Saturday, February 17, 2018

By all means, let's end interference in other people's elections

While I share every decent Americans disgust with Russian meddling in our elections, let's stop pretending that we are opposed to meddling in elections, generally. The United States meddles in other peoples' selections routinely, and has done so since 1892.

Democrats do it, Republicans do it, liberals do it, rightwing fascists do it. It is the Hokey Pokey of American foreign policy, everybody sticks his foot in.

Do Americans believe in democracy? You would have to say no, not at all.
Kingdom of Hawaii, Mexico, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Panama, Colombia, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Egypt, Greece, Italy, France, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Japan, South Korea, China, the Philippines, all of the Federated States of Micronesia, Indonesia, South Vietnam, North Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Ethiopia, South Africa, Congo, Mali, Nigeria.

Those are just a few of the places where we know the United States interfered profoundly in the government processes of the local people. We didn't always interfere in elections in those places; not all those places have elections. But we interfered all right and, if we knew more about the deep state than we do know, the list probably could be extended to every nation on earth.

So by every method that we could imagine, let us forestall interference in our own government by outsiders, but forget the moral preening. The United States government has done far far worse than any Russian trolls operating out of St. Petersburg, than any Macedonian teenagers, than anybody.

It is the goal of Restating the Obvious to restate what others have already said elsewhere. I believe  this post says something you will not find, or at least not easily find stated by any American.

But guess what? The people that we interfere with know about it.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Can't get this hedline right






Tuesday, February 13, 2018

2 things that I cannot understand

1. Interim security clearance.

The whole concept of security clearances is a dog’s breakfast. To be any good at all, this system has to be close to 100% effective. That security clearances are nowhere near that effective is proven by the names Bradley Manning, Aldrich Ames, Klaus Fuchs etc.

However that may be, the concept of the interim security clearance is like giving Willie Sutton the keys to the bank vault. You'll remember Willie Sutton. He was the Depression era robber who, when asked why he robbed banks, said, "That's where the money is.”

Rob Porter’s interim clearance is akin to a bank manager’s saying to Willie Sutton: "Well Mr. Sutton, you dress well and appear to have good manners. I'm sure you are a fine fellow. We do not just give the keys to our vault to anyone but I feel confident in leaving these with you. I know you won't betray me.”

2. Temporary protected status that is permanent.

Again, the concept itself is something of a dog’s breakfast, at least as it relates to Haiti.

When a big earthquake hit that country Haitians who happened to be in the United States, just visiting, were told they could stay.

Why they would want to stay is a question. Most people, when their property is at risk, cannot wait to get back to it to protect or perhaps to rebuild it. We have seen, following fires in California and floods in Texas, that sheriff’s deputies had to be stationed outside the destroyed areas to keep people from going back too soon.

You would think that the Haitians would want to go back to protect their property.

Some years ago I was talking with a friend who had been a missionary in Bolivia, and he was saying that a wealthy acquaintance of his who collected antique airplanes had asked him if, while he was traveling about the back roads of Bolivia, he would keep an eye open for any 1930s era Aeronca or similar plane that perhaps had been left in a barn and was untouched. My friend the missionary said that his wealthy friend did not understand what it means to be poor.

“If anyone had left an airplane in a barn, the local people would've dismantled it and used the pieces to put roofs on their houses."

It has been many years since Haitians who have temporary protected status in the United States have been back to their homes, presumably; but if they do go back they are not likely to find anything.

I suppose that's an argument for allowing them to continue to stay in the United States, but it looks more like a misstep by our government, setting up these people to lose their property to squatters or local government authorities or whoever will end up in possession of it down there.


It is not obvious why being a wife beater would mean an applicant could not get a security clearance. Thinking over all of the incidents, going back to the Dreyfus affair, when people were exposed for having revealed government secrets, I cannot recall any where wifebeating was an issue.

Wifebeating is bad but it is not the sort of thing that signals that a person will likely or possibly steal secrets. Money, sexual entitlements, ideology, carelessness, resentment about not getting promoted -– these are all things that have led men and women to betray their country's secrets.

Wifebeating is a character defect that probably disqualifies anyone from a position that requires judgment, but that is not my understanding of what a security clearance is about. It is not about judgment but about the likelihood that someone would willingly or under the duress of blackmail spill the beans.

UPDATE Wednesday

Politico now reports that another White House staffer has been told he cannot get a security clearance.

 George David Banks, who had served since February 2017 as special assistant to the president for international energy and environmental policy, told POLITICO that he was informed by the White House counsel’s office Tuesday that his application for a permanent clearance would not be granted over his past marijuana use.

This confirms for me that the security clearance review system is nonsense.

It has failed spectacularly in the past as in the case of Aldrich Ames. There is no reason to believe that previous marijuana use is a predictor of future leaking of secrets. I think it is time to dust off Voltaire's old battle cry and apply it to the process of security clearances: Ecrasez l'infame!

Monday, February 5, 2018

Not nearly good enough

The serious press -- Times, Post, LA Times, Bloomberg -- is calling the "sanctions" against Wells Fargo a stunning example of serious repercussions for criminality at Wells Fargo.

Stunning is right, as I didn't expect anything, but serious, no. (As I write this, Todd Zwillich on "The Takeaway" is calling it calling "rare and remarkable.") You'd get more time for stealing hubcaps.

