Later On

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

Archive for March 20th, 2018

Wow! This Facebook thing is a fusion bomb.

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From Brian Stelter’s Reliable Sources:

Exec summary: Scroll down for Ralph Peters’ scorching statement about Fox News, NYMag’s new hire, Google’s subscription help, and another “Black Panther” record… Plus, a snow day delay in the AT&T trial…

FACEBOOK SCANDAL

What will Facebook do?

Lawmakers in the U.S. and the U.K. are asking Mark Zuckerberg to testify… FTC officials are making inquiries… And Cambridge Analytica is suspending CEOAlexander Nix.

What will Wednesday bring? Maybe a public statement from Zuckerberg and/or Sheryl Sandberg. As CNN’s Laurie Segall reported, frustration is brewing inside Facebook about the company’s response to this crisis…

–> FB says Zuckerberg and Sandberg are “working around the clock to get all the facts… The entire company is outraged we were deceived…

–> Zuck’s former mentor Roger McNamee told Christiane Amanpour that Facebook is confronting a crisis of public trust “that is going to destroy the company…”

–> Wired’s Nicholas Thompson and Fred Vogelstein summed it up well here: “A Hurricane Flattens Facebook”

Meet the data scientist

Donie O’Sullivan emails: We tracked down Aleksandr Kogan, the scientist that swept up Facebook data on millions of Americans for Cambridge Analytica. He saysFacebook is making him a scapegoat… He suspects thousands of other developers gathered Facebook data just like him… And he says he’s willing to talk to Congress…

–> Kogan’s point about FB: “Using users’ data for profit is their business model…”

 –> Donie adds: For a guy that has prompted so much international intrigue these past few days, Kogan seems quite calm about it all. He seems to find it more surreal than anything else…

Continue reading.

And definitely watch this video.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 March 2018 at 9:08 pm

The Dream/Nightmare (depending on your POV) Team Opposing Trump

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From a comment in the Washington Post:

Meet the Dream Team of Prosecuting Attorneys that are going to put Trump away.
Robert Mueller (Representing the USA): https://www.linkedin.com/in/robert-mueller-12a03547/
Michael Avengetti (Representing Stormy Daniels): https://www.linkedin.com/in/michael-avenatti-44ab1a1a/
Gloria Allred: (Representing Summer Zervos): https://www.linkedin.com/in/gloriaallred/
Peter K. Stris (Representing Karen McDougal):

Written by LeisureGuy

20 March 2018 at 8:50 pm

Trump Economist Wants to Give Rich People Another Tax Break, Without a Vote in Congress

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Sigh. Jonathan Chait writes in New York magazine:

The Trump administration’s new National Economic Council director, Lawrence Kudlow, has a lifelong monomaniacal obsession with reducing taxes for the rich. Unfortunately for Kudlow and his boss, Republicans have already used up their one-per-session budget reconciliation bill, which would allow them to pass a tax cut bill with a majority vote in the Senate, unlike the normal 60-vote requirement. And since Democrats aren’t about to support another tax cut for the rich — zero supported the last one — they’re stuck for this term.

Or are they? The Wall Street Journal’s Richard Rubin reports that Kudlow is interested in applying an inflation index to the capital gains tax. “Some believe Potus could do it as exec order,” he told Rubin via email.

The policy Kudlow is describing would reduce the amount of taxable income paid by people who receive income from capital gains (mostly, by selling stock). As it stands, right now, if you bought $1,000 worth of stock, and sold it ten years later for $1,500, you would pay tax on the $500 you gained.

The tax code already confers a lot of benefits upon capital gains income. First of all, people who earn money from capital gains don’t pay ordinary income tax rates, as they did in the aftermath of the 1986 Tax Reform Act. They pay a tax rate that’s about half the level of taxes on ordinary income. Second, they get the additional benefit of deferring all taxes until the sale goes through. Their stock portfolio can appreciate for years or decades without any tax, unlike wage income, on which taxes are paid annually. And third, gains in stock that is passed on to heirs go completely untaxed, a massive break.

Conservatives have long wanted to give capital gains an additional break, by subtracting inflation from the taxable gain. So, to go back to that $500 stock gain, if inflation ran a total of 10 percent over that decade, then the IRS would knock $100 off the value of the sale, and you’d only be taxed for a $400 capital gain.

