American Elephants

Guantanamo: Myths, Propaganda, and The Consequences of Progressive Politics. by The Elephant's Child

BN-LD124_2gitmo_M_20151105184452Under the Obama administration, the Democrats have lost 900 state legislature seats, 12 more states are now governed by Republicans, Congress now has 69 more Republican House seats, and 13 more Republican Senate seats. That’s Obama’s legacy. Normally, when Congress has turned against the president’s programs, the president will seek to cooperate more, or at least consult, with the other party in recognition of the intent of the people.

Obama, on the other hand, has determined that he’s going to show the people just who’s the boss and govern by executive orders and memos. When Obama released Taliban who were being held at Gitmo in exchange for Bowe Bergdahl, he sent them to Qatar, for the Qataris to manage. He said:

We will be keeping eyes on them. Is there the possibility of some of them trying to return to activities that are detrimental to us? Absolutely. That’s been true of all the prisoners that were released from Guantanamo. There is a certain rate that takes place.

I wouldn’t be doing it if I thought it was contrary to the American national security and we have confidence that we will be in a position to go after them if, in fact, they are engaging in activities that threaten our defenses. But this is what happens at the end of wars. That was true for George Washington, that was true for Abraham Lincoln, that was true for FDR. That has true for every combat situation, that at some point you make sure that you try to get your folks back, and that’s the right thing to do.

The Editorial Board at Bloomberg remarked that “It may come as a surprise to Barack Obama that the commander in chief of the U.S. armed forces does not necessarily get to decide when a war is over.”

He also does not understand that the detainees in Guantanamo are not prisoners of war, to be sent home when the war ends,  but terrorists — armed enemy combatants who do not qualify under the Geneva Conventions  as prisoners of war. They have nevertheless been treated as humanely as if they were.

Democrat political propaganda has attempted to portray the detainees at Gitmo as if they were subject to daily torture. Innumerable inspections from every human rights group have determined that they are being well treated, with respect for the Muslim religion. Yet articles about Gitmo are usually 640x392_50143_187015accompanied by this image of the first arrivals, as if this was the daily state of affairs there. It is not. If you look up pictures of Guantanamo, the list of queries includes wanting to see pictures of torture, or of waterboarding.

Democrats always believe their own propaganda, probably because they don’t read anything else. The Geneva Conventions of 1949 were formed because of the way Allied prisoners of war were treated by the Japanese and the Nazis. Today ISIS chops off heads and burns their prisoners alive, or ask John McCain about the Vietnamese, long after the Conventions were accepted as international law. Nazis during WWII were detained in prison camps here, and were well treated. Yet the myth persists. Democrats are always sure detainees are being mistreated, because to so believe fits their political agenda.

Normally, six national security agencies and the Defense Secretary must sign off on letting a detainee go. Obama has ignored them and had his own special committee appointed, composed largely of compliant minions, to make the decision. Announced just as the Pope was arriving, Abdul Shalabi, suspected of being an Osama bin Laden bodyguard, was released back to Saudi Arabia. Shalabi has agreed to take a ‘rehabilitation class’ in Saudi Arabia.

Out of 647 detainees who have been released from Guantanamo Bay, 116 have gone right back to “re-engaging” in terrorism according to a report from the DNI James Clapper.

In August, Muktar Yahya Najee al Warafi  sued for release on the grounds that the war is over and the law authorizing it (and his detention) has expired. (Yes the detainees have full access to attorneys).  Warafi, a Yemeni, served as a medic for the Taliban in 2001. He cited claims by White House officials and Obama’s declaration last January that “America’s longest war has come to a responsible end.”

U.S District Court Judge Royce Lamberth was not persuaded. As long as hostilities continue, so does the war’s legal basis, and Obama’s rhetoric does not overturn Congress’ intention.

President Obama is about to send Congress a plan to close the terrorist prison at Guantanamo Bay. It is doomed from the start, but then he can shut down Gitmo by executive order. As Josh Earnest said, we “work with Congress where we can, but if Congress continues to refuse, I wouldn’t rule out the President using every element of his authority to make progress.” The Wall Street Journal added:

Another day at the office for a progressive President intent on reducing the legislative branch to a nullity. For the record, the National Defense Authorization Act this year contains an explicit congressional ban on transferring detainees to the U.S. through 2016.

The White House wants to transfer the prisoners to the U.S. Naval Consolidated Brig in South Carolina; at the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas, or the federal supermax prison in Colorado. The WSJ again:

Mr. Obama’s inability to negotiate honestly with the legislature is a hallmark of his Presidency. More damaging is the precedent he is setting by making major policy changes with no more than a wave of his executive hand. Press reports note that Administration lawyers are working on legal justifications for the Gitmo order. Decision first, the law later.

The press is still invested in Obama’s success, or at least in quieting outrage. Any other president who, while prosecuting an unpopular war, credited with 3 out of 4 deaths in Afghanistan under his watch, saw a series of critical national security advisors resign might get some unfavorable coverage. On Sept. 22, General John Allen announced his intention to resign, Within a week, Evelyn Farkas, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia, handed in her resignation. The report from Commentary with the details is a devastating account of a president paralyzed with indecision. He is being tested by the world’s bad actors and has little resolve to act early and decisively.

President Obama Orders Behavioral Experiments on the American People by The Elephant's Child

Awkward timing? A step in the wrong direction? What are they thinking?

President Obama announced a new executive order on Tuesday which authorizes federal agencies to conduct behavioral experiments on U.S. citizens in order to advance government initiatives.

“A growing body of evidence demonstrates that behavioral science insights — research findings from fields such as behavioral economics and psychology about how people make decisions and act on them — can be used to design government policies to better serve the American people,” reads the executive order, released on Tuesday.

The initiative is based on research from University of Chicago economist Richard Thaler and Harvard law school professor Cass Sunstein. Sunstein was Obama’s regulatory czar. The two “behavioral scientists,” the article calls them (an economist and a law school professor) argued in their 2008 book Nudge, that government policies can be designed in such a way that they “nudge” citizens towards certain behaviors and choices.

“The desired choices,” says reporter Chuck Ross, “almost always advance the goals of the federal government, though they are often couched as ways to cut overall program spending.” Of course they are.

The new executive order encourages federal agencies to “identify policies, programs, and operations where applying behavioral science insights may yield substantial improvements in public welfare, program outcomes, and program cost effectiveness,” as well as to “develop strategies for applying behavioral science insights to programs and, where possible, rigorously test and evaluate the impact of these insights.”

I’m sorry, but the federal government has no right to “nudge” people into making the “correct choices.” Obama has clearly slipped into full tyrant mode. Is this Brave New World or 1984?  Behavioral experimentation indeed. When I went to school we used different words  — we called it “propaganda.”

Leftists clearly believe, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, that because we made the mistake of electing them, they are far smarter than the rest of us. The late Robert Conquest nailed it:

The more romantic, but not thereby less disastrous, motives for self-deception were often a matter of good intentions — a proverbially inadequate guide. Its bearers had turned to socialism as a means of creating a better, more humane society. But of course socialism is not a synonym for humanitarianism but a specific social and political mechanism credited with the power to produce that society.

Conquest further noted that “The ethical argument, if such it can be called, seems to run:

  1. there is much injustice under capitalism
  2. socialism will end this injustice
  3. therefore anything that supports socialism is to be supported,
  4. including any amount of injustice.

The Most Transparent Administration in History?? by The Elephant's Child

obama-us-iraqjpeg-05349-550x367In a famous remark a couple of years ago, President Obama boasted that “this is the most transparent administration in history.”

“A bipartisan consensus has long held that a healthy democracy requires a significant measure of government transparency.” Since 1950 the Federal Records Act has required the government to preserve documents about its decisions.

Since the 1960s the government has been subject to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) which gives citizens the right to see those records. In 2009, the National Archives issued rules requiring federal agencies to preserve employee work on non official accounts in a government record-keeping system.

The Obama Administration has long talked “transparency” but tried to hide everything from this legal regime. Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State conducted most of her correspondence on a private, homemade email system that she failed to disclose, kept away from the federal government, and when the system was exposed — Mrs. Clinton declared that she would be the arbiter of what she would allow the American people or Congress to see. Her aide Huma Abedin also had an account on that system, but Mrs. Abedin has not yet bothered to deliver her government records to State.

In August, the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) filed a FOIA request to gain access to the private email account of White House science czar John Holdren, who may have used a private account for government work.

CEI exposed former EPA Director Lisa Jackson for using a secret alias “Richard Windsor” when emailing on the EPA system, which was apparently designed to thwart any FOIA requests for her conversations since “Lisa Jackson” didn’t appear on her emails.

