Later On

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

Archive for August 2017

Joe Scarborough: “Trump fatigue comes early”`

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Joe Scarborough writes in the Washington Post something I am sure is going to ignite a string of presidential tweets (meaning “done by the president,” NOT meaning “worthy of the office”):

Americans eventually tire of the presidents they elect. The political skills that fuel the rise of Roosevelts, Reagans and Obamas always seem to lose their allure over time as the promise of “Morning in America” and “Hope and Change” devolves into the cynicism of “Been There, Done That.”

Lyndon Johnson won in a landslide in 1964 but was pushed out of office four years later. Ronald Reagan breezed to reelection by winning 49 states in 1984, but two years later his power of persuasion was gone. In 1986, the Great Communicator couldn’t persuade voters living through the last days of the Cold War to support anti-communist allies in Central America. Even in the afterglow of Barack Obama’s 2012 reelection, the biggest political star in the world couldn’t pass gun reforms that 90 percent of Americans supported following the Sandy Hook massacre.

President Trump is, of course, the most radical example of this negative political phenomenon. Seven months into his maniacal presidency, Trump is driving his approval ratings to record lows and causing friends and foes alike to experience premature presidential fatigue.

Former allies on the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal and Washington Examiner now criticize Trump for leadership failures and his abuse of power. Republicans on Capitol Hill more frequently call out the president’s aberrant behavior. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) questions the president’s ability to survive. The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee questions Trump’s stability.

By now, the president’s low poll numbers rarely raise an eyebrow. Newspapers have repeated ad nauseam that Trump is saddled with the worst approval ratings in U.S. history at this stage of his presidency. But this week, those lame approval ratings collapsed to a new low of 34 percent. A Fox News poll released Wednesday found that nearly 6 in 10 Americans believe Trump’s presidency is “tearing America apart.” And only 20 percent of younger voters now support the 71-year-old former reality television star.

And even Trump’s famously forgiving base is growing tired of the commander in chief’s reckless routine. Trump supporters in a Pittsburgh focus group talked about how their patience with the petulant president was reaching an exhausting end. “Everybody knew he was a nut, but there comes a point in time where you need to become professional. He’s not even professional let alone presidential. Chill out, man,” was a woman’s advice. Another Trump supporter said that Trump’s manic need to dominate news cycles was driving him crazy. “He’s on the television all the time.” Another weary supporter said, “He’s such an incredibly flawed individual who has articulated many of the values that I hold dear and the messenger is overwhelming the message.”

That focus group sounded a lot like recent phone calls I had with friends in Pensacola and Birmingham who have been Trump supporters from the start. Not long ago,  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

31 August 2017 at 10:27 pm

Another Trump lie: Declaring a national emergency regarding opioid addiction.

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Nathaniel Weixel and Rachel Roubein report in The Hill:

 President Trump on Aug. 10 said the nation’s opioid epidemic was officially a national emergency.

More than three weeks later, Trump is dealing with a natural disaster.

Hurricane Harvey has displaced tens of thousands, leading Trump to declare federal emergencies in Texas and Louisiana. The decisions have freed up funding to help people who have lost their homes to rising waters.

In contrast, nothing has happened yet since Trump’s declaration on opioids. No paperwork has been issued formally declaring an emergency, and no new policies have been announced.

One reason is that there’s no established procedure for an emergency related to opioid abuse, which is new territory for the federal government.

The opioid epidemic is a chronic problem, and national emergencies are usually only intended to provide short-term relief.

Former agency officials and public health experts said it appears the administration was caught off guard by the president’s remarks announcing the emergency — which came during an appearance outside his Bedminster Golf Club in New Jersey while he was on a 17-day vacation, and after Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price made a detailed argument about why declaring a national emergency isn’t necessary.

“The opioid crisis is an emergency, and I’m saying officially right now it is an emergency,” Trump said. “We’re going to draw it up, and we’re going to make it a national emergency.”

A White House spokesman told The Hill that Trump is considering all options available to him. . .

Written by Leisureguy

31 August 2017 at 8:22 pm

Determined cat helps with making bed

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Just watch.

Written by Leisureguy

31 August 2017 at 7:16 pm

Posted in Cats, Daily life, Video

General who oversaw Katrina relief rips federal response to Harvey

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John Bowden reports in The Hill:

The commanding officer who led the federal disaster relief response to Hurricane Katrina blasted current relief efforts in Louisiana and Texas following Hurricane Harvey, warning on Wednesday that officials were unprepared for the scope of the disaster.

“In Katrina, we had 40,000 National Guard [troops], 240 helicopters on the fourth day,” retired Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré told CNN. “They just got 100 helicopters in Texas. Something is significantly wrong in our command and control.”

“They need to stop patting each other on the back while these poor people are out here waiting to be rescued,” he added.

Honoré told CNN that the disaster caused by Harvey was “a lot bigger” than the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina, which in 2005 left more than 1,200 dead and caused $108 billion in damage.

“This is a lot bigger. I went out on a boat this morning in this very same community right here. This is huge,” Honoré told CNN. “After Katrina, the air elements and air component of northern command created a significant grid system for search and rescue.”

“I don’t know where that is,” he said. “It didn’t look like anybody in Texas had ever read the plan.”

President Trump visited the hurricane relief efforts in Texas on Tuesday, where he told assembled officials, including Texas’s two senators, that he wanted his White House to be remembered for an effective response to the storm. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

31 August 2017 at 7:08 pm

Stir-fried iceberg lettuce with shrimp

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We had this Mark Bittman recipe tonight, with these changes:

  1. Avocado oil for sautéing: very high smoke point, monounsaturated oil (like olive oil, another fruit oil).
  2. Double the garlic.
  3. Double the ginger.
  4. Use 1 lb of shrimp rather than 12 oz. Jumbo shrimp require fewer peels per pound. I cut shrimp in half cross-ways: easier to eat, feels like more shrimp.

Extremely tasty, fast, and easy. Do all prep before you heat the skillet/wok. (I’m a skillet guy: woks don’t work well on an electric range.) The stir-fried iceberg lettuce is excellent.

Written by Leisureguy

31 August 2017 at 6:42 pm

Republicans Want to Sideline the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. But It May Be Too Popular.

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Steve Eder, Jessica Silver-Greenberg, and Stacy Cowley report in the NY Times on how the Republicans, although strongly opposed to protecting consumers (while strongly supporting the protection of businesses), have not been able to shut down the CFPB:

With the election of President Trump, the nation’s consumer watchdog agency faced a quandary: how to shield the Obama-era institution from a Republican administration determined to loosen the federal government’s grip on business.

In the weeks after the election, Richard Cordray, the Democrat who leads the agency, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, directed his staff to compile stories from ordinary Americans thanking it for resolving complaints.

The anecdotes, which he solicited in an email to share with the Trump transition team, could provide a counterpoint to critics who had cast the agency as a regulatory scourge on the economy. And implicit in his request to employees was the belief that some accolades would come from parts of the country that helped elect Mr. Trump — evidence that the popularity of consumer safeguards transcends party divisions.

“There must be hundreds of such stories,” Mr. Cordray wrote in the email in November, which was obtained in a public records request. He added, “I can think of no better vindication” of the agency’s consumer relief efforts.

While many federal agencies have begun to loosen the reins on the companies they regulate, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, born out of the Dodd-Frank financial law in 2010, has taken the opposite course. Congress granted it unusually broad authority — and autonomy from the White House and Congress — to both enforce existing federal rules and write new ones, including issuing fines against financial companies.

Under Mr. Trump it has openly embraced its mission, cracking down on debt collectors, pushing out a major new financial rule on arbitration and pursuing a flurry of enforcement actions against payday lenders and others.

The approach, outlined in emails and other documents obtained through the public records request by The New York Times, comes as the Trump administration has taken an uncharacteristically low-key public stance toward the agency, a prominent blue holdout in a federal regulatory regime newly awash in red.

