Later On

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

Archive for February 11th, 2011

Excellent movie: On the Riviera

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I highly recommend On the Riviera, with Danny Kaye, Gene Tierney, and Corinne Calvet. It’s an entertaining movie with some terrific dance numbers—including Danny Kaye’s superb rendition of Ballin’ the Jack. And the special features, giving the background and context of the movie. Darryl Zanuck backed a Broadway musical in 1934, The Red Cat, that closed after 10 performances—but what he wanted was the film rights, and he liked the story so much he made three movies from the same story. The feature shows how the story’s emphasis changed with the times and the lead actor.

And one of the special features outlines Danny Kaye’s career and manifold talents. I had no idea. Amazing.

Well worth watching, IMHO. Here’s a sample:

Written by Leisureguy

11 February 2011 at 10:06 pm

Posted in Movies & TV

Privatizing government functions

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I find the Greenwald column I earlier blogged quite worrisome, and here’s why: The government has privatized quite a few functions across various Executive departments, from custodial work to armed military combat work (Blackwater and others). And God knows what the CIA has hired private contractors to do.

I can think of quite a few reasons for this privatization, which has gone far beyond what I believe was originally expected (when you have privatized military and intelligence functions, including torture, then what’s left?). In no particular order, reasons that occur to me:

To act in accordance with a belief that government should be small and that private industry can do things more efficiently.

To gain deniability: “it wasn’t us, it was those damn private contractors!”

To avoid legal restrictions (including record-keeping requirements) that apply to governmental activities.

To create a lucrative position in private industry that one can move to when one leaves the government—or (more likely) to create a lucrative business (and, sometimes, industry) that one can move to.

To do illegal things.

And you can probably think of more reasons.

At any rate, the situation exists now where many functions previously done by (and restricted to) governmental agencies are now performed by private businesses, many of which are, of course, staffed by the same people who did those functions in the government: those people have relevant direct experience and are happy to do the same work for more money and less red tape.

So now we have (in effect) governmental agencies with governmental powers operating as a private industry. So, naturally, this industry wants more customers than just the government—to make more money and to broaden their financial base. So they start calling on other private companies to see what services they might sell.

So, private companies can now pay what in effect (in terms of capabilities and even staff) are government agencies to do what the private companies want them to do. That is, the governmental powers are now being turned over to private companies to do with as they want. Private industry is (or has) taken over the US. I would say “has” in looking at what Big Business (including Big Finance) can get away with no, with no repercussions.

This seems to me to be a very serious development. And the unhinged reaction of the US government to Wikileaks makes me think that there are some very bad things that the government is afraid might surface.

Written by Leisureguy

11 February 2011 at 9:57 pm

Posted in Business, Government

Bank of America running scared?

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This is extremely interesting:

There’s been a very strange episode being written about the past couple of days involving numerous parties, including me, that I now want to comment on.  The story, first reported by The Tech Herald, has been been written about in numerous places (see Marcy Wheeler, Forbes, The Huffington Post, BoingBoing, Matt Yglesias, Reason, Tech Dirt, and others), so I’ll provide just the summary.

Last week, Aaron Barr, a top executive at computer security firm HB Gary, boasted to the Financial Times that his firm had infiltrated and begun to expose Anonymous, the group of pro-WikiLeaks hackers that had launched cyber attacks on companies terminating services to the whistleblowing site (such as Paypal, MasterCard, Visa, Amazon and others).  In retaliation, Anonymous hacked into the email accounts of HB Gary, published 50,000 of their emails online, and also hacked Barr’s Twitter and other online accounts.

Among the emails that were published was a report prepared by HB Gary — in conjunction with several other top online security firms, including Palantir Technologies — on how to destroy WikiLeaks.  The emails indicated the report was part of a proposal to be submitted to Bank of America through its outside law firm, Hunton & Williams.  News reports have indicated that WikiLeaks is planning to publish highly incriminating documents showing possible corruption and fraud at that bank, and The New York Times detailed last month how seriously top bank officials are taking that threat.  The NYT article described that the bank’s “counterespionage work” against WikiLeaks entailed constant briefings for top executives on the whistle-blower site, along with the hiring of “several top law firms” and Booz Allen (the long-time firm of former Bush DNI Adm. Michael McConnell and numerous other top intelligence and defense officials).  The report prepared by these firms was designed to be part of the Bank of America’s highly funded anti-WikiLeaks campaign.

