Later On

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

Archive for August 8th, 2018

Interesting movie: The Siege (1998)

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A movie about how terrorism is used to justify the imposition of an authoritarian regime, made before 9/11. (It’s interesting to see, in a movie about terrorism on American soil, the World Trade Center towers still standing.) Interesting to view today as the US shifts toward an authoritarian regime—e.g., the movie shows immigrants being held in cages. Ring a bell?

Written by Leisureguy

8 August 2018 at 8:51 pm

Posted in Movies & TV

Has DHS Given Up on Repealing DACA?

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Kevin Drum has (another) excellent post at Mother Jones:

While I was catching up on some stuff I missed during my weekend dex haze, Steve Benen alerted me to the fact that a federal judge, once again, told the Department of Homeland Security that it couldn’t rescind DACA, the mini-DREAM act that President Obama put in place in 2012. At first glance, that sounds uninteresting: DHS tried to rescind DACA, they got sued, a judge ruled against them but gave them a second chance, and then ruled against them again. Tough luck.

But that’s not the whole story. You see, in its second hearing DHS decided to simply stand by its original decision with only a few desultory additions. The judge noted that this put them in a pickle:

By choosing to stand by its September 2017 rescission decision, DHS has placed itself in a dilemma. On the one hand, it cannot rely on the reasons it previously gave for DACA’s rescission, because the Court has already rejected them. On the other, because “an agency’s action must be upheld, if at all, on the basis articulated by the agency itself” … DHS also cannot rely on new reasons that it now articulates for the first time.

Huh. It can’t rely on its old reasons and it can’t invent new ones either. It turns out, however, that there is one option still open: it can do a better job of explaining its old reasons. But not only did they fail to do this, they apparently dredged up even worse explanations than before. Check this out:

The memo’s second “policy” justification asserts that “DHS should only exercise its prosecutorial discretion not to enforce the immigration laws on a truly individualized, case-by-case basis.”…In essence, the Secretary claims that even though DACA “on its face . . . allow[s] for individual considerations,” it should nonetheless be rescinded because its programmatic nature somehow misleads those charged with its implementation into applying it categorically.

As an initial matter, this rationale strikes the Court as specious. It would be one thing for a challenger other than DHS to claim that although DACA calls for case-by-case discretion in theory, its application is categorical in practice. Indeed, this argument was made by the plaintiffs in the Texas litigation. But when made by the agency itself, the argument becomes a non sequitur: if Secretary Nielsen believes that DACA is not being implemented as written, she can simply direct her employees to implement it properly. An agency head cannot point to her own employees’ misapplication of a program as a reason for its invalidity.

That’s a hell of an argument, isn’t it? My own people might misapply DACA and there’s nothing I can do about it! Unsurprisingly the judge was not impressed by this. There were several other passages as bad as this one, but it turns out the biggest problem is that back in 2014 Obama’s OLC wrote a detailed brief explaining why DACA was legal. Apparently DHS didn’t even bother addressing it. They just submitted a short letter from Attorney General Jeff Sessions asserting the DACA was illegal and that was that:

The Nielsen Memo provides almost no meaningful elaboration on the Duke Memo’s assertion that DACA is unlawful. The Nielsen Memo again ignores the 2014 OLC Memo laying out a comprehensive framework for evaluating the lawfulness of nonenforcement policies in the immigration context—an omission that plaintiffs properly characterize as “mystifying”….Thus, like the Duke Memo before it, the Nielsen Memo offers nothing even remotely approaching a considered legal assessment that this Court could subject to judicial review.

Here’s my question: The DHS brief was pretty obviously deficient even by the standards of a first-year law student. Was DHS even trying to defend themselves? Or had they given up and were just going through the motions? Alternatively, maybe they don’t care because they plan to appeal to the Supreme Court and figure that the court’s five conservatives will rule in their favor no matter what? This whole thing is damn strange.

POSTSCRIPT: Without diving into the details, this case is a good example of how hard it is to repeal an executive order, especially one that was crafted carefully and has been in place for several years. It’s not just a “stroke of a pen.” If DHS submitted a persuasive argument for the legality of DACA back in 2014, it can’t just turn around and ignore it in 2018. It has to explain equally carefully why the previous argument was wrong. What’s more, after hundreds of thousands of people have been relying on an executive order for many years, you can’t just yank it out from under them for no good reason. You need to present a strong policy rationale. Like it or not, that’s how the law works.

Being careful doesn’t guarantee success. However, it certainly makes success more likely, and the Obama administration was careful. The Trump administration, by contrast, is a clown show that’s repeatedly demonstrated that it doesn’t understand administrative law at all. Trump apparently thinks he can just issue orders, and that’s that. They are slowly learning otherwise.

Written by Leisureguy

8 August 2018 at 5:54 pm

War Without End: The Pentagon’s failed campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan left a generation of soldiers with little to fight for but one another.

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C.J. Chivers paints a grim but realistic picture:

Second Platoon did not hide its dark mood as its soldiers waded across the Korengal River in the bright light of afternoon. It was early in April 2009 and early in the Pentagon’s resumption in earnest of the Afghan war. The platoon’s mission was to ascend a mountain slope and try to ambush the Taliban at night. They were about 30 men in all, riflemen and machine-gunners reinforced with scouts, a mix of original platoon members and replacements who filled gaps left by the wounded and the dead. Many of them considered their plan foolish, a draining and dangerous waste of time, another example of a frustrated Army unit’s trying to show activity for the brass in a war low on focus and hope. They muttered foul words as they moved.

Specialist Robert Soto had been haunted by dread as the soldiers left their base, the Korengal Outpost. His platoon was part of an infantry unit that called itself Viper, the radio call sign for Bravo Company, First Battalion of the 26th Infantry. Viper had occupied the outpost for nine months, a period in which its soldiers were confined to a small stretch of lower valley and impoverished villages clinging to hillsides beneath towering peaks. Second Platoon had started its deployment with three squads but suffered so many casualties that on this day even with replacements it mustered at about two-thirds strength. With attrition came knowledge. Soto knew firsthand that the war did not resemble the carefully considered national project the generals discussed in the news. He had enlisted in the Army from the Bronx less than two years before, motivated by a desire to protect the United States from another terrorist attack. But his idealism had turned swiftly into realism, and the war had become a matter of him and his friends surviving each day as days cohered into a tour. He was doubtful about the rest, from the competence of the war’s organizers down to the merits of this ambush patrol. There’s no way this works, he thought. The valley felt like a network of watchers who set up American platoons, relaying word to those laying traps.

Soto sensed eyes following the patrol. Everybody can see us.

He was 19, but at 160 pounds and barely needing to shave, he could pass for two years younger. He was nobody’s archetype of a fighter. A high school drama student, he joined the Army at 17 and planned to become an actor if he survived the war. Often he went about his duties with an enormous smile, singing no matter what anyone else thought — R. & B., rap, rock, hip-hop, the blues. All of this made him popular in the platoon, even as he had become tenser than his former self and older than his years; even as his friends and sergeants he admired were killed, leaving him a burden of ghosts.

He faced the steep uphill climb, physically ready, emotionally spent. We’re just trying to get out of here in two months, he thought. He and his fellow soldiers had been in the valley long enough that they moved in the sinewy, late-deployment fitness of infantry squads seasoned by war. Sweat soaked his back. His quadriceps and calves drove him on, pushing him like a pack animal for the soldier beside him, Specialist Arturo Molano, who carried an M240 machine gun. The two fell into a rhythm. One soldier would get over a hard patch, turn around and extend a hand to the other. “Hey, man, you good?” Soto would ask. Molano would say he was fine. “You want me to carry the gun?” Soto would offer. Molano declined every time. Soto considered Molano to be selfless and tough, someone who routinely carried more than men of much larger size. He liked being partnered with someone like this.

After a few hours, Second Platoon reached the crest, high above the valley. The soldiers inhaled deeply, taking in the thin air. Away from the outpost’s burning trash, the air tasted clean.

A few soldiers went forward to check the trail before the rest of the platoon moved to the ambush site. With little more than whispers, the soldiers arranged themselves in a triangle astride a mountain footpath. Second Lt. Justin Smith, their platoon leader, put Molano at one corner and a second man with an M240 at another, with their machine guns angled back toward each other so their fire could create an interlocking zone of flying lead. Other soldiers set claymore mines on small stands.

Everything was ready before dark. The air was chilly and the ridge raked by gusts. Soto was shivering. He pulled a dry undershirt and socks from his pack, changed clothes, ate a protein bar and washed it down with water. He saw his company’s outpost below, across the open space, and realized this must be what it looked like to militants when they attacked. A distant call to prayer floated on the mountain air.

In early October, the Afghan war will be 17 years old, a milestone that has loomed with grim inevitability as the fighting has continued without a clear exit strategy across three presidential administrations. With this anniversary, prospective recruits born after the terrorist attacks of 2001 will be old enough to enlist. And Afghanistan is not the sole enduring American campaign. The war in Iraq, which started in 2003, has resumed and continues in a different form over the border in Syria, where the American military also has settled into a string of ground outposts without articulating a plan or schedule for a way out. The United States has at various times declared success in its many campaigns — in late 2001; in the spring of 2003; in 2008; in the short-lived withdrawal from Iraq late in 2011; and in its allies’ recapture more recently of the ruins of Ramadi, Falluja, Mosul and Raqqa from the Islamic State, a terrorist organization, formed in the crucible of occupied Iraq, that did not even exist when the wars to defeat terrorism started. And still the wars grind on, with the conflict in Afghanistan on track to be a destination for American soldiers born after it began.

More than three million Americans have served in uniform in these wars. Nearly 7,000 of them have died. Tens of thousands more have been wounded. More are killed or wounded each year, in smaller numbers but often in dreary circumstances, including the fatal attack in July on Cpl. Joseph Maciel by an Afghan soldier — a member of the very forces that the United States has underwritten, trained and equipped, and yet as a matter of necessity and practice now guards itself against.

On one matter there can be no argument: The policies that sent these men and women abroad, with their emphasis on military action and their visions of reordering nations and cultures, have not succeeded. It is beyond honest dispute that the wars did not achieve what their organizers promised, no matter the party in power or the generals in command. Astonishingly expensive, strategically incoherent, sold by a shifting slate of senior officers and politicians and editorial-page hawks, the wars have continued in varied forms and under different rationales each and every year since passenger jets struck the World Trade Center in 2001. They continue today without an end in sight, reauthorized in Pentagon budgets almost as if distant war is a presumed government action.

As the costs have grown — whether measured by dollars spent, stature lost or blood shed — the wars’ architects and the commentators supporting them have often been ready with optimistic or airbrushed predictions, each pitched to the latest project or newly appointed general’s plan. According to the bullhorns and depending on the year, America’s military campaigns abroad would satisfy justice, displace tyrants, keep violence away from Western soil, spread democracy, foster development, prevent sectarian war, protect populations, reduce corruption, bolster women’s rights, decrease the international heroin trade, check the influence of extreme religious ideology, create Iraqi and Afghan security forces that would be law-abiding and competent and finally build nations that might peacefully stand on their own in a global world, all while discouraging other would-be despots and terrorists.

Aside from displacing tyrants and leading to the eventual killing of Osama bin Laden, none of this turned out as pitched. Prominent successes were short-lived. New thugs rose where old thugs fell. Corruption and lawlessness remain endemic. An uncountable tally of civilians — many times the number of those who perished in the terrorist attacks in the United States in 2001 — were killed. Others were wounded or driven from their homes, first by American action and then by violent social forces American action helped unleash.

The governments of Afghanistan and Iraq, each of which the United States spent hundreds of billions of dollars to build and support, are fragile, brutal and uncertain. The nations they struggle to rule harbor large contingents of irregular fighters and terrorists who have been hardened and made savvy, trained by the experience of fighting the American military machine. Much of the infrastructure the United States built with its citizens’ treasure and its troops’ labor lies abandoned. Briefly schools or outposts, many are husks, looted and desolate monuments to forgotten plans. Hundreds of thousands of weapons provided to would-be allies have vanished; an innumerable quantity are on markets or in the hands of Washington’s enemies. Billions of dollars spent creating security partners also deputized pedophiles, torturers and thieves. National police or army units that the Pentagon proclaimed essential to their countries’ futures have disbanded. The Islamic State has sponsored or encouraged terrorist attacks across much of the world — exactly the species of crime the global “war on terror” was supposed to prevent.

Almost two decades after the White House cast American troops as liberators to be welcomed, large swaths of territory where the Pentagon deployed combat forces are under stubborn insurgent influence. Areas once touted as markers of counterinsurgency progress have become no-go zones, regions in which almost no Americans dare tread, save a few journalists and aid workers, or private military contractors or American military and C.I.A. teams.

Across these years, hundreds of thousands of young men and women signed on in good faith and served in the lower and middle ranks. They did not make policy. They lived within it. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more. The US cannot afford this.

Denying reality is ultimately a losing strategy.

Why Trump Goes Out of His Way to Incriminate Himself

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Frank Rich is interviewed in New York:

Most weeks, New York Magazine writer-at-large Frank Rich speaks with contributor Alex Carp about the biggest stories in politics and culture. Today, Trump’s persistent self-incrimination, the ongoing trial of Paul Manafort, and the lessons of Ohio’s special election.

This weekend, Donald Trump changed his story once again about the infamous June 2016 meeting with Russians at Trump Tower, tweeting that its purpose was in fact to “get information” on Hillary Clinton. What does he get out of his continued potentially self-incriminating tweets?

A very good question. Part of me wonders if our president gets some kind of psychosexual thrill out of his repeated use of Twitter as a vehicle for reckless self-incrimination now that Playboy is no longer minting new Playmates for him to prey upon. He’s like the killer who keeps returning to the scene of the crime, ignoring the bloodhounds on his trail. There’s no method to his madness. It’s just madness.

To those of us in the reality-based community, after all, it’s self-evident that Trump has been building Robert Mueller’s obstruction case for him from the moment he gave self-contradictory explanations for his firing of James Comey. He’s only upped the ante since. Just a week ago, the president called for his own attorney general to shut down Mueller’s inquiry “right now.” Obstruction hardly gets balder than that.

Trump would argue that what we call self-incrimination he calls “fighting back,” just as what we call a criminal investigation he calls a “witch hunt.” It’s in this same Orwellian vein that he and his brilliant counsel, Rudy Giuliani, have also taken to declaring that “collusion” is not a crime (even as the president incessantly pleads innocent to this non-crime), and that both men keep maintaining a semantical charade about the ground rules under which Trump will sit voluntarily for an interview with the special counsel.

Spoiler alert: Trump will never submit to that interview. Mueller will be left with little choice but to subpoena him. That’s when all hell will break loose in a constitutional crisis such as we have not seen since the summer of 1974 in the Nixon endgame. To make this sequel even more hellish than the original, Trump’s new nominee to the Supreme Court, Brett Kavanaugh, if confirmed, could be the deciding vote in the showdown. If Paul Manafort thought he could get away with witness tampering, he’s a mere amateur next to Trump, who will think nothing of tampering with the nine jurors in the highest court in the land.

But in a way these legal issues are beside the point in understanding Trump’s modus operandi. He doesn’t mind making himself vulnerable to punishment under the law because he doesn’t believe the law is legitimate or as powerful as he is. To him, jurisprudence is just another adversary to be bullied and mowed down like Little Marco or Crooked Hillary. That’s why the possibility of implicating himself in an obstruction case doesn’t really concern him. His plan is to destroy the rule of law before any case gets far enough to put him in legal jeopardy. His goal is not to prove his innocence in a court of law but to discredit the Justice Department, the FBI, the intelligence agencies, and, of course, the special counsel before he ever gets to court. On a parallel track he’s out to destroy the news media that report on his flagrant lawlessness. He’s even persuaded 43 percent of Republicans, according to an Ipsos poll provided to the Daily Beast, that he should have the power to “close down news outlets” if he chooses.

After Nixon’s demise — brought about by his own vehicle for self-incrimination, the White House tapes — the consensus had it that the system worked. This time the system is being burned down before our eyes by its own chief executive. Given the complete and utter moral collapse of the Vichy Republicans in Washington, the only hope for rescuing it is for the Democrats to gain control of either or both chambers of Congress.

During testimony at the Manafort trial this week, Manafort deputy Rick Gates has testified that at his boss’s discretion he filed false tax returns and falsified applications for bank loans. Have his admissions changed anything about how we should think about the inner machinations of the Trump campaign, on which both Gates and Manafort served? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

8 August 2018 at 12:33 pm

Nordic walking progress update

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My regular route has recently been taking less time. The times for the last few days (in order): 66 minutes, 64 minutes, 63 minutes, 60 minutes, 59 minutes, and today 57 minutes. I added another mini-lap and brought the total to 61 minutes.

I think that the training effect has kicked in: my body’s responding to the repeated exercise by adding muscle and increasing the capillary network. The effect requires continued exertion, and today I have completed a 30-day streak of meeting my goal of 5500 steps a day: that 30 days apparently is enough for the training effect to take hold. In fact, for the past 10 days I’ve done more than 8000 steps a day, though the Nordic walking part stays right around one hour (but more steps in that hour). I may reset the goal to 8000 steps/day.

And I see that I’ve logged more than a quarter of a million steps since I installed Pedometer++ on July 1.

I was thinking about why Nordic walking is so much more enjoyable to me than just regular walking, and I think it’s because in Nordic walking I have something to do (as it were). In regular walking, my feet and legs have something to do but the rest of me is just along for the ride, so I found I needed some sort of distraction: listening to music, for example, or to audiobooks. But in Nordic walking, because my hands, arms, and shoulders are involved, I feel as though I’m more fully engaged, which makes the walk more enjoyable.

The Exel dealer said their stock of new Exel poles will be shipped (from Finland) on 10 August, so they will be available for purchase around 17-24 August. I can’t wait. One interesting note: because I do all my walking on pavement/tarmac/asphalt, they recommended for better grip and better shock-absorption that I get the Aero2 tip with the Control asphalt paw rather than the All-Terrain tip.

Written by Leisureguy

8 August 2018 at 9:05 am

Posted in Fitness, Nordic walking

Simpson Emperor 3 Super, Eufros Vetiver de Haiti, Feather AS-D1, and Saint Charles Shave Very V aftershave

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Simpson’s Emperor 3 Super is a favorite brush—the handle is very comfortable and it has an excellent knot, which today made a great lather from JabonMan’s Vetiver de Haiti. Sometimes I get exactly the right amount of water in the knot for the soap I’m using, and the brush loads perfectly. (With soaps that contain clay, though, I find that adding a small amount of water during the loading works best.)

The Feather AS-D1 did a good job but I had to work at a few places so I’ll replace the blade. I use Feather blades in this razor on the assumption that the design is tuned for their own blades.

A splash of Very V aftershave, and then a good walk. Today I set some new personal records (see next post if interested).

Written by Leisureguy

8 August 2018 at 8:38 am

Posted in Shaving

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