Later On

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

Archive for October 18th, 2006

No-fly lists: stupider than we thought

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From CBS News, the story of how the Bush Administration protects you:

Anyone who has passed through an airport in the last five years and has been pulled aside for extra screening knows that the government and the airlines keep a list of people they consider to be security threats. Every time you check in at the ticket counter your name is run through a computer to make sure you are not on something called the “No Fly List.” It’s part of a secret government database compiled after 9/11 to prevent suspected terrorists from getting on airplanes. As correspondent Steve Kroft reports, if your name is on the list or even similar to someone on the list, you can be detained for hours.

Who is on it and how valuable is it to national security? 60 Minutes managed to obtain a copy of the No Fly List and without giving away any national secrets, found it to be incomplete, inaccurate, outdated and a source of aggravation for thousand of innocent Americans.
It began as a project of the highest priority. In 2003, President Bush directed the nation’s intelligence agencies and the FBI to cooperate in creating a single watch list of suspected terrorists. A version of that list is given to the airlines and the Transportation Security Administration to prevent anyone considered a threat to civilian aviation from boarding a plane. The government won’t divulge the criteria it uses in making up the list or even how many names are on it. But last spring, working with a government watchdog group called the National Security News Service, 60 Minutes was able to obtain a copy of the No Fly List from someone in aviation security who wanted us to see what the bureaucracy had wrought.

The first surprise was the sheer size of it. In paper form it is more than 540 pages long. Before 9/11, the government’s list of suspected terrorists banned from air travel totaled just 16 names; today there are 44,000. And that doesn’t include people the government thinks should be pulled aside for additional security screening. There are another 75,000 people on that list.

With Joe Trento of the National Security News Service, 60 Minutes spent months going over the names on the No Fly List. While it is classified as sensitive, even members of Congress have been denied access to it. But that may have less to do with national security than avoiding embarrassment.

Asked what the quality is of the information that the TSA gets from the CIA, the NSA and the FBI, Trento says “Well, you know about our intelligence before we went to war in Iraq. You know what that was like. Not too good.”

“This is much worse,” Trento argues. “It’s awful, it’s bad. I mean you’ve got people who are dead on the list. You’ve got people you know are 80 years old on the list. It makes no sense.” Read the rest of this entry »

Written by LeisureGuy

18 October 2006 at 8:17 pm

Set up a firewall bank account

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This is pretty clever: setting up a bank account that’s used as a firewall:

One way to fight this problem by keeping a “firewall” checking or savings account. Basically, if you do a lot of online transactions with payment processors like PayPal or Neteller, or are simply paranoid about identity theft in general, you can set up an separate, empty bank account to act as a buffer. Let me illustrate:

More at the link. And with on-line banking, the inconvenience he notes is minimized.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 October 2006 at 6:24 pm

Posted in Daily life, Technology

Custom mix sleep-inducing sounds

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Very cool: get the mix you want. There are also MP3 downloads at the site.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 October 2006 at 4:22 pm

Posted in Daily life, Software

San Diego likes corrupt politicians

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Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA), who’s been under federal investigation since May for his ties to his friend, lobbyist Bill Lowery, has spent nearly $800,000 on legal fees since his troubles began.

He dropped $200,000 on a legal retrainer for his high-powered team back in June. Since then, he’s paid out approximately $569,000 more, according to his most recent FEC filing.

The amount puts Lewis in the big leagues in terms of legal spending. Rep. Bob Ney (R-OH), for example, who pled guilty earlier this month to accepting bribes from Jack Abramoff, has reported spending less than half as much on his lawyer. Former Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX), by contrast, has run up legal bills exceeding $2 million.

Lewis, of course, can afford to spend his campaign’s dollars. He’s coasting to reelection despite the investigation, and reports having $1 million in the bank.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 October 2006 at 11:05 am

Posted in Election, GOP, Government

How bad is the GOP Congress? Very, very bad

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Read this article, if you have the stomach:

There is very little that sums up the record of the U.S. Congress in the Bush years better than a half-mad boy-addict put in charge of a federal commission on child exploitation. After all, if a hairy-necked, raincoat-clad freak like Rep. Mark Foley can get himself named co-chairman of the House Caucus on Missing and Exploited Children, one can only wonder: What the hell else is going on in the corridors of Capitol Hill these days?

These past six years were more than just the most shameful, corrupt and incompetent period in the history of the American legislative branch. These were the years when the U.S. parliament became a historical punch line, a political obscenity on par with the court of Nero or Caligula—a stable of thieves and perverts who committed crimes rolling out of bed in the morning and did their very best to turn the mighty American empire into a debt-laden, despotic backwater, a Burkina Faso with cable.

To be sure, Congress has always been a kind of muddy ideological cemetery, a place where good ideas go to die in a maelstrom of bureaucratic hedging and rank favor-trading. Its whole history is one long love letter to sleaze, idiocy and pigheaded, glacial conservatism. That Congress exists mainly to misspend our money and snore its way through even the direst political crises is something we Americans understand instinctively. “There is no native criminal class except Congress,” Mark Twain said—a joke that still provokes a laugh of recognition a hundred years later.

But the 109th Congress is no mild departure from the norm, no slight deviation in an already-underwhelming history. No, this is nothing less than a historic shift in how our democracy is run. The Republicans who control this Congress are revolutionaries, and they have brought their revolutionary vision for the House and Senate quite unpleasantly to fruition. In the past six years they have castrated the political minority, abdicated their oversight responsibilities mandated by the Constitution, enacted a conscious policy of massive borrowing and unrestrained spending, and installed a host of semipermanent mechanisms for transferring legislative power to commercial interests. They aimed far lower than any other Congress has ever aimed, and they nailed their target.

“The 109th Congress is so bad that it makes you wonder if democracy is a failed experiment,” says Jonathan Turley, a noted constitutional scholar and the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington Law School. “I think that if the Framers went to Capitol Hill today, it would shake their confidence in the system they created. Congress has become an exercise of raw power with no principles — and in that environment corruption has flourished. The Republicans in Congress decided from the outset that their future would be inextricably tied to George Bush and his policies. It has become this sad session of members sitting down and drinking Kool-Aid delivered by Karl Rove. Congress became a mere extension of the White House.”

The end result is a Congress that has hijacked the national treasury, frantically ceded power to the executive, and sold off the federal government in a private auction. It all happened before our very eyes. In case you missed it, here’s how they did it—in five easy steps:


Continue reading…

Written by LeisureGuy

18 October 2006 at 10:21 am

Posted in Election, GOP, Government

Stand up to Bush, lose your job

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It’s well known that Bush wants only yes-men and yes-women around him. But his desire to keep himself insulated from any possible criticism reaches out further than just his immediate circle:

Had Charles Swift been an attorney with any U.S. law firm, he would’ve been rewarded with a cash bonus and promotion to partner. Against agonizing odds, Swift went before the U.S. Supreme Court representing an Arab terrorism suspect and beat the U.S. government by successfully arguing that President Bush’s kangaroo court military tribunals were unconstitutional.

However, Swift’s triumph—hailed as “brilliant” by colleagues and earning The National Law Journal’s “Lawyer of the Year” runner-up honors—cost Swift his career: He’s a U.S. Navy lieutenant commander-attorney being passed over for promotion. So, under the “up or out” policy, the Naval Academy graduate and 20-year veteran will retire next spring, presumably thereupon overwhelmed with law firm job offers.

Swift’s no-promotion fate, which the Pentagon unconvincingly dismisses as sheer coincidence, is no rarity: The ranks of those fired or who “retire” for embarrassing Bush & Co. by discrediting its policies are growing.

Fired—Retired Army Lt. Gen. Jay Garner, first director of Iraq reconstruction, after disputing White House plans and suggesting Iraqi elections after the 2003 invasion and keeping the Iraqi military command intact.

Fired—National Parks Police Chief Teresa Chambers, after confirming to reporters inadequate funds to patrol Washington’s parks after 9/11.

Fired—Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, after opposing President Bush’s tax cuts.

Fired—White House economic adviser Larry Lindsey, after estimating Iraq war costs as high as $100 billion, despite Bush claims of $50 billion. Real costs: $300 billion and counting.

Fired—Corps of Engineers director Mike Parker after telling congress that budget cuts would have a “negative” impact on Corps projects.

Demoted—Pentagon contracting official Bunnatine Greenhouse after criticizing no-bid contracts for Halliburton, Vice President Cheney’s old firm.

Demoted—Acting U.S. attorney for Guam, Frederick Black, after issuing a subpoena for contracts between corrupt lobbyist Jack Abramoff (and frequent White House visitor) and the Guam Superior Court.

Fired—Dr. Jonathan Fishbein, National Institutes of Health official, after criticizing research standards violations and a coverup.

Fired—Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki, after saying publicly several hundred thousand troops would be needed in Iraq to quell insurgents, not a smaller force advocated by Defense secretary Rumsfeld. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by LeisureGuy

18 October 2006 at 10:04 am

The GOP, living large on taxpayer dollars

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This is, in a word, disgusting:

When a senior official at the Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Bureau told former ATF director Carl Truscott that the agency could not afford his hiring plan, the onetime Secret Service agent called her pessimistic.

“You keep raining on my parade,” Truscott said, according to an Oct. 11 report by Justice Department Inspector General Glenn Fine.

In the course of detailing questionable expenditures and mismanagement by Truscott, the report describes senior ATF managers trying, with mixed success, to scale back expensive initiatives pushed by the director in pursuit of what he called his “vision.”

According to the report, Truscott, who resigned in August, violated ethics rules by ordering employees to help his nephew with a high school video project. Among a dozen instances of poor judgement cited in the report, Truscott wasted tens of thousands of dollars by taking unnecessary trips with an entourage. And he asked two female assistants, a GS-12 and GS-13, to prepare lunch for him and visitors, and to then announce, “Lunch is served, sir.”

But poor judgement and questionable management by Truscott, who formerly headed President Bush’s security detail, extended beyond personal extravagance. He squandered millions through an ill-advised hiring plan and last-minute changes to the design of ATF’s new headquarters, the IG report said. He would have wasted more if subordinates had not stopped him, it added. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by LeisureGuy

18 October 2006 at 9:56 am

Olive-Leaf Extract for the skin

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The Wife says that this stuff really works. It’s also the only product that really consists mostly of olive-leaf extract—the others she’s seen list ingredients as a long list of chemicals, the “olive-leaf extract,” and then another long list of chemicals.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 October 2006 at 9:40 am

Posted in Daily life

Why the Mariannas situation is bad

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You’ll recall that Ken Mehlman was doing Abramoff’s dirty work when he arranged for the firing of the State Department official who was standing between Abramoff and Tom DeLay and what they had promised. Josh Marshall quotes a reader who summarizes the story:

What no one seems to want to report is that Tom DeLay promised the garment industry in the Marianna Islands that the government would stay out of their sweat-shop affairs. DeLay got Abramhoff to get Mehlman to make sure the right guys were in control. That’s because the garment industry of the Islands had basically kidnapped Asian woman who paid a price to get to the United States for work. Since the Marianna’s are a US commonwealth, the garment industry can technically put “Made in the USA” labels on their products, but in reality, the garments are made in mediocre-paying sweat shops by captive labor who are also forced into prostitution and also forced to get abortions if they get pregnant. This is what DeLay, Mehlman, Abramhoff and company were getting paid to protect. Let’s get that story out, please.

And it’s worse: a Texas Congressman slandered one of the 15-year-old sex slaves at Abramoff’s request.

This is why it’s so important to recognize that Mehlman was the person who had Stayman (the State Department official who was blocking Abramoff in his scheme) fired. (Mehlman, BTW, changes his story as more evidence emerges: “As the scandal surrounding Abramoff has inched closer to the White House, Mehlman has gone from claiming Abramoff was ‘someone we don’t know a lot about‘ in January, to knowing him ‘in various capacities‘ in April and conceding that he had known Abramoff since the mid-1990s in October.”

And, from AmericaBlog, here’s why we don’t respect much of the media:

Exhibit A of the media’s failure to question Mehlman on the Abramoff scandal is Newsweek’s Howard Fineman who wrote one of his “I’m so inside” columns about having dinner with Ken. This is as close as Fineman got to mentioning the major scandal brewing around Mehlman:

Mehlman is a tough, unsentimental guy — a stickler for detail who is also eager to deal in big ideas and big issues. Not yet 40, a graduate of Harvard Law School, he got his political training in Texas as a protégé of Karl Rove.

Mehlman has been “Karl Rove’s Karl Rove” for nearly a decade: tinged, though not singed, by controversy — and yet was voted “Campaign Manager of the Year” by fellow political consultants for his handling of Bush-Cheney in ’04.

That’s it. Abramoff’s name never appeared in the column. From what I can tell, they had dinner last night — after the LA Times article [see below – LG] appeared.

Note to Howard: Ethics, corruption and cover-ups are a major theme in the elections this year.

Here’s the LA Times’s story of Stayman’s firing: Read the rest of this entry »

Written by LeisureGuy

18 October 2006 at 9:24 am

Blue Cross caught illegally cancelling patient insurance

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Well, at least caught for some illegal cancellations. Here’s the heart of the complaint:

The suits accuse Blue Cross of routinely violating state laws prohibiting insurers from canceling coverage unless a policyholder lied to obtain it. The suits allege that the application questionnaires were intentionally vague and confusing and were designed to trap applicants into making innocent mistakes that could later be used as excuses to cancel coverage. Blue Cross, according to the suits, scrutinized questionnaires only after it received a claim for a costly or potentially chronic condition.

At least five other health insurers, including Blue Shield of California, face similar lawsuits filed by customers. In recent weeks, two state agencies that oversee the industry have expanded investigations into the alleged practice. Last month the Department of Managed Health Care issued its first fine — $200,000 against Blue Cross — after finding that the company improperly revoked a Southern California woman’s policy. The amount of the fine was criticized by consumer advocates as insignificant for WellPoint.

This is exactly why it’s important the government play the role of consumer advocate against large businesses, rather than reinforcing the power of large business to destroy individual consumers and workers. On this issue, the Democratic party is right, and the GOP—which believes government should at least take a “hands-off” attitude toward business, but generally acts to increase the power of business—is wrong.

And here’s the full article: Read the rest of this entry »

Written by LeisureGuy

18 October 2006 at 9:02 am

Posted in Business, Health, Medical

Attention, scholars & professionals

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A directory of open-access journals: “This service covers free, full text, quality controlled scientific and scholarly journals. We aim to cover all subjects and languages. There are now 2420 journals in the directory. Currently 709 journals are searchable at article level. As of today 118164 articles are included in the DOAJ service.”

Written by LeisureGuy

18 October 2006 at 8:51 am

Posted in Education, Science

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