Ya got trouble!

My God,  is there anybody that remembers “The Music Man”- that Musical which at its core, was about a con artist, who starts a school band in a sleepy little town of River City?  Of course, it’s all about swindling money from the residents of the town, and never buying any musical instruments.

It is of course, how our society runs.   We are twice as likely to do something or buy something, if we are both escaping from  what we perceive to be a major problem, and at the same time,  believe a simple solution is just around the corner.  If we accept the problem is threatening our well being- then we are likely to accept any solution.

If you concentrate on the problem, make it as ominous as possible, this starts the fear process.  The “Music Man” main character, is Harold Hill, who sings “Ya got trouble” in a pool hall in River City.   See lyrics at the end.

This is so relevant to today’s political debate.  We’ve got trouble, with a capital T that rhymes with P, and that’s called politicians!   Trump,  Rubio,  Cruz are all jumping on what is wrong with the country, yet the extent of the problems and their solutions are typically likely to fail.   Issues like abortion,  immigration and gun control are hot button issues.

Oh- we’ve got trouble in River City.  Eroding family values!  Drugs everywhere!  Police can’t do their job!   The country has trillions of dollars in debt and we are sinking fast.  North Korea is threatening us with their missiles!  And on top of that, Obama wants to take away your guns and doesn’t respect anything in the Constitution!  I’m mad as hell and I can’t take it anymore! (Peter Finch as Howard Beal , Network (the film), what a performance)

With the Democrats, it’s about the inequality of the wealthy and middle class. Colleges cost too much and people can’t get ahead.   There is suffering everywhere and begging for help.  The rich have all the benefits, pay lower taxes and can make huge donations to candidates. Unfair and unjust.  We’ve got problems with the police, and unnecessary violence.  Oh- it’s River City deja vu!

The Music Man debut in 1957.   There were big crises at the time ,  communism was spreading like some disease, devouring China and extending itself through other poor countries.  It was common to see a picture of the globe, drenched in red paint.  Russia had the bomb, and there was a lot of talk of how Russia was coming “to bury us”  and we better all have fallout shelters.

The secret of how to solve problems, is to reduce them, and work on them piece by piece. But,  of course it is not the way to sell products, or win elections.  Sometimes it is hard to tell the difference.

Music Man  took a simple pool table, as the source of River City’s problem.

Mothers of River City
Heed that warning before it's too late
Watch for the tell-tale signs of corruption
The minute your son leaves the house
Does he rebuckle his knickerbockers below the knee?
Is there a nicotine stain on his index finger?
A dime novel hidden in the corncrib?
Is he starting to memorize jokes
From Cap'n Billy's Whizbang?
Are certain words creeping into his conversation?
Words like... swell?
And... 'so's your old man'? 

Well if so, my friends, ya got trouble
    Oh, we got trouble
Right here in River City
    Right here in River City
With a capital 'T' and that rhymes with 'P' and that stands for 'pool'
    That stands for pool

We've surely got trouble
    We surely got trouble
Right here in River City
    Right here
Remember the Maine, Plymouth Rock and the Golden Rule?
    Our children's children gonna have trouble

Oho, we got trouble
We're in terrible, terrible trouble
That game with the fifteen numbered balls is the devil's tool
    Devil's tool

Yes, we've got trouble, trouble, trouble
Oh, yes, we got trouble here, we got big, big trouble
With a 'T'
    With a capital 'T'
And that rhymes with 'P'
    That rhymes with 'P'
And that stands for pool
    That stands for pool

My feeling of course, is none of our problems, are as serious as any politician would make it out to be.   Nor are any of the solutions likely to be easy. We have to make progress where we can- which comes usually from compromise.

Stay tuned,


Apple v. FBI

Skeleton Keys.

This is today’s hot story.  Let me summarize the problem.  A married couple in San Bernadino killed 14 people, seriously injured 22, and were subsequently killed by police in a shoot out, and their cell phone was captured. The FBI wants Apple to modify the operating system (iOS 8) on the phone to bypass security features, and  Apple refused.  The FBI is currently attempting to force Apple to comply through a court order.  Apple filed a motion to suppress the order.  Just about everyone thinks this case will end up in the Supreme Court maybe in 2017.  Nobody knows how important the contents of the phone might be, but the central issue is whether the government has the power, with a search warrant, to force Apple to create the bypass.

