Later On

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

Archive for June 9th, 2009

Obama’s detention dilemma

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Daphne Eviatar in the Washington Independent:

The transfer of former “high-level” Guantanamo Bay detainee Ahmed Ghailani to a federal prison in New York on Tuesday highlights the dilemma President Obama faces over what to do with the 240 detainees remaining at the Guantanamo Bay prison, as well as any others he claims will need to be detained indefinitely without trial in the future.

Ghailani, a Tanzanian seized in Pakistan in 2004 on suspicion of participating in the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in East Africa, spent two years under interrogation in a secret CIA prison before being sent to Guantanamo in 2006. Today, while expressing full confidence in the U.S. criminal justice system, Attorney General Eric Holder initiated Ghailani’s prosecution in federal court — 11 years after the crime.

At the same time, President Obama is considering creating a new system of “preventive” indefinite detention for some detainees “who cannot be prosecuted yet who pose a clear danger to the American people,” as he said in his May 21 speech at the National Archives. That prospect has sparked a bitter controversy among legal and national security experts over who would be detained, the legality of such detention, and the implications for the national security of the United States.

“Indefinite detention without trial is a hallmark of abuse,” Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) wrote in a letter to Obama the day after Obama’s speech. On Tuesday morning, Feingold convened a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution to further explore the issue.

Witnesses debated the legality of detaining suspected terrorists picked up around the world – as opposed to detaining “combatants” on a clear “battlefield,” as international law allows. But much of the hearing’s testimony focused on how a policy of indefinite detention of suspects who are presumed “dangerous,” yet the United States refuses to try as criminals, will affect the nation’s moral standing in the world and its ability to fight al-Qaeda…

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 June 2009 at 3:47 pm

Tough times for Reed College

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I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for Reed College, so I’m disappointed to read about the difficulties they’re now facing. Jonathan Glater in the NY Times:

The admissions team at Reed College, known for its free-spirited students, learned in March that the prospective freshman class it had so carefully composed after weeks of reviewing essays, scores and recommendations was unworkable.

Money was the problem. Too many of the students needed financial aid, and the school did not have enough. So the director of financial aid gave the team another task: drop more than 100 needy students before sending out acceptances, and substitute those who could pay full freight.

The whole idea of excluding a student simply because of money clashed with the college’s ideals, Leslie Limper, the aid director, acknowledged. “None of us are very happy,” she said, adding that Reed did not strike anyone from its list last year and that never before had it needed to weed out so many worthy students. “Sometimes I wonder why I’m still doing this.”

That decision was one of several agonizing ones for this small private college, celebrated for its combination of academic rigor and a laid-back approach to education that once attracted Steven P. Jobs, the chief executive of Apple, to study on its leafy campus minutes from downtown.

With their endowments ravaged by the financial markets and more students clamoring for assistance, private colleges like Reed are making numerous changes this year in staff, students, tuition and classes that they hope will tide them over without harming their reputations or their educational goals. Reed and others have admitted more students to bolster revenue with larger classes. Many are cutting costs by …

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Written by LeisureGuy

9 June 2009 at 3:19 pm

Posted in Business, Education

Echidna, an interesting transitional animal

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Cute little guy. Read about him in this NY Times article by Natalie Angier, which begins:

If you wanted to push yourself to the outermost chalk line of human endurance, you might consider an ultramarathon, or a solo row across the Atlantic Ocean, or being nominated to the United States Supreme Court.

Or you could try studying the long-beaked echidna, one of the oldest, rarest, shyest, silliest-looking yet potentially most illuminating mammals on earth.

Muse Opiang was working as a field research officer when he became seized by a passion for the long-beaked echidna, or Zaglossus bartoni, which are found only in the tropical rain forests of New Guinea and a scattering of adjacent islands. He had seen them once or twice in captivity and in photographs — plump, terrier-size creatures abristle with so many competing notes of crane, mole, pig, turtle, tribble, Babar and boot scrubber that if they didn’t exist, nobody would think to Photoshop them. He knew that the mosaic effect was no mere sight gag: as one of just three surviving types of the group of primitive egg-laying mammals called monotremes, the long-beaked echidna is a genuine living link between reptiles and birds on one branch, and more familiar placental mammals like ourselves on the next.

