N. Gregory Mankiw Tries to Discredit Piketty

In this paper, titled Yes, r > g. So What?. N. Gregory Mankiw tries to show that Thomas Piketty is wrong that if r > g wealth will accumulate in the hands of a tiny number of rich people. It’s short and easy on the math, perhaps because it was part of a symposium rather than a stand-alone paper. For comparison, take a look at this by Piketty and Gabriel Zucman, which requires more than a passing familiarity with math. It seems unlikely that Mankiw had read this paper before he cranked out his, because Piketty addresses the issues Mankiw raises.

Mankiw makes three arguments. First, he says we need to have r > g. Second, he claims that the generational changes and taxation will prevent dynastic wealth. Third, he disagrees with Piketty’s solution which is a wealth tax. Let’s take them in turn.

1. The idea that r, the rate of return to capital, is greater than g, the rate of growth of the economy, is common in mainstream economic theory.

If the rate of return is less than the growth rate, the economy has accumulated an excessive amount of capital. In this dynamically inefficient situation, all generations can be made better off by reducing the economy’s saving rate. From this perspective, we should be reassured that we live in a world in which r > g because it means we have not left any dynamic Pareto improvements unexploited.

Mankiw’s standard is whether the economy can produce Pareto Improvements, meaning an improvement in the wealth of one or more people that doesn’t reduce the wealth anyone else. Mankiw simply ignores the fact that fabulous wealth carries with it the ability to influence the political process to extract more wealth, which is what Piketty says. Surely Mankiw isn’t arguing that won’t happen, because it does. Take, for example, the pharmaceutical industry where the business model is to increase prices with no additional benefit to anyone.

Then look at his cure. How exactly will the bottom 60% benefit by saving less? They won’t, because they are barely saving. They cannot come up with $400 to fix a car. Most of the rest wouldn’t be able to save less; they need to save for retirement, and to pay what their kids can’t make in this rotten economy. What Mankiw means is that the very top, the .1%, would have to spend a lot more, But what are they going to buy? Expensive trips on private jets? Van Gogh paintings? That isn’t going to help the economy or make anyone’s life better. The fact is that this argument points directly to the need to hike taxes on the idle money of the rich.

2. Mankiw’s second argument is an effort to show that taxes and generational changes will decrease dynastic wealth. Mankiw doesn’t confront the detailed argument Piketty makes on those very points. I introduce it here, and link to the detailed argument for those interested. Instead, Mankiw offers a simple model that proves his point, and could be understood by anyone who read his introduction to economics textbook; for typographical reasons, subscripts are not used for cw and ck

To oversimplify a bit, let’s just focus on this economy’s steady state. Using mostly conventional notation, it is described by the following equations.

(1) cw = w + τ k

(2) ck = (r − τ − g)nk

(3) r = f ′(k)

(4) w = f(k) − rk

(5) g = σ(r − τ − ρ),

where cw is consumption of each worker, ck is the consumption of each capitalist, w is the wage, r is the (before-tax) rate of return on capital, k is the capital stock per worker, n is the number of workers per capitalist (so nk is the capital stock per capitalist), f(k) is the production function for output (net of depreciation), g is the rate of labor-augmenting technological change and thus the steady-state growth rate, σ is the capitalists’ intertemporal elasticity of substitution, and ρ is the capitalists’ rate of time preference. Equation (1) says that workers consume their wages plus what is transferred by the government. Equation (2) says that capitalists consume the return on their capital after paying taxes and saving enough to maintain the steady-state ratio of capital to effective workers. Equation (3) says that capital earns its marginal product. Equation (4) says that workers are paid what is left after capital is compensated. Equation (5) is derived from the capitalists’ Euler equation; it relates the growth rate of capitalist’s consumption (which is g in steady state) to the after-tax rate of return.

Note that we didn’t get a definition of the symbol τ, which in conventional notation means taxes. As we learn a couple of paragraphs down, Mankiw means not general taxes, but taxes on returns to capital. As he tells us, all the money from taxes is consumed by the workers (equation (1)), that is, the total amount of taxes on capital is transferred directly, in the form of grants or indirectly in the form of services, to wage-earners and none of it is consumed by the capitalists. in the real world, capitalists consume a great deal of the expenditure on taxes, whether the taxes are on capital or income or otherwise. Obviously we need to put a non-trivial number into equation (2) to show that capitalists consume a portion of the taxes, and make an appropriate modification to equation (1) if we want this model to make minimal contact with the real world.

Mankiw says that in this model, there is no steady increase in inequality.

In this economy, even though r > g, there is no “endless inegalitarian spiral.” Instead, there is a steady-state level of inequality. (Optimizing capitalists consume enough to prevent their wealth from growing faster than labor income.)

This outcome was baked into the model with equation (2). If instead, we assume the same equations, but add a non-trivial number to equation (2), then the capitalist accumulates that non-trivial amount each year, and wealth inequality increases naturally even in his steady-state economy.

Also baked into this model is the remarkable idea that “capital earns its marginal product” and the rest of the money is paid out in wages. That’s just so far from reality that it makes the whole exercise pointless. But it enables Mankiw to justify rejecting Piketty’s recommendation of high wealth taxes. Mankiw explains that if the government wants to protect capital, it pushes the tax on capital into negative numbers, and the capitalists will push wages to subsistence level. But,

Taxing capital and transferring the proceeds to workers reduces the steady-state consumption of both workers and capitalists, but it impoverishes the capitalists at a faster rate.

Taxing returns to capital hurts everyone in this model. Of course, if capitalists are taxed at the rate of their actual consumption of tax receipts, the non-trivial amount that should be added to equation (2), then you would get Mankiw’s desired outcome of a non-increasing inequality. Or you could go a bit higher, and start reducing inequality without resort to his suggestion of a consumption tax.

Mankiw’s sterile model doesn’t explain the facts documented by Piketty and his colleagues, but it does demonstrate nicely the state of mainstream economics. Obviously the American Economic Association wanted a paper from Mankiw challenging Piketty, no matter its quality. Mankiw is an established figure, and thus the beneficiary of the social structure of the field described by Marion Fourcade and her colleagues in the section of this paper headed Inequality Within, p. 96,

Second, we document the pronounced hierarchy that exists within the discipline, especially in comparison with other social sciences. The authority exerted by the field’s most powerful players, which fosters both intellectual cohesiveness and the active management of the discipline’s internal affairs, has few equivalents elsewhere.

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Why Was Omar Mateen Researching Specific Law Enforcement Offices before His Attack?

Yesterday, I pointed out that the two informants the FBI apparently used against the Orlando killer, Omar Mateen, had not succeeded in getting him to do something they could arrest him for. Later yesterday, Olivier Knox asked Ranking Member of the House Intelligence Committee Adam Schiff about FBI’s attempted sting, and Schiff confirmed FBI had tried one that “did not result in additional evidence that could be used to either keep the file open or bring charges.”

Knox: The FBI in the past, when they’ve been alerted to people with potentially violent proclivities, potential terrorists, has dug into those cases and using informants has led people to take steps that led to their arrest, whether it’s setting up a sting operation in which they pretend to sell them weapons or explosives or the rest of it. Why didn’t that happen here?

Schiff: Well, it appears that it did happen here. I think the Director has acknowledged publicly that they ran a confidential source against this person to see whether he had any active intent to go beyond these expressions of radicalism, whether he was attempting to find confederates to work with him. And as a result of that nothing materialized. And that would indicate, at least it did seem to have indicated to the Bureau that the comments and the explanation that he gave for the comments may have had validity. So, in fact, sometimes when you run a source against a target, they will make their expressions of criminal intent very clear and they’ll take overt steps to carrying out a plot. Other times, it becomes clear that the person has no intent to commit harm and there’s no basis to continue an investigation. Here, apparently, the use of the confidential source did not result in additional evidence that could be used to either keep the file open or bring charges.

I wish, with this confirmation, Schiff had committed to ask more questions about this. We need to try to understand why FBI’s sting didn’t work here, because if stings don’t work for the actual terrorists FBI shouldn’t be doing them (this is a point that bizarrely did not get raised in this apology for stings from Politico).

Among several potential explanations for why the attempted sting against Mateen did not work, I suggested that, “The process of being investigated — and interviewed 3 times — actually further pissed off Mateen, leading him closer to violence.”

That possibility is one reason I’m very interested in this detail, from a story on Mateen’s Facebook searches in the months leading up to his attack (Fox took it out of the story since last night but it remains in Ron Johnson’s letter to Facebook).

My staff has also learned that Mateen apparently used Facebook to conduct frequent local law enforcement and FBI searches, including searching for specific law enforcement offices.

In addition to pledging allegiance to ISIS the morning of the attack and researching the San Bernardino couple, Mateen was closely tracking local and FBI law enforcement.

Now, maybe he was just doing that because he wanted to get a job as a cop. Maybe he did it because he wanted to know who was tracking him.

But couple it with two more data points. First, FBI and Florida law enforcement are defying Florida’s open records laws and withholding documents they normally would release quickly, including both Mateen’s several 911 calls but also any records of prior investigation of him or his family.

The Tampa Bay Times, for instance, asked the Department of Agriculture for information about Mateen’s security guard license, which he obtained almost a decade ago. A spokeswoman at the agriculture department says the FBI and Florida Department of Law Enforcement must authorize the information’s release.

The Times also reached out to the Fort Pierce Police Department asking for all cases in which Mateen, his relatives and others were named as a suspect, victim or witness. In response to this routine request, the agency refused and said the documents are part of an active criminal investigation.

Two dozen media outlets have asked the Orlando Police Department for 911 calls and radio communications. The city will not release these communications.

Add in the news (which is likely periphery to Mateen’s motivations but possibly not the refusal to share public records) that the cops responding to Mateen’s attack may have killed some of the dead.

Orlando Police Chief John Mina and other law enforcement officers offered new details about the shooting, including the possibility that some victims may have been killed by officers trying to save them.

“I will say this, that’s all part of the investigation,” Mina said. “But I will say when our SWAT officers, about eight or nine officers, opened fire, the backdrop was a concrete wall, and they were being fired upon.”

[snip]

An off-duty police officer working at the club Sunday night was investigating an underage drinker outside when he heard gunshots inside, according to the law enforcement source. The off-duty officer ran inside the club and traded gunfire with Mateen, backed up soon by three other police officers, the source said.

The officers fired at Mateen, who retreated into a bathroom toward the rear of the club.

“Those additional officers made entry while the suspect was shooting,” Mina said. “They forced him to stop shooting and retreat to the bathroom where we believe he had several hostages.”

The SWAT team, at least, was in body armor. Yet even admitting the possibility cops added to the casualties doesn’t explain how so many people got killed.

It is very important we understand what relationship FBI — and other law enforcement — had with Mateen leading up to the attack, partly to learn whether his attack was partly backlash against these serial attacks. Yet, amid a flood of self-serving leaks from the FBI, that’s one thing we’re not getting.

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Now Can We Ditch the Saudis?

Mohammed bin Salman, the third ranking royal Saudi, is in the US — ostensibly to visit John Kerry, Ash Carter, and Barack Obama.

But as FP reports, the latter hasn’t happened, and may not.

It was billed by Riyadh’s state media as a trip for Saudi Arabia’s powerful deputy crown prince to meet with President Barack Obama and other senior U.S. officials. But now that Prince Mohammed bin Salman has arrived in Washington, it’s still unclear if the president or any White House officials will meet with him, a spokeswoman said Tuesday.

“No confirmation at this time for any WH meetings,” White House spokesperson Dew Tiantawach told Foreign Policy.

The absence of any scheduled meetings with even National Security Adviser Susan Rice is fueling speculation among Gulf experts about a diplomatic snub. It comes amid sharp policy differences between Washington and Riyadh, and unease among U.S. officials about overplaying alliances with the 30-year-old prince, who some view as locked in a power struggle with the older Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef.

“Very unusual for the Saudis to come out saying he is meeting with Obama and White House not confirming it,” said David Ottaway, a Saudi expert at the Wilson Center in Washington. “They certainly knew he was coming.”

