Later On

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

Archive for November 1st, 2012

Making Obama’s tax plan work

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Yesterday I blogged a Washington Post interactive column that allowed the reader to see whether s/he could make Romney’s tax plan work. Today it’s Obama’s tax plan that is under inspection. Take a look.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 November 2012 at 3:53 pm

Posted in Election, Government

Republicans rejecting reality

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The GOP has a serious reality problem: when a study or when evidence disagrees with their beliefs, they will do anything to avoid altering their beliefs, including suppressing studies and ignoring evidence. The GOP denial that climate change is occurring may please the fossil fuel industry, but it requires rejecting the effectively unanimous findings of climatologists, a mountain of data, and the clear signs visible to all (melting of the Arctic icepack, disappearance of glaciers, melting of the Greenland ice cap, unprecedented droughts, enormous disparity between record high temperatures and record low temperatures, increasingly violent storms and hurricanes, record rainfalls and flooding, and so on).

And now I read a poll that finds that more than two-thirds of registered Republicans (68%) believe that demons can possess people—not in the sense of slavery (which some Republicans say was a good deal for the slaves), but in the sense of parasitic control or some such.

And now we learn that the GOP objected to a report by the non-partisan Congressional Research Service that showed that lowering top tax rates has zero effect on economic growth. Jonathan Weisman reports in the NY Times:

The Congressional Research Service has withdrawn an economic report that found no correlation between top tax rates and economic growth, a central tenet of conservative economy theory, after Senate Republicans raised concerns about the paper’s findings and wording.

The decision, made in late September against the advice of the agency’s economic team leadership, drew almost no notice at the time. Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, cited the study a week and a half after it was withdrawn in a speech on tax policy at the National Press Club.

But it could actually draw new attention to the report, which questions the premise that lowering the top marginal tax rate stimulates economic growth and job creation.

“This has hues of a banana republic,” Mr. Schumer said. “They didn’t like a report, and instead of rebutting it, they had them take it down.”

Republicans did not say whether they had asked the research service, a nonpartisan arm of the Library of Congress, to take the report out of circulation, but they were clear that they protested its tone and findings. . .

Continue reading. From later in the story:

. . . The pressure applied to the research service comes amid a broader Republican effort to raise questions about research and statistics that were once trusted as nonpartisan and apolitical.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics on Friday will release unemployment figures for October, a month after some conservatives denounced its last report as politically tinged to abet President Obama’s re-election. When the bureau suggested its October report might be delayed by Hurricane Sandy, some conservatives immediately suggested politics were at play.

Republicans have also tried to discredit the private Tax Policy Center ever since the research organization declared that Mitt Romney’s proposal to cut tax rates by 20 percent while protecting the middle class and not increasing the deficit was mathematically impossible. For years, conservatives have pressed the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office to factor in robust economic growth when it is asked to calculate that cost of tax cuts to the federal budget.

Congressional aides and outside economists said they were not aware of previous efforts to discredit a study from the research service.

“When their math doesn’t add up, Republicans claim that their vague version of economic growth will somehow magically make up the difference. And when that is refuted, they’re left with nothing more to lean on than charges of bias against nonpartisan experts,” said Representative Sander Levin of Michigan, the ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee.

Jared Bernstein, a former economist for Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., conceded that “tax cuts for the rich” was “not exactly academic prose,” but he said the analysis did examine policy time lags and controlled for several outside factors, including monetary policy.

“This sounds to me like a complete political hit job and another example of people who don’t like the results and try to use backdoor ways to suppress them,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything like this, and frankly, it makes me worried.” . . .

What we see in this is an inability of the GOP to revise their beliefs in the light of reality—an inability to learn.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 November 2012 at 12:42 pm

If you use a cable modem for the Internet

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Instead of paying $7/month to rent an obsolete modem, why not buy your own? Recommended unit at the link.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 November 2012 at 11:08 am

Posted in Technology

Prosecutorial misconduct in the War on Drugs, Doctor Subdivision

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The governmental stance on drugs is out of control: overbearing, inappropriate, and even illegal in many cases. Here’s an example by Clarence Walker in Drug War Chronicle:

In what could become an historic case, a Florida doctor acquitted of drug dealing charges over his prescribing practices is asking the US Supreme Court to reinstate a $600,000 award made to him by a lower court after federal prosecutors were found to have engaged in misconduct that was “vexatious, frivolous, or in bad faith.” That language comes from the Hyde Amendment, enacted in 1997, which gives federal judges the power to force the government to pay attorney’s fees to acquitted defendants if the actions of those prosecutors met that standard of misconduct.

