Do The Freakin Math

Liberals and conservatives alike frequently rely on limited evidence, personal experience, religious beliefs or gut emotions to determine solutions for complex problems. From immigration to global warming - taxes to terrorism - or health care to free trade - analytical study is rare. Science based policy making isn’t the way of Washington. And the consequences are catastrophic. Change is urgently needed. Just do the freakin’ math.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Is Eric Snowden a patriot or a traitor? IEDs vs UAVs: A battle we can’t win.

Is Eric Snowden a patriot or a traitor?  Chances are if you see the United States as a geographic entity needing protection from terrorists, Mr. Snowden is a traitor.  If you see the United States as set of ideals worth defending he’s a patriot.  Both perspectives are valid.  Neither however, will resolve the freedom/security dilemma Mr. Snowden has awoken us to -- again.   We didn’t resolve it after 9-11 or Anthrax in 2001.  And, time is running out if we really want to maximize both our freedom and security. First we must identify the real problem.   It is our flawed perception of reality.  
Most Americans cling passionately and thoughtlessly to an ideal that doesn’t exist in the real world we cannot yet escape.  We celebrate and reinforce this ideal each 4th of July and mistakenly link it to our freedoms.   We believe we are independent.  And because of it we are free to do what we want, even in the rest of the world.   We believe without question that our actions and beliefs are of no business to the other people or nations of the world.  We even believe our individual actions are independent of any consequences on others Americans.   We can drive our Hummer and it’s no body’s business but our own.
Unfortunately, as long as we, our 50 States, our foreign policy and our cherished freedoms are believed to be independent from the rest of the world we will continue to face irresolvable problems, some of which will bring catastrophic consequences.   Freedom and security are irreversibly connected.
In reality we all live in an entirely interdependent world.  Our idealistic concept of independence forces us into the  freedom/security dilemma where we are forced to trade freedom for security or security for freedom.   And one nation, even under God, will never find a balance between the two.   We are not independent from the needs, hopes, beliefs, health, prosperity, habits and desires of the rest of humanity and the 200 plus nation state governments that may or may not represent the majority of the people within it’s own borders.   
What should bring this concrete reality clearly to our attention is the unprecedented global growth in the capacity for mass murder.  This capacity is already monstrous and it continues to expand exponentially with no effective capacity for global controls.  This reality and other threats emanated from beyond our borders should make it unmistakably clear that we face a trilemma not a dilemma.   We want freedom, security and independence.  But we can only pick two.   Having all three in an interdependent world is simply not possible.  The punch line?  Independence doesn’t exist.  Security is iffy.  Freedom is all we really have.  And if we believe we have the freedom to ignore the local or global consequences of our individual or national actions, our future is in serious peril.
The primary factor now driving this trilemma is the evolution and exponential growth of unprecedented powerful dual use technology.  Technologies that are increasingly affordable, accessible, lethal and virtually impossible to control by wealthy, repressive or impoverished nation states, corporations or religious entities.
Controlling information will never work.  Accurate information is our only hope.   Independence is a mental concept/construct that doesn’t exist in nature, politics, or thought.  Get it…or get ready for chaos.
Prime example.  Thinking we are free from the threat of smallpox is suicidal.  Natural smallpox which humanity eradicated 40 years killed about 3% of those it infected.  Yet more people died from smallpox between 1900 and 1971 than all the wars, revolutions and genocides  combined  during 100 years of that same century.   Weaponized smallpox created in bioweapons that are virtually indistinguishable from vaccine research labs is reported to have a 95 percent kill rate.  And that is just one of more than a dozen such biological weapons in existence since the Cold War.  Today’s biolabs could create biological weapons capable of targeting specific genetic markers within groups of people.   Don’t believe for a minute that we have seen the last genocide.  The next holocaust will make Hitler’s SS look inefficient.
And, while many Americans are arguing over their right to bear firearms or the need for nations to reduce the number of nuclear weapons, the world is being transformed by other more ubiquitous lethal technologies - the improvised explosive device ( IEDs) and the Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs).   
The world’s most powerful, heavily armored and technologically sophisticated military is still unable to stop clever and committed individuals (Americans or foreigners) from making and using IEDs to murder Americans here or abroad.   The tools and materials for creating IEDs are increasingly cheap, stealthy and can be more lethal than unregulated automatic assault rifles.   Impassioned individuals who want to kill us in large numbers haven’t even used biological, chemical, or nuclear materials in IEDs.  And cyber weapons won’t even require a human presence.   It won’t be long before terrorists adopt and routinely use UAV’s in their arsenal.  What they will carry and how they will be used should not come as a surprise.   Even the most intrusive NSA efforts won’t be 100% effective.   And 1% failure would be catastrophic.
Given our current laws and beliefs based on the delusional concept of independence there is no way we can effectively stop these threats.  Global coordination and cooperation are key.     
Some believe a global surveillance network and drone targeting system combined with an increasingly powerful domestic surveillance state is our best way to protect American lives.  It could preempt most  attacks, but not all.  Time is not on our side, and the domestic police state needed to try will only fuel more homegrown antigovernment passions.  And sealing our borders won’t make us free, prosperous or safe.  The cost and consequences of even trying it will be catastrophic to our economy, or treasured alliances, and the very ideal of ‘freedom and justice for all’ that has helped get our nation this far.  And, walls combined with advanced intrusive technologies can’t  stop every disease, weather change, economic recession, cyber-attack or toxic plume.  

