Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Obama considering that torture is probably okay if done outside the US

leave a comment »

Interesting how something that violates human rights—something, in fact, that the US has signed a treaty that it will not do—is perfectly okay if you do it in another country.

Read this excellent editorial in the NY Times:

One of the proudest moments of President Obama’s presidency took place on his second day in office, when he signed an executive order that banned torture and cruel treatment in the interrogation of terror suspects.

But apparently some of his subordinates didn’t get the message. As Charlie Savage of The Times reported on Sunday, some military and intelligence lawyers in the administration are pressuring the White House to adopt a Bush-era position that there is no bar against the use of torture by the United States outside American borders. And, unfortunately, the White House is considering the proposal.

The issue has come up because the United States is required to appear in Geneva next month before the United Nations committee that monitors compliance with the global Convention Against Torture, adopted in 1984 and ratified by the United States 10 years later. State Department lawyers want the administration to abandon the position of the George W. Bush administration and state plainly that it will not engage in torture or cruel treatment of prisoners anywhere in the world, including at detention camps on foreign soil.

But military and intelligence officials don’t want the administration to make that public statement. They’re worried that such a declaration could result in the prosecution of the Bush-era officials who did practice torture.

That fear seems misplaced. There should be legal accountability from those who tarnished the country’s reputation by ordering and practicing torture, but it’s hard to see how agreeing to a global ban on torture now would increase the chances for such a prosecution. For one thing, Congress already passed a law in 2005 saying that no one in American custody shall be subjected to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment “regardless of nationality or physical location.” Mr. Bush reserved the right to bypass the law, but the plain language of the statute is quite clear.

Last year, . . .

Continue reading.

President Obama seems quite happy to ignore the legal requirements of the Conventions Against Torture with regard to investigating and prosecuting those Americans who tortured prisoners, suspects, and detainees.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 October 2014 at 6:27 pm

Politicians who cannot comment on climate change because they are “not a scientist” speak out about Ebola

leave a comment »

Inconsistency, thy name is Politician. Emily Atkin reports at ThinkProgress:

On Saturday, political blogger Lee Papa made an interesting observation about Republicans who widely recommend panicking about Ebola. “Does any Republican talking about Ebola say, “I’m not a scientist” like they do with climate change?” he tweeted, referencing the long list of political figures who claim to not know the science behind climate change, even though they actively oppose any policy to fight it.

On Monday, Papa answered the question for us with a resounding “no.” As might be expected, most prominent Republican politicians who are not willing to talk about climate change because they lack qualifications are willing to talk about Ebola, despite the fact that they lack qualifications. As might also be expected, all those politiciansfavor strict policy measures to deal with the disease, even though most scientists say Ebola is not easily transmittable and does not pose a widespread threat to Americans.

“Republicans are glad to tell you that either the evidence is inconclusive or that they are too dumb to understand the science when it comes to climate change, so they think it’s wrong to act like it’s a crisis and refuse to do anything to slow or halt it,” Papa writes at his blog Rude Pundit. “However, they will go bugnuts crazy and try to cause panic when it comes to the science around the spread of Ebola, even when they have it wrong.”

The list of perpetrators is long. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 October 2014 at 4:09 pm

Comcast, Net Neutrality, and a supine Congress

leave a comment »

Years ago (1964) a book was written about Congress titled Congress: The Sapless Branch, and that title rings true today. We have reached the point now where Congressional action contrary to the interests of large corporations seems increasingly difficult. T. C. Sottek writes in the Verge:

Here’s what’s happening right now on net neutrality:

The FCC’s comment period is over and 3.7 million people weighed in — that means even more people are concerned about net neutrality than Super Bowl XXXVIII: Wardrobe Malfunctiongate. And, yes, America, it’s totally reasonable and appropriate to be mad at the FCC. It has screwed up on net neutrality for years from cowardice and simply by using the wrong words. But Americans who want to protect net neutrality should also start being mad at Congress.

It’s Congress that has largely turned net neutrality regulation into a partisan charade that occasionally results in threats to the FCC’s budget and authority via Congress’ telecommunications benefactors. The FCC’s dithering on net neutrality has been enabled for years by this nonsense and it’s now reflected even by the agency’s bench, which seats some commissioners who have advocated stripping themselves of power to avoid going against corporate interests. Even the FCC’s chairman is intimately familiar with those corporate interests; Tom Wheeler is a former telecom lobbyist and was appointed by a president who promised that lobbyists wouldn’t run his administration in a distant magical time called “Before He Was Elected.”

If you want a clear example of Congress’ ineptitude on net neutrality, look no further than a letter sent to Comcast today by . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 October 2014 at 4:02 pm

Jane Mayer on Snowden—with video

leave a comment »

The New Yorker videos are good. Mayer writes:

My interview of Edward Snowden, conducted remotely in front of an audience at the New Yorker Festival, was a chance to pose not just my own questions but also those that have been raised by his fiercest critics. One of his most interesting answers was his explanation for why he had decided to flee the United States. A number of detractors have suggested that if Snowden, who disclosed controversial top-secret N.S.A. programs to reporters, truly wanted to commit an act of civil disobedience for reasons of conscience, then he should have faced the legal consequences, making his case to the American public while standing trial at home.

When I asked why he didn’t take this route, Snowden said that because of the way national-security laws have been interpreted since September 11, 2001, he believed that the government had deprived him, and other whistle-blowers, of ever having the opportunity to make their cases in this time-honored tradition. Instead of being allowed to make his arguments in an open, public court, he said, his lawyers were told that the government would close the court for national-security reasons. (When asked to comment, a Justice Department spokesman would say only, “It remains our position that Mr. Snowden should return to the United States and face the charges filed against him. If he does, he will be accorded full due process and protections.”)

Snowden said that he would “love” to return to the United States and stand trial, if he could be assured that it would be open and fair. He said, “I have told the government again and again in negotiations that if they’re prepared to offer an open trial, a fair trial, in the same way that Daniel Ellsberg got, and I’m allowed to make my case to the jury, I would love to do so. But they’ve declined.”

Instead, Snowden said, “They want to use special procedures. They want a closed court. They want to use something called the Classified Information [Procedures] Act.”

Snowden pointed out that in other post-9/11 whistle-blower cases, such as those of the former N.S.A. employee Thomas Drake, the government invoked national-security concerns in order to keep the public from fully hearing the basis of his arguments. (I covered Drake’s case, and remember well the stifling secrecy surrounding the proceedings; in the end, the serious charges were dropped in return for Drake pleading guilty to a single misdemeanor.) National security became, in essence, a form of legal censorship, blocking communication between the accused and the American public. With no assurance that he could make his case to the American public at home, Snowden said that he instead has found himself, ironically, in Russia, a state not exactly known for its defense of civil liberties.

I asked him what he missed about the United States. “The question is, What don’t I miss?” Snowden replied. “It’s a great country.”

By all means, watch the videos.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 October 2014 at 3:51 pm

Wage stagnation

leave a comment »

I think the lack of wage growth is simply because businesses and corporations are now so totally focused on increasing their profits that they do not want to spend money on anything: not on taxes, not on wages, not on plant maintenance, not on supplies. They are continuing an effort to reduce costs everywhere because increasing prices doesn’t work well when the great mass of consumers are underpaid and thus cannot afford things—so that cutting cost becomes the primary strategy to increase profits.

Obviously there are exceptions, but one economist seems to go along with the idea. Jared Bernstein has an interesting article in the Washington Post. Here are his conclusions:

. . .

And that’s what I think is really going on here. Worker bargaining power may be so diminished in this country that it’s become what you may recall from Algebra II as a “non-continuous function.” That is, wage growth doesn’t continuously accelerate as slack is diminished. It plods along until the job market is at truly full employment, which is the only thing that we can count on to budge wage growth from its entrenched moorings.

That’s just a hypothesis, but here are some things you’d expect to see if I’m right:

— Employers complaining about not finding the workers they need but not raising pay to get them. Check.
— High levels of income inequality. with most of the growth flowing into profits, not wages. Check.
— Less movement in the job market by workers seeking to upgrade to a better job. Check.
— A flattening of the slack/wage-growth curve, as shown above. Check.

The U.S. business model has devolved to a point where raising pay is antithetical to sound practice. If you’re a successful employer, it’s the very last thing you do, and you do it only if you’re pushed to the wall by such a tight labor market that you’ll literally lose workers and, thus, profits if you don’t.

That, in turn, has two implications. First, policymakers seeking to raise workers’ pay need to be mindful of this dynamic and push for chock-full employment and other countervailing measures, like a higher minimum wage. Second, the Federal Reserve must factor severely diminished worker bargaining power into its calculus, a factor that militates against preemptive tightening.

Longer term, workers need a lot more bargaining clout. But that won’t happen until there’s a politics that reacts to all this technical analysis with the urgency it deserves. I know, the working class isn’t the donor class. But they are, or at least they should be, the voter class, and last I checked, at least on paper, this is still a democracy.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 October 2014 at 3:38 pm

Laura Poitras and Edward Snowden

leave a comment »

I just found a couple of excellent long reads about the Snowden affair and Laura Poitras’s role in it.

First is an interview of Poitras by Tom Englehardt; second is an article by Alex Pasternack in Motherboard. I strongly encourage you to read both.

Englehardt begins:

Here’s a Ripley’s Believe It or Not! stat from our new age of national security. How many Americans have security clearances? The answer: 5.1 million, a figure that reflects the explosive growth of the national security state in the post-9/11 era. Imagine the kind of system needed just to vet that many people for access to our secret world (to the tune of billions of dollars). We’re talking here about the total population of Norway and significantly more people than you can find in Costa Rica, Ireland, or New Zealand. And yet it’s only about 1.6% of the American population, while on ever more matters, the unvetted 98.4% of us are meant to be left in the dark.

For our own safety, of course. That goes without saying.

All of this offers a new definition of democracy in which we, the people, are to know only what the national security state cares to tell us.  Under this system, ignorance is the necessary, legally enforced prerequisite for feeling protected.  In this sense, it is telling that the only crime for which those inside the national security state can be held accountable in post-9/11 Washington is not potential perjury before Congress, or the destruction of evidence of a crime, or torture, or kidnapping, or assassination, or the deaths of prisoners in an extralegal prison system, but whistleblowing; that is, telling the American people something about what their government is actually doing.  And that crime, and only that crime, has been prosecuted to the full extent of the law (and beyond) with a vigor unmatched in American history.  To offer a single example, the only American to go to jail for the CIA’s Bush-era torture program was John Kiriakou, a CIA whistleblower who revealed the name of an agent involved in the program to a reporter.

In these years, as power drained from Congress, an increasingly imperial White House has launched various wars (redefined by its lawyers as anything but), as well as a global assassination campaign in which the White House has its own “kill list” and the president himself decides on global hits.  Then, without regard for national sovereignty or the fact that someone is an American citizen (and upon the secret invocation of legal mumbo-jumbo), the drones are sent off to do the necessary killing.

And yet that doesn’t mean that we, the people, know nothing . . .

Continue reading.

And Pasternack begins:

I get my face photographed and printed on a temporary ID card that I deposit into a slot and I get on an elevator and am led down a hallway. On a desk, I spot a signed letter with the Vice President’s seal. I’m brought into a windowless room, and there is the filmmaker Laura Poitras. On a coffee table is a MacBook Pro with a sticker that says “National Security Agency—Monitored Device.” Behind her, there’s a framed Ricky Gervais poster. We are at the offices of HBO, which began discussions to acquire the TV rights to her new film, “Citizenfour,” even before it was finished, not long before it premiered at the New York Film Festival to a standing ovation. We shake hands and I display my recorder. “Mind if I record?” I ask.

She laughs briefly and agrees. “That’s very respectful, given the context,” she says.

The context is quite serious. It was a 12-minute video made by Poitras that in June 2013 attached a name and a face to disclosures of a massive secret and legally dubious global surveillance system. A year earlier, Poitras became the first journalist to communicate with the NSA contractor Edward J. Snowden, then anonymously. Though she shared bylines on stories in the Guardian and the Times and Der Spiegel, much of the reporting was done by Glenn Greenwald and others, most recently at The Intercept, the upstart outlet where Poitras is also now also a founding editor. She has been in more of a hide-out mode, working on her much-anticipated documentary on multiple computers out of a bunker-like editing studio in Berlin. She moved there from New York in 2012, after years of getting stopped at the airport every time she tried to fly; starting in 2006, her air tickets were marked “SSSS” for Secondary Security Screening Selection, subjecting her to extra scrutiny at the borders.

She is no longer stopped, but wagers that she is still watched by her own government. She uses her cell phone sparingly and has become an expert in encrypted communications. “I really do feel that there are some really angry powerful people, mad at the reporting that we’re doing. I should expect they’re paying attention to my communications and who I spend time with.”

I asked her if she thought that by speaking with her, I too would end up on such a list.  . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 October 2014 at 3:22 pm

Afghanistan: ‘A Shocking Indictment’

leave a comment »

In the NY Review of Books Rory Stewart reviews a recent book on Afghanistan:

1.

Ashraf Ghani, who has just become the president of Afghanistan, once drafted a document for Hamid Karzai that began:

There is a consensus in Afghan society: violence…must end. National reconciliation and respect for fundamental human rights will form the path to lasting peace and stability across the country. The people’s aspirations must be represented in an accountable, broad-based, gender-sensitive, multi-ethnic, representative government that delivers daily value.

