Later On

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

Archive for July 2014

David Frum totally jumps to conclusions, stating as fact what he hopes might be true

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Written by Leisureguy

31 July 2014 at 8:31 pm

Posted in Mideast Conflict

The storm against the CIA is picking up steam—and no wonder

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Read this NY Times report by Mark Mazzatti and Carl Hulse:

An internal investigation by the C.I.A. has found that its officers penetrated a computer network used by the Senate Intelligence Committee in preparing its damning report on the C.I.A.’s detention and interrogation program.

The report by the agency’s inspector general also found that C.I.A. officers read the emails of the Senate investigators and sent a criminal referral to the Justice Department based on false information, according to a summary of findings made public on Thursday. According to one official with knowledge of the report’s conclusions, the investigation also discovered that the officers created a false online identity to gain access on more than one occasion to computers used by the committee staff.

Continue reading. And later in the story:

Anger among lawmakers grew throughout the day. Leaving a nearly three-hour briefing about the report in a Senate conference room, members of both parties called for the C.I.A. officers to be held accountable, and some said they had lost confidence in Mr. Brennan’s leadership. “This is a serious situation and there are serious violations,” said Mr. Chambliss, generally a staunch ally of the intelligence community. He called for the C.I.A. employees to be “dealt with very harshly.”

Senator Mark Udall, Democrat of Colorado and another member of the Intelligence Committee, demanded Mr. Brennan’s resignation. “The C.I.A. unconstitutionally spied on Congress by hacking into the Senate Intelligence Committee computers,” he said in a written statement. “This grave misconduct not only is illegal but it violates the U.S. Constitution’s requirement of separation of powers.

“These offenses, along with other errors in judgment by some at the C.I.A., demonstrate a tremendous failure of leadership, and there must be consequences,” he added.

Committee Democrats have spent more than five years working on a report about the C.I.A.’s detention and interrogation program during the Bush administration, which employed brutal interrogation methods like waterboarding. Parts of that report, which concluded that the techniques yielded little valuable information and that C.I.A. officials consistently misled the White House and Congress about the efficacy of the techniques, are expected to be made public some time this month.

The question remains: What, if anything, will Obama do about it? Will he support Congress and the Constitution and set the CIA straight? Or (more likely) will he classify as Top Secret everything that touches on this, refuse to release the report without lots of redactions, and protect the CIA? Here’s a hint, from later in the report:

The White House publicly defended Mr. Brennan on Thursday, saying he had taken “responsible steps” to address the behavior of C.I.A. employees, which he said included suggesting an investigation, accepting its results and appointing an accountability board.

Asked whether the results of the investigation presented a credibility issue for Mr. Brennan, Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, said, “Not at all.”

Crediting Mr. Brennan with playing an “instrumental role” in helping the United States government destroy Al Qaeda’s leadership in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Mr. Earnest said, “He is somebody who has a very difficult job, who does that job extraordinarily well.”

Other than lying repeatedly, of course.

Written by Leisureguy

31 July 2014 at 8:11 pm

And what have we learned yet again: Never ever trust the CIA

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Dan Froomkin writes at The Intercept:

I don’t want to understate how seriously wrong it is that the CIA searched Senate computers. Our constitutional order is seriously out of whack when the executive branch acts with that kind of impunity — to its overseers, no less.

But given everything else that’s been going on lately, the single biggest — and arguably most constructive — thing to focus on is how outrageously CIA Director John Brennan lied to everyone about it.

“As far as the allegations of the CIA hacking into Senate computers, nothing could be further from the truth,” Brennan told NBC’s Andrea Mitchell in March. “We wouldn’t do that. I mean, that’s just beyond the, you know, the scope of reason in terms of what we do.”

Earlier, he had castigated “some members of the Senate” for making “spurious allegations about CIA actions that are wholly unsupported by the facts.” He called for an end to “outbursts that do a disservice to the important relationship that needs to be maintained between intelligence officials and Congressional overseers.”

And what compelled Senate intelligence committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein to make a dramatic floor speech in the first place, bringing everything out in the open, was that Brennan had responded to her initial concerns not by acknowledging the CIA’s misconduct — but by firing back with an allegation of criminal activity by her own staff.

Not coincidentally, the document the CIA was hunting for, that Senate staffers were accused of purloining, and that Brennan was now lying about, was a big deal precisely because it exposed more lies.

Known as the Panetta Review (evidently prepared for Leon Panetta, who served as CIA director from 2009 to 2011), it became relevant last year, when the CIA started pushing back against many of the scathing conclusions in the several-thousand page “Torture Report” the Senate staffers had finished up in December 2012.

Even as the CIA was officially rebutting key parts of the committee’s report, the staffers realized they had an internal CIA review that corroborated them. In other words, it was proof that the CIA was now lying.

So what’s in the Torture Report?  . . .

Continue reading.

And of course Obama will continue to support John Brennan, and Brennan will keep his job. Obama will even put with direct insubordination (Michelle Leonhardt), so supporting Brennan will be no problem, especially given that Obama nominated him over the objections from the Left.

