.: 2004 --> may
The rising deficit, which some economists worry could push up interest rates in the economy, may actually be a reason for more pork, at least in the short term. The bill with $170 billion in corporate tax breaks, for instance, is seen by Republican lawmakers as the "last train out of the station," a chance to give long-sought tax breaks to businesses - and create jobs - while it's still politically possible.
Fall elections may be another factor.
"The Republican leadership doesn't seem to be trying to control it," says Chris Edwards, director of fiscal policy at the Cato Institute. "Because the Republicans have such a narrow hold on the House and Senate, the leadership may feel it needs the earmarks to get their votes."
It's not just the Bush administration recklessly spending your money. Be sure to look at the chart at the end of the article.
[ 05/04/04 ]
The study, outlined this week on the Web site of the British Medical Journal, found that a one-year "ditch the fizz" campaign discouraging both sweetened and diet soft drinks led to a decrease in the percentage of elementary school children who were overweight or obese.
The improvement occurred after a modest reduction in consumption - less than a can a day.
I assume that modest reduction is over the entire population--in reality, probably a smaller number of high soda consumers stopped drinking several a day.
Representatives of the soft drink industry contested the implications of the results.
Previous studies of anti-obesity school programs - some costing millions of dollars - have been disappointing. Such programs, which included reducing dietary fat or trying to get kids to exercise more, largely failed to show any meaningful impact.
It does sound like they misled the children a bit. Water improves concentration? If only.
[ 05/04/04 ]
CACI's Job Database
Interrogator/Intel Analyst Team Lead Asst.
Assists the interrogation support program team lead to increase the effectiveness of dealing with Detainees, Persons of Interest, and Prisoners of War (POWs) that are in the custody of US/Coalition Forces in the CJTF 7 AOR, in terms of screening, interrogation, and debriefing of persons of intelligence value. Under minimal supervision, will assist the team lead in managing a multifaceted interrogation support cell consisting of database entry/intelligence research clerks, screeners, tactical/ strategic interrogators, and intelligence analyst.
By the way, CACI has a terrific automated (I assume) news tracker. The sidebar on their newsroom page lists such current news stories as:
MSNBC 5/7 CACI mentioned in Pentagon was warned in 2002 of contractors
Washington Post 5/7 CACI mentioned in Prisoner-Abuse Report Adds to Titan's Troubles
Washington Post 5/6 CACI in the Dark on Reports of Abuse and CACI mentioned in Adding On Washington Times 5/5 CACI mentioned in U.S. addresses control of security companies
Washington Post 5/5 CACI mentioned in Media's Most Wanted Today Is Blogger From Iraqi Prison , and Prison Scandal Indicates Gap in U.S. Chain of Command
New York Times 5/5 CACI mentioned in Army Discloses Criminal Inquiry on Prison Abuse
CNN.com 5/4 CACI mentioned in Hometown appalled by prison photos.
Hoorah for CACI!
- Relieve from duty all officers and NCOs in the chain of command of the offending unit
- Dismiss from service all contracts by CACI
- Disband the 372nd Military Police Company (and/or any company whose members are found to be guilty of systematic abuse.)
[ 05/07/04 ]
[>] In the latest attempt to capitalize on the weblog craze, Justice & Young Public Relations has decided to pitch 'story ideas' directly to bloggers. (I have to wonder just how reliable these folks are: I received this link via email from the agency--to the wrong email address.)
[ 05/07/04 ]
[>] You may recall that I loved Laura Schenone's book A Thousand Years Over a Hot Stove, a history of American cooking. Now Laura is launching the Not To Be Forgotten Recipe Project, which will feature one historical recipe a month. Laura has promised me that she will use subscribers' email addresses only to send out her newsletter--no fear of increased spam by subscribing to this list. I have already signed up and am looking forward to receiving her first recipe on Mother's Day.
[ 05/07/04 ]
[>] A little weekend thinking: Visa is abandoning its status as the country's premiere credit card company and redefining itself as a 'payment company' as it seeks to move the country closer to being a cashless society. One strategy: to provide plastic for people without bank accounts. [slithy popup!]
