Later On

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

Archive for February 18th, 2009

Free Market Myth

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Very interesting article by the economist Dean Baker. It begins:

The extraordinary financial collapse of recent months has been commonly described as a testament to the failure of deregulation. The events are indeed testament to a failure—a failure of public policy. Blaming deregulation is misleading.

In general, political debates over regulation have been wrongly cast as disputes over the extent of regulation, with conservatives assumed to prefer less regulation, while liberals prefer more. In fact conservatives do not necessarily desire less regulation, nor do liberals necessarily desire more. Conservatives support regulatory structures that cause income to flow upward, while liberals support regulatory structures that promote equality. “Less” regulation does not imply greater inequality, nor is the reverse true.

Framing regulation debates in terms of more and less is not only inaccurate; it hugely biases the argument toward conservative positions by characterizing an extremely intrusive structure of, for example, patent and copyright rules, as the free market. In the realm of insurance and finance over the last two decades, calls for deregulation have been cover for rules tilted starkly toward corporate interests. And the recent change in bankruptcy law, hailed by conservatives, requires much greater government involvement in the economy.

False ideological claims have circumscribed the public debate over regulation and blinded us to the wide range of choices we can make. Without these claims, what would guide regulatory policy? What kinds of choices would we have?

* * *

Patent and copyright protection are good examples of government policies obscured in the debate. They are forms of regulation, not elements of a “free market.”

It does not matter that we call patents and copyrights “property” or even that we have a clause in the Constitution that authorizes Congress to grant patents and copyrights. Suppose autoworkers were given a property right to a job in the automobile industry, a right they could even sell. Would anyone say that this right to a job is part of the free market? …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

18 February 2009 at 2:34 pm

California in the grip of "no tax increase" GOP

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Ezra Klein:

It’s hard to overstate how deep a hole California is in: The state is $41 billion in debt off of a $143 billion deficit. They’ve laid of tens of thousands of workers and, next week, will fire 20,000 more. It has halted payments to counties, replaced income tax refunds with IOUs, and stopped work on thousands of infrastructure projects. The state’s bond rating has been downgraded and it has lost access to most credit markets. It’s catastrophic.

And why? Well, voters keep approving costly ballot measures that mandate spending and the Republican minority refuses to accept any tax raises. You have a strong Democratic majority in the legislature, but it doesn’t control the state’s spending and it can’t raise the state’s revenues. It’s a state governed by whim and obstruction, and we’re learning that that’s no governance theory at all. Meanwhile, even as the state faces imminent economic collapse, minority Republicans refuse to deal on revenues. Why? It’s simple enough: It’s good for them if the state fails on the Democrats’ watch.

"Years of neglect, followed by economic disaster — and with all reasonable responses blocked by a fanatical, irrational minority," comments Paul Krugman. "This could be America next."

The comments at the link are also interesting.

Written by Leisureguy

18 February 2009 at 12:53 pm

Posted in Daily life, GOP, Government

Get credit card payments in on time, or else

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The LA Times’s David Lazarus:

Even in the best of times, carrying a balance on your credit card is a risky — and costly — proposition. These days, it can be downright foolish, at least if there’s a chance you might miss a payment or two.

Millions of cardholders have recently received letters from the likes of Citibank, Bank of America Corp., Wells Fargo & Co. and American Express Co. notifying them that their interest rates are going up, in some cases to 30% [APR] if a single payment is missed. [Emphasis added – LG]

JPMorgan Chase & Co., the nation’s largest issuer of plastic, has begun charging hundreds of thousands of cardholders a $10 monthly fee for having carried large balances for more than a couple years.

Why? In part it’s because default rates are rising and banks are dealing with additional risk. But lawmakers and consumer advocates say the higher rates also reflect banks’ massive losses from betting wrong on the housing boom, and they’re basically sticking credit card customers with the tab.

At a Senate Banking Committee hearing last week, Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.), the committee chairman, said lenders are “gouging” customers to boost their bottom lines.

“The list of questionable actions credit card companies are engaged in is lengthy and disturbing,” he said.
At the same time, rising layoffs and tough economic conditions have caused many people to lean more heavily on their plastic — sometimes too heavily.

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

18 February 2009 at 12:49 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life

Yglesias on EFCA

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Ben Smith writes that “the campaign against [EFCA] is also taking its toll on moderate Democrats in the House and Senate, as this Arkansas News column vividly illustrates.” What the column illustrates is that Blue Dogs like Rep. Marion Berry who supported EFCA in the last congress are now telling business leaders that they did so only because they knew the bill couldn’t pass, and now they’re going to the House leadership and whining that they can’t support the bill.

