Later On

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

Archive for November 10th, 2014

State lotteries, explained

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Written by Leisureguy

10 November 2014 at 7:38 pm

Posted in Government, Video

Can national governments be stupid?

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Written by Leisureguy

10 November 2014 at 6:07 pm

Two random thoughts

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Do “written-and-directed-by” movies and quirky movies have a large overlap?

It occurs to me that hypercapitalism contains at least one flaw: every participant is thinking, “Yeah, but what’s in it for me?” Cf. this from the fall of the Berlin Wall post:

Stasi files demonstrate how members of the regime did not trust their colleagues, or their subordinates — and that this lack of trust gravely undermined their ability to blunt the rising revolution. And so, when tens of thousands of Berliners headed toward the wall in the minutes after the news conference, the entire system cracked.

Written by Leisureguy

10 November 2014 at 6:02 pm

Posted in Business, Movies & TV

In contrast to prior post, the knowledge now needed

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Written by Leisureguy

10 November 2014 at 5:18 pm

The passing away of knowledge: Technological obsolescence

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Consider, for example, the almost totally forgotten knowledge of how to count efficiently on your fingers (well beyond ten), and do addition and subtraction—known now to few, and none (I bet) are fluent.

And the memorization skills and techniques, now being rediscovered to a degree, that enabled earlier generations to carry in their heads whole collections of poetry and literature—including the Iliad and the Odyssey.

But the issue of the moment is the amazing amount of learning to become a London cabbie: The Knowledge. Is it worth the effort any more? Things change, see examples above.

Written by Leisureguy

10 November 2014 at 5:05 pm

A vivid example of why self-policing does not work… and note

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Note, BTW, how the security apparatus takes it as given that it should be self-policing. Thus, the absolute outrage on Brennan’s part that the Senate Committee that looked into the US torture program: “It’s none of their business!” And his outright lies—indeed his very appointment, such a strange choice for one of Obama’s rhetoric, but making sense when you think it may have been forced on him by the security apparatus, which doubtless admires Brennan. The security apparatus must be self-policing because outsiders (a) don’t have the security clearances to even know the facts of any case, and (b) do not understand or fully grasp the requirements of the job, of how sometimes you have to make hard choices, and you really cannot always follow the law, and in an emergency torture is okay because they’ve seen numerous vivid examples of how, in the service of good, it’s okay to torture people you suspect may be involved in wrongdoing if you’re pretty sure they are—but we’ll find out, won’t we? (See earlier post of how fiction is remembered as reality.)

Well, self-policing doesn’t seem to work, at least for judges. Jordan Smith writes at The Intercept:

Judge Edith Jones is no stranger to controversy. The 65-year-old jurist has served since 1985 on the notoriously fractious 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and is known for her conservative and often controversial opinions. She’s decided that a sleeping lawyer isn’t necessarily a bad one for a criminal defendant to have, claimed that bankruptcy filings have increased because of a “decline in personal shame,” and said that the legal system is corrupt in part because it has strayed from its religious underpinnings.

But it was a speech at the University of Pennsylvania School of Law last year that earned her a formal ethics complaint, filed by several Texas civil rights groups and a group of nationally known legal ethicists. In that speech to an audience of law students—billed as a federal death penalty “review”—Jones allegedly made a host of improper and racist statements that, according to the complainants, violated her duty to be impartial and damaged public confidence in the judiciary. According to multiple affidavits, Jones said, among other things, that minorities are more “prone” to commit violent crimes (when questioned about this, Jones hedged, saying she was talking about statistics and that, “sadly,” blacks and Hispanics commit more violent crimes than do others); that Hispanic nationals would rather be on death rows in the U.S. than in Mexican prisons (even though Mexico has outlawed the death penalty); and that questions of racism, mental retardation, and even actual innocence are simply “red herrings” raised by defense attorneys interested only in helping heinous murderers to avoid execution.

To bolster that last point, Jones allegedly said that inmates freed from death sentences have been released not because they were innocent, but because of “technicalities”—including cases where prosecutors hid evidence favorable to the defense—and offered an odd analogy, noting that “there were just as many innocent people killed in drone strikes as innocent people executed for crimes,” according to several affidavits.

Just as controversial as Jones’ statements, however, was the conclusion of a panel of federal judges who reviewed the sworn complaint: Since no one actually recorded her speech, the panel found, there was no way to prove that Jones actually said any of the things she’s alleged to have said—even though some of the statements did indeed violate federal judicial ethics rules. Jones declined to comment for this story.

The opinion, released in mid-October, is a remarkable work of circular logic that calls into question whether the federal judiciary is capable of policing itself. The process for investigating the ethical lapses of federal judges is deliberately opaque and secretive, and it lacks the due process guarantees underpinning the justice system that those judges are charged with administering—leaving complainants unable to monitor or participate in the disciplinary process, let alone understand how decisions are made within it. In 2013, 99 percent of the more than 1,000 complaints against judges considered for action were simply dismissed.

On paper, the judicial review process is fairly straightforward: . . .

Continue reading. There’s lots more—several more examples. Self-policing does not work: it is set up to fail—all the natural social responses work against it. Why is that not perfectly obvious?

The Judiciary should not pretend that it can be investigator and jury and judge—of any group, they should know that does not work. And of any group, they should recognize the quite obvious conflict of interest, the intense institutional pressure to avoid scandal, and so on. You’d think the Judiciary, of all people, would recognize the obvious need for a disinterested investigation by an independent prosecutor. You’d think.