Let us be clear about this. Wells Fargo is a thief. As Woody Guthrie said about Pretty Boy Floyd,                          
                                     "Some will rob you with a six-gun,
                                     And some with a fountain pen."

When hubcap stealers come before a judge for sentencing, they often offer a statement of remorse. Most judges, if they think the remorse real and/or sufficient, will sentence more lightly because of that.

If the Times' background report is accurate, the Wells leaders showed no remorse at all. Not even any sense that what they had done was wrong.

 Executives had convinced themselves last year that they were out of the woods, according to the people familiar with their thinking, who were not authorized to speak publicly about interactions with regulators. But that illusion was shattered in September, when Ms. Yellen said the bank remained under investigation.In early January, Wells officials heard from the Fed that the central bank planned to impose stiff new penalties.

Executives were furious that the proposed sanctions seemed more draconian than those imposed on banks that nearly cratered the global economy a decade earlier, according to people familiar with the thinking of top bank executives.
And, of course, as RtO has explained many times, from their point of view, they hadn't done anything wrong. What they had done was merely what had to be done to compete with other banks, which were (and remain) equally thievish.

The government caved.

After an opening round of talks, Wells concluded that the Fed was not likely to budge on its central demand: that the bank put the brakes on any growth until it proved that its governance was substantially improved. That meant the bank would not be able to increase the assets — like loans or investments — it was holding above its current level of about $2 trillion.

Wells wanted wiggle room. Executives negotiated to have the assets calculated over a rolling two-quarter average. That meant they could swell above $2 trillion at times, as long as they dropped lower at other times.

With a bank as big and as multifaceted as Wells, that means no cap at all. Wells will be able to conceal growth over a 6-month window. 

The replacement of directors punishes nobody.

So, window-dressing but nothing more.

Watch this space. There will be more Wells scandals.

After my earlier post where I suggested Wells have its charter revoked, I sent a copy to Sen. Schatz. After a time, he replied:

Thank you for contacting me about the revelations that Wells Fargo unlawfully created millions of unauthorized accounts under the names of customers without their knowledge and consent.  I agree that Wells Fargo's actions are deeply troubling, and I appreciate your sharing your blog post with me.

On October 3, 2017, I had the opportunity to question Wells Fargo CEO Timothy Sloan when he came before the Senate Banking Committee.  During that hearing, I asked whether the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency should review and possibly revoke Wells Fargo's banking charter in light of its many consumer abuses and violations of U.S. banking law.  I was extremely disappointed that Mr. Sloan's answer was essentially that Wells Fargo was too big to punish.  I remain very concerned that the size and concentration of our banking system makes it difficult to enforce important laws and regulations that protect consumers.  I am also not convinced that Wells Fargo has done enough to address problems with its corporate culture and internal governance.  To view my questioning of Mr. Sloan, please click here. 

I will remain vigilant to ensure adequate rules and oversight are in place to protect consumers.  As the Senate conducts its legislative and oversight duties to address unscrupulous banking practices, I will keep your thoughts in mind.  Mahalo again for contacting me.

I consider this a satisfactory response, for a senator.  The Senate is not where action should be taken.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Want extra stupid with that?

It is not a simple thing to select the stupidest statement of the day from the rightwing. The competition is fierce.

But on some days, the fog clears. Such a day was last Friday. The defense ministers of the United States and South Korea met in Hawaii. The American, Mattis, said something so spectacularly stupid that it is hard to imagine anything stupider:

“The international pressure campaign [against North Korea] must continue,” Mattis declared, adding that “our aim remains a complete and verifiable and irreversible de-nuclearization (CVID) of the Korean Peninsula.”
I think it is adorable of the general to enshrine his stupidity in an acronym. 

You're cute when you're stupid

It should not be necessary to state what is so stupid about this, but since the statement seems to have been received complacently, perhaps it is.

The North Koreans could scrap their atomic bombs, and the South Koreans are not supposed to have any.

Now, it happens that by official county policy, Maui County is a nuclear-free zone (not that the national government pays any attention). But as we saw with the missile alert, the point of being safe from atom bombs lies not in the launching point but the landing point. The North Koreans are aware that the CVID of Korea itself means zip, since the United States has thousands of missiles in America and on submarines that are just as much a threat as if they were parked at Osan, (the big American air base in South Korea).
Perfectly safe here

What the North Koreans heard Mattis say was, "Our policy is that North Korea must disarm unilaterally." 

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Drunk and disorderly

The Financial Times, of all people, reports on bad behavior at a London charity fundraiser for men only.

I have a number of things to say about it, but all inside baseball, if my readers will indulge me.

First, this shocking behavior is no more than what the women at Maui's hostess bars experience all the time. (Aside: I have been told that Maui's Korean bars are slowly expiring for lack of business. My informant could not tell me if the customers have found something new or whether they are just dying of old age, without the younger men's being inclined to spend money drinking that way.)

Second, if anyone is going to lose his (or her) job over this, it ought to be the editors of Britain's famously salacious tabloids, who somehow missed this juicy story.

Third, the Financial Times surely needed some tabloid help in presentation. The racy bits were buried many paragraphs deep.

Fourth, I am astonished that the lineup of hostesses was all hostesses. Is there a like event for presidents who prefer good-looking boys? In England, I would think that would attract more donors.

Monday, January 22, 2018

All you need to know about Republicans in 13 words

Republicans think that allowing sick children to receive medical treatment is a concession.