Later On

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

Archive for March 18th, 2013

Which extinct creatures would you return to life?

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Some good choices in this article.

Written by Leisureguy

18 March 2013 at 4:55 pm

Posted in Science

The plot thickens

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Extremely interesting piece by Russ Baker at WhoWhatWhy.com:

Deciding who is a spy and who isn’t—and who is a good spy or a bad one—is highly subjective. For the longest time, anyone from your side caught behind enemy lines either was just doing his or her job, or, we were told, was innocent of the charges. We see that phenomenon every time the US media reports—usually with transparent relief, even joy—that Americans accused of spying in foreign countries have been sent home and reunited with their families.

The whole business of what constitutes spying has become far murkier with the rise of the post-9/11 security state. There have been numerous examples of Americans, like the  soldier Bradley Manning, the CIA officer John Kiriakou, and the NSA analyst Thomas Drake, accused of traitorous behavior for acts that others might consider patriotic in the best sense. The most recent example is Barrett Brown, facing a potential hundred years in prison under the Espionage Act for posting links to documents that reveal troubling information to his fellow Americans about their own country.

But perhaps no spy case in recent decades has more sharply divided opinion than that of Jonathan Pollard, the American accused of spying on the US for Israel. Pollard is described in the subtitle of one book as “one of the most notorious spies in American history” and by others as no actual threat to the United States at all. Pollard was given a life sentence in 1987, and has thus far spent a quarter century behind bars. To some, the whole thing seemed a little strange, given the close relationship between the United States and Israel. How seriously could friends damage each other by “spying” on one another?

Now, new evidence raises doubts about whether the public was told the truth about Pollard, and the reasons he was prosecuted and given such a draconian prison term.

***

The Jonathan Pollard spy case was a huge international incident back in 1985, when the US Naval Investigative Service analyst was arrested and charged with spying for Israel. He clearly was no angel—among other things, he had taken the initiative of offering Israel his services, and accepting compensation for them. His primary motivation was seen as ideological, though, not financial.

Those who believed that allies could not exactly spy on allies, or thought that Israel always had the ability to get its way with the American establishment— were astonished by Pollard’s life prison sentence. His supporters argued at the time—and have argued since—that he was not harming the United States, and that his sentence was cruel and excessive. Many continue to carry the torch for him.

Now, documents that the CIA has been fighting to withhold for years, released to relatively little public notice in recent months, show that Pollard’s advocates may have been right. The documents were obtained and released by the nonprofit, private, National Security Archive. A federal panel agreed with the Archive that the CIA had no basis for continuing to withhold its 1987 Damage Assessment. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

18 March 2013 at 4:21 pm

Posted in Government, Law

Side by Side, a fascinating documentary

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It’s by Keanu Reeves and has a lot of big names explaining their role in the move from film to digital images in making movies: Martin Scorsese, George Lucas, David Lynch, Steven Soderbergh, James Cameron, Robert Rodriguez, and others. Absolutely fascinating, especially to a movie buff who’s seen the films mentioned.

And it’s free via Amazon streaming for Amazon Prime members. (I assume this is US only, though.)

Written by Leisureguy

18 March 2013 at 3:40 pm

Posted in Movies & TV

John Brennan In Grad School: Destroying Democracy Helps Save It

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Douglas Lucas at WhoWhatWhy.com:

In 1980, a 25-year old graduate student at the University of Texas at Austin wrote amaster’s thesis called “Human rights, a case study of Egypt.” In it, he argued that the aim of achieving and maintaining political stability justifies human rights violations by apprehensive governments— including crackdowns on unbridled journalists:

Since the press can play such an influential role in determining the perceptions of the masses, I am in favor of some degree of government censorship. Inflamatory [sic] articles can provoke mass opposition and possible violence.

Why should we care what a 25-year old grad student wrote over 30 years ago? Because that student grew up to be John Brennan—recently appointed director of the CIA.  And because the theory he outlined in his master’s thesis seems to have shaped his attitude toward the exercise of power since then.

Four Months Make An Expert?

Brennan wrote the thesis, first made public by Charles C. Johnson, for an article in the Daily Caller (additional pages here), to earn a master’s degree in government with a concentration in Middle Eastern studies. The paper analyzed human rights in Egypt under the 1970s regime of Anwar Sadat — a regime Brennan experienced firsthand while studying at the American University in Cairo for four months (from September 1975 to January 1976).

Under Sadat, Egypt saw riots over the price of bread, a growing gap between the rich and the poor, high unemployment, widespread malnutrition, and other turmoil.

For the sake of stability, Brennan wrote, Sadat rightly introduced legislation to restrict assembly, strove to replace the judiciary in political trials with his own special prosecutor, and subjected the press to frequent, extensive censorship.

The powerful have long used emergencies or purported emergencies as excuses to seize power. In terms of Egypt’s dire conditions, Brennan wrote, . . .

Continue reading.

