Thursday, June 29, 2017

Is healthcare loss really an electorally decisive issue?

A lot of people are saying they can't believe that the GOP is actually going through with repealing Obamacare and killing Medicaid. Despite everything that major experts in the healthcare field and large organizations like the March of Dimes, AARP etc... are saying - opinion on the ACHA bill is stubbornly split along party lines.

One wonders what the GOP is feeding to its members to keep them so well aligned. The Democratic Party for its part seems convinced that the ACHA is going to hand the 2018 election over to them on a plate. It is certainly likely to be politically advantageous - but is it really going to kill the GOP as so many Democrats hope?

I don't think so - and here is why -

1) Old people know they are going to die. They don't want to think about it. Most know that the cost of their healthcare is not sustainable, the few that that don't will figure it out in the coming years as cost of living offsets their small savings and IRAs.

2) Trump's bullshit and nostalgia makes them forget this reality. Some choose it as a deliberate act, others do it without a second thought.

3) Democrats talking about healthcare cuts only forces the older voters to think about issues that make them uncomfortable.

4) The more uncomfortable they get, the more older voters are drawn to Trump's total bullshit and fake promises about "making things like they used to be".

5) The bizarre notion of  "dying with dignity intact" will gain ground.

It will be extremely hard for Democratic Party people to explain to older voters that there is no way to "die with your dignity intact" when you deliberately take healthcare away from someone else.

As seen with the TrumpRussia situation, Trump voters will simply reject facts and submerge themselves in even deeper denial for easily accessible facts.  The rejection of reality will grow and political tribalism will continue to rise. With each iteration - it will become more and more expensive for Trump voters to climb down from where they have currently perched themselves.

Human stupidity is a bottomless pit.

While Democrats make sophisticated appeals to reason, the GOP strategies revolve around finding the stupidest Darwin award thought you have and amplifying that to secure your alignment with their political survival. Their tricks work better with vulnerable older white voters right now - but this is an accident of history. The same trick works elsewhere with other racial and ethnic votaries. (Cough India Cough.. cough).

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Two questions from GA06

There are two open questions from GA06 - one is for the Democrats and the second is for the Republicans.

For a primer on this please read Nate Silver's blogpost.

A lot has been said about how much out of state money came into this race. That only happened in the run-off election. It doesn't explain what happened in the first round where Ossoff narrowly missed victory by 4700 votes.

1) Why did Ossoff lose? - There is one basic answer to this - voters are not there yet.

a) My personal thoughts are that the GOPers are yet to fully sour on the Trump scam. The election of a black man gelded their consciousness, they are so absorbed in that sense of injury to note that Trump is much more substantially castrating them. At some point they will realize they have been taken for a ride by a New York City conman, but that time has not yet come. For historical comparison, it took a economic collapse in 1930 before white male voters woke up to the reality of the "outsider" Herbert Hoover. It'll take something massive to move the needle with traditional GOP voters, they are too heavily programmed not to question the party leadership.

b) Peter Dreier suggests that is was a failure on the part of the Ossoff campaign to reach out to black voters earlier. This may be true. As with any liberal platform that emphasizes stitching together visibly diverse populations, a small piece in the quilt missing creates a major problem.  It may be that the Dems need to up their outreach to black voters and define a set of clear agendas that attack problems faced by black voters. It may be recalled that historically black voters have plenty of reasons to be completely disenchanted with the elections. They were denied and then systematically robbed of their right to vote. The only reason they turned up in droves in 2008/12 was because they saw Obama as a black man. If you run white candidates, you are going to run in to apathy and alienation issues with Black voters.

c) The leadership of Nancy Pelosi is being held out as a possible reason for Ossoff's failures by certain observers. It is difficult to see how this could be true, but perhaps there is some merit in the suggestion that elections are fought on local issues and the DNC imposing its nationwide goals on a local operation. I can see how that might have caused a problem, but simultaneously I am inclined to believe that the DNC's overall political goals are probably driven off very different strategic considerations. IMHO - the DNC's grand plan is to bait the GOP into expensive local fights that is wins only at extremely high costs.

2) Why did Karen Handel's lose so many votes?  - this unfortunately has only one answer which the GOP can't bring itself accept -  Trump did this.

Trump has lost his electoral mojo. The white independents who were pulled into the Trump orbit by his vague promises are realizing they have been had. Viewed against the backdrop of the 2016 election when Trump's electoral pull was extremely high, Karen Handel has lost 67000 voters. They simply didn't turn out to vote for her.

Additionally Handel was only able to gain sufficient support within the GOP in the first round of the election by distancing herself from Trump. She also relied on an extremely large GOP driven cash infusion to secure her victory in the run-off. She rarely gave public speeches, she engaged small groups of well modeled Republican voters. By making them promises that none of the others are aware of - she was able to ensure that they turn up to vote.

