30 November 2013

The Libertarian Paradise in Just One Story

A couple in Utah was billed $3500.00 for a negative review of a vendor who never shipped what they ordered:
A Utah couple is facing an uphill legal battle after being slapped with a $3,500 fine by an online retailer for posting a negative review of the company years after it failed to ship the products they ordered.

CNN reported on Friday that John and Jen Palmer’s problems with Klear Gear began in 2008, when John canceled a purchase he made through the company after it failed to deliver his order within 30 days. The Palmers then panned the company in a review on the consumer-complaint site Ripoff Review, saying, in part, that it was impossible to reach someone at Klear Gear by phone.

But earlier this year, Klear Gear contacted the Palmers in writing, saying they violated the company’s “non-disparagement clause” and threatening them with the fine if they did not remove the negative review.

“This is fraud,” Jen Palmer told KUTV-TV. “They’re blackmailing us for telling the truth.”

KUTV also reported that the company’s terms of service stated, “To prevent the publishing of libelous content in any form, your acceptance of this sales contract prohibits you from taking any action that negatively impacts Kleargear.com, its reputation, products, services, management or employees.”

However, Yahoo News reported that the clause seemingly only went into effect this year, only for the language to be removed from the website.

When Ripoff Report refused to remove the review, Klear Gear contacted major credit agencies and listed the $3,500 fine as a “failure to pay,” hampering the couples’ credit rating. The company told KUTV via email that its request that the Palmers erase their negative comment was “a diligent effort to help them avoid the fine.”
So, first, the provision of the contract is illegal, second, it wasn't in force at the time that they made an order, and all the private entities involved, Klear Gear, Ripoff Report (which demanded a large payment to pull the post), and the credit rating agencies ('nuff said), have decided to f%$# the customer.

This is what happens when the contracts achieve primacy over basic human rights.

My only suggestion to the Palmers would be four letters, RICO, but I am an engineer, not a lawyer, dammit!*

*I LOVE IT when I get to go all Doctor McCoy!!!

Headline of the Day

The Greatest Danger to Israel is the Stupidity of Its Leaders.

A corralary to this is that the 2nd greatest danger to Israel is the stupidity of some of its friends, Paul Wolfowits, Richard Pearle, and Doug "the dumbest f%$%#ing guy on the plane" Feith come to mind.

29 November 2013

Austerity for Greeks, Welfare for the Germans

Following elections, because Angela Merkel's traditional partner, the FDP was shut out of the Bundestag, she had to form a coalition government with her traditional opposition, the SDP.

As a part of the coalition agreement she has agreed to create a minimum wage of €8.50 and a partial lowering of the retiring age to 63:
It was a "Six-Eye Negotiation" - in German, an "Unter Sechs Augen Gespraech". Three leaders, and so three pairs of eyes, sat down together in the small hours in a private room and haggled amongst themselves, eyeball to eyeball.

In the 185-page agreement which resulted, the Social Democrats (SPD) came away with a minimum wage of 8.50 euros (£7.10) an hour, uniformly applied across the country. The counter-argument had been that insisting on the minimum wage in the old East Germany would dent the region's ability to attract work.

The SPD's chief negotiator Sigmar Gabriel also got a lowering of the retirement age and some extra public spending. That may be welcomed by those outside Germany, who have argued that the country is "beggaring its neighbours" by not increasing German spending to match the country's amazing excess of exports over imports.

The SPD also secured the introduction of a minimum percentage of women on German company boards.

For her part, Chancellor Merkel got an acceptance from the SPD that its election demand of higher taxes on the rich would not happen. She also emphasised that the new government would continue to balance its budgets - there will be no move away from the belief that spending is tied to revenue.
I think that there is a fair amount consequences, some intended, and some not, to this.

First, a minimum wage of €8.50 will raise the wages of 17% of the workforce, with much of the effect in the service industry.

When one considers the impact on wages of people whose wages are just above the new minimum wage (probably about €10.00) it means that something like ¼ of the workforce will see a raise from this, which, in the long run may have negative political consequences for Merkel's CDU.

On the other side of the political consequences, the SDP's capitulation on higher taxes of the wealthy may play to the advantage of the left wing Die Linke, which is really the standard bearer of the democratic Socialism now eschewed by the "3rd Way" movement of the SDP in recent years.

One of the artifacts of German taxation is that it is fairly regressive, and wages of the bottom 90% have decreased in recent years:
According to a DIW study published last year, wages fell in real terms for all but the top 10 percent of earners in Germany between 2005 and 2010. This had a particularly acute effect on those earning the least. "As a rule, the lowest earners spend the highest portion of their income," study co-author Karl Brenke explains.

Low-wage workers also end up spending a much higher proportion of their income on mandatory health insurance, as any income above €46,000 in annual salary is not subject to premium payments. Thus, while a senior engineer earning €150,000 a year is only required to pay 6.6 percent of his total income in social security contributions, a laborer who makes only a tenth as much ends up paying 20.7 percent.Low-wage workers also end up spending a much higher proportion of their income on mandatory health insurance, as any income above €46,000 in annual salary is not subject to premium payments. Thus, while a senior engineer earning €150,000 a year is only required to pay 6.6 percent of his total income in social security contributions, a laborer who makes only a tenth as much ends up paying 20.7 percent.
The collapse of the FDP was in part a reaction to this reality, as it is the most Thatcherite of the major parties.

Note also that this coalition agreement is exactly the opposite of the normal prescription to debt crises in the Euro zone: reductions in spending, increases in retirement age, and reductions in the minimum wage.

The next country to receive a demand of austerity from IMF and the Euro zone troika will likely highlight the inherent hypocrisy of such a demand.

28 November 2013

Making Latkes for Thanksgivukah

Latkes from scratch at my mother-in-law's.  (THANK GOD FOR FOOD PROCESSORS)

Unfortunately, because this is a collaborative cooking experience, there is a shortage of pans, so I am relegated to a tiny pan which can only handle 3 latkes at a time.

Chanukah in Thanksgiving, gotta love it.

No specific recipe for the latkes, just potatoes, onions, eggs, matzoh meal, salt, and pepper in proportions dictated by my gut.

My only specific advice is to grate the onions first, because the onions have a chemical that prevents the grated potatoes from changing color in the air.

Posted via mobile.

Linkage, Thanksgivukah Edition

Have some exquisite music.

The camera work is a bit busy though.

27 November 2013

It's Jobless Thursday on Wednesday

Pretty decent numbers, though with the rush to get iut our ahead of Thanksgiving, I would wait for the update in a week.

Bye Bye Silvio

Berlusconi has been expelled from the Italian parliament following his conviction for tax fraud:
The Italian Senate has voted to expel ex-Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi from parliament with immediate effect over his conviction for tax fraud.

Berlusconi, who has dominated politics for 20 years, could now face arrest over other criminal cases as he has lost his immunity from prosecution.

He told supporters in Rome it was a "day of mourning" for democracy.

Ahead of the vote, he vowed to remain in politics to lead his Forza Italia in a "fight for the good of Italy".

A defiant Berlusconi told supporters gathered outside his Rome residence that "no political leader has suffered a persecution such as I have lived through".

He said: "It is a bitter day, a day of mourning."
Central to Berlusconi's success has always been his near monopoly on commercial TV in Italy, particularly when juxtaposed with his control of the state TV networks after he was first elected.