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Written by LeisureGuy

9 June 2009 at 1:14 pm

Posted in Daily life, Science

Simple step to reduce recidivism

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A change of neighborhood when the convict is paroled:

Relocation substantially lowers the likelihood of re-incarceration for parolees, according to new research at The University of Texas at Austin. Using the occurrence of Hurricane Katrina–-–which ravaged numerous neighborhoods throughout the Louisiana Gulf Coast—as a natural experiment, David Kirk, sociologist at The University of Texas at Austin, was able to examine how consequential a change of residence is to behavioral outcomes such as crime. His findings will be published in the June issue of American Sociological Review.

According to the study, ex-prisoners who have relocated away from their prior residence are 15 percent less likely to be re-incarcerated within the first year of their release from prison. The study included two pre-Katrina groups consisting of 1,538 and 1,731 parolees, as well as 1,370 post-Katrina parolees, all of whom were originally convicted in the New Orleans metropolitan area.

"Successful prisoner reintegration depends, in part, on providing opportunities for prisoners to separate from their criminal past," Kirk said. "Prisoners typically return home to the same crime-producing environment, with the same criminal opportunities and peers that proved so detrimental prior to incarceration.

"We may find that Hurricane Katrina led to positive outcomes for this particular slice of the population. The lesson may be that residential change can lead to a turning point in the lives of parolees."

Source: University of Texas at Austin

Obviously, this sort of relocation requires support (halfway house for residence, help in finding a job in the new location, and so on), but that support is much cheaper than reincarceration for new crimes.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 June 2009 at 12:57 pm

Stereotypes undermine effectiveness in engineers

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To engineering students, scenes like these might sound familiar: students splitting up group projects so they don’t have to work together. One student bragging that he did the problem without following the directions but still got the right answer. Another student bragging about how he did the whole project in the hour before class. It’s practices like these that many students believe will help them become expert engineers — but it’s the same practices that are the ire of managers who hire recent engineering graduates.

These are the findings of a study done by Paul Leonardi, the Breed Junior Chair in Design at Northwestern University’s McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, with colleagues at the University of Colorado. The study was recently published in the Academy of Management Journal.

"Industrial advisory boards are always saying engineers come to the workplace with good technical skills but they don’t work well on team projects," says Leonardi, assistant professor of industrial engineering and management sciences and communication studies. "We wanted to know why. It’s not a lack of skill — engineering students are smart people. So why aren’t they working in teams?"

The study, conducted over several years, included interviewing more than 130 undergraduate engineering students and observing lab sessions and group project work time in order to study the culture of undergraduate engineering.

What they found was …

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Written by LeisureGuy

9 June 2009 at 12:31 pm

Lyme disease spreading into Canada

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Another effect of global warming:

Lyme disease is emerging in Canada, and is expected to increase with climate change, but effective, enhanced surveillance and clinician awareness will be key to minimizing the impact of the disease, write researchers in a review in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal)  ( Lyme disease is transmitted by ticks which feed on animal or human hosts. It begins with a skin lesion that expands and if untreated, can result in facial palsy, meningitis, cardiac issues and progress to nerve damage (peripheral neuropathy) and inflammation of the brain and spinal cord (encephalomyelitis).

Epidemiological understanding about a patient’s likely exposure to ticks is key, as serological testing is insensitive in the early stages of disease but can be useful in the later stages.

Current passive surveillance for ticks has identified new endemic areas in Canada but additional methods are needed to identify emerging areas of Lyme disease. Populations of the tick (Ixodes scapularis) are emerging in southern Ontario, Nova Scotia, southeastern Manitoba, New Brunswick and southern Quebec. Tick populations (I. pacificus) are widespread in southern British Columbia, although the prevalence of the Lyme disease agent (Borrelia burgdorferi) in those populations is lower than in the tick spreading in the east.

Vigilance by clinicians will help in disease surveillance and in prompt treatment. An important role of surveillance will be to inform the public and physicians about local risks and what to do for prevention and early diagnosis of Lyme disease.

"Lyme disease is emerging in Canada, and effective, enhanced surveillance needs to be instigated, and physician awareness of Lyme disease will be crucial to minimizing the impact of the disease," write Dr. Nicholas Ogden from the Public Health Agency of Canada and coauthors.

Source: Canadian Medical Association Journal

Written by LeisureGuy

9 June 2009 at 12:29 pm

Progress on health insurance plan

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Alex Wayne at Congressional Quarterly:

The health care overhaul under development by House Democrats would subsidize insurance premiums for families earning as much as four times the poverty level, while expanding Medicaid and improving its payments to health providers.

Staff of the three House committees with jurisdiction over the emerging bill — Ways and Means, Energy and Commerce, and Education and Labor — have compiled a three-page outline of the legislation, which they call a “tri-committee” proposal. The plan would require individuals to obtain insurance and employers to help pay for it, and would create a government-run insurance plan that would compete with private insurers, according to the outline.

Leaders of the three committees briefed the full House Democratic Caucus on their outline Tuesday. “We will continue to seek input and work closely with our colleagues, outside stakeholders, and the administration and are on track to introduce legislation shortly, the trio said. “We anticipate committee action on health reform in the coming weeks, with legislation on the House floor prior to the August district work period.”

The plan would make major changes to Medicare, including replacing a much-criticized formula for determining physician payment rates. The formula has required cuts in doctor’s rates most years since 2000, forcing Congress to intervene to block the cuts under pressure from physicians. The outline calls the formula “flawed,” but replacing it to avoid the annual payment cuts will cost billions of dollars a year.

The legislation would eliminate …

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Written by LeisureGuy

9 June 2009 at 12:26 pm

Are socialists happier than capitalists?

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Driven by a decline in satisfaction with work life and family life, overall well-being initially plummeted in countries directly affected by the fall of the Iron Curtain, reveals an important new study. The research, forthcoming in the August 2009 issue of the Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization, expands our understanding of the correlation between happiness and democracy — and whether economic concerns outweigh political reforms in their impact on subjective well-being.

"Although one might suppose these questions are of interest — some might even say fundamental interest, considering that they involve comparing capitalism and socialism — they have received little attention in the voluminous literature on transition economies," says Richard Easterlin, USC University Professor and professor of economics at USC.

Easterlin examines life satisfaction in thirteen countries in the so-called communist-bloc using self-reported data from a range of sources, particularly the World Values Survey. Communist-bloc countries first appeared in the large-scale Survey in 1989, when a representative population in each country was asked to rate "life these days, as a whole" on a scale of 1 (dissatisfied) to 10 (satisfied).

Other surveys before and after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 asked similar questions about specific aspects of life — such as work, health, and standard of living — and about "the way democracy works in (your country)."

"The dissolution of the police states and increase in political and civil rights in many of the transition countries might have been expected to increase life satisfaction," Easterlin says. "The sharp decline that initially occurred suggests that adverse economic and social conditions trumped the political in their impact on subjective well-being."

The study finds …

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Written by LeisureGuy

9 June 2009 at 12:22 pm

DNA backlogs

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This is not good. Reported by Ben Protess at ProPublica:

"One of the biggest problems facing the criminal justice system today is the substantial backlog of unanalyzed DNA samples."

–A 2003 Bush administration statement about the "President’s DNA initiative [1]," a five-year plan to, among other goals, eliminate backlogs of untested evidence.

In 2003, the Bush administration declared war on the DNA backlog.

Attorney General John Ashcroft announced that the U.S. Justice Department planned to spend about a billion dollars to eliminate it. The effort, the Justice Department said, would help crime labs swiftly identify murderers, rapists and other dangerous criminals so they couldn’t strike again.

The administration promised that the backlog would be gone in five years, a period that will expire this year.

But today, at least 350,000 samples from murder and rape cases — many of them involving sexually abused children — remain untested in crime labs nationwide, according to the federal government’s best estimates. Other reports claim [2] the backlog is even bigger, with as many as 700,000 samples. In 2005, backlogs across the country nearly doubled.

There’s no one cause of the uptick. But in previous [3] investigations [4], ProPublica has detailed how much of the surge [5] can be traced to new federal and state laws [6] requiring DNA samples from people convicted of — or simply arrested for — nonviolent crimes, including shoplifting. (Check out our map [6] that breaks down DNA collection laws in various states.) Because of these laws, underfunded and understaffed crime labs are now flooded with DNA samples.

Beginning this month, ProPublica will follow five of the labs to see just how well they’re keeping up. The current backlog numbers at the five are recorded below (and in this chart [7]). Every month, we will update you on each lab’s progress — or lack thereof…

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 June 2009 at 12:19 pm

Is it possible that the GOP is simply stupid?

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It certainly looks that way with things like the following, reported by ThinkProgress:

Today, Guantanamo detainee Ahmed Ghailani was transferred to New York to face trial for the bombing of the U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya. Discussing his case last month, President Obama said that, “after over a decade, it is time to finally see that justice is served, and that is what we intend to do.” Attorney General Eric Holder has noted that the Justice Department “has a long history of securely detaining and successfully prosecuting terror suspects through the criminal justice system.”

The right wing, however, has seized the opportunity to launch baseless, fearmongering attacks, with House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) leading the way:

This is the first step in the Democrats’ plan to import terrorists into America. Without a plan to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, the Administration has made the decision to begin transferring these terrorists into the United States…Do they plan to give them the same legal rights as the American people?

Similarly, on MSNBC today, Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) said that the transfer was “counterintuitive” because there are “no judicial precedents for the conviction of someone like this”:

CANTOR: Well, you know, Norah, it’s just counterintuitive. Why in the world would somebody be so focused on the rights of a terrorist instead of keeping Americans safe? There are so many unanswered questions about bringing these detainees on to U.S. soil. We have no judicial precedents for the conviction of someone like this. It is just wrong for us to be bringing these detainees here given the current situation and the unanswered questions. We ought to be putting the safety of American citizens first.

Watch it:

However, the Justice Department today put out a lengthy fact sheet listing nine of major international and domestic terrorism cases that just the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York alone has successfully prosecuted since the 1990s. The release also responded to right-wing criticisms that U.S. prisons can’t handle terrorists:

There are currently 216 inmates in Bureau of Prisons (BOP) custody who have a history of/or nexus to international terrorism. Sixty seven of these individuals were extradited to the United States for prosecution, while 149 were not extradited. Seventy two of these individuals are U.S. citizens (45 of them born in the United States, 27 of them naturalized). The “Supermax” facility in Florence, Colo. (ADX Florence), which is BOP’s most secure facility, houses 33 of these international terrorists. There has never been an escape from ADX Florence, and BOP has housed some of these international terrorists since the early 1990s.

In fact, NBC’s Pete Williams said that Ghailani’s transfer “makes sense, because other defendants in the embassy bombings were tried and convicted” in New York.

Update: This morning, Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) led a hearing to discuss prolonged detention. The right wing’s favorite lawyer, David Rivkin, warned that because of Obama’s actions, soon there will be "hundreds of terrorists walking around this country." Watch it:

Written by LeisureGuy

9 June 2009 at 11:34 am

Posted in Congress, GOP, Government

Good recipe for homemade ginger ale

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Sorry, that probably should be "DIY ginger ale." At any rate, it sounds tasty and it looks easy. Here it is.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 June 2009 at 11:31 am

Posted in Daily life, Drinks, Food, Recipes

The most dangerous search terms

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Which search terms are most likely to find sites that will infect your computer? The answer may surprise you. Take a look.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 June 2009 at 11:29 am

Posted in Daily life, Technology

Cool Word hack to make it minimalist

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Very cute way to make Word a full-screen minimalist text editor. Take a look.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 June 2009 at 11:28 am

Posted in Daily life, Software

Party of No wants no census taken

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The GOP fights the idea of an accurate census because they believe that accuracy would hurt their party. So they do everything they can to undermine the Census Bureau, from the fighting the use of (well-established) statistical techniques to this (from the Wall Street Journal):

Senate Republicans are blocking a vote on the nomination of Robert Groves to be the Census Bureau’s director, leaving the agency without a leader less than a year before the 2010 nationwide head count.

Dr. Groves, President Barack Obama’s pick to lead the bureau, was approved easily by the Senate homeland-security committee in May, but Republicans blocked a confirmation vote last week. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said Republicans weren’t yet in agreement on the nominee.

It is unclear why Republicans are blocking the vote. A McConnell spokeswoman, Jennifer Morris, said she had no information on the delay.

Dr. Groves, director of the University of Michigan’s Survey Research Center and a former Census Bureau official, has raised concerns among mainly Republican lawmakers because he is an expert in sampling, the use of statistical adjustments to compensate for undercounted populations. Dr. Groves has said he won’t use the practice for the 2010 count.

"Every day that goes by that the Census Bureau does not have a director that is responsible for steering the ship, the risk to the Census in terms of its operational success grows great," said Terri Ann Lowenthal, who headed the Obama transition team’s effort on the Census.

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 June 2009 at 11:15 am

Posted in Congress, GOP, Government

The war on transparency

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Glenn Greenwald has a good column today on the Obama Administration’s desire to block investigations into wrong-doing and the peculiar argument that the worse the government’s wrong-doing, the more important it is to keep it a secret—an amazing assertion from a president who once praised transparency. Greenwald begins:

Yesterday, there was a potentially temporary though still quite significant victory for those who believe in open government and transparency:  as Jane Hamsher first reported, House leaders and the White House were forced to remove the Graham-Lieberman photo suppression amendment from the war supplemental spending bill, because widespread opposition to that amendment among progressive House Democrats was jeopardizing passage of the spending bill.  Readers here and those of various blogs who bombarded House members with opposition calls on Friday obviously played an important role in forcing the withdrawal of this pernicious amendment.  Successes of this sort are rare enough that — even if fleeting — they warrant some celebration.

Whether there is value in disclosing these specific torture photographs is a secondary issue here, at most [though in light of the ongoing debate in this country over torture and accountability, as well as the irreplaceable value of photographic evidence in documenting government abuses (see Abu Ghraib), the value of these sorts of photographs seems self-evident].  A much more critical issue here is whether the President should have the power to conceal evidence about the Government’s actions on the ground that what the Government did was so bad, so wrong, so inflammatory, so lawless, that to allow disclosure and transparency would reflect poorly on our country, thereby increase anti-American sentiment, and thus jeopardize The Troops.  Once you accept that rationale — the more extreme the Government’s abuses are, the more compelling is the need for suppression — then open government, one of the central planks of the Obama campaign and the linchpin of a healthy democracy, becomes an illusion.

* * * * *

But there’s an even more vital issue at stake here.  One of the central objections to the Bush presidency was its claim that we could only Stay Safe from the Terrorists if we fundamentally altered — diluted and abandoned — our long-standing political values and legal frameworks.  That argument was repeatedly ridiculed by Obama as a “false choice.” That we can adhere to our long-standing legal institutions and simultaneously remain Safe was a principal prong of his campaign.

Yet the Graham-Lieberman amendment — which Obama supports — is nothing but a pure manifestation of the Bush mentality, as its core premise is that we can’t remain Safe unless we abandon our decades-old legal framework governing transparency.  The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is more than 40 years old.  It vests the Government with extremely broad secrecy powers, especially in the national security realm.  Still, two federal courts — one district court and a unanimous 3-judge Court of Appeals panel — have ruled that FOIA compels disclosure of these photographs because none of the FOIA exceptions apply.  Most critically — as the courts noted — the fact that information will reflect poorly on the Government is not a legitimate ground for suppressing it. That is the crux of FOIA, and it is that critical principle which Graham-Lieberman is designed to gut.

Advocates for suppression know full well that the law is against them — they know that they already lost twice and will almost certainly lose again in the Supreme Court — because FOIA’s clear mandates unquestionably require disclosure of these photos.  That’s exactly why they want to pass a new law — it’s why they want to change the decades-old standards governing transparency here — because they know they should and will continue to lose in court as the law stands.  Here’s what Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham said yesterday in their unbelievably petulant, foot-stomping joint statement upon realizing that the House was about to delete their amendment:

Let it clearly be understood that without this legislation the photos in question are likely to be released.

