Later On

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

Archive for January 10th, 2017

Gun laws rated on two dimensions: Popularity and effectiveness

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The dimensions, like comfort and efficiency for razors, turn out to be somewhat independent:

gun-control-matrix

That’s from a post by Jason Kottke, where he discusses the chart.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 January 2017 at 3:26 pm

Posted in Government, Guns, Law

Why cities are where they are

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Very interesting. Via Jason Kottke.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 January 2017 at 12:41 pm

Posted in Daily life, Video

Evolution and apotheosis of album covers

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That’s from this post by Josh Jones at OpenCulture, and the post is worth reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 January 2017 at 12:36 pm

Posted in Art, Memes, Music

The Crimes of SEAL Team 6

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Matthew Cole has a long post at The Intercept. The blurb reads:

Officially known as the Naval Special Warfare Development Group, SEAL Team 6 is today the most celebrated of the U.S. military’s special mission units. But hidden behind the heroic narratives is a darker, more troubling story of “revenge ops,” unjustified killings, mutilations, and other atrocities — a pattern of criminal violence that emerged soon after the Afghan war began and was tolerated and covered up by the command’s leadership.

Man, when things start to break down, they break down all over the place. Cohesion to the rule of law seems to be lost. The article begins:

1 – THE WEDDING PARTY MASSACRE

On the afternoon of March 6, 2002, Lt. Cmdr. Vic Hyder and more than two dozen operators from SEAL Team 6 boarded two Chinook helicopters en route to eastern Afghanistan hoping that within hours, they would kill or capture Osama bin Laden.

Earlier that evening, general officers from the Joint Special Operations Command had scrambled the SEALs after watching a Predator drone video feed of a man they suspected was bin Laden set off in a convoy of three or four vehicles in the Shah-i-Kot Valley, where al Qaeda forces had fortified themselves. Although the video had revealed no weapons, and the generals had only tenuous intelligence that the convoy was al Qaeda — just suspicions based on the color of the man’s flowing white garb and the deference others showed him — they were nervous that bin Laden might get away again, as he had a few months earlier after the bombing of the Tora Bora mountains in December 2001. This was a crucial moment: Kill bin Laden now and the war could be over after only six months. The vehicles were headed east toward the Pakistani border, as if they were trying to escape. The mission was code-named Objective Bull.

Afghanistan’s Paktia province is about the size of New Hampshire, with 10,000-foot ridgelines and arid valleys with dried riverbeds below, nestled along the border with Pakistan’s tribal areas. The prominent mountain range often served as the last geographic refuge for retreating forces entering Pakistan. As the special operations helicopters approached the convoy from the north and west, Air Force jets dropped two bombs, halting the vehicles and killing several people instantly.

That was not how the SEALs wanted the mission to develop. Inside the helicopters, some of the operators had pushed to hold off any air attack, arguing that they had plenty of time to intercept the convoy before it reached the Pakistani border. “The reason SEAL Team 6 exists is to avoid bombs and collateral damage,” said a retired SEAL Team 6 member who was on the mission. “We said, ‘Let us set down and take a look at the convoy to determine if it’s al Qaeda.’ Instead, they dropped several bombs.”

The bombing stopped the convoy along a dry wadi, or ravine, with two of the trucks approximately a kilometer apart. Survivors began to flee the wreckage, and over the radio, Hyder and his team heard the order that the convoy was now in a “free fire zone,” allowing the Chinooks’ gunners to fire at anyone deemed a threat, regardless of whether they were armed. The SEALs had no authority over the helicopter gunners.

The two Chinooks landed separately, one near each end of the convoy. Both teams exited the helicopters to find a grim scene. The SEALs with Hyder came out and separated into two groups. One, led by an enlisted operator, took in the damage to one of the vehicles. Men, women, and a small girl, motionless and in the fetal position, appeared dead. Inside the vehicle were one or two rifles, as is customary in Afghanistan, but none of the men wore military clothing or had any extra ammunition. “These were family weapons,” said the retired SEAL.

The SEALs from the other helicopter immediately headed up a steep hill after landing to locate an armed man who had been shot from the helicopter. When they reached the hilltop, the operators looked down in disbelief at women and children, along with the man — all were dead or mortally wounded from the spray of gunfire from the Chinook’s gunners, who had unloaded after the free fire zone had been declared. They realized the man had been trying to protect the women and children.

Other SEALs on the ground proceeded as though the survivors were combatants. Hyder and an enlisted operator named Monty Heath had gone in a different direction and saw a survivor flee the bombed vehicle toward a nearby berm. Heath fired once, hitting the man, sending him tumbling down the back side of the small rise.

