Later On

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

Archive for March 24th, 2010

Vicious threats: This is getting tiresome

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This irreducible 27% who have embraced the Tea Party and swallowed whole the line of bullshit the GOP peddles to arouse fear (and we saw a lot of that in the bygone days of President George W. Bush and the wonderfully timed varying colors of threat level), that 27% have now moved to vicious threats (phone messages of death threats against Rep. Louise Slaughter’s children, broken windows a-plenty) and vicious acts (severing the line to the propane tank at Rep. Tom Perriello’s brother’s house—the nutcase gave out the wrong address, and when informed, wrote, "Oh, well. Collateral damage.").

The interesting thing to me is that this group moves directly to violence and threats of violence: they never appeal to rationality, they do not (cannot?) formulate (or follow) reasoned argument. Literally, all they know (or seem to understand) is violence and threats of violence. Oh, I do think that they will slowly, gradually lose their anger and their heat, while maintaining the sense of having been betrayed and somehow wronged; gradually, as the people around them and the community moves in a new direction, they will gradually follow—but always with a sense of grievance.


Written by Leisureguy

24 March 2010 at 5:20 pm

Posted in Daily life, GOP, Government, Law

Interesting adjective

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I earlier recommended that you read this excellent backstage story on the passing of the Affordable Care Act. I want to point out an interesting choice of adjective:

This account — based on exclusive interviews with a dozen lawmakers, lobbyists and high-ranking administration officials — highlights some of the key moments in the final push, from the chaotic arm-twisting at the end to a futile attempt at bipartisanship that began in the wake of the Jan. 19 meeting.

The adjective of interest is, of course, “futile.” A “futile” attempt is not an attempt that failed, it is an attempt that, by no stretch of the imagination, ever had any hope whatsoever of success.

Interesting choice, especially from a reporter, ostensibly an objective observer (and the Washington Post tilts right, so even more interesting).

Written by Leisureguy

24 March 2010 at 5:11 pm

The Onion: 2 that struck me as funny, just from the headlines

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Written by Leisureguy

24 March 2010 at 4:40 pm

Posted in Daily life

Armageddon! First photos!

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As I continued to wait for Armageddon to arrive (John Boehner more or less promised that it would arrive yesterday, as soon as the Affordable Care Act was signed), it suddenly occurred to me that it’s here! This must be it. Truthfully, it’s not so bad as I feared. Here’s one photo from the balcony:

And, in another direction, this view of Armageddon:

As always, click to enlarge.

If there is sailing on Armageddon afternoon, I’ll post a photo of that later.

UPDATE: I just realized that I don’t know the proper greeting. “Happy Armageddon”? “Top of the Armageddon to ye”? “How’s your Armageddon going”?

I thought about calling John Boehner’s office—he’s sure to know—but I realized that it was after 2:00 pm in Washington, and the GOP quits now at 2:00, at least in the Senate. So John Boy is probably already in the tanning salon.

UPDATE: I bet you’re supposed to drink red beer.

UPDATE: I wonder whether there is some—well, not exactly traditional, but perhaps appropriate dish you’re supposed to cook. Chicken diable, perhaps, or could you squeak by with cafe diable?

UPDATE: You know, as much as the nutcase fundamentalists blather on about Armageddon, you’d think they’d be a little beforehand and have ready some sort of guidebook—etiquette, attire, songs, hats, etc.

UPDATE: There don’t seem to be any Armageddon-day sales. You’d sure think there would be, what with Mammon and all.

Wow: Naming rights to Armageddon! Wouldn’t that fetch a penny? “Armageddon brought to you by [name of hated group]”!

Oh, wait. Armageddon is brought by God, as I recall—He’s probably got all the naming rights and merchandising deals all sewn up.

UPDATE: The Armageddon Sailing Club did indeed make it. They had such a late start that I was thinking that all sailboat owners were probably taken up in Teh Rapture, but apparently not.

Written by Leisureguy

24 March 2010 at 2:07 pm

Posted in Daily life

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Going out for another Armageddon check

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It seems to be seriously overdue at this point. I’ll drive up to the top of a hill and see if I can spot it—and while I’m there, go into Whole Foods and buy a couple of lamb chops.

Written by Leisureguy

24 March 2010 at 1:02 pm

Posted in Daily life

California initiative to legalize marijuana in the state

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John Hoeffel in the LA Times:

Fourteen years after California decided marijuana could be used as a medicine and ignited a national movement, the state is likely to vote on whether to take another step into the vanguard of drug liberalization: legalizing the controversial weed for fun and profit.

On Wednesday, Los Angeles County elections officials must turn in their count of valid signatures collected in the county on a statewide legalization initiative. The number is virtually certain to be enough to qualify the initiative for the November ballot, according to a tally kept by state election officials.

That will once again make California the focal point of the long-stewing argument over marijuana legalization, a debate likely to be a high-dollar brawl between adversaries who believe it could launch or stifle another national trend.

The campaign will air issues that have changed little over the years. Proponents will cite the financial and social cost of enforcing pot prohibition and argue that marijuana is not as dangerous and addictive as tobacco or alcohol. Opponents will highlight marijuana-linked crimes, rising teenage use and the harm the weed causes some smokers.

But the debate also will play out against a cultural landscape that has changed substantially, with marijuana moving from dark street corners to neon-lit suburban boutiques. In the months since the Obama administration ordered drug agents to lay off dispensaries, hundreds have opened, putting pot within easy reach of most Californians. Whether voters view this de facto legalization with trepidation or equanimity could shape the outcome.
The measure’s supporters hope that this dynamic will shift the debate, allowing them to persuade voters to replace prohibition with controlled sales that could be taxed to help California’s cities and counties.

“They already accept that it’s out there. They want to see a smart strategy,” said Chris Lehane, a top strategist for the initiative.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Leisureguy

24 March 2010 at 1:00 pm

Posted in Daily life, Drug laws

Every cloud has a silver lining: Global warming edition

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Nirmala George for Associated Press:

For nearly 30 years, India and Bangladesh have argued over control of a tiny rock island in the Bay of Bengal. Now rising sea levels have resolved the dispute for them: the island’s gone.

New Moore Island in the Sunderbans has been completely submerged, said oceanographer Sugata Hazra, a professor at Jadavpur University in Calcutta. Its disappearance has been confirmed by satellite imagery and sea patrols, he said.

"What these two countries could not achieve from years of talking, has been resolved by global warming," said Hazra.

Scientists at the School of Oceanographic Studies at the university have noted an alarming increase in the rate at which sea levels have risen over the past decade in the Bay of Bengal.

Until 2000, the sea levels rose about 3 millimeters (0.12 inches) a year, but over the last decade they have been rising about 5 millimeters (0.2 inches) annually, he said.

Another nearby island, Lohachara, was submerged in 1996, forcing its inhabitants to move to the mainland, while almost half the land of Ghoramara island was underwater, he said. At least 10 other islands in the area were at risk as well, Hazra said.

"We will have ever larger numbers of people displaced from the Sunderbans as more island areas come under water," he said.

Bangladesh, a low-lying delta nation of 150 million people, is one of the countries worst-affected by global warming. Officials estimate 18 percent of Bangladesh’s coastal area will be underwater and 20 million people will be displaced if sea levels rise 1 meter (3.3 feet) by 2050 as projected by some climate models…

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

24 March 2010 at 12:45 pm

Kevin Drum’s list of what the Tea Party is fighting

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And they are fighting: not only throwing bricks through Democratic politicians’ offices, but also severing a gas line at the home of Rep. Tom Periello’s brother (after a wingnut posted the wrong address—and, when told it was wrong, quipped, "Oh, well. Collateral damage.").

So what has made them so angry? That the American people will get the following:

  • This year, children with pre-existing conditions can no longer be denied health insurance coverage. Once the new health insurance exchanges begin in the coming years, pre-existing condition discrimination will become a thing of the past for everyone.
  • This year, health care plans will allow young people to remain on their parents’ insurance policy up until their 26th birthday.
  • This year, insurance companies will be banned from dropping people from coverage when they get sick, and they will be banned from implementing lifetime caps on coverage. This year, restrictive annual limits on coverage will be banned for certain plans. Under health insurance reform, Americans will be ensured access to the care they need.
  • This year, adults who are uninsured because of pre-existing conditions will have access to affordable insurance through a temporary subsidized high-risk pool.
  • In the next fiscal year, the bill increases funding for community health centers, so they can treat nearly double the number of patients over the next five years.
  • This year, this bill creates a new, independent appeals process that ensures consumers in new private plans have access to an effective process to appeal decisions made by their insurer.
  • This year, discrimination based on salary will be outlawed. New group health plans will be prohibited from establishing any eligibility rules for health care coverage that discriminate in favor of higher-wage employees.
  • Starting January 1, 2011, insurers in the individual and small group market will be required to spend 80 percent of their premium dollars on medical services. Insurers in the large group market will be required to spend 85 percent of their premium dollars on medical services. Any insurers who don’t meet those thresholds will be required to provide rebates to their policyholders.
  • Starting in 2011, this bill helps states require insurance companies to submit justification for requested premium increases. Any company with excessive or unjustified premium increases may not be able to participate in the new health insurance exchanges.
  • This year, small businesses that choose to offer coverage will begin to receive tax credits of up to 35 percent of premiums to help make employee coverage more affordable.
  • This year, new private plans will be required to provide free preventive care: no co-payments and no deductibles for preventive services. And beginning January 1, 2011, Medicare will do the same.
  • This year, this bill will provide help for early retirees by creating a temporary re-insurance program to help offset the costs of expensive premiums for employers and retirees age 55-64.
  • This year, this bill starts to close the Medicare Part D ‘donut hole’ by providing a $250 rebate to Medicare beneficiaries who hit the gap in prescription drug coverage. And beginning in 2011, the bill institutes a 50% discount on prescription drugs in the ‘donut hole.’

Do you have any idea why they are so angry about the above? What’s not to like? What in the above merits potentially killing a family?

Written by Leisureguy

24 March 2010 at 12:36 pm

Posted in Daily life, GOP, Healthcare

More on GOP efforts to waste taxpayer money and ensure no accomplishment

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Republicans seem to like this sort of sh-t, reported at ThinkProgress by Amanda Terkel:

ThinkProgress yesterday reported that all of Tuesday’s Senate committee and subcommittee hearings had to stop after 2:00 p.m. because of Republican objections. There is a little-noticed Senate rule that says committees need permission to meet anytime after two hours after the Senate convenes. Without permission, even a committee already in session has to stop meeting. No committee meetings are allowed to occur after 2:00 p.m.

The Senate generally waives this rule by unanimous consent at the start of business each day. But to protest health care legislation, Republicans have refused to give their consent this week, bringing committee work in the Senate to a virtual standstill. Today, the Senate convened at 9:00 a.m., meaning that hearings after 11:00 a.m. were blocked. One hearing canceled today was a Senate Homeland Security subcommittee session on “Contracts for Afghan National Police Training.” Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO), chair of the subcommittee, went on the Senate floor and called out the GOP tactics:

McCASKILL: Mr. President, I’m just confused about why the hearing that we had scheduled this afternoon cannot go forward. The subject matter of this hearing is oversight of the contract that is engaged in police training in Afghanistan in the Contracting Oversight subcommittee. This is a hearing that is getting to the heart of the matter that we have a real problem with the mission part in Afghanistan on police training because of problems with these contracts, problems with oversight of the State Department.

We have now canceled the hearing because we can’t have it. The witness from the State Department has been canceled. The witness from the Defense Department has been canceled. The inspectors general that were coming to testify about a GAO report that just came out last week — that was damning in its criticism of the oversight of these contracts. … I don’t get it.

Also on the Senate floor, Carl Levin (D-MI) asked permission for the already-scheduled Senate Armed Services Committee to go forward — a request supported by ranking member Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). Levin pointed out that a couple of the commanders had traveled long distances to attend today’s hearing, from as far away as Japan. Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), speaking on behalf of Republicans, objected and blocked the request:

BURR: As a member of the committee — and I side myself with the chair and the ranking member — that I have no personal objection to continuing. There is objection on our side of the aisle. Therefore, I would have to object.

Watch the clips.

The Senate Judiciary Committee also had to cancel its hearing considering President Obama’s judicial nominations, which included Goodwin Liu for the Ninth Circuit. Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) put out a statement today blasting Republicans for their petty partisanship:

Senate Republicans’ tactics of obstruction and delay know no limit.They have objected to reasonable timetables to consider President Obama’s qualified judicial nominees, and now they are objecting to allowing the Judiciary Committee to conduct hearings in connection with these nominations. Senate Republicans continue their ill-advised protest of meaningful health reform legislation by exploiting parliamentary tactics and Senate Rules, to the detriment of the American people and, in today’s instance, at the expense of American justice. I urge them to reconsider and allow this hearing to proceed as scheduled.

In response to the GOP maneuvers, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-NV) spokesman Jim Manley replied, “So let me get this straight: in retaliation for our efforts to have an up-or-down vote to improve health care reform, Republicans are blocking an Armed Services committee hearing to discuss critical national security issues among other committee meetings?”

Democratic sources on the Hill told ThinkProgress that they expect Republicans to continue this tactic all week. Republicans used this tactic as recently as June 2008, attempting to shut down at least two Judiciary Committee hearings on torture and how Supreme Court decisions had restricted protections of American workers and consumers.

Here is a full list of hearings the Senate was supposed to hold today. ThinkProgress learned that of those committees, Commerce and Agriculture were able to finish their hearings. Veterans and Environment and Public Works had to stop their hearings, and Small Business was postponed.

UPDATE: Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Daniel Akaka (D-HI), whose hearing was stopped abruptly at 11:00 a.m., replied, "The Senate should be a place for debate, but I cannot imagine how shutting down a hearing on helping homeless veterans has any part of the debate on the health insurance reform. I am deeply disappointed that my colleagues chose to hinder our common work to help end veteran homelessness."

Written by Leisureguy

24 March 2010 at 12:29 pm

Posted in Congress, GOP, Government

Sen. Chuck Grassley: Dishonest POS

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Evan McMorris-Santoro at TPMDC:

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) has long been a vocal critic of the Democrat’s health reform efforts, but today he started taking credit for some provisions of the bill, and talking up his own role in crafting the legislation.

In a release sent out by his staff to reporters today, Grassley says the bill will "hold tax-exempt hospitals accountable for the federal tax benefits they receive" thanks to his work.

The full text of his release is after the jump.

Grassley has been among the most vocal opponents of Democratic reform over the past year, but he’s also known as one of the biggest flip-floppers on the issue.

At the start of the process, Grassley was expected to be among those Senators working to craft a bipartisan bill. But it wasn’t long before he abandoned that effort, and helped to start the"death panel" meme heard at town halls across the country throughout last summer.

[TPM PHOTO FEATURE: The Evolution Of The Death Panel Meme]

Later on, Grassley joined with the Republicans in condemning the bill’s Medicare provisions. He jumped through several rhetorical hoops when he tried to explain his position in support Medicare while also attacking the idea of a public option last September.

"Medicare is part of the social fabric of America," he said. "And I think there’s a lot wrong with it."

Now, Grassley seems to be jumping through the same hoops after the bill has been signed, talking up the changes reforms he once said will allow the government to "decide when to pull the plug on Grandma" are making to the health care system.

In the memo send out to reporters by his staff on on the Senate Finance Committee, Grassley claims that the bill will ensure that "Congress, the IRS, and the public will now have additional tools and information to ensure that charitable hospitals act charitably."

There’s a reason the bill is so good when it comes to hospitals, Grassley’s staff writes — bipartisanship.

"The health care legislation signed into law yesterday includes provisions Grassley co-authored to impose standards for the tax exemption of charitable hospitals for the first time," his Finance Committee press staff writes.

Grassley has been and on-again, off-again fan of the concept during the health care debate. At first, he was a member of the so-called Gang Of Six, a group of Finance Committee Senators who tried to draft a bill, they said, that would be appealing to both sides of the aisle. At the time, Grassley said any successful health care bill should have 80 votes for final passage.

Then, in statements generally recognized as not being conducive to bipartisanship, Grassley said the government was a "predator" (though he admitted he had prospered in part by living off "the public tit") and said that his Democratic colleagues were supporting a bill that would create death panels and kill grandma.

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Written by Leisureguy

24 March 2010 at 12:22 pm

GOP continues to regress: Now at stage of pre-schooler throwing a tantrum

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The GOP really has no sense of responsibility. I’m ashamed that they are a major American political party. Steve Benen:

We talked earlier about the latest Republican tactic: refusing to allow the Senate to hold any hearings, on any issue, after 2 p.m. The point is to spite Democrats for passing health care reform. The GOP tantrum continues today in ways that are breathtakingly stupid.

The Senate Armed Services Committee, for example, has scheduled some pretty important hearings this afternoon. Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) appeared on the Senate floor earlier, imploring his colleagues to let his hearings continue.

"We’ve had, we have three [U.S. military] commanders scheduled to testify this afternoon. They’ve been scheduled for a long time. They’ve come a long, long distance. One of them has come from Korea; one of them has come from Hawaii. And I would, therefore, ask unanimous consent that the previously scheduled and currently scheduled hearing of the Committee on Armed Services be allowed to proceed."

Levin added that the committee’s ranking member, John McCain, also wants the hearing to proceed, and the hearing would not conflict with any scheduled floor votes. Among those scheduled to testify are Adm. Robert Willard, Navy Commander of the U.S. Pacific Command; Air Force Gen. Kevin Chilton, Commander of the U.S. Strategic Command; and Gen. Walter Sharpe, Army Commander of U.S. forces in Korea.

All Levin needed was for the Senate to let the hearing occur, as would be normal on any other day. But that requires unanimous consent, and Sen. Richard Burr (R) of North Carolina rose to explain that there’s "an objection on our side of the aisle."

So there will be no hearing, because the increasingly pathetic Republican caucus is miffed that the Senate majority voted for a bill the GOP didn’t like.

Scheduled hearings in the Senate Judiciary Committee have also been suspended, because they were slated to begin after 2, and the GOP refuses to allow the hearings to happen.

I’ve seen more maturity from second graders than from the Republican caucus of the United States Senate.

In terms of messaging, though, I think Ezra has the right idea:

I could imagine a lot of smart ways to begin obstructing the chamber and making life miserable for Democrats. But declaring that you won’t work after 2 p.m? Do Republicans really think the average American is going to rally to that battle cry?

If Senate Dems want to see Republicans scramble, they’d run with this one. Have the leadership hold a press conference and announce, "We’re stunned that Republicans won’t let the Senate function after 2 p.m. American workers don’t the option to just stop working at 2 because he or she feels like it, and there’s no reason their Republican senators should just call it a day after lunch. Republicans have gone from the party that only says "no" to the party that’s too lazy to say anything at all."

Written by Leisureguy

24 March 2010 at 11:49 am

A conservative view of global warming from the Economist

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Good article:

FOR anyone who thinks that climate science must be unimpeachable to be useful, the past few months have been a depressing time. A large stash of e-mails from and to investigators at the Climatic Research Unit of the University of East Anglia provided more than enough evidence for concern about the way some climate science is done. That the picture they painted, when seen in the round—or as much of the round as the incomplete selection available allows—was not as alarming as the most damning quotes taken out of context is little comfort. They offered plenty of grounds for both shame and blame.

At about the same time, glaciologists pointed out that a statement concerning Himalayan glaciers in the most recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was wrong. This led to the discovery of other poorly worded or poorly sourced claims made by the IPCC, which seeks to create a scientific consensus for the world’s politicians, and to more general worries about the panel’s partiality, transparency and leadership. Taken together, and buttressed by previous criticisms, these two revelations have raised levels of scepticism about the consensus on climate change to new heights.

Increased antsiness about action on climate change can also be traced to the recession, the unedifying spectacle of last December’s climate-change summit in Copenhagen, the political realities of the American Senate and an abnormally cold winter in much of the northern hemisphere. The new doubts about the science, though, are clearly also a part of that story. Should they be?

In any complex scientific picture of the world there will be gaps, misperceptions and mistakes. Whether your impression is dominated by the whole or the holes will depend on your attitude to the project at hand. You might say that some see a jigsaw where others see a house of cards. Jigsaw types have in mind an overall picture and are open to bits being taken out, moved around or abandoned should they not fit. Those who see houses of cards think that if any piece is removed, the whole lot falls down. When it comes to climate, academic scientists are jigsaw types, dissenters from their view house-of-cards-ists.

The defenders of the consensus tend to stress the general consilience of their efforts—the way that data, theory and modelling back each other up. Doubters see this as a thoroughgoing version of “confirmation bias”, the tendency people have to select the evidence that agrees with their original outlook. But although there is undoubtedly some degree of that (the errors in the IPCC, such as they are, all make the problem look worse, not better) there is still genuine power to the way different arguments and datasets in climate science tend to reinforce each other.

The doubters tend to focus on specific bits of empirical evidence, not on the whole picture. This is worthwhile—facts do need to be well grounded—but it can make the doubts seem more fundamental than they are. People often assume that data are simple, graspable, and trustworthy, whereas theory is complex, recondite, and slippery, and so give the former priority. In the case of climate change, as in much of science, the reverse is at least as fair a picture. Data are vexatious; theory is quite straightforward. Constructing a set of data that tells you about the temperature of the Earth over time is much harder than putting together the basic theoretical story of how the temperature should be changing, given what else is known about the universe in general.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Leisureguy

24 March 2010 at 11:40 am

Welcome to the Era of Pre-Justice

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Jim White at FireDogLake:


The statue in the photograph above is one of the more common images evoked for many people when considering the concept of justice. Here is one of the more succinct interpretations of the sculpture:

The author of this sculpture, named “Scales of Justice”, is Nicolas Mayer, a French sculptor of the XIX century. It is a symbolic representation of Justice.

* The scales symbolize the objective consideration towards the arguments given by the parties to a dispute.
* The blindfold is the symbol to the impartiality at the moment to practice justice.
* The sword indicates justice’s coercion capacity to impose the decision it takes.

Ancient concepts of justice and its embodiment have varied:

A common representation of Justice is a blind-folded woman holding a set of scales. The origin of the Goddess of Justice goes back to antiquity. She was referred to as Ma’at by the ancient Egyptians and was often depicted carrying a sword with an ostrich feather in her hair (but no scales) to symbolize truth and justice. The term magistrate is derived from Ma’at because she assisted Osiris in the judgment of the dead by weighing their hearts. [1]

To the ancient Greeks she was known as Themis, originally the organizer of the “communal affairs of humans, particularly assemblies.” [2] Her ability to foresee the future enabled her to become one of the oracles at Delphi, which in turn led to her establishment as the goddess of divine justice. Classical representations of Themis did not show her blindfolded (because of her talent for prophecy, she had no need to be blinded) nor was she holding a sword (because she represented common consent, not coercion). [3]

The Roman goddess of justice was called Justitia and was often portrayed as evenly balancing both scales and a sword and wearing a blindfold. She was sometimes portrayed holding the fasces (a bundle of rods around an ax symbolizing judicial authority) in one hand and a flame in the other (symbolizing truth). [4]

Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, the idealized image of American justice fit well with Mayer’s sculpture of Justitia. There was an effort at impartiality (although convictions in practice were strongly tilted against minorities and the poor) and reliance on evidence, while the power of the state was used to enforce the decisions.

In the late 20th century, there was a drifting toward nominations to the bench taking political leanings into consideration. This process has intensified in the 21st century and has metastasized into other aspects of the justice system. The Department of Justice was politicized in many ways under George W. Bush, as poorly trained, fundamentalist Christian attorneys were seeded heavily into career positions. In addition, US Attorneys who would not sufficiently politicize their prosecutions were removed in favor of those who would. The Office of Legal Counsel was turned from the executive branch’s legal research resource into a rubber stamp authorization source for any abuse and a “get out of jail free” card for illegality. The Attorney General became the President’s personal attorney and David Margolis elevated his role as the final white-washer of any internal findings of wrong-doing.

Sadly, these miscarriages of justice have not been reversed under Obama, and any attempts at doing so are met with fierce resistance. The Obama Justice Department has been told in no uncertain terms that it is to “look forward, not back” with regard to known acts of torture designed and authorized at the highest levels of the Bush administration along with other known illegal acts such as warrantless wiretapping. Concepts such as the proper venue for trying suspects and the indefinite detention of suspects without charges are now seen as properly decided through political deal-making debated openly in the press as an intentional bypassing of the judicial branch of government by a coalition of the executive and legislative branches.

So now we are at the era of Pre-Justice. This is different from pre-crime as depicted in Minority Report, where people are arrested in advance of crimes they have been predicted to commit. With Pre-Justice, the crimes already have been committed, but the question of being judged can no longer be left to an impartial court guided by the rule of law and the evidence which is available. Instead, those at the upper levels of the executive and legislative branches of the government come together to decide whether a sentence will be imposed and what that sentence will be. For those who have committed crimes on behalf of these new supreme rulers (or those committed by the rulers themselves), no charges are to be filed and no punishment is to be allowed. For those who have been deemed guilty by the supreme rulers and detained solely on their word, punishment is to be doled out through the venue most likely to achieve conviction. For those who it turns out were improperly detained and who have committed no crime, they are to be detained indefinitely without charges, because the supreme rulers deem them too dangerous to release (okay, this bit does border on pre-crime).

Justice in 21st century America no longer resembles the sculpture of Justitia above. Now, her blindfold has been removed and …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

24 March 2010 at 11:24 am

Posted in Daily life, Government, Law

Study examines amount of physical activity needed to prevent long-term weight gain

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Useful information:

Among women consuming a usual diet, physical activity was associated with less weight gain over 13 years only among women of normal weight, according to a study in the March 24/31 issue of JAMA. The researchers also found that women successful in maintaining normal weight averaged approximately 60 minutes a day of moderate-intensity activity throughout the study. The prevalence of overweight and obesity in the United States has increased dramatically over the past 2 decades, with 1 in 3 adults currently obese. "Because the average U.S. adult gains weight with age, developing ways to prevent unhealthful weight gain would help them avoid having to lose weight and then trying to maintain that loss. Compared with the vast body of research on the treatment of overweight and obese individuals, little research exists on preventing weight gain," the authors write. "The amount of physical activity needed to prevent long-term weight gain is unclear."

I-Min Lee, M.B.B.S., Sc.D., of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston, and colleagues examined weight changes associated with different physical activity levels in a study that included 34,079 healthy U.S. women who consumed a usual diet (average age, 54 years) from 1992-2007. At the beginning of the study and at years 3, 6, 8, 10, 12 and 13, women reported their physical activity and body weight. Women were classified as expending less than 7.5, 7.5 to less than 21, and 21 or more metabolic equivalent (MET) hours per week of activity at each time. Analyses examined physical activity and weight change over intervals averaging 3 years.

Women gained an average of 5.7 lbs. throughout the study. Compared with women expending 21 or more MET hours per week, those expending 7.5 to less than 21 MET hours per week gained .2 lbs., whereas those expending less than 7.5 MET hours per week gained .3 lbs, a difference that was not statistically significant.

"There was a significant interaction with body mass index (BMI), such that there was an inverse dose-response relation between activity levels and weight gain among women with a BMI of less than 25 but no relation among women with a BMI from 25 to 29.9 or with a BMI of 30.0 or higher. A total of 4,540 women (13.3 percent) with a BMI lower than 25 at study start successfully maintained their weight by gaining less than 5.1 lbs. throughout. Their [average] activity level over the study was 21.5 MET hours per week ([approximately] 60 minutes a day of moderate-intensity activity)," the researchers write.

"These data suggest that the 2008 federal recommendation for 150 minutes per week, while clearly sufficient to lower the risks of chronic diseases, is insufficient for weight gain prevention absent caloric restriction. Physical activity was inversely related to weight gain only among normal-weight women; among heavier women, there was no relation, emphasizing the importance of controlling caloric intake for weight maintenance in this group."

Source: JAMA and Archives Journals

Written by Leisureguy

24 March 2010 at 11:18 am

Posted in Daily life, Health, Science

Books about Mark Twain

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Good review of several books on Mark Twain:

The Mark Twain Anthology: Great Writers on His Life and Works

by Shelley Fisher Fishkin

A review by Jonah Raskin

It is hard to believe — because he looms so large in our national letters — that Mark Twain, born Samuel Clemens in 1835, died 100 years ago, on April 21. The anniversary of his death provides an occasion to reappraise his work and rethink his life. Fortunately, critics and biographers have been sifting through Twain’s published writings and rummaging through his archives. A half dozen new books delve deeply and from nearly every possible angle into perhaps our most profoundly divided writer.

The Mark Twain Anthology: Great Writers on His Life and Works offers a diverse body of work about Twain, with a perky introduction by Stanford Professor Shelley Fisher Fishkin. The word American comes up repeatedly, as in William Faulkner’s comment that Twain was "the first truly American writer."
While Asians, Latin Americans and Europeans have praised Twain, his most ardent admirers have been white American men: H.L. Mencken, William Dean Howells and Leslie Fiedler, who pointed out in an essay included here that American novels like Huckleberry Finn are often about the bonds of love and friendship between males of different races. Toni Morrison tries hard in a 1996 essay to like Twain’s classic about Huck, the poor, white teenager, and Jim, the escaped, black slave, but never resolves her ambivalence. Ralph Ellison wasn’t the least bit conflicted. Of Twain, he said, "He made it possible for many of us to find our own voices."

Of course, it’s Huck’s inimitable voice that animates the novel. "I reckon I got to light out for the Territory," he declares as he flees all attempts to "sivilize" him.

In Lighting Out for the Territory: How Samuel Clemens Headed West and Became Mark Twain, the historian Roy Morris Jr. describes Samuel Clemens’ adventures as a young man in Nevada and California, often with his older brother Orion. Morris focuses on the years 1861 to 1867; the story he tells is largely a prologue to the paramount drama of Twain’s life. Still, there are pleasures in these pages; Morris has done his homework, and he showcases Twain’s earliest literary gems.

Interestingly, before he fixed on Mark Twain, Clemens tried out more than a half dozen pen names, some very silly (Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass). Morris reprints the article in which the Mark Twain byline first appeared. "I feel very much as if I had just awakened out of a long sleep," he wrote. That awakening altered his own life, and changed the course of American literature…

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Written by Leisureguy

24 March 2010 at 11:14 am

Posted in Books

Latest Guantanamo detainee case

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Rozina Ali in Salon:

On Monday, federal Judge James Robertson ordered the release of Mohamedou Ould Salahi, a Guantánamo Bay detainee who had petitioned for habeas corpus back in 2005. The explanation for the decision is now classified, but Robertson stated he would make it public in the next few weeks. Slahi is the 34th prisoner to be released from Guantánamo since the Supreme Court ruled in 2004 that detainees could challenge their detention in U.S. courts.

But Slahi is also what authorities called a "highly valued detainee." He is suspected of helping recruit the 9/11 hijackers in Germany and of involvement in the attempted millennium bombing in Los Angeles. He has also been held illegally in Guantánamo for eight years without criminal charges.

Like most things pertaining to the war on terror, Monday’s ruling produced some gross misinterpretations. Several Fox News hosts, for instance, suggested that Robertson’s decision was a result of President Obama’s push for civilian trials for some Guantánamo detainees. But the chain of events that brought the Slahi case to Robertson actually began years before Obama’s presidency.

In March 2004, Lt. Col. Stuart Couch, the prosecutor in Slahi’s military trial, halted that process, claiming that the evidence against Slahi had been obtained through torture and was thus inadmissible under U.S. and international law. It is this mistreatment, ultimately, that allowed Slahi to win his release this week.

Indeed, what is most notable about the Slahi case is how severe and well-documented his mistreatment was. A report released last April by the Senate Armed Services Committee highlighted the interrogation techniques used against Slahi, who has become a notorious example of mistreatment of U.S. prisoners of war.

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Written by Leisureguy

24 March 2010 at 11:07 am

Healthcare reform surges in popularity

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Joe Conason in Salon:

Has public opinion on a major issue ever spun around so swiftly? Having predicted that the negative voter reaction to healthcare reform will shift before November — if only because Democrats finally stood up for their convictions — I must admit that the pace of change reported by Gallup today is a bit stunning.

Democracy Corps pollsters Stan Greenberg and James Carville  traced significant movement on the issue away from the Republicans just before Sunday night’s vote — as Greenberg  explained in a New York Times Op-Ed yesterday – but the trend seems to be picking up speed.

The daily tracking poll posted on the Gallup site is subject to greater error than a three-day poll, but it nevertheless indicates a sharp reversal almost overnight.

Nearly half of the respondents say that passage of healthcare reform is "a good thing," while 40 percent say it is a "bad thing," with the remaining 11 percent offering no opinion. A separate question that sought "emotional responses" found 50 percent answering that they feel "enthusiastic" or "pleased" about the legislation, while 23 percent say they feel "disappointed" and 19 percent are "angry."

Unsurprisingly, Democrats are elated, Republicans are mad, and independents are closely divided. Gallup offers no additional cross-tabulations, but USAToday’s  story provides a few more details:

The largest single group, 48%, calls the bill "a good first step" that should be followed by more action on health care. An additional 4% also have a favorable view, saying the bill makes the most important changes needed in the nation’s health care system.

To be sure, the nation remains divided about the massive legislation that narrowly passed the House late Sunday and was signed by Obama in an emotional East Room ceremony Tuesday morning. The Senate began debate Tuesday afternoon on a package of "fixes" demanded by the House.

The findings are encouraging for the White House and congressional Democrats, who get higher ratings than congressional Republicans for their work on the issue. The poll shows receptive terrain as the White House and advocacy groups launch efforts to sell the plan, including a trip by Obama to Iowa on Thursday.

No one gets overwhelmingly positive ratings on the issue, but Obama fares the best: 46% say his work has been excellent or good; 31% call it poor. Congressional Democrats get an even split: 32% call their efforts good or excellent; 33% poor.

The standing of congressional Republicans is more negative. While 26% rate their work on health care as good or excellent, a larger group, 34%, say it has been poor.

Written by Leisureguy

24 March 2010 at 11:01 am

Why East Jerusalem does not belong to Israel

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Excellent column by Juan Cole:

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the American Israel Public Affairs Council on Monday that "Jerusalem is not a settlement." He continued that the historical connection between the Jewish people and the land of Israel cannot be denied. He added that neither could the historical connection between the Jewish people and Jerusalem. He insisted, "The Jewish people were building Jerusalem 3,000 years ago and the Jewish people are building Jerusalem today." He said, "Jerusalem is not a settlement. It is our capital." He told his applauding audience of 7,500 that he was simply following the policies of all Israeli governments since the 1967 conquest of Jerusalem in the Six Day War.

Netanyahu mixed together romantic, nationalist cliches with a series of historically false assertions. But even more important was everything he left out of the history, and his citation of his warped and inaccurate history instead of considering laws, rights or common human decency toward others not of his ethnic group.

So here are the reasons that Netanyahu is profoundly wrong, and East Jerusalem does not belong to him.

1. In international law, East Jerusalem is occupied territory, as are the parts of the West Bank that Israel unilaterally annexed to its district of Jerusalem. The Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 and the Hague Regulations of 1907 forbid occupying powers to alter the lifeways of civilians who are occupied, and forbid the settling of people from the occupiers’ country in the occupied territory. Israel’s expulsion of Palestinians from their homes in East Jerusalem, its usurpation of Palestinian property there, and its settling of Israelis on Palestinian land are all gross violations of international law. Israeli claims that they are not occupying Palestinians because the Palestinians have no state are cruel and tautological. Israeli claims that they are building on empty territory are laughable. My back yard is empty, but that does not give Netanyahu the right to put up an apartment complex on it.

2. Israeli governments have not in fact been united or consistent about what to do with East Jerusalem and the West Bank, contrary to what Netanyahu says. The Galili Plan for settlements in the West Bank was adopted only in 1973. Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin gave undertakings as part of the Oslo Peace Process to withdraw from Palestinian territory and grant Palestinians a state, promises for which he was assassinated by the Israeli far right (elements of which are now supporting Netanyahu’s government). As late as 2000, then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak claimed that he gave oral assurances that Palestinians could have almost all of the West Bank and could have some arrangement by which East Jerusalem could be its capital. Netanyahu tried to give the impression that far right Likud policy on East Jerusalem and the West Bank has been shared by all previous Israeli governments, but this is simply not true.

3. Romantic nationalism imagines a "people" as eternal and as having an eternal connection with a specific piece of land. This way of thinking is fantastic and mythological. Peoples are formed and change and sometimes cease to be, though they might have descendants who abandoned that religion or ethnicity or language. Human beings have moved all around and are not directly tied to any territory in an exclusive way, since many groups have lived on most pieces of land. Jerusalem was not founded by Jews, i.e. adherents of the Jewish religion. It was founded between 3000 BCE and 2600 BCE by a West Semitic people or possibly the Canaanites, the common ancestors of Palestinians, Lebanese, many Syrians and Jordanians, and many Jews. But when it was founded Jews did not exist.

4. Jerusalem was founded in honor of the ancient god Shalem. It does not mean City of Peace but rather "built-up place of Shalem."


Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

24 March 2010 at 10:58 am

When will the science on global warming be settled?

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Never. Science is not about "settling". John Cook at Skeptical Science:

A common skeptic refrain is that "the science isn’t settled", meaning there are still uncertainties in climate science and therefore action to cut CO2 emissions is premature. This line of argument betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of science. Firstly, it presumes science exists in a binary state – that science isn’t settled until it crosses some imaginary line after which it’s finally settled. On the contrary, science by its very nature is never 100% settled. Secondly, it presumes that poor understanding in one area invalidates good understanding in other areas. This is not the case. To properly answer the question, "is the science settled?", an understanding of how science works is first required.

Science is not about absolute proofs. It never reaches 100% certainty. This is the domain of mathematics and logic. Science is about improving our understanding by narrowing uncertainty. Different areas of science are understood with varying degrees of confidence. For example, while some areas of climate science are understood with high confidence, there are some areas understood with lower confidence, such as the effect on climate from atmospheric aerosols (liquid or solid particles suspended in the air). Aerosols cool climate by blocking sunlight. But they also serve as nuclei for condensation which leads to cloud formation. The question of the net effect of aerosols is one of the greater sources of uncertainty in climate science.

What do we know with high confidence? We have a high degree of confidence that humans are raising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. The amount of CO2 emissions can be accurately calculated using international energy statistics (CDIAC). This is double checked using measurements of carbon isotopes in the atmosphere (Ghosh 2003). We can also triple check these results using observations of falling oxygen levels due to the burning of fossil fuels (Manning 2006). Multiple lines of empirical evidence increase our confidence that humans are responsible for rising CO2 levels.

We also have a high degree of confidence in the amount of heat trapped by increased carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. This is otherwise known as radiative forcing, a disturbance in the planet’s energy balance. We can calculate with relatively high accuracy how much heat is trapped by greenhouse gases using line-by-line models which determine infrared radiation absorption at each wavelength of the infrared spectrum. The model results can then be directly compared to satellite observations which measure the change in infrared radiation escaping to space. What we find in Figure 1 is the observed increased greenhouse effect (black line) is consistent with theoretical expectations (red line) (Chen 2007). These results can also be double checked by surface measurements that observe more infrared radiation returning to Earth at greenhouse gas wavelengths (Evans 2006). Again, independent observations raise our confidence in the increased greenhouse effect

Continue reading. Graphs at the link.

Written by Leisureguy

24 March 2010 at 10:50 am

More on Molly the Owl

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She has her own blog now (check links at the right when you get there). And Max has been joined by a new sibling, Pattison. McGee is still doing a good job of bringing food. The Wife reports:

McGee’s schedule: 7:58 pm (bonding, no food), 8:03 pm (big rabbit), 8:13 pm (pocket gopher), 11.54 (rodent), 3.24 am (rodent)

Written by Leisureguy

24 March 2010 at 10:26 am

Posted in Daily life

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