Later On

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

Archive for May 6th, 2009

"Blue Dog" Democrats: replace them with real Democrats

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It’s handy that they’ve labeled themselves. Here’s a report on their actions (which speak louder than words, recall) by Christopher Stern in Bloomberg:

U.S. Representative Jim Marshall is a Georgia Democrat and a member of his party’s Blue Dog Coalition, a group of lawmakers bound by a desire to restrain federal spending. The Blue Dogs have something else in common: a fondness for funding pet projects.

Marshall alone requested more than $12 billion worth of the so-called earmarks in the 2010 federal budget. His proposals range from $388,850 to aid 14 local farmers’ markets to $4.2 billion to purchase C-17 heavy-lift transport aircraft.

Overall, Blue Dogs submitted more than 2,500 individual earmarks totaling some $20 billion. That underscores the conflict between their eagerness to bring federal money home and the coalition’s criticism of the budget as laden with pork.

“It’s really hard to smack government’s wrists with the one hand while the other hand is looking for as much earmark cash as you can grab and bring home to your district,” said Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a Washington-based public-interest group…

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Written by Leisureguy

6 May 2009 at 1:10 pm

Posted in Congress, Democrats

The tax-haven crackdown

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An interesting analysis by Pat Garofalo:

Yesterday, the Obama administration announced “a major offensive against businesses and wealthy individuals who avoid U.S. taxes by parking cash overseas.” With this plan, the administration wants to prevent corporations from claiming tax deductions on overseas investments until they pay U.S. taxes on the profits, and reverse a Clinton-era rule known as “check the box,” which allows companies to easily shift income into tax havens like the Cayman Islands or Bermuda.

Predictably, the business lobby immediately cried foul over the changes, claiming that they will destroy business as we know it and “eliminate American jobs.” But Congressional roadblocks have also emerged, with Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-NY), for one, saying he’s “wary because the tax changes would hurt Citigroup Inc., his New York district’s largest private-sector employer.”

Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), meanwhile, has called for “further study” of the administration’s proposals. Hopefully these facts will help him out:

– Tax havens like the Cayman Islands have “helped scores of U.S. companies, including Coca-Cola Co. and Oracle Corp., to legally avoid billions in tax payments to the U.S. government.” Companies lower their effective tax rate by more than 20 points thanks to stowing profits offshore.

– A $100 billion annual tax burden is shifted onto U.S. based companies and taxpayers due to tax avoidance.

– The United States collects below the OECD average in corporate tax revenue — even though it has a higher marginal rate than most countries — because of sheltering.

– In 2004, the most recent year for which statistics are available, U.S. multinationals paid an effective U.S. tax rate of just 2.3 percent on $700 billion in foreign profits.

The Oxford Centre on Business Taxation has found that no matter their home country’s tax rate, if loopholes and shelters exist, companies will exploit them. And as for the supposed damage to U.S. growth, Barrett Sheridan at Wealth of Nations had this to say:

The argument against taxing corporations more is that it will damage their international competitiveness, and we’ll lose jobs and business to overseas firms. Color me skeptical. Of the $103.1 billion raised by cutting down on tax arbitrage, $74.5 billion will go to making a permanent tax credit for companies that invest in R&D in the U.S. That hardly sounds like a plan that will damage U.S. growth prospects.

Indeed, the whole premise of the administration’s approach is to stop incentivizing overseas investment, and start rewarding domestic. And maybe some of the increased revenue raised from corporations could go toward funding health care reform? Whatever the case, cracking down on havens is an important matter, and deserves Congressional support.

Written by Leisureguy

6 May 2009 at 12:16 pm

How to tell when to stop eating

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Very intriguing method.

Written by Leisureguy

6 May 2009 at 12:14 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food, Health

The DNA Backlog Crisis

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I didn’t even know about this one, but it’s interesting. Ben Protess writing for ProPublica:

Kellie Greene spent three years living in fear, waiting for police to catch the stranger who raped her.

Her fear slowly turned to bewilderment over the bureaucratic tangle that continues to put women like her at risk of violence.

First there was the three-year wait for a crime lab to test the DNA evidence that her attacker left on her leggings. Then, when the test results finally came back, she was horrified to learn that the man had committed an earlier rape. His DNA from that case was backlogged for two years, leaving him free to break into her Orlando, Fla., apartment, where he beat and raped her for almost an hour in 1994.