Some believe that the terrorist threat isn’t real or serious enough to warrant a growing domestic and global surveillance network.  These naïve individuals simply don’t understand the serious threat that persists with trends in technology when they are paired with our inherent open society and the true state of nature and human passions.
And, other non human existential threats exist.   Solar flares, asteroids and other unearthly threats are inevitable.  Climate change with or without human causation will eventually change life as we know it.
Our only salvation (other than second coming of Christ or the Mahdi ) is to accept our global interdependence and begin to construct a world government that incorporates the proven ideals in our nation’s founding document the Declaration of independence.   All men are created equal, with certain inalienable rights, to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.   Such a government would also require structures based on our nation’s constitution putting meaningful limits on the power of any government or individual.  And for the first time in history Human rights could reign supreme over the rights of nations to do as they please (Egypt, Syria, Russia, China…)
A global federal government based on the protection of inalienable rights has been conceived many times in the past by great and wise men (Einstein, Kennedy, …).   It was an American woman, Eleanor Roosevelt, that lead the world in adopting the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” to ‘save future generations’ from the scourge of war and address other man made or naturally induced calamities.   Our nation’s Bill of rights was initially flawed.  Today it must be expanded to include all humanity and all freedoms essential to maintaining a safe, civilized and peaceful society.  Freedom from want and fear and freedom of expression and worship.   It should be self evident that if such new global bill of rights were globally enforceable most of the threats we now face could effectively be prevented.  And those threats we could not prevent would be more effectively and efficiently addressed. 
Our existing world of ‘independent’ states, each with the United Nations approved supreme right of national sovereignty (the right of any state to do whatever it wants, to whomever it wants, whenever it wants) will never see real peace, justice, or prosperity let alone the maximum freedom and security that we all desire.
Eric Snowden is a messenger.  I pray we get the message this time.   It may be too late to stop massive American casualties from the eventual terrorist attack using whatever WMD source they will ultimately acquire.  But there is only one rational path to take. 
Woody Allen once said, “Humanity stands at a crossroad.  One road leads to utter hopelessness and despair, the other to complete annihilation.” He hoped we “would choose the right path”.    Our current path is already full of hopeless and despair and on the road to complete annihilation.  There is another road.
If we want to sustainably maximize our cherished inalienable freedoms and our fragile security, we must give up on the flawed concept of independence and start applying our most cherished ideals on the global level.  We must pledge our allegiance not to a flag but to ‘liberty and justice for all”.

Chemical weapons mass murder in Syria. Who did it? What can we learn?

Chemical weapon mass murder in Syria.  What’s next?  What we must learn.
The killer question is ‘Who did it?’  Most reports suggest it was the Assad regime.  Conspiracy buffs think anti Assad forces could have orchestrated the attack hoping to benefit by blaming Assad.  One friend in Europe believes it was Al Qaeda hoping to draw the US into yet another war to cost us treasure and lives.
Hopefully we will learn at least four valuable lessons from this latest mass murder.  Vital lessons that Americans and the world failed to learn after the two most recent chemical mass killings; the Kurds and Iranians in 1980s by Saddam Hussein and the 1995 attack on the Japanese subway orchestrated by an extremist religious cult.
Learning these lessons is essential because they will happen again.  And eventually the attacks will be biological in nature with most biologicals representing an entirely new classification of weapons - cheaper, more deadly, easier to deliver, and harder to control.  Chemical weapons like most weapons are used up when delivered.  Some biological agents like Anthrax are in this traditional class but infectious agents like smallpox (and dozens of others) are replicable weapons.  When used they reproduce themselves for free and in silence.  And with advances in biotechnology their potential for extraordinary effectiveness is growing.  The first lesson we may now learn is that these weapons (chemical, biological and cyber) will be increasingly used by governments, extremists and crazies because of their lethality, affordability, concealability and deniability.  
Thus the second lesson.  Without someone claiming credit identifying the source of these weapons will require an extensive, intensive and expensive scientific forensic investigation.  Any chance of success will require considerable access to the crime scene and an intrusive investigation by a neutral and credible entity.  Three things most nations are unlikely to agree to.  And, even if they do, finding the guilty party could be extremely difficult as with the US Governments most intensive manhunt in history trying to determine the individual responsible for the Anthrax attacks on our own soil a few weeks after 9-11.  It took nearly a decade to determine who the most likely culprit was.   Doubts persist.
Third lesson:  Even the most intrusive collection of information won’t be sufficient to identify all attackers in advance.  Preemption is possible…but increasingly unlikely as individuals learn of government surveillance techniques and publically available technologies advance giving more power to the murderers than the investigators.
Last lesson:  Unless we change our societal/cultural trajectory that accepts war, national sovereignty, lethal but ineffective sanctions, anemic diplomacy and a weak United Nations as our primary means of protecting human lives -- we will continue to be forced to trade freedom for security or security for freedom.   Ultimately we will get neither.   Only by accepting our global interdependence and creating a global system where the protection of human rights is given supremacy over the rights of nations to do whatever they like, will we know real freedom and maximum security.   All else is folly.

Militerized local police vs extremist US citizens

The FBI considers “sovereign-citizen extremists” to be a “domestic terrorist movement…”.    (think Timothy McVeigh...) Many rational Americans are concerned regarding the militarization of local police departments that are increasingly use armored vehicles and SWAT teams to abduct individuals suspected of violating petty laws.   Reading city news report one can find that occasionally innocent civilians are killed in crossfires or their private property unreasonably damaged without reimbursement by these 'law enforcement' operators. 

How are these two trends related?  Is the fear of citizen extremists pushing law enforcement toward a military mindset where justice and the rule of law are secondary to police short or long term missions and their individual security? Or, are citizens increasingly angered by overzealous police tactics and unreasonable laws working together to diminish cherished American freedoms and risk the security and property of innocent civilian?