Later On

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

Archive for November 8th, 2013

That’ll teach my face a lesson! Now, where did I put my nose?

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I fail to see the wisdom in this course. What, exactly, are the Palestinians supposed to do? Vanish?

Written by Leisureguy

8 November 2013 at 7:54 pm

The New York Times endorsed a secretive trade agreement that the public can’t read

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And, so far as we know, the NY Times itself has not read it. I think their endorsement is an instance of their acting as the propaganda arm of the US government (the US Pravda), as in the vigorous support of invading Iraq, or in hiding the warrantless wiretapping story at government request. Here’s the story.

Written by Leisureguy

8 November 2013 at 3:33 pm

You know Rand Paul. You went to high school with them.

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He’s the guy who aced courses by cheating, copying papers, and so on. When accosted my friends, he’d just scoff and say that it wasn’t that big a deal, for Chrissake—it’s just high school. Only, of course, the point is to develop an awareness of just how very serious such things are in the real world, a lesson Rand Paul is learning now. I can almost hear him: “What’s the big deal? I copied a few thoughts that I agreed with, that said just what I was thinking. So what? Why’s everyone making a stink? It’s just words. The ideas are mine.”

More plagiarisms reported.

Written by Leisureguy

8 November 2013 at 1:28 pm

What will movies of the next generation be?

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I was thinking of an upcoming movie about Thor, who in the movie is a superhero of the familiar stripe. I would say that’s comedown from being a god, and got to thinking about all the superhero movies we now see—over the past decade, say—and wondered what the people in my hometown (southern Oklahoma) would have thought of that in the late ’40s, when I was truly devouring comics, and trading them (a missing cover downgraded the comic instantly). The view of the adults of that time was that comics were silly and/or stupid, but if keeps them occupied…  (Ur-television, in a way.)

Those by-gone adults would never have imagined that we now would be making multimillion-dollar movies about comic books. They would not comprehend it. And yet Disney was already coming out with things like Snow White. Movies were mining fairy tales from almost the outset. And it hit me that comic books were the fairy tales of my generation, and it made me wonder what movies will be made 50 years from now, when children who grew up with interactive games, from Angry Birds to Grand Theft Auto, as their fairy tales: the things in which kids become so absorbed they will keep quiet, and thus the things included early-on in our personal assemblage of memes—i.e., who we are.

Written by Leisureguy

8 November 2013 at 1:23 pm

Posted in Daily life, Movies & TV

The nuclear bomb situation, Israel v. Iran

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Juan Cole has a thoughtful post at Informed Comment:

Rightwing Israeli politicians like Binyamin Netanyahu are squawkingfuriously about the prospect that Sec. of State John Kerry might reach an agreement with Iran over its civilian nuclear enrichment program.

The US is trying to convince Iran to scale back its program to the point where it cannot be used to produce a weapon in a short time period, and is solely a fuel-producing program. Nuclear fuel is typically enriched to 3.5-5%, whereas a bomb typically requires over 90% enrichment. Any gas centrifuge enrichment program theoretically could be ramped up to produce a bomb, but limitations on the number and kind of centrifuges used could make such a project time-consuming (at least a couple of months) and more easily detected by inspectors.

Why is the Israeli Right really apoplectic about such a deal? Here is my analysis of the faux and hypocritical outrage (Iran has no nuclear weapons program, but Israel has hundreds of nuclear warheads).

1. Since they broke their word to President John F. Kennedy and went for broke to produce their own bomb, the Israeli leadership can’t imagine that Iran won’t cheat on any deal. This is an example of mirror thinking. But Iran is being inspected, unlike Israel, and no country under active UN inspection has ever developed a bomb.

2. A US-Iran deal that involves the UN Security Council would make it impossible for Israel unilaterally to attack Iran. It would therefore reduce Israel’s range of options and detract from its position as Middle East regional hegemon.

3. A remaining Iranian nuclear program would always imply a “break-out” capacity for Tehran. Being known to be able to make a nuclear weapon has some of the same deterrent effects as actually having one, increasing Iranian clout in the region. (This is on analogy to Japan in East Asia).

4. Israel’s Likud Party still has designs on annexing southern Lebanon, deeply regretting Ehud Barak’s 2000 withdrawal, but is blocked by Hizbullah backed by Iran. An Iran with a break-out capacity would permanently end Israeli expansionist ambitions to the north and permanently deny Israel the waters of the Litani River, which its leaders covet.

5. Much of the Israeli public isn’t that wedded to being in Israel, a big problem for hawks like PM Binyamin Netanyahu. Probably a million or so first and second generation Israeli immigrants live in Europe and North America; it is not even clear that some of them aren’t being counted in the 5.5 million Israeli Jews claimed by Israel. Around 20,000 Israelis now live in Berlin! Nearly a third of Jewish Israelis have said in polling that they would consider emigrating if Iran developed a nuclear weapon. Keeping Iran weak is key to winning the hardliners’ psychological war in the Middle East.

