Sunday, June 18, 2017

President Trump's Foreign Emoluments

The news squall about President Trump's “emoluments” from foreign governments is at once amusing and interesting to consider.  Two suits that have been filed by members of the Democrat Partythe attorneys general of Washington D.C. and the state of Maryland, and 188 members of Congress–are disingenuous. This “emoluments” accusation was raised earlier by conservatives about the business dealings of the Clinton Foundation. No one put the jinni back in the bottle, but he has been out before. 

Theodore Roosevelt was President of the United States when he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.  The grant was controversial on several grounds, both abroad and in the U.S. Congress (Nobel Prize site here).  
“Roosevelt did not keep the prize money. Though he stated privately to his son Kermit that he wished he could have kept it for his children, his wife Edith said a public figure such as Roosevelt could not keep such a reward. Instead, when he accepted his prize, Roosevelt stated he would be donating the money to Congress for the funding of a permanent Industrial Peace Committee which would address “fair dealings between classes of society.” However, Congress never organized the committee and so, during World War I, Roosevelt petitioned Congress to return the funds to him so that he could distribute the money to war relief efforts and various charities. -- Theodore Roosevelt Center here.
Later, U.S. Secretary of State Cordell Hull was nominated for a Peace Prize, which eventually was bestowed. “The lawyer and Democrat from Tennessee was US Secretary of State from 1933 to 1944. Hull was nominated for the Peace Prize several times in the second half of the 1930s for having conducted a policy of fraternization with Latin America and for having negotiated free trade agreements with a number of states. " -- (Nobel Prize Committee here.

The nominally objective “Politifact” website has waffled on this topic, first regarding President Obama, and then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. 
  • “Gingrich: Hillary Clinton broke law with foreign Clinton Foundation donations” Politifact: Mostly False (link here)
However, previously… 
  • "Obama re Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, and Henry Kissinger." Barely True (at first here )  but then ...  
  • Editor's note: This statement was rated Barely True when it was published. On July 27, 2011, we changed the name for the rating to Mostly False.
The Washington Post also presented both sides of the issue when the subject was Hillary Clinton.  The column was a Volokh Conspiracy Opinion: “Is the Emoluments Clause a problem for Hillary Clinton?” by Jonathan H. Adler for September 23, 2016. But Adler only pointed to another debate between two Case-Western Reserve law professors, Jonathan Entin and Erik Jensen. Their exchange ran in the Cleveland Plain Dealer and is archived on Cleveland.com
  • The corrosive influence of 'presents' from foreign governments per the Emoluments Clause: Erik M. Jensen (Opinion) Updated on September 23, 2016 at 5:15 AM Posted on September 23, 2016 at 5:13 AM (here) 
  • Hillary Clinton's eligibility to be president is clear, despite the Emoluments Clause: Jonathan L. Entin (Opinion). Updated on September 23, 2016 at 5:14 AM Posted on September 23, 2016 at 5:13 AM (here
It is true that the businesses common to most US presidents have been military service and the law and, of course, elected office. Most were notoriously bad at business, which is why they went into politics.  Few had extensive business holdings. Standing as an exception to that, Nelson Rockefeller sought the Presidency in 1960 and 1964. He was appointed Vice President in 1974.  In response to current news about President Trump, Time magazine resurrected some of the controversy from its archives. (See here.)  

And, yet, the focus back then was only on the wealth itself, not any alleged foreign ties, though of course, they had to exist with his shares of Standard Oil and Chase Manhattan Bank. The same lacuna appeared (or failed to appear) in discussions about Steve Forbes or H. Ross Perot.

And what of the 200 military orders and decorations that American soldiers have received from 63 foreign governments? (Wikipedia here. )

"The United Nations and NATO are transnational governments that have awarded decorations to American soldiers.  Acceptance of the medals of other international multilateral organizations finally came with Executive Order 11446 in 1969. Acceptance of these international decorations must be approved by not only the Secretary of Defense, but also the Secretary of State." --  (Wikipedia here.)  It remains that neither the Secretary of Defense, nor the Secretary of State are the Congress, which, by law, is the only authority that can allow such gifts. 

