Friday, September 9, 2016

Fact Check - Hillary Acid Washed Her Emails

Photo credit: POLITICO
Initial concerns over the usage of a private server and emails by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton goes back to 2009. The scandal began to grow in 2012 and has become a major issue during the 2016 presidential campaign. Not a day goes by where the major networks don't at least mention it.

As the story unfolded, we learned that Hillary deleted tens of thousands of emails and the release of thousands of others have been slow-walked. Multiple congressional hearings have taken place, she was investigated by the FBI, and today only 35% of Americans see her as trustworthy. Many questions remain unanswered and it is highly likely that new controversies will arise related to the email scandal before the November election. But this post isn't about rehashing what everyone knows. A fairly recent and new attack line has been showing up in conversations and in the media - the idea that not only did Hillary (and her aides) destroy 'evidence' but that she "acid washed" her email servers in an attempt to get away with breaking the law.

From what I can tell, the first use of the term "acid wash" (in relation to this topic) came in Sept. 2016. Both Donald Trump and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani have used the phrase repeatedly, and even Trump's vice presidential pick Gov. Mike Pence has employed it to attack Hillary.

The idea of acid washing servers, to me at least, conjures up images of "Walt" from the TV series Breaking Bad using acid to dissolve a body. And while destroying electronics is no where near as gruesome, the impression is unmistakable: Hillary will do anything to avoid being held accountable. 

Trump told ABC on Sept. 6, "she had her emails -- 33,000 emails -- acid washed. The most sophisticated person never heard about acid washing. Acid washing is a very expensive process and that’s to really get rid of them."

The catch is, there is no such thing as acid washing emails. That's why his "sophisticated person" never heard of the practice. The reality is that Hillary used a free, widely available computer application called BleachBit to clean her devices. BleachBit is so proud of their product's ability to "stifle" officials investigating, that they boast about it on their website.

Now, Donald Trump is known for exaggerating things. So much so that Art of the Deal ghostwriter Tony Schwartz coined the term "truthful hyperbole" to describe many of the things Trump says. The problem is, there's no such thing. You're either telling the truth or you're not. And as I have said many times before, there's no reason to invent lies and spread misinformation about people with whom you disagree. If the truth of their ill deeds isn't enough to sway people and your ideas (and the strength of those ideas) aren't enough to persuade people to support you, then resorting to 3rd grade tactics only serves to denigrate you and your supporters.

I am staunchly anti-Hillary, but Trump's penchant for twisting the facts while refusing to directly acknowledge any wrong doing, while claiming to be the best and greatest (with zero evidence), really turns me off. Hillary may be a liar, but so is Trump. The fact Trump clearly had no clue what he was talking about, but kept forging on ahead should be deeply disturbing. Simply attacking someone because you fear or hate them, or lashing out wildly, should be beneath any self-respecting American.

--Jacob Bogle, 9/9/2016

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

America Funds 73% of NATO: Fact or Fiction?

The claim that the United States funds 70% (or more) of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has been around for years, however, 2016 Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has been using that figure in defense of his foreign policy ideas - specifically that we get nothing from NATO while paying the "lion's share" of funding. In short: we're subsidizing Europe's defense and thus it's a "bad deal" for America.

NATO was formed out of the chaos of World War II and not only helped to keep western Europe stable after so much disaster, more importantly, it served as a bulwark against a highly aggressive Soviet Union. And, the organization has always been dominated by America, after all we were the only democratic superpower in the world during the post-war era. Today, NATO still serves as a military deterrent to Russia and is involved in fighting terrorism, but it also enables an overarching sense of security that the trillion-dollar European marketplace needs.

Not only does NATO provide military security, but military security and a peaceful and stable region contributes to economic well being. As I discussed in another article, trade between the US and European Union amounts to $700 billion a year. I think that's a pretty good bang for the buck.

So, let's take a look at the reality of American funding.

NATO is funded based on a cost sharing arrangement that allows each of its 28 members to pay a percentage based on their respective GDPs and other factors.

