Later On

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

Archive for October 3rd, 2013

How the White House sees the shutdown (and debt ceiling!) fight

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A very good report, and one can totally understand Obama’s position. The GOP’s position is harder to understand. They shut down the government to stop Obamacare, but that ship has now sailed. So why are they continuing the government shutdown? (I don’t think they even know—indeed, one Representative from Indiana said that explicitly: the GOP does not know what it wants, except not to be disrespected. So how about they behave in a way that merits respect? So far, that has eluded them.

Ezra Klein writes:

To the White House, the shutdown/debt ceiling fight is quite simple, and quite radical: Republicans are trying to create a new, deeply undemocratic pathway through which a minority party that lost the last election can enact an agenda that would never pass the normal legislative process. It’s nothing less than an effort to use the threat of a financial crisis to nullify the results of the last election. And the White House isn’t going to let it happen.

The Obama administration bristles at the idea that they’ve been unwilling to negotiate or compromise. They went on a widely covered “charm offensive” back in the spring. The president held multiple dinners with Senate Republicans. He invited over key House Republicans. The meetings were so frequent that the participants were nicknamed “the diner’s club.”Nothing came of those meetings. Republicans still weren’t willing to talk on taxes. And so the White House grimly accepted that they couldn’t move the dial on spending. The CR, they note, funds the government at the GOP’s number of $988 billion. It is, itself, a compromise, and one they don’t like. But they made it, because they couldn’t pass anything else through Congress. And then the Republicans decided to shut down the government because they couldn’t pass a delay or defunding of Obamacare through Congress.

As the White House sees it, Speaker John Boehner has begun playing politics as game of Calvinball, in which Republicans invent new rules on the fly and then demand the media and the Democrats accept them as reality and find a way to work around them.

First there was the Hastert rule, which is not an actual rule, but which Boehner uses to say he simply can’t bring anything to the floor that doesn’t have the support of a majority of his members.

The shutdown, the White House argues, is now operating under a kind of super-Hastert rule in which a clean CR is supported by a majority of House Republicans but Boehner has given the tea partiers in his conference an effective veto over what he brings to the floor.

Then there’s Boehner’s demand for further concessions on the debt limit, which he now says he can’t back down on, but which he made knowing that it would make it harder for him to back down.

The White House has decided that they can’t govern effectively if the House Republicans can keep playing Calvinball. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

3 October 2013 at 3:41 pm

How telecoms help the NSA spy on Americans

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Raymond Banner reports in ProPublica:

Over the past several months, the Obama Administration has defended the government’s far-reaching data collection efforts, arguing that only criminals and terrorists need worry. The nation’s leading internet and telecommunications companies have said they are committed to the sanctity of their customers’ privacy.

I have some very personal reasons to doubt those assurances.

In 2004, my telephone records as well as those of another New York Times reporter and two reporters from the Washington Post, were obtained by federal agents assigned to investigate a leak of classified information. What happened next says a lot about what happens when the government’s privacy protections collide with the day-to-day realities of global surveillance.

The story begins in 2003 when I wrote an article about the killing of two American teachers in West Papua, a remote region of Indonesia where Freeport-McMoRan operates one of the world’s largest copper and gold mines. The Indonesian government and Freeport blamed the killings on a separatist group, the Free Papua Movement, which had been fighting a low-level guerrilla war for several decades.

I opened my article with this sentence: “Bush Administration officials have determined that Indonesian soldiers carried out a deadly ambush that killed two American teachers.”

I also reported that two FBI agents had travelled to Indonesia to assist in the inquiry and quoted a “senior administration official” as saying there “was no question there was a military involvement.’’

The story prompted a leak investigation. The FBI sought to obtain my  phone records and those of  Jane Perlez, the Times bureau chief in Indonesia and my wife. They also went after the records of the Washington Post reporters in Indonesia who had published the first reports about the Indonesian government’s involvement in the killings.

As part of its investigation, the FBI asked for help from what is described in a subsequent government report as an “on-site communications service” provider. The report, by the Department of Justice’s Inspector General, offers only the vaguest description of this key player, calling it “Company A.’’

“We do not identify the specific companies because the identities of the specific providers who were under contract with the FBI for specific services are classified,’’ the report explained.

Whoever they were, Company A had some impressive powers. Through some means – the report is silent on how – Company A obtained  records of calls made on Indonesian cell phones and landlines by the Times and Post reporters. The records showed whom we called, when and for how long — what has now become famous as “metadata.”

Under DOJ rules, the FBI investigators were required to ask the Attorney General to approve a grand jury subpoena before requesting records of reporters’ calls. But that’s not what happened.

Instead, the bureau sent Company A what is known as an “exigent letter’’ asking for the metadata.

heavily redacted version of the DOJ report, released in 2010, noted that exigent letters are supposed to be used in extreme circumstances where there is no time to ask a judge to issue a subpoena. The report found nothing “exigent’’ in an investigation of several three-year-old newspaper stories.

The need for an exigent letter suggests two things about Company A. First, that it was an American firm subject to American laws. Second, that it had come to possess my records through lawful means and needed legal justification to turn them over to the government.

The report disclosed that the agents’ use of the exigent letter was choreographed by the company and the bureau. It said the FBI agent drafting the letter received “guidance” from “a Company A analyst.’’  According to the report, lawyers for Company A and the bureau worked together to develop the approach.

Not surprisingly, “Company A” quickly responded to the letter it helped write. In fact, it was particularly generous, supplying the FBI with records covering a 22-month period, even though the bureau’s investigationwas limited to a seven-month period.Altogether, “Company A” gave the FBI metadata on 1,627 calls by me and the other  reporters.

Only three calls were within the seven-month window of phone conversations investigators had decided to review.

It doesn’t end there. . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

3 October 2013 at 3:14 pm

Interesting idea for new Drug Czar: Pick someone who knows about drugs

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Phillip Smith writes in the Drug War Chronicles:

Five Democratic members of Congress are calling on President Obama to use the nomination of a new drug czar as an opportunity to take a big step toward fully embracing a drug policy based on science, reason, and facts. The five representatives made their call in a letter sent to the White House Thursday.

The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (the drug czar’s office) is charged with advising the president on drug control issues, setting federal drug control policy, and producing an annual report on national drug control strategy. Its current head, former Seattle police chief Gil Kerlikowske, is resigning to take on the position of commissioner of Customs and Border Protection.

“We commend you and your Administration on the recent steps you have taken to pursue smarter sentencing and policies that respect state laws regarding marijuana,” the congressmen wrote. “We urge you to nominate a new director of ONDCP who will develop policies based on science rather than ideology and move away from the failed policy of criminalizing marijuana. The new director should promote fact-based education and use medical science and behavioral research to end the questionable practice of equating marijuana with dangerous drugs like heroin, crack, and methamphetamine.”

The signatories are US Representatives Steve Cohen (D-TN), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Sam Farr (D-CA), Mark Pocan (D-WI), and Jared Polis (D-CO).

The congressmen noted that the position of drug czar has historically been filled by individuals with law enforcement backgrounds who have viewed drug policy as a matter of criminal enforcement rather than as a matter of public health — regardless of the medical science and public research available. That needs to change, they said.

“We ask that you break from this tradition and nominate someone with a background in science,” the letter said. “Particularly in light of the rapidly growing public support for marijuana legalization and broader drug policy reform, it would be a mistake for you to appoint someone who merely continues to prosecute the failed war on drugs.”

Instead, they wrote, “the new director of ONDCP should promote scientific research into the benefits and risks of marijuana legalization and be guided by the results of those findings. He or she should take note of the growing movement at the state level to make marijuana legal for medical or personal use and help shape national policies based on the lessons learned in those states. At a minimum the new director should urge strict adherence to the recent DOJ guidelines regarding criminal enforcement in those states.”

