Later On

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

Archive for June 19th, 2009

Banks abhor consumer protection

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Mary Kane in the Washington Independent:

Well, this should come as no surprise: Financial industry groups already are gearing up to fend off a proposed Consumer Financial Protection Agency that would regulate mortgages, credit cards, and other kinds of consumer lending. The idea was a key part of the financial system overhaul that President Obama outlined on Wednesday.

Although Obama called for all kinds of sweeping changes in the nation’s regulatory system, it’s the Consumer Finance Protection Agency that’s drawing the most fire, The Washington Post reports.

Opposition is piling up with particular speed against the idea of a new agency with broad powers to protect borrowers and other customers of financial firms, setting up a high-stakes contest between the industry and the White House for the loyalty of a few moderate senators who increasingly hold the balance of power.

Yep, those Blue Dog Democrats again. As predatory lending expert Alan White told TWI recently, the Blue Dogs have been strong advocates for the banking industry, frustrating the efforts of more consumer-minded Democrats. It’s looking more like they’ll hold sway over the Consumer Financial Protection Agency, as well.

The Post reports that the American Bankers Association, in particular, has come out strongly against the consumer agency. House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) also came out swinging, telling “Good Morning America” that the government will end up regulating the interest rates on credit cards and other financial products, and already has “too big a foot” in the struggling financial industry.

Could we stop for a moment of reality here? …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 June 2009 at 2:09 pm

A bean salad for lunch

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Roughly speaking, it was something like this recipe by Mark Bittman:

Bean Salad

Yield 6 to 8 servings

Time 30 minutes to 2 hours

Edamame and limas are lightning fast to prepare, as are frozen black and white beans. Fresh beans, like cranberries, cook quickly as well. And if it’s speed you’re after, head straight for lentils or split peas. For beans like black, white, red and kidney and the more exotic varieties like gigante and flageolets, start with dried. To reduce the cooking time, soak them for a few hours or boil them for a minute or two and then soak for an hour or two. If time is a consideration, cook the beans the day before you assemble the salad. (Canned beans are usually too salty and often taste tinny.)

  • 2 cups dried beans, split peas or lentils, sorted
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar or lemon juice, more to taste
  • 2 to 4 tablespoons minced red onion or shallot
  • Salt and ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup chopped parsley

1. Rinse beans, then place in a pot with water to cover by a couple of inches; bring to a boil, partly cover and simmer until tender, from 30 minutes (lentils) to as long as 2 hours or more (chickpeas and larger beans). While beans cook, stir red wine vinegar and onion together in a large bowl. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Stir in olive oil.

2. Cook beans until just tender, before their skins split. Drain. While still hot, add them to bowl with dressing. Toss gently until coated.

3. Let cool to room temperature (or refrigerate), stirring once or twice. Stir in parsley just before serving. Adjust seasoning if necessary.

Variations

  • Italian Style: Use cannellini or cranberry beans. Season vinegar with 1 tablespoon minced garlic and 1 teaspoon minced rosemary in addition to onions. For a milder taste, use white wine vinegar. If you have basil and you will serve salad right away, use 1/4 cup in place of rosemary.
  • French Style: Use Le Puy lentils or flageolet beans. Use sherry vinegar instead of red wine vinegar. Replace red onion with thinly sliced shallots. Instead of parsley, stir in 2 tablespoons minced tarragon before serving.
  • Greek Style: Use dried fava or gigante beans. Use fresh lemon juice, not vinegar. Add 1 tablespoon minced garlic, along with onions. Instead of parsley, finish with 1/4 cup chopped fresh mint.
  • Japanese Style: Use edamame or adzuki beans. Substitute rice wine vinegar for red wine vinegar and grapeseed or corn oil for olive oil. Instead of parsley, finish with 1 sheet nori, toasted and crumbled.
  • Indian Style: Use chickpeas. Use rice wine vinegar and 2 to 4 tablespoons minced or grated fresh ginger instead of red onion or shallot. Instead of olive oil, use 2 tablespoons peanut oil and 2 tablespoons coconut milk. Use cilantro instead of parsley.
  • Texas Caviar: Use black-eyed peas. Use lime juice instead of red wine vinegar. When adding onions, add 1 clove minced garlic, 1/4 cup minced red bell pepper and minced jalapeño chili to taste. Use cilantro instead of parsley.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 June 2009 at 2:04 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food, Recipes