The problem is not that President Trump accepted a few tens of thousands of dollars and a gold medal for discovering a new element. The problem is not that a foreign government awarded President Trump a medal for bravery.  The problem is that he profits from a transnational corporation, as do the Clintons, among many other people. Whether or not those dealings are grants of nobility or other emoluments has never been settled by legislation. Even a Supreme Court ruling could not take the question off the floor of Congress. That is the subject of the suit by 188 Democrat Party legislators (here). They are demanding that the courts order the matter back to Congress, itself a curious maneuver in American politics. 

"To redress that injury, Plaintiffs seek declaratory relief establishing that Defendant violates the Constitution when he accepts any monetary or nonmonetary benefit—any “present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever”—from a foreign state without first obtaining “the Consent of the Congress.” Plaintiffs also seek injunctive relief ordering Defendant not to accept any such benefits from a foreign state without first obtaining “the Consent of the Congress.” (Filing here.)

Article I. Section 9 of the U.S. Constitution says:  No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.  

That restriction came from the original Articles of Confederation. 

Article VI.  No State, without the consent of the United States in Congress assembled, shall send any embassy to, or receive any embassy from, or enter into any conference, agreement, alliance or treaty with any King, Prince or State; nor shall any person holding any office of profit or trust under the United States, or any of them, accept any present, emolument, office or title of any kind whatever from any King, Prince or foreign State; nor shall the United States in Congress assembled, or any of them, grant any title of nobility.

 Equality and independence are deeply complementary aspects of American culture. We treat the President as an equal because we expect him to be independent.

Previously on Necessary Facts
Libraries of the Founders
Why Democracy is Difficult
The Syrian Quagmire
Wolf Devoon



Sunday, June 11, 2017

Crimes Against Logic: Exposing Bogus Arguments

The author calls this “a troubleshooting guide” similar to the owner’s manual of a car or computer. “It is aimed at everyday users and consumers of reasoning…” It certainly meets that measure. The main thrust is on failures of right reason such as inconsistency, equivocation, and begging the question. The author also reveals false claims, principally phony statistics.

Before moving into financial consulting and electioneering for the open market in his homeland of New Zealand, Jamie Whyte completed master’s and doctor’s degrees in  philosophy at Cambridge University (Wikipedia here).  You can find some of his essays archived at the Cobden Centre here. The Centre is named for the successful manufacturer and proponent of laissez-faire in early 19th century Britain, Richard Cobden.  His writings are archived at the Online Library of Liberty here.

In formal terms, Jamie Whyte is an objectivist, a strict rational-empiricist whose logically consistent statements explain experiential facts. This book is his attack on some of the people who fail to meet either standard.
 
Crimes Against Logic: Exposing the Bogus Arguments
of Politicians, Priests, Journalists, and Other Serial Offenders

by Jamie Whyte. (McGraw-Hill 2004, 157 pages.)
Google Books has an extract of the first chapter
on why you do not have a right to your opinion, here
The first crime that Whyte investigates is the claim that you have a right to your opinion. No such right exists. Whyte points out that this assertion is founded on an ambiguity. You do have a political right to an opinion. However, that is not to be confused with the epistemic right to an opinion. The epistemic right to an opinion, says Whyte, is similar to the right to boast. Just as you first must achieve something worthy of boasting, so, too, is the “right” to an opinion earned by correctly identifying facts and then explaining them rationally. When someone retreats by claiming that they have a “right” their opinion, they are actually admitting that they are wrong, or at the very least, they can present no reasons and facts to support their assertions.

In the chapter “Prejudice in Fancy Dress” Whyte demolishes Pascal’s Wager and several other examples including Faith and Mystery. The subhead “But Still” examines calls for the acceptance of ignorance. This is actually a variant of the non-existent right to an opinion. Yes, the facts are on your side. Yes, your argument is logical. But still I prefer my prejudices.

The chapter “Shut Up!” scrutinizes several ways that those losing an argument seek to cut off debate by silencing their opponent. Well-known facts are boring. That a claim can be countered with a boring fact in no way mitigates the strength of the contrary assertion. That a boring fact has been marshaled is especially strong, as it points to a clear violation by the party demanding that the other shut up. 

Under the subhead “Shut Up, You Sound Like Hitler” Whyte calls mass murder “something of a lottery.”  He tells of being in a Lenin Bar in Auckland, “decorated with red stars and black and white images of the great Communist leader.”  Hitler bars, he notes, seem to be in short supply. 

