Later On

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

Archive for April 11th, 2009

Columbia Journalism Review on Obama and state secrets

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Good article by Clint Hendler, which begins:

Obama, like Bush, decides to limit what the courts and the people can know about warrantless wiretapping. Isn’t that a big story?

Not just yet.

On April 3, the Holder Justice Department filed arguments in Jewel v. National Security Agency, a lawsuit being waged by the Electronic Frontier Foundation on behalf of five people who claim that their constitutional rights were abridged when they were subjected to the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program.

While the suit was originally filed under Bush, the EFF and Justice agreed to stay the date of the Department’s filing until after the election. That would mean that a new administration would be responsible for litigating the case, one the EFF surely hoped would be more receptive, given that it looked likely that the White House would be won by a candidate whose platform decried “abuse” of the state secrets privilege, which Bush used to swat away suits related to the wiretapping program.

But on Friday, that new department sought to have the case dismissed by relying, in part, on a broad reading of a legal principle oft invoked by the Bush department, that the federal government could essentially stop legal proceedings by claiming that any litigation of the case would reveal state secrets.

This is a big deal, but so far the story has received little light outside of generally liberal leaning portions of the media.

Salon’s Glenn Greenwald almost certainly deserves sole credit for advancing the story thus far, and, it should be said, for pointing out that in addition to the states secrets claim, the Obama administration advanced what he and the EFF’s lawyer in the case see as a totally novel claim. In Greenwald’s words:

…the Obama DOJ has now invented a brand new claim of government immunity, one which literally asserts that the U.S. Government is free to intercept all of your communications (calls, emails and the like) and — even if what they’re doing is blatantly illegal and they know it’s illegal — you are barred from suing them unless they “willfully disclose” to the public what they have learned.

That claim—combined with the fact that this was the first time the Obama administration advanced a broad assertion of the state secrets privilege on their own, rather than agreeing to defend such an assertion held over from Bush—would suggest that the filing was worthy of more attention than it received from traditional sources.

On Tuesday, Keith Olbermann’s Countdown did a segment on the filing that seemed to draw heavily on Greenwald’s analysis, and on Wednesday he hosted Kevin Bankston, the EFF’s counsel on the case.

Until today, the only national straight-reporting outlet to breathe a word of the story was CBS. Katie Couric, in an exclusive interview with Attorney General Holder, asked Holder several questions about his department’s plans for applying state secrets claims going forward, and for reviewing past applications made by Bush administration lawyers. But while that full exchange is available online as part of the interview’s transcript, the broadcast version doesn’t quote a word of Holder’s answers on the topic, and Couric’s narration only glancingly refers to the general complication of trying “sensitive” cases in “open court.” Wednesday’s seven-minute Evening News segment made no mention of the administration’s filing or even of the phrase “state secrets.”

In the full interview, where Couric did press on the matter, she did not ask …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 April 2009 at 12:24 pm

Why Obama and Gates need Ike

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Interesting editorial in the Christian Science Monitor, which begins:

In his presidential farewell address in 1961, Gen. Dwight Eisenhower warned about "unwarranted influence" of the "military-industrial complex" that grew out of World War II and the Korean War.

Eisenhower’s caution rings with special relevance today as Defense Secretary Robert Gates pushes a controversial budget for next year that caps or scraps expensive weapons programs and shifts spending away from large-scale conventional wars toward anti-insurgency "irregular" ones, such as those in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But Mr. Gates’s plan may not make it over the ramparts of defense-industry lobbyists. And members of Congress with military-related businesses in their districts are already launching missiles at the proposal, calling it a jobs killer.

The secretary is actually up against a vast industrial-congressional complex, with intertwined and entrenched interests. Over the decades, the defense industry has spread into so many congressional districts that it’s virtually impossible to shut anything down without a Hooah! battle cry from key lawmakers. The targeted F-22 fighter jet, for instance, is assembled with components built in 44 states.

No matter what one thinks of the Gates budget, the military-industrial-congressional network actually undermines national security. It encourages waste, as federal funds feed military lobbies that in turn feed politicians who keep the funds flowing – regardless. Federal campaign contributions from defense-related donors have nearly doubled since 2000.

The nexus also encourages lawmakers to look at national security from an ant’s vantage instead of a bird’s eye view, as members of Congress watch out for their own patch of ground.

As for the budget proposal itself, it’s being criticized as either too harsh in program cuts or not harsh enough. That signals Gates may be traveling a middle ground that deserves consideration…

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 April 2009 at 12:20 pm

High-handed tactics at the VA

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I don’t think this (reported by Ali Frick in ThinkProgress) is even legal:

On Tuesday, WAMU reporter Eric Schultz attempted to interview Tommie Canady, a veteran from Maryland, about the poor treatment he said he was receiving from the VA. In the middle of the interview at a VA hospital in Washington, DC, a VA communications specialist named Gloria Hairston, “along with two other employees and four armed security guards, stopped Schultz and wouldn’t let him leave until he handed over his [recording] equipment.” A group of veterans stood nearby during the exchange:

One of those veterans, an amputee in a wheelchair, approached Schultz and asked him for his phone number.

I started to give it to him and then the woman [Hairston] became irate, she said you can’t give him your phone number. You have to give me all of your equipment or I’m going to get ugly. She used the phrase ‘get ugly,’” Schultz says,

Like any good reporter, Schultz stood his ground and called his boss for direction. Longtime newsman Jim Asendio is the news director for WAMU.

“I told him to give them the flash card and get out of there,” Asendio says. “I didn’t want this to get out of hand.”

“What I mostly feel bad about is Mr. Canady,” Schultz told WTOP reporter Mark Segraves. “He was trying to tell his story, he has an amazing story and he was denied a chance to tell his story to the media because of these tactics.” ThinkProgress contacted the VA but has yet to get a response.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 April 2009 at 12:17 pm

"Socialism"

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I’ve been having a discussion with a former classmate, who forwarded me a screed that listed “socialists” like Nancy Pelosi, Barack Obama, George Soros, and others. Socialism:

A theory or system of social organization based on state or collective ownership and regulation of the means of production, distribution, and exchange for the common benefit of all members of society; advocacy or practice of such a system, esp. as a political movement. Now also: any of various systems of liberal social democracy which retain a commitment to social justice and social reform, or feature some degree of state intervention in the running of the economy.

I tend to use the primary meaning, which is why I was gobsmacked to see George Soros named as a “socialist”. Soros is as capitalist as you can get: he made his fortune in investments, in currency transactions, and in running a hedge fund. Calling Soros—or any other pure capitalist, such as Warren Buffet—a “socialist” is incomprehensible to me.

But I see that the definition that was being applied is probably the later part (the part that, to me, has nothing to do with socialism per se): “liberal social democracy which retain a commitment to social justice and social reform, or feature some degree of state intervention in the running of the economy.”

Yeah, I guess most of those are supportive of social justice and social reform, and of course the US has for over a century or more had state intervention in the running of the economy. Indeed, we are currently depending on that intervention to save our economy—the capitalists who ran it pretty much ruined it.

But, of course, the definition so broadened applies to pretty much everyone. No one, I think, will come out in favor of social injustice, and we obviously need reforms in many areas—for example, having industry groups give Representatives and Senators and their leaders lots of money doesn’t seem to work out all that well in terms of the public welfare.

The NY Times has an interesting piece today talking about the “socialism” phenomenon and what people may mean by it. Well worth reading. The definition above is taken from the piece, which then quotes various theories about what’s going on. Well worth reading. Click the link, by all means.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 April 2009 at 12:02 pm

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More on the Army stance on PTSD

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Two more episodes of a hard-hitting Salon.com series.

"I believe that I did have PTSD" begins:

Matthew Marino served five years in the Army and was deployed to fight in Afghanistan twice. He began to suffer from symptoms typical of post-traumatic stress disorder following his first tour. After returning to Fort Drum, N.Y. in late 2004, he couldn’t lose the hyper-alertness he’d developed in Afghanistan. He had thoughts of suicide, was nervous, had nightmares, couldn’t sleep, and stayed away from family and friends.

Despite his symptoms, however, the Army diagnosed the first lieutenant with anxiety disorder instead of PTSD. He was also diagnosed with depression and given antidepressants. The Army then "stop-lossed" Marino, to prevent him from leaving the Army although his time was up. He was shipped back to Afghanistan for a second tour in 2006. A diagnosis of PTSD might have kept him from being redeployed and sent back into combat; a diagnosis of anxiety disorder did not…

Read it all. And then read the second one:

"What motive does the Army have to misdiagnose PTSD?", which begins:

In two stories published this week, Salon has described how a soldier secretly taped a psychologist saying that the Army was exerting pressure not to diagnose soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder. Psychologist Douglas McNinch of Fort Carson, Colo., twice states on the recording that the Army discourages PTSD diagnoses.

If what McNinch says on the tape is true, why is it happening? Why would the Army purposely diagnose soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder with something other than PTSD? Combat stress is as real as your big toe. Why would the Army want to deny, or at least minimize, a known consequence of combat? The truth might rest in math.

Soldiers with PTSD present the Army with two problems, both involving scary numbers. First, soldiers suffering serious combat stress should not be returned to combat, and if they cannot fight they represent a significant manpower loss for an already stretched military.  A recent Rand Corp. study estimates that nearly 20 percent of those Army troops who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan might suffer from PTSD or major depression. If they were all barred from the battlefield, the Army could lose as many as one out of every five combat troops while trying to fight two wars.

Second, …

Read it all.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 April 2009 at 11:51 am

Best ROI? Try graft.

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David Sirota in Salon.com:

Feeling sorry for yourself? Struggling to get by? Wondering how you can get a bailout? Well, stop moping, because it’s not too late!

I may not have Suze Orman’s verve or Billy Mays’ voice. But I’ve discovered a revolutionary risk-free investment plan straight from those who brought us the economic meltdown. So in this column-fomercial, I won’t waste your time with Ginsu knives or cash-for-timeshare schemes — I’m going to help make you rich beyond your wildest dreams!

Look, we’ve all heard about Wall Street’s losses. But you probably didn’t hear about corporate America’s newest sure thing: a path to financial freedom far more reliable than any decent-paying job. It’s something so old-fashioned that even amateur investors can understand it!

It’s called graft — a surefire wealth creator that takes your investments, modifies laws and delivers returns that the best stock trader could never dream of! This is the ShamWow of strategies, the Flowbee of economics, the Ronco of investing. Just look at the profits it generates!

In the last decade, the financial industry’s $5 billion investment in campaign contributions and lobbyists resulted in deregulation, which generated trillions for executives. And when the bubble burst, there was another boatload of free money! By Bloomberg News’ account, $12.8 trillion worth of taxpayer loans, grants and guarantees — all to Wall Street!

But wait … there’s more!

The Associated Press this week reports that "companies that spent hundreds of millions lobbying successfully for a tax break enacted in 2004 got a 22,000-percent return on that investment" — $100 billion in all. That could be you!

Of course, the secret is investing heavily in specific political stocks.

For example, the banking industry recently paid Rahm Emanuel $16 million for about two years of work. That investment was recently paid back when, as President Obama’s chief of staff, Emanuel led the January campaign to release another $350 billion in bank bailout funds. Turning a $16 million down payment into a $350 billion payout — that’s huge!

Likewise, Goldman Sachs hired former Senate aide Mark Patterson as one of its lobbyists — an investment that proved a huge winner when Patterson became the Treasury Department’s chief of staff and the agency subsequently killed proposals to limit executive compensation at bailed-out banks. Cha-ching!

And the hedge fund industry paid economist Larry Summers $5.2 million in 2008 for part-time work — an investment that hit pay dirt when Summers became Obama’s top economic aide and the administration resisted tough international hedge fund regulations that some G-20 countries wanted. Show me the money!

That’s right, the surest way to make big cash is not to invest in people with proven business experience or in valuable entrepreneurial ventures, but in blue-chip members of Permanent Washington — career politicos and bureaucrats who inevitably get back into positions of power and payback! …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 April 2009 at 11:45 am

Free-range pork vs. industrial pork

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Marion Nestle at Food Politics:

My e-mail inbox is flooded with copies of an op-ed from today’s New York Times arguing that pigs running around outside have “higher rates” of Salmonella, toxoplasma, and, most alarming, trichina than pigs raised in factory farms. The writer,  James McWilliams, is a prize-winning historian at Texas State San Marcos whose forthcoming book is about the dangers of the locavore movement to the future of food.

I put “higher rates” in quotation marks because that is not what the study measured.  The study on which McWilliams based his op-ed is published in Foodborne Pathogens and Disease. The investigators actually measured “seropositivity” (antibodies) in the pigs’ blood.  But the presence of antibodies does not necessarily mean that the animals – or their meat – are infected.  It means that the free-range pigs were exposed to the organisms at some point and developed immunity to them.  The industrial pigs were not exposed and did not develop immunity to these microorganisms.  But you would never know that from reading the op-ed.   How come?

Guess who paid for the study?  The National Pork Board, of course.

The Center for a Livable Future at Johns Hopkins has much to say about all this.  My point, as always, is that sponsored studies are invariably designed in ways that produce results favorable to the sponsor.    In this case, the sponsor represents industrial pork producers.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 April 2009 at 11:29 am

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