For 2011, NATO's entire common budget - both military and civilian - amounted to $3.5 billion (3.1 billion euro). Meaning the US paid approx. $775 million. That's less than 40% of the current city budget of Nashville, TN.

Then where does the 73% figure come from?

NATO is a joint-security & coordinating organization that is based on the NATO treaty agreement. It has no standing army of its own. The military of NATO is similar to the military of the European Union, or even NAFTA (though the latter two aren't military organizations). In other words, the military capacity is whatever the combined domestic militaries and military spending of all of 28 member states equal.

The combined forces of NATO amounts to 7.3 million active and reserve personnel and costs $920 billion. Now, Spain spends $12.7 billion a year on their military. Does that somehow mean Spain funds 1.38% of "NATO"? No. In fact, Spain funds 5.78% of NATO's "common budget", which is the budget of NATO. Likewise, of the $920 billion in combined, domestic military spending, the US spends around $610 billion. That equals 66% of the combined expenditures of those 28 countries.

Thus, the 73% figure is actually an older number based on what the US spent as a percentage of the combined military spending of all NATO states. Another way to look at it would be: annual global military spending equals $1.2 trillion. Since America's spending is $610 billion, is it fair to say America "funds" 50.8% of the world's military? Not at all. The "world" doesn't have a military, it has ~190 different militaries, all of which are funded by the respective ~190 sovereign countries.

So if Trump really wants things to be fair and logically consistent, since America's military spending represents 66% of the combined spending of those 28 states, we should be paying for 66% of NATO's common budget, not the 22.1% we actually pay. But even that 66% would only equal $2.3 billion - or 18% of the cost of a single new Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carrier.

In the end, Donald Trump either really doesn't understand the distinctions between NATO's actual budget and the domestic budgets of its members combined or he is willfully spreading misinformation to achieve his goals. Either way, it's a bad thing.

--Jacob Bogle, 5/18/16

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Nuclear Explosion over Donetsk Ukraine?

On Feb 8, 2015, several reports came out of the city of Donetsk, Ukraine about a large explosion. Video of the bombing showed what appeared to be a small mushroom cloud. This was quickly conjoined with an alleged image from space showing a massive "fireball", which then fueled reports about a tactical nuclear device being detonated by Ukrainian forces against the separatists.

Sites Inforwars, ZeroHedge, Russia Today, and even the UK's Daily Mail all posted about the explosion and related worries about a potential nuclear disaster.

The video, which has been viewed over 2.6 million times can be seen here:

ZeroHedge reported that the explosion could be seen from space and posted this picture as "proof".

The truth is somewhat less cataclysmic.  

The video is of a real explosion, a normal non-nuclear bomb fell on a chemical factory. The image promoted by ZeroHedge author Tyler Durden was actually taken by astronaut Terry Virts from the International Space Station, and is nothing more than a sunrise. You can see Terry Virts' Twitter posting of the image here.

While the Daily Mail mentions that some were concerned about it being a nuclear explosion, the article clearly states, "A giant explosion which rocked the Ukrainian city of Donetsk sparked fears of a 'tactical nuke' after pro-government forces shelled a rebel-held chemical plant."

Not to mention that if it was a legitimate nuclear detonation, radiation detectors all over eastern Europe would have picked up on the very telltale signature of a nuclear explosion and news organizations the world over would have been reporting on it. Let's not forget that this is Ukraine, home of Chernobyl.

Neither the size, nor brightness of the explosion were indicative of it being a nuclear detonation - tactical or not. This was just another example of pro-Russian propaganda. Conspiracy theorists tried to spin it as 'the poor ethnic minorities seeking freedom have been nuked by the evil pro-Western Ukrainians'. In reality, they've successfully shown they have succumbed to "nuclear foot-in-mouth disease".

A bit of advice: sites like InfoWars have absolutely no credibility so ignore them and use some common sense.

For the record, mushroom cloud explosions are not the sole domain of nuclear annihilation. In fact, any adequately large explosion will result in a mushroom could.

Here's a video of a fertilizer plant explosion in Waco, Texas. You can see the main explosion from time index 1:22.

