Later On

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

Archive for July 8th, 2013

Really good hummus

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First, I get dried chickpeas and soak them for 8 hours and then cook them for 8 hours in a 200ºF oven, where 8 hours is either overnight, or during the day. Since they require no attention, you can do it either way.

I bought this little KitchenAid food processor just for this sort of thing, and I have to say it works like a charm. Pesto is next—plus “hummus” from other beans and other nut butters.

I put into the processor:

  • 1/4 c fresh lemon juice (2 lemons, roughly)
  • 1/4 c tahini (because it’s so gummy, I use my hemispherical 2 Tbsp measuring soon: easy to use spatula to disgorge the contents: 4 Tbsp = 1/4 c, so two of those spoonfuls does the job)

I processed that for about 90 seconds total. Because this processor is a snug fit, you don’t really need to push down stuff that spattered onto the sides, but you can.

Then add:

  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt [I now skip the salt – LG]
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin

Sometimes I add cayenne pepper or ground chipotle. Sometimes I cut a scallion into sections and add that. Or I might add a jalapeño.

I chop the garlic clove because a whole clove is streamlined enough that it can ride the flow past the blades and not get processed. Chopping it a little helps the blades do their job.

Process that for about 90 seconds. Then add chickpeas in two batches. If you’re using canned chickpeas in a 15-oz can, drain and rinse the chickpeas, then add half, process for a minute, add the other half, and process for another 1.5-2 minutes.

If you wan to cooked your own chickpeas, you can cook just 3/4 cup, which will make the same amount you get from a 15-oz can. I prefer to cook a larger batch (so I will have cooked chickpeas on hand for other things). If you cook a big, measure out 1.5 cups or 250g (or 9 ounces).

Really, cook your own. There’s nothing to it. Cook them until they’re tender. If you add a teaspoon of sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) to the water, that will help tenderize them and reduce cooking time.

I’ve never had the hummus be too thick, but if it is, you can process in 1-2 tablespoons water.  To serve, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with paprika, and enjoy.

This amount just fills the little KitchenAid nicely. And the processor is easy to clean.

Written by Leisureguy

8 July 2013 at 6:38 pm

Posted in Food, Recipes & Cooking

And, speaking of justice Texas style

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Read through some items in this staggering list—and that’s just Rick Perry. But they love him in Texas.

Written by Leisureguy

8 July 2013 at 5:14 pm

Posted in GOP, Government

Armed drones on domestic soil

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Controlled, no doubt, by the same police that shoot dogs for sport. What could possibly go wrong? Digby writes at Hullaballoo:

I’m afraid only traitors wouldn’t want armed unmanned drones flying around over their heads?

According to a 2010 Department of Homeland Security report obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) suggested arming its fleet of drones with “non-lethal weapons designed to immobilize TOIs,” or targets of interest, along the nation’s borders. Currently, none of the agency’s 10 domestic drones is weaponized; the recently passed Senate immigration bill, which would require a minimum of four additional drones, stipulates that those be unarmed as well.

The report doesn’t exactly rise to the level of proposing drone strikes against Arab Americans “sitting in a cafeteria in Dearborn, Michigan,” as Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) postulated during his 13-hour drone filibuster in March. But it’s sure to fuel the concerns not only of border residents and immigration reform groups but of privacy watchdogs and anti-government protesters paranoid about domestic surveillance.

Jennifer Lynch, an EFF attorney, told the Atlantic Wire, “This is the first I’ve seen any mention of any plans [from a federal agency] to weaponize any drones that fly domestically.” However, local law enforcement agencies have been considering arming drones with the same weapons used in riot control—rubber bullets, tear gas, bean bag rounds. The CBP report didn’t specify the weapons it has in mind.

Ok, I know everyone’s going to roll their eyes and tell me that this is no big deal because we already arm police and the border patrol and this is just another weapon not something intrinsically bad.

Fine, fine. But I just have one question: why do we need this then? If this is just another weapon in the arsenal, I’d really like to know why these people want to use them. Is there a reason why the usual rubber bullets, electric shock, bean bag rounds etc aren’t efficient enough? Will we really be better off if they can deploy them from unmanned drones flying overhead?

I’d like to know. Because the way it looks to me, they just want some new expensive toys and they want to try them out on people. And I don’t see why they should be allowed to do that without a very, very good reason. After all, we’re denying people food stamps and meals on wheels right now. (Also too: police state.Not that anyone cares about that.)

I can’t help but thinking that these are sales intended to keep the military-industrial complex profitable (and BIG) as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and no other war on the horizon. So now they make money by equipping an army for the southern border, selling drones to police forces, up the proportion of paramilitary troops police to quell any protests by terrorists, and so on. Indeed, I bet NSA spends a big buck. Lots of money to be made, and that’s why we’ll see drones—armed drones—available to police. No need to stop and frisk now: just strafe them from the sky.

Written by Leisureguy

8 July 2013 at 4:59 pm

Standard & Poor’s admits that their ratings are bullshit

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Amazing, though we certainly suspected it. Kevin Drum lays it out.

