Later On

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

Archive for February 4th, 2011

Most transparent administration ever? No. That, too, was a lie.

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Ed Brayton:

On President Obama’s very first day in office he pledged that his would be the most transparent administration ever. He issued an executive order telling federal agency and department heads to change their ways when it comes to Freedom of Information Act requests and err on the side of transparency rather than secrecy. And he was particularly adamant about the public knowing about government officials meeting with lobbyists. In fact, in his State of the Union address last week he said:

Because you deserve to know when your elected officials are meeting with lobbyists, I ask Congress to do what the White House has already done: put that information online.

The rhetoric sounds great. The reality isn’t matching up. Right now, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in the process of making a decision on whether to greenlight the Keystone XL pipeline, which will carry highly polluting tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada all the way to Houston, Texas. And it just so happens that the deputy national campaign manager of her 2008 presidential campaign is now the chief lobbyist for TransCanada, the oil company that is proposing the pipeline.

A group of environmental groups filed a FOIA request for all communications on the subject between Clinton and Paul Elliott, her campaign manager turned lobbyist. The State Department rejected it. Those groups have now filed an appeal of that rejection, which will almost certainly be ignored (under FOIA law, no answer means a rejection of the appeal), forcing the issue into court.

But if the Obama administration actually meant what it says about transparency, they wouldn’t have to.

Written by Leisureguy

4 February 2011 at 4:52 pm

More on the Internet "kill switch" bill

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This bill is, to my mind, the clearest evidence yet that the US is headed in an ominous direction. Declan McCullagh at CNET News:

A controversial bill handing President Obama power over privately owned computer systems during a “national cyberemergency,” and prohibiting any review by the court system, will return this year.

Internet companies should not be alarmed by the legislation, first introduced last summer by Sens. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), a Senate aide said last week. Lieberman, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, is chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.


“We’re not trying to mandate any requirements for the entire Internet, the entire Internet backbone,” said Brandon Milhorn, Republican staff director and counsel for the committee.

Instead, Milhorn said at a conference in Washington, D.C., the point of the proposal is to assert governmental control only over those “crucial components that form our nation’s critical infrastructure.”

Portions of the Lieberman-Collins bill, which was not uniformly well-received when it became public in June 2010, became even more restrictive when a Senate committee approved a modified version on December 15. The full Senate did not act on the measure.

The revised version includes new language saying that the federal government’s designation of vital Internet or other computer systems “shall not be subject to judicial review.” Another addition expanded the definition of critical infrastructure to include “provider of information technology,” and a third authorized the submission of “classified” reports on security vulnerabilities.

The idea of creating what some critics have called an Internet “kill switch” that the president could flip in an emergency is not exactly new.

A draft Senate proposal that CNET obtained in August 2009 authorized the White House to “declare a cybersecurity emergency,” and another from Sens. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.V.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) would have explicitly given the government the power to “order the disconnection” of certain networks or Web sites. House Democrats have taken a similar approach in their own proposals.

Lieberman, who recently announced he would not seek re-election in 2012, said last year that enactment of his bill needed to be a top congressional priority. “For all of its ‘user-friendly’ allure, the Internet can also be a dangerous place with electronic pipelines that run directly into everything from our personal bank accounts to key infrastructure to government and industrial secrets,” he said.

Civil libertarians and some industry representatives have repeatedly raised concerns about the various proposals to give the executive branch such broad emergency power. On the other hand, , , ,

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

4 February 2011 at 4:51 pm

Congress cannot police itself

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That’s been obvious for generations, but the Ensign case is the current blatant exhibition of bad behavior that Congress seems happy to accept. Susan Crabtree writes at TPM Muckraker:

The Senate Ethics Committee’s decision to appoint a special counsel to lead the investigation into activities surrounding Sen. John Ensign’s (R-NV) affair with a political staffer is raising age-old questions about the panel’s relevancy.