The White House’s restraint was based in part on a pragmatic assessment, according to people familiar with the strategy. At one point, contemplating a high-profile run on the agency, the White House examined polling data from political bellwether states, two people briefed on the matter said. The agency, they concluded, was too popular to pick a public fight with.

Republicans in Congress, who have vehemently opposed the agency since its creation, have also been unable to muster enough support to derail its work. Efforts to strike down a rule ordering new consumer protections on prepaid debit cards never made it to a vote in either the House or the Senate.

“The public does not share the G.O.P.’s ire toward the agency or its mission,” said Dean Clancy, a Tea Party activist who worked in the White House under President George W. Bush and is now a policy analyst who tracks actions of the consumer bureau. “It is an agency about protecting the little guy, and that is tough to oppose.”

The stories of gratitude rounded up by the agency’s staff for Mr. Cordray illustrated its appeal. Among them was a homeowner in Tennessee who got a disputed lien removed from a property, someone in Kentucky who got assistance warding off a debt collector pursuing a medical bill that had been paid, and a person in Pennsylvania who said the agency helped resolve a contested credit card debt.

That doesn’t mean the Trump administration and other opponents have given up on neutralizing the bureau’s work.

Administration officials have isolated the bureau from parts of the government that, under President Barack Obama, helped fulfill its mission. In public statements and documents, officials at the Justice Department, the Treasury Department and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency have all turned a cold shoulder toward Mr. Cordray and his staff.

Lobbyists for the financial industry are working behind the scenes on efforts to dismantle some of the bureau’s signature initiatives, according to people directly involved in the plans. They include lawsuits to be filed in reliably conservative courts when new regulations are issued.

For now, though, it is mostly a waiting game. Mr. Cordray’s term as director expires next July, when he could be replaced with a sympathetic Trump appointee.  . .

Continue reading.

Does it strike you, as it does me, that the GOP really does not like most Americans?

Written by Leisureguy

31 August 2017 at 5:37 pm

Why Giving Birth Is Safer in Britain Than in the U.S., which claims to have the best healthcare in the world

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Kate Womersley reports in ProPublica:

At 11:58 p.m. this past June 25, Helen Taylor gave birth to her first baby, a boy, at West Suffolk Hospital in the east of England. At 11:59 p.m., with 15 seconds to spare before midnight, his sister was born. The obstetrician and her team were pleased; the cesarean section was going smoothly, fulfilling Helen’s wish that her twins share a birthday.

But 40 minutes later, Helen had lost over a third of her blood.

Enraptured by new motherhood, she barely noticed when the obstetrician’s head appeared around the surgical drape. “We need to give you a drug to help stop the bleeding, is that OK?” Helen nodded. Ten minutes passed before the question came again. Then again. The fourth time, Helen realized something was seriously wrong.

During pregnancy, the uterine blood vessels that nourish the fetus are wide open. Once the baby is delivered and the placenta removed, these vessels should constrict and close. If they don’t, as with Helen, the mother can bleed profusely. She may reach a point where her body can no longer compensate for the blood loss. The extent of the flow can be unpredictable and sometimes catastrophic. The surgical team’s response must be meticulous. And fast.

Helen’s team — an experienced obstetrician with her resident in training, a pediatrician, an anesthesiologist with an assistant, two nurses (one scrubbed-in, one fetching equipment), and three midwives — responded to her developing hemorrhage with a routine ingrained from rehearsal and real life.

“We are like a Formula One race team at a pit stop,” the anesthesiologist had reassured Helen by way of introduction.

The key to this well-oiled machine is standardization. It used to be that every obstetrician in the U.K. had his or her own signature strategy to manage an emergency. In the U.S., that still sometimes happens. But these days, every British doctor, whether newly qualified or approaching retirement, is required to follow the same guidelines for many aspects of maternity care, including treatment of bleeding. Postpartum hemorrhage guidelines are regularly updated by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, and then written into local protocols for practice in every National Health Service hospital. You don’t need to be a doctor to read the guidelines: They are freely available online. Women can find out exactly what standard of care to expect.

Helen’s was the kind of deceptively complex case that shows why a consistent approach is desirable. Her hemorrhage flared from minor (over 500 millimeters) to major (over 1 liter) to massive (over 2 liters) in less than an hour. First, the team gave her IV fluids to help replace the lost volume. After checking for bits of retained placenta, the obstetrician massaged Helen’s uterus to encourage its natural ability to contract, but her bleeding continued. The anesthesiologist lifted the surgical drapes to inject Helen’s thigh with a drug containing syntocinon, which stimulates the uterine muscle to tighten the blood vessels. The same medication was then given by a drip.

But there’s a catch: Drugs that narrow arteries can increase blood pressure. During her third trimester, Helen had developed preeclampsia, a type of hypertension induced by pregnancy that can lead to seizures and strokes. Not only does preeclampsia complicate treatment for bleeding, it makes hemorrhage more likely in the first place.

The immediate danger of more blood loss outweighed the risk of raising the blood pressure. The anesthesiologist followed protocol and administered two more drugs to intensify uterine contraction, with several minutes of watching and waiting in between. Still the blood flowed. The final step would be a transfusion.

Then, just as the team was about to dial up units of O-negative from the blood bank, the obstetrician noticed that her absorbent surgical swabs were taking longer to soak through with red. The uterus felt firmer, more like a bicep than loose tissue. Helen’s bleeding was under control. Due to the guidelines, a more serious crisis was averted. A transfusion wouldn’t be needed after all.

As a medical student at the University of Cambridge in England, I got to know Helen on the ward. This account of her pregnancy, labor and medical emergency is based on my observations and interviews with Helen, her partner Marcus and caregivers at West Suffolk Hospital. The hospital approved my access to interview patients, and Helen gave full consent to share her experience. It’s a tale that highlights the profoundly different approaches in the U.K. and the U.S. to maternal care — and to saving mothers’ lives.

“Ultimately, it’s a story I didn’t think I’d get to tell,” Helen said.

For a pregnant woman in the 1950s, the two childbirth complications most likely to prove fatal were hemorrhage and preeclampsia. Whether American or British, one in every 1,000 expectant and new mothers died.

British health authorities recognized this number was unacceptably high, given that nearly half of the deaths were considered preventable. Starting in the late 1940s, a national commitment was made to standardize maternity care across the NHS, assess each maternal fatality, and learn how it might have been avoided.

That campaign has succeeded. Today, the average mother in the U.K. receives more comprehensive and consistent care, ranging from earlier prenatal appointments to closer monitoring after she gives birth, than does her American counterpart. And if a mother dies, the U.K. investigates and tries to learn from it. Medical authorities in the U.K. view maternal deaths as public health failures that underscore deficiencies in health care systems. In the U.S., maternal deaths are too often treated as disconnected, private tragedies. If they are scrutinized by hospitals or regulators at all, the findings typically prompt institutional rather than national reforms.

Underlying these contrasts is a different view of the medical responsibility to mother and child. In the U.S., laudable aspirations for infant safety have intensified focus on the fetus — more sonograms, continuous fetal heart monitoring and granting rights to the unborn. But these measures may at times distract attention from the mother’s health.

By contrast, British medical professionals are legally required to prioritize a mother’s wellbeing if both she and her baby are in danger. They’re trained to stabilize mom first, and then tend to baby. “That sense that the woman (while the fetus is in utero) is the agent in charge is in place. I think that’s the right way,” said Denis Walsh, a midwife and associate professor in midwifery at the University of Nottingham. “Otherwise you start undermining individual women’s autonomy and then you go down a slippery slope.”

The numbers reflect the difference in national priorities. Today in the U.K., 8.9 women for every 100,000 live births die from complications of pregnancy or childbirth, according to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. In the U.S., this figure declined in tandem with Britain’s until 1990. It then reversed course, rising to 25.1 women per 100,000 in 2015, almost three times higher than the U.K., and among the worst in the Western world.

These U.S. deaths are not spread equally. Women who are poor, African American or live in a rural area are more likely to die during and after pregnancy. . .

