Permanent Webstand

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Since the readership of this blog is quite small by all accounts, I've wondered why I have continued to update (and delete) stories from the webstand at right. Mostly I want to publicly register approval for various stories I read without actually posting on them. And as I said in the last post, I don't want to post snippets without comment very often.

But I just came up with an actual good reason to continue to update the webstand: I'll archive all the links on this post. So here goes, more after the jump:

Imaginary fiends, Joe Keohane, Boston Globe, February 14, 2010.
The year 2009 was a grim one for many Americans, but there was one pleasant surprise amid all the drear: Citizens, though ground down and nerve-racked by the recession, still somehow resisted the urge to rob and kill one another, and they resisted in impressive numbers. Across the country, FBI data show that crime last year fell to lows unseen since the 1960s - part of a long trend that has seen crime fall steeply in the United States since the mid-1990s.

At the same time, however, another change has taken place: a steady rise in the percentage of Americans who believe crime is getting worse. The vast majority of Americans - nearly three-quarters of the population - thought crime got worse in the United States in 2009, according to Gallup’s annual crime attitudes poll. That, too, is part of a running trend. As crime rates have dropped for the past decade, the public belief in worsening crime has steadily grown. The more lawful the country gets, the more lawless we imagine it to be.
Destroying C.I.A Tapes Wasn't Opposed, Memos Say, Scott Shane, New York Times, February 22, 2010.
According to a memorandum prepared after the Feb. 4, 2003, briefing by the C.I.A.’s director of Congressional affairs, Stanley M. Moskowitz, Scott Muller, then the agency’s general counsel, explained that the interrogations were reported in detailed agency cables and that officials intended to destroy the videotapes as soon as the agency’s inspector general completed a review of them.

“Senator Roberts listened carefully and gave his assent,” the C.I.A. memo says.

In November 2005, after nearly three years of internal debate, the agency destroyed 92 videotapes of interrogations of two people suspected of being terrorists, Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri.

That action has been under criminal investigation by the Justice Department since early 2008. A prosecutor, John H. Durham, is trying to determine whether it violated court orders to preserve evidence related to detention and interrogation or violated any laws.
Doctors Without Morals, Leonard S. Rubenstein and Stephen N. Xenakis, New York Times, February 28, 2010.
When the C.I.A.’s inspector general challenged these “enhanced interrogation” methods, the agency’s Office of Medical Services was brought in to determine, in consultation with the Justice Department, whether the techniques inflicted severe mental pain or suffering, the legal definition of torture. Once again, doctors played a critical role, providing professional opinions that no severe pain or suffering was being inflicted.
Note the legal definition of torture - severe mental pain or suffering. It's not only about physical treatment.
According to Justice Department memos released last year, the medical service opined that sleep deprivation up to 180 hours didn’t qualify as torture. It determined that confinement in a dark, small space for 18 hours a day was acceptable. It said detainees could be exposed to cold air or hosed down with cold water for up to two-thirds of the time it takes for hypothermia to set in. And it advised that placing a detainee in handcuffs attached by a chain to a ceiling, then forcing him to stand with his feet shackled to a bolt in the floor, “does not result in significant pain for the subject.”

The service did allow that waterboarding could be dangerous, and that the experience of feeling unable to breathe is extremely frightening. But it noted that the C.I.A. had limited its use to 12 applications over two sessions within 24 hours, and to five days in any 30-day period. As a result, the lawyers noted the office’s “professional judgment that the use of the waterboard on a healthy individual subject to these limitations would be ‘medically acceptable.’”

The medical basis for these opinions was nonexistent. The Office of Medical Services cited no studies of individuals who had been subjected to these techniques. Its sources included a wilderness medical manual, the National Institute of Mental Health Web site and guidelines from the World Health Organization.

The only medical source cited by the service was a book by Dr. James Horne, a sleep expert at Loughborough University in Britain; when Dr. Horne learned that his book had been used as a reference, he said the C.I.A. had distorted his findings and misrepresented his research, and that its conclusions on sleep deprivation were nonsense.
The shabbiness of the medical judgments, though, pales in comparison to the ethical breaches by the doctors and psychologists involved. Health professionals have a responsibility extending well beyond nonparticipation in torture; the historic maxim is, after all, “First do no harm.” These health professionals did the polar opposite.

Nevertheless, no agency — not the Pentagon, the C.I.A., state licensing boards or professional medical societies — has initiated any action to investigate, much less discipline, these individuals. They have ignored the gross and appalling violations by medical personnel. This is an unconscionable disservice to the thousands of ethical doctors and psychologists in the country’s service. It is not too late to begin investigations. They should start now.
Report Is Critical of Obama's Efforts at Transparency, Eric Lichtblau, New York Times, March 14, 2010.
To test the new policy, the National Security Archive has done periodic audits of compliance and sent formal information requests to 90 federal agencies asking for internal material on the changes. The response, the group said, found some areas of “potential progress” but many others with lackluster results.

For instance, it found that only 13 of the 90 agencies it queried appear to have taken “concrete steps” to implement the administration’s order.

