Apple confirmed that CEO Steve Jobs will attend the company's annual developer conference next week, and will discuss forthcoming versions of the company's desktop and mobile operating system software, Mac OS X and iOS 5, as well as the company's widely anticipated cloud services offering, iCloud.Rico says it's yet more cool Apple stuff to lust after...
The presence of Jobs at Apple's Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) was not certain: He has been on medical leave since the beginning of the year, his second such leave since being diagnosed with a rare form of pancreatic cancer in 2004. Investors, sensitive to the health of an executive as powerful and influential as Jobs, appear to be heartened by the news: Apple's stock closed up more than ten points, about 3%.
Jobs missed the 2009 WWDC but delivered the keynote speech at the conference in 2010. Apple is said to have struck deals with major music industry companies that will allow Apple to host consumers' purchased music files in the $1 billion data center that the company recently completed in Maiden, North Carolina. Subscribers are expected to be able to access their music files from any Mac OS X or iOS device via streaming playback over an active WiFi or mobile network connection. Whether iCloud will support other operating systems remains to be seen. The major draw of the service is likely to be the ability to sync files across supported devices wirelessly; the current method of syncing via USB cable doesn't provide the best possible user experience.
The Wall Street Journal says Apple has reached agreements with Warner Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment, and EMI, and is expected to conclude a deal with Universal Music Group this week.
Apple's competitors in the emerging media hosting business, Amazon and Google, have gone ahead and launched their own cloud music services without the blessing of music companies, moves that appear to invite copyright litigation.
The legality of cloud music hosting has yet be tested in court, but Amazon and Google have at least some reason to believe the law is on their side: the U.S. Supreme Court in 2009 said it was not a copyright law violation for Cablevision to store DVR recordings made by its customers.
Apple's iCloud represents the company's fourth attempt at a cloud service: it began life as iDisk, part of the iTools service in January 2000. It was re-branded and turned into a $99 per year paid offering under the name .Mac in July 2002. The service was renamed MobileMe in July 2008 and was discontinued as a standalone retail product in February this year, though subscriptions are still sold through Apple's website.
MobileMe has been widely regarded as overpriced, given the quality and storage capacity of free email, storage, and photo services, and underwhelming. The service's rocky 2008 relaunch didn't alter that impression. Apple appears to be aware that it has to provide more value to compete with the likes of Amazon, Dropbox, Google, and other cloud services. Last year, it made its Find My iPhone service, previously available only to paying MobileMe subscribers, free to any user of recent vintage iOS devices with an Apple ID. It's unclear whether Apple will reveal information about its next iPhone at WWDC, which isn't expected to ship until August or September.
31 May 2011
Information Week has an article by Thomas Claburn about the latest, courtesy of Steve Jobs:
Posted by Rico at 20:50
The editorial in The New York Times says goodbye to a loyal servant, Spirit:
After a final attempt last week, NASA has stopped trying to make contact with the Mars rover called Spirit, which was last heard from in March of 2010 as the Martian winter was setting in. Hopes of hearing more from Spirit were slim even then, but there is a difference between not hearing and no longer listening.
Spirit was a spectacular success. A three-month mission, beginning in 2004, turned into six years of exploration. Even the accidents were profitable. When Spirit bogged down, permanently, at a location called Troy, efforts to free it revealed unexpected subsurface sulfates, which scientists believe are part of the Mars water cycle.
This is not like calling off the search for a missing human explorer. Yet it feels similar, even though Spirit is a six-wheeled robotic vehicle, not even remotely human in appearance, even by Wall-E standards. Still, it is strangely easy to personify Spirit. Over the years, it has seemed intrepid, valiant, even determined. It has no consciousness, but there has been something self-knowing in the photographs it has taken of itself, with Mars in the background. In its plight— stuck on the edge of a small crater tens of millions of miles from Earth— we feel a celestial solitude, as if we were marooned there ourselves.
What made Spirit all these things, of course, were the engineers and scientists who built and operated it, who reveled in the data it returned and who did their best to keep it running, year after year. The most human thing about Spirit, after all, was the impulse that sent it to Mars in the first place, a planet we now know in a way that would have seemed unimaginable only a decade ago.
Posted by Rico at 16:03
Rhe New York Times has an editorial about spammers:
In early 2004, Bill Gates claimed: “Two years from now, spam will be solved.” Today it amounts to seventy percent of all e-mail. Yet there may be a chance to cut it back.Rico says it's not the first, nor probably the last, time that Bill Gates was wrong about something, but let's hope they figure out how to stop the spammers. (Rico says, really, Azerbaijan and Latvia? Fuck 'em; cut 'em off from the internet entirely, see how they like that.)
In March, spam volumes tumbled as United States marshals seized computers at internet hosting facilities that controlled Rustock, a huge spamming network. The seizure followed a lawsuit by Microsoft against Rustock’s operators for violating its trademarks with spam that fraudulently claimed a Microsoft link.
Spam volumes had already been declining sharply, as smaller networks were taken down. According to Symantec, an Internet security company, spammers were sending an average of 180 billion messages a day last August. On Wednesday, they were down to 39.4 billion.
It is too early to declare victory. Symantec detected a small spam rebound in May. Tracking down and seizing computers is not easy, even if there is a clear legal basis. We still do not know who operated Rustock. Entities from as far away as Azerbaijan leased computers from hosting firms around the United States. These controlled a million “zombie computers” which, unbeknownst to their owners, sent thousands of spam messages a day.
The good news is there may be other ways to disrupt spammers. The Times’ John Markoff reported that computer scientists at two University of California campuses have found another vulnerability: spammers’ banks. To track the flow of information, the researchers made hundreds of purchases. Buying Viagra from the Pharmacy Express group in Russia involved computers in Brazil, China, and Turkey. The Viagra came from India. But 95 percent of the purchases were handled by three banks, in Azerbaijan, Latvia, and St. Kitts and Nevis. This suggests that, if banks or credit card companies refused to settle payments for some transactions with these banks, they could deliver a blow to the spam economy.
After Congress moved to suppress online gambling, Visa and Mastercard blocked payments for American players. Similarly, Congress might require them to block, say, card-not-present pharmaceutical purchases on the grounds that it is illegal for individuals to import drugs. Though spammers might be able to change banks, the process would be cumbersome. The concentration of business in three banks suggests there aren’t that many willing to deal with spammers. It’s certainly worth pursuing.
Posted by Rico at 15:56
In 1885, when the Metropolitan Museum of Art was young and New York was home to much new wealth but only a few old masters, the museum showcased a painting on loan from Europe that created a minor stir. It was a small wood-panel Pietà depicting an earthy-looking Virgin Mary holding her dead son, assisted by two muscular angels, a tableau widely acknowledged to have been created by Michelangelo, though the Met’s catalog went only as far as saying that the painting had been attributed to him by its owner.
That owner was a German baroness who had sent the painting to America in the hopes of selling it. But it never found a buyer and eventually passed into the hands of acquaintances, members of an upper-middle-class Rochester family who hung it for many years above a fireplace, referring to it with great affection— but little direct evidence— as “the Mike”. After it tumbled from its perch while being dusted one day in the 1970s, the painting was moved from the mantel to a safe spot behind the couch, where it effectively disappeared from awareness, both scholarly and otherwise.
The kind of work the family believed it to be— an easel painting by Michelangelo— is among the most elusive treasures in Renaissance art. Michelangelo probably made only a handful, is not known to have signed any, and broad consensus has formed around the attribution of only one, at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. Tonawanda, New York, a faded mill town north of Buffalo, might be the last place on earth scholars would begin the hunt for another. But, over the last decade, thanks almost entirely to the stubborn crusading of a retired fighter pilot there named Martin Kober, who inherited the Pietà, the painting has re-emerged as the main character in a compelling art-historical mystery.
It is the subject of The Lost Michelangelos, a book just published in English by a respected Italian conservator, Antonio Forcellino, who has specialized in Michelangelo works and is convinced the painting is authentic. It has undergone its first thorough cleaning and an infrared examination of its underdrawing, which one Renaissance scholar, Kristina Herrmann Fiore, a curator at the Borghese Gallery in Rome, said is conceivably by the hand of Michelangelo. And, in the next few weeks, it will be taken to Rome, where the Rome Foundation, a philanthropy that supports scientific, medical, and art initiatives, has agreed to pay to conserve the painting and to include it, along with the questions surrounding it, in an exhibition called Rome in the Renaissance, from Michelangelo to Vasari, opening on 25 October at the foundation’s museum.
For Mr. Kober and Mr. Forcellino the painting’s transformation from family keepsake to object of historical scrutiny is as much a story about the intransigence of the art establishment and the gaps in its tradition-bound methods for considering authentication claims as it is about the ultimate fate of the painting itself. Curators at the Met and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, without seeing the painting firsthand, have turned Mr. Kober away. Other experts have been point blank in their assessment. “It is a copy of a Michelangelo composition,” said Alexander Nagel, a professor at New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts who has written about the artist’s late Pietàs.
Mr. Forcellino, who acknowledges that he runs a risk of professional embarrassment by championing the painting, said he decided to write a book about it in part “to start a debate on the mechanisms of subject specialization, which often undermine rather than foster an expansion of knowledge.”
