Archive for January 11th, 2013
Alex Seitz-Wald writes in Salon:
This week, people were shocked when the Drudge Report posted a giant picture of Hitler over a headline speculating that the White House will proceed with executive orders to limit access to firearms. The proposed orders are exceedingly tame, but Drudge’s reaction is actually a common conservative response to any invocation of gun control.
The NRA, Fox News, Fox News (again), Alex Jones, email chains, Joe “the Plumber” Wurzelbacher, Gun Owners of America, etc., all agree that gun control was critical to Hitler’s rise to power. Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership (“America’s most aggressive defender of firearms ownership”) is built almost exclusively around this notion, popularizing posters of Hitler giving the Nazi salute next to the text: “All in favor of ‘gun control’ raise your right hand.”
In his 1994 book, NRA head Wayne LaPierre dwelled on the Hitler meme at length, writing: “In Germany, Jewish extermination began with the Nazi Weapon Law of 1938, signed by Adolf Hitler.”
And it makes a certain amount of intuitive sense: If you’re going to impose a brutal authoritarian regime on your populace, better to disarm them first so they can’t fight back.
Unfortunately for LaPierre et al., the notion that Hitler confiscated everyone’s guns is mostly bogus. And the ancillary claim that Jews could have stopped the Holocaust with more guns doesn’t make any sense at all if you think about it for more than a minute.
University of Chicago law professor Bernard Harcourt explored this myth in depth in a 2004 article published in the Fordham Law Review. As it turns out, the Weimar Republic, the German government that immediately preceded Hitler’s, actually hadtougher gun laws than the Nazi regime. After its defeat in World War I, and agreeing to the harsh surrender terms laid out in the Treaty of Versailles, the German legislature in 1919 passed a law that effectively banned all private firearm possession, leading the government to confiscate guns already in circulation. In 1928, the Reichstag relaxed the regulation a bit, but put in place a strict registration regime that required citizens to acquire separate permits to own guns, sell them or carry them.
The 1938 law signed by Hitler that LaPierre mentions in his book basically does the opposite of what he says it did. “The 1938 revisions completely deregulated the acquisition and transfer of rifles and shotguns, as well as ammunition,” Harcourt wrote. Meanwhile, many more categories of people, including Nazi party members, were exempted from gun ownership regulations altogether, while the legal age of purchase was lowered from 20 to 18, and permit lengths were extended from one year to three years.
The law did prohibit Jews and other persecuted classes from owning guns, but this should not be an indictment of gun control in general. Does the fact that Nazis forced Jews into horrendous ghettos indict urban planning? Should we eliminate all police officers because the Nazis used police officers to oppress and kill the Jews? What about public works — Hitler loved public works projects? Of course not. These are merely implements that can be used for good or ill, much as gun advocates like to argue about guns themselves. If guns don’t kill people, then neither does gun control cause genocide (genocidal regimes cause genocide).
Besides, Omer Bartov, a historian at Brown University who studies the Third Reich, notes that the Jews probably wouldn’t have had much success fighting back. “Just imagine the Jews of Germany exercising the right to bear arms and fighting the SA, SS and the Wehrmacht. The [Russian] Red Army lost 7 million men fighting the Wehrmacht, despite its tanks and planes and artillery. The Jews with pistols and shotguns would have done better?” he told Salon.
Proponents of the theory sometimes point to the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising as evidence that, as Fox News’ Judge Andrew Napolitano put it, “those able to hold onto their arms and their basic right to self-defense were much more successful in resisting the Nazi genocide.” But as the Tablet’s Michael Moynihan points out, Napolitano’s history (curiously based on a citation of work by French Holocaust denier Robert Faurisson) is a bit off. In reality, only about 20 Germans were killed, while some 13,000 Jews were massacred. The remaining 50,000 who survived were promptly sent off to concentration camps.
Robert Spitzer, a political scientist who studies gun politics and chairs the political science department at SUNY Cortland, told Mother Jones’ Gavin Aronsen that the prohibition on Jewish gun ownership was merely a symptom, not the problem itself. “[It] wasn’t the defining moment that marked the beginning of the end for Jewish people in Germany. It was because they were persecuted, were deprived of all of their rights, and they were a minority group,” he explained.
Meanwhile, much of the Hitler myth is based on an infamous quote falsely attributed to the Fuhrer, which extols the virtue of gun control:
This year will go down in history! For the first time, a civilized nation has full gun registration! Our streets will be safer, our police more efficient, and the world will follow our lead into the future!
The quote has been widely reproduced in blog posts and opinion columns about gun control, but it’s “probably a fraud and was likely never uttered,” according to Harcourt. “This quotation, often seen without any date or citation at all, suffers from several credibility problems, the most significant of which is that the date often given  has no correlation with any legislative effort by the Nazis for gun registration, nor would there have been any need for the Nazis to pass such a law, since gun registration laws passed by the Weimar government were already in effect,” researchers at the useful website GunCite note.
“As for Stalin,” Bartov continued, . . .
This is important, because a large segment of gun owners seem to be going crazy, babbling about “tyranny” and killing people with whom they disagree. The more they rant, the more I think firearms should be illegal. They are certainly not the protection that advocates claim: this victim had many guns and knew how to use them.
Cute idea from Mark Bittman in the NY Times. Sandwich can be open-face or not.
Directions: Choose an ingredient from each category. Or two. Or whatever you prefer.
Pumpernickel bread, toasted
Bagel halves, toasted
Dense German bread (like vollkornbrot, aktivbrot, vitalbrot)
Seedy, good-quality mustard
Cream cheese with scallions
Crème fraîche with chives
Mayonnaise seasoned with horseradish, red pepper, etc.
(Meat, Cheese, Fish, Vegetable)
Prosciutto or bresaola
Chopped liver or pâté
Sliced cheese, like Emmenthal or havarti
Seared scallops, sliced if they are very large
Crab or tuna salad
Cooked, sliced filet of salmon, smoked or not
Loosely scrambled eggs, with parsley or chives
Watercress, endive heads, curly endive
Cooked, cooled asparagus with olive oil and vinegar, thinly sliced
Cooked, thinly sliced chicken or duck breast
Boiled, cooled and sliced potatoes tossed in oil, vinegar, salt, pepper and parsley
Thinly sliced red onions with dill
Crispy garnishes (like bacon and fried carrots)
Thinly sliced cucumbers tossed with olive oil and dill
Caviar or salmon roe
The US is constantly at war now—nonstop wars for more than a decade—and our wars cost not only the lives of US and foreign combatants, but also of civilians by the tens of thousands: a big bloody footprint of carnage that we somehow ignore.
Nick Turse at TomDispatch, for example, takes a look at our past war in Vietnam:
Pham To looked great for 78 years old. (At least, that’s about how old he thought he was.) His hair was thin, gray, and receding at the temples, but his eyes were lively and his physique robust — all the more remarkable given what he had lived through. I listened intently, as I had so many times before to so many similar stories, but it was still beyond my ability to comprehend. It’s probably beyond yours, too.
Pham To told me that the planes began their bombing runs in 1965 and that periodic artillery shelling started about the same time. Nobody will ever know just how many civilians were killed in the years after that. “The number is uncountable,” he said one spring day a few years ago in a village in the mountains of rural central Vietnam. “So many people died.”
And it only got worse. Chemical defoliants came next, ravaging the land. Helicopter machine gunners began firing on locals. By 1969, bombing and shelling were day-and-night occurrences. Many villagers fled. Some headed further into the mountains, trading the terror of imminent death for a daily struggle of hardscrabble privation; others were forced into squalid refugee resettlement areas. Those who remained in the village suffered more when the troops came through. Homes were burned as a matter of course. People were kicked and beaten. Men were shot when they ran in fear. Women were raped. One morning, a massacre by American soldiers wiped out 21 fellow villagers. This was the Vietnam War for Pham To, as for so many rural Vietnamese.
At the beginning of the Iraq War, and for years after, reporters, pundits, veterans, politicians, and ordinary Americans asked whether the American debacle in Southeast Asia was being repeated. Would it be “another Vietnam”? Would it become a “quagmire”?
The same held true for Afghanistan. Years after 9/11, as that war, too, foundered, questions about whether it was “Obama’s Vietnam” appeared ever more frequently. In fact, by October 2009, a majority of Americans had come to believe it was “turning into another Vietnam.”
