Later On

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

Archive for March 4th, 2015

Not a post-racial US

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In fact, bigotry and racism are quite active and, in Missouri, an important source of municipal revenue.

Written by Leisureguy

4 March 2015 at 6:05 pm

Posted in Government

“Snowden ready to return home”: Media deceit? or media incompetence?

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Glenn Greenwald writes at The Intercept:

Most sentient people rationally accept that the U.S. media routinely disseminates misleading stories and outright falsehoods in the most authoritative tones. But it’s nonetheless valuable to examine particularly egregious case studies to see how that works. In that spirit, let’s take yesterday’s numerous, breathless reports trumpeting the “BREAKING” news that “Edward Snowden now wants to come home!” and is “now negotiating the terms of his return!”

Ever since Snowden revealed himself to the public 20 months ago, he has repeatedly said the same exact thing when asked about his returning to the U.S.: I would love to come home, and would do so if I could get a fair trial, but right now, I can’t.

His primary rationale for this argument has long been that under the Espionage Act, the 1917 statute under which he has been charged, he would be barred by U.S. courts from even raising his key defense: that the information he revealed to journalists should never have been concealed in the first place and he was thus justified in disclosing it to journalists. In other words, when U.S. political and media figures say Snowden should “man up,” come home and argue to a court that he did nothing wrong, they are deceiving the public, since they have made certain that whistleblowers charged with “espionage” are legally barred from even raising that defense.

Snowden has also pointed out that legal protections for whistleblowers are explicitly inapplicable to those, like him, who are employed by private contractors (rendering President Obama’s argument about why Snowden should “come home” entirely false). One month after Snowden was revealed, Daniel Ellsberg wrote an Op-Ed in the Washington Postarguing that Snowden did the right thing in leaving the U.S. because he would not be treated fairly, and argued Snowden should not return until he is guaranteed a fully fair trial.

Snowden has said all of this over and over. In June 2013, when I asked him during the online Guardian chat why he left the U.S. for Hong Kong, he said: “the US Government, just as they did with other whistleblowers, immediately and predictably destroyed any possibility of a fair trial at home . . . That’s not justice, and it would be foolish to volunteer yourself to it if you can do more good outside of prison than in it.” In January 2014, AP reported about a new online chat Snowden gave: “Snowden said returning would be the best resolution. But Snowden said he can’t return because he wouldn’t be allowed to argue at trial that he acted in the public interest when he revealed the National Security Agency’s mass surveillance programs.” In that chat, he said: “Returning to the US, I think, is the best resolution for the government, the public, and myself.”

In his May, 2014 interview with NBC News’ Brian Williams, Snowden said: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

4 March 2015 at 4:27 pm

Warren: Citigroup, Morgan Stanley, Merrill Lynch Received $6 Trillion Backdoor Bailout from Fed

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Wall Street must hate Elizabeth Warren. Other politicians—Hillary Clinton, for one—are very gentle and kind to Wall Street, which gives them ever so much money. But Elizabeth Warren actually fights for the common good. Pam Martens and Russ Martens report at Wall Street on Parade:

Yesterday, the Senate Banking Committee held the first of its hearings on widespread demands to reform the Federal Reserve to make it more transparent and accountable.

Senator Elizabeth Warren put her finger on the pulse of the growing public outrage over how the Federal Reserve conducts much of its operations in secret and appears to frequently succumb to the desires of Wall Street to the detriment of the public interest. Warren addressed the secret loans that the Fed made to Wall Street during the financial crisis as follows:

“During the financial crisis, Congress bailed out the big banks with hundreds of billions of dollars in taxpayer money; and that’s a lot of money. But the biggest money for the biggest banks was never voted on by Congress. Instead, between 2007 and 2009, the Fed provided over $13 trillion in emergency lending to just a handful of large financial institutions. That’s nearly 20 times the amount authorized in the TARP bailout.

“Now, let’s be clear, those Fed loans were a bailout too. Nearly all the money went to too-big-to-fail institutions. For example, in one emergency lending program, the Fed put out $9 trillion and over two-thirds of the money went to just three institutions: Citigroup, Morgan Stanley and Merrill Lynch.

“Those loans were made available at rock bottom interest rates – in many cases under 1 percent. And the loans could be continuously rolled over so they were effectively available for an average of about two years.”

One of the key reasons that the Fed wanted to keep this information buried from the public is that Citigroup was insolvent during the period it was receiving loans from the Fed.

There is also growing distrust of how some Fed personnel appear to cozy up to Wall Street. During Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen’s appearance before the Senate Banking Committee a week earlier, Senator Warren severely criticized the actions of Scott Alvarez, the General Counsel of the Federal Reserve. Warren said Alvarez had delivered a speech before the American Bar Association challenging Dodd-Frank’s so-called push-out rule that would bar insured depository banks from holding dangerous derivatives and swaps on their books. Not long thereafter, Citigroup slipped a repeal of the provision into the must-pass spending bill that would keep the government running through this September.

Warren noted that . . .

Continue reading.

Elizabeth Warren is on the side of the public, not the banks. Why are so few politicians aligned with her. (Answer: money.)

Written by Leisureguy

4 March 2015 at 4:05 pm

On the Use and Misuse of History: The Netanyahu Case

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Some very interesting responses to the Netanyahu speech, as reported in James Fallows’s blog. I did wince at “centers around” from the historian: it should be “centers on.” To take one example:

. . . 2) The modern history that got left out of the speech. Gary Sick, of Columbia University, has studied Iranian politics and policy for more than 40 years. After Netanyahu’s speech he wrote an assessment, including its strength as a “barn burner of a campaign speech” for the Israeli elections, but also its weakness as a studiously misleading description of the real state of negotiations with Iran.

.You don’t want to include anything that will detract from your central purpose [of campaigning in Israel, where the speech came on at 6pm local time]. So, what did Netanyahu leave out of his speech?

1. Iran has dramatically reduced its stockpile of enriched uranium. Remember Bibi’s cartoon bomb that was going to go off last summer? Well, it has been drained of fuel, and that will probably continue to be true indefinitely. No mention.

2. Inspections will continue long after the nominal 10-year point, contrary to his claim that everything expires in ten years. No mention.

3. The heavy water reactor at Arak will be permanently modified, so it produces near zero plutonium. Not only did he not mention it, but he listed the reactor and plutonium as one of his threats.

4. His repeated assertion that Iran is actively seeking nuclear weapons ignores the judgment “with high confidence” of both American and Israeli intelligence that Iran has taken no decision to build nuclear weapons. It also contradicts the repeated findings of the IAEA that no materials have been diverted for military purposes.

5. All the major countries of the world are co-negotiators with the United States, so a U.S. congressional intervention that killed the deal will not only affect us but all of our major allies. If we stiff them, there is no reason to believe the international sanctions will hold for long. No mention.

Are these simply oversights in the interests of time? Why did he leave out only the facts that cast doubt on his central thesis?

Read all of Gary Sick’s piece; compare it with Netanyahu’s end-days warnings about the emerging “bad deal”; and while you’re at it think back to people who were telling you in 2002 and early 2003 to be skeptical of the end-days warnings about Saddam Hussein’s imminent and existential threat to the world. . . .

Read the whole thing.

Written by Leisureguy

4 March 2015 at 12:44 pm

Posted in Mideast Conflict

The fight to end civil asset forfeiture is far from over

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Two (of seven) items from Radley Balko’s morning links:

  • While we’re on the topic, here’s a thorough rebuttal to Philadelphia DA Seth Williams’ attempt to defend how forfeiture is conducted in his city.

Written by Leisureguy

4 March 2015 at 11:32 am

The Demolition of Worker’s Comp: The continuing assault on labor

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Michael Grabell and Howard Berkes have an important story in ProPublica:

DENNIS WHEDBEE’S CREW WAS RUSHING to prepare an oil well for pumping on the Sweet Grass Woman lease site, a speck of dusty plains rich with crude in Mandaree, North Dakota.

It was getting late that September afternoon in 2012. Whedbee, a 50-year-old derrickhand, was helping another worker remove a pipe fitting on top of the well when it suddenly blew.

Oil and sludge pressurized at more than 700 pounds per square inch tore into Whedbee’s body, ripping his left arm off just below the elbow. Coworkers jerry-rigged a tourniquet from a sweatshirt and a ratchet strap to stanch his bleeding and got his wife on the phone.“Babe,’’ he said, “tell everyone I love them.”

It was exactly the sort of accident that workers’ compensation was designed for. Until recently, America’s workers could rely on a compact struck at the dawn of the Industrial Age: They would give up their right to sue. In exchange, if they were injured on the job, their employers would pay their medical bills and enough of their wages to help them get by while they recovered.

No longer.

Over the past decade, state after state has been dismantling America’s workers’ comp system with disastrous consequences for many of the hundreds of thousands of people who suffer serious injuries at work each year, a ProPublica and NPR investigation has found.

The cutbacks have been so drastic in some places that they virtually guarantee injured workers will plummet into poverty. Workers often battle insurance companies for years to get the surgeries, prescriptions and basic help their doctors recommend.

Two-and-a-half years after he lost his arm, Whedbee is still fighting with North Dakota’s insurance agency for the prosthesis that his doctor says would give him a semblance of his former life.

The changes, often passed under the banner of “reform,” have been pushed by big businesses and insurance companies on the false premise that costs are out of control.

In fact, employers are paying the lowest rates for workers’ comp insurance since the 1970s. And in 2013, insurers had their most profitable year in over a decade, bringing in a hefty 18 percent return.

All the while, employers have found someone else to foot the bill for workplace accidents: American taxpayers, who shell out tens of billions of dollars a year through Social Security Disability Insurance, Medicare and Medicaid for lost wages and medical costs not covered by workers’ comp.

ProPublica analyzed reams of insurance industry data, studied arcane state laws and obtained often confidential medical and court records to provide an unprecedented look at the unwinding of workers’ comp laws across the country.

Among the findings: . . .

Continue reading.

What they found is sobering indeed. I have to think that ultimately this sort of government action is due to citizen indifference: the low voting turnouts (in the current race in LA, the turnout is about 8% of voters) means that legislators no longer respond to the public at large and are free to ignore the public welfare. If all vote, then the issues of most concern to the public will get the attention they deserve.

Perhaps the US could adopt the Australian practice of levying a fine (in the $100 range) on those who fail to vote. Since early voting and absentee ballots are readily available, I don’t see a reason that would stop eligible voters from casting a ballot—other than indifference, of course.

Written by Leisureguy

4 March 2015 at 10:59 am

Obama is upset that China wants tech companies to undermine their own security

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This is very weird: Obama goes on record as saying that the Chinese government is out of line in requiring tech companies to provide back doors to encrypted data—but doesn’t say a word about the same push from the US government. Andrea Peterson reports in the Washington Post:

President Obama came out against back doors in encrypted communications — if the Chinese government can access them. But the president has avoided taking a position on whether tech companies should build in ways for U.S. law enforcement to access secure communications, a policy endorsed by some high-ranking administration figures.

Obama criticized a far-reaching Chinese counterterrorism proposal during an interview with Reuters released Monday. The Chinese plan would require technology companies to build back doors into their products and hand over encryption keys that secure customer data for use in Chinese surveillance programs.

The laws, the president said, “would essentially force all foreign companies, including U.S. companies, to turn over to the Chinese government mechanisms where they can snoop and keep track of all the users of those services.” Obama told Reuters he had directly raised his concerns with Chinese President Xi Jinping. “We have made it very clear to them that this is something they are going to have to change if they are to do business with the United States.”

The debate over foreign access to secure online communications mirrors a standoff happening in the United States. The White House did not immediately respond to an inquiry about the president’s comments. U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman told The Washington Post that the government’s concerns were more about intellectual property rights and trade concerns than protecting communications. . .

Continue reading. It’s a good article and summarizes well the positions—and clearly points out the fallacy in requiring “strong encryption” that’s been weakened by a back door that can be exploited by anyone who finds it—and those who discover the weakness will be tempted to sell that information, so the encryption becomes a trap: those using it think they are protected and they are not.

Written by Leisureguy

4 March 2015 at 10:03 am

Photos of foods served at conferences on obesity, diabetes, and LCHF

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The obesity and diabetes conferences served a lot of candy bars and junk food…

Take a look.

Written by Leisureguy

4 March 2015 at 9:57 am

Posted in Food, Health, Science

BBS with British Gillette

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SOTD 4 Mar 2015

Extremely good shave today. With my brush, I got an immediate good lather from Tcheon Fung Sing’s Tobacco Verde shaving soap. Although the stubby dense knot has somewhat limited capacity and lacks the soft feel of a fluffier knot, it still held plenty for a three-pass shave.

The British Gillette Aristocrat (one of many models) I came across when digging out my GEM razors. I’m not sure how it ended up in the storage box, but it’s out now. I like the TTO open-comb design, and with a Shark Chrome blade it easily produced a nick-free BBS result. I’m thinking this one might deserve a replating.

A good splash of Alt-Innsbruck aftershave to carry forward the tobacco theme. Alt-Innsbruck has a touch of menthol, noticeable but restrained.

Altogether, a fine start.

Written by Leisureguy

4 March 2015 at 8:53 am

Posted in Shaving

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