Later On

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

Archive for June 2013

Pay attention to experience: Do NOT trust government assertions

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Transparency is absolutely essential. Legislators must show their work. Congress must oversee—and use public hearings as much as possible—the Executive’s programs. Whistleblowers who expose corruption or egregious waste or dishonesty or outright stupidity and/or incompetence should be rewarded, punished only if their accusations are found to be baseless and also malicious (i.e., intent).

At any rate, if you had any doubts at all, those programs that they would tell you about but had to be oh so secret? Well, what they told us were lies—lies, lies, lies. Lesson learned: They cannot have secrecy any more, because when they have it, they use it badly. Now we know. No more secrecy. Transparency. Greg Miller reports in the Washington Post:

Amid the cascading disclosures about National Security Agency surveillance programs, the top lawyer in the U.S. intelligence community opened his remarks at a rare public appearance last week with a lament about how much of the information being spilled was wrong.

“A lie can get halfway around the world before the truth gets its boots on,” said Robert Litt, citing a line often attributed to Mark Twain. “Unfortunately, there’s been a lot of misinformation that’s come out about these programs.”

The remark by Litt, general counsel for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, was aimed at news organizations. But details that have emerged from the exposure of hundreds of pages of previously classified NSA documents indicate that public assertions about these programs by senior U.S. officials have also often been misleading, erroneous or simply false.

The same day Litt spoke, the NSA quietly removed from its Web site a fact sheet about its collection activities because it contained inaccuracies discovered by lawmakers.

A week earlier, President Obama, in a television interview, asserted that oversight of the surveillance programs was “transparent” because of the involvement of a special court, even though that court’s sessions and decisions are sealed from the public. “It is transparent,” Obama said of the oversight process. “That’s why we set up the FISA court.”

A remark by Litt’s boss, Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr., has perhaps drawn the most attention. Asked during a congressional hearing in March whether the NSA collected data on millions of Americans, Clapper replied, “No, sir.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 June 2013 at 8:59 pm

Paper animation: Un-believable!

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Via a post at WebUrbanist, and at that post has a couple more videos worth watching.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 June 2013 at 7:42 pm

Posted in Art, Video

Why the Germans do not like NSA surveillance: Experience

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Malte Spitz writes in the NY Times:

BERLIN — IN May 2010, I received a brown envelope. In it was a CD with an encrypted file containing six months of my life. Six months of metadata, stored by my cellphone provider, T-Mobile. This list of metadata contained 35,830 records. That’s 35,830 times my phone company knew if, where and when I was surfing the Web, calling or texting.

The truth is that phone companies have this data on every customer. I got mine because, in 2009, I filed a suit against T-Mobile for the release of all the data on me that had been gathered and stored. The reason this information had been preserved for six months was because of Germany’s implementation of a 2006 European Union directive.

All of this data had to be kept so that law enforcement agencies could gain access to it. That meant that the metadata of 80 million Germans was being stored, without any concrete suspicions and without cause.

This “preventive measure” was met with huge opposition in Germany. Lawyers, journalists, doctors, unions and civil liberties activists started to protest. In 2008, almost 35,000 people signed on to a constitutional challenge to the law. In Berlin, tens of thousands of people took to the streets to protest data retention. In the end, the Constitutional Court ruled that the implementation of the European Union directive was, in fact, unconstitutional.

In Germany, whenever the government begins to infringe on individual freedom, society stands up. Given our history, we Germans are not willing to trade in our liberty for potentially better security. Germans have experienced firsthand what happens when the government knows too much about someone. In the past 80 years, Germans have felt the betrayal of neighbors who informed for the Gestapo and the fear that best friends might be potential informants for the Stasi. Homes were tapped. Millions were monitored.

Although these two dictatorships, Nazi and Communist, are gone and we now live in a unified and stable democracy, we have not forgotten what happens when secret police or intelligence agencies disregard privacy. It is an integral part of our history and gives young and old alike a critical perspective on state surveillance systems.

When Wolfgang Schäuble, the interior minister from 2005 to 2009, pushed for the implementation of the data-retention law, Germans remembered the Stasi’s blatant disregard for privacy, as portrayed in the 2006 film “The Lives of Others.” They recalled their visits to the Hohenschönhausen district of Berlin, the site of the former Stasi detention center.

They were reminded of the stories of their grandparents, about the fear-mongering agents in the Gestapo. This is why Mr. Schäuble’s portrait was often tagged provocatively with the phrase “Stasi 2.0.”

Lots of young Germans have a commitment not only to fight against fascism but also to stand up for their own individual freedom. Germans of all ages want to live freely without having to worry about being monitored by private companies or the government, especially in the digital sphere.

That was my motivation for publishing the metadata I received from T-Mobile. Together with Zeit Online, the online edition of the weekly German newspaper Die Zeit,I published an infographic of six months of my life for all to see. With these 35,830 pieces of data, you can follow my travels across Germany, you can see when I went to sleep and woke up, a trail further enriched with public information from my social networking sites: six months of my life viewable for everybody to see what exactly is possible with “just metadata.”

Three weeks ago, when the news broke about the National Security Agency’s collection of metadata in the United States, I knew exactly what it meant. My records revealed the movements of a single individual; now imagine if you had access to millions of similar data sets. You could easily draw maps, tracing communication and movement. You could see which individuals, families or groups were communicating with one another. You could identify any social group and determine its major actors.

All of this is possible without knowing the specific content of a conversation, just technical information — the sender and recipient, the time and duration of the call and the geolocation data.

With Edward J. Snowden’s important revelations fresh in our minds, Germans were eager to hear President Obama’s recent speech in Berlin. But the Barack Obama who . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 June 2013 at 6:32 pm

A post every parent should read

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Peg Tyre, interviewed on educating your child, recommends five specific books and gives the reasons for each:

The education writer says many parents don’t understand how children learn and so don’t know what to look for in a school. She recommends five books to bring parents up to speed

The Good School educates parents about education. What prompted you to write it?

I’ve been an education journalist for many years and I’ve frequently stumbled on a nugget of knowledge, 10 pages into an academic article, that made me think, “I wish I had known this when I was making decisions about my own children’s schooling.” So I decided to write a book that takes research out of the academic silo and puts it in the hands of the people who need it the most, the parents.

School choice is the basis of a lot of school reform in the United States. Parents are supposed to choose the best school for their child. Money follows the child under state systems so the idea is that good schools thrive and bad schools wither. Improving schools by turning free market forces loose on them was an idea introduced by economist Milton Friedman.

