Later On

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

Archive for March 13th, 2015

The Gini Index of inequality: Israel and the US

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As background, Jill Lepore has an excellent article in the New Yorker:

For about a century, economic inequality has been measured on a scale, from zero to one, known as the Gini index and named after an Italian statistician, Corrado Gini, who devised it in 1912, when he was twenty-eight and the chair of statistics at the University of Cagliari. If all the income in the world were earned by one person and everyone else earned nothing, the world would have a Gini index of one. If everyone in the world earned exactly the same income, the world would have a Gini index of zero. The United States Census Bureau has been using Gini’s measurement to calculate income inequality in America since 1947. Between 1947 and 1968, the U.S. Gini index dropped to .386, the lowest ever recorded. Then it began to climb.

Income inequality is greater in the United States than in any other democracy in the developed world. Between 1975 and 1985, when the Gini index for U.S. households rose from .397 to .419, as calculated by the U.S. Census Bureau, the Gini indices of the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, France, Germany, Sweden, and Finland ranged roughly between .200 and .300, according to national data analyzed by Andrea Brandolini and Timothy Smeeding. But historical cross-country comparisons are difficult to make; the data are patchy, and different countries measure differently. The Luxembourg Income Study, begun in 1983, harmonizes data collected from more than forty countries on six continents. According to the L.I.S.’s adjusted data, the United States has regularly had the highest Gini index of any affluent democracy. In 2013, the U.S. Census Bureau reported a Gini index of .476.

The evidence that income inequality in the United States has been growing for decades and is greater than in any other developed democracy is not much disputed. It is widely known and widely studied. Economic inequality has been an academic specialty at least since Gini first put chalk to chalkboard. In the nineteen-fifties, Simon Kuznets, who went on to win a Nobel Prize, used tax data to study the shares of income among groups, an approach that was further developed by the British economist Anthony Atkinson, beginning with his 1969 paper “On the Measurement of Inequality,” in the Journal of Economic Theory. Last year’s unexpected popular success of the English translation of Thomas Piketty’s “Capital in the Twenty-first Century” drew the public’s attention to measurements of inequality, but Piketty’s work had long since reached American social scientists, especially through a 2003 paper that he published with the Berkeley economist Emmanuel Saez, in The Quarterly Journal of Economics. Believing that the Gini index underestimates inequality, Piketty and Saez favor Kuznets’s approach. (Atkinson, Piketty, Saez, and Facundo Alvaredo are also the creators of the World Top Incomes Database, which collects income-share data from more than twenty countries.) In “Income Inequality in the United States, 1913-1998,” Piketty and Saez used tax data to calculate what percentage of income goes to the top one per cent and to the top ten per cent. In 1928, the top one per cent earned twenty-four per cent of all income; in 1944, they earned eleven per cent, a rate that began to rise in the nineteen-eighties. By 2012, according to Saez’s updated data, the top one per cent were earning twenty-three per cent of the nation’s income, almost the same ratio as in 1928, although it has since dropped slightly.

Political scientists are nearly as likely to study economic inequality as economists are, though they’re less interested in how much inequality a market can bear than in how much a democracy can bear, and here the general thinking is that the United States is nearing its breaking point. In 2001, . . .

Continue reading.

And Paul Krugman notes in his NY Times blog:

I haven’t been following Israeli politics at all — actually, if truth be told, after being out front so much against the Iraq venture, I’ve spent the era of financial crisis taking a personal vacation from Middle East issues. But I have noticed that Netanyahu is in big trouble — not over foreign policy and security, but over economics. Oddly, however, much of the reporting seems to either neglect or downplay the background here, which is the extraordinary rise in Israeli income inequality over the past generation. Here’s Israel compared with the US, from the LIS data:

Gini Israel
LIS Data Center

When I first visited Israel in the early 1980s, it was still an egalitarian place, with a lot of the kibbutz spirit still around. Since the early 90s, however, the concentration of income and wealth has soared; at this point Israel may be the most unequal society in the advanced world, surpassing even the US. Goodbye kibbutz, hello Gilded Age.

No deep thoughts or analysis here, just pointing out something you should know.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 March 2015 at 6:32 pm

CIA director describes how the US outsources terror interrogations (torture?) now

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Cora Currier reports in The Intercept:

In rare remarks about a sensitive issue, the director of the CIA confirmed today that the U.S. government works with foreign intelligence agencies to capture and jointly interrogate suspected terrorists.

