Wikileaks sets back real whistleblowers

A few good whistleblowers now and again are good for democracy.
Wikileaks on the other hand has become little more than vandalism.
People that are affected will  avoid having frank discussions about important things.  The last thing that the world needs is for communication to become even more superficial because anything committed to writing has to be so politically correct that it can’t offend anybody, i.e., devoid of content.     Communication that is both true and important would always be offensive to somebody.
Wikileaks has done some things that I see as falling within the whistleblower mandate, such as publishing information showing a US gunship mowing down unarmed civilians.   Cover-ups ought to be outed.
Indiscriminately dumping information on the other hand is just wrong.
I have to wonder if a foreign intelligence service is behind the site.   Now foreign agencies can act on information published online without having to admit if they had a hand in securing it.
The end result of publishing many documents that aren’t a smoking gun for any government misconduct is that it is going to be made a lot harder for real whistleblowers in the future.

Interesting issues in recent murder cases

Zahra Baker’s body was found reportedly dismembered, with the family being the culprits and having taken various steps to conceal the death.
The real issue no doubt is going to be, what crime they actually committed.
The defence which has been leaked out is that the girl was found dead and then was dismembered.   That is a singularly idiotic thing to do with a dead body- it can result in a murder charge where none was necessary and decomposition may prevent a valid defence from being maintained.
I can see some premise for it though- both the father and the step-mother are known fraud artists and if there is any way that they could receive, for example, social benefits, they may have wished to conceal the death in order to continue receiving benefits.  That tactic is not uncommon although it is generally employed with e.g. taking the social security cheques of the elderly.
On the other hand, the move to destroy certain evidence makes one wonder.
The delay in reporting the “disappearance” is suspect but the wrongful motivation is ambiguous.   It seems that three days before the reported disappearance, the birth mother made contact and wanted to speak to the daughter.  So they had to contrive something or fess up.
It will be an interesting case.
In the Chandra Levy case, justice was probably done although the verdict is suspect.   The only evidence tieing the suspect to the crime was an alleged confession to a cellmate.    Criminal informants have a great incentive to come up with such allegations in order to bargain with authorities and are already known to be dishonest.  Many wrongful convictions have resulted from bogus confessions, and some of the rats are very polished at making up stories to serve their own interests.   The only times when an alleged jailhouse confession should be accepted is when the informant is, apart from some act of stupidity, an otherwise impeccable citizen, or when the information passed on is not notorious and could only be known by the perpetrator (in which case you have to look in to the whereabouts of the informant and whether he has other contacts that could be guilty).
It is quite plausible that the accused was guilty given his past history, but I have my doubts that I could have agreed that it was proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
I suspect that this was what might be called a “compensation conviction”.   The accused had been convicted of two rapes (which probably means 20 or more performed) and only got ten years.   That’s somebody you bury in prison.  He was otherwise set to be released this year with obvious consequences.   I can’t say that I’m heartbroken that he’s going away.   It would be better though to improve sentencing provisions so that some later jury doesn’t decide to fix a mistake later by glossing over a weak case.
Bear in mind that if there is some other psycho out there that did this thing, it will be far harder to put him away for it and nobody’s looking.
In these cases that are iffy, we should always remember the Dugard case.   The facts were unusual and the police were right to not trust the stepfather at the time.  The profile of the attack, extremely brazen and in front of him, is atypical (which is likely in part why the outcome was atypical).   The first thing that one would suspect in such a case was that the claim looked ad hoc and improbable.
But the police at the time handled it more appropriately than most would, although their tunnel vision may (or may not) have cost them the opportunity to find the girl much earlier.   The police in most jurisdictions would put the suspect in a cell with a professional liar, who would inevitably claim a confession whether one was made or not in return for a lesser sentence or other privileges.    Then you get something like the Morin case in Canada.
The primary lesson of the Dugard case as I see it is, no wonder what the percentages are, wait for the evidence.  If you start creating it then you could have a wrongful conviction based on instinct and knowing that when a kid goes missing it is more often not the parents.
In some cases there may be other options.
In the Kyron Hormon case, there is a divorce action between the parents.  Proving death will be difficult.   Kidnapping is possible.  There is the interesting issue of what you do when you can probably prove beyond a reasonable doubt that there has been either murder or kidnapping but can’t prove either individually beyond a reasonable doubt, and neither is an included offence of the other.
I suspect obstruction could be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
There may however be another option.
In the divorce action, Mr. Hormon can probably get an order for Ms. Harmon to produce the child and disclose his whereabouts.
If she doesn’t, the case looks strong enough to me for contempt of court.
In most jurisdictions, the court can keep a party in contempt of court in jail until they purge their contempt.
She could potentially be given, in effect, a life sentence already.