In the chapter on “Empty Words” Whyte goes into some depth on the use and abuse of sneer quotes. His example focuses on post-modernist philosopher Imré Lakatos. When you say that my “facts” are in dispute, it is clear from the quotes that you do not believe my claims to be facts. Whyte says that in discussing the work of physicist A. A. Michelson, Lakotos’s excessive use of sneer quotes reveals that he believes knowledge to be impossible because facts are non-existent. This is not unique to one philosopher. Whyte calls the abuse of quotes a hallmark of post-modernist academic writing.

Implied Generalizations slip into discussions – and usually slip by unchallenged. Whyte offers a bald example. When a Christian says that homosexuality should be illegal because it is condemned in the Bible, that is an implied generalization because the Bible condemns many things, including the use of cotton-polyester blends. Backing off from making illegal the use of mixed fabrics (also working on the Sabbath and eating shellfish) then leads to an inconsistency. Whyte also offers a mundane example in Tony Blair’s active campaigning against fox hunting while insisting that other forms of hunting (including fishing) would never be proscribed by his government. Why not?  The implied generalization is that cruel sports are wrong. The resultant inconsistency is that some are acceptable after all.

The chapter “Begging the Question” is subtle and deep. Most of this book was fun to read and I had little difficulty relating to the material. Whyte is a good writer. His topic is compelling. His examples are from everyday experience. However, I read “Begging the Question” three times through and made close notes all along. It paid off well. Whyte sets up a debate in which libertarian Jack calls for an end to regulations. Socialist Jill claims that this would lead to mass poverty. In fact, Jill is begging the question. Jack’s position is that property rights are absolute. Rather than accepting the premise, Jill needs to address it by first showing that property rights are not absolute. Whyte then offers a longer discussion on tolerance. When a Christian fundamentalist asserts that abortion is murder, the response is not, “If you believe that, then do not have an abortion, but neither should you interfere with the rights of others to have them.”  Substitute the word “murder” for “abortion” and you can see that the plea for tolerance only begs the question: Is abortion murder or not? 

You will find discussions of false statistics, weasel words, hurrah words, morality fever, coincidences, and more. It is easily true that no one likes to be contradicted, but that is one way that we discover the truth. As Whyte points out, when you are crossing the street in the false belief that there are no cars coming, you don’t mind being contradicted. Intransigent devotion to the truth is always in your best interest.
  
(An earlier version appeared under Books on the Rebirth of Reason discussion site for September 3, 2008,  here.)  

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Saturday, June 3, 2017

From Joint Force to Unified Command

No one asked me, but I believe that eventually the armed forces of the United States will become a single entity. Different services from the component down to the fire team will maintain identity and special esprit de corps. However, the uniforms and ranks will be unified, and all will share one name: the United States Armed Forces. The unarmed military forces – the Public Health Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – will continue apart from them, perhaps until the time when Earth benefits from a common government.
 
Marine Corps "Fat Albert" rocket-assisted take-off, one of the
Navy's "Blue Angels" team. (left) US Army C-12 Huron (right). 
We are already moving in that direction with the concept of the joint force. And it is nothing new. It is a common quip that the Army has more boats than the Navy and more aircraft than the Air Force.  It not quite true, but it does underscore the fact that all of the services have operated their own cross-environmental platforms. This probably originated with the Battle of Myle (260 BCE). The Romans defeated the Carthaginians when they changed a sea battle into a land battle by dropping planks so that their soldiers could cross onto the enemy ships.
US Armed Forces as a whole must be multi-mission capable; interoperable among all elements of US Services and selected foreign militaries; and able to coordinate operations with other agencies of government, and some civil institutions.Multi-Mission Capable. Our forces must be proficient in their core warfighting competencies and able to transition smoothly from a peacetime posture to swift execution of multiple missions across the full spectrum of operations. …
 Some situations demand the unique capabilities of only one Service, but most will call for capabilities from all Services. The skillful and selective combination of Service capabilities into Joint Task Forces provides US commanders great flexibility in tailoring forces to meet national objectives given specific circumstances.http://www.au.af.mil/au/awc/awcgate/nms/joint.htm
US Air Force Boats. The "Tyndall Navy" has provided electronic
support of missile tests since 1957. The USAF also floats
the Rising Star, a Thule-class tugboat.
 Joint Base San Antonio (JBSA) is a United States military facility located in San Antonio, Texas, USA. The facility is under the jurisdiction of the United States Air Force 502d Air Base Wing, Air Education and Training Command (AETC). The wing's three Mission Support Groups perform the installation support mission at the three bases that form JBSA.