6. Netanyahu uses the supposed threat of Iran, a poor weak global South country with a military budget somewhere between that of Norway and Singapore, to distract attention from Israeli colonization of Palestinian territory. A Western deal with Iran would throw the spotlight on the Palestinian West Bank, where Netanyahu is engaged in grand larceny on a cosmic scale.

7. If Iran is widely viewed by the international community to have stepped back from nuclear ambitions, Israel’s own nuclear arsenal will come to the fore as a focus, since it is the only Middle Eastern country with an arsenal of warheads, and that arsenal clearly drives a regional arms race (starting with Iraq in the 1980s).

Written by Leisureguy

8 November 2013 at 11:25 am

Posted in Iran, Mideast Conflict

Cute opening traps and countertraps

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Written by Leisureguy

8 November 2013 at 10:56 am

Posted in Games, Video

Chance and Necessity

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The Scientist has a review of the book Brave Genius by the author. He likes it, and it sounds as though I will too. Sean B. Carroll writes:

Zoologists and playwrights hardly seem like dangerous men. But in the spring of 1944, the Nazi Gestapo in Paris would have loved to get their hands on one zoologist and one writer in particular.

You see, both men were members of the French Resistance, living double lives—plying their crafts under their real identities for part of the day, and plotting sabotage or inciting resistance under aliases in their off-hours.

The Gestapo captured a lot of their comrades, and almost caught the two of them. It’s a good thing they didn’t, because the worlds of science and literature would be poorer without the pair. The zoologist was Jacques Monod, who would go on to become one of the founders of molecular biology. The writer was Albert Camus, who wielded one of the most influential pens of his time. After the war, the two men became good friends, and each won a Nobel Prize in his field.

Of course, had the Nazis nabbed them, we would have been deprived not only of their creative brilliance, but I would not have had the opportunity to chronicle their many wartime and postwar adventures in my new book Brave Genius. And these two facts underscore one of the most important elements in the course of individuals’ lives, famous or otherwise—chance.

Several years after he won the Nobel Prize, Monod wrote Chance and Necessity (1970), a popular, philosophical perspective on the significance of modern biology. The title came from Democritus’s purported dictum that “Everything in the universe is the fruit of chance and of necessity.” In researching my book, I discovered that it would have been an equally apt title for Monod’s or Camus’s autobiography.

Well before the dangers of war, chance spared Monod when he chose not to sail on a natural history expedition. The ship sank in a hurricane. Camus had an even narrower escape when he was just 17 and stricken with tuberculosis, a disease that was often fatal in his poor Algiers neighborhood.

But it was World War II that most shaped their futures. When his immediate superior in the Resistance was arrested, Monod had to go completely underground and avoid his laboratory at the Sorbonne. He needed a place to work, and André Lwoff, a colleague at the Pasteur Institute, offered refuge in his laboratory. After the war, Lwoff also offered space to a young physician, François Jacob, whose surgical career had been aborted due to severe combat injuries. It was in that cramped attic laboratory that these refugees forged one of the most creative and influential collaborations in modern biology, which resulted in Monod, Jacob, and Lwoff sharing the 1965 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

For Camus, the continued attrition of comrades happened to leave him in charge of the underground newspaper Combat just as the battle for the liberation of Paris was about to unfold. His editorials, crafted in the chaos of the uprising, are some of the most stirring and eloquent pieces in the history of journalism. Camus then used that pulpit after the liberation to influence the direction of France’s renewal.

It was the outbreak of another war—the Cold War—that brought Camus and Monod together. In 1948, Stalin’s lackey T.D. Lysenko decreed that modern genetics was erroneous and must be abandoned. Monod responded with a devastating article in Combat condemning the Soviet Union’s “ideological terrorism.” As it turned out, Camus was having similar thoughts about Stalin’s regime, and the two men were introduced at a meeting of a human rights group. They became firm friends, united by their opposition to Soviet-style communism. Monod even helped Camus with part of his damning indictment of the Soviet system in The Rebel, which helped him win the 1957 Nobel Prize in Literature.

The writer Henry van Dyke said, “Genius is talent set on fire by courage.” That was certainly true for Monod and Camus, but I would have to add “and fanned by chance.” 

Sean B. Carroll heads the Department of Science Education of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and is a professor of molecular biology and genetics at the University of Wisconsin. He is the author of Remarkable Creatures, a finalist for the National Book Award. Read an excerpt of Brave Genius.

