Later On

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Archive for November 18th, 2015

Do the Kochs have their own spy network?

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Astonishing. Jane Mayer reports in the New Yorker:

ve years ago, when The New Yorker published my piece “Covert Operations,” about the ambitious and secretive political network underwritten by the billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch, the Koch brothers complained mightily about the story’s title, protesting that there was nothing at all covert about their political activities. Since then, the two have embarked on an impressive public-relations campaign meant to demonstrate their transparency and openness. But today, the Politico reporter Kenneth Vogel came out with a blockbuster scoop suggesting that the brothers, whose organization has vowed to spend an unprecedented eight hundred and eighty-nine million dollars in the 2016 election cycle, are more involved in covert operations than even their own partners have known.

After culling through the latest legally required disclosures, Vogel unearthed a new front group within the Kochs’ expanding network of affiliated nonprofit organizations—a high-tech surveillance and intelligence-gathering outfit devoted to stealthily tracking liberal and Democratic groups which Politico calls the “Koch Intelligence Agency.” The sleuthing operation reportedly includes twenty-five employees, one of whom formerly worked as an analyst for the Central Intelligence Agency, and follows opponents by harvesting high-tech geodata from their social-media posts.
According to Vogel, the effort is so secretive that very few people know of it even within the Kochs’ own sprawling political operation. Housed with other Koch nonprofit organizations in a bland office building in Arlington, Virginia, the outfit is managed by a limited-liability partnership called American Strategies Group, LLC. The company is part of the Kochs’ main political group: a circle of ultra-conservative donors called Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, which describes itself as a “business league” and so claims that it can legally hide the identities of its members.
Reached for comment, James Davis, the spokesman for Freedom Partners, described news accounts comparing the organization’s operation to espionage as “inaccurate.” Davis said, “Like most other organizations, Freedom Partners has a research department that benchmarks our efforts against other organizations.”
While it’s big news that the Kochs are now running their own private intelligence-gathering operation in order to track political opponents, including labor unions, environmental groups, and liberal big-donor groups, it actually isn’t surprising, given their history.
For decades, there have been reports suggesting that Charles and David Koch and Koch Industries have employed private investigators to gather inside information on their perceived enemies, including their own brother, Bill Koch, with whom they fought over control of the family business and fortune. My forthcoming book, “Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right,” which will come out in January, builds on earlier reporting about this, including my 2010 New Yorker piece. In fact, again and again, those who have challenged the Kochs and Koch Industries—whether they are federal officers, private citizens, or members of the press—have suspected that they have been under surveillance.
In Daniel Schulman’s deeply researched biography of the Kochs, “Sons of Wichita,” for instance, he describes how Angela O’Connell, the lead federal prosecutor in a huge environmental-pollution case brought against Koch Industries in 1995, “began to suspect that Koch had placed her under surveillance. ‘I thought that my trash can was taken outside my house several days,’ she recalled. ‘I was upset enough about it at the time to report what I thought was a bugging and what I thought was the trash being taken—a number of incidents,’ ” Schulman writes that “the Justice Department was never able to prove that Koch had targeted one of its prosecutors, but for the first time in her career, O’Connell operated as if everything she said and did was being monitored.”
Schulman also quotes a lawyer for the plaintiff in a massive fatal personal-injury case, brought against Koch Industries in 1999, as saying that he hired a security firm to sweep his office after suspecting that his phones were bugged. The firm, he said, discovered electronic transmitters had been planted there. “I’m not saying that the Kochs did it,” the lawyer, Ted Lyon, told Schulman. “I just thought it was very interesting that it happened during the time we were litigating the case.”
Similarly, as I reported in my New Yorker piece, when a Senate committee investigated Koch Industries, in 1989, for what its final report called a “widespread and sophisticated scheme to steal crude oil from Indians and others through fraudulent mismeasuring,” the report noted that in the course of the probe Koch operatives had delved into the personal lives of the committee’s staffers, even questioning one’s ex-wife.
Vogel, the Politico reporter who broke today’s story, has had his own run-ins with the Kochs’ hyper-vigilance. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 November 2015 at 5:24 pm

Repeating the US error made at the time of the Holocaust

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The US famously fought to keep Jews fleeing from Nazi persecution from being allowed refuge in the US. It was a shameful exhibition, on a part with the US concentration camps in which we incarcerated Japanese Americans who had done nothing—nothing—wrong. Lee Fang has the depressing story in The Intercept:

During the 1930s and early 1940s, the United States resisted accepting large numbers of Jewish refugees escaping the Nazi terror sweeping Europe, in large part because of fearmongering by a small but vocal crowd.

They claimed that the refugees were communist or anarchist infiltrators intent on spreading revolution; that refugees were part of a global Jewish-capitalist conspiracy to take control of the United States from the inside; that the refugees were either Nazis in disguise or under the influence of Nazi agents sent to commit acts of sabotage; and that Jewish refugees were out to steal American jobs.

Many rejected Jews simply because they weren’t Christian.

In recent days, similar arguments are being resurrected to reject Syrian refugees fleeing sectarian terrorists and civil war.

From talk radio to the blogosphere to leading American politicians, anti-Syrian rhetoric claims that refugees are simply ISIS infiltrators; that migrants are Muslim invaders seeking to establish a “global caliphate” and impose Sharia law on America; and that Syrian refugees are lying about escaping violence and are focused instead on abusing the American welfare system.

And in a rehash of history, politicians are arguing that only Christian, not Muslim, refugees from Syria should be welcomed. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 November 2015 at 5:11 pm

Posted in Daily life

Strange doings in and around law enforcement

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Just a few of Radley Balko’s afternoon links:

  • Pennsylvania House passes bill that would require the names of police officers accused of excessive force to be kept secret, possibly indefinitely. The sponsor cited the usual “war on cops” nonsense in justifying the policy. This is a state legislature that has a history of shirking the pesky First Amendment. [So immunity from prosecution is not enough; now their identities must be kept secret. This is going in a death-squad direction, you know: if police can kill, not be prosecuted, and keep their identities secret, that is where other countries have ended up. – LG]
  • In today’s previous post, I noted that New Mexico has passed one of the best forfeiture laws in the country. It requires a conviction before police and prosecutors can keep a suspect’s property. But apparently in Albuquerque, they’re simply ignoring the new law. That’s pretty brazen, although if you know the city’s history, it isn’t particularly surprising.
  • Minneapolis mayor calls for federal investigation into the police shooting of Jamar Clark. Never know whether to look at such requests as an appeal to transparency and accountability or an admission that the local officials lack the courage (or the ability) to hold their own police accountable themselves. . .

There are more at the link.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 November 2015 at 5:04 pm

Posted in Law Enforcement

The Tec Torch: Do not use this at home

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From this Motherboard story by Clinton Nguyen:

Written by LeisureGuy

18 November 2015 at 4:57 pm

Posted in Technology, Video

Depression-Fighting SAD Lamps Aren’t Just For Your Winter Blues

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Seasonal Affective Disorder affects quite a few people, and it’s interesting that using a bright lamp to combat it also helps with regular (non-seasonal) depression. Jorden Pearson reports at Motherboard:

There’s a familiar ritual for people suffering from seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, a very real condition that leaves people feeling depressed in the slushy depths of winter: you wake up, the world still dark and frigid, and you flip on a little lamp that tricks your brain into thinking you’re absorbing sunlight. It’s a treatment with some serious techno-dystopian vibes, yet research has shown for decades that it works.

But according to new research, those dorky little lamps aren’t only useful for people with SAD. In a study that tested the efficacy of SAD lightboxes alongside antidepressants on people with non-seasonal depression, researchers at the University of British Columbia concluded that those little lamps can help with regular old non-winter related clinical depression, too.

“We always think of seasonal depression as a different type of depression for all kinds of good reasons, so people haven’t considered light therapy as a way to treat non-seasonal depression,” Dr. Raymond Lam, the psychiatrist at the University of British Columbia who led the study, told me over the phone. “We thought it was time for a good study, so that’s what we did.”

Although some of the earliest studies on the effectiveness of SAD lamps involved people without SAD itself, these studies were small—just seven subjects, in some cases—and unsatisfactory, Lam said.

The study, published on Wednesday in JAMA Psychiatry, split 121 subjects into four test groups. The first group got the lamp with a placebo antidepressant, the second got the lamp with a real pill, the third group used a switched-off negative ion generator—effectively a placebo, since it’s hard to fake light—and an antidepressant, and the final group got a real negative ion generator with a fake pill.

Negative ion generators are machines that fill the air with electrically-charged air molecules, which supposedly have an effect that may help with depression. But for the purposes of this study, Lam said, they just had to look fancy and make a nice noise.

After eight weeks of treatment, subjects with the real lamp and fake pills reported feeling much better, while those with the lamps and real pills reported feeling the best out of all the groups. Sorry, folks with ion generators. . .

Continue reading.

Light boxes for treating SAD have come down a lot in price over the past several years.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 November 2015 at 12:51 pm

From Paris to Boston, Terrorists Were Already Known to Authorities

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A good point: even as officials of the national-security state (such as John Brennan, James Comey, et al.) claim they need ever-greater powers to strip away privacy, the fact is that they generally know who the terrorists are. Ryan Gallagher reports in The Intercept:

Whenever a terrorist attack occurs, it never takes long for politicians to begin calling for more surveillance powers. The horrendous attacks in Paris last week, which left more than 120 people dead, are no exception to this rule. In recent days, officials in the United Kingdom and the United States [at the link, John Brennan makes the case for the government being able to do whatever it wants regarding surveillance – LG] have been among those arguing that more surveillance of Internet communications is necessary to prevent further atrocities.

The case for expanded surveillance of communications, however, is complicated by an analysis of recent terrorist attacks. The Intercept has reviewed 10 high-profile jihadi attacks carried out in Western countries between 2013 and 2015 (see below), and in each case some or all of the perpetrators were already known to the authorities before they executed their plot. In other words, most of the terrorists involved were not ghost operatives who sprang from nowhere to commit their crimes; they were already viewed as a potential threat, yet were not subjected to sufficient scrutiny by authorities under existing counterterrorism powers. Some of those involved in last week’s Paris massacre, for instance, were already known to authorities; at least three of the men appear to have been flagged at different times as having been radicalized, but warning signs were ignored.

