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Archive for April 6th, 2018

Trump Staffers Are Freaking Out Even More Than Usual Right Now

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Jonathan Chait writes in New York magazine:

Axios editor Mike Allen is a consummate Establishmentarian who has spent his career laboring to win the approval of elites in both parties. Yesterday, Allen published a column headlined “The case for extreme worry.” His observations are, indeed, quite worrying. “Checks are being ignored or have been eliminated, and critics purged as the president is filling time by watching Fox, and by eating dinner with people who feed his ego and conspiracy theories, and who drink in his rants,” he notes. “Trump’s closest confidants speak with an unusual level of concern, even alarm, and admit to being confused about what the president will do next — and why.”

It would be a mistake to overstate the change at hand. The Trump presidency has been a slow-moving freakout, every new episode representing a surreal extension of the unknown. Still, there is evidence that the chaos has increased in some important new way. After many members of the administration seemed to convince themselves last year that they had gained some control over their erratic chief executive, they see him slipping the restraints.

Here are some examples from the last 24 hours:

1. The Wall Street Journal reports that the White House staff has attempted to correct Trump’s mistaken beliefs about Amazon, to no avail. Staffers a “arranged private briefing” that “they believed debunked his concerns that Amazon was dodging taxes and exploiting the U.S. Postal Service.” But Trump continued to directly contradict what he had learned because, a source explains, “It’s not the narrative he wants.”

2. The Associated Press reports that Trump has grown tired of his chief of staff’s management, but also has not seen fit to fire him outright. Instead, “Trump recently told one confidant that he was ‘tired of being told no’ by Kelly and has instead chosen to simply not tell Kelly things at all.”

Of course, Trump is the president of the United States, and as such, outranks Kelly. Presumably he could keep his chief of staff informed of his doings, and overrule Kelly’s objections if he disagrees.

3. Trump’s advisers, despairing of their inability to educate the president, have taken to using television as the preferred vehicle for their tutelage. The Washington Post reports that Jeanine Pirro’s Fox News program is the show of choice for this purpose. “Aides sometimes plot to have guests make points on Fox that they have been unable to get the president to agree to in person. ‘He will listen more when it is on TV,’ a senior administration official said.” Pirro duty is considered important enough that “officials rotate going on Pirro’s show because they know Trump will be watching — and partially to prevent him from calling in himself.”

4. Another report in the Associated Press describes Trump ranting uncontrollably in a meeting with military brass. “The president had opened the meeting with a tirade about U.S. intervention in Syria and the Middle East more broadly, repeating lines from public speeches in which he’s denounced previous administrations for ‘wasting’ $7 trillion in the region over the past 17 years,” the report notes. At one point, a general interjected to inform Trump “that his approach was not productive and asked him to give the group specific instructions as to what he wanted.” . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

6 April 2018 at 4:19 pm

Right-wing heads will explode: Federal judge upholds Massachusetts assault weapons ban

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Morgan Gstalter reports in The Hill:

A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit on Friday challenging Massachusetts’s ban on assault weapons.

U.S. District Judge William Young said in his ruling that the firearms and large magazines banned by the state in 1998 are “not within the scope of the personal right to ‘bear Arms’ under the Second Amendment.”

The features of a military-style rifle are “designed and intended to be particularly suitable for combat rather than sporting applications,” Young wrote.

Massachusetts was within its rights since the ban passed directly through elected representatives, Young decided.

“Other states are equally free to leave them unregulated and available to their law-abiding citizens,” Young wrote. “These policy matters are simply not of constitutional moment. Americans are not afraid of bumptious, raucous, and robust debate about these matters. We call it democracy.”

The lawsuit was filed last year by the Gun Owners Action League of Massachusetts, who claimed the law infringed on their Second Amendment rights.

Attorney General Maura Healey (D), a defendant in the suit, said the ban “vindicates the right of the people of Massachusetts to protect themselves from these weapons of war.”

“Strong gun laws save lives, and we will not be intimidated by the gun lobby in our efforts to end the sale of assault weapons and protect our communities and schools,” Healey said in a Facebook statement. “Families across the nation should take heart in this victory.”

State laws on firearms have been under increased scrutiny since the Parkland, Fla., school shooting in February, which left 17 dead. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

6 April 2018 at 4:06 pm

Posted in Government, Guns, Law

Culture Shock: American Activists Confront Compassionate Portuguese Drug Polic

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Philip Smith reports in Drug War Chronicles:

The American activists couldn’t wrap their heads around it. Sitting in a dingy office in a nondescript building in central Lisbon, they were being provided a fine-grained explanation of what happens to people caught with small amounts of drugs in Portugal, which decriminalized the possession of personal use amounts of drugs 17 years ago.

The activists, having lived the American experience, wanted desperately to know when and how the coercive power of the state kicked in, how the drug users were to be punished for their transgressions, even if they had only been hit with an administrative citation, which is what happens to people caught with small quantities of drugs there.

Nuno Capaz was trying to explain. He is Vice Chairman of the Lisbon Dissuasion Commission, the three-member tribunal set up to handle people caught with drugs. He had to struggle mightily to convince the Americans that it wasn’t about punishment, but about personal and public health.

“The first question,” he explained, “is whether this person is a recreational user or an addict.”

If the person is deemed only a recreational user, he may face a fine or a call to community service. If he is deemed an addict, treatment is recommended — but not required.

“But what if they don’t comply?” one of the activists demanded. “Don’t they go to jail then?”

No, they do not. Instead, Capaz patiently explained, they may face sanctions for non-compliance, but those sanctions may be little more than a demand that they regularly present themselves to a hospital or health center for monitoring.

In a later hallway conversation, I asked Capaz about drug users who simply refused to go along or to participate at all. What happens then? I wanted to know.

Capaz shrugged his shoulders. “Nothing,” he said. “I tell them to try not to get caught again.”

Welcome to Portugal. The country’s low-key, non-headline-generating drug policy, based on compassion, public health, and public safety, is a stark contrast with the US, as the mind-boggled response of the activists suggests.

Organized by the Drug Policy Alliance and consisting of members of local and national groups that work with the organization, as well as a handful of journalists, the group spent three days in-country last month seeing what an enlightened drug policy looks like. They met with high government officials directly involved in creating and implementing drug decriminalization, toured drug treatment, harm reduction, and mobile methadone maintenance facilities, and heard from Portuguese drug users and harm reduction workers as well.

The Portuguese Model and Its Accomplishments

They had good reason to go to Portugal. After nearly two decades of drug decriminalization, there is ample evidence that the Portuguese model is working well. Treating drug users like citizens who could possibly use some help instead of like criminals to be locked up is paying off by all the standard metrics — as well as by not replicating the thuggish and brutal American-style war on drugs, with all the deleterious and corrosive impacts that has on the communities particularly targeted for American drug law enforcement.

Here, according to independent academic researchers, as well as the UN Office on Drugs and Crime and the European Monitoring Center of Drugs and Drug Abuse, is what the Portuguese have accomplished:

Drug use has not dramatically increased. Rates of past year and past month drug use have not changed significantly or have actually declined since 2001. And Portugal’s drug use rates remain among the lowest in Europe, and well below those in the United States.

Both teen drug use and “problematic” drug use (people who are dependent or who inject drugs) have declined.

Drug arrests and incarceration are way down. Drug arrests have dropped by 60% (selling drugs remains illegal) and the percentage of prisoners doing time for drug offenses has dropped from 44% to 24%. Meanwhile, the number of people referred to the Dissuasion Commission has remained steady, indicating that no “net-widening” has taken place. And the vast majority of cases that go before the commission are found to be non-problematic drug users and are dismissed without sanction.

More people are receiving drug treatment — and on demand, not by court order. The number of people receiving drug treatment increased by 60% by 2011, with most of them receiving opiate-substitution therapy (methadone). Treatment is voluntary and largely paid for by the national health system.

Drug overdose deaths are greatly reduced. Some 80 people died of drug overdoses in 2001; that number shrunk to just 16 by 2012. That’s an 80% reduction in drug overdose deaths.

Drug injection-related HIV/AIDS infections are greatly reduced. Between 2000 and 2013, the number of new HIV cases shrank from nearly 1,600 to only 78. The number of new AIDS cases declined from 626 to 74.

“We came to the conclusion that the criminal system was not the best suited to deal with this situation,” explained Capaz. “The best option should be referring them to treatment, but we do not force or coerce anyone. If they are willing to go, it’s because they actually want to, so the success rate is really high. We can surely say that decriminalization does not increase drug usage, and that it does not mean legalizing drugs. It’s still illegal to use drugs in Portugal, it’s just not considered a crime. It’s possible to deal with these users outside the criminal system.” . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

6 April 2018 at 12:35 pm

Trump Isn’t Merely Tolerating Torture — He’s Celebrating It

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Andrew Sullivan writes in New York:

There is a lot we don’t know about Gina Haspel, the nominee to head the CIA, who will soon be facing Senate hearings. As a covert officer, she has spent a long time in the shadows. Many of her colleagues speak very highly of her skills and dedication. And lately, the CIA has been providing selective — and oddly endearing — details about her private life. But there are a few things we do know. We know what the legal definition of torture is and long has been, in domestic and international law. In case you’re curious, this is it, according to federal law: “an act committed by a person acting under the color of law specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering (other than pain or suffering incidental to lawful sanctions) upon another person within his custody or physical control.” It includes the threat of imminent death, and “other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or personality.” Under international law, there are absolutely no justifications — no national security threats, no imminent dangers — allowed for committing this war crime.

We also know that Gina Haspel was, from 2003–2005, the chief of staff for Jose Rodriguez, the man tasked with implementing the Bush-Cheney program for “enhanced interrogation” of prisoners. She was in charge of communicating with various black sites around the world, and we know she authored a critical 2002 cable, “Turning Up the Heat in AZ Interrogations,” which initiated the torture of Abu Zubaydah, the first prisoner the U.S. subjected to waterboarding. We also know she was present in at least one of the black sites where the torture took place, and that she lobbied very hard to destroy the tapes that recorded the torture sessions, and was responsible for ultimately ensuring that they were. She was, to put it mildly, deeply, intimately embedded in the torture regime.