The facility is a Joint Base of the United States Army Fort Sam Houston, the United States Air Force Randolph Air Force Base ,Lackland Air Force Base and Martindale Army Airfield , which were merged on 1 October 2010.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joint_Base_San_Antonio
Joint Base Charleston … is a United States military facility located partly in the City of North Charleston, South Carolina and partly in the City of Goose Creek, South Carolina . The facility is under the jurisdiction of the United States Air Force 628th Air Base Wing, Air Mobility Command (AMC). The facility is an amalgamation of the United States Air Force Charleston Air Force Base and the United States Navy Naval Support Activity Charleston, which were merged on 1 October 2010.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joint_Base_Charleston
US Army's Spearhead theater support vessel (TSV).
Commissioned 2002-2005. One of 127,793 Army vessels.
(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_ships_of_the_United_States_Army
 WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Oct. 2, 2009) -- An Army installation in New Jersey and two in Virginia officially transformed Thursday to become part of new joint bases.
 Near the nation's capital, the Fort Myer Military Community joined forces with the Marine Corps' Henderson Hall, Va., to form Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall. The Army will manage installation functions there. The new joint base also includes Fort McNair in the District of Columbia.
 In central New Jersey, Fort Dix combined forces with Naval Air Engineering Station Lakehurst and McGuire Air Force Base to form Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst. At the new "super base," the Air Force will run installation management operations, acting as a sort of city manager to control basic infrastructure functions.
 Finally, in southern Virginia, Fort Story joined up with Naval Mid-Atlantic Region at Naval Station Norfolk to form Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story, with installation management provided by the Navy.
https://www.army.mil/article/28260
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Friday, June 2, 2017

The Purse of Eratosthenes

For about 10 years in the 1990s, I worked on assembling a collection of ancient coins worth about a day's wages from the towns and times of Greek philosophers. I was inspired by an episode of Carl Sagan's Cosmos, "Backbone of the Night." Although I discovered that I lack the passions of a true collector for rarity, condition, and completeness, I was rewarded with explorations in ancient history and the opportunity to learn enough classical Greek to do my own translations.
Drachmon from Kyrene c. 550 BCE Zeus Ammon and Silphium
(About the size of US 5-cent nickel)
I discovered the town of Cyrene (Kyrene), near what is today Benghazi. Eratosthenes of Cyrene was the third Librarian of Alexandria (from 245 BCE) after Zenodochus and Callimachus. Circumference by Nicholas Nicastro (St. Martins 2008) reviewed on this blog (here) is a modern biography of Eratosthenes and his works. He was also a grammarian and historian. His other mathematical work includes a "sieve" to find prime numbers.  His biography is on Wikipedia, of course: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eratosthenes  It is also repeated more succinctly here: 
http://www.math.wichita.edu/history/men/eratosthenes.html  
and more fully here:
http://www-groups.dcs.st-and.ac.uk/~history/Biographies/Eratosthenes.html
The Hellenistic world was very much like our own time: held in tension by science and superstition, commerce and war, ecumenism and parochialism.
Kyrene was founded by Dorians from the island of Thera in 631 BCE. Its primary claim to fame was the presence of silphium. Silphium was discovered to prevent pregnancy. It was highly valued and eventually harvested to extinction, despite valiant attempts to cultivate it there and elsewhere. Not surprisingly, the history of Kyrene reflected many of the cultural trends of the times. Twice, it suffered from constitutional crises as factions in the assembly became gangs in the streets. Both times, the solution was to send to Athens for philosophers skilled at politics who created compromises. 
Obol or hemi-drachm. Demeter with Eagle killing snake.
(About half the size of a US dime.)
The town also was home to two women who married a Ptolemy: Berenike I and Berenike II. The constellation Coma Berenices was supposedly the hair  of Berenike II, offered to the gods for the safe return of Ptolemy III Euergetes from a war in Syria. "Veronica" is the latinized form of Berenike. 

