Later On

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

Archive for May 8th, 2018

Vox has a good explainer of the Iran deal

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Check it out.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 May 2018 at 2:39 pm

Anatomy of a Lousy Decision: Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran deal

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Jon Wolfsthal, a senior adviser to Global Zero, a nonpartisan group dedicated to the elimination of nuclear weapons, and the director of the Nuclear Crisis Group, wasfrom 2014 to 2017, the senior director for arms control and nonproliferation at the National Security Council. He writes in The New Republic:

I am biased. I worked for President Obama, supporting the negotiations that produced the Iran deal President Trump now plans to scrap. On the other hand, laboring on nuclear arms control for three decades, including as an inspector in North Korea and as an observer at Iranian nuclear facilities, also gives you a perspective that people who don’t read nuclear manuals at home (a solid mental health choice) sometimes lack.

For those who have never read the actual text of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) or are less familiar with nuclear inspections, here’s what President Trump is throwing away.

Before the JCPOA came into force, Iran had close to 20,000 uranium enrichment machines, called centrifuges, in operation. Most of these were primitive, but some were more advanced models and the pace of advancement was accelerating. Under the JCPOA, Iran cannot have more than 5,060 centrifuges operating and cannot use more advanced models until 2025, and then would have had to slowly introduce them and explain why they were doing so. Iran was also required to let IAEA inspectors track and monitor centrifuge production and storage of parts. That all goes away after today. Iran is within its right to reject any restrictions now that the U.S. is openly violating the deal.

Before the JCPOA entered into force, Iran had enriched some uranium up to 19 percent of uranium-235 content, i.e. where 19 percent of the uranium sample consists of the particular isotope that can be easily split (uranium-235). Natural uranium has less than 1 percent U-235, while producing weapons requires uranium enriched above 90 percent U-235. Iran also possessed large amounts of uranium gas, many times more than needed to make one nuclear weapon. Under the JCPOA, Iran is barred from enriching any uranium above 3.67 percent and from possessing more than 300 kg of uranium gas, less than the amount needed for even one bomb. Both of these restrictions were to last until 2030. Now, Iran can enrich to whatever level it wants, for any reason, and posses as much uranium gas for enrichment as they choose. This will leave Iran weeks if not days from a bomb once they restore their infrastructure.

Before the JCPOA entered into force, International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors could only visit some Iranian sites every few weeks, some every few months. Under the JCPOA, IAEA inspectors have permanent access at key sites and have installed remote sensing equipment that provides real-time data to ensure that Iran is not enriching uranium to a level higher than allowed under the deal—technology no other state maintaining nuclear facilities has ever allowed international monitors to install. Now, all of this goes away. IAEA access will be greatly reduced and the IAEA can only realistically hope to gain access to suspect or military sites if it can gain the backing of the IAEA Board of Governors and the UN Security Council. These seem unlikely and any such request could ignite a political and even military standoff.

Could Iran have sat back under these restrictions for 15 or 20 or 25 years and then just built a bomb? This was the scenario the deal’s critics focused on. But it wouldn’t have been that simple: The JCPOA bans Iran from doing any research on specific technologies needed to produce nuclear weapons. So while it is possible they could have built up stocks of uranium and a large enrichment capability, without the mechanical devices needed to produce a bomb, such work would have been somewhat useless without the auxiliary research. And any moves to do such research would have been obvious, since Iran was required under the JCPOA to adopt something known as the IAEA Additional Protocol—the gold standard in inspection rights and access that ensure the IAEA can get into facilities, interview people, and gain access to information upon request. These weapon restrictions and inspection rights, too, now go away.

These are just a few example of where Iran was before the deal, what restrictions they accepted under with the 156 pages of the JCPOA, and what they are now free to reverse at any time now that President Trump has announced the United States will violate the terms of the deal by refusing to waive sanctions.

