I get lost in the entertainment and can’t decipher the facts from the manufactured drama. It makes the whole topic of climate change seem like a farce. If we are really on the verge of death it seems like someone would stand up and say “Stop everything!” That hasn’t happened.

If things are as bad as climate activist would have us believe then why aren’t world leaders like President Obama taking monumental steps toward protecting the nation’s interests? There should be an immediate and mandatory ban on global emissions, all military and civilian resources should be dedicated to building flood barriers, creating alternative energy, and growing food reserves. None of this has happened.

Instead, even the most liberal politicians, have done nothing. We still protect oil pipelines in the middle east, we still have highest GDP on earth, and our economy still functions as the largest producer of pollution making machines (tanks, cars, and airplanes) on earth. That seems pretty anti-environmentalist if you ask me.

There are too many mixed messages and I think that is why so many people do not take climate change seriously. And for the average non-climate-change-scientist it is almost impossible to form an educated opinion.

I honestly do not know what to believe. I do not know if climate change is man-made or just part of the normal life-cycle of mother nature. I don’t even know if there is anything we can do about it.

The military passes a financial audit for the first time

For the first time since 1990, when the Congress approved the Chief Financial Officers Act, which among other things, required all federal agencies and departments to produce what would be regarded as a clean financial statement on their budgets, a branch of the U.S. military passed a financial audit.

As reported by Jamie Dupree:

“It was the first time any branch of the military service had been given an “unqualified favorable audit” for being able to show where billions in funding had gone.

Let me repeat that – it was the first time that any part of the service had been able to fully account for where all of its money was spent.”

This begs the question: What are the consequences for committing fraud, failing audits, and abusing tax dollars? Apparently nothing. What is the point of an audit if there is no enforcement?

Government Sanctioned Torture & Murder

The American political class is morally bankrupt. Many are guilty of crimes of greater magnitude and scope than almost any criminal you may find in the penitentiary. Among their crimes are theft, eavesdropping, deceit, murder, and torture. But such is the culture of immunity among the American political and financial elite that no one is punished for these crimes. 

Torture

Why is it so easy for individuals from all sides of the political spectrum to discuss abortion,  same-sex marriage, or other distractionary topics but ignore other blatant crimes against humanity directly committed by the political elite? Perhaps more puzzling is why the media spends countless hours discussing these type of issues while simultaneously ignoring reports of torture and murder committed by the individuals we elected to uphold the law.

In fact, leaked reports and declassified memos have revealed the horrifying extent that torture has been used, illegally, by the United States military and the CIA in the past two decades. However; most people have never heard about any of it.

For example, in his book “With Liberty and Justice for Some” Glenn Greenwald notes  a few of cases of documented and confirmed torture:

“…a new report that found that U.S. personnel tortured and abused detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, using beatings, electrical shocks, sexual humiliation and other cruel practices…

…One forty-six-page memo from OLC chief Steven Bradbury dated May 10, 2005, authorized the following acts to be performed on ‘high-value detainees’: forced nudity, dietary manipulation involving minimum caloric intake, corrective techniques such as facial and abdominal slapping, water dousing, stress positions designed to induce muscle fatigue and the attendant discomfort, and sleep deprivation…

…[One detainee] Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times in March 2003 and Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded 83 times in August 2002…

…[Other torture] techniques included walling, cramped confinement, and insects placed in a confinement box…”

What is worse, as Greenwald notes, many of these detainees were held for years without trial. Even more frightening some of the individuals held and tortured were completely innocent!

“Of the fifty-nine detainees who so far have had their habeas cases heard in federal court, thirty-eight of them have won. In other words, in almost two-thirds of the cases reviewed, the courts ruled that there was no credible evidence to justify the detention.”

Perhaps some people find it morally acceptable to overlook the crimes committed by the state since it was against “terrorist”, but even if you believe that how can you justify what happened to innocent men. And shouldn’t the Government be obliged to at least prove guilt beforehand?

Murder

Perhaps more frightening than the numerous documented cases of illegal torture are the instances of fatality due to those same techniques. “The Human Rights Watch researcher John Sifton has documented that approximately 100 detainees, including CIA-held detainees, have died during U.S. interrogations and some are known to have been tortured to death.” [1]

Drone Strikes

Beyond the cases of detainees being tortured to death are the numerous cases of civilians that have been inadvertently or purposely killed during U.S. drone strikes.

drone war

One Pakistani Government report noted that at least 67 civilians have been killed by U.S. drone strike since 2008. [2] In another report Washington Post report noted that, “in Yemen, Human Rights Watch investigated six selected airstrikes since 2009 and concluded that at least 57 of the 82 people killed were civilians, including a pregnant woman and three children who perished in a September 2012 attack.” [3][4]  That is 150 innocent lives in just two countries – two countries we are not at war with!

One may argue that these are casualties of war, but no war has been declared by congress. In fact, many of the drone strikes are not controlled by the military at all, but by the CIA. So are these simply casualties of war or a dangerous signal of a U.S. drone program gone rogue?

Sadly, these crimes are just a sliver of what we can prove and do not even begin to address the vast amount of information not available to the public.  It is frightening to even imagine the true scope of Government murder and torture. It is perhaps more frightening to imagine how history will judge our country, but what can we do?

What can we do?

We can start by paying attention. We can stop being detracted. Forget about Duck Dynasty, Candy Crush, Facebook, and the next holiday shopping session for a while. Stop allowing yourself to be distracted while the elites steal from you and your children. Demand justice, oversight, and investigation. Demand representatives that actually represent your interests. We deserve more.

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