Later On

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Archive for January 27th, 2015

Hey! Argentina shows the way: Dissolve CIA, NSA

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A story by Simon Romero and Jonathan Gilbert in the NY Times begins:

With her government badly shaken over the mysterious death of a prosecutor investigating the 1994 bombing of a Jewish center, President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner said in a televised speech on Monday night that she would immediately send a bill to Congress to dissolve the nation’s premier intelligence agency.

The intelligence services “have not served the interests of the country,” Mrs. Kirchner said in the speech, in which she proposed replacing the agency, the Intelligence Secretariat, or S.I., with a new organization that would have reduced surveillance powers.

Mrs. Kirchner accused rogue factions within the S.I. of trying to sabotage an agreement with Iran to jointly investigate the attack on the Jewish center, which killed 85 people.

Before the prosecutor, Alberto Nisman, was found dead in his apartment this month, he made the explosive assertion that Mrs. Kirchner had tried to reach a secret deal with the Tehran government to shield Iranian officials from responsibility for the bombing. Her aides have accused a spymaster she ousted from the agency last month of having a hand in preparing Mr. Nisman’s criminal complaint against her and others. . .

Continue reading.

The US could learn from that. Certainly the CIA should be dissolved: to much illegal activity to countenance, and since no one is punished (except those who let the public know what the CIA is doing—very similar to the Mafia and other criminal organizations), the organization gets worse and worse, to the point where someone like John Brennan is the director.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 January 2015 at 8:37 pm

Posted in Government, Law

Police aggression in the US and Israel

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Interesting article by Heike Schotten of Ma’an News Agency at Informed Comment:

In the United States, “Ferguson” — the name of the town where unarmed black teenager Michael Brown was shot to death by police last summer — has become a shorthand name for the free reign given to police officers to murder black people in the streets (and parks, stores, even their ownhomes) with impunity.

At the same time as Brown was murdered, the world watched as Israel was given free reign to murder Palestinian people in the streets of the Gaza Strip (and beaches, cafes, hospitals, even their own homes) with impunity.

In the US, people are therefore beginning to see the connections between Ferguson and Palestine. The fact that Israel and the US share police trainingand tactics, not to mention weaponry and military strategy, seems increasingly significant.

Residents of Ferguson describe their small Missouri town — largely black, run by a largely white police force via rampantly racist, economicallydevastating police tactics — as “occupied.”

Ferguson protesters were moved and taken aback when Gazans sent themmessages of solidarity on Twitter along with advice about how to handle tear gas from militarized police.

Of course, the struggles of African Americans and Palestinians are not identical. African Americans are not occupied the same way as are Palestinians, who are being deprived of their land as well as their rights. The legacies of chattel slavery and colonial dispossession, however vile, are not interchangeable histories of oppression.

Nevertheless, yet another commonality faced by folks in struggle from Ferguson to Palestine is the all-too-frequent refusal to recognize their oppression as oppression.

For example, in public discourse, I have noticed a consistent rhetorical positioning of police officers and Israel — rather than unarmed black people and Palestinians — as the real victims of brutality and violence.

I first struggled with this rhetorical casuistry during Israel’s Operation Cast Lead, back in 2008-09. In those days, any criticism of Israel’s actions — which included killing almost 1,500 Palestinians, leveling Gaza’s civilian infrastructure and residences, and unleashing illegal chemical weapons on noncombatants, amongst other atrocities — was met with the unmoved reply, “But what about the rockets?”

This past summer, as Israel re-visited genocidal terror on the Gaza Strip for the third time, “What about the rockets?” was updated to “But what about Hamas?” (Alternative versions of this question include the demand that anyone who criticizes Israel affirm that Hamas is a terrorist organization.)

An echo of Israel’s explicit rationalization of Operation Protective Edge, “But what about Hamas?” alleges that the people “in charge” of Gaza are terrorists. Therefore it is appropriate, even necessary, to destroy its hospitals, mosques, schools, and disabled persons facilities, as well as catastrophically traumatize, injure, and murder the people who live there. . .

Continue reading. It’s a lengthy article and quite interesting in the parallels.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 January 2015 at 6:14 pm

New installments in the series on Chickenhawk Nation

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James Fallows’s article has stirred things up a bit—or at least given a focus for much dissatisfaction with the American military. Latest installment here.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 January 2015 at 3:43 pm

Posted in Military

Black and Blue: Cops of Color in Post-Ferguson America

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Extremely interesting article—and another example of how police departments seem to be seriously broken through the country. Or perhaps they’re just warming up for a new role. Aurin Squire writes at Talking Point Memo:

Sorry to let you down, kids. My dad taught at an inner-city school rife with violence and I had family members who are cops. I’d seen the people police have to deal with and I wanted no part of that world. Nope. Never. Girl bye.

But some young, black men decide otherwise, and they’ve been on my mind during a year of highly-publicized police killings of unarmed black men and boys. Ferguson, Missouri. Beavercreek and Cleveland, Ohio. Staten Island, New York. This year, Gallup reported that Americans rank racism as the nation’s top problem. My respect for law enforcement has always been balanced by a low-level anxiety and wariness around individual cops. And the past year did nothing to assuage my fears.

There hasn’t been this much concern about police and race relations since 1992, the year of Rodney King. Back then, America watched the video evidence while they ate their dinner. They could see brutality that seemed to exist simply as batting practice. Simply because it was habit. Simply because cops could and would get away with it. Twenty years later, the evidence is still coming in on camera, tape recordings and in city morgues.

