Later On

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

Archive for November 15th, 2013

Interesting development in Oakland: Private police force (security firm)

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Whatever the title, police are being privatized. A report by Richard Gonzales at NPR begins:

The city of Oakland, Calif., is in the middle of a robbery epidemic. In response, some residents in several Oakland neighborhoods are taking matters into their own hands, hiring private security companies to patrol their neighborhoods.

Overall, robberies in Oakland are up 24 percent over the past year, with armed robberies up 45 percent. Since the recession dried up local tax revenues, the Oakland Police Department has been hamstrung by the loss of more than 200 officers and can’t respond to all the calls it receives for help.

Lower Rockridge, a leafy, upscale community in North Oakland, is one neighborhood that has brought in private security. . .

So the “socialized” police force is being replaced by free private enterprise police forces: a triumph of Libertarianism, which basically is in favor of your having all the rights you can pay for. This kind of society grinds the needy into dust. It’s a zero-sum view of community—not that we can all improve our lot by mutual help, cooperation, and pooling our strengths, but rather that we should all be predators, each out for his own gain, competing in the free and unregulated marketplace.

I see an ominous triad: the growth of a kind of authoritarianism among the law enforcement departments and agencies (including Homeland Security, to be sure): a willingness to throw their weight around, and tase those who disagree. And we’ve seen numerous efforts to label dissenters as “terrorists”—and that is not just a PR move. If they are terrorists, they can be detained (imprisoned) indefinitely with no charges file and essentially no legal rights whatsoever. This is how “disappearing” begins.

In addition to the authoritarianism, we see increasing inequality—really, at this point, as bad as anything in South America. And when you throw in the idea that you have only the rights you can pay for directly—you’re putting society on a familiar path that does not lead to a good place.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 November 2013 at 3:31 pm

“Locked in the Cabinet: The Worst Job in Barack Obama’s Washington”

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Glenn Thrust has a feature-length piece in Politico:

Steven Chu is a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, a brilliant innovator whose research fills several all-but-incomprehensible paragraphs of a Wikipedia entry that spans his achievements in single-molecule physics, the slowing of atoms through the use of lasers and the invention of something called an “optical tweezer.” President Barack Obama even credits Chu with solving the 2010 Gulf oil spill, claiming that Chu strolled into BP’s office and “essentially designed the cap that ultimately worked.” With rare exception, Chu is the smartest guy in the room, and that includes the Cabinet Room, which he occupied uneasily as secretary of energy from 2009 to the spring of 2013.

But the president’s aides didn’t quite see Chu that way. He might have been the only Obama administration official with a Nobel other than the president himself, but inside the West Wing of the White House Chu was considered a smart guy who said lots of stupid things, a genius with an appallingly low political IQ—“clueless,” as deputy chief of staff Jim Messina would tell colleagues at the time.

In April 2009, Chu joined Obama’s entourage for one of the administration’s first overseas trips, to Trinidad and Tobago for a Summit of the Americas focused on economic development. Chu was not scheduled to address the media, but reporters kept bugging Josh Earnest, a young staffer, who sheepishly approached his boss, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, with the ask. “No way,” Gibbs told him.

“Come on,” Earnest said. “The guy came all the way down here. Why don’t we just have him talk about all the stuff he’s doing?”

Gibbs reluctantly assented. Then Chu took the podium to tell the tiny island nation that it might soon, sorry to say, be underwater—which not only insulted the good people of Trinidad and Tobago but also raised the climate issue at a time when the White House wanted the economy, and the economy only, on the front burner. “I think the Caribbean countries face rising oceans, and they face increase in the severity of hurricanes,” Chu said. “This is something that is very, very scary to all of us. … The island states … some of them will disappear.”

Earnest slunk backstage. “OK, we’ll never do that again,” he said as Gibbs glared. A phone rang. It was White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel calling Messina to snarl, “If you don’t kill [Chu], I’m going to.”

As Air Force One headed back to Washington, Messina found Chu—who has “no recollection” of this exchange, a person close to him says—sitting at the long table in the plane’s conference room. “What did you say?” Messina demanded, according to a witness. “What were you thinking?” he yelled. “And how, exactly, was this fucking on message?” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 November 2013 at 2:04 pm

The NY Fed sure sounds guilty to me

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Jake Bernstein writes at ProPublica:

The Federal Reserve Bank of New York has asked a judge to throw out a lawsuit by a former bank examiner who says she was dismissed after finding fault with Goldman Sachs’ conflict-of-interest policies.

ProPublica reported the allegations last month by Carmen Segarra, who the New York Fed had assigned to examine aspects of Goldman Sachs in November 2011. She was fired seven months later.

