Archive for August 23rd, 2007
It still seems strange to me that the US is so fixated on locking up so many citizens, seemingly with little curiosity or interest in why it is necessary, given that most other countries don’t have this pattern. None match the US in prison population per capita, and those that are closest are not the kind of nation that we perceive ourselves to be.
Childress is a part of a first wave of about 700 male convicts that California has shipped to privately owned and operated prisons here, in Tennessee and in Mississippi. “I feel good, like I could do another 10 years,” he says, half-jokingly.
The nation’s big private prison companies like it too. Having long lusted after a share of California’s 173,000-inmate population, they now forsee a steady stream of business.
Depending on the outcome of legal challenges, California could be “one of the longtime drivers of growth for the private prison industry,” says industry analyst Kevin Campbell.
Good advice, I think:
People at the top of every profession share one quality — they get things done. This ability supercedes intelligence, talent, and connections in determining the size of your salary and the speed of your advancement.
Despite the simplicity of this concept there is a perpetual shortage of people who excel at getting results. The action habit — the habit of putting ideas into action now — is essential to getting things done. Here are 7 ways you can grow the action habit:
1. Don’t wait until conditions are perfect – If you’re waiting to start until conditions are perfect, you probably never will. There will always be something that isn’t quite right. Either the timing is off, the market is down, or there’s too much competition. In the real world there is no perfect time to start. You have to take action and deal with problems as they arise. The best time to start was last year. The second best time is right now.
2. Be a doer - Practice doing things rather than thinking about them. Do you want to start exercising? Do you have a great idea to pitch your boss? Do it today. The longer an idea sits in your head without being acted on, the weaker it becomes. After a few days the details gets hazy. After a week it’s forgotten completely. By becoming a doer you’ll get more done and stimulate new ideas in the process.
3. Remember that ideas alone don’t bring success – Ideas are important, but they’re only valuable after they’ve been implemented. One average idea that’s been put into action is more valuable than a dozen brilliant ideas that you’re saving for “some other day” or the “right opportunity”. If you have an idea the you really believe in, do something about it. Unless you take action it will never go anywhere.
4. Use action to cure fear – Have you ever noticed that the most difficult part of public speaking is waiting for your turn to speak? Even professional speakers and actors experience pre-performance anxiety. Once they get started the fear disappears. Action is the best cure for fear. The most difficult time to take action is the very first time. After the ball is rolling, you’ll build confidence and things will keep getting easier. Kill fear by taking action and build on that confidence.
5. Start your creative engine mechanically – One of the biggest misconceptions about creative work is that it can only be done when inspiration strikes. If you wait for inspiration to slap you in the face, your work sessions will be few and far between. Instead of waiting, start your creative motor mechanically. If you need to write something, force yourself to sit down and write. Put pen to paper. Brainstorm. Doodle. By moving your hands you’ll stimulate the flow of ideas and inspire yourself.
6. Think in terms of now - Focus on what you can do in the present moment. Don’t worry about what you should have done last week or what you might be able to do tomorrow. The only time you can affect is the present. If you speculate too much about the past or the future you won’t get anything done. Tomorrow or next week frequently turns into never. As Ben Franklin said, “Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today.”
7. Get down to business immediately – It’s common practice for people to socialize and make small talk at the beginning of meetings. The same is true for individual workers. How often do you check email or RSS feeds before doing any real work? These distractions will cost you serious time if you don’t bypass them and get down to business immediately. By becoming someone who gets to the point you’ll be more productive and people will look to you as a leader.
It takes courage to take action without instructions from the person in charge. Perhaps that’s why initiative is a rare quality that’s coveted by managers and executives everywhere. Seize the initiative. Be a crusader. When you have a good idea, start implementing it without being told. Once people see you’re serious about getting things done they’ll want to join in. The people at the top don’t have anyone telling them what to do. If you want to join them, you should get used to acting independently.
A bill that would benefit many of us—at no cost to taxpayers:
Since 2005, the Genetic Alliance and other patient advocacy groups have been working to get legislation passed that would protect individuals with genetic disorders (and their blood relatives) from discrimination in insurance coverage and in the workplace. The resulting bill called “GINA” has received broad support from both parties. The bill (details at link below) has been passed in the House of Representatives. It looked to be a slam-dunk in the Senate, as well, but Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn (a physician) has put a hold on the bill meaning that it won’t even be considered for an up or down vote. Senator Coburn’s office has not provided an explanation for this action yet. President Bush has already indicated that he will sign this bill into law if it is passed in the Senate. The only hold-up now is Senator Coburn’s hold.
According to Senator John Kyl (R-AZ), enacting GINA requirements will result in little to no direct cost to taxpayers. The biggest opponents of this legislation have been the health insurance industry and employer groups who would like to reserve the right to deny costly services to persons with genetic disorders.
Genetic Alliance is requesting that patients impacted by this legislation contact Senator Coburn (if they are from Oklahoma) or contact the Republican leadership in the Senate to request that they persuade Senator Coburn to release the hold.
Here is the bill:
Here is Senator Coburn’s legislative aide email (if you live in OK):
courtney_cox at coburn.senate.gov
Senate leadership contacts for non-OK residents:
Trent Lott (R-MS) Phone 202.224.6253
Mitch McConnell (R-KY) Phone 202.224.2541
It seems a bit ridiculous that we have to fight to prevent discrimination due to our genes. However, the threat of discrimination in the U.S. is real. Here is an example, the International Classification of Disease (ICD) now in its 10th revision, is used by the majority of the world to categorize disease and to keep medical statistics. It does this by assigning numerical codes (PCD has not be given a specific code yet, that is a different problem). In the 10th edition, the ICD distinguished the numerical codes for genetic diseases by putting a letter “V” in front of them. These so-called “V” codes were great for countries with national health plans where all patients are covered regardless of their condition. However, in the U.S. where ICD-10 codes are used for private insurance reimbursement, it is feared that V codes will prove to be “handy guide to discrimination” by insurance providers, allowing them to easily deny claims submitted using a V code. Please note–this has not happened yet–this is merely an example of why Genetic Alliance, the AMA, and other professional groups have been fighting for GINA for nearly 3 years now.
If you have the ability to make a call or send an email, please consider it.
This seems to me to be unjust and irrational:
A year has passed since Steve Tucker made his unheralded return to Atlanta.
His one-bedroom flat, tucked into a sprawling Sandy Springs apartment complex, is furnished sparsely: a recliner, TV, computer and a small, picnic-style table that serves as both dining hutch and desk. The stark white static of the walls is interrupted only by three small, web-like dream catchers tacked to the Sheetrock.
It’s the sort of Spartan minimalism one might expect of someone who, until recently, had to content himself with staring at bare cinderblock.
“Watch out, you’re talking to a notorious ex-con.” Wrapped in a sharp Middle Georgia twang, Tucker’s voice betrays a suppressed smile. The slight, balding, 50-year-old Atlantan is hardly an intimidating figure.
But he’s only half-kidding. Nearly a decade ago, he was sent to prison as a result of a once-infamous federal drug case that sparked national outrage for its rough interpretation of justice.
In the spring of 1994, the Tucker family received lengthy prison sentences — 10 years for Steve, 16 years for his older brother Gary, and 10 years for his brother’s wife, Joanne — without possibility of parole, for the curiously worded federal crime of “conspiracy to manufacture marijuana.”
Yet federal prosecutors never charged them with buying, selling, growing, transporting, smoking or even possessing marijuana. An 18-month DEA investigation had failed to turn up direct evidence connecting the Tuckers to even a single joint.
Instead, they were locked away for selling the lamps, fertilizer and gardening hardware from the small hydroponic supply shop Gary operated on Buford Highway that enabled their customers to grow pot.
Drug policy reform is in the media spotlight with a cover article in the latest issue of Foreign Policy, a prestigious international magazine of global politics, economics, and ideas, as well as a slew of other media coverage.
DPA executive director Ethan Nadelmann takes on a range of drug policy ideas in the piece, challenging the notion that the global war on drugs can be won and asserting that legalization may be the best approach.
