Later On

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

Archive for January 12th, 2009

Government on the Web

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Interesting article, which begins:

Barack Obama has said we need a “Google for government.” It’s a nice line, but what does it mean? Federal agencies have been online since the mid-’90s. Obama’s first crack at a Google-for-government law led to, a budget tracker that looked like everything else the feds had put up on the Web—until I saw one geek-speak phrase on the home page, so small I almost missed it: API Documentation. To understand its significance, let me tell you how I got subway schedules on my iPhone.

Just a few days after Apple’s iPhone launched, a trip planner for the San Francisco Bay Area’s subway system, BART, appeared in the iTunes application store, which sells iPhone and iPod software for download. User reviews were mixed. But I was still floored. How could a local government agency move so quickly?

Turns out, it didn’t. In 2007, Google engineers asked public-transit agencies across the country to submit their arrival and departure data in a simple, standard, open format—a text file, basically, with a bunch of numbers separated by commas—so Google Maps could generate bus and subway directions. A handful of agencies, including BART, decided to go a step further and publish that raw data online. Once they did that, any programmer could grab the data and write a trip planner, for any platform.

“It’s not 1995,” BART’s Web-site manager, Timothy Moore, explained. “A single Web site is not the endgame anymore. People are planning trips on Google, they’re using their iPhones. Because we opened up our schedule, we are in those places.”

A couple weeks after that first BART application appeared, a new trip planner went live. This one, called iBART, was a thing of beauty. Free, too. It was written by two former high-school buddies—Ian Leighton, a sophomore at UC Berke­ley, and David Hodge, a sophomore at the University of Southern California. Forty thousand people downloaded the program in just a few weeks. …

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Written by LeisureGuy

12 January 2009 at 2:20 pm

The return of the classic cocktail

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Nice article in the new issue of The Atlantic, which begins:

An online reviewer of a new cocktail bar in Boston recently wrote, “The real highlight of this place is their ability to give you what you want, even when you don’t know what that is.”

The bar is called Drink, and I stopped in with a friend right after it opened, last fall. It has a clean, almost apothecary spareness, with lots of sharp angles and galvanized steel and slate. No bottles are on display. Spirits are measured from stainless-steel jiggers that resemble beakers, and the aromatic bitters are kept in eyedroppers, for precise dispensing. And there’s no cocktail list. The idea is that your bartender is your pharmacist and, after a brief chat, will prescribe something based on your needs and past preferences. (Pharmacy is evidently ascendant in modern cocktail culture; in the past year, Apothecary opened in Philadelphia, and Apothéke in New York.)

We found seats next to the ice station, where our bartender was doing an admirable imitation of Tony Perkins in Psycho, attacking a massive block of ice with a frightful-looking pick and afflicting those in the vicinity with small, sleety squalls. Other tools were arrayed on a white towel, like an exhibit of Civil War medical instruments: three-pronged ice tongs, dull knives, a wooden mallet. After carving out several fist-sized hunks of ice, she came over to take our order. Her diagnostic abilities were not yet fully honed, however, and I ended up self-prescribing an Old-Fashioned, with extra bitters. The drink that arrived was exactly the healing tonic I’d hoped for, with a perfect balance of sweet and bitter and the alcohol’s sharpness, none bullying the others—and such beautiful ice! …

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Written by LeisureGuy

12 January 2009 at 2:18 pm

Posted in Daily life, Drinks

Debunking conservative myths on health reform

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From the Center on American Progress via email:

Before President-elect Obama can institute his health care reform agenda, Congress must address some unfinished business from the Bush era. On Wednesday and Thursday, the House will consider the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) reauthorization measure. In 2007, despite broad bipartisan support and the urging of governors, President Bush vetoed two bills that would have extended health care coverage to some 10 million children.Congress aims to fix that problem. The new legislation “will become law in the fairly near term,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said, predicting that Congress will pass the measure despite conservative opposition. In fact, Obama has already begun working with Congress to develop affordable health care reforms. The President-elect’s stimulus package, for instance, includes more federal funds for Medicaid, subsidies to help “recently laid-off workers pay to retain their health insurance through COBRA,” and a provision “that would seek to computerize all medical records within five years.” While progressives are working to build bipartisan support for these measures, some conservatives have started laying the groundwork for a misinformation campaign to undermine long-term reform. Since Obama’s election victory in November, conservative politicians and pundits have been actively filling the nation’s leading newspapers with editorials misrepresenting the consequences and implications of expanding access to affordable health care coverage for all Americans. Last week, the Center for American Progress Action Fund released a new report identifying and debunking the right-wing’s most widely circulated myths about reform.


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Written by LeisureGuy

12 January 2009 at 12:42 pm

Maybe the GOP is stupid instead of deceitful

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Though, probably, it’s a combination. Matthew Yglesias:

James Pethokoukis writes for US News about “hysterical” liberal reactions to the Obama stimulus plan:

Some of their greatest hysterical hits: 1) “The economic plan he’s offering isn’t as strong as his language about the economic threat,” wrote NY Times columnist Paul Krugman. “In fact, it falls well short of what’s needed”; 2) the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank founded by Obama transition co-chair John Podesta, said the Obama plan was chock-full of “special interest favorites” and “long-discredited conservative proposals”; 3) Sen. Tom Harkin said Obamanomics “still looks a little more to me like trickle-down,” invoking a Reagan-era economic invective that liberals love to hurl; and 4) Nancy Pelosi, who seems to actually believe the Obama campaign spin that the Bush tax cuts somehow caused the recession, blurted out this gem: “Put me down as clearly as you possibly can as one who wants to have those tax cuts for the wealthiest in America repealed.” Duly noted, Madam Speaker.

