Later On

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

Archive for January 15th, 2007

The fix is in for Big Business

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Thanks to that good old GOP Administration:

Top officials at the Internal Revenue Service are pushing agents to prematurely close audits of big companies with agreements to have them pay only a fraction of the additional taxes that could be collected, according to dozens of I.R.S. employees who say that the policy is costing the government billions of dollars a year.

“It’s catch and release,” said Douglas R. Johnson, an I.R.S. auditor in Colorado for three decades who said he grew so frustrated at how large corporations were allowed to pay far less than what he thought they owed that he transferred to the agency’s small-business division.

With one exception, other working agents would talk about the issue only on condition they not be identified because they feared being fired. They said a policy intended to avoid delays in auditing corporations was being pushed so rigidly that it prevented them from pursuing numerous examples of questionable corporate tax deductions.

I.R.S. officials said the complaints were misguided. In an interview yesterday, Debbie Nolan, the I.R.S. executive in charge of auditing large and medium-size businesses, denied that audits were being closed over the objections of agents who had evidence that significant additional taxes were owed. Ms. Nolan said she had not heard any such complaints from auditors.

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Written by LeisureGuy

15 January 2007 at 7:52 pm

The information theory version of quantum mechanics

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Pretty cool. It begins:

“Nobody understands quantum mechanics,” lamented Richard Feynman. But Anton Zeilinger at the University of Vienna aims to prove him wrong. His research group has demonstrated the futuristic phenomena of quantum teleportation and quantum encryption, and these successes have encouraged Zeilinger to search for the essence of quantum mechanics—the irreducible kernel from which everything else flows. He believes that he has found it. If he is right, all the mysteries of the quantum world will turn out to be inescapable consequences of a single, simple idea.

Quantum theory describes the world with astonishing precision, whether applied to elementary particles a hundred thousand times smaller than atoms or to currents in superconducting rings a billion times larger. And yet it seems to present a catalogue of intertwined conundrums. The most fundamental is quantisation, the notion that energy, spin and other quantities only come in discrete steps. Another enigma is the probabilistic nature of the quantum world, at odds with the classical world of definite physical properties. Then there is entanglement, the profound connectedness of objects and processes across large distances, and superposition, the astonishing proposition that an electron can be both here and there, a current can flow simultaneously clockwise and anticlockwise, and a cat can be both dead and alive, until you look to see which.

Physicists have anxiously devised one philosophical interpretation of quantum mechanics after another. In the Copenhagen interpretation, the outcome of an experiment is only revealed when the quantum system interacts with a macroscopic apparatus in the laboratory, which eliminates all possibilities but one. The many-worlds interpretation insists that all possible outcomes of an experiment actually occur in as many parallel universes, but as we only occupy a single branch of the hydra-headed multiverse, we experience only one outcome. Or, if you prefer, there’s the guiding wave interpretation, which assigns an undetectable “pilot wave” to each particle to steer it along a perfectly determined path. Altogether there are at least eight serious and reputable interpretations of the theory, which implies that no single one is convincing.

Zeilinger thinks that before we can truly understand quantum theory, it must be connected in some way to what we know and feel. The problem, he says, is the lack of a simple underlying principle, an Urprinzip. All the other major theories of physics are based on such principles—pithy, comprehensible maxims that anchor the formulae in the everyday world.

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Written by LeisureGuy

15 January 2007 at 7:01 pm

Posted in Science

Good and easy chicken

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I finally got around to making the spicy roasted chicken. Extremely easy, and just as good as it sounds. I cooked half a recipe—two half-breasts, bone in, skin on—and ate one for lunch, another for dinner. Whole Foods didn’t have fresh marjoram, so I used fresh tarragon. To go with, I made a kind of ratatouille, with eggplant, tomatoes, yellow squash, onion, bitter melon, garlic, and whole-wheat orzo. Yummy.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 January 2007 at 5:15 pm

Posted in Food

Finally: the US can again grow industrial hemp

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It took a long time. Note that the DEA has seized control of permission to grow industrial hemp even though it is not a drug and in fact US companies can buy and import it. The DEA is out of control.

David Monson began pushing the idea of growing industrial hemp in the United States a decade ago. Now his goal may be within reach – but first he needs to be fingerprinted.

Monson plans this week to apply to become the nation’s first licensed industrial hemp farmer. He will have to provide two sets of fingerprints and proof that he’s not a criminal.

The farmer, school superintendent and state legislator would like to start by growing 10 acres of the crop, and he spent part of his weekend staking out the field he wants to use.

“I’m starting to see that we maybe have a chance,” Monson said. “For a while, it was getting really depressing.”

Last month, the state Agriculture Department finished its work on rules farmers may use to grow industrial hemp, a cousin of marijuana that does not have the drug’s hallucinogenic properties. The sturdy, fibrous plant is used to make an assortment of products, ranging from paper, rope and lotions to car panels, carpet backing and animal bedding.

Applicants must provide latitude and longitude coordinates for their proposed hemp fields, furnish fingerprints and pay at least $202 in fees, including $37 to cover the cost of criminal record checks.

Agriculture Commissioner Roger Johnson said the federal Drug Enforcement Administration still must give its permission before Monson, or anyone else, may grow industrial hemp.

“That is going to be a major hurdle,” Johnson said.

Another impediment is the DEA’s annual registration fee of $2,293, which is nonrefundable even if the agency does not grant permission to grow industrial hemp. Processing the paperwork for Monson’s license should take about a month, Johnson said.

A DEA spokesman has said North Dakota applications to grow industrial hemp will be reviewed, and Johnson said North Dakota’s rules were developed with the agency’s concerns in mind. Law enforcement officials fear industrial hemp can shield illicit marijuana, although hemp supporters say the concern is unfounded.

North Dakota is one of seven states that have authorized industrial hemp farming. The others are Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Montana and West Virginia, according to Vote Hemp, an industrial hemp advocacy organization based in Bedford, Mass.

California lawmakers approved legislation last year that set out rules for industrial hemp production, but Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed it. The law asserted that the federal government lacked authority to regulate industrial hemp as a drug.

In 2005, U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, introduced legislation to exclude industrial hemp from the definition of marijuana in federal drug laws. It never came to a vote.

Monson farms near Osnabrock, a Cavalier County community in North Dakota’s northeastern corner. He is the assistant Republican majority leader in the North Dakota House and is the school superintendent in Edinburg, which has about 140 students in grades kindergarten through 12.

In 1997, during his second session in the Legislature, Monson successfully pushed a bill to require North Dakota State University to study industrial hemp as an alternative crop for the state’s farmers.

Canada made it legal for farmers to grow the crop in March 1998. Last year, Canadian farmers planted 48,060 acres of hemp, government statistics say. Manitoba and Saskatchewan, the provinces along North Dakota’s northern border, were Canada’s biggest hemp producers.

“I do know that industrial hemp grows really well 20 miles north of me,” Monson said. “I don’t see any reason why that wouldn’t be a major crop for me, if this could go through.”

Written by LeisureGuy

15 January 2007 at 4:26 pm

Posted in Drug laws

Good discussion of DRM

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Digital Rights Management is about greatly limiting your rights so business can make more money. Read this. Excerpt:

In a nutshell: DRM’s sole purpose is to maximize revenues by minimizing your rights so that they can sell them back to you.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 January 2007 at 4:20 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life

Good for the Democratic Congress

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From AP:

Former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham, behind bars for bribery, can at least be consoled by the federal pension he’ll continue to collect. Current or future lawmakers convicted of crimes may not be so lucky.

The Senate on Friday voted 87-0 to strip away the pensions of members of Congress convicted of white-collar crimes such as bribery, perjury, and fraud. That could result in benefit losses of more than $100,000 a year.

“With this vote, we are preventing members of Congress who steal or cheat from receiving a lifelong pension that is paid for by the taxpayers,” said Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., sponsor of the measure with Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo.

The pension measure was attached to a comprehensive ethics and lobbying bill that the Democratic-controlled Senate, trying to improve the image of Congress after the scandals of last year, took up as its first legislative act of the year.

The Democrats’ return to power in both the House and Senate came after a campaign in which they stressed the “culture of corruption” under GOP rule.

Cunningham, R-Calif., was sentenced to more than eight years in prison last year after pleading guilty to receiving $2.4 million in bribes from defense contractors. Among the favors he received were a Rolls Royce, Persian rugs, antique furniture, use of a yacht and a lavish graduation party for his daughter.

Also last December, Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, resigned after pleading guilty to conspiracy and making false statements in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal.

Kerry’s office said that by law Congress cannot take away pensions retroactively and the so-called “Duke Cunningham Act” won’t affect the benefits of Cunningham or Ney. It would also not touch the military benefits of a veteran such as Cunningham.

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Written by LeisureGuy

15 January 2007 at 4:03 pm

Posted in Congress

Bush antics

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Politicizing prosecutors:

The Bush administration has appointed an extreme political partisan as the new United States attorney for Arkansas. Normally, the Senate would have vetted him, and quite possibly blocked his appointment. But the White House took advantage of a little-noticed provision of the Patriot Act, which allows it to do an end run around the Senate.

It is particularly dangerous to put United States attorneys’ offices in the hands of political operatives because federal prosecutors have extraordinary power to issue subpoenas and bring criminal charges. The Senate should fix the law and investigate whether such offices in Arkansas and elsewhere are being politicized.

H. E. Bud Cummins, the respected United States attorney in Little Rock, recently left office. He has been replaced on an interim basis by J. Timothy Griffin, who has a thin legal record but a résumé that includes working for Karl Rove and heading up opposition research for the Republican National Committee. Senator Mark Pryor, Democrat of Arkansas, wanted to raise concerns about Mr. Griffin’s appointment as part of the confirmation process. But he couldn’t because there was no confirmation process.

Mr. Pryor, Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, and Senator Patrick Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, have accused the Bush administration of “pushing out U.S. attorneys from across the country under the cloak of secrecy and then appointing indefinite replacements without Senate confirmation.” The San Diego Union-Tribune has reported that San Diego’s United States attorney was asked to resign, and that even some of her opponents “said the supposed reasons she is being forced out are perplexing.”

There could be unsavory political reasons for putting a party operative in charge of federal criminal investigations in Little Rock, which has been home to two possible presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton and former Gov. Mike Huckabee. But it is not necessary to leap to extravagant conclusions. United States attorneys are so powerful that their impartiality must be beyond question. One way to ensure that is to require them to submit to questions from the Senate, and face a confirmation vote.

Senators Feinstein, Leahy and Pryor have a bill to change the method for selecting interim United States attorneys back to what it once was: the federal district court in the jurisdiction would make the appointment. Congress should pass that bill, and take a hard look at how vacancies are being filled. There might not be fire where the senators see smoke. But Congress should not take any chances.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 January 2007 at 2:30 pm

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