Members of Congress are the first to admit that they hate serving on the Ethics Committee, and policing their peers puts them in an unusually awkward position. If that’s the case and the panel has to farm out its work to true professional investigators, then why have lawmakers investigating their colleagues misbehavior in the first place?

The Ensign case is particularly troubling because the investigation was well underway last year, and Ensign staffers had testified to the panel that Ensign and his senior aides knew they were breaking the one-year lobbying ban when they helped
a former staffer set up a short-lived career on K Street, as The Hill reported last June.

In fact, at least one Ensign aide told the Ethics Committee that Ensign and Hampton were so bold about the lobbying job that the pair ate lunch together at least once in the Senate dining room, according to The Hill.

The information was provided as part of the panel’s probe into payments Ensign’s parents made to Cynthia and Douglas Hampton. Ensign was having an affair with Cynthia, who is married to Douglas.

Both worked for Ensign, and Douglas Hampton was a close political aide. Ensign’s parents paid the Hamptons $96,000 once they left the senator’s employment. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington filed a complaint with the ethics panel, charging Ensign with paying the Hamptons hush money.

Ensign admitted to the affair in June 2009 but has denied any wrongdoing. He cites the December decision by the Justice Department to abandon its criminal investigation and the Federal Election Commission’s decision to drop a probe into whether payments to the Hamptons violated campaign rules.

Watchdogs are not convinced. The Justice Department’s public integrity section, which is charged with investigating allegations against members of Congress, has been gutted, and the FEC has long been known as a paper tiger that very rarely takes aggressive action against members, they contend.

Ensign’s case is exhibit A for why Congress should hand all authority to investigate serious allegations against members of Congress over to an independent ethics office equipped with attorneys who specialize in white-collar crime, argues Public Citizen’s Craig Holman. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

4 February 2011 at 4:46 pm

Posted in Congress, Government, Law

Pope can no longer donate organs: Vatican

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Because if the pope is canonized, those organs become magical relics that can work miracles. Here’s the story from Reuters:

Pope Benedict has a soft spot in his heart for organ donations but his body parts can’t be donated to save lives after he dies, the Vatican says.

A doctor in Germany had been using the fact that the pope possessed an organ donors’ card from a medical association to advocate the practice. The Vatican asked him to stop but he did not.

To settle the matter, the pope’s secretary, Monsignor Georg Gaenswein, sent a letter to the doctor and the missive was reported in the German program of Vatican Radio.

"It’s true that the pope owns an organ donor card … but contrary to public opinion, the card issued back in the 1970s became de facto invalid with Cardinal Ratzinger’s election to the papacy," Vatican Radio quoted from the letter.

In 1999, six years before he was elected to the papacy, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger disclosed that he always carried an organ donor’s card with him and encouraged the practice as "an act of love."

Vatican officials say that after a pope dies, his body belongs to the entire Church and must be buried intact. Furthermore, if papal organs were donated, they would become relics in other bodies if he were eventually made a saint.

Written by Leisureguy

4 February 2011 at 4:43 pm

Posted in Religion

And where the US is headed

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Ed Brayton:

Sens. Joe Lieberman and Susan Collins released a statement earlier this week about Egypt cutting off the internet in that country, condemning Mubarak for doing so but trying to argue that their bill would never be abused in that manner in the United States. I’ll put the entire statement below the fold:

Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., Ranking Member Susan Collins, R-Me., and Senator Tom Carper, D-Del., issued the following statement Tuesday about the Internet shut down in Egypt and pending cybersecurity legislation that would protect the U.S. from cyber attacks.

"The steps the Mubarak government took last week to shut down Internet communications in Egypt were, and are, totally wrong. His actions were clearly designed to limit internal criticisms of his government. Our cybersecurity legislation is intended to protect the U.S. from external cyber attacks. Yet, some have suggested that our legislation would empower the President to deny U.S. citizens access to the Internet. Nothing could be further from the truth.