Jacob Bogle, 2/10/15

H/T to Laura Bohling and Tom Puschak for bringing this Internet rumor to my attention.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Is the Yellowstone Volcano Overdue?

For a while people have been saying that the Yellowstone volcano is overdue for an eruption. The figures thrown around have been between 40,000 and 60,000 years overdue.

Wait, Yellowstone is a volcano? Yup.

In fact, Yellowstone National Park is primarily a part of the Yellowstone Caldera, a massive volcano which measures 34 by 45 miles (1,530 sq. mi.) in size. Because it is so large, it lacks the commonly recognizable features of a volcano and it took geologists a long time to really figure out the scope of what Yellowstone was. Yellowstone is of course famous for its geysers, hot springs, and mud pots. All of those incredible sights, which have amazed onlookers for centuries and attracts well over 3 million visitors a year, belies the fact that this natural wonder is a very special type of volcano (a super volcano) with the potential for a very special and destructive type of eruption: a super eruption.

The visible features of the caldera, like geysers, boiling springs, and the countless small earthquakes are all evidence to the reality that Yellowstone sits atop a magma chamber 6,600 cubic miles in volume! For some perspective, that's enough to stuff to build a wall 1 mile high and a mile wide that stretches from New York to Afghanistan.

As we all know, the Earth's crust moves over an ocean of liquid rock thousands of miles deep. Because the crust is relatively thin, it can break and fracture which creates the various tectonic plates and fault lines, and causes earthquakes, and volcanoes. There are certain places where magma (the molten rock making up the mantle) concentrates in the upper reaches of the mantle and remains for millions of years, like a giant boiling pillar of fiery death. As the crust moves over these "hotspots", long chains of volcanoes form. The best known hotspot lies under Hawai'i and it's why there are a series of volcanic islands. Yellowstone is another such hotspot, and over the past 16 million years there have been seven major calderas which formed as the crust moved (right to left) over the relatively stagnant hotspot. This has actually left the region with an arch of extinct volcanoes and the current active caldera which formed 2.1 million years ago.

(Location of the Yellowstone hotspot over time. Number indicates millions of years before present.)

As I said, the current active Yellowstone caldera formed 2.1 million years ago as the product of the last three super eruptions which were, 2.1 million, 1.3 million, and 640,000 years ago respectively. The last super eruption which occurred created the Lava Creek Tuff formation, a layer of volcanic debris and ash which covered an area some 1,500 miles wide at its greatest extent. Such super eruptions can cause total chaos, alter global climate, and if one were to happen today, millions could die in the US within a few months and many more across world as "the world's breadbasket" (America's plains) became inhospitable to plant life. 

Doing some quick figuring - 3 eruptions over 2.1 million years - one see that these eruptions happen about once every 700,000 years, and since the last one was 640,000 years ago, we find that Yellowstone is not "overdue". In fact, the differences between the first and second eruptions and the second and third eruptions are 800,000 and 660,000 years respectively. This makes the average interval more like 730,000 years. The "40,000 years overdue" myth comes from a common misconception that the eruptions occur every 600,000 years. 

Humans love stability and predictability, but the world in which we live is neither stable nor precisely predictable. While there have only been 3 super eruptions in the last 2.1 million years, Yellowstone has had smaller eruptions as early as 2,270 years ago and others as far back as 16.1 million years ago. Although hotspots may last for millions of years, they do dissipate, and just like volcanoes, none last forever. There is no guarantee that any volcano will erupt again, and certainly there is nothing saying it "must" erupt. Indeed there is no such thing as an overdue eruption, earthquake, or asteroid hit. We assign odds and averages just to help us contextualize things which are far out of our control and that rarely have any real predictability.

In Yellowstone, things like earthquake swarms and ground swells could signal an impending eruption, but more often than not, when these events happen they tend not to be connected to one another. 

Only time will tell if Yellowstone will blow its top and send us all to our doom. The reality is, it could happen tomorrow, or 90,000 years from now, or never. The odds of it happening in any given year are 1 in 730,000 and the odds that we could actually do something about it are something like 1 in 2,948,321,110,479.5

So no, it is not overdue. Sit back and relax, or better yet, take a vacation to Yellowstone and see the awesome natural beauty that 6,600 cubic miles of magma can produce. 

Further Reading

Future Activity at Yellowstone, U.S. Geological Survey

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Gardasil Kills 1 out of 912. True or False?

GARDASIL® is a vaccine manufactured by MERCK which is used to prevent certain strains of HPV (human paploma virus), a virus which has infected 79 million Americans, with 14 million new cases per year, and is a major cause of cervical cancer (70%), as well as several other cancers. Gardasil was approved in the U.S. in 2008 and has been approved for use in 120 other countries.

As with all vaccines, there seems to be an ever increasing fear of them and people love to spread dramatic and scary memes across the interworlds to "prove" the evils of the anti-vax flavor of the month. The fight against Gardasil began immediately, but I'd like to take the time to address a specific claim.

The "Common Sense Show" and "Liberty Beacon" websites have "fact" laden articles about the dangers of Gardasil and attack the evil pharmaceutical industry for making money off the corpses of your slaughtered daughters. Most of the outrage seems to stem from page 8 of the Gardasil product information pamphlet. And their conclusion is that the vaccine kills 1 out of every 912 patients.

So, let's look at page 8.

The results of clinical trials reported looked at 29,323 patients. Of those, 15,706 were actually given the vaccine, 13,023 were given a control, and 594 were given a saline (salt water) placebo. The control was amorphous aluminum hydroxyphosphate sulfate (AAHS), which is a commonly given drug to enhance immune activity.

Of the 258 "adverse effects" listed, 128 (0.8%) were from those given the vaccine and 130 (1%) came from those given the control. Now, the definition of "adverse effects" is anything from a simple rash or headache, all the way up to infection and death. During clinical trials the entire health of the patients are looked at and they do not make the distinction between specifically proven connection and non-proven, because these particular studies aren't for that determination. They only allow you to see if there is a statistical likelihood of connection.

The most common adverse effect for those given the vaccine was appendicitis, with 5 cases or 0.03% of the total trial population.

For the deaths, there were 40 reported. Out of 15,706 people given the actual vaccine, 21 died or 0.1%. However, 38% of those deaths were NOT caused by the vaccine. As I said, they must report all injuries & deaths during these studies including: 5 from car crashes, 2 from suicide, and 1 from somebody getting shot. So really, the death rate that conceivably could be related to Gardasil (but not proven to be) was 0.08% - or 1 out of every 1,208.  For context, the overall death rate for the United States is 8 per 1,000! Cancer death rates tend to be far higher.

Plus, of the remaining 13 non-accident/self-inflicted deaths, five were from other types of cancers, 1 occurred after a surgery, and 1 died from some kind of chemical poisoning.


I cannot stress this enough, based on this report alone you can't make a determination that the vaccine caused the deaths. Which, makes the 1 in 912 figure completely out of context and false for the purposes of the claim that Gardasil caused these deaths. I'm also not sure where the 1 in 912 figure comes from: as noted, the death rate for those given the vaccine (21 out of 15,706) is 1 out of 1,208, and the death rate for the whole trial (40 out of 29,323) equals 1 in 1,396.

As I discussed in my flu vaccine entry, there is no such thing as a perfectly safe drug, be it man-made or naturally growing herbs. By definition, a drug/medication is any substance which alters the internal chemistry of the body to elicit a healthy outcome. There is no way to ensure a healthy outcome. It all boils down to risk vs. benefit. Each year, 225,000 women die from cervical cancer and a further 470,000 will develop the disease. Even in the United States, the fiver-year survivability rate is 68%, meaning you still have a 32% chance of dying.

You tell me which is the greater risk?

Regardless, I'm not here to debate anything other than the specific claim that Gardasil kills 1 out of every 912 people. The judgement is a resounding FALSE.  

Jacob Bogle, 6/21/14

Friday, February 7, 2014

"Jesus is English!" - Bachmann

There are several memes going around, primarily on Facebook, which claim Rep. Michele Bachmann said during a Fox News show, "if English was good enough for Jesus when he wrote the Bible, it should be good enough for Coke." The alleged quote is in response to the controversy over Coca Cola's Superbowl commercial in which the song "America the Beautiful" is sung by various people in their native languages.

