Later On

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

Archive for December 20th, 2007

More on phone jamming

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On the morning of election day 2002, repeated hang-up calls assaulted six phone lines tied to the New Hampshire Democratic Party. Three Republican operatives, including consultant Allen Raymond, eventually ended up in jail for their involvement in the phone jamming scheme. A fourth, former RNC offical James Tobin, will begin a second trial in February.

In his new book, Raymond alleges that the scandal goes “to the top of the Republican Party” because “the Bush White House had complete control of the RNC” and there was no way such a risky tactic wouldn’t have been “vetted by” Tobin’s “high-ups”:

“The Bush White House had complete control of the RNC, and there was no way someone like Tobin was going to try what he was proposing without first getting it vetted by his high-ups,” Raymond wrote in How To Rig an Election, a book set for publication next month. “That’s if Tobin, rather than one of his bosses, had even thought of the ploy himself – which seemed unlikely.”

Phone records obtained in a civil suit brought against the NH GOP by the NH Democratic Party show that “Tobin made 22 calls to the White House political office in the 24 hours before and after the jamming” while the Republican National Committee has paid over $6 million in legal fees for Tobin.

Yesterday, McClatchy reported that “senior Justice Department officials” delayed prosecuting Tobin “until after the 2004 election” as part of an effort to protect the GOP “from the scandal until the voting was over“:

However, the official, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, told McClatchy that senior Justice Department officials slowed the inquiry. The official didn’t know whether top department officials ordered the delays or what motivated those decisions.

The official said that Terry O’Donnell, a former Pentagon general counsel who was representing Tobin, was in contact with senior department officials before Tobin was indicted.

Marcy Wheeler notes that Tobin’s lawyer, Terry O’Donnell, is also “Dick Cheney’s long-time personal attorney.”

House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) wrote to Attorney General Michael Mukasey today, requesting documents and answers about the case.

Paul Kiel has more here.

Written by Leisureguy

20 December 2007 at 6:17 pm

“Balance” at all costs

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Greenwald is good, as always, showing the Beltway media’s obsession with never saying anything negative about the GOP unless they can say something negative about the Democrats—even if untrue. Read it.

Written by Leisureguy

20 December 2007 at 2:58 pm

Posted in Media

The Dept of Justice under Bush

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It became simply a political tool:

The Justice Department delayed prosecuting a key Republican official for jamming the phones of New Hampshire Democrats until after the 2004 election, protecting top GOP officials from the scandal until the voting was over.

An official with detailed knowledge of the investigation into the 2002 Election-Day scheme said the inquiry sputtered for months after a prosecutor sought approval to indict James Tobin, the northeast regional coordinator for the Republican National Committee.

The phone-jamming operation was aimed at preventing New Hampshire Democrats from rounding up voters in the close U.S. Senate race between Republican Rep. John Sununu and Democratic Gov. Jeanne Shaheen. Sununu’s 19,000-vote victory helped the GOP regain control of the Senate.

While there were guilty pleas in the New Hampshire investigation prior to the 2004 presidential election, involvement of the national GOP wasn’t confirmed. A Manchester, N.H., policeman quickly traced the jamming to Republican political operatives in 2003 and forwarded the evidence to the Justice Department for what ordinarily would be a straightforward case.

However, the official, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, told McClatchy that senior Justice Department officials slowed the inquiry. The official didn’t know whether top department officials ordered the delays or what motivated those decisions.

The official said that Terry O’Donnell, a former Pentagon general counsel who was representing Tobin, was in contact with senior department officials before Tobin was indicted.

In October, the House Judiciary Committee opened an investigation to determine whether partisan politics undermined the federal probe.

The official said that department officials rejected prosecutor Todd Hinnen’s push to bring criminal charges against the New Hampshire Republican Party.

Weeks before the 2004 election, Hinnen’s supervisors directed him to ask a judge to halt action temporarily in a Democratic Party civil suit against the GOP so that it wouldn’t hurt the investigation, although Hinnen had expressed no concerns that it would, the official said.

Paul Twomey, a lawyer for the state Democratic Party, said the delay spared Republicans embarrassment at the peak of the campaign because a pending deposition would have revealed that several state GOP officials knew about the scheme, which was hatched by their executive director, Charles McGee. The delay also stalled the case beyond its statute of limitations, depriving Democrats of full discovery, he said.

