Russian Campaigns to Destroy Political Opponents

The U.S. media has been active at tying the election of Donald Trump to Russian hacking of Democratic National Committee (DNC) emails, but that isn’t the greatest danger from the Russians. That hacking would not have had negative effects on the election if the principals in the Hillary Clinton campaign had not sent messages that were politically embarrassing. I know the Democrats are bent on believing they would have won if the Russians hadn’t interfered, but it seems to me the Democrats had a flawed candidate who didn’t connect with Middle America.

Despite that personal belief, there is something important to understand about the skill of the Russians in shaping opinion. The intelligence operations within the Soviet Union were amazingly effective at destroying political opponents, and Russian organizations are being quite effective at carrying that forward. A recent article describes how Russian “kompromat” is used to destroy political opponents with no facts required. The term is used to describe compromising material for blackmail of those who the Russians have determined to be dangerous. The process involves “.  .  .high quality faked documentation.” The documentation includes “.  .  .hints, images, videos, promises of disclosures, perhaps even some high-quality faked documentation. Sex or pornography often figures prominently.”

We can hope the media with a free press will be able to counteract false reports generated by Russian intelligence services. We’ll see who wins; the free press with freedom of speech or the Russians bent on destroying those they deem to be unfriendly. My primary message is that everyone should be skeptical of any negative Russian campaign against anyone.

Too Much Debt, Not Enough Solutions

That’s the title of a recent opinion piece written by Alan Simpson and Maya MacGuineas. Simpson is a former Wyoming senator and was the co-chair of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform (the Simpson-Bowles commission). That commission offered common sense approaches to controlling the national debt in the report it issued in 2010. The commission’s findings were of course ignored by the President and Congress because they couldn’t reach a consensus. Politicians kick the can down the road when someone, such as the commission tells them, “Our fiscal challenges are real. The solutions will be painful, and there is no easy way out.” Those words will never escape the lips of a politician whose primary focus is getting reelected.

The national debt has increased markedly in the past few years, and is approaching $18.5 trillion dollars. The article points out that people have a difficult time conceptualizing a trillion dollars. “If you spend a buck a second, you won’t hit a trillion for 32,500 years. If you spent a million a day since the birth of Christ, you wouldn’t be at a trillion yet.”

The headlines today indicate that our current politicians are not ready to take action on getting the debt under control. The new grand plan that was cobbled together to prevent a government shutdown increases the debt by $80 billion over the next two years. Debt has increased from 34 percent of the GDP in 2007 to 74 percent today. Further increases will only add to the crushing problem we are willing to leave to future generations.

Co-author of the article MacGuineas is president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget and head of Campaign to Fix the Debt. I predict the AARP won’t like anything that the committee or the campaign recommends.

Voter Turnout for 2014 Midterm Elections

The Denver Post published an editorial declaring that the “…test of the state’s all-mail ballot and vote center system…” was a success because 2 million votes were cast compared to 1.8 million for the 2010 midterm election. The sad fact is that the Post was bragging about a 53% voter participation despite the ease of voting by mail.

Colorado voters were significantly more engaged that the nation as a whole. The Center for Responsive Politics reports that just 36.4% of eligible voters in the nation cast votes, which was the lowest turnout since 1942. There were seven states with turnout less than 30%. The worst result was in Indiana at 28%. Even the Kansas Senate race that was given nationwide attention only had turnout of a bit less than 43%.

Another scary statistic is that the nationwide campaigns were estimated to have cost $3.67 billion. I know that there was a constant barrage of television ads for the Colorado Senate election. That one campaign had a total cost of 97 million dollars, which equates to about $50 for each vote that was cast. I will admit that the ads toward the end of the campaigning did sometimes count as entertainment. I particularly liked the one portraying a couple desperately searching for a place to buy condoms because Senatorial candidate Cory Gardner had outlawed them as part of his quest to prohibit all forms of birth control.

There have been all manner of suggestions on how to get more voters to participate. Both political parties have spent huge amounts of time and money on their get out the vote efforts. Perhaps they should think about political ads that are less insulting.