At that point, Hyder began assessing the damage and surveying the dead. “I was going around to the different KIAs with my camera to take photos,” Hyder told me in an interview, using the military term for enemies killed in action. “It was a mess.”

Hyder said that he and a few other SEALs began to bury the casualties near a ravine by piling rocks over them. As he did so, he approached the man Heath had shot. “He was partially alive, faced down, his back to me, and he rolled over. I shot him, finished him. He was dying, but he rolled over and I didn’t know whether he was armed or not. That was the end of that.” Hyder said that his single shot had blasted open the man’s head.

According to Hyder, the encounter ended there. But the retired SEAL who was on the mission tells a different story. According to this source, after shooting the man, who turned out to be unarmed, Hyder proceeded to mutilate his body by stomping in his already damaged skull. When Heath, who witnessed Hyder’s actions, reported them to his team leader in the presence of other members of the team, “several of the guys turned and walked away,” said the retired SEAL. “They were disgusted.” He quoted Heath as saying, “I’m morally flexible but I can’t handle that.” Heath refused to comment for this article.

The retired SEAL, who spent the better part of two decades at the command, said he never asked Hyder why he mutilated the corpse. It wasn’t necessary. He assumed it was a twisted act of misplaced revenge over the previous days’ events — specifically, the gruesome death of Hyder’s teammate Neil Roberts.

LESS THAN 48 HOURS before Objective Bull commenced, a small reconnaissance group from SEAL Team 6’s Red Team had tried to establish an observation post on the 10,000-foot peak of Takur Ghar, overlooking the Shah-i-Kot valley, where forces from the Army’s 10th Mountain Division intended to strike the last redoubt of al Qaeda forces massed in Afghanistan. Neil “Fifi” Roberts, a member of the SEAL recon team, fell 10 feet from the back of a Chinook and was stranded as the helicopter took fire from foreign al Qaeda fighters who were already on the snow-covered mountaintop. Two hours passed before the SEALs in the damaged helicopter were able to return. They didn’t know it, but Roberts was already dead, shot at close range in the head shortly after his helicopter departed the mountaintop. A Predator drone video feed filmed an enemy fighter standing over Roberts’s body for two minutes, trying to behead the dead American with a knife.

Eventually, two other elements of a quick reaction force — one of which included Hyder — landed at the top of Takur Ghar. In the ensuing 17-hour battle with the al Qaeda fighters, six more Americans were killed, and several were wounded. After the bodies were recovered, Hyder and the other members of Red Team were forced to reckon with the mutilation and near beheading of their fellow SEAL. Hyder was new to SEAL Team 6, but as the ranking officer on the ground during that operation, he was technically in charge. He took Roberts’s death hard.

Neil Roberts was the first member of SEAL Team 6 to die in the Afghan war, and among the first elite operators who died after 9/11. Beyond the dehumanizing manner in which the al Qaeda fighters had treated his corpse, Roberts’s death pierced the SEALs’ self-perception of invincibility.

The battle of Roberts Ridge, as it came to be known, has been frequently described in books and press accounts. But what happened during Objective Bull, the assault on the convoy in the Shah-i-Kot Valley, has never been previously reported.

Roberts’s death, and the subsequent operations in eastern Afghanistan during the winter 2002 deployment, left an indelible impression on SEAL Team 6, especially on Red Team. According to multiple SEAL Team 6 sources, the events of that day set off a cascade of extraordinary violence. As the legend of SEAL Team 6 grew, a rogue culture arose that operated outside of the Navy’s established mechanisms for command and investigation. Parts of SEAL Team 6 began acting with an air of impunity that disturbed observers within the command. Senior members of SEAL Team 6 felt the pattern of brutality was not only illegal but rose to the level of war crimes.

“To understand the violence, you have to begin at Roberts Ridge,” said one former member of SEAL Team 6 who deployed several times to Afghanistan. “When you see your friend killed, recover his body, and find that the enemy mutilated him? It’s a schoolyard mentality. ‘You guys want to play with those rules?’ ‘OK.’” Although this former SEAL acknowledged that war crimes are wrong, he understood how they happen. “You ask me to go living with the pigs, but I can’t go live with pigs and then not get dirty.”

NO SINGLE MILITARY unit has come to represent American military success or heroism more than SEAL Team 6, officially designated as the Naval Special Warfare Development Group and known in military vernacular as DevGru, Team 6, the Command, and Task Force Blue. Its operators are part of an elite, clandestine cadre. The men who make it through the grueling training represent roughly the top 10 percent of all SEALs. They are taught to live and if necessary die for one another. The extreme risks they take forge extreme bonds.

