Later On

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

Archive for November 16th, 2013

Good strategy, conscious or not

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Washington DC: “The gayest place in America?” asks the NY Times.

It immediately hit me that this is an unusual and yet highly effective (and highly ethical) way of lobbying: find a job working for Congress. The more our Representatives and Senators get to know LGBT people, the more they realize that they’re people, and some turn out to be friends in time—and even more often, end up working together (as an aide to a Representative or Senator, for example).

This sort of experience typically undermines homophobia in most people. Once, they actually encounter, get to know, and befriend some, the whole issue stops being abstract and starts being about people you know and like. Some legislation starts to look kind of ugly, in fact. Laws start to be changed.

So I like the entire approach: education is the best form of lobbying. No money should change hands.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 November 2013 at 12:00 pm

Posted in Congress

And now, the quid pro quo: Timothy Geithner moves to Wall Street

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Totally no surprise. That’s how it works in the US. Some call it corruption, others call it greed.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 November 2013 at 11:43 am

Was the rate shock calculated?

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Very interesting post at Mother Jones by Kevin Drum:

Here’s an email from a reader in California with an interesting wrinkle on the rate shock debate:

I’m self employed, with individual health insurance coverage, and my family is one of those whose current health insurance policy is being canceled and whose premium will rise once we purchase insurance on the CA exchange. But it’s not as simple as that. We signed up for our current policy in November 2011 (therefore no grandfathering) and the premium was substantially lower than the policy we had prior to that. In hindsight, I’m guessing that the premium for that newly introduced plan was so low because the insurance company knew it would have to be canceled in 2014. So, they weren’t going to incur a lot of losses or have to make provisions for a long claims tail.

The premium for our new insurance, purchased from the exchange, is going to be about what our original (pre-2011) policy premiums would have been now, allowing for the usual annual premium increases. So, yes, we’re having to move from cheaper to more expensive insurance. On the other hand, it’s very likely that the cheaper policy would never have been available in the first place without the ACA’s 2014 deadline for such plans. Of course, the insurance company didn’t clarify back in 2011 that this policy had a limited lifespan and would have to be replaced in 2014 with a new one.

I wonder if this is at all common?

Do you believe that insurance companies would do such a thing? I think they’d do it in a heartbeat. It would be considered good marketing: a brief window when extremely low rates can be offered, to pull people in from other policies—not just other policies that we hold, we can scoop them up from competitors: a large new-customer pool. Then, when 2014 comes, we’ll raise the prices. We will lose some, but quite a few will just accept our reason (“Obamacare”), shrug their shoulders, and continue with us. Some will actually look around a bit, but other companies will have rates in the same ballpark, so some will stick by inertia. Altogether, sounds like a net gain for the company with little downside risk.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 November 2013 at 11:36 am

Posted in Business, Healthcare

Reducing our Federal prison systems and costs

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I can’t recall whether I blogged it before, but here’s the latest authoritative word: the Urban Institute’s Stemming the Tide: Strategies to Reduce the Growth and Cut the Cost of the Federal Prison System.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 November 2013 at 11:31 am

Posted in Government, Law

Why does the US fail to protect children who are farmworkers?

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Lindsay Abrams reports in Salon:

The Nation has two tragic — and infuriating — investigative pieces about how young farmworkers (as young as 12) are left entirely unprotected by federal labor laws. Kids, writers Mariya Strauss and Gabriel Thompson found, are getting sick, injured and killed amid unsafe working conditions.

Both articles are pegged to the Labor Department’s 2011 attempt to update child labor laws, which fell through in the face of pressure from the Farm Bureau and other agricultural lobbies. Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, kids as young as 12 can work as hired hands in agriculture. The proposed revisions would have kept children under the age of 16 away from more dangerous tasks, just as they would in any other workplace. Instead, the workplace fatality rate for child farmworkers is four times that of children in other industries. Since the proposals were scrapped, Strauss discovered, four farmworkers under the age of 16 died, and 16 others were injured, doing jobs that would have been off-limits:

The cases I did find included 15-year-old Curvin Kropf, an Amish boy from Deer Grove, Illinois, who was killed in July 2012. According to the sheriff’s report, Kropf died after he leaned from his seat atop a tall, tractor-like vehicle called a High-Boy to pull the tassels off a stalk of corn, fell and was crushed under the vehicle’s wheel. According to local press reports, OSHA officials arrived at the scene but left because there were fewer than ten workers on the farm, which meant they lacked jurisdiction. (The same was true of the farm where Michael Steele was working last July.) I also learned about Cleason Nolt, 14, a member of a Mennonite community in Peach Bottom, Pennsylvania, who died along with his father and older brother: all three drowned in a manure pit while working as contractors in May 2012. Another preventable death was that of 18-year-old Kyle Beck of Wauseon, Ohio, who was killed when he fell beneath a wagon full of grain that was being pulled by a 15-year-old driving a tractor, which would not have been allowed under the proposed rules.

Also legal: a 12-year-old working 70-hour weeks in a tobacco field. Thompson writes of the slow poisoning of adolescent tobacco-pickers whose skin ends up absorbing nicotine equivalent to the amount of 36 cigarettes in just one day. The new regulations would also have protected children like the three Cuello sisters, aged 12, 13 and 14:

Their mother told the girls to stick together, but Neftali soon fell behind. “I was seeing little circles, and the sky started to get blurry,” she says. “It felt like my head was turned sideways.” Her mother ordered her to rest in the shade, but Neftali sat down only briefly. “I wanted to show that I could work like an adult,” she recalls. She soldiered on through a splitting headache and waves of dizziness. Several times, about to faint, she sank to the ground between rows to rest.

“I would find her looking confused,” Yesenia says.

Later in the day, Neftali heard someone retching. One row over, Kimberly was bent double, throwing up on the plants. Afterward, feeling slightly better, Kimberly resumed work, only to throw up again. When the twelve-hour shift finally came to an end, the sisters trudged back to their car. Neftali fell asleep on the short drive home, but that night, despite her fatigue, she was woken several times by the same dream: she was back in the tobacco fields, stumbling around in a daze, surrounded by suffocating plants.

How is it possible that this sort of thing is allowed to happen? Strauss points to a certain ethos that might be preventing adults from doing more to protect young farmworkers: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 November 2013 at 9:55 am

Posted in Business, Government, Health, Law

New report charges US with conducting illegal operations on German soil

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The US started down a wrong path years back, when it decided that laws no longer applied to it. We are reaping the harvest of many ill-considered decisions to embrace illegal actions. Matthew Schofield reports in McClatchy:

The breach in U.S.-German relations seemed likely to widen Friday after a joint German newspaper and television investigation titled “Secret War” reported that American intelligence and military use this nation for “tapping, code cracking, recruiting informants, observing suspects, kidnapping and abducting foreign enemies.”

What’s more, the reports added: “The Germans have known all that for years.”

The reports come at a time when German-U.S. relations have been taking a beating. In June, documents released by former National Security Agency consultant Edward Snowden revealed that the NSA has spied on the electronic communications of tens of millions of Germans. In October, the news broke that the NSA had even been tapping the phone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel for years, even before she became chancellor.

The resulting freefall in American popularity was tracked by a poll by national German public television station ARD. That poll showed that only 35 percent of Germans still see the United States as a good partner, down from 49 percent in July. The poll also found that 61 percent of Germans now see the United States as an untrustworthy partner and that 60 percent of Germans consider Snowden – who has been called a traitor by American officials – to be a hero. President Barack Obama’s star has fallen fast. In April 2010, 88 percent of Germans said they liked his politics; the new poll put that number at 43 percent.

The news organizations – the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper and German public television station NDR, two of Germany’s most respected – say that the eight reports they published Friday were just the first of many that will come in the next few weeks.

To appreciate the scope and impact of just those installments, you don’t have to read even a word of the reports, or watch video reports. All you really have to do is take a look at the U.S. Embassy’s rebuttal, which was released within hours of the reports’ first publication.

The statement bluntly dismisses the reports.

“The article in today’s Sueddeutscher (sic) Zeitung, ‘The Secret War: Germany and the Role of America,’ is full of half-truths, speculation and innuendo,” the statement begins.

It goes on to note: “For many decades there have indeed been military facilities in Germany for our mutual security under Status of Forces Agreements, but the fact that they are closed to the public in no way implies that illegal activities are being organized there.”

And the statement goes after several of the stronger allegations in the series.

“Although we do not comment on specifics, as a matter of policy the United States does not engage in kidnapping and torture, and does not condone or support the resort to such illegal activities by any nation. Germany is one of the closest allies and partners of the United States, cooperating in areas ranging from counterterrorism to international economic sustainability. Outrageous claims like those raised in this article are not helpful to the German-American relationship and to our shared global agenda.”

The newspaper was unchastened: “The American Embassy also comments and rejects the reports as innuendo. They are stating the United States ‘are not kidnapping and torturing on principle.’ This is a daring claim. Only seven months ago a commission made up of Democrats and Republicans called it ‘undeniable’ that the United States tortured inmates following the terror attacks of 2001. Even President Barack Obama said in 2009 that the American practice of waterboarding was torture.”

The newspaper said almost 20 journalists had worked on the series, and that it was more than a year in the making.

The English-language version of the series begins:

“Tapping Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel’s phone would seem like an outrageous breach of trust – except that there have been so many other, deadlier and lesser-known, breaches of trust wrought by the U.S. in Germany in recent years. . .

Continue reading.