Among the ancient philosophers, the Cyrenaics followed the teachings of Aristippos. The school was maintained and extended by his daughter, Arete, and her son, Aristippos. Though originally a student of Socrates, Aristippos asserted his own line of thought. He advocated seeking pleasure by adapting to circumstances. He gave up the safety of a city and traveled widely. To understand the consequences of that, remember that Diogenes the Cynic was captured by pirates and sold as a slave. It was not unusual for the times. There was no safety outside the city walls. Yet, the Alexandrians coined the word "cosmopolitan" for the universal citizen or citizen of the world, not tied to any one city, but comfortable anywhere.
Ptolemy II and Berenike I. Alexandria Mint.
(Bronze coin about the size of a US quarter)
Eratosthenes, the town of Kyrene, and the Library at Alexandria became a focus for my interests and one of the first articles I wrote about the numsimatics of the ancient world was “The Purse of Eratosthenes: the Coinage and Commerce of Cyrene,” The Celator, Vol. 8, no 1, (January 1994).  (Founded by Wayne G. Sayles, The Celator passed to a couple of other editors and publishers and then closed just a few years ago.)  

We quip and quote about the long run of history, which may or may not repeat itself to our doom. The fact is that the Library of Alexandria attracted savants from all across the Greek koinon ("union").  They developed their own distinct and universal dialect, in which, ultimately, the New Testament was written. When the house of Ptolemy fell on hard times, the library released many of its scholars to find their own ways. Rather than marking a nadir, it caused a secondary flourishing in the Hellenistic world as accumulated learning was cast to the winds to flourish wherever open minds were found.

PREVIOUSLY ON NECESSARY FACTS
Happy Pi Day of the Century 
Bringing Philosophy to Athens - Aspasia of Miletos
Numismatics: History as Market 
Valentine's Day: Love and Money

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Crimes of Conscience: Antigone and Stealing from the Public Library

The libraries at the University of Texas at Austin shelve 83 volumes by Ayn Rand. Of them, 30 have been stolen. Of those, eight are marked in the catalog as “Missing.” In other words, they left the shelves without being checked out. The others were just not returned by the last borrowers who effectively got away with their crimes.  I identify these facts as evidence of a deeper political problem, first posited 2500 years ago by Sophocles in his drama, Antigone.  More recent, and known well to admirers of the works of Ayn Rand, are the trial scenes from The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged.  Not so famous, but cutting more deeply into the fabric of law is Ayn Rand’s courtroom drama, Night of January 16th. The question is whether or not you have a duty to obey the law.


It is important to understand, first, that Ayn Rand was opposed to duty.
The meaning of the term “duty” is: the moral necessity to perform certain actions for no reason other than obedience to some higher authority, without regard to any personal goal, motive, desire or interest. – “Causality versus Duty,” in Philosophy: Who Needs It?

Obviously, for some admirers of the works of Ayn Rand, the prospect of a free copy of one of her books was stronger than any irrational duty to the public order. However, it is also true that Rand’s dictum above must be placed in its proper context because she was far more eloquent in her condemnation of “looters” and substantially incisive in her praise for their antithesis, the producers.  Moreover, the moral and political aspects of her philosophy of Objectivism were primarily about the positive virtues of production, creation, and active reason, against which are revealed the negative, destructive, and empty actions of the irrational and non-productive.


The essential question here is: “What justifies stealing from the public library?” It leads to a far wider set of questions and actions. I assert that if it is acceptable to steal Atlas Shrugged from the library, then it is acceptable to take a tree from a public park, or a computer from city hall, or the President’s limousine from the White House.  And, ultimately, it would be acceptable to take anything from anyone who accepted any public benefit, whether a social security check, “land bank” payments for not growing crops, sending their children to public schools, or (of course) borrowing books from the public library (and returning them).

Some libertarians claim that it is moral to steal from the library, or any other government entity, because their assets all come from taxation, and taxation is theft. When you steal a library book, you only take back what was yours in the first place. This also applies by extension to stealing back what was yours from any business that benefits from government subsidies, whether General Motors or Tesla, Inc., a local hospital, or the florist whom you spot coming from the library.

