Who Was Behind the Incompetent Venezuela “Invasion?”

On May 3, a group of around 60 mercenaries attempted an amphibious landing at Macuto, on Venezuela’s Caribbean coast. They were quickly defeated and 13 of them — including two Americans, Airan Berry and Luke Denman — captured.

US president Donald Trump has denied any association with, knowledge of, or involvement in the affair on the part of the US government.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, on the other hand has pledged to use “every tool” to get Berry and Denman released and returned to the US — a curious position for a US diplomat, given that the two seem to have been taken while violating Venezuelan law on Venezuelan soil.

The details behind the slapstick “invasion” remain somewhat murky, but a few aspects are reasonably well documented:

First, that the planners of the operation were Jordan Goudreau —  former US soldier and owner of “security” firm Silvercorp — and former Venezuelan general Cliver Alcala Cordones.

Second, that the services of Silvercorp were retained by a “Strategic Command” answering to Juan Guaido, a Venezuelan opposition figure recognized by his country’s National Assembly, and by 59 other regimes, as the country’s “acting president.”

Third, that the goal of the landing, dubbed “Operation Gideon” seems to have been to abduct the other claimant to the country’s presidency, Nicolas Maduro, overthrow his regime, and deliver him to US authorities for trial on recent “drug kingpin” charges.

At first glance, it’s easy to believe Trump’s denials of involvement. The whole operation was a comedy of errors from conception through execution. There was never any chance that 60 mercenaries were going to make a successful landing, move inland, capture Maduro, and spirit him out of the country, even with the help of another 300 troops supposedly already in Venezuela.

But even a cursory look at US history says this kind of thing happens all the time.

The US military messes up. Think Little Big Horn, the downing of Francis Gary Powers over the Soviet Union, or the “Desert One” fiasco during the Iran hostage crisis.

The US intelligence community overestimates its ability to extort presidents into following up failed paramilitary actions with official military force. Remember the Bay of Pigs? Maduro does.

American politicians get caught in weird, officially unsanctioned, criminal schemes. Consider, for example, Richard Nixon’s “Plumbers” and the Watergate burglary.

Yes, “Operation Gideon” looks, in retrospect, like a Monty Python sketch. But so do a lot of government, or government-sponsored, or government-approved, projects.

Is it coincidence that between the time Guaido contracted with Silvercorp and the launch of the operation, the US government provided “law enforcement” cover in the form of drug charges and a $15 million bounty on Maduro’s head?

If you and I landed at Lyme Regis with a plan to abduct Boris Johnson, or at Santos Beach intending to capture Jair Bolsonaro, would Mike Pompeo be keen to get us repatriated, or would he leave us to the mercies of the British or Brazilian justice systems?

Was “Operation Gideon” a comedic interlude, or just the latest failed US intervention in Venezuela?

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On Stoicism II

I study Stoicism daily, and try hard to practice what I learn. The ancient Stoic masters ranged from one being a slave to another, an emperor. To say that Stoicism is prepared for every up and down that life has to offer would be an understatement. The current COVID-19 era is no exception to that. From the beginning I’ve accepted that I will contract the novel coronavirus at some point, as will every member of my family. I probably already have without even knowing it, but in the event that it takes me down I will say: momento mori. Yes, we all have to die. Nobody escapes that inevitability. Financially, I am well prepared for my family to be taken care of, as should all those who have dependants be. Mentally, dying is a concept I think about (and at times yearn for) all the time. I tell myself that I could accept the imminent possibility of dying, but who really knows? In any event, I’ll use the time I have wisely. And that’s today’s two cents.

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The New Normal

It’s time for us to accept that this pandemic, and social isolation, are here for awhile.

But in addition to that, our reality has changed, possibly for good.

We’re in a new normal.

Some things that have changed for many of us:

  1. A sense of restriction: We’re not able to do our usual things — not only work and school, but things like haircuts, dentists, coffee shops, restaurants, bars, shops and more. That can feel very restricted.
  2. Heightened uncertainty & anxiety: Things are incredibly uncertain right now, for all of us — for our health, the health of loved ones, the state of the world, the shaky economy, our individual financial situations. And that’s just the start of it. All of this uncertainty is triggering feelings of stress, fear and anxiety in most people, in different ways.
  3. A feeling of isolation but also (possibly) togetherness: For many people, social distancing has created a feeling of isolation that can be very hard to handle. But for many, there can also be a feeling of togetherness – we’re all in this together, no one is excluded. Some are creating that feeling of togetherness by doing video calls, by connecting others online, or by taking part in community or group efforts to help.
  4. Contraction when we’re feeling overwhelmed: It can all be too much. And when we feel that sense of overwhelm, we can want to shut down, exit, turn away, avoid. We avoid hard tasks, we go to distraction, we avoid our healthy habits. This is all completely normal!
  5. A sense of disruption: Our old habits have been disrupted — we can’t do all the things we’re used to doing, and that gives us a feeling of being upended. It’s frustrating to have things disrupted, and can make us feel afloat.
  6. Irritation with others: Being isolated with the same people every day can cause friction. And that brings up all of our issues, all the ways we respond (and they respond) when we get triggered.
  7. Wanting it all to be over: Impatience! We just want to go back to normal. It’s hard to accept the way things are.
  8. Wanting to feel something meaningful: This can all feel very unanchored. And in this feeling of groundlessness and instability, we can yearn for some kind of meaning. Some sense of purpose.

You might not be experiencing all of these, because every person is experiencing the new normal differently.

But it is a new normal.

So the question is: will we resist it, or can we use it as an opportunity?

We can complain about the new normal. Hate it. Stew in frustration about it. That’s one possibility.

Another possibility is to use it as a growth opportunity.

The Opportunity That Life is Giving Us

Life is always opening doors for us, giving us a gift. We just don’t often recognize it.

For example, this morning, life gave you an amazing gift of a new day. Many people who are on their last breath would give anything for such a miraculous gift — and yet, we often will take this gift for granted. Fritter it away. Complain about much of it.

We waste the opportunity that life has given us!

So being aware of this … how can we use this new normal as an opportunity and a gift?

The first idea I’d like to offer is that the new normal is just highlighting the difficulties we often felt before, but could more easily ignore.

We could pretend that we weren’t constantly being disrupted, that we weren’t very restricted, that we didn’t have massive uncertainty in our lives. We could pretend that we weren’t craving connection and meaning, that we weren’t irritated by others.

We’re very good at fooling ourselves.

But now, we can’t pretend (as much). We are faced with these realities, and we can either resist and complain … or we can look them squarely in the face, and accept them.

The second idea is that these are opportunities to grow — to train, to become more resilient.

So for example, we could train in each area I mentioned above:

  • If you’re feeling restricted, let yourself feel the feeling of restriction. It’s probably something you’ve felt many times before but didn’t face it. Can you shift this feeling, after you’ve felt it, to see the sense of openness and freedom and gift in each moment?
  • If you’re feeling isolated, can you use this to connect to yourself more, as if you were a monk in a monastery? Can you let yourself feel the feeling of isolation, and give yourself some compassion?
  • Let yourself feel the craving for connection and meaning. And then see how you can create that for yourself, each day, without any certainty about whether you’re doing it right.
  • If you’re irritated at others, can you rise above your narrative about the other person, and see that you’re both feeling fear and pain? That you both are dealing with this with anger, irritation, frustration? That both of you are resorting to old (unhelpful) patterns? Can you practice compassion for them (and yourself) instead?
  • If you’re impatient and wanting it all to be over … can you practice patience instead? Let yourself be with the pain and frustration you’re feeling, and be willing to face it and sit in the middle of it? This is an incredibly powerful practice that will strengthen us for whatever we face in the future.
  • Can you practice this patience with everything you’re feeling: overwhelmed, irritated, frustrated, anxious, uncertain, fearful? And bring self-compassion to that as well?

So you can get a sense that we’re practicing a few things with whatever we’re facing:

  • A willingness to feel what we’re feeling
  • A willingness to face and sit in the middle of difficulty (patience)
  • Compassion for ourselves and others
  • The ability to create connection and meaning

What would it be like to use the gift of this new normal to get stronger during this crisis? To practice these incredibly transformative practices?

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OFCCP vs. Oracle

Three days before Barack Obama left office, his Department of Labor served a complaint against Oracle America, Inc., alleging gross systemic discrimination in both its hiring practices and its pay practices.

Specifically, it claims that Oracle discriminates against non-Asians in hiring for sixty-nine job titles, and discriminates against women, Asians, and African-Americans in pay for eighty job titles.