In the aftermath of a terrorist atrocity, government officials often seem to talk about surveillance as if it were some sort of panacea, a silver bullet. But what they always fail to explain is how, even with mass surveillance systems already in place in countries like France, the United States, and the United Kingdom, attacks still happen. In reality, it is only possible to watch some of the people some of the time, not all of the people all of the time. Even if you had every single person in the world under constant electronic surveillance, you would still need a human being to analyze the data and assess any threats in a timely fashion. And human resources are limited and fallible.

There is no doubt that we live in a dangerous world and that intelligence agencies and the police have a difficult job to do, particularly in the current geopolitical environment. They know about hundreds or thousands of individuals who sympathize with terrorist groups, any one of whom may be plotting an attack, yet they do not appear to have the means to monitor each of these people closely over sustained periods of time. If any lesson can be learned from studying the perpetrators of recent attacks, it is that there needs to be a greater investment in conducting targeted surveillance of known terror suspects and a move away from the constant knee-jerk expansion of dragnet surveillance, which has simply not proven itself to be effective, regardless of the debate about whether it is legal or ethical in the first place.

Map of 10 recent attacks carried out in Western countries by Islamic extremists: . . .

Continue reading.

It should also be kept in mind that the US was a great supporter of radical jihadists, giving them arms, money, and training. This was at the time Russia invaded Afghanistan, and the CIA and Rep. Charlie Wilson (see Charlie Wilson’s War) were eager to support radical jihadists and help them perfect their techniques.

And then the US invaded Iraq, based on deliberate lies manufactured within the Bush administration, and put radical jihadists from all over into the same concentration camps and prisons, allowing them to exchange information, forge alliances, and in general build terrorist networks for the future.

The US often does not always think through the likely long-term effects of its actions (such as when the US overthrew the democratically elected government of Iran to install a dictator—something the Iranians certainly have not forgotten), but it still acts surprised and offended by the effects of its own actions.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 November 2015 at 11:48 am

A good look at the free-speech issues at Yale and how they interact with racial equality

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David Cole writes in the NY Review of Books:

Capping weeks of student protest about racial inequality on campus, Yale President Peter Salovey announced Tuesday that the university would be making significant changes to address “longstanding inequities” and make the campus more inclusive. The announcement marks a significant victory for the students, and for racial justice. But it is also a lesson in the power of free speech, and in the dangers of seeking its curtailment in the name of equality.

The Yale protests came to national attention when a short video of one particular confrontation went viral. In it a black female Yale student curses Professor Nicholas Christakis, a white residential college master, as he converses with a circle of students on racial tensions on campus. In the conversation, students speak of the need for “safe spaces” and demand an on-the-spot apology from the master for an email his wife, who is associate master, sent to students of their college, arguing for tolerance toward students who choose to wear “provocative” Halloween costumes. When the master says that “other people have rights, too,” the student responds, “Why the fuck did you accept the position? Who the fuck hired you? You should step down.” Moments later, she concludes, “you should not sleep at night… you are disgusting,” and walks away. Her words are unsuited to civil discourse, to say the least. But the overall impression is not so much that she is rude as that she is suffering. (So, too, I would add, is the master.)

Critics seizes on the one-minute-twenty-second video, condemning the students for their intolerance and unreasonable demands. But because it captures only a single inflammatory exchange, the video has distorted perceptions about the controversy—at Yale and elsewhere. For some time, Yale students of color have maintained that the school does not sufficiently welcome them. As of the fall of 2013, only 2.9 percent of Yale faculty were Latino and only 3.5 percent were black. Students of color are more likely than white students to be stopped by campus police, mistaken for service staff, and stereotyped and slighted by students and faculty alike. Nor are the Yale students alone in airing these grievances. Students at Harvard, the University of Missouri, and countless other campuses have voiced similar concerns. Racial bias, these students remind us, is not limited to police encounters in high-crime, inner-city neighborhoods, but permeates American life, including in the hallowed halls of our nation’s best universities.

The fact that so many of the recent controversies have arisen on college campuses is no accident. Because universities can select their student bodies and are committed to diversity, they are some of the most integrated sites in an otherwise remarkably segregated nation. Despite the myth of the “melting pot,” most of us live, work, worship, and socialize in segregated circles. But because it can select its participants, the academy can be an experiment in integration, where students from a remarkable range of backgrounds and experiences study and live together. Elite institutions are not as integrated as they should be, of course, and remain disproportionately the preserve of the privileged. But universities generally are a place for racial and ethnic mixing; Yale’s student body, for example, is 42 percent of minority descent. Integration is not without friction, however, and students of color have for too long borne the brunt of the friction on college campuses, as in the rest of their lives.

The immediate cause of the conversation in the video was an email Erika Christakis sent on October 30 to the students of Silliman College, where she is associate master, questioning whether an earlier official Yale email urging students to avoid offensive Halloween costumes was too heavy-handed. The initial administration email, itself prompted by an incident several years earlier in which some students had gone out in blackface, was not, in fact, especially heavy-handed. The administration email acknowledged that students “definitely have a right to express themselves,” and merely expressed “hope that people would actively avoid those circumstances that threaten our sense of community or disrespects, alienates or ridicules segments of our population based on race, nationality, religious belief or gender expression.” Ms. Christakis’s email, prompted by students who had themselves objected to the administration’s message, espouses the values of free expression and expresses concern that colleges are becoming places of “censure and prohibition.” “Is there no room anymore for a child or young person to be a little bit obnoxious… a little bit inappropriate or provocative or, yes, offensive?” she asks.