There is also a related meme purporting to quote Rep. Bachmann defending herself in making the original statement, also on Fox News - of course.

The source of this image is the Facebook group "Christians for Michele Bachmann". However, after looking through the posts made by the group it becomes very obvious, or perhaps not so obvious, that the group is about nothing more than satire - at worst they're deliberately trying to spread lies and misinformation. What I find more disturbing is that the image has been shared nearly 30,000 times directly (and who knows how many indirect shares, reposts etc.) and that people are using it as "evidence" of Rep. Bachmann's "stupidity" and the dangers of organized religion. 

No matter where you stand on Rep. Bachmann or religion, I find it disgusting that people are using something with no verification to support & promote a certain position. Spreading lies, rumors, misinformation, etc. all leads to the further degradation of available information, entrenching division, hatred, and causes undue to harm to the reputation of very real human beings. If you think someone or something is stupid or wrong, use real evidence to back it up. There is no need to create lies. Doing so is beyond childish.

As for the statement itself, the phrase "if English was good enough for Jesus...." has actually been floating around the Internet for years and has been attributed to dozens of other people, each time with a different ending. The phrase itself however goes back even further. Miriam Ferguson (1875-1964) is alleged to have said, sometime in the 1920s, "if English was good enough for Jesus, it ought to be good enough for the children of Texas" speaking in reference to bilingual schools. Although variations of the phrase might actually go back to the 1880s and used derogatorily against Christians, and could make it very unlikely that Ferguson was actually the originator of the phrase. 

I know people can't help themselves but to spread funny or shocking memes, especially if it re-enforces their own prejudices. But as a rule of thumb, if it sounds too idiotic or shocking - fact check it! Try to find a real news article, or a video showing the person actually saying it. If a politician, or anyone in the public light, truly said something completely insane you can be sure that the news media will pick it up and their detractors would run with it. So do us all a favor, take 30 bloody seconds and make sure what you're about to post is true.

--Jacob Bogle, 2/7/14

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

United States Inc.

Is the United States of America a Corporation?

One of the more understandable misunderstandings on the Internet is the notion that the United States' federal government (and by extension the country as a whole) is in reality a corporation with its own set of rules, CEO's etc. This theory is held by many and is parroted across hundreds of websites and online forums, some with seemingly strong arguments. To complicate matters they point to a series of  laws which, on the surface, may appear to validate their claims. I hope to be able to explain where the misunderstandings come from and to clear up the whole issue.

These are the two laws which are the most quoted:

28 USC § 3002 - Definitions
(15) “United States” means—
        (A) a Federal corporation;
        (B) an agency, department, commission, board, or other entity of the United States; or
        (C) an instrumentality of the United States.

And the District of Columbia Organic Act of 1871 which creates a city government for the District of Columbia. You can find the full text of the Act here.

An example of the most common claims and arguments can be found here. Aside from claiming the US government is a for-profit corporation, it naturally asserts that we are and have been under the control of the evil Rothschild international bankers and that since some people think our "current" government is unlawful, that their minority opinion holds with the full force of law and is actionable i.e they do not have to follow any laws set forth after 1871 (a fantasy of the highest order).

The "Definitions" controversy rests in the meaning of "a Federal corporation." The rest of the issues arising from 28 USC § 3002 are really rather basic. This section is saying that for the purpose of identifying what is or is not a part of the United States federal government, the "United States" may refer to EITHER; a Federal corporation; an agency, department, commission, board of other entity of the United States; or an instrumentality of the United States.

As of 2011 there are 17 federal corporations. According to a report on federal corporations by the Congressional Research Service "The federal government does not possess a general incorporation statute as states do. Each government corporation is chartered through an act of Congress." Federal government corporations include the Postal Service, the Federal Reserve and the TVA. The definition does NOT say that the federal government *is* a corporation but rather, federal corporations (like the TVA) are part of the federal government of the United States.

English is a tricky language and words take on new popular meanings and tones, especially words that have a modern negative connotation, like "corporation." A person with only a cursory understanding of the law or only focusing on the "definitions" section could easily come to the wrong conclusion. This section has been used to great effect and unfortunately most people never step outside of themselves and their distrust of all things government to actually research the issue themselves. A meme showing evil bankers with "the United States is a corporation" will be passed along the Internet simply because people do not trust government and the meme reinforces pre-held biases; it reinforces a negative image and people are all too eager to indulge themselves.

The District of Columbia Organic Act of 1871 was an act to formally give a government to the District of Columbia which, up to that point, had been governed as a mixture of municipalities and counties within District boundaries. Let me give you some more background.

Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution gives Congress (with the approval of the affected States) the power to create a district in which to hold the seat of government. This district, 10 miles squared (not 10 square miles, but 10 miles on each side), was formally placed under the direct control of the Congress.

The District of Columbia Organic Act of 1801 allowed Congress to retain control over the city itself, known as the City of Washington, however the remaining territories were divided into Washington County and the County of Alexandria. The cities of Georgetown and Alexandria, which had existed prior to 1801 and which existed within the 100 square mile federal territory, were allowed to keep their city charters. In 1802, the City of Washington was granted its own charter. The mayor of the City of Washington was to be appointed by the President.

The citizens within the District were no longer citizens of Maryland or Virginia and were thus disenfranchised. This disenfranchisement is what led Virginia, in 1846, to ultimately reclaim the territory it had ceded to the District.

Next, comes the Act of 1871. This act repealed the individual charters of Georgetown and Alexandria, brought them in with Washington County (since the County of Alexandria now belonged to Virginia), and brought the whole area under one single government, the District of Columbia. Nowhere in the law's text does it say anything about the government of the United States being a corporation. Additionally, Congress repealed the Act in 1874 and replaced the system of direct Congressional governance for the local government of the District in favor of a more direct rule system. The District of Columbia would then be ruled by a three-member Board of Commissioners until 1967 when it was replaced with a mayor and city council who would be appointed by the President. This was changed once again by the 1973 Home Rule Act. 

What is a corporation?

The word "corporation" has several meanings, however it is generally understood as a legal entity that has been incorporated (in one way or another) by a legislative act. A fair amount of confusion arises because the modern American understanding of the term is somewhat different than the original English definitions. In the US, the term tends to mean a business, but the term really means that it is now an entity which can be sued, do business (activity), etc. without respect to the individuals who made it or control it. Basically, an incorporated entity can act and be brought to court. 

The notion that the term "corporation" is solely an entity with its own separate laws and whose only purpose is to make money is an utter misconception. Cities, states, colonies, nations, and yes, businesses have been incorporating themselves for centuries. 

In the American system of government, States hold the power to grant or refuse the incorporation (or home rule) of a city, county or other body. However, since the federal district was explicitly authorized by the Constitution and Congress was given direct control over the district, it took an Act (or Acts) of Congress to set it up. 

Final words

Under federal law, for an entity to become a federal corporation there must be an Act of Congress creating that corporation. And as we have seen, Congress has created multiple federal corporations. There are no acts incorporating the United States, only the District of Columbia; which is not the same thing as the government of the United States, no more so than the City of Nashville is the government of the State of Tennessee.

In the Supreme Court case, United States v. Cooper Corporation (1941), the Court said: "We may say in passing that the argument that the United States may be treated as a corporation organized under its own laws, that is, under the Constitution as the fundamental law, seems so strained as not to merit serious consideration."

This view is additionally supported by the doctrine of "sovereign immunity," which states that the government of the United States, or of the individual States, or of certain tribal entities, may not be sued unless the government first allows it. A business/company/corporation can be sued.

The government of the United States and the entity of the District of Columbia are not one and the same. The District of Columbia is no different than the incorporated cities of Nashville, Sacramento or Atlanta when compared to the Constitutional governing bodies (the governments of the States) that reside within their limits. 

Sources & additional reading:

Federal Corporations - by the Congressional Research Service (PDF)

District of Columbia Organic Act of 1801 - text of the Act

District of Columbia Organic Act of 1871 - text of the Act