Written by Leisureguy

31 July 2014 at 6:38 pm

The White House Tries, Fails to Explain Why Marijuana Should Remain Illegal

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Philip Boffey writes in the NY Times:

No sooner had the Times published its opening editorials advocating legalization of marijuana than the White House fired back with an unconvincing response on its website. It argued that marijuana should remain illegal because of public health problems “associated” (always a slippery word) with increased marijuana use.

Careful readers will immediately see the White House statement for what it is: A pro forma response to a perceived public relations crisis, not a full-fledged review of all the scientific evidence, pro and con. The White House is actually required by law to oppose all efforts to legalize a banned drug.

Besides, it is hypocritical for the White House, whose chefs brew beer for the president, to oppose legalizing marijuana, which poses far less risk to consumers and society than does alcohol. Two recipes for the White House brew are posted on its website under the headline “Ale to the Chief.”

The White House lumped its public health argument under four main headings. Before addressing them individually, we should note that there was an enormous upsurge in marijuana use in the 1970s. So far as we know, no one has claimed that it produced calamitous health or societal harm in subsequent decades. The main metric that soared was arrests for possession of marijuana.

Here are our responses to the four main public health contentions made by the White House.

The first — that marijuana use affects the developing brain — is a concern for all parents of teenagers. That’s why we recommended regulations to keep marijuana out of the hands of young people. The White House cites a study by Australian researchers, published in 2012 in the journal Brain, which found that heavy cannabis use starting while young impairs connections between nerve fibers in the adult brain. It also cites a study which purports to show that heavy use by teenagers can lead to a big decline in intelligence in adult years. That study has been criticized as flawed by a Norwegian researcher who believes that socio-economic factors explain most of the apparent loss of IQ and that the true effect of marijuana could be zero. And remember: no responsible advocate of legalization is urging that marijuana be made available to teenagers.

The second contention — that marijuana use by school age children leads to lower grades — is based on studies where marijuana use is “associated with” lower grades but there is scant evidence that it caused the low grades. In fact the survey cited by the White House cautions that “These associations do not prove causation. Further research is needed to determine whether low grades lead to alcohol and other drug use, alcohol and other drug use leads to low grades, or some other factors lead to both of these problems.”

Parents who deem marijuana responsible for apathy and lack of motivation in their teenagers should be aware that other factors may be in play. The Institute of Medicine, in its 1999 report, noted that when heavy marijuana users drop out of school, work or social activities the drug is often blamed, but it found no convincing data demonstrating a causal relationship between marijuana smoking and those behavioral characteristics.

The third contention — that marijuana is addictive — . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

31 July 2014 at 6:17 pm

Interesting meme migration

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Once the meme is established, it can appear (and be used in) many contexts: for example, look at this Madison Avenue/Terrorism mashup meme.

Written by Leisureguy

31 July 2014 at 4:32 pm

Posted in Mideast Conflict

Countries are starting to adopt more vigorous on-line surveillance

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I assume they’re learning from NSA: Universal surveillance of all your citizens is a meme that appeals to governments of many countries, not just the freedom-loving (ironic) US.

At any rate, as Twitter grows, Twitter requests grow: read this article.

And once those governments start to want data, they are going to get it. Why? Because the US claims it can get data that Microsoft stored overseas—data that is not in the US. But the US thinks it can get it—so when some iffy ally wants down that’s stored in the US, the precedent is there. Of course, we’ll also be demanding that the drone attacks they’re launching toward their citizens who fled their country to live in the US—citizens that the other government views as terrorists.

Take an example: Cuba and Venezuela view Luis Posada Carriles as a terrorist—in part because he deliberately blew up a civilian airliner in flight. I think even the US might view that as an act of terrorism—but apparently not, because old Luis was living the life of Riley all during the Bush Administration, and well into the Obama Administration.

Now that the US has established the precedent, what if a drone came over Florida and fired a Hellfire missile, taking out Carriles and everyone else in the apartment building—the “human shields”—who become collateral damage, and perhaps (as the US does when one of its missiles kills civilian bystanders) pay a few thousand dollars a head. And of course both Cuba and Venezuela would deny it (as the US denied its own drone attacks in Yemen for years), so it would be altogether awkward. It looks so different when it goes the other way, doesn’t it?

Written by Leisureguy

31 July 2014 at 4:27 pm

Just got a filling

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It was on the cutting edge of an incisor—very small and mostly preventive of future trouble. But man! are tolerances tight on teeth. The filling was just a little tiny bit high, but I could really feel it.

I have a good dentist: I made impressions on some kind of paper, and she ground gently away until the fit was perfect. I had not realized that the tolerances were so tight.

Written by Leisureguy

31 July 2014 at 3:19 pm

Posted in Daily life, Health, Medical

Revealing how far the press has fallen: Jill Abramson’s sad speech

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And, as Patrick L. Smith points out, by revealing how the controlling wealth and power think. Well worth reading. From the link:

This speech deserves careful consideration. Forget about what Abramson wanted to put across. So often, I find, the most interesting things people have to say are the things they say without meaning to. This was inevitable in Abramson’s case. How could a former editor of the Times address the paper’s role in maintaining official secrecy without telling us something about the corruption of the reasoning behind the stance?