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Written by Leisureguy

20 December 2007 at 2:08 pm

Preparing for the Great Leap Down

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You can almost hear Megs saying, “One, two, two-and-a-half, two-and-…”

Written by Leisureguy

20 December 2007 at 11:15 am

Posted in Cats, Megs

Altruism feels good

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Interesting finding:

Since it’s supposed to be the season of charity, that time of year when we remember those who are less fortunate than we are, I thought I’d post on altruism and the brain, since there have recently been a few interesting studies. The basic moral of these experiments is that we are built to be altruistic. We are social animals that have evolved the ability to care about each other.

Consider a paper recently published in Nature Neuroscience. Scientists at Duke University imaged the brains of people as they observed a computer play a simple video game. Because the subjects were told that the computer was playing the game for a specific purpose⎯it wanted to earn money⎯their brains automatically treated the computers like “intentional agents,” complete with goals and feelings. (Our mind is so eager to detect other minds that it often imbues inanimate objects, like computers and stuffed animals, with mental states.) Once that happened, the scientists were able to detect activity in those specialized brain areas, like the superior temporal sulcus, that help us theorize and sympathize with the emotions of other people. Even though the subjects knew they were watching a computer, they couldn’t help but imagine what the computer was feeling.

Now comes the interesting part: The scientists noticed that, during the experiment, there was a lot of individual variation. Some people had very active sympathetic brains, while others seemed rather uninterested in thinking about the feelings of someone else. So the scientists conducted a survey of altruistic behavior, asking people how likely they would be to “help a stranger carry a heavy object” or “let a friend borrow a car”. That’s when the correlation became clear: People who showed more brain activity in their sympathetic regions were also much more likely to exhibit altruistic behavior. Because they intensely imagined the feelings of other people, they wanted to make other people feel better, even if it came at personal expense.

But here’s the lovely secret of altruism: It feels good. The brain is designed so that acts of charity are pleasurable; being nice to others makes us feel nice. An elegant brain imaging experiment proves the point. A few dozen people were each given $128, and allowed to choose between keeping the money or donating it to charity. When they chose to give away the money, the reward centers of the brain became active. Dopamine flooded their synapses, and they experienced the delightful glow of unselfishness. From the perspective of our brain, giving was literally better than getting. Thoreau was right: “Goodness is the only investment that never fails.”

Written by Leisureguy

20 December 2007 at 11:09 am

Download free digital media

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Your library may have audio books available for download:

One of the things I love about my local library system is its Digital Books Program. With a valid library card and my computer, I can download eBooks and audio books from my library’s collection and onto my computer, PDA, or iPod. The files expire after a couple of weeks, but can be renewed the same as a library book. There is no charge, at least at my library, for using this service.

The downloading digital book program isn’t available at every library, but it is definitely worth exploring if it is. To learn if your library offers this service, you can search here for locations in the U.S., Australia, Canada, Mexico, Ireland, New Zealand, Singapore and the U.K. There are a few libraries not listed on this search engine, so if it comes up empty be sure to double check with a visit to your local library’s website.

And, indeed, Monterey City Public Library is not found at the link, but does in fact have digital media available for download.

Written by Leisureguy

20 December 2007 at 10:46 am

Posted in Books, Daily life

Tagged with

MPAA rejects movie poster

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Alex Gibney’s new critically-acclaimed documentary Taxi to the Dark Side follows the path of Afghan taxi driver Dilawar, who was innocent of any terrorist ties but still “tortured to death by interrogators in the U.S. prison at Bagram Air Base.” It also examines the Bush administration’s torture practices at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib.

The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) has rejected Taxi’s poster, displayed to the right, as being “not suitable for all audiences.” The poster for the film simply shows two soldiers walking away from the camera, holding a hooded detainee between them. Variety notes that the military has also tried to censor the photo on the poster:

The “Taxi” ad art is actually an amalgam of two pictures. The first, taken by Corbis photographer Shaun Schwarz, features the hooded prisoner and one soldier. Another military figure was added on the left. Ironically, the original Schwarz photo was censored by the military, which erased his camera’s memory. The photographer eventually retrieved the image from his hard drive.