It’s extremely naive to see this dynamic as anything “taking its toll” on moderate Democrats. What’s happening is that even though the Republican Party lost the last election, the wealthy business interests who’d been financing the Republican Party can’t be defeated at the ballot box. And they hate the Employee Free Choice Act. EFCA would make it easier to form unions. And the evidence indicates that unions flatten the compensation structure at unionized firms—more money for folks at the low end, less for folks at the top. If I were a corporate manager, I wouldn’t want that to happen to me. And if, as a manager, I was able to use the company’s resources to advance my interests by fighting EFCA, I would want to do that. And that’s what they’re doing. And they have a lot of money to spend on that cause. Which means that if you can be the guy who blocks this legislation, you’ll be a hero to a lot of rich people prepared to spend a lot of money rewarding their hero. It’s a great opportunity for a moderate House Democrat. In the last congress, Wal-Mart didn’t really need to care what Rep. Berry thought or did. The bill wasn’t going to pass anyway. Now it really might. Which means Berry might get to be a pivotal player in stopping it from happening. Which is great news for him.

Written by Leisureguy

18 February 2009 at 12:23 pm

Food report

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Just finished cleaning kitchen for lunch. I was clever enough to peel and mince the garlic before starting the dishes so it has time to sit and stabilize the good nutrients. One garlic tip, which I learned from Chester Aaron’s entertaining memoir Garlic Is Life: In the spring (like right now out here), you can find other varieties in the garlic bin than the usual commercial crop. One good sign: if the central stem is woody instead of papery leaves. The varieties with the woody central stem seem much easier to peel and very tasty. Aaron’s book is highly recommended.

My plan: sauté a couple of strips of bacon, then remove the crisp bacon and pour off the bacon fat. A little olive oil, and sauté onions and garlic, then add chopped spinach, fennel bulb, a small can of Ro-Tel diced tomatoes with green chili, a handful of arame, and a slug of hot pepper sauce, Eden Organic shoyu sauce, mirin, and cherry wood aged organic white balsamic vinegar. Cover and cook over low heat. After that cooks down, plop the halibut fillet on top, cover again, and simmer for 12 minutes. Uncover and there’s my lunch and (with cheese topping) my dinner. 🙂

UPDATE: Photo added. I discovered about 1/3 c. chicken stock, so added that with the tomatoes. Then, just before I put the halibut on top, I added a good handful of whole-wheat orzo and stirred that it to the bottom. Halibut on top, 12 minutes, remove cover, sprinkle chopped bacon over all and paprika on the halibut. Now to eat.

There are many tricks to food photography. I know none of them.

Written by Leisureguy

18 February 2009 at 11:42 am

Torture report could be trouble for Bush lawyers

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Written by Leisureguy

18 February 2009 at 11:05 am

Pundits and global warming

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From the Center for Media and Democracy:

Source: Columbia Journalism Review, February 18, 2008

The "majority of American journalists covering climate change, energy, and environment understand that human industry is primarily responsible for global warming," writes Curtis Brainard. Unfortunately, "a small minority of pundits — most of whom are talking heads and columnists, rather than hard news reporters" is "still trying to deny the well-established basics of climate science. The terrible irony is, that minority might reach more eyes and ears than all of the serious beat reporters combined." Brainard singles out Wolf Blitzer, Lou Dobbs, Chris Matthews, Charles Krauthammer and George Will, along with "Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, and various anchors on Fox News," who apparently "don’t know the difference between weather and climate" and "continue to contradict the news and editorial departments’ otherwise solid understanding of climate science. … The far larger volume of quality climate-news reporting, which reflects an accurate understanding of the basic science, should far and away drown out the claptrap spewed by misinformed talking heads and columnists. But it doesn’t, and polls continue to show the majority of the pubic still does not understand the fundamental scientific evidence for global warming."

Written by Leisureguy

18 February 2009 at 10:59 am

Complicity of media

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Very good post by Rory O’Connor:

The severe economic crisis now gripping the United States — and hence the entire world — has been labeled by the Paper of Record as the “ financial equivalent of 9/11.”

In its severity and overall impact, the comparison may hold true. But when it comes to media coverage, a far better analogy can be made to the invasion and occupation of Iraq undertaken in the wake of the terror attacks.

Just as our mainstream news reporters failed to do their job in alerting us an impending and fairly obvious disaster prior to the war in Iraq – and then ‘embedded’ themselves with the very people they were supposedly reporting on during the invasion and subsequent occupation — so too did our complaisant business press, which by and large missed the story of the disaster now threatening the very pillars of the global capitalist system itself.

Complicity, careerism, access, ratings, deregulation, glory, money, corporate and conglomerate media… the reasons behind our pusillanimous press coverage of the run up to the financial meltdown are much the same as those underlying the run up to war – and so are the results. Business reporters ‘embedded’ on Wall Street — as enamored of titans of commerce as their Pentagon press peers were with Donald Rumsfeld and Colin Powell – are now piling bad information on top of no information. Once again, we-the-people are paying the price in treasure and sadly, in some cases, blood.

Of course, I’m not alone in pointing fingers. As the AP’s David Bauder recently reported, …

Continue reading. This is a long post, but fascinating and informative and includes some cheesecake.

Written by Leisureguy

18 February 2009 at 10:54 am

Posted in Business, Media

Christy Hardin Smith on unjust punishment

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A superb post (with a stunning nature photo) by Christy Hardin Smith. Please click and read. The post begins:

We know the backstory: secrecy and legally incompetent boobery masking wholesale gutting of the rule of law.

But something in Jane Mayer’s most recent reporting on the al-Marri case made me pause: …

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18 February 2009 at 10:48 am

FDA gave up enforcing safety standards

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Not what a Federal agency is supposed to do—but with no oversight and with more and more budget cuts (to accommodate all those tax cuts while running a war) gave them little choice, I imagine. Daphne Eviatar has the story in the Washington Independent:

Since 2006, the Food and Drug Administration has ignored its own internal regulation and stopped requiring manufacturers of medical devices – such as pacemakers, heart valves and other life-sustaining inventions – to meet specific safety requirements before they are deemed safe enough to be implanted in humans.

As the Project on Government Oversight reveals in a special report today based on internal FDA document obtained by POGO,  senior officials within the FDA made this decision without public notice.  Manufacturers have been trusted to monitor themselves ever since.

The problem is particularly alarming because last year the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that patients harmed by these devices have no right to sue the manufacturers, if the device was approved by the FDA.

So now, the FDA is letting the manufacturers set their own safety standards, and the Supreme Court is shielding those manufacturers from lawsuits.

So who’s watching out for the hapless heart patient?

Update: Congress could step in to do that.  First, it could boost funding for the FDA and require it to enforce those laboratory safety standards the agency effectively discarded.  Second, it could pass the Medical Device Safety Act of 2008, which would nullify the Supreme Court’s decision in Riegel v. Medtronic last year and restore the rights of patients injured by medical devices to sue the companies that made them — restoring a critical incentive for manufacturers to ensure the safety of their own products.

Written by Leisureguy

18 February 2009 at 10:45 am

More economic charts

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Quincy Adams writes in the Reality-Based Community:

A chart of Fed statistics on Industrial Capacity Utilization released today shows the depth and steepness of the current fall in economic activity. It also shows graphically the dramatically sub-normal rate of growth in capacity and thus economic potential during the entire George W. Bush administration — compared to every other recent Presidency, and the distinctly superior performance of both capacity and sustained high rates of utilization during the Clinton administration.

The unprecedented steepness of the fall in activity in the last few months is especially troubling because it started from a low base–and because it’s not over yet.

See also Nate Silver’s use of census statistics to show the Clinton administration’s superior effect on the incomes of the poor and middle class as well as the rich. (Note that comparing the two charts shows that Silver’s Reagan/Bush statistics are helped by the fact that the Reagan period started at a relatively low point in the business cycle, and the George W. Bush statistics will look much worse when the 2008 numbers are included.)

Written by Leisureguy

18 February 2009 at 10:42 am

Posted in Business, Daily life

More on George Will, fatuous pundit

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Steve Benen:

George Will not only published an error-filled column on global warming, Brad Johnson notes that the conservative columnist "is also recycling his own work, republishing an extended passage from a 2006 column — which Think Progress debunked — almost word for word."

With this in mind, maybe now would be a good time to consider what George Will has written about bloggers.

There are, however, essentially no reins on the Web — few means of control and direction. That is good, but it vitiates the idea that the Web’s chaos of entertainment, solipsism and occasional intellectual seriousness and civic engagement is anything like a polity (a "digital democracy").

As Jonathan Chait noted, "If by ‘no reins,’ Will means that bloggers can publish outright falsehoods without consequence, then he’s correct. But he might not be the best person to make this point."

And speaking of writers and "reins," Jonathan Schwarz passes along a great anecdote from Noam Chomsky that seems especially relevant given the events of the last few days.

[A] few years ago George Will wrote a column in Newsweek called "Mideast Truth and Falsehood," about how peace activists are lying about the Middle East, everything they say is a lie. And in the article, there was one statement that had a vague relation to fact: he said that Sadat had refused to deal with Israel until 1977. So I wrote them a letter, the kind of letter you write to Newsweek—you know, four lines—in which I said, "Will has one statement of fact, it’s false; Sadat made a peace offer in 1971, and Israel and the United States turned it down." Well, a couple days later I got a call from a research editor who checks facts for the Newsweek "Letters" column. She said: "We’re kind of interested in your letter, where did you get those facts?" So I told her, "Well, they’re published in Newsweek, on February 8, 1971"—which is true, because it was a big proposal, it just happened to go down the memory hole in the United States because it was the wrong story. So she looked it up and called me back, and said, "Yeah, you’re right, we found it there; okay, we’ll run your letter." An hour later she called again and said, "Gee, I’m sorry, but we can’t run the letter." I said, "What’s the problem?" She said, "Well, the editor mentioned it to Will and he’s having a tantrum; they decided they can’t run it." Well, okay.

As far as I can tell, George Will’s column, which ran on Sunday, still hasn’t garnered a correction. Perhaps he’s throwing a tantrum.

Written by Leisureguy

18 February 2009 at 10:39 am

Posted in Media

Signs of the times

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Number of open positions posted each week in a tech specialty in the San Francisco Bay area:


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18 February 2009 at 9:53 am

Posted in Business, Daily life

Healthcare reform is URGENT

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From the Center on American Progress:

The economic recovery package that President Obama signed into law yesterday in Denver contains many important health care provisions such as funding for Medicaid and health IT as well as subsidies for the recently unemployed. However, the bill does not represent a total victory for progressive health care advocates, as lawmakers negotiating the bill compromised on a number of key health care components. For example, negotiators bowed to objections from conservatives and stripped provisions that would have allowed workers "to stay on Cobra until they qualified for Medicare" or enroll in Medicaid if they couldn’t afford COBRA premiums "even with the new subsidies." At the same time, Americans in large numbers are losing health care coverage. In fact, according to a new Center for American Progress Action Fund report, the unemployment rate grew by 0.8 percentage points in December and January while 100,000 people a week, or 14,000 people a day lost their health coverage. The ranks of the uninsured will continue to grow as the recession persists. As Berkeley professor Jacob Hacker pointed out, the stimulus "won’t provide the cure" to the health care crisis. "What we need is a new New Deal."

Written by Leisureguy

18 February 2009 at 9:18 am

"Bipartisanship" from the Right

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From the Center on American Progress:

After signing the $787 billion economic recovery bill into law yesterday, President Obama will announce a plan to address the nation’s housing crisis today in Phoenix, AZ. The much needed plan will reportedly "use at least $50 billion in Wall Street rescue money authorized last year to provide subsidies when banks reduce interest rates for troubled homeowners to lower the monthly payments many Americans are now struggling to pay." However, it appears that conservatives in Congress are gearing up to obstruct the plan. In fact, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) was already preparing to stage a partisan fight against Obama’s housing legislation before the details were even released. "When you’re looking at the policy here, you’ve got to start with the fact that 93 percent of America’s families are current on their mortgages and, frankly, are out there wondering, you know, who is going to pay for this continued succession of bailouts?" Cantor said in an interview with CBS on Monday. "We just cannot continue to pay for the kind of things that this administration thinks we can." Cantor’s blind opposition is ironic, considering that several conservatives in Congress — including Cantor himself — slammed the economic recovery package for allegedly not addressing the housing crisis. Indeed, in an op-ed last month titled "Fix the Stimulus," Cantor argued, "Also critical will be addressing the housing crisis."

Written by Leisureguy

18 February 2009 at 9:17 am

Posted in Congress, Daily life, GOP

All right! A good idea

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From the Center on American Progress:

Yesterday, the Obama administration launched, a website that will attempt to institute accountability over the expenditure of stimulus funds. "The site features cool graphs, interactive maps, projected timelines of when the money will start pumping into the economy, and a place to share your stories and offer comments."

Written by Leisureguy

18 February 2009 at 9:15 am

George Will illustrates pundit faults

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Newsweek did a study recently, which found that the more prominent a pundit, the less accurate are the pundit’s predictions. George Will provides a case in point. We’ve already seen Paul Krugman demolish Will’s uninformed ideas about how the US recovered from the Great Depression (Krugman is an economist, Will a pundit of no special knowledge). And now, in an email from the Center for American Progress:

In Sunday’s Washington Post, conservative columnist George Will attacked Secretary of Energy (and Nobel-Prize winning physicist) Steven Chu for describing that, "in a worst case," "global warming might melt 90 percent of California’s snowpack." Chu was referring to "the persistent and dramatic decline in the snowpack of many mountains in the West," a phenomenon scientists attribute to "human-induced global warming." In fact, in response to the statewide drought, "the nation’s biggest public utility voted on Tuesday to impose water rationing in Los Angeles for the first time in nearly two decades." Without refuting Chu’s claim, Will chastised the secretary for "doomsaying" about global warming, arguing that concerns about climate change are just "eco-pessimism." "On graphs tracking public opinion, two lines are moving in tandem and inversely: The sharply rising line charts public concern about the economy, the plunging line follows concern about the environment," Will wrote. "Real calamities take our minds off hypothetical ones." But as Climate Progress’s Joe Romm observed, "I don’t know whether it is more pathetic that Will believes this or that the Washington Post simply lets him publish this lie again and again." Indeed, despite Will’s history of spreading misinformation about global climate change, the Post and other media outlets have eagerly provided platforms for climate skeptics to distort the scientific consensus around global warming and mislead the public.

WILL IS WRONG: As evidence to support his point, Will wrote that "according to the University of Illinois’ Arctic Climate Research Center, global sea ice levels now equal those of 1979," and he seized on a "since corrected BBC News article" to argue that the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has found that "there has been no recorded global warming for more than a decade." But as TPMmuckraker reported, the Arctic Climate Research Center (ACRC) quickly disputed Will’s conclusion. "We do not know where George Will is getting his information, but our data shows that on February 15, 1979, global sea ice area was 16.79 million sq. km and on February 15, 2009, global sea ice area was 15.45 million sq. km," ACRC wrote in a statement shortly after the Post published Will’s column. Similarly, the WMO has written that "the long-term upward trend of global warming, mostly driven by greenhouse gas emissions, is continuing." "The decade from 1998 to 2007 has been the warmest on record, and the global average surface temperature has risen by 0.74C since the beginning of the 20th Century." In fact, according to the California Climate Change Center, "by the end of century, snowpack could decrease by as much as 90% in the higher amount of warming — almost double the losses expected under theower warming cases." Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time Will has trotted out these discredited arguments. As the Wonk Room’s Brad Johnson pointed out, "Will is also recycling his own work, republishing an extended passage from a 2006 column…almost word for word." Then, as now, Will saw a report that "appeared to confirm what he believes and straight into the Washington Post it went. Neither did Will’s editors at the Post seem to care enough about not misinforming their readers to take ten minutes to delve into any of this."

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Leisureguy

18 February 2009 at 9:12 am

Kid show ideas by Dan Meth

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Dan Meth pilots some ideas for kids’ shows on TV. More videos at his site.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about "Kid show ideas by Dan Meth", posted with vodpod

Written by Leisureguy

18 February 2009 at 9:05 am

Posted in Daily life

Trilogy Meter

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By Dan Meth, via /film, who graphs the enjoyability of some movies:


Written by Leisureguy

18 February 2009 at 8:57 am

Posted in Movies & TV

Kitty psychology

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Like most cat owners, I am willy nilly a cat observer and, to some degree, a cat behavioral analyst. After much observation, I have come to the conclusion that cats often feel excited before there’s anything to be excited about, and then, having the feeling, cast about for some action that fits the feeling. Thus, for example, a cat will suddenly make a great pounce on a toy lying passively a few inches away, trying to generate enough action to justify the excitement. Or, perhaps, a great jump with flattened ears and then a pounding rush down the hallway into another room, as if being chased by an invisible rabid wolfhound. I wonder to what extent we people have feelings first and then look for excuses for the feeling.

Written by Leisureguy

18 February 2009 at 8:24 am

Posted in Cats, Daily life

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