The nuclear expert in me has trouble understanding either how this state of affairs is better than what existed under the JCPOA, or how President Trump—who has defied the advice of key European allies—expects to gain broad international support for a new, tougher deal, given what will certainly be less effective sanctions and lower support from our allies than what the U.S. had leading up to the JCPOA. And for all Russia’s general hostility to NATO and misuse of the UN to protect Syria’s president Assad, we should remember that Russia supported UN sanctions against Iran and blocked the sale of advanced air defense missiles to the state. These air defense missiles have now been delivered, making U.S. military action riskier for our troops and airmen. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 May 2018 at 12:27 pm

Why Mueller Has to Expose Trump’s Crooked Business Empire

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Jonathan Chait writes in New York:

President Trump has made it perfectly plain that he views any scrutiny of his finances as a mortal threat. Trump “was especially disturbed after learning [Robert] Mueller would be able to access several years of his tax returns,” the Washington Post reported last summer, and his allies have homed in on the theme that Trump’s finances are the room in the crime scene that Mueller should not go into because there is nothing to see there. “Mueller basically backdoored his way into every single Trump business deal,” complains Sean Hannity. “Mueller has the duty to investigate collusion, not Trump’s business deals. He will lose legitimacy if he strays from his mission,” insists former Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer.

This weekend, the New York Times and the Washington Postpublished detailed investigations into the financial history Mueller is investigating. While carefully couching the findings within the bounds of the facts they were able to prove based on publicly available data, these reports made it perfectly clear that Trump’s business empire is not only dirty, but dirty in a way that leads directly into the national-security threat that produced Mueller’s investigation in the first place.

The Post account zeroes in on a peculiar turn in the Trump Organization’s financial structure. Trump has styled himself “the king of debt” and throughout his career touted the virtues of borrowing as the foundation of his business philosophy. (Relying on debt is not uncommon among real-estate developers.) But the Post reveals that Trump’s investing strategy has taken a sharp U-turn in the last decade, when his organization suddenly began buying properties with straight cash.

Trump’s proffered explanation is that the cash binge simply reflects his extraordinary success and innate business genius. “He had incredible cash flow and built incredible wealth,” Eric Trump explained. “He didn’t need to think about borrowing for every transaction. We invested in ourselves.” Yet the Post’s reporting makes this account appear dubious. In 2014, Trump spent $80 million to buy a pair of golf courses in Scotland and Ireland, and had to spend more than twice as much to keep them running.

A phrase that does not appear in the Post’s article, because the reporters cannot prove it, is “money laundering.” But money laundering is the suspicion hovering over all these curious purchases, and the reason the Post is devoting so many investigative resources to the subject in the first place. “This is all about money laundering,” Steve Bannon told Michael Wolff. “[Mueller’s] path to fucking Trump goes right through Paul Manafort, Don Jr. and Jared Kushner … It goes through Deutsche Bank and all the Kushner shit.”

Money laundering would be criminal activity. If you are involved in criminal activity, you are subject to blackmail. And if the criminals who can blackmail you have connections to a foreign government — say, Russia — then that government has blackmail leverage. Ten years ago, Donald Trump Jr. casually said, “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets.” And as recently as 2014, Eric Trump told a reporter, “We don’t rely on American banks. We have all the funding we need out of Russia,” which is quite different than his current explanation that the Trump Organization does not require outside funding at all.

The secret sauce of Trump’s real-estate business in its early stages was his ability to manipulate the media and willingness to borrow massive sums and not pay them back. When he exhausted his ability to stiff his creditors, the new secret sauce became a willingness to take money from shady overseas sources, especially (but not exclusively) Russian oligarchs looking either to park their cash overseas, or to gain some measure of influence. Whether Russia was investing in Trump for the purpose of gaining some hidden leverage over him is not incidental to the Mueller investigation but its very heart.

