Later On

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

Archive for May 16th, 2013

GOP caught red-handed

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The GOP truly has lost all integrity and any sense of shame—and it’s blatant. This does not auger well: they now recognize no bounds—anything now seems to be acceptable to them. It’s a very ugly situation, IMO.

Kevin Drum has the full story.

UPDATE: It seems to be not quite so serious as I thought: an incompetent journalist and some sloppy notetaking seems to account for it. See this backgrounder in the Washington Post.

Written by Leisureguy

16 May 2013 at 7:53 pm

How the Case for Austerity Has Crumbled

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In the NY Review of Books Paul Krugman reviews three recent books on economic policy and its effects:

In normal times, an arithmetic mistake in an economics paper would be a complete nonevent as far as the wider world was concerned. But in April 2013, the discovery of such a mistake—actually, a coding error in a spreadsheet, coupled with several other flaws in the analysis—not only became the talk of the economics profession, but made headlines. Looking back, we might even conclude that it changed the course of policy.

Why? Because the paper in question, “Growth in a Time of Debt,” by the Harvard economists Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff, had acquired touchstone status in the debate over economic policy. Ever since the paper was first circulated, austerians—advocates of fiscal austerity, of immediate sharp cuts in government spending—had cited its alleged findings to defend their position and attack their critics. Again and again, suggestions that, as John Maynard Keynes once argued, “the boom, not the slump, is the right time for austerity”—that cuts should wait until economies were stronger—were met with declarations that Reinhart and Rogoff had shown that waiting would be disastrous, that economies fall off a cliff once government debt exceeds 90 percent of GDP.

Indeed, Reinhart-Rogoff may have had more immediate influence on public debate than any previous paper in the history of economics. The 90 percent claim was cited as the decisive argument for austerity by figures ranging from Paul Ryan, the former vice-presidential candidate who chairs the House budget committee, to Olli Rehn, the top economic official at the European Commission, to the editorial board of The Washington Post. So the revelation that the supposed 90 percent threshold was an artifact of programming mistakes, data omissions, and peculiar statistical techniques suddenly made a remarkable number of prominent people look foolish.

The real mystery, however, was why Reinhart-Rogoff was ever taken seriously, let alone canonized, in the first place. Right from the beginning, critics raised strong concerns about the paper’s methodology and conclusions, concerns that should have been enough to give everyone pause. Moreover, Reinhart-Rogoff was actually the second example of a paper seized on as decisive evidence in favor of austerity economics, only to fall apart on careful scrutiny. Much the same thing happened, albeit less spectacularly, after austerians became infatuated with a paper by Alberto Alesina and Silvia Ardagna purporting to show that slashing government spending would have little adverse impact on economic growth and might even be expansionary. Surely that experience should have inspired some caution.

So why wasn’t there more caution? The answer, as documented by some of the books reviewed here and unintentionally illustrated by others, lies in both politics and psychology: the case for austerity was and is one that many powerful people want to believe, leading them to seize on anything that looks like a justification. I’ll talk about that will to believe later in this article. First, however, it’s useful to trace the recent history of austerity both as a doctrine and as a policy experiment.

1.

In the beginning was the bubble. There have been many, many books about the excesses of the boom years—in fact, too many books. For as we’ll see, the urge to dwell on the lurid details of the boom, rather than trying to understand the dynamics of the slump, is a recurrent problem for economics and economic policy. For now, suffice it to say that by the beginning of 2008 both America and Europe were poised for a fall. They had become excessively dependent on an overheated housing market, their households were too deep in debt, their financial sectors were undercapitalized and overextended.

All that was needed to collapse these houses of cards was some kind of adverse shock, and in the end the implosion of US subprime-based securities did the deed. By the fall of 2008 the housing bubbles on both sides of the Atlantic had burst, and the whole North Atlantic economy was caught up in “deleveraging,” a process in which many debtors try—or are forced—to pay down their debts at the same time.

Why is this a problem? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

16 May 2013 at 2:05 pm

If Obama went Bulworth, ….

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Ezra Klein has a great column in the Washington Post:

The New York Times reported Thursday that President Obama frequently fantasizes to close aides about “going Bulworth,” a reference to the 1998 movie in which Sen. Jay Bulworth, played by Warren Beatty, drops all pretense and begins saying exactly what he thinks. So I asked a number of ex-Obama aides and political consultants what the president would say if he went Bulworth. This post is based on what the people who have heard Obama vent about Washington believe he’d like to say in public, but can’t. That said, this is the Internet so, er, let me be clear: This is a work of fiction. Informed fiction, but fiction nevertheless. 

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Good afternoon. As you know, on Wednesday, Treasury Secretary Lew asked for and received the resignation of acting IRS director Stephen Miller. I want to reemphasize that my administration will not tolerate this kind of behavior at the I.R.S. or any other agency. But I don’t want to see this whole town get distracted from the other pressing work we have to do, either. The American people deserve a government they can trust. But they also deserve one that makes progress on problems like unemployment and immigration and sequestration. In fact…I mean, I should be clear. [Heavy sigh.] Actually, why don’t I just take some of your questions.

Q: Thank you, Mr. President. At this point, though, can the American people actually trust their government? There’s a sense that these issues might just be the tip of the iceberg.

OBAMA: [Long pause.] Are you kidding me?

No, the American people can’t trust their government. They can’t trust their media either, I might add. But that’s not because of a couple of I.R.S. agents out in Cincinnati. We can fix the Cincinnati office. Let me be clear: We’re already fixing the Cincinnati office. This problem was solved a year ago. The guy who solved it just got fired anyway because you all wanted to see some blood on the walls and I’m just political enough to give it to you.

Look, the reason the American people can’t trust their government is here in Washington. Right now sequestration is cutting unemployment checks by 10 or 11 percent. Do you hear anyone talking about that? Or doing anything about it? No. You hear Republicans aides telling Politico, anonymously, that the speaker is quote “obsessed” with Benghazi. You know, I don’t think most of the Republicans screaming about Benghazi could find Libya on a map. I don’t think 10 of them knew our ambassador’s name. And, let me be clear, Speaker Boehner certainly wasn’t obsessed with giving us the money we asked for to keep the embassy’s safe.

But now he’s obsessed with Benghazi. And not even Benghazi. The Benghazi talking points. Are you kidding me? He’s not obsessed with global warming or unemployment or rebuilding our infrastructure.  And now that there’s conflict, all of you are obsessed with Benghazi talking points too, and meanwhile, we’re cutting the National Institutes of Health and we’re cutting too deep into the military and we’re making life harder for the unemployed and we’re doing nothing to keep this planet in good shape for our kids.

Look, this is why the American people can’t trust their government. Because this town is obsessed with conflict and political advantage and not with real problems. We worry about the wrong things so much that we don’t even have time to talk to the American people or each other about the right things. And that’s not the I.R.S.’s fault.

Q: Sir, you’ve been criticized in recent weeks for being overly passive. And as you say here, it’s your view the government isn’t doing enough on the problems facing the American people. Isn’t it up to you to lead? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

16 May 2013 at 1:47 pm

Democracy only for the wealthy?

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Andy Kroll has a good column at TomDispatch. Tom, as usual, provides an introduction:

Once upon a time, the election season began with the New Hampshire primary in early March and never really gained momentum (or much attention) until the candidates were chosen and the fall campaign revved up. Now, the New Hampshire primary is in early January, and by then, the campaign season has already been underway for a couple of years.

Consider campaign 2016, the next 1% presidential election of the twenty-first century. It’s more than underway with congressional hearings that are visibly organized to skewer possible Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, and that special table-setter, the first Karl Rove super PAC attack video/ad, also lighting out after the former secretary of state. Looked at another way, like recent presidential campaigns, the 2016 version actually began before the last election ended. The initial media handicapping of future candidates by reporters and pundits, for instance, hit the news well before the first voter emerged from a polling booth in 2012 — and it’s never stopped. Similarly, the first Iowa poll for the next campaign season made it on the scene within days of the 2012 vote count (Hillary was ahead), and the first attack ads in early primary states are already appearing. With thousands or perhaps tens of thousands of polls to follow, Americans will repeatedly “vote” in contests set up by companies, often hired by political parties or politicians to take the pulse of the public in the unending serial ballots that now precede the actual election.

And don’t forget the single most obvious characteristic of supersizing American democracy: money that will flood the zone. Billions of dollars will go to “political consultants” (in 2012, an estimated $3 billion) and billions of dollars in ads will inundate TV, radio, and almost any other medium around ($6 billion in 2012 and expected to climb in 2016). Billions of words of punditry and commentary about the election (always) “of the century” will flow from well-funded TV news outfits stoked by all those ad dollars. Above all, there will be the money pouring into super PACs and the dark side, which will inundate everything else, shaping the new landscape in which U.S. elections now take place. The sums are staggering, and the limits on how much a wealthy person can “contribute” are rapidly falling away.

As a result, “earlier” and “more” are likely to be the operative political words for 2016, which means that, in a sense, American “democracy” couldn’t be more vigorous. Unfortunately, it’s the vigor of the wealthy, as TomDispatch Associate Editor Andy Kroll makes clear. Increasingly, it’s their system, politically speaking and in every other way, and welcome to it. Tom

Billionaires Unchained 
The New Pay-As-You-Go Landscape of American “Democracy” 
By Andy Kroll

Billionaires with an axe to grind, now is your time. Not since the days before a bumbling crew of would-be break-in artists set into motion the fabled Watergate scandal, leading to the first far-reaching restrictions on money in American politics, have you been so free to meddle. There is no limit to the amount of money you can give to elect your friends and allies to political office, to defeat those with whom you disagree, to shape or stunt or kill policy, and above all to influence the tone and content of political discussion in this country.

Today, politics is a rich man’s game. Look no further than the 2012 elections and that season’s biggest donor, 79-year-old casino mogulSheldon Adelson. He and his wife, Miriam, shocked the political class by first giving $16.5 million in an effort to make Newt Gingrich the Republican presidential nominee. Once Gingrich exited the race, the Adelsons invested more than $30 million in electing Mitt Romney. They donated millions more to support GOP candidates running for the House and Senate, to block a pro-union measure in Michigan, and to bankroll the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other conservative stalwarts (which waged their own campaigns mostly to help Republican candidates for Congress). All told, the Adelsons donated $94 million during the 2012 cycle — nearly four times the previous record set by liberal financier George Soros. And that’s only the money we know about. When you add in so-called dark money, one estimate puts their total giving at closer to $150 million.

It was not one of Adelson’s better bets. Romney went down in flames; the Republicans failed to retake the Senate and conceded seats in the House; and the majority of candidates backed by Adelson-funded groups lost, too. But Adelson, who oozes chutzpah as only a gambling tycoon worth $26.5 billion could, is undeterred. Politics, he told the Wall Street Journal in his first post-election interview, is like poker: “I don’t cry when I lose. There’s always a new hand coming up.” He said he could double his 2012 giving in future elections. “I’ll spend that much and more,” he said. “Let’s cut any ambiguity.”

But simply tallying Adelson’s wins and losses — or the Koch brothers’, or George Soros’s, or any other mega-donors’ — misses the bigger point. What matters is that these wealthy funders were able to give so much money in the first place.

With the advent of super PACs and a growing reliance on secretly funded nonprofits, the very wealthy can pour their money into the political system with an ease that didn’t exist as recently as this moment in Barack Obama’s first term in office. For now at least, Sheldon Adelson is an extreme example, but he portends a future in which 1-percenters can flood the system with money in ways beyond the dreams of ordinary Americans. In the meantime, the traditional political parties, barred from taking all that limitless cash, seem to be sliding toward irrelevance. They are losing their grip on the political process, political observers say, leaving motivated millionaires and billionaires to handpick the candidates and the issues. “It’ll be wealthy people getting together and picking horses and riding those horses through a primary process and maybe upending the consensus of the party,” a Democratic strategist recently told me. “We’re in a whole new world.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

16 May 2013 at 11:09 am

Posted in Business, Election, Politics

Barrett Brown Update: New Defense Team, Feds Fish For Activists

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Christian Stork writes at WhoWhatWhy.com:

Several new developments in the Barrett Brown case suggest that the playing field between the cyber-activist/journalist and the government may be starting to even out—at least a bit. But the feds aren’t giving up anytime soon.

On April 28 it was announced that Brown—currently facing upwards of 100 years behind bars for a slew of felonies ostensibly unrelated to his work as a journalist—had retained new defense counsel, including heavyweights certain to draw more attention to his case than ever before.

Brown’s new team will consist of attorneys Ahmed Ghappour and Charles Swift.

Swift’s name should be familiar to legal junkies in the post 9/11-era. A former Lt. Commander in the US Navy’s Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps, he represented Salim Hamdan in his successful bid to gain Supreme Court recognition of habeas corpus rights for Guantanamo Bay detainees. Swift now focuses on national security and military litigation as a partner in his private practice.

For Brown, the change came not a moment too soon. As the target of what feels like an establishment pile-on, Brown will need the best defense money can buy—that is, if they’ll let him buy it.

On April 17, Magistrate Judge Paul Stickney had ordered the seizure of thousands of dollars in defense funds, solicited and held in an outside account with no connection to Brown. Although the funds were apparently listed in a still-sealed financial affidavit provided by Brown’s former court-appointed attorney, it remains unclear how the money could be legally seized.­

However, in a hearing on May 1, Judge Stickney essentially reversed himself, denying the government’s motion to transfer the funds to the court for remuneration to Brown’s original public defender. Stickney then accepted that the cash reserves be used to retain Ghappour and Swift.

The prosecution had seemingly hoped to hobble Brown by depleting his war chest and therefore his ability to defend himself. With the new ruling however, which allows him to spend the money on counsel of his choice—one not overburdened by a public defender’s typically heavy caseload—the court has dealt the prosecution a serious setback.

The hearing came about a month after . . .

Continue reading. Totalitarian governments never like journalists.

Written by Leisureguy

16 May 2013 at 10:09 am

What a relief! Big banks are going to get a break from regulations

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I’m sure we’ll all be relieved that the Obama Administration has decided that some of the rules to restrict and restrain banks are too distasteful to banks, and so the rules will be weakened. Just what we need, eh? Ben Protess writes in the NY Times:

Under pressure from Wall Street lobbyists, federal regulators have agreed to soften a rule intended to rein in the banking industry’s domination of a risky market.

The changes to the rule, which will be announced on Thursday, could effectively empower a few big banks to continue controlling the derivatives market, a main culprit in the financial crisis.

The $700 trillion market for derivatives — contracts that derive their value from an underlying asset like a bond or an interest rate — allow companies to either speculate in the markets or protect against risk.

It is a lucrative business that, until now, has operated in the shadows of Wall Street rather than in the light of public exchanges. Just five banks hold more than 90 percent of all derivatives contracts.

Yet allowing such a large and important market to operate as a private club came under fire in 2008. Derivatives contracts pushed the insurance giant American International Group to the brink of collapse before it was rescued by the government.

In the aftermath of the crisis, regulators initially planned to force asset managers like Vanguard and Pimco to contact at least five banks when seeking a price for a derivatives contract, a requirement intended to bolster competition among the banks. Now, according to officials briefed on the matter, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission has agreed to lower the standard to two banks.

About 15 months from now, the officials said, the standard will automatically rise to three banks. And under the trading commission’s new rule, wide swaths of derivatives trading must shift from privately negotiated deals to regulated trading platforms that resemble exchanges.

But critics worry that the banks gained enough flexibility under the plan that it hews too closely to the “precrisis status.”

“The rule is really on the edge of returning to the old, opaque way of doing business,” said Marcus Stanley, the policy director of Americans for Financial Reform, a group that supports new rules for Wall Street.

Continue reading. It is difficult not to despair.

Written by Leisureguy

16 May 2013 at 10:04 am

Interesting interview with a hacker who refuses to help Saudi government spy on its citizens

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The US government, of course, routinely spies on its citizens, thanks to the Patriot Act and the willingness of Congress to allow the Executive and the telecomms to pass all electronic communications through the NSA.

Andrew Leonard has the interview in Salon:

What do you do when you’re a hacker specializing in secure communications protocols, and you get a request to help the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia spy on its own people? For San Francisco’s Moxie Marlinspike, a respected computer security expert, the experience provoked a thoughtful examination of the current state of hacker culture.

Not so long ago, hackers often perceived themselves as standing in opposition to authority and governments. Moreover, the subcategory of hackers who specialized in discovering and publicizing security vulnerabilities — referred to as “exploits” in the security trade — did so out of a belief that the best way to improve the integrity of our communication systems was by publicizing dangerous security holes.

Times have changed. As Joseph Menn documented in a breakthough special report for Reuters last week, today’s security-minded hackers often end up working directly for defense contractors, hand in hand with the U.S. government. Identifying exploits and selling them off to the highest bidder has become a lucrative business. Worst of all, the buyers of these exploits aren’t interested in improving security, but instead often plan to deploy these vulnerabilities for their own purposes.

Marlinspike spoke with Salon on Tuesday morning to explain how his Saudi Arabian encounter encouraged him to challenge the hacker community to rethink its values.

A week ago you were approached by a Saudi Arabian telecom company. What did they want and why did they come to you?

The company Mobily is actually from the United Arab Emirates, but they are one of the three major telecoms that operate in Saudi Arabia. They’d gotten a requirement from the regulator in Saudi Arabia to be able to both monitor and block mobile application data — data transmitted from apps on phones. They were trying to meet that requirement and were looking for help on the surveillance.

You said they came to you because you had written some software tools that targeted security holes in communications software? Can you explain what that means?

A lot of these apps use a secure protocol for communicating with their server called SSL. I have spent some time doing security research in that area, and I’ve published a number of vulnerabilities concerning SSL over the years. I think they saw that and assumed that I would be able to help them intercept SSL communications.

Why had you chosen to focus on exposing such vulnerabilities?

For a bunch of reasons. I’m just interested in security protocols, for whatever weird reason. And SSL is probably the most popular secure protocol on the Internet, so focusing work in that area just makes a lot of sense, you know, bang for the buck. I’m also interested in doing research in secure protocols and specifically SSL because more and more that’s what we depend on for the security of our communications, and more and more there are people who are interested in intercepting that communication, and I think we have to look at it really critically to make sure that it is as secure as we want it to be.

Ultimately, you turned Mobily down. Why?

Well, I’m not interested in helping them surveil the private communications of millions of people.

That led to the Mobily guy saying to you: “If you are not interested then maybe you are indirectly helping those who curb the freedom with their brutal activities.” Kind of a,”if you’re not with us, you’re against us” moment. How did that make you feel?

Obviously concerned. But I do think it was a really great example of the same logic we are going to be confronted with over and over again. There’s sort of an ongoing debate in the security community about what our role is in this new dynamic where governments are weaponizing the insecurities that are out there. Over and over again we hear it’s us or them, you’re with us or against us, your choice is either bombs or exploits. That it is something that we in the security community need to be talking about and be aware of.

Joseph Menn’s Reuters article on how the U.S government is one of the biggest purchasers of these exploits was a real eye-opener. It’s weird to see security hackers co-opted by the military-industrial complex — selling exploits to the highest bidder. How did that happen? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

16 May 2013 at 9:39 am

Driving good teachers away from teaching

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The US educational system is chronically shortchanged and mismanaged, and the changes that would result from paying teachers (rather than administrators) handsomely would be interesting to see. But the mood of the time seems to be to cut education, replacing it with minimal vocational training, and do that as cheaply as possible because having an educated citizenry seems unimportant to many. Sharon Lerner has an interesting article in The American Prospect:

Kathleen Knauth has had a rough school year. The principal of Hillview Elementary, near Buffalo, New York, has spent so much time typing teacher evaluations, entering data, and preparing for standardized testing, she barely had a minute to do what she used to do in her first 12 years of being a principal—drop in on classes, address parents’ concerns, or get to know students. When a school social worker stopped by her office a few months back to get Knauth’s take on which children might need her help, she realized she had hit a new low.

“Normally I’d say, ‘This one’s grandma is seriously ill. This child is going through a huge custody battle. This one has clothes that are too small. I could reel off six to eight things,” says Knauth. “But this year, I had nothing.”

Two weeks ago, after she was asked to raise the standards her students would be expected to meet for a fifth time this year, Knauth decided to resign and sent a public letter explaining that the educational reforms she’s been asked to implement are at odds with what’s important for kids.

Knauth is not the only one finding it tough to work in a public school these days—or, for that matter, detonating explosive public-resignation letters that only people with no hope of working in the public-school system again would send. (See, among others, the beautiful and heartbreaking retirement announcement sent by Syracuse social studies teacher Gerald Conti and the angrier but equally heartbreaking farewell sent by North Carolina math teacher Kris L. Nielson.)

Underscoring the frustrations of these disillusioned, vocal few is this year’s Met Life survey of the American teacher, which documents a broader dissatisfaction among educators. The report, which is based on surveys of 1,000 K-12 teachers and 500 K-12 principals, shows a precipitous decline in morale. The percentage of teachers who rated themselves “very satisfied” has dipped 23 percentage points since 2008, from 62 percent to 39 percent—putting it at the lowest point in 25 years.

Job satisfaction among principals decreased 9 percent in the same period, with 59 percent of principals now rating themselves “very satisfied.” Met Life, which conducted the survey in 2012 and released it in February, also found that more than half of teachers report feeling greatly stressed several days a week, an increase of 15 percent since 1985.

Perhaps it’s not surprising, then, that the number of people entering teaching programs has been declining, too. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

16 May 2013 at 9:35 am

Posted in Education, Government

Do Drones Work?

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Joshua Foust at The American Prospect:

Last week, the Congressional Progressive Caucus hosted an ad hoc hearing on the implications of U.S. drone policy. It was a follow-up of sorts to a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in April examining the counterterrorism implications of drone strikes. The two hearings mark the first time Congress has explicitly scrutinized drones as a stand-alone issue; previous discussions were wrapped up inconfirmation hearings and Rand Paul’s dramatic filibuster in March. But in narrowing the focus of the debate over drones to encompass only the moral gray areas of the Obama administration’s targeted killings policy, Congress is failing to ask more important questions.

There’s no doubt that drone strikes can have horrific consequences. Beyond thedisputed numbers of noncombatants killed, there are psychological consequences to consider as well. In the Senate hearing, Farea al-Muslimi, an American-educated Yemeni writer and activist, spoke eloquently of the heartbreak and fear that drones cause in Yemen. News reports from Pakistan suggest something similar: People are deeply afraid of drones. These perspectives matter greatly. But they only scratch at the surface of a much bigger problem with how the U.S. government uses drones. At a basic level, are they effective?

Gauging the effectiveness of drones is not simply a question of body counts. It is a larger evaluation of whether the terrorist threat is affected, whether the countries where drones are used are becoming more stable or less, and whether America’s ability to partner with other governments for future counterterrorism missions is improving or getting worse. The human factor, which Congress has focused on recently, is an important part of that evaluation, but it is only one part. In other words: Can we tally up all the costs and benefits of the drone war?

In Pakistan, it’s clear that drones have dramatically affected the behavior of targeted terror groups. Hassan Abbas, a Senior Advisor at the Asia Society, notedrecently that there is “near consensus” that al-Qaeda and its affiliates are “on the run” because of drone strikes. But, he cautioned, “Anti-U.S. feelings in Pakistan have increased substantially,” which is “weakening U.S.-Pakistan counterterrorism cooperation.”

Other data suggest that drones can be effective at disrupting terror groups. In aworking paper, Patrick B. Johnston, a political scientist at the RAND Corporation, and Anoop K. Sarbahi of UCLA perform a quantitative analysis of terrorist violence and drone strikes in Pakistan. By examining the patterns of militant violence and comparing it to a database of known drone strikes, the authors came to a striking conclusion: Drones work. At least, temporarily. They found that drone strikes are strongly correlated with a short-term reduction in suicide terrorism. That does not mean, they caution, that drones caused less militant violence, just that the two seem related.

Though fascinating, Parker and Sarbahi’s paper is not conclusive. Another studyfrom 2011 found that “failed” drone strikes, which miss their intended target and cause unintentional civilian death, dramatically increase militant violence. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

16 May 2013 at 9:30 am

1927 London in a color movie

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The story of the 5-minute film is found here.

Written by Leisureguy

16 May 2013 at 9:27 am

Posted in Daily life, Video

US retailers refuse to support safety measures in Bangladesh factories

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Europeans are supporting the initiative to increase worker safety, but not the Americans. Brad Plummer explains why in the Washington Post:

There’s a heated ongoing debate about how to improve safety standards in Bangladesh after last month’s factory collapse that killed 1,127 people. And, so far, U.S. and European companies have taken very different approaches to the question.

Nearly all of the major U.S. clothing chains — including Wal-Mart, Target, Gap Inc., and J.C. Penney — declined to sign on to an international safety pactthat would require them to pay for inspections and upgrades in Bangladeshi garment factories. The retailers worried that the agreement would give labor groups and others the ability to sue them in U.S. courts.

By contrast, more than a dozen European retailers have joined the accord. The list includes, H&M, the biggest garment buyer in Bangladesh, as well as Benetton, Tesco, Marks & Spencer, El Corte Inglés, and Carrefour, the world’s second largest retailer. Roughly 60 percent of garments produced in Bangladesh go to European retailers.

Wal-Mart had been under particular pressure to join the accord, because the company is one of the biggest buyers of clothes from Bangladesh and, as the largest retailer in the world, has broad influence over the industry. Labor groups set a May 15 deadline to sign up for the accord.

But Wal-Mart said Tuesday that it wouldn’t sign the agreement “at this time,” because the agreement “introduces requirements, including governance and dispute resolution mechanisms, on supply chain matters that are appropriately left to retailers, suppliers and government, and are unnecessary to achieve fire and safety goals.” Instead, the retailer would conduct its own inspections at its Bangladesh facilities.

The accord that’s currently on the table could cost retailers some $3 billion over the next five years, says Scott Nova, executive director of the Workers Rights Consortium, which is backing the agreement. “In the context of the broader industry, that’s a relatively small amount,” Nova says. “Bangladesh will export hundreds of billion of dollars worth of apparel in the next five years.”

Most U.S. companies, however, have balked at the language in the accord. Some say it would would expose them to excessive legal liability — particularly in America’s litigious courts. Written by labor groups, the agreement would require retailers who source clothing from Bangladesh to commit to pay for inspections, building upgrades, and training — all enforced by binding arbitration. . .

Continue reading. Binding arbitration is, of course, exactly what companies (credit card companies, for example) routinely require their customers to accept. Interesting that they will not accept that for themselves. The difference is probably that in the case of the credit card companies and the like, the company itself chooses and pays the arbitrators, which possibly has some bearing on why arbitrators find in favor of the company roughly 99.9% of the time. Those who find in favor of customers quickly find that they are no longer hired. In this case, however, arbitrators are more likely to be independent, and American companies clearly want no part of that.

Written by Leisureguy

16 May 2013 at 9:25 am

Posted in Business

Fat Boy and boy! What a great shave!

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SOTD 16 May 2013

A guy on Wicked_Edge was asking about the Fat Boy, which prompted me to bring out mine for today’s shave—and I’m very glad I did: perfect BBS.

It began with the lather. The Omega silvertip badger brush shown is enormous and fluffy and makes a wonderful lather, plus holds a ton. I used it with the Strop Shoppe Russian Tea shave soap, and again built the lather in my cupped palm. It was a fine lather, but I didn’t detect it as being better than the lather I build on my beard—but that’s why I try a whole week one way and a whole week another: the differences sometimes take a while to sink in.

With the wonderful lather, I applied the Fat Boy, holding a newish Astra Karamik Platinum blade, for three passes to perfection. A good splash of Krampfert’s Finest, and I’m good to do.

The Fat Boy in the photo looks extra sparkly because I had it replated in rhodium.

Written by Leisureguy

16 May 2013 at 8:56 am

Posted in Shaving

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