Later On

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

Archive for December 2013

A college sets a reasonable salary range ratio

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I was director of admissions at St. John’s College in Annapolis, MD for a few years, and I habitually referred to “St. John’s college, a private liberal arts college with no religious affiliation.” The legend was that St. John’s in Annapolis was named, not after St. John, but after St. John’s College at Cambridge and/or Oxford. But the weight of the name continued to be a distraction.

But how about St. Mary’s College, a state school named because of its location: St. Mary’s City, Maryland. That director of admissions faces the same on-going challenge. And that college has done something quite interesting and very good, as reported in Yes! magazine by Caroline Selle, who worked on the initiative. Her article begins:

On Sunday, November 24, Swiss voters rejected an initiative that would have capped executive pay at 12 times that of their companies’ lowest-paid employees.

Although the initiative failed, discomfort with high executive pay remains.

Some companies in the United States have tried to address the problem with a salary cap similar to the Swiss initiative. The Ben & Jerry’s ice cream company used to have a 5-to-1 salary ratio. Later it was expanded to 17-to-1, before transnational food company Unilever purchased Ben & Jerry’s and made its salary structure a secret.

Tens of thousands of people have signed a petition demanding that Congress cap the salaries of corporate CEOs, which can be up to 500 times what their companies’ lowest paid-employees receive.

At St. Mary’s College, a small school in southern Maryland, faculty, staff, and students have launched a wage ratio proposal of their own. For them, the magic ratio is 10-to-1.

While the lowest paid staff at St. Mary’s make $24,500 per year, the highest paid employee, the president, makes over $300,000. Furthermore, according to faculty calculations, most employees are seeing their income lose value over time. Campaigners say if the school truly valued social responsibility, respect, and community maintenance, as it claims to do on its website, the wage structure would be different.St. Mary’s is not the only college with a living wage campaign. Others include Johns Hopkins University, Miami University, and the University of Virginia. Some campaigns, including those at Swarthmore and Harvard, have resulted in higher wages for the lowest paid workers on campus—as did the original incarnation of one at St. Mary’s.

That campaign, now known as “St. Mary’s Wages, the St. Mary’s Way,” began in 2002 when staff passed a unanimous resolution to institute a living wage on campus. By 2004, the lowest salary on campus had risen from $15,700 to $20,000. In 2006, frustrated by stalled salary negotiations and what they saw as the poor treatment of the lowest-paid workers on campus, 13 students participated in a 147-hour sit-in at the office of then-president Jane Margaret O’Brien. The occupying students included one former and four current senators from the Student Government Association.

Current students still cite the sit-in as a major turning point in staff and student negotiating power. Afterwards, management went into negotiations with the staff union and agreed to increase the salaries of the lowest-paid staff at St. Mary’s to $24,500. Then the living wage campaign was quiet until fall of 2011, when, spurred by staff testimony about financial difficulties, students and a few faculty members launched the 10-to-1 initiative.

The 10-to-1 wage plan would cap the salary of the highest-paid full-time college employee at 10 times that of the lowest-paid ones, and the salaries of the remaining employees would be spread out incrementally between the two. By capping high-level administrative pay, the authors say, the school will eventually save money and be able to rein in tuition hikes.

The campaign gained momentum in 2011 when . . .

Continue reading. There is a very good discussion of the tradeoffs.

Written by Leisureguy

31 December 2013 at 1:51 pm

Goals v. Systems

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The Niece points out a very useful article for our New Year’s consideration. James Clear writes at Entrepreneur:

We all have things that we want to achieve in our lives — getting into the better shape, building a successful business, raising a wonderful family, writing a best-selling book, winning a championship, and so on.

And for most of us, the path to those things starts by setting a specific and actionable goal. At least, this is how I approached my life until recently. I would set goals for classes I took, for weights that I wanted to lift in the gym, and for clients I wanted in my business.

What I’m starting to realize, however, is that when it comes to actually getting things done and making progress in the areas that are important to you, there is a much better way to do things.

It all comes down to the difference between goals and systems.

Let me explain.

The Difference Between Goals and Systems

What’s the difference between goals and systems?

  • If you’re a coach, your goal is to win a championship. Your system is what your team does at practice each day.
  • If you’re a writer, your goal is to write a book. Your system is the writing schedule that you follow each week.
  • If you’re a runner, your goal is to run a marathon. Your system is your training schedule for the month.
  • If you’re an entrepreneur, your goal is to build a million dollar business. Your system is your sales and marketing process.

Now for the really interesting question:

If you completely ignored your goals and focused only on your system, would you still get results?

Related: How You Can Form Good Habits and Stick to Them

For example, if you were a basketball coach and you ignored your goal to win a championship and focused only on what your team does at practice each day, would you still get results?

I think you would.

As an example, . . .

Continue reading. In what follows, he breaks it out clearly. An article to bookmark.

The goal is the fruit you want; the system is the ladder that takes you to it.

Written by Leisureguy

31 December 2013 at 1:39 pm

Posted in Daily life

What a mess this will be: Car companies are picking sides between Apple and Google

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Read the article and think about how this will end. Not happily, I fear. This is a place where government regulation/standards could help, although they would have to be craftily phrased to avoid being an impediment to innovation.

