31 January 2014

Barack Obama is Determined to Go to War Against Syria

Because we need to find some little country to beat up every decade or so.

The US is now amping up complaints about the speed of Syrian chemical weapons destruction as a justification for military strikes:
The United States on Thursday accused Syria of deliberately delaying the surrender of its chemical weapons stockpiles and jeopardizing a tightly timed and costly international removal and destruction operation that narrowly averted U.S. airstrikes last year.

It was the first formal accusation that Syria was not cooperating with the terms of its disarmament after months in which international diplomats and chemical weapons experts marveled at the speed with which the process was being carried out. The public denunciation, however, closely tracked concerns that independent experts have expressed privately in recent weeks about the operation’s pace.


Most chemical weapons experts agree that Syria’s ability to manufacture and deploy the banned weapons was destroyed last year. ………

It's Bank Failure Friday!!!!

And here they are, ordered, and numbered for the year so far.
  1. Syringa Bank, Boise, ID
Full FDIC list

It is still a bit early to see any trends.

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

Would You Let the Vampire Squid Get a Hold of Your Dong?

It appears that the coalition in Denmark has collapsed over this issue:
After a recent spate of controversies and ministerial resignations, the Danish centre-left government suffered another blow on Thursday when the Socialist People's party (SF) left the ruling coalition amid anger over Goldman Sachs's investment in Denmark's state-owned energy company.

Goldman's 8bn kroner (£900m) purchase of a 19% share in Dong Energy has been championed by the government but caused a revolt among SF's parliamentary group. After a night of tension and discussions, SF's leader, Annette Vilhelmsen, announced her resignation and said her party was leaving the coalition.

"It has been a dramatic 24 hours," Vilhelmsen said. "Yesterday it became clear to me that it wasn't possible to unite the party. For the sake of SF, I take the consequence of this."

The Goldman Sachs deal was approved by the parliament's finance committee on Thursday, but it has come under widespread scrutiny and criticism in recent weeks. A poll showed 68% of Danes were against the sale, and close to 200,000 people signed an online petition opposing the deal.
(emphasis mine)

Even worse, like most privatization deals, it is a hand out from taxpayers to overpaid CEOs:
My friend Niels-Jakob Harbo Hansen and I calculated some of the financial aspects of the deal, and they don’t look that good. The bidders are offering about 107.25 kroner per share, supposedly valuing the company at 31.5 billion kroner before the investment. In addition to a healthy package of minority rights, they also get a put option for 60% of the shares: if DONG doesn’t go public within 4 years or so (and Goldman can veto that), the investors can sell 60% of their shares at a strike price equal to the purchase price of 107.25 kr per share, plus a healthy return of about 3% per year.

That’s like an insurance policy that covers not only your loss, but also the insurance premium you originally paid, plus interest.

Once you account for the put option, the deal values the shares at 24.5 billion kr., around 47% of book value. Maybe that’s fair because DONG just had a big loss and will be constrained by its business plan to invest in windmills and such, but it still seems awfully low. On the other hand, the investment bankers have deemed it Fair™, so who am I to question that.

The main thing we did was to compare the deal to the most obvious alternative: the Danish government (AAA rating, 26% debt/GDP, 45% including local government) could borrow at an interest rate of about 1%, and make the investment itself. The expected loss from the deal compared to a government investment is about 2.5 billion kroner.
So, it costs the taxpayer 3x as much as a public investment, and you can be certain that rates will go up faster than they would if the company were to remain completely publicly owned.

30 January 2014

Thank You Harry Reid

The Majority Leader of the Senate has come out against fast track authority for trade deals:
President Barack Obama's push for authority to fast-track trade deals has hit a big setback in the form of opposition from his top fellow Democrat in Congress, but it is far from dead.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's warning to policymakers on Wednesday "just to not push this right now" reflects concern about the domestic political agenda ahead of November's congressional elections, when free trade could be a damaging issue for many Democrats.

The unusually blunt public opposition came less than 24 hours after Obama noted the need for fast-track power in his State of the Union address, albeit less forcefully than business lobbyists and pro-trade Republicans would have liked.

The White House called Reid's office shortly after his comments to voice displeasure, a top Democratic party aide said.

"They were really upset," the aide said. But the aide said the White House did not try to get Reid to shift his position.
These guys were really upset because they, like the staffers who negotiated NAFTA for Clinton and Bush I, made some serious bank as lobbyists and consultants.

I really hope that it's not, as Yves Smith's sources say,  "Another gambit is more likely: to make some cosmetic changes and try to get the bill passed during the lame duck session, on the assumption that some Democrats (particularly those who are leaving office) will use the cover and change positions."

The TPP, and it's European equivalent, the TTIP, are egregiously bad deals, not just for the United States, but for the whole world, because they are predicated on the idea that democracy and transparency must be almost completely eschewed in the interest of unregulated global investment flows and IP based looting through draconian copyright and patent provisions.

These are abysmally bad deals for everyone but banksters, big pharma, and the cocaine addicted brothers in law of senior studio and record label executives.

Pushback on Drug Pricing

The AIDS Healthcare Foundation is lobbying to keep the $1000.00 a pill Sovaldi out of Medicaid formularies.

I wholeheartedly agree enough is enough:
In a series of letters to be sent to state Medicaid directors starting today, AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) President Michael Weinstein will ask the state directors to block Gilead Sciences’ new $1,000-per-pill Hepatitis C drug Sovaldi (sofosbuvir) from inclusion on their respective state Medicaid and other drug formularies. The drug was approved by the F.D.A. on December 6, 2013 and Gilead immediately announced that it would price the drug at $84,000 for a twelve-week course of treatment—or $1,000 per tablet—making it one of the most expensive drugs ever marketed. Suggested treatment guidelines also require that Sovaldi be used with another drug, ribavirin (a nucleoside inhibitor), further adding to the cost of the prohibitively expensive course of treatment.

“When is enough, enough? At $1,000-per-pill, Sovaldi is priced 1,100% more than Gilead’s most expensive AIDS drug, Stribild, its four-in-one AIDS drug combination, which was priced at $80 per pill a year ago when it came to market,” said Michael Weinstein , President of AIDS Healthcare Foundation. “At that time, Stribild’s price was 35% more than Atripla, the company’s best selling combination HIV/AIDS treatment, and made Stribild the highest priced first-line combination AIDS therapy. Now, Gilead has set a new benchmark for unbridled greed with its outrageous price for Sovaldi—a price that some pharmacy industry sources suggest represents a retail markup of 279,000% over the cost of actually producing the drug.”

In his letter to state Medicaid directors, Weinstein wrote, “Gilead is charging a higher price for this drug even though the cost to produce it is small. According to industry reports, Gilead produces Sovaldi for approximately $1.00 per gram (with only 10 to 30 grams needed to successfully treat patients with Hepatitis C).1 This represents a retail markup of over 279,000%.
Enough is f%$#ing enough.

This sh%$ needs to stop.

Mixed Emotions

When something bad is happening to an group of truly awful people, I frequently experience schadenfreude.

When it in suggest negative implications for the rest of us, my feelings are more mixed.

Case in point, the defamation suit that may bankrupt the National Review:
National Review, founded by William F. Buckley Jr. in 1955, has had an enormous impact on the nation's politics. Its writers formulated the ideology that animated the quixotic Barry Goldwater campaign of 1964, and then Ronald Reagan's successful run for the White House in 1980. In the years since, National Review has often worked to keep Republican presidents focused on implementing its vision of conservatism, while bucking up the conservative troops when the movement has found itself out of power.

