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Archive for November 5th, 2013

A hunger expert explains what happens now that food stamps are cut

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A very interesting interview in the Washington Post:

Joel Berg is the executive director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, and a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. Before taking the former position, he served in senior positions in the Clinton Agriculture Department for eight years. He is the author of “All You Can Heat: How Hungry Is America?” We spoke on the phone Tuesday morning; an edited transcript follows.

Dylan Matthews: So on Friday, a temporary boost to food stamps expired.

Joel Berg: Prematurely expired, it’s important to add, due to the actions of the president and Democrats in Congress. Advocates don’t talk about that a lot, as we don’t want to upset our friends, but the truth does matter.

This boost was put in the original American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA, or the stimulus bill), and it was supposed to go away a few years later, but in 2010 the Democrats passed a bill to provide funding for states to reimburse them for Medicaid and teacher’s pay, and sunset the boost earlier to pay for that. And later in 2010, to pay for the child nutrition reauthorization bill championed by the first lady, they sunset it a little earlier.

In 2010, Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), who was chair of the House Committee on Education and Labor at the time, came up with a great bill that passed through committee. And on the Senate side, they were going to make a bipartisan compromise and pay for it by cutting aid to SNAP nutrition education and aid to cattlemen. But then the Republicans said the cattlemen aid can’t be cut. So Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, literally days after assuring advocates at a national conference she wouldn’t cut food stamps, cut food stamps. [I vividly remember when Sen. Lincoln did that. It was contrary to everything the Democratic Party had stood for. I was elated by her defeat. – LG]

The White House pressured the House to not pass its own bill, saying that it couldn’t get through the Senate. So they cut $1.4 billion from SNAP by sunsetting this increase earlier. Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) and the Congressional Black Caucus objected and extracted a promise that the president would fix this later. The president made some statement about that, it was in his budgets, but it’s fair to say that he never really fought for it. I don’t know that the president’s ever mentioned it or Harry Reid has ever mentioned it in public.

This illustrates a few things. People who sell out causes that matter to look moderate, like Lincoln, will lose their seats anyway. And Democrats not doing the right thing when they’re in power makes it harder to stay in power, because people don’t know what they stand for anymore. When the choice is to hurt the poor or hurt agribusiness, the poor always lose. Obfuscation by the White House and Democrats in Congress helped to hide what was happening. And when you say, “We’ll fix it later,” when the later refers to poor people, later never comes.

Everyone says, “Oh these things were meant to be temporary.” The tax cuts for the rich were supposed to be temporary, and Obama and Congress made them permanent for people making from $200,000 to $400,000.

Also, note that sequestration is hammering nutrition assistance through WIC, the FEMA emergency food and shelter program, which gives money to homelessness prevention programs and food pantries, and provides these agencies with much needed cash for rent and not just food . The sequestration also cut senior meals. We can argue until we’re blue in the face as to who’s responsible for sequestration, but the President did sign the bill fixing the FAA. If the idea is to make it so bad, so bad for everybody, that you have to fix it, well, the elites had it fixed for them when it comes to flying. But it’s not fixed for everyone else.

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And you could make the argument that the boost should be permanent, that the program was too stingy beforehand. The maximum benefit is under $2 per meal, right?

Right, the average is about $1.50 per meal, and it’s going to $1.40 per meal after these cuts. The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) estimates that it’s equivalent to something like losing 21, 22 meals a month. Many people report to us and food pantries that even before the cuts, it only lasts two-three weeks.

The Paul Ryans of the world can sugarcoat this and say faith-based agencies will fill in the gap, or SNAP is so bloated that they won’t notice. I would challenge him to tell that to the people losing the food. Is this really about deficit reduction? That’d be slightly more reasonable, but it’s really about demonizing someone else’s benefits. Ryan received SSI after his father died, and he didn’t consider that a hammock that lulled him into a life of dependency.

Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.), a big tea partyer, received food stamps, along with his wife, earlier in life. I sent him a letter and enclosed an actual mirror, and told him, “To see what a food stamp recipient looks like, use this.” The only two virtuous recipients to him, apparently, are him and his wife. And Republican congressmen have received millions in farm subsidies. They call Obamacare socialist, but Obamacare is far less socialist than farm subsidies, which are direct government payments to what was previously the private sector.

I get e-mails from progressive advocates where the implicit view is that their one issue should rise above the policy debate over funding, and they don’t quite say, “Cut everything else,” but that’s the takeaway. It’s a failed strategy, We’ll be fighting for crumbs until we help the American people see the government as part of the answer to these problems.

That’s why I like to point out all the times the wealthy get help from government. Trump and I both get help from government air traffic controllers, and I wouldn’t consider it adequate to leave that up to Delta and American. I’m sure Trump wouldn’t feel comfortable with that. And he flies in private jets, while I fly commercial with 250 other people. At that moment, Trump is getting 250 times the help from the government that those of us who ride commercial jets get.

We only define programs that go to low-income people as handouts. After going on Fox, I got an angry e-mail from someone decrying food stamps, and I asked if he would refuse to take Medicare. He said I’m an idiot, that he paid into that program. But everyone on food stamps pays taxes — payroll taxes, sales taxes, gas taxes — and the longer you live, the more likely it is that you’ll use more in Medicare benefits than you pay in.

There’s no question that what’s underpinning this is the politics of race. There are two sorts of Republican attacks on this. One is part of a legitimate realm of discourse but wrong. That’s the, “Look how horrible the economy is, isn’t it proof of the failure of Obama’s economic legacy, that they have to receive food stamps” argument. Most of us would say, “Absolutely that’s the case, and that’s a legitimate debate to have,” but the people in that debate aren’t credible. Their conservative policies got us here to begin with. And now those who sunk the ship want to take away the life preservers.

The other argument is, “Isn’t Obama a welfare-lover,” which I think is illegitimate and race-baiting. Fox was pushing me on this, “Isn’t he buying off votes with food stamps?” I sent them a spreadsheet, 16 of the 20 states with highest food stamp populations voted for Mitt Romney.

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The other serious argument is that welfare programs provide a work disincentive, but given how many children are on SNAP, even if you accept that, it doesn’t apply to a huge chunk of beneficiaries. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

5 November 2013 at 3:55 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food, Government

What we still don’t know about the US and drones

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I blogged last night on what I see as the future of drones in this country. Cora Currier has a ProPublica report on unanswered questions:

Nearly six months ago, President Obama promised more transparency and tighter policies around targeted killings. In a speech, Obama vowed that the U.S. would only use force against a “continuing and imminent threat to the American people.” It would fire only when there was “near-certainty” civilians would not be killed or injured, and when capture was not feasible.

The number of drone strikes has dropped this year, but they’ve continued to make headlines. On Friday, a U.S. drone killed the head of the Pakistani Taliban. A few days earlier came the first drone strike in Somalia in nearly two years. How much has changed since the president’s speech?

We don’t know the U.S. count of civilian deaths

The administration says that it has a count of civilian deaths, and that there is a “wide gap” between U.S. and independent figures. But the administration won’t release its own figures.

Outside estimates of total civilian deaths since 2002 range from just over 200 to more than 1,000.  The Pakistani government has given three different numbers: 400, 147, and 67.

McClatchy and the Washington Post obtained intelligence documents showing that for long stretches of time, the CIA estimated few or no civilian deaths. The documents also confirmed the use of signature strikes, in which the U.S. targets people without knowing their identity. The CIA categorized many of those killed as simply “other militants” or “foreign fighters.” The Post wrote that the agency sometimes designated “militants” with what seemed like circumstantial or vague evidence, such as “men who were ‘probably’ involved in cross-border attacks” in Afghanistan.

The administration reportedly curtailed signature strikes this year, though the new guidelines don’t necessarily preclude them. A White House factsheet released around Obama’s speech said that “it is not the case that all military-aged males in the vicinity of a target are deemed to be combatants.” It did not say that people must be identified. (In any case, the U.S. has not officially acknowledged the policy of signature strikes.)

Attorney General Eric Holder confirmed only that four Americans have been killed by drone strikes since 2009: Anwar al Awlaki and his sixteen-year-old son, Abdulrahman,Samir Khan, and Jude Kenan Mohammed. Holder said that only the elder Awlaki was “specifically targeted,” but did not explain how the others came to be killed.

Although Obama said that this disclosure was intended to “facilitate transparency and debate,” since then, the administration has not commented on specific allegations of civilian deaths.

We don’t know exactly who can be targeted

The list of groups that the military considers “associated forces” of Al Qaeda is classified. The administration has declared that it targets members of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and “elements of Al Shabaab, but there are still questions about how the U.S. determines that an individual belonging to those groups is in fact a “continuing and imminent threat.” (After the terror alarm that led to the closing of U.S. embassies this summer, officials told the New York Times they had “expanded the scope of people [they] could go after” in Yemen.)

This ties into the debate over civilian casualties: The government would seem to consider some people legitimate targets that others don’t.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch conducted in-depth studies of particular strikes in Pakistan and Yemen, respectively. They include eyewitness reportsof civilian deaths. (Most of the deaths investigated happened before the Obama administration’s new policies were announced, although the administration has not said when those guidelines went into effect.) The reports also raised questions of the legalityof specific strikes, questioning whether the deaths were all unavoidable casualties of legitimate attacks.

It does not appear that the U.S. plans to expand strikes against Al Qaeda to other countries – officials have reportedly told Iraq, for example, it won’t send drones there. But the U.S. has established a surveillance drone base in Niger, and fed information from drones to French forces fighting in Mali.

We don’t know if the U.S. compensates civilian casualties

CIA director John Brennan suggested during his confirmation hearing that the U.S. made condolence payments to harmed families. But there is little evidence of it happening. U.S. Central Command told ProPublica that it had 33 pages related to condolence payments – but wouldn’t release any of them to us.

We don’t always know which strikes are American

While unnamed officials sometimes confirm that strikes came from U.S. drones, other attacks may be from PakistaniYemeni, or even Saudi planes.

(It’s also worth noting that the U.S. has also used cruise missiles and Special Forces raids. But the bulk of U.S. counterterrorism actions outside Afghanistan in recent years appear to rely on drones.)

We don’t know the . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

5 November 2013 at 1:33 pm

Interview with the victim of Chris Christie’s bullying

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Very interesting.

Written by Leisureguy

5 November 2013 at 1:27 pm

Posted in Education, Politics

Even A Republican Former Chief Judge Thinks Stop-And-Frisk Judge’s Removal Was Dubious

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I blogged about this a few days ago. Nicole Flatow has more information at ThinkProgress:

On Thursday, the federal judge who issued a meticulous, 200-page opinion finding the New York Police Department engaged in unconstitutional racial profiling was removed from the case. U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin’s removal could, at the very least, mean that federal monitoring of NYPD’s stop-and-frisk program would be overseen by a different judge with an unknown commitment to enforcement. And legal experts overwhelmingly questioned the three-judge appeals panel’s decision to remove her without even a hearing or arguments, calling the rare move “extraordinary” and “shocking and inexcusable abuse.”

On Sunday, a former federal chief judge appointed by George H.W. Bush joined the chorus, saying the appeals court’s legal argument was “dubious at best.” He adds, “Actually, I was going to write that it was ‘bullshit,’ but decided against that description.”

U.S. District Judge Richard G. Kopf’s analysis on his blog, Hercules and the Umpire, hinged on the court’s determination that Scheindlin violated the “related case” rule when she rejected lawyers’ request to re-open another case challenging stop-and-frisk, and instead suggested that they file a new case with their racial profiling allegations that she would preside over as a “related case.” Kopf, like others who have commented on the case, explained that Scheindlin did what judges are expected to do when she instructed lawyers on procedure.

“The reason we have relatedness rules in the district courts is to avoid treating similar cases dissimilarly and because it wastes judicial resources by duplicating effort when two judges deal with similar issues,” he explains, noting that he has taken similar action in very high-profile cases. Because the explanation the three-judge panel provided their cursory was confounding, he added, many have instead turned to the unfortunate conclusion that the decision was politically motivated. He adds:

Unintentionally I am sure, the panel of highly regarded and very smart judges on the Second Circuit that too hastily disqualified Judge Scheindlin, herself a highly respected trial judge, fractured the unwritten but critical social compact between federal trial judges and federal appellate judges that should bind those judges together as they seek to fulfill a common purpose. In short, “eating your young” is not a good way to foster collegiality.

As Georgetown law professor David Cole wrote last week, the slight against Scheindlin also sends the message that retribution against judges who mandate racial justice may be alive and well.

In addition to removing Scheindlin, the appeals panel also blocked implementation of her ruling while the city’s appeal is pending — a less unusual move. But the appeal may become irrelevant by the time the appeals court makes a final ruling, no earlier than March. Among the front-runners in Tuesday’s mayoral race, Bill de Blasio says he would drop the appeal, while Joe Lhota says he would continue pursuing it. Dropping the appeal would not, however, have any impact on the court’s decision to remove Scheindlin.

The full post at Judge Kopf’s blog is worth reading, and he posted a follow-up post

I received an e-mail from Katherine A. Macfarlane, Teaching Fellow and Assistant Professor of Professional Practice, LSU Paul M. Hebert Law Center. She has kindly allowed me to reprint it and I do so below. But first, Katherine’s work shows that academic research can materially assist the rest of us. I hope she continues her great work.

The e-mail reads as follow, and note, please, the text that I have highlighted in red:

Dear Judge Kopf,

In light of your recent blog post, I thought you might be interested in my attached article, posted on SSRN in August, and accepted for publication in the Michigan Journal of Race & Law in September. It’s about the SDNY’s related cases rule and its role in stop-and-frisk litigation. Curiously, three of the non-legal sources I cited to—an article by Jeffrey Toobin in the New Yorker, an article by Joe Goldstein in the New York Times, and an article by Mark Hamblett in the New York Law Journal—were also cited by the Second Circuit in its recent order kicking Judge Scheindlin off the stop-and-frisk cases. The “appearance of impartiality” idea also pops up in my article. This is either an incredible coincidence, or else, a clerk read my SSRN post. Either way, I hope you find my article of interest.

The Second Circuit’s decision to reassign the cases makes no sense to me, as Judge Scheindlin merely followed the local rules. As to whether the local rules invite manipulation of the case assignment process is an entirely different question that my article attempts to tackle.

Best regards,

Katherine A. Macfarlane
Teaching Fellow and Assistant Professor of Professional Practice
LSU Paul M. Hebert Law Center


Written by Leisureguy

5 November 2013 at 11:51 am

Posted in Law

Johnson & Johnson Pays $2.2 Billion For Illegally Promoting Drug That Put Patients’ Health At Risk

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A while back a reader on this blog commented that you could trust major corporations. He felt (apparently) that they would not commit wrongful acts, or, if they did, the market would punish them. Since then, of course, we have seen repeated instances of corporations hauled into court for various crimes. Now it’s Johnson & Johnson’s turn, as reported at ThinkProgress by Rebecca Leber:

In a massive fraud settlement, Johnson & Johnson will pay $2.2 billion for a half-a-decade’s worth of illegal marketing of anti-psychotic and heart drugs that officials charged “recklessly put patients and children’s health at risk.” But the settlement won’t extract a full admission of guilt from Johnson & Johnson, which pleaded to a single misdemeanor violation of marketing Rispersdal, a drug approved for schizophrenia, to dementia patients.

According to Reuters, Johnson & Johnson’s aggressive marketing of Rispersdal included paying millions of dollars to a large pharmacy for nursing home patients and promoting the drug to doctors for off-brand purposes.

“Put simply, this alleged conduct is shameful and it is unacceptable,” Attorney General Eric Holder said Monday. “It displayed a reckless indifference to the safety of the American people. And it constituted a clear abuse of the public trust, showing a blatant disregard for systems and laws designed to protect public health.”

Before Johnson & Johnson agreed to the $2.2 billion sum for criminal and civil damages, the company sought to avoid more blame that it downplayed the drug’s risks of increasing prolactin, which induced side effects including breast development in males. By avoiding this charge, the company would have an easier time winning other private lawsuits.

On Monday, the subsidiary, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, maintained no wrongdoing outside of the misdemeanor. “Janssen accepts accountability for the actions described in the misdemeanor plea. The settlement of the civil allegations is not an admission of any liability or wrongdoing, and the Company expressly denies the government’s civil allegations,” the statement said.

Illegal marketing is not the only strategy pharmaceuticals use to pump profits. By pushing expensive brand names over generics, pharmaceuticals have managed to drive up health care costs for everyone.

If large pharmaceutical companies are not trustworthy, which corporations are? None.

Written by Leisureguy

5 November 2013 at 11:44 am

Posted in Business, Law, Medical

James Clapper’s “least untruthful” answer

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When James Clapper testified before the Senate committee about the data NSA collects on Americans, Sen. Ron Wyden asked him directly if the NSA kept data files on millions of Americans. Clapper responded, “No, it does not.” That was a lie, but we did not know that until Edward Snowden released the first tranche of information about the NSA secret surveillance programs on US citizens.

