Later On

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

Archive for May 6th, 2013

Obama’s broken promise in action

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Obama, and for that matter Eric Holder as well, promised that the Federal government would not prosecute medical marijuana provided the use was in accordance with state laws. It turns out to be a lie, pure and simple, and I’m sory of angry he gets away with such blatant misbehavior, particularly when he holds others to a high standard. (I understand that this is only one of an entire series of broken promises: not to vote in favor of telecom immunity, to have an open and transparent administration, to close Guantánamo—and while he never promised not to persecute whistleblowers to the ends of the earth, I think that would fall under “transparent administration.”)

At any rate Nicole Flatow in ThinkProgess discusses the latest overtly broken promise:

In several West Coast cities, federal officials are initiating a new round of crackdowns against dispensaries that are seemingly complying with state medical marijuana law. In Seattle, 11 dispensaries received shutdown warnings. In San Francisco, almost half of the city’s small number of state-licensed dispensaries received similar warnings. And in neighboring cities like San Jose, several others were warned.

The cease-and-desist letters from the Drug Enforcement Administration warn harsh federal punishment, including as much as 40 years in jail even for landlords that rent to marijuana dispensaries. They also warn that they if properties do not cease marijuana activity within 30 days, the agency will pursue what’s known as civil forfeiture, in which the federal government threatens to seize the facility and other assets if the marijuana business continues. For those who are renting space, this means the landlord is effectively asked to evict its marijuana tenant — a process that has proved difficult, as state and federal courts handling eviction proceedings resist this federal intervention.

This is not the first round of crackdowns in any of these cities, which have forced shutdowns ofdispensaries considered “models” in their community, or festered in prolonged legal battles. But these crackdowns are particularly symbolic, because they come en masse, in the wake of ballot initiatives in November to legalize and regulate recreational marijuana in two states, and because they are being executed post-sequester, even as prominent law enforcement officials like Attorney General Eric Holder have warned that the blunt cuts threaten public safety. Polls since the November ballot initiatives found that a majority of Americans now support marijuana legalization, and that an even greater percentage think the states should decide whether marijuana is legal.

DEA spokeswoman Jodie Underwood said the letters went out to those who were within 1,000 feet of a school or other prohibited area. She said because the feds can’t go after all dispensaries, they target those that are closer to sensitive areas as a means of enforcing federal drug law. “DEA enforces federal drug laws, and these letters have nothing to do with any pending legislation or state law,“ Underwood told the Seattle Times. “As we continue to identify locations, additional letters will be sent out.”

And while the crackdowns have focused on those alleged to be less than 1,000 feet from prohibited areas, dispensary owners say it’s almost impossible to keep within that distance in dense city settings. Even those who have been meticulous about measuring the distance and cited their facilities right outside of the 1,000-feet limit say they were targeted this week.

Particularly noteworthy is that in spite of San Francisco’s size and culture, the city now hosts only about 15 permitted medical marijuana dispensaries that have been deemed in compliance with state and local law (some others closed during earlier rounds of crackdowns). Compare that to Seattle and San Jose, which both have more than 100. Los Angeles has several hundred. Out of San Francisco’s 15 dispensaries, seven received letters this week — a move that could have the effect of eviscerating the local industry of regulated dispensaries. While an official White House policy on Washington and Colorado’s recreational marijuana laws is still pending, the DEA’s current approach suggests that even state law-abiding recreational dispensaries may be subject to the same type of crackdown, in the absence of federal legislation to exempt those states.

I have to say, this is fucked up.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 May 2013 at 2:26 pm

I’m a cooking fool

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Some shopping, and 3 lbs chicken thighs sitting in Shari’s chicken marinade for the day, 84 oz of pepper sauce already made and bottled (in addition to 2 cans of chipotles in adobo, 40 red jalapeños (so Safeway claims), a dozen habeneros, 6 Serrano peppers, 8 dried chipotles, 3 dried anchos, white vinegar to cover and 1/3 c sea salt, I add fish sauce and olive oil), roasted one pork roast on sale at 50% off from the discounted Safeway Club price (couldn’t resist: roasted it to be used later), another gallon of white tea made, 1 large bunch red dandelion greens and a large bunch of red kale to be steamed (then sautéeed as before), a pot of rice cooking for tonight’s kedgeree, and salmon still be to poached.

I’m using Jamie Oliver’s Kedgeree recipe (UPDATE: I’ve revised the recipe for US readers.)

Kedgeree

2 large free-range eggs
1.5 lbs undyed smoked haddock fillets, from sustainable sources, ask your fishmonger, pin-boned
2 fresh bay leaves
3/4 c long grain or basmati rice
sea salt
1 knob pure butterghee [I’m using butter, myself. – LG]
1 thumb-sized piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1 medium onion, or 1 bunch of spring onions, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped
2 heaped tablespoons curry powder
1 tablespoon mustard seeds
2 tomatoes, deseeded and chopped
juice of 2 lemons
2 good handfuls fresh cilantro, leaves picked and chopped
1 fresh red chilli, finely chopped
1 small pot fat-free natural yoghurt

Boil the eggs for 10 minutes, then hold under cold running water.

Put the fish and bay leaves in a shallow pan with enough water to cover. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer for about 5 minutes, until cooked through. Remove from pan and leave to cool. Remove the skin from fish, flake into chunks and set aside.

Cook the rice in salted water for about 10 minutes and drain. Refresh in cold water, drain again, and leave in the fridge until needed. [I went ahead and cooked the rice until done: 20 min. – LG]

Melt the butterghee in a pan over a low heat. Add the ginger, onion and garlic. Soften for about 5 minutes, then add the curry powder and mustard seeds. Cook for a further few minutes, then add the chopped tomatoes and lemon juice.

Quarter the eggs. Add the fish and rice to a pan and gently heat through. Add the eggs, most of the cilantro and the chilli and stir gently. Place in a warm serving dish. Mix the rest of the cilantro into the yoghurt and serve with the kedgeree.

He never adds the butter, onion, garlic, curry powder, tomato, lemon juice mixture to the rice and fish, but I did, stirring it in to mix well.

He points out that you can substitute tuna, salmon, etc., for the smoked haddock. Indeed, regular haddock would be nice.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 May 2013 at 2:25 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food, Recipes

4 Big Pushers of War in Iraq Now Gunning for Intervention in Syria — Consequences be Damned!

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I mentioned that the Usual Suspects were beating the drums for another war, since our recent wars have done so much good. Alex Kane at AlterNet calls out a few:

The news from Syria over the past week has been dizzying. But if you can keep your head on straight you’ll recognize an uptick in strident calls for American intervention in Syria, though it remains unlikely the Obama administration will commit to full-scale war.

Over the weekend, the Israeli air force reportedly bombed Syrian military installations in Damascus [3], a move that marked the most significant and direct international intervention yet in a civil war that has turned into a proxy battle between regional forces. The Israeli strike over the weekend followed another Israeli attack last week that was reportedly meant to prevent Iranian weapons from being transferred through Syria to the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, a bitter enemy of the Jewish state. The Israeli attacks come over two years into the grinding Syrian conflict, which started as part of the wave of Arab uprisings but has transformed into an armed civil war that has taken the lives of tens of thousands of people.

The Israeli strikes have been hailed by war hawks as proof that the U.S. and Western allies can easily pummel the Syrian regime to the ground and pave the way for a rebel victory. Calls for intervention have been ratcheting up since Israel, Britain, France and finally the U.S. concluded that there had been chemical weapons use by the Assad regime–a “red line” the Obama administration has warned Syria not to cross. But the chemical weapons use claims were muddied up yesterday when a UN investigator said [4] that it may have been the Syrian rebels that used sarin gas–not the Assad regime. If the UN investigator is right–and there’s no guarantee of that–it should complicate the calls for the U.S. to directly arm the rebels. But considering their track record, proponents for more intervention can’t be stopped by much.

Since the news broke of chemical weapons use, war hawks and their allies in the U.S. have taken to the airwaves and Op-Ed pages to push for U.S. intervention. What’s missing from their analysis is recognition that U.S. intervention to depose Assad would lead to a power vacuum with unknown consequences; that the U.S. would become a target for those opposed to the West, including among the rebel groups; that America has a poor track record of intervening in the Middle East; and that the vast majority of Americans have no desire to get embroiled in another war. Also not on the table: a serious attempt to negotiate, with all international powers, an agreement to end the fighting and begin a transition in Syria. While that won’t be easy, the U.S. and allies have stymied chances of that in the past.

Still, the Obama administration has been cautious. While the “red line” remark was ill-advised, the administration has not rushed into fully diving into the Syrian conflict, although they have helped militarize the civil war by facilitating weapons transfers [5] to Syrian rebels via the CIA.

Here are 4 pundits and politicians calling for more intervention in Syria–consequences be damned.

1. Bill Keller

The New York Times’ former executive editor and current Op-Ed contributor hasn’t learned the lessons from Iraq. Keller was a big-time pusher of the Iraq War, and has since repented. But now he’s calling for more American involvement in Syria.

In an Op-Ed in the Times today, [6] Keller writes that the U.S. debacle in Iraq should not prevent more action on Syria. “In Syria,” he writes, “I fear prudence has become fatalism, and our caution has been the father of missed opportunities, diminished credibility and enlarged tragedy.” So what’s to be done, according to Keller? “The United States moves to assert control of the arming and training of rebels”– the same rebels that are increasingly radical, as the New York Times itself reported [7].

Keller adds that if Assad refuses to end his “campaign of terror,” the U.S. should “send missiles against his military installations until he, or more likely those around him, calculate that they should sue for peace.”

Missing from Keller’s take are important points articulated by former State Department official Wayne White writing in LobeLog [8]: U.S. intervention will not stop post-Assad Syria from being riven by continued instability and violence, particularly if Al Qaeda-affiliated extremists continue to play a role in the rebel forces. Additionally, White notes: “Making matters worse, seething sectarian divides — with the very real danger of Sunni vengeance resulting in further bloodletting and possibly the flight from Syria of several million Alawite and Christian refugees — threatens to stain the aftermath quite darkly.”

2. John McCain

Another lead pusher of the Iraq War, the Senator from Arizona has been consistently calling for more U.S. intervention in Syria. The news of chemical weapons use has put McCain’s war calls on overdrive.

Appearing on “Fox News Sunday,” [9]McCain said that the U.S. could disable Syrian air defenses “with cruise missiles; cratering their runways, where all of these supplies, by the way, from Iran and Russia are coming in by air.” McCain also thinks a small contingent of U.S. troops could secure [10] Syria’s chemical weapons. But the Pentagon has estimated that it will take 75,000 American soldiers on the ground to secure the chemical weapons stockpiles in Syria.

3. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 May 2013 at 1:22 pm

You’ve seen “Moby Dick” the movie; now play “Moby Dick” the card game

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Very cool.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 May 2013 at 1:17 pm

Posted in Books, Games

Marcy Wheeler asks excellent question: “Why is Obama withholding secret torture report from Americans?”

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Good question. Of course, Obama is obsessively secretive (“open and transparent” be damned), as is shown by his record-setting vendetta against whistleblowers—in some cases, gratuitously vindictive and vicious.

Marcy Wheeler asked the question in Salon, by writing:

Much of what you’ve been told (or seen in movies) about George W. Bush’s supposedly effective torture program is false and overhyped. At least, that’s one of the conclusions of the 6,000-page review of the program the Senate Intelligence Committee completed last year.

Yet, right now, President Obama is preventing you from learning any of this, by keeping the report classified.

Before the end of the Bush Administration, Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV)—then the Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee—started investigating the torture program. When Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) took over as Chair of the Committee in 2009, she intensified the investigation and negotiated with the CIA to get access to its files. After almost four more years of work and reviewing 6 million pages of documents, the Committee voted out the report in December on a mostly party line vote.

As you may recall from the debate around the film “Zero Dark Thirty debate,” Senators Feinstein, Carl Levin (D-MI), and John McCain (R-AZ) have said the report shows thattorture didn’t produce the intelligence that led us to finding Osama bin Laden. According to reports, it shows that torture didn’t produce much useful information. While discussing the report, Jay Rockefeller described the torture program this way:

[T]he people who ran it were ignorant of the topic, [it was] executed by personnel without relevant experience, managed incompetently by senior officials who did not pay attention to crucial details, and corrupted by personnel and pecuniary conflicts of interest. It was sold to the policymakers and lawyers of the White House, the Department of Justice, and Congress, with grossly-inflated claims of professionalism and effectiveness, so-called lives saved.

In short, the report rebuts claims that torture worked—and specifically the claim made by torture boosters from Dick Cheney to former Counterterrorism Center head Jose Rodriguez that it helped to find Osama bin Laden.

Accounts of the reports’ findings are not limited to whether torture worked. According to Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), the it shows “the CIA repeatedly provided inaccurate information about its interrogation program to the White House, the Justice Department, and Congress.”

The finding that the CIA lied about its covert activities to everyone tasked with overseeing them ought to raise concerns going forward, whether or not the CIA ever conducts an interrogation again, because it suggests our intelligence oversight system is broken. Yet the report remains classified and torture boosters keep making expansive claims that, Senate Democrats insist, the report rebuts. While Senator Feinstein has always made clear that CIA is not the only agency that will decide whether to release the report, that’s where the focus has been.

Originally, the CIA was due to respond to the report on February 15. John Brennan’s nomination to head the CIA in February—and his failure to review the report before the confirmation process—provided an excuse to delay that date.

The delay to allow Brennan to read the report has been extended indefinitely. When Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) asked Brennan when the report would be released on April 11, Brennan did not answer; instead, he assured Schakowsky he would thoroughly report to Senators Feinstein and Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) “things that I might think that the — the committee may have — the committee’s report might not accurately represent.” Recently, Senator Mark Udall (D-CO) claimed, “Director Brennan and his staff have shown little to no interest in engaging collaboratively and constructively with the Committee on a path forward on the Committee’s Study.”

Rather than when the report would be reviewed, then, Brennan’s stalling has shifted the discussion to what CIA—the same Agency accused of misrepresenting torture to Congress and others—will demand gets changed, and now a lack of engagement on the report generally. And the focus on whether or not Brennan would agree to the torture report’s release really just distracts from the person who really gets to decide whether to release the report or not: the President.

As Vice President Joe Biden hinted last weekend —when agreeing with John McCain the report should be released—this is an issue being debated in the White House, not just Langley. “The internal debate that goes on in the Congress and in the White House is, do we go back and do we expose it? Do we lay out who was responsible and how we got to where we are?”

It may well be, for all the evidence the report apparently presents about CIA providing inaccurate information about the program even to the White House, that the White House is shielding the institutions of the White House and the Presidency.

Consider, for example, how the Bush White House unusually intervened to keep the torture program secret. According to a court document submitted by then CIA Director Leon Panetta in 2009, his predecessor at CIA, George Tenet, wasn’t the person who made the torture program a “Special Access Program” with sharply limited access, which is how it would normally work. Unnamed officials in the National Security Council did:

Officials at the National Security Council, (NSC) determined that in light of the extraordinary circumstances affecting the vital interests of the United States and the sensitivity of the activities contemplated in the CIA terrorist detention and interrogation program, it was essential to limit access to the information in the program. NSC officials established a special access program governing access to information relating to the CIA terrorist detention and interrogation program.

The Bush-era Executive Order governing classification and the current one both require Presidential authorization for someone besides one of several Agency heads—in the case of the torture program, Tenet—to make a special access program. Thus, as the Federation of American Scientist’s Steven Aftergood notes, “if the NSC established a special access program, as Panetta said, then it must have been authorized by the President himself. In effect, the President established the special access program.” The former Director of the office that oversees classified information, Bill Leonard, agrees. “If it wasn’t one of those [Agency heads] who established the SAP in question, there would have to be an authorization from the President authorizing that official to establish a SAP.”

While the CIA appears to be the entity stalling on the torture report, according to Panetta, the White House ultimately created and owns the program.

It’s not just Bush’s NSC that has taken extraordinary measures to keep the torture program secret. While Barack Obama’s Administration has already permitted the declassification of a great deal of information on the torture program, in fall 2009 Obama went to the almost unprecedented step of having his National Security Advisor—at the time, retired General Jim Jones—submit a declaration in the American Civil Liberties Union’s Freedom of Information lawsuit seeking release of documents pertaining to the torture program. It did so to hide the role of the White House in torture.

The judge in the suit, Alvin Hellerstein, believed that a short phrase describing “the source of CIA’s authority” to conduct torture had been incorrectly redacted by the Administration. Jones’ declaration, which remains sealed and unrecorded on the docket, apparently argued that phrase couldn’t be released. . .

Continue reading. Obama is a serious problem with nice edges.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 May 2013 at 1:09 pm

Higher proportion of unemployed young men in the US than in the EU

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Screen Shot 2013-05-04 at 11.03.47 AM

David Leonhardt reports in the NY Times:

THE idle young European, stranded without work by the Continent’s dysfunction, is one of the global economy’s stock characters. Yet it might be time to add another, even more common protagonist: the idle young American.

For all of Europe’s troubles — a left-right combination of sclerotic labor markets and austerity — the United States has quietly surpassed much of Europe in the percentage of young adults without jobs. It’s not just Europe, either. Over the last 12 years, the United States has gone from having the highest share of employed 25- to 34-year-olds among large, wealthy economies to having among the lowest.

The grim shift — “a historic turnaround,” says Robert A. Moffitt, a Johns Hopkins University economist — stems from two underappreciated aspects of our long economic slump. First, it has exacted the harshest toll on the young — even harsher than on people in their 50s and 60s, who have also suffered. And while the American economy has come back more robustly than some of its global rivals in terms of overall production, the recovery has been strangely light on new jobs, even after Friday’s better-than-expected unemployment report. American companies are doing more with less.

“This still is a very big puzzle,” said Lawrence F. Katz, a Harvard professor who was chief economist at the Labor Department during the Clinton administration. He called the severe downturn in jobs “the million-dollar question” for the economy.

Employers are particularly reluctant to add new workers — and have been for much of the last 12 years. Layoffs have been subdued, with the exception of the worst months of the financial crisis, but so has the creation of jobs, and no one depends on new jobs as much as younger workers do. For them, the Great Recession grinds on.

For many people with jobs and nest eggs, the economy is finally moving in the right direction, albeit a long way from booming. Average wages are no longer trailing inflation. Stocks have soared since their 2009 nadir, and home prices are increasing again. But little of that helps younger adults trying to get a foothold in the economy. Many of them are on the outside of the recovery looking in.

The net worth of households headed by people 44 and younger has dropped more over the past decade than the net worth of middle-aged and elderly households, according to the Federal Reserve. According to the Labor Department, workers 25 to 34 years old are the only age group with lower average wages in early 2013 than in 2000.

The problems start with a lack of jobs. . .

Continue reading.

That surprised me. I had thought that, with the austerity program and its impact, that Europe would have a very high rate of unemployment among young men—and indeed they do—but the US is even worse.

The problem is, when everyone cuts back on spending, the result is that everyone is cut back on income (my spending is your income sort of thing). Another way to look at it is that a cutback in spending is a fall in demand, and it’s demand that provides the energy that drives the economy. Manufacturers and merchants can talk all they want about creating jobs in their factories and stores and driving the economy, but they know that it’s demand that drives the entire engine: if demand falls, sales drop, profits drop, people are laid off and/or jobs are outsourced, hiring freezes go into effect, and so on. The whole economy grinds to a halt without demand.

That, BTW, is the idea of the government spending when the economy’s bad: that if consumers are not providing demand/spending money, then the government will—-and so the government borrows money to pay people to work, generally on projects that need doing in any case: highways, bridges, maintenance of the infrastructure, and so on: works that are good investments in any event. Then, when better times return, the economy’s better, and tax revenues improve, and the debt is paid back down. In theory.

One worry about the government borrowing money for this sort of economic stimulus is that the interest rates will climb and so the government will have to spend more in interest. That happens if there is competition for funds, but with businesses not needing to borrow (because they’ve cutback and are not spending), there is no competition for the funds and interest rates continue to be very low.

Anyway, I drifted off. The article amazes me because I never dreamed that the unemployment situation here would get worse than the situation in Europe in an austerity crisis/major recession.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 May 2013 at 11:00 am

Efficiencies of multitasking debunked

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Multitasking means lower efficiency, not more (cf. any number of funny YouTube videos of people walking and texting). In the NY Times Bob Sullivan and Hugh Thompson explain in more detail:

TECHNOLOGY has given us many gifts, among them dozens of new ways to grab our attention. It’s hard to talk to a friend without your phone buzzing at least once. Odds are high you will check your Twitter feed or Facebook wall while reading this article. Just try to type a memo at work without having an e-mail pop up that ruins your train of thought.

But what constitutes distraction? Does the mere possibility that a phone call or e-mail will soon arrive drain your brain power? And does distraction matter — do interruptions make us dumber? Quite a bit, according to new research by Carnegie Mellon University’sHuman-Computer Interaction Lab.

There’s a lot of debate among brain researchers about the impact of gadgets on our brains. Most discussion has focused on the deleterious effect of multitasking. Early results show what most of us know implicitly: if you do two things at once, both efforts suffer.

In fact, multitasking is a misnomer. In most situations, the person juggling e-mail, text messaging, Facebook and a meeting is really doing something called “rapid toggling between tasks,” and is engaged in constant context switching.

As economics students know, switching involves costs. But how much? When a consumer switches banks, or a company switches suppliers, it’s relatively easy to count the added expense of the hassle of change. When your brain is switching tasks, the cost is harder to quantify.

There have been a few efforts to do so: Gloria Mark of the University of California, Irvine, found that a typical office worker gets only 11 minutes between each interruption, while it takes an average of 25 minutes to return to the original task after an interruption. But there has been scant research on the quality of work done during these periods of rapid toggling.

We decided to investigate further, and asked Alessandro Acquisti, a professor of information technology, and the psychologist Eyal Peer at Carnegie Mellon to design an experiment to measure the brain power lost when someone is interrupted.

To simulate the pull of an expected cellphone call or e-mail, we had subjects sit in a lab and perform a standard cognitive skill test. In the experiment, 136 subjects were asked to read a short passage and answer questions about it. There were three groups of subjects; one merely completed the test. The other two were told they “might be contacted for further instructions” at any moment via instant message.

During an initial test, the second and third groups were interrupted twice. Then a second test was administered, but this time, only the second group was interrupted. The third group awaited an interruption that never came. Let’s call the three groups Control, Interrupted and On High Alert.

We expected the Interrupted group to make some mistakes, but the results were truly dismal, especially for those who think of themselves as multitaskers: during this first test, both interrupted groups answered correctly 20 percent less often than members of the control group.

In other words, the distraction of an interruption, combined with the brain drain of preparing for that interruption, made our test takers 20 percent dumber. That’s enough to turn a B-minus student (80 percent) into a failure (62 percent).

But in Part 2 of the experiment, the results were not as bleak. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 May 2013 at 10:28 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

Why can’t leades learn that austerity is counter-productive for economic growth?

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Paul Krugman in the NY Times:

At this point the economic case for austerity — for slashing government spending even in the face of a weak economy — has collapsed. Claims that spending cuts would actually boost employment by promoting confidence have fallen apart. Claims that there is some kind of red line of debt that countries dare not cross have turned out to rest on fuzzy and to some extent just plain erroneous math. Predictions of fiscal crisis keep not coming true; predictions of disaster from harsh austerity policies have proved all too accurate.

Yet calls for a reversal of the destructive turn toward austerity are still having a hard time getting through. Partly that reflects vested interests, for austerity policies serve the interests of wealthy creditors; partly it reflects the unwillingness of influential people to admit being wrong. But there is, I believe, a further obstacle to change: widespread, deep-seated cynicism about the ability of democratic governments, once engaged in stimulus, to change course in the future.

So now seems like a good time to point out that this cynicism, which sounds realistic and worldly-wise, is actually sheer fantasy. Ending stimulus has never been a problem — in fact, the historical record shows that it almost always ends too soon. And in America, at least, we have a pretty good record for behaving in a fiscally responsible fashion, with one exception — namely, the fiscal irresponsibility that prevails when, and only when, hard-line conservatives are in power.

Let’s start with the common claim that stimulus programs never go away.

In the United States, government spending programs designed to boost the economy are in fact rare — F.D.R.’s New Deal and President Obama’s much smaller Recovery Act are the only big examples. And neither program became permanent — in fact, both were scaled back much too soon. F.D.R. cut back sharply in 1937, plunging America back into recession; the Recovery Act had its peak effect in 2010, and has since faded away, a fade that has been a major reason for our slow recovery.

What about programs designed to aid those hurt by a depressed economy? Don’t they become permanent fixtures? Again, no. Unemployment benefits have fluctuated up and down with the business cycle, and as a percentage of G.D.P. they are barely half what they were at their recent peak. Food stamp usage is still rising, thanks to a still-terrible labor market, but historical experience suggests that it too will fall sharply if and when the economy really recovers.

Incidentally, foreign experience follows the same pattern. You often hear Japan described as a country that has pursued never-ending fiscal stimulus. In reality, it has engaged in stop-go policies, increasing spending when the economy is weak, then pulling back at the first sign of recovery (and thereby pushing itself back into recession).

So the whole notion of perma-stimulus is fantasy posing as hardheaded realism. Still, even if you don’t believe that stimulus is forever, Keynesian economics says not just that you should run deficits in bad times, but that you should pay down debt in good times. And it’s silly to imagine that this will happen, right?

Wrong. The key measure you want to look at is the ratio of debt to G.D.P., which measures the government’s fiscal position better than a simple dollar number. And if you look at United States history since World War II, you find that of the 10 presidents who preceded Barack Obama, seven left office with a debt ratio lower than when they came in. Who were the three exceptions? Ronald Reagan and the two George Bushes. So debt increases that didn’t arise either from war or from extraordinary financial crisis are entirely associated with hard-line conservative governments.

And there’s a reason for that association: U.S. conservatives have long followed a strategy of “starving the beast,” slashing taxes so as to deprive the government of the revenue it needs to pay for popular programs. . .

Continue reading. We’ll never move ahead so long as our leaders ignore data and evidence in favor of blind ideology and greed.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 May 2013 at 10:20 am

Andrew Breitbart’s legacy

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Not much. Mark Ames and Max Blumenthal report at AlterNet:

This March was a cruel month for the American press. The 10th anniversary of the Iraq War briefly punctured the country’s cultural amnesia, forcing hacks to sweat out another round of cringing mea culpas.

March was also the anniversary of another less epic media failure, but this one came and went without a whimper: The death of Andrew Breitbart, on March 1, 2012.

In the immediate aftermath of Breitbart’s death last year, at age 43, the Beltway media reflexively whitewashed and glorified his work and legacy, canonizing a reactionary circus barker as some kind of American Icon, a gonzo iconoclast, a conservative punk rocker, or a “Zany, Magnetic Media Hacker,” as Wired’s Noah Shachtman [5] put it. Publications ranging from Time, the Washington Post and Slate sang Breitbart’s praises; scores of ambitious up-and-coming media figures burned both ends of the candle to compose the seminal Andrew Breitbart funeral tribute.

Some examples:

  • The Los Angeles Times [6]: “His genius was rooted in the realization that in the new media universe, being outrageous often gets far more attention than being authoritative…In many ways, Breitbart was a throwback to the subversive media manipulators of the 1960s, especially counterculture provocateurs like Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin. They courted the media with bizarre antics. Breitbart often did the same.”
  • Jack Shafer in Reuters [7]: “I admired the way he ignored journalistic convention and the usual ethical standards to pursue the stories that were important to him. I admired his entrepreneurial approach to journalism and his disdain for the credentialed, self-important press corps.”
  • Time [8]: “Breitbart gave hard and must have expected to get it back hard. He came out of the American political tradition that if you cared about things, then you fought about them…Part of Breitbart’s legacy is a rise in the power of openly partisan journalism outlets and contested news. But if another part of his legacy–as exemplified by the first reaction to his death–is a rise in skepticism, alertness and critical reading of the media, that’s not entirely a bad thing.
  • The Washington Post [9]’s Chris Cillizza: “Andrew Breitbart was complicated. He clearly saw around the corner of where journalism was headed but the ways in which he used that insight rightfully raise questions about his ultimate motives… If you loved him, you really loved him. And if you hated him, well you really hated him. Having met Breitbart on a few occasions and corresponded with him infrequently over the years, I can’t imagine he would want it any other way.”

This is how the mainstream press describes great iconoclasts, not paid hatchet-men and extraction industry tools like Breitbart. It’s uncanny how these major media obits synced with the rebel-washed image of himself that Breitbart pushed on the public, as for example this quote from his book “Righteous Indignation”:

“My mission isn’t to quash debate — it’s to show that the mainstream media aren’t mainstream, that their feigned objectivity isn’t objective, and that open, rigorous debate is a positive good in our society. Man, how I long for the days of Sam Kinison, Richard Pryor, Abbie Hoffman, Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, George Carlin, and Lenny Bruce.”

Slate’s Dave Weigel [10] quoted that very excerpt in his Breitbart obituary; what’s interesting is Weigel’s smart decision to edit the next sentence in that quote:

“Today, the only people upholding their free-speech legacies are conservatives like Anne Coulter and Rush Limbaugh.”

Weigel’s decision to edit out that sentence from his Breitbart quote changes everything — put that sentence in, and Weigel’s Breitbart is suddenly a lot less interesting and unique and trailblazing. That edit was emblematic of the mainstream media’s love affair with an otherwise garden variety GOP sleaze-peddler.

Breitbart, of course, had nothing in common with the comedians whose anti-establishment spirit he claimed to embody. Richard Pryor and Lenny Bruce came up from poverty and overcame anti-Semitism and entrenched, violently enforced racism to wield their wit against powerful forces. Bruce was hounded throughout his career by the FBI, local cops and eventually blacklisted from nearly every comedy club in the United States. Whereas Breitbart collaborated [11] with the FBI and New York police to spy on Occupy Wall Street protesters. Perhaps the only thing Bruce had in common with Breitbart, who spent his career in a mostly uncritical national limelight, was his untimely death at age 40 while in the throes of paranoia and emotional collapse.

Breitbart, the adopted son of a wealthy West Los Angeles restauranteur, used his privilege to immiserate the most marginalized, impoverished, widely demonized groups of Americans. He was a faithful errand boy for rich, Scrooge McDuck tycoons like Peter Thiel, Foster Friess, and the Koch Brothers, wielding smear journalism against anyone or any interest that threatened their power — usually African-Americans or groups like ACORN, serving impoverished, neglected inner city communities.

There was nothing innovative or new about Breitbart’s smear operation. Indeed, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 May 2013 at 10:15 am

Posted in GOP, Media

Drone cargo helicopters prove worth in Afghanistan

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Written by LeisureGuy

6 May 2013 at 10:11 am

Posted in Military, Technology

Michael O’Malley as a presidential candidate

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Michael O’Malley is an ambitious politician who is generally liberal in his policies. He went from mayor of Baltimore to governor of Maryland, and in Washington Monthly Haley Edwards takes a look at his movement toward the presidential race:

Jay Baker/Office of Governor Martin O’Malley)

The governor is hungry.

Brown paper bag in hand, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley strides into a conference room on the fourth floor of an old government building in downtown Annapolis. “I brought lunch,” he whispers to no one in particular and, stooping slightly in the way that people do when they enter a meeting late, takes a seat. For a moment, he is quiet.

He’d spent the morning in discussion with various members of the state legislature, which is in session just a few steps away at the statehouse on the hill. Up there, laws are being shaped and votes cast, mostly in the governor’s favor, but it’s down here, in this windowless room, packed with staff from three of Maryland’s state agencies and his own executive team, that O’Malley’s political impact is deepest. In 2000, as a young mayor of Baltimore, he pioneered this type of meeting—biweekly, multi-agency, data-driven performance reviews—and thirteen years later they’re still the cornerstone of his legacy as a politician.

“So that’s the carrot at the end of the stick that you hope the community colleges are going to close in after?” O’Malley asks, breaking his short silence. He leans forward in his chair, his elbows on the table and the contents of his lunch—a dry deli sandwich, a bag of potato chips—lined up in front of him like a control panel.

“That’s right, sir,” a man in the back of the room says. They’re referring to an incentive to get students to use Maryland’s Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation’s online Workforce Dashboard. It was designed to help colleges, businesses, and job seekers get a snapshot of employment opportunities in the state, but also to allow the state to gather better data on who’s looking for jobs, where, and with what skills, to improve both monitoring and outreach efforts. As of now, not enough people are using the Dashboard to make it a valuable tool.

“I know everyone’s got budget constraints, but why don’t we all talk about how to market this more?” the governor asks, and as is typical in these meetings, the attention turns to an array of charts, maps, and digital reams of Excel spreadsheets, each illustrating the nuts and bolts of the program, the population it’s serving, and the various outputs and inputs and outcomes over the past few months. The idea is to use data like a scalpel to dissect how a government program works, to pinpoint where, exactly, it’s breaking down, and then to use these collaborative meetings to solve the problem at hand.

“We gotta get those numbers up,” O’Malley says, gesturing to one graph in particular and taking a bite of the sandwich. In addition to the Department of Labor, the Departments of Business and Economic Development (DBEV) and Veterans Affairs are also present. “What about DBEV? Can you guys help with this?” he asks, still chewing.

And with that, the governor launches a spirited question-and-answer session—he compares it to a cross-examination—that lasts for the better part of forty-five minutes, his voice sometimes muffled by mouthfuls of bread. As the meeting unspools, the topics shift, from the jobs Web site to foreclosure rates to reducing recidivism among recently released convicts.

Nearly an hour later, the governor stops for some air. He attends meetings like this only about once every couple months, usually delegating the day-to-day management to his executive staff, but it’s clear he enjoys the role. He leans back in his chair and wipes the smudges of his lunch off his iPad with his green-striped tie. “Sorry, Sam,” he says, chuckling and turning to one of his staffers, who usually heads up these meetings. “The witness is yours!”

O’Malley is not the kind of person who’s afraid to take over a meeting. “I’m an operations guy,” he tells me afterward, partly by way of explanation. “I’ve always liked digging into the numbers, figuring out what’s going on and doing the kind of analysis that the other guys won’t do.” In the hallway after the meeting, two staffers corroborate the point. He seems so much more relaxed in meetings like that, they say, when he’s not “doing all the politician stuff.”

In truth, O’Malley, who is fifty and handsome in a Kennedy sort of way, has made a career out of all the politician stuff, chomping his way up the political food chain like a man hungry for more than a deli sandwich. After serving as a Baltimore city councilman in the 1990s, he was elected mayor of Baltimore in 1999 and then governor of Maryland seven years later, where he’ll remain until 2015. Because of term limits, he can’t run again. Every pundit in America has predicted he’s going to run for president in 2016, and O’Malley has done everything he can to encourage that speculation, short of outright admitting it’s true.

As governor, he’s pushed a series of bills that are all but guaranteed to impress Democratic primary and caucus voters three years from now, on topics ranging from guns (against), gay marriage (for), the death penalty (against), medical marijuana (for), and implementing Dream Act-like policies at Maryland’s colleges and universities. Just as Bill Clinton did in the 1980s, when he too was a relative unknown, O’Malley has also sought positions in recent years that have allowed him to sidle into the national limelight. In both 2011 and 2012, he served as chair of the Democratic Governors Association, and he’s since stayed on as the finance chairman, which will allow him to continue to meet top donors. During the election last year, he was a regular fixture on the talk show circuit, often playing the role of President Barack Obama’s personal attack dog. In one interview with ABC’s This Week last summer, O’Malley managed to mention former Governor Mitt Romney’s “Swiss bank accounts” and “offshore” tax havens seventeen times in three minutes flat.

With that iron message discipline, plus his standing as one of the Democrats’ most successful governors (with thirty statehouses in GOP hands, the Dems’ roster is slim), O’Malley won a coveted primetime speaking slot for the second time (he spoke in 2004, too) at the Democratic National Convention last September. He whiffed it—again, just as Clinton did in 1988—but spent the remaining time juggling a packed schedule of schmooze, addressing swing state delegates by day and jamming with his Irish rock band, O’Malley’s March, by night. In recent years, the governor has also made public forays into Iowa and New Hampshire and launched a political action committee, the O’Say Can You See PAC, to raise money that he will be at liberty to distribute, one of his critics groused, “like favor-doing fairy dust,” to fellow Democrats before the midterm races in 2014. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 May 2013 at 10:09 am

Posted in Democrats, Politics

Criminal Justice System Needs Redemption More Than the Prisoners

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In AlterNet Anna Simonton describes a good application of Christian principles:

Stories involving Christian faith and prisoners usually go something like this: a person commits a terrible crime, goes to prison, finds Jesus, changes his or her ways for the better, the end.

Now United Methodists and United Church of Christ are teaming up to promote a new documentary, produced by the Beyond Bars[3]campaign, that flips the typical redemption story on its head. In Redemption and the Prosecutor [4], it’s not the prisoner, but the criminal justice system that needs redeeming.

The film tells the story of Preston Shipp, a Tennessee native who had his whole career mapped out from a young age: he would go to law school, work as a prosecutor and eventually become a judge. His plans were right on track when he was hired as an assistant attorney general in 2004. With a happy marriage, three kids and a strong church community, the successful career move solidified his sense of fulfillment.

But Shipp’s assuredness gradually waned as he settled into the job of a state prosecutor. His caseload was enormous. He was rarely in court; more often he made his arguments on paper in what felt like an assembly-line process. The nature of the work fostered a machine-like indifference to the people whose freedom he argued against, a feeling that troubled Shipp.

“When the only information you receive about a person is the worst thing they’ve ever done, it’s very easy to regard them as less than human,” Shipp explains in the film. “How can I reconcile the job I was asked to do as a prosecutor with my faith in Jesus, who came proclaiming release for prisoners?”

His inner conflict came to a head in 2008 when he began teaching a course at Lipscomb University that took students off campus to a women’s prison where they held classes with inmates.

“That’s when I started hearing their stories,” Shipp says. “The more I got to know the women, the more hypocritical I felt.”

Shipp formed a strong friendship with one particularly bright, incarcerated student named Cyntoia Brown. At first, all Shipp knew about her history was that she had murdered a man when she was 16 years old. This fact seemed at odds with the charismatic, inquisitive young woman he knew her to be. As their friendship developed she shared more of her story with him.

Abandoned by her mother at a young age, Brown’s early teen years were marked by instability. By 16 she was working for a small-time pimp. One night in August 2004, a real estate agent picked Brown up and took her to his apartment where he showed off his gun collection and became increasingly belligerent. Shipp doesn’t explain all the details of what happened, and maybe he doesn’t know them, but by the end of their encounter the real estate agent was dead with gunshot wounds to the back of his head, and Brown was on the run.

When the law caught up to Brown it showed her no mercy. She was tried as an adult and sentenced to life in prison. She will be eligible for parole in 2055, when she is 67 years old.

“She’s more than the worst thing she ever did,” Shipp says of Brown. “She’s as articulate and smart and funny as any student in my class…the system didn’t recognize the enormous potential that she had and threw away this person who has so much to offer.”

Riddled with doubt about the morality of his work, Shipp’s relationship with Brown was the catalyst for his decision to resign from his position with the attorney general’s office in 2009. (Spoiler Alert: if you plan on watching the film and don’t want to know the ironic twist that follows, read no further.)

After stepping down from the job he once coveted, Shipp continued to receive letters alerting him to the results of cases that were pending when he left. One day he opened a letter congratulating him on an appeals case he had won. The case was that of a young woman named Cyntoia Brown.

Devastated, Shipp realized that he had played a decisive role in what he now viewed as an unjust sentence for his young friend. At the time he’d worked on the case, Brown’s name was just one among hundreds. He did not remember it when he met her in person. But now that name was a human being dear to him, whose forgiveness he hoped to earn.

Shipp now tries lawyers charged with ethics violations and advocates for reform in the criminal justice system. . .

Continue reading. Something is clearly amiss when a nation’s prison population is so much greater than any other nation in the world.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 May 2013 at 9:51 am

Posted in Government, Law, Religion

A guide to Scrivener

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Scrivener (for Mac and Windows, and the two versions use teh same file format) is a superb program for any writing you might do, from a short paper to a screenplay to a magazine article to a book, novel or nonfiction. It’s an amazing program, very easy to use but with many non-obvious capabilities. You can watch the series of training videos, but now James Fallows points out an excellent guide to the program, available as a free PDF download or for $2 as a Kindle edition from Amazon.

Note that you can use Scrivener for 30 days for free. Give it a go with your next writing task. If you like it, it costs $45 to buy.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 May 2013 at 9:46 am

Posted in Books, Software, Writing

Pushing for war with Syria

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Unfortunately for the war hawks, the nerve gas (sarin) whose use is suspected in Syria was used by the rebels, not by the government. So as a causus bellus for attacking the Syrian government, it doesn’t work so well—but that hasn’t slowed the demand from war from those who pushed the Iraq War (“Weapons of Mass Destruction!!!!!”). And yet war really hasn’t seemed to solve any of the problems, but rather created more. (Of course, austerity as an economic policy has proved an utter failure, but still there are those who clamor for it—mainly those who will not feel its effects.) Robert Parry reports at ConsortiumNews.com:

Israel’s bombing raids into Syria appear to have shattered whatever restraint remained in Official Washington toward the United States entering the civil war on the side of rebel forces that include radical jihadist elements. On Monday, the Washington Post’s neocon editors weighed in for U.S. intervention as did former New York Times executive editor Bill Keller.

Both the Post’s editors and Keller also were key advocates for invading Iraq in 2003 – and their continued influence reflects the danger of not imposing any accountability on prominent journalists who were wrong on Iraq. Those tough-guy pundits now want much the same interventionism toward Syria and Iran, which always were on the neocon hit list as follow-ons to Iraq.

The Post’s lead editorial  on Monday urged U.S. intervention in Syria as part of a response to a growing regional crisis that one could argue was touched off – or made far worse – by President George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq in 2003.However, rather than trace the crisis back to Bush’s invasion of Iraq – which the Post eagerly supported – the editors lament the removal of U.S. troops from Iraq and President Barack Obama’s hesitancy to intervene in Syria. Noting the renewed sectarian violence in Iraq, the Post’s editors write “it also makes intervention aimed at ending the war in Syria that much more urgent.”

Meanwhile, across the top half of Monday’s Op-Ed page in the New York Times, Keller urged any pundit chastened by the disastrous Iraq War to shake off those doubts and get behind U.S. military intervention in Syria. His article, entitled “Syria Is Not Iraq,” is presented in the same “reluctantly hawkish” tone as his influential endorsement of aggressive war against Iraq in 2003.

Keller’s special twist now is that he is citing his misjudgment on Iraq as part of his qualifications for urging President Obama to cast aside doubts about the use of military force in Syria’s chaotic civil war and to jump into the campaign for regime change by helping the rebels overthrow Bashar al-Assad.

“Frankly I’ve shared his [Obama’s] hesitation about Syria, in part because, during an earlier column-writing interlude at the outset of the Iraq invasion, I found myself a reluctant hawk. That turned out to be a humbling error of judgment, and it left me gun-shy,” Keller wrote. “But in Syria, I fear prudence has become fatalism, and our caution has been the father of missed opportunities, diminished credibility and enlarged tragedy.”

For the rest of the lengthy article, Keller baited Obama by presenting him as something of a terrified deer frozen in mindless inaction because of the Iraq experience. Keller quoted hawkish former State Department official Vali Nasr as declaring that “We’re paralyzed like a deer in the headlights, and everybody keeps relitigating the Iraq war.”

Keller then added: “Whatever we decide, getting Syria right starts with getting over Iraq.”

No Lessons Learned

But Keller doesn’t seem to have learned anything significant from the Iraq catastrophe. [In fairness, Keller has shown no signs that he’s even capable of learning. – LG] Much as he and other pundits did on Iraq, they are putting themselves into the minds of Syria’s leaders and assuming that every dastardly deed is carefully calibrated when the reality is that Assad, like Saddam Hussein, has often behaved in a reactive manner to perceived threats.

Assad and many other Alawites (a branch of Shiite Islam) – along with many Christian Armenians who remain loyal to Assad – are terrified of what might follow a military victory by the Sunni majority, whose fighting forces are now dominated by Islamic extremists, many with close ties to al-Qaeda.

As the New York Times reported in its news page last month, the black flags of Islamist rule are spreading across “liberated” sectors of Syria. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 May 2013 at 9:39 am

The 24-hour news cycle exemplified

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Via Informed Comment:

Written by LeisureGuy

6 May 2013 at 8:33 am

Posted in Media, Video

Skepticism and fears regarding Mary Jo White in the SEC quickly justified

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The editors of the NY Times:

Mary Jo White, the new chairwoman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, has gotten off on the wrong foot. Last week, in her first commission vote, Ms. White led the commissioners in approving a proposal that, if finalized, could leave investors and taxpayers exposed to the ravages of reckless bank trading.

At issue is the regulation of the multitrillion-dollar market in derivatives. When speculative derivative bets go right, the results are lavish bank profits and huge banker paydays. When they go wrong, the results are shareholder losses and taxpayer-provided bailouts. Even when derivatives are used in a relatively prudent manner — say, to hedge against price swings in food or fuel — the largely deregulated and opaque way they are traded allows the big banks that dominate the market to charge more than they could if trading were more transparent, enriching bankers at the expense of businesses and consumers.

The S.E.C. proposal would let the foreign branches of American banks avoid rules being developed under the Dodd-Frank financial reform law and instead follow rules that prevail in the foreign countries where the deals are done. Foreign banks involved in derivative deals with American companies also could adhere to their own country’s rules as long as those rules are deemed broadly comparable to Dodd-Frank rules.

The banks lobbying for this approach say they want to avoid duplicative regulation and preserve competition. In fact, it would enable them to avoid regulation and preserve bank profits. The proposal implies that foreign regulation will be adequate, but the rules elsewhere are weak or nonexistent. It is no coincidence that major derivative failures have been linked to trading from abroad, including the meltdown in the financial crisis, the failure of the hedge fund Long-Term Capital Management in 1998 and, most recently, JPMorgan Chase’s London Whale fiasco.

To make matters worse, the S.E.C. proposal is weaker than the sound guidelines from the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, which oversees a larger swath of the derivatives market than the S.E.C. does. Disagreement among regulators now gives the banks and their Congressional allies in both parties renewed opportunity to shape final rules to their liking.

Meanwhile, the S.E.C. is about to consider a major rule governing hedge funds and other private companies that solicit investments from the public. Ms. White’s immediate predecessors supported an early proposal of the rule that, shockingly, did not include any specific investor protections. What is needed is a new proposal with the safeguards recommended by the S.E.C.’s own Investor Advisory Committee, including steps that nonpublic companies must take to verify the ability of investors to understand and absorb the risks in private offerings, and requirements that those companies disclose the data the S.E.C. will need to adequately police them. This is a critical test for Ms. White, who has yet to show that she supports stronger regulations.

Let’s face it: Obama is in bed with the finance and banking industry and will do all in his powers to free them from competent supervision. Sad, but based on his actions, that seems to be the cae.

 

Written by LeisureGuy

6 May 2013 at 8:29 am

Perfect smoothness, with pleasure

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SOTD 6 May 2013

A wonderful shave, but I gave myself every advantage: D.R. Harris shaving soap always makes me say to myself, “What a great lather today!”, and today was much the same. The Lavender shave stick rubbed over my wet beard after a wash with MR GLO and partial rinse deposited plenty of soap, which the WSP Monarch immediately converted in a superb lather. I mixed in one additional driblet of water, then set to work with the bakelite slant holding a Trig blade of a few uses.

Very easy, and almost BBS after the second pass. A small nick on the upper lip (which My Nik Is Sealed immediately fixed), then a splash of l’Occitane’s Verbena, which has a wonderful summer fragrance. I found that it stings a bit more, but that fades quickly.

Great shave, and now to walk.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 May 2013 at 8:26 am

Posted in Shaving

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