Guest Blogs

Monday
Jun012015

Jim Rubens - 12 Step for Beltway Hawks: First, Admit Failure 

 Time for an Effective National Security Strategy


Beltway establishment hawks – who lost the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, squandered $100 billion on Afghanistan reconstruction (only 10% of which can even be accounted for), created a failed-state terror haven in Libya by toppling Muammar Gaddafi, and in 2012-2013 armed and funded the “moderate” Islamic insurgents who morphed into ISIS – now want us to forget their serial strategic blunders and drag us into yet another Middle East ground war.
 
The national security debate has degraded into more versus less intervention, with the more camp pinning the blame for the rise of ISIS on President Obama’s failure to reach a status of forces agreement to keep post-surge US troops in Iraq.

 
Now, we know the real reason for the rise of ISIS, and it’s not because we failed to intervene. Judicial Watch just published a previously secret August 2012 Pentagon report almost precisely predicting that US support for insurgent anti-Assad Sunni factions would lead to unification of those factions and to the creation of an “Islamic state … in Iraq and Syria.” The Keystone hawks persisted well into 2013 in spite of this verbatim warning from the Pentagon in 2012:
 
“This creates the ideal atmosphere for AQI (Al Qaeda in Iraq) to return to its old pockets in Mosul and Ramadi, and will provide a renewed momentum under the presumption of unifying the jihad among Sunni Iraq and Syria, and the rest of the Sunnis in the Arab world against what it considers one enemy …  ISI (Islamic State in Iraq) could also declare an Islamic state through its Union with other terrorist organizations in Iraq and Syria, which will create grave danger in regards to unifying Iraq and the protection of its territory.”

 
Desperately lacking from the national security debate is a coherent, long-range strategy to protect America from Islamic terror. Nation building has failed. Regime change has increased instability in every case. Whack-a-mole bombing campaigns simply drive jihadi insurgents into temporary hibernation or into other failed states, like the one we created in Libya. This haphazard interventionism has loaded our children with a trillion dollars in debt and sacrificed the lives and broken the bodies and minds of tens of thousands of our immensely brave and professional soldiers.
 

Toward an Effective Strategy
 
Surgery, not nation building.  Whether as lone wolfs or organized in jihadi-controlled regions, Islamic radicals around the world will continue to plot harm to Americans.  In failed state or enemy territory and using drones and Special Forces, our military (not the CIA) should neutralize individuals directly responsible for killing or seriously harming any American citizen. Every such operation should be promptly followed by an after-action evaluation by a special Congressional committee named for that purpose. A declaration of war with appropriate parameters must first be adopted by Congress, and the Constitutional rights of any involved American citizen must be protected.
 
Don’t get sucked into the Sunni-Shia proxy war.  There are no good guys for us to save. Let the proxies spill each other’s blood, not ours. Wealthy Middle East nations such as Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia which have substantial air and ground forces are in the best position to contain their internal security threats. Caveat: Iran must not be allowed to have nuclear weapons, and Israel must not be prevented from defending itself.
 
Autonomous sectarian regions.  Abandon the myth of a unified Iraq and allow Iraq and Syria to disintegrate into autonomous Shia, Sunni and Kurd sectarian regions. A UN safe haven will be needed at least transitionally for regional refugees. The US can play a substantial humanitarian role here.
 
Demand that Saudis stop funding terror.  In the near term, the US must end our tacit agreement with Saudi Arabia that it act as the world’s primary buffer against oil price/supply shocks while Saudi royals act as the
world’s leading funders for the radical Wahhabi ideology and global terror network. In return for this funding and for imposition of Sharia law (the Saudis do more beheadings than ISIS), the Islamic radicals wink at the princes’ debauchery and their $100 million London apartments and refrain from attacks on Saudi soil.
 
