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TBR News August 25, 2020

Aug 25 2020

The Voice of the White House

Comments for August 25, 2020:  Trump is attacking thje USPS because they refused to jack up postal fees on mail by Amazon, owned by Jeff Bezos whose Washington Post constantly attacks Trump. Donald is a man of limited intellect and one of pathological vindictiveness, He would cheerfully shut down the USPS entirely just to give the finger to Bezos. Remember this in November.

 

The Table of Contents

 

  • RNC 2020: Trump warns Republican convention of ‘rigged election’
  • US Postal Service row: What is it about?
  • Robot Generals
  • Bitcoin is basically a Ponzi scheme
  • Detecting potential informers
  • Jerry Falwell Jr confirms he has resigned from Liberty University – report
  • Encyclopedia of American Loons

 

RNC 2020: Trump warns Republican convention of ‘rigged election’

August 25, 2020

BBC News

US President Donald Trump has warned his fellow Republicans their opponents may “steal” November’s election, as his party anointed him as their candidate.

“They’re using Covid to defraud the American people,” Mr Trump told delegates on the first day of the party convention in North Carolina.

He repeated an untrue claim that mail-in ballots could lead to voter fraud.

An unprecedented number of Americans are expected to vote by mail as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Do postal ballots lead to voting fraud?

Experts and voting officials have dismissed the claim that mail-in voting leads to fraud as a false conspiracy theory.

Mr Trump himself uses the system regularly.

Opinion polls suggest he is lagging behind Democratic challenger Joe Biden.

Mr Biden, the former vice-president to Barack Obama, has boasted a 10-point lead on occasions.

Addressing delegates in person at a party conference that has been dramatically scaled back by the coronavirus pandemic, Mr Trump accused Democrats of “using Covid to steal an election”.

“The only way they can take this election away from us is if this is a rigged election,” he said. “We’re going to win.”

Mr Trump had also warned of a “rigged” election in 2016, as he trailed Hillary Clinton in the polls.

But in 2016 the polls were far less clear and just a few percentage points separated Mr Trump and his then-rival Hillary Clinton at several points as election day neared.

On Monday, Mr Trump was officially nominated as a formality to be the Republican nominee at his party’s convention in the city of Charlotte.

Supporters cheered him, chanting: “Four more years!”

The president is expected to make live television addresses on every day of the convention, leading up to his acceptance speech to the party jamboree on Thursday. It is unusual for candidates to address the convention before that point, as Mr Trump has done.

Are mail-in ballots safe?

Mr Trump has repeatedly asserted that expanded mail-in voting will lead to “the most corrupt election” in US history.

But there is scant evidence of widespread voter fraud, and very few examples of any related criminal prosecutions. The rate of voting fraud overall in the US is between 0.00004% and 0.0009%, according to a 2017 study by the Brennan Center for Justice.

Ellen Weintraub, commissioner of the Federal Election Commission, has said: “There’s simply no basis for the conspiracy theory that voting by mail causes fraud. None.”

Mail-in voting is used by the US military, and even Mr Trump himself and members of his family.

But a recent slowdown in mail deliveries due to cost-saving measures in the US postal system has fuelled concerns that ballots might not be returned by election day.

Several states have sought to change their election laws to allow ballots to be counted days after the forthcoming presidential vote, which some analysts fear could lead to delays in declaring the presidential victor.

A primary election in New York City this June took weeks to determine a winner after poll officials were deluged with 10 times the normal number of mail-in ballots. There was no allegation of fraud, but the debacle raised fears of a protracted vote count this November.

Earlier this month, a New Jersey judge ordered a new vote after finding evidence of fraud in a May election that was conducted entirely by mail in Paterson. Four people were arrested, including a local city councilman and councilman-elect. The case has been frequently touted by the Trump campaign.

Republicans make case for Trump

The first night of the Republican National Convention was a two-and-a-half hour rebuttal to the accusations Democrats levelled at Donald Trump during the four nights of their convention last week.

Did the president mishandle the coronavirus pandemic? The Republicans offered slick videos and first-hand accounts of the steps the president took to speed medical research, provide protective supplies and implement economic relief.

Is the president inflaming racial divisions in the US? Former football star Herschel Walker spoke of his 37-year friendship with Mr Trump. Tim Scott, the first black Republican elected to the Senate in nearly 50 years, touted the president’s work on sentencing reform and tax breaks for economically distressed communities.

Polls suggest American voters have serious doubts about the president on all these issues – doubts that predated the Democratic convention attacks. Republicans have four days to assuage these concerns, chip away at Democratic opponent Joe Biden’s lead and remind supporters what they like about Mr Trump’s presidency.

It’s an imposing task, but the Republicans have identified what work has to be done.

What else happened on the convention’s opening night?

Republicans said Monday night’s theme was “Land of Promise” and pledged their convention would be less “negative” than the Democrats’ conference last week.

But many of the Republican speakers warned in doom-laden tones what would happen if Americans voted in a President Biden.

Mr Trump’s eldest son Donald Trump Jr said the Democratic presidential candidate was “basically the Loch Ness monster of the swamp”.

Where does Donald Trump stand on key issues?

Were these the three hours that upset Trump’s campaign?

Florida congressman Matt Gaetz warned of a “horror movie” if Democrats won the White House.

“They’ll disarm you, empty the prisons, lock you in your home, and invite MS-13 to live next door,” he said referring to a Central American immigrant street gang.

Charlie Kirk, who runs conservative student group Turning Point USA, told viewers: “Trump was elected to protect our families – our loved ones – from the vengeful mob that wishes to destroy our way of life, our neighbourhoods, schools, church and values.”

Former UN Ambassador and South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley described facing discrimination as an Indian-American growing up in the South.

“I was a brown girl in a black and white world,” she said.

But she described the “fashionable” idea that America is a racist country as a “lie”.

What really went on in St Louis that day?

The Joe Biden story

What Biden wants to do

How else was race addressed?

After Mr Biden implied in last week’s speech to his party convention that Mr Trump was a racist, the Republican conference sought to deflect that charge back on Democrats.

