Category Archives : Greenberg’s Laws

Universal truths about the world around us.

Ali Soufan: Torture contractors shocked CIA interrogators

MSNBC has the segment from The Rachel Maddow Show, Ali Soufan: Torture contractors shocked CIA interrogators.

Ali Soufan, former FBI special agent who took part in the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, talks with Rachel Maddow about how the Senate torture report squares with his experience and why the CIA switched to torture interrogations they knew don’t work.

For a long time I have known about the claim from professional interrogators that torture is a counterproductive technique. This is the reason why I am categorizing this blog post under Greenberg’s Law of Counterproductive behavior “If you see a behavior that seems to you to be counterproductive, perhaps you have misunderstood what the behavior was trying to produce.”

This especially applies to the ordinary citizens who still want to torture suspects. Are they just ignorant of the facts about torture, or do they have some ulterior motive that I cannot even guess?

And now that I think about it, what about people in the Bush White House? What were their motives? Were they actually trying to silence the suspects lest they implicate the Bush administration or its allies?

Boston scientists say triglycerides play key role in heart health

The Boston Globe has the article Boston scientists say triglycerides play key role in heart health.

A massive genetic study led by a Boston cardiologist has identified a subset of people who carry rare mutations that cause them to have dramatically lower levels of triglycerides in their blood. Those people, in turn, were 40 percent less likely to have heart disease than people who didn’t have the mutation.
The findings suggest that scientists should be looking for a way to mimic what the body does in those people with naturally low levels of triglycerides.

I posted my comments to the article on the newspaper’s web site.

Another example of the innumeracy of the press. By now there are hundreds of thousands of statisticians crying out “Correlation does not mean causation.”

It could very well be that the mutation’s side effect of lowering triglycerides may have nothing to do with causing a lower heart disease rate. It might also be that attempting to lower triglycerides by artificial means will have damaging unintended consequences. What countervailing mechanisms will the normal human body bring into play as a consequence of an artificial lowering of triglycerides? It may be that such a lowering without the gene mutation could be fatal.

Is anybody asking these obvious questions? If the doctors involved in this study aren’t aware enough to ask these questions, maybe it is too much to expect the “medical experts” in the news media to think of asking these questions.  Maybe it takes a person like myself with no degree in anything medical to see the forest among the trees.

It may be time for everybody to take another look at RichardH’s post on this blog Diversion–Highway Fatalities and Lemons.

Important Revelations In New Leaks of CIA Torture Report

The Real News Network has the video Important Revelations In New Leaks of CIA Torture Report.

On top of all of that, you have all these investigations now going on of everyone except a criminal investigation of the people involved in the torture. So CIA has referred the staffers, the people who work for Senator Feinstein and the committee, to the Department of Justice for investigation under the CIA’s what apparently is a [completely] bogus claim, that the staffers somehow took material off of a computer that they were authorized to use for the purposes of this preparation of the report. But the CIA, really as a way of intimidating the committee and Senator Feinstein, has said, we want the Senate staffers investigated. One investigation.

So now we know what the argument between the CIA and Senator Dianne Feinstein is all about.

So let’s talk about some of the findings that have come out. One–and these are from Al Jazeera that I’ve taken these, as well as some other sources. The CIA lied to Congress and to journalists about the results of the torture they carried out on over 100 of these what they called high-value detainees but were not that in fact in many cases. They claimed that the torture resulted in plots being broken up. In other words, the torture works narrative, and it’s completely false. And then they then solve the plots with torture, supposedly. Of course, that’s the story of the film about how they got bin Laden, and part through torture, Zero Dark Thirty, all apparently a pack of lies. So that’s one thing that will be in this report. The CIA apparently took on–I mean, he Senate committee took on these narratives and prove them to be false.

So now we know how much credence Dick Cheney has when he says how useful the torture was.

Perhaps other revelations in the video explain why George W. Bush is staying out of the limelight and has take up painting. He’s hoping he can avoid prosecution for his war crimes.

Perhaps Obama’s deference to the CIA is consistent with his warlike foreign policy. Is the CIA in complete control of foreign policy? If they start a war, the President is obligated to see it through. It has nothing to do with proving “manhood” and everything to do with protecting his family from the CIA. See my previous post Foreign policy and the definition of ‘manhood’.

Sturbridge Selectman Election Debate

On April 4, 2014, I attended the debate between two candidates for the one year term for the  Sturbridge Town Board of Selectmen.  There is one issue that I found indicative of an aspect of the debate that I will cover in this post.

The issue was about the wisdom of going ahead with the Sturbridge Commercial Tourist District Improvement Plan. There was a presentation of the plan at  Community Meeting Three on December 4, 2013.

At the debate there was doubt expressed about the feasibility of upgrading one section of the downtown to fit two 8 foot sidewalks, two bike lanes, two automobile lanes, and a median. I went back to the Meeting Three document linked above to get a better understanding.

I found that the section with 8 foot sidewalks did not include a median. This is a drawing of how the street would be laid out.

Planned Street Layout

The issue was how all this was going to be crammed into the space that was there. Obviously there was going to be a lot of land taken from the existing businesses.

Well, let’s look at how obvious this is. I didn’t want to spoil the surprise by displaying the answers until you had a chance to think about the question. Clicking on the items below, will end the suspense, and show you what I was able to find.

If you open up the picture of the street as it is, do you think there is an obvious problem?

View of Existing Street

Rather than going to the location and trying to pace off the distance from the outer edge of one sidewalk to the outer edge of the other sidewalk, I tried to find some kind of diagram where I could make an approximate measurement.

Existing Plot Plan with approximate street width measurement

I found this issue to be indicative of the attitudes of some in the audience and one of the candidates. The assumption is that if the current people involved in government would only study these issues, they would make better judgments. In the cases where I knew anything about it, it turns out that the people currently active in local government had already studied the issues in great detail. The results of the studies have been presented to all the citizens who could spare the time to attend the meetings that were held for them. As I have shown here, the material is available on-line (perhaps the town could do a better job of making it easier to find. I found it because I had a pretty good idea what I was looking for, but it did take some effort to find it.)

There will always be people who assume the information is hidden even though they have not made any effort to find the information. (I know first hand, because I do that myself sometimes.) The people who make the information available get frustrated with how much effort they put out to make the information available and yet people still complain.

I have tried to act as the go-between. I present the information that people think is unavailable by putting it on my blog as many times as I can. I tell the people who try to get the information out, that they should put their feelings aside when people still don’t know about their efforts. The information providers should use every opportunity to tell people the things that the providers think they have gone out of their way to provide.

There is no better time to tell something to someone than when they want to hear it.

There are hurt feelings on both sides, but it would be good if at least one side could ignore all this and keep trying – no matter how demeaning it appears to be from their own point of view. (These feelings on both sides are not limited to Sturbridge. I find instances of it in many places. I experienced it in my professional career. Does RTFM ring a bell? As a provider of many an FM, I knew that RTFM was a completely silly attitude.)

April 7, 2014

I asked for some input on this post, and I got some good feedback.

The link to the Commercial Tourist District Revitalization Plan is on the Town Of Sturbridge home page in the current issues section.

Link On Town Home Page

My problem is that I had forgotten the name of the project. Since I use searches to find things, it took me a while to figure out the proper phrase to search for.

On the Sturbridge Commercial Tourism District web site they have an overlay map that shows the concept plan within the limits of what is existing.

Overlay map

I was not clear on what I inartfully described as hurt feelings on the part of the proponents of the plan. I commented to one proponent at the meeting that we had missed an opportunity to tell people at the debate that there was a plan that they could look at to see if the criticisms heard at the debate were merited or not. This was not meant to be an attack on the people who favored the proposal, but only a suggestion that despite what the opposition does we should just treat every public occasion where the topic comes up as an opportunity to make sure people know that there is a well documented answer to all the questions. The feedback I got on this blog post is that I should be positive about the plan and not say negative things about the proponents of the plan. I try my best, but sometimes my best is not good enough.

The people who are against the revitalization plan (and I don’t know how many there are) may have their reasons which I probably don’t fully understand. All that I ask is that people look at the plan itself, and factor this information into your decision. Don’t just assume that people who are proposing we take action to solve a problem have not thought through their proposal with great care and effort. You can be skeptical, but please don’t be dismissive.

What Neocons Want from Ukraine Crisis

Consortium News has the story What Neocons Want from Ukraine Crisis.  Robert Parry lays out a picture of what is going on that even the most devious amateur politician may not have thought of.