In other words, if FOIA’s standards are allowed to govern transparency questions — as has been happening for the last 40 years — then the photos must be released, because there is no legitimate ground for suppressing them.  So in the name of Fighting the Terrorists, we’re going to vest greater secrecy powers in the President and abandon our long-standing legal framework to enable concealment of this information.  Isn’t that exactly the mindset which progressives — and Obama — bitterly objected to when advocated by Bush/Cheney?  I believe it is.

Just look at the obvious, dangerous precedent being set by those who are advocating for suppression of war crimes evidence.  As I wrote when Obama first announced that he had reversed himself and decided to appeal the Second Circuit’s order requiring disclosure of these photos: …

Continue reading. It’s important. Later in the same column:

Already, this pro-suppression rationale is — as predicted — extending to other areas.  The Washington Post reports today that the Obama administration is now urging a federal court to keep concealed all evidence relating to the CIA’s (almost certainly illegal) destruction of interrogation videotapes — including documents showing who ordered the tapes destroyed, what the tapes revealed, the reasons why those decisions were made, etc.  The administration’s rationale for that concealment is exactly the same as for concealment of the torture photos:  namely, the administration is “arguing to a federal judge that [disclosure] would endanger national security and benefit al-Qaeda’s recruitment efforts.”  In other words, anything that reflects badly on the U.S. Government must remain hidden from view, otherwise it will help Al-Qaeda by increasing anti-American sentiment.  Down that road lies full-scale secrecy for all but the most harmless (and meaningless) information about what our Government does.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 June 2009 at 11:10 am

Obama’s support of DADT

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One of the several disappointments of Obama-in-office vs. Obama-campaigning is the difference in their views on DADT. In the campaign, Obama opposed DADT. Now in office, Obama seems to support DADT—or at least, he opposes changing it. Mark Thompson in TIME:

When Barack Obama sought the presidency, he pledged to reverse the "Don’t ask, don’t tell" policy preventing gays and lesbians from serving openly in the U.S. military. Yet on Monday, the Supreme Court rejected a gay Ohio soldier’s challenge to the law — with the legal backing of none other than the Obama Administration.

James Pietrangelo II, the former Army infantryman and lawyer whose case the high court declined to review, reserved most of his ire for President Obama instead of the court. "He’s a coward, a bigot and a pathological liar," Pietrangelo said in an interview with TIME shortly after the high court declined to hear his appeal. "This is a guy who spent more time picking out his dog, Bo, and playing with him on the White House lawn than he has working for equality for gay people," he added. "If there were millions of black people as second-class citizens, or millions of Jews or Irish, he would have acted immediately" upon taking office to begin working to lift "Don’t ask, don’t tell." Pietrangelo fought in Iraq in 1991 as an infantryman, and returned as a JAG officer for the second Iraq War, before being booted out in 2004 for declaring he was gay as he was readying for a third combat tour. He was representing himself before the high court…

The Obama Administration, in its brief in the case last month, said a lower court acted properly in upholding the gay ban. "Applying the strong deference traditionally afforded to the Legislative and Executive Branches in the area of military affairs, the court of appeals properly upheld the statute," argued Elena Kagan, who as Solicitor General represents the Administration before the Supreme Court. The bar on gays serving openly is "rationally related to the government’s legitimate interest in military discipline and cohesion," her 12-page filing added.

The endorsement of "Don’t ask, don’t tell" by the Administration marks the latest rightward tack by Obama. The President denounced many of George W. Bush’s national-security policies during the campaign, but in office has adopted more conservative positions, including endorsing military commissions to try purported terrorists, and declining to release a second batch of photographs depicting alleged U.S. maltreatment of Iraqi detainees. His stance on "Don’t ask, don’t tell" may be more surprising, because Obama aides have made clear the President wants the ban lifted eventually…

Pietrangelo doesn’t buy the line from Obama aides — and the Pentagon — that they’re too busy grappling with a faltering economy and two wars to handle the gay ban right away. "It’s a complete lie that he has too much stuff on his plate — this is the guy who criticized Bush for not being able to multitask," Pietrangelo says. "We have an old saying in the military — the maximum effective range of an excuse is zero meters." …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 June 2009 at 11:06 am

Idiot pundits

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Some — most — of the pundits are too quick to type: they get an idea, and right away they’re pecking out a column. Here’s the latest:

I guess it’s now officially a Media Meme: Obama’s "royal we has flowered into the naked ‘I’". First Terence Jeffrey ("I, Barack Obama"), then George Will ("Have We Got a Deal for You"), now Stanley Fish ("Yes I can"):

By the time of the address to the Congress on Feb. 24, the royal we has flowered into the naked “I”: “As soon as I took office, I asked this Congress.” “I called for action.” “I pushed for quick action.” “I have told each of my cabinet.” “I’ve appointed a proven and aggressive inspector general.” “I refuse to let that happen.” “I will not spend a single penny.” “I reject the view that says our problems will simply take care of themselves.” “I held a fiscal summit where I pledged to cut the deficit in half by the end of my first term.” That last is particularly telling: it says, there’s going to be a second term, I’m already moving fast, and if you don’t want to be left in the dust, you’d better fall in line.

There’s no mistaking what’s going on in the speech delivered last week. No preliminary niceties; just a rehearsal of Obama’s actions and expectations. Eight “I”’s right off the bat: “Just over two months ago I spoke with you… and I laid out what needed to be done.” “From the beginning I made it clear that I would not put any more tax dollars on the line.” “I refused to let those companies become permanent wards of the state.” “I refused to kick the can down the road. But I also recognized the importance of a viable auto industry.” “I decided then…” (He is really the decider.)

The trouble with this idea, as often with the insights of the punditocracy, is that there’s no evidence that it’s true. Worse, evidence is easily available to disconfirm it.

In yesterday’s post ("Fact-checking George F. Will"), I counted, and discovered that in that "speech delivered last week" — the one about the auto bailout — President Obama used forms of the first-person pronoun at a rate of 1.7% (i.e., 42 instances in 2423 words). Compared to Obama’s press conference of 2/9/2009 — before the 2/24/2009 date that Prof. Fish identifies as the pronominal turning-point — this is a lower rate, not a higher one: the 2/29/2009 press conference exhibited a rate of 2.6% (205 of 7,775).

Furthermore, if we compare the first press conferences of the previous two presidents, we find higher rates yet: 3.9% for Bill Clinton (275 in 6,935) and 4.5% for George W. Bush (300 in 6,681).

You’d think that Prof. Fish would have done some counts of this sort before displaying his analysis in the pages of the New York Times, especially since he’s explicit about the fact that he’s inferring the president’s attitudes by counting (and analyzing) pronouns rather than by using ESP.  Unfortunately, at some point in the past few decades, literary scholars seem to have abandoned the assumption that claims, even quantitative ones, ought to be testable.

But maybe I’m being unfair. Fish explicitly compares Obama against Obama’s own earlier practice, and only implicitly against other recent presidents. (And speeches are a different genre from press conferences.) So I guess I should go back and look at some of Obama’s pre-presidential transcripts as well.  Any bets on what I’ll find?

Here goes…

Continue reading. When will pundits start doing a bit of fact checking on what they spew out?

Written by LeisureGuy

9 June 2009 at 11:03 am

Leon Panetta: What’s he thinking?

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Spencer Ackerman in the Washington Independent:

This is a … curious argument for CIA Director Leon Panetta to make in a court filing arguing that the CIA shouldn’t have to describe the contents of interrogation videotapes it destroyed. The Washington Post:

The “disclosure of explicit details of specific interrogations” would provide al-Qaeda “with propaganda it could use to recruit and raise funds,” Panetta said, describing the information at issue as “ready-made ammunition.” He also submitted a classified statement to the court that he said explains why detainees could use the contents to evade questions in the future, even though Obama has promised that the United States will not use the harsh interrogation techniques again.

The propaganda-fuel argument is at least straightforward. But — and I freely concede that this is speculative, occurring in the absence of information due to the statement’s classified nature — how can al-Qaeda detainees learn how to evade questioning from descriptions of techniques that the Obama administration has forsworn? This is the sort of move that suggests that remnants of the so-called “enhanced interrogation” program are going to live on, speeches in Cairo promising new beginnings notwithstanding. Another thing to watch closely as the administration’s interrogations and detentions review proceeds.