Priorities should be North Korea and Mexico, not Afghanistan and Iraq

There comes a time where you have to call another nation’s bluff, and if they aren’t bluffing, well then you just go at it.
There is also a saying that an appeaser is somebody that thinks that if you feed a tiger enough steak that it becomes a vegetarian.
There are two major problems in the world right now where US forces could actually be useful, the ongoing conflict with drug lords in Mexico that is practically a civil war and the ongoing problems with North Korea.
Spending 9 years and trillions of dollars going after some guys that killed 3,000 people is overkill.   The North Koreas will eventually kill a lot more than that.  South Korea’s “sunshine policy” is a good policy for dealing with generally well intentioned people with bonafide issues.  It is a terrible way to handle maniacs.
War is a tool and it has serious consequences.  As with any tool you have to know what you’re doing and have a plan for how to do it.   The Iraq invasion was a terrible idea for many reasons, not least of which was that there was no possibility of putting anybody in charge that would be less of a threat to national security than Saddam Hussein.   That he was an idiot is irrelevant.   If you create a vacuum you have to know what’s going to fill it.
In Afghanistan, while the US finally seems to have come up with a military plan after 7-8 years of diddling around, there’s still no winnable endgame.
In South Korea there is an opposite situation- if North Korea gets subdued, the US can get troops out and they can go do something useful.   Smacking them down will allow an extraction that cannot occur until North Korea is crippled.
The key is to limit meddling in an aftermath.   North Korea is a really simple puzzle when you consider the vacuum issue.   The answer to the question of who takes over is, who cares?   If it’s somebody just as bad, you knock them out too.  The trick is not to stay there.
A good starting place is, sink their navy and destroy their air force and any platforms capable of launching missiles. Then  demand their surrender.   If they don’t, knock out their ports and mine their harbours, knock out the roads connecting the east to the west through the mountains, bridges, and other essential infrastructure, and any remaining military bases.   Some EMP in the middle of the country would probably knock out a lot of systems.  Leaflet the place with leaflets that say “rise up and overthrow your ruler or you’re dead”.   Unless the Chinese are on board, bomb any roads to the north so the Chinese can’t keep them in supply, and before they have Chinese convoys, because you just don’t want to go there.
Not that the Chinese involvement would necessarily be a bad thing.   An attack crippling the system could give the Chinese enough leverage to go in and call the shots.     That isn’t like leaving Iraq to Iran or Afghanistan to the Taliban.    The US and China are economically wed whether anybody likes it or not, even if it is something of a cold, platonic marriage of convenience.
The biggest problem is that the Iraq attacks have destroyed US credibility, probably for decades.   Saddam Hussein did everything that the US asked him to do, and then they added the additional term that he had to step down (presumably in favor of some US stooge who would sell out his country economically).
That dramatically reduces the chance that anybody else will comply with US demands in the future.    If all you do is disarm yourself so that it is easier for the US to invade you, what’s the point? You may as well stand and fight.
With Mexico, the US should be asking if they need any assistance.  Stage surprise lockdowns of cities that are a problem, one city at a time, set up a perimeter and do house to house searches for weapons in the applicable areas and bring along drug sniffer dogs.   Retain high mobility and remain unpredictable.   After hitting the biggest target, they will be expecting that the next biggest target and probably plan on that basis.   It all has to be cleaned up so it’s better to be random.  If it is predictable then people make plans and apart from the next couple of targets everybody is in business.   If all the drug lords have to be looking over their shoulders all of the time because they don’t know where you hit next, business will probably slow down.
In that case, you don’t have to interfere in domestic politics or tell Mexicans how to be Mexicans.   Improve the conditions and that may alleviate the number of illegals crossing the border.
In all of these cases, you have to look at the endgame from the start.  Do we really want to let North Korea blackmail everybody else until they have a well developed nuclear weapons system?   There could be millions dead.   Afghanistan on the other hand is a stalemate until the US leaves, regardless of any military victories.
A novelty move would be to work with the Iranians.   The Iranians hate the Taliban and could put a squeeze on them from the south.   Their influence could potentially be useful to stabilize the country.   But for that to happen Iran and the US would have to stop working at cross purposes.
Pakistan is useless or worse in handling the Taliban problem and some reports suggest that the Pakistanis are encouraging it.
The Pakistanis probably think that they are the only game in town and so they’re sitting on the fence, perpetuating the conflict for whatever motives.  It certainly secures their position for receiving aid from the United States.
At this point stirring up Iran to take an interest in Afghanistan looks like the most useful play if it can be done.  Nothing may come of it but it is hard to see other options going anywhere.

