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Archive for August 12th, 2013

Check out your supplements

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Get the scoop on what you take or are thinking about:

Written by Leisureguy

12 August 2013 at 12:23 pm

Posted in Health

As smooth as a slant shave

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SOTD 12 Aug 2013

A perfectly smooth result: two-day stubble, good prep, three passes of my slant with a new Astra Keramik Platinum new blade: a great way to start the week.

I wash my beard with the lanolin version of Jlocke98’s formula, then easily worked up a fine lather with the Omega Pro 48 (but the 20248, rather than the 10048, which is unbanded). This brush really did seem to break in immediately, and it has excellent lather capacity. The lather from How To Grow A Moustache’s shaving soap is superb, and the large format puck aids loading.

The iKon Slant is a pussycat with the right blade, and I got a totally comfortable shave. A splash of Annik Goutal’s Eau de Sud, and the week opens.

My current collection of slants:

5 slants

Written by Leisureguy

12 August 2013 at 11:49 am

Posted in Shaving

“Inviting Michael Hayden to comment on regulation of surveillance is like having Bernie Madoff comment on regulation of Wall Street.”

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Excellent column by Glenn Greenwald, which includes the quotation used as title:

In 2006, the New York Times won the Pulitzer Prize for having revealed that the NSA was eavesdropping on Americans without warrants. The reason that was a scandal was because it was illegal under a 30-year-old law that made it a felony, punishable by up to 5 years in prison for each offense, to eavesdrop on Americans without those warrants. Although both the Bush and Obama DOJs ultimately prevented final adjudication by raising claims of secrecy and standing, and the “Look Forward, Not Backward (for powerful elites)” Obama DOJ refused to prosecute the responsible officials, all three federal judges to rule on the substance found that domestic spying to be unconstitutional and in violation of the statute.

The person who secretly implemented that illegal domestic spying program was retired Gen. Michael Hayden, then Bush’s NSA director. That’s the very same Michael Hayden who is now frequently presented by US television outlets as the authority and expert on the current NSA controversy – all without ever mentioning the central role he played in overseeing that illegal warrantless eavesdropping program.

As Marcy Wheeler noted: “the 2009 Draft NSA IG Report that Snowden leaked [and the Guardian published] provided new details about how Hayden made the final decision to continue the illegal wiretapping program even after DOJ’s top lawyers judged it illegal in 2004. Edward Snowden leaked new details of Michael Hayden’s crime.” The Twitter commentator sysprog3 put it this way:

Inviting Hayden to comment on regulation of surveillance is like having Bernie Madoff comment on regulation of Wall Street.

But inviting Hayden to do exactly that is what establishment media outlets do continually. Just yesterday, Face the Nation featured Hayden as the premiere guest to speak authoritatively about how trustworthy the NSA is, how safe it keeps us, and how wise President Obama is for insisting that all of its programs continue. As usual, no mention was made of the role he played in secretly implementing an illegal warrantless spying program aimed directly at the American people. As most establishment media figures do when quivering in the presence of national security state officials, the supremely sycophantic TV host Bob Schieffer treated Hayden like a visiting dignitary in his living room and avoided a single hard question.

But worse than the omission of Hayden’s NSA history is his current – and almost always unmentioned – financial stake in the very policies he is being invited to defend. Hayden is a partner in the Chertoff Group, a private entity that makes more and more money by increasing the fear levels of the US public and engineering massive government security contracts for their clients. Founded by former Homeland Security secretary Michael Cheftoff, it’s filled with former national security state officials who exploit their connections in and knowledge of Washington to secure hugely profitable government contracts for their clients. As the Huffington Post’s Marcus Baram reported: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

12 August 2013 at 11:47 am

Does the U.S. Pay Families When Drones Kill Innocent Yemenis?

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Cora Currier asks a question that the military refuses to answer. Note that it’s not a matter of national security: it’s simply the normal reaction of bureaucrats: Say nothing, reveal nothing. Secrecy for the sake of secrecy—and, one imagines, to hide shabby behavior. Her report in ProPublica:

There have been nine drone strikes reported in Yemen in the past two weeks – an uptick apparently connected to the Al Qaeda threat that shut down U.S. embassies across the Middle East and Africa. As many as six civilian deaths have also been reported.