"The creditworthy population has been identified and given as many plastics as they care to absorb," said Anita Boomstein, a lawyer who specializes in credit cards and financial services. She and her firm, New York's Hughes, Hubbard & Reed, do not have a financial relationship with Visa or MasterCard. "The natural tendency now (for) future growth is to look for new products."
One major source of new customers is among the unbanked -- people who do not have bank accounts for reasons such as poor credit, cultural distrust or low income. The unbanked often end up paying usurious fees at check-cashing establishments. There are almost 10 million unbanked U.S. households, according to Department of Treasury figures.
Visa is focusing on the unbanked with payroll cards and a push to handle government disbursements by debit cards.
The cards work like regular debit cards. Employers or government agencies electronically deposit money -- payroll earnings, child support or other funds -- into the holder's debit-card account, similar to direct deposit except with no need for the recipient to have a bank account or even a home address.
Some things to consider when mulling this trend:
- Visa gets a piece of every transaction
- Numerous studies have indicated that consumers spend more when using plastic than when paying with cash--apparently, the expenditure is more abstract when you don't visibly reduce your available fund of money.
- Can you ever get the cash off these cards? Or does the amount in your account actually equal 'money' only when you spend it on something?
In his book Beyond Fear, Bruce Scheier places systems on a continuum of brittleness and resilience. Brittle systems fail badly. Resilient systems are dynamic and fail only partially or degrade gracefully. I was once in a Safeway when the ATMs and credit card systems all failed. Only people with cash or checks could complete their transactions. The rest of us had to stand there and wait for the system to come back online. Our current system of cash, checks, and credit cards is several orders of magnitude more resilient than one that is utterly dependent on technology even to use.
Most important, I think, is the basic paradigm shift entailed in a Payment Card. A payment card is designed for 'paying' or 'spending'. A bank account is designed for 'keeping' or 'saving'. Even if you live from paycheck to paycheck, with a bank account, when you manage to accumulate a little bit of cash, it's simple (and a basic part of the paradigm) to move cash into savings.
[>] Do you think living beyond our means is a modern malady? Think again. MyVesta, a nonprofit consumer education organization, has put together a History of Credit and Debt. starting with Mesopotamia, moving through the Pilgrims and the development of wampum, Debtors Prison, Early Consumer America (starting in the 1920s) and more.
[ 05/07/04 ]
Q: So what's with the name change?
A: We are proud of the work we accomplished as Debt Counselors of America, however, we simply outgrew the name. Although we will always offer comprehensive education, support and information to people in debt, we now offer far more than credit counseling. Changing our name to Myvesta allows us to continue to grow and diversify the types of financial assistance we can offer you.
Q: And what on Earth is Myvesta?
A: We wanted a name that would conjure up images of a caring and protective environment. In history, Vesta was the protector of the hearth and home. We added "my" so that you would know you are part of the Myvesta family.
Someday, I also want to make up color names for cash.
[ 05/07/04 ]
Unfortunately, the debate often gets mischaracterized as a question about how much privacy we need to give up in order to be secure. People ask: "Should we use this new surveillance technology to catch terrorists and criminals, or should we favor privacy and ban its use?"
This is the wrong question. We know that new technology gives law enforcement new search techniques, and makes existing techniques cheaper and easier. We know that we are all safer when the police can use them. And the Fourth Amendment already allows even the most intrusive searches: The police can search your home and person.
What we need are corresponding mechanisms to prevent abuse.
As usual, Bruce's answer is simple, sensible, and eminently doable.
[ 05/11/04 ]
The tests are an offshoot of pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, which has been done for more than 1,000 couples worldwide to weed out test-tube embryos with genetic diseases such as Down syndrome, or, more recently, for sex selection.
The institute's doctors made headlines four years ago after performing embryo tissue typing plus genetic disease screening for a Colorado couple who wanted to create another baby to save their daughter, who had a rare inherited disease called Fanconi anemia. The resulting baby boy, Adam Nash, donated bone marrow in an operation doctors said was a success.
Since then, embryo tissue typing with genetic disease testing has been performed more than three dozen times worldwide, with most of the cases done at the Chicago institute, [Dr. Anver] Kuliev said. Kuliev said the latest cases are the first instances in which embryos were tissue-typed but not screened genetically for diseases.
[ 05/11/04 ]
Researchers discovered that children who had close paternal involvement performed up to 2% better in national curriculum tests for seven-year-olds. Children whose fathers helped with their care also performed better at the age of eight in independent tests designed by the researchers.[...]
It was discovered that having an uninvolved father was worse than not having a live-in father at all when the household income was the same.
Get on the floor and play!
[ 05/11/04 ]
"Things are changing all the time, and potato growers, I think, are a real leader in that," he said. "They have to be able to contend with changes in demand, changes in price, and I think they're a resilient group."
Those resilient potato farmers! So they are promoting the healthy attributes of their crop:
A typical potato contain 45 percent of the recommended daily allowance of Vitamin C. They have more potassium than bananas, relatively few calories and no fat. [...]
The group also hired fitness maven Denise Austin as the spokeswoman for Idaho potatoes. Her future books will include recipes featuring Idaho potatoes, said Frank Muir, president of the Idaho Potato Commission.
Now, that's interesting. Will the industry connection be noted in the text? (via dangerousmeta)
[ 05/11/04 ]
Food companies have been under pressure to develop healthier products since the U.S. government last year issued new regulations requiring all packaged foods to carry labels saying how much trans-fats they contain.
Kraft Foods Inc., the maker of Nabisco crackers and Oreo cookies, and PepsiCo unit Frito-Lay, the maker of Doritos and Ruffles chips, have also pledged to reformulate the nutritional content of their products.
Now isn't that interesting? Apparently the manufacturers of these items feel that trans-fats are so unhealthful that consumers won't buy products that use them. People deserve to know what they are getting. As you know, I've advocated labelling GM food as well. If consumers don't care, then it won't affect sales. If they do, then the market can do what it's supposed to do, signal the manufacturers. In this case, manufacturers aren't even waiting for market signals.
These regulations are no more onerous than the requirement to list other nutrional information. Frankly, I suspect that companies spend only a fraction of the time on this required information that they spend on their marketing copy and package design.
More importantly: Transparency rules. In Charlotte, North Carolina, my husband was impressed to note that each restaurant was required to post its health department scores on the front door. You can bet that none of those establishments was willing to settle for a barely-passing score.
As they say, light is the best disinfectant.
[ 05/18/04 ]
In 2003, Rumsfeld's apparent disregard for the requirements of the Geneva Conventions while carrying out the war on terror had led a group of senior military legal officers from the Judge Advocate General's (jag) Corps to pay two surprise visits within five months to Scott Horton, who was then chairman of the New York City Bar Association's Committee on International Human Rights. [...] The military officials were most alarmed about the growing use of civilian contractors in the interrogation process, Horton recalled. "They said there was an atmosphere of legal ambiguity being created as a result of a policy decision at the highest levels in the Pentagon. The jag officers were being cut out of the policy formulation process." They told him that, with the war on terror, a fifty-year history of exemplary application of the Geneva Conventions had come to an end.
Among the moral and ethical concerns the Geneva Conventions address, exists a purely selfish one: the Geneva Conventions protect American civilians and American soldiers from abuse. We disregard them at our own peril.
[ 05/18/04 ]
The army already uses a video game called America's Army to train and recruit soldiers and distributes a free version of that software. The military officer overseeing the game's development, Col Casey Wardynski, told Reuters on Wednesday that America's Army could also be modified to include lessons on prisoner treatment.
[ 05/18/04 ]
[>] The United States delayed its 2004 Human Rights Report because it was a little embarrassing in light of the Abu Ghraib scandal. This article reads almost comically (if it weren't true) until the very end:
[State Department assistant secretary for democracy Lorne] Craner said while he was personally disgusted by what happened at Abu Ghraib, the fact the United States was dealing with the prison abuse was proof the country maintains credibility in promoting and defending human rights around the world.