The case of Florida physician Dr. Ali Shaygan has been closely watched by pain-management doctors — an area in which the federal government has waged a fierce “war on prescription doctors” — a war fueled by a rising death toll in recent years from prescription drug overdoses in America, but also preceding that rise. Since 2003, according to DEA, hundreds of physicians across the nation have been charged in federal or state court for illegally dispensing narcotic pain medicine to patients.

This past August, the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the trial court decision awarding the money to Shaygan, who had operated a Miami pain clinic. He was acquitted in March 2009 of 131 counts of illegally distributing narcotics to patients, including one case where a patient died of an overdose.

Shaygan’s attorneys charged that two Assistant US Attorneys, Sean Cronin and Andrea Hoffman, as well as a DEA agent, had acted “vexatiously” and withheld materially important evidence after Shaygan was originally charged in a 23-count indictment. US Circuit Court Judge Alan Gold, who presided over the high-profile trial, agreed that prosecutors violated disclosure requirements by withholding information from the defense and the court and ordered the cash award.

Judge Gold also accused the government of launching a separate “tactical” effort to disqualify the doctor’s attorney, David Markus, shortly before the trial began. In that effort, which Gold characterized as part of a scheme to undermine the defendant’s rights to a fair trial, the prosecutors failed to notify the defense that the DEA had attempted to manipulate two witnesses in the case into trying to entrap Markus into paying off witnesses to give favorable testimony at the trial to help the doctor beat the rap.

Following a sanction hearing after the doctor’s acquittal in 2009, Judge Gold issued a scathing ruling against the prosecutors. The government conduct was so “profoundly disturbing that it raises troubling issues about the integrity of those who wield enormous power over the people they prosecute,” Gold concluded.

After Gold requested that the Justice Department investigate the government’s misconduct, prosecutor Cronin conceded to the Miami Herald, “We should have done a better job,” but insisted that “at no time was I acting in bad faith.”

He said he authorized secret recordings of attorney Markus because a witness, Courtney Tucker, had told a DEA agent the defense might be trying to tamper with her testimony. Yet Tucker contradicted Cronin’s claim when she testified that a DEA agent had tried to pressure her to tailor her testimony to bolster the prosecution’s case against Dr. Shaygan.

When federal prosecutors appealed the cash award to the 11th Circuit, a sharply divided panel overturned it, holding that Gold had overreached and wrongly interpreted the Hyde Amendment by applying the incorrect legal standard for awarding the fees under the statue. The appeals court majority also held that “as long as a prosecutor had an objectively reasonable basis in law (not frivolous and not vexatious), an award of attorney fees under the Hyde Amendment is improper.” One judge concluded that the overall prosecution and allegations on the original indictment were “objectively valid.”

But in a harsh dissent, Judge Beverly Martin wrote that the majority opinion “will render trial judges mere spectators of extreme government misconduct.”

Markus told the Chronicle the appeals court reversal was not what he expected. “The decision was surprising given how the oral argument went and how thorough Judge Gold’s order was,” Markus said, adding that he was appealing to the Supreme Court.

Now a coalition of former federal judges and prosecutors, members of the criminal justice think tank the Constitution Project has signed onto an amicus brief supporting Markus’s writ of certiorari asking the Supreme Court to overturn the appeals court decision and reinstate the cash award in US v. Shaygan.

“When a court bends the law to excuse a prosecutor’s bad faith, public confidence in the criminal justice system suffers,” the Constitution Project brief said.

Just Another Pain Doctor Prosecution

The wheels of justice in Dr. Shaygan’s case began turning on June 9, 2007, when . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 November 2012 at 10:39 am

Posted in Drug laws, Government, Law

Intriguing literary analysis of the Book of Mormon

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Quite an interesting study by William Davis of the source and structure of the Book of Mormon:

Who wrote the Book of Mormon? For nearly two centuries, faithful members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) have claimed that Joseph Smith translated the text from the writings of ancient prophets, while critics have endlessly recycled inadequate theories of plagiarism or co-authorship. What has rarely been addressed is that for much of his language and narrative structure, Smith turned to the most read and memorized author of the late seventeenth century, John Bunyan. He did so in such imaginative ways that the resulting work transcends any easy charge of plagiarism and calls upon us to reimagine the rich oral traditions of early America.

Parallels between Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678) and the Book of Mormon have not gone entirely unnoticed. As early as 1831, Eber Howe, in his anti-Mormon book Mormonism Unvailed, noted the use of names — “Desolation” and “Bountiful” from Pilgrim’s Progress reappear in the Book of Mormon — but most observations have been similarly limited in scope or suffered from lack of a systematic methodology. Bunyan wrote upwards of 60 books, tracts, and pamphlets, including Grace Abounding, A Few Sighs from Hell, Holy War and The Life and Death of Mr. Badman, and these texts provide extensive narrative parallels to the Book of Mormon, often containing unique characteristics shared only by Bunyan and Smith.

For decades, LDS Church leaders have worked to mainstream the LDS faith, and with the nation on the verge of potentially electing the first Mormon president, coupled with the rising influence of the church in the cultural and political landscape of America, some have dubbed this period the “Mormon Moment.” Universities have even experienced a burgeoning interest in Mormon Studies. Such attention, however, is a doubled-edged sword, forcing the LDS Church to respond to controversial issues from its past, such as its history of polygamy, denying priesthood authority to black males until 1978, and the on-going debate about Mormonism’s status as a traditional Christian faith. Predating all of these controversies, however, is the debate about the historical authenticity of the Book of Mormon itself.

To the LDS faithful, the Book of Mormon is the true historical account of a group of ancient Israelites who fled Jerusalem prior to the Babylonian captivity (600 B.C.E.) and later journeyed to the Americas to establish a new civilization. Mormons claim that in 1823 an angel named Moroni revealed to Joseph Smith the location of a set of gold plates – which recorded that sacred history – buried in a hill south of Palmyra in upstate New York, known today as the Hill Cumorah. Six years later, at the age of 24, Joseph translated this ancient record, which he claimed was written in “Reformed Egyptian,” into English by “the gift and power of God.”

Detractors, on the other hand, assume the Book of Mormon to be Smith’s invention, pointing not just to the improbability of the story, but to the lack of any linguistic, archeological, or DNA evidence tying any tribe of Native Americans to ancient Israelites. Several theories of the origin of the text have emerged, but they lack solid evidence and require leaps of speculation. The wider academic community steered clear of the debate, leaving serious inquiry into the Book of Mormon to a small group of scholars and enthusiasts. Some Mormon scholars, like Grant Hardy, who wrote Understanding the Book of Mormon: A Reader’s Guide, have attempted to move the discussion away from polemics to an appreciation for the book’s narrative complexities. As with most scripture, however, claims to historical authenticity remain a central issue. Joseph Smith stated that the Book of Mormon was “the keystone of our religion,” to which the former LDS Prophet Ezra Taft Benson added, “Just as the arch crumbles if the keystone is removed, so does all the Church stand or fall with the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon.” Thus the stakes regarding authenticity are high, and the suggestion that Joseph Smith looked extensively to John Bunyan for inspiration to write the Book of Mormon is fraught not only for Mormon scholarship but for the religion as a whole.

¤

When Bunyan composed his stories in the late seventeenth century, he did so by . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 November 2012 at 10:27 am

Posted in Books

Why is the discussion of climate change so often “off limits”?

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I blogged yesterday an impassioned article from Wen Stephenson that demanded that journalists take on the story of climate change and give it the emphasis that it deserves. (In short, the changing climate will already strongly reduce food supplies—cf. last summer’s drought in the US, and the previous summer’s crop failures in Russia and other parts of Asia—and that the rising oceans will displace millions. Indeed, as global temperatures continue to climb with our unabated production of CO2 released into the atmosphere, it seems likely that civilization if not the existence of humanity is threatened. This is not hyperbole: look at the reports and projections from climatologists, which so far have erred by being too optimistic. That is, climate change is proceeding faster than predicted, and the changes are worse than expected.

Despite the threat, the commentary is muted and the evidence is dismissed. I’m now thinking that this reflects, and perhaps is motivated by, our attitude toward our own individual mortality. You are going to die, as am I, but we don’t spend a lot of time contemplating exactly what that means. We may make a will, execute a medical power of attorney, put our records in order, but we don’t spend time thinking about how our death means that we will lose everything: family, friends, treasured possessions. All that we have learned, all that we have accumulated, will be lost to us, and we to ourselves.

And, truly, there is not much point in dwelling on the inevitable losses: better to enjoy our time in the sun, befriend and help others along the way, for soon enough it will be gone.

But that same attitude—enjoying daily life while we can—does not apply to climate change, for indeed that course can be changed, despite the earnest efforts of the fossil fuel industry to stay on course to wreck the climate. (I wonder whether they believe that the trillions of dollars they hope to accumulate will feed them when there is no food remaining. The dinosaurs died, and so will we, if we don’t change course.)

At any rate, we are now seeing every year more and more weather events that are “once in a century” or “once in a millennium”: extreme weather has become the common experience. But warnings are ignored. It’s very strange to observe.

Bob Grant reports in The Scientist:

In 2009, the New York City Panel on Climate Change (NPCC) issued dire warnings to residents of the Big Apple that they’d be feeling the effects of global warming sooner rather than later. “In the coming decades, our coastal city will most likely face more rapidly rising sea levels and warmer temperatures, as well as potentially more droughts and floods, which will all have impacts on New York City’s critical infrastructure,” said NPCC co-chair William Solecki, a geographer at the CUNY Institute for Sustainable Cities at Hunter College, said in a February 2009 statement announcing the report. “Taking steps now to adapt to these impacts will reduce their potential consequences in the future.”

The panel, which comprised top climate change scientists and academics and was funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, calculated that New York City would experience a “1-in-10 year coastal flood about once every 1 to 3 years,” and a “1-in-100 year coastal flood about once every 15 to 35 years.” The flooding caused by Hurricane Sandy’s storm surge topped out at 13 feet in lower Manhattan, a record for the city.

“The climate change projections developed by our expert panel put numbers to what we already know—climate change is real and could have serious consequences for New York if we don’t take action,” said NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg in the statement announcing the report. “Planning for climate change today is less expensive than rebuilding an entire network after a catastrophe. We cannot wait until after our infrastructure has been compromised to begin to plan for the effects of climate change now.”

A year before the NPCC report came out, Mayor Bloomberg launched the NYC Climate Change Adaptation Task Force, which was tasked with developing “adaptation strategies to secure the city’s infrastructure from the effects of climate change.”

Earlier this year, the NYC City Council passed a law that made the NPCC and the NYC Climate Change Adaptation Task Force a permanent fixture of the city’s government. “We want to make sure that the work of climate change becomes as much a part of city government as repairing pot holes,” City Council Speaker Christine Quinn told The New York Times.

One city cannot change the direction we’re going. It has to be a common effort from all. And, so far as I can tell, we’re not going to accomplish it.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 November 2012 at 10:07 am

Rose shave

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I continue to have problems with lather persistence when I use Mike’s Natural shaving soaps. I thought this morning that I had found a solution. I fully loaded the  Omega 50068 Bambino, a terrific little brush with great capacity, and enjoyed a first-pass lather of wonderful fragrance (rose & cedarwood, as you see) and wonderful thickness. The second pass was also good, though the lather was less abundant. On the third pass, I had to return to the soap. This pattern is very typical for me with Mike’s Natural soaps.  It could be the brush, so tomorrow I’ll use the same brush with a soap that has been reliable, as a check.

Withal, the shave was quite good, and the mass of the Tradere Straight Bar, along with the excellent head design, drove the Gillette Rubie Platinum Plus blade smoothly through the stubble. My take now is that hefty razors help when using a straight bar, but are of no significant help with a slant bar.

The aftershave was a new bottle of Bulgarian Rose aftershave from SaintCharlesShave.com. I inquired about the pricing, since it’s more expensive than her usual aftershaves. She writes:

The Bulgarian Rose (rose otto) is from Bulgaria. It takes approximately 60,000 petals to get one drop of oil.  The oil costs about $100.00 per .08 ounce.    The last bottle I bought I got a great deal on, 3oz for $1485.00.  Ouch.  Beware if you are finding anyone selling Bulgarian Rose, also called rose otto or Rosa Damascena, that is not expensive; that would make me think it is fragrance oil rather than real essential oil.   To give you an idea, a regular bottle of Rose fragrance oil costs about $50.00 for a 16oz bottle, if it were Bulgarian Rose essential oil that same bottle would cost close to $4000.00.

So the price reflects the harvest difficulty, much as does the price of saffron. Both, you’ll note, are more valuable, ounce for ounce, than gold.

I noticed that initially the fragrance from the aftershave seemed muted and not particularly rose-like, but ten minutes later the fragrance was distinctly rose, with a light—not overbearing, but distinct—presence. It strikes me as a wonderful aftershave, though when I first applied it, I thought, “Where’s the rose?”. I suspect that the immediate rose hit I get from other aftershaves is because they use the fragrance oil, a synthetic whose fragrance is available immediately but also is simpler and doesn’t last so long.

All told, a superior shave. I notice that Bulgarian Rose aftershave is not on the SaintCharlesShave.com Web site yet, but I expect you can order from her directly. Tomorrow I’ll use the other rose aftershave she offers, Savory Rose.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 November 2012 at 9:12 am

Posted in Daily life, Shaving

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