Later On

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Archive for August 3rd, 2017

House Ethics Committee not really interested in ethics—example: Rep. Roger Williams (R-Tx)

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Sarah Kleiner reports for the Center for Public Integrity:

The House Ethics Committee has decided not to reprimand Rep. Roger Williams, R-Texas, in regard to questions raised over whether his automobile dealership would benefit financially from an amendment he introduced in 2015.

The committee’s leaders said in a report issued Tuesday, however, that Williams should have consulted with the panel first to avoid the appearance of impropriety.

A 2015 Center for Public Integrity story brought to light a provision proffered by Williams that allowed car dealers to rent or loan out vehicles even if they are subject to safety recalls. Williams owns the Roger Williams Auto Mall in Weatherford, Texas. The amendment did not become law.

The House ethics manual states that “whenever a Member is considering taking any such action on a matter that may affect his or her personal financial interests,” he or she should contact the House Ethics Committee for guidance.

Williams did not consult with the committee first.

In a statement, Williams said he knew he would be cleared of wrongdoing. . .

Continue reading.

Later in the report:

. . . Days after the Center published its story, Williams issued a statement that said the Center had made a “laughable ‘charge’” against him.

The Office of Congressional Ethics, an independent nonpartisan board, disagreed.

After an extensive review, the group voted 6-0 in April 2016 to recommend further investigation by the House Ethics Committee.

Williams did not cooperate with the OCE review, according to the agency’s report. . .

Written by LeisureGuy

3 August 2017 at 3:26 pm

Advice From Mothers Who Almost Died: What they would say to other new and expectant mothers

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Adriana Gallardo and Nina Martin, ProPublica, and Renee Montagne, NPR, report in ProPublica:

Four days after Marie McCausland delivered her first child in May, she knew something was very wrong. She had intense pain in her upper chest, her blood pressure was rising, and she was so swollen that she barely recognized herself in the mirror. As she curled up in bed that evening, a scary thought flickered through her exhausted brain: “If I go to sleep right now, I don’t know if I’m gonna be waking up.”

What she didn’t have was good information about whatmight be wrong. The discharge materials the hospital sent her home with were vague and confusing — “really quite useless,” she said. Then she remembered a ProPublica/NPRstory she’d recently read about a New Jersey nurse who died soon after childbirth. Lauren Bloomstein had developed severe preeclampsia, a dangerous type of hypertension that often happens during the second half of her pregnancy. But it can also emerge after the baby is delivered, when it is often overlooked — accounting for dozens of maternal deaths a year. McCausland realized that she might have preeclampsia, too.

The 27-year-old molecular virologist and her husband bundled up their newborn son and raced to the nearest emergency room in Cleveland. But the ER doctor told her that she was feeling normal postpartum symptoms, she said. Even as her blood pressure hovered at perilous heights, he wanted to send her home. Several hours passed before he consulted with an OB-GYN at another hospital and McCausland’s severe preeclampsia was treated with magnesium sulfate to prevent seizures. Without Bloomstein’s story as a warning, McCausland doubts she would have recognized her symptoms or persisted in the face of the ER doctor’s dismissiveness. “I had just come home with the baby and really didn’t want to go back to the hospital. I think I probably would have just wrote it off.” In that case, she added, “I don’t know if I’d be here. I really don’t.”

McCausland’s experience is far from unique. In the months since ProPublica and NPR launched our project about maternal deaths and near-deaths in the U.S., we’ve heard from 3,100 women who endured life-threatening pregnancy and childbirth complications, often suffering long-lasting physical and emotional effects. (Tell us your story.)

The same themes that run though McCausland’s story echo through many of these survivors’ recollections. They frequently told us they knew little to nothing beforehand about the complications that nearly killed them. Even when the women were convinced something was terribly amiss, doctors and nurses were sometimes slow to believe them. Mothers especially lacked information about risks in the postpartum period, when medical care is often disjointed or difficult to access and the baby is the focus of attention. “Every single nurse, pediatrician, and lactation consultant dismissed my concerns as hormones and anxiety,” wrote Emily McLaughlin, who suffered a stroke and other complications after giving birth in Connecticut in 2015.

