Later On

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Archive for November 26th, 2013

BillMoyers.com on How Corporate Spooks Spy on Nonprofit Activist Groups

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Joshua Holland interviews Gary Ruskin at BillMoyers.com:

In 2010, a group of hackers known as LulzSec gave us a peek into the shadowy world of corporate espionage. The group released 175,000 emails it obtained from a private security firm called HBGary Federal.

The hack revealed, among other things, that Bank of America (BofA) had grown concerned about a promise that Wikileaks founder Julian Assange made in 2009 to release a trove of sensitive documents that Assange claimed could “take down” the bank. BofA went into crisis-control mode, setting up a “war room” to handle the fallout from the expected release (which, as it turned out, never came).

It also approached the Justice Department, which referred the mega-bank to a K-Street lobbying firm, which introduced BofA executives to a group of private security firms called Team Themis.

Peter Ludlow, a professor at Northwestern University, wrote in The New York Times that the group offered, among other services, a “common aspect of intelligence work: deception. That is, it is involved not just with the concealment of reality, but with the manufacture of it.”

Team Themis (a group that included HBGary and the private intelligence and security firms Palantir Technologies, Berico Technologies and Endgame Systems) was effectively brought in to find a way to undermine the credibility of WikiLeaks and the journalist Glenn Greenwald… because of Greenwald’s support for WikiLeaks.

Team Themis considered falsifying documents and feeding them to Greenwald in order to discredit his reporting. They also pitched the Chamber of Commerce with a plan to infiltrate Chamber Watch, a progressive group that opposes the CoC’s anti-regulatory agenda. They suggested creating “two fake insider personas, using one as leverage to discredit the other while confirming the legitimacy of the second.”

When the story broke, Bank of America and the Chamber of Commerce rushed to distance themselves from the plans and HBGary claimed that they had never gotten past the planning stage. But the leaked emails briefly shined a light on the murky, largely unregulated world of corporate spying – an industry that watchdogs say has grown exponentially since the 9/11 attacks.

Last week, the nonpartisan, nonprofit Corporate Policy Center issued a report titled, “Spooky Business: Corporate Espionage Against Nonprofit Organizations,” which detailed a number of revelations of corporate espionage operations against non-profit activist groups. Moyers & Companyspoke to the report’s author, Corporate Policy Center Director Gary Ruskin, last week.

Joshua Holland: Over the past few years, a few cases of corporate espionage against various activist groups have come to light, but your report is the first to attempt to document this phenomenon in detail. Do we know how widespread this practice is?

Gary Ruskin: We really do not. Our report, “Spooky Business,” is really an effort to say something that we really know very little about. It’s kind of like documenting the tip of the iceberg, but we don’t know how deep the iceberg goes. So it’s going to require a lot more journalistic work, as well as some investigations by the Department of Justice and other law enforcement officials.

Holland: Let’s look at an example of the kinds of stories that have come to light and then we can discuss the ramifications. What is S2i, the company formerly known BBI?

Ruskin: Those two companies are basically private investigation firms and they were very active in surveilling and conducting espionage against a wide variety of nonprofit organizations.

Holland: What kind of specific activities did you find these private ‘spooks,’ if you will, doing to disrupt activist groups — or is disrupt even the right word? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

26 November 2013 at 4:29 pm

Extremely interesting and informative article: “How to Think About the Chinese Air-Defense News”

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James Fallows understands this issue in depth—it’s as if he’s been preparing to report on this incident for two or three decades (becoming a pilot, living in Japan, living in China, writing book on current Chinese developments from the angle of air policy). So his report is well worth reading. The look at the motivations and outcomes is quite interesting.

Written by Leisureguy

26 November 2013 at 4:26 pm

Posted in Government

The changing American family

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Extremely interesting feature article in the NY Times by Natalie Angier (wonder if it will be a new book for her):

Kristi and Michael Burns have a lot in common. They love crossword puzzles, football, going to museums and reading five or six books at a time. They describe themselves as mild-mannered introverts who suffer from an array of chronic medical problems. The two share similar marital résumés, too. On their wedding day in 2011, the groom was 43 years old and the bride 39, yet it was marriage No. 3 for both.

Today, their blended family is a sprawling, sometimes uneasy ensemble of two sharp-eyed sons from her two previous husbands, a daughter and son from his second marriage, ex-spouses of varying degrees of involvement, the partners of ex-spouses, the bemused in-laws and a kitten named Agnes that likes to sleep on computer keyboards.

