Later On

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

Archive for July 2013

Good news for Snowden: How he can avoid being charged

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It really is simple, and the answer is found in this NY Times story by Charlie Savage and David Sanger:

Still, the top Republican on the committee, Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, asked skeptical questions about the legal basis for the program while criticizing the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, for making inaccurate statements to Congress about it in March. Mr. Clapper has since apologized.

As we know, Mr. Clapper did not make “inaccurate statements” to Congress: he simply lied outright. He had the question 24 hours in advance, so he had ample opportunity to consider his answer, so his claim that he was confused at the last minute is simply (another) lie—or, in Times parlance, “inaccurate statement.” Even if the Times did not want to label his (deliberate, considered) response a “lie”, a better description would be “false statement.”

BUT—and here’s the good news for Snowden—the apology apparently works. He committed a felony (lying to Congress), but the felony is wiped out by a written apology. This is probably of interest to many who are charged with felonies, but in particular to Edward Snowden. As I understand from this report, if Snowden will submit a written apology, then the crimes he committed are simply then dropped.

Isn’t that great? The US: a forgiving nation.

As you can probably tell, I am biter now about what the country has become. I think I’ll discontinue political blogging for the time being. It does no good, and the nation is set on its course.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 July 2013 at 8:50 pm

The Obama Administrations unhealthy obsession with whistleblowers

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As the blurb to the article states:

It’s very hard to square Bradley Manning facing decades in prison while the people who designed and implemented torture policies under the Bush administration walk free.

Scott Lemieux writes in The American Prospect:

Yesterday saw a mixed verdict delivered to Bradley Manning, who was charged with various crimes under the Espionage Act for leaking classified materials to WikiLeaks. Colonel Denise Lind, who presided over the court-martial, acquitted Manning of the most serious charge brought against him while finding him guilty on 20 of the 21 lesser charges. Lind’s ruling is at least a partial victory, acting as a partial break of the Obama administration’s overreaching war on whistleblowers. But many aspects of the case remain disturbing.

It is notable and welcome that the government could not convince Lind that Manning was guilty of aiding the enemy under the Espionage Act. Since this charge rested on the theory that releasing any information the government would rather keep quiet is “aiding the enemy” by definition, the dangers of convicting Manning can hardly be overstated. The idea that transparency aids the enemy is the same theory behind prosecuting newspapers for publishing the Pentagon Papers. The dismissal of these unprecedented charges is an important victory against overbroad contstructions of the Espionage Act.

The belief that the soldier was not merely guilty of illegal leaks, but also a traitor, was presumably the reason for his gratuitously cruel treatment. This treatment should be remembered and cannot be defended whatever one thinks of the merits of the charges against Manning.

Lind was wise not to allow the government to proceed down the road of making some leakers into enemies of the state by definition. Whether this victory will remain hollow for Manning remains to be seen. Ortiz retains very broaddiscretion in sentencing Manning on the remaining charges—there is no minimum and the top theoretical range would exceed Manning’s remaining natural life. A sentence of more than a few years would have an effect nearly indistinguishable from convicting Manning for aiding the enemy—the message to future whistleblowers would be chilling indeed.

The question of whether the charges were wise or appropriate in the first place is also less than settled. As Glenn Greenwald observed on CNN last night, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 July 2013 at 3:31 pm

A sign that the US is now an authoritarian state: Authorities are not punished for misdeeds.

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The most recent famous example is James Clapper, who lied to the Senate with no repercussions. It’s okay to lie to Congress if you’re in a position of authority. The biggest examples are Bush/Cheney, who ordered war crimes and faced no accountability at all, thanks to Obama, but even the lower level torturers—the men who actually did the torture and murdered prisoners—have had no penalties applied. At least, not by the US: Italy famously convicted some, but they will not face any problems. The US even has taken steps to prevent one’s extradition when he was arrested in Panama. The US does not hold officials accountable for misdeeds, very similar to some other nations we’ve seen.