Written by Leisureguy

8 November 2013 at 10:37 am

Posted in Books, Science

Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s Husband Selling Post Offices to His Friends, Cheap

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Dianne Feinstein has never been a favorite Senator of mine. She is a primary enabler of NSA’s overreach, and her business dealings (through and with her husband) have always had a certain smell. Peter Byrne wrote an interesting book, from which this excerpt is taken:

Editor’s note: The following is an excerpt from the new book, Going Postal, in which investigative journalist Peter Byrne reveals the results of a year-long study into a privatization scheme that has enriched the powerful and robbed ordinary Americans.

Going Postal: Introduction

On July 27, 200 singing and chanting people demonstrated on the steps of the historic main post office in downtown Berkeley, Calif., to protest its upcoming closure and sale. A city council member took the microphone to angrily decry the closure. In fact, the Berkeley City Council had voted unanimously to oppose the sale. Why the day of rage?

When a post office closes, it is obviously that much harder to buy a stamp, pick up a package, send a registered letter, or purchase a money order. But inconvenience alone did not account for the existential angst being expressed by the mostly over-50 throng as it questioned the motives of the United States Postal Service for selling post offices all over the country to developers. “Which of our public assets will be privatized next?” speakers asked. “Streets? Schools? The Lincoln Bedroom?”

The Berkeley crowd is not acting alone: From the beaches of Santa Monica to the avenues of the Bronx to the orange farms of Nalcrest, Florida, people who like the U.S. mail are getting mad, “Hey, wait a minute, Mr. Postman! That is our community post office!”

To which the federal flak-catchers reply: “The Internet is killing us. The Postal Service is broke. We have to sell. Get used to it.”

But email is not the problem and the budget deficit is easy enough to fix, so there must be other reasons for the forced sales, say save-the-post-office activists. Political reasons, they assert, pointing out that the realtor with the exclusive contract to negotiate sales for the Postal Service’s $85 billion real estate portfolio is C.B. Richard Ellis (CBRE). And that the corporation is chaired by Richard C. Blum, who is the husband of U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California. The corporation’s connection to a politically powerful family with a history of accessing public pension funds to make private investments has caused more than a few activists to suspect wrongdoing—even though no evidence of any conflicts of interest tied to the CBRE contract has been revealed.

Until now.

This year-long investigation has uncovered evidence of multiple conflicts of interest and problems with post office sales supervised by Blum’s company:

  • CBRE appears to have repeatedly violated its contractual duty to sell postal properties at or above fair market values.
  • CBRE has sold valuable postal properties to developers at prices that appear to have been steeply discounted from fair market values, resulting in the loss of tens of millions of dollars in public revenue. In a series of apparently non-arm’s length transactions, CBRE negotiated the sale of postal properties all around the country to its own clients and business partners, including to one of its corporate owners, Goldman Sachs Group.
  • CBRE has been paid commissions as high as 6 percent by the Postal Service for representing both the seller and the buyer in many of the negotiations, thereby raising serious questions as to whether CBRE was doing its best to obtain the highest price possible for the Postal Service.
  • Senator Feinstein has lobbied the Postmaster General on behalf of a redevelopment project in which her husband’s company was involved.

Backstory

Because the Postal Service is running an artificially created budget deficit, tens of thousands of jobs are being liquidated as post offices and mail processing facilities in towns and cities across the country are short-listed to be sold for ready cash. CBRE has already sold 52 of these properties, and hundreds more are on the chopping block.

Eighty percent of the agency’s multi-billion-dollar deficit is caused by a law passed by Congress in 2006 that requires it to prepay retiree health benefits 75 years into the future. This unprecedented, budget-killing command does not apply to any other government agency. If this burden was to be rescinded—and business-mail was to be charged the cost of its delivery—the Postal Service would be in the black, according to congressional reports.

The ugly truth of the matter, say informed critics such as New York University professor Steve Hutkins, is that the Postal Service is being privatized in the interests of scores of corporations that not only compete with it, but are also its largest contractors, including FedEx and United Parcel Service (package routing); Parsons Corporation (management services); Accenture (financial consulting); and Pitney Bowes (direct mail).

Then there is CBRE, the world’s largest commercial real estate firm. In June 2013, Postal Service Inspector General David C. Williams published a scathing audit of CBRE’s exclusive contract to manage all of the sales and leasing of postal real estate. Williams noted that outsourcing these activities to a single firm is “a fundamental change from how the Postal Service previously managed its real estate portfolio [and] Facilities officials should improve oversight to mitigate inherent risks associated with the CBRE contract … Specifically, there are conflict of interest concerns.”

Williams warned of the potential for contract fraud, but he stopped short of referring the matter to a district attorney, and advised the postal executives in charge of the CBRE contract to clean up their act. Over the past year, this investigation explored the types of conflicts of interest that concerned Williams by diving deep into the public record. CBRE’s contract, its postal facility sales data, as well as expense reports for Postal Service executives were obtained under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

The deeds of sale and assessment data for most of the postal properties sold by CBRE were found at the county level. The county records allow for comparing the assessed value of the postal properties before they were sold to the final sales prices negotiated by CBRE on behalf of the Postal Service. The comparisons reveal that CBRE has sold the bulk of this public real estate at prices under their assessed values—and apparently at far below fair market values.

When these findings were shared with Chuck Zlatkin, legislative and political director of the New York Metro Area Postal Union, he said, “Shocking as this information is, it is not surprising because we have seen a pattern of corruption at the Post Office ever since the manufacture of the healthcare benefit prepayment crisis. It is certainly not permissible for CBRE to sell property paid for by the public to its own business partners, or to anyone else, at a discount. In my opinion, CBRE’s conflicts of interest contain an element of fraud.”

CBRE Group Inc. was given a list of the key facts and analysis reported in this investigation. Through its spokesperson, Philip Russo, the corporation declined to comment.

Conflicts of interest

In June 2011, the Postal Service hired CBRE as its exclusive agent to sell post offices, warehouses, parking lots and vacant land worth hundreds of millions of dollars. The contract instructs CBRE to propose properties to sell with final approval reserved to the head of the Postal Service’s Facilities Division, Tom Samra. It requires CBRE to sell them at or above appraised (fair market) values, or not at all. CBRE is charged with appraising the fair market value of these properties and listing a reasonable sales price. It is important to point out that real estate appraisals are not customarily performed by the realtor who is marketing the property. To avoid conflicts of interest, property appraisals are normally performed by professionals who are not involved in negotiating the sale.

Responding to a FOIA request through a staff attorney, Postmaster Patrick Donahoe categorically refused to disclose CBRE’s appraisals. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

8 November 2013 at 10:20 am

Posted in Business, Government

Rape in the Ranks

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Dorothy Samuels has a good piece in the NY Times:

At a press conference on Capitol Hill yesterday, two Marine veterans explained their support for Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s bill to reform the way the military handles sexual assault cases. Instead of letting the accuser’s commander oversee the investigation and decide whether to bring charges, Ms. Gillibrand argues — sensibly — that such authority should rest outside the chain of command, with impartial military prosecutors.

Ariana Klay, who was raped in December, 2009 and treated terribly by the military justice system, and her husband, Ben Klay, summed up why the reform measure is so necessary.

Watch this clip of their statements. In the background you can see Ms. Gillibrand and Senator Rand Paul react to the moving testimony.

http://youtu.be/d4RxezNzeRw

It is extremely difficult to understand why the military believes that having the commander of the accused decide whether to go to trial: commander have a strong motive to protect the people in their command and too often would decide not to prosecute—as indeed we find to be the case. And one thing we do know: The current system does not work. The military should accept a new procedure. I understand that they have fears—change is difficult—but it is long past time for a new approach. Please do watch the video. It shows exactly the incentives the commander has to cover up rape.

Written by Leisureguy

8 November 2013 at 10:09 am

Posted in Law, Military

Strong NY Times supporting Judge Scheindlin

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One seldom sees such a strongly worded NY Times editorial:

The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit erred badly last week when it stayed the remedies ordered by Judge Shira Scheindlin of Federal District Court to correct the civil rights violations associated with New York City’s stop-and-frisk policy, including an independent monitor to review police practices. It also unjustly damaged Judge Scheindlin’s reputation when it removed her from the case.

A motion filed on Wednesday by Judge Scheindlin’s lawyers seeks to have her removal vacated. The motion offers a strong argument that the three-judge panel moved with unseemly haste, acted on a skewed reading of the evidence and violated a court rule that gives judges accused of misconduct the opportunity to defend themselves. The appeals panel said Judge Scheindlin violated a rule requiring judges to avoid the appearance of impropriety and improperly used the assignment process that led her to preside over three stop-and-frisk cases.

The panel seized on a statement that she made in court in 2007, while presiding over Daniels v. City of New York, in which plaintiffs charged the police with racial profiling. The plaintiffs in that case tried to introduce newly discovered evidence as the case was drawing to a close; Judge Scheindlin castigated them and said she would take a separate case if they filed it. The practice of placing similar, related cases before the same judge to conserve resources is standard.

The judge’s statement at the end of the Daniels case was somewhat offhanded, but it seems reasonable by a judge seeking to rein in last-minute claims by the plaintiffs. The subsequent case, filed in 2008, turned out to be Floyd v. City of New York, in which she ruled earlier this year that the stop-and-frisk tactics by city police violated the rights of minority citizens.

The appeals panel also took issue with three news interviews that the judge granted while the stop-and-frisk case was in her court. But this week’s motion shows that the judge “explicitly refused to comment on legal issues raised in the pending litigation, and confined her responses to general discussions of constitutional law and explanations of the judicial process.” She used one interview to respond to a personal attack from City Hall, which sought to portray her as unfair to the police. According to court documents, the city’s corporation counsel, Michael Cardozo, subsequently met with Judge Scheindlin to apologize and “disclaim responsibility” for the attack.

Except in egregious cases, judges are removed from cases only after a motion is made to dislodge them. The city could have filed such a motion at any point during the five-year litigation in the Floyd case, but did not. That the panel then removed Judge Scheindlin on its own seems particularly inappropriate.

The appeals court ignored a rule that requires judges accused of improper conduct to receive notice and an opportunity to respond. In this instance, a judge who has served with distinction for nearly 20 years was blindsided. Worse, the panel put on hold the corrective measures on stop-and-frisk that the public wants and needs.

Written by Leisureguy

8 November 2013 at 9:55 am

Posted in Law, Media, NY Times

Minimum wages around the world

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From this article:

minimum-wages-around-the-world

And here’s a graph of the number of minutes a person must work to buy a Big Mac in various countries.

Written by Leisureguy

8 November 2013 at 9:45 am

Posted in Business, Daily life

Obama should get credit for blowing up the terrible individual heathcare insurance market

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Individual health insurance policies were, basically, a racket, as described by Ezra Klein in the Washington Post:

Last night, NBC’s Chuck Todd asked President Obama about the people losing their health insurance despite his promise that “anyone who likes their plan can keep it.” (See the video and read the transcript here.)

“I am sorry that they are finding themselves in this situation based on assurances they got from me,” Obama replied.

The answer is a bit of a dodge. People aren’t finding themselves in this situation based on the president’s promises. They’re finding themselves in this situation based on his policy. And Obama isn’t apologizing for the policy.

“Before the law was passed, a lot of these plans, people thought they had insurance coverage,” he said. “And then they’d find out that they had huge out of pocket expenses. Or women were being charged more than men. If you had preexisting conditions, you just couldn’t get it at all.”

Obama was wrong to promise that everyone who liked their insurance could keep it. For a small minority of Americans, that flatly isn’t true. But the real sin would’ve been leaving the individual insurance market alone.

The individual market — which serves five percent of the population, and which is where the disruptions are happening — is a horror show. It’s a market where healthy people benefit from systematic discrimination against the sick, where young people benefit from systematic discrimination against the old, where men benefit from systematic discrimination against women, and where insurers benefit from systematic discrimination against the uninformed.

The result, all too often, is a market where the people who need insurance most can’t get it, and the people who do get insurance find it doesn’t cover them when it’s most necessary. All that is why the individual market shows much lower levels of satisfaction than, well, every other insurance market:

Screen Shot 2013-11-08 at 9.41.12 AM

Graphic by Jon Cohn

Those numbers, of course, don’t include the people who couldn’t get insurance because they were deemed too sick. Consumer Reports put it unusually bluntly:

Individual insurance is a nightmare for consumers: more costly than the equivalent job-based coverage, and for those in less-than-perfect health, unaffordable at best and unavailable at worst. Moreover, the lack of effective consumer protections in most states allows insurers to sell plans with ‘affordable’ premiums whose skimpy coverage can leave people who get very sick with the added burden of ruinous medical debt.

Jonathan Cohn puts a human face on it:

One from my files was about a South Floridian mother of two named Jacqueline Reuss. She had what she thought was a comprehensive policy, but it didn’t cover the tests her doctors ordered when they found a growth and feared it was ovarian cancer. The reason? Her insurer decided, belatedly, that a previous episode of “dysfunctional uterine bleeding”—basically, an irregular menstrual period—was a pre-existing condition that disqualified her from coverage for future gynecological problems. She was fine medically. The growth was benign. But she had a $15,000 bill (on top of her other medical expenses) and no way to get new insurance.

This is a market that desperately needs to be fixed. And Obamacare goes a way toward fixing it. It basically makes the individual market more like the group markets. That means that the sick don’t get charged more than the well, and the old aren’t charged more than three times as much as the young, and women aren’t charged more than men, and insurance plans that don’t actually cover you when you get sick no longer exist. But the transition disrupts today’s arrangements. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

8 November 2013 at 9:32 am

Posted in Government, Healthcare

The Beghazi-coverup soufflé collapses

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UPDATE: And here’s the story on the “60 Minutes” apology from Lara Logan.

UPDATE 2: And here’s Lara Logan apologizing:

UPDATE 3: Please read Kevin Drum’s post that raises some serious questions about exactly what is going on with that “60 Minutes” report, which was squishy from the gitgo. The omission from the report that CBS (which does “60 Minutes”) was also publishing Davies book is a very serious omission: the conflict of interest is obvious and large.

UPDATE 4: For some reason, I keep thinking of the words “train wreck.”

Darrel Issa is going to be so disappointed—he’s been trying to create a Beghazi “scandal” ever so long. And Lara Logan is going to have to issue a correction (and, I trust, an apology) on air. Bill Carter and Michael Schmidt report in the NY Times:

Dylan Davies, a security officer hired to help protect the United States Special Mission in Benghazi, Libya, gave the F.B.I. an account of the night that terrorists attacked the mission on Sept. 11, 2012 that contradicts a version of events he provided in a recently published book and in an interview with the CBS News program “60 Minutes.”

Mr. Davies told the F.B.I. that he was not on the scene until the morning after the attack.

The information he provided in an F.B.I. interview was described Thursday by two senior government officials as completely consistent with an incident report by the Blue Mountain security business, which had been hired to protect United States interests in Benghazi. The officials who spoke said they had been briefed on the government investigation.

Mr. Davies, who worked for Blue Mountain, has disavowed the incident report, saying in an interview last week with the online magazine The Daily Beast that he did not write it and had never even seen it, and was not responsible for the account of events it contained.

The contradictions between the versions offered in the incident report and what was presented on television and in the book, “The Embassy House” — Mr. Davies appeared on the program and wrote the book under the pseudonym Morgan Jones — have led to questions about how “60 Minutes” came to present Mr. Davies as a credible source for its extensive report on the Benghazi incident.

The incident report described Mr. Davies as remaining at the villa he occupied in Libya and not getting to the scene on the night of the attack. In the version he wrote in his book and gave to “60 Minutes,” Mr. Davies said he left the villa that night to visit a hospital where he said he saw the body of the deceased ambassador, J. Christopher Stevens, and twice rushed to the scene of the attack.

At the compound, he said, he had a confrontation with an attacker, whom he dispatched with a blow to the face with a rifle butt.

Jennifer Robinson, a spokeswoman for the book’s publisher, Threshold Editions, which is part of the Simon and Schuster unit of CBS, said, “Although we have not seen the F.B.I. report, in light of these revelations we will review the book and take appropriate action with regard to its publication status.”

Jeff Fager, the chairman of CBS News and executive producer of “60 Minutes,” said Thursday, “We’re surprised to hear about this, and if it shows we’ve been misled, we will make a correction.”

CBS News had extensively defended Mr. Davies this week, suggesting — as Mr. Davies did in the Daily Beast interview — that he was the object of a campaign by State Department officials to quiet continued questioning about the events in Benghazi. CBS also publicly vouched for the authenticity of Mr. Davies’s account on “60 Minutes.” . . .

Continue reading. The description of the crawl-back in progress at CBS (and by Lara Logan) doesn’t yet suggest an embarrassment for their aggressive statement attacking people who questioned Davies’ account in his book (not the account he gave to the FBI, which was still unknown).

Written by Leisureguy

8 November 2013 at 9:10 am

Posted in Books, Media

Book excerpt: How American troops in Afghanistan became unreal

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Juan Cole has a lengthy extract from a new book by Ann Jones, They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return from America’s Wars — the Untold Story. His post begins:

The last time I saw American soldiers in Afghanistan, they were silent. Knocked out by gunfire and explosions that left them grievously injured, as well as drugs administered by medics in the field, they were carried from medevac helicopters into a base hospital to be plugged into machines that would measure how much life they had left to save. They were bloody.  They were missing pieces of themselves. They were quiet.

It’s that silence I remember from the time I spent in trauma hospitals among the wounded and the dying and the dead. It was almost as if they had fled their own bodies, abandoning that bloodied flesh upon the gurneys to surgeons ready to have a go at salvation. Later, sometimes much later, they might return to inhabit whatever the doctors had managed to salvage.  They might take up those bodies or what was left of them and make them walk again, or run, or even ski.  They might dress themselves, get a job, or conceive a child. But what I remember is the first days when they were swept up and dropped into the hospital so deathly still.

They were so unlike themselves. Or rather, unlike the American soldiers I had first seen in that country. Then, fired up by 9/11, they moved with the aggressive confidence of men high on their macho training and their own advance publicity.

I remember the very first American soldiers I saw in Afghanistan.  It must have been in 2002.  In those days, very few American troops were on the ground in that country — most were being readied for Iraq to fulfill the vainglorious dreams of George W. Bush and Co. — and they were not stationed in Kabul, the Afghan capital, but in the countryside, still supposedly searching for Osama bin Laden.