Lois Lerner’s emails from the IRS have been subpoenaed for two years,  without success and with extensive lies and obfuscations. Now it turns out she had a second private email account to conduct government work under the name “Toby Miles” and the IRS still cannot account for its contents.

It is becoming apparent that the practice is rampant among Administration officials, including the Secretaries of Agriculture, Labor and HHS. All have secret government email accounts that neither Congress nor the public are aware of in defiance of federal law.

Last week a federal court subpoenaed former EPA official Phillip North after a complaint by a mining concern called the Pebble Partnership. Mr. North worked from inside the EPA with outside activists to scuttle Pebble’s proposed Alaskan mining project, and he did so on private email.

The Lerner and North cases also highlight the Administration’s sloppy, or willfully obstructionist, approach to recordkeeping. Recall the crash of Ms. Lerner’s hard drive, and the IRS’s claim for months it had no backup of her work. Treasury’s Inspector General would later find some. Mr. North’s hard drive also crashed, and Pebble claims that key North emails and documents have gone missing from EPA’s official record.

The people are justified in believing that this Administration’s evasion of disclosing information is not an accident. The public has a right to ask just what is being done in their name. President Obama believes in government by executive order — the latest example is changing the designation of what is clearly a Treaty to a mere executive order.  The Washington Post recently noted that the White House seeks to misdirect.

Obama issued only 20 executive orders in 2013 (the lowest single-year total in more than a century. But that year he issued 41 presidential memoranda, along with nine additional presidential “determinations.” And there are more avenues: regulatory action, signing statements, legal interpretations and administrative orders technically issued by department heads, but at the behest of the White House.

Then there are other ways of making the presidential preferences known, and the Washington Post lists them.  And lists some of the worst abuses cited by those who feel that the president has abused his executive authority.  It would be interesting to see just how many FOIA requests are hanging around waiting for a reply. Then there are all those computers that ‘unexpectedly’ crashed, lost everything, bad computers sent to the dump, and of course “wiped.” There’s a real reason why Hillary is in so much trouble.

Repeating Jonah Goldberg’s aphorism:

“The people are the boss, the government is the servant. The Constitution is the government’s job description. The Declaration of Independence is its mission statement. Campaigns are the job interview, elections are the hiring and firing process.”

This Really Covers It, Doesn’t It? by The Elephant's Child


(click to enlarge)

Governing by Executive Order? This is Not a Nation of One-Man Rule! by The Elephant's Child


The upcoming State of the Union address is expected to be focused on the economy, so the President is picking up the pace of jobs messages, and attempting to demonstrate how he can advance his economic agenda. The problem, of course, is that presidents cannot create jobs, except by federal hiring, and that just takes more money out of taxpayer pockets.

Jobs are created by businesses confident in their ability to grow and expand, unfettered by excessive regulation and excessive taxation. Mr. Obama clearly believes that he can create jobs if he just speaks forcefully enough to business.

We’re not just going to be waiting for legislation in order to make sure that we’re providing Americans the kind of help they need. I’ve got a pen and I’ve got a phone,” Obama said Tuesday as he convened his first Cabinet meeting of the year.

Obama continued: ”And I can use that pen to sign executive orders and take executive actions and administrative actions that move the ball forward in helping to make sure our kids are getting the best education possible, making sure that our businesses are getting the kind of support and help they need to grow and advance, to make sure that people are getting the skills that they need to get those jobs that our businesses are creating.”

Obama’s message to his cabinet is “that we need all hands on deck to build on the recovery that we’re already seeing. The economy is improving, but it can be improving even faster.” The approach is meant to portray Obama as an impatient executive in the face of inaction from Congress, particularly in the Republican-controlled House.

Only through legislation can he get some of the most ambitious items on his economic agenda. He really can’t do it with his pen and phone. Executive orders won’t do it. And hopefully, it won’t get done. He wants a higher minimum wage, which is an unemployment act for young people already suffering from monstrously high unemployment rates. He wants universal preschool, which the results of Head Start, and dozens of careful studies have shown, does not work to give kids a better start in school. It amounts to expensive babysitting.

President Obama’s attempts at job creation have a remarkably poor history. His efforts at killing jobs have been much more successful. If he would just ignore the former and eschew the latter, we’d be better off. Early on there were the shovel-ready jobs and roads and crumbling bridges, crumbling schools too. Then there were all the green jobs that renewable energy would create.

The federal government added job-training programs in home insulation and energy-related stuff. Unfortunately the government was already overloaded with job training programs, mostly duplicative, and run by different departments who were unaware of each other. Few people actually found jobs after the training. The high-speed rail that was going to connect the cities of the Midwest died, and the railroad to nowhere in California is on life-support. The president visited every new manufacturing plant that offered a good photo-op, but his presence and blessings didn’t prevent bankruptcy.

He eliminated the possibility of drilling for oil on all coasts and most federal lands, but privately funded wildcatters went ahead and drilled with new fracking techniques on private land that is the only part of the economy that is actually booming and America is rapidly becoming through their efforts the energy powerhouse of the world. Even at that, 42 percent of our electricity is still produced by coal-fired power plants, which Obama is determined to put out of business with their millions of jobs.

There are things that a president can do with executive orders, but laws are made by Congress— according to the Constitution which Obama promised to preserve, protect and defend. The Executive is supposed to see that the laws are enforced. Americans are slowly becoming aware of the President’s legal end-run around Congress, and they don’t like it. According to a new IBD/TIPP poll, 55% disapprove of such a fiat rule. Americans are hamstrung by their deep respect for the office of the presidency.

Secrets, Conspiracy, Rumors And A Lack of Transparency. by The Elephant's Child

North by Northwest

In the first two years of his presidency, Barack Obama had an easy relationship with Congress, for both houses were controlled by Democrats, and what Obama wanted, Obama got. In the second two years, Republicans won a solid majority in the House of Representatives, and the president faced opposition. Mr. Obama has made it clear that he doesn’t like disagreement.

Republicans are deeply worried about the administration’s profligate spending, and worry that raising taxes, as they agreed to in January, will put the nation back into recession. Mr. Obama believes that spending is the way to economic growth.

The president’s arrogant attempts to go around Congress and the excessive flow of regulation from the administration have alarmed administration watchers. Promises of “transparency” have proven to be ephemeral.

Answers about the “Fast and Furious” gunrunning scandal have not been forthcoming. Sensitive security information about the bin Laden raid was released to the media for political purposes. Obama told Defense Contractors to hide scheduled layoffs until after the election, breaking the law.

The attack on the Benghazi compound and the death of the ambassador, his technology aide, and two former SEAL team members was covered up, blamed on an obscure video, the filmmaker imprisoned on spurious charges, amid charges that the administration made no effort to save their lives during a seven-hour battle. The president was disinterested and went to bed, as did the Secretary of State.

It came to light that the president has a “kill list” of terrorists who could be eliminated by drones. A terrorist in Yemen who was killed turned out to be an American citizen. His young son who was an American citizen was also killed. Lots of questions were raised. Does the president have the authority to kill an American citizen, even if he is a suspected, or known, terrorist? Are there rules? And what are they?

News report: Homeland Security ordered 450 million rounds of ammunition for its 65,ooo armed personnel. In 2011, the FBI ordered up to 100 million bullets for its 13,913 agents.  A tragic mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School brought demands to end “gun violence.” Posturing politicians like California’s Dianne Feinstein went after “assault weapons,” though no one could identify just what an assault weapon is — it seems to be entirely cosmetic. Americans saw this as an effort to repeal the Second Amendment, and rushed to gun dealers to buy weapons and stock up  on ammunition. What did you expect?

President Obama made a series of nominations for major cabinet offices, and chose, for Defense, a former enlisted man who believes in eliminating nuclear weapons and seems not to understand our recent wars at all. Obama fired, or encouraged the departure of two of our top generals. And for CIA he chose a man who was apparently involved in running a secret operation in Benghazi that affected the attacks there, and who seemed incapable of answering simple direct questions.

The Department of Homeland Security bought 7,000 5.56 x45 NATO personal defense weapons (real assault weapons), both automatic and semi-automatic. DHS has also purchased 2,717 MRAP (Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected) vehicles with gun ports, for use on American city streets. Why?

Overarmed federal officials are increasingly employing military tactics as a first resort in routine law enforcement. They are employing heavily armed SWAT teams against harmless, frequently innocent civilians who are accused of non-violent civil or administrative violations. Deroy Murdock  enumerated some of the victims of over-armed military style agency attack.

If these separate actions and incidents have made many Americans a little paranoid,  it’s hardly surprising. Governments have been brought down for less.

When Americans demand “transparency,” they actually mean it. The President and all his minions and our representatives in Congress work for us. They are not autocrats entitled to keep their actions secret. The oaths they take to defend the Constitution are not matters of tradition, but promises they make— in return for the offices we allow them to hold temporarily. They need to explain their actions. They are responsible to us.

The government has no money of its own. The funds they squander so carelessly came out of our pockets, and represent a vacation we couldn’t afford, a neglected repair for the house, a needed new appliance that will have to wait for another year. We didn’t elect them to “fundamentally transform” the United States of America. We elected them to preserve, protect and defend. and they’ve been doing a lousy job of it. We want straight answers, and ethical behavior.

Senator Rand Paul had some questions about John Brennan, the nominee to head the Central Intelligence Agency. He wrote to Mr. Brennan requesting some clarification of administration attitudes toward their powers of authorizing drone strikes against a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil , and without trial. This came in the wake of considerable talk about the use of drones in the United States, and the execution with a drone of an American Citizen and his family in Yemen. The administration handed the question over to Attorney General Eric Holder, who was incapable of giving a straight answer, as was nominee Brennan.

So Rand Paul filibustered the nomination. Eric Holder could not clarify the distinction between what is a matter of due process and what is war-making and subject to the rules of war. Democrats would not give a “Sense of the Senate” that drone attacks could not be made on American citizens on American territory.

It is to be hoped that the administration will gain some understanding of the problems that have been caused by their own lack of transparency, their refusal to give straight answers to straight questions, and a general arrogance that proclaims that they are our betters and are not answerable to us.

Obama, Ill-Conceived Executive Orders, And The Internet. by The Elephant's Child

On Tuesday, before 4:20 p.m., the White House emailed reporters that President Obama had signed a highly anticipated Executive Order aimed at protecting cyber security. The order is aimed at setting up new programs aimed at stopping online espionage and terrorism, was embargoed until after the State of the Union speech was delivered. The White House summary of the Executive Order is here.

The Heritage Foundation’s “The Foundry’ suggests that based on drafts that circulated, the executive order is apt to be highly flawed in its efforts to impose regulations on the dynamic cyber realm. It is a poor policy choice. Obama, the Foundry suggests, seems set on burning bridges with Congress by circumventing them on this issue.

The House easily passed the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) which was designed to improve the sharing of information on cyber threats and vulnerabilities. The Senate and the administration insisted the cybersecurity regulations be the main feature of any bill. Many Senators thought regulations might actually hurt security, and impose large costs, encourage compliance, and failed to pass a regulatory bill. They wisely decided that regulation was not the way to go.

The president intends to go around Congress if they won’t pass what he wants them to. The Supreme Court, in the past, has indicated that laws are to come from Congress, that is their Constitutional function, and the White House does not get to make law. There’s a reason why the Constitution does not give that function to the Executive. Obama has made it clear that he has no respect for the constitutional separation of powers. Will this come to a showdown? Or will the new “regulations” subject us to an even worse attack, with no courageous group of computer geeks to take up the digital sword to defend us.?

I just finished reading Mark Bowden’s 2011 book: WORM: The First Digital World War. The Conficker worm infected its first computer in November 2008. Within a month, it had infiltrated 1.5 million computers in 195 countries. Banks, telecommunications companies and critical government networks, including the British Parliament and the French ad German military were infected. By January 2009, Conficker lay hidden  in at least eight million computers, and the botnet of linked machines it had created was so large that an attack might crash the entire world internet, with unimaginable consequences.

Mark Bowden, of Black Hawk Down fame, has written of a gifted group of hackers, researchers, millionaire Internet entrepreneurs and computer security experts who took on the task of confronting the threat, tracking it down, and defending the world. He has managed to take the unintelligible world of computer language and turn it into a gripping tale of espionage and defenders in the first digital world war. There is, thank God, an extensive glossary, and a cast of characters (volunteers all), a great help to one whose eyes glaze over when the brilliant post I’m in the middle of crashes, amid cries of “help.” It’s a great read, and as compelling as any thriller.

The book also makes it crystal clear just why Congress was correct to refuse to pass a regulatory bill and why the President is completely wrong, and has undoubtedly damaged the security of the computer world. I recommend WORM highly.


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