Later On

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

Archive for April 9th, 2010

Holy mackerel! Read this article!

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It just gets wilder and wilder, but it’s true. Amazing.

Here it is. If you don’t subscribe to the New Yorker, this one is worth the price of the issue. It’s this issue:

100412_2010_p154

The parallels between the historical situation he describes, in terms of root cause, and what we see in progress now, in this country, with the finance industry so greasing the palms of legislators that the legislature cannot hold them back or rein them in, are (if you’re still following) uncomfortable at best, ominous, more likely.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 April 2010 at 4:50 pm

Posted in Daily life

Women Fight Back: Don’t Ban the Veil!

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Sheema Khan writes in The Daily Beast:

Last month, the Quebec government introduced a bill to curb the wearing of the niqab, or face veil, denying niqabis the right to work in the public sector or access public services such as health care and education. National Canadian politicians quickly piled on to support this violation of human rights: Prime Minister Stephen Harper endorsed the Quebec move, as did Michael Ignatieff, leader of the opposition Liberal Party. Women’s groups applauded the measure, citing the “oppressive” nature of the face veil.

Silly me. I thought feminism was about the empowerment of women to make choices. I see my ability to choose my hijab—a headscarf—as a manifestation of feminist ideals. Yet the niqab debate has seen the emergence of a Quebecois brand of feminism hostile to women’s own choices based on faith.

Ostracizing veiled women will not integrate them.

The bill is a short-sighted response to public outrage at the case of Naima Ahmed, a 29-year-old niqabi woman, originally from Egypt, who was asked to remove her veil in a Saint-Laurent College French class, supposedly so the teacher could better critique her pronunciation. The rigid sexual modesty requirements that often accompany the niqab created friction in the classroom, and Ahmad was asked to leave for making unreasonable demands, such as making an oral presentation facing away from the class. She filed a complaint with the Quebec Human Rights Commission. That should have been the end of it.

But her story leaked to the press, and Ahmad was expelled from school. She was accused of violating norms of gender equality and laïcité, the strict French concept of secularism in the public sphere. The same accusations are sometimes hurled at Muslim women who wear the headscarf, like me.

The most vehement reactions against face-veiling have come from women, who have projected their own fears, assumptions, and judgments onto attire worn by a minority within a minority. They think of the bad old days when the Catholic Church controlled women’s lives in Quebec. They pity the present-day lives of women in Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia. “We will save you from your own foolishness and your own delusional beliefs, for your own good,” they seem to say. “We will bring you to liberation by force. You Muslim women really aren’t independent until you embrace our lifestyle choices.”

In the meantime, they would deny us access to language lessons, hospitals, courts, schools, and public transportation—all services that help immigrants assimilate.  But at the same time, they condemn the Saudi religious police for hounding women who don’t dress according to that government’s dictates.

If such an attitude is meant to intimidate Muslim women, good luck…

Continue reading. This bill seems incredibly wrong-headed to me.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 April 2010 at 2:11 pm

George W. Bush ‘knew Guantánamo prisoners were innocent’

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Tim Reid writes in the Times of London:

George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld covered up that hundreds of innocent men were sent to the Guantánamo Bay prison camp because they feared that releasing them would harm the push for war in Iraq and the broader War on Terror, according to a new document obtained by The Times.

The accusations were made by Lawrence Wilkerson, a top aide to Colin Powell, the former Republican Secretary of State, in a signed declaration to support a lawsuit filed by a Guantánamo detainee. It is the first time that such allegations have been made by a senior member of the Bush Administration.

Colonel Wilkerson, who was General Powell’s chief of staff when he ran the State Department, was most critical of Mr Cheney and Mr Rumsfeld. He claimed that the former Vice-President and Defence Secretary knew that the majority of the initial 742 detainees sent to Guantánamo in 2002 were innocent but believed that it was “politically impossible to release them”.

General Powell, who left the Bush Administration in 2005, angry about the misinformation that he unwittingly gave the world when he made the case for the invasion of Iraq at the UN, is understood to have backed Colonel Wilkerson’s declaration.

Colonel Wilkerson, a long-time critic of the Bush Administration’s approach to counter-terrorism and the war in Iraq, claimed that the majority of detainees — children as young as 12 and men as old as 93, he said — never saw a US soldier when they were captured. He said that many were turned over by Afghans and Pakistanis for up to $5,000. Little or no evidence was produced as to why they had been taken.

He also claimed that one reason Mr Cheney and Mr Rumsfeld did not want the innocent detainees released was because “the detention efforts would be revealed as the incredibly confused operation that they were”. This was “not acceptable to the Administration and would have been severely detrimental to the leadership at DoD [Mr Rumsfeld at the Defence Department]”.

Referring to Mr Cheney, Colonel Wilkerson, who served 31 years in the US Army, asserted: “He had absolutely no concern that the vast majority of Guantánamo detainees were innocent … If hundreds of innocent individuals had to suffer in order to detain a handful of hardcore terrorists, so be it.”

He alleged that for Mr Cheney and Mr Rumsfeld “innocent people languishing in Guantánamo for years was justified by the broader War on Terror and the small number of terrorists who were responsible for the September 11 attacks”.

He added: “I discussed the issue of the Guantánamo detainees with Secretary Powell. I learnt that it was his view that it was not just Vice-President Cheney and Secretary Rumsfeld, but also President Bush who was involved in all of the Guantánamo decision making.”

Mr Cheney and Mr Rumsfeld, Colonel Wilkerson said, deemed the incarceration of innocent men acceptable if some genuine militants were captured, leading to a better intelligence picture of Iraq at a time when the Bush Administration was desperate to find a link between Saddam Hussein and 9/11, “thus justifying the Administration’s plans for war with that country”…

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 April 2010 at 2:07 pm

The Right’s increasingly feeble grasp of "democracy"

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Steven Benen:

Neal Boortz, a far-right radio host, argued today, "If Obama is hurting your business, and you have to lay off someone, why not lay off an Obama voter? They contributed to your problem." Boortz added, "Why should you have to provide a livelihood to someone actively working to destroy your business?"

Now, as a matter of reality, the notion that President Obama might be hurting businesses is quite foolish. It was, after all, the president’s policies that rescued the economy and generated growth and job creation. I don’t know what Boortz is whining about.

But it’s this notion that conservative employers should fire Democratic employees that seems insane — and illegal. That it may actually be happening is especially disconcerting.

Last Friday, someone going by the name "dermdoc" posted a thread on a message board for Texas A&M students and alumni with this topic: "Laid off my first Obama voting employee today."

"Our reimbursement rates are spiraling downward, taxes are projected to go up with Obamacare, so I did it," the person wrote. He later added: "I made this decision because I can."

"It is kind of interesting watching their face as you explain to them the economic consequences of the policies of the guy they voted for," wrote dermdoc. [...]

"Elections have consequences," wrote dermdoc. "If you vote for someone who raises my taxes and lowers my income, you pay the cost."

Obviously, as a substantive matter, this doesn’t make any sense. As a legal matter, it’s a crime to fire an employee based on how he or she voted.

But there’s also the larger context to consider — in 2010, we’re reaching a point in which a right-wing doctor doesn’t want to treat Democratic patients, and right-wing employer doesn’t want to keep Democratic workers on the payroll.

The Republican culture is taking on a vaguely repressive, totalitarian worldview.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 April 2010 at 12:29 pm

Posted in Daily life, GOP

Who closed the conservative mind?

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Noah Millman has a very interesting post under the above title. It begins:

Julian Sanchez and Matt Yglesias are only the latest to wonder about a topic that ought to matter to folks who follow this blog: assuming one agrees (as I do) that the American right-wing is, these days, substantially more closed-minded than the American left-wing (as represented not so much by ordinary people as the intellectual, political and media leadership), why should we have come to this pass?

I find Yglesias’ answer both partly persuasive and generally unsatisfying. Partly persuasive because it’s true that the demographic base of the GOP is relatively narrower (as you would expect of any minority party, and particularly a minority party that draws its support overwhelmingly from the demographic majority), and if you have a more homogeneous group you’d expect it to be more “group-think” oriented. But generally unsatisfying because the Democrats have always been more of a hodge-podge coalition, yet the common perception of those who worry about the “closing of the conservative mind” is that something has changed – certainly since the right’s intellectual heyday of the 1970s and 1980s. Moreover, it’s not clear to me why demographic diversity specifically should lead to openness; you can just as easily have a series of closed-minded groups and a leadership with no mind at all, just a talent for balancing the interests of the closed-minded. That seems to be what many people thought of the Mondale campaign, anyway.

Sanchez’ main point is that a substantial contingent on the right is actively seeking epistemic closure as a response to the end of geographic isolation: relatively homogeneous communities that used to be able to keep the world at bay fairly naturally now have to fight to keep it out because of new communications technology that puts the world at their doorstep every day. I find this answer partly persuasive as well, but inadequate on two levels. First, the politics of resentment are nothing new, and neither is their utility in forging a right-wing coalition. The modern GOP was born in the fires of George Wallace’s 1968 run for the Presidency, and Nixon’s entire persona was wrapped around the politics of resentment. But this period was a period of great intellectual ferment on the right, emphatically not a time when people think of the conservative mind as “closed.” Rather, this was the era of Pauline Kael’s famous astonishment at Nixon’s victory, since nobody she knew had voted for him. Second, it’s an explanation of why a certain segment of the right-wing followership might be especially energized these days, but it doesn’t really explain anything about the state of conservative leadership.

Here are some possible additional explanations that I think are worth considering: …

Continue reading. And, in connection with the South, see this post by Joe Conason.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 April 2010 at 12:27 pm

Posted in Daily life, GOP, Politics

Interesting idea: Actually evaluate the effectiveness of your strategy

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Even if you have to be forced to do it, it’s still a good idea. (And someone should ask why the Home Office didn’t think of it themselves?) From the blog Transform:

We promised to keep you updated after the powerful Parliamentary Committee of Public Accounts (PAC) extracted a verbal promise from the Home Office to (finally) evaluate the efficacy of its own drug strategy.

The failure to properly scrutinise the efficacy of drug policy spending is an urgent concern, and the need for such evaluation on a consistent and transparent basis is something Transform has been calling for since 2002, most recently through our campaign for an Impact Assessment of our approach to drugs.

Well, the PAC has now published its report on those hearings titled "Tackling Problem Drug Use". Despite all the election froth the report was reasonably well reported in the media (including some good discussion from the BBC’s Mark Easton; "Hard drugs and weak evidence").
The PAC report includes some very useful analysis and its recommendations include:

1. The Government spends £1.2 billion a year on measures aimed at tackling problem drug use, yet does not know what overall effect this spending is having. We welcome the Department’s commitment to evaluating this spending. From 2011, the Department should publish annual reports on progress against the strategy’s action plan. These should set out expenditure on each measure, the outputs and outcomes delivered, and progress towards targets.

So the Government is not just being asked to evaluate its current strategy properly, but to do so each year, which, from a PR perspective at least, makes it much harder to gloss over failure than a mega-review every 5-10 years.

2. Around one-quarter of problem drug users are hard-core offenders who resist measures to reduce their offending or ‘drop out’ of drug treatment. The Department’s action plan should set out specific measures directly aimed at driving down offending by hard-core problem drug users for whom the Drug Interventions Programme and drug treatment does not work.

This should mean looking at new approaches, including wider provision of heroin prescription which the PAC was particularly interested in (and which is, of course, one of the models of legally regulated availability Transform advocates).

6. Measures to reduce problem drug use by young people have had limited impact. The Department should include reliable and consistent estimates of the number of new young problem drug users each year in its annual report on progress against the strategy. It should evaluate the effectiveness of measures aimed at reducing problem drug use by young people, including long-term residential care services, and should set targets to bring down the overall number of problem drug users, over time.

There used to be just such targets, but they were dropped because they underlined the failure of the Government’s current approach. Their reintroduction should increase the pressure to come up with new ways to tackle drug related problems.

I asked the National Audit Office (NAO) what happens next. They explained that: …

Continue reading. Probably every government program should come with a requirement that it be periodically evaluated against the program goals, and by an outside agency (in the US, the GAO), with the report made public and put on-line.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 April 2010 at 12:23 pm

Life in 2020: Part of a series

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Via this interesting post at Open Culture:

Written by LeisureGuy

9 April 2010 at 12:19 pm

Posted in Daily life, Video

Do we even need the Senate?

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Nebraska seems to do okay with a unicameral legislature. Maybe we should simply abolish the Senate, which seems mostly to avoid doing things. David Lightman, Halimah Abdullah and Grace Gagliano at McClatchy:

An estimated 212,500 people across the United States are in danger of exhausting their federal unemployment benefits this week because a Republican senator has blocked Congress from considering an extension.

The House of Representatives approved the funding last month, but it stalled in the Senate after Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., insisted that the bill be paid for.

"Any person with a thimble full of common sense could identify $9.2 billion of waste in our more than $3.5 trillion budget," he said. "Yet Congress finds this task so painful they would rather leave town and let certain unemployment benefits expire."

It’s the second time is as many months that a Republican has led an effort to bar the Senate from considering an extension of jobless benefits. While the money is expected eventually to be paid retroactively, the delay creates a host of problems for people who are out of work and the agencies that assist them.

"Lost in this discussion is that these are people who became unemployed through no fault of their own, and they are searching for jobs in the worst job market in years," said Michael Thurmond, the commissioner of the Georgia Department of Labor.

"People don’t know how to organize their lives," lamented Maurice Emsellem, a policy co-director at the National Employment Law Project in Oakland, Calif., which studies job-related issues and estimated how many people the delay affects.

If benefits are going to stop temporarily or be curtailed, should the unemployed sign up for classes? Sell their homes? How do they pay for groceries?

"They don’t know, unless Congress continues the program through the end of the year," Emsellem said. "That’s the most disturbing part."

The project estimated that because of the delay, 1 million people risk losing benefits this month.

Bradenton, Fla., resident Peter Barrie, for instance, could lose about $300 a week when his unemployment benefits expire in two weeks. As a result, Barrie said, he and his wife will have to cut back on groceries, utility use, entertainment expenses and travel.

The 66-year-old has been searching for employment for 18 months since he was laid off from his teaching position. Barrie said he’d applied for everything from education jobs to working in fast food restaurants.

"In the last 18 months, I’ve probably sent out over 300 resumes," Barrie said. "If the economy doesn’t improve, myself and others like me would hope that they would pass an extension." …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 April 2010 at 12:16 pm

I thought Obama said this would be taken care of

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Sara Breselor at Salon:

Virginia farmer John Boyd describes a scene from a painful past: a white U.S. Department of Agriculture loan officer only allows black farmers to apply for loans one day a week. "Black Wednesday," the farmers call it, and they line up outside the USDA office in Richmond, Va. The loan officer, James Garnett, leaves the door to his office open so that all the farmers in the hallway can hear the loan requests of their colleagues be summarily, and vehemently, denied.

But Black Wednesday was not an artifact of the ’50s. This was the America of the ’80s and ’90s, and in 1994, the USDA itself commissioned a review of the treatment of minorities in its Farm Service Agency programs. The commission’s study found that "minorities received less than their fair share of USDA money for crop payments, disaster payments, and loans."

The result was a massive class-action lawsuit, Pigford v. Glickman, which the USDA settled out of court in 1999, admitting to widespread racial discrimination against black farmers in its loan programs between 1981 and 1996. About 15,000 farmers were paid a total of more than $900 million in the settlement. But tens of thousands of farmers filed claims after the deadline, and many charged that the government’s outreach had been insufficient, causing them to miss their opportunity.

In February 2010, President Obama and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack promised an additional $1.15 billion to cover the remaining claims, but the story doesn’t end there. The settlement agreement mandated that Congress appropriate the funds by March 31 of this year. The deadline came and went with no action by Congress, and so the future of the settlement remains in limbo.

After years of Black Wednesdays, John Boyd founded the National Black Farmers Association, spearheading both the original lawsuit and the effort to reopen the Pigford case in order to allow the claims of the farmers who missed the deadline. Salon spoke with Boyd about the history of the lawsuit and what the missed deadline means for farmers.

What happened between you and the USDA loan officer in Richmond?

Mr. Garnett had made 147 farm loans in Mecklenburg County, Va. Only one of those loans was to a black farmer, and he was the minority advisor to the USDA county committee. When they investigated Mr. Garnett, they asked him, "Do you have a problem making black farm loans?" Guess what he said? He said yes. He said yes, I think that they’re lazy, and they’re just looking for a paycheck every Friday.

Mr. Garnett took my loan application and tore it up and threw it in the trash can while I was sitting there in front of him. And he said he wasn’t going to lend me any of his money. When I asked him why he wasn’t going to make the loan, he said, "Well, I don’t have any money now. If you want to come back again next year, that’s up to you, but I think you need to go ahead and just sell your farm. I’ve got a farmer, Mr. Blaylock, and you can milk cows on his farm. I think that would be the best opportunity for you and your family."

I was mad. I was looking for a $10,000 operating loan to plant my crop. After nine years in a row I’d only gotten one loan from the USDA farm services, and I would apply every year.

I said, "Mr. Garnett, I don’t think I can go back and tell my wife that I’m not going to get an operating loan again." And he said he didn’t care. And when he said he didn’t care, I told him to go to hell in a handbasket, and he began to use profanity, and he spit tobacco on my shirt.

When the investigator asked him, "Did you spit chewing tobacco on John Boyd’s shirt?" He said, "Well, yeah." He claimed he accidentally missed his spit can.

When was this?

This was in 1994.

What was the result of the investigation?

In my case, they found Mr. Garnett guilty of discrimination. But they didn’t terminate him. They allowed him to move to the sister county, which is Greensville County, Va., and they let him retire after two months in Greensville. He didn’t see anything wrong with that.

This is a federal agency, admitting to racial discrimination in the very recent past. Why do you think more people aren’t getting angry about this? …

Continue reading. I guess this is another of those special "Obama promises", like the promise to vote against telecomm immunity, or the promise for greater transparency, or the promise to abandon the Bush-Cheney executive aggrandizement—that is, promises that turn out to be simply hot air.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 April 2010 at 12:12 pm

Thoughts on the Catholic church sexual-abuse scandals

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Last night I was thinking about the situation and mulling over some of the communications that Andrew Sullivan’s been publishing in his blog. It seems clear that in at least some cases the laity was aware that there was a problem—and were careful to protect their own children, while standing silent as other children were raped and otherwise abused. I think this is the result of belonging to a highly authoritarian organization and taught from a young age not to criticize or question what it does.

Obviously, that teaching doesn’t work for all Catholics—some criticize vociferously and quite a few question. But we shouldn’t ignore those laity who participated in the culture of secrecy and silence, standing by while knowing that bad things were happening, never raising a voice in protest, but protecting their own children while sacrificing the children of others.

The Catholic church will have quite a struggle to reform the culture it’s created. If it even tries.

I should add that I greatly distrust institutions and organizations that require obedience and discourage questioning.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 April 2010 at 11:06 am

Posted in Daily life, Religion

Floris London JF

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Quite a late start today, but a great shave nonetheless. Floris London makes great shaving soap (and aftershaves), and the Lucretia Borgia brush worked up a great lather, smoothly removed (along with the stubble) by the open-comb Mühle, holding a still-sharp Astra Keramik blade. A splash of the aftershave, and I’m (finally) on my way.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 April 2010 at 11:00 am

Posted in Shaving

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