Later On

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

Archive for December 13th, 2012

Paul Krugman on the GOP’s dead-enders

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Paul Krugman in the NY Times:

We are not having a debt crisis.

It’s important to make this point, because I keep seeing articles about the “fiscal cliff” that do, in fact, describe it — often in the headline — as a debt crisis. But it isn’t. The U.S. government is having no trouble borrowing to cover its deficit. In fact, its borrowing costs are near historic lows. And even the confrontation over the debt ceiling that looms a few months from now if we do somehow manage to avoid going over the fiscal cliff isn’t really about debt.

No, what we’re having is a political crisis, born of the fact that one of our two great political parties has reached the end of a 30-year road. The modern Republican Party’s grand, radical agenda lies in ruins — but the party doesn’t know how to deal with that failure, and it retains enough power to do immense damage as it strikes out in frustration.

Before I talk about that reality, a word about the current state of budget “negotiations.”

Why the scare quotes? Because these aren’t normal negotiations in which each side presents specific proposals, and horse-trading proceeds until the two sides converge. By all accounts, Republicans have, so far, offered almost no specifics. They claim that they’re willing to raise $800 billion in revenue by closing loopholes, but they refuse to specify which loopholes they would close; they are demanding large cuts in spending, but the specific cuts they have been willing to lay out wouldn’t come close to delivering the savings they demand.

It’s a very peculiar situation. In effect, Republicans are saying to President Obama, “Come up with something that will make us happy.” He is, understandably, not willing to play that game. And so the talks are stuck.

Why won’t the Republicans get specific? Because they don’t know how. The truth is that, when it comes to spending, they’ve been faking it all along — not just in this election, but for decades. Which brings me to the nature of the current G.O.P. crisis.

Since the 1970s, the Republican Party has fallen increasingly under the influence of radical ideologues, whose goal is nothing less than the elimination of the welfare state — that is, the whole legacy of the New Deal and the Great Society. From the beginning, however, these ideologues have had a big problem: The programs they want to kill are very popular. Americans may nod their heads when you attack big government in the abstract, but they strongly support Social Security, Medicare, and even Medicaid. So what’s a radical to do?

The answer, for a long time, has involved two strategies. One is . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

13 December 2012 at 7:47 pm

Posted in Congress, GOP, Government

Nice guys don’t attack the women in their lives

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Excellent article by Amanda Marcotte in The American Prospect about a worrisome trend showing how the elite escape punishment: it looks very medieval, with aristocrats able to treat commoners however they like with impunity:

Wednesday afternoon, the news broke across D.C. media and disconcertingly excited right-wing blogs that Patrick Moran, the son of Representative Jim Moran, a Democrat from Virginia, had pled guilty to assaulting his girlfriend of six months. The police report stated that two officers saw Moran grab his girlfriend by the back of the head and smash her head into a metal trash can, breaking her nose and fracturing her skull.

Sadly, the aftermath of this crime has followed a pattern that prosecutors, police, and anti-violence activists know well: Moran successfully pled down to a slap on the wrist, in this case probation. Moran’s girlfriend is sticking by him, claiming she tripped and fell and that all this is a mistake. This entire pattern of events is what activists call the “cycle of violence,” which is not—despite the inevitable media blather after any domestic-violence incident—the result either of an abuser having ”anger management” issues or the victim being stupid or a masochist. Domestic violence is a choice abusers make, and society makes the situation much worse by giving them a license to operate while subtly—and sometimes overtly—pressuring victims to stay.

Representative Moran’s behavior this week, in fact, could serve as a checklist of all the ways that friends, family, colleagues, and society treat domestic violence, ways that make it difficult for victims to leave, and let abusers know they can offend without being held accountable.

Portraying domestic violence as a private matter, instead of a criminal matter that affects us all. Rep. Moran told the Washington City Paper, “I hope their privacy will be respected,” and added, “They look forward to putting this embarrassing situation behind them.” Sadly, framing domestic violence as if it’s a private matter, like bickering over money or committing adultery, is all too common. In fact, violent assault is violent assault, whether the assailant is a mugger on the street or purports to love the victim. By treating domestic violence as a private matter, we downplay its severity, which is why it so often leads to light sentences; it allows the abuser to frame his behavior as a personal flaw, which in turn helps him convince the victim he means to change. The reality is that unlike most couple squabbles that are none of our business, domestic violence affects us all.  It racks up health-care and court costs, causes victims to miss work and struggle economically, creates psychological distress that can extend across generations, and exacerbates already unjust power imbalances between the sexes at home. Plus, the suffering of the victims, whose basic trust in love and family has been upended, is beyond that of someone simply having an ordinary disagreement, and should be treated with the same consideration that we treat the suffering of all victims of violent crime.

