Later On

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

Archive for March 1st, 2014

Obama to Putin: Sending troops into Crimera breaks international law.

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A bit hollow, given the US sending troops into Iraq. And, speaking of international law, there’s an international law against torturing and murdering prisoners, but that doesn’t seem to concern Obama—and it certainly didn’t concern George W. Bush.

Something about a mote in one’s neighbor’s eye, compared with a beam in one’s own.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 March 2014 at 7:27 pm

Failure to represent the interests of the public—i.e., the “general welfare”

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I wonder whether such flagrant betrayal of supporting the general welfare would be grounds for recall or impeachment. Probably not. Alan Pyke reports at ThinkProgress.

Pennsylvania is one of just 15 states that ban predatory payday loans, for now. If state Rep. Chris Ross (R) and state Sen. Pat Browne (R) have their way, though, the Keystone State will open its arms to companies that already pull billions of dollars out of poor communities each year through loans with average interest rates of over 300 percent.

Browne has sponsored a bill to remove the state’s 24 percent cap on interest rates. The legislation is modeled on a bill Ross pushed through the Pennsylvania House last year, but which never won Senate passage in 2013. While Browne did not comment on the effort, Ross told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that their efforts are meant to give the state better control over companies that currently operate in the state from the internet shadows.

“I believe there is a need for a properly structured, short-term lending in Pennsylvania,” Ross said. “We’ve got the Internet, for which there is no effective means of regulation to protect consumers.”

The Department of Justice is fighting illicit online lending, despite criticism from industry-friendly Republicans at the national level. And while that indicates that there is a real demandfor cash advances in poor communities where paychecks don’t always come in time to cover the bills, it doesn’t mean lifting the cap on interest rates is necessarily the right solution. If lawmakers want to do something to help satisfy that demand, they don’t have to invite the fine-print trickery of private payday lending companies into their states’ neediest corners. (Each year more than 12 million people take out payday loans nationwide and end up paying roughly $520 in interest and fees for every $375 they borrow thanks to limitless interest rates.)

The most promising alternative would be to resurrect the Postal Service’s (USPS) long-dormant banking powers. The USPS has physical locations in many communities that have been abandoned by banks — places where payday lenders flourish by virtue of being the only option for desperate people — and could provide the same basic banking services and short-term loans at non-abusive prices. The revenue that postal banking would bring in would also close the budget hole Congress created for the USPS when it required the agency to keep its pensions fully funded for the next 75 years, a requirement no other business or government agency faces. Polling on the idea is scarce, but one survey found significant support for the idea with many still unsure what to think.

Using the post office to meet the needs of poor people without access to bank accounts would also end the cycle of legislative gamesmanship that has surrounded payday lending for decades. The companies that profit from the practice spend a lot of money on political contributions, and use the resulting clout to either kill reform efforts in states where the loans are allowed or expand their access to customers in states that regulate the industry more tightly. Payday lenders have proven adept at evading state regulators, and have slipped through the cracks of national financial regulation. While the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is finally putting regulatory cops on the payday lending beat and winning unprecedented legal victories for abuses, postal banking offers an even more elegant solution.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 March 2014 at 2:38 pm

Renting Judges for Secret Rulings

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The rise of secret laws, secret courts, and secret decisions that affect us all is a very regressive step. One is astonished to see such things become standard practice in the US and presage the doom of democracy. The virtue of open court proceedings with evidence presented publicly and the defendant able to question the plaintiff or prosecutor is so that we can be assured that justice was indeed done and that fairness prevailed. Once the courts become secret, with secret evidence and secret decisions, then we are moving directly in a totalitarian direction. The next step would be secret prisons, and we have seen those as well in the gulag created by George W. Bush. (We also have prisons that are not secret in terms of location, but who is imprisoned and what goes on in the prison is secret: the infamous Bagram prison in Afghanistan, for example.) Secrecy is essential for actions that cannot withstand the light of day.

And now our corporate overloads are striving to get secret courts to resolve their inter-corporate disputes: they do not want the issues of the evidence made public because it would reveal to the public the sorts of things corporations now feel free to do. (See, for example, the actions of Duke Energy in North Carolina, where the corporation has placed one of its own in the Governor’s mansion.)

Judith Resnick reports in the NY Times:

Should wealthy litigants be able to rent state judges and courthouses to decide cases in private and keep the results secret?

The answer should be an easy no, but if the judges of Delaware’s Chancery Court persuade the United States Supreme Court to take their case and reverse lower federal court rulings outlawing that practice, corporations will, in Delaware, be able to do just that.

The state has long been a magnet for corporate litigation because of its welcoming tax structures and the court’s business expertise. Yet the State Legislature became concerned that Delaware was losing its “pre-eminence” in corporate litigation to a growing market in private dispute resolution.

To compete, Delaware passed a law in 2009 offering new privileges to well-heeled businesses. If litigants had at least $1 million at stake and were willing to pay $12,000 in filing fees and $6,000 a day thereafter, they could use Delaware’s chancery judges and courtrooms for what was called an “arbitration” that produced enforceable legal judgments.

