Later On

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

Archive for December 7th, 2013

FBI laptop-camera snooping and Orwell’s 1984: Side-by-side comparison

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Juan Cole posts at Informed Comment:

Jon Schwartz ( @tinyrevolution ) posted this to Twitter. It is a side by side comparison of a passage from “1984″ to the news report from a former senior FBI official that the FBI can turn on the laptop cameras of individuals without activating the red light that shows the camera is operating.

orwellfbi

The Washington Post broke the story. If the FBI is doing this without a warrant it is yet another nail in the coffin of the US 4th Amendment, which guarantees people the right not to have government snoop through their personal effects without evidence of wrongdoing and a judge’s permission.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 December 2013 at 9:12 pm

Large ice cubes, spherical and cubical; no tetrahedra: too fast a melt

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The sphere is the ideal shape for a slow-melting ice cube: maximum volume for minimum melting area = least dilution. I remember that my tutor Duncan McDonald commented at a party that the best punch he had ever enjoyed was at a party in the Highlands: the bowl contained the punch and one enormous cubical block of ice. He dipped out a cup and found that it was straight single-malt scotch. The idea of the ice cube was, as with the sphere, to minimize surface area and maximize volume, only they couldn’t make an ice sphere—or it was too difficult.

Well, it’s child’s play for me, now that I’ve purchased (in the interests of research) one set of these Tovoloj and one set of these Stone Cask Ice Rounds. I’ve been using them—well, one—in my iced tea and it is very nice: it’s as large a sphere as would fit in the glass (and it occurs to me that there may be some standard interior diameters for drinking glasses?) and it does melt more slowly that do my usual small ice cubes. Of those two, I give the nod to Stone Cask: not so fussy, easier to use, better spheres. Just do what it saws and not fill more than 1/2″ from fill hole: otherwise, the water expands up through the hole and then freezes, in effect bolting the ice sphere to that half of the mold. You have to break off the bolt to get it out.

UPDATE: First, with more experience with both, I now prefer the Tovolo molds. And second, it’s better to melt off the little ice rivets that may form by holding the mold briefly under running hot water. Smashing them off can crack the ice sphere so that you get two ice hemispheres.

I also got this enormous-cube tray, and I do like the enormous cubes: very nice in a Manhattan. And indeed the dilution is noticeably slowed.

UPDATE: One drawback to having one enormous ice cube/sphere: you get no clink from the cubes.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 December 2013 at 5:58 pm

Posted in Daily life, Technology

“Dirty Wars” trailer and interview with Jeremy Scahill

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You can see the full length feature here for $4. Interesting: I hadn’t realized YouTube was in the rental business.

Amy Goodman interviews Jeremy Scahill on Democracy Now!, with the video of the interview at the link. Here’s the blurb and the start of the transcript:

Just over six months ago, President Obama gave a major address unveiling new guidelines to limit drone strikes abroad, vowing to narrow the scope of the U.S. targeted killing campaign. But a new analysis by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism has raised questions about how much Obama’s new rules have actually constrained the drone program. The Bureau found that while the total number of strikes has slightly decreased, more people were killed in Yemen and Pakistan by covert drone strikes strikes in the past six months than in the six months preceding Obama’s address. We speak with independent journalist Jeremy Scahill, whose documentary film, “Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield,” directed by Richard Rowley, was one of 15 feature documentaries shortlisted this week for an Oscar.

TRANSCRIPT
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Just over six months ago, President Obama gave a major address unveiling new guidelines to limit drone strikes abroad. He vowed to narrow the scope of the U.S. targeted killing campaign. Here’s part of what he said then.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: To say a military tactic is legal or even effective is not to say it is wise or moral in every instance, for the same progress that gives us the technology to strike half a world away also demands the discipline to constrain that power—or risk abusing it. And that’s why, over the last four years, my administration has worked vigorously to establish a framework that governs our use of force against terrorists, insisting upon clear guidelines, oversight and accountability that is now codified in presidential policy guidance that I signed yesterday.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: President Obama speaking just over six months ago. Well, a new analysis by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism has raised questions about how much Obama’s new rules have actually constrained the drone program. The Bureau found that while the total number of strikes has slightly decreased, more people were killed in Yemen and Pakistan by covert drone strikes in the past six months than in the six months preceding Obama’s address.