According to ThinkFilm, which produced the documentary, the MPAA objected to the “image of the hood.” Last year, the MPAA also censored the poster for the documentary The Road to Guantanamo, because it showed a detainee “hanging by his handcuffed wrists, with a burlap sack over his head and a blindfold tied around the hood.”

As Gibney notes, Taxi is “not a horror film.” It is “a documentary and that image is a documentary image.” ThinkFilm plans to appeal the MPAA’s ruling.

Much more info on the film (PDF file).

Written by Leisureguy

20 December 2007 at 10:19 am

Posted in Movies & TV

The Right will now demand sex education in schools

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The finding is that taking sex education classes results in a much greater likelihood of delaying sex, a goal that the Right wing supports. Presumably, therefore, they will support ways of achieving the goal. (The Right has long believed that the ends—in this case, delaying becoming sexually active—justifies the means—here, sex education classes.)

This will be interesting. I’m looking forward to their fervent support of sex education. Here’s why they will do this:

Teenagers who have had formal sex education are far more likely to put off having sex, contradicting earlier studies on the effectiveness of such programs, U.S. researchers said on Wednesday.

They found teenage boys who had sex education in school were 71 percent less likely to have intercourse before age 15, and teen girls who had sex education were 59 percent less likely to have sex before age 15.

Sex education also increased the likelihood that teen boys would use contraceptives the first time they had sex, according to the study by researchers at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which was published in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

“Sex education seems to be working,” Trisha Mueller, an epidemiologist with the CDC who led the study, said in a statement. “It seems to be especially effective for populations that are usually at high risk.”

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Written by Leisureguy

20 December 2007 at 10:12 am

Posted in Daily life, Education

Tagged with

EPA ignores its own staff recommendations

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Again from the Center for American Progress:

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator Stephen L. Johnson made an announcement late yesterday denying “California’s petition to limit greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks, overruling the unanimous recommendation of the agency’s legal and technical staffs [which seems typical of Bush Administration appointees – LG].” Under the Clean Air Act, states — with permission from the EPA — can set emissions standards that are stricter than the ones set by the federal government. California has been waiting for an EPA waiver since 2005, “and at least 16 other states had been hoping to follow California’s lead.” Johnson claimed that the energy bill that President Bush signed into law yesterday rendered California’s effort to cut gas emissions by 30 percent by 2016 moot. David Bookbinder, the Sierra Club’s chief climate counsel, vowed to fight the decision. “These guys are 0 and 4 in court, and they’re about to go 0-5,” he said of the Bush administration, which has lost a series of environmental court cases. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) said he would sue to overturn the decision. “It is disappointing that the federal government is standing in our way and ignoring the will of tens of millions of people across the nation,” he said.

Written by Leisureguy

20 December 2007 at 9:31 am

What the unions have to work against

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From the Center for American Progress:\

The Bush administration’s assault on organized labor is well-known, as the current union organization system is tilted against America’s workers. Each year, over 20,000 U.S. workers are illegally fired, demoted, laid off, suspended without pay, or denied work by their employers as a result of union activity. In 2000, 13.5 percent of all wage and salary workers were unionized. In 2006, just 12 percent of workers were in unions, as existing laws — and the administration’s interpretation of them — make joining a union a Herculean task that few want to undertake, even though half of all U.S. workers say they would vote to join a union. While the Bush administration has been lax on most regulatory enforcement throughout most of government, a new report from Center for American Progress Senior Fellow Scott Lilly points out that the Labor Department’s Office of Labor Management Standards (OLMS) has embarked on a path of “rigorous” and “pernicious” regulatory enforcement of organized labor. This regulatory assault has resulted in a “political misinformation campaign” aimed at damaging organized labor.

BURDENING AND SLANDERING UNIONS: The Landrum-Griffin Act of 1959 “tasks the Labor Department with enforcing union financial reporting requirements and investigating their finances.” In 1992, former Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-GA) urged Labor Secretary Lynn Martin to direct OLMS to significantly increase union reporting requirements because it would “weaken our opponents and encourage our allies.” The Bush administration followed suit, revising the so-called LM-2 reporting form, resulting in a “radical increase in paperwork requirements placed on unions.” Unions were thus forced to spend considerable sums in purchasing new software to comply with the record-keeping burdens. “Most workers don’t have the time or ability to satisfy the requirements,” observed Bill Samuel, director of legislation for the AFL-CIO.

HEAVILY DOCTORED DATA: OLMS and its right-wing allies appear to knowingly propagate misleading data in order to drum up allegations of union corruption. Using “double-counting” (where the Department lists an individual case multiple times by reporting as a separate “case” the date of indictment, charge, date of plea, and date of sentencing), OLMS doubled the total number of “convictions” in their data on criminal actions involving labor unions. Much of those records did not even involve union members per se, but accountants, lawyers, and business owners, observed John Lund of the University of Wisconsin. This doctored data was also picked up by the right-wing anti-union group Center for Union Facts. Furthermore, OLMS reporting on court-ordered restitution to labor unions is also misleading, reporting $23 million in court-ordered restitutions in fiscal year 2005. But, as Lilly observed, only 10 percent of that amount actually involved unions: “embedded” in the data were “cases in which perpetrators were not members of unions and the target of their crimes were not union treasuries.” “President Bush is using the Department of Labor as a weapon to undermine the labor movement. … The Bush administration’s goal is harassment, plain and simple,” said Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY).

POLITICAL APPOINTEES RUN OLMS: The Bush administration’s injection of politics over the rule of law is well-documented. From the U.S. Attorneys scandal to Karl Rove’s politicization schemes, the administration has used political appointees to create an arm of the Republican party in the federal government. OLMS was run by a career civil servant for most of President Clinton’s tenure; under Bush, political appointee Don Todd — neither an attorney nor an individual with labor experience — was chosen to run OLMS. Todd, who led opposition research at the Republican National Committee in 1988, “is credited with helping George H.W. Bush win the presidency in 1988 by convincing Lee Atwater to use a television ad featuring a furloughed murderer.” (Todd was named “RNC Man Of The Year” for this tactic.) Several other campaign operatives moved into the office. Todd’s special assistant came to the Labor Department from the Republican Senate Campaign Committee, along with another assistant, Patrick Bosworth. Sean Redmond, also special assistant to Todd, was on the advance staff of Bush-Cheney 2000. Todd and his staff used their campaign communications experience to discredit unions, uploading millions of pages of data on finances of unions to the OLMS website and creating databases of legal actions taken in courts against union members. This data was conveniently picked up by right-wing groups like the Center for Union Facts, who publicized “the data that Todd had added” in their own anti-union ad campaigns.

Written by Leisureguy

20 December 2007 at 9:29 am

Coffee notes

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First, the guidelines:

  • For best flavor, coffee should brew between 190º and 205º for 90 percent of the time.
  • A coffeemaker should brew a cup in less than one minute.
  • The temperature of coffee at the end of brewing and afterward on the hot plate or an insulated carafe should never be below 170º.

This morning I checked the temperature of the water from the Sunbeam Hotshot: 180º. Not good. I put the Hotshot aside, and brought out the Hobbs electric kettle. That’s what I’ll use for now.

Detailed guidelines here.

UPDATE: On my second cup of coffee, so I have some observations. First, although the electric kettle brings water to the boil, pouring it into the Pyrex measuring cup dropped the temperature to 195º immediately—and I didn’t want to brew the coffee starting at the low end of the temperature range. So I poured the water back into the kettle, brought it again to the boil, and poured it into the now-hot Pyrex measuring cup: temperature 205º.

I brewed my cup of coffee, and it’s noticeably hotter and tastier than with the water from the Hotshot.

Written by Leisureguy

20 December 2007 at 8:49 am

Posted in Caffeine

Old reliable

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After two days of so-so shaves, I was ready for a good shave, and that (for me, perhaps not for you) means the Treet Blue Special. So I broke out a new blade, put it into a 1940’s Aristocrat, which for me is a very good razor, and lathered up well with Mama Bear’s Ylang Ylang shaving soap and the Rooney Style 2 Finest. I worked a fair amount of soap into the brush, applied a soap layer, and then added a splash of hot water to the center of the brush. I noticed again how the resilient bristles of the finest bring the lather right up.

The blade choice was wise: a very smooth shave, no nicks, cuts, or weepers. That is definitely the blade of choice for me. And then the Stetson aftershave again.

Written by Leisureguy

20 December 2007 at 8:45 am

Posted in Shaving

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