For more on this, Marcy Wheeler goes off.

Here’s just one of Marcy Wheeler’s posts—her blog should be on your daily list:

Well, that didn’t take long, for a Director of Central Intelligence to totally lose his credibility in the servitude of the institution. What has it been? Three, four months?

I’ll have more to say about Panetta’s declaration in the ACLU FOIA case tomorrow.  But for now, a little unsolicited advice for the spook-in-chief.

When you say,

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Written by LeisureGuy

9 June 2009 at 10:45 am

Republican reform: Toothless rules

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Mary Kane in the Washington Independent:

What’s up with the Obama administration’s much-vaunted plans for financial regulatory reform? First, The Washington Post reports that an ambitious proposal for a systemic risk regulator — a single agency to regulate and monitor banking and  intervene if threats to the financial system emerge — is getting bogged down by all kinds of opposition. Smaller banks like their cozy relationship with their regulators just fine, thank you. Failed regulatory agencies that would be forced to go away are fighting to survive. (Office of Thrift Supervision, anyone?) And – no surprise here – the financial industry also is fighting off  the idea of a Financial Products Safety Commission that would ensure people understood things like exploding interest rates on mortgages.

But the most unusual twist is a new financial reform proposal in the works from the GOP. According to Reuters, which cites draft documents of the idea, congressional Republicans are close to coming up with a proposal to rein in the Federal Reserve and expand the bankruptcy code.

Here’s the best part: The Republicans apparently want to create an advisory board of regulators – which would have absolutely no enforcement or oversight powers. Now that’s putting teeth into reform! Clearly, the Republicans are alone in finding that the financial crisis must have been caused by regulators with too much authority on their hands.

The Republican draft package opposes giving systemic risk authority to the Federal Reserve, an idea that sources have said the administration favors, but many lawmakers distrust.

Instead, the Republicans call for creating a board of regulators and outside experts, chaired by the Treasury secretary, to study systemic risk and report quarterly. The board would have no enforcement or supervisory powers.

Another high priority of the Obama administration is empowering an agency, probably the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp (FDIC), to seize and unwind troubled non-bank financial institutions. The idea is to avoid on-the-fly bailouts in the future like that of American International Group.

But Republicans, in a sharp repudiation of the bailout policies begun under former President George W. Bush, say in the draft document that they oppose such “resolution authority” and, instead, favor adding a new chapter to bankruptcy law.

I’m sure you feel much better about the stability of the financial system now. This reminds me of when the Republicans unveiled their alternative budget — with no details.

Maybe this new proposal for financial reform will come with charts as well.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 June 2009 at 10:42 am

AIG Faces Hearing on Denial of Medical Claims by Contractors Injured in Iraq and Afghanistan

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Christian Miller in ProPublica:

Rep. Dennis Kucinich [1], D-Ohio, announced [2] today that a panel of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform [3] will hold a hearing on June 18 to examine whether AIG and other major insurance carriers have inappropriately denied medical claims of contractors injured on the job in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Kucinich, the chairman of the Domestic Policy Subcommittee, said earlier that he was "alarmed" by a joint investigation [4] by ProPublica [5], ABC News [6] and the Los Angeles Times [7], which found that the troubled insurance giant routinely denied medical care to civilians injured in the war zones. Rep. Elijah Cummings [8], D-Md., first requested [9] a hearing after the reports aired earlier this year.

Kucinich’s panel will be joined by Sen. Bernie Sanders [10], I-Vt., who has also expressed concern over the billion-dollar government-funded system to care for injured civilians. Sanders had planned to hold hearings in the Senate but decided instead to join Kucinich’s panel because the Senate health and labor [11] committee has a heavy schedule of health care reform hearings this summer.

Under a federal law known as the Defense Base Act [12], contractor companies are required to purchase workers’ compensation insurance for employees deployed to a war zone. AIG dominates the market for such insurance, handling nearly 90 percent of all claims in Iraq. Government audits and inquiries have questioned whether AIG and other carriers charged "excessive" [13] premiums for the insurance. Taxpayers ultimately pay for such insurance as part of the contract price.

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Written by LeisureGuy

9 June 2009 at 10:40 am

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