Though I’m told the Ukraine crisis caught Obama and Putin by surprise, the neocon determination to drive a wedge between the two leaders has been apparent for months, especially after Putin brokered a deal to head off U.S. military strikes against Syria last summer and helped get Iran to negotiate concessions on its nuclear program, both moves upsetting the neocons who had favored heightened confrontations.

Putin also is reported to have verbally dressed down Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then-Saudi intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan over what Putin considered their provocative actions regarding the Syrian civil war. So, by disrupting neocon plans and offending Netanyahu and Bandar, the Russian president found himself squarely in the crosshairs of some very powerful people.

If you are not a professional politician, you might have trouble conceiving of how devious politics can be. My recent experience in local politics has shown me what a rank amateur I am.  I am pretty sure I have been had, but I can’t figure out by whom.  It is probably because of Greenberg’s Law of Counterproductive Behavior which states –

If you see a behavior that seems to you to be counterproduct…you have misunderstood what the actor was trying to produce.

In the case of the Robert Parry article, I think he is trying to straighten out my misunderstanding about what various players are trying to produce.  I suspected some of the players he mentioned, but I was surprised by some others that he mentioned.

Are Democrats who Propose Cuts to Social Security “Stupid” or Just Doing Risk-Analysis? 1   Recently updated !

Naked Capitalism has the story Gaius Publius: Are Democrats who Propose Cuts to Social Security “Stupid” or Just Doing Risk-Analysis? It’s not a pretty story.

I’ll give you the finish to whet your appetite for reading the article.

Naturally there’s a risk with this strategy. Consider the 2012 presidential election. That 4% popular vote differential was not much of a margin, and if Romney hadn’t become “Mr. 47%” in most people’s eyes, it’s conceivable he could have pulled closer. But there’s just no way the Rubins and the hedgies and all their minions are going to allow an anti-billionaire “Warren populist” into the general election. They have to stick with a free-market type.

So the very best they can hope for is a newbie who can lie, pretend to be something he’s not, a man or woman without a track record. (Remind you of someone? Obama in 2008, Kid “Hope and Change” and “Yes We Can”?) That brings out the Hopeful and swells the numbers. Otherwise they just have to go with what’s available and roll the dice. By 2012 no one was Hoping, certainly not in great numbers, not after four years of Grand Bargains and promises betrayed (do click; it’s a stunning list). Many were just voting not-Romney, those who voted at all.

So yes, there’s some risk to this neoliberal calculation and strategy. In 2012 they took the risk and it paid off, in a 4% popular vote victory. Could the strategy still lose occasionally? Yes, but again, given the demographics and with appropriate pushback in the states, it’s increasingly less likely.

And even if it does produce a loss, consider the alternative from the Rubin side of things. What do you do? (1) Put a real FDR in the White House and let him challenge the whole billionaire system, or (2) risk having to count your money in electoral exile for a just few years, then try again?

I don’t see the Rubins of the world ever making the first choice. And I do think they’ve really thought this through. To return to where we started, very few of these men and women are stupid.

Side thought — Keep the above in mind when scoping out the 2016 race. We have a neoliberal front-runner with a track record and an unwillingness to speak on most issues. Where’s the turnout going to come from?

I should add that it is always dangerous to attribute motives to people when you have not asked them for an explanation of their motives.  However, if you want to figure out if their behavior is counterproductive or not, you do have to try to figure out what they intend to produce.

Evangelii Gaudium, Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Francis


53. Just as the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say “thou shalt not” to an economy of exclusion and inequality.
56. While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few. This imbalance is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation. Consequently, they reject the right of states, charged with vigilance for the common good, to exercise any form of control. A new tyranny is thus born, invisible and often virtual, which unilaterally and relentlessly imposes its own laws and rules. Debt and the accumulation of interest also make it difficult for countries to realize the potential of their own economies and keep citizens from enjoying their real purchasing power. To all this we can add widespread corruption and self-serving tax evasion, which have taken on worldwide dimensions. The thirst for power and possessions knows no limits. In this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule.

