Later On

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

Archive for May 2013

The FBI seems to routinely break the law—now we can add murder?

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Oh, wait: Melvin Purvis had that covered right from the git-go. Greg Mitchell notes in The Nation:

The incident raised questions from the start, but now it is approaching absurdity—maybe parody. Next thing we know the weapon will IDed as Peggy Olson’s makeshift spear.

We refer, of course, to last week’s killing of Ibragim Todashev, an old friend of deceased Boston marathon bomber Tamalan Tsarnaev, in Orlando, Florida.  He was being interrogated by an FBI agent and other detectives about what he knew, if anything, about the bombing and also about his possible role in a triple murder, tied to drugs, in Waltham, Massachusetts. Allegedly he had just confessed that he and Tsarnaev committed the murders when he freaked, grabbed a knife and lunged at the agent, who naturally shot him dead.

The story sort of smelled from the start, given that there was one crazed guy and several law enforcement enforcers, not to mention that they were questioning him about a mass bombing and a triple murder and somehow let him get at a weapon. It was a “knife,” although there was mention of a “samurai sword” maybe in the room. But few in the media raised questions.

So now it turns out—as we suspected all along—that he was unarmed when shot and killed by the FBI agent in that infamous incident. Well, that was the report two days ago. Seems that he’d been shot six or seven times. This sparked family members to charge that he was simply “executed” and it also encouraged the Boston bombing conspiracy nuts to get nuttier. Conor Friedersdorf at The Atlanticwith a major take yesterday questioned not just shooting an unarmed man but the FBI unable to get its story straight.

And then, late last night: another official version: The bad guy suddenly had a “pole” that he hit an agent with—and also hit him with a table. Oh, wait, the pole might have been “a broomstick.” And he had to be shot seven times. I guess the other cops in the room were playing Angry Birds.

Read the details of that version and you almost have to laugh. One of the cops texted the FBI agent to tell him the suspect was getting agitated? And it was when the FBI guy was reading the text that all the action started? And the “samurai sword” that became a “pole” that became a “broomstick” had now become the metal part of a broom, perhaps to make it sound more like the original “knife.”

John Miller of CBS, the longtime reporter who later became an FBI hack, recounts the latest here, as usual bending over backwards to accept the official story. You’ll see that like many others he makes no mention of how the agency could claim this was a knife attack for a week before the broomstick appeared. That’s some kind of tough reporting. And here’s Friedersdorf’s update today.Interested in the FBI’s malpractice? Read George Zornick on the impending nomination of James Comey.

Do others sense, as I do, that law enforcement agencies in the US are now out of control? Look at NYPD. Look at Texas. Look at California. Look at the hassling of pilots of small aircraft who have done nothing wrong. And the perpetrators in law enforcement generally go unpunished, protected by the blue wall of silence: exactly the psychology of a group that no longer feels a part of the community, but views the public as “them”, with “us” being law enforcement. That’s common enough, but law enforcement people are authorized by the state to use force, even deadly force.

On a separate forum a guy chastized me for saying, as though it were a known fact, that the FBI routinely breaks the law. Here’s one example (Patterns of Misconduct: FBI Intelligence Violations from 2001 – 2008), and if you Google “FBI breaking the law” you find many, many more. I do not see the FBI as not having any great respect for the law, but being quite concerned about their individual careers.

Written by Leisureguy

31 May 2013 at 3:18 pm

Obama Administration continues to ignore science regarding marijuana

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Obama makes promises much too easily—probably why he breaks them so readily. Paul Armentano writes at Alternet:

Despite issuing a highly publicized memorandum [3] in 2009 stating, “Science and the scientific process must inform and guide decisions of my Administration,” it remains clear that federal lawmakers and the White House continue to willfully ignore science in regards to the cannabis plant and the federal policies which condemn it to the same prohibitive legal status as heroin. In fact, in 2011 the Obama administration went so far as to reject an administrative petition that called for hearings to reevaluate [4] pot’s safety and efficacy, pronouncing in the Federal Register, “Marijuana does not have a currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States or a currently accepted medical use with severe restrictions. At this time, the known risks of marijuana use have not been shown to be outweighed by specific benefits in well-controlled clinical trials that scientifically evaluate safety and efficacy.” (The Administration’s flat-Earth position was upheld [5] in January by a three-judge panel for the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.)

Nevertheless, scientific evaluations of cannabis and the health of its consumers have never been more prevalent. Studies are now published almost daily rebuking the federal government’s allegations that the marijuana plant is a highly dangerous substance lacking any therapeutic utility. Yet, virtually all of these studies – and, more importantly, their implications for public policy – continue to be ignored by lawmakers. Here are just a few examples of the latest cannabis science that your federal government doesn’t want you to know about.

Frequent cannabis smokers possess no greater lung cancer risk than do either occasional pot smokers or non-smokers

Subjects who regularly inhale cannabis smoke do not [6] possess an increased risk of lung cancer compared to those who either consume it occasionally or not at all, according to data presented in April at the annual meeting of the American Academy for Cancer Research.

Investigators from the University of California, Los Angeles analyzed data from six case-control studies, conducted between 1999 and 2012, involving over 5,000 subjects (2,159 cases and 2,985 controls) from around the world.

They reported, [7] “Our pooled results showed no significant association between the intensity, duration, or cumulative consumption of cannabis smoke and the risk of lung cancer overall or in never smokers.”

Previous case-control studies have also failed to find an association [8] between cannabis smoking and head and neck cancers or cancers of the upper aerodigestive tract [9].
Nevertheless, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration continues to maintain [10], “Marijuana smokers increase their risk of cancer of the head, neck, lungs and respiratory track.”

