Later On

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

Archive for June 5th, 2013

Revealed: NSA collecting phone records of millions of Americans daily

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We knew it and now we have documentation. The American Stasi are in business.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 June 2013 at 7:37 pm

DEA shows its hand

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The DEA has become a corrupt organization. An example is described in this AlterNet post by Kristen Gwynne:

The Drug Enforcement Agency is so determined to bust folks  that a snitch who admitted to multiple instances of perjury has been rehired. According to AZCentral [3], the man once labeled the “highest paid snitch in history” — Andrew Chambers, Jr. — is back in business as a paid informant, never mind the fact that he was terminated in 2000 for incessant lying.

Chambers gave false testimony under oath in at least 16 criminal cases nationwide before he was ousted in 2000. An informant since 1984, he worked with DEA and other federal agencies in at least 280 cases, with sting operations in 31 US cities.

Of course, Chambers wasn’t lying for fun. He helped throw innocent people behind bars because he made bank doing it. Where there is cash for info, there is incentive to make stuff up [3]:

During his first career as an informant, Chambers, 56, reportedly received up to $4 million in government money, nearly half of that from the DEA. He also was a paid informant of the FBI, customs-enforcement officers, postal inspectors, the Secret Service and other police agencies. He was credited with a role in 445 drug arrests.

In 2000, Chambers went on the ABC show 20/20 and admitted to his own bullshit. “I just lied about it. I didn’t think it was that important what I did,” he said.

Richard Fiano, who was chief of operations at the DEA at the time, told reporter Connie Chung that Chambers’ perpetual perjury simply “fell through the cracks” at the DEA.  “Would DEA use him (again)?” Fiano said. “No.”

And what do you know? He’s back in the game.

Chambers showed up about three years ago at a sting in Phoenix, where defendant Luis Alberto Hernandez-Flores is accused of running a major drug-trafficking organization.

His attorney, Cameron Morgan, filed a motion to dismiss charges or suppress testimony after discovering the informant’s shady past.

“The DEA rehired Mr. Chambers, is using him in investigations all over the country, is again paying him exorbitant amounts of money and refuses to provide discovery about what he’s up to,” Morgan wrote in a court petition, “If Chambers were nothing more than a run-of-the-mill criminal, that would be one thing. But both Chambers and his defenders in the DEA brag that he is a con man extraordinaire.”

The whole drug war is a cash-fueled numbers game, and so long as busts are more important than actual results (like, you know, a decrease in drug use), corruption and false arrests will follow.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 June 2013 at 3:12 pm

Daniel Ellsberg: ‘I’m sure that President Obama would have sought a life sentence in my case’

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A very interesting interview with Daniel Ellsberg by Timothy Lee in the Washington Post:

In 1971, an American military analyst named Daniel Ellsberg gave a New York Times reporter a copy of “United States – Vietnam Relations, 1945–1967: A Study Prepared by the Department of Defense,” a multi-volume work that became known as the Pentagon Papers. The massive, classified study painted a candid and unflattering portrait of the military’s conduct of the Vietnam War. The Supreme Court rejected the government’s request for an injunction against its publication later that year in a 6-3 ruling.

Ellsberg became the first person prosecuted under the 1917 Espionage Act for releasing classified information to the public. But the case was thrown out after the judge learned that the government had engaged in the illegal wiretapping of Ellsberg and other misconduct.

Today, Ellsberg is one of the most outspoken critics of the Obama administration’s prosecution of leakers. Under President Obama’s tenure, the government has prosecuted six individuals for releasing classified information to media organizations.

Ellsberg is particularly fierce in his support of Bradley Manning, a young soldier who released a large amount of classified information to WikiLeaks. Manning was arrested in 2010, and his military court-martial began this week. Ellsberg considers Manning a hero, and he argues that there is little difference between what Manning did in 2010 and what Ellsberg did four decades earlier. We spoke by phone on Friday.

Timothy B. Lee: Why are you publicly supporting Bradley Manning?Daniel Ellsberg: There are two reasons. One is to educate the public on the wars that he was exposing and the information that he put out. He has said his goal was to help the public make informed decisions. We’re grateful for that, and we’re trying to extend that word and bring that about.

Also, I and a lot of other people feel that we need more whistleblowers, and that to allow the government simply to stigmatize them without opposition does not encourage that. I think we’ve got to convey to people appreciation for the information that we do get, the idea that someone can make a difference.