"Had they been able to test the DNA in that earlier case, my rape would have never happened," she said.

After her attack, Greene joined other rape victims in a crusade to expose the backlog of untested DNA evidence sitting in freezers and on shelves in police departments and crime labs nationwide. She spoke out about her ordeal in hopes of sparing other women similar pain.

In 2003, her efforts appeared to pay off. Greene stood with Attorney General John Ashcroft at the White House when he announced that the U.S. Justice Department planned to spend a billion dollars to eliminate the backlog. The aim of the mission: to help labs swiftly identify murderers, rapists and other dangerous criminals so they couldn’t strike again.

But at the same time, the Justice Department, along with Congress and state legislatures, adopted a conflicting agenda: to collect more DNA samples from wider swaths of the population.

The result: Today, 15 years after Greene began her campaign, the backlog continues to soar. At least 350,000 samples from murder and rape cases — many of them involving sexually abused children — remain untested, according to the federal government’s best estimates. In 2005, labs across the country saw their DNA backlogs nearly double.

Part of the uptick comes from …

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Written by Leisureguy

6 May 2009 at 12:11 pm

Posted in Daily life, Government, Law, Technology

Tagged with

Thoughts on the present and future of journalism

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bmaz has an interesting post:

Sometimes tectonic shifts are underfoot and society fails to recognize the acts and effects. Such is the case with journalism and its daily outlets, newspapers and television. Newspapers are dying left and right, those that are not are struggling to stay alive and relevant. The most recent glaring example is the Boston Globe.

The Boston Globe has been published for over 137 years and, over that period, became one of the grand ladies of the news press. You would think that the purchase of, and partnership with, the Globe in 1993 by the New York Times would place the Globe in a position of strength in even these perilous times. Not so. From Eugene Robinson in today’s Washington Post:

Despite the whole Red Sox vs. Yankees thing, employees of the Boston Globe were mostly relieved in 1993 when the paper was bought by the New York Times Co. for an astounding $1.1 billion. If the era of local family ownership had to end, nestling beneath the wing of one of the world’s great newspapers seemed the best alternative. And if the Times was willing to pay so much, it must have been serious about putting quality ahead of the bottom line.

That was then. Now, after several rounds of painful cutbacks and layoffs at the Globe, the Times is squeezing a further $20 million in savings from the Boston newspaper’s unions — and threatening to shut down the paper if the demand is not fully met. The economics of our industry are cruel and remorseless, but still it’s alarming to witness what looks like an act of cannibalism.

To be fair, the Globe is reportedly on pace to lose about $85 million this year. The New York Times Co. is hardly in a position to swallow a loss of that magnitude, given that the company’s flagship newspaper is waging its own fight against a rising tide of red ink.

So that is the background for the discussion I want to have. My proposition is that it is not just the financial status of the major newspapers in decline, it is also, and even more significantly, the quality of content. Quite frankly, the traditional press has become deficient in both content and quality. I am not sure that it has ever been so apparent as in the last two to three weeks on the issue of the complicity of the United States government in a demented torture regime…

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Written by Leisureguy

6 May 2009 at 12:05 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life, Media

Unethical marketing

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This should be regulated:

Source: The Scientist magazine, April 30, 2009

The pharmaceutical company Merck "paid an undisclosed sum to Elsevier to produce several volumes of a publication that had the look of a peer-reviewed medial journal, but contained only reprinted or summarized articles — most of which presented data favorable to Merck products." The Australasian Journal of Bone and Joint Medicine carried "ads for Fosamax, a Merck drug for osteoporosis, and Vioxx" and "appeared to act solely as marketing tools with no disclosure of company sponsorship." Merck’s marketing ploy was unearthed as part of the Australian Vioxx lawsuits. The publisher, Elsevier, admits "that the journals in question didn’t have appropriate disclosures." A member of the journal’s "Honorary Editorial Board," Australian rheumatologist Peter Brooks, has worked with Merck, Pfizer and Amgen, and put his name on "a few advertorials" for drug companies. "I’m sure many a primary care physician was given literature from Merck that said, ‘As published in the Australasian Journal of Bone and Joint Medicine, Fosamax outperforms all other medications,’" a Bioethics.net blog states. "If physicians would not lend their names or pens to these efforts, and publishers would not offer their presses, these publications could not exist."

Once I had a commenter who suggested that we should simply trust businesses to do what’s right.