Written by Leisureguy

10 November 2014 at 4:27 pm

Posted in Law, Law Enforcement

[Fake] Letter from the Norwegian Nobel Committee to President Barack Obama

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Reported in The Intercept, apparently as a parody but not identified as such:

President Barack H. Obama
The White House
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear President Obama:

It was late in the evening when we first learned of your decision Friday to deploy an additional 1,500 troops to Iraq. Sorry, we were catching up on the latest episode of “Lilyhammer.” But, seriously, is that a tradition in the States? Releasing such news late on a Friday with the fatuous hope people would forget by Monday? But on second thought, after perusing the American media, it’s possible such schemes may be effective. There appears to be more concern over one Ebola patient— in a country of 316 million people— than the news that your administration is invading Iraq all over again.

Did you forget the words you spoke in Chicago on October 2, 2002? “What I am opposed to is a dumb war. What I am opposed to is a rash war. . . That’s what I’m opposed to. A dumb war. A rash war. A war based not on reason but on passion, not on principle but on politics”. Were those your words or merely the pandering musings of a state senator with grander political ambitions? If so, you succeeded. Because in 2011, as President, you announced the “end” of the Iraq War, and you boasted “The tide of war is receding”. Was that a twisted joke? You have bombed 7 predominately Muslim countries. That’s not to mention the thousands killed because of your imperialist policies or the Americans you have targeted with military drones, and without due process.

Did you also forget your speech on that crisp December day five years ago next month? “Nevertheless, I am convinced that adhering to standards, international standards, strengthens those who do, and isolates and weakens those who don’t.” You certainly haven’t followed said standards; it doesn’t appear you ever even intended to. After all, your expansion of executive war powers will be the biggest stain on your floundering presidency. Worse than George W. Bush.

You are the most undeserving Nobel Peace Prize winner since the odious, war-mongering Henry Kissinger. What company you keep! We were delusional dupes for giving the Peace Prize to him and you both. That is all. Now, back to “Lilyhammer.”

The Norwegian Nobel Committee
Drammensveien 19 NO-0255 OSLO

And if Glennon’s book is accurate, and certainly the reviewer mentions no howlers he made, then Obama is simply incapable of meeting the demands: the deep-state second government of our security apparatus, and the security apparatus is the combined might of a great many agencies with a common mindset, a lot of overlap of training, a sense of working for the right cause (righteousness)—a great meme except that it evolves into, “And since we are doing this for good, we can do any damn thing we want, so long as it is for the good,” and (perhaps unsurprisingly) quite a wide range of things turn out to be for the good—some that you’d probably not suspect, such as torture. But that’s absolutely necessary. And that applies, BTW, to suspects, because waiting for a warrant or even looking for probable cause—that’s the sort of red tape that lets the bad guys get away, and bringing it up makes you a bad guy sympathizer.

Worse yet, all that apparatus is just a tool. The control lies with those of extreme wealth, the tiny minority that have the resources to purchase a national newspaper—and being published in DC, perhaps the national newspaper (though it’s been declining badly)—as a hobby, or the Koch brothers, Sheldon Aldelson, and others more or less openly bidding for control of the overt government.

It’s amazing to see it playing out in reality—more intense and complex than Game of Thrones, and yet people don’t seem interested—cf. recent mid-term election. Perhaps they’ve now figured that it doesn’t make any difference?, though it certainly could: a solid majority in Congress can indeed pass laws, and things can happen, but it requires a common will. I recall from an earlier blog post on the fall of the Berlin Wall two different things. First this passage:

What had changed was the self-assurance of the people. By autumn 1989, the protest movement had gained sufficient confidence to take advantage of this incompetence. The people already knew the authorities would back down: A month earlier, peaceful protesters in Leipzig had turned out in such overwhelming numbers that the security forces, which we now know had planned a Tiananmen-style crackdown, had backed off.

And they knew they could trust each other. Stasi interrogators had once asked a prisoner named Katrin Hattenhauer, a young rebel, how she and her fellow dissidents held together despite all of the Stasi’s actions against them. She replied that shared suffering welded people together more strongly than shared success: “Where the hammer has come down, whatever is underneath is going to hold together.”

And then a thought-provoking comment from “Umbrella”:

I am writing from Hong Kong, a Westernised-city within the holds of China. The situation is a bit inverted, we are just a tiny city in the midst of the concrete dragon which is China, lead by a group of government puppets who are intertwined with the 41 tycoons who control 70% of our GDP. Every day, I hear from my parents, my in-laws, my bosses, “The student movement and protests are no use, don’t fight with China, it is a regime that is omnipotent, ruthless and rich. Just give up.” But what they fail to see, or are too scared to see, is that our future is not defined by those who refuse to change, but by those who will fight for change.

That security mindset controls the combined might of the following: police (local, county, state), security personnel (bodyguards, armed property guards, armed response units in private security, and, of course, in many states any citizen who fears for his life is free to use deadly force, so perhaps they count as a way to keep people fearful, since fearful people tend to want even more security: it’s a self-licking ice-cream cone. [edit: It just occurred to me that only some people become more fearful when reading of stand-your-ground killings—I feel sure that in others it arouses a different feeling, a wondering about what it feels like, to stand your ground—followed by rereading the parts about “feeling in fear for your life.” Must remember that. – LG] But to continue: to those add: the military, FBI, Secret Service, DEA, Border Patrol, IRS, CIA, NSA, and all the other intelligence agencies (military, private), SWAT teams (now operating as private-corporation independent entities—businesses—under contract to several police forces), the independent mercenary forces (Blackwater/Xe Services/Academi/? (candidates for the next namechange required by war crimes such as slaughter of civilians). I’m sure there are others.

That’s just part of the second government against which Obama cannot act. The review blogged earlier observes:

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.