"We would never sign on to legislation that authorized the President, or anyone else, to shut down the Internet. Emergency or no, the exercise of such broad authority would be an affront to our Constitution.

"But our current laws do give us reason to be concerned. Most important, under current law, in the event of a cyber attack, the President’s authorities are broad and ambiguous – a recipe for encroachments on privacy and civil liberties.

"For example, in the event of a war or threat of war, the Communications Act of 1934 authorizes the President to take over or shut down wire and radio communications providers. This law is a crude sledgehammer built for another time and technology. Our bill contains a number of protections to make sure that broad authority is not used.

"First, the emergency measures in our bill apply in a precise and targeted way only to our most critical infrastructure – the networks and assets most essential to the functioning of society and the economy – to ensure they are protected from destruction.

"Second, our legislation specifically says the President can only invoke the emergency authorities "if there is an ongoing or imminent" attack that would "cause national or regional catastrophic effects" by the disruption of the nation’s most critical infrastructure. The legislative language defines "national or regional catastrophic effects" as, among other things, "a mass casualty event which includes an extraordinary number of fatalities" and "mass evacuations with a prolonged absence."

"Third, any measures ordered by the President must be "the least disruptive means feasible."

"Fourth, when invoking these authorities, the President must notify Congress, and the emergency measures cannot be continued beyond 120 days without congressional approval.

"Fifth, the legislation expressly forbids any action that would violate the First Amendment and also prohibits limiting internet traffic, emails, and other forms of communication (except those between critical infrastructure providers) unless no other action would prevent a regional or national catastrophe.

"Our bill already contains protections to prevent the President from denying Americans access to the Internet – even as it provides ample authority to ensure that those most critical services that rely on the Internet are protected. And, even though experts question whether anyone can technically ‘shut down’ the Internet in the United States, we will ensure that any legislation that moves in this Congress contains explicit language prohibiting the President from doing what President Mubarak did.

All of which might be a bit more comforting if the bill did not contain a provision forbidding the courts from reviewing any decision by the president to shut off the internet. Why get rid of such a crucial check on executive authority if you’re going to insist that such authority can’t and won’t be abused?

As our experience the last 10 years with FISA shows, the executive branch will gladly overreach its authority if it thinks the courts won’t intervene to stop them. Giving them carte blanche without even the possibility of judicial intervention is absolute madness.

Written by Leisureguy

4 February 2011 at 4:39 pm

The US has turned into an ugly nation

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Incidents such as this show what the US has become:

A 48-year-old Afghan citizen and Guantanamo detainee, Awal Gul, died on Tuesday of an apparent heart attack.  Gul, a father of 18 children, had been kept in a cage by the U.S. for more than 9 years — since late 2001 when he was abducted in Afghanistan — without ever having been charged with a crime.  While the U.S. claims he was a Taliban commander, Gul has long insisted that he quit the Taliban a year before the 9/11 attack because, as his lawyer put it, "he was disgusted by the Taliban’s growing penchant for corruption and abuse."  His death means those conflicting claims will never be resolved; said his lawyer: "it is shame that the government will finally fly him home not in handcuffs and a hood, but in a casket."  This episode illustrates that the U.S. Government’s detention policy — still — amounts to imposing life sentences on people without bothering to prove they did anything wrong.   

This episode also demonstrates the absurdity of those who claim that President Obama has been oh-so-eagerly trying to close Guantanamo only to be thwarted by a recalcitrant Congress.  The Obama administration has sought to "close" the camp only in the most meaningless sense of that word:  by moving its defining injustice — indefinite, due-process-free detention — a few thousand miles north onto U.S. soil.  But the crux of the Guantanamo travesty — indefinite detention — is something the Obama administration has long planned to preserve, and that has nothing to do with what Congress has or has not done.  Indeed, Gul was one of the 50 detainees designated by Obama for that repressive measure.  Thus, had Gul survived, the Obama administration would have sought to keep him imprisoned indefinitely without any pretense of charging him with a crime — neither in a military commission nor a real court.  Instead, they would have simply continued the Bush/Cheney policy of imprisoning him indefinitely without any charges.

There’s one other aspect of this episode that warrants attention.  In its 2008 Boumediene decision, the Supreme Court struck down the provision of the Military Commissions Act which denied habeas corpus review to all detainees, and ruled that Guantanamo detainees at least have the right to a one-time review by a federal court as to whether there is credible evidence to justify their detention (a far less rigorous standard than the one that applies if they’re charged with a crime and the state has to prove their guilt beyond a reasonable doubt).  Gul had filed a habeas petition and it was fully argued before a federal court back in March — 11 months ago. The federal judge never got around to issuing a ruling.

This happens quite frequently in our court system:  judges simply fail to act within anything resembling a reasonable period of time.  Gul was imprisoned for 8 years without a shred of due process (outside of internal Bush Pentagon "administrative reviews") and finally had his Constitutional right to obtain habeas review affirmed by the Supreme Court in 2008.  His habeas petition was fully submitted and orally argued almost a full year ago, yet even in the face of his prolonged, due-process-free imprisonment, the federal judge presiding over the case just never bothered to rule on his claims.  There’s a well-known legal maxim that "justice delayed is justice denied," but this goes well beyond merely violating that.  Taking almost a full year — at least — to decide a habeas petition for someone who is languishing in indefinite detention for their ninth year is simply inexcusable. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

4 February 2011 at 4:35 pm

Busy day

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Lots of activity today, including getting a Macbook Pro, 13" screen, 4 GB RAM, no extras.

Also: 30 minutes nonstop on Nordic Track. It’s obvious that the Nordic Track is going to have to be skipped on Tuesdays and Thursdays because I have to get to campus early. Still, 30 minutes for 5 days a week is 150 minutes, well above the 100-minute minimum currently suggested.

And this afternoon The Wife and I had a Pilates session.

Much more to do in terms of study, etc.

Written by Leisureguy

4 February 2011 at 4:32 pm

Posted in Daily life

Above a troubled planet

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Very interesting article by Bob Grant in The Scientist:

Chances are you’ve never seen climate change from this perspective. French filmmaker Yann Arthus-Bertrand’s HOME takes the viewer into the sky to peer down upon a beautiful and fragile Earth in distress. The movie, originally released across in 2009 and shown on televisions across Europe and Asia, made its US premier this week to an auditorium full of people on the campus of Columbia University on Monday (31st January).

"This movie is like a pedagogic movie trying to explain how we came to this place," Arthus-Bertrand told The Scientist. "Man is a fantastic species. We have done so many amazing things, but now we have put the Earth in danger."

HOME is shot using only aerial photography, a technique for which Arthus-Bertrand is well known. Sweeping shots of otherworldly landscapes displaying the majesty of our planet intermingle with surprisingly intimate close-ups on human and animal inhabitants suffering the effects of climate change. . .

Continue reading. The article includes this trailer for the movie, best watched in full-screen mode:

Written by Leisureguy

4 February 2011 at 12:56 pm

New razor from Paris (France, not Texas)

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This is the Joris open-comb razor with an olive-wood handle. The Wife brought this back from Paris—the same source as the Plisson Chinese Grey brush I used today. I got a very good lather from the Sweet Gale, and it struck me that my lathering technique has changed (improved) since I started using boar brushes: I work the brush more vigorously over the soap and for a longer period, loading the brush more fully than I once did.

Three passes with the new razor, using a new Iridium Super blade, and a very smooth face resulted. I would say the aggressiveness of this razor is like, say, the 1940’s Gillette Aristocrat: aggressive, but not harsh. And not too aggressive. OTOH, it does not quite achieve the sublime comfort of the iKon.

It’s quite a nice razor and one that I definitely will enjoy using. A splash of aftershave, and I’m off for my weigh-in.

Written by Leisureguy

4 February 2011 at 8:55 am

Posted in Shaving

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