Later On

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Archive for August 1st, 2020

Summer vegetable dish recipe: Onion, peppers, garlic, summer squash, mushrooms, ….

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I used the Stargazer 12″ skillet.

First I chopped small a head of local red Russian garlic, which has enormous cloves, easy to peel, and is mild and somewhat sweet — about half a cup of finely chopped garlic, which I set aside to rest.

I added the following to the skillet as I did the chopping:

2-3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large yellow onion, cut in half, then into slices, then (holding slices together in the half-onion shape) each slice into thirds, so the result is short strips of onion
2 large yellow bell peppers, cored, sliced into vertical strips, and the strips halved
2 large jalapeños, chopped small
1 largish yellow zucchini or summer squash, diced
a dozen large domestic white mushrooms, halved vertically and sliced thick

I then turned on the burner and started cooking that, stirring carefully since the skillet was pretty full — but it cooks down. I added:

2 tablespoons dried marjoram
2 tablespoons dried basil
2 tablespoons dried parsley
2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
several good shakes of Worcestershire sauce

After it had cooked down somewhat, I added

the garlic
1/2 cup roasted redskin peanuts, unsalted
1/3 cup sliced Kalamata olives
1/3 cup pitted Kalamata olives

I didn’t actually measure the amount of olives. Maybe it was 1/2 cup rather than 1/3 cup.

I continued cooking over fairly high heat, stirring often, until all vegetables were tender.

For a meal: one cup of that over:

1/4 cup cooked lentils
1/4 cup cooked kamut

I found it very tasty. No greens, though. I thought about including some red cabbage and might do that next time, but then I should use the 6-qt All-Clad Stainless pot.

And then I could include asparagus as well. Green beans might be nice, too.

Written by Leisureguy

1 August 2020 at 6:38 pm

“The Day Big Tech Stopped Being Untouchable”

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Matt Stoller writes in BIG:

Today I’m going to write about we learned on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday of this week. In sequence, Wednesday was the day of a historic Congressional hearing on big tech monopoly power, Thursday was when these firms announced blow-out earnings even in the midst of an economic collapse, and Friday saw Donald Trump announce he might ban the social media firm TikTok. That’s democracy, monopoly, and national security in sequence. . . .

“Democracy Reasserts Itself”

On Wednesday, the Chairman of the House Antitrust Subcommittee, David Cicilline, opened a hearing capping the most significant Congressional investigation into corporate power in decades, his subcommittee’s investigation of large technology platforms. In his opening statement, Cicilline made the stakes and the historical backdrop clear.

“American democracy has always been at war against monopoly power,” he said. “Throughout our history, we have recognized that concentrated markets and concentrated political control are incompatible with democratic ideals. Their ability to dictate terms, call the shots, upend entire sectors, and inspire fear represent the powers of a private government.” And then, with a flourish, he concluded, “Our founders would not bow before a king. Nor should we bow before the emperors of the online economy.”

This framing was remarkable, and exactly what I wrote about in my book Goliath: The 100-Year War Between Monopoly Power and Democracy. One of the highlights of what I found was the critical role of Congress and investigations into corporate power, which Americans had always seen as private governments rivaling our democratic government. Until this week, I had only read these ideas in transcripts of old hearings, in archives, and in interviews with old people talking to me about their youth.

And then came Wednesday. Cicilline brought a New Deal-style sensibility to these hearings, acting as a modern Wright Patman and offering the public that magical moment when public servants confront unaccountable power, and showing the promise and possibility of rule by the people. Some of the small business witnesses who had testified before the committee earlier, like David Heinemeier Hansson of Basecamp, were “blown away” by this performance, which is not a particularly common reaction to Congress these days.

It was truly an extraordinary five and a half hours, where these powerful CEOs had to answer for their misdeeds. I wrote a summary of the hearing and its importance in The Guardian the next morning.

