Later On

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

Archive for April 14th, 2007

Top 100 books of the past 25 years

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Via Political Animal. Interesting list. I’ve read some, and Labyrinth, by Kate Mosse is here now from the library.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 April 2007 at 5:40 pm

Posted in Books

Where’s the FDA when you need it?

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Food from China, we now know, can be dangerous:

Pesticide-laden frozen blackberries. Filthy sockeye salmon. Frozen broiled eel that appeared to contain a new animal drug.

All were among the Chinese food imports that have been rejected at Northwest ports in recent months.

But it was contaminated wheat gluten that put the spotlight on a real and frightening fact: China’s chronic food safety woes are now an international concern.

In recent weeks, scores of cats and dogs in America have died of kidney failure blamed on eating pet food containing gluten from China that was tainted with melamine, a chemical used in plastics, fertilizers and flame retardants.

While humans aren’t believed to be at risk, the episode has sharpened concerns over China’s food exports and the limited ability of U.S. inspectors to catch problem shipments.

Just as with manufactured goods, exports of meat, produce and processed foods from China have soared in recent years.

Over the past 25 years, Chinese agricultural exports to the U.S. surged nearly 20-fold, to $2.26 billion last year, led by poultry products, sausage casings, shellfish, spices and apple juice.

In 2006, China was the Port of Seattle’s largest trading partner, with trade of more than $13 billion.

Food is still a small fraction of overseas imports that come through the Port of Seattle, said spokesman Mick Shultz. Food doesn’t even make the list of top 25 items imported through the Seattle port. Clothes, car parts, footwear and electronic parts topped that list.

Still, China’s agricultural exports to Washington grew 41 percent over two years, from $214 million in 2004 to $303 million last year, according to the U.S. Commerce Department. Fish fillets, bird products, animal feed products and dried fruits and nuts led the way in 2006.

But only a tiny fraction ever gets inspected, and that is not good enough, said Jean Halloran, director of food policy initiatives with Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports.

“When they do look, they look for common bacteria or known pesticides,” she said. “If you’ve got some obscure contamination, they would never have a way to catch that.”

A report by The Associated Press found that in 2006, Food and Drug Administration inspectors physically checked only 1.3 percent of imports, about three-quarters of the amount inspected in 2003.

Overall, the FDA is responsible for regulating about 80 percent of the nation’s food supply; the Agriculture Department inspects meat, poultry and eggs, the other 20 percent.

Last month, FDA inspectors rejected 215 shipments from China, which included food, cosmetics and medical supplies. That accounted for 14 percent of the 1,573 detained shipments. Imports from 75 countries were stopped; only India had more than China, with 278.

Chinese products were bounced for containing pesticides, antibiotics and other potentially harmful chemicals, and for false or incomplete labeling.

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 April 2007 at 5:22 pm

What to do when you check your luggage

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According to Business Week, the incidence of lost luggage when traveling by air is up. They have some good tips on how to protect yourself:

For starters, use that camera in your cell phone to take a picture of your suitcase so you can give a good description. Monica Beaupre, a spokeswoman for American Express, says you should also put a copy of your itinerary in your bag. That way the airline can identify and find the owner even if the tags get separated from the luggage.

Pay careful attention when your bag is tagged at check-in, an obvious safeguard that many travelers overlook in their excitement or haste. “It only takes one keystroke to get the airport code wrong at the ticket counter,” says Joe Brancatelli, editor of JoeSentMe, a business travel Web site.

What do you do when you arrive at the airport and your bags don’t? “Never, ever leave until you file the appropriate paperwork and get copies,” Brancatelli says. “The minute you leave, the airlines will say you forfeited your rights.”

Instead of waiting on a long claims line in the baggage area, hightail it to the ticket counter, where the agents should be able to help. After you file your report, make sure you get the number for the local baggage claim counter. “Do not settle for the 800 number,” Brancatelli says.

You can avoid a lot of the hassle if you have purchased a comprehensive travel insurance plan such as one from AIG Travel Guard, which will pay for essential items if your bag is delayed, and up to $2,500 if the bag is gone for good. The most expensive policy is about 8% of the overall cost of your trip. Your credit card may come in handy, too. Issuers of certain American Express, MasterCard, and Visa cards will hound the airlines about tracking down the lost bags.

And if you get your bags but items are missing?

Let’s assume the bags turn up, but items are missing. In the meantime, your trip was ruined by not having access to your prescriptions and your most flattering bathing suit. How do you get compensated? Last December, Nanette Bentley, a media-relations specialist at billing services firm Convergys in Cincinnati, flew Delta Air Lines to New Delhi. Her bags never made it during the business part of the trip, which meant she spent meetings in dirty travel clothes and tennis shoes. Once her luggage appeared, several flash drives worth $150 were gone.

After returning home, Bentley faxed top officials at Delta demanding compensation for her $8,000 tickets as well as the missing items. She also copied members of the press. “It’s a technique I’ve used when going through the regular customer-service channels haven’t worked,” Bentley says. Eight weeks later she received 125,000 frequent-flier miles and a check to cover the cost of the stolen items.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 April 2007 at 3:35 pm

Posted in Daily life

How the Justice Department has changed under Bush

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Read this interview on the changes seen in the Department of Justice. It begins:

Since the day he arrived at the Department of Justice in February 2005, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has “shattered” the department’s tradition of independence and politicized its operation more than any other attorney general in more than 30 years.

So says Daniel Metcalfe, a senior attorney at the department who retired in January, before the current controversy over the firing of U.S. Attorneys erupted. He views the episode as an “awful embarrassment” that has only worsened already-low morale at the department, especially among career attorneys.

Metcalfe, 55, served most recently as director of the Office of Information and Privacy. He co-founded the office in 1981 with Richard Huff. But his career at the department began in 1971. He started as an intern, working at the department full-time while attending law school at George Washington University. Later, he worked as a trial attorney in DOJ’s Civil Division before founding OIP.

At that office, Metcalfe oversaw Freedom of Information Act policy throughout the executive branch. He gained a reputation as a principled official who would adhere to the policies of whichever administration he served, but not at the expense of following the letter and spirit of FOIA. “Dan earned great respect for the policies he helped form, even though they sometimes put him at odds with access advocates,” says Paul McMasters, the recently retired First Amendment ombudsman at the Freedom Forum. Metcalfe plans to begin teaching law in coming months.

In interviews in person and by e-mail with Legal Times Supreme Court correspondent Tony Mauro, Metcalfe recently detailed his views about Gonzales and the politicization of the department, as well as information policy. The transcript follows.

Q: How do you view the current controversy at the department? Is this a time, as a recent retiree, when you would be missing the “excitement” of being at the department right now?

A: I miss many things about the Justice Department after having been there for so many years, not the least of which are the challenges that came up almost daily. One of the wonderful things about the position I held is that every single day held the prospect of bringing some new issue, or new potentially sensitive record, to be analyzed and addressed. With very limited exception, everything that the federal government does is reduced to a record, and any record can suddenly be “placed on the hook,” as it were.

So when I walked in each morning, I knew I could be dealing with a difficult legal issue in virtually any area of governmental activity — and as much as I’ll enjoy teaching law, it’ll be hard to ever top that. But if what you mean by “excitement” is the recent U.S. Attorney imbroglio, which is such an awful embarrassment to the department as an institution, I don’t miss such things at all.

As a matter of fact, knowing that the office I headed for 25 years has been drawn into that controversy by, among other things, playing so visible a role in political e-mail processing, I’m frankly glad that I avoided any prospect of moral discomfort involved. In short, I never had to decide whether to participate in such a highly questionable, obfuscation-laden enterprise because it belatedly erupted in 2007, not in 2006.

Q: You began in the Justice Department during the Watergate years. How would you rank Alberto Gonzales in terms of politicization of the department in comparison to the other AGs you have worked for?

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 April 2007 at 12:29 pm

Military honor does not preclude lying, lying, lying

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The military seems to be forever lying and covering up its mistakes—this must be part of the honor code at West Point that’s not been divulged as yet. Take a look at this:

Six years after declaring the U.S. killing of Korean War refugees at No Gun Ri was “not deliberate,” the Army has acknowledged it found but did not divulge that a high-level document said the U.S. military had a policy of shooting approaching civilians in South Korea.

The document, a letter from the U.S. ambassador in South Korea to the State Department in Washington, is dated the day in 1950 when U.S. troops began the No Gun Ri shootings, in which survivors say hundreds, mostly women and children, were killed.

Exclusion of the embassy letter from the Army’s 2001 investigative report is the most significant among numerous omissions of documents and testimony pointing to a policy of firing on refugee groups — undisclosed evidence uncovered by Associated Press archival research and Freedom of Information Act requests.

South Korean petitioners say hundreds more refugees died later in 1950 as a result of the U.S. practice. The Seoul government is investigating one such large-scale killing, of refugees stranded on a beach, newly confirmed via U.S. archives.

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Written by LeisureGuy

14 April 2007 at 12:26 pm

Posted in Military

Late shaving post

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Not “late-shaving post”: I shaved early enough, just forgot to blog it. That’s unfortunate because I used a very nice new shaving soap: Tryphon Rosa: “Purissimo, Emolliente Prodotto Artigianalmente.” The formula is Italian, the manufacturer American. Pink and with a lovely rose smell, it worked up into a good lather with the G.B. Kent BK8 brush. The razor was the Merkur Progress, the aftershave was (of course) Thayers Rose Petal Witch Hazel. A fine shave.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 April 2007 at 12:13 pm

Posted in Shaving

A clear look at the ideology of capitalism

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It’s generally taken for granted that capitalism is the ideology of freedom, that only in capitalist countries do workers enjoy the rights and benefits of democracy, and that the cure for an oppressed people is lots of capitalism. But then you see what capitalists do:

Listen to the apostles of free trade, and you’ll learn that once consumer choice comes to authoritarian regimes, democracy is sure to follow. Call it the Starbucks rule: Situate enough Starbucks around Shanghai, and the Communist Party’s control will crumble like dunked biscotti.

As a theory of revolution, the Starbucks rule leaves a lot to be desired.

Shanghai is swimming in Starbucks, yet, as James Mann notes in “The China Fantasy,” his new book on the non-democratization of China, the regime soldiers on. Conversely, the American farmers who made our revolution didn’t have much in the way of consumer choice, yet they managed to free themselves from the British. In New England, however, they did have town meetings, which may be a surer guide to the coming of democratic change. It’s a growing civil society — a sphere where people can deliberate and decide on more than their coffee — that more characteristically sounds the death knell of dictatorships.

Which is why the conduct of America’s corporate titans in China is so disquieting. There, since March of last year, the government has been considering a labor law that promises a smidgen of increase in workers’ rights. And since March of last year, the American businesses so mightily invested in China have mightily fought it.

Beyond the Starbucks of Shanghai, the China of workers and peasants is a sea of unrest, roiled by thousands of strikes and protests that the regime routinely represses. Cognizant that they need to do something to quell the causes of unrest, some of China’s rulers have entertained modest changes to the country’s labor law. The legislation wouldn’t allow workers to form independent trade unions or grant them the right to strike — this is, after all, a communist regime. It would, however, require employers to provide employees, either individually or collectively, with written contracts. It would allow employees to change jobs within their industries or get jobs in related industries in other regions; employers have hitherto been able to thwart this by invoking statutes on proprietary information. It would also require that companies bargain with worker representatives over health and safety conditions.

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Written by LeisureGuy

14 April 2007 at 12:08 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life

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