27 June 2017

Live in Obedient Fear, Citizen


Don Tinfoil Hat


Lyndon Larouche abides
Charlie lost his ID card, he does not have a driver's license, so I took him to the DMV to order a replacement.

On the way in, we noticed these guys with a table with a big sign talking about an FBI conspiracy against Donald trump.

On closer inspection we noticed that their signs referenced LaurachePAC.com, so seriously crazed conspiracy theorists.

We had about a 20 minute wait at the DMV, so he wanted to think about a potential taunt.

He was concerned that he could not come up with one quickly, because this sort of reaction is analogous to a stand-up comic dealing with a heckler, and because he does stand-up comedy now and again, this troubled him.

I reassured him that that comics frequently prepare in advance to deal with potential hecklers, so we can prepare something for the inevitable wait at the Department of Motor Vehicles.

As we are waiting, he floats out some ideas, and I float out some ideas, including his pointing at his hat, and saying, "Chem Trails."

Charlie wears a blind fold that he made out of duct tape as a hat. He made it for blind folded Rubik's Cube competitions, and it does evoke the whole "tinfoil hat" thing, so the juxtaposition of the hat and, "Chem Trails," is a statement that is both amusing, and unclear: It could be mockery, and it could be a statement that one is a fellow traveler conspiracy nut.

He liked that one, so that is what I was expecting when we left the DMV (He took the hat off for the ID pick, BTW).

Instead, he looked the man in the eye, and said:
Live in Obedient Fear, Citizen!
And then he turned and walked away, giggling as the guy at the table said, "What did you say?".

Of course, this phrase is VERY well known to the reader(s) of this blog.

He needs to work on his delivery, he said it too quickly, and he should have pitched the words lower, because it really works better when said in a stentorian manner, but he worked out what would be the best quick take down.

FYI, here is some stand-up from a year ago:

26 June 2017

More Tech Bros

In light of allegations of sexual harassment and unwanted sexual advances, Binary Capital co-founder and managing partner Justin Caldbeck is taking an indefinite leave of absence, he said in a statement provided to TechCrunch.

In his apology statement, Caldbeck did not outright admit nor deny the allegations of the female founders who came forward. Instead, he directed his apology “first to those women who I’ve made feel uncomfortable in any way, at any time – but also to the greater tech ecosystem, a community that I have utterly failed.”

As Leslie Miley noted on Twitter, the way Caldbeck kicked off his apology letter with words are how hard the last 24 hours have been on him. That’s because women in tech and in the workplace at larger have been dealing with this type of nonsense since forever.
I don't mean to minimize the sexual harassment, but I think that this is symptomatic of a more general culture of impunity, and I think that if a prosecutor with a background in white collar crime went to town with some forensic accountants, no small number of these "masters of the universe" would find themselves in jail.

There's Stupid, and There's Psychopathic, and Then There Is the House of Saud


The House of Saud, the Gift that Keeps Giving
I am referring to, of course, the latest kerfuffle between Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

Saudi Arabia, with the rest of the its toady petty monarchs around the Persian Gulf, have recalled diplomats, expelled Qatari citizens, and blockaded the land border to Qatar:
For years, the tiny, energy-rich country of Qatar has carved out a niche in the Arab world by trying to be everything to everyone. It housed an American military base and flooded the region’s airwaves with its influential media, all while keeping close ties to Iran and a wide selection of Islamist movements.

On Monday, five countries in the region announced that they were forcing Qatar to choose: Its powerful neighbor Saudi Arabia, Egypt and at least three other Arab nations severed all ties with the country, escalating their accusations that the Qatari monarchy supported Sunni Islamist terrorism and Iranian designs on the region.

Those Arab nations not only abruptly suspended diplomatic relations, as they have in the past, but also surprised many by cutting off land, air and sea travel to and from Qatar. All but Egypt, which has 250,000 people working there, ordered their citizens to leave Qatar.

