Later On

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

Archive for July 9th, 2013

Wow. Dustin Hoffman on Tootsie

leave a comment »

Written by Leisureguy

9 July 2013 at 3:32 pm

Posted in Daily life, Movies & TV

Totally jaw-dropping

with 2 comments

Alex Halperin has the story in Salon, but do watch the video—keep going. It gets weirder and bigger—every time you think they can’t top it, they top it. Chinese-Chamber-of-Commercese in a bracing translation. And you can pick up some of the little ticks—e.g., append “for the public” to sentences fairly frequently.

Written by Leisureguy

9 July 2013 at 3:08 pm

Posted in Daily life

Free Kindle book: Before You Quit Writing, Read This! 23 Stories & Strategies to Keep You Writing

leave a comment »

You can get it here.

Written by Leisureguy

9 July 2013 at 1:29 pm

Posted in Books, Writing

Alfred Hitchcock Explains the Plot Device He Called the ‘MacGuffin’

leave a comment »

Open Culture has a very nice video and post on the MacGuffin.

Written by Leisureguy

9 July 2013 at 1:25 pm

Posted in Movies & TV, Video

Another instance of the upcoming corporate-controlled police state

leave a comment »

Take a look at this report by Alex Kane for AlterNet:

A private security firm has been hired by a mining company in Wisconsin, and now a paramilitary-like force has begun to protect the mining site. The presence of guards who work for Bulletproof Securities is raising eyebrows among Wisconsin lawmakers.

The mining company, Gogebic Taconite, is set to launch a large iron ore mining operation in Wisconsin over the objections of environmentalists. And they’ve hired Bulletproof Securities to guard the site. The people protecting the mining site near Lake Superior are masked and are toting semi-automatic rifles while wearing camouflage uniforms.

The mining site has been met by protests recently.

The company told the Duluth News Tribune that the security company was hired because opponents of the mine “dressed in black and wearing masks violently attacked our drill site” in June. But lawmakers are now speaking up against the security firm.

“I’m appalled. There is no evidence to justify their presence,” Democratic State Senator Bob Jauch told the Wisconsin State Journal, as Talking Points Memo points out. “What would you use those weapons for except to hurt somebody?”

One Wisconsin resident who visited the mining site, Amy Noble, said that the pictures she was shown of armed guards “doesn’t seem like Wisconsin.”

Talking Points Memo’s Josh Marshall dug up some more details about Bulletproof Securities. The company’s website boasts of having a “border security force.” The company also owns “heavily armored Joint Light Tactical Vehicles (JLTV’s), Tactical All Terrain Vehicles (T-ATV’s), FLIR (mobile thermal systems), mast equipment (eye in the sky), and many other state-of-the-art assets.”

Marshall points out that the owner of Bulletproof Securities, Tom Parrella, owns a major real estate agency in Arizona. He has told the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce that his company is “trying to bridge the gaps between private security contractors and local government and law enforcement.”

UPDATE: You can almost hear the (storm)boots approaching: look at this interesting training device, to begin desensitizing a certain group of the population who will become enforcers—people like the masked, camouflaged, armed guards at the mine. The paramilitary police organizations (SWAT teams) are another group. The Border Patrol.

Written by Leisureguy

9 July 2013 at 1:13 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life

Alex Pareene does brutal surgery on Lawrence O’Donnell

leave a comment »

Well-deserved surgery, I would say. Read it with care: it’s flaming hot.

Written by Leisureguy

9 July 2013 at 1:04 pm

Posted in Media

A Former Judge on the Secret Privacy Court Says He Quit Over Surveillance

leave a comment »

Philip Bump of the Atlantic Wire is doing a good job of covering the NSA outrage. Here‘s his latest:

When we looked at the 16 people responsible for protecting your privacy, we could not have foreseen the development that emerged Tuesday morning. One former member of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Court — eleven of those 16 protectors — told the president’s Privacy and Civil Liberties Board — the other five — that the court “has turned into something like an administrative agency.” That judge, James Robertson, also told the group that his seven-year term ended after only three when he quit due to the government’s warrantless wiretapping.

Robertson’s appearance before the civil liberties board was at the group’s third meeting in its seven-year history, and its first public one since Edward Snowden’s leak. (The first came in late June.) The Associated Press reports Robertson told the group that he “asked to join the FISA court ‘to see what it was up to.'” Then he found out.

Robertson quit the FISA court in 2005, days after the New York Times revealed widespread NSA warrantless wiretapping under President George W. Bush’s administration. Robertson had previously refused to explain his decision. But during a break in the hearing Tuesday he confirmed to the AP that he had “resigned in protest because the Bush administration was bypassing the court on warrantless wiretaps.”

It’s important to note that he didn’t quit because of the court‘s approval of the system. That came later, after the 2006 Patriot Act extension approved widespread data collection — with the FISA court’sreassessment of what “relevant” evidence was.

That approval seems to comport with Robertson’s representation of the group. While other former FISA court judges, like Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, argue that the perception of the body as a rubber stamp is inaccurate — an argument made again today by Obama’s pick to run the FBI — Robertson doesn’t seem as willing to rise to the body’s defense. “[H]e warned that Congress’ 2008 reform of the FISA system expanded the government’s authority by forcing the court to approve entire surveillance systems, not just surveillance warrants, as it previously handled,” the AP reports. It was this switch that prompted Robertson’s suggestion that the court be considered an “administrative” — not judicial — body.

