Later On

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Archive for January 17th, 2021

A Good Tactic: Set Up Credit Card Alerts

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They help track your spending and can catch fraudulent charges

Starting well before the pandemic, I discontinued using cash for in-person transactions, instead using my credit card. Partly this was because I use a “dividend” card, which at the end of the year refunds a (small) portion of what I spent. 

As I describe in my article on personal budgeting and money management, I do not allow credit card charges to accumulate. The reason: an unpaid credit card balance means that the amount shown as available in my checking account is a mirage. That much is not available, because some of it is already committed to pay the credit card balance. I learned through bitter experience that small charges can quickly total a lot, so I pay charges when they occur.

In effect, I use my credit card like a debit card. When I charge something, then on that same day I pay for the charge from my checking account by using online banking. Thus my credit balance stays at zero (and my checking balance shrinks as I pay the charges — and I always know exactly how much money I actually have available). I don’t use a debit card because (a) my debit card doesn’t refund any portion of what I purchase and (b) credit cards have buyer protection built into the agreement and limit the loss I might suffer.

When I’m out shopping, I always save receipts for purchases. When I get home, I use those to remind me to pay the charges I just made. That generally worked, but occasionally I would forget to get a receipt.

The winning tactic

To make sure I do not miss any charges, I started using an option my bank offers. When I sign in to the bank’s website, the main menu includes “Manage My Alerts,” and when I click that, I see the choice “transaction alerts,” listing a variety of alerts I can set on transactions. I checked the box to get an email whenever a credit card charge is made in excess of a limit (which the customer specifies). I specified a limit of $1, so I get an email whenever a charge is made that’s in excess of $1. In practice, that means I get an email for every charge.

When I make a purchase online, I’m at the computer, so I don’t actually need a reminder — I pay the credit card charge at once from my checking account. Emails also notify me of regular scheduled payments on my credit card (Netflix, for example), a useful reminder. But mostly the alerts serve as reminders when I return home from shopping, so I don’t forget to “reimburse” my credit card account for all charges I made while I was out.

Catching fraud when it happens

Today I realized another benefit from the alerts. I received emails for five transactions from two distant merchants that I didn’t know and from whom I had bought nothing. One merchant had made two transactions: a charge and a refund in the same amount, neither of which I had instigated. The other merchant (in a different country) had two charges (for identical amounts) and a refund for only one.

It should be noted that for some merchants and organizations the name shown on the credit card charge is not the merchant or organization’s name. In this case, you will see a warning at the time of purchase: “Charges will show on your credit cards as…” And, of course, you generally know what you charged, so you probably will recall the charge by the amount paid. However, the five transactions I was notified about were from companies and locations totally unfamiliar for me and the amounts did not reflect any purchases I had made.

I immediately called the bank, which deactivated the card on the spot and dismissed the fraudulent charge. They said a new card would be issued and would arrive in a week to ten days, and would that be all right? 

I said that it would not, because — as I described above — I use the card for every purchase I make, and I would certainly need groceries sooner than that. They then said the card would arrive within two days.

Use the alerts

I highly recommend using such alerts. Look for what alerts your bank offers. They probably will offer a transaction alert to notify you whenever your credit card is used for a charge above some limit. Set the limit to $1 to be notified of every charge. This will help you track your spending and — more important — alert you immediately to fraudulent charges.

Written by Leisureguy

17 January 2021 at 3:07 pm

How the Right Foods Increase the Likelihood of a Healthier Gut and Better Health

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Anahad O’Connor reports in the NY Times:

Scientists know that the trillions of bacteria and other microbes that live in our guts play an important role in health, influencing our risk of developing obesity, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and a wide range of other conditions. But now a large new international study has found that the composition of these microorganisms, collectively known as our microbiomes, is largely shaped by what we eat.

By analyzing the diets, health and microbiomes of more than a thousand people, researchers found that a diet rich in nutrient-dense, whole foods supported the growth of beneficial microbes that promoted good health. But eating a diet full of highly processed foods with added sugars, salt and other additives had the opposite effect, promoting gut microbes that were linked to worse cardiovascular and metabolic health.

The researchers found that what people ate had a more powerful impact on the makeup of their microbiomes than their genes. They also discovered that a variety of plant and animal foods were linked to a more favorable microbiome.

One critical factor was whether people ate foods that were highly processed or not. People who tended to eat minimally processed foods like vegetables, nuts, eggs and seafood were more likely to harbor beneficial gut bacteria. Consuming large amounts of juices, sweetened beverages, white bread, refined grains, and processed meats, on the other hand, was associated with microbes linked to poor metabolic health.

