Later On

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

Archive for July 6th, 2013

While PETA does kill animals at its shelters, the point…

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The point they’re making is that they don’t then eat the animals. Kill, sure. But not eat. That’s a pretty clear moral/ethical guideline. I don’t think there’s much ambiguity there.

BTW, the word “shelter” has a rather different meaning for PETA than the word is commonly understood.

Written by Leisureguy

6 July 2013 at 10:27 pm

Posted in Daily life

Excellent point in editorial cartoon

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Via The Modesty Experiment:

Screen Shot 2013-07-06 at 2.59.18 PM

What’s interesting to me is that each has the same thought balloon, and that could also be true: “Oh, how I envy her liberation!”, the latter happening more frequently in those capable of intelligent empathy: figuring out the forces and conventions that shape each of us and thus trying to understand how the other arrived at where s/he is.

Written by Leisureguy

6 July 2013 at 3:07 pm

Posted in Daily life

Wonderful Krugman blog post

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Terrific:

Regions of Derpistan

Josh Barro has made a very useful contribution to policy discussion by adapting the term “derp” for a certain kind of all-too-prevalent stance in economic debate, which Noah Smith somewhat euphemistically describes as “the constant, repetitive reiteration of strong priors”. In other words, people who take a position and refuse to alter that position no matter how strongly the evidence refutes it, who continue to insist that they have The Truth despite being wrong again and again.

The main locus of econoderpitude these days involves inflation, and more broadly the proposition that deficit spending and expansion of the Fed’s balance sheet will be a disaster, even in a depressed economy. Matt O’Briendocuments the continuing prevalence of this form of derp, and tries to characterize the various forms it takes, and I don’t have any quarrel with his details. I wonder, however, whether it might not be useful to think of it a bit differently, using a geographical metaphor.

That is, think of all these economists and wannabe economists as inhabitants of a land we’ll call Derpistan. Everything there is derp; but it’s not undifferentiated derp. Instead, all Derpistan is divided into three parts: Inner Derpistan, Middle Derpistan, and Outer Derpistan.

Middle Derpistan is where most of the country’s inhabitants used to live. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

6 July 2013 at 2:52 pm

Personal news update

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A few notes:

Vegetarian diet: turns out to be much easier than I thought, and perfectly fine, and seems to produce a less-addictive attitude toward food. I wonder whether more is not going on with eating meat (in psychological terms—and perhaps physiological as well) than we realize—that something about eating the flesh of an animals stirs ancient echoes and awakens some sort of predator excitement with the result a non-nutritional need for food.

I do notice that my meals now are not only easy to fix, but seem more like mere food in my reaction to them: perfectly fine, very tasty, that’s done.

UPDATE: I’ve continued to mull this over. I think that through my various meal templates (see “Useful posts“), I developed a deconstructive attitude toward meals: when building a meal in my mind, I thought in terms of servings of oil, vegetables, starch, greens, and protein. A meal required at least one appropriate entry in each category. Over time the protein choices began to seem limited (because I primarily considered only protein from animal sources): beef was used rarely (King Corn took care of that for me—and in a highly entertaining way), pork we wanted to moderate after reading of the risks due to packing plant hygiene, and lamb also was only an occasional thing. So it mostly came down to chicken or fish, and that became boring.

Now, in contrast, I seem to have a bonanza of choices for protein: grains and beans and cheeses and plain old vegetables. I realize that a lot more variety is possible, and I do like beans—and cheese (complete the protein! 🙂 In a word, removing animal flesh from the diet opens up the meal palette considerably.

Now, when I think about a meal in completing a shopping list, animal flesh really doesn’t enter my mind—I just don’t think about it, because when I get to the “protein” slot on the template, I’m all “rice—black? white? combo?—or pearled barley or beans or cooked wheatberries” and so on. Animal flesh doesn’t arise as an option.

I wonder why it seemed so difficult back then, and I just now realized that (a) one sees a lot of advertising of animal flesh—a lot—and virtually all cookbooks and recipes (except the “vegetarian” (scare quotes) magazines and cookbooks way over there) consisted mainly of using animal sources for protein; and (b) all that constant presence starts to feel like pressure to have your protein come from animal sources—like some guy at an event insisting a little too strongly that you have (another) drink: an out-of-place insistence and trying to make me do what he wants.

I didn’t notice that at all before, but I can feel it quite clearly now. I think that simply thinking (and cooking and eating) without any thought of using animal sources has created a new norm, and the constant presence of animal protein in the media all around us feels outside the norm (that is, our own personal norm).

You see the same thing in smoking. After you’ve not smoked for a while, an action that seemed totally normal and routine seems, as you think about it, really weird, and then it starts to look odd when people smoke. The tobacco industry fights that, of course, and spends a lot of money trying to give cigarette smoking enough presence in our lives (through movie and TV placements, magazine ads, and everything else they could think of) that it will look normal again. It’s not really working, but God knows they try. To hell with health outcomes, there’s money to be made!

And the same from the animal protein industry: “Please, please, please, you must eat this way. It’s the only way. Really.”

I feel as though I’ve walked through a looking glass. No wonder vegetarians are so insistent (and you are, you know—I guess I am, too, now): they/we see a part of our normal daily life from a totally new perspective. It’s like suddenly seeing behind the curtain, spotting the trick in a magician’s act, or spotting the animal hidden in the picture: once you see it, you can’t stop seeing it. Interesting.

I do think, though, that for me the tapering off was the thing—that, and the deconstructive approach to meal planning, when you start to realize that there are a lot of ways to fill that “protein” compartment, and new ones are fun to try. And so you find you’ve gone a day or two without meat, occasionally a stretch of four, then a week… and then you start to notice the constant nudging from media to eat meat—lots of meat: meat at every meal. Stuff meat with meat. I mean, my God! give it a rest!

I guess I’m convinced.

Another thought: Certainly media pressure is important, but my earlier resistance to a vegetarian diet went beyond that in a way that again strikes me now as an addictive response: not wanting to seriously consider a life without my meat fix, thinking of lots of reasons why I couldn’t skip meat (“I travel a lot…”) , why it had to be a part of every meal.

I don’t believe it will be quite easy now to let meat drop from my diet, but I’m also fine in consuming it on occasion: I can still think of an occasional (every few months—and probably graduating becoming less frequent)  celebratory steak or the like. But I feel no need at all for a frequent fix, and I also really like the larger palette of possibilities that open with removal of  animal flesh.

Full disclosure: I have eaten vegetarian at various periods, but it never pulled me into it—I was constantly have to push myself into it, and then, of course, one ultimately cannot resist the pressure (particularly if the pressure’s undetected as such). But this time feels different.

Tonight I made this GOPM again, with changes noted.

Olive oil
½ c  rice, about half white and half black (ran out of white)
2 Tbsp sherry vinegar
allium was 2 large spring shallots, chopped including all the green part
½ red bell pepper, chopped small
4 Roma tomatoes, diced
1-2 Tbsp chopped fresh oregano (I used up what I had left)
6-8 garlic cloves, minced
2 Tbsp chopped fresh Italian parsley
Freshly ground black pepper
Small pitted black olives – no olives: ran out
1/4 c pine nuts
1 medium eggplant, diced
4 oz feta cheese, crumbled (I use most of a 6-oz package of crumbled feta)
home-cooked garbanzos/chickpeas, enough to cover the top (about 1.5-2 c)

Pour-over:

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp red-wine vinegar
1 Tbsp Blis fish sauce
juice of a very small Meyer lemon
2 Tbsp Amontillado sherry (Harvey & Gibson is what I mostly use)
1/2 tsp ground cumin
2-3 tsp smoked paprika

Shake well, pour over, cover, 450ºF oven for 45 minutes.

This version seemed noticeably better than the prior version.

Today, for example, I had some greens to cook, so here’s what I did:

Put about 2 Tbsp olive oil in 4-qt pot, add 1 bunch of chopped scallions (including all the green part) and 2 large spring shallots, including all the green parts, and a good pinch of kosher salt.

