Later On

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

Archive for March 2nd, 2015

Excitement and suspense in Treason’s Harbour

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I’m now in the middle of Treason’s Harbour, the 9th volume of the Aubrey/Maturin series of novels of the British Navy in the Napoleonic era, written by Patrick O’Brian, and as they prepare for a naval engagement the excitement and suspense is overwhelming—I had to put down the book, and writing a blog post seems a relief and momentary distraction before I return to the novel.

It’s interesting when something you are reading—not watching, as in a movie or a play—can so work its magic on you. I do recommend the novels, which should be read in sequence, since they are a developing story.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 March 2015 at 7:23 pm

Posted in Books

Test of correctional officer immunity for viciously beating inmate concluded: Correctional officers do have immunity

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Correctional officers can do anything they want to prisoners—beat them to death if they want—and the most they will face is being forced to resign.

We really are moving quickly toward being a police state, in which there’s no absolutely no defense against police or correctional officers, who are allowed to do anything they.

Recall this story, blogged a few days ago? Well, here’s the decision: the three men who viciously beat an inmate for no reason but their own entertainment will simply be allowed to resign. That’s it.

The republic is crumbling about us. We really are starting to move to be a police state, with law enforcement having absolute immunity.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 March 2015 at 6:56 pm

Bush White House’s repeated torture denials made CIA torturers very nervous

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Dan Froomkin reports in The Intercept:

The Bush administration was so adamant in its public statements against torture that CIA officials repeatedly sought reassurances that the White House officials who had given them permission to torture in the first place hadn’t changed their minds.

In a July 29, 2003, White House meeting that included Vice President Dick Cheney and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, CIA Director George Tenet went so far as to ask the White House “to cease stating that US Government practices were ‘humane’.” He was assured they would.

The memo describing that meeting is one of several documents that were unclassified last year but apparently escaped widespread notice until now. Georgetown Law Professor David Cole called attention to the trove of documents on the Just Security blog.

The documents were apparently posted in December at ciasavedlives.com, a website formed by a group of former senior intelligence officials to rebut the newly released Senate report that documented the horrors that CIA officers inflicted upon detainees and the lies about those tactics’ effectiveness that they told their superiors, would-be overseers and the public.

The new documents don’t actually refute any of the Senate report’s conclusions – in fact, they include some whopper-filled slides that CIA officials showed at the White House. But they do call attention to the report’s central flaw: that it didn’t address who actually gave the CIA its orders.

As Cole writes:

The overall picture that the new documents paint is not of a rogue agency, but of a rogue administration. Yes, the CIA affirmatively proposed to use patently illegal tactics — waterboarding, sleep deprivation, physical assault, and painful stress positions. But at every turn, senior officials and lawyers in the White House and the Department of Justice reassured the agency that it could — and should — go forward. The documents reveal an agency that is extremely sensitive to whether the program is legally authorized and approved by higher-ups — no doubt because it understood that what it was doing was at a minimum controversial, and very possibly illegal. The documents show that the CIA repeatedly raised questions along these lines, and even suspended the program when the OLC was temporarily unwilling to say, without further review, whether the techniques would “shock the conscience” in violation of the Fifth Amendment. But at every point where the White House and the DOJ could have and should have said no to tactics that were patently illegal, they said yes.

The documents also illustrate how CIA officials, just like journalists and members of the public, had to decide whether to take the White House’s disavowals of torture at face value. Apparently the CIA, like many others, couldn’t believe the White House was flat-out lying.

Tenet, in a July 3, 2003, letter to Rice, requested that White House officials reaffirm that waterboarding and other so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” were being done on their orders. Tenet cited a June 2003 Washington Post story headlined U.S. Pledges Not to Torture Terror Suspects. . .

Continue reading.

Do read the whole thing. It is astonishing that they were able to get away with this, but that is thanks in large part to Obama’s own decision to facilitate the cover-up. Later in the article, the specific persons whom Obama should have prosecuted for war crimes are identified:

The July 3 letter from Tenet to Rice reminded her that the White House had been in on all this since the beginning: “The Vice President, National Security Advisor, Deputy National Security Advisor, Counsel to the President, Counsel to the National Security Adviser, and the Attorney General were consulted in August 2002 in advance of implementing use of the techniques with a particular detainee and concurred in its implementation as a matter of law and policy.”

Written by LeisureGuy

2 March 2015 at 3:46 pm

Consider installing Signal, a secure messaging app, on your iPhone

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UPDATE: Another article on Signal.

