Later On

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

Archive for December 16th, 2016

Now, America, You Know How Chileans Felt

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Live by the sword, die by the sword. It’s unfortunately quite true that the US has no moral standing to object to Russia’s interference in our democratic election. The CIA has violated democratic processes and overturned democratic elections in a number of countries, including Iran (one reason Iran so dislikes the US) and Chile, about which Ariel Dorfman writes in the NY Times:

It is familiar, the outrage and alarm that many Americans are feeling at reports that Russia, according to a secret intelligence assessment, interfered in the United States election to help Donald J. Trump become president.

I have been through this before, overwhelmed by a similar outrage and alarm.

To be specific: On the morning of Oct. 22, 1970, in what was then my home in Santiago de Chile, my wife, Angélica, and I listened to a news flash on the radio. Gen. René Schneider, the head of Chile’s armed forces, had been shot by a commando on a street of the capital. He was not expected to survive.

Angélica and I had the same automatic reaction: It’s the C.I.A., we said, almost in unison. We had no proof at the time — though evidence that we were right would eventually, and abundantly, surface — but we did not doubt that this was one more American attempt to subvert the will of the Chilean people.

Six weeks earlier, Salvador Allende, a democratic Socialist, had won the presidency in a free and fair election, in spite of the United States’ spending millions of dollars on psychological warfare and misinformation to prevent his victory (we’d call it “fake news” today). Allende had campaigned on a program of social and economic justice, and we knew that the government of President Richard M. Nixon, allied with Chile’s oligarchs, would do everything it could to stop Allende’s nonviolent revolution from gaining power.

The country was rife with rumors of a possible coup. It had happened in Guatemala and Iran, in Indonesia and Brazil, where leaders opposed to United States interests had been ousted; now it was Chile’s turn. That was why General Schneider was assassinated. Because, having sworn loyalty to the Constitution, he stubbornly stood in the way of those destabilization plans.

General Schneider’s death did not block Allende’s inauguration, but American intelligence services, at the behest of Henry A. Kissinger, continued to assail our sovereignty during the next three years, sabotaging our prosperity (“make the economy scream,” Nixon ordered) and fostering military unrest. Finally, on Sept. 11, 1973, Allende was overthrown and replaced by a vicious dictatorship that lasted nearly 17 years. Years of torture and executions and disappearances and exile.

Given all that pain, one might presume that some glee on my part would be justified at the sight of Americans squirming in indignation at the spectacle of their democracy subjected to foreign interference — as Chile’s democracy, among many others’, was by America. And yes, it is ironic that the C.I.A. — the very agency that gave not a whit for the independence of other nations — is now crying foul because its tactics have been imitated by a powerful international rival.

I can savor the irony, but I feel no glee. This is not only because, as an American citizen myself now, I am once again a victim of this sort of nefarious meddling. My dismay goes deeper than that personal sense of vulnerability. This is a collective disaster: Those who vote in the United States should not have to suffer what those of us who voted in Chile had to go through. Nothing warrants that citizens anywhere should have their destiny manipulated by forces outside the land they inhabit.

The seriousness of this violation of the people’s will must not be flippantly underestimated or disparaged.

When Mr. Trump denies, as do his acolytes, the claims by the intelligence community that the election was, in fact, rigged in his favor by a foreign power, he is bizarrely echoing the very responses that so many Chileans got in the early ’70s when we accused the C.I.A. of illegal interventions in our internal affairs. He is using now the same terms of scorn we heard back then: Those allegations, he says, are “ridiculous” and mere “conspiracy theory,” because it is “impossible to know” who was behind it.

In Chile, we did find out who was “behind it.” Thanks to the Church Committee and its valiant, bipartisan 1976 report, the world discovered the many crimes the C.I.A. had been committing, the multiple ways in which it had destroyed democracy elsewhere — in order, supposedly, to save the world from Communism. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 December 2016 at 9:31 pm

Posted in Government

Beethoven’s 7th, Movement 2, performed in a Cuban Rumba style, with all instruments created from the piano itself.

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Pretty cool.


And here’s a 3-year old playing Clementi sonatina Op. 36 No. 2:

Written by LeisureGuy

16 December 2016 at 6:54 pm

Posted in Music

Trump’s Pick for Commerce Secretary May Have the Biggest Conflicts of Them All

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Wilbur Ross has made a fortune in steel — and the Commerce Department will soon make decisions that will affect his firms. Derek Kravitz has a report in ProPublica:

Many of President-elect Donald Trump’s cabinet picks are titans of industry with significant potential business conflicts of interest.

But there is one in a class by himself: Commerce secretary choice Wilbur Ross.