No to a financial system which rules rather than serves

I must admit I haven’t read all 288 pages yet, but having the link here will make it easier to read more of what the Pope has to say.  I am sure that there will be many misinterpretations of his words that will be published in the faux news media in the future.  To check if they are true to his intentions or not, you can always come back here to read the words yourself.

Perhaps this exhortation has given President Obama courage to say what is reported in my previous post Obama Gets Real.

I have classified this post under Greenberg’s Law of Reverence so that you know why I think this exhortation is important. Hover over the previous link to see the law.

Paul Krugman | Alan Greenspan, Doing His Best to Make Things Worse

Truthout has republished The New York Times article Paul Krugman | Alan Greenspan, Doing His Best to Make Things Worse.

But academic credentials are neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for having your ideas taken seriously. If a famous professor repeatedly says stupid things, then tries to claim he never said them, there’s no rule against calling him a mendacious idiot – and there are no special qualifications required to make that pronouncement other than doing your own homework.

Conversely, if someone without formal credentials consistently makes trenchant, insightful observations, he or she has earned the right to be taken seriously, regardless of background. One of the great things about the Internet is that it has made it possible for a number of people meeting that second condition to gain an audience. I don’t care whether they’re Ph.D.’s, professors, or just guys running blogs – it’s the work that matters.

I have already coined Greenberg’s Law Of Reverence to cover this situation.  Also, when I publish statements from people like Paul Krugman, I usually try to avoid mentioning the awards that they have won, unless to disparage the award.  Readers like RichardH will know what award in particular that I am not mentioning.

Fruits of Republican Folly

The American Prospect has the article Fruits of Republican Folly by Robert Kuttner.

Since Barack Obama took office, the two Republican factions have complemented each other in a successful “good cop, bad cop” effort to ratchet down public spending. Wall Street creates one sort of crisis; the Tea Party creates another; government takes the hit. Except for the short-lived stimulus of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009, this is the first prolonged slump of the postwar era in which government cut rather than expanded public spending.
With everything else having been cut, the pressure has shifted to the big social-insurance programs—so-called entitlements—that have thus far been protected. Once again, the corporate right and Tea Party right have called for a grand bargain targeting Social Security and Medicare.

Can anyone please explain why President Obama is so hell bent on cutting the throats of the Democratic Party and its elected Congress People?

Can he  really be so ignorant of what every postwar President of either party has known about how to deal with a slump?

To brag on his “accomplishment” as shown in my previous post What So Proudly We Hail, shows that he is either completely ignorant, smoking something that is not Federally permitted, being held hostage, or some other explanation.

Notice that I have placed this post in the category of Greenberg’s Law of Counterproductive Behavior.  Which translates to, please explain to me what Barack Obama is trying to accomplish.  I am pretty sure, I no longer know.

Mindless Budget Reporting: Fooling Some of the People All of the Time

The PBS story,  Mindless Budget Reporting: Fooling Some of the People All of the Time by Dean Baker talks about an example of Greenberg’s Law of The Media. Baker is castigating a report in The New York Times.

“A plan by House leaders to cut $40 billion from the food stamp program — twice the amount of cuts proposed in a House bill that failed in June — threatens to derail efforts by the House and Senate to work together to complete a farm bill before agriculture programs expire on Sept. 30.”

The problem with this description of the Republican plan is that the proposed cut of $40 billion is supposed to be over a 10-year budget window, not a single year. (The Republicans want to cut the food stamp budget by 5 percent, not 50 percent.) This information is not reported anywhere in the article. As a result, even a very intelligent and extremely knowledgeable person like Krugman could read through the piece and be off by a factor of 10 in his understanding of the size of the proposed cuts.

One of the ways Greenberg’s Law is demonstrated is to give us a number out of context. You are obviously supposed to infer that the number illustrates some point that the reporter is implying, but you are never given the context to judge whether the desired inference is correct.  It is unlikely that the reporter knows whether the desired inference is correct.

Baker is correct that all you know is that it is a large number.  If you don’t know whether it is over 1 year or 10, or what fraction it is of the budget, or how this government spending compares to the spending of the corporate sector under similar circumstances, then you have no idea if the number is too large, too small, or just about right.  However, your thinking about the matter has been prejudiced by the report.  Because of this, you might come away from reading or hearing the story with less knowledge than you started with.

Sort of like all of Faux Noise, the more you watch, the less you know.