Later On

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

Archive for May 19th, 2009

We need a new Senate majority leader

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Reid is hopeless. Look at this story by Satyam Khanna in ThinkProgress:

Today, Senate Democrats announced that the Senate will strip $80 million in funding for closing Guantanamo until the Obama administration devises a specific plan for transferring detainees. The move comes as conservatives are pushing the claim that Guantanamo “terrorists” could escape into Americans’ backyard if the facility is closed.

Accepting the right wing’s baseless premise, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) declared in a press conference today, “We will never allow terrorists to be released into the United States.” In several tense back and forths with reporters, Reid said he opposes imprisoning detainees on U.S. soil, saying flatly, “We don’t want them around the United States”:

REID: I’m saying that the United States Senate, Democrats and Republicans, do not want terrorists to be released in the United States. That’s very clear.

QUESTION: No one’s talking about releasing them. We’re talking about putting them in prison somewhere in the United States.

REID: Can’t put them in prison unless you release them.

QUESTION: Sir, are you going to clarify that a little bit? …

REID: I can’t make it any more clear than the statement I have given to you. We will never allow terrorists to be released in the United States.

Later, Reid repeated that he would not support Guantanamo detainees being transferred to U.S prisons:

QUESTION: But Senator, Senator, it’s not that you’re not being clear when you say you don’t want them released. But could you say — would you be all right with them being transferred to an American prison?

REID: Not in the United States.

A reporter then asked, “[I]f a detainee is adjudicated not to be a terrorist, could that detainee then enter the United States?” Reid refused to answer directly, saying, “Why don’t we wait for a plan from the president? All we’re doing now is nitpicking on language that I have given you. I’ve been as clear as I can.” After being peppered by questions, Reid joked, “I think I’ve had about enough of this.”

Reid said he wants Guantanamo closed, but his claim that he would not support transferring detainees to the U.S. clashes with this goal. Currently, dozens of convicted terrorists are being held securely in federal prisons, and the U.S. has already prosecuted 145 terrorism cases in federal court. Reid’s position aligns him with Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), who also opposes “the transfer of the detainees to US soil.”

If not American prisons, where is Reid planning to send detainees after Guantanamo is closed?

Update: After the press conference today, Reid’s office released the following statement:

“President George W. Bush, Senator John McCain, Secretary Colin Powell, President Obama and I all agree – Guantanamo must be closed. President Obama’s approach is a responsible one. [...]

“The amendment Chairman Inouye has offered today recognizes that it would be premature for Congress to act before the Administration proposes its plan. I support his amendment. On two important points, however, we do not need to wait for any instruction – and there should be no misunderstanding. Let me be clear: Democrats will not move to close Guantanamo without a responsible plan in place to ensure Americans’ safety. And we will never allow a terrorist to be released into the United States.

“This amendment is as clear as day. It explicitly bars using the funds in this bill to ‘transfer, release or incarcerate’ any of the Guantanamo detainees in the United States. When the Administration closes Guantanamo, we will ensure it does so the right way.”

This is insane. We have long kept extremely vicious killers safely in prison for decades (cf. Charles Manson and Richard Speck, for example). Why would we not be able to keep terrorists in prison. And those who are judged to have been imprisoned though they were innocent bystanders, they should be freed and the US should pay reparations or allow them to sue in Federal Court.

And the Democrats in the Senate fighting the Democratic president. They are idiots.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 May 2009 at 3:08 pm

Horror stories from education

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Christina Jewett writes for ProPublica:

Members of Congress expressed outrage at a hearing this afternoon, and it had nothing to do with freewheeling finance titans or fairy-tale financial devices.

The Government Accountability Office presented [1] them with horror stories of another kind: One teacher duct-taped children to a chair. Another put kids as young as 6 years old in strangleholds. Another killed a student by sitting on him, and then continued teaching in another state.

The stories were straight from a report [2] released by the GAO today and discussed with the House Committee on Education and Labor. It examines the issue of children, many with disabilities, being restrained or put in isolation in schools and institutions.

We noted [3] a report [4] on the topic released in January, which described the problem in chilling detail — and put it in historical context. Laws passed in 1978 led to the full inclusion of disabled children in public schools. But in the 31 years since then, few teachers have been trained to handle the difficult behavior issues some of the children present.

At today’s hearing, Toni Price testified [5] about the death of her foster son, Cedric, who had been emotionally traumatized in his birth home.

She knew the 14-year-old was having trouble with his eighth-grade teacher. But that didn’t prepare her for a call that her son was being rushed to the hospital, not breathing. She later learned that when her son had refused to stay in his seat, his 230-pound teacher sat on the 129-pound boy’s back as he lay prone on the floor. The death was eventually ruled a homicide, but no criminal charges were filed.

The teacher was put on a Texas registry of people found to have abused children, but she turned up teaching in Virginia…

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 May 2009 at 2:57 pm

Posted in Daily life, Education

The story behind the pension fund’s new strategy

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Jake Bernstein reporting for ProPublica:

Before there was a much-maligned investment strategy [1] for the agency charged with safeguarding the pensions of 44 million American workers, there was a consultant who devised that strategy. New information obtained by ProPublica reveals how the consultant, Rocaton Investment Advisors [2], reached conclusions that have now been criticized by two federal agencies and one inspector general.

Back in September 2007, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation [3] paid Connecticut-based Rocaton $395,000 to study the agency’s finances and suggest how best to allocate its money, according to its contract [4] (PDF). What the PBGC ultimately approved — reducing its investment in bonds to increase the money it holds in stocks — differed little from the recommendation made by Rocaton.

Fortunately, the PBGC never took its planned plunge into the stock market, avoiding catastrophic losses from buying stocks when they were near an all-time high. The agency announced [5] last Thursday that while it had engaged Wall Street firms in November 2008, it had not made any investments based on the new strategy. Given the congressional investigation [6] into former PBGC Director Charles Millard’s handling of the investment contracting, it appears likely that the new policy will be severely modified, if not scrapped.

Nonetheless, Rocaton’s work for the PBGC holds interest. Just as Millard shaped who would receive the contracts to implement the new strategy, he also served as the senior PBGC official on a three-member evaluation panel that selected Rocaton, according to a report by the PBGC inspector general [7] (PDF). The speed and zeal with which Millard, a former Lehman Brothers executive, proceeded from hiring a consultant to signing contracts with investment banks created the appearance that he was not surprised by the findings of his handpicked consultant. One question that senators on the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging [8] might want to ask when Millard testifies under subpoena this Wednesday: Did he give any instructions to Rocaton beyond the bland "statement of work" in the contract?

Millard and Rocaton did not return calls seeking comment.

Prior to February 2008, the PBGC had about 75 percent of its investment portfolio in bonds, with the rest in equities, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The new strategy would have reduced the allocation in fixed-income assets to 45 percent, raised the amount dedicated to equities to 45 percent, and devoted 10 percent to alternative asset classes like real estate…

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 May 2009 at 2:54 pm

The psychology of the scam

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Mind Hacks posts:

I’m just reading a fascinating report on the psychology of why people fall for scams, commissioned by the UK government’s Office of Fair Trading and created by Exeter University’s psychology department.

It’s a 260 page monster, so is not exactly bed time reading, but was drawn from in-depth interviews from scam victims, examination of scam material, two questionnaire studies and a behavioural experiment.

Here’s some of the punchlines grabbed from the executive summary. The report concluded that the most successful scams involve:

Appeals to trust and authority: people tend to obey authorities so scammers use, and victims fall for, cues that make the offer look like a legitimate one being made by a reliable official institution or established reputable business.

Visceral triggers: scams exploit basic human desires and needs – such as greed, fear, avoidance of physical pain, or the desire to be liked – in order to provoke intuitive reactions and reduce the motivation of people to process the content of the scam message deeply.

Scarcity cues. Scams are often personalised to create the impression that the offer is unique to the recipient.

Induction of behavioural commitment. Scammers ask their potential victims to make small steps of compliance to draw them in, and thereby cause victims to feel committed to continue sending money.

The disproportionate relation between the size of the alleged reward and the cost of trying to obtain it. Scam victims are led to focus on the alleged big prize or reward in comparison to the relatively small amount of money they have to send in order to obtain their windfall.

Lack of emotional control. Compared to non-victims, scam victims report being less able to regulate and resist emotions associated with scam offers. They seem to be unduly open to persuasion, or perhaps unduly undiscriminating about who they allow to persuade them.

And here’s a couple of counter-intuitive kickers:

Scam victims often have better than average background knowledge in the area of the scam content. For example, it seems that people with experience of playing legitimate prize draws and lotteries are more likely to fall for a scam in this area than people with less knowledge and experience in this field. This also applies to those with some knowledge of investments. Such knowledge can increase rather than decrease the risk of becoming a victim.

Scam victims report that they put more cognitive effort into analysing scam content than non-victims. This contradicts the intuitive suggestion that people fall victim to scams because they invest too little cognitive energy in investigating their content, and thus overlook potential information that might betray the scam.

Interesting, people who fall for scams often have a feeling that it’s dodgy. The report suggests we trust our get instincts. If it seems to good to be true, it probably is.

We like to think that only other people fall for scams, but as I’m working my way through the report it’s becoming clear that those things that we think make us resistant to scams (a keen analytical mind) are not what help us avoid being a victim.

A really fascinating read and a great example of applied psychology.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 May 2009 at 2:51 pm

Posted in Daily life, Science

Tagged with

Lose weight by getting enough sleep

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Caroline Wilbert at WebMD reports:

A new study found a link between sleep and weight. Study participants who were so-called short sleepers (meaning they got less than six hours per night) tended to have on average a higher body mass index, or BMI, than long sleepers.

The small study, presented at the American Thoracic Society’s International Conference in San Diego, was conducted with 14 nurses at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Nurses received counseling on nutrition, exercise, stress management, and sleep improvement through the program.

The participants wore armbands that measured total activity, body temperature, body position, and other indicators of rest and activity.

The average BMI for short sleepers was 28.3. That compares to an average BMI of 24.5 for long sleepers. The BMI range for normal weight is considered to be 18.5-24.9 and for overweight 25.0-29.9. BMI is calculated from a person’s weight and height and is an indicator of body fat.

Surprisingly, the overweight participants were significantly more active than their normal-weight peers. The overweight participants took an average of 13,896 steps per day, compared to 11,292 for normal-weight participants. The overweight participants also burned nearly 1,000 more calories per day on average than their normal-weight peers.

“We found so many interesting links in our data,” lead researcher Arn Eliasson, MD, says in a written statement. “Primarily, we want to know what is driving the weight differences, and why sleep and weight appear to be connected.”

There are several possible reasons, Eliasson says…

Continue reading.

UPDATE: I foresee a trade paperback best-seller: Sleep Your Way to Your Perfect Weight.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 May 2009 at 2:10 pm

Posted in Daily life, Health, Science

Perhaps one reason the GOP is shrinking

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They are bone-headed and batshit insane. For example, from ThinkProgress’s Matt Corley:

Last week, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) named William Smith as the chief counsel for the GOP on the Senate Judiciary Committee. David Ingram of Legal Times reports today that Smith recently compared support for same-sex marriage to support for pedophilia. In a blog post that has now been taken down, Smith responded to former McCain campaign manager Steve Schmidt’s speech to the Log Cabin Republicans by writing that he wondered “if next week Schmidt will take his close minded stump speech to a NAMBLA meeting. For those unfamiliar with NAMBLA, the acronym is for North American Man Boy Love Association.” Smith also compared same-sex marriage to bestiality. Neither he nor Sessions responded to Legal Times.

The inability to grasp the difference between homosexuality and pedophilia is, so far as I can tell, typical of the GOP and quite repulsive.

And of course they didn’t respond. What can they say?

Written by LeisureGuy

19 May 2009 at 2:02 pm

Good lunch

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Three beets with greens, bought fresh at yesterday’s farmer’s market, together with two daikon radishes (likewise), one bunch of very fresh scallions, one can of water-packed sardines, and a good glug of Trader Joe’s Goddess dressing, the bottle rinsed out with a little olive oil and golden balsamic vinegar—everything organic.

I used the food processor to grate the beets and daikons and to slice the scallions. It’s extremely tasty and I have enough for dinner as well.

UPDATE. For dinner, I did the “avec fromage” trick, adding:

shredded cheddar cheese
pumpkin seed
slivered almonds
slug of my pepper sauce
roasted bacon that I cut into little squares

I tossed that with the leftover salad and, oh my! it was I think the best salad I’ve ever had.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 May 2009 at 1:57 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food, Recipes

Food regulation loopholes

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Actually, it’s mostly loopholes, as pointed out in this post from Obama Foodorama:

On Friday, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that $38 million dollars in Recovery funds will be spent on controlling invasive plant species that are romping through US forests and wetlands. But what about the invasive animal species–and pathogens–that are coming into the food supply from Canada? On Friday, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency announced yet another case of Mad Cow in an 80-month-old Alberta Dairy cow, and under current trade standards, this cow could be headed for the US. What will President Obama do?

On Barn Onair, Brian Merrill does a very disturbing summary of the potential for Mad Cow-infected Canadian cattle to enter the US and commingle with American cattle, infecting them, as well as then being slaughtered into the US food supply. The Alberta dairy cow is the tenth case of Mad Cow in the last decade to be found in an animal that’s still young enough to be imported into the US under current laws. Emphasis on found. Not every cow in a herd is tested; monitoring is done by taking a statistical sampling of any given herd. And unfortunately, under our current "voluntary" Country of Origin Labeling standards, the cow would be tagged as American once it’s here. There’d be almost no way of hunting it down as Canadian–and infected–once it had disappeared into an American herd.

Why couldn’t Beastly Bessie be found? Two major reasons…

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 May 2009 at 12:39 pm

The Health Industry: Protectionism Free-Traders Love

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Dean Baker, the economist:

Suppose that people in the United States paid twice as much for our cars as people in Canada, Germany, and every other wealthy country. Economists would no doubt be pointing out the enormous amount of waste in the US auto industry. They would insist that we both take advantage of the lower cost cars available elsewhere and take steps to make our own industry more efficient.

    For some reason, economists do not have the same attitude towards health care. Most seem little bothered by the fact that we spend more than twice as much per person as people in other countries, with no obvious benefit in terms of health care outcomes. This lack of concern is especially striking since health care is a far larger share of the US economy than autos, comprising 17 percent of total output, as compared to about 3 percent for autos.

    The excess health care spending comes to more than $1.2 trillion a year or the equivalent of more than $16,000 for a family of four. Paying too much for health care has the same economic impact as a health care tax. In effect, we have a health care waste tax that is about 10 percent larger than the projected federal revenue from the personal and corporate income tax combined. In short, this is real money.

    However, the enormous waste in the US health care sector does not arouse anywhere near as much concern as items like the "buy America" provision in the stimulus package. This provision, which applies to a small fraction of the recently passed stimulus package, was the topic of a front-page article in The Washington Post. The article warned that this protectionist provision could lead to the unraveling of the world trade system.

    While features of health care can make trade in health care services more difficult than trade in autos, it is possible for the barriers to be bridged. If the self-proclaimed "free traders," who dominate the economics profession and policy debates, actually were free traders, they would be pushing hard to allow people in the United States to benefit from international trade in medical services in the same way that US consumers have benefited from low cost imports of cars and clothes.

    There are several obvious paths through which the United States could gain by freer trade in health care. First, …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 May 2009 at 12:23 pm

"Keep bombing until they see things our way."

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John Cole of Balloon Juice points out the folly of our current course:

This is, as far as I can tell, the only public pronouncement from the administration regarding the bombing missions in Af-Pak that are producing horrifying numbers of civilian deaths:

U.S. airstrikes aimed at al Qaeda leaders in Pakistan have been “very effective,” with few civilian deaths as a result, CIA Director Leon Panetta said Monday in a rare public acknowledgment of the raids.

Asked about criticism of the missile attacks by counterinsurgency experts, Panetta said he did not want to discuss specifics, “but I can assure you that in terms of that particular area, it is very precise and is very limited in terms of collateral damage.”

“Very frankly, it’s the only game in town in terms of confronting or trying to disrupt the al Qaeda leadership,” Panetta told the Pacific Council on International Policy in Los Angeles.

***

Two leading former advisers on counterinsurgency warfare, David Kilcullen and Andrew Exum, wrote in The New York Times over the weekend that the strikes have killed about 14 terrorist leaders in the past three years—but Pakistani sources say the civilian death toll could be as high as 700.

Putting aside the fact that we are killing innocents, I think it is important to look at what is going on from the perspective of the people being bombed. What would happen if, over the course of the last three years, Soviet drones based in Mexico had killed up to 700 American civilians while allegedly taking out fourteen terrorists? How terrorized would the American public be? What would the media do? Look what happened with swine flu and the DC Sniper. After 9/11, liberals like Jonathon Alter were discussing the merits of torture. Can you imagine the rhetoric coming from Glenn Beck? Sean Hannity? The National Review? Even better, you and I would probably agree with them. How would we feel about less savory elements in our society who were discussing a patriot jihad to strike back at Soviet interests everywhere in the world? How many nuclear missiles would have been launched at Moscow?

And yet, every day, this is what is happening in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and not only are we not really acknowledging what we are doing and what the long term implications of this policy might be, but we are instead patting ourselves on the back for our successes. This is madness.

Maybe empires fall because they become very stupid and out of touch.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 May 2009 at 12:17 pm

You have to spend more to be poor

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Not poor as a result of spending the money, but having to spend more because you’re poor. DaNeen Brown reports in the Washington Post:

You have to be rich to be poor.

That’s what some people who have never lived below the poverty line don’t understand.

Put it another way: The poorer you are, the more things cost. More in money, time, hassle, exhaustion, menace. This is a fact of life that reality television and magazines don’t often explain.

So we’ll explain it here. Consider this a primer on the economics of poverty.

“The poor pay more for a gallon of milk; they pay more on a capital basis for inferior housing,” says Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.). “The poor and 100 million who are struggling for the middle class actually end up paying more for transportation, for housing, for health care, for mortgages. They get steered to subprime lending. . . . The poor pay more for things middle-class America takes for granted.”

Poverty 101: We’ll start with the basics.

Like food: You don’t have a car to get to a supermarket, much less to Costco or Trader Joe’s, where the middle class goes to save money. You don’t have three hours to take the bus. So you buy groceries at the corner store, where a gallon of milk costs an extra dollar.

A loaf of bread there costs you $2.99 for white. For wheat, it’s $3.79. The clerk behind the counter tells you the gallon of leaking milk in the bottom of the back cooler is $4.99. She holds up four fingers to clarify. The milk is beneath the shelf that holds beef bologna for $3.79. A pound of butter sells for $4.49. In the back of the store are fruits and vegetables. The green peppers are shriveled, the bananas are more brown than yellow, the oranges are picked over.

(At a Safeway on Bradley Boulevard in Bethesda, the wheat bread costs $1.19, and white bread is on sale for $1. A gallon of milk costs $3.49 — $2.99 if you buy two gallons. A pound of butter is $2.49. Beef bologna is on sale, two packages for $5.)

Prices in urban corner stores are almost always higher, economists say. And sometimes, prices in supermarkets in poorer neighborhoods are higher. Many of these stores charge more because the cost of doing business in some neighborhoods is higher. “First, they are probably paying more on goods because they don’t get the low wholesale price that bigger stores get,” says Bradley R. Schiller, a professor emeritus at American University and the author of “The Economics of Poverty and Discrimination.”

“The real estate is higher. The fact that volume is low means fewer sales per worker. They make fewer dollars of revenue per square foot of space. They don’t end up making more money. Every corner grocery store wishes they had profits their customers think they have.”

According to the Census Bureau, more than 37 million people in the country live below the poverty line. The poor know these facts of life. These facts become their lives.

Time is money, they say, and the poor pay more in time, too.

When you are poor, you don’t have the luxury of …

Continue reading. There’s lots more.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 May 2009 at 12:12 pm

Posted in Daily life

The shrinking GOP

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A few fun charts from Gallup—and more charts and explanation at the link:

Part 2

Part 1

Chart

Written by LeisureGuy

19 May 2009 at 12:01 pm

Posted in Daily life, GOP

Credit-card reforms passed

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Mike Lillis of the Washington Independent:

The vote might have been delayed, and it might have been stacked with an irrelevant gun amendment, but legislation to protect consumers from the most abusive tactics of the credit card industry passed the Senate Tuesday by the overwhelming count of 90 to five.

The proposal would prohibit rate hikes on existing balances, give cardholders longer notice to pay their bills, and prevent card companies from charging fees when customers pay their bills on time.

The House had passed a similar (though less stringent) bill last month by a vote of 357 to 70. Leaders from the two chambers now must meet to iron out the differences between the two proposals.

Just one question: If 90 senators voted in favor of the bill, why did Republicans threaten a filibuster to begin with, thereby forcing Democrats to take the extra, time-consuming step of filing for cloture? Seems that 60 really is the new 50 in the upper chamber.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 May 2009 at 11:49 am

Morning walk seems best

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The weather’s cooler and the walk’s harder to avoid. Just back: 30 min 20 seconds, and the outbound path is 3 blocks longer than my first 30-minute walk. Thanks to Bob, Diane, The Wife, The Younger Daughter, The Eldest, and others who have encouraged me. The encouragement worked—finally. :)

Written by LeisureGuy

19 May 2009 at 11:41 am

Posted in Daily life, Health

Are the drone airstrikes counter-productive?

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Good post by Spencer Ackerman:

Take a look at this New York Times op-ed call for a moratorium on the Pakistan drone strikes by counterinsurgency luminaries Andrew Exum and Dave Kilcullen. (This, if I’m not mistaken, is the furthest Kilcullen has gone: in a recent discussion of his book, “The Accidental Guerrilla” at a Center for a New American Security event and in April congressional testimony, he called for reducing American reliance on the drones or to think long and hard before their uses, not an outright halt. I could be overlooking something, of course.)

The basic argument is familiar to all COINdinistas: the strikes give the veneer of efficacy while sowing the seeds for long term instability; and a real strategy prioritizes the provision of security and services to the population rather than focusing on the elimination of an enemy who you’re probably not so good at distinguishing anyway.

Imagine, for example, that burglars move into a neighborhood. If the police were to start blowing up people’s houses from the air, would this convince homeowners to rise up against the burglars? Wouldn’t it be more likely to turn the whole population against the police? And if their neighbors wanted to turn the burglars in, how would they do that, exactly? Yet this is the same basic logic underlying the drone war.

The drone strategy is similar to French aerial bombardment in rural Algeria in the 1950s, and to the “air control” methods employed by the British in what are now the Pakistani tribal areas in the 1920s. The historical resonance of the British effort encourages people in the tribal areas to see the drone attacks as a continuation of colonial-era policies.

Most readers here are probably persuaded. I’d be interested in reading a reply from a smart conservative observer of Af-Pak like Bill Roggio. (Not that I know what Bill thinks about the drones.) The alternative to the drones, as Dave and Exum write, is an increased U.S.-supported reliance on Pakistani forces to provide security for the population; and heretofore those forces have shown little competence or capability in doing so.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 May 2009 at 11:38 am

Are the drone airstrikes counter-productive?

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Good post by Spencer Ackerman:

Take a look at this New York Times op-ed call for a moratorium on the Pakistan drone strikes by counterinsurgency luminaries Andrew Exum and Dave Kilcullen. (This, if I’m not mistaken, is the furthest Kilcullen has gone: in a recent discussion of his book, “The Accidental Guerrilla” at a Center for a New American Security event and in April congressional testimony, he called for reducing American reliance on the drones or to think long and hard before their uses, not an outright halt. I could be overlooking something, of course.)

The basic argument is familiar to all COINdinistas: the strikes give the veneer of efficacy while sowing the seeds for long term instability; and a real strategy prioritizes the provision of security and services to the population rather than focusing on the elimination of an enemy who you’re probably not so good at distinguishing anyway.

Imagine, for example, that burglars move into a neighborhood. If the police were to start blowing up people’s houses from the air, would this convince homeowners to rise up against the burglars? Wouldn’t it be more likely to turn the whole population against the police? And if their neighbors wanted to turn the burglars in, how would they do that, exactly? Yet this is the same basic logic underlying the drone war.

The drone strategy is similar to French aerial bombardment in rural Algeria in the 1950s, and to the “air control” methods employed by the British in what are now the Pakistani tribal areas in the 1920s. The historical resonance of the British effort encourages people in the tribal areas to see the drone attacks as a continuation of colonial-era policies.

Most readers here are probably persuaded. I’d be interested in reading a reply from a smart conservative observer of Af-Pak like Bill Roggio. (Not that I know what Bill thinks about the drones.) The alternative to the drones, as Dave and Exum write, is an increased U.S.-supported reliance on Pakistani forces to provide security for the population; and heretofore those forces have shown little competence or capability in doing so.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 May 2009 at 10:57 am

Reform is possible if enough citizens get angry

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Take a look at this story in the NY Times: grave abuses lead to change after a series of stories in the press—that’s in the UK, where the press is not so in bed with the politicians. From the story:

… In an early evening news conference, Mr. Brown said that the scandal called not only for an immediate investigation into members’ expense filings over the past several years, but also a fundamental transformation in how Parliament is governed.

Parliament, he said, must move from a system of self-regulation of salaries and allowances resembling “a 19th century gentlemen’s club,” to a more transparent framework in which such matters are determined by an independent commission and set rules.

“These are big changes, they change centuries of history,” Mr. Brown said. “But the move from self-regulation to statutory, independent regulation is in my view the only way forward now.” …

Read the whole thing.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 May 2009 at 10:49 am

Town requests Guantánamo prisoners for its prison

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This negates the talking point that "no one wants Gitmo prisoners in the US". Satyam Khanna at ThinkProgress:

A frequent attack on the closure of Guantanamo is the claim that no one in the U.S. wants detainees housed in their backyard. Last Sunday, Dick Cheney remarked, “I don’t know a single congressional district in this country that is going to say, gee, great, they’re sending us 20 Al Qaida terrorists.” But Al Jazeera’s Rob Reynolds reports that the town of Hardin, MT requesting that 100 detainees be sent to its empty prison:

Earlier this month, Hardin’s town council voted unanimously to offer the US government a deal: Send Hardin the detainees that most foreign countries and other cities the US are afraid to take.

“Why not us?” [Greg Smith, Hardin's economic development director] asks. “They’ve got to go somewhere.” He dismisses security concerns over housing inmates former Bush administration officials famously described as “the worst of the worst”. “We have some very hardened criminals in our own country that have committed some heinous crimes, and they are in communities all across this country,” Smith argues. [...]

He estimates at least 100 new jobs would come from filling the prison, a real boost to this small, beleaguered community. Smith describes the town’s quest to become a new penal colony as “a piece of the American dream.” “Like anything in America, we’re looking for opportunities,” he says.

Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA) has said that detainees could be tried in his Alexandria, VA district. Last month, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) asked Attorney General Holder, “Do you know of any community in the US that would welcome terrorists, would be terrorists, former terrorists incarcerated in Guantanamo?”

Written by LeisureGuy

19 May 2009 at 10:23 am

Posted in Daily life, Terrorism

Obama’s embrace of Bush terrorism policies

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And, speaking of Greenwald, today’s column criticizes Obama for emulating Bush:

I wonder how many people from across the political spectrum will have to point this out before Obama defenders will finally admit that it’s true.  From Harvard Law Professor and former Bush OLC lawyer Jack Goldsmith, systematically assessing Obama’s "terrorism" policies in The New Republic:

Many people think Cheney is scare-mongering and owes President Obama his support or at least his silence.  But there is a different problem with Cheney’s criticisms: his premise that the Obama administration has reversed Bush-era policies is largely wrong. The truth is closer to the opposite: The new administration has copied most of the Bush program, has expanded some of it, and has narrowed only a bit. Almost all of the Obama changes have been at the level of packaging, argumentation, symbol, and rhetoric. . . .

[A]t the end of the day, Obama practices will be much closer to late Bush practices than almost anyone expected in January 2009.

Most important, Goldsmith expresses admiration for Obama’s rhetorical and symbolic changes — such as Obama’s emphasis on obtaining Congressional support for Bush’s policies while highlighting his deep concern for "civil liberties" — because Goldsmith believes that Obama’s rhetoric vests Bush’s policies with more credibility, ensures more bipartisan and Congressional support for these policies, makes them more palatable to Democrats, and thus ensures that those policies will endure in a stronger and longer-lasting form:

The new president was a critic of Bush administration terrorism policies, a champion of civil liberties, and an opponent of the invasion of Iraq. His decision (after absorbing the classified intelligence and considering the various options) to continue core Bush terrorism policies is like Nixon going to China. . . .

If this analysis is right, then the former vice president is wrong to say that the new president is dismantling the Bush approach to terrorism. President Obama has not changed much of substance from the late Bush practices, and the changes he has made, including changes in presentation, are designed to fortify the bulk of the Bush program for the long-run. Viewed this way, President Obama is in the process of strengthening the presidency to fight terrorism.

