Later On

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

Archive for February 2015

Obama’s war on whistleblowers includes starving agencies that might protect them

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Marisa Taylor reports for McClatchy:

Thomas Drake became a symbol of the dangers whistleblowers face when they help journalists and Congress investigate wrongdoing at intelligence agencies. He claims he was subjected to a decade of retaliation by the National Security Agency that culminated in his being charged with espionage.

But when the Pentagon Inspector General’s Office opened an inquiry into the former senior NSA official’s allegations of retaliation in 2012, it looked at only two of the 10 years detailed in his account, according to a recently released Pentagon summary of the probe, before finding no evidence of retaliation. That finding ended Drake’s four-year effort to return to government service.

Whistleblower advocates say Drake’s experience, spelled out in a document McClatchy obtained this month through the Freedom of Information Act, underscores the problem that intelligence and defense workers face in bringing malfeasance to the surface. The agencies that are supposed to crack down on retaliation are not up to the task, especially when the alleged wrongdoing involves classified information, they charge.

“This report epitomizes the utter lack of protection for national security whistleblowers,” said Jesselyn Radack, Drake’s attorney. “This is a pathetic, anemic excuse for an investigation.”

Although investigators appear to have rejected Drake’s claims almost a year ago, the Pentagon Inspector General’s Office did not publicly disclose its findings and hadn’t shared them even with Drake’s attorneys. McClatchy gave the attorneys a copy of the report.

The news of the rejection comes as McClatchy has learned that the same officials who are supposed to be helping whistleblowers such as Drake claim that they themselves have been forced to blow the whistle on their own office.

Multiple former and current officials from the Pentagon Inspector General’s Office have alleged to the Office of Special Counsel, the independent government agency that investigates whistleblower claims, that they’ve been retaliated against for objecting to how cases are handled. Drake’s case is one of several singled out for criticism.

“It illustrates the bleak landscape faced by whistleblowers and IG investigators,” said one of the several people who described the accusations but asked to remain anonymous because of the sensitivity of the matter. “The numerous allegations of reprisal and misconduct directed against senior IG officials call into question the efficacy of the whistleblower mission. If true, one can make the case that the office of inspector general has failed.” . . .

Continue reading. There’s a lot more, including a video.

Obama is dedicated to making the US government a secret operation and will go to any lengths to prevent the public from learning what the government is doing. “Transparency” and “protection of whistleblowers” was his promise, but his actions are the opposite.

Note also Obama’s war on privacy. While he wants government activities to be secret, he wants your own personal life exposed for government inspection.

Written by Leisureguy

28 February 2015 at 7:52 pm

Jailed US Army officer brings back memories of SS officers

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It’s notable that the officer has no support from the men in his own platoon. Whatever the cause, his actions and words are strongly reminiscent of what we know of SS officers in WWII. Dave Philipps writes in the NY Times:

Nearly two dozen soldiers from an Army platoon were on patrol in a dangerous valley in southern Afghanistan when a motorcycle sped toward them, ignoring commands to stop.

As he tells it, First Lt. Clint Lorance, the platoon leader, ordered his men to fire just seconds before the motorcycle bore down on them that July day in 2012. But the Afghans were unarmed, and two died. The next year, Lieutenant Lorance was found guilty at a court-martial of second-degree murder, one of the few times an American soldier has been convicted of a crime for actions in combat in Iraq or Afghanistan. He is serving a 19-year sentence at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.

But the case is far from over. Mr. Lorance, who was dismissed from the Army, has become a cause célèbre for conservative commentators, including Sean Hannity of Fox News, who say the Obama administration punished a soldier for trying to defend his troops. Three Republican representatives — Duncan Hunter of California, Matt Salmon of Arizona and Ryan Zinke of Montana — have asked the secretary of the Army to review the case. And more than 124,000 people have signed a petition to the White House demanding a pardon.

“The warfighter doesn’t always have the benefit of time, given lives are always at risk in a war zone,” the lawmakers wrote in their letter, sent in January, saying the case “deserves a high level of attention and scrutiny.”

That chorus of supporters, however, is notable for what it lacks: members of the platoon itself.

Though many members of the platoon have never publicly expressed their views of the case, nine came forward to testify against Mr. Lorance at his trial, and in interviews several of those soldiers have contradicted Mr. Lorance’s account of a split-second decision to protect his troops. The picture those soldiers paint is of a young lieutenant who, during just three days in command, ordered soldiers to fire repeatedly on unarmed Afghans, tried to falsify reports in order to cover up his actions and so alienated and outraged his troops that they refused to follow orders and turned him in.

“War is hard, there is collateral damage. I get that — I’ve got my own stories,” Staff Sgt. Daniel Williams said in an interview. But Sergeant Williams, who was on his third tour in Afghanistan and was a squad leader in the platoon, added, “That’s not what this was; this was straight murder.”

Mr. Lorance’s lawyers have cast doubt on the platoon members’ accounts, noting that the nine soldiers who testified against him were granted immunity. The lawyers also point to newly uncovered evidence suggesting that the men on the motorcycle may have had ties to enemy bomb makers — a detail that was not revealed to the defense before the trial.

“If the entire evidence had been turned over, this case would be decided differently,” said John Maher, Mr. Lorance’s lawyer. He is appealing the conviction and asking the Army to grant clemency.

Mr. Lorance is barred by the Army from speaking to reporters. But he denied any wrongdoing in an August 2014 letter to the general presiding over his court-martial, saying, “My sole purpose during my tenure as a platoon leader was to bring my men home safely.”

The events of that day continue to haunt many members of the platoon. Some, stalked by anger and regret, say they have trouble sleeping. One cried while talking about how the episode tore apart the platoon. One recently checked into a clinic for post-traumatic stress disorder, saying the calls to free Mr. Lorance had revived disturbing memories.

In 2012, the platoon — part of the Fourth Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment — was based in an outpost overlooking a mud-brick village amid fields of grapes in Kandahar Province. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

28 February 2015 at 7:44 pm

Posted in Army, Law, Military

Astonishing custom treatment of the Merkur Progress

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So far as I’m concerned, the Progress is head and shoulders above any other razor Merkur currently offers. Now take a look at how Bob Quinn has transformed the Progress. I do want one, but I think I may actually have enough razors. But any of you looking for a superb gift for some traditional shaver could do worse than one of these.

Written by Leisureguy

28 February 2015 at 7:32 pm

Posted in Shaving

Correctional officer immunity for crimes of violence now being tested

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Law enforcement in general, including correctional officers, operate under a kind of immunity: they are allowed to commit crimes without being called to account—an example. From the article at the link:

But here’s my question: Why aren’t the seven witnesses to Dendinger’s nonexistent assault on Cassard already facing felony charges? Why are all but one of the cops who filed false reports still wearing badges and collecting paychecks? Why aren’t the attorneys who filed false reports facing disbarment? Dendinger’s prosecutors both filed false reports, then prosecuted Dendinger based on the reports they knew were false. They should be looking for new careers — after they get out of jail.

If a group of regular citizens had pulled this on someone, they’d all likely be facing criminal conspiracy charges on top of the perjury and other charges. So why aren’t these cops and prosecutors?

In a police state, it’s extremely difficult to prosecute or even discipline the police, who use what the Mafia calls “omerta” to protect the malefactors among them. You can see that in these articles in the NY Times about Rikers Island today, where guards continue brutalizing prisoners without no let-up in sight despite many promises from the administration.

Now we get another test to see whether violent officers will be held accountable: Tom Robbins writes in the NY Times:

ATTICA, N.Y. — On the evening of Aug. 9, 2011, one month before the 40th anniversary of the bloody Attica prison riot, a guard in that remote facility in western New York was distributing mail to inmates in C Block, one of the vast tiers of cells nestled behind its towering 30-foot walls.

The prisoners were rowdy that night, talking loudly as they mingled on the gallery outside their cells, a State Police inquiry found. Frustrated, an officer shouted into the din: “Shut the (expletive) up.”

Normally, that would be enough to bring quiet to C Block, where guards who work the 3 to 11 p.m. shift are known for strict, sometimes violent, enforcement of the rules. This night, somewhere on the gallery, a prisoner shouted back, bellowing “You shut the (expletive) up.” Emboldened, the shouter taunted the officer with an obscene suggestion.

Inmates were immediately ordered to retreat to their cells and “lock in.” Thirty minutes later, three officers, led by a sergeant, marched down the corridor. They stopped at the cell of George Williams, a 29-year-old African-American from New Jersey who was serving a sentence of two to four years for robbing two jewelry stores in Manhattan.

Mr. Williams had been transferred to Attica that January following an altercation with other inmates at a different facility. He had just four months to serve before he was to be released. He was doing his best to stay out of trouble. His plan was to go home to New Brunswick and try to find work as a barber. That evening, Mr. Williams remembers, he had been in his cell watching the rap stars Lil Wayne and Young Jeezy on television, and missed the shouting on the cellblock. The guards ordered him to strip for a search and then marched him down the hall to a darkened dayroom used for meetings and classes for what they told him would be a urine test.

Mr. Williams is 5-foot-8, and a solid 170 pounds. But corrections officers tend toward linebacker size, and the three officers towered over him. The smallest was Sgt. Sean Warner, 37, at 5-foot-11, 240 pounds. Beside him was Officer Keith Swack, 37, a burly 6-foot-3 and some 300 pounds. A third officer was standing behind the cell door. Mr. Williams thought it was Officer Matthew Rademacher, 29, who had followed his father into the job six years earlier. Officer Rademacher was six feet tall and weighed 260 pounds. All three men are white and had goatees at the time.

Mr. Williams was wondering why a sergeant would be doing the grunt work of conducting an impromptu drug test when, he said, a fist hammered him hard on the right side of his rib cage. He doubled up, collapsing to the floor. More blows rained down. Mr. Williams tried to curl up to protect himself from the pummeling of batons, fists and kicks. Someone jumped on his ankle. He screamed in pain. He opened his eyes to see a guard aiming a kick at his head, as though punting a football. I’m going to die here, he thought.

Inmates in cells across from the dayroom watched the attack, among them a convict named Charles Bisesi, 67, who saw Mr. Williams pitched face-first onto the floor. He saw guards kick Mr. Williams in the head and face, and strike him with their heavy wooden batons. Mr. Bisesi estimated that Mr. Williams had been kicked up to 50 times, and struck with a dozen more blows from nightsticks, thwacks delivered with such force that Mr. Bisesi could hear the thud as wood hit flesh. He also heard Mr. Williams begging for his life, cries loud enough that prisoners two floors below heard them as well.

A couple of minutes after the beating began, one of the guards loudly rapped his baton on the floor. At the signal, more guards rushed upstairs and into the dayroom. Witnesses differed on the number. Some said that as many as 12 officers had plunged into the scrum. Others recalled seeing two or three. All agreed that when they were finished, Mr. Williams could not walk.

His ordeal is the subject of an unprecedented trial scheduled to open on Monday in western New York. Three guards — Sergeant Warner and Officers Rademacher and Swack — face charges stemming from the beating that night. All three have pleaded not guilty. An examination of this case and dozens of others offers a vivid lesson in the intractable culture of prison brutality, especially given the notoriety of Attica, which entered the cultural lexicon as a synonym for prison havoc after 43 men died there in 1971 as the state suppressed an uprising by inmates. This account is based on investigative reports and court filings, as well as interviews with people on both sides of the bars at Attica, state officials and prison reform advocates. . .

Continue reading.

Based on past practice, no real reform will occur.

Written by Leisureguy

28 February 2015 at 6:53 pm

Black Death in Europe: It wasn’t the rats, it was gerbils (but rats helped)

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Extremely interesting article by Elizabeth Kolbert in the New Yorker:

The black rat—also known as the ship rat, the roof rat, and the house rat—is actually gray. It has large ears and a tail that’s longer than its body. The black rat (Rattus rattus) probably evolved in tropical Asia, and then was spread around the world by humans—first by the Romans and later by European colonists. According to Juliet Clutton-Brock, the author of “A Natural History of Domesticated Mammals,” it has been blamed for causing “a greater number of deaths in the human species than any natural catastrophe or war.” But perhaps the rat has gotten a bad rap?