It has been nearly six weeks since Kerlikowske’s pending resignation was announced, but there has so far been little hint of who the White House has in mind to replace him. The congressmen are suggesting that it’s time to break the mold and head in a new direction.

Written by Leisureguy

3 October 2013 at 11:53 am

The hoax of multiple-personality disorder

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I used to believe that MPD was a real phenomenon—the mind can indeed do strange things—but it increasingly seems like a hox. I had a tab with a great summary of the situation—an article by a psychiatrist in the US who was alarmed to see that in the UK diagnoses of MPD are still common. The article was extremely good, but Chrome crashed and “Restore” didn’t work and no matter how I skim “history” I cannot find it. So it goes.

And Google was of little help, though it did uncover this article in the NY Times Magazine by Debbie Nathan a couple of years ago:

“What about Mama?” the psychiatrist asks her patient. “What’s Mama been doing to you, dear? . . . I know she gave you the enemas. And I know she filled your bladder up with cold water, and I know she used the flashlight on you, and I know she stuck the washcloth in your mouth, cotton in your nose so you couldn’t breathe. . . . What else did she do to you? It’s all right to talk about it now. . . . ”

“My mommy,” the patient says.


“My mommy said that I was a bad little girl, and . . . she slapped me . . . with her knuckles. . . .”

“Mommy isn’t going to ever hurt you again,” the psychiatrist says at the close of the session. “Do you want to know something, Sweetie? I’m stronger than Mother.”

The transcript of this conversation is stored at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, in New York City, among the papers of Flora Schreiber, author of “Sybil,” the blockbuster book about a woman with 16 personalities. “Sybil” was published in 1973; within four years it had sold more than six million copies in the United States and hundreds of thousands abroad. A television adaptation broadcast in 1976 was seen by a fifth of all Americans. But Sybil’s story was not just gripping reading; it was instrumental in creating a new psychiatric diagnosis: multiple-personality disorder, or M.P.D., known today as dissociative-identity disorder.

Schreiber collaborated on the book with Dr. Cornelia Wilbur, the psychiatrist who asks, “What about Mama?” — and with Wilbur’s patient, whose name Schreiber changed to Sybil Dorsett. Schreiber worked from records of Sybil’s therapy, including thousands of pages of patient diaries and transcripts of tape-recorded therapy sessions. Before she died in the late 1980s, Schreiber stipulated that the material be archived at a library. For a decade after Schreiber’s death, Sybil’s identity remained unknown. To protect her privacy, librarians sealed her records. In 1998, two researchers discovered that her real name was Shirley Mason. In trying to track her down, they learned that she was dead, and the librarians at John Jay decided to unseal the Schreiber papers.

The same year that her identity was revealed, Robert Rieber, a psychologist at John Jay, presented a paper at the American Psychological Association in which he accused Mason’s doctor of a “fraudulent construction of a multiple personality,” based on tape-recordings that Schreiber had given him. “It is clear from Wilbur’s own words that she was not exploring the truth but rather planting the truth as she wanted it to be,” Rieber wrote.

It wasn’t the first indication that there might be problems with Mason’s diagnosis. As far back as 1994, Herbert Spiegel, an acclaimed psychiatrist and hypnotherapist, began telling reporters that he occasionally treated Shirley Mason when her regular psychiatrist went out of town. During those sessions, Spiegel recalled, Mason asked him if he wanted her to switch to other personalities. When he questioned her about where she got that idea, she told him that her regular doctor wanted her to exhibit alter selves.

And yet, in the popular imagination, Sybil and her fractured self remained powerfully tied to the idea of M.P.D. and the childhood traumas it was said to stem from. “Mamma was a bad mamma,” Wilbur declares in the transcripts. “I can help you remember.” But countless other records suggest that the outrages Sybil recalled never happened. If Sybil wasn’t really remembering, then what exactly was Wilbur helping her to do?

When Mason made her first visit to Dr. Wilbur’s Park Avenue office, in late 1954, it had been nine years since she’d first gone to her for help. At that time, Mason was an art student in the Midwest seeking treatment from Wilbur, a young psychiatrist in Omaha, for blackouts and disturbing behaviors that included disappearing for hours when her parents took her around town on errands. Mason talked to Wilbur about her lifelong ailments — anorexia, nervousness, anemia and feelings of worthlessness — and about growing up as the only child of Seventh-Day Adventists in the small town of Dodge Center, Minn. Oddly, Wilbur also talked about her own life, including her talent for treating hysterics and her interest in people suffering from the strangest type of hysteria of all: multiple personalities. Mason developed a crush on her psychiatrist, who seemed to understand her like no one else. She completed only a handful of psychotherapy sessions, but they gave her the strength she needed to finish college and eventually move to New York. She’d had relapses since, but now her former doctor was in the city! A half-dozen sessions, she thought, might keep her nerves from ever acting up again.

During this second round of treatment, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

3 October 2013 at 10:04 am

The law, twisted: Lavabit Founder Waged Privacy Fight as F.B.I. Pursued Snowden

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Read this story in the NY Times by Nicole Perlroth and Scott Shave. From the story:

The full story of what happened to Mr. Levison since May has not previously been told, in part because he was subject to a court’s gag order. But on Wednesday, a federal judge unsealed documents in the case, allowing the tech entrepreneur to speak candidly for the first time about his experiences. He had been summoned to testify to a grand jury in Virginia; forbidden to discuss his case; held in contempt of court and fined $10,000 for handing over his private encryption keys on paper and not in digital form; and, finally, threatened with arrest for saying too much when he shuttered his business.

Read the entire thing: it’s the very definition of government overreach, and a chilling theme that has become more and more common: those subjected to this sort of treat go to jail if they mention how they have been treated. This is heading direction to a closed, authoritarian, and even totalitarian society: the government can do what it wants, and those who report what it has done are sent to prison.

That’s the US today.

Written by Leisureguy

3 October 2013 at 9:59 am

Millions of Poor Are Left Uncovered by Health Law

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Good article in NY Times on how Republican states refused to expand Medicaid (though the Federal government would have funded the expansion fully in the first years, simply so that the poor would not have access to medical care: the GOP in s a nutshell.

I think this attitude stems from the idea that, if you are poor, it is your fault: for children living in poverty, it’s their fault because they did not choose wealthy parents. For the parents, it’s their fault because anyone who wants to and works hard can make plenty of money. Those in the GOP poiont to themselves as exemplars of the virtues of thrift, hard ward, and good luck.

This attitude—that the poor are to blame for being poor—collapsed in the Great Depression: with millions and millions out of work and unable to find any job at all, it began to dawn on people that everyone couldn’t be a moral failure. Perhaps there were larger forces, beyond the control of the individual, and perhaps if we banded together to help one another, things would get better. This brought in the New Deal and a panoply of programs to assist everyone: the social safety net.

The GOP does not like a social safety net, since it mainly helps the poor, and of course they themselves are not poor and never will be, so what’s in it for them? Higher taxes, that’s what. So they oppose it. Sure, the poor will suffer, but the prevailing GOP attitude seems to be, “No skin off my nose.”

Sabrina Tavernise and Robert Gebeloff report in the NY Times:

A sweeping national effort to extend health coverage to millions of Americans will leave out two-thirds of the poor blacks and single mothers and more than half of the low-wage workers who do not have insurance, the very kinds of people that the program was intended to help, according to an analysis of census data by The New York Times.

Because they live in states largely controlled by Republicans that have declined to participate in a vast expansion of Medicaid, the medical insurance program for the poor, they are among the eight million Americans who are impoverished, uninsured and ineligible for help. The federal government will pay for the expansion through 2016 and no less than 90 percent of costs in later years.