The value of working with one’s hands

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Very interesting book review by Kelefa Sanneh in the New Yorker, which begins:

In 1974, Robert Pirsig—a Korean War veteran, a philosopher, a former writing instructor, a survivor of shock treatment, and, by all accounts, a talented author of technical manuals—published “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values.” It is a novel, but only barely (Pirsig didn’t bother to change the names of his friends), and it follows the narrator as he rides West with his young son, from Minneapolis to San Francisco. Readers hoping for advice about motorcycles, or about meditation, found something else entirely: picturesque anecdotes and ominous reveries, interrupted by dense seminars on the “self-defeating” nature of technophobia, the malignance of inferior workmanship, the “ugliness” of Immanuel Kant’s aesthetics, and the importance of a quality called Quality. The book, gnomic but good-natured, eventually sold about five million copies, spurred on by some extraordinarily positive reviews. (Writing in this magazine, George Steiner compared it to “Moby-Dick.”) Pirsig attracted a cult of seekers eager to get past what he called “the primary America of freeways and jet flights and TV and movie spectaculars,” eager to explore the country’s back roads and byways—and eager to read his next book. They had a long wait, made longer, perhaps, by the murder, in 1979, of his son, Chris, the young rider from “Zen.” When “Lila: An Inquiry Into Morals” finally arrived, in 1991, it didn’t have nearly the same impact: it was more abstruse, it wasn’t a sequel, and it wasn’t even tangentially about motorcycles.

Thirty-five years later, a very different biker-philosopher has delivered a new indictment of “primary America.” Matthew B. Crawford is even more fanatical about motorcycle maintenance than Pirsig’s narrator. He’s never happier than when he’s rebuilding a master cylinder or dislodging a stuck oil seal, and his descriptions of the open road can seem slightly anticlimactic. For him, the journey is just the journey; the garage is the destination. Crawford has a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago (where Pirsig had been a grad student), a fellowship at the University of Virginia, and, most important, a scrappy motorcycle-repair shop in Richmond. His book is called “Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work” (Penguin; $25.95), and it’s intended as a challenge, a declaration of gearhead pride in an ever more gearless world.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by LeisureGuy

19 June 2009 at 1:11 pm

Posted in Books, Daily life

Lemon-barley water

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I’ve always liked the sound of chilled barley water as a summertime drink, so I’m going to try this recipe:

Lemon barley water

Cooking Time 10 minutes
Makes 5 cups (1.25 litres)

* 1/3 cup (65g) pearl barley
* Finely grated rind and juice of 2 lemons
* 1/2 cup (110g) castor sugar [fine sugar, not powdered. I’ll use agave syrup. – LG]

1. Place barley in a sieve. Rinse under running water until water runs clear then place in a saucepan with lemon rind and 6 cups of water. Bring to the boil over medium heat. Simmer for 10 minutes then strain mixture into a heatproof bowl, discarding barley.

2. Add sugar to bowl. Stir to dissolve then stir in lemon juice. Pour into bottles and refrigerate until chilled.

This recipe can easily be doubled. Store in the fridge for up to 1 week.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 June 2009 at 11:52 am

Posted in Daily life, Drinks, Food, Recipes

The American Founders and their world

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Dan Colman writes in Open Culture:

Throughout this year, my program at Stanford has been celebrating its 20th anniversary, and we’ve put together some special courses for the occasion. This spring, we offered a class featuring some of the finest American historians in the country, and together, they looked back at “The American Founders and Their World.” (Get it free on iTunes here; sorry that it’s not also available via other means.) Directed by Jack Rakove (the Stanford historian who won the Pulitzer Prize for his book Original Meanings), this short course brought to campus Gordon Wood (who received the Pulitzer Prize for The Radicalism of the American Revolution); Annette Gordon-Reed (who won the National Book Award for The Hemingses of Monticello); and Alan Taylor, author of the Pulitzer Prize–winning William Cooper’s Town.

You can find this course listed in our large collection of Free University Courses, and below I have included a fuller course description that ran in our catalogues. Enjoy learning more about Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton, Washington, the Federalists, anti-Federalists and the rest:

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by LeisureGuy

19 June 2009 at 11:45 am

Posted in Education

Financial overhaul: too little FDR

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Joe Nocera has a good article in the NY Times:

Three quarters of a century ago, President Franklin Roosevelt earned the undying enmity of Wall Street when he used his enormous popularity to push through a series of radical regulatory reforms that completely changed the norms of the financial industry.

Wall Street hated the reforms, of course, but Roosevelt didn’t care. Wall Street and the financial industry had engaged in practices they shouldn’t have, and had helped lead the country into the Great Depression. Those practices had to be stopped. To the president, that’s all that mattered.

On Wednesday, President Obama unveiled what he described as “a sweeping overhaul of the financial regulatory system, a transformation on a scale not seen since the reforms that followed the Great Depression.”

In terms of the sheer number of proposals, outlined in an 88-page document the administration released on Tuesday, that is undoubtedly true. But in terms of the scope and breadth of the Obama plan — and more important, in terms of its overall effect on Wall Street’s modus operandi — it’s not even close to what Roosevelt accomplished during the Great Depression.

Rather, the Obama plan is little more than an attempt to stick some new regulatory fingers into a very leaky financial dam rather than rebuild the dam itself. Without question, the latter would be more difficult, more contentious and probably more expensive. But it would also have more lasting value.

On the surface, there was no area of the financial industry the plan didn’t touch. “I was impressed by the real estate it covered,” said Daniel Alpert, the managing partner of Westwood Capital. The president’s proposal addresses derivatives, mortgages, capital, and even, in the wake of the American International Group fiasco, insurance companies. Among other things, it would give new regulatory powers to the Federal Reserve, create a new agency to help protect consumers of financial products, and make derivative-trading more transparent. It would give the government the power to take over large bank holding companies or troubled investment banks — powers it doesn’t have now — and would force banks to hold onto some of the mortgage-backed securities they create and sell to investors.

But it’s what the plan doesn’t do that is most notable.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by LeisureGuy

19 June 2009 at 11:41 am

Interesting sounding novel

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This sounds intriguing:

Border Songs
by Jim Lynch

A review by Ron Charles

Terrorists and tourists beware: "The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative" sounds like an official vacation plan, but in typical congressional doublespeak it’s designed to slow you down. Starting this month, guards along the U.S.-Canadian border have begun requiring everyone traveling into the United States to show a passport or other "compliant documents." This thickening of the world’s longest, once-undefended border is the latest sad, largely ineffectual annoyance spawned by our fear of drugs and foreigners. For small towns along the ambiguous, 5,500-mile line that separates these two countries, a quiet way of life has been snuffed out under the chilling eye of surveillance cameras, remote sensors, unmanned drones, checkpoints and police dogs.

The anxiety that powers these security efforts provides the backdrop for Jim Lynch‘s wonderful new novel, Border Songs. As a reporter in Washington state after Sept. 11, 2001, Lynch saw the United States triple its border patrol even while drug money fueled a spectacular building boom in once sleepy Canadian towns. The broad outline of the story he tells corresponds with reports in the news about human trafficking, a cascade of marijuana imports, the apprehension of Islamic terror suspects and even the construction of a tunnel from British Columbia to Washington. But while all these alarms sound, Border Songs stays tightly focused on the ordinary people who live along both sides of a drainage ditch that runs through dairy farms and raspberry patches. Here, independent-minded neighbors stroll back and forth between the United States and Canada by just crossing the street. Until now.

Literarily looming large among these characters is the irresistibly odd Brandon Vanderkool, a 6-foot-8, 232-pound naif who’s recently joined the U.S. Border Patrol. Looking like "an unfinished sculpture," he seems an unlikely protector against Islamo-fascists or drug kingpins. At 23 he has rarely ventured outside the farmlands of northwest Washington. His dyslexia is so severe that he can barely read, and when he’s nervous, he shouts at a suspect, "Let your hands see me." But away from the confusion of people, Brandon communicates lucidly with the natural world, particularly with birds, which soar over political borders and through some of this novel’s most beautiful passages. He’s a terrible student who pays almost no attention to his supervisor, but to everyone’s surprise, Brandon’s ability to read the signs and sounds of the forest makes him a crackerjack agent. Again and again, during his reveries in the woods, he spots the subtle clues left by drug runners and human smugglers. Almost accidentally, he nabs a series of high-value suspects, which throws the United States into "paranoid mode."

Lynch portrays Brandon with such tenderness and humor that you can’t help but fall in love with him…

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 June 2009 at 11:37 am

Posted in Books

Supreme Court denies prisoner right to DNA evidence

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This decision is hard (in my mind) to justify. Daphne Eviatar:

In yet another 5-4 ruling Thursday, the Supreme Court denied a man imprisoned for a rape and attempted murder he says he didn’t commit the right to the DNA evidence that would prove his guilt or innocence.

Concluding that this is a matter for state legislatures, not the federal courts, to decide, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in District Attorney’s Office v. Osborne that the Supreme Court is “reluctant to enlist the Federal Judiciary in creating a new constitutional code of rules for handling DNA.”

Even as the majority acknowledged the critical new role that DNA evidence can play in the criminal justice system — the test “has exonerated wrongly convicted people, and has confirmed the convictions of many others” — the court ruled that it’s still not, as the imprisoned defendant had claimed, a matter of due process rights guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution, but rather a procedural matter for states to decide how they want to handle the evidence and interpret their statutes regarding post-conviction relief.

In a scathing dissent, Justice John Paul Stevens — joined (again) by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer and Souter (in part) — wrote that the majority had misinterpreted both the facts and the law.

The “most elemental” of the liberties protected by the Due Process Clause is “the interest in being free from physical detention by one’s own government,” Stevens wrote. Noting that “nearly all the States have now recognized some postconviction right to DNA evidence,” and that prosecutors are required to turn over exculpatory evidence, it is “appropriate to recognize a limited federal right to such evidence in cases where litigants are unfairly barred from obtaining relief in state court.” Given that the evidence would absolutely prove Osborne’s guilt or innocence, Stevens wrote, Alaska’s refusal to provide it was “arbitrary” and a denial of the federal constitutional right of due process.

Because the Supreme Court had long similarly refused to acknowledge a right to counsel for the indigent in criminal cases by saying it was a matter of state procedure rather than due process, the dissenting justices argued that it was time to recognize a limited right to DNA evidence.

“Osborne has demonstrated a constitutionally protected right to due process which the State of Alaska thus far has not vindicated and which this Court is both empowered and obliged to safeguard. On the record before us, there is no reason to deny access to the evidence and there are many reasons to provide it, not least of which is a fundamental concern in ensuring that justice has been done in this case.”

Written by LeisureGuy

19 June 2009 at 11:33 am

Posted in Government, Law

Public support for government option in healthcare plan

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From Ezra Klein in the Washington Post:

percent_saying_the_choice_of_a_public_plan_is_

Yet Congress has all but ditched the government option in order to protect insurance companies’ profits—one of the things that makes US healthcare so expensive. And, of course, taking this step ensures that the public will continue to fight insurance companies in order to get coverage. Every claim the insurance companies deny, and every dropped patient with costly care, will increase their profits, and that’s their only goal.

Maybe politicians will listen to the public and actually address the public good. I’m doubtful, however.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 June 2009 at 10:29 am

More on the F-22 fight

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From the Center for American Progress:

In a briefing to reporters yesterday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates called the efforts in Congress to restore funding for the F-22 fighter jet "a big problem," and labeled the argument that the elimination of the program will threaten national security as "nonsense." Gates’s statement came after the House Armed Services Committee approved $396 million to continue the production of the F-22 on Wednesday, over the Defense Department’s objections. Gates originally proposed ceasing production of the F-22s at the current 187 planes, but Sens. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) and Johnny Isakson (R-GA), among other conservatives, argued that the elimination of the planes would cause the loss of thousands of jobs. However, this is unlikely; the F-22 is just one of many projects that thousands of defense industry employees work on. The Republicans’ demand for the planes is also hypocritical, as Paul Krugman noted, because "the very same Republican congressmen who were denouncing the stimulus, saying government spending never creates jobs" are now saying that "cutting defense spending costs jobs." Conservatives also argue that de-funding the F-22 would weaken national security.Yet, not a single mission flown in Iraq or Afghanistan has used the F-22 and the planes have become increasingly costly to operate.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 June 2009 at 10:19 am

Trent Hamm describes a turning point in his life

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A very interesting post at The Simple Dollar, which begins:

September 23, 2005

On that day, I wrote the following entry in my personal journal (edited just a bit):

Sometimes I feel like my life is completely without purpose and I’m just following some invisible pattern that someone else has put into place.

Today was a typical day. But every day is a typical day.

I woke up about 6:30 and said good bye to Sarah as she left. I watched the news for a while, got dressed, and headed off to work. I stopped at Gregory’s and ate a bagel and drank a cup of coffee while I read the paper. I drove to work. I got a few tasks done, surfed the web for a while, did a few more things. I went out to lunch at El Azteca and dropped $12 on a tasteless lunch. I sat at my desk most of the afternoon, thinking about the weekend and wishing I wasn’t a complete failure at writing. I stopped at the bookstore on the way home and bought three books. I went to the music store and got the new Basement Jaxx album that Charlie talked about. I listened to it on the way home and didn’t like it at all. I got home, tried to write a little bit while waiting for Sarah, hated everything. Deleted all of it. We went out to dinner. Now she’s watching a movie and I’m sitting here doing nothing.

I do all of these things almost every single day – but I feel like I’m going nowhere at all.

Five things really jumped out at me as I read this piece.

First, a typical day for me meant wasting a lot of money. On this “typical” day, I bought three books, a CD, and ate all of my meals out, even though I had a fully-functional kitchen at home. That’s easily $70 to $80, just wasted that day.

Second, …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 June 2009 at 10:16 am

Posted in Daily life

Fake "scandal"

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Joe Conason brings out the relevant facts on the Walpin firing. His article begins:

To Barack Obama’s most excitable adversaries, the firing of the Americorps inspector general that the president ordered last week is an incipient scandal, as loud and thrilling as Whitewater once was. Their fond memories of that ancient controversy (and its many sequels) were revived by the sudden dismissal of Gerald Walpin, a Bush administration appointee who has depicted himself as the victim of a political conspiracy. Insinuations and smears abound already — including an attempt by the usual suspects to drag the first lady into the mud, Hillary-style, on the basis of anonymous allegations.

The latest accusations of White House impropriety are indeed reminiscent of the Clinton wars. But before conservatives spin themselves into a grand mal frenzy, they ought to understand that the strongest parallels between  "Walpingate" and Whitewater are the palpable flimsiness of the charges and the questionable motives of the chief accuser. Unless there is much more to this story than what responsible journalists have found so far, the buzzing chatter on the right will soon subside into a disappointed murmur.

According to the wingnut version, Walpin is a heroic investigator who was ousted simply because he exposed misspending of hundreds of thousands of federal dollars by an Obama ally, namely former NBA star Kevin Johnson, who ran a nonprofit organization in Sacramento that received Americorps funding before he was elected mayor of the California state capital last fall. Walpin had to be removed on June 11, after he refused the president’s request that he resign, because the White House was trying to cover up Johnson’s wrongdoing and permit his city to receive federal stimulus money.

That simple and sinister scenario, like so many of the media descriptions of Whitewater, omits crucial facts.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by LeisureGuy

19 June 2009 at 10:13 am

Gates will fight restoration of the F-22

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I’m glad to see that Gates is not just rolling over on this. Nancy A. Youssef and David Lightman in McClatchy:

Defense Secretary Robert Gates Thursday said he was having "a big problem" with Congressional efforts to restore funding for the F-22, indicating that a showdown is looming between the Pentagon and Capitol Hill over the future of the one of the Air Force’s most advanced fighter jets.

Gates had proposed ending production of the F-22 Raptor and replacing it with the F-35 or Joint Strike Fighter, an unpopular decision among airmen who favor the aircraft and members of Congress from 46 states, whose districts benefit from aircraft construction.

He spoke after the House Armed Services Committee Wednesday approved $369 million for "advanced procurement" of 12 F-22s in the fiscal year starting in September.

Even some top Air Force commanders are backing the drive on Capitol Hill for hundreds more F-22s than Gates is seeking. In a June 9 letter to Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., Gen. John Corley, the commander of the Air Force’s Air Combat Command, wrote: "In my opinion, a fleet of 187 F-22s puts execution of our current national military strategy at high risk in the near to mid term." …

Continue reading. It’s tough to govern the country for the benefit of the public once a substantial number of Representatives and Senators have simply been purchased by big business.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 June 2009 at 10:08 am

Posted in Business, Congress, Military

Obama’s financial reforms

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Paul Krugman points out what’s missing. From his column:

… President Obama’s speech outlining the financial plan described the underlying problem very well. Wall Street developed a “culture of irresponsibility,” the president said. Lenders didn’t hold on to their loans, but instead sold them off to be repackaged into securities, which in turn were sold to investors who didn’t understand what they were buying. “Meanwhile,” he said, “executive compensation — unmoored from long-term performance or even reality — rewarded recklessness rather than responsibility.”

Unfortunately, the plan as released doesn’t live up to the diagnosis.

True, the proposed new Consumer Financial Protection Agency would help control abusive lending. And the proposal that lenders be required to hold on to 5 percent of their loans, rather than selling everything off to be repackaged, would provide some incentive to lend responsibly.

But 5 percent isn’t enough to deter much risky lending, given the huge rewards to financial executives who book short-term profits. So what should be done about those rewards?

Tellingly, the administration’s executive summary of its proposals highlights “compensation practices” as a key cause of the crisis, but then fails to say anything about addressing those practices. The long-form version says more, but what it says — “Federal regulators should issue standards and guidelines to better align executive compensation practices of financial firms with long-term shareholder value” — is a description of what should happen, rather than a plan to make it happen.

Furthermore, the plan says very little of substance about reforming the rating agencies, whose willingness to give a seal of approval to dubious securities played an important role in creating the mess we’re in…

Read the whole thing. When did Democrats become so fond of fatcats and big business? Shouldn’t the reforms be put in place to protect the public (the function of government) rather than to protect the lends and their executives?

Written by LeisureGuy

19 June 2009 at 10:01 am

Why Dan Froomkin was so valued

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Glenn Greenwald:

The American establishment media in a nutshell:

"I think there are a lot of critics who think that . . . . if we did not stand up [in the run-up to the war] and say ‘this is bogus, and you’re a liar, and why are you doing this,’ that we didn’t do our job. I respectfully disagree.  It’s not our role" — NBC News’ David Gregory, thereafter promoted to host Meet the Press.

"Mainstream-media political journalism is in danger of becoming increasingly irrelevant, but not because of the Internet, or even Comedy Central.  The threat comes from inside. It comes from journalists being afraid to do what journalists were put on this green earth to do. . . .

"Calling bullshit, of course, used to be central to journalism as well as to comedy. And we happen to be in a period in our history in which the substance in question is running particularly deep. Calling bullshit has never been more vital to our democracy.

"It also resonates with readers and viewers a lot more than passionless stenography.  I’m not sure why calling bullshit has gone out of vogue in so many newsrooms — why, in fact, it’s so often consciously avoided. There are lots of possible reasons. There’s the increased corporate stultification of our industry, to the point where rocking the boat is seen as threatening rather than invigorating. There’s the intense pressure to maintain access to insider sources, even as those sources become ridiculously unrevealing and oversensitive. There’s the fear of being labeled partisan if one’s bullshit-calling isn’t meted out in precisely equal increments along the political spectrum.

"If mainstream-media political journalists don’t start calling bullshit more often, then we do risk losing our primacy — if not to the comedians then to the bloggers.

"I still believe that no one is fundamentally more capable of first-rate bullshit-calling than a well-informed beat reporter – whatever their beat. We just need to get the editors, or the corporate culture, or the self-censorship – or whatever it is – out of the way" — Dan Froomkin, fired yesterday by The Washington Post.

* * * * *

The Washington Post‘s firing of Dan Froomkin reveals much about the modern establishment media.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by LeisureGuy

19 June 2009 at 9:57 am

More self-pity from the Right

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What a bunch of wimps. Greenwald:

"What’s really interesting, the president yesterday has said, he complained about FOX, and he said, I think accurately, that it is the one, only voice of opposition in the media.

And it makes us a lot like Caracas where all the media, except one, are state run, with the exception that in Hugo Chavez-land, you go after that one station with machetes. I haven’t seen any machetes around here, so I think we are at least safe for now" — oppressed victim Charles Krauthammer, Wednesday night on Fox News, decrying the persecution of conservative pundits.

This is what one finds — just from today — on the Op-Ed page of The Washington Post, which yesterday fired Dan Froomkin:

* Neocon Charles Krauthammer:   attacking Obama for indifference to Freedom in Iran

* Neocon Paul Wolfowitz:  attacking Obama for indifference to Freedom in Iran

* Establishment/CIA spokesman and war supporter David Ignatius:  demanding that Obama do more to support Freedom in Iran and refuse to negotiate with the Iranian regime

* Bush CIA and NSA Director Michael Hayden:  warning that America will be in danger if CIA officials involved in torture continue to be criticized and questioned about what they did

On Monday, the Post hosted an online chat with Fox News’ Glenn Beck to promote his new book.  Today, on its so-called "Post-Partisan" Opinions page, The Post features a column from neocon Bill Kristol, attacking Obama for indifference to Freedom in Iran; a column from right-wing polemicist Kathleen Parker, attacking Obama for indifference to Freedom in Iran; and Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson, attacking PBS for banning sectarian programming.  On Wednesday, it published an Op-Ed from neocon Robert Kagan accusing Obama of being "objectively" pro-Ahmedinejad (headline:  "Obama, Siding with the Regime").  The Post hosts a permanent feature with National Review‘s Ramesh Ponnuru, leading discussions about conservatism.  And its Editorial Page, for years, was (and still is) the loudest cheerleaders for the neoconservative prongs of Bush’s foreign policy, particularly the war in Iraq.

The Washington Post does more to advance neoconservative ideology than The Weekly Standard, the American Enterprise Institute and Commentary combined.  But Post columnist Charles Krauthammer — and so many like him — fantasize that they’re surrounded by a Liberal Media that oppresses, persecutes and silences them.  Just ponder the levels of delusion and self-pity necessary to believe that…

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 June 2009 at 9:53 am

Posted in GOP, Media, Washington Post

Neocons love the spilling of others’ blood

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Now they’re trying to get the US to intervene in Iran. Joe Klein of TIME:

The Washington Post’s increasingly strident op-ed page offers a double-barreled neocon assault on President Obama’s Iran position today by Charles Krauthammer and Paul Wolfowitz. And it’s interesting to see these fellows—among the smartest of the neocons—deploy the usual intellectual shortcuts in the neoconservative bag of tricks: Broad, unsupported statements of opinion posing as fact…and false historical analogies.

Take Krauthammer. He boldly states this:

The demonstrators are fighting on their own, but they await just a word that America is on their side.

They do? Which ones? Name one. And if that word came, what then? Would it be the same as the "word" Dwight Eisenhower sent, and later regretted, supporting the Hungarian protesters in 1956 when he had no intention of supporting them militarily? Or the "word" that George H.W. Bush sent the Iraqi Shi’ites after the first Gulf War, who then rebelled against Saddam Hussein and were slaughtered? In fact, it seemed clear to me when I was in Iran—and even more clear, given the events of the past few days—that the protesters realize that they have to do this on their own. And that an American endorsement would taint their movement, perhaps fatally.

Wolfowitz deploys an interesting historical analogy from his own past—the Reagan intervention in the Philippine elections—but it is flawed as well. For one thing, no winner had been announced when Reagan intervened, after a period of restraint, in favor of Corazon Aquino and those who voted to topple President-for-Life Ferdinand Marcos.  For another, the Philippines  were a  former  U.S. colony that remained, at that point, very much a U.S. client state.  We had military bases there.  We had real power. (Wolfowitz also doesn’t deal with the fact that there were announced results in the Iranian elections—and that Ahmadinejad might well have won without the fraud.)

Iran is quite the opposite from the Philippines…

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 June 2009 at 9:51 am

Posted in Daily life, GOP, Iran, Media

Single-payer healthcare

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Mike Lillis in the Washington Independent:

As Congress dives head first into what has fast become a thorny debate over health care reform, the key Democrats in the discussion have insisted that all options remain on the table.

All, that is, except one.

Universal, single-payer health care — the idea that the government will cover everyone’s medical bills using taxpayer dollars — was dismissed by leading Democrats long before any details of their reform plans have been finalized. In the Senate Finance Committee, for example, a series of health reform discussions this year included input from academics, retirees, health insurers and other industry representatives, but no single-payer advocates were invited. Last month, the White House’s top health official told lawmakers that President Obama rejects the model altogether.

The dismissals have confounded supporters of the single-payer system, who contend it’s the only strategy that ensures universal access to care while minimizing expenses within a health system where costs are skyrocketing.

“Attempting to reconcile the dual imperatives of universal coverage and cost control through alternative methods besides single payer is an exercise in futility,” Walter Tsou, advisor to Physicians for a National Health Program, told lawmakers Wednesday during a hearing of the House Education and Labor Committee’s health subpanel. “When some congressional leaders declare that single payer is off the table, they are in effect saying that insurers will be protected, leaving the pain to patients, taxpayers and health care providers.”

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Written by LeisureGuy

19 June 2009 at 9:46 am

Less is more, in medicine

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Or, as the article by Michael Grunwald in TIME is titled: "More Data + Less Care = Lower Cost + Better Health". (That’s also the finding by this fascinating article I pointed out previously.) Grunwald notes:

Ezekiel Emanuel got a memorable introduction to our haphazard health-care system on his first visit to a cancer ward as a medical student. The white coats were ordering a transfusion for a teenage girl, and since shyness does not run in his family — brother Rahm is President Obama’s famously foulmouthed chief of staff, brother Ari a similarly silence-deficient Hollywood agent — he interrupted to ask why. Because she had Hodgkin’s disease and her platelets were below 20,000, the team explained. Emanuel still had questions: Was there evidence for that protocol? Don’t some hospitals wait until 10,000? Why 20,000? Because that’s what we do here, one doc replied.