When later interviewed about his lie on NBC news by Andrea Mitchell, Clapper told her that he gave the “least untruthful” answer possible. A couple of points that have occurred to me:

a. Clapper flatly admits that (1) he gave an untruthful answer (i.e., lied), and (2) the lie was deliberate, not accidental.

b. The truthful answer to the question Sen. Wyden asked was “Yes.” The answer Clapper gave was “No.” That seems to be to be as untruthful as it’s possible to be. Far from being the “least untruthful” answer, it’s as untruthful as it can possibly be.

And he got away with it. The powerful go unpunished. Were you or I to lie to a Senate committee, we’d be a world of hurt. Clapper brushes it off like nothing, and the Senate defers to him.

Written by Leisureguy

5 November 2013 at 10:34 am

A few bibimbap notes

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I only recently have come to bibimbap. From Wikipedia:

Bibimbap (비빔밥, Korean pronunciation: [pibimp͈ap̚][1]) is a signature Korean dish. The word literally means “mixed rice”. Bibimbap is served as a bowl of warm white rice topped with namul(sautéed and seasoned vegetables) and gochujang (chili pepper paste). A raw or fried egg and sliced meat (usually beef) are common additions. The ingredients are stirred together thoroughly just before eating.[2] It can be served either cold or hot.

In Korea, JeonjuJinju, and Tongyeong are especially famous for their versions of bibimbap.[3]In 2011, it was listed at number 40 on the World’s 50 most delicious foods readers’ poll compiled by CNN Travel.[4]

I blogged links to a few bibmbap recipes Sunday. I made Farro or Bulgur With Black-Eyed Peas, Chard and Feta, “a spiced up version of a classic Greek preparation: black-eyed peas cooked with greens.” It was extremely good, though I didn’t understand at the outset that it is a soup: it seemed like an awful lot of water, but I was thinking “bean salad” rather than “bean soup.” It turned out to be a thick soup, and filled the 4-qt soup pot just right. It has a very rich taste, too: possibly the cilantro and the last-minute tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil. I pretty much followed the recipe as given, except that I used Gen Ji Mai 12-grain instead of farro or bulgur.

Today I’m making Red Rice or Farro With Miso-Roasted Squash, Leeks, Red Pepper and Tofu. Again, I’ll use Gen Ji Mai 12-grain, this time instead of red rice or farro.

It’s a good meal: tasty, not difficult to make, and the quantity seems to be enough for several meals.

UPDATE: In making the recipe, everything goes fine until the butternut squash (peeled and cut into 1/2″ dice, no prob) and the leeks—the leeks are simply to be lengthways, which means knife and fork will be required. No. I cut the leeks into 1″ segments. They’ll roast better anyway if you stand them end up instead of on their side.

And then the recipe calls for separate timings of leeks and butternut. Perhaps okay if the leeks are left as logs, but not now. So I’m just cooking them well done. Well-roasted veggies are tasty.

Written by Leisureguy

5 November 2013 at 10:15 am

Posted in Food, Recipes & Cooking

Fine lather, great shave

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SOTD 5 Nov 2013

Altogether satisfactory shave.

I did wet the Mühle Silvertip’s knot prior to the shower. I will continue for a week, and then next week not wet the knots. So far, the wet knot works fine, but I’m not sure that it is significantly different (with a silvertip) from starting with a dry knot, so far as the shave goes.

Again, I got a good lather from the Mystic Water soap, this morning Rosalimone. As I was loading the brush and got to wondering whether the disparate accounts of the lather from her soaps could be from batch-to-batch variation. Obviously, it’s difficult to spot that by comparing the accounts of different shavers, who have different techniques, different water hardness, and the like, but since I’m marching through my collection I might be able to detect a batch that varies. These first two were fine, though, and I like this fragrance.

Three passes of the Merkur vintage slant produced perfect smoothness and no nicks at all. I do need to find a better brand of blade for the iKon. Gillette Rubie was suggested, and I have used those, but they seem to have vanished. I would love to find a source of Astra Keramik Platinum, but I think I’m 4 or 5 years too late. I did order some Polsilvers and others and will give those a go.

A good splash of Savory Rose and the day begins.

Written by Leisureguy

5 November 2013 at 10:04 am

Posted in Shaving

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