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Archive for January 16th, 2015

Weekly Muck Reads

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At ProPublica Terry Parris, Jr. provides three muck reads:

What one cop said to another after burning a pregnant woman with a flashbang grenade: “Y’all done fucked up.” Flashbangs were originally designed for military-style hostage rescues. But these days, local police use them regularly to serve “no-knock” warrants. These modified hand grenades burn hotter than lava, and are used by law enforcement without national training requirements and little oversight. A ProPublica review found 50 people who were maimed, burned or killed from police use of the devices. — ProPublica via @JuliaAngwin

They call this VA center “Candy Land” and the guy who runs it “The Candy Man.” The Center for Investigative Reporting examines painkiller prescription rates at a rural Wisconsin VA center under the direction of Dr. David Houlihan. During his tenure, opiate prescriptions quintupled despite a decline in patients seeking care, CIR reports. Staff and pharmacists who have complained about the center’s practices have either been fired or resigned in protest. “It’s a system that’s gone completely haywire,” said one whistleblower who quit his position after two months on the job.  — The Center of Investigative Reporting via @willcir

When Child Protective Services fails to protect the child. Texas CPS investigates tens of thousands of child abuse and neglect cases every year. In 2009, the Texas Legislature ordered CPS to create public reports of the cases, including details of the abuse, cause of death and CPS’ involvement. Of the reports analyzed in an American-Statesman investigation, more than a quarter of the children who died had been involved in multiple CPS investigations. The lack of analysis, the Statesman writes, means that “Texas’ child protection workers effectively have been operating with blinders, missing deadly patterns and key pieces of information that could help protect kids.” — The Austin American-Statesman via @justiceron and @jinatx

Written by LeisureGuy

16 January 2015 at 3:40 pm

LCHF: How Washington bought into the anti-saturated-fat agenda

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Kukula Glastris writes in the Washington Monthly:

Last September, the Annals of Internal Medicine published a remarkable study on the comparative health benefits of low-fat versus low-carbohydrate diets. Conducted at Tulane University with funding from the National Institutes of Health, the study followed a racially diverse group of 148 men and women ranging in age from their early twenties to their mid-seventies. All were obese but otherwise in good health. Half were randomly assigned to follow a low-carbohydrate regimen, the other half a low-fat one, all with no calorie restrictions and no changes in activity levels. The low-fat group ate more grains, cereals, and starches and cut their total fat intake to less than 30 percent of their daily calories, in line with the federal government’s dietary guidelines. The other group raised their total fat intake to more than 40 percent of daily calories, including getting 13 percent of their calories from saturated fat, more than double the amount recommended by the American Heart Association (AHA).

After a year, both groups had lost weight. But those on the high-fat diets had dropped three times as much. The higher-fat group had also lost weight in a healthier way, reducing body fat, whereas those on the low-fat diet lost mostly lean muscle mass. Finally, the high-fat, low-carb eaters did better at lowering their risk factors for heart disease. “In the end, people in the low-carbohydrate group saw markers of inflammation and triglycerides—a type of fat that circulates in the blood—plunge,” reported the New York Times, while “[t]heir HDL, the so-called good cholesterol, rose more sharply than it did for people in the low-fat group.”These findings, needless to say, run exactly counter to the nutritional advice Americans have been given for decades—that fat, especially saturated fat, is unhealthy, a broadener of waistlines and a clogger of arteries. If it were just this one study, the findings could perhaps be dismissed. In fact, it was the latest in a long line of similar research going back years. Six months earlier, the Annals of Internal Medicine published a meta-analysis of twenty-seven clinical trials that found, according to the Boston Globe, “no difference in heart disease rates among those who had the least amount of saturated fat compared to those who consumed the most.” A meta-analysis of twenty-one other studies, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2010, found “no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease or cardiovascular disease.”

Anybody who’s been reading the papers carefully for the last decade has probably picked up on this news, which may explain the recent popularity of low-carb and “paleo” diets and the growing presence of bacon and pork belly on the menus of trendy restaurants where the educated congregate. But the news has yet to reach the average Joe. A Gallup poll last July showed that twice as many Americans are trying to avoid fats as carbs.

These folks are still following the anti-fat advice drummed into them over the years by government and medical experts, especially the AHA and the federal government’s “Dietary Guidelines for Americans,” jointly published every five years by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Yet instead of backing off the message about the dangers of saturated fat, the AHA has held fast to its position, and the USDA, in its most recent guidelines, lowered its recommended daily consumption of such fat.

These recommendations have led, in turn, to new regulations on school lunch programs. But parents and school lunchroom employees complain that the students won’t eat the new, supposedly healthier food. Most kids, for instance, skip over the skim white milk in favor of low-fat, heavily sweetened chocolate stuff. And, as researchers at the University of Virginia have found—you guessed it—kids who drink low-fat milk are much more likely to be overweight than those who stick to whole milk.

At some point soon, the majority of Americans are going to realize that they’ve been had—that the dire warnings about saturated fat they’ve been hearing from health experts and the government, which they have dutifully been trying to work into their daily eating routines, were flat-out wrong, and may have actually been doing them harm. When we reach that point, two things will happen. First, a collective cheer will go up across the land upon the news that it’s okay to eat cheeseburgers. Second, the public’s growing (if lamentable) distrust of scientific and government experts—be they climate scientists or Centers for Disease Control (CDC) officials—will kick into overdrive.

How official nutritionists and the government blew the call on fat is therefore a hugely important issue. It is also the subject of a remarkable new book, The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat, and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet, by formerGourmet magazine and National Public Radio reporter Nina Teicholz. While the title suggests a mass-market diet book, it is far more than that. . .

Continue reading.

Once you start ignoring evidence in order to maintain your ideology, you’re well on the way to a religious sort of belief: faith, not evidence, being your guide.

Try observing this diet or this one for a month and see what happens.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 January 2015 at 1:28 pm

Shopping for international human rights conventions

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Emilie M. Hafner-Burton, Edward Mansfield and Jon Pevehouse report in the Washington Post:

Joshua Tucker: One of our regular features here at The Monkey Cage is summaries from political scientists of recently published research. We have arranged for articles that are featured in this series to be “ungated” and made freely available to the public for a period of time following the post on The Monkey Cage. The current post is from political scientists Emilie Hafner-Burton (University of California, San Diego),Edward Mansfield (University of Pennsylvania) and Jon Pevehouse (University of Wisconsin), based on their article “Human Rights Institutions, Sovereignty Costs and Democratization” that recently appeared in the British Journal of Political Science and is available forfree download here.


In 1994, the U.S. government made a legally binding commitment to the international convention against torture, reaffirming its constitutional commitment to prohibiting “cruel and unusual” punishments. It joined a large number of other countries, including Algeria, China, Ecuador and Russia, who made similar commitments.

Recently, the U.S. Senate issued a report on the CIA’s secret interrogations of terrorism suspects, cataloging dozens of cases of near drowning and the use of painful procedures, mistaken identities and conspiracy to deceive the White House. Considering the information released in the report, the United States appears not to have lived up to its legal commitment. In addition, the report drives home an additional point — that these legally prohibited acts of torture didn’t work to serve the country’s national security interests or values. Others dispute this claim.

The allegations in this report raise a number of big questions. Among them is why do governments participate in human rights institutions at all if they can just break the rules at their convenience? The number of countries participating has risen dramatically in recent years, including many governments with serious human rights problems. And there are a growing number of international laws and organizations that include the promotion, advancement, or enforcement of human rights among their aims. Why would a government voluntarily elect to accept the constraints that these institutions supposedly impose on their sovereignty when it seemingly obtains no material gains from membership? Are these institutions just cheap talk, or can they ever have real teeth to constrain acts like those allegedly committed by the CIA?

Our recent research provides some answers. The United States is somewhat unusual — standing alongside Somalia, for example, as one of the few countries in the world that has not committed to the legal regime protecting the rights of children. But there is a more general explanation, which is that different types of governments participate in these institutions for very different — often contradictory — reasons. Some seek to create and bolster norms of human dignity. Some are obviously faking it, making promises they never intend to keep and joining institutions they seek to spoil. Yet some actually seek the pressure of an outside commitment to keep the government in line.

On the surface, it seems a contradiction that the world’s human rights institutions could in chorus service these very different goals. But they can, partly because the costs of participation depend on the way an institution is designed. Some institutions are much stronger than others — institutions that promote rule specificity, issue linkage, membership restrictions, formal reporting, monitoring and enforcement procedures place some constraints on a state’s sovereignty. Others are more symbolic than constraining.

This helps explain the reality that governments shop for the human rights institutions that most meet their needs, whether symbolism, expression or constraint. And it’s a very particular type of state — those undergoing the process of democratization —t hat is most keen to seek the institutions that actually extract costs.  Bearing these costs helps signal that their commitment to human rights and the consolidation of democracy is not “cheap talk.”  Sure, stable democracies may also enter these institutions in response to political pressures and in support of broader foreign policy goals, but they have less need to actually tie their hands. Meanwhile, the world’s autocrats are actively shopping for cheap talk, generally avoiding the human rights institutions that will make them pay the most, and they and they have a lot of options.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 January 2015 at 12:41 pm

Things that might turn people against the US and motivate terrorists

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Roy Gutman and Mousab Alhamadee report for McClatchy:

A U.S.-led coalition airstrike killed at least 50 Syrian civilians late last month when it targeted a headquarters of Islamic State extremists in northern Syria, according to an eyewitness and a Syrian opposition human rights organization.

The civilians were being held in a makeshift jail in the town of Al Bab, close to the Turkish border, when the aircraft struck on the evening of Dec. 28, the witnesses said. The building, called the Al Saraya, a government center, was leveled in the airstrike. It was days before civil defense workers could dig out the victims’ bodies.

The U.S. Central Command, which had not previously announced the airstrike, confirmed the attack Saturday in response to repeated McClatchy inquiries. “Coalition aircraft did strike and destroy an ISIL headquarters building in Al Bab on Dec. 28,” Col. Patrick S. Ryder said in an email.

He said a review of the airstrike showed no evidence of civilian casualties but offered to examine any additional information, “since we take all allegations seriously.” ISIL is an alternative name for the Islamic State.

U.S. officials acknowledged for the first time last week that they are investigating “at least a few” claims of civilian casualties as a result of airstrikes on Syria. “This is something we always take seriously,” said Pentagon spokesman Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby. “We are very mindful of trying to mitigate the risk to civilians every time we operate, everywhere we operate.”

A subsequent email from Central Command to reporters said the Pentagon had received nine reports of civilian deaths in Syria and that determinations were still to be made in four of those. No details of the incidents were provided. . .

Continue reading.

It may be the US citizens would have no problem with a foreign government bombing and killing US civilians, but I doubt it. I think US citizens would be outraged. It’s odd that we think citizens of other countries have such a different attitude.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 January 2015 at 12:37 pm

A good first step: Holder limits seized-asset sharing process that split billions with local, state police

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UPDATE: Radley Balko comments on Holder’s action.

Robert O’Harrow Jr., Sari Horwitz and Steven Rich report in the Washington Post:

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. on Friday barred local and state police from using federal law to seize cash, cars and other property without evidence that a crime occurred.

Holder’s action represents the most sweeping check on police power to confiscate personal property since the seizures began three decades ago as part of the war on drugs.

Since 2008, thousands of local and state police agencies have made more than 55,000 seizures of cash and property worth $3 billion under a civil asset forfeiture program at the Justice Department called Equitable Sharing.

The program has enabled local and state police to make seizures and then have them “adopted” by federal agencies, which share in the proceeds. The program allowed police departments and drug task forces to keep up to 80 percent of the proceeds of the adopted seizures, with the rest going to federal agencies.