Likewise, a casual reader of the Times report on Michael Cohen’s business history may have missed the significance concealed beneath its carefully measured language. The upshot is that Cohen is not the schlubby, unethical lawyer Ben Stiller portrayed him as on Saturday Night Live. Cohen’s father uncle, the Times reveals, worked closely with La Cosa Nostra and gained the organization’s trust. Cohen’s first employer was a criminal, his father-in-law was a criminal with ties to the Russian Mafia, and Cohen maintained extensive criminal associations throughout his public life. Sometimes people involved in mostly legitimate business have gangster friends, but if you’re surrounded at all stages by gangsters — including operating your business out of a criminal headquarters, as Cohen did — then your real profession is “crook.” The Times can’t prove it, nor can I, but this is the takeaway.

Cohen, of course, was also involved in dealings with Russian government sources. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 May 2018 at 9:43 am

US makes it clear it will not necessarily honor its agreements in the future

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Trump has a long history of breaking his agreements (e.g., refusing to pay the agreed-upon price to contractors who did work for him, refusing to repay loans as agreed, refusing to honor marriage vows, etc.), and now he brings that same cavalier attitude to the US government. By abrogating the Iran agreement (and working to break the NAFTA treaty), Tump is making clear to the world that the US can no longer be counted upon to honor its agreements.

Mark Landler reports in the NY Times:

President Trump told President Emmanuel Macron of France on Tuesday morning that he plans to announce the withdrawal of the United States from the Iran nuclear deal, according to a person briefed on the conversation.

Mr. Trump’s decision unravels the signature foreign policy achievement of his predecessor, Barack Obama, isolating the United States among its allies and leaving it at even greater odds with its adversaries in dealing with the Iranians.

The United States is preparing to reinstate all sanctions it had waived as part of the nuclear accord — and impose additional economic penalties as well, the person said.

A second person familiar with negotiations to keep the 2015 accord in place said the talks collapsed over Mr. Trump’s insistence that sharp limits be kept on Iran’s nuclear fuel production after 2030. The deal currently lifts those limits.

Mr. Trump is planning to formally announce his decision at 2 p.m. on Tuesday at the White House.

Mr. Trump’s decision, while long anticipated and widely telegraphed, plunges America’s relations with European allies into deep uncertainty. They have committed to staying in the deal, raising the prospect of a diplomatic and economic clash as the United States reimposes stringent sanctions on Iran.

It also raises the prospect of increased tensions with Russia and China, which also are parties to the agreement. . .

Continue reading.

“Making America Distrusted Again.” That’s the actual slogan.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 May 2018 at 9:14 am

A Prisoner in Gina Haspel’s Black Site

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Tim Golden and Stephen Engelberg report in ProPublica:

He was a small man, one interrogator recalled, and so thin that he would slip in his restraints when the masked CIA guards tipped the waterboard upward to let him breathe.

Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, a 37-year-old Saudi, did not deny having been a terrorist operative for Osama bin Laden. He admitted his role in the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000, an attack that killed 17 Navy sailors. Captured two years later in Dubai, he talked openly about planning more attacks.

But any bravado had disappeared well before Nashiri’s CIA captors strapped him naked to a hospital gurney in a windowless white cell and began pouring water into his nose and mouth until he felt he was drowning. He pleaded with them to stop. They continued.

They “were going to get the truth out of him,” the interrogator told Nashiri, according to a previously undisclosed CIA cable. “They were going to do this again, and again, and again until he decided to be truthful.”

More than 15 years after Gina Haspel oversaw the questioning of Nashiri at a secret prison in Thailand, she will go before the Senate on Wednesday to seek confirmation as President Donald Trump’s choice to become the next director of the CIA.

While her nomination has already revived the country’s unresolved debate over interrogation methods that many experts consider torture, nearly everything Haspel has done in her long CIA career has remained secret, blotted out by the black ink that obscures classified information in public records.

But a trove of partially declassified CIA documents, released earlier this year in response to a Freedom of Information Act request and provided to ProPublica, offers a glimpse at one coercive interrogation she is known to have supervised.

Those records describe how Nashiri was slammed repeatedly against a wall, locked up in a tiny “confinement box” and told (inaccurately) that the black-clad security officers guarding him were Navy sailors who would pummel him if he did not divulge his secrets. One interrogator told Nashiri he needed to be “tenderized” like a piece of meat.

As Haspel prepares for confirmation hearings before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, the question is not whether her past will haunt her, but whether she can persuasively argue that her experience with harsh interrogations has convinced her not to allow their use again.

“She has told senators in her meetings with them that the CIA will not renew a detention and interrogation program under any circumstances,” a CIA spokesman said.

The Trump administration’s pitch for Haspel has not been straightforward. The president, who campaigned on a promise that he would bring back waterboarding and “a heck of a lot worse,” complained in a tweet on Monday morning that Democrats were opposing Haspel because “she was too tough on Terrorists.”

“Win Gina!” he exhorted her.

The agency itself, which generally prides itself on avoiding politics, has taken an unusually active and open role in lobbying for Haspel’s candidacy. On Monday, the CIA delivered a fuller set of classified records to the Senate, inviting senators to read a detailed history of Haspel’s career in secure rooms on Capitol Hill. But the agency has thus far declassified almost no substantive information about her work as an operations officer or senior official.

“Nominees will say practically anything to get confirmed,” Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, a Democratic member of the intelligence committee, said in an interview. “I believe the American people have a right to know who this nominee is. I believe there is a significant amount of information about the key period, from 2002 to 2007, which can be declassified without compromising our country’s security.”

To provide a fuller picture, ProPublica interviewed current and former officials and reviewed thousands of pages of documents, including some that had not previously been made public. This story focuses on Haspel’s CIA career and her brief experience leading one of the agency’s so-called black sites. A second article will examine her role in the agency’s 2005 destruction of 92 interrogation videotapes that were recorded before and during her time at the secret prison in Thailand.

Agency colleagues cast her role in both the tapes affair and the interrogation program as evidence of her consummate loyalty — not only to her boss, but to CIA officers who served in clandestine prisons around the world. But her personal views on such issues as the morality and effectiveness of brutal interrogation methods have remained opaque.

For several years, former officials said, she was deeply involved in the agency’s fight against al-Qaida, often working closely with the detention program. Later, she held top posts in the Clandestine Service when the agency waged an extraordinary campaign to try to refute a scathing report on the program by the Senate intelligence committee. The vehemence of those challenges led both Democrats and Republicans to question the CIA’s own reckoning with the mistakes it made.

According to one intelligence official, it was Haspel’s bona fides as a front-line veteran of the campaign against al-Qaida that helped win Trump’s admiration early on in his presidency, when he named her the agency’s deputy director. “He likes the idea that she was a risk-taker,” the official said. . .

Continue reading.

She’s willing to commit war crimes and she will follow orders even when the orders are of dubious illegality. She would not be my pick, that’s for sure.

See also in ProPublicaScenes From a Black Site,” by Daniel DeFraia:

Recently declassified CIA documents provide the first detailed look at the interrogation in Thailand of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, the al-Qaida prisoner whose detention, officials say, was overseen by Gina Haspel.

Nashiri, a 37-year-old Saudi, was implicated in the bombing of the USS Cole, a Navy destroyer, while it was docked off the coast of Yemen in 2000. He was captured in Dubai in mid-October 2002. Emirati authorities handed him over to the CIA, which “rendered” him first to Afghanistan where he was briefly held at a secret prison called the “Salt Pit.” He was then flown to another secret prison in Thailand codenamed “Cat’s Eye.”

Nashiri arrived in Thailand on Nov. 15, according to a report by the CIA’s inspector general. Newly declassified documents show Nashiri suffered many of the same harsh methods the Justice Department had approved in August for the questioning of Abu Zubaydah.

