Later On

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Archive for February 2014

Free market = Bullshit

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Corporations love to rhapsodize about the free market even as they do everything in their power to prevent it. See Silicon Valley’s hiring practices for example. No surprise that the leading libertarian lights of Silicon Valley are unethical as well as greedy. From the article:

Alan Hyde, a Rutgers professor who wrote “Working in Silicon Valley: Economic and Legal Analysis of a High-Velocity Labor Market,” said the no-poaching accusations go contrary to what has made the valley so successful: job-hopping.

“There is a fair amount of research that tech companies, particularly in California, have distinctive personnel practices,” he said. “They hire for short tenures and keep ties with former employees so there can be an exchange of information across company lines. The companies in this suit might have been killing the golden goose.”

They certainly tried to keep their practices quiet. Eric E. Schmidt, then Google’s chief executive, said he preferred that the company’s Do Not Call list be shared orally, according to court papers, “since I don’t want to create a paper trail over which we can be sued later.”

In a similar vein, an Intel recruiter asked Paul S. Otellini, the company’s chief executive, about a hands-off deal with Google.

“We have nothing signed,” Mr. Otellini responded in an email. “We have a handshake ‘no recruit’ between Eric and myself. I would not like this broadly known.” [Of course not: unethical behavior looks so tawdry in the light of day. – LG]

The origins of the conspiracy, according to the lawsuit, date back to the 1980s, when the filmmaker George Lucas sold part of his company to Mr. Jobs.

“We cannot get into a bidding war with other companies because we don’t have the margins for that sort of thing,” Mr. Lucas is quoted as saying in the court papers. So Lucasfilm and what was to become Pixar made a deal that there would be no cold-calling, that they would notify each other when offering a job to an employee and that any offer was final and would not be improved in response to a counteroffer.

What worked for Pixar would work for Apple, Mr. Jobs decided.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 February 2014 at 8:42 pm

Posted in Business

Cute challenge using interactive graphics

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Click until you get enough pixels so you can recognize the image. May take a while to load.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 February 2014 at 6:55 pm

Posted in Government

GOP’s policy of giving corporations whatever they want backfires in North Carolina

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Trip Gabriel reports in the NY Times:

Last June, state employees in charge of stopping water pollution were given updated marching orders on behalf of North Carolina’s new Republican governor and conservative lawmakers.

“The General Assembly doesn’t like you,” an official in the Department of Environment and Natural Resources told supervisors, who had been called from across the state to a drab meeting room here. “They cut your budget, but you didn’t get the message. And they cut your budget again, and you still didn’t get the message.”

From now on, regulators were told, they must focus on customer service, meaning issuing environmental permits for businesses as quickly as possible. Big changes are coming, the official said, according to three people in the meeting, two of whom took notes. “If you don’t like change, you’ll be gone.”

But when the nation’s largest utility, Duke Energy, spilled 39,000 tons of coal ash into the Dan River in early February, those big changes were suddenly playing out in a different light. Federal prosecutors have begun a criminal investigation into the spill and the relations between Duke and regulators at the environmental agency.

The spill, which coated the river bottom 70 miles downstream and threatened drinking water and aquatic life, drew wide attention to a deal that the environmental department’s new leadership reached with Duke last year over pollution from coal ash ponds. It included a minimal fine but no order that Duke remove ash — the waste from burning coal to generate electricity — from its leaky, unlined ponds near drinking water. Environmental groups said the arrangement protected a powerful utility rather than the environment or the public.

Current and former state regulators said the watchdog agency, once among the most aggressive in the Southeast, has been transformed under Gov. Pat McCrory into a weak sentry that plays down science, has abandoned its regulatory role and suffers from politicized decision-making.

The episode is a huge embarrassment for Mr. McCrory, who worked at Duke Energy for 28 years and is a former mayor of Charlotte, where the company is based. And it has become yet another point of contention in North Carolina, where Republicans who took control of the General Assembly in 2011 and the governor’s mansion last year have passed sweeping laws in line with conservative principles. They have affected voting rights and unemployment benefits, as well as what Republicans called “job-killing” environmental regulations, which have received less notice.

Critics say the accident, the third-largest coal ash spill on record, is inextricably linked to the state’s new environmental politics and reflects an enforcement agency led by a secretary who suggested that oil was a renewable resource and an assistant secretary who, as a state lawmaker, drew a bull’s-eye on a window in his office framing the environmental agency’s headquarters.

“They’re terrified,” said John Dorney, a retired supervisor who keeps in touch with many current employees. “Now these people have to take a deep breath and say, ‘I know what the rules require, but what does the political process want me to do?’ ”

Duke has apologized for the Dan River spill and says it is now committed to cleaning up some of its 32 coal ash ponds across the state. The company has also been subpoenaed in the federal investigation.

A spokesman for Governor McCrory said the governor had no role in the state’s proposed settlement with Duke. . .

Continue reading. The story at the link includes a video. And the comments are worth reading. People are becoming increasingly angry at the downfall of the US.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 February 2014 at 1:26 pm

A heartening view of W.H. Auden as a person

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Edward Mendelson writes in the NY Review of Books:

W.H. Auden had a secret life that his closest friends knew little or nothing about. Everything about it was generous and honorable. He kept it secret because he would have been ashamed to have been praised for it.

I learned about it mostly by chance, so it may have been far more extensive than I or anyone ever knew. Once at a party I met a woman who belonged to the same Episcopal church that Auden attended in the 1950s, St. Mark’s in-the-Bowery in New York. She told me that Auden heard that an old woman in the congregation was suffering night terrors, so he took a blanket and slept in the hallway outside her apartment until she felt safe again.

Someone else recalled that Auden had once been told that a friend needed a medical operation that he couldn’t afford. Auden invited the friend to dinner, never mentioned the operation, but as the friend was leaving said, “I want you to have this,” and handed him a large notebook containing the manuscript of The Age of Anxiety. The University of Texas bought the notebook and the friend had the operation.

From some letters I found in Auden’s papers, I learned that a few years after World War II he had arranged through a European relief agency to pay the college costs for two war orphans chosen by the agency, an arrangement that continued, with a new set of orphans every few years, until his death at sixty-six in 1973.

At times, he went out of his way to seem selfish while doing something selfless. When NBC Television was producing a broadcast of The Magic Flute for which Auden, together with Chester Kallman, had translated the libretto, he stormed into the producer’s office demanding to be paid immediately, instead of on the date specified in his contract. He waited there, making himself unpleasant, until a check finally arrived. A few weeks later, when the canceled check came back to NBC, someone noticed that he had endorsed it, “Pay to the order of Dorothy Day.” The New York City Fire Department had recently ordered Day to make costly repairs to the homeless shelter she managed for the Catholic Worker Movement, and the shelter would have been shut down had she failed to come up with the money.

At literary gatherings he made a practice of slipping away from “the gaunt and great, the famed for conversation” (as he called them in a poem) to find the least important person in the room. A letter-writer in the Times of London last year recalled one such incident:

Sixty years ago my English teacher brought me to London from my provincial grammar school for a literary conference. Understandably, she abandoned me for her friends when we arrived, and I was left to flounder. I was gauche and inept and had no idea what to do with myself. Auden must have sensed this because he approached me and said, “Everyone here is just as nervous as you are, but they are bluffing, and you must learn to bluff too.”

Late in life Auden wrote self- revealing poems and essays that portrayed him as insular and nostalgic, still living imaginatively in the Edwardian world of his childhood. His “Doggerel by a Senior Citizen” began, “Our earth in 1969/Is not the planet I call mine,” and continued with disgruntled complaints against the modern age: “I cannot settle which is worse,/The Anti-Novel or Free Verse.” A year after he wrote this, I chanced on a first book by a young poet, N.J. Loftis, Exiles and Voyages. Some of the book was in free verse; much of it alluded to Harlem and Africa; the author’s ethnic loyalties were signaled by the name of the publisher, the Black Market Press. The book was dedicated “To my first friend, W.H. Auden.”

A few years later I got a phone call from a Canadian burglar who told me he had come across Auden’s poems in a prison library and had begun a long correspondence in which Auden gave him an informal course in literature. Auden was especially pleased to get him started on Kafka. He was equally helpful to unknown young poets who sent him their poems, offering detailed help on such technical matters as adjectives and enjambment.

When he felt obliged to stand on principle on some literary or moral issue, he did so without calling attention to himself, and he was impatient with writers like Robert Lowell whose political protests seemed to him more egocentric than effective. When he won the National Medal for Literature in 1967, he was unwilling either to accept it in Lyndon Johnson’s White House during the Vietnam War or “to make a Cal Lowell gesture by a public refusal,” so he arranged for the ceremony to be held at the Smithsonian, where he gave an acceptance speech about the corruption of language by politics and propaganda. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 February 2014 at 1:17 pm

Posted in Daily life

Radley Balko: Yes, the War on Drugs is bad

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Radley Balko writes in the Washington Post:

Last month, I wrote a response to Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson in which I laid out many (but by no means all) of the harms caused by the modern-era war on drugs. Now Charles Lane, a columnist and editorial writer here at the Post, has responded to my post. You can read Lane’s response in full here.

I’ll go ahead and keep the debate alive by now responding to Lane. I’ll first note that Lane didn’t address the majority of the points I made about the harm caused by the drug war. So I’ll obviously only address those that he did. I’d also point out that my post wasn’t meant to be comprehensive. To give just one example, I didn’t address the harm our drug war has inflicted on Latin America (although I did mention the awful carnage in Mexico), Thailand, or Afghanistan, or how it has undermined our efforts to fight terrorism.

But let’s get to the points Lane does make.

According to federally sponsored surveys that track drug usage, the rate of current-month powder and crack cocaine use dropped by half in the past 10 years. Meth use fell by a third; heroin use has remained flat.

True, marijuana use rose slightly overall — but it fell among 12- to 17-year-olds, a result that even legalizers should applaud since they generally don’t favor allowing minors to smoke.

The timeline here is interesting. I understand why Lane chose it—the National Survey on Drug Use and Health changed its methodology in 2002, making statistics after that year incomparable to those in previous years. But the modern drug war began with the Reagan administration, and most of the more pernicious policies—mandatory minimum sentences, civil asset forfeiture, the proliferation of SWAT teams, and police militarization were passed and implemented from the mid-1980s to the early 1990s. The Monitoring the Future surveys, for example, have comparable data going back to 1991. (They start on page 28 of the linked report.) If we look at drug use in the last 30 days among respondents to those surveys, they show the same similar drops since the early 2000s that Lane mentions. But we also see significant increases in the overall rate of illicit drug use among all age groups since 1991, including among 8th (+35 percent), 10th (+60 percent), and 12th (+72 percent) graders.

Interestingly, over the period Lane cites, marijuana has actually become moreavailable (through legalization for medical use), not less. Public attitudes toward pot use have also relaxed over the last decade. As Lane points out later in his piece, albeit it in a different context, crime over the last decade has dropped. In fact, nearly all social indicators have been moving in the right direction since the mid-1990s. (More on that in a moment.)So to summarize: Since the harshest policies of the drug war went into effect in the early 1990s, illicit drug use is up, pretty significantly. But over the last decade, pot has become more available, attitudes toward pot are more relaxed, and more adults are smoking the stuff. Yet over that period of time, violent and property crime have dropped, nearly all other social indicators are improving, and adolescent pot use has dropped. (Incredibly, use of pot among those under 18 began dropping in 1996, the same year California became the first state to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes.) That to me suggests that making pot more available for adults isn’t doing much harm at all.