The leaked report suggested numerous ways to destroy WikiLeaks, some of them likely illegal — including planting fake documents with the group and then attacking them when published; “creat[ing] concern over the security” of the site; “cyber attacks against the infrastructure to get data on document submitters”; and a “media campaign to push the radical and reckless nature of wikileaks activities.”  Many of those proposals were also featured prongs of a secret 2008 Pentagon plan to destroy WikiLeaks.

One section of the leaked report focused on attacking WikiLeaks’ supporters and it featured a discussion of me.  A graph purporting to be an “organizational chart” identified several other targets, including former New York Times reporter Jennifer 8 Lee, Guardian reporter James Ball, and Manning supporter David House.  The report claimed I was “critical” to WikiLeaks’ public support after its website was removed by Amazon and that “it is this level of support that needs to be disrupted”; absurdly speculated that “without the support of people like Glenn, WikiLeaks would fold”; and darkly suggested that “these are established professionals that have a liberal bent, but ultimately most of them if pushed will choose professional preservation over cause.”  As The Tech Herald noted, “earlier drafts of the proposal and an email from Aaron Barr used the word ‘attacked’ over ‘disrupted’ when discussing the level of support.”

In the wake of the ensuing controversy caused by publication of these documents, the co-founder and CEO of Palantir Tech, Alex Karp, has now issued a statement stating that he “directed the company to sever any and all contacts with HB Gary.”  The full statement — which can be read here — also includes this sentence:  “personally and on behalf of the entire company, I want to publicly apologize to progressive organizations in general, and Mr. Greenwald in particular, for any involvement that we may have had in these matters.”  Palantir has also contacted me by email to arrange for Dr. Karp to call me to personally convey the apology.  My primary interest is in knowing whether Bank of America retained these firms to execute this proposal and if any steps were taken to do so; if Karp’s apology is genuine, that information ought to be forthcoming (as I was finishing writing this, Karp called me, seemed sincere enough in his apology, vowed that any Palantir employees involved in this would dealt with the way they dealt with HB Gary, and commendably committed to telling me by the end of the week whether Bank of America or Hunton & Williams actually retained these firms to carry out this proposal).

* * * * *

My initial reaction to all of this was to scoff at its absurdity.  Not being familiar with the private-sector world of internet security, I hadn’t heard of these firms before and, based on the quality of the proposal, assumed they were just some self-promoting, fly-by-night entities of little significance.  Moreover, for the reasons I detailed in my interview with The Tech Herald — and for reasons Digby elaborated on here — the very notion that I could be forced to choose “professional preservation over cause” is ludicrous on multiple levels.  Obviously, I wouldn’t have spent the last year vehemently supporting WikiLeaks — to say nothing of aggressively criticizing virtually every large media outlet and many of their leading stars, as well as the most beloved political leaders of both parties — if I were willing to choose “career preservation over cause.”

But after learning a lot more over the last couple of days, I now take this more seriously — not in terms of my involvement but the broader implications this story highlights.  For one thing, it turns out that the firms involved here are large, legitimate and serious, and do substantial amounts of work for both the U.S. Government and the nation’s largest private corporations (as but one example, see this email from a Stanford computer science student about Palantir).  Moreover,

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

11 February 2011 at 3:02 pm

Posted in Business, Government, Law

Stan Getz in 1983: Desafinado

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Written by Leisureguy

11 February 2011 at 2:53 pm

Posted in Jazz, Video

It’s not just Obama: Atlanta police also ignorant of the law

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DHS could also stand to study up on the 4th Amendment, given their proclivity to take people’s cellphones and computers and not give them back—in some cases, they do return them, presumably after copying the contents. But the Atlanta police department seems willfully ignorant—also dishonest, bigoted, and stupid. The story:

Some Atlanta police officers and ranking members of the force seem to be unfamiliar with law and constitutional protections that limit what they can do during a raid, according to a Citizen Review Board report released Friday.