Meanwhile, Haykal Bafana, a usually reliable commentator on events in Yemen, has suggested that not just the one UAE helicopter reported more broadly, but two more, have been downed in recent days, by Saudi missiles. And the UAE tweeted out yesterday that it was withdrawing from the war in Yemen.

UAE, of course, was supporting (or headlining?) our efforts to continue targeting AQAP even as the Saudi invasion empowered the group, one the US has just added new resources to. If UAE withdraws we’ll be alone fighting AQAP.

Or, alternately, they may go back to benefitting wildly from the Saudi invasion of Yemen.

Are we getting closer to the point where we admit the Saudis are not our friends?

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At Same Time as DNC Hack Released, Funny Alleged Hacks in the Middle East

You’ve probably heard that hackers, probably Russian, hacked the DNC and released a bunch of information, including a really crappy oppo research report on Donald Trump. See this post for some of the materials and this analysis of the materials (including metadata to support the case these are Russians).

Given that development, I’m even more interesting in this development than I already was. Several websites in the Middle East — in this case Jordan’s Petra news service — posted a report that Mohammed bin Salman, the third ranking Saudi royal, had claimed to have provided Hillary 20% of her campaign funding.

On Sunday a report appeared on the Petra News Agency website that included what were described as exclusive comments from Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The comments included a claim that Riyadh has provided 20 percent of the total funding to the prospective Democratic candidate’s campaign.

I’m particularly interested in how that report got disclaimed: with intervention by the Podesta Group, which is both a lobbying arm for the Saudis and the firm of Hillary’s campaign manager.

On Monday a spokesperson for American public relations firm the Podesta Group contacted MEE to say that they work with the Saudi Royal Court and to request a correction to our earlier story that said the Jordanian news agency had deleted the quotes from Prince Mohammed.

Senior global communications specialist Will Bohlen – who, prior to joining Podesta, was chief researcher for a best-selling history of Bill Clinton’s presidency – sent a link to a clarification issued by the Petra News Agency which said it was “totally false and untrue” that they had published then deleted the quotes from Prince Mohammed about funding the Clinton campaign.

“A technical failure on Petra ’s website occurred for a few minutes on Sunday evening, 12 June 2016,” the Jordanian news agency said. “Protection systems at the agency as well as the technical department noticed that and therefore, they suspended the transmission system and the electronic site and moved to the alternative website.

“Later, it became clear that the technical failure that occurred was an attempt to hack the agency’s transmission system and its website. The agency was surprised to see some media outlets as well as the social media publishing false news that were attributed to Petra. They said that Petra transmitted a news item related to the deputy crown prince of Saudi Arabia and later deleted this news item. This is totally false and untrue.”

For now, I will assume this was a hack, which (again) I find to coincide interestingly with the DNC hack. The Clinton Foundation does get far too much money from the Saudis, but we can review Hillary’s actual funding to be sure that Mo bin Salman is not funding her campaign directly.

In entirely unrelated news I’ll put here anyway, the big Saudi investor Alwaleed bin Talal is now Twitter’s second largest investor.

Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Bin Abdulaziz Alsaud, who in 2011 invested $300 million in the social network, now owns 34.9 million shares of Twitter’s common stock, according to a new regulatory filing (pdf).

At nearly 5.2%, his stake in the company is now larger than that of Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s co-founder and newly re-minted CEO, whose 21.86 million shares give him 3.2% of the company, according to FactSet. (The prince previously had a stake of roughly 3%.)

Particularly given that Twitter isn’t exactly a great investment, I find Alwaleed’s interest in it notable.

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Wednesday: Hills Have Eyes

Hills have eyes, the hills have eyes
Who are you to judge, who are you to judge?
Hide your lies, girl, hide your lies
Only you to trust, only you

— excerpt, The Hills by The Weeknd

That tune’s NSFW, by the way, as is much of The Weeknd’s oeuvre.

Today’s theme is stuff to watch — things that aren’t quite done, may have long-term impact, or don’t make sense just yet.