Written by Leisureguy

8 July 2013 at 12:52 pm

Posted in Business, Law

Two new Greenwald columns on Snowden

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Written by Leisureguy

8 July 2013 at 12:03 pm

Keystone XL pipeline route secret

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The pipeline route is important. We’ve seen the horrendous costs of accidents involving petroleum: the BP Gulf oil spill, the destruction of the Quebec city (video at the link). But the route is a secret—presumably until construction begins, and then people will discover whether they are at risk.

This seems odd to me: surely approval of the pipeline requires approval of the route, and thus the route could not be secret. But that’s the wonderful thing about the Secret Government: they can decide whatever they want and keep it a secret.

Steve Horn writes at the DeSmogBlog.com:

The State Department’s decision to hand over control to the oil industry to evaluate its own environmental performance on the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline has led to a colossal oversight.

Neither Secretary of State John Kerry nor President Barack Obama could tell you the exact route that the pipeline would travel through countless neighborhoods, farms, waterways and scenic areas between Alberta’s tar sands and oil refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast.

A letter from the State Department denying an information request to a California man confirms that the exact route of the Keystone XL export pipeline remains a mystery, as DeSmog recently revealed.

Generic maps exist on both the State Department and TransCanada websites, but maps with precise GIS data remain the proprietary information of TransCanada and its chosen oil industry contractors.

Thomas Bachand, a San Francisco-based photographer and GIS hobbyist, discovered this the hard way. A year and a half after he first filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request seeking the GIS data for his Keystone Mapping Project, Mr. Bachand received a troubling response from the State Department denying his request.

In the letter, the State Department admits that it doesn’t have any idea about the exact pipeline route – and that it never asked for the basic mapping data to evaluate the potential impacts of the pipeline.

Where will KXL intersect rivers or cross ponds that provide drinking water? What prized hunting grounds and fishing holes might be ruined by a spill? How can communities prepare for possible incidents?

The U.S. State Department seems confident in letting the tar sands industry – led in this instance by TransCanada, whose notorious track record with Keystone 1 includes more than a dozen spills in its first year of operation – place its pipeline wherever it wishes.

“[State] does not have copies of records responsive to your request because the Environmental Impact Statement for the Keystone pipeline project was created by Cardno ENTRIX under a contract financed by TransCanada Keystone Pipeline LP, and not the U.S. government,” reads the State Department’s letter denying Bachand’s information request.

Neither Cardno ENTRIX nor TransCanada ever submitted GIS information to the Department of State, nor was either corporation required to do so. The information that you request, if it exists, is therefore neither physically nor constructively under the control of the Department of State and we are therefore unable to comply with your FOIA request.”

As Mr. Bachand pointed out in a July 3 blog post: “Without this digital mapping information, the Keystone XL’s Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) and Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) are incomplete and cannot be evaluated for environmental impacts.”

When Mr. Bachand asked TransCanada for GIS data, the company said it couldn’t supply it due to “national security” concerns.

Mr. Bachand’s failed attempt to obtain basic information on the pipeline route exemplifies the recurring problems with the Obama State Department’s botched review of the environmental and climate impacts of the Keystone XL pipeline: huge information gaps, conflicts of interest, industry lobbying muscle and bureaucratic bungling of the process.

As it turns out, TransCanada and its contractors have complete control over critical aspects of the review process, calling into question what else we don’t know thanks to the Obama administration’s poor handling of the most controversial pipeline decision in recent history. . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

This sort of secrecy is exactly what Obama promised to end. So much for Obama’s promises.

Written by Leisureguy

8 July 2013 at 11:48 am

Getting around rules restricting secrecy

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Philip Bump at the Atlantic Wire also notes the tactics used by the Obama Administration to find news routes to secrecy and non-disclosure.

Written by Leisureguy

8 July 2013 at 11:38 am

More Evidence That Reading Is Good for You

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Arit John writes at the Atlantic Wire:

A growing body of research in the sciences is discovering what bookworms, 9th-grade English teachers and underemployed liberal arts majors have known for ages: reading is really, really good for you. Besides making you an empatheticsexycultured and all around more interesting human being, reading apparently provides definite benefits to your mental health, sharpening the mind as it ages.

study released in Neurology found that reading and similar activities reduced the rate of cognitive decline in dementia patients. Researchers examined the brains of 294 patients post-mortem and found a slower rate of decline in patients who reported more early-life and late-life cognitive activity, such as reading, writing and playing games.

“The study showed that mentally active patients — ones who read and wrote regularly — declined at a significantly slower rate than those who had an average amount of activity,” notes NPR’s Annalisa Quinn.

Other studies have found that the more immediate benefits of reading include an increased tolerance for uncertainty. Psychologists at the University of Toronto, for example, had participants read either a short story or a non-fiction article, then tested their tolerance for uncertainty. Participants who read the short stories were less likely to need cognitive closure, “a need to reach a quick conclusion in decision-making and an aversion to ambiguity and confusion.” The fiction readers, especially those who claimed to be avid readers, were better able to think creatively and not get tied down to one specific idea.

