Health Care, Leaks, Wiretaps, Troop Movements, and other important subjects.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

George Santayana


Still more chaos here, and all over. Leaks everywhere, many of them felonious, although of not much merit other than the breaches in security. As I write this, all the discussion seems to be more resentful of Trump’s income than anything else; he paid more taxes, apparently, than the Clintons or Mr. Obama, or Romney; not a great surprise.

The Cabinet seems to have vacant seats; since Bunny Inspectors work for Agriculture as I understand it, and that’s one of the vacant Cabinet posts, I suppose we’re stuck with them for at least a year, which probably means forever.


File 770 announces: PRATCHETT BUSTED. The BBC has the story.

A bronze bust of Sir Terry Pratchett has been unveiled ahead of plans to install a 7ft (2.1m) statue of the author in Salisbury, Wiltshire.

It was created by Paul Kidby, who illustrated Sir Terry’s Discworld novels, before his death in 2015.

Well deserved. I am sure he would have appreciated that.



Noonan link around WSJ pay wall

Dr. Pournelle,
FYI, WSJ is covered by a pay wall, so the Peggy Noonan column you linked isn’t immediately available. She also self-publishes, however, and the column also appears at Worth a browser bookmark.


I have several messages telling me that direct links to Wall Street Journal articles end up outside a pay wall. I always provide the exact title, and as I understand it, if you Google that you get to read what it hits. If someone knows otherwise, please tell me. I also know Googling the exact title always brings up other places you can see the article. You can cut and paste the title to Google – oops, I now realize that will carry the link too; I’ll stop doing that. But generally you can read the articles free if you want, although it may take a bit of patience.


“Wiretaps” Versus Database Access


I’ve noticed it’s often not well understood what official “wiretaps”

actually involve in 2017. This gets in the way of understanding the current brawl. Can’t have that!

First, it’s been a while since most “wiretaps” actually involved someone going into a phone-wires cabinet and physically clipping on a wire-leads “tap”.

Law enforcement “wiretaps” generally involve taking a warrant down to the local phone company and having them intercept the relevant traffic via minor reprogramming of their switching computers.

Or sometimes, these involve setting up a “Stingray” fake-celltower intercept device nearby.

Either way, they accomplish the same end as an old-fashioned wiretap – recording all traffic to and from a particular device (or devices) that happens after the “wiretap” is set up.

An NSA (National Security Agency, or for its first several decades “No Such Agency”) “wiretap” is very different.

Americans, perhaps fortunately, are crap at keeping secrets. We’ve know for several years now that (along with hoovering up everything they can from the rest of the world) NSA is recording and saving “metadata” on pretty much all domestic calls. From and to what device, when, and how long – that’s officially been recorded and saved in a central database these last ten years or more.

What’s not official but is a poorly-kept secret – Americans, secrets, crap – there are many, many public clues – is that they quite probably also record and save in that database many, if not most (if not all) of these calls’ actual contents. Plus also pretty much all non-voice data communications. (Hi, guys!)

In theory, all this is in support of foreign intelligence gathering plus (under the famous FISA warrants) keeping tabs on foreign agents inside the US. In theory, only communications where at least one end is non-US are fair game to look at.

Everything else just gets swept up as a side effect and officially never used. But, the database exists.

Now, the government in its wisdom did decide that US citizens deserve some privacy protections in all of this. These aren’t applied before the fact – they collect just about everything – but rather after the fact, in terms of who can legally access NSA’s vast all-calls database, what they can legally ask for, and what they’ll then be given.

(It was direct access to this database that Obama expanded from NSA-only to sixteen different US agencies just before he left office.)

Meanwhile, official government wiretapping of an opposition Presidential campaign would be political nitroglycerin. Yet for months we were seeing story after story allegedly based on leaks of info from exactly such wiretaps, and nobody was picking up on that aspect.

Until, that is, this President tweeted that his campaign was wiretapped by the previous Administration, forcing focus onto exactly that.

Ever since, we’ve seen the organizations legally allowed access to this NSA database running for cover: One by one denying stoutly that *they* ever processed any such properly authorized “wiretaps”, AKA NSA database searches, of the Trump campaign.

Which leaves two possibilities: All the many leak-based news reports of Trump-related wiretaps were pure malicious fiction. (Some of them probably were. But all of them? Some of the alleged facts included certainly sounded like they’d come from wiretaps.)

Or, someone was doing NSA calls-database searches outside of normal properly authorized channels. Which, given what’s in it – everything – should be deeply disturbing to everyone.

Which brings us to today’s news: A claim that Britain’s GCHQ (their equivalent of our NSA) also has access to this NSA all-calls database, that they occasionally do off-the-books illegal-by-US-parties US searches as favors for the US government, and that this might be where the Trump campaign wiretaps actually came from.

Me, I’m not sure I believe it.

Oh, it’s highly plausible that GCHQ has such a deal, and does such favors. That sort of thing has been rumored for a long time, and Brit and US intelligence have been scratching each other’s backs since WWII.

But any sane GCHQ spook would recognize a US request to wiretap a major US Presidential candidate as political dynamite, and kick it upstairs to a political level where it would presumably die a traditional British politely noncommittal foot-dragging death.

I think it far more likely that the NSA’s database was being tapped into outside official procedures by the same sort of rabidly partisan US bureaucrats who carried out the IRS conservative targeting.

Only the NSA likely has far better monitoring and recording of who accessed its data than the IRS seems to. These hypothetical partisan bureaucrats might well still be identifiable. Hence this current bit of what looks to me like misdirection?

Worth investigating, I’d say.

Mind, even if I’m wrong here, either way, someone high in the previous Administration would have been coordinating the targeting and leaking of these wiretaps. And either way, it might be possible to track them down too.

interesting times



I make no doubt that President Trump will attempt to get to the bottom of this, using both career government agents and others. Felonies have not only been committed but boasted of, and I am told this irritates him. It’s called Rule of Law; reverence for the Law was eloquently pleaded for by Lincoln, not least in a Disneyland address by a live action statue for many years (quoting a real speech, of course). It was elementary civics when President Trump was growing up.


CIA/NSA “stealing” Russian malware

to use malware, you have to put a copy of it on the targeted computers. As soon as any targeted computer is analyzed, whoever does the analysis has a copy of the malware and can decompile it to see exactly how it works.
So OF COURSE the CIA/NSA/etc have copies of Russian malware. So does every other spy agency, and all of those agencies have copies of the CIA/NSA malware as well. If it’s any good, they will adapt it for their own use (why reinvent the wheel after all). And this lets them fool people who are stupid enough to say “the Russians were known to use this malware at some time in the past, so the Russians must have been the ones to use it this time”
Security Professionals have been saying this ever since the ‘analysis’ of the DNC hacking was released.

– –

But of course…


Did you know there’s an ATF National Firearms Examiner Academy?

Agency Information Collection Activities; Proposed eCollection eComments Requested; Extension Without Change of a Currently Approved Collection; Application for National Firearms Examiner Academy, ATF F 6330.1

Agency Information Collection Activities; Proposed eCollection eComments Re…

The Department of Justice (DOJ), Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), will submit the foll…



I did not know that, and I doubt many others do. Perhaps someone will tell Mr. Trump


You sound like Heinlein’s ‘rational anarchist’ / Oxenlock / Pneumonia vaccinations…


Regarding your March 13th post:

Good discussion! You remind me of Heinlein’s ‘rational anarchist’ (The Prof) in The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress. I wonder if most social problems in this modern age might be expressed as too many ‘oxen’ at risk of being gored. The status quo cannot get a needed ‘tune up’ because influential oxen owners will ‘fight to the death’ to maintain the oxen-protection system — and their very oxen are ‘the bigger economic guns’? To coin a new word from ‘gridlock’, perhaps society is in ‘oxenlock’? <g>   I suspect that oxenlock eventually leads to systemic collapse or rebellion… or perhaps a partial ‘pancake’ collapse into a kind of disguised feudalism.


If you haven’t already had one, it might be prudent to ask your doctor about the two multi-bacteria pneumonia vaccines available. One inoculates against 13 strains, the other appears to be a superset of 23.

Stay healthy! The nation needs more ‘rational troublemakers’!  Watch out for those ox horns, though!  <g>


-John G. Hackett


Thank you for the kind words, but I am reluctant to accept the label of “anarchist” no matter how modified. I believe good government is a blessing; it is also rare. When I taught senior level political science, I used C. Northcote Parkinson’s Evolution of Political Thought as a major text; it was then fairly easy to obtain, and covers the subject fairly well. Anarchy does not seem to work except in very small communities. The test of government is when there are large numbers of disaffected inhabitants, and there is change. Ours took place in 17878. Two years later the French tried a different approach.

Most people prefer a Napoleon to utter discord, even if they would not normally support him. Our English forbears brought over the son of the King they had beheaded to reestablish the Monarchy; they were fortunate to get him.


Real government growth and healthcare reform

Dr. Pournelle,
In case you missed it (as I did), last month George Will summarize ( a Brookings paper ( by John J. DiIulio Jr. DiIulio asserts that government funded bureaucracy has grown 3.5 times since 1961, despite directly employing approximately the same number today as back then.
IMO, that growth is in operations and not acquisition, especially DOD purchases, where I suspect the growth is even greater and less efficiently executed.
I do not know if the figures include the growth of government-financed industry, such as the huge growth of medical “insurance” and health care provider services companies, which has accelerated tremendously since the passage of the Affordable Care Act.
As an aside, I prefer ACA over the term Obamacare, since it has obviously been really Uncle Teddy’s Dream Care (which makes a poor acronym), and the other term seems to transfer some of the last president’s glamour to the program, an attribute that should be ignored. Best the two be separated. And since a stated goal of ACA was to make health care universally affordable and not to reduce costs, it can only be regarded as immensely Iron Law successful: Costs and the bureaucracy to administer the program are increasing at a rate that is out-of-control.
In service to the thought about your future essay (and to punish a deceased equine even more thoroughly) I ask why ACA should be replaced at all? An overdue reform of Medicaid (which has not been replaced by ACA) could provide health care for the lowest income citizens and repeal of ACA without a replacement would immediately lower the rate of spiraling costs.


Explicitly denying that illegals are entitled to health “insurance” would help too, but “insurance” with no rate adjustments for “preexisting conditions” is not insurance at all; it is a mere entitlement requiring someone else to pay your bills. That is a free good, and the demand for free goods has no real limits.


Your SFWA Experience Subject

Dr. Pournelle –
The SFWA section of the Mar 13th Chaos Manor was probably the best I’ve read of your posts.
I’ve encountered the upsetedness you mention towards the end and, usually, it comes from being unable to refute what is being said or is a symptom of being uncomfortable at having long-held beliefs shown to be invalid and being unable to come to terms with that invalidity.
My arguments against federal healthcare have been mostly met with “General Welfare” counters. Thing is, that healthcare check is written to cover the expenses of an individual. Individual is not General. Therefore, the General Welfare clause in no way covers federal healthcare plans.
I suppose the Commerce Clause could be, he said smirking, “liberally” applied to cover doctor’s expenses, if, perhaps, the doctor is reaching across a state line in order to perform an examination. I suppose a doctor with his office at Four Corners might be especially subject to federal controls.
But, if his limbs do not leave one state for another, the Commerce Clause could, in no way, predominate.
In my humble opinion, of course.
Unfortunately, it seems that the concept of “Black Robes Confer Infallibility” dictates otherwise.
Best wishes to you and your wife for continued improvement and protection from future concerns.
Cam Kirmser


There are many reasons to question the Constructional authority to establish entitlements. The federal government was not established to entitle the citizens; it can protect them from state tyrannies but giving them free stuff was not its purpose. There is a difference between building Interstate roads and distributing goodies and free stuff.

An aborted discussion by professional authors

All your discussion on the SFWA forum of government control of our lives is rather ironic — considering it is the Science Fiction Writers of America! Didn’t anyone bring up Jack Williamson’s 1947 novella, “With Folded Hands …”? Later expanded into “The Humanoids”?
Although it’s been a few decades since I read the novel, I still vividly remember the Prime Directive: “to serve and obey and guard men from harm.”
Reading Williamson’s comments from a 1991 interview is rather chilling considering what we have experienced with the rise of progressive politics and social justice warriors:
“…this experience produced in me a deep seated distrust of benevolent protection. In retrospect, I’m certain I projected my fears and suspicions of this kind of conditioning, and these projections became the governing emotional principle of “With Folded Hands” and The Humanoids.”
*SIGH* Unfortunately it is no longer benevolent…


Williamson’s With Folded Hands” ought to be required reading for anyone programming robots.


Aspirin for stroke prevention: the story of Dr. Craven and his discovery

Intrigued by your off-hand comment that “A Glendale dentist had noticed that patients who routinely took aspirin had fewer strokes than those who didn’t”, I went a-Googling, and found this:

Thanks again for all you do!



Fascinating. Tells the whole story quite well.


Starship Troopers Redux

Dr Pournelle,

In case you haven’t heard. A new version. Reportedly following the novel this time.

Mark Swift and Damian Shannon, the writing duo behind the upcoming Zac Efron-Dwayne Johnson 'Baywatch' movie, will pen the script for the alien-bug war film.

‘Starship Troopers’ Reboot in the Works (Exclusive …

The bugs are coming back. Columbia Pictures is rebooting Starship Troopers, the 1997 sci-fi film directed by Paul Verhoeven. The studio has tapped Mark Swift and …



It cannot possibly be worse than the original. Ginny hated that one.


Materiel Moving to East Coast!

I just saw videos of hundreds of tanks moving to the East Coast, loaded on trains — tan in color. I also saw hundreds of tan in color APCs in a video along highway 90.

Also, Russia is building up jamming capabilities in Crimea and we’ve moved B1s, B52s, and drones into South Korea in preparation.

I looked into it, and it seems that we know what units the materiel came from and where it is going and it seems that it is, indeed, going to Poland. Unless we experience mysterious delays, I think we can rule out domestic action:


U.S. soldiers offloaded scores of combat vehicles from ship to shore Sunday at the massive port here, pressing forward with one of the largest U.S. force movements in Europe since the end of the Cold War.

Some 2,500 pieces of gear belonging to the 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, including Abrams tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles, are bound for NATO’s eastern flank, making a 6,000-mile journey from Fort Carson, Col.


Also, Japan is heating up and the Philippines has some confusion about the Chinese ship in it’s waters. The Defense Minister said it’s a threat and their president seems to think China is their friend and says that he agreed to have the ships here and that he was notified in advance and he doesn’t want to fight with China and he wants the money

they promised… He’ll get neither, I’ll bet. I doubt China will

pay much and I doubt China would find much of a fight without a real navy to meet them.

◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊

Most Respectfully,

Joshua Jordan, KSC

Percussa Resurgo


We are sending a fairly large armed force to Poland. I fervently hope that President Trump is smart enough to avoid actual war with Russia. Actually, I am pretty sure he is. You can’t invade Ukraine or Russia with a few brigades, and both President Trump and President Putin know it.  It’s a show of force, but who it is intended to impress is not clear.


CIA Empowered by Trump?

Alright, I don’t understand this. Maybe you read this WSJ article:

This is the same CIA that is all over the news. This is the same CIA that seems to be leading the charge against Trump — or at least Bremer loyalists at CIA.

Why would you disempower the Pentagon and empower a bureaucracy that can’t keep it’s most secret secrets secret? Then again, the Pentagon

hasn’t been doing so well in Iraq and Afghanistan. Inter alia, WWII

took less time to fight and win but we can blame that on policy makers. CIA’s screwups, however, cannot be blamed on policy makers.

I’m not sure what the thinking is here; can you help me out?

◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊

Most Respectfully,

Joshua Jordan, KSC

Percussa Resurgo




UN Funding Cut “Draconian”

Alright, I skipped dessert to come write this email because I just had to share this laugh:


State Department staffers have been instructed to seek cuts in excess of 50 percent in U.S. funding for U.N. programs, signaling an unprecedented retreat by President Donald Trump’s administration from international operations that keep the peace, provide vaccines for children, monitor rogue nuclear weapons programs, and promote peace talks from Syria to Yemen, according to three sources.

The push for such draconian measures comes…


I stopped reading at this point. It is now “Draconian” that an elected official does not see value in spending my taxpayer dollars on the problems of foreign nations through the United Nations? It’s Draconian that we can make our own decisions about how we spend our money and if we choose not to spend it on people who want it then we’re evil?

◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊

Most Respectfully,

Joshua Jordan, KSC

Percussa Resurgo


Health care matters

Dear Dr Pournelle
First, fair disclosure. I was brought up as a typical post war baby boom kid in London. The “right” to health care, in the form of the NHS is so deeply programmed into me that rational arguments are hard to accept, even now. “Give me the boy and I will give you the man” Back in the fifties, everything was available on NHS. Dental, Optical, vaccinations, pretty much everything. I have watched it being gradually eroded by successive UK governments with dismay. Of course today it is a shadow of what it once was.
Now, that said, I am generally supportive of your arguments. But for one thing, best put by Dr Asimov regarding robotics. “A robot may not harm a human being, or through inaction allow a human to come to harm” (I think that’s about right) The second cause is the clincher. In your somewhat Ayn Randian view of things, if a doctor sees a bum knocked over in the street obliged in any way to help him? My feeling is “of course he is” You may or may not agree.
Best wishes to you and your missus,



“Of course, today it is a shadow of what it once was.”

Yet there have been all these advances in medical science.


Political Humor for Today:

From a political humor mailing I got today, this one stands out my favorite:







Freedom is not free. Free men are not equal. Equal men are not free.



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