In a bid to woo a constituency that is crucial to Democratic electoral hopes, African-American speakers lavished praise on the president on Monday night.

The headline speaker was South Carolina Senator Tim Scott – the only black Republican senator. He said his grandfather had been forced out of school so he could pick cotton, but lived long enough to see his grandson elected.

“Our family went from cotton to Congress in one lifetime,” he told delegates. He said America had made “tremendous progress” towards racial equality during the Trump presidency.

Former NFL star Herschel Walker, who is black, said: “It hurt my soul to hear the terrible names that people call Donald. The worst one is ‘racist’.

“I take it as a personal insult that people would think I’ve had a 37-year friendship with a racist.”

Georgia state representative Vernon Jones, a Democrat, accused his party of taking the black vote for granted.

“The Democratic Party does not want black people to leave the mental plantation they’ve had us on for decades,” he said, evoking the legacy of slavery.

Kim Klacik, a black Republican candidate for Maryland’s Baltimore district, accused Mr Biden of believing that black people “can’t think for ourselves – that the colour of someone’s skin dictates their political views”.

A recent analysis by the Pew Research Center suggests that 83% of black voters identify or lean towards the Democratic Party, compared with just 10% who say they are Republican, or lean towards identifying as one.

 

 

US Postal Service row: What is it about?

August 25, 2020

BBC News

Slower mail delivery times have raised concerns about how one of the oldest and most trusted institutions in the US – the Postal Service – can handle an unprecedented influx of mail-in ballots in November’s election.

Owing to the coronavirus pandemic this year, an unprecedented number of voters are expected to submit their ballot by mail.

It’s up to states to determine how they arrange postal voting and there are mounting fears that some are not ready.

What are Democrats’ concerns?

The US Postal Service (USPS) is a government agency. Its board of governors appoints the postmaster general – a process which is meant to distance the position from politics. But the board’s members are all appointed by the president and approved by the Senate, which is currently controlled by Donald Trump’s Republican party.

Louis DeJoy is a political appointee recently hired by President Trump. He has donated more than $1.2m (£920,000) to political action funds in support of the president.

Mr DeJoy has been accused by top Democrats of implementing changes to how mail is processed in a deliberate effort to “sabotage the election”.

He has defended the changes, which include cuts to overtime and delivery trips, as “data-driven”, but said last week he would delay them until after the election.

Republicans and Mr Trump counter that the new measures are needed to address the agency’s multi-million dollar budget shortfall. Mr Trump has said the price tag for emergency funds requested by Congress to shore up mail-in voting is too expensive and will lead to voter fraud.

The US House of Representatives has now approved a bill that would inject $25bn (£19bn) into the USPS, but Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell said the upper chamber of Congress would “absolutely not pass

 

Is there evidence of an intentional slowdown?

by Jake Horton, BBC Reality Check

In May, Republican megadonor Louis DeJoy was tapped by the White House to be the first postmaster general in more than 20 years to not come from within the agency’s own ranks.

Seeking to address the $160bn (£122bn) budget shortfall at the USPS, Mr DeJoy implemented several new measures in July which have come under scrutiny.

US media report that more than 600 mail sorting machines are being decommissioned – around 10% of the service’s machines. The Postal Service has said it “routinely moves equipment around its network as necessary to match changing mail and package volumes”.

The amount of mail has been down so far this year, but there are concerns the reduction in machines – which process millions of pieces of mail per hour – could limit the handling capacity of postal ballots in the build-up to the election.

What are states doing?

Many polling stations in the US are often staffed by elderly volunteers who this year are expected to stay at home to avoid contracting Covid-19.

Other elections held during the pandemic, such as a much-criticised primary race in Georgia, have seen a majority of polling places closed due to lack of staff. Long queues form at those that remain open.

Some states have chosen to respond by posting a ballot to every single registered voter in the state – a practice known as universal mail-in voting.

Other states require voters to request a ballot be sent to them, while some Republican-controlled states such as Texas and Mississippi – and Democrat-controlled New York – have said fear of catching coronavirus is not a good enough justification to vote by mail.

Late last month, the USPS wrote to states to inform them that their election laws might mean that some ballots are returned too late to be counted. Some states, such as Pennsylvania, are attempting to change laws so that ballots that arrive after election day can still qualify.

Is mail voting more prone to fraud?

Mr Trump has claimed that expanded mail-in voting would lead to the “the most corrupt election” in US history.

Critics say people could vote more than once via absentee ballots and then again in person.

But there is no evidence of widespread fraud. In fact, the rate of voting fraud overall in the US is between 0.00004% and 0.0009%, says a 2017 study by the Brennan Center for Justice.

Why is the post office in debt?

Unlike other government agencies, the USPS does not run on taxpayer money, but relies on revenue from mail and packages, as well as other services to operate.

However, mail volume has dropped by 30% since 2006, according to NBC News. And analysis by the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that $78bn had been lost in recent years due to the decline as well as increased delivery costs.

A law passed in 2006 required the USPS to pre-fund pensions for all employees 75 years into the future, a move that experts say cost around $72bn.

Can they handle an influx?

Experts say the post office could easily absorb the expected influx of mail, even if every single eligible American were to vote by mail in November.

In the week before Christmas, the USPS typically delivers around 2.5 billion letters, or about 500 million cards per day.

According to a New York Times analysis, about 80 million ballots might be sent through the mail this year – more than double what was sent in the 2016 election.

What do Americans think?

The Postal Service is one of the most trusted institutions in the US. Founding Father Benjamin Franklin was the first postmaster general.

Absentee voting, which President Trump himself regularly uses, was born on the battlefields of the Civil War, according to National Geographic, with soldiers sending their completed ballots in the mail back to their home states.

A survey in April by the Pew Research Center found that 91% of Americans have a favourable view of it, making it the country’s favourite government agency. For comparison, Americans give Congress about an 18% approval rating, according to a Gallup poll from July.

What’s next?

Mr DeJoy was called to testify before the House of Representatives committee on Monday, following his appearance before a Senate panel last week.

He acknowledged that some of the changes had caused delays but rejected claims he was trying to interfere with the election.

