Later On

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

Archive for February 25th, 2007

Democratic presidential candidates & the issues

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Six years ago a man unsuited both by intellect and by temperament for high office somehow ended up running the country.

How did that happen? First, he got the Republican nomination by locking up the big money early.

Then, he got within chad-and-butterfly range of the White House because the public, enthusiastically encouraged by many in the news media, treated the presidential election like a high school popularity contest. The successful candidate received kid-gloves treatment — and a free pass on the fuzzy math of his policy proposals — because he seemed like a fun guy to hang out with, while the unsuccessful candidate was subjected to sniggering mockery over his clothing and his mannerisms.

Today, with thousands of Americans and tens of thousands of Iraqis dead thanks to presidential folly, with Al Qaeda resurgent and Afghanistan on the brink, you’d think we would have learned a lesson. But the early signs aren’t encouraging.

“Presidential elections are high school writ large, of course,” declared Newsweek’s Howard Fineman last month. Oh, my goodness. But in fairness to Mr. Fineman, he was talking about the almost content-free rivalry between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama — a rivalry that, at this point, is mainly a struggle over who’s the bigger celebrity and gets to lock up the big donors.

Enough already. Let’s make this election about the issues. Let’s demand that presidential candidates explain what they propose doing about the real problems facing the nation, and judge them by how they respond.

I know the counterargument: you can’t tell in advance what challenges a president may face, so you should vote for the person, not the policy details. But how do you judge the person? Public images can be deeply misleading: remember when Dick Cheney had gravitas? The best way to judge politicians is by how they respond to hard policy questions.

So here are some questions for the Democratic hopefuls. (I’ll talk about the Republicans another time.)

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Written by Leisureguy

25 February 2007 at 8:50 pm

Posted in Democrats, Election

Yet another example of corruption & incompetence

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This is typical of those whom Bush appoints—though this person is not a Bush appointee. He, as pointed out in the comment, is appointed by a Board of Regents. So, though having the typical characteristics of a Bush appointee, he’s not one of them:

Set aside, for the moment, Smithsonian Secretary Lawrence Small’s conviction for violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Set aside, too, that he petitioned the judge to allow him to perform his 100 hours of community service by reading about that law and the Endangered Species Act, and coming up with ways to change those laws.

Set aside, too, the fact that Small has presided over a Smithsonian which is falling behind in critical maintenance, with reports of severe roof leaks in the collections. Set aside the institution’s wrong-headed almost-endorsement of Privileged Planet, a creationist movie.

Lawrence Small’s lack of qualifications for the trust he holds, the power over our “nation’s attic,” and the premier scientific collections it holds, is demonstrated most clearly by the “lavish” lifestyle he has funded on the Smithsonian’s – and the taxpayers’ – dime:

Lawrence M. Small, the top official at the Smithsonian Institution, accumulated nearly $90,000 in unauthorized expenses from 2000 to 2005, including charges for chartered jet travel, his wife’s trip to Cambodia, hotel rooms, luxury car service, catered staff meals and expensive gifts, according to confidential findings by the Smithsonian inspector general.”Many transactions were not properly documented or were not in accordance with Smithsonian policies,” acting Inspector General A. Sprightley Ryan wrote on Jan. 16 to the Smithsonian Board of Regents Audit and Review Committee. “Some transactions might be considered lavish or extravagant.”

Dr. Myers is, if anything, insufficiently outraged. The Smithsonian is not just a great set of institutions for public education, they are vital to scientific research. Small’s enormous salary, his abuse of private jets, his purchases of expensive meals in contravention of Smithsonian policies, his accounting chicanery with a mortgage for a house he owes nothing on, all have deprived that institution of vital funds.Shortly after taking power, Small tried to shutter the Smithsonian’s Conservation and Research Center, and to close the Center for Materials Research and Education. The latter is where Smithsonian researchers work on preservation of unique items like space suits and other national treasures. Due to overwhelming opposition, his bid to defund those branches was rejected.

Combined with his flouting of federal laws on the trade in endangered species, that incident showed that Small’s priorities were not in line with the Smithsonian’s scientific mission.

Under Small, the Smithsonian has been used as a tool to take the people’s goods away from them. Through corporate sponsorships like those the New Republic chronicles, and a deal with Showtime to give them the right of first refusal of any documentary using film of Smithsonian collections or personnel, Small is slowly selling off museums given to the American people. He claims this is meant to resolve funding problems. If so, he might start the path to financial solvency by examining his own pockets.

UPDATE: More on the Board of Regents: members include the Vice President (Cheney) and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court (was Rehnquist, now is John Roberts); three members appointed by the President pro tempore of the Senate (by tradition, the senior member of the majority party): Thad Cochran (R-MS), Bill Frist (R-TN), and Patrick Leahy (D-VT); and three members appointed by the Speaker of the House: Sam Johnson (R-TX), Ralph Regula (R-OH), and Xavier Becerra (D-CA). The appointments will doubtless change, but right now you can see that GOP is solidly in control. In addition, 9 members are appointed by Joint Resolution of Congress—this was a joint resolution of the GOP Congress, so you can guess the tilt. Quite a few heads of companies.

So the current Director of the Smithsonian is more a creature of the GOP than of Bush in particular. My bad for the initial version of the post, which put the blame on Bush. It rightly belongs to the GOP.

Written by Leisureguy

25 February 2007 at 8:44 pm

Posted in Congress, GOP, Government

Popcorn success

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So I’ve tried putting red pepper flakes in with the popcorn while I pop it (bad idea), sprinkling the popcorn with Penzey’s hot chili powder as I butter it, sprinkling the popcorn with cayenne as I butter it, and finally I have it: a good dash of You Can’t Handle This Hot Sauce on the butter. After the butter melts, stir it all together, then pour over the popcorn and sprinkle liberally with McCormack’s Lemon Pepper. Just right: got some zip, a touch of lemon, and enough salt. Very pleasant.

Written by Leisureguy

25 February 2007 at 6:29 pm

Helpful praise vs. hurtful praise

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I blogged earlier about how to praise children in such a way that it doesn’t damage them. I see now that the psychologist whose work was reported on in that article, Carol Dweck of Stanford University, has a book: Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. It seems as though it’s a book that will be worth reading, especially by parents.

Written by Leisureguy

25 February 2007 at 4:17 pm

8 Federal prosecutors fired because they were good

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They were going after corruption, etc., and the Justice Department doesn’t want that. The NY Times finds that the prosecutors (fired, the Justice Department says, because of performance problems) had excellent performance reviews. “Oh,” says Justice Department. “Well, those reviews didn’t mention the firing offenses….”

Internal Justice Department performance reports for six of the eight United States attorneys who have been dismissed in recent months rated them “well regarded,” “capable” or “very competent,” a review of the evaluations shows.

The performance reviews, known as Evaluations and Review Staff Reports, show that the ousted prosecutors were routinely praised for playing a leadership role with other law enforcement agencies in their jurisdictions.

The reviews, each of them 6 to 12 pages long, were carried out by Justice Department officials from 2003 to 2006. Each report was based on extensive interviews, conducted over several days with judges, other federal law enforcement agencies and staff members in each office.

It had been known that the reports were mostly favorable, but the reports themselves had not been made public.

Over all, the evaluations, which were obtained from officials authorized to have them, appear to raise new questions about the rationale for the dismissals provided by senior Justice Department officials. The officials have repeatedly cited poor job performance to explain their decisions to oust the eight prosecutors, all of them Republicans appointed by President Bush in his first term.

On Saturday, Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, who has led a Congressional investigation into the dismissals and has been briefed on the evaluations, said the reports showed that new legislation was needed to keep the Justice Department from politically motivated firings.

“As we feared, the comprehensive evaluations show these U.S. attorneys did not deserve to be fired,” Mr. Schumer said. “To the contrary, they reveal they were effective, respected and set appropriate priorities.”

In response, a senior Justice Department official said the reviews, which focused on management practices within each United States attorney’s office, did not provide a broad or complete picture of the prosecutors’ performance.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the confidential nature of personnel information, said, “The reviews don’t take into account whether the U.S. attorneys carried out departmental priorities.”

Referring to the 94 United States attorney’s districts, the official said, “You can’t have 94 different sets of priorities,” suggesting that the dismissed prosecutors had failed to follow priorities set by the Justice Department in Washington.

However, each case report included a statement that each of the ousted prosecutors had established strategic goals set by the Justice Department in high priority areas like counterterrorism, narcotics and gun violence.

Of the dismissed prosecutors who have spoken publicly, all have said they were given no reason for their dismissal. At first, most appeared willing to leave quietly with the understanding that they were presidential appointees who could be replaced at any time.

But their willingness to step down without complaint changed abruptly when Paul J. McNulty, the deputy attorney general, said at a Senate hearing earlier this month that most of the dismissals were carried out to correct performance problems, according to associates of several prosecutors.

In recent days, several of the prosecutors have described conflicts with the Justice Department over death penalty cases and pending political corruption investigations as a possible factor in their firings. Justice Department officials have denied such issues were a factor.

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Written by Leisureguy

25 February 2007 at 3:47 pm

Generals will resign if Iran War begins

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From the Sunday Times, pointed out by Alert Reader:

Some of America’s most senior military commanders are prepared to resign if the White House orders a military strike against Iran, according to highly placed defence and intelligence sources.

Tension in the Gulf region has raised fears that an attack on Iran is becoming increasingly likely before President George Bush leaves office. The Sunday Times has learnt that up to five generals and admirals are willing to resign rather than approve what they consider would be a reckless attack.

“There are four or five generals and admirals we know of who would resign if Bush ordered an attack on Iran,” a source with close ties to British intelligence said. “There is simply no stomach for it in the Pentagon, and a lot of people question whether such an attack would be effective or even possible.”

A British defence source confirmed that there were deep misgivings inside the Pentagon about a military strike. “All the generals are perfectly clear that they don’t have the military capacity to take Iran on in any meaningful fashion. Nobody wants to do it and it would be a matter of conscience for them.

“There are enough people who feel this would be an error of judgment too far for there to be resignations.”

A generals’ revolt on such a scale would be unprecedented. “American generals usually stay and fight until they get fired,” said a Pentagon source. Robert Gates, the defence secretary, has repeatedly warned against striking Iran and is believed to represent the view of his senior commanders.

The threat of a wave of resignations coincided with a warning by Vice-President Dick Cheney that all options, including military action, remained on the table. He was responding to a comment by Tony Blair that it would not “be right to take military action against Iran”.

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Written by Leisureguy

25 February 2007 at 3:19 pm

The more things change…

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From the Political Animal:

THEN AND NOW….February 2003:

While diplomatic maneuvering continues over Turkish bases and a new United Nations resolution, inside Iraq, U.N. arms inspectors are privately complaining about the quality of U.S. intelligence and accusing the United States of sending them on wild-goose chases….So frustrated have the inspectors become that one source has referred to the U.S. intelligence they’ve been getting as “garbage after garbage after garbage.”

February 2007:

Diplomats [in Vienna] say most U.S. intelligence shared with the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency has proved inaccurate and none has led to significant discoveries inside Iran….”Since 2002, pretty much all the intelligence that’s come to us has proved to be wrong,” a senior diplomat at the IAEA said. Another official here described the agency’s intelligence stream as “very cold now” because “so little panned out.”

Noted without comment.

Written by Leisureguy

25 February 2007 at 3:16 pm

Bush funding al-Qaeda

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This is absolutely incredible. Bush is simply mad. First he’s accused the Iranian government (Shiites) of funneling arms to be used on attacks on the US troops (almost all attacks are by Sunnis—Shiites arming Sunnis in Iraq? Doesn’t seem likely). And now he’s channeling money to the Sunni jihadists. Does the name Osama bin Laden ring a bell? I know that Bush and his minions are now saying that Osama is no big deal (when they’re not saying he’s a menace), but this is beyond the pale. From ThinkProgress:

New Yorker columnist Sy Hersh says the “single most explosive” element of his latest article involves an effort by the Bush administration to stem the growth of Shiite influence in the Middle East (specifically the Iranian government and Hezbollah in Lebanon) by funding violent Sunni groups.

Hersh says the U.S. has been “pumping money, a great deal of money, without congressional authority, without any congressional oversight” for covert operations in the Middle East where it wants to “stop the Shiite spread or the Shiite influence.” Hersh says these funds have ended up in the hands of “three Sunni jihadist groups” who are “connected to al Qaeda” but “want to take on Hezbollah.”

Hersh summed up his scoop in stark terms: “We are simply in a situation where this president is really taking his notion of executive privilege to the absolute limit here, running covert operations, using money that was not authorized by Congress, supporting groups indirectly that are involved with the same people that did 9/11.” Watch it.

Hersh added, “All of this should be investigated by Congress, by the way, and I trust it will be. In my talking to membership — members there, they are very upset that they know nothing about this. And they have great many suspicions.”


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Written by Leisureguy

25 February 2007 at 3:07 pm

Shrimp & Salmon Cakes with Spicy Dipping Sauce

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These sound just delightful. And they look good, too.

Written by Leisureguy

25 February 2007 at 12:12 pm

Posted in Recipes & Cooking

How to eat garlic for health purposes

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From the latest issue of New Scientist:

To get the best health benefits from garlic, crush it and let it stand for 10 minutes, then eat it raw or cook it for less than 6 minutes.

The crushing breaks open cell membranes to release alliinase, an enzyme vital for creating anti-clotting compounds, the most active being allicin and thiosulphinate. In uncrushed garlic the alliinase remains locked away.

Further experiments led by Claudio Galmarini of INTA-EEA, a food consultancy in Mendoza, Argentina, showed that leaving the garlic to stand allows time for the alliinase to get to work creating the blood-thinning compounds, while overcooking destroys the enzyme (Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, vol 55, p 1280).

I had read about this previously, but it’s good to have a recent reference. So I’m thinking now about how to eat this crushed garlic:

  • Salad dressing
  • Whipped into melted butter for popcorn
  • Added at the end to sauces and the like

What else?

Written by Leisureguy

25 February 2007 at 11:57 am

Posted in Food, Recipes & Cooking

Late start

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If you leave your Logitech MX Revolution out until the little battery light is red, it doesn’t work so well. Left and right mouse movement, but no up and down. After waiting for it to recharge—and that taking a long, long time—I went to Circuit City to get a cheap USB backup mouse. So here I am at last, fully coffeed and ready to roll.

Written by Leisureguy

25 February 2007 at 11:54 am

Posted in Daily life, Technology

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