A little tip for the American Embassy: Denials work much better if they do not contain (or consist of) falsehoods. The US quite clearly has committed kidnapping and torture, including kidnapping and torture of perfectly innocent people, one of whom is a German citizen (and the US resolutely refuses to allow the victim to seek restitution in US courts, and the same for the Canadian we kidnapped and shipped to another nation to have the torturing done for us: outsourcing torture, though we did a fair amount ourselves (apparently 92 videotapes worth). Indeed, the Italian courts have convicted several CIA employees for kidnapping a person in Italy.

It seems that the US government has decided the best approach is to deny everything, including well-known facts. This is going in a very bad direction when the US demands that other nations collude in illegal behavior. And while I can understand that official Washington may be deeply ashamed of what happened, simply denying that it did happen is a very weak defense indeed, especially when it is quite clear that it did happen.

 

Written by LeisureGuy

16 November 2013 at 9:43 am

CGI’s track record helps explain Healthcare.gov’s problems

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The company has a long and sordid record of project failure, which makes one wonder why the Obama Administration selected them as lead developer. Jerry Markon and Alice Crites write in the Washington Post:

The lead contractor on the dysfunctional Web site for the Affordable Care Act is filled with executives from a company that mishandled at least 20 other government IT projects, including a flawed effort to automate retirement benefits for millions of federal workers, documents and interviews show.

CGI Federal, the main Web site developer, entered the U.S. government market a decade ago when its parent company purchased American Management Systems, a Fairfax County contractor that was coming off a series of troubled projects. CGI moved into AMS’s custom-made building off Interstate 66, changed the sign outside and kept the core of employees, who now populate the upper ranks of CGI Federal.

They include CGI Federal’s current and past presidents, the company’s chief technology officer, its vice president for federal health care and its health IT leader, according to company and other records. More than 100 former AMS employees are now senior executives or consultants working for CGI in the Washington area.

A top CGI official said this week that the company is “extremely proud” of its acquisition of AMS. Lorne Gorber, CGI’s senior vice president for global communications, said CGI had been aware of the AMS “trip-ups” but has transformed the AMS culture over the past decade. “Anyone at CGI who came from AMS would not be able to find any similarities in how they work today to how they worked a decade ago,’’ Gorber said.

He said that CGI’s overall government contracting work remains high quality and that the company “delivers 95 percent of its projects on time and on budget.’’

A year before CGI Group acquired AMS in 2004, AMS settled a lawsuit brought by the head of the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board, which had hired the company to upgrade the agency’s computer system. AMS had gone $60 million over budget and virtually all of the computer code it wrote turned out to be useless, according to a report by a U.S. Senate committee.

The thrift board work was only one in a series of troubled projects involving AMS at the federal level and in at least 12 states, according to government audit reports, interviews and press accounts. AMS-built computer systems sent Philadelphia school district paychecks to dead people, shipped military parts to the wrong places for the Defense Logistics Agency and made 380,000 programming errors for the Wisconsin revenue department, forcing counties to repay millions of dollars in incorrectly calculated sales taxes.

Lawrence Stiffler, who was director of automated systems for the thrift board at the time and a 25-year veteran of IT contracting for the federal government, said AMS was highly unreliable. “You couldn’t count on them to deliver anything,’’ he said. . .

Continue reading. The problems with Healthcare.gov seem very much like self-inflicted damage from the Obama Administration.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 November 2013 at 9:28 am

Perfect shave, lovely lather from Mystic Water Coconut

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SOTD 16 Nov 2013

A terrific shave. I’ve been testing Mystic Water soaps after hearing from a couple of people that they find the soaps difficult to lather. So far, no problems, and with the Coconut shaving soap today, once again a great lather and a great shave. I am beginning to think soaps share with blades some mystery, being different for different people I don’t doubt that some have had trouble lather Mystic Water because I have trouble lathering Stirling shaving soap, and yet others find it excellent. So a mysterious YMMV is afoot.

That said, I liked both the lather and the fragrance, and I especially enjoyed using my Simpson Emperor 3. That was my first “superb” brush, and I need to use it more often. It has a great knot with fine capacity, and I particularly like the handle shape.

My Wilkinson “Sticky” did a BBS job in three passes using a new Feather blade. Even though the handle is smooth and plastic, it’s still quite grippy, thus the “sticky” appellation. I did notice that when some lather drooled onto the handle, it immediately became “slicky,” not “sticky,” but a quite rinse fixed the issue. This razor did, BTW, win some design awards at the time (early 1960s, as I recall).

A good splash of Stetson Classic, another favorite aftershave, and the weekend opens up before me like a vast plain peppered with interesting objects. One thing I’m doing today: a batch of hummus. I use this recipe, more or less. Sometimes I add an avocado as well. This little Kitchenaid food processor turns out to be exactly the right size.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 November 2013 at 8:52 am

Posted in Shaving

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