As an online letter from students to Ms. Christakis explains, many viewed her letter, in context, as a tone-deaf invitation to wear racist costumes. And in a list of demands to the university, students asked that the Christakises be dismissed from their positions as master and associate master of Silliman College.

In part because of the video, the Yale controversy has been portrayed as pitting free speech against racial equality. But that diagnosis very much misses the broader picture. Most of what has transpired at Yale and other colleges reflects the best traditions of the First Amendment: students of color and others have been organizing politically and speaking out in packed rallies. They are using the First Amendment to stand up, communicate their experiences, and demand equal justice. That’s exactly how the First Amendment should work.

And what they are fighting for is critically important, indeed necessary: an inclusive community that treats them as equals. The students have focused in particular on faculty hiring. A school with so few black and Latino faculty sends a powerful even if unintended message to its students of color; they may be good enough to attend, but not to teach here. It also denies minority students the opportunities for mentorship that their white fellow students take for granted. (Of course, faculty can and do mentor across races, but anyone who has spent time in a school of any type knows the critical importance of students of color having teachers that share their experiences in our still-racially-divided world.) According to a poster on campus, Yale’s African-American faculty has grown by 1 percent each century since its founding (reaching just above 3 percent today). Twenty-five years ago, Yale Law School had three black faculty members; today, it has two. In over two hundred years, the law school has hired only one black female professor and one Latino male professor.

The students also seek more resources for the school’s four cultural centers (Afro-American, La Casa, Native American, and Asian American). These centers offer a haven for students who feel disrespected, misunderstood, or harmed as they navigate life at an institution built on white privilege. They can be a site for the kind of collective action that is apparently necessary to push the administration to address minority students’ problems. And their very existence says to the community at large that the school values the experiences of all who attend the school, not just of those who fit comfortably into Yale’s historical pedigree.

To a degree, the students’ protests are being heard. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 November 2015 at 11:10 am

Posted in Daily life, Education

The Center for Public Integrity gives Oklahoma an “F” and here’s one reason why

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From a report by Radley Balko in the Washington Post:

. . . There has also been some talk of reform in Oklahoma, where a state senator has introduced a bill similar to the new law in New Mexico. That legislation inspired this amusingly deluded response from Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler.

“What we’re talking about is inviting some of the most violent people on the history of this planet,” he said on the Pat Campbell Show on KFAQ. “You see what goes on in Mexico, you see people’s bodies decapitated and hung from bridges. And if you want to bring that drug cartel ideology to Oklahoma, do exactly what Senator [Kyle] Loveless’ bill is suggesting,”

Eric Dalgleish, a major in the Tulsa Police Department, also got in on the act.

“What it will do is enhance the drug trafficking organizations — that’s who’s supporting his bill is the drug trafficking organizations,” he said. “They are politically savvy. They are political activists. If you think they’re not watching this and deciding what state to set up business in, we’re being naive and we’re being ignorant.”

I don’t think Dalgleish and Kunzweiler fully understand how illegal cartels operate. It’s the “illegal” part that allows them to exist, allows them to get rich, and creates the violence they seem so certain is soon to be visited upon the Sooner state. If they really want to keep cartels out of Oklahoma, they should look at easing up on the drug war, not fighting efforts to mitigate some of its more unjust and harmful consequences.

Oklahoma, incidentally, has some of the worst forfeiture laws in the country. One prosecutor there was caught using forfeiture funds to pay off his student loans. Another used the law to live rent-free in a seized house, despite a judge’s order to sell it. He also used forfeiture funds to pay his utility bills. No wonder they’re so protective of the policy. A report by Oklahoma Watch this year found several counties where forfeiture property wasn’t inventoried, or otherwise was missing or unaccounted for. In 2013, a federal judge ordered yet another Oklahoma prosecutor to terminate the contract with a private company he had hired to illegally make traffic stops in search of possible money and property to seize. The company got a percentage of whatever they were able to successfully seize.

Finally, economist Martin Armstrong puts the extraordinary surge in the use of forfeiture into perspective:

Between 1989 and 2010, U.S. attorneys seized an estimated $12.6 billion in asset forfeiture cases. The growth rate during that time averaged +19.4% annually. In 2010 alone, the value of assets seized grew by +52.8% from 2009 and was six times greater than the total for 1989. Then by 2014, that number had ballooned to roughly $4.5 billion for the year, making this 35% of the entire number of assets collected from 1989 to 2010 in a single year. According to the FBI, the total amount of goods stolen by criminals in 2014 burglary offenses suffered an estimated $3.9 billion in property losses. This means that the police are now taking more assets than the criminals. . .

Continue reading.

The Center for Public Integrity gave 11 states the grade of F for their integrity, and Oklahoma was one.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 November 2015 at 10:40 am

Posted in Law Enforcement

The US loves its armed forces, but not enough to bother protecting them

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Damien Spleeters reports in Motherboard:

The Fourth of July 2010 was blood and pain for Sean McMahon.

