Later On

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

Archive for November 9th, 2014

Stealing is easier when you have a badge: Civil asset forfeiture from a shopping list

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Civil asset forfeiture seems to be enormously corrupting to US police departments—to the extent that departments are now advised to create shopping lists of property to seize. Shaila Dewan writes in the NY Times:

The seminars offered police officers some useful tips on seizing property from suspected criminals. Don’t bother with jewelry (too hard to dispose of) and computers (“everybody’s got one already”), the experts counseled. Do go after flat screen TVs, cash and cars. Especially nice cars.

In one seminar, captured on video in September, Harry S. Connelly Jr., the city attorney of Las Cruces, N.M., called them “little goodies.” And then Mr. Connelly described how officers in his jurisdiction could not wait to seize one man’s “exotic vehicle” outside a local bar.

“A guy drives up in a 2008 Mercedes, brand new,” he explained. “Just so beautiful, I mean, the cops were undercover and they were just like ‘Ahhhh.’ And he gets out and he’s just reeking of alcohol. And it’s like, ‘Oh, my goodness, we can hardly wait.’ ”

Mr. Connelly was talking about a practice known as civil asset forfeiture, which allows the government, without ever securing a conviction or even filing a criminal charge, to seize property suspected of having ties to crime. The practice, expanded during the war on drugs in the 1980s, has become a staple of law enforcement agencies because it helps finance their work. It is difficult to tell how much has been seized by state and local law enforcement, but under a Justice Department program, the value of assets seized has ballooned to $4.3 billion in the 2012 fiscal year from $407 million in 2001. Much of that money is shared with local police forces.

The practice of civil forfeiture has come under fire in recent months, amid a spate of negative press reports and growing outrage among civil rights advocates, libertarians and members of Congress who have raised serious questions about the fairness of the practice, which critics say runs roughshod over due process rights. In one oft-cited case, a Philadelphia couple’s home was seized after their son made $40 worth of drug sales on the porch. Despite that opposition, many cities and states are moving to expand civil seizures of cars and other assets. The seminars, some of which were captured on video, raise a curtain on how law enforcement officials view the practice.

From Orange County, N.Y., to Rio Rancho, N.M., forfeiture operations are being established or expanded. In September, Albuquerque, which has long seized the cars of suspected drunken drivers, began taking them from men suspected of trying to pick up prostitutes, landing seven cars during a one-night sting. Arkansas has expanded its seizure law to allow the police to take cash and assets with suspected connections to terrorism, and Illinois moved to make boats fair game under its D.W.I. laws, in addition to cars. In Mercer County, N.J., a prosecutor preaches the “gospel” that forfeiture is not just for drug arrests — cars can be seized in shoplifting and statutory rape cases as well.

“At the grass-roots level — cities, counties — they continue to be interested, perhaps increasingly so, in supplementing their budgets by engaging in the type of seizures that we’ve seen in Philadelphia and elsewhere,” said Lee McGrath, a lawyer for the Institute for Justice, a public interest law firm that has mounted a legal and public relations assault on civil forfeiture.

Continue reading.

It seems little different from strong-arm robbery except that those robbed have little recourse—they cannot very well go to the police.

I see this as the continued breakdown of law and community in the US. And since it does not affect the 0.1%, Congress is not interested because the 0.1% are not interested.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 November 2014 at 8:57 pm

Posted in Law Enforcement

Beat-deafness is deeper than dancing

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Fascinating article. Just one paragraph:

Unlike the more pseudoscientific notion of biorhythms, chronobiology is a reasonably well-established feature of most life. In humans, it ranges from slowly moving circadian rhythms to heartbeats to the nasal cycle, the mostly unnoticeable yet continuous cyclic oscillation between congestion and decongestion occurring in humans about once every four hours.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 November 2014 at 5:08 pm

Posted in Daily life, Music, Science

Apple releases web tool to deregister phone numbers from iMessage

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Interesting post on The Verge:

Apple has quietly released a new tool to make switching between iOS and other smartphones a bit easier. The new web tool lets you instantly deregister your phone number from Apple’s iMessage system. The site, first spotted by a poster on Reddit, should solve the problem of disappearing text messages.

Many former iPhone users have reported for years that they were not receiving text messages from their friends. The issue stemmed from Apple continuing to route texts through iMessage even after users had moved on to other devices. Since iMessage is proprietary to Apple’s platforms, users who switched away from iOS but didn’t disable iMessage first would no longer be able to see messages sent from friends with Apple devices. Most users who experienced the problem only had one solution: they had to entirely deregister the old device from their Apple accounts.

But with the recently-released web tool, all you need to do is . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 November 2014 at 4:53 pm

Posted in Technology

National Security and Double Government, by Michael J. Glennon

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The Boston Globe has a review of Glennon’s new book:

It has long been the province of conspiracy theorists to claim that the real power of government is not wielded by the obvious practitioners of statecraft — presidents, members of Congress, the judiciary — but by secret or semi-secret entities, real wizards whose hidden machinations send us to war, sell us out to enemies, siphon public treasure into private hands. Depending on your talk show or paranoia of choice, these are the bankers, oil barons, one-worlders, war profiteers, Bilderbergers, Masons, Catholics, Jews, or Trilateralists. Our formal institutions, in this scenario, are stage sets, Potemkin villages; our officials are puppets; we are an unsuspecting audience.

Michael Glennon, a respected academic (Tufts’s Fletcher School) and author of a book brought to us by an equally respected publisher (Oxford University Press), is hardly the sort to indulge in such fantasies. And that makes the picture he paints in National Security and Double Government all the more arresting. Considering Barack Obama’s harsh pre-election criticisms of his predecessor’s surveillance policies, for example, Glennon notes that many of those same policies — and more of the same kind — were continued after Obama took office. “Why,” he asks, “does national security policy remain constant even when one President is replaced by another, who as a candidate repeatedly, forcefully, and eloquently promised fundamental changes in that policy?”

The answer Glennon places before us is not reassuring: “a bifurcated system — a structure of double government — in which even the President now exercises little substantive control over the overall direction of US national security policy.” The result, he writes, is a system of dual institutions that have evolved “toward greater centralization, less accountability, and emergent autocracy.”

If this were a movie, it would soon become clear that some evil force, bent on consolidating power and undermining democratic governance, has surreptitiously tunneled into the under-structure of the nation. Not so. In fact, Glennon observes, this hyper-secret and difficult-to-control network arose in part as an attempt to head off just such an outcome. In the aftermath of World War II, with the Soviet Union a serious threat from abroad and a growing domestic concern about weakened civilian control over the military (in 1949, the Hoover Commission had warned that the Joint Chiefs of Staff had become “virtually a law unto themselves”), President Truman set out to create a separate national security structure.

By 2011, according to The Washington Post, there were 46 separate federal departments and agencies and 2,000 private companies engaged in classified national security operations with millions of employees and spending of roughly a trillion dollars a year. As Glennon points out, presidents get to name fewer than 250 political appointees among the Defense Department’s nearly 700,000 civilian employees, with hundreds more drawn from a national security bureaucracy that comprise “America’s Trumanite network” — in effect, on matters of national security, a second government.

Glennon’s book is not a breezy read: It’s thick with fact and not unappreciative of conundrum (“The government is seen increasingly by elements of the public as hiding what they ought to know, criminalizing what they ought to be able to do, and spying upon what ought to be private. The people are seen increasingly by the government as unable to comprehend the gravity of security threats.”). Nor is he glib with proposed solutions: to adequately respond to the threats posed by a below-the-radar second government will . . .

Continue reading.

The Boston Globe also ran an interview of Dr. Glennon, under the headline “Vote all you want. The secret government won’t change.”

THE VOTERS WHO put Barack Obama in office expected some big changes. From the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping to Guantanamo Bay to the Patriot Act, candidate Obama was a defender of civil liberties and privacy, promising a dramatically different approach from his predecessor.

But six years into his administration, the Obama version of national security looks almost indistinguishable from the one he inherited. Guantanamo Bay remains open. The NSA has, if anything, become more aggressive in monitoring Americans. Drone strikes have escalated. Most recently it was reported that the same president who won a Nobel Prize in part for promoting nuclear disarmament is spending up to $1 trillion modernizing and revitalizing America’s nuclear weapons.

