Later On

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

Archive for May 16th, 2007

The War Czar and what it might portend

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From Josh Marshall’s TalkingPointsMemo:

On President Bush’s ‘war czar’ …

From a knowledgable TPM Reader …

I haven’t read exhaustively on this, but it seems that the lede is getting buried in stories about the appointment of LTG Lute as war “czar.” It’s not that the administration had to lower their sights to a 3-star. The amazing thing is that they had to fall back on an active duty general – a guy they could order to take the job. All the previous names floated were retired folks who had the luxury of turning the offer down.I’ve never met Lute, but his resume is solid. It’s particularly noteworthy that his last three jobs have all been joint positions. He will probably be an effective organizer. But as a currently serving 3-star, he will be at best a coordinator, outranked by many of the key people he needs to coordinate.

It is somewhat troubling how more and more of our senior national security positions are being filled by military folks still on active duty or just recently retired (CIA, DNI, etc.). There needs to be a balance in backgrounds, and we’ve probably pushed past the right level.

And from tonight’s Nelson Report

there’s a fascinating debate ongoing from “the uniforms” and from sensible civilian staff types. One major concern is the conflation of appropriate civilian and military roles.Providing “best military advice” is the military’s responsibility, and also a right. The responsibility of the civilian leadership is to provide military leaders with enough knowledge of “national policy” to be able to advise, and to understand military matters well enough to understand that advice…and to give it proper and thoughtful consideration.

As we see with the Congressional debate and posturing over how to use the budget to set a schedule and “benchmarks” for success in Iraq, Capitol Hill now shares with the majority of the public the view that the Bush Administration’s civilian leadership did not live up to any of its responsibilities…aided and abetted by serious dereliction of news media and Congressional oversight duties.

What we hear repeatedly expressed as the danger now…both with this nomination, and with constantly rhetorically making Gen. Petraeus responsible for “the plan” in Iraq…is that the military will be held accountable for the policy. As a military friend privately comments, “This is simply wrong”.

There’s also a serious debate going on within military circles about what might be termed Constitutional issues…a debate which could well get to the Congress, since the Senate will be required to hold hearings and to approve Lute’s nomination. Here’s the private comment of a very well-known retired general, which has resonance for Japan’s debate over revising Article 9:

“The czar business is certainly unprecedented and is either a tacit admission that the in-place structure does not meet the needs of the time or is a political maneuver by a desperate president shuffling the deck chairs.

This is serious stuff, indeed, for it calls into question the basic construct of the US military for over half a century.

It remains to be seen what Lute’s brief will be and given Title 10, what authorities he is given. In any case POTUS is tampering with fundamentals and it will have serious consequences that I hope have been fully analyzed and understood.

Certainly the Congress which gave birth to the National Security Act and all the legislation that followed has to weigh in on this.

Given the anti-Bush temperament of that body, I find it stunning that the President has given it another reason to attack him for not knowing what he is doing.

The days ahead will be most interesting.”

Written by Leisureguy

16 May 2007 at 5:28 pm

The stench of the Wolfie mess worsens

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ThinkProgress again:

Former head of the World Bank ethics committee, Ad Melkert, has stated that his panel was never consulted on, nor approved of, the hefty compensation package bank president Paul Wolfowitz arranged for his love interest, Shaha Riza.

But new documents released by a special committee of The World Bank Group show that a team at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher did sign off on the deal. That team included President Bush’s former Solicitor General Ted Olson and Eugene Scalia, son of conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Law.com reports:

Documents released by the bank show that Wolfowitz asked Gibson to review the deal in the summer of 2005. A Gibson Dunn team, including Theodore Olson and Eugene Scalia, concluded that the contract was “a reasonable resolution of the perceived underlying conflict of interest.”

Earlier this week, the Bank’s special committee investigating the scandal “concluded that the limited and after-the-fact review by Gibson ‘is squarely at odds with the high degree of … concern for the interests of’ the World Bank.”

Both Scalia and Olson are solid Bush loyalists, and it’s no surprise that they signed off on Wolfowitz’s arrangement. Some highlights of their career defending the Bush administration:

Eugene Scalia: Facing rejection from the Senate, in Jan. 2002, Bush gave Scalia a controversial recess appoint to become solicitor at the Department of Labor. Gibson, Scalia’s law firm, also represented Bush in the 2000 Supreme Court case that gave Bush the presidency. Even though Scalia benefited from the case, his father refused to recuse himself, as federal statute requires.

Ted Olson: Olson personally represented Bush in the 2000 Supreme Court case, and was then awarded the position of Solicitor General. Olson also provided “assistance” to the Paula Jones legal team in her case against former President Clinton, and “was a public supporter of his longtime friend, Kenneth Starr” during Whitewater.