A paper published the other day in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, which quickly made headlines all around the world, argues that the prevailing theory of how the Black Death spread is unfair to rats. Really, the authors of the study contend, the animal responsible was a Central Asian species like the great gerbil. (Great gerbils are only distantly related to the fuzzy rodents that American kids keep as pets, though they may look a lot alike to parents.)

The authors of the study were trying to address one of the mysteries about the Black Death. Why, after killing something like twenty-five million people in Europe in the mid-fourteenth century, did outbreaks of plague keep flaring up and then dying down again? (The Great Plague of London, in the mid-seventeenth century, killed roughly a fifth of the city’s population.) The prevailing theory is—or was—that bacteria responsible for the plague, Yersinia pestis, lived on Europe’s black-rat population. The rats transmitted the bacteria to fleas, which, episodically, transmitted them to humans. But the scientists who conducted the PNAS study concluded that there were no “permanent plague reservoirs in medieval Europe.”

Instead, they posit, the plague bacterium kept being reintroduced to Europe from Asia, where it lived on the native rodent populations. They came to this conclusion after comparing tree-ring records from Europe and Asia with records of plague outbreaks. What they found was that plague seemed to show up at port cities in Europe several years after climate conditions favored a burst of population growth among rodents in Central Asia. (This theory does not completely exonerate black rats, as they would still have helped their Asian rodent brethren spread the disease once it reached Europe.)

“We show that, wherever there were good conditions for gerbils and fleas in Central Asia, some years later the bacteria shows up in harbor cities in Europe and then spreads across the continent,” one of the authors of the study, Nils Christian Stenseth, a biologist at the University of Oslo, told the BBC.

Plague is no longer a worry in Europe, although there are still occasional outbreaks in other parts of the globe. What’s perhaps the most important insight from the study has little to do with Yersinia pestis or giant gerbils. It’s that climate and human health are, in significant though often roundabout ways, related. As the climate changes, this has important—and, at the same time, hard to predict—implications.

The list of diseases (and disease vectors) that could potentially be affected by climate change is a long and various one. It includes tick-borne diseases, such as Lyme disease, and mosquito-borne diseases—dengue fever, West Nile virus, malaria. It also includes waterborne diseases, such as cholera, and fungal diseases, such as valley fever. An upcoming issue of Philosophical Transactions B, a journal of Britain’s Royal Society, is wholly devoted to the subject of “climate change and vector-borne disease.”

Rising temperatures may already be contributing to the spread of some diseases, like . . .

Continue reading.

You may recall that Dana Perino, Press Secretary to George W. Bush, assured us that global warming would reduce illnesses overall because winters would not be so severe. I wonder if she is helping out with this research.

Written by Leisureguy

28 February 2015 at 2:26 pm

Updated Breakfast Bites recipe: A low-carb high-fat breakfast on the run

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I’ve updated the Breakfast Bite recipe in this post, adding 1.5 Tbsp ground turmeric. Turmeric is a superb antioxidant, and years ago I read in Science News research on how it protects against cancer and other diseases. The recommended amount was 1/2 tsp per day (or more), so for years I’ve been eating that much. I included it in my hot cereal for breakfast and in the breakfast muffins I used to make for The Wife.

Since switching to a low-carb high-fat diet, I’ve not been getting it regularly, but lately I’ve been eating for breakfast a boiled egg, chopped up with a little yogurt and adding some pepper sauce and 1/2 tsp turmeric. The Wife, however, regularly eats a breakfast bite.

The Breakfast Bite recipe makes 9 squares, each square a breakfast. (I eat a couple of them each week, making a new batch every Saturday.) So 1/2 tsp x 9 squares = 4.5 tsp = 1.5 Tbsp. So I’ve added 1.5 Tbsp of turmeric to the recipe, and used that for the current batch. I added the turmeric when I started sautéing the onion, before adding the chopped red chard (the greens I used today) and the sausage, and the turmeric tended to stick. I loosened it by adding a little sherry to deglaze the pan as I cooked. I modified the recipe at the link to add the turmeric right at the end of the sautéing to avoid the sticking problem.

Written by Leisureguy

28 February 2015 at 2:02 pm

Everyone wants your data to be secure from everyone but them

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Bruce Schneier writes:

In December, Google’s Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt was interviewed at the CATO Institute Surveillance Conference. One of the things he said, after talking about some of the security measures his company has put in place post-Snowden, was: “If you have important information, the safest place to keep it is in Google. And I can assure you that the safest place to not keep it is anywhere else.”

The surprised me, because Google collects all of your information to show you more targeted advertising. Surveillance is the business model of the Internet, and Google is one of the most successful companies at that. To claim that Google protects your privacy better than anyone else is to profoundly misunderstand why Google stores your data for free in the first place.

I was reminded of this last week when I appeared on Glenn Beck’s show along with cryptography pioneer Whitfield Diffie. Diffie said:

You can’t have privacy without security, and I think we have glaring failures in computer security in problems that we’ve been working on for 40 years. You really should not live in fear of opening an attachment to a message. It ought to be confined; your computer ought to be able to handle it. And the fact that we have persisted for decades without solving these problems is partly because they’re very difficult, but partly because there are lots of people who want you to be secure against everyone but them. And that includes all of the major computer manufacturers who, roughly speaking, want to manage your computer for you. The trouble is, I’m not sure of any practical alternative.

That neatly explains Google. Eric Schmidt does want your data to be secure. He wants Google to be the safest place for your data ­ as long as you don’t mind the fact that Google has access to your data. Facebook wants the same thing: to protect your data from everyone except Facebook. Hardware companies are no different. Last week, we learned that Lenovo computers shipped with a piece of adware called Superfish that broke users’ security to spy on them for advertising purposes.