UPDATE: From the comments at the link:

smokinbluebear

I recently saw a quote by George F. Kennan which he wrote in the preface to Norman Cousins’ 1987 book “The Pathology of Power” which struck me…

“Were the Soviet Union to sink tomorrow under the waters of the ocean, the American military-industrial complex would have to remain, substantially unchanged, until some other adversary could be invented. Anything else would be an unacceptable shock to the American economy.”

How much do the intelligence/defense sectors shape our news to assure their ever-expansive budgets? How can the U.S. ever expect to Decrease their budgets when it has become such a large part of our economy?

Written by Leisureguy

18 March 2013 at 3:34 pm

JFK’s assassination: Will we ever know the truth?

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As noted by James Huang on WhoWhatWhy.com:

It’s the 50th anniversary of JFK’s untimely death. So why is the Obama Administration still refusing to release assassination records? Abby Martin, host of RT’s show Breaking the Set, interviews WhoWhatWhy editor Russ Baker about this. Russ also articulates the larger picture surrounding this enduring mystery.

Here’s the interview:

Written by Leisureguy

18 March 2013 at 3:24 pm

What does Paul Wolfowitz have to say?

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James Fallows has a post on a Harper’s story that I am going to have to read:

Andrew Bacevich has a wonderful essay, in the form of an open letter to Paul Wolfowitz, in the current Harper’s. You have to subscribe to read it — but, hey, you should be subscribing to any publication whose work you value. This essay isolates the particular role Wolfowitz had in the cast of characters that led us to war. As a reminder, they included:

– Dick Cheney, who was becoming a comic-book churl by this stage of his public life;
– Colin Powell, the loyal soldier, staffer, and diplomat whose “Powell Doctrine” and entire life’s work stood in opposition to the kind of war that he, with misguided loyalty, was to play so central a role in selling;
– Tony Blair, the crucial ally who added rhetorical polish and international resolve to the case for war;
– Donald Rumsfeld, with his breezy contempt for those who said the effort would be difficult or long;
– Paul Bremer, whose sudden, thoughtless dismantling of the Iraqi army proved so disastrous;
– Condoleezza Rice, miscast in her role as White House national-security advisor;
– George Tenet, the long-time staffer who cooperated with the “slam-dunk!” intelligence assessment despite serious disagreement within the CIA;
– and of course George W. Bush himself, whose combination of limited knowledge and strong desire to be “decisive” made him so vulnerable to the argument that the “real” response to the 9/11 attacks should be invading a country that had nothing to do with them.
But Paul Wolfowitz was in a category of his own because he was the one who provided the highest-concept rationale for the war. As James Galbraith of the University of Texas has put it, “Wolfowitz is the real-life version of Halberstam’s caricature of McNamara” [in The Best and the Brightest].

Bacevich’s version of this assessment is to lay out as respectfully as possible the strategic duty that Wolfowitz thought the U.S. would fulfill by invading Iraq. Back before the war began, I did a much more limited version of this assessment as an Atlantic article. As Bacevich puts it now, Wolfowitz was extending precepts from his one-time mentor, Albert Wohlstetter, toward a model of how the United States could maximize stability for itself and others.

As with the best argumentative essays, Bacevich takes on Wolfowitz in a strong rather than an oversimplified version of his world-view. You have to read the whole thing to get the effect, but here is a brief sample (within fair-use limits):

With the passing of the Cold War, global hegemony seemed America’s for the taking. What others saw as an option you, Paul, saw as something much more: an obligation that the nation needed to seize, for its own good as well as for the world’s….

Although none of the hijackers were Iraqi, within days of 9/11 you were promoting military action against Iraq. Critics have chalked this up to your supposed obsession with Saddam. The criticism is misplaced. The scale of your ambitions was vastly greater.

In an instant, you grasped that the attacks provided a fresh opportunity to implement Wohlstetter’s Precepts, and Iraq offered a made-to-order venue….In Iraq the United States would demonstrate the efficacy of preventive war…. The urgency of invading Iraq stemmed from the need to validate that doctrine before the window of opportunity closed.

Bacevich explains much more about the Wohlstetter / Wolfowitz grand view. And then he poses the challenge that he says Wolfowitz should now meet:

One of the questions emerging from the Iraq debacle must be this one: Why did liberation at gunpoint yield results that differed so radically from what the war’s advocates had expected? Or, to sharpen the point, How did preventive war undertaken by ostensibly the strongest military in history produce a cataclysm?

Not one of your colleagues from the Bush Administration possesses the necessary combination of honesty, courage, and wit to answer these questions. If you don’t believe me, please sample the tediously self-exculpatory memoirs penned by (or on behalf of) Bush himself, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, Tenet, Bremer, Feith, and a small squad of eminently forgettable generals…
What would Albert [Wohlstetter] do? I never met the man (he died in 1997), but my guess is that he wouldn’t flinch from taking on these questions, even if the answers threatened to contradict his own long-held beliefs. Neither should you, Paul. To be sure, whatever you might choose to say, you’ll be vilified, as Robert McNamara was vilified when he broke his long silence and admitted that he’d been “wrong, terribly wrong” about Vietnam. But help us learn the lessons of Iraq so that we might extract from it something of value in return for all the sacrifices made there. Forgive me for saying so, but you owe it to your country.