Made up of no more than 200 SEAL operators when the Afghan war began, SEAL Team 6 was the lesser known of the U.S. military’s elite “special mission” units. Created in 1980 and . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 January 2017 at 12:12 pm

Posted in Law, Military

Donald Trump’s ‘first attempt to ignore the law’

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Aaron Blake reports in the Washington Post on Trump’s crossing of the Rubicon:

President-elect Donald Trump intends to name his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, as a senior adviser to his White House — a move that would put to the test a 1967 anti-nepotism law and provide a Trump White House already rife with ethical questions a bona fide legal showdown.

In fact, this amounts to Trump’s “first attempt to ignore the law,” according to Washington University government ethics expert Kathleen Clark. And she says it has huge implications not just for Kushner, but for the rest of his presidency.

I spoke with Clark about anti-nepotism laws, why they exist, and how Kushner and Trump might get around this particular one. Our conversation is below, lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

WAPO: I think a casual observer may wonder why Trump’s son-in-law serving in his administration is a big deal. Why do such anti-nepotism laws exist, and why is nepotism a problem?

CLARK: We have anti-nepotism laws in the federal government and in lots of state governments, because the practice of hiring relatives undermines public confidence that the government official is actually finding best person for the job. What are the chances that the best person for the job just happens to be a relative, right? In addition to the problem of public confidence, hiring a relative also causes problems within the government organization. It can undermine the morale of government officials. It can cause confusion about what the lines of authority are; in other words, the relative may have a particular title, but many may perceive the relative’s role as even more important than the title would suggest. It may be very difficult to say no to the president’s son-in-law. It may be very difficult to say, ‘That’s a bad idea’ to the president’s son-in-law, in a way it would be easier to say those things to someone whom the president hired but isn’t related to — someone who’s not the father of his grandchild or grandchildren.

WAPO: The anti-nepotism law on the books is supposedly a reaction to the Kennedys. But was there an era in politics in which nepotism was a particularly bad problem?

CLARK: What I can tell you is that the federal statute is by no means unique. Almost all states have anti-nepotism laws. A review of state anti-nepotism laws in 2000 found only seven states lacked such laws. So it’s widely perceived as a problem that needs to be addressed by prohibiting the hiring of relatives.

WAPO: The Trump team and Kushner believe a 1993 D.C. Circuit Court decision gives them a way to make this happen, but you’ve noted that the section in question is “dicta.” Can you explain that?

CLARK: The crux of that decision was that the presidential spouse is a de facto officer or employee for purposes of the Federal Advisory Committee Act. And then, after [Judge Laurence] Silberman said that, he added dicta where he said, “We doubt Congress intended to include the White House under the anti-nepotism statute.” Judge [James L.] Buckley on the D.C. Circuit concurred in the judgment, but refused to concur in the opinion, and specifically called out that passage and objected to it. So that part of the opinion, on which I suspect the Trump advisers will be relying, is absolutely dicta, and it’s, as I said, rejected by Judge Buckley.

President-elect Donald Trump intends to name his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, as a senior adviser to his White House — a move that would put to the test a 1967 anti-nepotism law and provide a Trump White House already rife with ethical questions a bona fide legal showdown.

In fact, this amounts to Trump’s “first attempt to ignore the law,” according to Washington University government ethics expert Kathleen Clark. And she says it has huge implications not just for Kushner, but for the rest of his presidency.

I spoke with Clark about anti-nepotism laws, why they exist, and how Kushner and Trump might get around this particular one. Our conversation is below, lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

WAPO: I think a casual observer may wonder why Trump’s son-in-law serving in his administration is a big deal. Why do such anti-nepotism laws exist, and why is nepotism a problem?

CLARK: We have anti-nepotism laws in the federal government and in lots of state governments, because the practice of hiring relatives undermines public confidence that the government official is actually finding best person for the job. What are the chances that the best person for the job just happens to be a relative, right? In addition to the problem of public confidence, hiring a relative also causes problems within the government organization. It can undermine the morale of government officials. It can cause confusion about what the lines of authority are; in other words, the relative may have a particular title, but many may perceive the relative’s role as even more important than the title would suggest. It may be very difficult to say no to the president’s son-in-law. It may be very difficult to say, ‘That’s a bad idea’ to the president’s son-in-law, in a way it would be easier to say those things to someone whom the president hired but isn’t related to — someone who’s not the father of his grandchild or grandchildren.

