Later On

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

Archive for February 12th, 2009

Scott Horton on the issues

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The link in the Daphne Eviatar article to Scott Horton’s post definitely should be followed. Horton begins:

In two cases in the last year the British Government has represented to courts that continuation of proceedings that included allegations of criminal wrongdoing by British and foreign officials would undermine national security if they were to proceed. In both cases British officials claimed that the foreign government would stop cooperation with counterterrorism efforts if the case were to proceed. And in both cases, as soon as the legal proceedings were terminated, the government immediately proceeded to claim that the suggestion that the foreign government had made a threat of any kind was simply a “misunderstanding.” From the perspective of many observers it was an astonishing example of bait-and-switch involving the national legal system.

Today the High Court in London agreed to reopen the most recent case, involving British Guantánamo detainee Binyam Mohamed, making clear that it was highly dissatisfied with Foreign Secretary David Miliband. Mohamed’s lawyers also issued an appeal directly to President Obama asking him to intervene directly in the case. The Guardian reports: …

Continue reading.

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12 February 2009 at 8:22 pm

British court re-opens the case

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Daphne Eviatar of the Washington Independent:

Scott Horton at Harper’s has posted a helpful roundup of the latest developments in the increasingly bizarre case of Binyam Mohamed in the United Kingdom.

Mohamed, readers will recall, is the British Ethiopian-born Gitmo prisoner first abducted in 2002 in Pakistan and tortured over the next two years in various secret and foreign prisons. He’s been seeking evidence in the United Kingdom to support his claim that he was tortured, which he could then use to exclude any tortured confessions in a future trial, or to help him win damages, which his lawyers are seeking on his behalf in a court in California. (As I wrote earlier, the Obama Justice Department is, like the Bush Justice department before it, trying to get the case dismissed based on the “state secrets” privilege.)

The British court recently denied Mohamed’s request to publish a summary of his torture by U.S. authorities because the U.S. government, first under Bush and then under Obama, insisted it would endanger American national security — and threatened it would harm U.S.-British relations.

Though everyone quickly denied that the United States had threatened British authorities, it seems pretty clear  that’s exactly what they did.

Now, according to The Guardian, the British court has agreed to re-open Mohamed’s case.  And his lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith from the British group Reprieve, has written to President Obama, taunting him that his own secretary of defense isn’t allowing Obama to see the evidence of Mohamed’s “truly medieval” abuse at the hands of U.S. authorities.

Meanwhile, Mohamed is reportedly being prepared for release from Gitmo to the United Kingdom, without ever having been tried.

Maybe he wasn’t such a dangerous terrorist after all.

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12 February 2009 at 8:15 pm

The gentleman from Florida has some questions

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Written by Leisureguy

12 February 2009 at 8:12 pm

Posted in Business, Congress

A closer look at Rahm’s role

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Jane Hamsher looks a little more closely at the role Rahm Emanuel played in getting the stimulus bill watered down passed:

We didn’t hear much about Rahm Emanuel when things were looking dicey and Obama had to fight for the stimulus bill, but now that there is a conference deal, Rahm would like his credit. Let’s see who’s jockeying for access in the new White House and obliging.

Well, first the obvious.  Here we have David Broder, giving us the official Village press release on how the incident will be digested (h/t Teddy):

But it was probably a lucky break for the administration that Rahm Emanuel was also around to work the House. Obama’s chief of staff was the No. 4 man in the House Democratic leadership. If anyone could placate Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her lieutenants who run the key committees, it was probably Emanuel. This week was the first big test.

If "placate" means engaging in a personal pissing contest to unload blame for the bill’s shortcomings on the House and dispatching minions to attack and undermine Pelosi,  I guess you could say that.

Then we have The Hill:

And if anyone’s fingerprints are on the nearly $800 billion economic stimulus package being sorted out in Congress this week, they belong to Emanuel, the former Illinois House member who is now the White House chief of staff.

There he was on the morning before the House stimulus vote, bringing Blue Dogs back into the fold as he huddled with their leaders in House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer’s (D-Md.) hideaway off the House floor.

Enough Blue Dogs were wooed  over to vote for the bill, per The Hill’s own reporting at the time, by a letter from Obama’s director Peter Orszag saying the White House would commit to pay-go budget principles for all non-emergency legislation going forward.  Rahm is never mentioned in the article.  …

Continue reading.

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12 February 2009 at 8:06 pm

Susan Collins, GOP stalwart

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Another great coup for the centrists!

Sen. Susan Collins, the Maine GOP dealmaker who’s been in the limelight this week for helping to pass a watered down stimulus, has been talking a good game about the need to avoid wasting taxpayer money. But it looks like Collins also worked today to strip from the final bill a measure that’s crucial to exposing that waste.

Here’s what happened:

The House stimulus bill contained a provision designed to protect federal whistleblowers. Currently, those protections are shockingly weak. According to the Project On Government Oversight, whistleblowers who are fired or demoted can file a complaint with a government board — but over the last eight years, that board has ruled in favor of whistleblowers only twice in 55 cases.

More to the point, the protections were designed to encourage federal workers to point out cases where taxpayer money is subject to waste, fraud, or abuse — a legitimate concern when Congress spends $800 billion, and one that centrists and Republicans have been particularly exercised about.

Yesterday, 20 members of the House, from both parties, sent a letter to House negotiators urging them to ensure that the protections remained.

But, according to a person following the bill closely, Collins used today’s conference committee to drastically water down the measure, citing national security concerns as the reason for her opposition. In the end, the protections were so weakened that House negotiators balked, and the result was that the entire amendment was removed.

According to the person following the bill, Collins was the "central roadblock" to passing the protections.

To make matter worse, Collins is the ranking Republican on the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs committee, which, as an oversight committee, might be expected to see its role as protecting whistleblowers. She also sits on the Senate appropriations committee, giving her a strong position from which to wield influence during today’s negotiations.

Though Senate leader Harry Reid supported the protections, said the source, he wasn’t willing to strong-arm Collins on the issue, given her central role in negotiations over the stimulus bill as a whole.

So when, in the coming months, conservatives start jumping up and down over the fact that money from the stimulus bill is being wasted, as they surely will, it’s worth remember that a key measure designed to help expose that waste was removed from the bill — and by a senator said to be a champion of fiscal discipline.

Senator Collins’s press secretary did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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12 February 2009 at 6:14 pm

Posted in Congress, GOP

Interview with Simon Johnson

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Written by Leisureguy

12 February 2009 at 6:05 pm

Posted in Business, Government

Stimulus bill and immigration

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Daphne Eviatar in the Washington Independent:

Among the many provisions of the $800–plus billion stimulus bill that were hotly debated and horse-traded behind closed doors, one that remained largely under the radar through the negotiations would have forced employers receiving stimulus money to use a controversial federal computer system to verify that all of its employees are legal U.S. workers. Although preliminary indications are that the requirement did not make it into the final version, the battle over E-Verify is far from over.

When it came to the stimulus bill, advocates on both sides of the issue fought hard behind the scenes. Many anti-illegal immigration groups favor the system, run jointly by the Department of Homeland Security and Social Security Administration. E-verify allows employers to electronically submit Social Security numbers for new hires and existing employees. If there is a match, the employee is considered eligible to work. If not, the employee and the employer have to go through various procedures to try to verify eligibility for employment. Supporters say that requiring all employers spending federal money to use the system is critical to ensuring that the stimulus creates jobs for legal U.S. workers, not for illegal immigrants. But immigrants’ rights groups have pushed back hard, saying that E-Verify is a cumbersome system riddled with flaws and based on inaccurate databases that can all too easily destroy legal U.S. workers’ ability to get or keep their jobs.

“A lot of people look at E-verify as strictly an immigration enforcement tool,” said Michelle Waslin, Senior Policy Analyst at the Immigration Policy Center. “But what people don’t understand is that it would impact every single person who ever worked in the [United States]. Every single person who gets a job would have to be run through the system, which has a lot of errors. And employers don’t always use it correctly. So there could be very bad consequences for us citizens and legal workers.”

Supporters in the House, led by Rep. Jack Kingston, (R-Ga.), were able to pass an amendment requiring employers who receive stimulus money to use E-Verify in the House version of the bill. Although Sens. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) and Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) had said they would introduce it in the Senate, they never did. …

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12 February 2009 at 5:45 pm

Congress looking at "state secret" privilege

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Glenn Greenwald:

Earlier this week, I wrote about the State Secrets Protection Act of 2008, which was co-sponsored by numerous key Senators [including Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton, as well as the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Chair (Pat Leahy) and ranking member (Arlen Specter)], and which was approved by the Judiciary Committee last year with all Democrats voting in favorThat bill, in essence, sought to ban the exact abuse of the State Secrets privilege which the Bush administration repeatedly invoked and which, now, the Obama administration has embraced:  namely, as a weapon to conceal and immunize government lawbreaking (by compelling the dismissal of entire lawsuits in advance) rather than a limited, document-by-document evidentiary privilege.