If the Burnses seem atypical as an American nuclear family, how about the Schulte-Waysers, a merry band of two married dads, six kids and two dogs? Or the Indrakrishnans, a successful immigrant couple in Atlanta whose teenage daughter divides her time between prosaic homework and the precision footwork of ancient Hindu dance; the Glusacs of Los Angeles, with their two nearly grown children and their litany of middle-class challenges that seem like minor sagas; Ana Perez and Julian Hill of Harlem, unmarried and just getting by, but with Warren Buffett-size dreams for their three young children; and the alarming number of families with incarcerated parents, a sorry byproduct of America’s status as the world’s leading jailer.

The typical American family, if it ever lived anywhere but on Norman Rockwell’s Thanksgiving canvas, has become as multilayered and full of surprises as a holiday turducken — the all-American seasonal portmanteau of deboned turkey, duck and chicken.

Researchers who study the structure and evolution of the American family express unsullied astonishment at how rapidly the family has changed in recent years, the transformations often exceeding or capsizing those same experts’ predictions of just a few journal articles ago.

Kristi and Michael Burns, whose marriage was the third for each, with three of their four children at home in Chelsea, Mich. All are from previous relationships.Fabrizio Costantini for The New York Times

“This churning, this turnover in our intimate partnerships is creating complex families on a scale we’ve not seen before,” said Andrew J. Cherlin, a professor of public policy at Johns Hopkins University. “It’s a mistake to think this is the endpoint of enormous change. We are still very much in the midst of it.”

Yet for all the restless shape-shifting of the American family, researchers who comb through census, survey and historical data and conduct field studies of ordinary home life have identified a number of key emerging themes. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

26 November 2013 at 3:20 pm

Posted in Daily life, Science

Think Republicans have been making fools of themselves? Blame Michael Needham.

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Julia Ioffe writes in The New Republic:

On a Thursday evening at the end of August, a respectable, older crowd waited in the ballroom of the Double Tree in Wilmington, Delaware, to hear Jim DeMint speak. The dashing former South Carolina senator and Tea Party icon had been flying around the country on a private jet to stump for the cause of defunding Obamacare, and Wilmington was the last stop on his nine-city tour. In Dallas, he was joined by his protégé Ted Cruz, but most of the time it was just DeMint and his barker, Michael Needham.

In that Delaware ballroom, Needham, a dark-haired, square-jawed young man, dressed in a sensibly checkered button-down shirt and pleated khaki pants, was warming up the crowd. He strutted around the makeshift stage with the kind of robustness that masks a certain Washington stiffness. “Can we, in the month of September, achieve defunding Obamacare?” he boomed. “Yes, we can!” yelled the crowd.

Needham is the 31-year-old CEO of Heritage Action, the relatively new activist branch of the Heritage Foundation, the storied Washington think tank that was one of the leaders of the conservative war of ideas ever since it provided the blueprint for Ronald Reagan’s first term. Although DeMint is Heritage’s president, it was Needham who had designed much of the defund Obamacare strategy. Beginning in 2010, when Heritage Action was founded, Needham pushed the GOP to use Congress’s power of the purse to eviscerate the Affordable Care Act. He formed a grassroots army, which he used to keep congressional Republicans in line. “They make six hundred phone calls and have a member of Congress in the fetal position,” says one GOP congressional staffer.

After months of furious lobbying, Needham sold, at most, 20 members of the House on his plan of attack. In the end, this was enough to cement the party line—and lead the GOP to a spectacular, deafening loss.

Sorting through the wreckage, Washington conservatives can barely contain their anger at Needham for his ideological inflexibility and aggressive, zero-sum tactics. “Their strategic sense isn’t very strong,” griped a prominent Republican lobbyist. “They’ve repeatedly been wrong about how to handle this.” Says a senior House Republican aide, “Mike Needham played a large role in defeating ideas that would have worked out better.”

But the wrath is not solely reserved for Needham; his employer now inspires plenty of disgust among conservatives, too. Increasingly in Washington, “Heritage” has come to denote not the foundation or the think tank, but Heritage Action, Needham’s sharp-elbowed operation. Instead of fleshing out conservative positions, says one Republican Senate staffer, “now they’re running around trying to get Republicans voted out of office. It’s a purely ideological crusade that’s utterly divorced from the research side.” (“If Nancy Pelosi could write an anonymous check to Heritage Action,” adds the House aide bitterly, “she would.”)As a result, the Heritage Foundation has gone from august conservative think tank revered by Washington’s Republicans to the party’s loathed ideological commissar. “It’s sad, actually,” says one Republican strategist. “Everybody forgets that Heritage was always considered the gold standard of conservative, forward-looking thought. The emergence of Heritage Action has really transformed the brand into a more political organization.”