President Obama has promised increased transparency around drones, but when asked about the strikes on Friday, Obama wouldn’t even confirm U.S. involvement.

“I will not have a discussion about operational issues,” he said.

The military is also following that line, refusing to release details about what happens when civilians are harmed in these strikes, including if and how families of innocent victims are compensated.

In response to a Freedom of Information Act request, U.S. Central Command told ProPublica it has 33 pages somehow related to condolence payments in Yemen – but it won’t release any of them, or detail what they are.

The military’s letter rejecting our FOIA cites a series of reasons, including classified national security information. (Here’s the letter.)

There’s no way to know what the military is withholding. A Pentagon spokesman told us they haven’t actually made condolence payments in Yemen. But CIA director John Brennan said during his confirmation process in February that the U.S. does offer condolence payments to the families of civilians killed in U.S. strikes. (Both the military and CIA fly drones over Yemen.)

In May, the White House released new guidelines for targeted killing, saying that there must be a “near certainty that non-combatants will not be injured or killed.” But the administration has said little about how civilian deaths are assessed or handled when they do occur. It has refused to address the U.S. role in almost any particular death – including that of a 10-year-old boy, killed a few weeks after Obama’s promise of increased transparency.

Outside reporting on drone strike deaths is spotty and often conflicted. On Sunday, a Yemeni activist and journalist named three civilians who had been injured, “just hanging arnd n thir neighborhood.” Another recent strike killed up to five “militants,”according to Reuters and other news agencies. But Yemenis reported on Twitter that a child was also killed. (The White House declined to comment to ProPublica on the recent strikes or on condolence payments.)

In Afghanistan, the U.S. has long given out condolence payments, which military leaders have come to see as a key part of the battle for hearts and minds. What might seem like a callous exercise – assigning a dollar amount to a human life – is also embraced by many humanitarian groups. The Center for Civilians in Conflict, for example, sees it as a way to help families financially and as “a gesture of respect.” In fiscal year 2012, condolence payments in Afghanistan totaled nearly a million dollars.

It’s likely harder to do that in the drone war. Military and intelligence leaders have expressed concern about “blowback” from local populations resentful of the strikes. But the U.S. has no visible troops on the ground in countries like Yemen or Pakistan, and almost never acknowledges specific strikes.

Despite the recent surge, overall there have been far fewer drone strikes and civilian deaths alleged in 2013 than in previous years.

Written by Leisureguy

12 August 2013 at 11:22 am

Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s full episode on marijuana

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Written by Leisureguy

12 August 2013 at 11:18 am

Posted in Drug laws, Video

Obama talks to us as though we’re idiots

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Kevin Drum has a strongly worded post on Obama’s apparent contempt for the public:

This is ancient news by blog standards, but I still feel the need to comment on President Obama’s singularly disingenuous remarks on Friday about Edward Snowden and the surveillance state. The fact that Obama doesn’t consider Snowden a patriot comes as no surprise. Presidents don’t generally approve of people who release large volumes of national secrets. But this was really too much:

Back in May…I called for a review of our surveillance programs….My preference — and I think the American people’s preference — would have been for a lawful, orderly examination of these laws, a thoughtful fact-based debate that would then lead us to a better place. Because I never made claims that all the surveillance technologies that have developed since the time some of these laws had been put in place somehow didn’t require potentially some additional reforms. That’s exactly what I called for.

….There’s no doubt that Mr. Snowden’s leaks triggered a much more rapid and passionate response than would have been the case if I had simply appointed this review board to go through, and I had sat down with Congress and we had worked this thing through. It would have been less exciting. It would not have generated as much press. I actually think we would have gotten to the same place, and we would have done so without putting at risk our national security and some very vital ways that we are able to get intelligence that we need to secure the country.

Please. Only a five-year-old would read that May speech and believe that Obama had any intention of either releasing significant information about our surveillance state or proposing any kind of serious reforms. That speech was mostly about drones—because, tellingly, Obama had been forced into it by recent news stories. In a 7,000-word speech, he devoted approximately three sentences to surveillance. It was little more than an afterthought, and his only concrete proposal, after four years in office, was a laughably buck-passing decision to set up a commission and then hope everyone would forget about the whole thing. Roger McShane called Obama’s Friday press conference “surreal, in a Kafkaesque sort of way,” but it was worse than that. It was a president treating us all like idiots. Does anyone seriously believe that even the very moderate reforms Obama has proposed so far would have seen the light of day if he hadn’t been forced into it?

On a related note, Andrew Liepman, a former career CIA officer, says the NSA’s surveillance programs are both useful and highly constrained:

Let me break this to you gently. The government is not interested in your conversations with your aunt, unless, of course, she is a key terrorist leader. More than 100 billion emails were sent every day last year — 100 billion, every day. In that vast mass of data lurk a few bits that are of urgent interest and vast terabytes of tedium that are not. Unfortunately, the metadata (the phone numbers, length of contact, and so forth, but not the content of the conversations) that sketch the contours of a call to your family member may fall into the same enormous bucket of information that includes information on the next terrorist threat. As Jeremy Bash, the former chief of staff of the CIA, memorably put it, “If you’re looking for a needle in the haystack, you need a haystack.”

Unfortunately, during the Snowden affair, many news outlets have spent more time examining ways the government could abuse the information it has access to while giving scant mention to the lengths to which the intelligence community goes to protect privacy. We have spent enormous amounts of time and effort figuring out how to disaggregate the important specks from the overwhelming bulk of irrelevant data.

This misses the point entirely. Speaking for myself, I believe Liepman. There are probably abuses here and there, but basically the intelligence community really isn’t interested in you unless you’re a likely terrorist.

But someday there will be another attack. Maybe something homegrown. And Liepman won’t be in charge. Some future administration will be in power at the time, and in the midst of national panic they might decide, in secret, to vastly expand the scope of how we make use of all this surveillance and who we decide to spy on domestically. That happened as recently as 2001, so it’s not as though it’s some kind of paranoid leap to think it could happen again if the capabilities exist. This is why I’d prefer to keep our capabilities constrained, and it’s why I’d like rules set in public by Congress and the courts. That’s no guarantee that we won’t go crazy, but at least it forces us to take some time and deliberate over things. It’s a thin reed, but at least it’s a reed. Right now we’ve got nothing to rely on except the political courage of a single person we don’t even know yet, and that’s worth almost nothing at all.


Written by Leisureguy

12 August 2013 at 11:09 am

Deinstitutionalizing the mentally ill sent some to live in jails

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A grim report titled “Locked in Terror”:


The first chapter begins::

The Fresno County Jail has been a place of terror and despair for mentally ill inmates who spiral deeper into madness because jail officials withhold their medication.

About one in six jail inmates is sick enough to need antipsychotic drugs to control schizophrenia, bipolar disorders and other psychiatric conditions, but many sit for weeks in cells without medication previously prescribed by private doctors, say family members, lawyers and psychiatrists. If the inmates do get medication, it’s often at a lower dose or is a cheaper generic substitute that doesn’t work as well, they say.

Six years ago, the jail drastically cut back on psychiatric drugs. A county official said the intent was to curb drug abuse by inmates faking mental illness. Critics say it was part of the county’s cost-cutting efforts.

But the drug policy has raised costs significantly in other areas. Taxpayers spend millions of dollars each year on the inmates — above and beyond the cost of caring for them in the jail. As their mental conditions deteriorate, many lose the ability to help in their own defense and must go to state mental hospitals for treatment. Fresno County has sent nearly 400 inmates since 2007 to state mental hospitals, more per capita than all of California’s largest counties except Kern.

For many, a hospital stay is a short reprieve from psychosis. Medicine prescribed by psychiatrists at state hospitals isn’t continued once inmates return to the jail, and their instability returns. Repeated trips to state hospitals are all too common, judges say. One Fresno inmate was admitted to a mental hospital nine times before his trial ended.

Besides the cost of expensive hospital treatment, taxpayers also foot the bill when trials are delayed, courts are backlogged and the jail is overcrowded.

Fresno County officials say they meet their legal obligations for providing psychiatric services — and the 2010-11 grand jury, which investigated, concurred. But at least one judge wanted to hold a county official in contempt of court for the county’s treatment of mentally ill inmates. And the county now faces lawsuits from a group that previously only sued state prisons over medical conditions and from a family whose relative was killed by a cellmate with mental illness.

Advocates for inmates say they are beginning to see improvements. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

12 August 2013 at 9:15 am

Top 8 Ways Privatization has Harmed us All

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Informed Comment has an excellent post by Paul Buchheit:

Some of America’s leading news analysts are beginning to recognize the fallacy of the “free market.” Said Ted Koppel, “We are privatizing ourselves into one disaster after another.” Fareed Zakaria admitted, “I am a big fan of the free market…But precisely because it is so powerful, in places where it doesn’t work well, it can cause huge distortions.” They’re right. A little analysis reveals that privatization doesn’t seem to work in any of the areas vital to the American public.

Health Care

Our private health care system is by far the most expensive system in the developed world. Forty-two percent of sick Americans skipped doctor’s visits and/or medication purchases in 2011 because of excessive costs. The price of common surgeries is anywhere from three to ten times higher in the U.S. than in Great Britain, Canada, France, or Germany. Some of the documented tales: a $15,000 charge for lab tests for which a Medicare patient would have paid a few hundred dollars; an $8,000 special stress test for which Medicare would have paid $554; and a $60,000 gall bladder operation, which was covered for $2,000 under a private policy.

As the examples begin to make clear, Medicare is more cost-effective. According to the Council for Affordable Health Insurance, Medicare administrative costs are about one-third that of private health insurance. More importantly, our ageing population has been staying healthy. While as a nation we have a shorter life expectancy than almost all other developed countries, Americans covered by Medicare INCREASED their life expectancy by 3.5 years from the 1960s to the turn of the century.

Free-market health care has been taking care of the CEOs. Ronald DePinho, president of MD Anderson Cancer Center in Texas, made $1,845,000 in 2012. That’s over ten times as much as the $170,000 made by the federal Medicare Administrator in 2010. Stephen J. Hemsley, the CEO of United Health Group, made three hundred times as much, with most of his $48 million coming from stock gains.


A Citigroup economist gushed, “Water as an asset class will, in my view, become eventually the single most important physical-commodity based asset class, dwarfing oil, copper, agricultural commodities and precious metals.”

A 2009 analysis of water and sewer utilities by Food and Water Watch found that private companies charge up to 80 percent more for water and 100 percent more for sewer services. A more recent study confirms that privatization will generally “increase the long-term costs borne by the public.” Privatization is “shortsighted, irresponsible and costly.”

Numerous examples of water privatization abuses or failures have been documented in California, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, New Jersey, Texas, Massachusetts, Rhode Island — just about anywhere it’s been tried. Meanwhile, corporations have been making outrageous profits on a commodity that should be almost free. Nestle buys water for about 1/100 of a penny per gallon, and sells it back for ten dollars. Their bottled water is not much different from tap water.

Worse yet, corporations profit from the very water they pollute. Dioxin-dumping Dow Chemicals is investing in water purification. Monsanto has been accused of privatizing its own pollution sites in order to sell filtered water back to the public.

Internet, TV, and Phone

It seems the whole world is leaving us behind on the Internet. According to the OECD, South Korea has Internet speeds up to 200 times faster than the average speed in the U.S., at about half the cost. Customers are charged about $30 a month in Hong Kong or Korea or parts of Europe for much faster service than in the U.S., while triple-play packages in other countries go for about half of our Comcast or AT&T charges.

Bloomberg notes that deregulators in the 1990s anticipated a market-based decline in phone and cable bills, an “invisible hand” that would steer competing companies to lower prices for all of us. Verizon and AT&T and Comcast and Time-Warner haven’t let it happen.

Transportation . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

12 August 2013 at 9:04 am

Strontium-90 leaking from Fukushima and entering the food chain

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Strontium-90 bioaccumulates up the good chain—it is a calcium analogue. The accident is still going on. Read this report.

Written by Leisureguy

12 August 2013 at 8:59 am

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