Here’s what CAP’s Will Straw actually wrote:

To ensure that public money is not irresponsibly wasted, the legislation must break away from special-interest politics and conservative filibustering. Public money should be spent wisely and in the most effective way to address our economic woes. A rapid and aggressive economic plan must not be obstructed by demands for pet projects from either side of the congressional aisle or long-discredited conservative proposals such as permanent tax cuts for the rich.

In short, Straw said it would be undesirable for congress to modify Obama’s plan by letting special interests add long-discredited proposals such as permanent tax cuts for the rich. He didn’t say that Obama’s plan includes discredited permanent tax cuts for the rich because, you know, it doesn’t include any.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 January 2009 at 12:37 pm

Bankruptcy reform *now*!

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David Sirota:

Back in December, I published a newspaper column looking at a little-noticed Federal Reserve Bank report showing that the Bankruptcy Bill of 2005 is now causing 32,000 foreclosures every quarter. Well, now there’s a move afoot on Capitol Hill to amend bankruptcy laws to finally help homeowners and reshape the fundamentally unfair dynamics afflicting the economy – and you can help make this key reform a reality.

Here’s the Democratic Dear Colleague letter I just got my hands on that is being circulated in the House:

Dear Chairman Frank, Obey and Spratt:A record ten percent of all American homeowners with mortgages are either facing foreclosure or otherwise delinquent on their payments. Credit Suisse now estimates that 8.1 million families will lose their homes to foreclosure by the end of 2012. If the recession becomes severe, which seems increasingly possible every day, the number of foreclosures could rise to 10.2 million. Current voluntary efforts to modify delinquent mortgages are simply not working. Earlier this week, the chief regulator of national banks acknowledged that most U.S. mortgages modified in a voluntary effort to keep struggling borrowers in their homes and stem foreclosures fell back into delinquency within six months.

Voluntary mortgage modifications do not work in part because many mortgages have been securitized, which makes reaching an agreement among all those who have an interest in a mortgage extremely difficult. The problem is further compounded by the fact that some investors have sued while others have threatened to sue servicers if they modify these loans.

That is why the January stimulus package must include a provision to allow judicial modification of mortgages on primary residences. Under current bankruptcy law virtually every type of loan can be modified (including loans secured by a car, boat, farm or vacation home), except home mortgages. By correcting this anomaly, Congress will help between one quarter and one third of homeowners facing foreclosure save their homes. In addition, many others will be in a better position to negotiate a consensual agreement with their lenders, knowing that juducial modification is available. And, this measure will not cost American taxpayers a single penny.


Giving bankruptcy judges the power to modify the terms of home loans would follow in the best tradition of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal – the tradition that “gives a group a market power it did not have before,” as John Kenneth Galbraith noted in his theory of the “countervailing power.”

Clearly, banks have had way too much power in the last few years, and the market has become wildly distorted. By empowering bankruptcy judges to renegotiate loans on fairer terms, the government can address this market distortion by creating a “countervailing power” – one that represents homeowners…

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Written by LeisureGuy

12 January 2009 at 12:35 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life, Government

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Obama’s world

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Thomas Ricks replays an interview with Obama from a year ago. Very interesting. His post begins:

Fareed Zakaria interviewed Barack Obama last summer on his CNN show, and re-ran the interview last month. It was only recently, I am embarrassed to say, that I got around to reading the transcript of this terrific session. If you haven’t read it, you should. It is the best summary of the Obaman world view I’ve seen, more instructive than reading a month of op-ed yammerings. Despite my pops at Obama on this blog, I am consistently impressed by his breadth and poise.

Here are the comments that especially struck me, with my introductions in bold:

Stop snubbing Russia, even if Putin is a hooligan. “Look. If we’re going to do something about nuclear proliferation — just to take one issue that I think is as important as any on the list — we’ve got to have Russia involved.” A little respect goes a long way.

Bring China more into the international conversation. “[W]e have to engage and get them involved and bought-in into dealing with some of these transnational problems.”

Enough with the Vietnam overhang. “The Vietnam War had drawn to a close when I was fairly young. And so, that wasn’t formative for me in the way it was, I think, for an earlier generation.” …

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Written by LeisureGuy

12 January 2009 at 12:31 pm

Federal recordkeeping laws and IM

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Interesting article by Michael C. Dorf, the Robert S. Stevens Professor of Law at Cornell University. It begins:

Security experts and legal advisers have urged President-elect Barack Obama to give up his beloved Blackberry. Obama is reluctant. “I’m still clinging to my BlackBerry,” he said last week. “They’re going to pry it out of my hands.”

The President-elect has explained that as President, he will be surrounded by people who–despite his best efforts–will be tempted to tell him only what he wants to hear. His Blackberry, he contends, would enable him to stay in touch with a wider group.

No doubt there is something to that point, but as a “Crackberry” myself, I suspect that part of Obama’s problem is simply personal: Once one gets used to the constant availability of the sorts of applications that run on a Blackberry, iPhone or comparable device, doing without them feels like a form of isolation.

Obama appears to be losing the fight over his Blackberry partly because of legal concerns. Lawyers worry that whatever messages he sends or receives will eventually become a matter of public record under the Presidential Records Act (“PRA”) of 1978. Their concern is legitimate, but as I shall argue in this column, that fact may suggest that our federal record-keeping laws are out of step with the ways in which people now communicate.

Security Concerns

To begin, it may not be possible for the new President to use his Blackberry–for email, text messages, or as a mobile telephone–without running an unacceptably high risk that his communications would be intercepted…

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Written by LeisureGuy

12 January 2009 at 11:44 am

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