Why did the face in the Oval Office change but the policies remain the same? Critics tend to focus on Obama himself, a leader who perhaps has shifted with politics to take a harder line. But Tufts University political scientist Michael J. Glennon has a more pessimistic answer: Obama couldn’t have changed policies much even if he tried.

Though it’s a bedrock American principle that citizens can steer their own government by electing new officials, Glennon suggests that in practice, much of our government no longer works that way. In a new book, “National Security and Double Government,” he catalogs the ways that the defense and national security apparatus is effectively self-governing, with virtually no accountability, transparency, or checks and balances of any kind. He uses the term “double government”: There’s the one we elect, and then there’s the one behind it, steering huge swaths of policy almost unchecked. Elected officials end up serving as mere cover for the real decisions made by the bureaucracy.

Glennon cites the example of Obama and his team being shocked and angry to discover upon taking office that the military gave them only two options for the war in Afghanistan: The United States could add more troops, or the United States could add a lot more troops. Hemmed in, Obama added 30,000 more troops.

Glennon’s critique sounds like an outsider’s take, even a radical one. In fact, he is the quintessential insider: He was legal counsel to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a consultant to various congressional committees, as well as to the State Department. “National Security and Double Government” comes favorably blurbed by former members of the Defense Department, State Department, White House, and even the CIA. And he’s not a conspiracy theorist: Rather, he sees the problem as one of “smart, hard-working, public-spirited people acting in good faith who are responding to systemic incentives”—without any meaningful oversight to rein them in.

How exactly has double government taken hold? And what can be done about it? Glennon spoke with Ideas from his office at Tufts’ Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. This interview has been condensed and edited.

IDEAS: Where does the term “double government” come from?

GLENNON:It comes from Walter Bagehot’s famous theory, unveiled in the 1860s. Bagehot was the scholar who presided over the birth of the Economist magazine—they still have a column named after him. Bagehot tried to explain in his book “The English Constitution” how the British government worked. He suggested that there are two sets of institutions. There are the “dignified institutions,” the monarchy and the House of Lords, which people erroneously believed ran the government. But he suggested that there was in reality a second set of institutions, which he referred to as the “efficient institutions,” that actually set governmentalpolicy. And those were the House of Commons, the prime minister, and the British cabinet.

IDEAS: What evidence exists for saying America has a double government?

GLENNON:I was curious why a president such as Barack Obama would embrace the very same national security and counterterrorism policies that he campaigned eloquently against. Why would that president continue those same policies in case after case after case? I initially wrote it based on my own experience and personal knowledge and conversations with dozens of individuals in the military, law enforcement, and intelligence agencies of our government, as well as, of course, officeholders on Capitol Hill and in the courts. And the documented evidence in the book is substantial—there are 800 footnotes in the book.

IDEAS: Why would policy makers hand over the national-security keys to unelected officials?

GLENNON: It hasn’t been a conscious decision….Members of Congress are generalists and need to defer to experts within the national security realm, as elsewhere. They are particularly concerned about being caught out on a limb having made a wrong judgment about national security and tend, therefore, to defer to experts, who tend to exaggerate threats. The courts similarly tend to defer to the expertise of the network that defines national security policy.

The presidency itself is not a top-down institution, as many people in the public believe, headed by a president who gives orders and causes the bureaucracy to click its heels and salute. National security policy actually bubbles up from within the bureaucracy. Many of the more controversial policies, from the mining of Nicaragua’s harbors to the NSA surveillance program, originated within the bureaucracy. John Kerry was not exaggerating when he said that some of those programs are “on autopilot.”

RELATED: Answers sought on CIA role in ‘78 JFK probe

IDEAS: Isn’t this just another way of saying that big bureaucracies are difficult to change?

GLENNON: It’s much more serious than that. These particular bureaucracies don’t set truck widths or determine railroad freight rates. They make nerve-center security decisions that in a democracy can be irreversible, that can close down the marketplace of ideas, and can result in some very dire consequences.

IDEAS: Couldn’t Obama’s national-security decisions just result from the difference in vantage point between being a campaigner and being the commander-in-chief, responsible for 320 million lives? . . .