Micah Lee reports in The Intercept:

In the age of ubiquitous government surveillance, the only way citizens can protect their privacy online is through encryption. Historically, this has been extremely difficult for mere mortals; just watch the video Edward Snowden made to teach Glenn Greenwald how to encrypt his emails to see how confusing it gets. But all of this is quickly changing as high-quality, user-friendly encryption software becomes available.

App maker Open Whisper Systems took an important step in this direction today with the release of a major new version of its Signal encrypted calling app for iPhones and iPads. The new version, Signal 2.0, folds in support for encrypted text messages using a protocol called TextSecure, meaning users can communicate using voice and text while remaining confident nothing can be intercepted in transit over the internet.

That may not sound like a particularly big deal, given that other encrypted communication apps are available for iOS, but Signal 2.0 offers something tremendously useful: peace of mind.

Unlike other text messaging products, Signal’s code is open source, meaning it can be inspected by experts, and the app also supports forward secrecy, so if an attacker steals your encryption key, they cannot go back and decrypt messages they may have collected in the past.

Signal is also one special place on the iPhone where users can be confidentall their communications are always fully scrambled. Other apps with encryption tend to enter insecure modes at unpredictable times — unpredictable for many users, at least. Apple’s iMessage, for example, employs strong encryption, but only when communicating between two Apple devices and only when there is a proper data connection. Otherwise, iMessage falls back on insecure SMS messaging. iMessage also lacks forward secrecy and inspectable source code.

Signal also offers the ability  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 March 2015 at 3:43 pm

A Major Surge in Atmospheric Warming Is Probably Coming in the Next Five Years

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Bad news. Maybe Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK & oil companies) will stop talking about global warming being a “hoax.” Nafeez Ahmed reports at Motherboard:

Forget the so-called ‘pause’ in global warming—new research says we might be in for an era of deeply accelerated heating.

While the rate of atmospheric warming in recent years has, indeed, slowed due to various natural weather cycles—hence the skeptics’ droning on about “pauses”—global warming, as a whole, has not stopped. Far from it. It’s actually sped up, dramatically, as excess heat has absorbed into the oceans. We’ve only begun to realize the extent of this phenomenon in recent years, after scientists developed new technologies capable of measuring ocean temperatures with a depth and precision that was previously lacking.

In 2011, a paper in Geophysical Research Letters tallied up the total warming data from land, air, ice, and the oceans. In 2012, the lead author of that study, oceanographer John Church, updated his research. What Church found was shocking: in recent decades, climate change has been adding on average around 125 trillion Joules of heat energy to the oceans per second.

How to convey this extraordinary fact? His team came up with an analogy: it was roughly the same amount of energy that would be released by the detonation of two atomic bombs the size dropped on Hiroshima. In other words, these scientists found that anthropogenic climate is warming the oceans at a rate equivalent to around two Hiroshima bombs per second. But as new data came in, the situation has looked worse: over the last 17 years, the rate of warming has doubled to about four bombs per second. In 2013, the rate of warming tripled to become equivalent to 12 Hiroshima bombs every second.

So not only is warming intensifying, it is also accelerating. By burning fossil fuels, humans are effectively detonating 378 million atomic bombs in the oceans each year—this, along with the ocean’s over-absorption of carbon dioxide, has fuelled ocean acidification, and now threatens the entire marine food chain as well as animals who feed on marine species. Like, er, many humans.

According to a new paper from a crack team of climate scientists, a key reason that the oceans are absorbing all this heat in recent decades so well (thus masking the extent of global warming by allowing atmospheric average temperatures to heat more slowly), is due to the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO), an El Nino-like weather pattern that can last anywhere between 15-30 years.

In its previous positive phase, which ran from around 1977 to 1998, the PDO meant the oceans would absorb less heat, thus operating as an accelerator on atmospheric temperatures. Since 1998, the PDO has been in a largely negative phase, during which the oceans absorb more heat from the atmosphere.

Such decadal ocean cycles have broken down recently, and become more sporadic. The last, mostly negative phase, was punctuated by a brief positive phase that lasted 3 years between 2002 and 2005. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 March 2015 at 1:48 pm

Posted in Global warming

Chris Christie settles with Exxon for less than 3¢ on the dollar

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The damages were $8900 million, Christie settled for $250 million: 2.8¢ on the dollar. Really knows how to drive a hard bargain, eh? Amazing negotiating skills.