I was in the north, at the historic Dasht-i Shadian stadium near the city of Mazar-i-Sharif, watching an afternoon of buzkashi, the traditional Afghan sport in which mounted men, mostly farmers, vie for possession of a dead calf.  The stadium was famous not only for the most fiercely contestedbuzkashi games in the country, but also for a day during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan when local people invited 50 Soviet soldiers to enjoy the spectacle at Dasht-i Shadian and slaughtered them on the spot.

I was seated with Afghan friends in the bleachers when a squad of Americans in full battle gear barged into the dignitaries’ box and interrupted play. Some of them insisted on riding the horses.  At a sign from the local warlord presiding over the games, Afghan riders helped the Americans mount.  They may also have cued their horses to bolt, race away, and dump them in the dirt.

A little stiffly, the soldiers hiked back to the grandstand, took up their rifles, and made a great show of laughing off the incident — of being loud and boisterous “good sports.” But a large audience of poker-faced Afghan men had taken their measure.  A friend said something to me that I never forgot in years after as I watched the “progress” of the war unfold: “They didn’t know what they were getting into.”

The next day, I spotted another squad of American soldiers in the city’s central bazaar.  In the midst of busy shops, they had fanned out in full battle gear in front of a well-known carpet store, dropped to one knee, and assumed the firing position. They aimed their assault rifles at women shoppers clad in the white burqas of Mazar and frozen in place like frightened ghosts.  The Americans were protecting their lieutenant who was inside the store, shopping for a souvenir of his sojourn in this foreign land.

I can’t say exactly when the U.S. military brought that swagger to Kabul. But by 2004 the Americans were there behind the walls of fortified urban bases, behind concrete barriers and gigantic sandbags at armed checkpoints, blocking traffic, and closing thoroughfares. Their convoyswere racing at top speed through city streets with machine-gunners on alert in the turrets of their armored vehicles.  Women half-blind under their burqas brought their children to guide them across suddenly dangerous streets.

 

Enter the Warriors

I had come to Afghanistan to work for those women and children.  In 2002, I started spending winters there, traveling the country but settling in Kabul. Schools long closed by the Taliban were reopening, and I volunteered to help English teachers revive memories of the language they had studied and taught in those schools before the wars swept so much away. I also worked with Afghan women and other internationals — few in number then — to start up organizations and services for women and girls brutalized by war and stunned by long confinement to their homes.  They were emerging silently, like sleepwalkers, to find life as they had once known it long gone. Most of Kabul was gone too, a landscape of rubble left from years of civil war followed by Taliban neglect and then American bombs.

After the Taliban fled those bombs, the first soldiers to patrol the ruined streets of Kabul were members of ISAF, the International Security Assistance Force established by the U.N. to safeguard the capital.  Turks, Spaniards, Brits, and others strolled around downtown, wearing berets or caps — no helmets or armor — and walked into shops like casual tourists.  They parked their military vehicles and let kids climb all over them. Afghans seemed to welcome the ISAF soldiers as an inconspicuous but friendly and reassuring presence.

Then they were supplanted by the aggressive Americans. The teachers in my English classes began to ask for help in writing letters to the U.S. military to claim compensation for friends or neighbors whose children had been run over by speeding soldiers.  A teacher asked, “Why do Americans act in this way?”  I had, at the time, no answer for her.

In my work, I found myself embroiled ever more often with those soldiers as I tried to get compensation, if not justice, for Afghans.  As a reporter, I also occasionally felt duty-bound to attend press briefings concocted by Washington’s militarized theorists of a future American-dominated world of global free markets, spreading democracy, and perfect security in the oddly rebranded “homeland.”

The Pentagon prepared PowerPoint presentations cluttered with charts and arrows indicating how everything was ultimately connected to everything else in an insulated circularity of hokum.  Subordinates based in Kabul delivered those talks to American journalists who dutifully took notes and submitted soon-familiar stories about new strategies and tactics, each guaranteed to bring success to Washington’s Afghan War, even as commanding generals came and went year after year.

To American officials back in that homeland, war was clearly a theoretical construct, and victory a matter of dreaming up those winning new strategies, or choosing some from past wars — Iraq, for example, orVietnam — and then sending in the brash kids I would see in that stadium near Mazar-i-Sharif to carry them out. War was, in short, a business plan encoded in visual graphics.  To Afghans, whose land had already served as the playing field for more than 20 years of Washington’s devastating modern wars, it wasn’t like that at all.

