Later On

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

Archive for June 2014

Head on nail hit by Kevin Drum

leave a comment »

Is that TIMEspeak, or what? But Kevin Drum definitely nails it. And look at the number of Catholics on the Supreme Court: 6 out of 9. Three are Jewish. And thus undoubtedly the determination that the US government should be bound by Catholic doctrine. Those are the core beliefs of six of the nine justices: 67%.

A withering comment on the Roberts Court by Jeffrey Toobin.

And read Amy Davidson on the bad Hobby Lobby decision.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 June 2014 at 2:18 pm

Wow! The American diet, dissected—worth pondering

leave a comment »

Great article in the Washington Post by Roberto Ferdman. A must-read.

It’s strange how much we support activities that are clearly detrimental to us—the fast-food industry, for an obvious example based on the findings in the story at the link.

Closely linked: 7 in 10 Youths Would Fail to Qualify for Military Service. That’s strong evidence that we are, in effect, failing ourselves.

And: a good post on the same general topic.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 June 2014 at 2:01 pm

Corporate gloves being removed: Blackwater manager threatened to murder State Dept investigator; investigation halted in response

leave a comment »

I imagine this is not the only instance—such threats might explain why the SEC seems so inept at its investigations. In the NY Times James Risen reports (still—he’s probably headed for jail for not letting the US government know his sources for his reporting; Obama hates whistleblowers):

Just weeks before Blackwater guards fatally shot 17 civilians at Baghdad’s Nisour Square in 2007, the State Department began investigating the security contractor’s operations in Iraq. But the inquiry was abandoned after Blackwater’s top manager there issued a threat: “that he could kill” the government’s chief investigator and “no one could or would do anything about it as we were in Iraq,” according to department reports.

American Embassy officials in Baghdad sided with Blackwater rather than the State Department investigators as a dispute over the probe escalated in August 2007, the previously undisclosed documents show. The officials told the investigators that they had disrupted the embassy’s relationship with the security contractor and ordered them to leave the country, according to the reports.

After returning to Washington, the chief investigator wrote a scathing report to State Department officials documenting misconduct by Blackwater employees and warning that lax oversight of the company, which had a contract worth more than $1 billion to protect American diplomats, had created “an environment full of liability and negligence.”

“The management structures in place to manage and monitor our contracts in Iraq have become subservient to the contractors themselves,” the investigator, Jean C. Richter, wrote in an Aug. 31, 2007, memo to State Department officials. “Blackwater contractors saw themselves as above the law,” he said, adding that the “hands off” management resulted in a situation in which “the contractors, instead of Department officials, are in command and in control.”

His memo and other newly disclosed State Department documents make clear that the department was alerted to serious problems involving Blackwater and its government overseers before the Nisour Square shooting, which outraged Iraqis and deepened resentment over the United States’ presence in the country.

Today, as conflict rages again in Iraq, four Blackwater guards involved in the Nisour Square shooting are on trial in Washington on charges stemming from the episode, the government’s second attempt to prosecute the case in an American court after previous charges against five guards were dismissed in 2009.

The shooting was a watershed moment . . .

Continue reading.

(I included the category “terrorism,” because what Blackwater was doing in Iraq was exactly terrorism—e.g., gunning down 17 civilians over NO PRETEXT. That’s terrorism: actions to induce terror, like a marketplace bombing. Or an appearance of Blackwater… troops? And they even threaten a US State Department Investigator—and get totally away with it! It does show that some sort of tide has turned.

UPDATE: And read what Paul Krugman wrote.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 June 2014 at 1:57 pm

University of Idaho allowing students to bear arms on campus starts tomorrow

leave a comment »

But probably we’ll not see many results until the hard partying begins this fall.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 June 2014 at 9:01 am

Posted in Education, Guns

Kansas being stupid

leave a comment »

Paul Krugman has a good column:

Two years ago Kansas embarked on a remarkable fiscal experiment: It sharply slashed income taxes without any clear idea of what would replace the lost revenue. Sam Brownback, the governor, proposed the legislation — in percentage terms, the largest tax cut in one year any state has ever enacted — in close consultation with the economist Arthur Laffer. And Mr. Brownback predicted that the cuts would jump-start an economic boom — “Look out, Texas,” he proclaimed.

But Kansas isn’t booming — in fact, its economy is lagging both neighboring states and America as a whole. Meanwhile, the state’s budget has plunged deep into deficit, provoking a Moody’s downgrade of its debt.

There’s an important lesson here — but it’s not what you think. Yes, the Kansas debacle shows that tax cuts don’t have magical powers, but we already knew that. The real lesson from Kansas is the enduring power of bad ideas, as long as those ideas serve the interests of the right people.

Why, after all, should anyone believe at this late date in supply-side economics, which claims that tax cuts boost the economy so much that they largely if not entirely pay for themselves? The doctrine crashed and burned two decades ago, when just about everyone on the right — after claiming, speciously, that the economy’s performance under Ronald Reagan validated their doctrine — went on to predict that Bill Clinton’s tax hike on the wealthy would cause a recession if not an outright depression. What actually happened was a spectacular economic expansion.

Nor is it just liberals who have long considered supply-side economics and those promoting it to have been discredited by experience. In 1998, in the first edition of his best-selling economics textbook, Harvard’s N. Gregory Mankiw — very much a Republican, and later chairman of George W. Bush’s Council of Economic Advisers — famously wrote about the damage done by “charlatans and cranks.” In particular, he highlighted the role of “a small group of economists” who “advised presidential candidate Ronald Reagan that an across-the-board cut in income tax rates would raise tax revenue.” Chief among that “small group” was none other than Art Laffer.