And now this story in the Atlantic Wire, from which I’ll quote the opening paragraph:

The Justice Department has a settled a lawsuit with a California college student who nearly died in a DEA holding cell after being held nearly five days, handcuffed, without food or water. Daniel Chongwill get $4.1 million in the settlement agreement, even though no criminal charges have been filed against the agents and no one has been disciplined for the mistake that almost killed him.

No punishment, no accountability.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 July 2013 at 12:42 pm

Baby-boomer cannabis fans

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Victoria Kim writes at The Fix:

As US marijuana laws evolve and society distances itself from previous prohibitionist attitudes, the baby boomer generation (born roughly 1946-1964), is smoking pot at an ever higher rate—or at least more of them are admitting it. As of 2011, 6.3% of adults between ages 50 and 59 reported using marijuana, up from 2.7% in 2002, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. “There’s a resurgence of interest in pot and psychedelics in baby boomers,” Rick Doblin, executive director of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, tells The Fix. “Many of them had experience with these substances in college, then gave them up for their families and careers. Now that they’re retiring and no longer working, they’re more open.” Doblin, who is 59 and has been a regular toker since he was 17, says his marijuana use has become more “work-oriented” as he’s gotten older. “I better understand how to use [pot] for activity rather than just relaxation,” he explains. “It goes terrific with exercise and physical labor. Older people understand this better.”

Doblin says the stigma of pot has decreased in recent decades, and many baby boomers now have a “longer-term perspective” about marijuana after witnessing scare stories blow over. “We’ve watched for 40 years and have found a lot of these claims [about the dangers of pot] to be untrue,” he says. Many older adults also feel freer to use the drug now that their children have grown up and left home. Though not all of them are completely open about it. “What’s so ironic to me is how many people grew up hiding marijuana from their parents,” says Doblin, “and now they’re hiding marijuana from their kids.”

In addition to recreational use, boomers are increasingly using pot to medicate the physical effects of aging. Medical marijuana is now legal in 11 states and can be purchased from dispensaries. “A lot of retired people have aches and pains,” Doblin says. “[Pot] promotes health and reorients your view of physical pain or stress.” Hal, 56, a restaurant worker from New Jersey who is sometimes on his feet for 12-hour shifts, tells The Fix that he uses pot as a replacement for prescription medication. “Through our whole life, people are self-medicating somehow,” he says, “I’d rather smoke pot than take pills.”

Robin, 65, says “dope” (marijuana) has become “fairly common” among aging adults in the Boston suburb where she lives. “My feeling is that it is like alcohol—for some people it’s fine, and for some it’s an issue,” she tells us. “Most of the adults I know who smoke it are pretty functional. They use it as a sedative more than anything else—as a relaxant, in place of drinking.” Compared to alcohol, she says pot is “a much safer drug in a lot of ways, because you’re not as impaired. You can drive; you just drive too slowly, rather than too fast or carelessly.” She adds that pot seems “benign,” saying: “people don’t go into murderous rages when they’re stoned, but they can when they’re drunk.” But while most of her generation is capable of managing their marijuana use, she sees the drug as more of a problem among younger people. “It concerns me when I see young twenty-somethings who do nothing but smoke it,” she says, “but I don’t see it as a problem for [older] adults.”

Written by LeisureGuy

31 July 2013 at 12:08 pm

Posted in Daily life, Drug laws

TSA misconduct on the rise

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CNN reports:

. . . [A] new Government Accountability Office report, citing a 26% increase in misconduct among TSA employees between 2010 and 2012, is striking a nerve with some travelers who’ve had to endure the shoeless, beltless shuffle on the trip through security.

“Whenever you get an organization that has to be there, sometimes it just starts to take on a weight of its own,” traveler Chris Simon said Wednesday at San Francisco International Airport. “So maybe it’s just not being managed.”

“This makes me never want to check my bag,” Twitter user KathrynPowers1 posted Wednesday in response to the news.