Written by Leisureguy

31 December 2013 at 1:34 pm

Posted in Business, Technology

NSA and 9/11

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The NSA and its Congressional minions constantly state that we don’t want another 9/11, and that the intelligence that NSA provides will surely protect us. Unfortunately, that is false, as we can tell by looking at the actual 9/11. Peter Bergen on CNN writes:

Editor’s note: Peter Bergen is CNN’s national security analyst, a director at the New America Foundation and the author of“Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for bin Laden — From 9/11 to Abbottabad” which this article draws upon.

(CNN) — The Obama administration has framed its defense of the controversial bulk collection of all American phone records as necessary to prevent a future 9/11.

During a House Intelligence Committee hearing on June 18, NSA director Gen. Keith Alexander said, “Let me start by saying that I would much rather be here today debating this point than trying to explain how we failed to prevent another 9/11.”

This closely mirrors talking points by the National Security Agency about how to defend the program.

In the talking points, NSA officials are encouraged to use “sound bites that resonate,” specifically, “I much prefer to be here today explain these programs, than explaining another 9/11 event that we were not able to prevent.”

On Friday in New York, Judge William H. Pauley III ruled that NSA’s bulk collection of American telephone records is lawful. He cited Alexander’s testimony and quoted him saying, “We couldn’t connect the dots because we didn’t have the dots.”

But is it really the case that the U.S. intelligence community didn’t have the dots in the lead up to 9/11? Hardly.

In fact, the intelligence community provided repeated strategic warning in the summer of 9/11 that al Qaeda was planning a large-scale attacks on American interests.

Here is a representative sampling of the CIA threat reporting that was distributed to Bush administration officials during the spring and summer of 2001:

— CIA, “Bin Ladin Planning Multiple Operations,” April 20
— CIA, “Bin Ladin Attacks May Be Imminent,” June 23
— CIA, “Planning for Bin Ladin Attacks Continues, Despite Delays,” July 2
— CIA, “Threat of Impending al Qaeda Attack to Continue Indefinitely,” August 3

The failure to respond adequately to these warnings was a policy failure by the Bush administration, not anintelligence failure by the U.S. intelligence community.A case of missed opportunities

The CIA itself also had its own spectacular failure in the run up to 9/11, which wasn’t a failure to collect intelligence, but a failure of information sharing. The CIA had quite a bit of information about two of the hijackers and their presence in the United States before 9/11, which the agency didn’t share with other government agencies until it was too late to do anything about it.

The government missed multiple opportunities to catch al Qaeda hijacker Khalid al-Mihdhar when he was living in San Diego for a year and a half in the run up to 9/11, not because it lacked access to all Americans phone records but because it didn’t share the information it already possessed about the soon-to-be hijacker within other branches of the government.

The missed opportunities in the al-Mihdhar case are well-documented. The CIA failed to “watch-list” al-Mihdhar and another suspected al Qaeda terrorist, Nawaf al-Hazmi, whom the agency had been tracking since they attended an al Qaeda summit in Malaysia on January 5, 2000.

The failure to put Mihdhar and Hamzi on a watch list meant that immigration and law enforcement authorities were not alerted to their presence when they entered the United States under their real names. Ten days after the meeting in Malaysia, on January 15, 2000, al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar flew into Los Angeles.

The CIA also did not alert the FBI about the identities of the suspected terrorists so that the bureau could look for them once they were inside the United States.

An investigation by the CIA inspector general — published in unclassified form in 2007 — found that this was not the oversight of a couple of agency employees but rather that a large number of CIA officers and analysts had dropped the ball. Some 50 to 60 agency employees read cables about the two al Qaeda suspects without taking any action.

Some of those officers knew that one of the al Qaeda suspects had a visa for the United States, and by March 2001, some knew that the other suspect had flown to Los Angeles.

The soon-to-be hijackers would not have been difficult to find in California if their names had been known to law enforcement. Under their real names, they rented an apartment, got driver’s licenses, opened bank accounts, purchased a car and took flight lessons. Al-Mihdhar even listed his name in the local phone directory.

It was only on August 24, 2001, as a result of questions raised by a CIA officer on assignment at the FBI, that the two al Qaeda suspects were watch-listed and their names communicated to the bureau. Even then, the FBI sent out only a “routine” notice requesting an investigation of al-Mihdhar. Nothing substantive came of this request.

A month later, al-Hamzi and al-Mihdhar were two of the hijackers on American Airlines Flight 77 that plunged into the Pentagon, killing 189 people.

The CIA inspector general’s report concluded that “informing the FBI and good operational follow-through by CIA and FBI might have resulted in surveillance of both al-Mihdhar and al-Hazmi. Surveillance, in turn, would have had the potential to yield information on flight training, financing, and links to others who were complicit in the 9/11 attacks.”

Continue reading. There’s more. And there’s this:

And as Tim Grieve points out in Salon:

Ron Suskind’s “The One Percent Doctrine” is out this week, and the Washington Post’sBarton Gellman says it’s full of “jaw-dropping stories” about the Bush administration’s war on terror.

Or lack thereof.

We’ve known for years now that George W. Bush received a presidential daily briefingon Aug. 6, 2001, in which he was warned: “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.” We’ve known for almost as long that Bush went fishing afterward.

What we didn’t know is what happened in between the briefing and the fishing, and now Suskind is here to tell us. Bush listened to the briefing, Suskind says, then told the CIA briefer: “All right. You’ve covered your ass, now.”

The NSA is trying a scam. The problem wasn’t the lack of information, it was the lack of competency at every level in the Bush Administration, beginning right at the top with Bush and Rice. And no one seems to have learned: Cheney personally worked hard to distort intelligence on Iraq to justify a war there.