“There are places throughout the world where CIA has worked with other intelligence services and has been able to bring people into custody and engage in the debriefings of these individuals…through our liaison partners, and sometimes there are joint debriefings that take place as well,” said John Brennan, the CIA director, speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.

Brennan’s remarks confirm what journalists have long reported: that the Obama administration sometimes helps other countries do the dirty work of snatching and interrogating terror suspects–keeping the U.S. at arm’s length from operations that are ethically and legally dubious.

During a question-and-answer session, it was Fox News’ Megyn Kelley who questioned Brennan about “capturing terrorists.”

“Are we still doing that?” she asked. “And where are we keeping them and how are we interrogating them?”

Brennan responded that the U.S. is able to work with “partners” to “identify individuals and to have them captured… although there are not a lot of public pieces on Fox News about somebody that might be picked up in different parts of the world.”

In one of his first moves after taking office in 2009, President Obama famously shut down the CIA’s Black Site program, which was begun under President George W. Bush. After 9/11, more than 100 alleged terrorists were captured and sent to secret CIA-run detention centers where they were tortured and interrogated by agency operatives.

Although the Black Sites have been shut down and no new prisoners sent to Guantanamo Bay, detentions of terrorists—and attacks against them–remain a murky issue. The administration has brought several alleged terrorists to face trial in the United States, and it has killed thousands more in drone strikes, along with hundreds of civilians. Obama has alsomaintained the authority (as President Bill Clinton did in the 1990s) to render people to third countries, where laws are looser.

The Intercept’s Jeremy Scahill and others have detailed cases during the Obama administration in which terror suspects were held in foreign custody at the behest of the U.S. In 2011, Scahill reported for The Nation on a secret prison in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu. Though officially run by the Somali government, Scahill wrote, “US intelligence personnel pay the salaries of intelligence agents and also directly interrogate prisoners” at the facility.

Brennan’s comments today are a rare confirmation . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 March 2015 at 5:56 pm

Learning to play contract bridge again

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I have mentioned FunBridge.com before: although you can play against other individuals on-line, you can also simply play against the computer (playing the other three hands). You bid, then you play—defense or as declarer, depending on the hand and the bid. You then get “points” by being compared to others who played the identical hand: the better your performance relative to theirs, the more points you get; the worse, the fewer.

My own points in the current series (you can always discard the record to date and start anew) range from +11 to -16 (don’t ask—and best not to play after a drink or two). My total right now is +15 and in this current series it’s been as high as +25. Previous series I would discard after reaching -75 or -100 points.

The interesting thing is, I’m doing much better now. It’s not from having studied, though my intentions in that regard were really excellent—of the very first rank, in fact. It’s simply from playing a LOT of hands, and allowing my adaptive unconscious to use its pattern recognition engine to figure it out.

Obviously, I can still improve a lot. It’s sobering to see your ranking against others who played the same hand be, say, 86 out of 97, but it’s exhilarating to see it as 3 out of 90 or 13 of 96—the two most recent hands. And sometimes I’m NUMBER ONE!!! At least for a while.

The thing that interests me, though, is how one can improve simply by playing a lot of games and seeing the (relative) result. It’s much the way in which one’s shaving technique improves over time simply by watching what you’re doing and seeing what results: the adaptive unconscious is quite powerful.

If you’ve not read Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious, by Timothy Wilson, you really should. VERY interesting book.

And if you like card games, you should try Funbridge.com.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 March 2015 at 5:47 pm

Posted in Bridge, Games, Software

What’s in a name? “Mass surveillance” becomes “bulk collection” because it sounds better.

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Governments, as the article points out, like to use euphemisms to make their crimes seem less offensive. Glenn Greenwald writes at The Intercept:

Just as the Bush administration and the U.S. media re-labelled “torture” with the Orwellian euphemism “enhanced interrogation techniques” to make it more palatable, the governments and media of the Five Eyes surveillance alliance are now attempting to re-brand “mass surveillance” as “bulk collection” in order to make it less menacing (and less illegal). In the past several weeks, this is the clearly coordinated theme that has arisen in the U.S., UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand as the last defense against the Snowden revelations, as those governments seek to further enhance their surveillance and detention powers under the guise of terrorism.

