Later On

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

Archive for July 13th, 2010

"Speedy" = within 5 years or so

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If you are promised a "speedy" refund or recovery, apparently that means around 5 years, more or less. Benjamin Weiser reports in the NY Times:

A federal judge has rejected a claim by a terrorist defendant in Manhattan that his nearly five years of detention by the American government before being transferred into the civilian court system violated his Constitutional right to a speedy trial.

The ruling comes in the case of Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, who last year became the first former detainee at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to be moved into the civilian court system for trial.

The decision by Judge Lewis A. Kaplan of United States District Court in Manhattan could make it easier for the Obama administration to try other former detainees, like Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the professed planner of the 9/11 plot, in the civilian system.

“The government is entitled to attempt to hold Ghailani accountable in a court of law for his alleged complicity in the murder of 224 people and the injury of more than 1,000 others,” the judge wrote, refusing to dismiss the charges against Mr. Ghailani.

Mr. Ghailani faces charges of conspiring in the 1998 bombings of two American embassies in East Africa. Mr. Ghailani later trained with Al Qaeda and worked as a bodyguard for Osama bin Laden, the authorities have said.

After Mr. Ghailani was captured in 2004, he was held in secret overseas jails run by the C.I.A. and later in the military prison at Guantánamo Bay. In 2009, the Obama administration ordered him transferred into the civilian system, and he was brought to New York for trial.

“Although the delay of this proceeding was long and entirely the product of decision for which the executive branch of our government is responsible,” Judge Kaplan held, “the decisions that caused the delay were not made for the purpose of gaining any advantage over Ghailani in the prosecution of this indictment.”

Mr. Ghailani is scheduled for trial this fall in New York.

Both Mr. Ghailani’s lawyers and a spokeswoman for the United States attorney’s office in Manhattan declined comment on the ruling…

Continue reading.

Important news for the Court: Five years is NOT "speedy," a fact obvious to the meanest intellect. I would love to lock this judge in a room and tell him that he will be released "speedily," and let him go at the end of July in 2015. And then ask him if 5 years is "speedy."

It’s hard not to become disgusted at our government’s posturing and increasing inability to function properly.

Written by Leisureguy

13 July 2010 at 1:16 pm

Posted in Daily life, Government, Law

Easier to keep the kitchen clean

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I noticed that kitchen clean-up is not the chore it once was. Reason: every second day I have to wash and cook a bunch of greens (today: 2 bunches of kale, plus broccoli to steam, strawberries to clean, chicken breasts to poach (and that requires simmering chopped carrots, celery, and onion along with some herbs for 30 minutes or so to make the poaching stock—and then once the breasts are cooked, I use the resulting stock to cook grains).

The result is that I never have more than 1 or 2 days’ worth of dishes to clean. 🙂

Written by Leisureguy

13 July 2010 at 11:44 am

Posted in Daily life

Where is the GOP agenda?

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So far it’s been clear: Obstruct everything, put holds on everything, filibuster everything, let nothing pass. It hasn’t been successful, but that seems to be the total of the GOP proposals and vision for government. Steve Benen:

Democrats tend to needle Republicans with a fairly important detail: the GOP doesn’t have a policy agenda. It wants power largely to prevent Democrats from acting on their policy agenda, but when it comes to substance and crafting a coherent policy vision, the GOP comes up empty. As Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah) recently conceded, he finds "plenty of slogans on the Republican side, but not very many ideas."

Jonah Goldberg thinks the "party of no" strategy has been a great success for Republicans, but suggests it’s time for the GOP to "call Obama’s bluff and offer a real choice."

My personal preference would be for the leadership to embrace Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan’s "road map," a sweeping, bold and humane assault on the welfare state and our debt crisis. Doing so might come at the cost of trimming the GOP’s victory margins in November, but it would provide Republicans with a real mandate to be something more than "not-Obama."

Kevin Drum seems ready to leap through his computer monitor.

I swear, I would pay cash money if the Republican leadership would promise to actually do this. Goldberg thinks that liberals aren’t popular? That’s peanuts. If Republicans made a serious run at passing Ryan’s road map the party would end up just slightly more popular than the Taliban. I think there would literally not be a single demographic or interest group in the entire country still supporting them. Even the tea partiers would start pretending to be Democrats. Hell, they’d probably take up the cause of repealing the 22nd amendment and allowing Obama to be elected president for life. […]

So I dare them. I double dog dare them. Let’s hear about how you’re going to cut federal spending by a trillion dollars over the next five years and by a third over the next 50. Details, people. Let’s hear ’em. Make my day.

It’s hard to overstate how right Kevin is. Congressional Republicans refuse to put forward a substantive policy agenda, not because they’re just too darn busy, but because they know it’s very likely voters would absolutely hate it. In particular, Ryan’s "road map" — eliminate Medicare, privatize Social Security, huge tax cuts — was so transparently ridiculous that the House GOP leadership went out of its way to not endorse it.

But this goes well beyond Ryan’s plan. Note that would-be Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) sat down with the Washington Post recently, and refused to give any details about how Republicans would govern. It’s not a mystery why — he lacks Goldberg’s confidence in the popularity of right-wing proposals.

During the debate over health care reform, House Republicans swore for months that their alternative package was on the verge of being released. GOP leaders delayed it until the last possible moment, and prayed no one paid attention to it, because it was truly laughable. Or how about last year’s Republican budget proposal — which managed not to include any actual numbers?