English scholar Natalie Phillips and Stanford neurobiologists and radiologists teamed up in a rare but beautiful interdisciplinary union to find out if reading has any benefits beyond being a good way to pass the time. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

8 July 2013 at 11:34 am

Posted in Books, Education, Science

Daniel Ellsberg: Snowden made the right call when he fled the U.S.

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Daniel Ellsberg writes in the Washington Post:

Daniel Ellsberg is the author of “Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers.” He was charged in 1971 under the Espionage Act as well as for theft and conspiracy for copying the Pentagon Papers. The trial was dismissed in 1973 after evidence of government misconduct, including illegal wiretapping, was introduced in court.

Many people compare Edward Snowden to me unfavorably for leaving the country and seeking asylum, rather than facing trial as I did. I don’t agree. The country I stayed in was a different America, a long time ago.

After the New York Times had been enjoined from publishing the Pentagon Papers — on June 15, 1971, the first prior restraint on a newspaper in U.S. history — and I had given another copy to The Post (which would also be enjoined), I went underground with my wife, Patricia, for 13 days. My purpose (quite like Snowden’s in flying to Hong Kong) was to elude surveillance while I was arranging — with the crucial help of a number of others, still unknown to the FBI — to distribute the Pentagon Papers sequentially to 17 other newspapers, in the face of two more injunctions. The last three days of that period was in defiance of an arrest order: I was, like Snowden now, a “fugitive from justice.”

Yet when I surrendered to arrest in Boston, having given out my last copies of the papers the night before, I was released on personal recognizance bond the same day. Later, when my charges were increased from the original three counts to 12, carrying a possible 115-year sentence, my bond was increased to $50,000. But for the whole two years I was under indictment, I was free to speak to the media and at rallies and public lectures. I was, after all, part of a movement against an ongoing war. Helping to end that war was my preeminent concern. I couldn’t have done that abroad, and leaving the country never entered my mind.
There is no chance that experience could be reproduced today, let alone that a trial could be terminated by the revelation of White House actions against a defendant that were clearly criminal in Richard Nixon’s era — and figured in his resignation in the face of impeachment — but are today all regarded as legal (including an attempt to “incapacitate me totally”).

I hope Snowden’s revelations will spark a movement to rescue our democracy, but he could not be part of that movement had he stayed here. There is zero chance that he would be allowed out on bail if he returned now and close to no chance that, had he not left the country, he would have been granted bail. Instead, he would be in a prison cell like Bradley Manning, incommunicado.

He would almost certainly be confined in total isolation, even longer than the more than eight months Manning suffered during his three years of imprisonment before his trial began recently. The United Nations Special Rapporteur for Torture described Manning’s conditions as “cruel, inhuman and degrading.” (That realistic prospect, by itself, is grounds for most countries granting Snowden asylum, if they could withstand bullying and bribery from the United States.)

Snowden believes that he has done nothing wrong. I agree wholeheartedly. More than 40 years after my unauthorized disclosure of the Pentagon Papers, such leaks remain the lifeblood of a free press and our republic. One lesson of the Pentagon Papers and Snowden’s leaks is simple: secrecy corrupts, just as power corrupts. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

8 July 2013 at 11:30 am

New tactic by government to move more things into the shadows

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The Secret Government is now moving more assuredly and, since the public seems to accept what’s happening, the process will doubtless accelerate: you can get away with a lot if you can keep it secret. Richard Lardner describes the tactic:

The nation’s top special operations commander ordered military files about the Navy SEAL raid on Osama bin Laden’s hideout to be purged from Defense Department computers and sent to the CIA, where they could be more easily shielded from ever being made public.

The secret move, described briefly in a draft report by the Pentagon’s inspector general, set off no alarms within the Obama administration even though it appears to have sidestepped federal rules and perhaps also the Freedom of Information Act.

An acknowledgement by Adm. William McRaven of his actions was quietly removed from the final version of an inspector general’s report published weeks ago. A spokesman for the admiral declined to comment. The CIA, noting that the bin Laden mission was overseen by then-CIA Director Leon Panetta before he became defense secretary, said that the SEALs were effectively assigned to work temporarily for the CIA, which has presidential authority to conduct covert operations.

“Documents related to the raid were handled in a manner consistent with the fact that the operation was conducted under the direction of the CIA director,” agency spokesman Preston Golson said in an emailed statement. “Records of a CIA operation such as the (bin Laden) raid, which were created during the conduct of the operation by persons acting under the authority of the CIA Director, are CIA records.”

Golson said it is “absolutely false” that records were moved to the CIA to avoid the legal requirements of the Freedom of Information Act.

The records transfer was part of an effort by McRaven to protect the names of the personnel involved in the raid, according to the inspector general’s draft report.

But secretly moving the records allowed the Pentagon to tell The Associated Press that it couldn’t find any documents inside the Defense Department that AP had requested more than two years ago, and could represent a new strategy for the U.S. government to shield even its most sensitive activities from public scrutiny.

“Welcome to the shell game in place of open government,” said Thomas Blanton, director of the National Security Archive, a private research institute at George Washington University. “Guess which shell the records are under. If you guess the right shell, we might show them to you. It’s ridiculous.”

