Later On

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

Archive for September 2nd, 2020

New Engineering Report Finds Privately Built Border Wall Will Fail

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Private builders didn’t mess around with all those studies and red tape. And so…

Jeremy Schwartz and Perla Trevizo report in ProPublica:

It’s not a matter of if a privately built border fence along the shores of the Rio Grande will fail, it’s a matter of when, according to a new engineering report on the troubled project.

The report is one of two new studies set to be filed in federal court this week that found numerous deficiencies in the 3-mile border fence, built this year by North Dakota-based Fisher Sand and Gravel. The reports confirm earlier reporting from ProPublica and The Texas Tribune, which found that segments of the structure were in danger of overturning due to extensive erosion if not fixed and properly maintained. Fisher dismissed the concerns as normal post-construction issues.

Donations that paid for part of the border fence are at the heart of an indictment against members of the We Build the Wall nonprofit, which raised more than $25 million to help President Donald Trump build a border wall.

Former Trump chief strategist Steve Bannon, We Build the Wall founder Brian Kolfage and two others connected to the organization are accused of siphoning donor money to pay off personal debt and fund lavish lifestyles. All four, who face up to 20 years in prison on each of the two counts they face, have pleaded not guilty, and Bannon has called the charges a plot to stop border wall construction.

We Build the Wall, whose executive board is made up of influential immigration hard-liners like Bannon, Kris Kobach and Tom Tancredo, contributed $1.5 million of the cost of the $42 million private border fence project south of Mission, Texas.

Last year, the nonprofit also hired Fisher to build a half-mile fence segment in Sunland Park, New Mexico, outside El Paso.

Company president Tommy Fisher, a frequent guest on Fox News, had called the Rio Grande fence the “Lamborghini” of border walls and bragged that his company’s methods could help Trump reach his Election Day goal of about 500 new miles of barriers along the southern border.

Instead, one engineer who reviewed the two reports on behalf of ProPublica and The Texas Tribune likened Fisher’s fence to a used Toyota Yaris.

“It seems like they are cutting corners everywhere,” said Alex Mayer, a professor of civil engineering at the University of Texas at El Paso. “It’s not a Lamborghini, it’s a $500 used car.”

Since Fisher’s companies embarked on construction of the Rio Grande fence, the Trump administration has awarded about $2 billion in federal contracts to the firms to build segments of the border wall in other locations.

Fisher agreed to the inspection as part of ongoing lawsuits against Fisher Sand and Gravel filed last year by the National Butterfly Center and the International Boundary and Water Commission. They unsuccessfully sought to convince a federal judge to stop the construction of the project until the potential impacts of the wall on the Rio Grande could be determined.

Mark Tompkins, an environmental engineer hired by the wildlife refuge, noted in his report that widespread erosion and scouring occurred after heavy rain events such as Hurricane Hanna in July, but that the fence has yet to experience a flood of the Rio Grande.

“Fisher Industries’ private bollard fence will fail during extreme high flow events,” concluded Tompkins, who specializes in river management. . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

2 September 2020 at 8:28 pm

The Little Cards That Tell Police ‘Let’s Forget This Ever Happened’

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Katie Way in Vice provides another example of how American policing has become corrupt. She writes:

Mike, a white man in his 50s, was in a bad spot: He was stuck idling in traffic on New York City’s Riverside Drive, running late for a meeting, and he needed to get to the Upper East Side pronto. Hopping on the shoulder to bypass the other cars wasn’t the right thing to do, he told VICE, but he’d seen other people get away with it before.

Mike, whose name has been changed to protect his privacy, said he knew it was risky—especially because the borrowed car he was driving didn’t have a license plate, let alone a registration under his name. He decided to roll the dice anyway. Right away, bad news: a traffic checkpoint, and cops pulling people over.

“That was probably the tightest spot I could’ve been in,” Mike said. “Because [the offense] could’ve been ‘driving without a plate,’ ‘driving with no registration…’” By driving on the shoulder, too, Mike was driving illegally in at least three different ways.

Despite that, he felt confident as the cop approached his car and told him to roll down his window. Instead of pulling out his driver’s license, Mike simply introduced himself and produced something better. “I just basically happened to have one of their PBA cards on me,” he said, referring to the small, plastic “courtesy” cards issued by the Police Benevolent Association, which usually have an officer’s name, phone number, and signature on the back.

The cards are designed to be presented in a low-stakes police encounter, like a traffic stop, as a laminated wink-and-nudge between officers that says, “Hey, would you mind going a little easy on this one?” When a cop is handed a PBA card, they can call the number on it to verify the relationship between the cardholder and the issuer, then decide whether it means they should give the cardholder a break.

According to Mike, the officer looked at the card, then let him go without asking for ID or the car’s registration. “By knowing somebody and having that connection, it worked,” Mike said.

The somebody Mike knew was a U.S. Route 1 patrolman, a colleague of the cops who’d pulled him over. Though he didn’t have a license plate or registration, he did have proof of that “connection,” and it was all he needed to be on his way without any trouble. As he did on that day in 1993, Mike has continued to carry, use, and benefit from PBA cards for almost three decades.

Though Mike’s story may seem like it comes from a less-scrutinized, outdated era of law enforcement, PBA cards are still used and accepted in the present, without much oversight. They serve as a physical example of how cops are able to exercise the law largely as they feel, personally, is right.

With a few exceptions, PBA cards aren’t a normal part of life for most people in the U.S. Though they do confer some privilege and exclusivity, the cards aren’t exactly a secret. The Police Benevolent Association, New York City’s largest police union, issues these courtesy cards—nicknamed “get out of jail free cards”—to its members on a yearly basis. Members can pass the cards out to whomever they choose to provide them with a little extra protection.

Mike works in an industry that regularly puts him into contact with police officers, which gives him the opportunity to form personal, trusting relationships with them. As such, he said, he frequently receives PBA cards as a thank-you for extending cops small business favors and deals; currently, he estimates that he has somewhere between 10 and 12 unexpired courtesy cards in his possession. They’re ideal for slipping into a wallet alongside other forms of identification. (Driver’s license? Check. Work ID? Check. “I’m friends with a cop” card? Check.)

Other New York City police unions, like the Detectives’ Endowment Association and the Sergeants Benevolent Association, do the same with their own courtesy cards; elsewhere, police unions in PhiladelphiaLos Angeles, and Boston have a history of issuing courtesy cards of their own. (The Detectives’ Endowment Association and Sergeants Benevolent Association did not respond to requests for comment. The NYC PBA declined to comment for this story.)

According to John Driscoll, an assistant professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, PBA cards  . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

2 September 2020 at 1:00 pm

Interesting talk by Michael Greger at U Penn

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Written by Leisureguy

2 September 2020 at 12:43 pm

DHS withheld bulletin warning of Russian planned attack on Biden’s mental health

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The Trump administration has corrupted and ruined agencies on which the US has depended. Marty Johnson reports in The Hill:

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in July withheld an analysis meant for its federal, state and local law enforcement partners that warned Russia would attempt to push “allegations about the poor mental health” of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.

ABC reported that the analysis also touches on efforts by Iran and China to ream President Trump but that the report mostly focuses on Russia’s attacks on Biden’s mental acuity.

Titled “Russia Likely to Denigrate Health of US Candidates to Influence 2020 Election,” the bulletin was submitted for review to DHS’s legislative and public affairs office on July 7, with the intention of it being released to the appropriate parties on July 9.

However, shortly after it was submitted, a senior DHS officer intervened, emails obtained by ABC News show.

“Please hold on sending this one out until you have a chance to speak to [acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf],” agency chief of staff John Gountanis wrote.

Despite this happening in July, the memo has still never circulated, according to the network.

A DHS spokesperson told ABC that although the agency “generally does not comment on leaked documents, this particular draft product lacked the necessary context and evidence for broader dissemination outside of the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis.”

“After briefing the Acting Secretary and he asked questions,” the spokesperson told the network, “[Office of Intelligence and Analysis] career leadership decided to delay the product for further review.”

In the report, the agency reportedly says that it has “high confidence” that “Russian malign influence actors are likely to continue denigrating presidential candidates through allegations of poor mental or physical health to influence the outcome of the 2020 election.”

“High confidence means what it sounds like — that they are highly confident that their assessment is accurate and they don’t use that language very often,” Elizabeth Neumann, a former assistant DHS secretary during the Trump administration, told ABC News.

John Cohen, former under secretary for intelligence at DHS under President Obama, added: “We are hearing concerns being raised publicly that, in this administration, intelligence community reporting is being modified or blocked for political reasons — or to not anger the president. By blocking information from being released that describes threats facing the nation, it undermines the ability of the public and state and local authorities to work with the federal government to counteract the threat.”

Trump campaign spokesperson Tim Murtaugh . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

2 September 2020 at 9:05 am

Additional fragrance thoughts

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After yesterday’s musings on the blandness of fragrances from mass-market lather sources (canned foams and gels), I decided to go with one of the strongest fragrances in my collection of shaving soaps: Meißner Tremonia’s Black Beer No. 1. Like all lather fragrances, its purpose is to enhance the experience of the shave, and the fragrance is rinsed away with the lather — a transitory thing that leaves when it’s job is done, like the fragrances of a fine dinner: great accompaniment to meal, but not wanted the next morning.

The lather was excellent, and I noticed this morning the softness of the tips of that Plisson HMW 12 brush. The Game Change encouraged a brisk shave — not a hasty shave — with its great comfort and efficiency. This is the first Game Changer, now sold as the .68-P. Very smooth result, perhaps helped by the speed of the strokes, though clearly the razor’s design contributes to efficiency as well as comfort.

I finished with a splash of Stetson Classic (which has shyly turned its face to the wall), and I got to thinking how the range of mass market aftershave fragrances is much greater than the range of fragrances from canned foams and gels.

I believe that the underlying issue is cost of setting up production. The cost of setting up production of a soap or an aftershave is pretty low — which is why you can have small artisanal vendors as well as mass-market vendors, and why mass-market vendors are willing/able to offer a wide variety of aftershave fragrances.

In contrast, the cost of setting up production of pressurized cans of foam or gel are fairly high (though once set-up is paid for, unit costs are reasonably low, due in part to the production volume). This greater cost pushes vendors to be conservative in the fragrances they offer — as I noted yesterday, the goal of a high-volume fragrance is to lose as few potential customers as possible, and a strong fragrance will elicit strong reactions. Strongly favorable is good but the marketing director worries more about strongly unfavorable — thus the descent into inoffensiveness.

That start-up pressure is absent for aftershaves, so a greater variety come to market, including some with quite distinctive character. In this arena, large volume is less important, because the start-up costs for production are lower.

This analysis is purely theoretical, so it might be incorrect. I have not dug up actual costs, but it seems clear that mass production of pressurized cans of foams and gels requires a substantially greater investment than production of shaving soaps or aftershaves on a small or large scale.

Written by Leisureguy

2 September 2020 at 9:00 am

Posted in Business, Shaving

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