Ross has made a fortune in the steel industry — an industry of which the Commerce Department has significant oversight. Indeed, government transition documents show that the Commerce Department is slated to make no fewer than five decisions about steel trade soon after the inauguration which will directly affect businesses that Ross has a stake in.

“It’s on a different order of magnitude and complexity than any other cabinet pick,” said Norman Eisen, the White House’s chief ethics lawyer in the Obama administration from 2009 to 2011. “Now it’s up to him to figure if he can do this job and, if so, how he can do it given his entanglements.”

Transition briefing documents, which ProPublica obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, show how closely the Commerce Department is focused on enforcing and monitoring global steel supplies and demand. They makes clear how the department’s decisions could greatly benefit ArcelorMittal, the world’s largest steel producer, where Ross retains a stake and has long sat on the board (he was re-elected to a three-year term in 2015).

Among the impending decisions are rulings on unfair pricing investigations of steel imports from Belgium, France, Germany and Italy. The rulings are due within the first 100 days of the new Trump administration. (See the Commerce Department presidential transition briefing documents here.)

Ross has other potential conflicts. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 December 2016 at 4:20 pm

The Children of Agent Orange

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Charles Ornstein and Hannah Fresques, ProPublica, and Mike Hixenbaugh for The Virginian-Pilot report on the long-term effects of what our government has done.

Army veteran William Penner used to jokingly call the thick yellow crust that crept across his young son Matthew’s scalp “Agent Orange” after the toxic defoliant sprayed on him in Vietnam before the boy was born. The joke turned sour a few years ago, when Matthew, now 43, was diagnosed with a host of serious illnesses, including heart disease, fibromyalgia and arthritis.

Similar worries struck vet Mike Blackledge when staffers at a local Veterans Affairs hospital suggested his children’s diseases could be linked to his time in Vietnam. His son has inflammatory bowel disease so advanced he wears a pouch to collect his waste, and his youngest daughter has neuropathy, spinal problems and gastrointestinal issues. His oldest daughter — the one born before he went to fight in Vietnam — is fine.

They, like thousands of others, are grappling with a chilling prospect: Could Agent Orange, the herbicide linked to health problems in Vietnam veterans, have also harmed their children?

For decades, the Department of Veterans Affairs has collected — and ignored — reams of information that could have helped answer that question, an investigation by ProPublica and The Virginian-Pilot has found.

Its medical staff has physically examined more than 668,000 Vietnam veterans possibly exposed to Agent Orange, documenting health conditions and noting when and where they served. For at least 34 years, the agency also has asked questions about their children’s birth defects, before and after the war.

But the birth defect data had never received scrutiny by the VA or anyone else until this year, when ProPublica, working with The Virginian-Pilot, obtained it after submitting a detailed plan describing how it would be used and agreeing to protect patients’ identities.

The analysis that followed was revealing: The odds of having a child born with birth defects during or after the war were more than a third higher for veterans who say they handled, sprayed or were directly sprayed with Agent Orange than for veterans who say they weren’t exposed or weren’t sure. The analysis controlled for such variables as age and health status.

The data have some caveats. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 December 2016 at 2:42 pm

Declaration of resistance from Jerry Brown, with James Fallows’s comments

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Those are the remarks. James Fallows notes in the Atlantic:

Governor Jerry Brown of California got Twitter-verse attention for saying two days ago that if Donald Trump actually shuts down satellite collection of climate data, “California will launch its own damn satellites.”

I’ve now seen the short speech from which that line was taken, thanks to a tip from reader CS. It’s remarkable enough to be worth your time. It’s a genuine fighting speech, with a tone that is resolute but positive, rather than resentful or doomed. It’s a rousing call-to-battle against the environmental backward-movement and larger disdain for fact of the coming era, from a person who as he nears age 80 has struck a distinctive Happy Warrior tone of resistance. Happy, in its confidence. Warrior, in its resoluteness. . .

Points to note:

  • Brown is speaking to the annual fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union, in San Francisco two days ago. As reader CS says, this is “probably the largest single yearly gathering of geophysics related scientists in the world; close to 25,000 people attended it this year.” Brown’s remarks begin at around time 2:00, and you’ll see that he swings right from the introductory applause into a call for renewed energy on behalf of fact-based policies, science, truth.
  • From about time 3:30 to 3:50, the sound on the video fades away. Just wait it out.
  • From 4:30 to 5:15, Brown begins one of his “we’re ready to fight” riffs. The speech as a whole is unpolished, but among its charms is Brown’s ability to seem self-aware and even self-mocking. An example is in this passage: First he says that Big Tobacco was brought down by a combination of scientists and lawyers. Then, “And in California, we’ve got plenty of lawyers! … We’ve got the scientists, we’ve got the lawyers, and we’re ready to fight!”
  • At 5:30, he introduces the “What the hell do you think you’re doing, Brown? You’re not a country” argument, a . . .