And it’s not as if supply-siders later redeemed themselves. On the contrary, they’ve been as ludicrously wrong in recent years as they were in the 1990s. For example, five years have passed since Mr. Laffer warned Americans that “we can expect rapidly rising prices and much, much higher interest rates over the next four or five years.” Just about everyone in his camp agreed. But what we got instead was low inflation and record-low interest rates.

So how did the charlatans and cranks end up dictating policy in Kansas, and to a more limited extent in other states? Follow the money.

For the Brownback tax cuts didn’t emerge out of thin air. They closely followed a blueprint laid out by . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 June 2014 at 8:54 am

Workplace secrecy agreements appear to violate federal whistleblower laws

leave a comment »

More use by corporations of agreements designed to muzzle the public and enable corporate secrecy regarding bad practices. Scott Higham and Kaley Belval report in the Washington Post:

In November 2012, the U.S. Department of Energy asked contract employees at the Hanford plutonium processing plant in Washington state to take an unusual oath.

The DOE wanted them to sign nondisclosure agreements that prevented them from reporting wrongdoing at the nation’s most contaminated nuclear facility without getting approval from an agency supervisor. The agreements also barred them from using any information for financial gain, a possible violation of federal whistleblower laws, which allow employees to collect reward money for reporting wrongdoing.

Donna Busche reluctantly signed the agreement.

“It was a gag order,” said Busche, 51, who served as the manager of environmental and nuclear safety at the Hanford waste treatment facility for a federal contractor until she was fired in February after raising safety concerns. “The message was pretty clear: ‘Don’t say anything to anyone, or else.’ ”

The company that fired Busche, URS, has said her termination was unrelated to her whistleblowing. Busche and another employee testified before Congress in March at a hearing called by Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) to examine the handling of whistleblowers at Hanford.

An Energy spokesman denied that the nondisclosure agreements violated federal law.

“The DOE fully complies with the law,” Brendan Daly said. “We not only encourage but require contractors to report waste, fraud and abuse, with no retaliation.”

Lawyers who represent whistleblowers like Busche say they are seeing a rise in the use of overly restrictive nondisclosure agreements, which prevent employees from reporting fraud, even to government investigators. The agreements incorporate language that goes beyond those that had traditionally protected proprietary information, the attorneys said. In recent months, agreements criticized as overly restrictive have surfaced at Kellogg, Brown and Root, one of the nation’s largest defense contractors, and International Relief and Development, a nonprofit organization in Arlington County, Va. The nonprofit collected more than $1 billion in tax dollars for war-related projects funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development.

The Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating the agreements at KBR, and the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction is examining the agreements used by IRD. Both companies have denied wrongdoing, and IRD changed the wording of its agreements after they were written about in The Washington Post.

Fear of retaliation for reporting fraud in the workplace is on the rise, according to surveys of federal employees and workers on Wall Street. The U.S. Office of Special Counsel is investigating reports that the Department of Veterans Affairs retaliated against 37 workers who had come forward with allegations of wrongdoing. Some of those employees had tried to report problems with the VA’s medical appointment scheduling system, which is now the subject of a growing national controversy. . .

Continue reading.

The problem with the SEC investigating anything is that the SEC seems singularly dedicated to not finding things—cf. Bernie Madoff. The SEC is a cover-up facilitator.

There seems to be a dedicated effort to silence whistleblowers. And it is undoubtedly having an effect.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 June 2014 at 8:40 am

Profiteering on Banker Deaths: Regulator Says Public Has No Right to Details

leave a comment »

Something very odd is going on the banking industry. Pam Martens and Russ Martens report in Wall Street on Parade:

A man with a long history of keeping big bank secrets safe from the public’s prying eyes has denied the appeal filed by Wall Street On Parade to obtain specifics about the worker deaths upon which JPMorgan Chase pockets the life insurance money each year.

According to its financial filings, as of December 31, 2013, JPMorgan held $17.9 billion in Bank-Owned Life Insurance (BOLI) assets, a dark corner of the insurance market that allows banks to take out life insurance policies on their workers, secretly pocket the death benefits, and receive generous tax perks subsidized by the U.S. taxpayer. According to experts, JPMorgan could potentially hold upwards of $179 billion of life insurance in force on its current and former workers, based on the size of its BOLI assets.

The man who denied Wall Street On Parade’s appeal is Daniel P. Stipano, who told us by letter on June 20, 2014 that he had 450 pages of responsive material but it was not going to be released to us or the public. (See OCC Response to Appeal from Wall Street On Parade Re JPMorgan Banker Death Bets.)

Stipano is, by title, the Deputy Chief Counsel of the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), the U.S. regulator of national banks, including those that were at the center of the 2008 financial collapse, mortgage and foreclosure frauds, and which continue to violate the nation’s laws with regularity. According to Stipano’s current bio, he also functions as the supervisor of the OCC’s Enforcement and Compliance, Litigation, Community and Consumer Law, and Administrative and Internal Law Divisions. That’s a lot of hats for one man to wear at a regulator of serially malfeasant mega banks.

Stipano also appears to be the decider-in-chief when it comes to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to the OCC. He also functions as a key decision maker when it comes to denying documents to U.S. Senators to allow them to perform their oversight duties. (One would certainly think that a Federal regulator would establish an independent office to handle FOIA and Congressional information requests.)