Republicans have been proposing this change for a long time but have never enacted it, in part because Democrats have opposed it as a complicated change that would give rich people a windfall for no serious economic benefit. The Congressional Budget Office published a paper analyzing it back in 1990. Kudlow is proposing that Trump would just go ahead and order the IRS to implement this change on its own, via executive order.

If Trump does this, would it stand up in court to a legal challenge? Probably not, since Congress obviously did not intend to make this change when it wrote capital gains tax laws —but you never know what judge you might get. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 March 2018 at 8:47 pm

Disappointing hot sauce

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I bought some Scotch bonnet hot sauce at the little store across the street. It looked promising: Scotch bonnet peppers are, I think, quite hot… yes: from Wikipedia:

Most Scotch bonnets have a heat rating of 100,000–350,000 Scoville units.[5] For comparison, most jalapeño peppers have a heat rating of 2,500 to 8,000 on the Scoville scale. However, completely sweet varieties of Scotch bonnet are grown on some of the Caribbean islands, called cachucha peppers.

This sauce must have been made from the sweet variety. I was expecting some fire, but… nothing.

I thought of a Charles Addams cartoon:

Written by LeisureGuy

20 March 2018 at 7:44 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food

Republicans Can’t Understand Why Trump Is Acting Guilty

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It looks as though the US is headed for real trouble, thanks to the way the GOP in Congress is failing in its constitutional duties. Jonathan Chait writes in New York magazine:

During the final competitive stages of the 2016 presidential primary, Ted Cruz was all that stood between the Republican Party and nominating a candidate who called Cruz “Lyin’ Ted,” insulted his wife’s appearance, and accused his father of possibly helping to assassinate JFK. Jeff Roe, Cruz’s campaign manager, has never been one to let a thing like pathologically dishonest bullying affect his political judgment. In a New York Times op-ed this weekend, Roe urges his party to stand behind its president. “No, you don’t have to support the president’s tweet storms,” he wrote. “But you do have to defend his policy accomplishments.”

What Roe has defined here is the mainstream stance of the Republican Party. A handful of dissidents, all of whom are retiring from elected office, have attacked the president as unfit for office. A considerably larger group on the right has staunchly defended every aspect of his performance. But the largest faction of the party has taken the position that Donald Trump is a fantastically successful president whose main error is undisciplined tweeting.

What is most notable about this approach is what it omits: the idea that Trump possesses authoritarian instincts or might be deeply implicated in the Russia scandal. It focuses entirely on the most superficial critique of his job performance and ignores evidence of his fundamental unfitness for office.

This weekend, Trump abandoned his pose of restraint toward Robert Mueller and began openly lashing out at the special counsel. This was yet another effort to test the limits of what his Republican allies would accept. Trump proceeded to hire a lawyer, Joseph E. diGenova, who has described the Russia investigation as a plot to “frame Donald Trump with a falsely created crime.”

The mainstream Republican response to these provocations has focused on the style of Trump’s actions, rather than the substance. A Wall Street Journal editorial applauds the firing of Andrew McCabe from the FBI, assuring its readers that — while the evidence remains private — McCabe probably deserved it. “Mr. Sessions’s statement was a straightforward explanation that he fired Mr. McCabe for a serious violation of duty,” the Journal concludes. The stated rationale for the firing “should have been cause for Mr. Trump to let the dismissal speak for itself, but the President is too self-involved for such restraint,” the editorial lamented. “Instead he tweeted on Saturday, ‘Andrew McCabe FIRED, a great day for the hard working men and women of the FBI — A great day for Democracy.’”

Maybe the fact that Trump decided to taunt and smear the fired civil servant should be evidence that, perhaps, the pretext given for his firing is not entirely on the level. Maybe McCabe was singled out for scrutiny because Trump has demanded such an action. The Journaldoes not entertain the possibility, though. Trump is simply making the completely neutral execution of administrative justice appear biased for no reason at all.

Republican congressman Trey Gowdy, the former Benghazi inquisitor, has moved from his party’s fever swamp wing to its mainstream (or perhaps stood still while the party lurched further toward craziness than he could tolerate). Gowdy, who is retiring, scolded Trump’s lawyer John Dowd for threatening Mueller, saying, “If you have an innocent client, Mr. Dowd, act like it.” But what if … Dowd’s client is not innocent? It would certainly explain his behavior, but also force people like Gowdy to entertain scenarios they would rather ignore.