McRaven’s directive sent the only copies of the military’s records about its daring raid to the CIA, which has special authority to prevent the release of “operational files” in ways that can’t effectively be challenged in federal court. The Defense Department can prevent the release of its own military files, too, citing risks to national security. But that can be contested in court, and a judge can compel the Pentagon to turn over non-sensitive portions of records.

Under federal rules, transferring government records from one executive agency to another must be approved in writing by the National Archives and Records Administration. There are limited circumstances when prior approval is not required, such as when the records are moved between two components of the same executive department. The CIA and Special Operations Command are not part of the same department.

The Archives was not aware of any request from the U.S. Special Operations Command to transfer its records to the CIA, spokeswoman Miriam Kleiman said. . .

Continue reading.

Obama, of course, promised more transparency and more open government, but quite clearly he was lying through his teeth. I don’t believe history will be kind to him. He has consistently betrayed his promises and Democratic values. As Jeff Cohen notes at AlterNet:

I was a young person when I first heard the quip: “How do you know when the President is lying? His lips are moving.” At the time, President Nixon was expanding the war in Vietnam to other countries and deploying the White House “plumbers” to commit crimes against antiwar leakers.

Forty years have passed. Sadly, these days, often when I see President Obama moving his lips, I assume he’s lying.

Like Nixon, our current president is prolonging an endless, borderless and counter-productive war (“on terror”) and waging a parallel war against “national security” leakers that makes the plumbers’ burglary of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office look almost quaint.

The World War I vintage Espionage Act, originally used to imprison socialists for making antiwar speeches, has been used by the administration against whistleblowers with a vengeance unprecedented in history: eight leakers have been charged [3] with Espionage under Obama, compared to three under all previous presidents. The Obama administration has prosecuted not a single CIA torturer, but has imprisoned a CIA officer who talked about torture with a journalist [4]. National Security Agency official Thomas Drake, who was unable to get abuses fixed internally, now has a criminal record for communicating with a reporter [5] years ago about sweeping domestic surveillance.

So there I was watching Obama’s lips move about NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden at a June 27 press conference [6]. Saying he wouldn’t be “scrambling military jets to go after a 29-year-old hacker,” Obama added that he would not “start wheeling and dealing and trading on a whole host of other issues, simply to get a guy extradited.”

I didn’t believe a word of it.

Given Obama’s war on whistleblowers and journalists who utilize them [7], and given the Army’s abusive treatment of military whistleblower Bradley Manning (apparently aimed at getting him to implicate WikiLeaks), it’s inconceivable that Obama was truly blasé about Snowden. To deter future whistleblowers, Snowden would have to be caught and made an example of – and probably mistreated (like Manning, in hopes of getting him to turn against WikiLeaks and even journalist Glenn Greenwald).

As his lips were moving, Obama knew well that he would go to extreme lengths to prevent this articulate young man from securing asylum in some Latin American country, where he could continue to inform the world’s media about the Surveillance State that has blossomed alongside the Warfare State under the Bush and Obama administrations.

That Obama wasn’t truthful became clear when the U.S. campaign of “wheeling and dealing” led to possible asylum countries retreating in fear one after another (Vice President Biden was deployed to pressure Ecuador’s president by phone). And even clearer with last week’s outrageous, international law-breaking [8] that effectively forced down the presidential plane of Bolivian President Evo Morales.

And if Obama eventually does scramble jets to force down a plane with Snowden on board, the commander-in-chief will be applauded for taking bold and decisive action by mainstream TV talking heads, “national security” experts and the opposition he seems most intent on pleasing: conservatives. Criticism from civil libertarian and peace voices (or unions and environmentalists, for that matter) has rarely daunted Obama. . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

8 July 2013 at 11:00 am

The shadowy cartel of doctors who control Medicare

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Secrecy seems to be the order of the day—important when you’re engaged in things that cannot withstand public scrutiny. Haley Edwards reports in The Washington Monthly:

On the last week of April earlier this year, a small committee of doctors met quietly in a midsized ballroom at the Renaissance Hotel in Chicago. There was an anesthesiologist, an ophthalmologist, a radiologist, and so on—thirty-one in all, each representing their own medical specialty society, each a heavy hitter in his or her own field.

The meeting was convened, as always, by the American Medical Association. Since 1992, the AMA has summoned this same committee three times a year. It’s called the Specialty Society Relative Value Scale Update Committee (or RUC, pronounced “ruck”), and it’s probably one of the most powerful committees in America that you’ve never heard of.

The purpose of each of these triannual RUC meetings is always the same: it’s the committee members’ job to decide what Medicare should pay them and their colleagues for the medical procedures they perform. How much should radiologists get for administering an MRI? How much should cardiologists be paid for inserting a heart stent?

While these doctors always discuss the “value” of each procedure in terms of the amount of time, work, and overhead required of them to perform it, the implication of that “value” is not lost on anyone in the room: they are, essentially, haggling over what their own salaries should be. “No one ever says the word ‘price,’ ” a doctor on the committee told me after the April meeting. “But yeah, everyone knows we’re talking about money.”