Stipano is the man who played an outsized hand in the scandalous structure of the “Independent Foreclosure Review,” where the major Wall Street banks who had illegally foreclosed on families were allowed to hire their favorite, deeply conflicted consultants to review the foreclosure files for wrongdoing, set the terms of the consulting contracts and pay out $2 billion to the consultants before homeowners had received a dime — and a year had been wasted on bogus reviews.

The end result of that hubris, as Senator Elizabeth Warren revealed last year, was that the actual banks engaged in the illegal foreclosure activities, not the so-called Independent Foreclosure Review consultants, were allowed by the OCC to tally up and classify their own wrongdoing.

One of the “independent” consultants that the OCC rubber-stamped for hire by the banks was Promontory Financial Group. As Wall Street On Parade reported in April of last year: . . .

Continue reading.

Read the whole thing. I’m hoping that Senator Warren will look into this.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 June 2014 at 8:33 am

Posted in Business, Law

Court rules that corporations can have religious beliefs

leave a comment »

Corporate personhood took a big step, thanks to the John Roberts Supreme Court: corporations can have religious beliefs that the law cannot touch. For example, if a corporation is owned by people with a particular religious belief, the corporation picks up that religious belief and is exempted from laws that would challenge it. (Look for a spate of new religions that declare overtime pay to be sinful.)

I think this is a completely wrong-headed opinion and will quickly lead to efforts to claim religious exemption for corporations from a variety of laws.

Here’s a NY Times story on the decision; the story will be updated during the day.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 June 2014 at 8:25 am

Posted in Law, Religion

America’s Militarized Police Forces

with 2 comments

At AlterNet Alex Kane has an interesting article with some good links:

The “war on terror” has come home–and it’s wreaking havoc on innocent American lives. The culprit is the militarization of the police.

The weapons used in the “war on terror” that destroyed Afghanistan and Iraq have made their way to local law enforcement. While police forces across the country began a process of militarization complete with SWAT teams and flash-bang grenades when President Reagan intensified the “war on drugs,” the post-9/11 “war on terror” has added fuel to the fire.

Through laws and regulations like a provision in defense budgets that authorize the Pentagon to transfer surplus military gear to police forces, local law enforcement are using weapons found on the battlefields of South Asia and the Middle East.

A recent New York Times article by Matt Apuzzo reported that in the Obama era, “police departments have received tens of thousands of machine guns; nearly 200,000 ammunition magazines; thousands of pieces of camouflage and night-vision equipment; and hundreds of silencers, armored cars and aircraft.” The result is that police agencies around the nation possess military-grade equipment, turning officers who are supposed to fight crime and protect communities into what look like invading forces from an army. And military-style police raids have increased in recent years, with one count putting the number at 80,000 such raids last year.

In June, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) brought more attention to police militarization when it issued a comprehensive, nearly 100-page (appendix and endnotes included) report titled, “War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing.” Based on public records requests to more than 260 law enforcement agencies in 26 states, the ACLU concluded that “American policing has become excessively militarized through the use of weapons and tactics designed for the battlefield” and that this militarization “unfairly impacts people of color and undermines individual liberties, and it has been allowed to happen in the absence of any meaningful public discussion.”

The information contained in the ACLU report, and in other investigations into the phenomenon, is sobering. From the killing of innocent people to the lack of debate on the issue, police militarization has turned into a key issue for Americans. It is harming civil liberties, ramping up the “war on drugs,” impacting the most marginalized members of society and transforming neighborhoods into war zones. Here are 11 important–and horrifying–things you should know about the militarization of police.

1. It harms, and sometimes kills, innocent people. When you have heavily armed police officers using flash-bang grenades and armored personnel carriers, innocent people are bound to be hurt. The likelihood of people being killed is raised by the practice of SWAT teams busting down doors with no warning, which leads some people to think it may be a burglary, who could in turn try to defend themselves. The ACLU documented seven cases of civilians dying, and 46 people being injured. That’s only in the cases the civil liberties group looked at, so the number is actually higher.

Take the case of Tarika Wilson, which the ACLU summarizes. The 26-year-old biracial mother lived in Lima, Ohio. Her boyfriend, Anthony Terry, was wanted by the police on suspicion of drug dealing. So on January 4, 2008, a SWAT team busted down Wilson’s door and opened fire. A SWAT officer killed Wilson and injured her one-year-old baby, Sincere Wilson. The killing sparked rage in Lima and accusations of a racist police department, but the officer who shot Wilson, Sgt. Joe Chavalia, was found not guilty on all charges.

2. Children are impacted. As the case of Wilson shows, the police busting down doors care little about whether there’s a child in the home. Another case profiled by the ACLU shows how children are caught up the crossfire–with devastating consequences.

In May, after their Wisconsin home had burned down, the Phonesavanh family was staying with relatives in Georgia. One night, a SWAT team with assault rifles invaded the home and threw a flashbang grenade–despite the presence of kids’ toys in the front yard. The police were looking for the father’s nephew on drug charges. He wasn’t there. But a 19-month-old named Bou Bou was–and the grenade landed in his crib.

Bou Bou was wounded in the chest and had third-degree burns. He was put in a medically induced coma.

Another high-profile instance of a child being killed by paramilitary police tactics occurred in 2010, when seven-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones was killed in Detroit. The city’s Special Response Team (Detroit’s SWAT) was looking for Chauncey Owens, a suspect in the killing of a teenager who lived on the second floor of the apartment Jones lived in.