Claiming the abuser is a great guy whose behavior was out of character.Representative Moran referred to his son and his son’s victim as “good kids.” We have no information about the victim, but let’s be clear: Taking someone’s head and smashing it against a trash can precludes the possibility of someone being a good kid. Most of us don’t want to admit that someone we thought well of could have a dark side, and men who hurt women not only count on that tendency but often manipulate others around them to curry sympathy if they’re outed as violent.  We have to be willing to accept the evidence that someone we trusted is not as trustworthy as we thought. By refusing to do so, we not only let the abuser know his violence will not erode our opinion of him, but we cause the victim to believe the abuser when he tells her he didn’t mean it and he won’t do it again.

Believing obvious lies or silly excuses. . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

13 December 2012 at 5:36 pm

Posted in Daily life, Law

An appreciation of political economist Albert Hirschman

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Via James Fallows, this excellent article by Robert Kuttner in The American Prospect:

Albert Hirschman, an economist who became one of the greatest of the 20th century’s moral philosophers, died Tuesday at age 97. Hirschman’s intellectual odyssey took him from the study of eastern European economies under Hitler to work as a development economist for the Federal Reserve Board, then in Latin America in the 1950s and 1960s, as an adviser to the Colombian Planning Ministry, and then to engagement with the enduring questions of economy and society from the 1970s until illness suspended his active life. Along the way he taught at Yale, Columbia, Harvard, and the Institute for Advanced Study.

To the extent that Hirschman is widely known today, it is mainly though a small book with a puzzling title, Exit, Voice, and Loyalty, written in 1970. The book has a huge following among social scientists, mainly outside of Hirschman’s own profession of economics. His basic insight is elegant, simple, and original. Citizens and consumers have two basic ways of responding when they find anything from a product, politician, neighbor, or nation unsatisfactory. They can vote with their feet (exit) or stick around and provide constructive feedback (voice).

Though orthodox economics emphasizes exit—consumers shopping around, shareholders selling stocks, workers pursuing different jobs, emigrants seeking new shores, Hirschman was partial to Voice. It was Voice that made possible civil society, Voice that made business enterprises more than a collection of spot transactions, Voice that offered useful information. And to complete the trilogy of his title, it was voice that engendered reciprocity and Loyalty.

The small book virtually revived the field of political economy. It reintegrated economics, sociology, psychology, history, and philosophy, which had been sundered by the conceits of mathematical neo-classical economics. Political economy had been left to Marxists. Hirschman rescued it for liberals. Exit, Voice and Loyalty not only won Hirschman a devoted following; it shifted him onto the path of a modern philosophe. Since publication of that book, Hirschman wrote several others, delving deeper into the issue of how markets interacted with society and how great thinkers since the Enlightenment grappled with that question.

His life’s work was a plea for social scientists to appreciate complexity. In his wonderful essay “Against Parsimony,” a riposte to Occam’s Razor, Hirschman writes: “Economists often propose to deal with unethical or anti-social behavior by raising the cost of that behavior rather than by proclaiming standards … They think of citizens [only] as consumers …. This view tends to neglect the possibility that people are capable of changing their values.” Laws, Hirschman contends, are often superior to such utilitarian contrivances as anti-pollution “effluent charges,” because they can signal and reinforce “a general change in the civil climate.” The standard economic view, of man optimizing choices in a social vacuum, offers “too simpleminded an account of even such fundamental economic processes as consumption and production,” much less human psychology and organization. [Take that, Libertarians. – LG]

Two of his finest books as economic philosopher are . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

13 December 2012 at 3:53 pm

Posted in Books, Daily life

Shameful acts by the US, still protected by Obama

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The first shameful act was the illegal kidnapping and torture. Then the continued imprisonment even though it was clear the victim was innocent. Then the furtive release with the warning not to talk. Then the absolute denial of legal redress on totally spurious grounds. And the refusal to admit any error or to apologize: stonewalling to the end. Along with that, of course, are the destruction of evidence and obstruction of justice that a CIA official bragged about in a book, and Obama’s absolute refusal to face up to his legally mandated responsibilities in the Convention Against Torture, which is a signed and ratified treaty with the US, and his determination to protect the miscreants at all costs, which makes him an accessory after the fact.

James Goldston writes in the NY Times today:

THE United States government has been trying for almost a decade to hush up what it did to Khaled el-Masri, a German citizen whose story of mistaken identity, abduction and abuse was one of the low points in the C.I.A.’s post 9/11 “war on terror.”

This morning, the cover-up ended. The European Court of Human Rights held that Mr. Masri’s forcible disappearance, kidnapping and covert transfer without legal process to United States custody nine years ago violated the most basic guarantees of human decency. Notably, the court found that the treatment suffered by Mr. Masri in 2003 “at the hands of the special C.I.A. rendition team,” at an airport in Skopje, the capital of the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia, “amounted to torture.”

Although the case was filed against the Macedonian government and the court does not have jurisdiction over the United States, the ruling is a powerful condemnation of improper C.I.A. tactics and of the abject failure of any American court to provide redress for Mr. Masri or the other victims of Washington’s discredited policy of secret detention and extraordinary rendition.

The 17 judges in the European court’s grand chamber, several of whom grew up under Communism, have done what the United States Supreme Court has declined to do: condemn an egregious abuse of an innocent man by out-of-control security services.

Mr. Masri was seized by local security officers in Macedonia on Dec. 31, 2003, while crossing the border from Serbia by bus. At the American government’s request, he was held incommunicado for 23 days, then turned over to the C.I.A. at Skopje airport, where, according to the court ruling, he was “severely beaten, sodomized, shackled and hooded,” and flown to Kabul, Afghanistan. He was kept for four months in a putrid, unheated cell in a secret American-run prison known as the Salt Pit. He was never charged with a crime or given access to his family, a lawyer or German consular officers.

In fact, as the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, declared in December 2005 after meeting with Condoleezza Rice, then the secretary of state, the C.I.A. blundered in seeking Mr. Masri’s capture. As became clear shortly after his forced disappearance commenced, Mr. Masri was the wrong guy; he was detained because his name resembled that of an Al Qaeda suspect.

But Mr. Masri was kept in prison long after Washington realized its error. It was only on May 28, 2004, that Mr. Masri was reverse-rendered by the C.I.A. to another American ally, Albania. There, he was told not to tell anyone what had happened to him, then placed on a commercial flight back to Germany.

Although inquiries by the Council of Europe and the German Parliament pointed to the United States’ responsibility, the American government has never publicly admitted what happened. To the contrary, American officials sought to block German and Spanish criminal inquiries and obtained dismissal of Mr. Masri’s attempts to engage United States courts on the grounds that “state secrets” precluded consideration of his claims. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

13 December 2012 at 12:22 pm

Trusting corporations to do the right thing: It doesn’t work

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Thom Hartmann reports for Alternet:

Twinkie-maker Hostess continues to screw over its workers. The company is in the process of complete liquidation and 18,000 unionized workers are set to lose their jobs. More troubling – they could lose their pensions.

According to a report by the Wall Street Journal, Hostess’ CEO, Gregory Rayburn, essentially admitted [3] that his company stole employee pension money and put it toward CEO and senior executive pay (aka “operations”). While this isn’t technically illegal, it’s another sleazy theft by Hostess executives – who’ve paid themselves handsomely while running their company into the ground. Just last month, a judge agreed to let Hostess executives suck another $1.8 million out of the bankrupt company to pay bonuses to CEOs.

If there’s no way to recover the money for the Hostess pension plans for workers, then the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. will have to foot the bill to make sure workers get at least some of the retirement money they paid in.

Hostess shows us clearly what Bain-style predatory capitalism is all about: big bucks for the very few rich executives, layoffs and poverty for the workers and their communities.

And don’t mourn the loss of Hostess brands – they’ll be back, as the company is currently negotiating with over 100 potential buyers right now to bring Twinkies, Wonder Bread, and Ding Dongs back into the marketplace.

The Hostess story has nothing to do with unions, and everything to do with the Enron-ization and Bain-ization of the American economy.

In classic Enron style, back in 2005 Hostess sent out a letter saying they’d just had a very, very profitable quarter. Their stock jumped up. The CEO, Charles Sullivan, and many of the senior executives sold chunks of their stock. The CEO and senior executives were making out big, and the workers were making a decent living.

At that time, one of the hostess workers – Mike Hummel, blogging as bluebarnstormer over at Daily Kos [4] – noted that he was making $48,000 a year, a bit over the US median household income, and had insurance and a pension.

Then, a few weeks later in 2005, came the letter saying that, oops, all of that profit had really been just an accounting error – the company was actually in trouble. Although the CEO and the top guys had all made a nice killing selling the stock when it was high, and paying a maximum income tax on it of 15 percent because they used the Capital Gains loophole that Mitt Romney used to become a multimillionaire, they now wanted the workers to take a big pay cut. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

13 December 2012 at 11:40 am

Posted in Business, Law

Google Maps for iPhone

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It’s here at last.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 December 2012 at 11:35 am

Posted in Software

Anti-virus for the Mac

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I recently got an email fax that looked perfectly legit, but I couldn’t open the fax attachment—Windows only—so I forwarded it to The Wife’s gmail account so she could open it. Surprise! Gmail rejected the message because the attachment contained a virus.

That made me a little nervous, so I installed Sophos Antivirus for the Mac, which is free. It installed with no problem, and I immediately did a full scan. It spotted the virus in that attachment and found another file that contained a virus as well. Both are safely deleted, and I’m glad to have on-going virus protection.

If you use a Mac, take a look at the link.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 December 2012 at 11:33 am

Posted in Software

DOJ has special soft treatment for wealthy criminals

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Pam Martens at Wall Street on Parade:

The ink was barely dry on the $1.9 billion get-out-of-jail-free card that those corporate lawyers that now head up the U.S. Department of Justice handed global bank, HSBC, on Tuesday when long-overdue outrage erupted from the media. There was so much attention to the HSBC stench that a potentially more fascinating and equally smelly deal from the Justice Department went down with little attention the very next day. More on that in a moment.

On the Justice Department’s decision to add part of the drug money laundered by HSBC to its own coffers and call it a day without prosecuting HSBC or any of its employees, CNN quoted Notre Dame law professor, Jimmy Gurulé, an international expert on criminal law. Gurulé said the settlement “makes a mockery of the criminal justice system,” adding that “there appears to be an exception for employees of large banks that have engaged in particularly serious and egregious violations of the law. That’s an insane policy.”

CNBC quoted a statement on the HSBC deal issued by Global Witness, the human rights nonprofit group, which said “Fines alone are not going to change banks’ behavior: the chances of being caught are relatively small and the potential profits from accepting dodgy clients are too big. Fines are seen as a cost of doing business.”

In an editorial, the New York Times called the HSBC settlement “a dark day for the rule of law.” Fingering their worry beads (the beads they threw out the window when their editorial page happily advocated for the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act – the daddy of too big to fail or jail –) the Times questioned why no individual at HSBC was charged in such a well documented case of money laundering for drug cartels. The editorial said “it boggles the mind that a bank could launder money as HSBC did without anyone in a position of authority making culpable decisions.”

But if the Time wants its mind genuinely boggled, it need only peruse the settlement that snuck in one day later – the insider trading case against the iconic Tiger Asia Management LLC hedge fund that magically became a one-count prosecution of wire fraud – which, having worked 21 years on Wall Street, I can assure you is not the same thing as insider trading. But even more incredulous, the company without the apparent aid of human beings, committed the crime and was the sole defendant charged by the Justice Department — giving corporate personhood a whole new dimension.

You know there’s something really fishy going on when the U.S. Attorney for New Jersey decides to prosecute a hedge fund based in Manhattan – which last time I checked was still a New York jurisdiction. Here are excerpts of the press release from the U.S. Attorney’s office for the district of New Jersey: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 December 2012 at 11:26 am

Rethinking pork

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I don’t know much about Dr. Mercola, but he does link to sources. Pork sounds like something good to avoid—particularly ground pork.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 December 2012 at 11:21 am

Fitjar Såpekokeri and the Ecotools

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SOTD 13 Dec 2012

No shave stick today: Fitjar Såpekokeri was being discussed on Wicked Edge, and that reminded that I hadn’t used it for a while, so I decided to go with it today.

Note that the puck is not a tight fit in the bowl. This circumstance will occasionally worry a novice, who thinks the puck must fit tightly to work. In fact, a loose puck works fine—perhaps even better than a tight-fitting one, for all I know—and is not unusual. Besides the Fitjar Såpekokeri shown, Mitchell’s Wool Fat’s puck is loose in the MWF bowl, and Mama Bear once routinely had loose-fitting pucks in the tubs she used. After the first lathering or two, the puck adheres to the bottom of the tub, and then everything’s fine.

I got a very nice lather indeed from the soap, once again observing the the Ecotools brush takes a little longer to load.

The razor today is the same satin-finish new iKon that I received as a complimentary copy, today with its other baseplate, an open-comb. In the early iKons (version 2.0, the first extremely comfortable iKon), two heads were also available: an open-comb and a straight-bar. It’s a good idea that more three-piece razors should adopt. No reason that the Edwin Jagger, for example, could not come with two baseplates, open and straight.

The same Kai blade did a fine job, though again this razor does not have quite the comfort of other iKons.

With a splash of Paul Sebastian, I’m ready for the day.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 December 2012 at 9:57 am

Posted in Shaving

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