That’s in part because the court doesn’t fulfill the demands of legal consideration. When the court hears arguments from the government on its desire to surveil a target or get approval for its surveillance systems, there is no legal argument presented in opposition. “This process,” Robertson told the board, “needs an adversary.”

There’s a caveat to Robertson’s testimony. While the five-member Board has been tasked with assessing the government’s privacy protection, there’s not a lot it can do about it. It serves in an advisory role to the president — meaning that Obama can do with its recommendations whatever he wishes, including nothing. Today’s testimony, then, was a microcosm of the broader situation: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

9 July 2013 at 12:11 pm

Only 1% of So Called Terrorists Nabbed by the FBI Were Real

leave a comment »

The FBI increasingly seems like a disorganized and incompetent organization with police-state tendencies. Joshua Holland inteviews Trevor Aaronson at AlterNet:

In the dozen years since the 9/11 attacks, we’ve watched as a classified new legal regime for government surveillance has been hashed out, local police forces have become heavily armed military-type units and a whole new layer of bureaucracy has hatched to provide us with an abundance of “homeland security.”

Proponents of this build-up argue that it’s made us safer. They point to hundreds of foiled plots to make their case. But Trevor Aaronson, author of The Terror Factory: Inside the FBI’s Manufactured War on Terrorism [3], dug into these supposedly dastardly plots and found that they are much less than meets the eye.

Aaronson recently appeared on the AlterNet Radio Hour. Below is a lightly edited transcript of the discussion.

Joshua Holland: Trevor, the raw statistical data say that Americans have a significantly better chance of being struck dead by lightning than of being killed in a terrorist attack here at home. It’s obviously different for people in some other countries.

I got that from the official terrorism statistics put out by the FBI and other related agencies. And they also track foiled attacks. These law enforcement agencies say that these foiled attacks prove that they are saving American lives. How would you respond to that?

Trevor Aaronson: I’d say that the majority of the foiled attacks that they cite are really only foiled attacks because the FBI made the attack possible, and most of the people who are caught in these so-called foiled attacks are caught through sting operations that use either an undercover FBI agent or informant posing as some sort of Al-Qaeda operative.

In all of these cases, the defendants, or the would-be terrorists, are people who at best have a vague idea that they want to commit some sort of violent act or some sort of act of terrorism but have no means on their own. They don’t have weapons. They don’t have connections with any international terrorist groups.

In many cases they’re mentally ill or they’re economically desperate. An undercover informant or agent posing as an Al-Qaeda operative gives them everything they need… gives them the transportation, gives them the money if they need it, and then gives them the bomb and even the idea for the terrorist attack. And then when that person pushes a button to detonate the bomb that they believe will explode—a bomb that was provided to them in whole by the FBI—agents rush in, arrest them and charge them with conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction and then parade that person out to the public saying, “Look at us. We caught a terrorist. This is us keeping you safe.”

If you look at the record of prosecutions in the decade after 911, there has yet to be a case of some Al-Qaeda operative providing the means for a wannabe terrorist to do an act of terrorism. It’s only the FBI that’s providing the means through these sting operations. What this has done is really inflate the threat of terrorism within the United States—particularly from Muslim terrorists—because in almost all of these cases sting operations target men on the fringes of Muslim communities who might be mentally ill, economically desperate or otherwise very easily manipulated by an informant who can make a lot of money in these sting operations.

JH: The thing that I find eye-opening about this is—I’ve certainly known that many of these supposed plots were basically inventions of the FBI, but I didn’t know it was that consistent. You’re saying that this is the case with all of the suspects we’ve heard of in the post-911 era?

TA: For the purposes of my book, I used the 10 years after 9/11 as the area that I was going to analyze data in, and what we know is that in the 10 years after 9/11, there were a little more than 500 defendants who were charged with federal crimes involving international terrorism. About 250 involved people who were charged with things like immigration violations or lying to the FBI and who are somehow linked to terrorism.

Their charges did not involve any sort of terrorist plot. Of the 500, you have about 150 who were caught in sting operations; these operations that were solely the creation of the FBI through an FBI informant or undercover agent providing the means and the opportunity, the bomb, the idea and so on.

Then if you’re really being generous, you can find only about five people of the 500 charged with international terrorism who were involved in some sort of plot that either had weapons of their creation or their acquisition or were connected to international terrorists in some way. These include Najibullah Zazi who came close to bombing the New York City subway system, Faisal Shahzad, who delivered a bomb to Times Square that fortunately didn’t go off, and then you have Jose Padilla—the dirty bomber—the underwear bomber and the shoe bomber, for example.

Being generous, those are the five that you can point to in the decade after 9/11 who seemed to pose a significant threat. Fortunately, none of them were successful. That’s a handful compared to the more than 150 who were caught in these sting operations, and in these sting operations the men never had access to weapons; it was only the FBI that provided it as part of the sting operation that they were controlling from beginning to end.

JH: I’m no attorney, but this sounds like it gets close to entrapment. Have defense attorneys raised that?

TA: Yeah, and this is an interesting area of this story. Obviously, a layman like you or me looking at this thinks this is definitely entrapment. Unfortunately, the legal definition of entrapment is very different, and what we know is that 11 defendants have formally argued entrapment in these cases and none have been successful.

A large reason for that is the government is able to argue against entrapment in two ways; one is to say the person was predisposed to commit the crime. That he had done something that suggested he was interested in committing a crime before the introduction of the government agent.

Traditionally speaking, if this was a bank robbery plot, the government would have to prove that the defendant was researching bank robberies or casing banks prior to the FBI informant getting involved. The FBI and the Department of Justice are able to do this very easily in these terrorism cases in part because they are able to introduce evidence that is really sketchy to prove that there was predisposition.

For example, often the government will cite the fact that someone watched a jihad video and they’ll put on the stand a government expert who will testify that, “Hey, you know, because he watched the jihad video and this is one of Al-Qaeda’s classics,” that meant he was becoming a terrorist and the government line essentially, rather an absurd one, is that if you watch a Jihad video then, trance-like, you become a terrorist. It’s absurd on its face because I’ve watched those videos. You’ve watched those videos and I don’t think either of us are going to become terrorists.

At the same time, how the government is able to argue against entrapment is to really weight the jury in its favor and it does that by – in these sting operations, the government controls every aspect of the plot so they could have a guy who wants to commit violence and they say to him, “Okay, here’s a nine millimeter handgun. Go to the mall and shoot a couple people in the knee.”

That would be awful but it wouldn’t be something that would necessarily shatter the security of the United States of America. Instead, in these sting operations, they give the defendants these bombs that are so enormous and so big that even a sophisticated criminal organization would have trouble obtaining them. Then they have them unleash those bombs at subway stations or downtown skyscrapers and it makes the jury think, You know what? I ride that subway system. I have a son who works at that skyscraper. What that does is effectively erode any empathy that the jury might have for the defendant and that empathy is necessary for a jury to say, You know what? That person was entrapped.

What we’ve seen is a very effective role by the government in battling against this entrapment defense and now that we have 11 cases where entrapment has been formally argued, none being successful. I’m among those who say if you’re a Muslim charged with terrorism in the United States there really is no such thing as entrapment today.

JH: I’m a fan of that show Breaking Bad, and yet I have not started cooking meth in my backyard.

TA: If you ever got involved in a sting operation with meth, the fact that you’re a “Breaking Bad” fan might be used against you.

JH: Now, you said that a lot of people caught up in this dragnet, if you will, are poor, have mental health problems, are disenfranchised and sound like they are marginal people. Can you give us a few examples, specific case studies in the book to illustrate this point?

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

9 July 2013 at 10:45 am

Posted in Daily life

Questions for the F.B.I. Nominee

leave a comment »

In view of the grievous misdeeds and numerous unconstitutional actions by the FBI listed in the previous post, the nominee should not only be questioned closely but also charged with reforming an increasingly aggressive organization. Coleen Rowley suggests some questions in the NY Times:

WHEN President Obama nominated James B. Comey to lead the F.B.I., he lauded Mr. Comey as someone who understands the challenge of “striking a balance” between security and privacy, and had been “prepared to give up a job he loved rather than be part of something he felt was fundamentally wrong.”

High praise, but was it deserved? We may find out today, when the Senate Judiciary Committee holds a hearing on his confirmation.

Mr. Comey’s reputation for courage and probity rests largely on a dramatic episode in March 2004 when he and the current F.B.I. director, Robert S. Mueller III, tried to squelch the George W. Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program. But that was just one night in the 20 months that Mr. Comey served as deputy attorney general.

And while it was not the only time he expressed reservations, Mr. Comey apparently did eventually sign off on most of the worst of the Bush administration’s legal abuses and questionable interpretations of federal and international law. He ultimately approved the C.I.A.’s list of “enhanced interrogation” techniques, including waterboarding, which experts on international law consider a form of torture. He defended holding an American citizen, Jose Padilla, without charges for more than three years as an “enemy combatant,” and subjecting him to interrogation without counsel to obtain information from him. (Mr. Padilla was ultimately convicted of terrorism charges in civilian court.)

Mr. Mueller and Mr. Comey famously thwarted efforts by two Bush officials, Alberto R. Gonzales and Andrew H. Card Jr., to pressure a hospitalized Attorney General John Ashcroft to sign off on Mr. Bush’s warrantless monitoring order after the Justice Department found it illegal. But within days, Mr. Mueller and Mr. Comey, having threatened to resign, spoke with Mr. Bush. Whatever assurances the president may have given them are not (and may never be) known — but we know that the surveillance program continued, perhaps with modification, and certainly without further public dissent from Mr. Mueller and Mr. Comey.

I suggest that the senators ask Mr. Comey these questions:

1. Will you maintain the F.B.I. ban on torture and coercing of statements and confessions? Would you instruct F.B.I. agents to investigate all credible reports, including those involving other federal personnel, of violations of Sections 2340 and 2441 of Title 18 of the United States Code, which define torture and war crimes? (In 2002, according to a Justice Department report, F.B.I. agents at Guantánamo Bay created a “war crimes file” to document accusations of prisoner mistreatment by American military personnel, but an F.B.I. official ordered that the file be closed in 2003.)

2. In March 2004, you argued that the N.S.A. surveillance program was illegal. Do you still believe that the domestic communications of American citizens can be legally monitored by the government only with a judicially approved warrant? If so, what assurances about the warrantless surveillance scheme did Mr. Bush offer that persuaded you to stop opposing the program?

3. Do you stand by your statement, made at a Justice Department news conference in June 2004, that it was right to hold Jose Padilla, an American citizen who was arrested on American soil, in a military brig (for two years at that point) without charges?

4. Why, in April 2005, did you approve 13 harsh interrogation tactics, including waterboarding and up to 180 hours of sleep deprivation, for use on suspects by officers of the C.I.A.?

5. Do you stand by a speech in March 2009 in which you spoke of the need to “incapacitate” terrorists who could not be prosecuted, either because of a lack of sufficient evidence or because the information had been secretly provided by a foreign country? Do you believe that since procedures exist for “preventative detention” of people with dangerous mental illness, there should be a similar way to detain terrorism suspects without trial?

6. . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

9 July 2013 at 10:41 am

10 Most Shocking Things the FBI Has Done Since 9/11

leave a comment »

As we consider a new Director for the FBI, perhaps we should also consider whether the FBI needs a serious housecleaning and reforming. I’ve blogged quite a bit about the FBI, and their errors, cover-ups, and deliberate misdeed are numerous (including deliberately letting an innocent man spend 20 years in prison). The ACLU also has a list:

As Congress considers the nomination of James B. Comey to lead the FBI for the next ten years, lawmakers should examine measures to rein in a bureau that has undermined civil liberties in the name of fighting terrorism. This is a false trade off: we can be both safe and free.

1. USA Patriot Act Abuse

The recent  revelation about the FBI using the Patriot Act’s “business records provision” to track all U.S. telephone calls is only the latest in a long line of abuse. Five Justice Department Inspector General audits documented widespread FBI misuse of Patriot Act authorities ( 1,2,3,4,5), and a federal district court recently struck down the National Security Letter (NSL) statute because of its unconstitutional gag orders. The IG also revealed the FBI’s unlawful use of “exigent letters” that claimed false emergencies to get private information without NSLs, but in 2009 the Justice Department  secretly re-interpreted the law to allow the FBI to get this information without emergencies or legal process. Congress and the American public need to know the full scope of the FBI’s spying on Americans under the Patriot Act and all  other surveillance authorities enacted since 9/11, like the FISA Amendments Act that underlies the  PRISM program.

2. 2008 Amendments to the Attorney General’s Guidelines

Attorney General Michael Mukasey  re-wrote the FBI’s rulebook in the final months of the Bush administration, giving FBI agents unfettered authority to investigate people without any factual basis for suspecting wrongdoing. The 2008  Attorney General’s Guidelines created a new kind of intrusive investigation called an “assessment,” which required no “factual predicate” before FBI agents could search through government or commercial databases, conduct overt or covert FBI interviews, and task informants to gather information about people or infiltrate lawful organizations. In a two-year period from 2009 to 2011, the FBI opened over 82,000 “assessments” of individuals or organizations, less than 3,500 of which discovered information justifying further investigation.

3. Racial and Ethnic Mapping

The 2008 Attorney General’s Guidelines also authorized “domain management assessments” which allow the FBI to map American communities by race and ethnicity based on crass stereotypes about the crimes they are likely to commit. FBI documents obtained by the ACLU show the FBI mapped entire Chinese and Russian communities  in San Francisco on the theory that they might commit organized crime, all Latino communities in  New Jersey and Alabama because a street gang has Latino members, African Americans in  Georgia to find “Black separatists,” and Middle-Eastern communities in  Detroit for terrorism investigations. The FBI’s racial and ethnic  mapping program is simply racial and religious profiling of entire communities.

4. Unrestrained Data Collection and Data Mining

The FBI has claimed the authority to secretly sweep up voluminous amounts of private information from data aggregators for data mining purposes. In 2007 the FBI said it amassed databases containing  1.5 billion records, which were  predicted to grow to 6 billion records by 2012, or equal to “20 separate ‘records’ for each man, woman and child in the United States.” When Congress sought information about one of these programs, the FBI  refused to give the Government Accountability Office access. That program was temporarily  defunded, but its successor, the FBI Foreign Terrorist Tracking Task Force,  currently has 360 staff members running 40 separate projects.  Records show analysts are allowed to use data mining tools to establish “risk scores” for U.S. persons. A 2013  IG audit questioned the task force’s effectiveness, concluding it “did not always provide FBI field offices with timely and relevant information.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

9 July 2013 at 10:19 am

Posted in Government, Law

The Laws You Are Not Allowed to See

leave a comment »

Today’s NY Times editorial:

In the month since a national security contractor leaked classified documents revealing a vast sweep of Americans’ phone records by the federal government, people across the country have disagreed about the extent to which our expectation of personal privacy must yield to the demands of national security.

Under normal circumstances, this could be a healthy, informed debate on a matter of overwhelming importance — the debate President Obama said he welcomed in the days after the revelations of the surveillance programs.

But this is a debate in which almost none of us know what we’re talking about.