Cut pork to fund defense priorities.  Our most expensive weapons program, the F-35 fighter bomber, is
unable to reliably fly in desert conditions and, because of its heavy, single-engine design, was defeated in simulations by Chinese fighters. Congress continues to spend ($120 million this year) on the Abrams tank program that the Army has repeatedly stated it does not need. Congress has allowed the Defense Department budget to remain un-auditable since 1990. Before spending more money, fiscal conservatives should require a full DOD audit so that we know where the money we are already spending is going. Fund needed defense spending from cuts to pork, not by breaking healthcare and pay promises to our soldiers.
 
And Energy
 
Replace fossil fuels. Beltway hawks thought that, by strengthening ISIS, they could weaken Russia and take down Syrian President and Russian ally, Bashar al-Assad. Russia now has Europe by the short ones because Europe
imports 17 trillion ft3 of natural gas per year (65% of net EU-28 consumption), its top source being Russia. Qatar has the world’s third largest proven gas reserves and could replace EU dependency on Russian gas given sufficient transmission pipeline capacity through Western Syria and Turkey. The US and Qatar have long sought this pipeline route blocked by Assad for reasons made obvious by the chart below.

Better than continuing our blowback-prone proxy war to take out Assad, let’s permanently end free-world dependency on fossil energy from Russia and the Middle East.
 
Here’s how.
 
The US leads the world in medical technology and biomedicine, enjoying the resulting high-paying domestic jobs and strong net exports. We’ve achieved this as a direct result of $30 billion annual funding for pre-commercial
health science research, sustained over the past decade and largely distributed via competitive grants by the National Institutes of Health. Despite this success and strong political support for protecting our science and technology lead, the US has fallen to #11 in global R&D per capita.
 
Heresy for small-government conservatives, but the $2 billion per year the federal government has spent over the past decade on basic energy research is too little. My pitch: add $10 billion per year in sustained national support for pre-commercial energy R&D.
 
I do not mean more Solyndras, taxpayer guarantees for nuclear plant construction, oil and gas subsidies, or corn ethanol supply mandates. Phasing out existing federal energy subsidies like these can pay for about half of a $10 billion R&D bump. Government should stop picking commercial winners and losers because crony capitalism distorts, corrupts and freezes marketplace dynamics which otherwise accelerate knowledge and technology commercialization and drives out cost. Taxpayer-backed energy R&D should focus on blue-sky work in materials science, nano-chemistry, energy storage, batteries, solar PV technology, offshore wind platforms, and thorium fuel cycle reactors, for example.  
 
Commercialized energy technologies are already booming without subsides. Unsubsidized energy efficiency and utility scale wind and solar PV (in that order) are already
cheaper than or competitive with combined cycle natural gas as electricity sources.

Policy change can still help with commercialized energy sources. The US can sharply reduce the cost of residential solar PV by slashing regulatory complexity.  Residential solar entrepreneur Barry Cinnamon blogs that US bureaucracy and paperwork about double the cost of US domestic rooftop solar compared with Germany. 
 
“Amazingly, it boils down to the difference between a one page incentive application in Germany for the installation of a standardized system that does not even require an inspection...compared to hundreds of pages of permits, applications and agreements coupled with multiple inspections and jurisdictional requirements that are required in the U.S.”
 
Once energy storage becomes less costly than natural gas, market forces will cause displacement of fossil fuels as primary heat, electricity, and transportation energy sources worldwide within two or three decades. Dictators and terrorists will be defunded, energy price shocks will be history, excessively resource dependent nations economically democratized, and global warming curbed.
 

The Presidential Primaries
 
Sadly, this post contains more detail than the announced national security/foreign policy planks of the candidates because detail invites attack.  Candidates with whom I’ve talked at length admit to me that, as yet, they have no strategy to offer. Others are getting by just fine on poll-driven rhetorical generalities. The lack of competing and well-articulated national security strategies is restricting debate, forcing voters to run blind, and delaying formation of the national consensus always needed for sustained public support of any strategy.
 
Primary voters, for the good of our nation, please demand more detail from the candidates.

 

Thanks for reading,

Jim Rubens

Saturday
May092015

Jim Rubens - Court Says NSA Spying Unambiguously Unconstitutional: What Will Congress Do?