Today the magazine enjoys circulation roughly equivalent to that of The Nation, the American Left's leading journal of opinion, and more than twice that of William Kristol's The Weekly Standard, its primary competition on the Right.

And now, National Review may be fighting for its life.

Climate scientist Michael Mann is suing National Review and Mark Steyn, one of its leading writers, for defamation. It's a charge that's notoriously hard to prove, which is no doubt why the magazine initially refused to apologize for an item on its blog in which Steyn accused Mann of fraud. Steyn also quoted a line by another conservative writer (Rand Simberg) that called Mann "the Jerry Sandusky of climate science, except that instead of molesting children, he has molested and tortured data." (Simberg and the free market think tank for which he works, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, are also named in the suit.)

The lawsuit has not been going well for the magazine. In July, Judge Natalia Combs Greene rejected a motion to dismiss the suit. The defendants appealed, and last week D.C. Superior Court Judge Frederick Weisberg rejected the motion again, opening the door for the discovery phase of the lawsuit to begin.

That's not all. On Christmas Eve, Steyn (who regularly guest hosts Rush Limbaugh's radio show) wrote a blog post in which he excoriated Greene, accusing her of incompetence, stupidity, and obtuseness. As a result of this outburst, the law firm that had been representing National Review and Steyn (Steptoe & Johnson) has dropped Steyn as a client and reportedly has plans to withdraw as counsel for the magazine as well.
Part of me hopes that The National Review gets sued into oblivion.    It is a pernicious organization, and it has been since Buckley founded it, and filled it with Oh-So-Civilized support for segregation.

Part of me worries that the Kochs will start funding SLAPP suits against in an attempt to intimidate real news gathering organizations.

And so I leave it with all of you: Which came out of the opened door - the lady, or the tiger?

H/t Salon.

You Sure Picked the Wrong Guy to go All 'Roid Rage On, Representative Grimm………

After the State of the Union Address, a NY1reporter Michael Scotto asked Congressman Michael Grimm about his fundraising scandal.

Grimm, expecting questions about the SOTU address, was upset and walked off.

Then he walked back, and threatened to break reporter Scotto in half and throw him off of the Congressional Balcony.

This does make the persisistent rumors of anabolic steroid abuse more credible.

But he picked the wrong reporter to threaten.

You see Michael Scotto is the nephew of Anthony Scotto, a former head of the Brooklyn longshoremen’s union and a former boss in the Gambino crime family.

Grim went postal, and, to my non-lawyer eyes, it was technically assault, on the nephew of a Gambino crime bus.

Sucks to be you.

BTW, before he was a Congressman, he was an FBI agent, and I have to agree with Alex Pareene when he says, "We shouldn't let people like him have badges and guns."

The only thing worse than a goon is a goon with a gun and a badge.

This is Going to Leave a Mark

Vladimir Putin has a problem, and ain't the Chechen terrorists, and it ain't the ghey, it's Lewis Black.

This is the most epic take-down I've EVER seen Lewis Black deliver, and that is saying something.

I am Too Damn Old

I am going to Seattle in 2 weeks (Happy Bat Mitzvah, Eugenia!) and I'm not even thinking about scoring some legal weed.

Some time in the past few years, it seems that I've gotten even duller.

FWIW, I understand that I chose a career that involves peeing in a bottle as a part of the interview process.

One day, I will do the Apple Juice Joke.

29 January 2014

Deep Thought

The death of Pete Seeger has me thinking of Woody Guthrie:

See the label on his guitar saying, "This machine kills fascists?"

Folk songs are about not some sort of generic emotional warm fuzzies.

They are about life, and they are about deep moral outrage.

H/t TPM for the picture (c. 1943).

Barack Obama, Fire James Clapper Now

If you want to give a guy the keys to our security apparatus, they cannot hold the Constitution of the United States of America in contempt:
James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, appeared today before the Senate Intelligence Committee, his first appearance since outright lying to that Committee last March about NSA bulk collection. In his prepared opening remarks, Clapper said this:
Snowden claims that he's won and that his mission is accomplished. If that is so, I call on him and his accomplices to facilitate the return of the remaining stolen documents that have not yet been exposed to prevent even more damage to U.S. security.
Who, in the view of the Obama administration, are Snowden's "accomplices"? The FBI and other official investigators have been very clear with the media that there is no evidence whatsoever that Snowden had any help in copying and removing documents from the NSA.
If there were any credible evidence of foreign agency involvement, it would have been leaked by Obama and His Evil Minions, if not publicly trumpeted in a press conference.

Clapper, the man whom Edward Snowden proved to have lied to Congress, should not be allowed to have access classified of any kind.

Here's hoping that Mr. Snowden wins the Nobel Peace Prize he was recently nominated for.

He is far more deserving that President "I Have a Drone":
One of the biggest debates over the last year was whether Edward Snowden, the whistleblower who ignited a storm of controversy when he revealed a huge number of covert measures by the NSA, was a traitor or a hero. Today, the latter camp got a big boost after it was announced that Snowden had officially been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

While Nobel Peace Prize nominations are typically kept secret for 50 years, those who submit nominations can make them public themselves sometimes. Thousands of different people, including academics, elected officials, and former recipients can make nominations for whomever "shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses" over the preceding year.

Snowden was nominated by Norway's Socialist Left Party politicians Baard Vegar Solhjell, a former environment minister, and Snorre Valen, a member of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, where Valen announced the whistleblower's nomination earlier today.

The FCC Gets Lemons, and Makes An Antifreeze Cocktail

I have a plan so cunning that you could put a tail on it and call it a weasel………Not!!!!
Because the FCC is unwilling (not unable, just unwillint) to properly classify broadband providers as common carriers, because they are a bunch of wimps have been cowed by, and have bought into, the bankrupt philosophy of the free market Mousketeers, so they have come up with a plan that makes Baldrick from Blackadder look like a genius:
The nation's top telecom regulator is tipping his hand a bit more on network neutrality.

While FCC chairman Tom Wheeler wouldn't say outright how he intends to respond to a recent court decision overturning his agency's rule barring Internet providers from blocking Web traffic, he appears to be leaning increasingly toward using the FCC's existing legal authority to regulate broadband providers.

Industry watchers say this approach would likely turn on a part of the Communications Act known as Section 706, which gives the FCC authority to promote broadband deployment. Moving in that direction would put more distance between Wheeler and another alternative that's been floated, which is to reclassify Internet service provders (ISPs) as a kind of utility (making them much more like the phone companies the FCC already regulates strongly).
You see the problem here, don't you?

What happens when the next Michael Powell, a corporate tool nonpareille ends up running the FCC, and they decide, much as Powell did, that eliminating regulation will magically promote broadband.

This is what has given the United States the slowest and most expensive Internet access in the developed world.

28 January 2014

Here is an Amicus Brief I Fully Support

There has been a fascinating friend of the court (amicus) brief on the latest Obamacare suits, the "ladyparts are icky" suits from Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties.

It argues that the "Religious Freedom Restoration Act" is an unconstitutional because it is an unconstitutional abrogation of the constitutional role of the courts in interpreting the law:
Arguing that Congress has gone too far to push aside the Supreme Court’s constitutional role in religion cases, a loose coalition of child welfare organizations, survivors of clergy child sexual abuse, and non-believers has urged the Justices to strike down the Religious Freedom Restoration Act when it rules on a new dispute over the federal health care law.

The amicus brief, written by a prominent academic authority on religion and the law, Cardozo Law School’s Marci A. Hamilton, seeks to add a bold new dimension to the Court’s review of the Affordable Care Act’s “contraception mandate.”

“RFRA,” the document contended, “is Congress’s overt attempt to take . . . over this Court’s role in interpreting the Constitution. . . . [T]his novel federal statute, which is one of the most aggressive attacks on this Court’s role in constitutional interpretation in history, has fomented culture wars in the courts like the one ignited” in the pending cases by for-profit businesses seeking a RFRA-based exemption from the mandate to provide health insurance for pregnancy-related services to workers.
Normally, I would not expect that this would have any bearing on the court's decision, but the core of this argument is flattering the court as an institution, so that makes it a bit more likely.

Bovine Terrorism

They blew up a barn in Germany.

The official story is that methane buildup from cow flatulence caused this:
Methane gas from 90 flatulent cows exploded in a German farm shed on Monday, damaging the roof and injuring one of the animals, police said.


One cow was treated for burns, a police spokesman added.

We know better though it's part of the great ruminant conspiracy.

The Horror………

John Haggerty is much braver than I am.

He decided to rely exclusively on Fox News for information on current events for one month.

I would have gnawed my own eyes off by the end of the 2nd day.

And the New York Times Just Went Medieval of Christie's Lt. Governor………

It appears that  New Jersey Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno has drawn the attention of the Times, and when the hed is, "A Lieutenant Governor, an Artist and a Portrait of a Smear, it's pretty clear that your political career is in trouble:
In her first year in office, Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno opened a frontal attack on an unlikely target, the New Jersey State Council on the Arts.

Its contracting was “inexcusably” flawed, she said. Its practices were “unethical” and too cozy. Its director had to go.

Ms. Guadagno went on like this for months in 2010, and no one knew what to make of it. She wanted more control over the Arts Council, which distributed $16 million a year all over the state and was broadly respected.

In spring 2011, she began a new offensive. She went before legislative committees and pilloried a man doing work on an Arts Council contract, building a 9/11 timeline at Liberty State Park in Jersey City. His contract was no-bid, she said, the money unclear.

This gentleman is Daniel Aubrey, a 62-year-old man with a gray-flecked goatee. He and his wife, an artist, live in a modest home on a modest block just outside Trenton. A friend called him that day and exclaimed: The lieutenant governor just spelled out your name and said there was contract fraud!

A day later, an assistant attorney general called Mr. Aubrey. You are involved in an illegal contract, the prosecutor said. Do you have a criminal attorney?

He did not.

Just like that, Mr. Aubrey fell into reputation’s ditch, and the Christie administration piled dirt atop him. Except — and this is not incidental to our story — Mr. Aubrey did nothing wrong.
This behavior is unconscionable, and if it is not illegal, it should be.

No surprise, but Kim Guadagno used to be a professional bully prosecutor.

Sucks to be her right now.

Pete Seeger 1919-2014

A fixture at my house

And some biting social satire
Growing up, I remember listening to his album Gazette.

And there was also his lifelong political activism, along with his standing up to the evil bullies of HUAC.

He was, of course, a bit subversive, but art tends to be subversive.

We will not see his like in the foreseeable future.

27 January 2014

Another Strike Against the No Fly List

Obama must love Kafka and Orwell's nightmares, because he is emulating them
And this ruling is not being classified as secret:
A Virginia man who claims that as a teenager he was detained, interrogated, and abused in Kuwait at the behest of the Obama administration (a story I wrote about here) has won a key victory in his lawsuit against the government. A George W. Bush-appointed judge allowed Gulet Mohamed's case to move forward on Wednesday, ruling that by putting him on the no-fly list (and thus infringing on his right to return home to the US), the government made him "a second class citizen."

Judge Anthony Trenga of the US District Court in Alexandria, Virginia, ruled that the no-fly list's "impact on a citizen who cannot use a commercial aircraft is profound," restricting the right to travel and visit family, the "ability to associate," and even the ability to hold down a job. Inclusion on the list also "also labels an American citizen a disloyal American who is capable of, and disposed toward committing, war crimes, and one can easily imagine the broad range of consequences that might be visited upon such a person if that stigmatizing designation were known by the general public," Trenga added. Here's another key excerpt:
In effect, placement on the No Fly List is life defining and life restricting across a broad range of constitutionally protected activities and aspirations; and a No Fly List designation transforms a person into a second class citizen, or worse. The issue, then, is whether and under what circumstances the government should have the ability to impose such a disability on an American citizen, who should make any such decision, according to what process, and by what standard of proof.
This little bit of Kafkaesque horror is something that came from the Obama administration.

This is not the product of one of Dick Cheney's security wet dreams, this is Obama embracing and extending those policies.

Conservative Butthurt

Normally, I have no interest in awards, but the Grammy's have their moments.

The last time was in 1984, when Annie Lennox stunned and offended ½ of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences of the United States (and amused the other ½).

This year, however, it is a bit more significant. Queen Latifa officiated at the wedding of 34 couples, some of them same sex, and right wingers are having a major butt hurt about this:
Anti-gay commentators were none too pleased with last night’s performance of Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ “Same Love” at the Grammy Awards, which included a ceremony where thirty-four couples — including same-sex couples — were married. Unsurprisingly, many claimed that the show was evil and mean to anti-gay activists.
My heart bleeds borscht for these bigots.

26 January 2014

Pravda on the Potomac Blames Ukraine For Enacting U.S. Like Laws

The Washington Post is criticizing the Yanukovych government in the Ukraine for laws that exist in their hometown without any comment:
The lunatics writing the Washington Post editorials want to blame the Ukraine (and the Russian president Putin) for its remarkable patient defense against the foreign supported, neo-nazi vandals of the Svoboda party who try to storm and take over government buildings in Kiev.
One paragraph especially shows their unmatched hypocrisy:
The repressive new restrictions, which criminalize such activity as wearing helmets and setting up tents in public spaces, look a lot like the strategy the Russian ruler used to crush mass demonstrations against his regime in 2011 and 2012. Mr. Yanukovych even adopted the regulation Russia imposed on nongovernment groups that receive foreign funding — a product of Mr. Putin’s paranoid conviction that pro-democracy movements in his country and elsewhere are the result of Western government plots.
Wearing helmets and masks at demonstrations has been unanimously criminalized by the D.C. Council in the Washington Post's hometown. Tents set up in public spaces by the Occupy movement have been outlawed and cleared by force all over the United States. The Russian and Ukrainian laws that regulate foreign money to political organisations are copies of the U.S. Foreign Agents Registration Act which is law of the land since 1938.
(emphasis original)

There is very little difference between how the Ukraine is using law as an instrument for crushing political protest, and how the United States s using law as an instrument for crushing political protest.

Not Enough Bullets………

It appears that the hyper wealthy think that people not liking them or how they make money is just like the holocaust, "Seems like billionaire venture capitalist Tom Perkins is very, very afraid of progressives. In a letter to the Wall Street Journal, Perkins expressed his deep fear that fascist progressives were going to burn down the city."

He actually invoked Kristallnacht:
From the Occupy movement to the demonization of the rich embedded in virtually every word of our local newspaper, the San Francisco Chronicle, I perceive a rising tide of hatred of the successful one percent. There is outraged public reaction to the Google buses carrying technology workers from the city to the peninsula high-tech companies which employ them. We have outrage over the rising real-estate prices which these "techno geeks" can pay. We have, for example, libelous and cruel attacks in the Chronicle on our number-one celebrity, the author Danielle Steel, alleging that she is a "snob" despite the millions she has spent on our city's homeless and mentally ill over the past decades.
This is ludicrous.

BTW, San Francisco has a law against private vehicles blocking bus-stops, as the aforementioned Google buses do. It's a $271 fine, and this means something north of $½ billion in fines have been ignored by the city by various tech firms, because big tech is above the law.

The idea that somehow or other, either criticism or legitimate law enforcement actions directed toward the extremely wealthy is somehow a fascist style persecution against the 0.01% is both pernicious and laughable.

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

Busy week.  1 Bank, and 2 credit Unions

And here they are, ordered, and numbered for the year so far.
  1. The Bank of Union, El Reno, OK
Full FDIC list

And here are the credit union closings:
  1. Bagumbayan Credit Union, Chicago, IL
  2. Parsons Pittsburg Credit Union, Parsons, KS

Full NCUA list

25 January 2014

You Learn Something New Every Day………

I was using Google to confirm the spelling of the word "Bated", as in, "Bated breath," the other day, and I came across its origins.

It turns out that it's a diminutive form of the word "abated", and the first recorded use was by William Shakespeare, specifically, Merchant of Venice, "Shall I bend low and in a bondman's key, With bated breath and whispering humbleness, Say this; 'Fair sir, you spit on me on Wednesday last; You spurn'd me such a day; another time You call'd me dog; and for these courtesies I'll lend you thus much moneys'?"

I already knew that the first recorded use of puke, actually the word puking, came from The Scottish Play.

I just think that it's kinda cool.

Posted via mobile.

My Thoughts on This Year's Superbowl

Normally, I do not watch the Superbowl for the Football.

When my team, Washington is playing, I do not watch.

The least time I did was Super Bowl XXII.  I watched the first quarter, and Denver was leading 10-0, so when some friends came by suggesting dinner, I turned off the TV, and we left the hotel, (I was at a Boskone) and went put to eat.

I returned an the start of the third quarter, and the Redskins had scored 35 unanswered points.

I then realized that Washington had lost whenever I watched, and won when I hadn't, so I do not watch them in that game.

You can call me superstitious, just don't call me late for dinner.

So these days, I watch out for the ads, if I watch at all.  (I saw Apple's 1984 ad when our originally aired.)

However, there are some exceptions to this.

If the Buffalo Bills play the Minnesota Vikings, I'll watch.

Another exception is if the Superbowl is played outside in inclement winter weather, as the Football gods intended.

This year, the game will be played at the stadium formerly known as The Meadowlands, in North Jersey, so there is a distinct possibility of real Football played in real Football weather.

So if the mercury is below -10°C, our of there is some serious snow, I well be watching.

Posted via mobile.

24 January 2014

Federal Civil Rights Board Condemns NSA Snooping Program

The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board just issued a report on the NSA's metadata driftnet.
They have concluded that it is both ineffective and illegal:
An independent federal privacy watchdog has concluded that the National Security Agency’s program to collect bulk phone call records has provided only “minimal” benefits in counterterrorism efforts, is illegal and should be shut down.
The findings are laid out in a 238-page report, scheduled for release by Thursday and obtained by The New York Times, that represent the first major public statement by the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, which Congress made an independent agency in 2007 and only recently became fully operational.
The program “lacks a viable legal foundation under Section 215, implicates constitutional concerns under the First and Fourth Amendments, raises serious threats to privacy and civil liberties as a policy matter, and has shown only limited value,” the report said. “As a result, the board recommends that the government end the program.”
But the privacy board’s report criticized that, saying that the legal theory was a “subversion” of the law’s intent, and that the program also violated the Electronic Communications Privacy Act.
“It may have been a laudable goal for the executive branch to bring this program under the supervision” of the court, the report says. “Ultimately, however, that effort represents an unsustainable attempt to shoehorn a pre-existing surveillance program into the text of a statute with which it is not compatible.”
The ruling was not unanimous, the two members, both alumni of the ferociously corrupt and incompetent Bush DoJ, Rachel L. Brand and Elisebeth Collins Cook, both thought that everything was all hunky dory, with Ms Cook letting loose this bit of completely moronic insanity:
Still, in her dissent, Ms. Cook criticized judging the program’s worth based only on whether it had stopped an attack to date. It also has value as a tool that can allow investigators to “triage” threats and provide “peace of mind” if it uncovers no domestic links to a newly discovered terrorism suspect, she wrote.
Translation: Just because spying on the whole country hasn't yet worked, doesn't mean that at some point there might be a chance of it doing something good.
To paraphrase Jimi, excuse me while my head explodes.
Meanwhile, Ars Technica goes a bit further down into the weeds, and covers some important minutae:
The Thursday PCLOB report only addresses critiques of the Section 215 program, but it notes that a future report will address problems found in Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Amendments Act (FISA AA). Meanwhile, the report describes the rules for targeting non-Americans outside the United States. The government argues that PRISM and related spying programs targeting non-Americans outside the United States are authorized under Section 702.
The report goes into great detail explaining both the mechanics of the bulk metadata collection program and how it began. It also emphasizes that under the Section 215 program, the NSA does not collect cell-site location information (CSLI), which can be used to provide geographic information about a call.
However, the report ominously notes:
In the past, the NSA has collected a limited amount of cell site location information to test the feasibility of incorporating such information into its Section 215 program, but that information has not been used for intelligence analysis, and the government has stated that the agency does not now collect it under this program.

The PCLOB concluded, as Ars has previously, that by allowing analysis of up to "three hops," this could potentially encompass around half the population of the United States:
If the NSA queries around 300 seed numbers a year, as it did in 2012, then based on the estimates provided earlier about the number of records produced in response to a single query, the corporate store would contain records involving over 120 million telephone numbers.

The PCLOB also notes that there is a significant difference between using phone calling data to follow up on a reasonable suspicion, and collecting information on every phone call made in the country.

Still, I don't expect anything but minor cosmetic changes.

Full report after the break:

Obama Punts on Equal Healthcoverage Coverage for CEO's, Lets the 1% Loot Again

One of the provisions of the PPACA was that senior executives had to get the same sort of insurance as the rest of their workers.

Well, it seems that the Department of Health and Human Services has decided that it's just too hard to come up with rules to implement this portion of the statute:
The Obama administration is delaying enforcement of another provision of the new health care law, one that prohibits employers from providing better health benefits to top executives than to other employees.

Tax officials said they would not enforce the provision this year because they had yet to issue regulations for employers to follow.

The Affordable Care Act, adopted nearly four years ago, says employer-sponsored health plans must not discriminate “in favor of highly compensated individuals” with respect to either eligibility or benefits. The government provides a substantial tax break for employer-sponsored insurance, and, as a matter of equity and fairness, lawmakers said employers should not provide more generous coverage to a select group of high-paid employees.

But translating that goal into reality has proved difficult.

Officials at the Internal Revenue Service said they were wrestling with complicated questions like how to measure the value of employee health benefits, how to define “highly compensated” and what exactly constitutes discrimination.

Bruce I. Friedland, a spokesman for the I.R.S., said employers would not have to comply until the agency issued regulations or other guidance.
This sh%$ ain't rocket science.

Either they are dragging their feet, or they are writing Byzantinely complex rules.

The only reason for complexity is to create loopholes that millionaire campaign contributors executives can drive their Beemers through.

In Which I Use the Words "Insurance" and "Fascinating" in the Same Sentence………

Susie Madrak's has a post at C&L about Christie's allies in the New Jersey Democratic Party.

While I am not an expert on New Jersey Politics, that way madness lies, I was aware that South Jersey Dems tended to be more in line with both Christie's policies and his manner.

Normally, I would not write about Suzie's take on this, but she reveals a deep systemic problem with governance at the state and local level throughout the United States.

Specifically, she notes how insurance is routinely used as a way to generate undeserved profits for businessmen, and undeserved political contributions for politicians:
We talked about the legislative fight over funding Philadelphia's then-new convention center. He called it "a boondoggle."

"Then why did the Republicans end up supporting it?" I said.

He looked at me like I was a moron. "The bonds. The insurance. Follow the money," he said. "The Republicans are making money off all that stuff. It's always about insurance and bonds."

So I took his advice, and started delving into the esoteric world of municipal insurance. I discovered that the same insurance broker had almost every single insurance contract in the county, and that he was a heavy Republican contributor - which is why he got all those contracts in the first place.

New Jersey has a broker like that. His name is George Norcross, and he's a Democrat -- at least nominally.

To understand why he who controls the insurance controls the politics, you need to understand just how profitable insurance is. And if you own the political apparatus that runs along with it, you have a perpetual money machine that really doesn't require much upkeep.

It was the experience in the county I covered that the politically-connected insurance contracts cost an average of 30% more than a municipality or other entity would pay on the open market. Much of the excess profits get kicked back through political contributions. (These contracts are almost always an exception to the open bidding process, which makes it easy. Not so much for the homeowners paying the additional millage.)

But there are other benefits. For instance, a cooperative insurance broker who wields that much power with the carriers makes sure there are quick and speedy confidential settlements regarding messy little matters like police brutality cases or public officials who are stealing money. They control which attorneys are retained by the carriers, and they're always politically connected.

It may be tidy, but it's probably not democracy.

Here's an example of how Norcross works -- and it's all perfectly legal, even if the taxpayers get screwed:
In another DRPA-related transaction, Norcross’s insurance firm received $410,000—not for actually doing the authority’s insurance work, but for referring that business to another insurance firm, Willis of New Jersey. While a report last year from the New Jersey comptroller was critical of that arrangement, it also noted that there was technically nothing unlawful about it, a point Norcross reiterates when I bring it up. “Look,” he says, “the report itself says nothing happened that was illegal.”
Looking at this, and how the regulatory and legal environment not only enables, but encourages this behavior.

After all, when was the last time that your heard of an indictment, much less a conviction of an insurance broker doing a shady deal with a local government?

It's the Iron Triangle writ local.

Not Enough Bullets………

After JP Morgan had to pay billions of dollars in fines and restitution, the board of directors took decisive action, and doubled JP Morgan CEO' Jamie Dimon's salary.

I guess in finance, everyone gets a gold star, kind of like kindergarten, only with less accountability:
JP Morgan Chase has almost doubled chairman and CEO Jamie Dimon's pay for 2013, rewarding the executive for settling probes against the bank.

Dimon will receive total compensation of $20m in 2013, consisting of $18.5m in stock options and a base salary of $1.5m, the bank said in a statement Friday.

That compares with total compensation of $11.5m a year earlier, down from $23m in each of the previous two years.

The bank says it took several factors into account when deciding on Dimon's pay, including the "sustained long-term performance" of the bank, gains in market share and customer satisfaction as well as his handling of the legal issues facing the lender.
Seriously, we need to start jailing these people post haste.

23 January 2014


A whiteout and a pileup in Indiana. 3 dead, and at least 20 injured.

H/t PP at the Stellar Parthenon BBS.

Pastafarians in the Ukraine

Stephen Trimble points us to a journalist covering demonstrations in Kiev.

Trimble believes that this is an impromptu helmet.
I think not.

You have no padding and thin gauge metal, so protection is minimal.

Instead, I think that this intrepid reporter is invoking the protection of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, may we all bask in his noodly goodness.

Mike Huckabee is Terrified of Women's Libidos

Yesterday, I asserted that the abortion criminalization right wants to punish women for their own sexuality.

Today, Mike Huckabee removed all doubt:
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee said the Republican Party is waging a “war for women,” at a meeting of the Republican National Committee Thursday.

Addressing a luncheon of committee-members, staffers, and operatives, Huckabee took aim at Democrats who accuse the GOP of waging a “war on women” with its policies against abortion and government-subsidized birth control.

“Republicans don’t have a war on women,” Huckabee said. We’re having a war for women. To empower them to be something other than victims of their gender.”

“If the Democrats want to insult the women of America by making them believe that they are helpless without Uncle Sugar coming in and providing for them a prescription each month for birth control, because they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of the government, then so be it,” he continued. “Let us take that discussion all across America, because women are far more than the Democrats have played them to be.”
Great shades of Elvis.

Cannot control their libido?

Unless Huckabee has some girl-on-girl fantasies and a turkey baster, there is, you know, a  penis involved in sex and conception.

Controlling their reproductive system?  That is the definition of birth control.

What is it about Republicans?   Are they still fuming over the fact that they couldn't get laid during the "Summer of Love" in 1967?

I couldn't get laid in 1967 either, but in my defense, I turned 5 years old that year.

I would also note that (most of the time, anyway) don't act like a 5 year old these days, but it appears that Republicans have not managed that trick.

People Who Should be Banned from Teaching for Life

If there was a way to throw these pitiful excuses for a human being in gaol, I'd go for that too.

A teacher harassed one of her students for being a Buddhist, and when the parents complain the administration suggest that the family give up Buddhism:
A public school in Louisiana allegedly advised a Buddhist family to change their beliefs if they didn’t want their child to face harassment from zealous teachers.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Louisiana on Wednesday filed a federal lawsuit against Negreet High School in Sabine Parish on behalf of two parents, Scott and Sharon Lane, and their son, “C.C.” The lawsuit claims the school has “a longstanding custom, policy, and practice of promoting and inculcating Christian beliefs,” including the teaching of creationism.

Sixth-grade teacher Rita Roark has told her students that the universe was created by God about 6,000 years ago, and taught that both the Big Bang theory and evolution are false, according to the lawsuit. She told her students that “if evolution was real, it would still be happening: Apes would be turning into humans today.”

One test she gave to students asked: “ISN’T IT AMAZING WHAT THE _____________ HAS MADE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” The correct answer was “Lord,” but C.C. wrote in something else. Roark responded by scolding the boy in front of the entire class.

When informed that C.C. was a Buddhist and therefore didn’t believe in God, Roark allegedly responded, “you’re stupid if you don’t believe in God.”

On another accusation, she allegedly described both Buddhism and Hinduism as “stupid.”

When the outraged parents confronted Sabine Parish Superintendent Sara Ebarb about the incidents, she allegedly told them “this is the Bible belt” and that they “shouldn’t be offended” to “see God here.” Ebarb advised that C.C. should either change his faith or be transferred to another District school where “there are more Asians.”
Those "educators" had better hope that there is no God, because if he does, then they are all surely going to hell.