Consistent use of cannabis associated is associated with reduced risk factors for Type 2 diabetes

Will the pot plant one day play a role in staving the ongoing epidemic of Type 2 diabetes? Emerging science indicates that it just might.

According to trial data [10] published this month in the American Journal of Medicine, subjects who regularly consume cannabis possess favorable indices related to diabetic control compared to occasional consumers or non-consumers.

Investigators at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre in Boston, assessed [11] self-report data from some 5,000 adult onset diabetics patients regarding whether they smoked or had ever smoked marijuana. Researchers reported that those who were current, regular marijuana smokers possessed 16 percent lower fasting insulin levels and reduced insulin resistance compared to those who had never used pot. By contrast, non-users possessed larger waistlines and lower levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL or ‘good’) cholesterol – both of which are risk factors for type 2 diabetes.

Similar benefits were reported in occasional cannabis consumers, though these changes were less pronounced, “suggesting that the impact of marijuana use on insulin and insulin resistance exists during periods of recent use,” researchers reported.

The recent findings are supportive of the findings of 2012 study by a team of UCLA researchers, published in the British Medical Journal, which reported [12] that adults with a history of marijuana use had a lower prevalence of type 2 diabetes and possess a lower risk of contracting the disease than did those with no history of cannabis consumption, even after researchers adjusted for social variables (ethnicity, level of physical activity, etc.) Concluded the study [13], “[This] analysis of adults aged 20-59 years … showed that participants who used marijuana had a lower prevalence of DM (Diabetes Mellitus) and lower odds of DM relative to non-marijuana users.”

Diabetes is the third leading cause of death in the United States after heart disease and cancer.

Inhaling cannabis dramatically mitigates symptoms of Crohn’sdisease

Smoking cannabis twice daily significantly reduces [14] symptoms of Crohn’s disease, a type of inflammatory bowel disorder that is estimated to impact about half a million Americans. So say the results of the first-ever placebo-controlled trial [15] assessing the use of cannabis for Crohn’s – published online this month in the scientific journal Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology.

Researchers at the Meir Medical Center, Department of Gastroenterology and Hepatology in Israel assessed the safety and efficacy of inhaled cannabis versus placebo in 21 subjects with Crohn’s disease who were nonresponsive to conventional treatment regimens. Eleven participants smoked standardized cannabis cigarettes containing 23 percent THC and 0.5 percent cannabidiol [16] – a nonpsychotropic cannabinoid known to possess anti-inflammatory properties — twice daily over a period of eight weeks. The other ten subjects smoked placebo cigarettes containing no active cannabinoids.

Investigators reported, “Our data show that 8-weeks treatment with THC-rich cannabis, but not placebo, was associated with a significant decrease of 100 points in CDAI (Crohn’s Disease and activity index) scores.”  Five of the eleven patients in the study group reported achieving disease remission (defined as a reduction in patient’s CDAI score by more than 150 points). Participants who smoked marijuana reported decreased pain, improved appetite, and better sleep compared to control subjects. Researchers reported that “no significant side effects” were associated with cannabis inhalation.

The clinical results substantiate decades of anecdotal reports from Crohn’s patients, some one-half of which acknowledge [17] having used cannabis to mitigate symptoms of the disease.

Marijuana-like substances halt HIV infection in white blood cells . . .

Continue reading. I simply do not understand how the Obama Administration can support:

“Marijuana does not have a currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States or a currently accepted medical use with severe restrictions. At this time, the known risks of marijuana use have not been shown to be outweighed by specific benefits in well-controlled clinical trials that scientifically evaluate safety and efficacy.”

That statement is simply false. To stand behind it while rejecting a proposal to reevaluate marijuana shows incredibly bad faith and resistance to evidence and reasoned argument.

Written by Leisureguy

31 May 2013 at 1:06 pm

Ein Deutsch rasieren

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SOTD 31 May 2013

All German today: the Mühle silvertip badger brush did a fine job making a truly terrific lather from Tabula Rasa Patchouli shaving cream—and I do like the fragrance.

The Mühle 2013 R41, unlike the 2011 R41, is not bad for me at all. The 2011 model was so harsh that I simply could not use it. Those who like it use a very shallow angle. While this new one, a 2013 model, is not so harsh and provided a smooth shave with no nicks or burn, I still would not call it a comfortable razor, but those who want an open-comb razor that rewards skill with efficiency will probably like it. The razor head is slightly wider so that very little of the blade’s ends are exposed, a nice touch.

The blade today was a Trig, and in 3 passes I had a BBS shave. A good splash of Alt-Innsbruck and the week draws to a close.

Written by Leisureguy

31 May 2013 at 10:18 am

Posted in Shaving

Are Babies Healthier in North Korea or Northeast Ohio?

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Michael Fitzgerald posts at Pacific Standard:

Infant mortality within a three-mile radius around one of the nation’s best children’s hospitals, in Cleveland, Ohio, is worse than that in some third-world countries, Dr. Michele Walsh, neonatology director of Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital, claimed in a radio interview last week. The hospital anchors the relatively affluent University Circle neighborhood, home to Case Western Reserve University, on the east end of an otherwise pretty impoverished city. (Seventy percent of the infants that enter Walsh’s intensive care unit are on Medicaid.)

Infant mortality rates higher than those of countries like Japan or Sweden are one thing—several reports in recent years found the United States to have a slightly higher rate than many such peers—but Uzbekistan? The Gaza Strip? That would mean communities around the hospital far outstrip the national rate of 6.7 deaths per 1,000 live births. Understandably disturbed by the claim, Politifact Ohio confirmed it using a Case Western regional social and economic research database:

Infant mortality in the University Circle neighborhood … was slightly above 69 deaths per 1,000 live births. That exceeds the rate in countries that include, among others, Bangladesh, Haiti, Burma, Cameroon, Djibouti, Sudan, Kenya, Nepal, Pakistan, Rwanda, and Uganda.

The 69 deaths per 1,000 live births statistic is from 2009 only; taking a three-year average still yields 18.6 deaths, higher than many Caribbean and Eastern European countries. But here’s the real gut-punch: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 May 2013 at 2:43 pm

Create your own religion

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L. Ron Hubbard did. Joseph Smith did. You can as well—though perhaps for reasons other than those that motivated those. Here is an excerpt from Create Your Own Religion: A How-To Book Without Instructions, by Daniele Bolelli:

A writer, university professor and martial artist and the author of 50 Things You’re Not Supposed to Know: Religion. He is a history professor at Santa Monica College and California State University, Long Beach and is a regular contributor to several magazines both in Italy and in the United States. He lives in Los Angeles.

From Alternet:

The whole notion of creating one’s own religion goes against the claim made by many religions that they alone possess the Only Truth revealed to them by the deity of their choosing. In their eyes, religion is to be followed by human beings, but is never created by them. Countless people have been burned at the stake for simply urging others to challenge religious dogma and question beliefs. While this injunction is no longer followed literally, Jewish scriptures sanction the murder of anyone inviting us to change religious outlook. The Inquisition, which lasted over 600 years, fills the history of Christianity with plenty of mass killings of people whose only crime was holding unconventional opinions in matters of religion. Still today, in some Muslim countries, any Muslim who decides to abandon Islam faces the death penalty for apostasy.

Why such venom and brutality? Because many of those claiming to be speaking for God have little patience for people who want to figure out for themselves what life is about. What is so terrible about it? Because you should not search for what is wise and good. You should listen to what we tell you is wise and good.

In light of these attitudes, it should become clear why a call to “create your own religion” is by its very nature quite radical. But it doesn’t have to be that way. OK, since you are a most pleasant reader, I’ll share a secret with you. Lean toward me so that I may whisper it in your ear. . . . Everyone already creates their own reli­gion. Some people just don’t lie about it.

Did I say something offensive or shocking? It’s a dirty job, but somebody’s got to do it. At the risk of raising the blood pressure of some modern wannabe inquisitors, let’s look at the ugly truth for what it is. Despite their professed devotion to a text or a teacher or a path, even members of established religions don’t observe literally the dictates of their religion of choice. Many believers claim to be strict followers of their traditions, and some actually believe they are. But the reality is that they all are engaged to some degree in a selective reading of their sacred texts, adopting what suits them and rejecting the rest. It’s a simple process, really. Pick up the sacred books of your religion, look for passages supporting your values, and adapt them a little to your liking. Then highlight their importance in the overall balance of the religion, and conveniently forget all those other unsavory passages that either downright contradict your values or support behaviors and attitudes that don’t fit with your inclinations. Rather than having the guts to admit what they are doing and openly defend their right to pick and choose the passages they want to live their lives by, most people prefer hiding under the fable that their particular take on religion is the only correct one. All other people who put the accent on different messages and values contained in the same scriptures, they claim, are heretics who are twisting the essence of the religion. If this strikes you as intellectually dishonest, it’s because it is.

Hey Bolelli, are you really accusing billions of orthodox believers worldwide of being consummate liars? Not necessarily. Some don’t lie consciously. They just happen to be masters at self-delusion, so skilled at lying to themselves that they can do it without ever becom­ing aware of it. Why would they do this? you may ask. Because it would be too scary to take responsibility for choosing which values, among so many, to live by. It’s much more reassuring to go on pre­tending that one’s values are the only true eternal ones that enjoy God’s stamp of approval.

Other believers, on the other hand, don’t lie at all—not even subconsciously. What shields them from facing the contradictions that exist in every religious tradition, including their own, is plain old ignorance. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 May 2013 at 2:39 pm

Posted in Books, Religion

What that feeding tube is delivering to your body

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If you become seriously ill and unable to eat, you will be fed Corn Syrup, Corn Maltodextrin, Sugar (Sucrose), Corn Oil, Sodium & Calcium Caseinates, Soy Protein Isolate and Artificial Flavor, apparently in the belief that this diet works best for people who are ill. It may be, of course, that the fact that it’s very cheap to make and offers high profit margins could also be a factor. April Short reports at AlterNet:

When family nurse practitioner Susan Lavelle learned that a neighbor of hers developed the autoimmune disease systemic sclerosis and couldn’t naturally ingest food last year, she became concerned about the feeding tube formula doctors were recommending. The formula, called Ensure, was full of processed, sugary ingredients.

Ensure is produced by Abbott Nutrition, a company that competes with the multinational conglomerate company, Nestle to produce most of the feeding tube products available.

To give an example of what Ensure is made of, the first six ingredients—i.e. the most highly concentrated ingredients—of 36 items listed [3]in the Ensure “Powder Vanilla” product are, in order:

“Corn Syrup, Corn Maltodextrin, Sugar (Sucrose), Corn Oil, Sodium & Calcium Caseinates, Soy Protein Isolate and Artificial Flavor.”

“[Ensure is] a very traditional way the medical system addresses getting calories into people because they can’t swallow or because they need more calories from some disease problem,” says Lavelle, noting that when she worked in hospitals Ensure was the only feeding tube formula she remembers them using.

She continues, “The problem is it’s loaded with sugar. It’s got refined sugar in it, like corn syrup. It’s got the concentrated milk protein casenite. … It’s processed food. Basically, it’s not real food.”

Nestle and Abbott Nutrition produce a majority of feeding tube formulas on the market, and Lavelle says hospitals and care facilities typically recommend Ensure and similar products to feeding tube patients.

Lavelle is an instructor through the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine’s “Food For Life” program, and an advocate of unprocessed, whole foods as a means of promoting health. She says she has found it discouraging that the medical system addresses most issues from a pharmacological or procedural standpoint, with little-to-no emphasis on lifestyle interventions like nutrition.

“When I talk to people [about health], I start with food because I think it makes the biggest difference and gets to the root of the problem,” she says.

So, when Lavelle’s neighbor was told to drink Ensure, she asked around the medical and nutrition communities in search of a feeding tube formula that was made up of whole, non-processed foods.

“Everyone said, ‘We can’t help you,” she says.

It was not until this year that Lavelle discovered the first ever shelf-stable, organic, whole foods feeding tube formula on the market. It is called Liquid Hope.

The Story of Liquid Hope

Robin Gentry McGee, a health and lifestyle coach and chef, faced a dilemma when her father suffered a brain injury and coma in 2005. The feeding tube food her father was consuming consisted of what McGee calls “essentially sugar water.”

McGee says very early on in her father’s treatment she picked up the feeding tube formula can he was using at the doctor’s recommendation, read the ingredients list, and realized it was “garbage.” She calls it, “the can that changed her life,” adding that to this day she has kept the can as a reminder.

That can began McGee’s search for a clean, whole foods-based formula to feed her father. After scouring the Internet, health food stores, supermarkets, and everywhere else she could think to look, she couldn’t find anything of the sort. So, McGee, then a chef with a background in whole foods nutrition, decided to create the formula herself. . .

Continue reading.

For a comparison, Soylent is on Kickstarter, and here are the ingredients they are planning.

Written by Leisureguy

30 May 2013 at 2:17 pm

The Wealthy Kids Are All Right

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Chuck Collins writes in The American Prospect:

Two 21-year-old college students sit down in a coffee shop to study for an upcoming test. Behind the counter, a barista whips up their double-shot lattes. In the back kitchen, another young adult washes the dishes and empties the trash.

These four young adults have a lot in common. They are the same age and race, each has two parents, and all grew up in the same metropolitan area. They were all strong students in their respective high schools. But as they enter their third decade, their work futures and life trajectories are radically different—and largely determined at this point.

The culprit is the growing role of inherited advantage, as affluent families make investments that give their children a leg up. Combined with the 2008 economic meltdown and budget cuts in public investments that foster opportunity, we are witnessing accelerating advantages for the wealthy and compounding disadvantages for everyone else.

One of the college students, Miranda, will graduate without any student-loan debt and will have completed three summers of unpaid internships at businesses that will advance her career path. Her parents stand ready to subsidize her lodging with a security deposit and co-signed apartment lease and will give her a no-interest loan to buy a car. They also have a network of family and professional contacts that can help her. While she waits for a job with benefits, she will remain on her parents’ health insurance.

Ten years later, Miranda will have a high-paying job, be engaged to another professional, and will buy a home in a neighborhood with other college-educated professionals, a property that will steadily appreciate over time because of its location. The “parental down-payment assistance program” will subsidize the purchase.

The other collegiate, Marcus, will graduate with more than $55,000 in college debt, a maxed-out credit card, and an extensive résumé of part-time food-service jobs that he has taken to pay for school, both during summers and while in college, reducing the hours he can study. Though he will obtain a degree, he will graduate with almost no work experience in his field of study, lose his health insurance, and begin working two part-time jobs to pay back his student loans and to afford rent in a shared apartment.

Ten years later, Marcus will still be working in low-paying jobs and renting an apartment. He will feel occupationally stuck and frustrated in his attempts to network in the area of his degree. He will take on additional debt—to deal with various health and financial problems—and watch his hope of buying a home slip away, in large part because of a credit history damaged during his early twenties.

Tony, the barista, . . .

Continue reading. This is how entrenched aristocracies get established: a gradually pushing away of those without wealth.

Written by Leisureguy

30 May 2013 at 2:09 pm

Posted in Daily life

More evidence that the finance industry owns Obama

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And most of Congress, as well. Teresa Tritch writes in the NY Times:

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has defended financial reform recently, but on closer inspection, the defenses are oddly ambiguous.

Earlier this month, shortly before the House Financial Services committee voted on several bills to gut the derivatives’ reforms in the Dodd-Frank law, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew sent a letter opposing the measures to the committee’s chairman, Jeb Hensarling, Republican of Texas.

There was zero chance that the letter would change any Republican minds. It didn’t even change many Democratic minds, as the bills passed the committee with bipartisan support. As such, the letter was widely understood as a way for the Obama administration to communicate its displeasure with congressional Democrats who might be inclined to support the bills when they are considered by the full House or in the Senate.

Also this month, in an appearance before the Senate Banking Committee, Mr. Lew told the panel that he had pushed back against a group of international financial officials who had been unusually vocal in calling for American regulators to water down proposals to regulate derivatives. The foreign officials, including Michel Barnier, a prominent Commissioner of the European Union, have been incensed by proposals to impose new American derivatives rules on the foreign affiliates of American banks and on foreign banks operating in the United States.

Without robust cross-border application, the new rules will be useless. But then again, when derivatives bets went catastrophically wrong in the financial crisis, it was the Federal Reserve and the American taxpayer that did the heavy bailing of global banks, so why should Mr. Barnier and company feel any urgency to rein in reckless trades that are profitable while they last?

But I digress. At the banking hearing, Mr. Lew said he told the Barnier group “quite directly” that a letter they had sent to him protesting the international derivatives’ proposals was “not a helpful way to promote conversations” with independent regulators.

That’s not exactly, “back off, dude.” And while it’s good to see Mr. Lew, who does not have strong financial reform credentials, speak up, the question is, to what end? Is Mr. Lew pushing for strong rules? Or is he saying just enough to shield the administration from charges that it has generally stood by while the banks watered down reform and, in the process, protected their size, their profits and their too-big-to-fail subsidies?

Mr. Lew’s letter to Mr. Hensarling is hardly a full throated defense of financial reform. He stated that until regulators have been given a chance to write and implement rules, it is “premature” to attempt to repeal or amend Dodd-Frank. He wrote: “We should allow the regulators to complete their ongoing rulemakings, and then determine what changes, if any, might be necessary in certain areas to improve the effectiveness of these reforms.” If I am a Wall Street banker or lobbyist, or a politician who might be interested in doing their bidding, what that says to me is there will be a time and a place to scotch the rules, just not now, when circumventing the process could be seen to reflect the administration’s lack of political will to rein in the banks.

Also at the banking hearing, Mr. Lew said that . . .

Continue reading. This is exactly what was expect of Jack Lew and, presumably, why Obama selected him.

Written by Leisureguy

30 May 2013 at 1:54 pm

A closer look at Jay Sekulow

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I blogged earlier about this guy, linking to a Pam Martens article, and now Pam is taking a closer look:

Jay Sekulow is all about freedom and liberty – for some.

He’s not a fan of a woman’s right to the control of her own body. He’s been a major litigator on behalf of abortion protesters’ rights.

He’s a big proponent of religious freedom — for some. His nonprofit filed a lawsuit to stop the ground zero mosque.

In the last two weeks, he’s been on a whirlwind of television interviews railing against the oppression of the IRS stalling the rights of his clients to get their organizations registered as tax-exempt nonprofits – some of which were political organizations with clearly no right to get registered. His clients are Tea Party groups, whose mottoes invariably include the words liberty and freedom.

And now it turns out, this is the same man who helped John Ashcroft write the USA Patriot Act, despised by right and left alike as a malignancy on liberty and freedom.

In Hans J. Hacker’s 2005 book, The Culture of Conservative Christian Litigation, Hacker writes: “When interviewed in September 2004 for this project, Sekulow noted that he worked on the USA Patriot Act from ‘concept to completion.’ ”

In an August 20, 2011 radio interview with Rick Wiles on Trunews, Jordan Sekulow, the son of Jay Sekulow and an executive in his sprawling nonprofit empire, expanded further on his father’s involvement in the writing of the notoriously anti-civil-rights legislation:

“We supported the Patriot Act…we helped write the Patriot Act…we were working with Attorney General Ashcroft when we wrote it. We were responding to 9/11 attacks; we had the technology to get things done.”

What does that even mean – “we had the technology to get things done.”

As we reported yesterday, since 2006, John Ashcroft has been the recipient of $2.3 million from the Law and Justice Institute, a nonprofit created by Jay Sekulow, which for most of its life seems to have had little purpose other than to funnel money to John Ashcroft. (We sent an email to John Ashcroft asking for clarification and received the response yesterday from his spokesperson: “No comment.”)Ashcroft stepped down as U.S. Attorney General under George W. Bush in 2005 and started his own consulting and lobbying firm, Ashcroft Group LLC. In 2006, the Washington Post reported that his firm had 30 clients, a third of which he would not disclose, with many involved in selling products or technology for homeland security. At that point, the Office of Management and Budget was expecting Federal spending on homeland security to reach $60 billion by the following year. The Ashcroft Group told the Post that it had taken ownership stakes in eight of its clients. Since 2005, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, the Ashcroft Group has received over $5 million in lobbying fees.

Ashcroft also sits on the Board of Academi, the company previously known as Blackwater, the private military firm which has come under fire for the killing of civilians while working for the U.S. government in Iraq.

The two major nonprofits that provide income to Jay Sekulow and his family are the Christian Advocates Serving Evangelism (CASE) and the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ). CASE states on its IRS tax filing that its mission is “the ideal that religious freedom and freedom of speech are inalienable, God given rights…” ACLJ tells the IRS its mission is “ensuring the ongoing viability of freedom and liberty in the U.S.”

How do those goals intersect with writing the USA Patriot Act? In addition to filing lawsuits framed as constitutional arguments, Jay Sekulow spends an enormous amount of time as an advocate for Israel and its security interests. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 May 2013 at 1:44 pm

One Way Obamacare May Already Be Working

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Ezra Klein writes at Bloomberg:

There was a time when all anyone in Washington wanted to talk about was “bending the health-care cost curve.” Forget covering the uninsured — the ultimate test of the Affordable Care Act would be the trajectory of health-care costs.

But Washington has a short memory. That whole “curve” thing was years ago. Meanwhile, we’ve turned our attention to other things, like “Fast & Furious 6.” Yet quietly, the cost curve has begun to bend.

“National health spending grew by 3.9 percent each year from 2009 to 2011, the lowest rate of growth since the federal government began keeping such statistics in 1960,” reports the Kaiser Family Foundation. Early data suggest that the numbers held into 2012. So the curve hasn’t just bent; it has bent more than ever.

In a new paper, Harvard University scholars David Cutler and Nikhil Sahni calculate that if those numbers hold over the next decade, the government will save up to $770 billion, employers will save up to $430 annually on each covered worker and households will spend up to $290 less on annual health costs. “Slow health care spending growth might thus bring much-needed relief throughout the economy,” they write.

Ah, that pesky “might.” Here’s the catch: The curve is bending, but we don’t really know why, and we don’t know if it’ll stay bent.

Recession Argument

The pessimistic case goes something like this: You may not have noticed, Mr. Health Wonk Guy, but the economy has been in the pits since 2008. When the economy craters, people spend less on stuff. One thing they spend less on is health care. We haven’t bent the health-spending curve down so much as we’ve bent the unemployment curve up. As the economy recovers, so too will health spending — and it might even accelerate as people seek care they’ve put off over the past few years.

The pessimistic case was conventional wisdom in 2011 when people first began noticing the downward trend in health spending. That argument began to weaken as more data streamed in through 2012. Today, few health experts really buy it. There’s no doubt that the recession hit the health-care sector. The Kaiser Family Foundation and the Center for Sustainable Health Spending at the Altarum Institute credit the bad economy for three-quarters of the slowdown in health spending. Cutler and Sahni say it explains only 37 percent. Today, most everyone agrees that there’s more to the slowdown then just a bad economy.

For one thing, health costs began slowing in 2005 or so. Attributing everything after that to the recession doesn’t quite fit the data. Is there really a good reason, for instance, that the recession would lead to a sharp drop in Medicare spending? After all, seniors aren’t getting Medicare through their jobs, and there’s relatively little cost-sharing in the program. Medicare’s famously conservative actuaries are convinced that something deeper is changing. They now project that Medicare spending per person will grow substantially more slowly than the economy in the coming decade.

The health system, the optimists say, is adapting. The portion of workers with high-deductible plans has increased by 24 percent since 2006. We’ve begun implementing the Affordable Care Act’s Medicare cuts, with no evident ill effects. Once-expensive drugs have lost their patents and moved into the lower-priced generic market. Medicare’s hospital readmission rates fell by more than 5 percent from 2007 to 2010, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that central-line (catheter) infections declined by more than 40 percent from 2008 to 2011. The recession doesn’t explain any of this.

Convincing Case

Does the Affordable Care Act deserve any of the credit? There are two answers: The first is “maybe a bit.” The second, “who cares?”

The case for the Affordable Care Act’s influence is convincing but limited. The strongest evidence is those declines in readmissions and central-line infections. Obamacare cuts payments to hospitals with high rates of either. Voila! All of a sudden hospitals have fewer instances of both. “That the readmissions rate and infections are falling is probably more than coincidentally tied to the fact that Medicare is now penalizing hospitals for them,” Cutler said.

The law might be playing a significant role merely by signaling that big changes are under way in how the government pays for health care. Getting paid more for doing more is out. Getting paid more for improving the health of your patients is in. Hospitals and other providers are adapting to the new regime with changes that are producing systemwide savings. . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 May 2013 at 1:29 pm

Who gets the biggest tax breaks, in six charts

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If you like charts, here are some good ones.

UPDATE: Link fixed.

Written by Leisureguy

30 May 2013 at 12:52 pm

Posted in Government

Paul Volcker interviewed

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Very interesting interview in the Washington Post, with Neil Irwin asking the questions:

Paul Volcker has spent a lifetime as a public servant, helping guide U.S. economic policy during the Kennedy and Obama administrations and quite a few in between. Now he wants to make public administration in the United States stronger, with a new group aimed at strengthening the quality of American governance called the Volcker Alliance. The former Federal Reserve chairman discussed his new project, and talked a bit of economics, on Wednesday afternoon. Here is a transcript, lightly edited for length and clarity.

Neil Irwin: What do you see as the hole that you’re trying to fill with the new group? Lots of public administration schools and think tanks pay attention to governance.

Paul Volcker: In a way that is part of the problem. Those schools are not as strong as one would like to see them. Public administration has not been in fashion for decades.  Many schools have turned to what they call policy. Everybody likes to talk about big issues of war and peace and how we take care of poor people and what we do about other social problems in the United States or elsewhere.

They do all this talking but they too seldom know how to implement what they’re talking about. I ran into a wonderful quotation from Thomas Edison. He said vision without execution is a hallucination. We have too many hallucinations and not enough execution.

The pattern in the big universities and the prestigious universities is this: They start with good intentions, but they don’t have priority within the universities. They end up — I’ll say politely that they don’t get the attention they should get, nor do they have the confidence to know what they’re teaching. This is a profession that needs shaking by the neck. One of the things some of the schools may not like what I’m about to say is that there’s no real consensus on what a degree in public administration means. What is the content of the curriculum you have been taught? Is it rigorous enough? I think the answer often is that it is not rigorous enough. They do not have statistics analysis, how statistics should be used and abused. What insights can other management techniques of quality control or other matters relevant to CEOs have for public administration? Should there be more on-the-job training, more internships? These are issues that should be explored.

That’s the kind of thing that runs across the gamut. In the bank regulatory area, we have five or six agencies bumping into each other not very constructively. There are similar problems elsewhere. There are big issues of recruitment and management. The federal government is really bad at recruitment. We’re talking about state and local administrations too. One reason I want the thing to be in New York and not Washington is I don’t want it to just be federal. Everybody wants to talk about infrastructure, but do we know how to spend money efficiently and effectively?

We’re going to be a small organization, not a think tank with 30 or 40 people. We will try to be a catalyst. We’ll try to get schools and other organizations together to work together to find solutions

Do you think the idea of public service is viewed differently today than when you were coming of age?

There is no doubt that since around the end of the 19th century, when there were similar problems of big business and corruption in state and local government, into World War I and the 1920s, and even into the ’30s, good government was a thing to talk about. That’s when all these schools of public administration were created. There was a feeling that this can’t be hit or miss. We’ve got to get education about public administration, get reforms made. And reforms were made. It culminated in reform of the federal government in the 1930s. The current administrative structure of government was set in the 1930s, and since then it’s been been hit or miss.

Presidents used to have reorganization authority. He doesn’t have it any more. Should he have it, what should it contain, what should be the limits? We will bring people together to explore those types of questions.

You mention as an area of priority state and municipal government, particularly around budgeting and transparency. What is going wrong in those areas now that you hope to affect? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 May 2013 at 12:50 pm

Posted in Government

Extremely good looking chair, homemade

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More information here, including illustrations on how you do it and sources of complete instruction.

Written by Leisureguy

30 May 2013 at 12:46 pm

Posted in Daily life

The Danger in Our Water Supply

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Bridget Huber reports in The American Prospect:

This investigation was conducted by FairWarning ( a Los Angeles-based nonprofit investigative news organization focused on public health and safety issues.

As factory farms take over more and more of the nation’s livestock production, a major environmental threat has emerged: Pollution from the waste produced by the immense crush of animals.

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that America’s livestock create three times as much excreta as the human population. By the agency’s reckoning, a dairy farm with 2,500 cows—which is large, but not exceptional—can generate as much waste as the people in a city the size of Miami.

Yet unlike human waste, which often receives sophisticated treatment, animal waste commonly goes untreated. It is typically held in underground pits or vast manure lagoons, and then spread on cropland as fertilizer. It’s been this way for decades, but worries have grown along with the number and size of factory farms. When storms strike, the overflows can be huge, like a 1995 North Carolina swine manure spill that sent 25 million gallons of waste into a river. Just last month, a Minnesota dairy farm spilled up to 1 million gallons of manure, fouling two nearby trout streams. More routinely, as the U.S. Department of Agriculture has reported, large farms generate more manure than they can handle, so they spread too much on nearby fields. From there, the material—which the EPA says often contains hormones, pathogens and toxic metals—can run off and contaminate streams, rivers, and wells.

Under the Clean Water Act, industrial operations like factories and sewage treatment plants that discharge waste through pipes are considered “point sources” of pollution. They are required to get a permit that sets limits on pollution and, in many cases, imposes a water-testing regime.

For massive livestock farms—what the government calls concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs—it’s a different story. Although they also are defined under the law as point sources, federal court rulings have frustrated the EPA’s efforts to regulate them. Only 45 percent of the nation’s CAFOs have discharge permits, even though the EPA estimates 75 percent of them are polluting. And even when CAFOs get permits, critics say, their performance in controlling pollution is hard to track and their permit restrictions are tough to enforce.

EPA officials, who declined to be interviewed for this story, have long worried about pollution problems from CAFOs and say they have stepped up enforcement in recent years. But the agency’s plans to regulate more large livestock farms were shot down twice by federal courts over the last decade. Then last July—amid continuing industry opposition and while regulation was a sensitive topic during the presidential campaignthe agency quietly withdrew a proposal to collect information from large livestock farms. The result is that the EPA remains largely in the dark about such basic facts as which operations are potentially the biggest polluters and where they are located.

“It’s basically the Wild West out there when it comes to CAFOs,” says Scott Edwards, an attorney for the advocacy group Food and Water Watch.

But industry groups say those who call for tighter regulation rely on outdated data and ignore evidence of the progress large livestock farms have made through improved technology and farming practices.

Michael Formica, chief environmental counsel for the National Pork Producers Council, says most of the waste in newer swine farms goes into deep pits that aren’t vulnerable to overflow the way manure lagoons are. He added that few farms endanger waterways by applying too much manure on fields. “The value of the nutrients in the manure is worth way too much for people not to want to harness it and utilize it.”

Jamie Jonker, vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs for the National Milk Producers Federation, says, “Dairy farms of all sizes strive to be as environmentally friendly as possible.”

The Nose-Burning Smell

Federal estimates vary, but the EPA believes there now are 20,000 large U.S. farms that qualify as CAFOs. That would be up more than fivefold since 1982, when

Continue reading.

If you’re wondering about whether those businesses are concerned about their impact on public health: No, they do not care in the slightest. They simply want to keep costs as low as possible, and anything that increases costs will be fought tooth and nail and cost-increasing regulations ignored when possible—and in fact ignored always if the fine for noncompliance is less than the cost of compliance.

Corporations, as persons, are sociopaths, pure and simple.

Written by Leisureguy

30 May 2013 at 12:35 pm

Same animation magic again, with Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto 4

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Once again via Open Culture, where you can find the other two movements:

Written by Leisureguy

30 May 2013 at 12:29 pm

Posted in Music, Video

Cleaning up OS X Mail auto-completion of addresses

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I didn’t know this. Very helpful. If you don’t want to click: Go to Mail > Window > Previous Recipients and delete what you don’t want.

Written by Leisureguy

30 May 2013 at 12:25 pm

Posted in Daily life, Software

The first US anti-Nazi film, suppressed at the time

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Fascinating bit of history, but of course many in the US strongly favored Hitler and the Nazi party, Charles Lindbergh notoriously among them. Emily Greenhouse writes in the New Yorker:

In the early nineteen-hundreds, Cornelius Vanderbilt IV, the great-great-grandson of the railroad and steamship tycoon, saw the heirs and heiresses he lived among as “dull, uninteresting, hopelessly mediocre people.” Seeking excitement, Vanderbilt enlisted in the First World War (supposedly he became a driver when a general asked if any of his men could handle a Rolls Royce); once discharged, he decided to try to hack it as a newsman. With the advantage of money, Vanderbilt could afford film equipment in a time when cameras were still a luxury; with the advantage of name, he got to places most reporters couldn’t go. Vanderbilt toured Europe with two French cameramen, and managed to interview the day’s notorious newsmakers, including Benito Mussolini and Josef Stalin. But the plutocrat-cum-journalist set his sights on a man even more dangerous. When he had a chance to sit down with the former Crown Prince of Germany, in Berlin, he asked, “Strange, isn’t it, that you Hohenzollerns are so much easier to see than Hitler?”

On March 5, 1933, the day elections gave the Nazis a parliamentary plurality, a triumphant Adolf Hitler addressed a hysterical crowd at the Sports Palace in Berlin. From the wings of the stage, Vanderbilt managed a brief audience with the new Reich Chancellor. According to Vanderbilt’s account, he introduced himself, in German, and then Hitler, with a motion to the throngs that awaited, began speaking: “Tell the Americans that life moves forward, always forward, irrevocably forward. Tell them that Adolf Hitler is the man of the hour, not because he has been appointed Chancellor by Hindenburg but because no one else could have been appointed Chancellor instead. Tell them that he was sent by the Almighty to a nation that had been threatened with disintegration and loss of honor for fifteen long years.” Vanderbilt, an all-American blue blood, risked a final question. He shouted, “And what about the Jews, Your Excellency?” Hitler brushed it off—“My people are waiting for me!”—and pointed Vanderbilt toward Dr. Ernst Hanfstaengl, his Harvard-educated (and Anglo-acclimated) foreign press chief. “He will tell you about the Jews and all the other things that seem to bother America.” Hanfstaengl proved mostly interested in Vanderbilt’s money.

Two and a half weeks later, Vanderbilt set sail for New York, carrying footage he had taken of Jewish refugees fleeing for their lives. Buzz built of a Vanderbilt “scoop”;Motion Picture Daily anticipated that “the Hitler storm will gather when Cornelius Vanderbilt’s picture of Nazi oppression of the Jews is released in this country.” In the following months, Vanderbilt hired Mike Mindlin, who’d just wrapped up a sexploitation film, as director, and a well-known NBC newsman named Edwin C. Hill as narrator, commentator, and interviewer. Vanderbilt played himself, a courageous young reporter. “At last, before your very eyes,” the trailers declared, “uncensored scenes of Hitler’s reign of terror! Ripping aside the curtain on history’s most shocking episode and exposing the Nazi menace in America!”

The film by Cornelius Vanderbilt, Jr. (as his name read in the credits), ”Hitler’s Reign of Terror,” premièred at the independent Mayfair theatre on Broadway on April 30, 1934, and garnered the biggest single opening day in the house’s history. . .

Continue reading. Video at the link.

Written by Leisureguy

30 May 2013 at 12:22 pm

Posted in Government, Video

The morning shave, with turmeric

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SOTD 30 May 2013

I’ve used Vicco before, and this time instead of smearing a little on my beard (the shaving cream is a little runny), I squirted a little onto the knot of my (wet and shaken) Rooney Style 1, Size 1 Super Silvertip. I got a good lather, albeit a little too foamy. Turmeric (or some other ingredient) makes the skin feel refreshed and tingling as you shave—not the effect of menthol, but in that ballpark. The tube is odd: about the diameter of a travel tube of toothpaste, but longer.

The iKon holds a Personna 74 tungsten-steel blade, and I got an excellent shave. This iKon is Model No. 3, and it’s still one of my favorite razors: comfortable and efficient.

With a turmeric shave, I am almost forced to use a spice aftershave, and it seemed a good time to hit the Royall Spyce again.

Written by Leisureguy

30 May 2013 at 12:08 pm

Posted in Shaving

Another amazing graph: Cigarettes smoked in movies and TV shows

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What happened in 1999? Here’s the answer.

Written by Leisureguy

29 May 2013 at 2:02 pm

Benghazi talking-points villain: David Petraeus

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No real surprise: Petraeus is highly conscious of publicity and focuses a lot on managing media relations. Kevin Drum notes:

After reading through the Benghazi “talking points” emails and doing some additional reporting, Scott Wilson and Karen DeYoung confirm what’s been pretty obvious for a while now. The House committee that originally asked for the talking points wanted only some basic facts so that no one would mistakenly disclose classified information to the press, but CIA Director David Petraeus—“a master of the craft of media cultivation”—understood the reputational stakes immediately and acted accordingly:

A close reading of recently released government e-mails that were sent during the editing process, and interviews with senior officials from several government agencies, reveal Petraeus’s early role and ambitions in going well beyond the committee’s request, apparently to produce a set of talking points favorable to his image and his agency.

The information Petraeus ordered up when he returned to his Langley office that morning included far more than the minimalist version that Ruppersberger had requested. It included early classified intelligence assessments of who might be responsible for the attack and an account of prior CIA warnings — information that put Petraeus at odds with the State Department, the FBI and senior officials within his own agency.

This was especially galling to the other participants in the review process because (a) the Benghazi annex was a CIA installation and CIA was responsible for its security, (b) the talking points were supposed to be limited to what we knew about the attack, and (c) the whole point of producing the talking points was to avoid endangering the investigation by revealing classified information about suspects and methods.

In the end, as Wilson and Young point out, “The only government entity that did not object to the detailed talking points produced with Petraeus’s input was the White House, which played the role of mediator in the bureaucratic fight that at various points included the CIA’s top lawyer and the agency’s deputy director expressing opposition to what the director wanted.” This entire controversy has been much ado about nothing from the beginning, but if you absolutely insist on singling out a villain, the choice is now pretty obvious. David Petraeus was the Machiavellian manipulator of the narrative here, not Barack Obama.

Written by Leisureguy

29 May 2013 at 1:55 pm

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