Later On

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

Archive for July 1st, 2013

Does it seem as though we can trust what the NSA tells us?

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Elspeth Reeve writes at the Atlantic Wire:

When President Obama referred to Edward Snowden as a “hacker,” it might have been meant as an insult, but it was accurate. While National Security Agency officials have been referring to Snowden as a “systems administrator” — which makes him sound like an unimportant office drone, an “IT guy,” as many have called him — he was actually an “infrastructure analyst,” he told The Guardian. That means he was a kind of hacker, but he wasn’t hacking the NSA, The New York Times‘s Scott Shane and David E. Sanger explain. He was hacking the world for the NSA. It’s one of the many ways NSA and Obama administration officials have shaded the truth in the wake of Snowden’s revelations. Here are some other little untruths, and at least one whopper:

What was Snowden’s job?

Infrastructure analyst, the Times explains, “is a title that officials have carefully avoided mentioning, perhaps for fear of inviting questions about the agency’s aggressive tactics: an infrastructure analyst at the N.S.A., like a burglar casing an apartment building, looks for new ways to break into Internet and telephone traffic around the world.”

James Clapper’s Senate testimony

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper (pictured above) pretty clearly told a lie in March. In a hearing, Sen. Ron Wyden, asked, “does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?” Clapper said “No sir.” Asked again, Clapper said, “Not wittingly.” The documents leaked by Snowden prove that’s not true. Clapper’s explanation for why he said what he said keeps changing.

  • June 6: Clapper told National Journal what he said was true: “What I said was, the NSA does not voyeuristically pore through U.S. citizens’ e-mails. I stand by that.”
  • June 9: Clapper told NBC News’ Andrea Mitchell that he thought the question was unfair, so his answer was “too cute by half.”  Clapper said what he was thinking: “I thought, though in retrospect, I was asked– “When are you going to start– stop beating your wife” kind of question, which is meaning not– answerable necessarily by a simple yes or no. So I responded in what I thought was the most truthful, or least untruthful manner by saying no.”
  • June 21: In a letter to the Senate Intelligence Committee, unearthed by The Washington Post‘s Greg Miller, Clapper said he could no longer remember what he was thinking: “I have thought long and hard to re-create what went through my mind at the time… My response was clearly erroneous — for which I apologize.”

NSA fact sheet

Referring to what he said were incorrect press reports about the NSA programs, Robert Litt, general counsel for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, said in a speech last week, “A lie can get halfway around the world before the truth gets its boots on.” The Post‘s Miller notes that on the very same day, “the NSA quietly removed from its Web site a fact sheet about its collection activities because it contained inaccuracies discovered by lawmakers.” The four-page fact sheet described how Americans’ information is protected from surveillance in the NSA program PRISM. It said PRISM “allows only the targeting… of communications of foreign persons who are located abroad.” But that’s not very exact. Analysts only have to be 51 percent sure the person is outside the U.S.

How the NSA handles American emails

On June 17, Obama said, “What I can say unequivocally is that if you are a U.S. person, the NSA cannot listen to your telephone calls and the NSA cannot target your e-mails.” No, the NSA can’t target Americans. But! Lots of American emails are scooped up while the NSA is monitoring foreign people. “The law allows the NSA to examine such messages and share them with other agencies if it determines that the information contained is evidence of a crime, conveys a serious threat or is necessary to understand foreign intelligence,” the Post says.

The documents Snowden leaked show that in 2009, the Obama administration got the FISA court to approve holding onto data for up to five years because it couldn’t process all the informaiton it was vacuuming up. An anonymous expert who sometimes advises the NSA told the Times to think of the Internet as the ocean. “[I]f you can’t desalinate all the seawater at once, you get to hold on to the ocean until you figure it out.”Transparency and court oversight . . .

Transparency and court oversight . . .

Continue reading.

I would have to say that the NSA has proven untrustworthy. It requires strong oversight and as much transparency as possible. Oversight must be active oversight and from outside the Executive.