Almost any moment of the four-hour hearing offered a stunning illustration of the extent of the bad behavior by these corporations. Take Amazon, whose CEO, Jeff Bezos, often seemed off-balance and unaware of his corporation’s own practices. Congresswoman Lucy McBath played audio of a seller on Amazon tearfully describing how her business and livelihood was arbitrarily destroyed by Amazon restricting sales of their product, for no reason the seller could discern. Bezos acted surprised, as he often did. Representative Jamie Raskin presented an email from Bezos saying about one acquisition that: “We’re buying market position not technology.” Bezos then admitted Amazon buys companies purely because of their “market position”, demonstrating that many of hundreds of acquisitions these tech companies have made were probably illegal.

Mark Zuckerberg had to confront his own emails in which he noted that Facebook’s purchase of Instagram was done to buy out a competitor. His response was that he didn’t remember, but that he imagined he was probably joking when he wrote that. One congresswoman on Joe Biden’s vice-presidential shortlist, Val Demings, asked Zuckerberg why he restricted Facebook’s tools for competitors like Pinterest, but not for non-competitors like Netflix. He had no answer. Congressman David Cicilline asked about Facebook promoting incendiary speech and making money off advertising sold next to that speech. Zuckerberg pivoted to free speech talking points, and Cicilline cut him off, “This isn’t a speech issue, it’s about your business model.”

The performance of Cicilline, as well as that of his colleagues like Pramila Jayapal and Joe Neguse, was “democracy reasserting itself,” as former Google design ethicist Tristan Harris put it on CNBC. The hearing was the sixth in a series going back a year, and it was the culmination of an investigation in which staffers had gone through millions of documents and uncovered evidence of anti-competitive behavior by Google, Amazon, Apple, and Facebook.

It was also a massive media event. Of course the tech press was all over it, but it was front page news on every major American newspaper, which is remarkable considering this media environment involves a global pandemic and Trump’s endless controversies.

Here’s the New York Times: . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

1 August 2020 at 6:01 pm

Read this Twitter thread

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Clink the link (the date) to see the whole thread.

Written by Leisureguy

1 August 2020 at 5:51 pm

How a $175 COVID-19 Test Led to $2,479 in Charges in The Best Healthcare System in the World™

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Marshall Allan reports in ProPublica:

As she waited for the results of her rapid COVID-19 test, Rachel de Cordova sat in her car and read through a stack of documents given to her by SignatureCare Emergency Center.

Without de Cordova leaving her car, the staff at the freestanding emergency room near her home in Houston had checked her blood pressure, pulse and temperature during the July 21 appointment. She had been suffering sinus stuffiness and a headache, so she handed them her insurance card to pay for the $175 rapid-response drive-thru test. Then they stuck a swab deep into her nasal cavity to obtain a specimen.

De Cordova is an attorney who specializes in civil litigation defense and maritime law. She cringes when she’s asked to sign away her rights and scrutinizes the fine print. The documents she had been given included disclosures required by recent laws in Texas that try to rein in the billing practices of stand-alone emergency centers like SignatureCare. One said that while the facility would submit its bill to insurance plans, it doesn’t have contractual relationships with them, meaning the care would be considered out-of-network. Patients are responsible for any charges not covered by their plan, it said, as well as any copayment, deductible or coinsurance.

The more she read, the more annoyed de Cordova became. SignatureCare charges a “facility fee” for treatment, the document said, ranging “between five hundred dollars and one hundred thousand dollars.” Another charge, the “observation fee,” could range from $1,000 to $100,000.

De Cordova didn’t think her fees for the test could rise into the six figures. But SignatureCare was giving itself leeway to charge almost any amount to her insurance plan — and she could be on the hook. She knew she couldn’t sign the document. But that created a problem: She still needed to get her test results.

Even in a public health emergency, what could be considered the first rule of American health care is still in effect: There is no set price. Medical providers often inflate their charges and then give discounts to insurance plans that sign contracts with them. Out-of-network insurers and their members are often left to pay the full tab or whatever discount they can negotiate after the fact.

The CARES Act, passed by Congress in March, includes a provision that says insurers must pay for an out-of-network COVID-19 test at the price the testing facility lists on its website. But it sets no maximum for the cost of the tests. Insurance representatives told ProPublica that the charge for a COVID-19 test in Texas can range from less than $100 to thousands of dollars. Health plans are generally waiving out-of-pocket costs for all related COVID-19 treatment, insurance representatives said. Some costs may be passed on to the patient, depending on their coverage and the circumstances.

