Later On

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

Archive for July 30th, 2009

Maybe there’s a glimmer of hope on campaign finance reform

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But probably it will go nowhere. Mike Lillis in the Washington Independent:

In a full-page spread in Roll Call Wednesday Thursday, a long list of business executives are trumpeting their support for an unlikely proposal: Legislation that would rein in the influence of business over congressional lawmakers.

“We are on the receiving end of Senators’ and Representatives’ endless fund-raising calls,” the ad reads. “And trust us: we hate getting those calls every bit as much as they hate making them.”

Signed by an impressive list of 34 business giants — including Arnold Hiatt, former Stride Rite CEO; Alan G. Hassenfeld, executive committee chairman of Hasbro Inc.; Christie Hefner, former chairman and chief executive of Playboy; Gordon Segal, chairman of Crate & Barrel; and Gerald Grinstein, former CEO of Delta Airlines — the ad promotes passage of the Fair Elections Now Act, a bipartisan proposal to promote public financing of elections and mitigate the disproportionate influence of moneyed interests over the campaign process.

The concept of public financing was supported by President Obama in the run-up to November’s election, though the White House has been largely silent on the issue this year.

The ad, sponsored by Common Cause and Public Campaign Action Fund, coincides with a Thursday hearing on the FENA bill in the House Administration Committee.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 July 2009 at 12:52 pm

When the US government takes evil actions

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Evil actions happen—in the stress of war, for example. But what about evil actions taken in cold blood. Greenwald describes one in this column, which begins:

I’ve written several times before about the amazing quest of Binyam Mohamed — a British resident released from Guantanamo in February, 2009 after seven years in captivity — to compel public disclosure of information in the possession of the British Government proving he was tortured while in U.S. custody.  At the center of Mohamed’s efforts lie the claims of high British government officials that the Obama administration has repeatedly threatened to cut off intelligence-sharing programs with the U.K. if the British High Court discloses information which British intelligence officials learned from the CIA about how Mohamed was tortured.  New statements from the British Foreign Secretary yesterday — claiming that Hillary Clinton personally re-iterated those threats in a May meeting — highlight how extreme is this joint American/British effort to cover-up proof of Mohamed’s torture.

In August 2008, the British High Court ruled in Mohamed’s favor, concluding in a 75-page ruling (.pdf) that there was credible evidence in Britain’s possession that Mohamed was brutally tortured and was therefore entitled to disclosure of that evidence under long-standing principles of British common law, international law (as established by the Nuremberg Trials and the war crimes trials of Yugoslav leaders, among others), and Britain’s treaty obligations (under the Convention Against Torture).  But as part of that ruling, the Court redacted from its public decision seven paragraphs which detailed the facts of Mohamed’s torture — facts which British intelligence agents learned from the CIA — based on the British Government’s representations that both the Bush and Obama administrations had threatened to cut off intelligence-sharing with Britain if those facts were disclosed, even as part of a court proceeding.

The British government’s claims about these threats led the British High Court to conclude that it could not disclose those facts in good conscience because the U.S. was, in essence, threatening to put the lives of British citizens at risk by terminating intelligence-sharing over terrorist threats.  When re-affirming its decision (.pdf) to withhold that information in light of American threats, the Court pointedly wrote: …

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Written by LeisureGuy

30 July 2009 at 11:40 am

Practicalities vs. Principles

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Glenn Greenwald has a really exceptional column today—and before you read it, you definitely should read this post by Brad DeLong—and the comments are good, too. Read that, and then read Greenwald. Let me quote just a bit from the Greenwald column:

… By the design of the Founders, most American political issues are driven by the vicissitudes of political realities, shaped by practicalities and resolved by horse-trading compromises among competing factions.  But not all political questions were to be subject to that process.  Some were intended to be immunized from those influences.  Those were called "principles," or "rights," or "guarantees" — and what distinguishes them from garden-variety political disputes is precisely that they were intended to be both absolute and adhered to regardless of what Massing calls "the practical considerations policymakers must contend with."

We don’t have to guess what those principles are.  The Founders created documents — principally the Constitution — which had as their purpose enumerating the principles that were to be immunized from such "practical considerations."  All one has to do in order to understand their supreme status is to understand the core principle of Constitutional guarantees:  no acts of Government can conflict with these principles or violate them for any reason. And all one has to do to appreciate their absolute, unyielding essence is to read how they’re written:  The President "shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed."  "[A]ll Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land." "Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech."  "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause."  "No person shall be . . . deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law."  Even policies which enjoy majoritarian support and ample "practical" justification will be invalid — nullified — if they violate those guarantees.

Consider how Thomas Paine described the rule of law and the presidential obligation to obey the law and be subject to it.  Does this sound like it was supposed to be waived whenever "the practical considerations policymakers must contend with" made it convenient to do so? …

Do read it—and the Brad DeLong bit as well.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 July 2009 at 11:32 am

The Bad Obama at work

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Ben Armbruster at ThinkProgress:

Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL) said yesterday that he withdrew an amendment to a defense appropriations bill that would have weakened the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy because of “pressure” from the White House and some “congressional colleagues.” Hastings’ amendment would have prohibited “spending money to investigate or discharge members of the military who reveal they are homosexual or bisexual.” Saying he didn’t want “to get into names,” Hastings added, “I didn’t talk to Barack Obama.” During an appearance with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow last night, Hastings expressed his agitation:

HASTINGS: If something is bigoted and if your intent is to see to it that it does not continue, then I did not understand the leadership of Congress or the White House in saying that the time is not right. My position is: The president has said he wishes that this matter be repealed. My colleague, Patrick Murphy, now has more than 170 co-sponsors on a measure to repeal it. Secretary Gates has said, I`m glad he is now saying when we change our policy. Last year, he would have been saying “if.” But my view is, that the time is now to eliminate this bigoted law once and for all.

Watch it:

Earlier this month, Defense Secretary Robert Gates told reporters that, until the law is repealed, he is looking at ways to make the application of it more “humane.”

Written by LeisureGuy

30 July 2009 at 11:01 am

Avoid Huffington Post’s health reporting

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Apparently, the editor loves pseudo-science and false medical claims. Rahul K. Parikh, M.D., discusses this in

This spring, during the swine flu outbreak, I was searching the Web for news when a blog post on the Huffington Post caught my eye. Titled "Swine Flu: Protect Yourself and Your Loved Ones," its author, Kim Evans, offered a unique prescription for swine flu, one she believed could "save your life": deep-cleansing enemas.

"Most estimates are that the average person has ten or more pounds of stored waste just in their colon," Evans wrote. "In any case, many people have found that disease disappears when this waste is gone, and that when the body is clean it’s much more difficult for new problems, like viruses, to take hold in the first place. And it’s my understanding that many people who took regular enemas instead of vaccines during the 1918 pandemic made it out on the other side as well."

This is not exactly first-line advice on influenza prevention. There’s no proof that a cleansing program will prevent influenza. In fact, Evans’ notion contradicts basic germ theory. Influenza infection is transmitted through respiratory channels and not, like gastrointestinal infections, through contact with fecal matter. And even if people in 1918 did try to protect themselves with enemas — Evans doesn’t cite any historical record — there’s no evidence the practice saved anybody’s life. Note to Evans: People did not have a choice between enemas and vaccines in 1918. The first influenza vaccine was developed in the 1940s.

The Huffington Post is one of the most valuable pieces of real estate on the Internet these days. It operates mostly as a news aggregation site (it has featured Salon stories) and throws open its doors to a wide range of bloggers, who cover everything from politics to entertainment. "When it comes to health and wellness issues, our goal is to provide a diverse forum for a reasoned discussion of issues of interest and importance to our readers," Arianna Huffington, the site’s namesake founder, author, socialite and pundit, told me.

I would like to believe her. But when it comes to health and wellness, that diverse forum seems defined mostly by bloggers who are friends of Huffington or those who mirror her own advocacy of alternative medicine, described in her books and in many magazine profiles of her. Among others, the site has given a forum to Oprah Winfrey’s women’s health guru, Christiane Northrup, who believes women develop thyroid disease due to an inability to assert themselves; Deepak Chopra, who mashes up medicine and religion into self-help books and PBS infomercials; and countless others pitching cures that range from herbs to blood electrification to ozonated water to energy scans.

As a physician, I am not necessarily opposed to alternative health treatments. But I do want to be responsible and certain that what I prescribe to patients is safe and effective and not a waste of their time and money…

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 July 2009 at 10:38 am

The Aptera

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I still want one. From their newsletter:

By now many of you are familiar with the interior of our PP4 show vehicle, so here’s a quick first look at what you can expect to see in the Aptera 2e production vehicle.

For starters, we should probably review the process that led us to make any changes in the first place.  To enhance your overall driving experience, we conducted clinical research on all vehicle details, which  uncovered a number of issues that could have been potential "dissatisfiers" in our original designs. Accordingly, we have been busy working to correct them ever since.

The first major issue was space.   We tested men and women of every age and stature and found, in many cases, we were not offering enough room in the cabin.  With that information, we enhanced the cabin using our Aptera formula — safety, then aerodynamics, then lightweight.  The new interior cabin is now roughly 10% larger by every measure.

The new 2 series also now has headroom and legroom comparable to, if not better than, the Mini and Chevy Volt.  We widened the area at the hips to provide more space than the Smart EV and the Nissan Cube.  Then to top it off, we increased our cargo capacity by more than 24 cubic feet, which is nearly two times the space available in the Honda Accord.

The next issue, interestingly enough, was perception of space.   Many people, when surveyed, felt the cabin was dark and imposing, so we’re introducing ‘Eva,’ your electronic travel companion.  ‘Eva’ is the nickname we have given to the new body colored center console in the vehicle, and, yes, we were watching Wall-E when we came up with the name.  What is more important, though, is the function and flair that Eva brings to the cabin.

For starters, …

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Written by LeisureGuy

30 July 2009 at 10:35 am

When the hell of war comes home, part 2

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Jack in Amsterdam sent me a link to the second part of the article. (First part is here.) Part 2 begins:

After coming home from Iraq, 21-year-old medic Bruce Bastien was driving with his Army buddy Louis Bressler, 24, when they spotted a woman walking to work on a Colorado Springs street.

Bressler swerved and hit the woman with the car, according to police, then Bastien jumped out and stabbed her over and over.

It was October 2007. A fellow soldier, Kenneth Eastridge, 24, watched it all from the passenger seat.

At that moment, he said, it was clear that however messed up some of the soldiers in the unit had been after their first Iraq deployment, it was about to get much worse.

“I have no problem with killing,” said Eastridge, a two-tour infantryman with almost 80 confirmed kills. “But I won’t just murder someone for no reason. He had gone crazy.”

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 July 2009 at 10:18 am

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