Later On

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

Archive for June 13th, 2017

Read Kevin Drum’s post on the GOP’s healthcare bill

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From his column:

The Senate health care bill will take away insurance from millions. It will slash Medicaid. It will wipe out Obamacare’s promise of coverage for essential benefits. It will gut protections for pre-existing conditions. It will reduce subsidies for the poor and working class. And it will give millionaires a big tax break.

Read the whole thing.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 June 2017 at 5:10 pm

Saudi Arabia is destabilizing the world

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And Trump is selling them $100 billion worth of arms. The Saudis export terrorism-seeds in the form of Wahhabism, and it flowers in many countries. Here it’s taken root in Indonesia, as reported by Stephen Kinzer in the Boston Globe:

JUST A FEW months ago, the governor of Indonesia’s largest city, Jakarta, seemed headed for easy re-election despite the fact that he is a Christian in a mostly Muslim country. Suddenly everything went violently wrong. Using the pretext of an offhand remark the governor made about the Koran, masses of enraged Muslims took to the streets to denounce him. In short order he lost the election, was arrested, charged with blasphemy, and sentenced to two years in prison.

This episode is especially alarming because Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim country, has long been one of its most tolerant. Indonesian Islam, like most belief systems on that vast archipelago, is syncretic, gentle, and open-minded. The stunning fall of Jakarta’s governor reflects the opposite: intolerance, sectarian hatred, and contempt for democracy. Fundamentalism is surging in Indonesia. This did not happen naturally.

Saudi Arabia has been working for decades to pull Indonesia away from moderate Islam and toward the austere Wahhabi form that is state religion in Saudi Arabia. The Saudis’ campaign has been patient, multi-faceted, and lavishly financed. It mirrors others they have waged in Muslim countries across Asia and Africa.

Successive American presidents have assured us that Saudi Arabia is our friend and wishes us well. Yet we know that Osama bin Laden and most of his 9/11 hijackers were Saudis, and that, as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wrote in a diplomatic cable eight years ago, “Donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide.”

Recent events in Indonesia shine a light on a Saudi project that is even more pernicious than financing terrorists. Saudi Arabia has used its wealth, much of which comes from the United States, to turn entire nations into hotbeds of radical Islam. By refusing to protest or even officially acknowledge this far-reaching project, we finance our own assassins — and global terror.

The center of Saudi Arabia’s campaign to convert Indonesians to Wahhabi Islam is a tuition-free university in Jakarta known by the acronym LIPIA. All instruction is in Arabic, given mainly by preachers from Saudi Arabia and nearby countries. Genders are kept apart; strict dress codes are enforced; and music, television, and “loud laughter” are forbidden. Students learn an ultra-conservative form of Islam that favors hand amputation for thieves, stoning for adulterers, and death for gays and blasphemers. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 June 2017 at 5:01 pm

They in fact have no shame: How the Republican Coward Caucus is about to sell out its own constituents — in secret

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Paul Waldman writes in the Washington Post:

The fate of the American health-care system now rests with a group of allegedly “moderate” senators, who are getting ready to approve a bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act, a repeal bill so monumental in its cruelty that they feel they have no choice but to draft it in secret, not let the public know what it does, hold not a single hearing or committee markup, slip it in a brown paper package to the Congressional Budget Office, then push it through to a vote before the July 4th recess before the inevitable backlash gets too loud.

“We aren’t stupid,” one GOP Senate aide told Caitlin Owens — they know what would happen if they made their bill public. Even Republican senators who aren’t part of the 13-member working group crafting the bill haven’t been told exactly what’s in it.

Today, we learned that in a break with long-standing precedent, “Senate officials are cracking down on media access, informing reporters on Tuesday that they will no longer be allowed to film or record audio of interviews in the Senate side hallways of the Capitol without special permission.” Everyone assumes that it’s so those senators can avoid having to appear on camera being asked uncomfortable questions about a bill that is as likely to be as popular as Ebola. As Julie Rovner of Kaiser Health News tweeted about the secrecy with which this bill is being advanced, “I have covered every major health bill in Congress since 1986. Have NEVER seen anything like this.”

This is how a party acts when it is ashamed of what it is about to do to the American people. Yet all it would take to stop this abomination is for three Republicans to stand up to their party’s leaders and say, “No — I won’t do this to my constituents.” With only a 52-48 majority in the Senate, that would kill the bill. But right now, it’s looking as though this Coward Caucus is going to be unable to muster the necessary courage.

To understand the magnitude of what they’re doing, let’s focus on Medicaid, because it was supposed to be a sticking point on which some senators wouldn’t budge, particularly those whose states accepted the ACA’s expansion of the program. But according to various reports, the moderates have already caved.