The CRB director reviewed interviews and records the board collected during the investigation of 12 complaints filed by patrons and employees of the Atlanta Eagle after APD vice officers and members of the Red Dog unit raided it in September 2009.

The report questioned claims by officers that they remembered little from that night and said some of the tactics the officers used violated state law and the U.S. Constitution.

The board, created in 2007 after the fatal shooting of an Atlanta woman in her home during a botched drug raid, recommended in a letter to APD Chief George Turner that officers be given more training, especially in the area of Fourth Amendment protections from unreasonable searches.

“They genuinely believed that it was proper to place all of the patrons on the floor and frisk them because of officer safety considerations,” director Cristina Beamud wrote in the report to the board. “This is simply not the law… Officers need reminders about the limits of their authority.”

APD declined to comment on the report because the internal investigation is “still ongoing. The Atlanta Police Department continues to be guided by a court-ordered settlement in the case, and we will abide by its requirements in the 180-day timeline [to complete the internal investigation that is] set forth within it. Further comment would be inappropriate.”

The raid of the Midtown Atlanta gay bar has dogged the department for 17 months  as the Citizen Review Board investigated claims and patrons pursued a federal lawsuit.

Dozens of police officers from APD’s vice and Red Dog drug units swarmed into the Ponce de Leon nightclub on Sept. 10, 2009, based on undercover officers reports that they had witnessed  men having sex while other patrons watched.

During the raid, 62 patrons were forced to lie down on the bar’s floor. No search warrant was served, and no charges were ever filed against any of them. Police did arrest eight Eagle employees on permit violations but those charges were either dismissed or dropped.

Last month the Atlanta City Council agreed to pay $1.2 million to 19 patrons who sued APD on grounds that police offices had violated their federal and state constitutional rights. The patrons said the officers directed obscenities, slurs about their sexuality and threats at the men lying on the floor of the bar.

Initially when the board tried to investigate claims, officers refused to answer questions. Eventually, they agreed to be interviewed but some insisted they remembered little from that night.

“The denials from both the officers and supervisors are not credible,” the report said. “All of the complainants heard at least the use of the ‘f’ word. Not all heard the slurs but all heard the patrons being ordered to the floor. The failure of the supervisors to acknowledge this violation reflects on their overall honesty and taints their credibility.”

Last fall, before the lawsuit was resolved, an attorney filed documents in court that said officers and police officials erased e-mails, text messages and photographs that may offer details of the raid.

Vice unit Sgt. Kelley Collier, who was involved in the undercover investigations before the raid was planned, received a significant amount of criticism for his lack of memory, according to the report and letter to the chief.

“During the interview [the board] conducted with Sgt. Collier, it became clear that he could not remember important details concerning what occurred on the night of the raid,” Chairwoman Joy Morrissey wrote in a letter to the chief.

According to the report, he told the board he did not hear any officers use profanity during the raid and he did not see “ any officers place a foot on a person who was lying on the floor. He lacks memory about many activities, including the briefing on that night.”

According to the report, Collier didn’t recall when his shift started that night and “he could not remember exactly what he saw …. He was assigned to observe the bar. He then said that there were two, three or four bartenders working.” . . .

Continue reading. It sounds as though Officer Collier is either lying through his teeth and should be expelled from the department (and prosecuted), or that he is mentally incapable of fulfilling the requirements of the job.

Written by Leisureguy

11 February 2011 at 2:32 pm

Posted in Government, Law

Center for Constitutional Rights and the Bush indictment

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Interesting, and more power to them. And, of course, Barack Obama is in violation of the law for failure to investigate (which the law requires on credible allegations of torture), and also guilty of obstruction of justice, I imagine. But in the US powerful people are not obliged to follow the law (unless they offend other powerful people—cf. Bernie Madoff, who of course got a free pass for many years from the SEC, even when the SEC was specifically told that he was running a fraud). The US has become quite corrupt, it seems to me.