What the need to do now is to pass regulations preventing this ghastly intersection of monopoly media ownership and electoral politics from recurring.

Any Guess as to Which SEC Senior Official is About to Jump to the Private Sector

Because the Securities and Exchange Commission has delayed a revolving door regulation:
Months ago, bowing to concern about regulators who leave government and then work their former colleagues on behalf of industry, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) announced that it was tightening restrictions on the revolving door.

Specifically, the SEC decided to close a loophole in the ethics rules that allowed some “senior” SEC personnel to lobby the agency immediately after leaving instead of staying on the sidelines for a year or more, as employees at other federal agencies must do. The change in the rules—revoking a longstanding exemption for some SEC officials—appeared to be a rare stand against the revolving door at an agency that has long blurred the lines between the regulators and the regulated.

But not so fast.

A notice published in Monday’s edition of the Federal Register said that the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) was withdrawing the new rule at “the request of the SEC” so that the agency could have more time to “effectively educate affected employees before the exemption revocation takes effect.”

The rule, which was published as “final” on October 3, had been scheduled to take effect on January 2.

The ethics office said it expects to republish the rule in January 2014, but it then would take another 90 days for the rule to go into effect, according to Monday’s announcement. As a result, SEC employees who would be affected by the rule change—including supervisory accountants, attorneys, economists, analysts, and administrative specialists—will have even more time to take advantage of the loophole. As long as they leave before the rule change takes effect, they’ll still be able to lobby the agency during their first year out.

For the ethics office to withdraw a rule after it had been adopted but before it could take effect appeared to be an unusual event. POGO searched the Federal Register going back to 1994 (the earliest year available in the Government Printing Office's online archives) and found no other OGE notice containing the phrase "Withdrawal of Final Rule." We asked an OGE spokesman how frequently this has happened, but he declined to comment.
Not feeling hope and change here.

Somewhere in Hell, J. Edgar Hoover is Laughing

Because Glenn Greenwald's latest scoop is that the NSA has been running the equivalent of Hoover's COINTELPRO program of spying and blackmail:
The National Security Agency has been gathering records of online sexual activity and evidence of visits to pornographic websites as part of a proposed plan to harm the reputations of those whom the agency believes are radicalizing others through incendiary speeches, according to a top-secret NSA document. The document, provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, identifies six targets, all Muslims, as “exemplars” of how “personal vulnerabilities” can be learned through electronic surveillance, and then exploited to undermine a target's credibility, reputation and authority.

The NSA document, dated Oct. 3, 2012, repeatedly refers to the power of charges of hypocrisy to undermine such a messenger. “A previous SIGINT" -- or signals intelligence, the interception of communications -- "assessment report on radicalization indicated that radicalizers appear to be particularly vulnerable in the area of authority when their private and public behaviors are not consistent,” the document argues.

Among the vulnerabilities listed by the NSA that can be effectively exploited are “viewing sexually explicit material online” and “using sexually explicit persuasive language when communicating with inexperienced young girls.”
Note that notwithstanding the claims from an NSA spokes bot that, "Without discussing specific individuals, it should not be surprising that the US Government uses all of the lawful tools at our disposal to impede the efforts of valid terrorist targets who seek to harm the nation and radicalize others to violence," these people are not accused of being terrorists, planning terrorism, or offering material support of terrorism.

They are simply called, "Radicalizers," people who say things that they don't like. People who hold up a mirror to the actions of the United States, and show that we as a society do not comport to our stated ordeals.

In other words, people like Martin Luther King, who was a major target of COINTELPRO.

They went through his sex life, and, after he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, attempted to convince him to commit suicide.

Note also, that at least one of the targets was a, "US Person".

So, we are now targeting citizens or legal residents for blackmail from the state security apparatus with No Finding of Wrongdoing or Support for Terrorism.

Our state security apparatus is completely out of control.

Toronto Has Officially Jumped the Shark

You know that it's true, because Florida, home of the hanging chad and governor Batboy, is now looking down on Canada's largest city:
A north Florida sheriff has filed drug charges against a local mayor, saying Bradford County "isn't Toronto."

Hampton Mayor Barry Layne Moore was arrested Monday afternoon in Polk County on a Bradford County warrant.

Bradford County Sheriff Gordon Smith appeared to draw a comparison between Moore and Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, who has admitted to smoking crack cocaine while he was in a drunken stupor.

Authorities say Moore faces charges of possessing and selling Oxycodone.
Congratulations Toronto, you are now the butt of jokes from Floridians.

Your fall is complete.



H/t Crooks and Liars.  I lurve New Yorker cartoons.

26 November 2013

Today's Must Read

It's, "Here's why Wall Street has a hard time being ethical," in the Guardian, and here is the money quote:
That's the paradox at the core of the settlements we're seeing: where is the real responsibility? Others were doing it, yes. Banks should be fined, yes. But somebody should be charged. Yet the people who really should be held accountable have not. They are the bosses, the managers and CEOs of the businesses. They set the standard, they shaped the culture. The Chuck Princes, Dick Fulds, and Fred Goodwins of the world. They happily shepherded and profited from a Wall Street that spun out of control.

A precedent needs to be set, to slow down Wall Street’s wild behavior. A reminder that rules are there to be followed, not exploited. The managers knew what was going on. Ask anyone who works at a bank and they will tell you that.

The excuse we have long accepted is ignorance: that these leaders couldn't have known what was happening. That doesn't suffice. If they didn't know, it's an even larger sin.
Go read the rest.

F%$# Him. Walk Away, and He Will Be Hanging from a Lamp Post in 9 Months

It looks like Hamid Karzai is issuing new demands for a status of forces agreement:
Efforts by the United States and Afghanistan to finalize a long-term security arrangement appeared on the brink of collapse Monday as Afghan President Hamid Karzai made a new set of demands, and the Obama administration said it would be forced to begin planning for a complete withdrawal of U.S. forces at the end of 2014.

In a two-hour meeting here, Susan E. Rice, President Obama’s top national security adviser, told Karzai that if he failed to sign the bilateral security agreement by the end of this year, the United States would have “no choice” but to prepare for withdrawal, according to a statement by the National Security Council in Washington.

Karzai told Rice that he would sign only after the United States helps his government begin peace talks with the Taliban and agrees to release all 17 Afghan citizens being held in the Guantanamo Bay detention center in Cuba, according to Afghan and U.S. officials.

In addition to those new demands, the Afghan leader reiterated that he will not sign if “another [U.S.] soldier steps foot into an Afghan home,” Karzai spokesman Aimal Faizi said. The United States has already promised to show “restraint” in “home entries” by U.S. troops and to carry them out only in conjunction with Afghan troops, but the tactic remains a part of U.S. operations against some insurgents here.
If I were a cynical son of a bitch, I would be thinking that he is deliberately trying to encourage the Taliban to mount attacks to against the Afghan Presidential Elections in the Spring, so that he can hang onto power.

Wait ……… I AM a cynical son of a bitch.

Seriously. Just call his damn bluff, and either he capitulates, or the Taliban plays piñata with his mutilated corpse.

Either way, it is a win for the United States, and for the Afghan people.

Sounds Good, but I do not Expect Anything Meaningful to Come of This

We've seen this before.

The White House puts out a potentially significant rule, or rule change, and the right wing noise machine cranks up, and they back off.

This is why I'm dubious that their place greater restrictions on tax-exempt political groups will amount to much:
The Obama administration proposed new rules on Tuesday to rein in tax-exempt groups that have transformed the U.S. political landscape in recent years by harnessing hundreds of millions of dollars in anonymous donations to influence elections.

The proposal would alter definitions in the tax code that allow limited campaign and fundraising activities by the tax-exempt groups, some of which have been at the center of allegations that the Internal Revenue Service targeted conservative Tea Party groups for extra scrutiny.

These tax-exempt "social welfare" groups, organized under section 501(c)(4) of the tax code, mushroomed after a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that relaxed campaign finance rules. Part of their appeal is that the groups do not have to disclose the identities of their donors as long as they spend less than half their time and money on political activities.

Critics say the relaxed rules have opened the door to the abuse of campaign finance rules meant to curb the influence of wealthy donors in U.S. politics.


U.S. government officials have struggled for years to determine what qualifies as political activity. The proposed rules would more clearly define "candidate-related political activity" and also ask for public comment about how much political spending these groups should be allowed to do. The proposed rules introduce several bright-line tests that would determine when a 501(c)(4) is doing too much campaign activity and is violating its tax-exempt status.

Among these new definitions, advertising that names a candidate 60 days before a general election would count as political activity. Certain contributions that can now be made anonymously by these groups may need to be reported. Any "voter guides" that refer to a candidate would be considered political activity.

Also, any event within 60 days of a general election at which a candidate appears as part of the program would be a political event.

"This proposed guidance is a first critical step toward creating clear-cut definitions of political activity by social welfare organizations," Mark Mazur, Treasury assistant secretary for tax policy, said in a statement.
If they implement this, it would be good first step, but I expect it to be watered down beyond recognition.

I Guess that You Get il Papa Buono About Once Every 50 Years

Pope Francis just went rhetorically postal on Anglo-Saxon hyper capitalism:
Pope Francis on Tuesday sharply criticized growing economic inequality and unfettered markets in a wide-ranging and decidedly populist teaching that revealed how he plans to reshape the Catholic Church.

In his most authoritative writings as pontiff, Francis decried an “idolatry of money” in secular culture and warned that it would lead to “a new tyranny.” But he reserved a large part of his critique for what he sees as an excessively top-down Catholic Church hierarchy, calling for more local governance and greater inclusiveness — including “broader opportunities for a more incisive female presence in the Church.”


On Tuesday, he showed a willingness to use tough language in attacking what he views as the excesses of capitalism. Using a phrase with special resonance in the United States, he strongly criticized an economic theory — often affiliated with conservatives — that discourages taxation and regulation.

“Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world,” Francis wrote in the papal statement. “This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacra­lized workings of the prevailing economic system.”

“Meanwhile,” he added, “the excluded are still waiting.”

Although Francis has previously raised concerns about the growing gap between the wealthy and the poor, the direct reference to “trickle-down” economics in the English translation of his statement is striking.

The phrase has often been used derisively to describe a popular version of conservative economic philosophy that argues that allowing the wealthy to run their businesses unencumbered by regulation or taxation bears economic benefits that lead to more jobs and income for the rest of society. Liberals and Democratic officials have rejected the theory, saying it is contradicted by economic evidence.


Francis’s language on the economy has been far more accessible than that of Benedict, a theologian who wrote primarily in thick books hard to untangle for the regular lay­person. And Pope John Paul II’s warnings on economic inequality were swallowed at times by his war on Communism, a far more dangerous problem in the church’s eyes because of its anti-religious bent.
John Paul II’s "war on Communism" was a reactionary war against the idea that the church was to be a countervailing force against the excesses of capitalism.

It's nice to see that some of the less antediluvian members of the Catholic clergy managed to avoid JP II's purges.

It Could Not Happen to a More Deserving Bunch of Rat F%$#ers

It appears that all is not well at the Heritage Foundation,*.

Former Senator DeMint has taken the helm, and in addition to making its so-called scholarship secondary to its electoral litmus tests, DeMint has embraced his MBA ethos, and started to enforce rigorous performance standards and metrics on its employees.

The employees are not amused. They see themselves as professionals, and they find it demeaning that they will be treated in the same way that they insist that the professionals who teach our children:
Julia Ioffe has a piece in the New Republic explaining the recent history of the Heritage Foundation, once the most influential conservative think tank in Washington, D.C. — perhaps the most influential think tank of any kind anywhere, for a few years — and now essentially a very large email list and activist PAC/pressure group.

Many people noticed how much the organization had changed during the recent government shutdown/”defund Obamacare” fight, a giant waste of everyone’s time and general self-inflicted disaster engineered and designed by Heritage Action, the 501(c)(4) “pressure group” Heritage launched in 2010. On the right, there was much consternation over the direction this once-respected think tank had taken. Truth be told, Heritage was always mostly political hacks, they just used to be effective political hacks with a realistic agenda. What was different now was the cheerful absense of any coherent and/or achievable goal — beyond fundraising and image-boosting for Heritage Action itself. Many blamed this on new Heritage president Jim DeMint, a former congressman not particularly known for his intellect, but Ioffe says the new tone at Heritage, and the tactics of Heritage Action, were both largely directed by Michael Needham, a 31-year-old former Giuliani staffer brought on to be the CEO of Heritage Action when it launched.

It seems that the folks at Heritage do not feel that they are being properly respected:
“I was always struck at how they felt absolutely no intellectual modesty,” says the former veteran Heritage staffer. “They felt totally on par with people who had spent thirty years in the field and had Ph.D.s.”
 Kind of like how turning over public schools to hedge fund managers, and the results are the same, MBA morons using the skills that blew up our financial system to f%$# their latest endeavor:

Since Needham and Chapman and DeMint have been in charge, a number of scholars and academic think tank types have left the organization, presumably distressed by the new regime’s management methods. Those methods do sound quite annoying, though:
DeMint also shared another bond with the two men: unlike the Heritage ruling class of yore, none of them had Ph.D.s. All three, however, had MBAs. Their preference for incentivizing behavior on the Hill with scorecards and primary challenges was “a very MBA approach to politics,” the former scholar noted ruefully. “There’s really no room there for deliberation or argument.”

Once he took the helm, DeMint set about reorganizing the business. Under Feulner, the Heritage Foundation ran as a decentralized confederation of so-called research silos—health care, national security, education—whose staffers each focused on a specific area. DeMint instituted a system of multidisciplinary teams that sprung up depending on the issue of the day that Heritage happened to be pushing. Moreover, now a Heritage staffer’s career trajectory was tied to the success or failure of that team.

You mean … compensation and advancement were tied to performance? That sounds like standard corporate management best-practices to me. It also sounds like something Heritage has spent years trying to implement in public schools.
You know, the Heritage Foundation just loved private equity pump and dump before it was applied to them.

My f%$#ing heart f%$#ing bleeds f%$#ing borscht for these bastards.

F%$#ing sauce for the f%$#ing gander.
*Full disclosure, a friend of mine was fired for having cancer from the Heritage Foundation, so I am not favorably inclined toward these bastards.


Breaking Bad alternate ending:

I've never watched the show, and I LOLed.

H/t Crooks and Liars.

*Yes, this is fart humor.

25 November 2013

Fed Judge Rules Parsonage Tax Exemption Unconstitutional

The Freedom From Religion Foundation prevailed in their challenge:
The Freedom From Religion Foundation and its co-presidents Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker have won a significant ruling with far-reaching ramifications declaring unconstitutional the 1954 “parish exemption” uniquely benefiting “ministers of the gospel.”

“May we say hallelujah! This decision agrees with us that Congress may not reward ministers for fighting a ‘godless and anti-religious’ movement by letting them pay less income tax. The rest of us should not pay more because clergy pay less,” Gaylor and Barker commented.

U.S. District Judge Barbara B. Crabb for the Western District of Wisconsin issued a strong, 43-page decision Friday declaring unconstitutional 26 U.S. C. § 107(2), passed by Congress in 1954. Quoting the Supreme Court, Crabb noted, “Every tax exemption constitutes subsidy.” The law allowed “ministers of the gospel” paid through a housing allowance to exclude that allowance from taxable income. Ministers may, for instance, use the untaxed income to purchase a home, and, in a practice known as “double dipping,” may then deduct interest paid on the mortgage and property taxes.

“The Court’s decision does not evince hostility to religion — nor should it even seem controversial,” commented Richard L. Bolton, FFRF’s attorney in the case. “The Court has simply recognized the reality that a tax free housing allowance available only to ministers is a significant benefit from the government unconstitutionally provided on the basis of religion.”

Crabb wrote: “Some might view a rule against preferential treatment as exhibiting hostility toward religion, but equality should never be mistaken for hostility. It is important to remember that the establishment clause protects the religious and nonreligious alike.”

The benefit to clergy is huge — saving an estimated $2.3 billion in taxes in the years 2002-2007 alone, according to a statement by Congressman Jim Ramstad in 2002. Clergy are permitted to use the housing allowance not just for rent or mortgage, but for home improvements including swimming pools, maintenance and repairs. They may exempt from taxable income up to the fair market rental value of their home, particularly benefiting well-heeled pastors. The benefit extends to churches, which can pay clergy less, as tax-free salaries go further.

The 1954 bill’s sponsor, Rep. Peter Mack, argued ministers should be rewarded for “carrying on such a courageous fight against this [godless and anti-religious world movement].”

“I agree with plaintiffs that §107(2) does not have a secular purpose or effect,” wrote Crabb, adding that a reasonable observer would view it “as an endorsement of religion.”
Given the decades of Republican court stacking, I would expect this to be overturned on appeal, but I hope that it isn't.

I do not know about the general makeup of the 7th circuit court of appeals, but if it does not get shut down at that level, it will be by the Supreme court.

H/t Cthulhu at the Stellar Parthenon BBS.

What? You Mean that Taxpayer Funded Stadiums Don't Create Growth?

Boosters of Baltimore’s Oriole Park at Camden Yards, built at taxpayer cost of $210 million, promised the baseball stadium would lead an urban renaissance, revitalizing blighted neighborhoods and bringing jobs and tax revenue to the city’s struggling downtown.

More than two decades later, the pledge stands unfulfilled. Baltimore is burdened with 16,000 vacant properties and some of the highest taxes in Maryland. The neighborhoods around Camden Yards have fewer businesses than they did in 1998. And the ballpark and a National Football League stadium nearby will require state and local debt service of about $24 million in 2014.

Baltimore’s lesson is one that Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has taken to heart. He said Nov. 11 that Georgia’s capital city wouldn’t pay to build a new stadium for the Atlanta Braves -- regardless of the team’s promises to bring thousands of jobs and pump tens of millions of dollars into the local economy. So the franchise said it would relocate to suburban Cobb County, which agreed to pay $300 million of the facility’s $672 million cost.

“It’s wrong to take money from taxpayers and hand it to millionaires and billionaires,” said Arthur Rolnick, a senior fellow at the University of Minnesota who has studied the public cost of professional sports stadiums. “If you try to justify it on economic development, the arguments dissolve pretty fast. The public would be much better off if they invested in things that would improve the quality of life, like roads and bridges, education and lowering crime.”
It ain't just stadiums. It's all the corporate welfare out there.

It is a losing proposition for governments.

Just wait until Cobb County gets hit with the real bill for the Braves' ballpark.

The French Call for Germany to Leave the Eurozone

It's not the French government, but it is as close as it can get without a governmental imprimatur:
Suddenly, there’s the next solution. This one is attractively presented with graphs and in simple economic terms that even a politician might understand. It’s seemingly well-reasoned and has no visible partisanship attached to it. And it came from one of the largest megabanks in France, Groupe BPCE, that hardly anyone knows.

It was established in 2009 through a government bailout and a near-simultaneous merger between the Caisse Nationale des Caisses d’Épargne and the Banque Fédérale des Banques Populaires. These vast cooperative bank networks continue to exist with their separate brands. And that’s what consumers see. BPCE has €1.15 trillion in assets and owns about 20% of the retail banking market. It’s huge.

And now, its asset management and investment banking subsidiary, Natixis, released a zinger of a study designed to influence policy. It’s titled, “On a purely macroeconomic basis, Germany should leave the Eurozone.”

Germany should get out of the way so that the remaining countries can devalue in a big way what would remain of the euro. France, Italy, Spain, Greece, etc. have always done that, one way or the other, before the euro took that nifty tool of sudden money destruction away from them. It would be the ideal solution for France.

After conceding that there may be non-economic reasons to form a monetary union, the report lays out five reasons why Germany needs to exit. But it offers an alternate solution: if Germany wants to stay, it needs to pay.
  1. Asymmetries in the economic cycles.
  2. Weakening economic ties between Germany and the rest of the Eurozone.
  3. Structural asymmetries.
  4. Different needs in exchange rates.
  5. Incapacity in the rest of the Eurozone to impose “internal devaluation.”
Read the rest.


Here are the historical US numbers through the years
The proposed regulations on CEO pay were defeated by referendum:
Swiss voters rejected a proposal to limit executives’ pay to 12 times that of junior employees yesterday, a measure that would have gone further than any other developed nation.

The measure was opposed by 65 percent of voters, the government in Bern said yesterday. Polls, including one by consulting firm gfs.bern, had signaled that outcome as probable. Voter turnout was 53 percent, the highest in three years.

“It’s a big relief,” Valentin Vogt, president of the Swiss Employers’ Association, said in an interview on Swiss national television SRF. “It’s a signal that it’s not up to the state to have a say in pay.”

Switzerland is the home to at least five of Europe’s 20 best-paid chief executive officers. Opposition to excessive pay has stiffened among the traditionally pro-business Swiss following the government bailout of UBS AG (UBSN), Switzerland’s biggest bank, in 2008 and a plan -- later scrapped -- by Novartis AG (NOVN) to pay outgoing Chairman Daniel Vasella as much as $78 million.

In March, Swiss voters approved the so-called fat-cat initiative that gave company shareholders a binding vote on managers’ pay and blocked golden handshakes and severance packages.
The problem here is that you need to get a foot in the door.

If they you had made it 100x, or 500x, it probably have won, but 12x seems to be too restrictive, even to a rabid liberal like me.

After all, depending on how you count, the ratio of the average worker to a CEO was between 18.3-20.1:1, so the ratio to lowest paid was probably in the range of 40:1. 

Note that the $78 million parachute divided by 100 is still more than $¾ million, so the most extreme examples would be shut down, and we would stop seeing the CEO dick swinging over obscene pay packages.

Why Internet Rage is a Good Thing

Because with out it, these people would have gotten away with trying to cover up a rape to protect their high school football program, but instead, the Steubenville school superintendent, a principal, and two coaches have been indicted.

This is in addition to the indictment of an IT guy at the school district about 6 weeks ago.

This would not have happened but for if not for the sh%$-storm on the internet, and the bravery of Alexandria Goddard for getting it out there and staying on the story.

It's Bank Failure Friday!!! (On Monday Morning)

No bank failures this week, but I forgot to look at the NCUA list of credit union closings.

The 12th credit union of the year failed, Polish Combatants Credit Union, of Bedford, ​OH.

24 November 2013

Yes, the Administrators at My Alma Mater are Complete Prats

At UMass, the administration has banned electronic music parties because concerns about XTC use:
The University of Massachusetts Amherst (UMASS) has banned all Electronic Dance Music events from its campus, in response to a surge in MDMA use in the United States.

MDMA, or ‘Molly’ as the drug is referred to in the US is being categorised as a health and safety risk to students and EDM is seen by College administrators as the reason for its rise in popularity.

In a campus wide email the UMASS interim Vice Chancellor, Enku Gelaye said, “We have grown even more concerned about the ongoing reports of overdoses…The Molly taking culture at these shows is real and now exceedingly dangerous to the health and safety of concert attendees.”

The response from students at UMASS has been strong, with a number of petitions being set up and a flash mob started outside the students’ union in protest. Many feel the majority are being punished for the actions of the few.
When I was at the school, I got a good education, audited a thoroughly corrupt athletic department, and dealt with an administration that was a miasma of incompetence and hypocrisy in their attempts to eliminate the "Zoo Mass" reputation of the institution.

Let me repeat something to tweak the administration and the search engines:  Zoo Mass, Zoomass.

I am seriously considering adding it to my metadata.

Please note that nothing here should be construed as an endorsement of Electronic Dance Music.

This is Amazingly Not Stupid

Note new fuselage with rear ramp
A couple of weeks ago, I commented on the absurdity of using the V-22 to replace the C-2 for carrier-onboard-delivery (COD).

Basically, the V-22 is too expensive, lacks sufficient internal volume, is a maintenance hog, and lacks sufficient range.

One of the proposals is to update the C-2, which is based on the E-2, with the propulsion and aerodynamics updates that have been applied to the latest version of the Hawkeye.

LM is proposing a Refurbished S-3 Viking with a new fuselage:
Competition is the mother of invention, and with a handful of prime contractors chasing fewer new programs, none are willing to pass on a chance to compete, even if it means dusting off an old product.

An example is the U.S. Navy's emerging requirement to renew its carrier-onboard-delivery (COD) fleet. Northrop Grumman is proposing to remanufacture the existing C-2 Greyhounds, while the Bell Boeing team is offering new V-22 Osprey tiltrotors.

Now Lockheed Martin has entered the fray with a proposal to take U.S. Navy S-3 Vikings out of desert storage, refurbish them and fit them with a new, larger fuselage suited to the cargo role. Retired from carrier decks in 2009, the twin-turbofan S-3 was designed for anti-submarine warfare but was also used for cargo delivery, electronic intelligence and aerial refueling.
It's most famous use was delivering a Commander Codpiece (George W. Bush) to a carrier deck to announce "Mission Accomplished".
Lockheed Martin's KC-3 proposal for the Navy COD mission would reuse the S-3's cockpit, wing, tail, engines and landing gear, but mate them to a new wider and longer fuselage with a rear loading ramp. “We've done the high-level engineering on whether it can take the cat and trap loads, and we believe it will,” Fearnow says. “We've run the concept past the Navy and responded to the RFI [request for information].”

The KC-3, with its new aluminum fuselage, would actually be lighter than the S-3, once all of its mission avionics are removed, says Fearnow, but more work needs to be done on engineering the modification and assessing the condition of airframes and engines in storage. “We're not completely there yet. We believe it can be cost-competitive, but we have off-ramps in case we do not go forward,” he notes.
Note that the unrefuelled range of the C-2 Grayhound is 2,400 km (before upgrades) and its top speed is 635 km/h, the V-22 has a 1,627 km range and a 509 km/h top speed, and the S-3 has a range of 5,121 km and a top speed of 795 km/h.

If I were running the Pentagon, I would probably go with upgraded/new C-2s, they will almost certainly be the cheapest to acquire, would probably have the lowest operational cost, and they the fewest changes to existing operations.

Why the Saab Gripen is different From the JSF

We don't care, we don't have to...we're the phone company.
While the customers of the F-35 are being shut out of its software, and are unable to integrate their own weapons systems, Saab is using its willingness to incorporate outside systems to make the platform more attractive:
A focus on realistic requirements has helped Swedish industry and government teams integrate weapons on the Gripen faster and at lower cost than similar efforts elsewhere, Saab says.

Two new weapons for the Gripen, the Raytheon GBU-49 Enhanced Paveway II laser-plus-GPS bomb and Diehl Iris-T infrared air-to-air missile (AAM), were successfully integrated in 2006-09, according to Gideon Singer, technical director for Gripen exports, and Lisa Abom, head of the Saab project office for engineering and weapons. Flight testing of the Thales Digital Joint Reconnaissance Pod for South Africa's Gripens was completed in 2011 in “less than eight months,” they say.

The Gripen was also selected as the test platform for the MBDA Meteor AAM. The first production firing took place this summer and qualification firings for full integration of the Gripen will be complete in 2014. Sweden will be the first air force to field the new missile, with the Gripen MS 20 package in 2015. That upgrade will also include the GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb.


Saab devotes 14% of integration costs to planning and coordination, Singer and Albom told the Defense IQ International Fighter Conference here this month. One lesson is to “reach early agreement,” they said. This means defining and clearly interpreting requirements, limitations and the approach to testing. “You need to avoid terms like 'full envelope,'” Singer remarked. “If you ask, the operational pilot will often say that he doesn't need to go supersonic with three tanks and all these bombs.”
The JSF is such a huge program that they don't care, much like Ma Bell in the 1960s.

Lockheed, and the Pentagon, see the closed nature as a source of profit (for Lockheed), and as a way to preserve the industrial base and to freeze out foreign competition (for both), and as such, it will be an upgrade nightmare, even for the so-called "partners" in the program.

23 November 2013

The Juxtaposition of Jewish Ethics and IP

Copryight, patent, and Pirkei Avot? Really?

Yes, really.

Harold Feld, public interest telco lawyer, and apparently a decent Talmudic scholar writes a well documented explanation of why our current IP regime is actually immoral under Jewish norms.

A sample:
As I shall explain, many people think that the debate around intellectual property and public policy involves a conflict between the first type – hasheli sheli v’shelcha shelcha (what’s mine is mine, what’s yours is yours) – and the second type “sheli shelch v’shelcha sheli” (what’s mine is yours, what’s yours is mine). The media (which come down firmly on the side of their owners for expanding copyright) frame the debate as the well-meaning but foolish ‘Information wants to be free’ v. the more intuitively appealing respect for ‘intellectual property.’ Unworldly academics and idealistic young hackers, we are constantly told, simply don’t understand that without a way to control and make money from things like copyright, patent and trademark we would have no publishing industry, no movie industry, no medicines and technology and other inventions.