The fatal flaw with that way of thinking is that our educational system is not a rational market. Far be it from me to second-guess Milton Friedman, but we don’t comparison shop for schools the way we do for air conditioners. We know more about air conditioners than we do about education. We don’t know what to look for in schools, let alone how to obtain that information. That’s got to change if we’re going to persist in this idea of unleashing free market forces on schools as a way to improve them.

Your own book is an entertaining introduction to education. The books you’ve chosen could be part of the advanced course. You’ve named five that every parent should read to get smarter about education. Let’s start with Proust and the Squid. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 June 2013 at 3:54 pm

What a Whistleblower Thinks a Fellow Whistleblower Might Have Thought

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Tom Englehardt introduces a piece by Peter Van Buren at TomDispatch:

Sometimes, it’s hard to grasp just how our world has been transformed since September 11, 2001. But here’s a little exchange at NBC Nightly News a few days back — just part of the humdrum flow of TV news-chat — that somehow caught my attention.  News anchor Brian Williams and Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent Andrea Mitchell were discussing how the Obama administration was dealing with NSA leaker Edward Snowden, then reportedly somewhere in the bowels of Moscow’s international airport.  Here was the exchange:

“Williams: The U.S. can say whatever it wishes and the press secretary can get angry and so on, what real power does the United States have here?

“Mitchell:  It’s got a lot of leverage against Russia and China. They’re working behind the scenes, but short of rendition — and that’s not going to happen getting him out of Russia — there’s isn’t anything physical that they can do.  So they have to just exert the pressure and hope that diplomacy works, but Vladimir Putin is a tough customer.”

It was that reference to “rendition” — to, that is, the kidnapping of terror suspects by American forces (usually the CIA) off global streets (or highways or backlands) and their “rendering” to the United States, or to U.S. Navy ships in global waters, or to the prisons of allied regimes willing to torture any “suspect” and share whatever information (or misinformation) might be extracted with Washington. For a while, this practice was called “extraordinary rendition,” but it’s now so deeply embedded in our American world that it’s become highly ordinary rendition.  In any case, the implication of Mitchell’s passing comment was that the U.S. wouldn’t “render” someone from an airport in the capital of a major power, but if that wasn’t “going to happen getting him out of Russia,” I think it’s hard not to complete Mitchell’s sentence with something like “it might be a perfectly reasonable option for Washington in, say, Ecuador.”

We are, in other words, in a new world where practices that once would have shocked have become the norm of news and pundit chitchat.  TomDispatch, however, refuses to consider any of this “normal.”  We have over these last years regularly focused on the way Washington’s most oppressive powers have been wildly enhanced and on people we now know as “whistleblowers,” people like Bradley Manning, who saw something truly, unnervingly different in our American world and decided they just had to do something about it.TomDispatch regular Peter Van Buren is one of them and today he considers what Snowden might be going through. Tom

Edward Snowden’s Long Flight
What a Whistleblower Thinks a Fellow Whistleblower Might Have Thought
By Peter Van Buren

As a State Department whistleblower, I think a lot about Edward Snowden. I can’t help myself. My friendships with other whistleblowers like Tom Drake, Jesslyn RadackDaniel Ellsberg, and John Kiriakou lead me to believe that, however different we may be as individuals, our acts have given us much in common. I suspect that includes Snowden, though I’ve never had the slightest contact with him. Still, as he took his long flight from Hong Kong into the unknown, I couldn’t help feeling that he was thinking some of my thoughts, or I his. Here are five things that I imagine were on his mind (they would have been on mine) as that plane took off.

I Am Afraid

Whistleblowers act on conscience because they encounter something so horrifying, unconstitutional, wasteful, fraudulent, or mismanaged that they are overcome by the need to speak out. There is always a calculus of pain and gain (for others, if not oneself), but first thoughts are about what you’ve uncovered, the information you feel compelled to bring into the light, rather than your own circumstances.

In my case, I was ignorant of what would happen once I blew the whistle. I didn’t expect the Department of State to attack me. National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Tom Drake was similarly unprepared. He initially believed that, when the FBI first came to interview him, they were on his side, eager to learn more about the criminal acts he had uncovered at the NSA. Snowden was different in this. He had the example of Bradley Manning and others to learn from. He clearly never doubted that the full weight of the U.S. government would fall on him.

He knew what to fear. He knew the Obama administration was determined to make any whistleblower pay, likely via yet another prosecution under the Espionage Act (with the potential for the death penalty). He also knew what his government had done since 9/11 without compunction: it had tortured and abused people to crush them; it had forced those it considered enemies into years of indefinite imprisonment, creating isolation cells for suspected terrorists and even a pre-trial whistleblower. It had murdered Americans without due process, and then, of course, there were the extraordinary renditions in which U.S. agents kidnapped perceived enemies and delivered them into the archipelago of post-9/11 horrors.

Sooner or later, if you’re a whistleblower, you get scared. It’s only human. On that flight, I imagine that Edward Snowden, for all his youthful confidence and bravado, was afraid. Would the Russians turn him over to Washington as part of some secret deal, maybe the sort of spy-for-spy trade that would harken back to the Cold War era?

Even if he made it out of Moscow, he couldn’t have doubted that the full resources of the NSA and other parts of the U.S. government would be turned on him. How many CIA case officers and Joint Special Operations Command types did the U.S. have undercover in Ecuador? After all, the dirty tricks had already started. The partner of Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, who broke Snowden’s story, had his laptop stolen from their residence in Brazil.  This happened only after Greenwald told him via Skype that he would send him an encrypted copy of Snowden’s documents.

In such moments, you try to push back the sense of paranoia that creeps into your mind when you realize that you are being monitored, followed, watched. It’s uncomfortable, scary. You have to . . .

Continue reading.

I’ve commented before that this level of vindictiveness is out of line and shows that some the power structure feels humiliated or threatened or exposed or some such: why else such enormous efforts to punish? Especially when the Administration itself is leaking classified material, as Chris Hayes pointed out.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 June 2013 at 3:49 pm

An interview with Mindset author Carol Dweck

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UPDATE: I just found Carol Dweck’s book recommended (along with four others) as something every parent should read. Take a look. Then read the interview below, which will be more interesting.

I mention Mindset a lot, and I just came across this interview with Prof. Dweck:

Challenge-seeking, resilience and the right attitude towards failure are key factors in success, says the researcher and author of Mindset, who tells us about growth versus fixed mindsets, and how to change your brain

Could you describe the key conclusions of the research you wrote about in your book Mindset?

In my work I’ve discovered that people can have different mindsets about their talents and abilities, and that these mindsets make a big difference. Some people believe that their talents and abilities are fixed traits – they have a certain amount and that’s that. We call this a fixed mindset. But other people have a growth mindset. They believe that their talents and abilities can be developed through hard work, perseverance and mentoring.