WAPO: The anti-nepotism law on the books is supposedly a reaction to the Kennedys. But was there an era in politics in which nepotism was a particularly bad problem?

CLARK: What I can tell you is that the federal statute is by no means unique. Almost all states have anti-nepotism laws. A review of state anti-nepotism laws in 2000 found only seven states lacked such laws. So it’s widely perceived as a problem that needs to be addressed by prohibiting the hiring of relatives.

WAPO: The Trump team and Kushner believe a 1993 D.C. Circuit Court decision gives them a way to make this happen, but you’ve noted that the section in question is “dicta.” Can you explain that?

CLARK: The crux of that decision was that the presidential spouse is a de facto officer or employee for purposes of the Federal Advisory Committee Act. And then, after [Judge Laurence] Silberman said that, he added dicta where he said, “We doubt Congress intended to include the White House under the anti-nepotism statute.” Judge [James L.] Buckley on the D.C. Circuit concurred in the judgment, but refused to concur in the opinion, and specifically called out that passage and objected to it. So that part of the opinion, on which I suspect the Trump advisers will be relying, is absolutely dicta, and it’s, as I said, rejected by Judge Buckley.

WAPO: So basically, it’s not the law?

CLARK: Judge Silberman, who has rarely found a limitation on executive power appropriate, who has rarely met an executive power of the president that he hasn’t embraced, used this case to assert that Congress’s anti-nepotism statute shouldn’t apply to the White House — even though the statute names the president. And Judge Buckley said the argument that the anti-nepotism act applies only to departments and not to the White House is a weak one. That’s probably one of the things they will rely upon, and it’s a very weak argument.

WAPO: From what you have seen of his efforts, do you think Kushner is going to be able to get around this law?

CLARK: In your question, you asked is Kushner going to be able to get around this. And I want reframe the question: Is Trump going to be able to get around this, because I see this as Trump’s first attempt to ignore the law, act in violation of the law, and he’s going to see if he can get away with it. We have a statute that names the president, that names the son-in-law relationship, that Congress identified a problem and enacted a statute prohibiting a president from hiring a son-in-law. President-elect Trump, in my view, is testing the waters to see if he can get away with violating what I would call this government ethics provision. And whether President-elect Trump gets away with this depends, it seems to me, in part on the public response as well as the congressional response.…

Continue reading.

The die is cast.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 January 2017 at 11:34 am

Why people might deliberately choose ignorance

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I just blogged today how the GOP Congress has forbidden the Congressional Budget Office to figure out the cost of repealing Obamacare. They not only do not want to know, they want to make sure no one else—including the public—will know.

Also well known is how the GOP has forbidden the Federal government for any studies regarding gun violence: how common it is, likely causes, and so on. Again: not only do they themselves not want to know, they don’t want anyone else to know.

Why would they do that? Mainly, I would say, because they believe that factual information will contradict their position (cf. climate change) and they prefer their beliefs to reality. They must know that that they are reducing visibility as they navigate the ship of state, and denial of facts seldom ends well. But that is their course and they are sticking to it. (You will also recall that the Texas GOP attempted to forbid the teaching of critical thinking skills in public schools.)

I am having some doubts about whether the US can withstand this with massive damage.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 January 2017 at 11:28 am

Posted in Congress, GOP

Judges Reject Orange County’s Claim That Social Workers Didn’t Know Lying In Court Was Wrong

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The social contract really does seem to be breaking down. Orange County is spending taxpayer money to defend the proposition that social workers can give false evidence. There’s something very wrong in Orange County, which is also the county in which the Department of Justice found the entire district attorney office was routinely acting illegally—and hiding it.

Scott Moxley reports in the OC Weekly:

Using taxpayer funds, government officials in Orange County have spent the last 16 years arguing the most absurd legal proposition in the entire nation: How could social workers have known it was wrong to lie, falsify records and hide exculpatory evidence in 2000 so that a judge would forcibly take two young daughters from their mother for six-and-a-half years?

From the you-can’t-make-up-this-crap file, county officials are paying Lynberg & Watkins, a private Southern California law firm specializing in defending cops in excessive force lawsuits, untold sums to claim the social workers couldn’t have “clearly” known that dishonesty wasn’t acceptable in court and, as a back up, even if they did know, they should enjoy immunity for their misdeeds because they were government employees.

A panel at the U.S. District Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit this week ruled on Orange County’s appeal of federal judge Josephine L. Staton’s refusal last year to grant immunity to the bureaucrats in Preslie Hardwick v. County of Orange, a lawsuit seeking millions of dollars in damages. In short, judges Stephen S. Trott, John B. Owens and Michelle T. Friedland were not amused. They affirmed Staton’s decision.