At the agencies that reported changes, these steps ranged from new training programs on public information rules to the online posting of requested documents. Energy Department staff members, for example, are now supposed to get regular reports on pending requests “to ensure accountability and timeliness.”

More than a third of the agencies, 35 in all, said they had no internal documents showing how or whether the new Freedom of Information policies were being put into effect. Among those are three that have been at the center of public policy debates and at times have been accused of excessive secrecy: the Central Intelligence Agency, the Treasury Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Seventeen federal agencies did not respond to the requests, despite a requirement that they do so within 20 business days.
White House threatens veto on intelligence activities bill, Walter Pincus, Washington Post, March 16, 2010.
The White House has renewed its threat to veto the fiscal 2010 intelligence authorization bill over a provision that would force the administration to widen the circle of lawmakers who are informed about covert operations and other sensitive activities.

When the bill passed the House on Feb. 25, the chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-Tex.), hailed it for improving "congressional oversight by strengthening certain disclosure requirements of intelligence activities to the House and Senate intelligence committees." Lawmakers had spent the previous six months working out provisions that the White House still opposes.

Under the House plan, which is similar to one passed by the Senate, the White House would have to inform all members of both intelligence committees of the "main features" of activities disclosed in detail to the Gang of Eight -- the speaker and minority leader of the House, the majority and minority leaders of the Senate, and the chairmen and ranking minority members of the Senate and House intelligence committees.

In a letter sent to the senior members of the intelligence panels, Office of Management and Budget Director Peter R. Orszag said Gang of Eight notifications are made in only "the most limited of circumstances" affecting "vital interests" of the United States, arguing that the new requirement would "undermine the president's authority and responsibility to protect sensitive national security information."
Military commissions: A bad idea, Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld and Joshua Dratel, Salon, March 10, 2010.
And when the Supreme Court finally hears a challenge to the commissions' constitutionality, it may well overturn any conviction. If swift and certain justice is important to our national security, then using this Rube Goldberg-style system of criminal justice is ludicrous.

By contrast, federal courts are a constitutionally sound forum for prosecuting terrorists. There would be no threshold question about the court's legitimacy, no grounds for appeal challenging the fundamentals of the system. And compared to the glacial pace of military commissions, a federal court trial would proceed pursuant to established standards designed to move cases forward in an orderly fashion. Federal courts are not only capable of handling complex terrorism trials, they are better than military commissions at doing it.

According to a new report by the NYU Center on Law and Security, the Department of Justice has successfully prosecuted more than 150 terrorism cases since 9/11, securing an average sentence of 16 years. As Colin Powell explained on "Face the Nation," the military commissions are a failure by comparison: "In eight years the military commissions have put three people on trial. Two of them served relatively short sentences and are free. One guy is in jail ... So the suggestion that somehow a military commission is the way to go isn't borne out by the history of the military commissions."
Obviously, swift and certain justice isn't deemed important to our national security. But isn't it still important to 9/11 victims' families? Where have they gone?

How Petraeus could swing thinking on Israel, Andrew Bacevich, March 19, 2010.
Yet shouting hasn't worked and won't. It's far too late for that. Better to acknowledge the facts -- Petraeus states them with admirable clarity -- and then deal with the implications. Israeli wariness about creating a genuinely sovereign Palestinian state is entirely reasonable. The same can be said for Israel's determination never to betray any sign of weakness.

That said, the United States has a profound interest in redressing the long-standing grievances of the Palestinian people -- not with expectation that Islamic extremism will thereby vanish, with Muslims everywhere falling in love with America, but in order to strip away every last vestige of claimed moral justification for violent jihadism directed against the West.

To pretend that this divergence of interests does not exist or does not matter -- or to sustain the pretense that the fraudulent "peace process" holds out any real prospect of producing a solution -- is the equivalent of allowing a sore to fester. The inevitable result is to allow infection to spread, with potentially fateful consequences.
Change Is Possible, Femlaw, Daily Kos, March 24, 2010.
I've studied organizing and social movements from the view of a scholar in the ivory tower and the perspective of a participant on the ground, and I have come to one key conclusion -- positive emotions motivate action.

Hope in the future, a belief you can make a difference, the understanding that change is possible, these are the essential ingredients in moving people to act for change. Apathy, fear and self-doubt keep us from acting. Organizers foster the faith in ourselves we need to make sacrifices and persist in the face of obstacles.

In other words: without hope there can be no change.
The Petraeus briefing: Biden's embarrassment is not the whole story, Mark Perry, The Middle East Channel,, March 13, 2010.
On Jan. 16, two days after a killer earthquake hit Haiti, a team of senior military officers from the U.S. Central Command (responsible for overseeing American security interests in the Middle East), arrived at the Pentagon to brief Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The team had been dispatched by CENTCOM commander Gen. David Petraeus to underline his growing worries at the lack of progress in resolving the issue. The 33-slide, 45-minute PowerPoint briefing stunned Mullen. The briefers reported that there was a growing perception among Arab leaders that the U.S. was incapable of standing up to Israel, that CENTCOM's mostly Arab constituency was losing faith in American promises, that Israeli intransigence on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was jeopardizing U.S. standing in the region, and that [U.S. Special Envoy George] Mitchell himself was (as a senior Pentagon officer later bluntly described it) "too old, too slow ... and too late."
Hyperactive Agency Detection, Steven Novella, NeuroLogica Blog, March 22, 2010.
Understanding that HADD [Hyperactive Agency Detection Device] is an intrinsic part of human nature is part of the core knowledge base of the skeptic.