As Eric Lichtblau reported in The Times on Sunday, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court has for years been developing what is effectively a secret and unchallenged body of law on core Fourth Amendment issues, producing lengthy classified rulings based on the arguments of the federal government — the only party allowed in the courtroom. In recent years, the court, originally established by Congress to approve wiretap orders, has extended its reach to consider requests related to nuclear proliferation, espionage and cyberattacks. Its rulings, some of which approach 100 pages, have established the court as a final arbiter in these matters.

But the court is as opaque as it is powerful. Every attempt to understand the court’s rulings devolves into a fog of hypothesis and speculation.

The few public officials with knowledge of the surveillance court’s work either censor themselves as required by law, as Senator Ron Wyden has done in his valiant efforts to draw attention to the full scope of these programs, or they offer murky, even misleading statements, as the director of national intelligence, James Clapper Jr., did before a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing in March. . .

Continue reading.

The editorial contains a flagrant error: James Clapper’s answer to Sen. Wyden’s question was not in the least murky: it was in fact as clear as a bell: Q: Does the National Security Agency collect “any type of data at all on millions of Americans?” Clapper’s answer: “No, sir.” Clapper had the question 24 hours in advance, so he knew what he was saying, and he knew that he was lying, pure and simple. And, apparently, he’s going to get away with it because our Congress cannot function at this time.

Written by Leisureguy

9 July 2013 at 10:13 am

The Members of Congress Who Want to Reform NSA Surveillance

leave a comment »

Philip Bump at the Atlantic Wire:

Slowly — very, very slowly — attitudes toward NSA surveillance among Congressional representatives appear to be changing. A report from The Washington Post indicating that members of the Democratic leadership are open to reform measures warrants the question: How many total members of Congress currently support reform?

To figure that out, we first had to define what we meant by reform. We came up with three options, dealing with the two laws that enable the surveillance. The first law is the Patriot Act, passed in October 2001 and revised in 2006 to allow the collection of phone records. The second is the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which was amended in 2008 to approve the government’s surveillance of online activity.

  • Release the court’s opinions on use of surveillance. This is the lowest level of reform. It would demand that the administration (through the Department of Justice) release the legal opinions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that indicate how the surveillance is legal under the laws.
  • Reform the bills or their amendments. The next level of reform is to ask that the bills be changed to prevent the sort of mass data collection that has been in progress by the NSA.
  • Repeal of the bills or their amendments. The most extreme option would be to repeal the bills as they exist, presumably removing the legal authority for the agency to conduct its surveillance.

So how do both chambers of Congress break down? Overall, not well. In the graphs below, the red slices show the number of members of Congress opposed to the reform. The blue slices are those in support. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

9 July 2013 at 10:09 am

Posted in Congress, NSA

Snowden: I acted because Domestic Spying actually worsened under Obama

leave a comment »

Juan Cole of Informed Comment posts:

The Guardian has released part two of the Hong Kong interview with Edward Snowden, in which he clarifies his reasons for going public. He talks about how the warrantless demand for Verizon phone records was the misuse of a USA Patriot Act provision intended to allow monitoring of an individual, but which was applied to a whole society.

Toward the end of the interview Snowden said that his instinct was to let the system correct itself, but he watched in horror as it did not do so. In fact, he said, the abuses were growing over time, and were worse than in the previous administration.

Although Snowden did not name Obama specifically, it seems clear from what he said that disappointment with the president’s refusal to step back from Bush-era domestic spying, and, indeed, the ways in which the Obama administration was extending it, drove him to blow the whistle. He also expressed disappointment that NSA officials were lying to Congress about what they are doing. He clearly has concluded that it is a sneaky and manipulative government agency that is not subject to sufficient oversight, in part because it misrepresents its actions to the overseers.

The general disappointment with . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

9 July 2013 at 10:05 am

Check this out: Audiobook of Remembrance of Things Past, all 7 volumes

with one comment

This will keep you busy.

Written by Leisureguy

9 July 2013 at 10:02 am

Posted in Books, Education

Counterterrorism in the Twilight Zone

leave a comment »

TomDispatch seems to regularly run absorbing, interesting, in-depth articles. Today’s is by Matthew Harwood, with the usual intro by Tom Englehardt:

They went without saying a word.  In the dead of night, the last U.S. troops slipped out of Iraq and across the Kuwaiti border.  There was no victory parade.  No departure ceremony.  They never said goodbye. They didn’t even cancel scheduled meetings with their Iraqi counterparts. They just up and left, weeks before their departure deadline in December 2010.

The Americans took home their weapons and vehicles, of course.  They took much of their heavy equipment and electronics gear, too.  They also took something far more intimate, something you might assume belonged to the Iraqi people, something you probably never knew existed: “a massive database packed with retinal scans, thumb prints, and other biometric data identifying millions of Iraqis,” as Spencer Ackerman put it when he wrote about those digital records in 2011.

In the years after the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, the U.S. military collected biometric data on around three million Iraqis.  It’s done the same for millions of Afghans.  And it’s keeping this information in perpetuity.  Back in 2011, a spokesman for the Tampa, Florida-based U.S. Central Command told Ackerman, “We have this information, and rather than cull through it all and say ‘bad guy, good guy, bad guy, good guy,’ it’s better to just keep it.”  Just why may be unclear, but the capture and retention of this data fit a pattern: the U.S. drive to expand its national security state into a global security initiative.

This includes vacuuming up billions of pieces of intelligence from worldwide computer networks (13.5 billion from Pakistan in March of this year alone), spying on European allies, and hacking the computer and telecommunications systems of its largest foreign creditor, among other activities.  The goal is to possess the world’s data, then do who knows what with it.

Muslims using computers in Pakistan or those whose retinas were scanned by the American military in Iraq and Afghanistan are not, of course, the only ones to fall under the gaze of U.S. surveillance.  Since 9/11, as Matt Harwood makes clear in his inaugural article for TomDispatch, American Muslims have been disproportionately targeted compared to right-wing Christian groups.  The roots of this discrimination stretch back hundreds of years, beyond the birth of this country, and reveal blind spots and shortcomings that no amount of data, computing power, or cyber-prowess can correct. Nick Turse

Political Violence and Privilege
Why Violent Right-wing Extremism Doesn’t Scare Americans
By Matthew Harwood

The evangelical Christians of Greenville County, South Carolina, are afraid.

There has been talk of informants and undercover agents luring young, conservative evangelicals across the South into sham terrorist plots. The feds and the area’s police want to eliminate a particularly extreme strain of evangelical Christianity opposed to abortion, homosexuality, and secularism, whose adherents sometimes use violent imagery and speech. They fear such extreme talk could convince lone wolves or small groups of Christian extremists to target abortion clinics, gay bars, or shopping malls for attack. As a result, law enforcement has flooded these communities with informants meant to provide an early warning system for any signs of such “radicalization.”

Converts, so important to the evangelical movement, are now looked upon with suspicion — the more fervent, the more suspicious. In local barbecue joints, diners, and watering holes, the proprietors are careful not to let FOX News linger onscreen too long, fearing political discussions that could be misconstrued.  After all, you can never be too sure who’s listening.

Come Sunday, the ministers who once railed against abortion, gay marriage, and Hollywood as sure signs that the U.S. is descending into godlessness will mute their messages. They will peer out at their congregations and fear that some faces aren’t interested in the Gospel, or maybe are a little too interested in every word. The once vibrant political clubs at Bob Jones University have become lifeless as students whisper about informants and fear a few misplaced words could leave them in a government database or worse.

Naturally, none of this is actually happening to evangelical Christians in South Carolina, across the South, or anywhere else. It would never be tolerated. Yet the equivalents of everything cited above did happen in and around the New York metropolitan area — just not to white, conservative, Christian Americans. But replace them with American Muslims in the New York area and you have a perfect fit, as documented by the recent report Mapping Muslims.  And New York is hardly alone.

Since 9/11, American law enforcement has taken a disproportionate interest in American Muslims across the country, seeing a whole community as a national security threat, particularly in California and New York City. But here’s the thing: the facts that have been piling up ever since that date don’t support such suspicion. Not at all.

The numbers couldn’t be clearer: right-wing extremists have committed far more acts of political violence since 1990 than American Muslims. That law enforcement across the country hasn’t felt similarly compelled to infiltrate and watch over conservative Christian communities in the hopes of disrupting violent right-wing extremism confirms what American Muslims know in their bones: to be different is to be suspect.

Conducting Suspicionless Surveillance

In the aftermath of 9/11, law enforcement has infiltrated Muslim American communities and spied on them in ways that would have outraged Americans, had such tactics been used against Christian communities after the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, or after any of the other hate crimes or anti-abortion-based acts of violence committed since then by right-wing extremists.

Documents obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests by the American Civil Liberties Union make clear that FBI agents in California usedcommunity outreach programs to gather intelligence at mosques and other local events, recording the opinions and associations of people not suspected of any crime. In 2008, the FBI loosened its internal guidelines further, allowing agents to collect demographic information on ethnically concentrated communities and map them for intelligence and investigative purposes.

There is no question that the most extreme example of such blanket, suspicion-less surveillance has been conducted by the New York City Police Department (NYPD). As revealed by the Associated Press, the NYPD’s Intelligence Division carried out a secret surveillance program on the city’s varied Muslim communities based on the erroneous belief that their religion makes them more susceptible to violent radicalization.

The program, which continues today, looks something like this, according toMapping Muslims: “rakers,” or undercover officers, are sent into neighborhoods to identify “hot spots” — mosques, schools, restaurants, cafes, halal meat shops, hookah bars — and told to chat up people to “gauge sentiment,” while setting up “listening posts.” “Crawlers,” or informants, are then recruited and sent to infiltrate mosques and religious events.  They are ordered to record what imams and congregants say and take note of who attended services and meetings.

These crawlers are encouraged to initiate “create and capture” conversations with their targets, bringing up terrorism or some other controversial topic, recording the response, and then sharing it with the NYPD. The intelligence unit also went mobile, checking out and infiltrating American-Muslim student groups from Connecticut to New Jersey and even as far away as Pennsylvania.

When news of the NYPD’s spying program broke, it shattered trust within the city’s Muslim communities, giving rise to general suspicion and fraying community ties of all sorts. This naturally raises the question: How many terrorism plots were identified and disrupted thanks to this widespread and suspicionless surveillance program?  The answer: none.

Worse, the chief of the NYPD Intelligence Division admitted in sworn testimony last summer that the Muslim surveillance program did not even generate a single criminal lead. The incredibly invasive, rights-eroding program was a complete bust, a total waste of the resources of the New York City Police Department.

And that’s without even considering what is surely its most harmful aspect: . . .

Continue reading.

I have to say that it’s clear the US has lost its way and is well on the way to becoming a police state. And Obama’s fine with that: he likes it. It was Obama who decided that the most heinous Federal crime was to expose Federal wrongdoing.

Written by Leisureguy

9 July 2013 at 9:35 am

Attempts to block knowledge and learning

leave a comment »

David Nutt writes in The Scientist:

Over the centuries there have been many attempts by various governments and other regulatory bodies to limit research on areas that challenge  their beliefs and preconceptions. A recent example is the restrictions placed on embryonic stem cell research in the United States and elsewhere. The stranglehold these regulations put on research in these countries drove many US “stars” to the United Kingdom, where less draconian existed. Recognizing this loss, President Obama and others have fought against these restrictions, with some success.  But there are other areas of research that continue to be thwarted by overbearing regulations put forth by closed-minded politicians.

In my 45 years in science, for example, there has been a worldwide ban on the study of psychedelics and other drugs. I would contend has been the most extreme form of scientific censorship since the Catholic Church banned the telescope when in the 17th century because Galileo used it to confirm Copernicus’s theory that the earth circled the sun, not the other way around.  Galileo was threatened with death for challenging the teaching of the scriptures, and he eventually retracted his claims. Some of his inquisitors refused even to look down a telescope believing it to be the work of the devil.

The current case of scientific censorship derives from the 1961 and 1971 United Nations conventions on narcotic and psychotropic drugs. These conventions ban the sale, possession, and transport of a range of drugs, from cannabis, opioids, and cocaine to psychedelics. This was done in a futile attempt to reduce the use and harms of these drugs; since the conventions, use and harms from many of these drugs have increased dramatically. Moreover there have been many well-known, sometimes severe, negative effects of these laws, such as the rise of AIDS (due to the ban opiate substitution and other helpful treatments) and international crime over the trafficking of illegal cocaine and opioids. Another deleterious impact, however—the stifling of scientific research on the effects, even the potential therapeutic value, of these drugs—has been less discussed.  This issue is now the subject of a recent review in Nature Reviews Neuroscience.

The field of research that has been most censored is . . .

Continue reading. “Governments against knowledge”: an organization that seems to have a perennial membership.

Written by Leisureguy

9 July 2013 at 9:05 am

Synesthesia revisited

with one comment

I’ve blogged a few times about synesthesia (including a short video and a test for synesthesia) and have recommend The Man Who Tasted Shapes, by Richard Cytowic, an entertaining and informative introduction. Audrey Carlsen has an article on synesthesia at NPR:

Plenty of us got our fill of green-colored food on St. Patrick’s Day. (Green beer, anyone?) But for some people, associating taste with color is more than just a once-a-year experience.

These people have synesthesia — a neurological condition in which stimulation of one sense (e.g., taste) produces experiences in a totally different sense (e.g., sight). According to researcher Sean Day, approximately one in 27 people has some form of synesthesia.

For Jaime Smith, a synesthetic sommelier, a white wine like Nosiola has a “beautiful aquamarine, flowy, kind of wavy color to it.”

We’ve covered this phenomenon in the past. And I’m a synesthete myself — I see letters and numbers in color, and associate sounds with shapes and textures. But only a very few people — maybe only 1 percent of synesthetes — have sensory crossovers that affect their relationship with food and drink.

Jaime Smith is one of those people. He’s a sommelier by trade, and he has a rare gift: He smells in colors and shapes.

For Smith, who lives in Las Vegas, a white wine like Nosiola has a “beautiful aquamarine, flowy, kind of wavy color to it.” Other smells also elicit three-dimensional textures and colors on what he describes as a “projector” in his mind’s eye.

This “added dimension,” Smith says, enhances his ability to appraise and analyze wines. “I feel that I have an advantage over a lot of people, particularly in a field where you’re judged on how good of a smeller you are,” he says.

Atlanta-based pastry chef Taria Camerino also has synesthesia. But for her, synesthesia is more than just an advantage — it’s a necessity.

Camerino experiences the world through taste. She tastes music, colors, shapes and even people’s emotions. She says she has a hard time remembering what things look or sound like, but she can immediately identify objects based on their synesthetic flavors.

“I don’t know what a box looks like unless it’s in front of me. I don’t know what the color green looks like. But I know what green tastes like,” she says.

In addition to working as a pastry chef, Camerino is often asked by clients to make dishes that mimic her synesthetic experiences. She creates “flavor profiles” of things like satisfaction anddiscontent. She takes inspiration from music to put together nine-course tastings featuring dishes like moss-flavored cotton candy and oyster ceviche. . .

Continue reading. For all my synesthesia posts, click here.

Written by Leisureguy

9 July 2013 at 9:01 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

The Shadow Government tips its hand—take a look—and a note on terrorist disruption

leave a comment »

Barry Eisler has a better version of this video in this post, but I wanted to be sure you would watch it. I think the point is important and its validity in plain sight.

The terrorist point: As you can deduce from the film—and as I’ve commented before—international organized terrorism is, I think, kaput. That show’s over: there’s no way for them to plan and coordinate. They can’t use email or Skype or even the Internet. And if they think to use couriers, recall that all travel records are already digital and on centralized databases: tracking travelers and anomalous patterns of travels becomes easier the more the programs and algorithms are defined.