We’ve found that when people have a fixed mindset they often shy away from challenges. For them, deficiencies are permanent and so they are afraid to reveal them. People with fixed mindsets are also not as resilient in the face of setbacks because, again, they see setbacks as impugning their underlying abilities. Challenge-seeking and resilience are key factors in success. As a result, people with fixed mindsets often don’t achieve as much in the long run.

People with a growth mindset don’t necessarily believe everyone is the same or that anyone can be Einstein, but they understand that everyone can develop their abilities and that even Einstein wasn’t Einstein until he put in decades of dedicated labour. These people see a challenge as something that helps you learn, and a setback as something that ultimately helps develop your ability. For this reason, people with a growth mindset often accomplish more in the long term.

Your work is based on a “meaning systems” approach to psychology. Please explain the theoretical context for your research and how it catalysed your interest in motivation.

Each mindset creates a whole psychological world or a “meaning system” for people. It’s called a “meaning system” because mindsets change the meaning of what happens to us. First, as I’ve suggested, the mindsets change the meaning of challenges. In a fixed mindset, a challenge is threatening because it can reveal deficiencies. In a growth mindset, a challenge is an opportunity to get better at something. Next, mindsets change the meaning of effort. Those with a growth mindset think if you have natural ability you shouldn’t need that much effort. Their belief is that things should come easily to people if they’re really smart. But those with a growth mindset understand that even geniuses have to work hard for their great discoveries and that effort, well-applied, will increase your abilities over time. Finally, mindsets change the meaning of failure. In a fixed mindset a failure is the worst thing that could happen. It discredits your ability, it’s something to run from, something to hide and even, we find in our research, to lie about. But in a growth mindset failure, while not welcome, is something you learn from.  It was fascinating for me to discover that these meaning systems could have such a profound impact on people’s motivation. Once I did, I was hooked.

Your conclusions were based on careful scientific study over many years. Can you please give us an outline of the research that went into your conclusions?

I’ve conducted 40 years of rigorous research, including experiments in the laboratory and large studies in field settings. I’ve done work that looks analytically at people’s reactions to challenges and setbacks, for example students grappling with difficult school transitions and even Israelis and Palestinians addressing their conflicts. I’ve published over a hundred papers; most of them are based on multiple studies. So, all told, my students, colleagues and I have conducted hundreds of studies with many thousands of people. We also have a longstanding line of research on how well-intentioned feedback – such as praise for intelligence or talent – can create a fixed mindset and actually undermine people. That work has had many far-ranging implications that we’ve explored.

Your conclusions upended conventional wisdom about praise and many other aspects of parenting, coaching and human resource management. Why do you think Western society developed some maladaptive motivational patterns? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 June 2013 at 1:57 pm

Counterfeit (and often dangerous) foods are not rare at all

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I learned through reading the (wonderful) book Extra-Virginity, that extra-virgin olive oil is massively counterfeited, with hazelnut oil from Turkey for example. And all the major suppliers are actively engaged in making and selling counterfeit EVOO. That’s why, I suddenly realized, that I was able to buy Greek Extra Virgin Olive Oil at Whole Foods for $9/liter, when actual production costs require a price more in the $20-$25 range, at least. I now buy only California estate-bottled EVOO: it costs more, but it is extra-virgin olive oil, not God knows what.

And then I read an article that listed the most commonly counterfeited supermarket foods, and high in the list was pomegranate juice, and I suddenly realized why the Whole Foods pure pomegranate juice was $4.50, while a bottled pure pomegranate juice was $10—and another brand, also bottled: $9.50. I now buy the expensive brand. When something is an incredible bargain, maybe it isn’t.

So I was very interest in this NY Times story by Stephen Castle and Doreen Carvajal:

GREAT DALBY, England — Invisible from the roadway, hidden deep in the lush English countryside, Moscow Farm is an unlikely base for an international organized crime gang churning out a dangerous brew of fake vodka.

But a quarter of a mile off a one-lane road here, tens of thousands of liters of counterfeit spirits were distilled, pumped into genuine vodka bottles, with near-perfect counterfeit labels and duty stamps, and sold in corner shops across Britain. The fake Glen’s vodka looked real. But analysis revealed that it was spiked with bleach to lighten its color, and contained high levels of methanol, which in large doses can cause blindness.

No one knows the harm done to those who drank it — or whether they connected any illness with their bargain vodka — but cases of poisoning have been reported throughout Europe, including in the Czech Republic, where more than 20 people died last year after drinking counterfeit liquor.

The Europe-wide scandal surrounding the substitution of cheaper horse meat in what had been labeled beef products caught the most attention from consumers, regulators and investigators this year. But in terms of food fraud, regulators and investigators say, that is just a hint of what has been happening as the economic crisis persists.

Investigators have uncovered thousands of frauds, raising fresh questions about regulatory oversight as criminals offer bargain-hunting shoppers cheap versions of everyday products, including counterfeit chocolate and adulterated olive oil, Jacob’s Creek wine and even Bollinger Champagne. As the horse meat scandal showed, even legitimate companies can be overtaken by the murky world of food fraud.

“Around the world, food fraud is an epidemic — in every single country where food is produced or grown, food fraud is occurring,” said Mitchell Weinberg, president and chief executive of Inscatech, a company that advises on food security. “Just about every single ingredient that has even a moderate economic value is potentially vulnerable to fraud.”

Speaking at a recent conference organized by the consulting firm FoodChain Europe, Mr. Weinberg added that many processed products contain ingredients like sugar, vanilla, paprika, honey, olive oil or cocoa products that are tainted.

Increasingly, those frauds are the work of organized international criminal networks lured by the potential for big profits in an illicit trade in which most forgers are never caught. The vodka gang boss, Kevin Eddishaw, was — but not before he had counterfeited liquor on an industrial scale, generating profits to match, according to investigators, who estimated that his distillery produced at least 165,000 bottles costing the British government £1.5 million, or $2.3 million, in lost tax revenue.

“He was living a very nice lifestyle,” said Roddy Mackinnon, criminal investigation officer for Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, “a couple of properties, nice cars: a Range Rover, a Mercedes.”

Here at Moscow Farm, the gang used the production techniques of a modern-day factory equipped with at least £50,000, or $77,200, in equipment (while ignoring safety rules). Gang members bought bottles from the supplier of the real makers of Glen’s vodka, saying they were destined for Poland. When forged label prototypes printed in Britain were deemed unpersuasive, higher-quality ones were brought from Poland. The gang faked duty stamps on boxes.

