Later On

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

Archive for January 23rd, 2017

Making dinner, a little at a time: Stir-Fried Tofu and Peppers

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I’m making Stir-Fried Tofu and Peppers, by Martha Rose Shulman, whose recipes I tend to like: they are on the healthful end of the spectrum.

I prep a little at a time for most recipes, and in this case it is essential. First, I put the block of (firm or extra firm) tofu on a dishtowel, wrap the towel around it, put a small cutting board on it, and then a large (28 oz) can of tomatoes on the board as a weight. This removes excess water from the tofu. That starts shortly after noon, and from time to time I go and wrap the tofu on a fresh section of towel, replace board and weight (the can), and return to my chair.

Around 4:00, I start prep seriously. I make the tofu marinade and the sauce for the dish (in separate bowls, natch). I slice the tofu into the dominoes (you can also grate it, and that’s pretty good), and put tofu into marinade, to be stirred from time to time.

I always make a double recipe, since the tofu I buy comes in 1-lb chunks, and as you can see from the cooking times, all prep and measuring must be done before the cooking begins. A double recipe would call for 4 red bell peppers and 2 green bell peppers, but obviously you can substitute. I used 3 red bell peppers, 2 yellow bell peppers, and 1 green bell pepper: 6 peppers total, for a double recipe. I imagine you could neak a jalapeño or two in there as well.

The times: Stir-fry for 2 minutes (but for a double recipe in a 10″ cast-iron skillet, I went for 8 minutes), add garlic and ginger and stir-fry for 20 seconds, add tofu etc. and stir-fry 2 minutes, then add sauce, cover, and cook 3 minutes: total time is 7 minutes 30 seconds for the recipe, though obviously my cooking times were longer. Still, prep must be complete before you begin.

I always use more garlic than recipes call for (I can’t taste any garlic in the prescribed amounts), and of course I use no noodles or rice: low-carb diet. So the double recipe serves two, in effect, since the calories from noodles/rice are absent.

I’m enjoying a very nice Bourbon Old Fashioned, a favorite cocktail except for having to crush the ice. I possible should get an ice crusher, although the ice-tapper works pretty well once you learn it. (Mine is much older model, but the principle’s the same.)

An Old Fashioned is a cocktail (no water, soda, or other mixer), not a highball: rye (in the original) or bourbon (in mine), a little sugar syrup (easier than a sugar cube), and a dash of bitters over cracked ice.

And I need it after days like today. The news is highly interesting but very draining.

My Paprika Recipe Manager now has 182 recipes, and they are generally low in carbohydrates (e.g., no pasta, no pizza, no bread, no rice, no noodles, etc.). If you have that program, I’m happy to export for you the recipes in their current state. Most are from Cooking.NYTimes.com, but generally modified by me, particularly after I try them and figure out better (for me) proportions and procedures.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 January 2017 at 6:13 pm

Why are police groups and their advocates advancing a theory that makes police officers look terrible?

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Radley Balko writes in the Washington Post:

Over at Grits for Breakfast, Scott Henson points out that a police union president recently advanced the argument of “de-policing,” that cops are refusing to do their jobs due to increased criticism and public scrutiny.

Since this meme first arose, Grits has never understood why law enforcement spokesmen would suggest something so insulting to their own profession. Basically, the argument seems to be that officers will stop doing their jobs if people criticize them. For my part, I’ve never known a police officer with that mindset, so it’s a bit jarring to see this I’m-too-big-a-pansy-to-do-my-job meme asserted as some sweeping mentality that’s gripping the entire profession. I suppose it could be true, but Grits finds it unlikely and thinks there are other explanations for the data.

Further, the argument tarnishes the nobility of sacrifice by people like Little Elm Det. Jerry Walker, who died in a standoff with a gunmanthis week in which the suspect was also killed. He didn’t shirk his duty or fail to step up when it was time. And it doesn’t honor the memory of officers who’ve lost their lives to portray the bulk of the profession as cowards who would fail to risk such a sacrifice if the public were in danger because criticism had wounded their pride. Not only is that libelous meme untrue, it undermines public trust needed for the policing relationship to work. …

It’s rather shocking to me that a police union boss would attribute such unprincipled motives to his members.

It is perplexing. I differ from Henson in that I think it’s certainly possible that it happens in some places. It isn’t the first time we’ve seen a police union official advance the idea. It was widely reported that New York Police Department officers did just that after the killings of Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu in 2014. (Contrary to the linked article’s claims, there was not a resulting surge in violent crime.)

But like Henson, I have to think that conscientious cops would be offended by the notion. I too work in a profession that is highly scrutinized. In fact, journalists are quite a bit more despised than police officers. Public confidence in the police is at about 56 percent; for newspapers, it’s at 20 percent. The media has taken a particular beating over the last year or so with respect to coverage of the election, some of it deserved. Yet if someone suggested that I start phoning in my job because people frown on my profession, I’d be insulted. I’d imagine that doctors, soldiers, lawyers and members of just about every other profession would feel the same way. Yet it’s defenders of cops who advance this argument. And with policing, it’s quite a bit worse: The argument here is that out of fear of criticism (or even in retribution for it), they’re allowing people to die.

One caveat here. There’s some murkiness surrounding what “de-policing” actually means. If it means fewer suspicionless stops, mass arrests or harassment for petty offenses, perhaps it’s not such a bad thing. By this definition, NYPD was forced to engage in mass de-policing when a court ordered an end to the city’s stop-and-frisk policy. Crime continued to fall. If de-policing means less unconstitutional harassment, then let’s have more de-policing. But if de-policing means cops don’t respond to calls, or disengage from the community entirely, that of course is a lot more problematic.

Most of the people advancing the de-policing argument also seem to encourage the practice, or at least to excuse it. In doing so, they validate the fiction that police are highly scrutinized, or that every action a police officer takes risks public ridicule, internal discipline or even criminal charges.

So some perspective is in order: The odds that a given cop’s actions on a given day are going to suffer any serious scrutiny or blowback are slim to none. Take fatal shootings. My colleagues at The Post found 963 fatal police shootings in the United States last year. How many can you name? I can only come up with a handful, and this is my beat. At most, the vast, vast majority of these shootings get a deferential write-up in the local paper.

As for criminal charges, according to Bowling Green researcher Philip Stinson, between 2005 and 2011, 41 police officers were charged with murder or manslaughter. According to data compiled by media and activist groups, there have been about 1,000 deaths in police custody per year in the last two years. If we assume that figure is fairly consistent, of about 7,000 deaths in police custody between 2005 and 2011, 41 resulted in felony charges for police officers, or a little more than half of 1 percent. Last September, CNN reported that since 2005, 77 police officers have been charged for deaths determined to be homicides. Of those, 26 were convicted. Again, assuming about 1,000 such deaths per year, that shakes out to an indictment rate of about 1 for every 150 deaths, and a conviction rate of one in every 300. (At the time of the report, 23 cases were still pending.)

What about internal discipline? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 January 2017 at 3:52 pm

Posted in Law Enforcement

Interesting backstory on the Wells Fargo scam on opening credit card accounts

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Stephen Engelberg reported this back in September, but it’s still good reading:

Several years after I returned to New York from Oregon, I made a strange discovery. Bank accounts I was certain I had closed were inexplicably racking up service charges. It seemed bizarre, particularly because I had gone in person to a newly opened local branch of my West Coast bank to make sure the accounts were shut down.

The failure to pay these charges (bills were sent to my old address and never caught up with me) resulted in penalties and a report to a credit agency. After an increasingly frustrating series of exchanges at the local branch, the bank agreed to wipe out the charges but said I would have to deal with the credit agencies on my own.

It seemed outrageous, and as the editor in chief of an investigative news operation, I thought about asking Paul Kiel, ProPublica’s crack reporter on bank shenanigans, to take a look.

But then I stopped myself.

There’s an old saying in the journalism business for this sort of thinking: News is what happens to an editor.

As with so many newsroom aphorisms, it’s meant to be proclaimed with an eye roll and a tone of deep sarcasm. Reporters view editor-generated stories as the bane of their existence, and not without reason. Random events and pet peeves are not often a great starting point for serious stories.

Early in my career, I worked for a newspaper chain whose leadership was obsessed with the weather. Virtually every summer day, editors assigned stories on the heat or thunderstorms to some hapless reporter unfortunate to be sitting in direct sight of the city desk. (To be fair, Landmark Communications ended up creating the Weather Channel, an asset that eventually sold for $3.5 billion. Maybe they weren’t as dumb as we thought.)

Determined not to be the editor whose life events turn into assignments, I did not ask for a story on the refusal of Wells Fargo to set things right with the credit bureaus they had notified.

This month, I was more than a little chagrined when news broke that Wells Fargo was paying federal and California authorities $185 million in fines for opening accounts without customers’ permission. The bank said it had fired 5300 employees for improper actions that involved as many as 1.5 million bank accounts and 565,000 credit card accounts. The employees, for their part, said they were responding to crushing pressure from managers to generate new fees.

I became even more annoyed with myself when I looked back and discovered a Dec. 1, 2013 story by E. Scott Reckard of the Los Angeles Times describing how Wells Fargo had pressured its employees to “cross-sell’’ accounts. One former employee was quoted by name as saying he had opened accounts for customers without their permission. Somehow, in the late-year blizzard of great stories, I had missed one.

As has become increasingly clear, Reckard had an enormous scoop.

Last week, John Stumpf, the CEO of Wells Fargo, was hauled before the Senate Banking Committee for a hearing in which he was excoriated for his handling of the scandal. Jon Tester, the Montana Democrat, specifically raised the question of whether the fake accounts and improper fees harmed customers’ credit ratings.

“There must have been instances where that negative information was sent to credit bureaus,” Tester said.

Stumpf acknowledged that the very act of opening a credit card can lower a person’s credit score and that this undoubtedly had an effect on customers’ ability to borrow.

“This is a big deal — if information was sent into the credit bureaus because of these falsely opened accounts, the impacts of this are far more than the fees and fines that could be associated with that,” Tester said at the hearing.

Wells Fargo’s board announced on Tuesday that it would claw back $41 million of compensation due to Stumpf. The board also announced that Carrie Tolstedt, the head of the community banking division at the time it opened fraudulent accounts, had agreed to return stock grants worth about $19 million. The bank has said it will try to help customers harmed by improper reports to credit bureaus. . .

Continue reading.

But no executive will be held criminally liable for the crimes they ordered committed. I think they should get prison time. Read “Executives Should Go to Prison to Deter Corporate Crimes,” an LA Times editorial from 1985 by Ernest Conine:

A lot of corporate executives swallowed hard the other day when an Illinois court sentenced three officials of a silver-recycling plant to 25 years in prison and $10,000 fines for murder.

The three executives didn’t shoot anybody. Their crime was to knowingly expose workers to deadly cyanide fumes; one of the workers died. This is believed to be the first time that corporate officials have been found guilty of murder for a worker-safety infraction.

Legal scholars who argue that manslaughter charges would be more appropriate in such a case may be right, but they are missing the point: In most instances, when a corporation commits a crime, company executives, especially top executives, are not held personally responsible at all.

Dishonesty is probably no more rampant in business than in other callings, but the temptations are there, in terms of both personal gain and pressures to go along with an atmosphere that encourages bending of the rules to improve a company’s “bottom-line” performance.

The Illinois case is an extreme example of what appears to be a growing and welcome trend toward holding culpable executives responsible for criminal acts that are committed by their companies with their knowledge or participation.

There have always been notable departures from the prevailing leniency toward executives. For example, in 1960 three General Electric officials were sent to jail for price-fixing. More recently a small manufacturer was sentenced to prison for selling the government defective cord for use in parachutes.

Typically, though, executives of large corporations have claimed that they were unaware of the criminal conduct of their companies, and prosecutors have usually been disinclined to take the time and trouble to prove otherwise.

Two years ago Sperry Corp. pleaded guilty to making false statements in requests for payments on defense contracts. The company was fined, but no individuals were charged.

National Semiconductor Corp. pleaded guilty to 40 counts of fraud involving incomplete testing of parts sold to the military. The company paid a fine of $1.75 million, but refused to identify the employees or officials responsible for the violations.

Four big New York banks were fined for currency violations, but corporate officers escaped criminal penalties.

E. F. Hutton & Co., one of the country’s largest brokerage firms, pleaded guilty recently to defrauding banks through a system of calculated overdrafts. Criminal fines totaling $2 million, in addition to other penalties, were imposed on the company. However, the Justice Department said that it would forgo prosecution of individuals because participation in the scheme was not traced “to the highest levels of the company.”

Yet punishment of responsible executives–making examples of them, if you will–may be the only real way to get at the problem. After all, you can’t lock up a guilty corporation; all that you can do is impose financial penalties. In the case of large companies, even multimillion-dollar fines are too small to have much of a deterrent effect. In any event, such penalties are commonly passed on to consumers as just another cost of doing business. . .

Read the whole thing.

Given the prevalence of psychopaths in executive suites, simply charging companies fines is going to have no real effect. Sending executives to prison when they commit crimes would, I think, change the nature of the game by raising the stakes.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 January 2017 at 2:35 pm

Here’s Another Way Wells Fargo Took Advantage Of Customers

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Speaking of psycopaths in corporations… Jesse Eisinger reports in ProPublica:

Wells Fargo, the largest mortgage lender in the country, portrays itself as a stalwart bankthat puts customers first. That reputation shattered in September, when it was fined $185 million for illegally opening as many as 2 million deposit and credit-card accounts without customers’ knowledge.

Now four former Wells Fargo employees in the Los Angeles region say the bank had another way of chiseling clients: Improperly charging them to extend their promised interest rate when their mortgage paperwork was delayed. The employees say the delays were usually the bank’s fault but that management forced them to blame the customers.

The new allegations could exacerbate the lingering damage to the bank’s reputation from the fictitious accounts scandal. Last week, Wells Fargo reported declining earnings. In the fourth quarter, new credit card applications tumbled 43 percent from a year earlier, while new checking accounts fell 40 percent.

“I believe the damage done to Wells Fargo mortgage customers in this case is much, much more egregious,” than from the sham accounts, a former Wells Fargo loan officer named Frank Chavez wrote in a November letter to Congress that has not previously been made public. “We are talking about millions of dollars, in just the Los Angeles area alone, which were wrongly paid by borrowers/customers instead of Wells Fargo.” Chavez, a 10-year Wells Fargo veteran, resigned from his job in the Beverly Hills private mortgage group last April. Chavez sent his letter to the Senate banking committee and the House financial services committee in November. He never got a reply.

Three other former employees of Wells Fargo’s residential mortgage business in the Los Angeles area confirmed Chavez’s account. Tom Swanson, the Wells Fargo executive in charge of the region, directed the policy, they say. . .

Continue reading.

No Wells Fargo executive has been held criminally liable for the fraud they ran. They got away with it, scot-free, thanks to the Obama Department of Justice’s very gentle approach to financial crimes committed by large corporations. I doubt that Trump’s DoJ will be any better.

Do read the entire report. There’s a lot more and Eisinger explains how this particular Wells Fargo scam worked.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 January 2017 at 2:20 pm

Paul Krugman tells what to expect

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In the first part of the column, Krugman notes that things currently are not at all bad but could easily worsen:

. . . Manufacturing employment is indeed down since 2000; but overall employment is way up, and the unemployment rate is low by historical standards.

What this means is that unemployment probably can’t fall much from here, so that even with good policies and good luck, job creation will be much slower than it was in the Obama years. And since bad stuff does happen, there’s a strong likelihood that unemployment will be higher four years from now than it is today. . .

And healthcare is very likely to get worse, especially with Trump throwing out executive orders that rattle the health insurance market.

. . . A second front on which things will almost surely get worse is health care. Obamacare caused the percentage of Americans without insurance to fall sharply, to the lowest level ever. Repeal would send the numbers right back up — 18 million newly uninsured in just the first year, eventually rising to more than 30 million, according to Congressional Budget Office estimates. And no, Republicans who have spent seven years failing to come up with a real replacement won’t develop one in the next few weeks, or ever. . .

And crime has been on a decline and is now at low levels:

. . . On a third front, crime, the future direction is unclear. The Trump vision of an urban America ravaged by “the crime and the gangs and the drugs” is a dystopian fantasy: Violent crime is, in fact, way down despite highly publicized recent murder increases in a few cities. Crime could, I suppose, fall further, but it could also rise. What we do know is that the Trump administration can’t pacify America’s urban war zones, because those zones don’t exist. . .

The Krugman asks the big question:

. . . So how will Mr. Trump handle the bad news of rising unemployment, plunging health coverage, and little if any crime reduction? That’s obvious: He’ll deny reality, the way he always does when it threatens his narcissism. But will his supporters go along with his fantasy?

They might. After all, they blocked out the good news from the Obama era. Two-thirds of Trump voters believe, falsely, that the unemployment rate rose under Obama. (Three-quarters believe George Soros is paying people to protest Mr. Trump.) Only 17 percent of self-identified Republicans are aware that the number of uninsured is at a historic low. Most people thought crime was rising even when it was falling. So maybe they will block out bad news in the Trump years.

But it probably won’t be that easy. For one thing, people tend to attribute improvements in their personal situation to their own efforts; surely many voters who gained jobs over the past eight years believe that they did it despite, not thanks to, Obama policies. Will they correspondingly blame themselves, not Donald Trump, for lost jobs and health insurance? Unlikely.

On top of that, Mr. Trump made big promises during the campaign, so the risk of disillusionment is especially high.

Will he respond to bad news by accepting responsibility and trying to do better? Will he renounce his fortune and enter a monastery? That seems equally likely.

No, the insecure egomaniac-in-chief will almost surely deny awkward truths, and berate the media for reporting them. And — this is what worries me — it’s very likely that he’ll try to use his power to shoot the messengers.

Seriously, how do you think the man who compared the C.I.A. to Nazis will react when the Bureau of Labor Statistics first reports a significant uptick in unemployment or decline in manufacturing jobs? What’s he going to do when the Centers for Disease Control and the Census Bureau report spiking numbers of uninsured Americans?

You may have thought that last weekend’s temper tantrum was bad. But there’s much, much worse to come.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 January 2017 at 2:15 pm

Sources say Trump’s CIA visit made relations with intel community worse

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Jeff Pegues at CBS News reports:

U.S. government sources tell CBS News that there is a sense of unease in the intelligence community after President Trump’s visit to CIA headquarters on Saturday.

An official said the visit “made relations with the intelligence community worse” and described the visit as “uncomfortable.”

Authorities are also pushing back against the perception that the CIA workforce was cheering for the president. They say the first three rows in front of the president were largely made up of supporters of Mr. Trump’s campaign.

An official with knowledge of the make-up of the crowd says that there were about 40 people who’d been invited by the Trump, Mike Pence and Rep. Mike Pompeo teams. The Trump team expected Rep. Pompeo, R-Kansas, to be sworn in during the event as the next CIA director, but the vote to confirm him was delayed on Friday by Senate  Democrats. Also sitting in the first several rows in front of the president was the CIA’s senior leadership, which was not cheering the remarks.

Officials acknowledge that Mr. Trump does have his supporters within the CIA workforce, many of whom were interspersed among the rank and file standing off to the president’s right.

There were about 400 members of the workforce who RSVP’d for the event out of thousands who received an invitation in their email late last week. Officials dismiss White House claims that there were people waiting to get into the event.

Intelligence sources say many in the workforce were stunned and at times offended by the president’s tone which seemed to evolve into a version of speeches he’d used on the campaign trail.

The intelligence community sees itself as above politics even though as president-elect, Mr. Trump was critical of it and accused it of politically motivated leaks. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 January 2017 at 1:08 pm

The History Of 100 Years Of Women’s Health Care At Planned Parenthood NowThis

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Via Open Culture:

Written by LeisureGuy

23 January 2017 at 1:04 pm

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