Later On

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

Archive for September 20th, 2007

No answers from Congress

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This is odd—no one wants to answer a simple question:

Hear that? That silence is the sound of my phone not ringing. It’s been a familiar quiet since I first started trying to get some answers about Rep. Don Young’s (R-AK) Coconut Road earmark last month.

Someone, apparently acting on Young’s behalf, managed to change the bill’s language in the massive 2005 transportation bill after it had passed both houses of Congress, but before the President signed it into law. The change no doubt gratified real estate developer Daniel Aronoff, who’d raised $40,000 for Young earlier that year in his push for $10 million to construct a highway interchange. Young’s language change steered that cash away from the community’s requested use and to Aronoff’s pet project.

So a few weeks ago, I decided to figure out how, in a very technical sense, a bill’s language can change after it passed both houses of Congress. Surely there must be a process to keep bills awaiting the President’s signature safe from tampering, or so I assumed.

But after being passed repeatedly from office to office, I’m still none the wiser as to how Young might have changed the bill’s language. It’s become crystal clear, however, that those who should know don’t have a ready answer — and don’t seem eager to find one.

I started with a call to the current House clerk in late August; I heard nothing. Then I tried the House clerk who was in place in 2005 when the rewording occurred. Jeff Trandahl, now the executive director of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, was on a cruise two weeks ago. When he returned, his secretary called to let me know he is too busy to talk — too busy indefinitely, that is. I pressed, asking if that means he is saying no comment. “No, he is just too busy with an upcoming fundraiser.” (Classic Washington blow-off line!)

Undeterred, I went back to the current clerk’s office last week. I explained, again, what I was trying to find out and got an answer! I was told: call the Committee on House Administration and ask for its spokesman, Kyle Anderson. (Apparently other reporters are interested in the same question, so the two offices worked together to come up with a solution.) Anderson was sympathetic, but still passed me back to the House Parliamentarian’s Office.

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Written by LeisureGuy

20 September 2007 at 7:43 pm

Posted in Congress, GOP, Government

Why we rent

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Median income priced out

Note how the median housing price has moved far above its historical relationship with median income. More here, with explanations.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 September 2007 at 5:14 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life

Telecommunications desperation

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From EFF:

Newsweek’s top story today exposes the desperation of the telecommunications companies in light of cases like EFF’s class-action lawsuit against AT&T, which accuses the telecom giant of assisting in the illegal surveillance of millions of Americans. The telecoms and the Administration are heaping pressure on Congress to get a ‘get out of jail free’ card for their role in helping the government spy on their customers:

The campaign—which involves some of Washington’s most prominent lobbying and law firms—has taken on new urgency in recent weeks because of fears that a U.S. appellate court in San Francisco is poised to rule that the lawsuits should be allowed to proceed.If that happens, the telecom companies say, they may be forced to terminate their cooperation with the U.S. intelligence community—or risk potentially crippling damage awards for allegedly turning over personal information about their customers to the government without a judicial warrant.

The telecom’s worries are telling. Our case is representing a class of U.S. residential customers, and does not include any terrorists – just ordinary folks who use the phone and email. The per person penalties are quite reasonable – If the telecoms were not spying on millions of innocent Americans, there is no way for the liability to become “crippling.”

Moreover, the Administration obtained prospective immunity in the so-called Protect America Act earlier this year. If the telecoms are only operating under the extremely broad parameters of the PAA, there is no liability reason to stop cooperating moving forward. And yet they are so worried about liability, they threaten to terminate their cooperation.

To achieve in Congress what they could not achieve in court, the telecoms are not holding back:

Among those coordinating the industry’s effort are two well-connected capital players who both worked for President George H.W. Bush: Verizon general counsel William Barr, who served as attorney general under 41, and AT&T senior executive vice president James Cicconi, who was the elder Bush’s deputy chief of staff.Working with them are a battery of major D.C. lobbyists and lawyers who are providing “strategic advice” to the companies on the issue, according to sources familiar with the campaign who asked not to be identified talking about it. Among the players, these sources said: powerhouse Republican lobbyists Charlie Black and Wayne Berman (who represent AT&T and Verizon, respectively), former GOP senator and U.S. ambassador to Germany Dan Coats (a lawyer at King & Spaulding who is representing Sprint), former Democratic Party strategist and one-time assistant secretary of State Tom Donilon (who represents Verizon), former deputy attorney general Jamie Gorelick (whose law firm also represents Verizon) and Brad Berenson, a former assistant White House counsel under President George W. Bush who now represents AT&T.

Against these lobbyist Goliaths, we need as much grassroots support as we can muster. Join EFF, and call Congress today to help stop the spying.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 September 2007 at 4:36 pm

Another language instruction site—and free (for now)

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Take a look at Mango.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 September 2007 at 3:25 pm

Posted in Daily life, Education

Start a fire without matches or lighter

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Take a look.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 September 2007 at 3:02 pm

Posted in Science

Great long-distance bike trails: no cars, no trucks

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This post is very good news for those who like to bicycle:

A quickly emerging network of abandoned railway lines are being converted by regional governments into superb bike paths. In addition to offering very gentle grades that are ideal for bikes, many of these new trails are satisfying long. The longest rail trail is over 300 miles long, and the longest off-pavement bike trail in the country stretches 2,500 miles. On these bike roads you can cruise along for weeks without ever encountering a car, or worrying about being bumped off the white line by an oblivious motorist. These are not paved roads, but packed gravel or dirt. Many sport spectacular tunnels and bridges courtesy of the former railways. At the same time these trails pass through small towns affording local eateries and rural lodging, as well as the usual camping spots along the way. I tell you, there’s nothing like arriving at the soft pillows of a B&B after a long day of pedaling.

Many of these trails did not exist as bike paths even a few years ago. More are being opened every day. There’s great effort to sew short sections together into long haul bike-primary paths. Eventually you will be able to cross the country via a series of interconnected car-free roads. In the meantime, the clearinghouse for the latest additions to the bike-road network is the Rail to Trails Conservancy. But you don’t have to wait to enjoy some fantastic overnight tours on roads without cars. Here are six of the longest continuous bike trails in operation right now, in ascending order of length.

Much more info (and photos) at the link.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 September 2007 at 2:51 pm

Posted in Daily life

Washing fruits and veggies

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The Wife called in with some info she gleaned from NPR. Cook’s Illustrated tested many ways of washing fruits and veggies, including the special fluids sold for that purpose. The best way of all: a solution of 1 part vinegar to 3 parts water. You can put it in a spray bottle for things like apples, plums, and the like: spray on, dry off. For lettuce, broccoli, and that sort of thing, put the solution in a pot and let the veggies soak a bit, then rinse them under water.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 September 2007 at 2:42 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food

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