Responce to Ron Paul’s “A Dangerous Precedent”

A friend pointed me to an article by Sen. Ron Paul published by antiwar.com wherein Senator Paul was scathingly critical of the assassination of US Citizen Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen. I invite you to read Senator Paul’s article in its entirety, here. Few doubt the guilt of al-Awlaki in actively recruiting American and EU citizens to become murderers of their fellow citizens and offering tactical and operational guidance to those interested,  but if you do have doubt then I invite you to read his own words on page eleven of Al Qaeda’s English-language magazine – a direct download of the fifth issue of this Al Qaeda publication (it styles itself as a magazine like People or Vogue) in PDF format is here here. If he were an American military officer, his rank and position could be summarized as Commanding General, English Language Recruitment and Training Command.

I will assume from this point that you’ve read some of what Senator Paul has to say about al-Awlaki, and what al-Awlaki had to say for himself. The only debate at this point pertains to al-Awlaki’s fifth amendment right to due process. Things in quotes are Senator Paul, followed by my response to them.

Many cheer this killing because they believe that in a time of war, due process is not necessary — not even for citizens, and especially not for those overseas. However, there has been no formal declaration of war and certainly not one against Yemen.

For better or worse, we’ve abolished the concept of declaring war as a country. And I believe Americans in general, for whatever reasons, support this decision. When Senator Paul put forth a Declaration of War against Iraq in 2002, few Americans stood up in support of it and most supporters of the invasion of Iraq seemed OK with the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq instead. In 1998 Al Qaeda declared war against the United States, and on September 14, 2001, the United States Congress returned the favor. A state of war has existed between Al Qaeda and the United States since then.

The United States Congress authorizing the President to use force is the modern equivalent of declaring war, and Ron Paul should stop pretending it is 1941.

Awlaki’s father tried desperately to get the administration to at least allow his son to have legal representation to challenge the “kill” order. He was denied. Rather than give him his day in court, the administration, behind closed doors, served as prosecutor, judge, jury, and executioner.

A metaphor no combat veteran is likely to ever make.

All combatants serve as judge, jury, and executioner. Is President Obama not the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces at present, ultimately the General of Generals? Is a General not a combatant, even if he holds no rifle and flies no jet and merely has a “radio man” at his disposal?

Al-Awlaki is not merely accused of being a leader in Al Qaeda. He self-professed as being a leader in Al Qaeda while residing amongst and amidst Al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula.

Al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) wasn’t always called AQAP, its leaders chose to rename the organization willingly. Furthermore, al-Awlaki wasn’t always AQ, he chose to join and proclaimed his allegiance loudly and publicly.

I will leave you with this question: Imagine an American rifleman fighting at the Battle of the Bulge who spots what appears to be a German General standing amidst a German Command and Control center from two hundred yards away. Do you expect that rifleman to approach and ask the apparent German General (self-identifying as such by virtue of wearing that uniform at that location) if he is indeed a German General, or do you expect him to take the shot immediately?

Responce to Ron Paul’s “A Dangerous Precedent”

Civil Rights in the 21st Century, and a Brave Citizen

To summarize that 14 minute video, Michael Allison of Illinois has been charged with “eavesdropping” for publicly recording the actions of Law Officers in the execution of their duties, and now faces 75 years in prison. He has refused a plea deal, and seems to be attempting to force this issue to go either before the supreme court of Illinois where the relevant laws will hopefully be shot down, or to the US Supreme Court where identical laws across our nation (including in California) would all be shot down. We need more patriots like this man – most people would simply take the plea deal (probation and no jail time) knowing that the result would be future citizens facing a situation similar to his in the future. Since about 1954, the US Supreme court has been the most often used policy-level venue to address Civil Rights issues, but Amending the US Constitution remains a valid fall-back.

Click here to find out if your State, like California and Illinois, is one of the Dirty Dozen.

In this event that this isn’t settled in the courts within the next decade or so, me and a friend have drafted a very rough proposed Amendment to the US Constitution that would directly address this. Version “B” of our draft reads as follows:

Amendment Regarding the Use of Privately Owned Recording Devices

Section 1. Nothing in this amendment shall be interpreted as applying to recording devices owned by Federal, State, or Local governments or as applying to officials thereof using recording devices while acting in any official capacity.