Anyone who knows Andrew Bacevich’s story will understand the edge behind his final sentence. But you don’t have to know that to respect the challenge he lays down. I hope Paul Wolfowitz will at some point rise to it.

For another very valuable assessment of who was right and wrong, when, please see John Judis’s piece in The New Republic.

Written by Leisureguy

18 March 2013 at 3:21 pm

The $400 Billion Military Jet That Can’t Fly in Cloudy Weather

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A sequester-worthy project: the F-35. William Boardman writes:

According to one of its supporters, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is not “what our troops need,” is “too costly” and “poorly managed,” and its “present difficulties are too numerous to detail.”

The F-35 is a case study of government failure at all levels – civilian and military, federal, state, local, even airport authority. Not one critical government agency is meeting its obligation to protect the people it presumably represents. Senator Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who wrote the F-35 critique above, is hardly unique as an illustration of how government fails, but he sees no alternative to failure.

Up for re-election in 2014 and long a supporter of basing the F-35 in Vermont, Leahy put those thoughts in a letter to a constituent [3] made public March 13. This is Leahy’s most recent public communication since December 2012, when he refused to meet with opponents of the F-35 and his web site [4] listed a page of “public discussion” events mostly from the spring, including private briefings with public officials, without responding to any substantive issues.

The F-35 is a nuclear-capable weapon of mass destruction that was supposed to be the “fighter of the future” when it was undertaken in 2001. Now, more than a decade overdue and more than 100% over budget, the plane is expected to cost $1.5 trillion over its useful life, of which about $400 billion has already been spent.

100th F-35 Being Built, None Yet Operational

In January, the Lockheed Martin production facility in Fort Worth, Texas, reported it was well along “in the final phase of building the wings” of the 100th F-35 constructed by the Bethesda, Maryland, company [5]. Of the first 99 F-35s, none are yet operational.

The F-35 isn’t even close to fully operational – it can fly only on sunny days. It can’t fly at night. And it can’t fly in clouds or near lightning. We know this because the Pentagon tells us so, in a report written for the Secretary of Defense by the Director of Operational Test and Evaluation, J. Michael Gilmore, dated February 15, 2013.

Although some media hyped the report [6] as a “leaked document,” Gilmore clearly expected the report would become public, since he included a description of its wide distribution within the government, concluding with the reminder: “By law, I must provide Congress with any test-related material it requests.”

By March 5, Gilmore’s report was on the internet and giving the Canadian government second thoughts about buying the plane at all. Of the ten other countries partnering in F-35 development, Italy has already reduced the number of plane it will eventually buy. Norway, Turkey, and others are also having second thoughts – as is even the United States. Leahy indicates in his letter that “the jet is too costly to proceed with purchases at today’s planned levels,” which are about 2,400 planes at a currently projected cost of $120 billion each, give or take $30 billion.

Gilmore’s report covers the F-35 training program at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida for two months in the fall of 2012, a program originally scheduled to begin in August 2011, but the F-35 wasn’t ready then. Even a year later, the training program “was limited by the current restrictions of the aircraft.” The program partially trained 4 pilots in 46 days.

If the Pilot Can Eject, He’ll Be Lucky Not to Drown

The report’s executive summary gives a sense of what some of the “current restrictions” of the F-35 are: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

18 March 2013 at 12:58 pm

Posted in Business, Congress, Military

More on the befuddled press corps

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Following on the previous post on Krugman’s column, Robert Parry also looks at the phenomenon of a press that abandoned its responsibilities:

Exclusive: As the U.S. observes the tenth anniversary of the Iraq invasion, a key question remains: Why was there almost no accountability for journalists and pundits who went along with George W. Bush’s deceptions. The answer can be found in the cover-ups of the Reagan-Bush-41 era, writes Robert Parry.

In the early 1980s, when it became clear to me that the Reagan administration was determined to lie incessantly about its foreign policy initiatives – that it saw propagandizing the American people as a key part of its success – I pondered this question: What is the proper role of a U.S. journalist when the government lies not just once in a while but nearly all the time?Should you put yourself into a permanently adversarial posture of intense skepticism, as you might in dealing with a disreputable source who had lost your confidence? That is, assume what you’re hearing is unreliable unless it can be proven otherwise.

To many readers, the answer may seem obvious: of course, you should! Indeed, it might seem wise to many of you that I should have assumed that Ronald Reagan and his Cold War hard-liners were always lying and work back from there to the rare occasions when they weren’t.But it wasn’t that easy. At the time, I was working as an investigative reporter for The Associated Press in Washington and many of my senior news executives were deeply sympathetic to Reagan’s muscular foreign policy after the perceived humiliations of the lost Vietnam War and the long Iranian hostage crisis.

General manager Keith Fuller, the AP’s most senior executive, saw Reagan’s Inauguration and the simultaneous release of the 52 U.S. hostages in Iran on Jan. 20, 1981, as a national turning point in which Reagan had revived the American spirit. Fuller and other top executives were fully onboard Reagan’s foreign policy bandwagon, so you can understand why they wouldn’t welcome some nagging skepticism from a lowly reporter.