In its motion to dismiss Segarra’s lawsuit, the Fed disputed that she is a whistleblower and characterized what transpired as “a non-actionable disagreement between a supervised employee and more senior colleagues over how to interpret a Federal Reserve policy.”

Segarra had been hired as part of an effort by the New York Federal Reserve to comply with new authority it received from Congress to monitor so-called Too-Big-to-Fail financial institutions. The Fed recruited experts to act as “risk specialists” to examine different aspects of these complex firms.

Segarra, who previously had worked in some of the nation’s largest banks, was tasked with examining legal and compliance functions at Goldman. Her supervisors told her specifically to look at whether Goldman was compliant with Fed guidance that the bank had a firm-wide conflict of interest policy, according to her Oct. 10 complaint.

At the time, Goldman had been buffeted by allegations in media reports and lawsuits over how it handled conflicts of interest. Segarra determined that Goldman did not have such a firm-wide policy. Although her fellow legal and compliance specialists working at the other banks agreed with her findings, however, the Fed’s senior official onsite at Goldman, Michael Silva, ultimately did not, according to her complaint.

Silva and his deputy, Michael Koh, tried to convince Segarra to change her findings, the lawsuit says. Three business days after sending an email to them explaining that the evidence she had gathered made it impossible for her to change her conclusions, Silva fired her. Before being escorted from the building, Silva told her he had lost confidence in her ability to follow directions and not to jump to conclusions, Segarra says.

Segarra’s suit in U.S. District Court names as defendants the New York Fed, Silva, Koh and her direct supervisor, Johnathan Kim. She alleged wrongful termination, breach of employment contract and that the defendants interfered with protected conduct she was exercising as a bank examiner.

Segarra’s lawsuit cites a federal law that allows bank examiners to sue for wrongful termination if they are fired for providing information regarding “any possible violation of any law or regulation, gross mismanagement, a gross waste of funds, an abuse of authority, or a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety.”

In its motion to dismiss, the New York Fed said that Segarra worked “at will” and so there could be no “breach of contract.” It also said that she was fired for cause and that the guidance she was told to use to examine Goldman was advisory and not a regulation, so the bank could therefore not be in violation. It further argued that since some of the information Segarra used to make her determination came from Goldman, she technically did not “provide” it to the Fed. . .

Continue reading.

It doesn’t sound good for the Fed. Our regulatory agencies and institutions continue to be too deferential to Wall Street.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 November 2013 at 1:41 pm

Posted in Business, Government, Law

More on the secret (until now) TpP negotiations

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Maira Sutton and Parker Higgens report at EFF.org:

After years of secret trade negotiations over the future of intellectual property rights (and limits on those rights), the public gets a chance to looks at the results. For those of us who care about free speech and a balanced intellectual property system that encourages innovation, creativity, and access to knowledge, it’s not a pretty picture.

Today Wikileaks published a complete draft of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement’s chapter on “intellectual property rights.” The leaked text, from August 2013, confirms long-standing suspicions about the harm the agreement could do to users’ rights and a free and open Internet. From locking in excessive copyright term limits to further entrenching failed policies that give legal teeth to Digital Rights Management (DRM) tools, the TPP text we’ve seen today reflects a terrible but unsurprising truth: an agreement negotiated in near-total secrecy, including corporations but excluding the public, comes out as an anti-user wish list of industry-friendly policies.

Despite the Obama administration’s top U.S. negotiators’ fast approaching their self-imposed 2013 deadline to complete the agreement, today’s leak is the public’s first look at the sprawling text since a February 2011 leak [pdf] of the same chapter and a July 2012 leak of an individual section. And even as the public has been completely shut out, the U.S. Trade Representative has lobbied for wider latitude to negotiate and for “fast-track authority” to bypass Congressional review.

The document Wikileaks has published contains nearly 100 pages of bracketed text—meaning it includes annotated sections that are proposed and opposed by the negotiating countries. The text is not final, but the story it tells so far is unmistakable: United States negotiators (with occasional help from others) repeatedly pushing for restrictive policies, and facing only limited opposition, coming from countries like Chile, Canada, New Zealand, and Malaysia.

Copyright Terms

The leaked chapter features proposals for setting a new “floor” for copyright duration, ranging from the already problematic U.S. term of life of the author plus 70 years to an incredible life of the author plus 100 years, proposed by Mexico. Such bloated term lengths benefit only a vanishingly small portion of available works, and impoverish the public domain of our collective history. The U.S. is also pushing for countries to embrace terms lengths of 95 years for corporate and 120 years for unpublished works.

Extending term lengths in the U.S. was already a bad idea. The U.S. Trade Rep shouldn’t be compounding it by forcing other countries to follow suit. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 November 2013 at 1:21 pm

Medical marijuana and PTSD

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I recall Timothy Leary taking LSD trips with prisoners. He thought that LSD would enable them to remold some aspects of their personality—break old patterns and get new insights—in an effort to reduce recidivism. I don’t recall how the research came out, but the recent findings about marijuana’s effect in “rebooting” repetitive patterns and its observed effects on memory (see this post) might offer a therapeutic approach to interrupting the patterns of thought of PTSD.

Vanessa Walz writes at Ladybud.com:

After Staff Sargent Mike Whiter returned home from serving his country, he tried to kill himself three times.

Whiter served in the US Marines for 11 years, including combat tours in Kosovo and Iraq. After his medical discharge, Whiter sought help from the Veterans Administration for his Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as well as his physical injuries.“They put me on 36 different medications in 6 years,” recalls Whiter. “I was on methadone and morphine, benzos, klonopin, xanax, SSRIs…You name a drug, I’ve been on it. I couldn’t sleep, I was having nightmares, I couldn’t leave my house – I was afraid to leave my house.”

Whiter believes that prescription drugs, particularly SSRIs, are contributing to veteran suicides. “SSRIs have suicide listed as a side effect,” Whiter explains. “And they’re giving these pills to people who are already suicidal.”

According to a study released by the Department of Veterans Affairs in February of 2013, 22 veterans take their own lives every day – one suicide every 65 minutes. A 2013 survey by the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America showed that 30% of service members have considered or attempted suicide, and 45% reported that they know an Iraq or Afghanistan veteran who has attempted suicide. In recent years, there have been significantly more US veteran and military deaths by suicide than in combat.

HOPE FOR VETERANS

Mike Whiter’s life today is very different than it was a few years ago. After learning about medical marijuana and PTSD on the Discovery Channel, Whiter believed it might help him.

Since he started using marijuana, Whiter has been able to stop taking all of his prescription medications. No more sleepless nights, no more flashbacks, no more isolation in his home – in fact, Whiter is now the co-director of Philadelphia NORMLand the founder of Pennsylvania Veterans for Medical Marijuana. He has been a featured speaker at numerous public events and rallies, unimaginable during the time he suffered from crippling social anxiety due to his PTSD.

“Marijuana saved my life,” Whiter says. “And when I say that, I’m not exaggerating at all. Those medications would have killed me if I hadn’t taken my own life first. The medications that the VA prescribes are killing veterans.”

In addition to relieving his PTSD symptoms, Whiter credits marijuana for . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 November 2013 at 1:17 pm

A “loser” on the Obamacare market speaks out

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A “loser” is someone on the individual market who finds that under Obamacare, even using the exchanges, they will have to pay more for less coverage. (Those who get health insurance through their employer, which is a majority, will not experience this—it’s an artifact of the old individual-health-insurance market (pre-Obamacare) in which companies could skim off the cream of applicants (young people in perfect health living nonhazardous lives) and simply refuse to issue insurance to anyone with a “pre-existing condition.” Thus the premiums could be low. But now people who actually are probably going to need health insurance can join, so rates rise to a level that reflects an actual cross-section of the population rather than a carefully screened low-risk group.

At any rate, TPM’s Josh Marshall received the following from TPM reader BW:

 Since it’s been estimated that about 3% of the US population will end up “losers” under Obamacare, I thought I’d write in and give you my perspective as a 3-percenter. However, I suspect that I belong to a smaller subset of the 3%, that being people who find it appallingly self-indulgent and shamefully self-pitying to think of ourselves as losers.

 Having insurance, even crappy insurance, in the individual market means we are almost by definition, healthy and relatively young. If we were not, we wouldn’t be able to get coverage of any kind in the non-group market. If our ACA-compliant replacement policy costs us more, it’s likely because we’re too affluent to qualify for subsidies.

It takes a remarkable degree of self-absorption and sense of self-entitlement to be healthy, young(ish) and affluent—and yet consider oneself a “loser.” It’s a label I reject out of shame (no matter how much the lazy, superficial MSM want to fixate on me and my “plight”) NOT because there’s anything shameful about being a loser; the shame is in thinking oneself a loser when one is actually fortunate.

I live in Louisiana where 400,000 working poor people will continue to go without health care because one man, Gov. Bobby Jindal, decided letting them have Medicaid wouldn’t be good for his future ambitions. Those 400,000 are the losers. And while my healthcare.gov application has been stuck for a month now at the “View Eligibility Results” stage, where instead of my results I see a blank screen when I click the button, I know I will get better health insurance than the bare-bones individual policy I have now, even if I end up having to pick up the phone, or heaven forbid, send in paper. I will pay significantly more, but after years of being one serious illness from financial ruin, I will finally have security. And not only that; every time I pay my new premium, I am paying into a system that makes it possible for my fellow Americans who have not been as lucky as me—people who really have been losers pre-ACA—to finally get affordable health care.

I was fortunate before Obamacare, and now I am an Obamacare winner. Now if the media would just help more of the public understand how lucky us 3-percenters actually are, perhaps the public would start to recoil at the absurdity of the outrage being whipped up on our behalf, and we could start focusing on how to help the real losers: the working poor in refusenik states.

 

Written by LeisureGuy

15 November 2013 at 1:06 pm

10 Corporations Control Almost Everything You Buy

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We have banks that are too big to fail, and corporations that are too big (and powerful) for the public good. Chris Miles writes at PolicyMic:

10 giant corporations

Ten mega corporations control the output of almost everything you buy; from household products to pet food to jeans.

According to this chart via Reddit, called “The Illusion of Choice,” these corporations create a chain that begins at one of 10 super companies. You’ve heard of the biggest names, but it’s amazing to see what these giants own or influence.

(Note: The chart shows a mix of networks. Parent companies may own, own shares of, or may simply partner with their branch networks. For example, Coca-Cola does not own Monster, but distributes the energy drink. Another note: We are not sure how up-to-date the chart is. For example, it has not been updated to reflect P&G’s sale of Pringles to Kellogg’s in February.)

Here are just a few examples: Yum Brands owns KFC and Taco Bell. The company was a spin-off of Pepsi. All Yum Brands restaurants sell only Pepsi products because of a special partnership with the soda-maker.

$84 billion-company Proctor & Gamble — the largest advertiser in the U.S. — is paired with a number of diverse brands that produce everything from medicine to toothpaste to high-end fashion. All tallied, P&G reportedly serves a whopping 4.8 billion people around the world through this network. . . .

Continue reading

Written by LeisureGuy

15 November 2013 at 12:52 pm

Posted in Business

TPP Exposed: WikiLeaks Publishes Secret Trade Text to Rewrite Copyright Laws, Limit Internet Freedom

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Democracy Now! has an interview (video and transcript) on the attempt by the Obama Administration to act (in secret) against the public interest and in favor of Big Business in the intellectual property arena. The fact that this was kept secret shows that the intention is not benign: the Obama Administration very much did not want the public to discover what they were doing.

The description of the interview:

WikiLeaks has published the secret text to part of the biggest U.S. trade deal in history, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). For the past several years, the United States and 12 Pacific Rim nations have been negotiating behind closed doors on the sweeping agreement. A 95-page draft of a TPP chapter released by WikiLeaks on Wednesday details agreements relating to patents, copyright, trademarks and industrial design — showing their wide-reaching implications for Internet services, civil liberties, publishing rights and medicine accessibility. Critics say the deal could rewrite U.S. laws on intellectual property rights, product safety and environmental regulations, while backers say it will help create jobs and boost the economy. President Obama and U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman reportedly wish to finalize the TPP by the end of the year and are pushing Congress to expedite legislation that grants the president something called “fast-track authority.” However, this week some 151 House Democrats and 23 Republicans wrote letters to the administration saying they are unwilling to give the president free rein to “diplomatically legislate.” We host a debate on the TPP between Bill Watson, a trade policy analyst at the Cato Institute, and Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 November 2013 at 11:00 am

Practical joke: Trapping unsuspecting customers in iKea demonstration set

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Written by LeisureGuy

15 November 2013 at 10:45 am

Posted in Daily life, Video

Why Obama tried to keep the trade-pact negotiations secret from the US public

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It’s pretty simple: The Obama Administration well understands that what they are pushing for are laws that the American public really does not want. Some of these laws were attempted in Congress, but a public outcry killed them. Apparently Obama believes that if he can hide the new agreement until it’s complete, then the public will have to like it or lump it. This is not what I want from my government, doing in secret what it knows would outrage the public if revealed. (cf. NSA) But that seems to be the pattern of the Obama Administration—and one of the things that led to grief in the development of HealthCare.gov: too much secrecy, too little public understanding of the situation.

I hope the next administration is better at keeping the public informed, and also better at working on the public’s behalf instead of the behalf of Big Business.

Henry Farrell at The Switch in the Washington Post has an excellent article focused on 5 key questions:

Susan Sell is a professor of political science at George Washington University, who has carried out landmark research on international negotiations over intellectual property. Below is her response to five questions about the intellectual property chapter of theproposed Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, which the Obama administration has been negotiating with trading partners behind closed doors. A draft of the chapter wasleaked to WikiLeaks two days ago.

The draft TPP text was kept secret from the general public. Who has seen it and why?

The United States Trade Representative and the Obama administration have kept the treaty texts secret from the public. However, they have shared texts with 700 or so “cleared advisers,” all of whom come from intellectual property rights holders’ industries. Members of the Industry Trade Advisory Committee on Intellectual Property Rights have had access to texts all along. These members include representatives of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the Recording Industry Association of America, the Entertainment Software Association, as well as firms such as Gilead Sciences, Johnson and Johnson, Verizon, Cisco Systems, and General Electric.

Select members of Congress have had very limited access to the draft treaty texts. After Thursday’s leak of the intellectual property chapter it is obvious why the USTR and the Obama administration have insisted on secrecy. From this text it appears that the U.S. administration is negotiating for intellectual property provisions that it knows it could not achieve through an open democratic process. For example, it includes provisions similar to those of the failed Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), and Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA), and the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) that the European Parliament ultimately rejected. The United States appears to be using the non-transparent Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations as a deliberate end run around Congress on intellectual property, to achieve a presumably unpopular set of policy goals.

What’s in it that is interesting?

Some of the most interesting information in the leaked chapter identifies those who are proposing or opposing particular provisions. The United States (often with Australia, sometimes Japan) has taken extreme hard-line positions. For example, only the United States and Japan oppose the objectives in the treaty (Article QQ.A.2) that mention economic and social development, maintaining a balance between the interests of rights holders and users, protecting the public domain, quality examination procedures, and access to affordable medicines. I was somewhat surprised to see how strongly other countries are pushing back against U.S. demands, especially on issues related to access to medicines, Internet Service Provider liability, damages, and copyright in digital media.

People call it a Hollywood wish list – why?

Some provisions of the text resurrect pieces of SOPA and PIPA and ACTA that many found to be objectionable. The entertainment industries (movies and music) championed these agreements and sought stronger protections in the digital realm. These industries were stunned when SOPA and PIPA got killed. Only the United States and New Zealand oppose a provision that would require compensation for parties wrongfully accused of infringement (QQ.H.4). The United States is alone in proposing criminal procedures and penalties “even absent willful trademark, counterfeiting or copyright or related rights piracy”.

Only the United States and Australia oppose a provision limiting Internet Service Provider liability (QQ.I.1); U.S. copyright holders would like ISPs to be held liable for hosting infringing content. The United States also proposes extending copyright to life plus 95 years for corporate-owned copyrights. Hollywood consistently presses for longer copyright terms and it is doing so here.

What are the implications for access to medicine worldwide? . . .

Continue reading.

To be honest, I feel betrayed by an administration whose adherence to the principles of the Democratic party seem increasingly shaky. And Congress likewise is apt to feel betrayed. From the article:

What political impact will the publication have?

If these provisions are widely publicized, I expect vigorous debate over the implications of these measures. Various activist groups are mobilizing already, and I think they are hoping for another SOPA/PIPA/ACTA defeat. In the short term, I expect that the release of this text will increase Congressional opposition to extending Fast Track negotiating authority to President Obama. Congress has already expressed displeasure at being shut out of this process. When its members see how provisions that had been defeated in a domestic, democratic, and deliberative process in January 2012 have been included in TPP I suspect that they will not be happy.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 November 2013 at 10:36 am

Shave 3 with Fitjar Såpekokeri Frost Rose soap

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SOTD 15 Nov 2013

One of those perfect shaves today, always enjoyable.

I used my Simpson Emperor 2 in Super Badger. I have the Emperor 3, but felt it was large for this little puck. Lather talk later, skipping to the shave.

My short-handled Gillette Super Adjustable is really a nice little razor, a trifle head heavy compared to the long-handled version, but withal quite nice. With a Kai blade and 3 passes, I achieved the acme of shaving perfection, with nary a nick.

A good splash of Alpa 378 finished the shave. The bottle was selected today in part because it fits the scale of the photo (small puck, small aftershave), but I also enjoy that aftershave in its own right, and the hit of menthol helped the Frost Rose theme.

Very nice. I do find that spending 3 shaves/week on the same soap has a noticeable impact on variety. I have a stack of shaving soaps and creams sort of backed up: I want to use them but have to wait for my chance.  And yes, I do know that some use the same shaving soap/cream day in and day out, week after week, month after month. I’m not that guy.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 November 2013 at 9:27 am

Posted in Shaving

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