That’s the part that requires the heavy lifting by Congress, the courts, the Executive to break down and remold.

Written by Leisureguy

10 November 2014 at 3:56 pm

Regarding police accountability: Kentucky Deputy Won’t Be Charged In Shooting Death of 19-Year-Old Trying to Leave a Party

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Officers seem increasingly free to use deadly force, and seem to be using it more. We can’t know, of course, because the data are kept secret and carefully not collected. Because an informed citizenry is a dangerous citizenry, apt to stand up for its rights and curtail the rights of law officers to take your property even though you are never accused of a crime—e.g., the traffic cop whose first question is, “Are you carrying any large amounts of cash or anything else of great value?” There can be no doubt why that question is asked: He’s checking to see whether anything on his shopping list is mentioned. But the contagion spreads, and they become greedy.

Eventually, of course, after some decades of increasing depredations, the citizenry may even become aroused enough to vote in mid-term elections. But that seems to be a long way off.

Written by Leisureguy

10 November 2014 at 3:19 pm

Posted in Law Enforcement

50 of the world’s most contagious canards

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The list of 50 common memes that carry false information is pretty good. I found a couple I still had; good to get rid of them.

Written by Leisureguy

10 November 2014 at 3:10 pm

Posted in Science

Photography fans, take note: Pro-Camera 8 for iPhones makes a BIG difference

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The Eldest took a class yesterday afternoon in getting better photos from an iPhone camera provided that the iPhone is running iOS 8. The woman teaching the class is a professional photograph who now uses her iPhone extensively now—not only to take photos but also to edit. She reports to me in an email:

-Pro-Camera 8 (make the IN-APP purchase of Vivid HDR) – has built in image stability you can turn on and off and adjust the sensitivity

-Auto stitch for panoramas (take in the app or stitch together photos from native or Pro camera). You can swipe back and forth between normal, HDR normal, HDR vivid, HDR Dramatic, HRD black and white, and HDR faded.

– Snapseed or PS Express. Snapseed is slightly better but has a confusing interface – very non-intuitive

-Touch Retouch for removing unwanted parts of the image. Plus the instructional video has a funny accent: Swedish chef meets Siri.

– Mixtures, Distressed FX, PhotoStudio, and Glaze all let you add effects

– Image Blender lets you layer two images with lots of adjustments

The official site with photos and videos (Pro-Camera 8 helps with both) tells you more. You can buy it at the iTunes App Store.

Another interesting smartphone camera app, previously blogged, exists for Android phones. As noted at the link:

The Android app, which can be downloaded for free through the ACLU of Missouri website, has three main functions and Know Your Rights information.Record allows citizens to capture exchanges between police officers and themselves or other community members in audio and video files that are automatically sent to the ACLU of Missouri. Witness sends out an alert when someone is stopped by police so that community members can move toward the location and document the interaction. Report gives the app user the option to complete an incident report and send it directly to the ACLU of Missouri for review. Know Your Rightsprovides an overview of what rights protect you when you are stopped by law enforcement officers.

Written by Leisureguy

10 November 2014 at 3:03 pm

Which is better for you, coffee? or tea?

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I am a tea drinker currently, and The Wife is a coffee drinker, so this article was of interest.

Written by Leisureguy

10 November 2014 at 12:07 pm

Posted in Food, Health

Russ Baker on the US Double Government

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Yesterday I posted a review of Glennon’s new book laying out the double government we have—the government we see, whose representatives we elect and which argues bills in Congress, with judgments rendered by the courts, and so on—and the secret government of the security state, with secret laws, secret courts writing secret opinions, and secret operations that are revealed on accidentally or through whistleblowers—e.g., we had no idea of the sheer extent of NSA’s surveillance on the world (including the US citizenry) until Edward Snowden revealed it.

And Glennon was an insider in government, which makes his revelations even stronger since he knows more about what’s going on that outsiders.

Russ Baker comments on the book and on the double government at

ou know something is going on when the cautious Boston Globe publishes not one, but two, pieces dealing with the “double government.”

This cryptic phrase encapsulates a serious claim about the American body politic: That a permanent and largely unaccountable bureaucracy keeps on doing what it wants to do, no matter who the voters elect to the White House.

Both of the Globe articles refer to “National Security and Double Government,” a book by Michael J. Glennon, professor of international law at Tufts University. From the descriptions of its contents (we haven’t read the book yet, but we will—and perhaps excerpt), the author is talking, with due academic caution, about an out-of-control security/military apparatus.

The fact that the Globe thinks this book is important enough to warrant not one but two analytical pieces is significant, because Boston was the scene of the mysterious Boston Marathon Bombing.

In the aftermath of that tragedy, the national security apparatus and its allies in the media, academia and corporate America (including, significantly, the Globe itself) rushed to discourage us from looking deeper at what happened—while at the same time the nat-sec folks used the event to further expand their influence at the expense of civil liberties.

The Secret Government

One of the Globe’s pieces was a highly favorable review of Dr. Glennon’s book by former Republican Congressman Mickey Edwards. Edwards, a co-founder of the staunchly conservative Heritage Foundation, has over the years become more and more of a maverick—and more outspokenly alarmed by the path America has taken.

The other piece, which appeared in the Globe the same day,was a Q&A with Glennon. The astonishing headline was:

Vote all you want. The secret government won’t change.

The sub-headline wasn’t much tamer:

The people we elect aren’t the ones calling the shots, says Tufts University’s Michael Glennon

The genesis of the book was a question that confounded Glennon about President Obama: How did a man who won election pledging to change the national security policies of his predecessor effect so little of that? Here’s what Edwards wrote in his review:

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 U.S. national security policy.” The result, he writes, is a system of dual institutions that have evolved “toward greater centralization, less accountability, and emergent autocracy.”