If an  older version Apple cellphone is stolen,  hackers can break in  using computer equipment  which will try millions of passwords. Brute force hacking has been around for decades.  The only thing that has really changed is how fast these programs can make  trial and error iterations because this information is electronically fed into the device.

In developing security protection, what Apple did not want, is to have a security system which would completely lockout the user who accidentally  enters a wrong password, multiple times.   So, the smart detection system must not inconvenience users in thwarting hackers.  So, here is how Apple implemented the security system based on their court filing:

“Cyber-attackers intent on gaining unauthorized access to a device could break a
user-created passcode, if given enough chances to guess and the ability to test
passwords rapidly by automated means. To prevent such “brute-force” attempts to
determine the passcode, iPhones running iOS 8 and higher include a variety of
safeguards. Id. ¶ 10. For one, Apple uses a “large iteration count” to slow attempts to
access an iPhone, ensuring that it would take years to try all combinations of a six character
alphanumeric passcode. Id. ¶ 11. In addition, Apple imposes escalating time
delays after the entry of each invalid passcode. Id. ¶ 12. Finally, Apple also includes a
setting that—if activated—automatically deletes encrypted data after ten consecutive
incorrect attempts to enter the passcode. Id. This combination of security features
protects users from attackers or if, for example, the user loses the device. ”

So, the FBI wants Apple to create up to 3 bypasses into the iOS 8 system. The optional automatic deletion of encrypted data is the most interesting,  as there must be some safeguards so users don’t accidentally  trigger this feature.  But, this feature allows the user to access a “sanitized” phone after forgetting a password.

Apple claims that these bypasses are significant code modifications.  From their description, I have my doubts. The “if activated” option of automatic sanitizing  the phone, is triggered after 10 failed attempts.  Suppose this is altered to a billion or 100 billion attempts, then the code remains but a parameter is changed.  Similarly,  embedded in the slowdown feature is a delay factor,  which could be set to zero to negate its effect. Or the large iteration count, could be reset to some huge number like a trillion, before it would be triggered.   Thus, it isn’t code changes per se, but values or parameters  within the code which would be changed.

All this is interesting, even to people like me, who are decades behind technology.  The appropriate analogy is the Apple phone includes a smart lock, which recognizes someone trying to pick the lock  and takes defensive measures.

The government’s case rests on the premise that Apple is the owner of all cell phones it sells,  as it is sold under a lease contract to its customer.   So, just as an apartment owner must open up a door when police come with a search warrant,  Apple has the same responsibilities.

If it takes additional tools to open up the door of an apartment, such as a crowbar, the owner still has responsibility to pry the door open.  Apple’s reply is  that any bypass code that it  created,  would not only allow access to the captured phone, but to any other Apple phone.  However,  it is likely that this part of the cellphone operating system which the FBI wants modified, is very well protected, so others outside of Apple can not access it.

Before iOS 8 deterrents, law enforcement agents were benefiting from the ability to open cellphones through brute force methods. This can occurs today only under when a search warrant has been.

The FBI could lose the case in the Supreme Court, because the “crow bar” analogy, doesn’t hold true.  The FBI  is telling Apple what it wants, but doesn’t really know what Apple by-pass procedures they have to write.   So, they aren’t saying “break in with a crow bar” but invent a crow bar so you can break in.” And amazingly, this is where First Amendment rights come in, as the government is demanding that Apple writes software.

The security features in the iPhone are like the Volkswagen software which detected when their cars were undergoing emissions testing and took (illegal) defensive measures.  Volkswagen got caught when university students were measuring emissions while driving.

If the FBI loses the case, it seems possible that  laws could be passed that would force  any company selling phones under a lease contract,  to make the contents of the phone accessible to law enforcement if a search warrant is issued.  I know this is likely to raise the ire of civil libertarians, but I think there are ways to ensure privacy and let law enforcement agencies do their job at capturing criminals.

But, this could end up a “cat and mouse” game, where only the amateurs get caught with incriminating cellphone  information.  The San Bernadino case will put other criminals  on high alert that their cellphone can and will be used against them or their cohorts in a court of law.  Drug dealers are probably very keen on improving their cellphone security.   Ways to quickly sanitize phones in case of arrest and  to avoid iCloud backups, are likely to be the next “security” precautions.

I don’t know how all this will eventually play out in the Supreme Court. I am kind of hoping that something can be worked out so the FBI can complete its investigation.

