Later On

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

Archive for December 4th, 2013

Obama lays out his views on the economy

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Ezra Klein runs the speech in Wonkblog, and the italicized portion below is his introduction; following that, the President.

The speech President Obama delivered this morning at THEARC in D.C. is perhaps the single best economic speech of his presidency. That’s in part because it exists for no other reason than to lay out Obama’s view of the economy. His other speeches on the subject have been about passing legislation, defining campaign themes, or positioning himself against Republicans. But Obama’s done running for office. He’s not getting anything through this Congress. And he’s not negotiating with John Boehner. This is just what he thinks. I’ll have more to say on it later. But it’s worth reading it for yourself first.

Over the last two months, Washington has been dominated by some pretty contentious debates — I think that’s fair to say.  And between a reckless shutdown by congressional Republicans in an effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and admittedly poor execution on my administration’s part in implementing the latest stage of the new law, nobody has acquitted themselves very well these past few months.  So it’s not surprising that the American people’s frustrations with Washington are at an all-time high.But we know that people’s frustrations run deeper than these most recent political battles.  Their frustration is rooted in their own daily battles — to make ends meet, to pay for college, buy a home, save for retirement.  It’s rooted in the nagging sense that no matter how hard they work, the deck is stacked against them.  And it’s rooted in the fear that their kids won’t be better off than they were.  They may not follow the constant back-and-forth in Washington or all the policy details, but they experience in a very personal way the relentless, decades-long trend that I want to spend some time talking about today.  And that is a dangerous and growing inequality and lack of upward mobility that has jeopardized middle-class America’s basic bargain — that if you work hard, you have a chance to get ahead.

I believe this is the defining challenge of our time:  Making sure our economy works for every working American.  It’s why I ran for President.  It was at the center of last year’s campaign.  It drives everything I do in this office.  And I know I’ve raised this issue before, and some will ask why I raise the issue again right now.  I do it because the outcomes of the debates we’re having right now — whether it’s health care, or the budget, or reforming our housing and financial systems — all these things will have real, practical implications for every American.  And I am convinced that the decisions we make on these issues over the next few years will determine whether or not our children will grow up in an America where opportunity is real.

Now, the premise that we’re all created equal is the opening line in the American story.  And while we don’t promise equal outcomes, we have strived to deliver equal opportunity — the idea that success doesn’t depend on being born into wealth or privilege, it depends on effort and merit.  And with every chapter we’ve added to that story, we’ve worked hard to put those words into practice.

It was Abraham Lincoln, a self-described “poor man’s son,” who started a system of land grant colleges all over this country so that any poor man’s son could go learn something new.

When farms gave way to factories, a rich man’s son named Teddy Roosevelt fought for an eight-hour workday, protections for workers, and busted monopolies that kept prices high and wages low.

When millions lived in poverty, FDR fought for Social Security, and insurance for the unemployed, and a minimum wage.

When millions died without health insurance, LBJ fought for Medicare and Medicaid.

Together, we forged a New Deal, declared a War on Poverty in a great society.  We built a ladder of opportunity to climb, and stretched out a safety net beneath so that if we fell, it wouldn’t be too far, and we could bounce back.  And as a result, America built the largest middle class the world has ever known.  And for the three decades after World War II, it was the engine of our prosperity.

Now, we can’t look at the past through rose-colored glasses.  The economy didn’t always work for everyone.  . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

4 December 2013 at 1:49 pm

Stigmatizing Obesity Increases Overeating

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Interesting article by Tom Jacobs from Pacific Standard. The gist:

“Women who perceived themselves as overweight consumed significantly more high-calorie snack food—about 80 calories more, on average—after reading a news article about the social and economic costs associated with being overweight.”

Furthermore, their answers to a questionnaire revealed these women “felt significantly less capable of controlling their food intake after reading the weight-stigmatizing article,” rather than the version that stigmatized smokers.

Importantly, the researchers found this effect with women who perceived themselves as overweight, as opposed to those who were actually overweight (as measured by their BMI). To their surprise, they found that for women who do not think of themselves as overweight, “exposure to a weight-stigmatizing message appeared to boost their self-efficacy for controlling their diet.”

This difference “may explain the intuitive appeal of stigma as a motivational tool,” they write. “Among those who are not overweight, and have a hard time understanding what it is like to be overweight, stigma feels like it would help other people’s result to eat less, since it strengthens their own.”

But these findings suggest that assumption is very wrong.

Read the whole thing.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 December 2013 at 11:05 am

Posted in Food, Health, Science

Is Your Local Judge Hiding Something?

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The system of law works best when people trust it. Marc Herman reports in Pacific Standard on a study of judicial conflict of interest rules:

The Center for Public Integrity just released what it’s calling an investigation of conflict of interest rules for judges in the 50 states and the District of Columbia. On an A-F scale, the outfit graded state rules that keep judges from presiding over cases where a personal interest might intrude. Forty-two states and D.C. scored an F, meaning CPI thinks the disclosure rules were too lax, or didn’t exist in the first place. No state’s legal system got an A or a B, according to CPI’s standard. California pulled a gentleman’s C.

If those depressing-sounding rankings are fair, what do they mean? The gist is that there isn’t enough legislation out there to prevent judicial corruption. So some corruption occurred:

After reviewing three years of personal financial disclosures, the Center found judges who authored opinions favoring companies in which they owned stock. The Center found judges who ruled on cases even when family members were receiving income from one of the parties. And it found judges who accepted lavish gifts — like a $50,000 trip from a lawyer.

Sounds bad. The rest of the research, however, doesn’t offer too many cases that sound particularly grave. In the most alarming incident highlighted, a California supreme court judge participated in a case involving Wells Fargo Bank, despite . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

4 December 2013 at 11:00 am

Posted in Government, Law

Defunding the National Institutes of Health

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The idea that the US should essentially strip the Federal government bare is short-sighted in the extreme, and the NIH is another victim. The chart is from this post by Kevin Drum, worth the click.


Written by LeisureGuy

4 December 2013 at 10:54 am

Posted in Government, Medical

People With Cushy Jobs Don’t Care Much About People Who Don’t Have Cushy Jobs

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The evidence.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 December 2013 at 10:47 am

Posted in Daily life

When a conspiracy theory turns out to expose a conspiracy

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I recently blogged about the movie TWA Flight 800, which I saw on Netflix streaming. I don’t think the movie trots out a conspiracy theory, though it would be easy to weave one from the findings presented. But rather than theory, the movie focuses mainly on physical evidence and the process used in the investigation—both of which are quite damning to the final report.

Conspiracy theories are in the news again because of various speculations about the JFK assassination, whose 50th anniversary was on 22 November. But conspiracies do in fact happen, so simply saying “conspiracy theory” is insufficient to dismiss a theory (unless you believe that no conspiracy ever exists). At Robert Parry writes about an earlier conspiracy that at the time was dismissed as a “conspiracy theory”:

In the insular world of Manhattan media, there’s much handwringing over the latest blow to print publications as New York Magazine scales back from a weekly to a biweekly. But the real lesson might be the commercial failure of snarky writing, the kind that New York demonstrated in its recent hit piece on “conspiracy theories.”

What was most stunning to me about the article, pegged to the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination, was that it began by ridiculing what is actually one of the best-documented real conspiracies of recent decades, the CIA’s tolerance and even protection of cocaine trafficking by the Nicaraguan Contra rebels in the 1980s.

According to New York Magazine, the Contra-cocaine story – smugly dubbed “the last great conspiracy theory of the twentieth century” – started with the claim by ”crack kingpin” Ricky Ross that he was working with a Nicaraguan cocaine supplier, Oscar Danilo Blandon, who had ties to the Contras who, in turn, had ties to the CIA.Author Benjamin Wallace-Wells writes: “The wider the aperture around this theory, the harder its proponents work to implicate Washington, the shakier it seems: After several trials and a great deal of inquiry, no one has been able to show that anyone in the CIA condoned what Blandon was doing, and it has never been clear exactly how strong Blandon’s ties to the contraleadership really were, anyway.”

So, it was all a goofy “conspiracy theory.” Move along, move along, nothing to see here. But neither Wallace-Wells nor his New York Magazine editors seem to have any idea about the actual history of the Contra-cocaine scandal. It did not begin with the 1996 emergence of Ricky Ross in a series of articles by San Jose Mercury-News investigative reporter Gary Webb, as Wallace-Wells suggests.

The Contra-cocaine scandal began more than a decade earlier with a 1985 article that Brian Barger and I wrote for the Associated Press. Our article cited documentary evidence and witnesses – both inside the Contra movement and inside the U.S. government – implicating nearly all the Contra groups fighting in Nicaragua under the umbrella of Ronald Reagan’s CIA.

Our Contra-cocaine article was followed up by a courageous Senate investigation led by Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts who further documented the connections between cocaine traffickers, the Contras and the Reagan administration in a report issued in 1989.

Yet, part of the scandal always was how the Reagan administration worked diligently to undercut investigations of the President’s favorite “freedom fighters” whether the inquiries were undertaken by the press, Congress, the Drug Enforcement Administration or federal prosecutors. Indeed, a big part of this cover-up strategy was to mock the evidence as “a conspiracy theory,” when it was anything but.

Big Media’s Complicity

Most of the mainstream news media played along with the Reagan administration’s mocking strategy, although occasionally major outlets, like the Washington Post, had to concede the reality of the scandal.

For instance, during the drug-trafficking trial of Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega in 1991, U.S. prosecutors found themselves with no alternative but to call as a witness Colombian Medellín cartel kingpin Carlos Lehder, who — along with implicating Noriega — testified that the cartel had given $10 million to the Contras, an allegation first unearthed by Sen. Kerry.

“The Kerry hearings didn’t get the attention they deserved at the time,” a Washington Post editorial on Nov. 27, 1991, acknowledged. “The Noriega trial brings this sordid aspect of the Nicaraguan engagement to fresh public attention.”

Yet, despite the Washington Post’s belated concern about the mainstream news media’s neglect of the Contra-cocaine scandal, there was no serious follow-up anywhere in Big Media – until 1996 when Gary Webb disclosed the connection between one Contra cocaine smuggler, Danilo Blandon, and the emergence of crack cocaine via Ricky Ross.

But the premier news outlets – the likes of the Washington Post, the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times – didn’t take this new opportunity to examine what was a serious crime of state. That would have required them to engage in some embarrassing self-criticism for their misguided dismissal of the scandal. Instead, the big newspapers went on the attack against Gary Webb.

Their attack line involved narrowing their focus to Blandon – ignoring the reality that he was just one of many Contras involved in cocaine smuggling to the United States – and to Ross – arguing that Ross’s operation could not be blamed for the entire crack epidemic that ravaged U.S. cities in the 1980s. And the newspapers insisted that the CIA couldn’t be blamed for this cocaine smuggling because the agency had supposedly examined the issue in the 1980s and found that it had done nothing wrong.

Because of this unified assault from the major newspapers – and the corporate timidity of the San Jose Mercury-News editors – Webb and his continuing investigation were soon abandoned. Webb was pushed out of the Mercury-News in disgrace.

That let the mainstream U.S. media celebrate how it had supposedly crushed a nasty “conspiracy theory” that had stirred up unjustified anger in the black community, which had been hit hardest by the crack epidemic. The newspapers also could get some brownie points from Republicans and the Right by sparing President Reagan’s legacy a big black eye.

But Webb’s disclosure prompted the CIA’s Inspector General Frederick Hitz to undertake the first real internal investigation of the ties between the Contra-cocaine smugglers and the CIA officers overseeing the Contra war in Nicaragua.

The CIA’s Confession

When Hitz’s final investigative report was published in fall 1998, the CIA’s defense against Webb’s series had shrunk to a fig leaf: that the CIA did not conspire with the Contras to raise money through cocaine trafficking. But Hitz made clear that the Contra war had taken precedence over law enforcement and that the CIA withheld evidence of Contra drug-smuggling crimes from the Justice Department, Congress, and even the CIA’s own analytical division.

Besides tracing the extensive evidence of Contra trafficking through the entire decade-long Contra war, the inspector general interviewed senior CIA officers who acknowledged that they were aware of Contra-drug smuggling but didn’t want its exposure to undermine the struggle to overthrow Nicaragua’s leftist Sandinista government.

According to Hitz, the CIA had “one overriding priority: . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

4 December 2013 at 10:36 am

Posted in Drug laws, Government

Looking at things too soon dismissed: An example from science

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Kerry Grens has a very interesting article in The Scientist:

During her search for a postdoctoral advisor in 1997, cell biologist Ahna Skop grew accustomed to getting turned down. Again and again, she rang the bell at the labs of faculty members only to have the door shut in her face. Her problem was that she was dead set on investigating what was, to many, an uninteresting vestige of cell division: the midbody.

The existing literature painted the midbody as “a garbage dump,” Skop recalls. Studies of mitosis had led researchers to believe that the small cluster of microtubules and proteins, found at the exact point where two daughter cells are last connected, was “stuff that just gets thrown away after cell division,” she says. But Skop thought the midbody was something more. Although the organelle had been identified more than a century earlier, its function was still unclear, and the primary mystery that Skop wanted to solve—what exactly the midbody was made of—was wide open.

In 1998, proteomics and mass spectrometry were just revealing themselves to be useful tools for studying the specific proteins associated with mitotic structures. Skop wanted to apply these techniques to investigate the midbody. Eventually, her appeal fell upon the sympathetic ears of two faculty members at the University of California, Berkeley. For four months, Skop worked in the lab of cell biologist Rebecca Heald to isolate the organelle from Chinese hamster ovary cells, using a protocol she had developed with the help of midbody pioneers of decades prior. She then brought her midbodies down to Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla for protein identification, which yielded a list of hundreds of proteins that constituted the mammalian midbody. Many, such as the actin- or microtubule-associated proteins involved in cell division, were expected to be there, but there were others that didn’t seem appropriate for a cellular junkyard.

Back at UC Berkeley, in the lab of geneticist Barbara Meyer, Skop knocked down the homologous genes, one by one, in Caenorhabditis elegans to see what would happen. Loss of the first randomly chosen protein caused a cell-division defect. “I went and did the next one, and that one had a cell-division defect. And then the next one, and the next one,” says Skop. “Then I thought, ‘This is getting boring.’ It was working.”

A handful of researchers had predicted in the 1960s and ’70s that the midbody was important for cell division. Skop had now demonstrated it. In the summer of 2004, she published her results in Science, where midbodies splashed across the journal’s cover.1 Even before the paper came out, Skop had been offered—and had accepted—a faculty position at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Midbodies, with Skop as their ambassador, were finally getting due recognition. In the decade since, a surge of interest in the midbody’s role during and after abscission—the very final cut between two daughter cells—have thrust this erstwhile bit of cellular detritus, now considered a true organelle, into the limelight. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 December 2013 at 10:27 am

Posted in Science

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