The template at the AP, as with other major news organizations including the New York Times under neocon executive editor Abe Rosenthal, was to treat Reagan and his administration’s pronouncements with great respect and to question them only when the evidence was incontrovertible, which it almost never is in such cases.

So, in the real world, what to do? Though some people cling to the myth that American reporters are warriors for the truth and that tough editors stand behind you, the reality is very different. It is a corporate world where pleasing the boss and staying safely inside the herd are the best ways to keep your job and gain “respect” from your colleagues.

Punishing the Truth

That lesson was driven home during the early 1980s. Some of us actually tried to do our jobs honestly, exposing crimes of state in Central America and elsewhere. Almost universally, we were punished by our editors and marginalized by our colleagues.

Early on, Raymond Bonner at the New York Times wrote courageously about right-wing “death squads” in El Salvador, even as Reagan and his team were disputing those bloody facts on the ground and coordinating with right-wing media attack groups in Washington to put Bonner on the defensive. Amid the smears, Rosenthal pulled Bonner out of Central America, reassigned him to a desk job in New York and caused Bonner to leave the Times.

Even those of us who had some success in exposing major scandals emerging from the brutality in Central America were treated as outsiders whose careers were always fragile. We had to dodge withering fire from the Reagan administration and its right-wing cohorts while keeping one eye on the nervous or angry editors to our backs. . .

Continue reading.

It’s worth noting that some press got it right.

Written by Leisureguy

18 March 2013 at 12:05 pm

Posted in Iraq War, Media

Pandora’s Lunchbox: Pulling Back the Curtain on How Processed Food Took Over the American Meal

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Almost all our food I cook from scratch, though I recognize that many people do knot have time, knowledge, and/or equipment to do this. Still, the changes in our national eating patterns are quite clearly not good. Amy Goodman at Democracy Now! has a very interesting two-part interview that is well worth reading. There are two videos, and the transcripts begin:

We look deep inside the $1-trillion-a-year “processed-food-industrial complex” to examine how decades of food science have resulted in the cheapest, most addictive and most nutritionally inferior food in the world. The vitamins added back to this packaged and fast food — which amounts to 70 percent of calories consumed in the United States — come from nylon, sheep grease and petroleum. We are joined by longtime food reporter Melanie Warner, author of “Pandora’s Lunchbox: How Processed Food Took Over the American Meal.” [includes rush transcript]

AMY GOODMAN: As we continue deep inside the $1-trillion-a-year “processed-food-industrial complex,” we turn to look at how decades of food science have resulted in the cheapest, most abundant, most addictive and most nutritionally inferior food in the world. And the vitamins and protein added back to this processed food? Well, you might be surprised to know where they come from. That’s the focus of a new book by longtime food reporter Melanie Warner, author of Pandora’s Lunchbox: How Processed Food Took Over the American Meal.

Melanie, welcome to Democracy Now! She’s joining us from Denver, Colorado. Vitamins, vitamin-added food. You think you go to the grocery store, and you want to get a little added punch, and you want to ensure that your kids, that your family, has added vitamins. What’s the problem with that?

MELANIE WARNER: Yeah. Well, hi, Amy. It’s great to be here.

You know, one of the things with processed food that I found while doing this book, is not only that it has an abundance of the things that Michael was talking about—salt, sugar, fat—it’s also what it’s lacking, which, it turns out, is naturally occurring nutrition, in many cases. So that’s vitamins and minerals and fiber and things like antioxidants.

So, you take something like cereal—you know, you walk down the cereal aisle, and you’re bombarded with health messages: It’s high in vitamin D, a good source of calcium, fiber, antioxidants. You see these things all over the package. And one of the things—one of the questions I asked myself when I was starting to work on this book was: Why is it nearly impossible to find a box of cereal in the cereal aisle without vitamins, added vitamins and minerals, in the ingredient list?

And it turns out, because most cereal has very little inherent nutrition. And this is in part because of processing. The processing of food is very intensive. It’s very—it’s very technical, and with cereal, can be very damaging to naturally occurring nutrients, especially vitamins and oftentimes fiber. So, what manufacturers do is they add back in vitamins. So, essentially, you see all these wonderful claims on the package, but essentially—and you look at the panel, and you’re getting 35 percent and 40 percent of your recommended daily allowance of these vitamins, but they’re essentially added in like a vitamin pill, which many people maybe are already taking in the morning.

And I was really surprised to learn where some of these vitamins come from. I never really thought about it in much detail, as probably most people don’t. But it turns out that they’re—these vitamins are not coming from the foods that contain them. Like vitamin C does not come from an orange, and vitamin A does not come from a carrot. It’s very far from that. They come from things that really aren’t actually foods. Vitamin D, for instance, was probably the most shocking. It comes from sheep grease, so actually the grease that comes from sheep wool. You have giant barges and container ships that go from Australia and New Zealand over to China, where most of—a lot of our vitamins are produced. About 50 percent of global vitamin production comes from China inside these huge factories, very industrial processes. A lot of vitamins are actually chemical processes.

AMY GOODMAN: Wait.

MELANIE WARNER: And they’re very technical and complex.

AMY GOODMAN: A lot of people, if they’re with someone, they’re looking at them right now. Wait a second. So, China gets all these shipments of sheep wool from Australia, and they’re pulling the sheep grease off of them to make vitamin D?

MELANIE WARNER: Yeah, sheep grease is actually very useful for a lot of things. It can be used to make moisturizer in lip balm. It can be used for industrial purposes, for lubricants for engines and machines and things like that. But one of its uses is to be converted, through a number of chemical steps and chemical processes, to vitamin D, which is added to our food and used in supplements. So, yeah—

AMY GOODMAN: What about—

MELANIE WARNER: —it’s just one of—

AMY GOODMAN: What about nylon, Melanie? What does nylon have to do with vitamins?

MELANIE WARNER: Yeah, it’s one of—it’s one of these chemicals that goes into the making of one of the B vitamins. It’s many—there are many food additives, actually, that are used in food but actually also have industrial purposes associated with them. One of my favorites is a chemical called, a food additive called azodicarbonamide, and that’s actually used quite extensively in bread and bread-type products, and it’s used as a dough conditioner and a manufacturing aid. And its main use outside of the manufacturing of bread is for creating foamed plastic, so things like yoga mats.

And I encountered some news articles a number of years ago where a tanker truck overturned on the Dan Ryan Expressway in Chicago carrying azodicarbonamide. And city fire officials had to issue their highest hazmat alert and evacuate everyone up to a half mile downwind because of this chemical spill. So you look at something like that, and you wonder: Is this something that we really want in our morning toast and our—the bread that goes on our turkey sandwiches? . . .

Continue reading Part I.

Part II is here and it tells the truth about soy in processed food. She discusses, for example, soybean oil—and for years I have refused to buy any food that contains soybean oil, which is increasingly common in prepared salad dressings, for example. (I make my own salad dressing from olive oil, vinegar, and some of Penzeys salad dressing mixes.)

Written by Leisureguy

18 March 2013 at 11:56 am

Posted in Business, Food, Health

Senate Censors Part of Report on JPMorgan About Its Stock Trading

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Of course, Congress is eager to conceal its incompetence, and also eager to avoid calling attention to how corporations control Congress. Pam Martens points out some interesting redactions:

The 307-page report the Senate released last Thursday on JPMorgan’s cowboy culture was deeply unsettling; the testimony under oath at the related Senate hearing on Friday was equally shocking with eyewitness accounts confirming that CEO Jamie Dimon ordered the withholding of  financial data to a regulator while both he and the Chief Financial Officer at the time, Douglas Braunstein, presented an Alice in Wonderland version of facts to the public in April 2012.

But it now appears that the worst of this story may be so unsettling to the markets and the public perception of Wall Street that it must be censored from public viewing. Throughout the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigation’s 98 exhibits of emails and internal memos on the wild trading schemes at JPMorgan, the word “Redacted” appears.  In a high number of the areas where the material is censored, it concerns trading in the stock market, not the credit market where Bruno Iksil, the trader known as the London Whale, was causing giant ripples and eventual mega losses for the largest bank in the U.S. To date, there has been no media attention to the issue of stock trading within the Chief Investment Office nor has the issue been raised by investigators.

That the words equity trading (meaning stock trading) appear at all in this investigative report raises more serious red flags for JPMorgan. As Wall Street on Parade has repeatedly reported, the Chief Investment Office at JPMorgan, which oversaw the London Whale trades, was using insured deposits of the bank to place its casino bets. Senator Carl Levin, Chairman of the Senate Permanent Committee on Investigations, confirmed on Friday that JPMorgan used insured deposits as well as funds corporations had placed on deposit. That’s clearly not compatible with the Nation’s safety and soundness rules for banks and likely explains why the FBI is involved in an investigation.

To date, Jamie Dimon has attempted to present the giant bets in the credit markets as a hedging operation to offset risks in the company’s overall balance sheet. The credibility of that stance has lost its luster as Levin revealed that the Chief Investment Office in the first quarter of last year had actually taken on more exposure to credit risk rather than hedging it.

The reason for the existence of banks is to make business loans to help grow new industries, jobs and the economy. If one genuinely wants to hedge that risk, as opposed to gambling for the house with proprietary bets, a credible hedge would be to short corporate loan exposure – not buy more of the same exposure. But that is what the Chief Investment Office did – it purchased billions of additional exposure via an illiquid credit index from which it could not untangle itself.

The $6.2 billion in losses thus far acknowledged by JPMorgan from the trading of credit derivatives within the Chief Investment Office is bad enough. But trading stocks with customers’ savings deposits – that truly has the ring of the excesses of 1929 and inexplicable to explain as a hedge against the corporate loans made by the bank.

Although the “Redacted” stamp has censored much of the relevant information on this stock trading, a few snippets can be pieced together. We learn, for example, that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

18 March 2013 at 11:47 am

Posted in Business, Congress

Maybe we should recognize that Congress is incompetent

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Being elected to the House or Senate is primarily, it seems, a popularity contest, and just as in other areas, popularity and competence seem to be independent, with competence spread across the entire range of popularity. So perhaps it’s little surprise that Congress seems incredibly incompetent at their jobs. Take, for example, this McClatchy story by Michael Doyle:

Congress stumbled badly the last time it rewrote military law amid a furor over sexual assaults.

Now, driven by fresh outrage over an Air Force case, some lawmakers – including Democratic Sens. Barbara Boxer of California and Claire McCaskill of Missouri – seek new changes in the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Their effort is shadowed by lessons that might be learned, or lost, from past Capitol Hill mistakes.

In particular, new legislation prompted by an Air Force general’s overturning of a sexual assault conviction reminds some of how Congress once rewrote the military code’s sexual assault provisions, called Article 120. One military judge subsequently called the rewrite “almost incomprehensible,” another termed it “arguably absurd” and other judges deemed the confusing result unconstitutional.

“The efforts to update Article 120 have certainly vexed military lawyers and judges and provide a useful lesson: Conduct serious public hearings . . . hold an open markup and above all don’t try to rush,” Eugene R. Fidell, who teaches military law at Yale Law School, said in an email interview.

Defense attorney Frank Spinner put it a little more bluntly: “The prior experiences with rewriting Article 120 suggest that Congress is using the military as an experiment in handling sexual assault cases.”

Spinner represents Air Force Lt. Col. James Wilkerson, an F-16 pilot who was convicted last year of sexual assault at Aviano Air Base in Italy. In February, Wilkerson was freed from military prison in Charleston, S.C., and restored to active duty after Air Force Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin overturned the conviction.

Franklin’s action was authorized by the Uniform Code of Military Justice. But while that power is long-standing, it’s rarely exercised.

Air Force officers overturned convictions 40 times in the last five years, out of 3,713 convictions. Five of the overturned cases involved sexual assault. Army officers overturned 68 guilty findings out of 4,603 convictions in the last five years. None involved sexual assault. Marine Corps officers overturned only seven convictions out of 1,768 cases from 2010 to 2012. Data on sexual assault cases wasn’t available.

“I want to make sure people understand: One case has to be put in context of a whole system,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., an Air Force lawyer, said Wednesday at a hearing of the Personnel Subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Still, the notoriety surrounding the Wilkerson case has spurred multiple legislative proposals, as well as general outrage. The alleged victim, 49-year-old physician assistant Kimberly Hanks, went public and told NBC News she was “absolutely stunned” by Franklin’s decision and that he was “protecting one of his own.”

McCaskill’s new bill would prohibit commanding officers from overturning convictions and would require written explanations if they commuted or lessened sentences. A comparable bill by Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., would prohibit commanding officers from overturning convictions or changing sentences.

Boxer likewise has urged Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to restrict commanding officers’ ability to overturn convictions or change sentences. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

18 March 2013 at 11:32 am

Posted in Congress, Law, Military

How we thought about the Iraq War

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James Fallows has a post well worth reading:

I’ll try to work through a number of items on this topic today. Tomorrow is the tenth anniversary of the start of the ruinous invasion of Iraq.

1. The ongoing effect. A reader in the upper Midwest writes:

I still believe that many people, perhaps especially in Washington, don’t understand what a searing, formative experience the whole run-up to the war was for a generation of Americans–maybe more than one generation. (I’m 46.) The obvious propaganda campaign, the clearly trumped-up WMD scare campaign, the bullying that was the functional equivalent of redbaiting directed against naysayers, and finally the invasion itself: This disaster transpired in broad daylight, in slow motion, with millions around screaming for it to stop. But the Beltway crowd would not stop. Who could have witnessed this with eyes open and not be terribly, terribly sobered about the state of our political system, and the trajectory of our country?

While I agree entirely with your critique of the war as summarized at the end of your post, it does focus on the invasion as a strategic blunder for the United States. Surely it was. But was not the fundamental issue the invasion’s sheer lack of moral and legal justification? This was plainly a war of aggression against a country that had done nothing to us and posed us no threat. George W. Bush and his enablers made my country a rogue nation when they embraced the atrocious doctrine of preventive war, previously associated closely with fascist regimes. This is the worst of all, and for this there has been no accounting at all.

To address briefly the final point: my judgment as of the springtime of 2002, as a reporter and a civilian, was that I had no special leverage in addressing the legal-and-moral wrongness of the war. I thought it was wrong to attack a country that hadn’t attacked us, and said so in interviews and on shows. I thought the main additional information / judgment I could bring to the discussion was airing the unanimous view of experts in the region, and in military occupations, that “regime change” would unleash a host of other consequences that together would be worse — for America, for the region, and arguably for Iraq — than continuing to exert “non-kinetic” pressure on Saddam Hussein.

2. Who was right. Last week Stephen Walt reminded us of an advertisement placed on the NYT’s op-ed page six months before the war began. It had the headline shown below, and it was signed by 33 scholars of international relations.
IraqAd-thumb-250x89-116118It is very much worth looking at that ad again, and reflecting on the list of signers. Almost every detail of the case it made has stood up well over the past decade. This was its argument:

  •     “Saddam Hussein is a murderous despot, but no one has provided credible evidence that Iraq is cooperating with al Qaeda.
  •     “Even if Saddam Hussein acquired nuclear weapons, he could not use them without suffering massive U.S. or Israeli retaliation.
  •     “The first Bush administration did not try to conquer Iraq in 1991 because it understood that doing so could spread instability in the Middle East, threatening U.S. interests. This remains a valid concern today.
  •     “The United States would win a war against Iraq, but Iraq has military options–chemical and biological weapons, urban combat–that might impose significant costs on the invading forces and neighboring states.
  •     “Even if we win easily, we have no plausible exit strategy. Iraq is a deeply divided society that the United States would have to occupy and police for many years to create a viable state.
  •     “Al Qaeda poses a greater threat to the U.S. than does Iraq. War with Iraq will jeopardize the campaign against al Qaeda by diverting resources and attention from that campaign and by increasing anti-Americanism around the globe.

The people who signed that ad were right. They were startlingly right. The people who argued the opposite  — Cheney, Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, Rice, Abrams, of course Bush, much of the “liberal hawk” establishment notably and stridently including The New Republic and the Washington Post’s editorial page — were wrong. In most cases unrepentantly wrong. Yet here is the remarkable thing: in ongoing deliberations about Iran, Afghanistan, and overall U.S. strategy we now hear more often from the “wrong” camp than those who were right.

Here are the 33 signers. It is a remarkable list. Not all of them are still around — I particularly miss the voice, company, and integrity of Charles Moskos, and I am glad to note my college classmate Steve Van Evera — but many are. As we think about Iran and other threats, I would like to see two op-ed or extended talk-show appearances by members of this list, for each one appearance by someone who was so gravely mistaken a decade ago:

Robert Art, Brandeis; Richard Betts, Columbia; Dale Copeland, Univ. of Virginia; Michael Desch, Univ. of Kentucky; Sumit Ganguly, Univ. of Texas; Alexander L. George, Stanford;Charles Glaser, University of Chicago; Richard K. Hermann, Ohio State; George C. Herring, Univ. of Kentucky; Robert Jervis, Columbia; Chaim Kaufmann, Lehigh; Carl Kaysen, MIT;Elizabeth Kier, Univ. of Washington; Deborah Larson, UCLA; Jack S. Levy, Rutgers; Peter Liberman, Queen’s College; John J. Mearsheimer, University of Chicago; Steven E. Miller, Harvard University; Charles C. Moskos, Northwestern; Robert A. Pape, University of Chicago;Barry R. Posen, MIT; Robert Powell, UC-Berkeley; George H. Quester, Univ. of Maryland;Richard Rosecrance, UCLA; Thomas C. Schelling, Univ. of Maryland; Randall L. Schweller, Ohio State; Glenn H. Snyder, Univ. of North Carolina; Jack L. Snyder, Columbia; Shibley Telhami, Univ. of Maryland; Stephen Van Evera, MIT; Kenneth N. Waltz, Columbia; Cindy Williams, MIT

To make this impolitely specific and blunt: before the next talk-show booker, op-ed page editor, think-tank event coordinator, or other gatekeeper on public attention invites the next Bush-era veteran or former advocate of invading Iraq on to share his or her wisdom, I ask that they include some people from the list above, or others whose judgment looks better rather than worse with the passing years.

3. Failure of accountability. From another reader in the Midwest: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

18 March 2013 at 11:02 am

US reluctance to learn

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For some reason our country has become divorced from reality. Our politicians and pundits have become enamored of various wills-o’-the-wisp. They seem like crabs in a bucket: no lid required, because if one crab starts to escape, the others will pull it back. Paul Krugman comments on this affliction:

Ten years ago, America invaded Iraq; somehow, our political class decided that we should respond to a terrorist attack by making war on a regime that, however vile, had nothing to do with that attack.

Some voices warned that we were making a terrible mistake — that the case for war was weak and possibly fraudulent, and that far from yielding the promised easy victory, the venture was all too likely to end in costly grief. And those warnings were, of course, right.

There were, it turned out, no weapons of mass destruction; it was obvious in retrospect that the Bush administration deliberately misled the nation into war. And the war — having cost thousands of American lives and scores of thousands of Iraqi lives, having imposed financial costs vastly higher than the war’s boosters predicted — left America weaker, not stronger, and ended up creating an Iraqi regime that is closer to Tehran than it is to Washington.

So did our political elite and our news media learn from this experience? It sure doesn’t look like it.

The really striking thing, during the run-up to the war, was the illusion of consensus. To this day, pundits who got it wrong excuse themselves on the grounds that “everyone” thought that there was a solid case for war. Of course, they acknowledge, there were war opponents — but they were out of the mainstream.

The trouble with this argument is that it was and is circular: support for the war became part of the definition of what it meant to hold a mainstream opinion. Anyone who dissented, no matter how qualified, was ipso facto labeled as unworthy of consideration. This was true in political circles; it was equally true of much of the press, which effectively took sides and joined the war party.

CNN’s Howard Kurtz, who was at The Washington Post at the time, recently wrote about how this process worked, how skeptical reporting, no matter how solid, was discouraged and rejected. “Pieces questioning the evidence or rationale for war,” he wrote, “were frequently buried, minimized or spiked.”

Closely associated with this taking of sides was an exaggerated and inappropriate reverence for authority. Only people in positions of power were considered worthy of respect. Mr. Kurtz tells us, for example, that The Post killed a piece on war doubts by its own senior defense reporter on the grounds that it relied on retired military officials and outside experts — “in other words, those with sufficient independence to question the rationale for war.”

All in all, it was an object lesson in the dangers of groupthink, a demonstration of how important it is to listen to skeptical voices and separate reporting from advocacy. But as I said, it’s a lesson that doesn’t seem to have been learned. Consider, as evidence, the deficit obsession that has dominated our political scene for the past three years. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

18 March 2013 at 10:01 am

Posted in Congress, Iraq War, Media

Strange view of law by Colorado sheriffs

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The sheriffs of Colorado apparently view the law as merely advisory, with individuals allowed to decide for themselves whether to heed the law or not. This is a decided innovation in the view of the law, particularly by law enforcement professionals. Perhaps it is merely the law-enforcement professionals who decide whether a law is to be enforced or not. Here’s the story at ThinkProgress by Nicole Flatow:

For months, local sheriffs have been objecting to federal efforts to stem gun violence in the wake of the Newtown massacre, claiming they violate “states’ rights.” Now, with a package of gun violence prevention measures awaiting the governor’s signature in a state that has seen some of the most deadly and high-profile mass shootings, several Colorado county sheriffs are threatening not to enforce their own state’s measures to expand criminal background checks and limit ammunition magazines if they are signed into law. The Greeley Tribune reports:

Weld County Sheriff John Cooke said he won’t enforce either gun-control measure waiting to be signed into law by Gov. John Hickenlooper, saying the laws are “unenforceable” and would “give a false sense of security.” […]

“They’re feel-good, knee-jerk reactions that are unenforceable,” he said.

Cooke said the bill requiring a $10 background check to legally transfer a gun would not keep firearms out of the hands of those who use them for violence.

“Criminals are still going to get their guns,” he said.

Cooke said the other bill would also technically ban all magazines because of a provision that outlaws any magazine that can be altered. He said all magazines can be altered to a higher capacity.

Cooke said he, like other county sheriffs, “won’t bother enforcing” the laws because it will be impossible for them to keep track of how the requirements are being met by gun owners. He said he and other sheriffs are considering a lawsuit against the state to block the measures if they are signed into law.

El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa also said Thursday that several of the laws are unenforceable and that he would willfully ignore the high-capacity magazine limit. And Cooke’s position appears to have the support of a number of other state sheriffs; during testimony calling the law unenforceable, 20 other county sheriffs stood behind him in solidarity.

Sheriffs’ assertions that the laws are simply too difficult to enforce and/or ineffective is the latest in a string of arguments by a contingent of county sheriffs opposed to any new gun violence prevention measures. Other sheriffs, several of whom are part of a fringe militia group whose members believe that sheriffs are the highest law enforcement authorities and vow to defy any law or order that violates their radical view of the Constitution, have argued that federal regulation violates states’ rights and the Second Amendment.

Conservative legislators are also already committing to repeal the ammunition magazine limit if enacted through a 2014 ballot measure.

Other measures that passed both houses of the Colorado legislature include a requirement that firearm buyers pay for their own background checks, a ban on online certification for concealed-carry permits, and a ban on gun purchases by people convicted of domestic violence crimes.

Written by Leisureguy

18 March 2013 at 9:53 am

Posted in Government, Law

Slow Sunday for Miss Megs

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Slow Sunday

Sundays can be slow days, and Megs struggles to keep her eyes open after some play with her little stuffed fish. Molly is not around (in fact, she was asleep on Megs’s (i.e., my) bed), so Megs is able to relax utterly. Behind her are the DVD and Blu-Ray players.

Written by Leisureguy

18 March 2013 at 9:43 am

Posted in Cats, Megs

The perfection of the Monday shave

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SOTD 18 Mar 2013

Totally wonderful shave. I know now about Mike’s Natural soaps and their amazing thirst for water, so I had no trouble getting a very fine lather with my Vie-Long horsehair shaving brush—really a terrific lather. Then the Fasan with its previously used Trig blade gave a very fine and smooth shave, nick-free and no burn. On the whole, I think I like the Merkur bakelite slant somewhat better—it seems a little more comfortable on my face—but the Fasan is highly capable and did a superb job.

A splash of the same of Fine’s American Blend, a pleasant aftershave, and I’m ready to go.

Written by Leisureguy

18 March 2013 at 9:39 am

Posted in Shaving

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