Later On

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

Archive for August 18th, 2013

Abuse of official power

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UPDATE: Greenwald on this in the Guardian.

I would imagine that the UK is doing this at US request. Charlie Savage and Michael Schwirtz report in the NY Times:

 The partner of Glenn Greenwald, the journalist for The Guardian who has been publishing information leaked by the former National Security Agency contractor Edward J. Snowden, was detained for nine hours by the British authorities under a counterterrorism law while on a stop in London’s Heathrow Airport during a trip from Germany to Brazil, Mr. Greenwald said Sunday.

Mr. Greenwald’s partner, David Michael Miranda, 28, is a citizen of Brazil. He had spent the previous week visiting Laura Poitras, a documentary filmmaker who has also been helping to disseminate Mr. Snowden’s leaks, in Berlin, to assist Mr. Greenwald. The trip had been paid for by The Guardian, Mr. Greenwald said, and Mr. Miranda was on his way home to Rio de Janeiro, where they live.

Mr. Miranda, Mr. Greenwald said, was told that he was being detained under Section 7 of the British Terrorism Act, which allows the authorities to detain someone for up to nine hours for questioning and to conduct a search of personal items, often without a lawyer, to determine possible ties to terrorism. More than 97 percent of people stopped under the provision are questioned for under an hour, according to the British government.

“What’s amazing is this law, called the Terrorism Act, gives them a right to detain and question you about your activities with a terrorist organization or your possible involvement in or knowledge of a terrorism plot,” Mr. Greenwald said. “The only thing they were interested in was N.S.A. documents and what I was doing with Laura Poitras. It’s a total abuse of the law.”

He added: “This is obviously a serious, radical escalation of what they are doing. He is my partner. He is not even a journalist.”

London’s Metropolitan Police Service, which had jurisdiction over the case, said in a statement that Mr. Miranda had been lawfully detained under the Terrorism Act and later released, without going into detail.

“Holding and properly using intelligence gained from such stops is a key part of fighting crime, pursuing offenders and protecting the public,” the statement said.

The Guardian published a report on Mr. Miranda’s detainment on Sunday afternoon. . .

Continue reading.

UPDATE: And this is from the Greenwald article linked to above:

ated purpose of this law, as the name suggests, is to question people about terrorism. The detention power, claims the UK government, is used “to determine whether that person is or has been involved in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism.”

But they obviously had zero suspicion that David was associated with a terrorist organization or involved in any terrorist plot. Instead, they spent their time interrogating him about the NSA reporting which Laura Poitras, the Guardian and I are doing, as well the content of the electronic products he was carrying. They completely abused their own terrorism law for reasons having nothing whatsoever to do with terrorism: a potent reminder of how often governments lie when they claim that they need powers to stop “the terrorists”, and how dangerous it is to vest unchecked power with political officials in its name.

Worse, they kept David detained right up until the last minute: for the full 9 hours, something they very rarely do. Only at the last minute did they finally release him. We spent all day – as every hour passed – worried that he would be arrested and charged under a terrorism statute. This was obviously designed to send a message of intimidation to those of us working journalistically on reporting on the NSA and its British counterpart, the GCHQ.

Before letting him go, they seized numerous possessions of his, including his laptop, his cellphone, various video game consoles, DVDs, USB sticks, and other materials. They did not say when they would return any of it, or if they would.

This is obviously a rather profound escalation of their attacks on the news-gathering process and journalism. It’s bad enough to prosecute and imprison sources. It’s worse still to imprison journalists who report the truth. But to start detaining the family members and loved ones of journalists is simply despotic. Even the Mafia had ethical rules against targeting the family members of people they felt threatened by. But the UK puppets and their owners in the US national security state obviously are unconstrained by even those minimal scruples.

UPDATE 2: Kevin Drum comments.

Written by Leisureguy

18 August 2013 at 2:56 pm

4 Cases of the U.S. Sheltering Vicious Criminals that Reveal Total Hypocrisy on Snowden

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Obama’s sense of outrage that Snowden was given asylum is either assumed for tactical/political reasons or he really is seriously uninformed: the US has routinely refused extradition requests even when we have an extradition agreement with the country. Read this article to learn more about the cases involving:

1. Robert Lady

2. Luis Posada Carriles

3. Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada

4. Roberto and William Isaias Dassum

And of course Obama has carefully protected those responsible for torture and murder of prisoners. That’s okay when the US does it, but we go into a frenzy of outrage when the same things are done by another country.

Written by Leisureguy

18 August 2013 at 11:39 am

It’s not just wealth that fucks you up: power is also damaging

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Very interesting NPR program by  Chris Benderev:

Even the smallest dose of power can change a person. You’ve probably seen it. Someone gets a promotion or a bit of fame and then, suddenly, they’re a little less friendly to the people beneath them.

So here’s a question that may seem too simple: Why?

If you ask a psychologist, he or she may tell you that the powerful are simply too busy. They don’t have the time to fully attend to their less powerful counterparts.

But if you ask Sukhvinder Obhi, a neuroscientist at Wilfrid Laurier University in Ontario, Canada, he might give you another explanation: Power fundamentally changes how the brain operates.

Obhi and his colleagues, Jeremy Hogeveen and Michael Inzlicht, have a new study showing evidence to support that claim.

Obhi and his fellow researchers randomly put participants in the mindset of feeling either powerful or powerless. They asked the powerless group to write a diary entry about a time they depended on others for help. The powerful group wrote entries about times they were calling the shots.

Then, everybody watched a simple video. In it, an anonymous hand squeezes a rubber ball a handful of times — sort of monotonously. While the video ran, Obhi’s team tracked the participants’ brains, looking at a special region called the mirror system.

Where Empathy Begins

The mirror system is important because it contains neurons that become active both when you squeeze a rubber ball and when you watch someone else squeeze a rubber ball. It is the same thing with picking up a cup of coffee, hitting a baseball, or flying a kite. Whether you do it or someone else does, your mirror system activates. In this small way, the mirror system places you inside a stranger’s head.

Furthermore, because our actions are linked to deeper thoughts — like beliefs and intentions — you may also begin to empathize with what motivates another person’s actions.

“When I watch somebody picking up a cup of coffee, the mirror system activates the representations in my brain that would be active if I was picking up a cup of coffee,” Obhi explains. “And because those representations are connected in my brain to the intentions that would normally activate them, you can get activation of the intention. So you can figure out, ‘Hey, this person wants to drink coffee.’ ”

Obhi’s team wanted to see if bestowing a person with a feeling of power or powerlessness would change how the mirror system responds to someone else performing a simple action.

Feeling Power Over Others

It turns out, feeling powerless boosted the mirror system — people empathized highly. But, Obhi says, “when people were feeling powerful, the signal wasn’t very high at all.”

So when people felt power, they really did have more trouble getting inside another person’s head. . .

Continue reading. And you can listen at the link.

Wealth destroys one’s ethical sense, power destroys one’s sense of empathy.

Written by Leisureguy

18 August 2013 at 11:32 am

A Powerful Legal Tool, and Its Potential for Abuse

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In New York in particular, the balance of power has shifted much too strongly in favor of police and prosecutors. The rebalancing is underway as stop-and-frisk has been found to be unconstitutional and Compstat and numbers-driven policing (and all the quotas imposed on police) is coming in for strong criticism. But still there’s much to do. Joaquin Sapien writes at ProPublica:

The 20-year-old document – labeled the Hotel Custody log by the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office – is not easy to decipher. It contains a list of New York City hotels beside columns labeled “Date In” and “Date Out.” There are names of individual prosecutors and the units they worked for at the district attorney’s office.

A spokesman for the district attorney’s office, asked to explain the document, refused to say anything. And a judge recently placed the document under seal at the request of lawyers for the city.

Ruddy Quezada and his lawyers, however, are pretty sure they have figured the document out, and that it – in particular the third line from the bottom – holds a key to Quezada’s freedom after more than 20 years behind bars for a murder he insists he didn’t commit.

Quezada’s lawyers assert that the document is a record of witnesses in criminal trials held in hotel rooms by the district attorney in the winter of 1993. Some of the witnesses were prisoners released to testify and held overnight in custody. Others were witnesses who were fearful for their safety.

But some on the list were held under what are known in the criminal justice system as material witness orders, men and women who were deemed “uncooperative,” arrested by detectives and not freed until they agreed to testify.

Most specifically, Quezada’s lawyers say that on March 11, 1993, a man named Sixto Salcedo was checked into the Holiday Inn Crowne Plaza. Salcedo, they say, was released the following day, after he agreed to do what prosecutors wanted: testify that he had seen Ruddy Quezada shoot dead a man named Jose Rosado on the streets of Brooklyn.

Salcedo did testify, and Quezada was convicted. But a lot has happened since – Salcedo has recanted his testimony, another man has confessed to the murder, and Quezada has asked a federal judge to free him from prison. And much of what happens next could turn on what took place at the Crowne Plaza that night 20 years ago.

Salcedo now says in sworn testimony that he never saw Quezada shoot anyone, and that he only agreed to say otherwise after he had been arrested on a material witness order, threatened by detectives and held overnight in one of the hotels used by the district attorney’s office.

“I’m not trying to justify myself,” Salcedo said in the sworn statement, “I’m just trying to have a clear conscience, since I regret the harm that I have caused.”

For some defense lawyers in New York, the Quezada case is just one example of a wider abuse of material witness orders.

The orders are meant to help prosecutors compel testimony from problematic witnesses in criminal cases. But the orders, which must be signed by judges, are supposed to be used only in extraordinary circumstances, as a kind of last resort, often when prosecutors fear a potential witness might flee instead of testifying.

Prosecutors are required to honor basic protocols aimed at protecting the rights of such witnesses: once detained, they are to be brought directly before a judge and provided with a lawyer. A hearing is then supposed to be held to explore the reasons behind a witness’ reluctance to testify: Is it fear? Possible complicity in the crime? Or are witnesses being intimidated into testifying falsely?

Determining much about the use of material witness orders is not easy. Court administrators in New York State are able to say that prosecutors continue to seek them and judges continue to grant them, but can’t say definitively how often the orders are issued or whether prosecutors abide by the law in executing them.

A spokesman for the Queens District Attorney said prosecutors in the office always take such witnesses before a judge. But the city’s other four district attorneys told ProPublica they would not answer questions about how material witness orders are handled by their offices.

But the Quezada case is not the only one dealing with the possible abuse of material witness orders to have surfaced in recent years. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

18 August 2013 at 11:22 am

Posted in Government, Law

We’ve doused the world in pesticides. Is that a problem?

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Spreading more and more toxins throughout the environment—toxins designed to kill plants, insects, and fungi: what could possibly go wrong with that? One hint: toxins are designed to destroy life. We are lifeforms totally dependent on other lifeforms. And during our prenatal and early post-natal development, we (like many animals) are exquisitely sensitive to toxic substances. Is the continuing increase of autism-spectrum diseases one effect of the toxin-rich environment in which we now live?

In the Washington Post‘s Wonkblog, Brad Plumer has an interesting article with many graphs:

Pesticides [and herbicides and fungicides] have become an enduring feature of modern life. In 2007, the world used more than 5.2 billion pounds of [poison—namely:] weed killers, insecticides, and fungicides to do everything from protecting crops to warding off malaria.

But that’s also led many researchers to wonder what sorts of broader impacts all these [toxic] chemicals are having. The latest issue of Science includes a fascinating special section devoted to the world’s pesticide [herbicide and fungicide] use. I’ll pull out a few good charts and highlights of interest:

1) Pesticide use is on the rise almost everywhere, with some key exceptions: . . .

Continue reading. The words bracketed in the passage were added by me, who felt that Plumer was insufficiently stating the scale of deliberate spreading of poisons through out environment.

Obviously, the toxic chemicals used in agriculture are only part of the picture. It’s been shown that lead—-like many heavy metals a highly toxic substance—in the environment (primarily through leaded gasoline and lead-based paint) has contributed heavily to criminal violence. Fukishima continues leaking radioactivity into the environment. BPA continues to be used to line cans and interact with beverages.

Thom Hartmann discusses in this article two approaches on how to deal with potentially toxic substances that businesses want to use:

When a nation, like the United States, uses the libertarian way, it allows corporations to send whatever products they want into the marketplace, regardless of how dangerous those products are. The theory is that once people notice how deadly something is, they will stop buying it and the “free-market” will magically correct itself.

Nations that use the regulated European way, however, force manufacturers to prove that products are safe to use before they’re available for purchase. This is called the “precautionary principle” and it requires manufacturers to prove to government, and thus to society, us that the new product is safe before it’s let it in the marketplace.

Here’s how this country’s libertarian approach to regulation killed my best friends, my father, and the family of one of my coworkers. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

18 August 2013 at 10:50 am

Spoon in underwear saving youths from forced marriage

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Bad cultural memes are difficult to extinguish. Through the process of memetic evolution, they will perhaps eventually die off as being less adaptive than better memes, but it takes a long, long time. Forced marriages are a bad idea on simple human principles, but such arrangements are embedded in some cultures—along with equally bad memes such as honor killings: murdering a woman for having been raped is pretty obviously not a constructive or humane response. Cultural diversity is wonderful, but we must recognize that some cultural memes are simply bad. (In the US, the idea that regulation is not needed because a company that misbehaves will be punished by “the market”  is a similarly bad meme, leading to things like this.)

The UK has developed a clever tactic to help combat forced marriages, as reported in The Raw Story:

As Britain puts airport staff on alert to spot potential victims of forced marriage, one campaigning group says the trick of putting a spoon in their underwear has saved some youngsters from a forced union in their South Asian ancestral homelands.

The concealed spoon sets off the metal detector at the airport in Britain and the teenagers can be taken away from their parents to be searched — a last chance to escape a largely hidden practice wrecking the lives of unknown thousands of British youths.

The British school summer holidays, now well under way, mark a peak in reports of young people — typically girls aged 15 and 16 — being taken abroad on “holiday”, for a marriage without consent, the government says.

The bleep at airport security may be the last chance they get to escape a marriage to someone they have never met in a country they have never seen.

The spoon trick is the brainchild of the Karma Nirvana charity, which supports victims and survivors of forced marriage and honour-based abuse.

Based in Derby, central England, it fields 6,500 calls per year from around Britain but has almost reached that point so far in 2013 as awareness of the issue grows.

When petrified youngsters ring, “if they don’t know exactly when it may happen or if it’s going to happen, we advise them to put a spoon in their underwear,” said Natasha Rattu, Karma Nirvana’s operations manager.

“When they go though security, it will highlight this object in a private area and, if 16 or over, they will be taken to a safe space where they have that one last opportunity to disclose they’re being forced to marry,” she told AFP.

“We’ve had people ring and that it’s helped them and got them out of a dangerous situation. It’s an incredibly difficult thing to do with your family around you — but they won’t be aware you have done it. It’s a safe way.”

The charity is working with airports — so far London Heathrow, Liverpool and Glasgow, with Birmingham to come — to spot potential signs, such as one-way tickets, the time of year, age of the person and whether they look uncomfortable.

“These are quite general points, but there are things that if you look collectively lead you to believe something more sinister is going on,” said Rattu.

People who come forward can be escorted out of a secure airport exit to help outside.

Marriages without consent, or their refusal, have led to suicides and so-called honour killings, shocking a nation widely deemed to have successfully absorbed immigrant communities and customs.

Officials fear the number of victims coming forward is just the tip of the iceberg, with few community leaders prepared to speak out and risk losing their support base.

One woman, whose identity was protected by Essex Police in southeast England, was forced to get married in India.

She said she was threatened by her father “because he said if I thought about running away he would find me and kill me”.

“I was shipped off with a total stranger.

“That night I was raped by my husband and this abuse continued for about eight and half years of my life.”

She eventually fled. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

18 August 2013 at 10:21 am

Posted in Daily life, Government, Law

Glasses That Solve Colorblindness, for a Big Price Tag

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I’m somewhat red-green colorblind, so I found this article in the NY Times by David Pogue to be interesting, but I am strangely untempted to get the classes. Possibly if I were younger, but now I’m accustomed to how the world looks to me, and the price tag is too high.

Written by Leisureguy

18 August 2013 at 10:11 am

Posted in Daily life, Technology

The Murder Rate Is Down 40% in Jamaica

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Kevin Drum:

Matt Yglesias tweets tonight: “Hoping @kdrum will write something about the lead situation in Jamaica after reading this.” Here’s what “this” is:

Gunshots every night, burned-down businesses and corpses — up to a half-dozen a day — used to define the neighborhood of Mountain View on the eastern hillsides of Kingston, Jamaica’s capital. But not anymore.

Now, the nights are filled with barefoot soccer matches under streetlights or block parties that bring together former rivals from local gangs. No one has been murdered in Mountain View for three years….After more than a decade fighting lawlessness, with limited success, this small island with a reputation for both carefree living and bloodshed has begun to see results.Jamaica’s murder rate, while still high, has fallen by 40 percent since 2009,and a respected study recently reported that “Jamaica has fallen from one of the more corrupt countries in the Americas to one of the least.”

First things first: I don’t have any rigorous data on either Jamaica’s use of leaded gasoline or on Jamaica’s crime rate. And obviously there are more factors involved in a sudden decline in violence than just lead. The Times story above, for example, is all about the drug trade in the Caribbean.

Still, I was kind of curious. So I did a bit of quick googling, which informed me that Jamaica started replacing leaded gasoline with unleaded in 1990 and banned leaded gasoline completely in 2000. That’s a pretty steep drop (it took the United States a full two decades to go from introduction to complete ban). So what you’d expect is a fairly steep drop in violent crime with a lag of 20 years—i.e., starting around 2010. What we got was a 40% drop in murder between 2009 and 2013.

Pretty remarkable, no? It fits the lead hypothesis like a glove.

Again: this is just murder, not violent crime in general. And all I have here is a horseback estimate of how quickly leaded gasoline was phased out in Jamaica. What I don’t have is a time series of blood lead levels in small children going back to 1990. So don’t take this too seriously. But don’t dismiss it either. It’s yet another data point that suggests leaded gasoline really does have a significant impact on violent crime.

Written by Leisureguy

18 August 2013 at 9:59 am

Two gamechanging NSA stories you must read

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From the Washington Post‘s Wonkblog:

“If you look at the reports, even the disclosures that Mr. Snowden’s put forward, all the stories that have been written, what you’re not reading about is the government actually abusing these programs and, you know, listening in on people’s phone calls or inappropriately reading people’s e-mails.”

That was President Obama at his press conference last week. The implication was clear: You’re not reading about these infractions because they didn’t happen.

Well, now you are reading about them.

“The National Security Agency has broken privacy rules or overstepped its legal authority thousands of times each year since Congress granted the agency broad new powers in 2008, according to an internal audit and other top-secret documents,” writes Barton Gellman in a blockbuster new story.

