Free Stuff

We have a bunch of stuff to give away:

  • 1 box of Brita filters, some number remaining
  • 1 queen size mattress pad
  • 3 old, yellowed pillows
  • 1 interpad for a card table, to put between the table and a tablecloth
  • 3 old pillowcases
  • 1 dish towel/rag
  • 2 Pack-Mate storage bags, different sizes (might have a third around somewhere

Let me know if you want any of this stuff. It's going up on Freecycle soon.

Senator Kerry responds

While Senator Kerry has yet to respond to my own note, he has responded to the question in general. That's 40 senators on record as supporting a robust public healthcare option, now.

If you live in the following states, one of your senators who *might* support a public option either hasn't gone on record in support or has stated they oppose a public option: Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Oregon, South Dakota, Wisconsin, West Virginia. Check out the list at OpenLeft for more details. Email your senator! Even if your senator said yes, send an email or call to thank them. It only takes a minute - I just thanked both Kerry and Kennedy.

1. Do you support a public healthcare option as part of reform?

2. Do you support a public healthcare option that is ready on day one?
He supports a public option that will be available immediately.

3. Do you support a public healthcare option that is national, available everywhere, and accountable to our government?
Sen. Kerry supports a robust public plan, that like Medicare, would be
available to everyone from coast-to-coast.

4. Do you support a public healthcare option that has the clout to establish rates with providers and big drug companies?
Sen. Kerry believes a public plan will meaningfully transform our delivery system through its lower administrative expenses and bargaining power. These efficiencies will provide affordable coverage to those enrolled in the public plan and due to increased competition could lower costs in the private insurance market.

[via OpenLeft]

open letter to Senator Kerry

Senator Kerry,

I believe that a public healthcare option is essential. With the current near-monopoly or duopoly situation in most insurance markets, there is little to no real competition. A robust publicly run health insurance option is needed to reform the private insurance market and provide an insurer of last resort for all Americans.

I would like a straight answer to the following questions:
1) Do you support a public option for health care?
2) Do you believe this public option must be available immediately, not based on some criteria which private insurers must otherwise meet?
3) Will you push for this, wholeheartedly, including publicly refusing to pass any healthcare legislation which does not meet these criteria?

I hope to hear from you soon.

Michael Leuchtenburg

pondering a new phone

I'm currently thinking about getting a new phone. My current phone, a Treo 700p, is feeling a bit creaky. I've lost the antenna cap (tiny little radome!), so it's just wrapped in tape now to protect the antenna. Plus it's also just *old*. It feels slow compared to all of the other tech I interact with on a daily basis. I don't think it's gotten any slower, but my expectations have increased.

No question that I'm going to stick with a smartphone. A web browser, a calendar, Google Maps, and todo tracker in my pocket? Sounds good to me.

I've dismissed the iPhone because, well, mostly because I don't like Apple very much. I don't like their very DRM-positive culture, and their strong anti-hacking stance. The inability to play Ogg is also a bit annoying in a media-centric device. On the more technical side, the lack of multitasking is a huge minus. It's one of my biggest gripes with the Treo.

The other two systems I'm currently considering are Google's Android and Palm's WebOS. The hardware choices for the WebOS are pretty simple, with only the Pre available currently, though there is also the Eos announced which will be out in the fall. However, the Eos looks to be more of a Centro successor than a Treo sucessor, so it may have some features stripped out. It definitely doesn't have the slide out keyboard, opting instead for more of a Treo look with an always-available keyboard, and has 4GB of storage instead of 8GB. Given the lack of expansion on the Pre, if the Eos is similarly lacking, that hurts.

For the Android, the currently available phones are the HTC Dream (aka T-Mobile G1) and, shortly, the HTC Magic (aka T-Mobile myTouch 3G). We may also see the HTC Hero in the US eventually, and many others are announced for release in 2009, though it's unclear how many of them will be easily acquirable in the US. I can cope with importing, but the extra cost is annoying.

As to plans, Sprint options are likely to be cheaper. For one thing, I currently have a very cheap SERO plan, though it's lacking the unlimited texts, for which I pay $30/mo. Keeping that plan is obviously worth a lot of money. Unfortunately, it's almost certainly not going to happen with the Pre, and there aren't any Android phones even announced for Sprint yet, though there are rumors that the HTC Hero or a Samsung-made Android phone may be released through Sprint by the end of 2009. However, Sprint may have a hamstrung phone, with reduced Android Market access - a huge downer. Probably hackable, but I prefer to just have my phones to be open to begin with, thanks. Anyway, even if I have to drop the SERO plan, I can get an Everything Plus Family plan for singingdragon and I for only $110/month, which is $10 more than we're currently paying between us, with a few more minutes.

Anywhere else, it's going to cost more. Even getting an individual plan, Sprint has the cheapest plans offering unlimited data and messaging, by far. T-Mobile has a cheaper one with just unlimited data, though it also has only 300 minutes which is a bit spare, even for my limited calling - I'm sure I'd be hitting that ceiling with too much regularity.

The big question is whether I can hold out for a while longer. Such is always the trap with technology: wait 6 months and the Next Big Thing will be out. Still, the longer the upgrade cycle, the less you pay per year.

The lack of decent rebuttals

One of the most frustrating things about watching politics is the complete lack of decent rebuttals. Watching Hardball right now, a guest from the right is repeatedly claiming that drilling in ANWR will make us energy independent, while the guest from the left doesn't point out that the oil in ANWR could, at best, provide a few percent of our consumption - and that's at peak production, which would take half a decade to reach. At that level, it would have an impact of less than a dollar per barrel on price.

Are these people picked because they'll give a bad show for the liberal side? I know that's true on Fox, but MSNBC?

Good news

I want a blog which only has posts about news which I consider good. Paying attention is way too depressing as it is - a boost would be nice.

Italian man held in US jail for 10 days for no good reason

An Italian man was held in a Virginia jail for 10 days after arriving in the US to visit his girlfriend.

But on April 29, when Mr. Salerno, 35, presented his passport at Washington Dulles International Airport, a Customs and Border Protection agent refused to let him into the United States. And after hours of questioning, agents would not let him travel back to Rome, either; over his protests in fractured English, he said, they insisted that he had expressed a fear of returning to Italy and had asked for asylum.

Of course, he denies making any claim of the sort:

Twelve hours later, when Mr. Salerno was granted a five-minute phone call, he called Ms. Cooper and denied saying anything of the kind. Instead, he said, the asylum story seemed to be retaliation for his insisting on speaking to his embassy.

He has now been released, thanks to investigation by the Times. Too bad not everyone has a reporter looking out for them.

Letter to John Olver about Teen Challeng

To the Honorable John W. Olver,

I'm writing you today to ask you to co-sponsor HR 5876 - Stop Child Abuse in Residential Programs for Teens Act of 2008. Below is some background as to why I believe this bill is needed.

I recently read about the horrible crimes committed against children by the organization Teen Challenge. Teen Challenge runs many "faith-based rehabilitiation" programs specifically aimed at young people. These are residential programs, with all participants required to live on site for the 12-18 month duration of the program. One of these is located in Fitchburg, MA, part of Teen Challenge New England.

Youths are often sent to Teen Challenge as part of a court-ordered rehabilitation program. This gives Teen Challenge a lot of power over the kids in their care, as they can simply report them for "non-compliance" in the rehabilitation program and they will be sent to jail. They use this power to coerce people to become members of the "army of god", to speak in tongues, to profess a Christian faith. This, when they accept non-Christians. If someone requests a change to a different rehab program, they also threaten to use this. They have been known to lie to parents and probation officers about the actions of those in the program.

There are numerous documented instances of Teen Challenge abusing those in its care, both mentally and physically. They deny food, water, and medical care, such as treatment of wounds. To withhold prescribed medication. To administer beatings. To put people in solitary confinement for weeks on end.

In addition to this, they abuse government funds. Food stamps, social security checks - they require the kids in the program to apply for them, and then confiscate them when they arrive, to use them to pay for the program. In addition, often the intake contracts require unpaid work, or require large rents to be paid while providing only one method to make money to pay it.

If you would like to read more about Teen Challenge, I suggest you visit . That author has written several entries in a series about Teen Challenge, plus numerous other articles about similar programs. He cites media reports and press releases of Teen Challenge and other organization to support his claims, which are summarized in my message.

Please, co-sponsor HR 5876. Act to prevent institutionalized child abuse, paid for by the US government.

Sincerely, Michael Leuchtenburg

David Stout responds

I received a response from David Stout to my earlier message regarding his unskeptical reporting of claims that Iran is funding Hamas and the Taliban. In this first message, Mr. Stout appears to be referring to an op-ed piece by Roger Cohen from November 2007: Afghanistan at the Brink.

I appreciate your thoughtful note, and I concede that I should have injected a note of skepticism about Iran's meddling in Afghanistan, etc. HOWEVER, it is not as though such speculation is groundless. I enclose a couple of snippets from a recent article by Roger Cohen:

Other challenges are containing the rampant corruption of governors chosen by President Hamid Karzai, better integrating sometimes contradictory international efforts and limiting the degree to which Pakistan and Iran meddle.

All these problems are redoubled by the unpopularity of Bush's America. Iran sees in Afghanistan another chance to hurt U.S. interests. But it's not alone. Russia likes that game these days. China is not averse

And this additional response came in a little bit later, referencing the article U.S. Weighing Terrorist Label for Iran Guards (NYT, 2007-08-15):</p>

Just to bolster my (partial) defense re Iran and the Taliban, while still conceding your point that I probably should have included a note of skepticism,these snippets are from an NYT article last August:

Iran has repeatedly denied that it is seeking to build nuclear weapons, that it is helping in any way to facilitate attacks on American troops in Iraq or that it is shipping any weapons to the Taliban, a group Iran opposed in the 1990s.

On Tuesday, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad again dismissed American complaints that Iran is providing weapons to the Taliban. Speaking in Kabul, Afghanistan, after talks with President Hamid Karzai, he said Iran was ''fully supporting'' its new government.

In June, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said the volume of weapons reaching the Taliban from Iran made it ''difficult to believe'' that the shipments were ''taking place without the knowledge of the Iranian government.'' In a television interview the same day, Assistant Secretary of State R. Nicholas Burns said there was ''irrefutable evidence'' that the weapons were coming from the Revolutionary Guard.

Looking at the Cohen piece, it never suggests that Iran is actually funding the Taliban. Indeed, Iran has been working fairly closely with the new Afghanistan government, run by Shi'ites. However, the US military has stated that many weapons used by the Taliban insurgency were manufactured in Iran, and that they suspect that, due to the number of such weapons, the government would have to be aware of this movement of weapons, as is noted in the second piece which Stout quotes.

However, also in the second piece is this gem: "Mr. Karzai played down the dispute over the weapons shipments, as he did during a visit to the White House this month. He said that Afghanistan and Iran were “brothers” and that both the United States and Iran were helping reconstruct his country." If Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan is saying that Iran is still tightly allied with them, I find it difficult to credit assertions of "American intelligence officials" that Iran is trying to destabilize Afghanistan. After all, we've been lied to by "American intelligence officials" several times before - I have no reason to believe that they've stopped now, especially in the face of strong evidence to the contrary.

I've also written a direct response to Mr. Stout, which you can read after the cut.

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An open letter to David Stout of the New York Times

I am disturbed by your reporting, on April 26, in the article "Joint Chiefs Chairman Assails Iran’s Role in Iraq". In particular, you repeat, without comment, Admiral Mullen's claims that Iran is funding Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Taliban. While Iran funding Hezbollah is reasonable, both of them being Shi'a groups, the other two groups are Sunni - ideologically opposed to Iran's official view, held by 90% of its citizens.

In 1998, Iran mobilized an army to fight against the Taliban after the Taliban killed 10 of its diplomats, and thousands of Shi'a civilians. Iran was, at the time, and until the end of the Afghan civil war in 2001, funding the Northern Alliance, which was trying to oust the Taliban.

This is clearly an extraordinary claim, which demands extraordinary evidence. Despite this, you have simply reported Admiral Mullen's words without questioning them.

To report this without even mentioning this ideological divide is, at best, sloppy. At worst, you are continuing the tradition of the American media, recently covered in detail by this very paper, of accepting the words of administration spokesman (be they military analysts or admirals) without questioning, and functioning as an extension of the PR wing of the White House. As a citizen and a reader of the New York Times, I must say this is not acceptable. I demand better, both of you personally and of the Times.

Michael Leuchtenburg



David Stout responded.