Officers raided the home, threw a flash-bang grenade, and fired one shot that struck Jones in the head. The police agent who fired the fatal shot, Joseph Weekley, has so far gotten off easy: a jury trial ended in deadlock last year, though he will face charges of involuntary manslaughter in September. As The Nation’s Mychal Denzel Smith wrote last year after Weekley was acquitted: “What happened to Aiyana is the result of the militarization of police in this country…Part of what it means to be black in America now is watching your neighborhood become the training ground for our increasingly militarized police units.”

Bou Bou and Jones aren’t the only case of children being impacted.

According to the ACLU, “of the 818 deployments studied, 14 percent involved the presence of children and 13 percent did not.”

3. The use of SWAT teams is unnecessary. . .

Continue reading. And do read the whole thing. We are seeing something bad rapidly progressing.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 June 2014 at 8:19 am

Facebook reveals news-feed experiment done on its users (without their knowledge or consent) to control emotions

leave a comment »

Increasingly we are being treated as herd-stock: without rights, to be treated by corporations in whatever ways the corporation wants, and with our rights to object (even if we learn what’s being done) undermined by having checked a terms and conditions box that, for example, means we have no recourse to law. Facebook has simply run experiments on its customers, as reported in the Atlantic by Robinson Meyer and in the Guardian by Robert Booth:

Meyer’s report begins:

Facebook’s News Feed—the main list of status updates, messages, and photos you see when you open Facebook on your computer or phone—is not a perfect mirror of the world.

But few users expect that Facebook would change their News Feed in order to manipulate their emotional state.

We now know that’s exactly what happened two years ago. For one week in January 2012, data scientists skewed what almost 700,000 Facebook users saw when they logged into its service. Some people were shown content with a preponderance of happy and positive words; some were shown content analyzed as sadder than average. And when the week was over, these manipulated users were more likely to post either especially positive or negative words themselves.

This tinkering was just revealed as part of a new study, published in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Many previous studies have used Facebook data to examine “emotional contagion,” as this one did. This study is different because, while other studies have observed Facebook user data, this one set out to manipulate it.

The experiment is almost certainly legal. In the company’s current terms of service, Facebook users relinquish the use of their data for “data analysis, testing, [and] research.” Is it ethical, though? Since news of the study first emerged, I’ve seen and heard both privacy advocates and casual users express surprise at the audacity of the experiment. . .

Continue reading.

The article includes a puerile defense from one of the study’s authors:

Adam D.I. Kramer, one of the study’s authors and a Facebook employee, commented on the experiment in a public Facebook post. “And at the end of the day, the actual impact on people in the experiment was the minimal amount to statistically detect it,” he writes.

Obviously he did not know prior to the experiment how severe the impact on users would be. That, I assume, was the point of the experiment. To use the findings from the experiment to justify doing the experiment in the first place indicates that he has some sort of time-travel device. Or that he’s not very bright. Or that he’s arguing in bad faith, trying to use a post-hoc justification. Your choice.

Booth’s report in the Guardian begins:

It already knows whether you are single or dating, the first school you went to and whether you like or loathe Justin Bieber. But now Facebook, the world’s biggest social networking site, is facing a storm of protest after it revealed it had discovered how to make users feel happier or sadder with a few computer key strokes.

It has published details of a vast experiment in which it manipulated information posted on 689,000 users’ home pages and found it could make people feel more positive or negative through a process of “emotional contagion”.

In a study with academics from Cornell and the University of California, Facebook filtered users’ news feeds – the flow of comments, videos, pictures and web links posted by other people in their social network. One test reduced users’ exposure to their friends’ “positive emotional content”, resulting in fewer positive posts of their own. Another test reduced exposure to “negative emotional content” and the opposite happened.

The study concluded: “Emotions expressed by friends, via online social networks, influence our own moods, constituting, to our knowledge, the first experimental evidence for massive-scale emotional contagion via social networks.”

Lawyers, internet activists and politicians said this weekend that the mass experiment in emotional manipulation was “scandalous”, “spooky” and “disturbing”.

On Sunday evening, a senior British MP called for a parliamentary investigation into how Facebook and other social networks manipulated emotional and psychological responses of users by editing information supplied to them. . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 June 2014 at 7:54 am

Posted in Business, Law, Science

Utah Couple Awarded $300,000 After Online Retailer Trashed Their Credit For Years For A Negative Review

leave a comment »

Despite the financial settlement, what a great flaming pain. Note in particular how checking the box beside “I have read and agree to the terms and conditions” can land you in a heap of trouble. Steven Rosenfeld reports for AlterNet:

A Utah couple whose credit was trashed by an internet retailer after they posted a critical review—after not receiving two Christmas gifts bought in 2008—has won in $306,750 damages in federal court. But their nightmare is not over, their attorney said, because the online retailer, KlearGear.com [3], has moved overseas and is unlikely to pay up.

“I don’t think so,” said Lester Perry, a Salt Lake City attorney, who, with Public Citizen, sued in KlearGear, when asked if the $300,000 in damages was collectable. “They claim to be owned by a French company. Beyond that, we know they had $47 million in revenue in 2012… But they dropped off the radar.”

