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Archive for July 13th, 2013

Good interview with Glenn Greenwald

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Glenn Greenwald is always arresting because (a) he knows a great deal about law and politics and has thought hard about it, and (b) he speaks his mind. It’s that last that makes him roundly disliked by some, but so far as I can tell, he backs up what he says with evidence and logic. I’m sure some non-fans will post counter-examples, which is excellent: always search for disconfirming evidence, information, interpretation consistent with the facts—and in particular do that search for things you think to be true as well as for those you believe to be false. If you’re considering some statement, position, interpretation, whatever, that you believe to be false, you automatically search for disconfirming evidence: You react, “That can’t be right!” and your mind is already racing to come up with counterexamples (i.e., disconfirming evidence).  For things you believe to be false, the reaction is automatic, but for things you think to be true—ah! there  you must force yourself to do such a search—and then force yourself not to bat away the first counterexample as an outlier, the second as too rare, the third because it’s not quite round enough, etc. When we believe something to be true, we don’t want to find counterexamples. So you simply have to force yourself. Since even the search is uncomfortable, most people don’t do it—as you see.

Generally, Greenwald is engaged in pointing out disconfirming evidence of one sort or another (factual, legal, logical, etc.) as in this column today, and some do not want to accept the evidence because that would require them to regard something as false that they had believed to be true. That’s an enormous adjustment: the change ripples through everything and forces you to look at the entire past with a new perspective, which leads to new interpretations—it sounds a lot like one spouse discovering that the other has a long-time and on-going affair. The feeling is one of being betrayed, and in the case of a false belief, it can be at the basic worldview level. It’s one thing to learn that what you thought was Coke was Pepsi instead: that doesn’t require an enormous change in lifeview. But to learn that the despised “other” (illegal immigrant, gay person, unemployed person, etc.) was in fact a person as much as oneself, just trying to work out a life—that requires re-examining lots of things from a new perspective: SNAP, Medicare, Social Security, subsidies for the wealthy, bonuses for bankers who steal our homes—that all looks different from that perspective. Everything looks different. Interesting: it sounds exactly like a conversion, doesn’t it? Saul on the road to Damascus: he already had all the pieces in hand, and in one moment he suddenly he remixed them and the same pieces made a whole new pattern that fit. It would be interesting know (beyond the bright light and the voice) exactly what might have triggered that shift in view—in  Saul and in general.

A person might well want to avoid that sort of life change, especially if all her/his group/family/town/class/etc. still hold to what the person now realizes is false. Saul as Paul had a fairly tough life because swimming against the current. Unsurprisingly, turning away from obvious evidence is also extremely uncomfortable—it feels wrong, at some level. Some alleviate their discomfort through anger (as a reaction to “having his button(s) pushed,” the “buttons” in this case being those hypersensitive spots we daren’t even view directly, much less dig into). Most will ignore the counterexample as best they can and continue as before, though being more careful about what they read. Falguni Sheth interviews Greenwald for Salon:

In the wake of his explosive reporting about the U.S. government’s surveillance regime over the last six weeks, I spent some time talking with Guardian reporter (and Salon alumnus) Glenn Greenwald Friday about the impact and scope of these revelations — as well as some other aspects of the fallout in the U.S. and internationally. The following is a transcript of our conversation, lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

There was a Quinnipiac poll that came out two days ago reporting that over half of Americans regarded Edward Snowden as a whistleblower rather than a traitor, despite the fact that we’ve heard tons of calls for him to be arrested and tried for leaking state secrets. What do you think? How do you reconcile these? Do you think something substantial has changed in terms of Americans’ opinions about the state’s tracking?

I do. What was most amazing to me about that poll was the idea that he’s more of a traitor rather than a whistleblower has become pretty much the consensus of the United States government, both political parties, the leadership of these parties and the D.C. press corps. So the message that has just been continuously churned out from those large institutions is that what he did was bad and wrong, that he shouldn’t be treated as a whistleblower and that he’s really a criminal. So to watch a large majority of Americans reject that consensus and reach their own conclusion, which is that what he has revealed is a good amount of wrongdoing, which is the definition of a whistleblower, is both surprising and gratifying. I think it’s really a testament to how powerful these revelations are that they have disturbed Americans so much that they have just disregarded the message they’ve been bombarded with for six straight weeks now.

It feels like the message coming from Congress is pretty much the same: This is a legal program; there was nothing unethical about it; we need to do this to fight the terrorists. What do you think? Is there a space to challenge Congress on this?

Well, Washington has proven, over and over, that they’re not bothered by the fact that what they’re doing and thinking is completely at odds with mass sentiments of the public that they pretend to represent. So the mere gap between public opinion and what they’re doing isn’t, in and of itself, enough to change their behavior. But what they do start to respond to is serious pressure on the part of the American public over some of the things that they’re doing, and you do see some movement in Congress already to start to institute reforms, to put checks on these surveillance abuses. But I think that ultimately the real issue is the top levels of the Obama administration repeatedly went to Congress and lied to the faces of Congress, which is a felony, over what these NSA programs were and weren’t. And ultimately, I think the first step is going to have to be, are we willing to tolerate having top-level Obama officials blatantly lie to our representatives in Congress and prevent them from exercising oversight about these spying programs? And that, I think, has to be the first scandal to show that there are actually consequences for this behavior.

That would require them to call someone like [Director of National Intelligence] James Clapper to task in the same way – “You blatantly lied, we’ve got you on record, what do you have to say about it?” And that hasn’t seemed to have happened yet.

I think there’s clearly some influential members of Congress, not just the handful of dissidents, but people who genuinely wield some influence, both within the Congress and the Democratic Party, who are quite angry over what happened with Clapper. His credibility is clearly damaged. He hasn’t made very many public opinions throughout this period. He’s definitely on the defensive. I think the same is true for [NSA Director] Keith Alexander. Washington scandals tend to erode people’s credibility slowly rather than instantly, but I do think that Clapper’s credibility is irrevocably damaged, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see some serious repercussions in terms of him leaving at some point in the near future.

Let’s turn to the other part of this. Yesterday, you reported some more details from these documents that Snowden has been sharing, including the fact that “Microsoft has helped NSA to circumvent its encryption to address concerns that the agency would be able to intercept web chats.” I’m quoting directly from the story. So it’s not just that NSA is intercepting emails and data, but there’s actually more and more proof that these companies have been working hand-in-hand with the NSA.

Right. The relationship between the private telecoms and Internet companies and the NSA is one of the crucial components of this entire story. The NSA really can’t do that much spying domestically or internationally without the ongoing cooperation of these private corporations. So with the revelations that we’ve published in the past week and a half – with Laura Poitras reporting in Der Spiegel about mass spying in Germany, in Europe, and the reporting that I did with O Globo in Brazil about a similar collection of communications in Brazil and Latin America, more broadly – the linchpin of all of this is that there’s some large telecommunication company, an American company, exploiting their partnership with foreign telecommunications companies to use their access to those countries’ systems to direct traffic back to NSA repositories. Domestically, the same thing is happening. All these companies like to say they only cooperate with the bare minimum way under the law with the NSA, but what the documents we published yesterday and reported on demonstrate is that Microsoft has continuous and ongoing meetings with the NSA about how to build and construct new methods for enabling unfettered access to the calls and emails and Internet communications that the NSA specifies that they want, and the technicians at Microsoft work hand-in-hand with the technicians at NSA to enable that, and that is really at odds with the public statements Microsoft and Skype and Outlook have made to their users about what they’re doing to protect their privacy.

Are these actions technically legal? What’s the implication that we should be walking away with? That there was “just” hand-in-hand cooperation, or that there was something illegal that’s being done? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

13 July 2013 at 3:15 pm

What’s the point of having a SWAT team if you don’t use it?

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Police departments find SWAT teams easy to get in these days of unlimited Federal spending on terrorism-connected things, and once they have their paramilitary force, they don’t want to let them just sit around—though of course most towns and cities seldom need military units poised to attack.

But, as Radley Balko points out in a Salon interview, those units cost a lot to maintain, so asset seizure (basically stealing all a person’s assets) becomes an important source of revenue.

Radley Balko’s new book, “Rise of the Warrior Cop,” details how America’s police forces have grown to look and behave more like soldiers than neighborly Officer Krupkes walking the beat. This new breed of police, frequently equipped with military weapons and decked out in enough armor to satisfy a storm trooper, are redefining law enforcement.

How did this happen? For decades, the war on drugs has empowered police to act aggressively. More recently, 9/11 and school shootings enforced the notion that there’s no such thing as too much security. Since 9/11, the newly formed Department of Homeland Security has distributed billions in grants, enabling even some small town police departments to buy armored personnel carriers and field their own SWAT teams.

Once you have a SWAT team the only thing to do is kick some ass. There are more than 100 SWAT team raids every day in this country. They’re not chasing murderers or terrorists. For the most part they go after nonviolent offenders like drug dealers and even small time gamblers. As you’d expect when there is too much adrenaline and too much weaponry, there have been some tragedies. Suddenly goofball comedies where an elite squad invades a house to find a pot-smoking kid don’t seem so funny. (Balko’s book describes such incidents at length in excerpts Salon published here and here.)

This problem defies the usual conservative vs. liberal calculus. As Balko sees it, Democrats love spending money on cops and Republicans want to seem tough on crime. In this fertile ground, the police-industrial complex has grown. Many of its excesses are almost impossible to defend, but it’s not going anywhere. Balko talked to Salon about the decline of community policing, the warrior cop mentality, why so many dogs get killed by police. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Few of us encounter the warrior-cop phenomenon. How pervasive is it?

There are several levels of militarization. The rise of SWAT teams nationwide, the number of annual SWAT deployments in the U.S., has gone from a few hundred in the ’70s, to 30,000 per year in the early ’80s, to 50,000 in 2005. That’s 100, 150 times a day in this country you have these heavily armed police teams breaking into homes, and the vast majority of times it’s to enforce laws against consensual crimes.

Beyond that, you have a military or soldier mind-set, and that, I think, goes beyond the SWAT team. They’ve been telling police officers for a generation now that they’re fighting various wars, but it’s also because the patrol car has isolated police officers from the communities that they serve. Police officers who live in the communities they serve is also less and less common.

So when you arm a cop like a soldier, when you dress ‘em like a soldier, when you tell ‘em to fight in a war and then send ‘em out into a neighborhood that he has no stake in and doesn’t consider himself a part of, you get a very antagonistic, us-versus-them relationship between the officer and that community. I think that is really pervasive, and the rise of the stop-snitchin’ movement, whatever you think of it, shows there are entire communities in this country that are more afraid of police than they are of the people that the police are supposed to be protecting them from. That is a pretty terrible development.

Before 9/11, what do you see as the main drivers of the equipment aspect of this phenomenon?

 The drug war, unquestionably. The drug war is what got us to a crisis point and Sept. 11 just kind of blew it out of the water. A Pentagon program hit its record in 2011 by giving away about $500 million of equipment. [Department of Homeland Security] grants in the last 10 years have given away $35 billion. DHS has accelerated the trend.

Politically, this is a fascinating issue because police seem to be totally untouchable. Everybody loves cops, even if cops are unrecognizable. Are there any reasonable political approaches to this issue?

 It’s tough. The interesting thing is in writing about this issue – and I’ve been writing about this for six, eight years now – is there’s almost no opposition when I write about this. Every so often, a prosecutor who has a blog or something will respond, but in terms of left, right, libertarian, everyone seems to agree that there’s a problem, but then you go to politicians and nobody cares. Nobody is interested. The Republicans want to be tough on crime, and Democrats, police unions are very influential with them. Also I think, on a bipartisan level, every congressman likes to put out that press release, announcing he’s just procured $500,000 for our local heroes in blue. The local newspapers write it up, and it looks good for the community. That’s a difficult thing to wean them off of.

Can you describe how this plays out at the local level? How do any number of small towns now have SWAT teams even as small towns are suffering? How does that training happen? And how does it get used? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

13 July 2013 at 11:12 am

Posted in Government, Law

Why are the American public not more outraged?

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Richard Eskow takes a look at the phenomenon:

From the first breath of life to the last, our lives are being stolen out from under us. From infant care and early education to Social Security and Medicare, the dominant economic ideology is demanding more lifelong sacrifices from the vulnerable to appease the gods of wealth.

Middle-class wages are stagnant. Unemployment is stalled at record levels. College education is leading to debt servitude and job insecurity. Millions of unemployed Americans have essentially been abandoned by their government.  Poverty is soaring. Bankers break the law with impunity, are bailed out, and go on breaking the law, richer than they were before.

And yet, bizarrely, the only Americans who seem to be seething with anger are the beneficiaries of this economic injustice — the wealthiest and most privileged among us.  But those who are suffering seem strangely passive.

As long as they stay that way, there will be no movement to repair these injustices. And the more these injustices are allowed to persist, the harder it will be to end them.

Where the hell is the outrage? And how can we start some?

John and Paul

Paul Krugman ruminated about inflation-free unemployment the other day, and he was feeling pretty grim. Krugman is frustrated that clear prescriptions for this kind of economy — prescriptions born in John Maynard Keynes’ day — aren’t being followed. What John proposed then, Paul’s proposing now.

But he’s not optimistic.  “We can probably have high unemployment and stable prices in Europe and America for a very long time,” writes Krugman, “and all the wise heads will insist that it’s all structural, and nothing can be done until the public accepts drastic cuts in the safety net.”

One source for Krugman’s pessimism is the extensive political science research showing that “the level of unemployment matters hardly at all for elections; all that matters is the rate of change in the months leading up to the election.”

Krugman concludes that “high unemployment could become accepted as the new normal,” and worries that we’ll come to accept “a more or less permanent depression” as the norm — adding that “we could suffer endless, gratuitous suffering, yet the political and policy elite would feel no need to change its ways.”

Quiet in the streets

He’s right. A number of studies have linked political participation with economic conditions, typically with results like those Krugman describes.  But that doesn’t explain why Brazilians took to the streets in such large numbers recently.

A majority of Brazilians believe that their economy’s improving, according to a recentPew survey. 59 percent of Brazilians rate their economy positively and 74 percent say their personal financial situation is good.  By contrast, the same organization’s most recent U.S. polling showed that only 46 percent of Americans said they believe the economy’s getting better, while 50 percent think it’s getting worse.

The polling says that Brazilian political unrest is driven by a divergence in goals and priorities between political leaders and the population, triggered by poor public services, bus fare increases, and the cost of hosting the World Cup.

A similar divergence of priorities exists in this country.  Washington’s been focused on deficit reduction, while the public wants more job creation and economic growth.  But Americans are quiescent.

U.S. voter turnout is extremely low when compared to other developed nations, even though we rank among the highest in terms of income inequality. And other forms of political expression are also under-used. The Occupy movement was originally very popular, for example, but most people were easily persuaded to abandon it and return to a state of quiet desperation.


Wealth inequity and other economic injustices are the product of deliberate policy choices — in taxation, Social Security, health care, financial regulation, education, and a number of other policy areas.  So why aren’t Americans taking action?

The “change” theories Krugman mentioned don’t tell the whole story. For one thing, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

13 July 2013 at 10:52 am

Another upcoming catastrophe: Look what a bad solar flare can do

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Brad Plumer has a frightening column in the Washington Post today:

n a cool September night in 1859, campers in Colorado were roused from sleep by a “light so bright that one could easily read common print,” as one newspaper described it. Some of them, confused, got up and began making breakfast.

Further east, thousands of New Yorkers were running out onto their roofs and sidewalks to gaze up at the heavens. The sky was glowing, ribboned in yellow, white and crimson.At the time, it was a dazzling display of nature. Yet if the same thing happened today, it would be an utter catastrophe.

The auroras of 1859, known as the“Carrington Event,” came after the sun unleashed a very large coronal mass ejection, a burst of charged plasma aimed directly at the Earth. When the particles hit our magnetosphere, they triggered a fierce geomagnetic storm that lit up the sky and frazzled communication wires around the world. Telegraphs in Philadelphia were spitting out “fantastical and unreadable messages,” one paper reported, with some systems unusable for many hours.

Today, electric utilities, telecommunications providers and the insurance industry are grappling with a scary possibility. A solar storm on the scale of that in 1859 would wreak havoc on power grids, pipelines and satellites. In the worst case, it could leave 20 million to 40 million people in the Northeast without power — possibly for years — as utilities struggled to replace thousands of fried transformers stretching from Washington to Boston. Chaos and riots might ensue.