Continue reading.  And it’s worth reading—and watching. As Fallows writes further down the list of bullet points:

I think that nearly every part of it is novel enough, in the current political world, to deserve a look.

We live in strange times, and it is already apparent that many will fail, be too fearful or opportunistic to raise their voices against gross, outright, clearly unconstitutional crimes. Too many, at least in Congress, are either unwilling to take a stand on moral, ethical, or legal grounds, or they simply don’t understand what those things are—total sociopaths, in other words. I think you could name a few (T.C. springs to mind) without effort.

Jennifer Rubin recently listed the excuses used by members of Congress:

. . . The excuses for not objecting when he does egregious things include (these are real examples uttered by one or more Republicans on the Hill, operatives, advisers, etc.):

  • He’s not president yet. (No, really, they say such a thing, as though he’ll be more responsive or Congress will have more leverage after he gets control over the IRS, CIA, FBI, etc.)
  • Maybe he’ll do the right thing (e.g. divest). (Again, they utter this kind of rubbish despite heaps of evidence that he lacks any ethical compass.)
  • But we need to get tax reform and repeal Obamacare. (As if reducing marginal tax rates would justify constitutional violations, or as if their forbearance will make Trump more agreeable on policy issues.)
  • If we criticize, he won’t listen to us later. (No, seriously, they seem to believe that if they are patsies now, they will have influence later.)
  • He doesn’t mean what he says. (We are back to not taking seriously the man who will be commander in chief.)
  • He’s not going to get involved in specifics anyway. (Like negotiating over how many Carrier employees should stay in the United States?)
  • He’s hiring good people. (Mike Flynn? Ben Carson? Stephen K. Bannon?)
  • We cannot do anything. (Didn’t they run for weeks on a message of acting as a check on Trump?)

We find Trump’s post-election behavior to be entirely predictable — not normal or acceptable, but inevitable given his personality and temperamental and intellectual shortcomings. Republicans’ capitulation is far quicker and more complete than we imagined, we admit. Chalk it up to fear of Trump and his voters, to the unquenchable thirst for influence and power and to humans’ ability to convince themselves of practically anything.

At times, one can only cringe at conservative “leaders” prostrating themselves before Trump. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), with unctuousness approaching Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) levels, exclaimed: “I’m impressed with how Donald Trump handles himself. I’m impressed with how magnanimous he is. I’m impressed with just his demeanor, his temperament.” He all but offered to mow Trump’s lawn. Obviously, Ryan thinks flattery is going to work, but my goodness, have some self-respect! . . .

Read the whole column, and note that Rubin is a Republican. So if we want those who will resist, we’re going to have to look elsewhere. Jerry Brown is taking a stand, something most in Congress absolutely will not do. What has happened to them? Cowardice? Cynicism?


Written by LeisureGuy

16 December 2016 at 2:05 pm

Soap bubbles freezing in 5ºF weather

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Written by LeisureGuy

16 December 2016 at 1:51 pm

Posted in Science, Video

In Legal Marijuana States, Consumers Are Turning to Buds Over Beer

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That’s an interesting development, though not totally unexpected (and why the alcohol industry spent a fair amount of money fighting legalization initiatives). While that affects the brewers and spirit manufactures and winemakers, it also affects the neighborhood bar or pub, which is a nice hangout for many, a social meeting place. Those places can’t afford to stay open unless they’re selling something. I suppose you could reform them as neighborhood membership clubs—a pleasant place to go for which you pay an annual subscription. But if people are not drinking in those places, I doubt they can survive.

Philip Smith reports in Drug War Chronicles:

A new industry study says access to legal marijuana is having a negative impact on beer sales. That’s bad news for the brewing industry, but good news from a public health perspective.

According to the industry site Brewbound, the research firm Cowen & Company analyzed the beer industries in Colorado, Oregon, and Washington — three states that have recreational pot shops — and found that their beer markets have “collectively underperformed” in the past two years.

The “magnitude of the underperformance has increased notably” as beer volumes have dropped more than 2% year-to-date in the trio of pot states, with big mainstream brewers like MillerCoors and Anheuser-Busch InBev seeing the biggest declines, with volumes down 4.4%. Craft beers have done a little better, but are down, too, seeing a 2.2% drop. . .

Continue reading. And do keep reading. It gets even more interesting.

I’m curious to know whether beer sales are in decline across the board, or whether the drop hits hardest those cheap, bad beers purchased (I would say) primarily for their alcohol content and not taste. Thus well-made craft beers—the kind whose greater price is justified by better taste—would probably decline less. Just curious.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 December 2016 at 1:38 pm

Posted in Business, Drug laws

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