Clinton's Reinventing Government Initiative Failure in One Corrupt Failure

Remember when President Clinton put forward the idea of "Reinventing Government"?

It was all about how by unleashing "private sector efficiency" on government functions, with the inevitable result being better government for less money.

Leaving aside the historically dismal performance of such efforts ***cough*** Halliburton ***cough***, but one could make the argument that providing logistical service to the military, but when the part of the Office of Personnel Management responsible for security clearance investigations was spun off as a private firm, USIS, that was a core function.

It really doesn't get any more "core" than preserving state secrets.

And now we see how "private sector efficiency" has allowed the security clearance process to descend into a morass of corruption and incompetence:
The company that conducted a background investigation on the contractor Edward J. Snowden fraudulently signed off on hundreds of thousands of incomplete security checks in recent years, the Justice Department said Wednesday.

The government said the company, U.S. Investigations Services, defrauded the government of millions of dollars by submitting more than 650,000 investigations that had not been completed. The government uses those reports to help make hiring decisions and decide who gets access to national security secrets.

In addition to Mr. Snowden, the company performed the background check for Aaron Alexis, a 34-year-old military contractor who killed 12 people at the Washington Navy Yard last year. Mr. Alexis, who died in a shootout with the police, left behind documents saying the government had been tormenting him with low-frequency radio waves.

The accusations highlight not just how reliant the government is on contractors to perform national security functions, but also how screening those contractors requires even more contractors. U.S. Investigations Service, now known as USIS, is the largest outside investigator for government security clearances. It is one of many companies that has found lucrative government work during the expansion of national security in the last decade.

From 2008 to 2012, about 40 percent of the company’s investigations were fraudulently submitted, the Justice Department said.

(emphasis mine)

It doesn't save money.  All it does is increase the looting, and gives the looters more money to lobby for more looting.

This is disastrous for both our government and our society.

22 January 2014

Charlie Pierce Gets It

Pierce notes that when you look at those who wish to criminalize abortion (and birth control), "There Is No Common Ground On Abortion."

They want to punish women for their own sexuality.  They want to remove their autonomy, and they (Catholic Church excepted) don't give a damn about children once they are born into poverty.

These people who are afraid by women, and the power that women possess, and want to minimize it, and there can be no compromise.

The idea of  "Common Ground" is that it provides a way for Democrats to weasel out of this.

Guess what, the only people who feel inspired to vote for members of the weasel family are other weasels, like skunks.

Go read the rest

Poo Flinging in Journalism*

Erik Wemple, former Editor in Chief of the Washington City Paper and current Washington Post media critic, has been chasing down allegations that Politico's Mike Allen selling favorable coverage on his daily Playbook newsletter:
Politico Chief White House Correspondent Mike Allen writes “Playbook,” a daily e-mail newsletter featuring stories from Politico and other outlets, various “exclusives,” tips and birthday notices. It also carries “messages” from big companies and trade associations hoping to reach “Playbook’s” audience of influentials.

All the items below were extracted from “Playbook” and are related to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a lobbying force that has advertised in the newsletter. Please designate which are paid advertisements for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and which are Allen’s own work:


Answers: 1) and 3) are paid ads; 2) and 4) are Allen’s own work.

One of the hottest issues in journalism today is “native” advertising, the tricks that publishers deploy to elide the domains of journalism and advertising. BuzzFeed has sustained gray-bearded criticism for its boundary-defying listicles. The Atlantic earlier this year ran a native ad from the Church of Scientology that inflamed its audience and prompted an apology and a review of Atlantic procedures for approving ads. Forbes, The Washington Post and the Huffington Post are also experimenting with this approach to funding journalism.

A review of “Playbook” archives shows that the special interests that pay for slots in the newsletter get adoring coverage elsewhere in the playing field of “Playbook.” The pattern is a bit difficult to suss out if you glance at “Playbook” each day for a shot of news and gossip. When searching for references to advertisers in “Playbook,” however, it is unmistakable. And its practitioner is expanding the franchise. Today, Allen disclosed in “Playbook” that he’ll be collaborating in the production of “Capital Playbook,” a newsletter stemming from Capital New York, the news site that Politico acquired earlier this year. Also today, the New York Times, as part of a reorganization of its Washington/political coverage, announced that it would be launching a “morning news tip sheet that sets up the Washington day for our readers.”


Such fandom helps to explain why Allen’s updates have become perhaps the Beltway’s most impressive journo-business story of the past decade. As previously reported, advertisers pay a good $35,000 for a weekly run in “Playbook,” a price tag that has inflated nicely for Politico in recent years.
And then there is the fawning coverage of Fox News, with the (buried at the end of the article) quote, "And yet former Fox News PR ace Brian Lewis told Jim Romenesko in 2012, “We do not have a do-not-deal-with-Politico policy. We deal with Mike Allen.” As they should."

So, Mike Allen is not happy with Erik Wemple, which is profoundly unsurprising.

What does surprise me though is that senior editors at The Washington Post and Politico have set up a meeting to resolve this:
Top editors at The Washington Post and Politico tried on Wednesday to mend a rift between the two news organizations.

Politico’s editor in chief, John Harris, and the Post’s editorial page editor Fred Hiatt spoke about columns by Erik Wemple, a media critic for The Post, that have been heavily critical of Mike Allen, a star reporter at Politico and author of the popular Playbook newsletter. Mr. Wemple has accused Mr. Allen of questionable journalistic practices, including using Playbook to provide favorable coverage to the companies that advertise in his newsletter.

It had been reported that editors at The Post and Politico would meet in person, but instead they talked over the phone.

“One of his writers made assertions that I believe do not meet Washington Post standards of fairness or accuracy,” Mr. Harris said in an email, describing the call with Mr. Hiatt. The assertions, he said are  “emphatically untrue — and we had a serious and non-dramatic conversation about this.”
Would the Post have a meeting like this with the now-indicted former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnel?

Of course not.  They would contact him for comments, and they would review any complaints, but a meeting?  Of course not.

When the target has a complaint, you get those complaints, and you examine those complaints, and if you determine them to be valid, you publish a correction.

You don't hold f%$#ing peace talks.

This sort of mutual back scratching by media institutions is one of the reasons that so many people don't trust the press.

* Since I am mentioning Eric Wemple and journalistic poo flinging, I feel compelled to note that while Eric Wemple's was editor at Washington City Paper, he assigned reporters in an effort to out the identity of anonymous bloggers who commented on the oft bizarre conflict with the Wag Time Pet Spa, which was next door to his house, which actually involved the arrest of his wife on allegations of literally flinging of poo, of the canine variety. (see also here)


This is more the 'tude of Destructo (the male, almost not a kitten) rather than Meatball (or Mouse Trap, my wife and I disagree*)

*It doesn't really matter, they do not come when they are called.

21 January 2014

Do You Think that the Qataris Might Have an Agenda?

A study funded by the government of Qatar has determined that the Assad regime is guilty to "industrial-scale killing".

I'm not surprised by the conclusion, and I'm inclined to agree that it is generally accurate, but it is clear that its provenance is highly suspect.

The Sunni monarchs of the Gulf have long had an agenda of both attacking secular Arab regimes, as well as pushing for Sunni dominance in the Arab world.

And it comes out just as negotiations between the two sides begins.

The people who wrote this report have stellar reputations in the human rights area, one is a former chief prosecutor for Sierra Leone, but the source of the data might, or might not, be akin to "Curveball", whose false testimony was invoked by the Bush administration in their push for the Iraq war:
The defector, who for security reasons is identified only as Caesar, was a photographer with the Syrian military police. He smuggled the images out of the country on memory sticks to a contact in the Syrian National Movement, which is supported by the Gulf state of Qatar. Qatar, which has financed and armed rebel groups, has called for the overthrow of Assad and demanded his prosecution.
Needless to say, I am dubious of the report and the timing.

From I Have a Dream to I Have a Drone

I've been thinking that on the observance of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday I should offer some sort of comment, and I've kind of been at a loss.

Driving to work today, I had a flash of insight.

It's not deep, but it is glib, and I think that it is an evocative way to give the lie to the idea that somehow or other Obama is a successor to Kings legacy.

Beneficiary, yes, successor, no f%$#ing way.

More generally,  I object to the the Disneyification of King's memory.

At the core of his activism was a profound and deep moral outrage, and the process by which he has been reduced to some sort of "Magic Negro" by the mainstream media is a real shame.

It serves to dilute much of his message, which was not just about civil rights, but addressed poverty and labor rights as well.

Not Enough Bullets

The tech companies are trying to dodge taxes again:
Silicon Valley has launched a last-ditch attempt to derail plans devised by the G20 group of countries to close down international loopholes that are exploited by the likes of Google, Amazon and Apple to pay less tax in the UK and elsewhere.

The Digital Economy Group, a lobbying group dominated by the leading US digital firms, has written to the OECD, the Paris-based thinktank tasked by G20 leaders with drawing up reforms, saying it is not true that communications advances have allowed multinational groups to game national tax systems.

Suggesting that any leakage of tax revenues flowing from the complex corporate structures of digital groups is merely coincidental, the Digital Economy Group says: "Enterprises that employ digital communications models do not organise their business operations differently as a legal or tax matter."

Their denial of tax engineering follows a string of tax scandals in Europe and the US in the past two years. In the UK, Google bore the brunt of criticism from Margaret Hodge, who chairs the public accounts committee, after it emerged that Google – which the Guardian understands is a member of the DEG – had been allowed to pay £3.4m in tax to HMRC in 2012 despite UK revenues of £3.2bn.
"Merely coincidental," my ass.  0.09% tax rate?  This is not a boating accident.

I guess that you need all that money you save from tax cheating that you can pay your senior executives obscene bonuses.

How about throwing these motherf%$#ers in jail.

Stewart 1, Obama 0

Stewarts notes that Obama has deliberately created a regime in which the rules are completely dependent on the goodwill of the authorities, something which our founders abhorred.

Obama makes an exception for "true emergencies," and Stewart observes that, "We will totally follow the rules until we determine such time when we will no longer follow the rules, but don't worry about it. You won't hear about it, because we're doing it in secret."

Once again, with a smile on his face, Stewart reveals the hypocrisy of power.

Pack Your Toothbrush, Governor

The DoJ has finally gotten around to indicting former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell and his wife, Maureen:
Former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, were charged Tuesday with illegally accepting gifts, luxury vacations and large loans from a wealthy Richmond area businessman who sought special treatment from state government.

Authorities allege that for nearly two years, the McDonnells repeatedly asked executive Jonnie R. Williams Sr. for loans and gifts of money, clothes, golf fees and equipment, trips, and private plane rides. The gifts and loans totaled at least $165,000.

In exchange, authorities allege, the McDonnells worked in concert to lend the prestige of the governor’s office to Williams’s struggling company, Star Scientific, a former small cigarette manufacturer that now sells dietary supplements.

McDonnell, 59, is the first governor ever to face criminal charges in Virginia, a state that has prided itself on a history of clean and ethical politics, and the charges will probably accelerate a push for the legislature to tighten state ethics laws.

The criminal prosecution marks a stunning crash for a politician who was considered for the Republican vice presidential nomination in 2012 and who, just a year ago, was considered a credible prospective candidate for president.

The 43-page, 14-count indictment adds new details to a story line of largess that was first recounted by The Washington Post in March. It depicts an elected official in financial trouble who sought help from a businessman with something to gain.

The Washington Post noted earlier that the DoJ deliberately held off indicting while he was still in office, which to my mind was a bad decision.

I can understand not indicting before an election, the DoJ has an obligation to avoid effecting electoral politics, but in the ensuing months between the election and the indictment, there was no such excuse.

The law cannot should not be deferential to power, and he should have been indicted while still in office.

Supertramp?!?!?!? Let Me Get This Straight, 911 & ……… Supertramp?

As my son is wont to say, What the F%$#ing F%$#?
“Breakfast in America” is a 1979 record by the British rock group Supertramp. Its cover artwork features a smiling waitress who is standing in for the Statue of Liberty.* Behind her stands the New York City skyline, including the twin towers. It’s weird.

According to the latest theory from the 9/11 truther community, however, Supertramp’s album cover was never just a jokey little piece of absurdist art. What was it instead? A prophecy of doom.

Try to follow us on this one, because as one might suspect from a new 9/11 truth theory provided today (some 10-plus years after the attacks), things get a bit complicated.

The Supertramp theory, if we can call it that, is derived from the brain of one member of an online forum for David Icke (he of the evil lizard overlords theory) named “Eve.”
It gets even weirder and pathetic.

We've Got Weather

We are having a spot of weather in the Mid-Atlantic states.

The Baltimore County School District canceled school for tomorrow, which means that between the MLK holiday, and today's teacher day for the end of the end of the semester, they will have a 2-day school week.

While I acknowledge that single digit temperatures, and 5+ inches of snow is legitimate winter weather.


20 January 2014

Contemptible McCarthyite Behavior

It appears that that the heads of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, Mike Rogers (R) and Dianne Feinstein(D),* have decided to imply that Edward Snowden was a Russian agent for a long time before he became a whistle blower:
The heads of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees suggested on Sunday that Edward J. Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor, might have been working for Russian spy services while he was employed at an agency facility in Hawaii last year and before he disclosed hundreds of thousands of classified government documents.

The lawmakers, Representative Mike Rogers, Republican of Michigan, and Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, offered no specific evidence that Mr. Snowden had cooperated with Moscow. Since Mr. Snowden’s disclosure first became public last spring, there has been much speculation that he was collaborating with a foreign spy service.

Nearly a year later, however, there has been no public indication that the F.B.I.’s investigation of Mr. Snowden’s actions, bolstered by separate “damage assessment” investigations at the N.S.A. and the Pentagon, has uncovered evidence that Mr. Snowden received help from a foreign intelligence service. A senior F.B.I. official said on Sunday that it was still the bureau’s conclusion that Mr. Snowden acted alone.
This is disgraceful, callous, and cowardly behavior, and it harkens back to the worst of Joe McCarthy.

Shame on Mike Rogers, and shame on Dianne Feinstein.

*Full disclosure, her grandfather, Sam Goldman, and my great-grandfather, Harry Goldman, were brothers.

This is Unbelievably F%$#ing Stupid

Iran was just disinvited from the Syria peace talks:
U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon withdrew a last-minute invitation to Iran to attend peace talks on Syria on Monday after the Syrian opposition threatened to boycott this week's conference if President Bashar al-Assad's main sponsor took part.