That’s not a lurid sci-fi fantasy. It’s a recent sober assessment by Lloyd’s of London, the world’s oldest insurance market. The report notes that even a much smaller solar-induced geomagnetic storm in 1989 left 6 million people in Quebec without power for nine hours.

“We’re much more dependent on electricity now than we were in 1859,” explains Neil Smith, an emerging-risks researcher at Lloyd’s and co-author of the report. “The same event today could have a huge financial impact” — which the insurer pegs at up to $2.6 trillion for an especially severe storm. (To put that in context, Hurricane Sandy caused about $68 billion in damage.)

The possibility of apocalypse has piqued scientific interest in solar storms for many years. But researchers are now realizing that periodic space weather is causing all sorts of lesser mischief all the time, such as disorienting GPS satellites or severing contact between polar flights and air-traffic control.

So, more recently, scores of businesses and government agencies have started to take space weather more seriously. Electric-grid operators are devising plans to reroute currents through their systems to brace for solar storms. Airlines such as Delta have developed plans to reroute flights in the case of emergency. The U.S. military has begun to realize that space-weather blips can disrupt communication in the heat of battle.

But preparing for disruptions isn’t easy. Just as interest in space weather is surging, the United States is facing the loss of key monitoring satellites in the coming years, as budget cuts mean that aging systems aren’t being replaced. And scientists are rushing to plug worrisome gaps in their knowledge about these storms.

The problem is far from theoretical. Last month, at a conference on space weather held by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Daniel N. Baker of the University of Colorado told the audience that the sun had unleashed another large coronal mass ejection in July 2012 that traveled at speeds comparable to the Carrington Event of 1859. It missed the Earth by a week.

“Had that storm occurred a week earlier, it would have been a direct hit,” Baker said. “And we’d probably be having a very different conversation about this today.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

13 July 2013 at 9:42 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

Good TV news report on Snowden at the Moscow airport

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Not, of course, a US TV news report—the US no longer does very good TV news now that conglomerates have seized the media: conglomerates have too many irons in the first to allow open reporting, so everything must be cleared and nothing must be said prejudicial to corporate interests, which generally are broad.

This report, pointed out by Juan Cole at Informed Comment, is nothing like what you can see from US news:

Written by Leisureguy

13 July 2013 at 9:38 am

When does a pattern of action constitute treason?

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Robert Reich makes a good point in Salon:

Suppose a small group of extremely wealthy people sought to systematically destroy the U.S. government by (1) finding and bankrolling new candidates pledged to shrinking and dismembering it; (2) intimidating or bribing many current senators and representatives to block all proposed legislation, prevent the appointment of presidential nominees, eliminate funds to implement and enforce laws, and threaten to default on the nation’s debt; (3) taking over state governments in order to redistrict, gerrymander, require voter IDs, purge voter rolls, and otherwise suppress the votes of the majority in federal elections; (4) running a vast PR campaign designed to convince the American public of certain big lies, such as climate change is a hoax, and (5) buying up the media so the public cannot know the truth.

Would you call this treason?

If not, what would you call it?

And what would you do about it?

Written by Leisureguy

13 July 2013 at 9:22 am

Wonderful shave with Russian Tea

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SOTD 13 July 2013

A very fine shave. My Omega silvertip looks to have a somewhat asymmetrical knot, but that’s an artifact of squeezing it into place on the brush shelf while the brush was still damp: it dried with the knot pushed over.

The knot in this brush is amazingly fluffy and soft. No problem at all in working up lather, though my water is reasonably soft. (I imagine one would struggle with this brush in hard water.) The brush wonderfully gentle on the face: like a caress. The Ecotools Retractable Kabuki I used a couple of shaves ago is also quite soft and smooth but has a lot more firmness due to its knot desnity.

A terrific lather, and the spicy fragrance of the Strop Shoppe Special Edition soap was distinct. The razor is again an iKon two-piece, though this one uses aluminum instead of stainless steel. I used a Personna 74 tungsten-steel blade and got a very nice shave. I paid attention to the blade angle when shaving my chin: no nick.

A splash of Alt-Innsbruck, and the weekend begins.

I came across this old post on Reddit’s Wicked_Edge subreddit, and thought it was worth another look. Betelgeux, the mod who established WE, made the chart:

shaving cost

Written by Leisureguy

13 July 2013 at 9:18 am

Posted in Shaving

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