Abramson’s focus is how and why the American press performed as it did after the Sept. 11 attacks in New York and Washington. These are good questions. To an important extent what reporters and editors did from 2001 onward — what they continue to do — is merely an exaggerated case of what they did at least as far back as 1947, when Truman declared the Cold War. But there was also a turn on a dime in the media as the Bush administration stumbled back on its feet.

Abramson was the Times’ Washington bureau chief at the time. The debris in lower Manhattan was still settling when Ari Fleischer, Bush’s press secretary, arranged a conference call that included “every leading editor in Washington.”

Abramson dilates on this key moment:

“The purpose of his call was to make an agreement with the press—this was just days after 9/11—that we not publish any stories that would go into details about the sources and methods of our intelligence programs. I have to say, that in the wake of 9/11, all of us readily agreed to that.”

And then the reflection:

“It wasn’t complicated to withhold such information. And for some years, really quite a few years, I don’t think the press, in general, did publish any stories that upset the Bush White House or seemed to breach that agreement.”

So did the media participate in Bush’s declaration of his “war on terror,” an idea of what the U.S. is doing that has brought one disaster, breach of law and murderous episode after another upon us — Guantánamo, the war in Iraq, drone killings, the lot. To hold back on this definition of our time would have been decisive, but were the press to do so, of course, it would have “upset the Bush White House.” . . .

Written by Leisureguy

31 July 2014 at 3:17 pm

What Science Says About Marijuana

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Continuing the NY Times series of editorials and columns on the legalization of marijuana, Philip Boffey writes:

For Michele Leonhart, the administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration, there is no difference between the health effects of marijuana and those of any other illegal drug. “All illegal drugs are bad for people,” she told Congress in 2012, refusing to say whether crack, methamphetamines or prescription painkillers are more addictive or physically harmful than marijuana. [Ms. Leonhart is amazingly ignorant, to the degree that it’s unclear whether her capacity for learning is limited. – LG]

Her testimony neatly illustrates the vast gap between antiquated federal law enforcement policies and the clear consensus of science that marijuana is far less harmful to human health than most other banned drugs and is less dangerous than the highly addictive but perfectly legal substances known as alcohol and tobacco. Marijuana cannot lead to a fatal overdose. There is little evidence that it causes cancer. Its addictive properties, while present, are low, and the myth that it leads users to more powerful drugs has long since been disproved.

That doesn’t mean marijuana is harmless; in fact, the potency of current strains may shock those who haven’t tried it for decades, particularly when ingested as food. It can produce a serious dependency, and constant use would interfere with job and school performance. It needs to be kept out of the hands of minors. But, on balance, its downsides are not reasons to impose criminal penalties on its possession, particularly not in a society that permits nicotine use and celebrates drinking.

Marijuana’s negative health effects are arguments for the same strong regulation that has been effective in curbing abuse of legal substances. Science and government have learned a great deal, for example, about how to keep alcohol out of the hands of minors. Mandatory underage drinking laws and effective marketing campaigns have reduced underage alcohol use to 24.8 percent in 2011, compared with 33.4 percent in 1991. Cigarette use among high school students is at its lowest point ever, largely thanks to tobacco taxes and growing municipal smoking limits. There is already some early evidence that regulation would also help combat teen marijuana use, which fell after Colorado began broadly regulating medical marijuana in 2010. . .

Continue reading. From the article:

Screen Shot 2014-07-31 at 1.08.53 PM

Written by Leisureguy

31 July 2014 at 1:09 pm

Posted in Drug laws

Lobbyists Bidding to Block Government Regs Set Sights on Secretive White House Office

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Our regular day-to-day government becomes increasingly secretive as it works against the interests of ordinary citizens to favor the wealthy and power—actions that require great secrecy to avoid a public outcry. That the government is cooperating in this takeover of its resources and mission is shameful, but I doubt that it can or will be reversed until there is general public outrage, and—frankly—the US public is simply too ignorant of what goes on in the government or the world to tackle this. (That is, I imagine, is in part what’s behind the determined GOP effort to destroy private education: an educated public is not so easily pacified.) Kevin Drum points out the essence of that approach:

Dave Weigel explains modern politics in a single sentence:

Voters are aware of a border crisis, they are aware that Barack Obama is president—they blame him for nothing getting done.

Yep. Republicans can basically do anything they want and never get blamed for it. Most voters don’t even know who’s in control of Congress anyway. When something goes wrong, all they know is (a) something went wrong, and (b) Barack Obama is the president and he should have done something about it.

That being the case, what incentive do Republicans have for making things go right? Pretty much none. This is, roughly speaking, a fairly new insight, and it explains most of what you need to know about American politics in the Obama era.

Heather Rogers points out the secretive White House office devoted (apparently) to helping corporations,the wealthy, and the powerful to screw over the American public:

In early 2011, after years of study, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration moved to reduce the permissible levels of silica dust wafted into the air by industrial processes like fracking, mining or cement manufacturing. The move came after years of public comment and hearings, and reflected emerging science about the dangers posed by even low levels of dust. OSHA predicted the rule would save 700 lives annually and prevent 1,600 new cases of silicosis, an incurable, life-threatening disease.