But even Scalia and Olson weren’t willing to fully embrace Wolfowitz’s compensation package. They added a caveat to their conclusion that the arrangement was “a reasonable resolution”: “Our review has been limited,” Gibson Dunn partner Douglas Cox wrote in an Aug. 31 memo to Wolfowitz. “The key elements of the contract had been accepted and agreed to by all parties to the contract before we were retained.”

Written by Leisureguy

16 May 2007 at 2:44 pm

Wolfie’s friends

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Wolfowitz apparently will not resign today. He seems to be forcing a vote to fire him, and I hope that happens this week. In the meantime, ThinkProgress reports on another of Wolfie’s minions that he put in place:

In 2005, World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz appointed former-Spanish government official Ana Palacio as Bank General Counsel, one of the top positions in the organization. Wolfowitz claimed that he had appointed Palacio for her “legal skill and diplomacy” and for her “exceptional leadership and management capabilities, which he assured “she will bring to this position.”

In reality, she was appointed largely because of her strong support for the Iraq war, and “diplomacy” does not appear to be one of her traits. Highly unpopular within the Bank, an anonymous bank employee speaks up today at the site worldbankpresident.org:

She is known to be overbearing and yell on a regular basis. … She is known to intimidate people by mentioning her proximity to the President. Her conduct can only be characterized as unprofessional. Since the time she has been holding the position, two members of her immediate staff have left after very short periods on the basis of “untenable working conditions”. …. Throughout the Bank, staff find her absent, incoherent, rude and simply not fitted for the job.

Considered a “personal friend” of Shaha Riza’s by bank employees, Palacio has gone to great lengths to deflect the ongoing investigations. As the bank’s top legal counsel, she was supposed to help investigate the pay raise controversy, but she instead tried to stonewall the investigation from even occurring. According to an internal Bank bulletin, a bank employee wrote:

As last week’s Board meeting on Riza-gate was about to commence, Mr. Wolfowitz and Mmes. Cleveland and Palacio barged into the Board room and demanded to participate in the closed-door Board session. An argument ensued between the Board and the executive triumvirate. … Ms. Palacio demanded to stay because she claimed she had a right to remain as counsel to the board. … A needless debate that lasted close to an hour followed and MS. PALACIO REFUSED TO LEAVE THE BOARD ROOM! The board was then forced to adjourn the meeting.

Furthermore, as the controversy began to gain more attention last month, Palacio attempted to deflect attention towards an unrelated investigation, conveniently announcing at the same time that she was looking into a leak of “confidential internal communications” revealed by Fox News.

The abysmal management skills and partisan loyalty that Palacio exhibits reflects how Wolfowitz has loaded the World Bank with unpopular right-wing political appointees with little real effectiveness at the Bank.

Written by Leisureguy

16 May 2007 at 2:05 pm

Great set of climate-change links

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Courtesy of New Scientist:

Our planet’s climate is anything but simple. All kinds of factors influence it, from massive events on the Sun to the growth of microscopic creatures in the oceans, and there are subtle interactions between many of these factors.

Yet despite all the complexities, a firm and ever-growing body of evidence points to a clear picture: the world is warming, this warming is due to human activity increasing levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and if emissions continue unabated the warming will too, with increasingly serious consequences.

Yes, there are still big uncertainties in some predictions, but these swing both ways. For example, the response of clouds could slow the warming or speed it up.

With so much at stake, it is right that climate science is subjected to the most intense scrutiny. What does not help is for the real issues to be muddied by discredited arguments or wild theories.

So for those who are not sure what to believe, here is our round-up of the 26 most common climate myths and misconceptions.

There is also a guide to assessing the evidence. In the articles we’ve included lots of links to primary research and major reports for those who want to follow through to the original sources.

Human CO2 emissions are too tiny to matter

We can’t do anything about climate change

The ‘hockey stick’ graph has been proven wrong

Chaotic systems are not predictable

We can’t trust computer models of climate

They predicted global cooling in the 1970s

It’s been far warmer in the past, what’s the big deal?

It’s too cold where I live – warming will be great

Global warming is down to the Sun, not humans

It’s all down to cosmic rays

CO2 isn’t the most important greenhouse gas

The lower atmosphere is cooling, not warming

Antarctica is getting cooler, not warmer, disproving global warming

The oceans are cooling

The cooling after 1940 shows CO2 does not cause warming

It was warmer during the Medieval period, with vineyards in England

We are simply recovering from the Little Ice Age

Warming will cause an ice age in Europe

Ice cores show CO2 increases lag behind temperature rises, disproving the link to global warming

Ice cores show CO2 rising as temperatures fell

Mars and Pluto are warming too

Many leading scientists question climate change

It’s all a conspiracy

Hurricane Katrina was caused by global warming

Higher CO2 levels will boost plant growth and food production

Polar bear numbers are increasing

If you would like to comment on this article, visit our blog.

For further reading, see the weblinks below.

Web Links

Special Reports

Climate Change: Greenhouse gases, global warming, Kyoto Protocol, melting ice, heat waves

Energy and Fuels: Electricity, climate change, wind turbine, oil, hydrogen, natural gas

Written by Leisureguy

16 May 2007 at 1:45 pm

Serving time at Club Fed

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It’s not so nice as it once was—in fact, not nice at all. Here’s one guy’s account:

Alfred A. Porro Jr. came to Allenwood in a large transport bus guarded by a handful of armed correc­tions officers. Like the five other prisoners on board, he arrived in full shackles. As the bus rumbled to a stop, the officers escorted the new inmates off the vehicle and turned them over to their keepers.

Porro disembarked with relief. Over the past two days, he had been whisked from one prison to another—no one would tell him where he was headed. Now, at least, Porro knew he would be serv­ing his time at a minimum-security prison camp. Good news, he thought. And the grounds, Porro had to admit, were less than intimidating. With sweeping grasslands and thickets of trees, the camp presented none of the chilling images that the term “prison” calls to mind. No fences, no coiled razor wire, no sharpshooters on towers. It might as well have been a college campus.

But as he took his first steps onto the prison grounds, Porro became overwhelmed with dread. He was 64 years old, with seven children and 11 grand­children. During the good times, he was a respected lawyer and a business partner to Lawrence Taylor, the famous Giants football star. When he went on trial, the press called him the “Teflon attorney,” who had made “Houdini-like escapes” from previous investigations. At his core, he still considered him­self a man of deep faith. But on that day, November 11, 1999, Al Porro was just another convicted felon disappearing into the federal prison system.

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Written by Leisureguy

16 May 2007 at 1:07 pm

Posted in Daily life, Government

Best visual illusions of the year

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Some are animated, some are not. Look and be fooled.

Written by Leisureguy

16 May 2007 at 11:33 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

Stumbling on Happiness

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Sounds like a very interesting book.

Stumbling on Happiness is an absolutely fantastic book that will shatter your most deeply held convictions about how your own mind works. Ceaselessly entertaining, Gilbert is the perfect guide to some of the most interesting psychological research ever performed. Think you know what makes you happy? You won’t know for sure until you have read this book.” —Steven D. Levitt, author of Freakonomics

“This is a psychological detective story about one of the great mysteries of our lives. If you have even the slightest curiosity about the human condition, you ought to read it. Trust me.”—Malcolm Gladwell, Amazon.com

“A fascinating new book that explores our sometimes misguided attempts to find happiness.”Time Magazine

“A lucid, charmingly written argument for why our expectations don’t pan out.”Psychology Today

“A witty, insightful and superbly entertaining trek through the foibles of human imagination.”New Scientist

“Gilbert’s book has no subtitle, allowing you to invent your own. I’d call it “The Only Truly Useful Book on Psychology I’ve Ever Read.”—James Pressley, Bloomberg News

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Written by Leisureguy

16 May 2007 at 9:27 am

Posted in Books, Daily life

Video of Comey’s testimony on Gonzales

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We have a thug for Attorney General. And Bush likes that.

Written by Leisureguy

16 May 2007 at 9:23 am

Transcript of Comey’s testimony

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Here’s the transcript (PDF file). You may want to save it. And here’s some of the testimony, preceded by commentary, including:

Can anyone think of any historical examples where the Department of Justice told the White House that a course of conduct would be unlawful (in this case, a felony), and the President went ahead and did it anyway, without overruling DOJ’s legal conclusion?

BTW: if you’re a Windows user, the best PDF reader is Foxit, a freebie. Much better than Adobe Reader.

Written by Leisureguy

16 May 2007 at 8:39 am

The kind of thing that appeals to me: rational city names

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I have a weakness for rational schemes. They make so much sense, regardless of popularity. You know the list: Esperanto, Dvorak keyboard, Fitaly keyboard (for stylus typing), the Shaw alphabet, Lotus Agenda, and the like. And in that vein, this wonderful idea: rational city names, the first name denoting the latitude, the second name the longitude. A great idea, IMHO.

Written by Leisureguy

16 May 2007 at 8:25 am

Posted in Daily life

Extremely important article

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Please read. It begins:

Way back in 1999, when I was still a Tomdispatch-less book editor, I read a proposal from Chalmers Johnson. He was, then, known mainly as a scholar of modern Japan, though years earlier I had read his brilliant book on Chinese peasant nationalism — about a period in the 1940s when imperial Japan was carrying out its “3-all” campaigns (kill-all, burn-all, loot-all) in the northern Chinese countryside. The proposal, for a book to be called “Blowback” — a CIA term of tradecraft that, like most Americans, I had never heard before — focused on the “unintended consequences” of the Agency’s covert activities abroad and the disasters they might someday bring down upon us. Johnson began with an introduction in which he reviewed, among other things, his experiences in the Vietnam War era when, as a professed Cold Warrior, a former CIA consultant, and a professor of Asian studies at Berkeley, he would have been on the other side of the political fence from me.

In that introduction, he recalled his dismay with antiwar activists who were, he felt (not incorrectly), often blindly romantic about Asian communism and hadn’t bothered to do their homework on the subject. “They were,” he wrote, “defining the Vietnamese Communists largely out of their own romantic desires to oppose Washington’s policies.” He added:

“As it turned out, however, they understood far better than I did the impulse of a Robert McNamara, a McGeorge Bundy, or a Walt Rostow. They grasped something essential about the nature of America’s imperial role in the world that I had failed to perceive. In retrospect, I wish I had stood with the antiwar protest movement. For all its naïveté and unruliness, it was right and American policy wrong.”

It was a reversal of sentiment to which no other American of his age and background, to the best of my knowledge, had admitted. It reflected a mind impressively willing to reconsider and change — and, as it happened, it also reflected a man on a journey out of the world of Cold War anti-communism and into the heart of the American empire. When Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire finally came out in 2000, it was largely ignored (or derided) in the mainstream — until, that is, September 11th, 2001. Then, “blowback,” and the phrase that went with it, “unintended consequences,” entered our language, thanks to Johnson, and the paperback of the book, now seen as prophetic, hit the 9/11 tables in bookstores across the United States, becoming a bestseller.

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Written by Leisureguy

16 May 2007 at 7:41 am

For the movie fans

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A collection of very long takes.

In a director’s cinematic bag of tricks the long tracking shot is the boldest way of making a statement. It’s the flashiest and most attention-grabbing egotistical way of flexing one’s muscle. In most cases it’s a narcissistic maneuver, “look-at-me” filming technique, but rare ones, the best ones, serve to reflect and further the story in a way that can’t be reflected with traditional editing.

Let’s examine specifically the long ‘tracking’ take which involves extensive and complicated movements of the camera. The fact is filmmakers have been doing long takes since the medium was invented. In fact the first films didn’t have any edits. Perhaps the first most notable film to use long unedited takes for storytelling purposes was Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rope” (1948) which was an entire film shot in real time created by seamless cutting together a series of long 8-10 mins shots made to look like one. In 1948 it was a bold and unprecedented experiment for Hitchcock. The film works because its takes place entirely in one room for 80 minutes, so there was limited movement and lighting changes.

The difficulty arises when the camera is forced to move which complicates the logistics ie. Focus changes, lighting changes and hiding production equipment. And so perhaps the first true, universally-accepted “long tracking shot” is Orson Welles’ opening shot in “Touch of Evil” (1958). This shot was a large step up from Hitchcock’s experiment because of the extensive movement of the camera. Let’s start the list with this masterful one:

Written by Leisureguy

16 May 2007 at 7:34 am

Posted in Movies & TV

US support of illegal drugs

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The US has been, in effect, supporting the growth of the opium industry. ThinkProgress notes:

92 percent: Proportion of the world’s opium that Afghanistan now produces. Bush administration officials acknowledge that until recently, “fighting drugs was considered a distraction from fighting terrorists.” The problem has become so severe that American officials now “hope that Afghanistan’s drug problem will someday be only as bad as that of Colombia.”

Read the article at the link. The Bush Administration is incompetent through and through.

Written by Leisureguy

16 May 2007 at 6:50 am

An analysis of Comey’s testimony

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Comey’s testimony yesterday highlighted how the Executive Branch of the US government has been delivered to thugs who do not hesitate to break the law when it suits them. Glenn Greenwald has a lucid and important analysis of that testimony.

I reluctantly conclude that Bush should be impeached. He has clearly and deliberately broken the law repeatedly. I don’t think he will be impeached, but it would be appropriate.

Written by Leisureguy

16 May 2007 at 6:35 am

Regular exceptional shave

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My shave regularly feel exceptionally smooth—I don’t know how it’s exceptional, if it’s the daily occurrence, but it feels exceptional.

This morning I used Mama Bear’s Mysore Sandalwood soap with the Simpsons Chubby 1 Best Badger. Good lather, which I shaved off with the Gillette Fatboy (set at 5) with a Feather blade. No nicks, just glassy smoothness. Finished with alum block and Barbasol Brisk.

Written by Leisureguy

16 May 2007 at 6:30 am

Posted in Shaving

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