But to grasp the ridiculousness of the government’s stance, read key, Oct. 7, 2016 exchanges between the panel and Pancy Lin, a partner at Lynberg & Watkins.

Trott: How in the world could a person in the shoes of your clients possibly believe that it was appropriate to use perjury and false evidence in order to impair somebody’s liberty interest in the care, custody and control of that person’s children? How could they possibly not be on notice that you can’t do this?

Lin: I understand.

Trott: How could that possibly be?

Lin: I understand the argument that it seems to be common sense in our ethical, moral . . .

Trott: It’s more than common sense. It’s statutes that prohibit perjury and submission of false evidence in court cases.

Lin: State statutes. [?? “State statues”? What’s the point of the remark? It’s like a “gotcha” without the “got” part. – LG]

Trott: Are you telling me that a person in your client’s shoes couldn’t understand you can’t commit perjury in a court proceeding in order to take somebody’s children away?

Lin: Of course not, your honor.

Trott: Of course not!

Owens: Isn’t the case over then?

Trott: The case is over.

Lin: Thus far we have not been presented with a clearly established right that tells us what our clients did which was remove the children pursuant to a court order . . .

Friedland: The issue here is committing perjury in a court to take away somebody’s children and you just said that’s obviously not okay to do.

Lin: According to our moral compass and our ethical guidelines, but we’re here to decide the constitutionality of it and we look to the courts to tell us.

Trott: You mean to tell us due process is consistent with a government official submitting perjured testimony and false evidence? How is that consistent? I mean I hate to get pumped up about this but I’m just staggered by the claim that people in the shoes of your clients wouldn’t be on notice that you can’t use perjury and false evidence to take away somebody’s children. That to me is mind boggling.

Lin: In criminal proceedings we know this to be true because . . .

Trott: No, no! It’s a court proceeding with a liberty interest, a fundamental liberty interest at stake.

Lin: And on the reverse side . . .

Trott: And you’re telling us that these officials [weren’t] on notice that you can’t commit perjury and put in false evidence?

Lin: I understand broadly the principle that common sense tells us that lying is wrong and lying to . . .

Trott: Yeah, but it’s more than common sense. We’re using statutes against this kind of behavior.

Lin: I, uh, I don’t. I was not presented [sic]. I have not been seen [sic] any federal law or case law or law that tells me that in this situation that we were faced in that, which is what we have to look at . . .

Trott: Well, say your clients hired six people to be actors and to go into court and to say, ‘We’re neighbors and we saw all this terrible stuff.’ And then your client presented those witnesses in court. You’re telling me that they would have no reason to believe that you can’t do that because there was no federal case that says you can’t bring actors into court to swear falsely against somebody?

Lin: But again here we’re appealing to a sort of broader definition of what is a clearly established right. I mean we have to find the clearly established right in the context our, um, social workers were presented with, which was they were faced with a court order.

Trott: Again, I cannot even believe for a micro-second that a social worker wouldn’t understand that you can’t lie and put in false evidence!

Owens: Let me ask the question a different way. Is there anything you know of that told social workers that they should lie and that they should create false evidence in a court proceeding?

Lin: No, and, of course, that is, uh, we contend that is not what happened here.

Successfully arguing for Hardwick, attorney Dennis Inglos of San Jose followed up to Lin’s dismal performance, stating, “Lying is bad. It’s obviously bad. It’s constitutionally bad . . . They keep fighting the proposition that lying is bad. This is astounding to me that this case is still being fought. It’s so simple. The lies are on paper in a transcript—the deliberate falsehoods.” . . .

Continue reading.

Scott Moxley seems to be an intriguing reporter. From the link:

R. Scott Moxley’s award-winning investigative journalism has touched nerves for two decades. An angry congressman threatened to break Moxley’s knee caps. A dirty sheriff promised his critical reporting was irrelevant and then landed in prison. Corporate crooks won’t take his calls. Murderous gangsters mad-dogged him in court. The U.S. House of Representatives debated his work. Pusillanimous cops have left hostile messages using fake names. Federal prosecutors credited his stories for the arrest of a doctor who sold fake medicine to dying patients. And a frantic state legislator literally caught sleeping with lobbyists sprinted down state capital hallways to evade his questions in Sacramento. Moxley has won Journalist of the Year honors at the Los Angeles Press Club and been named Distinguished Journalist of the Year by the LA Society of Professional Journalists.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 January 2017 at 10:42 am

Posted in Government, Law

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