“We will do everything in our power and structure to deliver the ballots on time,” he said in response to questions from Democrats.

The postmaster general said he did not order any of the changes that prompted concern, and he did not know who had.

 

Trump blocks postal funds to prevent expanded mail-in voting

President Donald Trump says he opposes additional funds for the US Postal Service as it would boost mail-in voting he claims would help Democrats.

Mr Trump has previously claimed that mail-in voting would hurt his campaign, which polls show to be in a tight race with Democratic candidate Joe Biden.

Democrats denounced Mr Trump’s comment, saying his position is an attempt to prevent Americans from voting him out.

A record number of people are expected to vote by mail due to the pandemic.

On Wednesday, Mr Trump told reporters he refused to sign off on $25bn (£19bn) in emergency funding for the Postal Service or $3.5bn for election security due to the high price tag.

Mr Trump has repeatedly condemned mail-in voting as an opportunity for fraud and election interference.

On Thursday, he said his reason for blocking the funds was due to his opposition to mail-in ballots.

“They want $3.5bn for something that will turn out to be fraudulent. That’s election money, basically,” Mr Trump said in a telephone interview with Fox Business Network.

“Now they need that money in order to make the post office work so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots,” he continued.

He added: “Now, if we don’t make a deal, that means they don’t get the money. That means they can’t have universal mail-in voting, they just can’t have it.”

Despite Mr Trump’s claims, there is little evidence that mail-in voting – which the US military uses – is rife with fraud or that it favours one political party more than another.

A spokesman for Mr Biden condemned the comment, saying: “The president of the United States is sabotaging a basic service that hundreds of millions of people rely upon, cutting a critical lifeline for rural economies and for delivery of medicines, because he wants to deprive Americans of their fundamental right to vote safely during the most catastrophic public health crisis in over 100 years.”

“This is an assault on our democracy and economy by a desperate man who’s terrified that the American people will force him to confront what he’s done everything in his power to escape for months – responsibility for his own actions,” added spokesman Andrew Bates.

The US postal system is currently experiencing a slowdown in mail deliveries, which critics say is due to policies put in place by Mr Trump’s selection to run the service.

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, who donated millions to Mr Trump’s campaign and to other Republicans, has been accused of deliberately undermining public confidence in the service to deter people from mail-in voting.

Mr DeJoy is the first postmaster general in 20 years to not be appointed from within the agency’s own ranks.

 

Robot Generals

Will They Make Better Decisions Than Humans — Or Worse?

by Michael T. Klare

TomDispatch

 

With Covid-19 incapacitating startling numbers of U.S. service members and modern weapons proving increasingly lethal, the American military is relying ever more frequently on intelligent robots to conduct hazardous combat operations. Such devices, known in the military as “autonomous weapons systems,” include robotic sentries, battlefield-surveillance drones, and autonomous submarines. So far, in other words, robotic devices are merely replacing standard weaponry on conventional battlefields. Now, however, in a giant leap of faith, the Pentagon is seeking to take this process to an entirely new level — by replacing not just ordinary soldiers and their weapons, but potentially admirals and generals with robotic systems.

Admittedly, those systems are still in the development stage, but the Pentagon is now rushing their future deployment as a matter of national urgency. Every component of a modern general staff — including battle planning, intelligence-gathering, logistics, communications, and decision-making — is, according to the Pentagon’s latest plans, to be turned over to complex arrangements of sensors, computers, and software. All these will then be integrated into a “system of systems,” now dubbed the Joint All-Domain Command-and-Control, or JADC2 (since acronyms remain the essence of military life). Eventually, that amalgam of systems may indeed assume most of the functions currently performed by American generals and their senior staff officers.

The notion of using machines to make command-level decisions is not, of course, an entirely new one. It has, in truth, been a long time coming. During the Cold War, following the introduction of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) with extremely short flight times, both military strategists and science-fiction writers began to imagine mechanical systems that would control such nuclear weaponry in the event of human incapacity.

In Stanley Kubrick’s satiric 1964 movie Dr. Strangelove, for example, the fictional Russian leader Dimitri Kissov reveals that the Soviet Union has installed a “doomsday machine” capable of obliterating all human life that would detonate automatically should the country come under attack by American nuclear forces. Efforts by crazed anti-Soviet U.S. Air Force officers to provoke a war with Moscow then succeed in triggering that machine and so bring about human annihilation. In reality, fearing that they might experience a surprise attack of just this sort, the Soviets later did install a semi-automatic retaliatory system they dubbed “Perimeter,” designed to launch Soviet ICBMs in the event that sensors detected nuclear explosions and all communications from Moscow had been silenced. Some analysts believe that an upgraded version of Perimeter is still in operation, leaving us in an all-too-real version of a Strangelovian world.

In yet another sci-fi version of such automated command systems, the 1983 film WarGames, starring Matthew Broderick as a teenage hacker, portrayed a supercomputer called the War Operations Plan Response, or WOPR (pronounced “whopper”) installed at the North American Aerospace Command (NORAD) headquarters in Colorado. When the Broderick character hacks into it and starts playing what he believes is a game called “World War III,” the computer concludes an actual Soviet attack is underway and launches a nuclear retaliatory response. Although fictitious, the movie accurately depicts many aspects of the U.S. nuclear command-control-and-communications (NC3) system, which was then and still remains highly automated.

Such devices, both real and imagined, were relatively primitive by today’s standards, being capable solely of determining that a nuclear attack was under way and ordering a catastrophic response. Now, as a result of vast improvements in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, machines can collect and assess massive amounts of sensor data, swiftly detect key trends and patterns, and potentially issue orders to combat units as to where to attack and when.

Time Compression and Human Fallibility

The substitution of intelligent machines for humans at senior command levels is becoming essential, U.S. strategists argue, because an exponential growth in sensor information combined with the increasing speed of warfare is making it nearly impossible for humans to keep track of crucial battlefield developments. If future scenarios prove accurate, battles that once unfolded over days or weeks could transpire in the space of hours, or even minutes, while battlefield information will be pouring in as multitudinous data points, overwhelming staff officers. Only advanced computers, it is claimed, could process so much information and make informed combat decisions within the necessary timeframe.

Such time compression and the expansion of sensor data may apply to any form of combat, but especially to the most terrifying of them all, nuclear war. When ICBMs were the principal means of such combat, decisionmakers had up to 30 minutes between the time a missile was launched and the moment of detonation in which to determine whether a potential attack was real or merely a false satellite reading (as did sometimes occur during the Cold War). Now, that may not sound like much time, but with the recent introduction of hypersonic missiles, such assessment times could shrink to as little as five minutes. Under such circumstances, it’s a lot to expect even the most alert decision-makers to reach an informed judgment on the nature of a potential attack. Hence the appeal (to some) of automated decision-making systems.

“Attack-time compression has placed America’s senior leadership in a situation where the existing NC3 system may not act rapidly enough,” military analysts Adam Lowther and Curtis McGiffin argued at War on the Rocks, a security-oriented website. “Thus, it may be necessary to develop a system based on artificial intelligence, with predetermined response decisions, that detects, decides, and directs strategic forces with such speed that the attack-time compression challenge does not place the United States in an impossible position.”

This notion, that an artificial intelligence-powered device — in essence, a more intelligent version of the doomsday machine or the WOPR — should be empowered to assess enemy behavior and then, on the basis of “predetermined response options,” decide humanity’s fate, has naturally produced some unease in the community of military analysts (as it should for the rest of us as well). Nevertheless, American strategists continue to argue that battlefield assessment and decision-making — for both conventional and nuclear warfare — should increasingly be delegated to machines.

“AI-powered intelligence systems may provide the ability to integrate and sort through large troves of data from different sources and geographic locations to identify patterns and highlight useful information,” the Congressional Research Service noted in a November 2019 summary of Pentagon thinking. “As the complexity of AI systems matures,” it added, “AI algorithms may also be capable of providing commanders with a menu of viable courses of action based on real-time analysis of the battlespace, in turn enabling faster adaptation to complex events.”

The key wording there is “a menu of viable courses of action based on real-time analysis of the battlespace.” This might leave the impression that human generals and admirals (not to speak of their commander-in-chief) will still be making the ultimate life-and-death decisions for both their own forces and the planet. Given such anticipated attack-time compression in future high-intensity combat with China and/or Russia, however, humans may no longer have the time or ability to analyze the battlespace themselves and so will come to rely on AI algorithms for such assessments. As a result, human commanders may simply find themselves endorsing decisions made by machines — and so, in the end, become superfluous.

Creating Robot Generals

Despite whatever misgivings they may have about their future job security, America’s top generals are moving swiftly to develop and deploy that JADC2 automated command mechanism. Overseen by the Air Force, it’s proving to be a computer-driven amalgam of devices for collecting real-time intelligence on enemy forces from vast numbers of sensor devices (satellites, ground radars, electronic listening posts, and so on), processing that data into actionable combat information, and providing precise attack instructions to every combat unit and weapons system engaged in a conflict — whether belonging to the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, or the newly formed Space Force and Cyber Command.

What, exactly, the JADC2 will consist of is not widely known, partly because many of its component systems are still shrouded in secrecy and partly because much of the essential technology is still in the development stage. Delegated with responsibility for overseeing the project, the Air Force is working with Lockheed Martin and other large defense contractors to design and develop key elements of the system.

One such building block is its Advanced Battle Management System (ABMS), a data-collection and distribution system intended to provide fighter pilots with up-to-the-minute data on enemy positions and help guide their combat moves. Another key component is the Army’s Integrated Air and Missile Defense Battle Command System (IBCS), designed to connect radar systems to anti-aircraft and missile-defense launchers and provide them with precise firing instructions. Over time, the Air Force and its multiple contractors will seek to integrate ABMS and IBCS into a giant network of systems connecting every sensor, shooter, and commander in the country’s armed forces — a military “internet of things,” as some have put it.

To test this concept and provide an example of how it might operate in the future, the Army conducted a live-fire artillery exercise this August in Germany using components (or facsimiles) of the future JADC2 system. In the first stage of the test, satellite images of (presumed) Russian troop positions were sent to an Army ground terminal, where an AI software program called Prometheus combed through the data to select enemy targets. Next, another AI program called SHOT computed the optimal match of available Army weaponry to those intended targets and sent this information, along with precise firing coordinates, to the Army’s Advanced Field Artillery Tactical Data System (AFATDS) for immediate action, where human commanders could choose to implement it or not. In the exercise, those human commanders had the mental space to give the matter a moment’s thought; in a shooting war, they might just leave everything to the machines, as the system’s designers clearly intend them to do.

In the future, the Army is planning even more ambitious tests of this evolving technology under an initiative called Project Convergence. From what’s been said publicly about it, Convergence will undertake ever more complex exercises involving satellites, Air Force fighters equipped with the ABMS system, Army helicopters, drones, artillery pieces, and tactical vehicles. Eventually, all of this will form the underlying “architecture” of the JADC2, linking every military sensor system to every combat unit and weapons system — leaving the generals with little to do but sit by and watch.

Why Robot Generals Could Get It Wrong

Given the complexity of modern warfare and the challenge of time compression in future combat, the urge of American strategists to replace human commanders with robotic ones is certainly understandable. Robot generals and admirals might theoretically be able to process staggering amounts of information in brief periods of time, while keeping track of both friendly and enemy forces and devising optimal ways to counter enemy moves on a future battlefield. But there are many good reasons to doubt the reliability of robot decision-makers and the wisdom of using them in place of human officers.

To begin with, many of these technologies are still in their infancy, and almost all are prone to malfunctions that can neither be easily anticipated nor understood. And don’t forget that even advanced algorithms can be fooled, or “spoofed,” by skilled professionals.

In addition, unlike humans, AI-enabled decision-making systems will lack an ability to assess intent or context. Does a sudden enemy troop deployment, for example, indicate an imminent attack, a bluff, or just a normal rotation of forces? Human analysts can use their understanding of the current political moment and the actors involved to help guide their assessment of the situation. Machines lack that ability and may assume the worst, initiating military action that could have been avoided.

Such a problem will only be compounded by the “training” such decision-making algorithms will undergo as they are adapted to military situations. Just as facial recognition software has proved to be tainted by an over-reliance on images of white males in the training process — making them less adept at recognizing, say, African-American women — military decision-making algorithms are likely to be distorted by an over-reliance on the combat-oriented scenarios selected by American military professionals for training purposes. “Worst-case thinking” is a natural inclination of such officers — after all, who wants to be caught unprepared for a possible enemy surprise attack? — and such biases will undoubtedly become part of the “menus of viable courses of action” provided by decision-making robots.

Once integrated into decision-making algorithms, such biases could, in turn, prove exceedingly dangerous in any future encounters between U.S. and Russian troops in Europe or American and Chinese forces in Asia. A clash of this sort might, after all, arise at any time, thanks to some misunderstanding or local incident that rapidly gains momentum — a sudden clash between U.S. and Chinese warships off Taiwan, for example, or between American and Russian patrols in one of the Baltic states. Neither side may have intended to ignite a full-scale conflict and leaders on both sides might normally move to negotiate a cease-fire. But remember, these will no longer simply be human conflicts. In the wake of such an incident, the JADC2 could detect some enemy move that it determines poses an imminent risk to allied forces and so immediately launch an all-out attack by American planes, missiles, and artillery, escalating the conflict and foreclosing any chance of an early negotiated settlement.

Such prospects become truly frightening when what’s at stake is the onset of nuclear war. It’s hard to imagine any conflict among the major powers starting out as a nuclear war, but it’s far easier to envision a scenario in which the great powers — after having become embroiled in a conventional conflict — reach a point where one side or the other considers the use of atomic arms to stave off defeat. American military doctrine, in fact, has always held out the possibility of using so-called tactical nuclear weapons in response to a massive Soviet (now Russian) assault in Europe. Russian military doctrine, it is widely assumed, incorporates similar options. Under such circumstances, a future JADC2 could misinterpret enemy moves as signaling preparation for a nuclear launch and order a pre-emptive strike by U.S. nuclear forces, thereby igniting World War III.

War is a nasty, brutal activity and, given almost two decades of failed conflicts that have gone under the label of “the war on terror,” causing thousands of American casualties (both physical and mental), it’s easy to understand why robot enthusiasts are so eager to see another kind of mentality take over American war-making. As a start, they contend, especially in a pandemic world, that it’s only humane to replace human soldiers on the battlefield with robots and so diminish human casualties (at least among combatants). This claim does not, of course, address the argument that robot soldiers and drone aircraft lack the ability to distinguish between combatants and non-combatants on the battlefield and so cannot be trusted to comply with the laws of war or international humanitarian law — which, at least theoretically, protect civilians from unnecessary harm — and so should be banned.

Fraught as all of that may be on future battlefields, replacing generals and admirals with robots is another matter altogether. Not only do legal and moral arguments arise with a vengeance, as the survival of major civilian populations could be put at risk by computer-derived combat decisions, but there’s no guarantee that American GIs would suffer fewer casualties in the battles that ensued. Maybe it’s time, then, for Congress to ask some tough questions about the advisability of automating combat decision-making before this country pours billions of additional taxpayer dollars into an enterprise that could, in fact, lead to the end of the world as we know it. Maybe it’s time as well for the leaders of China, Russia, and this country to limit or ban the deployment of hypersonic missiles and other weaponry that will compress life-and-death decisions for humanity into just a few minutes, thereby justifying the automation of such fateful judgments.

Bitcoin is basically a Ponzi scheme

  • What about the fact that those who bought bitcoin early have made huge amounts of money?
  • Well, people who invested with Bernie Madoff also made lots of money, or at least seemed to, for a long time.

by Paul Krugman

The New York Times

The other day my barber asked me whether he should put all his money in bitcoin. And the truth is that if he’d bought bitcoin, say, a year ago he’d be feeling pretty good right now. On the other hand, Dutch speculators who bought tulip bulbs in 1635 also felt pretty good for a while, until tulip prices collapsed in early 1637.

So is bitcoin a giant bubble that will end in grief? Yes. But it’s a bubble wrapped in techno-mysticism inside a cocoon of libertarian ideology. And there’s something to be learned about the times we live in by peeling away that wrapping.

If you’ve been living in a cave and haven’t heard of bitcoin, it’s the biggest, best-known example of a “cryptocurrency”: an asset that has no physical existence, consisting of nothing but a digital record stored on computers. What makes cryptocurrencies different from ordinary bank accounts, which are also nothing but digital records, is that they don’t reside in the servers of any particular financial institution. Instead, a bitcoin’s existence is documented by records distributed in many places.

And your ownership isn’t verified by proving (and hence revealing) your identity. Instead, ownership of a bitcoin is verified by possession of a secret password, which — using techniques derived from cryptography, the art of writing or solving codes — lets you access that virtual coin without revealing any information you don’t choose to.

In principle, you can use bitcoin to pay for things electronically. But you can use debit cards, PayPal, Venmo, etc. to do that, too — and bitcoin turns out to be a clunky, slow, costly means of payment. In fact, even bitcoin conferences sometimes refuse to accept bitcoins from attendees. There’s really no reason to use bitcoin in transactions — unless you don’t want anyone to see either what you’re buying or what you’re selling, which is why much actual bitcoin use seems to involve drugs, sex and other black-market goods.

So bitcoins aren’t really digital cash. What they are, sort of, is the digital equivalent of $100 bills.

Like bitcoins, $100 bills aren’t much use for ordinary transactions: Most shops won’t accept them. But “Benjamins” are popular with thieves, drug dealers and tax evaders. And while most of us can go years without seeing a $100 bill, there are a lot of those bills out there — more than a trillion dollars’ worth, accounting for 78 percent of the value of U.S. currency in circulation.

So are bitcoins a superior alternative to $100 bills, allowing you to make secret transactions without lugging around suitcases full of cash? Not really, because they lack one crucial feature: a tether to reality.