Here’s what the 2nd Circuit Court (NYC) got very right in yesterday’s Patriot Act ruling. Congress never gave NSA security state bureaucrats unbounded authority to store and to search the phone records (metadata) of all and every law-abiding American citizen.
 
The Court also got it right that there is no constitutional difference between search by a human or by an algorithm designed by humans.
 
But the court utterly failed to take action on its legal findings and to rule these practices a blatant violation of the 4th Amendment. The 4th protects citizens against government search and seizure of our private effects without first getting a judge to sign off on particularized evidence that a crime was committed.
 
The court also failed to discuss that as yet unrebutted Snowden leaks showing that NSA bureaucrats are capturing, storing and running automated queries on nearly all of our personal data (phone, Internet searches and clicks, email, social media postings, snail-mail envelopes, on- and off-line transaction history, location, and more).
 
What Will Congress Do?
 
Either no member of Congress knew that government has been running a blatantly unconstitutional data dragnet. This would be the most chilling evidence yet that government bureaucracy is operating completely without direction or authority from the elected branch.
 
Or at least a few in Congress were complicit in this massive constitutional breach which, by the way, did next to nothing to catch terrorists.
 
Congress and the President are under pressure because the Patriot Act sunsets on June 1. President Obama wants to renew it, sticking a fig leaf over its 4th Amendment violations by outsourcing private data storage to commercial third parties.
 
If Congress gets all bipartisan and goes along with this, expect an encryption standards war between government and some of the big Internet companies whose customers will demand privacy.
 

 

Thanks for listening,

 

Jim Rubens

Sunday
Apr262015

Jim Rubens - My Testimony to the Texas Legislature on Political Money Corruption 

Testimony of Jim Rubens for HJR-146
Before the Texas Select Committee on State & Federal Power and Responsibility

Good evening Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee.
 
While I’ve travelled here from my New Hampshire home, I’ve got some wonderful roots here in Texas. My dad bailed out as a Madison Avenue Mad Man and came here to found UT Austin’s advertising program, which became the top undergrad program in the country.
 
I have served as a former Republican state senator from New Hampshire; New Hampshire GOP Platform Committee Chair; senior policy advisor and spokesman for former US Senator Gordon Humphrey for Governor; activist and advisor in many GOP campaigns; and Republican candidate for US Senate 2014. I am a serial small-business entrepreneur and investor in New England-based high-tech start-ups.
 
I’m here in Texas today as a volunteer to disabuse Republicans of any notion that Washington’s corrupt political money system gives us any advantage in advancing conservative principles. Fixing Washington’s corrupt political money system is not just an issue for Democrats.

This system protects business as usual politics and enriches crony capitalists with obscure tax code distortion, pork barrel spending, and regulatory and diplomatic favors.
 
I can report from direct experience in 2014 that this corrupt money system imposes a money primary in elections before voters even get to make their choice. Candidates and incumbents perceived or proven willing to trade favors with a small number (in the hundreds) of entrenched, big-dollar interests lock up most of the campaign money. This money primary suppresses voter choice among candidates, narrows the range of issues debated, and thereby stifles resolution of major political challenges, harming our nation and souring the public on our beloved Republic. 
 