In a military trial there isn’t a whole lot of possible influence, but the general atmosphere in the public is bound to make some influence on the judge. [We want the judge to] stop and think that there were some benefits [to Manning’s actions].

TL: In a 1973 interview, you said that a “secondary objective” of releasing the Pentagon Papers was “the hope of changing the tolerance of Executive secrecy that had grown up over the last quarter of a century both in Congress and the courts and in the public at large.” How has that “tolerance of secrecy” changed over the last four decades?

DE: There was a period after the Vietnam war, partly due to the Pentagon Papers, and largely due to Watergate, that made people much less tolerant of being lied to, much more aware of how often they were lied to and how the system operated to make that lying possible without accountability. We got the Freedom of Information Act. The FISA court was set up. The FBI was reined in a great deal. The NSA was forbidden to do overhearing of American citizens without a court warrant. That lasted for some years.

But 40 years have passed, and after 9/11 in particular, all of those lessons have been lost. There’s been very great tolerance that if the magic words “national security,” or the new words “homeland security” are invoked, Congress has given the president virtually a free hand in deciding what information they will know as well as the public. I wouldn’t count on the current court with its current makeup making the same rulingwith the Pentagon Papers as they did 40 years ago. I’m sure that President Obama would have sought a life sentence in my case.

Various things that were counted as unconstitutional then have been put in the president’s hands now. He’s become an elected monarch. Nixon’s slogan, “when the president does it, it’s not illegal,” is pretty much endorsed now. Meaning not only Obama but the people who come after him will have powers that no previous president had. Abilities on surveillance that no country in the history of the world has ever had.

Interestingly, after the AP revelations and the [revelations about] Fox News reporter [James Rosen], who was actually charged with aiding and abetting a conspiracy with a source, every journalist has suddenly woken up to the fact that they’re under the gun. That may actually have the effect of waking people up to the fact that, for example, Attorney General Holder has been violating the Constitution steadily, and that he should be fired. But fired for what? For doing what had the approval of the president.

Holder should be fired for a whole series of actions culminating in this subpoena for James Rosen’s cellphone records. I think that would be the first step of resistance in the right direction, of rolling back Obama’s campaign against journalism, freedom of the press in national security.

TL: Is government surveillance of journalists more alarming than prosecution of leakers? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 June 2013 at 12:34 pm

Military fights to keep current way of handling rapes

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The current method is mostly to minimize or ignore, or at most give the rapist a dressing down. The testimony of the Joint Chiefs of Staff reveals that they are completely unconcerned about the problem but very concerned about any loss of power—or any other change. They claim that they can deal with it effectively, but the reason it’s gone on is that they haven’t bothered to deal with it: not exactly reassuring. Christie Thompson reports for ProPublica:

When the Senate Armed Services Committee held a hearing on the U.S. military’s sexual assault crisis, lawmakers grilled Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine officials on the alarmingly high number of rapes and other sexual abuses in their ranks.

Political momentum to address the problem has been building since the Pentagonreleased statistics last month showing that sexual assault increased by 35 percent between 2010 and 2012. The outcry grew louder when a string of scandals came to light, including alleged sexual assaults by Army and Air Force officials who were in charge of preventing sexual abuse.

Senators have rushed to draft legislation to hold attackers accountable and provide support for victims. But at the Senate hearing, officials steadfastly opposed most major changes in the way sexual assault cases are prosecuted. “It will undermine the readiness of the force … [and] will hamper the timely delivery of justice,” said Army Chief of StaffRay Odierno.

Here’s a rundown of key congressional proposals and what the military is saying about them.

1. Stop giving military commanders the final say on rape convictions

Under the military’s criminal procedures, commanders have clemency powers, which means they can dismiss military court convictions “for any reason or no reason.” The policy came under fire this spring when Air Force Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin overturned a jury’s ruling that Lt. Col. James Wilkerson, a fighter pilot, was guilty of aggravated sexual assault. Another official, Air Force Lt. Gen. Susan Helms, was blocked from a promotion in May for throwing out a captain’s sexual assault conviction without any public explanation.

In April, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel voiced support for stripping commanders of this power. Under Hagel’s proposal, commanders could still reduce someone’s sentence but would have to submit a reason in writing. Sens. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., have called for similar changes. Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif.,introduced a House bill that goes further, removing a commander’s authority to overturn or reduce a judge’s sentence.