Goldberg wants Republicans to "offer a real choice" to voters? That’s a fine idea for a party with a) a coherent vision; and b) the courage of its convictions. There’s no reason to think the Republican Party has either.

That said, Goldberg does raise one fair point: if Republicans run and win without presenting an alternative agenda, they’ll have no mandate if they’re successful at the ballot box. The vote in November will reflect disappointment with the status quo, but it won’t be an endorsement of the GOP’s ideas.

If Republicans want a mandate, they’ll have to present a meaningful, detailed agenda to the public for scrutiny. If they do, I’ll match whatever Kevin’s willing to pay.

Written by Leisureguy

13 July 2010 at 11:41 am

Conservatives don’t like contraception

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Because… God doesn’t like it? Reason is unclear to me. Steve Benen:

During the prolonged debate over health care reform, the most prominent "culture war" fight was over abortion, and whether the new law would allow indirect, circuitous public funding of it.

The issue of contraceptives — specifically, legally mandated coverage of contraceptives in American health care plans — didn’t generate much attention. Dana Goldstein has a fascinating report today about how that’s likely to soon change.

[T]he Daily Beast has learned that many conservative activists … are just waking up to the possibility that the new health care law could require employers and insurance companies to offer contraceptives, along with other commonly prescribed medications, without charging any co-pay. Now the Heritage Foundation and the National Abstinence Education Association say they plan to join the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in resisting implementation of the new provisions. […]

Currently, 27 states require insurers to cover birth control, but federal health reform has the potential to go much further — mandating that prescription birth control be offered to consumers in all 50 states and the District of Columbia free of "cost-sharing," or payments at the pharmacy counter.

At issue are yet-to-be-written federal regulations on the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Proponents of women’s health want changes to preventive-health-care guidelines to be made quickly, while the right gets organized to fight coverage of birth control.

Matt Yglesias sees a fight worth having.

Politically speaking, I think this is the fight progressives have been wanting to have for some time now — something that would highlight the deeply reactionary and anti-woman ideology that drives the main institutional players in the anti-abortion movement. But will it be possible to get people to pay attention?

It’s tough to predict what folks will care about, but this dispute offers clear upsides for the left. After all, family-planning programs are wildly popular, and contraceptives are commonly used nationwide. Goldstein also noted the business community is supportive: "A new report from the National Business Group on Health found that most companies would save money in the long run by providing their employees with co-pay-free birth control."

Here’s hoping Obama administration officials ignore conservatives and pursue guidelines that are good politics and good policy.

Written by Leisureguy

13 July 2010 at 11:39 am

BP as a drunk driver

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Dean Baker writes in the Guardian:

While BP has taken some heat over its spill in the Gulf, it is remarkable how limited the anger actually is. Many defenders of the company have made the obvious point: it was an accident. BP did not intend to have a massive spill that killed 11 people, devastated the Gulf ecosystem and threatens the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of workers.

Of course this is true, but it is also true that a drunk driver who runs into a school bus did not intend to be involved in a fatal collision. As a society, we have no problem holding the drunk driver responsible for a predictable outcome of their recklessness. Driving while drunk dramatically increases the risk of an accident. This is why it is punished severely. A person who is responsible for a fatal accident while driving drunk can expect to face many years in jail. Even someone who drives drunk without being in an accident often faces jail time because of the risk they imposed on others.

This raises the question of why the public seems to accept that the top officials at BP, who cut corners and made risky gambles in their drilling plans, should be able to "get my life back," as BP chief executive Tony Hayward put it. The people who lost their livelihood as a result of BP’s spill will not get their lives back, even if BP does pay compensation. Certainly the 11 workers killed in the original explosion will not get their lives back. Why should the people responsible for this carnage be able to resume their life of luxury?

There are two separate questions. The first is a narrow legal issue concerning the extent to which Hayward and other high level executives can be held criminally liable for the accident. It may be the case that the laws are written so that even if companies commit gross negligence that results in enormous harm, including multiple deaths, top officials are not criminally liable. This is a question about the status of current law. The second question is a moral and economic one about what the laws should look like.

From either standpoint, it is very difficult to see why we would want to say that reckless behaviour that would be punished with long prison sentences if done by an individual, somehow escapes serious sanction if done as part of a corporation’s pursuit of profit. Do we give a get a "get out of jail free" card to people when they are wearing the hat of a top corporate executive? This makes no sense.

Just to take the extreme case, suppose that Tony Hayward was racing back to the office after a three-Martini lunch in order to prepare the paperwork for a big contract that he had just negotiated. On his way, he hits a school bus, killing 11 children. Would it make sense to absolve him of blame for these deaths because it was the result of his efforts to raise BP profits? And, if that doesn’t make sense, why does it make sense to absolve him of responsibility for the deaths of 11 oil rig workers that was the direct result of his decision to cut corners in order to increase profits.

We can ask the same question about the responsibility of the top executives of the Massey Energy corporation, whose shoddy safety practices led to the explosion that cost 29 workers their lives. We should also ask why the top executives of the Utah American Energy company weren’t subject to criminal prosecution when their recklessness led to the deaths of six miners and 3 rescue workers in a mine collapse in 2007. In these cases and many others the problem was not simply bad luck. In all three cases, the accidents were the direct result of reckless behaviour on the part of the management of these companies. They ignored standard safety measures in order to save money.

Of course most acts of recklessness don’t result in fatalities, just as the vast majority of incidents of drunk driving do not end in fatal collisions. Nonetheless, when they are caught, we still punish drunk drivers for their recklessness…

Continue reading. He doesn’t seem much interested in the position that we should just trust businesses to do the right thing, or the free market as a solution.

Written by Leisureguy

13 July 2010 at 11:30 am

The Thoughts of Dr. Bharat

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Following on this post, James Fallows blogs:

Over the weekend I mentioned an offhand comment by Bharat Balasubramanian of Germany’s Daimler AG — that’s "Dr. Bharat" to you –about the unwholesome effect on America’s income distribution of American corporations bringing profits back home but sending manufacturing jobs overseas. This has provoked a deluge of mail, pro and con, of which I offer two samples for now. First, from someone who like Dr. Bharat sees the US from a European-comparative perspective:

As a Norwegian who lived in the US for six years before returning, I concur with Dr. Bharat’s idea that Europe – or at least Northern Europe – has a more robust middle class than the US. One of the things that surprised me while living in the US is the idea that pretty much everyone goes through the same high school system in preparation for academic studies – the idea seems to be college or bust. In comparison, in most Northern European countries about half of high school students go to vocational schools that provide them with solid training for non-academic work. I know there are vocational schools in the US but it’s a much less comprehensive system and, crucially, it’s for post-secondary students. For a lot of kids who don’t have the aptitude for academic studies and drop out of high school that is too late.

A comprehensive vocational school system at the high-school level has, the way I see it, two advantages. The most important one is that it provides young people with the skills demanded both in manufacturing and services and increases productivity. Second, it elevates the status of certain workers and provides them with higher wages. For instance, hair dressers in Norway are very good because they have gone through a program with both training in school and an apprenticeships. They also get paid well because the supply of professional hair dressers is limited to those who have gone through the program. Sure, I miss getting a hair cut at a barber shop in the US for less than $10, but the distributional effects of my having to pay several times that for a hair cut here is very good since it redistributes money from a highly-educated well-paid white collar professional to someone who is less paid. Of course, hair dressers aside, for manufacturers the productivity benefit of having a good supply of well-trained welders, machine operators and other technicians should be obvious.

Now, from Ron Russell of the Seattle area:

Dr. Bharat’s comments indeed strike a chord- but I think the situation is in some ways worse than he is portraying.

My wife and I have a small company (just above Kenmore Air Harbor on Lake Washington, FWIW) that designs and develops high tech embedded electronics devices- most recently a computer to monitor scuba diver’s gas saturation. But it could just as easily be medical devices or products for any specialized industry not large enough to be on the radar of an Apple or Samsung. There is considerable economic activity at this not-mass-market level. We are engaging in entrepreneurship in a way that would not have been conceivable when we started our careers (we’re about 60). We design on very capable computers, we can access vast technical information databases online, we can send files over the internet and have finished circuit boards to test in days. We make products that can compete technically with the biggest companies, but just address smaller markets. We are a technology version of the family farm. We could be ads for the new "knowledge based" economy. Yet businesses like ours are threatened by the collapse of US manufacturing capacity.

Why? In the short term, because businesses at our scale, dealing in the thousands and not millions, need skilled assembly that can be done locally, we need skilled machinists and prototyping facilities to be available here, not on the other side of the world. The personal interchange and creative interaction that comes from a designer working directly with those who do the manufacturing is invaluable. The best designs come from working closely with those who know intimately the processes that go into creating the product.

In the longer term, losing manufacturing is a path to losing our creative edge. It’s a fantasy to believe we can educate some kind of technical elite absent a connection to the physical reality of making things. The kind of technical secondary education common in Europe, yet almost absent in the US, creates people who do know how to build things. Some of them will have great ideas, and will put them into practice. Meanwhile, I watched my daughter’s high school drop all shop classes rather than modernize them, and ramp up "technology" education- mostly by teaching kids how to use Word and Excel. This is so profoundly wrong as to bring tears of frustration to this high tech entrepreneur. Not everyone in society is destined to be a designer or developer. We need skilled manufacturing for a healthy society and economy, and that takes workers with the right skills.

Andy Grove got it right in his recent comments: losing manufacturing jobs puts at risk both our society and the wellsprings of our creativity.

Obviously this is a bigger topic than we can handle right here. My main pensée on the subject remains this article from the Atlantic, published nearly twenty years ago, when Japan (rather than Germany or China) was the cautionary example of purposeful employment policy. More to come.

Written by Leisureguy

13 July 2010 at 10:31 am

Are climate-change denialists getting stupider?

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It’s inevitable, I suppose. As the on-going direct evidence of climate change becomes ever more obvious, those who cling to the denialist position are, more or less by definition, the most obtuse and scientifically illiterate, poor things. Take this article in Skeptical Science by John Cook:

Watts Up With That concludes Greenland is not melting without looking at any actual ice mass data

To properly understand what’s happening with our climate, it’s imperative we consider the full body of evidence. Unfortunately, much confusion is sowed by those who cherrypick select pieces of data while neglecting the full picture. A good example is a blog post at Watts Up With That by Steve Goddard, titled Greenland Hype Meltdown. Goddard characterises the reports that Greenland is losing ice as a “continuous stream of gross misinformation”. Curiously, he provides no actual data on Greenland’s ice mass to expose this gross misinformation. Instead, he cites temperature from a single weather station and some photos he took while flying over the ice sheet.

Let’s look at actual measurements of what’s happening to the Greenland ice sheet. The change in ice mass has been measured using a variety of methods. Satellites use altimetry data to measure the speed of the glaciers as they slide into the ocean. What they find is the glaciers have been sliding faster downhill and dumping more ice into the ocean. Satellite radar altimetry and airborne laser altimetry have also been used to measure the thickness of the ice sheets – they both find the ice sheet is thinning.

GPS receivers have been placed at selected locations around Greenland to measure how much the bedrock is lifting in response to thinning ice sheets. These find the land is now rising up at an accelerating rate. An overall picture is obtained by satellites measuring the change in gravity around the ice sheet. As the ice sheet loses mass, the gravity around Greenland changes, as measured by the GRACE satellites. These measurements find accelerating ice loss.

Net accumulation and loss of ice mass from Greenland are calculated using measurements of precipitation, snow accumulation and the discharge of glaciers into the ocean. The net accumulation/loss measurements find the same rate of ice loss as the GRACE gravity data. When all these independent lines of evidence are compared, we find a consistent picture of accelerating ice loss over the last decade and a half.

Figure 1:  Rate of ice loss from Greenland. Vertical lines indicate uncertainty, horizontal lines indicate averaging time. Blue circles are from altimetry, red squares are from net accumulation/loss and green triangles are from GRACE. The black line is a straight-line (constant acceleration) fit through the mass balance data for the period 1996–2008 with a slope of 21 gigatonnes/yr2 (Jiang 2010).

Is there any evidence that this ice loss has stopped recently? The latest gravity data, released just over a month ago, shows continued accelerating ice loss from the Greenland ice sheet. This is because ice loss has spread from southern Greenland to the northwest, confirmed by gravity measurements and GPS data. Currently, Greenland is losing ice mass at a rate of around 286 billion tonnes per year.

Figure 2: Greenland ice mass anomaly (black). Orange line is quadratic fit (John Wahr).

The full body of evidence gives us a variety of direct measurements, using independent techniques, all arriving at the same answer. When Naomi Oreskes referred to “multiple, independent lines of evidence converging on a single coherent account”, she may as well have been talking about Greenland ice loss.

Steve Goddard is correct when he says there’s a “continuous stream of gross misinformation” about Greenland ice loss but it’s not coming from the peer-reviewed research which paints a remarkably consistent picture. Instead, the misinformation comes from those who ignore the full body of evidence and cherrypick bits and pieces to paint a misleading picture.

Written by Leisureguy

13 July 2010 at 10:20 am

Hospitals still killing their patients through neglect

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Kevin Drum at Mother Jones:

If you read Atul Gawande’s New Yorker article about central line infections three years ago, you already know that CRBSIs — catheter-related bloodstream infections — maim and kill tens of thousands of hospital patients a year. And you also know that these infections can be reduced nearly to zero through the use of a simple checklist that boils down to "keep everything really clean." So it’s infuriating all over again to read today that a new survey of doctors and nurses suggests that pretty much nothing has changed:

Why aren’t hospitals leaping to adopt these best practices?…. More than half of the 2,075 respondents, most of whom were infection control nurses employed by hospitals, reported that they use a cumbersome paper-based system for tracking patients’ conditions that makes it harder to spot infections in real time. Seven in 10 said they are not given enough time to train other hospital workers on proper procedures. Nearly a third said enforcing best practice guidelines was their greatest challenge, and one in five said administrators were not willing to spend the necessary money to prevent CRBSIs.

[Peter] Pronovost said part of the problem was that many hospital chief executives aren’t even aware of their institution’s bloodstream infection rates, let alone how easily they could bring them down. When hospital leaders decide to create a culture in which preventing infections is a priority, he added, nurses feel empowered to remind physicians to follow the checklist when inserting catheters, physicians are provided antiseptic soaps as part of their catheter kits and infection control personnel have the best tools to monitor patients.

Italics mine. How is it possible that hospital CEOs don’t even know about this? We’re talking about something that saves lives, costs almost nothing, and would probably reduce healthcare costs by over a billion dollars nationally if it were adopted aggressively. And equally, why is our medical system still so screwed up that doctors routinely treat nurses like serfs who are too cowed to insist on sterile procedures? I mean, talk about the cost of lingering patriarchy. In this case, it might someday kill you.

MDs tend to fight against medical malpractice lawsuits by attacking tort law, lawyers, and anyone else, rather than look to see how they can minimize malpractice. It’s so much easier.

Written by Leisureguy

13 July 2010 at 10:15 am

Indications of the nature of our country

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Kevin Drum:

I would like to nominate this for least surprising lead of week:

The sweeping legislation that grew out of Toyota Motor Corp.’s sudden-acceleration crisis — heralded as the most important auto safety bill in a decade — has been scaled back significantly in the face of auto industry opposition.

You can substitute any rich interest group you like for "auto industry" in this story and you’ve pretty much written the recent history of American politics. Pretty uplifting, no?

Our Representatives and Senators, on the whole, do pretty much what corporations and lobbyists tell them to. Or so it seems—and naturally enough: the lobbyists give them lots of money.

Written by Leisureguy

13 July 2010 at 10:07 am

The Android app inventor

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I don’t have a smartphone yet and will probably go Android when I do move on this, so this article by Dan Gillmor caught my eye:

Back in the 1980s, Apple Computer (as it was known then) released a product called Hypercard. It was an easy-to-use programming tool, based on a simple and elegant programming language called HyperTalk, combining databases and a graphical display to create applications called "stacks." Programmers and non-programmers alike flocked to it, and created a huge variety of stacks that ranged from useful to quirky.

In the 1990s, Microsoft released Visual Basic. It, too, greatly simplified the programming process and was adopted by vast numbers of people — many inside large enterprises — whose work reinforced the Windows monopoly.

In the past decade, Web development took on some of the same qualities, giving average people ways to create applications to run on the Web with great ease and simplicity. Blogger, WordPress and Drupal, among others, became the content-management systems of choice, for example, and Yahoo’s brilliant Pipes let people do sophisticated mashups without knowing a line of Java or other popular languages.

Now comes a tool from Google that is getting quick buzz. It seems more in the Hypercard/Blogger genre than Visual Basic, which was made for beginners but did take some skill, but nonetheless a possible breakthrough. This one, built for the mobile age, is called the AndroidApp Inventor. I haven’t been able to try it yet, but its description suggests great potential. Google says:

You can build just about any app you can imagine with App Inventor. Often people begin by building games like WhackAMole or games that let you draw funny pictures on your friend’s faces. You can even make use of the phone’s sensors to move a ball through a maze based on tilting the phone.

But app building is not limited to simple games. You can also build apps that inform and educate. You can create a quiz app to help you and your classmates study for a test. With Android’s text-to-speech capabilities, you can even have the phone ask the questions aloud.

To use App Inventor, you do not need to be a developer. App Inventor requires NO programming knowledge. This is because instead of writing code, you visually design the way the app looks and use blocks to specify the app’s behavior.

Based on the work of a number of people including Hal Abelson at MIT — a brilliant computer scientist who also understands how app development need to get into wider distribution, not just the coder community — the open-source environment leverages of other educational software projects.

One of the most important elements of App Inventor is that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

13 July 2010 at 10:03 am

Peace process going nowhere, Israeli elite doing fine

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Paul Jay at

Gideon Levy, a columnist in the Israeli newspaper Ha’aratz writes:

If there remained any vestiges of hope in the Middle East from Barack Obama, they have dissipated; if some people still expected Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to lead a courageous move, they now know they made a mistake (and misled others)."

The masked ball is at its peak: Preening each other, Obama and Netanyahu have proved that even their heavy layer of makeup can no longer hide the wrinkles. The worn-out, wizened old face of the longest "peace process" in history has been awarded another surprising and incomprehensible extension. It’s on its way nowhere.

In spite of all of Obama’s promise and promises, he winds up in the same trap. US policy in the Middle East depends on Israel as a pillar of its power in the region (along with Saudi Arabia and Egypt). The Israelis know it and even if Israeli policy weakens US influence in the Arab world, for strategic interests and domestic politics, Obama can’t make a real move even if he wants to.

Canadians saw Prime Minister Harper an even more ardent dance partner for Netanyahu in Canada a few weeks ago. The Israeli PM was in Ottawa when commandos attacked the Turkish humanitarian aid ship and nine people were killed. Harper said nothing. Even the Americans said there should be an inquiry.

Lost in Obama’s and Harper’s swearing of allegiance to the Israeli people and the Jewish state is any discussion of just who is the current State of Israel good for? It’s taken for granted that Israel exists to defend its Jewish population, but take a closer look.

When I was in Jerusalem recently, I interviewed Israeli economist Shir Hever of the Alternative Information Center. According to Hever, 18 families in Israel control roughly 60 percent of the equity value of all companies in Israel. The country has gone from being one of the most equitable in terms of distribution of wealth to one of the worst.

Hever says the Israel elite not only oppresses Palestinians, it is also exploits the majority of its Jewish population. Here’s an excerpt of the interview.
JAY: So, in talking to people in Israel, one thing I hear constantly is the fight here is about national identity, it’s about the defense of the Jewish state. I don’t hear very much about economics of Israel or the economics of occupation. So how does national identity relate to the economics here?

HEVER: Well, the economic reality of Israel, of course, plays a part in every aspect of Israel’s existence-in the politics, in the society, and, of course, also in identity issues as well. The occupation of the Palestinian territories defines Israel’s economy in a large way. About two-thirds of Israel’s history, it has been occupying power, controlling Palestinian territories. But even before that occupation, Israel has created a very particular system of economic control, which is designed to promote the idea of a Jewish state. The Jewish state is not merely a cultural idea; it’s not merely a symbolic idea; it’s a material reality which is designed to redistribute wealth in order to draw as many Jews as possible to this area and to maintain a sustainable control of the Jewish population over a piece of land which is by nature bi-national.

JAY: Now, in terms of the Israeli economy, what percentile at the top controls the majority of the Israeli economy in terms of ownership?

HEVER: Israel is very centralized in terms of capital, far more than most developed economies in the world. About 18 families in Israel control roughly 60 percent of the equity value of all companies in Israel. So it’s concentrated in the hands of 18 families. Of course, there are other rich people in Israel who control some more of that other 40 percent.

JAY: So what are we talking about? What kind of things do they control, in terms of what makes up the bulk of the Israeli economy and the ownership? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

13 July 2010 at 9:57 am

BP Getting Daily Exemptions to Directive Limiting Surface Dispersant

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Sometimes the government does not protect us. I suspect as time goes on, we’ll see more and more that government is siding with large companies against consumers and the common people: after all, large companies give lots of money to politicians, so naturally the politicians protect those companies—thus the Coast Guard working with BP to keep the press away—and now this, reported by Marian Wang at ProPublica:

Ever since the EPA and the Coast Guard directed BP to significantly reduce dispersant use and, in particular, to “eliminate the surface application” of dispersants, BP has written in to request exemptions almost every day.

The requests for exemptions to the directive, which was issued on May 26, are all posted online.  Exemptions for surface dispersants were requested for every day last month except June 20, 21 and 27. The requests were “routinely approved, nearly always without modification,” noted Richard Denison, a senior scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund who has been watching the subject closely. (Kate Sheppard at Mother Jones also posted on this.)

But the exemptions, which must be approved by the Federal On-Scene Coordinator, are intended to be rare. Here’s the text of the directive, emphasis added:

Surface Application. BP shall eliminate the surface application of dispersants. In rare cases when there may have to be an exemption, BP must make a request in writing to the FOSC providing justification which will include the volume, weather conditions, mechanical or means for removal that were considered and the reason they were not used, and other relevant information to justify the use of surface application. The FOSC must approve the request and volume of dispersant prior to initiating surface application.

When I asked the EPA whether the use of these exemptions were in keeping with what it said should be “rare cases,” the agency gave me the following response: “EPA took these steps to ensure that BP prioritized skimming and burning and relied on surface application only as a last resort. That prioritization has happened.”

The EPA also said that the goal of the directive was to “ramp down dispersant use from peak usage, and dispersant use has dropped by nearly 70 percent.” (As we’ve pointed out, it has dropped by around 70 percent from the peak, but average daily use has dropped only around 9 percent since the directive.)

To be clear, there are days when exemptions were requested and approved, and the dispersants weren’t used after all. (See where this notation has been handwritten onto one of the letters. Daily dispersant use numbers are available on the Unified Command’s website.) But as far as we can tell, it seems that whenever BP has asked for an exemption, it has always gotten sign-off from the Federal On-Scene Coordinator.

And then one final point — an unsolved mystery for me: …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

13 July 2010 at 9:52 am

Grinding down the poor

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I don’t know why conservatives had the lower economic classes so much, but hate they do. That is certainly the simplest explanation for their ceaseless efforts to punish the poor (no extension of unemployment insurance, attempts to raise retirement age in Social Security along with attempts to dismantle Social Security, fighting to keep the minimum wage as low as possible, and so on). Steve Benen comments on one recent outburst of this hatred:

I assumed incorrectly that the conservative drive to privatize Social Security would go away for a long while. We had a nice, big debate over this in 2005, and the right lost.

Indeed, conservatives didn’t just lose; they failed spectacularly. Americans hated the idea; the effort started George W. Bush’s presidency into a decline from which it would not recover; and the entire debate was a reminder that there is no Social Security crisis, and Americans are not willing to do away with an effective status quo.

And yet, just five years later, the appetite on the far-right for Social Security privatization seems to have increased.

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the ranking member on the House Budget Committee, released a budget blueprint that called for the privatization of Social Security. In Kentucky, Senate candidate Rand Paul (R) wants the same thing. In Nevada, Senate candidate Sharron Angle (R) wants to "phase out" Social Security altogether, replacing it with "personalized" accounts that would replace the current system.

Now, a certain former half-term governor is on board with the same right-wing plan.

Though Palin misspelled Angle’s first name, she offered words of encouragement on Sunday for the candidate who has weathered heavy criticism for her controversial opinions.

"Sharon Angle’s right: new workers should get to invest some Social Security withholdings in their own savings accounts & Washington cont. to pay promised benefits to older workers," Palin tweeted, referring to Angle’s belief that individuals should be able to invest part of their own Social Security funds.

"What part of ‘The System is Going Bankrupt’ don’t you understand, Mr. Reid?"

Obviously, fact-checking Palin is a fool’s errand, though I should note for anyone who’s forgotten that Social Security isn’t going bankrupt.

I’m also curious to hear some of these far-right policy visionaries do what Bush couldn’t — explain how this new system would work. If younger workers take their money out of the Social Security system — and it’s a pay-as-you-go system, in which younger workers pay the money that’s used for benefits older retirees — where will the money come from to "pay the promised benefits to older workers"?

But putting all of that aside, it’s the politics of this that really impresses. Social Security is arguably the most popular and successful domestic policy program of the last century, and a growing number of high-profile Republicans — shortly before a major election, no less — are boasting of their desire to destroy it.

If Democrats fail to take advantage of this, they’re missing a huge opportunity.

Written by Leisureguy

13 July 2010 at 9:45 am

The Internet Kill Switch

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Schneier on Security:

Last month, Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., introduced a bill that might — we’re not really sure — give the president the authority to shut down all or portions of the Internet in the event of an emergency. It’s not a new idea. Sens. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., and Olympia Snowe, R-Maine,proposed the same thing last year, and some argue that the president can already do something like this. If this or a similar bill ever passes, the details will change considerably and repeatedly. So let’s talk about the idea of an Internet kill switch in general.

It’s a bad one.

Security is always a trade-off: costs versus benefits. So the first question to ask is: What are the benefits? There is only one possible use of this sort of capability, and that is in the face of a warfare-caliber enemy attack. It’s the primary reason lawmakers are considering giving the president a kill switch. They know that shutting off the Internet, or even isolating the U.S. from the rest of the world, would cause damage, but they envision a scenario where not doing so would cause even more.

That reasoning is based on several flawed assumptions.

The first flawed assumption is that cyberspace has traditional borders, and we could somehow isolate ourselves from the rest of the world using an electronic Maginot Line. We can’t.

Yes, we can cut off almost all international connectivity, but there are lots of ways to get out onto the Internet: satellite phones, obscure ISPs in Canada and Mexico, long-distance phone calls to Asia.

The Internet is the largest communications system mankind has ever created, and it works because it is distributed. There is no central authority. No nation is in charge. Plugging all the holes isn’t possible.

Even if the president ordered all U.S. Internet companies to block, say, all packets coming from China, or restrict non-military communications, or just shut down access in the greater New York area, it wouldn’t work. You can’t figure out what packets do just by looking at them; if you could, defending against worms and viruses would be much easier.

And packets that come with return addresses are easy to spoof. Remember the cyberattack July 4, 2009, that probably came from North Korea, but might have come from England, or maybe Florida? On the Internet, disguising traffic is easy. And foreign cyberattackers could always have dial-up accounts via U.S. phone numbers and make long-distance calls to do their misdeeds.

The second flawed assumption is that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

13 July 2010 at 9:42 am

Does this explain the pig-out after my first week on the diet?

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Written by Leisureguy

13 July 2010 at 9:33 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

20 online free resources for language learning

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Take a look. Try Esperanto.

Written by Leisureguy

13 July 2010 at 9:30 am

Conservative judge calls for indictment of Bush and Cheney

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Of course they won’t be indicted because Obama and Holder have sworn to protect important, powerful, wealthy criminals from any investigation or indictment. Obama is corrupt. Holder is corrupt. Their corruption is on full display and shines like a rotted mackerel in the moonlight. From Tanya Somanader at ThinkProgress, with more info at the link.

Written by Leisureguy

13 July 2010 at 9:28 am

Trusting businesses: GlaxoSmithKline edition

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Of course the free market would have prevented this, if only we had done away with all regulations and let businesses operate freely—in that situation, any business misadventure is immediately detected and stopped in its tracks. /irony. Gardiner Harris reports in the NY Times:

In the fall of 1999, the drug giant SmithKline Beecham secretly began a study to find out if its diabetes medicine, Avandia, was safer for the heart than a competing pill, Actos, made by Takeda.

Avandia’s success was crucial to SmithKline, whose labs were otherwise all but barren of new products. But the study’s results, completed that same year, were disastrous. Not only was Avandia no better than Actos, but the study also provided clear signs that it was riskier to the heart.

But instead of publishing the results, the company spent the next 11 years trying to cover them up, according to documents recently obtained by The New York Times. The company did not post the results on its Web site or submit them to federal drug regulators, as is required in most cases by law.

“This was done for the U.S. business, way under the radar,” Dr. Martin I. Freed, a SmithKline executive, wrote in an e-mail message dated March 29, 2001, about the study results that was obtained by The Times. “Per Sr. Mgmt request, these data should not see the light of day to anyone outside of GSK,” the corporate successor to SmithKline.

The heart risks from Avandia first became public in May 2007, with a study from a cardiologist at the Cleveland Clinic who used data the company was forced by a lawsuit to post on its own Web site. In the ensuing months, GlaxoSmithKline officials conceded that they had known of the drug’s potential heart attack risks since at least 2005.

But the latest documents demonstrate that the company had data hinting at Avandia’s extensive heart problems almost as soon as the drug was introduced in 1999, and sought intensively to keep those risks from becoming public. In one document, the company sought to quantify the lost sales that would result if Avandia’s cardiovascular safety risk “intensifies.” The cost: $600 million from 2002 to 2004 alone, the document stated.

Mary Anne Rhyne, a GlaxoSmithKline spokeswoman, said that the company had not provided the results of its study because they “did not contribute any significant new information.”

The company said that Avandia was safe and that Dr. Freed no longer worked for GlaxoSmithKline.

A panel of experts will meet Tuesday and Wednesday to decide whether Avandia should still be sold and whether it is ethical to test Avandia directly against Actos.

Whether to withdraw Avandia is a question that has split the F.D.A., with some officials arguing that the drug is useful despite its risks and others insisting that it must be withdrawn.

According to the documents, Dr. John Jenkins, director of the agency’s office of new drugs, who has argued internally that Avandia should remain on the market, briefed the company extensively on the agency’s internal debate.

“It is clear the office of new drugs is trying to find minimal language that will satisfy the office of drug safety,” a top company official wrote in an e-mail message after he spoke with Dr. Jenkins, according to a sealed deposition obtained by The Times.

In the deposition, Dr. Rosemary Johann-Liang, a former supervisor in the drug safety office who left the F.D.A. after she was disciplined for recommending that Avandia’s heart warnings be strengthened, said of Dr. Jenkins’ conversations with GlaxoSmithKline, “This should not happen, and the fact that these kind of things happen, I mean, I think people have to make a determination about the leadership at the F.D.A.”

An F.D.A. spokeswoman said the agency would not comment on the contents of the deposition.

Members of Congress, where the Avandia case has led to legislative changes, said they were outraged at GlaxoSmithKline’s behavior.

“When drug companies withhold data regarding safety concerns about their medicines, they put patients at risk,” said Senator Max Baucus, Democrat of Montana, who is chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. Mr. Baucus and Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the committee’s ranking Republican, spent years investigating GlaxoSmithKline’s development of Avandia.

Besides the trial comparing Avandia with Actos, the company also conducted trials comparing Avandia with glyburide, a cheaper and older diabetes medicine.

When Rhona A. Berry, a company official, asked about publishing two of the trials, Dr. Freed responded in an e-mail message dated July 20, 2001, that referred to Avandia by the abbreviation of its generic name, rosiglitazone: “Rhona — Not a chance. These put Avandia in quite a negative light when folks look at the response of the RSG monotherapy arm,” the message said. “It is a difficult story to tell and we would hope that these do not see the light of day.”

Hiding the results of negative clinical trials was once widespread in the drug industry.

But after GlaxoSmithKline was found in 2004 to have hidden data that showed that its antidepressant, Paxil, led children and teenagers to have more suicidal thoughts and behaviors, the company settled a lawsuit by agreeing to publicly post data from all of its trials. In 2007, Congress mandated such disclosures. But the postings are often little more than cryptic references, so the issue is far from resolved…

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

13 July 2010 at 9:22 am

Belgian investigations underway after years of neglect

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The Catholic church is badly designed: it lacks transparency and accountability and has strange ideas about sexuality, and now we see the results of that. Doreen Carvajal and Stephen Castle report in the NY Times:

Behind an aggressive investigation of the Roman Catholic hierarchy in Belgium that drew condemnation from the pope himself lies a stark family tragedy: the molestation, for years, of a youth by his uncle, the bishop of Bruges; the prelate’s abrupt resignation when a friend of the nephew finally threatened to make the abuse public; and now the grass-roots fury of almost 500 people complaining of abuse by priests.

The first resignation of a European bishop for abusing a child relative came unexpectedly on April 23. At 73, the Bruges bishop, Roger Vangheluwe, Belgium’s longest-serving prelate, tersely announced his retirement and acknowledged molesting “a boy in my close entourage.”

The boy, not named, was his own nephew, now in his early 40s.

The nephew’s story, pieced together through documents and interviews with him and others, shows that the nephew, acting after years of torment and strong evidence of church inaction, finally forced the bishop’s hand when the friend sent e-mail messages to all of Belgium’s bishops threatening to expose Bishop Vangheluwe.

For nearly 25 years, the nephew said, he sought to alert others that he had been molested by his uncle. Abuse started when he was 10, according to a retired priest, the Rev. Rik Devillé, who said he had tried to warn Belgium’s cardinal, Godfried Danneels, about the Bruges prelate’s abuse 14 years ago, but was berated for doing so.

It is not known whether Cardinal Danneels or others notified the Vatican, itself mired in allegations of inaction on sexual abuse, about the case at the time.

The Vatican accepted the bishop’s resignation as the scandal erupted in April but said nothing about the case until the Belgian police raided church properties in late June, an act that Pope Benedict XVI called “deplorable.” Now Belgium is unique in that civil authorities seized the documents that the church might have used to pursue its own investigations, apparently placing long-shrouded cases in the public realm.

Over the years, the nephew — who still does not want his name used publicly — channeled his rage into creating art: giant screaming images in gnarled wood or a montage of a boy being crushed by a mattress.

The resignation for sexual abuse sent waves through the Catholic hierarchy in Flanders, the northern Dutch-speaking part of the country, where religion is a powerful cultural influence.

Bishop Vangheluwe, who retreated to a Trappist monastery, remains under investigation by the Belgian authorities in perhaps another child sexual abuse case and accusations that he concealed such complaints lodged against others.

A public pledge by Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard of Brussels that the Bruges resignation marked an end to cover-ups prompted more than 500 people — mostly men — to come forward in just two months.

“For the first time there is a generation of men who are telling that they were sexually abused by men,” said Peter Adriaenssens, a psychiatrist who led an internal church commission on sexual abuse but resigned last month after the police confiscated all his case files. Mr. Adriaenssens noted that many boys were beaten by parents who disbelieved their complaints. There was, he said, a “silencing of society.”

With so many new potential victims, the police staged extraordinary raids last month, holding bishops for nine hours at the church’s Belgian offices in Mechelen while scouring the premises for hidden material. They drilled into a cardinal’s crypt and confiscated computers and documents, searching for proof that the church had concealed evidence.

Bishop Vangheluwe’s nephew remains reluctant to speak extensively about what happened. “I’m scared, and the church has a lot of power,” he said, standing near a wooden image of two heads, one with a mouth carved wide into a scream…

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

13 July 2010 at 9:16 am

Drinking tea make make wrinklies smarter

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Take a look:

Drinking Tea May Improve Cognitive Performance in Older Subjects

Reference:    "Cognitive function and tea consumption in community dwelling older Chinese in Singapore," Feng L, Ng TP, et al, J Nutr Health Aging, 2010; 14(6): 433-8. (Address: Gerontological Research Programme, National University of Singapore, Department of Psychological Medicine, National University Hospital, 5 Lower Kent Ridge Road, Singapore 119074. E-mail: ).

Summary:     In a cross-sectional study involving 716 Chinese adults, aged 55 years or more, results indicate an inverse association between tea consumption and cognitive performance. Tea consumption was assessed using a frequency questionnaire, and cognitive performance was assessed using several neuropsychological tests. After adjusting for potential confounders, total tea consumption was independently associated with better performances on global cognition, memory, executive function, and information processing speed. Additionally, black/oolong tea and green tea intake were both associated with improved cognitive performance. Thus, the authors of this study conclude, "Tea consumption was associated with better cognitive performance in community-living Chinese older adults. The protective effect of tea consumption on cognitive function was not limited to particular type of tea."

I just ordered some large mesh tea-balls (for loose tea) and bought two 1-gal. pitchers. I’m going to be making white tea.

Written by Leisureguy

13 July 2010 at 9:00 am

Posted in Daily life, Food, Health, Science

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