AMY GOODMAN: In related news, the U.S. has halted military shipments from Afghanistan through Pakistan due to protests against the U.S. drone war. In a statement, the Pentagon says it’s suspended the removal of military equipment in Pakistan because of the dangers posed to truck drivers. Thousands of Pakistanis have taken part in protests and blockades along NATO supply routes in recent weeks to call for an end to U.S. drone strikes.

In a moment, we’ll be joined by independent journalist Jeremy Scahill, producer and co-writer of the documentary film Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield, also the author of the book by the same name. This week, Dirty Wars, which was directed by Richard Rowley and co-written with David Riker, was one of 15 documentaries shortlisted for an Oscar.

[Above is a trailer of the film, which is shown at this point in the videotaped interview. – LG].

AMY GOODMAN: A trailer from Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield. The book and the film came out right about the same time. The film has just been shortlisted for an Oscar for best documentary. Jeremy Scahill, the co-producer and writer, is with us right now. It was directed by Rick Rowley.

Jeremy, congratulations on the film. What a difficult subject, how important it is right now.

JEREMY SCAHILL: Yeah, thank—I mean, we’ve been, you know, over the past day, emailing all of the people that worked with us on it in Yemen and Afghanistan and Somalia and elsewhere. And, I mean, I—the hope with this is, is that people pay attention to these stories, that Americans will know what happened to the Bedouin villagers in al-Majalah, Yemen, where three dozen women and children were killed in a U.S. cruise missile strike that the White House tried to cover up and allowed the Yemeni government to take credit for, or the people that are killed in night raids in Afghanistan or drone strikes in Yemen and Pakistan. I mean, that’s our hope with this. It’s been our hope from the beginning. And so, you know, we’re—in the 15 films that are on the short list for an Oscar, there are some incredible films on that. Jehane Noujaim’s film, The Square, about the Egyptian revolution is—you know, it’s a fantastic movie. The Act of Killing, of course, you had Joshua Oppenheimer on the show. And, I mean, there’s just—we’re honored to be in that field with people, and we just hope that this results in more attention being paid to this issue of the U.S. assassination program.

AMY GOODMAN: Jeremy, this report that just came out from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism that more people have been killed in drone strikes in the six months after President Obama gave his speech—

JEREMY SCAHILL: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: —saying they’re reforming or changing drone policy, than the six months before?

JEREMY SCAHILL: Right. I mean, this—it’s a lot of smoke and mirrors. I mean, you know, the drone czar, or the assassination czar, John Brennan, who now is the head of the CIA, you know, he worked very hard to create something called the “disposition matrix,” which basically is a program that’s going to be used to determine who should be assassinated, who should we try to abduct, who should we try to render, who should we—which terror suspects should we leave it up to local authorities in Yemen or Pakistan to try to deal with. And basically what Obama and his team have done in his second administration is to create an infrastructure for whoever happens to come into office next, whether they’re a Democrat or Republican, and they have ensured that this policy of pre-emptive war—that’s really what we’re talking about here. It’s—these are pre-emptive, pre-crime strikes, where the idea that we should even view terrorism as a law enforcement activity or terrorism as a crime is completely thrown away by the constitutional lawyer president. And so, what I think one of the major legacies of Obama is going to be on this front is that he has tried to put a stamp of legitimacy on what most countries around the world would claim—you know, plainly view as a global assassination program run by the empire, run by the most powerful nation on Earth.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to ask you about . . .

Continue reading. There’s an interesting quotation from Erik Prince, who started Blackwater (currently named Academi):

AMY GOODMAN: Erik Prince, the founder of the private military company known as Blackwater—or it was once, now Academi.

JEREMY SCAHILL: There’s a new name every week.

AMY GOODMAN: And, of course, Jeremy, you wrote the book about Blackwater, Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army. Well, he recently told The Daily Beast the national security state he once served has grown too large. Prince said, quote, “America is way too quick to trade freedom for the illusion of security. … I don’t know if I want to live in a country where lone wolf and random terror attacks are impossible ’cause that country would look more like North Korea than America.” That was Erik Prince’s quote. I mean, he doesn’t live in this country, does he?

