Later On

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

Archive for July 18th, 2013

3D-Printed Prosthesis: Custom Casts & Artificial Limb Covers

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I blogged about these yesterday. This article shows more variety.

Written by Leisureguy

18 July 2013 at 5:47 pm

Posted in Medical, Technology

Germany backs off NSA claims

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Uh-oh: the NSA claims are starting to fall apart. It’s almost as if the NSA lied—wait, they did lie. It’s almost as if they lied some more. Matthew Schofield reports for McClatchy:

German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich is backing off his earlier assertion that the Obama administration’s NSA monitoring of Internet accounts had prevented five terror attacks in Germany, raising questions about other claims concerning the value of the massive monitoring programs revealed by NSA leaker Edward Snowden.

Friedrich had made the assertion about the number of attacks that the NSA programs – which scoop up records from cellphone and Internet accounts – had helped to avert after a brief visit to the United States last week. But on Tuesday, he told a German parliamentary panel, “It is relatively difficult to count the number of terror attacks that didn’t occur.” And on Wednesday, he was publically referring to just two foiled attacks, at least one and possibly both of which appeared to have little to do with the NSA’s surveillance programs.

The questions about the programs’ value in thwarting attacks in Germany come as some members of the U.S. Congress have told Obama officials that the programs exceeded what Congress authorized when it passed laws that the administration is arguing allowed the collection of vast amounts of information on cellphone and Internet email accounts.

In Germany, the concern is that the NSA is capturing and storing as many as 500 million electronic communications each month, but Germans are getting little if anything back for what is seen as an immoral and illegal invasion of privacy.

Friedrich spent July 11-12 in the United States for meetings with U.S. officials on the NSA programs that German Chancellor Angela Merkel had requested. The point of the meetings was to gather information that would calm a building German angst over the spy scandal.

Instead of being reassured, however, opposition politicians and commentators now are talking about the arrogance of the U.S. application of “winner’s power” (a reference to the political authority the United States had here during the Cold War, when Germany was divided between east and west, and West Germany leaned heavily on America for support), and how traditionally strong relations between the two countries have been harmed by the scandal.

“German-American relations are at risk,” said Hans-Christian Stroebele, a Green Party member of the influential German intelligence oversight committee in the country’s legislature, the Bundestag, which is dominated by Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union. “The longer it takes to uncover the facts after this long silence, the more problematic it becomes. No one even bothers to deny what’s been said. It could be that German or (European Union) courts will have to deal with this.”

Even as emotions build, NSA plans for expanding a listening station in Germany were revealed this week, raising more questions.

Stroebele spoke Thursday to McClatchy, addressing Friedrich’s official report, delivered behind closed doors to the Bundestag committee. He said Friedrich received little information from the United States in his quick trip to Washington.

“We’re lucky to have had Snowden,” Stroebele said. “Without him, this surveillance that is not permissible under international law would have continued for a long time. In Germany, there are prison terms for such spying.”

Perhaps most troubling was how quickly the government backed down on the claims that the surveillance helped foil terror plots. Gisela Piltz, a Liberal Party member of the Bundestag intelligence committee, said she could not give exact details of what took place in the secret hearing but noted: “There was a clear discrepancy between the previously reported number of foiled terror attacks and the number we talked about.”

And even those cases raised questions. One of them, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

18 July 2013 at 5:45 pm

Very good news: Corporations are now fighting against NSA, secrecy

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Julian Sanchez reports in Ars Technica:

A high-powered coalition of civil liberties groups and tech titans—including all but one of the companies involved in the National Security Agency’s PRISM program—is demanding greater transparency about covert government surveillance programs, as well as the growing body of secret law that authorizes them.

In a letter released Thursday that was spearheaded by theCenter for Democracy and Technology, 63 technology companies and advocacy groups asked the government to allow online service providers to publish general statistics about the use of secret intelligence tools, including orders under the Patriot Act’s Section 215—the authority at the heart of NSA’s controversial bulk metadata collection program—and Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act, which provides the legal basis for PRISM surveillance of international communications on services like Facebook and Google. As CDT senior counsel Kevin Bankston, who orchestrated the letter, has explained, the request covers “the same type of general numerical information that has been published about law enforcement surveillance for years.”

The letter also calls for the government itself to issue a regular “Transparency Report” on surveillance, similar to the ones several major tech firms have recently begun releasing. And they’re asking Congress to require the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to begin publishing declassified versions of significant legal opinions—like the one that reinterpreted Section 215 to allow indiscriminate collection of entire call record databases.

The move comes at a time when Congressional criticism over spying has heated up. The first discussions in Congress about the NSA leaks were condemnations of the leaker, Edward Snowden, rather than serious inquiries into what the NSA was doing. But at hearings yesterday, the tone had changed. Several Congressional representatives indicated that the Obama Administration had overstepped its bounds with regard to surveillance and that some programs may not be renewed.

“Unless you realize you’ve got a problem, that is not going to be renewed,” said Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), speaking to a Department of Justice lawyer. No one in Congress believed they had authorized universal collection of Americans’ phone records, he added.

Notably, the signatories include . . .

Continue reading.

Edward Snowden may have saved the country. Certainly he deserves a medal. But I bet Obama won’t give him one. Obama’s probably wracking his legal team’s brains to make Snowden’s leak a “terrorist act” so that they can simply lock him up in solitary forever without having to go to trial and “endanger state security” (Obama’s usual excuse when ignoring the law.)

Written by Leisureguy

18 July 2013 at 3:44 pm

The glory of the commons

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In the Washington Monthly Timothy Noah reviews a very interesting book:

Our Common Wealth: The Hidden Economy That Makes Everything Else Work
by Jonathan Rowe
Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 123 pp.

One of the sharper satirical jabs in People, a recent play by the English writer Alan Bennett, occurs when a consortium of wealthy investors decides to purchase Winchester Cathedral. “I know it’s pricey,” says an absurdly practical-minded archdeacon, “but Winchester is such a good idea.” “Isn’t it?” replies the consortium’s smooth-as-silk agent. “And after all, the school is private, so why shouldn’t the cathedral be private too?” Warming to the topic, the archdeacon proposes “a series of exclusive celebrity Eucharists [for] leading figures in business, sport, and the world of entertainment.”

What makes the joke funny is our understanding that a hallowed monument like Winchester Cathedral could never belong to anyone but the public. Technically it was once the property of the Catholic Church and later became the property of the Church of England (after Henry VIII seized it). But throughout history it really belonged to the townspeople and more distant visitors who came there to worship, to witness weddings or funerals, to admire its famous chantry chapels and great stone screen, to pay respects to Jane Austen (who’s buried there), or maybe just to hum a few bars from the 1966 novelty hit song (“Winchester Cathedral / You’re bringin’ me down / You stood and you watched as / My baby left town”). Winchester Cathedral is what architects call a “public space,” which is to say it would have no function were not large numbers of ordinary people—most of them Anglican, many non-Christian, some agnostics or atheists—impelled to assemble there on equal terms, as they’ve been doing for more than a thousand years.

Jonathan Rowe, alongside whom I worked at the Washington Monthly in the early 1980s, and who died two years ago at the distressingly young age of sixty-five, would describe Winchester Cathedral as part of “the commons.” By “commons” he meant things that are widely shared as a matter of law or sometimes mere convention. In the most literal sense, a common is a public park, like Boston Common. But in the broader sense commons can mean anything that’s available to all takers for at most a nominal fee. It can be a work of timeless literature no longer under copyright. It can be an invention of enormous societal value on which a patent either expired or (as in the heroically selfless cases of Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine and Tim Berners-Lee’s World Wide Web) was never claimed. It can be the air we breathe, or the water we drink. It can be an experience we all go through, such as childhood or old age. It can be the absence of something we hate, like noise. It can be Wikipedia. It can be an ocean beach. It can be free Wi-Fi. The commons is a realm that lies outside conventional market economics, but that nonetheless creates wealth—sometimes monetary, sometimes spiritual or psychic—for us all.

That’s the basic message of Our Common Wealth: The Hidden Economy That Makes Everything Else Work, a posthumous volume that Rowe’s friend Peter Barnes—policy entrepreneur, lefty capitalist, and onetime West Coast correspondent for the New Republic—edited from Rowe’s published writings and from unpublished fragments of a book that Rowe left unfinished at his death. Rowe’s efforts to deliver a completed manuscript were, it seems, a bit unfocused (meeting deadlines was never Jon’s forte), but his thinking on various aspects of this topic was characteristically elegant, thorough, and organic. Barnes has deftly arranged the pieces into a compelling manifesto. Indeed, my only complaint is that there’s an oversupply here of explanatory material (written by Barnes and author-activists Bill McKibben and David Bollier) where a single foreword would have sufficed. This is testament more I think to the admiration so many of us felt for Jon than to any real need to provide context. The bricks of Rowe’s argument, as arranged by Barnes, fit snugly and sturdily without mortar.

Our Common Wealth makes the case for the sort of social arrangements that are seldom acknowledged except to be attacked or dismantled. The jumble of shared institutions, places, resources, and human experience that constitute the commons have taken a beating during the past four decades as the conservative ascendency has expanded market theory into various areas where it didn’t belong. Before 1987, for example, broadcasters were required by government to present both sides of all public issues on what were, after all, public airwaves. That ended, and the era of shrill talk radio began, with the Federal Communications Commission’s abolition of the Fairness Doctrine. Another example of the commons’ embattled state is the deliberate shrinkage of the public domain for literature and other creative works. Originally, copyright protection lasted only fourteen years. As recently as 1976, it lasted the author’s lifetime plus twenty-eight years (with an option for heirs to renew for another twenty-eight). Two subsequent laws eliminated the renewal requirement and expanded posthumous copyright protection to seventy years, in effect burdening the national conversation with one or two additional generations of rentiers. “If this expansion has brought a corresponding improvement in literary quality,” Rowe observes drily, “it is not apparent from the bestseller lists.”

During the past forty-odd years the idea of the commons has taken a beating as well, thanks to a widely read essay (first published in Science in 1968) called “The Tragedy of the Commons.” The author, a professor of biology at the University of California Santa Barbara named Garrett Hardin, posited a “pasture open to all” on which herdsmen’s cattle grazed. For each herdsman, Hardin calculated, the (individual) benefit of adding one additional animal to the pasture far exceeded the (shared) cost of overgrazing. As each herdsman pursued his rational self-interest the pasture would gradually be destroyed. Hardin intended his essay to be a warning about overpopulation, but privatization advocates seized on “The Tragedy of the Commons” as a parable demonstrating the utter futility of public or any other type of shared ownership. When everybody is responsible, no one is.Hardin’s theory was not without value. It’s a useful template, for instance, for appreciating why it’s maddeningly difficult to organize the world’s nations to address the growing dangers of climate change. On a more humble plane, it explains why office refrigerators, coffee makers, and sinks are always an ungodly mess. Indeed, I remember Jon himself long ago posting an exasperated written plea to our Monthlyoffice mates (“Be reality-based!”) to better maintain a shared office hot pot in which he frequently brewed soups and teas.

But as Rowe points out in Our Common Wealth, the construct put forth in “The Tragedy of the Commons” is “an extrapolation from assumptions rather than an investigation of reality.” Had Hardin bothered to consult empirical evidence, he would have learned that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

18 July 2013 at 3:18 pm

Posted in Books, Business, Daily life

Do corporations have a “religious conscience”?

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I think attributing a religious conscience to a corporation is taking the personhood thing a little too far. (That who notion of a corporation as a person I don’t care for anyway on the obvious grounds that a corporation is in fact not a person, but that’s another matter—but if SCOTUS had decied differently, we would all be better off.) Ed Kilgore at Political Animal:

I’ve only had a chance to quickly read Sarah Posner’s important new article at TAP on the ongoing litigation involving the craft store Hobby Lobby, which is claiming an exception to elements of the Affordable Care Act’s contraception coverage mandate on grounds that compliance would violate the company’s religious “conscience,” and thus deny its First Amendment rights to the free exercise of religion.

Hobby Lobby’s suit is the spear-point of a broader effort to extend religious exemptions from religious organizations and their affiliated non-profit operations (e.g., schools, hospitals and charities) to anyone and any entity claiming a religious mission or threatened religious values. The company has already won a Tenth Circuit decision in its favor, amidst passionate dissents claiming the Court is dangerously using the Citizens United precedent to extend the idea of “free speech” for corporations to other First Amendment rights—in this case, religious expression and observance. The case is sure to arrive in the Supreme Court before long, where it is likely to generate a landmark decision either way.

Aside from examining the constitutional issues, Posner’s article provides fascinating background on Hobby Lobby as a leading example of conservative evangelical “Christian capitalism” in action, and how the case fits into the larger fight for and against ever-expanding religious exemptions from laws binding on everyone else—including anti-discrimination laws.

Sarah Posner’s long been one of our country’s best reporters and analysts on the intersection of religion and politics—particularly the intersection where conservative evangelicals have been so active in recent years. This piece will definitely add luster to her reputation. Check it out.

Written by Leisureguy

18 July 2013 at 3:09 pm

Posted in Business, Law, Religion

A grandfather writes about the murder by drone of his 16-year-old grandson

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Nasser al-Awlaki writes in the NY Times:

SANA, Yemen — I LEARNED that my 16-year-old grandson, Abdulrahman — a United States citizen — had been killed by an American drone strike from news reports the morning after he died.

The missile killed him, his teenage cousin and at least five other civilians on Oct. 14, 2011, while the boys were eating dinner at an open-air restaurant in southern Yemen.

I visited the site later, once I was able to bear the pain of seeing where he sat in his final moments. Local residents told me his body was blown to pieces. They showed me the grave where they buried his remains. I stood over it, asking why my grandchild was dead.

Nearly two years later, I still have no answers. The United States government has refused to explain why Abdulrahman was killed. It was not until May of this year that the Obama administration, in a supposed effort to be more transparent, publicly acknowledged what the world already knew — that it was responsible for his death.

The attorney general, Eric H. Holder Jr., said only that Abdulrahman was not “specifically targeted,” raising more questions than he answered.

My grandson was killed by his own government. The Obama administration must answer for its actions and be held accountable. On Friday, I will petition a federal court in Washington to require the government to do just that.

Abdulrahman was born in Denver. He lived in America until he was 7, then came to live with me in Yemen. He was a typical teenager — he watched “The Simpsons,” listened to Snoop Dogg, read “Harry Potter” and had a Facebook page with many friends. He had a mop of curly hair, glasses like me and a wide, goofy smile.

In 2010, the Obama administration put Abdulrahman’s father, my son Anwar, on C.I.A. and Pentagon “kill lists” of suspected terrorists targeted for death. A drone took his life on Sept. 30, 2011.

The government repeatedly made accusations of terrorism against Anwar — who was also an American citizen — but never charged him with a crime. No court ever reviewed the government’s claims nor was any evidence of criminal wrongdoing ever presented to a court. He did not deserve to be deprived of his constitutional rights as an American citizen and killed.

Early one morning in September 2011, Abdulrahman set out from our home in Sana by himself. He went to look for his father, whom he hadn’t seen for years. He left a note for his mother explaining that he missed his father and wanted to find him, and asking her to forgive him for leaving without permission.

A couple of days after Abdulrahman left, we were relieved to receive word that he was safe and with cousins in southern Yemen, where our family is from. Days later, his father was targeted and killed by American drones in a northern province, hundreds of miles away. After Anwar died, Abdulrahman called us and said he was going to return home.

That was the last time I heard his voice. He was killed just two weeks after his father.

A country that believes it does not even need to answer for killing its own is not the America I once knew. From 1966 to 1977, I fulfilled a childhood dream and studied in the United States as a Fulbright scholar, . . .

Continue reading.

Margaret Hartmann has a note in New York on the murder:

Though everyone already knew that U.S. forces killed American Al Qaeda preacher Anwar al-Awlaki in a 2011 drone strike, the Obama administration only admitted in May that he was among four Americans targeted overseas. The government’s justification for killing one of its own citizens without due process is still sketchy, though Attorney General Eric Holder assured us it was, “lawful, it was considered, and it was just.” The White House has been even more evasive about why al-Awlaki’s 16-year-old son was killed by a drone two weeks later, saying only that he and two other slain American citizens “were not specifically targeted by the United States.” In a devastating New York Timesop-ed published Thursday, his grandfather, Nasser al-Awlaki demands to know why. “My grandson was killed by his own government,” he writes. “The Obama administration must answer for its actions and be held accountable.” . . .

We have left the Constitution far behind. The Obama Administration does not see that it must follow the law: this is seen in how the NSA has collected records FAR beyond what the law allows, by the refusal to investigate credible allegations of torture, by imprisoning people indefinitely without any charges being filed, by using cruel punishments tantamount to torture (Bradley Manning’s treatment, Federal prisoners in solitary for decades), and on and on and on.

Written by Leisureguy

18 July 2013 at 2:54 pm

That Rolling Stone cover

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I simply do not understand the outrage at all. It seems completely idiotic to me. I was interested to read Frank Rich’s reaction in New York:

Rolling Stone‘s latest cover, featuring a photograph of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, has been widely condemned for making the Boston bomber look like a celebrity. Do you think there’s any validity to that claim?

None. Even by the standards of phony post-9/11 outrages, this one is idiotic. And if you don’t believe me that idiots are involved, do note that one blog that has made a cause of vilifying the Rolling Stone cover, Michelle Malkin’s Twitchy, cites as allies three members of the eighties boys band New Kids on the Block, Justin Bieber’s bodyguard, and James Van Der Beek, an actor who has otherwise been near-invisible since Dawson’s Creek was canceled a decade ago. (Can Charlie Sheen be far behind?) What are these idiots thinking? That because Tsarnaev looked like a cute dude and “a celebrity” (which he is, by the way, as is George Zimmerman), impressionable American kids will enlist with Al Qaeda? That publishing an article about the psyche of a mass murderer somehow dishonors those he murdered? The whole point of the piece is that Tsarnaev didn’t look or act like a terrorist in an FBI mug shot but was a “golden person” to those who knew him — “seamless, like a billiard ball,” in the words of his high-school wrestling coach in Cambridge. That’s how he got away with it even in our overweening surveillance state. How he fooled everyone is one thing of value we might learn if anything remotely positive is to come out of his and his brother’s horrific crime. No piece of journalism has shed more light on that question to date than this article by Janet Reitman, who was also the fearless author of the first major book to crack open Scientology. The more readers who are tempted to dig into this exemplary exercise in long-form journalism (11,000 words) by the Rolling Stone cover, the better. Those pandering politicians and merchants who are encouraging readers to shun the magazine or barring it altogether — Boston mayor Thomas Menino, Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick, the pharmacy chain CVS — are, as they used to say in the Bush era, on the side of the terrorists.

Written by Leisureguy

18 July 2013 at 2:38 pm

Posted in Media, Terrorism

Good article on Obamacare

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Ed Kilgore points out and quotes from an excellent overview of the Obamacare rollout.

Written by Leisureguy

18 July 2013 at 2:14 pm

Posted in Healthcare

Growing Backlash Against NSA Spying Shows Why U.S. Wants to Silence Edward Snowden

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The NSA and the Obama Administration want to destroy Edward Snowden because he revealed to the public what they’re doing, and people don’t much like it. (This is similar to the attitude of the Obama Administration and the military toward Bradley Manning, who revealed to the public what was being done, including war crimes—and, oddly, we hear nothing about those war crimes from most of our media, even though we have them on videotape. There are some exceptions, of course: here’s one report.)

Even Rep. Sensenbrenner, who wrote the act, was taken aback to find the way the NSA is using it, as is obvious from his questioning during the hearing earlier this week. Watch him in action.

Now Democracy Now! has a report that is worth considering. However, the stupid “Start at 11 min 48 sec” option doesn’t work, so manually drag the progress button over to 11 Min 48 sec. Sorry about that.

As Congress holds its second major public hearing on the National Security Agency’s bulk spying, we speak with Glenn Greenwald, the Guardian journalist who first published whistleblower Edward Snowden’s revelations. The NSA admitted their analysis of phone records and online behavior far exceeded what it had previously disclosed. “The fact that you now see members of both political parties increasingly angry over the fact that they were misled and lied to by top-level Obama administration officials, that the laws that they enacted in the wake of 9/11 — as broad as they were — are being incredibly distorted by secret legal interpretations approved by secret courts, really indicates exactly that Snowden’s motives to come forward with these revelations, at the expense of his liberty and even his life, were valid and compelling,” Greenwald says. “If you think about whistleblowing in terms of people who expose things the government is hiding that they shouldn’t be, in order to bring about reform, I think what you’re seeing is the fruits of classic whistleblowing.”

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

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: On Wednesday, lawmakers held the second major public congressional hearing into the NSA’s widespread surveillance programs since they were revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden. During a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee, representatives on both sides of the aisle expressed deep concern about the bulk collection of Americans’ telephone records and other communications. In a stark contrast to last month’s hearing before the House Intelligence Committee, the bipartisan House panel forcefully questioned senior officials from the NSA, FBI, Justice Department and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Democratic Representative John Conyers of Michigan, the committee’s highest-ranking Democrat, noted that collecting telephone metadata is not covered under Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act.

REP. JOHN CONYERS: We never at any point during this debate have approved the type of unchecked, sweeping surveillance of United States citizens employed by our government in the name of fighting the war on terrorism. Section 215 authorized the government to obtain certain business records only if it can show to the FISA court that the records are relevant to an ongoing national security investigation. Now, what we think we have here is a situation in which if the government cannot provide a clear, public explanation for how its program is consistent with the statute, then it must stop collecting this information immediately. And so, this metadata problem, to me, has gotten quite far out of hand, even given the seriousness of the problems that surround it and created its need.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: During Wednesday’s hearing, the NSAadmitted its analysis of phone records and online behavior far exceeded what it had previously disclosed. NSA Deputy Director John Inglis revealed that analysts can perform what is called a “second or third hop query” in its pursuit of terrorists. The word “hop” is a technical term indicating connections between people. So, a three-hop query means the NSA can look at data not only from a suspected terrorist, but also from everyone that suspected terrorist communicated with and then from everyone those people communicated with, and so on.

Republican Congressmember James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, author of the PATRIOT Act, called on the Obama administration to rein in the scope of its surveillance on Americans’ phone records, saying it would otherwise lack enough votes in the House to renew the provision, which is set to expire in 2015. Sensenbrenner said, quote, “You’re going to lose it entirely.”

Meanwhile, the man who sparked the national—and global—discussion on the NSA surveillance programs remains stranded in Russia, unable to travel to Latin America, where three countries have offered him refuge. Edward Snowden spoke Friday after he met with officials from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International in Moscow’s airport.

EDWARD SNOWDEN: I also had the capability, without any warrant of law, to search for, seize and read your communications, anyone’s communications at any time. That is the power to change people’s fates. It is also a serious violation of the law.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, for more, we’re joined now by Glenn Greenwald, a columnist on civil liberties and U.S. national security issues for The Guardian. He’s also a former constitutional lawyer. Greenwald first published Edward Snowden’s revelations about the NSA surveillance programs and continues to write extensively on the topic. His most recent piece looks at “The Crux of the NSA Story in One Phrase: ‘Collect It All.'”

Glenn Greenwald, welcome back to Democracy Now!

GLENN GREENWALD: Good to be back, Juan. Thanks.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Glenn, let’s start—your reaction to this latest hearing now, where now both Democrats and Republicans are beginning to seriously question government officials about the NSA scandal?

GLENN GREENWALD: It’s very encouraging. It’s really remarkable that if you look at what much of the American media is focused on—the trivialities and the personalities surrounding the story—it’s completely divergent from what is taking place in the halls of Washington, in the FISA court and in American public opinion. The most recent poll of Americans showed that they view Edward Snowden overwhelmingly as a whistleblower and not a traitor, because they know that the revelations for which he’s responsible were extremely significant and things that they ought to know. And the fact that you now see members of both political parties within the United States Senate and the House of Representatives increasingly angry over the fact that they were misled and lied to by top-level Obama administration officials, that the laws that they enacted in the wake of 9/11, as broad as they were, are being incredibly distorted by secret legal interpretations approved by secret courts, really, I think, indicates exactly that the motives that motivated Snowden to come forward with these revelations, at the expense of his liberty and even his life, were valid and compelling. And if you want to think about whistleblowing in terms of people who expose things the government is hiding that they shouldn’t be doing, in order to bring about reform, I think what you’re seeing is the fruits of classic whistleblowing. And it’s encouraging and gratifying certainly to him and, I think, to me and lots of other people, as well.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Glenn, I want to go to a clip from Republican Representative Blake Farenthold of Texas, who tore into the administration officials testifying before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Here’s Farenthold questioning Deputy Attorney General James Cole, one of four administration witnesses who were present. . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

18 July 2013 at 1:19 pm

How the food industry manufactures addictions to drive the numbers up

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A company selling a product wants sales to grow constantly, and it certainly helps if the product’s addictive (cf. cigarettes, the original (cocaine-containing) Coca Cola, and so on). Diane Cole reviews a book showing how the food industry has worked to develop addictive foods:

Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us

By Michael Moss

Bet you can’t read just one page of Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us, the unapologetically unsugarcoated exposé of the processed food industry’s tricks to spur addiction. Although you may not immediately recognize the name of author Michael Moss, you’re probably familiar with his investigative report on pink slime, the controversial ammonia-treated beef trimmings that meat producers are legally allowed to add as cheap filler to lean ground beef. Moss won the Pulitzer Prize for his New York Times series on beef contamination and safety, and his scoop on pink slime started a chain reaction of public concern and outrage that led to a reduction or discontinuation of its use by several companies.But that story is only part of the larger one that Moss has to tell us about the corporate competition for our taste buds and our resulting ever-expanding tummies. His narrative in Salt Sugar Fat is as gripping as it is unappetizing, describing how the food industry has meticulously researched and orchestrated our cravings for food. In essence, the more sugar, salt, and fat you eat, the more the hedonist part of your brain insists you want. This cycle has contributed to our current, and concurrent, epidemics of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, yet there’s a potential health benefit to discovering these grisly truths about how our taste buds—and our brains’ reward centers—have been systematically studied and manipulated. Put Moss’s volume in your shopping cart, and the next time you travel down the snack-food aisle, those seemingly innocent bags of “light” potato chips will look downright insidious.

Moss opens his chronicle in 1999, at a top-secret meeting of the CEOs of some of the food industry’s largest companies: Nestlé, Kraft, Nabisco, General Mills, Procter & Gamble, Coca-Cola, and Mars. Pillsbury executive James Behnke had convened the summit as nothing less than a public health intervention, an attempt to persuade the industry to look at—and moderate—its role in the growing obesity epidemic. After all, the industry’s formula for corporate success involved aggressive marketing of high-calorie, processed convenience foods and sugary beverages whose recipes had been fine-tuned to hook customers on overconsuming.

To be sure, self-interest drove the proposal put forth at this meeting for an industrywide code to tone down advertising, especially to children, and lead a campaign to promote exercise. By playing the “good guys,” these companies could deflect growing public criticism of the sugary cereals marketed to children and head off the possibility of government regulation by regulating themselves. But within minutes of the start of the meeting, it became clear that among its participants, the competitive desire for ever-greater revenue trumped worries over the health dangers of ever-larger waistlines. In the end, the intervention fell flatter than a day-old open can of soda, and the companies returned to business as usual.

That business, Moss shows, relies on three chief ingredients, and they’re as tasty to the palate as they’re pleasingly cheap to the corporate bottom line: salt, sugar, and fat. When served separately and in moderation, none of them is harmful. The difficulty, for health-conscious consumers, arises from the industry practice of heaping on copious amounts in felicitous combinations designed to reach what’s known in the business as the bliss point. According to a food psychologist quoted by Moss, the bliss point is the “optimum concentration at which the sensory pleasure is maximal. . . . [It] dictates that we eat and drink more than we realize.”

To demonstrate how the bliss point can be calculated and computed, Moss takes us inside a taste-testing room at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia. There, a charming 6-year-old girl is presented with . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

18 July 2013 at 12:57 pm

Posted in Books, Business, Food, Health, Science

How the FBI manufactures “terrorists” to drive the numbers up

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If you reward a group for some result, the idea is to get more of that result. More often than you’d think, the rewards motivate some to find shortcuts: to cheat, in a word. (One unfortunate way of cheating is to undermine the results of others so that one’s own performance looks much better in comparison.) The FBI gets lots of accolades for breaking up terrorist plots, but there are not enough (genuine) plots to go around, so agents start to create plots—pump them up to make the takedown numbers better.

Trevor Aaronson has written a book on this, and AlterNet has an excerpt:

The following is an excerpt from The Terror Factory: Inside the FBI’s Manufactured War on Terrorism  [3]by Trevor Aaronson (Ig Publishing, 2013). 

The FBI’s search for would-be terrorists is so all-consuming that agents are willing to partner with the most heinous of criminals if they appear able to deliver targets. That’s what happened in Seattle, Washington, in the summer of 2011, when agents chose to put on the government payroll a convicted rapist and child molester.

The investigation began on June 3, 2011, when a man contacted the Seattle Police Department and told them that he had a friend named Abu Khalid Abdul-Latif who was interested in attacking Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Tacoma, Washington. The tipster told police that Abdul-Latif had already recruited an associate, a man named Walli Mujahidh. Seattle police referred the caller to the FBI, whose agents quickly enlisted him as an informant and launched a full investigation of Abdul-Latif and Mujahidh.

Based on these initial actions, it was clear that the FBI believed it was dealing with two dangerous potential terrorists. But in reality, what it had were two financially troubled men with histories of mental problems. Abdul-Latif, whose birth name was Joseph Anthony Davis, had spent his teenage years huffing gasoline and once told a psychologist he heard voices and saw things that weren’t there. When he was twenty-three, he tried to commit suicide by overdosing on pills intended to treat seizure disorders, later telling a psychologist that he “felt lonely and had no use to live.” His partner in the supposed terrorist plot, thirty-one-year-old Mujahidh, whose name was Frederick Domingue Jr. before his conversion to Islam, had been diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, which causes mood swings and abnormal thoughts. Dorothy Howard, who met Mujahidh through her daughter when they lived in Pomona, California, remembered him as sweet-natured but gullible, someone who was trying hard to get a handle on his mental problems but wasn’t always successful. “Sometimes he would call me and say, ‘Mrs. Howard, I really need my medications. Can you take me to the clinic?’” Howard recalled. “Sometimes they would keep him three or four days.”