If each race is this hard fought, then the likelihood of the GOP surviving the 2018 elections is very slim. The rational thing to do at this point is for the GOP to support impeaching Trump. Given how relieved they are at not losing the seat, they will put off the difficult and painful task of excising Trump from the GOP ranks.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Analysis of the GA06 results

Current predictions indicate that GOP contender Karen Handel has beaten Democratic party nominee Jon Ossoff by about 7700 votes (3.7% of the total vote polled). The voter turnout was about 60%.  This is between the extremely low turnout in the first round (43%) and the extremely high turnout in the 2016 election (73%).

The campaign was extremely hard fought, a very large amount of money came from outside GA to fund both parties. External observers characterized this election as a referendum on the Trump brand.

While it is clear that Ossoff failed to seal the deal and win the seat, the numbers speak for themselves.

Jon Ossoff secured almost the exact same number of votes that Rodney Stooksbury secured in 2016. As Jon was brought in as an outsider in the hope that he would do better than a local candidate, the numerical parity between the two results suggests there is a hard floor to the political reach of the Democratic party in GA06. I wonder what the floor is? is usually race or age that limits things like this.

The difference between the 2016 turnout and the recent turnout - ~ 13% of the GA06 VAP(Voting Age Population) is rough gauge of how many voters do not feel compelled to return to defend Donald Trump's agenda or to negate it.

One could read this shift as a sign that the Democratic Party didn't move the needle with this 13% of the voters, so Trump's agenda has prevailed, but another way to read this is that 13% of the people that turned out to vote for Trump didn't return to support his agenda even though they were repeatedly told that Trump's legitimacy was at risk.

It is even more interesting to note that while Secy Price had originally polled 201,088 votes - despite having 10x the money thrown at her campaign Karen Handel only polled 134595. She lost 66493 votes about 15% of the VAP.  When you consider the money spent per voted *lost* - the GOP comes out really badly.

Add this to the earlier shift in turnout and we are looking at a ~ 28% shift away from the GOP and Trump. This will get drowned out in wave of GOP self-congratulation that will fill the air in the week ahead.

While the total fraction of the polled votes that Karen Handel secured is now comparable to the kinds of numbers Democratic representative John Flynt would have in the late 70s, there is no comfort to be had here for the GOP as the Democrats lost this constituency in the 80s and never got it back. GOP reps have been polling over 60% of the vote in each election since then.  When it flips GA06 did so completely.

My guess is that if the GOP attempts to leverage the GA06 victory towards anything, the stark facts posed by the numbers above. I anticipate that there will be a lot of celebration in the GOP ranks - they have staved off a complete embarrassment for Donald Trump.

As the GOP attempts to use this development as fuel for its Obamacare repeal, it is likely that there will be back action in the form of accusations of vote rigging from GA06. You see regardless of what the actual outcome of the Obamacare repeal or GA06 election are, the Democratic party benefits by making this the most expensive victory or defeat possible for the GOP.

Monday, June 19, 2017

India takes another step down the path to becoming Nazi Germany

With the explosive growth of the Gau Raksha campaign, the idea that any Muslim's Indian citizenship and national loyalty can be questioned at any point of time or place has gained ground. With the appointment of an RSS friendly President of India, and the eventual collapse of the upper house of the Indian parliament into the hands of Hindu right wingers - the Nazification of India is ever more certain.

It is not surprising that extremist factions in the BJP are now vying for power by exploiting communally sensitive issues. It is also not surprising that their terror tactics are being sugar coated as a case of India's Hindus asserting their right to worship without fear after one hundred billion years of slavery etc...

What is surprising is how quickly people in India's upper middle class are latching on to such ideas. The psychopathology of this is quite interesting there appear to several key steps to this "new enlightenment" and realization of the "whole truth"

Step 0: "Modi worship is the salvation of India." If you submit to the awesomeness of Modi, all ideas that go against him must be inherently wrong. As Modi epitomizes the Uber Hindu Man to so many - the cult of Modi worship is the gateway drug to becoming a full blown Nazi.

Step 1: "Muslims have too many special rights - time for Triple Talaq, Art 370, & Muslim Personal Law to go" - said in conjunction with "Congress has been using them as a vote bank" - this can be used to justify any abrogation of any random Muslim's rights. After all weren't they "given" Pakistan by the "evil Nehru-Gandhi" clan? Accept that "fact" and you have "risen" to the next higher level of Hindu Nazism.

Step 2: "Media lies, no Muslims were killed for this - it was some other personal enmity issue, no one is targeting Muslims..." - once you accept that there is no criminal pattern to study here, it is all a media conspiracy - even if you see it with your own eyes - your eyes are wrong - No Muslims Were Harmed By Hindus - the fiction is more seductive than the fact. Like Germans who insisted on believing that the Jews were merely "resettled in the East" or post WWII Germans who kept saying that the "Holocaust never happened", even when a number of former SS camp commandants were publicly telling people all the details of how Jews were loaded into gas chambers - you can deny anything that presents the opposite of the picture you want to see.

Step 3: "Sanatan Dharma blah blah blah"... the final act of outsourcing all responsibility for your personal actions to a philosophy that would sooner die than associate with the likes of you - if you can run rosary beads through your hands while you do this - you might even get a crack at nirvana or so you hope while the rest of India slides back into an unremitting hell.

This "enlightenment ladder" is gaining in popularity among culturally displaced populations in India.

It is not uncommon in India at all.

Change the word Hindu above to Kashmiri Muslim and you get the fire that started in Kashmir in 1989.

Change the word Hindu above to Sikh and you get what started in Punjab in the early 80s.

And so on.

It is the same old story but now told on a much grander canvas with much grander consequences.

What a shame indeed - for a moment there it looked like India was going to change for the better. Guess I was wrong and the Pakistanis were right. India is going to drown in a sea of its own Hindu Nazi piss.

Difficult week ahead for Donald Trump

The logical thing for Donald Trump do to now is to hand the keys to Pence and walk away. If he does that Pence will pardon him and he can go on to start his Trump TV channel and make millions off the people that voted for him - heck NBC and Megyn Kelly can join his venture and just rename themselves as TrumpeNBC and Trump Alex Kelly and we can all get on with our lives. But we all know that's not going to happen. Firstly, he is never going to go out looking like a loser and Bannon hasn't finished Dugin's agenda of destroying the US yet.

It appears as of now that Trump's kids are in the frame for illegal activities. This is going to hurt Donald Trump - I mean what is the point of being so powerful if he can't even protect his own kids? what will people say? if he can't protect his own kids - how could he possibly protect them? So as Special Prosecutor Mueller starts interviewing Trump associates - they will (rather than going down with the Trump) point a finger to his kids. This puts his kids in a miserable place, and that pain will relay directly to Donald Trump.

When it relays up to the top like that - he will try to press Sessions and the DAG Rosenstein to fire Mueller (since Trump can't actually do it himself). As that pressure ratchets Rosenstein will resign and the warrant of precedence will take effect. This pressure release valve will ensure that Mueller speeds up his investigation and more of Trump's aides go public with their testimony to Mueller.

All this will play out in the week ahead - and remember - it is always the straw that breaks the camel's back.

Which brings me to the other incredible news of last week  - the Fed's talk of reconciling its balance sheets.

Neel Kashkari wrote up a small piece titled "Why I dissented" which makes for interesting reading. In this piece Neel speaks of how such a reconciliation could spark a tightening of the monetary situation. The effect would be akin to an interest rate hike. This is what I had brought up earlier - that it would take money out of the stock markets and put it into the bond markets where the rising number of bonds would cause bond prices to fall.  Once Neel said this other Federal Reserve officials began to speak of a time frame in which the reconciliation process could begin - words like "by the end of the year" etc... were thrown around.

Now you might wonder, "say if I knew how exactly the Fed was going to sell its bonds I could ride the wave of bond prices down". That is what Neel is hinting at when he says the Fed should publish its exact schedule for reconciliation. In practice what will happen however is that Goldman Sachs will be told what they are going to do, but you the ordinary investor won't. So only Goldman will make money and you wont - but at least Neel has the right idea in mind.

As such the comment from the Fed is a very muted one. One will have to wait to see if any such plan actually exists, and if it does how the market reacts to it.

Friday, June 16, 2017

The Prisoner's Dilemma

While most people know this as a part of game theory, it is in practice a very powerful tool in the hands of judicial officials trying to secure convictions in the face of criminal conspiracy. The key to making this work is to ensure that there is no reliable communication between the suspects.

As with the game theory variant, we discuss the case of two suspects in custody with no communication between them. There are two basic flavors of the prisoner's dilemma approach, but as long as there is no reliable communication between the suspects, both flavors should work. The first flavor of the prisoner's dilemma tool kit is to offer a deal to both suspects to rat each other out. The second variant is to offer one suspect the deal and then use the offer to lure the second suspect into testifying against the first.

The ideal situation from the prosecutor's point of view is that both suspects rat each other out and offer up substantiation of their testimony. The material evidence provided by each suspect can be used against a third suspect or against any of the two suspects. The prosecutor may decide independently that there is no sense in making good on the offer of a deal with either suspect - and a caveat is always attached to the deal offer.

Now that I have laid that background out for you - most of you should be able to see how this might be at work in recent events.  I want to add a few comments and hopefully this will be useful to you when you think about such matters. Do I wish we didn't have to think such things? yes - I do but that is not where reality has taken us.

This is what we know so far (IMHO).

0) Data intercepts from "Five Eyes"(FVEY) and USIC had suggested that the Trump Campaign was making deals with Russia to end sanctions on the Putin Regime. In exchange for Donald Trump removing the sanctions, President Putin would aid his election through an electronic voter targeting campaign. The RIS and its proxies would identify voters who were likely to vote for HRC and target them with specific disinformation or they would hack the voter rolls and introduce discrepancies into their voter records. Any discrepancies created by the RIS hackers on the voter rolls would be used by GOP controlled state elections boards to run a voter suppression campaign against democratic party voters.

1) In order to substantiate the picture produced by electronic surveillance from disparate channels, the FBI began a deep dive into the financial dealings of the Trump Corporation. The suspicion was that there was a "gold seam" hidden in those transactions that would clearly link the RIS with the Trump regime.

2) It seems that the data intercepts by FVEY and USIC went back many years and this had made Trump a "person of interest" for the FBI, but after delving into the Trump corporation's financial dealings, the FBI found itself obstructed by Donald Trump. As of yesterday Robert Mueller has told us that Trump is being investigated for obstruction. This means that members of the Trump regime are legitimate targets of a criminal inquiry.

3)  As any conspiracy of such a nature would be vast in its spread, the FBI will have no choice but to treat this as it would any other case against a major crime syndicate. Everyone is essentially a suspect no matter how minor they are and they all get the same treatment - i.e. they are all put into the prisoner's dilemma.

4) The pressure of this investigation will be so vast that no suspect will be able to resist for very long. We can anticipate a steadily rising number of defectors as individuals cut deals to save themselves. It is also likely that the pressure imposed by the investigation will be too much for Trump himself to bear and he will likely do something silly like trying to fire Robert Mueller. It would not be surprising if he ditches Mike Pence and his own kids as the weeks wear on.

5) From the RIS perspective, I feel if Trump makes a spectacle of himself - it will be more profitable for the RIS to deliberately plant information that suggests Trump and Russia are tied at the hip. Regardless of whether it is true, that viewpoint will allow the RIS to make a clean breast of it all. The RIS will simply say "Yes we worked with him because we were suffering under your sanctions and we were desperate, when Trump named a price we jumped at it - don't look at us - this is all on him and you! - we were just protecting our legitimate national interests."

6) The GOP for its part must now decide what role it wants to play in this tragedy. Does it want to be remembered as the racist dupes who fell for Trump's charade and tried to destroy America or do they want to be remembered as traitors who knowingly followed orders from Russia to destroy America? My guess is that the GOPers supporting Trump will fragment into two factions. Faction 1 which didn't actually know about the RIS angle (they will claim the racist dupe label) and Faction 2 which did know about the RIS angle (they will deny the traitor label but make no attempt to seize the racist dupe label). There will be a few floaters that go between these groups but my guess is that intercine warfare between them will think the floaters down to a minimum.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Daily Donald 6/15/2017

Based on Special Prosecutor Mueller's testimony, Donald Trump is now under investigation for obstruction of justice. This is the same charge that ended the Nixon presidency. The Special Prosecutor is investigating money laundering by Trump's companies. The logic at work here seems to be that the cover of a licit financial relationship was pulled over a gold seam.

Per reports of former DHS secy Jeh Johnson, several attempts by RIS to modify voter records in US states prior to the 2016 election were detected and contained. As the electoral infrastructure was not deemed as "nationally critical", the DHS remains unsure if other attempts succeeded. This opens the discussion on whether RIS hacked voter totals to make Donald Trump win.

Donald Trump seems to be questioning the loyalty of those closest to him. This is a sign that he knows he is in big trouble. That is why all the people around him led by the Chief of Staff Reinhold Priebus offered a very public oath of fealty. This is reminiscent of dictatorial regimes where the likelihood of a palace coup is very high. It is even more interesting to note that while DCIA Pompeo offered his loyalties effusively, the SecDef was silent. That is a rift that will come to matter a lot more in the days ahead.

All this is doing very little for Trump's overall job approval numbers. These have dipped to hitherto unseen lows - exceeding anything any other president has ever seen in the time such numbers were available. As the TrumpRussia investigation progresses, these numbers will get worse. It appears Donald Trump threatened Prosecutor Mueller with dismissal and the complicit GOP political machine attempted to target Prosecutor Mueller's integrity. This apparently was part of a strategy by Trump to intimidate Mueller into a publicly exoneration. This strategy has failed and as the testimony of the intelligence chiefs and the Special Prosecutor indicates Trump is now in the hot seat.  At this point the options have narrowed fast for Trump. If he does not move against Mueller, he will lose face.

The GOP for its part seems to be learning some hard lessons.

  1. The entire saga of the Sessions' testimony cast the GOP in a very bad light. It seemed that they had nominated an aging mentally incompetent man  or a criminal collaborator as AG. 
  2. The pressure on the ACA repeal is so intense that even Trump has tried to distance himself from it by making vague statements about how "mean" the bill is. The GOP has tried to hide the bill from all scrutiny, but if Donald Trump vetoes it just to boost his failing job approval ratings - that will be a very bad own goal for the GOP. 
  3.  Trump friendly candidates in various primaries and special elections are facing a poor response among GOP voters. Trump is having the opposite effect of 2016 - he is driving voters away from GOP ranks. 
  4. Yesterday GOP Whip in the house and several staffers were shot and injured by an irate Bernie Sanders supporter. 
I wonder how long it will be before the GOP attempts to hang Trump out to dry and save itself. The manner in which the Senate has passed a set of RU specific sanctions is a sign that there is no stomach in the GOP controlled Senate to go through with Trump's Russia agendas. 

On the issues of yesterday's tragic and terrible events at the baseball field in Virginia, I feel bad for the police officers who were injured. I am glad that there were no fatalities in the police. As the GOP goes however, while it is sad that GOP guys were hurt, I can't help wondering what the GOP was thinking when it relaxed gun control laws and repealed Obamacare. To the GOP people this should be treated as a teachable moment. 

If you take away a sick person's healthcare you are more/less sentencing them to a painful death.Now if you make it easy for them to get guns - they will simply get a gun and shoot you. What do they have to lose? - they are going to die anyway - you made certain of that. 

These kinds of flaws in GOP thinking have been pointed out before, for example what happens when an "Open Carry" advocate meets a "Stand Your Ground" advocate in a place full of random people? Does everyone die in the crossfire? 

But the GOP has a talent for shutting off its brain when it comes to simple logic. They don't want to address that obvious inconsistencies in their platform. They seem convinced that there is a sufficiently stupid base in the country that can be distracted with an appeal to an emotionally charged issue when logical flaws are pointed out. 

The GOP needs to use yesterday's experience to re-evaluate the net effect of its stance on Obamacare repeal and relaxed gun control. You can't have both and still remain alive. The vast numbers of terminally ill poor will hunt down GOP persons, their families and friends and shoot them. Even if the GOP hires private guards like that idiot in Montana wants to do, the Guards can't catch bullets. Somewhere a bullet will get through and even if it doesn't kill the person - it is will leave them crippled for life. 

In other news - the Fed has hiked its rates and it appears to be getting ready to release a fraction of its bonds. I am not sure how the market will react to this. A particular scenario that bothers me is that a rise in the cost of borrowing happening at the exact same time as the price of bonds drops will drive people away from the stock market and into the bond market.  If the Fed get the $4.5 Tn bonds off its books, then people that would have bought stocks would sell the stocks to buy these bonds.  Investors would continue to shift out of stocks until the net gain of selling stocks and buying bonds diminishes to the transaction cost levels.  

I also do not understand why the balance sheet normalization announcement cannot be in the FOMC minutes. To leave that to a press conference comment is a bit odd.

Friday, June 09, 2017

House has passed Dodd Frank Act Repeal

As the Comey Day saga distracted the bulk of the country, the House GOP quietly passed the Financial CHOICE Act as House Resolution 10, by a party line vote (233-186).

The Financial CHOICE Act shuts down the regulatory measures introduced by the Dodd Frank Wall Street Reform Act of 2010. These measures were put into place in 2010 to prevent a repeat of the near disastrous market crash of 2008. The crash of 2008 nearly caused an economic depression.

One of the biggest changes made by the Financial CHOICE Act is that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau which polices the activities of large banks now reports to Congress instead of the Federal Reserve. The entire role of the CFPB has been diluted significantly.

Not only have the CFPB funding shifted from its direct line to the Federal Reserve to the Congress driven annual appropriations process, the CFPB director now can be removed by the President without a real cause being given.  Additionally all supervisory ability of the CFPB has been removed, it will only enforce selected laws and not be able to protect consumers from predatory lending.

The CFPB also maintained an open list of complaints against credit scoring agencies which were publicly held responsible for failing to correct errors in peoples' credit scores. This went a long way in ensuring that quality control measures inside credit reporting were put into place.

This act is strongly supported by a lobby group representing debt collectors. The point of the act seems to be to increase business opportunities for the debt collection services side of the economy. With fewer people taking out bad loans, there was less for the debt collectors to do, so I guess they paid Paul Ryan and the GOP to change things in ways that suit them.

The passage of the CHOICE Act (dubbed the Hensarling Bill after the congressman from Texas who sponsored it) has also met with varying degrees of approval in conservative media, but even the talking heads seem wary of commenting on it. The bill appears to have passed without levels of opposition that the ACA repeal elicited solely because the entire country was focused on the TrumpRussia hearings.

Here are my thoughts on this

1) The Dodd Frank Act sought to prevent a repeat of the 2008 collapse. If you take these protections off, the entire saga will repeat.

2) There is a misguided belief among some people that it is good for the financial system to collapse, because it will mean - there is no more debt. It is doesn't work like that - a collapsed financial system will only result in a major boost to predatory alternative lending channels and a massive rise in debt collection visits.

3) One might be tempted to think - "Oh this can't affect me - I don't have pay-day loans or unpaid debt" - again - that is not how it works. Even if you aren't borrowing money directly from a predatory lender, the bank your mortgage or car loan or student loan is coming from may be borrowing money from a predatory lender or might pursue predatory practices. There is no way to firewall yourself from the debt economy.

4) The Financial CHOICE Act taken together with the ACA repeal and the continued GOP support to Trump despite his illegal acts points to the deeply venal and corrupt nature of the GOP.

This will not end well for us or for the GOPers pushing this.

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

The crisis in American narcotics.

As some of you may have become aware from articles like this one, the US is suffering a massive drug use pandemic. While the situation has yet to reach the opium epidemic levels seen in Manchu China, a tipping point of sorts has been reached inside rural America.

The roots of this American epidemic can be traced to revisions made in FDA guidelines regarding pain medication. The explosion of medically prescribed Oxycontin usage in "middle America" led to significant shift in the dynamics of illicit narcotics. Given how much Oxy was freely available, the traffickers had to up their volumes to keep margins up. After 2001 the bulk of anti-narcotics resources were diverted to the war on terror. With the eviction  of the Taliban, poppy cultivation in AFG boomed. The result was a free fall in opiate prices on the streets of the United States.

As the price of narcotics are interlinked by economic forces, this in turn brought down the effective price of cocaine and methamphetamine. As expected this kind of pricing pressure leads to shifts in product formulation and quality and that is feeding the trend towards Fentanyl and other synthetic cocktails.

The prime targets of this opioid epidemic are in "soldier belt" of America - places like Kentucky, Appalachia and so on which contribute the sizable numbers of Scott Irish, German Polish and Italian men that fill in the lower ranks of the Army. Most of this epidemic can probably be traced to war fatigue and self-medication of PTSD but that is story for another day.

The prices are low right now which is going to increase the number of addicts. As one has a larger number of addicts around, the number of people suffering from ODs will rise proportionally. Additionally the pressure to keep the cost per hit down will lead to more quality control issues and one will see more adulteration of product. This adulteration factor is likely to lead to a spike in medical complications and death.

Given the imprecise nature of backyard chemistry, the likelihood of an over loading a Fentanyl laced pill is quite high. Given how many addicts there are the likelihood of some idiot leaving a pill in a public space (park, mall, street, whatever...) is extremely high. While the dosage in such a pill may not be sufficient to harm an adult, it will most likely kill a small child.

The normal approach to this would be to constrict the flow of product, i.e. increase enforcement and drive the street price up. Doing this at this time will lead to a major degradation for the following reasons

1) As seen in black urban ghettos of the North East, increasing enforcement simply puts more strain on scarce policing resources. It was still possible to dump enough policemen on the geographically small urban ghettos filled with poor black people, but it will not be possible to do that on all of rural America.

2) Increasing the price of narcotics causes unpredictable fluctuations in the pricing regime, this causes addicts to commit more crimes which in turn draws on the law enforcement system even scarcer crime prevention resources. Given that we are talking about policing the rural parts of the US, the resources required would be catastrophically large given the massive land area we are talking about.

3) A "Drug War" like this leaves a lot of carnage in its wake. Families are ripped apart, lives are shattered and the reign of terror outlives the crisis itself.

A better way has to be found.

Monday, June 05, 2017

Persistent HM UGW presence in Southern Kashmir?

Details of the Ummer Fayaz assassination are coming into the public realm. It appears Lt. Fayaz kept his detailed movements a secret and yet somehow he was targeted. This make me wonder if a UGW (Under Ground Worker) presence in Southern Kashmir is still persistent.

Per the agreements of the last decade, HM UGWs were supposed to come overground and join the peace process. In exchange they were to turn over all munitions to the security forces. There was a sizable recovery of munitions in this process, and a lot of the GenX HM UGWs traded in their guns for the promise of a government pardon.

I was never sure how many came overground and how many still remained hidden. I was also unsure how many of those that came overground had handed over the weapons caches. Like the J&K Police DGP, I too was seduced by the possibility that this is over, even though a voice in my head kept saying - "It's not over until all the weapons have been recovered". I once privately opined to a friend, that if I was a security forces commander in Kashmir I would ask the former HM UGWs to hand over all the caches they were aware of or pick out places where they would like to be buried.

The fact that the terrorists were able to breach the security surrounding Lt. Fayaz's movements and that they were able to abduct him in broad daylight bypassing security forces check points in the area suggests to me that someone with detailed local knowledge was tracking him. Even if the PA-SSG were to launch a long range patrol of this kind, it would very difficult for them to achieve that much precision in the strike without direct support from local elements.

The kind of accurate local targeting was what made the HM particularly deadly during the early 90s. The HM organization was able to draw on informers in every police station, mosque, school and shop. When an RR column moved out from its garrison, the local tea-wallahs lining the streets outside the RR camp would send runners to HM UGWs in the area. This would cause all Lashkar Taiba/Jaish-e-Mohammed/PA-SSG operators in the surrounding areas to up their security. This trip-wire alone added a decade on to the process of securing J&K. With advanced warning transport infrastructure along the main supply route could be targeted with IEDs, RR convoys could be challenged with high efficiency. CASO operations could be defeated even before they were initiated.

Detecting the UGWs was a major pain, they would operate human runners as relays and unless you picked up one of those by chance or one of these guys had a change of heart when his check was late from the Pakistanis, the likelihood that you would uncover a network of these guys was very slim.

This was some bad shit. There is very good reason why the real national security types in New Delhi have a deep sense of dread about the situation in Kashmir. I don't expect the Modi-Bhakt dick-wagger types to get this level of detail, but if that HM UGW presence is persistent, we are going to see this conflict reignite.

Friday, June 02, 2017

Some comments on the Dhola Sadiya/Bhupen Hazarika Bridge

I would like to take a moment in the steady flow of Donald Trump catastrophes to congratulate the people of India on a marvelous engineering achievement, the Dhola Sadiya bridge. Seeing the might Brahmaputra river crossed in this fashion is a truly stunning sight. I believe this will greatly benefit the local economy of Arunachal Pradesh and bring trade to regions of India that have long been economically depressed. Good job India - and great job by the Manmohan Singh administration which gave the approval for building this bridge!

There has been a lot of talk of "moving tanks" across this bridge and how that changes the economics of  armor transport across the Brahmaputra and much of what is being said there is essentially correct, however I wish to add the following caveats or comments. (Most of this comes from a chance conversation with a Nahan alumnus a decade ago, though I must also credit Ravi Rikhye for bringing some of these issues up a few years before that)

1) The Indian defensive positions in Arunachal rely on the last-mile costs imposed by adverse terrain on Chinese military planners. The eastern Himalayan range and the Hengduan Shan range pose a major problem for Chinese military planners as it expensive to ford and a major pain to get supplies to. Supplies have to cross a thousand miles across the vast expanse of Outer Tibet. In contrast to this the Indian defensive posture is largely situated on the flat land of the Brahmaputra river bowl  and one only has to cover a few hundred miles of road to reach the border.

2) The main issue with the Indian defensive position is that it is bisected by the mighty Brahmaputra river. Crossing the river is expensive  as it consumes gasoline on barges to do so and it is difficult to move large military formations by road in the region. This is not strictly a problem because you can drive out of West Bengal, past the Siliguri chicken's neck and on to the northern banks of the Brahmaputra. Once on the northern banks you can route forces to most of Arunachal's border with China.

3) India's logistical problems start with northern edge of Dibang National Park and spread south-east to the Lohit river valley. As one goes south of that - one has Myanmar acting as a buffer between India and China (which brings its own challenges but we leave that out of the discussion for now). In order to get to Indian defensive positions in the Mathun, Dri and Lohit river valleys, Indian forces would have to cross several rivers north of Pasighat. This is a major logistical bottleneck which imposes large costs on India.

4) If you put a bridge across the Brahmaputra at V. Dhola, Indian men and materiel on the northern bank of the Brahmaputra can cross over to the southern bank west of Dibrugarh and then drive on metaled roads to V. Dhola and cross over to  V. Sadiya and then drive to V. Majgaon. At V. Majgaon, they would have the option of continuing north to the Dibang wildlife preserve or going east to Tezu near the Lohit river valley.

5) Thanks to the Dhola-Sadiya bridge the distance between Tezpur and V. Majgaon can now be made in as little as 10 hours. That is about half the time it would have taken earlier and no weird ferry crossings would have to be arranged either.

6) Now before people roll out the tank brigades into Tezu, please remember there is no possibility of using tanks effectively in either the Lohit RV or the confines of Dibang NP. The northern border of Dibang NP is actually glaciated, so forget tanks, but what you can do is make it easier to get POL and munitions to formations in the Lohit RV and getting supplies to the picket lines in Mathun  and Dri RVs.

I hope this helps people understand the strategic significance of this bridge and why the Chinese are unhappy about it.

I feel this bridge stabilizes there eastern Arunachal region against local escalations.

Thursday, June 01, 2017

Conducting Psywar with a Bot Army - II

As discussed in my previous post, a bot army can be used to conduct psywar campaign on social media like Twitter/Instagram/Facebook etc..., however the operation of this bot army is constrained by an availability of resources. These constraints presage a peculiar pattern of deployment of the bot armies and in a weird way set the tempo for the psywar.

In this post I explore ways in which a bot army can be deployed to conduct a psywar on Twitter. As most of you know Twitter is where all journalists in the world hang out. All news first spreads via Twitter. If you want to dominate a news cycle, you have to get it at the source on Twitter itself. As Twitter offers cross posting of information on other media like Facebook, Instagram, etc... if you seize the high ground on Twitter you can most likely hold large swathes of Facebook, Instagram, Periscope etc... The dominance you achieve will be temporary as the bots will be exposed in the process of conducting the attacks. Once exposed you will not be able to reuse the bot army immediately. This will introduce a pause in your operations, a pause that will naturally leave an opening to your opponents to regroup and regain lost ground.

As with any military campaign, this kind of psywar campaign is best timed to coincide with some event that will likely expose you to unmitigated risks. So for example, if a certain person is likely to testify before a judge or a parliamentary investigation committee and say things that are very inimical to you, then you might think that deploying a bot assault on twitter is a good way to take the edge off the impact. 

