Later On

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

Archive for July 2019

Eat more Dragonfruit

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Dragonfruit has a texture like a fine-grained watermelon and not so much juice, and the seeds are not only edible but also undetectable in the mouth. Very mild but pleasant flavor. This is part of my eating-more-fruit initiative.

After cutting the fruit in half as shown, just use a teaspoon to eat it from the peel. After finishing:

Written by LeisureGuy

31 July 2019 at 2:04 pm

Border Patrol Detained a 9-Year-Old American Girl on Her Way to School for 32 Hours. She had her passport with her.

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Luke Darby reports in GQ:

Last Monday, the Dallas Morning News broke the story of Francisco Erwin Galicia, an 18-year-old U.S. citizen who was detained by Customs and Border Protection (CPB), transferred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and held in custody for nearly three weeks. ICE held Galicia even though he had documents on him that proved he was born in Texas. But by Tuesday afternoon, a little over 24 hours after the Morning News‘s story came out, Galicia went free.

As the Morning News reports, Galicia’s detention “appears to have been a bureaucratic mix up,” caused by an application for a Mexican visa to visit the U.S. filled out in his name. Galicia told the paper that he was held with 60 other men and not allowed to shower for the 23 days he was held, and by the time he was released he had lost 26 pounds. “It was inhumane how they treated us,” he said. “It got to the point where I was ready to sign a deportation paper just to not be suffering there anymore. I just needed to get out of there.”

The broad strokes of Galicia’s story, a U.S. citizen held by immigration authorities and threatened with deportation because of paperwork, is shockingly common. Peter Sean Brown, a Philadelphia man with the same name as an immigrant, was held for weeks and nearly deported to Jamaica. Officials weren’t swayed by his state-issued IDs that are only available to people with social security numbers. And in March of this year, 9-year-old Julia Medina was detained by CBP for 32 hours despite her being a U.S. citizen.

Though she’s an American, Medina’s family lives in Tijuana, and they cross the border each morning to get to school. On a Monday morning, CBP detained her and her 14-year-old brother, Oscar, saying she didn’t look like the photo in her passport, according to NBC San Diego. CBP said the elementary student, who was questioned without her parents present, “provided inconsistent information during her inspection.” The agency reportedly had no explanation for why it took 32 hours to confirm her citizenship and release her, though in that time they accused her brother, who is also a U.S. citizen, of human smuggling and tried to have him sign a document saying his sister was his cousin. Medina was finally released after her mother pleaded with the Mexican consulate to contact U.S. immigration authorities.

In all of these cases, Galicia, Brown, and Medina had paperwork on them that proved they were U.S. citizens when they were apprehended. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 July 2019 at 1:12 pm

The Simple, Odious Reason Mitch McConnell Opposes Election Integrity

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Alex Pareene writes in the New Republic:

Mitch McConnell is a victim of a “modern-day McCarthyism,” he claimed on Monday, after people on Twitter called him “Moscow Mitch” simply because he has spent a week blocking legislation intended to protect American elections from foreign interference. The Senate majority leader spent 30 minutes complaining on the Senate floor about the unfairness of it all, though it’s hard to judge the sincerity of his umbrage; he’s been called far worse, for doing far worse. But if McConnell really is hurt by Dana Milbank calling him a “Russian asset,” it does seem like one simple way to make Milbank stop would be to pass legislation designed to secure our elections.

The entire suite of Democratic proposals to improve election security are of course a nonstarter in a Republican-run government, and not just because Republicans have chosen to strategically believe or disbelieve in Russian election interference depending on the president’s moods and ever-shifting statements. Many of the Democratic proposals involve barring candidates and people associated with campaigns and political committees from receiving contributions, monetary and otherwise, from foreign nationals, and Republicans principally oppose most attempts to interfere in any form of influence-peddling. Some of them basically conceded as much, whispering on background to The New York Timesthat McConnell, as reporter Carl Hulse wrote, “is leery of even entering into legislative negotiation that could touch on fund-raising and campaign spending.”

I wouldn’t lose too much sleep over these proposals being blocked, as I imagine they’d be enforced with as much vigor as the Foreign Agents Registration Act, which is to say not really enforced at all. But it is notable that the most potentially helpful reform proposal the Democrats put forth, which has very little to do with the specter of “foreign interference,” was blocked along with all the rest. The main feature of the Securing America’s Federal Elections (SAFE) Act is a requirement that all federal elections use paper ballots.

Paper ballot requirements are one of those issues various Republicans and conservatives, even quite extreme ones, occasionally voice support for in order to sound Reasonable. Mark Meadows of the House Freedom Caucus introduced a bill requiring paper ballot receipts last year, which anti-tax zealot Grover Norquist and former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff approvingly mentioned in aWashington Post op-ed. The op-ed also mentioned another Senate bill requiring paper ballots, introduced by Democrats and Republicans (including Trump ally Lindsey Graham) in 2017 and 2018.

So far, McConnell and his allies have explained their opposition to the Democrats’ SAFE Act mainly by sidestepping the content of the legislation entirely. McConnell’s central opposition is that the bill is “partisan,” which is to say that Democrats want to pass it, which means, by definition, that McConnell cannot allow it to pass. (Or even be voted on: It might then attract some Republican support, which would make the bill less partisan, removing the basis of his opposition.)

This is enough for some conservatives. National Review, mostly applauding McConnell’s intransigence, offers only this in explanation of why the SAFE bill should have been blocked: “The Democrats tried to push these bills by unanimous consent. One of them, a bill giving states hundreds of millions of dollars to upgrade their voting systems and requiring the use of paper ballots, had already passed the House—and won only a single Republican vote, meaning its support is far from unanimous.”

In general, though, when Republicans oppose election reform proposals that would make our elections easier to efficiently and fairly administer—and require that they be efficiently and fairly administered—they appeal to federalism and the tradition of local control of elections. (National Review, again: “This is an area traditionally handled by the states, and on those grounds McConnell has held up several efforts, some with bipartisan support, in recent months.”)

McConnell has supported sweeping, top-down federal election reforms in the past. In 2002, Congress passed the Help America Vote Act, a largely useless set of reforms that had the side effect of rewarding the manufacturers of easily hackable electronic voting machines. (That bill’s only opponents in the Senate were, of all people, Hillary Clinton and Chuck Schumer, who opposed HAVA’s voter ID requirements.) But we are a long way from 2002, and the invocation of tradition and local control should make it clear what Republican opposition to electoral reform is about: Not doing Putin’s bidding, but Brian Kemp’s.

Kemp is currently the governor of Georgia, having won an election he was also then administering as secretary of state. Georgia’s paperless touchscreen voting machines have been in use since Georgia signed a $54 million contract with Diebold to purchase them days after HAVA became law. Since 2002, they’ve been insecure, and made proper election audits impossible. Advocates and voters are currently suing to force Georgia to immediately adopt paper ballots. Just last week they filed a brief accusing Kemp and his current secretary of state of destroying evidence by wiping servers and overwriting data on voting machines themselves.

America’s elections are a patchwork of fiefdoms, many run by secretaries of state (many of whom are Republicans), some directly run by state parties themselves. Republicans oppose federal reform of the system because it could deny them the ability to create chaos—chaos that sends the other side’s votes to the wrong polling places, purges thousands or hundreds of thousands from the rolls, and strands urban voters in long lines. Chaos that could create opportunities for—and plausible deniability about—more serious fraud and criminality. Chaos that makes it hard to believe this Senate will ever allow truly secure paper ballot regulations, with strict regular audits, to become a national requirement.

If anything,  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 July 2019 at 1:07 pm

Why Private Equity Should Not Exist

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Matt Stoller is worth following. His most recent column begins:

Earlier this month, a former Toys “R” Us employee named Sarah Woodhams confronted Democratic Presidential candidate Julian Castro. Woodhams told Castro about her experience at the corporation. She worked there for seven years, and then was laid off with no severance because a set of private equity firms bought the company and looted it. What she described is not an isolated instance, but an increasingly common one in America. Woodhams told Castro that “dozens of retail companies controlled by Wall Street have gone into bankruptcy, including RadioShack, Payless, and Kmart,” with 15,000 jobs alone in Pennsylvania having disappeared.

“Billionaires buy up these companies, make huge profits on our backs, and get away with it because there’s no financial regulation,” Sarah Woodhams explained. “As president, what will you do to hold private equity firms and hedge funds accountable for the destruction of our communities and livelihoods?”

Partly because of organizing by workers like Woodhams, partly because of the scale of the industry, private equity is becoming an important part of the political dialogue. Millions of workers working for companies controlled by PE funds. As I noted above, the debate is now hot; Elizabeth Warren released a plan specifically on private equity, paralleled by a report on financial power by Republican Marco Rubio in March. More importantly, Castro was confronted by an activist. Castro was embarrassed because he did not seem to know what PE was, so you can be sure the other Presidential candidates are preparing talking points on PE for their bosses. That’s a big deal, when even the mediocre politicians start to get it.

So what is private equity? In one sense, it’s a simple question to answer. A private equity fund is a large unregulated pool of money run by financiers who use that money to invest in and/or buy companies and restructure them. They seek to recoup gains through dividend pay-outs or later sales of the companies to strategic acquirers or back to the public markets through initial public offerings. But that doesn’t capture the scale of the model. There are also private equity-like businesses who scour the landscape for companies, buy them, and then use extractive techniques such as price gouging or legalized forms of complex fraud to generate cash by moving debt and assets like real estate among shell companies. PE funds also lend money and act as brokers, and are morphing into investment bank-like institutions. Some of them are public companies.

While the movement is couched in the language of business, using terms like strategy, business models returns of equity, innovation, and so forth, and proponents refer to it as an industry, private equity is not business. On a deeper level, private equity is the ultimate example of the collapse of the enlightenment concept of what ownership means. Ownership used to mean dominion over a resource, and responsibility for caretaking that resource. PE is a political movement whose goal is extend deep managerial controls from a small group of financiers over the producers in the economy. Private equity transforms corporations from institutions that house people and capital for the purpose of production into extractive institutions designed solely to shift cash to owners and leave the rest behind as trash. Like much of our political economy, the ideas behind it were developed in the 1970s and the actual implementation was operationalized during the Reagan era.

Now what I just described is of course not the rationale that private equity guys give for their model. According to them, PE takes underperforming companies and restructures them, delivering needed innovation for the economy. PE can also invest in early stages, helping to build new businesses with risky capital. There is some merit to the argument. Pools of capital can invest to improve companies, and many funds have built a company here and there. But only small-scale funds really do that, or such examples are exceptions to the rule or involve building highly financialized scalable businesses, like chain stores that roll up an industry (such as Staples, financed by Bain in the 1980s). At some level, having a pool of funds means being able to invest in anything, including building good businesses in a dynamic economy where creative destruction leads to better products and services. Unfortunately, these days PE emphasizes the “destruction” part of creative destruction.

The takeover of Toys “R” Us is a good example of what private equity really does. Bain Capital, KKR, and Vornado Realty Trust bought the public company in 2005, loading it up with debt. By 2007, though Toys “R” Us was still an immensely popular toy store, the company was spending 97% of its operating profit on debt service. Bain, KKR, and Vornado were technically the ‘owners’ of Toys “R” Us, but they were not liable for any of the debts of the company, or the pensions. Periodically, Toys “R” Us would pay fees to Bain and company, roughly $500 million in total. The toy store stopped innovating, stopped taking care of its stores, and cut costs as aggressively as possible so it could continue the payout. In 2017, the company finally went under, liquidating its stores and firing all of its workers without severance. A lot of people assume Amazon or Walmart killed Toys “R” Us, but it was selling massive numbers of toys until the very end (and toy suppliers are going to suffer as the market concentrates). What destroyed the company were financiers, and public policies that allowed the divorcing of ownership from responsibility.

The Origins of the Model: Building a “Counter-intelligentsia”

If there is a father to the private equity industry, it is a man named William Simon. Simon is perhaps one of the most important American political figures of the 1970s and early 1980s, a brilliant innovator in politics, financial, and in how ideas are produced in American politics. Simon was an accountant, a nerd, but also an apocalyptically oriented conservative financier who was a bond trader and top executive at Salomon Brothers in the 1960s and 1970s. Beyond ruthless, Simon believed in ruthlessness as a moral philosophy. He was, according to a friend, “a mean, nasty, tough bond trader who took no BS from anyone,” and would apparently wake up his children on weekend mornings with buckets of cold water. He was such a difficult person that he was invited onto the Citibank board of directors, and shortly thereafter, essentially kicked off.

In the early 1970s, Simon went into politics, a leader at the Treasury Department under Nixon and Ford. He oversaw not just Treasury but became the the ‘Energy Czar’ in charge of the oil crisis, and a key player in rejecting New York City’s 1975 request for funds to ward off bankruptcy. Simon, along with a few others like Pete Peterson, came out of the Nixon administration with a better reputation than he had going in, perceived as a neutral and competent technocrat. Simon saw both prosperity and poison in Nixon and Ford. He supported the attacks on New York City’s and the forced austerity by the Federal government, but he also despised Nixon’s attempted economy-wide price controls to deal with inflation.

After his time at the Treasury, Simon turned to intellectual organizing, because he believed that the Republicans were soft. Simon though Republicans, even when they had power, as Nixon or Ford of Governors like Nelson Rockefeller of New York, were still liberal, operating as conservative Phyllis Schafly put it, merely “an echo” of the Democrats. So he sought to finance thinkers in academia to restructure how elites did policy, or as he put it, a “counter-intelligentsia.” He became the President of the Olin Foundation, the key conservative foundation providing money to the nascent law and economics movement, the conservative intellectual backlash against New Deal controls on finance and corporate power. Law and economics wasn’t perceived of as a right-wing institutional framework, but a scientific one. Olin gave to Harvard Law to build out a law and economics program, and financial supremacy over corporations was accepted quickly in liberal citadels.

The law and economics movement helped build the intellectual edifice for PE, a model designed to restructure the American economy from the very beginning. In 1965, Henry Manne, a law and economics organizer, wrote about the “market for corporate control,” putting forth financial markets where corporations were bought and sold as the essential mechanisms for firing inefficient managers and replacing them with ones who would look out for the owners.

In 1965, Manne was ahead of his time, because most people thought American businesses were well-run. But in the 1970s, in an inflationary environment and as foreign imports began coming into the U.S. in force, this belief collapsed. In 1970, Milton Friedman put forward the shareholder value of the firm, a theory that the only reason for the corporation to exist is to maximize shareholder value. In 1976, Michael Jensen, the intellectual patron saint of PE, refined these concepts into a paper titled “Theory of the firm: Managerial behavior, agency costs and ownership structure,” arguing that loading up firms with debt would discipline wasteful management, and that placing ownership in the hands of a few would force managers to be attentive to efficient operation of the corporation.

The increasingly widespread belief that American corporations were mismanaged, inflationary chaos, and a crisis of confidence among liberals combined into what was a political revolution in commerce. William Simon was both both a participant in and a moral light for this revolution. In the mid-1970s, he (or his ghostwriter) put pen to paper, and wrote a book popular among members of “the new right” as the large class of 1978 Congressional Republicans (which included a young Newt Gingrich) was known. His book was called A Time for Truth, and along with Robert Bork’s Antitrust Paradox, it gave the New Right a language to marry morality and political economics. Reagan would run on New Right themes in 1980.

A Time for Truth reflected Simon’s hardcore attitude. It was a jeremiad, with terms tossed around like ‘economic dictatorship’, charges of Communism and fascism, and a screed about the perils of government. The book was introduced by the intellectual godfather of the right-wing, the Austrian economist, F.A. Hayek, who lauded it as “a brilliant and passionate book by a brilliant and passionate man.” Simon popularized the pseudo-scientific term, ‘capital shortage,’ or the the idea that businesses simply didn’t have the incentive to invest in factories because of government rules or fear of inflation. This led to inflation, lower productivity, and stagnation. The solution would be simple: cut capital gains taxes, cut government spending, reduce antitrust enforcement, and stop regulating through public institutions.

The Carter administration and Congressional Democrats took Simon’s advice, and slashed capital gains taxes, cutting the maximum rate to 28% from 49% in 1978. They deregulated trucking, finance, airplanes, and railroads. In addition, changes in pension laws enabled American retirement savings to flood into new vehicles, like venture capital and its cousin, what would first be known as leveraged buy-outs and then private equity. The Reagan administration’s further deregulation of finance enabled a long bull market in the 1980s as speculators took control of the economy. Shareholders no longer were content to leave their money in stocks that paid dividends, because they could now keep most of their capital gains. And the chaos unleashed by deregulation opened up the door to corporate restructuring of corporations who had been tightly controlled by public rules, but were now free to enter and exit new businesses.

In 1982, William Simon turned into a leader of the financial revolution. He pulled off the first large scale leveraged buyout, of a company called Gibson Greeting cards, a deal that shocked Wall Street. He and his partner paid $80 million for Gibson, buying the company from the struggling conglomerate RCA. The key was that they didn’t use their own money to buy the company, instead using Simon’s political credibility and connections to borrow much of the necessary $79 million from Barclays Bank and General Electric, only putting down $330,000 apiece. They immediately paid themselves a $900,000 special dividend from Gibson, made $4 million selling the company’s real estate assets, and gave 20% of the shares to the managers of the company as an incentive to keep the stock price in mind. Eighteen months later, they took Gibson public in a bull market, selling the company at $270 million. Simon cleared $70 million personally in a year and a half off an investment of $330,000, an insanely great return on such a small investment. Eyes popped all over Wall Street, and Gibson became the starting gun for the mergers and acquisitions PE craze of the 1980s.

Another business trend intersected with changes in policy encouraging financial dominance: the rise of management consulting. Like law and economics, management consultants rose in the late 1960s with pseudo-scientific theories about business, and they began treating corporations as financial portfolios, with subsidiaries of assets. Many of the organizers of private equity firms in the 1980s came from management consulting firms like the Boston Consulting Group and McKinsey. Mitt Romney was an early innovator around PE. He came from Bain, which was a consulting firm. To give you a sense of what that meant in terms of the philosophy of commerce, here’s Bain Consulting today, helping companies find ways to innovate around raising prices instead of productive techniques. . .

Continue reading. There’s a lot more.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 July 2019 at 8:32 am

Facebook buys settlement to avoid investigation and production of documents

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Matt Stoller writes in Big:

Details about the Facebook Settlement: FTC Commissioner Rohit Chopra was on MSNBC on Sunday to talk about the Facebook settlement. Chopra, along with the other Democratic commissioner, dissented from the settlement. He pointed out that the FTC didn’t bother to complete the investigation and that the FTC didn’t get documents from Mark Zuckerberg, in return for which Facebook paid a $5 billion fine. It’s a very ugly situation in what looks like a corrupt deal, Facebook buys a liability release and the FTC gets a headline with $5 billion in it.

In fact, that whole column is worth reading. Another tidbit:

Boeing Customers In Trouble Until Boeing “Gets Its Shit Together:” Low cost Irish airline Ryanair CEO had choice words for Boeing:

Ryanair has 135 of the 737 Max models on order, the first five of which are due for delivery in the autumn, but they will not be able to fly until regulators have declared the plane safe.

O’Leary warned that Ryanair may not have any of the planes ready by next summer unless Boeing “gets its shit together” in making upgrades required for regulators to allow the plane to fly.

I don’t think anyone in power recognizes just how much trouble Boeing is in. The leadership has no idea what to do because they don’t actually know how to build safe planes. The CEO was hired for his political prowess in covering up problems, not solving them.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 July 2019 at 8:29 am

Is The Movement To Eat Less Meat Actually Making A Difference?

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The answer is clearly “Yes,” at least so far as I’m concerned. My new diet of no meat, no dairy, no eggs, and no refined/processed food has made a great difference. But in general? Lynne Curry reports for HuffPost:

Would it surprise you to learn that 95% of the people who bought a plant-based burger this past year were meat eaters?

The National Restaurant Association’s 2019 What’s Hot report shows that a lot of omnivores are choosing alternative proteins they believe are better for their health and the Earth. And groundbreaking, celebrity-endorsed non-beef burgers, such as Beyond Meat and Impossible Burger, are satisfying people’s protein cravings while driving a national meat-free trend.

“Most surveys definitely show that anywhere between 30 and 50% [of people] are interested in cutting down on meat,” Becky Ramsing of the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future told HuffPost. The institution’s current research is focused on “getting our brains around” why a growing number of people are reducing their meat consumption without becoming vegetarian or vegan.

To be sure, the public messaging to eat less meat is inescapable. Health reports continue to link red meat and processed meat to chronic diseases. Animal welfare groups campaign for shoppers to buy humane animal products and choose plant-based substitutes instead of factory-farmed meats.

And then there’s climate change. World Resources Institute and other environmental groups have sounded a call to action to cut our impact on the environment in half by eating less meat and dairy.

Although Americans still eat four times as much meat as the rest of the world, the demand for plant-based foods soared 20% last year, compared with 8% in 2017.

It’s clear that the American diet is shifting. But are there any signs that it’s making a difference?

What Experts Say

Brian Kateman is the founder of the Reducetarian Movement, built on the core belief that cutting back is more effective than cutting out meat completely. He says that even a 10% reduction in meat consumption can have significant effects on personal health, the lives of 70 billion farm animals and global warming.

As the author of “The Reducetarian Solution” (and editor of “The Reducetarian Cookbook”), Kateman’s goal is to unify everyone who is purposefully reducing the amount of animal products they consume. “I think we are finally starting to see a trend of folks recognizing that meat consumption isn’t an all-or-nothing premise and that vegan food isn’t just for vegans,” Kateman told HuffPost.

The popular concept of Meatless Mondays is also based on the idea that simple steps lead to sweeping change. The campaign promotes “one day a week, cut out meat” to help people gradually shift away from meat-heavy diets. With an appealing message and endorsements by the Humane Society of the United States, Friends of the Earth and many others, schools, hospitals and corporate cafeterias nationwide now embrace Meatless Mondays.

As the campaign’s technical adviser, the Center for a Livable Future calculatedthat if everyone who knows about Meatless Mondays — 32% of Americans surveyed — followed it faithfully for 52 weeks, it would be the equivalent of taking 1.6 million cars off the road for a year.

There is more evidence that people can fight climate change with their forks. A Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) report called “Less Beef, Less Carbon” found that by reducing beef consumption by 19% from 2005 to 2014, Americans dramatically reduced carbon emissions equivalent to 39 million fewer cars.

To put it in more personal terms, Sujatha Bergen, the NRDC’s health campaigns director, told HuffPost, “If the average American cut just a quarter pound of beef a week from their diet, about one hamburger, it would be the equivalent of taking 10 million cars off the road for a year.”

Food’s Carbon Footprint

Beef isn’t the only food that produces emissions that contribute to global warming. As Bergen explained, all food involves energy, fossil fuels and fertilizer. But cows, along with sheep (but few people eat lamb), are ruminants with a digestive system that generates methane, one of the most potent greenhouse gases. Their waste produces another, nitrous oxide. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 July 2019 at 7:54 am

Woody Almond and Woods and the Dorco PL602

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That’s the Emperor 2 Best. I once had an Emperor 1, a small but powerful little brush. The 2 did a fine job with Meißner Tremonia’s Woody Almond shaving paste, which makes a very nicely fragranced lather.

Three passes with the wonderful Dorco PL602 (and again my thanks to Victor Marks for pointing it out) left my face perfectly smooth with never so much as the threat of nick, and good splash of Woods aftershave from the belated Saint Charles Shave finished the job.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 July 2019 at 7:50 am

Posted in Shaving

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