Section 2. In all public areas of the United States inside the various states and territories thereof, Federal, State, and Local government officials being recorded in the execution of their duties on public lands such as parks and roads need not be informed nor provide consent for their actions to be legally recorded. On private property, existing Federal, State, and Local laws shall continue to be in effect.

Section 3. When such recording is occurring using a mobile device, the private individual must make reasonable efforts to maintain at least 20 feet of distance from the official.

Section 4. In any case wherein such recording devices are searched or seized, any and all recordings that include Federal, State, or Local government officials executing their duties shall be held for a period of not less than 10 years in an unmodified state. Copies must be entered into the public record in an unmodified state except where such modifications are permitted in section 5, and in such a way that the general public can readily access them, unless the recording would prejudice an ongoing criminal investigation.

Section 5. The faces, voices, and unique identifying marks of private persons may obfuscated only to the extent necessary to prevent recognition of specific persons in any of the following cases:

a) If requested by the person in question or legal representatives of such person.
b) If done by a State or locally established and legally empowered privacy committee.
c) As required by State law or Local government ordinance.

In addition, the obfuscation must be removed if requested by the person or legal representatives of such persons.

Section 6. Section 5 obfuscation is to be done at the expense of States or Local governances that have or wish to enact such laws. The extent of Section 5 obfuscation is to be determined by the locality in which the recording was made, not by the jurisdiction of the official that seized the material.

Section 7. Local jurisdictions are to create and maintain websites to facilitate this, and such websites shall not record any data regarding persons accessing said website.

Slowly, a few judges seem to be concluding that the existing US Bill of Rights covers most of the above and are nullifying existing laws as unconstitutional. To read about that angle being taken, click here.

Civil Rights in the 21st Century, and a Brave Citizen

The Greedy Restaurant Shares Software Improvements with Other Restaurants

EDIT: If you are actually looking for Open Source Restaurant Reservation software, take a look here.

I recently came across a question asked by a high school student in the United Kingdom. One of his teachers had asked a question that seemed to imply that needing to share improvements to open source restaurant reservation software with the open source project that created the software was a disadvantage of using open source software.

Im currently delivering a high school qualification in the UK and part of the course is on open source. We have just had an examination paper with a question on what are the disadvantages of using open source software to create a restaurant booking system.

One of the model answers says that the restaurant would have to then release their changes to the public.

For some reason, the fact that this was a model answer bothers me, because that implies that this answer is something the student should strive to emulate to receive a good grade. As if that answer could possibly be part of a coherent answer that makes any reasonable attempt to take the full implications of open source economics into consideration.

So, let us examine the many ways in which sharing code improvements with “the public” for $0.00 is to the advantage of the individual restaurant. Each of the below points could easily be expanded to be an essay unto itself, but I shall endeavor to be brief. We will start by examining a few ways in which it has no negative effect on the individual restaurant because it almost certainly isn’t going to help the competition. Then, we will look at how it will help the restaurant.

Sharing Hurts Nothing.

To begin with, their food and customer service will never be identical to another restaurant – a streamlined reservation system does not change the attire or politeness of staff, nor the amount of curry in the food. Restaurants supply a heterogeneous product, and that product ain’t software.

Furthermore, the software would not even necessarily work for any other restaurant unless it was using an identical software stack minus these trivial modifications.

Thirdly, restaurants outside that city or county are not competitors. If one restaurant in several cities or counties use, improve, and share the software then each of these restaurants will benefit at the expense of all other restaurants in their respective cities. Unless the software becomes ubiquitous, odds are the small number of restaurants adopting the software will be from different cities — located in different markets.

Sharing Has Many Benefits.

It is in each individual restaurant’s best interests to submit the improvements upstream so that each time a new version of the software comes out, they can benefit from all of the other improvements without the need to re-patch the new version of the software with the stuff they wrote. It is far more efficient and streamlined to allocate resources towards working as part of the wider team than to allocate all of the resources that would be needed to maintain internal patches and revision control.

If a single competing restaurant in the given city does use the improved software, then it will still be in that other restaurant’s best interests to share-alike as well any improvements they make (or bug reports, or even feature requests) — so the two restaurants in the same city (eg, market) using this software can both share a comparative advantage over the other n restaurants in town.

Finally, explicit costs of sharing code improvements upstream (eg, “to the public”) are nil as the IT guy that is familiar with Open Source and can do a bit of coding is already assumed to be an employee in the scenario created by the question, and the Marginal Benefit of releasing modified source code back is almost certainly going to exceed Marginal Cost. If there is one thing drilled into the head of any student of economics, it is that if MB > MC – you move forward and do it. Period, and end of story.

So, clearly, it is not a disadvantage for a restaurant to share improvements made to the software “with the public”. They will not be getting any direct revenue for this software, but they will be getting additional indirect revenue through the continuous improvement in their critical customer service infrastructure that this is a key contributor to. The restaurant should not contribute code improvements upstream to be nice or to be communists, they should share this stuff for $0.00 to be greedy rational self-interested business people trying to make as much money as humanly possible.

The Greedy Restaurant Shares Software Improvements with Other Restaurants

Summary & Opinion on the “Report of the Global Commission on Drug Policy”

Rumor has it that one is supposed to introduce a source prior to citing it. So, here we go (emphasis on prestigious titles is mine):

Commissioners:

  • Asma Jahangir, human rights activist, former UN Special Rapporteur on Arbitrary, Extrajudicial and Summary Executions, Pakistan
  • Carlos Fuentes, writer and public intellectual, Mexico
  • César Gaviria, former President of Colombia
  • Ernesto Zedillo, former President of Mexico
  • Ernesto Zedillo, former President of Mexico
  • Fernando Henrique Cardoso, former President of Brazil (chair)
  • George Papandreou, Prime Minister of Greece
  • George P. Shultz, former United States Secretary of State, United States (honorary chair)
  • Javier Solana, former European Union High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, Spain
  • John Whitehead, banker and civil servant, chair of the World Trade Center Memorial Foundation, United States
  • Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the United Nations, Ghana
  • Louise Arbour, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, President of the International Crisis Group, Canada
  • Maria Cattaui, Petroplus Holdings Board member, former Secretary-General of the International Chamber of Commerce, Switzerland
  • Mario Vargas Llosa, writer and public intellectual, Peru
  • Marion Caspers-Merk, former State Secretary at the German Federal Ministry of Health
  • Michel Kazatchkine, executive director of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, France
  • Paul Volcker, former Chairman of the United States Federal Reserve and of the Economic Recovery Board
  • Richard Branson, entrepreneur, advocate for social causes, founder of the Virgin Group, co-founder of The Elders, United Kingdom
  • Ruth Dreifuss, former President of Switzerland and Minister of Home Affairs
  • Thorvald Stoltenberg, former Minister of Foreign Affairs and UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Norway

I think we will all agree that this is a pretty impressive list of folks. Here is my bullet-pointed summary (mostly copy/pasted topic sentences, but sometimes paraphrased) of what they advocate in their Report of the Global Commission on Drug Policy (English and Spanish version available). Text in (parenthesis) is my occasional commentary.

  1. End the criminalization, marginalization and stigmatization of people who use drugs but who do no harm to others.
  2. Encourage experimentation by governments with models of legal regulation of drugs to undermine the power of organized crime and safeguard the health and security of their citizens. This recommendation applies especially to cannabis. (Some call it insanity to continue to carry out a slightly different variant of the exact same approach, and to nonetheless expect vastly different outcomes. That describes the current US “War on Drugs”, in a nutshell.)
  3. Offer health and treatment services to those in need. (YA THINK?)
  4. Abolish abusive practices carried out in the name of treatment – such as forced detention, forced labor, and physical or psychological abuse.
  5. Apply much the same principles and policies stated above to people involved in the lower ends of illegal drug markets, such as farmers, couriers and petty sellers. (Folks gotta earn a buck to feed their families. These people should be regarded as blue-collar unskilled and semi-skilled laborers, not as evil criminal masterminds.)
  6. Invest in activities that can both prevent young people from taking drugs in the first place and also prevent those who do use drugs from developing more serious problems. (That approach is working wonders with cigarette use, no?)
  7. Avoid simplistic ‘just say no’ messages and ‘zero tolerance’ policies in favor of educational efforts grounded in credible information and prevention programs that focus on social skills and peer influences. (Similar to what most rational people advocate for sex education.)
  8. Focus repressive actions on violent criminal organizations, but do so in ways that undermine their power and reach while prioritizing the reduction of violence and intimidation. (People already engaged in illegal businesses are more likely to use violence than established businessmen. Once the business in question is no longer illegal, how well do you think these violent criminals will fare when their business competition is a bunch of Fortune 500 CEOs who, whatever their other flaws, generally do not hire assassins? People are going to continue to get wealthy in the drug trade, regardless of any policy. Who would you rather see get wealthy – violent criminals, or legitimate businessmen? Pick one, because “neither” is not a realistic option, nor viable.)
  9. Begin the transformation of the global drug prohibition regime. Base policy on the scientific method and on the scientific principals used by social scientists and medical practitioners, not on political convenience commonly used by politicians. (That second sentence was a heavy paraphrasing of what I suspect the commissioners would have wanted to say.)