That was twelve years ago. No one speaks like that now—not even the new president. The best case now is presented as political accommodation with the Taliban, the worst as civil war.Western policymakers still argue, however, that something has been achieved: counterterrorist operations succeeded in destroying al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, there has been progress in health care and education, and even Afghan government has its strengths at the most local level. This is not much, given that the US-led coalition spent $1 trillion and deployed one million soldiers and civilians over thirteen years. But it is better than nothing; and it is tempting to think that everything has now been said: after all, such conclusions are now reflected in thousands of studies by aid agencies, multilateral organizations, foreign ministries, intelligence agencies, universities, and departments of defense.

But Anand Gopal’s No Good Men Among the Living shows that everything has not been said. His new and shocking indictment demonstrates that the failures of the intervention were worse than even the most cynical believed. Gopal, a Wall Street Journal and Christian Science Monitor reporter, investigates, for example, a US counterterrorist operation in January 2002. US Central Command in Tampa, Florida, had identified two sites as likely “al-Qaeda compounds.” It sent in a Special Forces team by helicopter; the commander, Master Sergeant Anthony Pryor, was attacked by an unknown assailant, broke his neck as they fought and then killed him with his pistol; he used his weapon to shoot further adversaries, seized prisoners, and flew out again, like a Hollywood hero.

As Gopal explains, however, the American team did not attack al-Qaeda or even the Taliban. They attacked the offices of two district governors, both of whom were opponents of the Taliban. They shot the guards, handcuffed one district governor in his bed and executed him, scooped up twenty-six prisoners, sent in AC-130 gunships to blow up most of what remained, and left a calling card behind in the wreckage saying “Have a nice day. From Damage, Inc.” Weeks later, having tortured the prisoners, they released them with apologies. [And now those very former prisoners hate us for our freedoms. /snark - LG] It turned out in this case, as in hundreds of others, that an Afghan “ally” had falsely informed the US that his rivals were Taliban in order to have them eliminated. In Gopal’s words:

The toll…: twenty-one pro-American leaders and their employees dead, twenty-six taken prisoner, and a few who could not be accounted for. Not one member of the Taliban or al-Qaeda was among the victims. Instead, in a single thirty-minute stretch the United States had managed to eradicate both of Khas Uruzgan’s potential governments, the core of any future anti-Taliban leadership—stalwarts who had outlasted the Russian invasion, the civil war, and the Taliban years but would not survive their own allies.

Gopal then finds the interview that the US Special Forces commander gave a year and a half later in which he celebrated the derring-do, and recorded that seven of his team were awarded bronze stars, and that he himself received a silver star for gallantry.

Gopal’s investigations into development are no more encouraging. I—like thousands of Western politicians—have often repeated the mantra that there are four million more children, and 1.5 million more girls, in school than there were under the Taliban. Gopal, however, quotes an Afghan report that in 2012, “of the 4,000 teachers currently on the payroll in Ghor, perhaps 3,200 have no qualifications—some cannot read and write…80 percent of the 740 schools in the province are not operating at all.” And Ghor is one of the least “Taliban-threatened” provinces of Afghanistan.

Or consider Gopal’s description of the fate of several principal Afghan politicians in the book:

Dr. Hafizullah, Zurmat’s first governor, had ended up in Guantanamo because he’d crossed Police Chief Mujahed. Mujahed wound up in Guantanamo because he crossed the Americans. Security chief Naim found himself in Guantanamo because of an old rivalry with Mullah Qassim. Qassim eluded capture, but an unfortunate soul with the same name ended up in Guantanamo in his place. And a subsequent feud left Samoud Khan, another pro-American commander, in Bagram prison, while the boy his men had sexually abused was shipped to Guantanamo….

Abdullah Khan found himself in Guantanamo charged with being Khairullah Khairkhwa, the former Taliban minister of the interior, which might have been more plausible—if Khairkhwa had not also been in Guantanamo at the time….

Nine Guantanamo inmates claimed the most striking proof of all that they were not Taliban or al-Qaeda: they had passed directly from a Taliban jail to American custody after 2001.

Why didn’t I—didn’t most of us—know these details? . . .

Continue reading.

The US has fucked up. But still we honor many of those responsible for the fuck-up. We do not learn, as a nation, or at least we learn quite slowly and uncertainly and quickly forget our lessons. We are a people who will put a teacher on leave because she was in Dallas, though she did not get within 10 miles of Texas Presbyterian Hospital. (On the bright side, we did not force everyone in Dallas to stay home for a couple of weeks.)

Written by LeisureGuy

20 October 2014 at 3:06 pm

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,293 other followers

%d bloggers like this: