Later On

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

Archive for November 2014

Some good Muck Reads

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Good muck reads. Just three from that link:

Two dollars spent on safety training. A South Korean ferry named Sewol sunk in April, killing 304 passengers – mostly high school students. The company that ran the ferry was one of 70 owned by tycoon Yoo Byung-eun. And despite the millions and millions of dollars that pass through his companies to him and his family, he spent just $2 last year on crew safety training. Even that money only went to buy a paper copy of a certificate, the New York Times reports. — The New York Times, July 2014

The FAA backed off of safety improvements for small planes. In 1990, the Federal Aviation Administration proposed updated regulations on equipment and designs that could prevent airplane fires that have since claimed at least 600 lives. “But facing opposition from airplane manufacturers, the FAA withdrew its proposal, saying it wasn’t worth the extra expense,” reports USA Today. Placing the value of a human life at $1 million helped to undermine these proposals. As noted by the FAA, “If the value of life were $2 million rather than $1 million, the benefit-to-cost ratio would be twice as great.”— USA Today, October 2014

“What Would Court Do?” A decade before GM’s ignition debacle, which has been linked to 30 deaths, a safety inspector named Courtland Kelley brought up safety issue after safety issue. His outspokenness didn’t end in recall, though. It ended with him getting pushed from position to position. As a result, his successor was too afraid to speak up. — BusinessWeek, June 2014

It seems clear that our institutions and organizations are failing us badly. The third example shows why: good performance draws severe punishment.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 November 2014 at 10:34 am

Perfect smoothness with a little help from razor and lather

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SOTD 28 Nov 2014

Absolutely perfect result today. It began with the Simpson Duke 2 Best and my artisanal organic-asses’-milk shaving soap. You’ll note that the tin is filled to the very brim with soap, but lathering was neither messy nor a problem: a bit of gentle brushing with a wetter-than-damp-but-not-dripping brush, and then a pleasant time working the lather up on my beard, adding one good driblet of water to the center of the brush and working that in.

The Stealth is a Personna Lab Blue blade (for me) is close to a perfect razor. I decided to use mine this morning because we’ve had a bunch of guys finally able to buy one on ItalianBarber.com: the availability seems to be increasing somewhat, just in time for the holidays.

Three passes, no nicks, BBS result. And now that it’s winter, moisturizing aftershaves are in more demand. Krampert’s Finest Bay Rum is a moisturizing splash. It’s a “shake before each use” aftershave, and I like it a lot.

Kevin Drum explains where the phrase “Black Friday” originated: Philadelphia, but long after Ben Franklin.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 November 2014 at 9:16 am

Posted in Shaving

Great movie on Netflix streaming: If I Were You

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It’ll make you laugh, it’ll make you cry; it’s a rom-com with a Shakespearean twist—in plot and subplot (putting on a gender-switched Lear, with good backstage-theatrical humor. And this is my second viewing. Check it out.

Marcia Gaye Harden is in it, and I don’t tend to think of her as a comic actor, but she’s excellent at the comedy (and not overplaying it), but also has the chops for the heavy lifting: scenes of emotional intensity that just flow.

And when you look at it with a Shakespearean eye, you see all sorts of motifs and themes derived from the Bard. Take a look at it and contemplate the various harmonies with Shakespeare. The more I think about it, the better I like the movie.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 November 2014 at 12:39 pm

Posted in Movies & TV

Outsourcing government-run services to private industry can increase costs and decrease quality of service

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The reason privatization so often degrades the privatized service is that a private corporation must not only make a profit, it must increase profits from year to year. Eventually that means cutting back on maintenance, upkeep, hours of operation, and so on: easy ways to goose profits when efficiencies are hard to find.

Take a look at Stephen Hume’s report of what happened to the BC system of ferries after it was privatized:

A central argument for privatizing British Columbia’s ferry system was that a strict business model would prove far more efficient than continuing the system under provincial control.

Instead, the privatized model has yielded bloated management, lack of transparency, increasingly inefficient service and rapidly rising costs that now threaten perhaps $500 million in annual provincial tax revenue and place a recessionary drag on perhaps $50 billion in provincial economic productivity.

Thirty years ago, when Premier Bill Bennett’s Social Credit government ran the operation, BC Ferries serviced 23 routes with 3,800 employees and a management/administration unit of 120.

Today, it services two additional routes, but has added about 1,000 employees and has a management/administration unit of more than 600, including — based on 2011 reports — 12 vice-presidents.

This works out to one manager for every 7.6 employees. Even if you remove several hundred excluded ship’s officers from the equation, it still works out to about one manager for every 10 employees.

By comparison, Washington State Ferries, which operates under the state highways and transportation system and carries more passengers and vehicles (although with fewer vessels on generally shorter routes than in B.C.), runs efficiently with 43 managers — about one manager for every 40 workers.

BC Ferries spends about $12 on management and administrative overhead for every $1 spent on those costs by Washington State Ferries. . .

Continue reading.

It seems pretty clear that the private company is basically busting out the ferry system, stripping it of assets and revenue in order to pay good salaries to lots of administrators—it’s similar to the way the Mafia becomes “partners” in a restaurant. In this case, the ferry system is being stripped of money it needs to maintain a good level of service—similar to what it had when the government ran it.

The reason Wall Street is so interested in taking over Social Security and other pension systems is that those hold a lot of money, and Wall Street wants to siphon that off (much as they do with 401K fees and churning of accounts). The charter school movement offers cover for many private corporations to take out money that should be spent on education: it goes instead to administrative salaries, profits, and other non-educational purposes.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 November 2014 at 10:47 am

Posted in Business, Government

Exploring preferences by region: Cats v. Dogs

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Interesting article. The Wife and I are both cat people, though we do have some friends among dogs.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 November 2014 at 8:20 am

Posted in Cats, Daily life

Perfect shave today

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SOTD 27 Nov 2014

Very wonderful shave. I used my Rod Need brush—this one has a coin from the year of my birth embedded in the base—and TOBS Lavender, which immediately yielded a very fine lather. I now see that the traditional English shaving soaps—such as TOBS, Trumper, Truefitt & Hill, D.R. Harris, Floris, and Creed—do not, as I mistakenly recalled, have the soap to the absolute brim (as does Martin de Candre and some artisanal soaps), but rather have a 1/4″ gap between top of soap and the brim. That amount seems fine. Once the gap gets to be an inch or more, it seems a lot of wasted space.

Again I used enough water to load the brush, but not more, and I did add a good driblet of water as I worked up the lather on my beard.

The red-tipped Gillette Super Speed is  fine razor, and with a Schick Plus Platinum blade it left my face BBS quite easily.

A good splash of La Toja aftershave—and aftershave I rather like—and the holiday commences.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 November 2014 at 8:01 am

Posted in Shaving

Texas “justice”

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This report is staggering:

A Texas judge on Tuesday ruled that no additional DNA testing is warranted in the case of condemned inmate Rodney Reed, sentenced to die for the 1996 murder of 19-year-old Stacey Stites.

Since Reed’s 1998 conviction for Stites’ murder, new evidence has emerged suggesting that investigators failed to sufficiently examine Stites’ fiance Jimmy Fennell—a Texas cop who has a long history of criminal violence and is now serving a prison term for kidnapping and improper sexual contact with a detainee, who says Fennell raped her—as a suspect. The Intercept reported this month that several of Stites’ relatives now believe Reed is innocent, and that Fennell has been repeatedly accused in the past of sexually predatory behavior.

Although numerous pieces of evidence in the case have never been tested—including two torn lengths of the braided leather belt that was used to strangle Stites—Judge Doug Shaver concluded that even if that testing had been done at the time of Reed’s 1998 trial, there is “no reasonable probability” that Reed’s jurors would have acquitted him of the crime. He described Reed’s request for DNA testing as an effort to unreasonably delay his impending execution. . . .

Continue reading.

Later in the article:

Assistant Attorney General Matthew Ottoway argued Tuesday afternoon that testing is unnecessary now because the Stites case was closed in 1998, when Reed was convicted and sentenced to die. “[This is] not a whodunnit case—Rodney Reed did it,” Ottoway said. “And it’s offensive to suggest that someone else is guilty.”

Offensive?! I see something “offensive,” all right, and it’s the idea that the verdict in a trial cannot possibly be wrong, when we have seen over and over again that innocent men have been convicted, have been sentenced to death. The man who cannot see what is plain is truly deluded and embracing a fiction. I think we should go with reality, and get a good strong grip on it.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 November 2014 at 2:22 pm

Posted in Law

Saying “More guns = more gun violence” is not only simplistic but factually incorrect

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Take a look at this graph, which I got from Jack in Amsterdam:

Guns-in-developed-countries-800x430

As you see, simply increasing guns does not increase violence: it goes both ways.

That graph is one of several in a very interesting article in Raw Story.

Just to be explicit: I myself believed and have undoubtedly said that increasing the number of guns in circulation will increase the violence. I tended to look at high-gun-ownership combined with high-gun-violence countries (Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, et al.), but as the chart clearly shows, some countries with relatively high presence of guns have relatively low levels of gun violence. So something else is going on.

OTOH, it seems pretty clear that having more guns in a country whose culture is open to violence is not a good idea. Some countries seem to be able to handle guns, others clearly cannot.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 November 2014 at 2:08 pm

Posted in Guns

Very cogent letter regarding on-campus sexual assault from student-newspaper editors to president of Eckherd

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Extremely well argued. Well worth reading—especially in light of the ubiquity of colleges covering up (and misunderstanding) sexual assault.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 November 2014 at 1:15 pm

Posted in Daily life, Education, Law

Justice Scalia Explains What Was Wrong With The Ferguson Grand Jury

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Judd Legum posts at ThinkProgress:

On Monday, Prosecutor Bob McCulloch announced that a grand jury had decided not to indict Darren Wilson, the officer who killed Michael Brown. But that decision was the result of a process that turned the purpose of a grand jury on its head.

Justice Antonin Scalia, in the 1992 Supreme Court case of United States v. Williams, explained what the role of a grand jury has been for hundreds of years.

It is the grand jury’s function not ‘to enquire … upon what foundation [the charge may be] denied,’ or otherwise to try the suspect’s defenses, but only to examine ‘upon what foundation [the charge] is made’ by the prosecutor. Respublica v. Shaffer, 1 Dall. 236 (O. T. Phila. 1788); see also F. Wharton, Criminal Pleading and Practice § 360, pp. 248-249 (8th ed. 1880). As a consequence, neither in this country nor in England has the suspect under investigation by the grand jury ever been thought to have a right to testify or to have exculpatory evidence presented.

This passage was first highlighted by attorney Ian Samuel, a former clerk to Justice Scalia.

In contrast, McCulloch allowed Wilson to testify for hours before the grand jury and presented them with every scrap of exculpatory evidence available. In his press conference, McCulloch said that the grand jury did not indict because eyewitness testimony that established Wilson was acting in self-defense was contradicted by other exculpatory evidence. What McCulloch didn’t say is that he was under no obligation to present such evidence to the grand jury. The only reason one would present such evidence is to reduce the chances that the grand jury would indict Darren Wilson.

Compare Justice Scalia’s description of the role of the grand jury to what the prosecutors told the Ferguson grand jury before they started their deliberations:

And you must find probable cause to believe that Darren Wilson did not act in lawful self-defense and you must find probable cause to believe that Darren Wilson did not use lawful force in making an arrest. If you find those things, which is kind of like finding a negative, you cannot return an indictment on anything or true bill unless you find both of those things. Because both are complete defenses to any offense and they both have been raised in his, in the evidence.

As Justice Scalia explained the evidence to support these “complete defenses,” including Wilson’s testimony, was only included by McCulloch by ignoring how grand juries historically work.

There were several eyewitness accounts that strongly suggested Wilson did not act in self-defense. McCulloch could have, and his critics say should have, presented that evidence to the grand jury and likely returned an indictment in days, not months. It’s a low bar, which is why virtually all grand juries return indictments.

But McCulloch chose a different path.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 November 2014 at 1:03 pm

Posted in Law, Law Enforcement

Some links on dietary choices

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First a couple of interesting links about eating a diet low in carbohydrates (very low) and high in fat, keeping protein at the normal level.

A man in Sweden who has had Type 1 diabetes since he was 10 and who is now 45 found that his overall health improved substantially after taking up a LCHF diet 5 years ago. Here’s his story. It’s a detailed report and anyone who has some familiarity with Type 1 diabetes will find it intriguing.

A report on the very serious health effects of a diet high in sugar, particularly refined sugar. Sugar will stay in American diets because the sugar industry owns the key members of Congress and has lots of funds to fight anything that might threaten their profits. (They really don’t care about health issues: the focus is profit.)

James McWilliams in Pacific Standard talks about the benefits of eating less—not only for our health, but for the environment. While eating less is not the full answer, it certainly doesn’t hurt. One benefit of the LCHF diet is that it makes it noticeably easier to eat less: feelings of satiety persist longer. One passage from the article:

There’s a correlation between being obese and being poor. As I have argued, the reasons for this correlation are due to the politics of scarcity. The sensation of scarcity—not necessarily physical scarcity but psychological scarcity—promotes the consumption of a lot of food. In fact, the underlying fear of scarcity makes it nearly impossible not to eat heaps of cheap and easily accessible junk.

Well-educated foodies, those who dominate the high-profiled discussions and read Pacific Standard and Modern Farmer and Cook’s Illustrated, are in relative dietary control. Too many of the working poor are not—and it’s not because they are weak or morally inferior or stupid, but because they live lives terrorized by scarcity. This reality may be the most critical problem we face when it comes to reforming the standard American diet.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 November 2014 at 1:01 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food, Low carb

Good round-up of police-related links by Radley Balko

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Some good articles at the links. From the Washington Post:

Written by LeisureGuy

26 November 2014 at 12:34 pm

Posted in Law, Law Enforcement

What if it was Russia and China invading and Bombing? The Blindness of MSM and Washington

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Very interesting post by Tom Englehardt at Informed Comment:

Let’s play a game, the kind that makes no sense on this single-superpower planet of ours. For a moment, do your best to suspend disbelief and imagine that there’s another superpower, great power, or even regional power somewhere that, between 2001 and 2003, launched two major wars in the Greater Middle East. We’re talking about full-scale invasions, long-term occupations, and nation-building programs, first in Afghanistan and then in Iraq.

In both countries, that power quickly succeeded in its stated objective of “regime change,” only to find itself mired in deadly conflicts with modestly armed minority insurgencies that it simply couldn’t win. In each country, to the tune of billions and billions of dollars, it built up a humongous army and allied “security” forces, poured money into “reconstruction” projects (most of which proved disasters of corruption and incompetence), and spent trillions of dollars of national treasure.

Having imagined that, ask yourself: How well did all of that turn out for this other power?  In Afghanistan, a recent news story highlights something of what was accomplished.  Though that country took slot 175out of 177 on Transparency International’s 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index, though its security forces continue to suffer grievous casualties, and though parts of the country are falling to a strengthening Taliban insurgency, it has for some years proudly held a firm grip on one record: Afghanistan is the leading narco-state on planet Earth.

In 2013, it upped its opium poppy cultivation by 36%, its opium production by almost 50%, and drug profits soared. Preliminary figures for this year, recently released by the U.N., indicate that opium cultivation has risen by another 7% and opium production by 17%, both to historic highs, as Afghanistan itself has become “one of the world’s most addicted societies.”

Meanwhile, where there once was Iraq (171st on that index of kleptocracies), there is now a Shiite government in Baghdad defended by acollapsed army and sectarian militias, a de facto Kurdish state to the north, and, in the third of the country in-between, a newly proclaimed “caliphate” run by a terror movement so brutal it’s establishing records for pure bloodiness.  It’s headed by men whose West Point was a military prison run by that same great power and its bloodthirstiness is funded in part by captured oil fields and refineries.

