Later On

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

Archive for February 14th, 2010

I imagine that you, like me, want a Yike Bike

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Take a look: very cool. Thanks to Janice for the pointer. (Video at the link.)

Written by LeisureGuy

14 February 2010 at 5:33 pm

Posted in Daily life

Watching a thriller

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The Assignment, with Donald Sutherland, Ben Kingsley, and Aiden Quinn. Available on Watch Instantly. Pretty good, so far. Based on the hunt for and capture of Carlos "The Jackal".

Written by LeisureGuy

14 February 2010 at 4:43 pm

Posted in Movies & TV

A thought on Federal spending

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It’s well known that the military-industrial-Congressional complex is a self-licking ice-cream cone and very hard to brake. But I think it could be done relatively easily if Congress had a spine and were smart. Consider this: divert a certain amount of Federal funds from military spending (say, 20%, which would still leave the US greatly outspending every other nation) to infrastructure improvement nationally, including true broadband, and we might as well set the goal high in terms of global broadband speeds so that the US is positioned for the future, along with high-speed rail linking the country, bridge rebuilding, sewage and water main replacement, and so on.

The key is to keep the same amount of Federal dollars going into each Congressional district, and as much as possible to the same companies, which may have to do some re-tooling: for example, airplane manufacturers could get contracts to develop high-speed rail passenger cars.

It wouldn’t have to be perfect, especially if the Senate’s archaic rules are modernized. If a majority is kept happy, it should pass, and suddenly we see our tax dollars spent on things that directly benefit our daily lives.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 February 2010 at 3:32 pm

More Google toward telecom

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Google’s launched a competitor to the Yellow pages. You know, I never envisioned that a search engine would lead in so many directions: cloud computing, telecom, publishing, and so on. The story by Miguel Helft in the NY Times:

Jason Cowie, the owner of Kingpinz Skateboard and Snowboard Shop in Houston, has done a pretty good job of getting his business noticed on the Web. Just type “skateboards in Houston” on a search engine, and his store will be among the first listed.

But one of his sure-fire ways to drive Web visitors and foot traffic — buying search ads on Google — got to be pretty expensive. Mr. Cowie, whose shop is just 1,000 square feet, found himself bidding for placement against deep-pocketed national chains, and having to spend $1,500 to $2,000 a month just to keep up.

Now Mr. Cowie is trying something new: for a flat fee of $25 a month, he is making his listings on Google stand out. Whenever his shop comes up in a search page or on a Google map, it is adorned with a bright yellow tag. The tag links to the Kingpinz Web site, but these enhanced listings, as the ads are called, can also link to a coupon, store directions, a photograph or a video of a business, or, in the case of a restaurant, a menu or reservations page.

Yellow may be an appropriate color for the tag. Google’s new enhanced business listings, which it started to test quietly in Houston and San Jose, Calif., early this month, have an obvious competitor: the Yellow Pages.

“I think Google is going to be the new Yellow Pages,” Mr. Cowie said. “More and more of these younger kids are used to Google. They are looking at their phones rather than opening up a phone book.” …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 February 2010 at 3:16 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life

Using reconciliation to pass healthcare reform

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Steven Benen at Political Animal:

When all is said and done, the "summit" is complete, and policymakers decide what happens next on health care reform, they will choose from a limited menu of options.

(1) Let health care reform die; (2) pass a weak, watered-down plan that does very little good; (3) wait and hope that some Republican votes will materialize, enough for a conference package to get an up-or-down vote; (4) the House passes the Senate bill; (5) the House passes the Senate bill, and the Senate approves changes through reconciliation.

Option (1) is obviously political suicide, and option (2) is nearly as bad. Option (3) would have the same practical effect as option (1), since Democrats have already included GOP ideas in the reform package, and Republicans won’t take "yes" for an answer. Option (4) has appeal, but almost certainly won’t have the votes to come to fruition. Which leaves the painfully obvious option (5), which every reasonable observer already recognizes as the only credible choice.

There are some hurdles to making option (5) work, but the biggest seems to be Democratic reluctance to how reconciliation might "look." Republicans would characterize use of the rules as an "abuse," and Dems fear that voters would perceive the procedure as skirting the rules.

Brookings’ Henry Aaron, writing in the New England Journal of Medicine, explains why Democratic fears are mistaken. The reconciliation process exists for a reason — and this is the reason. (via Jonathan Cohn)

The idea of using reconciliation has raised concern among some supporters of health care reform. They fear that reform opponents would consider the use of reconciliation high-handed. But in fact Congress created reconciliation procedures to deal with precisely this sort of situation — its failure to implement provisions of the previous budget resolution. The 2009 budget resolution instructed both houses of Congress to enact health care reform. The House and the Senate have passed similar but not identical bills. Since both houses have acted but some work remains to be done to align the two bills, using reconciliation to implement the instructions in the budget resolution follows established congressional procedure.

Furthermore, coming from Republicans, objections to the use of reconciliation on procedural grounds seem more than a little insincere. A Republican president and a Republican Congress used reconciliation procedures in 2001 to enact tax cuts that were supported by fewer than 60 senators. The then-majority Republicans could use reconciliation only because they misrepresented the tax cuts as temporary although everyone understood they were intended to be permanent — but permanent cuts would have required the support of 60 senators, which they did not have.

There is simply no reason to Democratic skittishness on this. None. Reconciliation has been used, legitimately, to pass everything from welfare reform to COBRA, Bush’s tax-cut packages to student-aid reform, nursing home standards to the earned income tax credit. Not too long ago, Senate Republicans even considered using reconciliation to approve drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

This should be a no-brainer. The reconciliation process was developed for exactly these circumstances, and even the most panicky Democrats have to realize that there’s nothing wrong with using a fair, legitimate Senate rule to complete the legislative process.

Ezra added this morning, "At this point, Democrats have passed health-care reform bills through the two legislative chambers charged with considering them. The president stands ready to sign the legislation. The roadblock is that 41 Republicans have sworn to use a parliamentary maneuver to obstruct any effort to smooth out differences between the bills. It’s pretty clear who’s stepping outside the traditional workings of the process here. Yet Democrats have allowed the other side to make it look like they’re the ones who are bending the rules! It’s completely astonishing."

Written by LeisureGuy

14 February 2010 at 2:37 pm

Contrasting the rights we want for ourselves with the rights we allow for others

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Ten American Baptists were arrested two weeks ago in Haiti on charges that they exploited the chaos in that country by attempting to smuggle 33 young Haitian children across the border without permission — either to bring them to a life of Christianity or (as some evidence suggests) to filter them into a child trafficking ring.  National Review‘s Kathryn Jean Lopez is deeply upset by the plight of at least one of the detained Americans, Jim Allen, whom she contends (based exclusively on his family’s claims) is innocent.  Lopez demands that the State Department do more to "insist" upon Allen’s release, and — most amazingly of all — complains about the conditions of his detention.   She has the audacity to cite a Human Rights Watch description of prison conditions in Haiti as "inhumane."  Lopez complains that Allen was waterboarded, stripped, frozen and beaten has "hypertension," was shipped thousands of miles away to a secret black site beyond the reach of the ICRC and then rendered to Jordan allowed to speak to his wife only once in the first ten days of his confinement, and was consigned to years in an island-prison cage with no charges denied his choice of counsel for a few days (though he is now duly represented in Haitian courts by a large team of American lawyers).

You know what else Human Rights Watch vehemently condemns as human rights abuses?  Guantanamo, military commissions, denial of civilian trials, indefinite detention, America’s "enhanced interrogation techniques," renditions, and a whole slew of other practices that are far more severe than the conditions in Haiti about which Lopez complains and yet which have been vocally supported by National Review.  In fact, Lopez’s plea for Allen is surrounded at National Review by multiple and increasingly strident attacks on the Obama administration by former Bush officials Bill Burck and Dana Perino for (allegedly) abandoning those very policies, as well as countless posts from former Bush speechwriter (and the newest Washington Post columnist) Marc Thiessen promoting his new book defending torture.  Lopez herself has repeatedly cheerled for Guantanamo and related policies, hailing Mitt Romney’s call in a GOP debate that we "double Guantanamo" as his "best answer" and saying she disagrees with John McCain’s anti-torture views, while mocking human rights concerns with the term "Club Gitmo."  And National Review itself has led an endless attack on the credibility of Human Rights Watch, accusing it of anti-Israel and anti-American bias for daring to point out the human rights abuses perpetrated by those countries.

What’s going on here is quite clear, quite odious, and quite common…

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 February 2010 at 2:25 pm

Posted in Daily life, GOP

Free Speech and Funding in Israel

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Extremely interesting article by Gershom Gorenberg in The American Prospect:

Ronen Shoval caught me off-guard. I’d phoned the newly prominent rightist to listen to him repeat his allegations that the New Israel Fund, the major philanthropic backer of Israeli human-rights groups, was "aiding Hamas." But I wasn’t expecting him to say that the NIF was "serving communist interests." He’s not actually an Israeli neo-McCarthyist, I realized. He’s an authentic, original McCarthyist — cut loose in both time and space, in free fall, looking desperately for his mother ship. For a few seconds I felt sorry for him.

My moment of lost-kitten pity didn’t last. Anachronistic as he sounds, Shoval is quite dangerous. With politicians and major media figures helping to arouse hysteria, his Im Tirtzu movement has enjoyed very quick success in its campaign against the NIF. At the end of January, Im Tirtzu ("If You Will It") issued a study portraying the NIF as the hidden force responsible for war-crimes allegations in the Goldstone Report on the fighting between Israel and Hamas a year ago.

The daily Ma’ariv, with the second-largest circulation in Israel, launched the Im Tirtzu study with a lengthy, supportive article. Im Tirtzu followed with a direct personal campaign against NIF President Naomi Chazan, a former Knesset member. Demonstrators outside her house held signs depicting Chazan with a horn sprouting from her forehead — playing on the fact that Hebrew word for "fund" also means "horn." Israel’s Government Press Office translated another right-wing Ma’ariv columnist’s attack on the NIF and e-mailed it to foreign correspondents as if it were a government press release. Within a week, the Knesset Law Committee established a subcommittee to investigate foreign funding of Israeli organizations.

It’s a safe bet that the new panel (the Committee on Un-Israeli Activities?) is not intended to investigate the funding that Im Tirtzu has itself received from the Rev. John Hagee’s Christians United For Israel or from the Central Fund, an American body that serves as a pipeline for donations to far-right groups in Israel and West Bank settlements. Nor is it likely to look into the donations from U.S. businessmen Sheldon Adelson and Ronald Lauder to the neo-conservative Shalem Center think tank, from which Prime Minister Netanyahu has drawn top appointees. Foreign financing, especially from Diaspora Jews, plays a major role in Israeli politics, and the right would suffer far more than the left if the cash flow from abroad were blocked.

So the fight here isn’t over funding. It’s about free speech. For several decades, the brightest spot in Israeli democracy has been …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 February 2010 at 2:21 pm

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