Those excluded will be stranded without insurance, stuck between people with slightly higher incomes who will qualify for federal subsidies on the new health exchanges that went live this week, and those who are poor enough to qualify for Medicaid in its current form, which has income ceilings as low as $11 a day in some states.

People shopping for insurance on the health exchanges are already discovering this bitter twist.

“How can somebody in poverty not be eligible for subsidies?” an unemployed health care worker in Virginia asked through tears. The woman, who identified herself only as Robin L. because she does not want potential employers to know she is down on her luck, thought she had run into a computer problem when she went online Tuesday and learned she would not qualify.

At 55, she has high blood pressure, and she had been waiting for the law to take effect so she could get coverage. Before she lost her job and her house and had to move in with her brother in Virginia, she lived in Maryland, a state that is expanding Medicaid. “Would I go back there?” she asked. “It might involve me living in my car. I don’t know. I might consider it.”

The 26 states that have rejected the Medicaid expansion are home to about half of the country’s population, but about 68 percent of poor, uninsured blacks and single mothers. About 60 percent of the country’s uninsured working poor are in those states. Among those excluded are about 435,000 cashiers, 341,000 cooks and 253,000 nurses’ aides.

“The irony is that these states that are rejecting Medicaid expansion — many of them Southern — are the very places where the concentration of poverty and lack of health insurance are the most acute,” said Dr. H. Jack Geiger, a founder of the community health center model. “It is their populations that have the highest burden of illness and costs to the entire health care system.”

The disproportionate impact on poor blacks introduces the prickly issue of race into the already politically charged atmosphere around the health care law. Race was rarely, if ever, mentioned in the state-level debates about the Medicaid expansion. But the issue courses just below the surface, civil rights leaders say, pointing to the pattern of exclusion.

Every state in the Deep South, with the exception of Arkansas, has rejected the expansion. Opponents of the expansion say they are against it on exclusively economic grounds, and that the demographics of the South — with its large share of poor blacks — make it easy to say race is an issue when it is not.

In Mississippi, Republican leaders note that a large share of people in the state are on Medicaid already, and that, with an expansion, about a third of the state would have been insured through the program. Even supporters of the health law say that eventually covering 10 percent of that cost would have been onerous for a predominantly rural state with a modest tax base.

“Any additional cost in Medicaid is going to be too much,” said State Senator Chris McDaniel, a Republican, who opposes expansion.

The law was written to require all Americans to have health coverage. For lower and middle-income earners, there are subsidies on the new health exchanges to help them afford insurance. An expanded Medicaid program was intended to cover the poorest. In all, about 30 million uninsured Americans were to have become eligible for financial help. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

3 October 2013 at 9:54 am


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The Marine Corps has worked to become a learning organization, and on the whole the effort has been successful. Professional journals of the Marine Corps commonly run detailed critiques of actions commanded by officers still serving, and often these are penned by junior offices. When Thomas Ricks, in his excellent book Making the Corps (highly recommended), described this to an Army office, he wrote that the officer’s face turned white as a sheet and he commented that, in the Army, that would be a career-ending move.

The different mission of the Marine Corps—essentially, to gain and secure a beachhead—affects a lot of what they do. For example, the Marine Corps has a light footprint and carries with it what they need. Marksmanship—making every bullet count—is important, since ammunition must be conserved, whereas the Army tends more to “spray and pray.”

At any rate, I was struck by this story in yesterday’s NY Times: “Two Marine Corps Generals Are Forced to Retire Over Fatal Security Breach”. The Army doesn’t do that sort of thing, generally speaking. While some enlisted personnel may be punished (cf. Abu Ghraib: no officer held responsible, because the Army does not believe that an officer is responsible for the conduct of the troops under his (or her) command. The Marine Corps takes a different view, obviously. And note that one of the generals fired is (perhaps “was” now) a close friend of the Commandant who fired him.

David Ignatius in today’s Washington Post has a good comment:

For a case study in accountability (and the lack of it), contrast the Marine Corps’ decision this week to fire two generals for inadequately protecting a base in Helmand Province with the CIA’s lack of any similar disciplinary measures after a comparable disaster in December 2009 when a suicide bomber invaded a base in Khost, Afghanistan.

There was an almost brutal decisiveness in the decision by Gen. James Amos, the Marine commandant. He fired two major generals who were commanding Marine troops and aviators in southern Afghanistan when the Taliban overran a NATO airfield on Sept. 14, 2012, and destroyed a half-dozen U.S. fighter jets.

The Marine Corps is a disciplined organization because it holds officers responsible for actions under their command. There were many extenuating circumstances in the generals’ defense: British troops had overall responsibility for guarding the base, and one of the cashiered generals had requested more troops to protect it a few months before. But Amos rightly decided that these factors were less important than the integrity of his service.

Now compare the CIA’s actions after the tragic suicide bombing at the agency’s base in Khost by Jordanian double agent Humam al-Balawi that killed seven CIA officers, the agency’s worst loss in several decades. The Jordanian, who had secretly been recruited by al-Qaeda, was allowed to enter the secure compound partly because it was judged too dangerous for agency officers to go outside to meet him. The Dec. 30, 2009, meeting was supervised by Jennifer Matthews, the chief of the Khost base, who won that job because of her outstanding work as a targeter, but who had little experience running operations in the field. She died in the attack.

The CIA conducted an extensive review of the Khost disaster. According to Joby Warrick in his authoritative history of the case, the review concluded that Matthews, supported by superiors in Kabul and at CIA headquarters, “failed to follow standard safety procedures in their meeting with Balawi. . . . Warnings that might have alerted the CIA to Balawi’s deception were never passed along.”

Yet no individuals were held responsible. The agency did change some security and training procedures, but “no single person or failure caused the disaster at Khost, the investigators found,” according to Warrick.

The CIA has been so battered and bruised by criticism over the years that there’s a perhaps understandable tendency to circle the wagons when crisis hits. That’s certainly what CIA Director Leon Panetta did at the time. After commentators (including me) had criticized the procedures that allowed the Khost attack, Panetta wrote a Jan. 10, 2010, op-ed piece for the Post saying it was wrong to criticize “poor tradecraft” for what had happened. Panetta wrote: “That’s like saying Marines who die in a firefight brought it upon themselves because they have poor war-fighting skills.”

Actually, no. The Marine Corps insists on assigning responsibility when a base is attacked — but to the senior officers in the chain of command.

A final, obvious point: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

3 October 2013 at 8:51 am

Posted in Military

The Pentagon’s Italian Job

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An interesting column by David Vine at, as usual with an intro by Tom:

This may be a propitious moment to offer an up-to-date version of a classic riddle: Which came first, the chicken or the terrorist?  For many in this country, the Kenyan mall horror arrived out of the blue, out of nowhere, out of a place and a time without context. Next thing you know, it’s all 24/7-ing on your TV set. You can’t avoid it. The grim news, the slaughter, the four-day stand-off, the “exclusive” video of destruction and death, the teary faces, the dramatic tales, the cruelty and the killing, the collapse of part of the building andscenes of utter desolation, the shifting casualty counts, and suddenly, scores of FBI agents — from what once upon a time was a U.S. domestic law enforcement agency — on the ground in distant Nairobi checking out biometric data in the rubble, and you’re being told about a “direct threat” to “the homeland” from a scary Somali terror group called al-Shabab whose killers in Kenya may (or may not) have included recruited Somali-Americans and even a British woman known as “the white widow.”

The idea that there was some history to all of this, that it involved Washington and the U.S. military, secret CIA prisons and covert drone strikes, the funding, supplying, and organizing of proxy African troops, and the thorough destabilizing of Somalia because Washington feared an Islamic group that was actually unifying the country — out of which al-Shabab (“the youth”) emerged — seems unbelievable, though it is simple fact.  And here’s a reality that you won’t see on your TV screen 24/7: if al-Shabab is a nightmare, history has joined it to Washington at the hip.  The particular kind of destabilization that gripped Somalia in the post-9/11 years, including a U.S.-inspired Ethiopian invasion and years later a Kenyan version of the same, has now spread to Kenya itself.  As Nick Tursehas argued at this site, this sort of destabilization is now happening across the African continent.  The U.S. military, along with the CIA and U.S. intelligence, is moving more deeply into Africa, and in the process, from Libya to the Central African Republic, it is helping to turn the continent into Terror Central.

Those scores of FBI agents combing the ruins in Nairobi (as well as the beefed up CIA contingent now dealing with the situation) aren’t the answer to a sudden crisis.  They are signs of a long-term problem; they are the chicken to the terrorist egg — and which came first almost doesn’t matter anymore.  If you decide that anyone, anywhere, on Earth can be an imminent “danger” to the homeland and you’ve already transformed the very idea of “national” defense into international defense, and nowhere is too far to go to “defend” yourself, then you are always going to be stirring things up in distant places in ways you don’t understand and with a hatful of unintended consequences.

And don’t think that all of this is just so much seat-of-the-pants happenstance either.  The planning for America’s militarized African presence has been going on for years, even if beyond the sight of most Americans, as this site has repeatedly reported.  Today, TomDispatch regular David Vine explores another previously unnoted aspect of Washington’s preparations for future wars in a destabilizing Africa: a startling traffic jam of U.S. military bases in Italy.  Someday, in some unexpected way, the Italian base story will suddenly break big-time in the mainstream and, once again, it will seem to arrive out of the blue, out of nowhere, without any context, and everyone will be shocked, shocked (unless, of course, you read it first at TomDispatch). Tom

The Italian Job
How the Pentagon Is Using Your Tax Dollars to Turn Italy into a Launching Pad for the Wars of Today and Tomorrow
By David Vine

The Pentagon has spent the last two decades plowing hundreds of millions of tax dollars into military bases in Italy, turning the country into an increasingly important center for U.S. military power. Especially since the start of the Global War on Terror in 2001, the military has been shifting its European center of gravity south from Germany, where the overwhelming majority of U.S. forces in the region have been stationed since the end of World War II. In the process, the Pentagon has turned the Italian peninsula into a launching pad for future wars in Africa, the Middle East, and beyond.

At bases in Naples, Aviano, Sicily, Pisa, and Vicenza, among others, the military has spent more than $2 billion on construction alone since the end of the Cold War — and that figure doesn’t include billions more on classified construction projects and everyday operating and personnel costs. While the number of troops in Germany has fallen from 250,000 when the Soviet Union collapsed to about 50,000 today, the roughly 13,000 U.S. troops (plus 16,000 family members) stationed in Italy match the numbers at the height of the Cold War.  That, in turn, means that the percentage of U.S. forces in Europe based in Italy has tripled since 1991 from around 5% to more than 15%.

Last month, I had a chance to visit the newest U.S. base in Italy, a three-month-old garrison in Vicenza, near Venice. Home to a rapid reaction intervention force, the 173rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), and the Army’s component of the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), the base extends for a mile, north to south, dwarfing everything else in the small city. In fact, at over 145 acres, the base is almost exactly the size of Washington’s National Mall or the equivalent of around 110 American football fields. The price tag for the base and related construction in a city that already hosted at least six installations: upwards of $600 million since fiscal year 2007.

There are still more bases, and so more U.S. military spending, in Germany than in any other foreign country (save, until recently, Afghanistan). Nonetheless, Italy has grown increasingly important as the Pentagon works to change the make-up of its global collection of 800 or more bases abroad, generally shifting its basing focus south and east from Europe’s center. Base expert Alexander Cooley explains: “U.S. defense officials acknowledge that Italy’s strategic positioning on the Mediterranean and near North Africa, the Italian military’s antiterrorism doctrine, as well as the country’s favorable political disposition toward U.S. forces are important factors in the Pentagon’s decision to retain” a large base and troop presence there. About the only people who have been paying attention to this build-up are the Italians in local opposition movements like those in Vicenza who are concerned that their city will become a platform for future U.S. wars.

Base Building

Most tourists think of Italy as the land of Renaissance art, Roman antiquities, and of course great pizza, pasta, and wine. Few think of it as a land of U.S. bases. But Italy’s 59 Pentagon-identified “base sites” top that of any country except Germany (179), Japan (103), Afghanistan (100 and declining), and South Korea (89).

Publicly, U.S. officials say there are no U.S. military bases in Italy. They insist that our garrisons, with all their infrastructure, equipment, and weaponry, are simply guests on what officially remain “Italian” bases designated for NATO use. Of course, everyone knows that this is largely a legal nicety.

No one visiting the new base in Vicenza could doubt that it’s a U.S. installation all the way. The garrison occupies a former Italian air force base called Dal Molin. (In late 2011, Italian officials rebranded it “Caserma Del Din,” evidently to try to shed memories of the massive opposition the base has generated.) From the outside, it might be mistaken for a giant hospital complex or a university campus. Thirty one box-like peach-and-cream-colored buildings with light red rooftops dominate the horizon with only the foothills of the Southern Alps as a backdrop. A chain link fence topped by razor wire surrounds the perimeter, with green mesh screens obscuring views into the base.

If you manage to get inside, however, you find two barracks for up to 600 soldiers each. (Off base, the Army is contracting to lease up to 240 newly built homes in surrounding communities.) Two six-floor parking garages that can hold 850 vehicles, and a series of large office complexes, some small training areas, including an indoor shooting range still under construction, as well as a gym with a heated swimming pool, a “Warrior Zone” entertainment center, a small PX, an Italian-style café, and a large dining facility. These amenities are actually rather modest for a large U.S. base. Most of the newly built or upgraded housing, schools, medical facilities, shopping, and other amenities for soldiers and their families are across town on Viale della Pace (Peace Boulevard) at the Caserma Ederle base and at the nearby Villaggio della Pace (Peace Village).

A Pentagon Spending Spree

Beyond Vicenza, the military has been spending mightily to upgrade its Italian bases. . . .

Continue reading.

I don’t really understand why the US needs so many military bases. They are mightily expensive, and our military presence often triggers problems (cf. Okinawa).

Written by Leisureguy

3 October 2013 at 8:36 am

Good lather, fine shave

with 2 comments

SOTD 3 Oct 2013

Back to the mug with the Stirling soap, this time with the soft brush with the snakewood handle I bought from Strop Shoppe. Yesterday in one of my (many) practice lathers, I thought I had it solved: brush just damp, brush vigorously, add water slowly, but today I still couldn’t get the lather to thicken creamily. Maybe in the spirit of YMMV I am simply unable to figure out this soap, which apparently works quite well for others.

So it goes. I’ll chalk this up to experience and move on to soaps that work better for me. If others have had good success with Stirling—and particularly if they compare their experience with Stirling to experience with other soaps (e.g., Barrister & Mann, Strop Shoppe, Mystic Waters, How to Grow a Moustache, Mike’s Natural, etc.)—I would be very interested in learning of your experience. If you’ve only tried Stirling, then unfortunately you’re unable to do direct comparisons from experience.

Withal, the lather was certainly good enough for a shave, and with three passes of the Gerson bone-handled razor (a rebranded Mühle Sophist) hold a Swedish Gillette blade did a fine job. Naturally enough, the bone handle is smooth, which some see as a significant problem, but really I had no difficult with it at all, despite my hands being wet throughout the shave.


Written by Leisureguy

3 October 2013 at 8:24 am

Posted in Shaving

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