The paradox, Glennon says, is that this barely accountable government machinery actually arose from President Harry S. Truman’s attempts to reduce the military’s growing and unchecked power. The unforeseen outcome was the growth of an unaccountable civilian power center.

No Secret Conspiracy (Or Theory)

Glennon’s was hardly the first well-reviewed book to deal with this topic. In 2009 Janine Wedel, an anthropology professor at George Mason University, published Shadow Elite, which received lavish praise from Arianna Huffington and the endorsement of her “book club,” despite the fact that the Huffington Post itself has a strong aversion  to  publishing “conspiracy” stories.

Perhaps Wedel avoided being tarred with the hackneyed “conspiracy theorist” because she argues that the shadowy networks she describes are not necessarily criminal or in cahoots with multinational corporations, but merely the outgrowth of powerful and self-replenishing (if often incompetent) elites. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

10 November 2014 at 12:05 pm

Interesting essay on age-old issue: The relationship of fiction and reality

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Discussing fiction (and, more generally, art) and reality—and the relationship of the two—probably began with any seriousness in the first breakthrough modern novel, Don Quixote, which explores the relationship in many ways, including the first use of metafiction. So it’s not the sort of discussion that ends in a clear-decision. But still, it’s an important and an interesting discussion and often can help clarify our own views and experience. Noah Berlatsky writes in Pacific Standard:

Earlier this year I gave a talk to a college class about Wonder Woman, superheroes, and gender. The class was mostly engaged and interested—especially when they found out, to their mixed outrage and amusement, that I rather like Twilight. But toward the end, one student raised her hand and said, loosely paraphrased: “Why are we talking about this nonsense? Superhero films are just fictional entertainment that you’re supposed to sit back and enjoy. Why overthink it?”

That’s a response you get a lot when you write about pop culture—or any culture, really. What’s the point of discussing racism in Lovecraft, or violence in action movies? Shouldn’t we focus instead on real racism, or real violence, rather than talking about fictional representations which, by definition, aren’t real?

Sometimes these protests seem aimed at avoiding the conversation—people often have ideological reasons for not wanting to talk about sexism, and/or (perhaps like the student I spoke to) may just not be interested in critical approaches to entertainment. But still, the question remains: Does it make sense to criticize fiction in terms of real-world issues?

Critic Isaac Butler, in athoughtful and focused article, makes a strong argument that, at least in some cases, it does not. Butler is responding to a trend in criticism which he calls “the realism canard.” The realism canard is the idea that fiction should be fact-checked, that the critic’s job is to look at a film and point out the ways in which it fails to conform to reality. A critic working from the realism canard might point out that (contra Star Wars) you can’t hear explosions in space, or that (contra Orange Is the New Black) prisons do not systemically dump ill inmates on the streets through misguided compassionate release programs. “What matters ultimately in a work of narrative is if the world and characters createdfeels true and complete enough for the work’s purposes,” he writes. “It does not matter, for example, that the social and economic structure ofThe Hunger Games makes absolutely no sense. What matters is whether or not the world works toward the purposes of the novel rather than undermining them.”

Again, Butler’s point here is narrowly aimed at a particular kind of fact-checking. Butler himself has written astute criticism (at the blog I edit, among other places) about topics such as the political failings of V for Vendetta. He’s not demanding (as the student was) that we stop altogether using real-world rubrics to think about fiction. But it’s easy to see how his argument could end up leading in that direction. If the main criteria for The Hunger Games is whether “the world works toward the purposes of the novel,” how can you get traction to criticize the way the novel both disavows and revels in the spectacle of violence? If hyperbolic atrocities against children work toward the purposes of the novel, what grounds are there for criticizing it if you rule out references to real-world violence?

JEFFREY M. ZACKS’ NEW book, Flicker: Your Brain on Movies, provides some surprising answers to the problem of criticism in general and the realism canard in particular. Zacks is a neuroscientist whose research focuses on studying what happens in your brain when you watch movies. One of his most provocative discussions in Flickerfocuses on the relationship between memory and film.

Butler’s objection to the realism canard is based on the idea that reality and fiction are separate. This is obviously, even definitionally, true; fiction isn’t real. But while you know that, and I know that, Zacks presents strong evidence that our brains aren’t always so sure. He points to a recent psychological study by Andrew Butler (no relation to Isaac) in which test subjects were asked to read accurate historical essays and then watch Hollywood movies about the periods discussed in the non-fiction pieces. As is often the case with Hollywood, many of the movies distorted history substantially. For example, the Civil War film Glory presented the 54th black Massachusetts regiment as composed mostly of slaves, even though the actual regiment was made up almost entirely of Northern freemen.

So did the psychological subjects fall prey to the realism canard, and start fact-checking the Hollywood films willy nilly? Nope. Instead, they confused history and fact. According to Zacks: . . .

Continue reading. It gets even more interesting.

And the fact that films can override historical fact is why (a) propaganda is so important to governments that want people to view the present in a particular way, and (b) a sound education, including not only history but also critical-thinking skills, is so important to true freedom. (My view is that a person whose worldview has been manipulated by others to see things as they want is not someone who is truly free. If you can shape the premises on which he operates, his decisions will mostly go in the direction you have determined. Freedom ain’t in it.

As noted later in the article: “Getting history wrong in Hollywood affects how people see real history, which can have an effect on how they see the present.”

Do read the article.