At the same time, while public attitudes have relaxed, enforcement hasn’t. Arrests for pot have soared, as have the number of highly aggressive, highly volatile police raids on people suspected of breaking the marijuana laws—with predictably tragic consequences. All of which makes a strong argument that the prohibition of pot is doing a lot more damage than ingesting the drug ever could.

It’s true that crack and powder cocaine use has dropped. But cocaine use has fluctuated widely over the last century or so. The same is true of meth. These drugs go in and out of vogue. I suspect that the bad reputations (admittedly aided by government-funded public awareness campaigns) earned by crack and homemade meth have contributed to the decline in use. But the war side of the drug war focuses not on treatment or PR, but on punitive measures aimed at reducing the supply of illicit drugs. Last year, in a study published in the BMJ medical journal, a group of researchers from the U.S. and Canada evaluating government supply-side anti-drug efforts by measuring the purity and cost of heroin, cocaine, and marijuana between 1990 and 2009. Their conclusion:

With few exceptions and despite increasing investments in enforcement-based supply reduction efforts aimed at disrupting global drug supply, illegal drug prices have generally decreased while drug purity has generally increased since 1990. These findings suggest that expanding efforts at controlling the global illegal drug market through law enforcement are failing.

In other words, the drop in use of cocaine in meth has little to do with government efforts to reduce the supply of drugs—also known as the drug war. Those drugs are still as available as ever. It has much more to do with the preferences of people who use illicit drugs. And as Lane himself concedes, there’s ample evidence that people who want to get high have merely turned their attention elsewhere, like prescription drugs.

Back to Lane’s post:

Meanwhile, even as drug prohibition continued, violent crime and property crime fell, dramatically. Not only did the number of murders in the United States decrease from 24,703 in 1991 to 14,612 in 2011 but drug-related murders declined from 1,607 to 505, according to Justice Department statistics. Some 6.5 percent of murders were related to drugs in 1991, but only 3.4 percent were in 2011.

Again, the modern, all-too-literal drug war began in the early 1980s. The homicide rate dipped slightly in the early 1980s, before starting to climb again in 1986 until its peak in 1991. The most likely explanation for this is the crack epidemic. That’s also the likely explanation for the peak in drug-related murders Lane points to in 1991. With a new drug on the market (or at least a new form of an existing drug), dealers fought one another for market share. Yet crack was a product of prohibition, just like bathtub gin or other noxious booze America gulped down in the 1920s. . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 February 2014 at 12:47 pm

Posted in Drug laws

After 50,000 generations, bacteria continue to evolve greater fitness

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Interesting note by Kerry Grens in The Scientist on a long-running experiment in evolution:

In 1988, when evolutionary biologist Richard Lenski was an assistant professor at the University of California, Irvine, he started a simple experiment: toss E. coli into a new environment and watch what happens. He wanted to know how reproducible evolution would be, so he put the same strain of the bacteria into 12 flasks with the same simple medium and waited to see how they would evolve. E. coli normally lives in the guts of animals, so the experiment would allow for a way to observe adaptations to a new environment.

After about a year and 2,000 E. coli generations, Lenski and his colleagues published the first results of what they then considered to be a long-term experiment in evolution. Little did they know that 25 years and 50,000 generations later, the experiment would still be chugging along—those 12 flasks representing alternate universes of bacterial existence. “I guess I didn’t view it as [being as] open-ended as it clearly has become, not only as an experiment but in terms of the ability of the organisms to keep improving,” says Lenski.

In his latest publication on the experiment, Lenski reported that the bacteria continually become more fit. His team pitted bacteria from various evolutionary time points (from each flask, a sample is frozen every 500 generations) against one another to see which would grow better when combined in the same container. “I like to think of this project as time travel because we’re comparing organisms that lived at different points in the past, resurrecting them, and comparing them head to head,” says Lenski.

Lenski and his collaborators can distinguish the competitor populations from different flasks  because of color-coded genetic markers. For instance, they would pit a sample taken from one flask of red bacteria at 50,000 generations against an ancestral sample from another flask housing white bacteria. To make sure the resurrected bacteria weren’t at a dis-advantage, they would give the organisms time to acclimate after being thawed. Lenski’s team found that bacteria that had evolved for a greater length of time—those from later generations—appeared more fit than those resurrected from earlier generations; fitness never peaked (Science, 342:1364-67, 2013). Their data suggest that, at least in this situation, evolutionary fitness is ever increasing.

Rees Kassen of the University of Ottawa says the most interesting finding is that most adaptations happened early on in the experiment. “That means [initially] there are lots of opportunities for [the bacteria] to get better,” he says. “Even though beneficial mutations are still very rare events, there are still different ways they could get better, and they also are likely to improve fitness by a large amount.”

The results came as a surprise to Lenski, who expected fitness to plateau. It’s not the first time his bacterial cells have proven unpredictable, such as when they began to utilize a new food source. In 2008, one of the strains evolved to metabolize citrate, which is ordinarily just a buffer in the medium. “It was a quantum leap in the evolution of this species, and it was totally unexpected,” says Tadeusz Kawecki of the University of Lausanne.

John Thompson, an evolutionary biologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz, says that the results show there are many adaptive solutions, even in a simple environment. “It is, then, no wonder that life has evolved to be so diverse,” Thompson writes in an e-mail. “That does not mean, though, that all populations in nature will always continually evolve increases in adaptation.” In cases where the environment is changing rapidly, for instance, slow increases in fitness will not be able to continue.

The finding contradicts the “naive” view that an organism will cease getting fitter once it’s well adapted to an environment, says Kassen. Without Lenski’s experiment, there wouldn’t be much empirical data to show that. “The fact of the matter is, it’s the only experiment we can test,” he says. “No other experiments have gone on as long.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 February 2014 at 12:40 pm

Posted in Evolution, Science

More on the US Border Patrol

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Aaron Cantú writes at Latino Rebels:

On the eve of World War II, the Nazis began to describe the European Jews as “Untermenschen.” The word literally means “subhumans”—a creature that resembles a person, but is nevertheless a bestial humanoid aberration.

This was a way to dehumanize them in preparation for a statewide programm of mass extermination. Since the Holocaust, scholars have recognized the process of dehumanization as a central part of genocidal campaigns, one that erases the moral dilemmas normally associated with hurting others by sanding down innate empathic capacities.

In any campaign of hatred, dehumanization is not the final endpoint; rather, it is a milestone that must be reached in order to enable a desired degree of violence. Dehumanization doesn’t always end in ethnic cleansing. It can take other forms, which, while they may be less extreme, are equally sordid, like teaching children how to shoot at effigies of people who are different from them.

At a community event to honor fallen agents in San Diego last year, the local Customs and Border Patrol outfit facilitated an activity in which children were given less-than-lethal rifles and shotguns and instructed by agents on how to fire at cut-out targets resembling adolescent migrants. One of the targets is even wearing a “Tapout” t-shirt, a common article of clothing donned by young people on either side of the border. In one of the images, a youth seems to be aiming his gun at the target’s head.

BorderPatrol7-1024x658

For its part, CBP San Diego absurdly justified the event as a part of a community-wide expo meant to “build relationships and increase awareness about law enforcement.” The agency has reportedly claimed that they will continue to host the event in the future, but will use neutral targets to assuage public outrage.

It’s bad enough that the CBP fails to connect the dots between its showy display of mock violence and the renewed controversy in the media over its agents’ slaying of migrants. But even worse, the fact that CBP defended the activity as a community-building event indicates they see an aggressive disdain for migrants as a way to strengthen communal bonds. United in dehumanization we stand.

Activist Pedro Ríos of the American Friends Service Committee said that the incident is indicative of how border communities have become areas of low intensity conflict, where the specter of violence is something expected and even sanctioned. “ . . .

Continue reading.

UPDATE: A follow-up story giving the response from the US Border Patrol.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 February 2014 at 12:27 pm

Guidelines needed for shooting students

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Greg Hampikian raises a good point in a NY Times op-ed:

BOISE, Idaho — TO the chief counsel of the Idaho State Legislature:

In light of the bill permitting guns on our state’s college and university campuses, which is likely to be approved by the state House of Representatives in the coming days, I have a matter of practical concern that I hope you can help with: When may I shoot a student?

I am a biology professor, not a lawyer, and I had never considered bringing a gun to work until now. But since many of my students are likely to be armed, I thought it would be a good idea to even the playing field.

I have had encounters with disgruntled students over the years, some of whom seemed quite upset, but I always assumed that when they reached into their backpacks they were going for a pencil. Since I carry a pen to lecture, I did not feel outgunned; and because there are no working sharpeners in the lecture hall, the most they could get off is a single point. But now that we’ll all be packing heat, I would like legal instruction in the rules of classroom engagement.

At present, the harshest penalty available here at Boise State is expulsion, used only for the most heinous crimes, like cheating on Scantron exams. But now that lethal force is an option, I need to know which infractions may be treated as de facto capital crimes.

I assume that if a student shoots first, I am allowed to empty my clip; but given the velocity of firearms, and my aging reflexes, I’d like to be proactive. For example, if I am working out a long equation on the board and several students try to correct me using their laser sights, am I allowed to fire a warning shot?

If two armed students are arguing over who should be served next at the coffee bar and I sense escalating hostility, should I aim for the legs and remind them of the campus Shared-Values Statement (which reads, in part, “Boise State strives to provide a culture of civility and success where all feel safe and free from discrimination, harassment, threats or intimidation”)?

While our city police chief has expressed grave concerns about allowing guns on campus, I would point out that he already has one. I’m glad that you were not intimidated by him, and did not allow him to speak at the public hearing on the bill (though I really enjoyed the 40 minutes you gave to the National Rifle Association spokesman).

Knee-jerk reactions from law enforcement officials and university presidents are best set aside. Ignore, for example, the lame argument that some drunken frat boys will fire their weapons in violation of best practices. This view is based on stereotypical depictions of drunken frat boys, a group whose dignity no one seems willing to defend.

The problem, of course, is not that drunken frat boys will be armed; it is that they are drunken frat boys. Arming them is clearly not the issue. They would cause damage with or without guns. I would point out that urinating against a building or firing a few rounds into a sorority house are both violations of the same honor code.

In terms of the campus murder rate — zero at present — I think that we can all agree that guns don’t kill people, people with guns do. Which is why encouraging guns on campus makes so much sense. Bad guys go where there are no guns, so by adding guns to campus more bad guys will spend their year abroad in London. Britain has incredibly restrictive laws — their cops don’t even have guns! — and gun deaths there are a tiny fraction of what they are in America. It’s a perfect place for bad guys.

Some of my colleagues are concerned that you are encouraging . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 February 2014 at 9:46 am

The PTSD Crisis That’s Being Ignored: American Casualties in America

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Lois Beckett has a good article in Pacific Standard:

Chicago’s Cook County Hospital has one of the busiest trauma centers in the nation, treating about 2,000 patients a year for gunshots, stabbings, and other violent injuries.

So when researchers started screening patients there for post-traumatic stress disorder in 2011, they assumed they would find cases.

They just didn’t know how many: Fully 43 percent of the patients they examined—and more than half of gunshot-wound victims—had signs of PTSD.

“We knew these people were going to have PTSD symptoms,” said Kimberly Joseph, a trauma surgeon at the hospital. “We didn’t know it was going to be as extensive.”