Ending nearly 24 hours of confusion that dismayed diplomats who have spent months cajoling Assad's opponents to negotiate, Ban's spokesman said Iran was no longer welcome at the initial day of talks at Montreux, Switzerland on Wednesday.

The opposition immediately withdrew its threat to stay away from the conference known as Geneva-2. But the uproar over Iran, which has provided Assad with money, arms and men, underlined the difficulties of negotiating an end to a bloody, three-year civil war that has divided the Middle East and world powers.

Ban, his spokesman said, made the invitation to Iran after Iranian officials assured him they supported the conclusion of a U.N. conference in 2012, known as Geneva-1, which called for a transitional administration to take over power in Syria - something neither Assad nor Tehran have been willing to embrace.

Throughout Monday Iranian officials made clear that they were not endorsing that conclusion as a basis for the talks.
I would also note that US Secretary of State John Kerry was also having a hissy fit over Iran showing up.

This is all about the United States, and the Syrian exiles, supporting the House of Saud's agenda of both hostility toward secular Arab regimes, and support toward Sunni hegemony in the region.

Doing the Saudi's bidding might be unavoidable for the Syrian National Council, they are clearly clients of Riyadh, but for the US, intervening in a 1400 year old sectarian dispute is a losing proposition.

Doing the bidding of Prince Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdul Aziz Al Saudr is not in America's best interest.

Making Sense of Chris Christie………

Joe Patrice, at Above the Law, observes that Chris Cristie's pattern of abusing power is typical for a former prosecutor:
Unless you’re living under a rock or stuck in traffic on the George Washington Bridge, you know that N.J. Governor Chris Christie spent yesterday digging himself out of the Fort Lee traffic scandal in the most Jersey of manner — by placing a proverbial bullet in the back of the neck of one of his most trusted allies Tony Soprano-style. He even invited the media over to the Bada-Bing for a couple of hours after he did it.


But whether Christie was directly involved in this scandal or not — and so far the digital paper trail seems to begin with his mild-mannered aide showing uncharacteristic initiative and ends with a high school crony whom Christie put in charge of the bridge — this scandal falls somewhere between unsurprising and utterly inevitable.

Christie is a former prosecutor, serving as a U.S. Attorney from 2002 until 2008. The modern prosecutor is armed with the luxury to exact petty, brutal revenge on any and all who cross him or her, and this is the mentality that Christie brought into the Governor’s Mansion. Indeed, he made this mentality his political calling card.


And that atmosphere flows directly from the arrogance of a prosecutorial office.


Prosecutors are incentivized to use all of their vast power to get more people convicted, and they’re willing to use a bazooka to kill a cockroach if it advances that ball. Listen, I spent a lot of time working with current and former prosecutors. And whether I represented a cooperator working with the government or I was sitting on the same side as a defense lawyer freshly out of the prosecutor’s office, it always disturbed me how quickly they would leap to asking “how do we screw them?” over the most minor of slights.

When this is the model of success that propels you into office, how does one reset? In Christie’s case, he never eschewed this model of leadership. He may well have directly ordered these lane closures, but even if he didn’t, the mentality he has championed in his meteoric rise to prominence invited this sort of behavior. And now we’re supposed to be forgiving when he says his deputy acted alone when plotting to make life hell for someone unwilling to kowtow to the Governor’s overtures?
It makes a lot of sense, and it also frightens the hell out of me about our criminal justice system.

BTW, if you want to read a less charitable assessment of Jabba the Governor, you can read Chris Hedges' takedown.

I don't think that it is as informative, but it's a jolly good read. 

Wanker of the Day: Yale University

Before Plugin                                    After Plugin  
Yale has a course selection website, and a two students, Harry Yu and Peter Xu, came up with a personal website that aggregated the ratings so that students could look at ratings and workload when selecting a course.

Yale blocked the site, and threatened disciplinary action against them so another student, Sean Haufler,  wrote a Google Chrome shortcut that does this on the fly.

Basically, Yale does not want students to access this data in a coherent way, because, tenured professors who cannot or will not teach do not want students avoiding their courses:
In January 2012, two Yale students named Harry Yu and Peter Xu built a replacement to Yale’s official course selection website. They it called YBB+ (Yale Bluebook Plus), a “plus” version of the Yale-owned site, called Yale Bluebook. YBB+ offered different functionality from the official site, allowing students to sort courses by average rating and workload. The official Yale Bluebook, rather, showed a visual graph of the distribution of student ratings as well as a list of written student reviews. YBB+ offered a more lightweight user interface and facilitated easier comparison of course statistics. Students loved it. A significant portion of the student body started using it.

Fast-forward two years. Last Friday (1/10/14), Yale blocked YBB+’s IP address on the school network without warning. When contacted, Yale said that YBB+ infringed upon Yale’s trademark. Harry and Peter quickly removed the Yale name from the site, rebranded it as CourseTable and relaunched. Yale blocked the website again, declaring the website to be malicious activity.

Later that weekend, Yale’s administration told the student developers that the school didn’t approve of the use of its course evaluation data, saying that their website “let students see the averaged evaluations far too easily”. Harry and Peter were told to remove the feature from the CourseTable website or else they would be referred to the school’s punishment committee.

And then it hit the internet:
Finally, Mary Miller, the Dean of Yale College, wrote an open letter to Yale on Friday night. In this letter, she defended Yale’s decision to censor Harry and Peter’s website and course rating functionality, stating:

“[Yale’s course] evaluations… became available to students only in recent years and with the understanding that the information they made available to students would appear only as it currently appears on Yale’s sites — in its entirety.”

Worded less diplomatically, it appears the Dean of Yale College is expressing to students that, “You can use our course evaluation data, but only if you view the data as we tell you to view it”.
(emphasis original)

And there were the inevitable claims of copyright and trademark infringement, and Mr. Haufler came up with his solution:
The story does not end here, however, since there’s a way to distinguish the freedom of speech issue from the copyright claims. What if someone made a piece of software that displays Yale’s course evaluation data in a way that Yale disapproves of, while also (1) not infringing on Yale’s copyrights or trademarks, (2) not storing any sensitive data, (3) not scraping or collecting Yale’s data, and (4) not causing damages to Yale’s network or servers? If Yale censors this piece of software or punishes the software developer, it would clearly characterize Yale as an institution where having authority over students trumps freedom of speech.

Guess what? I made it last night.

I built a Chrome Extension called Banned Bluebook. It modifies the Chrome browser to add CourseTable’s functionality to Yale’s official course selection website, showing the course’s average rating and workload next to each search result. It also allows students to sort these courses by rating and workload. This is the original site, and this is the site with Banned Bluebook enabled (this demo uses randomly generated rating values).

Banned Bluebook never stores data on any servers. It never talks to any non-Yale servers. Moreover, since my software is smarter at caching data locally than the official Yale course website, I expect that students using this extension will consume less bandwidth over time than students without it. Don’t believe me? You can read the source code. No data ever leaves Yale’s control. Trademarks, copyright infringement, and data security are non-issues. It’s 100% kosher.


If Yale denies this right, I’ll see you at the punishment committee.
Here's hoping that Yale backs down.  If not, I hope that you talk to the ACLU.

In my day, of course, we had to talk to each other, I recall a materials course, taught by a Professor Clapp, was called "Catching the Clapp," but I only discovered that after I was half way through the class.

I appreciate the value of tenure, but this should not be a justification for erecting the, "The Great Firewall of Yale."

It's not like their jobs are at stake over this, just their egos.