DID ORACLE DISCRIMINATE?

Is it strange that Oracle allegedly discriminates both in favor of and against Asians?

The OFCCP (the Office of Federal Contractor Compliance Programs) is the program at the center of this complaint; it is involved because Oracle is a government contractor. The only points supporting OFCCP’s claim are statistical analyses.

The complaint mentions exactly zero employee complaints, and it doesn’t even try to say that there is evidence that Oracle intended to discriminate.

It is difficult to determine and compare the myriad factors involved in assigning appropriate compensation, and the statistical analyses OFCCP conducted likely fall short. Economically speaking, any mutually agreeable level of compensation is appropriate, and in a free market, compensation will tend to be equitable.

SHOULD THE OFCCP HAVE THIS POWER?

However, when Oracle filed a countersuit on November 27, 2019, (yes, the case is still going on), its press release discussed none of those points. Instead, it focused on the unconstitutionality of the Department of Labor acting as “investigator, prosecutor, judge, jury, and appellate court.”

Of course, such arrangements are not limited to the Department of Labor; they have become unfortunately common throughout the Federal bureaucracies. This is despite the blatant violation of the Constitutional separation of powers, arguably the most basic fact of American civics. For most of us, as soon as we started learning about the US Government, we learned about the separation of powers, and how the Founding Fathers designed the system with the famous checks and balances that prevent tyranny.

How well has that tyranny prevention worked out so far?

Oracle argues that the situation is not only unconstitutional but also statutorily illegal. It remains to be seen how the suit and countersuit will turn out; typically, it takes extremely deep pockets to win such a fight against the feds. Oracle may yet come out on top, but so far, it appears that the checks and balances have failed to protect Oracle — a company that provides over 100,000 jobs and many billions of dollars of services to the economy each year.

COULD THE FREE MARKET HANDLE THIS?

The OFCCP has not made a compelling case for the existence of systemic discrimination within Oracle; its claims are prima facie incongruous and based exclusively on ambiguous data. Indeed, it appears that it has inserted itself into a situation in which no one has complained, no one has objected, no one has said that their compensation was not appropriate for their labor or that they objectively should have been hired when they were not.

But, what if there really were discrimination?

And, is there a better way to handle it than the intra-DoL system, or even the Constitutional system?

My interest is in how this situation would play out in a free market. Let’s consider it.

A free market, with total freedom of association, would probably have no claims of hiring discrimination, because no one would be compelled to hire or retain anyone against their will. Of course, a reputation for discrimination could easily lead to a loss of revenue, as a consumer base that opposes discrimination would likely choose to take their business elsewhere.

Furthermore, formal anti-discrimination regulations could be voluntary. Associations or organizations could prescribe standards for avoiding discrimination, as well as regular audits to ensure compliance, and consumers could choose to patronize only those companies that subscribe to sufficiently stringent standards and pass the audits.

HOW WOULD THE FREE MARKET HANDLE THIS?

What would happen with a discrimination claim in a free market?

Let’s say that Oracle is certified as discrimination-free by the standard-bearer anti-discrimination association. In this scenario, a prospective employee believes that Oracle has discriminated against him in the hiring process, or a current employee believes (despite mutual agreement) that Oracle has discriminated against him in his compensation.

He could discuss it directly with the appropriate people in Oracle, or he could take it to the anti-discrimination association that certifies Oracle as discrimination-free.

If his claim has merit, the association would need to ensure that Oracle settles the claim swiftly and fairly, or have its discrimination-free certification revoked. To do otherwise would risk the association’s reputation and tarnish the value of their certifications.

IS THERE ANOTHER WAY TO LOOK AT THE SITUATION?

Of course, this is just one way it could play out. The best part about the free market — wait, is there a single best part? —  is that one person can’t conceive of all the remarkable ways that collaboration and competition can make the world a better place.

On the other hand, you may have noticed some similarities between how a discrimination claim would work in a free market, and how it works with a state-run system. Part of that is because the free market is impossible to get away from completely, and part of it is because my imagination is likely affected by the status quo. The main benefits of the free market vis-a-vis the state-run system are the lack of coercion (in both funding and association) and the opportunities for innovation.