The FBI’s informant, whose name was not revealed, was the only source claiming that Abdul-Latif and Mujahidh were terrorists on the make. And the informant came with an outrageous story of his own. In addition to being a convicted rapist and child molester, according to government records, he had stolen thousands of dollars from Abdul-Latif in the past and had tried, but failed, to steal Abdul-Latif ’s wife as well. The state of Washington had also classified the informant as a high-risk sex offender, and while working for the FBI, he was caught sending sexual text messages in violation of his parole—something he attempted to hide from agents by trying to delete the messages. Despite what were obvious problems with the investigation from the start, the FBI gave the informant recording equipment and instructed him to move forward with the sting.

As Abdul-Latif and the informant discussed possible targets—after growing concerned that attacking a military base would be too difficult, given the armed guards and fortification—it became clear that the Seattle man had no capacity to carry out a terrorist attack. In fact, Abdul-Latif had little capacity for anything, since he had only $800 to his name, and his only asset was a 1995 Honda Passport with 162,000 miles. In addition, his supposed accomplice, Mujahidh, was still in Southern California. But his friend, the informant, said he could provide everything they would need for the attack, including M13 assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, and bulletproof vests. That Abdul-Latif didn’t have much money and didn’t know anyone who could provide him with weapons strongly suggested that the plot was nothing more than talk, and would have stayed that way had the FBI not gotten involved.

After scuttling the idea to attack Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Abdul-Latif and the informant settled on a plan to attack a Seattle processing station for incoming troops, where most of the people would be unarmed. “Imagine how many young Muslims, if we’re successful, will try to hit these kinds of centers. Imagine how fearful America will be, and they’ll know they can’t push Muslims around,” Abdul-Latif said. On June 14, 2011, Abdul-Latif and the informant purchased a bus ticket for Mujahidh to travel to Seattle from Los Angeles. Needing to select a password that would allow Mujahidh to pick up the ticket at the station, Abdul-Latif initially suggested “jihad.” He and the informant laughed about the password choice before Abdul-Latif decided on “OBL,” for Osama bin Laden.

A week later, Mujahidh arrived in Seattle, and the three men drove to a parking garage to inspect the weapons the informant had procured. Inside a duffel bag were three assault rifles. Mujahidh took hold of one of the guns, aimed, and pulled the trigger. Abdul-Latif inspected one of the other rifles. “This is an automatic?” he asked. The informant then showed him how to switch on the rifle’s setting for automatic firing. At that point, FBI agents rushed into the garage and arrested Abdul-Latif and Mujahidh. The two men were charged with conspiracy to murder officers and agents of the United States, conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction, and four firearms counts. The FBI paid the informant $90,000 for his work on the case.

Michele Shaw was the public defender appointed to Mujahidh. When she first met him inside a jail in Seattle, she couldn’t believe he was the man the government had portrayed as a dangerous terrorist. “He is the most compliant client I have ever worked with in my twenty-two years of practicing law and so appreciative of our weekly visits,” Shaw said. From the start, Shaw knew she had a mental health case on her hands, not a terrorist case. Mujahidh was easily susceptible to the informant, she believed, because he had a history of relying on others to help him separate fantasy from reality. But the judge in the case didn’t agree. “Walli’s mental health issues in my opinion are huge and looming large, but the court stated this week on the record that my client’s mental health issues are a very tiny part of this case,” Shaw told me in October 2011. Unable to use mental health in an entrapment defense, Shaw reluctantly recommended that Mujahidh plead guilty. He agreed, and was sentenced to twenty-seven to thirty-two years in prison. For his part, Abdul-Latif pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial.[Editor’s note: In March, after Aaronson’s book was published, Abdul-Latif pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 18 years in prison.] Had it not been for a rapist and child molester fishing for a payday, Abdul-Latif and Mujahidh would likely be today where they were in June 2011—two Americans you’d never hear about, trapped on the margins of a society to which they posed no threat.

Abu Khalid Abdul-Latif and Walli Mujahidh became terrorists because the FBI and one of its informants had incentives for making the pair into terrorists. The informant’s incentive was monetary, while the FBI agents who supervised the sting were under intense pressure from their higher-ups to build a terrorism case. At no point during the sting operation did anyone question whether someone like Abdul-Latif was more despondent loser than scary mass murderer. That is a problem inherent in today’s terrorism sting operations: the FBI and its informants are under pressure—albeit for different reasons— to see terrorists, even where none exist.

Since informants have vested interests in seeing their targets convicted—with criminal informants often having their own personal freedom on the line—it’s the FBI’s responsibility to ensure that these interests do not influence investigations. If the Bureau is following “the book” during an investigation, agents will give an informant tasking orders before each meeting between the informant and the targets. These orders will include what the informant should discuss and how he should behave during the meeting. Ideally, the meeting with the targets should be taped, giving the FBI an indisputable record of what was said. At regular intervals, FBI agents should also subject their informant to a polygraph test to make sure he isn’t lying or withholding information. If the informant fails the polygraph, or engages in criminal behavior not authorized by the FBI, agents are supposed to cut him from the ranks.

However, the FBI doesn’t always work by the book. We know this because . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

18 July 2013 at 12:45 pm

Alternatives to Google

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I’ve been liking DuckDuckGo.coom. Here are several.

Written by Leisureguy

18 July 2013 at 12:34 pm

Posted in Software

GOP Admits Elizabeth Warren’s Communist Politburo Won’t Kill Capitalism After All

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Kevin Roos has a good article in New York:

Today, just a few days after clowning a parade of CNBC anchors, Senator Elizabeth Warren got another huge vindication, in the form of a 66–34 vote to confirm Richard Cordray as the first permanent director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the agency she set up in the aftermath of the financial crisis.

Not only did Republicans confirm Cordray to head an agency they once calledtoo powerful and “dead on arrival,” but they did so while, in some cases, admitting that they might have blown the whole “this agency and its unaccountable czar will ruin capitalism!” thing out of proportion. “We were wrong,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, according to the Times.

Cordray’s confirmation, and Graham’s admission that the CFPB might be worthy of a director after all, is proof that Senator Warren’s audacious attempt to shift the Overton window on the debate about banking regulation is working. In the span of two years, the idea of a new agency to protect customers from their banks has gone from seeming like a Marxist power grab to looking like common-sense postcrisis reform, among at least enough Republicans to make a difference. Nothing about the CFPB has changed since it was first proposed; the only difference between now and then is that the ground has shifted under it.

As I wrote earlier this week, Senator Warren is playing the long game here. . .

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Written by Leisureguy

18 July 2013 at 12:23 pm

TrackingPoint aims to produce “Super Gun” with 3,000-yard single-shot accuracy

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I find guns interesting, and TrackingPoint has some amazing technology. Take a look at this Ars Technica article.

Written by Leisureguy

18 July 2013 at 12:21 pm

Posted in Guns

Treasury Inspector General Blocked IRS From Releasing Documents That Show Agency Targeted Progressive Groups

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Wow.. The rot goes deep. Igor Volsky reports for ThinkProgress:

The Inspector General conducting the investigation into the Internal Revenue Services’ improper targeting of conservative groups applying for 501 (c)(4) status is preventing the agency from turning over documents showing that progressive organizations were similarly subject to additional scrutiny, Democrats on the House Oversight Committee said on Wednesday.

The allegations come as J. Russell George, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA), prepares to explain why he never informed Congress that investigators found “no indication that pulling these selected applications was politically motivated” or that progressive groups were also targeted.

George will testify before the Committee on Thursday and will undoubtedly face questions about why he “personally intervened to block the IRS from turning over documents relating to progressive or left-leaning groups that received treatment similar to Tea Party applicants for tax exempt status,” the Committee’s minority staff said in a press release issued today.

That allegation came from Acting IRS Commissioner Daniel Werfel on Wednesday, who testified that George asked the agency to withhold the documents, arguing that they would reveal information about specific tax payers, in violation of U.S. law. IRS career professionals had cleared the documents for release and the agency was preparing to send the information to Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA).

Since George issued his report, House Oversight Committee investigators discovered that IRS scrutiny of 501 (c)(4) groups was far more widespread than he had originally reported. A 2010 Power Point presentation instructing IRS officials how to handle sensitive cases and included words like . . .

Continue reading. This IG must be fired at once: he deliberately sought to distort information.

Written by Leisureguy

18 July 2013 at 12:16 pm

Horse, badger, and the Rotbart

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SOTD 18 July 2013

The title sounds somewhat as if the post should start, “Once upon a time…”

The horsehair+badger Vie-Long brush with the Reddit Snoo shown is my Wicked_Edge brush, and it does a fine job. It’s a noticeably denser knot than simple horsehair, and I immediately got an extremely good lather from Strop Shoppe’s Special Edition Barbershoppe shaving soap. I really do enjoy the Strop Shoppe’s formulas.

The Rotbart is an interesting razor. This one was an unexpected gift some years back from a friend. I got some nicking when I first used it, so I put it aside for a while. But now I use it with a much shallower angle than I had first tried, and it’s a wonderful razor. It’s true: you do have to learn a new razor, and most often that means (a) finding a brand of blade that works in the razor, and (b) learning the right angle for this razor. The typical problem is using a blade angle that is too steep for the razor’s head design, with the inevitable result: nicks.

With a shallow angle and Personna 74 tungsten-steel blade, I easily achieved BBS with no trace of a nick. A final rinse, dry, and a good splash of Paul Sebastian aftershave—and Megs is off to the vet for a pedicure. (She’s too much of handful for us—cf. this post of a few years back for another kitty of this sort.)

Written by Leisureguy

18 July 2013 at 9:14 am

Posted in Cats, Shaving

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