On Independence Day, five years ago, US Army Specialist McMahon was appointed to test a new M2 .50 caliber machine gun recently delivered to his unit a couple hundred yards outside Forward Operating Base Kunduz, Afghanistan, at the firing range. After McMahon fired his original weapon, his staff sergeant had him swap it out for the new one.

As McMahon pressed the trigger, the turret-mounted weapon wouldn’t fire. He removed the ammunition and inspected the gun, preparing it once more for firing. He squeezed the trigger. Again, nothing. Switching from full-automatic to semi-automatic mode, McMahon fired one last time. That’s when the weapon exploded. Shell casing tore through his right leg.

“I looked down and it was just my knee and just a pool of blood,” McMahon remembers. “And the first thing that came to my mind was, ‘Holy crap, I blew my leg off.’”

McMahon was rushed to a nearby hospital before returning to the US for additional treatment. After the incident, McMahon told me his unit refused to use the new M2 machine guns sent over by the Pentagon. His injuries didn’t heal properly, and soon blood clots formed in his veins. He would not be able to run or jump anymore. Diagnosed with traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder, McMahon retired from the Army in March 2012.

The M2 machine gun is the embodiment of simplicity in a killing machine. Nicknamed the “Ma Deuce,” the M2 is fed with a belt of .50 Browning Machine Gun (BMG) rounds, and has been in use in the US military since the 1930s.

Assuming you have a round in the chamber, and a gunner to press the trigger, the M2’s operation is fairly simple. The chain reaction is initiated when the firing pin strikes the primer, causing an explosion in the casing, and pushing the projectile out of the barrel. The recoil caused by the explosion pushes the bolt backwards, extracting the spent cartridge and feeding a fresh one into the chamber.

The bolt is the pumping heart of the gun. If it’s damaged, or improperly manufactured, there might be too much room left for a cartridge to be chambered correctly in the weapon, which can result in a rupture of the case, damaging the gun and possibly injuring the operator. That’s potentially what happened to McMahon, who is among a growing chorus of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans who say these sorts of malfunctions, stemming from defective critical parts like bolts, pose a deadly danger.

While US Marines and soldiers like McMahon were fighting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Pentagon shipped defective gun parts over to them, according to previously unrevealed records obtained by Motherboard. I’ve reviewed thousands of pages of Department of Defense audits, studies, quality deficiency reports, contracts and correspondence, and court records, and have interviewed dozens of current and former military officials and manufacturers’ employees, quality control inspectors, weapons experts, and veterans about the scope of the problem. My research found that tens of thousands of defective machine gun and other firearms parts, including bolts, backplates, firing and extractor pins, and sights have turned up in the field in the last decade, putting soldiers and Marines in harm’s way.

Read more: The Pentagon’s exploding guns, by the numbers

Moreover, the government failed to test the quality of the critical gun parts it bought and, as issues were being reported from the battlefront, took months to find out where most of the defective parts had ended up. Yet the Pentagon awarded new contracts to the same contractors, waiving new quality tests along the way. Recordsalso show US military contractors made mistakes manufacturing critical weapon partsafter the government waived quality tests, and often took months to fix the problems.

The problematic parts affect particularly two of the most important machine gun systems currently in use in the US military: the M249 light machine gun and the M2 heavy machine gun, the model that blew up on McMahon. . .

Continue reading.

Read the entire thing. It’s a lengthy article and shows a significant decline in the quality of our military procedures and systems (and weapons). Another example, later in the article:

. . .  In 2012, the US military warned that “a small number of bad M249 machine gun firing pins” had gotten into the field. The firing pin is designed to strike the primer of a chambered cartridge, igniting its propellant to shoot the projectile. A firearm with a deficient firing pin might not fire or misfire.

“The bad pins may not protrude completely through the bolt or may protrude too far, causing probable misfires,” reads an article in the October 2012 issue of PS. The deficient parts were made “on or before December 2011.”

In other words, the military has known for years that defective gun parts were shipped to troops. But in at least one instance, the government knew the parts were defective before shipping them to troops who needed them.

In March 2007, Northside Machine Co., a small business headquartered in Dugger, Indiana, was awarded a contract to make about 500 backplates for the M2 machine gun.

The backplate assembly is a critical part of the gun, as it contains the trigger mechanism. Such a part is defined by the government as “essential to the preservation of life in emergencies or essential to end-item or system performance, the failure of which would adversely affect the accomplishment of a military operation.”

Former Marine Corporal Kevin Holland puts it in less bureaucratic language about the M2: “Having your big gun down in a firefight, honestly it’s going to be a big ‘Oh fuck’ moment.”

“There’s not a whole lot you can do about it,” adds Holland, who is now a weapons repairer sometimes working for the government and who’s been to Afghanistan and Iraq as a small arms repairer. “All the way round it’s a bad situation to be in.” . . .

Later:

According to the people in charge, the part would not fit the weapon. Whether soldiers would try to make it fit and try to fire the weapon with it was unknown. The important point here is that a DCMA commander thought somebody might be hurt or killed, and still the parts were shipped.

