Saturday, April 18, 2015

We Simply Cannot Be Alive and Give Up...

Why I Require FBI Agents to Visit the Holocaust Museum -  By James B. Comey

The writer is director of the FBI.

This commentary is adapted from a speech given Wednesday at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s 2015 National Tribute Dinner.

I believe that the Holocaust is the most significant event in human history. And I mean “significant” in two different ways.

It is, of course, significant because it was the most horrific display in world history of inhumanity, one that simply defies words and challenges meaning. I was born into an Irish Catholic family in this great, wonderful and safe country, but the Holocaust has always haunted me, and it has long stood as a stumbling block to faith.

How could such a thing be? How is that consistent with the concept of a loving God? How is that in any way reconcilable with the notion of a God with a role in human history? How could there possibly be meaning in life, when so many lives were snuffed out in such a fashion?

I have asked those questions since I was a young teenager. I have asked them my entire life. I asked the same questions standing in the pit at Ground Zero in early 2002. I have asked those questions many times as I have confronted unimaginable suffering and loss.

And I know I am in good company asking such questions. Last month, on a flight home from Eastern Europe, I reread Viktor Frankl’s wrenching “Man’s Search for Meaning,” in which he seeks to find meaning in suffering and loving, among other things.

And going much farther back, back before I was a religious studies major in college, I recalled the voice from the whirlwind in the Book of Job, rebuking us for even asking the question “Why?” “How dare you!” the voice seems to say. “It is not for you to ask, it is not for you to know.”

And yet I ask, as so many of us do. And I still don’t know.

But I do know this: I know it is our duty, our obligation, to make sure some good comes from unimaginable bad. Not so we can comfort ourselves by saying, “Oh, that was worth it then.” That’s nonsense. That would be perverse. It will never be “worth it.”

Instead, I believe it is simply our duty to do that, and I believe this is truth no matter where you come from on a philosophical or religious spectrum. Our obligation is to refuse to let bad win, to refuse to let evil hold the field. As Abraham Lincoln said on a field of unimaginable pain and loss, it is essential “that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain.” Our resolution does not justify the loss, but we simply cannot be alive and give up.

There are so many ways to fight evil to ensure it doesn’t hold the field. Some do this through public service that can involve actual physical battles against evil; others by different kinds of service, including the service of teaching a world what happened, teaching a world what is true.

The Holocaust was, as I said, the most horrific display in world history of inhumanity. But it was also the most horrific display in world history of our humanity, of our capacity for evil and for moral surrender.

And that second significance is the reason I require every new FBI special agent and intelligence analyst to go to the Holocaust Museum. Naturally, I want them to learn about abuse of authority on a breathtaking scale. But I want them to confront something more painful and more dangerous: I want them to see humanity and what we are capable of.

I want them to see that, although this slaughter was led by sick and evil people, those sick and evil leaders were joined by, and followed by, people who loved their families, took soup to a sick neighbor, went to church and gave to charity.

Good people helped murder millions. And that’s the most frightening lesson of all — that our very humanity made us capable of, even susceptible to, surrendering our individual moral authority to the group, where it can be hijacked by evil. Of being so cowed by those in power. Of convincing ourselves of nearly anything.

In their minds, the murderers and accomplices of Germany, and Poland, and Hungary, and so many, many other places didn’t do something evil. They convinced themselves it was the right thing to do, the thing they had to do. That’s what people do. And that should truly frighten us.

That is why I send our agents and our analysts to the Holocaust Museum. I want them to stare at us and realize our capacity for rationalization and moral surrender. I want them to walk out of that great museum treasuring the constraint and oversight of divided government, the restriction of the rule of law, the binding of a free and vibrant press. I want them to understand that all of this is necessary as a check on us because of the way we are. We must build it, we must know it and we must nurture it now, so that it can save us later. That is the only path to the responsible exercise of power.

(*FBI agents have been required to attend a "field trip" to the Holocaust Museum for years, Comey has continued this tradition).

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Securing the Homeland...

Do you know what the IRS does? Do you know what the Secret Service does? Do you know what the DEA does?

If you answered tax stuff, protect the president, and enforce drug laws - you would be mostly right.  As you may know, the IRS enforces healthcare laws, the Secret Service investigates counterfeiting crimes, and the DEA…well as far as I know they just do drug violations.

What about the Department of Homeland Security?  Created after 9/11 with bi-partisan support, it really was just a new administrative organization of other departments - with an overall head at the Cabinet level.  An abbreviated list of the departments that were put under "Homeland Security" would include:

Secret Service (protecting the President)
FEMA (disasters, federal emergency aid)
INS (Immigration and Naturalization)
TSA (Planes, trains, and well really mostly planes)
Customs (stuff coming in the country)
Coast Guard (I really thought they were part of the military)
Border Patrol (patrolling, protecting the border)

So, that all kind of makes sense.  We already had all these agencies, but some were under the US Treasury (which sounds weird, but back in the day, that was what needed protection, and they just stayed there), and the Department of Transportation (which builds highways and taxes gas…).

So, the new Department of Homeland Security would protect us from another 9/11 by focusing on who comes in the country (INS, TSA, Customs, Border Patrol, Coast Guard), what comes in the country (TSA, Customs, Border Patrol, Coast Guard), keeping the head of our government save (Secret Service), and that we could take care of national level problems (FEMA).

Good. Great.

ICE, Homeland Security Arrest More Than 1,200 in Nationwide Gang Raids

Wait what?

I happen to know that numerous federal law enforcement agencies (FBI, DEA, ATF, US Marshals) received calls a while back from HSI (Homeland Security Investigations) inviting them to participate in a nationwide "takedown."  HSI was looking for other agencies to offer up targets, i.e. people with warrants, fugitives, to be arrested.  The other agencies could suggest targets, and/or participate in the arrests.  I happen to know that some federal agencies declined.

I also happen to know that former ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) agents now consider themselves HSI agents (well, because that is what they are - they were transferred, and have no knowledge of how or what to do with immigration or customs), and they investigate crimes against children, violations of drug laws, violations of firearms laws, trafficking (within the US) in stolen property, fugitives, etc.  What do they NOT do - inspect cargo ships coming in, anything to do with immigrations, port security.

Homeland Security is an agency looking for a mission, and avoiding what we all think they do.

*For those who may have legitimate questions regarding 'So who does national gang cases?' - the answer is state and local law enforcement.  On the federal level the FBI targets criminal "organizations" or "criminal enterprises" - and the DEA or ATF would be involved to focus specifically on drugs or weapons violations.  The US Marshals do fugitives (they protect the court houses, so, well, they traditionally do fugitives too). Homeland Security may sound like a good title for doing "nationwide gang raids," but we already had agencies to do that - what we don't have, is enough people doing immigration and checking what is being brought in the country.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Media Bias...

Just a quick hit.  You know those really stupid article links that you find at the bottom of a "real news" website? Some you are not sure they are Ads until you click on them.  These were RIGHT BELOW THE HEADLINE articles on ABC news.  The ABC news we all grew up not watching (I was an NBC guy when there were just three).

I clicked on the Laura Bush article.  She was listed as one of the worst first ladies.  Why?  Because she supported George W. Bush.  That was the listed reason.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Wait, I Do Believe...

in evolution...

*although you could leave out the monkey, as there has never been any SCIENTIFIC evidence to lead one to believe humans came from anything other than other humans.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Agreements and Disagreements...

This is the blog post that I often start, and never finish.

Sometimes I find blog posts from blogs that no longer exist. That is, they were 'last updated June 2010.'  I always go to the first post of those blogs, read some of them, and then find that the blog was boring, or so centric to the writer that it just never got a following. Also, I think blog's and blogging exploded, and then rescinded with the advent of Twitter and Instagram (Blogger spellcheck refused to acknowledge Instagram as a word, but it recognizes Twitter, must be some linkage there).

Anyway, here are some random thoughts that will help push this blog further into the "I won't follow that one anymore" category, but this blog is for me, so...

I started reading Black Swan by Nassim Taleb.  It is along the lines of Blink, Outliers and is a follow up to Taleb's Fooled by Randomness, which is along the lines of Predictably Irrational.

I am only in the prologue.  And that is where I start to talk to myself (I inherited the talk-to-yourself-out-loud gene from my mother - I learned that during a run last week).

I often try to explain to people that a problem with the mainstream media is not just that they are mostly Leftists, and that they deny and diminish the effects of their Leftist-ism  - but that their Leftist-ism assumes wrong baselines and premises which they treat as fact, which leads others to assume the same.  This also happens with Rightwing media, but it is hard for me to always see those, since I am part of the Rightwing conspiracy to start with.  How many times have you heard a person on the Right admit, or allude, to the fact that we invaded Iraq because we knew Saddam Hussein had WMDs, and that we then didn't find them.  Here is the truth.  Were WMDs part of it?  Yes.  Was that all of it?  No.  But that is the baseline that people assume.

Anyway - back to Taleb.  A Black Swan is an unpredictable unforeseen event, with big consequences, that through hindsight we try to explain.  An example is the terrorist attacks on 9/11.  Or touch screen phones.  Huge society-changing 'events' that have changed the world we live in.  9/11 could have been prevented with locking cockpit doors.  But then, if the bad guys knew that the doors were locked, they would have done something else.  But the non-locking of cockpit doors lead to a simple takeover.  A solution would have been stronger cockpit security.  But instead…our world has changed.  The Department of Homeland Security was formed, massive military and non-military battles have been fought, countless lives lost, countless lives saved…its goes on and on.  9/11, a simple attack with a simple plan, a single event if you will, changed the world.

Anyway - back to Taleb.  In describing Black Swan events, Taleb lists the market crash of 1987.  Two things jumped out at me.  One, Taleb adds a parenthetical of "(and the more unexpected recovery)."  Unexpected?  Well, Taleb is not a financial guru.  Oh wait, he worked as "a practitioner of mathematical finance, a hedge fund manager, a derivatives trader, and is currently a scientific adviser at Universa Investments and the International Monetary Fund."  I would then submit a request to Taleb to give an historical example of a market crash (in the United States) that wasn't followed by a recovery.  I know, I know, we are currently on a very slow recovery - but that is my point, even with backwards-socialist-Keynsian economics ruling our day, the economy surges (though not without guaranteeing future crashes, thanks Congress).  The crash of 1987, put as simply as possible, was largely due to…well the system itself.  There were many factors, but once it starts - it is the system, the fear of loss (that was already assumed in the risk/price agreement), that causes the "crash."  What makes it unpredictable, is the timing.  The exact timing.  But what is predictable, is the recovery.  Unfortunately, another predictable event is more government regulation that intends to prevent something that it can't prevent, which then usually leads indirectly to another 'crash.'  My point to all of this was Taleb saying that the recovery was unexpected.  The market NOT recovering would have been unexpected.

Later, Taleb says that he disagrees with the followers of (Karl) Marx and Adam Smith: "the reason free markets work is because they allow people to be lucky, thanks to aggressive trial and error, not by giving rewards or "incentives" for skill." I would advise looking closer at Smith.  I do not believe that Smith said that all decisions made by free individuals were correct, I believe the idea is that over the long run, individuals do not make self-detrimental choices on purpose - rather, they are selfish, and in aggregate, on all levels of, and positions in, the market, people freely choosing what they believe is best for themselves, will serve society best.  The decisions are based on skill, but are not always the perfect decision. They include luck, risk, as Taleb himself said, trial and error.

For example, I choose to spend less money on lower quality shoes.  I then have more money left over for other things.  But the shoes don't last long, and I must buy another pair.  Some people continue this process for years.  Others, after a series of bad shoes, or one pair of incredibly low quality shoes, choose a more expensive shoe, that ultimatley lasts longer.  But today, in a "free market" there are (after narrowing down to size, purpose, fashion, etc.), still, thousands of choices for shoes, and I own a dozen
Adam Smith
pairs of shoes.  And, I will admit, I have made some poor choices.  But, hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people very similar to me in their shoe choices, have evolved the market  - not Nike, not Addidas, not whatever shoe the government was selling in the Soviet Union, no government official, no team of government officials, no 'elite shoe committee', no law, no regulation, no rule - could develop the perfect shoe or shoes.  Only the invisible hand of the free market.

Yes, sometimes our choices are lucky, but they are still based on personal experience (to now include reading dozens of reviews based on other's personal experiences), and selfish greed, i.e. I want the best shoe!

So, there is my defense of our stock market, and Adam Smith.  Now I will go finish the prologue.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Can't We All Just Get Along...

How about a little Race-ism with your $4 coffee?