CONCLUSION

In summary, it appears that the Constitutional system isn’t working (since we have unconstitutional bureaucratic judicial pipelines all over the place), and those pipelines don’t work too well either (since they use sketchy math to find problems where no one involved sees a problem). So, do you think a free market system would work better? How do you think it would function? How would you design it?

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Don’t Let Politicians Use Pandemic as an Excuse for Dictatorship

By invoking the Defense Production Act, which “authorizes the President to require acceptance and priority performance of contracts or orders and to allocate materials, services, and facilities to promote the national defense or to maximize domestic energy supplies,” US president Donald Trump has declared himself America’s economic dictator.

He’s also moved to seal the nation’s borders, even as governors and mayors have banned public gatherings, ordered businesses to close or severely curtail operations, sealed off neighborhoods, and even in some cases — San Francisco comes to mind — ordered the entire populations of cities to remain indoors.

And we’re letting them do it.

Why? Because they say it’s about “public health.”

If this was about public health,  obvious vectors for the spread of COVID-19 like the Transportation Security Administration and its airport security screening lines would have been among the first things shut down.

Your neighborhood tavern, where people are seldom closely packed unless one is trying to sweet-talk another back home, is closed. TSA agents are still making airline passengers line up to be groped and coughed on.

If it was about public health, America’s non-violent prisoners would have been released to make more room for “social distance” between the remaining prisoners, reduce staffing needs, and prevent the virus from raging through captive populations.

Some prisons and jails are releasing some inmates or refusing to take in more. But not nearly as many prisoners are being released as Americans are being made prisoners in their own homes.

If this was about public health, government would be letting the market produce, and set prices for, essential goods instead of trying to seize control of production and suppress “price gouging.”

This isn’t about public health. It’s about political power. And things are getting very ugly, very quickly.

Vladimir Putin WISHES he had the power that American politicians have seized in the last couple of weeks.

Latin American dictators are green with envy at the enthusiasm with which Americans are surrendering our freedoms.

Pardon my French, people, but WTF?

A month ago half of us didn’t trust Donald Trump, half of us didn’t trust Nancy Pelosi, and many of us trusted neither. Now all of a sudden most of us seem to be practically begging both of them, and their henchmen, to order us around.

That’s not going to contribute to the public health. It’s not going to shorten the COVID-19 outbreak. It’s just going to crater our economy and leave us less free after than we were before.

If we force the politicians to knock this nonsense off now — by ignoring their orders until they run to the front of the parade by countermanding themselves — we might get off light. A short recession, maybe, and perhaps even some politicians who are scared into respecting our rights a little bit more, for a little while.

If we keep going along to get along, we’re more likely to end up thinking of the Great Depression and Stalin’s reign as versions of “the good old days.”

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What You and the Pandemic Virus Have in Common

What can the COVID-19 virus teach us about philosophy?

With any virus – but particularly with an especially infectious one – we get a perfect working metaphor for the relationship between individual actions and society.

Namely: the only thing that spreads as far and as fast as a pandemic are the consequences of your moral actions.

If you contract a virus – say, for instance, the COVID-19 coronavirus – you immediately become a member of a great chain. Someone before you had the virus. Now you have it because of them. And more likely than not, someone else – multiple people, really – will have it because of you. When you become a carrier for a virus, everything you do becomes a potential vector for infecting people. And you alone can infect hundreds or thousands of people if you do things badly enough.

As a member of a chain of infections, though, your contribution to a pandemic can be far worse than just infecting a dozen or a hundred or a thousand other people. Those people you infect aren’t just sick because of you – they’re carriers too because of you. They can now infect dozens or hundreds or thousands more.

It is in this way that a single human being – a “patient zero” – can be responsible for infecting hundreds of millions or billions of people.

This viral example brings home the significance not just of personal hygiene but of all personal ethics and personal action. We live in networks and chains, and all of our actions “transmit” something to the people around us. If we transmit fear, that fear “infects” the people around us, then the people around them. If we transmit

These networks are how an abusive father’s actions can lead eventually to mass prison camps, or how a friend’s faithfulness can lead to the defeat of a great tyrant. The content of our actions transmits virally, and at scale it can become something very dangerous and destructive, or beautiful and healing.

Take time during this time of pandemic to reflect on the vast significance of your own actions and your connectedness to others – not just in health, but in everything.

Originally published at JamesWalpole.com.

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