See also: The Military Records That Expose the Pentagon’s Gun Problem

See also an infographic (below the fold) from Motherboard, and also note this Motherboard article on the Defense Logistics Agency, which provided the faulty guns to our troops. (The agency gets very little oversight, as the article notes.)

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by LeisureGuy

18 November 2015 at 10:07 am

Posted in Daily life

Mass Surveillance Isn’t the Answer to Fighting Terrorism

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The NY Times Editorial Board writes:

It’s a wretched yet predictable ritual after each new terrorist attack: Certain politicians and government officials waste no time exploiting the tragedy for their own ends. The remarks on Monday by John Brennan, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, took that to a new and disgraceful low.

Speaking less than three days after coordinated terrorist attacks in Paris killed 129 and injured hundreds more, Mr. Brennan complained about “a lot of hand-wringing over the government’s role in the effort to try to uncover these terrorists.”

What he calls “hand-wringing” was the sustained national outrage following the 2013 revelations by Edward Snowden, a former National Security Agency contractor, that the agency was using provisions of the Patriot Act to secretly collect information on millions of Americans’ phone records. In June, President Obama signed the USA Freedom Act, which ends bulk collection of domestic phone data by the government (but not the collection of other data, like emails and the content of Americans’ international phone calls) and requires the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to make its most significant rulings available to the public.

These reforms are only a modest improvement on the Patriot Act, but the intelligence community saw them as a grave impediment to antiterror efforts. In his comments Monday, Mr. Brennan called the attacks in Paris a “wake-up call,” and claimed that recent “policy and legal” actions “make our ability collectively, internationally, to find these terrorists much more challenging.”

It is hard to believe anything Mr. Brennan says. Last year, he bluntly denied that the C.I.A. had illegally hacked into the computers of Senate staff members conducting an investigation into the agency’s detention and torture programs when, in fact, it did. In 2011, when he was President Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser, he claimed that American drone strikes had not killed any civilians, despite clear evidence that they had. And his boss, James Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence, has admitted lying to the Senate on the N.S.A.’s bulk collection of data. Even putting this lack of credibility aside, it’s not clear what extra powers Mr. Brennan is seeking. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 November 2015 at 9:43 am

Nature’s Critical Warning System: Signs of a tipping point

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Natalie Wolchover reports in Quanta:

Nestled in the northern Wisconsin woods, Peter Lake once brimmed with golden shiners, fatheads and other minnows, which plucked algae-eating fleas from the murky water. Then, seven years ago, a crew of ecologists began stepping up the lake’s population of predatory largemouth bass. To the 39 bass already present, they added 12, then 15 more a year later, and another 15 a month after that. The bass hunted down the minnows and drove survivors to the rocky shoreline, which gave fleas free rein to multiply and pick the water clean. Meanwhile, bass hatchlings — formerly gobbled up by the minnows — flourished, and in 2010, the bass population exploded to more than 1,000. The original algae-laced, minnow-dominated ecosystem was gone, and the reign of bass in clear water began.

[Here is a before (bottom) and after (top) photo – LG]

Lake before and after

Today, largemouth bass still swim rampant. “Once that top predator is dominant, it’s very hard to dislodge,” said Stephen Carpenter, an ecologist at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, who led the experiment. “You could do it, but it’s gonna cost you.”

The Peter Lake experiment demonstrated a well-known problem with complex systems: They are sensitive beasts. Just as when the Earth periodically plunges into an ice age, or when grasslands turn to desert, fisheries suddenly collapse, or a person slumps into a deep depression, systems can drift toward an invisible edge, where only a small change is needed to touch off a dramatic and often disastrous transformation. But systems that exhibit such “critical transitions” tend to be so complicated and riddled with feedback loops that experts cannot hope to calculate in advance where their tipping points lie — or how much additional tampering they can withstand before snapping irrevocably into a new state.

At Peter Lake, though, Carpenter and his team saw the critical transition coming. Rowing from trap to trap counting wriggling minnows and harvesting other data every day for three summers, the researchers captured the first field evidence of an early-warning signal that is theorized to arise in many complex systems as they drift toward their unknown points of no return.

The signal, a phenomenon called “critical slowing down,” is a lengthening of the time that a system takes to recover from small disturbances, such as a disease that reduces the minnow population, in the vicinity of a critical transition. It occurs because a system’s internal stabilizing forces — whatever they might be — become weaker near the point at which they suddenly propel the system toward a different state.

Since the Peter Lake study, interest in critical slowing down has spread across disciplines, bringing with it the hope of foreseeing and preventing a plethora of catastrophic failures. As theoreticians refine their understanding of the phenomenon, experimentalists are gathering further evidence of it in a mix of real-world systems.

“We have all these complex systems like the brain, the climate, ecosystems, the financial market, that are really difficult to understand, and we will probably never fully understand them,” said Marten Scheffer, a complex systems theorist at Wageningen University in the Netherlands. “So it’s really kind of a small miracle that across these very different systems, we could find these universal indicators of how close they are to a threshold.”