The proposal stirred fierce opposition from an array of industries, which argued that the costs of reducing silica levels far outweighed the potential benefits. When OSHA pushed ahead, the lobbyists took their arguments to the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, a division of the Office of Management and Budget. Few people have ever heard of OIRA even though it is part of the White House and has broad authority to delay or suggest changes in any draft regulation.

OIRA’s deliberations on the silica rule began in February 2011, and lasted two and a half years. During that time, records show, its officials held nine meetings with lobbyists and lawyers for the affected industries, but sat down only once with unions and once with health advocates.

Last August, the office sent a revised version of the rule back to OSHA; the worker protection agency has yet to act.

Labor advocates noted that the lengthy delay appeased House Republicans and pushed a decision opposed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce out of the 2012 presidential campaign. “During that delay thousands of workers were further exposed to silica,” said Peg Seminario, director of safety and health at the AFL-CIO. “People have gotten sicker and some will die because of the exposures that have continued to take place.”

What happened to the silica rule is no isolated example. A series of executive orders over the past three decades have given OIRA significant authority to reassess rules on every imaginable subject, from health care to the environment to transportation. The office shares early drafts of rules with the president’s top advisers as well as other Cabinet-level agencies that might object.

Although some on OIRA’s team have degrees in science and engineering, former officials say its leadership and staff are largely drawn from the realms of economics, law and public policy. Regardless, the office does not hesitate to rework agency rules that were years in the making and backed by peer-reviewed science. Often, OIRA officials make a proposed rule appear too costly by revising the calculation of benefits downward. As it did with the silica limits, the office can also prolong the process, holding regulations in limbo for months and sometimes years. . .

Continue reading.

President Obama, in this case, is definitely a part of the problem. His mission should be to protect the public.

Written by Leisureguy

31 July 2014 at 11:57 am

Henry Siegman, Leading Voice of U.S. Jewry, on Gaza: “A Slaughter of Innocents”

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Democracy Now! interviews Siegman. Their blurb:

Given his background, what American Jewish leader Henry Siegman has to say about Israel’s founding in 1948 through the current assault on Gaza may surprise you. From 1978 to 1994, Siegman served as executive director of the American Jewish Congress, long described as one of the nation’s “big three” Jewish organizations along with the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League. Born in Germany three years before the Nazis came to power in 1933, Siegman’s family eventually moved to the United States. His father was a leader of the European Zionist movement that pushed for the creation of a Jewish state. In New York, Siegman studied the religion and was ordained as an Orthodox rabbi by Yeshiva Torah Vodaas, later becoming head of the Synagogue Council of America. After his time at the American Jewish Congress, Siegman became a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. He now serves as president of the U.S./Middle East Project. In the first of our two-part interview, Siegman discusses the assault on Gaza, the myths surrounding Israel’s founding in 1948, and his own background as a German-Jewish refugee who fled Nazi occupation to later become a leading American Jewish voice and now vocal critic of Israel’s policies in the Occupied Territories.

“When one thinks that this is what is necessary for Israel to survive, that the Zionist dream is based on the repeated slaughter of innocents on a scale that we’re watching these days on television, that is really a profound, profound crisis — and should be a profound crisis in the thinking of all of us who were committed to the establishment of the state and to its success,” Siegman says. Responding to Israel’s U.S.-backed claim that its assault on Gaza is necessary because no country would tolerate the rocket fire from militants in Gaza, Siegman says: “What undermines this principle is that no country and no people would live the way that Gazans have been made to live. … The question of the morality of Israel’s action depends, in the first instance, on the question, couldn’t Israel be doing something [to prevent] this disaster that is playing out now, in terms of the destruction of human life? Couldn’t they have done something that did not require that cost? And the answer is, sure, they could have ended the occupation.”

Video and transcript at the link.

Part 1 of the interview.

Part 2 of the interview.

Here’s just a section at the beginning:

AMY GOODMAN: Over the years, Henry Siegman has become a vocal critic of Israel’s policies in the Occupied Territories and has urged Isral to engage with Hamas. He has called the Palestinian struggle for a state, quote, “the mirror image of the Zionist movement” that led to the founding of Israel in 1948. He recently wrote a piece for Politico headlined “Israel Provoked This War.” Nermeen Shaikh and I sat down with him on Tuesday. I started by asking Henry Siegman if he could characterize the situation in Gaza at the moment.

HENRY SIEGMAN: Yes, it’s disastrous. It’s disastrous, both in political terms, which is to say the situation cannot conceivably, certainly in the short run, lead to any positive results, to an improvement in the lives of either Israelis or Palestinians, and of course it’s disastrous in humanitarian terms, the kind of slaughter that’s taking place there. When one thinks that this is what is necessary for Israel to survive, that the Zionist dream is based on the slaughter of—repeated slaughter of innocents on a scale that we’re watching these days on television, that is really a profound, profound crisis—and should be a profound crisis—in the thinking of all of us who were committed to the establishment of the state and to its success. It leads one virtually to a whole rethinking of this historical phenomenon.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: What do you believe—Mr. Siegman, what do you believe the objectives of Israel are in this present assault on Gaza?