JEREMY SCAHILL: I mean, well, he lives in Abu Dhabi. He lives in the Emirates. He was here recently on a book tour. Not only—that was a piece by Eli Lake that you’re referring to there. Not only did Erik Prince make that statement, which I agree with, and I have no problem saying that I agree with Erik Prince, as I agree with libertarians who have been the primary voices speaking out about the drone program and the question of whether or not the president can, by edict, decide that an American citizen should be assassinated. The Democrats have been totally asleep on this. I mean, I do think there’s politicking here. I mean, Erik Prince is a very right-wing libertarian, in many ways, except he does embrace, you know, the full-spectrum war.

The other thing, though, that he told Eli Lake is that he believed that Anwar al-Awlaki—he was against the assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born cleric who was assassinated in Yemen in September of 2011. But he also said that he believes—and remember, Erik Prince is a guy with very close connections to the CIA and JSOC, the Joint Special Operations Command, and is a former Navy SEAL himself and has done all sorts of dirty covert ops stuff for the U.S. government. He said he believes that the killing of 16-year-old Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, Anwar al-Awlaki’s son, who was killed two weeks after his father, that he believes it was intentional. . .

Written by LeisureGuy

7 December 2013 at 11:24 am

For at Least 1 Uninsured Missouri Reporter, Obamacare Is a Real-Life Story

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And, unfortunately for her, Missouri is one of the 24 states that refused to expand Medicare (though it would have cost them nothing), so that many in those states are out of luck:

No coverage

I think it’s worth noting that the legislators who refused to accept the expansion of Medicare do not fall into that gap, and they couldn’t care less about those who do. Obviously.

Here’s the story, by Charles Ornstein in Pacific Standard:

For Missouri public radio reporter Harum Helmy, the Affordable Care Act is more than just a story she covers. It is also a story she’s living.

“I know — an uninsured health reporter,” she wrote to me last month. “The joke’s not lost on me.”

Helmy, 23, a part-time reporter/producer for KBIA in Columbia, Missouri, recently completed her coursework at the University of Missouri. She’s on her first professional job. At the station, she covers Obamacare, among other things. But she doesn’t make much money, and if the law worked as it was intended, she would be covered by Missouri’s Medicaid program beginning January 1.

That wasn’t meant to be.

As signed by President Obama, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) would have required every state to expand its Medicaid program for the poor to include adults earning less than 138 percent of the federal poverty level. Those earning more than that, up to four times the poverty level, would qualify for subsidies to purchase health insurance in marketplaces.

But the Supreme Court ruled last year that states could opt out of the Medicaid expansion without consequence, and Missouri along with 24 other states have done just that. The problem is that the law didn’t include subsidies for people in those states who earn less than the federal poverty level to buy coverage through the exchanges—they were supposed to be covered under Medicaid.

That’s the gap in which Helmy sits.

She earns less than the poverty level ($10 an hour for 20 hours per week) and qualifies neither for Medicaid nor a subsidy. Helmy was born in Texas and is a U.S. citizen, though her parents live in Indonesia. While she attended classes at the university, her parents paid for her health coverage.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a non-partisan think tank, “In states that do not expand Medicaid, nearly 5 million poor uninsured adults have incomes above Medicaid eligibility levels but below poverty and may fall into a ‘coverage gap’ of earning too much to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to qualify for Marketplace premium tax credits.” In Missouri, 193,000 people, including Helmy, fall into the gap, Kaiser estimates.

On paper, the Medicaid expansion seems like a great deal. The federal government has agreed to pick up 100 percent of the cost of the expansion for the first three years, phasing down to 90 percent in 2020. But officials in states that have declined to take part view Medicaid as a broken program. They don’t trust the federal government to keep its funding pledge and do not believe they have adequate state funds to cover their portion.

Missouri Governor Jay Nixon, a Democrat, wants to expand Medicaid in his state, but the Republican-controlled Legislature won’t go along with it.

Helmy discussed her situation in a podcast in October (around the 12-minute mark). “I would just get a little bit personal here and say I’m one of those people,” she said. “I’m in this weird gap where I need insurance, my employer doesn’t give me insurance, but I don’t make enough to get a subsidy.”

I asked her what it felt like to be affected by the act. . . .

Continue reading.

I think as people in the 24 states become aware that their legislators turned down free money that would have enabled them to have healthcare insurance, and they see that people making less than they get coverage, and people getting more than they are covered, the people left out in the cold are going to get amazingly angry. We may seem some interesting surprises in the November 2014 elections in those states.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 December 2013 at 11:08 am

The important promise of Obamacare: If you lose your plan, you can get a new one

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Ezra Klein makes a very good point: in the old days, people were terrified of losing their healthcare insurance (employer provided or not). If they left the company, they would lose their medical benefits. If they were covered on an individual plan that was cancelled for any reason, there was no guarantee that they could get another. If they had a chronic illness, they were unable to get any individual healthcare insurance at all. Klein writes:

The furor over “if you like your plan, you can keep it” touches on a deep fear in American life: That your health-care insurance can be taken from you. That fear is so powerful because it happens so often: Almost everyone in the country can lose their health insurance at any time, for all kinds of reasons — and every year, millions do.

If you’re one of the 149 million people who get health insurance through your employer, you can lose your plan if you get fired, or if the H.R. department decides to change plans, or if you have to move to a branch in another state.If you’re one of the 51 million people who get Medicaid, you could lose your plan because your income rises and you’re no longer eligible or because your state cut its Medicaid budget and made you ineligible. You could lose it because you moved from Minnesota, where childless adults making less than 75 percent of the poverty line are eligible, to Texas, where there’s no coverage for childless adults.

If you’re one of the 15 million Americans who buys insurance on the individual market, you could lose your plan because your insurer decides to stop offering it or decides to jack up the price by 35 percent. And that’s assuming you’re one of the lucky people who weren’t denied coverage based on preexisting conditions in the first place.

Then, of course, there are the 50 million people who don’t have a plan in the first place. The vast majority of them desperately want health-care coverage. But it turns out that just because you want a plan doesn’t mean you can get one.

Virtually the only people whose health coverage is reasonably safe are those on fee-for-service Medicare and some forms of veterans insurance. And even there, enrollees are only safe until the day policymakers decide to change premiums or benefit packages.

President Obama’s critics are right: Obamacare doesn’t guarantee that everyone who likes their health insurance can keep it. In some cases, Obamacare is the reason people will lose health insurance they liked.

What Obamacare comes pretty close to guaranteeing, though, is that everyone who needs health insurance, or who wants health insurance, can get it.

It guarantees that if you lose the plan you liked — perhaps because you were fired from your job, or because you left your job to start a new business, or because your income made you ineligible for Medicaid — you’ll have a choice of new plans you can purchase, you’ll know that no insurer can turn you away, and you’ll be able to get financial help if you need it. In states that accept the Medicaid expansion, it guarantees that anyone who makes less than 133 percent of poverty can get fully subsidized insurance.

Health insurance isn’t such a fraught topic in countries such as Canada and France because people don’t live in constant fear of losing their ability to get routine medical care. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 December 2013 at 10:56 am

US healthcare vs. Socialized healthcare in 5 countries

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A series of charts that compares various aspects of healthcare:

Total expenditures, with proportion covered by government and not
Out-of-pocket expenses by country
Proportion of people with public insurance that buy private insurance
Total healthcare expenditures by country
Proportion of people who do not seek medical aid because of costs
Costs for routine doctor visits by country
Prescription drug and screening costs

And yet I believe that many still hold to the idea that the US offers “the best healthcare system in the world.”

Written by LeisureGuy

7 December 2013 at 9:45 am

Posted in Daily life, Healthcare

Healthcare insurance and the business owner’s religion

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Quite a few conservative voices are raised in an outcry about contraception coverage under the Affordable Care Act, which requires companies with more than 50 employees to provide health insurance coverage that includes, among other things, contraceptive services. NOTE: There is no requirement that any individual actually use such services: that is left up to the personal religious convictions of the individual. Businesses, however, hate to pay money, so some are saying that they should not be required to pay for insurance that includes contraceptive coverage because they (the business owners) don’t believe in it. In other words, the business owners want to impose their own religious views on their employees, which I think is wrong.

So a question to ask those espousing such a view: “Do you believe that a large business owned by Christian Scientists should be allowed not to offer healthcare insurance at all, since the owners do not believe in medical services in general?”

UPDATE: Emily Baxter has an interesting post at ThinkProgress on the general topic of healthcare insurance and religious liberty: Despite The Fights Over Religious Liberty, Obamacare Doesn’t Have To Be ‘Girl Versus God’

Written by LeisureGuy

7 December 2013 at 9:35 am

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