Moving right along, for a philosophical Objectivist (or simply an “admirer” of the works of Ayn Rand), such justifications extend to their irrational mystical altruist collectivist neighbors. The theory is that anyone who goes to church or votes for Democrats is fair game, especially when the risks are very low.  Your neighbors who are tax looters or welfare moochers stole from you first; you are just taking back what was yours. If you can get away with it, why not?


Among the many accurate and precise tools of logic that Ayn Rand employed in her expositions was identifying the error of context dropping. In terms of the social consequences of personal morality, it is the error of moral equivalency. It also a powerful tool in Objectivism that moral success begins in metaphysics and epistemology.  So the moral failing of the looter of the library begins with errors in metaphysics and epistemology. Ayn Rand called it “reifying the zero” i.e., attempting to make a “something” out of nothing.  (See “Axiomatic Concepts” in Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology.) Stealing a copy of Atlas Shrugged from the library is not the moral equivalent of buying one from a bookstore.

The primary concern is not whether the owner of the bookstore sends her children to a government-subsidized daycare center, but where you got the money with which you bought the book.  If you did not buy the book at all, if there was no earned money exchanged, then the failure was yours long antecedent to the gross action of mere acquisition of the book.


It is a perhaps curious fact, revealing the nature of the subject, that generally and historically philosophy is about the individual: you and your place in the universe. Even the weak ones and bad ones attempt some answers to the same question: How do I know what to do? We know many exceptions: Plato’s Republic, the social priesthood of Auguste Comte, Marxism-Leninism, …  But they stand out as exceptions within the 2600-year history of philosophy. Ayn Rand consciously built her philosophy of Objectivism to be the ultimate expression of that discovery: your best experience of your own life.

In Sophocles’ Antigone, the heroine was so outraged by the desecration of her brothers’ bodies, whatever their crimes against the city, that she disobeyed the commands of the tyrant Creon, in full acceptance of the consequences. In The Fountainhead, Howard Roark is prepared to go to prison if fails in his appeal to the creative spirit within each of the jurors.  In Atlas Shrugged, Hank Rearden refuses to hand over his metal and tells the government that he cannot stop their trucks and guns if they come to take it. And he is willing to go to prison rather than to acquiesce in the theft of his property.  In Night of January 16th Karen André has committed or conspired in so many crimes that the play does not even come close to a bill of indictment. She makes no appeal to a higher law or a greater good or a better morality. She does not explain herself at all: no outsider’s opinion is consequential to her.


On the other hand, the hooligan who steals a copy of Atlas Shrugged from the public library makes no public statements, issues no manifesto, and stands not in defiance of authority but slinks away with loot.  It might be informative for a bold privateer to wheel several shelving carts out the door while distributing leaflets condemning the philosophical and economic fallacies of “public goods.” (And when the campus police arrive, he should have a clever cloaking device unless he intends to go to jail for his beliefs.) But that is not the case. Instead, other people whose taxes have paid for goods and services are deprived of the benefit of their bargain by a third party. We call that theft.

"Rand fans" are not the only people given to "crimes of conscience." The Roman republican martyr Cato the Younger (Marcus Porcius Cato, Uticensis) became a symbol for Christians and ultimately republicans of the Enlightenment. But, again, Cato the Younger took his own life rather than submit to Gaius Julius Caesar. It remains that the jihadi who kill themselves while they kill others in suicide attacks claim obedience to a higher law, also. But their actions are not  morally equivalent because the consequences are not morally equivalent.

Do you have a duty to obey the law?
 In the explicit sense identified by Ayn Rand, that a duty is an obligation that supersedes self-interest, you do not. But that begs the question: What is self-interest? Rand devoted herself to answering that question. If you do not understand why productively earning the money with which to buy a book is in your self-interest while the easy pickings of the public library are not, you need to do some reading.  It is a common error in our common education that we want even our “story problems” to be short, when in fact, the most important aspects of living well require more than a slogan to explain.

ALSO ON NECESSARY FACTS


Saturday, May 20, 2017

TDEM 2017 Texas Emergency Management Conference

Laurel and I attended the 2017 Texas Department of Public Safety Division of Emergency Management annual conference in San Antonio. Although it is a four-day show, we were there just for Thursday, May 18. We started with the exhibit hall and attended two break-out sessions. These are some of the vendors whom I met.

Dr. Deb Zoran is the operations supervisor of
VET outreach of Texas A&M University.
They coordinate animal rescue during disasters and emergencies.
John Taylor and Hannah Coffey of BOLD Planning,
one of the providers of mitigation and remediation plans for
organizations that do not have adequate in-house emergency planning.
Sean Scott developed the Red Guide handbooks.
They are available in English and Spanish.
Keith Blaylock of eXpress Sandbag System
did not bring the proprietary machinery with him.
However, I found the sandbags to be portable,
standardized, and stackable.
And he said that he could produce
1000 per hour all day long.
Michael Shanks of LRad explained
that his sound output speakers will cover
huge, city-sized areas with good clarity
for voice notification in times of emergency.
Mike Ross does apps and he has them for
emergency management. In the age of the
smartphone it is an easy and effective way
for jurisdictions to get the word out --
the right information...
from the right source.
Vanessa Forté of ProPac brought a wide range of
pre-packaged emergency supplies from
first aid kits to food and drink for
one person or large groups.
Mark Mathiesen of On the Mark Weather is one of several
commercial meteorologists with his own brand of applied theories.
When I reviewed and edited contracts for TDEM in 2014,
I was surprised to learn that the government agency, NOAA,
as respected as it is, is not the leading edge, and only tells you
what they tell everyone in a wide area all at the same time.
Dr. Mathiesen specializes in micro-events:
he can tell you if your school could be hit. 
Of course, there were many more to be met.  My friends from Intermedix and WebEOC were there. So were the folks from STEAR, the State of Texas Emergency Assistance Registry for people who want to be helped when getting help is a matter of life and death. I met Major Ernest Branscum of the Salvation Army several times during the day as we toured the exhibit hall. I was happy to be able to add my name to the contact list for the local chapter of the Association of Continuity Managers.   

On Thursday, May 18, at 4:00 PM, Laurel and I attended an excellent session on Insurance Fraud. The presenters were Lt. David Taylor (Compliance) and John Plent (Consumer Protection) from the Catastrophe Response Team of the Insurance Fraud unit of the Texas Department of Insurance. Just to note: The Department of Insurance is one of about 20 state agencies and departments that has its own sworn and weaponized peace officers. As explained below, when on the streets, talking to roofing contractors, he has the full law enforcement authority of any police officer in Texas.

In the aftermath of a disaster, swarms of unlicensed contractors appear, soliciting business, and being paid with money from insurance settlements. The work is uneven in quality. Sometimes, the “contractors” take a “down payment” and never return. Occasionally, they take a partial payment, do partial work, then leave, with a promise to return, which puts the matter out of the criminal law and into civil law.

The TDI catastrophe teams help people work with insurance adjusters; and they can assist insurance companies in the field. They work with consumers to help with insurance claims. Lt. Taylor and Mr. Plent come to your town to mitigate (and ideally prevent) violations and victimizations. They start by meeting with city officials. They acknowledge that after a severe storm which has taken lives, mitigating insurance fraud might not seem highly important. However, they have found law enforcement and other city officials to be very helpful. If the city has regulations, they say, then make sure that all solicitors are registered and licensed. Drive the streets; and where you see roofers working or knocking on doors, ask to see their papers. Municipalities should run background checks for outstanding warrants and sex offender registration. Their primary advice is to homeowners is to never accept a solicitation. You, the customer, should drive the process by seeking out reputable companies and getting competitive bids.

We have no state-level licensing of contractors here in Texas. However, we do have the Roofing Contractors Association of Texas and the Building Officials Association of Texas (BOAT at www.boatx.org). In fact, BOAT was one of the vendors at the TDEM conference. 


Read about the fraud team here
Watch one of their videos here.

At 2:30 PM on May 18, Laurel and I attended a disjointed, lackluster session on cyber security.  Despite our abiding professional involvement in computer security, this one put us both to sleep. The presenter was David Morgan (CISSP, CNSS NSA Security), who is a cybersecurity officer and information security manager at the Texas Department of Public Safety. He certainly seemed well qualified from his time in the Marine Corps to his experience as a visiting professor at several colleges and universities. The bottom line is that the content of his presentation did not meet the criteria set by the title of his talk, "Cyber Security - A Critical Component for Emergency Management." 

