Later On

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

Archive for May 5th, 2009

Food note

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I did indeed make guacamole today, following the recipe posted earlier today. Very tasty indeed. I think that the avocado is one of my favorite fruits.

A new favorite is pears—any variety. I never liked pears all that much until this year, and now I can’t get enough. And there are so many varieties. Today I bought Packham’s Triumph and Taylor’s Gold. Great stuff.

Favorite fruits list (for now), in alpha order:

Avocado
Clementines
Lemons
Olives
Pears
Red Raspberries
Tomatoes

Written by Leisureguy

5 May 2009 at 6:50 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food

Desperate efforts to protect themselves

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Faiz Shakir at ThinkProgress:

The Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility is expected to release a long-awaited report that will reveal the conduct of senior Bush administration lawyers who authorized torture. Newsweek reported recently that the report is “causing anxiety among former Bush administration officials.” Now, the Washington Post is reporting that Bush officials are lobbying the DOJ to weaken the report’s conclusions:

Former Bush administration officials are lobbying behind the scenes to push Justice Department leaders to water down an ethics report criticizing lawyers who blessed harsh detainee interrogation tactics, according to two sources familiar with the efforts.

In recent days, attorneys for the subjects of the ethics probe have encouraged senior Bush administration appointees to write and phone Justice Department officials, said the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the process is not complete.

(HT: Kevin Drum)

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5 May 2009 at 11:41 am

Bacon and Beer Happy Hour in Baltimore

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Take a look.

Written by Leisureguy

5 May 2009 at 11:36 am

Posted in Daily life

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For your Cinco de Majo guacamole

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Simply Recipes has a recipe for “perfect guacamole” and Slashfood has an illustrated step-by-step. Neither of them use a molcajete and tejolote, more’s the pity. Compare the recipe that I use, which works wonderfully (copied from my old blog):

I read this article in the LA Times, and I immediately ordered a molcajete and tejolote (mortar and pestle, Mexican style, chiseled from volcanic rock). I tried their recipe:

Guacamole

Total time: 10 minutes
Servings: Makes 2 cups

Note: Molcajetes, lava stone mortar and pestles, are widely available at Latino markets and selected cookware stores.

2 heaping tablespoons finely chopped white onion
3 serrano chiles, seeded and finely chopped
4 heaping tablespoons roughly chopped cilantro plus cilantro leaves with little stems for garnish
3/4 teaspoon salt or to taste
3 large avocados or 4 small avocados
4 ounces ripe tomatoes, finely chopped (about 2/3 cup)
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice

1. In a molcajete, grind together the onions, chiles, chopped cilantro and salt to a paste. [See update below – LG]

2. Cut the avocados into halves, remove the pits and spoon the flesh into the molcajete. Mash the avocado into the onion-chile mixture until it is a uniform texture, but not smooth (it should still have some lumps).

3. Stir in the tomatoes and lime juice, adjust the seasoning and top with the cilantro leaves.

Each tablespoon: 36 calories; 0 protein; 2 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams fiber; 3 grams fat; 0 saturated fat; 0 cholesterol; 57 mg. sodium.

Grinding the stuff to a paste (step 1) wasn’t happening for me, so I used the food processor for that, then put it in the molcajete with the avocados and finished it up.

I decided it was more trouble than it was worth, but then today I decided to make another batch, using my own approach: minced 1/4 of a large sweet onion and 1 large Serrano pepper, put that in the molcajete along with 2 small avocados, smashed it up and added salt and lime juice. Excellent.

The molcajete and tejolote is really excellent for making guacamole: the rough stone surface keeps the avocados from sliding around, and the nice rock tejolote really smashes things well. I got mine here, but you can do your own Google search or even find them in a local store.

UPDATE: I see now what the problem was. (I made a second batch, it was so good.) The general problem was that I was trying to master a new gadget/technique on the first go—that’s a big mistake. Even with something so simple as a knife, it takes a while to really get a feel for that particular knife. The specific problem was that I was trying to make a paste of too many things at once.

Here’s the technique I used for the second batch: put one peeled clove of garlic in the molcajete, and pound and scrape it with the tejolote until it’s a paste. Doesn’t take long at all. Add some salt, and pound and scrape a little bit. Then take a Serrano pepper, cut it lengthwise in half, then each half in half, and then chop across it so that it’s minced. Add that and pound and scrape until that’s pasted in with the garlic and salt. Mince some sweet onion, add that, and pound and scrape. Then add the avocado (peeled and pitted, natch) and pound and scrape a bit. Then a little lime juice, stir with rubber spatula and scrape out into a bowl. (I have a spoon-shaped silicone spatula that’s just right for this.) Incredibly easy and wonderful. I wouldn’t be without my molcajete and tejolote now.

Here’s a molcajete and tejolote for $35

Written by Leisureguy

5 May 2009 at 11:32 am

Kevin Drum on bankers and Congress

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Good post—he quotes the Mike Lillis story and comments on it:

… Really, this is beyond belief.  Retroactive rate hikes on existing balances are indefensible under any circumstances.  A third grader on a playground would understand why.  Despite this, every single effort to ban the practice has failed.  Over and over and over, they’ve failed.  And now, even with the finance industry on its knees, hated and despised for its lavish compensation packages financed by trillions in taxpayer bailout cash, there’s still some question about whether Congress can pass this no-brainer of a bill.  Instead, we might end up merely banning retroactive rate hikes for 30 days.

This practice (which goes by the charming name of “universal default”) should have been banned the first time it ever reared its ugly head.  The fact that there’s even a chance of it continuing to survive in any form at all after the events of the past couple of years should dispel any questions about the death grip the finance industry has on American politics.  It’s the smoking gun that bankers own the country.

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5 May 2009 at 11:15 am

Emptywheel examines the field trip to Guantánamo

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Excellent post by Marcy Wheeler, which begins:

Just wanted to point to two tiny details from this passage about the "field trip" of the War Council (Addington, Yoo, Haynes, Gonzales, and Rizzo, plus friends) to Gitmo on September 25, 2002.

According to a trip report prepared by a Deputy Staff Judge Advocate at SOUTHCOM, MG Dunlavey held private conversations with Mr. Haynes and a few others and briefed the entire group on a number of issues including "policy constraints" affecting interrogations at the JTF. 354 For example, MG Dunlavey told the group that JTF-170 would "like to take Koran away from some detainees – hold it as incentive" but that the issue was undergoing a policy determination by SOUTHCOM.355 The trip report noted that Mr. Haynes "opined that JTF-170 should have the authority in place to make those calls, per POTUS order," adding that he "[t]hought JTF-170 would have more freedom to command. 356 MG Dunlavey told the Committee that he may have told the group during their visit that JTF-170 was working on a request for authority to use additional interrogation techniques. 357 Mr. Haynes said he did not recall discussing specific interrogation techniques or GTMO’s work on a request for authority to use additional interrogation techniques. 358

According to the Staff Judge Advocate (SJA) at GTMO, LTC Diane Beaver, there was discussion among senior staff at GTMO as to whether or not the JTF required explicit authorization to use interrogation approaches that had not been taught to interrogators at the U.S. Army Intelligence Center at Fort Huachuca, Arizona. While some felt that JTF-170 already had the authority to use additional interrogation techniques, MG Dunlavey directed his staff to draft a request for new authorities to submit to SOUTHCOM for approval.

The Discussion of the Bybee Two Memo?

First, remember that when Addington testified

Continue reading.