What’s most striking about the denial of so many Obama supporters about all of this is that Obama officials haven’t really tried to hide it.  White House counsel Greg Craig told The New York Times‘ Charlie Savage back in February that Obama "is also mindful as president of the United States not to do anything that would undermine or weaken the institution of the presidency."  It was in that same article where Savage — a favorite of Bush critics when Bush was president — warned that after the first week of Executive Orders, "the Obama administration is quietly signaling continued support for other major elements of its predecessor’s approach to fighting Al Qaeda."

Notably, Savage’s article was written almost three months ago, well before Obama’s announcement that he was adopting many of the most extreme Bush policies.  At the time of Savage’s February article, I wrote: "while believing that Savage’s article is of great value in sounding the right alarm bells, I think that he paints a slightly more pessimistic picture on the civil liberties front than is warranted by the evidence thus far (though only slightly)."  But as it turns out, it was Savage who was clearly right.  As Politico‘s Josh Gerstein recently wrote about Obama’s Terrorism policies:  "A few, like MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, have even hurled the left’s ultimate epithet — suggesting that Obama’s turning into George W. Bush." …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 May 2009 at 10:17 am

Good profile of Glenn Greenwald

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Eric Boehlert has a good profile of Greenwald in Salon today, excerpted from his book. Worth reading.

It also reminds us of Obama’s 180-degree reversal on the FISA destruction and telecom immunity. While campaigning he pledged to oppose the bill and even to filibuster it. We quickly learned the worth of his pledge: he totally reversed himself. (As he did, again, on the court-ordered release of additional torture photos.) Obama is doing many good things, but he clearly cannot be depended on uncritically and he clearly believes that the powerful can in some cases break the law with impunity.

From Boehlert’s article:

When Greenwald, who had blogged 300 to 400 items about the larger issue of Bush wiretapping during a 30-month span, opened his email on June 20 to read Obama’s much anticipated statement regarding wiretapping and retroactive immunity, his expectations were low. Yes, Obama had been a forceful FISA ally during the primaries. But just looking at the politics in play, Greenwald thought it unlikely that as the Party’s nominee Obama would now break on FISA with Democrats in the House and Senate. Greenwald suspected there had been some sort of behind-the-scenes signal that Obama would be okay if Democrats gave Bush what he wanted in terms of wiretapping and retroactive immunity, and that Obama would not bitterly oppose it. In fact, he might even quietly support the policy initiative.

Still, Greenwald, who remained agnostic during the Clinton-Obama primary battle, was startled when he clicked on the email and read Obama’s statement. In it, the candidate not only walked away from his previous statements denouncing wiretapping as well as from his commitment to thwart retroactive immunity, but he actually embraced specific Republican talking points when discussing the national security issue of electronic surveillance. "Given the grave threats that we face, our national security agencies must have the capability to gather intelligence and track down terrorists before they strike, while respecting the rule of law and the privacy and civil liberties of the American people," Obama announced.

Furious, Greenwald tore off the gloves and excoriated Obama in a way no neutral, big-name blogger had done during the entire campaign:

What Barack Obama did here was wrong and destructive. He’s supporting a bill that is a full-scale assault on our Constitution. What’s more, as a Constitutional Law Professor, he knows full well what a radical perversion of our Constitution this bill is, and yet he’s supporting it anyway. Anyone who sugarcoats or justifies that is doing a real disservice to their claimed political values and to the truth.

Greenwald wasn’t looking to proclaim Obama unfit to be the Party’s nominee. But as he searched around the blogosphere looking for some early signs of life from a community that had just been dissed by the most famous Democrat in America, he found mostly silence. Rather than straight talk in response to Obama’s FISA proclamation, Greenwald saw creeping timidity, with portions of the blogosphere expressing concern that openly criticizing Obama’s FISA stance might damage the Democrat’s chance for a White House win.

For Greenwald, that was too much. Partisan cheerleading was not why the liberal blogosphere was created. There were already plenty of Beltway institutions that would applaud Democratic politicians no matter what they did. The netroots, he thought, ought to oppose Democratic complicity and capitulation just as forcefully as the netroots battled GOP corruption and media malfeasance. All three were of equal importance; none of them should be discarded for the sake of a campaign.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 May 2009 at 10:10 am

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