This manipulative language distortion can be seen perfectly in yesterday’swhite-washing report of GCHQ mass surveillance from the servile rubber-stamp calling itself “The Intelligence and Security Committee of the UK Parliament (ISC)”(see this great Guardian Editorial this morning on what a “slumbering” joke that “oversight” body is). As Committee Member MP Hazel Blears explained yesterday (photo above), the Parliamentary Committee officially invoked this euphemism to justify the collection of billions of electronic communications events every day.

The Committee actually acknowledged for the first time (which Snowden documents long ago proved) that GCHQ maintains what it calls “Bulk Personal Datasets” that contain “millions of records,” and even said about pro-privacy witnesses who testified before it: “we recognise their concerns as to the intrusive nature of bulk collection.” That is the very definition of “mass surveillance,” yet the Committee simply re-labelled it “bulk collection,” purported to distinguish it from “mass surveillance,” and thus insist that it was all perfectly legal.Mass surveillance

This re-definition game goes as follows: yes, we vacuum up and store literally as much of the internet as we possibly can. Then we analyze all the data about what you’re doing, with whom you’re speaking, and who your network of associates is. Based on that analysis of all of you and your activities, we then read the communications that we want (with virtually no checks and concealing from you what percentage of it we’re reading), and store as much of the rest of it as technology permits for future trolling. But don’t worry: we’re only reading the Bad People’s emails. So run along then: no mass surveillance here. Just bulk collection! It’s not mass surveillance, but “enhanced collection techniques.” 

One of the many facts that made the re-defining of “torture” so corrupt and indisputably invalid was that there was long-standing law making clear that exactly these interrogation techniques used by the U.S. government were torture and thus illegal. The same is true of this obscene attempt to re-define “mass surveillance” as nothing more than mere innocent “bulk collection.”

As Caspar Bowden points out, EU law is crystal clear that exactly what these agencies are doing constitutes illegal mass surveillance.

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 March 2015 at 4:36 pm

The military’s strange notion of “honor”

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I’m not talking about the sergeant, I’m talking about the senior officers who participated. And, of course, there’s David Petraeus. Perhaps in talking so much about honor the military doth protest too much?

Written by LeisureGuy

13 March 2015 at 4:27 pm

Posted in Military

Pot-Smoking Stockbroker Has A Steady Supplier: The Feds

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Very odd, considering that the Federal government steadfastly maintains that marijuana has no medical use—yet the Federal government supplies this man with marijuana for medical use. This sort of blatant illogic and outright contradiction drives me crazy, but the government is full of it (e.g., Obama’s sanctions against Venezuela for “human rights abuses” with absolutely no sanctions against Saudi Arabia, which has MUCH more outrageous human rights abuses: it seems that the Federal government is stupid, or else it thinks we are stupid and will accept whatever cock-and-bull story it makes up.

Evan Halper writes in the LA Times:

The interior of Irvin Rosenfeld’s Toyota 4Runner reeks of marijuana. A tin stuffed with hundreds of joints lies in the trunk, and a bag full of them is stored in the door pocket.

On a recent weekday, the 62-year-old stockbroker stopped at a red light and took a drag. His exhale filled the cabin with smoke. It was his fourth joint that day. It wasn’t yet lunchtime.

“This car has 80,000 miles on it,” Rosenfeld announced between puffs, stray ash landing softly on the battered towel he drapes over his pleated brown trousers and red tie. “I haven’t gotten into one accident.”

Rosenfeld would smoke five or six more joints by day’s end. In between, he would trade tens of thousands of dollars in stocks. Some days, the broker moves millions around, pausing occasionally to steal drags of marijuana from the smokeless vapor pen that tides him over indoors.

Clients have given their blessing to his 10-joint-a-day habit.

So has the Drug Enforcement Administration.

The federal agency at the forefront of the war on drugs is normally unyielding in its view that marijuana has no valid medical use. But it not only gives permission to Rosenfeld to light up any place cigarettes are allowed, but it also acts as his dealer.

Rosenfeld gets that special treatment because he has a rare bone disorder that gives him a lot of pain. He is one of only two people in the nation still actively involved in a federal program that supplies marijuana free to patients suffering from certain diseases.

The government harvests infrequently and Rosenfeld’s current stash came out of the ground six years ago. Not exactly prime bud. But good enough that in three decades he has consumed about 216 pounds — hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth — to ease his pain. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 March 2015 at 1:29 pm

Chilean accused of murder, torture taught 13 years for Pentagon

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No wonder US forces act the way they do: the US military culture has embraced torture and murder. Marisa Taylor and Kevin Hall report at McClatchy:

A member of the late Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet’s brutal secret police who’s been accused of murder taught for more than a decade at the Pentagon’s premier university, despite repeated complaints by his colleagues about his past.

Jaime Garcia Covarrubias is charged in criminal court in Santiago with being the mastermind in the execution-style slayings of seven people in 1973, according to court documents. McClatchy also interviewed an accuser who identified Garcia Covarrubias as the person who sexually tortured him.

Despite knowing of the allegations, State and Defense department officials allowed Garcia Covarrubias to retain his visa and continue working at a school affiliated with the National Defense University until last year .

Human rights groups also question the school’s selection of a second professor, Colombia’s former top military commander.

Some Latin America experts said the hirings by the William J. Perry Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies reflected a continuing inclination by the U.S government to overlook human rights violations in Latin America, especially in countries where it funded efforts to quash leftists.

But those experts were especially troubled by Garcia Covarrubias’ long tenure at one of the nation’s most renowned defense institutions.

“His hiring undermines our moral authority on both human rights and in the war on terror,” said Chris Simmons, a former Defense Intelligence Agency and Army intelligence officer from 1982 to 2010 who specializes in Latin America. “If he is in fact guilty of what he is accused of, he is a terrorist. Then who are we to tell other countries how they should be fighting terrorism?”

To his supporters, Garcia Covarrubias is a brilliant thinker with a Ph.D. and purveyor of leadership skills. To his alleged victims, he’s a sadistic torturer with a penchant for horsewhips and perversity.

A 2008 Chilean military document reviewed by McClatchy identified Garcia Covarrubias as a member of the Dirección de Inteligencia Nacional, the feared spy agency known by its acronym DINA.

“DINA was simply the most sinister agency in Latin America,” said Peter Kornbluh, a senior analyst with the National Security Archive, which secured the release of U.S. government classified documents underscoring the complicit relationship between the U.S. and Pinochet. “Anyone associated with that agency should never have been allowed into this country, let alone given this job.”

Officials with the Pentagon, the State Department and the school refused to comment. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 March 2015 at 1:06 pm

Posted in Military

Strength is weakness

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Paul Krugman has an important column today:

We’ve been warned over and over that the Federal Reserve, in its effort to improve the economy, is “debasing” the dollar. The archaic word itself tells you a lot about where the people issuing such warnings are coming from. It’s an allusion to the ancient practice of replacing pure gold or silver coins with “debased” coins in which the precious-metal content was adulterated with cheaper stuff. Message to the gold bugs and Ayn Rand disciples who dominate the Republican Party: That’s not how modern money works. Still, the Fed’s critics keep insisting that easy-money policies will lead to a plunging dollar.

Reality, however, keeps declining to oblige. Far from heading downstairs to debasement, the dollar has soared through the roof. (Sorry.) Over the past year, it has risen 20 percent, on average, against other major currencies; it’s up 27 percent against the euro. Hooray for the strong dollar!

Or not. Actually, the strong dollar is bad for America. In an immediate sense, it will weaken our long-delayed economic recovery by widening the trade deficit. In a deeper sense, the message from the dollar’s surge is that we’re less insulated than many thought from problems overseas. In particular, you should think of the strong dollar/weak euro combination as the way Europe exports its troubles to the rest of the world, America very much included.

Some background: U.S. growth has improved lately, with employment rising at a pace not seen since the Clinton years. Yet the state of the economy still leaves a lot to be desired. In particular, the absence of much evidence for rising wages tells us that the job market is still weak despite the fall in the headline unemployment rate. Meanwhile, the returns America offers investors are ridiculously low by historical standards, with even long-term bonds paying only a bit more than 2 percent interest.

Currency markets, however, always grade countries on a curve. The United States isn’t exactly booming, but it looks great compared with Europe, where the present is bad and the future looks worse. Even before the new Greek crisis blew up, Europe was starting to resemble Japan without the social cohesion: within the eurozone, the working-age population is shrinking, investment is weak and much of the region is flirting with deflation. Markets have responded to those poor prospects by pushing interest rates incredibly low. In fact, many European bonds are now offering negative interest rates.

This remarkable situation makes even those low, low U.S. returns look attractive by comparison. So capital is heading our way, driving the euro down and the dollar up.

Who wins from this market move? Europe: a weaker euro makes European industry more competitive against rivals, boosting both exports and firms that compete with imports, and the effect is to mitigate the euroslump. Who loses? We do, as our industry loses competitiveness, not just in European markets, but in countries where our exports compete with theirs. America has been experiencing a modest manufacturing revival in recent years, but that revival will be cut short if the dollar stays this high for long.

In effect, then, Europe is managing to export some of its stagnation to the rest of us. We’re not talking about a nefarious plot, about so-called currency wars; it’s just the way things work in a global economy with highly mobile capital and market-determined exchange rates.

And the effects may be quite large. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 March 2015 at 1:03 pm

Woman Says Investment Bank Fired Her Less Than Two Weeks After She Said She Was Pregnant

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Businesses tend to be misogynistic, even if not so obviously so as (say) Uber.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 March 2015 at 1:00 pm

Posted in Business, Law

Unraveling the Church Ban on Gay Sex

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It turns out there’s a well-known path by which the Catholic church can retreat from erroneous Biblical ideas and faulty “natural-law” reasoning, a path it’s taken before (only with great reluctance and after prolonged resistance) as in recognizing that the earth is not, in fact, the center of the universe.

George Gutting of Notre Dame University writes in the NY Times:

Last month, Salvatore Cordileone, the archbishop of San Francisco, made controversial changes to a handbook for Catholic high school teachers in his jurisdiction. The changes included morals clauses, one of which forbids those teachers from publicly endorsing homosexual behavior. There are plausible legal and educational objections to this move. But there is a deeper issue, one that raises fundamental questions about Catholic teachings on homosexuality and other sexual matters.

The archbishop has justified of his decision on the grounds that homosexual acts are “contrary to natural law.” Unlike many religions, Catholicism insists that its moral teachings are based not just on faith but also on human reason. For example, the church claims that its moral condemnation of homosexual acts can be established by rigorous philosophical argument, independent of anything in the Bible.

The primary arguments derive from what is known as the “natural-law tradition” of ethical thought, which begins with Plato and Aristotle, continues through Thomas Aquinas and other medieval and modern philosophers, and still flourishes today in the work of thinkers like John Finnis and Robert George. This tradition sees morality as a matter of the moral laws that follow from what fundamentally makes us human: our human nature. This is what the archbishop was referring to when he said that homosexual acts are contrary to natural law. This has long been a major basis for the church’s claim that homosexual acts are immoral — indeed “gravely sinful.”

The problem is that, rightly developed, natural-law thinking seems to support rather than reject the morality of homosexual behavior. Consider this line of thought from John Corvino, a philosopher at Wayne State University: “A gay relationship, like a straight relationship, can be a significant avenue of meaning, growth, and fulfillment. It can realize a variety of genuine human goods; it can bear good fruit. . . . [For both straight and gay couples,] sex is a powerful and unique way of building, celebrating, and replenishing intimacy.” The sort of relationship Corvino describes seems clearly one that would contribute to a couple’s fulfillment as human beings — whether the sex involved is hetero- or homosexual. Isn’t this just what it should mean to live in accord with human nature?

Natural-law ethicists typically don’t see it that way. They judge homosexual acts immoral, and claim that even a relationship like the one Corvino describes would be evil because the sex involved would be of the wrong sort. According to them, any sexual act that could not in principle result in pregnancy is contrary to the laws of human nature because it means that each partner is using it as a means to his or her pleasure. Only a shared act directed toward reproduction can prevent this ultimate selfishness. The awkward talk of “an act that could not in principle result in pregnancy” is necessary since those who put forward this argument want to maintain that heterosexual unions in which one (or both) of the partners is sterile are still moral. There’s nothing unnatural about their intercourse because it’s the sort of act that in general can lead to reproduction.

Just trying to formulate the argument shows how strained it is. There are, of course, numerous subtle distinctions employed to defend it, requiring equal subtlety to respond. And many would see the argument as proving too much, since proponents also use it to show the immorality of birth control, masturbation and even non-reproductive sexual acts between heterosexuals.

Most important, however, the argument has no satisfactory response to two crucial questions. First, . . .

Continue reading.

The comments at the link are also interesting.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 March 2015 at 12:57 pm

Posted in Religion, Science

Catholic Church Claims It Can Refuse To Pay Victims Of Sex Abuse Because Of Religious Freedom

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The Catholic church routinely instructs on moral and ethical behavior, but perhaps they should attend to the beam in their own eye. Ian Millhiser reports at ThinkProgress:

The Catholic Archdiocese of Milwaukee sought to insulate $55 million of its funds from lawsuits brought by victims of priestly sex abuse, according to a letter penned by then-Archbishop of Milwaukee Timothy Dolan, so it transferred those funds into a separate trust set up to care for the archdiocese’s cemeteries and mausoleums. Once the sexual abuse victims sought those funds in a bankruptcy proceeding, however, the archdiocese claimed that it had a religious liberty right not to use that money to compensate victims of abuse.

Though a federal district judge agreed with the archdiocese that its religious freedom includes this right not to compensate victims in 2013, a bipartisan panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit reversed that decision on Monday. The Seventh Circuit noted that “the issue of whether the Archdiocese actually made a fraudulent, preferential or avoidable transfer is not before us,” so it remains to be seen whether the abuse victims will be compensated out of the $55 million worth of funds. Nevertheless, the Seventh Circuit’s decision means that the archdiocese will not be able to hide behind claims of religious liberty in order to avoid liability for the actions of its clergy — or, at least, it means as much so long as it is not reversed on appeal.

At least 45 Milwaukee priests face allegations of sexual abuse, including one priest who was accused of molesting close to 200 deaf boys. The cemetery trust was created after the archdiocese agreed to a $17 million settlement involving ten victims who alleged that they were abused by priests in California, but the $55 million worth of funds were not transferred to that trust until after a Wisconsin Supreme Court decision which allowed other lawsuits by alleged victims of priestly abuse to move forward. Dolan, who is now a cardinal and the Archbishop of New York, wrote to the Vatican regarding the $55 million in funds that “[b]y transferring these assets to the Trust, I foresee an improved protection of these funds from any legal claim and liability.”

The archdiocese declared bankruptcy in 2011, in part due to the financial burden of the lawsuits brought by alleged abuse victims.

Religious freedom became an issue after the archdiocese claimed that it had a Canonical obligation to “properly maintain[] in perpetuity” the cemeteries and mausoleums funded through the trust. If victims of sex abuse or other creditors are compensated out of these funds, the archdiocese says, “there will be no funds or, at best, insufficient funds, for the perpetual care of the Milwaukee Catholic Cemeteries,” and thus the archdiocese claims that it will be unable to fulfill a religious obligation.

In rejecting this claim that the archdiocese has a religious right to spend the trust’s funds on burial places and only on burial places, the Seventh Circuit offers several reasons why religious freedom cannot trump the rights of the archdiocese’s creditors and those of its clergy’s victims. Perhaps most significantly, the court holds that the archdiocese’s religious liberty claim would fail even under the strictest level of constitutional scrutiny.

Drawing a comparison to a Supreme Court decision holding that religious objectors may not opt out of Social Security taxes, the court notes that federal bankruptcy law, like Social Security, “’serves the public interest by providing a comprehensive … system with a variety of benefits available to all participants’ nationwide.” Just as Social Security “aids those who have reached a certain age or are disabled, the Code aids those who have reached a certain financial condition and who need assistance repaying or recovering a debt.”

Yet, if religious objectors were able to opt out of parts of the bankruptcy code, that would undermine the comprehensive nature of that code. It would also lead to absurd consequences, according to the court. The rule proposed by the archdiocese “would favor a dishonest debtor at the creditors’ expense,” by preventing courts from inquiring into whether a religious entity made a fraudulent transfer in order to dodge its debts. “This would undermine the compelling interest of the Code by allowing a debtor who has made preferential, fraudulent and avoidable transfers to intentionally harm its creditors.”

Additionally, the Seventh Circuit explained, permitting religious exemptions from bankruptcy law could lead unscrupulous debtors to game the system. “If an exemption to the Code was created in the name of religious beliefs,” the court warned, “we can envision scenarios in which individuals would join religious sects to circumvent the Code, all in the name of religion, and gain an ‘economic advantage over’ their secular competitors.”

First the Catholic church denies the crimes, then covers up the crimes, then does everything in its power to deny the victims compensation. Moral? Ethical? You decide.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 March 2015 at 12:53 pm

Posted in Law, Religion

A former sheriff’s sorry record

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Radley Balko shows the state of lawlessness in the Prince George’s County, Maryland, sheriff’s department:

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake recently testified before the Maryland House Appropriations Committee about police misconduct to point out how difficult it can be to fire bad cops. She met with some resistance from police unions and a few state representatives. One state delegate in particular stood out.

Del. Michael A. Jackson, a former Prince George’s County sheriff, said he had not had any difficulty in removing bad personnel under the existing system. The Prince George’s Democrat contended that officers accused of wrongdoing actually have fewer constitutional rights than other citizens, who are not required to speak to authorities if charged.

This is a slight misstatement of the law. Cops also aren’t required to speak to authorities in the context of a criminal investigation. In some cases, in some jurisdictions, they can be required to cooperate in internal investigation into possible violations of police agency policy. But if a cop is suspected of committing a crime, he doesn’t lose his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination because he wears a badge. In fact, cops often get advantages regular citizens don’t. They can get free legal representation from the police union, for example. Some jurisdictions give officers in use-of-force/shooting cases a “cooling off period,” during which they can’t be questioned. (A more cynical observer might call it a “get your stories straight period.”)

But I want to focus on Jackson in particular. It’s unfortunate to see him now opining on and making public policy on policing issues as legislator. Because Jackson was a pretty awful sheriff. (If this were D.C., we’d call it “failing upward.”) Here’s a post I wrote about Jackson in 2009.

Last month, a jury in Prince George’s County, Maryland awarded Kimberly Jones $260,000 in a civil rights suit. In 2006, sheriff’s deputies from the county had forced their way into Jones’ home, blasted her with pepper spray, beat her with batons, punched her in the face, then arrested her for assaulting a police officer. Though the charge resulted in Jones being fired from her job at a shelter for homeless children, it was later dropped. Reason? The cops had the wrong house.

In the ensuing civil case, the jury determined that the deputies were well within the protocols of the Prince George’s County Sheriff’s Department. It was the department’s guidelines that the jury found unconstitutional.

The man who oversaw those policies? Michael Jackson. His policies took victims all over Prince George’s County. It didn’t seem to matter if they were black or white*.

Rawlings-Blake was testifying after a Baltimore Sun investigation discovered that Baltimore City had paid out more than $6 million to settle police brutality lawsuits since 2011. But from 2000 to 2006, Prince George’s County paid out more than $16 million. Jackson took office in 2002. More from his tenure:

A year after the wrong-door assault on Jones, Jackson’s deputies conducted another botched raid, this time on Accokeek couple Pam and Frank Myers. The two were home watching TV when the deputies came into their home and held them at gunpoint. The police were looking for a man wanted on drugs and weapons charges. They had the wrong house. The correct house was clearly marked, two doors down. During the raid, one of the deputies went out into the Myers’ backyard, despite warnings from the couple that their five-year-old boxer Pearl was outside. The raid team shot Pearl dead. According to the Myers’, the deputies left without even an apology.

Jackson’s department is also facing a lawsuit stemming from a May 2007 warrantless raid on the home of Upper Marlboro resident Amber James. They were looking for James’ sister, who didn’t live at the house. According to the lawsuit, the deputies told James they’d be back the next day, and when they returned, they’d kill her dog.

But the most embarrassing raid conducted under Jackson’s watch came in 2008. . .

Continue reading.

Notice any similarities to a police state.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 March 2015 at 11:37 am

Posted in Law Enforcement

Water conflicts starting to surface

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If you build a big city in the middle of the desert, a city that features green lawns and lots of fountains, you’re going to need a lot of water. But you’re in the middle of a desert, where water is scarce.

Does anything about that seem crazy to you?

Edvard Petttersson reports in McClatchy:

Las Vegas is seeking to quench its growing thirst by draining billions of gallons of water from under the feet of ranchers whose cattle help feed the Mormon church’s poor.

A legal battle across 275 miles of treeless ridges and baked salt flats comes as the western U.S. faces unprecedented droughts linked to climate change.

The surface of Las Vegas’s main source of water, Lake Mead, is more than 100 feet below Hoover Dam’s spillways after reaching the lowest mark last summer since the dam was filled. As it seeks new sources, the city’s water supplier is waging a court fight over plans to suck as much as 27 billion gallons a year from the valley that is home to the Mormon ranch and its 1,750-head herd, as well as three other rural valleys.

Casino resorts, five of which are Southern Nevada’s largest commercial water users, labor unions and the developer of a 22,500-acre mini-city west of Las Vegas argue their future depends on the water supply that the church, Indian tribes and environmental groups say is needed by local communities.

The fight, likely to echo across the increasingly arid West, conjures up the Los Angeles water grab that turned the once prosperous Owens Valley into a dust bowl.

As cities including Denver and Phoenix look to secure water for growing populations and economies, the prospect of sustained droughts, more severe and sustained than any in the 20th century, looms over Nevada’s court battle, with one pipeline opponent calling it the “poster child” for future showdowns.

The 7,000-acre Cleveland Ranch, established in Spring Valley in 1873 by Maine native Abner “Old Cleve” Cleveland and bought in 2000 by the Mormon church, sits atop an aquifer a dozen-plus miles to the north of Route 50, known from postcards as “America’s Loneliest Highway.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 March 2015 at 11:28 am

Bruce Schneier on the Hidden Battles to Collect Your Data and Control Your World

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Bruce Schneier, author of the recent book Data and Goliath, is interviewed on Democracy Now! Their blurb:

Leading security and privacy researcher Bruce Schneier talks about about the golden age of surveillance and his new book, “Data and Goliath: The Hidden Battles to Collect Your Data and Control Your World.” The book chronicles how governments and corporation have built an unprecedented surveillance state. While the leaks of Edward Snowden have shed light on the National Security Agency’s surveillance practices, less attention has been paid to other forms of everyday surveillance — license plate readers, facial recognition software, GPS tracking, cellphone metadata and data mining.

Video and transcript at the link.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 March 2015 at 11:25 am

Super shave with new RazoRock Baby-Smooth razor, and two nice soaps

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SOTD 13 Mar 2015

I just received this soap (and another) and the new RazoRock “Baby Smooth” razor, machined (like the aluminum Stealth) for high-grade aluminum alloy.

The soap was a pure pleasure and immediately yielded a lather with a very nice fragrance with a cushiony slickness that promised—and delivered—and easy shave. You’ll note in the photo that the container is sized to the amount of soap: filled, rather than half full. I like that.

The razor I used with a Personna Lab Blue blade and I like it a lot. It is indeed light—thus making it easy for me to control pressure directly, just as the lack of a pivoting head (as on a cartridge razor) allows me to control angle directly. Single-blade shaving is a lot about controlling the tools, and perhaps that is why shaving seems to help restore or reinforce the locus of control.

The head is more curved than, say, the EJ head, but not at all bulky. It has a nice rigid feel—strong and also stiff—that enhances the feeling that you’re totally in control. It shaved very smoothly and easily, and I had no trouble finding the angle. BBS the first time out.

A rinse, dry, and splash of Mickey Lee’s estimable Italian Stallion aftershave milk.

Here’s a curious sight. I mentioned I ordered two soaps. One comes as 6 oz, the other as 8 oz. Here they are:

Two soaps

The Soap Command tub is exactly twice as high as necessary. The look seems deceptive: despite the container, the Catie’s Bubble soap contains 1/3 more than the Soap Commander soap (and I do understand that somewhere in the website listing the weight is provided—but the photo shows a different picture, as it were). Moreover, when I stack my soaps, the SC container’s height means it can be the only soap in that spot on the shelf: it’s too tall to allow another container to be stacked atop it.

Really, I think this is a serious mismatch of container and contained. I much prefer the Catie’s Bubble approach, which strikes me as presenting an honest appearance: what you see is how much you get.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 March 2015 at 10:16 am

Posted in Shaving

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