Continue reading. There’s a lot more. Later in the report:

. . . Ironically, the centerpiece of the U.K.’s strategy to reduce maternal mortality is an American import. In 1949, the British Congress on Obstetrics and Gynecology suggested adopting a new method for reviewing maternal deaths that was already practiced in some parts of the U.S. Fatalities in those regions were assessed by local committees of experts, who published reports in medical journals to educate the profession. The British minister of health agreed to try it. The result was the Report on Confidential Enquiries into Maternal Deaths in England and Wales, established in 1952.

The confidential inquiry has far outstripped its American forebears. Now run by MBRRACE-UK (Mothers and Babies: Reducing Risk through Audits and Confidential Enquiries in the United Kingdom), its report drives training, assessment and practice in British obstetrics — including the types of treatment protocols that saved Helen Taylor’s life. Crucially, hospitals can neither opt out of MBRRACE’s surveillance nor ignore its recommendations. . .

In the meantime, the GOP is working hard to makes sure that as many as Americans as possible don’t have healthcare insurance. See, for example, the NY Times report today, “Trump Administration Sharply Cuts Spending on Health Law Enrollment,” by Abby Goodnough and Robert Pear. It begins:

The Trump administration is slashing spending on advertising and promotion for enrollment under the Affordable Care Act, a move some critics charged was a blatant attempt to sabotage the law.

Officials with the Department of Health and Human Services, who insisted on not being identified during a conference call with reporters, said on Thursday that the advertising budget for the open enrollment period that starts in November would be cut to $10 million, compared with $100 million spent by the Obama administration last year, a drop of 90 percent. Additionally, grants to about 100 nonprofit groups, known as navigators, that help people enroll in health plans offered by the insurance marketplaces will be cut to a total of $36 million, from about $63 million. . .

Read the whole thing.

This step follows the failure of the GOP Senate to repeal the Affordable Care Act. The idea now is to sabotage the Affordable Care Act to ensure that it fails. Apparently making sure Americans have access to healthcare is undesirable to the GOP.

See also “Trump officials slash advertising, grants to help Americans get Affordable Care Act insurance,” by Amy Goldstein, in the Washington Post.

Written by Leisureguy

31 August 2017 at 4:51 pm

Posted in Government, Healthcare

Update from The Kushner Swamp

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Josh Marshall notes the extreme financial pressure on Jared Kushner, who must raise significant money from foreign sources:

One of the many oddities – perhaps fascinating side stories – to Trump is how the rise of his son-in-law Jared Kushner was almost designed in the lab for the most epic kinds of corruption. It has become a commonplace over the last year that Donald Trump’s second act as TV star and brand licensor since the early part of this century was heavily financed by Russian money. It’s a commonplace because it’s true. And in itself there’s nothing illegal about that or even wrong. But despite Trump’s need for foreign investment capital, because he had been and remains blackballed by all the big US banks, there’s never been any clear evidence that Trump was in acute and specific need for a big amount of capital around the time he ran for President.

That is not the case with his son-in-law. 

As has been widely reported, back in 2007, under Jared Kushner’s leadership, the family company vastly overpaid for a flagship real estate property at the perhaps appropriately numbered 666 5th Avenue. It’s a 41 story tower. It’s design apparently makes it one that few potential tenants want to rent in. It was a crazy investment at the peak of the boom. It became crazier after the bottom fell out in the 2008 crash. And the entire loan comes due in 18 months.

Basically the Kushner family owes hundreds of millions of dollars on this property that it really cannot hope to recoup by any business means. As this new article in Bloomberg explains, the plan – if you can call it that – seems to be to go even further into debt by demolishing the building, building a newer and better one and recouping the losses over the very long-term. As the Bloomberg piece understatedly and elegantly puts it, that means the money has to come from someone who isn’t interested in making a profit or maybe even holding on to their investment.

Short of outright corruption that might mean foreign money looking for a showpiece property in New York City or foreign money looking to get out of its unstable country of origin. Before the Trump campaign, Kushner was having a very hard time finding anyone who was interested – not surprisingly! That changed dramatically when he became top deputy to the President of the United States. Then everyone wanted to talk – including the head of the Russian state bank which makes ‘strategic’ investments for Vladimir Putin.

I had had a hard time figuring out why this hadn’t already been settled. For any number of foreign billionaires – or the states they work in concert with – taking a loss of a few hundred million dollars would be a great deal to be in that tight with the President’s family. The irony was that with Kushner’s new and totally unrivaled power came new and totally unrivaled scrutiny. Dirty or no-profit-seeking money doesn’t like scrutiny. One Chinese and another Gulf state concern were going to end Kushner’s troubles earlier in the year. But they got spooked when reporters started asking questions. It was almost unquestionably this money hunt that led Kushner to meet with that chief of a Russian owned state bank during the transition – a source of many of his current troubles.

What all of this amounts to is that while Kushner has been given oversight of numerous key foreign policy issues and problems, his ‘family’ is simultaneously in a desperate hunt for money which basically has to come from abroad – from a lot of the people he meets with in his White House job. . .

Continue reading.

See also “Kushners’ China Deal Flop Was Part of Much Bigger Hunt for Cash,” by David Kocieniewski and Caleb Melby in Bloomberg. It’s an interesting detailed article, and concludes:

. . . Federal investigators know that Kushner met with then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in Trump Tower last December and later met with Sergey Gorkov, head of the Kremlin-controlled VEB bank in two meetings that he didn’t, at first, disclose publicly or on his application for his national-security clearance. After those meetings became public, Kushner and the White House said the contacts were made in his role as a Trump adviser and didn’t involve discussion of his family business. But VEB and a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin described the meetings quite differently, noted Adam Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. They said that Kushner was there in his capacity as head of his family’s real estate business. Investigators say they are studying those accounts with keen interest.

“I think it is part of a pattern of outreach to Russian financial interests, which are essentially Vladimir Putin and his oligarch circle, by Trump family members,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, a Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee. “The financial dealings are important because we know that the Russian playbook is to engage and compromise foreign leaders.” He added, “Whether this meeting and contact are significant remains to be understood.”

Written by Leisureguy

31 August 2017 at 1:08 pm

Almost all news coverage of the Barcelona attack mentioned terrorism. Very little coverage of Charlottesville did.

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Bryan Arva, Muhammed Idris, and Fouad Pervez report in the Washington Post:

The recent attacks in Charlottesville and Barcelona both involved perpetrators with ties to extremist ideologies using vehicles to kill and injure civilians. Because of these similarities, a debate quickly began about how politicians and news outlets discussed these two events — including whether it was appropriate to call both acts of terrorism.

Our research on these attacks — as well as the Orlando shootings by Omar Mateen and the Charleston church shootings by Dylan Roof — shows that news coverage framed these shootings very differently. Only the attacks perpetrated by Muslims were routinely called terrorism.

Even before we did our study, research showed disproportionately high media coverage of terrorism committed by Muslims — even though right-wing extremist groups have committed more attacks than Muslim in the United States since Sept. 11, 2001. Indeed, on the same weekend as the Charlottesville attack, the white nationalist Jerry Varnell was arrested for attempting a Timothy McVeigh-style bombing, but with little media attention.

Our research on the Orlando and Charleston shootings focused not on how much these attacks were covered, but on how they were covered. Our statistical analysis used a tool called topic modeling, which identifies common themes in a collection of articles and clusters them together using an algorithm. Essentially, we identified the relevant frames in thousands of articles from major national and regional U.S. newspapers.

Although the Orlando and Charleston shootings had key similarities — both were committed by individuals, involved firearms  and were plausibly hate crimes — they were not covered similarly.

First, the graph below shows that coverage of Mateen used “terrorism,”  “terrorist,”  and “radical” three to four times as frequently, while Roof’s coverage used “mental health” 3.5 times as frequently.

Even within the coverage that focused on terrorism, there were differences. Articles that discussed Mateen and terrorism focused on Islam and violence. But articles that discussed Roof and terrorism tended to focus on the question of whether his attack constituted terrorism. The coverage of Mateen didn’t really ever ask that question. This was despite weak evidence tying Mateen to the Islamic State, compared to stronger evidence tying Roof to right-wing extremist groups.

The same pattern emerged in coverage of the Charlottesville and Barcelona attacks. We gathered stories published within five days of each attack that included the names of the drivers of the vehicles. The same statistical models showed stark differences in how the coverage was framed:

Once again, coverage of Barcelona referred to terrorism and religion substantially more than did coverage of Charlottesville. Even the Charlottesville coverage that mentioned terrorism did so within the context of debating whether Fields’s attack was terrorism. The same does not appear true for coverage of Younes Abouyaaquob.

We do not believe that these differences in coverage are intentional or nefarious. . .

Continue reading.

More at the link, including charts.

Written by Leisureguy

31 August 2017 at 12:30 pm

Posted in Media, Terrorism

“I criticized Google. It got me fired. That’s how corporate power works.”

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Barry Lynn, formerly director of New America’s Open Markets program and is the author of Cornered: The New Monopoly Capitalism and the Economics of Destruction, writes in the Washington Post:

I’ve studied monopolies for about 20 years. I got into this line of work back in 1999, when an earthquake in Taiwan resulted the shutdown of factories all over the United States. How? It turned out that the earthquake had disrupted the flow of energy to foundries in Taipei, where most of the world’s semiconductors were produced, which led to an overall industrial crash. For me, this realization opened a window into a world that shouldn’t exist: A world of industry in which major corporations controlled all of various types of production and supply. I wondered how it had come about that some companies controlled, say, all semiconductors, all  airlines, all of telecommunications.

It didn’t seem right to me. So I looked into it. Since then, I’ve written two books on monopolies, edited several more, and penned countless papers and dozens of op-eds. Over time, I’ve worked to expose the fact that concentration in business can yield the same kind of risk that concentration yields in financial institutions: Just as the failure of one big bank can trigger a cascading economic collapse, the same thing can happen if one big producer or supplier fails. And there are people — mainly corporate executives — who have an interest in concentrating their industries. After all, it gives them massive control over power and wealth, and so they lobby for policies that are favorable to concentration. Little by little, they’re rigging our political system to give themselves all kinds of power — not only over how we do business, but over how we speak, think and act.

If you want a good example of what big corporations do with the power concentration gives them, just look at what happened to me.

For the last 15 years, I’ve directed the anti-monopoly Open Markets division of the think tank New America. Shortly after my group published a statement praising the European Union for fining Google for violating antitrust standards in June of this year, I was contacted by Anne-Marie Slaughter, the president of New America, who said that Eric Schmidt, Google’s parent company’s executive chairman, was furious about the statement. Schmidt, she said, was threatening to pull his name and substantial funding from New America in retaliation. On June 29, a mere two days later, I received a summons to meet with Slaughter. She told me that it was time for New America and Open Markets to “go their separate ways.” (She sent an email to that effect the evening of June 30.)  Slaughter gave me two months to sever ties with New America and find a new source of funding for Open Markets.

I was stunned. I told my boss that I didn’t want to leave — I had been with New America for 15 years, and my colleagues and I helped build the think tank to what it is. I asked her to reconsider her decision. But she wouldn’t. She gave me until Sept. 1 to find a new home, and a new place for my colleagues and me to work.

Slaughter claimed in New America’s statement that Open Markets was severed from New America because I, personally, have been less than collegial and open. But over the 15 years of my employment with New America, my attitude has never been a problem. No think tank wants to appear beholden to the demands of its corporate donors. But in this instance, that’s exactly the case. I and the entire Open Markets team were let go because it’s not in Google’s interest to finance criticism of its business model. It’s as simple as that.

We should all be worried about big business interfering with our speech, our thinking and our expression. Corporations are geared to pursue their interests, and criticism is not in their best interest. It’s our job as citizens to build a political economy that keeps those tendencies in check. But we’re failing. Wherever you work, whatever you do, as businesses grow and concentrate their power, your livelihood will be at risk if corporations continue to extend their reach into the world of ideas.

The United States was born out of rebellion against concentrated corporate power. But the fight in Boston Harbor against the British East India Company was driven not by fear the giant trading company would charge buyers too much. As Tea Partiers Sam Adams and John Hancock made clear, the problem was the threat it posed to “public liberty.” The founding generation didn’t want an economic boss dictating how business was done here.

How did we drift so far from the founding generation’s deep fear of massive corporations? In the 1970s and 1980s, an alliance of economic and legal scholars from the right and left of the parties — including Robert Bork and John Kenneth Galbraith — combined to overthrow America’s two-century-old antimonopoly system. They said that

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

31 August 2017 at 11:49 am

Posted in Business, Daily life

The emperor of junk science forensics has died

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Radley Balko gives a good example of why forensic science requires regulation:

According to local news reports, 66-year-old Robert O’Block died late last month in an apparent murder-suicide. It appears that O’Block shot himself after shooting and killing his 27-year-old girlfriend. It is a strange, tragic and violent end to a truly bizarre life.

O’Block was the founder and chief executive of the American College of Forensic Examiners Institute (ACFEI), which claims to be the largest forensics organization in the world. It may well be. But the group’s impressive size is as much a warning for the rest of us as it was an accomplishment for O’Block — because the rise of O’Block and the ACFEI embodies everything that’s wrong with how forensics is used in the American criminal-justice system.

The ACFEI story begins in the early 1990s. For about a decade, O’Block had been teaching criminal justice at Appalachian State University, a small liberal arts school in the Blue Ridge Mountains. But the school fired him in 1991, with college officials alleging that he falsely claimed co-authorship of several academic articles. (In a 2000 article in ABA Journal, O’Block insisted that his termination was retaliation for whistleblowing.) O’Block was subsequently hired by the criminal-justice department at the College of the Ozarks in southern Missouri.

While teaching in Missouri, O’Block took an interest in handwriting analysis, a highly subjective field of forensics that critics say hasn’t been subjected to scientific scrutiny. O’Block eventually applied for membership to an existing organization of forensic handwriting experts but was rejected. Rather than apply again, O’Block decided to form his own credentialing organization for the specialty. In 1992, he founded the American Board of Forensic Handwriting Analysts and put himself in charge. He began soliciting fees for membership and certification. According to a profile in Fraud magazine, the first “national training director” O’Block hired for his new organization was a man who had no more education than a high school diploma and who claimed he could enlarge women’s breasts through hypnosis. The breast-enlarging hypnotist would later resign, apparently because even he began to have doubts about what O’Block was doing in forensics.

And yet in spite of all of this, O’Block’s organization’s membership continued to grow. That’s because of a series of Supreme Court decisions that came down just a year after O’Block started the group. Until 1993, the admissibility of expert testimony in federal court and in nearly every state in the country was governed by a 1923 case for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit called Frye v. United States. In Frye, a polygraph instructor had testified that a rise in systolic blood pressure was indicative of lying. The court rejected that testimony and ruled that in order for scientific evidence to be admissible in federal court, it must have “gained general acceptance in the particular field in which it belongs.” But the most important part of the decision came almost by accident: It put judges in charge of determining what is and isn’t good science. Judges of course are trained in law, not science. Ever since, the courts have used a legal analysis to evaluate the merits of scientific evidence. The results have been disastrous.

It took another 70 years for the Supreme Court to address the issue of expert testimony. In the 1993 case Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, the plaintiffs alleged that a medication the company had marketed to pregnant women for morning sickness was causing birth defects. The Supreme Court used the case and two others to issue a sweeping series of rulings that sought to suss out the proper relationship between science and the law. In the end, the court found that the Frye “general acceptance test” risked excluding science that was not yet generally accepted by the status quo but could still be valuable in court. The justices instead instructed judges to consider a variety of other factors, such as whether an expert’s claims are testable, whether his or or her conclusions are subject to peer review, whether the methods are governed by standards and protocol, and whether a witness’ general testimony has been accepted within a particular scientific community.

But to be admitted, expert testimony needn’t meet all of these criteria. It’s left to judges to determine what weight and significance — if any — to assign each factor. Daubert opinions are scientifically suspect at best. They’re often little more than citations to other courts that have approved the evidence in question.

The immediate impact of the Daubert rulings was to create more space for expertise that had yet to be scientifically scrutinized (though it wasn’t all that difficult for such experts to testify before the ruling). But as with Frye, one of the decision’s most important effects was essentially an afterthought: It put the Supreme Court’s imprimatur on making judges the “gatekeepers” of expert testimony. Daubert is now the law in federal court and in all but nine states.

Asking judges to separate good science from bad has been as flawed in practice as it sounds in theory. Judges began to look for shortcuts, one of which was to rely on professional organizations and certification in considering Daubert challenges. The market responded, and soon the forensics field was awash in acronyms as certifying organizations sprang up to meet the demand. For O’Block, the timing couldn’t have been more fortuitous.

Within just a few years, O’Block expanded his new group to include other emerging fields of forensics. Administrators at the College of the Ozarks later told Fraud magazine that the school terminated O’Block when officials discovered he was using his students to collect fees, stuff envelopes and send out promotional materials for the new certifications on offer.

But by that point, O’Block no longer needed to teach. In 1995, he renamed his organization the American College of Forensic Examiners. He would later add the word “institute” after objections from a group already using the ACFE acronym. (That group is the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, which publishes Fraud magazine.) As his organization grew, O’Block formed a board of directors, consisting of him, his then-wife and his two minor children. He paid himself a salary just over $50,000 per year. And he started a hotline to hook his members up with lawyers in need of expert witnesses — 1-800-4AExpert.

ABA Journal reported that by 2000, the ACFEI offered “boards” in 11 specialties. It claimed more than 13,000 members and 17,000 diplomates (if you were a member, you could be a “diplomate” in more than one field). Revenue for the group topped $2 million that year, and O’Block’s salary rose to $200,000 per year. According to tax recordsobtained by the Springfield (Mo.) News-Leader, O’Block earned more than $400,000 from the ACFEI and related organizations in 2010 and 2011.

Today, the ACFEI claims to be the largest forensic certification organization in the country. It probably is. It boasts celebrity forensic spokespersons, like the famed medical examiner Cyril Wecht and the forensic analyst Henry Lee, who worked on the O.J. Simpson, JonBenet Ramsey and Laci Peterson cases. It features certification in areas such as “forensic professional technologist.”  The “survival mindset” certification is taught by Dave Grossman. Regular readers of The Watch will recognize Grossman as the man behind controversial police training seminars such as “The Bulletproof Warrior.”

The group has several sub-specialty fields with names that sound suspiciously similar to existing, more reputable organizations. For example, . . .

Continue reading. There’s a lot more, and all of it sounds like “scam.”

Written by Leisureguy

31 August 2017 at 11:30 am

Quantum Theory Rebuilt From Simple Physical Principles

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Fascinating effort to build quantum mechanics logically from first principles, described in Quanta by Philip Ball:

Scientists have been using quantum theory for almost a century now, but embarrassingly they still don’t know what it means. An informal poll taken at a 2011 conference on Quantum Physics and the Nature of Reality showed that there’s still no consensus on what quantum theory says about reality — the participants remained deeply divided about how the theory should be interpreted.

Some physicists just shrug and say we have to live with the fact that quantum mechanics is weird. So particles can be in two places at once, or communicate instantaneously over vast distances? Get over it. After all, the theory works fine. If you want to calculate what experiments will reveal about subatomic particles, atoms, molecules and light, then quantum mechanics succeeds brilliantly.

But some researchers want to dig deeper. They want to know why quantum mechanics has the form it does, and they are engaged in an ambitious program to find out. It is called quantum reconstruction, and it amounts to trying to rebuild the theory from scratch based on a few simple principles.

If these efforts succeed, it’s possible that all the apparent oddness and confusion of quantum mechanics will melt away, and we will finally grasp what the theory has been trying to tell us. “For me, the ultimate goal is to prove that quantum theory is the only theory where our imperfect experiences allow us to build an ideal picture of the world,” said Giulio Chiribella, a theoretical physicist at the University of Hong Kong.

There’s no guarantee of success — no assurance that quantum mechanics really does have something plain and simple at its heart, rather than the abstruse collection of mathematical concepts used today. But even if quantum reconstruction efforts don’t pan out, they might point the way to an equally tantalizing goal: getting beyond quantum mechanics itself to a still deeper theory. “I think it might help us move towards a theory of quantum gravity,” said Lucien Hardy, a theoretical physicist at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Canada.

The Flimsy Foundations of Quantum Mechanics

The basic premise of the quantum reconstruction game is summed up by the joke about the driver who, lost in rural Ireland, asks a passer-by how to get to Dublin. “I wouldn’t start from here,” comes the reply.

Where, in quantum mechanics, is “here”? The theory arose out of attempts to understand how atoms and molecules interact with light and other radiation, phenomena that classical physics couldn’t explain. Quantum theory was empirically motivated, and its rules were simply ones that seemed to fit what was observed. It uses mathematical formulas that, while tried and trusted, were essentially pulled out of a hat by the pioneers of the theory in the early 20th century.

Take Erwin Schrödinger’s equation for calculating the probabilistic properties of quantum particles. The particle is described by a “wave function” that encodes all we can know about it. It’s basically a wavelike mathematical expression, reflecting the well-known fact that quantum particles can sometimes seem to behave like waves. Want to know the probability that the particle will be observed in a particular place? Just calculate the square of the wave function (or, to be exact, a slightly more complicated mathematical term), and from that you can deduce how likely you are to detect the particle there. The probability of measuring some of its other observable properties can be found by, crudely speaking, applying a mathematical function called an operator to the wave function.

But this so-called rule for calculating probabilities was really just an intuitive guess by the German physicist Max Born. So was Schrödinger’s equation itself. Neither was supported by rigorous derivation. Quantum mechanics seems largely built of arbitrary rules like this, some of them — such as the mathematical properties of operators that correspond to observable properties of the system — rather arcane. It’s a complex framework, but it’s also an ad hoc patchwork, lacking any obvious physical interpretation or justification.

Compare this with the ground rules, or axioms, of Einstein’s theory of special relativity, which was as revolutionary in its way as quantum mechanics. (Einstein launched them both, rather miraculously, in 1905.) Before Einstein, there was an untidy collection of equations to describe how light behaves from the point of view of a moving observer. Einstein dispelled the mathematical fog with two simple and intuitive principles: that the speed of light is constant, and that the laws of physics are the same for two observers moving at constant speed relative to one another. Grant these basic principles, and the rest of the theory follows. Not only are the axioms simple, but we can see at once what they mean in physical terms.

What are the analogous statements for quantum mechanics? The eminent physicist John Wheeler once asserted that if we really understood the central point of quantum theory, we would be able to state it in one simple sentence that anyone could understand. If such a statement exists, some quantum reconstructionists suspect that we’ll find it only by rebuilding quantum theory from scratch: by tearing up the work of Bohr, Heisenberg and Schrödinger and starting again.

Quantum Roulette

One of the first efforts at quantum reconstruction was made in 2001 by Hardy, then at the University of Oxford. He ignored everything that we typically associate with quantum mechanics, such as quantum jumps, wave-particle duality and uncertainty. Instead, Hardy focused on probability: specifically, the probabilities that relate the possible states of a system with the chance of observing each state in a measurement. Hardy found that these bare bones were enough to get all that familiar quantum stuff back again.

Hardy assumed that any system can be described by some list of properties and their possible values. For example, in the case of a tossed coin, the salient values might be whether it comes up heads or tails. Then he considered the possibilities for measuring those values definitively in a single observation. You might think any distinct state of any system can always be reliably distinguished (at least in principle) by a measurement or observation. And that’s true for objects in classical physics.

In quantum mechanics, however, a particle can exist not just in distinct states, like the heads and tails of a coin, but in a so-called superposition — roughly speaking, a combination of those states. In other words, a quantum bit, or qubit, can be not just in the binary state of 0 or 1, but in a superposition of the two.

But if you make a measurement of that qubit, you’ll only ever get a result of 1 or 0. That is the mystery of quantum mechanics, often referred to as the collapse of the wave function: Measurements elicit only one of the possible outcomes. To put it another way, a quantum object commonly has more options for measurements encoded in the wave function than can be seen in practice.

Hardy’s rules governing possible states and their relationship to measurement outcomes acknowledged this property of quantum bits. In essence the rules were (probabilistic) ones about how systems can carry information and how they can be combined and interconverted.

Hardy then showed that the simplest possible theory to describe such systems is quantum mechanics, with all its characteristic phenomena such as wavelike interference and entanglement, in which the properties of different objects become interdependent. “Hardy’s 2001 paper was the ‘Yes, we can!’ moment of the reconstruction program,” Chiribella said. “It told us that in some way or another we can get to a reconstruction of quantum theory.”

More specifically, it implied that the core trait of quantum theory is that it is inherently probabilistic. “Quantum theory can be seen as a generalized probability theory, an abstract thing that can be studied detached from its application to physics,” Chiribella said. This approach doesn’t address any underlying physics at all, but just considers how outputs are related to inputs: what we can measure given how a state is prepared (a so-called operational perspective). “What the physical system is is not specified and plays no role in the results,” Chiribella said. These generalized probability theories are “pure syntax,” he added — they relate states and measurements, just as linguistic syntax relates categories of words, without regard to what the words mean. In other words, Chiribella explained, generalized probability theories “are the syntax of physical theories, once we strip them of the semantics.”

The general idea for all approaches in quantum reconstruction, then, is to start by listing the probabilities that a user of the theory assigns to each of the possible outcomes of all the measurements the user can perform on a system. That list is the “state of the system.” The only other ingredients are the ways in which states can be transformed into one another, and the probability of the outputs given certain inputs. This operational approach to reconstruction “doesn’t assume space-time or causality or anything, only a distinction between these two types of data,” said Alexei Grinbaum, a philosopher of physics at the CEA Saclay in France.

To distinguish quantum theory from a generalized probability theory, you need specific kinds of constraints on the probabilities and possible outcomes of measurement. But those constraints aren’t unique. So lots of possible theories of probability look quantum-like. How then do you pick out the right one?

“We can look for probabilistic theories that are similar to quantum theory but differ in specific aspects,” said Matthias Kleinmann, a theoretical physicist at the University of the Basque Country in Bilbao, Spain. If you can then find postulates that select quantum mechanics specifically, he explained, you can “drop or weaken some of them and work out mathematically what other theories appear as solutions.” Such exploration of what lies beyond quantum mechanics is not just academic doodling, for it’s possible — indeed, likely — that quantum mechanics is itself just an approximation of a deeper theory. That theory might emerge, as quantum theory did from classical physics, from violations in quantum theory that appear if we push it hard enough. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

31 August 2017 at 9:39 am

Posted in Science

Lavanille and the Copper Hat silvertip, with the iKon 101

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I find Lavanille more difficult to lather than my other soaps, including other Barrister & Mann soaps. Not sure why that would be, but I noticed it again this morning. I’m pretty sure my brush was fully loaded, but sparse lather by the third pass, when I reloaded (with a different Barrister & Mann soap, Leviathan, which does a fine job).

The iKon 101 is a reliable workhorse and I got a fine shave with a certain amount of blade buffing required to finish. Maybe a new blade is in order.

A splash of Lavanille aftershave—a very nice fragrance—and the morning gets underway. I did again shake the aftershave well before use.

Written by Leisureguy

31 August 2017 at 8:34 am

Posted in Shaving

Witnessing a rally for a brand-new Confederate monument

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Alexis Okeowo writes in the New Yorker:

This summer, many long-standing monuments to the Confederacy have been removed, or forcefully taken down, but new ones are still being raised. On Sunday, I went to the unveiling of a Confederate monument near my home town, in Alabama, in a place called Crenshaw County. The ceremony was organized by a group called the Sons of Confederate Veterans, and it took place in a privately owned Confederate-memorial park, where a crowd of more than two hundred people had assembled on a sunny afternoon.

When I drove into the park, several men in biker gear were checking cars near the entrance. They let me pass through after I assured them that I didn’t have a camera. The Alabama chapter of the N.A.A.C.P. had denounced the unveiling, and, because of the attention, the event’s organizers had barred television-news crews from attending. There were people of all ages on the grassy field, including some young families with small children, and many attendees held Confederate flags or wore clothing emblazoned with the flag. Members of a private militia, dressed in military fatigues and carrying heavy guns, roamed the field. “They’re here just in case,” someone said. As far as I could see, I was the only African-American.

The commander of the Alabama division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, a man named Jimmy Hill, went to the stage to speak. It “sickened” him, he said, to see what had been going on with Confederate monuments around the country. History, “their” history, was being torn down, and the media was distorting what people like him were trying to do. “A guy said, ‘You’re glorifying the Confederacy by putting up that monument,’ ” Hill went on. “I said, ‘You do realize this is to the unknown Confederate men who left Alabama, in Crenshaw County, and they’re buried in some battlefield shallow grave, and we don’t know where they’re at. That is remembering our brave ancestors, not glorifying anybody.’ ”

Hill spoke the name of his relative who had served in the Confederate Army, and several people in the crowd then called out the names of their relatives. An older man next to the stage rang a bell after each name. Then everyone walked over to a farther point in the field where the statue would be unveiled. It was just a gray headstone with the words “Unknown AL Soldier” and “CSA,” and then the epitaph “Mother, I have been found, I am home.” A group of men dressed in a uniform of red shirts, white suspenders, and gray caps fired off rounds of blanks from their rifles while audience members held up their phones to capture the spectacle.

A middle-aged blond woman named Marla, wearing a black tank top with the words “Biker for Trump,” came over to me and said that she had lost friends of color because of her support of Confederate memorials. “Nobody’s monuments should be destroyed,” she said, getting emotional and holding my hand. “I would be fine to keep up Martin Luther King’s monument, or Rosa Parks, or anyone else. It’s our history; it’s our life. It’s just not right. It has nothing to do with color.” She wiped a tear away, and went on. “You can pick out something and look at it and say, ‘See how far we’ve come,’ or you can say, ‘There’s a reminder of a horrible time.’ It’s just how you decide to look at it with your heart.” Her “daddy,” she said, had marched with King. Her grandmother would read the Bible to black people who worked in her fields, to help them learn how to read.

Another man approached to tell me about the research that he had done into his ancestry. He had learned, he said, that one of his forebearers had adopted a “Negro orphan boy” into his Confederate family after the Civil War. This fact, along with other tidbits he’d uncovered into how they had interacted with black people, proved that it was impossible to define “a whole generation or culture of people at a time.”

A group of women in period dress—big hoop skirts and dresses—milled around. One of them told me that they belonged to an organization called the Order of the Confederate Rose. (On its Web site, the organization says that it promotes “the honorable memory of the Confederate soldiers, Southern Symbols, true history, and true Southern Heritage.”) I asked about a teen-age girl in a puffy dress who appeared to be of mixed race; she turned out to be the woman’s niece. “She’s black and white,” the woman told me. “You don’t see a lot of African-Americans in Confederate organizations, but there were African-American soldiers in the South who actually volunteered to help stand up for states’ rights. So it wasn’t, to them, a slavery issue.” I met another woman who was originally from Michigan but now lives in Birmingham. She wore a camouflage baseball cap with Confederate trim. She took me to try out a reënactment cannon, telling me that she had no stakes in the fight: “I just want everybody’s history to be preserved. If you think that taking down a statue is going to change somebody’s heart, it’s never going to change their heart. Anger and hatred and all this racism is taught, it’s not a statue.”

Most of the attendees were so polite, and so eager to tell me that the Confederate legacy was divorced from slavery, that it reminded me of the peculiarity of racial relations in America, where a person who has racist beliefs believes himself to be absolved if he doesn’t consider himself racist. Beyond a modern political correctness, this way of thinking, and of self-deception, has been around since Reconstruction, when Southern whites who considered themselves well meaning could perform charitable deeds for, or often hire, their black neighbors, as long as those black people knew their place and stayed there. The attendees at the unveiling were asking me to accept their version of a harmonious history disrupted by outside troublemakers—“The N.A.A.C.P. was founded by a white socialist and a white progressive . . . and here we are today,” a woman told me—for the sake of continuing this myth of racial peace. We could all get along, if only African-Americans and their allies stopped causing unnecessary conflict. A man who spoke to me at the memorial later e-mailed a fellow-reporter, Connor Sheets, who covered the event, and wrote that he hoped “something positive” came out of my experience.

Cities from New Orleans to Baltimore have decided to . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 August 2017 at 1:45 pm

Posted in Daily life

Why Cutting Carbs Can Be Tough

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I am lucky in that I have generally view carbs—pasta, bread, potatoes, rice, and the like—as “filler,” unlike the enjoyable tastes of the meal. So cutting out carbs was fairly easy for me, though I would enjoy having beans and lentils again. The NY Times has an interesting column by Gary Taubes, author of Good Calories, Bad Calories and Why We Get Fat—And What To Do About It. (Both books are really excellent and worth reading, and I would also recommend The Big Fat Surprise, by Nina Teicholz.) Taubes writes:

I’ve been eating a high-fat, carb-restricted diet for almost 20 years, since I started as an experiment when investigating nutrition research for the journal Science. I find it’s easy for me to maintain a healthy weight when I eat this way. But even after two decades, the sensation of being on the edge of a slippery slope is ever-present.

The holidays and family vacations are a particular problem. Desserts and sweets, it seems, will appear after every lunch and dinner, and I’m not particularly good at saying no when everyone else is partaking. The more sweets I eat, the more we eat as a family, the longer it takes upon returning home before that expectation of a daily treat fades away.

What I’ve realized is that eating a little of a tasty dessert or a little pasta or bread fails to satisfy me. Rather it ignites a fierce craving for more, to eat it all and then some. I find it easier to avoid sugar, grains and starches entirely, rather than to try to eat them in moderation. The question is why.

To begin to answer that question requires understanding that researchers are generally divided not only on what causes obesity, but also why we have cravings and often fail to stay on diets.

The conventional thinking, held by the large proportion of the many researchers and clinicians I’ve interviewed over the years, is that obesity is caused by caloric excess. They refer to it as an “energy balance” disorder, and so the treatment is to consume less energy (fewer calories) and expend more. When we fail to maintain this prescription, the implication is that we simply lack will power or self-discipline.

“It’s viewed as a psychological issue or even a question of character,” says Dr. David Ludwig, who studies and treats obesity at Harvard Medical School.

The minority position in this field — one that Dr. Ludwig holds, as do I after years of reporting — is that obesity is actually a hormonal regulatory disorder, and the hormone that dominates this process is insulin. It directly links what we eat to the accumulation of excess fat and that, in turn, is tied to the foods we crave and the hunger we experience. It’s been known since the 1960s that insulin signals fat cells to accumulate fat, while telling the other cells in our body to burn carbohydrates for fuel. By this thinking these carbohydrates are uniquely fattening.

Since insulin levels after meals are determined largely by the carbohydrates we eat — particularly easily digestible grains and starches, known as high glycemic index carbohydrates, as well as sugars like sucrose and high-fructose corn syrup — diets based on this approach specifically target these carbohydrates. If we don’t want to stay fat or get fatter, we don’t eat them.

This effect of insulin on fat and carbohydrate metabolism offers an explanation for why these same carbohydrates, as Dr. Ludwig says, are typically the foods we crave most; why a little “slip,” as addiction specialists would call it, could so easily lead to a binge.

Elevate insulin levels even a little, says Dr. Robert Lustig, a pediatric endocrinologist at the University of California, San Francisco, and the body switches over from burning fat for fuel to burning carbohydrates, by necessity.

“The more insulin you release, the more you crave carbs,” he said. “Once you’re exposed to a little carbohydrate, and you get an insulin rise from it, that forces energy into fat cells and that deprives your other cells of the energy they would otherwise have utilized — in essence, starvation. So you compensate by getting hungry, particularly for more carbohydrate. High insulin drives carb-craving.”

The result is that even a bite or a taste of carbohydrate-rich foods can stimulate insulin and create a hunger — a craving — for even more carbohydrates. “There’s no question in my mind,” says Dr. Lustig, “that once people who are ‘carboholics’ get their insulin levels down, they become less carboholic. And if they go off the wagon and start eating carbs, they go right back to where they were before. I’ve seen that in numerous patients.”

Sugar and sweets might be a particular problem because of several physiological responses that may be unique to sugar. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 August 2017 at 12:40 pm

A liberal think tank has just pushed out an employee who dared to criticize Google.

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Henry Farrell writes in the Washington Post:

The New York Times reports that the liberal-leaning think tank New America has pushed out scholar Barry Lynn and his team on the foundation’s Open Markets initiative.

This happened shortly after Lynn published a piece for New America praising the European Union for fining Google. Eric Schmidt, the executive chairman of Alphabet (the holding company that controls Google), is a major funder of New America and had sent an email to New America President Anne-Marie Slaughter expressing unhappiness about Lynn’s piece.

Slaughter and Schmidt both say that the decision had nothing to do with Schmidt’s displeasure. However, the Times reports that, in an email to Lynn, Slaughter accused the scholar of “imperiling the institution as a whole.” The Times also said that in an email ahead of a 2016 conference organized by Open Markets to focus on concerns about tech industry monopolies, Slaughter had asked Lynn to “just THINK about how you are imperiling funding for others.”

There may be another side to this story that has yet to come out. However, the facts as initially presented in the Times article suggest that this episode is yet another example of a growing problem. As Washington Post contributor Daniel Drezner discusses in his new book, “The Ideas Industry,” the key sources of policy ideas are increasingly beholden to big funders, who very often have their own financial interests.

There are big problems with the ideas industry.

Drezner’s book looks at what he calls “the ideas industry” — the loose assortment of universities, think tanks, intellectual magazines, conferences, free-floating intellectuals and other institutions that produce ideas that can lead to substantial consequences for how we think about and organize politics, the economy and our society. Drezner argues that the ideas industry has changed drastically in recent decades and that the “most important driver behind the transformation of the Ideas Industry … is the spike in economic inequality.”

Growing inequality is creating a new class of donors at the top who shape the ideas industry by giving to universities, sponsoring programs at think tanks and so on. These donors, in contrast to early 20th-century philanthropists such as John D. MacArthur, who famously gave the board of his foundation no instructions at all, “adopt a more hands-on role in their engagement with ideas,” Drezner writes. This can lead to problems, especially when these donors share the same broad outlook. Some ideas — those favored by well-heeled donors — tend to get developed and promoted while others wither on the vine.

Think tanks are short of money.

These problems grew worse after the economic crash. Many think tanks and similar organizations used to rely on traditional foundations for money. But these foundations saw their endowments shrink during the economic crisis. To survive and keep their employees paid, think tanks started looking to new sources for money, and in some cases were prepared to accept conditions on funding that they previously might have balked at.

Those agreements may partly explain why many prominent think tanks, including the Brookings Institution and the American Enterprise Institute, have been accused of behaving more like corporate lobbyists than independent arbiters of ideas. . .

Continue reading.

Philanthropy with strings attached.

And also read “Google is coming after critics in academia and journalism. It’s time to stop them.” by Zephyr Teachout. From that column:

It is time to call out Google for what it is: a monopolist in search, video, maps and browser, and a thin-skinned tyrant when it comes to ideas.

The imperial overreach of Google in trying to shut down a group of five researchers proves the point that the initial release from Open Markets was trying to make: When companies get too much power, they become a threat to democratic free speech and to the liberty of citizens at large.

In 1948, in the Supreme Court case U.S. v. Columbia Steel Co., Justice William O. Douglas explained that the traditional philosophy of American antitrust law is that “all power tends to develop into a government in itself. Power that controls the economy … should be scattered into many hands so that the fortunes of the people will not be dependent on the whim or caprice, the political prejudices, the emotional stability of a few self-appointed men.”

Google is forming into a government of itself, and it seems incapable of even seeing its own overreach. We, as citizens, must respond in two ways. First, support the brave researchers and journalists who stand up to overreaching power; and second, support traditional antimonopoly laws that will allow us to have great, innovative companies — but not allow them to govern us.

Written by Leisureguy

30 August 2017 at 12:13 pm

Not “fake news”: CNN reporter saves man in Houston

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Written by Leisureguy

30 August 2017 at 10:24 am

Posted in Media

Legal challenge to Arpaio pardon begins

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Trump doesn’t understand that a presidential pardon is done within the context of the U.S. Constitution and cannot be done as a regal whim. That is going to trip him up. Jennifer Rubin writes in the Washington Post:

After President Trump’s pardon of ex-sheriff Joe Arpaio, who had been convicted of criminal contempt for violating a court order designed to stop the violation of the constitutional rights of suspected illegal immigrants, conventional wisdom — and certainly the Trump administration — would have us believe that Trump’s pardon powers are unlimited. However, never before has someone stretched the pardon power so beyond its original intent. Trump has now drawn scrutiny not simply from critics of his racist rhetoric but from the court itself.

The Arizona Republic reports:

U.S. District Court Judge Susan Bolton canceled former Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s upcoming sentencing hearing for his criminal contempt-of-court conviction, telling attorneys not to file replies to motions that were pending before his recent presidential pardon.

However, Bolton on Tuesday stopped short of throwing out the conviction based solely on Arpaio’s request. Instead she ordered Arpaio and the U.S. Department of Justice, which is prosecuting the case, to file briefs on why she should or shouldn’t grant Arpaio’s request.

In other words, this is no slam dunk.

Meanwhile, Protect Democracy, an activist group seeking to thwart Trump’s violations of legal norms, and a group of lawyers have sent a letter to Raymond N. Hulser and John Dixon Keller of the Public Integrity Section, Criminal Division of the Justice Department, arguing that the pardon goes beyond constitutional limits. In their letter obtained by Right Turn, they argue:

While the Constitution’s pardon power is broad, it is not unlimited. Like all provisions of the original Constitution of 1787, it is limited by later-enacted amendments, starting with the Bill of Rights. For example, were a president to announce that he planned to pardon all white defendants convicted of a certain crime but not all black defendants, that would conflict with the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause.

Similarly, issuance of a pardon that violates the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause is also suspect. Under the Due Process Clause, no one in the United States (citizen or otherwise) may “be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” But for due process and judicial review to function, courts must be able to restrain government officials. Due process requires that, when a government official is found by a court to be violating individuals’ constitutional rights, the court can issue effective relief (such as an injunction) ordering the official to cease this unconstitutional conduct. And for an injunction to be effective, there must be a penalty for violation of the injunction—principally, contempt of court.

Put simply, the argument is that the president cannot obviate the court’s powers to enforce its orders when the constitutional rights of others is at stake. “The president can’t use the pardon power to immunize lawless officials from consequences for violating people’s constitutional rights,” says one of the lawyers who authored the letter, Ron Fein, legal director of Free Speech for People. Clearly, there is a larger concern here that goes beyond Arpaio. “After repeatedly belittling and undermining judges verbally and on Twitter, now President Trump is escalating his attack on the courts into concrete actions,” says Ian Bassin, executive director of Protect Democracy. “His pardon and celebration of Joe Arpaio for ignoring a judicial order is a threat to our democracy and every citizen’s rights, and should not be allowed to stand.”

Those challenging the pardon understand there is no precedent for this — but neither is there a precedent for a pardon of this type. “While many pardons are controversial politically, we are unaware of any past example of a pardon to a public official for criminal contempt of court for violating a court order to stop a systemic practice of violating individuals’ constitutional rights,” Fein says. He posits the example of criminal contempt in the context of desegregation. “In 1962, after the governor and lieutenant governor of Mississippi disobeyed a court order to allow James Meredith to attend the University of Mississippi, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ordered the Department of Justice to bring criminal contempt charges, which it then did,” Fein recalls. “Eventually, while the criminal contempt case was pending, the Mississippi officials relented and allowed Meredith (and others) to attend the university. But if the president had pardoned the Mississippi officials from the criminal contempt, it would have sent a clear message to other segregationist officials that court orders could be ignored.”

In other words, if the president can pardon anyone who defies court orders to enforce constitutional protections, then those constitutional protections are rendered meaningless. It is a creative argument, but then, this president has created new and disturbing challenges to democratic norms.

Lurking in the background is the potential for Trump to pardon associates involved in the probe of possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian officials and the possible obstruction of justice that followed. . .

Continue reading.

Later in the column:

 Philip Allen Lacovara, a former U.S. deputy solicitor general in the Justice Department, who served as counsel to Watergate special prosecutors, argues in The Post today:

As with any other presidential power, the power to pardon is constrained by the ordinary requirements of federal law applicable to all public officials. For example, if representatives of a pardon-seeker arrived in the Oval Office with a bundle of cash that the president accepted in return for a pardon, there is little doubt that the president would be guilty of the crime of bribery. . . .  If Trump were to pardon any of the figures in the current Russia investigation, his action would certainly impede or obstruct the due administration of justice, as the courts have broadly construed that standard.

It would not be difficult to imagine Mueller making the case that the motive behind such interference was “corrupt.” As the Founding Fathers made plain, the purpose behind the pardon power is to extend mercy to those who have offended and have demonstrated remorse. Using the pardon power to protect the president’s own interests against embarrassment or exposure is not legitimate. Rather, a crassly self-interested exercise of presidential power to impede the due administration of justice is the very antithesis of the president’s most solemn oath — “to take care that the laws be faithfully executed.”

Written by Leisureguy

30 August 2017 at 9:48 am

Fine aluminum slant with RazoRock Zi’ Peppino

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I think with this shave I’ve put the Fine aluminum slant through its paces, and I will be returning the prototype. Yesterday I shaved with the iKon 102, with an eye to comparing that shave with the Fine’s.

Prep was a pleasure. I like the Maggard 22mm synthetic brush and I find Zi’ Peppino a favorite for its fragrance and lather.

The Fine’s feel on the face definitely differs from that of the 102. Partly it is the weight—or, with the Fine, the lack of weight. Some newbie once reported that when he read that someone was shaving with a Feather, he took it as some sort of Zen koan: “shaving with a feather.” But with the Fine slant, that does describe the feeling: very light, barely touching. The 102 in contrast is heavier (I have it on an iKon Bulldog handle, which accounts for the weight) and somehow rides more on the face (but without problems).

I got a very easy and smooth shave with the Fine, with a couple of weepers, probably because I was using a sharper blade (Personna Lab Blue instead of the Derby Extra I used at first). I think the weeper problem would go away quickly with a bit more blade exploration. I would try a Rapira or Voskhod and a Gillette Silver Blue next, I think. But it’s clear that this is an excellent razor. I find I am more conscious of technique when I shave with it than I am with the 102, but of course I am very accustomed to the 102 and have “learned” it well, while the Fine is still relatively new to me.

I am going to return the prototype, and I am seriously considering buying the production version: it’s a good slant, and I’m a collector.

A splash of Zi’ Peppino’s fine aftershave (after giving it a good shake), and the day is launched.

Written by Leisureguy

30 August 2017 at 9:44 am

Posted in Shaving

Timeline of Trump’s praise for Putin while Trump Tower Moscow was in the works

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In the Washington Post Callum Borchers lays out a detailed timeline of who did/said what when.

Written by Leisureguy

29 August 2017 at 8:46 pm

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