Later On

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

Archive for April 5th, 2009

Job losses accumulate

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Justin Fox has updated his graph:

Here, updated with this morning’s non-farm payroll data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, is the latest edition of my comparing-the-recessions chart:


Written by Leisureguy

5 April 2009 at 4:11 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life

Free scriptwriting software

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Check out this post. Useful information and links.

Written by Leisureguy

5 April 2009 at 12:11 pm

Differences between a person and a human embryo

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One of my commenters suggested that an embryo is a person. I tactfully pointed out that he was wrong: an embryo is no more a person than an acorn is an oak tree. But I thought I should spell out the point in more detail.

Person Embryo
Has memories Has no memories
Has a brain Has no brain
Recognizable as an individual Unrecognizable as an individual
Has a heart Has no heart
Interacts with people Doesn’t interact with people

The point is clear, I think: an embryo is potentially a person, but that potential must be fulfilled before personhood exists. The tiny dots of the embryos that are used for research are by no means people. And discarding the embryos, instead of using them for medical research to find cures and treatments for diseases that afflict millions of people, seems to be disrespectful of their potential. I don’t know why the “discard” option so appeals to fundamentalists.

Written by Leisureguy

5 April 2009 at 11:14 am

Posted in Daily life, Medical, Science

The opinion in the Iowa gay-marriage decision

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From Peterr [sic] at Firedoglake:

If you are deciding a Very Big Case, your judicial opinion is going to get a lot of attention and it behooves you to write it well.

If you want to know what a very well-written opinion looks like, let me point you to the work of Iowa Supreme Court Justice Mark Cady in Varnum v Brien [pdf], which struck down Iowa’s prohibition on same-sex marriage (internal citations omitted and emphasis added):

As Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes poignantly said, “It is revolting to have no better reason for a rule of law than that so it was laid down in the time of Henry IV. It is still more revolting if the grounds upon which it was laid down have vanished long since, and the rule simply persists from blind imitation of the past.” This concept is evident in our past cases.

In the first reported case of the Supreme Court of the Territory of Iowa, In re Ralph, we refused to treat a human being as property to enforce a contract for slavery and held our laws must extend equal protection to persons of all races and conditions. This decision was seventeen years before the United States Supreme Court infamously decided Dred Scott v. Sandford, which upheld the rights of a slave owner to treat a person as property. Similarly, in Clark v. Board of Directors, and Coger v. North West. Union Packet Co., we struck blows to the concept of segregation long before the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education. Iowa was also the first state in the nation to admit a woman to the practice of law, doing so in 1869. Her admission occurred three years before the United States Supreme Court affirmed the State of Illinois decision to deny women admission to the practice of law, see Bradwell v. Illinois, and twenty five years before the United States Supreme Court affirmed the refusal of the Commonwealth of Virginia to admit women into the practice of law, see Ex parte Lockwood. In each of those instances, our state approached a fork in the road toward fulfillment of our constitution’s ideals and reaffirmed the absolute equality of all” persons before the law as “the very foundation principle of our government.” See Coger.

So, today, this court again faces an important issue that hinges on our definition of equal protection. This issue comes to us with the same importance as our landmark cases of the past. The same-sex-marriage debate waged in this case is part of a strong national dialogue centered on a fundamental, deep-seated, traditional institution that has excluded, by state action, a particular class of Iowans. This class of people asks a simple and direct question: How can a state premised on the constitutional principle of equal protection justify exclusion of a class of Iowans from civil marriage?

Some judicial opinions are impenetrable, even to other judges. This is not one of those opinions. By the end of it, the answer to that question above is inescapable: it can’t:

Iowa Code section 595.2 is unconstitutional because …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

5 April 2009 at 9:33 am

Posted in Daily life, Government, Law

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The dismissal of the Stevens case

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John Terzano of The Justice Project has a good post exploring the ramifications of the dismissal of the case against Ted Stevens. It begins:

This week, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder dismissed the case against former Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska. Citing prosecutorial misconduct as the primary reason, the Justice Department determined that the fairness of the trial had been too damaged by government misconduct to proceed further. Holder stated that, "[a]fter careful review, I have concluded that certain information should have been provided to the defense for use at trial," and that "it is in the interest of justice to dismiss the indictment and not proceed with a new trial." Holder’s decision represents a critical first step in addressing a growing nationwide problem of prosecutors abusing their power in order to secure convictions.

The Stevens case had been marred by prosecutorial misconduct from the outset.  Judge Emmett Sullivan repeatedly criticized prosecutors for failing to follow orders to provide evidence to the defense. In addition, prosecutorial misconduct at trial led Judge Sullivan to hold one of the prosecutors in contempt, and at one point instruct the jury to disregard some evidence presented by the prosecution. Delays in the case persisted in order to allow the court to deal with additional allegations of misconduct. In February, after replacing the original trial team, new prosecutors discovered even more evidence that should have been turned over to the defense. That prompted Holder to dismiss the charges against Stevens and order an internal review of the offending prosecutors.

The proper role of a prosecutor is not to simply seek convictions, but to see that justice is done. In pursuing a conviction against Stevens, prosecutors ignored their constitutional and ethical obligations to ensure a fair trial process. Holder rightly recognizes that there can be no justice when the fairness of a criminal proceeding is interrupted by government misconduct. The convictions against Stevens were obtained through the abuse of prosecutorial power and the wrongful suppression of evidence.  Mr. Holder had no choice but to dismiss the indictment against Stevens.

Unfortunately, the kind of prosecutorial misconduct that occurred in Steven’s case is pervasive in our criminal justice system, at both the state and federal level…

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

5 April 2009 at 9:31 am

Posted in Daily life, Government, Law

In case you need a break

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This kid can’t get over how witty his father is.

Written by Leisureguy

5 April 2009 at 9:12 am

Posted in Daily life

More CEO firings?

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Interesting report in the Guardian:

Elizabeth Warren, chief watchdog of America’s $700bn (£472bn) bank bailout plan, will this week call for the removal of top executives from Citigroup, AIG and other institutions that have received government funds in a damning report that will question the administration’s approach to saving the financial system from collapse.

Warren, a Harvard law professor and chair of the congressional oversight committee monitoring the government’s Troubled Asset Relief Program (Tarp), is also set to call for shareholders in those institutions to be "wiped out". "It is crucial for these things to happen," she said. "Japan tried to avoid them and just offered subsidy with little or no consequences for management or equity investors, and this is why Japan suffered a lost decade." She declined to give more detail but confirmed that she would refer to insurance group AIG, which has received $173bn in bailout money, and banking giant Citigroup, which has had $45bn in funds and more than $316bn of loan guarantees.

Warren also believes there are "dangers inherent" in the approach taken by treasury secretary Tim Geithner, who she says has offered "open-ended subsidies" to some of the world’s biggest financial institutions without adequately weighing potential pitfalls. "We want to ensure that the treasury gives the public an alternative approach," she said, adding that she was worried that banks would not recover while they were being fed subsidies. "When are they going to say, enough?" she said…

Continue reading. I wonder whether this call will be heeded. The financial establishment is well represented in the Obama administration.

Written by Leisureguy

5 April 2009 at 9:10 am

Nuclear weapons ban

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From an excellent post by Steve Benen (and read the whole thing):

… Administration officials sought to use North Korea’s missile launch as part of the strategy — with the U.S. president calling for a reduction in nuclear arms, and ultimately the elimination of the weapons, Obama will presumably have added leverage on the issue. "We are trying to seek the moral high ground," Gary Samore, Obama’s arms control coordinator, said.

The plan reportedly includes a variety of short- and long-term tasks, including U.S. ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty, a nuclear weapons summit, strengthening the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, a new treaty with Russia on arsenal reduction, a new initiative to secure all vulnerable nuclear material, and the creation of an international fuel bank as part of a new framework for civil nuclear cooperation.

As for the politics of this, I suspect the right will dismiss much of this as fantasy. I recall one far-right blogger arguing in October 2007 that Obama’s counter-proliferation was literally laughable: "It’s almost like the Obama is a child’s toy, who has been programmed with nothing but Hallmark Card greetings and random snippets from All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. You pull the string once and it’s, "I love puppies and warm milk!" You pull it again and … it’s, ‘Let’s get rid of all the world’s nuclear weapons because we can’t hug each other with nuclear arms!’"