A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles

bkcvr-conflict-of-visionsI was loaned Thomas Sowell’s book by a friend who warned me that it is brilliant but very complex.  Many books are “page turners.”  This book was also a page turner, but I was turning back to the previous page in an attempt to reconnect and comprehend.  I would recommend anyone interested in what drives social and economic policies based on divergent political philosophies should read this book regardless of “political leaning.”   I’ve found I can review a complicated book by giving a brief overview of the my  impressions followed by some snippets I found interesting, and that’s the formula I’ll use for this book.

My interpretation is that the “Constrained Vision” is constrained by practical reality, and is driven by the policies found in property rights, free enterprise, and strict adherence to the Constitution.    The “Unconstrained Vision” is that “Social Justice” can be achieved based on what is “fair, right, and good,” and urges activism by judges and “social responsibility” by businessmen.  The constrained vision is that judges should never create the confusion that results when the rules are changed and that the moral duty of the businessman is to the stockholders who have invested their savings in his business.   Adam Smith, the patron saint of laissez-faire capitalism (people should not be directed how to invest their capital), believed that moral and socially beneficial behavior can only be achieved by incentives that promote self interest.   William Godwin, advocating for the unconstrained vision, believed that the willingness to selflessly create social benefit for others is the essence of virtue.  Continue reading

Things that Matter

cover - things matterThis book was a wonderful Christmas present and contains a collection of the brilliant writings of Charles Krauthammer.  Dr. Krauthammer’s personal story is, in my judgment, even more fascinating than his book. He was “playing hooky” from classes as a medical student when he suffered a broken neck diving into a private swimming pool. The university was convinced to provide him classes at his hospital bed, and he finished his doctorate in psychiatry. He did not learn to handwrite for three years and he remains confined in a wheelchair. He was named by the Financial Times “…the most influential commentator in the nation.” Liberals, Conservatives, and Libertarians can all learn from this book, although I expect Conservatives and Libertarians will be more comfortable with what they read.

Chapter 1 titled “Marcel, My Brother’ is touching. Marcel is described as a brilliant doctor and professor of medicine. He was four years older than Charles, and was a magnificent athlete. When Marcel’s friends were organizing pick-up games they all understood the rule:  “Charlie Plays. The corollary was understood” If Charlie doesn’t play, Marcel doesn’t play.” The chapter was written ten days after Marcel died. It is a powerful chapter.  The words convey the love and respect Charlie felt for Marcel and a sense of the depth of emotion from the loss. I can’t imagine a more powerful first chapter. Continue reading

Libertarianism

libertarianismThe subtitle of this book by Jason Brennan is “What Everyone Needs to Know.” For those unfamiliar with this web site, I refer to myself as a “part-time Libertarian,” and I was interested in comparing my views to those that are presented as the Libertarian by the author. I often, but not always, agreed with what was presented as the Libertarian position. The first sentence of the Introduction is a good place to start. “Libertarians believe so long as we do not violate others’ rights, we should each be free to live as we choose.” What isn’t included in that sentence is that an ever-expanding government is the greatest risk to our freedom to live as we chose. Continue reading

Gun Sales Surge

The tragic massacre of children and teachers in Newtown, Connecticut, created understandable outrage and many legislators decided they must do something. Legislators in my state of Colorado rushed to pass new legislation to “control guns.” Some or all of the legislation will undoubtedly be found unconstitutional, but the legislators and their anti-gun constituents have been repeated portrayed by the media celebrating that they “have taken action.” They were unfazed by the fact the laws they passed would not have stopped the tragic massacres in the Colorado theatre or the Connecticut school.

Gun-Salesman-Obama-Sign

Photo: www.myfoxboston.com

Colorado residents responded to the highly publicized actions by overloading the background check system to buy guns. At one point there was a week or more delay in obtaining approval to make a purchase. The effort to “control guns” resulted in a surge in gun sales.

Colorado wasn’t the only place where guns sales increased. I recently heard a short report on CNBC that retail sales in the U.S. were up by a bit under 2 percent for the fourth quarter of 2012. The primary reason for the increase was attributed to the 20 percent increase in gun sales. Continue reading