Later On

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

Archive for December 3rd, 2016

No one can stop President Trump from using nuclear weapons. That’s by design.

with 2 comments

That’s is a chilling thought. Donald Trump is impulsive and vindictive, you will recall. Alex Wellerstein, a historian of nuclear weapons at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, N.J., has an interesting (even frightening) column in the Washington Post. Wellerstein also runs the website Restricted Data: The Nuclear Secrecy Blog.

Sometime in the next few weeks, Donald Trump will be briefed on the procedures for how to activate the U.S. nuclear arsenal, if he hasn’t already learned about them.

All year, the prospect of giving the real estate and reality TV mogul the power to launch attacks that would kill millions of people was one of the main reasons his opponents argued against electing him. “A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons,” Hillary Clinton said in her speechaccepting the Democratic presidential nomination. She cut an ad along the same lines. Republicans who didn’t support Trump — and even some who did, such as Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) — also said they didn’t think he could be trusted with the launch codes.

Now they’re his. When Trump takes office in January, he will have sole authority over more than 7,000 warheads. There is no failsafe. The whole point of U.S. nuclear weapons control is to make sure that the president — and only the president — can use them if and whenever he decides to do so. The one sure way to keep President Trump from launching a nuclear attack, under the system we’ve had in place since the early Cold War, would have been to elect someone else.

* * *

When the legal framework for nuclear weapons was developed, the fear wasn’t about irrational presidents but trigger-happy generals. The Atomic Energy Act of 1946, which was passed with President Harry Truman’s signature after nine months of acrimonious congressional hearings, firmly put the power of the atomic bomb in the hands of the president and the civilian components of the executive branch. It was a momentous and controversial law, crafted in the months following the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, with an eye toward future standoffs with the Soviet Union.

The members of Congress who wrote the law, largely with the backing of the scientists who worked on the Manhattan Project, framed it explicitly as a question of who controls the power to use nuclear weapons: Is dropping an atomic bomb a military act or a political one? If it is inherently political, above and beyond a regular military tactic, then that power could not be entrusted to the military. Ultimately, the president was supposed to be the check against the Pentagon pushing to use nukes more often.

The scientists’ fears were based in their experiences in World War II. Their work under the Army Corps of Engineers and the Army Air Forces left them with a sour taste: Generals, they concluded, cared little about ethics, democracy or international politics. Even during the war, some civilians involved with atomic-bombing work feared that the military had become too eager to leave German and Japanese cities in cinders. The secretary of war, Henry Stimson, learned about the ruinous firebombing of Tokyo from the press. He warned Truman that letting the military run the show might cause the United States to “get the reputation of outdoing Hitler in atrocities.”

This division between military and civilian control over nuclear weapons has been weaker or stronger at various points. In the late 1940s, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 December 2016 at 9:25 pm

Citigroup Whistleblower Charges Should Raise Red Flags at the Fed

leave a comment »

Pam Martens and Russ Martens report in Wall Street on Parade:

Two days ago, a former Citigroup employee, Erin Daly, filed a 27-page lawsuit in Federal Court in Manhattan alleging gender discrimination and unlawful termination. On the same day, November 28, Daly simultaneously filed a complaint with the Department of Labor alleging she was retaliated against by Citigroup after she reported “violations of insider trading laws” to lawyers at the bank. It is illegal for U.S. banks to retaliate against whistleblowers.

According to the Federal lawsuit, less than two weeks after Daly reported the insider trading law violations to internal lawyers, she was terminated from the bank.

These are extremely serious charges against a mega Wall Street bank that would have gone belly up in 2008 had it not received $45 billion in equity infusions from the taxpayer, over $300 billion in asset guarantees from the government and more than $2.5 trillion in secret, cumulative loans from the Federal Reserve at below-market interest rates from 2007 to 2010.

These are also extremely serious charges because Citigroup became an admitted felonon May 20, 2015 over its role in the rigging of foreign currency trading. A behemoth Wall Street bank holding hundreds of billions of dollars in insured deposits backstopped by the taxpayer while simultaneously being a charged felon is not an admirable banking business model. Citigroup’s history of being serially charged with brazen violations of law by its regulators should have already resulted, in a rational world of finance, in its forced breakup a long time ago. (See highlights of charges below.)

The Federal Reserve, which oversees bank holding companies, has said it is looking at risk controls as well as the culture at the largest Wall Street banks. It should take a serious interest in the allegations being made by Daly. Her description in the Federal lawsuit of how hot Initial Public Offerings (IPOs) are handled at the bank as well as . . .

Continue reading.

The article includes this:

A Sampling of Settled Charges Against Citigroup Since 2008:

December 11, 2008: SEC forces Citigroup and UBS to buy back $30 billion in auction rate securities that were improperly sold to investors through misleading information.

February 11, 2009: Citigroup agrees to settle lawsuit brought by WorldCom investors for $2.65 billion.

July 29, 2010: SEC settles with Citigroup for $75 million over its misleading statements to investors that it had reduced its exposure to subprime mortgages to $13 billion when in fact the exposure was over $50 billion.

October 19, 2011: SEC agrees to settle with Citigroup for $285 million over claims it misled investors in a $1 billion financial product.  Citigroup had selected approximately half the assets and was betting they would decline in value.

February 9, 2012: Citigroup agrees to pay $2.2 billion as its portion of the nationwide settlement of bank foreclosure fraud.

August 29, 2012: Citigroup agrees to settle a class action lawsuit for $590 million over claims it withheld from shareholders’ knowledge that it had far greater exposure to subprime debt than it was reporting.

July 1, 2013: Citigroup agrees to pay Fannie Mae $968 million for selling it toxic mortgage loans.

September 25, 2013: Citigroup agrees to pay Freddie Mac $395 million to settle claims it sold it toxic mortgages.

December 4, 2013: Citigroup admits to participating in the Yen Libor financial derivatives cartel to the European Commission and accepts a fine of $95 million.

July 14, 2014: The U.S. Department of Justice announces a $7 billion settlement with Citigroup for selling toxic mortgages to investors. Attorney General Eric Holder called the bank’s conduct “egregious,” adding, “As a result of their assurances that toxic financial products were sound, Citigroup was able to expand its market share and increase profits.”

November 2014: Citigroup pays more than $1 billion to settle civil allegations with regulators that it manipulated foreign currency markets. Other global banks settled at the same time.

May 20, 2015: Citicorp, a unit of Citigroup becomes an admitted felon by pleading guilty to a felony charge in the matter of rigging foreign currency trading, paying a fine of $925 million to the Justice Department and $342 million to the Federal Reserve for a total of $1.267 billion.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 December 2016 at 6:51 pm

Evan Osnos: “Is Trump treating national security intelligence the same way as GWBush? Something he can ignore?

leave a comment »

Evan Osnos has an excellent New Yorker column on the Taiwan debacle. It concludes:

. . . Trump has also shown himself to be highly exploitable on subjects that he does not grasp. He is surrounding himself with ideologically committed advisers who will seek to use those opportunities when they can. We should expect similar moments of exploitation to come on issues that Trump will regard as esoteric, such as the Middle East, health care, immigration, and entitlements.
For a piece I published in September, about what Trump’s first term could look like, I spoke to a former Republican White House official whom Trump has consulted, who told me, “Honestly, the problem with Donald is he doesn’t know what he doesn’t know.” It turns out that is half of the problem; the other half is that he has surrounded himself with people who know how much he doesn’t know. Since Election Day, Trump has largely avoided receiving intelligence briefings, either because he doesn’t think it’s important that he receive them or because he just doesn’t care about them. George W. Bush, in the first months of 2001, ignored warnings about Osama bin Laden. Only in our darkest imaginings can we wonder what warnings Trump is ignoring now.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 December 2016 at 6:08 pm

Most businesses do not understand the stakes: Of 9 Tech Companies, Only Twitter Says It Would Refuse To Help Build Muslim Registry For Trump

leave a comment »

Sam Biddle reports for The Intercept:

Every American corporation, from the largest conglomerate to the smallest firm, should ask itself right now: Will we do business with the Trump administration to further its most extreme, draconian goals? Or will we resist?

This question is perhaps most important for the country’s tech companies, which are particularly valuable partners for a budding authoritarian. The Intercept contacted nine of the most prominent such firms, from Facebook to Booz Allen Hamilton, to ask if they would sell their services to help create a national Muslim registry, an idea recently resurfaced by Donald Trump’s transition team. Only Twitter said no.

Shortly after the election, IBM CEO Ginni Rometty wrote a personal letter to President-elect Trump in which she offered her congratulations, and more importantly, the services of her company. The six different areas she identified as potential business opportunities between a Trump White House and IBM were all inoffensive and more or less mundane, but showed a disturbing willingness to sell technology to a man with open interest in the ways in which technology can be abused: Mosque surveillance, a “virtual wall” with Mexico, shutting down portions of the internet on command, and so forth. Trump’s anti-civil liberty agenda, half-baked and vague as it is, would largely be an engineering project, one that would almost certainly rely on some help from the private sector. It may be asking too much to demand that companies that have long contracted with the federal government stop doing so altogether; indeed, this would probably cause as much harm and disruption to good public projects as it would help stop the sinister ones.