"The point here is that we have institutions that hold people to account if they go wrong. And as I said before, other people don't have that," Craner said.
"You know, when there is a new Tashkent Times that can carry pictures of torture in Uzbekistan, or when the Sudanese parliament can call a defense minister and grill him for six hours, or when a Burmese president publicly condemns and holds people accountable for torture in Burma, then we're going to be getting somewhere."
And you know, he's absolutely right.
[ 05/18/04 ]
It has taken a while for Rumsfeld and General Richard Myers to figure out just how much their power to enforce their own narrative of this war has waned. Their many successes in news management have been their undoing, leaving them besotted by their own invincibility and ill-equipped for failure.
I think this observation applies to the Bush administration in general. There have been such missteps in recent months that I have to believe they have forgotten how to skillfully frame and react to the truth. I would blame it on the loss of Karen Hughes, but she's back and things haven't gotten any better. When it came to getting their message into the press and out to the people, for so long they were gold. Now they seem completely to have lost their touch.
[ 05/18/04 ]
Controlled studies show that it results in 54% fewer juvenile arrests and 69% fewer juvenile convictions and probation violations. And for every dollar it costs, four dollars are saved in future costs. Why aren't tough-on-crime conservatives all over it?
[ 05/21/04 ]
Whether or not you agreed with the president's decision to invade Iraq--and I did not-- there's no doubt that America has a right and a duty to take whatever actions are necessary, including military action, to protect ourselves from the clear security threats emanating from this deeply troubled part of the world. Authoritarian rule in these countries has clearly created fertile ground for terrorists, and so establishing democratic governance in the region must be seen as one of our most vital security goals. There is good reason, however, to question whether the president's strategy is advancing or hindering that goal. [...]
This dream of engineering events in the Middle East to follow those of the Soviet Union has led to an almost unprecedented geostrategic blunder. One crucial reason things went wrong, I believe, is that the neoconservatives misunderstood how and why the Soviet Union fell and what the West did to contribute to that fall. They radically overestimated the role of military assertiveness while underestimating the value of other, subtler measures. They then applied those theories to the Middle East, a region with very different political and cultural conditions. The truth is this: It took four decades of patient engagement to bring down the Iron Curtain, and 10 years of deft diplomacy to turn chaotic, post-Soviet states into stable, pro-Western democracies. To achieve the same in the Middle East will require similar engagement, patience, and luck.
[ 05/21/04 ]
It's interesting what reporters are told; what they can report (given the demands of the form--a full 'story'--and the need for verifiability); how long it can take for them to pin down the full story from the clues and unattributable facts they are given; and what they can post on their weblogs.
You could argue that this sort of 'unofficial reporting' will have a greater affect on journalism than the prospect of 'citizen reporting', but we'll see. The key is probably the distributed nature of both types of writing. Now that reporters are able to informally share information and speculation--if they are are willing to do so--each individual potentially will have a greater chance of putting together the pieces than they now do, separately working sources and trying to make their facts add up into a story.
[ 05/25/04 ]
While the oil industry says it hopes to make a profit, Bill Ambrose thinks they're making too much. "To me it's like theft: They are stealing from the American public," says the Fullerton, Calif., civil engineer, who has constructed a website, gasolineboycott.com. Calling himself one of the leaders of the gaspump insurrection, he proposes a "rolling boycott," picking one company at a time. Currently, he wants consumers to boycott Exxon/Mobil. "They had a 40 percent increase in profits for that whole new year," he says. [...]
He's also trying to get a proposition, called the California Fuel Revolt, on the ballot in the fall. If enacted, it would require energy companies operating in the state to lower prices 40 cents a gallon below the national average for six months, force the divestiture of refineries from retail outlets, and mandate a minimum 25 percent gasoline reserve. "I've sent it to Arnold, and now I'm trying to get a large organization like a trucking association to help me obtain signatures," he says.
I love it that everyone just calls our governor 'Arnold'.
[ 05/25/04 ]
The Basurtos are neither destitute nor desperate. They have no debt, do not go hungry, and have managed to put three children through Catholic school. Yet their grip on the bottom rung of the middle class is precarious.
By the local cost of rent, by what it takes to commute to work, by the price of food at the local store, by the cost of clothing and healthcare, a family like the Basurtos would need more than $40,000 to make ends meet in Los Angeles. Families with younger children and day-care expenses would need closer to $70,000.
That estimate, called a self-sufficient income, is an emerging measure of economic health seldom used in the calculus of poverty.
America as a country is not yet productive enough to support everybody at the upper middle class standard of living we as a country believe that everybody deserves. (And, perhaps, when we are rich enough our idea of what an upper middle class standard of living is will have changed as well.)
I am struck by the fact that, in this story, the fact that the Basurto family must forgo dinner at Subway in order to eat pasta at home is presented as a hardship. And that the notion that a hard-working wage-earner can't afford health insurance is presented as an anomaly.
For most of my adult life, I didn't have health insurance: most of the jobs I held didn't offer it, and the few that did were too expensive for me to afford. Now, self-insured, my monthly premiums are exorbitant, but every month I just think 'Thank God we can afford this'. Based on my own history, the surprise for me is when someone who isn't in the upper-middle class can afford health insurance, not when they can't.
I'm a bleeding heart, but I don't particularly care if some families in the United States can't afford fast food, as long as they are eating. But I sure wish all of us had health insurance.
[ 05/25/04 ]
[>] Are you as fascinated by the Ahmed Chalabi affair as I am? This is going to make for some fascinating reading in about 30 years and more, once the facts are established, the dust has settled, and the historians have a chance to take a stab at a longer, broader view. Mark Kleinman's Chalabi Quiz breaks the story down to its essential elements as we currently understand them. Keep in mind that this man has been defrauding the US government for the last 12 years--since the first Gulf War. The world is filled with confidence men, but few of them operate on a world stage.
[ 05/25/04 ]
[>] Newsweek: Why Your Tax Cut Doesn't Add Up does a great job of explaining the consequences of the Bush tax policy, and takes the Democrats to task for decades of being in power but lacking the political will to fix obvious problems with the tax code.
Until now, the public debate over the Bush tax cuts has played out along predictable, partisan lines. You've heard it so often, you can probably say it along with me. Bush argues that cutting taxes for all Americans stimulates the economy and will make everyone more prosperous. His stated goal: "Lower income taxes for all, with the greatest help for those most in need." Meanwhile his opponents say the bulk of the tax cuts have gone to the well-off. Bush and his opponents are both being factual - but, as we'll soon see, they use convenient facts and ignore inconvenient ones.
The blather from both sides obscures the real, but largely hidden, agenda behind the Bush tax cuts. Bush has been open about each item he wants: lowering taxes on capital income, such as dividends and capital gains; creating two big new income-sheltering investment plans; eliminating the estate tax. But he's not been at all forthcoming about the ultimate effect of his program.
If Bush gets what he wants, the income tax will become a misnomer - it will really be a salary tax. Almost all income taxes would come from paychecks - 80 percent of income for most families, less than half for the top 1 percent. Meanwhile taxpayers receiving dividends, interest and capital gains, known collectively as investment income, would have a much lighter burden than salary earners - or maybe none at all. And here's the topper. In the name of preserving family farms and keeping small businesses in the family, Bush would eliminate the estate tax and create a new class of landed aristocrats who could inherit billions tax-free, invest the money, watch it compound tax-free and hand it down tax-free to their heirs.
When I asked our tax preparer if the Bush tax cut had saved us anything, she looked at me as if I was crazy. When she figured it out, it came to a few hundred dollars. I just wanted to know.