The problem never was lack of information, it was an administration that ignored facts in favor of its own agenda.

Written by Leisureguy

31 December 2013 at 1:25 pm

Reining in the for-profit colleges that are, in effect, scams—and the opposition

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Congress demonstrates again its abysmal state of corruption. This sort of thing is what makes it difficult to be hopeful. Jeff Bryant writes a good article at Campaign for America’s Future on the opposition to stopping the scams:

The good news coming from the U.S. Department of Education recently is the effort to put tougher restrictions on for-profit scam colleges that rip off students, families and the taxpayers.

The bad news is that not all Democrats are behind this effort and pushing for the tighter restrictions.

Think Progress last week passed along a report from The Wall Street Journal that Big Ed has drafted a rewrite of regulations to rein in “for-profit schools whose students end up deep in debt or default on their student loans at exceptionally high rates.”

The colleges that would be most heavily affected include the University of Phoenix (owned by Apollo Education Group), Kaplan Higher Education, Devry Inc., The Art Institute (owned by Education Management Corporation), and Corinthian Colleges, among others.

The guidelines provide the teeth for what is referred to in wonk-speak as a “gainful employment” plan. The new regulations could go into effect as early as 2015 and could cause, according to the WSJ report, “as many as 20 percent of programs at for-profit colleges” to lose revenue. Public and nonprofit colleges four-year colleges would be exempted.

Writers at Think Progress provided some useful backstory:

“For-profit schools have come under scrutiny for burdening students with debt without giving them degrees or skills that help them get jobs to pay them off. Many for-profit schools and community colleges have higher rates of students defaulting on their loans than who actually graduate. More than three-quarters of the students at for-profit collegesfail to earn a degree within six years.”

Further, low-income students are particularly vulnerable to the predatory nature of these for-profit schools, because these students “attend for-profit colleges at a rate four times higherthan other students.”

Veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are also at risk of being scammed by the for-profit higher ed sector.

As Mother Jones reported back in 2011, “at 8 of the 10 for-profits that take in the most GI Bill cash, more than half of students drop out within a year of matriculation. Many students find that prospective employers and graduate schools won’t take their coursework seriously,” and “some for-profits have cleaned out students’ military benefits while also signing them up for thousands of dollars in loans without their knowledge.”

But, back to The Wall Street Journal report, “for-profit schools say they are being unfairly targeted, given that some of the highest student-debt burdens fall on those who attend public and nonprofit graduate schools, such as law and medical school. They say they serve many students – such as single mothers and many low-income students who don’t live near a community college – who otherwise would have few, if any, options for attending postsecondary schools.”

Whichever side you take in this debate, clearly big money is involved. According to report filed by David Halperin, when he wrote for the Republic Report, the for-profit higher education industry generates a $35 billion annual revenue, of which the vast majority – “about $32 billion” – comes from federal financial aid. . .

Continue reading. In other words, the for-profit colleges, like charter schools, are another mechanism for private companies to scoop up money from the public till. The key paragraph:

As the intrepid Lee Fang again reported, this time in The Nation, “a small group of House Democrats, led by Representatives Rob Andrews of New Jersey and Alcee Hastings of Florida, are organizing an effort within the caucus to protect the for-profit career college industry from any meaningful regulation.

“The two congressmen are among the largest recipients of campaign cash from the industry.Campaign finance data compiled by show Hastings has received $54,500, and Andrews $78,547, from for-profit college executives and political committees.”

Andrews and Hastings circulated a “Dear Colleague” letter asking, according to Fang, “other House Democrats to sign a document asking the administration to back down.”

The amount of money donated to the Representatives is pocket change to the industry, but it was certainly enough to buy the two Representatives. So long as our Representatives and Senators are, in effect, up on eBay, so long will our government continue to be at the beck and call of the wealthy.

We desperately need public financing of campaigns, with no private money involved. That would put an end to the bribes campaign donations.

Written by Leisureguy

31 December 2013 at 1:14 pm

Posted in Business, Congress, Election

Younger military veterans are angered by budget cuts to their pension benefits

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A very good story by Lori Montgomery in the Washington Post. An important note: The outrage being expressed is because of this:

The cut is small — a one-percentage-point reduction in the annual cost-of-living increase — but it has provoked outrage among veterans, some of whom argue that the country is reneging on a solemn pact.

The absolute and complete loss of pensions by municipal workers and union workers seems much worse than a small reduction in future increases. These veterans should look around and see what’s happening in this country.

UPDATE: Added link, which I had forgotten. See also comments.

UPDATE 2: To emphasize the point: One can find many things in how the US treats the men and women who serve in the military for which outrage seems appropriate. To take some obvious examples: the poor level of care for veterans with PTSD, the degree to which the VA seeks to avoid helping veterans overcome service-related illnesses and disabilities (the effects of Agent Orange on veterans was determinedly ignored for years, for example), the great number of sexual assaults and the degree to which the services hide or downplay those, the way that PTSD is minimized, undiagnosed, and untreated, and so on. These are appropriate targets for outrage, not only by younger military veterans but by all Americans.

But a small reduction in the rate at which relatively generous pensions continue to increase? And in a country in which municipal and state governments have raided pension funds and then refused to pay pensions, passing legislation that leaves government employees in the cold? Or major corporations that dodge pension obligations and use various tactics to deprive their workers of the pensions they earned? Perhaps the outrage would be better directed at how some have suffered substantially with respect to their pensions, or to other aspects of how veterans are treated.

UPDATE 3: More context: the general pension situation among civilians.