But the proposed “Muslim registry,” whether it be a computerized list of people from two dozen predominately Muslim nations who enter the country (as revealed in Kris Kobach’s fatuously exposed Homeland Security agenda) or a list of all Muslims in the U.S., is both morally appalling and effectively pointless. In November 2015, asked by a reporter if the country should create “a database or system that tracks Muslims in this country,” Trump replied, “There should be a lot of systems … beyond databases. I mean, we should have a lot of systems.” The New York Times reported that Trump added he “would certainly implement that — absolutely.” At a rally later that week, he told the crowd, “So the database — I said yeah, that’s all right, fine.” The next day, George Stephanopoulos asked Trump, “Are you unequivocally now ruling out a database on all Muslims?” Trump replied, “No, not at all.” Although Trump attempted to walk back these comments during the campaign, a registry of some form is now back on the table, at least as far as Kobach is concerned.

Even on a purely hypothetical basis, such a project would provide American technology companies an easy line to draw in the sand — pushing back against any effort to track individuals purely (or essentially) on the basis of their religious beliefs doesn’t take much in the way of courage or conviction, even by the thin standards of corporate America. We’d also be remiss in assuming no company would ever tie itself to such a nakedly evil undertaking: IBM famously helped Nazi Germany computerize the Holocaust. (IBM has downplayed its logistical role in the Holocaust, claiming in a 2001 statement that “most [relevant] documents were destroyed or lost during the war.”)

With all this in mind, we contacted nine different American firms in the business of technology, broadly defined, with the following question: . . .

Continue reading.

The way companies march to the drumbeat of an authoritarian government is well documented. Today I read this post on Facebook:

When I was in 7th grade, our teacher put on a video and told us to take notes. Ten minutes in, she threw the lights on and shouted at Steven Webb Sladki, telling him he wasn’t taking notes and he should have been. But the thing was, Steve was taking notes. I saw it. We all saw it. The teacher asked if anyone wanted to stand up for Steve. A few of us choked out some words of defense but were immediately squashed. Quickly, we were all very silent. Steve was sent to the principal’s office. The teacher came back in the room and said something like “See how easy that was?” We were reading “Anne Frank.” I started to understand. I just thought now was a good time to share this story. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that what you see with your own eyes isn’t happening.

The same thing virtually all corporations are doing: collaborating in the compromise of our Constitutional values.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 December 2016 at 5:38 pm

Trump’s Taiwan Call Was No Accident

leave a comment »

Written by LeisureGuy

3 December 2016 at 4:28 pm

Pleasant afternoon: Simple pleasures, greatly enjoyed

leave a comment »

The Wife and I had lunch at a new Indian restaurant in Carmel, then I stopped by BevMo to see out some good vermouth, seduced by this article in Craftsmanship magazine. I’m enjoying a drink by Julia Childs that is mentioned in the article: a reverse Martini (5-1, but the 5 is a good vermouth, the 1 is the gin). And on the stove I’m cooking this classic chicken soup recipe by Julia Moskin (who is very reliable). I’m following the recipe except that I added two star anise and the juice of two lemons to the soup water. I’m using the 7-qt pot, but probably an 8-qt would be better. So it goes.

UPDATE: Soup was excellent. The chickens Moskin get are considerably fatter than the one I used. I doubt there was so much as a teaspoon of chicken fat o the surface of the stock (after refrigerating overnight), much less 3 tablespoons. So I substituted avocado oil: tasteless, very high smoke point (above 500ºF), and the same omega-3 ratio as olive oil (peanut oil has no omega-3 at all). Avocado oil is a monounsatured oil, like olive oil.

At any rate, with that change, I continued to follow the recipe, and the soup is extremely tasty. /update

And I’ve done the cutting and chopping to make stir-fried tofu and peppers for dinner tonight, another excellent recipe from Martha Rose Shulman. However, my store carries 1-lb blocks of tofu, so from now on I’m making a double recipe to use the whole block of tofu. Last time I made it, I sprinkled white sesame seeds over it, and that seemed to go well.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 December 2016 at 3:39 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food, Recipes

Another indicator of the direction the wind now blows: Trial balloons for a crackdown on independent journalism

leave a comment »

Pam Martens and Russ Martens report in Wall Street on Parade:

Craig Timberg, a Washington Post reporter with an interesting history (which we’ll get to shortly), doubled down last night with a new article suggesting that Congressional legislation may be coming to further crack down on independent journalists not properly adhering to the dogma of Washington. Timberg has become the deserving piñata of writers like Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone, Ben Norton and Glenn Greenwald of The Intercept, Max Blumenthal of AlterNet, Robert Parry at Common Dreams and numerous other writers at alternative media.