U.S. Senate gun control filibuster
Right now I’m keeping an eye on the filibuster under way, now 13-plus hours in progress on the Senate floor, begun by Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) to support legislation for universal background checks and barring firearms sales to suspected terrorists. As of 11:15 p.m. EDT, 40 Senators had already spoken in participation; there were only two Republicans (Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Ben Sasse of Nebraska) and one Independent (Angus King of Maine) who joined Democrats so far. The Brady Campaign has been taking calls from constituents in support of the filibuster at (855) 331-8593 and redirecting calls to senators’ voicemail so that the Senate can hear the public’s demand for gun control.

If you want to watch the filibuster, you can catch it on cable at CSPAN-2 or this link.

I’m also keeping an eye on these issues:

Next on Net Neutrality
A rare bright spot over the last week is the FCC’s win over ISPs in US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit; you can bet this fight isn’t over, though the court found the FCC could regulate ISPs as it does common carriers. Worth brushing up on net neutrality, given Comcast’s support of candidate Trump by way of NBC coverage both as candidate and reality TV personality. Comcast could well parlay its support into demands for an end to net neutrality should Trump win the White House.

Brexit bonking bankers
Polling flipped over the last two weeks from Remain to Leave. Bankers are beginning to worry and are scheduling a very long night when polls close next week.

Microsoft and LinkedIn merger
Technology folks can’t make any sense out of this prospective marriage, which must yet be approved by the feds. I can’t make any sense out of it, either, given the losses several of LinkedIn’s largest investors must eat — they’re also Microsoft investors, which means the money merely changes pockets without actually increasing. The deal is massive in terms of cost, dwarfing previous acquisitions by Microsoft.

So why do this deal, apart from the obvious access to technology decisionmakers with high levels of discretionary income? Wouldn’t it simply be cheaper to buy ad space on LinkedIn or even invest a smaller amount rather than acquire the entire business?

Or has Microsoft changed its overall business model — does it intend to sell something other than software once it has closed the LinkedIn deal?

All I know is that I’m leaving LinkedIn as soon as the feds approve the deal. I don’t want Microsoft to have any more of my time and money than they have right now, and I’m sick of their highly intrusive habits. Imagine the persistent nagging of Microsoft combined with the icky annoyance of LinkedIn reminders, like ones I still get about long-deceased acquaintances. Clippy the Undead, nagging me about software updates…Gah.

Volatile Venezuela
Clearly candidate Trump is watching Venezuela closely, though I wonder if he would have noticed without being included in security briefings. With the latest El Nino now ended, the weather may change bringing relief from drought if not from political insecurity and volatility due to the collapse of oil prices over the last several years. Interesting op-ed on the violence in Venezuela suggests a new perspective must be considered: the violence suggests the end of the state apparatus.

Mongolia’s addresses
The country is migrating physical addresses to a three-word phrase to accommodate a spread-out nomadic population in country with few roads and little infrastructure. In some ways, this mirrors virtual addresses used in networked environments. Is this a model for other countries in the near future?

Zika virus and blood supply safety
Hadn’t even thought of this — if Zika can be transmitted by sex, it’s certainly transmitted by other bodily fluids like blood. We need to think about blood supply safety, especially once the virus is spread by domestic mosquitoes. Pregnant women, and persons intending to become parents within months of receiving a transfusion should not receive Zika-contaminated blood.

What are you watching?

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Why Did FBI’s Multiple Informants Fail to Catch Omar Mateen in a Sting?

One detail of the FBI’s 2013 investigation into Omar Mateen that seems to be getting inadequate attention is that they used multiple informants with him, per Jim Comey’s press conference on Monday:

Our investigation involved introducing confidential sources to him, recording conversations with him, following him, reviewing transactional records from his communications, and searching all government holdings for any possible connections, any possible derogatory information. We then interviewed him twice. [my emphasis]

Normally, when the FBI identifies a Muslim mouthing off about joining ISIS, they throw one or more informants at him, develop his trust, then have him press a button or buy a plane ticket to Syria, which they use to arrest the guy.

That didn’t happen here. While they did record the conversations between these informants and Mateen, they never got him to do something they could arrest him for.