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5 May 2009 at 11:11 am

Buying the Senators

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Amanda Terkel has this in ThinkProgress:

Last week, the Senate voted 45-51 to defeat a proposal to change bankruptcy law and allow bankruptcy judges to cram-down mortgage payments. As Pat Garofalo has explained, cram-downs help homeowners by enabling these judges “to lower mortgage payments for those who owe more than their home is worth and have exhausted all other options.” Prior to the vote, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) — who sponsored the amendment — took the floor and decried the powerful banking industry that was working to defeat the provision. Indeed, as Jane Hamsher now reports, lobbyists received more than $42 million to defeat such legislation this year:

A review of lobbying reports filed indicates that finance, insurance and real estate (FIRE) interests paid over $42 million to lobbyists who worked to defeat mortgage write-down in bankruptcy (cramdown) in the first quarter of 2009, as well as other anti-consumer legislation such as capping credit card interest rates.

Sixty organizations filed lobbying reports for the first quarter of 2009 indicating that they had paid lobbyists to work on the issue (see chart). Because lobbying reports don’t break down how much money was devoted to lobbying on a specific issue it’s not possible to break down a total spent on cramdown alone, but lobbying against H.R. 1106, H.R. 200 and S. 61, the Helping Families Save Their Homes Act was a priority for those organizations and lobbyists listed.

According to Durbin, between now and 2012, 8 million homeowners may lose their homes in foreclosure.

The question I would like to have answered is, "How much of that $42 million went to Senators, and to which Senators?" The lobbyists are in general just the bagmen.

Written by Leisureguy

5 May 2009 at 11:05 am

Sen James Inhofe: stupid? ignorant? a liar? all of the above?

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ThinkProgress:

Yesterday, the New York Times’ Room for Debate blog hosted a conversation about how repealing the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy banning openly gay men and women from serving would “affect the military ranks.” Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), who supports continuing the ban, claimed that “a majority of the American people” agree with “section 571 of the 1994 National Defense Authorization Act, which states”:

The presence in the armed forces of persons who demonstrate a propensity or intent to engage in homosexual acts would create an unacceptable risk to the high standards of morale, good order and discipline, and unit cohesion that are the essence of military capability.

But Inhofe is wrong about the views of the American people. Last week, the Quinnipiac Polling Institute released a comprehensive poll showing that not only do a majority of Americans support repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, but 58 percent of Americans reject “the argument that allowing openly gay men and women to serve would be divisive.” This includes 56 percent of voters with family in the military. (HT: TPM DC)

Written by Leisureguy

5 May 2009 at 10:54 am

Posted in Daily life, GOP, Government, Military

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Good movie reviewed and discussed

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I enjoyed the Billy Wilder movie Ace in the Hole (1951), which I saw recently. It is indeed a cutting satire of the news business. Take a look at this three-minute video review.

Written by Leisureguy

5 May 2009 at 10:52 am

Good news: DC Council votes to recognize gay marriages

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From the Washington Post:

An overwhelming majority on the D.C. Council voted today to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states, sending the District deeper into the national debate and galvanizing supporters on both sides of the issue.

The measure, approved by a vote of 12 to 1, now goes to Mayor Arian M. Fenty (D), a supporter of gay marriage.

If Fenty signs it, the District will put the same-sex marriage issue directly before the Congress. Under Home Rule, the District’s laws are subject to a 30-day congressional review period.

After the vote, a large crowd of opponents, led by local ministers, began yelling, "Get them off the council!" referring to the members who supported the measure. The crowd caused such a ruckus that security guards and D.C. police officers had to be called in to restore order…

Continue reading.

I’ve been exchanging emails with a h.s. friend (now a retired Methodist minister) who still lives in Oklahoma. I asked him about the Oklahoma GOP platform, which contains many homophobic statements. His reply indicated that he did not understand the difference between homosexuality (legal and apparently natural, since it’s been observed in dozens of mammalian and avian species) and pedophilia (illegal and independent of sexual orientation—indeed, most pedophiliacs are heterosexual (since most people are heterosexual)). Being ignorant of the difference might explain the hysteria some people feel about homosexuality, though it’s hard to believe that anyone with a reasonably good education would not know the difference—but of course, I don’t understand how anyone with a reasonably good education could not see that evolution is coextensive with life: all living things necessarily evolve.