Well, there it is and there is my commentary on the subject. But what does the US Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) have to say about the subject?

Drug addiction is a disease that can be successfully prevented and treated. Making drugs more available — as this report suggests — will make it harder to keep our communities healthy and safe.

Someone should point the ONDCP to point 2, above. That “stay the course” argument made by the ONDCP may have been a credible argument in 1995, but it’s a complete joke and lacking all credibility in 2011 unless you measure the success of the War on Drugs purely by using the famed “body count” model that characterized “stay the course” arguments during the Vietnam War,  replacing dead bodies as the measure of success with incarcerated people as the measure of success. The United States does have the largest per-capita prisoner ratio in the world, after all, even higher than places such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, China, Russia, Belarus, and any other country or so-called “Police State” that you’ve ever heard is a “human rights concern.” Yay for the War on Drugs?

I think not.

The entire industrialized world – including a minority within the United States –  and many leaders of the developing world know exactly what the problem is and how it can be fixed. For these solutions to work, though, the largest economy in the world needs to get on board. Spain, Brazil, Columbia, and Germany can do what they wish, but so long as there is a strong demand for illicit drugs in the wealthiest nation on the planet, a supply will be furnished and all of humanity will suffer as a result.

We know what the current Civil War in Northern Mexico is about, right? I’ll give you a hint, it isn’t about Mexicans that want to use drugs…

Wake up, President Obama (D) and United States Congress (R). This Report with those prestigious signatures attached is your call to action. You cannot play dumb any longer, nor – given that list of signatures – can you continue to use ad hominem attacks to characterize those advocating policies such as those above as the advice of a foolish, uneducated, and inexperienced minority.

Summary & Opinion on the “Report of the Global Commission on Drug Policy”

Obama on the Authority of the President

I thought this was a very interesting quote from December 2007 as then-Senator Obama’s campaign was kicking into gear during an interview

Question:

2. In what circumstances, if any, would the president have constitutional authority to bomb Iran without seeking a use-of-force authorization from Congress? (Specifically, what about the strategic bombing of suspected nuclear sites — a situation that does not involve stopping an IMMINENT threat?)

President Obama’s Answer:

The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.

As Commander-in-Chief, the President does have a duty to protect and defend the United States. In instances of self-defense, the President would be within his constitutional authority to act before advising Congress or seeking its consent. History has shown us time and again, however, that military action is most successful when it is authorized and supported by the Legislative branch. It is always preferable to have the informed consent of Congress prior to any military action.

As for the specific question about bombing suspected nuclear sites, I recently introduced S.J. Res. 23, which states in part that “any offensive military action taken by the United States against Iran must be explicitly authorized by Congress.” The recent NIE tells us that Iran in 2003 halted its effort to design a nuclear weapon. While this does not mean that Iran is no longer a threat to the United States or its allies, it does give us time to conduct aggressive and principled personal diplomacy aimed at preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

I haven’t modified that, in any way, from the way I found it on the Boston Globe’s website except to add bold and italics to some of the text. The stuff in italics is for the full context, but not necessarily relevant to the current situation in Libya.

The Arab League approved of US Involvement in the Libyan No Fly Zone. So did the United Nations. The United States Congress, however, did not. No one in the White House asked Christopher T. Mason what he thought, either.

I think it would be great if congressmen on both sides of the aisle grew some cojones and claimed back some of the authority granted to them by the United States Constitution.

Obama on the Authority of the President