Later On

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

Archive for April 6th, 2011

Trading secrets for influence

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Very intersting column in the LA Times by Jameel Jaffer:

In a recent interview with Newsweek magazine, former CIA lawyer John Rizzo spoke with surprising candor about the CIA’s “targeted killing” program. He discussed the scope of the program (about 30 people are on the “hit list” at any given time), the process by which the CIA selects its targets (Rizzo was “the one who signed off”) and the methods the CIA uses to eliminate them (“The Predator is the weapon of choice, but it could also be someone putting a bullet in your head”). In a wide-ranging conversation, Rizzo volunteered details about a highly controversial counterterrorism program that had previously been cloaked in official secrecy.

What was most remarkable about the interview, though, was not what Rizzo said but that it was Rizzo who said it. For more than six years until his retirement in December 2009, Rizzo was the CIA’s acting general counsel — the agency’s chief lawyer. On his watch the CIA had sought to quash a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by arguing that national security would be harmed irreparably if the CIA were to acknowledge any detail about the targeted killing program, even the program’s mere existence.

Rizzo’s disclosure was long overdue — the American public surely has a right to know that the assassination of terrorism suspects is now official government policy — but it reflects an opportunistic approach to allegedly sensitive information that has become the norm for senior government officials. Routinely, officials insist to courts that the nation’s security will be compromised if certain facts are revealed but then supply those same facts to trusted reporters. Sometimes the motivation for the disclosure is political and sometimes it’s personal, but in either case disclosure has little to do with the public’s need (or right) to know and everything to do with the official’s need to tell. Rizzo’s interview with Newsweek was particularly brazen, because Rizzo allowed his statements to be attributed to him rather than to the now-familiar “highly placed intelligence official.” But where the state’s ostensible secrets are concerned, it has become common for government officials to tell courts one thing — nothing — and reporters another.

Examples are easy to find. After Congress enacted the Patriot Act, FBI officials swore to a court that national security would be compromised if the FBI revealed how many times it had used a particularly controversial surveillance power. But when then-Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft realized that he could use the statistic to discredit critics of the act, he volunteered the statistic at a press conference. Similarly, the CIA filed affidavits in various lawsuits insisting that national security would be compromised if the government officially acknowledged its network of secret prisons, but at a subsequent press conference President Bush did exactly that. In a suit involving the CIA’s “extraordinary rendition” program, then-CIA Director Michael Hayden filed an affidavit asserting that the CIA could neither confirm nor deny allegations concerning clandestine interrogation techniques. But after disclosure became more politically palatable than continued concealment, Hayden confirmed publicly that three prisoners had been waterboarded in CIA custody.

In these instances, the government first insisted on secrecy and then later disclosed its putative secrets, but occasionally the chronology works the other way round. After the New York Times disclosed the existence of the National Security Agency‘s warrantless wiretapping program, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 April 2011 at 10:48 am

Posted in Government, Law

Normal weight at last

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For normal builds and fitness levels, the normal weight produces a BMI in the range 18.5-24.9 (see this page, which includes calculator). This morning my weight was 183.9 (8.9 pounds from goal) and my BMI was 24.9.

I’ve noticed that, after losing a reasonable amount, it’s difficult for me to lose more for a couple of weeks or so—as though I “stick” at the new point. I believe that we’re advised to follow this pattern in any event—lose a bit, coast a bit, etc.—so no problem, but it’s interesting that my body seems to do that of its own. But now I’m losing again, and I hope to ride this to goal (175 lbs, BMI 23.7). FWIW, 21.7 is the midpoint of the “normal” range of BMI. I would hit that at 160 lbs, my weight in high school. But I think 172-175 is probably a good range for me.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 April 2011 at 10:42 am

Posted in Daily life, Fitness

Adding spice to the morning

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The Grosvenor brush is available in a boar/badger mix, which is the brush that I have. I let it soak in hot water while I shower (because of the boar bristle content). It works up a nice lather and the boar gives it good resilience. Prairie Creations Tallow+Lanolin soaps are quite good, and the spiced rum is a nice fragrance. The Gillette NEW with a Swedish Gillette blade did three smooth passes, and a splash of Lustray Spice sent me on my way.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 April 2011 at 10:34 am

Posted in Shaving

The Democratic Party is not for loyal Democrats

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Interesting column by Glenn Greenwald:

Rachel Maddow last night issued a very harsh and eloquent denunciation of Obama’s decision to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed before a military commission at Guantanamo rather than a real court. At the end of her monologue, Maddow focused on the contrast between how the Republicans treat their base and how Democrats treat theirs, specifically emphasizing that the White House announced this decision on the same day it kicked off Obama’s re-election bid. About that point, Rachel said this:

A Democratic President kicks his base in the teeth on something as fundamental as civil liberties — he puts the nail in the coffin of a civil liberties promise he made on his first full day in office — and he does it on the first day of his re-election effort. And Beltway reaction to that is. . . huh, good move. That’s the difference between Republican politics and Democratic politics. The Republicans may not love their base, but they fear them and play to them. The Democratic Party institutional structures of D.C., and the Beltway press in particular, not only hate the Democratic base — they think it’s good politics for Democratic politicians to kick that base publicly whenever possible.

Only the base itself will ever change that.

How will that happen? How can the base itself possibly change this dynamic, whereby politicians of the Democratic Party are not only willing, but eager, to “kick them whenever possible,” on the ground (among others) that doing so is good politics? I’d submit that this is not only one of the most important domestic political questions (if not the most important), but also the one that people are most eager to avoid engaging. And the reason is that there are no comforting answers.

One thing is for certain: right now, the Democratic Party is absolutely correct in its assessment that kicking its base is good politics. Why is that? Because they know that they have inculcated their base with sufficient levels of fear and hatred of the GOP, so that no matter how often the Party kicks its base, no matter how often Party leaders break their promises and betray their ostensible values, the base will loyally and dutifully support the Party and its leaders (at least in presidential elections; there is a good case that the Democrats got crushed in 2010 in large part because their base was so unenthusiastic).

In light of that fact, ask yourself this:  if you were a Democratic Party official, wouldn’t you also ignore — and, when desirable, step on — the people who you know will support you no matter what you do to them? That’s what a rational, calculating, self-interested, unprincipled Democratic politician should do:  accommodate those factions which need accommodating (because their support is in question), while ignoring or scorning the ones whose support is not in question, either because they will never vote for them (the hard-core right) or will dutifully canvass, raise money, and vote for them no matter what (the Democratic base).  Anyone who pledges unconditional, absolute fealty to a politician — especially 18 months before an election — is guaranteeing their own irrelevance.

It was often said that Bush/Cheney used fear as their principal political weapon — and they did — but that’s true of the Democratic Party as well. When it comes to their base, Democratic leaders know they will command undying, unbreakable support no matter how many times they kick their base, because of the fear that has been instilled in the base — not fear of Terrorists or Immigrants (that’s the GOP’s tactic), but fear of Sarah Palin, the Kochs and the Tea Party. Rachel herself made this point quite well before the 2010 election:

I talked at the top of the show tonight with Gail Collins about how one way to motivate your natural base for an election is to make your base afraid of what the other side has to offer. And that is true. That works. That works on both sides. It works for conservatives about liberals and it works for liberals about conservatives.

But one less soul-sucking way to motivate your base and to win an election and to keep winning elections and to, frankly, have history look kindly upon you, is to get your base to cheer for you — not just to cheer against someone else, but to see you standing up, not just to bad guys with worse ideas than you, but to see you standing up for what is right because you know it is right, because we know you know it’s right, even though you also know standing up for it is hard.

It may be that this fear of Republicans is rational (or, given how many GOP-replicating policies and practices the Democrats embrace, maybe it isn’t).  But whatever else is true, one thing is for certain: dedicated partisans who pledge their unbreakable, eternally loyal support for any Party or politician are going to be steadfastly ignored (or worse) by that Party or politician, and rightfully so. If you spend two years vehemently objecting that certain acts so profoundly offend your principles but then pledge unequivocal support no matter what almost two years in advance to the politicians who engage in them, why would you expect your objections to be heeded? Any rational person would ignore them, and stomp on your beliefs whenever doing so benefited them.

I’m not saying I know the answer.  Joan Walsh yesterday urged progressives not to organize for Obama until next year while nonetheless vowing to support his re-election, which (though well-intentioned) strikes me as merely reinforcing this dynamic. But what I do know is that Rachel’s optimistic proclamation that “only the base itself will ever change” this dynamic cannot be fulfilled without giving the Party and its leaders a true reason to pay attention or care about disenchantment (and, some day, to fear alienating their base). For those who are hopeful that this will happen, what do they envision will cause it? What would ever make Democratic Party leaders change how they view this dynamic?

* * * * *

In Slate, the normally rhetorically restrained Dahlia Lithwick has a superb article condemning Obama’s decision on the KSM trial as “appalling, cowardly, stupid and tragically wrong.”  Indeed, as I’ve documented before — virtually every country that suffers horrible Terrorist attacks — Britain, Spain, India, Indonesia — tries the accused perpetrators in its regular court system, on their own soil, usually in the city that was attacked.  The U.S. — Land of the Free and Home of the Brave — stands alone in being too afraid to do so.

Related to that:  the notion that political opinion in America would not allow Obama to do anything differently on these issues is empirically disproven; he ran on a platform of opposing all the measures he now supports and won decisively.  By itself, that proves that — when these debates are engaged rather than conceded — these positions are politically sustainable.  Obama adopts Bush Terrorism policies because he wants to and has no reason not to — not because doing so is a political necessity.

Finally — and as is usually true for this excuse — the notion that “Congress made him do it” is totally false: aside from the fact that the Obama administration long ago announced that it would retain the military commission system, the White House — long before Congress acted to ban transfers of detainees to the U.S. — removed decision-making power from the DOJ in the KSM case and made clear it would likely reverse Holder’s decision.  As The Atlantic‘s Andrew Cohen notes: . . .

Continue reading. I think it’s obvious that the Obama Administration takes an extreme conservative position with regard to the Bill of Rights and civil rights in general: they do not care for such rights at all, and ignore them as much as they can and fight against such rights in court if they cannot be ignored.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 April 2011 at 8:50 am

When the government fails to protect

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One of the primary jobs a government has, even in the eyes of the Right, is to protect its citizens. I would say that the mask filters below show that the governments involved are failing in that basic task:

Each filter shows the particulate matter that would otherwise have gone into the person’s lungs—and is going into the lungs of all in those cities who fail to wear air filters.

Of course, the US government has better standards for environmental safety—standards, let it be noted, under ceaseless attack from the Right, which would prefer that businesses be unfettered by governmental regulations of any kind, including environmental regulations.

The photo is from an interesting Cool Tools post for a mask. I wonder what the filters would look like after a ride through various American cities—not bad, I would imagine, in that the US seems to have abandoned manufacturing and heavy industry for the most part.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 April 2011 at 8:31 am

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