Later On

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

Archive for May 15th, 2013

Galaxy dead ahead! Reverse thrusters!

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Galaxy

Stunning photo, eh? Backstory here.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 May 2013 at 6:47 pm

Posted in Science

Marijuana users tend to be skinnier

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Fascinating. Lindsay Abrams in The Atlantic:

PROBLEM: “Marijuana use is associated with an acute increase in caloric intake,” goes the clinical jargon for popular lore. Still despite eating more while high (by some measures, over 600 extra calories per day), marijuana users’ extra intake doesn’t seem to be reflected in increased BMI. Indeed, studies have identified a reduced prevalence of obesity in the pot smoking community.

METHODOLOGY: Researchers at the University of Nebraska, the Harvard School of Public Health, and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center analyzed data from a nationally representative sample of over 4,600 adults. About 12 percent of the participants self-identified as current marijuana users, and another 42 percent reported having used the drug in the past. The participants were tested for various measures of blood sugar control: their fasting insulin and glucose levels; insulin resistance; cholesterol levels; and waist circumference.

RESULTS: Current marijuana users had significantly smaller waist circumference than participants who had never used marijuana, even after adjusting for factors like age, sex, tobacco and alcohol use, and physical activity levels. They also had higher levels of HDL (“good cholesterol“). The most significant differences between those who smoked marijuana and those who never or no longer did was that current smokers’ insulin levels were reduced by 16 percent and their insulin resistance (a condition in which the body has trouble absorbing glucose from the bloodstream) was reduced by 17 percent.

People who had previously used marijuana, but not in the past thirty days, tended to have similar outcomes, but to a much lesser degree. In addition, none of these measures were impacted by how much marijuana people reported smoking.

IMPLICATIONS: Although they’re not sure exactly how it happens, write the authors, these findings suggest that marijuana somehow works to improve insulin control, regulating body weight and perhaps explaining why marijuana users have a lower incidence of diabetes. Adding to the big questions — “can weed can treat obesity?” and “marijuana makes you skinny?!” — is the possibility that marijuana might be useful in helping people to manage their blood sugar.


The full study, “The Impact of Marijuana Use on Glucose, Insulin, and Insulin Resistance among US Adults,” is published in The American Journal of Medicine.

 

Written by LeisureGuy

15 May 2013 at 3:20 pm

This is an amazing photograph, thanks to satellite Kepler

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tatooineworld

A world orbiting two suns. Planet is about the size of Saturn. More here.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 May 2013 at 3:02 pm

Posted in Science

Guantánamo: It’s Obama’s disgrace now

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Andrew O’Hehir points out the depth of Obama’s responsibility for Guantánamo:

Once upon a time, in the long-ago days of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, we may have had the worst and most abusive presidential administration in the history of the United States, but at least there was some moral clarity. You were on their side or you weren’t; you either bought into the idea that the “war on terror” was a special set of circumstances that required an immense expansion of executive power and the indefinite suspension of constitutional norms, or you didn’t. Nothing quite symbolized that division like the military detention camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. It was a locked-down and secretive facility in a country that didn’t want us there, where hooded and manacled men – in theory, the most violent and dangerous anti-American militants on the planet – were kept under mysterious conditions, denied the rights we routinely accord to suspected murderers and rapists, and subjected to interrogations we didn’t want to know about.

But as details about the conditions of detainment at Guantánamo began to leak, the place began to look not just abusive and nightmarish but also bureaucratic and buffoonish. Many of those who were being held captive in those egregious circumstances were low-level foot-soldiers, or even bystanders, who’d been in the wrong place at the wrong time. Sometimes there was a quality of grim farce about the whole thing, as in Michael Winterbottom’s 2006 film “The Road to Guantánamo,” which tells the true story of a group of British men captured while on their way to a wedding in Pakistan. The men languished in Gitmo for many months, even after it was clear they had no significant connections to al-Qaida or the Taliban. Indeed, of the 779 individuals who have been imprisoned there at one time or another since 2002, more than 600 have been released without ever being charged with anything, still less convicted.

Well, thank goodness for Barack Obama, right? Even if he hasn’t quite managed to get the place closed down, as he loudly and repeatedly promised he would, at least he got all those innocent or insignificant people released! Except that’s not how it happened. The vast majority of the detainee releases – 530 or so – occurred under Bush. Under Bush’s successor, Guantánamo Bay has become something that’s arguably even more disgraceful than a symbol of hyper-patriotic right-wing zealotry. It’s become forgotten, abandoned and swept under the rug. No one goes in and no one comes out. If the remaining 166 detainees at Guantánamo were originally swept up in a paranoid imperial overreach, that reaction was at least somewhat understandable. Today they are prisoners of political paralysis and political cowardice, which are inexcusable.

So it is that Obama, more than four years after signing an executive order to shut down the Guantánamo prison, found himself a few days ago mumbling defensively to the White House press corps that it might be time to “re-engage with Congress” on the issue. “It is not a surprise to me that we’ve got problems in Guantánamo,” he added. Well, it freakin’ well shouldn’t be, Mr. President. From the moment Obama became a presidential candidate in 2007, he campaigned vigorously against Guantánamo as a pillar of the flawed and failed Bush-Cheney war policy. He won the election and signed that executive order in his third day on the job, and then – once it became clear that House Republicans would be delighted to use the issue to depict him as a crypto-Muslim, terrorist-coddling pantywaist – let the whole thing drop. The rest of us, I’m afraid, mostly assumed that the right guy was in office and the right thing would be done eventually, and moved on.

But decisions made in the name of political expediency have a tendency to come back and bite you in the ass. (If Machiavelli never said that, he should have.) As theEconomist put it this week, , , ,

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 May 2013 at 1:45 pm

7 Dodgy Food Practices Banned in Europe But Just Fine Here

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I think that it’s odd that we Americans allow the poisoning of our own food supply. Tom Philpott in Mother Jones:

Last week, the European Commission voted to place a two-year moratorium on most uses of neonicotinoid pesticides, on the suspicion that they’re contributing to the global crisis in honeybee health (a topic I’ve touched on hereherehere, and here). Since then, several people have asked me whether the Europe’s move might inspire the US Environmental Protection Agency to make a similar move—currently, neonics are widely used in several of our most prevalent crops, including corn, soy, cotton, and wheat.

The answer is no. As I reported recently, an agency press officer told me the EU move will have no bearing on the EPA’s own review of the pesticides, which aren’t scheduled for release until 2016 at the earliest.

All of which got me thinking about other food-related substances and practices that are banned in Europe but green-lighted here. Turns out there are lots. Aren’t you glad you don’t live under the Old World regulatory jackboot, where the authorities deny people’s freedom to quaff to atrazine-laced drinking water, etc., etc.? Let me know in comments if I’m missing any.

1. Atrazine
Why it’s a problem: A “potent endocrine disruptor,” Syngenta’s popular corn herbicide has been linked to range of reproductive problems at extremely low doses in both amphibiansand humans, and it commonly leaches out of farm fields and into people’s drinking water.
What Europe did: Banned it in 2003.
US status: EPA: “Atrazine will begin registration review, EPA’s periodic reevaluation program for existing pesticides, in mid-2013.”

2. Arsenic in chicken, turkey, and pig feed
Why it’s a problem: Arsenic is beloved of industrial-scale livestock producers because it makes animals grow faster and turns their meat a rosy pink. It enters feed in organic form, which isn’t harmful to humans. Trouble is, in animals guts, it quickly goes inorganic, and thus becomes poisonous. Several studies, including one by the FDA, have found heightened levels of inorganic arsenic in supermarket chicken, and its also ends up in manure, where it can move into tap water. Fertilizing rice fields with arsenic-laced manure may be partially responsible for heightened arsenic levels in US rice. 
What Europe did: According to the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, arsenic-based compounds “were never approved as safe for animal feed in the European Union, Japan, and many other countries.”
US status: The drug giant Pfizer “voluntarily” stopped marketing the arsenical feed additive Roxarsone back in 2011. But there are still several arsenicals on the market. On May 1, a coalition of enviro groups including the Center for Food Safety, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, and the Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit demanding that the FDA ban them from feed.

3. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 May 2013 at 1:44 pm

Army Coordinator at Sexual Assault Prevention Office Accused of ‘Abusive Sexual Contact’

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Another one: first the Air Force, now the Army. I begin to see a pattern—and perhaps part of the reason that the military perpetuates and protects a rape culture. The story, by Abby Olheiser in The Atlantic Wire:

An Army coordinator for a sexual assault prevention office at Fort Hood was accused of “abusive sexual contact” on Tuesday. Think this story sounds familiar? That’s probably because last week, the officer in charge of the Air Force’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response office was arrested and charged with sexual battery.

The unnamed coordinator of a sexual assault prevention program has been suspended from all duties while the accusation is investigated. Here’s the Associated Press with more:

The Army said a sergeant first class, whose name was not released, is accused of pandering, abusive sexual contact, assault and maltreatment of subordinates.

He had been assigned as an equal opportunity adviser and coordinator of a sexual harassment-assault prevention program at the Army’s 3rd Corps headquarters at Fort Hood when the allegation arose.

According to USA Today (citing multiple unnamed sources), the soldier may have been running a prostitution ring:

The solider is being investigated for among other things forcing a subordinate into prostitution and sexually assaulting two others, according to a Capitol Hill staffer who has been briefed on the case and spoke about it on condition of anonymity. Two senior Pentagon officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the case is under investigation, also confirmed that the sergeant is being investigated for running a prostitution ring.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel reacted with “frustration, anger, and disappointment over these troubling allegations and the breakdown in discipline and standards they imply,” according to a statement from the Pentagon’s press secretary. . . .

Continue reading.

These are criminals: they are breaking the law. We seem to have a military in which law-breakers are common. Much, we’re beginning to see, like the police—cf. the recently heralded king of stop-and-frisk in New York. “Who will guard the guardians?” is a tough question indeed, especially since those tasked with guarding the guardians are treated with contempt and hatred, as seems to be the rule—the same treatment given to anyone who points out law-breaking and wrong-doing: every possible effort is made to destroy the person.

Now I see this as a very dangerous situation, though it doesn’t seem to attract a lot of attention—individual cases, sure, but not the overall brutalization of those empowered to use force. If we go that direction, it will not end well, because the “them” in “us versus them” tends to grow until “them” is anyone except another soldier/cop/etc.: everyone else is beyond the pale and fair game. We are seeing this in Syria and parts of Africa. It is not a direction the US should take, but given the increasing brutalization of enforcement authority—even including public prosecutors (DAs), as we have seen in several cases (not to mention the 47 homicides “solved” by a detective that are now being investigated)—we are already en route.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 May 2013 at 12:47 pm

Libertarians: Will the free hand of the market fix this?

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I am serious with the question, but I don’t expect an answer. The Libertarian premise is that the government is unnecessary (save, say, for wars, enforcing contracts, and the like) because the laissez-faire free market will fix things with maximum efficiency simply by responding to market pressures: the “invisible hand.” So how would that work in the case presented by Juan Cole at Informed Comment:

A construction company in Belize gradually hollowed out and ultimately destroyed a 60-foot, 2300-year-old Mayan pyramid to get gravel for paving roads, National Geographic reports.

There are exceptions (executives with a conscience), but mostly capitalism and its companies are about making money, any way they need to. They are all too often amoral, which is why they need to be regulated by a moral community via its elected government. The idea that corporations would all be nice if there were no government or only weak government regulation flies in the face of everything taught us by modern history, going back well before the British East India Company forced the Chinese government to let it addict people to opium. (And, no, it isn’t a sufficient refutation to say that the EIC was originally chartered by the state; the state wasn’t overseeing it out in the Indian Ocean).

Contemporary tobacco companies such as Philip Morris and Reynolds American deliberately slaughter 443,000 Americans a year with their poisonous product, spraying the leaves with extra nicotine to addict their victims. And the government lets them get away with this.

And America’s coal companies spew out toxic mercury and lead and other poisons, which are damaging our health, plus a lion’s share of our carbon dioxide emissions, which are destroying the planet via rapid climate change.

Those two kinds of corporations should just be closed down altogether by a moral community via its elected government.

Road builders, you need, but they obviously need to be watched like a hawk.

The Guardian has video: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 May 2013 at 12:32 pm

Posted in Business

Interesting: White House tells GOP to put up or shut up

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Congress seems to be outraged (as am I) over the government’s actions against Associated Press, but Congress rejected the legislation that would have prevented that—and now Obama is sending that legislation back to Congress, since they’re so concerned about it. Charlie Savage writes in the NY Times:

The Obama administration sought on Wednesday to revive legislation that would provide greater protections to reporters from penalties for refusing to identify confidential sources, and that would enable journalists to ask a federal judge to quash subpoenas for their phone records, a White House official said.

The official said that President Obama’s Senate liaison, Ed Pagano, called Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, who is a chief proponent of a so-called media shield law, on Wednesday morning and asked him to reintroduce a bill that he had pushed in 2009. Called the Free Flow of Information Act, the bill was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee in a bipartisan 15-to-4 vote in December 2009. But while it was awaiting a floor vote, a furor over leaking arose after WikiLeaks began publishing archives of secret government documents, and the bill never received a vote.

The new push comes as the Obama administration has come under fire from both parties amid the disclosure this week that the Justice Department, as part of a leak investigation, secretly used a subpoena earlier this year to obtain a broad swath of calling records involving Associated Press reporters and editors. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 May 2013 at 11:41 am

NRA: Un-american?

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Interesting column by Stanley Fish in the NY Times:

The more militant members of the N.R.A. and most of its leaders may be un-American.

By “militant” I don’t mean those who wish to protect recreational shooting and hunting; nor do I mean those who, like Justice Antonin Scalia, believe that there is a constitutional right to defend one’s home and family with firearms. These are respectable positions (although I am deeply unpersuaded by the second). I mean those who read the Second Amendment as proclaiming the right of citizens to resist the tyranny of their own government, that is, of the government that issued and ratified the Constitution in the first place.

The reason this view may be un-American is that it sets itself against one of the cornerstones of democracy — the orderly transfer of power. A transfer of power is orderly when it is effected by procedural rules that are indifferent to the partisan, ideological affiliations of either the party exiting power or the party taking power. A transfer is disorderly when it is effected by rebellion, invasion, military coup or any other use of force.

Those who are engaged in a disorderly transfer believe that their actions are inspired by the highest of motives — the desire to set right what has gone terribly wrong. Somehow the forces of evil have gained the levers of power, and unless they are dislodged, the values necessary to the sustaining of everything we cherish will be overwhelmed. Violence is ugly, but if tyranny is to be defeated, it may be necessary. Given tyranny’s resilience and its tendency to fill any available political space, we must always be ready; the price of liberty is eternal vigilance.

This is a familiar story; indeed it is the story — or at least one story — of the American Revolution, and that is why it is the story Wayne LaPierre, the executive vice president of the N.R.A., told to a Senate committee in January: “Senator, I think without any doubt, if you look at why our Founding Fathers put [the Second Amendment] there, they had lived under the tyranny of King George and they wanted to make sure that these free people in this new country would never be subjugated again and have to live under tyranny.”

In 1990, Fred Romero, an N.R.A. field representative, put the case as clearly as possible: “The Second Amendment is not there to protect the interests of hunters, sport shooters and casual plinkers.” Rather, the “Second Amendment is … literally a loaded gun in the hands of the people held to the heads of government.” In response to statements like this (and there are many of them), President Obama recently said in a speech in Denver: “The government’s us. These officials are elected by you.” Or, in other words, how can the people’s enemy be the representatives elected by the people?

The N.R.A. militants have an answer. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 May 2013 at 11:25 am

Posted in Government, Guns

After Ríos Montt Verdict, Time for U.S. to Account for Its Role in Guatemalan Genocide

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DemocracyNow! has an excellent interview, video at the link, which begins:

Following last week’s guilty verdict in Guatemala’s historic genocide trial, reporter Allan Nairn says the United States should follow Guatemala’s lead and indict the Reagan administration officials who supported the genocide under General Efraín Ríos Montt. “All of [these crimes] were crimes not just of General Ríos Montt, but also of the U.S. government,” Nairn says. Former President Ronald Reagan once called Ríos Montt “a man of great personal integrity.” After the verdict, Judge Yassmin Barrios ordered the attorney general to launch an immediate investigation of “all others” connected to the crimes.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 May 2013 at 11:11 am

Republicans Outraged Over AP Spying Scandal Killed Legislation That Would Have Prevented It

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Ironic, eh? But I’m sure the GOP will calm down once this is pointed out. Jed Lewison writes at Daily Kos:

Darrell Issa is outraged that the Department of Justice secretly obtained phone records through a subpoena of the AP’s telecommunications provider. He’s right to condemn the action, but as nycsouthpaw points out, it’s worth remembering that Issa voted against legislation that would have protected the AP:

Issa was one of 21 House members who opposed the Free Flow of Information Act of 2007, a measure that would have forbidden federal investigators from compelling journalists to give evidence without first obtaining a court order. The bill included a section that specifically forbid subpoenaing journalists’ phone records from “communication service providers” to the same extent that the law protected the journalists themselves.

The legislation passed the House, but it was filibustered by Republicans in the Senate and opposed by the Bush Administration. Barack Obama, at the time a U.S. Senator, didn’t vote on the bill, but was a co-sponsor. So you have a situation where Issa and Senate Republicans opposed legislation that would have prevented a government action they now decry, and you have a president who supported the legislation but whose administration is now responsible for taking the actions his legislation was supposed to prevent.

Thus far, the president hasn’t addressed the DOJ’s actions. Yesterday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney tried to take a neutral posture, saying that the White House was unaware of the subpoena until the AP announced it yesterday and referring all questions to the DOJ.

Given the president’s support for the press shield legislation in the Senate, he’s at risk of being as hypocritical on this issue as Issa and most Senate Republicans—without having the added virtue of being right. But if he wasn’t involved in the decision to subpoena the records, he could help make up for the government’s overreach not only by saying it was wrong to subpoena copies of AP phone records, but also by harnessing the GOP’s new civil libertarian streak to push through the legislation that they killed just a few short years ago.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 May 2013 at 10:39 am

Who doctored a White House email?

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At Salon Joan Walsh asks a question to which I hope the answer will shortly be known—let’s see if the Obama persecution of those who leak information will apply to this incident.

Was ABC News used by someone with an ax to grind against the State Department? It looks possible. A key email in its “scoop” that the administration’s “talking points” on Benghazi had been changed a dozen times came from White House national security communications adviser Ben Rhodes. It seemed to confirm that the White House wanted the talking points changed to protect all agencies’ interests, “including those of the State Department,” in the words of the email allegedly sent by Rhodes.

But CNN’s Jake Tapper reveals that Rhodes’ email didn’t mention the State Department, and doesn’t even seem to implicitly reference it. The email as published by Karl differs significantly from the original obtained by Tapper.

According to ABC’s Jonathan Karl, Rhodes weighed in after State Department’s Victoria Nuland, who expressed concerns about the way the talking points might hurt “my building’s leadership.” ABC quotes Rhodes saying:

We must make sure that the talking points reflect all agency equities, including those of the State Department, and we don’t want to undermine the FBI investigation. We thus will work through the talking points tomorrow morning at the Deputies Committee meeting.

The email obtained by Tapper is very different.

Sorry to be late to this discussion. We need to resolve this in a way that respects all of the relevant equities, particularly the investigation.

There is a ton of wrong information getting out into the public domain from Congress and people who are not particularly informed. Insofar as we have firmed up assessments that don’t compromise intel or the investigation, we need to have the capability to correct the record, as there are significant policy and messaging ramifications that would flow from a hardened mis-impression.

We can take this up tomorrow morning at deputies.

You can read the original here.

Significantly, the Rhodes email doesn’t even mention the controversial Benghazi talking points. Reporting by Stephen Hayes of the Weekly Standard paraphrased Rhodes’ email the same way – to depict him jumping in behind Nuland and protecting the interests of the State Department. Some on the right have suggested Karl and Tapper might be talking about two different emails, but in the ABC and CNN stories, the emails are dated identically, 9/14/12 at 9:34 p.m. Tapper provides the original; Karl did not.

Presumably, someone changed Rhodes’ email before leaking it to Karl, but ABC News hasn’t replied to the scoop by Tapper (who used to work there). ABC’s story added fuel to the Benghazi fire; we’ll see if CNN’s helps put it out.

I wonder whether Jonathan Karl will issue a correction.

 

Written by LeisureGuy

15 May 2013 at 10:25 am

The Justice Department’s Seizing of AP Phone Records: A Continuation of Attacks on Freedom of the Press

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The Obama Administration Department of Justice seems to be badly broken: it won’t prosecute banks and other financial institutions for their misdeeds, it continues to persecute medical marijuana users who obey their state laws regarding medical marijuana (thus breaking a promise Obama and Holder made), it viciously persecutes whistleblowers to prevent government wrong-doing from being exposed, it refuses to investigate and bring to trial those guilty of war crimes such as torture, and in general has shown little interest in fulfilling its duties, particularly those that involve work.

The NY Times editorial today takes the Obama Administration to task for its seizure of phone records:

The Obama administration, which has a chilling zeal for investigating leaks and prosecuting leakers, has failed to offer a credible justification for secretly combing through the phone records of reporters and editors at The Associated Press in what looks like a fishing expedition for sources and an effort to frighten off whistle-blowers.

On Friday, Justice Department officials revealed that they had been going through The A.P.’s records for months. The dragnet covered work, home and cellphone records used by almost 100 people at one of the oldest and most reputable news organizations. James Cole, a deputy attorney general, offered no further explanation on Tuesday, saying only that it was part of a “criminal investigation involving highly classified material” from early 2012.

Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. said he could not comment on the details of the phone records seizure, which he said was an open investigation — although he was happy to comment on the open investigation into the tax audits of conservative groups, which he said might have been criminal and were “certainly outrageous and unacceptable.”

Both Mr. Holder and Mr. Cole declared their commitment — and that of President Obama — to press freedoms. Mr. Cole said the administration does not “take lightly” such secretive trolling through media records.

We are not convinced. For more than 30 years, . . .

Continue reading.

And this post by Kevin Gosztola at The Dissenter is well worth reading:

The US Justice Department’s secret seizure of phone records of reporters and editors at the Associated Press is nothing less than a continuation of attacks on freedom of the press that have been ongoing under the administration of President Barack Obama.

Carl Bernstein, famed investigative journalist who broke the story on the Watergate scandal with Bob Woodward, appeared on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” and declared this is a “matter of policy.” It goes right up to the president and the people who surround him, the very officials who have waged an unprecedented war on whistleblowers and leaks.

He also explained, “The object of it is to try and intimidate people who talk to reporters, especially on national security matters. National security is always the false claim of administrations trying to hide information that people ought to know.”

Over 100 Journalists’ Phone Communications Collected

The AP reported yesterday that the Justice Department had “secretly obtained two months of telephone records” of reporters and editors, who worked for the AP. The records “listed incoming and outgoing calls, and the duration of each call, for the work and personal phone numbers of individual reporters, general AP office numbers in New York, Washington and Hartford, Conn., and the main number for AP reporters in the House of Representatives press gallery, according to attorneys for the AP.

They came from “more than 20 separate telephone lines assigned to AP and its journalists in April and May of 2012.” There is no way of knowing the “exact number of journalists,” who used the phone lines during this period, however, “100 journalists work in the offices whose phone records were targeted on a wide array of stories about government and other matters.”

The AP only found out that records had been secretly obtained through a letter from US attorney, Ronald Machen, which the AP’s general counsel, Laura Malone, received on the afternoon of May 10.

The records were possibly “obtained from phone companies,” perhaps through the issuing of a national security letter (NSL). Officials chose not to notify AP before collecting information and claim they did not have to provide notice, citing an exemption in federal regulations. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 May 2013 at 10:21 am

Someone from the bank should be tried for this

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I hope Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) will bring banks back into line. Right now the bank promises to do better and sometimes pays a small fine in addition. Matt Reynolds reports for CourthouseNews.com; the article is published by AlterNet:

An elderly man “succumbed to the pressure” of losing his home to Wells Fargo and died at a court hearing fighting the bank’s wrongful foreclosure, his estate claims in court.

The administrator of the estate of Larry Delassus sued Wells Fargo, Wachovia Bank, First American Corp. and others in Superior Court, for wrongful death, elder abuse, breach of contract and other charges.

Delassus died at 62 of heart disease after Wells Fargo mistakenly held him liable for his neighbor’s property taxes, doubled his mortgage payments, declared his loan in default and sold his Hermosa Beach condominium, according to the complaint.

“Larry Delassus tried everything to save his home,” the complaint states. “He told the Bank that they were mistaken; they said no. He contacted the bank seeking information, and was told one thing and then another, and oftentimes, no information at all. He enlisted his friend and neighbor to help him, but the bank refused to recognize him as Larry’s representative, despite his numerous applications and appeals. Whatever Larry needed, Wells Fargo created some excuse not to help him.

“At the very end, with his home being sold by the Bank and resold by the purchaser within months for nearly twice what he paid, Larry Delassus, now living in a boarding home, was still fighting for what he and many Americans believe is right by going to court. Wells Fargo, with its virtually unlimited resources, filed a series of procedural motions in its defense, needlessly forcing an ailing Larry to appear in court. Delassus valiantly continued to fight the best he could until his body gave up. On December 19, 2012, as he was sitting in the back of the courtroom, at about the same time the Bank was saying that its actions ‘didn’t matter,’ Larry collapsed, and within minutes, died. Wells Fargo and its agents should be held accountable for their negligent wrongful and malicious actions.” . . .

Continue reading. From later in the article:

. . . She says Delassus “lived a quiet and happy life,” and always paid his mortgage and property taxes on time. But in early 2009, Wells Fargo falsely claimed he owed $13,361.90 in back taxes when it was actually the owner of a nearby condo that owed the money, Popovich says.

But Wells Fargo, falsely claiming Delassus owed the money, nearly doubled his mortgage payment — a mistake it could have rectified by verifying his property’s tax identification number with the county, the estate says.

Delassus told Wells Fargo he could not afford the higher payments and the bank foreclosed — even after the county treasurer had confirmed that his property taxes were current and paid, the complaint states. . .

Why do bank executives enjoy immunity from criminal prosecution?

Written by LeisureGuy

15 May 2013 at 10:09 am

Posted in Business, Daily life, Law

Benghazi scandal: It’s all about the CIA trying to cover up their errors

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Kevin Drum at Mother Jones:

The more we find out about the editing of the Benghazi talking points, the more the evidence points in one direction: this was a CIA fiasco from the start. As we all know by now, the Benghazi mission was primarily a CIA operation, and they were the ones responsible for security there. But when it came time to write up talking points for public consumption after the September 11 attacks, they immediately started trying to shift blame. Here is David Brooks writing about the role of State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland:

On Friday evening of Sept. 14, the updated talking points were e-mailed to the relevant officials in various departments, including Nuland….[She] noted that the talking points left the impression that the C.I.A. had issued all sorts of warnings before the attack.

Remember, this was at a moment when the State Department was taking heat for what was mostly a C.I.A. operation, while doing verbal gymnastics to hide the C.I.A.’s role. Intentionally or not, the C.I.A. seemed to be repaying the favor by trying to shift blame to the State Department for ignoring intelligence.

Marcy Wheeler had a more pungent assessment a few days ago:

In other words, the story CIA — which had fucked up in big ways — wanted to tell was that it had warned State and State had done nothing in response….The truthful story would have been (in part) that CIA had botched the militia scene in Benghazi, and that had gotten the Ambassador killed.

Today Jake Tapper tells us that previous reports about the role of Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes have also been mistaken. Rhodes didn’t say anything to suggest that the White House was concerned with protecting the State Department’s repution. All he said was this: “We need to resolve this in a way that respects all of the relevant equities, particularly the investigation.” The next day, when everyone got together to vet the talking points, they were stripped down to their final mushy state.

Greg Sargent has more here. This was, pretty clearly, a turf war, and the evidence increasingly suggests it was a war started by the CIA. The State Department has already largely owned up to its own failures in the ARB report released last year. So far, though, the CIA hasn’t.

So far as I can tell, the CIA has been primarily a destructive force to American well-being.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 May 2013 at 9:50 am

Auto dealers and state legislatures conspire to make cars more expensive

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Interesting article in the Washington Post by Neil Irwin:

You can buy almost anything on the Internet: uranium ore, wolf urine, a levitating hover scooter. But you can’t buy a car straight from the factory. Go to the Web site of Ford or Honda or any other major automaker, and they will send you to your local dealer to conduct anything resembling an actual transaction.

It isn’t an accident. Rather, it is the result of hard-fought efforts by auto dealers to maintain, through state laws, their exclusive role as the place where one can buy a new automobile. Direct sale of autos by manufacturers is against the law in nearly every state, and there’s a range of related state laws governing auto dealers’ ability to enter or exit a market. In other words, the model that Dell developed for selling personal computers — enter your exact specifications online, and the computer will be built to order and delivered to your door — is illegal in most states for automobiles. (For a rundown on the structure of the auto industry, check out this paper from Justice Department antitrust economist Gerald R. Bodisch).

Enter Tesla. The maker of innovative electric cars is hoping to be equally innovative in how it sells them. It wants something that closely resembles the Dell model to apply to its popular “Model S” sedan. The company is pushing the Texas legislature to change its own law to make it legal to sell Teslas there directly.But North Carolina isn’t having it: Last week, a state Senate committee unanimously approved a bill to make the direct sale of autos in the state illegal.

What’s going on here is a battle of raw political power at the state level against the forces of markets. . .

Continue reading.

Governments should continually focus on one question: “Does this law help improve the common welfare of the state/nation?”

Written by LeisureGuy

15 May 2013 at 9:48 am

Posted in Business, Law

Glad to see the deficit problem going away

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As you would expect if the economy improves and the wealthy are taxed a bit more, the deficit is declining. And health-care costs are dropping. I expect that the GOP, which has been quite agitated about the deficit and about healthcare costs, will be very pleased and I’m eager to see their happy responses. There are quite a few discussions of this:

Ezra Klein in the Washington Post:

It looks like we’ve moved to talking about possible scandals just in time, because according to the Congressional Budget Office, the debt disaster that has obsessed the political class for the last three years is pretty much solved, at least for the next 10 years or so.

The last time the CBO estimated our future deficits was February– just four short months ago. Back then, the CBO thought deficits were falling and health-care costs were slowing. Today, the CBO thinks deficits are falling even faster and health-care costs are slowing by even more.

Here’s the short version: Washington’s most powerful budget nerds have cut their prediction for 2013 deficits by more than $200 billion. They’ve cut their projections for our deficits over the next decade by more than $600 billion. Add it all up and our 10-year deficits are looking downright manageable. Following are the highlights.

1) Swoosh-shaped debt. . .

Continue reading.

Kevin Drum at Mother Jones has a good post on the decline in the deficit and also the decline in healthcare costs.

Paul Waldman and Jaime Fuller at The American Prospect:

In case it slipped your mind during all this talk of scandal and impeachment, official Washington has spent the last couple of years gnashing its teeth about the budget deficit. Even as European austerity policies threw the continent into a period of extended despair, Republicans and their allies in the well-appointed conference rooms of “centrist” think tanks told us sternly that unemployment would have to wait; the most immediate crisis was the deficit.

Well today, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) issued its latest deficit projection, and lo and behold, it turns out that mercilessly slashing spending and allowing some modest tax increases has an impact. They project the deficit will be $642 billion this year, lower than it has been since 2008. Not only that, the CBO’s projections of future Medicare spending have been reduced as well. Hard as it might be to wrap your head around the idea, there has been some good news of late on the fiscal front.

So here’s a bold prediction: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 May 2013 at 9:41 am

Ken Robinson Explains How to Escape the Death Valley of American Education

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A wonderful talk I encountered on Open Culture, where Dan Colman notes:

Right now, you can find 1,520 TED Talks compiled into a neat online spreadsheet. That’s a lot of TED Talks. And the most popular one (in case you’re wondering) was delivered by Sir Ken Robinson in 2006. If you regularly visit our site, then chances are you’re among the 20 million people who have viewed Robinson’s talk on why Schools Kill Creativity. There’s also a good chance that you’ll want to watch his newly-released TED Talk,How to Escape Education’s Death Valley. Filmed just last month, this talk takes aim at America’s test-centric educational system, a system that increasingly treats education as an industrial process and bleeds creativity and curiosity out of our classrooms. You get that problem when you put technocrats and politicians, not teachers, in charge of things. And you’re only going to get more of it (sorry to say) as computer scientists start putting their stamp on America’s educational future.

Watch just the first 4 minutes. That will hook you.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 May 2013 at 9:27 am

Posted in Education, Video

Perfect shave on a floral morning

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SOTD 15 May 2013

Absolutely wonderful shave this morning. I’m continuing a series in which I shave with heavy-headed razors: yesterday the Pils, today the iKon S3S (with optional “bamboo” handle), and the theme today is floral.

I tried “soaking” the WSP Monard this morning—i.e., wetting the knot thoroughly under the hot-water tap and then letting the brush stand, soaking wet,  beside the sink while I showered. I didn’t note much difference in this badger brush, but it did help the horsehair brush yesterday.

Geo. F. Trumper has a shop in London where you can get a traditional shave, and I’m told that the barbers there build the lather in the cupped palm of their non-dominant hand instead of using a bowl or building the lather on the beard (my usual choice). I read this post on Wicked_Edge by rpin, and so I decided to try the cupped palm method this morning. The lather indeed was quite good. I’ll use this method for the rest of the week, my usual method of lathering on the beard next week, and return to the cupped-palm method for another week and compare.

In any event, a fragrant, rich lather on beard, I picked up the iKon, replaced the Swedish Gillette blade with one of the Astra Stainless blades justateaburrito, another WEdger, kindly sent to me, and did three very pleasant and trouble-free passes. The blade worked well for me, and the result was a BBS face.

A good splash of the rose-fragranced Coral Skin Food, and I’m off to a good start.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 May 2013 at 9:19 am

Posted in Shaving

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