Needham’s strategy has also sparked a war inside the halls of the foundation itself, where many feel duped by the stealthy yet brutal way the Heritage Action takeover went down. Some now wonder whether the foundation can ever recover its reputation as a font of ideas. “I don’t think any thoughtful person is going to take the Heritage Foundation very seriously, because they’ll say, How is this any different from the Tea Party?” says Mickey Edwards, a former Republican congressman and a founding trustee of the Heritage Foundation. Looking at the organization he helped to create, Edwards finds it unrecognizable. “Going out there and trying to defeat people who don’t agree with us never occurred to us,” said Edwards. “It’s alien.” . . .

Continue reading.

Salon’s Alex Pareene has a good comment on Ioffe’s article:

. . . Since Needham and Chapman and DeMint have been in charge, a number of scholars and academic think tank types have left the organization, presumably distressed by the new regime’s management methods. Those methods do sound quite annoying, though:

DeMint also shared another bond with the two men: unlike the Heritage ruling class of yore, none of them had Ph.D.s. All three, however, had MBAs. Their preference for incentivizing behavior on the Hill with scorecards and primary challenges was “a very MBA approach to politics,” the former scholar noted ruefully. “There’s really no room there for deliberation or argument.”

Once he took the helm, DeMint set about reorganizing the business. Under Feulner, the Heritage Foundation ran as a decentralized confederation of so-called research silos—health care, national security, education—whose staffers each focused on a specific area. DeMint instituted a system of multidisciplinary teams that sprung up depending on the issue of the day that Heritage happened to be pushing. Moreover, now a Heritage staffer’s career trajectory was tied to the success or failure of that team.

You mean … compensation and advancement were tied to performance? That sounds like standard corporate management best-practices to me. It also sounds like somethingHeritage has spent years trying to implement in public schools.

Yes, what happened to Heritage — what has old Heritage hands appalled and quitting or talking to liberal New Republic reporters — is what Heritage has long argued should happen to basically all large American institutions, from the schools to the government to corporations. They are gutting the place and remaking it according to business school rules divined from decades of corporate consulting and leveraged buyouts. The overpaid, underperforming old-timers obviously don’t like it, but the new Heritage is more efficient without them.

It’s just interesting how so many of them object to being at the mercy of some business school assholes with no respect for credentials or experience, though. I mean, take it from this inspiring Heritage Foundation ode to the wonderful work of private equity firms, which “make something busted luster again,” mostly by firing everyone: “Whatever the problems, if under the flaws remains something of real value, then with the right tools, that value can be brought to the surface again.” Your think tank just had to be destroyed in order to find what was of real value, which turned out to be, I guess, your email list.

Written by Leisureguy

26 November 2013 at 2:33 pm

Posted in GOP

More on “60 Minutes” and Lara Logan’s misreporting of the Benghazi action

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Kevin Drum points out that the Benghazi-scandal souffle has now totally collapsed.

HuffPo’s Michael Calderone tweets: “Lara Logan and producer producer Max McClellan taking taking leave of absence from 60 Minutes, per Fager memo.” This comes shortly after Calderone reported that Logan “will no longer be hosting the annual press freedom awards dinner hosted by the Committee to Protect Journalists on Tuesday night, as she had long been scheduled to do.”

That’s not a big surprise. More to come on this, I’m sure.

UPDATE: Calderone has a full copy of the Fager memo here, along with a summary report of an investigation into Logan’s Benghazi segment from Al Ortiz, Executive Director of Standards and Practices at CBS News. It validates virtually every outside criticism made of Logan’s piece, which relied on the testimony of Dylan Davies, a security consultant who was in Benghazi on the night of the attacks and went on to write a book about it: . . .

Continue reading. And note especially the link to the Newsweek report on the “60 Minutes” fiasco four days ago, which begins:

Nobody at 60 Minutes has been fired or even publicly disciplined for its odd, inflammatory and dead-wrong October 27 story on the Islamist assault in Benghazi that killed U.S. ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. But it has apologized. That mea culpa, however, left some large and troubling questions unanswered; the most important one is how CBS’s superstar correspondent, Lara Logan, her producer and other network news executives let security contractor Dylan Davies on the air with his explosive tale about what he did and saw during that attack.

While Davies was the central on-camera personality in that report, the most interesting figure in this mystery was never on screen, nor listed as a contributor to the piece. It is Logan’s husband, Joseph W. Burkett, a former Army sergeant and onetime employee of a private intelligence outfit hired by the Pentagon to plant pro-U.S. stories in the Iraqi media in 2005.

One recent account implied that Burkett, 42, was the Svengali behind the now infamous story that pinned responsibility for the Benghazi attack on al Qaeda, without citing any sources.