Frankly, I didn’t like the U.S. soldiers I met in those years.  Unlike the ISAF troops, who appeared to be real people in uniforms, the Americans acted like PowerPoint Soldiers (with a capital S), or, as they preferred to be called, Warriors (with a capital W).  What they seldom acted like was real people.  For one thing, they seemed to have been trained to invade the space of any hapless civilian.  They snapped to attention in your face and spat out sentences that splashed your flesh, something they hadn’t learned from their mothers.

In time, though, their canned — and fearful — aggressiveness stirred my sympathy and my curiosity to know something about who they really were, or had been.  So much so that in the summer of 2010, I borrowed body armor from a friend and applied to embed with U.S. soldiers.  At the time, General Stanley McChrystal was massing troops (and journalists) in the Taliban heartland of Helmand Province in southwestern Afghanistan for a well-advertised “decisive” showdown with the insurgency.  I, on the other hand, was permitted to go to a forward operating base in northeast Afghanistan on the Pakistani border where, it was said, nothing was going on.  In fact, American soldiers were “falling” there at a rate that took their commanders by surprise and troubled them.

By the time I arrived, those commanders had become secretive, cloistering themselves behind closed doors — no more PowerPoint presentations offering the press (me) straight-faced assessments of “progress.”

For TomDispatch, I wrote a piece about that base and included one fact that brought me a deluge of outraged email from wives and girlfriends of the Warriors.  It wasn’t my description of the deaths of soldiers that upset them, but my noting that the most common disabling injury on that base was a sprained ankle — the result of jogging in the rocky high-desert terrain. How dare I say such a thing, the women demanded.  It demeaned our nation’s great Warriors. It was an insult to all patriotic Americans.

I learned a lesson from that.  America’s soldiers, when deployed, may no longer be “real people” even to their loved ones.  To girlfriends and wives, left alone at home with bills to pay and kids to raise, they evidently had to be mythic Warriors of historic importance saving the nation even at the sacrifice of their own lives.  Otherwise, what was the point?

Where Have All the Soldiers Gone?

And that may be the point: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

8 November 2013 at 9:02 am

Here we go again: Securitization of rent to create bonds…

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Didn’t we see a very similar movie just recent? Only it was mortgages (presumably back by real property) and not rent?

Lydia DePillis has a good article on this in the Washington Post. In her article, she notes:

Still, whenever financial “innovations” hit the market, it’s always smart to game out what might go wrong. Critics of the plan see two major risks.

The first problem is similar to what the housing market encountered with mortgage-backed securities. When the lender doesn’t actually plan to own your loan, it’s disincentivized to make sure you can actually pay it back. That’s why so many silly mortgages were issued in the early 2000s, creating a bubble that could only burst.

Regulators have since made rules requiring lenders to make sure borrowers actually have the ability to repay. In the rent securitization scenario, though, it’s up to Wall Street to make sure renters in foreclosure-stricken neighborhoods all over the country can actually make their payments on time. They can always evict people if they fail to do so, but that takes time and lowers returns. And even though Blackstone figures it can just liquidate properties if rents get too depressed, ratings agency Fitch worries that might be easier said than done, and would destabilize any housing market where a large sell-off occurred in a short span of time.

The second problem is one of distorting the market further away from homeownership toward rentals. While it’s true that, pre-crisis, America probably had an artificially inflated homeownership rate — at around 70 percent — the pendulum has since swung the other way. Between a third and a half of home sales are all-cash offers, mostly from investors, easily beating out buyers who have to go through the additional hassle of getting a loan. Securitizing the resulting rental stream will free up more money for all-cash offers that typically win out against buyers who have to go through the hassle of getting a mortgage.

Robert Hockett, the Cornell Law professor who’s advanced a plan to seize securitized mortgages through eminent domain, envisions a kind of dystopia that might arise from tipping the balance so far toward investors.

Read the whole thing.

Written by Leisureguy

8 November 2013 at 8:51 am

Posted in Business, Daily life

Another BBS shave, but with nicks

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SOTD 8 Nov 2013

I used the Thäter brush because on last use I noticed a little lather-fading in the third pass. This time, no problem at all. Probably operatory error.

I’ll post lather comments on Monday noon (PST). The shave, as noted, has 4 small nicks, but I much prefer a shave with no nicks. I experimented with the Treet carbon-steel blade (“Black Beauties”), but didn’t achieve the smoother comfortable shave I first had with this razor. Have I lost my iKon Slant mojo? I’ll continue to try other brands to try to capture my earlier success with this razor.

Still: a BBS finish, and the nicks were small and easily quelled with Clubman Pinaud Dab-on Nick Relief. A good splash of Saint Charles Shave Woods, and I am totally presentable, face-wise.

Written by Leisureguy

8 November 2013 at 8:38 am

Posted in Shaving

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