Although the modern dollar is a “fiat” currency, not backed by any other asset, like gold, its value is ultimately backed by the fact that the U.S. government will accept it, in fact demands it, in payment for taxes. Its purchasing power is also stabilized by the Federal Reserve, which will reduce the outstanding supply of dollars if inflation runs too high, increase that supply to prevent deflation. And a $100 bill is, of course, worth 100 of these broadly stable dollars.

Bitcoin, by contrast, has no intrinsic value at all. Combine that lack of a tether to reality with the very limited extent to which bitcoin is used for anything, and you have an asset whose price is almost purely speculative, and hence incredibly volatile. Bitcoins lost about 40 percent of their value over the past six weeks; if bitcoin were an actual currency, that would be the equivalent of a roughly 8,000 percent annual inflation rate.

Oh, and bitcoin’s untethered nature also makes it highly susceptible to market manipulation. Back in 2013 fraudulent activities by a single trader appear to have caused a sevenfold increase in bitcoin’s price. Who’s driving the price now? Nobody knows. Some observers think North Korea may be involved.

But what about the fact that those who did buy bitcoin early have made huge amounts of money? Well, people who invested with Bernie Madoff also made lots of money, or at least seemed to, for a long time.

As Robert Shiller, the world’s leading bubble expert, points out, asset bubbles are like “naturally occurring Ponzi schemes.” Early investors in a bubble make a lot of money as new investors are drawn in, and those profits pull in even more people. The process can go on for years before something — a reality check, or simply exhaustion of the pool of potential marks — brings the party to a sudden, painful end.

When it comes to cryptocurrencies there’s an additional factor: It’s a bubble, but it’s also something of a cult, whose initiates are given to paranoid fantasies about evil governments stealing all their money (as opposed to private hackers, who have stolen a remarkably high proportion of extant cryptocurrency tokens). Journalists who write skeptically about bitcoin tell me that no other subject generates as much hate mail.

So no, my barber shouldn’t buy bitcoin. This will end badly, and the sooner it does, the better.

 

Detecting potential informers

 

The Director of Central Intelligence Directive (DCID) 6/4, Personnel Security

Standards (July 2, 2020), lists (Annex E, 6 [a] – [m]) several general categories of

behavior that are reportable if observed in the workplace. These are similar to the

adjudicative guidelines (in the DoD Directive 5200.2-R) except that they do not include

the brief behavioral descriptions that appear in the adjudicative guidelines. The

categories, which—like the adjudicative guidelines—mix CI, security and reliability

issues, are listed below. Only two—(b) and (c)—are strictly related to CI issues.

(a) Involvement in activities or sympathetic association with persons which/who

unlawfully practice or advocate the overthrow or alteration of the United

States Government by unconstitutional means.

(b) Foreign influence concerns/close personal association with foreign nationals..3

(c) Foreign citizenship or foreign monetary interests.

(d) Sexual behavior that is criminal or reflects a lack of judgment or discretion.

(e) Unwillingness to comply with rules and regulations or to cooperate with

security processing.

(f) Unexplained affluence or excessive indebtedness.

(g) Alcohol abuse.

(h) Illegal or improper drug use/involvement.

(i) Apparent mental or emotional disorder(s).

(j) Criminal conduct.

(k) Noncompliance with security requirements.

(l) Engagement in outside activities that could cause a conflict of interest.

(m) Misuse of information technology systems.

Further Indicators of Espionage

(a) Any attempt to expand access to classified information by volunteering for

assignments or duties beyond the normal scope of responsibilities or

attempting to obtain information for which the person has no authorized

access or need to know.

(b) Unauthorized removed of classified materials from work area.

(c) Extensive use of copy, FAX or computer equipment to reproduce or

transmit classified material that may exceed job requirements.

(d) Repeated or unrequired work outside normal duty hours, especially

unaccompanied.

(e) Obtaining witness signatures on classified document destruction forms when

witness did not observe the destruction.

(f) Bringing unauthorized cameras, recording devices, computers or modems

into areas where classified data is stored, discussed, or processed.

(g) Unexplained or undue affluence, including sudden purchases of high-value

items where no logical income source exists. Attempts to explain wealth by

reference to inheritance, luck in gambling, or some successful business

venture..

(h) Opening several bank accounts containing substantial sums of money where

no logical income source exists.

(i) Free spending or lavish display of wealth which appears beyond normal

income.

(j) Sudden reversal of financial situation or sudden repayment of large debts or

loans.

(k) Correspondence with persons in countries of special concern.

(l) Unreported contact with officials of countries of special concern.

(m) Frequent or unexplained trips of short duration to foreign countries.

(n) Attempts to offer extra income from an outside endeavor to personnel with

sensitive jobs or to entice them into criminal situations that could lead to

blackmail.

(o) Homesteading or repeatedly requesting extensions to tours of duty in one

assignment or location, especially when the assignment offers significant

access to sensitive information or the job is not desirable.

(p) Repeated involvement in security violations.

(q) Joking or bragging about working for a foreign intelligence service.

(r) Visits to a foreign embassy, consulate, trade, or press office.

(s) Business dealings with nationals or firms of countries of concern.

 

 

Jerry Falwell Jr confirms he has resigned from Liberty University – report

  • Evangelical leader embroiled in sex scandal
  • Liberty says Falwell quit after ‘additional matters came to light’

August 25, 2020

Reuters

The evangelical leader and key Trump ally Jerry Falwell Jr confirmed on Tuesday he has resigned as president of Liberty University, news outlets including the Washington Post reported.

The confirmation came after conflicting reports of Falwell’s status following a Reuters report on a sexual relationship between him, his wife and a former business associate.

The board of the Lynchburg, Virginia, evangelical institution was meeting earlier on Tuesday regarding Falwell, who was its president for more than a decade.

A reporter for the News & Advance, a Lynchburg paper, quoted Falwell as saying: “It’s a relief. The quote that keeps going through my mind this morning is Martin Luther Ling Jr: ‘Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty I’m free at last.”

Falwell agreed to resign on Monday but then withdrew his resignation, the school said late that night, capping a day of back-and-forth reports.

