Later On

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

Archive for February 14th, 2008

From The Wife to Leisureguy today

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Lather

Written by LeisureGuy

14 February 2008 at 3:17 pm

Posted in Daily life

Pentagon wants mercenaries free to murder

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The Pentagon is strongly backing the right of US mercenaries to murder, rape, and pillage—well, maybe not pillage—with no punishment:

As the Bush administration prepares to “renegotiate a long-term bilateral security agreement” with Iraq, a “deal-breaker for the Iraqis is contractor immunity” of the type that allowed Blackwater guards to escape punishment after killing 17 Iraqis in a Baghdad shoot-out. But “in interagency discussions arranged in preparation for the start of negotiations, the Department of Defense has said it wants to ask the Iraqis to maintain status quo.” The State Department “has argued strongly against that position.”

The Bush Administration is very strong on not having lawbreakers punished, so long as Bush likes the lawbreakers (or is one of them). Cf. Scooter Libby, telecoms, etc.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 February 2008 at 3:08 pm

Cute little tools

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Something to put on your wishlist: Atwood pocket tools.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 February 2008 at 2:44 pm

Posted in Daily life

Purchasing Congressional votes

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As you know, lobbyists give lots of money to Congress—that’s how the telecoms were able to buy immunity from the US Senate: give money, get votes.

It almost always works, though of course everyone (lobbyists and your elected members of the House and Senate) denies that there is ever any connection between contributions and votes, even in the face of common sense. But there’s a reason they all deny it: paying a Senator or Representative to get a vote is illegal. So go ahead and buy the vote, but both the seller and the buyer must deny that there was any reciprocation for the donation.

But sometimes… Take a look at this:

The National Association of Home Builders, one of the top 10 corporate donors to politicians, has stopped contributing to congressional candidates after it failed to get what it wanted in recent anti-recession legislation.

The powerful lobby said Tuesday that it was taking the unprecedented action of halting its campaign-giving to protest Washington’s failure to address “the underlying economic issues that would help to stabilize the housing sector and keep the economy moving forward.” The group did not mention any specific initiatives.

The association had unsuccessfully pressed lawmakers to adopt a provision to reduce the tax liability of home builders by allowing them to offset their past profits with future losses. The lobby had also pushed to expand a program that allows states and localities to issue tax-exempt bonds that finance low-rate mortgages. Although both proposals were included in the economic stimulus package approved by the Senate Finance Committee late last month, neither was part of the final bill signed by President Bush yesterday.

Election experts said the lobby’s move illustrated how closely interest groups tie their donations to the decisions they hope lawmakers will take on their behalf — a connection that usually goes unspoken.

“This demonstrates in a starker fashion than we’re used to seeing how groups use political contributions to promote their positions in Congress,” said Kenneth A. Gross, a campaign finance lawyer at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom.

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Written by LeisureGuy

14 February 2008 at 2:34 pm

Posted in Business, Congress

EPA discovers (again) it must obey the law

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The Bush Administration continues its way:

 A three-judge federal appeals panel in Washington struck down on Friday the Environmental Protection Agency limits on mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants.

The panel said the agency had ignored its legal obligation to require the strictest possible controls on the toxic metal or to justify an alternative approach.

The ruling against a signature environmental policy of the Bush administration is the latest to reverse agency actions as inconsistent with environmental laws.

“It does seem like the E.P.A. is on a bit of a roll with the courts,” Prof. Carl W. Tobias of the University of Richmond Law School said. “It is not doing very well with the D.C. Circuit or the Supreme Court.”

He continued: “The agency is going to have to follow Congress’s plain textual commands. The court will be watching to be sure they do that, no matter what the issue is and who is in the White House.”

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Written by LeisureGuy

14 February 2008 at 11:53 am

Irish Breakfast

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Another good tea from my collection of tea samples: Irish Breakfast. Great stuff.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 February 2008 at 10:27 am

Posted in Caffeine

Bush Admin loves secrecy

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Especially secrecy that hides things they don’t like or agree with or are ashamed of. For example:

The U.S. economy is faltering. Family debt is on the rise, benefits are disappearing, the deficit is skyrocketing, and the mortgage crisis has worsened. Conservatives have attempted to deflect attention from the crisis, by blaming the media’s negative coverage and insisting the United States is not headed toward a recession, despite what economists are predicting.

The Bush administration’s latest move is to simply hide the data. Forbes has awarded EconomicIndicators.gov one of its “Best of the Web” awards. As Forbes explains, the government site provides an invaluable service to the public for accessing U.S. economic data:

This site is maintained by the Economics and Statistics Administration and combines data collected by the Bureau of Economic Analysis, like GDP and net imports and exports, and the Census Bureau, like retail sales and durable goods shipments. The site simply links to the relevant department’s Web site. This might not seem like a big deal, but doing it yourself–say, trying to find retail sales data on the Census Bureau’s site–is such an exercise in futility that it will convince you why this portal is necessary.

Yet the Bush administration has decided to shut down this site because of “budgetary constraints,” effective March 1 (click thumbnail):

Economy

Economic Indicators is particularly useful because people can sign up to receive e-mails as soon as new economic data across government agencies becomes available. While the data will still be available online at various federal websites, it will be less readily accessible to members of the public.

In its e-mail announcement on the closing of Economic Indicators, the Department of Commerce acknowledged the “inconvenience” and offered “a free quarterly subscription to STAT-USA®/Internet™” instead. Once this temporary subscription runs out, however, the public will be forced to pay a fee. So not only will economic data be more hidden, it will also cost money.

It’s ironic that the Economic and Statistics Administration is facing “budgetary contraints,” considering Bush recently submitted a record $3.1 trillion budget to Congress for FY ‘09.

UPDATE: Steve Benen has compiled other examples of the Bush administration hiding inconvenient data.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 February 2008 at 10:19 am

How torture became mainstream GOP policy

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Very good article by Dahlia Lithwick:

It’s been a banner week for water-boarding. This centuries-old practice of simulated drowning to extract false confessions and false testimony has really benefited of late from a good old legal reassessment and a smoking-hot PR campaign. In the course of a few short years, water-boarding has morphed from torture that unquestionably violates both federal and international law to an indispensable tool in the fight against terror.

Charting that progression is almost not worth doing anymore, so familiar are the various feints and steps. First, the administration breaks the law in secret. Then it denies breaking the law. Then it admits to the conduct but asserts that settled law is not in fact settled anymore because some lawyer was willing to unsettle it. Then the administration insists that the basis for unsettling the law is secret but that there are now two equally valid sides to the question. And then the administration gets Congress to rewrite the old law by insisting it prevents the president from thwarting terror attacks and warning that terrorists will strike tomorrow unless Congress ratifies the new law. Then it immunizes the law breakers from prosecution.

That’s how Americans have come to reconcile themselves to illegal warrantless eavesdropping and to prisoner abuse at Guantanamo Bay. It’s why we’re no longer bothered in the least by the abuse of national-security letters or extraordinary rendition or by presidential signing statements. Deny, admit, codify, then immunize. The law as quickstep.

What used to be an unambiguous legal test for torture—”conduct that shocks the conscience”—is hardly a useful bench mark anymore. How can anything shock the conscience after the vice president, in a parody of himself, crowed this week that “it’s a good thing” top al-Qaida leaders underwent torture in 2002 and 2003—”a good thing we had them in custody” and “a good thing we found out what they knew.” Even our conscience is a moving target. Water-boarding has gone from torture to a Martha Stewart slogan overnight.

After making it clear that they did, in fact, torture people, there were only two actions left to the Bush administration, and both were briskly accomplished this week: The first was to immunize the torturers. Enter the new attorney general, Michael Mukasey, with the promise that he would neither investigate nor prosecute the people who tortured, since they relied on (secret) Justice Department authorization to do so. The second was to establish clearly and unequivocally that the question of whether water-boarding was illegal in 1968, legal in 2002, illegal again in 2006, and perhaps legal again tomorrow will be determined by the president and nobody else. In secret.

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Written by LeisureGuy

14 February 2008 at 9:54 am

Why bureaucrats get a bad rep

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It’s the bad apples:

In Bethesda, Md., in a squat building off a suburban parkway, sits a small federal agency called the Office for Human Research Protections. Its aim is to protect people. But lately you have to wonder. Consider this recent case.

A year ago, researchers at Johns Hopkins University published the results of a program that instituted in nearly every intensive care unit in Michigan a simple five-step checklist designed to prevent certain hospital infections. It reminds doctors to make sure, for example, that before putting large intravenous lines into patients, they actually wash their hands and don a sterile gown and gloves.

The results were stunning. Within three months, the rate of bloodstream infections from these I.V. lines fell by two-thirds. The average I.C.U. cut its infection rate from 4 percent to zero. Over 18 months, the program saved more than 1,500 lives and nearly $200 million.

Yet this past month, the Office for Human Research Protections shut the program down. The agency issued notice to the researchers and the Michigan Health and Hospital Association that, by introducing a checklist and tracking the results without written, informed consent from each patient and health-care provider, they had violated scientific ethics regulations. Johns Hopkins had to halt not only the program in Michigan but also its plans to extend it to hospitals in New Jersey and Rhode Island.

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Written by LeisureGuy

14 February 2008 at 9:38 am

Shortribs update

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Yesterday I made Mark Bittman’s recipe for dinner. My own recipe is better, I have to say. I’m making that this afternoon (using a 300º oven for 3-4 hours instead of a 200º oven overnight), only using beef shanks. These recipes can be used for any slow-cooked cut: short ribs, beef shank, lamb shank, oxtails, and so on.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 February 2008 at 9:04 am

Posted in Beef, Food, Recipes

Alastair Reynolds & Revelation Space

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So last night I stayed up to 12:30 a.m. to finish the book. It held up well, and I’m looking forward to the next in the series. The novel presents quite a rich canvas. There were a few oddities of tone from time to time, but the impetus to keep reading never left. A good one. I’m picking up Chasm City from the library today.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 February 2008 at 9:00 am

Posted in Books, Science fiction

YAES: Yet another exceptional shave

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The oil pass pretty much makes every shave exceptional, though of course small variations can occur—a nick or not, for example.

The QED Grapefruit & Peppermint yesterday was so pleasant that this morning I used QED’s Tangerine & Spearmint, equally a pleasant morning wake-up. The Simpsons Harvard 3 Best brought forth a fine lather, and I put a new Treet Blue Special in the Edwin Jagger Georgian—yesterday I forgot the rubbing alcohol rinse, and this morning I inspected the blade carefully and found a few traces of rust. So 11.5¢ down the drain. OTOH, it’s nice to start with a new blade.

For all that, though, the 3 passes didn’t produce as smooth a result as I had expected. But not to worry: the Oil Pass will save the day! And it did: the little roughness I felt was quickly polished away, and I ended with an appropriate aftershave: Royall Mandarin.

Great start.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 February 2008 at 8:58 am

Posted in Shaving

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