Continue reading. His conclusion:

GLENNON: The ultimate problem is the pervasive political ignorance on the part of the American people. And indifference to the threat that is emerging from these concealed institutions. That is where the energy for reform has to come from: the American people. Not from government. Government is very much the problem here. The people have to take the bull by the horns. And that’s a very difficult thing to do, because the ignorance is in many ways rational. There is very little profit to be had in learning about, and being active about, problems that you can’t affect, policies that you can’t change.

We see how important it is to the national security state that the citizenry NOT be well-educated—as George Carlin says, the owners don’t want citizens with critical-thinking skills.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 November 2014 at 2:58 pm

Seems very much on the mark

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Remember this post from yesterday on the destruction of our educational system? It’s continuing.

Remember this post from yesterday on how Wall Street simply controls the government and will never be truly punished for their grand-scale theft and fraud? while those impacted by the theft get no relief whatsoever?

Written by LeisureGuy

9 November 2014 at 2:05 pm

What’s for dinner: Mark Bittman’s Pork with Turnips and Anchovies

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I can’t wait. Here’s the recipe. And I like how, if you’re a subscriber, you can save the recipes, to print out as needed. Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 ½ to 2 pounds boneless pork chunks
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 2 ounces (1 small can) anchovy fillets
  • About 1 1/2 pounds white turnips or rutabaga, peeled and in 1-inch chunks
  • 2 cups chopped canned or freshtomatoes, with their juice
  • Chopped parsley for garnish

UPDATE: Very tasty and good winter food: warm and filling. I used canned diced tomatoes, but cans that once were 16 oz are nowadays 14.5 oz and probably will shrink more in the future—but even so, that’s about 10% less that the recipe calls for. However, I had some grape tomatoes on hand, and cut up about 1/4 c (2 oz) of those and added them.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 November 2014 at 1:47 pm

Posted in Food, Low carb, Recipes

Why some object to the Confederate flag

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There is absolutely no doubt that the Civil War was primarily fought to protect the institution of slavery, which was highly profitable for slave owners. The purpose of the war is writ large in the various articles of secession that the 13 states enacted. At the link you can see summaries and links to the actual text of the various articles of secession. The war was initiated by the South, as we all know: South Carolina provided an unmistakeable bellus causi by opening fire on Fort Sumpter.

Mississippi’s “Declaration of the Immediate Causes which Induce and Justify the Secession of the State of Mississippi from the Federal Union” begins:

In the momentous step, which our State has taken of dissolving its connection with the government of which we so long formed a part, it is but just that we should declare the prominent reasons which have induced our course.

Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery – the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product, which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has been long aimed at the institution, and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin.

That we do not overstate the dangers to our institution, a reference to a few facts will sufficiently prove. . .

Continue reading.

And the institution was indeed profitable. In Salon Michael Schulson interviews Edward Baptist on his new book on American slavery:

It’s impolite to talk about money. Perhaps that’s why, when we discuss the history of slavery in this country, we tend to talk about racism, and paternalism, and the way that awful social institutions just stick around, those pesky buggers — talk about anything, that is, except for the profits.

But there were profits, of course, and large ones. Slavery, after all, is a cost-efficient way to extract labor from human beings. It’s an exceptionally brutal flavor of capitalism. And it worked: In 1860, the U.S.’s four wealthiest states were all in the deep South. After the Civil War, though, white Americans found ways to downplay the profit motive. “Above all, the historians of a reunified nation insisted that slavery was a premodern institution that was not committed to profit seeking,” writes Edward Baptist in his new history of slavery, “The Half Has Never Been Told.” (Read the Salon excerpt from the book here.)

Baptist, a professor of history at Cornell, has spent much of his career helping to undo this narrative. In “The Half Has Never Been Told,” he lays out a sweeping economic history of slavery. Baptist traces the flow of human capital from the Atlantic seaboard to the cotton fields of the deep South. He describes how slavers used whippings to extract more work from their property. He details how slave labor and loans secured with human collateral helped drive the industrial revolution.

