31 December 2017

I Do Not Like the H-1B Visas, but this Is Wrong

I am not a fan of the H-1B, and associated L-1A visa programs.

I think that their primary purpose is to depress wages through labor arbitrage.

That being said, the visa does have a path to permanent residency and Donald Trump is looking at making this a truly sadistic process:

The Department of Homeland Security is considering new regulations that would prevent H-1B visa extensions, according to two U.S. sources briefed on the proposal. The measure potentially could stop hundreds of thousands of foreign workers from keeping their H-1B visas while their green card applications are pending.

The proposal, being drafted in memos shared between DHS department heads, is part of President Donald Trump’s “Buy American, Hire American” initiative promised during the 2016 campaign.

The administration is specifically looking at whether it can reinterpret the "may grant" language of the American Competitiveness in the 21st Century Act to stop making the extensions. The act currently allows the administration to extend the H-1B visas for thousands of immigrants, predominantly Indian immigrants, beyond the allowed two three-year terms if a green card is pending.

“The idea is to create a sort of ‘self- deportation’ of hundreds of thousands of Indian tech workers in the United States to open up those jobs for Americans,” said a U.S. source briefed by Homeland Security officials.
 The problem with H-1B visas is not the (usually) South Asian programmers, it's Google, and Facebook, and Tata, and Infosys, and IBM, not the poor schlubs who work under near slavery conditions for those companies.

An Homage to 2017 by W4t3rf1r3

He's my kid, and he did an artwork for 2017.

He torched it because 2017 sucked.

His thought was, "On the one hand, it's weird that I destroyed one of my own art works, but on the other hand, I feel strangely accomplished."

He filmed it, I was cameraman, and my other kid, Natalie, did the lighting.

Not bad for 2 hours of filming and editing.

Year End Summary: Bank Failures

There were 8 commercial bank failures, and 11 credit union failures.

This is the fewest number of commercial bank failures least since 2007 (3 that year, over 20 in 2008).

I am not sure how much of this is better economic times or better regulation, and how much is the fact that there are a lot fewer banks because of consolidation.

I have no if this means anything at all, but I've been following this since mid-2009, so I will continue to do so.

(on edit)
My bad, there were fewer commercial bank failures last year, 5, though there were more credit union failures, 15.

Another Sign of the Apocalypse

In Ottowa, a New Year's concert was canceled, and a hockey game was moved indoors because it was too cold for Canadians.

"Too cold for Canadians," there was a phrase I never expected to say:
First no hockey, now no music. Ottawa has declared that it’s officially too cold – even for Canadians.

Heritage Canada has announced that a New Year’s Eve concert planned for Ottawa has been cancelled because of an extreme cold weather warning.

The party’s cancellation on Friday came after the federal government also moved an outdoor hockey tournament indoors and away from a C$5.6m (£3.3m) temporary ice rink installed on Parliament Hill.

The forecast overnight low for the nation’s capital on Sunday is -29C [-20°F] , nearly 20 degrees [36°F] colder than the seasonal average. Public skating and a fireworks show on the city’s Parliament Hill will go ahead as planned on Sunday night, but Heritage Canada warned revellers have been warned to dress for the weather and “prepare accordingly to prevent frostbite and other injuries”.
My suggestion would be for Canadians to watch the fireworks on TV.

30 December 2017

I Approve

Generally, when you hear lawmakers lauding a bipartisan initiative.

In this case, the decision by the House Judiciary Committee to unanimously clamp down on H1B mills appears to be the exception to this rule, though I'm thinking that there may be some mischief in the carve outs for companies like Facebook and Google:
Bipartisanship on the divisive issue of immigration is a rarity in Congress, but that is what happened when the House Judiciary Committee unanimously approved legislation making it harder for Indian outsourcing companies to bring high-skilled foreign workers to the U.S.

At the same time, the bill eases rules on some U.S. high-tech firms that use H-1B visas, putting political distance between Silicon Valley and Indian outsourcers as President Donald Trump condemns the program as rampant with abuse and a source of unfair competition to American workers.

The new rules apply only to companies that are heavy users of the program, or “H-1B dependent.” Lawmakers changed the definition of “H-1B dependent” to make sure technology companies that hire hundreds of foreigners every year, such as Facebook Inc., weren’t affected.

In turn, the House bill, the Protect and Grow American Jobs Act, has infuriated Indian outsourcing companies and the Indian government, according to someone who advises the government.

Nasscom, an information technology trade group in India, argues the measure “unfairly and arbitrarily” targets a handful of companies “while imposing no new requirement on the vast majority of companies that use the visas to do the … exact same things,” according to a statement from the group’s president, Rentala Chandrashekhar.

The new rules would require that firms either pay workers more–as much as $135,000 a year—or prove they tried to recruit Americans. The bill requires that no Americans are laid off by either the outsourcing firm or the clients that they serve for the entire length of the visa. It also authorizes Labor Department investigations and raises fees.


The legislation also would put Indian firms such as Infosys Ltd. and Tata Consulting Services Ltd. at a disadvantage against a handful of competitors, such as International Business Machines Corp. and Accenture Ltd., even though they also employ a large number of foreign workers and use a similar business model. That is because those companies have many divisions, which keeps the portion of their overall workforce using H-1B visas low and their firms from being defined as “dependent.”
The devil, as always, is in the details.

Cue Jimmy McMillian

Retail has been vanishing in New York City, it ain't because of online retail, it's because the rent is too damn high because commercial real estate in the city has become infested with hedge fund investors who have been jacking up the the rent.

It's not like they have a choice. The way that this sort of investment works is that they have short term (around 5 years) interest only mortgages, and if they cut rents, then they cannot refinance at the end of the term, because the valuation is directly related to the rents that they charge:
Walk down almost any major New York street – say Fifth Avenue near Trump Tower, or Madison Avenue from midtown to the Upper East Side. Perhaps venture down Canal Street, or into the West Village around Bleecker, and some of the most expensive retail areas in the world are blitzed with vacant storefronts.

The famed Lincoln Plaza Cinemas on the Upper West Side announced earlier this week that it is closing next month. A blow to the city’s cinephiles, certainly, but also a sign of the effects that rapid gentrification, coupled with technological innovation, are having on the city.

Over the past several years, thousands of small retailers have closed, replaced by national chains. When they, too, fail, the stores lie vacant, and landlords, often institutional investors, are unwilling to drop rents.
They are actually unable to drop rents, because, as I have noted a above, they sustain losses on a property better than they can a drop in rents.
A recent survey by New York councilmember Helen Rosenthal found 12% of stores on one stretch of the Upper West Side is unoccupied and ‘for lease’. The picture is repeated nationally. In October, the US surpassed the previous record for store closings, set after the 2008 financial crisis.

The common refrain is that the devastation is the product of a profound shift in consumption to online, with Amazon frequently identified as the leading culprit. But this is maybe an over-simplification.

“It’s not Amazon, it’s rent,” says Jeremiah Moss, author of the website and book Vanishing New York. “Over the decades, small businesses weathered the New York of the 70s with it near-bankruptcy and high crime. Businesses could survive the internet, but they need a reasonable rent to do that.”

Part of the problem is the changing make-up of New York landlords. Many are no longer mom-and-pop operations, but institutional investors and hedge funds that are unwilling to drop rents to match retail conditions. “They are running small businesses out of the city and replacing them with chain stores and temporary luxury businesses,” says Moss.

In addition, he says, banks will devalue a property if it’s occupied by a small business, and increase it for a chain store. “There’s benefit to waiting for chain stores. If you are a hedge fund manager running a portfolio you leave it empty and take a write-off.”
Seriously, there is nothing in this world that financialization cannot destroy.

It takes a lot of work to destroy retail in New York City, but the hedge funds seem to have found a way.

Swatting Has Its First Fatality

This has been going on for such time, and now a man has been shot dead it Wichita in response to a false police report:
The alleged "swatter" behind Thursday's police killing of a Wichita, Kansas, man has been arrested.

Tyler Barriss, a 25-year old from South Los Angeles, was taken into custody Friday night, according to the local ABC News affiliate. (ABC also notes that "Glendale police arrested a 22-year-old man with the same name for making bomb threats to KABC-TV" back in 2015.) NBC News, speaking to unnamed local "sources" in LA, says that Barriss "had been living at a transitional recovery center."

Barriss is alleged to have a called in a lengthy threat to Wichita police on Thursday night after a Call of Duty game in which two teammates got into an altercation over a $1.50 wager. Screenshots posted to various Twitter accounts show the dispute escalating. Shortly thereafter, the Wichita police received a call alleging that someone at that address had killed his father, taken his family hostage, poured gasoline around the home, and was ready to light it on fire. Cops descended on the area and cordoned it off. When 28-year old Andrew Fitch opened the front door of his home to see why all the lights were flashing outside, he was shot and killed.

A Twitter account called "SWAuTistic" took credit for the swatting, but then just as quickly denied any responsibility for the death. On Thursday night, after the shooting, SWAuTistic wrote, "I DIDNT GET ANYONE KILLED BECAUSE I DIDNT DISCHARGE A WEAPON AND BEING A SWAT MEMBER ISNT MY PROFESSION." His Twitter account was suspended soon after.

The man claiming to be behind SWAuTistic gave an interview on Friday to the YouTube show "Drama Alert," in which he explained what allegedly happened. According to this account, SWAuTistic was "sitting in the library" and "minding my own business" when he was contacted by an irate Call of Duty player who had just gotten in a dispute with another player. The first player wanted the second player "swatted." Would SWAuTistic take care of it?


The alleged "swatter" behind Thursday's police killing of a Wichita, Kansas, man has been arrested.

Tyler Barriss, a 25-year old from South Los Angeles, was taken into custody Friday night, according to the local ABC News affiliate. (ABC also notes that "Glendale police arrested a 22-year-old man with the same name for making bomb threats to KABC-TV" back in 2015.) NBC News, speaking to unnamed local "sources" in LA, says that Barriss "had been living at a transitional recovery center."

Barriss is alleged to have a called in a lengthy threat to Wichita police on Thursday night after a Call of Duty game in which two teammates got into an altercation over a $1.50 wager. Screenshots posted to various Twitter accounts show the dispute escalating. Shortly thereafter, the Wichita police received a call alleging that someone at that address had killed his father, taken his family hostage, poured gasoline around the home, and was ready to light it on fire. Cops descended on the area and cordoned it off. When 28-year old Andrew Fitch opened the front door of his home to see why all the lights were flashing outside, he was shot and killed.

A Twitter account called "SWAuTistic" took credit for the swatting, but then just as quickly denied any responsibility for the death. On Thursday night, after the shooting, SWAuTistic wrote, "I DIDNT GET ANYONE KILLED BECAUSE I DIDNT DISCHARGE A WEAPON AND BEING A SWAT MEMBER ISNT MY PROFESSION." His Twitter account was suspended soon after.

The man claiming to be behind SWAuTistic gave an interview on Friday to the YouTube show "Drama Alert," in which he explained what allegedly happened. According to this account, SWAuTistic was "sitting in the library" and "minding my own business" when he was contacted by an irate Call of Duty player who had just gotten in a dispute with another player. The first player wanted the second player "swatted." Would SWAuTistic take care of it?
This sh%$ really needs to step.

29 December 2017


Now That The FCC Is Doing Away With Title II For Broadband, Will Verizon Give Back The Taxpayer Subsidies It Got Under Title II?
This has been another episode of, "Well Duh!"

Is It Just Me, or Does This Protest Shirt Have a Canadian Accent?

It does seem to me that there is something profoundly Canadian about this:


28 December 2017

Holy Crap

The Spotlight Team at the Boston Globejust issued a clarification, or maybe you would call it a reassertion, that Yes, Virginia, "The median net worth of black Bostonians really is $8."

It was a fact that they turned up in their story on race in Boston:
The $8 detail in the Globe’s Spotlight series on race in Boston is not a typo.

The median net worth for non-immigrant African-American households in the Greater Boston region is $8, according to “The Color of Wealth in Boston,” a 2015 report by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, Duke University, and the New School.

This Spotlight seven-part series — which began Sunday — tackles the city’s most vexing question: Does Boston deserve its racist reputation?

And to answer just that question, the Globe Spotlight Team analyzed data, launched surveys, and conducted hundreds of interviews. The Color of Wealth in Boston report, which is part of a five-city study looking at wealth disparities among communities of color, was one piece of information that Spotlight examined.


The household median net worth was $247,500 for whites; $8 for US blacks (the lowest of all five cities); $12,000 for Caribbean blacks; $3,020 for Puerto Ricans; and $0 for Dominicans (that’s not a typo either.) The sample size for Cape Verdeans was too small to calculate net worth, the report said.
This is mind boggling.

27 December 2017

Man, This is Lame

As if wedding planning isn’t hard enough.

Britain’s Prince Harry and his American fiancée, the actress Meghan Markle, have told aides they want former U.S. President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, whom the young couple has grown close to, invited to their May 19 wedding.

But the government of Prime Minister Theresa May reportedly senses a diplomatic scandal in the making, the British newspaper the Sun reported, and would prefer the former U.S. first couple not make a high-profile appearance on British soil before current president Donald Trump — himself presumed absent from the guest list — comes for an official visit.

There are concerns among senior Foreign Office and 10 Downing St. officials that another perceived national snub will make it impossible for Theresa May to meaningfully engage with Trump, the paper reported in what it called a Christmas Day exclusive.

A senior government source reportedly told the Sun: “Harry has made it clear he wants the Obamas at the wedding, so it’s causing a lot of nervousness. Trump could react very badly if the Obamas get to a royal wedding before he has had a chance to meet [Queen Elizabeth],” the paper reported.
The reason that Donald Trump hasn't met the Queen is because a state visit would be a complete clusterf%$#, and inevitable the protests, and the inevitable over-reaction by the British constabulary, would be an embarrassment for all involved.

This sort of spectacle would almost certainly be a political disaster for the Tories as well.

This perfect storm of lame amuses me.

Nice Response

Recently, the Washington Post had a "major" expose revealing that one "Alice Donovan" was a Russian plant feeding to the online publication CounterPunch, and some other largely unnamed publications.

Strongly implied in the Post story is that CounterPunch was a willing tool of the Russian state security apparatus.

After being fielding inquiries from the Post, CounterPunch decided to look at her work for them.

What they determined is that the reality, for them at least, was pretty anodyne:
  • They published one of her articles in 2016, and that was a generic article on cyber-warfare, which had first been published in Veterans Today. (Dead link)
  • In 2017, after the elections they published 3 generically left leaning stories on Syria which they published, one supporting Maduro in Venezuela, and a commentary condemning Erdoğan, which they chose not to run. 
  • "Alice Donovan" was a serial plagiarizer, which they should have picked up on.
Their conclusion is pretty spot on:
In sum, we published five stories by Donovan. One was apolitical. Four could be considered critiques of US foreign policy during the Trump administration. None mentioned Hillary Clinton (or Vladimir Putin for that matter).

Based solely on what we’d just reviewed was there any reason at the time to suspect that Alice Donovan was anything other than what she appeared to be: an occasional contributor of topical stories? Not as far as we could tell. The stories weren’t pro-Russian polemics and they didn’t read like awkward Google-translations of the Russian language. The most controversial thing that could be said about them was that some stories attempted to present a particular Syrian view of the war, a perspective rarely heard in the US media.


None of this, however, is an exculpation for our own blunders. Somewhere along the line we blew it. We let a plagiarist and a possible troll onto CounterPunch. Were there warning signs that we missed? Sure. Should we have been alert to the awkward phrases in some of the articles on Syria that didn’t read like the original Donovan piece? No doubt. But recall that we had published more than 5,000 articles between the first and second Donovan stories. We should have picked up on the lifted passages in the “Escalation in Syria” story because there was a link that took us directly to the piece that was plagiarized. We should have become suspicious about Donovan after the New York Times story ran in September. Those are on us.

I agree with that conclusion: they need to drop some coin on editors, because her plagiarism, and by that I mean straight cut and paste, should have been easy to spot after a few submissions.

They need some copy editors.

As to the Post, if this does seem to be making a mountain out of a molehill.

The final word goes to CounterPunch though, "If Donovan’s intent was to destroy 'our democratic values' by committing crimes against journalism, she’ll need to swing a lot harder to surpass the damage done by Judith Miller."

Cheer the Orioles

The Baltimore Orioles posted a rather innocuous Tweet wishing everyone a happy Kwanzaa.

The flying monkey crowd proceeded to have a butt-hurt hissy fit.

The team's response was to tell the racist Neanderthals to go Cheney themselves:

As a Red Sox fan, I cheer the Orioles today.

26 December 2017

Yeah, This is Concerning

It appears that the Executive Director of Intelligence Community Whistleblowing and Source Protection has been removed from his post with the intent of termination.

This is THE guy in the intelligence establishment responsible for protecting whistle blowers:
The chairman of the the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee is demanding to know why an employee in charge of whistleblower outreach was removed from his workplace “pending a tribunal.”

“I just learned that Dan Meyer, the Executive Director of Intelligence Community Whistleblowing and Source Protection, was placed on administrative leave and escorted out of his offices pending a tribunal before senior executives to consider his proposed termination,” wrote Sen. Chuck Grassley, a Republican from Iowa, in a letter sent November 29 to Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and Wayne Stone, the acting director of Office of the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community.

The intelligence community inspector general is tasked with conducting audits across the intelligence agencies and independently responding to whistleblower retaliation complaints.

The watchdog office has been involved in independent reviews of the Boston Marathon bombing, as well as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server.

It has also recently been embroiled in a turf war fraught with competing personalities and visions on how to provide resources for potential whistleblowers, as reported in an investigation by Foreign Policy. Dan Meyer, the man in charge of outreach to whistleblowers, had his duties and privileges revoked, and now he has been kicked out of his office pending an investigation.
It appears that the conflict started at around the time when Meyer wanted to inform contractors of their whistleblower rights.

Considering the rather checkered history of government contractors, particularly in the context of state security, my guess is that this is connected to this effort.

The Doctor's Daughter Played the Doctor's Daughter on the Doctor's Daughter, and Then Married the Doctor, and Had a Daughter

BBC America has been running a Dr. Who marathon.

I just saw the episode The Doctor's Daughter, which had Georgia Moffett starring as Jenny the daughter (clone) of the Doctor.

Ms. Moffet is the daughter of the 5th Doctor, Peter Davison. (Davison is his stage name, his birth name is Moffatt)

She co-starred with David Tennant, who played the 10th Doctor.

Tennant and Moffett later had a daughter (2 actually, as well as 2 sons).

This is profoundly weird.

25 December 2017

Bitcoin Jumps C. Cegaladon*

Long Island Iced Tea Company renamed itself, "Long Blockchain" and its stock exploded:
The Long Island Iced Tea Corporation is exactly what it sounds like: a company that sells people bottled iced tea and lemonade. But today the company announced a significant change of strategy that would start with changing its name to "Long Blockchain Corporation."

The company was "shifting its primary corporate focus towards the exploration of and investment in opportunities that leverage the benefits of blockchain technology," the company said in a Thursday morning press release. "Emerging blockchain technologies are creating a fundamental paradigm shift across the global marketplace," the company said.

The stock market loved the announcement. Trading opened Thursday morning more than 200 percent higher than Wednesday night's closing price.
Remember when everyone added dotcom to their company names JUST BEFORE IT ALL IMPLODED in the late 1990s?

Yeah, that.

*The largest shark, and likely largest predator fish ever. It died out some 1.5 million years ago. The Genus is still in dispute, between either Carcharodon (Great White) or Carcharocles (broad toothed Mako). So in jumping C. Megalodon, you have jumped the biggest shark ever.

Are You F%$#ing Serious?

Mika Brzezinski of Morning Joe has criticized Mark Halperin's sexual harassment victims for not meeting with him so that he can apologize in person.

She claimed that it was somehow hypocritical for them never to want to see him again.

Not a Surprise

The head of the Pakistani Air Force has announced that they will be shooting down drones in their airspace, including US ones:
Pakistan Air Force (PAF) chief Sohail Aman said here on Thursday that he has ordered his force to shoot down any drones, including those of the US, if they violate the country's airspace.
The announcement was made public about two weeks after a US drone strike targeted a militant compound in Pakistan's tribal region near the Afghan border, killing three militants.

Pakistan had always condemned drone strikes on its soil but had never said they would shoot down the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). "We will not allow anyone to violate our airspace. I have ordered PAF to shoot down drones, including those of the US, if they enter our airspace, violating the country's sovereignty and territorial integrity," Air Chief Marshal Sohail Aman told an audience in Islamabad.

If he meant that US missile strikes on militant positions were a violation of Pakistan's sovereignty, then these violations have been occurring since 2004. The CIA was responsible for all US drone strikes in Pakistan until November 30, 2017.
Such is the price of unilateralism.

It works, until it's can't

Erdoğan Wants to Return to the Ottoman Empire. That Appears to Include the Genocides.

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan just issued a decree that grants immunity for extra-judicial violence against anyone deemed to have participated in the coup, or its "continuation".

The term "continuation" appears to be defined as, "Anyone and anything that Erdoğan considers a threat to his power", which bodes ill for opposition parties, and the Kurds, and other ethnic minorities in Turkey.

How to deal with the transformation of a NATO ally to this is profoundly unsettling.

One Can Only Hope

Could someone explain to me why banks becoming utilities is a bad thing?

The head of Ecobank in the UK, Edward George is filled with dread at the prospect.

The idea of this happening fills me with hope:

Well, one of the big challenges facing banks is that they’re in danger of becoming utilities. The big problem about utilities and why a lot of people don’t want to invest in them is that they have no real growth potential. With a utility, you start providing service over a certain network and you’re kind of stuck there. Where’s the value at? And the problem for the banks would be if the banks become somehow passive repositories of cash but all of the value-add is taken by the Fintechs: selling the service, paying interest here, making a margin here, left, right and centre, etc… So the idea has to be that there must be a value share, and that is the way to go forward.

Innovators out there, the banks themselves, have to come up with services whereby both sides can gain from it. It may just be that for example the bank benefits from having the hard currency coming to the bank account. Fair enough. Then the fintech can make their margin elsewhere. It might be that the fintech and the bank agree to split the fees 50 per cent. There can be many other things, but what they can’t be is just the finTech saying “Oh, yeah, I’ll use those bank accounts, but I’m going to take all of the value myself”, and vice versa. You can’t have the bank just saying “I’m not going to work with you,” because we need to work with the fintechs.
Basically, he is afraid that banks will lose their ability to make up the rules of the game so that they can profit by cheating the rubes.

I'm hoping that his concerns prove true.

H/t Naked Capitalism.


Too Cute:

24 December 2017

Yeah, About that iPhone Conspiracy Theory

Now that Apple has been forced to reveal that it was actually slowing down old phones with software updates, the lawsuits have begun to pop up.

It appears that hiding this fact from customers, who felt compelled to spend 10 times as much on a new phone as they would on a battery replacement, has made some people angry:
Since news broke that Apple deliberately slows down the processor speed of iPhones as they age, the company has now been sued three times in various federal courts nationwide.

These proposed class-action lawsuits allege largely the same thing: that over time certain iPhones exhibited lower performance and that Apple fraudulently concealed this fact from owners. If those customers went to an Apple Store to investigate, they were encouraged to simply buy a new iPhone.

"Had Plaintiffs been informed by Apple or its technical/customer service support staff that a battery replacement would have improved the performance of the above devices, they would have opted to replace the batteries instead of purchasing new phones," one of the lawsuits, Abdulla et al v. Apple, which was filed Thursday in federal court in Chicago, alleges.
This is a not particularly surprising consequence of living in Cupertino's walled garden.

Well, That Was Fast

After running a campaign for Virginia Governor in which campaign finance prominently featured, Virginia Governor-elect Ralph Northam is taking corporate money for the inauguration:
After calling for sweeping campaign finance reforms during last year’s Democratic primary, Gov.-elect Ralph Northam is accepting five-figure checks from some of Virginia’s biggest corporate donors to fund his inauguration.

Dominion Energy, the state’s top public service corporation whose bankrolling of Virginia politics has made some lawmakers increasingly uneasy, contributed $50,000 to Northam’s inaugural committee earlier this month, the same amount the company has given to help celebrate the last four incoming governors.

Northam’s committee received an additional $50,000 from the tobacco giant Altria, and took in $25,000 each from Anthem, Capital One, Hunton & Williams and Aetna Life & Casualty, well-known players in the health care, banking, legal and insurance fields.

Combined, the inaugural committee has taken in more than $250,000 from corporate or business donors, according to data on large donations compiled by the Virginia Public Access Project. The committee has reported raising almost $650,000 so far, including a $67,795 transfer from Northam’s PAC and several big checks from Democratic donors.
And they wonder why the electorate is cynical.

Here Is Hoping That This Ruling Sticks

About 4 months ago, a US citizen was detained in Syria, and has been held incommunicado for months, and now a federal judge has granted ACLU lawyers access to him:
A federal judge has taken a major step toward rejecting the Trump administration’s campaign to prevent an American citizen detained indefinitely as an enemy combatant from challenging his captivity in court.

Not only did Judge Tanya Chutkan of the District of Columbia district court order the Pentagon to permit access to the anonymous man for his would-be attorneys, she also barred the administration from making an end run around the U.S. legal system that it has long been considering – as a tactic to avoid precisely the defeat in court that Chutkan has now delivered.

Whether and how the Trump administration complies with Chutkan’s order is the latest drama in an extraordinary case that has seen the resurrection of sweeping government claims of detentions power. The last time the government argued it could hold an American citizen in military detention without access to the courts was the early years of George W. Bush’s administration, and the Supreme Court in 2004 rejected the contention in landmark 2004 case.

Late on Saturday night, the 103rd day of the man’s captivity, Chutkan instructed the Pentagon to provide the American Civil Liberties Union with “temporary, immediate and unmonitored access” to the man, whom the military is holding somewhere in Iraq without ever releasing his name – another aspect of the government’s efforts to prevent legal intervention in the case.
The behavior of the Trump administration, and the Pentagon, have been truly contemptible in this this matter, even by the standards of the past sixteen years.

Yeah, Completely Innocent Behavior

When is the last time that you heard of a publicly owned utility with a good balance sheet suspending dividends?

Well, Pacific Gas & Electric just did to build up cash reserve, and despite the claims to the contrary, it appears that PG&E expects to see some significant liability for causing the Northern California fires earlier this year:
Wednesday evening, two sleepy trading days before the long Christmas weekend, when no one was supposed to pay attention, Pacific Gas and Electric, the Northern California utility that is being investigated and sued for allegedly having triggered the wildfires in the Bay Area, “the most destructive and deadliest in our state’s history,” as the Department of Insurance had put it, announced that it would suspend its dividend.

PG&E shares [PCG] plunged 10% in after-hours trading. Thursday morning, shares plummeted 16.5% to $42.75. They’re now down 38% in total since the beginning of the wildfires that killed 43 people and caused still untold property and environmental damage, including $9 billion in insurance claims so far, with the tally likely to rise further. About three dozen lawsuits have been filed against PG&E.

PG&E’s announcement was terse:

On December 20, 2017, the Boards of Directors of PG&E Corporation (the “Corporation”) and its subsidiary, Pacific Gas and Electric Company (the “Utility”), determined to suspend quarterly cash dividends on both the Corporation’s common stock, beginning with the fourth quarter of 2017, and the Utility’s preferred stock, beginning with the three-month period ending January 31, 2018, due to uncertainty related to causes and potential liabilities associated with the extraordinary October 2017 Northern California wildfires.


The primary suspect is PG&E’s infrastructure and its maintenance. On October 8, when the wildfires started, heavy winds toppled power poles, transformers, and power lines. And there it gets complicated. On October 23, The Mercury News reported:
For the better part of a decade, California’s utilities have helped to stall the state’s effort to map where their power lines present the highest risk for wildfires, an initiative that critics say could have forced PG&E to strengthen power poles and bolster maintenance efforts before this month’s deadly North Bay fires.

A review of the mapping project by the Bay Area News Group shows that utilities have repeatedly asked to slow down the effort and argued as recently as July that, as PG&E put it, certain proposed regulations would “add unnecessary costs to construction and maintenance projects in rural areas.”
There is some strong circumstantial evidence that the fires were triggered from poorly maintained lines and transformers.

PG&E has been fighting regulators to avoid spending money on things like trimming trees back from the lines for years, and now it looks like it has come back to bite them in the butt.

Corrupt Much?

Corker's Net Worth Since Becoming Senator
The indispensable Matt Taibbi has run down Tennessee Sentor Bob Corker's long history of insider trading and corruption:
So Tennessee Senator Bob Corker is in trouble now, because he flip-flopped to vote for Donald Trump's tax bill after a provision was included that reportedly helps him personally.

Color me not shocked. I spent most of this past summer investigating Corker, whose personal finances have been an open scandal for years. Everything you need to know about the Senator can be discerned from this chart.

Click on that link and you’ll see: Corker went from having an estimate net worth of zero in 2006, before entered the Senate in 2007 (when he was estimated at having $54,682,000) to now, currently, being the fourth wealthiest man in the upper chamber, worth $69 million as of 2015.

How do you increase your net worth by 69 million dollars while you're working full-time as a Senator? That is not an easy story to explain.


It wasn't until Corker took office and filled out disclosure forms that his finances became public – sort of. Few in the media seem ever to have read the "liabilities" section of Corker's first disclosure, where the former mayor and construction magnate listed a series of massive outstanding loans. At the low end, Corker appeared to owe a hair-raising $24.2 million. At the high end, $120.5 million.

He took office in debt to some of the nation's biggest lenders – including somewhere between $12 million and $60 million in debt to GE Capital alone.


It has always been Corker's contention that when he sold his business, his debts were also sold, meaning he was not technically in debt when he went to Washington. Still, he continued to list the loans as liabilities.


Ten years before reporters would swarm over Trump for (among other things) raising fees at his Mar-a-Lago resorts before making a series of taxpayer-funded visits, Corker tested the limits of the profiteering possibilities in the legislative branch, essentially becoming a full-time day-trader who did a little Senator-ing in his spare time.

In the first nine months of 2007, Corker made an incredible 1,200 trades, over four per day, including 332 over a two-day period.


By 2014, when Corker sat on the Senate Banking Committee, a position that gave him regular access to prime information about the future direction of the markets, the Tennessee Senator still had his foot on the gas. He made 930 stock trades that year.

Of his colleagues on the committee, Rhode Island's Jack Reed made 39 trades, Pennsylvania's Patrick Toomey 26, and nobody else made any – meaning Corker made 93.5% of all trades made by the legislators most plugged-in to the country's finances.

When I asked about that extraordinary volume of trading in 2014, when Corker sat on the Banking Committee, Johnson answered thusly: "In 2014, Senator Corker entered a separately managed account (SMA), which is a portfolio managed by a professional asset management firm. Since he had not previously been in a SMA, he asked the Senate Ethics Committee for a ruling on how they should be reported," he said.

He went on: "The Senate Ethics Committee studied the issue for several weeks, and out of an abundance of caution, advised us to report all underlying positions of the account, even though the senator was making no investment decisions."

A Separately Managed Account is not the same thing as a blind trust. That the Senate Ethics Committee advised Corker to continue reporting his positions even if the senator was making "no investment decisions" was noteworthy. And no matter what, it continued to be true that Corker was making a dizzying number of financial moves while sitting on the Senate Banking Committee.

Corker's activities didn't go completely unnoticed. A few ethics groups cried foul over the years.

Anne Weismann, director of the Campaign for Accountability, which filed a complaint against Corker in 2015, described Corker's trading history in damning terms.

"Senator Corker's trades followed a consistent pattern," she said. "He bought low and sold high. It beggars belief to suggest these trades – netting the senator and his family millions – were mere coincidences."

One financial analyst I know said Corker's trading patterns looked more like the work of "an office of multiple analysts all grinding at least 60 hours a week" than like the work of "one guy moonlighting as a Senator."


When Corker took on Trump this fall – saying the White House was "an adult day care center" and that Trump's behavior threatened "World War III" – he suddenly became a darling of sorts in the liberal media.

Now he's a bad guy again, for reportedly doing what he's always done, acting in his own financial interest while earning a paycheck as a U.S. Senator.

The Corker story to me is a classic example of why it's always dangerous to overlook a politician's failings because he happens to be on the right side of some partisan debate at a given moment in time. The reason is obvious: these types eventually revert to form, and soon enough, a politician's flaws will be working against you again, rather than for you.
(Emphasis mine)

This is not a surprise.

If you believe government is inherently evil, or, as Margaret Thatcher so famously said, that there is, "No such thing as society," then the only reasons for public service are personal enrichment and a lust for power.

23 December 2017

Jamie Dimon Has Boldly Gone Where No Man Has Gone Before

Seriously, the Swiss be like, "We thought that we were hard core, but dayyyymmnnnn!"
Last month, we learned that JPMorgan Chase had managed the near-impossible and run afoul of Swiss banking laws, specifically Switzerland’s not-historically-robust anti-money-laundering rules. How bad was Dimon & co.’s transgression? The Swiss were initially awfully Swiss about things, simply letting the bank know it had “seriously infringed” upon their financial hospitality.

Yesterday, that prognosis was upgraded to “seriously breached.” So seriously that a traditional slap on the wrist will not do. No: The Swiss are gonna get all American up in here and install a monitor to make sure it doesn’t happen again, “it” being the gentle washing of “hundreds of millions of dollars” on behalf of the prime minister of Malaysia, who was in the process of allegedly draining that country’s sovereign wealth fund, 1MDB, of several billion dollars.
It buggers the mind.

22 December 2017

Not a One Vote Margin

After a protest from the Republican, the election in Virginia's 94th House of Delegates District is a tie that will be settled by a coin flip:
An apparent one-vote Democratic victory in a Newport News-area House of Delegates race turned into a tie Wednesday, creating an unprecedented scenario in which control of the House will be decided by state officials essentially drawing a name out of a hat.

Under state law, the State Board of Elections now has to break the tie in the 94th House District through “determination by lot,” the wildest turn yet after a roller-coaster week in Virginia politics.

Republican Del. David E. Yancey entered Tuesday’s recount with a 10-vote lead over Democrat Shelly Simonds. At the end of the recount, Simonds appeared to have a one-vote lead over Yancey, which would have created a 50-50 split in the House after Democrats flipped 15 other GOP-held seats in a wave election last month.

Republicans indicated Tuesday evening that they wouldn’t challenge the outcome when it went before a three-judge panel for final approval.

But on Wednesday morning, Yancey’s campaign asked the court to accept a ballot that had been tossed aside. The voter had filled in bubbles for both Yancey and Simonds, but had put a slash through the Simonds bubble, which the court interpreted as intent to vote for Yancey. On the same ballot, the voter had made an X on the filled-in bubble beside the name of Republican gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie. The ballot included clear votes for Republicans in the races for attorney general and lieutenant governor.

The additional vote for Yancey meant each candidate finished with 11,608 votes.
There may be more litigation to follow.


21 December 2017

Chaos is Job Won

Catalonia had snap elections as a result of the previous government being deposed by Madrid.

The pro-independence Catalonian parties have increased their majority with very high voter turnout.

I don't think that this is really a referendum on independence, but it might be one on on the heavy handed response of Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy, which sent in riot police to beat little old ladies. (Rajoy's Peoples Party lost 8 of its 11 seats in this election)

Over-reaction has never been an effective response to secessionist movements.

I Thought That We Shot Redcoats to Stop This

It appears that prosecutors in Washington D.C. were determined to revive the worst aspects of British treason law, which the founding fathers explicitly repudiated in Article III, Section 3, of the United States Constitution. (British treason law included, "

British treason law could involve, among other things, "Some association with rioting."

That whole "Association with Rioting" thing?

Federal prosecutors were attempting to use that against inauguration day protestors, and today, all 6 defendants (over 100 others remain charged) were acquitted of all charges:
The first six people to face trial in Inauguration Day protests that turned destructive in the nation’s capital were acquitted of all charges, a victory not only for the defendants but also for advocates who argued the government overreached in its effort to prosecute more than 200 people arrested as they marched through the city.

Following a nearly four-week trial and two full days of deliberations, a D.C. Superior Court jury delivered not-guilty verdicts Thursday on multiple charges of rioting and destruction of property.

The defendants — including a nurse for cancer patients, a freelance photographer and a college student — joined throngs of protesters who took to the streets Jan. 20 to protest Donald Trump’s election. Prosecutors said the six were among a group that cut a violent swath through 16 blocks of the city, smashing businesses’ windows, tossing newspaper boxes into the street and damaging a limousine. Authorities tallied the damage at more than $100,000.


Jennifer Armento, 38, a Philadelphia woman who was among the six, said the verdict “shows the country that the jury was unwilling to do what the government wanted them to do, which was criminalize dissent.”


From the start, defense attorneys said their clients and most others in the group of about 500 were peacefully protesting, while only a handful peeled off and became violent. They criticized police for failing to identify those people and said officers unfairly herded a group of about 200 and charged them with rioting.

During his closing argument last week, attorney Steven J. McCool, who represented one of the men on trial, appealed to jurors to protect the “rights of free speech.”


Prosecutors told jurors there was no evidence the six people on trial were personally involved in the vandalism but argued that they chose to remain with the group, essentially providing cover for those who caused the damage.

In his closing argument, Assistant U.S. Attorney Rizwan Qureshi told jurors the group “tore up your city, putting people in danger.”

He presented the jury with the analogy of a bank robbery, likening the defendants to a getaway driver while comparing those who smashed windows to the robber in the bank.
Seriously, the prosecutor's argument is literally unAmerican.

This prosecution was a contemptible attempt to criminalize legal protest.

Just ……… Go ……… Away ………

Hillary Clinton is, "Mulling her role in the 2018 midterms."

How can we miss you if you never leave?

Apologies to Dr. Seuss and Art Buchwald:
"Hillary Diane Rodham Clinton will you please go now!
The time has come.
The time has come.
The time is now.
Just go.
I don't care how.
You can go by foot.
You can go by cow.
Hillary Diane Rodham Clinton will you please go now!
You can go on skates.
You can go on skis.
You can go in a hat.
Please go.
I don't care.
You can go
By bike.
You can go
On a Zike-Bike
If you like.
If you like
You can go
In an old blue shoe.
Just go, go, GO!
Please do, do, do, DO!
Hillary Diane Rodham Clinton
I don't care how.
Hillary Diane Rodham Clinton
Will you please
You can go on stilts.
You can go by fish.
You can go in a Crunk-Car
If you wish.
If you wish
You may go
By lion's tale.
Or stamp yourself
And go by mail.
Hillary Diane Rodham Clinton
Don't you know
The time has come
To go, go, GO!
Get on your way!
Please Tony B.!
You might like going in a Zumble-Zay.
You can go by balloon . . .
Or broomstick.
You can go by camel
In a bureau drawer.
You can go by bumble-boat
. . . or jet.
I don't care how you go.
Just get!
Hillary Diane Rodham Clinton!
I don't care how.
Hillary Diane Rodham Clinton
Will you please
I said
I meant . . .
The time had come
So . . .
Hillary WENT."

Confederate Statues in Memphis Are Removed After City Council Vote - The New York Times

There is a law in Tennessee that prevents the removal of monuments on public land.

The intent is to prevent the removal of Confederate monuments.

The Memphis city council sold two of its parks to a non-profit, and last night, Confederate monuments were removed:
The City Council here voted Wednesday to sell two city parks with Confederate monuments, clearing the way for two statues to be removed before the city commemorates the 50th anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Mayor Jim Strickland first announced the sales of Health Sciences Park and Memphis Park on Twitter.

“History is being made in Memphis tonight,” he said at a news conference later in the evening.

Health Sciences Park had a statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate general and an early member of the Ku Klux Klan, which was removed around 9 p.m. local time.

By 10:30 p.m., cranes had maneuvered into Memphis Park and around a statue of Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy during the Civil War. About 15 minutes later, a crane hoisted the statue onto a truck as a crowd cheered and struck up songs, including “Hit the road Jack.”

The removal of the statues came not only as Memphis prepares for the 50th anniversary of the death of Dr. King, who was assassinated on April 4, 1968, while visiting the city, but also amid a sweeping national debate about the significance of Confederate monuments and whether their removal would be an erasure of history or a righting of past wrongs.


Bruce McMullen, the chief legal officer for the city, said in an interview on Wednesday night that the parks had been sold to Memphis Greenspace, a nonprofit led by Van D. Turner Jr., a Shelby County commissioner.

The nonprofit seems to have been created expressly for the purpose of buying the parks: It filed its incorporation papers in October, Mr. Strickland said. Mr. Turner did not immediately return a request for comment.

The city sold Health Sciences Park in its entirety, Mr. McMullen said, and it sold its interest in an easement in Memphis Park. Each was sold for $1,000, he said.

The transfer of the parks to private ownership effectively allowed the city to skirt the Tennessee Heritage Protection Act, a state law that prohibits the removal, relocation or renaming of memorials on public property.
A well deserved f%$# you to the lost causer racists.

We Are F%$#ed

The Republican tax plan, of course.

For their next trick, they try to gut Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.

20 December 2017

Facebook, Twitter, and Jewish Passover Songs

Someone on Facebook post complained about a Tweet calling Obama a Neoliberal tool.

I observed that many of his behaviors served the neoliberal playbook, and they replied, "You’re wildly wrong on the powers of POTUS if you think Obama was able to singlehandedly do quite a lot of that list," and I replied:
He had a literal blank check or mortgage relief, and he "Foamed the Runways" (Geithner said that) for insolvent banks, it's on him.

His decisions on target assassinations and his embrace of torturers and torture enablers were his decisions as CinC, it's on him.

His decision not prosecute banksters was his AG's decision, and he supported it, it's on him.

He tried to push through TPP, it's on him.

He did not lift a finger to support card check, it's on him.

Sing to the tune of "Chad Gadya."
I am feeling very smug about my bon mot right now.

Sad I Missed This

It appears that Cornel West and Ta-Nehisi Coates explored their differences of opinions over Twitter, with West asserting that Coates that the latter's, "narrow racial tribalism and myopic political neoliberalism has no place for keeping track of Wall Street greed, US imperial crimes or black elite indifference to poverty".

I have not personally seen this exchange, but Coates deleted his Twitter account after their exchange:
Author Ta-Nehisi Coates has deleted his Twitter account after a dispute with philosopher and social critic Cornel West.

“Peace, y’all. I’m out,” Coates wrote Tuesday on his now-defunct account, according to the AP. “I didn’t get in it for this.”

West recently criticized Coates in an essay published in The Guardian, slamming him for not being critical enough of former President Obama and writing that he “fetishizes white supremacy.”

In the piece, West accuses Coates, who has emerged as one of the country's leading black intellectuals, of having a “preoccupation with white acceptance” and an “allegiance to Obama.”
I don't know what happened, but I am sad to have missed this.

I also have no clue as to who "won", though like most Twitter fights, my guess is that they they both "lost".

That is just the nature of Twitter.

Still, these are two talented writers, and neither of them are slouches intellectually, so it was probably epic truly epic.

The Most Mark Hamill Thing Ever

On Graham Norton, he talks about keeping the secret of The Empire Strikes Back, and does a spot on impression of Harrison Ford.

This is beautiful:

Please, Make it Stop!!!!!

I just heard that, "Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson says he’s seriously thinking about running for US president in 2020."

Kill me now.

19 December 2017

Can I Have This Translated from English to American?

On this Reuters report about Uber's appeal of the decision by Transport for London to ban the service, I came across a rather interesting quote which, to American eyes at least, appears to rather oblique:
At Tuesday’s hearing, TfL also said it had “one or two” issues regarding the accuracy of details provided by Uber.“The decision letter says, well, there are one or two issues about the extent to which the information given to TfL was correct,” TfL lawyer Martin Chamberlain told the court. “That is one of the points that the decision is based on.”
(emphasis mine)

I believe that translating from Etonian speak to an earthier London vernacular would give us something to the effect of, "You are a bunch of lying wankers, so sod off!"

Am I correct in understanding the underlying intent here?

Quote of the Day

Instead of piling algorithms on top of algorithms on top of algorithms to fix the problems of your algorithms, how about let people choose which friend and brands and businesses or whatever to like or follow or whatever we call it this week and run the posts in reverse chronological order. If I see stupid sh%$ I can block it myself.
Atrios on Facebooks constant changes to algorithms to fight click-bait and its ilk.
(%$ mine)

I understand his point, and if he, or I, were customers of Facebook, but we aren't. We are what Facebook is selling.

If we just saw what we wanted, Facebook wouldn't be able to sell ¼ the ads that they do now.

Facebook algorithmic changes are about making delivery of the product (You, and Me, and Uncle Dave) more efficient.

To quote Sal Tessio from The Godfather, "It was only business."

Lame Politician of the Day, The Death of Hashtag Metoo Edition

It appears that Susan Collins' response to the fact that her so-called deal over the tax plan is a fraud is to accuse reporters of sexism:

Oh, you delicate snowflake………

Maybe They Can Expand Medicaid Now

In Virginia, a recount of a House of Delegates race has has the Democrat winning the race by one vote, which creates a 50-50 tie in that body:
The balance of power in Virginia’s legislature turned on a single vote in a recount Tuesday that flipped a seat in the House of Delegates from Republican to Democratic, leaving control of the lower chamber evenly split.

The outcome, which reverberated across Virginia, ends 17 years of GOP control of the House and forces Republicans into a rare episode of power sharing with Democrats that will refashion the political landscape in Richmond.

It was the culmination of last month’s Democratic wave that had diminished Republican power in purple Virginia.

Democrat Shelly Simonds emerged from the recount as the apparent winner in the 94th House District, seizing the seat from Republican David Yancey. A three-judge panel still must certify the results, an event scheduled for Wednesday.

Of the 23,215 votes cast in the district on Election Day, Yancey held a lead of just 10 votes going into Tuesday’s recount.

But five hours later, after a painstaking counting overseen by local elections officials and the clerk of court, Yancey’s lead narrowed — and then reversed.

The final tally: 11,608 for Simonds to 11,607 for Yancey.


Power sharing in the House of Delegates is an awkward exercise; the last such arrangement was in 1998. Committee chairs have to be negotiated, as does the person who will serve as speaker. With the parties split 50-50, there is no mechanism to break ties, and any legislation short of 51 votes does not advance.

Republicans hold a slight 21-to-19 edge in the state Senate, but with a Democratic lieutenant governor to break ties and a Democratic governor with veto power, Republicans may be forced to advance a more bipartisan agenda.

It’s a dramatic shift that caught even top Democrats by surprise. Republicans have controlled the 100-seat House since 2000; even outgoing Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D), a cheerleader for his party, had thought the Republican edge was insurmountable.


The final makeup of the legislature is not settled. Recounts in two additional races are taking place this week: on Wednesday in Richmond’s District 68, where the Democrat leads by 336 votes, and on Thursday in Fredericksburg’s District 28, where the Republican leads by 82 votes. Democrats are seeking a new election in the latter because more than 100 voters were mistakenly given ballots for the wrong legislative district.
My bad, it appears that Ralph Northam, the Governor elect, appears to be determined to kowtow to Republicans as a part of any implementation of Medicaid expansion, despite his promises on the campaign trail.

Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory since 1976: The mainstream Democratic Party.

18 December 2017

Thank You Captain Renault

I'm shocked! Shocked! To find that gambling is going on this establishment
Bob Corker is incensed that a provision was added to the Republican tax bill that would save him over $1 million in taxes:
Facing a firestorm of criticism, Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., sent a letter Sunday night to Senate Finance Committee Chair Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, asking how the final tax bill ended up including a special tax cut provision experts say would particularly benefit investors in real-estate related LLCs. The letter follows an International Business Times investigative series showing that Corker, President Donald Trump, House Speaker Paul Ryan and a handful of key GOP lawmakers overseeing the tax bill have multimillion-dollar ownership stakes in such LLCs, meaning they could be personally enriched by the provision, which was added to the final tax legislation released on Friday.

Corker this week could decide the fate of the entire $1.5 trillion tax bill in the closely divided U.S. Senate. He cast the lone Republican vote against the original Senate bill, which did not include the provision, but on Friday he announced he would support the final version of the legislation after GOP leaders added the provision to the final bill. Economist Dean Baker estimated that based on his financial holdings, “Corker could be saving as much as $1.1 million from this late addition to the tax bill.”

Under fire for switching his position after a personally lucrative provision was added to the legislation, Corker demanded to know how the language got into the final bill.

“Because this issue has raised concerns, I would ask that you provide an explanation of the evolution of this provision and how it made it into the final conference report,” he wrote to Hatch, who is the chairman of the Senate panel that wrote the tax bill. “I think that because of many sensitivities, clarity on this issue is very important and hope that you will respond in an expeditious manner.”
How could this provision, one which benefits Senator Corker, Speaker Ryan, and Donald Trump ended up being added to the bill in closed door negotiations?

Maybe because they asked for it, or perhaps they strongly implied that it would be a good thing for the bill?

This sh%$ ain't rocket science, this is self dealing, or a bribe, though there will never be a proper paper trail that reveals this.

And people wonder why the general public is cynical about government.

Lame Ass Tweet of the Day

Care of my first cousin, once removed:
You know, there are any number of cogent reasons to oppose the Republican tax bill.

It's bad policy.

It's worse economics.

It is completely bereft of morality.

But arguing that because housing is over priced in California, largely as a result of Proposition 13*, that the tax bill is bad is the single most unconvincing argument that one can POSSIBLY come up with.

*Prop 13 requires that property taxes go up at a fraction of the rate of inflation, and as a result, people don't downsize on paid off homes, because their taxes would double or triple. This reduces supply, and drives up the price, of housing.

Retro Technology Geeking

For the reader(s) who read my blog, you know that I like getting my geek on historical tech.

Well, we are now seeing a return of archaic technology, with shipping firms looking to using LORAN to deal with potential GPS hacks:
Digitalization, wireless networks, and the Internet of Things (IOT) have allowed the 21st century supply chain to achieve levels of efficiency and visibility that were unimaginable a generation ago. But sometimes that progress comes at a price. For instance, in June, logistics professionals around the globe discovered that for all its benefits, that hyperconnectivity also opened up new vulnerabilities when the "Petya" ransomware attack crippled operations at shipping giant Maersk Line.

Now, some ocean carriers are turning to an old-school remedy to reduce their exposure to certain cyber attacks. Out of concern that hackers could jam the global positioning system (GPS) signals used by cargo ships to navigate, several nations are considering replacing modern satellite-based systems with legacy World War II-era radio technology, according to Reuters.
LORAN first saw service in the 2nd World War.

This is seriously old school, and I am seriously amused.

Talk about Mixed Emotions

Do you know what I hate? Open carry protests, where a bunch of followers of the ammosexual life style engage in a protest while visibly packing heat.

It's clearly an attempt to intimidate the local populace.

Do you know what I also hate, cities that pass ordinances criminalizing the homeless, particularly those that criminalize feeding the homeless. (In some cases even giving the homeless cash is illegal.)

So, what am I to think about a  group in Dallas, that, as a protest against draconian restrictions against feeding the homeless, had publicly fed the homeless while carrying assault weapons:
Feeding and clothing the homeless in the land of the free has now become a revolutionary act. Luckily, however, there are still good people willing to carry out that act.

In December 2014, the Dallas city council enacted Ordinance No. 29595, which makes it illegal to serve food to the homeless without jumping through a statist myriad of bureaucratic hoops, including a fee, training classes, and written notices.

One should not need to file multiple forms and pay a fee to obtain a permit to give food to those in need who are willingly ready to accept it. The folks at Don’t Comply know this.

Matthew Short, with the aptly named organization, Don’t Comply, and dozens of volunteers from children to adults alike took to the streets of Dallas this week to hand out food, sleeping bags, clothing, and tents to the area’s less fortunate.

As TFTP has reported on numerous occasions, often times, police will swoop in and shut down those who would dare defy the authority of the state and conduct charity without a permit. However, most organizations aren’t like Don’t Comply.

As they took to the streets this week, many of the members of the organization open carried their weapons. This was done—not out of an act of intimidation—but merely to assert rights as well as protect them.
No,  it was an attempt to intimidate law enforcement, period, full stop.  Calling it anything else is a lie.

It might be justifiable, but it is still an attempt to intimidate and taunt the local constabulary, which can have unfortunate results, just ask Fred Hampton.
The resultant heavily armed group of do-gooders effectively staved off any attempts by police to shut down the charitable efforts.

In talking with TFTP, Short tells us that although police drove by fairly often, they never stopped and never attempted to intervene.


Dubbed “Feed the Need 5,” this was the fifth year in a row the group has conducted the event.
You can see why I feel conflicted here.


We're an Anarcho-Syndaclist Commune:

17 December 2017

Son of Brexit

In Italy, the 5-Star Party has said that it is open to holding a referendum on leaving the Euro Zone:
The leader of Italy’s main opposition party said he was keeping the option of a referendum on the euro open in the event his party won elections and failed to convince Brussels of the need to change some of the euro zone’s economic rules.

In comments made on state TV on Sunday, Luigi Di Maio, the man widely tipped to be the candidate for prime minister of the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, said he wanted to negotiate concessions on EU governance.

“If we succeed, Europe will be changed and we won’t need a referendum on the euro. Otherwise we’ll ask Italians if they want to stay in or not,” he said.
Obviously, leaving the Euro Zone is different from leaving the EU, but Italy is the 3rd largest economy in the Euro Zone, and the fact that a major party in Italian politics is explicitly putting leaving the Euro on the table is a big deal

The Euro increasingly resembles a suicide pact that leaves only Germany standing, and so leaving the Euro, or getting Germany, and failed German economics, out of the Euro, is an essential step to fixing the Euro.

Things just don't work well when the Germans dominate Europe.

It's Bank Failure Friday!!! (On Sunday)

Nothing for a quarter, and now we have a bank and a credit union in the past week and a half:

And here they are, ordered, and numbered for the year so far:
  1. Washington Federal Bank for Savings, Chicago, IL
Full FDIC list

It's the first commercial bank failure in just over 2 months, and it now matches the numbers from 2016.

So, here is the graph pr0n with last few years numbers for comparison (FDIC only):

16 December 2017

A Shallow Analysis

In Krugman's latest New York Times OP/ED, he observes that, "Republicans Despise the Working Class".

He's right, but his view is too narrow. Republicans hate everyone who isn't rich. They believe that wealth is synonymous with virtue, and they are acting accordingly.

The only reason that they achieve any degree of political traction on this is because the Democratic Party establishment also despises the working class, and it ain't just the whole "deplorables" thing, when we look at the lackluster support for labor unions, the suggestions that the solutions to the hollowing out of US manufacturing capabilities are in training everyone to be office drones, etc.

The US really needs a Jeremy Corbynesque "Old Labour" party.

Well, This is a Fine Kettle of Fish

In Australia, a royal commission charged with reviewing child abuse has released a damning report on child sexual abuse:
A royal commission investigating the sexual abuse of children in Australia found Friday that the nation was gripped by an epidemic dating back decades, with tens of thousands of children sexually abused in schools, religious organizations and other institutions.

The commission, the highest form of investigation in Australia, urged government action on its 189 recommendations, including the establishment of a new National Office for Child Safety and penalties for those who suspect abuse and fail to alert the police, including priests who hear about abuse in confessionals. It also urged Australia’s Roman Catholic leadership to press Rome to end mandatory celibacy for priests.

“Tens of thousands of children have been sexually abused in many Australian institutions,” said the report, which was particularly critical of Catholic organizations. “We will never know the true number. Whatever the number, it is a national tragedy, perpetrated over generations within many of our most trusted institutions.”
The bomb shell is that they are recommending that the church end priestly celibacy, and to report to law enforcement child abuse admitted in confession:
Delving into sensitive territory for the Catholic Church, the report recommended that clergy be required to report suspected abuse that they hear in the confessional booth. Church officials, however, argue that confidentiality is integral to the ritual, and Archbishop Hart took issue with the proposal.
I rather imagine that there are a whole bunch of folks at the Vatican reading this report, and its recommendations, and they are banging their heads against their monitors.

Notwithstanding Pope Francis's moves toward greater inclusion and economic activism, these two recommendations will clearly a bridge too far for him.

Historical Recollections Validated

As a result of some newly declassified documents, we now know that the promises made to Gorbachev about NATO expansion were far more explicit and absolute than has previously been represented.

I would note that this is not a surprise.

Promises by the US government, even when secured by a formal treaty, have generally only been more honored in the breach than in the observance.  Just ask any student of American Indian history:
The U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union at the time it broke up and many other experts have said that the West promised Gorbachev that – if the USSR allowed German re-unification – NATO wouldn’t move “one inch closer” to Russia.

While Western leaders have long denied the promise, newly-declassified documents now prove this.

The National Security Archive at George Washington University reported Tuesday:
U.S. Secretary of State James Baker’s famous “not one inch eastward” assurance about NATO expansion in his meeting with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev on February 9, 1990, was part of a cascade of assurances about Soviet security given by Western leaders to Gorbachev and other Soviet officials throughout the process of German unification in 1990 and on into 1991, according to declassified U.S., Soviet, German, British and French documents posted today by the National Security Archive at George Washington University (http://nsarchive.gwu.edu).

The documents show that multiple national leaders were considering and rejecting Central and Eastern European membership in NATO as of early 1990 and through 1991, that discussions of NATO in the context of German unification negotiations in 1990 were not at all narrowly limited to the status of East German territory, and that subsequent Soviet and Russian complaints about being misled about NATO expansion were founded in written contemporaneous memcons and telcons at the highest levels.

The documents reinforce former CIA Director Robert Gates’s criticism of “pressing ahead with expansion of NATO eastward [in the 1990s], when Gorbachev and others were led to believe that wouldn’t happen.” The key phrase, buttressed by the documents, is “led to believe.”


The first concrete assurances by Western leaders on NATO began on January 31, 1990, when West German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher opened the bidding with a major public speech at Tutzing, in Bavaria, on German unification. The U.S. Embassy in Bonn (see Document 1) informed Washington that Genscher made clear “that the changes in Eastern Europe and the German unification process must not lead to an ‘impairment of Soviet security interests.’ Therefore, NATO should rule out an ‘expansion of its territory towards the east, i.e. moving it closer to the Soviet borders.’” The Bonn cable also noted Genscher’s proposal to leave the East German territory out of NATO military structures even in a unified Germany in NATO.
This latter idea of special status for the GDR territory was codified in the final German unification treaty signed on September 12, 1990, by the Two-Plus-Four foreign ministers (see Document 25). The former idea about “closer to the Soviet borders” is written down not in treaties but in multiple memoranda of conversation between the Soviets and the highest-level Western interlocutors (Genscher, Kohl, Baker, Gates, Bush, Mitterrand, Thatcher, Major, Woerner, and others) offering assurances throughout 1990 and into 1991 about protecting Soviet security interests and including the USSR in new European security structures. The two issues were related but not the same. Subsequent analysis sometimes conflated the two and argued that the discussion did not involve all of Europe. The documents published below show clearly that it did.
The “Tutzing formula” immediately became the center of a flurry of important diplomatic discussions over the next 10 days in 1990, leading to the crucial February 10, 1990, meeting in Moscow between Kohl and Gorbachev when the West German leader achieved Soviet assent in principle to German unification in NATO, as long as NATO did not expand to the east.
The conversations before Kohl’s assurance involved explicit discussion of NATO expansion, the Central and East European countries, and how to convince the Soviets to accept unification. For example, on February 6, 1990, when Genscher met with British Foreign Minister Douglas Hurd, the British record showed Genscher saying, “The Russians must have some assurance that if, for example, the Polish Government left the Warsaw Pact one day, they would not join NATO the next.” (See Document 2)

Having met with Genscher on his way into discussions with the Soviets, Baker repeated exactly the Genscher formulation in his meeting with Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze on February 9, 1990, (see Document 4); and even more importantly, face to face with Gorbachev.

Not once, but three times, Baker tried out the “not one inch eastward” formula with Gorbachev in the February 9, 1990, meeting. He agreed with Gorbachev’s statement in response to the assurances that “NATO expansion is unacceptable.” Baker assured Gorbachev that “neither the President nor I intend to extract any unilateral advantages from the processes that are taking place,” and that the Americans understood that “not only for the Soviet Union but for other European countries as well it is important to have guarantees that if the United States keeps its presence in Germany within the framework of NATO, not an inch of NATO’s present military jurisdiction will spread in an eastern direction.” (See Document 6).
(emphasis original)

If you wonder why Putin, and most of the Russian establishment believe that the cold war never really ended, and that the US will continue to prosecute a war against Russia, you don't have to look any further than this.