Mr. Kober— who has amassed an extensive body of documents related to the painting, hired forensic specialists, built an impressive Renaissance art library, hectored and cajoled dozens of curators and experts, and tracked the painting almost town by town through Italy and Croatia— is more straightforward, and humble, about the years he spent fighting to get anyone to pay attention to his painting. “I didn’t expect anyone to take what I was saying on faith,” he said recently, in his modest brick-and-siding-covered home in Tonawanda, overlooking part of what was once the Erie Canal. “I know I’m a nobody in this world. I just wanted someone to look at what I’d found and maybe get a couple of Ph.D. students to take it on as a project, people who would know what they were doing. But I couldn’t even get that far.”
For all his talk of the art establishment’s aversion to outsiders, Mr. Forcellino nearly dismissed Mr. Kober’s claims, too. Then he took a look at an emailed attachment of an infrared image showing the painting’s underdrawing, and agreed to travel from Italy to see the work himself.
From a family of stonemasons, Mr. Forcellino is mostly known for his sculptural conservation work. He had a lead role in the restoration of Michelangelo’s Moses in Rome and the Piccolomini altar in the cathedral of Siena, which includes four Michelangelo figures. In 2005 he published a biography of Michelangelo and as a result has fielded more than his share of claims of unbelievable discoveries. “It is astonishing how many people convince themselves they own a Michelangelo or a Raphael, inherited from some old aunt or picked up from a dealer in the ill-founded belief that some dealers, even antiques dealers, have less of an eye than they do,” he writes in his book about Mr. Kober’s painting. But he also knew of the several letters that make it plain, he says, that Michelangelo had created a painting like Mr. Kober’s. One was a letter to Michelangelo from his close friend the poet and noblewoman Vittoria Colonna, acknowledging his gift to her of a Pietà, a token of their mutual membership in a group of Roman Catholic reformers who became known as the spirituali. In the letter, Colonna wrote that she found the figure of Jesus to be “perfectly painted”.
For years scholars, beginning with Vasari, the father of Renaissance biography, have interpreted the wording in the letter as referring to a drawing, not a painting, some asserting that the word depinto, painted, carried a broader meaning during the Renaissance. Despite Vasari’s many well-documented factual errors and fictional flourishes, his accounts have long carried an almost biblical weight, and the main body of Michelangelo research about the existence of easel paintings has followed Vasari’s lead.
But a letter from 1546 solidified Mr. Forcellino’s belief that Colonna was referring to a painting, not a drawing. The letter from the cardinal of Mantua, Ercole Gonzaga, to another cardinal discusses whether Gonzaga should accept the gift of a Pietà, which Mr. Forcellino identifies as the same one owned by Colonna. In the letter Gonzaga, who appears never to have received the Pietà, refers to it as a quadro, or painting.
The letters and other documents leave what Mr. Forcellino says is a substantial trail for the painting from Colonna to an English cardinal, Reginald Pole, a cousin of Henry VIII and another member of the spirituali, who appears to have taken it with him as a devotional object when he attended the Council of Trent, the sixteenth-century Catholic ecumenical conclave that began the Counter-Reformation.
The trail grows murkier afterward, but Mr. Forcellino cites circumstantial evidence in arguing that, after Pole’s death, the painting ended up with the Archbishop of Ragusa— now Dubrovnik in Croatia.
One of the eureka moments Mr. Forcellino cites in his book involves a dark-red wax seal on the back of the painting’s spruce panel, whose origins had never been identified by Mr. Kober’s family. The seal had lost much of its shape, but a low-tech detective’s trick by Mr. Forcellino — making a rubbing with a piece of paper and pencil — revealed a crest with three stars, which he was later able to identify as that of the family of Fabio Tempestivo, who served as archbishop of Ragusa until 1616. At his death Tempestivo’s estate was sold off to pay his debts, and many of the possessions went to a wealthy Italian family, which held it for many generations.
The line between that family and Mr. Kober’s is clear in a number of documents from the mid-nineteenth century through the twentieth century that mark previous efforts to have the painting validated as a Michelangelo. One in 1865 involved Hermann Grimm, a revered scholar of the Renaissance, who wrote that he had seen the Ragusa Pietà and thought it could well be by the master’s hand.
William E. Wallace, one of the foremost American experts on Michelangelo, who examined the painting in 2005, said there is at least enough evidence to merit a more extensive examination. “I have no doubt whatsoever that we’re dealing with a sixteenth-century object, and something with a very close connection to Michelangelo and his circle,” said Mr. Wallace, a professor at Washington University in St. Louis. But Mr. Wallace also knows the pace of Michelangelo attribution claims is relentless (on average two a year for the last century, he once calculated), almost all quickly dispatched. And even if more compelling evidence emerges, he said, the Kober painting’s attribution could remain in limbo for decades, if not much longer. “The weight of consensus moves very slowly,” he said, “and building it takes a very long time.”
Despite advances in forensic science and computer-assisted examinations of disputed works of art, the tradition of connoisseurship— the individual “eye,” a scholar’s ability to identify the real thing based on years of looking— continues to hold great sway. Museum credibility and auction prices often rest on the word of a relatively small number of experts who can say that a painting with a spotty paper trail is authentic, based only on their close examination.
The tradition, an art in itself, has by and large served the art world well. But history is littered with instances in which the certainty of the establishment— based on extensive knowledge, gut instinct, wishful thinking or, in the worst cases, greed— has turned out to be embarrassingly unstable. Misattributions languish for decades, often longer. A generation of art historians flips the attributions made by its predecessors, making or unmaking fortunes and reputations.
At one time more than six hundred paintings were attributed to Rembrandt, a number that has been cut in half by Dutch scholars since the late 1960s. Two years ago a Goya that had hung for more than half a century at the Prado was determined not to be by Goya, a conclusion many casual observers had reached long before. In many cases mountains of art scholarship are found to rest on erroneous assumptions or evidence, but the mountain proves almost impossible to move.
Such glaring mistakes have fueled another longstanding tradition: distrust of the art establishment, much of it class based, by those outside the establishment’s tight circle. And it has long elevated examples of discoveries made outside that circle into near-heroic tales, like that of the painting that hung for sixty years, all but ignored, in a Jesuit’s residence in Dublin that was found to be a Caravaggio.
In that case, told in Jonathan Harr’s 2005 best seller The Lost Painting, a restorer with scholarly ambitions, like Mr. Forcellino, not a curator or art historian, saw the painting, argued that its attribution to a follower of Caravaggio was wrong, and the notion was confirmed through historical research by two graduate students. The painting had been bought by a pediatrician in the 1920s for less than $1,000. It is now on loan to the National Gallery of Ireland and said to be worth tens of millions of dollars.
Mr. Forcellino, a talkative, persuasive presence, has traveled a rougher road trying to convince scholars about the Kober painting. In April of 2010 he met with Keith Christiansen, the Met’s chairman of European paintings, but the meeting lasted just a few minutes, as he recalls.
The previous June, Mr. Christiansen had announced that another painting the museum had taken in to restore appeared to be the first easel painting ever made by Michelangelo. He predicted that the attribution might elicit disagreement, and it did (and continues to), in part because the Met made no move to acquire the painting, which was bought by the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth. Now, fresh from that experience, Mr. Christiansen was being offered a role in the restoration of another proposed Michelangelo, one that had been stored behind a couch upstate. The museum turned down the painting as a conservation project. Mr. Christiansen, who said he does not recall his meeting with Mr. Forcellino, declined to comment.
The Met is not alone in harboring serious doubts about the Kober painting. Michael Cole, an expert on the Italian Renaissance who teaches at Columbia University, said he believes Vasari’s account that the Pietà in Vittoria Colonna’s letter is a drawing, not a painting. And while he has seen only a photograph of Mr. Kober’s painting, he said that some of the anatomy was too awkward to be by Michelangelo. More likely, he said, it is one of the many copies, both painted and drawn, of Michelangelo’s Pietà composition that were made in the sixteenth century. “To me the painting in the photo does not look good enough to be a Michelangelo,” he said.
Ms. Herrmann Fiore, of the Borghese Gallery, who said she is willing to entertain the view that Michelangelo did the underdrawing, is also of the view that some proportions in the finished painting seem off and are likely the work of someone else.
Mr. Forcellino acknowledged that honest disagreements can occur as people try to untangle the histories of paintings hundreds of years old with precious little documentation to go on. But he said he believes institutional bias has worked against close consideration of the Pietà, in part because it has surfaced in an unlikely place and has so unlikely a champion as Mr. Kober. “This is not an art history book,” Mr. Forcellino said of his account of the painting. “It is a book about prejudice in this world."
"It’s been a few months since I’ve seen it,” Mr. Kober, 54, said, smiling nervously one rainy morning inside his house, which sits behind a shopping center. His painting used to hang in the dining room of the home, where he has lived since he retired and began following his father’s advice finally to figure out once and for all whether “the Mike” really is what the family has long imagined.
For the last several months, though, Mr. Kober has kept the painting in a bank vault. Earlier that morning he had taken it out and driven it home. After putting on a pair of white gloves, he opened the black valise made to carry the panel and carefully loosened the protective paper around it. He set an easel that Mr. Forcellino had made for him on his dining room table, with a kitchen towel to cushion it, and then propped the painting on the easel, opening the blinds and throwing back the curtain so that the morning light could play on its surface. “I was worried I might open up the case and see mold growing on it or something,” Mr. Kober said. “But it looks just fine. I’ve been looking at it for too long now, decades,” he continued. “I know every inch of it, so it’s hard to be objective. But I can’t sit with it in front of me and figure out how anybody could think it’s an inferior copy. Look at it.”
Posted by Rico at 15:45
Randall Stross has an article in The New York Times about complaining:
Telephone trees that lead nowhere. Customer service drones chained to a script. The modern corporation has invented a thousand ways to tell customers with a grievance that they’re out of luck. And, no, contrary to the dulcet recording, your call is not important.
But today unhappy consumers have Facebook and Twitter on their side. The new social media provide free megaphones that carry a customer’s complaint around the world. Perhaps a little too easily.
Gripe, a company that describes itself as a “better Better Business Bureau for the Twitter age,” is devoted to spreading word of a problem quickly. It provides a mobile app for iPhone and Android that makes posting a complaint simultaneously to one’s Facebook friends and Twitter followers effortless. “The Better Business Bureau has a bureaucracy in the middle,” says Farhad Mohit, the company’s chief executive. You have to fill out a form, you have to put up with some hassle. “There’s a high degree of friction,” he says.
Gripe, which was started last year, removes the friction. With a little typing, its users can send off a gripe, which goes to Facebook, Twitter, and the named company’s customer service department. The company is invited to remedy the problem and remove the stain of the publicized gripe, earning a “cheer”. Users can also send out a “cheer” in the first place, to applaud customer service well done.
Sending Gripes to one’s Facebook friends solves the problem of frivolous complaints, Mr. Mohit argues. “You don’t want to be viewed as a jerk by your friends and family,” he says. (I don’t know; how self-aware are jerks?)
Mr. Mohit sees the service as helpful to businesses because it gives them an opportunity to resolve the complaints posted through the service.
Gripe attempts to give all of its users a powerful persona by displaying the user’s “word of mouth” power. Mr. Mohit’s personal word-of-mouth power, as of last week, was “1,644,483 people”. This number is displayed prominently by the app and can be shown to recalcitrant store owners.
It turns out, however, that Gripe arrives at word-of-mouth power by adding together the friends of one’s Facebook friends and the followers of one’s Twitter followers. This greatly inflates the actual number of people who are likely to see a gripe or a cheer, which by default goes out only to one’s immediate friends and followers.
From the vendor’s perspective, a small number of complaining customers who use social media receive disproportionate attention. This is “social bullying”, in the opinion of Ashutosh Roy, the chief executive of eGain, which provides customer service products for its corporate clients. He observes that his clients determine their response to complaints registered by a given customer “not just by how much business you do with the company but also by how much pain you inflict on the company in social channels.”
One person who used the power of Twitter to inflict great pain upon one particular company is Heather P. Armstrong, the proprietress of Dooce, a widely read blog. Her story, from 2009, seems at first glance like an example of the individual bullying a company. It circulated widely and you may have already heard it: Exasperated with Maytag’s inability to provide her family with a functioning washing machine, despite many calls and several visits by a repair person, Ms. Armstrong recounted in her blog what she told a Maytag customer service representative: “Do you know what Twitter is? Because I have over a million followers on Twitter. If I say something about my terrible experience on Twitter do you think someone will help me?” She was told, “Yes, I know what Twitter is. And no, that will not matter.”
Ms. Armstrong proceeded to post comments like this on Twitter: “So that you may not have to suffer like we have: DO NOT EVER BUY A MAYTAG. I repeat: OUR MAYTAG EXPERIENCE HAS BEEN A NIGHTMARE.” Shortly thereafter, Ms. Armstrong heard from an executive at Whirlpool, the parent company of the Maytag brand, and her machine was soon fixed.
This is a shortened version of Ms. Armstrong’s account of what happened. The full version runs almost six thousand words: To my mind, the literary expression of her misadventures gives legitimacy to her complaint. She did not use an app like Gripe to frictionlessly send out a complaint to her million Twitter followers at the first twinge of irritation. She endured much and then invested the time to compose a long cri de coeur.
Without any hesitation, Brian P. Snyder, Whirlpool’s senior manager of social and emerging media, owns up to Whirlpool’s providing Ms. Armstrong in 2009 with “an unsatisfactory customer service experience”.
I think Whirlpool does deserve a “cheer”, however, for subsequently setting up Facebook pages for its Maytag, KitchenAid, and Whirlpool brands, in which visitors are permitted to let loose. Mr. Snyder says that “patently offensive” items or spam are deleted, but negative feedback stays. He says Whirlpool is following advice provided by Intel at a conference about social media: “Keep the bad.” His company allows discussion threads like “Failed Dishwasher” and “Defective Dishwashers” in full public view.
In the old days of Yellow Pages and rotary phones, filing a complaint with the Better Business Bureau entailed a small hassle. But that was good: it increased the likelihood that a fellow consumer had endured considerable frustration before going to the trouble of registering a complaint. With services like Gripe, a few seconds’ investment is all you need.
Nothing seems to prevent all of that word-of-mouth power from creating a din of complaints.
Posted by Rico at 15:27
Robert Pear has an article in The New York Times about the wrong move (as usual) by government:
Medicaid recipients and health care providers cannot sue state officials to challenge cuts in Medicaid payments, even if such cuts compromise access to health care for poor people, the Obama administration has told the Supreme Court. States around the country, faced with severe budget problems, have been reducing Medicaid rates for doctors, dentists, hospitals, pharmacies, nursing homes and other providers.
Federal law says Medicaid rates must be “sufficient to enlist enough providers” so that Medicaid recipients have access to care to the same extent as the general population in an area. In a friend-of-the court brief filed in the Supreme Court, the Justice Department said that no federal law allowed private individuals to sue states to enforce this standard.
Such lawsuits “would not be compatible” with the means of enforcement envisioned by Congress, which relies on the secretary of health and human services to make sure states comply, the administration said in the brief, by the acting solicitor general, Neal K. Katyal.
In many parts of the country, payment rates are so low that Medicaid recipients have difficulty finding doctors to take them.
But, the Justice Department said, the Medicaid law’s promise of equal access to care is “broad and nonspecific,” and federal health officials are better equipped than judges to balance that goal with other policy objectives, like holding down costs. The administration expressed its views in a set of cases consolidated under the name Douglas v. Independent Living Center of Southern California, No. 09-958.
In 2008 and 2009, the California Legislature passed several laws reducing Medicaid payment rates. Recipients and providers challenged the cuts in court, arguing that the California plan violated— and was pre-empted by— the federal Medicaid statute.
The law does not explicitly allow such lawsuits. But the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, said beneficiaries and providers could sue under the supremacy clause of the Constitution, which makes federal law “the supreme law of the land”. In reducing payment rates, the appeals court said, California violated the requirements of federal Medicaid law and threatened access to “much-needed medical care”. California appealed to the Supreme Court, which is likely to hear oral arguments in the fall, with a decision by next spring.
Consumer advocates were dismayed by the administration’s position, which they said undermined Medicaid recipients’ rights and access to the courts. “I find it appalling that the solicitor general in a Democratic administration would assert in a Supreme Court brief that businesses can challenge state regulation under the supremacy clause, but that poor recipients of Medicaid cannot challenge state violations of federal law,” said Professor Timothy S. Jost, an expert on health law at Washington and Lee University, who is usually sympathetic to the administration.
Representative Henry A. Waxman of California, the senior Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Committee and an architect of Medicaid, said the administration’s brief was “wrong on the law and bad policy. I am bitterly disappointed that President Obama would accept the position of the acting solicitor general to file a brief that is contrary to the decades-long practice of giving Medicaid beneficiaries and providers the ability to turn to the courts to enforce their rights under federal law,” Mr. Waxman said. He said that he and other Democratic lawmakers planned to file a brief opposing the administration’s view.
By contrast, many state officials agree with California and the Obama administration. The National Governors Association and the National Conference of State Legislatures filed a friend-of-the-court brief endorsing California’s position that Medicaid recipients and providers could not sue.
In a separate friend-of-the-court brief, Michigan and thirty other states went further. “Allowing ‘supremacy clause lawsuits’ to enforce federal Medicaid laws will be a financial catastrophe for states,” they said.
Medicaid is financed jointly by the federal government and the states. The number of recipients and the costs increased sharply in the recent recession and will increase further with the expected addition of sixteen million people to the rolls under the new federal health care law.
Posted by Rico at 15:18
A black BMW with flashing red and blue lights suddenly filled Alexandria Armeley’s rearview mirror one evening last month. At a stoplight, the BMW’s driver pulled up next to her, waved a gold badge, and told her “I’m a cop.”Rico says this shit is only gonna end when some of these idiots, charged with posing as a police officer while committing a felony, get the death sentence, or civilians and cops start shooting them on a regular basis...
But Ms. Armeley was suspicious. Before she pulled over, she called her stepfather, Alex Hernandez, a police detective in Biscayne Park, Florida, who warned her that the man was probably not a police officer. Speed away, he told her. A terrified Ms. Armeley took off and was chased by the BMW for several miles through southern Miami-Dade County. Detective Hernandez had jumped in his car to help and eventually caught up to them.
So the real officer arrested the fake officer, whose name is Daniel A. Barros. Asked why he had tried to pull over Ms. Armeley, a 23-year-old college student, Mr. Barros, 22, told officers, “She was speeding.”
The BMW 7 Series car, outfitted with police lights and a siren, was “lit up like a Christmas tree,” Detective Hernandez recalled about the midnight encounter. “There are a lot of guys walking around with phony badges, but this guy had the whole works. Who knows what he would have done if he had gotten my stepdaughter to stop?”
Mr. Barros is facing several charges in the case, including impersonating an officer.
As long as police officers have worn uniforms and carried badges, criminals have dressed like them to try to win the trust of potential victims. Now the impersonators are far more sophisticated, according to nearly a dozen city police chiefs and detectives across the country.
In South Florida, seemingly an incubator of law-breaking innovation, police impersonators have become better organized and, most troubling to law enforcement officials, more violent. The practice is so common that the Miami-Dade Police Department has a Police Impersonator Unit. Since the unit was established in 2007, it has arrested or had encounters with more than eighty phony officers in Miami-Dade County, and the frequency has increased in recent months, said Lieutenant Daniel Villanueva, who heads the unit. “It’s definitely a trend,” Lieutenant Villanueva said. “They use the guise of being a police officer to knock on a door, and the victim lowers their guard for just a second. At that point, it’s too late.” He added that part of the problem was that it was easy for civilians to buy fake police products, like badges, handcuffs, and uniforms. “The states need to lock this down and make impersonating a police officer a more serious crime, because we’re seeing more people using these types of these things to commit more serious crimes,” he said.
Detective Javier J. Baez of the Miami-Dade Police Department said, “These types of crimes here in Miami typically have a nexus to drugs.”
Increasingly, fake police officers are pulling off crimes together, the authorities say. One evening three weeks ago, three men in police uniforms knocked on the door of a home in southwest Miami-Dade County. When the home’s owner, Jose Montoya, opened the door, the men barged in and yelled: Police, police! Get down, get down! The men tied up Mr. Montoya, his wife, and their toddler and then spent hours ransacking the house, the authorities said. They beat up Mr. Montoya, who was treated at a nearby hospital, and stole cash, jewelry, and several weapons, the police said.
Before leaving, the robbers warned Mr. Montoya and his family not to call the police, the authorities said, or they would return and kill them.
Some police impersonators commit violent crimes like home invasions, car-jackings, rapes, and, rarely, murders.
Last summer, a Tampa man impersonating an undercover officer used a badge and a siren to pull over a 28-year-old woman and rape her. In January, the man, Luis Harris, 31, was convicted of sexual battery, grand theft, kidnapping, and impersonating a police officer, among other charges. A judge sentenced Mr. Harris to life in prison.
Other police impersonators, police chiefs and detectives say, masquerade as officers for more benign reasons, like trying to scare or impress someone. “Usually,” Detective Baez said, “the wannabe cop outfits their vehicles with police lights and fake insignias to fulfill some psychological need.”
This happened in Chicago when a fourteen-year-old boy named Vincent Richardson donned police garb and walked into the Third District precinct during morning roll call in January 2009. Officers handed him a radio and told him to ride along with a female officer. The teenager even helped make an arrest. “After four or five hours, she asks, ‘Who is this guy?’ ” recalled Jody P. Weis, who was the Chicago police superintendent at the time. “He’s in a uniform, he has a goofy badge, he doesn’t have a weapon, and he’s a high school kid. It was so embarrassing.” (The embarrassment did not end there for Mr. Weis, who said he had recommended against punishing the teenager in juvenile court because no harm had been done. Three months later, the boy was arrested and charged with stealing a car. Last week, he was arrested on several weapons charges.)
Impersonating an officer is a misdemeanor in some states, though it is a felony in Florida. The charge’s severity, and punishment, increases if a criminal charged with posing as a police officer commits a felony. Several chiefs and detectives say the crime is not taken seriously enough by the justice system and the public. Often, the crime goes unreported, the police say.
“Unfortunately, there is not a lot of downside for a criminal to impersonate a police officer,” said Commissioner Edward Davis of the Boston Police Department. “You can charge them with impersonating a police officer, but that’s not a very serious crime. The way the law views this crime, it’s as an innocent or silly prank. But it has become a much more serious crime than it is perceived by the public.”
Detective Hernandez, of Biscayne Park, Florida, said: “People minimize it. They just let it go. They won’t think about how dangerous this potentially can be. They just don’t see it.”
Some law enforcement officials said the public did not take these types of episodes seriously because of the types of cases often highlighted by the news media. People charged with impersonating police officers are often portrayed as befuddled, hapless, and harmless.
In March, a motocross champion was arrested in Orlando, Florida and charged with impersonating a police officer. The man, James Stewart Jr., 25, tried to stop another car using red and blue lights, the Florida Highway Patrol said. The car that he tried to stop contained two off-duty troopers.
Last October in Boca Raton, Florida, Andrew Novotak, in his white Crown Victoria with flashing green lights, pulled over motorists and quizzed them about whether they had been drinking alcohol, the police said. When the police questioned him, Mr. Novotak was wearing a police badge and carrying a loaded gun. He also had a German shepherd in his back seat, which he insisted was a police-trained dog. After arresting him, officers said they smelled alcohol on his breath. He was charged with impersonating an officer and driving under the influence.
Posted by Rico at 15:14
Frustrated by the gridlocked traffic, the young man in fatigues was leaning on the horn of his old Chevrolet Impala, the one with the front and rear windshields shot out. The shrillness of the pointless noise made a foreigner in the car next to him wince. Then came one of those Free Libya moments.
“Sorry, sorry,” the horn-blower called apologetically, in English. The young man riding shotgun, also in fatigues and carrying a Kalashnikov, grinned sheepishly and apologized as well. Then he saluted, bringing his wounded right hand into view, a giant mitten of a bandage on it, blood soaking through in places. “Thank you, thank you,” he said. “America Number One.”
Americans and, for that matter, all Westerners are treated hereabouts with a warmth and gratitude rarely seen in any Muslim country— even those with a hundred thousand American troops— in probably half a century or more. People smile and go out of their way to say hello to them, and are almost shockingly courteous. It is that oddest of oddities, an Arab war zone where foreign joggers are regarded, not with hostility or even that sympathetic puzzlement reserved for the insane, but with a friendly wave or a toot on the horn.
Here even taxi drivers do not rip off foreign visitors and, when a taxi cannot be found, some passing driver will soon volunteer a ride, and will be likely to refuse any offer of payment. A big problem for non-Arabic speaking journalists who visit is trying to find a translator who will accept payment for his or her services. The rebels’ press office has signed up all the English translators it could find, and ordered them to work for free.
In some restaurants, they seem almost reluctant to accept a foreigner’s money. It is a society chronically short of change, so a lot of the coffee bars will just say skip it, and serve up an espresso for whatever loose change is handy, if any. Espresso is one of the welcome surprises of Libya, and while no one would confuse it with Tre Scalini, it is pretty good for a region where the standard stuff is either instant Nescafe or Turkish coffee so thick that a toothpick is needed afterwards.
The pizza, too, is respectable, especially at Pisa Pizza in Benghazi, where the pies are about a yard in diameter, and proof that Italian colonialism accomplished something after all.
In other parts of the Mideast, one refrains from advertising American nationality, if only just in case. This is a part of the world where, other than outside American embassies, the Stars and Stripes are most often spotted ablaze and stomped upon.
Here, crowds of chanting youth fly it proudly, alongside their own new flag, a tricolor with red, black, and green horizontal stripes and a crescent and star in the center. (It was widely and quickly adopted by the rebels to replace the Qaddafi government’s hated green flag, an unadorned panel so plain that it has been derided as a putting green.) What popular Arab street movement has ever flown the flags of not only the United States, but the European Union, NATO, Italy, France, and Qatar, all at once?
Many Libyan parents with newborn girls are reportedly naming them Susan, in honor of Susan E. Rice, the Obama administration’s ambassador to the United Nations, for her vote in the Security Council in favor of establishing the no-fly zone. French visitors find an even warmer reception, and accolades to President Nicolas Sarkozy are graffitied on walls everywhere.
It may be a long time before any other Muslim press officer tells an American journalist, as Colonel Ahmed Bani, the spokesman for the Libyan rebel military, did recently: “You are a mujahideen and journalism is your jihad!” (The exclamation mark was his.)
So it is easy to let the guard drop, especially since the last time anyone was killed by Colonel Muammar el-Qaddafi’s forces in Benghazi was on 19 March, when they made their final attempt on the city before NATO fighter-bombers put an end to that.
Now the loyalists are far from the city— the eastern front is a hundred miles south of here— and NATO controls the skies. Can they all really be gone, though? While the rebels talk constantly about the danger of a Fifth Column of Qaddafi supporters, it is hard to imagine, so universal is the apparent acclaim for Free Libya.
Still, it may explain why the rebels’ Transitional National Council has, so far, refused to reveal the identities of most of its members. (This is a big issue for the United States, which has not recognized the rebels, at least in part out of concern over who its leaders really are.)
The Qaddafi government must have had some supporters, even here in the alienated east. In every town and city, there are row after row of new apartment buildings, with units that were in effect given away by the government to families in exchange for only token mortgage payments. While people here deride those blocks as “made in China” for their apparent poor quality of construction, free homes have got to win some enduring support, somewhere.
Perhaps such residual loyalty explains the bullet that whizzed just over one foreign jogger’s head, on the seafront Corniche early on a recent morning, a single shot on an otherwise quiet day. The sound of the rifle’s report came a second later, as it would with a high-velocity round. Whoever fired it was not about to show himself, at least not yet.
