Later On

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

Archive for May 20th, 2007

The GOP: truly obstructionist

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Washington Post:

House Republicans, fighting to remain relevant in a chamber ruled by Democrats, have increasingly seized on a parliamentary technique to alter or delay nearly a dozen pieces of legislation pushed by the majority this year.

And an election-year promise by Democrats to pay for any new programs they created has made it easier for Republicans to trip them up.

Tensions over the maneuvers reached a boil this week. Republicans used procedural tactics to stall floor debate for four hours Wednesday, and they are threatening to tie up future legislative action.

The stalling tactics prompted Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) to leave the floor and meet privately in his office with Republican Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and his whip, Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.). The men emerged with an uneasy detente that they said would last at least until Congress breaks for the Memorial Day recess, but the matter is far from settled.

Since January, GOP leaders have relied on a maneuver known as the “motion to recommit” to stymie Democrats and score political points for Republicans still adjusting to life in the minority.

The motion to recommit allows the minority a chance to amend a bill on the floor or send it back to committee, effectively killing it. In a legislative body in which the party in power controls nearly everything, it is one of the few tools the minority has to effect change.

In the 12 years of Republican control that ended in January, Democrats passed 11 motions to recommit. Republicans have racked up the same number in just five months of this Congress.

Democrats say any comparison is unfair because when Republicans controlled Congress, they directed their members to vote against all Democratic motions to recommit.

Now in the majority and mindful of staying there, Democrats have given no such instruction to their members, allowing them to break with the party if they choose. Many freshmen Democrats from GOP-leaning districts find themselves voting with Republicans as a matter of survival — a reality Republicans have seized upon.

“Sometimes we offer motions to recommit to improve legislation — sometimes it’s to force Democrats in marginal districts to make tough choices,” Boehner said. “Every time the Republicans win, it boosts morale. We’re able to show unity, which is good for the overall team. Members feel good about winning on the House floor. And when you’re in the minority, it doesn’t happen that often.”

More at the link.

Written by Leisureguy

20 May 2007 at 8:11 pm

Posted in Congress, Games, GOP

Another misconception: US is technologically advanced

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Besides believing that the US health system is supreme, an amazing number of people think that the US is at the technological forefront. Some facts (and it’s interesting that these are recounted by a union president and not some CEO of a telecommunications company—wonder why):

The average broadband download speed in the US is only 1.9 megabits per second, compared to 61 Mbps in Japan, 45 Mbps in South Korea, 18 Mbps in Sweden, 17 Mpbs in France, and 7 Mbps in Canada, according to the Communication Workers of America.

CWA President Larry Cohen testified before the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, in support of a discussion draft of the Broadband Census of America Act.

“Good data is the foundation of good policy,” Cohen said. “We desperately need a national Internet policy to reverse the fact that our nation – the country that invented the Internet – has fallen to 16th in the world in broadband adoption.”

“Equally disturbing, Americans pay more for slower connection speeds than people in many other countries,” he added.

According to statistics provided by CWA 80 percent of households in Japan can connect to a fiber network at a speed of 100 megabits per second. This is 30 times the average speed of a US cable modem or DSL connection, at roughly the same cost.

Cohen pointed out that the average upload speed was in the US was only 371 kilobits per second, not nearly enough to send quality medical information over the Internet.

“Speed Matters on the Internet”, Cohen emphasized. “It determines what is possible; whether we will have the 21st century networks we need to grow jobs and our economy, and whether we will be able to support innovations in telemedicine, education, public safety, and public services to improve our lives and communities. High speed Internet could even help address the global warming crisis by allowing people to get things done without getting into their car.”

Written by Leisureguy

20 May 2007 at 8:03 pm

Posted in Business, Technology

More stories from “the best healthcare system in the world”

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I’m constantly surprised by people who believe that the US has the best healthcare system in the world, despite all statistical evidence to the contrary. Here’s a story they might consider, from the LA Times:

In the emergency room at Martin Luther King Jr.-Harbor Hospital, Edith Isabel Rodriguez was seen as a complainer.

“Thanks a lot, officers,” an emergency room nurse told Los Angeles County police who brought in Rodriguez early May 9 after finding her in front of the Willowbrook hospital yelling for help. “This is her third time here.”

The 43-year-old mother of three had been released from the emergency room hours earlier, her third visit in three days for abdominal pain. She’d been given prescription medication and a doctor’s appointment.

Turning to Rodriguez, the nurse said, “You have already been seen, and there is nothing we can do,” according to a report by the county office of public safety, which provides security at the hospital.

Parked in the emergency room lobby in a wheelchair after police left, she fell to the floor. She lay on the linoleum, writhing in pain, for 45 minutes, as staffers worked at their desks and numerous patients looked on.