“They tried to do as much as they could to replicate the real thing,” Mr. Mackinnon said. “They were very professional, there was attention to detail.”

So well was the secret plant hidden that it was detected only when someone suspected in another case led investigators there in 2009.

Though Mr. Eddishaw worked through intermediaries and used pay-as-you-go cellphone numbers, investigators tracked his calls, proving from the location where they were made that the phone belonged to him and linking him to a fraud that brought him a seven-year prison term.

The plot fits a pattern, identified by Europol, the European Union’s law enforcement agency, which says organized crime groups have capitalized on the economic downturn. . .

Continue reading.

Not to point it out yet again: Corporations will do absolutely anything to increase profits, and that includes killing people—not personally, of course, but in full knowledge of the product’s effects (e.g., the Ford Pinto’s exploding gas tank, cigarette manufacturers, counterfeit spare parts, credit default swaps, …  well, maybe that last one didn’t kill people). Notice how little differentiates the Mob from Corporations.

There is a reason we have to have regulatory agencies—and the Congressional oversight to make sure that they are getting the funding that they need and that they’re doing their jobs aggressively. Not this Congress, of course, and maybe not any Congress, but probably that’s what we should be aiming at, as a nation. Assuming we’re still interested in that sort of thing.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 June 2013 at 1:26 pm

Posted in Business, Food, Law

I tried Feedly, but now I’m liking Newsblur

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I tried The Old Reader, but it did not seem to fit my browsing style. Feedly was odd at first, but I quickly became accustomed to it and could move through the feeds quickly. I read a comparison article that included Feedly and also Newsblur. Newsblur looked interesting, so I tried it as well. “Too complicated” was my first thought, but then as I continued to use it and got to understand the options (and the warnings: it told me that two of the blogs I was “following” were actually defunct), I started liking it more.

I’m still using both Feedly and Newsblur, but Newsblur is gaining my allegiance.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 June 2013 at 12:22 pm

Posted in Software

Corporations want ignorant consumers

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That’s why corporations fight so fiercely against disclosure and try to deny obvious facts. Katie Thomas reports a clear example in the NY Times:

PETER DOSHI walked across the campus of Johns Hopkins University in a rumpled polo shirt and stonewashed jeans, a backpack slung over one shoulder. An unremarkable presence on a campus filled with backpack-toters, he is 32, and not sure where he’ll be working come August, when his postdoctoral fellowship ends. And yet, even without a medical degree, he is one of the most influential voices in medical research today.

Dr. Doshi’s renown comes not from solving the puzzles of cancer or discovering the next blockbuster drug, but from pushing the world’s biggest pharmaceutical companies to open their records to outsiders in an effort to better understand the benefits and potential harms of the drugs that billions of people take every day. Together with a band of far-flung researchers and activists, he is trying to unearth data from clinical trials — complex studies that last for years and often involve thousands of patients across many countries — and make it public.

The current system, the activists say, is one in which the meager details of clinical trials published in medical journals, often by authors with financial ties to the companies whose drugs they are writing about, is insufficient to the point of being misleading.

There is an underdog feel to this fight, with postdocs and academics flinging stones at well-fortified corporations. But they are making headway. Last fall, after prodding by Dr. Doshi and others, the drug giant GlaxoSmithKline announced that it would share detailed data from all global clinical trials conducted since 2007, a pledge it later expanded to all products dating to 2000. Though that data has not yet been produced, it would amount to more than 1,000 clinical trials involving more than 90 drugs, a remarkable first for a major drug maker.

The European Medicines Agency, which oversees drug approvals for the European Union, is considering a policy to make trial data public whenever a drug is approved. And on June 17, the medical world saw how valuable such transparency could be, as outside researchers published a review of a spinal treatment from the device maker Medtronic. The review, which concluded that the treatment was no better than an older one, relied on detailed data the company provided to the researchers.

For years, researchers have talked about the problem of publication bias, or selectively publishing results of trials. Concern about such bias gathered force in the 1990s and early 2000s, when researchers documented how, time and again, positive results were published while negative ones were not. Taken together,studies have shown that results of only about half of clinical trials make their way into medical journals.

Problems with data about high-profile drugs have led to scandals over the past decade, like one involving contentions that the number of heart attacks was underreported in research about the painkiller Vioxx. Another involved accusations of misleading data about links between the antidepressant Paxil and the risk of suicide among teenagers.

To those who have followed this issue for years, the moves toward openness are unfolding with surprising speed.

“This problem has been very well documented for at least three decades now in medicine, with no substantive fix,” said Dr. Ben Goldacre, a British author and an ally of Dr. Doshi. “Things have changed almost unimaginably fast over the past six months.”

Much of that change is happening because of what Dr. Goldacre calls an “accident of history.” In 2009, Dr. Doshi and his colleagues set out to answer a simple question about the anti-flu drug Tamiflu: Does it work? Resolving that question has . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 June 2013 at 9:15 am

Posted in Business, Medical, Science

You cannot use your right to silence unless you break your silence

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Christopher Zara writes in the International Business Times:

If you want to invoke your constitutional right to remain silent, you’d better not be silent.

That’s the circular logic of a recent ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, which held that simply remaining silent is not enough to protect American citizens from self-incrimination. Though it’s received scant media attention, the decision has serious implications for criminal prosecutions, legal experts say. It came on June 17 in Salinas v. Texas, which concerned the nature of police questioning in a 20-year-old murder investigation that led to the conviction of a Houston man.

In January 1993, Genovevo Salinas was brought in for police questioning about the murder of two brothers. Police found shotgun shell casings at the scene, and Salinas — who was not arrested and not read his Miranda rights — agreed to let police inspect his shotgun. When police asked if the shells would match his shotgun, Salinas did not answer the question. He stayed silent, looked down at the floor, shuffled his feet and bit his bottom lip.

Salinas was later arrested on an unrelated traffic warrant, at which time police decided there was enough evidence to charge him with the murders. Salinas did not testify at the trial, but his reaction to police questioning — the fidgeting, lip-biting, etc. — was used as evidence. In other words, Salinas’ silence was used against him, a violation of his Fifth Amendment rights, or so he thought.

Salinas was convicted and received a 20-year sentence. On direct appeal, he argued to the Court of Appeals of Texas that the prosecutors’ use of his silence as part of their case was unconstitutional, but the court rejected that argument. The case eventually made its way to the Supreme Court, where in a 5-4 decision last week, the court found that Salinas’ self-incrimination privilege had not been violated, mainly because he never flat-out said, “I’m invoking my right to remain silent.” This despite the fact that Salinas was not under arrest at the time of questioning, and was therefore not read his Miranda rights.From the plurality opinion, written by Justice Samuel Alito:

“Petitioner [Salinas] cannot benefit from that principle because it is undisputed that his interview with police was voluntary. As petitioner himself acknowledges, he agreed to accompany the officers to the station and ‘was free to leave at any time during the interview.’ Brief for Petitioner 2 – 3 (internal quotation marks omitted). That places petitioner’s situation outside the scope of Miranda and other cases in which we have held that various forms of governmental coercion prevented defendants from voluntarily invoking the privilege.”

The Supreme Court had previously held that mere silence is not sufficient for a suspect to invoke his or her Fifth Amendment rights. The difference here is that Salinas was not a suspect at the time he went silent; he was merely a witness brought in for questioning.

Alito was joined in his opinion by . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 June 2013 at 8:52 am

Posted in Daily life, Law

Greenwald Derangement Syndrome

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Barry Eisler points out some oddities in reports about Glenn Greenwald:

I just read an article by Jonathan Chait in New York Magazinethat was so silly and self-indulgent I wasn’t going to comment on it.  What’s the point of comparing Greenwald to Ralph Nader (or to anyone else, really)?  What’s the point of discussing Greenwald at all, compared to the importance of his reporting?  Can you really try to castigate Greenwald for arguing that in various ways Obama is worse than Bush, when so many Constitutional law experts are arguing that indeed, Obama is worse than Nixon?  Is Chait ignorant of the mountain of evidence behind this argument, or of the other people making it?  Why does he refer to but fail to address the actual evidence in the supporting piece he links to, instead treating the argument itself as ipso facto evidence of sanctimony?  What does it mean that liberals might break with Greenwald because he believes “even if Obama is the lesser of two evils, he’s the more effective of two evils” (oh no, the cool kids will stop inviting him to play dates… and is this more a reflection on Greenwald, or on liberals)?  And most glaring of all, did Chait really complain that “For Greenwald… the evils of liberals loom far larger than the evils of conservatives,” when he’s talking about a guy who’s written no fewer than three books (and God knows how many blog posts) on the failings of conservatives — with titles like How Would a Patriot Act? Defending American Values from a President [Bush] Run Amok; and A Tragic Legacy: How a Good vs. Evil Mentality Destroyed the Bush Presidency; and Great American Hypocrites: Toppling the Big Myths of Republican Politics?

My initial reaction was just to shake my head at how someone could put his name on something so sloppily argued, and to briefly wonder why anyone would publish it.  But then, as sometimes happens when I’ve rolled my eyes and am about to click on a (hopefully) better link, something struck me that I thought was worth calling out.

That something is a remarkable case of psychological projection — the “defense mechanism in which a person unconsciously rejects his or her own unacceptable attributes by ascribing them to objects or persons in the outside world.”  In an odd cri de coeur, Chait declares:

I won’t pretend to be neutral here — I’ve tangled with Greenwald numerous times.  So, for instance, he called me a “McCain worshiper,” and it is true that I have written some highly favorable things about John McCain.  I’ve also written some highly critical things.  I pointed out to Greenwald that, when I have called McCain, among other things, a “dangerous sociopath,” it would at least complicate the picture in such a way as to preclude me from being called a “worshiper.”  But no, Greenwald dug in deeper, assembling all the evidence he could muster for his side and ignoring all the evidence pointing in the opposite direction.

I’m glad Chait thought to include that paragraph.  If he hadn’t, I would have wondered what had caused him to write such a bizarre and illogical piece.  Now I get it — at some point, Greenwald hurt his feelings.  But what most fascinates me about the paragraph in question is that Chait included it in the very piece in which he accused Greenwald of focusing more on the evils of liberals than of conservatives — without even pausing to explain, or even acknowledge, all those books (and posts) of Greenwald’s that would seem pretty clearly not just to mitigate the claim, but to outright belie it.

This is pretty weird behavior.  How could it happen?  I don’t know Chait, but I doubt he could be that unintelligent.  Or that uninformed.  So I think what happened instead is that he’s so blinded by personal animus he wasn’t able to see the evidence completely neutering what he was trying to argue.  Even more interesting is that the blindness is profound enough to prevent him from seeing that he is doing the very same thing — cherry-picking to make an argument — that he accuses Greenwald of doing to him, and that he apparently found so hurtful when it happened.

I want to add in Chait’s defense that in my experience, one of the animating themes of all Greenwald’s writing is a loathing of hypocrisy.  So it stands to reason that Greenwald might find a little extra ire for “liberals” who opposed Bush’s authoritarian programs but are now excusing and justifying the same or worse as perpetrated by Obama.  As in, when Dick Cheney argues that unaccountable surveillance is good, at least he’s being consistent.  When liberals who were against such things before make Chenyesque arguments now that Obama is in the White House, something else seems to be going on, and deeply held principle isn’t it.  So yes, Greenwald does have a tendency to point out — correctly and usefully — liberal hypocrisy on these issues.  But is this really what Chait means with his notion that “the evils of liberals loom far larger” for Greenwald?  Pointing out glaring hypocrisy seems a pretty slim reed on which to hang such a charge (and again, look at the title of one of those books —  Great American Hypocrites: Toppling the Big Myths of Republican Politics!  Greenwald seems evenhanded even with his charges of hypocrisy).

That’s about as charitable an explanation as I can come up with for the shortcomings in Chait’s article.  Maybe he can offer something better.

The reason the projection, and the sloppiness and cherry-picking to which the projection blinds Chait, is significant is because of what’s behind it.  Look, arguments on the Internet can get pretty rough sometimes, and people’s feelings can get hurt.  But it’s important for everyone, and especially for journalists, to try to set those feelings aside and be as dispassionate and principled as possible.  It’s hard for me to imagine that anyone reasonably dispassionate about Greenwald would be more focused on him than on the massive, illegal NSA spying operation he’s recently been breaking so much news on.  How could a journalist worth a damn care more about the former than about the latter?  Only if he were unhealthily personally engaged, I would imagine.  Chait seems to sense as much, opening his article by saying, “The debate over domestic surveillance is not a debate about what we think about Glenn Greenwald.  But…”  Yes, but!  Because then Chait goes on to write an entire article that consists of nothing but his feelings about Greenwald.  If only that tiny voice of reason he was hearing could have spoken up a little louder.  Or if Chait’s ears weren’t too stopped up to hear it.

I have to add, I loved that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 June 2013 at 7:13 am

Cool tool to have around: Polypropylene tie-down cam straps

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Check out this Cool Tool. I think I should get a couple for the car.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 June 2013 at 7:06 am

Posted in Daily life

Attacks from America: NSA Spied on European Union Offices

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Laura Poitras, Marcel Rosenbach, Fidelius Schmid and Holger Stark of the German newspaper Der Spiegel report:

America’s NSA intelligence service allegedly targeted the European Union with its spying activities. According to SPIEGEL information, the US placed bugs in the EU representation in Washington and infiltrated its computer network. Cyber attacks were also perpetrated against Brussels in New York and Washington.

Information obtained by SPIEGEL shows that America’s National Security Agency (NSA) not only conducted online surveillance of European citizens, but also appears to have specifically targeted buildings housing European Union institutions. The information appears in secret documents obtained by whistleblower Edward Snowden that SPIEGEL has in part seen. A “top secret” 2010 document describes how the secret service attacked the EU’s diplomatic representation in Washington.

The document suggests that in addition to installing bugs in the building in downtown Washington, DC, the European Union representation’s computer network was also infiltrated. In this way, the Americans were able to access discussions in EU rooms as well as emails and internal documents on computers.The attacks on EU institutions show yet another level in the broad scope of the NSA’s spying activities. For weeks now, new details about Prism and other surveillance programs have been emerging from what had been compiled by whistleblower Snowden. It has also been revealed that the British intelligence service GCHQ operates a similar program under the name Tempora with which global telephone and Internet connections are monitored.

The documents SPIEGEL has seen indicate that the EU representation to the United Nations was attacked in a manner similar to the way surveillance was conducted against its offices in Washington. An NSA document dated September 2010 explicitly names the Europeans as a “location target”.

The documents also indicate the US intelligence service was responsible for an electronic eavesdropping operation in Brussels. A little over five years ago, EU security experts noticed several telephone calls that were apparently targeting the remote maintenance system in the Justus Lipsius Building, where the EU Council of Ministers and the European Council are located. The calls were made to numbers that were very similar to the one used for the remote administration of the building’s telephone system.

Security officials managed to track the calls to NATO headquarters in the Brussels suburb of Evere. A precise analysis showed that the attacks on the telecommunications system had originated from a building complex separated from the rest of the NATO headquarters that is used by NSA experts.

A review of the remote maintenance system showed that it had been called and reached several times from precisely that NATO complex. Every EU member state has rooms in the Justus Lipsius Building that can be used by EU ministers. They also have telephone and Internet connections at their disposal.

Full story to appear on Monday.

This undercuts Obama’s position on Chinese cyberspying: if we’re doing it, is it not an okay thing for others to do as well? Doesn’t the US want to lead the world by its example?

Written by LeisureGuy

30 June 2013 at 6:59 am

America’s Dirty, Global War on Journalists

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David Sirota writes at AlterNet:

Out of all the harrowing story lines in journalist Jeremy Scahill’s new film “Dirty Wars,” the one about Abdulelah Haider Shaye best spotlights the U.S. government’s new assault against press freedom.

Shaye is the Yemeni journalist who in 2009 exposed his government’s coverup of a U.S. missile strike that, according to McClatchy’s newswire, ended up killing “dozens of civilians, including 14 women and 21 children.” McClatchy notes that for the supposed crime of committing journalism, Shaye was sentenced to five years in prison following a trial that “was widely condemned as a sham” by watchdog groups and experts who noted that the prosecution did not “offer any substantive evidence to support (its) charges.”

What, you might ask, does this have to do with the American government’s attitude toward press freedom? That’s where Scahill’s movie comes in. As the film shows, when international pressure moved the Yemeni government to finally consider pardoning Shaye, President Obama personally intervened, using a phone call with Yemen’s leader to halt the journalist’s release.

Had this been an isolated incident, it might be easy to write off. But the president’s move to criminalize the reporting of inconvenient facts is sadly emblematic of his administration’s larger war against journalism. And, mind you, the word “war” is no overstatement.

As New York Times media correspondent David Carr put it: “If you add up the pulling of news organization phone records (The Associated Press), the tracking of individual reporters (Fox News), and the effort by the current administration to go after sources (seven instances and counting in which a government official has been criminally charged with leaking classified information to the news media), suggesting that there is a war on the press is less hyperbole than simple math.”

In this unprecedented global war, President Obama has been backed by the combined power of Justice Department prosecutors, FBI surveillance agents, State Department diplomats and, perhaps most troubling of all, a cadre of high-profile Benedict Arnolds within the media itself.

One of them is “Meet the Press” host David Gregory, who, after saying journalist Glenn Greenwald “aided and abetted” NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden, demanded to know of the reporter: “Why shouldn’t you be charged with a crime?” On the same “Meet the Press” program, NBC’s Chuck Todd didn’t want to know whether the NSA’s surveillance is illegal, but instead demanded to know “how much was (Greenwald) involved in the plot” to expose the NSA’s potential crimes. They were subsequently followed up by New York Times business reporter Andrew Ross Sorkin, who, after years of writing hagiography that helped Wall Streeters avoid prosecution, called for Greenwald’s arrest. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 June 2013 at 6:53 am

Mayors tell Feds to keep away from marijuana reforms

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Phillip Smith reports at StopTheDrugWar.org:

The United States Conference of Mayors Monday unanimously passed a resolution criticizing the failures of marijuana prohibition and urging the federal government to respect the ability of states and localities to implement medical marijuana and marijuana legalization measures without further interference.

The US Conference of Mayors is the official, nonpartisan organization for mayors of cities with a population of 30,000 or more. There are 1,302 cities that qualify, and each is represented at the Conference by its chief elected official, the mayor.

“In November, voters in my city and state strongly approved a ballot measure to legalize, tax and regulate marijuana,” said Aurora, Colorado, Mayor Steve Hogan. “The bipartisan resolution we passed today simply asks the federal government to give us time to implement these new policies properly and without interference. Cities and states across the country are enacting forward-thinking reforms to failed marijuana prohibition policies, and for the federal government to stand in the way is wasteful and contrary to the wishes of the American people.”

The resolution notes that “enforcing the costly and ineffective prohibition on marijuana drains limited resources that could be better spent on programs that more effectively serve the public and keep our cities safe from serious and violent crime” and demands that “federal laws, including the Controlled Substances Act, should be amended to explicitly allow states to set their own marijuana policies without federal interference” so that localities can “set whatever marijuana policies work best to improve the public safety and health of their communities.” Until federal laws are amended, the Conference “urges the President of the United States to reexamine the priorities of federal agencies to prevent the expenditure of resources on actions that undermine the duly enacted marijuana laws of states.”