Written by Leisureguy

10 November 2014 at 11:53 am

ISIL Grew out of Bush’s Destruction of Iraq’s Economy

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An extremely interesting column by Noah Bassil at The Conversation. This column goes a long way to showing how we got to where we are now, and it seems based quite solidly on actual events. I highly recommend reading this one. And it’s worth remembering that the war in Iraq was a war that we never needed to enter: it was completely discretionary, and indeed the Bush Administration had to lie repeatedly to the American public to push us into the war—and now we are seeing the results. In the meantime, the perpetrators of the war have face zero accountability, despite the loss of thousands of American lives, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives, the waste of $2 trillion of US money (entire skids of hundred-dollar bills went missing), and the on-going suffering of veterans ill-served by the nation for which they fought.

To explain the disaster befalling Iraq, as well as the rise of Islamic State (IS), you have to go back a century – before modern Iraq even existed.

That’s not to discount the shared culpability of Iraq’s numerous leaders, from King Faisal I to Saddam Hussein and Nuri al-Maliki, or the role of Saudi Arabia in promoting Wahhabism in the region, as well as decades of mutually destructive in-fightingbetween Arab states.

The prevailing opinion reported in the news media focuses mostly on the weaknesses of the Iraqi government’s military capacity and the security vacuum in which IS has been able to grow. This view results in a predictable military response.

But we shouldn’t ignore the lasting legacies of colonialism, as well as the US intervention. And if we accept that those have also been crucial to the rise of IS, then quite clearly the current predominantly military response to IS will not resolve the underlying grievances motivating many IS fighters.

Making a new state

The original architects of Iraq were the British and the French.

In 1916, the Sykes-Picot agreement carved colonial states out of the Ottoman Empire. The local peoples resented this and rebelled. The rebels in Iraq were gunned down from the sky; their new colonial overlords razed entire villages.

British rule in Iraq was unpopular and – like colonialism everywhere – relied on force. It also relied on a tried and tested strategy of divide and rule, which promoted sectarian and ethnic differences. Successive Iraqi governments also employed this strategy as a means of controlling the diverse groups contained within an artificial state.

That these colonial legacies continue to haunt modern Iraq is partly due to the adoption of the colonial forms of government by successive Iraqi leaders.

In the IS promotional video above, a Norwegian IS fighter, Bastián Vásquez (also known as Abu Safiyya), walks around a former Iraq-Syria border checkpoint and inside a crowded prison cell. He declares:

This is not the first border we will break, we will break other borders.

Firing an entire government

The disaster befalling Iraq also has more recent causes, including the Cold War and Saddam’s brutal legacy. But Iraq’s current story can be traced back to another moment in recent history. At his inaugural address after being sworn in as US president in 1981, Ronald Reagan famously declared:

Government is not the solution; government is the problem.

This mantra of neoliberalism has justified policies that have undermined the rationale of the state. Many core social responsibilities have been placed in the hands of the private sector. This can be described as the vertical expansion of capitalism.

The results have been disastrous in many places around the world. Neoliberal policies have eroded what little legitimacy states had managed to gain from developments in education, health care, welfare and other areas.

Unlike most countries, Iraq’s journey down this path was enforced by the US takeover of the country. You can read more about this from Naomi Klein, Toby Dodge and Roger Looney.

One of Paul Bremer’s first acts as head of the Coalition Provisional Authority was to fire 500,000 state employeesincluding doctors, nurses and teachers. The Iraqi army was abolished. While this story has often been told as one of “de-Ba’athification” – the process of stripping the ruling Ba’ath Party of its power and influence – this is but one side of it.

Another driver behind the de-Ba’athification policy was a deep antagonism within the Bush administration to the public sector. Bremer passed a raft of laws restructuring the economy. Order 39 was one such law. It allowed for the privatisation of 200 state-owned enterprises, 100% foreign ownership of all Iraqi businesses and unrestricted tax-free remittances for all foreign company profits.

The Coalition Provisional Authority under Bremer also imposed a tax and banking regime, and economic regulations which the Iraqis could not dissolve. So much for the much-touted return of Iraqi sovereignty. This was further eroded by the Iraqi government agreeing to a pretty typical International Monetary Fund package in December 2005.

Bremer’s strategy entrusted Iraq’s future to the private – meaning foreign – corporate sector. Rather than public investment in social programs, infrastructure and employment opportunities, private companies were assigned the provision of these responsibilities so that “little of the US$38 billion in American reconstruction money has gone to local companies”.

Reconstructing Iraq

As a result of the sell-offs and mass retrenchments, estimates are that unemployment reached 45% in 2006. These rates have since decreased but remain around 15%, according to the International Labour Organisation. However, this figure obscures regional differences including much higher estimates of unemployment for the Sunni regions and for youth unemployment.

Poverty levels are also high.

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

10 November 2014 at 11:17 am

Israel continues its unremitting aggression again Palestinians

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Two posts by Juan Cole at Informed Comment are well worth reading with respect to peace prospects in the Mideast. It is clear that Israel has zero interest in a peaceful solution and have abandoned that approach:

Netanyahu Calls for Stripping Palestinian-Israelis of Citizenship – The column begins:

On Sunday Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said he was looking into whether Israel could strip citizenship from those who speak out against the continued statelessness of the Palestinians. (There are millions of stateless Palestinians outside Israel.

Netanyahu began his political career as a far-right Likud politician calling for the forced deportation of the 20% of the Israeli population that is of Palestinian heritage. He said Sunday,

“Israel is a nation of law. We will not tolerate disturbances and rioting. We will act against those who throw stones, block roads and call for the establishment of a Palestinian state in place of the State of Israel. Whoever does not honor Israeli law will be punished with utmost severity. I will instruct the Interior Minister to evaluate revoking the citizenship of those who call for the destruction of the State of Israel.”

