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

Archive for December 2nd, 2010

Room for hope on repeal of DADT

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Steve Benen has an excellent report:

Proponents of repealing "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" have been looking to this week as the last, best chance to convince the Senate to do the right thing. The combination of the Pentagon’s report on servicemembers’ attitudes and a high-profile hearing with the Senate Armed Services Committee would, if all went well, give Democrats the boost they need to finish their work.

So far, repeal advocates have reason to be pleased. The Pentagon’s report was arguably even more encouraging than expected, and today’s hearing, featuring testimony from Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mike Mullen, and the co-chairmen of the Pentagon’s Working Group who prepared the study, answered every possible objection. Every Republican rationale was raised, considered, and debunked.

If you missed the hearing, which will have a second day tomorrow, Igor Volsky did a great job compressing hours of exchanges into this six-minute clip:

But a point Greg Sargent raised seemed especially important: "Military leaders essentially pleaded with GOP Senators to support repealing DADT, arguing that the failure to do so would put the state of our military at serious risk. In his testimony this morning, Defense Secretary Robert Gates put this as clearly as you could ask for."

For Republicans open to even the slightest bit of reason, this should offer them all the cover they need. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the Secretary of Defense — both of whom were appointed by a conservative Republican president, incidentally — said approving the pending repeal provision is what’s best for the U.S. military. Period. Full stop.

We already know that, for the clear majority of Senate Republicans, this is irrelevant. Just a few years after it was deemed outrageous and unpatriotic for elected politicians to ignore the judgment of our military leaders during a time of war, the GOP Senate caucus will no doubt try to kill DADT repeal anyway, because, well, they and their base really don’t like gay people. That these gay people are willing to volunteer to put their lives on the line for the rest of us is apparently irrelevant.

But repeal proponents don’t need all the Senate Republicans; they need a handful of Senate Republicans. Going into today, there were in upwards of five GOP members who were at least open to doing the right thing.

If they were paying attention today, looking for reassurance, the course ahead should be obvious.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 December 2010 at 3:34 pm

The GOP is totally around the bend

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I recall a story, which I’ve probably recounted before, about a railway passenger (in the very old days) who requested the fig pudding for dessert in the dining car. On being informed that the kitchen was out of the dish, he became outraged, shouted, and sulked. The conductor wired ahead to the next stop to have someone go buy a fig pudding, which they did, and the train picked it up at the stop, minutes later. The waiter returned to the irate diner and told him the good news: fig pudding was now available. The guy shut up a second, thought about it, and said, "The hell with it! I’d rather be mad."

For some reason I was reminded of this story as I read this report by Tanya Somanader in ThinkProgress:

Well-versed in obstructing help to the hungry, House Republicans first blocked, then voted against the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act yesterday, a bill that “would give more needy children the opportunity to eat free lunches at school and make those lunches healthier.” The Senate passed this bill by unanimous consent in August — essentially a 100-0 vote in favor of providing school meals to the nation’s 17 million hungry kids.

But 157 House Republicans had a different message for hungry children: get in line. During the House’s first attempt to pass the bill yesterday, Republicans “used a procedural maneuver” to add an amendment requiring background checks for child care workers. Recognizing it as a poison pill, House Democrats delayed the final vote till today rather than allow an amendment to “kill the bill.” The main champion of this tactic Rep. John Kline (R-MN) decried the Hunger-Free Act as a Democratic ploy to increase government spending. On the House floor yesterday, Kline insisted the bill was massive “deficit spending,” dismissing the bill’s offsets as a “stalling tactic that obscures government expansion”:

KLINE: The people are telling us, stop spending money we don’t have…this bill spends another $4.5 billion on various programs and initiatives and creates or expands 17, 17 separate federal programs…The majority claims this bill is paid for. They want us to believe we can grow government with no cost or consequences, but the American people know that’s just not true.More spending is more spending. Whether or not those dollars are offset elsewhere in the massive federal budget, but one offset is particularly questionable. The truth is that, at least some portion of the billions of new program costs is deficit spending. This money was borrowed from our children and grandchildren in 2009 when it was put in the stimulus. That borrowed money is simply being redirected today. It was borrowed then and its borrowed now. This bill with its so-called pay for is merely a stalling tactic. It obscures government expansion in the short-term so this bill can become law and its spending can become permanent.

Watch it:

An equally indignant Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA) called the pay-for “a farce!” “It’s a farce, it’s a lie. And it’s borrowing more from our children and this kind of idiocy just has to stop,” he added.

The only “lie” emanating from the House floor yesterday came directly from Kline and Broun. The bill is indeed paid for, unfortunately with offsets from food stamp benefits included in the Recovery Act. Because of the Congressional pay-as-you-go rules that prohibits deficit spending on non-emergency measures, Democrats reluctantly raided much-needed food stamp funds — again — to pay for the Hunger-Free Act. Kline and Broun’s outrage at such a strategy is curious, considering Republicans have pushed the same exact strategy in the past.

Not only is their “deficit spending” cry hypocritical, it is also a downright lie. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the offsets in the Senate bill will actually generate “total savings that effectively meet or exceed costs” while simultaneously providing meals to hungry children. Essentially, 157 Republicans voted to block the holy grail of legislation. The House did, however, pass the bill today and it will now go to the President for signature.

The GOP’s continuing callous treatment of those in need was not lost on Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH). “If cutting off unemployment insurance for out-of-work Americans wasn’t enough, House Republicans are now blocking critical legislation to help schools feed thousands of hungry children,” he told ThinkProgress. “Childhood nutrition shouldn’t be a partisan issue. But Congressional Republicans – intent on blocking any progress while President Obama is in office – are willing to put hungry children in the partisan crosshairs.”

UPDATE: Congress today passed the child nutrition bill, sending it to the President for his signature.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 December 2010 at 3:27 pm

Posted in Congress, Daily life, GOP

“Take the ‘A’ Train”

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The Wife once heard someone on the radio announce the title as though it were “Take the a Train”.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 December 2010 at 2:56 pm

Posted in Jazz, Video

"Close the Washington Monument"

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Excellent post by Bruce Schneier:

Securing the Washington Monument from terrorism has turned out to be a surprisingly difficult job. The concrete fence around the building protects it from attacking vehicles, but there’s no visually appealing way to house the airport-level security mechanisms the National Park Service has decided are a must for visitors. It is considering several options, but I think we should close the monument entirely. Let it stand, empty and inaccessible, as a monument to our fears.

An empty Washington Monument would serve as a constant reminder to those on Capitol Hill that they are afraid of the terrorists and what they could do. They’re afraid that by speaking honestly about the impossibility of attaining absolute security or the inevitability of terrorism — or that some American ideals are worth maintaining even in the face of adversity — they will be branded as "soft on terror." And they’re afraid that Americans would vote them out of office if another attack occurred. Perhaps they’re right, but what has happened to leaders who aren’t afraid? What has happened to "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself"?

An empty Washington Monument would symbolize our lawmakers’ inability to take that kind of stand — and their inability to truly lead.

Some of them call terrorism an "existential threat" against our nation. It’s not. Even the events of 9/11, as horrific as they were, didn’t make an existential dent in our nation. Automobile-related fatalities — at 42,000 per year, more deaths each month, on average, than 9/11 — aren’t, either. It’s our reaction to terrorism that threatens our nation, not terrorism itself. The empty monument would symbolize the empty rhetoric of those leaders who preach fear and then use that fear for their own political ends.

The day after Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab failed to blow up a Northwest jet with a bomb hidden in his underwear, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said "The system worked." I agreed. Plane lands safely, terrorist in custody, nobody injured except the terrorist. Seems like a working system to me. The empty monument would represent the politicians and press who pilloried her for her comment, and Napolitano herself, for backing down.

The empty monument would symbolize our war on the unexpected, — our overreaction to anything different or unusual — our harassment of photographers, and our probing of airline passengers. It would symbolize our "show me your papers" society, rife with ID checks and security cameras. As long as we’re willing to sacrifice essential liberties for a little temporary safety, we should keep the Washington Monument empty.

Terrorism isn’t a crime against people or property. It’s a crime against . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 December 2010 at 2:38 pm

Good Pilates session

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The instructor spent the entire session working on some problems she noted in the previous joint class with The Wife and me. It’s strange how you can do something over and over (it feels like) and then suddenly it clicks into place and feels totally different.

I am highly satisfied with Pilates and its effects, and I think that getting individualized instruction (both alone and in the two-person class) was extremely wise: in a large class, the instructor really cannot spend enough time with each individual student to resolve difficulties the student is having, plus the class includes people at all levels, from raw beginner to advanced student. The effect is that you might be basing your moves on someone who knows as little as you. And working from a book alone is hard because you really do need someone who knows the exercises to spot the small mistakes you make that undermine the entire effort.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 December 2010 at 12:33 pm

Posted in Daily life, Fitness

Slow traveler

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I used to mark up currency to play "Where’s George?" and I just got an email: a $20-bill that I marked and released has been reported. I spent it in Monterey and it turned up in Oakland, a distance of 87 miles. I released it 4 years, 245 days, 19 hours, and 5 minutes before it was reported, so it traveled about 1/2 mile/day.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 December 2010 at 12:18 pm

Posted in Daily life

Dick Cheney charged in massive bribery case

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George Zornick at ThinkProgress:

The Nigerian government will charge former Vice President Dick Cheney in a massive bribery case involving $180 million in kickbacks paid to Nigerian lawmakers, who awarded a $6 billion natural gas pipeline contract to Halliburton subsidiary KBR when Cheney was running the company. Godwin Obla, prosecuting counsel at the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, said indictments will be lodged in a Nigerian court “in the next three days,” and an arrest warrant for Cheney “will be issued and transmitted through Interpol.”

KBR already pleaded guilty in the U.S. last year in relation to the bribery scheme, and along with Halliburton agreed to pay a $579 million settlement. “This bribery scheme involved both senior foreign government officials and KBR corporate executives who took actions to insulate themselves from the reach of U.S. law enforcement,”said Acting Assistant Attorney General Rita M. Glavin of the Criminal Division at the time. Cheney was indeed a “KBR corporate executive” at the time, but was not specifically charged. The case revolves largely around the actions of London lawyer Jeffrey Tesler, who maintained strong connections with the Nigerian government and was hired by Halliburton subsidiaries to funnel money to them in order to obtain lucrative contracts. Halliburton Watch explains the Cheney connection:

[In June 2004], Halliburton fires Albert Jack Stanley after investigators say he received $5 million in “improper” payments from Mr. Tesler…. Halliburton spokesperson, Wendy Hall, said that during the years he ran KBR, Mr. Stanley reported to David Lesar, Halliburton’s president and chief operating officer at the time and CEO today. Mr. Lesar reported to Mr. Cheney when Cheney was chief executive…. According to the Dallas Morning News, “Mr. Cheney ran Halliburton when one of four suspicious payments occurred.” [...]

The Wall Street Journal reports on newly disclosed evidence by Halliburton, including notes written by M.W. Kellogg employees during the mid-1990s in which they discussed bribing Nigerian officials. The Financial Times of London said the evidence “raises questions over what Mr Cheney knew – or should have known – about one of the largest contracts awarded to a Halliburton subsidiary.”

A Cheney spokesperson told Reuters he had no comment, but would later today. It is important to note that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce — of which Halliburton is a member — recently lobbied to weaken an important U.S. law that “stops American-based multinational firms from bribing foreign governments in order to win special business advantages,” as ThinkProgress detailed in October.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 December 2010 at 9:55 am

Those who deny evolution are willfully ignorant, possibly stupid, and certainly wrong

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Via PZ Myers:

Written by LeisureGuy

2 December 2010 at 9:20 am

Jay Rosen on Wikileaks

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Via Glenn Greenwald, in an update to his column:

NYU Journalism Professor Jay Rosen has a characteristically insightful and thought-provoking analysis of WikiLeaks, expressed through a 14-minute video.  Regarding why many valuable sources prefer to give their documents and other leaks to WikiLeaks rather than traditional press outlets, he says:

In the American case, one of the reasons is that the legitimacy of the press itself is in doubt in the minds of the leakers.  And there’s good reason for that.  Because while we have what purports to be a "watchdog press," we also have — laid out in front of us — the clear record of the watchdog press’  failure to do what it says it can do, which is provide a check on power when it tries to conceal its deeds and its purpose. 

So I think it’s a mistake to try to reckon with WikiLeaks and what it’s about without including in the frame the spectacular failures of the watchdog press over the last 10, 20, 30, 40 years – but especially recently.  And so without this legitimacy crisis in mainstream American journalism, the leakers might not be so inclined to trust an upstart like Julian Assange and a shadowy organization like WikiLeaks . . . 

These kinds of huge, cataclysmic events [the Iraq War] within the legitimacy regime lie in the background of the WikiLeaks case, because if it wasn’t for those things, WikiLeaks wouldn’t have the supporters it has, the leakers wouldn’t collaborate the way they do, and the moral force behind exposing what this Government is doing just wouldn’t be there. . . . The watchdog press died, and what we have is WikiLeaks instead.

Most American journalists — represented by Jonathan Capehart in the video above and the Post‘s self-praising contrast between the Free, Robust American Press and the anemic, controlled "Arab media" — are so far away from even beginning to process those facts, indeed are constitutionally incapable of understanding or facing them, that they are just in a different universe than reality.  And that — combined with the fact that they are rooted in and dependent upon the very political system they are supposed to check and which these disclosures threaten — are the reasons why most of them react to WikiLeaks with an equal dose of confoundedness and contempt.

Greenwald also comments on the strange criticisms of the latest dump: that it is both a Grave Danger to US National Security and that it shows Nothing New. How can it be both? In fact, there’s a fair amount that’s new. Greenwald lists some:

If there’s Nothing New in these documents, can Jonathan Capehart (or any other "journalist" claiming this) please point to where The Washington Post previously reported on these facts, all revealed by the WikiLeaks disclosures: 

(1) the U.S. military formally adopted a policy of turning a blind eye to systematic, pervasive torture and other abuses by Iraqi forces;

(2) the State Department threatened Germany not to criminally investigate the CIA’s kidnapping of one of its citizens who turned out to be completely innocent;

(3) the State Department under Bush and Obama applied continuous pressure on the Spanish Government to suppress investigations of the CIA’s torture of its citizens and the 2003 killing of a Spanish photojournalist when the U.S. military fired on the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad (see The Philadelphia Inquirer‘s Will Bunch today about this: "The day Barack Obama Lied to me");

(4) the British Government privately promised to shield Bush officials from embarrassment as part of its Iraq War "investigation";

(5) there were at least 15,000 people killed in Iraq that were previously uncounted;

(6) "American leaders lied, knowingly, to the American public, to American troops, and to the world" about the Iraq war as it was prosecuted, a conclusion the Post‘s own former Baghdad Bureau Chief wrote was proven by the WikiLeaks documents;

(7) the U.S.’s own Ambassador concluded that the July, 2009 removal of the Honduran President was illegal — a coup – but the State Department did not want to conclude that and thus ignored it until it was too late to matter;

(8) U.S. and British officials colluded to allow the U.S. to keep cluster bombs on British soil even though Britain had signed the treaty banning such weapons, and,

(9) Hillary Clinton’s State Department ordered diplomats to collect passwords, emails, and biometric data on U.N. and other foreign officials, almost certainly in violation of the Vienna Treaty of 1961.

That’s just a sampling.

This is what Joe Lieberman and his comrades are desperately trying to suppress — literally prevent it from being accessible on the Internet.  And "journalists" like Capehart play along by continuing to insist there’s "nothing new" being revealed by WikiLeaks despite their never having reported any of this.  And since the disclosures, does anyone believe that any of these revelations have received anything close to meaningful attention by the American establishment media?  But remember — as Capehart’s newspaper taught us today — "revelations by the organization WikiLeaks have received blanket coverage this week on television, in newspapers" in Free America — showing what a Vibrant, Adversarial Press we are blessed with — but "in many Arab countries, the mainstream media have largely avoided reporting on the sensitive contents of the cables."

Written by LeisureGuy

2 December 2010 at 8:24 am

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I just learned of a site that may be helpful and interest to those who travel: Like all wikis, it is updated and revised by readers, and as more use it, it (in effect) gets more editors and contributors and thus becomes more valuable.

Take a look. Simplest way is to use it to look up your most recent trip and see how it might have helped there—plus you might even be able to contribute some text yourself.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 December 2010 at 7:56 am

Posted in Daily life, Technology

Global warming incompatible with our food supply

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As I’ve noted on many previous posts, one of the many problems that global warming creates is the failure of major food crops due to changing climate patterns: regions that once could grow plentiful crops relying simply on rainfall will soon find yields sharply decreasing. I suspect food wars will be even more intense than the energy wars we’re likely to see as part of the transition away from petroleum.

And the US, in the face of these problems, is busy shutting its eyes, putting it hands over its ears, and reciting ancient religious texts that "prove" that global warming is not happening. (They never address the scientific case or the actual evidence.) This is mainly the GOP, but certainly the Democrats have not shown any signs of growing a backbone, stepping up to the plate, and doing what’s right. It’s not a good time to have a president who seems to fear confrontation and who is inclined toward repressive government measures, with little regard for civil liberties.

At any rate, the problem will soon reach a magnitude that it cannot be ignored, though God knows the GOP will certainly try. Janet Raloff reports in Science News:

Since summer, signs of severe food insecurity — droughts, food riots, five- to tenfold increases in produce costs — have erupted around the globe. Several new reports now argue that regionally catastrophic crop failures — largely due to heat stress — are signals that global warming may have begun outpacing the ability of farmers to adapt.

Some one billion people already suffer serious malnutrition. That number could mushroom, the new reports argue, if governments big and small don’t begin heeding warning signs like spikes in the price of food staples.

Severe summer droughts in Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan ravaged 2010 cereal yields. When Russia, the fourth largest wheat exporter, imposed an export ban in August, international markets responded with price spikes. Having sold around 17 million metric tons on world markets in 2009, Russia’s 2010 wheat exports are expected to fall closer to 4 million metric tons, according to a November Food Outlook report by the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization, or FAO. (Russia’s export ban is slated to remain in effect until next July.)

Overall, FAO reports, food imports by the world’s poorest nations are expected to cost 11 percent more in 2010 than a year earlier — and 20 percent more for some low-income food-importing countries. FAO predicts the total cost of 2010 food imports will be roughly $1 trillion — a near-record level. Contributing to the problem is a 2 percent drop in global cereal yields; earlier this year 2010 cereal production had been expected to post a 1 percent gain.

Food prices offer a good proxy for agriculture’s health, notes Gerald Nelson, an economist with the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington, D.C. Rising prices signal increasing resource scarcity, he explains, which can be triggered by expanding populations, growing incomes (because people can afford more and better food) and declining crop yields.

Recent food-price shocks and yield shortfalls initially surprised analysts, note IFPRI’s Derek Headey and Shenggen Fan in a November 18 report. Government officials had been lulled into complacency by decades of falling food costs. But prices bottomed out around 2000 and have since begun climbing in response to commodities speculation and a string of poor harvests, the pair notes.

Nelson and his colleagues have now used computer models to get some grasp on how crop yields and prices might respond, several decades out, to Earth’s continuing low-grade fever.

The team considered three scenarios of income and population growth that might reasonably be expected to occur between 2020 and 2050. Then they applied four “plausible” climate scenarios with warmer temperatures and anywhere from slightly to substantially wetter weather. They also included an “implausible fifth scenario of perfect mitigation (a continuation of today’s climate into the future).”

The resulting 15 scenarios all indicated that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 December 2010 at 7:52 am

Couldn’t stay away

with 7 comments

Had to return to Sweet Gale. I do love the fragrance and the lather, the latter created this morning with the Rooney 3/1 Super Silvertip. Three extremely pleasant passes (after the rough blade yesterday) with the Eclipse and the Swedish Gillette blade, providing a smooth target for the splash of Klar Seifen Klassik.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 December 2010 at 7:46 am

Posted in Shaving


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