Archive for January 8th, 2013
Business interests now own Congress, which has lost all intrest in consumers and consumer protection. Consumers merely vote for (or against) them; businesses give them money, and loads of it. Joaquin Sapien reports for ProPublica:
“This is a bill about protecting American families — their health and financial well-being,” said Rep. Scott Rigell, R-Va., the measure’s primary sponsor in the House. “It is up to Congress to ensure that preventative standards are in place so no American family is faced with the hardship and heartache from contaminated drywall ever again.”
But the bill doesn’t actually set preventative standards. Instead, it asks an industry association committee comprised mostly of drywall manufacturers and builders to develop voluntary limits on sulfur content in drywall for the government to enforce.
The measure was prompted by widespread problems with drywall, mostly imported from China to rebuild after Hurricane Katrina. The board emitted high amounts of odorous sulfur gas, triggering respiratory problems for residents and causing household electronics to fail. ProPublica and the Sarasota Herald-Tribuneuncovered deep flaws with how the government dealt with contaminated drywall in 2010 and 2011.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission, which led the years-long federal investigation into the problem, still doesn’t know exactly what caused the drywall to emit gas, so it’s unclear what impact a sulfur content limit will have.
The first version of the bill, proposed by Rigell in March 2012, stipulated that contaminated drywall be treated as a banned hazardous substance and included criminal and civil penalties for those who sold it or built with it.
But the bill was gradually watered down by building industry lobbyists and their allies.
First, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce struck out Rigell’s provisions on enforcement and penalties. The revised bill instead directed the CPSC to develop labeling to make sheets of wallboard traceable to the original manufacturer and to set a limit on sulfur content inside drywall or adopt a “voluntary standard” set by the industry.
Those changes weren’t enough to satisfy the homebuilders’ lobby.
The National Association of Home Builders’ top lobbyist, James Tobin, wrote an open letter to Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, in September 2012 saying the measure still gave the CPSC too much power. Industry should be assured an opportunity to influence any rule to come out of the bill through a public comment process, the letter said.
“Homebuilding is already a highly regulated industry,” Tobin wrote. Letting the CPSC pick a voluntary standard, he said, “sets a dangerous precedent that will create unintended consequences.”
The association found an ally in Sen. David Vitter, R-La. [acknowledged client of prostitutes in New Orleans and DC; also, a strong pro-family conservative who opposes all sorts of things like same-sex marriage, abortion rights, and so on – LG], whose constituents include hundreds of homeowners who rebuilt their houses with contaminated board.
When the bill reached the Senate, Vitter placed a hold on it, then amended it to address the home builder association’s concerns.
In Vitter’s version, . . .
A man is sentenced to 10 years in prison for growing medical marijuana completely in accordance with state law? (This is exactly what Barak Obama and Eric Holder promised that they would not allow—so much for their promises.) This is outrageous: the jury should have found him innocent. The story (with video) by Wes Woods in the Contra Costa Times:
A former medical marijuana dispensary owner on Monday was sentenced to 10 years in prison for operating three facilities in the Inland Empire.
Aaron Sandusky, one of only a handful of defendants to fight U.S. prosecutors, was convicted in October on federal charges of distributing marijuana.
Sandusky faced as much as life in prison, but U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson gave him the minimum sentence possible under federal guidelines.
“In this case, as the defendant was warned, the court’s hands are tied,” Anderson said. “Whether you agree with the defendant’s position or not.”
Sandusky was charged with conspiring to manufacture and possess marijuana with intent to distribute it, conspiring to operate a drug-involved premises and and one count of possession of marijuana with intent to distribute it.
His case is one of four in the United States where federal prosecutors filed charges against individuals associated with medical marijuana dispensaries in states where medical marijuana is legal. These cases have garnered national attention, in part, because marijuana advocates have criticized the federal government for disregarding state laws allowing the possession and sale of marijuana for medicinal use. . .
I made this recipe, with a few changes. Yesterday I bought a smoked ham shank (lots of meat, relatively little fat) and two smoked pork hocks (lots of fat, relatively little meat—generally used for flavoring) and roasted them, covered, in my bigger Staub round cocotte (the lemon yellow one) in a 200ºF oven overnight with about 1/2 cup of water. And I soaked the small white beans overnight as well.
This morning, using my hands, I deboned the hocks and shank and put the fat and the meat into separate bowls, and I poured the liquid in my fat skimmer cup.
I used half the fat as the bottom layer, then half the beans, all the meat (torn into small pieces, a large chopped onion, the rest of the beans, and topped that with the rest of the fat.
For the 3 cups of hot water, I started by pouring into the 4-cup measuring pitcher the non-fat portion of the liquid from the overnight cooking (and discarded the fat portion), then added hot water to bring it up to the 3-cup mark. I added the brown sugar, molasses, ground cloves (closer to 1/4 tsp), and Dijon mustard (and I used 1/4 c (i.e., 4 Tbsp) of that), whisked it to mix well—and if you do this, after you finish whisking, whisk it some more: the brown sugar is slow to dissolve. You may want to stir that up with a spatula.
I then poured the liquid over the beans, meat, fat, and onion, covered the pot, and returned it to the 200ºF oven for the day.
The recipe says to cook in a slow cooker on “Low” (200ºF) or in an oven at 250ºF. I don’t understand why the temperature discrepancy, so I’m going with a 200ºF oven.
Should be good.
UPDATE: A NYTimes editorial refers to the fine as “a slap on the wrist.” Really, it seems like “pay to play”: the companies are willing to pay for the privilege of bilking the public, and the government goes along.
A fine that’s trivial compared to profits, and Wall Street is free to continue as before. It does look somewhat like a payoff, doesn’t it? Pam Martens has the story at Wall Street on Parade:
Monday was settlement day on Wall Street. The four largest Wall Street banks and a handful of smaller ones tossed $20 billion at their various regulators and slid home free without going to jail over egregious foreclosure abuses that have ravaged the nation and left millions of families in desperate straits.
News of big settlements with Wall Street are typically dumped on Friday to ensure the news is old hat by Monday morning. But these two big settlements, totaling over $20 billion, came at the beginning of the news week, adding the curiosity element as to why Wall Street actually wanted to create buzz around the settlements. It didn’t take long to figure that out: the buzz was to help prop up bank shares on the premise that the worst of the past misdeeds are now behind the banks. The regulators eagerly boarded this public relations train by releasing the barest of details on the settlements.
In the first settlement, ten U.S. banks including the four largest U.S. banks — JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Bank of America and Wells Fargo – agreed to pay $8.5 billion to shut down a review of individual foreclosure case files in a process established by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) and the Federal Reserve in 2011. As we reported last week, that program was hopelessly compromised from the start by its structure. So-called “independent” reviewers were paid directly by the banks and had to rely on the banks for much of their information, rather than being able to speak directly to the abused foreclosure victims.
The OCC said in a statement that the $8.5 billion “includes $3.3 billion in direct payments to eligible borrowers and $5.2 billion in other assistance, such as loan modifications and forgiveness of deficiency judgments.”
Neither the OCC nor the Federal Reserve released any of the following details: how much did each bank pay individually (as a means for the public to determine where the worst infractions were committed); what were the specific findings of the so-called independent foreclosure reviews (so that the public can be on the lookout for the same attempted abuses in the future); what safeguards have been put in place to prevent these abuses from reoccurring. In a call to the OCC I learned that it planned to release some of the above details, but not for weeks.
The OCC also said in its statement that 3.8 million impacted borrowers “are expected to receive compensation ranging from hundreds of dollars up to $125,000, depending on the type of possible servicer error.” Error? The OCC and Federal Reserve established the program as an enforcement action due to findings of fraud and abuse in the foreclosure process, including tens of thousands of forged signatures (robo-signers) on foreclosure documents brazenly submitted to courts of law. Now the bank regulator is calling this abuse an “error”? . . .
Continue reading. Until and unless the government starts sending those guilty to prison, instead of accepting payoffs that increasingly look like kickbacks, this sort of thing will continue.
Very fine shave once more, and I did enjoy using my Brent brush. You’ll perhaps recall in the last shave that the knot was tilted somewhat. Brent saw the post and emailed me to say that he would be happy to fix that: proactive customer service, which cannot be beat. I mailed the brush to him and got it back yesterday.
The handle was cold in the package from the weather here (and the mailbox is in an unheated hallway), and that, together with the density and imperceptibly fine grain of the ebony, it felt exactly as though the handle were metal. As the brush warmed to room temperature, the handle regained its character as an extraordinary dense wood.
The knot, now not tilted, so soft and pleasant on the face. Strop Shoppe’s Lemon Eucalyptus has a light and very pleasant fragrance, and with a new Astra Superior Platinum blade, I got a very nice shave indeed with my Gillette NEW of the short-toothed variant. Tomorrow I’ll use the long-toothed version to demonstrate the difference. The NEW was introduced in 1931, so it’s now 82 years old—and still going strong: a very nice razor.
Three passes and a tiny dab of Primalan, which has not only almond oil but also lanolin (so those with a sensitivity to lanolin should avoid it). It’s an excellent balm, and left my face feeling smooth and moisturized.
Boston Baked Beans are on the schedule for today.