Written by Leisureguy

1 July 2013 at 6:41 pm

Is Obama’s word worth anything? We’ll find out…

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Cora Currier reports at ProPublica:

On June 9, a U.S. drone fired on a vehicle in a remote province of Yemen and killed several militants, according to media reports.

It soon emerged that among those who died was a boy – 10-year-old Abdulaziz, whose elder brother, Saleh Hassan Huraydan, was believed to be the target of the strike. A McClatchy reporter recently confirmed the child’s death with locals. (Update: The London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism today reported that there was “strong evidence” it was a U.S. drone strike, but it could not confirm the fact.)

It’s the first prominent allegation of a civilian death since President Obama pledged in a major speech in May “to facilitate transparency and debate” about the U.S. war on al Qaida-linked militants beyond Afghanistan. He also said “there must be near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured” in a strike.

So what does the administration have to say in response to evidence that a child was killed?

Nothing.

National security spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden would not comment on the June 9 strike or more generally on the White House position on acknowledging civilian deaths. She referred further questions to the CIA, which also declined to comment.

The president’s speech was the capstone on a shift in drone war policy that would reportedly bring the program largely under control of the military (as opposed to the CIA) and impose stricter criteria on who could be targeted. In theory, it could also bring some of the classified program into the open. As part of its transparency effort, the administration released the names of four U.S. citizens who had been killed in drone strikes.

An official White House fact sheet on targeted killing released along with the speech repeated the “near-certainty” standard for avoiding civilian casualties. Secretary of State John Kerry reiterated it a few days later, when he told an audience in Ethiopia: “We do not fire when we know there are children or collateral — we just don’t do it.”

But White House press secretary Jay Carney said in late May that “this commitment to transparency…does not mean that we would be able to discuss the details of every counterterrorism operation.”

The new White House statements don’t address what happens after a strike, even in general terms.

CIA Director John Brennan offered one of the few public explanations of how casualties are assessed during his nomination hearing in February. Before his confirmation, Brennan was the White House counterterrorism adviser, and is considered to be the architect of Obama’s drone war policy.

He told senators that, “analysts draw on a large body of information — human intelligence, signals intelligence, media reports, and surveillance footage — to help us make an informed determination about whether civilians were in fact killed or injured.”

Brennan also said the U.S. could work with local governments to offer condolence payments. As we’ve reported, there’s little visible evidence of that happening.

At the hearing, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., asked Brennan if the U.S. should acknowledge when it “makes a mistake and kills the wrong person.”

“We need to acknowledge it publicly,” Brennan responded. Brennan also proposed that the government make public “the overall numbers of civilian deaths resulting from U.S. strikes.”

Neither overall numbers nor a policy of acknowledging casualties made it into Obama’s speech, or into the fact sheet. Hayden, the White House spokeswoman, would not say why.

The government sharply disputes that there have been large numbers of civilian deaths but has never released its own figures. Independent counts, largely compiled from news reports, range from about 200 to around 1,000 for Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia combined over the past decade. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

1 July 2013 at 2:50 pm

Was Benghazi Killing of Ambassador Stevens, 3 Others “Blowback” for Secret U.S. Assassinations?

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An important question—too infrequently asked—is the simple causal question: What caused this attack? Amy Goodman has a good program at Democracy Now!. Video’s at the link, along with the transcript, which begins:

A new book on last year’s Benghazi attack in Libya concludes the killing of U.S. Ambassador Christoper Stevens and three others was in part blowback for a secret assassination operation run in North Africa by the Joint Special Operations Command and John Brennan, President Obama’s then-counterterrorism adviser, now director of the CIA. According to “Benghazi: The Definitive Report,” President Obama’s counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan, and JSOC commander, Admiral Bill McRaven, were running “off the books” unilateral operations in North Africa that were not coordinated through the Pentagon or other governmental agencies, including the CIA. Ambassador Stevens was reportedly never informed about these operations. We’re joined by the book’s authors, Brandon Webb and Jack Murphy, both veterans of U.S. special operations. Last week they published the contents of Ambassador Stevens’ diary from the days before the Benghazi attack on their website, SOFREP.com.

TRANSCRIPT
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: “Never ending security threats.” Those were the final words that U.S. ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens wrote in his diary on September 11th, 2012. Later that day, he was killed in an assault on the U.S. diplomatic mission and a more fortified CIA compound in the Libyan city of Benghazi. Three other Americans were killed in the attack: State Department computer specialist Sean Smith and two former Navy SEALs, Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods, who were working as contractors with the CIA. In another entry in his diary, Stevens wrote, quote, “Islamist ‘hit list’ in Benghazi. Me targeted.” Last week, seven pages of Ambassador Stevens’ diary were published by the website SOFREP.com, a site that covers U.S. special operations. Ambassador Stevens was reportedly the first American envoy to be killed abroad in more than two decades.

Many questions remain unanswered about what happened on that night in Benghazi. The White House initially said the consulate was attacked by protesters denouncing a short American film insulting the Prophet Muhammad, but it later turned out the attack was carried out by well-armed militants. Meanwhile, Republicans have accused the White House of covering up failures to protect the consulate.

In December, an independent panel probing the incident found, quote, “systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies at senior levels” within two State Department bureaus, resulting in security that was, quote, “inadequate for Benghazi and grossly inadequate to deal with the attack that took place.” Panel Vice Chair Admiral Mike Mullen unveiled the report’s conclusions.

ADM. MIKE MULLEN: The board found that the attacks in Benghazi were security-related, and responsibility for the loss of life, the injuries, and damage to U.S. facilities rests completely and solely with the terrorists who conducted the attacks. That does not mean there are not lessons to be learned. The board found that the security posture at the special mission compound was inadequate for the threat environment in Benghazi and, in fact, grossly inadequate to deal with the attack that took place that night.

AMY GOODMAN: The State Department’s head of security resigned and three other officials were dismissed in the wake of an inquiry’s findings about security failures. But another issue has seldom been raised in regards to Benghazi: blowback.

According to a recent book written by two former special ops members, the Benghazi attack was in part blowback from a secret war waged by the JSOC, the Joint Special Operations Command, targeting al-Qaeda-aligned militant groups in Libya and North Africa. According to the book, President Obama’s counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan, and JSOC commander, Admiral Bill McRaven, were running “off the books” unilateral operations in North Africa that were not coordinated through the Pentagon or other governmental agencies, including the CIA. Ambassador Stevens was reportedly never informed about these operations.

The e-book Benghazi: The Definitive Report was written by Jack Murphy and Brandon Webb, who also run the website SOFREP.com that published Ambassador Stevens’ diary. Brandon Webb is a former U.S. Navy SEAL with combat deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq. He was a course manager for the U.S. Navy SEAL sniper program. His best friend, Glen Doherty, died in the Benghazi attack. Jack Murphy served as an Airborne Ranger and Special Forces sergeant in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Brandon Webb and Jack Murphy, we welcome you both to Democracy Now! for the rest of this hour. In the right-wing media, there is a lot of discussion about the lack of security, and clearly there was a lack of security in Benghazi. But what isn’t discussed as much is what led up to these attacks, is the blowback. And, Jack Murphy, I’d like to start with you.

JACK MURPHY: Sure. There’s a number of different contributing factors that led to these attacks. When we start to talk about the blowback effect, we do also have to understand that this was a group of people, the Ansar al-Sharia militia, that wasn’t particularly fond of Americans to begin with. There was a large number of foreign fighters, these international jihadists, who were amongst that group the night of the attack. But what hasn’t been talked about very much in the media is that there were covert operations being run inside Libya, targeted killings against militia members, al-Qaeda-affiliated personnel, also involving securing weapons that had fallen into the militia hands, that we didn’t want them to have in the post-war Libya that was destabilizing the Libyan transitional government. But there were a series of operations over the course of the summer and even that week of September in the run-up to the attack.

AMY GOODMAN: U.S. government allies were also assassinated, were killed.

JACK MURPHY: You’re talking about the British embassy that was attacked? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

1 July 2013 at 2:47 pm

Wow! Great post for educating the public on a complex legal issue: the Apple eBook trial

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Amazingly clear explanation. My old teaching hands automatically marked “A+”, but see for yourself. (And, yes, the promo link worked: I bought the book(let). I just got a Kindle Paperwhite and I’m infatuated with it. Major upgrade.)

Written by Leisureguy

1 July 2013 at 2:39 pm

Posted in Books, Business, Technology

John Galt would be so proud

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Just the sort of thing he loved. Jillian Rayfield reports in Salon:

A new two-year study by the Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University demonstrates how the Koch brothers have helped to derail climate change legislation. The conservative group Americans for Prosperity, which the Kochs bankroll, pushed lawmakers to sign a pledge not to vote for “legislation relating to climate change unless it is accompanied by an equivalent amount of tax cuts.”

From the study:

[I]n 2011 and 2012, Koch Industries Public Sector LLC, the lobbying arm of Koch Industries, advocated for the Energy Tax Prevention Act, which would have rolled back the Supreme Court’s ruling that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) could regulate greenhouse gases. The bill was sponsored by Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., and co-signed by 92 Republicans (and three Democrats), 61 of whom signed an anti-climate tax “pledge.” An economist with the American Council for Capital Formation — a nonprofit group that receives Koch money — testified about that same bill before the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Margo Thorning told members of the House in February 2011 that regulation of greenhouse gas emissions “makes little economic or environmental sense,” according to her testimony.

Jane Mayer of the New Yorker, who first flagged the study, explains that “Since most solutions to the problem of greenhouse-gas emissions require costs to the polluters and the public, the pledge essentially commits those who sign to it to vote against nearly any meaningful bill regarding global warning, and acts as yet another roadblock to action.”

I think we now see the true face of raw capitalism and true libertarianism, all masks removed. Not a pretty sight, I’d say.

Written by Leisureguy

1 July 2013 at 2:11 pm

You know already that they will find a lot more, if they are forced to look

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Things have come to a pretty pass when we already know that the details of the full email correspondence between Jill Kelly and Gen. Allen have been covered up? That the investigation was a whitewash job? That the entire aim was to exculpate all military personnel?

At any rate, Jillian Rayfield reports at Salon:

Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., has called for a renewed investigation into potentially inappropriate emails exchanged between socialite Jill Kelley and Gen. John Allen.

“The fact that they didn’t even pursue accessing the private e-mails is very disturbing to me,” Speier said of the Pentagon’s inspector general report on the matter, in an interview with USA Today. “Because it would suggest that it was an incomplete investigation at the very least. At the worst: [they were] intentionally not pursuing an investigation into whether or not there was an inappropriate relationship, secrecy, national-security breaches. Classified information.”

The emails in question were the  thousands of exchanges between Gen. Allen and Kelley. Kelley was pulled into the spotlight when she complained to the FBI about harassing emails, eventually revealed to have been sent by David Petraeus’ biographer Paula Broadwell, which eventually led to revelations that Petraeus and Broadwell were having an affair.

From USA Today:

The FBI initially looked at Allen’s case and referred it to the Pentagon for further review. The inspector general told Speier that Allen and Kelley exchanged 3,000 e-mails from July 2010 to July 2012 on his government account. Allen served at Central Command from 2008 until July 2011 when he became the top commander in Afghanistan. Of those e-mails, 41 were reviewed more thoroughly, Speier was told.

“So that’s two years, 1,500 e-mails a year,” Speier, who sits on the House Armed Services Committee, said. ”I don’t think I communicate with my husband by e-mail more than 150 times a year. That’s a lot of e-mails. This is a four-star general in the middle of a war zone. The most disturbing part of my discussion with them was that they requested access to his private e-mail and were denied access and took it no further.”