Military officials are open to reforming the policy, though they say the Wilkerson case inflated outrage over a rarely-used power. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a member of the Armed Services Committee and former Air Force lawyer, has been the only lawmaker to speak out against the proposed change in policy.

2. Have lawyers determine which assault cases are credible — not the defendant’s boss

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., has called for the most major shift in how the military tries sexual assault cases. Now, commanders decide which cases are investigated and prosecuted, and which are thrown out. Gillibrand’s bill proposes giving independent military prosecutors that power for sex crimes and other serious charges. Commanders have an incentive to ignore rape allegations, advocates of the change say, because it reflects poorly on their leadership.

Military officials are strongly opposed to such a change in authority. “The consequences of such a decision would be … extraordinarily damaging to the nation’s security,” Army Gen. Martin Dempsey wrote in a letter to the Armed Services Committee chairman, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich. The change would “undermine good order and discipline” by sending a message that commanders “cannot be trusted,” Dempsey said.

3. Make sure a sex crime conviction means losing your job . . .

Continue reading. These modest proposals (and others in the article) made the Joint Chiefs of Staff very sad. Too bad. I hope they will all be enacted. The Joint Chiefs of Staff are not looking good.

Maureen Dowd goes after them as well.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 June 2013 at 10:52 am

Posted in Congress, Law, Military

“Accept what the authorities say and shut up.” – the NY Times

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The NY Times does not like to question authority (as their general run of reportage clearly reveals), but perhaps they’ve gone a little too far. Russ Baker points out the issues at WhoWhatWhy.com:

A huge story can set off alarm bells everywhere, but somehow, with ever increasing frequency, we note the silence of the mainstream media. Having avoided doing its job, it then protects its flank by denigrating those who call for inquiries.

This Is Your Brain on CT

A recent example is this Timesarticle : “Why Rational People Buy Into Conspiracy Theories.”  It is illustrated with a Victorian diagram of the brain, updated to show the conspiracy theorist’s brain–with a flying saucer inside.  The message is unmistakable: if you believe in any conspiracy (i.e.,  organized but deliberately hidden effort or operation) at all, you also believe in flying saucers carrying little green men.

The article reinforces this implication.

Here’s how it begins:

In the days following the bombings at the Boston Marathon, speculation online regarding the identity and motive of the unknown perpetrator or perpetrators was rampant. And once the Tsarnaev brothers were identified and the manhunt came to a close, the speculation didn’t cease. It took a new form. A sampling: Maybe the brothers Tsarnaev were just patsies, fall guys set up to take the heat for a mysterious Saudi with high-level connections; or maybe they were innocent, but instead of the Saudis, the actual bomber had acted on behalf of a rogue branch of our own government; or what if the Tsarnaevs were behind the attacks, but were secretly working for a larger organization?

Crazy as these theories are…..

The essay, by Times magazine columnist Maggie Koerth-Baker, implicitly suggests the public should immediately halt speculation once law enforcement officials “leak” information intended to shape our perceptions. No matter that these leaks are not the same thing as evidence presented at trial, that the leaks themselves serve an agenda, and that law enforcement has a long history of attempting to persuade the public of false narratives. No matter that the latter is a practice repeatedly, if often belatedly, chronicled by the Times itself.

Science Orders You: Stop Thinking Rationally

The author goes on to say that “recent scientific research” tells us that people who believe there’s more to a story may actually accept several competing theories as plausible. And because they are open to competing theories, they’re basically wacky. Such an ecumenical orientation to mysteries, akin to tolerating various conflicting religious faiths, is supposed to show that there’s something wrong with you.

However, another study might find that those who prefer pat explanations from the authorities are equally irrational.

For example, when the Tsarnaevs were first identified by the public from video footage released by the FBI, the Bureau told us the Tsarnaevs were previously unknown to it. Then the Bureau was forced by the Russians to admit it had known the brothers for quite some time. In fact, the Russians had briefed the Bureau on its concerns several years ago, and at that time, in response to the Russian information, the FBI had begun interacting with the Tsarnaev clan. This unexplained about-face was, according to establishmentarians, just fine. No questions, your honor.

Here’s another doozy. . .

Continue reading.