The May 2012 audit “counted 2,776 incidents in the preceding 12 months of unauthorized collection, storage, access to or distribution of legally protected communications.” In general, these weren’t malicious or severe breaches. “Most were unintended,” the report says. But they happened — and, yes, they resulted in the NSA “listening in on people’s phone calls or inappropriately reading people’s e-mails.”

My personal favorite: “In one instance, the NSA decided that it need not report the unintended surveillance of Americans. A notable example in 2008 was the interception of a ‘large number’ of calls placed from Washington when a programming error confused the U.S. area code 202 for 20, the international dialing code for Egypt.”

To be fair to Obama, what the report details isn’t systematic abuse so much as repeated mistakes. But the report is a reminder that we don’t know what we don’t know. And a companion story today makes clear that we can’t trust that the courts providing oversight — weak as they are — know it either.

Even though this was a friendly audit produced with the cooperation of the NSA — and so, by the way, might not have uncovered systemic abuse if indeed it existed — Gellman reports that these kinds of details are “not routinely shared with Congress or the special court that oversees surveillance.”

In a companion story today, the chief judge of the U.S. surveillance courts made clear how much he doesn’t know, telling the Washington Post that “The FISC is forced to rely upon the accuracy of the information that is provided to the Court. The FISC does not have the capacity to investigate issues of noncompliance, and in that respect the FISC is in the same position as any other court when it comes to enforcing [government] compliance with its orders.”

This is the reality of the NSA spying programs: Aside from Snowden’s leaks, we only know what the government is telling us. Of course, that’s always the case with intelligence operations. What’s scarier is that the oversight bodies only know what the government is telling them, too.

At his press conference, Obama tried to calm the furor over these programs by positing the absence of information about abuses as proof of the absence of abuses. It’s nothing of the kind.

NSA broke privacy rules thousands of times per year, audit finds. “The National Security Agency has broken privacy rules or overstepped its legal authority thousands of times each year since Congress granted the agency broad new powers in 2008, according to an internal audit and other top-secret documents. Most of the infractions involve unauthorized surveillance of Americans or foreign intelligence targets in the United States, both of which are restricted by law and executive order…The documents, provided earlier this summer to The Washington Post by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, include a level of detail and analysis that is not routinely shared with Congress or the special court that oversees surveillance.” Barton Gellman in The Washington Post.

Court: Ability to police U.S. spying program limited. “The chief judge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court said the court lacks the tools to independently verify how often the government’s surveillance breaks the court’s rules that aim to protect Americans’ privacy. Without taking drastic steps, it also cannot check the veracity of the government’s assertions that the violations its staff members report are unintentional mistakes…“The FISC is forced to rely upon the accuracy of the information that is provided to the Court,” its chief, U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton, said in a written statement to The Washington Post. “The FISC does not have the capacity to investigate issues of noncompliance, and in that respect the FISC is in the same position as any other court when it comes to enforcing [government] compliance with its orders.”” Carol D. Leonnig in The Washington Post.

Primary documents: NSA report on privacy violations in the first quarter of 2012.And you have to see the statements NSA gave The Washington Post.

Remember when Obama said the NSA wasn’t “actually abusing” its powers? He was wrong. “At a news conference Friday, President Obama insisted that the threat of NSA abuses was mostly theoretical…[T]hat makes it extremely difficult for the FISC to check the court’s work, since the NSA can — and, apparently, did — hide misconduct from the court that’s supposedly supervising its activities.” Andrea Peterson in The Washington Post.

How Ron Wyden nearly became an NSA leaker. “One of the intelligence community’s most outspoken critics says he considered talking about the National Security Agency’s bulk surveillance program on the Senate floor. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said he felt pressure from others to disclose the classified information in a way that would have protected him from prosecution. Under the Speech or Debate Clause of the U.S. Constitution, lawmakers receive immunity from lawsuits or trials for acts committed during the process of legislating. If Wyden had spoken out about the NSA, his comments would have become part of the Congressional Record.” Brian Fung in The Washington Post.

Written by Leisureguy

18 August 2013 at 7:31 am

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