We still, of course, will have the homegrown terrorists: the Timothy McVeighs, for example. And they will occasionally do horrendous damage: but nothing that threatens national security. To prevent lone-wolf attacks (or small-pack attacks) altogether is impossible, and any serious attempt at trying will be a bigger threat to our democracy than anything terrorists could do. In a way, that sort of thing can be diminished by sensible laws and licensing, but there’s an irremediable core that simply is the cost of having a free society—just as having to endure the occasional hurricane is the cost of living in the Southeast.

Thus breaking the secrecy on those techniques surely alerts the terrorists into realizing, after they think about it, that the big schemes are gone forever. (State-backed terrorists are another thing altogether: war waged in mufti may increase.)

So not only does it not hurt for terrorists to know about the tools brought to bear on them, that information can go a long way to dissuading terrorism, and an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Written by Leisureguy

9 July 2013 at 8:59 am

Semogue and Stirling

leave a comment »

SOTD 6 July 2013

Another very fine lather and another very fine shave from three days ago. Sometimes when you click “Publish” in WordPress, it will grind its gears and move convincingly, but not actually publish the post.. This is infuriating, but of course it’s a free platform. This was supposed to be published on the 6th. Sorry about that.

Stimulated by a reader comment, I brought out my little-used Semogue Owners Club brush and tried it today. Very nice feel: quite soft, even though not broken in (“little-used”). I got a good creamy lather using it on the Stirling Shaving soap in my Marvy Mug: Stirling does seem to require a mug, a point they make on their Web site. I didn’t realize how essential it is for this soap, since my other shaving soaps lather easily in a container in which the soap is pretty much flush with the rim.

Having a good lather of course helped the shave: my Sodial razor with a Personna Lab Blue blade provided a totally smooth result after three passes, and a good splash of Sandalwood set me up for the day.

Written by Leisureguy

9 July 2013 at 8:58 am

Posted in Shaving

Meditation as a route to morality

leave a comment »

Very interesting article by David DeSteno in the NY Times:

MEDITATION is fast becoming a fashionable tool for improving your mind. With mounting scientific evidence that the practice can enhance creativity, memory and scores on standardized intelligence tests, interest in its practical benefits is growing. A number of “mindfulness” training programs, like that developed by the engineer Chade-Meng Tan at Google, and conferences like Wisdom 2.0 for business and tech leaders, promise attendees insight into how meditation can be used to augment individual performance, leadership and productivity.

This is all well and good, but if you stop to think about it, there’s a bit of a disconnect between the (perfectly commendable) pursuit of these benefits and the purpose for which meditation was originally intended. Gaining competitive advantage on exams and increasing creativity in business weren’t of the utmost concern to Buddha and other early meditation teachers. As Buddha himself said, “I teach one thing and one only: that is, suffering and the end of suffering.” For Buddha, as for many modern spiritual leaders, the goal of meditation was as simple as that. The heightened control of the mind that meditation offers was supposed to help its practitioners see the world in a new and more compassionate way, allowing them to break free from the categorizations (us/them, self/other) that commonly divide people from one another.

But does meditation work as promised? Is its originally intended effect — the reduction of suffering — empirically demonstrable?

To put the question to the test, my lab, led in this work by the psychologist Paul Condon, joined with the neuroscientist Gaëlle Desbordes and the Buddhist lama Willa Miller to conduct an experiment whose publication is forthcoming in the journal Psychological Science. We recruited 39 people from the Boston area who were willing to take part in an eight-week course on meditation (and who had never taken any such course before). We then randomly assigned 20 of them to take part in weekly meditation classes, which also required them to practice at home using guided recordings. The remaining 19 were told that they had been placed on a waiting list for a future course.

After the eight-week period of instruction, we invited the participants to the lab for an experiment that purported to examine their memory, attention and related cognitive abilities. But as you might anticipate, what actually interested us was whether those who had been meditating would exhibit greater compassion in the face of suffering. To find out, we staged a situation designed to test the participants’ behavior before they were aware that the experiment had begun.

WHEN a participant entered the waiting area for our lab, he (or she) found three chairs, two of which were already occupied. Naturally, he sat in the remaining chair. As he waited, a fourth person, using crutches and wearing a boot for a broken foot, entered the room and audibly sighed in pain as she leaned uncomfortably against a wall. The other two people in the room — who, like the woman on crutches, secretly worked for us — ignored the woman, thus confronting the participant with a moral quandary. Would he act compassionately, giving up his chair for her, or selfishly ignore her plight?

The results were striking. Although only 16 percent of the nonmeditators gave up their seats — an admittedly disheartening fact — the proportion rose to 50 percent among those who had meditated. This increase is impressive not solely because it occurred after only eight weeks of meditation, but also because it did so within the context of a situation known to inhibit considerate behavior: witnessing others ignoring a person in distress — what psychologists call the bystander effect — reduces the odds that any single individual will help. Nonetheless, the meditation increased the compassionate response threefold.

Although we don’t yet know why meditation has this effect, one of two explanations seems likely. The first . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

9 July 2013 at 8:56 am

%d bloggers like this: