Later On

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

Archive for April 30th, 2007

Another Bush Administration failure: student loan industry

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The Washington Post:

The Bush administration killed a proposal to clamp down on the student loan industry six years ago following allegations that companies sought to shower universities with financial favors to help generate business, according to documents and interviews with government officials.

The proposed policy, which Education Department officials drafted near the end of the Clinton presidency and circulated at the start of the Bush administration, represented an early, significant but ultimately abortive government response to a problem that this year has grown into a major controversy.

Now, as the $85 billion-a-year student loan industry faces an array of investigations into questionable business practices that some officials believe could have been curtailed by the 2001 proposal, the Education Department has embarked on a new effort to set rules for the industry to prevent conflicts of interest and other abuses. If approved, the rules would be implemented in summer 2008, a few months before Bush leaves the White House.

The abandonment of the 2001 proposal underscores what some consumer advocates and Democratic lawmakers believe is lax federal oversight of the financial aid system by a department they say is too cozy with the industry. More than a dozen senior department officials either previously worked in the student loan business or found high-paying jobs in the sector after they left the agency.

“The Department of Education has been run as a wholly owned subsidiary of the loan industry under this administration,” said Barmak Nassirian, a longtime advocate for industry reform at the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers. “They are running the federal loan program for the profit of their friends and not for the benefit of students and taxpayers.”

Chad Colby, a department spokesman, said he was not aware of the 2001 proposal but noted that a task force was created last week to consider new rules. The department also defended its hiring of loan industry veterans, saying their expertise was invaluable, and pointed to a 2005 decision by the Government Accountability Office to remove federal student financial aid from a list of “high-risk” programs.

“The U.S. Department of Education takes its role as steward of federal financial aid very seriously,” Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, who took office in 2005, said in a statement last week.

No one has been charged with any crime in the investigations led by the New York state attorney general’s office and other agencies, but in recent weeks there have been a series of revelations about conflicts of interest and financial links among universities, lenders and government officials. Some Bush administration appointees have said they were unaware of the extent of these controversial practices.

But the 2001 policy draft shows that Education Department officials knew of the issue and that at least some saw a need to act. In addition, some industry executives had sought guidelines on what would qualify as prohibited payments, or “inducements,” from lenders to financial aid directors, according to current and former department officials. Several of them spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 April 2007 at 7:54 pm

Sen. James Inhofe, total idiot

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ThinkProgress:

Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) on Friday:

Inhofe, speaking to the press before Cheney’s arrival, lambasted Democrats for Thursday’s Senate vote to begin withdrawal from Iraq by Oct. 1 and the press for “mischaracterizing” the reasons for U.S. involvement.

“The whole idea of weapons of mass destruction was never the issue, yet they keep trying to bring this up,” Inhofe said. […]

Pressed for an explanation, Inhofe said weapons of mass destruction were “incidental” to the decision to invade Iraq.

“The media made that the issue because they knew Saddam Hussein had used weapons of mass destruction.”

Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) in August 2002:

Our intelligence system has said that we know that Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction — I believe including nuclear. There’s not one person on this panel who would tell you unequivocally that he doesn’t have the missile means now, or is nearly getting the missile means to deliver a weapon of mass destruction. And I for one am not willing to wait for that to happen.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 April 2007 at 6:14 pm

Posted in Congress, GOP, Iraq War

GOP, party of corruption

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ThinkProgress:

Pump bid for New Orleans may have been rigged.

When the Army Corps of Engineers solicited bids for drainage pumps for New Orleans, “it copied the specifications — typos and all — from the catalog of the manufacturer that ultimately won the $32 million contract.” That manufacturer: MWI. “MWI employed former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, President George W. Bush’s brother, to market its pumps during the 1980s, and top MWI officials have been major contributors to the Republican Party.”

Written by LeisureGuy

30 April 2007 at 6:12 pm

Half a trillion dollars: what we could have done with that

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McClatchy Washington Bureau:

The bitter fight over the latest Iraq spending bill has all but obscured a sobering fact: The war will soon cost more than $500 billion.

That’s about ten times more than the Bush administration anticipated before the war started four years ago, and no one can predict how high the tab will go. The $124 billion spending bill that President Bush plans to veto this week includes about $78 billion for Iraq, with the rest earmarked for the war in Afghanistan, veterans’ health care and other government programs.

Congressional Democrats and Bush agree that they cannot let their dispute over a withdrawal timetable block the latest cash installment for Iraq. Once that political fight is resolved, Congress can focus on the president’s request for $116 billion more for the war in the fiscal year that starts on Sept. 1.

The combined spending requests would push the total for Iraq to $564 billion, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service.

What could that kind of money buy?

A college education – tuition, fees, room and board at a public university – for about half of the nation’s 17 million high-school-age teenagers.

Pre-school for every 3- and 4-year-old in the country for the next eight years.

A year’s stay in an assisted-living facility for about half of the 35 million Americans age 65 or older.

Not surprisingly, opinions about the cost of the war track opinions about the war itself.

“If it’s really vital, then whatever it costs, we should pay it. If it isn’t, whatever we pay is too much,” said Robert Hormats, author of “The Price of Liberty,” a newly published book that examines the financing of America’s wars.

Before the war, administration officials confidently predicted that the conflict would cost about $50 billion. White House economic adviser Lawrence Lindsey lost his job after he offered a $200 billion estimate – a prediction that drew scorn from his administration colleagues.

“They had no concept of what they were getting into in terms of lives or cost,” said Winslow Wheeler, who monitors defense spending for the Center for Defense Information, a nonpartisan research institute.

Bush and his economic advisers defend the growing cost as the price of national security.

“It’s worth it,” Bush said last May, when the tab was in the $320 billion range. “I wouldn’t have spent it if it wasn’t worth it.”

For war opponents, the escalating cost is a growing source of irritation. A Web site showing a running tally of the war’s cost, http://costofwar.com/index.html, attracts about 250,000 visitors a month, according to the National Priorities Project, the site’s sponsor.

“It comes down to the question, how do you want to spend a half trillion dollars? Do you want to spend a half trillion dollars on this or would you rather spend it on something else?” said economist Anita Dancs, the organization’s research director. “It’s all a matter of costs and benefits.”

More at the link.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 April 2007 at 6:08 pm

Iraqi Parliament to take a two-month recess

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While American troops fight and die to try to achieve their current mission (establish a functioning government in Iraq). Isn’t this beyond the pale? Shouldn’t our troops also get a two-month break? In fact, shouldn’t they come home? They can’t establish an Iraqi democracy on their own. Or does Bush just want them to stay there indefinitely?

Written by LeisureGuy

30 April 2007 at 4:11 pm

Cheney impeachment looks more possible

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If this guy has the evidence that he says he has. I’m old enough to recall a vice-president having to leave office because of dishonesty (Spiro Agnew).

Written by LeisureGuy

30 April 2007 at 4:06 pm

More evidence of bad doings at the DoJ

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Murray Waas has a good article, which begins:

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales signed a highly confidential order in March 2006 delegating to two of his top aides — who have since resigned because of their central roles in the firings of eight U.S. attorneys — extraordinary authority over the hiring and firing of most non-civil-service employees of the Justice Department. A copy of the order and other Justice Department records related to the conception and implementation of the order were provided to National Journal.

In the order, Gonzales delegated to his then-chief of staff, D. Kyle Sampson, and his White House liaison “the authority, with the approval of the Attorney General, to take final action in matters pertaining to the appointment, employment, pay, separation, and general administration” of virtually all non-civil-service employees of the Justice Department, including all of the department’s political appointees who do not require Senate confirmation. Monica Goodling became White House liaison in April 2006, the month after Gonzales signed the order.

The existence of the order suggests that a broad effort was under way by the White House to place politically and ideologically loyal appointees throughout the Justice Department, not just at the U.S.-attorney level. Department records show that the personnel authority was delegated to the two aides at about the same time they were working with the White House in planning the firings of a dozen U.S. attorneys, eight of whom were, in fact, later dismissed.

A senior executive branch official familiar with the delegation of authority said in an interview that — as was the case with the firings of the U.S. attorneys and the selection of their replacements — the two aides intended to work closely with White House political aides and the White House counsel’s office in deciding which senior Justice Department officials to dismiss and whom to appoint to their posts. “It was an attempt to make the department more responsive to the political side of the White House and to do it in such a way that people would not know it was going on,” the official said.

Continue reading. The really good stuff is later in the story.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 April 2007 at 3:48 pm

What will Rice say now?

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ThinkProgress:

On Jan. 11, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the Bush administration would not “stay married” to its Baghdad security plan if the Iraqis do “not [live] up to their part of the obligation”:

SEC. RICE: I will tell you this, the benchmark that I’m looking at — the oil law is important, the political process is extraordinary important — that the most important thing that the Iraqi government has to do right now is to reestablish the confidence of its population that it’s going to be even-handed in defending it. That’s what we need to see over the next two or three months, and I think that over the next several months they’re going to have to show that.

SEN. OBAMA: Or else what? Mr. Chairman –

SEC. RICE: Or this plan — or this plan is not — this plan is not going to work.

Those two to three months are up, and recent troubling reports indicate that Maliki’s office has not been “even-handed” in defending the Iraqi population and has actually increased sectarian tensions:

– “A department of the Iraqi prime minister’s office is playing a leading role in the arrest and removal of senior Iraqi army and national police officers, some of whom had apparently worked too aggressively to combat violent Shiite militias.”

– According to a recent poll, Maliki inspires confidence in 72 percent of Shiites, but just eight percent of Sunnis.

– “The UN has sharply criticised the Iraqi government’s human rights record, in the two months since a security plan was launched in the capital, Baghdad. The UN mission for Iraq said Iraqi authorities had failed to guarantee the basic rights of about 3,000 people they had detained in the operations.”

– In its April 26 Iraq Index, the Brookings Institution found “no progress thus far” on four of Rice’s benchmarks: establishing new election laws, scheduling provincial elections, disbanding militias, or putting together a plan for national reconciliation.

Even though the Iraqi government has been largely unsuccessful in meeting its political benchmarks, the Bush administration refuses to change its plan in Iraq. Yesterday on CBS’s Face the Nation, Rice said that the administration opposes imposing any “so-called consequences” on Maliki’s government “for missing the benchmarks,” and plans to veto any bill that does so.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 April 2007 at 2:28 pm

Harboring terrorists

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I think some questions to Tony Snow about this would be interesting: U.S. Frees International Terrorist Luis Posada Carilles. Something along this line:

“Tony, as you know, the President has been extremely forceful in his condemnation of nations that harbor suspected terrorists and refuse to allow those suspects to be imprisoned and questioned. Can you tell us how—or why—people in his Administration have been defying the President by harboring and protecting Luis Posada Carilles rather than extradite him to the countries in which his acts of terrorism were done?

“I understand that they attempt to justify their defiance by saying that Carilles might be tortured there, but of course we’ve sent our own suspected terrorists to other countries that practice torture after getting assurances that they won’t torture the suspects we’re sending. Presumably we can get the same assurances from Venezuela and Cuba.

“So how can President Bush allow his explicit policy to be defied by members of his own administration? And is the success of that defiance the reason behind his decision to try to find someone else to be Command-in-Chief for the war in Iraq and Afghanistan?”

I can dream, can’t I?

Written by LeisureGuy

30 April 2007 at 12:51 pm

Homemade Chile-Garlic Paste

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From the NY Times. Very easy to make, I discovered. I forgot to toast the peppers, but the result tastes great. Not very hot, this time. I used rice-bran oil because I had some on hand. In the video, he says that the dried chiles should be somewhat soft and flexible, not totally dried out. I’ll definitely be making this again. At the link is a video that explains quite well how to prepare and the various uses, along with quite a few tasty-sounding variations.

It has a reputation for being one of the mysteries of international cuisine, but chili paste is really about as easy to make as applesauce. Take dried chilies, soak them until they are soft, combine them with a spice or two (or not) and purée.

You can make it more complex, of course, but with a variety of dried chilies — some mild, some hot — you won’t go far wrong. For the best flavor, toast the chilies before soaking, turning them in a dry skillet or over an open flame just until they darken and become fragrant.

Start with at least two types of good dried chilies. By that I mean chilies that are relatively fresh. They should be somewhat pliable, even moist, when you buy them, and not musty or moldy.

New Mexico, ancho and pasilla are all fairly easy to come by, relatively mild and quite complex in flavor. Of these, I like ancho best; Mexican and other Latin American markets carry them.

You can make a terrific paste with just one or two of those varieties, along with a chipotle or two. There are no hard and fast rules on the subject of chilies, but chipotles are usually smoked jalapeños (they can be made from other chilies). They add both heat and a spectacular and beguiling smokiness. Sometimes their heat is quite intense, so think twice before adding more than one.

If you’re looking for more heat without the characteristic smokiness of the chipotle, just add a few ordinary dried red chilies; these may be Thai, serrano, or any of a number of other varieties. They can be found in any good market, and should be quite inexpensive.

My favorite seasoning is garlic. In its hottest form chilies with garlic resembles the Vietnamese style chili-garlic paste sold in stores; with a combination of mild & hot chilies, it’s like nothing you can buy.

For Mexican-style chili paste, add a bit of cumin, and some oregano or epazote. With good curry powder or garam masala you’d produce the kind of paste you see in northern India. You can make a blend similar to harissa, the classic paste from North Africa, by adding coriander and cumin.

If you use fresh herbs or aromatics (including garlic), refrigerate the finished paste and use it within a day or so for maximum freshness and oomph. If all your seasonings are dried, the paste will last a couple of weeks at least. …

Chili Garlic Paste

Time: 15 minutes plus 30 minutes’ soaking

10 to 15 dried whole chilies, preferably a mixture of mild and hot, about 2 to 3 ounces
2 tablespoons neutral oil, like grapeseed or canola
Salt
2 cloves peeled garlic, optional.

1. Put chilies in a bowl and cover with boiling water and a small plate to keep them submerged. Soak for about 30 minutes, or until soft. Reserve a bit of the soaking water. Clean each chili: remove stem, then pull or slit open; do this over sink, as they will contain a lot of water. Scrape out seeds, retaining some if you want a hotter paste.

2. Put chilies, any seeds you might be using, the oil, a large pinch of salt and the garlic, if you are using it, in a blender or food processor. Purée until smooth, adding a spoonful of soaking water at a time, until consistency is a thick paste.

3. Use immediately or cool, cover tightly, and refrigerate for up to two days. Just before serving, taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.

Yield: About 1/2 cup.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 April 2007 at 12:24 pm

Posted in Recipes

“The President has gone AWOL”

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Via Dan Froomkin’s column, read General William Odom’s address.

Retired Gen. William Odom, who ran the National Security Agency under President Reagan, was an unusual choice to deliver the weekly Democratic radio adddress on April 28. But Odom was also one of the earliest advocates of an immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. Odom has been a frequent contributor to NiemanWatchdog.org. Click here for his biography and contributions. The following is the transcript of his address.

By William E. Odom
diane@hudson.org

Good morning, this is Lieutenant General William E. Odom, U.S. Army, retired.

I am not now nor have I ever been a Democrat or a Republican.  Thus, I do not speak for the Democratic Party.  I speak for myself, as a non-partisan retired military officer who is a former Director of the National Security Agency.  I do so because Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, asked me.

In principle, I do not favor Congressional involvement in the execution of U.S. foreign and military policy.  I have seen its perverse effects in many cases.  The conflict in Iraq is different.  Over the past couple of years, the President has let it proceed on automatic pilot, making no corrections in the face of accumulating evidence that his strategy is failing and cannot be rescued.

Thus, he lets the United States fly further and further into trouble, squandering its influence, money, and blood, facilitating the gains of our enemies.  The Congress is the only mechanism we have to fill this vacuum in command judgment.

To put this in a simple army metaphor, the Commander-in-Chief seems to have gone AWOL, that is ‘absent without leave.’  He neither acts nor talks as though he is in charge.  Rather, he engages in tit-for-tat games.

Some in Congress on both sides of the aisle have responded with their own tits-for-tats.  These kinds of games, however, are no longer helpful, much less amusing.  They merely reflect the absence of effective leadership in a crisis.  And we are in a crisis.

Most Americans suspect that something is fundamentally wrong with the President’s management of the conflict in Iraq.  And they are right.

The challenge we face today is not how to win in Iraq; it is how to recover from a strategic mistake: invading Iraq in the first place.  The war could never have served American interests.

But it has served Iran’s interest by revenging Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Iran in the 1980s and enhancing Iran’s influence within Iraq.  It has also served al Qaeda’s interests, providing a much better training ground than did Afghanistan, allowing it to build its ranks far above the levels and competence that otherwise would have been possible.

We cannot ‘win’ a war that serves our enemies interests and not our own.  Thus continuing to pursue the illusion of victory in Iraq makes no sense.  We can now see that it never did.

A wise commander in this situation normally revises his objectives and changes his strategy, not just marginally, but radically.  Nothing less today will limit the death and destruction that the invasion of Iraq has unleashed.

No effective new strategy can be devised …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 April 2007 at 10:52 am

Josh Marshall explains why Condi won’t testify

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Very clear explanation:

Written by LeisureGuy

30 April 2007 at 10:34 am

How the Dept of Justice lost its way

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Or, perhaps more accurately, abandoned its way. Read this account from a guy who simply couldn’t take it any more. Here’s the introduction:

In a story on Brad Schlozman last week, I quoted Bob Kengle, formerly the deputy chief of the voting section of the Civil Rights Division and a Justice Department veteran, as saying that he’d left because he’d reached his “personal breaking point.”

Well, that’s true. But it’s also, of course, more complicated than that. And Kengle thought that readers would benefit from a more in-depth view of what life was like in the division and why he “lost faith in the institution as it had become.”

The Civil Rights Division, and specifically the voting section there, as I’ve said before, is probably the worst case of politicization at the department. Kengle’s is an invaluable account of how political appointees like Schlozman seized control — and the damage that seizure has done to the department’s integrity and credibility.

The full text is below, but we’ve also posted Kengle’s statement in our document collection if you prefer to read it there.

Why I Left the Civil Rights Division
Bob Kengle

Written by LeisureGuy

30 April 2007 at 10:16 am

Condi, Condi, Condi. You’re telling too many fibs.

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Juan Cole dissects one from Sunday.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 April 2007 at 10:01 am

Condi hates that oath thing

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Condi Rice was all over the talking heads programs yesterday, telling lies at a good clip, but she’s decided not to respond to the House subpoena. I assume because then she would be placed under oath, a real chiller to the usual talking points she uses. Here’s the story:

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made it clear Sunday that she does not plan to comply with a subpoena that the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee authorized this week.

Panel Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) wants Rice to testify on the administration’s false claim that Iraq was seeking to acquire uranium from Niger. The congressman feels that Rice has not been responsive enough to repeated written requests for information on the issue.

However, the Secretary of State, when asked by ABC’s George Stephanopoulos why she would not comply with the subpoena to make her case, said that at issue is a separation of powers issue. Rice was making the rounds on the Sunday talk shows to discuss the war in Iraq and the subpoena.

“I respect the oversight role of Congress, and I’m perfectly willing to continue to try to answer whatever questions Chairman Waxman may have about this very thoroughly investigated issue,” Rice said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

Waxman strongly disagrees with Rice’s claim that she has been answering his questions. Prior to the authorization of the subpoena, the lawmaker said he has written several letters to Rice in order to find out more about the “fabricated Niger plan,” adding that he did not receive the first response until March of this year.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 April 2007 at 9:36 am

When the Press Fails

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Worth reading, I suspect:

Bennett, W. Lance, Regina G. Lawrence, and Steven Livingston When the Press Fails: Political Power and the News Media from Iraq to Katrina. 222 p., 3 line drawings, 5 tables. 6 x 9 2007 Series: (SCMPO) Studies in Communication, Media, and Public Opinion

Cloth $22.50 ISBN: 978-0-226-04284-8 (ISBN-10: 0-226-04284-7) Spring 2007

During the gravest moments of George W. Bush’s tenure—the response to 9/11, the buildup to war with Iraq, the Abu Ghraib scandal—the media largely reported reality as his administration scripted it. Why, in these times when we most need a critical, independent press, does this essential pillar of democracy fail us? A sobering look at the intimate relationship between political power and the news media, When the Press Fails argues that reporters’ dependence on official sources disastrously thwarts coverage of dissenting voices from outside the beltway.

The result is both an indictment of official spin and an urgent call to action that begins by questioning why the mainstream press neglected to cover considerable evidence against the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Drawing on hard-hitting interviews with journalists and analysis of content from major news outlets, the authors show that such catastrophic blind spots, particularly during the Abu Ghraib controversy, have stemmed from a lack of high-level sources within government willing to question the administration publicly. Contrasting these grave failures with the refreshingly critical reporting on Hurricane Katrina—a rare event that caught officials off guard, enabling journalists to enter a no-spin zone—When the Press Fails concludes by proposing new practices to reduce reporters’ dependence on power.

The authors ultimately contend that if ordinary Americans start to hear alternative perspectives aired in the legitimizing arena of the mainstream press, they just might begin to act as a public—no longer suffering with private shock and awe as world-changing events unfold before their eyes.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 April 2007 at 8:49 am

Posted in Books, Media

Sophie on mouse hunt

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Sophie drawer

Cats are eternal optimists, always expecting to find some prey. Evolution must have selected for that: pessimistic cats wouldn’t hunt and wouldn’t reproduce. Here’s Sophie checking out the pencil drawer (again). Maybe this time…

Written by LeisureGuy

30 April 2007 at 7:44 am

Posted in Cats, Sophie

Irony: you can encounter it anywhere

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Glenn Greenwald today:

In the midst of a relatively positive discussion of blogs and their growing influence in California politics, this San Francisco Chronicle article contains the following passage — one of the most ironic I’ve encountered in a while:

But one key state Democratic strategist, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of concern for riling the netroots crowd, warns that such efforts are potentially positive and negative. Netroots commentary can frequently be intensely personal, even “totally mean and irrational,” the strategist said, with some bloggers finding power in their ability “to assassinate political characters online.”

It’s amplified by the anonymity, and it can be scary that it’s so irresponsible,” the insider said. “And it’s pulling the mainstream media in that direction.”

Warning that anonymity makes bloggers so “scary” and “irresponsible,” while demanding anonymity to voice that criticism, is ingenious. And the anonymous quote is predictably being touted in right-wing circles as proof of how savage liberal bloggers are. Journalists grant anonymity to people so casually to spout off about even the most commonplace matters that, at this point, I’d say there is at least as much anonymity in mainstream journalism as there is in the blogosphere. It’s amazing how commonly journalists use the manipulative technique of inexcusably granting anonymity to one individual to do nothing more than voice a garden-variety political view, and then cite that anonymous statement as the basis for a whole story supposedly documenting a “trend” that exists only in the reporters’ imagination.

And the notion that bloggers have ushered in an era of personal attacks and mean-spirited political commentary should be too inane for anyone to voice. The 1990s were characterized by our most prestigious media outlets following the lead of Rush Limbaugh and Matt Drudge by endlessly discussing the spots on Bill Clinton’s penis, the sperm stains on Monica Lewinsky’s dress, and Hillary Clinton’s lesbian-fueled murder of Vince Foster, followed by Al Gore’s emasculation at the hands of Naomi Wolf and all the other petty, snotty personality-based fabrications which decided the 2000 election.

Journalists who work in the world Ruled by Drudge really ought to refrain from lamenting the desecration by bloggers of our previously sacred, dignified and elevated political discourse. The emergence of the blogosphere is a reaction to the wholesale destruction of our political discourse by national journalists, not a cause of that destruction.

Read the rest.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 April 2007 at 7:37 am

Posted in Media

National healthcare

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The debate on what form national healthcare should take seems to be in full swing, and the insurance companies’ lobbyists are undoubtedly spreading money around like mad. This is a debate in which citizens should be active participants. A couple of books that might help:

Best Care Anywhere: Why VA Health Care is Better Than Yours, by Phillip Longman. Book description:

The long-maligned Veterans Health Administration has become the highest-quality healthcare provider in the United States. This encouraging change not only has benefited veterans but also provides a blueprint for salvaging America’s own deeply troubled healthcare system. Best Care Anywhere shows how a government bureaucracy, working with little notice, is setting the standard for best practices and cost reduction while the private sector is lagging in both areas. Author Phillip Longman challenges conventional wisdom by explaining exactly how market forces work to lower quality and raise prices in the healthcare sector, and how U.S. medical practices have a weak basis in science. The book, expanded from a widely praised article in the Washington Monthly, mixes hard facts with author Philip Longmans’ compelling human story of the loss of his wife to cancer. Part manifesto, part moving memoir, Best Care Anywhere offers new hope for addressing a major problem of contemporary society that affects all of us.

The other book is Sick: The Untold Story of America’s Health Care Crisis—and the People Who Pay the Price, by Jonathan Cohn. Here’s a review, which includes:

According to a recent RAND study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, uninsured patients receive only 53.7 percent of the care experts believe they should get — that is, appropriate, evidence-based treatment. But according to the same study, patients with private, fee-for-service insurance are even less likely to receive the proper care. Indeed, among Americans receiving acute care, those who lack insurance stand a slightly better chance of receiving proper treatment than patients covered by Medicaid, Medicare, or any form of private insurance.

….[Dr. Elliot Fisher] found that in America’s highest-spending hospitals, only 74.8 percent of heart attack victims receive aspirin upon discharge from the hospital, as opposed to 83.5 percent in lower-budget competitors. This may be one reason why survival rates for heart attack victims are actually higher in low-spending hospitals than in high-spending hospitals.

What’s more, these spendthrift hospitals often skip other routine preventative care such as flu vaccines, Pap smears, and mammograms. This general lack of attention to prevention and follow-up care in high-spending hospitals helps to explain why not only heart attack victims but also patients suffering from colon cancer and hip fractures stand a better chance of living longer if they stay away from “elite” hospitals and choose a lower-cost provider instead. Given this reality, it is perhaps not surprising that patient satisfaction also declines as a hospital’s spending per patient rises.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 April 2007 at 7:26 am

Blade sampler pack: a little story

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My perennial advice to a new safety-razor shaver is to buy the blade sampler pack so that he can try various brands of blades. I always emphasize the importance of this step: not only is it the blade that does the actual cutting, but also different guys respond very differently to the same brand. Doing a little experiment is the only way to find the blade that works for you.

I recently had this exchange in private messages on one of the shaving forums:

Him:

To be honest I’m not finding my shaves with my new Futur any better than with an Excel razor, just a lot longer. The Merkur blades just seem blunt and harsh to me. Either way I just got the sampler pack as you recommended. I’m wondering which would you suggest starting with. I’ve obviously already used Merkur ones, so I’m thinking….

Derby->Gillette->Crystal->Feather

Does that sound good to you?

Me:

The order you suggested would work—the important thing is to do the Feathers last. They’re the sharpest, and by doing them last, your technique will probably have improved through practice. Here’s a common order:

Crystal -> Derby -> Gillette -> Feather (Merkurs are usually done first, but you’ve been there, done that).

I think you’ll find the blade makes an ENORMOUS difference, assuming your prep is good and you’re using light pressure and correct blade angle. Start with the Futur at no more than 1.5 and advance it as required to get a good shave. Your goal is to find the lowest setting that works. You may find that a sharper blade works at a lower setting than a duller blade.

Him:

Just tried out those Crystal blades as you recommended. WOW, good call on the sampler pack!

I honestly didn’t think it would make that much of a difference. Almost ALL my shaves with the Merkur blades I had a lot of irritation and it was just not much fun. I even shaved against the grain this time, no irritation, no nicks, nothing. Can’t wait to see what the next ones are like. Very Happy.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 April 2007 at 6:16 am

Posted in Shaving

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