Later On

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

Archive for July 10th, 2009

A pattern emerges

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The lead paragraph of this interesting article gives an example:

Campaigning for president, Barack Obama said repeatedly that any overhaul of the health care system should be negotiated publicly and televised for all to see. Throughout this year’s negotiations, however, the big deals have been struck in secret.

The whole article is worth reading, but I was struck by how often one can write about something that Barack Obama promised repeatedly while campaigning (DADT repeal, DOM repeal, cramdown supported, voting against telecom immunity, and on and on) and then ignored now that he’s in office. It’s a bad thing to practice, hollow promises.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 July 2009 at 5:35 pm

The public plan is good—and saves a lot of money

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Jonathan Cohn, who knows healthcare, writes:

A lot of conservative Democrats, not to mention Republicans, express two big concerns about health reform. They’re worried that reform will cost too much. And they don’t want a government-run insurance plan.

It’s about to get a lot harder to make those two arguments simultaneously.

According to a pair of Capitol Hill sources, preliminary estimates from the Congressional Budget Office suggest that a strong public option–the kind that the House of Representatives is putting in its reform bill–should net somewhere in the neighborhood of $150 billion in savings over ten years.

The sources cautioned that these were only the preliminary estimates, based on previous discussions–that CBO had not yet issued final scoring on language in the actual bill. But the sources felt the final estimate would likely be close.

Exactly how the plan produces those savings is, obviously, a key question. The reason–well, a reason–centrists and conservatives don’t like a public plan is that they fear it will use the government’s bargaining leverage to force doctors, hospitals, and drugmakers to accept unfairly low reimbursements. Private insurance would go out of business, since they couldn’t compete; meanwhile, providers and producers of medical care would struggle to stay afloat.

Advocates of a public plan (myself included) think those fears are overblown–and that there are ways to make sure a public plan doesn’t have that effect. But if the CBO is scoring significant savings, then chances are the House version gives the public plan the kinds of power conservatives and centrists fear.

But, for now, the bigger story is the number. At a time when finding the $1 trillion it will take to finance coverage expansions remains the major challenge of reform, the discovery of $150 billion in potential savings is an important–and encouraging–piece of news.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 July 2009 at 4:02 pm

GOP still blaming CRA for the housing crisis

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One reason the GOP seems to embody stupidity is that the party seems unable to learn and even to process factual material. The canard that the Community Reinvestment Act caused the housing problems in the economy requires that one totally ignore the incredible increase in subprime loans, the securitization of those loans, and the credit default swaps to protect that securitization: all done by private industry, which the GOP fervently believes can do no wrong.

Mike Lillis in the Washington Independent:

Worth noting from yesterday’s House Judicial subcommittee hearing on the foreclosure crisis: Republicans just can’t shake the temptation to blame the Community Reinvestment Act for causing the current economic turmoil.

You’ve heard the critics’ argument before: The CRA hasn’t so much empowered low-income borrowers as it has lowered lending standards, thus forcing banks to make the bad loans that led to the crisis.

Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), the subpanel’s senior Republican, summed up the sentiment nicely Thursday when he claimed the downturn was caused not by predatory lenders preying on people, but by a predatory government preying on banks for political ends.

Never mind that no less an authority than the Federal Reserve’s director of consumer and community affairs said the CRA was “not one of the causes of the current crisis.” Instead, the Fed found that CRA-covered banks were responsible for just 6 percent of the risky, high-cost loans that sparked the financial wildfire.

Franks’ comments weren’t overlooked by Rep. William Delahunt (D-Mass.), who used most of his Q&A time debunking the myth, picking from witnesses statistics like those reported by the Fed. Not that he imagined the Republicans were listening.

“When you’re looking for whipping boys,” Delahunt said, “the CRA is just a prime target.”

The GOP didn’t listen because the GOP is fundamentally opposed to learning, one reason they hate science.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 July 2009 at 3:55 pm

Posted in Daily life, GOP

The domestic surveillance report is out

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You can read the report here. Spencer Ackerman will be doing a series of posts on it. His first:

Last year, the Democratic Congress enthusiastically acquiesced to President George W. Bush’s insistence on carving out individualized suspicion and other privacy protections from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The Democrats did so to preempt the charge of being weak on national security from the presidential campaign — didn’t work — and then-Sen. Barack Obama, who may have figured that selling out civil liberties was the better part of aspirational valor, voted for the bill. If there was any comfort to the civil libertarians, it was that what became the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 mandated that the inspectors general of the Departments of Defense, Justice, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the CIA and the National Security Agency had to launch a review of how the warrantless surveillance efforts actually worked, complete with an assessment of “legal reviews of the Program.” It was July 2008.

A year later, the report is complete, and I’ve just gotten a copy of it. What does it say? I’m still reading it, but one thing it says is that the CIA’s involvement in the program is deeper than has been reported. [Isn't the CIA forbidden by law to run operations in the US? – LG] And one interesting bonus fact: the report calls the program the “President’s Surveillance Program,” rather than the manipulative “Terrorist Surveillance Program” handle the Bush administration gave the program when it became public in order to put critics in a tight spot. (”What? You oppose surveillance for dangerous terrorists who want to kill your grandchildren????”)

More as I read the report.

Update: Here’s the basis for switching up the nomenclature, and it comes with a point of pride. Two years ago, in July 2007, Paul Kiel and I tried to make sense of then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’ congressional testimony about the “Terrorist Surveillance Program” and concluded that there must have been more than one secret surveillance program authorized by President Bush beginning in 2001. Today the IGs’ report bears us out: …

Continue reading. More in the series:

CIA Played a Leading Role in Warrantless Surveillance

Yoo and Only Yoo (Knew About Surveillance)

‘Most PSP Leads Were Determined Not to Have Any Connection to Terrorism’

Gonzales’ Testimony on Surveillance Was ‘Confusing, Inaccurate, and … Misleading’

Stuff That’s Missing From the Inspectors General Report on Warrantless Surveillance

Bush Personally Ordered Visit to Ashcroft’s Hospital Bed

Written by LeisureGuy

10 July 2009 at 3:39 pm

Paying for healthcare

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Karen Tumulty writes at TIME’s Swampland blog:

Whenever I talk to anyone at the White House about the difficulties they are having on Capitol Hill figuring out a way to pay for health reform, they remind me that the President Obama still has an idea on the table–one that has never been taken very seriously at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue. His proposal is to put a 28% limit on the tax break for itemized deductions claimed by those making over $250,000. That’s about 20% less than they are allowed to claim now. It would have raised an estimated $318 billion over the next 10 years. But the opposition is formidable. Charities, for one, worry that this would dampen giving at a time when they need it most.

Alas, lawmakers aren’t having much luck coming up with something they like any better. Senator Max Baucus had hoped to raise roughly the same amount by taxing the most generous employer-provided health benefit plans–those costing $17,000 a year or more for a family–but that idea is running up against a lot of opposition from his fellow Democrats. However, that proposal polls badly, and would impose new taxes on a lot of middle-class people–firefighters, police, teachers, and others who have won generous health benefits as a result of collective bargaining. So Baucus has been sent back to the drawing board by Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Obama’s initial proposal had been pretty much left for dead by the legislative roadside, but all of a sudden, it’s back in the mix of options being mentioned as a way of making up the funding gap. And it was also endorsed this morning by the Oracle of Omaha (you can hear Warren Buffett talk about it late into the video).

Is this where things end up? I still wouldn’t bet on it. But it is looking more and more likely that the answer to funding the overhaul of health care will include some additional taxes aimed at the wealthy. In the House, for instance, the Ways and Means Committee is looking at an income tax surcharge. And one thing is clear: If legislators don’t figure out a way to make the math work in coming days, the whole question is likely to get kicked off until after the August recess.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 July 2009 at 3:03 pm

The overdraft scam delivers big bucks to banks

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Kevin Drum at Mother Jones:

Kathy Chu reports on the overdraft fee scam, which currently generates nearly $40 billion in income for banks — by far their most lucrative source of fees and penalties:

Some consultants offered banks ways to boost overdraft and credit card revenue. A 2001 "checklist" from Profit Technologies — a firm that has worked with 19 of the USA’s 20 largest banks — has more than 600 strategies….One strategy listed to boost overdrafts: "Allow consumers to overdraw their … accounts at the ATM up to the bank’s internally set limit." To increase credit card fees, banks can "delay crediting of payments not received in bank provided envelop (sic) or for which payment coupon is not received for up to 5 days," and "remove bar coding from remittance envelopes," slowing the payment.

….Has banks’ pursuit of profit gone too far? Ken Vollmer, 49, of Augusta, Ga., thinks so. He sued Wachovia this year, alleging it "purposely structured transactions to make money." A merchant mistakenly put a hold on his funds, then the bank cleared transactions from high to low, triggering hundreds in overdraft fees, he says. Spokeswoman Richele Messick says Wachovia processes transactions in an "appropriate" way and will "vigorously defend" itself in the case.

Banks clear larger payments first, says Talbott, because they tend to be more important. But Douglass Colbert, who advised banks on overdraft and card strategies at Profit Technologies, says fees are a key driver.

"Banks will say (high-to-low clearing) is for the consumer," he says. "Bottom line is, when it was pitched, we’d say … a side effect is that it results in more fee income to you because it bounces more checks." Colbert says that after leaving Profit Technologies, he joined a credit-counseling firm and saw the damage fees did to consumers.

Just to make this clear: Say you have $100 in your checking account and four checks arrive at your bank in the following amounts: $15, $20, $30, and $150.  If you clear them in that order, the first three are fine and only the last one incurs an overdraft.  If you clear them in the opposite order, all four incur overdraft fees.  Ka-ching!  That’s why banks like to clear high to low.

In any case, if our Congress had any balls they’d fix this in a trice: simply regulate overdrafts as short-term loans, which is what they are.  The interest rates would be high, but nowhere near as high as the effective 1000%+ that banks charge now.  And it wouldn’t matter what order checks cleared.

Banks still have to make money, of course, and if overdraft fees went down then the cost of other services would go up.  But that’s fine.  There’s no reason that overdraft fees from their least prosperous customers should subsidize other business lines.  It’s better to charge everyone fairly and openly rather than trying to make outsize profits on the banking industry’s poorest customers.

And the chances of this happening?  About zero.  Why?  Don’t be silly.  It’s because the finance industry still owns Congress.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 July 2009 at 3:00 pm

Healthcare industry adopts tobacco industry’s tactics

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Wendell Potter is a healthcare industry insider who is supporting healthcare reform. He writes:

At first look, one might not think that the health insurance industry has much in common with the tobacco industry. After all, one sells a product that kills people and the other sells a product nominally aimed at putting people back together. But when it comes to deceitful public relations techniques, the health insurance industry has been learning well from Big Tobacco, which employed a panoply of shady but highly successful public relations tactics to fend off changes to its business for generations.

One of the things I said in my testimony before the Senate Commerce Committee on June 24 is that the health insurance industry engages in duplicitous public relations campaigns to influence public opinion and the debate on health care reform. By that I mean there are campaigns they want you to you know about, and those they don’t.

When you hear insurance company executives talk about how much they support health care reform and can be counted on by the President and Congress to be there for them, that’s the campaign they want you to be aware of. I call it their PR charm offensive.

When you read or hear someone other than an insurance company executive — including members of Congress — trash some aspect of reform the industry doesn’t like, such as the creation of a public health insurance option, there’s a better-than-even chance that person is shilling for the industry. That’s the PR campaign the industry doesn’t want you to know about.

The public relations and lobbying firms that work for the industry plan and carry out those deception-based campaigns, and supply the shills with talking points. One of many tactics they use is to get people who are ideologically in sync with the industry’s agenda to turn those talking points into letters to the editor.

An example of a letter that contained many of the industry’s messages appeared in the June 27 edition of the New York Times...

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 July 2009 at 2:58 pm

"Harry and Louise" to fight consumer protection

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Sigh:

Source: Reuters, July 6, 2009

The industry backlash against the Obama administration‘s financial reform plans — especially the proposed Consumer Financial Protection Agency — is taking shape. "A coalition of financial trade groups is brainstorming on how to sink the agency," reports Reuters. They claim the agency "will create new costs and red tape while doing little to help consumers." The American Financial Services Association is coordinating opposition to the agency, which will likely include "using advertising and grass-roots political tactics to turn lawmakers against the idea. Last week, public relations firms hatched an idea to mimic ‘Harry and Louise’ ads that helped sink President Bill Clinton‘s health care plan in the early 90s." While industry opposition to the Consumer Financial Protection Agency was expected, existing U.S. regulators "are gearing up campaigns to preserve their consumer protection roles," reports Reuters. The Federal Reserve, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and Office of the Comptroller of the Currency are concerned the proposed agency may "step on their toes." Yet the agencies are staying positive, mindful that they must "avoid looking as though they are allying themselves with the banks they regulate."

Written by LeisureGuy

10 July 2009 at 2:44 pm

Military happy to accept neo-Nazis, just not gays

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Amanda Terkel of ThinkProgress:

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a nonprofit that tracks racist and right-wing militia groups, sent a letter to congressional leaders today revealing the “threat posed by racial extremists who may be serving in the military”:

Evidence continues to mount that current Pentagon policies are inadequate to prevent racial extremists from joining and serving in the armed forces. In recent months, we have found dozens of personal profiles listing “military” as an occupation on a neo-Nazi website. Because the presence of extremists in the armed forces is a serious threat to the safety of the American public, we believe Congressional action is warranted.

Approximately 40 profiles on newsaxon.org — “a racist version of Facebook run by the National Socialist Movement” — show a disturbing number of Nazi and Confederate flags, white supremacist language, and identification as active duty members of the U.S. military. One hundred thirty members out of a total 7,906 users list their job as “military.” Member “geisler,” for example, identifies himself as a “human resources specialist” in the Army and says he wants to “find a woman I can settle down with and have a nice, WHITE family (unlike some in the army with all the race traitors).” Among his hobbies is “to further the preservation and existence of our race”:

63650_79133912

The problem of white supremacists in the military started gaining attention a few years ago, when recruiting shortfalls caused by the Iraq war allowed “large numbers of neo-Nazis and skinhead extremists” to sign up. A Defense Department investigator admitted, “We’ve got Aryan Nations graffiti in Baghdad. That’s a problem.” Similarly, in 2008, the FBI issued this report:

Sensitive and reliable source reporting indicates supremacist leaders are encouraging followers who lack documented histories of neo-Nazi activity and overt racist insignia such as tattoos to infiltrate the military as “ghost skins,” in order to recruit and receive training for the benefit of the extremist movement.

The Bush administration ignored the problem. The SPLC called on then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to appoint a task force to study the issue and more strictly enforce zero-tolerance. Under Secretary David Chu refused to take action, saying that the military was already doing enough. But in a 2005 report for the Defense Department, investigators found that officials were basically turning a blind eye to the problem:

Additionally, as seen in Appendix A, the relatively larger number of message board postings warning new recruits from revealing their extremist group associations exemplifies the presence of both military policy and action to disallow such activities in the Armed Forces. Effectively, the military has a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy pertaining to extremism. If individuals can perform satisfactorily, without making their extremist opinions overt through words or actions that violate policy, reflect poorly on the Armed Forces, or disrupt the effectiveness and order of their units, they are likely to be able to complete their contracts.

Of course, the right wing was apoplectic over the recent Department of Homeland Security report that warned extremists may “attempt to recruit and radicalize returning veterans.” This doesn’t mean that all members of the military are racist or likely to sign up with extremist groups. But with more than 12,500 valuable service members discharged since 1994 for nothing more than their sexual orientation, it seems that the military is kicking out the wrong people.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 July 2009 at 2:37 pm

One Blue Dog Democrat gets the idea

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Faiz Shakir in ThinkProgress:

House Democratic leaders were planning to unveil a final health care reform bill today, but on the eve of the announcement, a group of “Blue Dog Democrats” released a list of demands that have forced the leadership to wait until next week as Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer attempt to broker a compromise.

In a letter to Speaker Pelosi, the conservative “Blue Dog” members claimed that they are concerned about the cost of the health care bill:

Paying for care reform must start with finding savings within the current delivery system and maximizing the value of our health care dollar before we ask the public to pay more. […]

The discussion draft fails to include adequate structural changes that will succeed in lowering costs and increasing value.

But the letter also comes out against a public plan, which is one of the primary tools to rein in health care costs over the long-term. The letter complains, “‘A Medicare-like’ public option would negatively impact hospitals, doctors and patients…using Medicare’s below-market rates would seriously weaken the financial stability of our local hospitals and doctors.”

Igor Volsky notes there’s “an inherent contradiction” in this letter: the Blue Dogs want to find more savings within the system, but they’re also asking that the bill spend more.

Fortunately, there is at least one “Blue Dog” member who understands this contradiction and is willing to break from her coalition to support a public plan. On MSNBC this afternoon, Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-CA) said, “I am one of those people who believes that we should be required to have a public option because it will bring the costs of health care down.” Watch it:

Sanchez is right. If the “Blue Dogs” wanted to stick to their principles of bringing costs down, they’d join with Sanchez to endorse a public plan.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 July 2009 at 2:35 pm

And the results of the US being so scientifically illiterate

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Ben Armbruster highlights the idiocy in ThinkProgress:

Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-MO) this week introduced a bill purporting to “save taxpayers $12.5 million this year and millions more in the future by prohibiting the United States from contributing to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which is fraught with waste and is engaged in dubious science.” In a press release, Luetkemeyer explained his move:

We all know that the UN is incompetent when it comes to spending money, and that is why American taxpayers should not be forking over millions more to one of its organizations that not only is in need of significant reform but is engaged in dubious scientific quests. Folks in Missouri and across the country are tired of this never ending government spending spree, and my goal is to deliver some of our people’s hard-earned money back into their pocketbooks instead of spending it on international junk science.

Far from “junk science,” the IPCC is generally regarded as the world’s top authority on issues of global warming and climate change. The U.S. National Resource Council has praised the IPCC, calling its conclusions “accurate.” The Royal Meteorological Society referred to the IPCC as “the world’s best climate scientists.” In fact, the Nobel Committee seems to think so too, awarding the panel in 2007 with the Nobel Peace Prize “for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change.”

Stating his case, Luetkemeyer said that “more than 700 international scientists” signed onto a Senate GOP report questioning that global warming is man-made and said that number is more than “the number of UN scientists, 52, who authored a report claiming that human emissions of carbon dioxide are responsible” for climate change. (One of these “700 scientists” has no college degree and another doubt’s Darwin’s theory of evolution.)

Yet, the IPCC’s most recent report, which found that global climate change is “very likely” to have a human cause, was reviewed by more than 2,500 experts and was written by more than 800 contributing authors and 450 lead authors.

To bolster his argument, Luetkemeyer claimed that the EPA (in its entirety apparently) says the world is actually cooling. No, the “EPA” doesn’t say the world is cooling. Luetkemeyer is referring to EPA economist (i.e. not a scientist) Alan Carlin’s assertion in an allegedly “suppressed” document that “global temperatures have declined for 11 years.” In fact, the last decade will likely be the hottest on record. And while annual global temperatures have both fallen and risen in the last 11 years, climate scientists have identified long-term warming trends spanning decades to indicate that the earth is warming, not just the last 11 years.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 July 2009 at 2:32 pm

Restaurant recommendations: State College, PA, edition

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Take a look at the photos of the dishes the restaurant serves. Here’s an example, which The Son recently made: L.A. Gilbi:

Copy_of_Menu_2009_037.91151236

Written by LeisureGuy

10 July 2009 at 1:03 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life, Food

Obesity and healthcare costs

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Excellent post by Ezra Klein, whence this graph that shows the percentage rise in health expenditures between 2001 and 2006, categorized by weight of patient:

percentage_rise_in_health_expenditures_between_2001_and_2006_for_people_categorized_as_

Read the entire post for more information, all of it interesting.

Note that the graph is misleading: it starts at 10 rather than 0. Bad.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 July 2009 at 12:55 pm

Healthcare costs vary widely over the US

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Interesting interactive graphic: mouse over the US and see local healthcare costs.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 July 2009 at 12:47 pm

Purchasing Congress

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You don’t have to buy ‘em all, you know: just a sizeable minority can screw things up amazingly. Mike Lillis in the Washington Independent:

It should come as little surprise that the energy industry appreciates its right to pollute for free, and that it’s lobbying furiously to retain that privilege as the Senate begins debate on its climate change bill. But it’s still a fascinating exercise to see where exactly the money’s going.

Enter Common Cause, which, using figures gathered from Senate documents and the Center for Responsive Politics, reveals today that the gas, oil, mining and electric interests have combined to spend nearly $24 million lobbying Congress on the bill in the first three months of this year alone, while tallying another $4 million on direct campaign contributions over the same span.

“The energy industry is betting millions that they can buy influence in Congress and protect their profits, even if it means blocking an important step towards clean, renewable energy and a healthier planet,” Common Cause President Bob Edgar said in a statement accompanying the report.

House lawmakers passed their version of the controversial cap-and-trade climate bill last month, with Senate leaders hoping to take up their own (yet-unreleased) version later this year, even despite a tight legislative calendar. Leading the Senate charge is Environmental and Public Works Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who held a hearing earlier this week to guide the direction of the bill.

Proving that the energy industry knows where to turn the screws, members of the EPW panel have received more than $2.1 million in contributions from the oil, gas, mining and electric industries in the last 30 months. Leading the list of recipients is Sen. James Inhofe (Okla.), the senior Republican on the panel who for much of this decade fought the idea that global warming is real. Inhofe’s has toned down his message over the years — at this week’s hearing he merely accused Democrats of “subsidizing the East and West coasts at the expense of the heartland” — but his ability to pull in campaign cash from the nation’s biggest polluters has remained constant. Indeed, they’ve given him more than $630,000 since 2007.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 July 2009 at 12:46 pm

Terror case may force Obama’s hand on "secrets"

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Spencer Ackerman in the Washington Independent:

A long-awaited filing Thursday in the al-Haramain v. Bush terrorism case before a San Francisco federal judge presents a dare to the Obama administration: embrace the Bush administration’s warrantless surveillance claims, invoke a secrecy doctrine that Attorney General Eric Holder has pledged to overhaul, or allow a case challenging the merits of warrantless surveillance to win.

Lawyers for al-Haramain, a Muslim charity that the Bush administration accused of having links to terrorists, filed a motion Thursday for U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker to assess the legality of surveillance undertaken outside the boundaries of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The motion, obtained by TWI, asks Walker to answer a question central to the Bush administration’s expansion of executive authority: “May the President disregard the requirements of FISA based on inherent presidential power?”

Other lawsuits challenging the warrantless surveillance program of the Bush administration have been rejected by the courts, including by Walker, for insufficiently establishing that the plaintiffs were themselves subject to such surveillance — making the al-Haramain filing the most likely vehicle for determining whether the Bush administration broke the law by ordering surveillance outside of the boundaries of FISA.

“This is the culmination of three and a half years of work, over repeated attempts by the government” to shut the case down, said Jon Eisenberg, the lead attorney for al-Haramain. “There have been shenanigans by the Bush Justice Department, which were no surprise, but also by the Obama Justice Department, which has been a shock.”

In March, lawyers for the Obama administration followed its predecessor’s lead in the al-Haramain case, attempting to void the proceedings by invoking the “state secrets” privilege, which instructs judges to stop court proceedings because of potential national security concerns created by the airing of sensitive information. The original basis for al-Haramain’s case is a classified phone surveillance log that the government accidentally disclosed to al-Haramain’s lawyers and has since been recovered by the FBI. But Walker allowed the case to go forward after al-Haramain’s lawyers constructed a case using non-classified information — making no use of the so-called “Secret Document” — indicating that the Oregon-based charity was subject to surveillance.

With procedural obstacles cleared, the 41-page motion filed Thursday argues that …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 July 2009 at 12:44 pm

Excellent explanation of the new Transformers movie

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A wonderful explanation at the Topless Robot blog:

It dawned on me at about 4am last night when I was finishing my review that 2500 words might not be enough to fully describe the Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen experience. Additionally, I really didn’t get much into the plot, as I was so busy explaining why it was a fundamentally shitty movie. So I took a little time to interview myself about the movie’s story in order to help you understand what RotF is all about. Hope it helps!

Are there honestly 46 new Transformers in the movie?
I have no fucking clue. It’s impossible to tell most of them apart except for Optimus and the Racist Twins (there’s another yellow Autobot who I constantly thought was Bumblebee). There could be 46, or there could be 12. I honestly would believe 12 if someone had said that.

What is the status of the Transformers at the beginning of the film?
The Autobots have joined the military to hunt down the Decepticons. We’re told the Decepticons are "doing things," but they appear to be hiding peacefully when the Autobots show up and brutally murder them.

What?
Yeah. The Decepticons aren’t apparently doing anything, then the Autobots show up, the Decepticons run for their goddamn lives, and the Autobots hunt them down and brutally murder them. It’s kind of weird.

Why is the U.S. military helping them?
Supposedly to help keep the Transformers a secret from the public. Although since the climax of the last film was a massive firefight involving 50-foot robots and took place over five miles of downtown Los Angeles and the beginning of this film wrecks several miles of Shanghai, China, they seem to be incredibly shitty at their job.

How does the U.S. military help them?
Well, not at all, actually. They just kind of come along with guns and stuff, and act like they’re going to help, but the Autobots do all the work.

Why is the U.S. military in this movie at all, then?
Because Michael Bay has a huge erection for jets and tanks and aircraft carriers and considers giant robots only a necessary evil for the film. At least 15 full minutes of the film’s 150-minute run time is nothing but footage of jets and tanks and planes without any robots or actual action whatsoever…

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 July 2009 at 12:41 pm

Posted in Daily life, Movies

Watching the money flow from industry to Congress

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This is actually sort of nauseating. Arthur Delaney in Huffington Post:

The Huffington Post crashed a Thursday evening fundraiser for Rep. Joe Crowley’s political action committee, the Jobs, Opportunities and Education PAC.

The event, a typical Washington fundraiser, was listed on the Sunlight Foundation’s website, www.politicalpartytime.org, as CROWLEY UNPLUGGED!! The venue was the Washington office of the Recording Industry Association of America, an organization that has spent more than $1.8 million in lobbying Congress so far in 2009, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Via his leadership PAC, Crowley can distribute cash he earned last night to his friends in the House, who so far this year have received $23,000.

Friendly Crowley staffers greeted the Huffington Post in the lobby of the downtown office building and said the New York Democrat would indeed be singing at the event, a spectacle for which attendees would have to stuff $100 into an envelope to see. For $1,000, guests could get ten tickets and two passes to the "VIP After Party."

Several lobbyists introduced themselves, including Lou Constantino of the Managed Funds Association, a hedge funds lobby that has spent $750,000 in lobbying so far this year as part of the industry’s efforts to avert regulation. Patrick Collins said he was there just because he likes Crowley. Law firm Holland & Knight sent at least one intern.

After ten minutes of friendly schmoozing with these people, a new guest refused to identify himself. "Yeah, I don’t deal with reporters," he said.

It was then that the Huffington Post noticed Crowley’s staffers huddled over their Blackberrys on the other side of the lobby. One of them walked over and said he was reading "your Isakson story."

After a few minutes, the Huffington Post was escorted to the door — but not denied the company of a Crowley staffer. He proceeded to maneuver himself between this reporter and arriving guests for about 10 or 15 minutes…

Continue reading. It has some good stuff.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 July 2009 at 12:34 pm

Posted in Business, Congress

Americans lag in scientific knowledge

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We know that the US is lowest of nations (except Turkey) in understanding evolution. And now it turns out the US generally doesn’t understand global warming. Suzanne Goldenburg in The Guardian:

Barack Obama’s sense of urgency in getting Congress and the international community to act on climate change does not appear to have rubbed off on the average American, a new study published today reveals.

Even as the president pressed the G8 and the world’s major polluters to resist cynicism and the pressure of the economic recession to act against global warming, a majority of Americans remain unconvinced that humans are responsible for climate change, or that there is an urgent need to act.

About 49% of Americans believe the Earth is getting warmer because of the burning of fossil fuels and other human activity, the survey by the Pew Research Centre and the American Association for the Advancement of Science said. Some 36% attributed global warming to natural changes in the atmosphere and another 10% said there was no clear evidence that the earth was indeed undergoing climate change.

Scientists in contrast are overwhelmingly persuaded that global warming is caused by humans – some 84% blame human activity. A strong majority – some 70% – also believe it is a very serious problem. Despite that degree of consensus, some 35% of Americans continues to believe – wrongly it turns out – that climate change remains a matter of scientific controversy. Only about 47% of the public views climate change as a very serious problem, a finding that has remained stable over the years, the survey said. In other public opinion polls over the years, climate change has ranked near the bottom of the list of pressing problems.

The Pew poll, like others in the past, also found attitudes towards climate change breaking down according to political allegiance. Some 67% of Republicans either deny the existence of climate change or attribute the phenomenon to natural causes. In contrast, 64% of Democrats believe that the earth is getting warmer because of human activity.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 July 2009 at 12:30 pm

Why progress is difficult

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From the Center for American Progress:

Confidential Pentagon test results reveal that the F-22 requires "more than 30 hours of maintenance for every hour in the skies, pushing its hourly cost of flying to more than $44,000." Despite such shortcomings and Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ stated desire to end the F-22 program, committees in both houses of Congress voted to continue funding the program last month after being lobbied by the manufacturer.

"Lobbied" normally means "gave lots of money to"—campaign funds, to be sure, but Senators and Representatives seem to use those like a slush fund for high living. In some cases, it means remodeling a house as a favor and the like.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 July 2009 at 12:14 pm

Posted in Business, Congress

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