In reality, however, the modern debate over intellectual property policy in the last 30 years actually takes place solely in the context of the first sentence of the Mishna. The question is not whether we should have copyright or patent or trademark in an abstract sense. In light of our constant creation of new rights of enforcement and burdens placed on others for non-infringing uses, such as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and its “anti-circumvention provision,” and our efforts to force these ever expanding policies on other countries through trade agreements negotiated in secret, such as the recently reported Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP), the question is whether we have departed from ethical laws and increasingly come to resemble the injustice and cruelty of Sodom.
As an FYI to the gentiles reading this, the idea that Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed for sexual improprieties is not a part of normative Jewish theology.

Rather, it was destroyed because of the greed of the people and the way that they treated foreigners.

Read the whole thing.

To the Jews among my readers, this would be an excellent d'var for Vayera.

22 November 2013

Could My Relatives Please Confirm Who Sent Which T-Shirt?

OK, I know that Dad sent me this, because it came with gummy worms:

But who sent me this one?

Sometimes, Chanukah is confusing.


Best flash mob ever:

21 November 2013

I Did Not Expect Harry Reid to Have the Stones to do This

I said that I did not believe that Reid of the Democrats would ever invoke the nuclear option, no matter how awful the Republicans were.

I was wrong:
Senate Democrats took the dramatic step Thursday of eliminating filibusters for most nominations by presidents, a power play they said was necessary to fix a broken system but one that Republicans said will only rupture it further.

Democrats used a rare parliamentary move to change the rules so that federal judicial nominees and executive-office appointments can advance to confirmation votes by a simple majority of senators, rather than the 60-vote supermajority that has been the standard for nearly four decades.

The immediate rationale for the move was to allow the confirmation of three picks by President Obama to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit — the most recent examples of what Democrats have long considered unreasonably partisan obstruction by Republicans.

In the long term, the rule change represents a substantial power shift in a chamber that for more than two centuries has prided itself on affording more rights to the minority party than any other legislative body in the world. Now, a president whose party holds the majority in the Senate is virtually assured of having his nominees approved, with far less opportunity for political obstruction.

The main combatants Thursday were the chamber’s two chiefs, Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who have clashed for several years over Republican filibusters of Obama’s agenda and nominees.

Reid said the chamber “must evolve” beyond parliamentary roadblocks. “The American people believe the Senate is broken, and I believe the American people are right,” he said, adding: “It’s time to get the Senate working again.”

McConnell linked the rule change to the methods used to approve Obama’s health-care law solely with Democratic votes. The normally reserved GOP leader paced at his desk during his speech, often turning his back to Democrats to address only his fellow Republicans.

“It’s a sad day in the history of the Senate,” McConnell told reporters, calling the move a Democratic “power grab.”

The clash ended with a vote nearly as partisan as the times — 52 to 48, with all but three Democrats backing the move and every Republican opposing it.
I tend to think good riddance to the filibuster. 

It is an accident of history, and it has generally ill-served the American people.

Here's hoping that it gets further dismantled as time goes on.

Today's Must Read

Writing in Jacobin magazine, economist and blogger John Quiggen makes a cogent artument that, "Wall Street Isn’t Worth It."
David Graeber’s denunciation of “bullshit jobs” resonated with many, producing a string of responses. Alex Tabarrok and Brad DeLong have suggested that the apparent inverse relationship between earnings and the social value of work done is simply an illustration of “diamond-water” paradox, that prices and wages are determined by marginal, rather than absolute values and that marginal values reflect scarcity as well as utility. Peter Frase refutes this claim in both empirical terms (noting for example the fact that the price of diamonds is set by the De Beers cartel rather than pure market forces) and as a resurrection of the discredited marginal productivity ethics of the 19th century.

I’d like to look at a specific question raised by the discussion of private returns and social value, namely: can Wall Street, in its present form, be justified? That is, does the share of income flowing to corporations and professional workers in the financial sector reflect their marginal contribution to the total value of social output, so that, if their work ceased to be done and their skills were allocated elsewhere, we would all be worse off?

I argue that society as a whole would be better off if the financial sector were smaller, and received much smaller returns. A political strategy based on cutting the financial sector down to size has more promise for the Left than any alternative approach now on offer, and is a necessary precondition for a broader attempt to make the distribution of wealth and power more equal.
Read the rest.

It's a dense read, but I think that it makes the point quite well.

Go read.

If You Don't Trust Bill Gates with Your Data, Will You Trust Him With Your Penis

It appears that among his various charitable endeavors Bill Gates is trying to create a super condom:
It's been hailed as the new wonder-material, set to revolutionise everything from circuit boards to food packaging, a magic super-strength membrane that is barely there at all. Now, thanks to the unlikely sex champion Bill Gates, graphene could be used to make the thinnest, lightest, most impenetrable condom ever conceived.

“The common analogy is that wearing a condom is like taking a shower with a raincoat on,” says Dr Papa Salif Sow, senior program officer on the HIV team at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has awarded $100,000 (£60,000) to scientists at the University of Manchester's National Graphene Institute to aid their pursuit of the ultimate super-sheath. “A redesigned condom that overcomes inconvenience, fumbling or perceived loss of pleasure would be a powerful weapon in the fight against poverty.”

At only one atom thick, an all-graphene condom would put the Durex Ultra Thin to shame – although the fact that the material is barely visible to the naked eye could lead to some awkward moments between the sheets. A slight ruffle of the duvet and could it just float away?

Dr Aravind Vijayaraghavan, who will lead the research team, explains the focus is on developing a composite material, with latex, “tailored to enhance the natural sensation during intercourse while using a condom, which should encourage and promote condom use.”
If Windows gives us the Blue Screen of Death, what does the BingCondom give us?

I don't trust Windows Firewall, and I should trust this?

The Echos the Rise of Fascism in the 1920s and 1930s is Chilling

We are seeing increased violence between anarchists and neo-Nazis in Greece:
The decline of the Greek economy has had polarizing effects on the nation’s political system—and tensions are running high.

Now police in Greece are on high alert after a new anarchist group claimed responsibility for killing two members of Golden Dawn, a thuggish neo-Nazi group that has both terrorized immigrants on city streets and surged to become Greece’s third most popular political party.

The anarchist faction, calling itself the Militant People’s Revolutionary Forces, wrote in an 18-page proclamation given to local news agencies that the attack was revenge for the fatal stabbing of anti-fascist rapper Pavlos Fissas. The Golden Dawn members were shot to death outside of a party office in Athens earlier this month.

Tit-for-tat killings has led to worries more violence could follow—and the anarchists are armed. On Nov. 16, police discovered a weapon cache containing assault rifles, hand grenades and ammunition buried in a forest north of Athens, according to Jane’s Intelligence Weekly. And if weapons buried in undiscovered caches are not used against Golden Dawn, they could be turned on the police.


The attacks on Golden Dawn by left-wing radicals is also not without its sympathizers. Many believe that anarchists who are willing to use violence are the only effective means of defending immigrants and liberals against fascist attacks.

The anarchists’ have also received sympathy due to suspicions that Golden Dawn is colluding with some police officers—undermining the security forces’ credibility. In their manifesto, the Militant People’s Revolution Force referred to the police as the “armed dogs of the regime.”
In the interwar years, we saw similar clashes between Communists and Fascists.

Then we saw the economy crushed by bloody minded support of the gold standard, with the Bundesbank being the most emphatic in its support, and now we have the Euro and austerity with the Bundesbank being the most emphatic in its support..

My brother is right.  Europe will be at war of some sort again in my lifetime.

20 November 2013

You are Welcome to Our Health Care System Design, But We Insist that in Compensation, Rob Ford Be Appointed Mayor of Some Town in Vermont…*

While we are talking about the progress of Obamacare, it is important to note that Vermont is going with a full up single payer system:
All but ignored in the multitude of media coverage about the ACA and its problems, Vermont has become the first state in the union to pass a single-payer universal health care law for its residents. It has a snappy slogan: Everybody in, nobody out.

The system will be fully operational by 2017, funded by Medicare, Medicaid, federal money for the ACA given to Vermont, and a slight increase in taxes. Everyone will be able to go to any doctor or hospital in the state free of charge. No plans to figure out, no insurance forms to sweat over, no gotchas.


Dr. William Hsaio, the Harvard health care economist who helped craft health systems in seven countries, was Vermont’s adviser. He estimates that Vermont will save 25 percent per capita over the current system in administrative costs and other savings. Employers will suddenly be free to give raises to their employees instead of paying for increasingly expensive health benefits. All hospitals and health-care providers in Vermont will be nonprofit. Medicare recipients will no longer need to wade through an inch-thick book to choose supplemental plans and sort out other complex options in their Medicare enrollment.
If (and it is a big if) Vermont can decide on the funding method, it should be fully implemented by 2017.

* Not my bon mot. Stolen from TP at the Stellar Parthenon BBS.

Yes, Arne Duncan is a Bigot

We all are on some level, but his latest comment where he complains that white suburban moms complaining about Common Core testing shows that this attitude permeates his attitude on education:
Education Secretary Arne Duncan tried Monday to quell the outrage sparked by his comments that injected race and class into the debate about the Common Core academic standards taking root in classrooms across the country.

Duncan said Friday that he was fascinated by the fact that some opposition to the standards was coming from “white suburban moms” who fear that “their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were.”

The remark lit up social-media sites, prompting pointed responses from bloggers, an open letter from a school superintendent, digital images of Duncan’s official federal portrait with the word “bigot” emblazoned across it, and one congressman’s call for Duncan’s firing.

Duncan, whose office declined interview requests Monday, posted a statement late in the day on his agency’s Web site.

“I used some clumsy phrasing that I regret — particularly because it distracted from an important conversation about how to better prepare all of America’s students for success,” he wrote. “I want to encourage a difficult conversation and challenge the underlying assumption that when we talk about the need to improve our nation’s schools, we are talking only about poor minority students in inner cities. This is simply not true. Research demonstrates that as a country, every demographic group has room for improvement.”
The subtext here is profoundly racist, and I do not mean that it is "racist against whites", as the clowns on the right are insisting.

Please follow what was clearly his line of reasoning on this. 

Basically he is saying, , "I understand how poor/minority/otherwise disadvantaged people can oppose my policies, after they are ill equipped (too stupid) to understand my brilliance, but white suburban moms, they are my peeps.  They are smart enough to know better."

Duncan is very much a creature of the Wall Street entities who wish to create a for-profit educational industrial complex, and he simply cannot imagine that other "people like him" disagree with his goals.

Here is a clue:  Most suburban moms are not overpaid Harvard educated creatures of the finance industry.  They aren't "people like you."

Additionally, the push-back against NCLB and Race to the Top, is becoming increasingly stronger broader, and the opposition is moving up the socioeconomic pyramid.

No Child Left Behind is a failed program,which is no surprise, since the Bush adminiatration was at the heart of creating this legislation.

Once again, I am compelled to make the repeat the wisest thing that I've read this century:
But it does inspire in me the desire for a competition; can anyone, particularly the rather more Bush-friendly recent arrivals to the board, give me one single example of something with the following three characteristics:

1. It is a policy initiative of the current Bush administration
2. It was significant enough in scale that I'd have heard of it (at a pinch, that I should have heard of it)
3. It wasn't in some important way completely f#$@ed up during the execution.

Victory in Albuquerque

The abortion criminalization crowd just lost their attempt to pass abortion restrictions through a local referendum in Albuquerque:
Voters here on Tuesday defeated a ballot question that sought to ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, delivering a critical setback to an anti-abortion movement that had sought to use this progressive city to recalibrate the national debate around women’s reproductive rights.

The referendum, the first of its kind in the country for a municipality, was marked by record turnout and aggressive tactics by volunteers on both sides, who sought to capitalize on the controversy and passion surrounding the issue to drive voters to the polls. For political strategists, it also offered a chance to test the way their message on abortion resonated among Hispanics, a key constituency that accounts for nearly half of the residents in Albuquerque and New Mexico, and is one of the fastest-growing populations in the country.

“This was a clear counterpunch to the Republicans and right-wingers who came from out of state to push their agenda on us,” Sam Bregman, chairman of the New Mexico Democratic Party, which campaigned hard against the ban, said in an interview.

According to the city clerk’s office, about 87,000 votes were cast in the election, or 25 percent of Albuquerque’s registered voters. The final tally was 55 percent of votes against and 45 percent of votes for the abortion ban.

The ban would have affected the entire state, given that the only two clinics that perform abortion at that stage in the pregnancy are in Albuquerque. One, Southwestern Women’s Options, is perhaps one of the only in the country to openly admit it does abortions after 20 weeks; out-of-state license plates can often be spotted in its parking lot.
Double digit margin, bitches.

Understand that things like politicians using changes in parking requirements are still being used to shut down clinics, which is why Republicans must be actively campaigned against at all levels, whether it is for zoning board, or dog catcher.

Once Again, Eric Arthur Blair* is Spinning in His Grave

Guess what, the US Government is now saying that prisoners own memories of their torture are secret, and so cannot be revealed:
I'd missed this story when it came out a few weeks ago, but thanks to Rob Hyndman for calling it to my attention. There was plenty of press around the fact that one of the guys being held by US forces in Guantanamo, and who faces trial as one of the co-conspirators for 9/11, supposedly sustained head injuries while being held by the CIA. But, that's just the tip of the iceberg of the story. Apparently Ammar al Baluchi, and some of the other prisoners are trying to argue that the US violated the UN Convention Against Torture with how they treated prisoners at the infamous black sites. But here's the crazy part: the US is arguing that the prisoners' own recollections of what was done to them cannot be used in court, because it would reveal classified information. Talk about adding insult to injury.
Worst Constitutional Law Professor ever.

* George Orwell.

You Knew that This Was Going to Happen

Someone has released a Sandy Hook Shooting Video Game.


19 November 2013

The United States Air Force is Broken

Generally, I talk about how the USAF is a narcissistic organization that is not particularly concerned about serving the soldier on the ground.

What is also a problem is that, even more the other services, the USAF has been thoroughly infiltrated by bigoted Christian Dominionist Evangelicals.

What I call the Talibaptist wing of the body politic.

Case in point, the US Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs has put a virulently anti-gay advocate of "reparative therapy" in charge of mandatory counseling:
The US Air Force Academy hired a man to run their counseling program for young cadets who, for the past two decades, has devoted his entire professional career to the cause of “curing homosexuality,” and who claims that he himself has been “cured” of the “addiction.”

The news of “ex-gay” activist Dr. Mike Rosebush running the academy’s counseling program comes on the heels of growing concerns as to whether the academy is serious about becoming a welcoming place for gay cadets in the post-”Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” era.

Rosebush is the chief of Character and Leadership Coaching at the US Air Force Academy, located in Colorado Springs, Colorado, putting him in charge of a team of counselors.

Rosebush’s primary counseling experience before coming to the academy was in supposedly “curing” homosexuality and other “sexual addictions” since 1995. Before that time, he was in the Air Force and also taught at the Academy. His resume reads like a veritable who’s-who of anti-gay hate and pseudo-science.
What is even worse is that he was hired AFTER don't ask, don't tell was passed.

We have too many generals in the military anyway, more than we had at the height of WWII, and some of those in the USAF desperately need to be fired.

The World Will Little Note, Nor Long Remember What We Say Here

This is the 150th anniversary of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.

F%$# Ronald Reagan for Gutting Mental Health Care in the US

Former Virginia gubernatorial candidate Creigh Deeds was stabbed by his mentally ill son, who then shot himself.

Yesterday, his son was released early from what would be a 48 hour psyche evaluation because there were no beds available:
Dennis Cropper, executive director of the Rockbridge County Community Services Board, told the Richmond Times-Dispatch that the emergency custody order, or ECO, allowed Gus Deeds to be held as long as four hours to determine whether he should be kept longer, up to 48 hours, under a temporary detention order.

The son was evaluated Monday at Bath Community Hospital, Cropper said, but was released because no psychiatric bed could be located across a wide area of western Virginia.
(emphasis mine)

It's kind of trite to blame Ronald Reagan, except for the fact that Reagan WAS to blame, having aggressively gutted the public psychiatric health system, first in California, and then, after he was elected, nation wide.


Science, bitches:

Specifically the Prince Rupert's drop.

18 November 2013

This is Going to Leave a Mark

This SNL opening sketch is not a send up of Toronto mayor Rob Ford as much as it is a send-up of 60 Minutes.

It is brutal.

I'd Call This a Completely Cocked Up Bit of Architecture, But………

So, what body part does this resemble?
This is particularly amusing because this is in Qatar, which is not a nation known for sexual equality.

If you are not clear what part of the anatomy it resembles, know that it has been nicknamed, "Vagina Stadium."

You can be reasonably certain that this name is never going away.

How About F%$#ing Paying Your Employees a F%$#ing Decent Wage Instead?

Walmart just held a food drive for its own employees:
The storage containers are attractively displayed at the Walmart on Atlantic Boulevard in Canton. The bins are lined up in alternating colors of purple and orange. Some sit on tables covered with golden yellow tablecloths. Others peer out from under the tables.

This isn't a merchandise display. It's a food drive - not for the community, but for needy workers.

"Please Donate Food Items Here, so Associates in Need Can Enjoy Thanksgiving Dinner," read signs affixed to the tablecloths.

The food drive tables are tucked away in an employees-only area. They are another element in the backdrop of the public debate about salaries for cashiers, stock clerks and other low-wage positions at Walmart, as workers in Cincinnati and Dayton are scheduled to go on strike Monday.

Is the food drive proof the retailer pays so little that many employees can't afford Thanksgiving dinner?

Norma Mills of Canton, who lives near the store, saw the photo circulating showing the food drive bins, and felt both "outrage" and "anger."

"Then I went through the emotion of compassion for the employees, working for the largest food chain in America, making low wages, and who can't afford to provide their families with a good Thanksgiving holiday," said Mills, an organizer with Stand Up for Ohio, which is active in foreclosure issues in Canton. "That Walmart would have the audacity to ask low-wage workers to donate food to other low-wage workers -- to me, it is a moral outrage."
Gee, you think?

Don't shop Walmart.

17 November 2013

Remember When I Wrote that High Frequency Trading was Front-Running?

Well, Yves Smith has found a whistleblower video that is a must watch: (Background on front-running here):

Yes, it's almost an hour long but the short version:
Mr. Bodek had been using common “limit orders,” which specify a price limit at which to buy or sell. Mr. Davidovich, according to Mr. Bodek, suggested that he instead use an order type called Hide Not Slide, which Direct Edge had introduced in early 2009, about the same time Trading Machines’ performance started to suffer.

Mr. Bodek says Mr. Davidovich told him Direct Edge had created this order type—which lets traders avoid having their orders displayed to the rest of the market—to attract high-frequency trading firms…

Mr. Bodek says he realized the orders he was using were disadvantaged, compared with Hide Not Slide orders. He says he found that in certain situations, the fact that a Hide Not Slide order was hidden allowed it to slip in ahead of some one-day limit orders that had been entered earlier. He also learned that other stock exchanges had order types somewhat like Hide Not Slide, with different twists.

“Man I feel like an idiot. Never grasped the full negative alpha embedded in a normal day limit,” Mr. Bodek emailed Mr.
We really need to start prosecuting these rat-f%$#s.

Is Anyone Surprised That the NSA Tried to Get Backdoors in Linux?

I'm not surprised, given that they have conspired to make security protocols less secure in order to make it easier for the NSA to hack into systems:
The NSA has asked Linus Torvalds to inject covert backdoors into the free and open operating system GNU/Linux. This was revealed in this week’s hearing on mass surveillance in the European Parliament. Chalk another one up of the United States NSA trying to make information technology less secure for everyone.

The father of Linus Torvalds, Nils Torvalds, is a Member of the European Parliament for Finland. This week, Nils Torvalds took part in the European Parliament’s hearing on the ongoing mass surveillance, and brought a revelation:

The United States security service NSA has contacted Linus Torvalds with a request to add backdoors into the free and open operating system GNU/Linux.

The entire inquiry is available here on YouTube (uploaded by Hax).

Nils Torvalds’ revelation was presented in an episode which started (at 3:06:58) by me pointing out to the Microsoft representative in the panel, that in a system like GNU/Linux, built on open source, you can examine the source code to see that there aren’t any back doors. In Microsoft’s systems, this possibility is absent, since the source code is secret to outsiders.
Backdoors are deliberate security holes in a system, and notwithstanding the claims of its proponents, (largely debunked by the evidence of abuse by NSA personnel) regarding checks and balances, this is just a complete clusterf%$# for American tech.

Any foreign company that does not think twice about working with a US tech firm is deluded.

16 November 2013

A Victory for Copyright Sanity

Google wins an federal court ruling for Google Books:
Google’s idea to scan millions of books and make them searchable online seemed audacious when it was announced in 2004. But fast-forward to today, when people expect to find almost anything they want online, and the plan seems like an unsurprising and unavoidable part of today’s Internet.

So when a judge on Thursday dismissed a lawsuit that authors had filed against Google after countless delays, it had the whiff of inevitability. Even the judge, Denny Chin of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, said during a September hearing on the case that his law clerks used Google Books for research.

“It advances the progress of the arts and sciences, while maintaining respectful consideration for the rights of authors and other creative individuals, and without adversely impacting the rights of copyright holders,” Judge Chin wrote in his ruling. “Indeed, all society benefits.” (Judge Chin handled the case in district court because he was a judge there when it began.)

The Authors Guild said it disagreed with the decision and planned to appeal. Google said it was “delighted” with the outcome.
I'm delighted too.

Generally the courts look at any technological advance as an excuse to expand IP holder privileges, and in this case, the judge actually looked at societal benefit, which is the purpose of our IP regime under the Constitution.

This is an astonishingly useful research tool, and copyright does not mean that the holder can extract every possible dollar for every use.

There is an increasing realization in society that expansive IP privilege is a hindrance to the well being of the society, when it should be an asset.