Instead of open proceedings, filings would not be docketed, the courtroom would be closed to the public and the outcome would be secret. The Delaware Supreme Court could review judgments, but that court has not indicated whether appeals would also be confidential.

A group called the Coalition for Open Government, including news and civic organizations, objected that Delaware’s legislation was unconstitutional. In 2012, a federal judge agreed that the law violated the public’s right of access to civil proceedings under the First Amendment. A divided appellate court concurred. Delaware judges are now asking the Supreme Court to reinstate Delaware’s system.

Proponents argue that keeping sensitive business information secret and avoiding uncomfortable publicity is what makes arbitration attractive. To defend their rent-a-court system’s “conciliatory atmosphere,” conducive to “business relations,” Delaware’s chancery judges invoked the history of privacy in arbitration. This translates into giving control to litigants to make their own rules, use state judges and prevent the public from knowing anything.

Can judges in courts preside over trial-like proceedings in private? Many state constitutions (including Delaware’s) insist that all “courts shall be open.” The United States Constitution does not have those words, but the Sixth Amendment guarantees criminal defendants the right to a “speedy and public trial,” and civil and criminal litigants have rights to jury trials. Those provisions — with First Amendment rights to petition for redress and free speech, due process and English open court traditions — have produced a body of law mandating openness. Before a proceeding can be closed, judges need to make a record of what exceptional circumstances, such as trade secrets or national security, justify secrecy.

What are the stakes? As the philosopher Jeremy Bentham explained centuries ago, when presiding at trial, judges were “on trial.” Publicity (“the very soul of justice”) takes control away from both judges and disputants and shifts power, to the great “tribunal of public opinion.”

Only in the second half of the 20th century did courthouse doors really welcome all persons, regardless of race, gender and ethnicity. Congress, creating new rights for consumers and employees, supported access by funding legal services. Class actions enabled pursuit of claims. Information poured out, as technologies let people read briefs online, watch proceedings streamed live, and download data on courts’ budgets. Courts demonstrate how to have civilized debates about deeply contested views of what law is or ought to be.

In contrast, the public face of private dispute resolution depends on what providers decide to put on it. Information may dribble out, through corporate disclosure statements, academic studies, state mandates for disclosures (such as insurance payments for malpractice) and anecdotes.

Delaware’s program points to a broader problem: the growing privatization of judging and the closing of access to courts. The Supreme Court has accelerated this trend through its expansive interpretation of the Federal Arbitration Act of 1925, intended to ensure that if parties’ contracts include private arbitration, federal courts would enforce them.

In a series of recent decisions, the court stretched that law to apply to consumers and employees, with no bargaining power over terms. For example, purchasers of cellphones and prospective employees are frequently required to sign “contracts” replacing court access with procedures companies choose. These are take-it-or-leave-it deals. If you want a cellphone or a job, you have to agree to private dispute resolution.

Because of this one-sidedness, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 March 2014 at 11:00 am

Posted in Business, Government, Law

Watch snowflakes form

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From New Scientist:

You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake – but these are. Film-makerVyacheslav Ivanov used a high-speed camera to record these individual snowflakes blooming into being like chilly flowers.

Ivanov’s snowflakes grow into stars with six-fold symmetry because water molecules join together into hexagon shapes as they freeze. Starting with a small crystal, more and more molecules attach to the sides of the hexagon, and it grows in six directions. Each arm of the snowflake closely matches the others because they form in near-identical conditions. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 March 2014 at 10:52 am

Posted in Science

What is happening in the Ukaraine? An elected government has been toppled.

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Some good insights into what is going on in the Ukraine—insights you won’t see in the mainstream press and certainly not on television/cable.

Take a look at Patrick L. Smith’s article in Salon, “Thomas Friedman, supreme toady: Also, shameless!

Also read Robert Parry’s analysis at “Cheering a ‘Democratic’ Coup in Ukraine

Written by LeisureGuy

1 March 2014 at 10:49 am

Comparing the Omega R&B brush with the Pro 48

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SOTD 1 Mar 2014

Just to be clear, “R&B” in the title means Razor & Brush, not Rhythm & Blues. The R&B limited edition premium brush (the bristles are not cut at the ends: the brush ends with the natural taper of the bristle) is based on the ever-popular Omega Pro 48, but the R&B brush has the special knot and also a solid resin handle in the colors of the Italian flag.

Since the two brushes are related, though, I decided to use both this morning. I made the decision after the photo was taken, unfortunately. My Pro 48 is pretty well broken in and the R&B brush is new.

Both brushes loaded easily and both made a superb lather from HTGAM’s Pumpkin 3.14 shaving soap. On the face, the R&B was noticeably softer: it was like a premium silvertip brush in feel. The Pro 48 was also soft but firmed—as though bristles were thicker.

I used an iKon open comb and achieved a BBS finish in 3 passes. Since Pumpkin Pie has a fragrance redolent of spice, I again used Booster Oriental Spice aftershave, a good choice: it’s a very nice aftershave, albeit inexpensive.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 March 2014 at 10:41 am

Posted in Shaving

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