These observations aren’t new. Baptist’s real achievement is to ground these financial abstractions in the lives of ordinary people. In vivid passages, he describes the sights, smells and suffering of slavery. He writes about individual families torn apart by global markets. Above all, Baptist sets out to show how America’s rise to power is inextricable from the suffering of black slaves.

Naturally, this makes some people rather uncomfortable. Reviewing Baptist’s book last month, the Economist huffed that “all the blacks in his book are victims, almost all the whites villains. This is not history; it is advocacy.” A few days later, the magazine took the rare step of withdrawing the review, pointing out that slavery was “an evil system.” The message was clear, though: Even today, many are uncomfortable acknowledging the full brutality of an institution that helped build the modern world.

I reached Baptist at his home on the Cornell campus. Over the phone, we spoke about capitalism, the historical vision of Steve McQueen, and why it’s easier to find a memorial for a Confederate soldier than for an American who died enslaved.

How did slavery drive the economy of the 19th century United States?

It drives it in some obvious ways and some less obvious ways. The obvious way is the absolutely central role of cotton to the functioning of the economy. Cotton ends up supplying about 50 percent of all the value of exports in the U.S. for most of the period from the early 1800s to the Civil War.

That income doesn’t just stay in the South. Certainly a lot of it is going to enslavers, but a lot of it is also going to bankers and merchants, and later to insurers and shippers. Ultimately, the U.S. starts up its own cotton textile industry.

The U.S. is a developing economy. It’s also a capital-importing economy. It needs credit. Lending to the slaver sector is secure and it’s profitable. Secure, because there’s a reliable liquid market for human collateral. And profitable, because enslaved human beings are making cotton, the world’s most widely traded commodity.

When you start to look at slavery in this larger, global context, places like Europe and New England, which we tend to separate from the slave system, end up seeming implicated.

Absolutely, and not just because of the direct and indirect investment of Northern savers and lenders in the Southern system. The South — and especially enslavers — are really the first reliable market for Northern industrial products. In fact, U.S. policy sets that up. Congress creates a tariff which protects the U.S. market for cotton textiles of low quality. So this allows U.S. textile mills in New England, which are not capable of making the same quality of cloth on a mass scale as British mills are, this gives them a protected market. And that protected market is basically the South, and it’s basically the cloth that’s bought by slave owners every year and given out to the slaves.

You write that few people realize “how crucial systemized torture was to the industrial revolution.”

In 1800, when cotton expansion started, workers could generally plant and cultivate about twice as much cotton as they could pick. Slave owners decide that they want to increase the amount that is picked, so what they start doing is weighing the amount each slave picks per day and establishing that as an individual daily picking quota. People were given quotas. If they didn’t meet the quota, they would be whipped. Over time, the quotas are increased.

And over time, the amount that people pick increases dramatically. There are people who say, “Oh, it’s because of the seeds [of easier-to-pick cotton cultivars],” and I’m sure that makes it possible to pick more, but enslaved people actually have to figure out how to move their hands and their bodies fast enough, and do that all day long, in order to meet their quotas. They still have to do that, and they are threatened by torture if they don’t make it. I say torture deliberately. We have, over time, sort of bowdlerized, we’ve used euphemisms. But if this was happening to U.S. POWs, we’d have no trouble calling it torture.

The average enslaved person picked cotton four times as quickly in 1860 as in 1800.

Reading your book, I felt as if you were telling the story of capitalism taken to its absolute extreme, in which the right to personal property trumps all other rights, and in which human lives become tradable commodities. Can we read your book as a cautionary tale of capitalism run amok?

Continue reading.

 

Written by LeisureGuy

9 November 2014 at 1:43 pm

William Pfaff on the midterm elections

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William Pfaff writes:

The dominating significance of the mid-term American legislative elections just finished has been the occasion’s dramatic confirmation of the corruption of the American electoral system. This has two elements, the first being its money corruption, unprecedented in American history, and without parallel in the history of major modern western democracies. How can Americans get out of this terrible situation, which threatens to become the permanent condition of American electoral politics?

The second significance of this election has been the debasement of debate to a level of vulgarity, misinformation and ignorance that while not unprecedented in American political history, certainly attained new depths and extent.

This disastrous state of affairs is the product of two Supreme Court decisions and before that, of the repeal under the Reagan Administration, of the provision in the Federal Communications Act of 1934, stipulating the public service obligations of radio (and subsequently, of television) broadcasters in exchange for the government’s concession to them of free use in their businesses of the public airways.

These rules required broadcasters to provide “public interest” programming, including the coverage of electoral campaigns for public office and the independent examination of public issues. The termination of these requirements made possible the wave of demagogic and partisan right-wing “talk radio” that since has plagued American broadcasting and muddied American electoral politics.

Those readers old enough to remember the radio and early television broadcasting of pre-Reagan America will recall the non-partisan news reports and summaries provided by the national networks and by local stations in the United States. There were, of course, popular news commentators professing strong or idiosyncratic views as well, but the industry assured that a variety of responsible opinions were expressed, and that blatant falsehood was banned or corrected.

The two Supreme Court decisions were “Buckley v. Valeo” in 1976 and “Citizens United v. the Federal Electoral Commission” in 2010. Jointly, they have transformed the nature of the American political campaign, and indeed the nature of American national politics. This resulted from the nature and characteristics of mass communications in the United States and the fact that broadcasting has from the beginning been all but totally a commercial undertaking (unlike the state broadcasters in Canada and Britain, and nearly all of Europe).

The two decisions turned political contests into competitions in campaign advertising expenditure on television and radio. The election just ended caused every American linked to the internet to be bombarded by thousands (or what seemed tens of thousands) of political messages pleading for campaign money and listing the enormous (naturally) sums pouring into the coffers of the enemy.

Previously the American campaign first concerned the candidate and the nature of his or her political platform. Friends and supporters could, of course, contribute to campaign funds and expenditures, but these contributions were limited by law in scale and nature. No overt connection was allowed between businesses or industries and major political candidates, since this would have implied that the candidate represented “special interests” rather than the general interest.

The Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission verdict is well known and remains highly controversial since it rendered impossible the imposition of legal limits on political campaign spending, ruling that electoral spending is an exercise in constitutionally-protected free speech; Moreover, it adjudged commercial corporations as legal citizens, in electoral matters the equivalent of persons.

The Court’s prohibition . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 November 2014 at 1:23 pm

Posted in Election, Politics

Very interesting take on important (and unreported in the US) speech by Putin

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Patrick L. Smith has a good column at Salon:

Give me a sec to count. In my lifetime the Soviet Union and latterly the Russian Federation have had nine leaders. Stalin’s death elevated Malenkov and then Khrushchev, and the banishing of Khrushchev led to Brezhnev. Then came a pair of forgettables, then Gorbachev and on to the ever-inebriated Yeltsin (whom one wants dearly to forget). For 15 years, counting the Dmitry Medvedev interval, Vladimir Putin has held the wheel of the Russian bus.

Of all these figures only Stalin, and only in his post-“Uncle Joe” years, has been vilified to the extent of the current Russian leader. The question is obvious and I hope not too complicated: Why?

There are always plenty of answers floating around. I take almost all of them to lie somewhere between misguided and malevolent by intent, but I will get to this in a minute. In as few words as I can manage, here is my thought: Putin has fallen drastically afoul of Washington — and his war is with Washington more than the Europeans — because those in deep slumber do not like to be awakened.

It is an irresistible time to consider this problem for two reasons. One, in history two sure signs of imperial decline are deafness and blindness in the imperial capital, and as of the past year or so Washington exhibits seriously deteriorating symptoms. The willful refusal of our foreign policy cliques to look squarely at our world and listen to those in it is getting dangerous.

Two, Putin has just delivered a speech every American deserves to hear and consider. Few will have done so for the simple reason that our media declined to tell you about the Russian leader’s presentation to an annual gathering of leaders and thinkers called the Valdai International Discussion Club, a Davos variant. Here is the Kremlin transcript, and now readers have two things to decide: What they think of the speech and what they think of the American media for not reporting it.

The theme at Valdai this year was “The World Order: NewRules, or a Game Without Rules.” With the Ukraine crisis bumbling along toward a conclusion (or not) and the horrifically pointless mess America has made of the Middle East and now worsens daily, the either/or title is just about right: We cannot continue on in the post-Cold War era as we have until now.