The five-plus year saga for John and Jennifer Palmer of Layton, Utah, is a showcase of predatory online business practices that Perry said have become more common. They include fine-print clauses that impose big fines on buyers who write negative reviews; reporting that “fine” as debt to credit bureaus if unpaid; and the near-impossibility of consumers to get credit bureaus to correct those errors.

“It’s not necessarily retribution,” Perry said, when asked about KlearGear’s tactics. “It’s [a strategy] to force payment of a debt that isn’t owed. It happens all the time.”

The Palmers’ troubles began innocently enough. In December 2008, John Palmer placed an online order with KlearGear.com for a toy desk and a keychain worth $20 and paid via his PayPal account. The Christmas gifts never arrived and Jennifer tried to find out why. At first, she e-mailed the company and was told, court records said, that the order had not been paid and was cancelled. When she couldn’t reach a customer service representative for more details, she posted [4] a review in early 2009 at RipOffReport.com, saying, “There is absolutely no way to get in touch with a physical human being. No extensions work.”

Three years went by and nothing happened. But in May 2012, the couple received an e-mail from KlearGear.com’s legal department threatening they would be fined $3,500 if they did not remove the negative online review within 72 hours. KlearGear, which was then based in Grandview, Michigan, said that review violated the “non-disparagement clause,” which was included in its online sales and use terms. Buyers agree to those conditions by checking a box before completing a purchase.

Non-disparagement clauses are intended to prevent negative reviews. They are similar to arbitration clauses in online sales agreements, which pre-empt frustrated consumers from suing in court and instead push grievances before a private mediator.

“Most, if not all of Internet companies like these, have them,” Perry said, speaking of the non-disparagement clauses. “They’re a plague just like arbitration.”

It turns out that KlearGear did not have the “non-disparagement clause” in its sales terms when John Palmer bought his Christmas gifts, the court records said. Palmer said that he explained this important omission via e-mail to KlearGear’s attorney, but the lawyer did not care. He replied that did not matter as business terms are “subject to change,” “this matter will remain open until the published content is removed,” and failure to act will result in his $3,500 “account” being sent to debt collectors and credit bureaus, the couple’s legal complaint said.

The Palmers refused to pay a penny. But later that summer, they saw that two of the three major credit bureaus, Experian and Equifax, cite KlearGear’s “fine” as uncollected debt and lowered their credit rating. As they challenged the downgrade, KlearGear increased its fine. . .

Continue reading.

As noted, this is similar to how corporations increasingly required you to sign an agreement to use binding arbitration to settle disputes rather than going to court—and the corporations demand this from both employees and customers. The corporation, of course, selects and pays the arbitrator, so guess how the decisions turn out? About 99.7% in favor of the corporation; arbitrators who find against the corporation tend not to be retained for future cases.

The public needs protection from predatory corporations, and the only protection we’ve had have been unions (being dismantled at speed by conservative courts) and the government (being dismantled by the conservative movement through defunding of agencies).

Written by LeisureGuy

30 June 2014 at 7:39 am

Posted in Business, Law

Good overview of the Riley ruling and how it will help

leave a comment »

In the New Yorker Amy Davidson has an excellent summary of the likely effects of the Riley ruling by SCOTUS:

On March 16, 1976, police officers in Baltimore, Maryland, spotted a man driving a Chevrolet Monte Carlo; the car matched one a witness to a crime had seen drive slowly by her house. By noting the license plates, they were able to get the home phone number of the driver, Michael Smith. On August 22, 2009, in a separate case a continent away, police officers stopped a Lexus making its way through the Lincoln Park neighborhood of San Diego, California, with expired tags; the license of the driver, David Riley, wasn’t valid, either, and there were two guns under the hood of the car. The police also took his Samsung Instinct M800 smartphone which, they said, had been in his pocket.

There is a single trajectory that joins the car ride in Baltimore and the one in San Diego, thirty-three years apart, by way of two major Supreme Court cases: Smith v. Maryland, decided in 1979, which said that the police were within their rights to trace Smith’s phone calls without a warrant (and is often cited in defense of the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of data on Americans); and Riley v. California, decided last week, in which the Court said that the police were not right to trawl through the data on Riley’s cell phone—texts, contact lists, pictures, videos of street-boxing bouts—without a warrant. The decision in Riley was unanimous and essential. The opinion, written by Chief Justice John Roberts, did not mention the N.S.A., but it reflects the debate about the agency that has taken place in the past year, thanks to documents leaked by Edward Snowden, an N.S.A. contractor.

So how might Riley v. California affect the cases that are surely headed to the Supreme Court, post Snowden? Jeffrey Toobin and I talked about this question, along with others related to the Court’s recent decisions, in this week’s Political Scene podcast. (I should say that Toobin and I have a somewhat different view on the subject, in part because of the gulf he sees between national-security and criminal-justice jurisprudence.) These cases, together, will help define the future of the Fourth Amendment, which affirms “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures” in the absence of a warrant. They also touch on questions of language and technology, and the way one shapes the other.

Here are four ways Riley matters when thinking about the N.S.A.:

1. A phone is not a phone. . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 June 2014 at 7:29 am

Extremely smooth shave with a gift soap

with 5 comments

SOTD 30 June 2014

Exceptionally smooth shave. The Speick shaving soap shown was a gift from an Australian reader. (Not shipped from Australia, I hasten to add: it’s a German soap purchased on-line and shipped to me from the vendor, ItalianBarber.com in this case.) Many thanks, Eddie.

Speick products I’ve tried have been uniformly of high quality and excellent performance, and today’s soap was no exception: a very nice lather, and the clean fragrance of Speick is quite refreshing. I did have a lather problem with the brush shown—either I didn’t load it sufficiently, or its lathercidal tendencies have returned, or both. After the first pass, very little lather. So I worked up a lather with my Plisson Chinese Grey and had no further problems at all: loads of lather for two more passes and still going strong at the end of the shave.

I’m continuing to try palm lathering: go with a damp rather than a wet brush, load the brush until it contains a kind of soap paste, then brush my palm vigorously, occasionally extending it under a dribble of hot water from the tap as if accepting alms of water, working that in, going for another alm of water (“an alm for the palm”), working that in, and so on. The resulting lather is really exceptional and a couple of artisan soaps I had thought were sort of mediocre have responded with amazingly good lather. Live and learn, eh? I’m rewriting the lather section now.

The iKon slant produces an absolutely perfect BBS result with nary a nick, and a good splash of the excellent Speick aftershave splash finished the shave. The week is already off to a good start.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 June 2014 at 7:22 am

Posted in Shaving

Inequality Is Not Inevitable

with one comment

Joseph Stiglitz makes an important point: the extreme inequality of the US is the result of policies that can (and should) be changed. He writes in the NY Times:

AN insidious trend has developed over this past third of a century. A country that experienced shared growth after World War II began to tear apart, so much so that when the Great Recession hit in late 2007, one could no longer ignore the fissures that had come to define the American economic landscape. How did this “shining city on a hill” become the advanced country with the greatest level of inequality?

One stream of the extraordinary discussion set in motion by Thomas Piketty’s timely, important book, “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” has settled on the idea that violent extremes of wealth and income are inherent to capitalism. In this scheme, we should view the decades after World War II — a period of rapidly falling inequality — as an aberration.

This is actually a superficial reading of Mr. Piketty’s work, which provides an institutional context for understanding the deepening of inequality over time. Unfortunately, that part of his analysis received somewhat less attention than the more fatalistic-seeming aspects.
Javier Jaén

Over the past year and a half, The Great Divide, a series in The New York Times for which I have served as moderator, has also presented a wide range of examples that undermine the notion that there are any truly fundamental laws of capitalism. The dynamics of the imperial capitalism of the 19th century needn’t apply in the democracies of the 21st. We don’t need to have this much inequality in America.

Our current brand of capitalism is an ersatz capitalism. For proof of this go back to our response to the Great Recession, where we socialized losses, even as we privatized gains. Perfect competition should drive profits to zero, at least theoretically, but we have monopolies and oligopolies making persistently high profits. C.E.O.s enjoy incomes that are on average 295 times that of the typical worker, a much higher ratio than in the past, without any evidence of a proportionate increase in productivity.

If it is not the inexorable laws of economics that have led to America’s great divide, what is it? The straightforward answer: our policies and our politics. People get tired of hearing about Scandinavian success stories, but the fact of the matter is that Sweden, Finland and Norway have all succeeded in having about as much or faster growth in per capita incomes than the United States and with far greater equality.

So why has America chosen these inequality-enhancing policies? Part of the answer is that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 June 2014 at 12:24 pm

Extremely weird and interesting movie on Netflix streaming

leave a comment »

Journey to the WestA sort of mythic comedy-horror-fantasy with spiritual overtones. Wriiten, Produced, and Directed by Stephen Chow, so he pretty much has to answer for it—and, truthfully, I would doubt it would get made any other way. Way too individual. Chow also did Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle, so you know how he brings in fantay welements.

And the mass dance scenes that open the movie are astounding. Think simply of the rehearsals. — Oops. That was a different Chinese movie I was watching today: Once Upon a Time in China

Written by LeisureGuy

28 June 2014 at 5:18 pm

Posted in Movies & TV

It’s not only the vets: Hospitals for active military constantly making errors that result in death or injury

leave a comment »

Sharon LaFraniere and Andrew Lehren report in the NY Times:

Jessica Zeppa, five months pregnant, the wife of a soldier, showed up four times at Reynolds Army Community Hospital here in pain, weak, barely able to swallow and fighting a fever. The last time, she declared that she was not leaving until she could get warm.

Without reviewing her file, nurses sent her home anyway, with an appointment to see an oral surgeon to extract her wisdom teeth.

Mrs. Zeppa returned the next day, in an ambulance. She was airlifted to a civilian hospital, where despite relentless efforts to save her and her baby, she suffered a miscarriage and died on Oct. 22, 2010, of complications from severe sepsis, a bodywide infection. Medical experts hired by her family said later that because she was young and otherwise healthy, she most likely would have survived had the medical staff at Reynolds properly diagnosed and treated her.

“She was 21 years old,” her mother, Shelley Amonett, said. “They let this happen. This is what I want to know: Why did they let it slip? Why?”

The hospital doesn’t know, either.

Since 2001, the Defense Department has required military hospitals to conduct safety investigations when patients unexpectedly die or suffer severe injury. The object is to expose and fix systemic errors, often in the most routine procedures, that can have disastrous consequences for the quality of care. Yet there is no evidence of such an inquiry into Mrs. Zeppa’s death.

The Zeppa case is emblematic of persistent lapses in protecting patients that emerged from an examination by The New York Times of the nation’s military hospitals, the hub of a sprawling medical network — entirely separate from the scandal-plagued veterans system — that cares for the 1.6 million active-duty service members and their families.

Internal documents obtained by The Times depict a system in which scrutiny is sporadic and avoidable errors are chronic.