As she waited, de Cordova realized she didn’t want to play insurance roulette. She changed her mind and decided she’d pay the $175 out-of-pocket for her test. But when the SignatureCare nurse came to collect the paperwork, de Cordova said the nurse told her, “You can’t do that. It’s insurance fraud for you to pay for our services once we know you have insurance.”

Dr. Hashibul Hannan, an emergency room physician, lab director and manager at SignatureCare, told ProPublica his facility is an emergency room that offers testing, not a typical testing site. He said de Cordova should have been allowed to pay the $175 cash price. The staff members were concerned about being accused of fraud because they had already entered her insurance information into the record, he said. So they didn’t want it to appear she was being double-billed. Hannan also said he regrets that she was upset by the disclosure forms that are now required under state law.

Unable to pay cash and unwilling to take a chance on the unknown cost, de Cordova decided to leave without getting the results of her COVID-19 test.

“I Would Have Signed Anything”

Later that day, de Cordova couldn’t get past what happened. She wondered what happened to patients who didn’t read the fine print before signing the packet.

Then she realized she and her husband, Hayan Charara, could investigate it themselves. In June, the couple’s 8-year-old son had attended a baseball tryout. They thought the kids would be socially distanced and that precautions would be taken. But then the coaches had crowded the players in a dugout, with no masks or social distancing, and a couple days later the boy said he wasn’t feeling well.

So just to be safe, on June 12, Charara took their son to the same SignatureCare, the Heights location, for a COVID-19 test. The line was so long they had to wait for hours, go home, come back and wait for hours again in their car in the 100-degree heat. Charara, a poet who teaches at the University of Houston, said he didn’t take a close look at the financial disclosure paperwork. De Cordova wasn’t with them. It had been 10 hours of waiting by the time the boy was tested, so “I would have signed anything,” he said. (The child tested negative.)

Charara, de Cordova and their children are covered by the Employees Retirement System of Texas, a taxpayer-funded benefit plan that covers about half a million people. They hadn’t received any notices about the charges for their son. So they contacted the SignatureCare billing department and asked for an itemized statement. The test charge was indeed $175. But the total balance, including the physician and facility fees associated with an emergency room visit, came to $2,479.

The facility fee was $1,784 and the physician fee $486.

The couple were dumbfounded. Their son’s vital signs had been checked but there had been no physical examination, they said. The interactions took less than five minutes total, and the child stayed in the car. “You’re getting a drive-thru test, and they’re pretending like they’re giving you emergency services,” de Cordova said. . .

Continue reading. There’s more including photos of the paperwork.

Written by Leisureguy

1 August 2020 at 1:51 pm

The Man Who Made Stephen Miller

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Jean Guerrero is an investigative journalist and author of Hatemonger: Stephen Miller, Donald Trump and the White Nationalist Agenda, forthcoming from William Morrow (HarperCollins) on August 11, from which this Politico article is adapted. The article begins:

In December 2012, with the Republican Party reeling from a brutal election that left Democrats in control of the White House and the Senate, the conservative activist David Horowitz emailed a strategy paper to the office of Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions.

Horowitz, now 81, was a longtime opponent of immigration and the founder of a think tank and a campus freedom-of-speech advocacy group. He saw in Sessions a kindred spirit—a senator who could reawaken a more nationalist fire in the Republican party. The person he emailed it to was a Sessions aide: Stephen Miller. Horowitz, who recalled the episode in an interview and shared the emails with me, had known Miller since the aide was in high school.

Horowitz encouraged Miller to not only give the paper to Sessions but to circulate it in the Senate. Miller expressed eagerness to share it and asked for instructions. “Leave the Confidential note on it. It gives it an aura that will make people pay more attention to it,” Horowitz wrote. The paper, “Playing to the Head Instead of the Heart: Why Republicans Lost and How They Can Win,” included a section on the political utility of hostile feelings. Horowitz wrote that Democrats know how to “hate their opponents,” how to “incite envy and resentment, distrust and fear, and to direct those volatile emotions.” He urged Republicans to “return their fire.”

“Behind the failures of Republican campaigns lies an attitude that is administrative rather than combative. It focuses on policies rather than politics. It is more comfortable with budgets and pie charts than with the flesh and blood victims of their opponents’ policies,” Horowitz wrote, adding that Democrats have the moral high ground. “They are secular missionaries who want to ‘change society.’ Their goal is a new order of society—‘social justice.’” He argued that the only way to beat them is with “an equally emotional campaign that puts the aggressors on the defensive; that attacks them in the same moral language, identifying them as the bad guys.”

Horowitz wrote that hope and fear are the two strongest weapons in politics. Barack Obama had used hope to become president. “Fear is a much stronger and more compelling emotion,” Horowitz argued, adding that Republicans should appeal to voters’ base instincts.

It is perhaps the most compact crystallization of the relationship that propelled Miller, now a senior policy adviser and speechwriter in the Donald Trump administration, to the White House and of the importance that relationship has had in the administration. The friendship between Miller and Horowitz began when Miller—who did not respond to interview requests for the book from which this article was adapted—was in high school and continued throughout his career. Tracing it reveals a source of Miller’s laser focus on immigration restriction, which has over the past few years resulted in a ban on travel from mostly-Muslim countries and a policy that separated families crossing the border into the United States to seek asylum. If you want to understand the language Trump uses to talk about immigrants and his opponents, or the immigration policies he has put into place, often via Miller, you have to also understand David Horowitz, and the formative role he played in Miller’s career and life.

Miller met Horowitz shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks when Miller was a teenager growing up on the Southern California coast. He was going through a period of family turmoil. A few years before, they had moved out of a million-dollar home in a wealthy white neighborhood to a slightly smaller house in a more diverse neighborhood. Miller’s father Michael was having financial troubles and fighting several legal battles related to his real estate company, including a fight with his brother whom he permanently separated from the family with a no-contact order in a settlement agreement. Rather than attending a private school the way Michael’s youngest son later did, his oldest son Stephen found himself at a diverse public school, which celebrated Día de los Muertos and Cinco de Mayo.

When his father was tangled up in lawsuits, Miller found comfort in a number of conservative California-based talk radio show hosts, including Rush Limbaugh. Limbaugh complained about multiculturalism and the poor, whom he called “the biggest piglets at the mother pig and her nipples” in his book The Way Things Ought To Be. Miller read the book and later cited it as a favorite.

Geographically, the 16-year-old was nearly as far from the 9/11 attacks as he could be in the United States, but he was transformed by the tragedy. He wondered why his high school didn’t recite the Pledge of Allegiance. He called into a local right-wing talk radio show, the Larry Elder Show, to complain about his school’s alleged lack of patriotism.

When Miller heard about Horowitz through a classmate, he reached out to him and invited him to speak at Santa Monica High School. Horowitz had heard Miller on the radio, as had other right-wing provocateurs who would go on to shape Trumpism: Steve Bannon, Andrew Breitbart and Alex Marlow. Like them, Horowitz was riveted by the teenager’s furious rants against multiculturalism. He thought he was “gutsy,” a kindred spirit. He agreed to speak at his school.

Horowitz ran, and continues to run, the Center for the Study of Popular Culture, which was later renamed the David Horowitz Freedom Center: A School for Political Warfare. The foundation says it “sees its role as that of a battle tank, geared to fight a war that many still don’t recognize.” The enemy? In the foundation’s words, it’s the “political left,” which “has declared war on America and its constitutional system, and is willing to collaborate with America’s enemies abroad and criminals at home to bring America down.” Horowitz says the political left poses an “existential threat.” Horowitz has been labeled an anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant extremist by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a hate watch group.

Horowitz’s parents were members of the Communist Party, and he supported the New Left in the sixties and seventies, and worked with the Black Panther Party. But he became disillusioned after a white friend he had recommended to work for them as a bookkeeper, Betty Van Petter, was murdered.