The public debate has always centered around black versus white, police versus civilians. But what about police officers of color, who dwell in the nexus of this fight?

When I began reaching out to black and Hispanic cops, I knew I was going to run into the infamous blue code of silence. The code is simple: Cops don’t talk about other cops. No matter how corrupt an officer may be, most colleagues are reluctant to testify on or off the record. When I contacted multiple police organizations, unions and media officers I hit this wall. Hard. My attempts to engage New York officers on the street were met with cold stares, snickers and dismissive waves. I turned to officers I knew personally; at least they called me back to tell me in no uncertain terms: “No way in hell.”

After this, I did what any modern journalist would do: I turned to social media. I followed an electronic breadcrumb trail that went from friends-of-friends, to cousins, to distant uncles who knew war buddies. The trail went around the country to various officer ranks and precincts, from the most diverse forces to the whitest. One thing was constant: All of them struggled daily to balance their sworn oath with their born identity.

* * *

It’s the media trying to sell paper,” Ralph said. “The bigger issue is, why are so many Black and Latino kids involved in violent crimes?’

“Parents,” Stanley said. “Homeboy, you got parents who aren’t doing their job.”

Stanley and Ralph are not their real names. The former is my cousin, who I’ve known as an officer my entire life, and the latter is the brother of a friend. They’ve never met— Stanley works in Ft. Lauderdale and Ralph in Houston—but they have a lot in common. Both are police sergeants with 20-plus years of service. Both are gregarious, bass-voiced, African-American men. And both look upon the recent attention on police shootings with startlingly conservative eyes.

When I asked about stop-and-frisk, Stanley insisted it “helps reduce crime.” When I pointed him to a study that implies otherwise, he brushed it off as an unimportant detail. At the time of our conversations, there were still protests around the country over Staten Island officers choking Eric Garner to death. And Ralph gave the cops the benefit of the doubt.

“Look, it’s very easy to second-guess things, which is a bad habit to pick up if you’re a police officer and have to make quick decisions,” Ralph said. “He was overweight and asthmatic. There’s a good chance that if they would have tasered him, he would have died, anyway.”

“In that moment, you’re not thinking about race or age. You’re thinking about survival.”

I spoke with Ralph as he drove his patrol car through the different wards of Houston. As he scrolled through his bulletin, he noted that every single call he was looking at involved black or Latino people in bad neighborhoods. Then he tells me a story about his first year on the force.

Ralph received a call in the early morning concerning an elderly African-American man standing in the middle of the street with an ax and threatening people. The situation seemed critical. Ralph sped to the Houston’s notorious fifth ward. When Ralph arrived, he approached the man to calm him down. Ralph didn’t see the ax that was lying flat against the floor of the porch.

“It happened really quick,” he recalled, “The guy had that thing we call ‘old man strength’ to him when he picked up the ax and was trying to bring it down on my head.”

Ralph was jammed up against car and his hands were holding the ax, so he couldn’t reach for his gun. He couldn’t reach for the radio to call for help. He just had to hold on. The fight devolved into a wrestling match and eventually a neighbor called the police, who swooped in for the arrest. But the lesson stuck with him.

“You have a split second decision to make and in that moment you’re not thinking about race or age,” Ralph said. “You’re thinking about survival.”

Stanley knows what this is like. He used to be on SWAT. One day on a drug bust, his team rammed opened the door and charged through a living room, guns aimed and ready. A black child lay in the path of the sprinting team of officers. A lightning-fast reaction meant the difference between shooting, trampling or moving the kid. Stanley swooped the kid up and rolled to the ground, ripping the muscles in his own hips and legs in the process. It was the end of his SWAT team career.

I remember the months of Stanley limping around on crutches, the agonizing rehabilitation, and the loneliness. The kid will probably never know this, or about the many other sad stories resulting from cops thinking on their feet. What he will know is his own community’s public perception of cops.

“‘All police ain’t shit,’ ” Ralph said, parroting his neighbors. “Most are grateful, but you do get called Uncle Tom.”

“Sellout,” Stanley offered, along many more insults hurled at him. “Homeboy, we’re all trying to do the best we can. We’re not perfect.”

* * *

On Friday, December 19th, a 24-year-old Latino cop who I’ll call “Christopher” graduated from a police academy in upstate New York. The next day, Baltimore resident Ismaaiyl Abdullah Brinsley shot his ex-girlfriend, hopped on a bus to New York City and murdered on-duty officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu, execution-style in their parked patrol car.

“It was a big shocker,” said Christopher, who is the third generation in his family to work in law enforcement. “Everyone was telling me to be careful. The world ain’t what it used to be. I’m not saying people should be afraid of the cops. It was really a tough time.”

I remember the murder rippling across the country in a matter of minutes. I was pacing around my parent’s living room in Miami. I was on winter break from Juilliard and hashing out a few new theatre pieces when I saw the breaking news flash across the screen.

“Two police officers have been shot!” I yelled to my mom in the next room. “Countdown to Monday when the right-wing leaders will turn this around and use their deaths to bash protestors and New York Mayor Bill De Blasio.”

I was wrong. There was no weekend pause. The politicization of their deaths was instantaneous. Within the hour, the blame was being passed around to President Obama, Al Sharpton, De Blasio, Attorney General Eric Holder and Al Sharpton. Everyone seemed to be at fault except for the actual killer. Leading the hysterical political charge was the president of Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, Pat Lynch.

Every officer of color I spoke to both on and off the record held Lynch in low regard. They tossed around phrases like “clown” and “political opportunist.”