The move created an immediate crisis for Qatar, whose only land border is with Saudi Arabia and which imports about 40 percent of its food from the Saudis. Residents said that people were stocking up on food and cash. And Qatari diplomats and citizens were scrambling to meet a 48-hour deadline to leave some Persian Gulf countries where they had been posted.
Qatar, which in the context of the Gulf monarchies I would describe as the best of a bad lot, has been ruffling feathers in the reason for a while.

It has been generally supportive of the Islamic Brotherhood and its related groups (most notably Hamas), and it has relatively friendly relations with Iran, but the thing that really upsets other regional governments, particularly the House of Saud, is that it operates the Al Jazeera which actually provides relatively impartial news coverage of the region (except, of course, in Qatar, funny how that works).

Further complicating the matter is the fact that Doha has been cultivating a relationship with Turkey, and will be allowing Ankara to construct a military base on the peninsula, which would put a Turkish military presence in the area for the first time since the fall of the Ottoman empire.

This, along with a mammoth air base operated by the US in Qatar means that their military influence is far greater than their (90% expat) population and the size of their military would imply.

In any case, a list of demands was presented to Qatar by Saudi Arabia and the other gulf states:
  • Curb diplomatic ties with Iran and close its diplomatic missions there. Expel members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard from Qatar and cut off any joint military cooperation with Iran. Only trade and commerce with Iran that complies with U.S. and international sanctions will be permitted.
  • Sever all ties to “terrorist organizations,” specifically the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamic State group, al-Qaida, and Lebanon’s Hezbollah. Formally declare those entities as terrorist groups.
  • Shut down Al-Jazeera and its affiliate stations.
  • Shut down news outlets that Qatar funds, directly and indirectly, including Arabi21, Rassd, Al Araby Al-Jadeed and Middle East Eye.
  • Immediately terminate the Turkish military presence currently in Qatar and end any joint military cooperation with Turkey inside of Qatar.
  • Stop all means of funding for individuals, groups or organizations that have been designated as terrorists by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, Bahrain, the United States and other countries.
  • Hand over “terrorist figures” and wanted individuals from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain to their countries of origin. Freeze their assets, and provide any desired information about their residency, movements and finances.
  • End interference in sovereign countries’ internal affairs. Stop granting citizenship to wanted nationals from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain. Revoke Qatari citizenship for existing nationals where such citizenship violates those countries’ laws.
  • Stop all contacts with the political opposition in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain. Hand over all files detailing Qatar’s prior contacts with and support for those opposition groups.
  • Pay reparations and compensation for loss of life and other, financial losses caused by Qatar’s policies in recent years. The sum will be determined in coordination with Qatar.
  • Align itself with the other Gulf and Arab countries militarily, politically, socially and economically, as well as on economic matters, in line with an agreement reached with Saudi Arabia in 2014.
  • Agree to all the demands within 10 days of it being submitted to Qatar, or the list becomes invalid. The document doesn’t specify what the countries will do if Qatar refuses to comply.
  • Consent to monthly audits for the first year after agreeing to the demands, then once per quarter during the second year. For the following 10 years, Qatar would be monitored annually for compliance.
It's a laundry list of demands, and I think that some of them were inserted do provide some obfuscation or wiggle room.

I've highlighted the items that I think are the the real causus belli, which reduces to Iran, Turkey, and a (relatively) free press being what really upsets Riyadh.

One theory about these demands is that they are not a serious set of demands, but rather they have been issued with the goal of justifying a Saudi invasion.  (Think about the Austrian demands to Serbia that precipitated World War I.)

In any case, the immediate response by Qatar has been to reach out to Turkey and Iran for needed supplies, which also is very clearly a f%$# you to the other members of the GCC:
Qatar is in talks with Iran and Turkey to secure food and water supplies amid concerns of possible shortages two days after its biggest suppliers, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, cut trade and diplomatic ties with the import-dependent country.

"We are in talks with Turkey and Iran and other countries," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the subject, adding that the supplies would be brought in through Qatar Airways cargo flights.
So right now, it looks like Qatar is turning into yet another clusterf%$#, much like its aimless intervention in Yemen.

To quote Dean Vernon Wormer, "Fat, drunk, and stupid is no way to go through life, son."

Linkage


I cam across an interesting video talking about the political context of the John Carpenter movie They Live. The movie's message is even more apropos today:


We Sleep: On the Enduring Propheticism of John Carpenter's THEY LIVE from Daniel Clarkson Fisher on Vimeo.

25 June 2017

Seymour Hersh Has Another Blockbuster

Publishing in Die Welt, Hersh reveals that the US intelligence services were categorically contradicting the story of a Syrian gas attack Khan Sheikhoun which led to a US cruise missile attack on the Shayrat Air Base:
On April 6, United States President Donald Trump authorized an early morning Tomahawk missile strike on Shayrat Air Base in central Syria in retaliation for what he said was a deadly nerve agent attack carried out by the Syrian government two days earlier in the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun. Trump issued the order despite having been warned by the U.S. intelligence community that it had found no evidence that the Syrians had used a chemical weapon.

The available intelligence made clear that the Syrians had targeted a jihadist meeting site on April 4 using a Russian-supplied guided bomb equipped with conventional explosives. Details of the attack, including information on its so-called high-value targets, had been provided by the Russians days in advance to American and allied military officials in Doha, whose mission is to coordinate all U.S., allied, Syrian and Russian Air Force operations in the region.

Some American military and intelligence officials were especially distressed by the president's determination to ignore the evidence. "None of this makes any sense," one officer told colleagues upon learning of the decision to bomb. "We KNOW that there was no chemical attack ... the Russians are furious. Claiming we have the real intel and know the truth ... I guess it didn't matter whether we elected Clinton or Trump."
The implication of the last statement, of course, is that the notoriously bellicose Hillary Clinton would seize any pretext for a strike against Syria and the Russians.
To the dismay of many senior members of his national security team, Trump could not be swayed over the next 48 hours of intense briefings and decision-making. In a series of interviews, I learned of the total disconnect between the president and many of his military advisers and intelligence officials, as well as officers on the ground in the region who had an entirely different understanding of the nature of Syria’s attack on Khan Sheikhoun. I was provided with evidence of that disconnect, in the form of transcripts of real-time communications, immediately following the Syrian attack on April 4. In an important pre-strike process known as deconfliction, U.S. and Russian officers routinely supply one another with advance details of planned flight paths and target coordinates, to ensure that there is no risk of collision or accidental encounter (the Russians speak on behalf of the Syrian military). This information is supplied daily to the American AWACS surveillance planes that monitor the flights once airborne. Deconfliction’s success and importance can be measured by the fact that there has yet to be one collision, or even a near miss, among the high-powered supersonic American, Allied, Russian and Syrian fighter bombers.

………

"The rebels control the population by controlling the distribution of goods that people need to live – food, water, cooking oil, propane gas, fertilizers for growing their crops, and insecticides to protect the crops," a senior adviser to the American intelligence community, who has served in senior positions in the Defense Department and Central Intelligence Agency, told me. The basement was used as storage for rockets, weapons and ammunition, as well as products that could be distributed for free to the community, among them medicines and chlorine-based decontaminants for cleansing the bodies of the dead before burial. The meeting place – a regional headquarters – was on the floor above. “It was an established meeting place,” the senior adviser said. “A long-time facility that would have had security, weapons, communications, files and a map center.” The Russians were intent on confirming their intelligence and deployed a drone for days above the site to monitor communications and develop what is known in the intelligence community as a POL – a pattern of life. The goal was to take note of those going in and out of the building, and to track weapons being moved back and forth, including rockets and ammunition.

………

The Execute Order governing U.S. military operations in theater, which was issued by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, provide instructions that demarcate the relationship between the American and Russian forces operating in Syria. “It’s like an ops order – ‘Here’s what you are authorized to do,’” the adviser said. “We do not share operational control with the Russians. We don’t do combined operations with them, or activities directly in support of one of their operations. But coordination is permitted. We keep each other apprised of what’s happening and within this package is the mutual exchange of intelligence. If we get a hot tip that could help the Russians do their mission, that’s coordination; and the Russians do the same for us. When we get a hot tip about a command and control facility,” the adviser added, referring to the target in Khan Sheikhoun, “we do what we can to help them act on it." “This was not a chemical weapons strike,” the adviser said. “That’s a fairy tale. If so, everyone involved in transferring, loading and arming the weapon – you’ve got to make it appear like a regular 500-pound conventional bomb – would be wearing Hazmat protective clothing in case of a leak. There would be very little chance of survival without such gear. Military grade sarin includes additives designed to increase toxicity and lethality. Every batch that comes out is maximized for death. That is why it is made. It is odorless and invisible and death can come within a minute. No cloud. Why produce a weapon that people can run away from?”

………

“It was a totally Trump show from beginning to end,” the senior adviser said. “A few of the president’s senior national security advisers viewed the mission as a minimized bad presidential decision, and one that they had an obligation to carry out. But I don’t think our national security people are going to allow themselves to be hustled into a bad decision again. If Trump had gone for option three, [a massive air strike] there might have been some immediate resignations.”
Nothing about the official White House account makes sense in the initial reports:
  • Assad had no reason to use chemical weapons, he was winning decisively at the time.
  • There were no reports of any sort of special handling of the munitions by the crews.
  • The films on the net show actions by the first responders which would have had them contaminated, and effected, as well.
  • The reports of a strong smell indicate that the toxin was not military grade Sarin.
And now we know that this strike had been communicated with US forces days in advance as part of the US-Russia deconfliction protocol, and that the professional staff in the US state security apparatus did not believe that there had actually been a chemical weapons attack.

And Today in Charter Schools………

We have a multi-state charter school chain facing allegations of systematic corruption.

This is not a surprise.  Charter schools as currently structured are a uniquely criminogenic enterprise.

Truth be told, the 18% management fee referenced in the article is rather larcenous in and of itself, since most of the managing is done by the staff on each campus.

If anyone believes that allowing charter schools to "unleash the market" will produce better results for less, I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you:

The founder of an Akron-area charter school company is accused of using thousands of dollars parents paid for student lunches and uniforms and millions more from Ohio and Florida taxpayers to fund home mortgages, plastic surgery, extensive world travel, credit card debt and more.

Criminal charges filed last week in Florida against Marcus May also allege he improperly used private and public funds earmarked for students’ education to expand his charter school empire in Columbus, Akron, Cleveland and Dayton.

Florida State Attorney William “Bill” Eddins brought the charges of racketeering and organized fraud against May, the founder of Newpoint Education Partners and Cambridge Education, a Fairlawn company that manages about 20 charter schools in Cincinnati, Dayton, Columbus, Akron, Youngstown, Canton and Cleveland.

In a prepared statement provided to the Beacon Journal on Friday, Cambridge Executive Director John Stack said: “My co-owners and I asked for and today accepted Mr. May’s resignation as managing member of Cambridge. We are now in discussions to remove him completely from ownership in the company because we feel it’s in the best interest of our schools.

“Despite this distraction, my colleagues at Cambridge and I will continue to focus on our core mission and the students we serve as we have always done.”

Cincinnati businessman Steven Kunkemoeller also was charged in the First Judiciary Circuit, a regional court in Florida. Kunkemoeller is a longtime business partner of May, according to a Beacon Journal/Ohio.com report from December and a multi-state investigation that included help from the Summit County Prosecutor’s Office.

………

The Florida prosecutor alleges that the men fabricated invoices, embellished enrollment, misappropriated public funds and created an elaborate network of limited liability companies in order to bilk the federal and state governments, as well as parents and students.

………

School and business records obtained by the Beacon Journal and detailed by a forensic accountant working on the case show that May and Kunkemoeller marked up the price of services and supplies provided to the charter schools they managed in Ohio and Florida, sometimes more than doubling the cost of school uniforms, desks, computers, chairs and website design.