Written by Leisureguy

5 May 2009 at 10:44 am

Posted in Daily life, Government

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OMG: the swine flu virus has mutated into a zombie virus!

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Pointed out by The Younger Daughter, the report begins:

There has been a small outbreak of “zombism” in London due to mutation of the H1N1 virus into new strain: H1Z1.

Similar to a scare originally found in Cambodia back in 2005, victims of a new strain of the swine flu virus H1N1 have been reported in London.

After death, this virus is able to restart the heart of it’s victim for up to two hours after the initial demise of the person where the individual behaves in extremely violent ways from what is believe to be a combination of brain damage and a chemical released into blood during “resurrection.”

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

5 May 2009 at 10:36 am

Posted in Daily life, Humor, Medical

The Simple Dollar’s favorite blogs

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Trent Hamm has a useful post today, titled "My 25 Favorite Personal Finance, Career, and Personal Development Blogs". The post begins:

Collin writes in:

What personal finance blogs do you read?

You can actually find the answer to this question on any page of The Simple Dollar. If you scroll down a bit, you’ll see a section in the lower right entitled “Blogs I Read.” Under that heading is a list of twenty five blogs that I keep pretty close tabs on – I visit all of them most days.

I update this list about once a year, and because of Collin’s prompting, I decided it was time to give that list a good refreshing. I removed about half of the sites that used to be there (a few are now defunct, the rest have simply become less compelling) and added quite a bit of new blood to the list.

So, which personal finance, career, and personal development blogs do I keep tabs on? Here they are, along with some notes on why I find them so compelling. If you want to visit any of these sites at any time, just visit any page on The Simple Dollar – the full list can always be found in the “Blogs I Read” section.

Ask MetaFilter
http://ask.metafilter.com
Ask MetaFilter is an interesting community blog of sorts. Here’s how it works: members pay a small fee to join, then they’re allowed to ask questions that are on their mind. The questions are all over the place, ranging from whether a person should move from Boston to Colorado to things like how budget reconciliation in the Senate works. The diversity of questions – and the wide range of responses, many of them well thought out – makes Ask MetaFilter a compelling read.

Bargaineering
http://www.bargaineering.com/articles/
Bargaineering (formerly Blueprint for Financial Prosperity) is probably my favorite personal finance blog for interesting ideas. Jim Wang, the author of the site, is …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

5 May 2009 at 10:34 am

Posted in Daily life

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Medical professionals enabling torture

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I believe that medical doctors are forbidden from assisting in torture—by the Hippocratic Oath if not by a professional code of ethics and/or an active, living conscience. Psychologists have avoided a ban in their code of ethics, though some are pushing for it. Sheri Fink of ProPublica has a good article in Salon that’s well worth reading:

The recent Senate Armed Services Committee report on the treatment of detainees captured during the Bush administration’s War on Terror revealed that several American military officers acted to stop harsh interrogations of prisoners. Likewise, the Senate report showed that psychologists versed in the military’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape "SERE" program, which was meant to train American soldiers how to cope with torture if captured by the enemy, warned officials as early as 2002 that reverse-engineering SERE techniques for use on detainees could be ineffective and dangerous. What has been little noticed in the report is that the same psychologists helped develop the very interrogation policies and practices they warned against.

The new information re-opens a number of questions that have tugged at the conscience of a whole profession since the Sept. 11 attacks. Is it possible for psychologists to uphold the ethical tenets of their profession while working within a system of interrogation that violates those tenets? If not, then should the psychologists, however well-meaning, be held to account for their possible role in torture? Does it matter if they raised objections to the system of interrogation but cooperated with it anyway?

The moral dilemma is encapsulated in the experiences of a psychiatrist and psychologist who worked at the U.S. military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. According to the Senate report, in an Oct. 2, 2002, memo they prepared a list of harsh interrogation techniques that ended up influencing interrogation policy not only at Guantánamo, but also in Afghanistan and Iraq. In the same memo, they warned that these methods were likely to result in inaccurate tips and could harm detainees. Those warnings disappeared as the memo moved up the chain of command.

Psychiatrist Maj. Paul Burney, psychologist John Leso and a psychiatric technician had been sent to Guantánamo in June 2002 with a combat stress control company. The three had expected to help U.S. soldiers cope with their extremely stressful deployments, but were "hijacked and immediately in processed into Joint Task Force 170, the military intelligence command on the island," Burney told Senate investigators.

The three were instructed to form a Behavioral Science Consultation Team (BSCT) and help ramp up intelligence collection at Guantánamo. But they lacked training in how to support interrogations, and there was no standard operating procedure in place to guide their work. "Nobody really knew what we were supposed to do," Burney told Senate investigators.

Burney did not respond to two phone calls and an e-mail message, and Leso — whose name is blacked out in the Senate committee’s final report, but is present in supporting documents released by the committee in December 2008 — did not respond to a phone message. ProPublica did, however, speak with Leso’s former boss at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Col. Larry C. James, who was then psychology chief at the medical center.

In 2004, James would serve as …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

5 May 2009 at 10:31 am

Case study: Anonymous smears promulgated by "journalist"

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This is pretty bad:

Jeffrey Rosen’s New Republic smear of Sonia Sotomayor’s intellect and character — based almost exclusively on anonymous, gossiping "sources" — is such a model of shoddy, irresponsible, and (ironically enough) intellectually shallow "journalism" that it ought to be studied carefully.  Standing alone, it reveals quite a bit about anonymity-dependent "reporting" generally, The New Republic specifically, and how much of our political discourse is conducted.

Most of the gaping flaws in Rosen’s piece have been fully highlighted by others.  While most of those criticisms have focused on Rosen’s horrendous use of anonymous sources — one of the most apt reactions to Rosen’s piece comes, appropriately enough, in the form of well-earned derision from Wonkette –  I highly recommend this post from Law Professor Darren Hutchinson.  As Professor Hutchinson conclusively documents, one of the only issues raised by Rosen that was anything other than anonymous gossip — a claim that one of Sotomayor’s judicial opinions was harshly criticized in an "unusual" footnote by another Second Circuit judge — is totally false.  In fact, it’s so obviously false that, as Hutchinson suggests, it could be the by-product only of Rosen’s extreme sloth or (ironically enough again) his lack of intellectual capacity.  Just read Hutchinson’s post for an idea of how vapid, bereft of worth and downright misleading is Rosen’s attack on Sotomayor.

I don’t really have an opinion about whether Sotomayor would be a good pick for Obama — I haven’t done anywhere near the work necessary to formulate a meaningful judgment about that –  but, in my prior life as a litigator, I had some personal experiences with her.  I had at least two, possibly three, cases in which she was the judge — including a Second Circuit appeal for which she wrote the opinion (reversing the District Court) on behalf of a unanimous panel.  At Oral Argument in that case, she was, by far, the most active questioner.

Based on those experiences, I’m genuinely amazed at how — overnight — she’s been transformed in conventional wisdom, largely as a result of Rosen’s piece, into a stupid, shrill, out-of-her-depth Puerto Rican woman who is being considered for the Supreme Court solely due to anti-merit, affirmative action reasons.  The New Republic thus fulfills its principal function in life:  to allow the Right to spout any sort of invective and bile and justify it by reciting the "even-the-liberal-New-Republic-agrees" defense.

In the last 24 hours alone, Rosen’s article has been used by three different National Review writers — who, I’d be willing to bet lots of money, know virtually nothing about Sotomayor — to declare her to be "dumb and obnoxious."  That’s a phrase they’ve reveled in repeating three times now (and counting), culminating with this:  "I’m sure Mark H. is right about Sotomayor’s being dumb and obnoxious, just as Derb is right about her being female and Hispanic is all the [sic] matters."  The amazing speed with which so many people who know absolutely nothing about her are willing, indeed eager, to assume that she’s stupid and doesn’t deserve her achievements — based on the fact that she’s Puerto Rican and female and Rosen published some trashy, unaccountable gossip feeding that perception — is really remarkable.

My perception of Sotomayor is …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

5 May 2009 at 10:24 am

Marijuana Policy Project Progress Report

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Just received via email:

MPP just published our 2008 annual report. I think you’ll agree that it details a smart, strategic slate of activities that led to the most successful single day in MPP’s history, November 4, 2008, when we passed a medical marijuana initiative in Michigan and a decriminalization initiative in Massachusetts. I’m really proud of what you and MPP accomplished last year.

But the explosion of interest in marijuana policy reform that MPP has seen in the first couple of months of 2009 is unprecedented. We are uniquely positioned to seize the opportunities that are now presenting themselves — precisely because of everything we’ve done in the past, especially our activities from 2008.

Now, we’re counting on your generous financial support to carry our momentum forward and help achieve the still daunting task of ending marijuana prohibition.

In honor of our successes in 2008, please make a monthly pledge of $5 or more today to help MPP carry out our ambitious 2009 strategic plan.
MPP has already made progress this year:

  • Thanks to MPP’s lobbying efforts, medical marijuana bills are moving through the Illinois, Minnesota, New Hampshire, and New York legislatures, and in Rhode Island our longtime grantee is working to pass legislation to expand the existing medical marijuana law.
  • MPP’s pressure on President Obama resulted in his promise to end the federal raids on medical marijuana patients and providers who are in compliance with state law.

The steadfast personal commitment of people like you has made these gains possible. But there is much more to be done.

You can download a PDF of the 2008 annual report here.

Your help is critical to making 2009 even more successful than 2008. Please donate right now to help create a country with commonsense, compassionate marijuana policies.

Written by Leisureguy

5 May 2009 at 10:19 am

Congress may look at mortgage crisis

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Mary Kane in the Washington Independent:

In the wake of the Great Depression, a Congressional panel known as the Pecora Commission investigated Wall Street’s actions and set the stage for financial regulation that lasted for decades. Last week, we noted that despite calls from some on the left, a new Pecora-style probe would be unlikely, given that Congress itself undid many of those same regulations and contributed in a substantial way to the subprime crisis.

But not so fast. Sam Stein at The Huffington Post reports that Congress may move soon on an investigation modeled after the Sept. 11 commission to examine the financial meltdown:

The House of Representatives came to agreement on Monday afternoon on the establishment of a 9/11-styled commission that would be independent of Congress and granted the power of subpoena to investigate the origins of the financial crisis.

Aides on the Hill said that the House will likely vote on the measure Wednesday, adding that the chances of passage were high. The office of the bill’s cosponsor, Congressman Darrell Issa, said the legislation would be similar to that recently passed by the Senate.

The concept of the commission is pegged to the investigative body that looked into the intelligence collapse preceding the terrorist attacks on 9/11.

The key, in this case, is that the body – eight or (likely) ten members, split evenly by party affiliation – would have the power of subpoena, compelling the key players to testify. “It is,” said one staffer involved in the creating of this legislation, “essential.”

If a commission does get approved, look for it to be extremely busy. There’s plenty to investigate, from securities fraud to all the political moves to strip financial regulations. This may not mark the return of the Pecora Commission, but it could come pretty close.

Written by Leisureguy

5 May 2009 at 10:17 am

Cinco de Majo Megs

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This little photo, Megs with Photoshopping by The Wife, is becoming a Cinco de Majo tradition for my blog.

cinco-de-majo-megs

Written by Leisureguy

5 May 2009 at 10:10 am

Posted in Cats, Megs

The erosion of employer-sponsored health insurance

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From the Center for American Progress:

When Chrysler filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on April 30, the company granted the United Auto Workers union a 55 percent stake in the restructured firm. As a result, the Voluntary Employee Benefit Association (VEBA), the union’s health care trust established by the Big Three automakers in 2007, "will own most of Chrysler’s assets." But as Ken Terry of BNET Healthcare explains, the arrangement represents "another blow to the tottering system of employer-based insurance." The union "will accept this equity in lieu of $5 billion in cash, or about half the amount that Chrysler promised to invest in the VEBA," Terry writes. "If the ailing automaker gets dismembered in bankruptcy proceedings, or fails to recover in coming years, its retirees could lose all or part of their healthcare benefits." Nationally, the percentage of Americans "under the age of 65 with employer sponsored insurance declined to less than 63 percent in 2007, from more than 67 percent in 1999," and employers are now reporting that they plan to shift more health costs to employees. According to a new survey of businesses, "one-fifth of the companies said they planned to add or switch to a high-deductible or ‘consumer-directed’ health plan with a health savings account, perhaps doubling the percentage of employers who offer such plans." As the Wall Street Journal’s health blog observes, "A big reason is that employers say the recession isn’t just crimping business; it’s also expected to drive up their health care costs. Those surveyed said they expect their health benefit costs to spike an average 7.4 percent this year (compared to the 6 percent increase employers originally forecast)."

MORE AMERICANS LOSING EMPLOYER INSURANCE: Employers have shed 5.1 million jobs in the last 15 months, and approximately "2.4 million workers have lost the health coverage their jobs provided since the start of the recession." In fact, a new analysis of data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor statistics by the Center for American Progress concludes that the worst losses have been in the first three months of 2009, when more than 1 million workers lost health coverage. In March alone, more than 320,000 Americans lost their employer-provided health insurance, "which amounts to approximately 10,680 workers a day." Manufacturing, construction, and professional and business services accounted for three-quarters of total jobs lost, while employees in the durable goods manufacturing sector bore "the greatest burden of the losses in coverage with approximately 733,600 workers becoming uninsured since December 2007," the report concluded. Still, estimates of the rise in the number of uninsured "do not reflect the full extent of health coverage loss due to lost employment." As the report explains, the numbers represent a "conservative estimate of the number affected, since it leaves out spouses and children who may have also lost coverage as a result of a spouse or parent losing their jobs."  [And don’t forget the private health insurance is difficult to get because of the incredible list of disqualifying conditions. See this article. – LG]

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Leisureguy

5 May 2009 at 9:54 am

The war through the Taliban’s eyes

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Very interesting post by Spencer Ackerman, which includes the highlights from an important interview with a Taliban tactician:

Whatever you do, don’t miss The New York Times’ epic interview with a Pakistani Taliban tactician about what has become “a seamless conflict” on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. The tactician is based out of Wana, in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas, but spends much of his time focused on Afghanistan. His superiors, for instance, are tied to the network of longtime Afghanistan guerilla Jalaleddin Haqqani. As my friend Chris Albritton suggests at his new blog, Jihadistan Insurgency Watch, much of what the tactician says will be familiar to students of the counterinsurgent Dave Kilcullen. But here’s the highlight reel.

1. Paying off tribal elders won’t work. Gen. David Petraeus’ strategy in Iraq of exploiting and deepening fractures in both the Iraqi insurgency and its base of support provoked study in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The tactician says that Petraeus, now the head of U.S. Central Command, can try it in Afghanistan, but he should just expect to be throwing money around. “We know our Afghans,” he says. “They will take the money from Petraeus, but they will not be on his side. There are so many people working with the Afghans and the Americans who are on their payroll, but they inform us, sell us weapons.”

2. The drone strikes actually work, to a degree. In Pakistan, the CIA’s missile strikes from pilotless drones have caused controversy, both within Pakistan, where civilian casualties are fuel for the insurgency, and among American strategists, who debate their utility both within that context and against the stark fact that U.S. combat troops largely can’t operate in Pakistan. The tactician gives the drones their due, saying they’re “very effective,” and that they’ve thinned the ranks of al-Qaeda and Taliban leadership. (All of which suggests the United States has a significant intelligence base within Pakistan after all. Otherwise, the drones wouldn’t know what to hit.) But:

The drone attacks simply prompted Taliban fighters to spend more time in Afghanistan, or to move deeper into Pakistan, straddling both theaters of a widening conflict. The recruits were prepared to fight where they were needed, in either country, he said.

Within this framework, the drones appear to be the newest hammer with which to play whack-a-mole, which is an unsustainable and insufficient long-term strategy. In Wana, he says, “the gossip has finished,” meaning people don’t gather in large groups for fear of being blown up by drones.” The tactician apparently views that as a win for the United States, but in the longer term, it poses a clear risk to U.S. or Pakistani efforts to cleave the populace from the Taliban.

3. The Taliban is not al-Qaeda...

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

5 May 2009 at 9:49 am

Kicking out pseudo-Democrats

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From the Center for American Progress:

Last week, Sen. Dick Durbin’s (D-IL) "cram-down" amendment — which would rewrite bankruptcy law to allow judges to renegotiate mortgages with banks — was rejected 45-51 by the Senate. Twelve Democratic senators voted against the bill, after furious lobbying from the mortgage and banking sectors. The financial sector had funneled millions into the coffers of Democratic senators who voted nay, leading Durbin to decry that banks "own" Congress. This weekend, on the Bill Maher Show, Maher suggested to Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) that progressive Democrats fighting against moneyed interests form a new party: "Let’s be honest, the Democratic party, starting in the 90’s, also became the party of business and Wall Street. So what we really need is another party that’s the progressive party." Frank objected, saying, "We who don’t feel that Wall Street should call the shots are in the majority of the Democratic party." He then suggested that the "minority" of Democrats blocking progressive financial reforms break away to form a third party. "I agree with you that I wish there were more Democrats on one side. But what you’re saying, on the Democratic side, who are on the side you want, should leave to become the second party. No, I’m the first party. Let the minority, who doesn’t agree with us, let them become the second party," Frank said. Even with the setbacks, Frank said that progressives should be happy that legislation protecting credit card holders against abuses — which "the banks hated" — passed the House. "If the Senate doesn’t do that, people have a right to be frustrated. But again, the answer is, kick out the minority, don’t kick out the majority," he urged.

Mike Lillis of the Washington Independent has this little opinion from Chuck Schumer (one of the Democrats whose adherence to Democratic values is iffy at best):

In an interview with Politico today, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) points out why credit card reforms, which the Senate is expected to take up this week, stand a better chance of passing than the mortgage bankruptcy reforms that failed last week.

“Bankruptcy reform, important as it was, was sort of esoteric. If you went into O’Halloran’s Pub, the fellas aren’t saying to you, ‘What’s going on with bankruptcy reform?’” says Schumer in his best guy-on-a-bar-stool voice. “But they might say, ‘What are you doing about my credit cards?’ The average person feels the second much more than the first, even though both are important.”

What’s interesting here is how the Democrats seem to be equating the perils of credit card fees with the perils of foreclosures — as if the thousands of families that are losing their homes somehow won’t care because at least they’ll have more time to pay their credit card bills (beginning a year from now).

And cramdown is esoteric? Maybe. But it was the housing crisis — not deceptive credit card practices — that sunk the global economy. If Democrats had to choose which topic to put their full weight behind this year, why choose the latter?

Written by Leisureguy

5 May 2009 at 9:44 am

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