HENRY SIEGMAN: Well, they have several objectives, although I’m not sure that each of them is specifically responsible for the carnage we’re seeing now. It has what seems on the surface a justifiable objective of ending these attacks, the rockets that come from Gaza and are aimed—it’s hard to say they’re aimed at civilians, because they never seem to land anywhere that causes serious damage, but they could and would have, if not for luck. So, on the face of it, Israel has a right to do what it’s doing now, and, of course, it’s been affirmed by even president of the United States, repeatedly, that no country would agree to live with that kind of a threat repeatedly hanging over it.

But what he doesn’t add, and what perverts this principle, undermines the principle, is that no country and no people would live the way Gazans have been made to live. And consequently, this moral equation which puts Israel on top as the victim that has to act to prevent its situation from continuing that way, and the Palestinians in Gaza, or Hamas, the organization responsible for Gaza, who are the attackers, our media rarely ever points out that these are people who have a right to live a decent, normal life, too. And they, too, must think, “What can we do to put an end to this?”

And this is why in the Politico article that you mentioned, I pointed out the question of the morality of Israel’s action depends, in the first instance, on the question: Couldn’t Israel be doing something in preventing this disaster that is playing out now, in terms of the destruction of human lives? Couldn’t they have done something that didn’t require that cost? And the answer is: Sure, that they could have ended the occupation, with results—whatever the risks are, they certainly aren’t greater than the price being paid now for Israel’s effort to continue and sustain permanently their relationship to the Palestinians.

AMY GOODMAN: When you say that Israel could end the violence by ending the occupation, Israel says it does not occupy Gaza, that it left years ago. I wanted to play a clip for you from MSNBC. It was last week, and the host, Joy Reid, was interviewing the Israeli spokesperson, Mark Regev.

MARK REGEV: Listen, if you’ll allow me to, I want to take issue with one important word you said. You said Israel is the occupying authority. You’re forgetting Israel pulled out of the Gaza Strip. We took down all the settlements, and the settlers who didn’t want to leave, we forced them to leave. We pulled back to the 1967 international frontier. There is no Israeli occupation of the Gaza Strip. We haven’t been there for some eight years.

AMY GOODMAN: Henry Siegman, can you respond?

HENRY SIEGMAN: OK, yeah. That is of course utter nonsense, and for several reasons. First of all, Gaza is controlled completely, like the West Bank, because it is totally surrounded by Israel. Israel could not be imposing the kind of chokehold it has on Gaza if it were not surrounding, if its military were not surrounding Gaza, and not just on the territory, but also on the air, on the sea. No one there can make a move without coming into contact with the Israeli IDF, you know, outside this imprisoned area where Gazans live. So, there’s no one I have encountered, who is involved with international law, who’s ever suggested to me that in international law Gaza is not considered occupied. So that’s sheer nonsense.

But there’s another point triggered by your question to me, and this is the propaganda machine, and these official spokespeople will always tell you, “Take a look at what kind of people these are. Here we turned over Gaza to them. And you’d think they would invest their energies in building up the area, making it a model government and model economy. Instead, they’re working on rockets.” The implication here is that they, in effect, offered Palestinians a mini state, and they didn’t take advantage of it, so the issue isn’t really Palestinian statehood. That is the purpose of this kind of critique.

And I have always asked myself, and this has a great deal to do with my own changing views about the policies of governments, not about the Jewish state qua Jewish state, but of the policies pursued by Israeli governments and supported—you know, they say Israel is a model democracy in the Middle East, so you must assume—the public has to assume some responsibility for what the government does, because they put governments in place. So, the question I ask myself: What if the situation were reversed? You know, there is a Talmudic saying in Pirkei Avot, The Ethics of the Fathers: “Al tadin et chavercha ad shetagiah lemekomo,” “Don’t judge your neighbor until you can imagine yourself in his place.” So, my first question when I deal with any issue related to the Israeli-Palestinian issue: What if we were in their place?

What if the situation were reversed, and the Jewish population were locked into, were told, “Here, you have less than 2 percent of Palestine, so now behave. No more resistance. And let us deal with the rest”? Is there any Jew who would have said this is a reasonable proposition, that we cease our resistance, we cease our effort to establish a Jewish state, at least on one-half of Palestine, which is authorized by the U.N.? Nobody would agree to that. They would say this is absurd. So the expectations that Palestinians—and I’m speaking now about the resistance as a concept; I’m not talking about rockets, whether they were justified or not. They’re not. I think that sending rockets that are going to kill civilians is a crime. But for Palestinians to try, in any way they can, to end this state of affair—and to expect of them to end their struggle and just focus on less than 2 percent to build a country is absurd. That is part of—that’s propaganda, but it’s not a discussion of either politics or morality.

