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Showing posts from 2017

Expensively Defensive

We spend a lot of money to maintain our massive military machine, because it's the largest on the planet by a factor of five. We spend $700 billion every year, not because we actually need to; we spend that much the same way a junkie will overspend to maintain an addiction.

We currently spend more on national defense than China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, India, France, Japan, Germany, and the United Kingdom – combined. That should make us pretty safe here at home, but American soil is not where most of that money is being spent.

Across the globe, 156 countries have some kind of US troop presence within their borders. Only 46 don't. The Pentagon maintains more than 700 overseas military sites that we know of.

The Defense Department employs more than 3 million people overall. In 2009, the department's PR section had a staff of 27,000 people and spent $4.7 billion by itself on a wide variety of activities.

In 2010 the US military had 963 generals and admirals receiving an average sal…

Fake News Is Nothing New

"Fake News" has become a popular phrase these days. Our president certainly likes to use it, often paired with another common phrase – "mainstream media". Both are convenient but meaningless labels that misrepresent the business of publishing the news in America. The general contempt that a lot of folks have for news media is certainly nothing new. A century ago, newspapers often engaged in what was called 'yellow journalism' and reporters were held in such low esteem that they were referred to as 'ink-stained wretches'. Newspaper publisher William Hearst was the poster boy of Fake News in those days. Hearst and his editors frequently printed misleading or entirely dishonest stories that promoted Hearst's personal views or demonized people he was at odds with. That's completely different from advocacy journalism, which most news sources practice. Some even acknowledge that reality. I was once the editor of the Haleakala Times, a bi-weekly newsp…

Who pays for all this?

By the time you read this, the total debt of the federal government may have reached 20 trillion dollars. Add in all of the estimated state and local government debts and America owes somebody nearly $25 trillion. But that's not enough; Congress is coming back into session in September and will probably raise its self-imposed debt limit in order to borrow some more. They always have before. There's no question who gets the bill for the interest on that debt every year: we all do. Who's paying down that debt? Nobody at all. No president or Congress has lowered the national debt for more than half a century... The cost of nearly 17 years of American military operations in Afghanistan is hard to calculate, but it's more than one trillion dollars. That amount will keep growing every day, because there's no real change coming in our overseas commitments. There's plenty of room to argue over what we're doing in a land long known as the Graveyard of Empires – maybe w…

The People Are The Problem

Most of the time I don't really care who the American president is, and neither should you. It's always been an important job, but its occupant was never meant to be Captain America or Leader Of The Free World. Our president is not supposed to create new policies except in an emergency; the task of setting the national agenda belongs to Congress. Presidential power was originally restricted to running the government and serving as Commander-in-Chief during times of war. Our first president, rest his soul, didn't enjoy his time in office and is probably appalled at how the American people have turned the presidency into a personality-driven media show. George Washington rejected the hero worship shown to him during his days as a living legend, and he warned of the danger that comes from giving too much power and having too much faith in any one person. And that's what we've done. We've surrendered power in a creeping process that started early and has grown steadi…

How to steal an election

If you were planning to steal an election, our long history of rigging the popular vote can help you. Controlling who counts the votes and how those votes get counted is the most direct and effective way of election thievery – especially when votes are cast, counted and stored by digital machines. Decades ago, with our typical enthusiasm for technology, Americans accepted voting machines – first mechanical, then electronic, now digital and tomorrow wireless – as a valid replacement for paper ballots. We were wrong. It's bad enough when machines malfunction, but storing votes on hard drives offers thieves an easy way to steal. They just need a few minutes of access to machines before an election to install malicious software, or similar access to storage drives after votes have been cast. That access is available to whichever political party controls a state government. It's much, much harder to rig elections that rely on paper ballots marked with a pencil. Lots of volunteers help…

Hacking the vote

"Something very strange happened on election night to Deborah Tannenbaum in Volusia County. At 10pm she called the county elections department and learned that Al Gore was leading George W. Bush 83,000 votes to 62,000. But when she checked half an hour later, she found a startling development: Gore's count had dropped by 16,000 votes, while an obscure Socialist candidate had picked up 10,00 – all because of a single precinct with only 600 voters." – Washington Post,  Nov. 12, 2000

"Anyone within a half mile of any machine could have modified every vote, undetected. I could teach you how to do it over the phone. It might require an administrator password, but that’s OK – the password is ‘admin’.”–Jeremy Epstein of SRI International on AVS WinVote machines, 2008

“There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that we see high turnout because of vote-by-mail. It’s extremely convenient and accessible; it’s secure and cost-effective.”–Oregon Gov. Kate Brown On Election Day, Oregon…