And we know a lot about what the black sites were like, and what was done to the prisoners held in them. It’s worth speaking in plain English about what she was a part of. One agent described a particular site set up after Haspel’s directive to “turn up the heat.” He thought it was good for interrogations because it was the closest thing he had seen to a dungeon. The dungeon was kept in total darkness at all times, and the guards wore headlamps. The prisoners were in cells, kept completely naked, and were shackled to the walls and sometimes ceilings. They were given buckets for their waste. When they were subjected to sleep deprivation, they were tied to a bar on the ceiling so that they had to stand with their arms above their heads, and would have their limbs painfully pulled out of their sockets if they passed out. One of the prisoners was a diminutive figure who had been picked up as a suspect in the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole, of which he was alleged to have been the “mastermind.” In fact, CIA agents disagreed about this. He was “an idiot,” one of them said. “He couldn’t read or comprehend a comic book.” Others alleged that he may have had a mental disability. Jose Rodriguez wrote in his memoir that “one of our interrogators described him to me as ‘the dumbest terrorist I have ever met.’” His name is Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri.

He was waterboarded at the black site in Afghanistan, then again at another site in Thailand, where Haspel was physically present. In Afghanistan, this is what that entailed, according to the lawyers assigned to Nashiri’s case at Gitmo: “A rag was placed over his forehead and eyes and water poured into his mouth until he began to choke and aspirate. The rag was then lowered, suffocating him with the water still in his throat, sinuses, and lungs. Eventually the rag was lifted and the water expurgated, allowing him to take three to four breaths before the process was repeated.” Other techniques were used, this time at a black site in Poland: “On at least one occasion, they placed a broomstick behind petitioner’s knees as he knelt and then forced his body backwards, pulling his knee joints apart until he started to scream. On another occasion, agents cinched petitioner’s elbows behind his back and hoisted him to the ceiling, causing onlookers to fear that they dislocated his shoulders. On still other occasions, petitioner was [redacted] and deprived of sleep for days on end.”

There were other methods: “The standing stress position was also employed when agents stored petitioner for days in a coffin in between interrogations. This coffin is often termed ‘the large box’. At other times, agents locked petitioner into the ‘small box’, which is the approximate size of an office safe and [redacted]. When the lid was locked, the interior became completely dark, the air stagnant, and petitioner forced into a squatting fetal position that caused his extremities to swell.” He was kept in the “small box” for days.

Worse: “Nearly every ‘interview’ at several locations involved ‘walling.’ This involved agents rolling a towel around petitioner’s neck with which to swing him into a plywood wall. Walling was used so consistently that ‘the rolled up towel became an object that evoked fear.’ ‘The interrogator would enter the room and slowly and gently run the rolled towel over the … detainee’s head … spending several minutes adjusting it.’ This routine triggered a Pavlovian response wherein the towel became ‘an omen of what might happen next, [thereby] elicit[ing] a conditioned fear response.’” In Poland, the terrors mounted: “‘Mild punishment’ included convincing petitioner, while hooded, naked, and shackled to the ceiling that he was about to be shot. The agent racked a handgun ‘once or twice’ near petitioner’s head, and then removed petitioner’s hood so he could see the handgun pointed at him. When petitioner began to cry, the agent exchanged the handgun for a power drill that was revved to heighten the effect.” Then there was the sexual torture: “For example [redacted] petitioner was subjected to ‘rectal feeding’. [redacted] There is also evidence that petitioner was forcibly sodomized, possibly under the pretext of a cavity search that was done with ‘excessive force’ … He was also repeatedly ‘bathed’ with a stiff brush of the type ‘used in a bath to remove stubborn dirt,” which would be raked across petitioner’s “ass and balls and then his mouth.””

Over years of this staggering brutality, Nashiri was destroyed as a human being. A medical report subsequently discovered that Nashiri “presented with nightmares that involved being chained, naked and waterboarded, and that he continues to suffer from PTSD and Major Depressive Disorder … hyper vigilance, flashbacks, sleep disorders.” He also had persistent and chronic anal-rectal complaints, difficulty defecating, bleeding, hemorrhoids and pain with sitting — all “very common in survivors of sexual assault.” Indeed the torture of Nashiri was so brutal that CIA agents themselves, in early 2003, protested internally that “the wheels had come off” of the torture program and that Nashiri’s torture was a “train wreak [sic] waiting to happen.” The CIA’s chief of interrogations threatened to resign and wrote a cable reporting “serious reservations with the continued use of enhanced techniques with [Nashiri] and its long-term impact on him.”

I’ve cited the example of Nashiri because Haspel directly authorized his torture at a black site in Thailand, where he was waterboarded, kept naked and shackled, threatened with sodomy, and with the arrest and rape of his family. But she was also key in . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

6 April 2018 at 12:27 pm

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