Apple’s Court Filing 

Stay tuned,






Love thy Enemy

This isn’t about Trump and Univision.  It is about Ted Cruz and the nagging Canadian birth question.

Before anybody starts to pick up stones,  let me say (I’m already ducking) that Ted Cruz was an American fom  the moment  he was conceived.   Let’s  at least get that out of the way.

Some very prominent lawyers and professors of law aren’t so convinced that someone born outside of the US meets the conditions to run for the president.  A case has never come before the Supreme Court, for their interpretation of “natural born” citizens.

As Laurence Tribe, a professor at law at Harvard, has written,  if this question ever comes before the Supreme Court,   the judges which are most likely to side with Cruz, are the liberals, which of course Ted Cruz hates.

The court isn’t divided politically- it is divided philosophically.   Those in the conservative camp,  tends to interpret the constitution   based on the text of the constitution (textualism) and what the founding fathers intent was (originalism). when the constitution was written.  They would apply these standard to interpreting the law.

The conservatives with their narrow focus, would ironically be Cruz’s worst nightmare, because there is  historical support for the contention, that what “natural born” means,  the person must be born within the territory of the US

If the case makes it to the Supreme Court,  it’s the liberals that will support Cruz because they tend to include more into the interpretation of what is written. They see the constitution as a “living document”  providing guidance but also factoring other considerations.  I also think Cruz should win, as a practical matter, because he been a citizen from the day he was born, just as all other citizens.  His situation is not uncommon,  as many American  families work abroad, and have children.   I think he would be a terrible president, but that’s up to voters, not the courts.

Laurence Tribe’s Comments

Stay tuned,



Attack on ISIL in Libya

The town of Sabratha, just outside of Tripoli to the west,  would easily rank as one of the top 10 places I would want to visit in by lifetime.  It isn’t on many people’s list, and certainly not today, after the occupation of the town by ISIL.


It has beautiful beaches and well preserved Roman theatre.   But as reported on Feb 19, 2016, US warplanes have put a serious dent in ISIL’s plans by hitting a training camp.

US Daily News


Stay tuned,


Who would want to be a SC nominee?

I think everybody has got this issue wrong.  They are either focused on who Obama will nominate or how Congress will make sure, the nominee isn’t confirmed. Nobody is thinking about the poor individual who will certainly either (a) Take a beating during the confirmation hearing, before the committee declares the nominee obviously unacceptable or (b) Prepare for a confirmation hearing that wouldn’t take place.

This is a nomination that is dead on arrival.  So,  I can’t imagine anyone wanting this job.  I mean  if you’re going through hell, there should be some reward at the end.  I don’t see it.

But, it’s not like you can draft someone to be a SC nominee.  “Hey you,  get dressed, you’re going to the confirmation hearings,  and we  have bandages ready and an ambulance on stand-by.”  Response, “You can’t make me go!”

I guess it is nice to be get called by President Obama, and hear, “You’re my man!” for one of the country’s top position.   At least, it used to be an honor.

Of course, we need a highly intelligent and  respected judge, who has served on the  Federal Appeals Court and is a  constitutional expert.   The nominee is likely to have argued cases in front of the Supreme Court.

The candidate will immediately be pillared by all Republican candidates.  “This nominee will continue to destroy the Constitution, just as the liberals have done in the past”, will be the charge leveled against the justice.   The scrutiny of the candidate will go far beyond legal opinions, and  include his family, his acquaintances,  his financial records and anything else that can be dredged up.

On top of that,  any nominee will, if hearings are conducted,  be asked questions about cases pending in the courts, which they can’t answer.   Any nominee will be accused of stonewalling the committee.

I really love the candor of Robert Gates confirmation hearing.  He writes, in his book Duty,

I remember sitting at the witness table listening to this litany of woe and thinking, What the hell am I doing here? I have walked right into the middle of a category-five shitstorm.  I was the first of many, many times I would sit at the witness table thinking something very different from what I was saying.

Robert Gates paid $40,000 to a legal form to fill out financial disclose form.   Even the slightest error could be blown out of proportion by someone who did not want to vote for him.  But, Gates got confirmed.  Obama’s nominee won’t.  It’s going to be pure  theater.


So, who does Obama want to feed to the wolves?  Jacqueline Nguyen will be the nominee.  She’s just too perfect!  She was confirmed to be on the ninth  appeals court judge, 91-3.

Jacqueline Nguyen

My second guess, is Sri Srinivasan. Another incredibly smart judge on the DC Court of Appeals.

Sri Srinivasan

Sri has really got a bit stronger credentials- as if this mattered.   If either accept the nomination,  I will still be wondering- why????

Stay tuned,



Justice Scalia’s Passing

There was an immediate outpouring of sadness and tributes to his character and accomplishments at Anthony Scalia’s passing.  The New York Times collected many of these along with their analysis of the immediate future of the Supreme Court:

New York Times Article 

“A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes”

Thanks to the internet, lies travel the world at the speed of light.  Justice Scalia’s passing occurred on the same date as the Republican debate.  Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio announced during an Republican debate, that President Obama would break an  80 year precedent, if he appointed  a Supreme Court justice during an election year.

No precedent exists.    Obama can not appoint justices,  he only nominate them and  the Senate approves them.  The New York Times shows Justice Kennedy was the last justice to be nominated during an election year.  Amy Howe, Editor of Scotusblog agrees- no precedent.


Politifact also confirms this:


No president has ever considered leaving it to the next president to select a Supreme Court justice.  Senate confirmation of any justice will be next to impossible, with the politicizing of the approval process.

On top of that, honoring a precedent,  Rubio insisted it would make the selection  more democratic.  Let the people decide.  If there is a justice that would absolutely cringe at this idea, it would be Justice Scalia.  He said numerous times, that because of the intricacies of the court cases,  99% of the population does not understand or appreciate the process.  They only see outcomes.  Decisions are based on laws, the Constitution and prior decisions made by the courts.

But, confirmations in the Senate have become increasingly politicized and both Republicans and Democrats should take blame for this.  Obama could nominate the brightest justice on the planet, and  his selection would never make it to confirmation hearings.   The Senate’s Majority Leader  Mitch McConnell  is establishing a new and dangerous precedent,  making it difficult for a president to carry out his legal obligations under the Constitution.


As the big pending  cases (limitations on abortion,  affirmative action case in Texas, Obamacare conflicts with religious freedom burdens, and immigration reform by executive action) are to be decided this term,   Justice Anthony Kennedy will continue to be the swing  vote,  but it will be different.  If he sides with the liberals, it will be a 5-3 victory.  If he sides with conservatives, it will be a 4-4 decision, and the appeals court decision will hold.  The Justices can decide to hold off a decision until their next term, hoping that a new justice will be confirmed by then.

More to come.

Stay tuned,



Trump’s wall

Trump plans to build a wall along the Mexican border to keep Mexico from sending us, all their rapists, drug dealers and assorted criminals.   He says he will get Mexico to pay for it.

Ok, so if they pay for it, I guess it’s their wall.  Really strange.  It is like a burglar breaking into your house, to install a burglar alarm.

Stay tuned,



Intervention in Libya

The latest news is that the British will send 1,000 troops to defend Benghazi in Libya against ISIL  This is excellent news.  I predict the Libyans will defeat the eastward advance of ISIL.

According to the “The Times” (a UK newspaper):

“Downing Street and the Pentagon are in talks to persuade Libya to take at least 1,000 British troops to bolster its forces in the battle with Isis, whose coastal stronghold is just 200 miles from Europe.”

So, the rationale for deployment is not to save Libya, but to keep ISIL terrorists from coming to Europe as refuges, to create more chaos in European cities.  I would rather intervention  be based on humanitarian reasons, but c’est la vie.

The role of these troops is to support the Libyan army, as advisers or trainers.  It is an attempt to put boots on the ground, but keep them away  from the front lines.   It may appear  the Europeans and the US are helping to support the Tobruk government over the Tripoli government- a very tricky situation.  I am certain that as Britain and others ally with the Libyans against jihadists, they don’t want to become enmeshed into the civil conflict.

Stay tuned,



Zika virus

I am not a medical professional.  There are a lot of excellent websites, written by experts in this area.  I am only repeating what the CDC (Center for Disease Control in the US) has stated.

If you are pregnant and in a area with the Zika virus, you must do four things everyday: (1) Wear long sleeve shirt and pants,  (2) Apply mosquito repellent- “Off” with DEET is a good one, (3)  Eliminate any standing water, in your house or around it and (4)   Stay as much as possible in dry,  air conditioned areas, which can translate into, “Let’s go shopping!”  – on doctor’s order.  If one has done everything possible, then relax.

Stay tuned,