Later On

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

Archive for October 29th, 2014

The Latest Threat to Global Food Security: Salt

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Salt build-up from irrigation has destroyed other societies. Brian Merchant writes in Motherboard:

Eating too much salt in your diet can beget a litany of adverse health effects—blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, cancer. That’s well documented. It’s not as well known that consuming too much salt can have similarly dire effects on the environment, and, by extension, our food supply. Salt degradation has caused tens of billions of dollars worth of damage, mars an area of cropland the size of Manhattan every week, and has hit nearly one-fifth of the world’s farmland so far.

“Salts have damaging effects whether they are in excess amounts in the human body or in agricultural lands,” Manzoor Qadir, the lead author of an eye-opening new study on the subject, published by the United Nations’ Institute for Water, Environment and Health, told me in an email conversation.

“If salt degradation goes on unchecked, more and more land will be highly degraded leading to wasteland,” he said. “Restoring such lands will not be economically feasible at all.”

When farmers irrigate crops with water—even “good quality” freshwater—salt comes along for the ride. Without proper drainage systems, the salt can then accumulate in soil whenever water evaporates and leaves it behind, or plants suck out the ‘pure water’ and leave salt concentrated in the root zone. Once enough salt accumulates, it can cause a host of problems to the crops—not entirely unlike how a salt-heavy diet adversely impacts people.

“In terms of effects on crops, salt-induced land degradation results in reduction in plant growth rate, reduced yield, and in severe cases, total crop failure,” Qadir told me. This happens especially quickly in arid regions, which suggests the process may be accelerated by climate change.

The UN report brings some fairly astonishing findings—his team estimates that 2,000 hectares of farmland (nearly 8 square miles) of farmland is ruined daily by salt degradation. So far, nearly 20 percent of the world’s farmland has been degraded, an area approximately the size of France. . .

Continue reading.

This particular threat has been known for years if not decades, but again no action is taken: very like global warming in that it’s an enormous problem that is quite foreseeable and whose cause is known, but we find ourselves paralyzed into inaction, encouraged in that by those making money from the status quo.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 October 2014 at 6:02 pm

Some good lines by Sen. Elizabeth Warren

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From this article in the New Yorker:

“We can go through the list over and over, but at the end of every line is this: Republicans believe this country should work for those who are rich, those who are powerful, those who can hire armies of lobbyists and lawyers,” she said in Englewood, Colorado. “I will tell you we can whimper about it, we can whine about it, or we can fight back. I’m here with Mark Udall so we can fight back.”

“Republicans, man, they ought to be wearing a T-shirt,” she said in Des Moines, Iowa. “The T-shirt should say: ‘I got mine. The rest of you are on your own.’ … We can hang back, we can whine about what the Republicans have done … or we can fight back. Me, I’m fighting back!”

Even on “The View,” Warren came across as a political pugilist who loves nothing more than climbing into the ring with the Republicans. “Under President Obama’s leadership, we fight to raise the minimum wage, we fight to reduce the interest rate on student loans, we fight for equal pay for equal work,” she told “CBS This Morning.” “It’s really about whose side do you stand on? And, for me, that’s the whole heart of it.”

Written by LeisureGuy

29 October 2014 at 4:29 pm

The US and gender equality

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A post at ThinkProgress by Bryce Covert begins:

The United States moved up a few slots in the World Economic Forum (WEF) Global Gender Gap Report this year compared to last. But it still falls at number 20, behind less developed countries including Nicaragua, Rwanda, the Philippines, Burundi, and South Africa, as well as more developed peers like the Nordic countries, Germany, Ireland, Belgium, France, and Canada, among others. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 October 2014 at 4:27 pm

Posted in Daily life

Another way business takes over the government

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It burrows inside, like the trichinosis parasite into muscle. Read this op-ed in the NY Times by Clarence Ditlow and Ralph Nader:

WHEN regulators sleep and auto companies place profits over safety, safety defects pile up. A record number of vehicles — more than 50 million — have been recalled this year, a result of congressional hearings and Justice Department prosecutions, which exposed a mass of deadly defects that the auto industry had concealed.

From the Ford Explorer rollovers in the 1990s and Toyotas’ issue with unintended acceleration in the 2000s to the recent fatal consequences of defective General Motors ignition switches and Takata airbags, the auto companies hid defects to avoid recalls and save money. These and other major defects were first exposed by safety advocates who petitioned the government and by reporters in the tradition of Bob Irvin of The Detroit News, who wrote over 35 articles on Chevrolet engine mounts until General Motors agreed to recall 6.7 million vehicles in 1971.

These campaigners did the job the regulator should have done. Congress gave the Department of Transportation authority to regulate the auto industry through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration — including subpoena authority to find defects. But it used this authority so infrequently after the ’70s that its acting administrator, David J. Friedman, told Congress this year that he didn’t even know it had the power. The N.H.T.S.A. also failed to require companies to disclose death-claim records in civil lawsuits over the Toyota accelerations, G.M. ignition switches and Takata airbags.

In order to prevent the risk of death or serious injury, Congress empowered the agency to oblige auto companies to use alternate suppliers and independent repair shops to manufacture parts and make repairs to expedite a recall fix. Yet the N.H.T.S.A. has never used this authority — even though it took General Motors from February to October to get enough parts to dealers to repair all the recalled ignition switches.

Only after a lengthy delay was the agency prodded, in 2009, into opening an investigation into whether the first two Honda recalls of Takata airbags were adequate. Although the agency asked tough questions, it quickly closed the investigation after Takata hired a former senior N.H.T.S.A. official to represent the company. The agency’s attitude, in short, was: Don’t bother us with the facts.

More facts did come out when BMW, Honda, Nissan and Toyota recalled millions of Takata airbags from 2010 to 2013. Still, the N.H.T.S.A. opened no investigations and ordered no recalls on the airbags. Honda also failed to disclose death and injury claims on Takata airbags, as required by law. Even now — after reports of a third death in the United States associated with the airbags — the N.H.T.S.A. refuses to order a national recall, as Senators Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Edward Markey of Massachusetts have urged.

What explains this neglect? Over time, the N.H.T.S.A. has been captured by the industry it regulates. Through the ’70s, it aggressively litigated cases to force recalls, and it caught most defects early in the life of a vehicle. Beginning in the ’80s, however, numerous officials — including Diane K. Steed, Jerry Ralph Curry, Sue Bailey and David L. Strickland, who all served as head of the agency, and Erika Z. Jones, Jacqueline S. Glassman and Paul Jackson Rice, who all served as chief counsel to the agency — have gone on to become consultants, lawyers or expert witnesses for auto companies.

What’s more, the agency is heavily populated by former industry employees. Ms. Glassman, for example, had been a lawyer for Chrysler before working at the agency (and is now at a law firm that represents auto companies). The agency’s last non-acting administrator, Mr. Strickland, went to work in January of 2014 for a firm representing Chrysler — the same month the agency approved an inadequate recall of Chrysler Jeeps with fuel tanks liable to explode as a result of rear impacts.

Although Congress has given the N.H.T.S.A. regulatory tools that the agency failed to use, Congress has not given it the two things it needs most: sufficient funding, and the power to bring criminal penalties against auto companies. . .

Continue reading.

Or, Koch brothers fashion, like this in Texas. Worth the click—unbelievable, except unfortunately not.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 October 2014 at 2:44 pm

Take a close look at the Koch brothers and remember they are trying very hard to gain control of the country

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I’ve blogged before about the article quoted below—it came out a month ago—but today I read it in the light of the all-out effort the Koch Brothers have been making for years in the political sphere.

They are spending millions upon millions—perhaps even a billion or more—but the prize is incredibly valuable: What if you had effective control of the US government? Man, wouldn’t that be the biggest of all payoffs.

There is no doubt that they are spending heavily on many fronts, including writing legislation for states to pass—and some do pass that legislation. They are spending lavishly on elections and on barring people from voting through things like Voter ID laws.

But the most revealing thing is their reaction to the Time Dickinson article in Rolling Stone, a carefully researched, well-written, in-depth look at their activities. They did not like that , not one bit. And their reaction says a lot. Tim Dickinson reports:

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 October 2014 at 2:22 pm

Everything you know in politics is wrong.

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Jot down your guess as to the correct answer to each question for your home country—that is, if you’re in the US, answer the question for the US; if you’re in the UK, answer the question for the UK; if in Norway, Norway, etc. Then I’ll give you a link that shows how accurate various nations are at answering the question.

  1. What percentage of girls 15-18 give birth each year?

  2. What percentage of people are Muslims?

  3. What percentage of people are Christians?

  4. What percentage of people are immigrants?

  5. What percentage of people voted in the last major election?

  6. What percentage of people are unemployed and looking for work?

  7. What is the life expectancy of a child born in 2014?

Write down your answers. If you just look at the correct answer, you’ll just think, “Right. I knew that.” Having written down your answer beforehand makes that a bit harder.

[I just figured out what might be the psychological mechanism might be behind that mistaken feeling that you already knew it. If you write down an answer and then the correct answer is different, you experience a sort of surprise—“Huh! I didn’t realize that!” If you hit it spot-on, and you’re right, you think, “Right. Just as I thought.”

Now consider what happens if you have no particular answer in mind: you look at the correct answer, feel no surprise, and figure that, there being no surprise, you must have known that already—and no learning takes place, BTW. Whereas the “surprise” feeling when you see the correct answer after committing to an incorrect answer by writing it down is simply the felt effect of learning something: a little re-wiring taking place in the brain.

But without committing to an answer, no surprise is felt, and nothing is learned. It seems one must prepare the ground of the mind for new ideas to take hold. One example: when I taught Euclid’s Elements, I asked students to read the proposition (the statement of what is to be proved or constructed) and then, without looking at the theorem, attempt to solve it on their own—spend at least 5 minutes in the attempt. Even though most might not be able to do it, when they read Euclid’s theorem, it will really sink in. And in playing over chess games or go games, you always try to figure what the next move will be before you look at it, and if you’re wrong, you try to figure out why. And I wrote this post about the same sort of thing in learning how to edit one’s writing.]

You can find the answers here.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 October 2014 at 2:01 pm

Posted in Daily life

A hopeful sign: Big banks’ stunning setback: Meet two officials saying no to Bank of America

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David Dayen has a good article in Salon:

In August, the Justice Department announced a $16.65 billion settlement with Bank of America over the fraudulent sale of mortgage-backed securities (in reality, the cost to the bank is significantly lower). But two months later, one small part of the settlement has not been finalized in federal court: a $135.84 million cash distribution to the Securities and Exchange Commission. The reason for the holdup could raise the stakes for financial institutions that commit fraud, and over time stabilize the system as a whole, simply because two SEC commissioners have dared to try to maintain the consequences for misconduct.

Under current SEC rules, financial firms that settle fraud investigations automatically incur a number of additional penalties. Many of these mandatory actions date back to the creation of the SEC during the Great Depression. The SEC can ban institutions from managing mutual funds, prevent them from working with private companies to find investors, and force SEC approval for any stocks or bonds that the firm issues on its own behalf. These penalties and disqualifications cut into profits, and in many ways can be as damaging as the settlements themselves.

The problem is that these supposedly automatic penalties are routinely waived. Given that the settlements themselves are so porous, this robs the SEC of a critical tool to deter misconduct, by layering on additional costs, and increasing scrutiny of future activities. And the waiver benefits appear to go disproportionately to those firms big enough to hire fancy lawyers and lobbyists. One large financial firm received an astounding 22 waivers in a 10-year period.

Kara Stein, a Democratic Commissioner who previously served as a Banking Committee aide to Sen. Jack Reed, has openly rebelled against the waiver policy since arriving at the SEC in August 2013, voting against waivers on five occasions. This April, she went public with a blistering dissent against a waiver for Royal Bank of Scotland, after the criminal conviction of their subsidiary over rigging the London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR). Thanks to the waiver, Royal Bank of Scotland could continue to offer securities to investors as a “well-known seasoned issuer,” without SEC approval of each offering. This was the 30th such waiver since 2010, 29 of which went to large institutions and broker-dealers. “I fear that the commission’s action to waive our own automatic disqualification provisions arising from RBS’s criminal misconduct may have enshrined a new policy,” Stein said, “that some firms are just too big to bar.”

Stein, a pro-reform regulator whose insistence on loophole closures significantly improved the final Volcker rule, has persuaded Luis Aguilar, her Democratic colleague, to agree with her stance that automatic penalties from civil or criminal misconduct should not be waived. “The commission and its staff should not be in the business of rubber-stamping and approving all waiver applications simply because a request is made,” Aguilar has said.

The two were able to change SEC policies on waivers, forcing signoff by the commissioners rather than at the staff level. But because SEC chairwoman Mary Jo White typically voted with the commission’s two Republicans [big damn surprise: that’s why Obama appointed her—she was a lawyer FOR THE BANKS, for chrissake! – LG], the waivers continued to go through.

In the Bank of America case, however, White had to recuse herself from the decision. As a private attorney, White represented Ken Lewis, who was CEO of Bank of America at the time that they fraudulently sold mortgage-backed securities to investors without disclosing the poor quality of the underlying loans. So without her vote, the commission is deadlocked at 2-2, threatening Bank of America’s ability to secure the waivers.

The penalties kick in as soon as a judge approves the settlement, so Bank of America has sought to delay approval, pending the status of the waivers. As long as Stein and Aguilar hold firm, the sanctions will trigger, or the entire SEC settlement will disintegrate, creating more legal exposure for Bank of America.

According to Bloomberg, while the mutual fund waiver will likely go through, Stein and Aguilar are holding the line on the waivers to allow Bank of America to help private companies find investors, and to issue securities without SEC review. And the industry is simply shocked. “Until recently, the waiver issues were never viewed as the least bit controversial,” said Jon Eisenberg, a partner at white shoe law firm K&L Gates.

What should be shocking is how the waivers became so routinized in the first place. These automatic penalties have a long history, with the goal of protecting investors and markets. Clearly in this case, Bank of America violated those standards, with investors paying a heavy price in losses on mortgage securities. Why should Bank of America subsequently retain their “well-known seasoned issuer” status to avoid SEC review, the equivalent of what commissioner Kara Stein calls a “Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval”? . . .

Continue reading. It’s really good.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 October 2014 at 1:46 pm

Interesting: Corporations taking over news brings overt censorship

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Verizon is publishing news on-line now, but they are explicit that no articles on net neutrality or domestic surveillance—for obvious reasons: Verizon is involved in both in a way that the public would not like, so better just block that. From this post at The Verge by T.C. Sottek:

Verizon is backing a publication called Sugarstring that covers technology, culture, and entertainment. All of the advertisements on Sugarstring are for Verizon. The color palette — red, everywhere — screams Verizon. Its about page, which says “Sugarstring publishes thoughtful tech-focused stories that track humanity’s climb towards the new next” appears to have been written by a corporate robot employed by Verizon. Every page brandishes a badge to let you know that the content you have just consumed has been ᴘʀᴇsᴇɴᴛᴇᴅ ʙʏ ᴠᴇʀɪᴢᴏɴ. There’s just two things Verizon won’t be presenting, which happen to be two of the biggest stories in the world right now: stories about how Verizon is fucking over America.

As The Daily Dot has learned, Sugarstring expressly prohibits its reporters from writing anything about domestic surveillance or net neutrality. (But reporting on foreign surveillance, The Daily Dot noted, is just fine!) If you’ve been reading the news for the past year, you’ll know that Verizon is heavily involved in both of these areas. As the country’s largest wireless provider it was one of the first companies implicated in the NSA’s scandalous call record collection program. And as one of the country’s largest internet service providers it has thrown its weight behind killing net neutrality and making the internet worse for everyone.

The irony in Verizon’s censorship is palpable. The following passage from Sugarstringappears in an article on the internet’s “morality police.”: . . .

Continue reading.

Think what will happen when more corporations get into the news game, hiding things…

 

Written by LeisureGuy

29 October 2014 at 1:41 pm

Posted in Daily life

Why Does the U.S. Senate Need a Petition Drive to Hold Hearings on the Secret Goldman Sachs’ Tapes

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A very good question, amplified in Wall Street on Parade by Pam Martens:

It appears that Senators Elizabeth Warren and Sherrod Brown believe they may have a battle on their hands getting their colleagues on the Senate Banking Committee to agree to hold hearings on the now notorious tape recordings secretly made by former New York Fed bank examiner, Carmen Segarra, showing a cozy relationship between the regulator and Goldman Sachs.

