Later On

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

Archive for October 15th, 2014

A strategy so cunning it confuses the strategist

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From a good article at Motherboard by Jason Koebler:

Since the beginning of the year, the FAA has:

So, back to the agency’s latest self-contradiction. . .

This is the agency that regulates the airline your family will be using this Thanksgiving. I’m sure they’re much more competent than that would lead you to believe. They’d almost have to be, wouldn’t they?

Written by LeisureGuy

15 October 2014 at 5:01 pm

A pretty clear example of anxiety/pain reduction by reducing awareness and creating a blind spot

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This incident is straight out of Daniel Goleman’s (excellent) book Vital Lies, Simple Truths: The Psychology of Self-Deception. And you can see immediately how it works: if thinking about something causes you pain, you very quickly become skilled in not thinking about it, but not seeing it sometimes requires a strenuous effort, as discussed in the book.

In the meantime, Jennifer Gibson has a nice retort in the Washington Post to on Prof. Fair, who pretty clearly was avoiding seeing some things—and I’m willing to believe her strange inability to see what is actually happening is due to an effort to minimize psychic pain rather than to maximize consulting fees and contacts. Ms. Gibson writes:

Last week, in a piece titled “Ethical and Methodological Issues in Assessing Drones’ Civilian Impacts in Pakistan,” Georgetown Prof. Christine Fair took aim at human rights organizations for what she called their “advocacy-driven” investigations into the covert U.S. drone program in Pakistan.

The crux of the author’s argument seemed to be that these reports are methodologically flawed and therefore unreliable.

The author is right on one front. Reprieve is an advocacy organization. We advocate for the U.S. to follow the rule of law and respect human rights. We have never hidden this. But on several other key points, Fair’s piece is inaccurate and misleading.

For example, Fair claims that the constant “buzzing” of drones overhead could not possibly create widespread fear, anxiety and terror among local communities. Several studies and major news outlets must be wrong, she argues, because the drones do not need to fly this low. Just look at the technical specifications the U.S. Air Force provides for the Predator and Reaper drones.

The correct research question in this situation, though, is not whether the drones need to fly that low, but whether they do. And if the testimonies of those living in North Waziristan are not sufficient because (as Fair claims) they may be “influenced,” then what about the words of a New York Times reporter? David Rohde, a journalist who was held captive for several months in the tribal areas, said upon his release: “The drones were terrifying. From the ground, it is impossible to determine who or what they are tracking as they circle overhead. The buzz of a distant propeller is a constant reminder of imminent death.”

Zubair Rehman’s testimony is equally problematic for Fair. . .

Continue reading.

Prof. Fair is clearly having squint a lot and tilt her head just so and stand well back, but by golly, she really cannot see anything. Nope. All’s fine. No problems.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 October 2014 at 1:20 pm

Really, very like the script for a medical disaster movie

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A “breaking news” email from the LA Times:

Frontier jet reportedly made 5 flights before being taken out of service in Ebola incident
Los Angeles Times | October 15, 2014 | 12:41 PM

The Frontier Airlines jet that carried a Dallas healthcare worker diagnosed with Ebola made five additional flights after her trip before it was taken out of service, a flight-monitoring website reported today.

Denver-based Frontier said in a statement that it grounded the plane Tuesday immediately after the carrier was notified by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about the Ebola patient.

The Airbus A320 was put away for the night Monday after it carried the woman and 132 other passengers from Cleveland to Dallas/Fort Worth on Flight 1143. But Tuesday morning the plane was flown back to Cleveland and then to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., back to Cleveland and then to Atlanta and finally back again to Cleveland, according to Daniel Baker, the chief executive of the flight monitoring site Flightaware.com.

This is more or less the beginning of any number of movies. 12 Monkeys, anyone?

BTW, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the Dallas hospital was incompetent—this emergency was way over its head, and it’s interesting to read of how much was not done properly in order to save money. The manager of that hospital sees it as a business with his job to maximize profit. That it involves healthcare is secondary. And note the degree to which the problems stem from management and administration, and not from the healthcare workers, who were doing the best they can with the shoddy equipment, inadequate supplies, and inadequate staffing—and, as we see, inadequate training. Training is always a big, fat target for cost-cutters because it cuts a real cost and the damage resulting is usually unobserved. In the case of the Dallas hospital, all those dollars saved by inadequate training and staffing and the incompetent management of the crisis suddenly look penny-wise, pound-foolish.

For more info:

C.D.C. Says It Should Have Responded Faster to the Dallas Ebola Case

Nurses at Dallas hospital describe poor safety measures with Ebola victim

Our Superbug Problem

In the meantime, of course, we continue to use enormous quantities of antibiotics fed to livestock in a determined effort to breed microbes and infectious diseases that are resistant to all the antibiotics at our disposal. Because we roll that way. The third article includes this:

Medically unsound practices may be part of the superbug problem. In India, antibiotics have been available over the counter for decades. This practice has led to the development and spread of ESBL-producing organisms and, more recently, the NDM-1 (New Delhi metallo-beta-lactamase 1) gene, which confers resistance to the strongest antibiotics available. The NDM-1 strain was first reported in 2010 among patients in India and Pakistan and those in theU.S. and Britain who had received medical care in those countries. Since that time, the NDM-1 gene has spread around the globe. Responding to concerns of Indian physicians and the international community, this year the Indian government mandated that a prescription would be required for all antibiotics, but this rule is not strictly enforced.

While India may indeed be at fault for overuse of antibiotics, the US is certainly in no position to point fingers. I would be the antibiotic usage in the US agricultural industry far exceeds that used for medical purposes in India. And note that in the US all the animals get the antibiotic, whether sick or not: we’re in a hurry to make sure our animals harbor only those microbes most strongly resistant to antibiotics. Why? To make a little bit more money: faster meat production, for example.

That tells you pretty much all you need to know about America’s current system of values.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 October 2014 at 1:09 pm

Puzzles that don’t: Cosmetics industry division

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The conclusion of an excellent article at Pacific Standard by Zen Liu:

. . . With cosmeceutical prices quickly skyrocketing—department store brands easily run between $450 to $700 for a few ounces—the FDA and FTC finally have taken notice of the potential for manufacturers to defraud the public. Since 2010, the FDA and FTC have issued 10 warning letters to cosmetics companies for making drug-like statements in their anti-aging creams’ marketing materials, including L’Oreal, Avon, Nivea, and L’Occitane.

L’Oreal is the world’s largest cosmetics group, amassing nearly $30 billion annually in sales. In a half-year financial report filed with the SEC in June 2014, L’Oreal reported spending around $450 million on research and development, but over $4 billion on advertising and promotions. Apparently, spending nearly $1 billion annually on research can generate enough evidence to assure consumers their cosmeceuticals work, but not quite enough to meet the FDA’s standards of proof.

The advertisements in question described their products as having the ability to, for example, change gene expression in the skin to induce collagen production and block the process of aging, or even promote weight loss. Under threat of legal action, manufacturers were ordered to produce scientific evidence to substantiate their claims and have products evaluated through the FDA’s New Drug Approval process, or cease making such statements altogether.

All of the firms chose the latter.

I bet any money I know why. Because revealing those secrets would have endangered national security. (It’s as valid here as when the DoJ and Obama Administration and CIA and NSA use it.)

I am pleased to see a Federal regulatory agency actually regulating the industry instead of rolling over for it in return for a plush sinecure upon retirement from the government.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 October 2014 at 12:51 pm

Keeping Democrats from the polls: The GOP’s basic strategy

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The GOP is not interested in governing, it’s often been remarked, but the GOP is very interested in controlling who is allowed to vote. We’ve seen this approach in many other countries, most of them more disreputable than the US. Brad Friedman comments on Salon.com:

This is not unexpected, though its still disturbing to those concerned about voting rights — and the possibility that more than half a million legally registered voters in Texas may not be allowed to vote in this November’s election.

A three judge panel on the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals has, for now, blocked the U.S. District Court’s ruling last week in Texas, issued after a full trial on the merits of the law, which had struck down state Republicans’ polling place Photo ID voting restriction after finding it deliberately discriminatory and a violation of the U.S. Constitution and federal Voting Rights Act.

Following Tuesday’s order by the 5th Circuit [PDF] reversing the lower court ruling, for now, the plaintiffs challenging the state statute said, almost immediately, that they plan to file an emergency appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court to put the law back on hold before the November elections.

