24 December 2014

The Story of NORAD and the Santa Tracker

A family tradition in my youth was worshiping at a Vigil Mass on Christmas Eve and driving around nearby neighborhoods with wonderful holiday light displays while listening for NORAD reports on Santa Claus' whereabouts.  As a jaded grown-up, I presumed that these reports were performance shtick on a long media night.  Little did I know that the reports were real and that a typo and the good cheer of an Air Force colonel brought joy to the world.

During the 1950s, America was engaged in a Cold War with the Soviet Union which threatened to become hot at any moment. School children of the era was raised to be prepared to duck and cover at any given moment due to a sneak nuclear attack from the enemy.  Soon, Sputnik's successful launch made watching the skies even more important.

In Colorado Springs,Colorado at  the Continental Air Defense Command    a.k.a. CONAD (the predecessor to the North American Aerospace Defense Command or NORAD), there was a red telephone on the commander's desk which had a secret telephone number known only by a four star General at the Pentagon, which would have been used to convey news of an enemy aerial attack.

However, in December 1955, the CONAD commander's red phone rang and the voice on the other line was a little voice which asked "Is this really Santa Claus".  At first the Colonel was upset at what he thought was a crank call, but when he heard crying, the straight laced Colonel changed his demeanor.  The CONAD commander ho-ho-hoed and asked the caller if he had been a good boy.  Afterwards, the Santa Colonel asked to speak to his mother.

It seems that a copy for a Sears Roebuck newspaper ad had a misprint, so "Santa's private phone" number not connecting to Toyland but was actually the secret military number for what is now NORAD. Colonel Shoup delegated a few airman to act like Santa Claus for kiddie red phone callers.

Col. Shoup's daughter,  Terri Van Keuren, recounted: "It got to be a big joke at the command center. You know, 'The old man's really flipped his lid this time. We're answering Santa calls".  So much so, on Christmas Eve 1955, airmen modified the big glass board used to track air flights and included a drawing of a sleigh and eight reindeer coming from the North Pole.

When Col. Shoup saw this modified big board, he exclaimed: "What is this?".  His subordinates apologized and insisted that they were just making a a joke.  Shoup pondered the predicament for a bit and then telephoned a radio station with the message: "This is the Commander at the Combat Air Center, and we have an unidentified flying object.  Why, it looks like a sled.".  Hence the tradition began.

Now kids can call 1-877 HI-NORAD (1-877-446-6723) to talk to NORAD staff about Santa's exact location.  The internet tracker for the big man in red began in 1998 with the SantaCam.  At noradsanta.org, people can view the SantaCams from around the world as well as understand NORAD's main mission. Last year, "Operation Feel" had F-18 fighter jets escorting Santa and his sleigh, which led CNN reporters questioning if the US military had taken possession of Santa Claus.  Of course, these reporters failed to report on "Operation Noble Eagle" with the Royal Canadian Air Force escorts over their territory or how these videos infuse some of NORAD's primary mission to girls and boys along with the spirit of the season.

Colonel Shoup died in 2009.  But even in his 90s, Shoup proudly carried a briefcase which he treated like had top secret information that contained letters thanking him for having a good sense of humor in allowing NORAD to track Santa.

h/t: NPR

19 December 2014

Scuttlebutt on the Sony Hack Cyberwar Skirmish

Former Speaker of the House  Newt Gingrich opined that America lost its first cyberwar associated by the Sony Hack, which demanded that the feature film "The Interview" be withdrawn from distribution. 

So America's freedom of speech is subject to the whims of a tinpot dictator (albeit with a few nuclear bombs) from the Hermit Kingdom of North Korea. 

A corporation like Sony Pictures may harbor concerns about liability associated with the publicized threats made by the anonymous hackers calling themselves "Guardians of Peace"  against movie-goers who attended the now cancelled Christmas day opening.  

Voices from both side of the political spectrum, from former Governor Mitt Romney (R-MA) to Alan Dershowitiz.  But Sony Pictures pulled "The Interview" from all prospective platforms.  There may also have been pecuniary motive for the move.  If the picture is never officially released, Sony Pictures could recover from insurance money, otherwise they would absorb the $41 million production costs.  

This does not explain Hollywood's cowardice towards pissing off Pyongyang. After Sony Pictures cancelled "The Interview",  the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Austin, Texas announced that it would show "Team America: World Police"(2004),  Alas those puckish plans were foiled by Paramount Pictures which refused to offer the Trey Parker and Matt Stone's film which satirizes Kim Jon Un's father Kim Jong-il due to "circumstances beyond their control." Those who want to revel to "I'm So Ronery" can still see it on Netflix or through Amazon Instant Video. 

If that is not sufficient evidence that Hollywood waved the white flag for the Hermit Kingdom, New Regency pulled the plug on the Steve Carell project "Pyongyang", which was slated to start up in March, 2015. And George Clooney spent a week asking a large number of Hollywood executives to sign a petition protesting the Norks blackmailing Hollywood through the Sony Hack.  Tellingly, no one had enough courage to sign the petition.  During World War II, studio produced propaganda pieces like Bugs Bunny cartoons sending up der Fuehrer. Now, such Tinseltown execs like the fortitude to sign a meager memo protesting business blackmail and standing up for freedom of speech. 