What the work showed, Joseph said, is, “This is a much more urgent problem than you think.”

Joseph proposed spending about $200,000 a year to add staffers to screen all at-risk patients for PTSD and connect them with treatment. The taxpayer-subsidized hospital has an annual budget of roughly $450 million. But Joseph said hospital administrators turned her down and suggested she look for outside funding.

“Right now, we don’t have institutional support,” said Joseph, who is now applying for outside grants.

A hospital spokeswoman would not comment on why the hospital decided not to pay for regular screening. The hospital is part of a pilot program with other area hospitals to help “pediatrics patients identified with PTSD,” said the spokeswoman, Marisa Kollias. “The Cook County Health and Hospitals System is committed to treating all patients with high quality care.”

Right now, social workers try to identify patients with the most severe PTSD symptoms, said Carol Reese, the trauma center’s violence prevention coordinator and an Episcopal priest.

“I’m not going to tell you we have everything we need in place right now, because we don’t,” Reese said. “We have a chaplain and a social worker and a couple of social work interns trying to see 5,000 people. We’re not staffed to do it.”

A growing body of research shows that Americans with traumatic injuries develop PTSD at rates comparable to veterans of war. Just like veterans, civilians can suffer flashbacks, nightmares, paranoia, and social withdrawal. While the United States has been slow to provide adequate treatment to troops affected by post-traumatic stress, the military has made substantial progress in recent years. It now regularly screens for PTSD, works to fight the stigma associated with mental health treatment, and educates military families about potential symptoms.

Few similar efforts exist for civilian trauma victims. Americans wounded in their own neighborhoods are not getting treatment for PTSD. They’re not even getting diagnosed.

Studies show that, overall, about eight percent of Americans suffer from PTSD at some point in their lives. But the rates appear to be much higher in communities—such as poor, largely African-American pockets of Detroit, Atlanta, Chicago and Philadelphia—where high rates of violent crime have persisted despite a national decline.

Researchers in Atlanta interviewed more than 8,000 inner-city residents and found that about two-thirds said they had been violently attacked and that half knew someone who had been murdered. At least one in three of those interviewed experienced symptoms consistent with PTSD at some point in their lives—and that’s a “conservative estimate,” said Dr. Kerry Ressler, the lead investigator on the project.

“The rates of PTSD we see are as high or higher than Iraq, Afghanistan, or Vietnam veterans,” Ressler said. “We have a whole population who is traumatized.” . . .

Continue reading.

If the US is going to continue to make guns freely available to everyone, then it has a responsibility to ameliorate the resulting human damage.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 February 2014 at 9:43 am

Attacks on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau continue

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The GOP strongly opposes any agency, law, or other measure that will assist consumers (cf. their continuing attacks on Obamacare, for example). The CFPB is a regular target, as described in the Washington Post by Lydia DePillis:

The two-and-a-half-year-old Consumer Financial Protection Bureau may finally have a confirmed director, but that doesn’t mean Republicans are done throwing rocks at it.

The House debated (and is expected to pass) a package of bills this afternoon that would replace the bureau’s single director with a five-person commission, prevent it from collecting consumer credit card information, and make it easier for the Treasury’s Financial Stability Oversight Council to overrule CFPB regulations. House Republicans have been trying to pass many of these things for years, which hobbled the fledgling agency’s effectiveness by making it play defense even though they never became law.

Perhaps the most important component has to do with money: The legislation would change the CFPB’s funding mechanism so that its budget comes from Congress rather than the Federal Reserve. It authorizes $300 million for each of the next two years, or about two-thirds of what the bureau has been spending annually. After that, there’s nothing — per the House Financial Services Committee’s GOP majority and theCongressional Budget Office, it would save $5.4 billion over the next 10 years, which can only be true if the CFPB isn’t funded at all. (GOP committee staff said later that the bill only saves that much “in the vernacular,” and that they don’t intend to zero out the bureau’s budget entirely.)

Of course, it’s almost certain the bill won’t clear the Democratically-controlled Senate anyway, and the White House has already promised not to sign it. For that reason, one might see this as a purely political exercise, allowing a stream of GOP Congress members to inveigh against “perhaps the most powerful agency in government” (Rep. Patrick McHenry, N.C.) that’s “disgracefully unaccountable to the American people” (Rep. Marlin Stutzman, Ind.) and proof that “big government is breathing down their backs” (Rep. Sean Duffy, Wis.).

The bureau’s defenders rebutted most of their attacks — the credit card data being collected can’t be traced back to individual consumers, for example — but occasionally just threw up their hands in exasperation.

“We could’ve saved a lot of trees and a lot of time if we had a bill that said ‘end the Consumer Protection Bureau,” said Rep. Dennis Heck (D-Wash.), one of the few Democrats who lined up to oppose it. “We all know what the fate of it is going to be. And what is the opportunity cost of making that point? At least one opportunity cost is being able to work on actual regulatory relief.”

So the CFPB is probably safe — at least until the midterm elections. But the continued onslaught is evidence that it hasn’t made as many friends as it might’ve hoped, even after delivering $3 billion to consumers in settlements over fraudulent practices by financial institutions, and helping thousands who called in to complain about mortgages, student loans, auto loans, payday lenders, and debt collectors. The bureau’s leaders tried really, really hard to win over the community banks and credit unions, but their trade associations still spoke outin favor of the legislation that would render it essentially powerless, protesting that the CFPB’s new requirements are still too onerous for smaller institutions to deal with.

That, plus backing from the big banks, is enough to keep the CFPB under fire — even with more than 100 consumer groups trying to speak on its behalf.

The GOP truly sees the role of government as protecting businesses, with consumers left to fend for themselves.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 February 2014 at 9:37 am

Border Patrol killings of migrants raise questions on training, accountability

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The US Border Patrol has repeatedly killed people in highly questionable shootings, with no accountability in sight. Tim Johnson reports for McClatchy:

On a chilly January night near the Mexican border, a Border Patrol agent peeled away from colleagues and chased Gabriel Sanchez Velazquez through desert scrub. Two shots rang out.

When the agent returned, he said that Sanchez, a sinewy 5-foot-9 car mechanic who spoke English well after spending 15 years in the United States, had leapt from under a mesquite bush and lunged to seize the agent’s service firearm, forcing him to shoot. No one else has come forward to contradict his story.

Sanchez’s death was the 20th fatal shooting of a civilian by a U.S. Border Patrol agent since 2010 as the agency expanded rapidly. Last week, another shooting took place, bringing the total to 21.

The killings expose what lawyers and civil rights advocates assert are far-reaching problems in the nation’s largest federal law enforcement agency.

Those problems, critics charge, include a resistance to adopting safeguards on the use of lethal force, watered-down training standards amid rapid expansion and a mentality that anything goes in the battle to secure America’s borders.

Of the 21 dead, 16 were Mexican or Guatemalan. Most of the victims were unarmed, and some were on Mexican soil. One was a 16-year-old who was shot multiple times in the back as he stood on the Mexican side of the border fence. None of the shooters is known to have been disciplined, and the circumstances of most of the cases have not been aired in public. Sanchez’s wife and children – all American citizens – are still trying to learn the name of the man who shot him.

The spate of homicides raises an uncomfortable question, the critics say: Do Border Patrol agents have a green light to fire on and kill Mexican and Central American migrants?

Guarding the U.S. border is an issue of national security, and Border Patrol advocates argue that the agency’s mission can be dangerous, though the number of armed confrontations appears minimal. One agent died in a shootout on Dec. 14, 2010, with bandits in Arizona’s Peck Canyon. Another notorious case happened Oct. 2, 2012, when an agent was shot and killed not far from the canyon. That incident, however, turned out to be “friendly fire,” when two agents responded to a tripped motion-detection sensor.

“You’re working in remote areas that are intimidating and desolate. You’re often many miles from backup. You’re dealing with groups that outnumber you and that you must handle alone,” said Shawn Moran, a spokesman for the National Border Patrol Council, a union for agents.

“To claim that the Border Patrol has an itchy trigger finger, we dismiss that. It’s a very restrained force,” Moran said.

Border Patrol public affairs officer Douglas Mosier said he couldn’t comment on the agency’s policies and referred a reporter to the Department of Homeland Security in Washington, where a spokesman, Peter Boogaard, declined to comment.

The Mexican government calls the use of lethal force against its migrants disproportionate and is demanding more thorough inquiries.

If anyone other than a lone Border Patrol agent saw what happened to Sanchez shortly after 8:30 p.m. on the cold night of Jan. 16 not far from Arizona’s southeastern border with New Mexico, they’re not talking.

A deeper look into the Sanchez case reveals discrepancies among various federal, state and county agencies over what occurred.

It also reveals something else: The death of the 31-year-old Sanchez left a wake of grieving kin who are American citizens. Sanchez had spent half his life in the United States. Among his immediate family are an 11-year-old son with cerebral palsy, who lives with his mother in California, and an 8-year-old son who lives with Sanchez’s widow in Phoenix. All hold U.S. citizenship.

The widow, Nataly Molina Tebaqui, says she’ll file a federal lawsuit once her attorney can identify the Border Patrol agent who shot her husband in the head and chest. The federal government has refused to release his name.

“I want him to go to jail. I want him to feel my pain. I want his wife and his sons to feel the pain,” said Molina, a 30-year-old accountant. “Why couldn’t he have shot him in the leg or the arm?”

In statements immediately after the death, Customs and Border Protection, a federal agency under the Department of Homeland Security, and the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office, which was called in to probe the killing, stated as fact that Sanchez had struggled for the agent’s gun and was killed as a result.

A 12-page autopsy report by the Medical Examiner’s Office in Pima County, however, offers a different picture. The report, dated Feb. 5, notes that Sanchez was shot in the upper part of his right temple and in his chest.

“Manner of death: homicide,” it says.

The trajectory of the bullet wound to the head, it adds, is downward and the bullet appears lodged in the neck. The pathway of the wound to the chest is also downward, indicating that Sanchez was below the agent’s firing hand, squatting or perhaps on the ground. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 February 2014 at 9:31 am

Read the Report Israel Doesn’t Want you To See

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Ben White at Informed Comment:

This week has seen the promotion of yet more anti-democratic legislation in Israel. A new law that received final approval by the Knesset gives, for the first time, separate representation to Muslim and Christian Palestinian citizenson a national employment commission. The bill’s sponsor, Likud MK Yariv Levin, was clear about his motivation: “[the Christians are] our natural allies, a counterweight to the Muslims who want to destroy the country from within.” An editorial in Israeli newspaper Haaretz described it as “racist legislation” by “nationalist zealots”.

Meanwhile, an amendment has been proposed to the NGO Bill – again, by a member of Netanyahu’s ruling party – which seeks to ban certain groups from registering with the Israeli Registrar of Non-Profits. Activities targeted by lawmakers include “advocating the boycott, divestment, or sanctioning of Israel or its citizens” and “denying Israel’s existence as a Jewish and democratic state.” In the words of MK Miri Regev: “Israel is not a regular country that can allow itself to lose its identity”.

These developments take place as the annual Israeli Apartheid Week is marked with dozens of events around the world. The response by the Israeli government and various lobby groups to the accusation of apartheid is a mix of tokenism, whatabouttery, and smears. But there’s one report Israel particularly hopes people don’t read.

The document in question comes from the UN’s Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), and contains the concluding observations following Israel’s periodic review in 2012. It should be read in its entirety, but I will highlight some of its findings. It blows out of water the excuses, obfuscations, and outright denial of international law typically used by Israel and its apologists.

  • “Israeli society maintains Jewish and non-Jewish sectors…[including] two systems of education…as well as separate municipalities: Jewish municipalities and the so-called ‘municipalities of the minorities’”
  • Israel is urged “to make every effort to eradicate all forms of segregation between Jewish and non-Jewish communities.”
  • “A number of discriminatory laws on land issues…disproportionately affect non-Jewish communities.”
  • “Discriminatory laws especially targeting Palestinian citizens of Israel”.
  • “Increasing difficulties faced by members of [Bedouin] communities in gaining access on a basis of equality with Jewish inhabitants to land, housing, education, employment and public health.”
  • “The proliferation of acts and manifestations of racism that particularly target non-Jewish minorities in the territories under the State party’s effective control.”
  • “policies and practices which amount to de facto segregation”, such as Israel’s implementation “in the Occupied Palestinian Territory of two entirely separate legal systems and sets of institutions for Jewish communities grouped in illegal settlements on the one hand and Palestinian populations living in Palestinian towns and villages on the other hand.”
  • “two groups, who live on the same territory but do not enjoy either equal use of roads and infrastructure or equal access to basic services and water resources.”
  • Israel reminded of “the prevention, prohibition and eradication of all policies and practices of racial segregation and apartheid” and urged to “prohibit and eradicate any such policies or practices” which violate Article 3 of the Convention (on “racial segregation and apartheid”).
  • A “discriminatory planning policy, whereby construction permits are rarely if ever granted to Palestinian and Bedouin communities and demolitions principally target property owned by Palestinians and Bedouins.”
  • Israel’s “policy of ‘demographic balance’, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 February 2014 at 9:27 am

Posted in Mideast Conflict

Russian Tea and Oriental Spice

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SOTD 28 Feb 2014

An extremely good shave today. The Simpson Chubby has the same cushiony feel as the 24mm Whipped Dog, slightly augmented. I got a very fine lather from Strop Shoppe’s limited edition Russian Tea shaving soap, which has a spicy fragrance. Three passes with the Standard holding an Astra Superior Platinum blade and a splash of Booster Oriental Spice and I was done. BBS result, with no nicks. The Standard really is an excellent razor.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 February 2014 at 9:25 am

Posted in Shaving

Cops inform man that he does not have freedom of speech

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Alex Leichenger writes in ThinkProgress:

A dispute between Baltimore County police officers and a man that filmed them arresting two people in Towson, Maryland, is raising questions about civilians’ rights to videotape cops.

Officers became combative when the bystander refused to put away his camera. One told the man to “get it out of my face.” Another officer told the man to “shut your fucking mouth or you’re going to jail.” The man later said, “I thought I had freedom of speech here,” to which an officer replied, “You don’t. You just lost it.”

Watch the full video here (warning: some explicit language).

Baltimore County police officials are investigating the incident and told CBS Baltimore that they “recognize and respect the rights of citizens to film officers on duty in a public place, unless the person filming has violated a law or statute,” acknowledging that individuals operating in a public space do have particularly strong First Amendment protection. In several states, police have sought to use wiretapping or eavesdropping laws to protect themselves from audio and video recordings, arguing that the police incidents are instead private. A number of court rulings have rejected this argument, including one in Maryland. In 2012, the Supreme Court declined to hear a case on Illinois’ harsh taping restrictions. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals’ determination that Illinois could not enforce felony sentencing for unauthorized audio recordings was thus upheld.

In Maryland, a circuit judge reinforced this view after motorcyclist Anthony Graber was slapped with felonies for violating Maryland’s wiretapping law and “possession of an intercept device” for filming Maryland State Trooper David Uhler on a helmet-cam. Uhler had pulled Graber over for speeding and reckless driving. Circuit Court Judge Emory A. Plitt, Jr.dismissed the felony charges against Graber, writing that “those of us who are public officials and are entrusted with the power of the state are ultimately accountable to the public. When we exercise that power in a public forum, we should not expect our activity to be shielded from public scrutiny.” Plitt’s ruling that onlookers can record officers in public sight remains the standard in Maryland.

Videotaping of police has proved an essential tool for monitoring misconduct and abuse, the most famous example being the grainy footage that caught Los Angeles police officers beating Rodney King in 1992. More recently, cell phone video captured the shooting of Oscar Grant at the Fruitvale Station BART stop in the California Bay Area.

In Maryland, a video recording revealed misconduct after a University of Maryland basketball game in College Park, when officers from the Prince George’s County Police Department approached Jack McKenna and another Maryland student:

According to police reports, McKenna confronted the officers, verbally provoked them, assaulted them, and then fought when they tried to detain him.But several students at the scene captured the incident on their cell phone cameras. In those videos, later posted on the Internet, McKenna appears to do nothing to provoke the police. Instead, the riot cops stop McKenna, throw him up against a wall, and begin beating him with their batons.

Prosecutors dropped charges against McKenna, while four of the officers drew suspensions.

And take a look at two Texas cops who have been stealing the signs of homeless people.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 February 2014 at 6:22 pm

Posted in Law Enforcement

GOP willing to keep veterans from their benefits in order to get a war with Iran

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The GOP seems hell-bent on having a war with Iran, our other recent wars having gone so well and enriched the country. Take a look at Sen. Marc Rubio’s position and statements. And the veterans’ benefits? Alex Leichenger reports at ThinkProgress:

Senate Republicans on Thursday blocked a bill that sought to provide veterans with greater access to health care and education over an amendment aimed at increasing sanctions on Iran.Democrats failed to reach the 60 votes necessary to overcome the GOP obstruction.

Republicans have been trying to get a vote on an Iran sanctions measure, which has stalled after experts and Obama administration officials convinced most members of the Democratic caucus that it would derail talks with Iran over its nuclear program and could lead to war.

After numerous attempts failed, the Senate GOP used Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) veterans’ benefits bill to bring the issue up again but Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) refused to go along. “Republicans say they want to help veterans. They have a strange way of showing it. We introduced a bill that would do just that. Republicans immediately inject partisan politics into the mix, insisting on amendments that have nothing to do with helping veterans,” Reid said on Wednesday.

One of the nation’s largest veterans groups, the American Legion, agreed. “Iran is a serious issue that Congress needs to address, but it cannot be tied to S. 1982, which is extremely important as our nation prepares to welcome millions of U.S. military servicemen and women home from war,” American Legion National Commander Daniel M. Dellinger said in a statement this week. “This comprehensive bill aims to help veterans find good jobs, get the health care they need and make in-state tuition rates applicable to all who are using their GI Bill benefits.”

“There was a right way to vote and a wrong way to vote today, and 41 senators chose the wrong way,” the American Legion tweeted on Thursday.

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America also called on senators to take irrelevant issues like Iran out of the vets bill debate, and on Thursday called the GOP’s obstruction “shameful.”

“Veterans don’t have time for this nonsense and veterans are tired of being used as political chew toys,” said IAVA founder and CEO Paul Rieckhoff, according to the Washington Post.

Sanders’ bill paid for the benefits by using some funds that would have otherwise been earmarked for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But Senate Republicans like Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), who had no objections using those funds to pay for the wars, called it a “bogus gimmick.”

“How can we afford $100 billion in tax breaks for the wealthiest three-tenths of Americans, but we can’t pay for veterans benefits?” Sanders tweeted.

A bipartisan expert group said in a recent report that new Iran sanctions now would undermine the Obama administration’s diplomacy with Iran. James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, said last month that “right now the imposition of more sanctions would be counterproductive.”

Written by LeisureGuy

27 February 2014 at 6:15 pm

Posted in Congress, GOP, Iran

Why the extremely wealthy crave acceptance

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Fascinating studies.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 February 2014 at 4:35 pm

Posted in Daily life

Interesting article on medical/physical effects of cannabis

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Jerome Groopman has an interesting book review in the NY Review of Books. Just one quotation in the article:

To put it bluntly, marijuana works. Not dazzlingly, but about as well as opioids. That is, it can reduce chronic pain by more than 30 percent. And with fewer serious side effects. To be sure, some researchers think it’s too soon to declare marijuana and synthetic cannabinoids a first-line treatment for pain, arguing that other drugs should be tried first. But that may be too cautious a view.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 February 2014 at 2:51 pm

Good question: What can replace unions?

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Kevin Drum has an excellent post: unions are over, so what will now present a countervailing force to business? Government cannot do it any longer: that has been annexed as a tool of business. So what will speak for labor?

Written by LeisureGuy

27 February 2014 at 2:44 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life, Unions

Very nice recounting of key events in the demise of the Arizona pro-discrimination bill

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Well–written. And note the sub-text: to fix so many things—environmental, societal, legal, financial/jobs—requires fundamental and enormous changes in our society. And she describes exactly such a change as it happens: you can practically see the wave curl over in triumph. So perhaps other such changes are possible.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 February 2014 at 2:32 pm

Turkey: A government mired in corruption

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Roy Gutman reports for McClatchy:

 Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan tightened his grip Wednesday on the judiciary and the Internet in an effort to tamp down a corruption scandal that’s rattled his government and now appears to implicate his immediate family and him.

Evidence mounted that a series of audio recordings in which Erdogan can be heard instructing his son, Bilal, to get rid of enormous sums of money are authentic, with the government firing two senior officials at the state scientific agency responsible for the security of encrypted telephones and a U.S.-based expert on encrypted communications, after examining the recordings, telling McClatchy that the recordings appear to be genuine.

Erdogan on Tuesday called the five purported conversations an “immoral montage” that had been “dubbed.” But he acknowledged that even his secure telephone had been tapped.

The only apparent “montage” was combining the five different conversations into one audio file, said Joshua Marpet, a U.S.-based cyber analyst who has testified in court on the validity of computer evidence in other Turkish criminal cases. He said there was no sign that the individual conversations had been edited.

“If it’s fake, it’s of a sophistication that I haven’t seen,” he said.

The purported telephone conversations took place over a 26-hour period, beginning on the morning of Dec. 17, when Turkish police launched raids on the houses and offices of members of the Erdogan government, businessmen and their families.

“Whatever you have in the house, get rid of it, OK?” the prime minister can be heard telling Bilal in the opening conversation. Erdogan tells Bilal that his sister Sumeyye is on her way to help him and admonishes Bilal to tell others in the family also to get rid of cash, including Sumeyye’s husband, Bilal’s brother Burak, his uncle Mustafa Erdogan, and Erdogan’s brother-in-law, Berat Albayrak.

“It will be good if you completely ‘zero’ it,” the prime minster is heard saying in the second conversation, which took place later that morning. In the fourth conversation at 11:15 that night, Bilal says he had almost “zeroed” out the money, but that there were some 30 million euros (about $39 million) left. When his father asks why he didn’t transfer all the money to Mehmet Gur, a contractor who was building the Erdogan family villa, Bilal responds: because “it takes a lot of space.”

At different points, Erdogan can be heard warning Bilal not to use a regular telephone. In the final conversation on the morning of Dec. 18, after Bilal admits that the money had not been “zeroed out,” the prime minister again says Bilal should get rid of all the funds.

“OK, Dad, but we are probably being monitored at the moment,” Bilal said. His father replied: “Son, you’re being wiretapped,” to Bilal responds: “But they are monitoring us with cameras as well.”

Two more conversations were published on . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 February 2014 at 12:40 pm

Posted in Government, Law

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