The high-profile article will be provocative discussion fodder among Foreign Policy‘s audience of influential business and government leaders in the U.S. and around the world. It has already inspired a thoughtful television piece featuring Nadelmann on The Fox Report, a FOX News program.
The recent announcement of a new anti-drug aid package for Mexico has also prompted discussion of reform in the media. The Los Angeles Times ran a piece by Ethan Nadelmann in which he offered a reality check on the likelihood of Mexico turning a corner in its fight against the drug trade. He suggested an alternative approach in which Mexico focuses on all violence–drug-related or otherwise, while the U.S. commits to such measures as increased treatment access on its own soil, rather than focusing so heavily on international drug control. He also encouraged a discussion at high levels of government on the failures of drug prohibition. Nadelmann can be heard speaking on this issue on a recent edition of To the Point, a nationally syndicated radio show.
Arnold Trebach, one of the co-founders of the original Drug Policy Foundation in 1987, took on the related issue of the connection between Mexican drug cartels and terrorists, with an op-ed in the Washington Times. He pointed to the war on drugs as a misuse of resources and to legalization as a way to make the drug trade less lucrative.
TIME, the weekly news magazine, recently looked at the injustice of New York’s Rockefeller Drug Laws, describing the work of Real Reform New York to get these draconian sentencing laws changed. The Rockefeller Drug Laws also came up in the Albany Times-Union, which ran an op-ed by DPA’s Gabriel Sayegh advocating Rockefeller reform.
A drug policy reform angle has been popping up on other issues as well. The Des Moines Register recently ran an op-ed by DPA staffers Tony Newman and Bill Piper in response to the news that the FBI has relaxed its hiring criteria so that more people with a history of drug use are eligible for employment. The op-ed asserted that people should not be discriminated against for what they put in their bodies when they are not at work. A letter to the editor by Bill Piper on the same issue also appeared in the Washington Post.
With all of this media attention on drug policy, discussion of the issues is becoming increasingly widespread, both in homes at the dinner table and in government offices.
What is the Bush Administration doing awarding so many no-bid contracts? Doesn’t the Administration believe in free market competition? I guess not:
Though small by government standards, the counter-narcotics contract illustrates the government’s steady move away from relying on competition to secure the best deals for products and services.
A recent congressional report estimated that federal spending on contracts awarded without open competition has tripled, to $207 billion, since 2000, with a $60 billion increase last year alone. The category includes deals in which officials take advantage of provisions allowing them to sidestep competition for speed and convenience and cases where the government sharply limits the number of bidders or expands work under open-ended contracts.
Government auditors say the result often is higher prices for taxpayers and an undue reliance on a limited number of contractors.
“The rapid growth in no-bid and limited-competition contracts has made full and open competition the exception, not the rule,” according to the report, by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chaired by Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Los Angeles.
Keith Ashdown, chief investigator at Taxpayers for Common Sense, a nonpartisan watchdog group, said that in many cases, officials are simply choosing favored contractors as part of a club mentality.
“Contracting officials are throwing out decades of work to develop fair and sensible rules to promote competition,” Ashdown said. “Government officials are skirting the rules in favor of expediency or their favored contractors.”
Free marketers talk tough until they themselves are hit:
In August of 1998, disaster loomed for the U.S. economy. Panic among investors after Russia defaulted on its sovereign bonds led to plummeting stock prices and a freeze on global credit markets. The hedge fund Long-Term Capital Management saw its multibillion-dollar portfolio evaporate in days, and investors pulled their money from any asset that had even a tinge of risk. But then the Federal Reserve came to the rescue, slashing interest rates three times in the space of a few weeks and pouring huge amounts of cash into the financial system. The stock market rebounded, and the economy boomed. Early the next year, Time put the Fed chairman, Alan Greenspan, on its cover, along with the Treasury officers Robert Rubin and Larry Summers, with the headline “The Committee to Save the World.”
Nine years later, it’s been another terrible August on Wall Street. The meltdown of the market in subprime loans, which over the past six months has led to the shuttering of many home lenders and mortgage brokers, has spilled over into the broader credit market. Bankers and bondholders are demanding very high interest rates for risky loans and, in some cases, refusing to lend money at all. Hedge funds and brokerages that invested in subprime securities have found themselves stuck with billions in assets that no one wants to buy, while, in the past month, panicked investors have sent the stock market down almost ten per cent. As anxiety over a global credit crunch spread, Wall Street implored an apparently reluctant Fed to rescue investors once again. And, last Friday, that’s exactly what it did, cutting the discount rate—the rate at which it lends to banks—by half a point. In response, investors sent the stock market soaring.
For anyone with a 401(k), it was hard not to greet the Fed’s move with relief. But the short-term relief comes with a long-term cost. Money managers created the current turmoil by failing to take risk seriously, enabling borrowers with sketchy credit records to borrow money nearly as cheaply as blue-chip companies. In the past weeks, managers had been paying for their folly. The Fed’s decision to flood the system with cheap money will create a textbook case of what’s usually called moral hazard: insulating fund managers from the consequences of their errors will encourage similarly risky bets in the future.
Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell yesterday gave a strange and rambling interview concerning the new FISA amendments, and several commentators — including Spencer Ackerman, Digby and Jeralyn Merritt — have discussed various oddities in what he said. I want to focus on a different, and I think highly revealing, aspect of his remarks.
Unintentionally, McConnell articulated what is an unusually clear and straightforward explanation as to the state of federal law regarding eavesdropping on Americans by our government — unusually clear particularly for a Bush official, but even in general. McConnell explained:
The reason that the FISA law was passed in 1978 was an arrangement was worked out between the Congress and the administration, we did not want to allow this community to conduct surveillance, electronic surveillance, of Americans for foreign intelligence unless you had a warrant, so that was required.
That is exactly what happened, and the NSA scandal has always been, and always will be, this simple and crystal clear. In 1978, the American people responded to the discovery of decades-long abuses of secret eavesdropping powers by making it a felony for any government official to eavesdrop on Americans without a warrant. What McConnell describes an “arrangement worked out between the Congress and the administration” is what most people call a “federal law,” but McConnell’s basic point — that “we did not want to allow th[e intelligence] community to conduct surveillance . . . of Americans . . . unless you had a warrant, so that was required” — is exactly correct. But in 2001, George Bush ordered the NSA to eavesdrop on Americans in violation of that very law, and continued to do so for the next five years at least. Bush ordered the NSA to commit felonies; we know that he did so; and nothing has happened. It is and always has been as clear as it is extraordinary.
I emailed the following to several measuring cup manufacturers. Maybe you can join in:
I regularly use one of your 1-pint measuring cups, and it drives me crazy with all the spillage when I pour boiling water from it. The spout is totally inadequate. I’m writing for two reasons:
1. It’s obvious that you do not use the product yourselves, or you would have noticed and fixed this long ago.
2. Why not license a truly dripless spout design and get a jump on your competitors? (The spouts on their products are just as bad as yours.):
Will the dripless teapot find fans down under?
• New Scientist, 18 May 2002
• Rachel Nowak, Melbourne
BRITAIN, a nation of tea lovers, isn’t interested in the non-drip teapot. Three years ago, design engineer Damini Kumar invented her dripless teapot, but despite all the media attention and praise she has failed to interest a British manufacturer. So she’s now hawking her wares in another great tea-drinking nation—Australia.
An unexpected hurdle for Kumar has been teapot makers’ reluctance to acknowledge that their products have a problem. “If they produce a non-drip range, then they have to admit that the others drip,” she says.
Teapots with sharp lips that quickly cut off the flow usually drip less, but most ceramic pots are stuck with rounded lips and a chronic drip. To solve that, Kumar’s teapot embodies four innovations. To stop dripping while you pour, the spout narrows towards the tip to ensure flow is fast enough to break the tea’s surface tension. Any tea that still flows onto the outside of the spout is channelled towards the cup by a groove.
To prevent dripping as you return the pot to the horizontal, a ledge on the inside of the spout acts as an internal lip, ensuring that most drips occur inside the spout. Finally, if some Houdini drop should still make it out, the sharp edge of the groove on the spout’s underside will catch it—held by the surface tension of a dangling drop.
“The teapot has long since been regarded as not capable of further improvement,” says Martin Cole, an inventor and past president of Australia’s Institution of Engineers. “I’m impressed.”
Kumar is also hoping to crack the American market, and the US patent office appears to be on her side. Last month, it allowed the innovation its first patent.
The Bush administration “plans to screen thousands of people who work with charities and nonprofit organizations that receive U.S. Agency for International Development funds to ensure they are not connected with individuals or groups associated with terrorism.” But the government “does not intend to tell groups deemed unacceptable why they are rejected.”
Sigh. It never seems to end:
The administration argued in court papers this week that the White House Office of Administration is “not subject to the Freedom of Information Act” as part of its effort to refuse the release of internal documents about a large number of e-mails missing from White House servers.” The White House website, however, claims that the office is subject to FOIA.
Apparently, not very. The US has a long history of overturning elections whose outcomes the US doesn’t like. It seems now to be gearing up to install its own guy in Iraq. ThinkProgress:
The powerful Republican lobbying group of Barbour Griffith & Rogers is plotting an effort to displace Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and supplant him with former interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi. IraqSlogger reported:
BGR’s work for Allawi includes the August 17 purchase of the Web site domain Allawi-for-Iraq.com.
In recent days, BGR sent hundreds of e-mail messages in Allawi’s name from the e-mail address DrAyadAllawi@Allawi-for-Iraq.com.
BGR’s staff is stacked with conservative operatives with extremely close ties to the White House. Its president is Bush’s former envoy to Iraq, Ambassador Robert Blackwill. Philip Zelikow, a former Counselor to Condoleezza Rice, serves as a senior adviser to the firm. Lanny Griffith, chief executive officer, is a Bush Ranger having raised at least $200,000 for Bush in the 2004 presidential election. And Ed Rogers, chairman and founder of the firm, has been a reliable political ally for the Bush White House.
The right-wing has long had a fascination with Allawi, largely because he has proved to be compliant with the Bush administration’s agenda. Allawi was ceremonially anointed Iraq’s leader in June 2004 by then-Coalition Provisional Authority chief administrator Paul Bremer.
While serving as interim Prime Minister, Allawi repeatedly rejected calls for U.S. troop withdrawals. During the height of the 2004 presidential election campaign, Allawi delivered a strong defense of Bush’s “stay the course” strategy in much-hyped Rose Garden appearance. Later, media reports revealed that Allawi had been “coached” by the administration prior to his appearance:
[A]dministration officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the prime minister was coached and aided by the U.S. government, its allies and friends of the administration. Among them was Dan Senor, former spokesman for the CPA who has more recently represented the Bush campaign in media appearances. Senor, who has denied writing the speech, sent Allawi recommended phrases. He also helped Allawi rehearse in New York last week, officials said. Senor declined to comment.
Allawi has been described as “Saddam lite.” In 2004, he handcuffed and blindfolded suspected terrorists and shot them in the head with a pistol. Now, with frustrations mounting against current prime minister Maliki, the administration may be using that as an opportunity to usher in its reliable ally Allawi. In a Washington Post op-ed last week, Allawi wrote a piece that seemed to be an effort to curry favor with the White House.
After long claiming Maliki was “the right guy for Iraq,” Bush this week said, “If the government doesn’t respond to the demands of the people, they will replace the government.” Despite Bush’s assurance that it’s “up to the Iraqis to make that decision, not American politicians,” it appears conservative operatives are plotting to override the will of Iraqis and institute their own.
UPDATE: Spencer Ackerman has more.
I think it’s obvious to everyone that Bush is doing everything he can to run the clock out on the war in Iraq so he doesn’t have to be the president who withdraws the US from that quagmire. The invasion and the lack of planning has led to a nasty multi-party civil war, with US troops in the middle trying to hold back the various factions, allying with first one and then the other, and supplying arms either deliberately or inadvertently to the various militias. It’s past time that the US leaves, but Bush seems quite content (he sleeps well at night, he tells us) to sacrifice Iraqi and US lives for the sake of his ego.
So now he’s trying to sell the Surge—which quite clearly is not working. If he can just draw this out for another year, he’ll be home free. Of course, hundreds of US lives and thousands of Iraqi lives will be the cost of the delay, but that’s something for which compassionate conservatism lacks compassion.
Useful rundown of current software to add macros:
Dozens of macro programs are available for Mac OS X and Windows. Most are try-before-you-buy shareware, with names like QuicKeys, Quick Macro, Macro Expert and Macro Mania.
You can start by assigning keystrokes to open the programs you use the most; F2 for your Web browser and F3 for Word, for example. Thereafter, you can switch into your programs directly, without having to fumble around with the Start menu, the Dock or the Alt-Tab program switcher. (Windows lets you assign a keystroke to open something, but only if it’s a shortcut, only if it’s on the desktop or the Start menu, and only if the keystroke includes two modifier keys like Ctrl+Alt. Macro programs are far more flexible.)
Then you can create one macro that types out your return address, another that types today’s date, and yet another that closes all open desktop windows at once. And how about one that drags the highlighted icon to the Trash or Recycle Bin and then empties it?
As you gain proficiency, you can start automating longer multistep sequences, like cleaning up text from an e-mail message (removing all the funny line breaks and brackets), changing default printers and reformatting databases.
In general, you have two ways to create a macro. First, you can build a sequence one step at a time, using menus of tasks: mouse-click here, choose this menu command, close that window, and so on.
Second, a watch-me mode records the macro as you perform the steps yourself. Unfortunately, these macros often derail on playback — because, for example, a window isn’t in the same position it was when you made the recording. Debugging such macros is a headache.
Most macro programs also let you segregate your macros by program, so that Ctrl-T performs one task in your Web browser, but a different task in your e-mail program.
The trick is finding a macro program that you can understand. Creating a macro is a relative of programming, and these macro programs can be numbingly complex. After slogging through 15 candidates, I’ve found 5 for Mac and Windows that are worth your money.
I don’t gamble, and I especially don’t gamble with casinos, which build those amazing buildings and offer all those services using just a small fraction of the money people lose there—how obvious can it be?—but some do. Here’s a fascinating dispute that the US is losing regarding on-line gambling through off-shore casinos. Very high stakes for all involved.
The Bush Administration has made government secrecy—hiding from citizens what it’s doing—a cornerstone of its operating procedures. The reason for this is easy to understand, given how frequently the Administration’s operations are an unsavory mix of ideology, partisan politics, and incompetence, but it runs counter to a free and open society in which the citizens have the responsibility and the right to judge government actions and to elect government officials.
If you want to know something as simple as who heads the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, don’t bother to ask the safety agency’s communications office. Without special permission, officials there are no longer allowed to provide information to reporters except on a background basis, which means it cannot be attributed to a spokesman.
Without such attribution, there are few circumstances under which most reporters will report such information. This makes for interesting dealings with the office charged with providing information about the nation’s top automotive safety agency.
So, I will end the suspense about the boss’s identity. The administrator is Nicole R. Nason, who took over on May 31, 2006, after she was appointed to the post by President Bush.
And it is she who put the big hush on one of the government’s most important safety agencies. I found this out recently when I asked to talk to an N.H.T.S.A. researcher about some technical safety issues in which he had a great deal of expertise. Agency officials told me I could talk to the expert on a background basis, but if I wanted to use any information or quotes from him, that would have to be worked out later with a N.H.T.S.A. official. The arrangement struck me as manipulative, and I declined to agree to it.
A shaver from Australia kindly sent me a Mennen shave stick, and I inaugurated it this morning. Shave sticks have always resulted in a fine lather for me, and this was no exception. I used Dr. Moss’s favorite brush, the Simpsons Duke 3 Best Badger, and it’s indeed a fine brush with great lather capacity.
The Slant with a Treet Black Beauty slid through the beard with no nick or cut, and the aftershave this morning was TOBS St. James. Very nice, and I sit here with a pint of hot coffee.