Later On

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

Archive for June 21st, 2013

The chair to get

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Click the “Features” tab. I looked it up because its designer recently died.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 June 2013 at 6:09 pm

Posted in Daily life

The Gut-Wrenching Science Behind the World’s Hottest Peppers

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For fans of capsaicin.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 June 2013 at 5:18 pm

Posted in Food

Who was Snowden spying for?

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It looks as if we’ll learn for which country Snowden was spying. The impression I had was that he was not spying for anyone, but rather releasing to the American public information that an increasingly secretive and authoritarian government was trying to hid. Here’s the brief story from AP:

A Justice Department official says a sealed criminal complaint has been filed against Edward Snowden in the National Security Agency surveillance case.

The official declined to specify the criminal charges against the former NSA contractor who has admitted providing information to the news media about two highly classified NSA surveillance programs.

The official, who spoke anonymously, was not authorized to discuss the ongoing investigation by name.

Presumably the official who committed that leak will now be imprisoned and persecuted for leaking information.

But I thought espionage was done for some other government: Jonathan Pollard, for example, passed classified information to Israel, for which he received a life sentence. (He was not, however, a traitor, since Israel is not a country with whom the US was at war.)

So “espionage” seems to me to be a weird charge. Leaking classified information to the public would not normally be considered espionage, nor the leaker a spy.

UPDATE: Ah: he is to be charged under the Espionage Act, Obama’s favorite. Obama has used the Espionage Act to persecute whistleblowers for a while now—in fact, he’s used it more than all previous presidents combined.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 June 2013 at 5:13 pm

How to keep fresh berries from going over

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Fresh berries are great, but by the second day, they often are already turning to mush. The Eldest pointed out this article, which gives the secret:

Rinse fresh berries in a 1:3 vinegar-water solution, drain, and they will last much longer.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 June 2013 at 4:52 pm

Posted in Food

The definition of “terrorist” is rapidly broadening

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There’s a strong incentive to label someone a “terrorist” if you’re in a position of authority: a terrorist has no rights. Under the Patriot Act, someone who is even suspected of being a terrorist can be whisked away and detained indefinitely. Obama claims that torture of suspects has now been discontinued, but (a) no one who did torture suspects was punished in any way—some were promoted—and (b) Obama chronically lies to the American public and is also very keen that secrets remain secrets and has been ruthless in persecuting whistleblowers. So an authoritarian who is being criticized for any reason (including competence) will want to label as “terrorists” those doing the criticism.

You’ve seen how big companies are now calling protestors “terrorists” so that the companies can use Homeland Security as their goons and thugs, thus outsourcing that expense. And now if you complain about the (terrible) quality of your drinking water, you are a terrorist. Steven Hsieh reports at Alternet:

A representative for the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation told a group of concerned citizens that complaining about water quality could be considered an “act of terrorism,” The Tennessean reports.

Sherwin Smith, deputy director of TDEC’s Division of Water Resources, made the claim during a meeting with residents of Maury County, Tennessee. Organized by State Rep. Sheila Butt, R-Columbia, the gathering sought to address complaints by residents that area water was making their children sick. In audio obtained by The Tennessean, Smith can be heard equating water quality complaints, an act of citizenry, with DHS-defined acts of terrorism:

We take water quality very seriously. Very, very seriously … But you need to make sure that when you make water quality complaints you have a basis, because federally, if there’s no water quality issues, that can be considered under Homeland Security an act of terrorism.

According to The Tennessean, several residents saw the statement as “an attempt to silence complaints.” One 68-year-old woman who says she “prays” before sipping the “cloudy, odd-tasting water,” felt that Smith’s message was, “Leave us alone. Don’t come back anymore. We’re not going to continue on dealing with whatever problem you may have.” An official TDEC spokesperson says the department is investigating the matter:

In terms of the comments made by a member of the Water Resources Division at the meeting, we are just receiving the information and looking into this on our end … The department would like to fully assess what was said in the meeting. I am told that the meeting was far longer than the audio clip provided by SOCM and that Mr. Smith actually clarified his remarks. But again, we are looking into it.

At time of publication, the Department of Homeland Security could not be reached for comment.

The comment was recorded. Smith repeated the information that complaints about water quality, if the water was found to be okay, was considered by the Federal government and the DHS as an act of terrorism. Recording can be heard at the link.