“He was an idiot then and he’s still an idiot” is how one retired officer put it.

“I think the arguments between the mayor and [Lynch] is like watching two girls fighting,” another office said.

In my unofficial poll, the feelings toward the union president seemed to rank somewhere between Al Sharpton and Ebola. Still, and almost in defiance of the demoralization by media, politicians, protestors and even their own union’s dysfunction, most cops insisted no one—especially minorities—signs up to do harm.

“I wanted to make change,” Christopher said. “I went to college, I invested time into myself to be better and make change. It wasn’t my passion to become a cop. But I want to change the stereotype that all Hispanics are nothing. And I thought, ‘let me do something different.’”

As our conversation progressed, the blue code of silence took over. Nervous laughter about aliases turned to concern about identifying information. Eventually, my followup questions went unreturned. Our final exchanges ended on a series of awkward notes.

“When Eric Garner fell to the ground—“ Christopher began.

“He didn’t fall,” I replied quickly. “He was forced and choked to the ground. He had cops piling on top of him.”

Both of us are taken aback by my outburst. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 January 2015 at 3:39 pm

Posted in Law Enforcement

The First Date That Changed Everything

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Fascinating story by Lois DeSocio in Buzzfeed:

Everything that comes with a relationship can be counted — in years, losses, gains, money, friends, family. The end of a marriage deserves an accounting. The numbers matter. We had been married 27 years. Two sons. Four houses. Thirty Christmases. The list does not have an end. Sometimes, emerging from a divorce, it takes a while for things to add up.

Three years ago, when I was 56, I suggested to my husband that he move out of our house in New Jersey. Our marriage had been faltering for years. As he was settling into his new apartment in Manhattan, he called. He was struggling. He said that he didn’t want a divorce. He was sorry for his part in our breakup. It was October; he promised that we, and our two sons, would still spend that Christmas together as a family. We pledged that we would always be friends, and our family would survive. We would stay separated for a year and, somehow, together, figure out this whole thing.

Five months after our pledge, and six months into our separation, my husband called. It still wasn’t unusual for him to call me. We spoke every few days. We even met for dinner or a drink on occasion. After a few minutes, as we were about to hang up, he told me that he was “seeing someone.”

“Seeing someone.” Two words that splintered my head into speechlessness, followed by a dizzying internal stream of, What about “Our family would survive”? What about “We’ll always be friends”? What about “We’ll get through this together”?

I sputtered into the phone:

“Who is she?”

“You’re seeing someone?”

“Are we supposed to be dating?”

“What about me?”

“What about us?”

“How old is she?”

“Are you getting married?”

“What if she wants kids?”

“Who is she?”

My ex-husband is a business executive. He runs meetings. When I paused to catch my breath, he answered every question with purpose.

She was 39 or 40. (He was my age.) She was “very successful.” He told me where she worked. He said he would always be in my life. “Nothing has changed.”

He said he would never be with anyone “who didn’t understand this.”

And: “I told her I have two sons in their twenties, and I don’t want any more kids.”

Three months after that phone call, and nine months into what had become a separation that was now laying bricks on the road to divorce, it was time, according to friends and family, to “put yourself out there.” “Maybe go online.” “See someone!”

One girlfriend had started a profile for me on eHarmony. It took two weeks for me to bite — a solitary Friday night, over wine, when I was feeling especially feisty and brave. So I named myself Isabella on my eHarmony profile, put up a year-old headshot, and watched half in fascination, half in horror as eHarmony’s computerized compatibility matrix churned out a slew of Santa Claus look-alikes — some on Harleys. (Not my type.) But eventually one stood out — a 59-year-old IT guy from Manhattan. We agreed to meet for dinner in my suburban town one July night. I wore my favorite black dress with the cool belt. It was my first date in over 30 years. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 January 2015 at 3:32 pm

Life in the Sickest Town in America

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The blurb: “I drove from one of the healthiest counties in the country to the least-healthy, both in the same state. Here’s what I learned about work, well-being, and happiness.” The article is by Olga Khazan:

nald Rose has no teeth, but that’s not his biggest problem. A camouflage hat droops over his ancient, wire-framed glasses. He’s only 43, but he looks much older.

I met him one day in October as he sat on a tan metal folding chair in the hallway of Riverview School, one of the few schools—few buildings, really—in the coal-mining town of Grundy, Virginia. That day it was the site of a free clinic, the Remote Area Medical. Rose was there to get new glasses—he’s on Medicare, which doesn’t cover most vision services.

Remote Area Medical was founded in 1985 by Stan Brock, a 79-year-old Brit who wears a tan Air-Force-style uniform and formerly hosted a nature TV show called Wild Kingdom. Even after he spent time in the wilds of Guyana, Brock came to the conclusion that poor Americans needed access to medical care about as badly as the Guyanese did. Now Remote Area Medical holds 20 or so packed clinics all over the country each year, providing free checkups and services to low-income families who pour in from around the region.

When I pulled into the school parking lot, someone was sleeping in the small yellow car in the next space, fast-food wrappers spread out on the dashboard. Inside, the clinic’s patrons looked more or less able-bodied. Most of the women were overweight, and the majority of the people I talked to were missing some of their teeth. But they were walking and talking, or shuffling patiently along the beige halls as they waited for their names to be called. There weren’t a lot of crutches and wheelchairs.

Yet many of the people in the surrounding county, Buchanan, derive their income from Social Security Disability Insurance, the government program for people who are deemed unfit for work because of permanent physical or mental wounds. Along with neighboring counties, Buchanan has one of the highest percentages of adult disability recipients in the nation, according to a 2014 analysis by the Urban Institute’s Stephan Lindner. Nearly 20 percent of the area’s adult residents received government SSDI benefits in 2011, the most recent year Lindner was able to analyze.

According to Lindner’s calculations, five of the 10 counties that have the most people on disability are in Virginia—and so are four of the lowest, making the state an emblem of how wealth and work determine health and well-being. Six hours to the north, in Arlington, Fairfax, and Loudoun Counties, just one out of every hundred adults draws SSDI benefits. But Buchanan county is home to a shadow economy of maimed workers, eking out a living the only way they can—by joining the nation’s increasingly sizable disability rolls. “On certain days of the month you stay away from the post office,” says Priscilla Harris, a professor who teaches at the Appalachian School of Law in Grundy, “because that’s when the disability checks are coming in.”

Just about everyone I spoke with at the Grundy clinic was a former manual worker, or married to one, and most had a story of a bone-crushing accident that had left them (or their spouse) out of work forever. For Rose, who came from the nearby town of Council, that day came in 1996, when he was pinned between two pillars in his job at a sawmill. He suffered through work until 2001, he told me, when he finally started collecting “his check,” as it’s often called. He had to go to a doctor to prove that he was truly hurting—he has deteriorating discs, he says, and chronic back pain. He was turned down twice, he thinks because he was just 30 years old at the time. Now the government sends him a monthly check for $956. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 January 2015 at 3:23 pm

The Outcast: Hasidic Jews and protecting child abusers

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Rachel Aviv (who wrote this stunning article on the Albuquerque police department, which seems to have a large number of armed thugs who can kill people with impunity) writes in the New Yorker:

Sam Kellner’s reputation in the Hasidic community of Borough Park, Brooklyn, began to suffer in 2008, when his teen-age son told him that he had been molested by a man who had prayed at their synagogue. Kellner’s first instinct was to run the man over with his van, but he didn’t know if his anger was justified. Molestation was rarely discussed in the community, and it didn’t seem to Kellner that any of the prohibitions in the Ten Commandments explicitly related to it. The most relevant sins—adultery and coveting a neighbor’s belongings—didn’t capture the depth of the violation. Kellner couldn’t pinpoint what was lost when a child was sexually abused, since the person looked the same afterward. But he sensed that molestation was damaging, because he knew a few victims, and they had gone off the derech, or religious way. “They became dead-enders, lost souls, outcasts,” he told me.

Kellner, a heavyset man with hazel eyes and a long, graying beard, never spoke about sexual matters with his six children. They would take classes about the human body (with a focus on how to get pregnant) only after their marriages were arranged. Kellner took his son to a modesty committee, called vaad hatznius, which enforces standards of sexual propriety among Borough Park’s hundred thousand ultra-Orthodox Jews, the majority of them Hasidic. Vaad hatznius disciplines residents who freely express their sexuality or behave lewdly. In a community where non-procreative sex is considered shameful, molestation tends to be regarded in roughly the same light as having an affair. When children complain about being molested, the council almost never notifies the police. Instead, it devises its own punishments for offenders: sometimes they are compelled to apologize, pay restitution, or move to Israel.

Kellner had once been a top administrator at the Munkacz synagogue and yeshiva, in Borough Park, but he had fought with other leaders about financial and educational policies. He had left the job and started a toner business, collecting discarded cartridges and reselling them. His son’s alleged abuser, Baruch Lebovits, was the descendant of a rabbinic dynasty, a prominent cantor with twenty-four grandchildren. Kellner told vaad hatznius that he wanted to report his son’s abuse to the police, because he didn’t trust that the issue could be dealt with internally.

The committee granted him permission, as long he had the approval of a rabbi. The rabbi would have to make an exception to the Talmudic prohibition againstmesirah, the act of turning over another Jew to civil authorities. According to some interpretations of Talmudic law, a Jew who informs on another Jew has committed a capital crime. He is a “wicked man,” who has “blasphemed and rebelled against the law of Moses,” the twelfth-century Torah scholar Maimonides wrote. The law was meant to protect the community from anti-Semitic governments. Kellner said, “The way history tells it is that if a Jew was arrested he was thrown in jail and never heard of again.”

Hasidim, whose movement emerged in the eighteenth century as a mystical, populist alternative to traditional Judaism, are defined in part by their concern for self-preservation. Kellner is the son of Hungarian Holocaust survivors who re-created in Brooklyn a community that had been destroyed by the war. Men dress in black frock coats; married women wear long skirts and hide their hair, which is considered alluring, under shawls or wigs. They speak Yiddish, and resist television, the Internet, and other secular forms of entertainment. Hasidic parents take literally the Lord’s order to “be fruitful and multiply”—they intend to replenish a culture devastated by the Holocaust—and Hasidim are now the fastest-growing segment of the Jewish population in New York City. Sixty per cent of the city’s Jewish children, many of them Hasidic, live in Orthodox homes.

Kellner, who was a member of a synagogue that is closely affiliated with the Satmar sect, the largest Hasidic community in New York, wasn’t sure that the prohibition against mesirah made sense in a country where, he said, “the justice system is credible enough.” Although the Satmar community distrusts secular government, it participates fully in the democratic process. Hasidim typically vote as a bloc, delivering tens of thousands of votes to the politicians their leaders endorse. In exchange for the community’s loyalty, politicians have given Brooklyn’s Hasidim wide latitude to police themselves. They have their own emergency medical corps, a security patrol, and a rabbinic court system, which often handles criminal allegations.

Kellner sought counsel from Rabbi Chaim Flohr, the leader of an institute where rabbinic scholars study how the teachings of the Torah translate to contemporary dilemmas. After listening to Kellner’s story, Flohr called the modesty councils in Borough Park and Williamsburg (where there are sixty thousand Hasidim) to see if other children had reported being molested by Lebovits. Flohr wrote in an affidavit that “numerous complaints and allegations of a similar nature had been made against Baruch Lebovits dating back over a long period of time.” Flohr told Kellner that he was justified in going to the police, because Lebovits could be considered a rodef, or pursuer, someone who is endangering the lives of other Jews. In a letter, Flohr wrote, “Behold I make known in the public arena: to praise an honest man, namely Mr. Shloma Aron Kellner, may his light shine, that how he acted in regards to the government was based on a query before a rabbinic court and was done according to our Holy Torah. . . . It is forbidden to trouble him or humiliate him.”

With the rabbi’s approval, Kellner took his son, whom I’ll call Yossel, to the offices of the Brooklyn Special Victims Unit, in Crown Heights, to speak with Steven Litwin, the senior detective. A studious and introspective boy, Yossel explained that Lebovits had offered him a ride home from a school outing late at night, then reached over to the passenger seat and molested him. He said that Lebovits was soon moaning and grunting. He told his teacher what had happened, but the teacher said that Lebovits was a “respected person” and instructed him not to think about the incident again.

Litwin found the boy’s “claims to be extremely credible,” he wrote in an affidavit. But he told Kellner that the crime was a misdemeanor, and that it was unlikely that Lebovits, a first-time offender, would receive jail time. Disappointed, Kellner said that Lebovits had molested other boys, too. “O.K., so help me find them,” Litwin told him.

Kellner went back to the modesty council and was given the name of another boy, Joshua, who had complained about Lebovits. (All victims’ names have been changed.) Joshua said that, starting in 2000, when he was twelve, Lebovits sometimes drove alongside him while he was walking to school, honking his horn and encouraging him to get into the car, where Lebovits performed oral sex on him. Joshua said that, on other occasions, Lebovits molested him in the mikvah, a ritual bath that was in the basement of his synagogue. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 January 2015 at 3:18 pm

No punish for torturing people or lying to Congress, but call the NY Times and you go to prison

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The Obama Administration—and Obama himself—have priorities I simply do not understand. No action taken at all when officials in the Executive Branch lie to Congress in their sworn testimony (a crime), no punishment at all for torturing suspects (a war crime), and no punishment at all for leaking classified information to the newspapers—provided you are in the inner circle and are free to do it. But if you are NOT in the inner circle who can reveal classified information as they please, then the roof falls in if you let the newspapers know information that is classified and/or embarrassing to the government. Obama hates whistleblowers, as he has repeatedly demonstrated. (In his campaign he lied about how he would protect them, but then he lied a lot in his campaign: remember his solemn pledge that he would vote against immunity for telecoms and their illegal behavior. He voted in favor of it.)

Dan Froomkin writes at The Intercept:

Monday’s guilty verdict in the trial of former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling on espionage charges — for talking to a newspaper reporter — is the latest milepost on the dark and dismal path Barack Obama has traveled since his inaugural promises to usher in a “new era of openness.”

Far from rejecting the authoritarian bent of his presidential predecessor, Obama has simply adjusted it, adding his own personal touches, most notably an enthusiasm for criminally prosecuting the kinds of leaks that are essential to a free press.

The Sterling case – especially in light of Obama’s complicity in the cover-up of torture during the Bush administration – sends a clear message to people in government service: You won’t get in trouble as long as you do what you’re told (even torture people). But if you talk to a reporter and tell him something we want kept secret, we will spare no effort to destroy you.

There’s really no sign any more of the former community organizer who joyously declared on his first full day in office that “there’s been too much secrecy in this city… Starting today, every agency and department should know that this administration stands on the side not of those who seek to withhold information but those who seek to make it known.”

Instead, as author Scott Horton explained to me a few weeks ago, Obama’s thinking on these issues was swayed by John Brennan, the former senior adviser he eventually named CIA director. And for Brennan and his ilk, secrecy is a core value — partly for legitimate national security reasons and partly as an impregnable shield against embarrassment and accountability.

The Sterling case was until recently an even more direct attack on a free press, as Obama administration prosecutors repeatedly demanded testimony from New York Times reporter James Risen, who wrote about the botched plot against the Iranian government that they charged Sterling with divulging.

Risen’s testimony was crucial to their case, they said – although evidently it wasn’t. And their argument was that U.S. law recognizes no such thing as reporter’s privilege when a journalist received what the government considers an illegal leak.

Attorney General Eric Holder finally retreated from that particular attack on press freedom earlier this month, as my colleague Lynn Oberlanderexplained. Holder also announced revisions of DOJ policy on questioning journalists or obtaining information from media organizations about their sources. But as Oberlander put it, “the policy still leaves a fair amount of leeway for national security investigations — some of the most important reporting often based on confidential sources.”

Meanwhile, former CIA officer John Kiriakou is in prison, serving the last days of his over two-year sentence not for torturing anyone, but for revealing information on torture to a reporter.

Stephen Kim, a former State Department official who pled guilty to leaking classified information to a Fox News reporter, faces 13 months in prison.

And Thomas Drake, a former NSA official who provided classified information about mismanagement at his agency to a Baltimore Sunreporter, endured a four-year persecution by the government that the federal judge in his case called “unconscionable,” before prosecutors dropped all 10 felony charges and settled for a single guilty plea on a misdemeanor. The government’s message nevertheless was loud and clear. As secrecy expert Steven Aftergood told me: “In every significant sense, the government won, because it demonstrated the price of nonconformity.”

All of this has been happening during a two-decade-long shift in thecultural norms of the U.S. government, whereby reporters are now routinely blocked from communicating with staff unless they are tracked and/or monitored by public relations controllers.

And government officials are being told very clearly that their personal right to free speech does not extend to their work life, nowhere more clearly than in the intelligence community, where a new directive forbids employees from discussing “intelligence-related information” with a reporter unless they have specific authorization to do so, even if it’s unclassified.

Not surprisingly, the Obama administration has flunked transparency scorecards and has failed to follow the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act.

By contrast, neither Obama nor Holder ever seriously contemplated any kind of prosecution or accountability for the application of torture – a heinous assault on human rights – that was rampant during the Bush era. Holder repeatedly and effusively ruled out any possible prosecution of those who followed orders they were told were legal. And Obama made it clear that he would not second-guess the people who gave the orders – a prima facie case of what my colleague Glenn Greenwald calls elite immunity.

Looking ahead to 2016, the prospects are grim. . .

Continue reading. Obama’s record is deeply disturbing, at least to me.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 January 2015 at 3:11 pm

Things Only Bad Cops Do

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One thing that all cops do is to cover up crimes when the crimes are committed by cops. The blue code of silence is harsh, immediate, and effective, and any cop who commits a crime is sure in the knowledge that other police officers will protect him and cover up the crime. (We see this movie a lot in authoritarian organizations: cf. military, Catholic church, etc.)

Scott Greenfield has an interesting post the blog Simple Justice:

Omar Rendon was a sergeant in the Marines, which is detailed so you realize that he was one of the good guys. You know, the brave heroes everybody talks about, who deserve our thanks.  And indeed, they do, and he does. And he is a good guy, which didn’t really help him much.

From the Daily News:

Omar Rendon, 25, a former Marine sergeant, said he was sitting in his Acura sedan in an Ulmer St. parking lot in College Point, Queens while on his lunch break last week, eating a Subway sandwich and watching “Wentworth” on his cell phone, when an unmarked blue van pulled alongside him.

Two men in plainclothes said, “Police! Get out of the car,” and reached in to unlock the door, he said. When Rendon — a handyman at the commercial complex, which features a movie theater and a Toys “R” Us — asked who they were, he said he was violently yanked out of the car. When he asked to see their I.D.s, one cop punched him in the face, he told The News.

This happened as the NYPD was being told to get back to work, start making cases again because the public doesn’t think well of the cops.  The cops who did this to Rendon were from the Organized Crime Control Bureau, which is dedicated to stopping people from eating Subway  sandwiches on their lunch hour in cars in Queens.  That’s why they use unmarked vans.

The cops rifled through Rendon’s pockets and handcuffed him. He was thrown in the back of the windowless van and locked inside a prisoner cage while the cops searched inside the car and trunk.

After all, anyone who would eat a sandwich in his car could also have drugs, and how else would these brave NYPD heroes find out but to toss the guy and search his car?

Of course, they didn’t find anything, so they cut him loose.  Among the things they didn’t know was that Omar Rendon had two brothers, both of whom were NYPD cops.  They make for a nice family portrait, right?

Rendon followed them and got a pic of the license plate of the unmarked van.  He reported them, which is infinitely easier to do for a guy whose brothers are cops.

Police sources said the plate number was traced to a leasing company in Connecticut that is used by the Queens Narcotics unit, and that that the department’s Organized Crime Control Bureau inspections unit is close to identifying the two plainclothes officers involved in the incident.

After all, it’s really hard and time-consuming to look at who signed out the van that day, that tour, so it takes a lot of investigating.  Not that it matters a whole lot.

The source said the incident is being investigated as police misconduct rather than a criminal offense. [Police are quick to shield and protect criminals who are police. In their view, police are permitted to commit crimes unless it really gets out of hand. – LG]

Because two random guys with shields get to pull a guy out of car for eating a Subway sandwich, punch him, toss him, search his car, and that’s not considered criminal if it’s done in the name of law enforcement. . .

Continue reading.

Note, for example, that the Bayonne NJ policeman who handcuffed a man and then struck the handcuffed prisoner in the face with a flashlight, causing permanent disfigurement. He did this in full view of other police officers, who did nothing: not then, not later. The police protect the criminals in their ranks. It was the Federal government who brought him to justice. The story, by Jonathan Lin in the Jersey Journal:

Police officer Domenico Lillo was charged today with beating a city man during an arrest and then falsifying records to conceal the beating, federal authorities said.

Lillo, 44, was arrested at his home this morning in connection with the arrest of Brandon Walsh, who later sued Lillo and the Bayonne Police Department. Lillo was arraigned earlier this afternoon before U.S. Magistrate Judge James B. Clark III in Newark federal court and released on a $100,000 unsecured bond, authorities said.

Officially, Lillo was charged with the deprivation of civil rights under color of law and falsification of records. The use of excessive force count carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison, while the charge of falsifying records carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.

Bayonne Mayor Jimmy Davis, a former police officer, said Lillo was immediately suspended without pay as soon as city officials were notified that he had been charged.

Davis said Lillo’s arrest didn’t come as a surprise.

“This was something that you knew sooner or later was coming. And when you’re going to do something like that, this is what gives all police officers a black eye,” he said.

City spokesman Jeff Meyer said the city would be fully cooperating with the FBI “in every way possible to assist in their efforts.”

Walsh was arrested on Dec. 27, 2013 by Lillo and other Bayonne police officers on a warrant out of Sussex County.

Police said that Walsh resisted arrest and struggled with officers. In his lawsuit, Walsh said that Lillo repeatedly struck him in the face with his flashlight while he was handcuffed, causing permanent disfigurement. Walsh also said in the lawsuit that other Bayonne police officers at the scene did nothing to stop the beating.

Federal authorities said Lillo falsified a Bayonne Police Department Use of Force Report related to the arrest with the intent to impede an investigation into the case. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 January 2015 at 2:52 pm

Cone snails hunt with venom—including insulin

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Maddie Stone has an extremely interesting article in Motherboard on the (deadly to man) cone snail:

Insulin injections save countless lives, but killer snails are privy to a secret we thought only humans knew: They can also end them.

The common cone snail may look like a pretty, pocket-sized trinket, but most of these fish-hunters produce an arsenal of over 200 life-ending venoms. And it’s not just fish that are susceptible—the snails have killed dozens of people in accidental encounters.

Now, nature’s most nefarious snail has shown us that insulin, the heretofore benign protein of energy metabolism, can also be co-opted for predation. In new researchpublished in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, scientists found that certain species of Conus—the same critters that give us an opioid-like neurotoxin 100 times as potent as morphine—shoot weaponized insulin at fish. While some diabetic humans will administer small insulin injections to lower their blood sugar levels, these venomous beasts have a more violent goal in mind: Causing entire schools of fish to suffer a massive blood-sugar crash.

“This is a beautiful example of evolutionary cleverness,” lead study author Helena Safavi-Hemami, a research assistant professor at the University of Utah, told me in an email.

As predators go, cone snails, which spend their lives slinking about coral reefs and shallow tropical sea floors, don’t look particularly threatening. But what the innocuous mollusks lack in size and speed they make up for in literally hundreds of venoms, which each species uses to concoct its own signature death brew. In the present study, researchers were interested in a particular species, Conus geographus, which, using its stretchy, mouth-like part as a gun barrel, sprays forth a venomous mixture that immobilizes fish. The snail’s false-mouth then advances and becomes nightmarishly distended before engulfing its paralyzed victims. . .

Continue reading. There’s more at the link. But here’s the cone snail’s false mouth in action:

Written by LeisureGuy

27 January 2015 at 2:41 pm

Posted in Science

“Zone of privacy from government surveillance” = “Zone of lawlessness,” DOJ says

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The DoJ in fact seems really ignorant about encryption. Jason Koebler writes at Motherboard:

Tuesday, the federal government continued its offensive against default consumer encryption enabled by Apple and Google and anonymity tools like Tor, saying that greater privacy and security has created a “zone of lawlessness” that law enforcement is having trouble cracking.

Leslie Caldwell, an assistant attorney general at the Justice Department, said that the department is “very concerned” by the Google’s and Apple’s decision to automatically encrypt all data on Android and iOS devices. Her comments aren’t entirely surprising, considering that FBI Director James Comey previously said that the agency would push Congress to make automatic encryption illegal, and President Obama has also expressed concern with the development.

The problem that privacy and security advocates have pointed out is that the US government doesn’t really seem to understand what it’s asking for. Caldwell was being interviewed as a part of the annual State of the Net Conference in Washington, DC. One minute, she was vilifying encryption; the next, she was sending a message to the country’s citizens and companies that they need to be “more conscious of cybersecurity.”

“They need to be assuming they are vulnerable, assuming their data can be taken,” she said.

End-to-end encryption is one of the absolute best ways to protect data, and the security of its users is the main reason why Google and Apple decided to make it default on their smartphones.

The move has been extremely controversial with the government, because it makes data too safe, Caldwell argued.

“We understand the value of encryption and the importance of security,” she said. “But we’re very concerned they not lead to the creation of what I would call a ‘zone of lawlessness,’ where there’s evidence that we could have lawful access through a court order that we’re prohibited from getting because of a company’s technological choices.”

She said that she hopes Apple and Google will consider building in back doors that will allow the companies to decrypt the phones if they are physically mailed back to the manufacturer.

The companies would then send information “relevant to [the] investigation” to law enforcement. As it stands, Apple currently has no way of decrypting phones—only the user can.

Many experts have argued that such backdoors would defeat the purpose of encrypting data on the phone in the first place—if there are various ways of decrypting something against a user’s will, then is it ever truly encrypted?

“When the government calls for reduced security on smartphones, or worse yet, seeks technological backdoors into our devices, we are being asked to expose our personal data to criminals,” Nuala O’Connor of the Center for Democracy and Technology wrote soon after Comey’s comments in October. “Any backdoor the government can walk through to uncover evidence will eventually be used by malicious actors to exploit our personal information.”

Encryption isn’t the only internet tool under the government’s crosshairs, however. Caldwell said that the anonymization of cyber criminals is at least as big of a problem for the government, and suggested that most people who use Tor and other anonymity tools are criminals. . .

Continue reading.

Does Caldwell strike as amazingly paranoid? Everything secret harbors criminals? Well, given the secrecy of the governments (illegal=criminal) mass surveillance under Bush, and the secret torture regime including secret torture prisons like the Salt Pit, I see the point. But somehow Caldwell thinks it’s fine for the government to be secretive, but citizens are not allowed.

