Later On

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

Archive for February 9th, 2009

More on the "state secrets" ploy

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Daphne Eviatar explains what it is and how it works (and should work).

Glenn Greenwald boils over.

Written by Leisureguy

9 February 2009 at 7:04 pm

BIG disappointment from Obama

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What happened to transparency? What happened to finding out the truth? Daphne Eviatar in the Washington Independent finds that Obama’s promises in this area were false, false, false. The article begins:

In a move that’s sure to dismay some of President Obama’s faithful, the new administration today stood up in a federal appeals court and reiterated the Bush administrations’ arguments that victims of “extraordinary rendition” and torture should not be allowed to bring their claims in federal court because doing so would reveal “state secrets” and harm national security.

As we first reported in late January, the Bush administration had succeeded in getting the case, Mohamed v. Jeppesen Dataplan, dismissed by arguing that subject of the lawsuit — the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program — was itself a state secret, regardless of how many times President Bush and various CIA directors had talked publicly about it.

Countering the arguments of the American Civil Liberties Union, which represented five victims of the program who all claim they were abducted abroad and shipped to a foreign country to be brutally tortured, the government claimed that even allowing the federal judge overseeing the case to review any classified evidence behind closed doors would endanger national security.

The ACLU, the bipartisan Constitution Project and others have been watching this case closely. Since we first reported on it, in the past week The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times‘ editorial boards have both weighed in, urging the Obama administration to reconsider the Bush Justice Department’s claims.

Today, we got our answer: Obama’s executive orders and presidential memoranda on ending needless government secrecy notwithstanding, the Bush administration’s view that allowing torture victims to have their day in court is a danger to national security still stands.

It’s worth noting that while it’s still early in the new administration and Attorney General Eric Holder was just recently confirmed, the Justice Department did NOT ask the court for more time to consider its views on the case. Instead, it supported the Bush administration’s position that the case should be dismissed.

The Obama administration took a similar position in a related British case that I wrote about last week.

None of this bodes well for the likelihood of obtaining additional information about the Bush administration’s interrogation policies in the future.

Update: Here’s what ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero had to say after today’s hearing: …

Continue reading. So the deal Obama proposes is this: the US government can pick you up without a warrant, transport you to a foreign country with no due process, torture you to a fare-thee-well, figure out finally that you’re totally innocent of any wrongdoing, and you have no recourse, you get no restitution. You are SOL.

The sound you hear is total disgust. What Obama and Holder are doing is against the basic principles of this country.

Written by Leisureguy

9 February 2009 at 1:11 pm

Quite a change from Bush

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I wonder whether the Right even notices things like this, posted by Steve Benen:

At an event in Elkhart, Indiana, today, an audience member asked President Obama, "You have come to our county and asked us to trust you, but those that you have appointed to your cabinet are not trustworthy and cannot handle their own budget and tax issues. I’m one of those who thinks you need to have a beer with Sean Hannity, so tell me why, from my side…"

As my friend Alex Koppelman noted, when the questioner elicited boos, the president intervened, silenced the crowd, and said the woman raised a legitimate question. After addressing the substance, Obama joked:

"Now, with respect to Sean Hannity, I didn’t know that he had invited me for a beer. But I will take that under advisement. Generally, his opinion of me does not seem to be very high. But, uh, but I’m always good for a beer."

Now, it’s always good when a public official can defuse tension with a little humor, and I’m very glad Obama defended the woman’s right to ask a confrontational question. But reading about this, another angle comes to mind: since when can critics of the president attend public events and ask unscreened questions?

Apparently, as of about 20 days ago.

Throughout George W. Bush’s presidency, White House staffers implemented what were generally called "Bubble Boy" policies. The goal was the shield the former president from those who may have disagreed with him or might ask him questions he didn’t want to answer. The anti-dissent policy was often taken to comical lengths, including blocking people from attending public events based on their bumper stickers, requiring loyalty oaths for tickets, and in at least one instance, rehearsing a town-hall meeting a day in advance.

In contrast, consider Obama’s approach to diversity of thought. The new president traveled to an economically-depressed community that voted heavily for his opponent in November. Tickets to the event were publicly available to anyone, no loyalty oaths or Democratic fealty required. White House staffers didn’t check bumper-stickers for conservative messages, and there was no "blacklist" of Republicans who would be denied entry. There were no hand-picked questions and no hand-picked questioners.

So this is what it’s like to have a president with the courage of his convictions, and the confidence to talk to Americans who may disagree with him. I’d almost forgotten.

