Later On

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

Archive for April 23rd, 2015

Excellent action-thriller on Netflix: No Tears for the Dead

leave a comment »

Of course, taste in movies is very much YMMV, and No Tears for the Dead is not a movie for those who dislike violence. But of its kind, it seemed excellent to me: modern-day, high-tech, reasonably complex plot, with a solid emotional core. A good Korean movie is really good.

Written by Leisureguy

23 April 2015 at 9:09 pm

Posted in Movies & TV

Harsh realities of the Obama Administration and its drone strikes

leave a comment »

Obama is determined that we should not know the facts about the drone strikes, which is an ominous sign. (Of course, he pledged transparency, but his pledges are generally worthless—cf. the pledge to recognize the Armenian genocide.) Scott Shane reports for the NY Times:

Barack Obama inherited two ugly, intractable wars in Iraq and Afghanistan when he became president and set to work to end them. But a third, more covert war he made his own, escalating drone strikes in Pakistan and expanding them to Yemen and Somalia.

The drone’s vaunted capability for pinpoint killing appealed to a president intrigued by a new technology and determined to try to keep the United States out of new quagmires. Aides said Mr. Obama liked the idea of picking off dangerous terrorists a few at a time, without endangering American lives or risking the yearslong bloodshed of conventional war.

“Let’s kill the people who are trying to kill us,” he often told aides.

By most accounts, hundreds of dangerous militants have, indeed, been killed by drones, including some high-ranking Qaeda figures. But for six years, when the heavy cloak of secrecy has occasionally been breached, the results of some strikes have often turned out to be deeply troubling.

Every independent investigation of the strikes has found far more civilian casualties than administration officials admit. Gradually, it has become clear that when operators in Nevada fire missiles into remote tribal territories on the other side of the world, they often do not know who they are killing, but are making an imperfect best guess.

The president’s announcement on Thursday that a January strike on Al Qaeda in Pakistan had killed two Western hostages, and that it took many weeks to confirm their deaths, bolstered the assessments of the program’s harshest outside critics. The dark picture was compounded by the additional disclosure that two American members of Al Qaeda were killed in strikes that same month, but neither had been identified in advance and deliberately targeted.

In all, it was a devastating acknowledgment for Mr. Obama, who had hoped to pioneer a new, more discriminating kind of warfare. Whether the episode might bring a long-delayed public reckoning about targeted killings, long hidden by classification rules, remained uncertain.

Even some former Obama administration security officials have expressed serious doubts about the wisdom of the program, given the ire it has ignited overseas and the terrorists who have said they plotted attacks because of drones. And outside experts have long called for a candid accounting of the results of strikes.

“I hope this event allows us at last to have an honest dialogue about the U.S. drone program,” said Rachel Stohl, of the Stimson Center, a Washington research institute. “These are precise weapons. The failure is in the intelligence about who it is that we are killing.”

Ms. Stohl noted that Mr. Obama and his top aides have repeatedly promised greater openness about the drone program but have never really delivered on it.

In a speech in 2013 about drones, Mr. Obama declared that no strike was taken without “near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured.” He added that “nevertheless, it is a hard fact that U.S. strikes have resulted in civilian casualties” and said “those deaths will haunt us as long as we live.”

But over the Obama presidency, it has become harder for journalists to obtain information from the government on the results of particular strikes. And Mr. Obama’s Justice Department has fought in court for years to keep secret the legal opinions justifying strikes.

Micah Zenko, a scholar at the Council on Foreign Relations and lead author of a 2013 study of drones, said the president’s statement “highlights what we’ve sort of known: that most individuals killed are not on a kill list, and the government does not know their names.”. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

23 April 2015 at 9:00 pm

Why we allow prison rape to continue

leave a comment »

Chandra Bozelko writes in the NY Times:

IT’S been called “America’s most ‘open’ secret”: According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, around 80,000 women and men a year are sexually abused in American correctional facilities. That number is almost certainly subject to underreporting, through shame or a victim’s fear of retaliation. Overall, only 35 percent of rapes and sexual assaults were reported to the police in 2010, and the rate of reporting in prisons is undoubtedly lower still.

To tackle the problem, Congress passed the Prison Rape Elimination Act, signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2003. The way to eliminate sexual assault, lawmakers determined, was to make Department of Justice funding for correctional facilities conditional on states’ adoption of zero-tolerance policies toward sexual abuse of inmates.

Inmates would be screened to identify possible predators and victims. Prison procedures would ensure investigation of complaints by outside law enforcement. Correctional officers would be instructed about behavior that constitutes sexual abuse. And abusers, whether inmates or guards, would be punished effectively.

But only two states — New Hampshire and New Jersey — have fully complied with the act. Forty-seven states and territories have promised that they will do so. Using Justice Department data, the American Civil Liberties Union estimated that from 2003 to 2012, when the law’s standards were finalized, nearly two million inmates were sexually assaulted.

Six Republican governors have neglected or refused to comply, complaining of cost and other factors. Rick Perry, then the governor of Texas, wrote to the Justice Department last year stating that 40 percent of the correctional officers in male facilities in Texas were women, so that “cross-gender viewing” (like witnessing inmates in the shower, which contravenes the legal guidelines) could not be avoided. The mandated measures, he said, would levy “an unacceptable cost” on Texas, which hasone of the highest rates of prison sexual assault.

For its noncompliance, Texas is likely to lose just 5 percent of federal funding for its state prisons, or about $800,000. It will still receive $15.2 million in federal grants even as inmates continue to be sexually assaulted. If Congress passes an amendment that Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, proposed last year, the financial penalty for noncompliance will be removed altogether.

Ultimately, prisons protect rape culture to protect themselves. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, about half of prison sexual assault complaints in 2011 were filed against staff. (These reports weren’t all claims of forcible rape; it is considered statutory sexual assault for a guard to have sexual contact with an inmate.)

I was an inmate for six years in Connecticut after being convicted of identity fraud, among other charges. From what I saw, the same small group of guards preyed on inmates again and again, yet never faced discipline. They were protected by prison guard unions, one of the strongest forces in American labor.

Sexualized violence is often used as a tool to subdue inmates whom guards see as upstarts. In May 2008, while in a restricted housing unit, or “the SHU” as it is commonly known, I was sexually assaulted by a guard. The first person I reported the incident to, another guard, ignored it. I finally reached a nurse who reported it to a senior officer.

When the state police arrived, I decided not to talk to them because the harassment I’d received in the intervening hours made me fearful. For the same reason, I refused medical treatment when I was taken to a local emergency room.

Subsequent interviews with officials at the prison amounted to hazing and harassment. They accused me of having been a drug user, which was untrue, and of lying about going to college, though it was true I had. The “investigation,” which I found more traumatic than the assault, dragged on for more than two months until they determined that my allegation couldn’t be substantiated. The law’s guidelines were followed, but in letter not in spirit.

I was also a witness in a case in which an inmate claimed to have been sexually assaulted by a guard and then told me she’d made it up. I reported her — and this time, I was perfectly credible to an investigator, who praised me for having a conscience and a clear head.

The . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

23 April 2015 at 11:05 am

The Whistleblower’s Tale: How An Accountant Took on Halliburton

leave a comment »

The corruption and dishonesty of modern corporations is striking, but I suppose corporations of yesteryear were equally awful. Jesse Eisinger reports at ProPublica:

The email that ruined Tony Menendez’s life arrived on a warm and sunny February afternoon in 2006. Menendez is, by nature, precise and logical, but his first instinct was somewhat irrational. He got up to close the door to his office, as if that might somehow keep the message from speeding across cyberspace. Then he sat down at his desk to puzzle out what had just happened.

The email was sent by Mark McCollum, Halliburton’s chief accounting officer, and a top-ranking executive at Halliburton, where Menendez worked. It was addressed to much of the accounting department. “The SEC has opened an inquiry into the allegations of Mr. Menendez,” it read. Everyone was to retain their documents until further notice.

Panic gripped Menendez. How could McCollum have learned he had been talking to the SEC? The substance of the email was true. After months of raising concerns inside the company, Menendez had filed a complaint with regulators and Halliburton’s audit committee that accused the giant oil services company of violating accounting rules. But those complaints were supposed to be kept strictly confidential. Did the agency violate that trust? Did a board member? Somebody had talked.

Ten minutes passed, maybe fifteen. Menendez finally could move. He got up, opened his office door carefully and looked out. The floor normally bustled at that hour in the mid-afternoon. It had cleared out. He turned around quickly, grabbed his computer and rushed out of the heavily secured Halliburton complex north of Sugarland, Texas.

Menendez drove around for hours. He doesn’t remember much about where he went or for how long. At some point, he called his wife.

“Ondy,” he cried out to her, frantic. “They outed me!”

As shocked as Menendez was, his wife had seen something like this coming. Tony was a perennial optimist, even naïve. He always thought the company would do the right thing and fix its accounting problem. More jaded, his wife was prepared for the worst. She’d even urged Tony to start secretly taping his bosses.

“Is anyone following you?” she asked. “Make sure.”

Menendez looked around, seeing only a blur of cars pass at the beginnings of evening rush hour. He didn’t think anyone was tailing him. Then again, how would he know? He needed a lawyer – right now. Only months into the best job he’d ever had, he was in the most trouble of his professional career.

Menendez quickly googled “whistleblower” and “lawyer” on his phone and came up with Philip Hilder, the attorney who had represented the Enron whistleblower, Sherron Watkins. He placed the call and got through. Hilder heard Menendez out and then told him to listen carefully. Hilder instructed Menendez not to tell anyone, not even his wife. Too late for that, and he wouldn’t have kept it from Ondy anyway. They were partners.

“Ok. Then don’t talk on the phone anymore. Don’t talk in your office. Don’t talk in your house,” Hilder continued.

“How quickly can you come in to see me?”

I met Tony and Ondy Menendez this past winter, in a suburb less than an hour outside Detroit. Now 44, Menendez speaks earnestly and insistently, with the carefully chosen words one would expect from an accountant. His cheeks carry a tinge of pink and, at the slightest smile, his eyes are consumed by crow’s feet. He hid a bulky frame with a corduroy jacket over a black V-neck sweater.

They told me about their long and agonizing fight against a powerful corporation. It’s a story of what it takes to be a whistleblower in America – and what it takes out of you.

Many whistleblowers come undone after they launch their fights. They have trouble keeping their jobs, their marriages, their sobriety. Even friends who are sympathetic often see them as pains in the ass. They are forever marked by a scarlet “W.” And while whistleblowers naturally start off more skeptical than the average, the experience pushes some into often justifiable paranoia. If you want to know why whistleblowers can seem a little crazy, it’s because anybody who is not a little bit crazy would back away from the ordeal of confronting a corporate behemoth or grinding government bureaucracy.

There’s nothing crazy about Menendez, however, beyond an optimism that persists even when the facts don’t warrant it. Throughout the whole struggle, he just knew that somehow, sometime, the world would come around to seeing he was right about Halliburton.

Menendez grew up in Houston, the son of a jovial construction worker with an eighth-grade education. His father had once . . .

Continue reading. It’s a long article and tells an interesting story: well worth reading in its entirety.

Wouldn’t it be amazing to encounter a corporation that was honest, forthright, and transparent—and actually supported its employees?

Written by Leisureguy

23 April 2015 at 10:44 am

Posted in Business, Daily life, Law

The coolness test

with one comment

My 12-year-old grandson asked for and received a kilt for his birthday, so he’s wearing it to school today. His mom asked if he was prepared for some of kids to be unkind, and he said that he’d just tell them that seeing a boy in a skirt is a coolness test, and they failed.

Definitely a cool kid.

Written by Leisureguy

23 April 2015 at 10:39 am

Posted in Daily life

US drone strikes kills two innocents, but this time they’re not brown, so this time Obama apologizes

leave a comment »

Apparently, it’s a much bigger deal when a drone strike kills an innocent American or Italian rather than an innocent Pakistani or Yemeni. President Obama has apologized to the families of these two (but not to any other families). I wonder if the families will get the usual $2000 payment to compensate them for their loss. Peter Baker and Julie Davis report in the NY Times:

President Obama on Thursday offered an emotional apology for the accidental killing of two hostages held by Al Qaeda, one of them American, in a United States government counterterrorism operation in January, saying he takes “full responsibility” for their deaths.

“As president and as commander in chief, I take full responsibility for all our counterterrorism operations,” including the one that inadvertently took the lives of the two captives, a grim-faced Mr. Obama said in a statement to reporters in the White House briefing room.

“I profoundly regret what happened,” he added. “On behalf of the U.S. government, I offer our deepest apologies to the families.”

Mr. Obama’s remarks came shortly after the White House released an extraordinary statement revealing that intelligence officials had confirmed that Warren Weinstein, an American held by Al Qaeda since 2011, and Giovanni Lo Porto, an Italian held since 2012, died during the operation. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

23 April 2015 at 10:32 am

Very fine shave with Bathhouse Tobacco & Rum and the Parker 24C

with 3 comments

SOTD 23 Apr 2015

Fine shave. The Plisson synthetic—terrific brush—made a good lather with Bathhouse Soapery’s Tobacco & Rum, though perhaps less creamy than I like: possibly user error. The fragrance is light but pleasant.

Three passes with the Parker 24C holding a Personna Lab Blue, then a good splash of Ogallala’s Bay Rum & Sandalwood—the fragrance being quite distinct and also pleasant.

Good way to start the day.

Written by Leisureguy

23 April 2015 at 10:19 am

Posted in Shaving

%d bloggers like this: