Later On

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

Archive for May 6th, 2007

A look at the GOP

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Written by Leisureguy

6 May 2007 at 7:22 pm

Bush Administration: incompetent or complicit?

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Very good story in the NY Times:

When Jon Oberg, a Department of Education researcher, warned in 2003 that student lending companies were improperly collecting hundreds of millions in federal subsidies and suggested how to correct the problem, his supervisor told him to work on something else.

The department “does not have an intramural program of research on postsecondary education finance,” the supervisor, Grover Whitehurst, a political appointee, wrote in a November 2003 e-mail message to Mr. Oberg, a civil servant who was soon to retire. “In the 18 months you have remaining, I will expect your time and talents to be directed primarily to our business of conceptualizing, competing and monitoring research grants.”

For three more years, the vast overpayments continued. Education Secretary Rod Paige and his successor, Margaret Spellings, argued repeatedly that under existing law they were powerless to stop the payments and that it was Congress that needed to act. Then this past January, the department largely shut off the subsidies by sending a simple letter to lenders — the very measure Mr. Oberg had urged in 2003.

The story of Mr. Oberg’s effort to stop this hemorrhage of taxpayers’ money opens a window, lawmakers say, onto how the Bush administration repeatedly resisted calls to improve oversight of the $85 billion student loan industry. The department failed to halt the payments to lenders who had exploited loopholes to inflate their eligibility for subsidies on the student loans they issued.

Recent investigations by state attorneys general and Congress have highlighted how the department failed to clamp down on gifts and incentives that lenders offered to universities and their financial aid officers to get more student loans. Under this pressure, the department is now seeking to set new rules.

The subsidy payments that Mr. Oberg uncovered are another corner of the lending system on which the department long failed to act, critics say, letting millions of dollars flow from the public treasury to about a dozen lenders.

The department now says it did not fully understand the extent of the maneuvers the loan companies were making to get the subsidies until last September, when its inspector general investigated and issued a report detailing manipulations carried out by a Nebraska lender, Nelnet. The audit recommended that the department recover $278 million from the lender, but education officials instead reached a settlement allowing Nelnet to keep the money but cutting it off from further subsidies that it claimed it was eligible to receive.

Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts and chairman of the Senate education committee, has asked Ms. Spellings to turn over documents related to the settlement decision. She is likely to come under questioning about the Nelnet settlement on May 10, at a hearing of the House education committee.

Much more at the link. It looks very bad: more corruption.

Written by Leisureguy

6 May 2007 at 7:13 pm

Obesity by country

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Percentage of population with BMI greater than 30% (i.e., who are obese), by country. We’re number 1!!!  🙂

Written by Leisureguy

6 May 2007 at 2:46 pm

Posted in Daily life, Health

One good reason to have a gas kitchen range

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To prepare chile peppers.

Written by Leisureguy

6 May 2007 at 12:32 pm

Posted in Food, Recipes & Cooking

Great post from Kevin Drum

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Very good post:

The annual report of the Pentagon’s Mental Health Advisory Team for the Iraq War found, among other things, that the length and duration of tours of duty in Iraq were starting to cause serious problems:

Multiple deployers reported higher acute stress than first-time deployers. Deployment length was related to higher rates of mental health problems and marital problems.

Suicides are up, marital conflicts are up, and 10% of soldiers and marines reported mistreating civilians when not necessary — an especially serious problem in a counterinsurgency mission designed to win hearts and minds. The report’s recommendation?

Extend the interval between deployments to 18-36 months or decrease deployment length to allow additional time for Soldiers to re-set following a one-year combat tour.

Hmmm. Decrease deployment length? The report was written last November, just before President Bush announced the surge, but was not released until Friday. Why the four-month delay?

Pentagon officials have not explained why the public release of the report was delayed, a move that kept the data out of the public debate as the Bush administration developed its plan to build up troops in Iraq and extend combat tours. Rear Adm. Richard R. Jeffries, a medical officer, told reporters on Friday that the timing was decided by civilian Pentagon officials.

I’ll bet it was. The last thing you need when you’re announcing longer deployments to support a surge that’s opposed by your commanders on the ground and virtually every military expert and the Iraq Study Group, is a report from within the military itself recommending that deployments be reduced. Hell, I’m surprised they released it at all.

In other Iraq news, the LA Times has finally decided to admit that the surge won’t work and it’s time to start planning for withdrawal. “We are not naive,” says the Times. “U.S. withdrawal, whether concluded next year or five years from now, entails grave risks. But so does U.S. occupation.” Indeed it does, and too few people seem to have figured that out.

Finally, in yet more Iraq-related news, the LAT also has a good piece about one of the worst-kept secrets of the Bush administration: the fact that Defense Secretary Robert Gates is not exactly a major fan of the surge:

“I believe Gates is on a completely different page than President Bush and Gen. Petraeus,” said a former senior Defense official who has supported the buildup. “He wants to see some results by summer, and if he doesn’t see those results, he seems willing to throw the towel in.”

Read the rest.

Written by Leisureguy

6 May 2007 at 10:56 am

Use those mesh bags to make scouring pads

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Some stuff from the grocery stores come in mesh bags, which I’ve been throwing away. But take a look at this idea: make them into scouring pads. I’m so frugal now.

Written by Leisureguy

6 May 2007 at 9:52 am

Posted in Daily life

A question repeated: why so many military lies?

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Newsweek‘s Jonathan Alter has a column beginning:

Henry Waxman looks like your accountant, but he acts more like a dog with a bone—the hard bone of truth. This short, bald, mustached California congressman is digging up what really happened inside the U.S. government during the early years of the new century. Last week, for instance, Waxman’s House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform heard startling testimony about how the Army lied repeatedly to protect its image, covered up those lies, then lied again. Instead of depressing me, the hearings left me strangely exhilarated. Historians will likely see the 2006 midterm election returns as indispensable to their work. Without a change in party control, we would never have a chance to get to the bottom of what has happened to this country.

That made me think again about the US Military Academy (West Point) and its highly vaunted honor code which places such emphasis on telling the truth. What happens to make the graduates later so quick to lie—and lie and lie and lie? I would love to see some serious research on this, though I doubt the USMA itself will look into the question.

Does having such an honor code paradoxically encourage later lying? Is there some sort of two-track implicit teaching going on, “tell the truth here, lie later”? What happens to promote such a total turnabout? I would be very interested to know—and I would think the military should share that interest, but I doubt that they do. Perhaps some social scientists can take up the question sometime.

BTW, I suspect that, at the Military Academy, this is one of those things that cannot be mentioned nor can you discuss the fact that you’re not mentioning it. I hope I’m wrong.

UPDATE: The Wife points out that, alongside the Honor Code, cadets are also taught to cover up problems. They constitute the opposite of a “let it all hang out” attitude. The need to circle the wagons and cover up problems necessarily conflicts with telling the truth, and clearly “hide the problem” is a higher imperative than “tell the truth.” The problem is that an organization that systematically hides problems is the very opposite of a learning organization, and that certainly seems to be the case with the Army, which is busy now repeating all the mistakes of Vietnam, as a Lt. Col. recently pointed out. Cf. preceding post.

Written by Leisureguy

6 May 2007 at 9:08 am

Posted in Army, Education, Military

Things you can’t talk about

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Chris Argyris is a business professor and the author of some fascinating books on management—in particular, double-loop learning and the cultural dynamics of organizations that impede or facilitate organizational learning.

One of his points is that in virtually all organizations there are things that cannot be talked about—and you can’t even talk about the fact that you can’t discuss these things. Members of the organization understand the ground rules at a deep level, and their reactions when Argyris, as an outsider, brings up these things are fascinating.

I was thinking last night about the Beltway Punditocracy—the old boys’ network that includes Tim Russert, Dave Broder, Chris Matthews, Maureen Dowd, Tom Friedman, David Brooks, Nick Kristhof, Howard Fineman, and the various other columnists and talking heads that work hard to create and maintain the conventional wisdom. And they have a long list of things that they can’t talk about, or even talk about the fact that such things cannot be discussed.

High on the list are their errors, lies, and omission. Perhaps because each fears the damage that could be done to himself were he to initiate a discussion of the failings of another of the in-crowd, each is silent about the others.

That is why Paul Krugman was so refreshing (and reviled or ignored by the other columnists): he didn’t hesitate to talk about the things not discussed. That’s why Dan Froomkin is ignored or trivialized: he speaks up. That’s why Glenn Greenwald is so valuable: he systematically points out lies, omissions, and errors, and quotes from previous columns to back up his charges: very evidence-based and fact-based, something the punditocracy hates—they don’t do it because it’s too much work, and they don’t want it done to them because… well, it’s obvious. “Let sleeping dogs lie” is the motto of the punditocracy.

The list of the new watchdogs who are unafraid to speak out and quote evidence is becoming extensive: Josh Marshall’s TalkingPointsMemo has been at it for a long time, his TPMmuckraker continues the tradition. Also, there are TalkLeft, Political Animal, AmericaBlog, ThinkProgress, and many, many more. There’s a whole new game in town.

With blogs and ready access to on-line resources like Lexis, Nexis, and Google (hmmm, sounds like the title of a science-fiction story: “Lexis, Nexis, and Google”—like Theodore Sturgeon’s “The [Widget], The [Wadget], and Boff”), the punditocracy is no longer safe in their formerly invulnerable towers of mass communication. Mass communication has become open-source and in the public domain, and the attacks are relentless because the targets are easy: the punditocracy have become fat, lazy, out-of-touch, arrogant, and ignorant. And because of the culture they’ve created and inhabit, they cannot learn from their mistakes—simply because they have a tacit agreement to turn a blind eye to mistakes.

The Internet and Web have unleashed functioning democracy again.

UPDATE: It just occurred to me that the reason the punditocracy considers liberal blogs as “angry” and “out of control” and so on is this: the liberal blogs have broken the great unspoken taboo by specifically identifying errors, lies, and omissions, with supporting documentation, and naming names: “David Broder says thus-and-such, and he is clearly lying because this fact appears in his own paper,” and the like. What a shock it must be for this mutual admiration and protective society to be hit like that. It’s as though the barbarians have arrived at their tea party and are kicking over tables and breaking the china. The punditocracy are scared, and they don’t know where it’s going or where it will end. Up until now they all moved in the same social set, friends and acquaintances. No one has ever called them to task before, and they don’t know how to handle it. So their anger is a mask for their fear. Or so it seems to me tonight.

UPDATE 2: Someone asked if the punditocracy could really be so fearful, and the answer is yes. This is a very timorous group, afraid to take any stand outside the boundaries of the conventional wisdom. Those on the right have the territory in which they can bloviate, and they know its boundaries, and similarly for those on the left. But to go against the crowd risks becoming an outsider: unpopular, mocked, not invited to dinner parties, alone—and that is frightening to this group, who have gone native in Beltway society.

UPDATE 3: The fear is because the group lacks courage, but the panic is because the new arrivals don’t know the rules. It’s the panic of “they might say anything” and “no one’s safe.” Those who have been protected by the unwritten rules are panicky because now they have to stand on their merits, and their merits have eroded in the decades of the comfortable social surroundings the unwritten rules provide.

Written by Leisureguy

6 May 2007 at 8:53 am

Posted in Media

Wolfowitz can’t break the habit of lying

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Remember how he (and his defenders) said that all the brouhaha was a tempest in a teapot because he had fully informed the ethics committee on what he has doing, and they had approved it? Well, it turns out that he wasn’t completely candid (i.e., he was lying again). Via Kevin Drum, from the Financial Times:

Paul Wolfowitz yesterday backed away from earlier claims that the World Bank’s ethics committee had been kept informed of his handling of the pay and promotion of a colleague with whom he was romantically involved.

The president of the bank said in a letter to a special committee investigating allegations against him that earlier assertions that the bank’s board was kept informed referred to an anonymous e-mail it had been sent by an angry member of staff.

Mr Wolfowitz’s letter was submitted to the board yesterday before the findings of the special panel were completed, which is likely to be today.

The panel is due to report on whether Mr Wolfowitz violated the bank’s ethics rules in his handling of the pay and promotion of his partner, Shaha Riza.

The board will consider the findings and possible action against Mr Wolfowitz next week after hearing his final response.

The letter sent yesterday appeared aimed at least in part at avoiding a finding that Mr Wolfowitz and his advisers had attempted to cover up their role in the affair.

The letter by the president responded to testimony to the panel from two former senior World Bank officials. Roberto Daniño, the bank’s chief legal adviser at the time, testified that Mr Wolfowitz “incorrectly” awarded pay and promotions that “far exceeded, and were granted in addition to, those recommended by the ethics committee”.

He said none of these additional “benefits were disclosed to or approved by the board, the ethics committee or the general counsel”.

Ad Melkert, the former chairman of the World Bank’s ethics committee, told the panel that he wished to “reject any direct or indirect allegation or suggestion that the ethics committee was aware or should have been aware of the terms and conditions of Ms Riza’s contract for her secondment”.

Mr Wolfowitz’s aides claimed in recent weeks that all arrangements concerning Ms Riza were made at the direction of the board and with the knowledge of the ethics committee.

And this is the guy leading the charge against corruption? He is trying to run out the clock in his defense because on June 1 he gets a $400,000 bonus and he’s determined to collect it. I say throw his ass out into the street and set his desk afire. Tomorrow (May 7).

Notice that he admitted his lies only at the last minute and only because the truth was going to come out. More gossip here.

Written by Leisureguy

6 May 2007 at 7:57 am

No shave today

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But I am really looking forward to tomorrow’s shave. I’m going to try the one-pass-against-the-grain-with-a-GEM-G-Bar trick. Should be interesting. I’ve already loaded the blade in the GEM and picked out brush and soap (the Valobra shaving stick). I can’t wait.

Written by Leisureguy

6 May 2007 at 7:51 am

Posted in Shaving

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