And I suspect we won’t get answers why they didn’t, though it seems an absolutely critical question for assessing how the FBI investigates terrorism. If FBI’s chosen method of using informants only works with the dopes and not the real threats, all it does is juice the FBI’s prosecution numbers, without keeping us safe. Alternately, it’s possible FBI assumes certain things about a potential “Islamic” threat, which turned out to be wrong in this case.

I can think of several possible reasons why FBI’s informants might not have worked the way they normally do (these are speculative):

  • Mateen was just not serious about terrorism in 2013, but something since then (perhaps the decline in his marriage, perhaps the US launching yet another war against Muslims in the Middle East) led him to embrace it in 2016
  • Mateen, who went to cop school, recognized the informants for what they were
  • The prominent reporting on FBI’s investigations into Ibragim Todashev and their infiltration of his circle of friends (the FBI’s investigation would have lasted from July 2013 until May 2014) made Mateen vigilant enough to resist the informants’ appeals
  • The informants tried to entice Mateen via Islamic ideology and not homophobic self-hatred (that is, they used the wrong trigger)
  • The process of being investigated — and interviewed 3 times — actually further pissed off Mateen, leading him closer to violence

Again, these are all speculative. We can’t know without more detail why the FBI’s typical use of informants failed this time.

But we deserve answers to the question, because if the Muslim community is going to be riddled with informants, they had better be serving some purpose other than selective surveillance of a minority group.

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John Cornyn Wants to Pass Law Letting FBI Collect Information on Omar Mateen It Already Collected

The bodies from Sunday’s Orlando massacre are not yet buried, but that hasn’t stopped John Cornyn from trying to use their deaths to expand surveillance that would not have stopped the attack.

Cornyn told reporters yesterday he will use the attack to push to include Electronic Communications Transaction Records in the things FBI can obtain with a National Security Letter.

Senator John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Senate Republican, pointed to a longstanding request by the FBI to expand the scope of electronic records — such as web browsing history — agents could sweep up from companies in terrorism investigations without obtaining a court order.

“They could go and get additional information, like metadata, who he’s e-mailing, the websites he’s accessing. Not content,” Cornyn told reporters Monday.

[snip]

Legislation dealing with the FBI’s surveillance powers — something that has been requested by FBI Director James Comey — could come to the Senate floor as soon as this week as part of a debate on the spending bill that funds law enforcement.

“This was the No. 1 legislative priority of the FBI according to James Comey, and those sort of additional surveillance tools could have provided the FBI more information, which would have allowed them to identify this guy as the threat that he obviously was,” Cornyn said.

In his push for new authorities, Cornyn actually claimed that if the FBI had obtained Omar Mateen’s ECTRs, it “could have provided the FBI more information” which would have “allowed” the FBI to “identify this guy as the threat that he obviously was.”

But even the article quotes (but does not unpack) Jim Comey explaining why Cornyn’s claim that ECTRs would have helped the FBI identify Mateen as a threat is complete bullshit: because FBI obtained his ECTRs.

Our investigation involved introducing confidential sources to him, recording conversations with him, following him, reviewing transactional records from his communications, and searching all government holdings for any possible connections, any possible derogatory information. We then interviewed him twice.

John Cornyn wants to give FBI the authority to obtain what they obtained (presumably via a subpoena), promising that obtaining the same records via a parallel authority somehow would have tipped the FBI that he was a threat when the very same ECTRs didn’t do so obtained via subpoena.

The claim is so stupid I can only assume former judge, TX Attorney General, and longtime Senate Judiciary Committee member has no fucking clue what he’s talking about.

And based on that position of authority, Cornyn wants us to believe we need to pass this law?

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Tuesday: Going Alone

I’ve been so damned angry I’ve had difficulty wrapping words around what I want to say. It’s still Tuesday somewhere, so I’ll grit this out.

Assault weapons should be banned for sale to civilians.

Spare me the crap about hunters and taking their guns. My freezer contains 25 to 100 pounds of venison at any time. This household lives off the results of hunting and respects the power of firearms. None of this meat required an assault weapon.

If an assault weapon had been used, it would have been a waste of a deer tag. There’d be no meat left.

The embedded video above shows the damage hunting ammo does at close range — approximately 15-20 feet — on meat. The next video shows the damage #4 and #8 birdshot can do at short range, even through multiple layers of denim and drywall. Imagine what an assault weapon would do to flesh at similar range.

Better yet, listen to what a combat vet says about assault weapons.

There’s nothing in the Second Amendment to suggest a prohibition on certain weapons is wrong; if anything, the framing of a ‘well regulated militia’ suggests limitations are in order.

There’s also nothing in the Second Amendment to suggest that gun manufacturers have an absolute right to an unrestrained business model, or to profits at the expense of the public’s general welfare.

Nor does the Second Amendment say a damned thing about catering to ‘gun enthusiasts’ who want guns for ‘pleasure’. A ‘well regulated militia’ doesn’t possess guns but as necessary for the ‘security of a free state’, not personal enjoyment.

And both embedded videos embedded make a bloody good case that arguments about assault weapons being necessary to stop a home invasion are trash. Birdshot at close range can do one hell of a lot of damage, as do 00 buckshot and a 1-oz slug.

Congress — more specifically, the GOP — needs to strap on its spine and draw the line on assault weapons. How many more dead Americans is it going to take before Congress clues in the terrorist threat is already here? It’s domestic, and it’s better armed than the police because GOP-led Congress is as weak as the GOP is against Trump.

Spare the empty moments of silence and prayers which might as well be to Moloch after another human sacrifice. Such fail at protecting the American public.

Speaking of which…

Information Security Fail

  • USAF database with records on ~100,000 investigations ‘lost’ (Defense One) — This is such bullshit, I can’t even…why is a CONTRACTOR, which may be the subject of any one of the 100K investigations, hosting and managing a database like this? What a massive conflict of interest. The database included constituent and congressional inquiries. Don’t even get me started on the fact this system relied on Microsoft Internet Explorer. Where have we seen this kind of massive loss of data including failed backups before? Hardly a surprise the data covers the period including most of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars as well as the construction of the F-35. Somebody better lose their job for this crap, and there’d better be a respectable investigation instead of the usual fluffery hiding billions of lost dollars.
  • DNC database infiltrated by the Russians (WaPo) — DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz needs to be walked out the door for this bullshit, along with responsible IT management. As if anyone able to sit up and take nourishment couldn’t see the DNC computer systems would be a target for cybercrime and cyberwarfare. No excuses for this during the run-up to a general election season, especially when her favorite candidate is already floundering because of information security failures during her tenure as Secretary of State. This bit:

    The depth of the penetration reflects the skill and determination of the United States’ top cyber adversary as Russia goes after strategic targets, from the White House and State Department to political campaign organizations.

    Total blowjob for access. If the hackers got in by spearphishing as suggested in the article, there’s no finesse required. Just poorly trained/educated users and no firewall between email and database. The only thing that surprises me about this is that ransomware wasn’t deployed. Imagine it: a major U.S. political party ground to a halt by spearphish-delivered ransomware.

  • University of Calgary paid CDN$20K after ransomware attack (Calgary Herald) — First heard about this attack the end of May. Looks like the school had no choice but to offer the bitcoin equivalent of $20K to release their systems, which says a lot about backup systems and rebuild cost. Considering the broad range of users at universities and widely different levels of experience and training, I’m surprised we haven’t seen more ransomware attacks on schools. Though monetarily they’re less appetizing than other targets, and may have more resources to deal with the threat if they have a strong IS/IS program.
  • Chinese IBM employee arrested for trade secret theft (Reuters) — The indictment (pdf) says the now-former IBM employee stole proprietary software related to hyperscale storage clusters, or what most consumers would know as ‘cloud storage’. This is a technology segment in which the U.S. still has considerable clout in terms of marketshare, and in terms of global economic impact based on its use. Reporting on this indictment has been vague, referring to the technology at the heart of this case as ‘networking software’. It’s more complex than that; the proprietary software underpins storage and retrieval of data across networked large storage devices. (Hi blueba. Just checking to see if you missed me. Can’t let the Russians have all the fun.)

Basta. Enough. Let’s hope Wednesday is kinder than the last handful of days have been.

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CIA Lied about Leaking to Screw David Passaro and Protect Bush and Tenet

In the SSCI Torture Report, it has two references to how press people were leaking details of the the torture program to the press even while lawyers were claiming that the program was top secret. In this document, someone notes “our Glomar fig leaf is getting pretty thin.” In this one, a lawyer admits the declaration he had just written “about the secrecy of the interrogation program” was “a work of fiction.”

This document explains why the CIA was playing such games: to screw over David Passaro, a CIA contractor who was being tried for assaulting a detainee.

I know there is an urgency about the 7th Floor to attempt to defend the CIA program in the public domain. However, we need to have the 7th Floor confront the inconsistency in filing a CIPA declaration in Passaro about how critical it is to keep this information secret and at the same time planning to reveal the darn near the [sic] entire program. These goals are not obviously compatible.

I’ve written about Passaro at length before. Here’s a summary of what happened, which is basically that an insurgent suspect was brought into a remote base and — after being interrogated by 4 different people — died. Passaro was indicted just as the (and probably because) the Abu Ghraib scandal was breaking. Before he was indicted, he had a period working at Fort Bragg, during which he put together a bunch of documents to defend himself, which was then confiscated. But he clearly intended to expose details about the torture program and the Gloves Come Off Memorandum of Notification (Passaro was working under a separate program authorized by the MON, the Counterterrorism Pursuit Teams). Of particular note, he asked for documents pertaining to CIA torture that would have clearly implicated George Tenet and George Bush (because, effectively, Passaro’s activities were directly authorized by that same MON).

In response, Passaro got bullshit discovery, some document that had been superseded by the ones that would have implicated the two Georges, rather than the one that would have made it clear techniques he was accused of using against the detainee had been approved, indirectly in that MON, by the President.

There are, in my opinion, several other reasons (witnesses and other information withheld) why Passaro did not get a fair trial. So I don’t actually know whether we know what happened and who should have been found guilty for it.

But one thing is now clear.

Even while CIA was leaking information to the press in an effort to spin their torture program, they were at the same time submitting sworn declarations in Passaro’s case designed to ensure he wouldn’t get the documents proving that George Tenet and George Bush had ordered precisely the kinds of things he was being tried for doing. The CIA was lying to protect the muckety-mucks, to include the President, while fucking the scapegoat, the one guy the government still points to to pretend they can prosecute torture.

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CIA Finally Declassifies “Gloves Come Off” Memorandum of Notification Reference

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Back in 2012, I wrote a series of posts on the Obama Administration’s extraordinary efforts to censor this title. (post 1, post 2, post 3, post 4, post 5, post 6post 7, post 8)

The title was part of some smart CYA on the part of George Tenet. When things started to go south with the torture program in 2003, he wrote this document, ostensibly putting order to the torture program, but also making it clear the whole thing operated on Presidential authority. (The document, which should have been released to David Passaro in his criminal trial for torturing a detainee who subsequently died, was withheld, which prevented him from pointing out anything he did, he did with Presidential approval, so Tenet’s CYA didn’t help him at all.)

The judge in ACLU’s lawsuit to liberate torture documents, Alvin Hellerstein, decided the language should not be censored, and ordered the government release it. Then National Security Advisor Jim Jones wrote a secret declaration stating that it could not be disclosed. All the while, ACLU thought they were fighting to release a description of waterboarding, when in fact Hellerstein was trying to force the Administration to release the single detail that torture had been done on the President’s order.

But the Second Circuit overruled Hellerstein, declaring these 8 words a source and method (for the record, I guessed exactly what was behind the redaction so their secret was only useful for legal challenges).

That the torture program operated pursuant to a Finding (that is, as a covert op) had long been known thanks to blabby CIA types like John Rizzo. But it was formally declassified as part of the Torture Report. It got released today as part of a Jason Leopold lawsuit.

So there you have it. “Presidential Memorandum of Notification of 17 September 2001.” A secret Obama fought to the circuit court, now public for all the world to see.

It doesn’t feel so momentous, does it?

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