Written by Leisureguy

31 July 2014 at 11:40 am

Posted in Mideast Conflict

Senate Bombshell Testimony Today: Citigroup and Bank of America Stock Worthless Without Implied Government Guarantees

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I get the feeling that things are crumbling faster. Pam Martens reports in Wall Street on Parade:

Senator Sherrod Brown, Chairman of the Senate Banking Subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Consumer Protection, will take testimony at 2 p.m. today on market subsidies enjoyed by implied future government bailouts of the too-big-to-fail status of Wall Street’s bloated and serially malfeasant banks. The hearing is set to coincide with a new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

An early peek at written testimony by three separate professors set to testify guarantees a belated July 4 fireworks display — one that is not likely to enjoy a welcome reception within the Wall Street corridors of power. Expect the phone lines of lobbyists and congressional campaign managers to be lighting up all over the nation’s capitol this afternoon.
Professor Edward J. Kane

Professor Edward J. Kane

Edward J. Kane, Professor of Finance at Boston College will get things off to a rousing start by telling the Subcommittee that any suggestion that the Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation ended the implied government guarantees “is a dangerous pipe dream.”

A powerful argument made by Kane (see full text of testimony linked below) is that these too-big-to-fail banks enjoy not just a market subsidy on their debt but on their equity as well. Kane writes:

“Being TBTF [too-big-to-fail] lowers both the cost of debt and the cost of equity. This is because TBTF guarantees lower the risk that flows through to the holders of both kinds of contracts. The lower discount rate on TBTF equity means that, period by period, a TBTF institution’s incremental reduction in interest payments on outstanding bonds, deposits, and repos is only part of the subsidy its stockholders enjoy. The other part is the increase in its stock price that comes from having investors discount all of the firm’s current and future cash flows at an artificially low risk-adjusted cost of equity. This intangible benefit generates capital gains for stockholders and shows up in the ratio of TBTF firms’ stock price to book value. Other things equal (including the threat of closure), a TBTF firm’s price-to-book ratio increases with firm size…”

Kane then lands this bombshell: “The warranted rate of return on the stock of deeply undercapitalized firms like Citi and B of A [Bank of America] would have been sky high and their stock would have been declared worthless long ago if market participants were not convinced that authorities are afraid to force them to resolve their weaknesses.”

Kane goes on to say that it is “shameful” for government officials to suggest that bank bailouts were good deals for taxpayers. Kane writes: “On balance, the bailouts transferred wealth and economic opportunity from ordinary taxpayers to much higher-income stakeholders in TBTF firms. Ordinary citizens understand that this is unfair and officials that deny the unfairness undermine confidence in the integrity of economic policymaking going forward.”

Anat Admati, Professor of Finance and Economics at the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University, who was voted one of Time Magazine’s top 100 influential people in April of this year, writes in her testimony that “The Fed has the responsibility and the ability to protect the public, yet as a regulator, it has failed the public.”

Admati’s testimony places the blame of the 2007-2009 Wall Street collapse squarely at the feet of regulators, writing in her testimony: . . .

Continue reading.

Read the whole thing. It shows just how badly run our country now is.

Written by Leisureguy

31 July 2014 at 11:22 am

Our Blind Spot About Guns

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Excellent column by Nick Kristof:

If we had the same auto fatality rate today that we had in 1921, by my calculations we would have 715,000 Americans dying annually in vehicle accidents.

Instead, we’ve reduced the fatality rate by more than 95 percent — not by confiscating cars, but by regulating them and their drivers sensibly.

We could have said, “Cars don’t kill people. People kill people,” and there would have been an element of truth to that. Many accidents are a result of alcohol consumption, speeding, road rage or driver distraction. Or we could have said, “It’s pointless because even if you regulate cars, then people will just run each other down with bicycles,” and that, too, would have been partly true.

Yet, instead, we built a system that protects us from ourselves. This saves hundreds of thousands of lives a year and is a model of what we should do with guns in America.

Whenever I write about the need for sensible regulation of guns, some readers jeer: Cars kill people, too, so why not ban cars? Why are you so hypocritical as to try to take away guns from law-abiding people when you don’t seize cars?

That question is a reflection of our national blind spot about guns. The truth is that we regulate cars quite intelligently, instituting evidence-based measures to reduce fatalities. Yet the gun lobby is too strong, or our politicians too craven, to do the same for guns. So guns and cars now each kill more than 30,000 in America every year.

One constraint, the argument goes, is the Second Amendment. Yet the paradox is that a bit more than a century ago, there was no universally recognized individual right to bear arms in the United States, but there was widely believed to be a “right to travel” that allowed people to drive cars without regulation.

A court struck down an early attempt to require driver’s licenses, and initial attempts to set speed limits or register vehicles were met with resistance and ridicule. When authorities in New York City sought in 1899 to ban horseless carriages in the parks, the idea was lambasted in The New York Times as “devoid of merit” and “impossible to maintain.”

Yet, over time, it became increasingly obvious that cars were killing and maiming people, as well as scaring horses and causing accidents. As a distinguished former congressman, Robert Cousins, put it in 1910: “Pedestrians are menaced every minute of the days and nights by a wanton recklessness of speed, crippling and killing people at a rate that is appalling.”

Courts and editorial writers alike saw the carnage and agreed that something must be done. By the 1920s, courts routinely accepted driver’s license requirements, car registration and other safety measures.