Experts stress that the study of critical slowing down is in its early stages, and not yet ready to serve as a call to action in the management of real systems. In some cases, responding to the signal might save an endangered species, a patient’s mental health, or an industry. But in other types of complex systems that have been studied mathematically — such as food webs that, unlike Peter Lake’s, are so chaotic that they do not exhibit critical transitions at all — the same signal might be a false alarm. Carpenter, who has returned to Peter Lake for a new experiment, says much more research is needed to sort out these different cases. In the meantime, he said, “don’t try this at home.”

One Fish Two Fish

An outdoorsman who enjoys fishing, hunting and training a flamethrower on nonnative plants around his cottage in southwestern Wisconsin, Carpenter “sees the big picture faster and better than most scientists,” said Michael Pace, an ecologist at the University of Virginia and a collaborator. Carpenter has worked on and off for 35 years at the experimental reserve where Peter Lake is located, making use of the relatively closed systems that lakes provide to test big ideas in complexity theory. Critical slowing down, as an idea, can be traced back at least as far as the 1950s, when physicists theorized that it would arise in certain properties of matter near a phase change. But as Carpenter tells it, the potential usefulness of critical slowing down went unrecognized until a boozy conversation in 2003 at a restaurant-bar in Tobago, where he and several colleagues had gathered for a conference. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 November 2015 at 8:53 am

Posted in Environment, Science

America’s history of overthrowing democratically elected governments

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In Salon Ben Norton has a good potted history of how the US doesn’t seem to hesitate to destroy democratically elected governments to install right-wing dictatorships, a history that has aroused hatred for the US in some, as we see.

The soi-disant Land of the Free and Home of the Brave has a long and iniquitous history of overthrowing democratically elected leftist governments and propping up right-wing dictators in their place.

U.S. politicians rarely acknowledge this odious past — let alone acknowledge that such policies continue well into the present day.

In the second Democratic presidential debate, however, candidate Bernie Sanders condemned a long-standing government policy his peers rarely admit exists.

“I think we have a disagreement,” Sanders said of fellow presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. “And the disagreement is that not only did I vote against the war in Iraq. If you look at history, you will find that regime change — whether it was in the early ’50s in Iran, whether it was toppling Salvador Allende in Chile, or whether it was overthrowing the government of Guatemala way back when — these invasions, these toppling of governments, regime changes have unintended consequences. I would say that on this issue I’m a little bit more conservative than the secretary.”

“I am not a great fan of regime changes,” Sanders added.

“Regime change” is not a phrase you hear discussed honestly much in Washington, yet it is a common practice in and defining feature of U.S. foreign policy for well over a century. For many decades, leaders from both sides of the aisle, Republicans and Democrats, have pursued a bipartisan strategy of violently overthrowing democratically elected foreign governments that do not kowtow to U.S. orders.

In the debate, Sanders addressed three examples of U.S. regime change. There are scores of examples of American regime change, yet these are perhaps the most infamous instances.

Iran, 1953

operation-ajax-tanksA tank in the streets of Tehran during the 1953 CIA-backed coup
(Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Public domain)

Iran was once a secular democracy. You would not know this from contemporary discussions of the much demonized country in U.S. politics and media.

What happen to Iran’s democracy? The U.S. overthrew it in 1953, with the help of the U.K. Why? For oil.

Mohammad Mosaddegh may be the most popular leader in Iran’s long history. He was also Iran’s only democratically elected head of state.

In 1951, Mosaddegh was elected prime minister of Iran. He was not a socialist, and certainly not a communist — on the contrary, he repressed Iranian communists — but he pursued many progressive, social democratic policies. Mosaddegh pushed for land reform, established rent control, and created a social security system, while working to separate powers in the democratic government.

In the Cold War, however, a leader who deviated in any way from free-market orthodoxy and the Washington Consensus was deemed a threat. When Mossaddegh nationalized Iran’s large oil reserves, he crossed a line that Western capitalist nations would not tolerate.

The New York Times ran an article in 1951 titled “British Warn Iran of Serious Result if She Seizes Oil.” The piece, which is full of orientalist language, refers to Iranian oil as “British oil properties,” failing to acknowledge that Britain, which had previously occupied Iran, had seized that oil and claimed it as its own, administering it under the auspices of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, which later became the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, and eventually British Petroleum and modern BP.

The Times article noted that the U.S. “shares with Britain the gravest concern about the possibility that Iranian oil, the biggest supply now available in the Near East, might be lost to the Western powers.” The British government is quoted making a thinly veiled threat.

This threat came into fruition in August 1953. In Operation Ajax, the CIA, working with its British equivalent MI6, carried out a coup, overthrowing the elected government of Iran and reinstalling the monarchy. The shah would remain a faithful Western ally until 1979, when the monarchy was abolished in the Iranian Revolution.

Guatemala, 1954

cia-castillo-armas-revolt-620A CIA cable documenting Guatemalan dictator Castillo Armas’ plan to overthrow the elected government (Credit: CIA FOIA)

Less than a year after overthrowing Iran’s first democratically elected prime minister, the U.S. pursued a similar regime change policy in Guatemala, toppling the elected leader Jacobo Árbenz.

In 1944, Guatemalans waged a revolution, toppling the U.S.-backed right-wing dictator Jorge Ubico, who had ruled the country with an iron fist since 1931. Ubico, who fancied himself the 20th-century Napoleon, gave rich landowners and the U.S. corporation the United Fruit Company (which would later become Chiquita) free reign over Guatemala’s natural resources, and used the military to violently crush labor organizers.