Now a noted oncologist turned White House health adviser, Emanuel has spent much of his career battling the that’s-what-we-do-here mentality of American medicine. "It drives me nuts — the ignorance is overwhelming," he says. "I’m a data-driven guy. I want to see evidence." It turns out that Emanuel’s boss, budget director Peter Orszag, is also a data-driven guy, as is Orszag’s boss, the President of the United States. They’ve already stuffed $1.1 billion into the stimulus bill to jump-start "comparative effectiveness research" into which treatments work best in which situations. Now they’re pushing to overhaul the entire health-care sector by year’s end, and they’re determined to replace ignorance with evidence, to create a data-driven system, to shift one-sixth of the economy from "that’s what we do here" to "that’s what works." (Watch a video about a woman living without health insurance.)

The U.S. spends more on health care than any other country does, and studies have suggested that as much as 30% of it — perhaps $700 billion a year — may be wasted on unneeded care, mostly routine CT scans and MRIs, office visits, hospital stays, minor procedures and brand-name prescriptions that are requested by patients and ordered by doctors every day. Orszag is particularly obsessed with research by the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice, documenting huge regional variations in costs but virtually no variations in outcomes. For example, chronically ill patients in Los Angeles visited doctors an average of 59.2 times in the last six months of their life, vs. only 14.5 times in Ogden, Utah; they still ended up just as dead. Medicare now pays three times as much per enrollee in Miami as in Honolulu, and costs are growing twice as fast in Dallas as in San Diego. Patients in higher-spending regions get more tests, more procedures, more referrals to specialists and more time in the hospital and ICU, but the Dartmouth research has found that if anything, their outcomes are slightly worse. "We’re flying blind," says Dartmouth’s Dr. Elliott Fisher. "We’re getting quantity, not quality."

Americans tend to assume that more is better, especially when it comes to the heroic brand of try-everything medicine we’ve watched on ER and House M.D. But overtreatment is a national scandal. It’s bad for our health: with medical errors now estimated to be our eighth leading cause of death, drugs, procedures and hospital stays can be risky (as well as painful, time-consuming and wallet-straining) even when they’re necessary. It’s also bad for the economy: health costs are bankrupting small businesses and even conglomerates like General Motors as well as millions of families. And it’s awful for the country: Medicare is on track to go broke by 2017, and our long-term budget problems are primarily health-cost problems…

Continue reading.  The solution is obvious: the nationals that use a single-payer healthcare system have better outcomes at half the per-capita cost of US healthcare. But single-payer healthcare is not being considered. Why?

Moreover, even the public option is in danger because a group of Democrats is worried that having this option would hurt insurance companies’ profits. If the public option is abandoned and some people are too poor for the private insurance companies’ plans, then when people are dying because of a lack of medical care, they can be comforted by the thought that at least insurance companies are maximizing their profits.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 June 2009 at 9:35 am

Growth of old-style shaving

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In the preface to the second edition of the Guide to Gourmet Shaving, I note:

Traditional wet shaving (with a double-edged blade, safety razor, shaving brush, and shaving cream or shaving soap) seems to be on the increase. Some indications:

  • A constant stream of new traditional shavers joining the shaving forums for advice and instruction.
  • New vendors of traditional shaving products coming on-line and enjoying success.
  • New traditional safety razors being introduced (for example, the Merkur 38C and the slant version of that razor).
  • The prices of vintage safety razors on eBay increasing.

Now I see another sign: the number of places you can buy blade sampler packs. First there was only one, a shaving forum member who did it as a service. Eventually, he started West Coast Shaving to sell the sampler packs, and now that site is a full shaving store. Then Razor and Brush started offering sampler packs, and though the proprietor finally had to discontinue the store because of the demands of his day profession, the torch was taken up by Shoebox Shaveshop. Connaught Shaving in the UK has been offering sampler packs for a while, and now I’ve found two more sources. The full list, as of today and so far as I know, in alphabetic order:

Written by LeisureGuy

19 June 2009 at 9:13 am

Posted in Daily life, Shaving

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