“He was an employee of the Lincoln Group, a now-shuttered ‘strategic communications and public relations firm’ hired by the Department of Defense in 2005 to plant positive stories written by American soldiers in Baghdad newspapers during the Iraq War,” the website Gawker reported. . . .

Written by Leisureguy

26 November 2013 at 2:29 pm

Posted in Business, Media

Here’s why Obama trade negotiators push the interests of Hollywood and drug companies

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Tim Lee explains at The Switch in the Washington Post. The simple answer is corruption: using public office to get private gain. To avoid overt conflict with laws, the payoff is delivered after the individual leaves the Administration. Lee writes:

Earlier this month, the transparency organization WikiLeaks leaked the “intellectual property” chapter of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade agreement that is being negotiated in secret by Pacific Rim nations. The draft text showed that the positions taken by U.S. negotiators largely mirrored the provisions of U.S. law, but the U.S. negotiating position also had an unmistakeable bias toward expanding the rights of copyright and patent holders.

Those positions are great for Hollywood and the pharmaceutical industry, but it’s not obvious that they are in the interests of the broader U.S. economy. To the contrary, critics contend that the rights of copyright and patent holders have been expanded too much. Those concerns do not seem to have swayed the trade negotiators in the Obama administration.

Two major factors contribute to the USTR’s strong pro-rightsholder slant. An obvious one is the revolving door between USTR and private industry. Since the turn of the century, at least a dozen USTR officials have taken jobs with pharmaceutical companies, filmmakers, record labels, and technology companies that favor stronger patent and copyright protection.

A more subtle factor is the structure and culture of USTR itself. In its role as a promoter of global trade, USTR has always worked closely with U.S. exporters. That exporter-focused culture isn’t a problem when USTR is merely seeking to remove barriers to selling U.S. goods overseas, but it becomes problematic on issues like copyright and patent law where exporters’ interests may run directly counter to those of American consumers.

USTR’s enthusiasm for stronger copyright and patent protections could become a liability for the Obama administration’s broader trade agenda. Last year, grassroots copyright activists blocked the ratification of one trade agreement by the European Union over its copyright provisions. There’s a risk that a similar fate could befall the TPP.

This is your USTR on drugs

On May 3, 2004, the United States and Australia signed a bilateral trade agreement. The agreement included a section on intellectual property that had numerous provisions favorable to pharmaceutical manufacturers. For example, it barred generic drug makers seeking approval for their drugs from citing safety or efficacy information originally submitted by brand-name drug makers for a period of five years after the information is submitted, making it more difficult for generic drug makers to enter the market.

The lead American negotiator was Ralph Ives, who was promoted to Assistant USTR for Pharmaceutical Policy soon after the negotiations concluded. He was aided by Claude Burcky, Deputy Assistant USTR for Intellectual Property. Less than three months after the Australia agreement was signed, the Sydney Morning Heraldreported that both men would take jobs at pharmaceutical or medical device companies. Their new employers stood to benefit from some of the pro-patent-holder provisions of the treaty. Ives took a job at AdvaMed, a trade group representing medical device manufacturers. Burcky moved to the pharmaceutical and medical device company Abbott Labs.

Since then, Abbott has hired two other USTR veterans, Andrea Durkin and Karen Hauda, according to the women’s LinkedIn pages. Another USTR official, Kira Alvarez, has gone through the revolving door twice over the last 15 years. Her LinkedIn profile indicates that she served at USTR from 2000 to 2003, spent four years at the pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly, and then returned to USTR in 2008 as Deputy Assistant USTR for Intellectual Property Enforcement. She was there for five years before she took a job at AbbVie, a pharmaceutical firm that spun off from Abbott earlier this year.

According to his official biography at the site of the Biotechnology Industry Associaiton, Joseph Damond “was chief negotiator of the historic U.S.-Vietnam Bilateral Trade agreement” during his 12 years at USTR. He then spent five years at the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America before moving to BIO. Justin McCarthy went through the revolving door in the other direction. According to aUSTR press release, McCarthy was responsible for intellectual property issues at the pharmaceutical company Pfizer from 2003 to 2005 before he was hired at USTR. He now works at a lobbying firm.

Some USTR critics argue that the close ties between USTR and large pharmaceutical and medical device companies has a corrupting influence on the agency.

“What’s the next job that everyone at USTR has,” asks Jamie Love. “It’s working for some industry trade group.” Love is the director of Knowledge Ecology International, a group that seeks to liberalize patent law in order to expand access to medicines in developing countries. Love believes the revolving door gives industry groups undue influence over U.S. trade negotiators.

Abbott and AbbVie declined to comment for this story. Neither BIO nor Justin McCarthy’s lobbying firm responded to e-mails seeking comment. But AdvaMed disputes an accusation from Love that it has been lobbying USTR on patent issues. “Neither AdvaMed nor Ives has ever provided USTR comments on a provision of the TPP IP chapter,” an AdvaMed spokeswoman stated by email.

In an e-mailed statement, a spokeswoman for USTR also denied that the revolving door with industry groups affected her agency’s independence. . . .

Continue reading. Of course she denies it: she’s hoping to cash in herself if this treaty goes through.

This is simple, outright corruption. Obama seems to have no problem with it at all, despite the obvious conflict with the public interest (and the obvious big-money pay-off for the negotiators who cooperate).

Written by Leisureguy

26 November 2013 at 12:48 pm

Posted in Business, Government

The Charity Swindle

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This is the season when charities make a big push. Note this column in the NY Times by Ken Stern:

BY all outward indications, the U.S. Navy Veterans Association was a leader in the charitable community. Founded in 2002 to provide support to Navy veterans in need, the charity recorded astonishing financial success. In its first eight years, it raised around $100 million in charitable contributions, almost all of it through a direct marketing campaign. The organization, headed by Jack L. Nimitz, boasted of 41 state chapters and some 66,000 members.

This would be a great story of charitable success, except for the fact that virtually everything about the association turned out to be false: no state chapters, no members, no leader with the name redolent of naval history. Instead, there was one guy: a man calling himself Bobby Thompson who worked from a duplex across the street from the Cuesta-Rey cigar factory in the Ybor City neighborhood of Tampa.

But the money raised was real enough, generated by a series of for-profit telemarketers. The victims, by and large, were unsuspecting small-money donors who received urgent solicitations asking for support for needy naval veterans. Most of the money raised stayed with the fund-raisers, though plenty apparently dripped through to Mr. Thompson and a succession of Republican lawmakers who received generous contributions from the association’s political arm. But little ever made it to the intended beneficiaries. In 2010, the scheme was unwound by two reporters for what is now The Tampa Bay Times, but not before Mr. Thompson had fled the state of Florida.

From June 2010, Mr. Thompson was on the run, the search for him hamstrung by the fact that no one had any real idea of who he was. Finally, on April 30, 2012, federal marshals tracked him down in Portland, Ore., finding him with a card to a storage unit containing $981,650 in cash and almost two dozen fake identity cards.

Earlier this month in Ohio, where the charity’s registration documents had been filed, the man arrested as Bobby Thompson was convicted on 23 felony counts, including fraud, theft and money laundering. Authorities have identified him as John Donald Cody, a former Army intelligence officer and Harvard Law graduate. Given its sensational facts, the case has drawn more attention than your average matter in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court. But the story is worth paying attention to for a more important reason, if we want to prevent more Bobby Thompsons in our future.

The most outrageous aspect of the case is that much of what Mr. Cody did was probably legal, or at least not specifically illegal. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

26 November 2013 at 10:38 am

Posted in Law, Philanthropy

The Middle East warmly welcomes Iran Deal, sees it as Step toward Denuclearizing Israel

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Very interesting post by Juan Cole at Informed Comment:

Israel and Saudi Arabia have loomed large in reporting about the regional reaction to the UN Security Council plus Germany’s preliminary deal with Iran as they negotiate an end to the international boycott of Iran in return for practical steps permanently forestalling an Iranian nuclear weapon. Israel is a small country of 7.5 million with a GDP around the same as Portugal’s, and it isn’t actually all that important in the Middle East, which contains 600 million people if you include North Africa– and with which the US does $400 billion a year in trade.

But despite the fear-mongering and hysteria of Israeli politicians [see below], the general reaction in the region has been much more positive than the Likud government would have us believe. Moreover, far from there being an Israel-Arab consensus against the agreement, much of the Arab world welcomed the Iran deal and saw it as a first step toward getting nuclear weapons out of the Middle East altogether. That is, they are hoping that once Iran’s nuclear enrichment program is restructured as permanently peaceful, the United Nations Security Council will turn up pressure on Israel to give up its nuclear weapons.

Turkey, a NATO ally of the US that has some disputes with Iran (notably over Syria) nevertheless warmly greeted the announcement. Turkey has a population of 76 million, as does Iran, i.e., both are just a little less populous than Germany.

Turkish President Abdullah Gul said on Twitter on Sunday,

 “I welcome today’s agreement on Iran’s nuclear program. I have been advocating a solution through diplomacy and we hosted many diplomatic efforts in Turkey to this end . . . This is a major step forward. I hope it’ll be sealed with a final agreement soon. I congratulate all parties for their constructive engagement.”

Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has a doctrine of seeking good relations with neighbors in order to expand trade. After AK came to power in 2002, Turkey’s foreign trade expanded a great deal ( it was $239 billion in 2012) and trade with the Middle East expanded from almost nothing under the nationalist, secularist generals to 22%. (Turkey’s GDP is $788 billion in nominal terms, more than that of the Netherlands and just behind Indonesia, making it the 17th largest economy in the world, lagging behind not only Indonesia but Mexico and South Korea).

The new commerce of the past decade is worth billions to Ankara and comes as cream on top of expanded trade with Europe and Asia. By 2011, Turkey’s trade with Iran had gone from almost nothing to $16 bn. Some 2500 Iranian companies have invested in Turkey. But in 2013 the value of the trade has fallen from the previous year, largely because of international sanctions that make it difficult for Iran to develop its oil and gas production and difficult for Turkish banks to interface with Iranian ones. Turkish officials view the level of trade with Iran as far below what could be achieved, and as currently almost insignificant. They would like to expand the trade to $100 billion, and had aimed for $30 billion by 2015.

International sanctions were therefore extremely inconvenient for Turkey’s policy of trade expansion in the region. Moreover, Turkey depends on inexpensive natural gas from Iran for some of its own electricity production. Compared to the Turkish-Iranian tiff over Syria, the possible cooperation in energy and trade expansion is much more important to Ankara. Likewise, the AKP supports the Palestinians under Israeli occupation, and has that in common with Iran. Turkey is champing at the bit to trade unhindered with Iran and to invest in it, as well as to welcome further Iranian investment in Turkey. The Kerry-Zarif deal could not be more welcome in Ankara.

Iraq, with a population of over 30 million and a GDP of $212 bn., also enthusiastically greeted the news. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

26 November 2013 at 10:35 am

Posted in Mideast Conflict

California conservative working to raise the minimum wage

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And his reasons make sense, even in the conservative worldview:

Using what he sees as conservative principles to advocate a policy long championed by the left, Mr. Unz argues that significantly raising the minimum wage would help curb government spending on social services, strengthen the economy and make more jobs attractive to American-born workers.

“There are so many very low-wage workers, and we pay for huge social welfare programs for them,” he said in an interview. “This would save something on the order of tens of billions of dollars. Doesn’t it make more sense for employers to pay their workers than the government?”

Read the whole thing.

Written by Leisureguy

26 November 2013 at 10:32 am

Posted in Business, GOP, Government

“If I could pick just one book for you to read…”

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Written by Leisureguy

26 November 2013 at 10:30 am

Posted in Books

Parents failing their children, as reflected in rate of HPV vaccinations

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Sy Mukherjee reports at ThinkProgress:

Parents’ ongoing misconceptions about the HPV shot and doctors’ reticence to strongly recommend the vaccine are keeping HPV vaccination rates low among Americans boys and girls, according to a comprehensive analysis of 55 studies from 2009.

Earlier research has shown that just 30 percent of women receiv the full recommended course of three shots by the time they turn 26. That’s compared to about 54 percent of girls and 21 percent of boys who receive at least one recommended shot, and just 6.8 percent of boys who receive all three vaccinations.

The new analysis shines some light on the reasons behind these disparities. For instance, many parents say they skipped out on the shots because they thought their children were too young to receive them, or because their doctors never actively recommended HPV vaccination. Doctors, for their part, say they often feel that it isn’t their place to recommend the shots to adolescents — even though the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) advises young people to start getting vaccinated around age 11 or 12. Researchers say doctors will have to be more forceful about their recommendations to increase vaccination rates.

“‘Offering’ the HPV vaccine is not the same as ‘recommending’ the HPV vaccine in the same manner as the other important adolescent vaccines,” said lead study author Dawn Holman in an interview with Bloomberg. “A true vaccine recommendation is more accepted by parents than a vaccine offering.”

Other studies have found that some parents are scared off from the vaccine as a consequence of bogus studies claiming that the shot is unsafe. Just 5 percent of parents who didn’t vaccinate their daughters against HPV in 2008 cited safety concerns as their primary reason. That number was up to 16 percent by 2010.

The vast majority of medical professionals attest to the HPV vaccine’s safety and consider it a necessary precaution against cervical cancer and genital warts.

Written by Leisureguy

26 November 2013 at 10:07 am

Posted in Medical

Phishing by phone

with 2 comments

The Wife reported an interesting incident that occurred yesterday.

She got a call while she was driving to work. It was a recorded message from (supposedly) BofA. It sounded exactly like the calls they make when there’s a security issue. They said there was no issue, but a limited-time offer for a lower interest rate of 6.9%, please press 2 to follow up.

She didn’t press 2 because she was driving and talking through her bluetooth handset. So that night she remembered the offer and tried contacting BofA via chat on their website. The BofA person was totally confused, so then she called the 800-number. She was told that

a) they had no calls on record for her today – and the BofA guy was able to tell her the last few calls they have made to her, and

b) they don’t make direct offers like that on a phone message – they never include the actual rate.

So then she looked up the number on her phone, and they checked it online – it was a phishing call! The call sounded totally legit, and if you press 2, “for identification purposes” they will ask for your SSN and birthdate and card number.

The guy said that even BofA, when YOU call  THEM, will never ask for your complete card number or complete SSN.

So that was exciting, and *whew* because if she hadn’t been driving she would totally have been interested in 6.9%.

Next time you get a call from BofA, verify it before you provide ANY information – like call them back (at the BofA 800 number) before you provide any info.

Written by Leisureguy

26 November 2013 at 9:55 am

Posted in Business, Daily life

Corporations get very touchy

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Corporations are taking a number of steps to ensure that they can shed what little accountability they have in the US. For example, note this story today by Tim Lee in the Washington Post:

A few years ago, Jen Palmer took to the pages of RipoffReport.com to savage online retailer KlearGear, which she said had failed to deliver products her husband had ordered and wasn’t answering his phone calls. Then, according to the Palmers, last year KlearGear invoked a “non-disparagement clause” in its terms of use, claiming that the couple would owe $3500 if they didn’t take the review down. When the couple refused to remove the review or pay up, KlearGear allegedly sent the supposed debt to a collection agency, damaging the couple’s credit.

In a letter sent to KlearGear on Monday, the couple describes what happened next. When their furnace broke last month, their bad credit meant they couldn’t immediately pay for a new one. As a result, they and their 3-year-old son lived without heat for three weeks. The Palmers say credit problems resulting from KlearGear’s actions prevented them from getting auto loan last year. Worst of all, they say they’ve been unable to sell their home due to the damage KlearGear’s did to their credit.

The Palmers are seeking the removal of the $3500 charge from their credit report, $75,000 in compensation, and for KlearGear to discontinue its use of the non-disparagement clause. The couple is threatening to file a lawsuit if they don’t get a satisfactory response by December 16.

The couple is represented by Public Citizen, which has a blog post about the case. The group notes that KlearGear’s threat is part of a broader trend of companies trying to use contractual terms to muzzle customers who complain about their products and services online. I experienced this issue myself in 2011, when a dentist asked me to sign a “mutual privacy agreement” giving the dentist copyright over any reviews I might write about his services in the future. (I refused to sign.) Public Citizenrepresented another patient last year whose dentist used a similar agreement against him.

I tried to call KlearGear, but the number listed on their website led to a recording directing us to visit the company’s website. An email to the company’s legal department was not returned either.

And an animal-rights activist who exposed a company’s animal cruelty is now facing prison time, as reported in Salon by Lindsay Abrams:

If you’re a person who loves animals enough to take a job at a cattle company, solely for the purpose of exposing abuses that may occur there, you’re going to have reconcile yourself with a few necessary evils — like allowing the abuse to happen, temporarily, in order to get the footage you need to build your case.

That nuance, unfortunately, is lost on the Weld County Sheriff’s Office, which cited three employees at Quanah Cattle Company in Kersey, Colorado with misdemeanor animal cruelty, and then went on to also charge Taylor Radig, the activist who exposed that cruelty, for the same crime.

Radig, a member of the animal rights group Compassion Over Killing, spent two months at the cattle company, during which she caught workers on film kicking, throwing and otherwise mistreating newborn calves. The workers were fired earlier this month after the group released the footage, about two months after it was initially filmed; the charges against Radig were added later.

“Radig’s failure to report the alleged abuse of the animals in a timely manner adheres to the definition of acting with negligence and substantiates the charge Animal Cruelty,” a statement signed by the sheriff explained. They’re also accusing her of having participated in the abuse. If convicted, she faces up to 18 months in jail.

Journalist Will Potter, who broke the story over the weekend, called such charges “unprecedented,” although, as he pointed out, industrial agriculture companies have been pushing hard for “ag-gag” laws that would punish those who dare get anywhere near a slaughterhouse with a video camera. Despite not being one of the states where these laws are in effect, he writes, Colorado’s clearly joining the bandwagon.