Aside from one patient who briefly checked on her condition, no one helped her. A janitor cleaned the floor around her as if she were a piece of furniture. A closed-circuit camera captured everyone’s apparent indifference.

Arriving to find Rodriguez on the floor, her boyfriend unsuccessfully tried to enlist help from the medical staff and county police — even a 911 dispatcher, who balked at sending rescuers to a hospital.

Alerted to the “disturbance” in the lobby, police stepped in — by running Rodriguez’s record. They found an outstanding warrant and prepared to take her to jail. She died before she could be put into a squad car.

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Written by Leisureguy

20 May 2007 at 7:54 pm

Posted in Government, Health, Medical

Why is so much of our food unsafe

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Paul Krugman goes through a list of suspects. After globalization (which means we depend on food-quality controls of other countries, some of which have none), he mentions other possible contributors:

Those who blame corporations also have a point. In 2005, the F.D.A. suspected that peanut butter produced by ConAgra, which sells the product under multiple brand names, might be contaminated with salmonella. According to The New York Times, “when agency inspectors went to the plant that made the peanut butter, the company acknowledged it had destroyed some product but declined to say why,” and refused to let the inspectors examine its records without a written authorization.

According to the company, the agency never followed through. This brings us to our third villain, the Bush administration.

Without question, America’s food safety system has degenerated over the past six years. We don’t know how many times concerns raised by F.D.A. employees were ignored or soft-pedaled by their superiors. What we do know is that since 2001 the F.D.A. has introduced no significant new food safety regulations except those mandated by Congress.

This isn’t simply a matter of caving in to industry pressure. The Bush administration won’t issue food safety regulations even when the private sector wants them. The president of the United Fresh Produce Association says that the industry’s problems “can’t be solved without strong mandatory federal regulations”: without such regulations, scrupulous growers and processors risk being undercut by competitors more willing to cut corners on food safety. Yet the administration refuses to do more than issue nonbinding guidelines.

Why would the administration refuse to regulate an industry that actually wants to be regulated? Officials may fear that they would create a precedent for public-interest regulation of other industries. But they are also influenced by an ideology that says business should never be regulated, no matter what.

The economic case for having the government enforce rules on food safety seems overwhelming. Consumers have no way of knowing whether the food they eat is contaminated, and in this case what you don’t know can hurt or even kill you. But there are some people who refuse to accept that case, because it’s ideologically inconvenient.

That’s why I blame the food safety crisis on Milton Friedman, who called for the abolition of both the food and the drug sides of the F.D.A. What would protect the public from dangerous or ineffective drugs? “It’s in the self-interest of pharmaceutical companies not to have these bad things,” he insisted in a 1999 interview. He would presumably have applied the same logic to food safety (as he did to airline safety): regardless of circumstances, you can always trust the private sector to police itself.

O.K., I’m not saying that Mr. Friedman directly caused tainted spinach and poisonous peanut butter. But he did help to make our food less safe, by legitimizing what the historian Rick Perlstein calls “E. coli conservatives”: ideologues who won’t accept even the most compelling case for government regulation.

Earlier this month the administration named, you guessed it, a “food safety czar.” But the food safety crisis isn’t caused by the arrangement of the boxes on the organization chart. It’s caused by the dominance within our government of a literally sickening ideology.

As I posted earlier, I think that having the free market act in lieu of governmental regulation, oversight, inspection, and enforcement—a position favored by Liberatarians—fails. It’s too simple an approach given the complex reality of the world. It’s attractive and logical and perhaps works on a very small scale—as in a game—but it doesn’t scale. As we’re finding out.

Written by Leisureguy

20 May 2007 at 6:59 pm

Ten burger recipes

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Here they are. Click “Next” or “Previous” to move forth and back in the list.

Written by Leisureguy

20 May 2007 at 3:36 pm

Interesting article on Wolfie

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Alert Reader points out this interesting article, which contains:

The fall of Wolfowitz is already entering the annals as a morality fable for the Bush administration in which the arrogant, narcissistic former Pentagon official and a handful of his cronies were foisted on an unwilling international institution until it finally found a way to spit them out. By this reckoning, Wolfowitz’s appointment as president of the World Bank in 2005 was an “Up yours” similar to the way the Iraq war was imposed by Bush against the wishes of the international community – with predictably dire results.

According to Juan Cole, a professor of Middle Eastern history at the University of Michigan and a persistent critic of the Iraq war: “Wolfowitz has demonstrated a penchant for cronyism and for smearing and marginalising perceived rivals as tactics for getting his way. Indeed, these tactics are typical of what might be called the neoconservative style.”

The article, which includes some statements with which I disagree, is worth a read.

UPDATE: Alert Reader points out that I omitted the link to the story, and that it concerns the fall of the Neo-cons in general, not just Wolfowitz. Point taken.

Written by Leisureguy

20 May 2007 at 3:22 pm

If you like iced coffee,

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Take a look at this.

Written by Leisureguy

20 May 2007 at 2:27 pm

Moving right along on those 10 steps

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I blogged a while back on the 10 steps to go from a democracy to a fascist dictatorship. The post was based on Naomi Wolf’s article in the Guardian, and the 10 steps are:

  1. Invoke a terrifying internal and external enemy
  2. Create a gulag
  3. Develop a thug caste
  4. Set up an internal surveillance system
  5. Harass citizens’ groups
  6. Engage in arbitrary detention and release
  7. Target key individuals
  8. Control the press
  9. Dissent equals treason
  10. Suspend the rule of law

The article explains exactly what has been done so far to accomplish each of the 10 steps in the US.

It occurs to me that the new directive giving Bush the President dictatorial power “in the event of an emergency” (and it seems any emergency will do) is a part of the overall direction and a solid foundation for step 10.

Written by Leisureguy

20 May 2007 at 1:59 pm

Cassandra works for the NIC

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Washington Post:

Two intelligence assessments from January 2003 predicted that the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and subsequent U.S. occupation of Iraq could lead to internal violence and provide a boost to Islamic extremists and terrorists in the region, according to congressional sources and former intelligence officials familiar with the prewar studies.

The two assessments, titled “Principal Challenges in Post-Saddam Iraq” and “Regional Consequences of Regime Change in Iraq,” were produced by the National Intelligence Council (NIC) and will be a major part of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s long-awaited Phase II report on prewar intelligence assessments about Iraq. The assessments were delivered to the White House and to congressional intelligence committees before the war started.

The committee chairman, Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), and the vice chairman, Sen. Christopher S. Bond (R-Mo.), announced earlier this month that the panel had asked Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell to declassify the report for public release. Congressional sources said the two NIC assessments are to be declassified and would be part of a portion of the Phase II report that could be released within the next week.

The assessment on post-Hussein Iraq included judgments that while Iraq was unlikely to split apart, there was a significant chance that domestic groups would fight each other and that ex-regime military elements could merge with terrorist groups to battle any new government. It even talks of guerrilla warfare, according to congressional sources and former intelligence officials.

The second NIC assessment discussed “political Islam being boosted and the war being exploited by terrorists and extremists elsewhere in the region,” one former senior analyst said. It also suggested that fear of U.S. military dominance and occupation of a Middle East country — one sacred to Islam — would attract foreign Islamic fighters to the area.

The NIC assessments paint “a very sobering and, as it has turned out, mostly accurate picture of the aftermath of the invasion,” according to a former senior intelligence officer familiar with the studies. He sought anonymity because he is not authorized to speak about still-classified assessments.

The former senior official said that after the NIC papers were distributed to senior government officials, he was told by one CIA briefer that a senior Defense Department official had said they were “too negative” and that the papers “did not see the possibilities” the removal of Hussein would present.

A member of the Senate committee, without disclosing the contents of the studies, said recently that the release will raise more questions about the Bush administration’s lack of preparation for the war’s aftermath.

More at the link.

Written by Leisureguy

20 May 2007 at 1:36 pm

More boneless beef shortribs

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This post gets quite a few hits, even now. So when I saw some nice boneless beef shortribs yesterday, I was reminded to get them. Same recipe as usual, except that I added a little chile-garlic paste—not really hot, just to give depth of flavor. They’re in the 200º oven now—I put them on before breakfast.

Written by Leisureguy

20 May 2007 at 8:37 am

“Give yourself a bonus, if you think you deserve it”

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Who wouldn’t? The guys at the top of VA certainly think they deserve it, although under their “leadership” the VA is suffering terribly. Here’s the story:

Nearly two dozen officials who received hefty performance bonuses last year at the Veterans Affairs Department also sat on the boards charged with recommending the payments.

Documents obtained by The Associated Press raise questions of conflict of interest in connection with the bonuses, some of which went to senior officials involved in crafting a budget that came up $1.3 billion short and jeopardized veterans’ health care.

The documents show that 21 of 32 officials who were members of VA performance review boards received more than half a million dollars in payments themselves.

Among them: nearly a dozen senior officials who devised the flawed 2005 budget. Also rewarded was the deputy undersecretary for benefits, who manages a system with severe backlogs of veterans waiting for disability benefits.

Some members of the review boards, which are appointed by VA Secretary Jim Nicholson, also had input on bonus recommendations involving themselves, fellow members and spouses who made questionable performance claims and neglected agency problems.

The VA, which has defended the bonuses as necessary to retain hardworking senior employees, says board members do not participate in bonus decisions that involve themselves or fellow board members. In those cases, recommendations are made by agency heads in consultation with deputy undersecretaries who sit on the boards, the agency says.

But government watchdogs were critical, saying the process does little to instill public confidence in the fairness of awards. In its last known report on the issue — one involving NASA — the Government Accountability Office in 1980 urged that performance boards add credibility and objectivity to their decisions by including “one or more impartial members from outside the agency,” although agencies are not required to do so. With the exception of a panel tasked with reviewing the VA inspector general’s office, all the VA’s performance board members come from within the agency.

Following reports this month by the AP of the $3.8 million in bonuses, groups such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America have called on Nicholson to explain why officials involved in budget foul-ups would be rewarded.

Annual bonuses to senior VA officials last year averaged more than $16,000, the highest average in government.

Rep. John Hall, D-N.Y., has introduced legislation that would freeze 2007 VA bonuses for “senior politically appointed officers” — such as assistant secretaries or deputy undersecretaries — until the agency pares its disability claims backlog to under 100,000 cases.

“It is simply unacceptable that veterans are waiting longer and longer for benefits they desperately need while senior staff members in charge of bad policy are rewarded so-called performance bonuses,” Hall said.

Bonus proposals for 2006 that were obtained by the AP show that senior officials who received top payments of $33,000 were sometimes credited for achievements that were questionable, if not inaccurate. Also, no mention was made of agency-wide problems.

More at the link.

Written by Leisureguy

20 May 2007 at 8:34 am

Shut up and eat

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You don’t want to cause problems for businesses, do you? Just shut up and eat. From the Washington Post:

Dried apples preserved with a cancer-causing chemical.

Frozen catfish laden with banned antibiotics.

Scallops and sardines coated with putrefying bacteria.

Mushrooms laced with illegal pesticides.

These were among the 107 food imports from China that the Food and Drug Administration detained at U.S. ports just last month, agency documents reveal, along with more than 1,000 shipments of tainted Chinese dietary supplements, toxic Chinese cosmetics and counterfeit Chinese medicines.

For years, U.S. inspection records show, China has flooded the United States with foods unfit for human consumption. And for years, FDA inspectors have simply returned to Chinese importers the small portion of those products they caught — many of which turned up at U.S. borders again, making a second or third attempt at entry.

Now the confluence of two events — the highly publicized contamination of U.S. chicken, pork and fish with tainted Chinese pet food ingredients and this week’s resumption of high-level economic and trade talks with China — has activists and members of Congress demanding that the United States tell China it is fed up.

Dead pets and melamine-tainted food notwithstanding, change will prove difficult, policy experts say, in large part because U.S. companies have become so dependent on the Chinese economy that tighter rules on imports stand to harm the U.S. economy, too.

“So many U.S. companies are directly or indirectly involved in China now, the commercial interest of the United States these days has become to allow imports to come in as quickly and smoothly as possible,” said Robert B. Cassidy, a former assistant U.S. trade representative for China and now director of international trade and services for Kelley Drye Collier Shannon, a Washington law firm.

As a result, the United States finds itself “kowtowing to China,” Cassidy said, even as that country keeps sending American consumers adulterated and mislabeled foods.

It’s not just about cheap imports, added Carol Tucker Foreman, a former assistant secretary of agriculture now at the Consumer Federation of America.

Our farmers and food processors have drooled for years to be able to sell their food to that massive market,” Foreman said. “The Chinese counterfeit. They have a serious piracy problem. But we put up with it because we want to sell to them.”

U.S. agricultural exports to China have grown to more than $5 billion a year– a fraction of last year’s $232 billion U.S. trade deficit with China but a number that has enormous growth potential, given the Chinese economy’s 10 percent growth rate and its billion-plus consumers.

Trading with the largely unregulated Chinese marketplace has its risks, of course, as evidenced by the many lawsuits that U.S. pet food companies now face from angry consumers who say their pets were poisoned by tainted Chinese ingredients. Until recently, however, many companies and even the federal government reckoned that, on average, those risks were worth taking. And for some products they have had little choice, as China has driven competitors out of business with its rock-bottom prices.

This isn’t the first time we’ve had an incident from a Chinese supplier,” said Pat Verduin, a senior vice president at the Grocery Manufacturers Association, a trade group in Washington. “Food safety is integral to brands and to companies. This is not an issue the industry is taking lightly.”

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Written by Leisureguy

20 May 2007 at 7:37 am

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