Written by Leisureguy

31 December 2013 at 1:05 pm

Posted in Government, Military

A lesson about history for the History Channel

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Written by Leisureguy

31 December 2013 at 12:53 pm

Posted in Video

BBS with ease (and Krona, Feather, TOBS, and Simpson)

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SOTD 31 Dec 2013

Absolutely terrific shave to end the year: smooth and with no problems at all.

My Simpson Chubby Best was extremely pleasant and comfortable today. If I hadn’t covered the writing on the handle with the head of the Schick Krona, you would see that it is a Best. I did try a Super, but the knot of the Super was too dense to be comfortable and wouldn’t yield the lather. For me, the Best was better.

The lather from my TOBS Lavender was excellent, and with a Feather blade the Krona did a very fine job. With a duller blade, the razor is not so efficient, but with a Feather, the stubble was wiped away easily—and with great comfort.

A splash of Royall Vetiver, and the last day of the year starts to fall. I’ll be going out to buy black-eyed peas for tomorrow.

Written by Leisureguy

31 December 2013 at 12:52 pm

Posted in Shaving

Modern-day driving test

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Written by Leisureguy

30 December 2013 at 8:47 pm

Posted in Daily life, Video

Businesses treat fines as routine overhead: part of the cost of doing business

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It’s been commonly observed that making corporations pay fines does nothing—nada, zip, zilch—to change behavior. They pay the fine, promise one thing or another, and continue as before. OTOH, it’s also been observed that putting business executives in prison does tend to get the attention of the business—though it doesn’t necessarily end bad corporate behavior (check out GE’s rap sheet, for example—and they’re still at it).

David Gillen has an interesting article (with a good 3-minute video) in the NY Times:

For Wall Street, 2013 will go down as the Year of the Big Fine.

Five years after all those bailouts for big banks, major financial institutions like JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America agreed to pay many billions of dollars in fines this year to settle claims involving a range of wrongdoing, from questionable mortgage practices to trading fiascos.

Others corporate titans have paid out, too. Johnson & Johnson agreed to pay $2.2 billion to settle claims that the company marketed a drug for unproved uses and paid kickbacks to doctors. Another big drug company, Glaxo SmithKline, agreed to pay $3 billion and pleaded guilty to criminal charges that it illegally marketed drugs.

The list goes on. But amid all the headlines — and there have been many in recent years — the question remains: Do big fines actually prompt corporations to mend their ways? Many ordinary people certainly want companies to be held accountable. But for corporations, fines sometimes seem like the cost of doing business. That is because the costs often pale next to the profits that companies stand to make by doing the things that get them into trouble in the first place.

What’s more, the penalties often come years after the supposed infractions came to light.

Continue reading.


Written by Leisureguy

30 December 2013 at 8:46 pm

Posted in Business, Law

U.S. Struggles to Keep Pace in Delivering Broadband Service

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Actually, most of the visible struggle is the struggle from communications companies who are fighting to keep slower speeds. Edward Wyatt reports in the NY Times:

San Antonio is the seventh-largest city in the United States, a progressive and economically vibrant metropolis of 1.4 million people sprawled across south-central Texas. But the speed of its Internet service is no match for the Latvian capital, Riga, a city of 700,000 on the Baltic Sea.

Riga’s average Internet speed is at least two-and-a-half times that of San Antonio’s, according to Ookla, a research firm that measures broadband speeds around the globe. In other words, downloading a two-hour high-definition movie takes, on average, 35 minutes in San Antonio — and 13 in Riga.

And the cost of Riga’s service is about one-fourth that of San Antonio.

The United States, the country that invented the Internet, is falling dangerously behind in offering high-speed, affordable broadband service to businesses and consumers, according to technology experts and an array of recent studies.

In terms of Internet speed and cost, “ours seems completely out of whack with what we see in the rest of the world,” said Susan Crawford, a law professor at Yeshiva University in Manhattan, a former Obama administration technology adviser and a leading critic of American broadband.

The Obama administration effectively agrees. “While this country has made tremendous progress investing in and delivering high-speed broadband to an unprecedented number of Americans, significant areas for improvement remain,” said Tom Power, deputy chief technology officer for telecommunications at the White House.

The disagreement comes over how far behind the United States really is in what many people consider as basic a utility as water and electricity — and how much it will affect the nation’s technological competitiveness over the next decade. “There aren’t any countries ahead of us that have a comparable population distribution,” said Richard Bennett, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, who said that the United States was closing the gap. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 December 2013 at 10:56 am

Posted in Business, Technology

The NY Fed, conflicted beyond trust

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Pam Martens reports in Wall Street on Parade:

The Federal Reserve System that is charged with setting monetary policy in the United States consists of a Board of Governors in Washington, D.C. and 12 regional Federal Reserve Banks. The Board of Governors functions as an independent government agency – its Board is appointed by the President of the United States but its funding comes from the regional Federal Reserve Banks.

Slowly, like a tiny Goldfish in a large tank of water that grows over time into a monster fish capable of clobbering anything else placed in the tank, one of the 12 regional Federal Reserve Banks has obtained unique powers not shared by the 11 other regional Federal Reserve Banks.

This is just a partial list of how the New York Fed is unique among its peers:

The President of the New York Fed sits permanently on the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC). The Presidents of the other 11 regional banks rotate on the FOMC;

Although there is no law requiring that the New York Fed should be the sole regional Fed Bank to conduct the open market operations of the FOMC, it has uniquely served in this function since 1935;

It is the only regional Fed Bank to have its own trading floor and speed dials to the largest firms on Wall Street;

It is the only regional Fed Bank to be allowed to intervene in foreign exchange markets;

The New York Fed, uniquely among the regional Fed Banks, stores gold for foreign central banks, governments and international agencies;

The New York Fed played a uniquely controlling role in the disbursement of trillions of dollars in loans to foreign and domestic banks during the 2007 to 2010 meltdown of Wall Street;

And, problematically, while needing the good will of Wall Street firms to carry out its open market operations mandate, it simultaneously functions as a primary regulator to some of the largest firms.

Over the past several years, Wall Street On Parade has identified for its readers a raft of conflicts of interests at the New York Fed that would not be tolerated at any other financial regulator. For example, its Board of Directors has routinely included the CEOs of the very same Wall Street firms it regulates.Sandy Weill, the former Chairman and CEO of Citigroup, served two terms on its Board, from 2000 to 2006, as Citigroup built up a toxic time bomb of Structured Investment Vehicles (off balance sheet debt) and subprime mortgage exposure that would, from 2008 to 2010, require a taxpayer bailout totaling $45 billion in equity, over $300 billion in asset guarantees, and more than $2 trillion in low cost loans from (wait for it) – its own regulator, the New York Fed.

Presiding over the New York Fed as this toxic brew fermented at Citigroup was Timothy Geithner, President of the New York Fed from 2003 through the crash of 2008. Geithner became U.S. Treasury Secretary following his five years at the New York Fed. Multiple insiders have written books about what they perceived to be Geithner’s favoritism to Citigroup as Treasury Secretary.

In Confidence Men, Ron Suskind says that Geithner ignored a directive from President Obama to wind down Citigroup. Sheila Bair, former head of the FDIC during the crisis, portrays Geithner in Bull By the Horns as little more than Citigroup’s messenger boy.

The public should rightfully expect that a regulator that presided over the greatest Wall Street collapse since the Great Depression would have its wings clipped by Congress. Instead, the New York Fed has actually found ways to become more hubristic.

In early 2012, as JPMorgan was building up an unmanageable position in illiquid, toxic derivatives in a dark corner of its trading empire in London using the insured deposits of its banking customers, its Chairman and CEO, Jamie Dimon, was sitting on the Board of Directors of the New York Fed. As it was being investigated by the New York Fed, Jamie Dimon continued to sit on its Board, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 December 2013 at 10:27 am

Terrific interactive maps

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Jennifer Schuessler reports in the NY Times:

In 1932, when Charles O. Paullin published his monumental Atlas of the Historical Geography of the United States, reviewers were overwhelmed by its nearly 700 maps covering seemingly every facet of the country’s social, economic and political life, including maps, then novel, showing county-by-county results for presidential elections going back to the beginning of the Republic.

But the atlas, by its creator’s admission, was missing one thing — motion. “The ideal historical atlas might well be a collection of motion-picture maps,” Paullin’s editor and main collaborator, John K. Wright, wrote in the introduction, “if these could be displayed on the pages of a book without the paraphernalia of projector, reel and screen.”

Historians and everyday Internet time wasters have long since become used to animated maps, covering topics ranging from a four-minute recap of the Civil War to the globaldistribution of tweets about Beyoncé’s new album. Now, modern bells and whistles have also come to Paullin’s atlas. A souped-up online version has just been released by the University of Richmond’s Digital Scholarship Lab, bringing what some historians still consider a work of unsurpassed scope into the age of the iPad.

“Paullin’s maps show ordinary people making a living, moving across the landscape, worshiping at churches, voting in elections,” said Robert K. Nelson, the director of the Digital Scholarship Lab. “They covered so many topics that there’s really something for everyone.”

Paullin’s atlas was hailed in 1932 for the imaginative ways it showed change over time. The new site’s digital enhancements bring that sense of movement to further life, allowing users to pull up the fine-grained data behind many maps (most of which have been georectified, or warped to align accurately with a modern digital map), or just sit back and watch as animation shows, say, the march of women’s suffrage or other social reforms. . .

Continue reading. Here are categories of interactive maps:

The Natural Environment
Cartography, 1492-1867
Indians, 1567-1930
Explorations in the West and Southwest, 1535-1852
Lands, 1603-1930
Settlement, Population, and Towns, 1650-1790
States, Territories, and Cities, 1790-1930
Population, 1790-1930
Colleges, Universities, and Churches, 1775-1890
Boundaries, 1607-1927
Political Parties and Opinions, 1788-1930
Political, Social, and Educational Reforms, 1775-1931
Industries and Transportation, 1620-1931

Written by Leisureguy

30 December 2013 at 10:24 am

Posted in Daily life

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Study: People Receiving Unemployment Insurance Work Harder To Find Jobs

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At ThinkProgress Alex Seitz-Wald reports research that blows a hole in another conservative idea:

A new study from Congress’ Joint Economic Committee (JEC) debunks the prevailingconservativenotion that Unemployment Insurance (UI) dissuades people from looking for a job. “On the contrary,” the report finds, “beneficiaries of federal UI benefits have spent more time searching for work than those who were ineligible for UI benefits.” “In fact, since Congress enacted federal unemployment benefits, time spent looking for a job has tripled among the long‐term unemployed who are out of work as a result of job loss,” the report adds.

As this chart shows, while unemployment rose during the recession, people who received UI benefits spent more time looking for work than those who didn’t qualify for the federal program:

UIBenefitsTimeSearchingForWork-e1323977353368 (1)And this makes sense. Federal unemployment insurance requires recipients to actively look for new work, and also gives them more flexibility to do. Someone with no job and no UI benefits will likely have to focus first on paying bills on a day-to-day basis before finding a job for the long-term.

And while some studies have attributed UI benefits to marginal increases (less than 2 weeks) in the length someone remains unemployed, the JEC report concludes that this minor effect is “simply because some of those unemployed workers would have otherwise dropped out of the labor force, discouraged by lack of job prospects” were it not for their UI benefits.

However, the GOP in Congress, never very interested in evidence, has ended the long-term unemployment insurance. The GOP views terminating the insurance as “beneficial” to the long-term unemployed, and Sen. Rand Paul seems to believe that terminating the insurance will create new jobs.

Written by Leisureguy

30 December 2013 at 10:09 am

Best way to buy research results? Buy the researcher

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Integrity is precious in part because it is rare. David Kocieniewski writes in the NY Times:

Signs of the energy business are inescapable in and around Houston — the pipelines, refineries and tankers that crowd the harbor, and the gleaming office towers where oil companies and energy traders have transformed the skyline.

And in a squat glass building on the University of Houston campus, a measure of the industry’s pre-eminence can also be found in the person of Craig Pirrong, a professor of finance, who sits at the nexus of commerce and academia.

As energy companies and traders have reaped fortunes by buying and selling oil and other commodities during the recent boom in the commodity markets, Mr. Pirrong has positioned himself as the hard-nosed defender of financial speculators — the combative, occasionally acerbic academic authority to call upon when difficult questions arise in Congress and elsewhere about the multitrillion-dollar global commodities trade.

Do financial speculators and commodity index funds drive up prices of oil and other essentials, ultimately costing consumers? Since 2006, Mr. Pirrong has written a flurry of influential letters to federal agencies arguing that the answer to that question is an emphatic no. He has testified before Congress to that effect, hosted seminars with traders and government regulators, and given countless interviews for financial publications absolving Wall Street speculation of any appreciable role in the price spikes.

What Mr. Pirrong has routinely left out of most of his public pronouncements in favor of speculation is that he has reaped financial benefits from speculators and some of the largest players in the commodities business, The New York Times has found.

While his university’s financial ties to speculators have been the subject of scrutiny by the news media and others, it was not until last month, after repeated requests by The Times under the Freedom of Information Act, that the University of Houston, a public institution, insisted that Mr. Pirrong submit disclosure forms that shed some light on those financial ties.

Governments and regulatory agencies in the United States and Europe have been gradually moving to restrict speculation by major banks. The Federal Reserve, concerned about the risks, is reviewing whether it should tighten regulations and limit the activities of banks in the commodities world.

But interviews with dozens of academics and traders, and a review of hundreds of emails and other documents involving two highly visible professors in the commodities field — Mr. Pirrong and Professor Scott H. Irwin at the University of Illinois — show how major players on Wall Street and elsewhere have been aggressive in underwriting and promoting academic work.

The efforts by the financial players, the interviews show, are part of a sweeping campaign to beat back regulation and shape policies that affect the prices that people around the world pay for essentials like food, fuel and cotton.

Professors Pirrong and Irwin say that industry backing did not color their opinions. . .

Continue reading. It’s a lengthy article with much detail.

I imagine that Profs. Pirrong and Irwin make that claim because it is contractually required. It is interesting how fiercely they fought against disclosing the information, very much as though they had something to hide. Their shame is understandable.

Written by Leisureguy

30 December 2013 at 10:04 am

Posted in Business

Two interesting lists

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12 old words that survived by getting fossilized in idioms

I didn’t know that was how we got “went”.

Five states with ObamaCare success

Written by Leisureguy

30 December 2013 at 10:00 am

Posted in Daily life

BBS with the iKon and a medicore lather

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SOTD 30 Dec 2013

A good shave, especially since passes 2 and 3 were done with a lather from HTGAM’s Cavendish shaving soap. I’m afraid that even this soap from Seattle Sundries didn’t work for me. I decided to give it a try when a reader pointed out that it (unlike the others) is tallow-based (thus, I presume, the “Filthy Rich” name, intimating a luxuriously rich lather). But a clue is offered inside the lid, where the desccriptioin begins, “This product is a gold mine of rich, foamy lather.” I don’t think “foamy” is an appropriate adjective for a good lather. “Creamy” seems better. “Foamy” conjures an image of a lather with large bubbles, as indeed you get with the other two. The bubbles formed with this lather are smaller, but the lather dies quickly.

Of course, opinions and experiences with many shaving products vary widely, some loving a product while others find it falls short. So probably there are some who like the Seattle Sundries shaving soaps, but I’m wondering what other soaps they may have tried.

Still, I do like my Rod Neep Pens of the Forest shaving brush, and the lather it made from the fallback soap was excellent.

The iKon Slant with a new Super Thin Gillette Platinum blade did a very fine job: BBS result, two tiny nicks on upper lip. I keep getting little nicks lately with this razor, and I can’t tell whether it’s blade, razor, or technique. I’ll keep working at it.

A good splash of Penhaligon’s Blenheim Bouquet and the day begins. We’ll be out and about, so very little blogging today.

Written by Leisureguy

30 December 2013 at 8:55 am

Posted in Shaving

NSA installs malware on computers purchased on-line

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Wow. Connor Simpson writes at The Wire:

According to a new report from Der Spiegel on the National Security Agency’s top team of hackers, the agency intercept electronics purchased online before delivery to install malware and other spying tools.

The NSA’s Tailored Access Operations (TAO) division is responsible for the biggest hacks we’ve learned about in the last year, so Der Spiegel‘s report is a special look at the methods and madness behind the NSA’s all-star team. When a world leader’s cell phone is hacked by the NSA, the TAO team is responsible. They’re the hackers who can access anyone, anywhere, under any condition.

TAO hackers can track your digital movements remotely by exploiting security flaws in an operating system, like Windows, for example. (It’s a TAO favorite.) But when new-fangled remote access hacking strategies don’t work, though, the NSA goes old school. The agency’s most-skilled team of hackers does not always work from behind a computer screen. Occasionally a target must be physically intercepted before the NSA can access their information. In these instances, TAO waits for the target to order new electronics. When their surveillance system alerts that Target X just bought a new laptop, the TAO intercepts the mail order, and has the computer delivered to an NSA facility. They then open the package, and install their malware technology onto the target’s new computer. The product is then repackaged and sent along its merry way:

If a target person, agency or company orders a new computer or related accessories, for example, TAO can divert the shipping delivery to its own secret workshops. The NSA calls this method interdiction. At these so-called “load stations,” agents carefully open the package in order to load malware onto the electronics, or even install hardware components that can provide backdoor access for the intelligence agencies. All subsequent steps can then be conducted from the comfort of a remote computer.

These minor disruptions in the parcel shipping business rank among the “most productive operations” conducted by the NSA hackers, one top secret document relates in enthusiastic terms. This method, the presentation continues, allows TAO to obtain access to networks “around the world.”

And you wondered why your Amazon order took so long.

But usually the team sticks to new school hacking methods, like using a complicated system of tools called QUANTUM, focusing on social networks a target visits frequently, like Facebook, Yahoo, Twitter and YouTube, to remotely gain access to a their computer. Once the team has done enough surveillance and is ready to strike, . . .

Continue reading.

Note especially the focus on LinkedIn. The Der Spiegel article begins:

The NSA’s TAO hacking unit is considered to be the intelligence agency’s top secret weapon. It maintains its own covert network, infiltrates computers around the world and even intercepts shipping deliveries to plant back doors in electronics ordered by those it is targeting.

In January 2010, numerous homeowners in San Antonio, Texas, stood baffled in front of their closed garage doors. They wanted to drive to work or head off to do their grocery shopping, but their garage door openers had gone dead, leaving them stranded. No matter how many times they pressed the buttons, the doors didn’t budge. The problem primarily affected residents in the western part of the city, around Military Drive and the interstate highway known as Loop 410.

In the United States, a country of cars and commuters, the mysterious garage door problem quickly became an issue for local politicians. Ultimately, the municipal government solved the riddle. Fault for the error lay with the United States’ foreign intelligence service, the National Security Agency, which has offices in San Antonio. Officials at the agency were forced to admit that one of the NSA’s radio antennas was broadcasting at the same frequency as the garage door openers. Embarrassed officials at the intelligence agency promised to resolve the issue as quickly as possible, and soon the doors began opening again.It was thanks to the garage door opener episode that Texans learned just how far the NSA’s work had encroached upon their daily lives. For quite some time now, the intelligence agency has maintained a branch with around 2,000 employees at Lackland Air Force Base, also in San Antonio. In 2005, the agency took over a former Sony computer chip plant in the western part of the city. A brisk pace of construction commenced inside this enormous compound. The acquisition of the former chip factory at Sony Place was part of a massive expansion the agency began after the events of Sept. 11, 2001.

On-Call Digital Plumbers

One of the two main buildings at the former plant has since housed a sophisticated NSA unit, one that has benefited the most from this expansion and has grown the fastest in recent years — the Office of Tailored Access Operations, or TAO. This is the NSA’s top operative unit — something like a squad of plumbers that can be called in when normal access to a target is blocked.

According to internal NSA documents viewed by SPIEGEL, these on-call digital plumbers are involved in many sensitive operations conducted by American intelligence agencies. TAO’s area of operations ranges from counterterrorism to cyber attacks to traditional espionage. The documents reveal just how diversified the tools at TAO’s disposal have become — and also how it exploits the technical weaknesses of the IT industry, from Microsoft to Cisco and Huawei, to carry out its discreet and efficient attacks.

The unit is “akin to the wunderkind of the US intelligence community,” says Matthew Aid, a historian who specializes in the history of the NSA. “Getting the ungettable” is the NSA’s own description of its duties. “It is not about the quantity produced but the quality of intelligence that is important,” one former TAO chief wrote, describing her work in a document. The paper seen by SPIEGEL quotes the former unit head stating that TAO has contributed “some of the most significant intelligence our country has ever seen.” The unit, it goes on, has “access to our very hardest targets.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

29 December 2013 at 1:08 pm

Benghazi revisited—literally

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David Kirkpatrick visited Benghazi and interviewed many residents there, including participants in the attack, to determine what was behind the attack, what drove it, and how the Libyans view it. His account is one of the NY Times magazine-style feature articles with animated graphics and the like, and it is absorbing and informative. Highly recommended.

And read Juan Cole’s piece, also lengthy. It begins:

David D. Kirkpatrick at the New York Times has settled the controversy over events in Benghazi on September 11, 2012, by actually going to Benghazi and digging into the story. Admittedly, it was a somewhat dangerous assignment, but Kirkpatrick risked it.

The take-away of this careful investigation, depending on a range of interviews with Libyans who had been at the scene of the attack on the US consulate in the Libyan port city, is that al-Qaeda had nothing to do with it.

The chief suspect is an eccentric local militia leader, Ahmad Abu Khattala and his Obeida Ibn Al Jarra Brigade, which fought against Muammar Gaddafi in the 2011 revolution. Abu Khattala had no gratitude to the Americans who helped his people against the dictator, and is viewed as one bulb short of a chandelier by many of his acquaintances. He, like many Benghazi fundamentalists, had spent years incarcerated by the Gaddafi government in the notorious Abu Salim prison, where in the 1990s Gaddafi dealt with a prison revolt by just having hundreds of inmates mowed down.

Another fundamentalist organization in the city, Ansar al-Sharia, was also involved, though it continues to deny involvement in the consulate attack.

The ginned up Islamophobic attack “film” on the Prophet Muhammad probably produced secretly by the Islamophobic network in the US in hopes of causing trouble abroad for President Obama in an election year did provoke demonstrations at the US consulate, which morphed into the attack on it. In fact, in my darker moments I suspect that some US GOP officials knew about the “film” and the likelihood it would get the Muslims’ goat, and had a narrative ready to go that Barack Obama on the Middle East was another helpless Jimmy Carter. Whatever the origin of their narrative, they clearly weren’t willing to let go of it simply because it flew in the face of the facts as known.

US officials in Benghazi knew that there were dangerous fundamentalist militias in the city. But they had dozens of CIA operatives at a nearby safe house, who they were sure could protect them. And they had allied with the fundamentalists against Gaddafi and so expected if not gratitude at least tolerance for their presence.

The Republican attack propaganda on President Obama and his team maintained that the consulate attack was the work of Ayman al-Zawahiri’s al-Qaeda, that it was preplanned, and that the “Silence of the Muslims” film had nothing to do with it. Sen. Lindsey Graham alleged that “everyone knew” that Benghazi was controlled by al-Qaeda in summer of 2012. Rep. Mike Rogers, who is more of a prevaricator even than most politicians, asserted the same thing.

I was in Benghazi in late May of 2012 for a few days and gave a talk at a community center there. The city most certainly was not in the control of “al-Qaeda.” There were a few fundamentalist militias, but they were not representative of the city, which had municipal elections in late spring.

On the occasion of the appearance of Kirkpatrick’s important reportage, I’ll leave you with my own deconstruction of the false GOP narrative, from last year. I think it is largely vindicated by what Kirkpatrick was able to find out on the ground.

“Top Ten Republican Myths on Benghazi:

1. Republican senators keep saying that it should have been “easy” to find out what happened on September 11, 2012, by simply debriefing US personnel who had been there. John McCain, Ron Johnson and the others who make this charge are the most cynical and manipulative people in the world. The Benghazi US mission was very clearly an operation of the Central Intelligence Agency, and that is the reason that the Obama administration officials have never been able to speak frankly and publicly about it. McCain and the others know this very well, and they know that their public carping cannot be “simply” answered because the answers would endanger sources and methods. The consulate was amazingly well-guarded by some 40 CIA operatives, many of them ex-special forces, in a nearby safe house. These were viewed by consular officials as “the cavalry.” It is still not clear what Ambassador Chris Stevens and the CIA were doing in Benghazi, and unless we know that we can’t know why they were attacked. (They were not overseeing the shipping of weapons to Syria; the Syrian revolutionaries complain bitterly that the US *prevents* them from getting medium and heavy weapons).

2. . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

29 December 2013 at 8:51 am

Kafka and Dickens in US government surveillance

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The US government’s determination to keep what it’s doing secret so US citizens do not know what’s being done leads to extremely odd situations, including the government’s determination that their actions not be subject to law—that is, subject to review in a court of law. Thus when the US government captures and tortures a completely innocent person, s/he cannot have any recourse because the government, which committed the crime, will not allow itself to be subject to a lawsuit. This allows the government to act as it wants with impunity—and we’ve seen many times where that leads.

A telling example is discussed in The Switch at the Washington Post by Andrea Peterson. Read the article, from which this excerpt:

. . . [Judge] Pauley is essentially saying that the targets of the order have no recourse to challenge the collection of their personal data because Congress never intended for targets to ever know that they were subject to this sort of spying. And that the fact that everyone knows about it now, thanks to Edward Snowden, doesn’t change the targets’ ability to challenge the legality of the order.

That suggests a troubling possibility: that even if there were clear-cut evidence that the government was sending out illegal 215 orders, the people harmed by the government’s illegal conduct might not have any way to stop it. Instead, the only recourse may be for the recipient of an order (such as Verizon) to challenge it in the notoriously secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. But Verizon isn’t the one whose privacy is harmed by the order, so why would it expend legal resources to fight it?

While that outcome might seem a little crazy, it’s not necessarily wrong as a matter of law. The Supreme Court has ruled in some cases, including Gonzaga v. Doe, that there can be cases where, even though the government’s actions may be illegal, the individuals harmed can’t sue to stop them. . .

This reminds me of Mr. Beadle’s complaint in Oliver Twist:

‘If the law supposes that,’ said Mr. Bumble, squeezing his hat emphatically in both hands, ‘the law is a ass—a idiot. If that’s the eye of the law, the law is a bachelor; and the worst I wish the law is, that his eye may be opened by experience—by experience.’

Written by Leisureguy

28 December 2013 at 12:01 pm

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