Since the Petraeus scandal broke, Kelley has sued the Pentagon and the FBI, alleging . . .

Continue reading. We live in rather too interesting times.

I clicked the category “NSA” because of course NSA knew all about it—they were reading the emails, for Christ’s sake—in real time! And they tapped away, everthing read by NSA. In real time.

Talk about cover-ups! NSA knows all the scandals—even the ones we’ve not heard about and those we never will—and it’s just sitting on the data? Pull the other one.

Look: the one thing we do know is that the NSA has clearly lied, and in fact is still lying (vide the web site alterations, Clapper’s considered statement (he had a day to think it over) to Congress, et al.), and thus, we can reliably predict, will continue to lie. I think that we have to consider every statement from the Administration and the NSA and the intelligence community—including a lot of government sources who seem quite ready to leak classified information with some weird assurance that they can transgress the same law without penalty? Doesn’t that strike you as very Soviet-Unionish? That the intelligence agency whose activities are being exposed is able to break classification restrictions with impunity while accusing the whistleblower of breaking classification restrictions? Doesn’t that show a total moral imbalance? That Snowden will be imprisoned for life (most likely) for the very same crime that they committed with no accountability whatsoever? Something is enormously wrong with this picture.

The sci-fi-horror-fantasy analogue: Something foul has come to life in the bowels of government, and it’s taking over everything. I think that’s it, more or less.

UPDATE: Read through this short piece by David Sirota:

“James Clapper Is Still Lying”: That would be a more honest headline for yesterday’s big Washington Post article about the director of national intelligence’s letter to the U.S. Senate.

Clapper, you may recall, unequivocally said “no, sir” in response to Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., asking him: “Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?” Clapper’s response was shown to be a lie by Snowden’s disclosures, as well as by reports from the Guardianthe Washington Postthe Associated Press and Bloomberg News (among others). This is particularly significant, considering lying before Congress prevents the legislative branch from performing oversight and is therefore a felony.

Upon Snowden’s disclosures, Clapper initially explained his lie by insisting that his answer was carefully and deliberately calculated to be the “least most untruthful”response to a question about classified information. Left unmentioned was the fact that he could have simply given the same truthful answer that Alberto Gonzales gave the committee in 2006.

Now, though, Clapper is wholly changing his story, insisting that his answer wasn’t a deliberate, carefully calibrated “least most untruthful” response; it was instead just a spur-of-the-moment accident based on an innocent misunderstanding. Indeed, as the Post reports, “Clapper sent a letter to the Senate Intelligence Committee on June 21 saying that he had misunderstood the question he had been asked” and adding that “he thought Wyden was referring to NSA surveillance of e-mail traffic involving overseas targets, not the separate program in which the agency is authorized to collect records of Americans’ phone calls.” In his letter, Clapper says, “My response was clearly erroneous — for which I apologize,” and added that “mistakes will happen, and when I make one, I correct it.”]

So Clapper first says it was a calculated move, and now he’s saying it was just an innocuous misunderstanding and an inadvertent error. With that, the public — and the Obama administration prosecutors who aggressively pursue perjurers — are all supposed to now breathe a sigh of relief and chalk it all up to a forgivable screw-up. It’s all just an innocent mistake, right?

Wrong, because in this crime, as Clapper’s changing story suggests, there remains a smoking gun.

Notice this statement from Sen. Wyden about Snowden’s disclosures — a statement, mind you, that the Post didn’t reference in its story yesterday (emphasis added): . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

1 July 2013 at 2:03 pm

Cause of wildfires discovered! Thank God for our Colorado pastors!

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The true cause of the wildfires is not so obvious as you think. You’re probably thinking about rising temperatures and dryness due to global warming plus enormous amounts of brush and trees due to US Forest Service policies on making the undergrowth as thick as possible by preventing any natural burning.