A little over two weeks ago, Falwell took a leave of absence from one of the largest religious colleges in the US, after he posted an Instagram photo of himself standing with his trousers unzipped and an arm around a young woman.

The university said on Monday night that since then, “additional matters came to light that made it clear that it would not be in the best interest of the university for [Falwell] to return from leave and serve as president.”

“Falwell responded by agreeing to resign immediately,” the university said, adding that he then “instructed his attorneys to not tender the letter for immediate resignation … following media reports” about his departure.

Reuters reported earlier on Monday that a young business partner said he had been in a years-long sexual relationship involving Falwell’s wife and the evangelical leader.

According to Giancarlo Granda, starting in 2012 and continuing into 2018 the relationship involved Granda having sex with Becki Falwell while Jerry watched. Granda shared texts and other material he said supported his account.

As Reuters was preparing to publish, Falwell issued a statement in which he said Becki Falwell had an affair with Granda. Becki Falwell did not respond to questions. Falwell’s statement did not mention Granda’s allegation and he did not address questions about the matter.

Falwell said: “Becki had an inappropriate personal relationship with this person, something in which I was not involved.”

If Falwell were to depart from Liberty, it would represent a remarkable fall for a potent force in conservative politics. His surprise 2016 endorsement of Trump helped the New York real estate magnate win the Republican nomination for president.

Becki Falwell, 53, is a political figure in her own right, serving on the advisory board of Women for Trump. She also spoke with her husband and Donald Trump Jr at last year’s Conservative Political Action Conference. Jerry Falwell and others refer to her as “the first lady of Liberty University”.

Falwell’s decision in January 2016 to endorse Trump was one of the most dramatic surprises of that race. It immediately raised support among evangelicals, a major constituency for the Republican party.

Granda told Reuters the endorsement did not surprise him, as Falwell was considering backing Trump even before Trump announced his candidacy in June 2015. During a May 2015 conversation at the Loews Miami Beach Hotel, Granda said, Falwell told him Trump and Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, were pushing for the endorsement.

The Falwells had enlisted Cohen to help keep personal photographs from becoming public, Reuters reported last year. Granda said Becki Falwell told him about Cohen’s involvement in that matter.

Cohen’s role became public after comedian Tom Arnold surreptitiously taped a conversation. Cohen told Arnold the Falwells wanted to keep “a bunch of photographs, personal photographs” from becoming public.

“I actually have one of the photos,” Cohen told Arnold. “It’s terrible.”

Cohen did not identify who was in the photos. To Granda’s knowledge, none of the photographs were of him.

Liberty University was founded in 1971 by Falwell’s televangelist father, the Rev Jerry Falwell. Currently, the university has an online and on-campus enrollment that exceeds 100,000 students and holds those who attend to an exacting honor code.

“Sexual relations outside of a biblically ordained marriage between a natural-born man and a natural-born woman are not permissible at Liberty University,” the code reads.

 

Encyclopedia of American Loons

Larry Vardiman

Larry Vardiman is a hardcore and almost legendary creationist “scientist” and signatory to The CMI list of scientists alive today who accept the biblical account of creation. He does have a Ph.D. in Atmospheric Science from Colorado State University, which is, I suppose, supposed to lend a sheen of legitimacy on his ventures in cargo cult science, but his career has mostly been entangled with the Institutefor Creation Research. Vardiman taught at the Christian Heritage College (run by the ICR) as a Professor of Natural Sciences from 1982 to 1989, served as Academic Dean from 1987 to 1989, and as chairman of the astro/geophysics department from 1989 to 2009. Apparently he retired in 2012, but there’s no evidence of any later affiliation with reality-based belief alignment.

He is the author of several books and a frequent contributor to Answers in Genesis’s house journal Answers. For vol. 3, for instance, he (and Wesley Brewer) gave us “Numerical Simulation of Precipitation in Yosemite National Park with a Warm Ocean: A Pineapple Express Case Study”, which took as point of departure a storm in 1996 and pretended it extrapolated to a massive Global flood, ignoring anything having to do with evidence or feasibility considerations in the process. The paper is most notable for Vardiman & Brewer’s discovery of the technique (used by mainstream hydrologists) of publishing multiple papers with the same basic idea and calling each one a case study, even though it is no different than the last paper. Their contributions to volume 4 and volume 5 were very much along the same lines, and here is a summary of Vardiman’s article “Did It Rain Before the Flood?” The methodology is what you’d expect: “The first step is always to examine Scripture carefully.” And his answer is “probably not”. This is supposed to be science, remember. As is, apparently, this one.

Vardiman is perhaps most notable, however, as director of ICR’s Radioisotopes and the Age of the Earth (R.A.T.E.) research project. R.A.T.E. is a joint project organized by the ICR and the Creation Research Society to produce experimental geochronological results that support a Young Earth creationist view of the age of the Earth. It is exactly as feeble as it sounds (you can find a report from one of their conferences here). Creationists affiliated with R.A.T.E. do indeed claim to have experiments that 1.5 billion years of nuclear decay took place over a short period of time to fit the Biblical account of creation (neglecting the obvious problem that the rate of nuclear decay they assume would have blasted all life from Earth in seconds). Of course, the morons carrying out said experiments had no training in geochronology (nor anything resembling any degree of competence whatsoever), and their experiments are methodologically crap (some criticisms here; some more here – most scientists don’t really bother with the crankery, but Old Earth Creationists are usually ardent critics so they get a link for once). As they themselves seem to admit their hypothesis requires positing miracles violating the laws of physics at several points, but insofar as the point is to prove the veracity of the Bible (and God) this … well, it does become a little circular.

The members of RATE include old friends of ours like Steve Austin, John Baumgardner, Don DeYoung, Russell Humphreys, as well as Vardiman, Australian superloon Andrew Snelling, and one Eugene Chaffin.

Diagnosis: They write papers, use technical jargon, go to conferences, perform experiments (sort of) and call each other experts … but it’s like kids playing with mudcakes in kindergarten: they’re not cakes, the rock is not a stove, and you’re not a cook. When the participants are grown up men (mostly), as is the case with RATE, the whole game becomes rather uncanny.