Written by Leisureguy

6 May 2009 at 11:59 am

Insurance lobby rethinks its strategy

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From Drew Armstrong at Congressional Quarterly:

The health insurance industry has started making the hard sell on Congress’ plans for an overhaul of the health care industry, but not in the way many expected. Rather, the frontwoman for private insurance companies is asking for more regulation, not less.

“We have to have a complete overhaul of the rules,” Karen Ignagni, president and CEO of America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), told the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday.

“I know you guys are skeptical,” Ignagni told reporters after the hearing. “This is truly what it is. It is a transparent call for a full-scale renovation and a complete overhaul of the existing regulatory mechanisms.”

Ignagni has previously proposed guaranteeing that people who want to buy insurance can get it, and no longer charging higher or lower rates depending on health status — a change from current industry practices. In return, the industry has asked for a government mandate that people buy insurance.

On Tuesday, she also urged a comprehensive overhaul of federal regulation that would govern insurance markets nationwide and replace parts of the patchwork of existing state regulation, all as part of a broader overhaul of the health care system.

Part of the reasoning behind the industry’s push for regulation may be that, with the momentum Democrats have built for a health care overhaul, private health insurers face two choices: change the way they do business, or face competition from a government-run insurance plan that many say would eventually run them out of business.

“She’s a realist,” said Families USA Executive Director Ron Pollack. “Karen understands that health care reform is going to happen, and I think she wants to be at the table so she can affect decisions. I think she has handled herself very well,” said Pollack, who also testified at the hearing.

And with support building for a government-run insurance option with some limits on how it operates, Ignagni appears to be offering concessions: …

Continue reading. And note the graphic:

Uninsured

Written by Leisureguy

6 May 2009 at 11:56 am

Good news: Consumer safety protection coming back

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James Rosen and Gina Smith report for McClatchy:

President Barack Obama on Wednesday chose former South Carolina schools superintendent Inez Tenenbaum to head the Consumer Product Safety Commission and charged her with revitalizing a dormant federal agency.

Obama also named Robert Adler, a former commission aide who teaches business ethics and product safety at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, to one of the panel’s seats, which carry seven-year terms.

"We must do more to protect the American public — especially our nation’s children — from being harmed by unsafe products," Obama said. "I am confident that Inez and Bob have the commitment and expertise necessary to fill these roles and raise the standard of safety."

It was Obama’s second appointment of a South Carolinian to a key post in less than a week. On Thursday, he tapped Mignon Clyburn, a daughter of House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, to sit on the Federal Communications Commission.

Sen. Jim DeMint, a Greenville Republican who defeated Tenenbaum in the 2004 election, promised in a phone talk between the two to help her gain Senate confirmation.

"I told her she had my full support, and I offered to shepherd her nomination through the (Senate) Commerce Committee," DeMint said. "Inez is a very capable person, and I know she will do a great job."…

Continue reading to see what a mess Tenenbaum will have to sort out.

Written by Leisureguy

6 May 2009 at 11:51 am

Schwarzenegger suggests it’s time to legalize marijuana

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Interesting report by Kevin Yamamura in the Sacramento Bee:

As California struggles to find cash, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said Tuesday it’s time to study whether to legalize and tax marijuana for recreational use.

The Republican governor did not support legalization – and the federal government still bans marijuana use – but advocates hailed the fact that Schwarzenegger endorsed studying a once-taboo political subject.

"Well, I think it’s not time for (legalization), but I think it’s time for a debate," Schwarzenegger said. "I think all of those ideas of creating extra revenues, I’m always for an open debate on it. And I think we ought to study very carefully what other countries are doing that have legalized marijuana and other drugs, what effect did it have on those countries?"

Schwarzenegger was at a fire safety event in Davis when he answered a question about a recent Field Poll showing 56 percent of registered voters support legalizing and taxing marijuana to raise revenue for cash-strapped California. Voters in 1996 authorized marijuana for medical purposes.

Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, has written legislation to allow the legal sale of marijuana to adults 21 years and older for recreational use. His Assembly Bill 390 would charge cannabis wholesalers initial and annual flat fees, while retailers would pay $50 per ounce to the state.

The proposal would ban cannabis near schools and prohibit smoking marijuana in public places.

Marijuana legalization would raise an estimated $1.34 billion annually in tax revenue, according to a February estimate by the Board of Equalization. That amount could be offset by a reduction in cigarette or alcohol sales if consumers use marijuana as a substitute.

Besides raising additional tax revenue, the state could …

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Written by Leisureguy

6 May 2009 at 11:46 am

Zack and Miri Make a Porno

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I greatly enjoyed Zack and Miri Make a Porno, though I do recognize that it’s not a movie that everyone would like. But I found it both funny and touching.

One note: Elizabeth Banks’s laugh is very attractive to me, though not in the same sublime category as Joanna Cassidy’s laugh, which for me produces love at first hearing.

Written by Leisureguy

6 May 2009 at 11:43 am

Posted in Movies & TV

AIG bonuses 4 times as large as reported

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AIG caught. Mary Kane of the Washington Independent:

Just how much did top AIG executives pocket last year in bonuses? Politico reports the total awards paid out were four times higher than previously reported, based on new responses from AIG to queries by Rep. Elijah Commings (D-Md.).

AIG now says it paid out more than $454 million in bonuses to its employees for work performed in 2008.

That is nearly four times more than the company revealed in late March when asked by POLITICO to detail its total bonus payments. At that time, AIG spokesman Nick Ashooh said the firm paid about $120 million in 2008 bonuses to a pool of more than 6,000 employees.

The figure Ashooh offered was, in turn, substantially higher than company CEO Edward Liddy claimed days earlier in testimony before a House Financial Services Subcommittee. Asked how much AIG had paid in 2008 bonuses, Liddy responded: “I think it might have been in the range of $9 million.”

“I was shocked to see that the number has nearly quadrupled this time,” said Cummings. “I simply cannot fathom why this company continues to erode the trust of the public and the U.S. Congress, rather than being forthcoming about these issues from the start.”

I wonder if the higher figure will again spur the kind of public outrage brought on by the earlier bonus disclosures. Good thing for AIG that it’s not getting back in line for another bailout.

Written by Leisureguy

6 May 2009 at 11:39 am

Good news: Congress won’t intervene in DC’s gay marriage bill

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From Edward Epstein in Congressional Quarterly:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Wednesday that Congress won’t try to block a District of Columbia City Council vote to recognize the validity of same-sex marriages performed elsewhere in the country.

The council voted 12-1 for the measure on Tuesday, and Mayor Adrian M. Fenty has said he will sign it. A handful of states are allowing same-sex marriages, including Maine, where Democratic Gov. John Baldacci signed such a bill into law Wednesday. At the same time, many other states have moved to block such marriages.

Under the District of Columbia charter, Congress can block any action of the City Council and mayor within 30 days. Some conservative House Republicans said they want the House to take such a step in the case of the same-sex marriage measure.

But at a press conference, Pelosi, a Californian whose state Supreme Court is considering a case aimed at overturning a voter-passed initiative banning same-sex marriage, said the House won’t hold such a vote.

“I don’t think the Congress should intervene there in terms of their recognition of marriages in the states that allow them,” she said.

But Pelosi also said she won’t press Congress to repeal the section of the 1996 federal law (PL 104-199) known as the Defense of Marriage Act that bans gay marriage.

She said the House is moving on issues involving the rights of gays and lesbians, pointing to last week’s passage of a bill (HR 1913) that would expand hate crimes law to include sexual orientation. And she said Congress may eventually look at the Defense Department’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that bans homosexuals from openly serving in the military. But she said same-sex marriage isn’t on the agenda, because she doesn’t think Congress would approve legislation legalizing it…

Continue reading.

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6 May 2009 at 11:34 am

Corruption watch: Sen Dodd

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From Congressional Quarterly in an email:

"Connecticut Republican Chairman Christopher Healy questioned the qualifications of U.S. Sen. Christopher Dodd’s wife, Jackie Clegg Dodd, to reap $400,000 to $500,000 a year by serving as a director on corporate boards, the Hartford Courant reports. "Healy noted that a key credential cited by Clegg Dodd and the companies that pay her director’s fees has been her role as the founder and managing partner of Clegg International Consulting LLC," which according to the newspaper, has had no clients for about 42 months.

Written by Leisureguy

6 May 2009 at 11:31 am

Using saffron

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Before adding saffron to a dish, soak it in a little alcohol (e.g., brandy, vodka, whatever). Here’s why.

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6 May 2009 at 11:27 am

Trimming asparagus

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Good article in the NY Times.

Written by Leisureguy

6 May 2009 at 11:17 am

Posted in Daily life, Food

Caramelized onions, and a bit beyond

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The Kitchn [sic] has a post on cooking onions until they’re not only caramelized but the edges are crisp. Take a look.

Written by Leisureguy

6 May 2009 at 11:15 am

New water filter comes with a Total-Dissolved-Solids meter

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7zerowater_rect540

I can totally see using the meter to check restaurant water, the water in the pet bowl, and the like. Full review here.

Written by Leisureguy

6 May 2009 at 11:10 am

Private banks, subprime loans, and the bailout

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Interesting post by Mary Kane of the Washington Independent:

An investigation out today from the Center for Public Integrity details the nearly $370 million spent by top subprime lenders over the past decade to fend off regulation in Washington. While that’s disturbing enough, the study make clear that some of the major banks being bailed out by taxpayers were hardly victims of those subprime lenders, The Los Angeles Times reports. Instead, some of the very same banks now receiving federal TARP funds to stem the losses from toxic mortgage securities eagerly bankrolled the lenders’ activities, providing the necessary capital to keep the subprime mortgage machine going.

The center collected data on the top two dozen subprime lenders in an effort to paint a comprehensive picture of how each major player was linked to the banking system.

“What happened to our largest financial institutions was very much a self-inflicted wound,” said the center’s executive director, Bill Buzenberg. “These banks owned many of the subprime lenders and financed their lending in order to get bundles of mortgage-backed securities that they could sell, reaping enormous profits.”

The report noted that investment banks Lehman Bros., Merrill Lynch, J.P. Morgan and Citigroup “both owned and financed subprime lenders,” and that others, including Goldman Sachs & Co. and Swiss bank Credit Suisse First Boston, were major financial backers of subprime lenders.

The study is interesting because the extent to which banks bankrolled subprime lenders hasn’t previously gotten the scrutiny it deserves. With financial regulation on the table, the role of banks in fueling the subprime machine should get a much closer look now.

Some key findings of the study:

According to the analysis:

  • At least 21 of the top 25 subprime lenders were financed by banks that received bailout money — through direct ownership, credit agreements, or huge purchases of loans for securitization.
  • Nine of the top 10 lenders were based in California, including all of the top five — Countrywide Financial Corp., Ameriquest Mortgage Co., New Century Financial Corp., First Franklin Corp., and Long Beach Mortgage Co.
  • Twenty of the top 25 subprime lenders have closed, stopped lending, or been sold to avoid bankruptcy. Most were non-bank lenders.
  • Eleven of the lenders on the list, including four recipients of bank bailout funds, have made payments to settle claims of widespread lending abuses.

Written by Leisureguy

6 May 2009 at 10:39 am

Good news: Gay marriages now legal in Maine

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It’s a juggernaut. From ThinkProgress’s Ali Frick:

Hours after the Maine state senate approved a marriage equality bill today, Gov. John Baldacci (D) signed the law, making Maine the fifth state to allow legal same-sex marriage. In a statement, Baldacci said he “weighed [his] decision carefully” and “did not come to this decision lightly or in haste.” He realized, he explained, that civil unions were not sufficient:

“In the past, I opposed gay marriage while supporting the idea of civil unions,” Governor Baldacci said. “I have come to believe that this is a question of fairness and of equal protection under the law, and that a civil union is not equal to civil marriage.

Baldacci also noted that “does not force any religion to recognize a marriage that falls outside of its beliefs,” nor does it require churches to perform gay weddings.

Written by Leisureguy

6 May 2009 at 10:36 am

Posted in Daily life, Government, Law

Tagged with

Emptywheel on the DoJ report

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Very good post, which begins:

The WaPo has a helpful preview of what to expect from the Office of Professional Responsibility’s upcoming report on the authors of the torture memos. It talks a lot about the recommendation for professional sanctions for John Yoo and Jay Bybee.

A draft report of more than 200 pages, prepared in January before Bush’s departure, recommends disciplinary action, rather than criminal prosecution, by state bar associations against Yoo and Bybee, former attorneys in the department’s Office of Legal Counsel, for their work in preparing and signing the interrogation memos. State bar associations have the power to suspend a lawyer’s license to practice or impose other penalties.

But curiously (or rather, suspiciously), the report does not recommend sanctions against Bradbury: …

Continue reading.

And her post on Doug Feith is also worth reading.

Written by Leisureguy

6 May 2009 at 10:23 am

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