Posted by Rico at 15:02
James Dao has an article (and click the photo for their videos) in The New York Times about soldiers retunring from combat:
Private Johnnie Stevenson cleaned his truck one last time, scraping off the barnacle-like mud and pulling crushed water bottles from under seats. But deployment to Afghanistan was almost over, and his thoughts drifted elsewhere. Was his pregnant fiancée ready to be a mother? Facebook provided so few clues. Nor could it answer him this: Was he ready to be a father?Rico says no, not that Brian Keith; he's dead...
Captain Adrian Bonenberger made plans for his final patrol to Imam Sahib. But inside, he was sweating the details of a different mission: going home. Which soldiers would drive drunk, get into fights, or struggle with emotional demons, he wondered. What would it take to keep them safe in America?
Sergeant Brian Keith boarded the plane home feeling a strange dread. His wife wanted a divorce and had moved away, taking their son and most of their bank account with her. At the end of his flight lay an empty apartment and the blank slate of a new life. “A lot of people were excited about coming home,” Sergeant Keith said. “Me, I just sat there and I wondered: What am I coming back to?”
For a year, they had navigated minefields and ducked bullets, endured tedium inside barbed-wired outposts and stitched together the frayed seams of long-distance relationships. One would think that going home would be the easiest thing troops could do.
But it is not so simple. The final weeks in a war zone are often the most dangerous, as weary troops get sloppy or unfocused. Once they arrive home, alcohol abuse, traffic accidents, and other measures of mayhem typically rise as they blow off steam.
Weeks later, as the joy of return subsides, deep-seated emotional or psychological problems can begin to show. The sleeplessness, anxiety, and irritability of post-traumatic stress disorder, for instance, often take months to emerge, as combat veterans confront the tensions of home and the recurring memories of war.
In their new normal, troops must reconnect with children, adjust to more independent spouses, and dial back the hypervigilance that served them well in combat, but that can alienate them from civilians.
“The hardest part for me is, I guess, not being on edge,” said Staff Sergeant Francisco Narewski, a father of three who just completed his second deployment. “I feel like I need to do something, like I need to go on mission or I need to check my soldiers. And I’m not.”
For the First Battalion, 87th Infantry out of Fort Drum, New York, which recently finished a year-long tour, leaving Afghanistan proved as deadly as fighting in Afghanistan. In the first eleven months of deployment, the battalion lost two soldiers, both to roadside bombs. During the next month, it lost two more, neither in combat.
On 9 March, the day before he was scheduled to leave Kunduz, Specialist Andrew P. Wade, 22, was accidentally shot and killed by a friend who was practicing a drill with his nine-millimeter pistol inside their tent.
Three weeks later, Specialist Pulaski, who had returned from Afghanistan in February, was shot and killed by a police officer after he shot and wounded a man outside a bar in Arizona. He was 24.
Bronze Star (photo) for dashing across an open field during an ambush in December, drawing enemy fire away from his platoon. Later that same day, he killed several insurgents as they were trying to ambush his unit near a village called Haruti.
Captain Bonenberger, Specialist Pulaski’s company commander, said the soldier saved his life twice that day, and it gnawed at him that he had been unable to return the favor. “When he was in trouble, he was alone,” Captain Bonenberger said. “When we were in trouble, he was there for us. I know it’s not rational or reasonable. There’s nothing logical about it. But I feel responsible.”
In Kunduz and Baghlan Provinces, war defied the usual rhythms last winter. American forces typically hunker down in the cold months to await the spring fighting season. But, from October to January, American, German, and Afghan forces cleared several major insurgent strongholds.
By February, the Afghan police were conducting regular patrols alone into places they had refused to visit without American forces just weeks before: Gor Teppa, Chardara, and Aliabad in Kunduz, and Dahana-i-Ghori and the Golden Triangle north of Pul-i-Khumri in Baghlan.
Even a slice of Dasht-i-Archi, where the stoning of an adulterous couple last year became a worldwide symbol of the Taliban’s resurgence, was cleared of mines and insurgent checkpoints.
American intelligence officers say scores of insurgent fighters were killed and as many as three hundred laid down their arms or switched sides. Cellphone towers that had been shut down nightly by the Taliban started running 24 hours a day. A radio station that played rock music returned to the air. Commerce revived along roads once too dangerous to travel.
Through the winter campaign, only a handful of American soldiers were wounded, and none died. “The police are more capable today than they were a year ago,” said Lieutenant Colonel Russell Lewis, the battalion commander. “They are going places they haven’t been in years.”
Still, there was much debate among American soldiers over whether the stability would last. Had insurgent forces melted away, simply to regroup for a spring offensive? Would the insurgents who switched sides remain allies? Many soldiers had doubts. Then came a series of attacks that made it clear the insurgents were not gone. In early February, the governor of Chardara District was killed by a suicide bomber just hours after a visit with Colonel Lewis. Two weeks later, a bomber detonated a powerful device in Imam Sahib, killing thirty people, most of them civilians. And, in early March, another suicide bomber assassinated the police chief of Kunduz Province, General Abdul Rahman Saidkhail, outside his heavily guarded office. General Saidkhail had been aggressive in pursuing Taliban commanders and cajoling their fighters to switch sides. To American officers, his death was a blow to the government of President Hamid Karzai and an ominous indication of what lay ahead for Kunduz Province. “Whatever chapter has been written is now finished,” Captain Bonenberger recalled thinking when he heard about the general’s death. “The book is lying on the table and that’s it. What’s done is done.”
The string of winter operations against the Taliban had given soldiers a sense of accomplishment that was missing in the fall, when morale, like the temperature, was sinking. By the end of the tour, spirits were high and pranksters were afoot, hogtying officers in their beds and stealing clothing from showering soldiers. But there was also a more solemn sense among soldiers that they would return home altered by their year away.
Specialist Alan Bakula, 22, had seen the exhilarating highs and shattering lows of combat. One of the battalion’s steadiest fighters, he earned two Purple Hearts and an Army Commendation Medal in several major firefights. But he had also been shot through the ankle and hit by shrapnel in the elbow and the face. He had also seen one good friend, Specialist Matthew Hayes, lose his leg to a mine and another, Specialist Wade, killed in an accident. By the end of the deployment, he had lost his taste for battle, and was ready to trade the Army for college. “Getting injured a few times definitely changes your perspective a little bit, makes you feel a little less bulletproof,” he said in Kunduz.
Specialist Billy Moody, 26, wondered whether he could ever talk openly to friends about the close calls he had seen: rocket-propelled grenades that just missed, accurate mortar rounds that somehow failed to explode. He detailed those experiences in a notebook that he planned to share with his wife and family, but no one else. “Some stuff, people just don’t— they wouldn’t really believe or appreciate,” he said. “I hope people don’t ask me that kind of stuff, and then after I tell it to them, they think I’m exaggerating.”
Just getting the battalion’s nearly eight hundred soldiers home was far from simple. It would take a month, along with dozens of helicopters, military cargo planes, and commercial jets, to move them the 6,500 miles from Kunduz through Mazar-i-Sharif and Kyrgyzstan to Watertown, New York.
On his final flight home, Private Stevenson, 20, fantasized about the freedoms he would soon taste again: texting anyone anytime, wearing blue jeans and tee-shirts, taking his little brother to the zoo. Being alone. His deployment had been a mixed bag. After getting into an argument with a higher-ranking soldier, whom he half-heartedly threatened to kill, he lost a rank. But he had also performed well under pressure. While driving his platoon leader on a mission last fall, his truck hit a powerful mine that blew off its rear end and flipped it over. Private Stevenson was the first out and helped the three other passengers, including his lieutenant, escape. He earned a Purple Heart after sustaining a back injury and a possible concussion in the explosion. As the plane approached New York, he was thinking about his next big challenge. His fiancée was pregnant, and he was so excited by the prospect that he planned to buy baby furniture and diapers as soon as he got home. More than ever, he thought he should get out of the Army and try college. He had never known his own father and had lived on the streets of Port Arthur, Texas as a teenager after his mother died of AIDS. “I know I’m not ready” to be a father, he mused. But he wanted badly to try. “I want to be there for my kid’s first steps; I want to be there for his first bicycle accident,” he said. “I kind of think the Army is not for me, family-wise.”
A wet snow was falling as Sergeant Narewski’s charter DC-10 touched down at Wheeler-Sack Army Airfield in March. It was just after midnight, and the air was colder than it had been in Afghanistan. But he bounded off the plane beaming like a boy heading into summer vacation. “I love America,” he shouted as he sprinted to the terminal.
His unit went through customs, turned in weapons and received safety briefings on base speed limits, malaria pills, and mental health counseling. Then they waited. Finally, at 6 a.m., they boarded yellow school buses and headed to the Fort Drum gymnasium.
In the bleachers sat his wife, Christina, with their three children. She had risen at 1 a.m. to apply her makeup, shimmy into a tight dress, bought just for this occasion, and hustle the children into front-row seats. As the soldiers marched into the gym, she craned anxiously in search of her husband, squirming with impatience as they croaked their division’s song out of key. She kicked off her high heels, and as soon as a commander shouted Dismissed!, she sprinted across the hardwood floor. “Everybody was laughing at me, but I ran,” she said. “That’s all I remember, is running.” For minutes, time enough for some couples to hug and leave, she buried herself in Sergeant Narewski’s broad arms, whimpering. “Just to have him hold you or be in his arms again is just the greatest,” she said. “You think about that not happening while he’s gone.” This second deployment of his had been harder than she anticipated, and she had begun taking medication to calm her nerves. To her delight, Sergeant Narewski, 31, accepted a drill sergeant assignment at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, a two- to three-year tour with no deployments. Being a drill sergeant would be good for his career, the sergeant said. But inside, he was still thinking about leading soldiers into combat. “I love it,” he said. “I’m going to miss it. I miss it already.”
