Later On

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

How Democrats Killed Their Populist Soul

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An old story: the rebels coopted by the establishment and becoming a lapdog. Matt Stoller writes in the Atlantic:

It was January 1975, and the Watergate Babies had arrived in Washington looking for blood. The Watergate Babies—as the recently elected Democratic congressmen were known—were young, idealistic liberals who had been swept into office on a promise to clean up government, end the war in Vietnam, and rid the nation’s capital of the kind of corruption and dirty politics the Nixon White House had wrought. Richard Nixon himself had resigned just a few months earlier in August. But the Watergate Babies didn’t just campaign against Nixon; they took on the Democratic establishment, too. Newly elected Representative George Miller of California, then just 29 years old, announced, “We came here to take the Bastille.”

One of their first targets was an old man from Texarkana: a former cotton tenant farmer named Wright Patman who had served in Congress since 1929. He was also the chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Banking and Currency and had been for more than a decade. Antiwar liberal reformers realized that the key to power in Congress was through the committee system; being the chairman of a powerful committee meant having control over the flow of legislation. The problem was: Chairmen were selected based on their length of service. So liberal reformers already in office, buttressed by the Watergate Babies’ votes, demanded that the committee chairmen be picked by a full Democratic-caucus vote instead.

Ironically, as chairman of the Banking Committee, Patman had been the first Democrat to investigate the Watergate scandal. But he was vulnerable to the new crowd he had helped usher in. He was old; they were young. He had supported segregation in the past and the war in Vietnam; they were vehemently against both. Patman had never gone to college and had been a crusading economic populist during the Great Depression; the Watergate Babies were weaned on campus politics, television, and affluence.

What’s more, the new members were antiwar, not necessarily anti-bank. “Our generation did not know the Depression,” then-Representative Paul Tsongassaid. “The populism of the 1930s doesn’t really apply to the 1970s,” argued Pete Stark, a new California member who launched his political career by affixing a giant peace sign onto the roof of the bank he owned.

In reality, while the Watergate Babies provided the numbers needed to eject him, it was actually Patman’s Banking Committee colleagues who orchestrated his ouster. For more than a decade, Patman had represented a Democratic political tradition stretching back to Thomas Jefferson, an alliance of the agrarian South and the West against Northeastern capital. For decades, Patman had sought to hold financial power in check, investigating corporate monopolies, high interest rates, the Federal Reserve, and big banks. And the banking allies on the committee had had enough of Patman’s hostility to Wall Street.

Over the years, Patman had upset these members by blocking bank mergers and going after financial power. As famed muckraking columnist Drew Pearson put it: Patman “committed one cardinal sin as chairman. … He wants to investigate the big bankers.” And so, it was the older bank allies who truly ensured that Patman would go down. In 1975, these bank-friendly Democrats spread the rumor that Patman was an autocratic chairman biased against junior congressmen. To new members eager to participate in policymaking, this was a searing indictment.

The campaign to oust Patman was brief and savage. Michigan’s Bob Carr, a member of the 1975 class, told me the main charge against Patman was that he was an incompetent chairman (a charge with which the nonprofit Common Causeagreed). One of the revolt’s leaders, Edward Pattison, actually felt warmly toward Patman and his legendary populist career. But, “there was just a feeling that he had lost control of his committee.”

Not all on the left were swayed. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 October 2016 at 4:37 pm

AT&T’s big question: Will Congress stay bought?

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Cecilia Kang and Eric Lipton report in the NY Times:

From the political right and the left, AT&T’s $85 billion bid for Time Warner has provoked pushback. But AT&T, in addition to its billions of dollars of capital, has another arsenal at its disposal: one of the most formidable lobbying operations in Washington.

The company’s list of nearly 100 registered lobbyists already on retainer in 2016 includes former members of Congress. AT&T is the biggest donor to federal lawmakers and their causes among cable and cellular telecommunications companies, with its employees and political action committee sending money to 374 of the House’s 435 members and 85 of the Senate’s 100 members this election cycle. That adds up to more than $11.3 million in donations since 2015, four times as much as Verizon Communications, according to a tally by the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonprofit research group.

AT&T has also spent decades building a national alliance of local government officials and nonprofit groups — particularly from black and Hispanic communities — that it will certainly be asking to weigh in again in Washington, as it tries to get the merger approved.

But navigating this transaction will be a test of just how much influence AT&T has in Washington these days, especially as it tries to persuade antitrust officials at the United States Department of Justice, who will be crucial in approving the deal. The task may be particularly tricky as AT&T’s lobbying team undergoes a transition after losing its longtime leader, James W. Cicconi, a former aide to President George H. W. Bush.

For AT&T, the regulatory environment around megadeals has also soured. Antitrust officials have muscled up in recent years, blocking dozens of deals across industries including pharmaceuticals and retail. Other prominent telecommunications deals have imploded even after huge lobbying efforts, most notably Comcast’s attempt to buy Time Warner Cable in 2014 and AT&T’s bid in 2011 to buy T-Mobile, a cellular telephone competitor.

Issues that led to the collapse of those deals seem even more prevalent now, as the nation closes out a presidential campaign that has featured candidates from both parties — most notably Donald J. Trump and Bernie Sanders — promising to challenge corporate power.

“The public is really stirred up and angry about the growing dominance of a small number of firms,” said Gene Kimmelman, president of Public Knowledge and a former antitrust official at the United States Justice Department during AT&T’s bid for T-Mobile.

The alarms over AT&T’s deal for Time Warner stem from mounting frustration over high prices and the lack of competition in the telecom industry, with most Americans limited to one or two providers of broadband services. Regulators are set to focus on AT&T’s powerful control over broadband and television customers since it is the nation’s second-largest wireless company, after Verizon, and biggest paid television provider after its recent acquisition of DirecTV. . .

Continue reading.

See also: “AT&T Is Spying on Americans for Profit, New Documents Reveal.” From that report:

. . . In 2013, Hemisphere was revealed by The New York Times and described only within a Powerpoint presentation made by the Drug Enforcement Administration. The Times described it as a “partnership” between AT&T and the U.S. government; the Justice Department said it was an essential, and prudently deployed, counter-narcotics tool.

However, AT&T’s own documentation—reported here by The Daily Beast for the first time—shows Hemisphere was used far beyond the war on drugs to include everything from investigations of homicide to Medicaid fraud.

Hemisphere isn’t a “partnership” but rather a product AT&T developed, marketed, and sold at a cost of millions of dollars per year to taxpayers. No warrant is required to make use of the company’s massive trove of data, according to AT&T documents, only a promise from law enforcement to not disclose Hemisphere if an investigation using it becomes public.

These new revelations come as the company seeks to acquire Time Warner in the face of vocal opposition saying the deal would be bad for consumers. Donald Trump told supporters over the weekend he would kill the acquisition if he’s elected president; Hillary Clinton has urged regulators to scrutinize the deal.

While telecommunications companies are legally obligated to hand over records, AT&T appears to have gone much further to make the enterprise profitable, according to ACLU technology policy analyst Christopher Soghoian.

“Companies have to give this data to law enforcement upon request, if they have it. AT&T doesn’t have to data-mine its database to help police come up with new numbers to investigate,” Soghoian said.

AT&T has a unique power to extract information from its metadata because it retains so much of it. The company owns more than three-quarters of U.S. landline switches, and the second largest share of the nation’s wireless infrastructure and cellphone towers, behind Verizon. . .

Written by LeisureGuy

25 October 2016 at 3:28 pm

Evolution accommodates a certain amount of slop

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Veronique Greenwood writes in Quanta:

It’s a curious fact of biology: In yeast, only one in five genes is essential. If any of the approximately 1,200 critical genes are destroyed (out of 6,000), the result is death. Remove one of the others, and the yeast soldiers on.

The same is not always true, however, if a pair of nonessential genes is removed — sometimes, death comes quickly. In these cases, it’s likely that the genes have similar roles. They might both take out the cell’s garbage, for instance, or fix damaged DNA. The loss of one might not be deadly — the other could pick up the slack. But the loss of both is catastrophic.

Can we use what happens when a pair of genes is destroyed to find out their function? This is the question that Charles Boone and Brenda Andrews, biologists at the University of Toronto, began to ask themselves about 17 years ago. If you know what one gene is doing in the cell, and destroying it kills the cell only if another, more mysterious gene goes too — can that give you clues to what the mystery gene does?

To answer the question, they began to orchestrate a precise campaign to destroy, two by two, all the genes in yeast. Using a fleet of yeast-growing robots, they created approximately 23 million strains of yeast, each effectively missing a pair of genes. By watching to see whether the yeast lived, died or grew sickly, the researchers generated data about the existence of relationships between the genes.

Now Boone, Andrews and a large team of collaborators have published inScience a sprawling report on the nearly two-decade-long set of experiments. In all, they found 550,000 pairs that, when removed, result in sickness or death. This network of genetic connections reveals a previously hidden scaffolding that underlies the operation of the cell. “The complete picture,” Boone said, “clearly shows a beautiful hierarchical structure.”

Over here are the genes involved in taking out the cell’s garbage, and over there are the genes responsible for its metabolism. Zoom out from one cluster of genes, and you’ll find the ones involved in the larger process the cluster is nested in. Zoom out from those and you’ll find all the ones that function alongside them in the same compartment of the cell. There’s something vertiginous in this view of life, a feeling that all the layers of complexity that let the organism thrive are there to look through, just as they were laid down by evolution.

As beautiful as the bird’s-eye view of the cell is, this work goes beyond biological voyeurism. This information can tell us about the evolution of the cell and, potentially, about how things go wrong in disease.

Magisterial Maps

Using maps of interactions between genes or proteins is a popular approach to understanding the cell these days. Many researchers, looking at organisms from yeast to worms to humans, are building networks made up of proteins that attach to each other or genes that regulate each other. But the scale of Boone and Andrews’ effort sets it apart. In addition, their method can uncover connections that can’t be made by other tests, like those that focus on proteins that physically attach to one another. “It’s really a magisterial undertaking,” said David Botstein, the chief scientific officer of Google’s anti-aging startup Calico and a pioneer of genome mapping. When Boone and Andrews’ goal of knocking out all possible pairs of genes was floated years ago, “people thought, well, it’s just insane!” recalled Marian Walhout, a systems biologist at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Even today, with advances in technology, it’s breathtaking, she said.

With the new information and the website where it can be navigated, researchers will be able to look up the genes they study and perhaps find that they have connections that have never been noticed before. “That utility is going to be, I predict, one of the major uses of the paper,” Botstein said. Earlier this month the yeast biochemist Yoshinori Ohsumi was awarded the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for his work on autophagy, the programmed destruction of pieces of the cell. “If he were doing his work now, he could go look at this data and see which genes genetically interact with the autophagy genes, and make huge progress much more quickly,” Walhout said.

For those of us who are not scientists, the research also provides an interesting reminder that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 October 2016 at 1:33 pm

Posted in Evolution, Science

We Live in a Gentlemen’s C- Universe

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Kevin Drum has an interesting conjecture.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 October 2016 at 12:52 pm

Posted in Science

Donald Trump Knows Nothing About His Own Businesses

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Kevin Drum makes a good point:

With only 14 days left before Election Day, it hardly feels worth it to highlight Donald Trump’s latest public declaration of ignorance, but I have another point to make about today’s Trump Follies. Here is Donald on Obamacare:

Well, I don’t use much Obamacare, I must be honest with you, because it is so bad for the people and they can’t afford it. And like, for instance, I’m at Trump National Doral in Miami, and we don’t even use Obamacare. We don’t want it. The people don’t want it, and I spend more money on health coverage, but we don’t use it.

The obvious point to make is that Trump obviously has no idea what Obamacare is. He’s apparently under the impression that it’s some kind of option that employers can choose as group insurance for their employees. Ha ha. What an idiot.

And that’s true enough. But did you notice something else? Once again, Trump has made it clear that he has no idea how his own businesses are run. This is hardly the first time, either. As near as I can tell, Trump’s job as CEO of the Trump Organization is to (a) watch a lot of TV, (b) appear on a lot of TV, (c) make command decisions about what kind of marble to use in the bathrooms, and (d) threaten to sue people who get in his way. Beyond that, he appears to play no real role in running things.

This explains, for example, . . .

Continue reading.

The whole thing is definitely worth reading. It concludes:

. . . His presidential campaign is the same thing. He thought it sounded neat to run for president but had no interest in how campaigns are actually run. If he ever became president, it would be more of the same. He’d run the country the way he runs his golf courses: making windswept exits from helicopters to deliver grand statements, and then quickly losing all interest. At best, things would toddle along without catastrophe if he picked decent people to run things. At worst, he’d pick fellow con men who would embroil him in endless scandals that made Teapot Dome look like a child’s lark.

Luckily, we’ll never have to find out.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 October 2016 at 11:48 am

Posted in Election, GOP

Christopher Marlowe identified as co-author to Shakespeare’s Henry VI

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Whether Shakespeare wrote the plays attributed to him has long been debated, with various other contenders supported by various factions. (Mark Twain opined that the Iliad was not written by Homer, but by another man of the same name.)

Now we have big data weighing in. Travis Andrews reports in the Washington Post:

For many, many years, scholars have wondered whether William Shakespeare’s plays were actually written by Shakespeare, or at least if they were written solely by the man we now colloquially refer to as the Bard.

Although the arguments about his authorship have raged for two centuries, his plays have been printed and reprinted and reprinted again, bearing his name. Now, for the first time and with a bit of help from computers and big data, the Oxford University Press will add Christopher Marlowe as a co-author in all three “Henry VI” plays (Parts 1, 2 and 3).

Marlowe was a contemporary and, some say, rival of Shakespeare’s. As the Poetry Foundation put it, “The achievement of Christopher Marlowe, poet and dramatist, was enormous — surpassed only by that of his exact contemporary, Shakespeare.”

Rivals though they may have been, scholars have long thought Shakespeare might have collaborated with Marlowe, among other contemporary writers.

After all, as the New York Times noted, playwriting then was structured much the way scriptwriting is today — an author received an advance to write an outline, then the theater that owned the outline would hire different writers to fill in different parts, depending on what they wrote well (the way comedian Patton Oswalt, for example, might be called in to add jokes to a finished script).

“Shakespeare, like other geniuses, recognized the value of other people,” Gary Taylor, a professor at Florida State University and one of the editors who led the research, told the Associated Press. “What is Shakespeare famous for? Writing dialogue — interactions between two people. You would expect in his life there would be dialogue with other people.”

To find out if collaboration occurred, 23 international scholars performed text analysis by scanning through Marlowe’s (and other contemporary writers’) works, creating computerized data sets of the words and phrases he would repeat, along with how he did so — all of the idiosyncrasies that comprise one’s writing. Once they had a solid sample set of unique patterns, the Times noted, they cross-referenced it with Shakespeare’s plays.

The result? . . .

Continue reading.

See also this report in the Guardian: “Christopher Marlowe credited as one of Shakespeare’s co-writers.”

Written by LeisureGuy

25 October 2016 at 10:22 am

Pentagon ethics: Reneging on their payment of enlistment bonuses.

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What would you think of someone who offer to pay you for a job—to plow a field, say. You accept the money, plow the field, and then the person who paid you demands the money back, now that the field’s been plowed? I would say he’s a cheat and a scoundrel and has no sense of honor, but the US military is doing much the same. (The US military talks a lot about honor, but routinely conducts itself in dishonorable ways—perhaps that’s why honor is always in the forefront of its mind). The military made an offer (a re-elistment bonus) in return those who accepted the offer re-enlisted and served another tour of duty at the risk of their lives (and some surely were killed or maimed). Now that the military has gotten what it wanted (troops serving more tours in combat), it wants its money back. It was to have its cake and eat it too.

I don’t understand why this is even a problem: the military made the offer, which was accepted and the transaction completed with the tour of duty. If the offer was bad, that’s the military’s problem: those to whom the offer were made accepted it as a good-faith offer, and so far as I see have zero obligation to return the money, particularly since the military got what it paid for.

Here’s the story. Congress should act. And the military should be ashamed, except the military generally shows little concern for the well-being of its troops.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 October 2016 at 10:07 am

Posted in Military

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