Later On

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

Torture: No One Said No

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David Cole has a good column in the NY Review of Books:

Who bears ultimate responsibility for the US torture program? The report by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, released in December, told us much about how the program was implemented and carried out: it was fundamentally ill-conceived, poorly managed, and led to grievous abuses of basic human rights with little or no accountability. Yet the Senate report focused almost exclusively on the CIA, and despite intense debate about it in Washington and in the press, remarkably little was said about the responsibility of the Bush administration itself. In this regard, a separate, largely overlooked trove of newly declassified documents, mostly internal CIA records of correspondence with White House officials and lawyers, is particularly revealing.

The documents, which were uploaded to a mysterious website by the name of ciasavedlives.com, provide dramatic new details about the direct involvement of senior Bush administration officials in the CIA’s wrongs. They were apparently declassified by the CIA at the request of former director George Tenet, who presumably hoped they would help defend his record as director during the agency’s descent into torture. But they hardly exculpate the agency. Rather, they show an extended conspiracy between the CIA and administration officials that played out for the duration of the program, in which the agency leadership repeatedly asked for approval for patently illegal interrogation methods, and repeatedly got “yes” for an answer. This is the record of an agency with a guilty conscience, and of multiple high-level officials and lawyers eager to enable it at every turn.

Even though the program had been approved at its outset by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice in July 2002 and by Attorney General John Ashcroft in August 2002, the slightest hint that the Bush administration might actually be committed to avoiding torture or inhumane treatment caused the CIA to panic. Bush administration lawyers had determined that the methods the agency was using to induce detainees to talk—including waterboarding, extended sleep deprivation, slamming into walls, and painful stress positions—were not torture and did not violate the prohibition on cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment. But the agency acted as if it couldn’t quite believe it. It kept returning to the White House and the DOJ asking them to say, yet again, that the agency could do what it had already been told it could do.

Again and again, the agency’s concerns were triggered by official statements by the Bush administration suggesting that the US does not mistreat its prisoners. The first concerns arose in late 2002, after the program had been fully approved. Scott Muller, then general counsel of the CIA, worried that the program might conflict with a February 2002 memo from President Bush entitled “Humane Treatment of al Qaeda and Taliban Detainees.” In that memo, Bush had proclaimed that the Geneva Conventions, which require humane treatment of all wartime detainees, did not apply to al-Qaeda or the Taliban, but stated that “as a matter of policy, the United States Armed Forces shall continue to treat detainees humanely.”

In December 2002, Muller twice asked John Bellinger, counsel to National Security Adviser Rice, whether this posed a problem for the CIA’s continuing program. Bellinger twice told Muller not to worry, assuring him that the CIA’s techniques were “consistent with the President’s direction as reflected in the February Memo,” and urging him to speak to Justice Department lawyer John Yoo about it. Yoo, who with Jay Bybee wrote the initial Justice Department memo approving of the CIA’s interrogation tactics in August 2002, concurred, and told Muller that the February memo “had been deliberately limited to be binding only on ‘the Armed Forces’ which did not include the CIA.”

Early the next year, in January 2003, Muller again raised the issue in a meeting with four top legal officials for the Bush administration—White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales, Counsel to the Vice-President David Addington, Defense Department General Counsel Jim Haynes, and Yoo. Again, Addington and Gonzales reassured Muller, confirming that the commitment to humane treatment did not apply to the CIA. Tellingly, no one suggested that the CIA’s tactics were actually “humane”; rather, they insisted that only the Armed Forces, and not the CIA, were bound to treat detainees humanely.

All of these reassurances were not enough, however. The CIA came back for more in July 2003. This time its anxiety was the result of three events in the last week of June 2003. DOD General Counsel Haynes had written a letter to Senator Pat Leahy, stating that “United States policy is to treat all detainees and conduct all interrogations, wherever they may occur, in a manner consistent with” the US’s international treaty commitment to prevent “cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.” The administration had issued a press release on International Day in Support of Victims of Torture that condemned “cruel” treatment of detainees. And a White House press officer had said that US government detainees were being treated “humanely.” Tenet promptly wrote a memo to Rice asking the administration to reaffirm its commitment to the CIA interrogation program in light of, or more properly, in spite of, these statements.

The implicit predicate of Tenet’s request is that what the CIA was doing was in fact cruel and inhumane, and therefore not in keeping with the administration’s representations. But in a meeting on July 29, 2003, attended by Tenet, Muller, Vice President Cheney, Rice, Ashcroft, Gonzales, Bellinger, and Justice Department lawyer Patrick Philbin, the CIA was again told not to worry. Vice President Cheney was apparently aghast, not at the program, but at the press. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 March 2015 at 2:45 pm

The police in “post-racial” America

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Nikole Hannah-Jones reports in ProPublica:

Last July 4, my family and I went to Long Island to celebrate the holiday with a friend and her family. After eating some barbecue, a group of us decided to take a walk along the ocean. The mood on the beach that day was festive. Music from a nearby party pulsed through the haze of sizzling meat. Lovers strolled hand in hand. Giggling children chased each other along the boardwalk.

Most of the foot traffic was heading in one direction, but then two teenage girls came toward us, moving stiffly against the flow, both of them looking nervously to their right. “He’s got a gun,” one of them said in a low voice.

I turned my gaze to follow theirs, and was clasping my 4-year-old daughter’s hand when a young man extended his arm and fired off multiple shots along the busy street running parallel to the boardwalk. Snatching my daughter up into my arms, I joined the throng of screaming revelers running away from the gunfire and toward the water.

The shots stopped as quickly as they had started. The man disappeared between some buildings. Chest heaving, hands shaking, I tried to calm my crying daughter, while my husband, friends and I all looked at one another in breathless disbelief. I turned to check on Hunter, a high school intern from Oregon who was staying with my family for a few weeks, but she was on the phone.

“Someone was just shooting on the beach,” she said, between gulps of air, to the person on the line.

Unable to imagine whom she would be calling at that moment, I asked her, somewhat indignantly, if she couldn’t have waited until we got to safety before calling her mom.

“No,” she said. “I am talking to the police.”

My friends and I locked eyes in stunned silence. Between the four adults, we hold six degrees. Three of us are journalists. And not one of us had thought to call the police. We had not even considered it.

We also are all black. And without realizing it, in that moment, each of us had made a set of calculations, an instantaneous weighing of the pros and cons.

As far as we could tell, no one had been hurt. The shooter was long gone, and we had seen the back of him for only a second or two. On the other hand, calling the police posed considerable risks. It carried the very real possibility of inviting disrespect, even physical harm. We had seen witnesses treated like suspects, and knew how quickly black people calling the police for help could wind up cuffed in the back of a squad car. Some of us knew of black professionals who’d had guns drawn on them for no reason.

This was before Michael Brown. Before police killed John Crawford III for carrying a BB gun in a Wal-Mart or shot down 12-year-old Tamir Rice in a Cleveland park. Before Akai Gurley was killed by an officer while walking in a dark staircase and before Eric Garnerwas choked to death upon suspicion of selling “loosies.” Without yet knowing those names, we all could go down a list of unarmed black people killed by law enforcement.

We feared what could happen if police came rushing into a group of people who, by virtue of our skin color, might be mistaken for suspects.

For those of you reading this who may not be black, or perhaps Latino, this is my chance to tell you that a substantial portion of your fellow citizens in the United States of America have little expectation of being treated fairly by the law or receiving justice. It’s possible this will come as a surprise to you. But to a very real extent, you have grown up in a different country than I have.

As Khalil Gibran Muhammad, author of The Condemnation of Blackness, puts it, “White people, by and large, do not know what it is like to be occupied by a police force. They don’t understand it because it is not the type of policing they experience. Because they are treated like individuals, they believe that if ‘I am not breaking the law, I will never be abused.’”

We are not criminals because we are black. Nor are we somehow the only people in America who don’t want to live in safe neighborhoods. Yet many of us cannot fundamentally trust the people who are charged with keeping us and our communities safe.As protest and revolt swept across the Missouri suburb of Ferguson and demonstrators staged die-ins and blocked highways and boulevards from Oakland to New York with chants of “Black lives matter,” many white Americans seemed shocked by the gaping divide between law enforcement and the black communities they are supposed to serve. It was no surprise to us. For black Americans, policing is “the most enduring aspect of the struggle for civil rights,” says Muhammad, a historian and director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York. “It has always been the mechanism for racial surveillance and control.” . . .

Continue reading.

See also: Washington Post:  12 key highlights from the DOJ’s scathing Ferguson report.

NY Times: Policing, Discrimination and Raising Revenue.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 March 2015 at 2:00 pm

Posted in Law Enforcement

USDA Whistleblowers Tell All–and You May Never Eat Bacon Again

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Tom Philpott writes at Mother Jones:

In 2004, Elsa Murano stepped down from her post as chief of the US Department of Agriculture division that oversees food safety at the nation’s slaughterhouses. Two years later, she joined the board of directors of pork giant Hormel, a company that runs some of the nation’s largest slaughterhouses. Murano received $238,000 in compensation for her service on Hormel’s board in 2014 alone.

This is a classic example of the “revolving door” that separates US government regulators from the corporations they regulate. It’s hardly the most shocking thing I gleaned from the whistleblower-protection group Government Accountability Project’s recent exposé of conditions at three hog slaughter facilities associated with Hormel. But it’s interesting to think about in light of GAP’s allegations, found in sworn affidavits filed by four USDA inspectors stationed in Hormel-owned plants. Three of the inspectors chose to remain anonymous; the fourth, Joe Ferguson, gave his name.

Their comments focus on three Hormel-associated plants, which are among just five hog facilities enrolled in a pilot inspection program run by the USDA. In the regular oversight system, USDA-employed inspectors are stationed along the kill line, charged with ensuring that conditions are as sanitary as possible and that no tainted meat ends up being packed for consumption. In the pilot program, known as HIMP (short for Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points-based Inspection Models Project), company employees take over inspection duties, relegating USDA inspectors to an oversight role on the sidelines.

What’s more, the HIMP plants get to speed up the kill line—from the current rate of 1,100 hogs per hour to 1,300 hogs per hour, a jump of nearly 20 percent. The five plants rolled out the new inspection system around 2002, USDA spokesperson Aaron Lavallee said. That’s when Murano, now on the Hormel board of directors, ran the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service. If the privatization-plus-speedup formula sounds familiar, it’s because the USDA ran a similar experimental program for chicken slaughter for years. After much pushback by workplace and food safety advocates and media attention (including from me), the USDA decided not to let poultry companies speed up the kill line when it opened the new system to all chicken slaughterhouses last year (though it did green-light turkey facilities to speed up the line from 51 to 55 birds per minute).

All four affidavits offer blistering critiques of the hog version of the pilot program. Three themes run through them: (1) company inspectors are poorly trained and prepared for the task of overseeing a fast-moving kill line involving large carcasses; (2) company-employed and USDA inspectors alike face pressure from the company not to perform their jobs rigorously; and (3) lots of unappetizing stuff is getting through as the result of (1) and (2).

The testimony of Inspector 3, affidavit here, is full of choice nuggets, though not of the sort you want to sample before lunch. Here are a few:

  • “Not only are plant supervisors not trained, the employees taking over USDA’s inspection duties have no idea what they are doing. Most of them come into the plant with no knowledge of pathology or the industry in general.”
  • “Food safety has gone down the drain under HIMP. Even though fecal contamination has increased under the program (though the company does a good job of hiding it), USDA inspectors are encouraged not to stop the line for fecal contamination.”
  • “HIMP was initially designed for the kill of young, healthy animals. This hasn’t always been the case. A lot of the animals the plant has killed were too old. Some also had different diseases. They didn’t even slow down the line for the diseased carcasses.”
  • “The company threatens plant employees with terminations if they see them condemning too many carcasses or carcass parts.”

For its part, Hormel insists . . .

Continue reading. Later in the article:

. . . However, the USDA’s and Hormel’s rosy assessment of HIMP presents a stark contrast to a scathing 2013 report from yet another USDA agency, the Office of the Inspector General, which found HIMP plants—which it did not name—made up three of the top 10 US hog plants earning the most food safety and animal welfare citations in the period of fiscal years 2008 to 2011. Moreover, by far the most-cited slaughterhouse in the United States over that period was in the program—it drew “nearly 50 percent more [citations] than the plant with the next highest number.” The OIG also concluded that that the Food Safety and Inspection Service “did not provide adequate oversight” of HIMP over its first 15 years, and as a result,  “HIMP plants may have a higher potential for food safety risks.”

Not all company-employed inspectors “understand and have the ability to execute the proper procedures needed to make sure pathogens don’t spread to other carcasses” when “fecal matter or ingesta spills out of one of the animal’s organs.”

Ted Genoways, who in 2012 wrote a harrowing account in Mother Jones of what accelerated line speeds have meant for workers slaughterhouse workers, rejects Hormel’s sunny assessment. Genoways’ reporting, later expanded into the superb 2014 book The Chain, focused on the Quality Pork Processors plant in Austin, Minnesota, which supplies its meat solely to Hormel and is one of the three Hormel-associated plants among the five in HIMP. He recently told Food Safety News, “Yes, I think the line speeds [at the HIMP plants] are too fast. When you see the workers on the line say the speeds are too fast, the inspectors say the lines are too fast, the suppliers at the farm level say the lines are too fast, there’s such a unanimity of opinion that I don’t think you can come to any other conclusion.” . . .

Written by LeisureGuy

5 March 2015 at 1:11 pm

Philadelphia: City of Brotherly Love? Not really. Certainly not by cops.

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Take a look at this Radley Balko column in the Washington Post:

Journalism student Coulter Loeb tried to photograph Philadelphia police officer George Gaspar Jr. as the latter tried to shoo an overnight camper from the city’s Rittenhouse Square. Gaspar claims Loeb interfered with his duties as a police officer, so he arrested Loeb, cuffed him and charged him with disorderly conduct. Loeb sued, claiming that the arrest violated his First and Fourth Amendment rights.

Despite the fact that every court to rule on the matter has now determined that there is a First Amendment right to record on-duty police, and that according to the American Civil Liberties Union, Philadelphia police have a history of wrongful arrests in this area, U.S. District Court Judge William H. Yohn Jr. dismissed Loeb’s free-speech claim this year, finding that such a right isn’t yet clearly established in the Third District. (Welcome to the world of qualified immunity, where the police are only required to follow “well-established” laws.)

But the other claim went forward to trial. And it’s here that the city of Philadelphia registered its contempt for transparency. From the Associated Press:

A college student arrested as he photographed a Philadelphia police encounter with a homeless woman said Wednesday he tried to be “a fly on the wall” until he was put in handcuffs.

However, a city attorney described then-photojournalism student Coulter Loeb as “a meddlesome 24-year-old” with “very high-minded ideas about government” and the role of media . . .

Assistant City Solicitor John C. Coyle told jurors that Loeb was interfering with Gaspar’s work as he tried to remove an overnight camper from tony Rittenhouse Square.

“Like many other college students, he has some very high-minded ideas about government, the role of government in interactions with its citizenry and the role of the media in observing those interactions,” Coyle said in his opening statements.

We certainly can’t have our young people thinking the police and government should be transparent and accountable to the people. Best to disabuse them of the notion early, with an arrest and a few hours in handcuffs.

Officer Gaspar didn’t like the cut of Loeb’s jib, either. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 March 2015 at 11:21 am

La-Z-Boy problems

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Really consider carefully whether a La-Z-Boy is a good purchase—particularly west of the Rockies, where prices are substantially higher.

I got a new El Dorado—wonderful chair—in March. There was considerable delay in filling the order—about six weeks—and the dealer was unable to track the shipment at all: he simply had to wait for the warehouse, which did not answer emails (and, he said, he could not call them). That was a bad sign.

But I did get the chair in March, and it was wonderful until December, when the seat cushion broke. That is a relatively short lifespan, given the cost of the chair. But it is covered by a lifetime warranty, so a service man come to my apartment, took notes from the documentation under the chair, and ordered a new part right at the end of the December. I was told it would take around 5 weeks.

After six weeks I started calling the local (San Jose) service center to find out when it would arrive. They could not tell me, and they repeatedly emailed the factory for information, but those emails were never answered. Apparently this is just how it works within La-Z-Boy: no one seemed surprised, and I was advised simply to accept that.

It did finally arrive two weeks ago, and we schedule a man to come out and install the new parts. He was a very nice guy, but he said he had never worked on this model before.

It seemed okay, but as I sat in it after he left, it became obvious that something was seriously wrong: first, when the foot rest is raised, the chair back falls back and will not stay upright. (I have adjusted the tension springs, but that does not help.) Formerly, I could have my feet up and the back would remain upright so I could lean against it. If I wanted to recline, I could do that with more pressure. Now it reclines about 6″-8″ with no pressure at all.

Also, when I do lean back, the seat and back sort twist: they tilt down to the right and left side raises up.

And, oddly, the seat seems higher: my feet no longer quite reach the floor when the chair is upright. Bigger cushion? Cushion not fully seated? Dunno.

This is all very uncomfortable, so (since I know the guy is here in town today) I called the service center to see whether he could come back and fix it. No, he cannot. The earliest he can return is just over 3 weeks from now—and, of course, it’s unclear whether he can fix it.

I could not get an earlier date, and I was frustrated. The service center did explain (several times) that there was nothing they could do. The idea was just that I accept it. I asked how I could escalate the issue, and they gave me a number that’s presumably at the home office in Michigan.

I called to register the complaint, but I doubt that any complaint was registered. The women I talked to (I was transferred once and accidentally disconnected my call once) were all very nice, but all they said was, “There’s nothing we can do,” “I’m sorry, but we really can’t help,” and so on.

I did ask them to let management know that this is intolerably bad service, and if they don’t fix it, eventually word will get out and their sales will fall off a cliff, and they nicely told me that all calls are recorded. I think they thought that was the best answer to my complaint. Other than that, it was a series of very pleasant and polite restatements of “We can’t help you.”

So I have a chair that’s horribly uncomfortable now—worse than with the broken cushion—and it will be just over 3 weeks before someone takes another crack at fixing it.

My advice: Do NOT buy a La-Z-Boy. When I complained to the guy who installed the new seat and cushion that the chair’s cushion had broken after just a few months of use, he commented, “They don’t make them like they used to.” And I would agree: they sure don’t. And the service, though polite, is abysmally poor. No one really cares, so far as I can tell.

UPDATE: Acting on the comment below, I looked up Stressless chairs, found they had a local dealer, and visited. They are indeed comfortable, come in three sizes (S, M, L, with me needing a Large), and seem quite comfortable. The footrest is not integral, so a minor inconvenience, but the chair is quite comfortable. Stressless chairs are made in Norway, La-Z-Boy in China, so that perhaps accounts for some difference in quality.

I’ll wait the three weeks for La-Z-Boy to deign to reappear and fix my chair, but if that’s unsuccessful, I’m getting a Stressless. Lesson learned: La-Z-Boy is OVER.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 March 2015 at 10:31 am

Posted in Business, Daily life

Drawbacks of drone warfare

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One drawback is evident: when a US drone sends a missile to blow up a wedding party or a meeting of village elders, it creates great anger at the US among the survivors and the family members of those killed and maimed. But there are other drawbacks as well. Pratap Chatterjee writes at TomDispatch.com:

The U.S. drone war across much of the Greater Middle East and parts of Africa is in crisis and not because civilians are dying or the target list for that war or the right to wage it just about anywhere on the planet are in question in Washington. Something far more basic is at stake: drone pilots are quitting in record numbers.

There are roughly 1,000 such drone pilots, known in the trade as “18Xs,” working for the U.S. Air Force today. Another 180 pilots graduate annually from a training program that takes about a year to complete at Holloman and Randolph Air Force bases in, respectively, New Mexico and Texas. As it happens, in those same 12 months, about 240 trained pilots quit and the Air Force is at a loss to explain the phenomenon. (The better-known U.S. Central Intelligence Agency drone assassination program is also flown by Air Force pilots loaned out for the covert missions.)

On January 4, 2015, the Daily Beast revealed an undated internal memo to Air Force Chief of Staff General Mark Welsh from General Herbert “Hawk” Carlisle stating that pilot “outflow increases will damage the readiness and combat capability of the MQ-1/9 [Predator and Reaper] enterprise for years to come” and added that he was “extremely concerned.” Eleven days later, the issue got top billing at a special high-level briefing on the state of the Air Force. Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James joined Welsh to address the matter. “This is a force that is under significant stress — significant stress from what is an unrelenting pace of operations,” she told the media.

In theory, drone pilots have a cushy life. Unlike soldiers on duty in “war zones,” they can continue to live with their families here in the United States. No muddy foxholes or sandstorm-swept desert barracks under threat of enemy attack for them. Instead, these new techno-warriors commute to worklike any office employees and sit in front of computer screens wielding joysticks, playing what most people would consider a glorified video game.

They typically “fly” missions over Afghanistan and Iraq where they are tasked with collecting photos and video feeds, as well as watching over U.S. soldiers on the ground. A select few are deputized to fly CIA assassination missions over Pakistan, Somalia, or Yemen where they are ordered to kill “high value targets” from the sky. In recent months, some of these pilots have also taken part in the new war in the Syrian and Iraqi borderlands, conductingdeadly strikes on militants of ISIL.

Each of these combat air patrols involves three to four drones, usually Hellfire-missile-armed Predators and Reapers built by southern California’s General Atomics, and each takes as many as 180 staff members to fly them. In addition to pilots, there are camera operators, intelligence and communications experts, and maintenance workers. (The newer Global Hawk surveillance patrols need as many as 400 support staff.)

The Air Force is currently under orders to staff 65 of these regular “combat air patrols” around the clock as well as to support a Global Response Force on call for emergency military and humanitarian missions. For all of this, there should ideally be 1,700 trained pilots. Instead, facing an accelerating dropout rate that recently drove this figure below 1,000, the Air Force has had to press regular cargo and jet pilots as well as reservists into becoming instant drone pilots in order to keep up with the Pentagon’s enormous appetite for real-time video feeds from around the world.

The Air Force explains the departure of these drone pilots in the simplest of terms. They are leaving because they are overworked. The pilots themselves say that it’s humiliating to be scorned by their Air Force colleagues as second-class citizens. Some have also come forward to claim that the horrors of war, seen up close on video screens, day in, day out, are inducing an unprecedented, long-distance version of post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD).

But is it possible that a brand-new form of war — by remote control — is also spawning a brand-new, as yet unlabeled, form of psychological strain? Some have called drone war a “coward’s war” (an opinion that, according to reports from among the drone-traumatized in places like Yemen and Pakistan, is seconded by its victims). Could it be that the feeling is even shared by drone pilots themselves, that a sense of dishonor in fighting from behind a screen thousands of miles from harm’s way is having an unexpected impact of a kind psychologists have never before witnessed?

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 March 2015 at 8:11 am

Terrific shave with blade change

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SOTD 5 Mar 2015

Extremely nice shave with the British Gillette Aristocrat shown.

The Omega S-Series brush made a very fine lather from D.R. Harris Arlington shaving soap, and the razor is comfortable and efficient—though the first two passes were not doing a good job. The razor had a Bolzano blade of some considerable use, and I discarded and used a Shark Chrome (also previously used) for the final pass, which cleaned it up well. I should have replaced the Bolzano after the last shave, it seems.

Three passes, a very smooth final result, and a good splash of Arlington aftershave.

And today, La-Z-Boy is going to replace my broken seat cushion—at last. It took a little over 2 months, a little less than 2.5 months, to get it done, but the guy is due this morning. In my view, the cushion should not have broken in the first place, and the number of phone calls to get a response was WAY too high. I regret to say that La-Z-Boy is not the company it once was.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 March 2015 at 7:39 am

Posted in Daily life, Shaving

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