Later On

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

Archive for November 2019

Seeing Like a Finite State Machine

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Henry Farrell writes at Crooked Timber:

Reading this tweet by Maciej Ceglowski makes me want to set down a conjecture that I’ve been entertaining for the last couple of years (in part thanks to having read Maciej’s and Kieran’s previous work as well as talking lots to Marion Fourcade).

The conjecture (and it is no more than a plausible conjecture) is simple, but it straightforwardly contradicts the collective wisdom that is emerging in Washington DC, and other places too. This collective wisdom is that China is becoming a kind of all-efficient Technocratic Leviathan thanks to the combination of machine learning and authoritarianism. Authoritarianism has always been plagued with problems of gathering and collating information and of being sufficiently responsive to its citizens’ needs to remain stable. Now, the story goes, a combination of massive data gathering and machine learning will solve the basic authoritarian dilemma. When every transaction that a citizen engages in is recorded by tiny automatons riding on the devices they carry in their hip pockets, when cameras on every corner collect data on who is going where, who is talking to whom, and uses facial recognition technology to distinguish ethnicity and identify enemies of the state, a new and far more powerful form of authoritarianism will emerge. Authoritarianism then, can emerge as a more efficient competitor that can beat democracy at its home game (some fear this; some welcome it).

The theory behind this is one of strength reinforcing strength – the strengths of ubiquitous data gathering and analysis reinforcing the strengths of authoritarian repression to create an unstoppable juggernaut of nearly perfectly efficient oppression. Yet there is another story to be told – of weakness reinforcing weakness. Authoritarian states were always particularly prone to the deficiencies identified in James Scott’s Seeing Like a State – the desire to make citizens and their doings legible to the state, by standardizing and categorizing them, and reorganizing collective life in simplified ways, for example by remaking cities so that they were not organic structures that emerged from the doings of their citizens, but instead grand chessboards with ordered squares and boulevards, reducing all complexities to a square of planed wood. The grand state bureaucracies that were built to carry out these operations were responsible for multitudes of horrors, but also for the crumbling of the Stalinist state into a Brezhnevian desuetude, where everyone pretended to be carrying on as normal because everyone else was carrying on too. The deficiencies of state action, and its need to reduce the world into something simpler that it could comprehend and act upon created a kind of feedback loop, in which imperfections of vision and action repeatedly reinforced each other.

So what might a similar analysis say about the marriage of authoritarianism and machine learning? Something like the following, I think. There are two notable problems with machine learning. One – that while it can do many extraordinary things, it is not nearly as universally effective as the mythology suggests. The other is that it can serve as a magnifier for already existing biases in the data. The patterns that it identifies may be the product of the problematic data that goes in, which is (to the extent that it is accurate) often the product of biased social processes. When this data is then used to make decisions that may plausibly reinforce those processes (by singling e.g. particular groups that are regarded as problematic out for particular police attention, leading them to be more liable to be arrested and so on), the bias may feed upon itself.

This is a substantial problem in democratic societies, but it is a problem where there are at least some counteracting tendencies. The great advantage of democracy is its openness to contrary opinions and divergent perspectives. This opens up democracy to a specific set of destabilizing attacks but it also means that there are countervailing tendencies to self-reinforcing biases. When there are groups that are victimized by such biases, they may mobilize against it (although they will find it harder to mobilize against algorithms than overt discrimination). When there are obvious inefficiencies or social, political or economic problems that result from biases, then there will be ways for people to point out these inefficiencies or problems.

These correction tendencies will be weaker in authoritarian societies; in extreme versions of authoritarianism, they may barely even exist. Groups that are discriminated against will have no obvious recourse. Major mistakes may go uncorrected: they may be nearly invisible to a state whose data is polluted both by the means employed to observe and classify it, and the policies implemented on the basis of this data. A plausible feedback loop would see bias leading to error leading to further bias, and no ready ways to correct it. This of course, will be likely to be reinforced by the ordinary politics of authoritarianism, and the typical reluctance to correct leaders, even when their policies are leading to disaster. The flawed ideology of the leader (We must all study Comrade Xi thought to discover the truth!) and of the algorithm (machine learning is magic!) may reinforce each other in highly unfortunate ways.

In short, there is a very plausible set of mechanisms under which machine learning and related techniques may turn out to be a disaster for authoritarianism, reinforcing its weaknesses rather than its strengths, by increasing its tendency to bad decision making, and reducing further the possibility of negative feedback that could help correct against errors. This disaster would unfold in two ways. The first will involve enormous . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 November 2019 at 2:53 pm

Burgess Meredith tells GIs in 1943 how to behave in a pub

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Written by LeisureGuy

27 November 2019 at 2:47 pm

Posted in Army, Military, Video

Where Trump Got the Idea That “Some People” Want to Change the Name of Thanksgiving

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At Mother Jones Kevin Drum tries to figure out how Donald Trump comes up with his weird misunderstandings.

At a rally yesterday, President Trump gave his fans the red meat they craved: “You know, some people want to change the name Thanksgiving,” he said. “They don’t want to use the term Thanksgiving.”

This confused a lot of people, and we should get something straight right off the bat: no one wants to change the name of Thanksgiving. So where did this come from? Did Trump just make it up out of whole cloth?

Not really. Perhaps you’ve noticed that every year we get flooded with news stories about the “real” story of Thanksgiving? Here’s a small sampling from the past day or two: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 November 2019 at 2:46 pm

I sort of want a tungsten cube

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Take a look. Denser than uranium!

Written by LeisureGuy

27 November 2019 at 10:20 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

And I’m cutting back on spinach

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In favor of kale, chard, cabbage, bok choy, and others.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 November 2019 at 9:51 am

No star fruit for me, thanks.

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Written by LeisureGuy

27 November 2019 at 9:44 am

The Qualcomm Case: Why China Uses U.S. Technology Americans Are Locked Out Of

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Matt Stoller writes in Big:

Apparently I hurt the feelings of DOJ Antitrust chief Makan Delrahim when I pointed out to reporter Nihal Krishan that enforcement actions against Google matter more than speeches about Google. To underscore the point, Google just bought another company, CloudSimple.

Delrahim didn’t like this point. According to Krishan, he said I’m wrong, and that I’m “out there taking unnecessary criticism of the Justice Department’s work.” Look, I’m driven by outcomes, and we have a concentration crisis that is destroying our society. I’m happy to be wrong about Delrahim, and I’ll happily admit I am wrong if he ends up doing something useful. But I’m seeing a a lot of speechifying about enforcement, even as big tech busts out to acquire as much as possible in this lax enforcement environment. In fact, I’m seeing some actively bad things coming out of DOJ, as I’ll go into below.

Today I’m going to write about the most important monopolization case going on today, which is the Federal Trade Commission case against Qualcomm, the U.S. leader in chipsets for 5G wireless technology. The basic issues in this case involve China, the fusion of our national security apparatus with big business, and whether the U.S. will be a nation of monopolies or a nation of liberty.

Qualcomm as John D. Rockefeller or Bill Gates

So let’s start with the background of the case. Qualcomm is a very important corporation, but one you may not have heard of because it doesn’t do consumer-oriented work. The company makes critical components for cell phones, the stuff you don’t see but that goes into the guts of telecom systems. Its technology connects phones to cell networks, and it makes its money by selling chips and by licensing its patents to device makers.

The story of how Qualcomm monopolizes is pretty simple. The corporation does what Bill Gates did to computer manufacturers and what John D. Rockefeller did to railroads, as I wrote a few weeks ago. Rockefeller’s oil was critical to railroads, and Gates’s operating system software was critical to computer makers. Both of them thus forced their dependents to give them a fee not just for every Rockefeller barrel of oil or Microsoft OS license, but a fee for every one of their competitors’ as well. They taxed their competition and made it impossible to compete.

Qualcomm does this as well. As its competitor Intel explained, Qualcomm “refuses to sell [phone makers] any chipsets unless those manufacturers also purchase separate patent licenses that require them to pay exorbitant royalties for every handset they sell, regardless of whether the handset contains a Qualcomm chipset.” In other words, it’s the Gates/Rockefeller playbook. Find an essential chokehold, and use it to control the industry.