Benjamin Weiser reports in the NY Times:

A long-fought legal battle to recover $8.9 billion in damages from Exxon Mobil Corporation for the contamination and loss of use of more than 1,500 acres of wetlands, marshes, meadows and waters in northern New Jersey has been quietly settled by the state for around $250 million.

The lawsuits, filed by the State Department of Environmental Protection in 2004, had been litigated by the administrations of four New Jersey governors, finally advancing last year to trial. By then, Exxon’s liability was no longer in dispute; the only issue was how much it would pay in damages.

The stakes were high, given the enormous cost the state’s experts had placed on restoring and replacing the resources damaged by decades of oil refining and other petrochemical operations, as well as of the public’s loss of use of the land.

“The scope of the environmental damage resulting from the discharges is as obvious as it is staggering and unprecedented in New Jersey,” the administration of Gov. Chris Christie said in a court brief filed in November.

But a month ago, with a State Superior Court judge believed to be close to a decision on damages, the Christie administration twice petitioned the court to hold off on a ruling because settlement talks were underway. Then, last Friday, the state told the judge that the case had been resolved.

The parties have not announced the deal publicly, and it still must be approved by the judge. But some legal and environmental experts who were told about the agreement asked why New Jersey would suddenly settle a case that it had fought strenuously for more than a decade.

Richard B. Stewart, a New York University law professor and a former head of the Justice Department’s environmental division under President George Bush, noted the “striking disparity between the damages claimed, which have been exhaustively litigated, and the settlement amount,” particularly with a judicial ruling expected soon. Mr. Stewart said that it was hard to assess the agreement without knowing the evidence, but that “it raises questions.”

The documents that made reference to the settlement, which had not been filed publicly, were obtained after a request by The New York Times. They do not reveal the settlement amount; the figure was provided by two people who were told about it, and who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the deal was not yet public. . .

Continue reading.

The citizens of New Jersey got the opposite of a bargain when they elected Christie: that decision alone cost them $8.65 billion. I think New Jersey could probably have used that money.

Christie portrays himself as a tough guy, but he’s obviously a pushover. A blowhard, yes, but no spine. He left $8,650,000,000 on the table.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 March 2015 at 11:54 am

The GOP stance toward education—example: Outlaw AP American History courses

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The GOP has a tortured relationship with education that teaches about reality.

I do understand that some of my readers are Republicans, and they perhaps disagree with what their party is doing. I get that: I disagree with things the Democratic party does (I’m more a progressive, or Social Democrat)—for example, I have posted many times about poor decisions embraced by Democrats. But I think they will recognize that the GOP as a whole has entered new territory and the party as a whole is fiercely anti-education and anti-intellectual and anti-science, as seen by the way the GOP treats candidates who embrace moderate positions. The GOP is not what it was in Dwight Eisenhower’s day.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 March 2015 at 11:45 am

Posted in Daily life, Education, GOP

Indiana Felony murder: why a teenager who didn’t kill anyone faces 55 years in jail

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Sometimes—too frequently—the US criminal justice system seems to be an injustice system. Ed Pilkinton reports from Indian in the Guardian:

Blake Layman made one very bad decision. He was 16, an unexceptional teenager growing up in a small Indiana town. He’d never been in trouble with the law, had a clean criminal record, had never owned or even held a gun.

That decision sparked a chain of events that would culminate with his arrest and trial for “felony murder”. The boy was unarmed, had pulled no trigger, killed no one. He was himself shot and injured in the incident while his friend standing beside him was also shot and killed. Yet Layman would go on to be found guilty by a jury of his peers and sentenced to 55 years in a maximum-security prison for a shooting that he did not carry out.

How Blake Layman got to be in the Kafkaesque position in which he now finds himself – facing the prospect of spending most of the rest of his life in a prison cell for a murder that he did not commit – is the subject on Thursday of a special hearing of the Indiana supreme court, the state’s highest judicial panel. How the judges respond to the case of what has become known as the “Elkhart Four” could have implications for the application of so-called “felony murder” laws in Indiana and states across the union.

It was about 2pm on 3 October 2012, and Layman was hanging out after school in his home town of Elkhart with a couple of buddies, Jose Quiroz, also 16, and Levi Sparks, 17. They smoked a little weed, got a little high, and had a moan with each other about how broke they were.

Layman looks back on that afternoon and wonders why did he do it? Why did he throw it all away? He was doing well at school, had an evening job at Wendy’s, had a girlfriend he liked, was preparing to take his driving test. “It felt to me like life was really coming together at that point,” he said.

Within minutes, all that promise vaporised in an act of teenaged madness. Someone noticed that the grey pickup truck belonging to Rodney Scott, the guy who lived across the street, wasn’t in its usual parking spot. The homeowner must be at work or away somewhere. The house, by extension, must be empty.

On the spur of the moment, Layman and his teenaged buddies came up with a plan to break into the house, grab a few things to sell and quit before Scott returned. It would be easy, a harm-free ruse to get hold of some spending money.

It all happened so fast. They called a couple of older friends from down the road, Danzele Johnson, 21, and Anthony Sharp, 18, to join them. They knocked as loudly as he could on Scott’s door and when there was no reply – confirmation in their minds that the house was vacant – they broke open the side door. Five minutes out from having had the original idea, four of them were in the house with Sparks keeping lookout outside.

They ran through the kitchen, Layman pocketing a wallet on the kitchen table without stopping to think why it would be left there if the house was empty. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 March 2015 at 11:38 am

Benjamin Netanyahu’s Long History Of Crying Wolf About Iran’s Nuclear Weapons

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Murtaza Hussain reports in The Intercept:

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to address the U.S. Congress tomorrow about the perils of striking a nuclear deal with Iran.  Netanyahu, not generally known for his measured rhetoric, has been vociferous in his public statements about the dangers of such compromise, warning that it will allow Iran to “rush to the bomb” and that it amounts to giving the country “a license” to develop nuclear weapons.

It is worth remembering, however, that Netanyahu has said much of this before. Almost two decades ago, in 1996, Netanyahu addressed a joint session of Congress where he darkly warned, “If Iran were to acquire nuclear weapons, this could presage catastrophic consequences, not only for my country, and not only for the Middle East, but for all mankind,” adding that, “the deadline for attaining this goal is getting extremely close.”

Almost 20 years later that deadline has apparently still not passed, but Netanyahu is still making dire predictions about an imminent Iranian nuclear weapon. Four years before that Congressional speech, in 1992, then-parliamentarian Netanyahu advised the Israeli Knesset that Iran was “three to five years” away from reaching nuclear weapons capability, and that this threat had to be “uprooted by an international front headed by the U.S.”

In his 1995 book, “Fighting Terrorism,” Netanyahu once again asserted that Iran would have a nuclear weapon in “three to five years,” apparently forgetting about the expiration of his old deadline.

For a considerable time thereafter, Netanyahu switched his focus to hyping the purported nuclear threat posed by another country, Iraq, about which he claimed there was “no question” that it was “advancing towards to the development of nuclear weapons.” Testifying again in front of Congress again in 2002, Netanyahu claimed that Iraq’s nonexistent nuclear program was in fact so advanced that the country was now operating “centrifuges the size of washing machines.”

Needless to say, these claims turned out to be disastrously false. Despite this, Netanyahu, apparently unchastened by the havoc his previous false charges helped create, immediately went back to ringing the alarm bells about Iran.

A 2009 U.S. State Department diplomatic cable released by Wikileaks described then-prime ministerial candidate Netanyahu informing a visiting Congressional delegation that Iran was “probably one or two years away” from developing weapons capability. Another cable later the same year showed Netanyahu, now back in office as prime minister, telling a separate delegation of American politicians in Jerusalem that “Iran has the capability now to make one bomb,” adding that alternatively, “they could wait and make several bombs in a year or two.” . . .

Continue reading.

Toward the end of the article:

The conclusion from this history is inescapable. Over the course of more than 20 years, Benjamin Netanyahu has made false claims about nuclear weapons programs in both Iran and Iraq, inventing imaginary timelines for their development, and making public statements that contradicted the analysis of his own intelligence advisers.

Reminds me of Alan Greenspan and other conservative economists who constantly warn that inflation is just about to happen, year after year after year, with inflation not happening: inability to learn from experience.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 March 2015 at 11:30 am

Asking America’s Police Officers to Explain Abusive Cops

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Very interesting article in the Atlantic by Conor Friedersdorf (via Radley Balko’s morning links):

The radio show This American Life recently broadcast a number of stories on policing. They’re collected in the episodes “Cops See It Differently,” Part Oneand Part Two.