Voting rights proponents worry that, if the Court holds true to its recent rulings in voting rights cases in NCin OH and, most recently, in WI, they are likely to allow Texas’ discriminatory law to stay in place this November, pending a full hearing on the merits at a later date.

There is, however, some important differences in the Texas case than in those other three, which we’ll explain in a moment.

Texas had appealed the initial 147-page ruling [PDF] by U.S. District Court Judge Nelva Gonazles Ramos, issued last week, which found that the Texas Photo ID voting statue, SB 14, “creates an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote, has an impermissible discriminatory effect against Hispanics and African-Americans, and was imposed with an unconstitutional discriminatory purpose.” She also determined that the state requirement that voters produce one of a few very specific types of state-issued Photo ID when voting at the polling place amounted to an “unconstitutional poll tax”, since all such ID requires at least some payment by voters…

On Tuesday, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals panel (two Republican appointees and one Democratic appointee) issued their order to stay the lower court’s ruling, effectively putting the law back into effect for the November election. Early voting in Texas begins on October 20th.

“Essentially, all the marbles of this 5th Circuit order come down to ‘it’s too close to the election to stop the law from going into effect, because pollworkers will be confused,”explains election law expert Justin Levitt of the NYU Brennan Center for Justice.

“It’s important to recognize that the court of appeals did not disturb the district court’s findings that some individuals do not have and will not likely be able to timely get the documents in question,” he adds. The issue is largely, for now, that, given the last minute ruling by the District Court striking down the law, pollworkers may be confused about what the voting requirements actually now are. Some may ask voters for the new restrictive set of Photo ID under the new laws, “preventing some individuals without the narrow set of ID from voting anything other than a provisional ballot,” says Levitt, while others may not.

Yes, it’s actually as absurd as it sounds.

“So instead, the court makes it legal for all pollworkers to demand the more restricted set (preventing all individuals without the right ID from voting a valid ballot at all),” he continued. “Or, translated even further: if we let the district court’s order stand, some people without the right ID will be able to vote, and some won’t. And if we stay the district court, all people without the right ID won’t be able to vote. And in elections, ‘all’ is better than ‘some.’”

Levitt derides the ruling as “foolish consistency“. “It’s one thing to stop last-minute changes when the impact is less dire for those affected, another to stop last-minute changes when the change is new and unfamiliar, and still another to stop last-minute changes when the reason for the change isn’t clear.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 October 2014 at 12:38 pm

Posted in Election, GOP, Government, Law

When police deserve our disrespect

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Radley Balko writes in the Washington Post:

There’s an ongoing scandal in Orange County, Calif., over how the office of District Attorney Tony Rackauckas and the sheriff’s department use jailhouse informants in criminal trials. The main allegation is that the agencies are deploying “snitches” to elicit confessions and other incriminating statements from other inmates accused of serious crimes. The informants are then given time off on their own sentences. The problem is that the quid pro quo and the tactics the informants are using to gather statements from the accused aren’t being disclosed to defense attorneys, as required by law. More background from the Open File bloghere.

The fallout from the scandal continues. Incredibly, Orange County prosecutors appear to be ready to let accused murderers and other alleged felons go free rather than open up practices and tactics to scrutiny. Here’s areport from the Voice of OC:

The Orange County District Attorney’s Office has dropped murder charges against another defendant after allegations that prosecutors improperly withheld evidence gleaned from a network of jailhouse informants.

On Sept. 22, prosecutors dismissed charges of attempted murder and solicitation of murder against 49-year-old Joseph Martin Govey, who has a prior criminal history. Lesser charges — including possessing counterfeit money and a felon with a firearm — remain.

Govey’s case marks the third time in three months that District Attorney Tony Rackauckas has chosen to drop murder charges rather than challenge defense attorneys’ claims that members of his team behaved unethically and violated evidentiary law with the informants network.

The network was first revealed earlier this year during an unprecedented hearing in the case of convicted mass murderer Scott Evans Dekraai.

Govey’s attorney, Renee Garcia, said the dismissal of the charges appears to be designed to hide informant evidence from her and other defense attorneys involved in other cases.

“It is part of a pattern in the District Attorney’s Office, whereby they are being unethical by not complying with the constitutionally mandated evidence discovery requirements,” said Garcia.

“What is very disturbing is that the whole district attorney management teams knows about this. They are behaving unethically. How corrupt can the office be?”

On Oct. 2, prosecutors dropped the remaining charges, too. This is my favorite part:

Susan Kang Schroeder — chief of staff for Rackauckas — said in an email: “It is the official policy of the Orange County District Attorney not to respond to inquiries from the Voice of OC,” citing past disagreements over articles.

Earlier this month, OC Weekly offered the details on how another man accused of murder was freed: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 October 2014 at 12:21 pm

Inside the Federal Reserve Bank of New York: Secret Recordings and a Culture Clash

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President Obama has failed to take direct and vigorous action to reform the regulatory agencies and restore their sense of mission. Read this story to see what the SEC is like after reforms: it’s as if the reforms were not made. Nothing has changed. The SEC still defers to banks and takes orders from banks.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 October 2014 at 12:11 pm

Since 2009, the FCC Has Received 16,000 Complaints About Time Warner and Comcast

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One wonders why the FCC has taken no action—but then I recall the chairman, Tom Wheeler, was formerly a lobbyist for telecoms and cable companies. No wonder the complaints have effect. President Obama seems to want to protect large corporations at all costs.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 October 2014 at 12:06 pm

Addictions: The Internet, work, Google Glass

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I thought this article Jordan Pearson at Motherboard was quite interesting. From the article:

. . . Google Glass can be used in ways that aren’t necessarily harmful, like providing real-time closed captioning for the hearing impaired. In a high pressure environment that rewards ever-increasing efficiency, however, it can be abused to the point of harm.

“What technology does is deliver information at such a high, rapid pace, that if we’re not careful, this could be a reward mechanism that can be abused,” Doan said. “When you get new information, your brain sends dopamines and you get an adrenaline arousal, similar to when you watch movies or when you find new information. There’s shorter and shorter obligatory rest periods between the events, hence people who sit on their computer or have a wearable device, and wear it day in and day out.”

Doan noted that it’s important not to blame the addicted person when it comes to the abuse of drugs or technology. Instead, we have to understand why addictive behaviour occurs: quick rewards with a short rest period, compounded by underlying psychological distress. With Glass in the workplace, these ingredients are certainly present.

The psychological effects of workplace pressure are well-documented andrecognized by the World Health Organization, the American Psychological Association, and myriad other organizations. The pressure to perform tasks more quickly and with greater efficiency has always been a major stressor, one that is exacerbated by technologies like Google Glass.

The media theorist John Tomlinson characterized the connection between speed, work, technology, and psychology as emblematic of “fast capitalism.” Digital technology gives us access to instantaneous flows of information and communication, speeding up the pace of life.

The result, Tomlinson writes in The Culture of Speed, is a psychological working-over resulting in a new kind of person suited to the age of speed, and an increasingly exhausted and harried one at that, dependent on the devices that accelerate work in the first place. . .

Written by LeisureGuy

15 October 2014 at 11:48 am

The unintended consequences of meth laws

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Very interesting analysis of unexpected outcomes from laws to attack the meth problem.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 October 2014 at 10:27 am

Posted in Daily life, Drug laws

UN: Mass electronic surveillance is a clear violation of core privacy rights guaranteed by multiple treaties and conventions

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Not that I think President Obama cares in the least—he’s the second president in a row to ignore the Convention Against Torture treaty that the US signed. The US simply has stopped caring whether it obeys the law or not: indeed, our domestic police forces—the very group tasked to ensure the law is obeyed—routinely break the law as they feel like it, and are immune to any serious punishment. Many police officers clearly believe that laws do not apply to the police.

Glenn Greenwald reports at The Intercept:

The United Nations’ top official for counter-terrorism and human rights (known as the “Special Rapporteur”) issued a formal report to the U.N. General Assembly today that condemns mass electronic surveillance as a clear violation of core privacy rights guaranteed by multiple treaties and conventions. “The hard truth is that the use of mass surveillance technology effectively does away with the right to privacy of communications on the Internet altogether,” the report concluded. The report will be uploaded shortly.

Central to the Rapporteur’s findings is the distinction between “targeted surveillance” – which depend[s] upon the existence of prior suspicion of the targeted individual or organization” – and “mass surveillance,” whereby “states with high levels of Internet penetration can [] gain access to the telephone and e-mail content of an effectively unlimited number of users and maintain an overview of Internet activity associated with particular websites.” In a system of “mass surveillance,” the report explained, “all of this is possible without any prior suspicion related to a specific individual or organization. The communications of literally every Internet user are potentially open for inspection by intelligence and law enforcement agencies in the States concerned.”

Mass surveillance thus “amounts to a systematic interference with the right to respect for the privacy of communications,” it declared. As a result, “it is incompatible with existing concepts of privacy for States to collect all communications or metadata all the time indiscriminately.”

In concluding that mass surveillance impinges core privacy rights, the report was primarily focused on the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a treaty enacted by the General Assembly in 1966, to which all of the members of the “Five Eyes” alliance are signatories. The U.S. ratified the treaty in 1992, albeit with various reservations that allowed for the continuation of the death penalty and which rendered its domestic law supreme. With the exception of the U.S.’s Persian Gulf allies (Saudi Arabia, UAE and Qatar), virtually every major country has signed the treaty.

Article 17 of the Covenant guarantees the right of privacy, the defining protection of which, the report explained, is “that individuals have the right to share information and ideas with one another without interference by the State, secure in the knowledge that their communication will reach and be read by the intended recipients alone.”

The report’s key conclusion is that this core right is impinged by mass surveillance programs: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 October 2014 at 10:21 am

Why government policy — not personal prejudice — is to blame for Ferguson

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A very interesting article by Emily Badger in the Washington Post about how it took decades of determined effort in implementing policies and passing laws to create the situation in Ferguson today:

If we take any lasting lessons from Ferguson, we are on the verge of learning the wrong ones: that some police are racist, that some whites will always take flight, that some places have simply lagged behind the rest of our racial progress.

These small conclusions dodge a much larger picture. Ferguson as it exists today — same with metropolitan St. Louis, and many, many cities like it — is a product of decades of explicit government policy designed to segregate blacks from whites and constrict their housing opportunities. These policies, from redlining to legally enforced racial covenants to officially segregated public housing, no longer exist. Federal agencies and local governments no longer publicly work hand-in-hand with the banking, real estate and insurance industries to exclude blacks from homeownership and housing in many communities.

But this largely forgotten history has shaped the racial dynamics and housing patterns in communities today in much more powerful ways than personal prejudice has. The most thorough account yet of these deep roots to Ferguson’s unrest comes from Richard Rothstein, who details in a new paper for the Economic Policy Institute (and an accompanying article in The American Prospect) the devastating complicity of public policy in segregating communities, alienating blacks, and reinforcing in whites the idea that blacks make inferior neighbors. Rothstein’s report comes with an ominous warning:

When we blame private prejudice and snobbishness for contemporary segregation, we not only whitewash our own history but avoid considering whether new policies might instead promote an integrated community.

When we recount tales of whites abandoning the city for the suburbs, then the inner suburbs for the outer ones, we forget that white flight was long a kind of official government policy. When we talk about Ferguson like a uniquely combustible outlier, we ignore the similar racial history that shaped our own communities, too.

“Every single policy that I describe in this paper was duplicated in almost every other metropolitan area. And most of the policies I describe are duplicated in all other metropolitan areas,” Rothstein says. “There’s no exception for liberal places like New York. The FHA created segregated suburbs in the New York metropolitan area in the same way it did in St. Louis. Liberal San Francisco is no different.

“This is not a St. Louis problem.”

But, if you’re optimistic, St. Louis creates an opening to talk about it.

The government created segregated public housing projects, as policy. It subsidized the development of suburban communities on the condition that they exclude black residents. It barred blacks from receiving government-backed mortgages, enforced neighborhood covenants barring black homeowners, and advised against integrating neighborhoods lest white property values fall. And it tacitly supported industry practices where real estate agents risking losing their licenses for selling homes to black families in white neighborhoods.

Local zoning regulations, meanwhile, hemmed in black communities with the industrial development no one wanted. It permitted liquor stores, bars and polluting businesses in black neighborhoods but not white ones. Then when all these unwanted neighbors devalued the property of the blacks who lived in these communities, they were systematically denied mortgage insurance. Local governments, on top of this, increasingly ignored these communities with trash collection, street maintance and policing, devaluing them even more.

Whites who saw the end result no doubt concluded that black neighborhoods became slums — not that government neglect and official discrimination forced slum-like conditions on blacks.

“It’s not just that private prejudice effects government policy,” Rothstein says, “but the government policy has created the private prejudice.”. . .

Continue reading.

With the above in mind, read this article on reparations.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 October 2014 at 10:00 am

Cenk Uygur interviews Reza Aslan

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Very interesting interview—and I do like Cenk Uygur’s style.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 October 2014 at 9:52 am

Posted in Religion, Video

The Secret Casualties of Iraq’s Abandoned Chemical Weapons

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It seems very much as though the Pentagon really does not care that much about the welfare of the troops. You may recall the decades-long struggle of American soldiers and marines who suffered from the extensive chemical warfare the US waged in Vietnam, and how Agent Orange (dioxin) destroyed the health of thousands, whose claims the military denied repeatedly.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 October 2014 at 9:40 am

Background to continuing US failure in Iraq and Afghanistan

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The failure of US efforts in Iraq and Pakistan reflect deliberate (and extremely poor) policy and operational decisions. It’s not an accident the US failed so badly: the US actively worked to implement policies that guaranteed failure. William Astore writes in Informed Comment:

In June, tens of thousands of Iraqi Security Forces in Nineveh province north of Baghdad collapsed in the face of attacks from the militants of the Islamic State (IS or ISIS), abandoning four major cities to that extremist movement. The collapse drew much notice in our media, but not much in the way of sustained analysis of the American role in it. To put it bluntly, when confronting IS and its band of lightly armed irregulars, a reputedly professional military, American-trained and -armed, discarded its weapons and equipment, cast its uniforms aside, and melted back into the populace. What this behavior couldn’t have made clearer was that U.S. efforts to create a new Iraqi army, much-touted and funded to the tune of $25 billion over the 10 years of the American occupation ($60 billion if you include other reconstruction costs), had failed miserably.

Though reasonable analyses of the factors behind that collapse exist, an investigation of why U.S. efforts to create a viable Iraqi army (and, by extension, viable security forces in Afghanistan) cratered so badly are lacking.  To understand what really happened, a little history lesson is in order.  You’d need to start in May 2003 with the decision of L. Paul Bremer III, America’s proconsul in occupied Iraq and head of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), to disband the battle-hardened Iraqi military.  The Bush administration considered it far too tainted by Saddam Hussein and his Baathist Party to be a trustworthy force.

Instead, Bremer and his team vowed to create a new Iraqi military from scratch.  According to Washington Post reporter Tom Ricks in his bestselling book Fiasco, that force was initially conceived as a small constabulary of 30,000-40,000 men (with no air force at all, or rather with the U.S. Air Force for backing in a country U.S. officials expected togarrison for decades).  Its main job would be to secure the country’s borders without posing a threat to Iraq’s neighbors or, it should be added, to U.S. interests.

Bremer’s decision essentially threw 400,000 Iraqis with military training, including a full officer corps, out onto the streets of its cities, jobless.  It was a formula for creating an insurgency.  Humiliated and embittered, some of those men would later join various resistance groups operating against the American military.  More than a few of them later found their way into the ranks of ISIS, including at the highest levels of leadership.  (The most notorious of these is Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, a former general in Saddam’s army who was featured as the King of Clubs in the Bush administration’s deck of cards of Iraq’s most wanted figures.  Al-Douri is now reportedly helping to coordinate IS attacks.)

IS has fought with considerable effectiveness, quickly turning captured American and Syrian weaponry, including artillery pieces, Humvees, and even a helicopter, on their enemies.  Despite years of work by U.S. military advisers and all those billions of dollars invested in training and equipment, the Iraqi army has not fought well, or often at all.  Nor, it seems, will it be ready to do so in the immediate future. Retired Marine Corps General John R. Allen, who played a key role in organizing, arming, and paying off Sunni tribal groups in Iraq the last time around during the “Anbar Awakening,” and who has been charged by President Obama with “coordinating” the latest American-led coalition to save Iraq, has already gone on record on the subject.  By his calculations, even with extensive U.S. air support and fresh infusions of American advisers and equipment, it will take up to a year before that army is capable of launching a campaign to retake Mosul, the country’s second largest city.

What went wrong?  The U.S. Army believes in putting the “bottom line up front,” so much so that they have even turned the phrase into an acronym: BLUF.  The bottom line here is that, when it comes to military effectiveness, what ultimately matters is whether an army — any army — possesses spirit.  Call it fire in the belly, a willingness to take the fight to the enemy.  The Islamic State’s militants, at least for the moment, clearly have that will; Iraqi security forces, painstakingly trained and lavishly underwritten by the U.S. government, do not.

This represents a failure of the first order.  So here’s the $60 billion question: Why did such sustained U.S. efforts bear such bitter fruit?  The simple answer: for a foreign occupying force to create a unified and effective army from a disunified and disaffected populace was (and remains) a fool’s errand.  In reality, U.S. intervention, now as then, will serve only to aggravate that disunity, no matter what new Anbar Awakenings are attempted.

Upon Saddam’s overthrow in 2003 and the predictable power vacuum that followed, score-settling ethno-religious factions clashed in what, in the end, was little short of civil war. In the meantime, both Sunni and Shia insurgencies arose to fight the American occupiers. Misguided decisions by Bremer’s CPA only made matters worse. Deep political divisions in Iraq fed those insurgencies, which targeted American troops as a foreign presence. In response, the U.S. military sought to pacify the insurgents, while simultaneously expanding the Iraqi constabulary. In military parlance, it began to “stand up” what would become massive security forces. These were expected to restore a semblance of calm, even as they provided cover for U.S. troops to withdraw ever so gradually from combat roles.

It all sounded so reasonable and achievable that the near-impossibility of the task eluded the Americans involved. To understand why the situation was so hopeless, try this thought experiment. Imagine that it is March 1861 in the United States. Elected by a minority of Americans, Abraham Lincoln is deeply distrusted by Southern secessionists who seek a separatist set of confederated states to protect their interests. Imagine at that moment that a foreign empire intervened, replacing Lincoln with a more tractable leader while disbanding the federal army along with state militias due to their supposed untrustworthiness and standing up its own forces, ones intended to pacify a people headed toward violent civil war. Imagine the odds of “success”; imagine the unending chaos that would have followed.

If this scenario seems farfetched, so, too, was the American military mission in Iraq.  Not surprisingly, in such a speculative and risky enterprise, the resulting security forces came to be the equivalent of so many junk bonds. And when the margin call came, the only thing left was hollow legions.

In the military, it’s called an “after action report” or a “hotwash” — a review, that is, of what went wrong and what can be learned, so the same mistakes are not repeated. When it comes to America’s Iraq training mission, four lessons should top any “hotwash” list:

1. Military training, no matter how intensive, and weaponry, no matter how sophisticated and powerful, is no substitute for belief in a cause.  Such belief nurtures cohesion and feeds fighting spirit.  ISIS has fought with conviction.  The expensively trained and equipped Iraqi army hasn’t.  The latter lacks a compelling cause held in common.  This is not to suggest that ISIS has a cause that’s pure or just. Indeed, it appears to be a complex mélange of religious fundamentalism, sectarian revenge, political ambition, and old-fashioned opportunism (including loot, plain and simple). But so far the combination has proven compelling to its fighters, while Iraq’s security forces appear centered on little more than self-preservation.

2. . .

Continue reading. Later in the article:

As Douglas Macgregor, a retired Army colonel, noted in December 2004, American generals and politicians “did not think through the consequences of compelling American soldiers with no knowledge of Arabic or Arab culture to implement intrusive measures inside an Islamic society.  We arrested people in front of their families, dragging them away in handcuffs with bags over their heads, and then provided no information to the families of those we incarcerated.  In the end, our soldiers killed, maimed, and incarcerated thousands of Arabs, 90 percent of whom were not the enemy.  But they are now.”

Sharing that contempt was Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who chose a metaphor of parent and child, teacher and neophyte, to describe the “progress” of the occupation.  He spoke condescendingly of the need to take the “training wheels” off the Iraqi bike of state and let Iraqis pedal for themselves.  A decade later, General Allen exhibited a similarly paternalistic attitude in an article he wrote calling for the destruction of the Islamic State.  For him, the people of Iraq are “poor benighted” souls, who can nonetheless serve American power adequately as “boots on the ground.”  In translation that means they can soak up bullets and become casualties, while the U.S. provides advice and air support.  In the general’s vision — which had déjà vu all over again scrawled across it — U.S. advisers were to “orchestrate” future attacks on IS, while Iraq’s security forces learned how to obediently follow their American conductors.

The commonplace mixture of smugness and paternalism Allen revealed hardly bodes well for future operations against the Islamic State.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 October 2014 at 9:34 am

Princeton University carefully censors speech about Palestinian suffering

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Not exactly a bastion of untrammeled inquiry. Princeton’s actions reveal what it truly values.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 October 2014 at 9:28 am

Supporting cops who torture and lie

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This story shows how fiercely police protect their own members, regardless of wrong-doing. Police fight crime only if the crime is not committed by police. (Internal affairs offices do fight crime committed by the police: that is why the police hate Internal Affairs. In general, police seem to share a profound belief that, if a police officer does something, it should be deemed legal due to the tough job they have or whatever.)

The Illinois Supreme Court ruled Thursday that Attorney General Lisa Madigan could not intervene to challenge a police pension board’s egregious decision to keep Burge’s retirement checks flowing.

The pension board’s reasoning? Burge wasn’t convicted of torturing dozens of suspects who were in police custody — he was convicted of lying about it. By the time he did that, he wasn’t a cop any more.

The board’s vote was 4-4, with the tie falling in Burge’s favor. The four civilian members of the board voted to terminate his pension. The four who voted to let him keep it — all of them cops or former cops — said Burge’s conviction for perjury and obstruction of justice had nothing to do with his job.

After all, he’d already been fired. “It wasn’t on charges of what he did as a police officer,” board President Kenneth Hauser said at the time. “It was on a lie that he made in front of a civil jury.”

That argument is particularly galling, since the taxpayers footed Burge’s legal bills during that civil trial.

For decades, police and prosecutors had discounted complaints that suspects were being coerced into making false confessions — at gunpoint, with shocks to the genitals or with plastic bags over their heads — at the Area Two headquarters, where Burge supervised the violent crimes unit.

Later, those same authorities wrung their hands and claimed the case against Burge wasn’t strong enough to win a conviction. The evidence was old, they said; the witnesses were uncooperative or unreliable.

After the statute of limitations expired, it fell to U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald to get a measure of justice: In 2010, Burge was convicted of perjury for lying during a 2003 civil trial brought by one of his many victims.

Burge’s conviction had everything to do with his job — how else would he have had anything to lie about? — but the pension board’s cop caucus didn’t see a connection. It didn’t want to. So Madigan sued.

The Supreme Court decided she couldn’t. Under state law, it’s up to the pension board to decide whether to terminate the benefits of an officer convicted of a felony. To do so, it must find that the crime was connected to the officer’s job. The court said the attorney general doesn’t have standing to appeal the board’s decision.

The majority opinion, written by Justice Anne Burke, stressed that the Supreme Court was not ruling on the merits of the pension board’s decision, only on its authority to decide. The brotherhood of cops who voted to keep paying that pension abused that authority.

And, of course, Burge did not have to pay any reparations to those he tortured and falsely imprisoned. He’s a cop, so he’s immune. That story here. It begins:

Thursday morning as disgraced former Chicago police Cmdr. Jon Burge was released from federal prison to a Florida halfway house, one of his first torture victims, Anthony Holmes, stood at City Hall with tears in his eyes, recalling four decades of pain and loss.

Holmes, a former Black Gangster Disciples leader, was arrested by Burge in 1973 and taken to a South Side police station, where detectives hooked him up to an electrical box, put a bag over his head and shocked him until he confessed to a murder he says he did not commit. Holmes said he still remembers Burge in his ear, calling him the “N” word and warning him, “Don’t you bite through that bag.”

By the time Holmes was released from prison 30 years later, the statute of limitations to sue had long since run out. He has never seen a dime in damages. Now nearing 70, the soft-spoken newspaper delivery driver said he is still awakened by nightmares and struggles financially. . .

Written by LeisureGuy

15 October 2014 at 9:25 am

Posted in Law, Law Enforcement

Very nice shave

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SOTD 15 Oct 2014

A very nice rose-fragranced shave today. Very fine lather, and the ATT with a SuperMax Platinum blade did a fine job with a couple of nicks. I’m going to try a different brand in it.

A slash of Saint Charles Shave Savory Rose, and the day begins. The brush is a Rooney Style 3 Size 1. It says “Super Badger” and is sold as their “Super Silvertip.” Quite a nice brush.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 October 2014 at 9:02 am

Posted in Shaving

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