That doctor spoke to me on condition of anonymity in part because all the committee members, as well as more than a hundred or so of their advisers and consultants, are required before each meeting to sign what was described to me as a “draconian” nondisclosure agreement. They are not allowed to talk about the specifics of what is discussed, and they are not allowed to remove any of the literature handed out behind those double doors. Neither the minutes nor the surveys they use to arrive at their decisions are ever published, and the meetings, which last about five days each time, are always closed to both the public and the press. After that meeting in April, there was not so much as a single headline, not in any major newspaper, not even on the wonkiest of the TV shows, announcing that it had taken place at all.

In a free market society, there’s a name for this kind of thing—for when a roomful of professionals from the same trade meet behind closed doors to agree on how much their services should be worth. It’s called price-fixing. And in any other industry, it’s illegal—grounds for a federal investigation into antitrust abuse, at the least.

But this, dear readers, is not any other industry. This is the health care industry, and here, this kind of “price-fixing” is not only perfectly legal, it’s sanctioned by the U.S. government. At the end of each of these meetings, RUC members vote anonymously on a list of “recommended values,” which are then sent to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the federal agency that runs those programs. For the last twenty-two years, the CMS has accepted about 90 percent of the RUC’s recommended values—essentially transferring the committee’s decisions directly into law.

The RUC, in other words, enjoys basically de facto control over how roughly $85 billion in U.S. taxpayer money is divvied up every year. And that’s just the start of it. Because of the way the system is set up, the values the RUC comes up with wind up shaping the very structure of the U.S. health care sector, creating the perverse financial incentives that dictate how our doctors behave, and affecting the annual expenditure of nearly one-fifth of our GDP. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

8 July 2013 at 10:55 am

Why MSNBC Defends NSA Surveillance

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Jeff Cohen writes at ConsortiumNews.com:

I was a young person when I first heard the quip: “How do you know when the President is lying? His lips are moving.” At the time, President Richard Nixon was expanding the war in Vietnam to other countries and deploying the White House “plumbers” to commit crimes against antiwar leakers.

Forty years have passed. Sadly, these days, often when I see President Barack Obama moving his lips, I assume he’s lying. Like Nixon, our current president is prolonging an endless, borderless and counter-productive war (“on terror”) and waging a parallel war against “national security” leakers that makes the plumbers’ burglary of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office look almost quaint.

The World War I vintage Espionage Act, originally used to imprison socialists for making antiwar speeches, has been used by the administration against whistleblowers with a vengeance unprecedented in history: eight leakers have been charged with Espionage under Obama, compared to three under all previous presidents.

The Obama administration has prosecuted not a single CIA torturer, but has imprisoned a CIA officer who talked about torture with a journalist. National Security Agency official Thomas Drake, who was unable to get abuses fixed internally, now has a criminal record for communicating with a reporter years ago about sweeping domestic surveillance.

So there I was watching Obama’s lips move about NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden at a June 27 press conference. Saying he wouldn’t be “scrambling military jets to go after a 29-year-old hacker,” Obama added that he would not “start wheeling and dealing and trading on a whole host of other issues, simply to get a guy extradited.” I didn’t believe a word of it.

Given Obama’s war on whistleblowers and journalists who utilize them, and given the Army’s abusive treatment of military whistleblower Bradley Manning (apparently aimed at getting him to implicate WikiLeaks), it’s inconceivable that Obama was truly blasé about Snowden. To deter future whistleblowers, Snowden would have to be caught and made an example of – and probably mistreated (like Manning, in hopes of getting him to turn against WikiLeaks and even journalist Glenn Greenwald).

As his lips were moving, Obama knew well that he would go to extreme lengths to prevent this articulate young man from securing asylum in some Latin American country, where he could continue to inform the world’s media about the Surveillance State that has blossomed alongside the Warfare State under the Bush and Obama administrations.

That Obama wasn’t truthful became clear when the U.S. campaign of “wheeling and dealing” led to possible asylum countries retreating in fear one after another (Vice President Biden was deployed to pressure Ecuador’s president by phone). And even clearer with last week’s outrageous, international law-breaking that effectively forced down the presidential plane of Bolivian President Evo Morales.

And if Obama eventually does scramble jets to force down a plane with Snowden on board, the commander-in-chief will be applauded for taking bold and decisive action by mainstream TV talking heads, “national security” experts and the opposition he seems most intent on pleasing: conservatives. Criticism from civil libertarian and peace voices (or unions and environmentalists, for that matter) has rarely daunted Obama.

The bipartisan consensus in support of our bloated Military/Surveillance State – which so undermines our society as a whole – is reflected in Congress and both the Bush and Obama administrations, as well as mainstream media.

When it comes to issues of U.S. militarism and spying, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

8 July 2013 at 10:52 am

In Secret, Court Vastly Broadens Powers of N.S.A.

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A clear look at the secret government we’re starting to move toward. Eric Lichtblau reports in the NY Times:

In more than a dozen classified rulings, the nation’s surveillance court has created a secret body of law giving the National Security Agencythe power to amass vast collections of data on Americans while pursuing not only terrorism suspects, but also people possibly involved in nuclear proliferation, espionage and cyberattacks, officials say.

The rulings, some nearly 100 pages long, reveal that the court has taken on a much more expansive role by regularly assessing broad constitutional questions and establishing important judicial precedents, with almost no public scrutiny, according to current and former officials familiar with the court’s classified decisions.

The 11-member Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, known as the FISA court, was once mostly focused on approving case-by-case wiretapping orders. But since major changes in legislation and greater judicial oversight of intelligence operations were instituted six years ago, it has quietly become almost a parallel Supreme Court, serving as the ultimate arbiter on surveillance issues and delivering opinions that will most likely shape intelligence practices for years to come, the officials said.

Last month, a former National Security Agency contractor, Edward J. Snowden, leaked a classified order from the FISA court, which authorized the collection of all phone-tracing data from Verizon business customers. But the court’s still-secret decisions go far beyond any single surveillance order, the officials said.

“We’ve seen a growing body of law from the court,” a former intelligence official said. “What you have is a common law that develops where the court is issuing orders involving particular types of surveillance, particular types of targets.”

In one of the court’s most important decisions, the judges have expanded the use in terrorism cases of a legal principle known as the “special needs” doctrine and carved out an exception to the Fourth Amendment’s requirement of a warrant for searches and seizures, the officials said.

The special needs doctrine was originally established in 1989 by the Supreme Court in a ruling allowing the drug testing of railway workers, finding that a minimal intrusion on privacy was justified by the government’s need to combat an overriding public danger. Applying that concept more broadly, the FISA judges have ruled that the N.S.A.’s collection and examination of Americans’ communications data to track possible terrorists does not run afoul of the Fourth Amendment, the officials said.

That legal interpretation is significant, several outside legal experts said, because it uses a relatively narrow area of the law — used to justify airport screenings, for instance, or drunken-driving checkpoints — and applies it much more broadly, in secret, to the wholesale collection of communications in pursuit of terrorism suspects. “It seems like a legal stretch,” William C. Banks, a national security law expert at Syracuse University, said in response to a description of the decision. “It’s another way of tilting the scales toward the government in its access to all this data.”

While President Obama and his intelligence advisers have spoken of the surveillance programs leaked by Mr. Snowden mainly in terms of combating terrorism, the court has also interpreted the law in ways that extend into other national security concerns. In one recent case, for instance, intelligence officials were able to get access to an e-mail attachment sent within the United States because they said they were worried that the e-mail contained a schematic drawing or a diagram possibly connected to Iran’s nuclear program.

In the past, that probably would have required a court warrant because the suspicious e-mail involved American communications. In this case, however, a little-noticed provision in a 2008 law, expanding the definition of “foreign intelligence” to include “weapons of mass destruction,” was used to justify access to the message. [Note that “weapons of mass destruction” now include grenades and pressure-cooker bombs and, I suppose, large firecrackers—anything that will allow the government to suspend Constitutional protections and human rights. — LG]

The court’s use of that language has allowed intelligence officials to get wider access to data and communications that they believe may be linked to nuclear proliferation, the officials said. They added that other secret findings had eased access to data on espionage, cyberattacks and other possible threats connected to foreign intelligence.

“The definition of ‘foreign intelligence’ is very broad,” another former intelligence official said in an interview. “An espionage target, a nuclear proliferation target, that all falls within FISA, and the court has signed off on that.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

8 July 2013 at 10:46 am

The State of the Unions

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I continue to recommend Which Side Are You On?, by Thomas Geoghegan, as an entertaining and thoughtful introduction to the reasons we need unions. And Strike!by Penny Colman, is a good history of the labor movement. (Both links are to inexpensive secondhand editions.) This post has a brief list of background reading on unions.

In The American Prospect Harold Meyerson summarizes the situation today:

Gallup and Pew concur: Just over one-half of Americans approve of labor unions.

In late June, the Pew Research Center released the results of its biennial poll on unions and corporations, and reported that 51 percent of Americans had a favorable view of unions—up from just 41 percent in 2011, the last time Pew popped the question. Pew’s new number is almost identical to Gallup’s, which found that 52 percent of Americans approved of unions when it last asked that question in August of 2012. Gallup polls on union approval every year and has reported a 52 percent approval rating each of the past three years. Before then, union approval had hit an all-time low for Gallup surveys, with just 48 percent in 2009.

So unions are modestly, sorta, kinda back, in the public’s estimation. Back, that is, from the trough into which they fell during the first year of the recession, when their approval ratings toppled from the high-50s (Gallup) and the mid-50s (Pew) by ten points in each poll. The auto bailout of that year, and the constant drumbeat in much of the media that auto workers were being paid between $75,000 and $100,000 (in reality, the very best paid were pulling down $56,000, and there weren’t that many of them), looks to have done lasting damage to unions’ favorability ratings, which have stalled out about 5 percentage points beneath their pre-recession, pre-bailout peak. To be sure, some of that damage appears transient: Gallup’s 2009 poll was the only one in which a majority (51 percent) of respondents said that unions “mostly hurt the economy.” Some of the damage appears more lasting, however: In yearly polls from 1999 through 2008, the percentage of Americans who told Gallup that they wanted to see unions have less influence stayed between 28 and 32 percent. Since 2009, though, that percentage has ranged between 40 and 42 percent for four successive years. To be sure, the percentages of Americans who’ve wanted to see unions have more or “the same amount” of influence has always exceeded those who want them to have less, but as “the same amount” isn’t really very much, this is a cold comfort.

Unions seeking warmer comfort in these numbers, however, can find some in Pew’s demographic breakdown of its latest poll. While 51 percent of all Americans have favorable views of unions, 61 percent of Americans under 30 hold that view. Indeed, respondents 29 or younger were the only age group in which unions had a higher favorability rating than “business corporations,” which had the approval rating of just 51 percent of the young. Union approval ratings grew weaker as respondents grew older—from 50 percent among Americans aged 30 to 49; to 49 percent among those 50 to 64; and to just 42 percent among Americans 65 or over.

The irony for unions —and in theory, the opportunity—is that the youngest Americans are the least unionized. The latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that labor force participants under 25 have a unionization rate of 4.2 percent, a figure that rises steadily—but not much—as the age cohorts grow older, topping out at 14.9 percent among workers aged 55 to 64.

So wherever young people got their disproportionately favorable impression of unions, it didn’t come from their personal exposure to them. Then again, young people in the early 1930s—a time when union membership collapsed, along with the economy in general—didn’t have much personal exposure to unions either, yet they became the most pro-union generation in American history. What both these generations have in common is a far greater skepticism about the economy in general and a much stronger belief that the economy is rigged to ordinary workers’ disadvantage. The Thirties generation demonstrated this by joining parties of the Left, voting for New Deal Democrats, and building a strong union movement. As to the current generation, there are no parties of the left to speak of, but a Pew Poll from late 2011 found that 49 percent of Americans under 30 had a positive view of socialism (against 43 percent negative), while just 46 percent had a positive view of capitalism (against 47 percent negative). Young people couldn’t find any New Deal Democrats to vote for, but they clearly favored Barack Obama in the last two presidential elections. And as for building unions—

Well, there’s the rub. Given the tattered state of labor law, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

8 July 2013 at 10:42 am

Posted in Business, Government, Unions

Cultivating ignorance

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Philip Cunningham writes a guest column for Informed Comment:

When the Roman empire fell into decline, the people were treated to bread and circuses. With America’s might on the wane, it’s more like breadcrumbs and circus reruns.

Just take a look at American news coverage these days; it’s rock around the clock infotainment. The latest mega story is the trial about a shooting that took place in Florida a year and a half ago.

A local tragedy, and yet it gets wall-to-wall coverage, day after day. The TV pundits go on and on about what they think the judge is thinking, what they think the jury is thinking and who they think is going to win and who they think is going to lose. They are the chorus to the tragedy, a shooting, converted into mass spectacle and spectator sport.

Criminal violence sells. It’s a central narrative of a country that puts more guns into more hands and puts more people behind bars than anywhere else on earth.

Given so many lurid cases to choose from, it takes a perfect storm of factors to transform a news bit from last year’s police blotter into the trial of the century. Enter George Zimmerman, who is standing trial for the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. Their inter-racial scuffle has been reconstructed and scrutinized over and over, second by bloody second, word by bloody word in prime time coverage.

During breaks in the much-trumpeted, heavily advertised, televised trial, wedged in between noisy commercials, there are news updates from around the world. Hey look! There’s some endearing footage of the American president, now touring Africa, dancing upon arrival in Tanzania. Wow, he can really move. Then there’s also some tidbit about some hacker dude named Snowden holed up in Moscow airport and what’s that? NATO air controllers scrambled to force the landing of the Bolivian President’s jet? Sounds a bit like the Zimmerman approach to controlling the space. Oh, and looky here, the hacker dude released some kind of secret documents, but hey, it’s the human angle, blame-the-messenger and the catch-me-if-you-can narrative that really gets the bovine pundits chewing the cud. And in between the cracks and commercials of the full Florida court criminal trial, there’s even a little something about some popular uprising in Egypt, or was it a coup?

Nightly news is top dollar billing time, so the bottom line makes foreign news a hard sell. Every second counts. No time to give it the Zimmerman treatment unless it’s smoking hot, unless it really sings, unless it has that extra special zing.

Burn baby burn.

There’s no denying that trials have a natural narrative appeal and that America is rife with racial tensions, but the media makes too much of such things. Trials such as that of OJ Simpson, and now this one, serve to turn up the heat and stoke civic mistrust, depriving viewers of other news while subtly dividing the public into irreconcilable camps. Who are you for and against? It’s not as much fun as the Coliseum or bread and circuses, but it serves a similar function. Keep the masses distracted and off-balance so as to diminish their attention and weaken their solidarity. If it’s a slow crime day, there’s always terror to stoke fear about.

Burn baby burn.

It’s news, unless it isn’t. The epic upheaval in Egypt was badly eclipsed by uneventful non-events in a TV light saturated courtroom until the July 4 holiday opened up just enough air-time for the day-after fireworks in Cairo.