Netanyahu’s remarks were made in the context of Palestinian-Israeli demonstrations in Kafr Kanna inside Israel, over a Ferguson, Mo., sort of incident. Police shot dead a 22 year old man whom they accuse of menacing them (videotape does not support the police story).

So this would be as though at the height of the Ferguson controversy, US leaders had threatened African-Americans with being declared stateless and being deported if they did not fall silent. . .

In Creeping Annexaton, Israel Plots to Apply Israeli Law in Palestinian West Bank

Palestinian official Nabil Shaath said Sunday that a proposed Knesset bill to apply Israeli laws to West Bank settlements was dangerous and aimed to eventually annex the territory.

“The (Palestinian) Authority completely opposes applying the Israeli law to settlements in the West Bank because this creates a political context where these settlements become a part of Israel,” Shaath said.

“Israel is disregarding all international pressure and carries on with its occupation projects.

“Palestinians are suffering since the Camp David agreement with Egypt in 1979, especially in the West Bank as Israel has kept us under temporary measures and autonomy.

“They are stealing the land, water, materials, and all natural resources in the West Bank”, he added.

Israeli media reported Sunday that an Israeli ministerial committee on legislation approved a proposed bill that would apply all laws passed by the Knesset to the settlements. . .

UPDATE: Another story, though the Gazans not this time the target.


Written by Leisureguy

10 November 2014 at 11:05 am

Posted in Mideast Conflict

Iraq War 3.0? What could possibly Go Wrong?

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Interesting column by Peter Van Buren from via Informed Comment:

Karl von Clausewitz, the famed Prussian military thinker, is best known for his aphorism “War is the continuation of state policy by other means.” But what happens to a war in the absence of coherent state policy?

Actually, we now know. Washington’s Iraq War 3.0, Operation Inherent Resolve, is what happens. In its early stages, I asked sarcastically, “What could possibly go wrong?” As the mission enters its fourth month, the answer to that question is already grimly clear: just about everything. It may be time to ask, in all seriousness: What could possibly go right?

Knowing Right from Wrong

The latest American war was launched as a humanitarian mission. The goal of its first bombing runs was to save the Yazidis, a group few Americans had heard of until then, from genocide at the hands of the Islamic State (IS). Within weeks, however, a full-scale bombing campaign was underway against IS across Iraq and Syria with its own “coalition of the willing” and 1,600 U.S. military personnel on the ground. Slippery slope? It was Teflon-coated. Think of what transpired as several years of early Vietnam-era escalation compressed into a semester.

And in that time, what’s gone right? Short answer: Almost nothing. Squint really, really hard and maybe the “good news” is that IS has not yet taken control of much of the rest of Iraq and Syria, and that Baghdad hasn’t been lost. These possibilities, however, were unlikely even without U.S. intervention.

And there might just possibly be one “victory” on the horizon, though the outcome still remains unclear. Washington might “win” in the IS-besieged Kurdish town of Kobane, right on the Turkish border. If so, it will be a fauxvictory guaranteed to accomplish nothing of substance. After all, amid the bombing and the fighting, the town has nearly been destroyed. What comes to mind is a Vietnam War-era remark by an anonymous American officer about the bombed provincial capital of Ben Tre: “It became necessary to destroy the town to save it.”

More than 200,000 refugees have already fled Kobane, many with doubts that they will ever be able to return, given the devastation. The U.S. has gone to great pains to point out just how many IS fighters its air strikes have killed there. Exactly 464, according to a U.K.-based human rights group, a number so specific as to be suspect, but no matter. As history suggests, body counts in this kind of war mean little.

And that, folks, is the “good news.” Now, hold on, because here’s the bad news.

That Coalition

The U.S. Department of State lists 60 participants in the coalition of nations behind the U.S. efforts against the Islamic State. Many of those countries (Somalia, Iceland, Croatia, and Taiwan, among them) have never been heard from again outside the halls of Foggy Bottom. There is no evidence that America’s Arab “allies” like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates, whose funding had long-helped extreme Syrian rebel groups, including IS, and whose early participation in a handful of air strikes was trumpeted as a triumph, are still flying.

Absent the few nations that often make an appearance at America’s geopolitical parties (Canada, the Brits, the Aussies, and increasingly these days, the French), this international mess has quickly morphed into Washington’s mess. Worse yet, nations like Turkey that might actually have taken on an important role in defeating the Islamic State seem to be largely sitting this one out. Despite the way it’s being reported in the U.S., the new war in the Middle East looks, to most of the world, like another case of American unilateralism, which plays right into the radical Islamic narrative.

Iraqi Unity

The ultimate political solution to fighting the war in Iraq, a much-ballyhooed “inclusive” Iraqi government uniting Shias, Sunnis, and Kurds, has taken no time at all to fizzle out. Though Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi chose a Sunni to head the country’s Defense Ministry and direct a collapsed Iraqi army, his far more-telling choice was for Interior Minister. He picked Mohammed Ghabban, a little-known Shia politician who just happens to be allied with the Badr Organization.

Even if few in the U.S. remember the Badr folks, every Sunni in Iraq does. During the American occupation, the Badr militia ran notorious death squads, after infiltrating the same Interior Ministry they basically now head. The elevation of a Badr leader to — for Sunnis — perhaps the most significant cabinet position of all represents several nails in the coffin of Iraqi unity. It is also in line with the increasing influence of the Shia militias the Baghdad government has called on to defend the capital at a time when the Iraqi Army is incapable of doing the job.

Those militias have used the situation as an excuse to ramp up a campaign of atrocities against Sunnis whom they tag as “IS,” much as in Iraq War 2.0 most Sunnis killed were quickly labeled “al-Qaeda.” In addition, the Iraqi military has refused to stop shelling and carrying out air strikes on civilian Sunni areas despite a prime ministerial promise that they would do so. That makes al-Abadi look both ineffectual and disingenuous. An example? This week, Iraq renamed a town on the banks of the Euphrates River to reflect a triumph over IS. Jurf al-Sakhar, or “rocky bank,” became Jurf al-Nasr, or “victory bank.” However, the once-Sunni town is now emptied of its 80,000 residents, and building after building has been flattened by air strikes, bombings, and artillery fire coordinated by the Badr militia.

Meanwhile, Washington clings to the most deceptive trope of Iraq War 2.0: the claim that the Anbar Awakening — the U.S. military’s strategy to arm Sunni tribes and bring them into the new Iraq while chasing out al-Qaeda-in-Iraq (the “old” IS) — really worked on the ground. By now, this is a bedrock truth of American politics. The failure that followed was, of course, the fault of those darned Iraqis, specifically a Shia government in Baghdad that messed up all the good the U.S. military had done. Having deluded itself into believing this myth, Washington now hopes to recreate the Anbar Awakening and bring the same old Sunnis into the new, new Iraq while chasing out IS (the “new” al-Qaeda).

To convince yourself that this will work, you have to ignore the nature of the government in Baghdad and believe that Iraqi Sunnis have no memory of being abandoned by the U.S. the first time around. What comes to mind is one commentator’s view of the present war: if at first we don’t succeed, do the same thing harder, with better technology, and at greater expense.

Understanding that Sunnis may not be fooled twice by the same con, the State Department is now playing up the idea of creating a whole new military force, a Sunni “national guard.” Think of this as the backup plan from hell. These units would, after all, be nothing more than renamed Sunni militias and would in no way be integrated into the Iraqi Army. Instead, they would remain in Sunni territory under the command of local leaders. So much for unity.

And therein lies another can’t-possibly-go-right aspect of U.S. strategy. . . .

Continue reading.


Written by Leisureguy

10 November 2014 at 10:58 am

Posted in Iraq War

Extremely cool Medieval and Fanstical book art

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Take a look. Amazing work.

Written by Leisureguy

10 November 2014 at 9:39 am

Posted in Art, Books

More on the JP Morgan theft of assets from the public and the DOJ cover-up

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A follow-on to Matt Taibbi’s article in Rolling Stone about the $9 billion witness—so called because JP Morgan settled with a $9 billion fine (or, from another point of view, bribed the DOJ with $9 billion and some headlines) in an agreement to keep the witness’s testimony secret and not reveal to the public what had been done. Eric Holder’s DOJ was very happy to agree—since Holder is now leaving the DOJ and wants a highly-paid position with Wall Street. It will be interesting to see whether he goes to work for JP Morgan Chase: a sinecure might well be part of the deal. It usually is.

Pam Martens reports more on the story in Wall Street on Parade:

Two years after attorney Alayne Fleischmann was downsized out of her job as a Transaction Manager at JPMorgan Chase, her boss, William Buell, was hauled before the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission (FCIC) for interrogation on just how culpable the bank was in packaging and selling toxic mortgage backed securities.

Buell is the same man that Fleischmann exposed in aRolling Stone feature article by Matt Taibbi last week as the recipient of her detailed, internal letter in early 2007, warning him that the mortgage pools her group was reviewing contained poor quality mortgage loans unfit for purchase or securitization. Despite the written warning, Fleischmann would later learn that JPMorgan, in a drive to boost market share and profits, went forward and purchased the pool, securitized many of the loans, then sold them to unsuspecting investors.

But when Buell was asked directly during his questioning on September 15, 2010 by a Federal investigator for the FCIC if anybody had asked him to apply the brakes and stop pushing out questionable mortgage loans, Buell did not mention the formal warning letter he received from Fleischmann.

Another opportunity arose during the interview to mention the letter from Fleischmann and Buell again fails to reveal it. An FCIC interviewer asks:

“During the period 2005, May 2005 until let’s say the end of 2007, was there a period of time where you, in your position, noted that there was somewhat of a deterioration in the quality of the loans that were being presented to you to purchase?”

Buell: “I think that what we saw happening at the time was there was a very competitive process to offer a wider and wider array of products to borrowers. And, it wasn’t the case that in that period of time, until the very end, in that period of time that anybody that really I was involved with was looking at the situation and saying, wow, we really think guidelines and origination standards were deteriorating…”

That statement stands in direct contradiction to what Fleischmann alleges she told Buell in early 2007 in a formal letter. It would be difficult to forget such a letter in a span of three years. According to Taibbi in the Rolling Stone article, the letter was “long” and nicknamed “The Howler” by JPMorgan lawyers.

The seriousness that JPMorgan assigned to the FCIC interview of Buell can be surmised from the fact that it was held not in offices of the Federal government but in the law office of the Wall Street mega law firm, Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison – the firm best known for getting Citigroup out of fraud charges. In addition to a lawyer from Paul Weiss, there were two lawyers from the JPMorgan legal department present.

At the outset, Buell is told that those interviewing him are Federal employees and the interview will be governed by 18 U.S. Code 1001. The statute is explained to him to mean that it will be a crime to make a false statement in his testimony.

It’s clear from the outset that Buell is nervous and measuring his words. Most of his questions are coming from Tom Krebs of the FCIC. The moment of panic for the witness begins at 39:26 on the official audio recording of the interview with the mention of not the name of Alayne Fleischmann but a different woman, Vicki Beal. (See FCIC staff audiotape of interview with William Buell, JPMorgan Chase.)