A Russian commentator named Dmitry Orlov, whom I do not know of, said of Putin’s contribution, “This is probably the most important political speech since Churchill’s ‘Iron Curtain’ speech of March 5, 1946.” I have no archive of political speeches and cannot cast a vote, but Putin’s remarks certainly have an amplitude that makes ignoring them unforgivable. Paying-attention readers can compare them with the speech Putin gave as Crimea was annexed last March. Churchillian or no, this is once again big stuff.

“Let me say I will speak directly and frankly,” Putin begins. “Some of what I say might seem a bit too harsh, but if we do not speak directly and honestly about what we really think, then there is little point in even meeting in this way. We need to be direct and blunt today not so as to trade barbs, but so as to attempt to get to the bottom of what is actually happening in the world, try to understand why the world is becoming less safe and more unpredictable, and why the risks are increasing everywhere around us.”

Right away, clear language, shorn of obfuscation. No wonder no one from Washington of any rank attended this talkfest. Plain speaking is no longer in the American repertoire. And guess what else Putin marshaled: historical reference. Out, out, out of the question for the American policy cliques.

I was tempted to read this speech as a postmortem of the Ukraine crisis, a looking back. There is something to this, but not overmuch. Putin has his point to make about Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea: “We did not start this.” But in reply to a question from Dominique de Villepin, a former French premier, Putin noted, “I believe Dominique referred to the Ukrainian crisis as the reason for the deterioration in international relations. Naturally, this crisis is a cause, but this is not the principal cause. The crisis in Ukraine is itself a result of an imbalance in international relations.”

Not Kosovo, not Iraq, not Libya, not Syria, not Ukraine — all are best understood less as causes than as symptoms. These are America’s “follies,” as Putin called them, Washington’s “theory of controlled chaos” at work.

In essence — the speech is long, carefully phrased and difficult to summarize — Putin argues that the New World Order the Bush I administration declared as the Soviet Union collapsed was a fundamental misreading of the moment. It is now a 20-odd-year failure hacks such as Tom Friedman compulsively term the successful spread of neoliberalism in the face of abundant evidence otherwise.

“A unilateral diktat and imposing one’s own models produces the opposite result,” Putin asserted. “Instead of settling conflicts it leads to their escalation, instead of sovereign and stable states we see the growing spread of chaos, and instead of democracy there is support for a very dubious public ranging from open neo-fascists to Islamic radicals.”

Such is Putin’s take on how we got here. His view of where we have to go now is yet more compelling. Our systems of global security are more or less destroyed — “weakened, fragmented, and deformed,” in Putin’s words. In the face of this reality, multipolar cooperation in the service of substantial reconstruction agreements, in which the interests of all sides are honored, is mandatory.

“Given the global situation, it is time to start agreeing on fundamental things,” Putin said. Then:

What could be the legal, political and economic basis for a new world order that would allow for stability and security, while encouraging healthy competition, not allowing the formation of new monopolies that hinder development? It is unlikely that someone could provide absolutely exhaustive, ready-made solutions right now. We will need extensive work with participation by a wide range of governments, global businesses, civil society, and such expert platforms as ours. However, it is obvious that success and real results are only possible if key participants in international affairs can agree on harmonizing basic interests, on reasonable self-restraint, and set the example of positive and responsible leadership. We must clearly identify where unilateral actions end and we need to apply multilateral mechanisms.

It is essential to read this as an attack on the U.S. because it is one. But there is a follow-on recognition not to be missed: This is the speech not of some kind of nostalgic empire builder — Putin dismisses the charge persuasively — but of a man genuinely afraid that the planet is close to tipping into some version of primitive disorder. Absent less adversarial international relations, we reach a moment of immense peril.

Before I explain my view of the Putin presentation, I urge readers to try a simple exercise. In the mind’s eye, strip all names and identifiers out of the Web page where the speech is printed. Read the words for the words alone. Then make up your minds as to the wisdom or otherwise of the thinking. . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 November 2014 at 12:08 pm

Posted in Government

Terrific little movie: Violet & Daisy

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I watched Violet & Daisy last night with great enjoyment. It’s a highly stylized comedy about two young women who are professional assassins, and even as I watched I told The Wife, “This has to be a ‘written-and-directed-by’ movie.” And yes, indeed it was: written and directed by Geoffrey Fletcher, and starring Saoirse Ronan, Alexis Bledel, James Gandolfini, and Danny Trejo, among others. Quirky but fun, and beautiful cinematography. Worth seeing, IMO.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 November 2014 at 6:47 am

Posted in Movies & TV

Clocks too accurate to work

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Now that we can measure time to a level of accuracy previously unimaginable—a clock that would be off by less than a second over 5 billion years. But at that level of accuracy, the effects of gravity of time, as predicted by Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity and confirmed by a myriad of experiences, become evident. Put one such on one floor of a building and another on the next floor, and the two clocks will diverge, showing different times—a level of accuracy never before achieved.

Both clocks are accurate even though they disagree, since gravity (or acceleration) affects the rate at which time passes. The clock on the higher floor will (accurately) show time passing a little slower than the clock on the floor below. Which clock shows the actual time becomes a meaningless question: there is no absolute time, independent of place.

Geoff Brumfiel reports at NPR:

“My own personal opinion is that time is a human construct,” says Tom O’Brian. O’Brian has thought a lot about this over the years. He is America’s official timekeeper at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Boulder, Colorado.

To him, days, hours, minutes and seconds are a way for humanity to “put some order in this very fascinating and complex universe around us.”

We bring that order using clocks, and O’Brian oversees America’s master clock. It’s one of the most accurate clocks on the planet: an atomic clock that uses oscillations in the element cesium to count out 0.0000000000000001 second at a time. If the clock had been started 300 million years ago, before the age of dinosaurs began, it would still be keeping time — down to the second. But the crazy thing is, despite knowing the time better than almost anyone on Earth, O’Brian can’t explain time.

“We can measure time much better than the weight of something or an electrical current,” he says, “but what time really is, is a question that I can’t answer for you.”

Maybe its because we don’t understand time, that we keep trying to measure it more accurately. But that desire to pin down the elusive ticking of the clock may soon be the undoing of time as we know it: The next generation of clocks will not tell time in a way that most people understand.

The New Clock

At the nearby University of Colorado Boulder is a clock even more precise than the one O’Brian watches over. The basement lab that holds it is pure chaos: Wires hang from the ceilings and sprawl across lab tables. Binder clips keep the lines bunched together.

In fact, this knot of wires and lasers actually is the clock. It’s spread out on a giant table, parts of it wrapped in what appears to be tinfoil. Tinfoil?

“That’s research grade tinfoil,” says Travis Nicholson, a graduate student here at the JILA, a joint institute between NIST and CU-Boulder. Nicholson and his fellow graduate students run the clock day to day. Most of their time is spent fixing misbehaving lasers and dealing with the rats’ nest of wires. (“I think half of them go nowhere,” says graduate student Sara Campbell.)

At the heart of this new clock is the element strontium. Inside a small chamber, the strontium atoms are suspended in a lattice of crisscrossing laser beams. Researchers then give them a little ping, like ringing a bell. The strontium vibrates at an incredibly fast frequency. It’s a natural atomic metronome ticking out teeny, teeny fractions of a second.

This new clock can keep perfect time for 5 billion years.

“It’s about the whole, entire age of the earth,” says Jun Ye, the scientist here at JILA who built this clock. “Our aim is that we’ll have a clock that, during the entire age of the universe, would not have lost a second.”

But this new clock has run into a big problem: This thing we call time doesn’t tick at the same rate everywhere in the universe. Or even on our planet.

Time Undone

Right now, on the top of Mount Everest, time is passing just a little bit faster than it is in Death Valley. That’s because speed at which time passes depends on the strength of gravity. Einstein himself discovered this dependence as part of his theory of relativity, and it is a very real effect.

The relative nature of time isn’t just something seen in the extreme. If you take a clock off the floor, and hang it on the wall, Ye says, “the time will speed up by about one part in 1016.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 November 2014 at 6:37 am

Posted in Daily life

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