Even essential news about the United States has been getting the short shrift, especially the shocking revelations of NSA abuse. It’s classic misdirection, stealing attention while emptying the treasury to steal secrets.

In both cases Obama and his foreign policy team have been caught flat-footed, and in the wrong, but don’t expect much in the way of explanation or apology. The White House has a non-answer to everything; spin, spin, spin.

But why fret about such things when you have a charming President who’s got game? There’s a little bit of something for everyone, nothing concrete of course, but a little symbolic something.

The media-pleasing president . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

8 July 2013 at 10:28 am

Posted in Media

Here’s what can go wrong when the government builds a huge database about Americans

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Timothy Lee is always good. Today, in the Washington Post, he points out some forthcoming problems:

When stated abstractly, the risk of the NSA violating your privacy may not seem so alarming. The Associated Press reports on an FBI database that provides some concrete examples of how a massive database about Americans can be abused.

The National Crime Information Center database, maintained by the FBI, provides law enforcement agencies across the country with information they need to do their job, including information about outstanding arrest warrants, gang memberships, firearms records, and much more. According to the AP, it serves 90,000 agencies and receives 9 million data points every day.The New York Police Department says one of its detectives was recently caught using the NCIC database to secretly obtain personal information about two other NYPD officers. Police officials have suggested that the man, who also hacked into several individuals’ e-mail accounts, was trying to figure out “who his ex-girlfriend, also a police officer, was chatting with.”

Another police officer, Gilbert Valle, was convicted in March for using the NCIC database to “help compile dossiers on women that listed their birthdates, addresses, heights and weights,” apparently as part of a “bizarre plot to kidnap, cook and cannibalize women.” Fortunately, the authorities stepped in before the women he had profiled were harmed.

The AP reports that “authorities have accused a Memphis police officer of using the NCIC database to leak information to a confidential informant about a watch dealer who the informant believed had stolen a Rolex; a reserve patrolman in Clarkston, Ga., of running names and license plates for marijuana dealers; a Montgomery County, Md., officer of running checks on cars belonging to a woman who later reported that the vehicles had been vandalized; and a Hartford, Conn., police sergeant of supplying database records to a woman who used them to harass her ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend.”

These stories illustrate some of the kinds of misconduct that could occur with the NSA’sdatabase of the nation’s phone calls. A record of every American’s phone calls and cellphone locations could be even more attractive to unethical government employees than the NCIC database. Jilted NSA employees could use the database to stalk exes. Corrupt NSA officials could sell information from the database to criminal enterprises. Voyeuristic NSA employees could browse through the database to learn about the personal lives of celebrities.

Indeed, the threat of NSA voyeurism is not just hypothetical. In 2008, a former NSA employee admitted to ABC that he and others at the agency had listened in on the personal phone calls of soldiers stationed overseas.

“Hey, check this out, there’s good phone sex or there’s some pillow talk,” the man said he was told by other NSA employees. “Pull up this call, it’s really funny, go check it out. It would be some colonel making pillow talk and we would say, ‘Wow, this was crazy.’”

Of course, the NSA says it has safeguards in place to prevent this kind of abuse. According to the agency, just 22 officials have the authority to authorize queries against the phone records database.

But even if access is tightly controlled today, there’s no guarantee that it will stay that way. The more tightly access to the database is controlled, the more difficult it will be for NSA analysts to make effective use of it. There will be a natural pressure to expand access as new uses for the database are discovered and concerns about privacy recede.

And the fact that access to the database is officially limited to 22 people doesn’t mean that no one else has unofficial access. One reason the FBI has trouble preventing abuse of the NCIC database is that cops share passwords or forget to log themselves out after using the database, allowing others to gain access using their credentials.

And Edward Snowden appears to have gained access to documents that he wasn’t authorized to access. The call records database might have similar vulnerabilities. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

8 July 2013 at 10:07 am

Wish I knew more about music

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I haven’t done enough with music, but it may be that I don’t hear aspects that are clear to others. However, I did enjoy this Open Culture column on 12-tone music, particularly the NY Times video. I plan to list more systematically to classical music now.

Written by Leisureguy

8 July 2013 at 9:51 am

Posted in Music, Video

Terrific shave, new soap

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SOTD 8 July 2013

I have used other Haslinger soaps, but not the Coconut. It lacks the strong coconut fragrance of (e.g.) Geo. F. Trumper Coconut shaving cream or shaving soap, but made an excellent lather easily, using my Morris & Forndran brush. This morning that brush seemed particularly nice—you’ll probably see it a little more frequently in coming weeks.

Three passes of the German slant I bought from a WEdger, the Trig blade in the razor doing a good job—well, BBS result, but not so easy as a slant should be. So at the end of the shave I replaced it with a new Kai blade for next time.

A good splash of Saint Charles Shave Bulgarian Rose with Lemon—a terrific aftershave, and note that both Saint Charles Shave and The Shave Den Shop sell samples of their aftershaves.

Mantic put up a new post that references this blog, so I may have some visitors. If you’re one, note that a category search on “Shaving” allows you to scan just the shaving posts.

Written by Leisureguy

8 July 2013 at 8:50 am

Posted in Shaving

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