The assumption that Trump is probably innocent informs the party’s most popular position on Mueller, which is to quietly defend his work, while ignoring the possibility that Trump would fire him. Last year, several Republican senators expressed support in passing a law to protect Mueller from the kind of purge Trump seems intent upon carrying out. But the progress of those bills has crawled to a halt. Democratic senators are pleading with their Republican colleagues to pass them before it’s too late: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 March 2018 at 5:47 pm

Trump wants to end warning labels on junk food

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Since junk food seems to be a mainstay of his diet, perhaps he’s just tired of reading them. Azam Ahmed, Matt Richtel, and Andrew Jacobs report in the NY Times:

The contentious negotiations over the fate of the North American Free Trade Agreement have veered into one of the world’s most pressing health issues: fighting obesity.

Urged on by big American food and soft-drink companies, the Trump administration is using the trade talks with Mexico and Canada to try to limit the ability of the pact’s three members — including the United States — to warn consumers about the dangers of junk food, according to confidential documents outlining the American position.

The American stance reflects an intensifying battle between trade officials, the food industry and governments across the hemisphere. The administration’s position could help insulate American manufacturers from pressure to include more explicit labels on their products, both abroad and in the United States. But health officials worry that it would also impede international efforts to contain a growing health crisis.

Obesity has at least doubled in 73 countries since 1980. Many public health officials, worried about the rapid spread of highly processed foods, have found hope in a new tactic: the use of vivid warnings on foods with high levels of sugar, salt and fat.

Officials in Mexico and Canada — along with governments in Brazil, Peru, Uruguay, Argentina and Colombia — are discussing options like the use of colors, shapes and other easy-to-understand symbols that warn consumers of health risks. They were inspired in large part by Chile’s introduction of stringent regulations in 2016 that include requirements for black stop-sign warnings on the front of some packages.

But the Office of the United States Trade Representative, which is leading the Nafta talks on the American side, is trying to head off the momentum. It is pushing to limit the ability of any Nafta member to require consumer warnings on the front of sugary drinks and fatty packaged foods, according to a draft of the proposal reviewed by The New York Times.

The American provision seeks to prevent any warning symbol, shape or color that “inappropriately denotes that a hazard exists from consumption of the food or nonalcoholic beverages.”

Some experts have likened the fight over food labeling to that over tobacco — and the fierce if ultimately unsuccessful opposition and lobbying that industry waged to prevent the imposition of health warnings on packaging. The Trump administration’s position on food labeling reflects the desires of a broad coalition of soft-drink and packaged-foods manufacturers in the United States. .

The Grocery Manufacturers Association, a food industry trade group that sits on the advisory board to the trade talks, says it favors voluntary labeling programs. [They like voluntary programs because companies can opt not to volunteer, and they almost surely will. – LG] The group says it “supports a modernized Nafta that will ensure standards are based on science, minimize unnecessary trade barriers, and benefit consumers in all three countries.”

The organization is fighting to keep Chile’s model from being adopted more widely. Roger Lowe, a spokesman for the group — whose board members include executives from Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Mondelez International, which owns brands like Oreos, Chips Ahoy and Ritz crackers — said it was concerned about the “evidence and impact” of Chile’s laws.

Emily Davis, a spokeswoman for the United States Trade Representative, said she could not comment on what she called “alleged negotiating documents.” In general, she said, “the United States supports science-based labeling that is truthful and not misleading.”

Proponents of more explicit labels said the Trump administration’s proposal and the corporate pressure behind it hold the potential to handcuff public health interests for decades.

“It is one of the most invasive forms of industrial interference we have seen,” said Alejandro Calvillo, the founder of El Poder del Consumidor, or Consumer Power, a health advocacy group in Mexico that was illegally targeted with government spyware when it fought for a soda tax in Mexico. “The collusion between the industry and the government is not only at the level of spying — it reaches the level of the renegotiation of Nafta and the nation’s own policy against obesity.”

The American proposal conflicts with the guidance from Mexico’s national health institute and from the World Health Organization. Both have recommended that Mexico pass regulations to help combat diabetes, which claims 80,000 lives a year there. That is one of the highest rates in the world — and more than double the record number of homicides that the nation suffered in 2017. . .

Continue reading. There’s a lot more.

Later in the article:

Public health experts have hailed Chile’s rules as a new standard. They include a ban on the use of cartoon characters like Tony the Tiger, but the package warnings are considered the most aggressive of the tactics.

“We have shown that a simple message and a symbol is enough to communicate that you should be consuming less of certain foods,” said Dr. Camila Corvalán, a nutritionist at the University of Chile who helped develop the logos. “There’s nothing misleading about a warning logo, and clearly this is what worries the industry.”

I am sick of the way corporations run the government and ride roughshod over consumer interests. The government is supposed to stand up for consumers, not be a lickspittle for corporations. In this case there is actually a public health crisis of obesity, and so far as I can tell corporations don’t give a damn, just as cigarette manufacturers didn’t give a damn if long-time cigarette smokers died of lung disease, heart disease, emphysema, and so on, so long as they could use Joe Camel to hook new customers in their teens. Corporations are soulless and will do absolutely anything to increase profits. Cf. Facebook.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 March 2018 at 4:23 pm

Notes, emails reveal Trump appointees’ war to end HHS teen pregnancy program

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Heidi Przybyla reports for NBC News:

The Trump administration’s abrupt cancellation of a federal program to prevent teen pregnancy last year was directed by political appointees over the objections of career experts in the Department of Health and Human Services, which administers the program, according to internal notes and emails obtained by NBC News.

The trove shows three appointees with strict pro-abstinence beliefs — including Valerie Huber, the then-chief of staff for the department’s Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health — guided the process to end a program many medical professionals credit with helping to bring the nation’s teen pregnancy rate to an all-time low.

Prior to serving at HHS, Huber was the president of Ascend, an association that promotes abstinence until marriage as the best way to prevent teen pregnancy.

The $213 million Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program was aimed at helping teenagers understand how to avoid unwanted pregnancies. It had bipartisan support in Congress and trained more than 7,000 health professionals and supported 3,000 community-based organizations since its inception in 2010.

In the notes provided to NBC News, Evelyn Kappeler, who for eight years has led the Office of Adolescent Health, which administers the program, repeatedly expressed concerns about terminating the program, but appeared out of the decision-making loop and at one point was driven to tears.

In a July 17, 2017 note, she says she was admonished to “get in line” and told it was not her place to ask questions about the agency’s use of funds. In a July 28 note, Kappeler recalled she was “frustrated about the time this process is taking and the fact that (her staff) has not been part of the discussions.” She described being “so rattled” that “my reaction when I got on (sic) the phone was to cry.”

She and her staff “were not aware of the grant action until the last minute” — an apparent reference to the decision, it says.

Last month, Democracy Forward, a nonprofit law firm and advocacy group, sued the administration for unlawfully terminating the program after the agency took months to respond to its Freedom of Information Act request.

The group claims the newly obtained emails show that HHS violated the Administrative Procedure Act that bars arbitrary decision-making and that the political appointees thwarted the will of Congress.

“Now that we’ve seen these documents, there is no question to us why the Trump administration withheld” the emails, said Skye Perryman, the group’s lawyer. The decision to end the program “was made hastily, without a record of any reasoned decision making and under the influence of political appointees who have long opposed evidenced-based policy,” she said. . .

HHS has given different explanations about its decision to terminate the program, including claims that it was ineffective or that it did not conform to the president’s proposed budget. HHS did not respond to emails or answer questions about who was responsible for ending the program.

HHS spokesman Mark Vafiades directed NBC News to a fact sheet and announcement on the agency’s website. They state that 73 percent of the projects funded by the program “had no impact or had a negative impact on teen behavior, with some teens more likely to begin having sex, to engage in unprotected sex or to become pregnant.”

“The evidence stands in stark contrast to the promised results,” the statement says. . .

It is also part of a broader narrative about programs benefiting women and children becoming political targets under a president who insists he is an advocate for women’s rights and health. Under Trump, a mandate under the Affordable Care Act to cover contraceptive coverage has been rolled back, while Republicans in Congress have sought to defund Planned Parenthood and proposed budget cuts to Medicaid, which covers half of all births.

In July 2017, the Office of Adolescent Health notified 81 grantees including the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center and Cuyahoga County, Ohio, that it would be discontinuing funding under the Obama-era program beginning this June, with some programs cut off immediately.

After the program’s 2010 inception, teen pregnancy and birth rates fell faster than ever. Health care experts say considerable research and money that has already been invested in the program will be wasted and the number of at-risk teens will increase. . .

Continue reading.

There’s a lot more. The US government has been taken over by ideologues and zealots who ignore (and even hide) evidence.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 March 2018 at 2:19 pm

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