Later On

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

Archive for July 1st, 2010

Torture is torture, even if the NY Times tries to deny it

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Steve Benen:

An important Harvard study (pdf) was released recently on how several major U.S. media outlets characterize waterboarding — based on the year and which country was utilizing the technique.

As Glenn Greenwald explained in his piece on the study’s findings, the research examined "how waterboarding has been discussed by America’s four largest newspapers over the past 100 years, and finds that the technique, almost invariably, was unequivocally referred to as ‘torture’ — until the U.S. Government began openly using it and insisting that it was not torture, at which time these newspapers obediently ceased describing it that way."

The results were strikingly one sided. In the New York Times, when other countries waterboarded, it was labeled accurately as "torture" 85.8% of the time. And then there was a shift in the Bush/Cheney era — the NYT called "waterboarding torture or implied it was torture in just 2 of 143 articles" between 2002 and 2008. That’s 1.4%.

Michael Calderone followed up with the paper of record, which believes the study is "misleading," though a Times spokesperson acknowledged political considerations.

[T]he Times acknowledged that political circumstances did play a role in the paper’s usage calls. "As the debate over interrogation of terror suspects grew post-9/11, defenders of the practice (including senior officials of the Bush administration) insisted that it did not constitute torture," a Times spokesman said in a statement. "When using a word amounts to taking sides in a political dispute, our general practice is to supply the readers with the information to decide for themselves. Thus we describe the practice vividly, and we point out that it is denounced by international covenants and in American tradition as a form of torture." […]

Clearly, the Times doesn’t want to be perceived as putting its thumb on the scale on either side in the torture debate. That’s understandable, given traditional journalistic values aiming for neutrality and balance. But by not calling waterboarding torture — even though it is, and the paper itself defined it that way in the past — the Times created a factual contradiction between its newer work and its own archives.

The paper’s explanation is wholly unsatisfying. Let me see if I understand the pitch here:

1. The NYT defines waterboarding as torture, which is consistent with the law and the technique’s history.

2. The Bush/Cheney administration decides it wants a new definition of "torture."

3. The NYT can’t "take sides" in a "political dispute," so, in news stories, it stops defining waterboarding as torture, even if the editors/publishers know better.

In application, that’s a truly awful journalistic standard. By that reasoning, any group of political figures can dictate what professional media outlets call anything, simply by unilaterally declaring a "political dispute."

There’s simply no reason for the New York Times to turn over its style guide to politicians — who, incidentally, were hoping to cover up apparent crimes. If waterboarding is torture — which it clearly, unambiguously is — then it doesn’t matter who’s utilizing the technique or when.

Written by Leisureguy

1 July 2010 at 3:04 pm

17 senators from states with double-digit jobless rates repeatedly vote to filibuster unemployment benefits

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Here’s the list. Despicable.

Written by Leisureguy

1 July 2010 at 1:53 pm

Kettlebell routine

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I have now done one workout using the new 25-lb and 30-lb kettlebells. Note that I am terribly out of shape, thus the light workout. Here’s my routine:

Do the following 2 times:

Halo: 5x each direction with 20, 25, and 30-lb kettlebells

Passing the kettlebell from hand to hand around my body, while standing: 10x each direction with 35-lb kettlebell

Squat: 10x with 35-lb kettlebell

Press: 5x each side with 20 and then 25-lb kettlebells

Lunge and row: 10x each side with 35-lb kettlebell

TGU to elbow: 5x each side with 10-lb kettlebell

It still seems difficult with the heavier weights—except the squat, which is pretty easy. I suppose the difficulty is unavoidable, being the productive part of the exercise. Too bad it works like that.

Written by Leisureguy

1 July 2010 at 11:02 am

Posted in Daily life, Fitness

Food/Tobacco analogies

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Very interesting post at Food Politics by Marion Nestle:

I’ve just read an enlightening paper in the July issue of the American Journal of Public Health (see Note below) about the tobacco industry’s role in and funding of “We Card,” a program ostensibly aimed at discouraging smoking among young people by encouraging retail cigarette sellers to “card” underage buyers.

The paper is an analysis of internal food company discussions about this program in cigarette company documents released as part of the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement.  These documents are now publicly available on the University of  California San Francisco (UCSF) website.

This analysis demonstrates that the actual purpose of tobacco industry support for the program was to make the industry look good (public relations) and to convince legislators and health officials that regulation would be unnecessary.

The industry effectively recruited astonishing numbers of private business, retail, and trade groups (expected) and state health, legal, and police agencies (which should have known better) as partners in this program.  The paper lists these groups in tables that take up nearly five pages.

As the paper explains:

Economic theory predicts that industry self-regulation will achieve social benefits far smaller than those gained from government regulation, although governments increasingly view self-regulation as a means to achieve public goals without public spending. However, industries and governments may have competing agendas, suggesting that public health advocates should be wary of self-regulation strategies…. This program’s success in reaching tobacco retailers and attracting independent allies has made We Card one of the tobacco industry’s major public relations achievements. However, despite industry claims that the program is effective, internal industry evidence suggests that We Card has not reduced tobacco sales to minors and that it was not designed to do so. Instead, We Card was explicitly structured to improve the industry’s public image and to thwart regulation and law enforcement activity.

The authors’ conclusion: “Policymakers should be cautious about accepting industry self-regulation at face value, both because it redounds to the industry’s benefit and because it is ineffective.” [That statement should be engraved in letters 12" high at eye level in all the corridors in the Capitol and the House and Senate Office Buildings. – LG]

Proponents of food industry self-regulation and of partnerships and alliances with food companies should read this study carefully.

Note: Only the Abstract is available to non-subscribers.  The reference is Apollonio DE, Malone RE, The “We Card” Program: Tobacco Industry “Youth Smoking Prevention” as Industry Self Preservation.. Am J Public Health 2010;100:1188-1201.

Written by Leisureguy

1 July 2010 at 10:22 am

Israel’s "morally repugnant" occupation of the West Bank

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Nicholas Kristof in the NY Times:

The Israeli occupation of the West Bank is widely acknowledged to be unsustainable and costly to the country’s image. But one more blunt truth must be acknowledged: the occupation is morally repugnant.

On one side of a barbed-wire fence here in the southern Hebron hills is the Bedouin village of Umm al-Kheir, where Palestinians live in ramshackle tents and huts. They aren’t allowed to connect to the electrical grid, and Israel won’t permit them to build homes, barns for their animals or even toilets. When the villagers build permanent structures, the Israeli authorities come and demolish them, according to villagers and Israeli human rights organizations.

On the other side of the barbed wire is the Jewish settlement of Karmel, a lovely green oasis that looks like an American suburb. It has lush gardens, kids riding bikes and air-conditioned homes. It also has a gleaming, electrified poultry barn that it runs as a business.

Elad Orian, an Israeli human rights activist, nodded toward the poultry barn and noted: “Those chickens get more electricity and water than all the Palestinians around here.”

It’s fair to acknowledge that there are double standards in the Middle East, with particular scrutiny on Israeli abuses. After all, the biggest theft of Arab land in the Middle East has nothing to do with Palestinians: It is Morocco’s robbery of the resource-rich Western Sahara from the people who live there.

None of that changes the ugly truth that our ally, Israel, is using American military support to maintain an occupation that is both oppressive and unjust. Israel has eased checkpoints this year — a real improvement in quality of life — but the system is intrinsically malignant.

B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights organization that I’ve long admired, took me to the southern Hebron hills to see the particularly serious inequities Palestinians face here. Apparently because it covets this area for settlement expansion, Israel has concocted a series of feeble excuses to drive out Palestinians from villages here or make their lives so wretched that they leave on their own.

“It’s an ongoing attempt by the authorities to push people out,” said Sarit Michaeli, a B’Tselem spokeswoman.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Leisureguy

1 July 2010 at 10:15 am

ACLU Study Highlights U.S. Surveillance Society

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Very interesting article in Wired by David Kravets:

Welcome to the surveillance society.

That’s what the American Civil Liberties Union concluded Tuesday with a report chronicling government spying and the detention of groups and individuals “for doing little more than peacefully exercising their First Amendment rights.”

The report, Policing Free Speech: Police Surveillance and Obstruction of First Amendment-Protected Activity (.pdf), surveys news accounts and studies of questionable snooping and arrests in 33 states and the District of Columbia over the past decade.

The survey provides an outline of, and links to, dozens of examples of Cold War-era snooping in the modern age.

“Our review of these practices has found that Americans have been put under surveillance or harassed by the police just for deciding to organize, march, protest, espouse unusual viewpoints and engage in normal, innocuous behaviors such as writing notes or taking photographs in public,” Michael German, an ACLU attorney and former Federal Bureau of Investigation agent, said in a statement.

Here are a few examples: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

1 July 2010 at 10:10 am

Posted in Daily life, Government, Law

ProPublica is looking good

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Probably one of the best news reporting sites around (along with the Washington Independent (reporting on the Federal government) and the American Independent (reporting on state politics). Take a look:


Washington Independent

American Independent

Written by Leisureguy

1 July 2010 at 10:08 am

"Grossly immature and unworthy of consideration": the modern GOP

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I truly think that the GOP has fallen to its lowest levels. The party’s leaders regularly proclaim lies, pure and simple, and fight any effort to help the poor or to shore up the economy. Some of the recent issues:

Boehner simply lies about his own clear statements (that the stimulus would not create one job).

Absolute refusal to consider raising any taxes, despite claims to be "deficit hawks"

Importance of improving the economy even as we cut spending

GOP in Senate fights any probe of BP – this one is remarkable. Steve Benen:

Most reasonable people can probably agree that there are some pretty stark ideological divisions in the House of Representatives. With that in mind, when a measure passes the chamber 420 to 1, it stands to reason that it’s a no-brainer.

Or at least, it should be. Last week, the House overwhelmingly approved giving subpoena power to the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling. The panel was created by the White House to investigate the worst environmental catastrophe in U.S. history, and needs subpoena power to get answers from private industries and government agencies.

Given the 420 to 1 vote, Senate Democrats sought unanimous consent yesterday to resolve the issue and let the commission do its job. It’s an easy one, right? Wrong. Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) refused, objecting on behalf of others in the Republican conference that he would not name.

"I have to conclude by the objections that there are colleagues on the other side that either don’t want to get to the bottom of this — or are standing on the side of the oil companies and not of the victims and their families," Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) told reporters.

I’ve long since run out of adjectives to describe these folks. The commission can’t get answers without subpoena power, and Congress has routinely extended subpoena power to related commissions — including panels investigating the JFK assassination, the Three Mile Island disaster, and the 9/11 attacks. And yet, Senate Republicans yesterday blocked the authority for het BP commission, and wouldn’t say why.

And, of course, the GOP and the Blue-Dog Democrats have again blocked any help for the unemployed in an economy in which jobs are simply not to be found.

Written by Leisureguy

1 July 2010 at 10:04 am

Reagan and taxes

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From the Center for American Progress in an email:

Known for his history of bucking conservative orthodoxy, the co-chairman of the Obama administration’s debt commission, Alan Simpson, again debunked Republican claims during a public hearing of the commission.

Previously, the former Republican senator from Wyoming argued that the commission needed to consider tax increases as well as spending cuts to get long-term deficits under control.

Yesterday, despite criticism from the right for his stances, Simpson went on the offensive to slap down the conservative ethos around Ronald Reagan and his supposed resistance to any and all tax increases. Simpson said that one of the "myths, and the misconceptions, and the distortions and, as one president said, the plain damn lies" promulgated by the right is that Reagan didn’t raise taxes when the situation called for it.

In fact, Reagan raised taxes in seven of his eight years in office.

"No peacetime president has raised taxes so much on so many people," said Paul Krugman.

In 1982, Reagan’s Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act (TEFRA) was a "sharp rollback of corporate tax cuts, and a smaller rollback of individual income tax cuts." TEFRA raised $37.5 billion per year in taxes — "almost 1 percent of the gross domestic product, making it the largest peacetime tax increase in American history."

In another example, under the Reagan administration, the Social Security Reform Act of 1983 increased the payroll tax that pays for Social Security and Medicare hospital insurance. "For many middle- and low-income families, this tax increase more than undid any gains from Mr. Reagan’s income tax cuts," wrote Krugman in a 2004 New York Times column, but "[t]hanks to the 1983 act, current projections show that under current rules, Social Security is good for at least 38 more years."

Former Reagan economic official Bruce Bartlett elaborated, "every serious budget analyst — I mean every — knows that revenues must be part of the solution to our deficit problem. … [T]he idea that we can or even should embark on serious deficit reduction with no tax increase whatsoever is grossly immature and unworthy of consideration."

The modern conservative movement, however, continues clinging to the "grossly immature" and unrealistic idea that deficits can be reduced without tax increases.

"Grossly immature and unworthy of consideration" pretty much describes today’s GOP, examples of which I’ll now give. Today’s GOP really should get out of politics and go on the road as a religious revival.

Written by Leisureguy

1 July 2010 at 9:56 am

Posted in Daily life, GOP, Government

Shrimp Pasta Salad

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This is exactly the sort of meal that appeals on hot summer days. Even better if eaten outside in a cool breeze while sitting in a speckled shade:


It’s an easy dish, as you can see from the ingredients:

  • 1/2 pound bow-tie (farfalle) or orecchiette pasta, or other short pasta
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 pounds small pink shrimp (also called Maine shrimp or boreal shrimp)
  • 1 diced red bell pepper
  • 1 diced red onion
  • 1 minced garlic clove
  • 1 cup chopped basil leaves (loosely packed)
  • 1/3 cup high-quality olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon of lemon zest
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon red chile flakes
  • Black pepper to taste

Here’s the recipe, with helpful hints.

UPDATE: The recipe as I made it amounted two meals for me.

Written by Leisureguy

1 July 2010 at 9:15 am

Shaving cream for guys with heavy dark beards and light skin

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The Richard Nixon combo—a heavy, dark beard and light skin—means that even after shaving there is still a 5 o’clock shadow. I just got an email (from the vendor) pointing out a new shaving cream designed for exactly this problem: Bluebeard’s Revenge. I don’t have the RN problem, but for guys who do, this product looks worth a try. Let me know in the comments if you’ve tried it and what you think.

Written by Leisureguy

1 July 2010 at 9:08 am

Posted in Daily life, Shaving

Coates (almond) and Castle Forbes (lavender)

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Coates is no longer made, though I did see a comment on a forum that the name may come back. Shavers everywhere were snapping up the last of the stock, and the Coates Almond shaving cream demonstrates the reason: excellent lather and a great shave. The Rocket with a Swedish Gillette blade did a fine job in three passes, and then Castle Forbes Lavender Shaving Balm provided the finishing touch. I normally use a splash as an aftershave, but this stuff is really nice. I’ve had it around a long time, and now I think it will go into regular use.

Written by Leisureguy

1 July 2010 at 9:03 am

Posted in Shaving

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