Governments are no different. The FBI wants people to have strong encryption, but it wants backdoor access so it can get at your data. UK Prime Minister David Cameron wants you to have good security, just as long as it’s not so strong as to keep the UK government out. And, of course, the NSA spends a lot of money ensuring that there’s no security it can’t break.

Corporations want access to your data for profit; governments want it for security purposes, be they benevolent or malevolent. But Diffie makes an even stronger point: we give lots of companies access to our data because it makes our lives easier.

I wrote about this in my latest book, Data and Goliath: . . .

Continue reading.

The idea that law enforcement (and “official” law-breakers like NSA) can have a backdoor to your encrypted data and criminals won’t be able to use it is as realistic as the idea that law enforcement can have guns and criminals cannot.

One point of interest: “official” backdoors to allow decryption of data is being pushed by the wealthy (e.g., Hillary Clinton) and the powerful (e.g., NSA), and those are the entities with the most to lose once criminals and other (hostile) governments find the backdoors. This will be interesting to watch from a distance.

Written by Leisureguy

28 February 2015 at 12:27 pm

Robert Kagan, conservative hawk, things GOP made a big mistake inviting Netanyahu to speak to Congress to oppose Obama

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Robert Kagan has an interesting column in the Washington Post this morning. It’s worth reading in its entirety, so click the link. He concludes:

. . . For the United States, however, there is no doubt that the precedent being set is a bad one. This is not the first time that a U.S. administration and an Israeli prime minister have been at loggerheads. President George H.W. Bush and his secretary of state, James Baker, reportedly detested then-prime minister Yitzhak Shamir and did their best to help him lose his next election. Baker even had a few choice words for the American Jews who tried to come to the Israeli government’s defense. Did anyone at the time think of inviting Shamir to address Congress? The very idea would have been regarded as laughable. Now, we’re supposed to believe that it’s perfectly reasonable.

Is anyone thinking about the future? From now on, whenever the opposition party happens to control Congress — a common enough occurrence — it may call in a foreign leader to speak to a joint meeting of Congress against a president and his policies. Think of how this might have played out in the past. A Democratic-controlled Congress in the 1980s might, for instance, have called the Nobel Prize-winning Costa Rican President Oscar Arias to denounce President Ronald Reagan’s policies in Central America. A Democratic-controlled Congress in 2003 might have called French President Jacques Chirac to oppose President George W. Bush’s impending war in Iraq.

Does that sound implausible? Yes, it was implausible — until now. Now we are sailing into uncharted waters. Those who favor having Netanyahu speak may imagine this is an extraordinary situation requiring extraordinary measures, that one side is so clearly right, the other so clearly wrong. Yet that is often how people feel about the crisis of their time. We can be sure that in the future the urgency will seem just as great. The only difference between then and now is that today, bringing a foreign leader before Congress to challenge a U.S. president’s policies is unprecedented. After next week, it will be just another weapon in our bitter partisan struggle.

Kevin Drum observes:

President Obama has been poking sticks in Republican eyes ever since November, and Republicans desperately needed to poke back to maintain credibility with their base. Since passing useful legislation was apparently not in the cards, this was all they could come up with. What a debacle.

Written by Leisureguy

28 February 2015 at 12:16 pm

Scott Walker simply makes things up

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It’s unclear if he is a sociopath who simply is uninterested in the truth or… well, maybe it’s not so unclear.

Read this brief post by Kevin Drum on what PolitiFact found. It contrasts Walker’s statements with the truth.

Written by Leisureguy

28 February 2015 at 12:10 pm

Posted in Election, GOP

Disappointing news: Plastics are NOT being recycled

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And I’ve been so good about putting all our plastics into the recycling bin. See this disappointing article.

Written by Leisureguy

28 February 2015 at 12:07 pm

Posted in Business, Environment

Another GEM of a shave, with a BBS result

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SOTD 28 Feb 2015

Another GEM razor with a snap-shut top but a different (and quite comfortable) handle.

I had no trouble lathering the Stirling Bonaparte—to the extent that I now wonder what the problem was before. (It was using too little water as I loaded the brush: I learned to add small amounts of water as I loaded.) Once you learn something, it’s hard to remember your previous difficulties, one reason many who are experts in their skills find it difficult to help novices: “Just do the natural thing,” they advise, forgetting that it’s now natural for them only after a considerable amount of experimentation and practice and experience.

Morris & Forndran makes (made?) a fine brush, but they are now difficult to find and rather expensive. I do like the two I have, though a Polo model (a kind of extreme Persian jar) would be nice.

The GEM felt very good and very comfortable and provided a BBS result with no problems at all: no nicks, no awkwardness. I think these will return to my regular rotation. It is true that I have to rinse the razor head noticeably more frequently, though.

A few sprays of Creed Aventus into my palm, and that slapped onto the face, and the weekend begins.

Written by Leisureguy

28 February 2015 at 11:36 am

Posted in Shaving

So Loretta Lynch, like Eric Holder, is a pawn of Wall Street

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Wall Street seems to control DoJ. Marcy Wheeler reports at The Empty Wheel:

Loretta Lynch is an excellent nominee for Attorney General, and her prior actions in whitewashing the blatant and rampant criminality of HSBC should not be held against her, because she didn’t know that at the time she last whitewashed that criminal enterprise, right?

No. Nothing could be further from the truth.

This is a cop out by Lynch’s advocates. Lynch either knew, or damn well should have known. She signed off on the HSBC Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA), if she was less than fully informed, that is on her. That is what signing legal documents stands for….responsibility. Banks like HSBC, Credit Suisse, ING etc were, and still are, a cesspool of criminal activity and avoidance schemes. Willful blindness to the same old bankster crimes by Lynch doesn’t cut it (great piece by David Dayen by the way).

But, all the above ignores the Swiss Alps sized mountains of evidence that we know Lynch was aware of and blithely swept under the rug by her HSBC DPA. So, we are basically left to decide whether Lynch is a bankster loving toady that is her own woman and cravenly whitewashed this all on her own, or whether she is a clueless stooge taking orders to whitewash it by DOJ Main. Both views are terminally unattractive and emblematic of the oblivious, turn the other cheek to protect the monied class, rot that infects the Department of Justice on the crimes of the century to date.

And that is only scratching the real surface of my objections to Lynch. There are many other areas where Lynch has proven herself to be a dedicated, dyed in the wool “law and order adherent” and, as Marcy Wheeler artfully coined, “executive maximalist”. Lynch’s ridiculous contortion, and expansion, of extraterritorial jurisdiction to suit the convenient whims of the Obama Administration’s unparalleled assault on the Rule of Law in the war on terror is incredibly troubling. Though, to be fair, EDNY is the landing point of JFK International and a frequent jurisdiction by designation. Some of these same questions could have been asked of Preet Bharara (see, e.g. U.S. v. Warsame) Loretta Lynch has every bit the same, if not indeed more, skin in the game as Bharara, whether by choice or chance.

Lynch has never uttered a word in dissent from this ridiculous expansion of extraterritorial jurisdiction. Lynch’s record in this regard is crystal clear from cases like US v. Ahmed, Yousef, et. al. where even Lynch and her office acknowledged that their targets could not have “posed a specific threat to the United States” much less have committed specific acts against the US.

This unconscionable expansion is clearly all good by Lynch, and the ends justify the means because there might be “scary terrists” out there. That is just dandy by American “executive maximalists”, but it is toxic to the Rule of Law, both domestically and internationally (See, supra). . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

27 February 2015 at 7:23 pm

Always record your encounters with police

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At the list, it may show you never “reached for your waistband,” as videos of the mentally ill unarmed man in LA, shot to death by two police officers who fired 21 shots. And take a look at this report from the Washington Post:

The latest example of cellphone video vindicating someone from false charges is a doozy. It comes from Washington Parish, La., and WWL TV.

One of the worst days of Douglas Dendinger’s life began with him handing an envelope to a police officer.

In order to help out his family and earn a quick $50, Dendinger agreed to act as a process server, giving a brutality lawsuit filed by his nephew to Chad Cassard as the former Bogalusa police officer exited the Washington Parish Courthouse.

The handoff went smoothly, but Dendinger said the reaction from Cassard, and a group of officers and attorneys clustered around him, turned his life upside down.

“It was like sticking a stick in a bee’s nest.” Dendinger, 47, recalled. “They started cursing me. They threw the summons at me. Right at my face, but it fell short. Vulgarities. I just didn’t know what to think. I was a little shocked.”

Not knowing what to make of the blow-up, a puzzled Dendinger drove home. That’s where things went from bad to worse.

“Within about 20 minutes, there were these bright lights shining through my windows. It was like, ‘Oh my God.’ I mean I knew immediately, a police car.”

“And that’s when the nightmare started,” he said. “I was arrested.”

He was not only arrested, he was also charged with two felonies and a misdemeanor. A prior drug charge on his record meant he was potentially looking at decades in prison. Seven witnesses backed up the police account that Dendinger had assaulted Cassard.

But Dendinger had asked his wife and nephew to record him serving the papers. It was a last minute decision, but one that may have saved him his freedom.

From what can be seen on the clips, Dendinger never touches Cassard, who calmly takes the envelope and walks back into the courthouse, handing [prosecutor Leigh Anne] Wall the envelope.

“He’d still be in a world of trouble if he didn’t have that film,” said David Cressy, a friend of Dendinger who once served as a prosecutor under [former St. Tammany District Attorney Walter] Reed. “It was him against all of them. They took advantage of that and said all sorts of fictitious things happened. And it didn’t happen. It would still be going like that had they not had the film.”

Dendinger spent nearly a year waiting for trial, racking up attorney’s fees. As a disabled Army veteran on a fixed income, Dendinger said the case stretched him financially, but in his eyes, he was fighting for his life. . .

Continue reading.

And check out these links.

Written by Leisureguy

27 February 2015 at 7:16 pm

The United States Is Angry That China Wants Crypto Backdoors, Too

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Pretty clearly that fails the test of reciprocity. Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai reports at Motherboard:

When the US demands technology companies install backdoors for law enforcement, it’s okay. But when China demands the same, it’s a whole different story.

The Chinese government is about to pass a new counter terrorism law that would require tech companies operating in the country to turn over encryption keys and include specially crafted code in their software and hardware so that chinese authorities can defeat security measures at will.

Technologists and cryptographers have long warned that you can’t design a secure system that will enable law enforcement—and only law enforcement—to bypass the encryption. The nature of a backdoor door is that it is also a vulnerability, and if discovered, hackers or foreign governments might be able to exploit it, too.

Yet, over the past few months, several US government officials, including the FBI director James Comey, outgoing US Attorney General Eric Holder, and NSA DirectorMike Rogers, have all suggested that companies such as Apple and Google should give law enforcement agencies special access to their users’ encrypted data—while somehow offering strong encryption for their users at the same time.

Their fear is that cops and feds will “go dark,” an FBI term for a potential scenario where encryption makes it impossible to intercept criminals’ communications.

But in light of China’s new proposals, some think the US’ own position is a little ironic.

“You can’t have it both ways,” Trevor Timm, the co-founder and the executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, told Motherboard. “If the US forces tech companies to install backdoors in encryption, then tech companies will have no choice but to go along with China when they demand the same power.”

He’s not the only one to think the US government might end up regretting its stance.

Matthew Green, a cryptography professor at Johns Hopkins University, tweeted that someday US officials will “realize how much damage they’ve enabled” with their “silly requests” for backdoors.

Ironically, the US government sent a letter to China expressing concern about its new law. “The Administration is aggressively working to have China walk back from these troubling regulations,” US Trade Representative Michael Froman said in a statement.

A White House spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment from Motherboard.

“It’s stunningly shortsighted for the FBI and NSA not to realize this,” Timm added. “By demanding backdoors, these US government agencies are putting everyone’s cybersecurity at risk.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

27 February 2015 at 5:01 pm

Fighting recidivism hand to hand

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Extremely interesting and heartening report by Jesse Katz in Aeon:

Every Saturday morning Scott Budnick leaves his 1920s Mediterranean villa on a Hollywood Hills cul-de-sac, with its pool and waterfall and wooded trails, and drives his Tesla north, across the San Fernando Valley, to where the 5 and 210 freeways converge in Sylmar. The first time he made this trek, to a corner of Los Angeles synonymous with the fortress of a juvenile hall it encompasses, he was all jitters, wondering what he was getting himself into as he neared the brick walls and coiled razor wire.

Twelve years later, after some 300 to 400 Saturdays, Budnick pulls into the Compound like he owns the place, which is not far off; at least four superintendents in that time have come and gone. Strolling through the smoked-glass doors, he sips coffee, chews gum, and thumbs at his phone, pausing just long enough to navigate the metal detector and slip his driver’s license through a slot in the window.

“What’s up, bro,” he says to the guard.

After being buzzed in, Budnick walks down a caged corridor, through several more gated doors, across a field hemmed in by tall fences, and finally into a drab, chilled, cinder-block bunker. He has a dimpled chin, a few days’ stubble, and the hint of a Jewfro. At 38, he dresses like someone half his age: faded jeans, rvca hoodie, blue Nikes with orange swooshes today. The clothes vary little, only the sneakers; he owns 80 pairs.

“Let’s see who we can pull,” Budnick says. In Unit W, where he volunteers as a writing teacher, a few teenage boys filter out of their cells. Most are tatted, from necks to knuckles to earlobes, with neighborhood insignia: a map of L.A. poverty. Each is an “unfit,” the juvenile system’s term for a minor so irredeemable, or accused of a crime so grievous, he must stand trial as an adult. Every one of them is black or brown.

Budnick spots Jorge. He is pallid and compact, swallowed by a gray sweatshirt and grayer Dickies. “You’re such a good kid,” says Budnick, wrapping him in a bear hug, then throwing him into a headlock. “I’d be lucky to have you as my own kid.”

“He doesn’t care what we did or why we’re here, and that’s what brought me to him, you know, like to be cool with him, ’cause he don’t judge, and I like that, ’cause I always feel judged,” says Jorge, who has been locked up since last summer, when he was 17. He is the youngest of five defendants facing charges that stem from a gang-related home invasion; if Jorge loses his case, he could be sentenced to life. “Some people don’t even have faith in me,” Jorge says. “And he does.”

Who doesn’t?” asks Budnick. “I don’t believe that. Who cannot have faith in you?” He does not wait for an answer. “Maybe,” says Budnick, “the old version of you.”

If Budnick were a priest or a lawyer, even a counselor or a coach, these jailhouse pilgrimages would be easier to explain — his declarations not so incongruous. But until a bit more than a year ago, Budnick had a day job as a Hollywood producer, and not one devoted to bringing socially conscious, inspirational tales to the screen. As the number two at Green Hat Films, Budnick executive-produced the raunchy, uproarious Hangover movies, the top-grossing R-rated comedy franchise in history. For years it meant living a kind of double life, racing from the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank to Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall in Sylmar, interrupting conference calls to accept collect calls, burning through girlfriends once they realized he would rather be, as his official bio says, “walking the tiers of California jails and prisons on his nights and weekends” than a red carpet.

“These kids,” Budnick says, “are what give me life.”

At once earnest and hyperbolic, loyal and schmoozy, Budnick can come across as a character in one of his own films. When people first meet him, whether it be an inmate or a warden, a politician or a philanthropist, the initial reaction is almost always the same: “Who the fuck are you and what are you about?” his longtime mentor, Javier Stauring, who oversees the L.A. Archdiocese’s youth-detention ministry, says with a laugh. Budnick is not the likeliest crusader, in other words, to be redefining how California punishes and redeems. . .

Continue reading. It’s fascinating. Later in the report:

During the school year, Budnick worked as her assistant. Summers he began visiting L.A., interning first on Baywatch, then at United Talent Agency. He gave up medicine. “I never would have lasted,” Budnick says. Instead he became social chair of Emory’s Chi Phi fraternity, which entailed throwing big-budget bashes with security and sound equipment — mtv’s DJ Skribble once headlined. “Producing a movie,” he told The Chi Phi Chakettmagazine, “is very much like producing a college fraternity party.”

Written by Leisureguy

27 February 2015 at 4:07 pm

Silk Road: libertarian beginnings, ending as a fiefdom run by pirate kings

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It’s like businesses in an environment without any government regulation: pure free enterprise and unfetter competition, which quickly leads to monopolies that crush competitors, rake in profits, and ruin the environment. Henry Farrell writes at Aeon:

The Hidden Wiki holds the keys to a secret internet. To reach it, you need a special browser that can access ‘Tor Hidden Services’ – websites that have chosen to obscure their physical location. But even this browser isn’t enough. Like the Isla de Muerta in the film Pirates of the Caribbean, the landmarks of this hidden internet can be discovered only by those who already know where they are.

Sites such as the Hidden Wiki provide unreliable treasure maps. They publish lists of the special addresses for sites where you can use Bitcoin to buy drugs or stolen credit card numbers, play strange games, or simply talk, perhaps on subjects too delicate for the open web. The lists are often untrustworthy. Sometimes the addresses are out-of-date. Sometimes they are actively deceptive. One link might lead to a thriving marketplace for buying and selling stolen data; another, to a wrecker’s display of false lights, a cloned site designed to relieve you of your coin and give you nothing in return.

This hidden internet is a product of debates among technology-obsessed libertarians in the 1990s. These radicals hoped to combine cryptography and the internet into a universal solvent that would corrupt the bonds of government tyranny. New currencies, based on recent cryptographic advances, would undermine traditional fiat money, seizing the cash nexus from the grasp of the state. ‘Mix networks’, where everyone’s identity was hidden by multiple layers of encryption, would allow people to talk and engage in economic exchange without the government being able to see.

Plans for cryptographic currencies led to the invention of Bitcoin, while mix networks culminated in Tor. The two technologies manifest different aspects of a common dream – the utopian aspiration to a world where one could talk and do business without worrying about state intervention – and indeed they grew up together. For a long time, the easiest way to spend Bitcoin was at Tor’s archipelago of obfuscated websites.

Like the pirate republics of the 18th century, this virtual underworld mingles liberty and vice. Law enforcement and copyright-protection groups such as the Digital Citizens’ Alliance in Washington, DC, prefer to emphasise the most sordid aspects of Tor’s hidden services – the sellers of drugs, weapons and child pornography. And yet the effort to create a hidden internet was driven by ideology as much as avarice. The network is used by dissidents as well as dope-peddlers. If you live under an authoritarian regime, Tor provides you with a ready-made technology for evading government controls on the internet. Even some of the seedier services trade on a certain idealism. Many libertarians believe that people should be able to buy and sell drugs without government interference, and hoped to build marketplaces to do just that, without violence and gang warfare.

Tor’s anonymity helps criminals by making it harder for the state to identify and detain them. Yet this has an ironic side-effect: it also makes it harder for them to trust each other, because they typically can’t be sure who their interlocutors are. To make money in hidden markets, you need people to trust you, so that they will buy from you and sell to you. Having accomplished this first manoeuvre, the truly successful entrepreneurs go one step further. They become middlemen of trust, guaranteeing relations between others and taking a cut from the proceeds.

To this end, entrepreneurs have found it necessary to create and maintain communities, making rules, enforcing them, punishing rule-breakers, and turning towards violence when all else fails. They have, in effect, built petty versions of the very governments they are fleeing. As the US sociologist Charles Tilly argued, the modern state began as a protection racket, offering its subjects protection against outsiders and each other. The same logic is playing out today on the hidden internet, as would-be petty barons and pirate kings fight to tax and police their subjects while defending themselves against hostile incursions.

No entrepreneur of trust was more successful than the Texan Ross Ulbricht, who, under his ‘Dread Pirate Roberts’ pseudonym, founded and ran the notorious Silk Road marketplace for drugs and other contraband. And no-one better exemplifies how the libertarian dream of freedom from the state turned sour.

Ulbricht built the Silk Road marketplace from nothing, pursuing both a political dream and his own self-interest. However, in making a market he found himself building a micro-state, with increasing levels of bureaucracy and rule‑enforcement and, eventually, the threat of violence against the most dangerous rule‑breakers. Trying to build Galt’s Gulch, he ended up reconstructing Hobbes’s Leviathan; he became the very thing he was trying to escape. But this should not have been a surprise. . .

Continue reading. Later in the article:

The libertarian hope that markets could sustain themselves through free association and choice is a chimera with a toxic sting in its tail. Without state enforcement, the secret drug markets of Tor hidden services are coming to resemble an anarchic state of nature in which self-help dominates.

Libertarianism is a fantasy that does poorly in the real world.

Written by Leisureguy

27 February 2015 at 3:36 pm

Net Neutrality May Face an Uphill Battle If History Tells Us Anything

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A perhaps realistic take on the Net Neutrality victory: big corporations fight for years. Leticia Miranda reports in ProPublica:

The Federal Communications Commission is scheduled to vote on a proposal today that effectively bars Internet companies from prioritizing some Internet traffic over others.As John Oliver famously explained “ending net neutrality would allow big companies to buy their way into the fast lane, leaving everyone else in the slow lane.”

The FCC’s proposal faces plenty of opposition from telecom companies and others, but it’s just the latest round in a long fight. Here is a brief history of attempts to enact net neutrality and the often successful push against it.

The FCC votes to deregulate cable Internet services.

March 2002: The FCC, under the Bush administration and Republican Chairman Michael Powell, declares that cable modem services are “not subject to common carrier regulation,” meaning they aren’t bound by standards for nondiscrimination in service. Instead, cable Internet services fall under a separate light regulatory regime that gives the commission limited enforcement power.

Tim Wu coins the phrase “net neutrality.”

Fall 2003: Tim Wu, then an associate professor at the University of Virginia Law School, first coins the term “net neutrality” in a paper for the Journal of Telecommunications and High Technology Law. He defines net neutrality to mean an Internet “that does not favor one application…over others.”

The FCC adopts a toothless net neutrality-like policy statement.

August 2005: The FCC adopts a policy statement to “preserve and promote the open and interconnected nature of public Internet,” which focuses on protecting consumer access to content online and competition among Internet service companies. The statement has no power of enforcement.

The first net neutrality bill is introduced in Congress. It dies.

May 2006: Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., introduces a net neutrality bill that would keep Internet service companies from blocking, degrading or interfering with users’ access to their services. But the bill stalled in the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and never came to a vote.

The FCC tells Comcast to stop slowing down access to BitTorrent.

August 2008: The FCC, under Republican Chairman Kevin Martin, orders Comcast to stop slowing down user access to BitTorrent, a peer-to-peer sharing network often used to share music and videos.

Comcast sues the FCC, and wins.

September 2008 — April 2010: Comcast voluntary agrees to stop slowing down BitTorrent traffic. But it takes the FCC to court anyway, arguing that the agency is operating outside its authority. Specifically, the company points out that the FCC’s 2005 policy statement on neutrality doesn’t have the force of law.

The FCC writes real rules on net neutrality.

December 2010: Democratic FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski writes an order to impose net neutrality rules. Unlike the FCC’s 2005 policy statement, this new order is a real rule, not just a policy statement.

Except Verizon sues the FCC, saying it has no authority to enforce the rules, and wins.

September 2011 — January 2014: The District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals rulesthe Federal Communications Commission can’t enforce net neutrality rules because broadband Internet services don’t fall under its regulatory authority.

Senator introduces net neutrality bill that would ban the FCC from enforcement. . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

27 February 2015 at 3:26 pm

Good news for Greece, and how to argue with unreasonable people

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Paul Krugman has a couple of good things today. For one, he explains why the 4-month extension is good news for Greece. And for another, he explains how to engage with people who are not open to reason:

When I was a young economist trying to build a career, I lived — or thought I lived — in a world in which ideas and those who championed them met in relatively open intellectual combat. Of course there were people who clung to their prejudices, of course style sometimes trumped substance. But I believed that by and large better ideas tended to prevail: if your model of trade flows or exchange rate fluctuations tracked the data better than someone else’s, or resolved puzzles that other models couldn’t, you could expect it to be taken up by many if not most researchers in the field.

This is still true in much of economics, I believe. But in the areas that matter most given the state of the world, it’s not true at all. People who declared back in 2009 that Keynesianism was nonsense and that monetary expansion would inevitably cause runaway inflation are still saying exactly the same thing after six years of quiescent inflation and overwhelming evidence that austerity affects economies exactly the way Keynesians said it would.

And we’re not just talking about cranks without credentials; we’re talking about founders of the Shadow Open Market Committee and Nobel laureates.

Obviously this isn’t just a story about economics; it covers everything from climate science and evolution to Bill O’Reilly’s personal history. But that in itself is telling: academic economics, which still has pretenses of being an arena of open intellectual inquiry, appears to be deeply infected with politicization.

So what should those of us who really wanted to be part of what we thought this enterprise was about do? That’s the question Brad DeLong has been asking.

I see three choices: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

27 February 2015 at 3:03 pm

FBI says “Trust us” on following drone rules

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Unfortunately, the FBI, based on its own actions, does not merit trust. Shawn Musgrave writes at Motherboard:

After months of fighting against disclosure of its drone use, the FBI has committed to following White House guidelines issued earlier this month. There’s just one catch: Despite repeatedly refusing to release privacy impact assessments regarding its drone use—which legally must be public by default—the Bureau claims to already be in line with the president’s standards, which include a public disclosure timeline and broad principles for protecting civil liberties.

In short, the FBI says it’s following all of the government’s drone guidelines, but is incapable or unwilling to provide any sort of proof.

On February 15, President Obama declared via presidential memo that all federal agencies must hardwire privacy protections into drone policies.

“Particularly in light of the diverse potential uses of [unmanned aerial systems] in the [national airspace system], expected advancements in UAS technologies, and the anticipated increase in UAS use in the future,” reads the memo, “the federal government shall take steps to ensure that privacy protections and policies relative to UAS continue to keep pace with these developments.”

For starters, federal agencies must scrutinize their drone procedures every three years at minimum—and before deploying any new drone technology—“to ensure that privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties are protected.”

Drone use

Such policies must limit information collection to an “authorized purpose,” cap personal data retention to 180 days and prohibit dissemination outside the agency. There are exceptions to the latter two provisions, again, for an “authorized mission” and “authorized purpose” of the agency. The same goes for records covered by the Privacy Act of 1974—which has its own disclosure requirements—or another law.

Agencies must account for oversight, audit and training procedures around drone privacy, as well.

The directive’s standalone transparency section, while exempting information that “could reasonably be expected to compromise law enforcement or national security,” requires each agency to keep the public informed about drone use. In this vein, agencies must publish a yearly summary of deployments, “to include a brief description of types or categories of missions flown, and the number of times the agency provided assistance to other agencies.”

For its part, the FBI says that its drone program is well within the guidelines.

“The FBI’s use of unmanned aerial systems is in accordance with the president’s directive,” wrote Special Agent Shanna Daniels of the FBI’s Office of Public Affairs in an email sent earlier this week.

Notably, the FBI’s statement came in response to a yes-or-no question posed two weeks ago as to whether the Bureau has completed privacy impact assessments around drones. Another FBI spokesperson declined to comment at the time, and this week’s response from Daniels does not address the PIA issue.

Presumably, that the FBI is in “accordance” with the new presidential memo holds that the agency must not only confirm its drone protocols are up to code, but also disclose information it has long fought to withhold from public view.

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

27 February 2015 at 12:47 pm

Posted in Law Enforcement

New novel, well reviewed: Some Other Town

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Full disclosure: Beth Collison, the author, is a friend whom I’ve known for 35 years or more. We met in Iowa City, at Prairie Lights bookshop. And now her first novel, Some Other Town, has been released to some acclaim. NPR writes:

Five years before the opening of Elizabeth Collison’s debut novel Some Other Town, Margaret Lydia Benning comes to a small, unnamed Midwestern town to study art. She has talent in spades: grim visions that manifest in surreal paintings — “A woman in pink diaphanous tulle, wild boars where her legs should be. Bloated bodies in rivers. Eyeless white heads. Severed hearts wet and still beating.” — that excite her mentors and draw acclaim within her community. Then, just like that, the visions disappear. Her work slows down, then stops altogether. When her classmates move away, she stays.

Now in her late 20s, she’s an assistant editor of design at a small publishing house outside of town. The job is comfortable. The house specializes in early reader books and is fattened on grant money, headquartered in an old tuberculosis sanatorium, and populated with a strange bunch of coworkers: One of them speaks almost entirely through a puppet with cereal bowls for a mouth. Another is obsessed with a ghost that she believes haunts the building and sabotages their work, turning sentences like “Joe Trout went off to his room” into “Joe Trout went off to his doom.”

At home, Margaret mostly watches television, when she’s not navigating around an eccentric elderly neighbor who steals things from her yard, enters uninvited, and sets fire to her possessions. She is not content, exactly, but complacent — and aware of it. “[These are] not the new sort of horizons optimists wake up to, oh look a new horizon,” she says of her life. “Rather the comfortable same old horizons, boundaries on every side.”

Then, there is a rift in her world, a chance meeting at a party with a visiting art professor named Ben. They become friends, and then more than friends, and then he disappears. The novel begins after he has vanished, and veers between her workday and home life and dreams, and her recollections of their meeting, their affair. She resolves to find him, struggling through the molasses of her days and the gravity of his memory. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

27 February 2015 at 12:24 pm

Posted in Books

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