In other words, after 13 years of doing its damnedest, on one side of the Greater Middle East this power has somehow overseen the rise of the dominant narco-state on the planet with monopoly control over 80%90%of the global opium supply and 75% of the heroin. On the other side of the region, it’s been complicit in the creation of the first terrorist mini-oil state in history, a post-al-Qaeda triumph of extreme jihadism.

A Fraudulent Election and a Collapsed Army

Though I have no doubt that the fantasy of relocating Washington’s deeds to Beijing, Moscow, Tehran, or any other capital crumbled paragraphs ago, take a moment for one more experiment.  If this had been the work of any other power we thought less well of than we do of ourselves, imagine the blazing headlines right now.  Conjure up — and it shouldn’t be hard — what the usual war hawks would be spouting in Congress, what the usual suspects on the Sunday morning talk shows might be saying, and what stories cable news networks from CNN to Fox would be carrying.

You know perfectly well that the denunciations of such global behavior would be blistering, that the assorted pundits and talking heads would be excoriating, that the fear and hysteria over that heroin and those terrorists crossing our border would be somewhere in the stratosphere.  You would hear words like “evil” and “barbaric.”  It would be implied, or stated outright, that this avalanche of disaster was no happenstance but planned by that same grim power with its hand on the trigger these last 13 years, in part to harm the interests of the United States.  We would never hear the end of it.

Instead, the recent reports about Afghanistan’s bumper crop of opium poppies slipped by in the media like a ship on a dark ocean.  No blame was laid, no responsibility mentioned.  There were neither blazing headlines, nor angry jeremiads, nor blistering comments — none of the things that would have been commonplace if the Russians, the Chinese, or the Iranians had been responsible.

Just about no one in the mainstream excoriates or blames Washington for the 13 years leading up to this. . .

Continue reading.

Read the whole thing. The cumulative effect of all the things the US has done and continues to do will amaze and dismay you.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 November 2014 at 12:03 pm

Formula One Engine Tech Is Trickling Down to Regular Cars

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Very interesting article on engine-train innovation. The Eldest has been a big F1 fan and gone to a few of the races.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 November 2014 at 11:58 am

Posted in Business, Technology

Perfect shave from Tech Gillette wearing a Feather blade

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SOTD 26 Nov 2014

A really terrific shave today. The Simpson Persian Jar made an instant good lather from the Los Angles Shaving Soap Company’s shaving soap. I got this one from MaggardRazors.com, and I understand that LASSC uses this wider-mouth tub for Maggard—and I do like the wider mouth, as it helps in the loading.

And, you’ll note, the soap comes to the brim of the tub. That turns out not to be a problem for my loading technique—one dripping wet brush, then one shake of the brush and start loading—but some do prefer empty space at the top of the container. I suppose if I keep using it, I’ll soon have some empty space there.

The Tech with a Feather blade is a very fine razor indeed. No wonder Gillette made millions of them. Three passes, BBS result, no trace of a nick.

A good splash of Fine’s American Blend, and we get ready for the holiday.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 November 2014 at 11:36 am

Posted in Shaving

Very interesting interview (audio and transcript) with journalist James Risen

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Glenn Greenwald interviews James Risen at The Intercept:

Jim Risen, who won the Pulitzer Prize in 2005 for exposing the NSA warrantless eavesdropping program, has long been one of the nation’s most aggressive and adversarial investigative journalists. Over the past several years, he has received at least as much attention for being threatened with prison by the Obama Justice Department (ostensibly) for refusing to reveal the source of one of his stories, a persecution that, in reality, is almost certainly the vindictive by-product of the U.S. Government’s anger over his NSA reporting.

He has published a new book on the War on Terror entitled “Pay Any Price: Greed, Power and Endless War.” There have been lots of critiques of the War on Terror on its own terms, but Risen’s is one of the first to offer large amounts of original reporting on what is almost certainly the most overlooked aspect of this war: the role corporate profiteering plays in ensuring its endless continuation, and how the beneficiaries use rank fear-mongering to sustain it.

risen

That alone makes the book very worth reading, but what independently interests me about Risen is how he seems to have become entirely radicalized by what he’s discovered in the last decade of reporting, as well as by the years-long battle he has had to wage with the U.S. Government to stay out of prison. He now so often eschews the modulated, safe, uncontroversial tones of the standard establishment reporter (such as when he called Obama “the greatest enemy of press freedom in a generation” andsaid about the administration’s press freedom attacks: “Nice to see the US government is becoming more like the Iranian government”). He at times even channels radical thinkers, sounding almost Chomsky-esque when he delivered a multipletweet denunciation – taken from a speech he delivered at Colby College – of how establishment journalists cling to mandated orthodoxies out of fear, arguing:

It is difficult to recognize the limits a society places on accepted thought at the time it is doing it. When everyone accepts basic assumptions, there don’t seem to be constraints on ideas. That truth often only reveals itself in hindsight. Today, the basic prerequisite to being taken seriously in American politics is to accept the legitimacy of the new national security state. The new basic American assumption is that there really is a need for a global war on terror. Anyone who doesn’t accept that basic assumption is considered dangerous and maybe even a traitor. The crackdown on leaks by the Obama administration has been designed to suppress the truth about the war on terror. Stay on the interstate highway of conventional wisdom with your journalism, and you will have no problems. Try to get off and challenge basic assumptions, and you will face punishment.

I spent roughly 30 minutes talking to Risen about the book, what he’s endured in his legal case, attacks on press freedoms, and what is and is not new about the War on Terror’s corporate profiteering. The discussion can be heard on the player below, and a transcript is provided. As Risen put it: “I wrote ‘Pay Any Price’ as my answer to the government’s campaign against me.” . . .

Continue reading for the interview and transcript.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 November 2014 at 4:36 pm

Interesting development: The United Nations Just Came Out Strong Against Mass Surveillance

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Here’s the report in Motherboard.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 November 2014 at 3:48 pm

Posted in Government, NSA

More signs that Congress is owned by corporations

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Igor Volsky has a post at ThinkProgress titled “Congress Poised To Eliminate Key Tax Breaks For Middle Class, Provide Permanent Tax Breaks For Corporations.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has reached a compromise with House Republicans on a package of tax breaks that would permanently extend relief for big multinational corporations without providing breaks for middle or lower-income families, individuals with knowledge of the deal tell ThinkProgress.

Under the terms of the $444 billion agreement, lawmakers would phase out all tax breaks for clean energy and wind energy but would maintain fossil fuel subsidies. Expanded eligibility for the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit would also end in 2017, even though the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that allowing the provisions to expire would push “16 million people in low-income working families, including 8 million children into — or deeper into — poverty.” The proposal would help students pay for college by making permanent the American Permanent Opportunity Tax Credit, a Democratic priority.

Meanwhile, two-thirds of the package would make permanent tax provisions that are intended to help businesses, including a research and development credit, small business expensing, and a reduction in the S-Corp recognition period for built-in gains tax.

The costs of the package will not be offset.

“This Congress seems willing to give huge tax cuts to big businesses—who are already doing better than ever—but somehow can’t prevent tax increases on 50 million working Americans that will occur when expansions of the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit expire,” Harry Stein, the Associate Director for Fiscal Policy at American Progress Action Fund, told ThinkProgress. “This is a great deal for CEOs and a terrible deal for struggling families.”

On Monday, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew also blasted the emerging agreement as “fiscally irresponsible” and doing “very little for working families.” He said, “Any deal on tax extenders must ensure that the economic benefits are broadly shared. We are committed to working with Congress to address the issue in a manner that is fiscally responsible and extends critical tax benefits for working families.”

In April, the Senate Finance Committee extended most of the 56 expiring tax provisions through 2015, while the House voted to make permanent breaks that primarily benefit businesses.

Congress is expected to vote on the package next week.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 November 2014 at 1:03 pm

USA Today editorial against civil asset forfeiture

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The only group in favor of civil asset forfeiture seems to be the police and prosecutors, who live the free money. Here’s the editorial.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 November 2014 at 11:56 am

Posted in Law, Law Enforcement

Dried scotch looks pretty

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Who knew?

Dried whisky

Written by LeisureGuy

25 November 2014 at 11:26 am

Posted in Drinks, Science

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