Yesterday — as an obvious response to the Obama DOJ’s support for the Bush view of the privilege — Leahy and Specter, along with Russ Feingold, Claire McCaskill, Sheldon Whitehouse and Ted Kennedy, re-introduced that bill in the Senate.  When doing so, Leahy made clear that the bill was more needed than ever in light of the actions of the Obama administration:

During the Bush administration, the state secrets privilege was used to avoid judicial review and skirt accountability by ending cases without consideration of the merits [ed: exactly what the Obama DOJ endorsed this week]. It was used to stymie litigation at its very inception in cases alleging egregious Government misconduct, such as extraordinary rendition and warrantless eavesdropping on the communications of Americans [ed:  exactly what the Obama DOJ endorsed this week]. . . .

We held a Committee hearing on this issue last year, and the appropriate use of this privilege remains an area of concern for me and for the cosponsors of this bill. In light of the pending cases where this privilege has been invoked, involving issues including torture, rendition and warrantless wiretapping, we can ill-afford to delay consideration of this important legislation.

Sen. Feingold explicitly criticized the Obama administration earlier this week for its endorsement of exactly these abusive theories.  Several hours before the Senate bill was introduced, several key House Democrats introduced a similar bill in the House.  The ACLU promptly endorsed the bill.

A President who seeks to aggrandize his own power through wildly expansive claims of executive authority ought to be vigorously criticized.  But the ultimate responsibility to put a stop to that lies with the Congress (and the courts).  More than anything else, it was the failure of the Congress to rein in the abuses of the Bush presidency (when they weren’t actively endorsing those abuses) that was the ultimate enabling force of the extremism and destruction of the last eight years…

Continue reading.

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12 February 2009 at 11:47 am

The NY GOP in action

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Democrats took control of the State Senate last month after more than four decades of Republican rule, then set out to determine how the Senate’s own budget of nearly $100 million and its attendant perks were being distributed.

They are still trying to figure it out.

They recently realized there are some 75 employees working at the Senate’s own printing plant, a plain brick building on the outskirts of Albany. On Long Island, they found a small television studio, which had been set up — all with public money, with two press aides on hand to help operate it — for the exclusive use of Republican senators to record cable TV shows.

Democrats also came across what they are calling the “Brunomobile,” a $50,000 specially outfitted GMC van, with six leather captain’s chairs (some swiveling), a navigation system, rearview camera and meeting table. Joseph L. Bruno, the former Senate majority leader who was recently indicted on corruption charges, traveled in the van after his use of state helicopters sparked a feud with the Spitzer administration.

Then there are the parking spots, always at a premium near the Capitol. Democrats had been given roughly one spot per senator — there were 30 Democrats last year — and guessed there were perhaps double or even triple that controlled by the majority. Instead, they have learned, there are more than 800.

And Democratic leaders must determine what to do about 45 workers toiling away in a building close to the Capitol who appear to have been engaged in quasi-political research for the Republicans.

“Every time we nail something down, we uncover another rock and there’s another 30 people there — it’s all over the state,” said Angelo J. Aponte, who as the new secretary of the Senate is the top aide to Malcolm A. Smith, the Queens Democrat who became majority leader last month.

Mr. Aponte said the lack of cooperation from Republicans — and their decades-long absence of transparency — has left him poring over payroll records, trying to piece together the money trail. He said an audit would be conducted, either by the state comptroller or by an outside accounting firm.

Republicans have long defended their spending as the prerogative of the majority party, and also characterize as absurd the claim that they have been uncooperative — a smokescreen to hide that Democrats are now giving Republicans fewer resources than Democrats had received when they were in the minority. Indeed, Mr. Smith, while increasing the allotment for individual senators, is cutting the minority’s central staff budget to about $3 million from $7 million, after promising to put the minority party on more equal footing.

“That effectively neuters our ability to function as an opposition,” said Dean G. Skelos, a Long Island Republican and the new minority leader. Still, many in the capital are tittering at the howls of anguish from the Republicans, who for so long gleefully starved the Democrats, and were known for paying their top staffers even more than the governor’s $179,000 salary.

Tensions between incoming and outgoing legislative majorities are not unusual. But the questions of how Senate Republicans spent public money are emerging at a time when the state is financially pressed, and the public is being asked to pay hundreds of millions of dollars more in taxes.

Mr. Smith, who says he will also reduce his own party’s staffing budget, has committed to shaving the Senate’s overall budget by 8 percent, mostly by cutting staff. The Democrats cannot say how many jobs they will eliminate, because they really do not know how many employees there are. Mr. Smith said he believed there were 1,200 to 1,500 people on the Senate payroll, but is not sure.

“We don’t even know where everybody is,” he said.

The transition has allowed for the first real glimpse inside the sprawling patronage machine built by Senate Republicans and operated with a veil of secrecy that sometimes left even rank-and-file G.O.P. members in the dark.

Senator Tom Libous, an 11-term Republican from Binghamton, said even he had not known there was a television studio on Long Island.

“You serious?” he said. “O.K. I don’t have one in Binghamton.”

John McArdle, a spokesman for Mr. Skelos, said calling it a television studio was an overstatement. Yes, there were cameras, lights and a place to record television segments — usually for cable-access programs — he conceded, but only in a corner of a special regional press office at a state building in Hauppauge.

Rich Azzopardi, a spokesman for Senator Craig M. Johnson — who had been the lone Long Island Democrat until November’s election — said he had heard “vague rumors” about the existence of the facility. He guffawed when asked if Mr. Johnson had ever been invited by the Republicans to use it.

“No,” Mr. Azzopardi said, “I don’t believe they ever gave us the password that shut down the waterfall to enter the cave leading into the studio.”…

Continue reading. There’s lots more. One’s jaw drops.

Written by Leisureguy

12 February 2009 at 11:17 am

Posted in GOP, Government

Halliburton & KBR

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Ah, yes: trusting big companies. Michael Scherer in Swampland blogs:

Let us pause once more to remember Halliburton, the company that used to run ads saying they got work "because of what we know, not who we know," the company that won a sole-source contract from the Pentagon in the run-up to the war in Iraq, and won an umbrella military service contract, called LOGCAP, that was first proposed back when Dick Cheney, the company’s future CEO, served as the Secretary of Defense.

Well, it turns out the company actually did get work because of who they knew. And they did not make their friends the old fashioned way. Through its former subsidiary, KBR, which holds the big logistical contract with the U.S. military, the company had consultants packing bags and cars with thousands of hundred dollar bills to bribe Nigerian officials to win a multi-billion dollar contract. "This bribery scheme involved both senior foreign government officials and KBR corporate executives who took actions to insulate themselves from the reach of U.S. law," says Rita M. Galvin, acting assistant attorney general.

At the center of the plot is a former colleague of Cheney’s, whom Cheney promoted at the company, Albert "Jack" Stanley, a past chairman of KBR who pleaded guilty last year to conspiring to violate federal anti-bribery laws. As the Wall Street Journal reported:

According to the plea, government prosecutors said bribes began in 1995, while Mr. Stanley worked for M.W. Kellogg, then part of a company called Dresser Industries Inc. Halliburton acquired Dresser in 1998 and merged M.W. Kellogg into an engineering and construction unit of Halliburton called Kellogg Brown & Root, or KBR.

Several of the bribes Mr. Stanley has said were paid occurred after that acquisition, during the time when Vice President Dick Cheney led Halliburton, and they continued after Mr. Cheney left. Though there was no evidence Mr. Cheney knew of the bribes, the future vice president promoted Mr. Stanley to run KBR in 1998. Mr. Stanley’s guilty plea said the bribes continued until 2004, the year Halliburton fired him. Mr. Cheney’s tenure as Halliburton chief executive ended in 2000.

At the time of Stanley’s guilty plea, Cheney’s office declined to comment on "pending litigation." Now that the litigation is over–Halliburton and KBR have agreed to pay $579 million in fines–I wonder what the former vice president will say now.

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12 February 2009 at 11:06 am

Excellent posts on a crazy lady

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Ezra Klein and James Fallows both have excellent posts on crazy Elizabeth "Betsy" McCaughey. You really should read both of them at the links.

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12 February 2009 at 10:52 am

More on the peanut scandal

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Marion Nestle in her new blog Food Politics posted this on 9 Feb:

The New York Times today has a long investigative report on its front page about the implications of the peanut butter recalls for food safety in America.  It’s a terrific article and it’s wonderful that the Times has at last discovered that the U.S. food safety system is deeply dysfunctional, something the Government Accountability Office has been screaming about for years.

In the meantime, the list of company recalls keeps getting longer (the FDA website identifies them with a bright red NEW!).  Safe Tables Our Priority, a group devoted to protecting children from unsafe food, publishes a daily list of individually recalled peanut butter products.  Today’s collection alone numbers nearly 40 and is well worth a look.  So are the CDC’s cute reminders to throw out your recalled products.

And I can’t resist adding a comment on peanut politics.  The Center for Science in the Public Interest’s Integrity in Science Watch sends out daily feeds.  Today’s (not yet posted) refers to a story in the Atlanta Journal Constitution revealing that the USDA, not the FDA, is responsible for the safety of exported peanuts (they might contain aflatoxin), that its Peanut Standards Board was exempted from conflict -of-interest rules by the 2002 Farm Bill, and that the head of Peanut Corporation of America, the company responsible for the tainted peanut butter, was appointed in October as a member of that Board until 2011.

What more evidence do we need that an overhaul of the food safety system is very much in order.  Congress: this is your problem to solve!  Citizens: write your congressional representatives!

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12 February 2009 at 10:02 am

The peanut poisoning and the FDA

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Kate Hopkins has an excellent post at the Accidental Hedonist on the peanut scandal—which seems to be worse than originally thought. Her post begins:

Being negligent is one thing, but apparently Stewart Parnell, the owner of the Peanut Corp. of America is in a special class of stupid and evil.

From Talking Points Memo:

The owner of a peanut company urged his workers to ship tainted products after receiving test results identifying salmonella, imploring employees to "turn the raw peanuts on our floor into money," according to internal company e-mails disclosed Wednesday by a House committee.

The company e-mails obtained by the House panel showed that Peanut Corp. of America owner Stewart Parnell ordered the shipments tainted with the bacteria because he was worried about lost sales.

At one point, Parnell said his workers "desperately at least need to turn the raw peanuts on our floor into money" and at another point told his plant manager to "turn them loose" after learning some peanuts were contaminated with salmonella.

The disclosures came in correspondence released by a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee Wednesday during a hearing on the salmonella outbreak that has sickened 600 people, may be linked to eight deaths and has led to one of the largest recalls in history with more than 1,800 product pulled.

Two perspectives here. One, there is the obvious public health angle. Intentionally putting tainted food in the marketplace is a criminal act. This isn’t negligence, where one can argue plausible deniability. The guy knew his food was bad, and put it into his products anyway. All in the name of profits.

Here’s what Kenneth Kendrick, a former assistant plant manager of Peanut Corp.’s Texas facility said about their facility: …

Continue reading.

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12 February 2009 at 9:49 am

Rousseau’s bad ideas about education

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Another Peter Gray post, which begins:

Jean-Jacques Rousseau is known as the “back-to-nature” theorist in education. He is referred to frequently in education texts as the originator of child-centered, natural means of education. Those of you who have been regular readers of my blog know that I have been writing about children’s natural means of education; so you might assume that I would be inspired by Rousseau. Well, I am inspired—inspired to point out how very wrong he was.

Rousseau’s sole work on educational theory is his book Émile, first published in 1760, which describes the education of a fictitious boy, whose name is the title of the book. The book is partly a novel and partly a philosophical treatise on the natural goodness of human beings and how to preserve that goodness through an education that does not corrupt.

Pity poor Émile! He is subjected in Rousseau’s work to the most extreme form imaginable of what today would be called child-centered or progressive education. Émile spends the first 25 years of his life in the company of his tutor, referred to as the master, who is presented by Rousseau in the first person. The master is an extraordinarily intelligent, accomplished, devoted man who continuously studies Émile, gets to know his every motive and whim, and uses that knowledge to provide the boy with just those experiences that best impart the exact lessons that the master deems appropriate. The student-teacher ratio is one to one.

The master controls the boy constantly, not through orders but through what two centuries later Skinnerian psychologists would refer to as “behavioral engineering.” He manipulates Émile’s environment in such a way that the boy always chooses to do exactly what the master believes is good for him. In order for this to happen, Émile must, for his first 15 years, be isolated from other social forces, including other children. The master is his sole companion. The boy also has to be isolated from all literature except that made available by the master. Indeed, Rousseau prescribes that Émile should read just one book in his first 15 years, Robinson Crusoe. According to Rousseau, that book alone provides just the right story to motivate the boy’s thoughts, fantasies, and play in a healthy direction.

Émile plays and explores …

Continue reading. It’s an excellent exegesis of the problems in Rousseau’s view of education, and the conclusion is particularly worth noting:

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Leisureguy

12 February 2009 at 9:32 am

Posted in Books, Daily life, Education

Very true

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Via Scott Feldstein:

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12 February 2009 at 9:29 am

Posted in Business, Daily life, Food, Video

Making your own Worcestershire sauce

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My pepper sauces were so good that I’m now eyeing this recipe from Saveur:

Worcestershire Sauce

Makes about 1 pint

This delicious homemade version is bolder and bigger than its bottled cousin.

2 cups distilled white vinegar [I now use malt vinegar: see Wikipedia article]
1⁄2 cup molasses [I used Barbados rather than Blackstrap]
1⁄2 cup soy sauce
1⁄4 cup tamarind concentrate
3 tbsp. yellow mustard seeds
3 tbsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. whole black peppercorns
1 tsp. whole cloves
1⁄2 tsp. curry powder
5 cardamom pods, smashed
4 chiles de árbol, chopped
2 cloves garlic, smashed [2? Are they kidding? I use 6-8. Large.]
1  1″ stick cinnamon
1 anchovy, chopped [I use 4-6.]
1 yellow onion, chopped
1  1⁄2″ piece ginger, peeled and crushed
1⁄2 cup sugar

1. Combine all ingredients except the sugar in a 2-qt. saucepan; boil. Reduce heat; simmer for 10 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, cook sugar in a skillet over medium-high heat until it becomes dark amber and syrupy, about 5 minutes. Add caramelized sugar to vinegar mixture and whisk to combine; cook sauce for 5 minutes; transfer sauce to a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid.

3. Refrigerate, covered, for 3 weeks; strain to remove solids; return to jar. Refrigerate for up to 8 months.

I’m thinking that just before step 3 one could put this in a blender and pulverize some of the solids to make the sauce richer and thicker.

UPDATE: I’m definitely making this. I just checked my Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce label and I see that it’s made with high fructose corn syrup. Not for me, thanks. I’m trying to cut back.

UPDATE 2: I now make this regularly, using malt vinegar instead of white vinegar and upping the quantities of some ingredients (e.g., garlic, anchovies, chilis de árbol. Here’s an alternate recipe that takes a slightly different tack. Perhaps I’ll augment the Saveur recipe with a little horseradish and a Meyer lemon. Olive oil? I’m not so sure. But perhaps it adds a vehicle for the oil-based aromatics.

Written by Leisureguy

12 February 2009 at 9:23 am

More on the torture cover-up

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The London Times has an article on the cover-up:

A senior Democrat on Capitol Hill has mounted a fresh challenge to Britain’s insistence that its relations with US intelligence agencies would be threatened by disclosing evidence of torture.

Bill Delahunt said that the Obama Administration must clarify its position over the release of documents detailing the treatment of Binyam Mohammed, a former British resident currently on hunger strike in Guantanamo Bay.

Last week David Miliband persuaded the High Court to suppress the publication of evidence that Mr Mohammed was subjected to cruel, degrading or inhuman treatment by US agents during interrogation in Morocco and Afghanistan. According to some accounts, British officials were complicit in his incarceration and torture that included beatings, being scalded with boiling water and having his penis cut by a razor blade.

The Foreign Secretary signed a public interest immunity certificate warning judges that releasing such material would damage America’s national security and “could harm existing intelligence-sharing arrangements between our two governments”. Mr Mohammed’s lawyers will make another effort today to overturn the High Court’s ruling.

Related Links

Mr Delahunt, chairman of the House of Representatives human rights sub-committee, told The Times he was writing to Eric Holder, the Attorney-General, with an urgent request to review the case.

“There seems to be no valid national security reason that would prevent full disclosure,” he said. “I know the President has concerns about this kind of affair and expressed a desire to be transparent. I believe he will act in good faith.” …

Continue reading.

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12 February 2009 at 9:19 am

62% of Americans want to know

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pollPeople really want to know what happened during the Bush years, and thank goodness Obama promised transparency and swift and forward-leaning responses to FOIA requests. Yeah. The story from which the graph comes begins:

Even as Americans struggle with two wars and an economy in tatters, a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll finds majorities in favor of investigating some of the thorniest unfinished business from the Bush administration: Whether its tactics in the “war on terror” broke the law.

Close to two-thirds of those surveyed said there should be investigations into allegations that the Bush team used torture to interrogate terrorism suspects and its program of wiretapping U.S. citizens without getting warrants. Almost four in 10 favor criminal investigations and about a quarter want investigations without criminal charges. One-third said they want nothing to be done.

Even more people want action on alleged attempts by the Bush team to use the Justice Department for political purposes. Four in 10 favored a criminal probe, three in 10 an independent panel, and 25% neither.

The ACLU and other groups are pressing for inquiries into whether the Bush administration violated U.S. and international bans on torture and the constitutional right to privacy. House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers and his Senate counterpart, Patrick Leahy, have proposed commissions to investigate.

Asked Monday about Leahy’s plan, President Obama said he would look at it. He added, “my general orientation is to say, let’s get it right moving forward.” [Obviously we can get it right moving forward and at the same time look at what crimes were committed during the Bush Administration. – LG] Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder have declined to rule out prosecutions. Leon Panetta, named to head the CIA, said this month that CIA officers would not be prosecuted for harsh interrogations authorized by the Bush White House…

Continue reading.

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12 February 2009 at 9:12 am

Obama’s promises

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I vividly remember when Obama voted for telecom immunity after promising that he would vote against it. Ever since then, I’ve been cautious/suspicious, and now that I see him echoing the Bush stance on secrecy regarding torture, I’m disappointed. Marisa Taylor of McClatchy has the story:

The Obama administration, which vowed to usher in a "new era of openness in our country," either has delayed action on requests for access to government records or refused to disclose them in three early, high-profile tests of the pledge.

This week, Justice Department lawyers announced that they’d continue to assert the state secrets argument made by the Bush administration in a lawsuit alleging that five men were tortured abroad in U.S.-run prisons.

In a separate case, the Obama Justice Department has agreed with the Bush administration — at least initially — that the news media shouldn’t have immediate access to court records in the ongoing Guantanamo detainee litigation.

In another example, the administration on Wednesday told the American Civil Liberties Union that it needed more time to decide whether to release undisclosed Bush Justice Department memos that justified harsh interrogation practices. A federal judge already had given government lawyers more time in the matter, which has been pending for five years.

"It looks like the new administration is stalling for time," said Jameel Jaffer, the director of the ACLU’s National Security Project. "They’ve offered a very public commitment to transparency, but so far that has not translated into action."

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Leisureguy

12 February 2009 at 8:49 am

Latin American panel calls US drug war a "failure"

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Well, yes, it is, as is obvious to the meanest intellect. Here’s the story from Mexico City:

As drug violence spirals out of control in Mexico, a commission led by three former Latin American heads of state blasted the U.S.-led drug war as a failure that is pushing Latin American societies to the breaking point.

"The available evidence indicates that the war on drugs is a failed war," said former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, in a conference call with reporters from Rio de Janeiro. "We have to move from this approach to another one."

The commission, headed by Mr. Cardoso and former presidents Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico and César Gaviria of Colombia, says Latin American governments as well as the U.S. must break what they say is a policy "taboo" and re-examine U.S.-inspired antidrugs efforts. The panel recommends that governments consider measures including decriminalizing the use of marijuana.

Mexico has been besieged by drug violence amid a two-year government crackdown.

The report, by the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy, is the latest to question the U.S.’s emphasis on punitive measures to deal with illegal drug use and the criminal violence that accompanies it. A recent Brookings Institution study concluded that despite interdiction and eradication efforts, the world’s governments haven’t been able to significantly decrease the supply of drugs, while punitive methods haven’t succeeded in lowering drug use.

John Walters, former director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, said, "It’s not true that we’ve lost or can’t do anything about the drug problem," and cited security improvements in Colombia.

President Barack Obama has yet to appoint a successor to Mr. Walters. A spokesman for the Office of National Drug Control Policy said he couldn’t comment on speculation over the appointment of a new director…

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Written by Leisureguy

12 February 2009 at 8:27 am

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