Qualcomm uses a few other anti-competitive tactics. It refused to license its patents – essentially standard and necessary for the industry – to competitors. And it cut exclusive deal arrangements with customers to box anyone else out of the market. (You can read the rest of Intel’s amicus brief if you want to hear expensive lawyers accurately whine about being treated unfairly.)

Eventually, probably at the behest of Apple, the FTC sued Qualcomm. This suit is the first major monopolization case since Microsoft back in the 1990s. In the district court, Qualcomm lost, and the judge forced the corporation to change its licensing practices to make them what’s called FRAND, or fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory. Later on, however, in a significant win for Qualcomm, an appeals court put a stay on the judgment.

While the FTC is suing Qualcomm as a monopolist, the Department of Justice Antitrust Division filed a brief on behalf of Qualcomm. The DOJ argument is basically saying, yeah, Qualcomm does all that stuff, but Judge Gorsuch said it’s all legal and efficient, and we don’t want to dissuade the liberty to abuse patents and market power. Two other officials, one at the Department of Defense and another at the Department of Energy, also weighed in. Ellen Lord, a former defense contractor and the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment for the DOD, argued that Qualcomm’s position as a monopolist enables it to support national security and help China. A Department of Energy official Max Everett basically said the same thing.

The DOD’s Ellen Lord has what is effectively the antitrust chief position for the Pentagon. Her tenure has been a quiet disaster. She enabled a merger in the rocket industry that allowed a nuclear missile monopoly, and she’s probably going to allow the UT-Raytheon merger. It’s not a surprise she’s stepping out to defend a monopolist, that’s what she does. I’m not impressed with these pro-monopoly arguments. Neither, incidentally, is former DHS cabinet member Michael Chertoff, who wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal pointing out that monopolies are bad for national security.

In the technology race against China, the U.S. should prefer to let competition drive innovation rather than support exclusive national champions. Apart from the economic inefficiency, a single-source national champion creates an unacceptable risk to American security—artificially concentrating vulnerability in a single point. The government’s argument in support of Qualcomm isn’t prudent, and if courts accept it, the result would be a self-inflicted wound to U.S. national interests. We need competition and multiple providers, not a potentially vulnerable technological monoculture.

While Chertoff is working for corporate clients who are opposed to Qualcomm, he’s not wrong on the merits. We need look no further than Boeing, which is a “national champion” in aerospace. That’s not working out so well for us, is it?

There’s one other argument that I think matters on the monopolization and security front, especially as it relates to intellectual property like patents and copyrights. And this has to do with the innovation ecosystem, and how strict IP laws that promote concentration in the West actively contribute to Chinese technological dominance.

It starts with some history.

China Is Living in 1950s America

From the 1950s to the 1970s, the U.S. had a fairly open patent regime, spurred not so much by changes to patent law as antitrust suits. Lawsuits against RCA, IBM, Dupont, AT&T, and others forced large dominant firms to license their technology to domestic firms.

In my book – Goliath: The 100-Year War Between Monopoly Power and Democracy – which is by the way a tremendous Christmas gift for all your politically interested friends and families – I go over how this regime worked. The short story is that the scientists at those giants developed great stuff, but the suits in those corporations didn’t get it. It took innovative small businesses to deploy what monopolists wouldn’t.

This open regime, along with government spending, is the origin of Silicon Valley, because small firms ended up commercializing the technology. But from the 1980s onward, we closed off innovation by tightening IP laws and enabling monopoly. This older regime disappeared, and even its memory evaporated. Open IP regimes and markets are now alien to American lawyers. I found a law review article written by a former FTC lawyer in the early 2000s on a suit antitrust suits with Xerox involving patent divestment. It was, he wrote, like finding a “previously undiscovered ancient culture.” He also found the suit unsettling, he argued, because the FTC’s remedy “seems to have done a world of good.”

Today, American intellectual property is locked into dominant firms, who spend large amounts of money making sure no one else can use it. Apple for instance spends $1 billion a year on its legal division, and Disney is right now suing people online for using Baby Yoda memes. China, however, has a way around our IP laws; it just hacks our corporations or legally forces technology transfer, and then moves this knowledge throughout its technology sector. Thus American know-how floods into China, while Americans are locked out of the wisdom we developed and paid for.

More than just the transfer is the ecosystem of business development and investment. China is innovating on top of our knowledge, which the America government has legally blocked Americans from using. Our venture capitalists and entrepreneurs shy away from competing with giants or accidentally stepping on patents. In other words, China is de facto living in the incredibly productive legal environment America had for our own technology sector from the 1950s to the 1970s. Their ability to innovate on top of our technology, combined with our inability to deploy that same technology, is now a huge national security vulnerability.

There are two ways to address this problem. The first is to try and stop Chinese tech development. The Commerce Department is rolling out new rules to engage in far more granular examination of supply chains, which is probably good. But U.S. tech giants are already moving key facilities to Switzerland so they can evade American jurisdiction. The reality is that our strategy of blocking the diffusion of knowledge will require a large number of policy choices, from finance to trade, for which we are unprepared. We’ll have to take those steps, but it’ll take a lot of time and political battling to do so. It’s also not clear that we can stop the development of Chinese technology, nor is it necessarily desirable to do so. If the Chinese come up with a cure for cancer, that’s a good thing for humanity.

The second strategy is to  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 November 2019 at 9:38 am

Marlborough aftershave success — plus the Gillette Heritage

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“If at first you don’t succeed, try again,” and this morning I tried again for the D.R. Harris complete Marlborough experience — i.e., not only the shaving soap but also (critically) the aftershave.

The brush, a Strop Shoppe purchase with a snakewood handle, is only the second brush in this series of using natural-bristle brushes to be a natural brush: handle and bristles of natural materials. This is a soft knot, but it did a fine job with the soap from the shave stick and I did experience again the wonder of D.R. Harris lather.

This is the Gillette Heritage, which arrived yesterday in a presentation box that is clearly aimed at the Christmas gift market. It’s quite handsome, but…

a. The head is a bog-standard Edwin Jagger/Mühle head, with the two companies designed together a decade ago (roughly) to replace and supersede the Merkur 34 design head they had been using. The new EJ/Mühle head is indeed better (for most) than the 34 head — no surprise, since obviously EJ/Mühle wanted an improvement and they had a fixed reference point to surpass. Still, this razor, in terms of feel and performance is like the EJ/Mühle models and countless clones: nothing special.

b. The handle is attractive but the design perversely not only eliminates the knob at the base (very helpful in the against-the-grain pass in offering a secure grip — cf. the RazoRock Barberpole Handle for an excellent example: note that the knob has a larger diameter than the handle) but in addition polishes the place where you want a secure grip for that pass. Looks good, acts bad.

Still, I achieved a good result, and the shave ended, happily, with a good splash of Marlborough aftershave. I was determined to rectify yesterday’s oversight, so it was an added pleasure to get it right at last. 🙂

Written by LeisureGuy

27 November 2019 at 7:57 am

Posted in Shaving

Christian Right Leaders Suggest Trump Critics Are Possessed by Demons

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The US is in bad shape and it seems to be getting worse. Ed Kilgore writes in New York:

Energy Secretary Rick Perry created a bit of a stir by disclosing to Fox & Friends that he had assured the president he was “the chosen one,” quite literally on a mission from God in his role as our “ruler.” In my piece on the incident, I noted this was pretty standard fare among Christian right opinion leaders and politicians. But at roughly the same time, we got an indication from two other prominent Trump fans that it’s not enough to endow this strange and heathenish figure of manifold wicked ways with the cloak of divine sanction; his critics must be cast in the same apocalyptic drama as instruments of demonic forces. Seriously. Veteran adviser to Republican presidents on matters moral and spiritual, Peter Wehner, scathingly writes it up for The Atlantic:

During his November 21 interview with [Franklin] Graham, [Eric] Metaxas, a Salem Radio Network talk-show host, asked the son of the late evangelist Billy Graham, “What do you think of what is happening now? I mean, it’s a very bizarre situation to be living in a country where some people seem to exist to undermine the president of the United States. It’s just a bizarre time for most Americans.”

Franklin Graham, president and CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelical Association, responded, “Well, I believe it’s almost a demonic power that is trying—”

At which point Metaxas interjected, “I would disagree. It’s not almost demonic. You know and I know, at the heart, it’s a spiritual battle.”

In Evangelical-speak, “spiritual battle” or “spiritual warfare” means a test of power between God and Satan (or his demonic minions), with human souls and the fate of all Creation in the balance. Describing one’s opponents as on the wrong side of a “spiritual battle” is simultaneously an expression of the most extreme hatred available to a Christian, and a rationalization for it on grounds that the object of demonic possession is not entirely responsible for becoming the devil’s workshop (it’s a variation on the old conservative Christian dodge of “hating the sin but not the sinner” when it comes to, say, being gay). In the context of politics, Graham, who has been busily ruining his father’s good name since he took over Billy’s ministries in 2000, and Metaxas, a veteran culture warrior, are suggesting that the moral and spiritual superiority — nay, necessity — of Trump and his party are so resplendently obvious that only a turn to the darkest side imaginable can explain it, as Wehner writes:

They didn’t make the case that Trump critics are sincere but wrong, or even that they are insincere and unpatriotic. Instead, they felt compelled to portray those with whom they disagree politically as under demonic influences, which for a Christian is about as serious an accusation as there is. It means their opponents are the embodiment of evil, the “enemy,” anti-God, a kind of anti-Christ.

There is no biblical or theological case to support the claim that critics of Donald Trump are under the spell of Satan. It is invented out of thin air, a shallow, wild, and reckless charge meant to be a conversation stopper.

The rationalizations these people go through to treat Trump as God’s champions requires an incredible, almost comic, amount of huffing and puffing. Here’s Metaxas being quoted after Trump’s outrageous comments on the white-nationalist rioters of Charlottesville in the infamous “spiritual biography” of the president that David Brody and Scott Lamb published in 2018:

We’re going to stand up for Trump a hundred times more. It’s been unbelievably despicable the way he’s been treated. And I think there’s some kind of demonic deception. I mean I’ve never seen anything like it begin to compare it to in my lifetime.

Actually, yes, he has: in the attacks Christian right leaders incessantly made on Bill Clinton when his moral failings went public — moral failings that now seem tepid compared to those of his current successor in the White House. Wehner delivers an impressive jeremiad about what Graham and Metaxas are overlooking by way of mocking the latter’s claim that Trump’s Christian critics are splitting hairs over theological differences:

Trump’s Christian critics don’t really care whether he leans more in the direction of predestination or free will; what troubles them is that he’s a pathological liar engaged in an effort to annihilate truth as a concept; a conspiracy-monger; and a misogynist and bully who dehumanizes his critics and mocks former prisoners of war, the parents of fallen soldiers, and people with disabilities. What upsets them is Trump’s open admiration for brutal dictators, including Kim Jung Un, who ranks among the worst persecutors of Christians in the world; his easy betrayal of everyone from his wives to allies like the Kurds; and his history of engaging in predatory sexual behavior. What alarms them is that we have a president who fans the flames of ethnic and racial hate, who is willing to pressure foreign nations to dig up dirt on his political opponents, and who was the subject of a nearly 500-page report by a special counsel offering a portrait that was damning and went unrefuted. . . .

Continue reading.

I suppose it’s only a small step from seeing a free press as “the enemy of the people” and calling Republicans who disagree with Trump “human scum” to saying that anyone who opposes Trump is possessed by demons and driven by evil forces.

This is not looking good.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 November 2019 at 4:11 pm

The Bass technique for brushing teeth

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Very interesting, and thanks to Eddie of Australia for point this out.

There’s another video that shows the technique using a regular toothbruhs, and it is clear that the regular toothbrush has the weaknesses described in the video above — but the other video also offers a better look at the angle and teeth.

OralWellness.com sells toothbrushes of the Bass design and also Oral Mouth Blend:

Organic and wild crafted essential oils of: cinnamon leaf, peppermint, spearmint, clove, myrrh, and manuka in a base of certified organic almond oil (or certified organic jojoba oil for nut free version)

It has a very refreshing taste, and they note that it is “gluten free, soy free, GMO free, fluoride free, SLS free, glycerin free, and NO additives, toxins, ‘questionable ingredients’, or artificial anything.”

I like enough that I’ve also ordered a jar of their Shine Remineralizing Tooth Whitening Powder.

As I note in Disclaimer (see links at right):

I get no remuneration of any sort—money, discounts, products, services, meals, or gift—from any of the vendors or manufacturers mentioned in my blog or books except as specifically noted. Unless otherwise noted, the services, products, and merchants are mentioned purely because they impressed me and I wanted to share the knowledge. Nor do I get any remuneration from the blog itself, other than the satisfaction of bringing joy into the lives of my several readers. In other words: no affiliate links, other than the one case of linking to my own book, for which I do get a royalty. But when I praise (say) some brands of cast-iron or carbon-steel skillets, I get nothing other than the pleasure of sharing the knowledge I derived from my experience. — LeisureGuy (his mark)

So I’m telling about this for the same reason Eddie told me: I tried it and like it and am passing the word along. No affiliate links, kickbacks, no remuneration of any kind.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 November 2019 at 1:59 pm

West Virginia Inmates Will Be Charged by the Minute to Read E-Books on Tablets

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The US is in bad shape and it seems to be getting worse. C.J. Ciaramella reports in Reason:

Inmates at several West Virginia prisons are getting free electronic tablets to read books, send emails, and communicate with their families—but there’s a catch.

Any inmates looking to read Moby Dick may find that it will cost them far more than it would have if they’d simply gotten a mass market paperback, because the tablets charge readers by the minute.

Under a 2019 contract between the West Virginia Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation (WVDCR) and Global Tel Link (GTL), the company that is providing electronic multimedia tablets to 10 West Virginia prisons, inmates will be charged 3 cents a minute to read books, even though the books all come from Project Gutenberg, a free online library of more than 60,000 texts in the public domain.

The WVDCR says the tablets provide access to educational materials, incentives for good behavior, and an easy way to stay in touch with loved ones. But the Appalachian Prison Book Project, a nonprofit that offers free books and education to inmates, says the fee structure is exploitative.

“If you pause to think or reflect, that will cost you,” says Katy Ryan, the group’s founder and educational coordinator. “If you want to reread a book, you will pay the entire cost again. This is about generating revenue for the state and profit for the industry. Tablets under non-predatory terms could be a very good thing inside prisons. GTL does not provide that.”

According to the contract, detailed by Appalachian Prison Book Project, using the tablets will cost $0.05 per minute (currently discounted to $0.03) to read books, listen to music, or play games; $0.25 per minute for video visitations; $0.25 per written message; and $0.50 to send a photo with a message.

The Prison Policy Initiative estimated in 2017 that wages in West Virginia prisons range between $0.04 and $0.58 an hour.

According to the contract, the WVDCR will also receive a 5 percent commission on gross revenue from the tablets.

In a statement to Reason, a WVDCR spokesperson noted that no inmates are being forced to use the tablets. In addition, the 5 percent commission will go toward a fund at each prison that inmates “use for such things as paying for cable TV and hosting open house visitation events for families.” And the agency is not restricting purchases or donations of regular print books.

That last item is important, and hopefully it will remain true. There’s been a troubling trend in other parts of the country of prisons restricting book donations and forcing inmates to purchase books through pre-approved vendors or to use electronic tablets provided by private contractors like GTL and JPay.

Earlier this year, Book Riot reported that numerous Ohio prisons were banning book donations by groups like Appalachian Prison Book Project. Amid media scrutiny, the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (ODRC) announced it would lift the bans for third-party book donations. But family members are still banned from sending print material. In at least one Ohio prison, family members must put money into the inmate’s account so they can order it themselves. JPay, which handles money transfers for the Ohio prison system, takes a cut on all deposits. The director of the ODRC is the former general manager of JPay.

PennsylvaniaWashington, and three prisons in New York all attempted similar bans on donations of used books to inmates, then relented under citizen pressure. The prisons cited security concerns over contraband, but news investigations showed there was little actual evidence of smuggling via donated dictionaries.

Last year, after Florida inked a new contract with JPay to provide multimedia tablets to inmates, inmates were forced to return MP3 players they had purchased through the state’s previous provider, losing all the tracks they had purchased as well.

Pennsylvania also pays a private contractor $4 million a year for digitized mail services, where letters to inmates are scanned and sent to inmates as black and white photocopies while the original letters are destroyed.

In 2017, the WVDCR instituted a policy barring inmates from receiving original mail.

Although the books on Project Gutenberg are all free, there is little the organization can do to stop GTL and the WVDCR from charging for access to the tablets. . .

Continue reading.

Mahatma Gandhi: “The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.”

What’s happening here is wrong.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 November 2019 at 1:01 pm

‘They’re profiting off pain’: the push to rein in the $1.2bn prison phone industry

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The US is in bad shape and it seems to be getting worse. Michael Sainato reports in the Guardian:

Tory Brito spends hundreds of dollars every month on phone calls just to speak with her husband, who is currently imprisoned at a state prison in Waupun, Wisconsin.

Brito works two jobs to make ends meet and struggles to maintain the huge amount of funds required to call her husband in prison on a regular basis, even though such phone calls are vital for their relationship and his morale.

She is one of millions of family members of people in prisons and jails across the United States who fund the $1.2bn prison phone industry, an industry that prison reform advocates have been trying – and failing – to fix for years and that the Federal Communications Commission head, Mignon Clyburne, called “the greatest, most distressing, type of injustice I have ever seen in the communications sector”.

Two companies, Securus and GTL, control more than 70% of the market for prison calls. These companies have won contracts across the US by awarding kickbacks and commissions to jail and prison facilities, and boosted profits by adding consumer fees and including extra services into phone contracts.

Prison reform advocates are now pushing for legislation to make phone calls free for prisoners or significantly lower and cap the high rates and fees charged by prison phone corporations.

New York City and San Francisco made phone calls from local jails free this year, the first major cities in the US to do so. Statewide bills to make phone calls in prisons and jails free have been proposed in Connecticut and Massachusetts.

But progress at the federal level to reduce prison phone call rates were rolled back under the Trump administration as the FCC commissioner, Ajit Pai, directed FCC lawyers to stop defending caps on call rates approved by the agency in 2015 under Obama from a legal challenge filed by the prison phone industry.

Drained by undisclosed fees

Prisons and jails throughout the US continue to charge exorbitant rates and fees for family members to speak with loved ones in prisons and jails.

Allison McAllister’s fiance is being held at a state prison in at New Lisbon, Wisconsin, and struggles with similar issues.

“Initially they told us it was going to be a decreased rate to six cents a minute. What they didn’t tell us and we didn’t find out until they completed the switch, is ICS is charging taxes and fees they never disclosed to us. They’re very evasive. It’s not something they ever disclosed,” said McAllister.

Wisconsin department of corrections declined to provide the costs of the taxes and fees. ICSolutions did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

“The majority of inmates are able to call individuals if they have funds available in the new system, and if the called party accepts the phone call,” said a spokesperson for WDOC in an email to the Guardian. “Family and friends are not required to have an account with the new system, unless they wish to accept collect calls. The new phone system allows inmates to fund their own calling account to make outgoing calls. Money will no longer be sent out to family and friends for calling accounts.”

McAllister spends at least $100 a month to speak to her husband by phone and up to 60% of the money she sends to her husband’s prison account is automatically deducted for restitution fees.

“I work a full-time job and it’s very tough to make all the ends meet, my own bills, rent, and make sure he has everything he needs,” added McAllister. “Sometimes I come home and I’m a wreck because I don’t know how I’m going to make it from one paycheck to the next. We’re out here trying to live our lives, support our family, and maybe put a little something away for our loved one’s future and all these fees and costs, they add up. It’s crazy.”

Wisconsin’s jails and prisons charge among some of the highest phone rates in the US. A national survey published in February 2019 by the Prison Policy Initiative found that, in 2018, the highest cost of a 15-minute in-state jail phone call in Wisconsin was $21.97 (£17.12), the third most expensive rate in the country. The average cost of an in-state jail 15-minute phone call in Wisconsin was $7.99 (£6.23), the sixth-highest in the US. These rates are often compounded with extra fees for family members to open and maintain accounts.

“The burden placed on families is outrageous and cruel that folks are having to pay this amount of money to speak with their loved ones in order to maintain contact with their family,” said Sean Wilson, a statewide organizer with ACLU-Wisconsin who spent 17 years in Wisconsin’s prison system.

‘Our situation is being exploited’

In Missouri, a 15-minute phone call from a jail can cost over $20, and these costs are part of difficult conditions reported at St Louis medium security institution, referred to as the Workhouse, that activists have been pushing to have closed down.

“If you’re already there because you’re poor and can’t afford bail, the odds of you having someone on the outside who can make the trip to the Workhouse to put money on your account and being able to constantly add money is not realistic,” said Inez Bordeaux, manager of community collaborations with ArchCity Defenders, a St Louis-based legal advocacy organization. Bordeaux spent a month in the Workhouse jail in 2016. . .

Continue reading.

Mahatma Gandhi: “The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.”

The true measure of the US is pretty low.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 November 2019 at 12:55 pm

‘There’s something terribly wrong’: Americans are dying young at alarming rates

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The US is in bad shape and it seems to be getting worse. Joel Achenbach reports for the Washington Post:

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), text “help” to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or go to suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

Death rates from suicide, drug overdoses, liver disease and dozens of other causes have been rising over the past decade for young and middle-aged adults, driving down overall life expectancy in the United States for three consecutive years, according to a strikingly bleak study published Tuesday that looked at the past six decades of mortality data.

The report, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, was immediately hailed by outside researchers for its comprehensive treatment of a still-enigmatic trend: the reversal of historical patterns in longevity.

Despite spending more on health care than any other country, the United States has seen increasing mortality and falling life expectancy for people ages 25 to 64, who should be in the prime of their lives, while other wealthy nations have generally experienced continued progress in extending longevity. Although earlier research emphasized rising mortality among non-Hispanic whites, the broad trend detailed in this study cuts across gender, racial and ethnic lines. By age group, the highest relative jump in death rates from 2010 to 2017 — 29 percent — has been among people ages 25 to 34.

The findings are sure to fuel political debate about causes and potential solutions, because the geography of rising death rates overlaps to a significant extent with states and regions that are hotly contested in the run-up to the 2020 presidential election.

About a third of the estimated 33,000 “excess deaths” that the study says occurred since 2010 were in just four states: Ohio, Pennsylvania, Kentucky and Indiana — the first two of which are critical swing states in presidential elections. The state with the biggest percentage rise in death rates among working-age people in this decade — 23.3 percent — is New Hampshire, the first primary state.

“It’s supposed to be going down, as it is in other countries,” said the lead author of the report, Steven H. Woolf, director emeritus of the Center on Society and Health at Virginia Commonwealth University. “The fact that that number is climbing, there’s something terribly wrong.”

He said many factors are at play. The opioid epidemic is a major driver of the worrisome numbers, but far from the sole cause. The study found that improvements in life expectancy, largely because of lower rates of infant mortality, began to slow in the 1980s, long before the opioid epidemic became a national tragedy.

The 33,000 excess deaths are an estimate based on the number of all-cause midlife deaths from 2010 to 2017 that would be expected if mortality was unchanged vs. the number of deaths actually recorded by medical examiners.

“Some of it may be due to obesity, some of it may be due to drug addiction, some of it may be due to distracted driving from cellphones,” Woolf said. Given the breadth and pervasiveness of the trend, “it suggests that the cause has to be systemic, that there’s some root cause that’s causing adverse health across many different dimensions for working-age adults.”

The all-cause death rate — meaning deaths per 100,000 people — rose 6 percent from 2010 to 2017 among working-age people in the United States.

Men, overall, have higher all-cause mortality than women, but the report pulls out some disturbing trends. Women are succumbing to diseases once far more common among men, even as men continue to die in greater absolute numbers.

The risk of death from drug overdoses increased 486 percent for midlife women between 1999 and 2017; the risk increased 351 percent for men in that same period. Women also experienced a bigger relative increase in risk of suicide and alcohol-related liver disease.

Increasing midlife mortality began among whites in 2010, Hispanics in 2011 and African Americans in 2014, the study states.

Outside researchers praised the study for knitting together so much research into a sweeping look at U.S. mortality trends.

“This report has universal relevance. It has broad implications for all of society,” said Howard Koh, a professor of public health at Harvard University who was not part of the research team.

The report reveals a broad erosion in health, with no single “smoking gun,” said Ellen Meara, a professor at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice.

“There’s something more fundamental about how people are feeling at some level — whether it’s economic, whether it’s stress, whether it’s deterioration of family,” she said. “People are feeling worse about themselves and their futures, and that’s leading them to do things that are self-destructive and not promoting health.”

The JAMA report looked at life expectancy and mortality across the country from 1959 through 2017. Final life expectancy numbers for 2018 will soon be released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The general trend: Life expectancy improved a great deal for several decades, particularly in the 1970s, then slowed down, leveled off, and finally reversed course after 2014, decreasing three years in a row.

The average life expectancy in the United States fell behind that of other wealthy countries in 1998 and since then, the gap has grown steadily. Experts refer to this gap as America’s “health disadvantage.”

There are some factors that manifest themselves only gradually, such as the effects of smoking. For example, in the late 1960s and early ’70s, cigarette companies aggressively marketed to women, and the health effects of that push may not show up for decades.

Princeton professors Anne Case and Angus Deaton, whose much-publicized report in 2015 highlighted the death rates in middle-aged whites, published a paper in 2017 pointing to a widening gap in health associated with levels of education, a trend dating to the 1970s. Case told reporters their research showed a “sea of despair” in the United States among people with only a high school diploma or less. She declined to comment on the new report.

Obesity is a significant part of the story. The average woman in America today weighs as much as the average man half a century ago, and men now weigh about 30 pounds more. Most people in the United States are overweight — an estimated 71.6 percent of the population ages 20 and older, according to the CDC. That figure includes the 39.8 percent who are obese, defined as having a body mass index of 30 or higher in adults (18.5 to 25 is the normal range). Obesity is also rising in children; nearly 19 percent of the population ages 2 to 19 is obese. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 November 2019 at 12:48 pm

The plague of feral pigs

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David Gilbert reports in Vice:

A woman in Texas was found dead outside the home of an elderly couple she cared for after being attacked by a group of feral hogs on Sunday morning.

The victim, 59-year-old Christine Rollins, arrived at work in the rural southeast Texan town of Anahuac around 6 a.m. on Sunday when it was still dark. The 84-year-old homeowner found Rollins’ body lying in the front yard when he looked outside after she didn’t arrive at their door for work.

Police were called and initially considered the possibility that Rollins had died of a medical condition before her body was discovered by the feral hogs.

However, an autopsy Monday confirmed the cause of death as loss of blood “due to feral hog assault,” Chambers County Sheriff Brian Hawthorne told reporters during a news conference.

“It looks like she got out of her car and locked it,” Hawthorne said. “[She] was probably trying to make her way to the front door when, it appears, these animals must have come along.”

The medical examination found that Rollins was attacked by “multiple hogs” based on the various size of the bites on her body.

“There is no question in the medical examiner’s mind that this was feral hogs that caused her death,” Hawthorne said, adding: “In my 35 years, I will tell you it’s one of the worst things I’ve ever seen.”

Feral hogs have taken over some pasture land around the home, Hawthorne said, adding that they are a problem throughout Chambers County. Attacks on humans, however, are extremely rare.

Feral hogs are one of the most destructive invasive species in the U.S. and have long been a problem for Texas farmers.

The hogs cause roughly $1.5 billion in damage each year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, tearing up crops and property, eating endangered species, and spreading diseases to livestock and humans.

Continue reading.

A “group” of pigs isn’t quite right. You would not say a “group” of lions or a “group” of cattle — it would be a pride of lions and a herd of cattle. For pigs, you could use drift, drove, team, passel, parcel, or sounder (see Animal Collective Nouns).

In any case, I support the extermination effort and see the video below changed my mind on one thing: the utility of a semi-automatic hunting rifle. I have in past said that hunting rifles properly should be bolt-action because the idea of hunting is the carefully aimed shot — but I was thinking of hunting the old way, tracking and then stalking the animal and firing when the animal is still. Helicopter hunting is not like that, and a semiautomatic hunting rifle is clearly required.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 November 2019 at 12:27 pm

The wrong aftershave was a shock, but the shave was superb (thanks to Dorco PL602)

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I had thought I had picked the bottle of D.R. Harris Marlborough aftershave to match the soap — I didn’t look closely, and their bottles all look alike — so the shave ended with a bit of a surprise.

First, though, was the really excellent lather that D.R. Harris shave sticks provide, this morning brought forth by the Rooney Victorian. And then the wonderful shave that the Dorco PL602 provides: totally comfortable, wonderfully efficient. It left my face perfectly smooth, and then the shock of being ready for Marlborough’s woody fragrance and being struck instead by the citrus notes of Arlington. It’s okay, but not what I wanted.

So soon I will replicate this shave, paying closer attention to the bottle I pick.

Of course, if this is the worst the day has in store, I shall count myself lucky indeed.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 November 2019 at 7:43 am

Posted in Shaving

Anti-vaxxers have blood on their hands: Samoa measles epidemic worsens with 24 children now dead

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Associate Press reports from New Zealand:

Authorities said Monday that a measles epidemic sweeping through Samoa continues to worsen with the death toll rising to 25, all but one of them young children.

“We still have a big problem at hand,” Samoa’s Director General of Health Leausa Take Naseri said in a video statement.

He said more than 140 new cases of people contracting the virus had been recorded within the past day, bringing the total to about 2,200 cases since the outbreak began last month. He said there are about 20 critically ill children who remain in hospital intensive care units.

Samoa declared a state of emergency nine days ago, closing all its schools, banning children from public gatherings and mandating that everybody get vaccinated. Teams of people have been traveling the country administering thousands of vaccines.

The government also shut down a private clinic and is investigating how hundreds of vaccines were taken without authorization and then sold for a fee.

The median age of those who have died is 13 months, according to government figures. The deaths include 24 children under the age of 5, 11 of whom were infants under 12 months. The other person who died was in their 30s. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 November 2019 at 3:28 pm

Why White Nationalists Are Turning on Trump Republicans

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Talia Lavin writes in GQ:

Last week, Charlie Kirk, 26-year-old spokesman for the deep-pocketed Republican youth group Turning Point USA, held an event called “Prove Me Wrong” at the University of Houston. Billed as a chance to watch Kirk “debate the merits of capitalism vs. Socialism” in his signature blustering style, it ended in chaos. A hostile throng materialized around the small table—adorned with a poster that said, “I’m pro-choice. You can pick your gun”—at which Kirk was sitting and chased him bodily from the area, shouting, “America first!”

It was the latest in a series of escalating disruptions of conservative events that amounted to a piecemeal showdown between the corporate wing of the Republican establishment and an insurgent faction of white nationalists, an outgrowth of the alt-right. The events underscored the perils engendered by the Trump-era Republican Party’s willingness to accede to the goals of white nationalism, even as it attempts to keep the ideology’s most strident proponents at a careful, corporate-friendly arm’s length.

The insurgent faction’s agenda had three major points: advocating for anti-Semitism; advancing the theory that white Americans are being “replaced” by immigrants, including legal ones; and asserting the necessity of explicit homophobia. It is led, tactically and spiritually, by a 21-year-old named Nicholas Fuentes, who was neither a particularly significant nor a particularly popular figure on the white nationalist right prior to the disruption campaign. He was a minor participant in the deadly Unite the Right rally at Charlottesville in 2017, dropped out of Boston University, and then launched a YouTube channel called “America First!” Although Fuentes is frequently described as a “Trump supporter,” the principal objection he and his faction have toward the Trump administration is its insufficient cruelty to nonwhites, and its perceived coziness with Jews. Fuentes’s strategy—sending minions to disrupt the Q&A sections of corporate-conservative events with overtly white nationalist questions—was effective, but did not require any significant cunning: Pointing out the hypocrisy of establishment conservatism in the age of Trump is a fantastically easy task, fruit hanging so low it brushes muck.

The evident success of Fuentes’s faction in humiliating and distressing mainstream conservative speakers engendered a slew of press coverage, which in turn emboldened the youthful white nationalists further. Last week, Donald Trump Jr. faced a humiliatingly abbreviated launch for his book, Triggered: How the Left Thrives on Hate and Wants to Silence Us, scampering off stage right a mere 20 minutes after his event began, as he was beset by demands for a Q&A—silenced by a MAGA-hatted crowd that thrives on hate. The neo-Nazi publication the Daily Stormer, which has aligned itself with Fuentes’s faction, revealed plans for the disruption campaign to continue throughout November and beset several events scheduled by the Young America’s Foundation.

The subsequent scramble by Republicans to repudiate white nationalism has been a tragicomedy in Tweet form. Benny Johnson, fired from BuzzFeed and the Independent Journal Review for plagiarism and currently serving as chief creative officer of TPUSA, laid out a long thread establishing Fuentes’s history of public bigotry, from overt racism to “Unabashedly Sexist” (sic) commentary. Johnson ended with a passionate plea to fellow conservatives to “disavow hatred, racism, identity politics and open antisemitism.” And Texas Republican representative Dan Crenshaw, who was heckled by Fuentes’s acolytes no fewer than three times, took to Twitter to clarify that “conservatives are 100% different” than these “vehement racists, anti-semites & ethnic-nationalists.”

Yet both Johnson and Crenshaw are avid supporters of Trump and his policies. Johnson spent the following day live-tweeting the House impeachment inquiry, manically defending a president who has predicated his entire rule on racism, and who is credibly accused of multiple rapes; Crenshaw has advocated ending visa lotteries and policies that make it easier for immigrants’ family members to immigrate, and has advocated repeatedly for Trump’s signature border wall, a concrete symbol of xenophobia.

Trump’s own statements and policies are the strongest argument that his vision aligns with that of white nationalists. One wonders how, precisely, someone like Charlie Kirk could have answered a question posed by Fuentes in his channel: “Why does the president prefer immigrants from Norway vs. Haiti?”

While the litany of Trump’s acts cozying up to and encouraging a once-fringe white nationalist element is long, it’s worth considering the architect of the immigration policies that establishment Republicans like Dan Crenshaw champion. An ongoing series of articles by the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Michael E. Hayden, drawing on some 900 e-mails sent by Trump’s senior policy adviser Stephen Miller to former Breitbart editor Katie McHugh, have laid out precisely the ideological affiliations of the administration’s immigration czar. From championing the Confederate flag to repeatedly linking to openly white nationalist sites like VDARE and American Renaissance, Miller stridently embraced the tenets of white supremacy; and like the Fuentes faction, he also advocated a complete cessation of legal immigration of any kind. “There should be no immigration for several years. Not just cut the number down from the current 1 million green cards per year. For assimilation purposes,” he wrote to McHugh.

Miller’s e-mails show a familiarity with—and advocacy of—the “great replacement” conspiracy theory, which posits a plot by elites to replace the white population of America and Europe with nonwhite immigrants. Miller stops short of embracing a crucial tenet of “great replacement” theory embraced by most of the white nationalist right: that this replacement is being orchestrated by Jews. (That precise theorem is what motivated the Pittsburgh synagogue shooter to murder eleven Jews almost exactly a year ago.) Perhaps this is because Miller is Jewish, a fact that the White House has belabored in its increasingly mendacious defenses of the staffer, going so far as to accuse the Southern Poverty Law Center of an anti-Semitic campaign.

But it is impossible to advocate for white nationalism, as Miller has throughout his career in politics, without simultaneously elevating anti-Semitism. For most white nationalists, anti-Semitism is a non-negotiable raison d’être for the movement, the unified field theory that ties a bigoted worldview together. In their minds, nonwhite people are too ignorant and barbaric to organize the kind of demographic coup the “great replacement” theory lays out; instead, they assert again and again, it has been orchestrated by cunning Jews, pulling the marionette strings of mass migration and advocating for interracial marriage. The sites, forums, and chats that advocate for an end to legal immigration—and that push the false theory that demographic change amounts to “white genocide”—are places that praise Hitler and traffic in the ugliest of anti-Semitic sentiments. This is why an administration awash in anti-immigrant sentiment, slashing rights for asylees and refugees, governed during the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, the deadliest pogrom in American history. It is not a coincidence. It never was.

None of the Republican figures so quick to disavow Fuentes did the same for Miller; indeed, there has been a profound, impenetrable closing of the ranks around him on the right. The chief difference at play is that . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

The article concludes:

There are tens of thousands of children who have been separated from their families by Stephen Miller’s policies; there are dozens of dead, murdered in an El Paso Walmart and a Pittsburgh synagogue and a Charlottesville street and by inadequate medical care in migration facilities. Through these years, as ethnic minorities and Jews and feminists and trans people and gay people have sounded out the alarm bells, the mainstream GOP laughed. They turned a profit on “triggering the libs”; they called opposition to the tide of rising white nationalism “Trump Derangement Syndrome.” Only when the hound turned on them, its jaws red and insatiable, did they at last begin to cry out in alarm about the danger the rest of us have known for years.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 November 2019 at 3:23 pm

Separated by Design: Why Affordable Housing Is Built in Areas With High Crime, Few Jobs, and Struggling Schools

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Jacqueline Rabe Thomas, The Connecticut Mirror, reports in ProPublica:

HARTFORD, Conn. — The moon pulls 6-year-old Romeo Lugo to the window at night.

The autistic child loves to gaze up at it, howling like a werewolf as it rises like a luminous pearl over the horizon of city buildings and trees he sees from his second-floor apartment.

But on one particular evening four years ago, his mother, Aida, noticed something else as they stood at the window: a man getting out of a gray car in front of their building and walking toward the nearby barber shop, gun drawn.

She grabbed Romeo and ducked.

“Bam, bam, bam,” Aida Lugo recalls hearing seconds later. “I couldn’t move.”

After the incident, the single mother explored moving from Frog Hollow — one of the state’s poorest and toughest areas. She even visited nearby towns. But the only units in her price range were located no more than a few blocks from the gunshots and the drug dealers in her neighborhood, so she remains marooned there — in the same apartment.

That’s because state officials have chosen, year after year, to direct the bulk of public funding for affordable housing to Connecticut’s most impoverished communities.

Since the mid-1980s, almost $2.2 billion in low-income housing tax credits have been awarded to construct 27,000 affordable housing units in the state. Just 10% were built in prosperous towns, an investigation by The Connecticut Mirror and ProPublica has found. About 80% were located in struggling communities, literally erecting pockets of poverty. The rest fall somewhere in between.

While many state leaders across the country direct those credits to poor areas, arguing that’s where the need is greatest, Connecticut stands out on the national stage. In a recent federal study of 21 states, it had the second highest concentration of affordable housing in high-poverty neighborhoods, behind only Mississippi.

Today, Lugo’s unit is one of more than 700 apartments funded through the tax-credit program within a six-block area of her home. The neighborhood is host to a homeless shelter, a juvenile jail, public housing and a profusion of unoccupied storefronts and apartments plastered with “for rent” signs. On several utility poles are devices that notify police when gunshots are fired. Surveillance cameras abound.

“You know, you don’t have any other option but to try and get used to it and the things around you,” Lugo said. “I just keep to myself with my kids, and we do what we have to do.”

Most of the funding to build affordable housing in the U.S. comes from the federal government, with states receiving a set amount of low-income housing tax credits, or LIHTC, each year based on their populations. State officials then decide how and where they are used.

Connecticut’s extreme concentration of affordable housing in poor areas owes largely to its selection process. The state requires developers to obtain local zoning approval before they even apply for a tax credit, a practice that has been flagged by federal regulators as potentially discriminatory. In May, The Connecticut Mirror and ProPublica reported that many zoning boards in the state rely on their finely tuned regulations to keep housing segregation firmly in place. The news organizations found that more than three dozen towns have blocked construction of any privately developed duplexes and apartments within their borders for the last two decades.

Developers, in turn, look to cities, where local leaders are often more receptive to any development that could help replace blighted properties or vacant lots. In Connecticut, that has meant a deepening racial divide in a state that’s home to some of the most segregated neighborhoods in America. According to the Connecticut Economic Resource Center, at least half of the homes in Lugo’s neighborhood are reserved exclusively for the poor. Nearly all of the residents of the area are Hispanic, like Lugo, or black, U.S. Census Bureau data shows.

“We have an affordable housing crisis and a segregated housing crisis. The state has opted to only address the affordable housing crisis,” said Erin Boggs, executive director and civil rights attorney with Open Communities Alliance, a nonprofit that advocates for housing reforms.

Gov. Ned Lamont’s administration says it favors a balanced approach, encouraging affordable housing both in “high opportunity” communities with good schools and low crime rates, and in more impoverished neighborhoods. “Connecticut recognizes the value of increased opportunity and growth in all of our communities,” the governor’s office said in a statement.

The numbers, however, tell a different story.

The Connecticut Mirror and ProPublica compared the location of LIHTC-funded units with so-called opportunity maps developed for the Connecticut Department of Housing by researchers at Ohio State University. Of the nearly $100 million in tax credits awarded by the state this spring, 88% of the new apartments will be in “low opportunity” areas. That means high crime, low homeownership rates, little access to working-class jobs and lackluster school performance.

Connecticut’s Democratic senators say they are troubled that so many of the tax credits are going to high-poverty areas. The tax credit program, they say, is long overdue for a reevaluation.

“It’s concerning, and I want to know why,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, in response to The Connecticut Mirror and ProPublica’s analysis. “I think we have to examine the reasons for it — whether they are economic or discriminatory — and determine whether there are remedies necessary and appropropriate.”

Sen. Chris Murphy added: “I think we should be spreading out low-income housing tax credit dollars to projects throughout the state. You’ve got to give people choice. Folks that have lower incomes or need rental support shouldn’t only have a handful of neighborhoods in Connecticut’s cities as their only housing options.”

Meanwhile, developers say they are just building what the state is most likely to fund. At the same time, they are conflicted about constructing housing reserved for the poor mainly in poor communities.

“To be honest, this system discriminates against poor people. You are forcing these people to live in communities that don’t have the level of resources needed to educate their kids,” said John McClutchy, founder of JHM Group, which is one of the largest recipients of tax credits in Connecticut. “We are looking to build housing that better reflects the community. … It shouldn’t just be warehousing poor people.”

Housing Segregation by Formula

Created by Congress as part of a massive tax overhaul during the Reagan administration, the low-income housing tax credit was designed to lift the poor amid surging home prices.

By many measures, it was a success. Since 1987, the tax credit has funded the construction and rehabilitation of more than 3 million apartments for the poor — 30% of the country’s affordable housing units. Conservatives and liberals alike lauded the program. But over time, housing advocates and civil rights groups say, officials in some states funneled a disproportionate amount of credits to poorer communities.

In 2008, a community group in Texas pressed that case against the state’s Housing Department, arguing in a lawsuit that the agency had violated the Fair Housing Act by concentrating low-income housing tax credits in the Dallas metro area. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed, ruling that there are limits to building subsidized housing in mostly impoverished neighborhoods because the practice has a “disparate impact” on minorities.

Questioning how and where credits are awarded “may prevent segregated housing patterns that might otherwise result from covert and illicit stereotyping,” wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy in the majority opinion in 2015.

Meanwhile, the IRS, which oversees the LIHTC program, cautioned states in the waning days of the Obama administration against requiring local approval for affordable housing projects. Giving what is essentially a “local veto” to municipal leaders, the agency found, is “perpetuating residential racial and economic segregation.”

Some states made sweeping changes. In Maryland, for instance,  . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more. The government again fails the public.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 November 2019 at 12:21 pm

At long last: Argentine court finds two Catholic priests guilty of sexually assaulting deaf children; first convictions in long-alleged abuse

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Anthony Faiola, Chico Harlan, and Stefano Pitrelli report in the Washington Post:

An Argentine court on Monday found two priests and a lay worker guilty of the sexual abuse and rape of 10 former students of a Catholic institute for the deaf, the first legal victory for a string of hearing-impaired victims stretching from Italy to the Andes whose denunciations against one of the clerics to church officials including Pope Francis went unheeded for years.

The landmark verdict related to the Provolo Institute for Deaf and Hearing Impaired Children in the western Argentine city of Luján de Cuyo is the latest stain on the church’s handling of sex abuse cases in Francis’s native Argentina. Argentine prosecutors last week requested an international arrest warrant for Catholic Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta — a longtime associate of the pope accused of sexually abusing two seminarians.

 A Washington Post investigation this year found years of inaction by the church in the case of at least one of the accused priests. The Vatican did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.

[‘The pope ignored them’: Alleged abuse of deaf children on two continents points to Vatican failings]

The three-judge panel in the northwestern Argentine province of Mendoza ruled against the three defendants in 25 instances of abuse between 2004 and 2016.

The Rev. Nicola Corradi, an 83-year-old Italian priest who appeared in a wheelchair, averted his gaze as the court sentenced him to 42 years in prison. Corradi’s name appeared on a list of alleged sexual predator priests denounced by deaf former students of a Provolo institute in Italy that was sent to Pope Francis in 2014. Francis was personally handed the letter a year later by one of the victims.

The Rev. Horacio Corbacho, a 59-year-old Argentine priest, darted his eyes as he was sentenced to 45 years. Armando Gómez, a gardener at the institute, was sentenced to 18.

None of the defendants spoke before the sentencing. Church officials and a lawyer for the defendants did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Parents and the deaf former students — described by prosecutors as the “perfect victims” in that many could not communicate well even with their parents — celebrated the court’s verdict. Victims wrapped arms around each other outside the courtroom, dancing in circle.

“You have no idea how important this is for us, and for the world,’ said Ariel Lizárraga, a 48-year old factory worker whose deaf daughter was abused at Provolo Institute in the 2000s. “The church has been trying to hide these abuses. But these priests raped and abused our children. Our deaf children! Today, the taboo against accusing priests stops here.”

The three men were arrested in 2016 after a raid of the school by Argentine authorities tipped by a female victim who had come forward with the aid of an interpreter. Within weeks, investigators had uncovered one of the worst cases in the global abuse scandals plaguing the Catholic Church. Church officials and local employees allegedly preyed on the most isolated and submissive children.

Witnesses testified that the deaf children were not allowed to learn sign language, and instead were given lessons to speak like the hearing — an approach that left many unable to communicate with their parents. Prosecutors said the children were fondled, raped, sometimes tied up and, in one instance, forced to wear a diaper to hide the bleeding.

Students were smacked if they used sign language. One of the few hand gestures used by the priests, victims say, was an index figure to lips — a demand for silence.

Corradi, spiritual director of the school, had a decades-long career, first in Italy and later in Argentina. In Italy, Corradi was accused of molesting deaf children at a Provolo institute in Verona. His name first appeared the sworn statements of 15 former students of that school who described being sodomized. The statements named 24 priests and other faculty members including Corradi.

[Argentine prosecutors seek abuse-related arrest of bishop who worked with Pope Francis]

In 2012, the diocese of Verona asked for forgiveness from the victims and sanctioned 24 of the accused, but Corradi was not among them. None of the Italian cases ever went to trial.

Corradi’s name appeared again in the 2014 letter to the Pope, and later handed to him, that reiterated the potential danger he posed in Argentina.

“We hope the prosecutors now will launch a criminal investigation of the archbishops and other Church leaders who knew or should have known that child abusers were running that school,” Anne Barrett Doyle, a co-founder of the cleric abuse database BishopAccountability.org, said in a statement. “The Pope too must accept responsibility for the unimaginable suffering of these children. He ignored repeated warnings that Corradi was in Argentina.”

After the Provolo institute in Lujan de Cuyo was shut down by Argentine authorities, the Vatican sent two priests to investigate the charges there in 2017. Dante Simon, a judicial vicar, told the Associated Press that the “horrible” allegations are “more than plausible.” He said the pontiff expressed his sadness and told him that “he was very worried about this situation.”

In a report submitted to the Vatican that June, the AP reported, Simon requested the maximum canonical penalty for Corradi and Corbacho: That they be made to “resign directly by the Holy Father.” The report must be reviewed by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the AP reported.

In Argentina, the church, including Francis, has been accused of moving too slow and keeping Corradi in contact with vulnerable children despite years of allegations against him.

[Why the Vatican continues to struggle with sex abuse scandals] . . .

Continue reading. There’s more. The Catholic church is a moral failure.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 November 2019 at 11:50 am

More thoughts on food in meals

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I got to thinking more about the way I approach food now that I am on  the whole-food plant-based diet set out in Part 2 of Dr. Michael Greger’s How Not to Die. (Details of the approach I worked out and the lessons learned can be found in this post.)

I’ve come to realize that my main dish/meal does not fit well into common designations. Dishes consisting of a variety of vegetables, chosen ad hoc, and without meat don’t have a comfortable category here. A stir-fry, perhaps, or a stew, but even with a stew the tendency is to ask “what kind?” as though stews fit in nameable categories: a beef stew, or a chicken stew, or a lamb stew — or Irish stew of Scotch broth (though that’s a soup, but the soup/stew distinction is sometimes unclear for a given thick semi-liquid mix of meat and vegetables).

My core meal, plant-based and thus without meat, cheese, or eggs, is not exactly a stew, though it tends to be moist enough to hold together. It’s something between a stew and a stir fry.

I have recently been calling it a “melange.” It does have a kind of conceptual structure in that it includes representatives from categories:

  1. Cooking oil — almost always extra virgin olive oil, but sometimes avocado oil or macadamia nut oil, occasionally toasted sesame oil added at the end for flavoring. In the old days I would occasionally use duck fat or bacon fat or chicken fat, but no longer.
  2. Allium — always garlic and also scallions or leeks or shallots or storage onion (most often red, but also yellow or white from time to time). Scallions and leeks are the most common.
  3. Beans — always beans — cooked dried beans or lentils, or my homemade tempeh or tofu (soft tofu or firm or extra firm or smoked or fried — packaged tofu comes in various formats). If I’m using tempeh or tofu, I always cook it in the melange.  Cooked beans or lentils I might include in the melange, or put a portion into a bowl topped with a serving of melange.
  4. Grains — always cooked intact whole grain: oat groats, hulled barley, whole rye, kamut (a favorite), spelt, farro, emmer, etc. — occasionally cooked quinoa or amaranth instead of a grain). I treat cooked grain the same way I treat cooked beans/lentils: sometimes I include it in the melange, sometimes put a portion a bowl and top with a serving of melange. I tend to take this approach more often with grain than beans.
  5. Vegetables — asparagus, diced summer squash or zucchini, diced raw winter squash (in finished dish, it’s often al dente), root vegetable(s) (diced raw beet, daikon, carrot, turnip), diced Japanese or Italian or Indian eggplant, celery, fennel bulb (and some fronds), broccoli, broccolini, bitter melon, green beans — basically, whatever vegetables look good and fresh when I shop. I often include asparagus: its fiber (like that of the alliums) is particularly beneficial. I almost always also include sliced cherry tomatoes and cut-up dried tomatoes (dry-pack not in oil) and a small can of no-salt-added tomato paste, a good source of potassium and umami and lycopene.
  6. Leafy greens — always some green: spinach or red chard or kale or bok choy (usually baby bok choy or baby Shanghai bok choy) or cabbage (red or green) or collards or tung ho or other green (turnip, mustard, beet, dandelion, red dandelion, but those are rarely seen up here — even collards or hard to find), also sometimes parsley cooked with the melange, sometimes cilantro added at the end. Sometimes I will shred red cabbage, put a portion in a bowl, and top that with a serving of melange.
  7. Mushrooms — always mushrooms (good source of pantothenic acid (B5)). I use oyster or crimini or domestic white, and I coarsely chop (rather than slice) them.
  8. Peppers — always jalapeños chopped with core and seeds, sometimes also chopped Thai red chiles or Serrano or habanero as well. Fairly often I also include chopped bell peppers (red, yellow, orange), sometimes other peppers (Anaheim, poblano, Hungarian, and/or banana peppers).
  9. Other — olives (pitted Kalamata olives that I chop, most often), sometimes soy sauce (occasionally with mirin) or Worcestershire sauce or tamari. I often use pepper sauce, homemade or relatively low sodium (e.g., Tabasco), but I tend to add that at the table. I might include 2-3 tablespoons horseradish (from the refrigerated section) in the melange, but more commonly I just add 1 tablespoon horseradish to a bowl of melange once a day. (Horseradish is a cruciferous vegetable and a I go for one serving of cruciferous vegetables a day, and a tablespoon of horseradish is a serving.) I abandoned capers because of their salt content.
  10. Herbs — always marjoram and dried mint, sometimes also thyme or sage or rosemary, or other herb.
  11. Spices — always minced fresh turmeric, added with the allium at the start; often minced fresh ginger as well; always a good amount of ground black pepper to go with turmeric (improves absorption); perhaps ground cloves; perhaps ground ancho or chimayo chiles; maybe curry powder; sometimes ground cumin
  12. Acid — quite often I use lemons — remove peel, blend, pour over melange after cooking and stir to blend. I might sometimes instead use a vinegar (balsmic, red wine, sherry, apple cider). Acid brightens the taste, and the blended lemon is quite healthful.

For breakfast, I will stir into my bowl of melange 1 tablespoon ground flaxseed, 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast flakes, 1 teaspoon amla powder, 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric, 2 teaspoons ground black pepper.

The ingredients of a melange vary considerably, based on what looks good in the produce department, but the above list gives an idea of how I approach it and what I get. When it’s finished, he root vegetables are al dente, and often the broccoli or broccolini is as well. Celery and fennel retain some crunch. Eggplant is soft, the grain and dried tomatoes a little chewy. The result is that each bite carries multiple textures so that the mouthfeel is more interesting.

And it’s quite tasty, I find, with a good level of spiciness but not burning hot, and a fresh taste because of so much in the way of fresh produce.

The melange makes a lot, so I usually cook it in my Field Company No. 12 cast-iron skillet (cooking surface 11.5″ in diameter, walls 2.25″ high), but if I think the melange will have a fair amount of liquid (as when I use frozen chopped spinach, which comes in a 300g/10.6 oz block), I’ll use my 4-qt All-Clad stainless steel sauté pan because long simmering removes the seasoning on the cast iron skillet. If I think I’ll be sautéing the melange, I use the cast-iron because it does a better job; if I think I’ll simmering the melange, I use the stainless steel pan. For example, if I’m taking the melange in the direction of chili, when I will include canned tomatoes and tomatillos and simmer, I will definitely use the stainless steel pan.

The benefit is that once I cook a batch, I have multiple meals already prepared. And since the melange varies a fair amount from batch to batch, it doesn’t always taste the same.

And many variations are possible. This morning, for example, I diced some of the soybean tempeh I just made and sautéed that with some finely chopped red onion in a little olive oil in the Smithey No. 8 cast-iron skillet and put that in a bowl, topped with with about 1/4 cup kamut, added the breakfast stuff (flax seed, nutritional yeast flakes, amla powder, ground turmeric, black pepper), and topped that with melange from the fridge.

I don’t think my melange method fits the common meal descriptions/categories.

I should note that in addition to thee meals as described above, I also eat three pieces of fresh fruit each day and also a bowl of berries (mostly frozen mixed berries — blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries).

Written by LeisureGuy

25 November 2019 at 11:15 am

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