During his end of the year press conference, President Barack Obama opined that Sony Picture executives made a bad choice in pulling the film and that they should have talked with him.  It seems that running a rough cut in front of State Department officials was insufficient. Our Dear Leader's messianic charisma, Obama's renown negotiating skills and his steadfastness in setting red lines (and then ignoring them) surely would have made a difference.  But President Obama promises to study the problem and offer a measured US response to North Korean Cyberwar provocation. After all, Mr. Obama will be 6,000 miles closer on golf courses in Hawaii to offer leadership.

The United States does have limited options in dealing with North Korea.  There are virtually no economic sanctions left to use.  Moreover, Pyongyang is insulated by charity from the Peoples' Republic of China so the NORKS can continue create trouble with the US.  We can not forget that the Hermit Kingdom does have nuclear capabilities.  Then there is the small matter of the DRK having 10,000 missiles aimed at our treaty ally South Korea, where we incidentally have 37,000 soldiers stationed.  

There may be black operations by the US which should not become public, as well as behind the scenes diplomatic de marches with DRK allies in Beijing.  But the best public responses that I have heard so far involve Hollywood using the Oscars ceremony on Washington's Birthday to use "The Interview" actors James FRANCO, Seth Rogen and Randall Park to come out in character and joke around.  While at the same time, the Pentagon sponsors a joint training operation with the South Korean, Japanese and American military forces in the Sea of Japan.
But considering the cravenness recently displayed by Hollywood, it is more likely that the Oscars would be hosted by the actual Kim Jong Un with a special appearance by Sony Picture's Racial Inclusion Czar, the Reverend Al Sharpton.

Eric Holder's Odd Interpretation of Civil Rights Law

In a memorandum, Obama Attorney General Eric Holder proclaimed that the Department of Justice will consider Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act as including trangedered individuals as well as those with gender identity issues (e.g. transvestites).   Holder rationalized that the federal government's approach to the issue had evolved over time.  So even though such classes were not contemplated by Congress when the law was enacted, they ought to be covered despite the plain text reading and 50 years of DOJ precedent. Or it should be affirmatively decided by the highest court in the land.

Holder invoked the logic of Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Servs. (1978), a Supreme Court decision which purports that statutory prohibitions often go beyond the principal evil to cover reasonably comparable evils".  A complication with relying upon this language as it focuses on acts which applies to discrimination on women and men. Holder's ukase is that it establishes new classes of Civil Rights coverage, namely for cross-dressers as well as transgendered people.  Such unilateral Administrative action was anticipated by Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James.

However, Congress did not pass the Employers Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) because of concerns in the House whether the bills prohibitions on discrimination on sexual orientation would also include gender identity. ENDA did not pass Congress, but no matter for the Obama Administration to fashion its own law.

Although this holding supposedly only extends to the Federal Government, the limited scope of the Federal Gay Marriage applicability in U.S. v. Windsor (2013) was not respected.  In addition, consider how Attorney General Holder's logic of juridical evolution could be liberally applied.

Does America still have the rule of law or the rule of men?  This is a hard question to give a straight answer.

h/t: Michael Ramirez 

Obama White House Channels JFK?

Josh Earnest on JFK

In response to the uproar over President Obama normalizing relations with Cuba without gaining any real concessions from the Castros, White House spokesman Josh Earnest invoked the spirit of JFK.  Earnest intimated that President Kennedy would change his policy of isolation after seeing that it did not bring about the desired change.

Really?  Is this wisdom akin to Mr. Obama's assertion that he heard the 2/3rds of Americans who did not participate in the Midterms shellacking of President Obama's Democrats in the House and Senate?  Of course, such perspecaciousness is unsurprising for a Commander-in-Chief who can see fallen heroes in a Memorial Day audience, especially Navy Corpsemen (sic). 

While the left and the right may seek to claim the mantle of Camelot after 50 years, it certainly seems like a stretch to imply that a Cold Warrior such as JKF, would give up for nothing.  After all, President Kennedy gave the final  approved for the Bay of Pigs invasion (before he withdrew air cover during the operation thus dooming the mission).  And Kennedy stood up to the Soviets during the Cuban Missile Crisis.  Furthermore, JFK  plotted several assassination attempts against Fidel.  It seems with his spurious assertion that Josh Earnest continues to be the ironic Obama spokesman.

But pro arguendo, should American foreign policy toward economically isolating Havana change after 50 years?  Well, 190 other nations have not been observing the boycott and what sort of political and economic liberalization has occurred in the island prison state?   Hmm, foreign tourists enjoy white  sandy beaches in Cuba but are cordoned off from the grime the common people live with through tourist apartheid separated by barbed wire fences.  Many regular Cubans seek to work as "sex workers" since prostitutes can garner some hard currency from tips.  Western companies can invest, but they must partner with the kleptocratic communist Cuban government  which keeps 92% of the joint venture worker's salary.