The episodes illuminate why police and their critics often see the same events very differently. For example, one anecdote concerns a man in the back of a police car who told his arresting officers that he was having trouble breathing. They ignored him. He died. Many who watched the video saw callous cops who placed no value on a human being’s life. But police officers who watched the same tape saw two cops who thought that their seemingly healthy arrestee was faking, as so many people fabricate medical conditions to avoid being taken to jail.

These differences in perspective are useful to understand, even if one believes that a given incident is clearly the fault of the police or the person they’re arresting.

In that spirit, I’d like to focus on “Inconvenience Store,” the This American Lifesegment where the behavior of the police officers struck me as most difficult to comprehend. I’ll relay what happened to a man named Earl Sampson in Miami Gardens, Florida, and invite any willing police officers to write in with their thoughts.

Most of the action takes place at a Quickstop convenience store. Back in 2008, police approached its owner, Alex Saleh. Did he want to make the Quickstop part of “The Zero-Tolerance Zone Trespassing Program”? Saleh said that he was “pro-police, pro-cop,” and agreed. A sign to that effect was posted in the parking lot.

But soon, he says, cops started harassing his customers, especially the black ones, when they were doing nothing more than standing in line waiting to make a purchase. Set that aside. Our interest is in Earl Sampson, a black employee at the store.

Here’s what happened to him, according to This American Life producer Miki Meek’s reporting:

Meek: Before long, it wasn’t just the customers being questioned. The police started including a guy named Earl. Alex paid him to do odd jobs around the store. One night, right before closing, Alex sent Earl out to the parking lot with a broom and a dustpan. When he didn’t come back, Alex want out to check on him.

Saleh: I see only the dustpan and the broom. And I don’t see Earl.

Meek: It wasn’t like Earl to walk off the job. The next day when he arrived at the store, Alex asked him about it.

Saleh: Earl said, I was in jail last night. I said, why? He said, for trespassing.

Meek: Trespassing at the store—Earl says he was charged with trespassing where he works.

Saleh: I was upset. I was burning myself inside. I was, like, this is impossible.

Meek: Alex is more than just a boss to Earl, more like a father figure to him. Earl has some mental health issues, and in general, he has a kid-like quality. He first started coming to the Quickstop years before, when he was 14. He had just moved around the corner, but his family life was rough. And his mom couldn’t really take care of him. So Alex started keeping an eye on him. Here’s Earl.

Earl: That’s why I started hanging around the store, you know, it’s because Alex treat me like a son, though. Sometimes he let me credit stuff, like milk or something, bread or something. I’d go to the store and get it. I’d holler at him. And then he gave me a job, and I started working. I love my job. I love working at it. We’re like a family, though.

Meek: That incident with the police, where Alex walked outside to check on Earl at the end of the night and found only a dustpan and broom, that happened two more times that month.

Earl: They’ll like, come and grab me from, like, outside. Like, they won’t go in the store and ask Alex or nothing, though. They would just grab me, put me in a police car, take me down to jail, you know? I’m like, well, I work here, though. You feel me?

Meek: So you would say, I work here. And what would they say? . . .

Continue reading. As Balko points out, criminally harassing an innocent man will not get police officers fired—but soliciting a prostitute will.

It seems as though Friedersdorf doesn’t know about the “Blue Code of Silence” and the punishments meted out to officers who report misconduct of other policemen. It seems quite typical for strictly hierarchical, highly authoritarian organizations (e.g., police forces, the military, the Catholic church) to develop a culture of cover-ups, in which members of the organization (“us”) are ALWAYS protected against those outside the organization (“them”). Police have an additional layer of protection in that they can quite effectively, as a group, retaliate against any prosecutor who brings charges against a police officer. Thus police in practice have a great degree of immunity for misconduct—which, after all, is typical of a police state

Written by LeisureGuy

2 March 2015 at 10:50 am

Posted in Law Enforcement

The wonderful Monday shave: Le Père Lucien, ATT S1, and UFO

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SOTD 2 Mar 2015

A wonderful shave and perfect result. My Rooney Finest (the knot somewhat asymmetric from where it was pressed against the back of the shelf as it dried) made a fine lather from Le Père Lucien shaving soap—another soap in which the container is filled to the brim, as you note.

The Above the Tie S1 slant did a very smooth and efficient job, and that particular UFO handle is exceptionally nice: feels good, looks good, works well. Three passes to a BBS result and then a good splash of Speick’s refreshing aftershave, and we get the week underway.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 March 2015 at 8:29 am

Posted in Shaving

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