  • For three decades now, Washington politicians -- in both parties and in every election –- have promised us fiscal responsibility. Instead, they’ve loaded our kids and grandkids with a millstone of debt. They’ve robbed prosperity from our future and weakened our capacity to pay for our nation’s security in a dangerous world. Most of this spending and unfunded promises is payback to campaign contributors.
  • Our tortured, convoluted tax code is a direct result of this system of corruption. Tax breaks are carved out for big money campaign contributors, paid for with higher rates on ordinary Americans.
  • This system puts corn ethanol in our gas tanks, driving up food prices, depressing gas mileage, and harming the environment.
  • Congress is unrelenting in its defense of the Export-Import Bank, where in 2012, 80% of taxpayer-guaranteed loans were provided to one highly profitable company, Boeing Aircraft.
  • Last December’s bi-partisan CRomnibus spending bill, once again does nothing to tackle spending or deficits, but does stick ordinary Americans with the downside risk of derivatives trading by five Wall Street megabanks.
  • While the US government is the world’s largest buyer of pharmaceutical products, over $100 billion per year, Congress continues to forbid Medicare from negotiating lower drug prices – which for Americans are highest in the world. The simple explanation for this rip-off is the drug industry’s $435 million in spending over the past two years on campaign contributions and its 1,400 Washington lobbyists. Mark me: I’m not against the drug industry, I make a part of my living investing in pharma startups. It’s that I back the free-market where the government does not distort capitalism by picking winners and losers.
  • Most dangerous to our Republic is the tens of millions of dollars (likely much more that we don’t know about) given indirectly by foreign governments and foreign nationals to potential candidates, their close relatives, and to their affiliated organizations. While direct contributions from foreign sources are illegal, foreign governments wanting to bend American policy -– sometimes adversely to US national security interests -- are now exploiting this gargantuan campaign money loophole. The New York Times reported this week about speaking fees given to Bill Clinton and contributions made to the Clinton Foundation by individuals and companies associated with Uranium One who were simultaneously and successfully advocating that US and other uranium assets be sold to Rosatom (a Russian firm controlled by the Russian government) during the time Mrs. Clinton served as Secretary of State, had authority to approve or deny the transaction, and was well known to be a likely candidate for President. I note this news highlighting clearly perceivable political money corruption, not because it involves Democrats, but only because it is the most recent and blatant.
These seven examples of special interest privilege and crony capitalism and are not cherry picked anomalies. A ground-breaking 2014 study tested the political outcomes in 1,800 contested issues over a 20-years period and found this:  little surprise that economic elites and organized business interests had substantial impact on policy. The stunner, average members of public have essentially zero influence over what Washington does.
 
Whatever your issue or ideology, we must confront Washington’s corrupted, immobilized political system, accountable to a tiny number of favor-seeking big money donors rather than, as things should be, to the American people.
 
Our Constitution’s framers anticipated a Congress that could become corrupt and unaccountable, unable and unwilling to reform itself. For that reason, the framers included the state-led method of proposing amendments to Constitution in Article V.
 
HJR-146 does not tell us how we will change Washington’s system of political money corruption. It asks that the states engage in debate about the varied approaches because Congress will not.
 
Personally, I do not see a need to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. My suggested approach is to remove all limits on direct candidate contributions and combine that with instant online disclosure and the establishment of a $50 per voter tax-credit voucher system for campaign contributions to broaden the base of potential contributors.
 
Because Congress refuses to address the corrupt political money system, it’s up to the states. Please vote for HJR-146 and add Texas to the Missouri Senate, the New Hampshire House, and the growing number of states already on board and ready to work together to find a solution.

 

Thanks for listening,

 

Jim Rubens

Monday
Mar232015

Jim Rubens - Mining Taxpayers: Crony Capitalist ROI 

Where can you find a 77,000 percent return on your investment in these times of central bank induced 0 percent interest rates?  Hint: does crony capitalism pay this big?
 
The definitive answer is here.  The Sunlight Foundation spent one year examining 14 million records covering campaign contributions, lobbying spending, federal grants, loans, contracts and bailouts for the top 200 politically active companies representing 26 percent of all campaign and lobby spending.
 
The bottom line: these companies in total got $770 in return for every dollar spent on political influence in DC, among the highest returns on any legal activity imaginable.  That’s right, a 77,000 percent ROI.
 
Over the period examined, 2007-2012, these 200 firms spent $5.8 billion on political influence and got almost $4.5 trillion dollars in return. The twenty-two Wall Street firms were America’s crony capitalist stand outs, spending $502 million and getting almost $3 trillion in return – an ROI of almost 600,000 percent return on their investment in Washington influence peddling. These patterns persist whether Democrats or Republicans control Congress and the White House. These brobdingnagian returns do not include difficult to track and quantify tax breaks, regulatory and diplomatic favors, and below market federal land or resource leases.
 