As in the Zeppa case, records indicate that the mandated safety investigations often go undone: From 2011 to 2013, medical workers reported 239 unexpected deaths, but only 100 inquiries were forwarded to the Pentagon’s patient-safety center, where analysts recommend how to improve care. Cases involving permanent harm often remained unexamined as well.

At the same time, by several measures considered crucial barometers of patient safety, the military system has consistently had higher than expected rates of harm and complications in two central parts of its business — maternity care and surgery.

More than 50,000 babies are born at military hospitals each year, and they are twice as likely to be injured during delivery as newborns nationwide, the most recent statistics show. And their mothers were . . .

Continue reading.

Where’s the oversight? Why isn’t Darrell Issa having hearings on this instead of the IRS and Benghazi? Because this is real?

Written by LeisureGuy

28 June 2014 at 1:12 pm

The Best Reporting on Children With Post-Traumatic Stress

leave a comment »

As pointed out in the article of the previous post, stress is particularly damaging to young children, whose neurological systems are still developing.In Pacific Standard Lois Beckett has an annotated reading list of articles on this scourge:

When people think of post-traumatic stress disorder, they often focus on military veterans. But there’s growing evidence that PTSD is also a serious problem for American civilians, especially those exposed to violence in their own neighborhoods. Researchers in Atlanta found that one out of three inner-city residents they interviewed had experienced symptoms consistent with PTSD at some point in their lives.

We’ve put together a collection of some of the best reporting on PTSD in children and teenagers exposed to community violence. The stories here take a nuanced look at the intersection of trauma, poverty, and racism. Not all stories about PTSD in high-violence neighborhoods meet that standard. This May, a local CBS affiliate released a segment on trauma in Oakland youth that referred to PTSD as “hood disease.” The anchor who used that term on air later apologized.

Among our recommendations here are magazine stories, radio segments, a book based on a doctor’s interviews with shooting victims, and a documentary film. You can also see our selection of the best reporting on PTSD and the U.S. military.

Brain Development Altered by Violence, Washington Post, May 1999
After the Columbine shootings, this article looked broadly at post-traumatic stress among American children. “The Columbine students are the lucky ones,” the story concluded. “Most child witnesses to violence in America live in inner cities, where shootings occur repeatedly, and where parents often are as traumatized by them as children. And counselors rarely come calling on them in the aftermath of horrors, as they have in Littleton.”

Children Who Survive Urban Warfare Suffer From PTSD, Too, San Francisco Chronicle, August 2007

Eleven-year-old Tierra’s brother was murdered two weeks before she began sixth grade. She wrote her brother’s name on the cover of her notebooks. Her grades dropped. She started getting into fights. And she wasn’t the only one: At her San Francisco middle school, a third of students said they had seen or knew someone killed with a gun. A look at how post-traumatic stress affects children’s school performance—and at the difficulties of getting treatment.

The Poverty Clinic, the New Yorker, March 2011

Experiencing traumatic events at a young age doesn’t simply affect a child’s emotional health. There’s increasing evidence that childhood trauma is linked to serious medical problems in adulthood. A look at how a clinic

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 June 2014 at 11:05 am

America’s child poverty rate better than Romania’s!

leave a comment »

The US is making progress. Our child poverty rate (23%) is not so good as that of the UK (10%) or the Nordic countries (7%-8%), but is better than Romania. Those figures are from Jeff Madrick’s article “Inequality Begins at Birth” in the NY Review of Books:

Over the past year, the lack of universal pre-kindergarten for American four-year-olds has become a national issue. In 2013, President Obama proposed to fund an ambitious new nationwide pre-kindergarten program through a new cigarette tax. That plan failed to gain support, but Bill de Blasio gave new urgency to the issue when he swept into the New York mayor’s office promising universal pre-K for all city children—which will begin in the fall. Even as these efforts are being made, however, new research is making it increasingly clear that educational disparities start much earlier.

The value of universal access to early education has long been recognized: it improves the life chances of disadvantaged children and is crucial to keeping a level playing field for all. The United States has fallen well short of this goal. In most of Europe there is universal, good-quality preschool for three- and four-year-olds. In America, recent data show that fewer than half of all three- and four-year olds are enrolled in some form of preschool. Head Start, the main federal program, provides preschool funding for only about two fifths of poor children in this group.

Moreover, America has the second highest child poverty rate out of the thirty-five nations measured by the United Nation Children’s Fund (only Romania is worse). Twenty-three percent of American kids are poor by international standards, compared to 10 percent in the UK and 7 or 8 percent in the Nordic countries. According to studies on the US population, the poorest children are those five and under—indeed, they are the poorest demographic group in the nation. Many of these kids live in deep poverty, with family income less than half of the poverty line. Poverty rates for black and Latino children are especially high.

Scholars have long documented that children who grow up poor face greater obstacles to social development and good health, obstacles that often remain with them the rest of their lives. They are more likely to have chronic diseases like asthma or attention deficit disorder, few of them graduate from high school, their wages are lower, and they often end up on welfare. Poor teenage women have more unwanted births.

But neurological evidence from recent years strongly suggests that the causes of these poor outcomes are neither solely cultural nor a function of a weak gene pool, as commentators like Charles Murray, author of The Bell Curve, once claimed. As Dr. David Keller made clear at a recent conference on child poverty in Washington, D.C. called “Inequality Begins at Birth” (primarily sponsored by the think tank I direct, The Bernard L. Schwartz Rediscovering Government Initiative at the Century Foundation), there is new biological evidence that a high-stress environment for very young children does not simply affect cultural and psychological conditions that predispose the poor to failure; it can also affect the architecture of the brain, changing the actual neurological functioning and quantity of brain matter.

