Later On

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

Archive for August 5th, 2015

The Trump/Clinton conspiracy theory

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Written by Leisureguy

5 August 2015 at 5:42 pm

Superb story of state-level politics: Finding a solution to the budget crisis in Kansas

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Absolutely terrific report, for reasons that soon become obvious: the reporter’s family lives in Kansas. Chris Sullentrop writes in the NY Times Magazine:

When I think of my uncle Gene, I think of a man who, late into the night at a particularly boisterous family wedding, would flatten his palms against the dance floor, extend his body parallel to the ground and then begin to undulate his legs and torso in a move known as the worm. Or I think of how, even later that same evening, he would agitate for a midnight meal at a diner in west Wichita, Kan., called the Golden Bell. Or of how, in his more abstemious workaday life, he left the family business — a small bank based in Colwich, a town of about 1,000 people in south-central Kansas, where he grew up alongside my father and 11 other siblings — so that he could expand a chain of pizzerias, which grew to include 48 franchises in five states.

But when you think of Gene Suellentrop — and you do think of him, even if you don’t know it yet — you just might regard him as a blight on the Republic. He is a partisan political warrior, which is a social type whose popularity probably ranks somewhere just above that of journalists, even for those who share his deeply conservative fiscal politics. And if you’re a liberal, coastal, cosmopolitan sort, at best you probably see him as a deluded if well-intentioned peddler of what the New York Times Op-Ed columnist Paul Krugman has called ‘‘right-wing derp, of doctrines that just get repeated (and indeed strengthen their political hold) no matter how wrong they prove.’’ Maybe you think my uncle Gene is an ideologue. Or maybe that’s another word for idealist.

Gene is 63 now, and his worm-dancing days are well behind him. He has served in the Kansas Legislature for the past six years, the last four as an ally of Gov. Sam Brownback, who is best known for his crusading social conservatism, including an unwavering opposition to abortion rights and same-sex marriage. Yet as governor, Brownback’s fiscal politics may be more remarkable.

In keeping with the state motto — ad astra per aspera, or ‘‘to the stars through difficulties’’ — Kansas politics have always been touched with a spirit of the avant-garde and the unorthodox, from popular sovereignty to prohibition and beyond. Today, thanks in large part to Brownback, the state is a petri dish for movement conservatism, a window into how the national Republican Party might govern if the opposition vanished. The 125 legislators of the House of Representatives include 97 Republicans; the Senate has an even greater percentage of Republicans, with only 8 Democrats among the 40 senators. With Brownback as governor, Kansas is in the midst of a self-described economic ‘‘experiment,’’ a project that, whatever you think of its merits, is one of the boldest and most ambitious agendas undertaken by any politician in America. Brownback calls it the ‘‘march to zero,’’ an attempt to wean his state’s government off the revenues of income taxes and to transition to a government that is financed entirely by what he calls consumption taxes — that is, sales taxes and, to a lesser extent, property taxes.

This fervor for budget-cutting is hardly unique to Kansas. At the federal level, the opposition party in the White House has kept the Republican majority in Congress from making much headway. But there are 23 states in the Union controlled entirely by Republicans, from statehouse to governor’s mansion — 24, if you count Nebraska’s technically nonpartisan, unicameral legislature — compared with just six (and Washington, D.C.) on the Democratic side. In these Republican states, the combination of the Great Recession with the anti-Obama elections of 2010 and 2014 has allowed legislators to make deeper cuts to the size and scope of government than has been possible in Washington for decades. In 2012, according to a report by the Pew Charitable Trusts, state governments spent $9 billion less than they did the previous year — the first such decline in 50 years. Many of these cuts have fallen on education. In Pennsylvania, for example, Gov. Tom Corbett cut funding for the state’s public universities by 20 percent, a compromise from his original proposal of 50 percent. Last month in Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker, backed by Republican majorities in the state House and Senate, cut $250 million from the University of Wisconsin system.

As many tax-cutting states have found later on, the party’s deep-seated opposition to tax increases of any kind can make balancing the budget a high-wire act. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

5 August 2015 at 4:23 pm

Barnburner of a speech on the Senate floor by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (7 min.)

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That’s via this report in Salon by Scott Eric Kaufman:

Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren was none too pleased with Republican’s attempt to grandstand on the issue of women’s health as the first GOP primary debate approaches, and she voiced her displeasure to her senate colleagues in no uncertain terms on Monday.

“I come to the Senate floor today to ask my Republican colleagues a question,” she began. “Do you have any idea what year it is? Did you fall down, hit your head, and think you woke up in the 1950s? Or the 1890s? Should we call for a doctor?”

“Because I simply cannot believe that in the year 2015, the United States Senate would be spending its time trying to defund women’s healthcare centers. On second thought, maybe I shouldn’t be surprised. The Republicans have had a plan for years to strip away women’s rights to make choices over our own bodies.”

Warren explained that in 2013, the GOP threatened to shut down the government if they couldn’t change the Affordable Care Act in a way that would allow employers to deny access to birth control. In March 2015,they stopped a bill that would’ve curtailed human trafficking because it could have allowed for the private funding of abortions. In June, Republicans passed a budget that eliminated Title X.

Moreover, she said, . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

5 August 2015 at 4:01 pm

Important pro-choice post from Kevin Drum

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Written by Leisureguy

5 August 2015 at 2:44 pm

Posted in Daily life, Law, Medical

How Reading To Children Transforms Their Brains

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Sam Collins reports in ThinkProgress:

Educators have long encouraged parents to read aloud to their children from the moment they’re born, stressing that every new word and sound strengthens the cognition needed to excel academically. A new study out of Cincinnati’s Children Hospital further supports that conjecture, this time showing changes in the brain activity of youngsters exposed to text.

In the study, children between the ages of 3 and 5 underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) brain scans while listening to pre-recorded stories. Parents answered questions about how much they read to their young ones. Researchers also measured the literacy within the home, including the frequency of child-parent reading sessions, variety of books, and access to literature.

The brain scans showed that listening to the pre-recorded stories activated parts of the left side of the child’s brain — a region associated with the understanding of words and concepts and the strengthening of memory. Lead researcher Tzipi Horowitz-Kraus, Ph.D.told CNN that children who had literacy-friendly homes had higher levels of brain activity, a connection that suggests rapid brain development starts in a child’s early years.

“The more you read to your child the more you help the neurons in this region to grow and connect in a way that will benefit the child in the future in reading,” Horowitz-Kraus, program director of the Reading and Literacy Discovery Center at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, said.

Horowitz-Kraus’ findings come amid conversation about America’s academic achievement gap. Despite the United States’ growth as a global leader, a significant number of Americans— particularly those of color and in low-income communities — haven’t been able to compete in the economy because due to an inability to read proficiently. Their illiteracy has, in part, stagnated progress and exasperated academic failure, poverty, juvenile delinquency, and marginalization.

A study conducted by the U.S. Department of Education and National Institute of Literacy in 2013, for example, found that the national literacy rate hadn’t changed since the completion of the last survey a decade earlier. At that time, 14 percent of the population couldn’t read, more than 20 percent of adults read below a 5th grade reading level, and 19 percent of high school graduates had low literacy. Americans who have difficulty reading often struggle to find jobs, maintain health, and support their families, especially in an increasingly technological world. Out of a desperation to do so, some may turn to a life of crime: 85 percent of juveniles who enter the court system are functionally illiterate and 70 percent of the U.S. prison population cannot read above the fourth grade level.

That’s why a growing number of community leaders and lawmakers have turned to early childhood literacy, touting it as a key in increasing a child’s academic success and closing gaps in education and wealth. Recent efforts to increase literacy include a storytelling project for young African American children, trips to national parks, and the donation of books that parents can add to their home library.

National nonprofit organization First Book has done the latter, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

5 August 2015 at 2:35 pm

Posted in Books, Education

When Canada Learned It Had an Infestation of Spies

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Graham Templeton reports at Motherboard:

 

In 1972, a senior analyst at the National Security Agency (NSA) reached out to the editors of the radical left-wing magazine Ramparts and volunteered to give a wide-ranging interview under the pseudonym of Winslow Peck. Though even he didn’t know it at the time, what Peck would tell the editors of Ramparts over several days in a San Francisco hotel room would come to change the course of Canadian history forever.

In that interview, Peck spoke widely about the NSA’s activities around the world, and made two references to Canada—specifically, a major Canadian agency called the CBNRC. According to him, this rather opaque acronym represented the Canadian equivalent to America’s NSA, and the UK’s shadowy GCHQ.

There was just one problem: the Canadian public had never heard of anything called the CBNRC.

Peck and the rest of the global security establishment knew that this Canadian agency, known today as the Communications Security Establishment (CSE), had been engaged in comprehensive eavesdropping and code breaking initiatives ever since the end of the Second World War. The Canadian government had secretly collectedthe country’s post-war signals intelligence talent at the National Research Council (NRC) in 1946, establishing the intentionally vague-sounding Communications Branch: the CBNRC.

Three years later, Canada secretly signed a tailored amendment to a prior US intelligence arrangement with the UK, called the UKUSA Agreement. The contract guaranteed a mostly free exchange of intelligence between members, and the CBNRC’s secret activities were the main source of the intelligence Canada brought to the table. Australia and New Zealand signed onto the Agreement in 1956, completing the group widely known today as the Five Eyes.

Unknown even to the majority of parliament, by 1972 the CBNRC had grown to employ some 600 people—slightly smaller than the Department of Justice, and about half the size of the Canadian Forces unit for military signals intelligence. Every successive federal government vehemently denied that Canada engaged in any international espionage, while the CBNRC secretly helped to fight and even escalate the Cold War.

Peck’s interview in Ramparts provided one of the first concrete pieces of evidence pointing to this fact. It practically begged for further investigation—though that investigation wouldn’t begin in earnest until the following year, with an enterprising young Englishman named William Macadam.

George Robertson had only just become head of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s Current Affairs department when William Macadam walked in with an absurd idea. Had Robertson been around longer, the young programming director might have been more skeptical; Macadam was a known shit disturber at the CBC, a long-time political operative for the Progressive Conservative party. His primary interaction with the news department had been repeatedly accusing them of favoring the extremely camera-friendly Liberal candidate, Pierre Trudeau, throughout the 1968 federal election.

But despite Macadam’s best efforts, Trudeau went on to win a strong majority government. It was one of many moments that left the young political staffer disillusioned, but it also impressed on him the power of television to affect people’s thinking on political matters. Aimless, but still ambitious, he decided to attempt an unexpected move into freelance video journalism.

Given his history with news organizations, however, he did still have to pay his dues. Robertson thinks someone at the CBC must have decided to have some fun by implying that the best way for Macadam to prove his worth as a new reporter would be to somehow get film of a violent biker gang in their clubhouse in Hull, Quebec. A bookish-looking young man with an upper-class English accent, Macadam naively came to Robertson with an offer to film the piece—with the understanding that if he was successful it would lead to more work, on topics of his choosing.

“I had never met him before,” Robertson recalled in a phone interview. “But he intrigued me. He had a great confidence in his ability to get things done.”

He bought the story, still wondering if Macadam had the skillset to deliver the goods—and Macadam, somehow, delivered. To get the footage, the rookie reporter was forced to employ hidden cameras, enormous at the time, and a sheer audacity that would come to define his later investigative work. Though it was short, the biker piece generated uncommon buzz for the Current Affairs department. The public was clearly interested in getting a window into hidden, even dangerous worlds—a lesson Macadam would learn well.

It was the ability to deliver on such a challenging assignment that pushed Robertson to greenlight an even more ambitious pitch: a 10-minute news segment that would highlight some of the US Central Intelligence Agency’s activities inside Canada. It was just one of several ideas Macadam had at the time, but it fit the public’s interests and seemed well suited to the sorts of clandestine talents he had already displayed.

“The government had constantly denied that Canada was involved in spying or espionage,” Macadam said in one of a series of phone interviews. “I thought it was important to find out if we were.”

If only he had known the depths of the rabbit hole he was about to enter.

Macadam knew that tackling a subject as difficult as the American clandestine services would require some extra talent. There were a number of false starts, as he discarded several able researchers off the bat. “They would tell me that things were impossible, that we couldn’t get an interview with somebody,” he said. “I had no use for that—being defeated before you start.”

Eventually, Macadam’s attention fell on a young Bostonian ex-pat at the University of Toronto named James Dubro. The 26-year-old academic was lecturing in 18th century literature, but had caught Macadam’s eye through his innovative work setting up databases of cross-referenced donor info for the University’s fundraisers. “The joy was that Dubro had a great naiveté,” Macadam said. “He quickly understood my belief that anything was possible.”

It was this attitude, that anything was possible, that led Dubro to take another look at the interview in Ramparts. Like most at the time, he was more interested in the feature interview’s juicy American angle than some boring Canadian acronym, but he did suggest to Macadam that this Winslow Peck might make a good interview subject on the CIA.

Once Macadam saw the reference to Canada, however, their focus immediately shifted to this alleged intelligence agency, the CBNRC.

Rather than arouse suspicion by coming at the Canadian establishment directly, they chose to begin their investigation in the United States. “I think the fact that I was American may have helped,” Dubro admitted over the phone in a thick Bostonian accent. “Once we stumbled on [the Ramparts interview], we started throwing the CBNRC into questions with US intelligence people. And they, stupidly, would tell us more.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

5 August 2015 at 9:56 am

Posted in Government, Media

The Obama administration protects criminal banks (and criminal bankers)

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There’s a reason, of course: politicians are in on the take, getting a cut either in the form of “campaign contributions” or payment through well-compensated sinecures as lawyers or lobbyists: the revolving day payola.

Pam Martens and Russ Martens report in Wall Street on Parade:

 

Citigroup, the bank that played a central role in bringing America to its knees in 2008; received the largest taxpayer bailout in the history of finance to resuscitate its insolvent carcass; pleaded guilty to a felony count of rigging foreign currency trading in May and was put on a three year probation – is now under a string of criminal and civil investigations.

On August 3, Citigroup filed its quarterly report (10Q) with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Instead of reporting a pristine slate free of transgressions as one would expect from a felon on probation, Citigroup reported that it had settled allegations of money laundering with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and the Commissioner of the California Department of Business Oversight involving its Banamex USA unit. The bank was, as typical, able to pay a penalty of $140 million and avoid an admission of guilt.

What Citigroup did not report on its 10Q is that it is also under another criminal money laundering probe by the Justice Department for its Mexican-based Banamex unit, according to a Bloomberg Business report. On July 24, Bloomberg reported the following:

“The U.S. Justice Department is investigating whether Citigroup Inc. let customers move illicit cash through its Mexico unit, setting the bank’s biggest international operation in the path of an expanding money-laundering probe.”

Publicly-traded companies are required to report material information to investors. Citigroup’s 10Q was filed on August 3 while the Bloomberg report was filed 10 days earlier, indicating that subpoenas had been issued to the company. Why Citigroup did not report the new investigation is unknown. Citigroup has a serial history of money laundering allegations, as Wall Street On Parade reported in 2013.

Also during the month of July, Citigroup reached a settlement with the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) over charges of bilking its credit card customers. The CFPB charged Citigroup’s commercial bank, Citibank, with a raft of illegal acts, including charging credit card customers for fraud and identity theft services that were never provided, and deceptive marketing practices to bilk customers out of illegal fees. The bank was ordered to return $700 million to 8.8 million customers and pay a penalty of $35 million.

A paltry penalty of $35 million dollars for ripping off 8.8 million customers for a felon bank on probation with a serial history of wrongdoing seems like a serious mismatch of punishment matching the crime.

Adding further to concerns that the four-year old CFPB, created under Dodd-Frank to stop these serial bank abuses of unsophisticated customers, is more lite-touch regulation, is the fact that as the CFPB was applying the wrist-slap of the $35 million penalty to Citigroup, which had $7.3 billion in profits last year, the CFPB was opening a new investigation into Citigroup’s abuse of student loans held by struggling college students. Citigroup reported the new investigation in its current 10Q.

In 2013, Wall Street On Parade took a hard look at Citigroup’s involvement in the student loan market. We reported the following: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

5 August 2015 at 9:49 am

New Effort to Rebut Torture Report Undermined as Former CIA Official Admits the Obvious

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Dan Froomkin at The Intercept:

 

Former top CIA officials planning a major public-relations campaign to rebut the Senate torture report’s damning revelations have found themselves undermined by one of their own.

Eight former top officials wrangled by Bill Harlow — the former CIA flak who brought us the CIASavedLives.com website after the Senate report was issued last December — are publishing a book in the coming weeks entitled “Rebuttal: The CIA Responds to the Senate Intelligence Committee’s Study of Its Detention and Interrogation Program.”

Meanwhile, however, Alvin Bernard “Buzzy” Krongard, who was the CIA’s executive director from 2001 to 2004 — the number-three position at the agency — was asked on a BBC news program if he thought waterboarding and putting a detainee in painful stress positions amounted to torture.

“Well, let’s put it this way, it is meant to make him as uncomfortable as possible,” he said. “So I assume for, without getting into semantics, that’s torture. I’m comfortable with saying that.”

He added: “We were told by legal authorities that we could torture people.”

The book’s contributors include former CIA directors George Tenet, Porter Goss, and Michael V. Hayden, former deputy directors John McLaughlin and Michael Morrell, former counterterrorist center deputy director J. Philip Mudd, former chief legal counsel John Rizzo, and former head of the clandestine service Jose A. Rodriguez, Jr.

All of them were complicit in the Bush administration torture regime and/or its cover up.

The book is intended to present the “rest of the story,” according to is promotional material. If past protestations from its authors are any guide, the book will also include many spurious examples intended to prove that the program “saved lives.” . . .

Continue reading.

Video at the link.

Written by Leisureguy

5 August 2015 at 9:38 am

JabonMan soap and the LASSC BBS-1 razor

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SOTD 5 Aug 2015

Extremely nice shave today. I’m finding Eufros shaving soap, made in Spain by JabonMan, is really a very fine soap indeed. With the Pro 48 shown, I got a superb lather: dense, creamy, smooth, and protective.

The razor shown is the BBS-1 from LA Shaving Soap Company. It’s made by Wolfman Razors and it provided a superb shave, living up to its name: BBS result, no nicks, no burn.

A little splash of Guerlain Vetiver to go with the Tierra Huméda’s vetiver fragrance, and I start the day.

Written by Leisureguy

5 August 2015 at 9:22 am

Posted in Shaving

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