Later On

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

Archive for November 11th, 2008

More on the 50-state strategy

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John Nichols explains:

When Howard Dean, fresh off a bid for the Democratic presidential nomination that ended with a scream, announced that he would seek the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee, the right-wing echo chamber exploded with delight.

Asserting that Dean would forever consign Democrats to also-ran status, radio ranter Rush Limbaugh shouted: “Please, make him chairman. Please! Please! Please!”

Political strategist turned Fox News blowhard Dick Morris was pithier, declaring that: “In choosing their new national leader, the Democratic Party is publishing a… succinct suicide note. It reads ‘Chairman Howard Dean.'”

That was in early 2005, when Republicans controlled the presidency, enjoyed solid majorities in both chambers of the Congress and were on the march at the local and state government levels. Democrats seemed directionless and dysfunctional, and White House political czar Karl Rove was talking about how America was realigning as a permanently conservative nation.

While other Democratic leaders talked tactics and considered compromises, Dean promised to “show up and fight.”

“The Democratic Party will not win elections or build a lasting majority solely by changing its rhetoric, nor will we win by adopting the other side’s positions,” the former governor of Vermont said when he announced his candidacy for the party job. “We must say what we mean — and mean real change when we say it.”

That scared some folks. But not the 477 members of the Democratic National Committee. The DNC members refused to accept the counsel of Limbaugh and Morris, or that of the Washington-insider Democrats who feared Dean’s edgy approach and swore that the party could not sustain a 50-state strategy.

Dean was elected, and he immediately began throwing punches.

In his first weeks as DNC chair, Dean …

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Written by LeisureGuy

11 November 2008 at 1:56 pm

Posted in Daily life, Democrats

Pot-roast progress

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The pot roast is coming along nicely, smelling tasty. Using thyme was a good idea. As usual, the roast has released a lot of juice, so I just added 1/2 cup of Middle Eastern couscous (the spherical couscous) to soak up the juice and provide some carbs with the meal.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 November 2008 at 12:53 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food

What Obama’s election is already doing

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This is a very heartening development:

Two days after Barack Obama became the first African-American to be voted into the White House, the percentage of black voters who view American society as fair and decent jumped 18 points to 42% (see crosstabs).

Just a month earlier, only 24% of black voters viewed American society as fair and decent.

The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey found that nearly half of black voters (46%) still believe society is unfair and discriminatory, but that’s down from 64% in early October. The latest results represent the most positive outlook found among black voters since August, when 53% said they view American society as fair and decent. That month Obama became the first African-American presidential candidate of a major U.S. politial party.

While the opinion of black voters has changed considerably over the past month, the overall population’s has changed little. Sixty-five percent (65%) of voters view society as fair and decent compared to 64% in October.

Democratic voters’ optimism also has grown over the past month, from 47% who viewed society as fair and decent in October to 53% who say the same now.

Another recent Rasmussen survey found that 70% of African-American voters think relations between blacks and whites are …

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Written by LeisureGuy

11 November 2008 at 9:45 am

Posted in Daily life

Democratic climate-change deniers make their move

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Matt Stoller reports:

In terms of personnel moves in the administration, it’s a bit opaque as to what’s going on.  But in terms of committees and Congress, the personnel changes translate directly into policy, which makes the fight between progressive Henry Waxman and the union conservative John Dingell over the Chairmanship of the Energy and Commerce committee so consequential.The E&C committee is one of the big three committees in the House – the Ways and Means committee, which handles tax issues, and the Appropriations Committee, which handles spending, are the others.  E&C regulates health care, the internet and telecom (including net neutrality), trade, media policy, energy, consumer protections, and climate change, and is sort of the honeypot for corporate interests and lobbying.  Waxman is making a major play to take the committee leadership away from Dingell because Dingell, who is from Michigan and represents the auto industry, is basically refusing to get serious on climate change legislation.

John Dingell, as per the usual rules of seniority, is the Chairman of the committee. Though he has recently admitted climate change exists, he’s done so grudgingly, and put forward wholly inadequate plans to cap greenhouse gas emissions along with his coal-state colleague, Rick Boucher.  Pelosi considers climate change a national emergency, and so tried to undermine Dingell in 2006 by creating a select committee on global warming without legislative authority headed by his former protege, Ed Markey of Massachusetts.  Dingell had a number of unkind words about that committee, like “We should probably name it the committee on world travel and junkets”, “”We’re just empowering a bunch of enthusiastic amateurs to go around and make speeches and make commitments that will be very difficult to honor”, and “I’m unaware of anything they will do that will be of any value.”It was a gutsy move by Pelosi, but …

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Written by LeisureGuy

11 November 2008 at 9:41 am

Headphone cord solution

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Via Lifehacker:

Written by LeisureGuy

11 November 2008 at 9:38 am

Posted in Daily life

Very cool flashlight

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It uses an ultracapacitor instead of batteries, so it will recharge completely in 90 seconds. Expensive, but delightful. The Lightning Flashlight.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 November 2008 at 9:32 am

Posted in Daily life, Technology

Joe Lieberman

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Written by LeisureGuy

11 November 2008 at 9:29 am

Bug talk

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Just had a brief conversation with someone working on the apartment building. She and I got to discussing how pleasant Monterey is: sunny this morning, delightfully cool. I told her about living in Iowa City in the summertime (very hot, very humid, thundershowers instead of irrigation): how when you leave an air-conditioned building you automatically walk slower through the hot, steamy air. She mentioned Florida, and we got to talking about the flying giant cockroaches (aka palmetto bugs) that live there. That led to a bug discussion, particularly those bugs that suddenly erupt in great numbers: mayflies in Burlington, Iowa, for example, that coat the roads so thickly that you could not drive up the bridge ramp because it was too slippery, and you hold your hand over your mouth if you’re talking on the phone outside to keep the mayflies out. And in southern Oklahoma, when the June bugs suddenly flocked. OTOH, lightning bugs in Iowa were very pleasant on a summer evening.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 November 2008 at 9:08 am

Posted in Daily life

The EPA’s Stalin era

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Fascinating report by Rebecca Clarren in It begins:

This may sound like just another Erin Brockovich-style tear-jerker. Enter stage right: Poor people exposed to toxic chemicals who worry that the government is ignoring their plight.

But the story of the hundreds of sick people who live near the former Kelly Air Force Base illuminates an entirely new manner in which the Bush administration has diluted science and put public health at risk. This year, largely in obeisance to the Pentagon, the nation’s biggest polluter, the White House diminished a little-known but critical process at the Environmental Protection Agency for assessing toxic chemicals that impacts thousands of Americans.

As a coalition of more than 40 national and local environmental organizations put it in a letter to EPA administrators this past April: “EPA, under pressure from the Bush White House, has given the foxes the keys to the environmental protection henhouse.”

So meet lifelong San Antonio residents Robert and Lupe Alvarado. For decades, the Alvarados, whose modest home sits around two miles from Kelly, have lived with toxic chemicals underfoot. This is the poor part of town, adorned with chain-link fences and black metal bars concealing the windows. Many houses lack a proper foundation and rest on simple concrete slabs.


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Written by LeisureGuy

11 November 2008 at 8:48 am

The oil-spill case

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Renee Schoof reports in McClatchy:

An environmental watchdog group asked the Department of Justice’s inspector general on Monday to investigate whether the department had prematurely halted a criminal prosecution of BP for a 2006 oil spill in Alaska.

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility filed the complaint on behalf of Scott West, who as the special agent in charge for the Environmental Protection Agency participated in the federal and state investigation of the spill.

West, who retired last week after 19 years as an EPA criminal investigator to take a job with the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, said he’d argued for more time last year because he and his team were looking for evidence to prove felonies. The Justice Department, however, said the evidence had been fully investigated and charged BP with a misdemeanor.

BP, one of the world’s largest energy companies, agreed in October 2007 to plead guilty to the federal misdemeanor and pay $20 million in criminal penalties for two Prudhoe Bay spills. One was the largest spill on the North Slope; about 201,000 gallons of oil leaked onto the tundra and a frozen pond.

When the plea was announced last year, federal and state authorities said that the spills had occurred because BP hadn’t spent the money necessary to maintain its pipes.

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility asked the inspector general to determine whether the investigation was shut down prematurely and whether the fine was too low. It said the $20 million was only a fraction of what the EPA had recommended, according to a copy of a confidential memo from the EPA to the Alaska U.S. Attorney’s Office that the employees group released.

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Written by LeisureGuy

11 November 2008 at 8:41 am

Transparency in government: the GOP hates it

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And businesses hate it, too: when things are done in secret, business can use its power and pressure to get the government to do its bidding, regardless of the public good and what harm might be done to the environment, the public, and the workers. And now we see secrecy at work again: reports:

The Federal Reserve is refusing to identify the recipients of almost $2 trillion of emergency loans from American taxpayers or the troubled assets the central bank is accepting as collateral.

Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said in September they would comply with congressional demands for transparency in a $700 billion bailout of the banking system. Two months later, as the Fed lends far more than that in separate rescue programs that didn’t require approval by Congress, Americans have no idea where their money is going or what securities the banks are pledging in return.

“The collateral is not being adequately disclosed, and that’s a big problem,” said Dan Fuss, vice chairman of Boston- based Loomis Sayles & Co., where he co-manages $17 billion in bonds. ‘In a liquid market, this wouldn’t matter, but we’re not. The market is very nervous and very thin.”

Bloomberg News has requested details of the Fed lending under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act and filed a federal lawsuit Nov. 7 seeking to force disclosure.

The Fed made the loans under terms of 11 programs, eight of them created in the past 15 months, in the midst of the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression.

“It’s your money; it’s not the Fed’s money,” said billionaire Ted Forstmann, senior partner of Forstmann Little & Co. in New York. “Of course there should be transparency.”

Federal Reserve spokeswoman Michelle Smith declined to comment on the loans or the Bloomberg lawsuit. Treasury spokeswoman Michele Davis didn’t respond to a phone call and an e-mail seeking comment.

President-elect Barack Obama‘s economic adviser, Jason Furman, also didn’t respond to an e-mail and a phone call seeking comment from Obama. In a Sept. 22 campaign speech, Obama promised to “make our government open and transparent so that anyone can ensure that our business is the people’s business.”

The Fed’s lending is significant because the central bank has stepped into a rescue role that was also the purpose of the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP, bailout plan — without safeguards put into the TARP legislation by Congress. [I believe that its Billmon—or possibly John Cole—who said that TARP stands for “Taxpayer Anal Rape Program”. – LG]

Total Fed lending topped $2 trillion for the first time last week and has risen by 140 percent, or $1.172 trillion, in the seven weeks since Fed governors relaxed the collateral standards on Sept. 14. The difference includes a $788 billion increase in loans to banks through the Fed and $474 billion in other lending, mostly through the central bank’s purchase of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac bonds. …

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Written by LeisureGuy

11 November 2008 at 8:38 am

Will the 50-state strategy survive?

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The 50-state strategy that Howard Dean put in place seems fully vindicated by the state-by-state results of the election. The strategy, which is totally Dean’s idea, is to make sure that there is a functioning and funded Democratic organization in every state. As implemented by Dean, the Democrats in those positions were chosen locally, within the state, but funded from national coffers.

Many old-line Democrats, shaped by defeat, vehemently disagreed with this strategy—basically, the old-line Democrats, of whom Rahm Emanuel was one, wanted to put all the chips on the easy wins. This is a self-defeating, self-limiting strategy and a gift to the GOP. By having functioning Democratic organizations in every state, Obama was able to pick up states that Democrats had not in recent years made a showing.

But now? It looks as though the minimizers will have the last word. Chris Bowers reports:

More details have emerged on the apparent death of the fifty-state strategy. First, I received this email from the DNC:

Everyone at the DNC remains very dedicated to the SPP and the SPP staffers who made up the success of the 50 state strategy over the past four years. When the program was first adopted in early 2005, an MOU was signed with the state parties that concludes at the end of this month. This date made sense since it corresponded to the end of the election cycle and was in conjunction with upcoming elections for some of the state party chairs. It was always important that as state parties began the new election cycle they had an opportunity to review what worked, and build upon the earlier infrastructure and hard efforts of those that preceded them. I am sure as the new team arrives at the dnc they will have an appreciation for this program and would like to see it continued.

However, I also obtained part of the email that was sent to the 200 organizers who were fired. Here is the relevant graph:

“Because of your efforts and hard work, last night we made history on November 4.  Barack Obama is the President Elect and the world, as we know it, is forever changed.  This is a bitter-sweet moment because this great victory comes at the end of our SPP program, which was funded only through November 30.  Therefore, this memo explains your final paycheck and the transition from the program.”

In a follow-up email, I asked the source the following: …

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Written by LeisureGuy

11 November 2008 at 8:31 am

Posted in Daily life, Democrats

Obama planning to reverse Bush actions

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The Washington Post explains how the Obama administration will reverse the last-minute deregulating done by the Bush administration:

Transition advisers to President-elect Barack Obama have compiled a list of about 200 Bush administration actions and executive orders that could be swiftly undone to reverse White House policies on climate change, stem cell research, reproductive rights and other issues, according to congressional Democrats, campaign aides and experts working with the transition team.

A team of four dozen advisers, working for months in virtual solitude, set out to identify regulatory and policy changes Obama could implement soon after his inauguration. The team is now consulting with liberal advocacy groups, Capitol Hill staffers and potential agency chiefs to prioritize those they regard as the most onerous or ideologically offensive, said a top transition official who was not permitted to speak on the record about the inner workings of the transition.

In some instances, Obama would be quickly delivering on promises he made during his two-year campaign, while in others he would be embracing Clinton-era policies upended by President Bush during his eight years in office.

“The kind of regulations they are looking at” are those imposed by Bush for “overtly political” reasons, in pursuit of what Democrats say was a partisan Republican agenda, said Dan Mendelson, a former associate administrator for health in the Clinton administration’s Office of Management and Budget. The list of executive orders targeted by Obama’s team could well get longer in the coming days, as Bush’s appointees rush to enact a number of last-minute policies in an effort to extend his legacy.

A spokeswoman said yesterday that no plans for regulatory changes had been finalized. “Before he makes any decisions on potential executive or legislative actions, he will be conferring with congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle, as well as interested groups,” Obama transition spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter said. “Any decisions would need to be discussed with his Cabinet nominees, none of whom have been selected yet.”

Still, the preelection transition team, comprising mainly lawyers, has positioned the incoming president to move fast on high-priority items without waiting for Congress.

Obama himself has signaled, for example, that he intends to reverse Bush’s controversial limit on federal funding of embryonic stem cell research, a decision that scientists say has restrained research into some of the most promising avenues for defeating a wide array of diseases, such as Parkinson’s.

Bush’s August 2001 decision pleased religious conservatives who have moral objections to the use of cells from days-old human embryos, which are destroyed in the process. …

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Written by LeisureGuy

11 November 2008 at 8:25 am

Aspergian responses

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Interesting column by John Elder Robison:

One common characteristic of people with Asperger’s is that we are more or less blind to the non verbal communications of others. As a result, we find ourselves forever saying and doing the wrong thing, with the best of intentions. We’re described as arrogant, aloof, uncaring and inconsiderate.

I contend that we are none of those things. I believe we are simply blind, emotionally.

We do not respond to other people’s observable cues because we don’t see them. Neurotypical people read the signals and respond; we don’t. But just as a visually blind person can understand a world he can’t see, I can understand and feel empathy and emotion even though I can’t automatically see the triggers.

For example, …

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Written by LeisureGuy

11 November 2008 at 8:21 am

Posted in Daily life

Very cute: small sect wants equal time in public park

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This is an interesting case, reported in the NY Times by Adam Liptak:

Across the street from City Hall here sits a small park with about a dozen donated buildings and objects — a wishing well, a millstone from the city’s first flour mill and an imposing red granite monument inscribed with the Ten Commandments.

Thirty miles to the north, in Salt Lake City, adherents of a religion called Summum gather in a wood and metal pyramid hard by Interstate 15 to meditate on their Seven Aphorisms, fortified by an alcoholic sacramental nectar they produce and surrounded by mummified animals.

In 2003, the president of the Summum church wrote to the mayor here with a proposal: the church wanted to erect a monument inscribed with the Seven Aphorisms in the city park, “similar in size and nature” to the one devoted to the Ten Commandments.

The city declined, a lawsuit followed and a federal appeals court ruled that the First Amendment required the city to display the Summum monument. The Supreme Court on Wednesday will hear arguments in the case, which could produce the most important free speech decision of the term.

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Written by LeisureGuy

11 November 2008 at 8:16 am

Morning report

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I just put the pot roast in the oven: salt, pepper, and thyme. After browning the roast, I put it on a handful of minced garlice, then placed a large onion and some mushrooms, both cut into chunks, around it. A splash of red wine, and into a 200º F oven for the day.

With it, I’m going to have this recipe for shredded sautéed Brussels sprouts—sounds like a very tasty way to cook them, and I do have walnuts on hand.

Now, with a pint of hot coffee at hand, on to blogging.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 November 2008 at 8:11 am

Posted in Daily life, Food

Breaking everything before leaving

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Matthew Blake describes the emphasis at the end of Bush’s term:

It’s something of a tradition– administrations using their final weeks in power to ram through a slew of federal regulations. With the election grabbing the headlines, outgoing federal bureaucrats quietly propose and finalize rules that can affect the health and safety of millions.

The Bush administration has followed this tradition and expanded it. Up to 90 proposed regulations could be finalized before President George W. Bush leaves office Jan. 20. If adopted, these rules could weaken workplace safety protections, allow local police to spy in the “war on terror” and make it easier for federal agencies to ignore the Endangered Species Act.

What’s more, the administration has accelerated the rule-making process to ensure that the changes it wants will be finalized by Nov. 22.

That’s a key date, Nov. 22. It is 60 days before the next administration takes control — and most federal rules go into effect 60 days after they have been finalized. It would be a major bureaucratic undertaking for the Obama administration to reverse federal rules already in effect.

“The Bush administration has thought through last-minute regulations much more than past administrations,” said Rick Melberth, director of OMB Watch, a nonprofit group that tracks federal regulations. “They’ve said, ‘Let’s not only get them finalized; let’s get them in effect.’”

So what are the new rules?

The Washington Independent has highlighted five regulations notable for their potential effect and the way they slipped through the regulatory process. Four could to be finalized by Nov. 22. One was already — on Election Day.

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Written by LeisureGuy

11 November 2008 at 7:40 am

NaNoWriMo: another interview

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For the encouragement of NaNoWriMoers everywhere. The interview.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 November 2008 at 7:36 am

Posted in Daily life, Writing

Enzymes speed up reactions

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Like instead of taking 2.3 billion years, the reaction occurs in milliseconds. The report:

All biological reactions within human cells depend on enzymes. Their power as catalysts enables biological reactions to occur usually in milliseconds. But how slowly would these reactions proceed spontaneously, in the absence of enzymes – minutes, hours, days? And why even pose the question? One scientist who studies these issues is Richard Wolfenden, Ph.D., Alumni Distinguished Professor Biochemistry and Biophysics and Chemistry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Wolfenden holds posts in both the School of Medicine and in the College of Arts and Sciences and is a member of the National Academy of Sciences.

In 1995, Wolfenden reported that without a particular enzyme, a biological transformation he deemed “absolutely essential” in creating the building blocks of DNA and RNA would take 78 million years.

“Now we’ve found a reaction that – again, in the absence of an enzyme – is almost 30 times slower than that,” Wolfenden said. “Its half-life – the time it takes for half the substance to be consumed – is 2.3 billion years, about half the age of the Earth. Enzymes can make that reaction happen in milliseconds.”

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Written by LeisureGuy

11 November 2008 at 7:27 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

MWF again

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For most people, “MWF” probably means “Monday, Wednesday, Friday” (which are the only days I used to shave when I was still using multiblade cartridges and canned shaving mix), but to a shaver it means “Mitchell’s Wool Fat” shaving soap. I used the soap again to determine whether its lather suffered as a result of the ill-advised soaking. I did pick the powerhouse brush—the Rooney Style 2 Finest Badger—and with that brush, at least, I produced a wonderful lather.

I used the Gillette slim-handle adjustable, which in gold (as shown) is known as yet another Gillette Aristocrat. The head of the slim handle is flatter than that of the Fat Boy, so it shaves a little differently. With a new Swedish Gillette blade, it gave a wonderfully close shave, and Jade East aftershave finished the ritual in style.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 November 2008 at 7:23 am

Posted in Shaving

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