That continued in recent decades with requirements of seatbelts and air bags, padded dashboards and better bumpers. We cracked down on drunken drivers and instituted graduated licensing for young people, while also improving road engineering to reduce accidents. The upshot is that there is now just over 1 car fatality per 100 million miles driven.

Yet as we’ve learned to treat cars intelligently, we’ve gone in the opposite direction with guns. In his terrific new book, The Second Amendment: A Biography, Michael Waldman, the president of the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law, notes that “gun control laws were ubiquitous” in the 19th century. Visitors to Wichita, Kan., for example, were required to check their revolvers at police headquarters. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

31 July 2014 at 11:07 am

Posted in Guns

The Supreme Court protection of your cellphone from warrantless searches does not apply to the US Border Patrol

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The Border Patrol continues to be a troubled (and troubling) agency. Brian Fung reports in the Washington Post:

It was supposed to be a simple day trip to Niagara Falls. Little did he know the visit might land him in prison for the next 100 years.

Ali Saboonchi was returning from the Canadian side of the falls with his wife in 2012 when he was detained by customs agents at the U.S. border. The agents eventually let the Maryland man go, but not before seizing his electronic devices: an iPhone, an Android phone and a USB flash drive.

At a special facility in Baltimore nearly 400 miles away, officers from Immigration and Customs Enforcement made a copy of the drives and performed what a judge later called an invasive forensic search using “specialized software.”

In the devices’ storage was what U.S. officials say is evidence of a plot to violate U.S.-Iranian trade restrictions, according to federal court documents. Now Saboonchi, who was allegedly involved in the plot, faces four counts of illegal export and one count of conspiracy.

The case against Saboonchi, a U.S. citizen, opens a new chapter in the ongoing debate about digital privacy and law enforcement just weeks after a major Supreme Court ruling held that police must obtain a warrant before accessing a suspect’s cellphone. But it also draws attention to the nearly unlimited ability of border patrol agents to perform warrantless searches of Americans’ digital lives, based on little more than a hunch.

“It truly is a suspicion-less search policy,” said Catherine Crump, an assistant law professor at the University of California—Berkeley and a former attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union. “When you cross the border, the U.S. government asserts the right to search for no reason at all.”

The type of search U.S. officials performed on Saboonchi’s devices is known as a “forensic search” — a more comprehensive hunt for content than what a cursory, manual search at the moment of detention might yield. The process is intended to reveal information on the device such as e-mails, photos, videos, contacts, call records or other data.

Such an invasive search can be performed on virtually anyone entering the United States, according to legal scholars, based on an exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement. While the border search doctrine is meant to help U.S. officials secure contraband and halt criminal activity, there are realistically few limits on what officers can examine, and how. . .

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Written by Leisureguy

31 July 2014 at 11:00 am

Healthcare in the US South

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The South

The South is alone in having a higher proportion of adults without health insurance after Obamacare than they did before. This is thanks to the GOP state governors and legislators who went to extraordinary lengths to make sure that the poor would not have access to healthcare. As I have observed, you can usually predict GOP policy if you assume the GOP hates the poor and will do everything they can to attack and undermine the poor. In this case, it required not extending Medicare in the states (which was essentially free), refusing to set up health exchanges (Kentucky is an exception—and indeed, the number of uninsured in Kentucky dropped sharply), and refusing to inform people about benefits under the Affordable Care Act.

The above chart is from this article, which attempted to identify the remaining uninsured as of June 2014.

Written by Leisureguy

31 July 2014 at 10:54 am

Posted in GOP, Government, Healthcare

The Lamest Defense of GMO Foods Ever

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And from Neil deGrasse Tyson, no less. He should know better.

Written by Leisureguy

31 July 2014 at 10:39 am

Posted in Business, Food, Science

CIA admits breaking law, violating Constitution

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The CIA is not permitted to mount operations inside the US—and the Executive Branch is not allowed to spy on the Judiciary or the Legislative Branches. The CIA? Here’s the NY Times headline: “C.I.A. Admits Penetrating Senate Intelligence Computers”.

Mark Mazzetti reports:

An internal investigation by the Central Intelligence Agency has found that its officers improperly penetrated a computer network used by the Senate Intelligence Committee in preparing its report on the C.I.A.’s detention and interrogation program.

In a statement issued Thursday morning, a C.I.A. spokesman said that agency’s inspector general had concluded that C.I.A. officers had acted inappropriately by gaining access to the computers.

The statement said that John O. Brennan, the C.I.A. director, had apologized to the two senior members of the Senate Intelligence Committee and that he would set up an internal accountability board to review the matter. The board will be led by former Senator Evan Bayh, Democrat of Indiana.

The statement gave almost no specifics about the findings of the report, written by David Buckley, the agency’s inspector general.

Officials said there was a tense meeting earlier this week when Mr. Brennan briefed the two senators — Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California and Saxby Chambliss, Republican of Georgia. The officials said Ms. Feinstein had confronted Mr. Brennan about past public statements on the issue, in which he defended the agency’s actions.

When the C.I.A.’s monitoring of the committee became public in March, Mr. Brennan said, “When the facts come out on this, I think a lot of people who are claiming that there has been this tremendous sort of spying and monitoring and hacking will be proved wrong.” [And indeed Mr. Brennan, who never should have even been offered his job, has been proved wrong. One hopes he will resign—clearly the CIA is not under his control.- LG]

Last year, the C.I.A. gained access to a computer network, reserved solely for Senate investigators working at an agency facility in Northern Virginia, after officials suspected the intelligence committee had improperly obtained an internal C.I.A. report about the detention program, which is now defunct.

Shortly after the C.I.A. action was made public, Ms. Feinstein gave a blistering speech on the floor of the Senate accusing the agency of infringing on the committee’s role as overseer. The C.I.A. statement was first reported by McClatchy. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

31 July 2014 at 9:38 am

Posted in Daily life

When did “toughness” (particularly ineffectual toughness) become so important to the US?

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Teddy Roosevelt (“Speak softly and carry a big stick”) would be amazed at the US today: “Shout at the top of your lungs and carry a twig” seems to be the new motto. Adam Gopnik takes a look at the phenomenon:

Barack Obama is not a tough guy. Everybody rolls him. He’s a wimp, a weak sister; he won’t stand up for himself or his country. Vladimir Putin, a true tough guy, blows planes out of the air, won’t apologize, walks around half-naked. Life, it seems, is like a prison yard, and Obama cowers in a corner. “It would be a hellish thing to live with such timidity. … He’s scared of Vladimir Putin,” one Fox News contributor said about the President. But this kind of thing is not confined to the weirder fringes: Maureen Dowd pointed out a while ago that former fans of Obama “now make derogatory remarks about your manhood,” while the Wall Street Journal ’s editorial page runs a kind of compendium of “weak sister” pieces every morning, urging the President, at one point, to make more “unambiguous threats”—making unambiguous threats evidently being the real man’s method of getting his way.

“Barack Obama is the first female president,” The Daily Caller, a Web site co-founded by a former adviser to Dick Cheney, blared, without a trace of irony or consciousness that female might not be such a bad thing for a President to be. The Daily Caller lists seven basic “manly” traits—courage, industry, resolution, self-reliance, discipline, honor, and manliness, that last one bafflingly redundant but, hey, that’s the way men are—and shows how Obama fails in regard to each. (He’s terrified of his wife, apparently, though one would think that this is actually a classic Jimmy Stewart-style American sign of husbandliness.) Toni Morrison wrote memorably, in these pages, that Bill Clinton had become, in a symbolic sense, “our first black President”—meaning that Clinton’s perceived faults were flaws of appetite, of a kind that a racist imagination traditionally ascribed to black men. “His unpoliced sexuality became the focus of the persecution,” Morrison wrote. Obama’s perceived flaws are the ancient effeminate ones, of the kind that a bigoted tradition ascribed to women; above all, the criticism reflects the President’s unapologetic distaste for violent confrontation and for making loud threats, no matter how empty those threats may obviously be. (The joke, of course, is that, with Clinton as with Obama, the symbolic substitute may well precede the real thing.)

Obama—contemptibly, in this view—offers off-ramps in the direction of reason even when faced with the most fanatical opponents, who are bent on revenge for mysterious, sectarian motives, and yet he still tries to appease them. And that’s just the Republicans in Congress. Shouldn’t he be tougher with bad guys abroad? The curious thing, though, is how much the talk about manliness—and Obama’s lack of it—is purely and entirely about appearances. In the current crisis over the downed Malaysian plane, all the emphasis is on how it looks or how it might be made to look—far more than on American interests and much less on simple empathy for the nightmarish fate of the people on board. The tough-talkers end up grudgingly admitting that what the President has done—as earlier, with Syria—is about all that you could do, given the circumstances. Their own solutions are either a further variant on the kinds of sanctions that are already in place—boycott the World Cup in Russia!—or else are too militarily reckless to be taken seriously. Not even John McCain actually thinks that we should start a war over whether Donetsk and Luhansk should be regarded as part of Ukraine or Russia. The tough guys basically just think that Obama should have looked scarier. The anti-effeminate have very little else to suggest by way of practical action—except making those unambiguous threats and, apparently, baring your teeth while you do.

Why does this belligerent rhetoric still stir us? … (Hint: it was the liberals who did it. – LG]

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

31 July 2014 at 9:21 am

DLC Weber on UFO handle—and BBS again

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SOTD 31 July 2014

I couldn’t resist using the striped brush again. I do like it: nice handle, nice feel, excellent performance, and good looking. the lather, from HTGAM’s Meta Nectar, I believe, was superb. I did do palm lathering, a step I usually omit with HTGAM, and it did improve the lather somewhat.

The DLC Weber has a very nice feel, and I think the UFO aluminum bronze handle is a good match. Black and gold go together well—thus I like the look of my Gillette Super Adjustable in gold.

Three passes, with a little clean-up at the end of the third pass—probably should change the blade—and a splash of Speick, a great aftershave.

Written by Leisureguy

31 July 2014 at 9:04 am

Posted in Shaving

Can Congress Rein In the Spies?

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David Cole asks the question and has an answer worth reading at the NY Review of Books.

Written by Leisureguy

30 July 2014 at 12:21 pm

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