Clearly, unlike ordinary taxpayers, big political donors have extraordinary influence on the allocation of taxpayer dollars. The Washington political money system is extraordinarily costly for the average taxpayer. Voters who do not want their tax dollars spent on politicians they disfavor are getting shafted under the present crony capitalist political money system.
 

New Hampshire voters have one temporary advantage: the opportunity to ask the Presidential candidates what they will do to make the corrupt crony capitalist political money system fair for ordinary taxpayers.
 
Data, including that for five firms doing significant business in New Hampshire:


 

Company Lobbying & Campaign Spending ($M) Fed Contracts, Loans, Grants & Bailouts ($B) Return on Investment
All 200 5,775 4.45 770
       
22 Wall Street Firms 502 2.99 5,956
       
BAE Systems 34.6 44.2 1,280
FMR 19 5.37 284
Tyco 13.5 0.63 47
Verizon 105 3.5 33
Anthem 123 1.25 10

 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks for listening,

 

Jim Rubens

Saturday
Mar142015

Jim Rubens - Acid Test for Candidates: Tell Saudi Arabia To Stop Funding Terror 

Public opinion has reversed almost 180 degrees since ISIL launched its barbaric PR campaign to outdo al-Qaeda as Islam’s leading terror operation. By 62 to 30 percent, American voters now support sending American troops to fight ISIL in the Middle East. With the exception of Jim Gilmore, the Reaganite realist, and Rand Paul, the anti-intervention realist, the potential Presidential candidates are all vying for uber-hawk.
 
Because our new President will not take office until 2017 and because national defense is our federal government’s most solemn constitutional responsibility, candidates owe us more than knee-jerk chest thumping for endless war. Urgently needed now is a deeper discussion of Islamic terror, particularly its root causes and a long-term strategy to defeat it. Two years ago we were arming, training and funding ISIL in Syria, evidence that U.S. whack-a-mole Middle East strategy is ill-conceived.
 
Follow the money
 
As to root causes, let’s get honest about the funding sources that make organized global terrorism possible. We’ve spent billions on NSA’s unconstitutional dragnet spying on hundreds of millions of innocent Americans and (over the period 2001-2013) caught one instance of terror funding, $8,500 from a San Diego cabdriver.
 
We’ll need to reverse the policies of Presidents G.W. Bush and Obama and come clean about our double-standard alliance with Saudi Arabia. Our diplomats wink at their support for the deadly ideology and infrastructure of global jihad. Their Sharia law punishes women for driving, imposes 1,000 lashes for verbal dissent, and publicly beheads several dozen people each year for “crimes” including blasphemy, adultery, and witchcraft.
 
But the Washington establishment hides the truth about Saudi terror funding. In the words of Hillary Clinton, in a secret 2009 State Department cable disclosed on WikiLeaks, “Donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide.“
 
If you don’t believe Hillary (and there is certainly good cause for that), listen to former Senator Bob Graham, lead author of the 9/11 report, who in January went public about the report’s 28 redacted pages which he said “point a very strong finger at Saudi Arabia as the principal financier” of the 9/11 hijackers. “The position of the United States government has been to protect Saudi Arabia.”
 
President George W Bush ordered this redaction. “I do not understand why the Bush administration chose these 28 pages unless they thought there was something in those pages that would be embarrassing,” said Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC). President Obama has twice promised to release the 28 pages, but has failed to do so.
 
End the silence
 
Ask our members of Congress and the Presidential candidates to co-sponsor and support H.Res.14, urging President Obama to keep his promise to release the redacted 28 pages.
 
Make Saudi Arabia’s terror financing the big issue it should be. Ask the candidates to publicly demand that Saudi Arabia (and for that matter Pakistan and Qatar) cease all funding for terror as a first solid step toward its defeat. Better to embarrass a Saudi prince or even an American President than sacrifice life or limbs of another American soldier in another Middle East quagmire.

 

Thanks for listening,

 

Jim Rubens