Later On

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Archive for November 10th, 2013

Interesting point re: Confederate States of America and the Civil War

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This is an excerpt from a long and interesting post by Betsy Phillips at ThinkProgress. This section interested me:

I have done a lot of research on the Confederacy and narratives surrounding the Confederacy. I’m really fascinated by how Confederates understood their great cultural project and then how their children and grandchildren and descendants beyond that came to understand said cultural project.

One thing that is incredibly interesting to me is that there is simply no argument about why the Confederacy fought the Civil War. For Confederates, it was about slavery. They believed they had the right to own slaves and, even if they didn’t, at the moment, own slaves (which was true in a great many cases, because slaves were expensive and young men fight wars), they aspired to own slaves. After the war, many of them adopted Nathan Bedford Forrest’s approach — slave-owning was no longer something one did and new times called for new ways — but, like Forrest, they felt no guilt for having owned slaves.

After the war, the United States relocated as many remains as possible of U.S. troops to federal cemeteries. Confederate troops were not, for the most part, put in federal cemeteries. If the wives and children of Confederate soldiers wanted to bury them in cemeteries, they had to either find where they’d fallen or dig them up out of trenches and identify their remains and either drag them home somehow or find a cemetery near where they’d died and stick them there.

The U.S. military had elaborate and standard protocols for how to properly bury Union soldiers. There was no such infrastructure for the CSA soldiers. Whatever story was going to be told about why these men died and whether their sacrifice was worth it had to be made up by the survivors. And the South made grand ceremony over it.

Now, here’s the important part. By and large, when other Confederates were called on to talk about why these men had died, they talked about “The Lost Cause.” They had simply died defending a way of life that has passed from the earth. But, when their sons got old enough to be the ones talking at these often yearly graveside gatherings, the sons talked about “states rights” or “brother against brother” or the men who were just defending their homeland from invaders — all the reasons we still tell each other the war was fought today.

And the old men, the actual Confederates, got pissed. They felt like their children (and later grandchildren) were embarrassed by them and thus were making up more palatable lies about why the war had been fought. “States rights” and “brother against brother” arguments for the cause of the war were incredibly painful to actual Confederates.

If you look at it from the perspective of the actual Confederates, you can see why it would be uncomfortable to hear your children and grandchildren discounting the real reason you fought and replacing it with reasons that you knew they think sound more noble. Their praise of motivations you didn’t have only reinforces the knowledge that the reasons you did had were terrible.

But if you look at it from the perspective of the children of Confederates, who were living under Reconstruction, the idea of their fathers going to war to protect them from that kind of Federal intrusion must have been incredibly seductive. “My dad was trying to save me from this” is more compelling than “my dad was trying to save his earning potential.”

And look at what the grandchildren of Confederates were facing–trying to find ways to do business with Northerners and establish ties with Northern industries–and you can see why a narrative of “The war was terrible, but we’re all brothers in the end, aren’t we?” was so attractive. And note how easily the “brother-against-brother” narrative lets white men of both regions just push black men right off the national stage.

So, the reframing of Confederate motivations tells us a lot more about the circumstances of the reframers than it does reveal some great truth about the Confederacy.

As a confirmation: the text of the actual Articles of Secession as passed by:

You’ll note that the main issue is the perpetuation of the institution of slavery, pure and simple.

And it is always good to remind ourselves that the war began with the South firing without provocation upon the Federal fort at Ft. Sumpter in South Carolina. It’s the War of Southern Aggression.

Written by Leisureguy

10 November 2013 at 12:29 pm

Posted in Government, Military

What killed the diplomatic solution to the Iran problem

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Some people (and countries) simply want to make war, not find ways to avoid war. I do not understand that. Juan Cole describes the collapse of the deal with Iran, thanks to the French:

The Iranian newspaper Tabnak printed a minute-by-minute account of Saturday’s dramatic on-again off-again push toward a diplomatic agreement on Iran’s nuclear enrichment program. It contains little editorializing but by the key placement of news items, it tells a story about French and Israeli bad faith.

Catherine Ashton of the European Union and Secretary of State John Kerry had worked for months with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on a text, which put forward a set confidence-building steps. They were careful to have no details leak, but apparently Iran would freeze its nuclear enrichment program for six months in return for very slight, and “reversible” reductions of international sanctions. Further steps would then be pursued.

Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu denounced this step as a fool’s bargain, maintaining that Iran was getting something for nothing. Tabnak says that the Israeli Finance Minister warned that even a slight reduction in Iran sanctions would lead to a gold rush on the part of Western corporations seeking business in Tehran (Iran is an oil and gas state with a population of 77 million, so there are trillions to be made there if it is opened up). Apparently the Israelis feel that any chink in the sanctions armor would lead inexorably to their collapse, impelled in part by world capitalism hungry for a major new market and for Iran’s enormous resources. They fear that once the international momentum moves in that direction, Iran would dig in its heels and keep its most significant enrichment capabilities and its breakout capacity whereby it could construct a bomb at will if it wanted to.

There was no sign that any of the diplomats in Geneva were willing to pay the slightest attention to the squawking from Tel Aviv. Indeed, the momentum was toward an inking of the confidence-building measure on Saturday itself. Russian and Chinese representatives were abruptly summoned to Geneva.

Tabnak doesn’t instance the Saudis, but their refusal to take up their seat on the UN Security Council is in part a protest against American diplomacy with Iran, which they fear will leave the kingdom in a weak position vis-a-vis their Persian Shiite rival for power in the Gulf (which they call the Arabian Gulf and Iran calls the Persian Gulf). Some 22% of proven world oil reserves are in that region.

Then French foreign minister Laurent Fabius showed up and threw cold water on the whole process. He clearly was attempting to torpedo the agreement, rejecting the whole notion of a six-month confidence-building period without substantial Iranian concessions. In the French system, the foreign minister doesn’t typically have a lot of autonomy, so Fabius was almost certainly acting at the orders of Socialist President Francois Hollande, who is way down in the polls and may feel the need to seem strong internationally, asserting himself against the US and Iran. The arrogance of the US and the perfidy of the far right religious government in Tehran are two things that both center-right and center-left French can agree upon. Hollande, having intervened in Mali, seems to want to throw his weight around in the Middle East. He may see an opportunity for France to come up in the world now that much of the Arab world and Israel is angry at Washington for its opening toward Iran. The US for decades has pulled off a balancing act of allying both with Israel and Saudi Arabia, in part by pointing to the danger of Iran to both. Since Obama seems to be abandoning that ploy, Paris may think there is a vacuum that it can fill.

Because Iranian president Hasan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Zarif were deeply concerned that their opening toward negotiations with the West would be sabotaged by hard liners in the Revolutionary Guards and around theocrat-in-chief Ali Khamenei, they had stipulated that no details of any agreement be leaked during the negotiations.

Fabius blatantly disregarded this rule. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

10 November 2013 at 11:44 am

Posted in Iran

Sociopathic companies

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The total focus on profits as the sole measure of a company’s worth can sometimes lead to astonishing abuse of employees—one need think only of the repeated instances of workers dying in factory fires because the fire escapes were chained shut. Here’s a new one, reported at ThinkProgress by Sy Mukherjee:

Bobbi Bockoras has worked at a glass bottling plant in Port Allegany, Pennsylvania for six years. She has two children, one of whom was born recently. Bockoras takes every pain tobreastfeed her newborn daughter Lyla. Unfortunately, that includes pumping her breast milk in the only place where her employer, Saint Gobain Verallia, will let her do so — a dingy and sweltering locker room littered with dead bugs.

The Affordable Care Act requires employers to provide a clean, non-bathroom space with an electrical outlet and “reasonable” break time for their workers to pump breast milk for one full year after a child’s birth. Bockoras knows that, so she was surprised when her supervisor first told her to just pump milk in a bathroom. She eventually learned that both her supervisor and Saint Gobain Verallia’s human resources department were unaware of the law.

But Bockoras’ struggles with her employer didn’t end after she informed them about Obamacare’s protections for nursing mothers. In a blog post on the ACLU’s website, she describes weeks spent fighting to find an appropriate and private room, all while facing escalating harassment from her male co-workers:

I eventually agreed to use an old locker room, even though it was filthy, because at least it had a lock on the door – and they said they’d clean it up. But when I showed up to pump there a few days later, I found that the room had not been cleaned: it was covered in dirt and dead bugs, the floor was unfinished and had large patches missing from it, and there was no air conditioning – which is serious, because temperatures can get up to 106 degrees on the factory floor. The only furniture in the room was a single chair. I was completely disgusted, but what could I do? I only had a short break before I had to be back on my shift, and my baby has to eat, so I pumped there anyway. Even though I complained that it was filthy, the company did not have it cleaned. To make matters worse, shortly after that, someone took the chair from the room, which is how I found myself pumping on the floor, with dead bugs for company.

Bockoras refused to give up, and continued complaining to the company about the inadequate pumping conditions and her co-workers’ harassment. That abruptly led to her being switched into into a “rotating” work shift that forces her to work a different schedule, including overnight shifts, every couple of days — a disruption that led to a 50 percent drop in her breast milk production by her account.

The harassment didn’t stop, either. Bockoras, who is now being represented by the ACLU and the Women’s Law Project in a lawsuit against Saint Gobain Verallia, says that some co-workers slathered grease and metal shards on the door handle to the room where she pumps her breast milk on two occasions. Once they even put a bucket in the room and jokingly compared Bockoras to a cow being milked, the lawsuit alleges. Her supervisors at the company evidently didn’t consider that behavior harassment after she made them aware of it.

“I hope that my story will help inform other nursing workers of their rights, and educate employers about their legal obligations,” wrote Bockoras in her blog post for the ACLU. “No woman should have to go through what I did simply to do what’s best for her baby.”

Saint Gobain Verallia declined to comment on Bockoras’ case. “Verallia North America operates under the company’s Principles of Conduct and Action, and we are committed to providing a respectful workplace. The Company takes its obligations under the law very seriously and is committed to abiding by all federal and state employment laws. However, it would be inappropriate for the Company to comment on specifics of pending legal matters,” a corporate communications director, Gina Behrman, told ThinkProgress in a statement via email.

It is interesting to note yet another benefit and protection brought by the Affordable Care Act.

Written by Leisureguy

10 November 2013 at 10:30 am

Posted in Business, Daily life

The health effects of a nuclear test can last decades

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I did realize how many people one nuclear test kills. The fact that we don’t know their names or their stories seems to make it okay, though. Harold Pollack writes at Wonkblog:

A growing branch of empirical health economics combines data and rigorous econometric method to tease out the impact of diffuse but important environmental hazards on human health. In recent years, brilliant papers have appeared to examine the health impact of particulate pollutionnuclear accidents, and legal changes such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964. A terrific recent NBER working paper by Sandra Black, Aline Bütikofer, Paul J. Devereux, and Kjell G. Salvanes deserves to join that group.

These authors examined the serious harms inflicted on Norwegian pregnant women (and ultimately on Norwegian children) by Soviet nuclear testing in the late 1950s and early 1960s. As an added bonus, their paper provides further posthumous vindication — as if this were needed — of the great Russian physicist Andrei Sakharov.

Most of my students were born after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Many don’t know who Sakharov really was. That’s too bad. If one had to make a list of the greatest human beings of the last century, Sakharov would be close to the top of any reasonable list. Father of the Soviet hydrogen bomb, he became first among equals among the dissidents courageously fighting for human rights and liberal values in the former Soviet Union.

If one had to identify a single year when Sakharov moved from pampered and compliant technocrat, three-time hero of Socialist Labor, to active dissident, 1962 would probably be that year. It was then that Sakharov waged a lonely, unsuccessful fight to prevent redundant tests of Soviet nuclear bombs. Four years before, Sakharov had published one of the first studies seeking to forecast the contributions of nuclear weapons testing to human cancers.

Analyzing the diffusion of radioactive carbon, Sakharov forecast that the explosion of a one-megaton hydrogen bomb — equivalent in destructive power to 1 million tons of TNT — would cost more than 6,000 lives. These lives would be lost over many generations. These deaths would be hard to distinguish from the much larger number of unrelated fatal cancers. They would be no less important in the lives of real people.

At the time, the Soviet Union sought to demonstrate its resolve by exploding huge, militarily irrelevant hydrogen bombs. The largest of these explosions exceeded 50 megatons. According to Sakharov’s calculations, each such explosion would ultimately take hundreds of thousands of lives. He was a loyal Soviet citizen who believed that his country needed powerful weapons to deter western powers. He wanted this work conducted in safety, with restraint. He subsequently used his scientific influence to support a nuclear test ban, too.

Like the United States, the Soviet Union established two main labs designing these weapons. Inevitably, the two labs developed rather similar prototypes of a new bomb. Bureaucratic rivalry produced the predictable result: Each lab sought to explode its own bomb, although the resulting redundancy would expose millions of people to additional toxic fallout in return for very little military or scientific gain.

Sakharov frantically tried to stop one of the blasts — either one, he didn’t ultimately care. He appealed all the way up the chain to the leader of the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev. Khrushchev frankly rebuffed Sakharov, sending a clear message that scientists should not meddle in larger policy matters. After the second explosion, Sakharov exclaimed, “A terrible crime had been committed, and I couldn’t prevent it…. I dropped my face on the table and wept.” (quote from Gennady Gorelik, “The World of Andrei Sakharov: A Russian Physicist’s Path to Freedom,” p. 288.)

The physicist’s anger and disappointment changed him. He began the journey from compliant technocrat to something more skeptical, to internal dissenter, and, eventually, to a political adversary of the Soviet regime.

Sakharov’s 1958 paper examined cancer. Black and her colleagues examined different consequences of nuclear testing that are scarcely less profound: The impact on Norwegian children of prenatal exposure to the fallout created by the frequent Soviet nuclear tests in the 1950s and early 1960s. Their specific findings are of interest. So is their clever and intricate study design. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

10 November 2013 at 10:25 am

Fed Official: Wall Street Still Thinks It Is Above The Law

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Alan Pyke reports at ThinkProgress:

As long as Wall Street banks believe they are above the law, it will be very difficult to prevent the financial industry from blowing up the world economy again, according to Federal Reserve Board of New York head William Dudley.

In a speech Friday in New York City, Dudley warned that the industry’s “lack of respect for law, regulation and the public trust” make it more likely that the country will see a repeat of the fraud epidemic that brought about the financial crisis and Great Recession, and called for a “cultural shift” on Wall Street.

Dudley’s remarks were focused on ending the problem of so-called “too big to fail” (TBTF) banks. While he expressed doubts about some remedies for the TBTF phenomenon that progressives support, such as reinstating the Glass-Steagall law that used to prevent the sorts of mergers that allowed the megabanks that exist today to get so dangerously large, Dudley’s decision to call out Wall Street’s culture is likely to resonate with critics of both the banking industry and the Obama administration’s law enforcement efforts. There is ample evidence to support Dudley’s suggestion that the industry considers itself above the law and excepted from societal responsibility.

In surveys probing Wall Street ethics, financial professionals say that crime pays. A quarter of survey respondents in 2012 said that illegal or unethical conduct was a prerequisite for success in the industry. The same survey in 2013 found similar levels of interest in breaking the law for profit, and also found that the willingness to commit crimes in order to get rich was much higher among the younger cadre of Wall Street employees. Nearly 40 percent of those with fewer than 10 years’ experience in the industry were willing to commit insider trading, compared to 24 percent in the whole survey. The law firm that conducts the survey labeled the results “a ticking economic time bomb.” Meanwhile, taxpayers continue to subsidize executive compensation packagesthat create huge incentives to commit fraud.

It appears the industry hasn’t learned anything from the financial crisis five years ago. Given how few legal consequences the big banks have faced for their actions in bringing about the recession, it makes sense that the culture remains a problem. The still-pending JP Morgan settlement over mortgage finance misdeeds is touted as a record fine of as much as $13 billion, but the fines are tax deductible, other components of it can be passed off onto government agencies, and almost a third of the total comes from accounting gimmicks that benefit the bank rather than fine payments that punish it. Similarly, the National Mortgage Settlement was billed as a $25 billion landmark deal, but that number gives an inflated impression of what the deal actually cost abusive mortgage servicers. Worse, it’s failed to stop those same companies from continuing to abuse homeowners.

Several high-profile figures have suggested the banks are “too big to jail,” including Attorney General Eric Holder and Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), and Sherrod Brown (D-OH). Frustration with Holder’s approach to the financial industry has in fact led to arrests, but it wasprotesters and foreclosed grandmothers rather than bankers who faced charges.

While the biggest banks have racked up tens of billions of dollars in legal bills in recent years, those costs are infinitesimally small next to the size of the economic harm caused by the financial crisis. The banking industry has returned to record profits and payoutsinvestigations have fizzled, and the CEOs who ran the worst-behaving banks during the run-up to the crisis walked away with immense wealth rather than in handcuffs.

Written by Leisureguy

10 November 2013 at 10:18 am

Posted in Business, Law

Cleanliness is next to sickliness

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Fascinating op-ed by Moises Velasquez-Manoff in the NY Times:

Will the cure for allergies come from the cowshed?

Allergies are often seen as an accident. Your immune system misinterprets a harmless protein like dust or peanuts as a threat, and when you encounter it, you pay the price with sneezingwheezing, and in the worst cases, death.

What prompts some immune systems to err like this, while others never do? Some of the vulnerability is surely genetic. But comparative studies highlight the importance of environment, beginning, it seems, in the womb. Microbes are one intriguing protective factor. Certain ones seem to stimulate a mother’s immune system during pregnancy, preventing allergic disease in children.

By emulating this naturally occurring phenomenon, scientists may one day devise a way to prevent allergies.

This task, though still in its infancy, has some urgency. Depending on the study and population, the prevalence of allergic disease and asthma increased between two- and threefold in the late 20th century, a mysterious trend often called the “allergy epidemic.”

These days, one in five American children have a respiratory allergy like hay fever, and nearly one in 10 have asthma.

Nine people die daily from asthma attacks. While the increase in respiratory allergies shows some signs of leveling off, the prevalence of food and skin allergies continues to rise. Five percent of children are allergic to peanuts, milk and other foods, half again as many as 15 years ago. And each new generation seems to have more severe, potentially life-threatening allergic reactions than the last.

Some time ago, I visited a place where seemingly protective microbes occurred spontaneously. It wasn’t a spotless laboratory in some university somewhere. It was a manure-spattered cowshed in Indiana’s Amish country.

My guide was Mark Holbreich, an allergist in Indianapolis. He’d recently discovered that the Amish people who lived in the northern part of the state were remarkably free of allergies and asthma.

About half of Americans have evidence of allergic sensitization, which increases the risk of allergic disease. But judging from skin-prick tests, just 7.2 percent of the 138 Amish children who Dr. Holbreich tested were sensitized to tree pollens and other allergens. That yawning difference positions the Indiana Amish among the least allergic populations ever described in the developed world.

This invulnerability isn’t likely to be genetic. The Amish originally came to the United States from the German-speaking part of Switzerland, and these days Swiss children, a genetically similar population, are about as allergic as Americans.

Ninety-two percent of the Amish children Dr. Holbreich tested either lived on farms or visited one frequently. Farming, Dr. Holbreich thinks, is the Amish secret. This idea has some history. Since the late 1990s, European scientists have investigated what they call the “farm effect.”

The working hypothesis is that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

10 November 2013 at 8:54 am

Interesting view of the meat industry

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I found this Salon interview of Maureen Ogle by Lindsay Abrams to be quite interesting. It begins:

Much of what you think you know about the meat industry is wrong, says historian Maureen Ogle. Sure, the industry is enormous, but its power is limited by narrow profit margins, an impenetrable bureaucracy and elaborate demands from American consumers.

In Meat We Trust,” Ogle’s newest book, hits the shelves Tuesday. In it, she traces the history of meat in America, from the livestock raised by the original settlers to the birth of the modern industrial system. Along the way, she seeks to understand what she sees as a fundamental disconnect between consumers’ demand for an abundance of cheap chicken, beef and pork, and the producers whose motives bear little resemblance to what the critics would have us believe.

Ogle spoke with Salon about Americans’ long-standing and complicated relationship with their favorite proteins, from price scandals to pink slime. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Americans eat more meat than almost anywhere else in the world. Would you say we have a unique relationship with meat?

I didn’t do a global study, but I think worldwide, human beings certainly share a passion for meat — vegetarians notwithstanding. Meat is something that human beings like to eat, there’s no doubt about that. And we’re certainly not the first country in the world where governments have tried to make it a priority to make sure there’s plenty of it. Obviously, there are exceptions to that.

One thing that does make a difference for us is that we Americans have access to an extraordinary abundance of land, and have for four centuries. The people who settled North America came from a world where, because there was so little land, food scarcities were common, and meat wasn’t something everyone expected to eat. In what would become the United States, the reverse was true. We just pretty much don’t have food scarcities here, and there was plenty of room to raise livestock, which very quickly became a source of wealth.

And has the desire for meat to be inexpensive and also readily available also been there since day one?

I think so, although now it is much more intentional. During the colonial period, again, because there was so much land, people who never dreamed of having access to meat regularly, or who never thought they could be in a position where they would be able to keep a steer or a cow, were able to do so. So yes, I do think that our sense that, “Yeah, of course we get meat, of course there’s gonna be meat and there’s gonna be a lot of it,” that kind of came built into the whole system.

Americans demonstrated that they wanted to use a great deal of the abundant land available to them to raise livestock, and they have consistently built very efficient systems for distributing the meat from that livestock throughout the entire population. That’s not to say that everybody could equally afford it, but by and large Americans historically have had access to far more meat than anybody else in the world.

So, you call the book “In Meat We Trust” –

That wasn’t my idea [laughs]. This was a title by a committee.

It resonates, but you do show how scandals and health scares tied to meat and the meat industry go pretty far back in history, too.

Right, but again, I think the fact that there have been complaints about the shortage of meat or the high price of meat, to me indicates just how strongly Americans believed that they were entitled to have it. I mention a number of incidents where people stage meat boycotts because they’re furious that the price of meat, that they believe should be within their reach, is not – and they’re more than happy to let people know. They’ve always used governments — local, state and federal — to protect meat supplies, along with all food supplies. But meat, yes indeed — there’s an expectation there.

Could you talk about what you write are unfair representations of meat, going back to “The Jungle” up to Michael Pollan today. What do they get wrong about the meat industry, or seem to be missing from the historical context?

I think what the food reformers – and I need to make it clear, I have a great deal of sympathy with their goals — don’t understand is that the system of providing food is predicated on the fact that the vast majority of Americans don’t make food. They expect someone else to raise it for them. And in the United States, if you live in a city, you absolutely expect there to be lots and lots of food at a reasonable price. For the past century that’s in fact what has driven our economy: the ability to free up spending dollars.

I think food reformers don’t get that the reason they have the luxury of sitting around tapping out critiques on their Apple computers is because they a) don’t have to grow their own food and b) don’t have to spend very much money for the food that they do have.

Companies want to make a profit — only an idiot would [disagree]. And these meat companies, for example, tend to be publicly held, so the share value is being distributed throughout the national economy to individual Americans. But what drives the structure and cost performance of a big meat company had been, for decades and decades, the need to come up with a product that Americans deem acceptable in price, and that is not easy to do.

I’ll use the example of a steer. If you look at a steer, the bulk of the steer is not edible. So the packer has to figure out how to extract the edible part, but then use all the rest of the parts to subsidize the low cost of those edible parts, and that is an incredible balancing act that packers have pulled off over and over again. There is virtually no profit to be made from a carcass of a steer, in terms of the meat that you sell. By the time you pay for the animal, you move the animal, you slaughter the animal, you process the animal, you package the meat, you send the meat — there is no profit in there. So the way you get profit is by organizing your operation to use all the rest of the animal in some way that will yield profit.

The idea that meatpackers are somehow gouging consumers or operating plants in a way to only extract profit is simply nonsense. Any meatpacker will tell you it’s actually a very low-profit operation. If you can make 1 percent, you’re doing really well. The reformers’ critique is that the price of meat in the store doesn’t take into account the environmental cost, and I would agree with that. But what they also don’t understand is that, in effect, meatpacker efficiency is what subsidizes the price of meat in the store. So if you just kind of extract the way livestock is raised, and criticize that, or if you just extract the way slaughterhouses operate, and criticize that, you’re not seeing an entire picture. This entire infrastructure is dedicated toward two goals. One is to earn profit for the processor and the farmer. But the other is to make sure that consumers don’t have to pay more than about 6 percent of their disposable income on meat. That’s not much money.

It would seem like Eldon Roth and the so-called pink slime scandal are the perfect example of that, where something’s good for price, yet consumers couldn’t quite wrap their minds around it. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

10 November 2013 at 8:44 am

Posted in Business, Food

How the military isolates itself — and hurts veterans

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Very interesting op-ed in the Washington Post by Phillip Carter and retired Lt. Gen. David Barno,  veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, respectively, and senior fellows at the Center for a New American Security. It begins:

In Afghanistan and Iraq, the wire ringing our bases divided two starkly different worlds. Inside the wire, life revolved around containerized housing units, cavernous dining facilities, well-appointed gyms and the distant but ever-present risk of a falling rocket or mortar round. Outside the wire, Afghans and Iraqis tried to live their lives amid relative chaos. They didn’t fully understand what we were doing there. And when we ventured out, we struggled to navigate their world.

The wire defines a similar divide in the United States. Inside, troops and their families live and work on massive military bases, separated geographically, socially and economically from the society they serve. Outside, Americans live and work, largely unaware of the service and sacrifice of the 2.4 million active and reserve troops. Discussions of the civil-military divide often blame civilians. But the military’s self-imposed isolation doesn’t encourage civilian understanding, and it makes it difficult for veterans and their families to navigate the outside world.

The U.S. military’s domestic bases are the nation’s most exclusive gated communities. There’s restricted access, of course, and visitors are usually asked to provide multiple forms of ID and to submit to a car search before entering. Through the gates, there’s a remarkably self-contained world. Roughly a third of military families live on bases, with many more living just outside the wire in military enclaves. About 100,000 military children attend on-base schools. Military families shop at discounted grocery and department stores, see dedicated doctors and pharmacists, leave their children in military-subsidized child care, and play in base sports leagues. Many bases have their own golf courses, gyms and gas stations. Some have their own cemeteries, too.

The geographic isolation of military bases further divides the services from society. The military increasingly concentrates itself on large bases nowhere near major population centers. Rural settings afford vast ranges and runways for training purposes, but they limit interaction with civilians. City-dwellers, including the nation’s political and business elites, may rarely see service members in uniform — perpetuating the military’s tendency to draw recruits from rural, Southern and Western populations. And when jobs are scarce in the communities surrounding bases, it makes the transition of veterans out of the military especially difficult.

Finally, the paternalistic way the military trains, indoctrinates and advances its members plays a role in deepening the civil-military divide and frustrating transition. From their earliest days of service, whether at Navy boot camp or West Point, recruits must abandon their civilian habits and embrace new haircuts, clothing, routines and hierarchies. The military tells them where to live, whom to work for and what to do. Service members have little autonomy or choice — even more than a decade into their careers.

And so, leaving the military, as more than 80 percent of service members do well before they reach retirement, may provoke serious culture shock, even for those who haven’t recently served in a war zone. For some new veterans, it is the first time they’ve . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

10 November 2013 at 8:19 am

Posted in Daily life, Military

5 video games that could make the world a better place

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Luke Winkie has an interesting article at Salon. Here’s just one of the five games:

Prison Architect

Strategy games exist to let the player do all the fascinating paper-pushing that comes with running an enterprise. You could be organizing a theme park, or a baseball team, orthe ongoing policy of one of the leaders of the free world. But as far as I know, “Prison Architect” is the only strategy game that actually offers an implicit social commentary on its subject matter. You are running a for-profit prison, and you have to make sure that your business works. The comfort, privacy and cleanliness of your prisoners all impact your bottom line – the more you provide, the more you’re sapping out of your net gain. The game doesn’t present any sanctimonious storytelling; instead it allows you to recognize the questionable morals of the entire prison-industrial system firsthand. There’s a remarkable feeling of guilt when you’re the one cutting cell size to maximize cash flow.

Well, here’s another:

Every Day the Same Dream

Routines are part of life. There’s something comfortable about having a daily narrative, and maybe that’s the beauty of “Every Day the Same Dream.” It’s a game that can go on forever; wake up, kiss your wife, drive to work, sit at your cubicle and lead a comfortable life. But when you stop following the obvious directions, you’ll find some new, subversive beauty. It’s a game about jumping into someone else’s life, and seeing the spouts of color you can find in their little world.

Check out the other three.

Written by Leisureguy

10 November 2013 at 7:40 am

Posted in Games

Conservatives again change their tune when tables are turned

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The essence of fairness is reciprocity: the same rules apply to either side. The GOP either does not grasp this or simply is uninterested in fairness. For example, I blogged earlier about how GOP Senators who strongly condemned filibustering a judicial nomination now are filibustering judicial nominations, the difference being simply that the shoe is on the other foot. But take a look at the rule they laid down earlier, from a post by Ian Millhiser at ThinkProgress. All of these plan to vote in favor of a filibuster of judicial nominees:

  • Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) and Johnny Isakson (R-GA): “Every judge nominated by this president or any president deserves an up-or-down vote. It’s the responsibility of the Senate. The Constitution requires it.”
  • Tom Coburn (R-OK): “If you look at the Constitution, it says the president is to nominate these people, and the Senate is to advise and consent. That means you got to have a vote if they come out of committee. And that happened for 200 years.”
  • John Cornyn (R-TX): “We have a Democratic leader defeated, in part, as I said, because I believe he was identified with this obstructionist practice, this unconstitutional use of the filibuster to deny the president his judicial nominations.
  • Mike Crapo (R-ID): “Until this Congress, not one of the President’s nominees has been successfully filibustered in the Senate of the United States because of the understanding of the fact that the Constitution gives the President the right to a vote.”
  • Lindsey Graham (R-SC): “I think filibustering judges will destroy the judiciary over time. I think it’s unconstitutional”
  • Chuck Grassley (R-IA): “It would be a real constitutional crisis if we up the confirmation of judges from 51 to 60, and that’s essentially what we’d be doing if the Democrats were going to filibuster.”
  • Mitch McConnell (R-KY): “The Constitution of the United States is at stake. Article II, Section 2 clearly provides that the President, and the President alone, nominates judges. The Senate is empowered to give advice and consent. But my Democratic colleagues want to change the rules. They want to reinterpret the Constitution to require a supermajority for confirmation.”
  • Jeff Sessions (R- AL): “[The Constitution] says the Senate shall advise and consent on treaties by a two-thirds vote, and simply ‘shall advise and consent’ on nominations…. I think there is no doubt the Founders understood that to mean … confirmation of a judicial nomination requires only a simple majority vote.”
  • Richard Shelby (R-AL): “Why not allow the President to do his job of selecting judicial nominees and let us do our job in confirming or denying them? Principles of fairness call for it and the Constitution requires it.”
  • John Thune (SD): Filibustering judicial nominees “is contrary to our Constitution …. It was the Founders’ intention that the Senate dispose of them with a simple majority vote.”

All of these statements were made when George W. Bush was president. But that should not matter because, as Sen. Cornyn said at the time, “we need to treat all nominees exactly the same, regardless of whether they’re nominated by a Democrat or a Republican president.”

This fails the basic test of fairness, a virtue considerably less important to the conservative mind than, for example, loyalty (the virtue that leads a military officer to protect a rapist under his command). And the GOP attitude toward fairness—i.e., toward not changing one’s position based on the political party involved, is also evident in campaign contributions. Josh Israel notes at ThinkProgress:

Tuesday, as he conceded defeat in the Virginia governor’s race, Ken Cuccinelli II (R) told supporters that he had come closer than polls had indicated “despite being outspent by an unprecedented $15 million.” But while he and his conservative supporters now lament that money cost them the victory they felt they deserved, they have long been the defenders of the system of campaign finance non-regulation in Virginia and nationally.

Conservative groups like the Center for Competitive Politics have long argued that “money doesn’t buy elections.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R), whose own political action committee gave $5,000 to Cuccinelli’s campaign, has for years advocated for an end to limits on campaign contributions, believing “money is speech.” While the 2010 Citizens Unitedruling weakened federal contribution limits, Virginia has long been one of a handful of stateswith no limits whatsoever. The only restriction Cuccinelli supported over his time in the state senate was on contributions from foreign nationals.

Because of the Old Dominion’s anything goes system, candidates can accept millions of dollars from any individual or corporation seeking to ensure their victory. While Governor-Elect Terry McAuliffe raised over $32 million, Cuccinelli himself reported at least $19 million in donations — including hundreds of thousands from fossil fuel companies who preferred a climate-change denier to a candidate focused on green energy.

Leading up to the election, the Cuccinelli campaign repeatedly highlighted the money gap, attacking McAuliffe for as being “bought and paid for,” “exclusively driven by big money,” and “willing to sell his out Virginia families to the highest bidder.” When McAuliffe embraced campaign finance reform in an April interview, agreeing that “there’s just way too much money in politics,” Cuccinelli’s campaign pooh-poohed the idea as “hypocrisy.” “McAuliffe complaining about money in politics is the equivalent of Bobby Knight criticizing cursing among college basketball coaches,” they answered.

In campaign post-mortems, conservatives from Linda Chavez to Ralph Reedboth echoed the candidate’s concession and blamed Cuccinelli’s loss on money. Jenny Beth Martin, national coordinator for Tea Party Patriots,lamented that the pro-corporate U.S. Chamber of Commerce went from making seven-figure investments in the 2009 campaign for Gov. Bob McDonnell (R-VA) but spent nothing on Cuccinelli. “Just think what would have happened if the business and donor classes of the Republican Party would have helped.” Ben Domenech blamed the “donor class” as “sore losers” who threw a “temper tantrum” by not opening up their wallets for a more conservative nominee.

As Zack Beauchamp noted Thursday, Cuccinelli got “killed in the fundraising race,” in large part because business leaders did not care for his anti-corporatist stances against a tax increase to increase transportation funding and corporate welfare. Cuccinelli embraced anti-government populist ideas — as well as socially conservative ones — but not the priorities of some business interests. Had Cuccinelli embraced their agenda, as McDonnell did in 2009, others in the business community might well have supported him as enthusiastically as the energy sector did.

In an October press release called “Big Money,” the Cuccinelli campaign highlighted a fundraising appeal, sent by the chairman of the University of Virginia Council of Foundations to a hedge fund manager, explaining that he hoped to enlist a large number of UVA alums to support McAuliffe. “The more influential names we have associated with our shared voice the more likely we are going to have the future Governor’s ear,” he wrote.

Therein lies the problem. If money really is the determining factor in who wins elections, candidates who agree with powerful moneyed interests like the Chamber will always have the upper hand over those who do not. And as Virginia saw with McDonnell’s Star Scientific scandal, those wealthy benefactors will be the ones with the freest access to the politicians they bankroll. And if states are the laboratories of democracy, as the late Justice Louis Brandeis suggested, the experiment of unlimited money in Virginia might be a warning sign to conservatives nationally that “anything goes” campaign finance laws may not always work out in their favor.

There’s a lot to be said for drawing up rules that apply to a situation without knowing on which side you’ll be: the rules then are apt to be more fair. In this case, the GOP loved a rule that allowed them to spend any amount of money they wanted on a campaign until they encountered a campaign in which they were heavily outspent, and now they don’t like the rule. Well, then perhaps the rule should be redrawn to limit campaign spending for all parties—and public financing of elections is the way to go.