As part of a softening up phase, the bot army could be deployed to strike at countervailing sources of information. Either information could be released via the bots that seeks to undermine the credibility of countervailing sources or access to these sources could be undermined by direct "bombing" their timeline with tweets containing contrarian information. By sowing doubt about the value of information from countervailing sources, the bot army would weaken opposition to the message it is seeking to release. Another possible variant of the softening up strategy would be if the bot army releases information that tangentially supports the message it is attempting to disseminate. A softer toned down version of a particular message carefully worded to avoid raising people's eyebrows might prove effective in creating a fertile ground for a much harsher and pin-point message at a later date. Once the softening up is done, the bot army that carried out the softening up is compromised and it will have to be at  least temporarily retired.

The next assault will likely be on a major news source, it is likely this will be a distraction or a feint of some kind. I call this the disorientation phase of the campaign. A view that is seemingly opposed to the bot army's own message is thrown around to disorient the target audience. The target audience will be unable to discern what the truth of the matter is and thus they will be open to the idea that the opposite of the message is actually true. Again the bot army used for this disorientation phase will have to be retired at least temporarily.

The last phase of the assault will likely be a saturation bombardment phase. during this phase the resource consumption will be maximum as a number of bot armies will have to be serially deployed to weak points (influencers who have been compromised or sufficiently disoriented)  in the target audience. The aim of this effort will be to completely saturate the information sphere with views that are aligned with the core message that is sent out via the bots. I anticipate that half the total strength of bot armies available will be used (the other half will be held in reserve).  This last phase will attempt to influence neutral opinion polling and increase the number of people that support your point of view.

Obviously in our present situation, if the bot army can use such a simple approach to reduce the negative fallout of next weeks Comey testimony before the intelligence committee on any poll numbers, then I imagine the Trump Team's "War Room" can call it a success. It is unfortunate that they will not see the cost of such a success, most of them will be happily counting  the dollars and BTC in their wallets - little realizing that the country is left in a very vulnerable place.

Conducting Psywar with a Bot Army - I

This is a scenario I thought up for how you might use a Bot army to fight a psywar.  I feel this is increasingly relevant as Team Trump turns towards its old and faithful methods from the 2016 campaign period.

There are few fundamental constraints on the functioning of a bot army (if it helps try to think of the Trade Federation's Droid Army in Star Wars), I list these below.

1) Bots cannot be created without human intervention.

  • Without at least appearing human, people will not take  the bots seriously. Creating human appearing bots with the right level of geolocation and context is hard and expensive work.  This is work that has to be done painstakingly by hand usually in places where labor is cheap. Places like India and Pakistan are good places to stage such high quality bot armies because rudimentary software labor is cheap here. Bot Armies with high levels of human simulation will be more expensive to rent/own.
  • Bot Armies can be build with automated scripts that are by humans. You need experienced programmers to do this right. This kind of labor is cheaper in Russia. A few hundred programmers could create millions of bots over a period of a few months. A script generated bot army will have a very low level of simulated humanity as the resources needed for contextualization are large. These bots will be cheaper to rent/own.
  • In order to relay any messages via the bot army, one will need to access a set of broadcast commands. Each bot army will have a hierarchy, much like any military unit, the message will have to be first sent to a command account, which in turn will send the message down to lower level bots. The lowest level bot will put that message to the targets. This will introduce a unique signature into the response of each bot army. The times between relay events will be very unique to each army. 
  • The message being repeated will have to be crafted by humans at a control center. The control center will relay the message to a distribution center which in turn will send the message to the bot army command accounts. 
  • A bot army will not be able to function as effectively without extensive support from real human operators. A call center like operation will have to be set up to inject real human testimonials into bot army operations to ensure that the message is not seen as a provocation. This is where the Internet Research Agency's "Pie from Apples" crowd comes in. Additional human support  may be press ganged through zombie accounts which have been maliciously acquired. 
2) Every bot army most likely has a kill function. This is a common feature of malware, the creators always put in something to ensure that the army doesn't get turned on them or to ensure that anyone they sell the army to pays the rent on time. The bot army will be hosted on a server or group of servers, and it will likely be polling one of the server ports or a DNS server for the kill command. If the kill command is received, the bot army will cease to repeat.  It may even be that the bot army command account auto-deletes all sub-units. 

3) A bot army's most valuable aspect is its secrecy. Once it is deployed, it is essentially compromised as the patterns of activity will be directly visible. As the timescales associated with creating new bot armies is large, the control center will deploy the bot armies in a phased fashion. With each re-use, the bot army's effectiveness will degrade.  This will create a demand structure for new bot armies which will shift pricing as the replacements become scarce. Running a cost effective bot army deployment will mean limiting the exposure of the army until a replacement is available at a reasonable price. 

4) Staging and deploying a bot army will also require significant server space and cloud operations capability. The will also be significant spikes in internet traffic associated with the bot army operation. All of this will cost a great deal of money. 

5) Given the resources constrained nature of bot army deployment, it will be ideal to use the bot army against a high value targets first. The first messages relayed by the bot army will be essentially aimed at degrading the credibility of opposing information sources. Opposing information sources can easily expose the lack of factual content in the bot army's message. 

Now that we have seen some of the major constraints at play with a bot army, in my next post on this issue, I will lay out the most likely scenario for a bot army attack on the US media via Twitter+Soc media.