For Sergeant Tamara Sullivan, 32, there was nothing about Afghanistan she would miss. For days after arriving in Kunduz a year ago, she cried at the thought of not seeing her children, ages four and two. The experience taught her a lesson about emotions, one she learned to apply with iron discipline. “It’s something that you just have to learn how to turn off and on, like a light switch,” she said. “I don’t feel like it made me less of a mother because I learned how to shut it off. I think it made me a better soldier.” Now she was finally home, looking lost as she searched the crowd for her husband, Tim, who had come without the children from North Carolina, where the couple have a home. Suddenly he appeared, and they embraced awkwardly before rushing to find her bags. She had been thinking for days about how this deployment might change their family dynamic. Tim had learned to be a single parent and was so comfortable in the job that she wondered whether he was prepared to give it up. “I’m ready to come back home and jump back in, you know, where I left it, do my mommy role,” she said before leaving Afghanistan. “Just shoo him out of the way. I’m pretty sure he’ll be a little, you know, like: ‘Wait a minute, I used to do it this way.’ ” But she would have to wait to test those waters. She was scheduled to transfer to Fort Gordon, Georgia in October, but until then, Tim and the children would remain in North Carolina. Except for occasional weekends, they would be apart for another six months. Still in her uniform, she took Tim to the airport and then went shopping at Wal-Mart. On a 3-by-5 card, she had neatly listed items she needed for her new apartment near Fort Drum: linens, a frying pan, food for one. She filled two carts and headed home. In her second-floor home, she began unpacking boxes of paperback books, unused uniforms, and crayon drawings from her children. Without the children, it had been a subdued, almost joyless homecoming. But she seemed content in her solitude. The Army is her career, and a good one, she told herself. She just needed to be patient. “As long as my children are happy, as long as I know their education is set for, then I’m good,” she said. “I’ll just keep doing this as long as I have to.”
Sergeant Keith’s homecoming was surprisingly boisterous, even without his wife and son. His parents, grandfather, brother, nieces, and nephews greeted him at the gymnasium, then accompanied him to a new apartment they had found and furnished for him. But, when they left, he was by himself for the first time in practically a year. He took a shower, the longest and hottest in months, then crawled into a bed that felt as large as a swimming pool. “I never felt more alone any time ever in my life,” he recalled. The deployment, his third in six years, had been great, and not because of the adrenaline rush of combat; he saw none of that. A fuel specialist, Sergeant Keith, 29, was responsible for making sure gas tanks were full and generators were running. Sent from the battalion headquarters in Kunduz to an outpost in Baghlan, he had been left alone to do his job and loved the independence. For the first time in years, he felt proud to be a soldier, and ambitious to do more. The deployment had clearly been hard on his wife and made him almost a stranger to his eighteen-month-old son. “I have to work my way back into his life again,” he said. And yet, almost to his surprise, he felt a sense of lightness and liberation now that his wife had left him. He went drinking at the American Legion with friends. Maybe he would start dating. And down the line, he felt almost certain he would deploy again. Perhaps it was the clarity of deployed life that he craved. The structured routines seemed so much simpler than the messy realities of home. He could not quite put his finger on it, but he knew that “normal life” no longer meant what it once did. “Once you get stuck into that environment,” he said of deployment, “and you do it every day, it’s very, very hard coming back to the states and living a normal life. I’m just having a real hard time dealing with it.”
In the weeks after the battalion got home, Captain Bonenberger, 33, moved into an apartment with two fellow captains and considered his future. Should he accept a teaching position at West Point, or get out of the Army?
Private Stevenson married and learned that his child, due in August, was a boy. He bought an SAT prep book.
Specialist Hayes, undergoing rehabilitation at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, visited his platoon mates at Fort Drum. To celebrate, they drank Guinness from his prosthetic leg.
And Sergeant First Class Brian Eisch, 36, struggled to learn how to run again. A machine-gun burst had almost taken off his left leg during a battle in Kunduz last fall, and he had been flown to Walter Reed for treatment. Determined to return to a frontline unit, he would have to prove that he could run with a pack. Doctors told him to go slow, but it was not in his nature. So, after returning to Fort Drum in February, he went to the gym almost nightly, working the shreds of muscle still in his calf. When he continued to limp, his doctors suggested that he replace the leg with a prosthetic. No way, he said. “I’m trying to put on the happy face and the strong guy, but at the end of the day I’m almost in tears in pain, “ he said. “It hurts.”
A single father, Sergeant Eisch was also trying to get his sons reacquainted with Fort Drum. They had spent the first half of his deployment in Wisconsin with their uncle. Now back home, Joey, eight, was dodging homework, and Isaac, twelve, was having nightmares about bad things happening to his father. “I explained to him, that’s just your body,” said Sergeant Eisch, who was having his own recurring nightmares. “Your body is just trying to get rid of stress.” Though he earned a Bronze Star for aiding a critically wounded Afghan police officer, Sergeant Eisch was also plagued by self-doubt. “There’s a sense of me that says I failed for getting shot,” he said. Doctors suggested he had post-traumatic stress disorder, but Sergeant Eisch questioned the diagnosis. He also bristled at his assignment to a Warrior Transition Unit, where he felt he was surrounded by unmotivated and over-medicated soldiers. Up and then down. He raged at the Army. Then he bought himself a new boat to go with his new truck. He bemoaned his bad leg. Then he hugged his boys and considered himself lucky. It was like that in the Army. Hero one day, faceless grunt the next. Scout platoon sergeant in November, wounded warrior in March. He had rolled with it for almost seventeen years; he hoped he could make it three more to retirement. “Hey, I’m still kicking, and there’s new motivation there,” he said. “I’m going to heal.”
Posted by Rico at 10:38
poem, of course, but David Kirkpatrick has the real story in The New York Times:
Hundreds of Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip arrived by the busload to pass through the reopened border into Egypt, taking the first tangible steps out of a four-year Israeli blockade.
“I feel this is the start of freedom,” said Hasna el-Ryes, 45, a Gaza resident waiting to cross into Egypt so she could travel to visit sons studying in Britain. “You can’t imagine how much we have suffered.”
While a gradual loosening of the border controls over the last year had allowed some Gaza residents to cross— including registered students or those seeking medical treatment— many of those making the trip said they felt a new stirring of hope at Egypt’s decision to stop enforcing Israel’s blockade of the Palestinian territory.
They cheered the decision as a humanitarian gesture to Gaza residents, but also as an important concession to make possible the reconciliation deal that Egypt brokered between the militant group Hamas, which rules in Gaza, and the moderate Fatah faction, which governs the West Bank. And they saluted the Egyptian revolution that brought about a new spirit of independence.
“The people are taking their rights, and when the Egyptians rise it helps the Palestinians,” said Faris Awad, 48, returning to visit family in Cairo for the first time since the start of the blockade, just in time for a wedding.
The Rafah border crossing has for years been a kind of geographic emblem of Egypt’s complicated relationship with Israel. For the Arab world, Egypt’s determination under President Hosni Mubarak to secure the border came to represent its decision to put its partnership with Israel and the United States ahead of solidarity with its fellow Muslims languishing in of Gaza. Inside Egypt, the closed border was a projection of Mr. Mubarak’s self-image as a bulwark against militant groups like Hamas. For Palestinians, it represented a betrayal.
In Israel, Rafah was a reminder of the superficial quality of its partnership with Mr. Mubarak, because while his security forces closed the surface crossing, Hamas and its Egyptian sympathizers continued to carry in weapons and goods through a not-so-secret network of tunnels. Less acknowledged was the Rafah border’s function as a kind of safety valve, helping to relieve enough of the humanitarian needs within Gaza to avoid a crisis that might shock the world; for example, by letting sick Gazans through for urgent medical care.
But the reopening is a reminder of how things are changing between Egypt and Israel after Mr. Mubarak’s ouster. Both the Israeli government and the military council that rules Egypt now are quite aware that the vast majority of Egyptians loathe their country’s support of Israel and are demanding a greater voice in foreign policy. Egypt’s interim foreign minister, Nabil el-Araby, a driving force behind the Hamas-Fatah agreement and the border opening, and who is about to leave his post to become director of the Arab League, has continued his efforts to tilt Egypt away from Israel and toward the Palestinians. In a statement after attending a meeting of the so-called non-aligned movement, he urged its member countries to support the request for United Nations recognition of a Palestinian state to put pressure on Israel, and he condemned Israel’s settlements as “attempts to alter the character of the city of Jerusalem.”
Israel issued no statements in response to the border opening, but its officials have made clear that they consider the looser controls a major security risk. It began its blockade of Gaza four years ago to keep Hamas, which consolidated control in Gaza after winning elections, from being resupplied with rockets and other weapons to use against Israelis.
Musbah Mohamed Halawin, 59, waiting in a wheelchair to travel to Cairo for the first time in thirty years, called the Egyptians “brothers. Egypt is the only thing we have after God,” he said.