Written by Leisureguy

10 November 2013 at 7:24 am

Posted in Election, GOP, Politics

CEO pressures

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Extremely interesting (and lengthy) case study of the background and context for an executive misstep: AOL’s CEO Tim Armstrong’s abrupt public firing of executive Abel Lenz, who was fired on the spot (in front of the meeting) for taking photos of the meeting.

Written by Leisureguy

10 November 2013 at 7:09 am

Posted in Business

The US social safety net needs considerable work

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The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP: food stamps) has been cut just at a time when the economy has put more families in need of it. The cuts were by the GOP, apparently as part of the war on the poor. This article in the Washington Post shows, however, that the SNAP program simply does not provide enough money. As a result, those receiving the aid must go for volume, buying the cheapest foods and going for volume and calories rather than nutritional balance—nutritional balance would cost more.

The article, which is lengthy and interesting, begins:

They were already running late for a doctor’s appointment, but first the Salas family hurried into their kitchen for another breakfast paid for by the federal government. The 4-year-old grabbed a bag of cheddar-flavored potato chips and a granola bar. The 9-year-old filled a bowl with sugary cereal and then gulped down chocolate milk. Their mother, Blanca, arrived at the refrigerator and reached into the drawer where she stored the insulin needed to treat her diabetes. She filled a needle with fluid and injected it into her stomach with a practiced jab.

“Let’s go,” she told the children, rushing them out of the kitchen and into the car. “We can stop for snacks on our way home.”

The family checkup had been scheduled at the insistence of a school nurse, who wanted the Salas family to address two concerns: They were suffering from both a shortage of nutritious food and a diet of excess — paradoxical problems that have become increasingly interconnected in the United States, and especially in South Texas.

For almost a decade, Blanca had supported her five children by stretching $430 in monthly food stamp benefits, adding lard to thicken her refried beans and buying instant soup by the case at a nearby dollar store. She shopped for “quantity over quality,” she said, aiming to fill a grocery cart for $100 or less.

But the cheap foods she could afford on the standard government allotment of about $1.50 per meal also tended to be among the least nutritious — heavy in preservatives, fats, salt and refined sugar. Now Clarissa, her 13-year-old daughter, had a darkening ring around her neck that suggested early-onset diabetes from too much sugar. Now Antonio, 9, was sharing dosages of his mother’s cholesterol medication. Now Blanca herself was too sick to work, receiving disability payments at age 40 and testing her blood-sugar level twice each day to guard against the stroke doctors warned was forthcoming as a result of her diet. . .

Continue reading.

The program as it is does not strengthen our nation, but rather affects public health adversely.

The linked article is the fifth in a series of stories by Washington Post staff writer Eli Saslow looking at the U.S. food stamps program.

The food stamp economy: A look at how food stamps drive the economy in a Rhode Island town.

The recruiter: A food stamp recruiter deals with wrenching choices.

Summer lunches: A new way to help hungry children: A bus turned bread truck

Hard work: A Florida congressman pushing to overhaul the food stamp system toils to win over a divided Congress.

Written by Leisureguy

10 November 2013 at 6:32 am

For Mind And Body: Study Finds Mediterranean Diet Boosts Both

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Yet another article (with podcast at the link) proclaiming the benefits of switching to extra-virgin olive oil as the cooking fat (rather than butter, lard, or what have you) and making the vegetables the center of the meal. One nice dish mentioned in the article:

Friedman whipped up a super creamy mushroom risotto topped with a parsnip puree. It sounds fancy, but Friedman says it’s really pretty simple: You just roast the parsnips with thyme, garlic and a little salt, then put them in a blender.

“If you look at it, it has the texture of creaminess, of butter,” he says. “But it’s just a puree.”

The taste is surprising.

Friedman agreed. There was no butter, no cream, no cheese, but the taste was divine. “I kind of tricked myself a little bit,” he says.

The article, at NPR by Allison Aubrey, also notes:

A new study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine finds that women who followed this pattern of eating in their 50s were about 40 percent more likely to reach the later decades without developing chronic diseases and memory or physical problems, compared to women who didn’t eat as well.

Researchers tracked the dietary habits and lifestyles of more than 10,000 women, beginning in late middle age. Every two years, the women filled out detailed surveys describing their diets.

Over the next 15 years, researchers kept tabs on who among the women developed a whole host of chronic diseases including Parkinson’s, cancer, and lung and pulmonary disease. The women were also given a battery of memory tests, and researchers also evaluated physical function, meaning the women’s abilities to move around and stay active.

“This really suggests that a healthy diet can help improve multiple aspects of your health and your ability to function when you’re older,” says researcher Fran Grodstein of the Harvard School of Public Health.

Meir Stampfer, co-author of the new paper, says he was “surprised by the magnitude of the effects” in the study, given what we already know about the heart benefits of a Mediterranean style diet.

Stampfer says this study adds to a growing body of evidence that all points to measurable benefits of eating a diet that is rich in plant-based food and low in saturated fats, meat and refined starch. He says he’s changed his own eating habits based on the weight of the evidence.

Read the whole thing.

Written by Leisureguy

10 November 2013 at 6:24 am

Posted in Daily life, Food, Health, Science

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