These survivors make up an important, and largely untapped, source of knowledge about the dangers that expectant and new mothers may face — and how to avoid disaster. Every day in the U.S., two to three women die from pregnancy- or childbirth-related causes, including preeclampsia, hemorrhageinfectionblood clots and cardiac problems — the highest rate of maternal mortality among wealthy nations. As many as 60 percent of these deaths are preventable, a new report suggestsmore than half occur after delivery. (See our story on the lost mothers of 2016.) Each day, another 175 women suffer complications severe enough to require major medical intervention such as massive transfusions, emergency surgery or admission to an intensive care unit — equivalent to about 65,000 close calls annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Hospitals, medical organizations and maternal safety groups are introducing a host of initiatives aimed at educating expectant and new mothers and improving how providers respond to emergencies. But as McCausland’s experience illustrates, self-advocacy is also critically important.

We asked survivors: What can people do to ensure that what happened to Lauren Bloomstein doesn‘t happen to them or their loved ones? How can they help prevent situations like Marie McCausland’s from spiraling out of control? What do they wish they had known ahead of their severe complications? What made a difference in their recovery? How did they get medical professionals to listen? Here is a selection of their insights, in their own words. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 August 2017 at 3:15 pm

And it’s not just Baltimore: Hundreds of officers fired for misconduct returned to policing

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Kimbriell Kelly, Wesley Lowery, and Steven Rich report in the Washington Post:

Since 2006, the nation’s largest police departments have fired at least 1,881 officers for misconduct that betrayed the public’s trust, from cheating on overtime to unjustified shootings. But The Washington Post has found that departments have been forced to reinstate more than 450 officers after appeals required by union contracts.

Most of the officers regained their jobs when police chiefs were overruled by arbitrators, typically lawyers hired to review the process. In many cases, the underlying misconduct was undisputed, but arbitrators often concluded that the firings were unjustified because departments had been too harsh, missed deadlines, lacked sufficient evidence or failed to interview witnesses.

A San Antonio police officer caught on a dash cam challenging a handcuffed man to fight him for the chance to be released was reinstated in February. In the District, an officer convicted of sexually abusing a young woman in his patrol car was ordered returned to the force in 2015. And in Boston, an officer was returned to work in 2012 despite being accused of lying, drunkenness and driving a suspected gunman from the scene of a nightclub killing.

The chiefs say the appeals process leaves little margin for error. Yet police agencies sometimes sabotage their own attempts to shed troubled officers by making procedural mistakes. The result is that police chiefs have booted hundreds of officers they have deemed unfit to be in their ranks, only to be compelled to take them back and return them to the streets with guns and badges.

“It’s demoralizing, but not just to the chief,” said Charles H. Ramsey, former police commissioner in Philadelphia and chief in the District. Philadelphia and the District together have had to rehire 80 fired officers since 2006, three of them twice.

“It’s demoralizing to the rank and file who really don’t want to have those kinds of people in their ranks,” Ramsey said. “It causes a tremendous amount of anxiety in the public. Our credibility is shot whenever these things happen.”

The Post’s findings illustrate the obstacles local police agencies face in holding their own accountable at a critical moment for policing: President Trump’s administration has indicated that the federal government will curtail the strategy of federal intervention in departments confronted with allegations of systemic officer misconduct, even as controversial police shootings continue to undermine public confidence.

Nationwide, the reinstatement of fired officers has not been comprehensively studied or tracked. No national database logs terminations. Some firings receive local publicity, but many go unreported. Some states shield police personnel records — including firings — from public disclosure.

To investigate how often fired officers were returned to their jobs, The Post filed open records requests with the nation’s 55 largest municipal and county police forces. Thirty-seven departments complied with the request, disclosing that they had fired a combined 1,881 officers since 2006. Of those officers, 451 successfully appealed and won their jobs back.

The officers’ names and details were available in about half of the reinstatement cases: 151 of the officers had been fired for conduct unbecoming, and 88 had been terminated for dishonesty, according to a review of internal police documents, appeals records, court files and news reports.

At least 33 of the officers had been charged with crimes. Of these, 17 had been convicted, most of misdemeanors.

Eight officers were fired and rehired by their departments more than once.

“To overturn a police chief’s decision, except in cases of fact errors, is a disservice to the good order of the department,” said San Antonio Police Chief William McManus, who in February was ordered to reinstate Officer Matthew Belver for a second time. “It also undermines a chief’s authority and ignores the chief’s understanding of what serves the best interest of the community and the department.”

In the District, arbitrators have ordered the city to rehire 39 officers since 2006, more than half of them because arbitrators concluded that the department missed deadlines to complete its internal investigations. One officer, convicted of assault after he was caught on video attacking a shoe store employee, was fired in 2015 and reinstated in 2016 after an arbitrator concluded that police had missed the deadline by seven days, arbitration records show. . .

Continue reading.

The public has a right to be protect from criminal police. Read the whole article. Later in the article:

Police unions argue that the right to appeal terminations through arbitration protects officers from arbitrary punishment or being second-guessed for their split-second decisions. Unions contend that police chiefs are prone to overreach, especially when there is public or political pressure to fire officers. In interviews, local and national union officials said some of the 451 reinstated officers should never have been fired in the first place.

“They’re held to a higher standard,” said James Pasco, executive director of the national Fraternal Order of Police. “Their work is constantly scrutinized to a far higher degree. You very seldom see any phone-cam indictments of trash collectors or utility workers.”

Mr. Pasco is apparently unaware that trash collectors and utility workers are not authorized to use deadly force. That in itself requires police to be held to a higher standard.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 August 2017 at 1:36 pm

Baltimore Cops Caught Turning Off Body Cameras Before ‘Finding’ Drugs

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Baltimore is not unique among police departments for illegal behavior on the part of police, but it must be embarrassing to serve as a textbook case of planting evidence. Kelly Wilde reports for the Daily Beast:

Baltimore police spent 30 minutes searching a car for drugs but found nothing—until they turned off their body cameras.

When the cameras turned back on, one cop was seen squatting next to the driver’s side where another officer immediately found drugs.

Police arrested two people in the apparent drug bust. But police might have been betrayed by their own body cameras, the public defender’s office announced Monday. Apparently unbeknownst to the officers, the cameras were rolling when one officer squatted in front of the empty driver’s seat. Another officer “found” a bag of drugs there moments later. The footage is the second body camera video in two weeks to apparently show Baltimore Policeofficers planting drugs on an otherwise-innocent scene.

Two weeks ago, the public defender’s office released body camera footage that appeared to show an officer planting a bag of pills in an empty lot in January, while two other officers looked on. The footage prompted Baltimore prosecutors on Friday to drop 34 drug and weapons cases connected to the three officers captured on camera.

The newest footage, announced on Monday, comes from a separate incident involving at least seven other police officers. The footage, which has not been released to the public, is said to show officers conspiring to fudge their body camera records and plant drugs in a car, the public defender’s office said.

It was described to The Daily Beast on Tuesday.

“A series of body worn camera videos show multiple officers searching a car, including the front driver side area,” said public defender’s office spokesperson Melissa Rothstein. “After the car has been thoroughly searched, the officers turn off their body cameras and reactivate them. When the cameras come back on one officer is seen squatting by the driver’s seat area. The group of officers then wait approximately 30 seconds.”

Baltimore police use cameras that retain 30 seconds of silent footage prior to an officer pressing the record button. The silent period, known as a “buffer,” is supposed to show the moments before an officer flagged an incident as noteworthy.

“Shortly thereafter, another officer asks if the area by that compartment has been searched.  Nobody responds, and the officer reaches in and locates a bag that appears to contain drugs right by where the prior officer was, and where the car had been thoroughly searched about a half an hour prior with absolutely no results.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 August 2017 at 12:50 pm

Trump and Russia: Cooperation if not collusion

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From the Washington Post’s Daily 202 (where I found the above tweet):

— Trump repeatedly suggested firing the top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan during a tense White House meeting last month “because he is not winning the war,” NBC’s Carol E. Lee and Courtney Kube reported: “During the July 19 meeting, Trump repeatedly suggested that [Gen. John Nicholson be replaced] … Trump has not met Nicholson, and the Pentagon has been considering extending his time in Afghanistan. He also startled the room with a story that seemed to compare their advice to that of a paid consultant who cost a tony New York restaurateur profits by offering bad advice. Trump’s national security team has been trying for months to come up with a new strategy he can approve. Those advisers are set to meet again to discuss the issue on Thursday at the White House. The president is not currently scheduled to attend the meeting, though one official said that could change …

“During the meeting, Trump criticized his military advisers seated around the table in the White House Situation Room for what he said was a losing U.S. position in the war … ‘We aren’t winning,’ Trump complained … ‘We are losing.’ One official said Trump pointed to maps showing the Taliban gaining ground, and that Mattis responded to the president by saying the U.S. is losing because it doesn’t have the strategy it needs.”

— From a conservative fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations: 

https://twitter.com/maxboot/status/892934505111203840

In addition, you may recall the report of a White House link pushing the story that the DNC employee Seth Rich was murdered. (Here’s a useful timeline for that story.) Whether or not the White House was doing this at Russia’s request, it now turns out that Russia did indeed want to push such a story. Hunter Walker reports for Yahoo News:

Reporter Andrew Feinberg says a Russian state-owned news site he once worked for pressured him to advance a conspiracy theory about the fatal shooting of Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich.

Feinberg, who was the White House correspondent for Sputnik, first made the allegations when he left the Russian outlet in May. However, his story is newly relevant in light of a lawsuit filed this week that accused President Trump and the White House of playing a role in a “fake news” story designed to advance the same conspiracy theory.

Feinberg started at Sputnik in January, just as Trump took office. He was the outlet’s first reporter to work inside the West Wing. In a conversation with Yahoo News on Wednesday, Feinberg alleged that Sputnik wanted him to bring up a news article that’s at the center of the lawsuit in the White House press briefing room.

The story, which was published on the Fox News website on May 16 and retracted a week later, suggested Rich may have played a role in last year’s leak of DNC emails. The U.S. intelligence community has concluded that the email leak was orchestrated by the Russian government to help Trump defeat his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton. There are multiple investigations into whether Trump and his campaign colluded with Russia.

Feinberg said that during a meeting held on May 26, his superiors asked him bring up the story in the press briefing.

“It was, ‘We want you to ask about Seth Rich and just, you know, ask about the case and if those revelations should put an end to the Russia hacking narrative and the investigation,” said Feinberg.

According to Feinberg, his bosses handed him a termination letter when he declined. He described the situation as “disturbing.”

“It’s really telling that the White House is pushing the same narrative as a state-run Russian propaganda outlet,” Feinberg said. . .

Continue reading.

UPDATE: Kevin Drum has a good post this morning: “Afghanistan Plan Killed Because ‘21’ Closed For Remodeling 30 Years Ago. This Is Not a Joke.”

UPDATE 2: Jennifer Rubin’s column: “Trump will blame anyone for anything — except Russia for its conduct.” It begins:

President Trump tweeted, “Our relationship with Russia is at an all-time & very dangerous low. You can thank Congress, the same people that can’t even give us HCare!” White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, you see, cannot prevent the president from revealing his self-delusions and own ignorance. Once again, we see Trump’s inability to recognize the danger posed to us by Russia and, worse, his own conduct in forcing Congress to act on its own initiative.

For starters, Russia brought this on itself by meddling in our elections and those of our European allies, invading neighbors, backing the murderous Syrian regime and engaging in domestic repression. Trump refuses to take issue with all that or to acknowledge that such conduct is contrary to U.S. interests. By blaming Congress, he once again does Russian President Vladimir Putin’s water-carrying. Blaming the West and casting Russia as the innocent victim come straight from the Russian propaganda playbook.