Timberg and the Washington Post, which is owned by the billionaire CEO of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, are being stridently called out as McCarthyites for an article published on Thanksgiving Day that cited unnamed “experts” at a shadowy group called PropOrNot to smear 200 alternative media sites as tools of Russia. The blacklist included some of the most informed and courageous voices on the Internet like Naked Capitalism, Truthout, CounterPunch, and Truthdig, where the brilliant Chris Hedges, part of a New York Times team that won the Pulitzer Prize in 2002, regularly asks the uncomfortable questions — like this one: “When we look back on this sad, pathetic period in American history we will ask the questions all who have slid into despotism ask. Why were we asleep? How did we allow this to happen? Why didn’t we see it coming? Why didn’t we resist?”

Theories abound as to why Timberg would write such a shoddily sourced article and smear some of the best writing and thinking on the Internet. One line of thought is that corporate media is struggling to survive financially and needs to take out its competition. Others see something far more nefarious. Max Blumenthal sums it up this way at AlterNet:

Fake news and Russian propaganda have become the great post-election moral panic, a creeping Sharia-style conspiracy theory for shell-shocked liberals. Hoping to punish the dark foreign forces they blame for rigging the election, many of these insiders have latched onto a McCarthyite campaign that calls for government investigations of a wide array of alternative media outlets.

The Black Agenda Report’s Executive Editor, Glen Ford, builds on Blumenthal’s theory, writing:

Had Clinton won the election, she would have begun a campaign of repression against the Left along the same national security lines as the Washington Postarticle, with that paper probably leading the propaganda charge.

The Obama administration and Post owner Bezos are quite tight, politically. Back in 2013, when Obama was still trying to reach a ‘grand bargain’ with the Republicans in Congress, he proposed lower corporate tax rates as a way to spur economic growth, and showcased the Amazon distribution center in Chattanooga, Tennessee, as a model — despite the deplorable working conditions, low pay (less than $12 an hour, to start) and heavy use of part-time and contract workers at the plant. His White House economist, Gene Sperling, told the press, ‘We should be looking for other avenues of progress, other grand bargains that can be for middle class job growth.’ Bezos closed the deal on the Washington Post the same year. His paper is clearly the go-to media for the Democrats’ brand of fascism, which is crazily cloaked as an anti-fascist crusade.

The Black Agenda Report was also listed on . . .

Continue reading.

Later in the article:

. . . Many of the articles trashing Timberg refer to him as a “technology reporter” for the Post because that’s currently the description under his articles. His background is far more complicated. For starters, his agent, Gillian MacKenzie, states on her web site that she “was a five year term member of The Council on Foreign Relations.” The Co-Chair of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) is Robert Rubin, the Treasury Secretary under Bill Clinton who played a major role in the deregulation of Wall Street and the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act which set in motion the historic financial collapse in 2008. CFR’s Corporate Program includes approximately 200 multi-national corporations.

Timberg’s official bio shows that his earlier tenure at the Washington Post included a stint as Bureau Chief in Johannesburg where he covered political crises in Zimbabwe, Ivory Coast and Nigeria. He later became Deputy Editor for National Security and finally moved to his current post as Technology Correspondent. But when we say “technology,” we’re not talking about laptops. In this 2013 C-Span video, Timberg talks about facial recognition technology being used by law enforcement for surveillance. In this 2014 C-Span video, Timberg interviews Google Executive Chairman, Eric Schmidt, on the revelations of the NSA’s mass surveillance program. The interview is conducted at the right-wing Cato Institute – a nonprofit that was secretly under the partial ownership of the Koch Brothers for decades.

Timberg’s father, the late Robert Timberg, had been . . .

And also this:

. . . When Wall Street On Parade broke the bombshell story from the WikiLeaks emails showing that an executive from the collapsing, corrupt and massively bailed out Wall Street mega bank, Citigroup, was making key hiring decisions for President Obama’s first term, we expected to see the story quickly move to the front page of the Washington Post. Instead, it has yet to see the light of day there. The same is true for the New York Times. Both the Post and Times editorial boards endorsed the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, for President. An article documenting with actual emails how Wall Street continued to control the reins of power in Washington, even during an epic economic crash it had created, was apparently censored by both papers. . .

Written by LeisureGuy

3 December 2016 at 11:22 am

%d bloggers like this: