Later On

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

Archive for May 31st, 2017

Trump moves to return Russian compounds that Obama ordered vacated punitively

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Trump is strangely eager to please the Russians. Notice that he asks for nothing in return for doing this. How did he get the idea that he’s great at making deals?

Written by Leisureguy

31 May 2017 at 7:48 pm

How Jared Kushner built a luxury skyscraper using loans meant for job-starved areas

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The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Shawn Boburg reports in the Washington Post:

Jared Kushner and his real estate partners wanted to take advantage of a federal program in 2015 that would save them millions of dollars as they built an opulent, 50-story residential tower in this city’s booming waterfront district, just across the Hudson River from Lower Manhattan.

There was just one problem: The program was designed to benefit projects in poor, job-starved areas.

So the project’s consultants got creative, records show.

They worked with state officials in New Jersey to come up with a map that defined the area around 65 Bay Street as a swath of land that stretched nearly four miles and included some of the city’s poorest and most crime-ridden neighborhoods. At the same time, they excluded some wealthy neighborhoods only blocks away.

The tactic — critics liken it to the gerrymandering of legislative districts — made it appear that the luxury tower was in an area with extraordinarily high unemployment, allowing Kushner Companies and its partners to get $50 million in low-cost financing through the EB-5 visa program.

The move was legal, and other developers have used similar strategies in recent years, often aided by state officials who welcome the infusion of cash. But it illustrates how Kushner, who ran his family’s real estate company before he became a senior adviser to President Trump, and his partners exploited a loophole in a federal program that prominent members of both parties say has been plagued by fraud and abuse. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

31 May 2017 at 3:38 pm

Another very interesting movie: Michael Moore’s “Where to Invade Next,” a comic documentary

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Where to Invade Next is currently available to stream on Amazon Prime. It came out in 2015, but I hadn’t seen it, so watching now for the first time. I have to say it’s quite enjoyable and contains more than a few surprises (at least to me).

Written by Leisureguy

31 May 2017 at 3:15 pm

In Washington state, a healthcare repeal lesson learned the hard way

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Noam Levey reports in the LA Times:

Republicans in the state of Washington didn’t wait long in the spring of 1995 to fulfill their pledge to roll back a sweeping law expanding health coverage in the state.

Coming off historic electoral gains, the GOP legislators scrapped much of the law while pledging to make health insurance affordable and to free state residents from onerous government mandates.

It didn’t work out that way: The repeal left the state’s insurance market in shambles, sent premiums skyrocketing and drove health insurers from the state. It took nearly five years to repair the damage.

Two decades later, the ill-fated experiment, largely relegated to academic journals, offers a caution to lawmakers at the national level as Republicans in the U.S. Senate race to write a bill to repeal and replace the federal Affordable Care Act.

“It’s much easier to break something,” said Pam MacEwan, who served on a Washington state commission charged with implementing the law in the mid-1990s and now oversees the state insurance market there. “It’s more difficult to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. … And that’s when people get hurt.”

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office echoed that warning last week, when it concluded that the healthcare bill passed by the House last month would destabilize insurance markets in a sixth of the country and nearly double the number of people without health insurance over the next decade.

Senate Republican leaders contend that their legislation will be different. “We’re working to lower the costs and give people more personal, individual freedom,” Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) said last week.

Obamacare vs. Trumpcare: A side-by-side comparison of the Affordable Care Act and the GOP’s replacement plan »

There were similar assurances in the Washington statehouse when legislators there began to pull apart the Washington Health Services Act in the mid-1990s.

“We will do everything we can to stop the government healthcare bureaucracy that is now poised to limit personal choices,” Clyde Ballard, the Republican speaker of the Washington House of Representatives, said at the time.

The Health Services Act, which Democratic Gov. Mike Lowry signed in May 1993, was an ambitious effort to overhaul the state healthcare system by guaranteeing residents health insurance and putting new government controls on rising healthcare costs. It was designed to complement the national healthcare overhaul that President Clinton and First Lady Hillary Clinton were pursuing at the time.

Washington state prohibited insurers from denying coverage to consumers, even if they were sick, a revolutionary protection then.

A state commission was empowered to clamp down on insurance premiums to limit increases.

And to get all Washingtonians covered, the state became the first in the nation to both require residents to have coverage and to require employers to offer health benefits.

The law was controversial from its inception, as major business groups and insurers balked at its many new regulations. Just a few Republicans joined Democrats in the state Legislature to pass the legislation.

Within a few months, it became clear that there would be problems implementing it, in part because the state couldn’t secure necessary federal approval to require employers to provide coverage.

“We had to reform the reform,” said Phil Dyer, a Republican who would help lead the repeal effort as chairman of the Senate health committee.

GOP legislative candidates railed against the law on the campaign trail in 1994. And that fall, the party picked up 30 seats, taking control of the House and coming within one seat of taking the Senate.

When the new Legislature convened in 1995, GOP lawmakers set about pulling apart the law, bringing along Democrats who feared Republicans would repeal it through a ballot measure if they didn’t cooperate.

The hastily crafted repeal — which the Legislature sent to the governor in three months — kept some popular parts of the law such as the guarantee that everyone could get coverage, even if they were sick. It scrapped parts voters didn’t like, including the requirement that state residents have health insurance.

The state’s insurance market started teetering soon afterward.

First, health insurers sought a series of double-digit rate hikes in 1995 and 1996. The health plans warned that with no requirement to have coverage, people were signing up for insurance only when they got sick, sending costs skyrocketing.

Then, in November 1998, Premera Blue Cross, one of the state’s leading insurers, announced it would stop selling health plans, citing . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

31 May 2017 at 1:51 pm

Good science documentary on Amazon Prime: “Everything and Nothing: The Amazing Science of Empty Space”

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Everything and Nothing: The Amazing Science of Empty Space is a very well done documentary on abstruse topics of physics, using some ingenious visual effects to keep the viewer’s interest. Well worth watching, IMO.

Written by Leisureguy

31 May 2017 at 12:52 pm

Posted in Movies & TV, Science

Would a spy for Russia act any differently?

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Jennifer Rubin, a conservative columnist at the Washington Post, asks an uncomfortable question:

I’ll posit that President Trump is not a Manchurian candidate, prepped and lodged in the highest office to betray America. That said, his behavior is really no different from what one would expect — or Russia would expect — from a planted agent. It does not mean Trump is a planted agent; it means Russia has been so successful in getting the results it wants without accomplishing any cinematic-worthy spy escapade as to mark this as among the most successful intelligence schemes in history.

Former FBI special agent Clint Watts, whose testimony in March laid out the most comprehensive look at the array of tools Russia used to influence our election, has a handy chart that explains a spectrum of individuals who may be of use to Russia’s intelligence services. The continuum ranges from “natural ally” (“Trump’s alignment with nearly every Russian foreign policy objective grew in increments, eerily coinciding with the entrance of key aides and advocates into his campaign, not through his own study”) to “useful idiot” (“Russian intelligence for decades identified and promoted key individuals around the world ripe for manipulation and serving their interests. Trump, similar to emerging alternative right European politicians, spouts populist themes of xenophobia, anti-immigration, and white nationalist pride that naturally bring about a retrenchment of U.S. global influence”) to “compromised” (this would match the latest news leak that Russians thought they had compromising information on Trump’s finances) to “Manchurian candidate” (“a deliberate plant commanded by the Russian government, aided during the campaign with both a hacking-influence campaign – equipped with key Russian advisors – and funding to help him take the White House”).

Just in the last couple of weeks we saw:

  • Trump create a flap by lecturing our European allies and refusing to confirm our Article 5 obligations in public.
  • Trump attack Germany for its trade (which is entirely legitimate and benefits both countries), a practice he continued after he returned from Europe.
  • Trump give Russian officials code-word classified intelligence, thereby creating doubt among our allies as to our reliability and impairing information sharing.
  • No one in the Trump administration deny the basic outline of the blockbuster story, namely that he had not disclosed secret contacts with Russians that involved the potential for a secret channel, which Russia, but not U.S. intelligence services, could monitor.
  • Trump’s chummy interchange with Russian officials in the White House, which could not have been more different than his awkward, frosty meetings with European allies.

The more help Trump extends to Russia’s interests and the more inexplicable conduct comes to light (e.g., Jared Kushner looking for a Russian-secured channel) the harder it is to believe Trump isn’t, at the very least, a useful idiot. Months before the revelations over the last two weeks or so, Watts wrote: “Trump’s loose style of alliances and tactical actions make him ideally suited for the “Useful Idiot” scenario of Russian influence as he takes on advisors and positions based on perceived loyalty, yet without a clear understanding of his advisors connections to Russia. Any traditional politician would have sensed the danger implicit in surrounding oneself with people so closely connected to Putin’s intelligence agents.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

31 May 2017 at 8:03 am

Chiseled Face brush, Colonia/Asylum shaving soap, the Baili BD171, and Hâttric Classic

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I really like this Chiseled Face brush, though I think this model is extinct now. With it, I got an excellent lather for the multi-named soap shown in the photo above: a very creamy lather that felt good, smelled good, and worked well in the shave.

The Baili BD171 is really an excellent razor: very comfortable, disinclined to nick, and very efficient. Three smooth and easy passes left a BBS result, onto which I splashed some Hâttric Classic aftershave.

It’s a simple routine, but satisfying and makes the day feel as though it will go well.

Written by Leisureguy

31 May 2017 at 7:40 am

Posted in Shaving

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