At the link

Written by LeisureGuy

21 June 2013 at 4:14 pm

Posted in Government, Law, Terrorism

President Obama’s promise on marijuana in actions, not words

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Eric Stern reports in Salon:

In March of 2011, federal agents in hazmat suits — guns brandished and sirens blaring — raided dozens of marijuana greenhouses and dispensaries in Montana, and arrested citizens who were growing pot in accordance with the state’s medical marijuana law. It all happened without warning — unlike in California and other states where fair notice, and lead time, was given to folks so they could close up shop. The timing of the raids was highly suspicious. They took place on the very day — the very hour, in fact — that the Montana Legislature was holding a much-anticipated hearing on how to tweak the medical marijuana statute, so as to cut down on recreational use and sham prescriptions, and also to clarify several parts of the law that were ambiguous.

The top federal prosecutor in Montana — Mike Cotter, the U.S. attorney appointed by President Obama in 2009 —  then charged the growers, their greenhouse workers, their bookkeepers, some of their spouses, and even their landlords who had simply provided buildings to the growers with decades in prison and in some cases virtual life sentences, all under federal drug trafficking statutes.

Now Cotter is breaking his silence and speaking publicly, for the first time, about his two-year crusade to shutter the medical marijuana industry and put its practitioners behind bars, in many cases for life sentences. And he is mincing no words. He says that pot has no medical value at all, for anyone, and that if you think otherwise, you are a sucker who has been duped “by slick Madison Avenue marketing” employed by pot dealers. He says pot is a dangerous drug and growing it is a federal crime that must be punished.

The opposite of what doctors have long believed about the benefits of marijuana for many patients, these comments go a long way in explaining much of what happened in Montana over the last two years.

When Cotter charged these citizens in 2011, he gave no credence to a very basic protest that they all made: they’d been assured in writing, by Eric Holder, the U.S. attorney general, that they could grow medical marijuana and the feds wouldn’t prosecute them.

The defendants pointed to dozens of statements made by Holder and even the president, and specifically the now-infamous Ogden Memo. This was a publicly released document in 2009 document, written by David Ogden, Eric Holder’s deputy, that instructed federal law enforcement officers nationwide to leave medical marijuana growers alone as long as they were abiding by state law. This memo was reported in the national press, and local papers too, as a virtual ceding of jurisdiction by the federal government. “U.S. Won’t Prosecute in States that Have Medical Marijuana,” heralded a New York Times headline.

It’s not a stretch to assume that some of these growers made some infractions of state law. But others went out of their way to play by the rules. Take Tom Daubert, age 60, charged by Cotter with 80 years in prison. I was the senior counsel to Gov. Brian Schweitzer, and worked with Daubert on occasion because he was not only a provider of medical cannabis but also the lobbyist for the industry. He would stop in to meet with the governor’s staff every so often to get our opinion of the things he was lobbying for, notably a tightening and clarifying of the very vaguely written law (it came to life via a ballot measure, not by legislation) so that people would have a stronger idea of what they could do legally.

Daubert did what other growers did: He worked with state government. He gave regular tours of his outfit to the sheriff, the police, state legislative leaders and even the head of the state narcotics control office, to show them what he was doing and get their assessment. None of these officials is known to have ever raised any objections about his work. One such visit by a team of state officials was even captured by a documentary filmmaker. 

And Daubert was never charged with a state crime, nor, for that matter, were any of the growers that Cotter put away. And many, including Daubert, had actually left the business months or even years prior to being hauled in by the feds. Cotter reached back in time to get them.

Out of fairness, one would think, people who relied on the attorney general’s assurances should be cut a break, especially when no showing was made, in court or elsewhere, that they had they failed to meet Holder’s standard — obey the state law.

In his recent comments to the press, Cotter said they all broke state law, but he refused to provide an example when asked. I tried to contact Cotter’s office to poke at him a little on this question. I was told that my questions must be first submitted in writing, for review. I submitted a few, but never heard back.

Some defendants weren’t even growing, but were just investors. Steve Sann, a 58-year-old realtor, philanthropist and minister from Missoula, provided a building to a state-certified medical grower. He says he did so with the help of several lawyers who drew up the contracts and gave him advice as to how to comply with state law and the federal guidance.

Sann was charged with “maintaining drug involved premises” and threatened with two decades in jail. The judge gave him probation after a long line of highly reputed community members showed up to testify as character witnesses and to express outrage at how Sann was being treated. He eventually had to forfeit his building to the federal government.

But the Ogden Memo was held to offer no protection to the defendants. The judge followed long-established precedent than an entrapment defense based on a claim that the defendant had relied on assurances from a government official is only available in very limited circumstances, where the assurance is made directly in person to the citizen rather than in the form of a general, published prosecutorial guideline.

The defendants, prosecutors said in an argument that carried the day, should have done their homework more carefully, and not simply relied on a memo from the U.S. attorney general. “A policy is not a promise,” was how one prosecutor framed it to the judge.

A policy might not have the force of law, but I would argue that a policy is most definitely a promise, especially if it is . . .