I wouldn’t be surprised if there were similarly foolish reactions today. I’d just remind our friends on the right that there was one famous liberal who called for the abolishment of "all nuclear weapons," which he considered to be "totally irrational, totally inhumane, good for nothing but killing, possibly destructive of life on earth and civilization."

It was Ronald Reagan.

Written by Leisureguy

5 April 2009 at 8:59 am

Excellent post by Hilzoy

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She gets right to the point:


"As reported by NEWSWEEK, the White House last month had accepted a recommendation from Attorney General Eric Holder to declassify and publicly release three 2005 memos that graphically describe harsh interrogation techniques approved for the CIA to use against Al Qaeda suspects. But after the story, U.S. intelligence officials, led by senior national-security aide John Brennan, mounted an intense campaign to get the decision reversed, according to a senior administration official familiar with the debate. "Holy hell has broken loose over this," said the official, who asked not to be identified because of political sensitivities.

Brennan is a former senior CIA official who was once considered by Obama for agency director but withdrew his name late last year after public criticism that he was too close to past officials involved in Bush administration decisions. Brennan, who now oversees intelligence issues at the National Security Council, argued that release of the memos could embarrass foreign intelligence services who cooperated with the CIA, either by participating in overseas "extraordinary renditions" of high-level detainees or housing them in overseas "black site" prisons.""

Fear of embarrassing countries who cooperated with us cannot possibly be the reason for not releasing the memos. The solution is too simple: just redact their names and any identifying details. Are we supposed to believe that this has not occurred to Panetta or Holder? Or that there is some identifying detail that is so thoroughly intertwined with the legal arguments that it cannot possibly be edited out?

Give me a break.

President Obama: let us see what our public servants defended as lawful, and the arguments they used. If necessary, don’t name the countries who, to their shame, decided to assist us. But don’t insult our intelligence by pretending that you and your administration have never heard of White-Out.

Written by Leisureguy

5 April 2009 at 8:56 am

Embryonic stem-cell research

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I am very glad that Obama has authorized Federal funds for research using embryonic stem cells. Hundreds of thousands of embryos, left over from in vitro fertilization, are available. Under Bush, these would have had to be discarded; now they can be used for research.

I got a comment from someone who wrote, "Tyrants and slaveholders throughout history have identified some people as "surplus" – as less equal than others – but that doesn’t make it so." The problem, of course, is that an embryo is not a person. It’s pretty easy to tell the difference, too. Anyone who can distinguish an acorn from an oak tree should be able to do it.

Written by Leisureguy

5 April 2009 at 8:33 am

Posted in Daily life, Health, Science

Obama and the teleprompter

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There seems to be a strange idea floating around the Right that Obama can’t speak coherently without a teleprompter. That’s a very weird idea indeed, and those who believe it must have carefully selected experience. James Fallows in this post provides some examples of Obama speaking extemporaneously—i.e., no teleprompter. He has no problems.

Written by Leisureguy

5 April 2009 at 8:29 am

Some chemicals more dangerous at low doses?

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Interesting article in Scientific American, which begins:

There are some 82,000 chemicals used commercially in the U.S., but only a fraction have been tested to make sure they’re safe and just five are regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), according to congressional investigators. But a government scientist says there’s no guarantee testing actually rules out health risks anyway.

The basic premise of safety testing for chemicals is that anything can kill you in high enough doses (even too much water too fast can be lethal). The goal is to find safe levels that cause no harm. But new research suggests that some chemicals may be more dangerous than previously believed at low levels when acting in concert with other chemicals.

"Some chemicals may act in an additive fashion," Lisa Birnbaum said this week at a conference held at the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health at Columbia University. "When we look one compound at a time, we may miss the boat."

Birnbaum, director of both the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) and the National Toxicology Program in Washington, D.C., noted that some chemicals, such as those that mimic human hormones, may combine with other hormone-like chemicals  at low doses to produce big effects.
For example, bisphenol-A (BPA), a primary component of some plastics, reacts with cells in the same way as the female hormone estrogen and could be acting synergistically with other pseudoestrogens in the bloodstream to produce heart disease, diabetes or liver failure. Such effects have been observed in animal studies in the lab as well as in frogs in the field for chemicals ranging from the phthalates (used to help perfumes scent linger and make plastics soft) to ubiquitous herbicides like atrazine, linked to malformation in frogs.

In fact, Birnbaum says, there may be no safe dose of certain compounds…

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

5 April 2009 at 8:25 am

Solitary confinement

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Mind Hacks has a good post:

The New Yorker magazine has just published an important article questioning whether the widespread use of solitary confinement in the US prison system should be outlawed as a form of torture.

It’s an in-depth piece that piece that looks at numerous cases of people who have experienced solitary confinement first hand, either as hostages or legitimate prisoners, and discusses the psychological impact of this extreme form of social isolation.

I’ve just looked up the research on the effects of solitary confinement and there’s remarkably little, although everything I could find that directly addressed the question found that it had a negative impact on the mind.

In fact, the ‘The Istanbul statement on the use and effects of solitary confinement’ [pdf], an international consensus statement on solitary confinement, notes that it "harms prisoners who are not previously mentally ill and tends to worsen the mental health of those who are" and questions whether it breaches UN Human Rights laws.

It also describes the punishment as being linked to "long list of symptoms ranging from insomnia and confusion to hallucinations and psychosis".

The New Yorker article contrasts the research findings with the fact that the US has a whole ‘supermax‘ prison system dedicated to solitary confinement and the highest population of prisoners kept in these conditions in the world.

It also notes the fact that there is no evidence that solitary confinement actually reduces prison violence, which it is intended to do.

The article is an important and hard-hitting piece that tries to get to convey the impact of extreme social isolation and asks some difficult questions over a common practice in the US justice system.

Written by Leisureguy

5 April 2009 at 8:22 am

Nicotine may have greater impact than thought

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Nicotine isn’t just addictive. It may also interfere with dozens of cellular interactions in the body, new Brown University research suggests. Conversely, the data could also help scientists develop better treatments for various diseases. Pharmaceutical companies rely on basic research to identify new cellular interactions that can, in turn, serve as targets for potential new drugs.

“It opens several new lines of investigation,” said lead author Edward Hawrot, professor of molecular science, molecular pharmacology, physiology and biotechnology at Brown University.

Hawrot’s research is highlighted in a paper published April 3 in the Journal of Proteome Research. He and a team that included graduate students William Brucker and Joao Paulo set out to provide a more basic understanding of how nicotine affects the process of cell communication through the mammalian nervous system.

The Brown University researchers looked specifically at the alpha-7 nicotinic acetylcholine receptor in mouse brain tissue. A very similar receptor exists in humans. The alpha-7 receptor is the most enigmatic of the so-called “nicotinic” receptors, so named because nicotine binds to them when it is introduced into the body. Most receptors are on the surface of cells and are sensitive to small signaling molecules such as the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which is the naturally occurring signal the body uses to activate alpha-7 receptors.

Their discovery: …

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Leisureguy

5 April 2009 at 8:20 am

Posted in Daily life, Health, Science

Excellent column by Frank Rich

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Well worth reading. I don’t believe that we’ll really get any meaningful reform until public outrage is strong enough to frighten Congress and the Administration into turning on the companies that have given them so much money to buy their loyalty and support.

Written by Leisureguy

5 April 2009 at 8:17 am

From the New Middle Ages to a New Dark Age

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Jack in Amsterdam calls our attention to this report (download as a PDF):

From the New Middle Ages to a New Dark Age: The Decline of the State and U.S. Strategy

Security and stability in the 21st century have little to do with traditional power politics, military conflict between states, and issues of grand strategy. Instead they revolve around the disruptive consequences of globalization, declining governance, inequality, urbanization, and nonstate violent actors. The author explores the implications of these issues for the United States. He proposes a rejection of “stateocentric” assumptions and an embrace of the notion of the New Middle Ages characterized, among other things, by competing structures, fragmented authority, and the rise of “no-go” zones. He also suggests that the world could tip into a New Dark Age. He identifies three major options for the United States in responding to such a development. The author argues that for interventions to have any chance of success the United States will have to move to a trans-agency approach. But even this might not be sufficient to stanch the chaos and prevent the continuing decline of the Westphalian state.

Written by Leisureguy

5 April 2009 at 8:02 am

Posted in Daily life, Government

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