Here’s the story:

Today, two torture victims were to have filed  criminal complaints, with more than 2,500-pages of supporting material, in Geneva against former U.S. President George W. Bush, who was due to speak at an event there on 12 February. Swiss law requires the presence of the torturer on Swiss soil before a preliminary investigation can be opened.  When Bush cancelled his trip to avoid prosecution, the human rights groups who prepared the complaints made it public and announced that the Bush Torture Indictment would be waiting wherever he travels next. The Indictment serves as the basis on which to prepare country-specific, plaintiff-specific indictments, with additional evidence and updated information. According to international law experts at the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and the Berlin-based European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), former presidents do not enjoy special immunity under the Convention Against Torture (CAT).

“Waterboarding is torture, and Bush has admitted, without any sign of remorse, that he approved its use,” said Katherine Gallagher, Senior Staff Attorney at CCR and Vice President of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH). “The reach of the Convention Against Torture is wide – this case is prepared and will be waiting for him wherever he travels next. Torturers – even if they are former presidents of the United States – must be held to account and prosecuted. Impunity for Bush must end.”
While the U.S. has thus far failed to comply with its obligations under the Convention Against Torture to prosecute and punish those who commit torture [due to President Obama’s decision, for which I hope he will be prosecuted – LG], all other signatories, too, are obligated to prosecute or extradite for prosecution anyone present in their territory they have a reasonable basis for believing has committed torture. If the evidence warrants, as the Bush Torture Indictment contends it does, and the U.S. fails to request the extradition of Bush and others to face charges of torture there, CAT signatories must, under law, prosecute them for torture.
In a statement this weekend, the groups who organized the complaints said, “Whatever Bush or his hosts say, we have no doubt he cancelled his trip to avoid our case. The message from civil society is clear – If you’re a torturer, be careful in your travel plans.”
The complaints that had been scheduled to be filed on Monday asked that the General Prosecutor of the Canton of Geneva investigate allegations that men were tortured as part of the Bush administration’s well-documented torture program. Bush proudly recounted in his recently published memoir that when asked in 2002 to if it was permissible to waterboard a detainee – a recognized act of torture – he replied “damn right.”
Monday, February 7, is the ninth anniversary of the day Bush decided the Geneva Conventions did not apply to ‘enemy combatants.’

According to the Bush Indictment, . . .

Continue reading. Of course, if Bush had had a consensual affair with a woman not his wife, the full force and majesty of the law would be publicly brought against him, but since he merely ordered the torture of hundreds, some of whom died during torture, why that’s nothing—at least not in the eyes of President Obama and Eric Holder.

Written by Leisureguy

11 February 2011 at 2:25 pm

Off to the Apple store soon

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Various little glitches:

Mail: Window cannot be resized; wordwrap doesn’t work and Help offers no help. (Apple Help in general draws a blank on things I need help on.)

Evernote: Can’t get it to install

Calendar: Does it have to be active for alarms to work? (I would imagine so.)

Written by Leisureguy

11 February 2011 at 2:14 pm

Posted in Daily life, Technology

Bottling Day

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Today is not Boxing Day, but rather Bottling Day: the day I strain and bottle my homemade Worcestershire sauce, which has been aging in the fridge for the past 3 weeks. I thought about waiting until tomorrow so that it could bear the proud label "Aged For More Than 3 Weeks," but I’m too eager to start using it.

It is definitely Worcestershire sauce, but (as the Saveur article says) "bigger and bolder" than store-bought. A good project.

Written by Leisureguy

11 February 2011 at 10:59 am

Posted in Daily life, Food

Extremely nice shave

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Another use of the Otoko Organics shaving soap, today with the Omega 643167. This soap has a mild fragrance, which The Son would like since he (like many) hates strong fragrances first thing in the morning, and it produces loads o’ lather. It does also seem to be pleasant to the skin. Three smooth passes from the Eclipse Red Ring, a splash of TOBS Shaving Shop, and I’m off for the day.

Late start due to various things, but: including 30′ nonstop on the Nordic Track.

Written by Leisureguy

11 February 2011 at 10:56 am

Posted in Shaving

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