This is a police state in formation. It’s interesting to watch it take shape before our eyes. No citizen should have any privacy from the government, the government should have absolute privacy from citizens. Hmm.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 January 2015 at 2:34 pm

Posted in Government, Law, Technology

The myth of the American love affair with cars

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Getting the backstory is interesting: the “love affair” is really a PR campaign. Emily Badger writes in the Washington Post:

For decades, Americans have been in love with the automobile — or so thesaying goes. This single idea has been a central premise of transportation policy, pop culture and national history for the last half-century. It animates how we think about designing the world around us, and how we talk about dissidents in our midst who dislike cars.

“This ‘love affair’ thesis is like the ultimate story,” says Peter Norton, a historian at the University of Virginia, who warns that we need to revisit how we came to believe this line before we embrace its logical conclusion ina future full of driverless cars. “It’s one of the biggest public relations coups of all time. It’s always treated as folk wisdom, as an organic growth from society. One of the signs of its success is that everyone forgets it was invented as a public relations campaign.”

This “love affair” was coined, in fact, during a 1961 episode of a weekly hour-long television program called the DuPont Show of the Week (sponsored, incidentally, by DuPont, which owned a 23 percent stake in General Motors at the time). The program, titled “Merrily We Roll Along,”was promoted by DuPont as “the story of America’s love affair with the automobile.”

In it, Groucho Marx recounted that history to millions of Americans with a curious metaphor — the driver as the man, the car as the new girl in town (“Lizzie” was her name). Their “burning love affair” led to marriage, an extended honeymoon, and, inevitably, a few challenges.

“We don’t always know how to get along with her, but you certainly can’t get along without her,” Marx concluded. “And if that isn’t marriage, I don’t know what is.”

The show aired at a time when cars were facing steep criticism, as plans for the new interstate system threatened to destroy or disrupt neighborhoods in many U.S. cities. Highways were on their way to remaking Detroit, Cincinnati and St. Louis. Interstate 95 would ultimately raze entire black neighborhoods in Miami. In Washington, a grassroots group called the Emergency Committee on the Transportation Crisis was protesting “white men’s roads thru black men’s homes.”

In New York, urbanist hero Jane Jacobs had gone to battle against a proposed road through Washington Square in Greenwich Village that would have replaced a public park with a thoroughfare for speeding cars. . .

Continue reading.

And the car has indeed be destructive of neighborhoods. From the article:

The Cincinnati riverfront before and after the construction of Interstates 71 and 75. Aerial images from Shane Hampton, the Institute for Quality Communities at the University of Oklahoma.

The Cincinnati riverfront before and after the construction of Interstates 71 and 75. Aerial images from Shane Hampton, the Institute for Quality Communities at the University of Oklahoma.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 January 2015 at 2:06 pm

Comparison shave of two open-comb iKons, two Omega brushes

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SOTD 27 Jan 2015

A couple of comparisons, and we’ll do brushes first. I like a knot that is soft and fluffy because (a) it feels better on my face (personal preference) and (b) it makes lather at least as efficiently as a stiffer, denser knot—e.g., deeper set, shorter loft—(objective fact). So I worked up an instant good lather from Strop Shoppe’s Barbershop Special Edition soap. I was ruminating on Wicked_Edge that, really, with the latest generation of artisanal soaps, we’ve never had it so good: absolutely first rate soaps, better than almost all commercial shaving soaps (certainly Creed makes a good shaving soap—but at 5 times the price).

The Barbershop fragrance is very pleasant, and the lather was wonderful. Now to the brushes:

The Omega S-Series Beehive model did the usual excellent job, and felt very nice on my face—but it could not match the feel of the Omega silvertip badger. Now that Omega is one of the fluffiest, nicest badger knots I have, so it may be an unfair contest: the caress of the fully loaded badger brush is unmatched. I think this one was not so expensive at the time ($45-$55 range). For daily use the S-Series is great, and probably if I didn’t have the side-by-side comparison I would just say that both brushes are quite good. But side by side? The badger clearly is better. For me.

Next, the shave. I used two different iKon razors:

Two iKon open combs

The one on the left is the iKon Shavecraft #101, made of cast aluminum. It’s an asymmetrical brush, but the look and feel is that of an open-comb. The one on the right is the iKon matte stainless open comb. Currently this head seems to be available only with the B1 coating. I believe it’s the same underlying head design. Both razors reflected excellent fit, finish, and workmanship: these are top quality razors (as, given the price, they should be: $80 for the #101 and $135 for the open comb with B1 coating).

iKon runs through models pretty rapidly, and some of my treasured iKons from the past seem unlikely to return (the S3S, for example). This particular plain stainless open-comb iKon may yet return, though, and I note that the OSS—his very first asymmetric razor—is still going strong.

Both open combs were extremely comfortable (i.e., felt as though they would not nick and lived up to that) and extremely efficient (completely BBS after 3 passes). I would say that for me, I like the plain stainless open comb a little better, but really, they were very close in feel and performance. Blade was a Personna Lab Blue in the #101, a Kai in the open comb, both blades previously used.

So: clear winner in the brush category (though even the second-place finisher, the S-Series brush, is really excellent and cannot be beat at the price), pretty much a tie in the razor category.

A good splash of Chiseled Face East Street aftershave finished the job. Again, too much menthol for my taste, but I like the fragrance. I’ll have to check to see whether he offers non-mentholated aftershaves.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 January 2015 at 10:35 am

Posted in Shaving

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