The murder was never solved, but Horowitz blamed the Black activists. He came to believe liberals had waged a wrongheaded “war against ‘whiteness.’” White European males, primarily English and Protestant Christian, created “America’s unique political culture … [which] led the world in abolishing slavery and establishing the principles of ethnic and racial inclusion,” he wrote in his book Hating Whitey. “We are a nation besieged by peoples ‘of color’ trying to immigrate to our shores to take advantage of the unparalleled opportunities and rights our society offers them.”

Horowitz, who is Jewish like Miller, argues that Protestant Christian doctrines are fundamental to America and are under direct assault by Muslims, progressives and anyone who argues with his ideology. Having leaped from left-wing radicalism to right-wing radicalism, he uses the language of the civil rights movement to attack it, painting conservative white men as victims of discrimination and defending hate speech with appeals to “intellectual diversity.” “Academic freedom is most likely to thrive in an environment of intellectual diversity that protects and fosters independence of thought and speech,” reads the “Academic Bill of Rights” he created for his youth group, “Students for Academic Freedom.” Meanwhile, his acolytes learn to invert and deflect criticism. Liberals and people of color are “bigots,” “racists,” and “oppressors,” Horowitz has said multiple times. “The racists here are blacks who have been brainwashed into thinking all cops are white and oppressing them,” Horowitz has tweeted.

When Miller invited Horowitz to speak at his high school, the goateed older man had recently been defending young conservatives in several cases against allegations of racism, sexism and homophobia. . .

Continue reading. There’s more, and it’s disturbing.

Written by Leisureguy

1 August 2020 at 1:01 pm

Body Bags and Enemy Lists: How Far-Right Police Officers and Ex-Soldiers Planned for ‘Day X’

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The report is about Germany but the US has a great number of white-supremacy far-right extremists who enjoy walking around fully armed and who have been guilty of more murders in the US than foreign terrorists. Katrin Bennhold reports in the NY Times:

The plan sounded frighteningly concrete. The group would round up political enemies and those defending migrants and refugees, put them on trucks and drive them to a secret location.

Then they would kill them.

One member had already bought 30 body bags. More body bags were on an order list, investigators say, along with quicklime, used to decompose organic material.

On the surface, those discussing the plan seemed reputable. One was a lawyer and local politician, but with a special hatred of immigrants. Two were active army reservists. Two others were police officers, including Marko Gross, a police sniper and former parachutist who acted as their unofficial leader.

The group grew out of a nationwide chat network for soldiers and others with far-right sympathies set up by a member of Germany’s elite special forces, the KSK. Over time, under Mr. Gross’s supervision, they formed a parallel group of their own. Members included a doctor, an engineer, a decorator, a gym owner, even a local fisherman.

They called themselves Nordkreuz, or Northern Cross.

“Between us, we were a whole village,” recalled Mr. Gross, one of several Nordkreuz members who described to me in various interviews this year how the group came together and began making plans.

They denied they had plotted to kill anyone. But investigators and prosecutors, as well an account one member gave to the police — transcripts of which were seen by The New York Times — indicate their planning took a more sinister turn.

Germany has belatedly begun dealing with far-right networks that officials now say are far more extensive than they ever understood. The reach of far-right extremists into its armed forces is particularly alarming in a country that has worked to cleanse itself of its Nazi past and the horrors of the Holocaust. In July the government disbanded an entire company infiltrated by extremists in the nation’s special forces.

But the Nordkreuz case, which only recently came to trial after being uncovered more than three years ago, shows that the problem of far-right infiltration is neither new nor confined to to the KSK, or even the military.

Far-right extremism penetrated multiple layers of German society in the years when the authorities underestimated the threat or were reluctant to countenance it fully, officials and lawmakers acknowledge. Now they are struggling to uproot it.

One central motivation of the extremists has seemed so far-fetched and fantastical that for a long time the authorities and investigators did not take it seriously, even as it gained broader currency in far-right circles.

Neo-Nazi groups and other extremists call it Day X — a mythical moment when Germany’s social order collapses, requiring committed far-right extremists, in their telling, to save themselves and rescue the nation.

Today Day X preppers are drawing serious people with serious skills and ambition. Increasingly, the German authorities consider the scenario a pretext for domestic terrorism by far-right plotters or even for a takeover of the government.

“I fear we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg,” said Dirk Friedriszik, a lawmaker in the northeastern state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, where Nordkreuz was founded. “It isn’t just the KSK. The real worry is: These cells are everywhere. In the army, in the police, in reservist units.”

Nordkreuz was one of those groups elaborately preparing for Day X. The domestic intelligence service got a tip in late 2016, and prosecutors started investigating in the summer of 2017. But it took years before the network, or a small sliver of it, came before a court.

Even now, only one member of the group, Mr. Gross, has faced charges — for illegal weapons possession, not for any larger conspiracy.

Late last year, . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

1 August 2020 at 12:54 pm

Speculation that Trump wants to ban TikTok because of Sarah Cooper

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For example:

See Stuart Emmrich’s article in Vogue, which begins:

Donald Trump abruptly announced on Friday that he plans to ban TikTok from the United States, telling reporters traveling with him on Air Force One that he could issue an executive order as early as Saturday to shut down the Chinese-owned video app.

“As far as TikTok is concerned we’re banning them from the United States,” Trump told the reporters traveling back with him to the nation’s capital after a trip to Florida, according to a pool report. Trump said he could use emergency economic powers or an executive order to ban TikTok in the United States.

“Well, I have that authority. I can do it with an executive order or that,” he said referring to emergency economic powers. (Later press reports questioned whether the president actually had that power to do so, and the ACLU tweeted that banning TikTok was “a danger to free expression and technologically impractical.”)

Earlier this month, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the U.S. was looking at banning TikTok as well as other Chinese social media apps, citing national security concerns. Pompeo added that the Trump administration was evaluating TikTok as it has with other Chinese state-backed tech companies like Huawei and ZTE, which he has previously described as “Trojan horses for Chinese intelligence.”

But are national security concerns really behind Trump’s sudden pronouncement? Or is there another reason why the president wants to ban TikTok? Social media had their own answer: It’s all about Sarah Cooper.

Cooper, of course, is the actress and comedian who has come to Internet fame by posting videos of her lip syncing Trump’s speeches and interviews to hilarious effect, whether it’s him denying he retreated to the White House bunker because of a threat posed by protestors, dodging a question about what his favorite Bible phrases are, or, most memorably, recreating his now-famous “People, woman, man, camera, TV” interview. With more than half a million followers on TikTok, Cooper has been written up by The Hollywood Reporter, The Washington Post and The New York Times and appeared as a guest on The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon and The Ellen Show. (“You make me so happy,” Degeneres said). A profile in the Times of London was headlined: “How Sarah Cooper’s Trump Takedowns Made Her America’s New Comedy Hero.”

And true to form, on Friday night, she posted a video lip synching to Trump’s later comments about TikTok, as he arrived back in Washington and headed to the White House. “We’re looking at TikTok. We may be banning TikTok, we may be doing some other things, there are a couple of options,” she intones, using a recording of a quick press briefing Trump gave before boarding a helicopter, which could be heard whirring in the background. “But a lot of things are happening, so we’ll see what happens. But we are looking at a lot of alternatives with respect to TikTok.” (Cooper even supplies visual effects, with her hair seemingly blowing in the wind as she mouths Trump’s words.) . . .

Continue reading.

And in addition, here’s an interview with Sarah Cooper, in which she makes some interesting points:

Written by Leisureguy

1 August 2020 at 12:21 pm

New USPS policies seem to pave the way to privatization

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Whenever the government spends a substantial amount of money on a service, private corporations work to privatize the service and thus get the money for themselves. Of course, the government runs the service without having to show a profit, and profits are what private corporations want. So when a government service is privatized, costs go up and service quality goes down, thus securing the profit the corporation wants.

If the USPS goes private, for example, Rural Free Delivery will very likely cease to be free. Small post offices will be closed. Deliveries will become less frequent and delivery times longer. All that so that the corporation owning the service can grow its profits.

Rachel M. Cohen reports in the Intercept:

JULY HAS BEEN a flurry of confusion and stress for postal workers, as a barrage of new measures are threatening to fundamentally overhaul and undermine the culture and operations of the U.S. Postal Service.

Earlier this month, the Washington Post reported on a memo from the new USPS Postmaster General Louis DeJoy urging postal staff to leave behind mail at distribution centers if they thought it would cause a delay for letter carriers. Another memo stated that the USPS would be looking to cut transportation and overtime costs, bringing about “immediate, lasting, and impactful changes” to the federal agency.

The following week, postal workers learned of yet another new pilot program called Expedited to Street/Afternoon Sortation, or ESAS, that would be rolling out in 384 delivery units nationwide beginning on July 25. The crux of this program, as outlined in an unsigned memo dated July 16, is to send letter carriers out to deliver mail more quickly in the morning by prohibiting them from sorting any mail in their offices before they go.

These changes could delay mail from getting to its final destination by at least one day, if not longer. While the USPS memo billed ESAS as an effort to “improve consistency in delivery time” to customers, reduce overtime, and increase efficiency, postal workers were alarmed and shocked by these new dictates, which appeared to directly undermine a core value of their work.

“These are changes aimed at changing the entire culture of USPS,” said Mark Dimondstein, the national president of the American Postal Workers Union. “The culture I grew up with, and of generations before me, is that you never leave mail behind. You serve the customer, you get mail to the customer. Prompt, reliable, and efficient.”

Dimondstein said the union is putting in place an ESAS monitoring and reporting plan to evaluate the impacts of these new changes to service. “We are definitely getting our members educated and we will fight this post office by post office, community by community,” he said. The union is also coordinating with members of Congress to discuss strategies, and Dimondstein said he’s hoping for oversight hearings in early fall.

“I think the best way to put it is we’re concerned,” said Arthur Sackler, manager for the Coalition for a 21st Century Postal Service, a postal industry advocacy group. “Maybe this will just delay mail delivery once, but we’re worried if there’s no real time to sort, and no overtime, then there could be a cumulative growing impact.”

Sackler said his group has still gotten no information or clarity about these new rules and their potential consequences from the federal agency. “We haven’t been told anything, we haven’t been consulted, and over the last three decades the Postal Service has had a good track record of talking to unions and industry groups if there are going to be changes.”

In a statement, USPS spokesperson David Partenheimer told The Intercept that the Postal Service “is developing a business plan to ensure that we will be financially stable and able to continue to provide dependable, affordable, safe and secure delivery of mail and packages to all Americans as a vital part of the nation’s critical infrastructure. The plan, which will be presented to the Board of Governors when it is finalized, will include new and creative ways to help us fulfill our mission, and will focus on the Postal Service’s strengths to maximize our prospects for long-term success.” In addition to developing the broader business plan, Partenheimer said, “the Postal Service is taking immediate steps to increase operational efficiency by re-emphasizing existing plans that have been designed to provide prompt and reliable service within current service standards.”

Postal workers have been on high alert since May, when it was announced that the USPS Board of Governors had selected DeJoy to serve as the new postmaster general and CEO. DeJoy has been a top Republican Party fundraiser, including for the Republican National Convention and the president’s reelection effort, which prompted questions about how exactly he secured his new gig.

DeJoy previously worked as chair and CEO of New Breed Logistics, a massive warehousing and distribution company, and is the first postmaster general in over two decades to have never worked at USPS. He replaced outgoing postmaster general, Megan Brennan, who was appointed in 2015 and had been a career-long USPS employee, beginning as a letter carrier in Pennsylvania.

A bevy of worker violations and complaints have racked up at DeJoy’s old stomping ground. When he was CEO, the National Labor Relations Board ruled that New Breed’s hiring practices were “motivated by anti-union animus” when it avoided hiring any Longshore union members after it secured an Army contract in California. Between 2001 and 2015, New Breed and its affiliates paid more than $1.7 million for violations of labor law, wage and hour regulations, employee discrimination, and aviation regulations. In 2014, the New York Times reported on four women who worked in a Memphis warehouse for New Breed who suffered miscarriages after their supervisors refused their requests for light duties while pregnant. That same year New Breed merged with XPO Logistics, and since 2015, XPO and its affiliates have paid more than $30 million for a range of workplace violations. Last year, hundreds of drivers, warehouse workers, and intermodal drivers at XPO facilities worldwide protested against abuse and wage theft. Then when the Covid-19 pandemic hit, XPO offered to “lend” workers up to 100 hours of time off, but said they would have to repay that time.

DeJoy vowed to bring about change to USPS, criticizing the organization for having “an expensive and inflexible business model” that he said he looked forward to tackling head-on. “I did not accept this position in spite of these challenges, I accepted this position because of them,” he told USPS employees in a June 15 video address.

Postal service workers feel particularly unnerved by the new ESAS program and DeJoy’s appointment given the Trump administration’s announcement in 2018 that the president would like to restructure and privatize USPS. The White House suggested that USPS could save money by raising rates, ending door-to-door delivery, and cutting down days of mail service. This past April, Donald Trump called the Postal Service “a joke” and tried to force the agency to quadruple its package rates in exchange for Covid-19 relief.

Delaying mail delivery in the name of cutting costs and efficiency, Dimondstein argued, means that people will lose confidence in one of the most trusted federal agencies in the country, which, unlike its private competitors, delivers everywhere, including to unprofitable and rural areas. “Undermining and degrading the Postal Service helps frustrate the customer, which sets the stage to privatizing it,” he said. “The Trump administration is on record for raising prices, reducing service, and reducing workers’ rights and benefits. This [pilot] may be Trump’s first foray to try and actually accomplish some of those things.”

Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., D-N.J., pointed to the implications denying   . . .

Continue reading. There’s more, it’s important, and it will affect you directly.

Written by Leisureguy

1 August 2020 at 11:20 am

The Omega Pro 48 again, with a comment on why it’s so good

with 6 comments

I enjoyed the Pro 48 so much earlier this week that I decided to bring it out again. (The Omega model number is 10048, thus “Pro 48.”) I loaded it easily with Strop Shoppe’s excellent Vivace shaving soap (now a vintage soap, Strop Shoppe having closed its doors). The routine is easy: wet knot thoroughly under the hot-water tap, let brush stand sopping wet while I shower. Then at the lavatory sink I wash my stubble with a high-glycerin soap — currently a bar of Pears Transparent Soap I bought as an experiment. (It works fine, but I prefer MR GLO.)

I rewet the brush to heat it up, then give it a couple of good shakes over the sink to remove excess water and brush the soap vigorously and at some length: The brush has a big knot, so it requires a fair amount of soap for a thorough loading. Brushing the soap rapidly with firm pressure for 15 seconds or so does the job.

Then I bring the loaded brush to my face, and the feel is excellent. The lather is quite good already (thanks in no small part to the soap), but I work it up a bit more, mostly by brushing briskly on and around my chin, then spread it over my stubble and brush it in.

The secret, I think, is the the Pro 48 has very resilient bristles, but because it also has a high loft, it is not at all scrubby. And because of its resilience, it’s also not floppy. It’s a unique sensation that I don’t encounter in many other brushes because it depends on those two things: high resilience and high loft. The Omega 20102 is close, but the loft of the Pro 48 is just a bit more.

It does help, of course, that the brush is well broken in, but since I have so many brushes, it hasn’t had all that much use — were I to use it daily, the amount I’ve used it is probably at most 3-4 months. Maybe even less.

It’s a brush that deserves consideration. As I’ve noted in the Guide and in previous posts, for any boar brush, during the first week don’t try to use it for shaving. Instead, just load the brush (after soaking), make lather in your cupped palm, and then rinse the brush — first, with hot water until the water runs clear and the brush is free of soap, then with cold water. Then give the brush a couple of shakes over the sink and stand it on the base to air dry. Doing this every day for a week will remove the lather-killing compounds that new boar knots seem to have.

With the wonderful lather, the shave was a pleasure. The Merkur Progress is an excellent adjustable, and three passes left my face totally smooth. Then a good splash of Alt-Innsbruck, and the weekend begins.

Update: The comments on another SOTD post suggest why it took me so long to grasp the excellence of the Pro 48.

Written by Leisureguy

1 August 2020 at 9:07 am

Posted in Shaving

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