Continue reading. There’s a lot more.

The Department of Justice is out of control, quite obviously.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 June 2013 at 3:32 pm

The FBI will create terrorist plots if it can’t find any

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Elspeth Reeve at the Atlantic Wire:

One of the FBI’s methods of fighting terrorism in America is to have undercover agents or informants recruit Muslims for fake terror groups, give them ideas for fake terror plots, and in some cases, arm them with fake terrorist weapons. For those troubled by these methods, perhaps it will be some comfort to know the FBI also recruits white guys as terrorists. Glendon Scott Crawford has been charged with trying to create a mobile radiation death ray to sell to Jewish groups and the Ku Klux Klan, according to a federal complaint unsealed on Wednesday. The device was supposed to be mounted on a truck, and a remote control could silently beam radiation at Muslims, either killing them or giving them radiation sickness. Pretty scary right? Until you read a little bit further down theAlbany Times-Union story and see Crawford couldn’t actually build this device.

Crawford never actually obtained a radiation source. During the past year, the complaint indicates he was dealing with an undercover FBI agent pretending to be a supplier of radiation equipment, such as x-ray tubes used in construction projects or medical devices. At one point, the undercover agent sent an email to Crawford showing different x-ray systems that could be supplied.

So the FBI gave Crawford ideas for how to be a terrorist. In April 2012, Crawford used his cellphone to call two synagogues and “asked to speak with a person who might be willing to help him with a type of technology that could be used by Israel to defeat its enemies, specifically, by killing Israel’s enemies while they slept.” They did not take him up on his offer. In June 2012, Crawford spoke to an FBI informant about wanting to take action against his enemies.

During the meeting at the restaurant, Crawford described his plan to purchase or construct a powerful industrial x-ray machine that would be powered by batteries. The plan included an attempt by Crawford to find part-time work in a metal shop where he would have access to x-ray tubes, the complaint states.

Crawford was an industrial mechanic for GE, and his alleged co-conspirator, Eric J. Feight, worked for an electronics company. Nevertheless, their goals do not sound plausible. “Crawford described the device’s capabilities as ‘Hiroshima on a light switch’ and that ‘everything with respiration would be dead by the morning.'”

If the allegations are true, then Crawford is morally guilty. But entrapment laws are supposed to protect immoral idiots who do not have the means or power to actually carry out nefarious plots. Since September 11, though, the FBI has been prosecuting a lot more immoral idiots. One was Hemant Lakhani, who bragged to an FBI informant that he could smuggle an anti-aircraft missile (and a submarine!), and in 2003, when an FBI informant got impatient after two years of procrastination, the FBI smuggled a fake missile for him. More recently, Mohanad Shareef Hammadi was sentenced for trying to send weapons and money to al Qaeda. At his January 2013 sentencing hearing, his lawyer noted that Hammadi “was unemployed and had no money, weapons or means of transporting them when he was recruited by a confidential government informant,” USA Today reported. The weapons Hammadi said he’d smuggle included a Stinger missile, which made his minimum sentence 25 years — which, according to Hammadi’s lawyer, was  the “only reason this weapon was introduced by the government into the scheme.”

In his book The Terror Factory, Trevor Aaronson reports that of the more than 500 terrorism prosecutions since 9/11, almost half involved paid informants. Last fall, Foreign Policy‘s Joshua Keating noted — after a Bangladeshi man was arrested for conspiring to blow up the Fed — “This is going to raise more questions about the degree to which law enforcement agents are actually the onesconcocting these plots by Muslim immigrants who did not, actually, have any connection to al Qaeda.” At least we know the FBI is not only going after Muslim idiots anymore.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 June 2013 at 11:56 am

The FISA court is acting like a legislature, and that’s a problem

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Timothy Lee in the Washington Post:

One of the National Security Agency’s key talking points since the PRISM program was revealed two weeks ago has been that its surveillance activities are subject to oversight by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. In his latest scoop, the Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald has revealed two of the documents the government submits to the court prior to engaging in surveillance under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

These documents are often compared to the warrants the government ordinarily needs for searches of Americans. But they’re dramatically different from a conventional search warrant. A warrant is supposed to “particularly” describe who will be targeted by a search. It will typically include a suspect’s name, as well as the address to be searched or the phone number to be wiretapped.The documents released by the Guardian don’t look like that at all. The first document is nine pages long and explains in some detail the factors the NSA uses to determine whether a potential surveillance target is a “US person”—if the answer is yes, then the agency cancels the planned surveillance. The second document, also nine pages, describes what the NSA does if it accidentally collects the private communications of Americans.

These documents look more like legislation than search warrants. They define legal concepts, describe legal standards to be applied and specify procedures for NSA officials to follow. For example, the second document states that “a person known to be an alien admitted for permanent residence loses status as a United States person if the person leaves the united States and is not in compliance with 8 USC § 1203 enabling re-entry into the United States.”

But rather than being drafted, debated and enacted by Congress, the documents were drafted by Obama administration lawyers and reviewed by the FISC.

Congress is much better equipped than the courts to review this kind of quasi-legislative proposal. It has thousands of staffers and can spend months debating the details of a proposal. Members have the power to call witnesses and to amend legislation if it’s not to their liking. And they debate in public, giving academics, public interest groups and members of the general public an opportunity to point out flaws and suggest improvements.

In contrast, the FISC has only 11 members and a limited staff. In most cases it hears testimony only from the government, and only in secret. It must make decisions within 30 days. In principle it has the power to modify proposed orders, but it lacks the manpower and expertise to exercise this power effectively. The FISC’s secretive review process leaves no meaningful opportunities for third parties to point out flaws in the government’s proposal and suggest alternatives.

And once the courts sign off on these general targeting procedures, no one outside the executive branch performs the function traditionally performed by the courts: double-checking that the government actually follows the rules. The government has some internal oversight mechanisms, but no one in the judicial branch verifies that the individuals the government targets for surveillance are actual foreigners, as the law requires.

The Constitution specifies that Congress should write laws and that the courts should interpret them. The founders set things up that way for a reason. Allowing the executive branch to effectively write its own rules, get them rubber-stamped by a secretive court and then comply with them on an honor system is guaranteed to produce rules that are more favorable to the government and less carefully drafted than rules drafted the old-fashioned way.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 June 2013 at 11:37 am

FBI shootings are always good

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Just like, say, the FBI forensics lab gives good results, FBI fingerprint matching is flawless, and FBI foils many terrorist plots (that it instigates). Charlie Savage reports on how the FBI never finds anything wrong in internal FBI investigations of FBI shootings:

After contradictory stories emerged about an F.B.I. agent’s killing last month of a Chechen man in Orlando, Fla., who was being questioned over ties to the Boston Marathon bombing suspects, the bureau reassured the public that it would clear up the murky episode.

“The F.B.I. takes very seriously any shooting incidents involving our agents, and as such we have an effective, time-tested process for addressing them internally,” a bureau spokesman said.

But if such internal investigations are time-tested, their outcomes are also predictable: from 1993 to early 2011, F.B.I. agents fatally shot about 70 “subjects” and wounded about 80 others — and every one of those episodes was deemed justified, according to interviews and internal F.B.I. records obtained by The New York Times through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.

The last two years have followed the same pattern: an F.B.I. spokesman said that since 2011, there had been no findings of improper intentional shootings.

In most of the shootings, the F.B.I.’s internal investigation was the only official inquiry. In the Orlando case, for example, there have been conflicting accounts about basic facts like whether the Chechen man, Ibragim Todashev, attacked an agent with a knifewas unarmed or was brandishing a metal pole. But Orlando homicide detectives are not independently investigating what happened.

“We had nothing to do with it,” said Sgt. Jim Young, an Orlando police spokesman. “It’s a federal matter, and we’re deferring everything to the F.B.I.”

Occasionally, the F.B.I. does discipline an agent. Out of 289 deliberate shootings covered by the documents, many of which left no one wounded, five were deemed to be “bad shoots,” in agents’ parlance — encounters that did not comply with the bureau’s policy, which allows deadly force if agents fear that their lives or those of fellow agents are in danger. A typical punishment involved adding letters of censure to agents’ files. But in none of the five cases did a bullet hit anyone.

Critics say the fact that for at least two decades no agent has been disciplined for any instance of deliberately shooting someone raises questions about the credibility of the bureau’s internal investigations. Samuel Walker, a professor of criminal justice at the University of Nebraska Omaha who studies internal law enforcement investigations, called the bureau’s conclusions about cases of improper shootings “suspiciously low.”

After contradictory stories emerged about an F.B.I. agent’s killing last month of a Chechen man in Orlando, Fla., who was being questioned over ties to the Boston Marathon bombing suspects, the bureau reassured the public that it would clear up the murky episode.

“The F.B.I. takes very seriously any shooting incidents involving our agents, and as such we have an effective, time-tested process for addressing them internally,” a bureau spokesman said.

But if such internal investigations are time-tested, their outcomes are also predictable: from 1993 to early 2011, F.B.I. agents fatally shot about 70 “subjects” and wounded about 80 others — and every one of those episodes was deemed justified, according to interviews and internal F.B.I. records obtained by The New York Times through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.

The last two years have followed the same pattern: an F.B.I. spokesman said that since 2011, there had been no findings of improper intentional shootings.

In most of the shootings, the F.B.I.’s internal investigation was the only official inquiry. In the Orlando case, for example, there have been conflicting accounts about basic facts like whether the Chechen man, Ibragim Todashev, attacked an agent with a knifewas unarmed or was brandishing a metal pole. But Orlando homicide detectives are not independently investigating what happened.

“We had nothing to do with it,” said Sgt. Jim Young, an Orlando police spokesman. “It’s a federal matter, and we’re deferring everything to the F.B.I.”

Occasionally, the F.B.I. does discipline an agent. Out of 289 deliberate shootings covered by the documents, many of which left no one wounded, five were deemed to be “bad shoots,” in agents’ parlance — encounters that did not comply with the bureau’s policy, which allows deadly force if agents fear that their lives or those of fellow agents are in danger. A typical punishment involved adding letters of censure to agents’ files. But in none of the five cases did a bullet hit anyone.

Critics say the fact that for at least two decades no agent has been disciplined for any instance of deliberately shooting someone raises questions about the credibility of the bureau’s internal investigations. Samuel Walker, a professor of criminal justice at the University of Nebraska Omaha who studies internal law enforcement investigations, called the bureau’s conclusions about cases of improper shootings “suspiciously low.”

Current and former F.B.I. officials defended the bureau’s handling of shootings, arguing that the scant findings of improper behavior were attributable to several factors. Agents tend to be older, more experienced and better trained than city police officers. And they generally are involved only in planned operations and tend to go in with “overwhelming presence,” minimizing the chaos that can lead to shooting the wrong people, said Tim Murphy, a former deputy director of the F.B.I. who conducted some investigations of shootings over his 23-year career.

The F.B.I.’s shootings range from episodes so obscure that they attract no news media attention to high-profile cases like the 2009 killing of an imam in a Detroit-area warehouse that is the subject of a lawsuit alleging a cover-up, and a 2002 shooting in Maryland in which the bureau paid $1.3 million to a victim and yet, the records show, deemed the shooting to have been justified. . .

Continue reading.

See also this report from Democracy Now!:

Written by LeisureGuy

21 June 2013 at 11:04 am

Obama’s crackdown on an open society

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Marisa Taylor and Jonathan S. Landay report for McClathcy:

Even before a former U.S. intelligence contractor exposed the secret collection of Americans’ phone records, the Obama administration was pressing a government-wide crackdown on security threats that requires federal employees to keep closer tabs on their co-workers and exhorts managers to punish those who fail to report their suspicions.

President Barack Obama’s unprecedented initiative, known as the Insider Threat Program, is sweeping in its reach. It has received scant public attention even though it extends beyond the U.S. national security bureaucracies to most federal departments and agencies nationwide, including the Peace Corps, the Social Security Administration and the Education and Agriculture departments. It emphasizes leaks of classified material, but catchall definitions of “insider threat” give agencies latitude to pursue and penalize a range of other conduct.

Government documents reviewed by McClatchy illustrate how some agencies are using that latitude to pursue unauthorized disclosures of any information, not just classified material. They also show how millions of federal employees and contractors must watch for “high-risk persons or behaviors” among co-workers and could face penalties, including criminal charges, for failing to report them. Leaks to the media are equated with espionage.

“Hammer this fact home . . . leaking is tantamount to aiding the enemies of the United States,” says a June 1, 2012, Defense Department strategy for the program that was obtained by McClatchy.

The Obama administration is expected to hasten the program’s implementation as the government grapples with the fallout from the leaks of top secret documents by Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who revealed the agency’s secret telephone data collection program. The case is only the latest in a series of what the government condemns as betrayals by “trusted insiders” who have harmed national security.

“Leaks related to national security can put people at risk,” Obama said on May 16 in defending criminal investigations into leaks. “They can put men and women in uniform that I’ve sent into the battlefield at risk. They can put some of our intelligence officers, who are in various, dangerous situations that are easily compromised, at risk. . . . So I make no apologies, and I don’t think the American people would expect me as commander in chief not to be concerned about information that might compromise their missions or might get them killed.”

As part of the initiative, Obama ordered greater protection for whistleblowers who use the proper internal channels to report official waste, fraud and abuse, but that’s hardly comforting to some national security experts and current and former U.S. officials. They worry that the Insider Threat Program won’t just discourage whistleblowing but will have other grave consequences for the public’s right to know and national security.

Continue reading.

Obama completely ignores the fact that three different NSA whistleblowers tried to go through the “proper internal channels” only to be stonewalled and ignored. Look at this story by Peter Lee in Asia Times:

Whistleblowing is a risky business. I expect that, as they planned their course of action over the four months, Edward Snowden and his main media minder, Glenn Greenwald, paid very close attention to what happened to three past whistleblowers who crossed the NSA. And looking at these three men gives an idea of the interests, principles and powers that are being contested beneath the superficially simple tale of a young analyst who fled to Hong Kong to tell the world about runaway US government surveillance.

There is no evidence to suggest that the three whistleblowers, who convincingly say that they live under the closest US

government surveillance, had any prior knowledge of Snowden’s exploit; but there are considerable indications that his situation and the information he holds are the focus of their concern and, in turn, Snowden was guided by their example and experiences.

There are three well-known NSA whistleblowers: Bill Binney, J Kirk Wiebe, and Tom Drake. They were whistleblowers in the legal sense – they reported to the Inspector General of the Department of Defense and, subsequently, oversight committees of the US Congress that a multi-billion dollar NSA data collection program known as Trailblazer was ineffective and wasteful and another one, Stellar Wind, had been programmed to strip out procedures that prevented acquisition of the data of US citizens (and assured the constitutionality of the program).

These three gentlemen were not, with all due respect to Edward Snowden, pimply-faced junior techs with pole-dancer girlfriends. Drake had spent 12 years at NSA and, before that, 10 years in the Air Force specializing in intelligence.

Bill Binney had worked for the NSA for 30 years and had risen to the position of Technical Director of the World Geopolitical and Military Analysis Reporting Group.

Wiebe had worked for the NSA for 30 years, was awarded the NSA’s Meritorious Civilian Service Award, and finished out his career as senior analyst.

Pure organization men, Binney, Wiebe, and Drake followed the chain of command and the procedures for whistleblowing – and passed no classified information to the press. Yet they were undone by the hostility of the NSA.

The NSA, under Michael Hayden, is generally considered to have blown it by not picking up the 9/11 conspiracy. Binney and Wiebe rubbed salt into the wound by telling Congress that the NSA’s decision to go with Trailblazer was responsible.

Hayden, fulminating, sent out a memo declaring that “individuals, in a session with our congressional overseers, took a position in direct opposition to one that we had corporately decided to follow … Actions contrary to our decisions will have a serious adverse effect on our efforts to transform NSA, and I cannot tolerate them.”

Binney, Wiebe, and Drake’s complaints became public knowledge in 2007, after the Bush administration searched for the sources of an unrelated leak to the New York Times’ James Risen for his expose of illegal NSA surveillance of US citizens.

The FBI decided to talk to Binney. He described his experienceto Amy Goodman of Democracy Now!: . . .

Continue reading.

I cannot believe that Obama is ignorant of this, but then that means he is arguing in bad faith and again lying to the American public. This is not a person who should simply be trusted to do the right thing.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 June 2013 at 10:04 am

FBI drones

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The obvious response to Mueller’s admission is, “Well, since you use them so minimally and so seldom, then discontinuing their use will have very little impact. Stop using them.” Otherwise, we can expect a lot more. And as we know from the TWA 800 investigation, the FBI is not to be trusted.

And when will we find out why that FBI agent shot Todashev to death during an unrecorded, untaped interrogation. Maybe the FBI should focus on making better records of interrogations and not on drones.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 June 2013 at 9:58 am

A test of GOP loyalties

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Interesting dilemma for the GOP, reported in the Washington Monthly by Anne Kim and Ed Kilgore:

How much do congressional Republicans hate Obamacare? How determined are they to see it fail?

We may soon find out. For the first time, a constituency group to whom the GOP normally pays close attention—religious institutions—is asking for a legislative “fix” of the Affordable Care Act to make it work as intended. If the recent past is any indication, conservatives will resist any such effort on grounds that Obamacare must be repealed root and branch, not repaired or reformed.

Months of outreach to Republican Senate offices by religious leaders have yielded no official GOP support to an appeal from a broad coalition of religious denominations to ensure that church-sponsored health plans can participate in the ACA’s health insurance exchanges. Worse yet, from a partisan Republican point of view, two Democratic senators, Mark Pryor and Chris Coons, were the first responders to this call, introducing legislation late last week. Pryor is widely viewed as the GOP’s number one senatorial target in 2014.

Without the requested “fix,” as many as one million clergy members and church employees now enrolled in church-sponsored health plans could soon face the choice of leaving these plans (designed to meet their unique needs, such as the frequent reassignment of clergy across state lines) or losing access to the tax subsidies provided by the ACA to help lower-to-middle income Americans purchase insurance.

Observers generally agree that the exclusion of church health plans from eligibility for the exchanges, which occurred because they do not sell policies to the general public, was an oversight caused by staffers scrambling to draft bill language under tight deadlines. Because employees of religious institutions are usually paid modestly, many will qualify for subsidies made available on a sliding scale to families earning up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level. But the subsidies can only be used to purchase insurance from the exchanges. . .

Continue reading. The GOP truly does not care about the poor at all—at best. In many cases, there seems to be active hatred at work. Later in the article:

. . . Republicans seem to be signaling their determination to bring down the Great White Whale of Obamacare at almost any cost to potential beneficiaries.Most obvious, of course, has been the passionate resistance of many Republican governors and state legislative leaders to the Medicaid expansion provided for by the Affordable Care Act, which could perversely deny millions of low-income citizens access both to Medicaid and to the purchasing subsidies available to those with incomes above the federal poverty level. In Congress, House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell have refused to submit nominees to serve on the Individual Payment Advisory Board created by the ACA, effectively blocking its launch, on grounds that anything other than the “full repeal of the Affordable Care Act” was acceptable. And House GOP leaders recently abandoned an initiative by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor to add funding for a high-risk pool for people denied coverage for pre-existing conditions (the preferred Republican alternative to the ACA’s flat ban on such coverage denials) after conservative objections to “fixing” Obamacare. . .

Written by LeisureGuy

21 June 2013 at 9:30 am

How Efforts To Restrain The NSA Failed

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Brian Beutler reports in TPMDC:

Last year, when the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence met to complete legislation renewing soon-to-expire surveillance laws, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) recognized an opportunity — a long-shot, but an opportunity nonetheless — to advocate for new restrictions on government snooping.

Behind closed doors, well out of earshot of privacy advocates, most other senators, and his own constituents, Wyden sought to amend the bill. He wanted it to direct the Justice Department’s inspector general to determine approximately how many Americans have had the contents of their communications gathered under section 702 of FISA that gave rise to PRISM, and to require government officials to obtain court orders before querying 702 collections with the names of American citizens — in other words, to close a backdoor surveillance loophole.

Both amendments failed, over his pleas, and the committee cleared the broader bill by a wide vote margin.

But what happened next is what really irks civil libertarians and others who want the process of legislating intelligence matters to become more transparent. The chair and vice chair of the committee touted the outcome of the committee vote, while Wyden was prohibited by committee rules from publicly registering and explaining his opposition.

“The bill we approved today extends critical counterterrorism and intelligence gathering tools for the Intelligence Community,” Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), the committee’s chair and vice chair announced in a statement at the time. “The committee has determined that these provisions provide intelligence to identify terrorist operatives and to understand the intentions of our adversaries around the world. These authorities cannot be allowed to expire and we urge quick action by the Senate and House to enact this extension.”

While they boasted of the committee’s achievement, Wyden was effectively struck silent under what amounted to a partial gag order. For the next two weeks, while SSCI prepared an official report which would include his objections, the committee rules prevented him from saying almost anything about what had happened.

“We’ve been told by Senator Feinstein’s staff that under the SSCI’s Committee Rule 9.3, members and staff are prohibited from discussing the markup or describing the contents of the bill until the official committee report is released,” his then-communications director Jen Hoelzer told reporters at the time, hoping to convey her immense frustration with the process and to tip off the press that a story awaited them — if they could hold out until June 7. “[T]he fact that they’ve already put out a press release does not lift this prohibition.”

Wyden’s challenges didn’t begin when his amendments failed, and they didn’t come to an end when his minority report became public. The same set of rules that muzzled him after the votes had been cast had also thwarted his ability to build any kind of constituency — in the Senate or the broader public — for his legislation. They even prevented him from saying precisely what the committee’s business was or when it would be conducted. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 June 2013 at 9:23 am

The Harrowing Impact of America’s Deadly Drone War in Pakistan

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Alex Kane in Alternet reports:

President Barack Obama’s big speech on U.S. counter-terror policy last month promised that drone strikes were “legal,” “heavily constrained” and only carried out if there is “near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured.” But the use of the most deadly type of drone attacks calls that rhetoric into question. Known as “signature strikes,” these drone attacks are launched on groups of people who fit the “signature” of militants and terrorists but whose identities are not always known–and they constitute the bulk of strikes carried out in Pakistan, leading to civilian casualties. [3]

Now, a new campaign launched by Brave New Foundation [4]’s War Costs project [5] is looking to expose the impact of “signature strikes” on civilian populations living under the threat of drones. The group has started a petition drive aimed at Congress [6] to demand an end to those types of strikes. Brave New Foundation is partnering with a number of peace and justice groups on the campaign, including Just Foreign Policy, United National Antiwar Coalition, United for Peace and Justice and more.