Samah Ahmad, 30, did a little dance as she raced down a hall holding out her freshly stamped Palestinian passport. She said she had tried to cross twice in the last ten days, but was rejected once by the Palestinian authorities and once by the Egyptians. She was planning to travel to Turkey for a meeting of activists to discuss ways to build on the reconciliation agreement between Hamas and Fatah. “Now we are starting our own revolution, not to tear down the Palestinian government, but to rebuild it,” she said. “We are still under occupation, and we need to be like one hand to overcome it.”
Many noted that the reopening was in a sense an extension of a gradual loosening, first by Israel last year in the aftermath of its forces killing of nine participants in a Turkish aid flotilla attempting to enter Gaza. In the second half of last year, about 19,000 people a month crossed the Rafah border both ways, slightly less than half the rate before the blockade, according to human rights groups. Then after the revolution, Egypt began loosening its border restrictions as well. By the beginning of May, the border station was already open several days a week, and patients needing medical treatment, registered students, and some others were allowed to cross.
And the formal, seven-days-a-week reopening did not remove all restrictions. It left in place a blockade on the shipment into Gaza of goods, including concrete that is badly needed to repair buildings damaged in clashes with Israel. “This is good, but we are looking for Egypt to break the siege, to allow the shipment of cement and trade,” said Gamal el-Din, a Palestinian engineer entering Egypt.
Egyptian officials have said they hope to soon open the border to at least some goods. There are still restrictions on passengers as well. Although women, children and older Palestinians can enter without a visa, men from eighteen to forty are required to obtain one, for security reasons.
Fala el-Helow, 35, had taken her sixteen-year-old son out of school before exams to bring him through the historic reopening to visit a sick brother studying in Cairo; she had been turned away at the border just a week before. But she said she could still not bring her husband, 39. After years caught among the conflicting and sometimes capricious bureaucracies of Israel, Egypt, and the Palestinian Authority, she said she was tempering her expectations. “The Egyptians are moody,” she said, as an Egyptian customs officer standing on a platform behind a counter called out names and tossed stamped passports into a crowd of Palestinians. “You never know what they will do.”
While the terminal holding Egyptians entering Gaza remained almost empty for most of the day, a steady stream of Gazans kept flowing the other way. Aish el-Meleit, a 55-year-old farmer, said he had come for a chance to visit an ailing aunt in Egypt; he had missed the deaths and funerals of both his parents because of the blockade.
By early afternoon, six buses, each carrying about fifty travelers, had dropped their passengers on the Palestinian side, the police said. Only two people had been returned from the Egyptian side, compared with nearly forty on a typical day last week.
Some arrived with inflated expectations. Abu Mohamed, 70, a Palestinian who has lived for the last sixty years in the Egyptian town of el-Arish near the border, arrived before 9 a.m. hoping for the first time in thirty years to see his family in Gaza. He had been unable to obtain a passport from the Palestinian Authority, which issues them in cooperation with Israel, and he hoped to enter using a letter he had obtained from Egyptian officials. But after a few hours of rejection by the border guards, he stormed off, cursing. “After sixty years, why could they not let us in? Disgusting,” he said.
Still, Hosni Hamid, 63, who operates the snack bar inside the Palestinian waiting area, said traffic was double or triple the usual, and business was booming. “Palestinians should visit Egypt, Egyptians should visit Palestine. It is good for everyone,” he said. “Why not?”
Posted by Rico at 10:11
A fat sheaf of FBI reports meticulously details the surveillance that counterterrorism agents directed at the one-story house in East Austin, in central Texas. For at least three years, they traced the license plates of cars parked out front, recorded the comings and goings of residents and guests, and, in one case, speculated about a suspicious flat object spread out across the driveway.Rico says it's your tax dollars at work here...
“The content could not be determined from the street,” an agent observing from his car reported one day in 2005. “It had a large number of multi-colored blocks, with figures and/or lettering,” the report said, and “may be a sign that is to be used in an upcoming protest.” Actually, the item in question was more mundane. “It was a quilt,” said Scott Crow, marveling over the papers at the dining table of his ramshackle home, where he lives with his wife, a housemate and a backyard menagerie that includes two goats, a dozen chickens, and a turkey. “For a kids’ after-school program.”
Mr. Crow, 44, a self-described anarchist and veteran organizer of anti-corporate demonstrations, is among dozens of political activists across the country known to have come under scrutiny from the FBI’s increased counterterrorism operations since the attacks of 11 September 2001.
Other targets of bureau surveillance, which has been criticized by civil liberties groups and mildly faulted by the Justice Department’s inspector general, have included antiwar activists in Pittsburgh, animal rights advocates in Virginia, and liberal Roman Catholics in Nebraska. When such investigations produce no criminal charges, their methods rarely come to light publicly.
But Mr. Crow, a lanky Texas native who works at a recycling center, is one of several Austin activists who asked the FBI for their files, citing the Freedom of Information Act. The 440 heavily-redacted pages he received, many bearing the rubric “Domestic Terrorism”, provide a revealing window on the efforts of the Bureau, backed by other federal, state and local police agencies, to keep an eye on people it deems dangerous.
In the case of Mr. Crow, who has been arrested a dozen times during demonstrations, but has never been convicted of anything more serious than trespassing, the bureau wielded an impressive array of tools, the documents show.
The agents watched from their cars for hours at a time— Mr. Crow recalls one regular as “a fat guy in an SUV with the engine running and the air-conditioning on”— and watched gatherings at a bookstore and cafe. For round-the-clock coverage, they attached a video camera to the phone pole across from his house on New York Avenue.
They tracked Mr. Crow’s phone calls, emails, and combed through his trash, identifying his bank and mortgage companies, which appear to have been served with subpoenas. They visited gun stores where he shopped for a rifle, noting dryly in one document that a vegan animal rights advocate like Mr. Crow made an unlikely hunter. (He says the weapon was for self-defense in a marginal neighborhood.) They asked the Internal Revenue Service to examine his tax returns, but backed off after an IRS employee suggested that Mr. Crow’s modest earnings would not impress a jury even if his returns were flawed. (He earns $32,000 a year at Ecology Action of Texas, he said.) They infiltrated political meetings with undercover police officers and informers. Mr. Crow counts five supposed fellow activists who were reporting to the FBI.
Mr. Crow seems alternately astonished, angered, and flattered by the government’s attention. “I’ve had times of intense paranoia,” he said, especially when he discovered that some trusted allies were actually spies. “But first, it makes me laugh,” he said. “It’s just a big farce that the government’s created such paper tigers, when al-Qaeda and real terrorists are hard to find. We’re easy to find. It’s outrageous that they would spend so much money surveilling civil activists, and anarchists in particular, and equating our actions with al-Qaeda.”
The investigation of political activists is an old story for the FBI, most infamously in the Cointel program, which scrutinized and sometimes harassed civil rights and antiwar advocates from the 1950s to the 1970s. Such activities were reined in after they were exposed by the Senate’s Church Committee, and FBI surveillance has been governed by an evolving set of guidelines set by attorneys general since 1976.
But the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 demonstrated the lethal danger of domestic terrorism, and after the 11 September attacks, the FBI vowed never again to overlook terrorists hiding in plain sight. The al-Qaeda sleeper cells many Americans feared, though, turned out to be rare or nonexistent. The result, said Michael German, a former FBI agent now at the American Civil Liberties Union, has been a zeal to investigate political activists who pose no realistic threat of terrorism. “You have a bunch of guys and women all over the country sent out to find terrorism. Fortunately, there isn’t a lot of terrorism in many communities,” Mr. German said. “So they end up pursuing people who are critical of the government.”
Complaints from the ACKU prompted the Justice Department’s inspector general to assess the FBI’s forays into domestic surveillance. The resulting report last September absolved the bureau of investigating dissenters based purely on their expression of political views. But the inspector general also found skimpy justification for some investigations, uncertainty about whether any federal crime was even plausible in others and a mislabeling of nonviolent civil disobedience as “terrorism”.
Asked about the surveillance of Mr. Crow, an FBI spokesman, Paul E. Bresson, said it would be “inappropriate” to discuss an individual case. But he said that investigations are conducted only after the bureau receives information about possible crimes. “We do not open investigations based on individuals who exercise the rights afforded to them under the First Amendment,” Mr. Bresson said. “In fact, the Department of Justice and the Bureau’s own guidelines for conducting domestic operations strictly forbid such actions.”
It is not hard to understand why Mr. Crow attracted the bureau’s attention. He has deliberately confronted skinheads and Ku Klux Klan members at their gatherings, relishing the resulting scuffles. He claims to have forced corporate executives to move with noisy nighttime protests. He says he took particular pleasure in a 2003 demonstration for Greenpeace in which activists stormed the headquarters of ExxonMobil in Irving, Texas to protest its environmental record. Dressed in tiger outfits, protesters carried banners to the roof of the company’s offices, while others wearing business suits arrived in chauffeured Jaguars, forcing frustrated police officers to sort real executives from faux ones. “It was super fun,” said Mr. Crow, one of the suits, who escaped while three dozen other protesters were arrested. “They had ignored us and ignored us. But that one got their attention.”
It got the attention of the FBI as well, evidently, leading to the three-year investigation that focused specifically on Mr. Crow. The surveillance documents show that he also turned up in several other investigations of activism in Texas and beyond, from 2001 to at least 2008.
For an aficionado of civil disobedience, Mr. Crow comes across as more amiable than combative. He dropped out of college, toured with an electronic-rock band, and ran a successful Dallas antiques business while dabbling in animal rights advocacy. In 2001, captivated by the philosophy of anarchism, he sold his share of the business and decided to become a full-time activist. Since then, he has led a half-dozen groups and run an annual training camp for protesters. (The camps invariably attracted police infiltrators who were often not hard to spot. “We had a rule,” he said. “If you were burly, you didn’t belong.”) He also helped to found Common Ground Relief, a network of nonprofit organizations created in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
Anarchism was the catchword for an international terrorist movement at the turn of the twentieth century. But Mr. Crow, whose email address contains the phrase “quixotic dreaming,” describes anarchism as a kind of locally oriented self-help movement, a variety of “social libertarianism.”
“I don’t like the state,” he said. “I don’t want to overthrow it, but I want to create alternatives to it.”
This kind of talk appears to have baffled some of the agents assigned to watch him, whose reports to FBI bosses occasionally seem petulant. One agent calls “nonviolent direct action”, a phrase in activists’ materials, “an oxymoron”. Another agent comments, oddly, on Mr. Crow and his wife, Ann Harkness, who have been together for two dozen years, writing that “outwardly they did not appear to look right for each other.” At a training session, “most attendees dressed like hippies.”
Such comments stand out amid detailed accounts of the banal: mail in the recycling bin included “a number of catalogs from retail outlets such as Neiman Marcus, Ann Taylor and Pottery Barn.”
Mr. Crow said he hoped the airing of such FBI busywork might deter further efforts to keep watch over him. The last documents he has seen mentioning him date from 2008. But the Freedom of Information Act exempts from disclosure any investigations that are still open.
“I still occasionally see people sitting in cars across the street,” he said. “I don’t think they’ve given up.”
Posted by Rico at 09:56
30 May 2011
This is what the Navy SEAL team looked like when they went in to get Osama bin Laden.The post title is from the song by the same name:
A couple of things to notice:
.50 caliber sniper on the rightCan you imagine the look on bin Laden's face when these guys came through the door?
Knee, knuckle, and forearm protection
Various plastic/wire ties
Absolute identity denial to protect their families
Free choice of footwear
Fourth from the right has three artillery simulators and CS gas
grenades on his belly; he’s the shock and awe guy
Posted by Rico at 09:07
29 May 2011
Maureen Dowd has a column in The New York Times about France and French women:
On the way up to Christine Lagarde’s office high above the Seine, you pass through a lobby filled with wall after wall of black-and-white photos of her predecessors as French finance minister: all men. They include a former president, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing; a current president, Nicolas Sarkozy, and a former favorite to be president, Dominique Strauss-Kahn. DSK, as he’s known here, is holding a pen, beaming with confidence. His photo on the front page of Le Figaro on Lagarde’s coffee table looks far different: the humbled former International Monetary Fund chief flanked by two New York detectives at his house-arrest pad in TriBeCa, a $50,000-a-month apartment so “luxueuse,” as the paper says, that it is giving the Socialist Party “malaise.”
Another black-and-white expanse greets you when you enter Lagarde’s office: the zebra-patterned carpet she put in so she wouldn’t always be facing “men in gray suits on a gray rug.”
The attractive, 55-year-old Lagarde— 5-foot-10 and lithe with short silver hair and blue-green eyes— is gliding around on the zebra rug in her nude patent Christian Louboutin high heels. The woman has panache. What else would you expect from someone who became a synchronized swimmer on the French national team after watching Esther Williams movies as a girl?
“She was a little bit plumpy, which was lovely,” Madame Minister says of the Fiftiess movie star, adding that she does a bit of her old practice, in addition to working on her rose garden and cooking, when she’s at her home in Normandy. “I love the sea. I think I must have been a dolphin in a previous life.” Synchronized swimming taught her teamwork and how to hold her breath when world economies went underwater.
She was, she says, “born independent”. When she was four, she confides in her melodic low voice, her “totally irresponsible” parents would put her and her infant brother to bed and sneak out to the theater and concerts. One night they came back and found all the lights on. Christine was ensconced in a big chair in the living room, reading her book. “Next time,” she nonchalantly told her parents, “just let me know when you go.”
France’s first female finance minister got a boost in her bid to become the first female head of the I.M.F. at the G-8 meeting in Deauville when Sarkozy lobbied President Obama, Hillary Clinton offered a girl-power endorsement, and Dmitri Medvedev proclaimed a near-consensus. Lagarde asserts that après le DSK déluge, leadership skills count more for the world’s banker than “super-duper training and degrees in economics”.
She says she’s ready to personally go woo China, India, and other countries angry over the prospect of yet another European getting a job that they feel should be the prize of a developing country. She heads to Brazil on Monday.
She feels deeply that “with an institution with so many different people with different backgrounds, there’s a need for respect and tolerance. I know what it’s like to walk into a room where you are just by yourself, and everybody else is wearing dark suits, and you feel for a few seconds slightly intimidated and not always welcome.” She dismisses the charge that she overstepped to get a $408 million legal settlement for a Sarkozy pal, the controversial businessman Bernard Tapie, calling it “a politically driven initiative by the Socialist Party.”
France is soul-searching in the wake of DSK’s DNA stains, debating whether the press is too protective of predatory politicians, whether there are too many liaisons dangereuses between journalists and officials, and whether sexism is taken seriously enough.
Lagarde agrees with The Times’ veteran Paris correspondent Elaine Sciolino that this is an Anita Hill moment for France. “I think there will be a pre-DSK and a post-DSK,” she says. “And things that may have been tolerated or generally accepted as okay will no longer be. I think women will take some confidence and pride out of whatever happens.”
Because the story came out “so brutally and without notice", she says, the French had a hard time understanding “adversarial” American justice and went into “a huge denial”. “Rightly or wrongly, a lot of people in the media and the establishment had assumed that he was not only persona grata, but that he was going to be the next president of France,” Lagarde says. “So they had taken him to the pinnacle and then suddenly he was down in the cellar, the gutter. In the denial phase, they had to go through that victimization of the man, while ignoring the real victim, and it led to unacceptable and disgusting comments by some of his friends. Male friends, of course.”
The journalist Jean-François Kahn said he was “practically certain” that DSK was not trying to rape the Sofitel maid, but was merely engaging in troussage de domestique, lifting the skirt of a servant. Jack Lang, a former government minister, cracked, “It’s not like anybody died.”
Lagarde has never been the darling of the French elite. When she became minister of finance, she says, “people were not particularly nice to me and the media was very keen to point at mistakes or being too blunt or not using the politically correct phrases. I did what I always do. I just gritted my teeth and smiled and got on with it.”
In 2007, she made a speech suggesting that her countrymen abandon their “old national habit” of over-intellectualizing. “Enough thinking, already!” she urged. “Roll up your sleeves.”
As she told me: “I said they’d done enough thinking to fill in shelves of libraries of the entire world. I said it was time they got on with action.”
Sciolino writes about the howling that followed in her new book, La Seduction: “For the men, here was a French woman brainwashed by too many years in America who was trying to castrate the intellectuals of France!”
The male elite hit back. Bernard-Henri Lévy (who has been vociferously defending his pal DSK) disdainfully noted: “This is the sort of thing you can hear in cafe conversations from morons who drink too much.”
Lagarde shrugs. “I have no regret,” she says. “I was bashed. But the messages got through, I would hope. I don’t mind too much a little Parisian circle that says: ‘Hmmph, she’s not part of us. She’s spent too much time on the other side.’ ”
Like her dynamic boss, Sarkozy, Lagarde is known as L’Americaine— not a compliment here. The divorced mother of two grown sons, who now dates a hunky Marseilles real estate developer, attended Holton-Arms high school in the Washington area in an exchange program and spent two decades as a lawyer at Baker & McKenzie in Chicago.
During the financial crisis, her much-criticized tendency to dispense with French protocol allowed her to soar. Her public response to the Lehman collapse was “Holy cow!” She was fast, blunt and able to speak English without a translator.
Even before DSK’s vertiginous fall, Lagarde, who has three younger brothers and who elbowed her way to the top male tier of the City of Broad Shoulders, had warned about the dangers of too much “hairy-chested” testosterone. In Chicago, she says, she had “boys on my team. And I could see them, especially when they were a little bit amongst themselves and I was just in the background, and it was about: ‘Oh, I can do better than you. I’ve got more of this and more of that. And I’ve got more billable hours.’ It’s complete nonsense.”
She noticed, when she worked on big termination packages after mergers, that men would feel their worlds were collapsing while women’s egos were “more diversely invested”. She believes that women in the mix— “if they accept to just be themselves and not play boys’ games”— can “make it a bit more civilized, bring it back to normality.”
Lagarde’s role models were her mother, a professor of French, Latin, and ancient Greek who was widowed when Christine was sixteen, and an older female partner at Baker & McKenzie, a “solid professional” who put on a little lipstick before seeing clients.
“Neither overplayed their femininity,” she says. “They did not try to charm or lift their skirt to show their knees. But they were women.” Perhaps a woman who dominates without being domineering is just what is needed at the IMF, a macho island outside U.S. law with the sexual norms of a libidinous pirate ship.
The French are reconsidering the line between seduction and aggression. I asked Lagarde how she would delineate it. “You know when you receive a big slap in the face,” she says, “or when someone says ‘No.’”
Has she ever felt sexually harassed? “No, I’m too tall. I’ve been in sports for too long,” she says, smiling and flexing the muscle under her black Ann Taylor jacket. “They know that I could just punch them.”
Posted by Rico at 20:38