………

Between 2010 and 2015, $350,000 was collected from students and parents for uniforms, and another $11,000 for school lunches, the Florida investigation found. Beyond Newpoint’s 18 percent management fee, millions more have been collected from inflated or allegedly fictitious invoices, according to court filings.

I am So Not Sorry About this Computer Hack………

It turns out that thousands of speed camera reports have been invalidated because a technician was updating machines with a tainted memory stick:
A contractor in the Australian State of Victoria has managed to infect an unknown number of speed cameras with a virus, over sneakernet.

Details aren't so much sketchy as they are confused: the virus has been identified as WannaCrypt, but the government's been told it infected both Linux and Windows-based cameras; there was no ransom demand; the main symptom was repeated camera reboots, and; contractors apparently hoped to keep things quiet by patching cameras without telling anyone.

The lid came off on Friday, and Victoria Police decided to cancel 590 fines issued by 55 cameras infected by a contractor visiting the cameras to perform software upgrades with a USB drive that also carried something nasty.

The number of known infections rose to 97 out of the state's total of 280 speed cameras, after one of the state's speed camera contractors, Redflex, told the Department of Justice it had identified and patched a further 42 infections earlier in June.

………

In excess of 7,500 fines issued between June 6 and June 22 are to be “quarantined” during the investigation, but may be reissued once the investigation is completed.
I want to state that I have no direct knowledge of any hacking operations, but if, for example, the good folks at 4Chan decided to hack speed cams and red light cams, I would donate to a GoFundMe of their legal defense.

In the United States, at least, these programs are more about revenue generation and getting money to private contractors who operate the systems.

Least Surprising News of the Day

An intelligence evaluation of the Manning leaks has been leaked, and no real harm was caused:
In the seven years since WikiLeaks published the largest leak of classified documents in history, the federal government has said they caused enormous damage to national security.

But a secret, 107-page report, prepared by a Department of Defense task force and newly obtained by BuzzFeed News, tells a starkly different story: It says the disclosures were largely insignificant and did not cause any real harm to US interests.

Regarding the hundreds of thousands of Iraq-related military documents and State Department cables provided by the Army private Chelsea Manning, the report assessed “with high confidence that disclosure of the Iraq data set will have no direct personal impact on current and former U.S. leadership in Iraq.”
So, we're talking about embarrassment, and little else.

Our culture of over-classification leads to poor decisions and generally stupid sh%$.

I'd really like to see the Swedish concept of Offentlighetsprincipen (openness) written into our constitution:
In the 18th century, after over 40 years of mixed experiences with parliamentarism, public access to public documents was one of the main issues with the Freedom of the Press Act of 1766. Although the novelty was put out of order 1772–1809, it has since remained central in the Swedish mindset, seen as a forceful means against corruption and government agencies' unequal treatment of the citizens, increasing the perceived legitimacy of (local and central) government and politicians. The Principle of Public Access (Swedish: Offentlighetsprincipen), as the collection of rules are commonly referred to, provides that all information and documents created or received by a "public authority" (local or central government, and all publicly operated establishments) must be available to all members of the public. It also states that all public authorities must provide information promptly (skyndsamt) upon request. 
Secrecy makes the holders of secret information feel unjustifiably exceptional, which builds arrogance, which in turn leads to stupidity and insane plans, which in turn leads to disaster.

It's a Greek tragedy writ unbelievably small.

Tweet of the Day

H/t naked capitalism

More IP Shenanigans

The Department of Defense is planning to grant the pharma giant Sanofi an exclusive license to manufacture and market a vaccine for the Zika virus that the US Army has developed:
………

It concerns something really exciting and important: a vaccine that shows great promise against the devastating Zika virus, which can cause microcephaly, blindness, deafness, and calcification of the brain in children whose mothers were infected during their pregnancy. If effective, such a vaccine could be a tremendous boon not just for developing countries, but for Western ones too, since the Zika virus has already begun to spread in the US, and Europe. The vaccine was developed at the Walter Reed Army Institute for Research, and the Department of the Army funded its development. Great news, you might think: the US public paid for it, so it's only right that it should have low-cost access to it. Moreover, as an act of compassion -- and to burnish its international image -- the US could allow other countries to produce it cheaply too. But an article in The Nation reports that the US Army has other ideas:

the Army is planning to grant exclusive rights to this potentially groundbreaking medicine -- along with as much as $173 million in funding from the Department of Health and Human Services -- to the French pharmaceutical corporation Sanofi Pasteur. Sanofi manufactures a number of vaccines, but it's also faced repeated allegations of overcharges and fraud. Should the vaccine prove effective, Sanofi would be free to charge whatever it wants for it in the United States. Ultimately, the vaccine could end up being unaffordable for those most vulnerable to Zika, and for cash-strapped states.
The Knowledge Ecology Institute (KEI), led by Jamie Love, made a reasonable suggestion to ensure that those most at need would have access to the drug at a reasonable price. KEI asked that, if Sanofi does get an exclusive deal, it should be obliged to make the vaccine available at an affordable price. The Army said it lacked the ability to enforce price controls, but it would ask those nice people at Sanofi to commit to affordable pricing on a voluntary basis. According to The Nation, those nice people at Sanofi refused. Speaking of nice people at Sanofi, the article notes the following:
………


When there is an entire Web page dedicated to listing Sanofi's problems going back to 2009, you really have to wonder why the US Army is so keen to give the company a monopoly on this promising new treatment. The usual argument for the sky-high prices of drugs is that firms must be rewarded for taking on the financial risk of drug development, otherwise they won't proceed, and the world would be the poorer. Except, of course, in this case that risk was entirely borne by the US public, which paid for the early stage development of the vaccine with their taxes. So Sanofi risked nothing, but now looks likely to reap the benefits by being allowed to price the vaccine out of the reach of the people who most need it. You might think there ought to be a law against this kind of behavior. It turns out that there is:

KEI's Jamie Love pointed out that under the Bayh-Dole Act of 1980, it is already illegal to grant exclusive rights to a federally owned invention unless the license holder agrees to make it available at reasonable pricing. But that provision has rarely, if ever, been enforced.
Now would be a really great time to start enforcing that law.
Indeed.

I'm inclined to believe that Bayh Dole is a bad law, and it has been made far worse through the rather lackadaisical attitude toward applying any sort of public benefit to technologies that were developed at public expense.

It would be nice if  the law's march in rights, which allow for compulsory licensing, had been applied even once.

Trump is a Real Friend of the Jews

Trumps State Department is shutting down its anti-Semitism monitoring office:
The U.S. State Department’s office to monitor and combat anti-Semitism will be unstaffed as of July 1.

A source familiar with the office’s workings told JTA that its remaining two staffers, each working half-time or less, would be reassigned as of that date.

The Trump administration, which has yet to name an envoy to head the office, would not comment on the staffing change. At full staffing, the office employs a full-time envoy and the equivalent of three full-time staffers.
So not a surprise.

Trump is dancing with what brung him.

24 June 2017

Fasten Your Seatbelts, Europe

Because European regulators just shut down two Italian banks:
Friday, in another sign that the eurozone financial system remains vulnerable even as the economy improves.

The central bank said in a statement that Veneto Banca and Banca Popolare di Vicenza, both based in northern Italy, had failed or were likely to fail because they did not have enough capital to meet regulatory requirements.

They become the second and third banks to be declared effectively dead by the central bank, which acquired power to supervise eurozone banks at the end of 2014.

The first, earlier this month, was Banco Popular, Spain’s fifth biggest bank.

Shareholders of the two Italian banks will lose their money, as will investors in so-called junior bonds that are intended to absorb losses first.

But deposits in the bank will be protected, as will investors in so-called senior bonds.

After 3 years, 3 banks in a month.

I'm wondering what is going to happen when (and it's when, not if) the ECB actually tries to down a German bank.