“With this new policy, effective immediately, the Justice Department is taking an important step to prohibit federal agency adoptions of state and local seizures, except for public safety reasons,” Holder said in a statement.

Holder’s decision allows some limited exceptions, including illegal firearms, ammunition, explosives and property associated with child pornography, a small fraction of the total. This would eliminate virtually all cash and vehicle seizures made by local and state police from the program. . .

Continue reading.

Long overdue but very welcome. Still work to be done in state laws.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 January 2015 at 12:31 pm

Posted in Law, Law Enforcement

More police-state trends

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Radley Balko lists some interesting links today in the Washington Post:

Written by LeisureGuy

16 January 2015 at 9:11 am

Secret US cybersecurity report: encryption vital to protect private data

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The NSA, FBI, David Cameron, and other assorted national-security state surveillance fans all want to weak encryption because, in their view, no citizen has the right to keep the government from reading whatever he might write. The government, in their eyes, has an absolute right to keep all its citizens under constant surveillance to identify potential terrorists and, eventually, dissidents and “troublemakers” who ask impertinent questions of powerful government officials—we know this movie well since we’ve seen it so often.

Of course, once secure encryption is forbidden by law, then both NSA snoops and malefactors can exploit the security holes. But no matter: the key is to give the national security state whatever it wants, apparently.

James Ball writes at The Guardian:

A secret US cybersecurity report warned that government and private computers were being left vulnerable to online attacks from Russia, China and criminal gangs because encryption technologies were not being implemented fast enough.

The advice, in a newly uncovered five-year forecast written in 2009, contrasts with the pledge made by David Cameron this week to crack down on encryption use by technology companies.

In the wake of the Paris terror attacks, the prime minister said there should be no “safe spaces for terrorists to communicate” or that British authorites could not access.

Cameron, who landed in the US on Thursday night, is expected to urge Barack Obama to apply more pressure to tech giants, such as Apple, Google and Facebook, which have been expanding encrypted messaging for their millions of users since the revelations of mass NSA surveillance by the whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Cameron said the companies “need to work with us. They need also to demonstrate, which they do, that they have a social responsibility to fight the battle against terrorism. We shouldn’t allow safe spaces for terrorists to communicate. That’s a huge challenge but that’s certainly the right principle”.

But the document from the US National Intelligence Council, which reports directly to the US director of national intelligence, made clear that encryption was the “best defence” for computer users to protect private data.

Part of the cache given to the Guardian by Snowden was published in 2009 and gives a five-year forecast on the “global cyber threat to the US information infrastructure”. It covers communications, commercial and financial networks, and government and critical infrastructure systems. It was shared with GCHQ and made available to the agency’s staff through its intranet.

One of the biggest issues in protecting businesses and citizens from espionage, sabotage and crime – hacking attacks are estimated to cost the global economy up to $400bn a year – was a clear imbalance between the development of offensive versus defensive capabilities, “due to the slower than expected adoption … of encryption and other technologies”, it said.

An unclassified table accompanying the report states that encryption is the “[b]est defense to protect data”, especially if made particularly strong through “multi-factor authentication” – similar to two-step verification used by Google and others for email – or biometrics. These measures remain all but impossible to crack, even for GCHQ and the NSA.

The report warned: “Almost all current and potential adversaries – nations, criminal groups, terrorists, and individual hackers – now have the capability to exploit, and in some cases attack, unclassified access-controlled US and allied information systems.”

It further noted that the “scale of detected compromises indicates organisations should assume that any controlled but unclassified networks of intelligence, operational or commercial value directly accessible from the internet are already potentially compromised by foreign adversaries”.

The primary adversaries included . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 January 2015 at 8:50 am

Posted in Government, NSA, Technology

High Fructose Corn Syrup a problem? Easy solution: Rename it.

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Sometimes it almost seems as though corporations operate in bad faith. Barbara Minton reports at

Big Food is at it again, hiding ingredients they know we really don’t want to consume in their products. This time it’s the presence of a new version of high fructose corn syrup. But this is not the innocuous fructose that has sweetened the fruits humans have eaten since time began. This is a questionable ingredient with many names that could be causing all sorts of health problems.

The product is General Mills’ Vanilla Chex, an updated version of the Chex cereal sold in most conventional grocery and discount stores for many years. The front of the box clearly states that the product contains “no high fructose corn syrup” (HFCS), but turn it over to read the ingredient list and there it is – the new isolated fructose.

Why is that a problem? According to the Corn Refiners Association (CRA), there’s been a sneaky name change. The term ‘fructose’ is now being used to denote a product that was previously known as HFCS-90, meaning it is 90 percent pure fructose. Compare this to what is termed ‘regular’ HFCS, which contains either 42 or 55 percent fructose, and you will know why General Mills is so eager to keep you in the dark.

CRA explains:

 “A third product, HFCS-90, is sometimes used in natural and ‘light’ foods, where very little is needed to provide sweetness. Syrups with 90% fructose will not state high fructose corn syrup on the label [anymore], they will state ‘fructose’ or ‘fructose syrup’.”

High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is a food ingredient that has become widely used as a cheaper replacement for natural sugar during the past 40 years. That 40 year time span has also seen skyrocketing incidence of obesity, diabetes, and other metabolic diseases. While as yet it has not been established that HFCS is the direct culprit, the circumstantial evidence is hard to overlook.

Nailing Down Links Between HFCS and Bad Health Outcomes

A study just published investigated the effects of various sugar solutions on lab rats. It found that the isolated fructose solution, as opposed to other sugars tested, resulted in a doubling of circulating triglycerides.

Another study published in late summer found that consumption of HFCS-55 negatively impacts hippocampal function, metabolic outcomes, and neuroinflammation when consumed in excess during the adolescent period of development.

Yet even more research published this year found higher-than-expected amounts of isolated fructose in beverages they tested. Popular drinks made with HFCS contain 50% more isolated fructose than glucose. They concluded that beverages made with HFCS have a sugar profile very different than sucrose (table sugar), in which fructose and glucose are equivalent and balanced. Additionally, this research team suggested that current dietary analyses may underestimate actual fructose consumption.

Consumer watchdog group Citizens for Health has . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 January 2015 at 8:41 am

Posted in Business, Food, Health, Science

The FBI and its pseudo-terrorist-plots

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The FBI continually infiltrates Muslim communities in the US, seeks out young men who are still trying to figure out what life’s all about, and convinces them to blow up something. Often the men are totally clueless—because those who are clued in are totally uninterested in even talking about terrorism, and in fact in San Diego one of the Muslim young men reported the FBI’s agent provocateur to the FBI as a dangerous radical. The FBI didn’t like that and had the guy who reported the seeming terrorist deported. The FBI depends on these ludicrous plots for headlines.

Glenn Greenwald and Andrew Fishman report at The Intercept:

The Justice Department on Wednesday issued a press release trumpeting its latest success in disrupting a domestic terrorism plot, announcing that “the Joint Terrorism Task Force has arrested a Cincinnati-area man for a plot to attack the U.S. Capitol and kill government officials.” The alleged would-be terrorist is 20-year-old Christopher Cornell (above), who is unemployed, lives at home, spends most of his time playing video games in his bedroom, still addresses his mother as “Mommy” and regards his cat as his best friend; he was described as “a typical student” and “quiet but not overly reserved” by the principal of the local high school he graduated in 2012.

The affidavit filed by an FBI investigative agent alleges Cornell had “posted comments and information supportive of [ISIS] through Twitter accounts.” The FBI learned about Cornell from an unnamed informant who, as the FBI put it, “began cooperating witbarbh the FBI in order to obtain favorable treatment with respect to his criminal exposure on an unrelated case.” Acting under the FBI’s direction, the informant arranged two in-person meetings with Cornell where they allegedly discussed an attack on the Capitol, and the FBI says it arrested Cornell to prevent him from carrying out the attack.

Family members say Cornell converted to Islam just six months ago and claimed he began attending a small local mosque. Yet The Cincinnati Enquirer could not find a single person at that mosque who had ever seen him before, and noted that a young, white, recent convert would have been quite conspicuous at a mosque largely populated by “immigrants from West Africa,” many of whom “speak little or no English.”

The DOJ’s press release predictably generated an avalanche of scary media headlines hailing the FBI. CNN: “FBI says plot to attack U.S. Capitol was ready to go.” MSNBC: “US terror plot foiled by FBI arrest of Ohio man.” Wall St. Journal: “Ohio Man Charged With Plotting ISIS-Inspired Attack on U.S. Capitol.”

Just as predictably, political officials instantly exploited the news to justify their powers of domestic surveillance. House Speaker John Boehner claimed yesterday that “the National Security Agency’s snooping powers helped stop a plot to attack the Capitol and that his colleagues need to keep that in mind as they debate whether to renew the law that allows the government to collect bulk information from its citizens.” He warned: “We live in a dangerous country, and we get reminded every week of the dangers that are out there.”

The known facts from this latest case seem to fit well within a now-familiar FBI pattern whereby the agency does not disrupt planned domestic terror attacks but rather creates them, then publicly praises itself for stopping its own plots.

First, they target a Muslim: not due to any evidence of intent or capability to engage in terrorism, but rather for the “radical” political views he expresses. In most cases, the Muslim targeted by the FBI is a very young (late teens, early 20s), adrift, unemployed loner who has shown no signs of mastering basic life functions, let alone carrying out a serious terror attack, and has no known involvement with actual terrorist groups.

They then find another Muslim who is highly motivated to help disrupt a “terror plot”: either because they’re being paid substantial sums of money by the FBI or because (as appears to be the case here) they are charged with some unrelated crime and are desperate to please the FBI in exchange for leniency (or both). The FBI then gives the informant a detailed attack plan, and sometimes even the money and other instruments to carry it out, and the informant then shares all of that with the target. Typically, the informant also induces, lures, cajoles, and persuades the target to agree to carry out the FBI-designed plot. In some instances where the target refuses to go along, they have their informant offer huge cash inducements to the impoverished target.

Once they finally get the target to agree, the FBI swoops in at the last minute, arrests the target, issues a press release praising themselves for disrupting a dangerous attack (which it conceived of, funded, and recruited the operatives for), and the DOJ and federal judges send their target to prison for years or even decades (where they are kept in special GITMO-like units). Subservient U.S. courts uphold the charges by applying such abroad and permissive interpretation of “entrapment” that it could almost never be successfully invoked. As AP noted last night, “defense arguments have repeatedly failed with judges, and the stings have led to many convictions.”

Consider the truly remarkable (yet not aberrational) 2011 prosecution of James Cromitie, an impoverished African-American Muslim convert who had expressed anti-Semitic views but, at the age of 45, had never evinced any inclination to participate in a violent attack. For eight months, the FBI used an informant – one who was on the hook for another crimeand whom the FBI was paying – to try to persuade Cromitie to agree to join a terror plot which the FBI had concocted. And for eight months, he adamantly refused. Only when they dangled a payment of $250,000 in front of him right as he lost his job did he finally assent, causing the FBI to arrest him. The DOJ trumpeted the case as a major terrorism arrest, obtained a prosecution and sent him to prison for 25 years. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 January 2015 at 8:35 am

Great shave with Wilkinson “Sticky” and Tabula Rasa

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SOTD 16 Jan 2015

Very nice shave indeed. The Duke 3 Best made a very nice lather indeed from Tabula Rasa Dark Lavender shaving cream. Then three passes with the Wikinson “Sticky” holding a Feather blade (it’s a fairly mild razor, along the lines of the 1940’s Super Speed), and then a dab of D.R. Harris After Shaving Milk. An excellent daily shave.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 January 2015 at 8:26 am

Posted in Shaving

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