Later On

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

Archive for May 10th, 2013

Confidence game

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Robert Kahn at CourthouseNews.com:

Many moons ago, when I was in college, my friend Ray offered to drive a professor’s locked trunk across the country to New York.

Ray was going there anyway, so what the heck.

Somewhere in Nebraska, a Highway Patrolman stopped him for speeding.

The trooper asked Ray if he had any drugs. This was in the early 1970s.

“No, Sir,” Ray told him.

“May I search your car?” the trooper asked.

Sure, Ray said. And the cop found a big chunk of hashish rolled up in Ray’s underwear.

“You lied to me,” the trooper said. “Where’s the pipe?”

“There is no pipe,” Ray said.

The cop searched again and found the pipe.

“You lied to me again,” the cop said. “What’s in the trunk?”

Ray said he didn’t know what was in the trunk, that he was driving it to New York for a professor.

The cop said: “You’ve lied to me twice. Why should I trust you again?”

And Ray told him: “Because this time, I give you my word.”

That sums up all there is to say about the 113th Congress. And the 112th. And the 111th.

Remember how Congress was going to straighten out the banks, so they couldn’t throw the country into Reverse overnight, ever again?

An interesting piece in the latest London Review of Books is subtitled “How the Big Banks Got Away With it.” University of Edinburgh professor Donald MacKenzie deals mostly with European banks, but the diagnosis and the illness is the same as we’re suffering here.

It’s that bankers continue to reward themselves for the same behavior that crashed the world economy more than five years ago. In fact, they get incentives to repeat it.

Take “return on equity.” Suppose  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 May 2013 at 1:46 pm

Posted in Business, Congress

Obama is lacking a certain moral center: too easily betrays his positions

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Nick Gillespie in The Daily Beast:

While a high school student at Honolulu’s elite Punahou School, Barack Obama was a high-flying member of a pot-smoking, party-hearty crew that called itself “the Choom Gang.” As biographer David Maraniss revealed in last year’s Barack Obama: The Story the future president “had a knack for interceptions. When a joint was making the rounds, he often elbowed his way in, out of turn, shouted ‘Intercepted!,’ and took an extra hit.”

In his current trip to meet with Mexico’s President Enrique Peña Nieto, Obama will once again be talking about illegal drugs and interceptions—and he will almost certainly continue his long habit of bogarting other people’s joints. As CNN summarizes it, one of the “key issues” of the trip is to strengthen efforts to stop the flow of pot, cocaine, methamphetamines, and other drugs from Mexico into the United States.

Despite thinly sourced stories by Obama boosters that the president in his second term “will pivot to the drug war” that he privately considers a “failure,” there’s every reason to believe any new initiatives coming out of this Mexico trip will disappoint the liberals, libertarians, and smattering of conservatives who took Barack Obama seriously when he questioned longstanding drug policies.

Once upon a time, Obama seemed to entertain significant reforms to laws and practices that have had no appreciable effect on the availability or use of illegal drugs but have cost trillions of dollars, swelled state and federal prison populations, and increased black-market violence in the United States and Mexico.

When running for the U.S. Senate in 2004, Obama said, “We need to rethink how we are operating in the drug wars and I think currently we are not doing a good job.” In 2006, while on a book tour for The Audacity of Hope and testing the waters of a presidential run, he was comfortable enough discussing his personal experiences to joke, “I inhaled frequently…that was the whole point.” In 2008, he said that he wouldn’t use federal resources to target medical marijuana providers and users in states that had made the stuff legal—a promise reiterated by Attorney General Eric Holder shortly after taking office in 2009.

Yet for all that, Obama has governed not merely as a standard-issue White House drug warrior but as a particularly hard-headed and hard-hearted one. Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana and polls routinely show 70 percent to 80 percent of Americans support the stuff, but the Obama administration has actually outpaced the Bush administration when it comes to dispensary raids. As my Reason colleague Mike Riggs has reported, the Obama administration has also continued or expanded programs that funnel billions of dollars to oppressive drug-war operations in Asia and Mexico (where the results have included “multiple reports of forced disappearances by the army, navy, and police.”)

In several public settings, including a 2009 online town hall, Obama literally laughed off questions of marijuana legalization before emphatically stating that taxing and regulating weed was out of the question: “The answer is no, I don’t think that is a good strategy to grow the economy.” The president’s drug czar, Gil Kerlikowske, continues to insist that “legalization is not in the president’s vocabulary.” . . .

Continue reading. What does Obama stand for? What constituency is he working to serve?

Written by LeisureGuy

10 May 2013 at 1:34 pm

Perhaps, instead of walking for 45 minutes, do these in 7 minutes

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Screen Shot 2013-05-10 at 12.19.19 PM

Just do 30 seconds of each, at an intensity that is uncomfortable. Explanation (and link to research) here.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 May 2013 at 12:22 pm

Posted in Fitness

Sexual assault in the military

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Dorothy Samuels writes in the NY Times editorial page blog:

The Pentagon released a depressing report on Tuesday stating that the number of sexual assaults in the military grew from about 19,000 last year to 26,000 this year. Obviously something must be done to reverse that trend but, in the meantime, the federal government could do more to help the victims.

Gesturing in that direction, Republicans and Democrats on the House Veterans Affairs Committee approved a measure on Wednesday championed by Representative Chellie Pingree, a Maine Democrat, aimed at making it easier for veterans to receive benefits for disabilities linked to sexual assaults.

The bill is named after Ruth Moore, a Navy veteran who was raped twice by a supervisor after enlisting at age 19. She developed post-traumatic stress disorder, but her claims for compensation and treatment were repeatedly denied for over two decades. Her story isn’t uncommon: The Service Women’s Action Network, an advocacy organization, found that the Veterans Affairs Department approved only 32 percent of P.T.S.D. claims related to sexual assaults compared with 53 percent of all other P.T.S.D. claims.

Essentially, the legislation would put pressure on the department to lower the burden of proof for sexual-assault survivors. As things stand, victims are required to provide secondary evidence that the trauma occurred — medical tests, say, or sudden onset of a drug problem — not required for combat-related claims. But only a small fraction of military sexual assaults are reported — just over 3,000 of the 26,000 or so last year — so typically there is no corroborating documentation in the files. The bill calls for allowing a victim’s testimony to serve as proof that the assault occurred, and for approving claims based on a medical diagnosis of a mental health condition linked to the attack.

The bill stops short of making the reform mandatory, but it imposes rigorous reporting requirements. The full House is expected to vote on the measure soon, and the Senate Veterans Affairs committee will be holding a hearing on a companion bill next Wednesday.

Treating P.T.S.D. claims for sexual assaults more skeptically than combat-related claims hurts veterans suffering in the aftermath of such attacks, and contributes to the damaging sense that the assaults are not taken seriously by those in charge — notwithstanding repeated pledges of zero tolerance.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 May 2013 at 12:13 pm

Posted in Law, Military

Interesting: The V-22 Osprey is turning out to be good

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Jay Price writes in McClatchy about how the V-22 Osprey is improving its reputation:

Almost four years after the MV-22 Osprey arrived in Afghanistan, trailing a reputation as dangerous and hard to maintain, the U.S. Marines Corps finally has had an opportunity to test the controversial hybrid aircraft in real war conditions. The reviews are startlingly positive.

“This is an ugly duckling that turned into a swan,” said Richard Whittle, the author of “The Dream Machine: The Untold History of the Notorious V-22 Osprey” and a senior scholar at the Wilson Center, a research center in Washington. “It is still probably more expensive than it should be, and more expensive to operate. But I think many people are still laboring under the impression that it is dangerous to fly, when it now has probably the best safety record of any rotorcraft that the military flies.”

The odd aircraft, which takes off and lands like a helicopter but rotates its engines forward to fly like an airplane, had a star-crossed development period that took more than two decades and included huge cost overruns and crashes that claimed 30 lives. Its deployment to Iraq’s Anbar province from 2007 to 2009, where as combat waned it was used mainly to transport people and cargo, won it criticism from the Government Accountability Office over maintenance and performance issues.

In Afghanistan, however, the Marines have been able to use it more widely, flying it for everything from freight to hundreds of assaults, where it’s carried loads of Marines into or out of landing zones, often under intense fire. It’s twice as fast as the helicopter it replaces, the CH-46, it has substantially greater range, and can carry more cargo and more than twice as many troops. The Marines are learning how to maintain it in a harsh environment.

Whittle, once an Osprey skeptic, has become a fan. “The Osprey has proven itself in Afghanistan in a way it didn’t in Iraq,” he said. “Partly that was because it didn’t get the chance in Iraq. Also, it was new, and the military is conservative with new equipment, but once they see it gives them a significant leap in capability like this, they are quick to take advantage of it.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 May 2013 at 12:00 pm

Posted in Military, Technology

“Under no circumstances should workers learn of their rights”

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Two propositioins businesses in general fanatically support: First, that workers should not under any circumstances learn their rights; and second, that their customers should not know the ingredients of their products or the processes they use (e.g., industrial farming, industrial food manufacturing). In the latter case, we do now have the nutrition facts labels, but corporations fought that requirement fiercely and managed to stall it for years, and of course now corporations are working hard to pass “ag-gag” laws that make it a felony to report wrongdoing by corporations.

Look at this reaction to informing workers of their rights:

Amazing, eh? As Laura Clawson points out in Daily Kos:

A federal appeals court says the National Labor Relations Board cannot require employers [3] to post a notice detailing workers’ organizing rights under the National Labor Relations Act, as it attempted to do in 2011.

Judge A. Raymond Randolph, who wrote the decision for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, suggested the rule was a clear violation of free speech rights because the government “selected the message and ordered its citizens to convey that message.”

That is some sweeping logic there. As AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka responded [4] to the decision in a statement:

In today’s workplace, employers are required to display posters explaining wage and hour rights, health and safety and discrimination laws, even emergency escape routes. The D.C. Circuit ruling suggests that courts should strike down hundreds of notice requirements, not only those that inform workers about their rights and warn them of hazards, but also those on cigarette packages, in home mortgages and many other areas.

For those keeping score, the D.C. appeals court was also responsible for the similarly sweeping decision invalidating President Obama’s recess appointments to the NLRB, a decision that, if applied to other presidents’ recess appointments, would have struck down hundreds in recent decades. While Judge Randolph was not one of the judges involved in that decision, he has authored some real doozies [5].

Written by LeisureGuy

10 May 2013 at 11:52 am

Posted in Business, Daily life, Law

Further signs of the US military’s decay

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Or, as one military officer characterized it: “rot.” Robert Reich at Salon:

After years of repeated reports of sexual assaults — and years of promises to prevent them, and then years of studies and commissions to find the best way of doing so — a Defense Department study released Tuesday estimates that some 26,000 people in the military were sexually assaulted in the last fiscal year, up from about 19,000 the year before.

Moreover, it turns out the Air Force lieutenant colonel in charge of preventing sexual assault has been arrested for  … sexual assault. According to the police report, a drunken Lt. Col. Jeff Krusinski allegedly approached a woman in a parking lot in Arlington, Va. Sunday night, and grabbed her breasts and buttocks.

Why has it been so difficult for the Air Force or the Defense Department to remedy this problem?

Speaking of which, the Air Force has just removed from duty seventeen launch officers at the Minot nuclear missile base in North Dakota — one of three bases responsible for controlling, and, if necessary, launching, strategic nuclear missiles — for violating weapons safety rules. The base commander characterized their negligence as “rot.

One officer was found to have intentionally broken a safety rule that could have compromised the secret codes enabling missiles to be launched.

Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley points to the removal of the seventeen as evidence that the Air Force has strengthened its oversight of the nuclear force. And he explains that members of the launch crew are usually relatively junior officers with limited service experience.

Reassuring?

Further steps will be taken to prevent one of our missiles from accidentally causing a nuclear holocaust. But I hope the Air Force does a better job remedying this problem than it’s done preventing sexual assaults.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 May 2013 at 11:22 am

Posted in Military

The government is a vindictive loser

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Chris Hedges writes in Salon:

London—A tiny tip of the vast subterranean network of governmental and intelligence agencies from around the world dedicated to destroying WikiLeaks and arresting its founder, Julian Assange, appears outside the red-brick building on Hans Crescent Street that houses the Ecuadorean Embassy. Assange, the world’s best-known political refugee, has been in the embassy since he was offered sanctuary there last June. British police in black Kevlar vests are perched night and day on the steps leading up to the building, and others wait in the lobby directly in front of the embassy door. An officer stands on the corner of a side street facing the iconic department store Harrods, half a block away on Brompton Road. Another officer peers out the window of a neighboring building a few feet from Assange’s bedroom at the back of the embassy. Police sit round-the-clock in a communications van topped with an array of antennas that presumably captures all electronic forms of communication from Assange’s ground-floor suite.

The Metropolitan Police Service (MPS), or Scotland Yard, said the estimated cost of surrounding the Ecuadorean Embassy from June 19, 2012, when Assange entered the building, until Jan. 31, 2013, is the equivalent of $4.5 million.

Britain has rejected an Ecuadorean request that Assange be granted safe passage to an airport. He is in limbo. It is, he said, like living in a “space station.”

“The status quo, for them, is a loss,” Assange said of the US-led campaign against him as we sat in his small workroom, cluttered with cables and computer equipment. He had a full head of gray hair and gray stubble on his face and was wearing a traditional white embroidered Ecuadorean shirt. “The Pentagon threatened WikiLeaks and me personally, threatened us before the whole world, demanded that we destroy everything we had published, demanded we cease ‘soliciting’ new information from US government whistle-blowers, demanded, in other words, the total annihilation of a publisher. It stated that if we did not self-destruct in this way that we would be ‘compelled’ to do so.”

“But they have failed,” he went on. “They set the rules about what a win was. They lost in every battle they defined. Their loss is total. We’ve won the big stuff. The loss of face is hard to overstate. The Pentagon reissued its threats on September 28 last year. This time we laughed. Threats inflate quickly. Now the Pentagon, the White House and the State Department intend to show the world what vindictive losers they are through the persecution of Bradley Manning, myself and the organization more generally.”

Assange, Manning and WikiLeaks, by making public in 2010 half a million internal documents from the Pentagon and the State Department, along with the 2007 video of US helicopter pilots nonchalantly gunning down Iraqi civilians, including children, and two Reuters journalists, effectively exposed the empire’s hypocrisy, indiscriminate violence and its use of torture, lies, bribery and crude tactics of intimidation. WikiLeaks shone a spotlight into the inner workings of empire—the most important role of a press—and for this it has become empire’s prey. Those around the globe with the computer skills to search out the secrets of empire are now those whom empire fears most. If we lose this battle, if these rebels are defeated, it means the dark night of corporate totalitarianism. If we win, if the corporate state is unmasked, it can be destroyed.

US government officials quoted in Australian diplomatic cables obtained by The Saturday Age described the campaign against Assange and WikiLeaks as “unprecedented both in its scale and nature.” The scope of the operation has also been gleaned from statements made during Manning’s pretrial hearing. The US Department of Justice will apparently pay the contractor ManTech of Fairfax, Virginia, more than $2 million this year alone for a computer system that, from the tender, appears designed to handle the prosecution documents. The government line item refers only to “WikiLeaks Software and Hardware Maintenance.”

The lead government prosecutor in the Manning case, Maj. Ashden Fein, has told the court that the FBI file that deals with the leak of government documents through WikiLeaks has “42,135 pages or 3,475 documents.” This does not include a huge volume of material accumulated by a grand jury investigation. Manning, Fein has said, represents only 8,741 pages or 636 different documents in that classified FBI file.

There are no divisions among government departments or the two major political parties over what should be Assange’s fate. “I think we should be clear here. WikiLeaks and people that disseminate information to people like this are criminals, first and foremost,” then-press secretary Robert Gibbs, speaking for the Obama administration, said during a 2010 press briefing.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat, and then-Senator Christopher S. Bond, a Republican, said in a joint letter to the US attorney general calling for Assange’s prosecution: “If Mr. Assange and his possible accomplices cannot be charged under the Espionage Act (or any other applicable statute), please know that we stand ready and willing to support your efforts to ‘close those gaps’ in the law, as you also mentioned…”

Republican Candice S. Miller, a US representative from Michigan, said in the House: “It is time that the Obama administration treats WikiLeaks for what it is—a terrorist organization, whose continued operation threatens our security. Shut it down. Shut it down. It is time to shut down this terrorist, this terrorist Web site, WikiLeaks. Shut it down, Attorney General [Eric] Holder.”

At least a dozen American governmental agencies, including the Pentagon, the FBI, the Army’s Criminal Investigative Department, the Department of Justice, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and the Diplomatic Security Service, are assigned to the WikiLeaks case, while the CIA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence are assigned to track down WikiLeaks’ supposed breaches of security. The global assault—which saw Australia threaten to revoke Assange’s passport—is part of the terrifying metamorphosis of the “war on terror” into a wider war on civil liberties. It has become a hunt not for actual terrorists but a hunt for all those with the ability to expose the mounting crimes of the power elite.

The dragnet has swept up any person or organization that fits the profile of those with the technical skills and inclination to burrow into the archives of power and disseminate it to the public. It no longer matters if they have committed a crime. . .

Continue reading. Arresting people to stifle dissent, even when those arrested were guilty of no crime, is the mark of an authoritarian government that is sliding toward totalitarianism, in which the government may not be criticized and government wrongdoing cannot be exposed. We’re getting there.

This article is important, and there’s a lot more in it. Please read it all.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 May 2013 at 11:17 am

If the Government Does It, It’s “Legal”

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Peter Van Buren has a good post at Tom Dispatch. Here it is with a preface by Tom:

Indefinite detention of the innocent and guilty alike, without any hope of charges, trial, or release: this is now the American way.  Most Americans, however, may not care to take that in, not even when the indefinitely detained go on a hunger strike.  That act has certainly gotten Washington’s and the media’s collective attention.  After all, could there be anything more extreme than striking against your own body to make a point?  Suicide by strike?  It’s the ultimate statement of protest and despair.  Certainly, the strikers have succeeded in pushing Guantanamo out of the netherworld of non-news and onto front pages, into presidential news conferences, and to the top of the TV newscasts.  That, in a word, is extraordinary.  But what exactly do those prisoners, many now being force-fed, want to highlight?  Here’s one thing: despite the promise he made on entering the Oval office, President Obama has obviously not made much of an effort to close the prison, which, as he said recently, “hurts us, in terms of our international standing… [and] is a recruitment tool for extremists.”

If Congress has been thoroughly recalcitrant when it comes to closing Guantanamo, the president’s idea of what shutting down that prison meant proved curious indeed.  His plan involved transferring many of the prisoners from Cuba, that crown jewel of the offshore Bermuda Triangle of injustice that the Bush administration set up in January 2002, to a super-max-style prison in Illinois (“Gitmo North”).  That would mean, of course, transferring indefinite detention from the offshore world of extraordinary rendition, black sites, and torture directly into the heart of the American justice system.  Obama himself has indicated that at least 50 of the prisoners can, in his view, never be released or tried (in part because confessions were tortured out of some of them).  They would be kept in what he, in the past, politely termed “prolonged detention.”

Here’s a second thing the strikers undoubtedly wanted to highlight and it’s even harder to take in: Guantanamo now holds 86 prisoners (out of the 166 caged there) who have been carefully vetted by the U.S. military, the FBI, the CIA, and so on, and found to have done nothing for which they could be charged or should be imprisoned.  All 86 have been cleared for release — years late, often after brutal interrogation experiences sometimes involving torture.  The problem: there is nowhere to release them to, especially since the majority of them are Yemenis and President Obama has imposed a moratorium on transferring any prisoner to Yemen.

Then there are the prisoners who may indeed have done something criminal in regard to the U.S., but had confessions tortured out of them which won’t hold up in court.  They are among the ones who will never be brought to trial, but never cleared for release either.  In other words, indefinite detention, something anathema to the American justice system, will for the conceivable future be us.  The fact that relatively few Americans seem fazed by this should be startling.  No charges, no trials, but never getting out of prison: that would once have been associated with the practices of a totalitarian state.

We know one thing: no one, not George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, or other top officials involved in setting up such a global system of injustice, sweeping up the innocent with the guilty, and subjecting them to horrors without end (including now force-feeding) will ever be brought to justice in an American court, nor will anyone involved in the system of renditiontorture, or abuse.  In the Obama years, while indefinite detention remained a grim American reality, the government, as TomDispatch regular and former State Department officer Peter Van Buren himself experienced, honed other methods for punishing those it was unhappy with, especially whistleblowers of all sorts.

One of those methods might be called “indefinite suspension.”  Instead of not being charged, you are charged repeatedly and dragged endlessly — your life in a state of suspension — through various bureaucratic judicial processes, the actual courts, and endless appeals thereof, so that even if sooner or later you come out the other side exonerated, you will still have been punished for your “crimes.” Let Peter Van Buren explain this mockery of “justice.” Tom

Homeland Insecurity 
Seven Years, Untold Dollars to Silence One Man
By Peter Van Buren

What do words mean in a post-9/11 world? Apart from the now clichéd Orwellian twists that turn brutal torture into mere enhanced interrogation, the devil is in the details. Robert MacLean is a former air marshal fired for an act of whistleblowing.  He has continued to fight over seven long years for what once would have passed as simple justice: getting his job back. His is an all-too-twenty-first-century story of the extraordinary lengths to which the U.S. government is willing to go to thwart whistleblowers.

First, the government retroactively classified a previously unclassified text message to justify firing MacLean. Then it invoked arcane civil service procedures, including an “interlocutory appeal” to thwart him and, in the process, enjoyed the approval of various courts and bureaucratic boards apparently willing to stamp as “legal” anything the government could make up in its own interest.

And yet here’s the miracle at the heart of this tale: MacLean refused to quit, when ordinary mortals would have thrown in the towel.  Now, with a recent semi-victory, he may not only have given himself a shot at getting his old job back, but also create a precedent for future federal whistleblowers. In the post-9/11 world, people like Robert MacLean show us how deep the Washington rabbit hole really goes.

The Whistle Is Blown

MacLean joined the Federal Air Marshal Service (FAMS) in 2001 after stints with the Air Force and the Border Patrol. In July 2003, all marshals received a briefing about a possible hijacking plot. Soon after, the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA), which oversees FAMS, sent an unencrypted, open-air text message to the cell phones of the marshals cancelling several months of missions for cost-cutting reasons. MacLean became concerned that cancelling missions during a hijacking alert might create a dangerous situation for the flying public. He complained to his supervisor and to the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general, but each responded that nothing could be done.

It was then that he decided to blow the whistle, hoping that public pressure might force the TSA to reinstate the marshals’ flights. So MacLean talked to a reporter, who broadcast a story criticizing the TSA’s decision and, after 11 members of Congress joined in the criticism, it reversed itself. At this point, MacLean had not been identified as the source of the leak and so carried on with his job.

A year later, he appeared on TV in disguise, criticizing the TSA dress code and its special boarding policies, which he believed allowed marshals to be easily identified by other passengers. This time, the TSA recognized his voice and began an investigation that revealed he had also released the 2003 text message. He was fired in April 2006. Although the agency had not labeled that message as “sensitive security information” (SSI) when it was sent in 2003, in August 2006, months after MacLean’s firing, it issued a retroactive order stating that the text’s content was indeed SSI.

A Whistleblower’s Catch-22

That disclosing the contents of an unclassified message could get someone fired for disclosing classified information is the sort of topsy-turvy situation which could only exist in the post-9/11 world of the American national security state.

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 May 2013 at 11:12 am

Free at last! from job lock

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In The American Prospect Paul Waldman points out one of the great benefits of Obamacare: not being locked into a job because of health insurance:

For years, even before Barack Obama was elected, one of the many complaints liberals (mostly) had about the current employer-based health insurance system was “job lock”—if you have insurance at your job, particularly if you or someone in your family has health issues, then you’re going to be hesitant to leave that job. You won’t start your own business, or join somebody else’s struggling startup (unless they provide insurance), and this constrains people’s opportunities and dampens the country’s entrepreneurial spirit.

That this occurs is intuitively obvious—you probably know someone who has experienced it, or have experienced it yourself. And today there’s an article in that pro-Democrat hippie rag The Wall Street Journal entitled “Will Health-Care Law Beget Entrepreneurs?” Amid the worrying about the implementation of Obamacare in January, and the quite reasonable concern that the news could be filled with stories of confusion, missteps, and dirtbags like that Papa John’s guy cutting employees’ hours rather than give them insurance, to avoid the horror of increasing the cost of a pizza by a dime,11This is important: when you hear a story about an employer who cut his employees’ hours so he wouldn’t have to abide by the law, what you’re reading about is a jerk who doesn’t want to offer his employees insurance, not some inevitable consequence of the law. That’s a choice he makes. And don’t forget too that the employer mandate only applies to companies with 50 or more employers, and 96 percent of them already offer health insurance, even without a mandate. it’s a reminder that there will probably be lots of stories like this one in the news too, stories about people whose lives have been changed for the better by the fact that Americans will have something they’ve never had before: health security.

So what kind of effect could the elimination of job lock have on the economy? That’s tough to say. The study referred to in the WSJ article finds that people are much more likely to start a business if they get their health insurance from their spouse’s job than if they get it from their own job; in the former case you’d still have insurance if you started a business, while in the latter case you’d lose it. In addition, and this is particularly interesting, even though you might think of 65-year-olds as looking forward to days of golf and eating dinner at 4 p.m., a large number of people seem to start businesses pretty much the minute they become eligible for Medicare. While it’s hard to get insurance in the current private market if you’re 44, it’s basically impossible if you’re 64.So it seems that the fact that after January, job lock will be history means that more businesses will be started. How many more? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 May 2013 at 11:03 am

Posted in Healthcare

The military has proved unable to handle the truth

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The military has proved itself incompetent to deal with sexual assaults and rapes, so that task should now be removed from the chain of command: the chain of command failed spectacularly, and there’s no sense continuing to try to make it work. A military court-martial renders a judgement reached in a trial with evidence presented and defense and prosecution both bringing witnesses who can be cross-examined. Assuming that there was no command influence, it is odd to think that the judgment is merely advisory, and the commanding officer is free to overrule it (in cases, for example, in which the defendant found guilty is a friend of the commanding officer).

Nancy Goldstein has a good article in The American Prospect:

The real scandal this week around military sexual violence isn’t the release of the latest in a string of Department of Defense (DOD) reports showing stunning levels of sexual assault—hell, even the DOD estimates 26,000 actual incidents compared with the 3,374 reported incidents. It’s not the fact that this year marks the third in a row to show an increase in sexual violence (under law, DOD has published them yearly since 2004), or that the latest report “found that among the one-third of women who reported sexual-assault allegations to a military authority, 62 percent suffered retaliation for speaking up.” It’s not even the arrest, two days before the report came out, of the officer in charge of sexual-assault prevention programs for the Air Force on sexual battery charges.

The real scandal is the degree to which the military has been allowed to continue punting on addressing sexual violence, despite knowing about the widespread sexual abuse of service members, most but certainly not all of them women, for over two decades now, as documented by a staggering number of reports, lawsuits (five since 2011 alone by a single attorney), and scandals.

As early as 1988, researcher Melanie Martindale from the Defense Manpower Data Center in Arlington, Virginia found that 5 percent of female respondents “described attempted or completed sexual assault during military service over an 18-month period,” 15 percent reported “pressure for sexual favors,” and another 38 percent describing “unwanted touching.” As early as 2007, even the Pentagon’s own statistics showed that women, at one in three, were at twice the risk for sexual assault in the military as they were in the civilian population.

The military’s flagrant negligence has been abetted by a series of leaders, congresses, and administrations that have allowed the military to continue doing almost nothing to protect its service members from sexual assault. That is, unless you count the brass’s obsession, until the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” with protecting all of those poor straight guys in the shower from the gaze of suspected perverts in the ranks by discharging gay translators of Arabic in droves.

This culture of allowing the military to “police their own” despite plentiful evidence that this makes about as much sense as allowing the financial industry to regulate itself appointing Colonel Sanders head of poultry safety is in evidence as early as 1991. That’s when the Tailhook scandal broke, bringing the issue of large-scale military sexual violence to public attention. More than 100 Navy and Marine Corps officers at a convention sexually assaulted 83 women and seven men. In response, the Navy led an investigation so weak that that even the Pentagoncondemned it. But in the final analysis, acting Navy Secretary Sean O’Keefe, despite having accepted the resignation of two admirals cited in the report for failing to interview senior officials who clearly had witnessed the assaults, and having reassigned a third, said he continued to have “complete confidence” in Navy Undersecretary J. Daniel Howard. In fact, O’Keefe decided to keep Howard on as the Navy’s second in command “despite the inspector general’s finding that Howard failed to force the two organizations investigating the scandal to coordinate their work.”

Unsurprisingly, there’s no record of the military making any real effort to reduce sexual violence in the years following Tailhook. . .

Continue reading.

To continue doing the same thing and expecting a different outcome is, if not insanity, at least a reasonably clear sign of stupidity.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 May 2013 at 10:32 am

Posted in Law, Military

Today I decided to use a Slant

with 2 comments

SOTD 10 May 2013

Today seemed a good day for a shave with a Slant-Bar razor. This Merkur 37G replaces the 37C I had previously owned: I just wanted up an upgrade because I liked the razor so much—and indeed it does provide a wonderful, friendly shave: close and comfortable.

But some credit must be given to brush and cream. The brush is my Simpons Duke 3 Best, a wonderful little brush, and the shaving cream is Dr. Selby’s 3x Concentrated, a terrific shaving cream that I recently recommended as one of the shaving creams shaving soap users ought to try. A wonderful lather and a unique format for shaving cream.

Some misunderstand the nature of shaving cream—it’s more detergent-like than soap in its formulation so works better with hard water—and refer to any hard source of lather as “shaving soap” and any soft source as “shaving cream”, but the difference is not firmness: there are soft soaps (Virgilio Valobra, Cella, Vitos) and hard creams (Dr. Selby’s 3x, Tabula Rasa, Figaro). “Hard is not a synonym for “soap,” nor “soft” for “cream.”

Three very pleasant passes with the Merkur Slant and the Gillette 7 O’Clock SharpEdge blade it holds, a final rinse, and then a pleasant amount of Guerlain’s Vol de Nuit as an aftershave. What a fine shave!

Written by LeisureGuy

10 May 2013 at 10:05 am

Posted in Shaving

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