No! It’s not that. You have revealed yourself to be satisfied with easy answers. The true causes are laid out in this post, which offers a comprehensive analysis of the cause of devastating forest fires. For example, many have overlooked thatwomen wearing hats and pantsuits can cause (or greatly exacerbate—it’s not quite clear) a forest fire.. Also, gay people kissing does something bad where forest fires are concerned. (I hear a Motown song a-comin’ on: “Your hot kisses have…” hmm. “Ignited the underbrush” doesn’t quite do it.

What I wonder is how such a pitiful excuse for thinking can have an audience. Their “reasoning” is on the level of “We have had these catastrophic fires because I really don’t like smooth peanut butter, and now I see it everywhere.

UPDATE: I realize that some of this reads as though I’m mocking them, and perhaps that’s true, but certainly they’ve done all the heavy lifting, coming up with theories that they don’t even try to support.

Written by Leisureguy

1 July 2013 at 1:30 pm

Best response ever to a cease-and-desist letter

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Thanks to Josh for pointing out this story.

Written by Leisureguy

1 July 2013 at 11:47 am

Complex cohesion of crowds

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Very interesting article, with a couple of videos to illustrate it, by Cristina Luiggi in The Scientist:

Small silvery schooling fish known as golden shiners are experts at quickly finding shady spots that offer better camouflage from predators. Individual fish flit from one shady spot to another in the ponds and lakes they inhabit, but only appear to sense the changing light when they swim in large schools. When swimming solo, these fish are much less adept at estimating the light levels of their environment. They show little preference for darker areas, suggesting that they have a limited ability, if any at all, to detect the changing brightness of their surroundings.

Such conundrums have always fascinated Iain Couzin, an evolutionary biologist at Princeton University. By observing and tracking the behaviors of golden shiners (Notemigonus crysoleucas) swimming in a pool with varied light levels, he and his team noticed that individual fish merely swim faster in lit-up areas and slower when light levels drop.1 “That by itself is a very ineffective way of responding to the environment,” Couzin says. However, as a group of golden shiners increases in number, so does their ability to detect and swim into the shade.

This complex group sensing capability arises from very simple behaviors of individual fish. In large schools, if a few fish out of the group hit upon a darker area, they slow down, which causes them to cluster, much like what happens when a few cars on a busy highway suddenly decelerate. Fish still in the light continue to move quickly, but their social attraction towards their slow neighbors causes the group as a whole to sling into the darker area, slow down, and remain there. Therefore the whole group appears to “sense” and gravitate toward the darkness.The school acts as a sensor array that becomes more sensitive to light as the number of sensors—or fish—increases. Similar examples of this principle are pervasive in nature, and can be observed in starkly different systems—from huge herds of wildebeest to groups of cells forming tissues, colonies, and biofilms. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

1 July 2013 at 9:15 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

Much opposition to same-sex marriage seems to come from idiots

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For example, in an interesting article by Gabriel Arana in The American Prospect: “Stirred to action by the decision, the Christian right has vowed to resist the spread of same-sex marriage nationwide, using civil disobedience if necessary.”

That intrigues me. I assume that they will chain themselves together and refuse to marry someone of the same sex? But what if they have not been asked? I don’t quite see how civil disobedience works in a law that leaves it up to the individual whether or not to marry someone of the same sex or, indeed, whether to marry at all. UPDATE: It occurs to me that they could perhaps defiantly marry different-sex partners, but of course that is also in accordance with the law.

Note that “civil disobedience” involves non-violently disobeying the (presumably bad) law in question. Mahatma Gandhi, who had a thing or two to say about civil disobedience, disobeyed the British law against making his own salt. Henry David Thoreau was jailed for his disobedience to the law on paying taxes (because the taxes would in part help support the war against Mexico). How do you disobey a law that allows someone to do something?

His article begins:

Last week’s Supreme Court rulings striking down the Defense of Marriage Act and denying standing to California’s Proposition 8 supporters have brought out the usual clown show of conservative religious leaders proclaiming the end of days. It’s the standard stuff from the activist right: Here comes pedophilia, incest, polygamy, and bestiality. Christian florists will be dragged to jail for refusing to cater a same-sex wedding. School children will now be forced to simulate lesbian sex with their Barbies. Stirred to action by the decision, the Christian right has vowed to resist the spread of same-sex marriage nationwide, using civil disobedience if necessary. There’s even talk of reviving the Federal Marriage Amendment, which would amend the U.S. Constitution to define marriage as being between a man and a woman.

But conservative intellectuals aren’t expressing the same bravado as their activist counterparts. Like the 73 percent of Republicans who say gay marriage is “inevitable,” thinkers on the right are conceding defeat, and considering what the future looks like for opponents of same-sex marriage. Here’s conservative columnist Ross Douthat at The New York Times:

Unless something dramatic changes in the drift of public opinion, the future of religious liberty on these issues is going to depend in part on the magnanimity of gay marriage supporters — the extent to which they are content with political, legal and cultural victories that leave the traditional view of marriage as a minority perspective with some modest purchase in civil society, versus the extent to which they decide to use every possible lever to make traditionalism as radioactive in the America of 2025 as white supremacism or anti-Semitism are today.

Maggie Gallagher, founder and former president of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM)—the country’s most powerful traditional-marriage group—expressed a similar sentiment in a conversation with the Prospect’s E.J. Graff after the 2012 election. After passing constitutional amendments in 30 states banning same-sex marriage, in November voters in four states rejected similar amendments. Gallagher conceded that it was a turning point, and said wistfully that she hoped same-sex marriage would become, in the future, something reasonable people could disagree on—that opponents of gay unions would not be branded as bigots and shunned from public discourse. Think abortion—where you can be an upstanding member of society and still hold the minority view—not racial segregation, where a firm public consensus exists.

Douthat and Gallagher’s pleas for pluralism will go unanswered. As I’ve written before, in the future opposition to marriage equality will indeed be the moral equivalent of racism, and whether or not this happens depends little on the magnanimity of gay-marriage supporters.

For one, you can’t go to war with one idea and concede another. The argument from religious conservatives—both the activists and the intellectuals—was never that they should be free to perform and celebrate marriage in accordance with deeply held beliefs about human nature, gender, and divinity. Nor was it that the traditional view of marriage is entitled to cultural respect. It was an absolutist one: Either civil marriage excludes same-sex couples, or it is meaningless for everyone.

Key to understanding this view is the Orwellian term “religious liberty,” a watchword whose meaning is a far cry from the “freedom of religion” guaranteed by the Constitution. Among Christian conservatives, “religious liberty” means having one’s views codified as those of the state. This isn’t just my uncharitable characterization. Current NOM President Brian Brown said precisely this a month ago: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

1 July 2013 at 8:57 am

The wondeful world George W. Bush created

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Indefinite imprisonment on no charges if “suspected” of being a terrorist: one of the effects described by Nicole Bogart of Global News reports:

The family of a U.S. teen is fighting for his freedom after he was jailed for terrorist threats over what his parents describe as sarcastic comments.

18-year-old Justin Carter engaged in an argument on Facebook over the online game “League of Legends” in February when another user started calling him crazy and saying he was “messed up in the head.”

Carter fired back replying, “Oh yeah, I’m real messed up in the head, I’m going to go shoot up a school full of kids and eat their still, beating hearts.”

The next lines the teen typed were “LOL” (laugh out loud) and “JK” (joking).

But an anonymous user from Canada who saw the posts didn’t find it funny.

According to reports, the user used Google to look up Carter’s name and found an address in Texas linked to the teen – that was located near an elementary school – and filed a complaint with local authorities.

Carter was later taken into custody and charged with making a terrorist threat.

Four months later, Carter remains in jail – his parents unable to afford his half a million dollar bond – all for making what his mother described as a “very, very stupid comment on Facebook.”

During a phone interview with Global News, Justin’s mother Jennifer Carter described her son as a typical 18-year-old boy who had never been in trouble before.

She noted that her son has “a dark sense of humor” but that he is a creative boy who likes to write zombie stories, play video games and loves children.

“When I first saw the threat I honestly didn’t take it seriously for a second – he babysits, he hangs out with our friends’ little kids, he likes to teach them how to play video games – he loves kids,” Jennifer Carter told Global News.

“We thought they [the police] would see that he was a teenager being sarcastic on Facebook – but he sat in jail for about a month before he was questioned.”

Though Justin was arrested on February 14 he was not questioned by the police until March 13.

Carter said that during questioning her son admitted to the Facebook posts, acknowledging that what he wrote was wrong and that he was sorry, but enforcing the fact that he wrote the post sarcastically.

A search of Justin’s home was completed by police a week later, but no weapons were found – the only item seized from the teen’s home was his computer. . .

Continue reading. The US has changed a lot. This sounds more like the Soviet Union.

Written by Leisureguy

1 July 2013 at 8:48 am

Posted in Daily life, Government, Law

How to help those out of work to find new jobs: Make their lives miserable

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At least, that seems to be the thinking (if any) on the part of the GOP. Paul Krugman explains:

Is life too easy for the unemployed? You may not think so, and I certainly don’t think so. But that, remarkably, is what many and perhaps most Republicans believe. And they’re acting on that belief: there’s a nationwide movement under way to punish the unemployed, based on the proposition that we can cure unemployment by making the jobless even more miserable.

Consider, for example, the case of North Carolina. The state was hit hard by the Great Recession, and its unemployment rate, at 8.8 percent, is among the highest in the nation, higher than in long-suffering California or Michigan. As is the case everywhere, many of the jobless have been out of work for six months or more, thanks to a national environment in which there are three times as many people seeking work as there are job openings.

Nonetheless, the state’s government has just sharply cut aid to the unemployed. In fact, the Republicans controlling that government were so eager to cut off aid that they didn’t just reduce the duration of benefits; they also reduced the average weekly benefit, making the state ineligible for about $700 million in federal aid to the long-term unemployed.

It’s quite a spectacle, but North Carolina isn’t alone: a number of other states have cut unemployment benefits, although none at the price of losing federal aid. And at the national level, Congress has been allowing extended benefits introduced during the economic crisis to expire, even though long-term unemployment remains at historic highs.

So what’s going on here? Is it just cruelty? Well, the G.O.P., which believes that 47 percent of Americans are “takers” mooching off the job creators, which in many states is denying health care to the poor simply to spite President Obama, isn’t exactly overflowing with compassion. But the war on the unemployed isn’t motivated solely by cruelty; rather, it’s a case of meanspiritedness converging with bad economic analysis.

In general, modern conservatives believe that our national character is being sapped by social programs that, in the memorable words of Paul Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, “turn the safety net into a hammock that lulls able-bodied people to lives of dependency and complacency.” More specifically, they believe that unemployment insurance encourages jobless workers to stay unemployed, rather than taking available jobs.

Is there anything to this belief? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

1 July 2013 at 8:35 am

BBS with some issues

with 4 comments

SOTD 1 July 2013

I ended up with a good shave: BBS and no nicks. Along the way, I struggled some more with the Stirling. The later I get is perfectly usable, I just like more thickness. I tried a few drops of the lather booster Jlocke98 suggested after finding the initial lather, though plentiful, still not thick. No noticeable help.

But certainly a lather I can shave with. The Trig blade in the Fasan slant seemed to not be cutting easily, so I replaced it with a new Personna Lab Blue blade (but I saved it to try in another razor). Again, some difficulty in cutting compared to (say) the Merkur bakelite slant. Still: three passes brought me to smooth-faced perfection with not a nick.

A good splash of Guerlain Vetiver, and the week begins.

Written by Leisureguy

1 July 2013 at 8:31 am

Posted in Shaving

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