TSA, making everybody less safe

One of the things that Obama has done that most annoy me is that he’s done nothing to slow down the Bush administration’s priority  of turning America into a police state.
How long before we have soldiers at every corner asking for our papers?  It would would make us safer, wouldn’t it comrades?
Sure 911 was dramatic, but, get over it.  Sure it was 3,000 people but we probably had more immigrants than that and more babies than that arrive the same day.  That’s too bad.   The government is supposed to be looking after 300 million live people, not 3,000 dead ones.  I feel bad for them.  But we have to move on.  We can’t paralyse our society on the theoretical chance that something bad could happen.  In an open society it is always possible that something bad could happen.  But between births and immigration they’re all replaced the same day.   We don’t ban cars because 30,000-40,000 people die in them every year.  And ultimately, everybody will pass on one way or the other regardless of what we do.  Life has to be about life.
It seems that the only thing that matters anymore is preventing, not the probability, but the possibility of a major attack.
I’m concerned that activities like training all schools in lockdown procedures is counterproductive.    It creates the possibility of doing something in the mind of potential aggressors.  It affirms them as a target and raises their profile in that context.  That makes everybody less safe.
The TSA process has never caught anybody that was a threat and probably won’t.
Worse, it is likely to give people ideas.   Ideas are the true enemy here.  Leave the bad guys with tunnel vision.  We can’t protect everything.
Here’s an idea for you, for instance.   I see the article out there about a TSA agent busting some guy’s urostomy bag.   Now they are going to stay away from urostomy bags, and probably a few other things besides.   Never mind telling people that they can’t take their mouthwash on a plane.  Now every terrorist in the world knows that he can get liquids on a plane in something that looks like a passable urostomy bag.
Other published exceptions are going to get wheels turning in unfriendly minds.
These are things that probably nobody would have thought of otherwise.
Exposure to the x-rays is going to be a health issue, especially for frequent business flyers.  They would be advised to keep the number of their trips down and they will.
And the procedures do not address the main security risk at airports, baggage handlers.   Baggage handlers in many airports steal luggage or from luggage with impunity.  If they take something out, they could put something in.   The airlines hide behind policies of not paying for losses and don’t do anything, although you would think from a security standpoint that a dirty baggage handler ought to be a very high priority.    I note that one of the leads in the Lockerbie case that was never properly followed up was a break in at a baggage area.
Meanwhile, the administration continues various Bush policies that increase the probability of an attack.
Memo to Obama: start acting like a Democrat.  You’re more like Bush than Clinton and not in the same league as Carter.

Dancing with Stars vs. Academy Awards

With all the noise about the right wing supposedly propping up Bristol Palin, and people whining that if the best dancer doesn’t win then the credibility of the show will be ruined, bear in mind that the Academy Awards have been more about advancing social issues than good movies for years.
The academy awards usually feature a lot of movies about over-simplified moralism and there has to be a token, excruciatingly dull, Meryl Streep movie.
Movies that are well constructed with popular appeal are usually nominated for technical awards that get no buzz, like best costumes or cinematography, instead of best picture.
It’s a bit like when you see a “Miss World” or “Miss Universe” contest and some ugly chick wins after giving some trite speech about eliminating world hunger.
When a good movie does win or get nominated, it is usually a blockbuster with lots of well known names, a little overdone but not quite enough to qualify as farce [as opposed to Avatar, which is way off in self-parody land].

It isn’t the scythe, it’s how you use it

South Korea is finally starting to give up on the hopeless fantasy of a peacefully united Korea.   That should have been a no-brainer in the first place but for presumably cultural reasons that have nothing to do with logic they got sucked into a fantasy infinitely less plausible than peace between Isreal and the Palestinians.
Maybe now it will become acceptable to do what is necessary.  There isn’t any touchy-feely solution to the North Korea problem, and the long term issue is whether there is going to be a blood bath at the time off their choosing, possibly after they have nuclear weapons and the means to target them, or if it is going to be done at a time of somebody else’s choosing.
The leadership in North Korea really don’t care about the suffering of the people and if it isn’t done properly you could have a 24 million person Jonestown.
China should get dibs on handling it.   Even if they take it over, they couldn’t possibly run the place any worse.  The Chinese ought to be seeing the North Koreans by now as an embarassment and are in a far superior position to overrun the place through the lightly defended northern border.
On the issue of black ops, the whole Guantanamo mentality is idiotic.  It does more damage to the credibility of the sponsoring nation than anything else.  Offering villagers $5,000 per head for alleged Al-Queda personnel was breathtakingly stupid.  That is over a year’s wages in a lot of places, and with no verification, the odds of a good result are exceedingly low.   Probably a lot of the people turned in were turned in by Al-Queda or the Taliban- that’s what I would do.   The odds that unprotected villagers would risk their lives turning in real Al-Queda, or even have the means including arms to do so, is unlikely.  But that is how the US got half the prisoners.
Inept black-ops do more harm than good.

The better Palin

There is an interesting phenomenon on Dancing with the Stars, which I have never watched, with Bristol Palin being kept continually in the running by fan support.
Probably at least some of it is about people’s affilation with her mother.  But I suspect that a lot of it is about the ways in which she is the opposite of her mother.  If she acted like her mother she probably would have been voted off in two episodes.
It’s really difficult to have any negative feelings for Bristol Palin.  She has an overbearing ogre of a mother and has had every mistake that she’s ever done dragged through the media at a very young age and is a victim of her mother’s political aspirations and willingness to use her children as props.  She has a real woman’s body and is well rounded instead of being a A-list clone.  Yay!  They allowed a real woman to go on TV!   She’s a little awkward and clumsy but that doesn’t stop her from trying and she puts her spirit in to it.
In short, it should have been Bristol Palin instead of Christine O’Donnell making an “I am you” commercial.  Because she is us, in a way that politicians and professional entertainers can never be.
On the flip side, the voters dismissed the pair with the perfect score.   That could be for any number of reasons, not least of which is Americans back an underdog, don’t like being told what to like, and that having perfect fundamentals isn’t necessarily inspirational.
Every one of us has been in the kind of position that Bristol Palin was in at one time or another, whether it was trying out for a sports team or some other endeavor where we weren’t quite good enough to take it to the next level.   That gives a huge sympathy advantage.
Brandy on the other hand has had numerous successes in the past, with a successful music career and an actoring career for which she was nominated for various awards.   Brandy lacks the sympathy factor, she isn’t like most of us, she’s like the popular kid in school that was the captain of every team and valedictorian.  We don’t root for somebody like that to monopolize something else.
Will it be bad for the show if she wins?   Hard to say.   There is a reason why movie formats with hero as klutz and villian as near-invincible mastermind seem to sell, the idea that being good enough without being perfect can be enough expresses an underlying frustration with a society in which robotic perfection without individuality is expected.
As for Bristol’s success being some right wing conspiracy, well, I don’t see it somehow translating into votes and I don’t think attacking the daughter because we don’t like the mother is appropriate.   Slinging mud at Bristol Palin is tasteless and uncalled for and more likely to backfire in her mother’s favor than any good come of it.
If I were voting on it, I don’t think I would have the heart to vote against her.
I hope if she wins that she gets the pluck and resources to emancipate herself from her mother.