Later On

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

Archive for December 12th, 2008

The torture report

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Dan Froomkin’s column today discusses the torture report. His column begins:

Yesterday’s bipartisan Senate report on the abuse of detainees in U.S. custody at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and elsewhere doesn’t just lay out a clear line of responsibility starting with President Bush, it also exposes the administration’s repeated explanation for what happened as a pack of lies.

“The abuse of detainees in U.S. custody cannot simply be attributed to the actions of ‘a few bad apples’ acting on their own,” the report finds. “The fact is that senior officials in the United States government solicited information on how to use aggressive techniques, redefined the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorized their use against detainees. Those efforts damaged our ability to collect accurate intelligence that could save lives, strengthened the hand of our enemies, and compromised our moral authority.”

The report notes that in early 2002, not long after the Defense Department legal counsel’s office started exploring the application of the sorts of abhorrent practices later documented at Abu Ghraib, Bush signed a memo exempting war-on-terror detainees from the Geneva Conventions. “[T]he decision to replace well established military doctrine, i.e., legal compliance with the Geneva Conventions, with a policy subject to interpretation, impacted the treatment of detainees in U.S. custody,” the report states.

And the report concludes:

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Written by LeisureGuy

12 December 2008 at 1:29 pm

Posted in Bush Administration, GOP, Government

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That Newt!

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What a guy:

In September 2008, as the U.S. Congress “was debating the first financial bailout, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich went on Fox News to decry how Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac had so ‘many politicians beholden to them’ that no one would step up to protect the American taxpayers,” notes Muckety.com. But, as it turns out, Freddie Mac paid Gingrich $300,000 in 2006, “to push back against tough, new regulations of the mortgage company at a time the Bush administration was concerned about how big the two government-backed mortgage giants had become.” After taking the money, Gingrich “talked and wrote about what he saw as the benefits of the Freddie Mac business model,” reported the Associated Press. The Gingrich hire was part of an effort to woo conservatives; Freddie Mac also hired Frank Luntz and the DCI Group in 2005. Freddie Mac spent $11.7 million on outside lobbyists and consultants in 2006; 17 firms focused on Republicans, while four focused on Democrats. Freddie also hired Gingrich in 1999, “to provide strategic counsel,” notes TPMMuckraker.

Source: Muckety.com, December 9, 2008

Written by LeisureGuy

12 December 2008 at 1:14 pm

Posted in Business, GOP

Reporters help CIA torture the truth

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Very interesting article at PR Watch.org. It begins:

There is a fierce battle going on over what kind of a CIA director Barack Obama should appoint, when he should close the prison camp at Guantanamo, and whether there should be a full scale investigation (and possible prosecution) of the torture advocates in the Bush administration,” notes Charles Kaiser in the Columbia Journalism Review. Unfortunately, reporting on this issue in the New York Times and elsewhere has been flagrantly one-sided, from a position that falsifies the facts and defends torture.

“Most of the Times‘s sources don’t think that anyone who formulated or acquiesced in the current administration’s torture policies should be excluded as a candidate for CIA director, or prosecuted for possible violations of criminal law,” Kaiser writes. A recent story by Mark Mazzetti and Scott Shane, for example, falsely repeated John O. Brennan‘s description of himself as a “strong opponent” of torture, even though “most experts on this subject agree that Brennan acquiesced in everything that the CIA did in this area while he served there.” …

Continue reading. Also note the documentary titled “Torturing Democracy” that is available on YouTube. Here’s part 1 (of 10):

Written by LeisureGuy

12 December 2008 at 1:03 pm

Good point re: the Corker plan

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From Kevin Drum:

….Corker today put forward a plan that would impose far more stringent auto industry restructuring standards than the House bill. It would reduce the wages and benefits of union workers at domestic car manufacturers by requiring the total labor costs of GM and Chrysler to be “on par” with those in non-union U.S. plants of foreign automakers such as Toyota and Honda.

OK, but I have one question: Is Corker also insisting that the total labor costs of GM’s white collar management staff be on on par with those of Toyota and Honda? Just curious.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 December 2008 at 12:29 pm

Posted in Business, GOP

What does it take?

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John Cole of Balloon Juice has an excellent post this morning:

Reading over the comments from last night, I have to tend to agree with this comment:

The big question for me is how fucked up does the country have to get before the Villagers drop the cocktail party act? Who cares if Obama talked to someone who talked to someone who talked to Blago when there’s 1 million new lucky duckies next month and the Dow’s at 3000?Good Lord. I never thought I’d live through this kind of bullshit.

You know- that is a good question. How bad do things have to get before the bullshit artists just stop? Or can they?

There is an almost surreal feel to it all, isn’t there? It is like living in a Dali painting, or walking on an Escher staircase, or being the person in the alien movies when you encounter the unknown from another dimension. The country is falling apart- millions losing their jobs, the economy crumbling, people losing their homes, the budget a disaster, etc. So many problems it is depressing to list them all.

In just the last 24 hours, it was reported that some jackass defrauded people of 50 billion dollars on Wall Street, while the Republicans seem to have purposefully killed a plan to rescue the auto industry that cost 1/3 of what one con man scammed and 1/46th of what we pissed away on in the bailout of the Wall Street bigwigs. By all accounts, it appears the only reason they killed the bill was because the autoworkers were not being punished enough:

The negotiations were based on a plan advanced by Corker, the most junior member of the Banking Committee. His proposal sought to reduce the wages and benefits of union workers by requiring the automakers’ total labor costs to be “on par” with Honda and Toyota.The two sides agreed to most other issues, including those requiring automakers to reduce their debt obligations by at least two-thirds through an equity swap with bondholders. Payouts to workers who are laid off or temporarily furloughed would have been terminated.

Ford, unlike General Motors and Chrysler, has said it does not need bridge loans at this point and would not need to agree to those conditions.

But no agreement could be reached on the wage reductions. “It sounds like UAW blew up the deal,” Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) said afterward.

Just in case you are confused- Republicans object to a car czar overseeing the bailout because it is too much government interference, but a few Republican Senators dictating from Washington how much companies pay their workers is just the invisible hand of the free market bitch-slapping you while you are down. Those Senators, btw, make $160k a year and have full medical and just decided that an autoworker making 50k a year is just too damned much money. $700 billion for the millionaires and billionaires who helped create this mess, not a dime for the guys who make $50-60k a year and whose chief sin is showing up for work every day. I don’t know if the bailout plan would work, but to let an industry die and watch millions of people lose their job because the workers make “too much money” seems almost criminal. How much money have we spent on Star Wars? How many weeks in Iraq is 15 billion? I am hard-pressed to come up with a reason Republicans spiked this other than union-busting and because they could.

And while that was going on, what are our media elites concerned about? Politico reporters are aghast at the innovative new way the Obama team is trying to answer the country’s questions, Eugene Robinson is upset because Obama is from the same state as Blagojevich, Krauthammer is up in arms because Obama may succeed in changing the country, and I have not seen the Madoff scam mentioned on CNN, but am watching a piece on the possibility Michael Chertoff may have had illegal aliens clean his house for the third time. And that is just a quick scan of one newspaper and what is on my television at the moment.

Maybe we, the country, deserves to fail. In the movies, young Barry returns at the end and everything is made better.

That was fiction.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 December 2008 at 12:08 pm

Posted in Daily life

New policy at New Scientist

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This is very good news indeed. From Mind Hacks:

New Scientist have recently made a years’ worth of articles freely available online and have compiled a list of 2008′s top 10 neuroscience articles.

There are some fantastic articles in there, my favourite being a piece on Karl Friston’s ‘unified theory of the brain’ which argues that it’s essentially a hierarchy of Bayesian probability functions. We discussed it back in May if you want a brief overview.

If you’re not sure what Bayesian probability functions are or even if you do and it sounds like a long-shot theory, have a read as it’s a thought-provoking idea.

Some of the other pieces are also well worth checking out, and includes topics such as whether autism is an exaggeration of certain otherwise normal brain function, whether the brain has built in randomness and what happens to the sleeping brain, to name but a few.

A great collection and wonderful to see NewSci opening up their archive. Good stuff.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 December 2008 at 11:55 am

Posted in Media, Science

What happened with the auto bailout

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From Josh Marshall:

A quick update from a knowledgeable source who works in that big building with the dome …

I don’t think it’ll be hard to explain why Senate Republicans had the final say: that’s what the Constitution and Senate rules require. How else would we have passed anything?I do think it’ll be hard for Senate Republicans to explain themselves.

They were invited, repeatedly, to participate in more than a week of negotiations with a Republican White House. They declined.

They were asked to provide an alternative bill. They refused.

Finally, one of their members – Senator Corker of Tennessee – participated in a day-long negotiation with Senate Democrats, the UAW, and bondholders. Everyone made major concessions. Democrats gave up efficiency and emissions standards. UAW accepted major benefit cuts and agreed to reduce workers’ wages. Bondholders signed off on a serious haircut. But when Senator Corker took the deal back to the Republican Conference, they argued for two hours and ultimately rejected it.

Why? Because they wanted the federal government to forcibly reduce the wages of American workers within the next 12 months.

Heard this morning that President Bush may still use TARP money to rescue the automakers. He reportedly doesn’t want to end up as the next Hoover.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 December 2008 at 11:48 am

Posted in Business, Congress, GOP

Talk to engineers, not lobbyists

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Excellent post by Josh Marshall:

“The manufacturers had to assign the job to the engineers, instead of to the lobbyists.”

Those are the words of Steven Chu, Nobel Prize-winning physicist and Obama’s nominee to serve as Energy Secretary, quoted by Elizabeth Kolbert in a post on the New Yorker’s blog.

The message is to Detroit. But anecdote comes from California’s role in setting energy efficiency standards for refrigerators in the 1970s, something the manufacturers said couldn’t be done. But when they were forced to do it, they did it — in spades. Since all this happened, to quote Kolbert, “the size of the average American refrigerator has increased by more than ten per cent, while the price, in inflation-adjusted dollars, has been cut in half. Meanwhile, energy use has dropped by two-thirds.”

As Chu says, the key was they took the issue out of the hands of the lobbyists and into the hands of the engineers.

I’m always struck by the way our political culture puts regulations and mandates down as somehow inimical to free enterprise, innovation and ingenuity when in fact, in most cases, quite the opposite is the case. Resistance to efficiency standards like these is almost always born of a lack of confidence in the abilities of our engineers and technology. And the kind of innovations these sorts of regulations require is almost always a boon to economic growth.

If the issue is dictating the inner workings of manufacturing processes, that’s one thing. But if it is saying such and such benchmarks must be met by such and such year, that’s usually a prod to innovation.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 December 2008 at 11:27 am

Friday cat-blogging: More Megs

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Megs, still in entryway. (Actually, I took all 3 photos together.)

Written by LeisureGuy

12 December 2008 at 11:16 am

Posted in Cats, Megs

The Right hates unions

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And why does the right hate unions? Because unions provide a counterpoise to the power corporations have over their employees—corporations vastly prefer the powerlessness of a non-union workforce, which allows the corporation to do pretty much what it wants to its workers. Now the GOP is using the failing economy as a stick to beat the unions. ThinkProgress:

Late last night, Senate Republicans blocked a deal brokered by the White House and the Democratic leadership to extend a $15 billion loan to General Motors and Chrysler. Senators were “deadlocked over Republican demands for steep cuts in pay and benefits by the United Automobile Workers union in 2009.” Republicans immediately blamed unions. “It sounds like the U.A.W. blew it up,” said Sen. David Vitter (R-LA). Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) said, “[L]abor has got to give. If they want a bill they can get one.”

Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) — who introduced the pay-cut amendment that sank the agreement — took to the morning shows today to blame the UAW for supposedly refusing to make concessions and allowing “these companies to fall into peril”:

As I wake up this morning, knowing the gravity of where we were, the fact that they were willing to make no concessions — zero — and let these companies fall into peril as they are now, to me, as I wake up today, it’s pretty surreal actually.

Watch a compilation of conservatives pointing the finger at unions:

It’s clear that the Senate Republicans’ main priority was union busting. A memo sent among Senate Republican staffers called for Republicans to “stand firm and take their first shot against organized labor.” Speaking at a press conference this morning, UAW president Ron Gettelfinger said the Republicans made it “very clear” that “there are those who would do away with” unions altogether.

Gettelfinger emphasized that the myth that UAW workers are paid drastically more than employees of foreign auto makers is “simply subterfuge.” The Detroit Free Press reported in 2007 that the union was “losing its edge in pay” compared with non-unionized workers for foreign companies. (He also reminded conservatives that the union had already accepted broad concessions.)

More importantly, Gettelfinger correctly identified Senate Republicans’ main goal: to destroy unions and blame the UAW for the auto industry failure:

It’s just easy to take the union and blame us for everything. And as you can see, some of those in the Senate who were quick to scuttle this plan want to say that it’s the fault of the UAW. All they want to do is say, wait a minute, workers shouldn’t have a voice in their workplace. … It’s very clear that there are those who would do away with [unions] tonight.

He noted that “the right wing in this country has painted the word ‘union’ to be a very negative word.” Watch portions of his comments this morning:

As Rachel Maddow said last night, “Senate republicans are on an ideologically driven union-busting adventure,” “the American economy as a whole be darned.”

Update: On a conference call with conservative bloggers this morning, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) said the failure to pass a rescue plan last night “solely lies with UAW.”

Written by LeisureGuy

12 December 2008 at 11:11 am

Posted in Business, GOP, Government

Printing your Outlook calendar

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This is a free Windows utility that will print your Outlook calendar in various formats: pocket-size, full size, etc. Via Lifehacker.com.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 December 2008 at 10:42 am

Posted in Daily life, Software

Proofreading

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Written by LeisureGuy

12 December 2008 at 10:39 am

Posted in Daily life, Video, Writing

Best healthful-food blogs

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The Kitchn [sic] has an interesting post looking for good blogs that focus on healthful foods. (I’m sure that’s what they mean, though they write “healthy” foods—but, hey!, they can’t even spell “kitchen.”)

Here are the ones listed in the post, and more can be found in the comments at the link:

Mighty Foods
Notes from My Food Diary
Fatfree Vegan Kitchen
Kalyn’s Kitchen
The Sustainable Table
The Organic Food Blog

Written by LeisureGuy

12 December 2008 at 10:21 am

Posted in Daily life, Food, Health

Interesting project: 7 questions

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Ryan Howes, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist, writer, musician and professor at Fuller Graduate School of Psychology in Pasadena, California. He’s started a project in which he asks seven questions of various psychotherapists.

1. How would you respond to a new client who asks: “What should I talk about?”

2. What do clients find most difficult about the therapeutic process?

3. What mistakes do therapists make that hinder the therapeutic process?

4. In your opinion, what is the ultimate goal of therapy?

5. What is the toughest part of being a therapist?

6. What is the most enjoyable or rewarding part of being a therapist?

7. What is one pearl of wisdom you would offer clients about therapy?

The first set of answers is here, the second set here.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 December 2008 at 10:13 am

“It seemed like a good idea at the time”

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In The Magnificent Seven, the character played by Steve McQueen tells a couple of stories that turn out to be quite useful. One was about a guy who fell from the top of a 12-story hotel in El Paso. As he pased the third floor, he was heard saying, “So far, so good. So far, so good.”

The other was about a cowboy who got drunk and ran through a patch of cactus barefoot. As the doctor pulled the spines from his feet, he was asked why he had done such a damfool thing. “Seemed like a good idea at the time,” was his answer.

And that is often the answer, as Art Markman, a Cognitive Scientist at the University of Texas, tells us:

One of the more frustrating things as a parent is that your kids do things, and when you ask them why, they have no idea. You ask them, “What were you thinking?” and you get a blank stare, and if you’re lucky, a shrug of the shoulders. As adults, we think we understand our own behavior, and so it frustrates us that our kids don’t understand what is driving their actions.

Of course, adults aren’t really that good at understanding the source of their actions either. That is why so many people have profited from some form of counseling. We don’t know the factors that drive our behavior. Worse yet, we often assume that our behavior is driven by aspects of our personality. We believe that we have a lot of agency in choosing our actions.

The reality is that our environment drives a lot of our behavior.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by LeisureGuy

12 December 2008 at 10:05 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

Sites to check

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For those interested in politics and political reporting, let me recommend these sites, all part of the Josh Marshall media empire:

Written by LeisureGuy

12 December 2008 at 9:57 am

Posted in Media

The Blagojevich timeline

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Talking Points Memo has a handy timeline of the Blagojevich corruption scandal. Worth looking at.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 December 2008 at 9:53 am

Posted in Democrats

Bailout oversight: MIA

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This reminds me very much of Jerry Bremer’s tenure in Baghdad, when he lost literally skids of money: bundled billions lost forever, gone who knows where? Those Republicans just don’t care about money. And the Democratic Congress is ineffectual and quivering with cowardice. And now this:

Remember back in September when Congress blocked the Bush administration’s initial effort to ram through a bailout bill that would have given Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson virtually unlimited authority to spend $700 billion however he saw fit?

Among the measures that Congressional Democrats successfully held out for — against the wishes of the White House — were meaningful oversight mechanisms that would allow Congress and others to track what the Treasury Department is doing with all that money.

That seemed like a victory for taxpayers at the time. But now, over two months later, we’ve learned a bit about what those oversight mechanisms have been able to provide. And there’s real reason to question whether in fact they were designed adequately for the task in the first place.

“It’s a mess,” Eric M. Thorson, the Treasury Department’s inspector general, told the Washington Post last month. “I don’t think anyone understands right now how we’re going to do proper oversight of this thing.”

Perhaps the single biggest obstacle to adequate oversight of Treasury is how little oversight Treasury itself is exercising over the bailout funds, whether through indifference or an inability to hire qualified staff. In the first report issued by the Congressional Oversight Panel (COP) — the main oversight mechanism that Congress fought to include in the bailout bill, over Paulson’s objections — the authors made clear that they were concerned about Treasury’s lack of tracking mechanisms: “Treasury cannot simply trust that the financial institutions will act in the desired ways; it must verify.” But COP also suggested that it was prevented from going further by the fact that Treasury wasn’t keeping extensive enough records of its allocation of funds to be able to provide much more information.

A different overseer, the Government Accountability Office — which functions as the investigative arm of Congress — drew similar, albeit somewhat firmer, conclusions about Treasury’s handling of the bailout money. Its preliminary report last week found a litany of problems, perhaps most fundamentally that there were no procedures to ensure that bailout funds are used as intended.

Just as important, the system of oversight doesn’t appear to …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 December 2008 at 9:47 am

Artisanal foods site

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Regional Best provides a handy site for artisanal foodmakers (cheese, honey, condiments, and so on) to advertise their wares. You can browse by type of food or by region of the country. Some very tasty-looking stuff. I believe that some may still be shopping for holiday gifts, and this site might be helpful.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 December 2008 at 9:39 am

Posted in Daily life, Food

Identifying those responsible for war crimes

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The Bush team made much of the notion of “accountability,” and I’m glad to see some accountability start to happen. This is encouraging:

Top officials — including former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — were responsible for the use of “abusive” interrogation techniques on detainees at Guantanamo Bay, in Afghanistan and at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, a bipartisan Senate report concluded Thursday.

The long-awaited Senate Armed Services Committee report bluntly refuted the Bush administration’s repeated claims that the abuses, which helped fuel the Iraq insurgency and damaged America’s reputation around the world, were the work of a few low-level “bad apples.”

“Senior officials in the United States government solicited information on how to use aggressive techniques, redefined the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorized their use against detainees,” said the report’s 19-page unclassified executive summary. “Those efforts damaged our ability to collect accurate intelligence that could save lives, strengthened the hand of our enemies, and compromised our moral authority.”

“Attempts by senior officials to pass the buck to low-ranking soldiers while avoiding any responsibility for abuses are unconscionable,” said Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., the panel’s chairman, who released the executive summary with Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the committee’s top Republican.

The report “details the inexcusable link between abusive interrogation techniques used by our enemies in violation of the Geneva Convention and interrogation policy for detainees in U.S. custody. These policies are wrong and must never be repeated,” said McCain, a former prisoner of war in North Vietnam.

The 250-page classified report, which is undergoing a Pentagon declassification review, was the most …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 December 2008 at 9:33 am

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