 Gary Wade

There isn’t much to argue about when it comes to the lunacy of domestic terrorist Clayton Waagner, but he’s not quite the kind of lunatic that deserves a separate entry in an Encyclopedia like this. Gary Wade, on the other hand, is almost too typical. Wade is, allegedly, a physicist, though insofar as he has an education in physics he sure didn’t learn much. Wade is most familiar, perhaps, for his advocacy for the Rife Machine, a quack device that purports to destroy diseases by homing in on “their resonant frequency” and disrupting them with radiofrequency (RF) waves (like a soundwaves shattering glass). It is profoundly silly, and the machines themselves turn, on investigation, out to be little more than batteries with flashing LED-lights with no capability of generating specific radio frequencies. Of course, most of those who sell these kinds of things are presumably frauds, but Wade appears, in fact, to be a true believer. Or who knows. He’s at least popular over at Educate yourself.org.

Apparently Wade is the proud former editor and publisher of The UFO Report, Scientific Advisor to the National Health Federation, and the Science Editor of  the Health Freedom News, which tells you all you need to know about the trustworthiness of those sources for health information. He is currently President of the American Institute of Rehabilitation, which develops alternative health energy medicine technology (and seems to be too obscure even for quackwatch). This appears, possibly, to be his own website. At least it has the predicted design solutions and color schemes, as well as a prominently displayed link to “Truth about American Medical System (Still True)”.

His articles display an amazing depth of quackery and crackpottery, mostly in the form of Wade trying to apply crackpot physics to medical issues he really knows very little about, including applications of Rife machines (no science, no testing, no evidence, of course – the link to “results” offers no results) and “vibratory energy medicine” (which is, I assume, what others call “vibrational medicine”, but Wade seems to think of it as particularly important, so we’ll respect that and give it a link – the color scheme of the article is the most immediately striking feature), and conspiracy theories trying to explain, without mentioning the obvious explanation, why Rife’s old ideas have thus far failed to revolutionize medicine.

Diagnosis: Standard crackpot gibberish, but Wade is at least rather entertaining in his complete lack of touch with reality or reason.

Joel D. Wallach

Joel D. Wallach, M.S., D.V.M. and N.D. (Naturopathic doctor – or “not doctor”) is a veterinarian and naturopath with a long history of involvement in dubious health schemes. He is particularly infamous for claiming (in the bizarre audio tape “Dead Doctors Don’t Lie”) that all diseases are due to mineral deficiencies, that everyone who dies of natural causes dies because of mineral deficiencies, and that just about anyone can live more than one hundred years if they take daily supplements of colloidal minerals harvested from pits in Utah. It is probably needless to say that the information is not entirely accurate (there’s a discussion here). The (a?) website for the tape is here, and it is worth linking to for its glorious design and color scheme, which makes it even more incredible that Wallach has actually had some influence: He’s probably the main US promoter of colloidal mineral supplements, which, by the way, are completely and utterly bunk.

Wallach claims that minerals in foods and most supplements are “metallic” and not as effective as “plant-based” colloidal minerals, which is as nonsense as a claim can get (colloidal minerals are also “metallic”). This is something Wallach ostensibly learned from living on a farm, doing necropsies on animals, and reading National Geographic and the 1934 novel The Lost Horizon. He certainly didn’t learn it from science. And it hardly matters that science has falsified his claims about the benefits of mineral supplements (e.g. here) it’s also worth adding a link to a discussion of the recent results on multivitamin supplements in general here, though Wallach is way beyond standard supplements). Mineral deficiencies are certainly not a major cause of disease and death, either. But to back up his claims to the contrary Wallach uses anecdotes and fiction, for instance claiming that there are five cultures in the world that have average lifespans of between 120 and 140 years: the Tibetans in Western China; the Hunzas in Eastern Pakistan; the Russian Georgians and the Armenians, the Abkhasians, and the Azerbaijanis, which is … well, fiction through and through and so obviously and easily verifiably false that one wonders how he thought he’d get away with it (but apparently he does; gullible people are not only buying his supplements, but repeating his claims). Equally false is, of course, his claims about South American people who sustain longevity by mineral rich “glacier milk”. On the other hand, Wallach says, “the average lifespan of an American doctor is only 58 years!” (hence the title of his tape). That number has absolutely no connection with anything real either, of course. There is a resource on Wallach’s claims here.

On the aforementioned tape, “Dead Doctors Don’t Lie”, Wallach can tell us that “… what I did was go back to school and become a physician […] and they allowed me to use everything I had learned in veterinary school about nutrition on my human patients. And to no surprise to me, it worked.” He doesn’t emphasize that by “physician” he means N.D., which is as much a doctor as a monkey in a lab coat. Wallach is not medical doctor. Still he claims to have made 3,000 autopsies on humans in that period, and discovered that “every human being who dies of natural causes dies of a nutritional deficiency.” How an N.D. gets to do human autopsies in the first place is probably something relevant authorities might want to look into …

According to Wallach, not only can we not get all nutrients we need from our food (no data). Nor can we buy them – the supplements available in stores are not “colloidal” and can, apparently, not be absorbed by the body. We need colloidal minerals from that pit in Utah. His explanation is well covered here (I am indebted to that article for this entry; also check the reader comments).

To make the relevant products available to as many suckers as possible, Wallach founded American Longevity, a multilevel marketing company (for which “Dr.” Paula Bickle, who has a degree from the diploma mill Columbia Pacific University, Jerry Bergman’s alma mater, is a leading distributor.) At least the market structure keeps non-suckers away from the get-go, thus providing some insulation for his rank ridiculousness.

Wallach has also been noticed for testifying in favor of the late James G. Keller’s fraudulent Tumorex device, a “radionics” device that allegedly could transmit “subtle energies” from a person with a hair strand, a drop of blood, or even a photograph, and send and receive “healing energies to that particular object.”

Diagnosis: Make one up yourself. Wallach apparently doesn’t care to know anything about how reality works, and – deliberately, it seems – therefore targets his bullshit at people who don’t know the basics either. A winning scheme for him; a losing scheme for humanity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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