This is a part of a series on the Boston marathon bombing. From an email I received from WhoWhatWhy.com:

An examination of the strange shooting of MIT officer Sean Collier, and how the official explanation has changed over the ensuing weeks:

A concentrated replication of materials and conditions to determine whether those backpacks the purported bombers carried could actually have contained the pressure-cooker bombs:

Key questions that prompted further in-depth examination:

A thorough analysis of the degree of knowledge during the first week following the bombing, the response, and the larger issues encompassing it:

These stories have captured wide attention and are now being distributed on credible sites across the internet, with links and reprints on other popular sites. And there’s more to come. Current stories in the works include (1) An investigation into the mysterious and as-yet-unnamed “carjacking victim,” who, we are told, received a crucial confession from one of the suspects before the suspect was gunned down. (2) A deeper look at the strange death of a related suspect while in custody in Florida. (3) An exploration of Craft International, the secretive private security firm whose employees are said to have been on hand at the time of the bombing.

Let’s be clear: We’re not saying that the official version of things, constantly leaked by “law enforcement sources” to their friends in the conventional media, is necessarily a deliberate untruth. And we’re not saying we buy into the sensational rumors that are circulating. Some, such as claims that no one was killed at the marathon bombing-that it was staged and involved “crisis actors”-are clearly bonkers. Unfortunately, this reaction is only encouraged by the many inconsistencies and irregularities that have been manifest in the official reporting.

The information muddle, seemingly of no concern to the authorities, has fueled a growing sense of urgency to uncover answers to the big questions about the lockdown, the large military presence in Boston, the propensity of law enforcement agents to silence potential witnesses by preemptive gunfire, and other potential encroachments on our general liberties. At a minimum, the behavior of officials in this affair is bad for civic morale, it erodes trust in government and is generally bad for our country, and they need to be held accountable.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 June 2013 at 10:18 am

Ted Cruz unintentionally explains why we need the IRS

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Ted Cruz is not good at thinking things through, as Ezra Klein points out in the Washington Post:

Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz knows how to deal with the Internal Revenue Service: Get rid of it!

We ought to abolish the IRS and instead move to a simple flat tax, where the average American can fill out our taxes on a postcard. Put down how much you earn. Put down a deduction for charitable contributions and home mortgage. And put down how much you owe.

That does sound simple! But what if some citizen somewhere declines to fill out the postcard? Well, I guess we need some bureaucrat that will send them a follow-up postcard making sure they got the first postcard. If they don’t fill out that postcard, we need someone who will give them a call to make sure they’re getting these postcards.

And Cruz’s flat tax is actually a bit more complicated than most. It includes deductions for mortgages and charitable contributions. What if everyone says they gave a million dollars to charity and own a huge home? Who’s going to check all that out? Well, some well-meaning flat-tax collection agents, I guess.

The people doing all this need to sit somewhere. The place they sit doesn’t need to be called “The Internal Revenue Service.” It can be called “The Agency of Tax Freedom.” But it is, in effect, the Internal Revenue Service.

Which is all to say that Cruz doesn’t really want to abolish the IRS. He wants to reform the tax code — and, given the sparse details he offered, his reforms will be hugely regressive. But even his tax code will need someone, somewhere, to enforce it.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 June 2013 at 10:11 am

Posted in GOP, Government

The terrible deal for states rejecting Medicaid

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Certain state governors seem to have some grudge against the citizens of their state. Ezra Klein and Evan Sotas report in the Washington Post:

Curious why some hardcore conservative governors, including Jan Brewer of Arizona and Rick Scott of Florida, are fighting with their legislators to accept Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion? A new study in the journal Health Affairs article will clear it up.

The study, by the Rand corporation, looks at the 14 states that have said they will opt out of the new Medicaid funds. It finds that the result will be they get $8.4 billion less in federal funding, have to spend an extra $1 billion in uncompensated care, and end up with about 3.6 million fewer insured residents.

So then, the math works out like this: States rejecting the expansion will spend much more, get much, much less, and leave millions of their residents uninsured. That’s a lot of self-inflicted pain to make a political point.