Then consider President Obama's diplomatic skills.  Once again, the 44th President is coddling a dictatorial government who is actively opposed to our interests, without winning anything in return. Wonder what our Dear Leader will offer Kim Jong Un in the wake of Sony Hack Attack in appeasement?

h/t: A.F. Branco 

17 December 2014

Gov. Chris Christie on Being a Cowboys Fan

Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ) attended the Dallas Cowboys-Philadelphia Eagles game on Sunday night and even sat in the Visitor Owner's box at Lincoln Field.   This appearance did not go over well with some grumpy Garden State area gridiron fans. 

While at the game, fans directed some choice words towards Governor Christie for sitting with "the enemy".  Philadelphia Councilman Jim Kenney (D- At Large) used his official Twitter account to share some ad hominem attacks against Governor Christie. 

So much for Kenney's aspiration to "Let's be decent to each other." However, Councilman Kenney is presumptuous that Christie was ingratiating himself with "Texas ass" for 2016.    Governor Christie has been a Cowboys fan since age nine.  This was something which came up during his first run for high office in Trenton.

Governor Christie refused to engage with Councilman Kenney asking: "First of all--who?"  Then Christie opined:  “I don’t even know who this guy is. But listen, there’s lots of people who attempt to use me to increase their own fame.  He’s got to get somebody else beside his parents to know who he is, so that’s good.”  This reinforced Christie's rough and tumble reputation of not suffering fools gladly but doing so without drawing proverbial blood.

But to be fair, there may have been a counter-intuitive political calculation with Chris Christie's unabashed Cowboy fan-dom.  It was not necessarily to win friends deep in the heart of Texas.  It is more likely that it was a Sister Souljah moment.

During the 1992 Presidential campaign, then candidate Governor Bill Clinton (D-AR) was questioned about whether he agreed with Sister Souljah, a hip hop artist and political activist, on black on white violence in the wake of the 1992 Los Angeles riots.  Mr. Clinton publically repudiated Sister Souljah and cultivated a centrist political reputation going into the 1992 General Election.

In this vein, Governor Christie used his lifelong support of the Dallas Cowboys as a means to reinforce his brand.  Rather than take a mealy mouthed political position to root for the "home team", Christie rejected this "namby-pamby crap” of hiding his love for his team.   By standing firm to his internal compass and offering straight talk, it also reinforced Christie's brand.

06 December 2014

Was Hillary Clinton's Smart Power Speech Being Too Clever By Half?

Former First Lady, New York Senator and the Obama Administration's first Secretary of State Hillary Clinton only attracted a small crowd when she spoke at Gaston Hall in Georgetown University. 

Much of the press focused on the empty seats.  Clinton staffers blamed the meager crowd on finals. Politicos pointed to poor staff preparation for having their principal speak before an optically empty house.  But this is not the first time which Hillary has been unable to fill the seats, as demonstrated by her rally in October 2014 at the University of Maryland, College Park

 Liberal media pundits like Dana Millbanks opined that Mrs. Clinton is a candidate who does not have the "new car" smell.  After all, Hillary has been in the national public eye since 1992.  So her presumed second run for the Presidency is about a quarter century after her life intertwined with the District of Calamity.

Pundits from Fox News questioned Hillary's political raison d'etre.  Democrat pollster Doug Schoen (and former adviser to President Bill Clinton) wondered what was Mrs. Clinton's rationale for running for the nation's highest office.  Monica Crowley quoted her former boss ex President Richard Nixon: "The only thing worse in politics than being wrong is being dull," and Crowley concluded that Hillary is boring.

Recently, I was able to have a civil exchange with rabid liberals from beyond the District of Calamity who had definite opinions on politics but admitted that they did not follow it closely.  When one of the interlocutors opined that he supported Hillary, I asked him to name one achievement which Secretary of State accomplished during her four years at Foggy Bottom.  This simple question was a stumper.  The best excuse that I heard during the exchange was that the world did not hate us like they did under the Bush Administration.  Ambiguous perceptions of being better liked in the world with a dash of Bush Derangement Sydrome does not make for a compelling general election campaign eight years after "43" left the Oval Office.

So it seems that both Hillary's supporters and detractors should shift away from worry about smart politics and concentrate on Hillary's concept of "smart power".  Does the former Secretary of State believe that empathizing with an enemy like Al Qaeda or its break-off successor ISIS is a successful strategy?  Can America realistically define the problem and shape the solution when negotiating  with the Mullahs in Iran from stopping their military nuclear ambitions, or will the US again be played like in North Korea and arguably as we are in Iraq with the six party talks?

Is a theory of smart power just being geopolitically too clever by half when interacting with unconventional diplomatic counterparts?  It is kind of hard to use "smart" power to aim to sing Kumbaya with others who are intractably oathed to obliterate you, as is demonstrated by Hamas' modus operandi viz-a-viz Israel.