Saturday, October 28, 2017

Why I Vote


Executive Summary

New Jersey and Virginia are holding state elections on 7 November. Some of my friends, family and colleagues tell me they don’t vote. They have lots of reasons. They say that their vote does not count. They say that the system is, at best, a poorly designed system and, at worst, completely corrupt system. They say that they do not follow politics. They say that they don’t have time. This got me to thinking about why I am so on the polar opposite end of those thoughts. I always vote. I began to wonder why that was the case. This essay is my attempt to work that out. What I discovered was that voting for me is about being a man and the example I set for my own children. It is about being an appreciative citizen and not taking for granted the privileges won by the spilt blood of our ancestors. It is about giving back to the community, in some small measure, in order to preserve these rights that men and women thought were so important in our country’s history that they were willing to lay down their lives for it. I vote because the idea of one person, one vote is perhaps the cornerstone to our participative democratic republic, a thing we can point to in our aspiration to the American Exceptionalism ideal, and I don’t want to take it for granted. I vote because of all of the contentious issues that lay before us as a nation, the act of voting is the one thing that we do together to address those issues. I vote because it took the country over 200 years to get the one-person-one-vote idea right through one awful war, five constitutional amendments, numerous national laws and continuous attacks to limit the franchise. I vote because the act is precious to me and I never want to lose the privilege.

My World

I am not a political junky. I don't spend endless hours consuming the philosophical blather from the likes of Rush Limbaugh, John Oliver, Shawn Hannity or Rachel Maddow. I don't have a burning issue; at least not one that I am so passionate about that I accost little old ladies on the street that do not agree with me in an effort to bend them to my will. What I do have is a deep-seated appreciation that many people around the world do not benefit from the same privilege of participative government that I have simply because I happened to be born in this country. 

Privilege and Participative

Those are two interesting words that describe the design of the U.S. Government system. And yet, I always run into friends, family, colleagues and strangers who don’t vote. They have lots of reasons. “My one vote does not count.” “The Electoral College is rigged.” “I don’t follow politics.” “I don’t like any of the candidates.” “I was too busy to register.” “I had to work that day.” I am always flabbergasted by that logic. For the Howard family, the idea of not voting is never on the table. We clear the day. We make it a Howard event. We don’t talk in terms of “if” we vote. We talk in terms of “when” we vote. And it got me thinking, why do we feel that way? Why does the act of “Not Voting” seem so wrong to us? 

A few years ago, I took a taxi to the O’Hare Airport from my hotel in Chicago. I learned that my taxi driver, a delightful fellow by the name of Nicky, came from a small country on the east coast of Africa called Eritrea. When he was three years old back in 1993, his country declared independence from their current dictator. By the time he was eight, his family had moved to a refugee camp within the country because the succeeding dictator had dumped them into a war with the neighbors (Yemen and Ethiopia). The regime was so repressive that the lives of Nicky’s family were in danger. Nicky’s parents took the extraordinary step of shipping all three siblings, including Nicky, to America at the first opportunity. When Nicky told me that, I immediately thought about my own kids. How bad would it have to get in my country before I would decide to ship my kids to another country to preserve their safety and future? And how lucky am I that the chances of something like that ever happening in the USA are a million to one? 

When I get in these moods, I often remind myself about America’s founding fathers. 

You Have to Earn the American Exceptionalism Title 

When these remarkable and flawed men signed the Declaration of Independence, they may as well have signed their own death warrants and they knew it. If the colonies had lost the war for independence against the British, the royal authorities would have executed them as traitors at the first opportunity. [1] When I think about this collective act of disobedience, this act of defiance in the face of especially low odds of winning the revolutionary war, I am humbled that these patriots were prepared to give their lives in support of a bigger idea; an idea that there could be a better way to govern. That is a high-bar-standard for American exceptionalism and it makes me consider if I have any beliefs within my own personal philosophy that are so strong that I would willingly give my life, and the fortunes of my family, to preserve them. 

When you think about it, you realize that America does not ask much of its citizens for the privilege of living here. Citizens pay taxes and follow the law. That is about it. The country does not compel service, does not compel silence against its policies and does not compel participation in the system. It does not even compel a respect for the system that was so hard fought and won against incredible odds. 

Because of that idea and admittedly other things, some American pundits think that the U.S. is the greatest country in the world. Others think that it is arrogant to claim that title when it clearly lacks in several key metrics that might be used to choose the winner of such a competition. In my mind, both sides misunderstand the implication of the exceptionalism label. When you compare America to the rest of the world, the idea of best has no meaning. Who cares if you are number one or ten or 50? What can you do with that knowledge? What is important is that when you do the comparison, out of the 195 [2] sovereign nations in the world, America has a good chance of being remarkable; of leading in a positive way; of acting as a force of good in the world; of setting an example of how things might be done. When opportunities arise to demonstrate that behavior and we intentionally decide to do something less than that, we do not live up to that potential. We do not live up to the American Exceptionalism ideal that the Founding Fathers gave us. 

For me, the act of voting is one of those opportunities. That simple act of civic duty is a way for me to step up; to give a little something back to this country that has given me and my family so much. However-flawed the voting system is, voting is our modern-day demonstration and one-data-point proof to the world and ourselves that we are worthy of the exceptionalism title. It seems the least I can do. What concerns me is that our right to vote is not guaranteed. If we are not careful and diligent, we may lose that opportunity altogether. 

Universal Suffrage – A Relatively New Idea and an Idea that We Must Protect 

American Universal suffrage, the idea that every citizen gets an equal vote, has not been around that long. Even our well-respected Founding Fathers did not specify in the constitution that universal suffrage was even something they were worried about. From the very beginning, voters were citizens who owned land; a tradition that came over from the old country. This new red, white and blue government excluded Native Americans, Women, Blacks, the Poor and the Illiterate from the voting process. For some, this inconsistency rang falsely. Government leaders kept running into the paradox that if America is indeed a democratic republic, a government by the people, then the laws that govern that body should not exclude anybody from the process. But it was not until the mid-1960s, after five Constitutional Amendments, a Civil War and numerous federal Laws, that the Judicial Branch finally agreed that the constitution guarantees every person the right to vote. (See How the U.S got to Universal Suffrage below [3] 

But for every step forward in achieving universal suffrage, the country seemed to take two steps back. Elected officials found ways to restrict voting rights from people they thought were unworthy even after passing constitutional amendments prohibiting that behavior. Read that last sentence again. Our elected officials, that same body that pushed for universal suffrage, fought against itself to limit the voting rights of certain citizens. Even after the Civil War when the government passed the 15th amendment in 1856 giving the right to vote to all male races including Blacks, southern state governments began passing local legislation that essentially made it so hard to vote in those states, that by 1900, the 15th amendment might as well have not been passed. [3] 

But we kept chipping away at it and even though the judicial branch generally supports the universal suffrage idea today, the legislative branch still passes laws that try to limit the franchise. At the conclusion of each decade, the US government completes a constitutionally mandated census to ensure that the number of House of Representative seats reflects the population size within each state. [4][5] Within a tradition that has been going on since the beginning of the nation, the party in power takes the opportunity to redraw congressional district boundaries in a way that will best enable their party officials to get re-elected in the next election. This is called gerrymandering. [6] After the 2010 census and midterm elections, Republicans altered 210 congressional districts and Democrats altered 44 out of a total of 435 (58%). [7][2] For this 2016 presidential election, 14 states have passed restrictive voter ID Laws, inconvenient registration laws and early voting cutback laws. These restrictions tend to affect low income voters, people of color and very old people. [8] In 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a Texas law designed to fundamentally alter the one person, one vote idea. Texans wanted to change the country’s apportionment rules, the rules that determine the number of U.S. House of Representatives for each state, from total population to simply eligible voters. [9] The Supreme Court rejected the proposal out of hand but the legal action is indicative of our lawmaker’s continuous effort to reduce the franchise. 

In October 2017, the Supreme Court began hearing a case brought against Wisconsin regarding the state’s extreme gerrymandering operations. [10] At issue is the fact that with automation, gerrymandering has become so efficient that even if you were able to vote, even if you were able to surpass all the hurdles that legislatures put before you to prevent you from going to the polls, the state voting districts are so precise that if your party is not in power, your vote essentially does not matter. You can vote all you want but you have no chance to change the status quo. I realize that if the Supreme Court does not shut down the Wisconsin gerrymandering scheme, it proves the point my relatives and friends have been telling me all these years; that the voting system is rigged. Why bother? But that is the point, isn’t it? The only way that these things get turned around is when citizens make enough noise in the political system that their associated politicians think they have to do something about it. That starts with voting.

The achievement of universal suffrage has been a long-fought battle over the course of the nation’s entire history. Even after the landmark Supreme Court decision in the 1960s, we cannot check this off our list and never think about it again. It is continually attacked by unscrupulous politicians to bend it to their advantage. Even though many Americans would accept that idea that every citizen deserves the right to vote, our elected officials tend to think they have the authority to shape the electorate to their advantage. That is why, when voting time comes around in my state, the idea that I would not cast a vote or exercise the privilege that was so hard-fought and won by our founding fathers (and mothers) does not occur to me. 

The Joy of Community Citizenship 

Obligations back to the country and threats to universal suffrage are serious issues. Before I turn the reader off completely for being such a downer, let me take it up a notch by describing one of my true pleasures in life. The physical act of voting, for me anyway, is inspiring. I usually go early, before work, so that I can ensure that the normal chaos of the day does not interfere with the voting process. Elections in Virginia, my home state, generally occur in the spring and the fall. The early mornings are usually cool but sunny. When I arrive at the polling station, other like-minded people are doing the same thing. There is a sense of community and purpose; never said out loud but inferred as you say good morning and make small talk with the volunteers and voters that are there with you. My favorite part is standing in line waiting for my turn in the voting booth. I get a big kick out of watching the volunteers, mostly retired old folks, who ensure that the mechanics of the voting process go smoothly. When I get to the desk where the volunteer finds my name on the voter list and checks it off, I can’t help but get a sense of belonging; an inclusiveness within a larger idea that is good and something to care about. And finally, after I make my selections, and turn to walk out of the building, a volunteer always shakes your hand, slaps a “I voted” sticker on your chest and says thanks for voting. 

That is a good morning. 

Final Thoughts

Voting for me is about being a man and the example I set for my own children. It is about being an appreciative citizen and not taking for granted the privileges won by the spilt blood of our ancestors. It is about giving back to the community, in some small measure, in order to preserve these rights that men and women thought were so important in our country’s history that they were willing to lay down their lives for it. I vote because the idea of one person, one vote is perhaps the cornerstone to our participative democratic republic, a thing we can point to in our aspiration to the American Exceptionalism ideal, and I don’t want to take it for granted. I vote because of all of the contentious issues that lay before us as a nation, voting is the one thing that we do together to address those issues. It took the country over 200 years to get it right through one awful war, five constitutional amendments, numerous national laws and continuous attacks to limit the franchise. I vote because the act is precious to me and I never want to lose the privilege. I vote because I refuse to abdicate my only direct way to influence the process. 

On November 7 (Tuesday), two states are holding general elections: New Jersey and my home state of Virginia. New Jersey citizens are electing 80 delegates to the lower house of the New Jersey General Assembly, currently 52 (D) and 28 (R), 40 senators to the upper house, currently 24(D) and 16 (R), and their governor, currently Chris Christie (R). [11] [12] [13] Virginia citizens are electing 100 delegates to the lower house of the Virginia General Assembly, currently 34 (D) and 66 (R), and their governor, currently Terry McAuliffe (D). [14]

I hope that you will join me. 

Sources

[1] "What if America had lost the Revolution?" by PATRICK J. KIGER, HOWSTUFFWORKS: SCIENCE, 14 February 2012. 

[2] "Independent States of the World: List of all Sovereign Nations and their Capital Cities," One World Nations Online, 2016, Last Visited 5 November 2016, 

[3] "The Right To Vote: The Contested History Of Democracy In The United States," by Alexander Keyssar, Published August 15th 2000, Basic Books, 

[4] "About What We Do," by The United States Census, Last Visited 3 November 2013,
http://www.census.gov/aboutus/ 

[5] "One Million-Scale Congressional Districts of the United States," by National Atlas, Last Visited 3 November 2013, 
http://nationalatlas.gov/mld/cgd113p.html

[6] "A modest proposal to neutralize gerrymandering," by David Brin, Salon, 20 October 2013, Last Visited 2 November 2013,
http://www.salon.com/2013/10/20/a_modest_proposal_to_neutralize_gerrymandering/ 

[7] "Tea Party's House Seats Might Not Be All That Safe," by Karen Weise, BloombergBusinessweek, 14 october 2013, Last Visited 31 October 2013,
http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2013-10-14/tea-partys-house-seats-might-not-be-all-that-safe

[8] "New Voting Restrictions in Place for 2016 Presidential Election," by the Brennan Center for Justice, 

[9] "Supreme Court rejects conservative challenge to ‘one person, one vote,’" By Robert Barnes, The Washington Post, 4 April 2016, Last Visited 5 November 2016,

[10] "Kennedy’s Vote Is in Play on Voting Maps Warped by Politics," By ADAM LIPTAK and MICHAEL D. SHEAROCT. 3 October 2017, Last Visited 28 October 2017,

[11] "New Jersey General Assembly," BALLOTPEDIA, Last Visited 26 October 2017
https://ballotpedia.org/New_Jersey_General_Assembly

[12] "New Jersey State Senate," BALLOTPEDIA, Last Visited 26 October 2017
https://ballotpedia.org/New_Jersey_State_Senate

[13]"New Jersey 2017 ballot measures" BALLOTPEDIA, Last Visited 26 October 2017
https://ballotpedia.org/New_Jersey_2017_ballot_measures

[14] "Virginia House of Delegates" BALLOTPEDIA, Last Visited 26 October 2017

References

"Court Upends Voting Rights Act," by Jess Bravin, The Wall Street Journal, 25 June 2013, Last Visited 3 November 2013, 

"Does your vote count? The Electoral College explained," by Christina Greer, 1 November 2012 

"Everything That’s Happened Since Supreme Court Ruled on Voting Rights Act," by Kara Brandeisky and Mike Tigas, ProPublica, 1 November 2013, Last Visited 3 November 2013,
http://www.propublica.org/article/voting-rights-by-state-map 

"Florida Defends New Effort to Clean Up Voter Rolls," By LIZETTE ALVAREZ 9 October 2013, New York Times, Last Visited 2 November 2013, 
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/10/us/florida-defends-new-effort-to-clean-up-voter-rolls.html 

" 'Outrageous' or overdue?: Court strikes down part of historic voting rights law," by Bill Mears and Greg Botelho, CNN Politics, 26 June 2013, Last Visited 3 November 2013, 

“Poll Taxes,” by David F. Forte, Professor of Law, Cleveland-Marshall College of Law, The Heritage Guide to the Constitution, Last Visited 1 November 2014,
http://www.heritage.org/constitution/#!/amendments/24/essays/186/poll-taxes 

“States With New Voting Restrictions Since 2010 Election,” by Brennan Center for Justice, New York University of Law, Last Visited 1 November 2014, 

“The 24th Amendment Ended the Poll Tax January 23, 1964,” by The Library of Congress, Last Visited 1 November 2014,
http://www.americaslibrary.gov/jb/modern/jb_modern_polltax_1.html 

“The Dangerous Legal Rule Behind The Supreme Court’s Latest Voter Suppression Decision,” By IAN MILLHISER POSTED, ThinkProgress, 18 OCTOBER 2014, Last Visited 1 November 2014,
http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2014/10/18/3581589/the-dangerous-legal-rule-behind-the-supreme-courts-voter-id-order/ 

“The State of Voting in 2014,” by Wendy R. Weiser and Erik Opsal, Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, June 17, 2014, Last Visited 1 November 2014,
http://www.brennancenter.org/analysis/state-voting-2014 

"The Voting Rights Act Is in Peril on Its Forty-Eighth Anniversary," by Ari Berman, 6 August 2013, The Nation, Last Visited 3 November 2013, 
http://www.thenation.com/blog/175618/voting-rights-act-peril-its-forty-eighth-anniversary# 

"Virginia election officials purging almost 40,000 voters," by Reid Wilson, 17 October 2013, Washington Post: Gov Beat, Last Visited 2 November 2013,
http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/govbeat/wp/2013/10/17/virginia-election-officials-purging-almost-40000-voters/ 

“Voter Suppression: How Bad? (Pretty Bad),” by Wendy R. Weiser, The American Prospect Longform, Fall 2014, Last Visited 1 November 2014, 

“Voter Suppression Backfires in Texas and Wisconsin,” by Ari Berman, The Nation, 10 October 2014, Last Visited 1 November 2014, 
http://www.thenation.com/blog/181942/voter-suppression-backfires-texas-and-wisconsin 

How the U.S got to Universal Suffrage 

5 Constitutional Amendments
A Civlil War
7 Federal Laws
And we are not done yet 

15th Amendment:
1869: The states ratified the 15th Amendment granting males of all races, especially former slaves, the right to vote. 

19th Amendment: 
1920: The states ratified the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote 

23rd Amendment: 
1961: The states ratified the 23rd Amendment giving limited voting rights to the residents of Washington D.C. 

24th Amendment: 
1964: the states ratified the 24th Amendment banning poll taxes that hindered poor and minority citizens from voting 

26th Amendment: 
1971: The states ratified the 26th Amendment lowering the voting age to 18 (because Vietnam vets could fight in a war but could not vote). 

1870: The Civil Rights Acts 
Amended 1957, 1960, and 1964 
Protections against discrimination in voting 

1965: Voting Rights Act 
Prohibits discriminating voting practices based on race, color, or membership in a language in a minority group. 

1984: Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act 
Requires polling places to be accessible to people with disabilities. 

1986: Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA): 
Allows members of the U.S. Armed Forces and overseas voters to both register to vote and vote by mail. 

1993: National Voter Registration Act (NVRA): 
Increases opportunities to register to vote and creates procedures for maintaining voter registration lists, making it easier for people to stay registered. 

2002: Help America Vote Act (HAVA): 
Authorizes federal funds for election administration and creates the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. 

2009: Military and Overseas Voting Empowerment (MOVE) Act: 
Amends the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act to improve access to voting by military and overseas voters.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Reborn at Arlington: Memorial Day 2017

1,500 US Army soldiers stood on the misty parade field at Fort Meyer waiting for the sun to rise. The leadership had scheduled another morale building yet mandated "fun run" where once a quarter, the entire unit comes together to do PT (Physical Training) in a show of Esprit de Corp and unit cohesion. Since we were all stationed at the Pentagon, many of us had been in the Army for a while. We were a little broken down in the body department and had seen our fair share of these types of events. There we were, at the twilight of our careers, huddled in small groups during the dawn of one more PT morning.

Of course, there was the usual grumbling between the older soldiers asking one another if we were motivated yet and if we had a cup of Esprit De Corps to spare. But there was a sprinkling of young soldiers among us too and their shiny new faces kept us old timers from getting too cynical and fussy.

As the sun poked up above the horizon, the Army's Command Sergeant Major called the gaggle to attention and the formation began to run. The Non-Commissioned Officers (NCOs) led the assemblage in rousing voice and extolled the virtues of Granny [1], My Girl [2] and the C-130 [3]. Below the roar of the singing, just in the background, you could hear the footsteps of the 1500 strong pounding the pavement in syncopated rhythm.

The formation crested the hill overlooking Arlington Cemetery and the vista of Washington DC opened up before us. The Army Colors, at the front of the formation, started their decent towards the Cemetery just as the sun had risen to about the same height as the Washington Monument several miles distant. And still the singing and the pounding drove the formation as it snaked down the hill towards the front gates.

As the colors passed into the Cemetery, like a line of dominoes falling, the singing faded away. One platoon after the other fell silent in mute honor of our fallen comrades-in-arms laid to rest in the National Cemetery. As the voices muted, the only sound you could hear was the constant beat, beat, beat of the run and the Army colors whipping in the slight breeze. Nobody spoke except for the occasional NCO keeping everybody in step with a solid, but quiet, 1 - 2 - 3 - 4, 1 -2 - 3 - 4. It was serene. It was sublime.

Midway through the run, the Command Sergeant Major called the formation to a halt and commanded us to execute a right-face towards the middle of the cemetery. The rising sun had burned off the last vestiges of mist from the manicured lawns. The breeze trickled through the formation’s silence and the Army Colors at the front. And then we all heard it; that mournful sound of a single bugler playing Taps. [4] He began the music low at first; almost whispering the sound through the horn. But slowly, his crescendo wrapped the listener into a cocoon of sadness, memory, and a sense of loss about the lives that could have been. On that misty morning, young and old soldiers alike shed mutual tears as the bugler played on.

When it was done and the silence greeted the end of the song, a chill went down my back. It occurred to me that we were not merely taking a morning jog anymore. We were actually passing in review. These fallen soldiers who performed the ultimate sacrifice for their country were watching us and sizing us up. I hoped that we could pass muster. I had this great desire to let them know that we had the guide-on now and it was in good hands. We would not let them down. I stood a little taller then. As we began to run home, the burden of running was a little lighter. As 1500 boarded the buses to head back to the Pentagon, I realized that this old soldier was less cynical today; less worn for wear. Although I may not have the shiny face of one of those new soldiers, I was reborn this morning. Together, both old and young, we will carry on.


Memorial Day Weekend


This weekend is Memorial Day Weekend. It is a U.S. holiday that originally began in 1856 as a way for local communities to honor the Union soldiers who died in the U.S. Civil War. After WWI, the meaning of the holiday shifted to include all who have died in American wars. In 1971, the U.S. Congress made the remembrance a national holiday. [5]

I wrote the above essay, “Reborn at Arlington,” back in 2000 when I was stationed at the Pentagon and long before the madness of 9/11 kicked in and our Presidents committed our military to over 16 years of war across five different operations [8][16]. Since then, 6,926 U.S. Soldiers and DOD Civilians have been killed and 52,549 have been wounded in action in this everlasting “War on Terrorism.” [6][16] It is now six years older than the Vietnam War, the former longest U.S. War ever (10 years), and there seems to be no end in sight. [10][15] The U.S. still has some 12,457 troops deployed in the Middle East at a cost of $2.1 Million per soldier per year. [15]

And you have to ask yourself why? Can you point to one thing that the U.S. got by committing 16 years of blood and treasure to this cause? Can you even articulate what it is we are still fighting in the Middle East for? It is true that this past year, the U.S. has killed many ISIS leaders, taken back key ground in Iraq and has had some success limiting new recruits from streaming into Iraq and Syria. [17] Supporters of the “War on Terrorism” will point to the assassination of Osama Bin Laden and the execution of Saddam Hussein as two big wins. They will say that we are keeping ISIS at bay. But the data is confusing. ISIS has more fighters and recruits and is killing more people in more countries than ever before. [17] As the years go by and the cost of the effort continues to rise, we have to honestly ask ourselves if continuously throwing our military at the problem is the right approach. When is it over? Are we comfortable with the nation conducting a war indefinitely?

The U.S. has spent $1.7 Trillion dollars (That is Trillion with a T) on the global “War on Terrorism” since 2001. [11][15] To give you something to compare that to, 1.7 trillion seconds is ~60,000 years [12] Combine that with close to 60,000 killed and wounded to get a sense of the total cost to the nation. [6][12][16] The “War on Terrorism” is the sixth largest U.S. war in terms of military killed out of the 12 that the U.S. has fought. And we are not done. The clock is still ticking.

The United States has marked this weekend as a time to honor our fallen soldiers. As President Lincoln said in his Gettysburg Address, “It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.” [18] But it occurs to me that instead of taking a day to remember our fallen citizens, that we might make a grander gesture. We might consider demanding that our politicians articulate what we are trying to accomplish in the “War on Terrorism” with more precision. We might consider trying to find a way to bring our military home so that on next year’s Memorial Day, we will not have to add more numbers to the casualty list.


"War on Terrorism" by Operation


Operation Enduring Freedom

The Afghanistan War
From 7 October 2001 to 28 December 2014 [8]
13 Years
2,349 U.S. Soldiers and DOD Civilians Killed [6][16]
20,071 U.S. Soldiers and DOD Civilians Wounded in Action [6][16]

Operation Iraqi Freedom

The Iraq War
From 19 Mar 2003 to 19 Aug 2010 [8]
7 Years.
4,424 U.S. Soldiers and DOD Civilians Killed [6][16]
31,954 U.S. Soldiers and DOD Civilians Wounded in Action [6][16]

Operation New Dawn

Iraq War Transition
From 1 September 2010 to 15 December 2015 [8]
5 Years
73 U.S. Soldiers and DOD Civilians Killed [6][16]
295 U.S. Soldiers and DOD Civilians Wounded in Action [6][16]

Operation Inherent Resolve

Military intervention against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant
From 15 June 2014 to --- [8]
3 Years
42 U.S. Soldiers and DOD Civilians Killed [6][16]
39 U.S. Soldiers and DOD Civilians Wounded in Action [6][16]

Operation Freedom Sentinel

The Afghanistan Support Mission
From 1 January 2015 to -- [8]
2 Years +
37 U.S. Soldiers and DOD Civilians Killed [6] [16]
169 U.S. Soldiers and DOD Civilians Wounded in Action [6] [16]

Total "War on Terrorism"

From 7 October 2001 to -- [8]
16 Years +
6,926 U.S. Soldiers and DOD Civilians Killed [6] [16]
52,549 U.S. Soldiers and DOD Civilians Wounded in Action [6] [16]
Deployed troops in the Middle East: 12,457 [15]
Cost: $2.1 Million per soldier per year [9]


American War Death Toll [13]


1,000 (Not including the Native Americans): Indian War
1,565: Persian Gulf War
2,260: War of 1812
2,446: Spanish-American War
4,435: Revolutionary War

6,926: "War on Terrorism"

13,283: Mexican War

54, 246; Korean War
90,220: Vietnam War
116,516: WWI

405,399: WWII
498,332: Civil War


Sources:

[1] "Army Cadence - My Old Granny, She's 91," 19 September 2008, Last Visited 27 May 2017,
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-rGOPJ890zA

[2] "C-130 Rollin' Down The Strip," Army Future Soldier Center, 22 October 2013, Last Visited 27 May 2017,

[3] "U.S. Army Cadence My Girls A Pretty Girl," 23 October 2013, Last Visited 27 May 2017,

[4] “Montgomery clift trumpet,” From Here to Eternity, Posted 12 March 2007, Last Visited 27 May 2017,

[5] "10 historical facts about Memorial Day," by Allison Sylte, KSDK-TV, St. Louis, Mo. May 23, 2015, Last Visited 27 May 2017,
http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2015/05/22/historical-facts-memorial-day/27817017/ 

[6] "A Guide to U.S. Military Casualty Statistics: Operation Freedom’s Sentinel, Operation Inherent Resolve, Operation New Dawn, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and Operation Enduring Freedom," by Hannah Fischer, Congressional Research Service, 7 August 7 2015, Last Visited 27 May 2017.
https://fas.org/sgp/crs/natsec/RS22452.pdf

[8] "U.S. Periods of War and Dates of Recent Conflicts," by Barbara Salazar Torreon, Congressional Research Service, 27 February 2015, Last Visited 27 May 2017.
https://fas.org/sgp/crs/natsec/RS21405.pdf

[9] "Where in the World Isn't the U.S. Military?" By Bonnie Kristian, U.S. News and World Report, 4 May 2016, Last Visited 27 May 2017,
http://www.usnews.com/opinion/articles/2016-05-04/obamas-secret-troop-deployments-cost-taxpayers

[10] "These are America’s 9 longest foreign wars," by Adam Taylor, The Washington Post, 27 May 29 2017.
https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2014/05/29/these-are-americas-9-longest-foreign-wars/

[11] "The War On Terror Has Cost Taxpayers $1.7 Trillion [Infographic]," by Niall McCarthy, Forbes Magazine, 3 February 2015, Last Visited 27 May 2017,
http://www.forbes.com/sites/niallmccarthy/2015/02/03/the-war-on-terror-has-cost-taxpayers-1-7-trillion-infographic/#42b001585cf0

[12] "How to Develop a Sense of Scale," by Kalid, Better Explained, 2008, Last Visited 27 May 2017,

[13] "How many Americans have died in U.S. wars?" BY MEGAN CRIGGER AND LAURA SANTHANAM, PBS - WETA, 24 May 2015, Last Visited 27 May 2017,

[15] "War on Terror Facts, Costs and Timeline: Whose Spent More on War? Bush, Obama or Trump?" By Kimberly Amadeo, the balance, 26 May 2017

[16] OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM (OIF) U.S. CASUALTY STATUS: FATALITIES AS OF: May 26, 2017, 10 a.m. EDT,

[17] "Are we winning the war on ISIS & Radical Islam? The President says yes. The experts say no. Here’s a 9-page fact sheet laying out the data," by Joel C. Rosenberg, Joel C. Rosenberg 's Blog, 15 September 2016, Last Visited 27 May 2017,

[18] "The Gettysburg Address," Abraham Lincoln Online, 19 November 1863, Last Visited 27 May 2017,
http://www.abrahamlincolnonline.org/lincoln/speeches/gettysburg.htm

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

2016 Books


I read 28 Books in 2016.


2016 favorite:

"Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania," by Erik Larson



2016 Most Educational:
"The Right To Vote The Contested History Of Democracy In The United States," by Alexander Keyssar


2016 Best Horror:
"A Head Full of Ghosts," by Paul Tremblay

2016 Best Cybersecurity:

The Phoenix Project: A Novel About IT, DevOps, and Helping Your Business Win," by Gene Kim

I recommend:
"Anathem" by Neal Stephenson
"The Magicians" by Lev Grossman
"Steve Jobs" by Walter Isaacson

Personal Challenge Complete:
All eight books of Stephen King's Dark Tower fantasy epic.

Goodreads (Facebook for book Lovers):
Check out my bookshelves on Goodreads - where you can see what your friends are reading.
https://www.goodreads.com/choiceawards/best-books-2016?cc=4f19e7eb


Sunday, August 2, 2015

Book Review: " Go Set a Watchman (2011) by Harper Lee," Book Reviewed by Rick Howard, 1 August 2015

Executive Summary

In Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman, Jean Louise Finch as a young woman discovers that racial tensions in the south are not as black and white as she thought they were when she was a young girl, Scout, in To Kill A Mockingbird. Her father, Atticus Finch, is not the paragon of virtue she thought he was either and is in fact a “segregationist,” a “gentleman bigot,” and affiliates “with raving anti-integration, anti-black crazies.” The story pivots on Jean Louise’s discovery of her father’s flaws, her shock at that revelation and the process she goes through to reach a sort of acceptance around the dethroning of her father. Atticus Finch has been my hero since Gregory Peck played him in the 1962 movie. He has always been the literary example I aspired too whenever I encountered my own moral conundrums. This takedown of the character by Harper Lee is a shock for sure. But in the end, Atticus Finch is still my hero. It is kind of a relief to know that even our heroes are not perfect in every way; that you can still admire and emulate a person even though you might not agree with everything he or she believes. This novel makes him more human and I guess I can live with that.

Introduction

Atticus Finch has been my hero since I first saw Gregory Peck portray the character in the famous movie, To Kill a Mockingbird released in 1962 [1] The scene in the courthouse where all the white people have left the room but the local black people are still in the balcony waiting on Mr. Finch to leave still brings tears to my eyes to this day even after numerous viewings. Atticus’ two kids, Scout (Jean Louise) and Jem, had snuck up to the balcony so as not to miss the show and sat next to the town’s black reverend during the festivities. When Atticus finally gets his things together and begins to walk out, he is oblivious to the black people in the balcony. He does not register that they have all stood up in quiet respect for what he is doing; defending a black man who is accused (wrongly) of raping a young white woman. Scout, Atticus’ daughter, is the only person in the balcony who did not stand as Atticus begins to walk out of the courtroom. The black reverend turns to her urgently and says, 

Miss Jean Louise. Miss Jean Louise, stand up. You’re father is passing. [1]

Bill Walker, the actor who played the reverend, captured completely in just 12 words and silent facial gestures the sentiment of the movie; that Atticus Finch was a great man, an honorable man and a man whose example we should all aspire to. Gregory Peck himself said that Bill Walker’s small but beautiful performance wrapped up the Academy Award for him. [2] 

But it was not until I read Harper Lee’s book when I was much older that I understood the significance of Atticus Finch as a character and as a hero. [3] 

One of my favorite scenes from the book captures his essence. The next-door lady, Miss Maudie, is talking to Atticus’s son about the significance of the court case to the town and to his father.

“I simply want to tell you that there are some men in this world who were born to do our unpleasant jobs for us. Your father’s one of them.” 

“Oh,” said Jem. “Well.”
 

“Don’t you oh well me, sir,” Miss Maudie replied, recognizing Jem’s fatalistic noises, “you are not old enough to appreciate what I said.”
 

Jem was staring at his half-eaten cake. “It’s like bein’ a caterpillar in a cocoon, that’s what it is,” he said. “Like somethin’ asleep wrapped up in a warm place. I always thought Maycomb folks were the best folks in the world, least that’s what they seemed like.”
 

“We’re the safest folks in the world,” said Miss Maudie. “We’re so rarely called on to be Christians, but when we are, we’ve got men like Atticus to go for us.” [3]

Atticus Finch has been my hero for as long as I can remember. When I run into moral decisions in my own personal life, I have always asked myself, “What would Atticus Finch do?” I don't always follow his advice, but after and without fail, I realize that I should have.

When the word started to leak out that Harper Lee had written a sequel, Go Set A Watchman, [4] and that she reveals that Atticus Finch is really a closeted racist, I was floored. How could she? How could it be possible that the man she painted so vividly and so beautifully as the modern example of what a man should be -- what men should aspire to be – could become such a hated thing?

Impressions

The title of the book comes from the bible: Isaiah 21:6.

For thus hath the Lord said unto me, Go, set a watchman, let him declare what he seeth. [5]

According to Wayne Flynt, a minister and one of Lee’s longtime friends,

'Go Set a Watchman' means, somebody needs to be the moral compass of this town.” [6]

In the original, To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus is exactly that. Scout as a young girl admires everything about her father and only a few within the town -- Miss Maudie, the sheriff and the judge – understand the full ramifications of that. To a young Scout, he is a paragon of virtue in everything that he does and every moral question that he confronts is precisely black and white.

In Go Set a Watchman, Atticus still sits at his post as a guardian of the town, but Jean Louise, now a young woman, discovers that he is not the perfect paragon that she had built him up to be. He is a not a god, he is a man; a really good and decent man but he is a man all the same with all the flaws that go with the territory and an understanding that there is a lot of grey area between those two black and white poles. Jean Louise discovers that her father does not actually believe that the black man is an equal to the white man, at least not in the negro’s current state at the time of book. Atticus is a “segregationist,” a “gentleman bigot,” and affiliates “with raving anti-integration, anti-black crazies,” [7]

During an interview with David Green on NPR, poet Natasha Trethewey said that Atticus believes

“… in a kind of limitation of African-Americans, that they are and were at that time a people in their infancy, the idea that we had to go slow because these people weren't really ready for it. They weren't really ready to vote. They weren't really ready to go to school with white children.” [8] 

The plot of Go Set a Watchman pivots on Jean Louise’s discovery of that notion about her father, her shock at that revelation and the process she goes through to reach a sort of acceptance of that dethroning of her father.

Conclusion

I am not sure how I feel about the idea that Atticus Finch is not perfect. On the one hand, it was easy for me to point to his literary example as a barometer for what it means to be man. On the other, it is kind of a relief to know that even our heroes are not perfect in every way; that you can still admire and emulate a person even though you might not agree with everything he or she believes. In the end, Atticus Finch is still my hero. Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman makes him more human and I guess I can live with that.

Sources

[1] "To Kill a Mockingbird (8/10) Movie CLIP - Your Father's Passing (1962) HD," Movieclips, posted 27 May 2011, Last Visited 1 August 2015,

[2] "Bill Walker Biography," IMDB, Last Visited 1 August 2015,

[3] "To Kill a Mockingbird," by Harper Lee, Published 1960 by Harper Perennial Modern Classics , Last Visited 1 August 2015

[4] "Go Set a Watchman (To Kill a Mockingbird)," by Harper Lee, Published July 14th 2015 by Harper, Last Visited 1 August 2015
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/24818632-go-set-a-watchman 

[5] "King James Bible: Isaiah 21:6," The Official King James Bible Online, Last Visited 1 August 2015, 

[6] "'Go Set a Watchman': What does Harper Lee's book title mean?," by By Greg Garrison, AL.COM, 5 February 2015, updated 13 July 13, Last Visited 1 August 2015,

[7] "Harper Lee, Atticus Finch and Go Set a Watchman: What the world is saying," by John Hammontree, AL.com, 20 July 2015, Last Visited 2 August 2015,

[8] "The Meaning Of A Hero Cast In Shadow, In Harper Lee's 'Go Set A Watchman,'" by DAVID GREENE, NPR, 14 July 2015, Last Visited 2 August 2015,

Friday, July 17, 2015

Cybersecurity Canon Candidate Book Review: "Cybercrime and Espionage: An Analysis of Subversive Multi-Vector Threats (2011)," by Will Gragido and John Pirc

Executive Summary

Cybercrime and Espionage, published in 2011, is a book that was ahead of its time. The authors were pushing the envelope in terms of how the security community should think about advanced threats. However, almost five years later, there is not enough in here to make the book Canon material. Gragido and Pirc present some stimulating ideas, but in the end, the security community has not adopted many of them. My recommendation is to read this book if you are interested in how our community has evolved in terms of thinking about adversary campaigns. However, if you are looking for a state-of-the-art book about cybercrime and cyber espionage, this is not it.

Introduction

Will Gragido and John Pirc published this book in February 2011 — the year after the commercial industry experienced its wake-up call in terms of cyber espionage: Operation Aurora. [1] Aurora refers to the adversary campaign launched at Google and other commercial organizations that was designed to steal intellectual property, collect information on human rights activists, and gather intelligence regarding on-going FBI wiretap operations. [2] What made Aurora notable was Google’s reaction to it. They went public and accused the Chinese government of being responsible for the attacks. Before Aurora, most commercial organizations would not admit that they had been breached, even though nation states had been targeting commercial organizations for at least a decade. Business leaders worried that admitting a breach would significantly affect the bottom line. After Aurora and Google’s public mea culpa, it became easier for other commercial entities to admit that they had been breached. Fast-forward to today, and public breach notifications are so common that it is difficult to keep up with them all.

But this was the beginning. Before Aurora, the only significant cyberthreat to the commercial world at the time was crime. After, cyber espionage became something that we all had to worry about. This is the context for the book: defining cybercrime and cyber espionage as motivations — what makes them different and what makes them the same.

Impressions

The two authors, Will Gragido and John Pirc, are experienced cybersecurity professionals, and it is clear that they know what they are talking about; but the book is a bit disorganized in terms of who the target audience is. The content is a mix of introductory and advanced material. However, I did not see that the book had a through line. The authors’ analysis of the cybercrime world is at the introductory level. If you want a more in-depth book on the same topic that was published around the same time, consider Kingpin, written by Kevin Poulsen. [3] If you are looking for something a little more recent, consider Spam Nation by Brian Krebs. [4] The espionage material is more advanced, but if you want to go deeper, consider Kim Zetter’s Countdown to Zero Day [5] or Richard Bejtlich’s The Practice of Network Security Monitoring. [6]

I do give the Gragido and Pirc credit though for covering some advanced ideas ahead of their time that have not really become popular until just recently. One idea that I really like is that commercial organizations should build their own intelligence teams to track adversary campaigns. They published the book almost five years ago, and this was not universally accepted at the time. It is not universally accepted today either, but more and more organizations are starting to understand the value of such teams. As an aside, this is one of the reasons I got hired at Palo Alto Networks: to build an intelligence team that we eventually called Unit 42.

Gragido and Pirc push their own intelligence model called MOSAIC: Motive, Awareness, Open Source Intelligence Collection, Study, Asymmetrical Intelligence Correlation, Intelligence Review and Interrogation and Confluence. It is a good framework for an intelligence analyst; unfortunately, the model has not really caught on. Most intelligence organizations — the CIA, the FBI, and the NSA, as well as Unit 42 — use a model called The Intelligence Cycle. [7][8] They are basically the same thing, but the MOSAIC model has more detail.

The authors introduce a new phrase called Subversive Multivector Threats (SMTs), a sort of superset to what the cybersecurity community used to call the Advanced Persistent Threat (APT). They even explain the origin of the APT phrase, a phrase the military had been using for almost a decade in an UNCLASSIFIED setting to mean anything that involved Chinese government-sanctioned cyber espionage. Gragido and Pirc were ahead of their time, understanding that the community needed another name to label similar attacks that did not originate from China. Thus, they came up with SMTs, but the community has not embraced that term. We have evolved the APT phrase to include everything instead. 

Another advanced idea presented that I really liked was the concept that there are humans behind these attacks. Tools do not attack our systems. Humans — often organized into groups — attack our systems, and they use tools to accomplish some goal. These adversary groups can be rated in skill level from novice to expert and have motivations like cybercrime and cyber espionage; and it helps defenders do a better job by understanding that context, according to the authors. I wholeheartedly agree. But today, I think we can expand that motivation list to include hacktivism, cyberterrorism and cyberwarfare, and I thought their definitions of hackers’ maturity levels were not definitive enough to be useful. 

Also, Gragido and Pirc introduce a two-tiered categorization scheme for adversary campaigns, where Tier – 1 campaigns target 

… air-gapped networks or networks that would be considered highly secured, such as those of power companies (supervisory control and data acquisition or SCADA networks), governments, and defense organizations. [9]

Tier – 2 adversary campaign plans are all other APT campaigns. This two-tiered system seems ill-conceived today. The security community considers SCADA networks in general, and power companies in particular, as being at least 10 years behind the rest of the community [10]. And government networks have proven to be even less secure than most commercial organizations, except for maybe the intelligence community’s networks and some select defense networks. [11] I do not see a need for this two-tiered system in today’s threat environment.

One last advanced idea that I really liked was that threat prevention is possible. There has been a trend in the industry these past five years where security leaders have thrown their hands in the air saying they cannot possibly stop the APT, and that it is better to concentrate their precious resources solely on detection and mitigation. This is just plain wrong, and Gragido and Pirc do well to point that out. If I can prevent 90 percent of all attack campaigns because most adversaries use known techniques, why not do it? That lets me concentrate my resources on finding the unknown techniques. Detection and mitigation is important, but these activities should be balanced with a robust threat prevention program. Even in 2011, Gragido and Pirc asserted this philosophy.

Conclusion

Cybercrime and Espionage is a book that was ahead of its time. I give the authors credit for pushing the envelope as to how the security community’s thinking around advanced threats should evolve. If you read it when it was published, it would have stimulated your thought process around your own security program. But almost five years later, there is not enough in here to make the book Canon material. Gragido and Pirc present some stimulating ideas, but in the end, the security community has not adopted many of them. My recommendation is to read this book if you are interested in how our community has evolved in terms of thinking about adversary campaigns. However, if you are looking for a state-of-the-art book about cybercrime and cyber espionage that will stand the test of time, this is not it.

Note: 

Cybercrime and Espionage: An Analysis of Subversive Multi-Vector Threats, is a Cybersecurity Canon Candidate. Please visit the official page sponsored by Palo Alto Networks to read all the books from the Canon project.





Sources

[1] "Google Hack Attack Was Ultra Sophisticated, New Details Show," by KIM ZETTER, Wired Magazine, 14 January 2010, Last Visited 5 July 2015,

[2] "Google Aurora Hack Was Chinese Counterespionage Operation," by Mathew J. Schwartz, Information Week: Dark reading, 21 May 2013, Last Visited 5 July 2015

[3] "The Cybersecurity Canon: Kingpin," by Rick Howard, Palo Alto Networks, 11 February 2014, Last Visited 9 July 2015,

[4] "The Cybersecurity Canon: Read Rick Howard’s First-Look Review of SPAM Nation by Brian Krebs," by Rick Howard, Palo Alto Networks, 17 November 2014, Last Visited 9 July 2015,

[5] "The Cybersecurity Canon: Countdown to Zero Day: Stuxnet and the Launch of the World’s First Digital Weapon," by Rick Howard, Palo Alto Networks, 28 January 2015, Last Visited 9 July 2015

[6] "The Cybersecurity Canon: The Practice of Network Security Monitoring," by Rick Howard, Palo Alto Networks, 10 November 2014, Last Visited 9 July 2015,

[7] "The Intelligence Cycle," Central Intelligence Agency: Kids Zone, Last Visited 9 July 2015,

[8] "The Intelligence Cycle," Federation of American Scientists, Last Visited 9 July 2015

[9] "Cyber Crime and Espionage: An Analysis of Subversive Multi-Vector Threats," by Will Gragido & John Pirc, Syngres Publishing, 7 January 2011, Last Visited 10 July 2015

[10] "SCADA systems: Riddled with vulnerabilities?" by Doug Drinkwater, SC Magazine, 26 August 2014, Last Visited 10 July 2015,

[11] "4 Worst Government Data Breaches Of 2014," by Jai Vijayan, InformationWeek: Government, 12 November 2014, Last Visited 10 July 2015
http://www.informationweek.com/government/cybersecurity/4-worst-government-data-breaches-of-2014/d/d-id/1318061

References

"APT1 Three Months Later – Significantly Impacted, Though Active & Rebuilding," by Dan Mcwhorter 21 May 21 2013, Last Visited 9 July 2015

"EU Data Protection Directive (Directive 95/46/EC)," by TechTarget, Last Visited 10 July 2015,

"Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3)," The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the National White Collar Crime Center (NW3C), Last Visited 5 July 2015

"SAFE HARBOR PRIVACY PRINCIPLES," by export.gov, Last Visited 10 July 2015,