Take Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, a state where more than 175,000 people have gotten insurance thanks to the Medicaid expansion. For a while, Capito made noises about she wanted to preserve the expansion to protect her constituents. “I mean, we can’t just drop them off and wish them good luck,” she said. But no more.

Last week The Hill reported that Capito now supports eliminating the expansion after all — just doing it over seven years instead of the three years that the House bill required. The Charleston Gazette-Mail in Capito’s home state noted that Capito had said she didn’t want to drop all those West Virginians off a cliff, but “Instead, she would drop them off a cliff on the installment plan — around 25,000 per year for seven years.”

Or how about Ohio Sen. Rob Portman? In his state, 700,000 people gained insurance as a result of the Medicaid expansion. He drafted a letter to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) stating his opposition to the House bill because it didn’t protect those who gained insurance from the expansion. Now Portman also wants to phase outthe expansion over seven years.

What about Sen. Susan Collins, supposedly the most moderate Republican in the Senate? While Maine hasn’t accepted the expansion due to the resistance of America’s Worst Governor™, Paul LePage, Collins has said that she would like to see her state accept the expansion (with some provisions that make it more uncomfortable for recipients, just so those poors don’t get the idea that they should accept it without shame). But we’ve been through this dance with Collins before — Democrats hope she’ll be a vote for moderation; she talks about how she wants to find a compromise; and in the end she votes with the GOP on every important bill.

It’s important to know that the Medicaid question isn’t just about the millions who would lose coverage if the expansion is eliminated. Paige Winfield Cunningham reports today that Senate Republicans are considering even deeper cuts to Medicaid than the $880 billion the House bill slashed out of the program. They’d pay for the slower elimination of the expansion by cutting money out of the existing program, so they could get rid of all of the ACA’s tax increases — which mostly affected the wealthy. In other words, they want to cut Medicaid to give a tax break to rich people.

Just as critical, they want to end Medicaid’s status as an entitlement, meaning that the program wouldn’t cover everyone who’s eligible. States would get a chunk of money to spend, and if more people turned out to need coverage, tough luck for them. . .

Continue reading.

I hope this is a wake-up call for Trump supporters, but I imagine they’ll blame libtards and minorities.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 June 2017 at 4:48 pm

Good thing Uber has a lot of drivers because they’ve got a LONG way to go: Uber board member cracks ‘inappropriate’ joke about women at company event on sexual harassment

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Brian Fung and Craig Timburg report in the Washington Post:

Billionaire businessman David Bonderman, a member of Uber’s board, apologized Tuesday for making what he called an “inappropriate” comment about women at a company-wide meeting that was aimed at addressing the harassment of women and other unprofessional conduct within the company.

At the event, Bonderman made a joke about women, saying that adding female board members would make it “much more likely there’ll be more talking,” according to several people who heard the remarks.

The comment came as an interruption of fellow board member Arianna Huffington, who was explaining the benefits of having more female representation on Uber’s board. . .

Continue reading.

The tree is found just above the apple.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 June 2017 at 3:06 pm

Posted in Business

Democracies are no better at educating students than autocracies

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Sirianne Dahlum and Carl Henrik Knutsen report in the Washington Post:

Democracies outperform autocracies on education. At least that’s what many political scientists believe: Because voters care about the future of their children, democratic politicians should have strong incentives to build schools, reduce fees, enroll children and so on. Autocrats, who are not responsible to voters, should lack such incentives. At best, autocrats may offer university education that benefits the children of elites supporting them. And indeed, according to the evidence, in democratic countries, more kids go to school.

But in a recent article in World Development, we challenge that conventional wisdom. While it’s correct that democracies provide more education to their kids, democracies do not deliver better education. In other words, the schooling that children receive in democracies is, in general, of no higher quality than what their counterparts receive in autocracies. In fact, recent reports show that an alarmingly large proportion of schools across the world fail to teach even the most basic literacy skills. Our study suggests that improving democracy will not remedy this situation.

Consider two rich democracies, the United States and Norway (the authors’ home country). In both countries, the quality of lower-level education has been questioned; students have often scored quite poorly on international performance tests such as PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment). For instance, in the 2015 PISA test, in mathematics, the United States and Norway scored far below the more authoritarian countries Singapore and China. And the average American student was outperformed by the average Russian or Vietnamese student.

How we did our research

While such quick comparisons are startling, we wanted to look more systematically at broader patterns across countries and time. We use an innovative data set that estimates the cognitive skills of primary and secondary school students, using different types of regional and international tests in mathematics, science and reading.

We do not find any clear relationship between democracy and student performance. Even when considering data from about 100 countries between 1965 and 2009, and no matter how we twist and tweak our statistical models, this “null result” holds up: On average, kids living in democracies are not visibly better in math, science and reading than kids in dictatorships. Neither is there any evidence that countries that have recently gone through democratization improve their education quality.

How can this be? Shouldn’t democratic politicians be concerned about giving children high-quality education, and not only about putting kids behind a desk? We suggest that, unfortunately, the answer is often “no.”

Voters have trouble holding politicians accountable for education policies

To hold politicians accountable, voters must be able to trace the outcomes they care about to specific policies. Few ordinary voters are familiar with the details of supposedly “quality-enhancing education reforms”; nor are they able to evaluate those effects. Even education experts are unsure whether such measures as reduced class sizes or homework actually affect learning outcomes. Even if parents suspect that their child is getting a subpar education, who will they blame — the teacher, the principal, the local government or the national government?

If members of a democratically elected government sense . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 June 2017 at 12:51 pm

Obstruction of justice, part deux: Trump’s Personal Lawyer Boasted That He Got Preet Bharara Fired

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Jesse Eisinger and Justin Elliott report in ProPublica:

Marc Kasowitz, President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer in the Russia investigation, has boasted to friends and colleagues that he played a central role in the firing of Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, according to four people familiar with the conversations.

Kasowitz told Trump, “This guy is going to get you,” according to a person familiar with Kasowitz’s account.

Those who know Kasowitz say he is sometimes prone to exaggerating when regaling them with his exploits. But if true, his assertion adds to the mystery surrounding the motive and timing of Bharara’s firing.

New presidents typically ask U.S. attorneys to resign and have the power to fire them. But Trump asked Bharara to stay in his job when they met in November at Trump Tower, as Bharara announced after the meeting.

In early March, Trump reversed himself. He asked all the remaining U.S. attorneys to resign, including Bharara. Bharara, a telegenic prosecutor with a history of taking on powerful politicians, refused and was fired March 11.

As ProPublica previously reported, at the time of Bharara’s firing the Southern District was conducting an investigation into Trump’s secretary of health and human services, Tom Price.

Kasowitz and the White House did not respond to requests for comment.

Kasowitz became a nationally recognized figure last week, after he acted as Trump’s designated spokesman to respond to former FBI Director James Comey’s landmark Senate testimony.

Kasowitz’s claimed role in the Bharara firing appears to be a sign that the New York lawyer has been inserting himself into matters of governance and not just advising the president on personal legal matters.

Kasowitz has also said in private conversations that Trump asked him to be attorney general, according to four people familiar with the matter. Kasowitz said he turned down the role. Ultimately, Trump decided to give the position to then-Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions.

The Southern District of New York conducts some of the highest profile corporate investigations in the country. According to news reports, it is currently probing Fox News over payments made to settle sexual harassment charges against the network’s former chairman, the late Roger Ailes. The office is also looking into Russian money-laundering allegations at Deutsche Bank, Trump’s principal private lender. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 June 2017 at 12:44 pm

Effects of the War on Drugs: How the U.S. triggered a massacre in Mexico

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Ginger Thompson reports in ProPublica:

We have testimony from people who say they participated in the crime. They described some 50 trucks arriving in Allende, carrying people connected to the cartel. They broke into houses, they looted them and burned them. Afterward, they kidnapped the people who lived in those houses and took them to a ranch just outside of Allende.

First they killed them. They put them inside a storage shed filled with hay. They doused them with fuel and lit them on fire, feeding the flames for hours and hours.

José Juan MoralesInvestigative director for the disappeared in the Coahuila State Prosecutor’s Office

THERE’S NO MISSING the signs that something unspeakable happened in Allende, a quiet ranching town of about 23,000, just a 40-minute drive from Eagle Pass, Texas. Entire blocks of some of the town’s busiest streets lie in ruins. Once garish mansions are now crumbling shells, with gaping holes in the walls, charred ceilings, cracked marble countertops and toppled columns. Strewn among the rubble are tattered, mud-covered remnants of lives torn apart: shoes, wedding invitations, medications, television sets, toys.

In March 2011 gunmen from the Zetas cartel, one of the most violent drug trafficking organizations in the world, swept through Allende and nearby towns like a flash flood, demolishing homes and businesses and kidnapping and killing dozens, possibly hundreds, of men, women and children.

The destruction and disappearances went on in fits and starts for weeks. Only a few of the victims’ relatives — mostly those who didn’t live in Allende or had fled — dared to seek help. “I would like to make clear that Allende looks like a war zone,” reads one missing person report. “Most people who I questioned about my relatives responded that I shouldn’t go on looking for them because outsiders were not wanted, and were disappeared.”

But unlike most places in Mexico that have been ravaged by the drug war, what happened in Allende didn’t have its origins in Mexico. It began in the United States, when the Drug Enforcement Administration scored an unexpected coup. An agent persuaded a high-level Zetas operative to hand over the trackable cellphone identification numbers for two of the cartel’s most wanted kingpins, Miguel Ángel Treviño and his ​brother Omar.

Then the DEA took a gamble. It shared the intelligence with a Mexican federal police unit that has long had problems with leaks — even though its members had been trained and vetted by the DEA. Almost immediately, the Treviños learned they’d been betrayed. The brothers set out to exact vengeance against the presumed snitches, their families and anyone remotely connected to them.

Their savagery in Allende was particularly surprising because the Treviños not only did business there — moving tens of millions of dollars in drugs and guns through the area each month — they’d also made it their home.

For years after the massacre, Mexican authorities made only desultory efforts to investigate. They erected a monument in Allende to honor the victims without fully determining their fates or punishing those responsible. American authorities eventually helped Mexico capture the Treviños but never acknowledged the devastating cost. In Allende, people suffered mostly in silence, too afraid to talk publicly.

A year ago ProPublica and National Geographic set out to piece together what happened in this town in the state of Coahuila — to let those who bore the brunt of the attack, and those who played roles in triggering it, tell the story in their own words. They did so often at great personal risk. Voices like these have rarely been heard during the drug war: Local officials who abandoned their posts; families preyed upon by both the cartel and their own neighbors; cartel operatives who cooperated with the DEA and saw their friends and families slaughtered; the U.S. prosecutor who oversaw the case; and the DEA agent who led the investigation and who, like most people in this story, has family ties on both sides of the border.

When pressed about his role, the agent, Richard Martinez slumped in his chair, his eyes welling with tears. “How did I feel about the information being compromised? I’d rather not say, to be honest with you. I’d kind of like to leave it at that. I’d rather not say.”

S SUNDOWN APPROACHED on Friday, March 18, 2011, gunmen from the Zetas cartel began pouring into Allende.

Guadalupe GarcíaRetired government worker
We were eating at Los Compadres, and two guys came in. We could tell they weren’t from here. They looked different. They were kids — 18 to 20 years old. They ordered 50 hamburgers to go. That’s when we figured something was going on, and we decided we’d better get home.

Martín MárquezHot dog vendor
Things began happening in the evening. Armed men began arriving. They were going house to house, looking for the people who had done them wrong. At 11 at night there was no traffic on the streets. There was no movement of any kind.

Etelvina RodríguezMiddle school teacher and wife of victim Everardo Elizondo
My husband, Everardo, usually came home between 7 and 7:30 at night. I was waiting for him. Time passed — 7, 7:30, 8, 9. I began calling him. The phone was not in service. I thought maybe he was at his mother’s house and his battery had died. I called his mother. She told me that she hadn’t seen him and that maybe he was out with friends. But that didn’t make sense to me. He would have called. So I went out looking for him.

The atmosphere felt tense. It was nine at night, which was not very late, not on a Friday. The town was completely deserted.

A few miles outside of town, the gunmen descended on several neighboring ranches along a dimly lit two-lane highway. The properties belonged to one of Allende’s oldest clans, the Garzas. The family mostly raised livestock and did odd contracting jobs, including coal mining. But according to family members, some of them also worked for the cartel.

Now those connections were proving deadly. Among those the Zetas suspected of being a snitch — wrongly it turns out — was José Luis Garza, Jr., a relatively low-level cartel operative, whose father, Luis, owned one of the ranches. It was payday, and several workers had gone to the ranch to pick up their money. When the gunmen showed up, they rounded up everyone up they could find and took them hostage. After nightfall, flames began rising from one of the ranch’s large cinder-block storage sheds. The Zetas had begun burning the bodies of some of those they’d killed. . .

Continue reading. There’s lots more.

The War on Drugs, brought to you by Richard Nixon, perpetuated ever since, and Trump and Jeff Sessions plan to dial it up to 11. Success is not the issue (obviously). I think it’s about being powerful—”We can do what we want”—plus there’s a lot of money sloshing around. Plus taking another tack would implicitly acknowledge failure—the failure is obvious, but it’s currently the elephant in the room that many try not to notice and over which the DEA is frantically pulling a sheet to hide it.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 June 2017 at 12:10 pm

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