Written by Leisureguy

9 February 2009 at 12:51 pm

Kellogg and Phelps

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From the Marijuana Policy Project, via email:

As you probably know, cereal giant Kellogg’s has announced that it won’t renew Olympic swim champion Michael Phelps’ endorsement contract because he was photographed smoking marijuana.

If Phelps had been photographed hoisting a Budweiser, no one would have said a word. In fact, Phelps was arrested for drunk driving in 2004 — which could have resulted in someone being hurt or killed — and Kellogg’s never took issue with that. Alcohol is far more toxic and addictive than marijuana and tends to make users reckless, aggressive, and violent.

Would you take a minute to speak out against this hypocrisy, by adding your voice to the hundreds of thousands of people who are pledging to boycott Kellogg’s products until the company changes its decision? Just visit MPP’s action center here and fill out the easy online form.

Meanwhile, MPP has been all over the news to point out the hypocrisy of the situation.
For instance, check out this video of MPP’s Bruce Mirken discussing the issue on CNN last week.

Please join me in rejecting the farce of the condemnation of marijuana users — one that has already long been abandoned by the general public.

Written by Leisureguy

9 February 2009 at 12:33 pm

High-iron lunch

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Today I’m making spinach (fresh, of course: we grow it out here) and oysters, with various other things. Kind of a spinoff of oysters Rockefeller. Probably will include bacon, garlic, pepper sauce, lemon juice, and the like.


Sauté three rashers of bacon, cut into squares, over low heat.

While that proceeds, mince 5 cloves of garlic and chop 1/2 large onion and put a handful of arame seaweed in a bowl of hot water to rehydrate. Then cut the roots off two bunches of fresh spinach (I leave them in the bunch as I slice off the roots over the trashcan), and rinse spinach in a sink full of cold water. I actually rinsed it well, drained the water, refilled the sink with clean water, and rinsed it again.

By this time the bacon was done. I removed the bits and sautéed the onion until it was transparent, added the garlic and salt and pepper, and then added all the spinach (spun dry), alone with a good slug of Batch 5 of my pepper sauce, a splash of mirin, a splash of soy sauce, and the arame. I let that cook down, stirring occasionally, until the spinach was pretty much cooked.

I placed several large oysters (bought them from Costco already shucked) on top of the spinach, placed about half a pat of truffle butter on each, sprinkled each with a little truffle salt, and put the lid on and let that cook for 7 minutes over low heat.

Very tasty.

Written by Leisureguy

9 February 2009 at 11:13 am

Posted in Daily life, Food

Book news

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That’s as of this minute. It changes a lot.

Written by Leisureguy

9 February 2009 at 11:02 am

Posted in Books, Shaving

How to Grow Your Own Fresh Air – TED 2009 Talk

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This is just a slide show, not a movie, but it has some interesting information. Via

Written by Leisureguy

9 February 2009 at 10:53 am

Posted in Daily life

Interesting article on what global warming will do to California

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And also how important the public views the issue of global warming. Go read—it has some interesting stuff.

Written by Leisureguy

9 February 2009 at 10:45 am

FEMA needs a lot of work

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From the Center on American Progress, via email:

Victims of Hurricane Ike, which hit southeastern Texas in September 2008, have had a hard time receiving assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Roughly 650,000 applicants have been denied any assistance so far. Lawyers for many of the people found ineligible are saying that "unqualified or poorly trained FEMA inspectors" are to be blamed for FEMA’s failure to help the region. According to Mark J. Grandich, who represents a homeowner whose request for aid had been denied, FEMA merely "hired a bunch of people, basically just anybody, and put them on the street after one day of training."  The 2,360 inspectors hired by FEMA appeared to have been "motivated to work quickly because they are paid a flat fee per inspection and must cover most of their own expenses." One former FEMA inspector said that the agency’s training program is "a scam" and that FEMA’s "goal is to get as many inspections as they can done every day to keep their heads above water." FEMA argues that many people "do not understand the limits of the agency’s help" and that the agency attempts to make only the most uninhabitable homes "safe, secure and functional."

Written by Leisureguy

9 February 2009 at 10:41 am

“It’s Oh So Quiet”

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I’m watching a so-so movie (She’s So Lovely), but I really liked this song, which played during the credits:

Although sung by Björk, the song dates from 1948 and is a renamed cover of the Betty Hutton song “Blow a Fuse”.

Written by Leisureguy

9 February 2009 at 10:39 am

What we did in Iraq

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John Tirman writes in The Nation:

We are now able to estimate the number of Iraqis who have died in the war instigated by the Bush administration. Looking at the empirical evidence of Bush’s war legacy will put his claims of victory in perspective. Of course, even by his standards—“stability”—the jury is out. Most independent analysts would say it’s too soon to judge the political outcome. Nearly six years after the invasion, the country remains riven by sectarian politics and major unresolved issues, like the status of Kirkuk.

We have a better grasp of the human costs of the war. For example, the United Nations estimates that there are about 4.5 million displaced Iraqis—more than half of them refugees—or about one in every six citizens. Only 5 percent have chosen to return to their homes over the past year, a period of reduced violence from the high levels of 2005-07. The availability of healthcare, clean water, functioning schools, jobs and so forth remains elusive. According to Unicef, many provinces report that less than 40 percent of households have access to clean water. More than 40 percent of children in Basra, and more than 70 percent in Baghdad, cannot attend school.

The mortality caused by the war is also high. Several household surveys were conducted between 2004 and 2007. While there are differences among them, the range suggests a congruence of estimates. But none have been conducted for eighteen months, and the two most reliable surveys were completed in mid-2006. The higher of those found 650,000 “excess deaths” (mortality attributable to war); the other yielded 400,000. The war remained ferocious for twelve to fifteen months after those surveys were finished and then began to subside. Iraq Body Count, a London NGO that uses English-language press reports from Iraq to count civilian deaths, provides a means to update the 2006 estimates. While it is known to be an undercount, because press reports are incomplete and Baghdad-centric, IBC nonetheless provides useful trends, which are striking. Its estimates are nearing 100,000, more than double its June 2006 figure of 45,000. (It does not count nonviolent excess deaths—from health emergencies, for example—or insurgent deaths.) If this is an acceptable marker, a plausible estimate of total deaths can be calculated by doubling the totals of the 2006 household surveys, which used a much more reliable and sophisticated method for estimates that draws on long experience in epidemiology. So we have, at present, between 800,000 and 1.3 million “excess deaths” as we approach the six-year anniversary of this war.

Written by Leisureguy

9 February 2009 at 10:14 am

Good post on stimulus history

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From Dean Baker:

If the Washington Post had a science section it would be filled with accounts of creationism and the latest thoughts from the Flat Earth Society. This is the only conclusion that one can get from reading its treatment of economics in the Outlook section.

Readers may recall the memorable Donald Luskin piece of September 14th telling readers that the economy was just fine. In keeping with this proud tradition, the Outlook section has a front page piece from Amity Shlaes telling readers that the New Deal didn’t work. According to this story, the economy would have quickly recovered from the depression, if only Roosevelt had the good sense to do nothing.

While the basic argument has the form of a no evidence counter-factual assertion (e.g. the good fairy of the market would have set things right, if only Roosevelt didn’t get in the way), the discussion is contradicted by the known facts of the era. Roosevelt’s New Deal Agenda lowered the unemployment rate from 25 percent in 1933 to 10 percent in 1937. None of us would be happy with 10 percent unemployment, but it is difficult to complain about policies that reduced the unemployment rate by an average of almost 4 percentage points a year. The annual growth rate over these four years averaged 13.0 percent. It is always possible that the magic of the market would have done better, but there is no reason that we should believe so.

Schlaes is correct in pointing out that things turned bad again in 1937. The Blue Dogs of the Roosevelt era won sway and got Roosevelt to cut spending and raise taxes. This threw the economy back into a serious recession, just as any good Keynesian would have predicted.

When it comes to writings on economics, the Post’s Outlook section is probably best viewed as a jobs program rather than a source for serious ideas.

[For folks who think that the growth in federal spending under Roosevelt and the recovery were just coincidence, here is the annual growth in federal government spending, alongside the following year’s GDP growth:

Year Govt spending growth Year GDP growth
1932 2.2% 1933 1.3%
1933 23.7% 1934 10.8%
1934 34.2% 1935 8.9%
1935 1.7% 1936 13.0%
1936 51.0% 1937 5.7%
1937 -10.0% 1938 -3.4%
1938 10.4% 1939 8.1%
1939 7.2% 1940 8.8%
1940 12.0% 1941 17.1%

These are annual data (obviously quarterly would be better) and clearly monetary policy and other factors played a role, but it is pretty hard to look at these data (available at and not see a relationship between government spending and GDP growth.]

Written by Leisureguy

9 February 2009 at 10:05 am

Kindle 2.0

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Read all about it.