“It goes back to the age-old message of eating as many whole and unprocessed foods as possible,” said Dr. Sarah E. Berry, a nutrition scientist at King’s College London and a co-author of the new study, which was published Monday in Nature Medicine. “What this research shows for the first time is the link between the quality of the food we’re eating, the quality of our microbiomes and ultimately our health outcomes.”

The findings could one day help doctors and nutritionists prevent or perhaps even treat some diet-related diseases, allowing them to prescribe personalized diets to people based on the unique makeup of their microbiomes and other factors.

Many studies suggest that there is no one-size-fits-all diet that works for everyone. The new study, for example, found that while some foods were generally better for health than others, different people could have wildly different metabolic responses to the same foods, mediated in part by the kinds of microbes residing in their guts.

“What we found in our study was that the same diet in two different individuals does not lead to the same microbiome, and it does not lead to the same metabolic response,” said Dr. Andrew T. Chan, a co-author of the study and a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital. “There is a lot of variation.”

The new findings stem from an international study of personalized nutrition called Predict, which is the world’s largest research project designed to look at individual responses to food. Started in 2018 by the British epidemiologist Tim Spector, the study has followed over 1,100 mostly healthy adults in the United States and Britain, including hundreds of identical and nonidentical twins.

The researchers collected data on a wide range of factors that influence metabolism and disease risk. They analyzed the participants’ diets, microbiomes and body fat. They took blood samples before and after meals to look at their blood sugar, hormones, cholesterol and inflammation levels. They monitored their sleep and physical activity. And for two weeks they had them wear continuous glucose monitors that tracked their blood sugar responses to different meals.

The researchers were surprised to discover that genetics played only a minor role in shaping a person’s microbiome. Identical twins were found to share just 34 percent of the same gut microbes, while people who were unrelated shared about 30 percent of the same microbes. The composition of each person’s microbiome appeared instead to be driven more by what they ate, and the types of microbes in their guts played a strong role in their metabolic health.

The researchers identified clusters of so-called good gut bugs, which were more common in people who ate a diverse diet rich in high-fiber plants — like spinach, broccoli, tomatoes, nuts and seeds — as well as minimally processed animal foods such as fish and full-fat yogurt. They also found clusters of “bad” gut bugs that were common in people who regularly consumed foods that were highly processed. One common denominator among heavily processed foods is that they tend to contain very little fiber, a macronutrient that helps to nourish good microbes in the gut, the researchers said.

Among the “good” strains of gut microbes were Prevotella copri and Blastocystis, both of which were associated with lower levels of visceral fat, the kind that accumulates around internal organs and that increases the risk of heart disease. These microbes also appeared to improve blood sugar control, an indicator of diabetes risk. Other beneficial microbes were associated with reduced inflammation and lower spikes in blood fat and cholesterol levels after meals, all of which play a role in cardiovascular health. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

17 January 2021 at 11:32 am

Letter from 68 Colorado elected officials requests investigation into Rep. Lauren Boebert’s actions

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KUSA reports from Colorado:

 In a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other House leaders, dozens of Colorado elected officials in Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District expressed their “condemnation of Representative Lauren Boebert based on her association with the right wing groups that supported the insurrection of the Capitol Building,” and asked for an investigation into the Rifle Republican’s actions.

The letter, first obtained by Steamboat Pilot and Today, says “there is deep concern about her actions leading up to and during the protests that turned into a violent and deadly mob.”

Trump supporters on Jan. 6 stormed the U.S. Capitol while lawmakers were trying to confirm the Electoral College certifications, making Democrat Joe Biden the presidential election winner.

The mob took over the presiding officer’s chair in the Senate, the offices of the House speaker and the Senate dais. . .

Continue reading.

The text of the letter:

January 12, 2021

Speaker of the House, Representative Nancy Pelosi
House Majority Leader, Representative Steny Hoyer
House Minority Leader, Representative Kevin McCarthy

Dear Speaker Pelosi, Rep. Hoyer, Rep. McCarthy,

As individuals who hold elected offices within the 3rd Congressional District of Colorado we are
writing to express our condemnation of Representative Lauren Boebert based on her association
with the right wing groups that supported the insurrection of the Capitol Building on Wednesday,
January 6, 2021. We have heard overwhelmingly from our constituents, therefore her
constituents, that there is deep concern about her actions leading up to and during the protests
that turned into a violent and deadly mob.