Everything we do in response to a disaster or a community event depends on computers, from smartphones to laptops. To coordinate our efforts, we bring WebEOC into community shelters. Some at this conference had special responsibilities for the emergency bands such as TICP (Texas Interoperability Communication Package) and MARS (Military Affiliate Radio System). David Morgan did not tell us how to secure any of them, or how to detect an intrusion.

Laurel and I were most interested in knowing about how computer hackers have disrupted emergency response. Aside from mentioning the recent incident in Dallas -- (Dallas Morning News here among very many others) -- in which the weather sirens sounded at midnight, he had nothing to say. 

Hackers have been changing traffic lights since at least 2003, though the ability to do so was known in the 1980s. (See Wired from 2005 here.) Recently, the Surprise, Arizona, city 911 was taken out by a hacker (See Washington Times story here.)  Bear in mind, though, that the infamous “Operation Sundevil” from 1990, which alleged that hackers had broken into the nationwide 911, was exposed and disgraced.  (See  “Operation Sundevil” in Wikipedia here and “Jefferson in Mirrorshades” in a hacker archive here. )  None of that was in this  presentation. 

David Morgan did allude to the existence of viruses, worms, trojans, and spyware, but did not differentiate among them, or tell us how to detect, mitigate, remediate, or prevent them. He did say that the Macintosh operating system is easily given to viruses because it is based on Unix, which is the operating system in which viruses were invented. David Morgan defined “Zero day” as the source of unknown vulnerabilities. He explained a “root kit” by saying that if you are “root” then you own the system.

All of that being as it may, I personally benefited by learning about Shodan.io. Coming to work the next day, I visited the site, read about it on Wikipedia, and made a note to myself to follow up. 
  
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BSides Austin 2016
InnoTech 2015
CERT: Community Emergency Response Team
The Living Fish Swims Under Water

Monday, May 15, 2017

ANOC: Advanced Non-commissioned Officer Course

On the weekend 10-12 March 2017, I completed the Advanced Non-Commissioned Officer Class (ANOC) of the Texas State Guard. Although the J-7 (Joint Training directorate) at headquarters likes to maintain the fiction that their orders and guidance ensure that training is the same for everyone, in fact, it depends a lot on who commands in the classroom.

My third class, BNOC, was dedicated to us: we were all BNOC. However, the second class I completed, Primary Leadership Development (PLDC), was, like this one, held in a joint force, cross-component environment. We did not train with them; but we all socialized after hours. So, I benefited from the opportunity to compare and contrast this ANOC with a previous session for another group. The courses were compatible, but not identical.

We all studied the meaning of Leadership, the principles of Supervision, and the application of Leadership Behavior. We all had lessons in Counseling and Mentoring. We all engaged in exercises in applied Creative Thinking. We placed all of that into a narrative of Teamwork based on Management Principles, tempered by Risk Management. The specifics of the PowerPoint slides and the practical exercises were different for us.

Our ANOC instructor was a Marine. Only about half of us in the TXSG are prior federal military. (I am not. ) While Marines can be found in the Medical Rangers, the Air Component, and the Army Component, most of them are (of course) in the Maritime Regiment. Technically, that is the uniform that I wear. However, I am not in TMAR; I am a clerk in the command group. But I knew our instructor. And in real life, he is a high school mathematics teacher. So, this class went well for me.

Non-commissioned officers are the backbone of the military and the reason our military is the best trained, most professional, and most respected in the world. First-line supervisors execute the day-to-day operations with precision whenever and wherever duty calls. Foreword, Army FM  7-22.7

One of our lessons was on the Abilene Paradox. No one really wanted to go to Abilene, but each of them thought that everyone else did, so they each went along with what they misperceived the consensus to be.

In the other ANOC that I observed the new high-ranking sergeants directed us lower non-coms in close order drill. In this class, the instructor called the commands. However, his lessons included several ways to achieve those troop movements. He even taught us “counter march, right about” which, rolling caissons or not, is not a proper command – but is cool to do and see done.

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