Written by Leisureguy

9 February 2009 at 9:28 am

Another graph of recent recessions

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This one is from Swampland. Note that job losses in this graph are shown in percentage terms rather than absolute numbers, as in Pelosi’s graph. Percentages are more reasonable, since the workforce increases in size from year to year. Their comment:

What do we learn? So far the fall in employment is comparable to that in 1974-1975 and 1981-1982. If the comparison holds, the declines should end within the next four or five months. But we of course have no idea whether the comparison will hold. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

Another lesson brought home by the chart is how weak the recovery from the 2001 recession was. It was a mild recession, but it took four years for employment to return to its February 2001 peak. Setting aside the worst-case scenario of a continued downward employment spiral that puts 1974-1975 and 1981-1982 to shame, a recession that combines a severity akin to that of 1974-1975 and 1981-1982 with a recovery as anemic as 2001-2002-2003-2004-2005 would be not a whole lotta fun.

Written by Leisureguy

9 February 2009 at 9:21 am

Posted in Business, Daily life

More on legal cases concerning Guantánamo

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Last week, two British High Court judges ruled against releasing documents describing the treatment of Binyam Mohamed, a British resident who is currently being held at Guantanamo Bay. The judges said the Bush administration “had threatened to withhold intelligence cooperation with Britain if the information were made public.”

But The Daily Telegraph reported over the weekend that the documents actually “contained details of how British intelligence officers supplied information to [Mohamed’s] captors and contributed questions while he was brutally tortured.” In fact, it was British officials, not the Americans, who pressured Foreign Secretary David Miliband “to do nothing that would leave serving MI6 officers open to prosecution.” According to the Telegraph’s sources, the documents describe particularly gruesome interrogation tactics:

The 25 lines edited out of the court papers contained details of how Mr Mohamed’s genitals were sliced with a scalpel and other torture methods so extreme that waterboarding, the controversial technique of simulated drowning, “is very far down the list of things they did,” the official said.

Another source familiar with the case said: “British intelligence officers knew about the torture and didn’t do anything about it.”

“It is very clear who stands to be embarrassed by this and who is being protected by this secrecy. It is not the Americans, it is Labour ministers,” former shadow home secretary David Davis said. But one unnamed U.S. House Judiciary Committee member told the Telegraph that if President Obama “doesn’t act we could hold a hearing or write to subpoena the documents. We need to know what’s in those documents.”

Mohamed remains at Guantanamo Bay and “is currently on hunger strike.” “All terror charges against him were dropped last year,” the Telegraph reported.

Update: Today in San Francisco, "a little-publicised court case into the treatment of Mohamed will open" in federal court. Andrew Sullivan notes that "we’ll find out if the Obama administration intends to keep the evidence as secret as the Bush administration did."

Written by Leisureguy

9 February 2009 at 9:15 am

Important case today

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Daphne Eviatar in the Washington Independent:

President Obama and new Attorney General Eric Holder Monday will face the first public test of their stated commitments to opening government and ending torture.

Since we first reported in January on the pending court case, Mohamed v. Jeppesen Dataplan, there’s been growing pressure — both from advocacy groups and now also from the mainstream media — on the Obama administration to reverse the course pursued by its predecessor.

The case involves five victims of the Bush administration’s extraordinary rendition policies, who claim they were abducted abroad and sent to foreign countries to be interrogated under torture.  With the help of the ACLU, the victims sued Jeppesen Dataplan, the Boeing subsidiary that allegedly helped the CIA carry out its policies. Although they didn’t sue the government, the Bush Justice Department intervened in the case and convinced the court to dismiss it, arguing that the very subject matter of the case — the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program — is a state secret, so allowing the victims their day in court endangers national security.

Last week The New York Times weighed in, calling the Bush administration’s argument that the entire case constitutes one big state secret “preposterous,” and urged Obama to “rethink the government’s position.”

“Should Mr. Obama decide against pursuing criminal cases for the torture and abuse of prisoners, taking any chance of an effective civil case off the table would give a pass to such misconduct and leave its victims without any legal remedy,” wrote The Times’ editorial board. “That certainly does not fit principles that the new president has so often articulated.”

The Los Angeles Times’ editorial board agreed Friday, writing: …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

9 February 2009 at 9:05 am

Preventable deaths in the Army

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Salon is starting a week-long series on the suicides and murders that seem to follow highly stressful combat tours, particularly multiple combat tours. This will be worth following. The opening article begins:

Preventable suicides. Avoidable drug overdoses. Murders that never should have happened. Four years after Salon exposed medical neglect at Walter Reed Army Medical Center that ultimately grew into a national scandal, serious problems with the Army’s healthcare system persist and the situation, at least at some Army posts, continues to deteriorate.

This story is no longer just about lack of medical care. It’s far worse than sighting mold and mouse droppings in the barracks. Late last month the Army released data showing the highest suicide rate among soldiers in three decades. At least 128 soldiers committed suicide in 2008. Another 15 deaths are still under investigation as potential suicides. “Why do the numbers keep going up?” Army Secretary Pete Geren said at a Jan. 29 Pentagon news conference. “We can’t tell you.” On Feb. 5, the Army announced it suspects 24 soldiers killed themselves last month, more than died in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan combined.

But suicide is only one manifestation of the unaddressed madness and despair coming home with U.S. troops. Salon’s close inspection of a rash of murders and suicides involving soldiers at just one base reveals that many of the deaths seem avoidable. Salon put together a sample of 25 suicides, prescription overdoses and murders among soldiers at Colorado’s Fort Carson since 2004. Intensive study of 10 of those cases exposed a pattern of preventable deaths, meaning a suicide or murder might have been avoided if the Army had better handled the predictable, well-known symptoms of a malady rampant among combat veterans: combat-related stress and brain injuries. The results of Salon’s investigation will be published in a weeklong series of articles that begins today with “The Death Dealers Took My Life!”

Salon chose Fort Carson as a laboratory almost by chance. The story started to emerge on its own last summer during reporting at Fort Carson that exposed an alleged friendly fire incident involving soldiers posted there. It was clear during several visits to interview soldiers who’d witnessed the deaths of their colleagues that there was psychological turmoil on the base. Paranoid soldiers were running around with guns. There was prescription and illicit drug abuse, extremely heavy drinking, suicide and murder.

The soldiers seemed to be suffering classic symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder: explosions of anger, suicidal and homicidal ideation, flashbacks, nightmares and insomnia. The Army was responding, for the most part, with disciplinary action rather than treatment, evincing little concern for possible underlying problems. The soldiers self-medicated further. Predictable outcomes followed.

The Army handled the families of the disturbed and neglected soldiers callously. Last November, as detailed today in the first of Salon’s multi-part series on preventable deaths at Fort Carson, officers provided paint for a mother…

Continue reading. Also, see photos of Heidi Lieberman painting over her son’s suicide note, and a copy of the “Hurt Feelings Report,” here.

Written by Leisureguy

9 February 2009 at 8:55 am

Posted in Daily life, Military

Hope the bailout money is going here

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Written by Leisureguy

9 February 2009 at 8:36 am

Posted in Business, Daily life

The Pentagon’s $1 trillion problem

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The entire military structure would benefit from being melted down and reformed, with the Air Force incorporated into the Army. It won’t happen, but what we have is seriously broken. See this article by Scot Paltrow, which begins:

On a winter afternoon in Indianapolis, Jessica Hilligoss, a young Defense Department worker, types long strings of numbers and letters into a computer, helping the United States armed forces transfer the billions of dollars it draws each week from the Federal Reserve to contractors, vendors, and military and civilian personnel.

Her job is to review invoices for everything from construction projects to lawnmowing, and to approve payment. Within a few days, another computer system—behind locked doors in the building’s basement—deposits the money in the recipients’ bank accounts.\

The size of nearly 28 football fields, with a facade of alternating red stucco and white cement tiles, the three-story operations center is the federal government’s third-largest office building, after the Pentagon and the Ronald Reagan Building, and the place where a big chunk of the Iraq war’s soaring price is paid. The center doles out more than $104 billion annually, making it Defense’s largest disburser.

Theoretically, when Hilligoss authorizes a payment, the department should be able to instantly track where the money goes and which program it was spent on, in order to make sure the right amounts are paid to the right recipients at the right times. But it doesn’t work that way.

Since 2004, the Pentagon has spent roughly $16 billion annually to maintain and modernize the military’s business systems, but most are as unreliable as ever—even as the surge in defense spending is creating more room for error. The basic defense budget for 2007 was $439.3 billion, up 48 percent from 2001, excluding the vast additional sums appropriated for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to federal regulators and current and former Pentagon officials, the accounting process is so obsolete and error prone that it’s virtually impossible to tell where much of this money ends up. While the department’s brass has made a few patchwork improvements, billions are still unaccounted for. The problem is so deeply rooted that, 18 years after Congress required major federal agencies to be audited, the Pentagon still can’t be. (Read a chronology of efforts to modernize the military’s financial systems.) …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

9 February 2009 at 8:31 am

Posted in Daily life, Military

Taser loses a suit

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Very good news for those who feel that police departments are using their Tasers way too often and too recklessly, resulting in too many deaths. Story here. I understand the need for non-lethal and humane ways to subdue crazed people, but the Taser doesn’t seem to be the answer.

Written by Leisureguy

9 February 2009 at 8:20 am

Posted in Daily life, Law, Technology

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