Representative Boebert’s actions, including her statements on the floor immediately preceding
the insurrection and her social media posts leading up to the riots were irresponsible and
reprehensible. The nation saw a direct attack on American democracy and the long-standing
symbol of that democracy. Representative Boebert’s speech and tweets encouraged the mob
mentality of her social media followers and the people who directly participated in the
destructive violence that disrupted a lawful democratic process from taking place as scheduled.
Three days prior, she took the oath to uphold the U.S. Constitution.

Her recent behavior is in direct conflict with her responsibility as an elected official and we ask
the leadership of the House of Representatives to thoroughly investigate her actions. We believe
there is more than enough information to warrant an investigation and we ask that you follow
through with any appropriate disciplinary actions.

Our bigger concern is that hate groups are proliferating in America and they are heavily armed.
We request that you create a Congressional panel to thoroughly investigate these groups. They
pose a real threat to American democracy, to our communities and to our residents. We are all
deeply disturbed by the events that unfolded on Wednesday and we urge the appropriate legal
and congressional responses against the individuals and groups involved to prevent similar
actions in the future.

As elected officials we are dedicated to serving all those in our region regardless of their
affiliation. We take this responsibility seriously and expect Representative Boebert to do so as
well. We made multiple efforts to reach out directly to Representative Boebert without a
response.

Thank you for your leadership in these trying times.

Matt Scherr, Eagle County
Kathy Chandler-Henry, Eagle County
Jeanne McQueeney, Eagle County
Jonathan Goades, Mayor, City of Glenwood Springs
Shelley Kaup, Mayor pro tem, City of Glenwood Springs
Ingrid Wassow, City of Glenwood Springs
Paula Stepp, City of Glenwood Springs
Jonathan Houck, Gunnison County
Roland Mason. Gunnison County
Elizabeth Smith, Gunnison County
Sara Gutterman, Hinsdale County
Greg Levine, Commissioner – Elect Hinsdale County
Kayla Marcella, Lake County
Sarah Mudge, Lake County
Jeff Fielder, Lake County Commissioner-elect
Gwen Lachelt, La Plata County . . .

And the list continues to include 68 names in all.

Written by Leisureguy

17 January 2021 at 10:30 am

Rep. Watson Coleman: “I’m 75. I had cancer. I got covid-19 because my GOP colleagues dismiss facts.”

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Bonnie Watson Coleman, a Democrat representing New Jersey’s 12th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives, writes in the Washington Post:

Over the past day, a lot of people have asked me how I feel. They are usually referring to my covid-19 diagnosis and my symptoms. I feel like I have a mild cold. But even more than that, I am angry.

I am angry that after I spent months carefully isolating myself, a single chaotic day likely got me sick. I am angry that several of our nation’s leaders were unwilling to deal with the small annoyance of a mask for a few hours. I am angry that the attack on the Capitol and my subsequent illness have the same cause: my Republican colleagues’ inability to accept facts.

When I left for Washington last week, it was my first trip there in several months. I had a list of things to accomplish, including getting my picture taken for the card I use when voting on the House floor. For the past two years, I appeared on that card completely bald as a result of the chemotherapy I underwent to eliminate the cancer in my right lung. It was because of that preexisting condition that I relied so heavily on the proxy voting the House agreed to last year, when we first began to understand the danger of covid-19.

I was nervous about spending a week among so many people who regularly flout social distancing and mask guidelines, but I could not have imagined the horror of what happened on Jan. 6.

To isolate as much as possible, I planned to spend much of my day in my apartment, shuttling to the House floor to vote. But the building shares an alley with the Republican National Committee, where, we’d later learn, law enforcement found a pipe bomb. I was evacuated from that location early in the afternoon.

The next best option would have been my office in the Cannon House Office Building, where just three of my staffers worked at their desks to ensure safe distancing. Before I arrived, security evacuated that building as well, forcing us to linger in the hallways and cafeteria spaces of the House complex. As I’m sure you can imagine, pushing the occupants of an entire building into a few public spaces doesn’t make for great social distancing. Twice, I admonished groups of congressional staff to put on their masks. Some of these staffers gave me looks of derision, but slowly complied.

My staff and I then decided that the Capitol building would likely be the safest place to go, since it would be the most secure and least likely to be crowded. I’ve spent a lot of time since in utter disbelief at how wrong those assumptions turned out to be.

Everyone knows what happened next: A mob broke through windows and doors and beat a U.S. Capitol Police officer, then went on a rampage. Members and staff took cover wherever we could, ducking into offices throughout the building, then were told to move to a safer holding location.

I use “safer” because, while we might have been protected from the insurrectionists, we were not safe from the callousness of members of Congress who, having encouraged the sentiments that inspired the riot, now ignored requests to wear masks.

I’ve been asked if I will share the names of those members. You’ve probably seen video of some of them laughing at my colleague and friend Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-Del.) as she tries to distribute masks. But it’s not their names that matter.

What matters are facts, both about the covid-19 pandemic and the conduct of the 2020 election:

You can, in fact, breathe through a mask. Doctors have been doing it for decades. It is occasionally annoying — my glasses tend to fog, and when I wear makeup and a mask, I end up with smudged lipstick. That is a small price to pay for the safety of those around me.

You can, in fact, count on a mask to reduce the chances of spreading the virus. Studies of how many droplets escape into the air and the rates of infection following the implementation of mask mandates both prove effectiveness.

Refusing to wear a mask is not, in fact, an act of self-expression. It’s an act of public endangerment. The chaos you create  . ..

Continue reading.

Alex London (@ca_london) noted on Twitter:

Members of Congress who feel they have to carry a gun to protect their colleagues but won’t wear a mask to protect their colleagues, don’t want to protect their colleagues. They’re just hoping they get to kill someone.

Written by Leisureguy

17 January 2021 at 10:16 am

Pure corruption: Prospect of Pardons in Final Days Fuels Market to Buy Access to Trump

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Michael S. Schmidt and Kenneth P. Vogel report some nasty business in the NY Times:

As President Trump prepares to leave office in days, a lucrative market for pardons is coming to a head, with some of his allies collecting fees from wealthy felons or their associates to push the White House for clemency, according to documents and interviews with more than three dozen lobbyists and lawyers.

The brisk market for pardons reflects the access peddling that has defined Mr. Trump’s presidency as well as his unorthodox approach to exercising unchecked presidential clemency powers. Pardons and commutations are intended to show mercy to deserving recipients, but Mr. Trump has used many of them to reward personal or political allies.

The pardon lobbying heated up as it became clear that Mr. Trump had no recourse for challenging his election defeat, lobbyists and lawyers say. One lobbyist, Brett Tolman, a former federal prosecutor who has been advising the White House on pardons and commutations, has monetized his clemency work, collecting tens of thousands of dollars, and possibly more, in recent weeks to lobby the White House for clemency for the son of a former Arkansas senator; the founder of the notorious online drug marketplace Silk Road; and a Manhattan socialite who pleaded guilty in a fraud scheme.

Mr. Trump’s former personal lawyer John M. Dowd has marketed himself to convicted felons as someone who could secure pardons because of his close relationship with the president, accepting tens of thousands of dollars from a wealthy felon and advising him and other potential clients to leverage Mr. Trump’s grievances about the justice system.

A onetime top adviser to the Trump campaign was paid $50,000 to help seek a pardon for John Kiriakou, a former C.I.A. officer convicted of illegally disclosing classified information, and agreed to a $50,000 bonus if the president granted it, according to a copy of an agreement.

And Mr. Kiriakou was separately told that Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani could help him secure a pardon for $2 million. Mr. Kiriakou rejected the offer, but an associate, fearing that Mr. Giuliani was illegally selling pardons, alerted the F.B.I. Mr. Giuliani challenged this characterization.

After Mr. Trump’s impeachment for inciting his supporters before the deadly riot at the Capitol, and with Republican leaders turning on him, the pardon power remains one of the last and most likely outlets for quick unilateral action by an increasingly isolated, erratic president. He has suggested to aides he wants to take the extraordinary and unprecedented step of pardoning himself, though it was not clear whether he had broached the topic since the rampage.

He has also discussed issuing pre-emptive pardons to his children, his son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, and Mr. Giuliani.

A White House spokesman declined to comment.

Legal scholars and some pardon lawyers shudder at the prospect of such moves, as well as the specter of Mr. Trump’s friends and allies offering to pursue pardons for others in exchange for cash.

“This kind of off-books influence peddling, special-privilege system denies consideration to the hundreds of ordinary people who have obediently lined up as required by Justice Department rules, and is a basic violation of the longstanding effort to make this process at least look fair,” said Margaret Love, who ran the Justice Department’s clemency process from 1990 until 1997 as the United States pardon attorney. . . .

Continue reading. I suppose technically it’s not corruption, since those getting the payments do not hold office, but it certainly strikes me as corruption’s cousin. Trump and his circle continue to degrade the US.

The article continues with a list of convicted criminals who want pardons and the connections they’re using and the money they are paying.

Written by Leisureguy

17 January 2021 at 8:02 am

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