Juan José Arévalo was elected into office in 1944. A liberal, he pursued very moderate policies, but the U.S. wanted a right-wing puppet regime that would allow U.S. corporations the same privileges granted to them by Ubico. In 1949, the U.S. backed an attempted coup, yet it failed.

In 1951, Árbenz was elected into office. Slightly to the left of Arévalo, Árbenz was still decidedly moderate. The U.S. claimed Árbenz was close to Guatemala’s communists, and warned he could ally with the Soviet Union. In reality, the opposite was true; Árbenz actually persecuted Guatemalan communists. At most, Árbenz was a social democrat, not even a socialist.

Yet Árbenz, like Mosaddegh, firmly believed that Guatemalans themselves, and not multinational corporations, should benefit from their country’s resources. He pursued land reform policies that would break up the control rich families and the United Fruit Company exercised over the country — and, for that reason, he was overthrown.

President Truman originally authorized a first coup attempt, Operation PBFORTUNE, in 1952. Yet details about the operation were leaked to the public, and the plan was abandoned. In 1954, in Operation PBSUCCESS, the CIA and U.S. State Department, under the Dulles Brothers, bombed Guatemala City and carried out a coup that violently toppled Guatemala’s democratic government.

The U.S. put into power right-wing tyrant Carlos Castillo Armas. For the next more than 50 years, until the end of the Guatemalan Civil War in 1996, Guatemala was ruled by a serious of authoritarian right-wing leaders who brutally repressed left-wing dissidents and carried out a campaign of genocide against the indigenous people of the country.

Chile, 1973

. . .

Continue reading.

He includes Egypt, in 2013, and concludes:

There are scores of other examples of U.S.-led regime change.

  • In 1964 the U.S. backed a coup in Brazil, toppling left-wing President João Goulart.
  • In 1976, the U.S. supported a military coup in Argentina that replaced President Isabel Perón with General Jorge Rafael Videla. [This led to the torture and “disappearances” of many Argentinians, a plot driver in the wonderful movie El secreto de sus ojos, available on Amazon.com as The Secret in Their Eyes, well worth watching. – LG]
  • In 2002, the U.S. backed a coup that overthrew democratically elected Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. Chávez was so popular, however, that Venezuelans filled the street and demanded him back.
  • In 2004, the U.S. overthrew Haiti’s first democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
  • In 2009, U.S.-trained far-right forces overthrew the democratically elected government of Honduras, with tacit support from Washington.

The list goes on.

Latin America, given its proximity to the U.S. and the strength of left-wing movements in the region, tends to endure the largest number of U.S. regime changes, yet the Middle East and many parts of Africa have seen their democratic governments overthrown as well.

From 1898 to 1994, Harvard University historian John Coatsworthdocumented at least 41 U.S. interventions in Latin America — an an average of one every 28 months for an entire century.

Numerous Latin American military dictators were trained at the School of the Americas, a U.S. Department of Defense Institute in Fort Benning, Georgia. The School of the Americas Watch, an activist organization that pushes for the closing of the SOA, has documented many of these regime changes, which have been carried out by both Republicans and Democrats.

Diplomatic cables released by whistleblowing journalism outlet WikiLeaks show the U.S. still maintains a systematic campaign of trying to overthrow Latin America’s left-wing governments.

By not just acknowledging the bloody and ignominious history of U.S. regime change, but also condemning it, Sen. Sanders was intrepidly trekking into controversial political territory into which few of his peers would dare to tread. Others would do well to learn from Bernie’s example.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 November 2015 at 8:43 am

OneBlade, Wolf Whiskers, and Otoko Organics

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SOTD 18 Nov 2015

A much better shave with the OneBlade today. But first, of course, I lathered: my Wolf Whiskers brush with a Plisson-style knot (purchased from The Handlebar Supply) made a really fine lather from the rim of Otoko Organics soap that seeks refuge where the tub wall meets the mostly bare bottom: ample, good lather. Otoko is good stuff.

This time I had no problem finding the right angle, and I could feel/hear the cutting on every stroke. I did not change the blades, though the manufacturer suggests a daily blade change. (Blades are roughly $1 each: $365/year.) I will shave again with the current blade and then change the blade. If you do change the blade each shave, the razor accommodates that extremely well with its simple loading/unloading: holding the blade at the spine, you can easily slide it in or out of the razor.

I noted in this shave that the handle really is very nice: easy to hold securely, accommodates easily your grip in various razor positions (e.g., upside down for the ATG pass). Altogether I felt more comfortable with the razor in this shave.

I did notice it was somewhat difficult to shave cleanly right under the nose. Normally the XTG pass cleans up this area quite well, but the OneBlade head differs from the DE head and did not seem to allow me quite so much control. But just as the angle was easier to find today, the under-nose issue may be solved tomorrow.

Again not so BBS as I have gotten with other razors, but also not a bad shave at all. A good splash of Anthony Gold’s Red Cedar aftershave—which I like a lot—and the middle of the week gets going.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 November 2015 at 8:25 am

Posted in Shaving

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