Many of the declassified documents are dated November or December 2002. The precise dates are redacted, making an exact chronology impossible to determine. But there are clues that show a rough sequence of events. Several documents cite a calendar of Nashiri’s “enhanced interrogation,” which the inspector general’s report and other sources say began as soon as he arrived in Thailand. The documents allude to Nashiri’s transfer to another secret prison in Poland, which took place on Dec. 4. According to the inspector general’s investigation, Nashiri was waterboarded on the 12th day of his detention in Thailand, which would have been around Nov. 27. (A report on CIA interrogations by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence said that Nashiri was waterboarded “at least” three times in Thailand.)

1. Date (Redacted): Eyes Only — Application of Enhanced Measures to Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri

As the CIA prepared to send Nashiri, described as a “longtime major al-Qaida personality and terrorist operations planner,” to the black site in Thailand for interrogation, this cable, apparently from headquarters, formally approved the use of harshly coercive methods “as necessary.”  . . .

Read the whole thing.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 May 2018 at 9:04 am

People think she’s a Parkland ‘crisis actor.’ It’s terrifying.

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The incidence of insane behavior seems to be continually increasing in the US. Danielle Pacquette reports in the Washington Post:

The strangers mocked her on social media. They called her old boss, saying she should be arrested. Now she feared one was stalking her.

Emma Gonzalez became an Internet obsession after a gunman killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Valentine’s Day. She no longer felt safe walking home in her neighborhood of four years.
“Do Americans really fall for it when you talk about being a victim of a school shooting in Florida?” someone had messaged her on Facebook, joining dozens of others who doubted her identity.
But she wasn’t that Emma — the Parkland, Fla., student leading a national gun control movement who has appeared on CNN, the Ellen DeGeneres Show and the cover of Time magazine.
She was another Emma, a 31-year-old vegan chef in Brooklyn.
Sure, she used to star on a low-budget cooking series. She was not, however, what they called her: a “crisis actor.”
Gonzalez was at her cafe, thinking about how weird it all was — the emails, the phone calls, the way her life changed because of something that happened 1,250 miles away — when she noticed a man pointing his phone at her.
Normally, she wouldn’t worry about a guy who might have just been taking a selfie. She’d focus on her job, which, at this April moment, was fetching dill for black-eyed pea fritters.
These days, though, fear clouded the mundane. A customer sipping coffee registered as a threat. Was he taking her picture?
“Emma,” he called to her. “Emma, you’re real.”
She knew then who he was.
This is the other side of a conspiracy theory.
After the tragedy in Parkland — like after the tragedies in Las Vegas, Orlando and Sandy Hook, Conn. — amateur sleuths on Reddit, Twitter and WordPress questioned the stories of those who publicly grieved. They called the victims “fakers,” political operatives, employees of a “deep state” bent on disarming Americans.
The torment caused by these conspiracy theories is at the heart of a lawsuit filed last month by three parents whose children died in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. They’re suing right-wing YouTube star Alex Jones, who had suggested the rampage was a hoax that the families had helped perpetuate. The parents said they have suffered “severe degree of mental stress and anguish,” according to the lawsuit, and a “high degree of psychological pain.”
The paranoia around the Florida teenagers who have called for tighter gun control (and amassed millions of Twitter followers) has grown just as mighty. Facebook and Google recently pledged to delete any post calling the kids “crisis actors.”
But 2½ months after the shooting, misinformation still slips through the cracks, creating another kind of victim.
‘They could definitely find me’
At first, Gonzalez was determined not to worry about it. The Florida kids, she thought, had it much worse. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 May 2018 at 8:54 am

Posted in Daily life, GOP, Technology

Plisson synthetic brush, Phoenix Artisan Briar, Maggard V3A, and Stetson Sierra

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Made a great lather from Phoenix Artisan’s Briar (“Tobacco, Oakwood, Vanilla, Animilac Musk, Labdanum, Rose, and dried leaves”) and set to work with the Maggard V3A. Three passes later, my face was smooth and a splash of Stetson Sierra finished the job.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 May 2018 at 8:50 am

Posted in Shaving

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