Krebs asks Buell: “Do you know a person named Vicki Beal?”

Buell: “I do not know Vicki Beal.”

Krebs: “Are you familiar with the firm of Clayton Holdings?”

Buell: “I am familiar…[voice drops off into low, breathless tone]”

Krebs: “How are you familiar with Clayton Holdings?”

Buell: “They’re a vendor that we hired to assist in the due diligence process.”

Krebs then hands Buell some documents from Clayton Holdings. Buell says he doesn’t recognize the documents and will need a moment to review them. Four minutes of nervous paper rattling with no one speaking commences. There are sounds of loud scribbling on paper suggesting that perhaps lawyers who don’t want to be captured on the tape recording are conferring with their client via written messages.

If Alayne Fleischmann is JPMorgan’s $9 billion witness, Vicki Beal and other officials at Clayton Holdings are the $100 billion witnesses against a broad swath of Wall Street. Not only did Clayton review mortgage loan files prior to securitization for almost every major Wall Street firm as an outside due diligence vendor, it ranked the loans as Event 1, 2 and 3. An Event 3 meant the loan should be rejected as high risk. On top of that, Clayton kept its own internal reports showing the rate at which the individual Wall Street firms were asking it to change an Event 3 loan, that it believed should be rejected, to a 2W – meaning that the Wall Street firm wanted the loan “waived” in as an acceptable loan.

After turning over their internal documents to then State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo in early 2008 in exchange for immunity from prosecution in the state, Clayton handed over the same documents to the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission.

One of the documents released by the FCIC, which may have been among those Buell and his lawyers were looking at during the four minutes of silence and nervous paper rattling on the tape, was a page that compared the number of Event 3 loans waived in by JPMorgan compared to Merrill Lynch and Lehman Brothers. JPMorgan had waived in 51 percent of the Event 3 versus Lehman’s 37 percent and Merrill’s 32 percent. (See Clayton Holdings’ Reject and Waiver Rates.)

At the end of the four minutes of silence, Buell asks where this document comes from. Krebs says it’s been subpoenaed from Clayton Holdings and they have this information on effectively every Wall Street firm – a message to the lawyers in the room that the Federal government can now reconstruct just who was pumping out the dirtiest securitization deals. These Clayton Holdings documents have been used in lawsuits against JPMorgan from coast to coast.

Next, Krebs asks Buell to explain the job description of his boss, William King. Buell says King was the Managing Director of the Securitized Products Group. King, it turns out, supervised both the traders who made the outsized profits for the firm on toxic securities, as well as Buell’s due diligence department. King has been named in multiple lawsuits against JPMorgan.

When the U.S. Justice Department announced its $13 billion settlement with JPMorgan on November 19, 2013, it had this to say about the findings it had made from the Clayton Holdings documents: . . .

Continue reading.

This crime stinks to high heaven, and Eric Holder’s heavy thumb on the scales of Justice is quite evident. The criminals get away with all their personal loot, the corporation pays the fine, and the millions of those defrauded get bupkus. This is modern American justice: by the corporation, for the corporation, and of the corporation.

Written by Leisureguy

10 November 2014 at 8:48 am

A wonderful lemon-scented shave

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SOTD 10 Nov 2014

Terrific shave today—skipping a day is hard, but the reward Monday morning is worth it: starting the week with a perfect shave.

I used my Plisson brush with Honeybee Soaps Fresh Lemon shaving soap. [Full disclosure: She made this particular fragrance at my request—it’s now among her usual offerings—and I even tested some sample batches. I recall one candidate had a sort of sweet smell, like lemon custard rather than a fresh lemon. What she produced really does capture that lemon zing.]

I have learned that some have trouble creating a lather from Honeybee Soaps, but I’ve never had a problem—OTOH, I have pretty soft water and a fair amount of experience in making lather. (And I, too, occasionally have lather problems, all of which I’ve been able to solve by adapting my technique—some soaps (Stirling, for example) seem to be extremely thirsty, and for those I’ve found that adding small amounts of water as I load the brush has solved the problem.)

With Honeybee Soaps, though, my regular technique works fine. In any event, she sells very nice sample pucks, so you can try before you buy.

Three passes with the #102 slant holding a Personna Lab Blue blade and I am rewarded with perfect smoothness. No nicks nor even the feeling that i might get a nick. I really do think this is a fine slant, and the fact that you can get the head for $48 and add the handle from the $11 Utopia Care razor puts it at a total price of $59—$14 more than the Merkur 37C, and in my experience with both, the #102 is more comfortable and equally efficient—possibly a little more efficient, since I can shave with less caution.

That said, I do want to recognize that at least one person (who so far has tried only the 37C) holds a firm conviction that humpback slants are inferior to torqued slants because of science. While I cannot follow his explanation, my actual experience has been that in practice the differences between torqued and not are not so noticeable as the overall feel (comfort and efficiency) of the razor, and the #102 is (for me) a better razor in that regard than the 37C. The person who holds the position that the 37C is better has, so far, used only that slant, so his comparison is based on his theory rather than his experience.

I did want to acknowledge that there are dissenting views, but the strongest dissent so far encountered is not based on any experience, merely on theory.

The Myrsol lemon just arrived, and I couldn’t wait to do an all-lemon shave. I do like it, and the fragrance is quite satisfactory: on your face and not in your face, as it were.

It occurs to me that another good lather source for an all-lemon shave would be J.M. Fraser shaving cream. That will be my next lemon shave.

Written by Leisureguy

10 November 2014 at 8:36 am

Posted in Shaving

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