[ 05/27/04 ]
[>] The USDA has recently 'clarified' several of their organic standards [slithy popup!], allowing, among other things, antibiotics in dairy cows, certain chemicals in pesticides and livestock feed containing nonorganic fish meal. Grist Magazine has a more detailed list of the changes and the responses from the various players. Ah, this takes me back.
Unless the USDA can be prevailed upon to define their standards more rigorously than this, it will be time for a consumer revolt; or perhaps farmers can revert back to stricter state standards, and label their products accordingly.
One thing you can do is to investigate the availability of Community Supported Agriculture in your area (find one here). In many northern states, a share will provide food for only 6 months of the year, but that is six months of knowing exactly where your food comes from, and the philosophy of the people who grew it. Our service provides us with fresh, organic produce year-round.
We have found that food from our CSA comes to slightly less than the cost of buying the same produce at the co-op. I have noticed that supermarket organics are often incredibly overpriced, so if you think you can't afford organic, it's worth checking alternative sources.
[ 05/27/04 ]
[>] The Cook's Thesaurus is a cooking encyclopedia that covers thousands of ingredients and kitchen tools. Entries include pictures, descriptions, synonyms, pronunciations, and suggested substitutions.
[ 05/27/04 ]
[>] I have spent the last two afternoons in my community garden plot removing yards upon yards of buried chicken wire (I have no idea) and then double digging the bed. I am exhausted, but that ground is in better shape than it has been for years, judging by the compactness of the soil when I started. Today the fun begins--starting with 5 roma tomato plants.
[ 05/27/04 ]
The 11-story cathedral is 100,000 square feet larger than the old library. Because of this, the public has access to 75 percent of the library's collection, up from 33 percent before. The building is filled with Wi-Fi hot spots for people to connect their laptops to the Internet. Acoustic sound domes allow you to play music - yours or the library's - as loud as you like. Microchips embedded in each library item allow computers reading radio frequencies to sort and transport books, freeing the library staff to work with customers.
Jacobs praises some 100 library employees who staffed 37 committees that created Koolhaas's marching orders: "The staff laid out every foot of the 365,000 square feet in here," she explains. "The architect was given a thick book filled with his instructions" not of how the building should look, but of what it needed to do and be." [...]
In Jacobs's words, "We are everything hyperbolic: We are the people's university. We are the cornerstone of democracy. We are the community commons. What libraries do is they allow for individual enrichment yet in the presence of others."
I can vouch for the ugliness and general dreariness of the old building.
[ 05/28/04 ]
My hypothesis is that people who live in the intersection of social worlds are at higher risk of having good ideas. Qualifications come immediately to mind, but the gist of the hypothesis is familiar and makes intuitive sense: ways of thinking and behaving are more homogenous within than between groups, so people connected to otherwise segregated groups are more likely to be familiar with alternative ways of thinking and behaving - which gives them the option of selecting and synthesizing alternatives.... Having a good idea is distinct from doing something about it. Managers typically discussed their ideas with socially convenient authority, thus reproducing the social structure. Good ideas emerged from the intersection of social worlds, but spread in a way that would continue segregation between worlds.
[ 05/28/04 ]
The Straus Farms' covered-lagoon methane generator, powered by methane billowing off a covered pool of decomposing bovine waste, is expected to save the operation between $5,000 and $6,000 per month in energy costs. With those savings, Straus estimates he will pay back his capital investment in two to three years. [...]
In addition to the energy savings, Straus' new methane digester will eliminate tons of naturally occurring greenhouse gases and strip 80 to 99 percent of organic pollutants from the wastewater generated from his family's 63-year-old dairy farm. Heat from the generator warms thousands of gallons of water that may be used to clean farm facilities and to heat the manure lagoon. And wastewater left over after the methane is extracted, greatly deodorized, is used for fertilizing the farm's fields.
Animal and human 'waste' isn't: it's an important part of the natural cycle. We grow food to be eaten, and then we flush the by-products far away, when we should be feeding them back to the plants that feed us. Never mind the advantages of a decentralized system of energy generators. (via flutterby)
[ 05/28/04 ]