Trumps prefers not only to avoid identifying or punishing Russia but also shows no interest in protecting American democracy. Numerous intelligence officials have testified before Congress in open session that Trump has never asked them about Russian cyberespionage or anti-Western propaganda. Think about it. Trump will not acknowledge, let alone do something about the tactics of our chief international foe. He prefers that Congress do nothing — just appease and avoid Russia’s ire. That’s the sort of attitude conservatives in Congress and in the foreign policy community would have virulently criticize President Barack Obama for adopting (and did). . .

Read the whole thing. She concludes:

. . .  The question then presents itself: Is the president willing to counter an identified threat to U.S. national security, and will his administration follow the law in staffing and developing programs to do just that? So far the answer to both is “no.” Maybe the new chief of staff needs to remind the president that Russia, not Congress, is the enemy and prod Tillerson to comply with the law. That might require Tillerson to get out of his executive suite and engage with people doing the work of the State Department.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 August 2017 at 9:00 am

How To Diminish A Superpower: Trump’s Foreign Policy After Six Months

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Hal Brands writes in War on the Rocks:

Regardless of which candidate had won the 2016 election, the tenure of the 45th president was bound to represent a pivotal moment in the historical arc of the American superpower. Since World War II, the United States has been the world’s foremost power. Since the end of the Cold War, it has enjoyed an astounding level of geopolitical dominance. The United States has, on the whole, used that power quite constructively to create an international system that has been remarkably prosperous, stable, and liberal by any meaningful historical comparison.

But nothing—not even the remarkable degree of primacy that the United States possessed in the wake of the Soviet collapse—lasts forever.  And in recent years, both American dominance and the international system it has underpinned have come under strain. America’s military and economic primacy have been eroded by competition from a rising China. Meanwhile, challenges to the prevailing international system — from renewed great-power revisionism, to the resurgence of authoritarian models of governance, to the emergence of profound disorder in key regions such as the Middle East — have proliferated and intensified. To be sure, the prospects that these challenges might be successfully met seemed fairly good until quite recently. After all, the United States and its allies still control a clear preponderance of global economic and military power, and with some hard decisions and enlightened policies they might well mount a credible defense of their interests and values. Many informed observers — this one included — thus assumed that when Hillary Clinton was elected, adjusting American grand strategy as necessary to shore up American primacy and sustain a U.S.-centric global order would be her fundamental grand strategic task.

But Donald Trump triumphed, and as his administration passes its six-month mark, it is clear that something very different is happening. Based on his words and actions thus far, Trump appears likely to hasten the decay not just of the existing international order but of the American superpower itself. The president has, admittedly, shied away from some of his more radical campaign proposals. He has not yet withdrawn from American alliances, started trade wars, rushed headlong into a rapprochement with Russia, or otherwise pulled down the temple. And in fairness, the president has taken, or at least pledged to take, a tough line on North Korea and other threats to international stability.

Yet if Trump has been constrained by some of his more moderate advisers, by Congress, and by other factors from pursuing a pure version of his “America First” agenda, his presidency to date has still been quite damaging.  For in both his rhetoric and many of his early policies, Trump has taken dead aim at a number of the core ideas, practices, and traditions that have been central to America’s global role for decades. The president claims to be maximizing U.S. power and freedom of action in a cut-throat global environment. But in reality, he is pursuing a “present at the destruction” style of foreign policy, one that is compromising the very qualities that have made America such a successful superpower in the first place. 

The Dual Roots of the American Superpower

For the past 70 years, America’s success in both shaping and leading the international order has been rooted in two distinctive attributes — its unmatched, tangible hard power, on the one hand, and the particular ways in which that power has been wielded, on the other.

In purely material terms, the United States has been far and away the mightiest actor in the international arena since World War II. Even during the Cold War, America’s economy vastly overmatched that of the Soviet Union; Washington also enjoyed a significant advantage in overall military power, even though the conventional balance in Europe favored the Kremlin. Since the Cold War, U.S. advantages have been even more pronounced. The United States has regularly accounted for 35 to 45 percent of global military spending and possessed unrivaled power projection capabilities. It has also enjoyed a significant — if narrowing — economic lead over challengers such as China. These strengths represent the hard-power backbone of American leadership. They are the economic and military pillars of Washington’s global role.

Yet America’s effectiveness as a superpower has also depended heavily on how that power was used. The United States did not use its unmatched strengths simply to pursue its own interests, narrowly defined, but to create a broader international system that would benefit any country that agreed to honor its guiding liberal precepts. It anchored globe-straddling military alliances that fostered security and stability in key regions, and underwrote a relatively open international economy that delivered unprecedented prosperity. It provided important public goods such as freedom of the seas and leadership in addressing key global challenges. These practices were not rooted in charity, of course. They were rooted in the searing experiences of the Great Depression and World War II, which taught American leaders that the country could only be prosperous and secure in a world that was itself prosperous and secure.

Contrary to what President Trump and his supporters insist, this was a nationalistic, “America First” foreign policy. Indeed, the United States could not have sustained this approached to global affairs for over 70 years had it notbenefitted so handsomely from the endeavor. But this was a broadly beneficial, positive sum form of nationalism, one that set the United States apart from its main great-power competitor  — the Soviet Union — after World War II, and one that made America’s hard power dominance more acceptable to many countries around the world. It was precisely this approach, in fact, that made the American superpower so exceptional — which ensured that the primary concern of that many of Washington’s allies and partners has not been the fear of American domination, but rather the fear of American abandonment.

U.S. leadership, moreover, hinged on a variety of other intangible but crucial factors. Because the international system ultimately rested on the credibility of American commitments, U.S. presidents across administrations worked hard to foster the perception that Washington was a reliable — even predictable — actor: one whose word was its bond and one that would serve as a source of steadiness in global affairs. American officials promoted — not always with perfect consistency — the advancement of human rights and democracy, in recognition that the United States would be more secure and influential in a world in which its political values were more widely represented, and in the belief that America’s geopolitical leadership was inextricably wound up with its moral leadership. American officials cultivated relationships of deep, embedded cooperation with like-minded nations, on the premise that shared long-term geopolitical interests and shared political values justified partnerships that transcended one-off, transactional interactions. Not least, U.S. influence stemmed not simply from America’s material prowess but from its image as an attractive if thoroughly imperfect society; unmatched soft power made the exercise of American hard power more effective. All of these qualities have long been essential to America’s career as a superpower. And based on the record of the Trump administration so far, all are under threat today.

No More Mr. Nice Guy

Consider, for instance, the longstanding U.S. commitment to building a positive-sum world, one in which all countries committed to a common set of norms and principles can prosper.  . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 August 2017 at 8:44 am

Rooney Victorian, Creed Green Irish Tweed, and the X3 (with a different brand of blade)

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I mentioned yesterday that the X3 did seem to have more blade feel than I recall, so I decided to switch blades.

But first, the prep: The Rooney Victorian, this one having an exceptional knot, made a fine lather from Creed’s Green Irish Tweed shaving soap, which though horribly expensive nowadays is actually quite a good soap (as it damn well should be).

I liked the lather’s consistency and fragrance so much that I somewhat extended the lathering before picking up the razor. You’ll note that I switched back to the UFO handle from the ATT Kronos. The UFO handle just seems to go better with this head—or I am more accustomed to it.

The X3 in yesterday’s shave had an Astra Keramik Platinum blade, one of a treasured pack sent to me by a public-spirited reader. I carefully saved the blade for another razor, and put into the X3 a new Personna Lab Blue, which is the brand it normally carries.

Probably because I am now hypersensitive to blade feel, I did note some in today’s shave, but it was noticeably less than in yesterday’s shave. Different brands of blades vary slightly in width, so the increase in blade feel may have been because the Astra Keramik is slightly wider than the Lab Blue. But that’s a guess.

At any rate, the razor felt fine: very comfortable, no nicks, and a baby smooth result, to which I applied a splash of Creed’s GIT EDT. I feel quite dapper now.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 August 2017 at 8:38 am

Posted in Shaving

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