In those years, “Vietnam” even proved a surprisingly two-sided analogy — after, at least, generals began reading and citing revisionist texts about that war. These claimed, despite all appearances, that the U.S. military had actually won in Vietnam (before the politicians, media, and antiwar movement gave the gains away). The same winning formula, they insisted, could be used to triumph again. And so, a failed solution from that failed war, counterinsurgency, or COIN, was trotted out as the military panacea for impending disaster. . . .
Now, of course, we’ve added drone warfare to the mix. Cora Currier in ProPublica takes a look at how it’s used:
You might have heard about the “kill list.” You’ve certainly heard about drones. But the details of the U.S. campaign against militants in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia — a centerpiece of the Obama administration’s national security approach – remain shrouded in secrecy. Here’s our guide to what we know—and what we don’t know.
Where is the drone war? Who carries it out?
Drones have been the Obama administration’s tool of choice for taking out militants outside of Iraq and Afghanistan. Drones aren’t the exclusive weapon – traditional airstrikes and other attacks have also been reported. But by one estimate, 95 percent of targeted killings since 9/11 have been conducted by drones. Among the benefits of drones: they don’t put American troops in harm’s way.
The first reported drone strike against Al Qaeda happened in Yemen in 2002. The CIAramped up secret drone strikes in Pakistan under President George W. Bush in 2008. Under Obama, they have expanded drastically there and in Yemen in 2011.
The CIA isn’t alone in conducting drone strikes. The military has acknowledged “direct action” in Yemen and Somalia. Strikes in those countries are reportedly carried out by the secretive, elite Joint Special Operations Command. Since 9/11, JSOC has grown more than tenfold, taking on intelligence-gathering as well as combat roles. (For example, JSOC was responsible for the operation that killed Osama Bin Laden.)
The drone war is carried out remotely, from the U.S. and a network of secret basesaround the world. The Washington Post got a glimpse – through examining construction contracts and showing up uninvited – at the base in the tiny African nation of Djibouti from which many of the strikes on Yemen and Somalia are carried out. Earlier this year, Wired pieced together an account of the war against Somalia’s al-Shabaab militant group and the U.S.’s expanded military presence throughout Africa.
The number of strikes in Pakistan has ebbed in recent years, from a peak of more than 100 in 2008, to an estimated 46 last year. Meanwhile, the pace in Yemen picked up, with more than 40 last year. But there have been seven strikes in Pakistan in the first ten days of 2013.
How are targets chosen? . . .
Continue reading. The article includes this glossary:
Drone War Jargon
AUMF The Authorization for Use of Military Force, an act of Congress passed days after the 9/11 attacks, giving the president authority to take “all necessary and appropriate force” against anyone involved in the attack or harboring those who were. Both Bush and Obama have claimed broad authorities to detain and kill terror suspects based on the AUMF.
AQAP Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is the Yemen-based al Qaeda affiliate tied to the attempted Christmas Day airplane bombing in 2009. Over the past year, the U.S. has ramped up strikes against AQAP, targeting leaders as well as unspecified militants.
DISPOSITION MATRIX A system for tracking terror targets and assessing when – and where – they could be killed or captured. The Washington Post reported this fall that the Disposition Matrix is an attempt to codify for the long haul the administration’s “kill lists.”
GLOMAR A response rejecting a request for information on a classified program asserting that the information’s mere existence can neither be confirmed nor denied. The name comes from 1968, when the CIA told journalists it could neither “confirm nor deny” the existence of a ship called the Glomar Explorer. The CIA has responded to information requests about its drone program with Glomar responses.
JSOC Joint Special Operations Command is a secretive, elite segment of the military. JSOC squads carried out the Bin Laden raid and run the military’s drone programs in Yemen and Somalia and also conduct intelligence gathering.
PERSONALITY STRIKE A targeted attack on a particular individual identified as a terrorist leader.
SIGNATURE STRIKE A strike against someone believed to be a militant whose identity isn’t necessarily known. Such strikes are reportedly based on a “pattern of life” analysis – intelligence on their behavior suggesting that an individual is a militant. The policy, reportedly begun by Bush in Pakistan in 2008, is now allowedin Yemen.
TADS Terror Attack Disruption Strikes, sometimes used to refer to some strikes when the identity of the target is not known. Administration officials have said that the criteria for TADS are different from signature strikes, but it is not clear how.
And Obama obviously plans to continue waging this sort of war. His nomination of John Brennan, heavily implicated in the torture regime instituted by the Bush Administration and supported by the Obama Administration, shows that. But he is also responsible for many civilian deaths, as Medea Benjamin points out in Alternet:
We’re getting there, little by little. Read this post—and watch the video—for a chilling glimpse of the authoritarian mindset that the TSA and FBI and local law enforcement have—and their unwillingness to admit error. I particularly did not like the extortion of dismissing the charges (totally bogus as they were) only if the pilot agreed not to sue the law-enforcement agencies for their misbehavior: no accountability at all.
UPDATE: I should point out that the aggressive (and to my mind, egregious) actions of DHS and the FBI are perfectly legal—indeed, they could have locked the pilot up indefinitely in a prison (a secret prison, if they chose) with no access to lawyers or due process. That’s allowable if they suspect him of terrorist inclinations, thanks to the PATRIOT Act, which the Senate recently continued with no discussion at all. In fact, it would be perfectly legal for Obama to have him killed on suspicion (a “signature strike”). Once dead, since he’s an adult male, the Obama administration would identify him as a militant: any adult male killed in a drone strike is ipso facto a militant—this is explicitly in accordance with the doctrine of the Obama Administration. When I say “perfectly legal”, I mean that Obama does it and it cannot be considered in court (just as the US kidnappings and torture of innocent people cannot be considered in court), because the Obama Administration uses the state-secrets loophole to keep these things out of court: no recourse for injured parties.
Jessica Silver-Greenberg reports in the NY Times on a complete failure of the trust the public has placed in the Obama administration. The facts of the case are outrageous, but Obama seems dedicated to protecting the financial industry at all costs—apparently the massive contributions of money from the finance industry bought good protection.
Federal banking regulators are trumpeting an $8.5 billion settlement this week with 10 banks as quick justice for aggrieved homeowners, but the deal is actually a way to quietly paper over a deeply flawed review of foreclosed loans across America, according to current and former regulators and consultants.
To avoid criticism as the review stalled and consultants collected more than $1 billion in fees, the regulators, led by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, abandoned the effort after examining a sliver of nearly four million loans in foreclosure, the regulators and consultants said.
Because they have no idea how many borrowers were harmed, the regulators are spreading the cash payments over all 3.8 million borrowers — whether there was evidence of harm or not. As a result, many victims of foreclosure abuses like bungled loan modifications, deficient paperwork, excessive fees and wrongful evictions will most likely get less money.
“It’s absurd that this money will be distributed with such little regard to who was actually harmed,” said Bruce Marks, the chief executive of the nonprofit Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America.
While the comptroller’s office acknowledged flaws in the review, Bryan Hubbard, a spokesman for the agency, said the “settlement results in $3.3 billion being paid to consumers and that is the largest total cash payout of any settlement involving borrowers affected by foreclosures to date.”
The examination was plagued by problems from its start in November 2011, according to interviews with more than 25 people who reviewed foreclosures, 15 current and former regulators and 6 bank officials, who insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly or feared retribution.
Several former employees of a consulting firm doing reviews said that their managers showed bias toward the bank that hired them. Other reviewers said that the test questions used to evaluate each loan were indecipherable and in some cases the process failed to catch serious harm. Many borrowers said they had never heard of the review or were so baffled by the process that they gave up or dismissed it as just another empty promise.
The review, which was hastily dismantled this week, was mandated by bank regulators amid public outrage over accusations that banks were robo-signing mountains of foreclosure filings without verifying them for accuracy. The review was supposed to cover any loan in foreclosure in 2009 and 2010, regardless of whether there was evidence of dubious practices.
The comptroller and Federal Reserve ordered the banks to hire consultants for the review, and the regulators solicited claims from borrowers. . .
Continue reading. Obama is failing us.
Dick Cheney was CEO of Halliburton when he became vice-present, and KBR, a Halliburton subsidiary, received quite a few enormous cost-plus (i.e., open-ended, blank-check) projects in the Iraq War, which Cheney backed. The company made billions, though its performance in many instances was poor (albeit expensive). Nora Eisenberg reports in Alternet on one KBR project:
In the spring and summer of 2003, when U.S. troops were guarding cleanup of a neglected water treatment plant in the Basrah oil fields in Qatmat Ali, southern Iraq, they noticed orange dust scattered on the floor and sitting in open sacks. Within weeks, several were suffering nosebleeds, eye irritations, sore throats, and anxiety about the dust’s relation to their new maladies.
No danger, supervisors of KBR, the mega military services contractor in charge of the cleanup, assured them; they were just not used to the desert sand. In September 2003, KBR (formerly Kellogg, Brown, Root and a subsidiary of Halliburton) closed the facility. But the physical problems and anxieties about future illness prevailed.
The orange powder, the troops learned, was sodium dichromate, an anticorrosion compound containing hexavalent chromium, a known carcinogen. It’s the same toxin that Erin Brochovich found leached into the groundwater near Southern Caliofrnia pipelines, resulting in cancerous tumors. Almost 10 years later, in November 2012, a federal jury in Portland has ruled in favor of the troops, finding KBR exposed troops to poison, acting “with reckless and outrageous indifference to a highly unreasonable risk of harm and conscious indifference to the health, safety and welfare of others.” The jury awarded the dozen plaintiffs $85 million.
In the two months since the verdict, KBR has come out hooting and hollering. In an interview  published this week in the Oregonian, KBR’s vice-president for litigation, Mark Lowes, said the Houston-based KBR does not shy away from a “rodeo.” Certainly to date the military service giant has seized every opportunity to lasso, wrestle and take down every principal in the case — judge, jury, the soldier plaintiffs, and even the US government. According to KBR, the judge acted badly by conducting a public trial and by refusing to require jurors to submit to defense interviews, in which each juror would explain why he decided as he did, and the jurors behaved badly by blindly accepting the troop’s version of facts.
Since 2001, the military has awarded contracts to KBR worth more than $31 billion, but that hasn’t stopped KBR from suing the goverment to recoup any financial judgments and costs. Yes, the government contract indemnifies KBR, but not for litigation costs, the Department of Justice says. The actual contract was declassified last month but made available only to involved parties. The Huffington Post has made a Freedom of Information request  for the contract; whether the government’s indemnity agreement actually sticks the taxpayers with the millions in payouts remains to be seen.
Jim Zarr, one of two jurors to speak with the Oregonian  since the verdict, said that the most compelling evidence in the trial was the material safety data sheet for the compound. Some four months before KBR began cleanup, KBR had reviewed the MSDS for sodium dichromate, which states that it is:
“…very hazardous in case of skin contact (irritant, sensitizer), of eye contact (irritant), of ingestion. Hazardous in case of skin contact (corrosive, permeator), of eye contact (corrosive), of inhalation (lung irritant). Prolonged exposure may result in skin burns and ulcerations. Over-exposure by inhalation may cause respiratory irritation. Severe over-exposure can result in death.”
KBR knew this and yet “let these guys wallow in it for three months,” Zarr said. KBR is also requesting a new trial even as similar cases await trial in Texas and Indiana, where two members of the Guard have already died. . . .
This seems quite weird, but apparently it in theory works—though not in practice, given that its precision as a clock is about a hundred millionth that of the best atomic clocks now in use. Still, it’s intriguing. Reported in Science News by Andrew Grant:
It’s part clock, part scale: A newly developed atomic clock measures time based on the mass of a single atom. The research, published online January 10 in Science, is controversial but could provide scientists with more precise methods of measuring both time and mass.
“This is the first clock based on a single particle,” says Holger Müller, a physicist at the University of California, Berkeley. “Its ticking rate is determined only by the particle’s mass.”
The idea for the clock stemmed from the quantum principle that particles also behave as waves, and vice versa. In particular, Müller and his colleagues wanted to determine how frequently the wave form of a single atom oscillates, a quantity that in quantum mechanics is inherently linked to the atom’s mass. Then the researchers could use those oscillations like swings of a pendulum to create a clock.
The snag in Müller’s plan was that it’s impossible to directly measure the oscillation frequency of waves of matter. The frequency of these waves is about 1025 hertz, 10 orders of magnitude higher than that of visible light waves. So Müller and his colleagues came up with an apparatus that creates two sets of waves — one based on a cesium atom at rest and another on the atom in motion. The researchers measured the frequency difference between the waves and then used that number, a manageable 100,000 hertz or so, to calculate the much larger oscillation frequency of cesium at rest. . .
Interesting article on how more is required than simply converting existing systems to electronic format: the whole enterprise needs to be rethought and redeveloped with specific goals in mind beyond increasing billings and profits. Reed Abelson and Julie Cresswell report in the NY Times:
The conversion to electronic health records has failed so far to produce the hoped-for savings in health care costs and has had mixed results, at best, in improving efficiency and patient care, according to a new analysis by the influential RAND Corporation.
Optimistic predictions by RAND in 2005 helped drive explosive growth in the electronic records industry and encouraged the federal government to give billions of dollars in financial incentives to hospitals and doctors that put the systems in place.
“We’ve not achieved the productivity and quality benefits that are unquestionably there for the taking,” said Dr. Arthur L. Kellermann, one of the authors of a reassessment by RAND that was published in this month’s edition of Health Affairs, an academic journal.
RAND’s 2005 report was paid for by a group of companies, including General Electric and Cerner Corporation, that have profited by developing and selling electronic records systems to hospitals and physician practices. Cerner’s revenue has nearly tripled since the report was released, to a projected $3 billion in 2013, from $1 billion in 2005.
The report predicted that widespread use of electronic records could save the United States health care system at least $81 billion a year, a figure RAND now says was overstated. The study was widely praised within the technology industry and helped persuade Congress and the Obama administration to authorize billions of dollars in federal stimulus money in 2009 to help hospitals and doctors pay for the installation of electronic records systems.
“RAND got a lot of attention and a lot of buzz with the original analysis,” said Dr. Kellermann, who was not involved in the 2005 study. “The industry quickly embraced it.”
But evidence of significant savings is scant, and there is increasing concern that electronic records have actually added to costs by making it easier to bill more for some services.
Health care spending has risen $800 billion since the first report was issued, according to federal figures. The reasons are many, from the aging of the baby boomer population, to the cost of medical advances, to higher usage of medical services over all.
Officials at RAND said their new analysis did not try to put a dollar figure on how much electronic record-keeping had helped or hurt efforts to reduce costs. But the firm’s acknowledgment that its earlier analysis was overly optimistic adds to a chorus of concern about the cost of the new systems and the haste with which they have been adopted.
The recent analysis was sharply critical of . . .
The title sounds like a British novel of a certain period, doesn’t it? The shave was totally wonderful.
The brush in the photo is WetShavingProducts.com’s Prince Finest, a two-band silvertip, as you see. In fact, when the shave was at hand, I switched to the Prince Premium Silvertip, which is softer and which I found I prefer. They are the same price, $60, so just pick the one with the resilience you prefer.
I will note that I received the two Prince brushes as unsolicited gifts for review, and I liked them well enough to buy WSP’s two Monarch brushes ($75 at the time I bought them, $110 now): the two-band (again, somewhat stiffish like the two-band Prince) and the High Mountain White (three-band and soft). The Monarch HMW is currently one of my favorite brushes: a magnificent brush.
Nancy Boy has to be one of the best shaving creams around, albeit a non-lathering cream. I use it thusly: I wet the brush well, shake it well, and twirl the tips in the cream, which coats them. Then I bring that to my (wet, washed) beard and spread the cream over the beard, brushing it well into the beard but not adding water or attempting to work up a lather (though I’ve done that in the past with no ill effects: it does seem to lather a bit). The brush then holds an ample quantity for the subsequent passes.
The English Aristocrat is a very smooth functioning razor, and with a Swedish Gillette blade I proceeded to get a BBS shave with no effort. I seem to have developed a feel for the Gillette head and find it totally trouble-free and superb in its action.
A rinse, dry, and a good splash of Klar Seifen Klassik, a very pleasant aftershave. And it’s Friday!