“Tell Congress to move now to end these signature strikes, save innocent lives, protect America from the blowback of killing innocent civilians, and restore the rule of law,” the petition states. The campaign comes at a moment when some members of Congress areexploring ways [7] to put limits on the Obama administration’s use of drone strikes. The administration recently allowed a small number of Congressional officials to look at White House legal memos on drone attacks, though they haven’t been released to the public. The Obama administration recently affirmed [8] in a brief that the public has no right to see the Justice Department opinions laying out the legal basis for the drone war.

“Signature strikes,” contrasted with “personality strikes”–strikes that only target individual persons whose identities are known–have wreaked havoc in the Pakistani tribal areas, where America’s Central Intelligence Agency-run drone war continues. An articleby McClatchy Newspaper’s Jonathan Landay [9] revealed that “drone operators weren’t always certain who they were killing despite the administration’s guarantees of the accuracy of the CIA’s targeting intelligence and its assertions that civilian casualties have been ‘exceedingly rare.’” The drone war in Pakistan has taken the lives of hundreds of civilians, though the exact number of civilians killed is unknown. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism [10], a London-based media organization, estimates that 411-884 Pakistani civilians have died as a result of drone attacks, while the New America Foundation [11] puts the numbers at 258-307. At least 178 children in Pakistan and Yemen have been killed by U.S. drones, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. [12]

The Brave New Foundation campaign on “signature strikes” is also paired with a eye-opening video [13] (watch it below) produced by Robert Greenwald, the organization’s founder. (Greenwald sits on the board of the Independent Media Institute, AlterNet’s parent organization.) The video is the result of Greenwald’s first-hand investigation into the impact of America’s drone war on Pakistan.

“In the fall of last year I traveled to Pakistan. Reports of civilian drone casualties were beginning to permeate though American news outlets, prompting myself, and Brave New Foundation, to launch a full-length documentary investigation into the claims coming out of the tribal regions,” he explained in a blog post tied to his campaign. [14] . . .

Continue reading.

I wonder how long the US public can ignore what the US is doing.

See also this McClatchy story, “Boy’s death highlights anger some Yemenis feel over U.S. drone strikes” by Adam Baron:

If an apparent U.S. drone strike this month in the village of Mahashama had killed only its intended targets – an al Qaida chief and some of his men – locals might’ve grumbled about a violation of Yemen’s national sovereignty and gone on with their lives.

But the strike also killed a 10-year-old named Abdulaziz, the younger brother of the targeted militant, Saleh Hassan Huraydan, according to local tribal leaders and Yemenis with close ties to the al Qaida branch here. And that set off a firestorm of complaints that underscores how American airstrikes can so outrage a community that even though al Qaida loses some foot soldiers, it gains dozens of sympathizers.

“Killing al Qaida is one thing, but the death of an innocent person is a crime that we cannot accept,” said a sheikh from the area, who like other tribal leaders McClatchy interviewed spoke only on the condition of anonymity because of security concerns. “What did Abdulaziz do? Was this child a member of al Qaida?”

The death of a child not only inflames tensions over drone attacks against suspected al Qaida operatives in the province but also raises questions about the rules that govern the Obama administration’s drone strategy.

The strike June 9 in al Jawf province came less than a month after President Barack Obama gave a rare speech on the U.S. targeted-killing program in which he pledged to increase transparency, acknowledged cases of civilian casualties and stressed that strikes were permitted only if there’s “near certainty” that no noncombatants would be killed or wounded.

Some analysts argue that this and other strikes run counter to the administration’s claims of improved targeting. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 June 2013 at 8:44 am

Great shave, odd finish

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SOTD 21 June 2013

Interesting shave. The Frank Shaving synthetic is not bad at all. Somewhat different character than the HJM, closer to Mühle silver-fiber, though I would say not quite so good. But it did work up a very good lather from Kell’s Original English Rose shaving soap, and the Maggard razor with a Kai blade easily produced a BBS result, though of course I’ve had some practice at this.

Douglas Smythe worked up a couple of oil-based concoctions and generously sent me to try. This version, A, I used today as an aftershave. It’s a soft dark-green paste with a light-green crust that you can easily break. The crust can be broken into small pieces to help distribute it through the dark-green paste.

My first thought is that this would be worth trying for a guy with very dry skin, particular in months of cold weather and dry air. On the first day of summer, it seemed less pleasing to me, but then I don’t have dry skin. I think it would work better as a pre-shave, and I’ll try it like that.

I don’t think having a separate crust, though, is going to work. I look forward to trying the other version, which I’ll do tomorrow, when I try this one as a pre-shave.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 June 2013 at 8:29 am

Posted in Shaving

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