I sautéed that for a while, minced about 6-8 cloves garlic and added that, then rinsed the greens well in a tub of water. Then I put into the pot:

1 large bunch broccoli rabe, chopped small, stems minced
1 bunch red kale, chopped small, stems minced
2-3 Tbs Crosse & Blackwell Mint Sauce (I buy it locally—link is just to show what it is)
1 c water (maybe 1.25 c)
1 Tbsp Penzeys Ham Soup Base
Several grindings black pepper

This filled the pot to the brim, so I put the lid on and let it cook for about 10 minutes, which wilted the greens and gave more room. Then I added

1.5 c (more or less) baby creamer potatoes

If I had been cooking this for myself, I think I would have added pepper sauce or crushed red pepper and probably some fish sauce.

I covered the pot, simmered all that for 40 minutes, and just had a bowl. Since the bowl included greens and starch, I figured with protein it would be a meal, so I added to the bowl about 1/4 c peanuts and 2 Tbsp sunflower seeds (I cannot escape thinking about a complete protein.) — Update: I just realized I could have substituted some cheese for the peanuts and sunflower seeds: feta, perhaps, or shredded mozzarella, or whatever.

I added a little pepper sauce and some fish sauce, stirred, and ate. Terrific.

I had a fish-sauce accident the other night: I was add just a little to a dish when the bottom part of the bottle just broke off—no impact, it just burst. Important note: Don’t ever spill a bottle of fish sauce. We did get it cleaned up, but the next cleaning ladies day is eagerly anticipated.

The point: I perforce had to open and use this sauce, which, for no reasons that make sense, I was saving (!) for some future day. Hello?? (The sauce is also available from here.)

At any rate, it is incredibly good. I added about 1/2 tsp to the (rather large) bowl of greens and potatoes (and peanuts and sunflower seed), and it gave it a deep sort of smooth flaver: no edges, no roughness. Man! it’s good. I wonder whether this is the 50º fish sauce.

——–

In other news, I saw in Paul Krugman’s blog his praise today for Charles Stross, whose writing I also enjoy, so I’m rereading Singularity Sky, and it struck me anew how, if each person had a maker-machine that could produce (say) everything needed in the way of clothing, shelter, food, and small devices (tools, simple machines, appliances, power sources, musical instruments, and the like, including maker-machines) just from dirt, the government would instantly make ownership of a maker-machine a serious felony and it would work to recover and destroy them all.

The crackdown would be touted as a way to protect the factories that would otherwise be shuttered, thus making their workers jobless. But, obviously, those workers could simply be given maker-machines and would no longer need a job.

If everyone’s needs were met, then the real problem, from the view of corporations and politicians, is that they would lose power—lots of power. Their power is based on controlling the spigot of what we need to survive, and the point (for them) is not that people have what they need, but that the corporations and politicians control access to what people need. With that control, they also control us, they will not want to give that up, however much good it may do for the people.

There will be exceptions, but I believe the first response of the vast majority of those in power would be to embargo the machines.

This is pretty much the beginning of Singularity Sky. I read it a while back, so I don’t quite remember how it goes. I’m enjoying the reread.

Written by Leisureguy

6 July 2013 at 1:56 pm

Hiring the C students

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When I worked at ACT, researchers there established that grades and test scores had zero correlation with adult-life accomplishment, provided that a basic level of skill and knowledge was gained—in other words, 20 years on, you could not tell from real-life accomplishments and professional standing who was an A student and who was a C student.

That was when and why ACT added the “out-of-class accomplishments” section to their test instrument. Scores on those scales also did not correlate with grades or test scores—but did correlate with later accomplishment, which makes sense: the best predictor of future performance is past performance (for people, not stocks and bonds). And it makes sense in this specific case: a person with the initiative, energy, and motivation to undertake out-of-class (unassigned) projects, those characteristics will likely persist, and in real life, those are just the ticket.

So we come to the rational decision that C students are a bargain, particularly if your interview focuses on specific out-of-class accomplishments (along these lines).

Rory Sutherland talks about such a plan in the UK: hiring thirds instead of firsts. (UK degrees explained.)

Whenever I return to my old university, I am always struck by how incredibly focused, purposeful and studious everyone seems to be. It fills me with despair.

It’s hard to tell the difference between a university and a business school nowadays. Where are all the hippies, the potheads and the commies? And why is everyone so intently serious and sober all the time? ‘Oh, it’s simple,’ a friend explained. ‘If you don’t get a 2:1 or a first nowadays, employers won’t look at your CV.’

So, as a keen game-theorist, I struck on an idea. Recruiting next year’s graduate intake for Ogilvy would be easy. We could simply place ads in student newpapers: ‘Headed for a 2:2 or a third? Finish your joint and come and work for us.’

Let me explain. I have asked around, and nobody has any evidence to suggest that, for any given university, recruits with first-class degrees turn into better employees than those with thirds (if anything the correlation operates in reverse). There are some specialised fields which may demand spectacular mathematical ability, say, but these are relatively few.

So my game theoretic instincts suggest that if we confine our recruitment efforts to people in the lower half of the degree ladder we shall have an exclusive appeal to a large body of people no less valuable than anyone else. And such people will be far more loyal hires, since we won’t be competing for their attention with deep-pocketed pimps in investment banking.

The logic is inarguable: the best people to hire (or date) are those undervalued by the market. (An expat friend of mine always dated Brooklyn girls for this reason: their accent seemed exotically alluring to him but was repellent to most New Yorkers.)

This approach will be familiar to readers of the book Moneyball, which records the story of the baseball manager Billy Beane. Given evidence showing that the metrics historically used to determine the value of a player did not best correspond to his value on the field, Beane made a series of hires which turned the cash-strapped Oakland Athletics into a surprise success.

So, in the absence of any evidence that degree-class is a predictor of value, why don’t businesses follow Moneyball and hire more inventively?

The answer is . . .

Continue reading.

And he doesn’t include another reason for basing hiring decisions on academic achievement: covering one’s ass. If the candidate fails in the job, the hiring manager would rather say, “Well, don’t blame me! He had a Harvard/Stanford MBA” than, “We’ve been over this. I know he was a self-educated chicken farmer, but I was impressed at his knowledge, initiative, and drive,” etc. In other words, brushing off failure if you can shift the faulty judgment from yourself to someone else—Harvard/Stanford in this case. “It’s their fault, not mine!” seems to many a much better thing to say than, “Yeah, I made a mistake.”

Written by Leisureguy

6 July 2013 at 11:21 am

Is US medical care becoming a criminal enterprise?

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Gilbert Welch writes in the NY Times:

RECENT revelations should lead those of us involved in America’s health care system to ask a hard question about our business: At what point does it become a crime?

I’m not talking about a violation of federal or state statutes, like Medicare or Medicaid fraud, although crime in that sense definitely exists. I’m talking instead about the violation of an ethical standard, of the very “calling” of medicine.

Medical care is intended to help people, not enrich providers. But the way prices are rising, it’s beginning to look less like help than like highway robbery. And the providers — hospitals, doctors, universities, pharmaceutical companies and device manufactures — are the ones benefiting.

A number of publications — including this one — have recently published big reports on the exorbitant cost of American health care. In March, Time magazine ran a cover story exposing outrageous hospital prices, from $108 for a tube of bacitracin — the ointment my mother put on the scrapes I got as a kid and that costs $5 at CVS — to $21,000 for a three-hour emergency room evaluation for chest pain caused by indigestion.

Of course, Medicare will have none of this — it sets its own prices. And private insurers negotiate discounts. So no one is actually charged these amounts.

Check that. The uninsured are. They are largely young and employed (albeit poorly) and have little education. So the biggest medical bills go to those least able to pay.

At what point does it become a crime?

Consider another recent shift in health care: hospitals have been aggressively buying up physician practices. This could be desirable, a way to get doctors to use the same medical record so that your primary care practitioner knows what your cardiologist did.

But that may not be the primary motivation for these consolidations. For years Medicare has paid hospitals more than independent physician practices for outpatient care, even when they are providing the same things. The extra payment is called the facility fee, and is meant to compensate hospitals for their public service — taking on the sickest patients and providing the most complex care.

But now hospitals are buying up independent practices, moving nothing, yet calling them part of the hospital, and receiving the higher rate.

In North Carolina, Duke’s health system has been aggressively buying up local cardiology practices, thereby increasing the number of echocardiograms performed “in the hospital” by 68 percent in one year, and bumping the Medicare payment from $200 to $471, according to The Charlotte Observer and The News & Observer, in Raleigh.

It’s happening in my hometown hospital, Boulder Community Hospital, where my late mother was a trustee. The Denver Post reported in May on a patient whose cardiac stress test cost around $2,000 one year, and around $8,000 the next, after his doctor’s practice was bought by the hospital.

Same office, same machine, same doctor, but it cost four times more. Mom would want to know: what happened to the word “community” next to the word “hospital”?

The problem is not just prices, but also . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

6 July 2013 at 11:06 am

NSA vis-à-vis the EU

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Excellent story by Steve Coll in the New Yorker on how European nations are incensed at the US’s heavy-handed espionage (which apparently is a criminal offense, depending on who’s doing it).

His conclusion (but the entire short article is worth a read):

The most likely explanation is that President Obama never carefully discussed or specifically approved the E.U. bugging, and that no cabinet-level body ever reviewed, on the President’s behalf, the operation’s potential costs in the event of exposure. America’s post-September 11th national-security state has become so well financed, so divided into secret compartments, so technically capable, so self-perpetuating, and so captured by profit-seeking contractors bidding on the next big idea about big-data mining that intelligence leaders seem to have lost their facility to think independently. Who is deciding what spying projects matter most and why?

This is exactly why some transparency and open discussion is required. It looks more and more as though Snowden has done us an enormous favor.

Written by Leisureguy

6 July 2013 at 11:02 am

Shaving in the field (WW II)

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"Run it up the hill again, Joe. It still ain't hot enough."

“Run it up the hill again, Joe. It still ain’t hot enough.”

Written by Leisureguy

6 July 2013 at 10:15 am

Posted in Shaving

Another indication that our increasingly militarized police are out of control

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By “out of control,” I mean that many police departments act as if they believe that, as police, they cannot break the law—to paraphrase Richard Nixon, they seem to believe that “If the police do it, it’s not against the law.” And they act on that: Frank Serpico was nearly killed as a result of bearing testimony against police engaged in outrageously illegal acts and was made a pariah by the force. Serpico failed to agree that if the police do it, it’s legal.

Here’s a particularly egregious example from Las Vegas Review-Journal, thanks to my friend in Amsterdam. This is, of course, a court filing: it has not gone to trial (and I would be that the case is settled without going to trial).

Members of the Mitchell family said they had done nothing wrong when Henderson police broke into their two homes without warrants, according to a federal lawsuit.

The family on July 10, 2011, had refused to let SWAT officers use their homes to perform surveillance in what authorities suspected was an ongoing domestic violence incident involving a neighbor.

Officers then manhandled Linda Mitchell and arrested her husband, Michael Mitchell, and her son, Anthony Mitchell, charging them with obstructing a police officer, family members allege.

Police also shot Anthony Mitchell and the family’s dog, Sam, with a “pepperball gun,” similar to a paint ball gun that holds pepper spray.

The lawsuit, filed earlier this week in U.S. District Court, said the Mitchells’ constitutional rights were violated, including their Third Amendment right that prohibits soldiers from quartering in a home without the homeowner’s consent.

Police had gone to the 300 block of Evening Side Avenue, near Horizon Ridge Parkway and the Las Vegas Beltway, for an alleged domestic violence incident at Phillip White Jr.’s home, according to a media report at the time and the lawsuit.

White was believed to have barricaded himself and a child inside his home at 363 Evening Side.

SWAT officers closed all entrances and exits to the neighborhood. The standoff lasted hours.

Police began to call people in their homes.

About 10:45 a.m. they contacted Anthony Mitchell, who lived two homes away from White, at 367 Evening Side.

According to the lawsuit, Henderson police officer Christopher Worley told him police needed to “occupy his home in order to gain a ‘tactical advantage’ against the occupant of the neighboring house.”

Anthony Mitchell said that he didn’t want to be involved and he didn’t want police in his home.

Officers began banging on his door and demanded they be let inside. He called his mother who lived across the street at 362 Evening Side.

Police soon broke down the front door, aimed guns and cursed at Anthony Mitchell.

Terrified and confused, he dropped to the floor, covered his face with his hands and made no movement, according to the lawsuit.

Officer David Cawthorn then fired multiple shots with the pepperball gun, striking Anthony Mitchell three times as he “lay defenseless on the floor of his living room,” the lawsuit said . He was then handcuffed and taken to jail.

The lawsuit said police also shot his “cowering dog” with a pepperball gun. The dog fled out an open door and was left trapped outside without water, food or shelter for most of that July day.

At the same time, police were also contacting Michael and Linda Mitchell, who lived directly across the street from the subject of the alleged domestic violence incident.

Police asked Michael Mitchell to come to their command post to see whether he could help talk Phillip White into surrendering.

Michael Mitchell was told White wasn’t taking any calls and was told he could not return to his home.

After twice attempting to leave the neighborhood, he too was arrested.

About 1:45 p.m. police banged on Linda Mitchell’s door. She told officers they could not enter without a warrant. They did so anyway, according to the lawsuit.

One officer grabbed her arm and forced the physically frail woman with difficulty breathing from her home, the lawsuit said.

Minus having warrants, police occupied both homes and rummaged through the Mitchells’ belongings, including opening cabinets and using a water dispenser, according to the lawsuit.

Anthony Mitchell and his father were jailed for about nine hours at the Henderson Detention Center before they were bailed out. . .

Continue reading. (You can read the complaint in detail at Courthouse News.)

We seem to be seeing more and more of this kind of high-handed behavior, with no accountability or repercussions for the officers involved. Indeed, shooting and killing people’s pet dogs, preferably in front of their owners, seems almost a sport these days. Google “police kill dog” and see what you get.

Written by Leisureguy

6 July 2013 at 9:48 am

Posted in Daily life, Government, Law

Good-joke collection

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Some good ones in this small collection.

Written by Leisureguy

6 July 2013 at 9:35 am

Posted in Humor

US embraces an awkward position on extradition

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As Juan Cole points out in Informed Comment, the US absolutely refused to extradite a terrorist who had blown up a commercial airliner, killing 73 on board. Indeed, the US protected the terrorist, Luis Posada Carriles, about whom I have blogged before. If you read through these posts, you’ll see it a sorry story. Like the US-financed and US-trained right-wing death squads in Latin America, Carriles was basically a terrorist, responsible for many civilian deaths. In the eyes of the US government, this doesn’t matter. So we protected Carriles and refused extradition requests. He murder civilians, but so what?

Yet Snowden, who killed no one and harmed no one, must be extradited. Glenn Greenwald explains why the Obama Administration finds it so important, in contrast to the extradition of a known terrorist:

The US government has charged Edward Snowden with three felonies, including two under the Espionage Act, the 1917 statute enacted to criminalize dissent against World War I. My priority at the moment is working on our next set of stories, so I just want to briefly note a few points about this.

Prior to Barack Obama’s inauguration, there were a grand total of three prosecutions of leakers under the Espionage Act (including the prosecution of Dan Ellsberg by the Nixon DOJ). That’s because the statute is so broad that even the US government has largely refrained from using it. But during the Obama presidency, there are now seven such prosecutions: more than double the number under all prior US presidents combined. How can anyone justify that?

For a politician who tried to convince Americans to elect him based on repeated pledges of unprecedented transparency and specific vows to protect “noble” and “patriotic” whistleblowers, is this unparalleled assault on those who enable investigative journalism remotely defensible? Recall that the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer said recently that this oppressive climate created by the Obama presidency has brought investigative journalism to a “standstill”, while James Goodale, the General Counsel for the New York Times during its battles with the Nixon administration, wrote last month in that paper that “President Obama will surely pass President Richard Nixon as the worst president ever on issues of national security and press freedom.” Read what Mayer and Goodale wrote and ask yourself: is the Obama administration’s threat to the news-gathering process not a serious crisis at this point?

Few people – likely including Snowden himself – would contest that his actions constitute some sort of breach of the law. He made his choice based on basic theories of civil disobedience: that those who control the law have become corrupt, that the law in this case (by concealing the actions of government officials in building this massive spying apparatus in secret) is a tool of injustice, and that he felt compelled to act in violation of it in order to expose these official bad acts and enable debate and reform.

But that’s a far cry from charging Snowden, who just turned 30 yesterday, with multiple felonies under the Espionage Act that will send him to prison for decades if not life upon conviction. In what conceivable sense are Snowden’s actions “espionage”? He could have – but chose not – sold the information he had to a foreign intelligence service for vast sums of money, or covertly passed it to one of America’s enemies, or worked at the direction of a foreign government. That is espionage. He did none of those things.

What he did instead was give up his life of career stability and economic prosperity, living with his long-time girlfriend in Hawaii, in order to inform his fellow citizens (both in America and around the world) of what the US government and its allies are doing to them and their privacy. He did that by very carefully selecting which documents he thought should be disclosed and concealed, then gave them to a newspaper with a team of editors and journalists and repeatedly insisted that journalistic judgments be exercised about which of those documents should be published in the public interest and which should be withheld.

That’s what every single whistleblower and source for investigative journalism, in every case, does – by definition. In what conceivable sense does that merit felony charges under the Espionage Act?

The essence of that extremely broad, century-old law is that one is guilty if one discloses classified information “with intent or reason to believe that the information is to be used to the injury of the United States, or to the advantage of any foreign nation”. Please read this rather good summary in this morning’s New York Times of the worldwide debate Snowden has enabled – how these disclosures have “set off a national debate over the proper limits of government surveillance” and “opened an unprecedented window on the details of surveillance by the NSA, including its compilation of logs of virtually all telephone calls in the United States and its collection of e-mails of foreigners from the major American Internet companies, including Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Apple and Skype” – and ask yourself: has Snowden actually does anything to bring “injury to the United States”, or has he performed an immense public service?

The irony is obvious: the same people who are building a ubiquitous surveillance system to spy on everyone in the world, including their own citizens, are now accusing the person who exposed it of “espionage”. It seems clear that the people who are actually bringing “injury to the United States” are those who are waging war on basic tenets of transparency and secretly constructing a mass and often illegal and unconstitutional surveillance apparatus aimed at American citizens – and those who are lying to the American people and its Congress about what they’re doing – rather than those who are devoted to informing the American people that this is being done.

The Obama administration leaks classified information continuously. They do it to glorify the President, or manipulate public opinion, or even to help produce a pre-election propaganda film about the Osama bin Laden raid. The Obama administration does not hate unauthorized leaks of classified information. They are more responsible for such leaks than anyone.

What they hate are leaks that embarrass them or expose their wrongdoing. Those are the only kinds of leaks that are prosecuted. It’s a completely one-sided and manipulative abuse of secrecy laws. It’s all designed to ensure that the only information we as citizens can learn is what they want us to learn because it makes them look good. The only leaks they’re interested in severely punishing are those that undermine them politically. The “enemy” they’re seeking to keep ignorant with selective and excessive leak prosecutions are not The Terrorists or The Chinese Communists. It’s the American people. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

6 July 2013 at 9:33 am

One Nation, Incentivized and Disincentivized

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Justin Fox has an interesting column in the Harvard Business Review, viewing government policies and laws as incentive programs that encourage some behaviors and penalize others. That’s natural enough and indeed is to a large extend unavoidable, but the US as a result provides some perverse incentives:

Having a baby in the United States, The New York Times reported this week, is more expensive than pretty much anywhere else on earth. This is, of course, exactly the opposite of what Americans should want, as a public policy matter. It’s going to take lots more babies growing up into productive, healthy adults to get us through the country’s long-term Social Security and Medicare funding difficulties.

The high cost of childbirth in the U.S. is the product of a mix of private- and public-sector decisions, not a straight-out result of government policy. But it nonetheless got a few of my HBR colleagues and me thinking about what strange and not-so-strange economic incentives Americans face relative to citizens of other nations. So here is a mostly unscientific Independence Day list — compiled with lots of help from the databases of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, a.k.a. the OECD, a.k.a. the rich nations’ club — of what sort of behaviors we’re collectively encouraging and discouraging.

1. We don’t want our fellow citizens to have kids. It’s not just the high cost of childbirth. In general, U.S. families get less help with the cost of child-rearing (in the form of tax breaks, government services, and cash handouts) than those in almost any other affluent nation. On theOECD’s list, only Mexico and South Korea devote a smaller percentage of GDP to family benefits. The U.S. also has just about the least supportive parental-leave policies in the developed world. Of course, we still do have kids, and the fertility rate in the U.S. is above the OECD average. So either (a) financial incentives don’t matter all that much or (b) for lots of societal and other reasons (we have more space, for example) Americans are inclined to have more kids, even though government policies discourage it. I think it’s b, and the financial incentives are beginning to win — the U.S. fertility rate is now barely above the OECD average, and some surprising countries — Sweden, Norway, France, Great Britain — are now producing more babies per capita than we are.

2. We don’t want our fellow citizens to go to college. Higher education costs students more in the U.S. than anywhere else in the OECD. We also have especially great universities, and lots of financial aid. But the general trend has one of skyrocketing tuition at both private and public institutions, and aid for students that, while rising, hasn’t kept up. Sure enough, the level of educational attainment in the U.S., once the highest in the world, has slid toward the middle of the OECD pack.

3.  . . .

Continue reading.

Regarding point 2: I would instead write, “We don’t want our fellow citizens to be educated,” on looking at the mass layoffs of teachers and defunding of public education in general, from the elementary school through college. The wealthy, of course, have access to private schools and can pay the exorbitant costs of college, but for our fellow citizens in general, the movement of money expresses a strong desire that citizens not be educated. (This is quite apart from the GOP positions regarding restricting sex education, forbidding the teaching of critical thinking skills, requiring the teaching of creationism, and so forth.)

Written by Leisureguy

6 July 2013 at 9:18 am

In case you have doubts that a corporation is willing to kill people to increase profits…

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And not some obscure third-world factory, either: Rolls-Royce is the villain here. Philip Bump reports at the Atlantic Wire:

Since the odds are good you don’t drive a Rolls Royce, you may not be overly concerned about reports that the company hid defects in its manufactured engines for years. You might be once you hear some of their other customers: airlines and the Defense Department.

Two former employees of the company’s Indianapolis manufacturing facility claim that Rolls “cut corners” on quality control and used defective parts in the manufacture of its engines beginning a decade ago, as reported by the Telegraph. One employee, Thomas McArtor served as a senior quality control officer. He argues that he was fired by the company after turning over a log of quality failures to the FAA. The other man, Keith Ramsay, served in a similar position. The Telegraph writes:

The pair claim that Rolls routinely concealed thousands of defects in engines it sold to clients including the US Department of Defense, collating them in a “secret set of books”.

The duo are now challenging a court order that prevents them releasing information they claim reveals what Rolls allegedy concealed.

The BBC reports that the two “also alleged that the firm “routinely used defective parts designated as ‘scrap only.'”

Their claims may have gotten a boost with the announcement last month that a regulatory body in Australia found Rolls culpable for a faulty component in an engine on a Qantas Airbus 380 that exploded three years ago. Reuters reports:

The four-engined A380 was flying from Singapore to Sydney with 433 passengers and 26 crew on board when one of its engines exploded, spraying the plane with shrapnel and dropping chunks of debris on Indonesia’s Batam island.

A large section of turbine disc crashed into a house, but there were no injuries to anyone either on the plane or on the ground.

Rolls Royce, understandably, disagrees with the claims. A spokesman told Reuters that the lawsuit “is entirely without merit,” pointing out that a judge had dismissed two of the pair’s claims. . .

Continue reading.

Good thing these guys don’t work in the Federal government: Obama is hell on whistleblowers. He doesn’t like them.

Written by Leisureguy

6 July 2013 at 9:12 am

Posted in Business

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