It’s a truism of health-care politics that the uninsured are impossible to organize. But Obamacare creates an extraordinarily unusual situation. The Affordable Care Act will implemented in states that reject Medicaid. There will be huge mobilization efforts in those states, too, as well as lots of press coverage of the new law. The campaign to tell people making between 133 and 400 percent of poverty that they can get some help buying insurance will catch quite a few people making less than that in its net. And then those people will be told that they would get health insurance entirely for free but for an act of their governor and/or state legislature.

Typically, in politics, there’s no guarantee that winning an election will get anything big done. Politicians talk about ending wars and reforming health care, but then they take office, have one meeting with the chairman of the relevant committee, and back off. Here, however, federal law already says Americans making less than 133 percent of poverty are entitled to Medicaid coverage. All that needs to happen is for recalcitrant state governors and legislators to get out of the way.The publicity the benefit will get, the value it has to the target population, and the clear political path to getting that benefit all present an extraordinary organizing opportunity.

In Texas, for instance, 38 percent of the Hispanic population is uninsured. Will having that security so near, and then learning that it’s been blocked by their government, activate that voting bloc in the way Prop 187 did in California? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 June 2013 at 10:07 am

Will the hunger strike and medical torture close Guantánamo?

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John Hickman posts at Informed Comment:

Curious isn’t it how the decision-making of the United States Government is also imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay? In a seemingly escape-proof blame game President Obama insists that the U.S. Congress prevents him from closing the prison while Congressional Republicans insist either that he has failed to offer a workable plan to dispose of the prisoners or that the prison is an irreplaceable asset. The only serious effort to break out of this separation of powers tragedy is coming from the prisoners themselves.

The latest iteration in the rhetorical loop between the executive and legislative branches began with the President Obama’s May 23rd speech at the National Defense University, wherein an impending return to normality following the War on Terror was announced. Dawn is to break after a long and frightening night. The now familiar promise to close Guantanamo was renewed, with the accompanying qualification that the Congress must permit him to act. That same day we heard Republican Senators John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Saxby Chambliss and Kelly Ayotte respond at a press conference with their reasons why the Guantanamo prisoners must remain right where they are. McCain and Graham’s comments can be ignored because their arguments are ignored by most voters; Chambliss and Ayotte’s comments merit attention because they reflect the nonsense believed by most Republican and many Independent voters.

In the stentorian tones of an Old South hanging judge, Chambliss said that “we’ve got 166 of the meanest, nastiest killers in the world located at Guantanamo Bay today…” A vast exaggeration. Despite diligent efforts to identify dangerous figures among the prisoners, [pdf] the Guantanamo Review Task Force managed to finger only 48 in its January 22, 2010 report.

Clearly, what mattered was not the math but the chance to repeat the ‘worst of the worst’ part of the justification for the original Guantanamo decision. Chambliss’s interest was in protecting the legacy of the Bush administration and not in protecting the safety of the American people.

Ayotte repeated a different part of the original justification when it was her turn at the podium. Obviously nervous, she insisted that Guantanamo must remain open to “maximize intelligence.” The belief is that interrogations conducted at Guantanamo somehow produce better information than interrogations conducted elsewhere. That there is nothing to back up this conviction hardly matters.

What Chambliss and Ayotte recognize is that support for keeping Guantanamo open among Republican and Independent voters is not a matter of facts or reason, but instead of emotion. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 June 2013 at 10:03 am

Emu-oil experiment

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SOTD 5 June 2013

Today I tried Emu Oil as a pre-shave treatment, based on a recommendation I read at Wicked_Edge. It worked for me as well as the other shave oils I’ve tried—that is, not very well. I rubbed it into my beard following the shower, and decided to skip the beard wash with MR GLO, which would simply wash the oil away. So I lathered directly on my beard as usual and began to shave.

Some drawbacks were immediately obvious. The residual oil on my hand converted the Wilkinson Sticky into a Wilkinson Slicky, and I found my grip impaired. I finally stopped shaving washed my hands and the razor handle well with soap, and that helped. That did not, however, help the lather or my brush: the lather limp, the brush somewhat oily. I washed the brush well, but my distaste for pre-shave oils is renewed even more strongly.

I did get a good shave in the end. The Sticky/Slicky with a Feather blade produced a smooth result in three passes, and I do like the fragrance of QED’s Vetiver shave stick—I’ll have to try it again without the emu oil. And Guerlain’s Vetiver EDT made a fine aftershave.

Live, experiment, and learn.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 June 2013 at 9:50 am

Posted in Shaving

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