The resolution was cosponsored by 18 mayors, including Bob Filner of San Diego, Mike McGinn of Seattle, Carolyn Goodman of Las Vegas, Jean Quan of Oakland (California), Steve Hogan of Aurora, Colorado; Marilyn Strickland of Tacoma, Washington; Kitty Piercy of Eugene Oregon; and William Euille of Alexandria, Virginia; among several others.

“The prohibition on marijuana has been ineffective and counterproductive,” said Mayor Stephen Cassidy of San Leandro, California. “Voters in states and cities that wish to break the stranglehold of organized crime over the distribution and sale of marijuana in their communities by legalizing, regulating and taxing marijuana should have the option of doing so.”

“I’m not going to be using Justice Department resources to try to circumvent state laws on this issue,” Barack Obama pledged as he sought the Democratic Party nomination in 2008. But his administration has shuttered more state-legal medical marijuana providers in one term than were closed by federal authorities during the two terms of George W. Bush’s presidency.

And in the wake of November’s strong passage of initiatives to legalize and regulate marijuana for all adults by voters in Colorado and Washington, Attorney General Eric Holder has repeatedly said that the administration’s response is coming “relatively soon.”

“It’s time for President Obama to enact the changes he promised during the 2008 campaign,” said Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority, the organization that led the effort to pass the resolution, generating nearly 7,000 constituent letters to almost 1,000 mayors across the country. “A strong and growing majority of Americans want states to be able to set their own marijuana laws without federal harassment. Local officials are enacting policies that serve to protect the health and safety of their communities better than the failed policy of prohibition has, and they deserve the respect they are asking for from the Obama administration.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 June 2013 at 6:50 am

3D-printed ‘Cortex’ cast

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Screen Shot 2013-06-30 at 6.29.44 AM

A big advance, IMO. Chris Welch writes at The Verge:

To anyone that’s ever broken a bone, the negatives of traditional plaster casts are familiar: they’re cumbersome, heavy, and can get rather smelly. Victoria University of Wellington graduate Jake Evill is looking to change all that with his Cortex cast. A mere concept for now, Evill says the cast — which is specifically fitted to each wearer based on X-rays of the fractured bone and a 3D scan of its surrounding limb — introduces many benefits. First and foremost, you’d be able to wear a longsleeve shirt over the lightweight, ventilated nylon cast. The open design is also shower-friendly, unlike bulky plaster casts.

The Cortex would be 3D printed on site, according to Evill, and each cast would be . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 June 2013 at 6:33 am

Posted in Medical, Technology

The Mob and Angela Clemente

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Alan Feuer writes in the NY Times of yet another instance of the FBI being out of control—that’s a very troubled agency, it seems to me:

At the end of February, a 300-page report, tersely titled, “New York Systemic Corruption,” was received for review by the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General in Washington. In three bound volumes, it detailed a series of oft-made, and explosive, allegations: that in the 1990s, while trying to stem the Colombo family war, federal prosecutors and agents for the Federal Bureau of Investigation in New York knowingly allowed two moles in the mob to kill while they were on the government’s payroll.

But the dossier had not been sent to Washington by one of the defense attorneys or professional private detectives who have, for two decades now, been working on the legal cases related to the war, an internecine struggle from 1991 to 1993 that resulted in a dozen deaths and more than 80 convictions. It was sent from an unlikely, and mostly unknown, source: a 5-foot-4, single mother from New Jersey named Angela Clemente.

For nearly 15 years, Ms. Clemente, 48 and a self-professed “forensic analyst,” has waged an independent and improbable campaign to prove that the government turned a blind eye to as many as 39 murders committed in New York by turncoat gangsters it paid to work as informants.

Through interviews in the underworld and by prying loose documents from classified archives, her unusual citizen-sleuthing has taken her deep into the local version of the James (Whitey) Bulger case, which is now being tried in Boston. Not only into the annals of the New York mob, but also, in a strange, octopus-like fashion, into corollary inquiries into Islamic terrorism, the Kennedy assassination, even the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.

“You have a real knack for investigation,” Representative Dana Rohrabacher, a former chairman of the House oversight committee, wrote to Ms. Clemente in 2007 after she helped lead the authorities to a stash of explosives in a Kansas house owned by Terry Nichols, one of the Oklahoma City bombers. “Your ability to get valuable information from sources unavailable to many of us in government is truly an asset to those seeking the truth.”

A onetime medical technician who in her 30s studied to become a paralegal, Ms. Clemente is not your typical gumshoe. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 June 2013 at 3:44 pm

Posted in Business, Government, Law

The alternate history begins now. Bad news: we’re on the wrong branch.

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Josh Silver at AlterNet:

Observing New York state politics is like watching felons run a parole board. Last week, senate leadership killed a bill that would have cleaned up state government and created citizen-funded elections. It was a huge opportunity to stem corruption that has wracked the state. Thirty-two state officials have been in deep trouble [3] over the last few years, including (ironically) four former Senate majority or minority leaders. A 2012 study [4] gave New York a D grade, and ranked it 36th nationally in government integrity.

But this is more than just another case of jaw-dropping political dysfunction. What happened in Albany last week has major implications for national anti-corruption efforts that are central to making progress on the issues that you care about most, yet keep losing. Health care, climate change, education, financial oversight, military spending… the list goes on.

Every American who cares one whit about future generations should be obsessed with money in politics corruption. And for those of us who are, all eyes were on Albany. The Fair Elections Act was backed by serious funders and a skillful organizing campaign. But it was not enough: the latest in a long string of disappointments for public interest advocates. This one however should serve as a blaring wake up call for reformers that it is time to change the play.

The Albany effort had all of the ingredients of a winning campaign. In January, Governor Cuomo opened the legislative session with public financing as one of his top priorities. It received endorsements from celebrities like Alec Baldwin and Jason Alexander as well as the editorial boards of the New York Times and several other papers across New York. The state assembly easily passed the measure in May, but in the end, the momentum for change was stopped cold.

How could this happen? The hard lesson to take from Albany is that a deliberate legislative effort that works within a corrupt system — in the current political environment — cannot overcome the power of that corruption. The only way to get foxes (politicians) to put a lock on the henhouse (campaign money) is to change the political environment, and force politicians in the only place that works: the ballot box. And to do that, we must break with old habits, and forge a new strategy that: . . .

Continue reading. As I read the new strategy, I cannot help but think that the Internet and social media are going to play a big role if we do succeed in changing the rules of the game and start a new paradigm.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 June 2013 at 3:39 pm

Posted in Election, Government

8 years a liberal embedded at Fox News

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An interview with the guy who wrote the book:

Joe Muto was just a young liberal guy who haphazardly fell into a career at Fox News. Eight years later, he departed in dramatic fashion after becoming, for a brief moment, Gawker.com’s anonymous “Liberal Fox Mole.”

A couple of misdemeanor charges later, Muto wrote a book about his experiences working for Bill O’Reilly.  An Atheist in the FOXhole: A Liberal’s Eight-Year Odyssey Inside the Heart of the Right-Wing Media [3] is an entertaining insider’s account of what it’s like behind the scenes at a Republican advocacy organization that also happens to be the top-rated cable news station in the United States. We caught up with Muto by phone last week.

Joshua Holland: Joe, you didn’t end up at Fox as part of some ideological crusade. How did a liberal end up working in the heart of darkness?

Joe Muto: That would have been an even more amazing story if I had started there and stayed there for eight years with the intent of doing this the whole time.

It was weird. I finished college and I was aimless as, I’m guessing, many exiting college seniors are. I just knew I wanted to be in New York. I wanted to do something in media and I sent out a flurry of resumes. My undistinguished GPA in an undistinguished major got me zero responses except for Fox News.

I was nervous about taking a job with them. I didn’t know if I would show up and they’d make me swear allegiance to a photo of Ronald Reagan in an occult ceremony or something like that. I had no idea what to expect but I actually had a buddy who had done an internship for them. He’s like, “Yes, it’s normal, whatever. Who cares?”

I thought, I’ll give it a few months and see what happens. If I can’t stand the place, I’ll bug out and get a job somewhere else, but it seems it’s a good way to start a career and to start in New York City—to get a foothold.

JH: After eight years, you figured you’d be happier working at Gawker, which many of us would be … so you became the Fox mole.

I wouldn’t say you were like James Bond in covering up your tracks. How did Fox figure out it was you after about 10 minutes?

JM: (Laughs) Ten minutes is being a little generous. It was about three minutes. It was not the stuff I was writing. The stuff I was writing, I was covering my tracks enough that it didn’t lead straight to me, but it was the video clips. Those stupid, inconsequential video clips. I had one clip of Newt Gingrich getting his hair done by his wife. I had another clip of Mitt Romney talking about his love for his dressage horses.

With those two clips, they were able to trace to me. They didn’t know—they didn’t have me completely there. They were like, We don’t know that you took these clips, but we can tell that you’re one of the only people in the company who looked at both of them.

JH: You faced a couple of charges for this. John Cook over at Gawker says that prosecuting you was an outrageous abuse of power. Your view?

JM: An outrageous abuse of power… I’m of a mixed mind about it. I had to plead to a couple of misdemeanor charges and I’m doing community service. They gave me 10 days of community service and 200 additional hours. The other people are all in there for drug charges, DUIs. One guy smashed a bottle in another guy’s face. I have a major inferiority complex because they were talking about all these amazing stuff they’ve done and I’m like, Yes, I leaked a video of Newt Gingrich getting trimmed by his wife.

In the end I just made stuff up and told people I was in a bar fight.

I do feel I maybe got a bit of a harsher penalty than would normally be warranted for someone like me who’s a first-time offender. At the same time, I did it. It’s not like I’m innocent. Maybe karmically, this is what I deserve.

JH: You got a book deal out of it. There’s always that.

JM: I did. Maybe I’m doing OK on balance. Not too shabby.

JH: Let’s talk about what it’s like working at Fox News. First, I was surprised that everyone in the building isn’t a true believer. I figured that many really believe that they’re fair and balanced and an antidote to the so-called liberal media, but it seems that a lot of your co-workers knew they were in a propaganda business? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 June 2013 at 3:21 pm

Posted in Books, GOP, Media

Bringing the Secret Government more into the light

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Extremely interesting AlterNet piece by Max Blumenthal:

Since journalist Glenn Greenwald revealed the existence of the National Security Agency’s PRISM domestic surveillance program, he and his source, the whistleblower Edward Snowden, have come in for a series of ugly attacks. On June 26, the day that the New York Daily News published a straightforward smear piece [3] on Greenwald, the website Buzzfeed rolled out a remarkably similar article, [4] a lengthy profile that focused on Greenwald’s personal life and supposed eccentricities.

Both outlets attempted to make hay out of Greenwald’s involvement over a decade ago on the business end of a porn distribution company, an arcane detail that had little, if any, bearing on the domestic spying scandal he sparked. The coordinated nature of the smears prompted Reuters media columnist Jack Shafer to ask if an opposition research firm [5] was behind them. “I wonder who commissioned the file,” he mused on Twitter.

A day before the Greenwald attacks appeared, Buzzfeed published an anonymously sourced story [6] about the government of Ecuador, which had reportedly offered asylum to Snowden (Ecuador has just revoked a temporary travel document [7] issued to Snowden). Written by Rosie Gray and Adrian Carasquillo, the article relied on documents marked as “secret” that were passed to Buzzfeed by sources described as “activists who wished to call attention to the [Ecuadorian] government’s spying practices in the context of its new international role” as the possible future sanctuary of Snowden.

Gray and Carasquillo reported that Ecuador’s intelligence service had attempted to procure surveillance technology from two Israeli firms. Without firm proof that the system was ever put into use, the authors claimed the documents “suggest a commitment to domestic surveillance that rivals the practices by the United States’ National Security Agency.” (Buzzfeed has never published a critical report on the $3 billion in aid the US provides to Israel each year, which is used to buy equipment explicitly designed for repressing, spying on and killing occupied Palestinians).

Buzzfeed’s Ecuador expose supported a theme increasingly advanced [8] by Snowden’s critics — that the hero of civil libertarians and government transparency activists was, in fact, a self-interested hypocrite content to seek sanctuary from undemocratic regimes. Curiously, those who seized on the story had no problem with Buzzfeed’s reporters relying on leaked government documents marked as classified. For some Snowden detractors, the issue was apparently not his leaking, but which government his leaks embarrassed.

Questionable journalism ethics, evidence of smears

At first glance, Buzzfeed‘s Ecuador expose might have seemed like riveting material. Upon closer examination, however, the story turned out to be anything but the exclusive the website promoted it as. In fact, the news of Ecuador’s possible deal with Israeli surveillance firms was reported [9] hours before Buzzfeed’s piece appeared by Aleksander Boyd, a blogger and activist with close ties to right-wing elements in South America. “Rafael Correa’s Ecuadorian regime spies on its citizens in a way strikingly similar to what Snowden accuses the U.S. of doing,” claimed Boyd.

Later in the day, Boyd contacted Buzzfeed’s Gray through Twitter, complimenting her piece before commenting, [10] “Evidently Ecuadorian source leaked same info to you guys, seems I jumped the gun before you…” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 June 2013 at 3:09 pm

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