The Colorado effort reflects the growing popularity of Ag-Gag laws, an on-going conservative effort to make criticizing a company not only a crime, but also a terrorist act so that those who criticize fall under the Patriot Act, which allows them to be imprisoned indefinitely with no charges filed and no recourse to a lawyer. Torture, we’re told, has been discontinued (except for solitary confinement, which the US seems to love as much as the old Soviet Union loved locking up activists in mental institutions).

A couple of days ago I wrote, in a post on how corporations are building intelligence networks, staffed and run by former military and civilian intelligence agencies (NSA, CIA, and so on), to spy on any organization or person critical of the corporation or industry. I mentioned then that the gloves were coming off. Now the push is on to make any speaking out or taking action against a corporation a crime that requires prison time.

Corporations really are starting to run the government and the country. Since their number 1 mandate has nothing to do with the common welfare, we are heading for bad times.

Written by Leisureguy

26 November 2013 at 9:54 am

Posted in Business, Government, Law

4 statements you make to the police if you are detained for marijuana possession

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Lauren Vazquez offers some good advice at LadyBud.com:

If you use pot you are a criminal.

This is true even in Colorado and Washington, where the feds continue to outlaw cannabis. This is also true in California and other states that provide medical protection. This means the police not only have the right, but the obligation to try and stop you (though state police cannot enforce federal law). Fortunately, you do not have to help them. The United States Constitution gives you rights that protect you during police encounters. It is the job of the police to find evidence of a crime. It is not your job to confess or help them. They get paid quite well, so please do not do their job for them. Your job is to do and say the right things to protect yourself and defend your rights.

During a police encounter, the best case scenario is you will be let go with a warning or simple citation. The worst case is, you or someone you love will get hurt. No one should be the victim of police brutality, but it happens. Cops are jumpy. They are trained to be suspicious. Do not make any sudden moves they can claim were threatening. Be polite and respectful, even if the courtesy is not returned. Remember, the police do not have the final word and while they may be able to harass, intimidate, and arrest you, the real fight is in the courtroom before the judge and jury. But you must actually survive the police encounter first before you can win the battle in court.

To win that court battle, your lawyer needs to be able to prove the police acted illegally and the evidence should therefore be thrown out. The goal is to get all the evidence tossed so that there is no case left against you. If you give police permission, your lawyer will not be able to argue they acted illegally and there will not be much s/he can do to defend you. This is why what you do and say are very important. Your lawyer needs you to say the “magic words.” These are words that limit what the police can do and will help your lawyer prove the police acted illegally.

The Magic Words

What are the magic words, you ask? The first magic words can set you free. Simply ask,

“AM I FREE TO GO?”

If they reply that you are free to go, then you are free to go. You may have to wait for the officer to finish the citation, but yes, you are free to go. If you are not free to go, then you must use the other magic words,

“I DO NOT CONSENT TO ANY SEARCHES,”

“I WANT TO REMAIN SILENT,”

“I WANT A LAWYER.”

You must use all of the magic words and use them in this order. You must memorize and practice the magic words. During a stop, the police will not always tell you your rights or help you understand them. In fact, they are trained to harass, scare, and trick you into giving up your rights. You have to be strong while they get in your face and insult you. They are even allowed to lie. Do not believe them. Say the magic words, follow police orders, and shut up!

How do the magic words work? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

26 November 2013 at 9:38 am

Posted in Drug laws

Supreme Court to hear case on whether corporations can have a religion

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Corporations are, legally, persons, though they never have to go to jail (they just pay fines, almost always trivial in terms of their revenues). And I thought they never went to church, but now we have a corporation that claims that it is religious. (I wonder: Has it been baptized? Does it tithe?) I find that difficult to grasp, since I don’t know of any actual religions that have maximizing profit among their essential commandments.

It seems an awful lot like a corporation wants to make personal life decisions for its employees.

The Supreme Court will hear the case.

Written by Leisureguy

26 November 2013 at 9:33 am

Posted in Business, Law, Religion

Super-smooth and a note on shaving soap samples

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SOTD 26 Nov 2013

Really fine shave today. The Simpsons Duke 3 Best is a very fine brush—but like the Simpsons Commodore, often overlooked. I got a very fine lather using the shaving soap sample shown, Dagger from Saint Charles Shave.

I really like the shaving soap sample format of a very thin full-diameter puck. Saint Charles Shave shipped the puck in a little plastic tray, so it was easy to handle and quite easy to load. This format (and I believe HoneybeeSoaps.net uses a similar format) is ideal. I’ve also received as samples small wedge-shaped chunks. Those don’t work so well.

Three passes to BBS smoothness and then a good splash of TOBS Sandalwood aftershave.

Written by Leisureguy

26 November 2013 at 9:18 am

Posted in Shaving

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