As a neurologist and a skeptic I am particularly interested in how brain function relates to human intellectual strengths and weaknesses and how knowledge of such helps us to avoid common mental pitfalls. In other words, knowledge of how the human brain works helps us think better – to be more skeptical and avoid error.

Psychologists and neuroscientists in recent years have demonstrated that our brains are hardwired to distinguish things in our environment that are alive from those that are not alive. But “being alive” (from a psychological point of view) is not about biology, but agency – something that can act in the world, that has its own will and can cause things to happen. Sure, this is a property of living things, but that’s not how our brain sort things out. We can perceive agency in non-living things if they are acting as if they are agents.

This is reflected even in our visual system, which separates out visual information into different streams according to the type of information. One division is between information about actions and information about objects. The object stream is also divided into brain regions that deal with inanimate objects and other regions that deal with living things or animate objects. So on a fundamental level our brains treat agents different than objects – from the moment we see them.
We can extrapolate from “non-inertial movement”, or movement that cannot be easily explained as a passive reaction to natural forces, to more and more complex “actions.” HADD detects more than movement, it can detect a pattern in otherwise unrelated events, details that defy easy explanation, or consequences that seem out of proportion to the alleged causes. When HADD is triggered we tend to see a hidden agent working behind the scenes, making events unfold the way they do, and perhaps even deliberately hiding its own tracks.

When HADD is triggered and we think we see the hidden agent, it speaks to us in a very primal way. For some people the perception of hidden agency becomes overwhelming, dominating all other thought processes. We know these people as conspiracy theorists. But there is a little conspiracy theorist inside each of us.
International Justice-For Others, Guenael Mettraux, International Herald Tribune, May 31, 2010.
Despite repeated assertions that a body of universal criminal prohibitions applicable to all has grown from these values, they remain to a large extent “le droit des autres,” a set of rules that we seem content to apply to others, but not to ourselves. The “others” are those, states and individuals, who have lost the political muscle to preempt or resist the application of that regime to them.

The International Criminal Court, a tribunal with global ambitions, has thus far only indicted Africans, although more than a hundred countries from five continents have now joined the Court, and crimes coming within its jurisdiction have arguably been committed outside of Africa.

Meanwhile, domestic courts in the Netherlands have successfully shielded Dutch soldiers and the state from judicial scrutiny for their alleged failure to prevent mass atrocities in Srebrenica in July 1995, while Serb and Bosnian nationals are being prosecuted on Dutch territory by an international tribunal for their involvement in those events. The same tribunal declined a few years ago to even investigate crimes attributed to NATO forces in Serbia during the 1999 bombing campaign.
Israeli-Palestinian negotiations resume-no fanfare and no new peace religion, Daniel Levy, The Middle East Channel,, May 14, 2010.
Much of the focus has been on how wide the gaps now are between the parties. That description needs deconstructing for a moment. When more closely considered, it is clear that the Palestinian negotiators are the same people as in previous rounds and that their negotiating positions, including the flexibility on display, have remained consistent. The new found chasm is almost exclusively a product of the regression in the negotiating position of Israel's new/old Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (as gleaned from his public statements on Jerusalem, the Jordan Valley, settlements, etc.).

The almost universally held expectation in the region for these resumed talks is that they will collapse. The interesting subjects for speculation therefore become when, under what conditions, who will be blamed, and what will come next, especially from the Obama administration. Both sides already seem to be positioning themselves for both the blame game and for the post-negotiation failure phase of subsequent U.S. moves. Week one was rather confirmatory in that respect. Israel's right wing ministers competed with each other in declaring their filialty to settlement construction in East Jerusalem and to demolishing Palestinian homes while the PLO cried foul and U.S. officials chimed in with what one imagines will become an oft-repeated mantra of "chill out."
They've Harnessed the Power of Concrete and Are Now Using It Against Us, John Cole, Balloon Juice, June 1, 2010.

Banned items for Gaza
Click to embiggen, but for those too lazy, ginger and nutmeg are jihadist and banned, cinnamon and pepper are allowed. Someone attempt to make sense of that list in any way.

*** Update #2 ***

As some of you have pointed out- how obvious. Anything that would allow them to make things, farm, or subsist on their own is banned. Anything that can be imported into Gaza for consumption only, leaving them wholly dependent is allowed. This isn’t about stopping weapons in the least.
The Times Square Bomber: Homegrown Hatred? Ahmed Rashid, NYR Blog, May 14, 2010.

Read the entire piece. It's very good.