“That’s disgusting, ” tweeted user RidockKing.GAO report reveals increase in TSA employee misconduct

Among the report’s findings:

— Misconduct cases involving TSA employees — everything from being late to skipping crucial security protocols — rose from 2,691 a year in 2010 to 3,408 in 2012.

— About a third of the cases involved being late or not reporting for work, the largest single category of offenses.

— 10% of offenses involved inappropriate comments or abusive behavior.

— About a quarter involved screening and security failures — including sleeping on the job — or neglect of duty offenses that resulted in losses or careless inspections.

Photos: 20 odd items confiscated by the TSA

Examples of violations

The report details one case of a TSA agent suspended for seven days after trying to carry a relative’s bag past security without screening. A supervisor interceded and the bag was found to contain “numerous prohibited items,” according to the GAO report. It didn’t say what the items were.

In another case, a TSA agent was suspended for 30 days after a closed-circuit camera caught the officer failing to individually examine X-ray images of passenger items, as required by agency policy.

Among the 9,622 offenses cataloged in the report, the GAO also found 384 ethics and integrity violations, 155 “appearance and hygiene” complaints and 56 cases of theft.

While not specifically mentioned in the report, notable cases of theft by TSA agents include a 2012 case in which two former employees pleaded guilty to stealing $40,000 from a checked bag at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport, and a 2011 guilty plea from an officer who admitted stealing between $10,000 and $30,000 from travelers at Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey.

The officer in the 2011 case, Al Raimi, admitted he would “kick up” some of that money to a supervisor, who in turn allowed him to keep stealing. The supervisor, Michael Arato, also pleaded guilty to accepting kickbacks and bribes.

Airport officer claims he was fired for exposing sleeping guards . . .

Continue reading. Videos at the link.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 July 2013 at 11:56 am

Posted in Daily life, Government

Pay to play: Buying ambassadorships

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Interesting report by Anita Kumar at McClatchy:

There’s the vice president of global licensing and retail at the television network HBO, the senior managing partner for a consulting firm based in Chicago and a Miami trial attorney who makes a living suing insurance companies.

Each raised more than a half million dollars for President Barack Obama’s political campaigns. In turn, Obama tapped each to be an ambassador, one of the most coveted posts an occupant of the Oval Office can offer.

Obama has nominated a number of major donors to plum diplomatic posts, from Spain to the Dominican Republic, Australia to Singapore. While the practice is anything but rare for U.S. presidents in modern history, Obama has nominated more donors, friends and supporters – nearly double – than his predecessors since the start of his second term.

Of the 41 ambassadors selected since the beginning of the year, 23 – or 56 percent – are political appointees with little or no diplomatic experience, according to the American Foreign Service Association, which keeps a tally. Nine helped collect more than $500,000 for Obama’s campaigns, though it could be much more because certain campaign finance reports list only the range of the donations.

Just last week, Obama nominated former first daughter Caroline Kennedy, whose influential endorsement helped him secure the Democratic nomination over Hillary Clinton in 2008, as ambassador to Japan.

“It’s long been a practice,” said Meredith McGehee, policy director for the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan organization that studies campaign contributions. “It’s a process that reinforces the notion in American politics that you can buy your way to the most powerful man in the world.”

But Obama’s actions stand out because he promised to be different.

As a candidate, he pledged to decrease the influence of money in politics and push for a series of changes – from eliminating donations from corporations to his inaugural festivities, to fighting a court decision that allows unlimited corporate donations “We’re going to change how Washington works,” he often said.

Many of his promises went unfulfilled, either because he did not lobby for them or changed his mind about supporting them, government watchdog groups say. His ambassadorial picks indicate that – in yet another way – he’s engaged in business as usual, the same quadrennial tradition as his predecessors.

But the White House says . . .

Continue reading.

Obama: Don’t trust a word he says, watch what he does.

This country desperately needs publicly financed election campaigns, with private funds not allowed once the candidate is on the ballot (primary or general).

Written by LeisureGuy

31 July 2013 at 11:18 am

Climate change and the Ameican West

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Those who have lived for a long time in the American West and well aware of climate change and its effects. TomDispatch.com has a good post on it:

Martha and the Vandellas would have loved it.  Metaphorically speaking, the New York Times practically swooned over it.  (“An unforgiving heat wave held much of the West in a sweltering embrace over the weekend, tying or breaking temperature records in several cities, grounding flights, sparking forest fires, and contributing to deaths.”) It was a “deadly” heat wave, a “record” one that, in headlines everywhere, left the West and later the rest of the country “sweltering,” and that was, again in multiple headlines, “scary.”  The fire season that accompanied the “blasting,” “blazing” heat had its own set of “record” headlines — and all of this was increasingly seen, in another set of headlines, as the “new normal” in the West. Given that 2012 had already set a heat record for the continental U.S., that the 10 hottest years on record in this country have all occurred since 1997, and that the East had its own sweltering version of heat that wouldn’t leave town, this should have been beyond arresting.

In response, the nightly primetime news came up with its own convenient set of new termsto describe all this: “extreme” or “severe” heat.  Like “extreme” or “severe” weather, these captured the eyeball-gluing sensationalism of our weather moment without having to mention climate change or global warming.  Weather, after all, shouldn’t be “politicized.”  But if you’re out in the middle of the parching West like TomDispatch regular William deBuys, who recently headed down the Colorado River, certain grim realities about the planet we’re planning to hand over to our children and grandchildren can’t help but come to mind — along with a feeling, increasingly shared by those in the sweltering cities, that our particular way of life is in the long run unsustainable. Tom

Never Again Enough 
Field Notes from a Drying West 
By William deBuys

Several miles from Phantom Ranch, Grand Canyon, Arizona, April 2013 — Down here, at the bottom of the continent’s most spectacular canyon, the Colorado River growls past our sandy beach in a wet monotone. Our group of 24 is one week into a 225-mile, 18-day voyage on inflatable rafts from Lees Ferry to Diamond Creek. We settle in for the night. Above us, the canyon walls part like a pair of maloccluded jaws, and moonlight streams between them, bright enough to read by.

One remarkable feature of the modern Colorado, the great whitewater rollercoaster that carved the Grand Canyon, is that it is a tidal river. Before heading for our sleeping bags, we need to retie our six boats to allow for the ebb.

These days, the tides of the Colorado are not lunar but Phoenician. Yes, I’m talking about Phoenix, Arizona.  On this April night, when the air conditioners in America’s least sustainable city merely hum, Glen Canyon Dam, immediately upstream from the canyon, will run about 6,500 cubic feet of water through its turbines every second.

Tomorrow, as the sun begins its daily broiling of Phoenix, Scottsdale, Mesa, Tempe, and the rest of central Arizona, the engineers at Glen Canyon will crank the dam’s maw wider until it sucks down 11,000 cubic feet per second (cfs). That boost in flow will enable its hydroelectric generators to deliver “peaking power” to several million air conditioners and cooling plants in Phoenix’s Valley of the Sun. And the flow of the river will therefore nearly double.

It takes time for these dam-controlled tidal pulses to travel downstream. Where we are now, just above Zoroaster Rapid, the river is roughly in phase with the dam: low at night, high in the daytime. Head a few days down the river and it will be the reverse.

By mid-summer, temperatures in Phoenix will routinely soar above 110°F, and power demands will rise to monstrous heights, day and night. The dam will respond: 10,000 cfs will gush through the generators by the light of the moon, 18,000 while an implacable sun rules the sky.

Such are the cycles — driven by heat, comfort, and human necessity — of the river at the bottom of the continent’s grandest canyon.

The crucial question for Phoenix, for the Colorado, and for the greater part of the American West is this: How long will the water hold out? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 July 2013 at 11:12 am

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