In other words, pre-K is not enough. What is concerning, moreover, is that these findings have been known for some time but are not getting adequate attention. In fact, the original documentation was published back in 2000 in a vanguard article by Harvard’s Center on the Development of the Child, and corroborating studies have multiplied since then.

Indeed, two studies completed in 2013 relate neural deterioration directly to poverty. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 June 2014 at 10:17 am

Pope Francis doesn’t just talk the talk, he walks the walk

with 2 comments

It should not be amazing when the Catholic church acts in accordance with their teachings, but it is: at last some strong action against (instead of covert encouragement of) the pedophiles of the Catholic hierarchy. Laurie Goodstein reports for the NY Times:

The Vatican has defrocked its former ambassador to the Dominican Republic, an archbishop from Poland who was accused of sexually abusing boys while he served as the pope’s representative in the Caribbean nation.

The former archbishop, Jozef Wesolowski, 65, is the first papal nuncio known to have been removed from the priesthood because of accusations of child sexual abuse. The Vatican announced on Friday that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which handles abuse cases, had recently completed his canonical trial. He has two months to appeal the decision.

He still faces a criminal trial by the Vatican because, as a diplomat, he is a citizen of the Vatican city-state. It would be the first such trial held under new rules for criminal procedures implemented by the Vatican last year and a test of Pope Francis’ resolve to turn a page on the long-running sexual abuse scandal.

Francis will reportedly meet next week in Rome with abuse survivors from Ireland and other countries — the first time as pope that he will personally hear the testimony of those who have suffered abuse by Roman Catholic priests. Abuse survivors and their parents in Buenos Aires, where Francis was archbishop, said in interviews that they had requested meetings with him to share their stories and were consistently turned down.

The former ambassador’s case has brought international scrutiny to the Vatican’s procedures for handling charges of sexual abuse. Two United Nations panels looking into the church’s handling of sexual abuse cases this year closely questioned Vatican representatives in Geneva about whether the church would discipline him.

The ambassador was recalled to Rome in August after the archbishop of Santo Domingo, Cardinal Nicolas de Jesus Lopez, went to Rome to report the allegations against him. Dominican authorities opened an investigation after the ambassador had left, and they say they forwarded their report to the Vatican. But they said they could not prosecute him there because he was protected by diplomatic immunity.

The case has also reverberated in Poland, where the ambassador was raised and ordained as a priest by Cardinal Karol Jozef Wojtyla, later Pope John Paul II, who was canonized as a saint in April. John Paul made him a bishop in 2000. The ambassador was reported to have been seen in the company of another Polish priest serving in the Dominican Republic, the Rev. Wojciech Gil (known as Father Alberto), who was accused of sexually abusing altar boys in his rural parish in the Dominican Republic. Father Gil fled to Poland last year, and in February he was indicted there on four counts of sexually abusing children in the Dominican Republic, according to news reports. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 June 2014 at 7:19 am

Posted in Law, Religion

A celebratory column on “the best World Cup ever”

leave a comment »

A wonderful article by Alma Guillermoprieto in the NY Review of Books on what the World Cup can mean:

This is the best World Cup ever! There will no doubt be Scrooges on the sidelines contesting this solid fact, because this is soccer, but even skeptics must be mourning the end of the first stage of the cup, as each of the eight starting groups has now settled who’s in first place, who’s in second, and who is at the airport, ticket in hand, forlornly waiting for the long trip home.

We, too, will be forlorn, having been able to pass two weeks with no guilty feelings at all—this is the World Cup!—slumping on the couch or joining friends at a bar to watch three consecutive games a day of pure, thrilling sport, every game a stunner, the whole sequence a fabulous surprise from beginning to end. Formerly dud teams have gone one-on-one with three-time champions. Italy, England, and Spain have been eliminated, hoary sports journalists have found themselves cheering for, of all countries, Costa Rica, whose team has put on a display of will and courage few could match, beating Italy and fighting England to a draw. Scoring has been at a near-all-time high, averaging almost three goals per game—the total for the group stage just one less than were scored in the entire cup in South Africa four years ago.

We’ve had Lionel Messi, of course, and the fearsome Dutch duo of Arjen Robben and Robin Van Persie. The gorgeous African teams lifted our hearts, with players like the Ivory Coast’s heroic Didier Drogba, and Nigeria’s Ahmed Musa and Michael Babatunde (who managed to have his wrist fractured by a teammate’s powerful shot). But of the African countries only Nigeria and Algeria have advanced—Algeria for the first time.

The real story is the seven teams from the Latin sphere that have somehow made it to the second round—more countries and more newcomers to this stage than any other region. Most astonishing was the performance of Costa Rica, which whomped that tough old-timer, Uruguay, 3-1 and then, astoundingly, beat Italy 1-0 and sent England packing in a goalless draw. There was Mexico, which fought Brazil to a sweaty, furious draw after beating Cameroon 1-0, and then dominated Croatia 3-1. The reaction of coach Miguel Herrera was typical of his country’s detached, ironic take on the team’s performance: …. [highly animated GIF at the link – LG]

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 June 2014 at 7:14 am

Posted in Games

%d bloggers like this: