Later On

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

Archive for November 19th, 2009

Renewed movie recommendation

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I earlier recommended The Union: The Business Behind Getting High (2007) based on the footage I had watched. I’m still watching it (since I watch a dozen or so movies at a time, it takes a while to get through any one), and tonight I just wanted to renew my recommendation. The movie is extremely well made: rigorous arguments based on actual data somehow made interesting to watch.

He’s now talking about the growth of the private-prison industry and the clout that the corrections officers unions have. Here is California, we’re painfully aware of that: it’s part of what is bringing the state down. Prisons are expensive to build and even more expensive to maintain and run, and they don’t produce a damn thing for the good of the state, though they are highly profitable to private investors. And, of course, those corrections officers want job security, so they are constantly lobbying for more offenses to get prison terms and for prison terms to get longer.

Watch the movie. It’s available as a Netflix Watch Instantly, as well.

UPDATE:  I finished the movie. It went far beyond the prison complex, which turns out to be but a single strand in a complex tapestry that this movie deeply explores.

I’m proud (and somewhat astonished) that a movie like this—eviscerating a chunk from the common politics and business of the country by the simple use of reason and fact—is allowed to be distributed and readily available to (say) anyone reading this blog.

Written by Leisureguy

19 November 2009 at 7:41 pm

The most important long-term effort

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Other than fighting climate change—which involves simply survival—the most important long-term effort in this country—though certainly not funded or studied as such—is education: that determines to a great extent the future of the country. And we’re not, I think, doing a very good job overall.

This book review by Richard Kahlenberg in The American Scholar speaks to a new approach:

On The Making of Americans: Democracy and Our Schools by E.D. Hirsch Jr. (Yale University Press, $25.00)

In the 1970s, English professor E. D. Hirsch Jr. conducted an experiment that would catapult him into the tumultuous world of education reform. He found that African-American students at a Richmond community college could read just as well as elite University of Virginia students when the topic was roommates or car traffic, but that an enormous gap developed when the topic was Robert E. Lee’s surrender to Ulysses S. Grant.

Reading comprehension, Hirsch concluded, was not just a transferable technical skill but one that required background knowledge of specific content. This shared knowledge was no longer explicitly taught in elementary schools, as generations of educators had been trained to teach skills rather than content, “critical thinking” rather than “mere facts.” The irony, Hirsch believed, was that “progressive” education theories focusing on “child-centered” learning were in fact disproportionately hurting low-income students, who were less likely than their affluent peers to acquire generally assumed knowledge of mainstream American culture at home. Hirsch believed, like the great teacher-unionist Albert Shanker, to whom Hirsch’s new book is dedicated, that to be a political liberal, concerned for the life chances of low-income and minority students, one must be an educational conservative. Hirsch outlined this argument in his best-selling 1987 volume,Cultural Literacy. To put his theory into practice, he established the Core Knowledge Foundation, which today supports more than 1,000 schools in 47 states. These schools, Hirsch says, perform significantly better than schools using the standard progressive education approach.

In The Making of Americans, Hirsch builds on this earlier work and widens the lens to connect his ideas on education reform to the fundamental rationales for our system of public schools in the United States. Citing the writings of Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Horace Mann, Hirsch identifies two central reasons for the American “common school”: to create social mobility, allowing bright, hard-working students of all origins to enjoy the American dream; and to create social cohesion, binding children of diverse economic, racial, and ethnic backgrounds into citizens of a single nation.

Hirsch makes a highly cogent case to support the concept that …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

19 November 2009 at 6:54 pm

Posted in Books, Education

Terrorists & ex-terrorists

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Eric Martin has a thoughtful piece very much worth reading. It begins:

Johann Hari has a fascinating piece in The Independent that recounts his interviews with several British nationals that have made the journey from active participants in jihadi/terrorist causes and back.  Hari’s quest to find out how and why certain people join terrorist groups, or espouse and propagate radical Islamist ideology, had been frustrated by the reticence and dissembling of persons active in those circles.  His entreaties were met more with propaganda than introspection or insight. 

More recently, a group of increasingly vocal disillusioned ex-jihadis (the subjects of the story) have provided Hari with a more unguarded glimpse into the thought processes and evolution of radical.  Unsurprisingly, the profile that emerges tracks with the findings of Marc Sageman:

1.  Those that join these causes tend not to be very religious in their younger years.  In fact, their ignorance of Islam leads them to uncritically accept certain radical Wahhabist teachings as gospel.  Unfortunately, due to the fact that the Saudi Arabian government spends lavishly to spread Wahhabism to all corners of the globe through the state-funded proliferation of literature, teachers, madrasas and mosques, the Wahhabist presence is so ubiquitous and domineering that young Muslims looking to learn more about their religion frequently stumble upon this pernicious brand for lack of visible alternatives.  And, likewise, one of the most effective means of rehabilitating terrorists/jihadists is Koranic study.

2. The enlistees are not poor or uneducated – quite the opposite.  Most have quality educations and come from middle class backgrounds.

3. There is a common element of alienation: they tend to be first or second generation immigrants caught between worlds, without feeling at home or comfortable in any particular identity.  This is one of the reasons that many go looking for deeper meaning in their religious roots, and one of the alluring aspects of joining jihadist groups: they create a gang-like sense of group identity, belonging and a powerful bonding mechanism.     

…This is the identity I hear shouted by young Islamists throughout the East End: I might sound like you, but I am nothing like you. I am Other. I belong elsewhere – in a place that does not yet exist, but that I will create, with my fists and my fury.

Jimas told their members they were part of a persecuted billion, being blown up and locked down across the world. "It was a bit like a gang," he says. "And we had a strong sense of being under siege. It was all a conspiracy against Islam, and we were the guardians of Islam. That’s how we saw ourselves … A lot of my friends would wear the army boots, and carry knives." I realise now that for a nebbish intellectual boy, it must have felt intoxicating to be told he was part of a military movement that would inevitably conquer history.

In some instances, this sense of alienation is exacerbated by a traumatic incident of racism – Hari’s interviewees came of age during the rise of the skinhead movement in Britain, and many were physically attacked and otherwise menaced.

Given these factors, it would be overstating the case to argue that these recruits took up the radical cause in reaction to US/Western foreign policy.  However, it would also be myopic to suggest that such policies have no effect at all on the overall problem.  Rather than give in to the self-serving claim that "the terrorists will hate us no matter what we do" (partially true as there will always be some number of sadistic, desperate, disturbed people), it is better to look at ways that we can craft our policies to disrupt their operations, thwart recruiting efforts and reduce the numbers of actual terrorists and quality of support they receive (which should be the focus of proper counterterrorism).  Take for example, Maajid Nawaz’s attempts to recruit new militants in Egypt:

He started to recruit other students, as he had done so many times before. But it was harder. "Everyone hated the [unelected] government [of Hosni Mubarak], and the US for backing it," he says. But there was an inhibiting sympathy for the victims of 9/11 – until the Bush administration began to respond with Guantanamo Bay and bombs. "That made it much easier. After that, I could persuade people a lot faster."

And later:

Every one of them said the Bush administration’s response to 9/11 – from Guantanamo to Iraq – made jihadism seem more like an accurate description of the world. Hadiya Masieh, a tiny female former [Hizb ut-Tahrir] HT organiser, tells me: "You’d see Bush on the television building torture camps and bombing Muslims and you think – anything is justified to stop this. What are we meant to do, just stand still and let him cut our throats?"

On the other hand, instances of commitment to liberal, democratic ideals helped to puncture the spell of jihadi propaganda: …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

19 November 2009 at 4:21 pm

Posted in Daily life, Terrorism

Walkies 11-19-2009

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In the spring, the spike will become a tapered mass of red flowers. I don’t know the name of the plant, but I believe it’s from Hawai’i.

Nice walk—later start than usual, but went farther. Good motivation because I noticed this morning that I’ve lost 3-4 lbs.

A close-up of the purple flower:

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Written by Leisureguy

19 November 2009 at 4:15 pm

Posted in Daily life, Fitness, Health

GOP inconsistency on terrorist trials

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Has the GOP collectively lost its mind? It’s small, so easy to misplace. Steve Benen:

We talked yesterday about how Republicans haven’t exactly been consistent when it comes to their deeply held beliefs on the perils of judicial filibusters. But their consistency on trials for terrorists is arguably more humiliating.

In 2002, the Bush Justice Department put Zacarias Moussaoui, an al Qaeda terrorist often referred to as the "20th 9/11 hijacker," on trial in a federal court near D.C. No one, at the time, said then-President Bush was putting American lives at risk or undermining U.S. national security interests with the trial. Despite the conservative apoplexy of the last week, the Moussaoui trial was simply considered appropriate and routine.

Greg Sargent reported today on a quote from George W. Bush in 2006, in which the then-president proclaimed that terrorists should be "tried in courts here in the United States."

At the time, Bush was waiting for the Supreme Court to rule on the military commissions he had established to try alleged members of Al Qaeda. At the presser, he said the administration was waiting for the high court to determine the "proper venue" for trying suspected terrorists, and seemed to say U.S. courts were a valid venue if it came to it.

At a minimum, Bush clearly saw no problem with bringing suspected terrorists to the U.S. for trial — something that the Obama administration is now doing, drawing widespread criticism on the right.

I haven’t found any evidence of any conservatives criticizing Bush’s position or his decision to try Moussaoui in a criminal court on American soil.

Likewise, let’s not forget that Rudy Giuliani, one of the leading Republican attack dogs on President Obama, said he considered the Moussaoui trial a testament to the strength of our legal system and the American dedication to the "rule of law." Giuliani called the verdict "a symbol of American justice," and said the trial itself might improve America’s standing internationally. After Moussaoui was convicted by a civilian jury, the former mayor boasted, "America won tonight."

Similarly, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, called a Khalid Sheikh Mohammed trial "indefensible," arguing that it would help terrorists. But when Bush brought Moussaoui to a criminal courtroom for a trial near the Pentagon, Sessions was satisfied with the administration’s decision.

Is a little intellectual consistency too much to ask for? Don’t answer that; it’s a rhetorical question.

Written by Leisureguy

19 November 2009 at 3:01 pm

Posted in Daily life, GOP, Government, Law

Health insurance companies deciding care

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Zaid Jilani at ThinkProgress:

One of the worst abuses of the private health insurance industry is its practice of denying claims to pay for necessary care for patients. This practice has become so rampant in the industry that a recent study by the California Nurses Association found that a whopping 21 percent of all insurance claims filed in the first half of 2009 in the state of California were denied by insurers.

As the story of six-year-old Madison Leuchtmann of Franklin County, MO, demonstrates, even children are victims of this insurance company abuse. Madison was born with bilateral atresia, which means she lacks ear canals in both ears. In order to hear, she wears a special device on a headband that allows her to make out sounds. Despite her disability, Madison is at the top of her kindergarten class and is slowly learning to read.

Yet Madison, due to her growth, will soon require a new hearing implant to be able to recognize sounds. Her hearing and speech therapist warns that “if she doesn’t get her implants by age seven, she’s not going to be able to blend her words. … She won’t be able to hear herself [talk].” Madison’s pediatrician, Dr. Randall Clary, also insists that without the implant, the girl may never be able to hear again.

Unfortunately, the Leuchtmann’s family insurer, Cigna, has issued “one denial after another,” flatly refusing to cover the $20,000 bill for the implant. In a written statement to the local news station Fox 2, Cigna explained, “It is not unusual for commercial benefit plans to exclude hearing assisted devices,” prompting Dr. Clary to angrily respond, “This is obviously medically necessary. You have a child that has no ear canals!” Dr. Clary also told Fox 2 that he sees these sort of denials “on a weekly basis.”

Watch Fox 2’s report. [It’s dramatic – LG]

The United States is the only developed country without a universal, cradle-to-the-grave health care system. In no other developed country would a girl be on “the verge of never hearing again” because a for-profit insurance company decided that its bottom line was more important than keeping a child from going deaf.

Written by Leisureguy

19 November 2009 at 1:38 pm

US and South Korea: Things are different now

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Via Kevin Drum, this story in FT by Christian Oliver and Edward Luce:

When George Bush senior visited Seoul as US president 20 years ago, things were simple – the US was the undisputed main ally and trade partner. Astonishingly, there was only one weekly flight from South Korea to China, the communist foe.

Barack Obama on Wednesday visits a South Korea where the US is no longer the only show in town. China is now the main trade partner, with 642 flights each week. While the US is still the chief political ally, Mr Obama’s cheery soundbites on Korean issues are not convincing Seoul that Washington is dedicating enough thought to the peninsula.

On the military front, ties remain robust, with the US committed to its South Korean presence. But vital issues such as a trade agreement and North Korea’s atom bombs have been sidelined in the US, while China plays a greater role in both Koreas.

“The long-term idea is that Seoul will ultimately drift more towards Beijing’s orbit, although less so under (South Korean) President Lee Myung-bak,” said Andrew Gilholm, senior analyst at Control Risks, the security consultancy.

Diplomacy with nuclear-armed North Korea, which this year blasted a missile over Japan and detonated an atomic warhead, currently hinges on the success of bilateral talks between Kim Jong-il and the US. Washington plans to send an envoy to Pyongyang later this year but diplomats in Seoul say they are unconvinced that Mr Obama’s choice, Stephen Bosworth, is the right man for the job. He is a part-time diplomat, keeping a university teaching job in the US.

“He does not have leverage or political decision-making authority so the bilateral talks are most likely to end up with the countries just stating their own positions,” said Choi Choon-heum, researcher at the Korea Institute for National Unification. “If the Obama administration wanted a significant result, he would have chosen a different figure.”

By contrast, China has intervened at a far deeper level, sending its premier, Wen Jiabao, in October…

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

19 November 2009 at 1:13 pm

World’s largest prison still has doors sealed shut

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Pam Rasmussen at Op-Ed News:

It has been nearly one year since Israel launched “Operation Cast Lead,” on Dec. 27, 2008. It was at 11:30 a.m. that 88 Israeli aircraft flew above the Gaza Strip and simultaneously struck 100 targets within a span of just 220 seconds. Thirty minutes later, a second wave of 60 jets and helicopters struck an additional 60 targets. Among the “casualties” were all civilian police stations and government administration buildings, along with the American International School — paid for with U.S. tax dollars. At least 230 Palestinians were killed and more than 700 injured on that one day alone.

Twenty-one days — and more than 1,000 Palestinian lives — later, the invasion officially ended. The international community heaved a sigh of relief and proceeded to turn its back. On the ground in the Gaza Strip, however, the invasion feels very much like it never ended – only this time it appears designed to finish the job with a slow death, well out of the radar of the global spotlight. We must not let that happen.

On Dec. 29, more than 500 human rights advocates from around the world will converge on the Rafah Crossing from Egypt into the Gaza Strip. The goal of the Gaza Freedom Marchers: to enter Gaza, join in solidarity with the 1.5 million Palestinians literally imprisoned there, and — on Dec. 31 — march in non-violent unison to the Erez crossing into Israel. Our demand: Israel — and all governments that enable it, including the United States — must open the borders in and out of Gaza now.

Since January 2006, when Palestinians had the audacity to choose their own government (led by Hamas) in elections widely recognized as free and fair, Israel has imposed collective punishment on the people of Gaza in the form of a crushing blockade. Less than a quarter of the volume of supplies they normally need have been allowed in since December 2005 – and in some weeks, the trickle permitted by Israel is significantly less. Israel maintains a list of “duel-use” items such as steel pipes and fertilizer, which it says could be used to manufacture weapons. These are never allowed in, with rare exceptions for “special humanitarian cases.”

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Written by Leisureguy

19 November 2009 at 12:42 pm

Cold-blooded mammal

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Cold-blooded goat

Very weird. Lin Edwards at Physorg.com:

An extinct goat that lived on a barren Mediterranean island survived for millions of years by reducing in size and by becoming cold-blooded, which has never before been discovered in mammals.

The goat, Myotragus balearicus, lived on what is now Majorca, a Spanish island. The island had scarce resources, and there was no way for the goats to leave, and so scientists wondered how they had thrived for so long. A recently published research paper reveals the extinct goat survived by adjusting its growth rate and metabolism to suit the available food, becoming cold-blooded like reptiles.

Paleontologists studying fossilized Myotragus bones compared them to bones of reptiles living in the same region at the same time, and found surprising similarities. The bones of warm-blooded animals show uninterrupted fast growth, while the bones of cold-blooded animals have parallel growth lines showing interrupted growth corresponding to growth cycles, rather like the rings seen in tree trunks. Growth and metabolism rates are adjusted to suit the amount of food available, whereas warm-blooded animals require food to be available continuously. The Myotragus bones showed the same interrupted growth as reptiles.
Myotragus are the first mammals ever known to have achieved the same flexibility, and hence survivability, as reptiles. They also saved energy by having a brain half the size of hoofed mammals its own size, and its eyes were only a third of the size…

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

19 November 2009 at 12:34 pm

EFF analyzes the legal creepiness of ACTA, the secret copyright treaty

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Cory Doctorow has an important post at Boing Boing:

The Electronic Frontier Foundation’s international policy crimefighting duo, Eddan Katz and Gwen Hinze, have published a scholarly article analyzing the secret Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement in light of US law and policy. Called "The Impact of ACTA on the Knowledge Economy," it was recently published in the Yale Journal of International Law, and constitutes a fantastic, reference-heavy resource for understanding just how creepy it is that the Obama administration is sneaking around behind Congress’s back (not to mention the backs of the American public) to create a privacy-invading, internet-breaking trade agreement that the US will be bound to bring into its law.

In brief, the ACTA process has been deliberately more secretive than customary practices in international decision-making bodies to evade the debates about intellectual property (IP) at established multilateral institutions. The Office of the USTR has chosen to negotiate ACTA as a sole executive agreement. Because of a loophole in democratic accountability on sole executive agreements, the Office of the USTR can sign off on an IP Enforcement agenda without any formal congressional involvement at all. But the negotiations do not have to be secret, and the sole executive agreement process does have mechanisms for oversight: they have not been used in ACTA, but can and should be.

The excuse for using sole executive agreements is that ACTA will be fully respectful of U.S. law. But the constraint of coloring within the lines of US law, as one anonymous trade official described it, is a fragile linchpin upon which the weight of public trust and democratic legitimacy is bearing down.

Stopping the ACTA Juggernaut

Previously:

Written by Leisureguy

19 November 2009 at 12:25 pm

Likely result if Stupak amendment makes it into law

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Brian Beutler at TPMDC:

A new study by the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services adds some expert imprimatur to what many progressives have been saying all along: The Stupak amendment to the House health care bill—which will prevent millions of women from buying health insurance policies that cover abortion—is likely to have consequences that reach far beyond its supposedly intended scope.

The report concludes that "the treatment exclusions required under the Stupak/Pitts Amendment will have an industry-wide effect, eliminating coverage of medically indicated abortions over time for all women, not only those whose coverage is derived through a health insurance exchange."

In other words, though the immediate impact of the Stupak amendment will be limited to the millions of women initially insured through a new insurance exchange, over time, as the exchanges grow, the insurance industry will scale down their abortion coverage options until they offer none at all.

"As a result, Stupak/Pitts can be expected to move the industry away from current norms of coverage for medically indicated abortions. In combination with the Hyde Amendment, Stupak/Pitts will impose a coverage exclusion for medically indicated abortions on such a widespread basis that the health benefit services industry can be expected to recalibrate product design downward across the board in order to accommodate the exclusion in selected markets."

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Written by Leisureguy

19 November 2009 at 12:21 pm

Abortion in the US

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Jeffrey Toobin has an interesting essay in the New Yorker:

Abortion is almost as old as childbirth. There has always been a need for some women to end their pregnancies. In modern times, the law’s attitude toward that need has varied. In the United States, at the time the Constitution was adopted, abortions before “quickening” were both legal and commonplace, often performed by midwives. In the nineteenth century, under the influence of the ascendant medical profession, which opposed abortion (and wanted to control health care), states began to outlaw the procedure, and by the turn of the twentieth century it was all but uniformly illegal. The rise of the feminist movement led to widespread efforts to decriminalize abortion, and in 1973 the Supreme Court found, in Roe v. Wade, that the Constitution prohibited the states from outlawing it.

Throughout this long legal history, the one constant has been that women have continued to have abortions. The rate has declined slightly in recent years, but, according to the Guttmacher Institute, thirty-five per cent of all women of reproductive age in America today will have had an abortion by the time they are forty-five. It might be assumed that such a common procedure would be included in a nation’s plan to protect the health of its citizens. In fact, the story of abortion during the past decade has been its separation from other medical services available to women. Abortion, as the academics like to say, is being marginalized.

The latest evidence comes from the House of Representatives, which two weekends ago narrowly passed its health-care bill, by a vote of 220 to 215. One reason that the Democrats won back control of Congress is that the Party adopted a “big tent” philosophy on abortion. The implications of that approach became clear when, during the health-care vote, the House considered a last-minute amendment by Bart Stupak, a Michigan Democrat, which proposed scrubbing the bill of government subsidies for abortion procedures. It passed 240 to 194, with sixty-four Democrats voting in favor.

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19 November 2009 at 12:10 pm

Fighting gay marriage undermines traditional marriage

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The Religious Right were on to something, but they had it backwards: it’s not gay marriage that undermines traditional marriage (how could it?), but fighting gay marriage undermines traditional marriage. See the report by David Montgomery from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram:

Barbara Ann Radnofsky, a Houston lawyer and Democratic candidate for attorney general, says that a 22-word clause in a 2005 constitutional amendment designed to ban gay marriages erroneously endangers the legal status of all marriages in the state.

The amendment, approved by the Legislature and overwhelmingly ratified by voters, declares that "marriage in this state shall consist only of the union of one man and one woman." But the troublemaking phrase, as Radnofsky sees it, is Subsection B, which declares:

"This state or a political subdivision of this state may not create or recognize any legal status identical or similar to marriage."

Architects of the amendment included the clause to ban same-sex civil unions and domestic partnerships. But Radnofsky, who was a member of the powerhouse Vinson & Elkins law firm in Houston for 27 years until retiring in 2006, says the wording of Subsection B effectively "eliminates marriage in Texas," including common-law marriages.

She calls it a "massive mistake" and blames the current attorney general, Republican Greg Abbott, for allowing the language to become part of the Texas Constitution. Radnofsky called on Abbott to acknowledge the wording as an error and consider an apology. She also said that another constitutional amendment may be necessary to reverse the problem.

"You do not have to have a fancy law degree to read this and understand what it plainly says," said Radnofsky, who will be at Texas Christian University today as part of a five-city tour to kick off her campaign…

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

19 November 2009 at 11:50 am

Posted in Daily life, Government, Law

Sexual health via the UK’s National Health Service

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I don’t believe that the US is quite mature enough—or well-educated enough—to embrace something like this, reported by Abel Pharmboy:

No matter how early I wake up, it’s always five hours later in the UK and I’m overwhelmed by the thought that I’m already behind (I won’t even get into the feeling I have when I think of our Australian readers).

So when I start the day reading my Twitter stream, it’s usually populated by midday news from England. I follow the NHS – National Health Service – "one of the largest publicly funded health services in the world," and their superb health information site, NHS Choices.

This morning I saw this tweet about the launch of their new sexual health site:

@NHSChoices Our new sexual health hub includes advice on contraception, good sex guides, sex & young people, STIs and much more http://bit.ly/3wtJwL

Beyond the simple fact that the NHS exists because the UK has held since 1948 that every person deserves a basic level of state-supported health care, could you imagine what it would take for such a site to be sponsored by a US health agency? Supported with tax dollars? Can you imagine the wrangling of politicians, the religious right, and all manner of people ranting about government-sanctioned sex – and information for the young people???

So at the risk of being deemed a socialist, let me applaud the NHS for what is a truly terrific and straight-talking resource. What I’ve seen of the rest of the site is pretty fantastic as well.

You don’t have to be British to get a lot of great take-home information for yourself and for your kids.

Written by Leisureguy

19 November 2009 at 11:45 am

How to dry-age steaks using Drybag

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Interesting article, lots of photos, requires yet another kitchen appliance so I won’t be doing it.

Written by Leisureguy

19 November 2009 at 11:39 am

Posted in Daily life, Food

Republicans support credit-card rate hikes

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Of course they do: it helps business, and the GOP has never cared for consumers. Heather at Video Café has an excellent post on this, including this video:

From Sen. Chris Dodd–Republicans Block Dodd’s Effort to Immediately Stop Credit Card Rate Hikes:

Senate Republicans blocked Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodds (D-CT) attempt to pass legislation to stop credit card interest rate hikes.

Dodd went to the Senate floor to ask for consent for the Senate to take up and pass his Credit Card Rate Freeze Act, which would prevent credit card companies from hiking interest rates, fees and finance charges on customers existing balances until Credit CARD Act protections take effect in February. Regrettably, Republican Senator Thad Cochran (R-MS) objected to Dodds request, blocking the bill from Senate passage.

Consumers obviously have a responsibility to spend within our means and to pay what we owe. We bear that responsibility. But the credit card industry as well has a responsibility to deal with their customers honorably. There is nothing honorable about whats happened with these significant rate increases and fees. Most importantly, they dont have a right to rip off American families, especially when the Congress has already gone on record opposing the very actions they’re engaging in, Dodd said on the Senate floor.

Happy Holidays from the GOP.

John Amato:

This is outrageous. The Republicans are actually blocking freezes on credit card rate hikes as the holidays approach us? What would Santa say? Where’s the outrage from the Democrats and the Villagers? Will David Broder write a juicy article showing his disdain for the treatment of the American people by republicans? I mean he’s the ultimate bipartisan scold. I bet if you asked the teabaggers waiting to see Sarah Palin at a book signing, they would say that it’s un-American and Socialist to stop credit card companies from raising their rates. “That’s their right as Americans if you support freedom and the Constitution.” Maybe Palin will write something about it on her Facebook page for the media to lap up. You know, the Democrats are trying to use death panels on the poor credit card companies in a down economy. That’s can’t be good, right Katie?

Digby writes:

These people are sticking up for credit card companies who are gouging their customers during the holidays in the middle of a recession! What do they have to do to provoke some outrage from the Democrats, gun down Tiny Tim? (Of course, the Republicans would simply say they were defending their constitutional right to bear arms.)

Honestly, this should provoke a Democratic outcry of epic proportions because it’s good policy and it’s good politics. They missed the boat by failing to draw attention to the fact that the Republicans blocked the unemployment insurance extension for over a month but this issue is hitting both the employed and the unemployed, all across the country.

Written by Leisureguy

19 November 2009 at 11:27 am

Book links

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Written by Leisureguy

19 November 2009 at 11:21 am

Posted in Books

Cool: Members of Congress will get same health insurance as we do

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This is great. Donny Shaw at the Open Congress blog:

As I pointed out in a previous post, one of the decisions Harry Reid had to make in reconciling the HELP Committee and Finance Committee was whether or not to require Members of Congress to purchase their insurance the same way everyone else does. The Finance Committee would have required all Members of Congress to give up their Federal Employees Health Benefits Plan and buy insurance through the new exchanges instead, while the HELP bill would allow them to keep their exclusive health care plans.

The final bill’s out, and Reid chose to include the Finance Committee language. Straight form the bill text:

(d) MEMBERS OF CONGRESS IN THE EXCHANGE.
(i) REQUIREMENT. Notwithstanding any other provision of law, after the effective date of this subtitle, the only health plans that the Federal Government may make available to Members of Congress and congressional staff with respect to their service as a Member of Congress or congressional staff shall be health plans that are
(I) created under this Act (or an amendment made by this Act); or
(II) offered through an Exchange established under this Act (or an amendment made by this Act).
(ii) DEFINITIONS. In this section:
(I) MEMBER OF CONGRESS. The term Member of Congress means any member of the House of Representatives or the Senate.
(II) CONGRESSIONAL STAFF. The term congressional staff means all full-time and part-time employees employed by the official office of a Member of Congress, whether in Washington, DC or outside of Washington, DC.

Read the Reid health care bill on OpenCongress>>

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

19 November 2009 at 10:36 am

Oklahoma: Home of wingbats

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From the Center for American Progress in an email:

Oklahoma state Sen. Steve Russell (R) is proposing legislation that invokes the 10th Amendment of the Constitution to exempt his state from the recently passed Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act (HCPA), claiming it infringes on freedom of speech. Hate crimes laws have been on the books since 1969, but Russell seems to object only to this law, which expands the definition of such crimes to "those committed because of a victim’s sexual orientation." Russell and other right wingers claim that anti-gay religious leaders could be "imprisoned for their speech" under the new law, or a "suspect could pass the blame onto a religious leader who preached out against" homosexuality. But as Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) noted, "Nothing in this legislation diminishes an American’s freedom of religion [or] freedom of speech," because the law "targets acts, not speech." Russell is echoing a common right-wing objection to health care reform — pushed by the so-called "tenthers" — which argues that because the U.S. Constitution never explicitly gives the federal government the right to regulate health care, the 10th Amendment leaves that power exclusively to the states. As Russell says, the HCPA "gives the federal government power that was not given to them in the Constitution." Russell and the other tenthers have flimsy legal basis for their claims. The Constitution gives Congress broad power to "provide for the common defense and general welfare," but as Center for American Progress Policy Analyst Ian Millhiser noted, tenthers "insist that these words don’t actually mean what they say." This fringe so out of touch with the mainstream that it believe landmark federal programs such as Medicare, Social Security, the federal highway system, and rules regulating airplane safety are unconstitutional.

Written by Leisureguy

19 November 2009 at 10:32 am

Posted in Daily life, GOP, Government, Law

Joe Klein on the current GOP

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Klein:

E.J. Dionne has an interesting column today on the Republican party’s Senate strategy of forcing a cloture vote on everything, even on the few provisions they support. A few months ago, I wrote that the G.O.P. had become a party led by nihilists. This is further evidence of that. I have doubts about some of the legislation the Democrats are producing, especially those bills that aggrandize their special interests at the expense of the public interest. It would be nice if we had a proper opposition party to provide a creative check, and balance, on such bills. But we don’t. What we have is the Party of Snit, refusing to participate in the governing of our country. It would be nice if the public demanded a price to be paid for this, but I doubt that will happen.

Written by Leisureguy

19 November 2009 at 10:30 am

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