Petitions have sprung up all over the internet, with more than 129,000 signatures as of this morning, demanding that Congress hold hearings to investigate whether the Federal Reserve System, and specifically the New York Fed, function as merely sycophantic fronts for Wall Street or if they serve any meaningful regulatory role.

In addition to petitions at Credo, MoveOn.org and Public Citizen, campaign sites for Senators Warren and Brown have also set up petitions, but those sites do not show how many signatures have been collected.

As of this morning, the Credo petition had 98,107 signatures out of a goal of 150,000. You can sign the petition here. The petition makes its case as follows: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 October 2014 at 1:25 pm

Another flying car

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Video below, article here:

Written by LeisureGuy

29 October 2014 at 1:21 pm

Posted in Techie toys, Technology

Consent Bro: Meet the guy who teaches frat brothers what ‘yes means yes’ means

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Very interesting story—and you know, it might just work. Most people are decent, and they will act decently if they understand what’s involved. But there is a long way to go—one guy in the article asked if a woman asking to see his room was (in that request) consenting to have sex with him? I am not making fun of him: he’s young, he doesn’t know the rules, he’s undoubtedly seen many movies and from them tried to figure out the rules, and the question he asked was serious: based on his current level of knowledge and awareness, he was thinking a request to see his room might well be a request for sex, just coded somehow.

At that age, there is a lot of wishful thinking, as you may recall. But I think that helping them understand the rules and the steps will help a lot. Ignorance leads to many mistakes, I’ve observed, and leaving it up to children to educate themselves doesn’t really work—and in much of the country, sex ed is underfunded, disliked, and filled with misinformation, doing little or nothing to actually educate the young about sex and how it can be approached. Social norms of accepted good behavior once was taught as etiquette. That is no longer taught nowadays, and for the most part it seems young people try to pick up the norms of good behavior from their peers, so it is no wonder that they often learn the wrong lessons.

Update: If there really is a cultural shift to a new mindset of sexual etiquette—the full consent ethic, which offers as a carrot that fully consensual sex (in which both parties know that both are fully consenting) is better in every way—it will be interesting if it turns out that the meme becomes dominant and established by being disseminated by the frat houses in training their members. Ironic, in a way.

Another update: I had not realized that Antioch was the first.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 October 2014 at 12:42 pm

Posted in Daily life, Education, Law

Autopsy Finds Black Man Killed By Utah Cops Was Shot 6 Times In The Back

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I predict the police officers will suffer no sanctions. That’s how much of a police state the US already is. If they decide to shoot you, they suddenly “fear for their safety/life.” Nicole Flatow reports in ThinkProgress:

Last month, 22-year-old Darrien Hunt was shot and killed by officers in Saratoga Springs, Utah, while carrying a toy sword. Police claimed Hunt lunged at them, but a new state autopsy released by Hunt’s lawyer finds that Hunt was shot 5 times in the back, and a sixth time on his left hip towards the back.

The autopsy by the Utah State Medical Examiner’s Officer corroborates an earlier private autopsy commissioned by Hunt’s lawyer Robert Sykes that also found he was shot in the back, although Sykes would not initially release a copy of that autopsy. A toxicology report was also released showing that Hunt had no drugs in his body, although officers noted in their original report that Hunt “apparently liked hallucinogens and had taken acid approximately three weeks” before the shooting, according to the Deseret News.

At the time of his death, Hunt was wearing an outfit that bore a striking resemblance the Japanese anime character Mugen, from the series Samurai Champloo. The weekend prior to his death, Salt Lake City hosted the annual Comic Con event at which attendees dress up as comic book characters in a practice known as “cosplaying.”

In the weeks after his death, his family found drawings of a number of Japanese anime characters, including several carrying swords. Friends at his funeral called Hunt artistic, shy, and gentle.

“It shows a familiarity, if not a fascination, with that kind of fantasy world,” Hunt’s lawyer Randall Edwards told the Guardian. “It gives some context – and potentially some explanation – to why you have this kid walking down the street with a samurai-style sword on his back.”

Officers say they received a call reporting a “suspicious” person and believed Hunt was carrying a real sword. His mother said it was a souvenir blunt-edged Japanese sword known as a “katana” from a gift shop. Utah has an open carry law, meaning that residents are permitted to openly carry guns even if they don’t have a permit. Police are therefore likely to encounter other individuals walking down the street with guns, and it’s unclear at what point they would be considered “suspicious.”

Hunt died about 100 feet away from the site of the police car, and police have conceded that Hunt traveled away from the officers during the incident, suggesting he was indeed running away.

Saratoga Springs is 93 percent white and 0.5 percent black, and Hunt’s mother, who is also white, believes Hunt was killed because of his race. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 October 2014 at 12:26 pm

‘Born and raised’ Texans forced to prove identities under new voter ID law

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Some GOP officials have openly admitted that the purpose of Voter ID laws is to keep Democratic-leaning groups (the poor, the elderly, African-Americans, Latinos) from voting. Pure and simple—well, not so pure and simple as the way Georgia is handling it, simply not processing the voter registrations from areas they don’t want to be voting. That’s really pure and simple, and it also exposes what is afoot.

The Guardian has an excellent article written by Ed Pilkingon of Austin TX:

Eric Kennie is a Texan. He is as Texan as the yucca plants growing outside his house. So Texan that he has never, in his 45 years, travelled outside the state. In fact, he has never even left his native city of Austin. “No sir, not one day. I was born and raised here, only place I know is Austin.”

You might think that more than qualifies Kennie as a citizen of the Lone Star state, entitling him to its most basic rights such as the ability to vote. Not so, according to the state of Texas and its Republican political leadership. On 4 November, when America goes to the polls in the midterm elections, for the first time in his adult life Eric Kennie will not be allowed to participate.

Ever since he turned 18 he has made a point of voting in general elections, having been brought up by his African American parents to think that it is important, part of what he calls “doing the right thing”. He remembers the excitement of voting for Barack Obama in 2008 to help elect the country’s first black president, his grandmother crying tears of joy on election night. “My grandfather and uncle, they used to tell me all the time there will be a black president. I never believed it, never in a million years.”

He voted again for Obama in 2012, and turned out for the 2010 midterm elections in between. But this year is different. Kennie is one of an estimated 600,000 Texans who, though registered to vote, will be unable to do so because they cannot meet photo-identification requirements set out in the state’s new voter-ID law, SB14 .

The law, which has been deemed by the courts to be the strictest of its kind in the US, forces any would-be voter to produce photographic proof of identity at polling stations. It was justified by Governor Rick Perry and the Republican chiefs in the state legislature as a means of combatting electoral fraud in a state where in the past 10 years some 20m votes have been cast, yet only two cases of voter impersonation have been prosecuted to conviction.

Earlier this month a federal district judge, Nelva Gonzales Ramos, struck down the law, slamming it as a cynical ploy on the part of Republicans to fend off the growing strength of the minority electorate in Texas by “suppressing the overwhelmingly Democratic votes of African Americans and Latinos”. She linked SB14 to a long history of racial discrimination in state elections spanning back generations, and declared the new law to be an unconstitutional poll tax.

But last week, in the early hours of 18 October, when most Texans were sleeping, the US supreme court snuck out a one-line judgment that allowed the voter ID restrictions to be applied this election cycle. Without any explanation, a majority of the justices effectively threw Eric Kennie and many thousands of others like him – particularly black, Hispanic and low-income Texans – into a state of democratic limbo.“This is the first time the courts have allowed a law that actually keeps people from voting to go into effect, even though a judge found it was passed for the purpose of making it harder for minorities to vote,” said Wendy Weiser, head of the democracy programme at the Brennan Centre for Justice.

Before SB14 came into effect, Kennie was able to vote by simply showing a voter registration card posted to his home address. Under the vastly more stringent demands of the new law, he must take with him to the polling station one of six forms of identification bearing his photograph. The problem is, he doesn’t have any of the six and there’s no way he’s going to be able to acquire one any time soon. . . .

Continue reading.

It’s depressing how much SCOTUS has become politicized. It started with the gift of the presidency to George W. Bush—well, it started earlier, but that made it crystal clear. And then we had Citizens United (allowing corporations to spend as much money as they want in elections). Then they gutted the Voting Rights Act. Then they uphold this Voter ID law.

It is quite apparent what is happening: the GOP is making a determined, all-out effort to stop free elections, in which all citizens can vote. The GOP is in effect trying to change our system of government, and the first step is to prevent free elections. All three of the SCOTUS decisions listed are to curtail free elections.

This country is locked in a struggle of which most citizens seem unaware.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 October 2014 at 12:19 pm

Posted in Election, GOP, Government, Law

The Red Cross’s Secret Disaster: PR over people

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Justin Elliott and Jesse Eisinger of ProPublica and Laura Sullivan of NPR write:

IN 2012, two massive storms pounded the United States, leaving hundreds of thousands of people homeless, hungry or without power for days and weeks.

Americans did what they so often do after disasters. They sent hundreds of millions of dollars to the Red Cross, confident their money would ease the suffering left behind by Superstorm Sandy and Hurricane Isaac. They believed the charity was up to the job.

They were wrong.

The Red Cross botched key elements of its mission after Sandy and Isaac, leaving behind a trail of unmet needs and acrimony, according to an investigation by ProPublica and NPR. The charity’s shortcomings were detailed in confidential reports and internal emails, as well as accounts from current and former disaster relief specialists.

What’s more, Red Cross officials at national headquarters in Washington, D.C. compounded the charity’s inability to provide relief by “diverting assets for public relations purposes,” as one internal report puts it. Distribution of relief supplies, the report said, was “politically driven.”

During Isaac, Red Cross supervisors ordered dozens of trucks usually deployed to deliver aid to be driven around nearly empty instead, “just to be seen,” one of the drivers, Jim Dunham, recalls.

“We were sent way down on the Gulf with nothing to give,” Dunham says. The Red Cross’ relief effort was “worse than the storm.”

During Sandy, emergency vehicles were taken away from relief work and assigned to serve as backdrops for press conferences, angering disaster responders on the ground.

After both storms, the charity’s problems left some victims in dire circumstances or vulnerable to harm, the organization’s internal assessments acknowledge. Handicapped victims “slept in their wheelchairs for days” because the charity had not secured proper cots. In one shelter, sex offenders were “all over including playing in children’s area” because Red Cross staff “didn’t know/follow procedures.”

According to interviews and documents, the Red Cross lacked basic supplies like food, blankets and batteries to distribute to victims in the days just after the storms. Sometimes, even when supplies were plentiful, they went to waste. In one case, the Red Cross had to throw out tens of thousands of meals because it couldn’t find the people who needed them.

The Red Cross marshalled an army of volunteers, but many were misdirected by the charity’s managers. Some were ordered to stay in Tampa long after it became clear that Isaac would bypass the city. After Sandy, volunteers wandered the streets of New York in search of stricken neighborhoods, lost because they had not been given GPS equipment to guide them.

The problems stand in stark contrast to the Red Cross’ standing in the realm of disaster relief. President Obama, who is the charity’s honorary chairman, vouched for the group after Sandy, telling Americans to donate. “The Red Cross knows what they’re doing,” he said.

Two weeks after Sandy hit, Red Cross Chief Executive Gail McGovern declared that the group’s relief efforts had been “near flawless.”

The group’s self-assessments, drawn together just weeks later, were far less congratulatory.

Multiple systems failed,” say minutes from a closed-door meeting of top officials in December 2012, referring to logistics. “We didn’t have the kind of sophistication needed for this size job,” noted a Red Cross vice president in the same meeting, the minutes say.

Red Cross officials deny the group had made decisions based on public relations. They defend the Red Cross’ performance after Isaac and Sandy.

“While it’s impossible to meet every need in the first chaotic hours and days of a disaster, we are proud that we were able to provide millions of people with hot meals, shelter, relief supplies and financial support during the 2012 hurricanes,” the charity wrote in a statement to ProPublica and NPR.

The Red Cross says it has cultivated a “culture of openness” that welcomes frank self-evaluation and says it has improved its ability to handle urban disasters. One reform, the Red Cross says, moved nearly one-third of its “disaster positions” out of national headquarters and into the field, closer to the victims.

But some Red Cross veterans say they see few signs the organization has made the necessary changes since Sandy and Isaac to respond competently the next time disaster hits.

Richard Rieckenberg, who oversaw aspects of the Red Cross’ efforts to provide food, shelter and supplies after the 2012 storms, said the organization’s work was repeatedly undercut by its leadership.

Top Red Cross officials were concerned only “about the appearance of aid, not actually delivering it,” Rieckenberg says. “They were not interested in solving the problem — they were interested in looking good. That was incredibly demoralizing.”

###

The modern-day Red Cross was created by congressional charter more than a century ago and plays a unique part in responding to disasters. The iconic charity has a government mandate to work alongside the Federal Emergency Management Agency in relief efforts.

Continue reading. It’s a substantive piece and an interesting example of how a corporate mindset, formed in the for-profit world of big corporations, can absolutely ruin a non-profit service organization. And it’s apparent that all the cover-ups and misrepresentations are to protect “The Brand,” which was what most attracted the new CEO.  It includes this sidebar, with damning evidence:

DOCUMENTS: THE RED CROSS’ FAILURES IN ITS OWN WORDS

Sandy and Isaac “Lessons Learned” PowerPoint

Minutes from post-Sandy meeting of Red Cross execs

Hurricane Isaac emails from Red Cross officials

Hurricane Sandy letter from Red Cross official

I no longer ever give any money to the Red Cross.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 October 2014 at 11:58 am

Posted in Business, Philanthropy

Mission creep toward a police state: The Patriot Act grows…

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Radley Balko writes at the Washington Post:

One of the more controversial provisions of the Patriot Act was to broaden the “sneak-and-peek” power for federal law enforcement officials. The provision allows investigators to conduct searches without informing the target of the search. We were assured at the time that this was an essential law enforcement tool that would be used only to protect the country from terrorism. Supporters argued that it was critical that investigators be allowed to look into the lives and finances of suspected terrorists without tipping off those terrorists to the fact that they were under investigation.

Civil libertarian critics warned that the federal government already had this power for national security investigations. The Patriot Act provision was far too broad and would almost certainly become a common tactic in cases that have nothing to do with national security.

But this was all immediately after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and there was little patience for civil libertarians. The massive Patriot Act of course passed overwhelmingly, including the sneak-and-peek provision, despite the fact that only a handful of members of Congress had actually read it. (Not to mention the public.)

More than a decade later, the Electronic Frontier Foundation has published an analysis on use of the sneak-and-peek power. Just as critics predicted, it’s now a ubiquitous part of federal law enforcement.

Law enforcement made 47 sneak-and-peek searches nationwide from September 2001 to April 2003. The 2010 report reveals 3,970 total requests were processed. Within three years that number jumped to 11,129. That’s an increase of over 7,000 requests. Exactly what privacy advocates argued in 2001 is happening: sneak and peak warrants are not just being used in exceptional circumstances—which was their original intent—but as an everyday investigative tool.

And as critics predicted, it is overwhelmingly used in cases that have nothing to do with terrorism. But even if you’re a cynic, it’s pretty shocking just how little the power is used in terrorism investigations.

Out of the 3,970 total requests from October 1, 2009 to September 30, 2010, 3,034 were for narcotics cases and only 37 for terrorism cases (about .9%). Since then, the numbers get worse. The 2011 report reveals a total of 6,775 requests. 5,093 were used for drugs, while only 31 (or .5%) were used for terrorism cases. The 2012 report follows a similar pattern: Only .6%, or 58 requests, dealt with terrorism cases. The 2013 report confirms the incredibly low numbers. Out of 11,129 reports only 51, or .5%, of requests were used for terrorism. The majority of requests were overwhelmingly for narcotics cases, which tapped out at 9,401 requests.

So since the Patriot Act passed, the number of of sneak-and-peeks each year has grown from about 16 per year to over 11,000 in 2013. Meanwhile, not only have the number of sneak-and-peek investigations unrelated to terrorism increased on a massive scale, the percentage of sneak-and-peeks that have anything to do with terrorism continues to drop. In other words, sneak-and-peek is increasingly ubiquitous while the justification for granting the government this power in the first place — terrorism — is not only irrelevant to the tactic’s increasing pervasiveness, it gets more irrelevant every year.

Lots of lessons here. A few that immediately come to mind: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 October 2014 at 11:48 am

Trying to rein in NSA when NSA is determined not to be reined in

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Kevin Drum has a good post this morning:

Sen. Patrick Leahy says that his USA FREEDOM bill will stop the NSA’s bulk collection of phone data. H.L. Pohlman says it’s not quite that easy:

In Presidential Policy Directive (PPD-28) issued in January 2014, the Obama administration defined “bulk collection” as the acquisition “of large quantities of signals intelligence data which . . . is acquired without the use of discriminants (e.g., specific identifiers, selection terms, etc.).” Thus, as long as the government uses a “discriminant,” a selection term, no matter how broad that term might be, the government is not engaged in a “bulk collection” program.

….The USA FREEDOM Act does not guarantee, then, that the government’s database of telephone metadata will be smaller than it is now. It all depends on the generality of the selection terms that the government will use to obtain metadata from the telephone companies. And we don’t know what those terms will be.

This is a longstanding issue that’s been brought up by lots of people lots of times. It’s not some minor subtlety. If the government decides to look for “all calls from the 213 area code,” that’s not necessarily bulk collection even though it would amass millions of records. It would be up to a judge to decide.

If and when we get close to Congress actually considering bills to rein in the NSA—about which I’m only modestly optimistic in the first place—this is going to be a key thing to keep an eye on. As the ACLU and the EFF and others keep reminding us, reining in the NSA isn’t a . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 October 2014 at 11:14 am

Woman in catcall video getting rape threats now

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It’s becoming increasingly apparent (to men—women already were aware of it, for the most part) that there is indeed a strong misogynistic strand in modern American culture. Not all men, sure, but a lot of men—and it certainly does not help that non-misogynistic men are so often completely unaware of what women face. Mary Elizabeth Williams writes in Salon about the woman in the video I posted recently:

Because if there’s a way to make a depressing story even more demoralizing, the trolls will be there for it, Shoshana B. Roberts, the actress whose video of being catcalled a hundred times in a single day has gone viral this week, is now reportedly getting rape threats. Still think this is about just being friendly?

The video, created by the Hollaback anti street harassment campaign and creative director Rob Bliss, has racked up over a million views in its just first day on YouTube. In it, Roberts, clad in a black t shirt, jeans and sneakers, walks the streets of New York City to a steady chorus of “Damn, girl!” and “You don’t wanna talk?” At one point, a man silently walks right beside her for a full five minutes.

The video eloquently depicts what it’s like for a normal young woman to simply move from place to place in the course of a day – a journey that can span the gamut of experiences from an innocuous “Good morning” to demands for her phone number to persistent and creepy behavior.

As the comments on the YouTube clip – and the comments on every site that’s a run a story about the clip – make very clear, there’s still a vast amount of confusion to flat out fury that women might find this kind of behavior offensive. (There’s also, this being YouTube, a breathtaking amount of racism!) Some of the YouTube commenters are just “tired of these stupid bitches” while others jeer, “Boo-hoo, you’re beautiful and have to deal with attention” — and many, many purport to not see a problem at all, like the guy who says, “The only thing I see is her being a bitch and not saying hello or anything back to people, that try to be nice to her.” Makes you kind of wonder, then, why this video strikes such a chord of anger, most notably in male commenters. Makes you wonder why Hollaback tweeted late Tuesday, “The subject of our PSA is starting to get rape threats on the comments. Can you help by reporting them?”

For those who think the behavior depicted in the video is just about being friendly, let me try to assist. Most adult humans know what being friendly involves. And most of us, by the way, understand that there’s a spectrum between a cordial “Good morning” and explicit sexual commentary or touching. But consider why someone might feel the right to comment on a woman, to a woman, at all. Consider that a “friendly” remark can escalate into something rude or even threatening quickly. Note for instance, in the video, the person who tells her, “Somebody’s acknowledging you for being beautiful. You should say thank you more!”

Believe it not, a woman walking around does not necessarily need or desire a) a stranger’s opinion about her looks and b) a demand for a reaction to it. And behind so many of those random comments is an order – to smile, to say thank you, to give a number. To validate, in short, the total stranger who has chosen a woman because she happened to stroll into his sightline. You know what? It gets a little tiring. Especially when it happens again and again and again. And if you think that the intimidation that women routinely face isn’t real and isn’t a problem, I’d love to know why then the actress in this video is now being insulted and threatened online. Hollaback’s director Emily May told Newsday Tuesday, “The rape threats indicate that we are hitting a nerve. We want to do more than just hit a nerve though, we want New Yorkers to realize — once and for all — that street harassment isn’t OK, and that as a city we refuse to tolerate it.” So you think you’re a good person? You think you’re a nice guy? Then try this – try having an unexpressed thought when a woman walks past you. Try giving her room to get where she’s going without benefit of your commentary. Because however flattering you think your remarks are, she doesn’t need them.

Needless to say, men who make rape threats to women definitely are part of that misogynistic subculture that festers in this country.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 October 2014 at 11:11 am

How LCHF helped one epilectic woman

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From DietDoctor.com, run by an MD in Sweden:

Hi! I feel like sharing my story with you.

When I was younger, I was a healthy and happy girl of normal weight. But when I was 12 years old I was hit by epilepsy. I quickly turned into a different person. Due to the frequent seizures (often several times a week) and more medications with very difficult side effects, I became a girl who was constantly depressed, tired, and I gained a lot of weight. For eight years I lived my life in a tangible darkness, and completely without energy or joy of living.

In early 2014 I was told by my doctors that there was nothing more they could do for me, and that they had tried everything to stop the seizures. They said the only thing I could do was to hope that the seizures would disappear with time. At that time I was having seizures 3–4 times a week. I was quite overweight and because I was in such poor shape I couldn’t work either. In addition, this unsustainable situation had already brought me to a suicide attempt, and I knew that if there were no improvement soon, I’d make a second attempt.

I decided to take things into my own hands, and thought that at least I could try to lose some weight. In late February (8 months ago), I started to eat LCHF. Without a doubt, absolutely the very best decision I have ever made! Already in the first week my seizures disappeared. By 3 months on LCHF, I had phased out all drugs and was still seizure free. Today I’ve lost 121 pounds (55 kilo). I’m not taking any drugs, and I finally became that happy, healthy girl full of energy again. As long as I stick to LCHF, I don’t notice my disease at all and I don’t run out of energy.

Imagine that something as simple as reducing the amount of carbohydrates gave me my life back, and experiencing this journey has also made me grow a lot as a person. The plan now is to study to become a diet counselor, and I hope to help others in a similar situation.

I also want to thank the Diet Doctor for inspiring and great posts.

Sincerely, Emmy Frisk

Emmy Frisk, 20 years old. Please feel free to publish name and picture. [picture’s at the link – LG]

Continue reading.

A couple of other posts on LCHF and epilepsy:

“The Verdict Was Medication for At Least 10 Years”

How a Diet Change Can Free People from Epilepsy

Written by LeisureGuy

29 October 2014 at 11:01 am

The Medical Establishment Was Wrong About Fat

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An article in Business Insider by Daniel Duane:

For more than half a century, the conventional wisdom among nutritionists and public health officials was that fat is dietary enemy No. 1 — the leading cause of obesity and heart disease.

It appears the wisdom was off.

And not just off. Almost entirely backward.

According to a new study from the National Institutes of Health, a diet that reduces carbohydrates in favor of fat — including the saturated fat in meat and butter — improves nearly every health measurement, from reducing our waistlines to keeping our arteries clear, more than the low-fat diets that have been recommended for generations.

“The medical establishment got it wrong,” says cardiologist Dennis Goodman, director of Integrative Medicine at New York Medical Associates. “The belief system didn’t pan out.”

It’s not the conclusion you would expect given the NIH study’s parameters. Lead researcher Lydia Bazanno, of the Tulane University School of Public Health, pitted this high-fat, low-carb diet against a fat-restricted regimen prescribed by the National Cholesterol Education Program.

“We told both groups to get carbs from green, leafy vegetables, because those are high in nutrients and fiber to keep you sated,” Bazanno says. “We also told everyone to stay away from trans fats.” The fat-restricted group continued to eat carbs, including bread and cereals, while keeping saturated fat — common in animal products — below 7 percent of total calories.

By contrast, the high-fat group cut carbs in half and did not avoid butter, meat, and cheese. Most important, both groups ate as much as they wanted — no calorie counting, no going hungry.

One year later, the high-fat, low-carb group had lost three times as much weight — 12 pounds compared with four — and that weight loss came from body fat, while the low-fat group lost muscle. Even more persuasive were the results of blood tests meant to measure the risk of heart disease and diabetes. The high-fat group, despite eating nearly twice as much saturated fat, still saw greater improvements in LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, and triglycerides. . . .

Continue reading. The article in context includes these links:

RELATED: The High-Fat Diet, Explained

RELATED: Why Concerns About Saturated Fats Are Overblown

Considering fat simply as a food feels odd at first, but then it becomes a relief and a pleasure. And in the meantime the sugar industry, which has zero concerns about our health but big concerns about its bottom line, is fight fiercely to keep the Nutrition Facts label from showing us how much sugar has been added to our foods. (Note: 1 tsp sugar = 4 grams, the 11 grams of sugar in one serving of Clamato juice (see video below) is almost 3 teaspoons, or 1 tablespoon, of sugar. How often do you stir a tablespoon of sugar into your drink? (Well, obviously, you don’t have to: lots of sugar has already been added, enough so that food manufacturers really don’t want you to know how much.)

 

Written by LeisureGuy

29 October 2014 at 10:54 am

A weird result in the lather experiments and a new inexpensive razor

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29 Oct 2014

A really superb shave today. As you see in the photo, I used the Omega Pro 48 (which after the last use apparently dried with part of the knot pushed out of place: the cowlick vanished when the brush was wet, and will probably not return) with the Honeybee Soaps Lilac that disappointed me previously with a boar brush, but did a fine job with a badger brush and the boar brush subsequently did a fine job with D.R. Harris shaving soap.

So today I took another boar brush—the Pro 48—to the Lilac soap—and got an extremely good lather, which lasted through the shave with plenty more to go. Of course, the Pro 48 has substantially more capacity than the boar used before, but still.. I now have to try that previous boar again with this soap. Maybe I just didn’t load the brush enough.

But a great lather, and then I set to work with my new $11 Utopia Care razor, a very good price (possibly introductory) for a razor. Mantic59 spotted this one and pointed it out to me, and today’s the first shave, using a Personna Lab Blue blade and having a BBS result. There may be just a tad of razor burn—not sure—but certainly no nicks and the razor itself feels good and substantial. I think a beginner might well find this razor an inexpensive way to begin—and, let’s face it, a beginner is going to have to do some learning of how to use a razor regardless of which one he picks.

I do enjoy this BBS result, to which I applied a good splash of Pinaud Lilac Vegetal. This time I’m showing the backside label, as a service to readers (and because I didn’t notice the bottle was backwards until now).

Another fine shave.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 October 2014 at 8:49 am

Posted in Shaving

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