28 February 2015

My Daughter, the Scenery Chewer

I just finished watching the Lansdowne High School production of Bye Bye Birdie.

Natalie was cast as the overbearing mother, and played it with appropriately overbearing gusto.

People loved her.

But thank God that it is over.  Both shows weren't off very well, but it appeared that the show was cursed.

There were multiple practises that were cancelled due to snow, including the full dress rehearsal, (!) and a spate of injuries, mostly sprained ankles.

They say that the show must go on, and go on it did.

Posted via mobile.

27 February 2015

The End of the Vulcan Bar Matzvah*

Nimoy has had a varied career, actor, director, poet, photographer, and writer.
As such, it's hard to find his best moment, but his worst moment is clearly singing this song
Leonard Nimoy has died of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) at 83:
Leonard Nimoy, the sonorous, gaunt-faced actor who won a worshipful global following as Mr. Spock, the resolutely logical human-alien first officer of the Starship Enterprise in the television and movie juggernaut “Star Trek,” died on Friday morning at his home in the Bel Air section of Los Angeles. He was 83.

His wife, Susan Bay Nimoy, confirmed his death, saying the cause was end-stage chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Mr. Nimoy announced that he had the disease last year, attributing it to years of smoking, a habit he had given up three decades earlier. He had been hospitalized earlier in the week.
Seriously. If you smoke, stop today.

*It's an old family story. My mom was talking to a friend in Alaska, Danny Plotkin, and asked how he was doing. He replied to her that he was flying down to the lower 48 to go to a "Vulcan bar Mitzvah". It turns out that Leonard Nimoy was his nephew, and Nimoy's son was having a Bar Mitzvah

26 February 2015

Hackers: 1 — Maryland MTA:0

People have been asking for the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) to make data available to allow accurate real-time actual schedules for some time, but MTA has said that it is too technically difficult and too expensive to make a mobile app, or to make the data available to 3rd parties.

It took a self described "civic hacker" less than a week to do this on their spare time:
Despite promises of transparency and efforts to create "open data" in the hopes of latching onto the "app economy"—words frequently used in government agency press releases—much of the data that would be of the greatest value to citizens often ends up out of reach. For example, if you want to plan a trip on public transportation in many cities (or even just find out when your bus will show up), you often have to turn to Google Maps or another transit-tracking application on your mobile device. In Baltimore, however, that data has been locked behind the firewalls of the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA).

But now a civic hacker has made that data available to app developers by doing what the MTA claimed would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to complete—simply tapping into websites that the agency has already built. And the hacker did it without spending a dime of taxpayer money. The work took just a few man-days' worth of spare time and a commercial app development team's afternoon.


The reason the MTA gave for not doing a mobile app—or opening the data to third parties—was cost. "The data received from the bus [Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) and Automatic Vehicle Location (AVL)] system to operate My Tracker is not sent in a format that can be easily used to create an application—called General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS). We know in many cases, the information needed to create an application is made public so private firms can attempt to develop an application at their own expense. However, it would cost approximately $600,000 more to be able to format the data from our 25-yr-old CAD/AVL system into GTFS for use by outside developers," the MTA said.

However, within days of the MTA's Web app going live, geo-data developer and open government data advocate Chris Whong had already done what the MTA refused to do. Whong took a look at the bus tracker Web app and found that its AJAX interface was polling the site every 10 seconds to get new location data. As it turns out, the app was retrieving JSON-formatted data from the MTA's servers, encoded in a format called the General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS). The MTA had already published the GTFS metadata describing bus routes. Whong wrote in a blog post that it took a few hours of trial and error to confirm the data feed format, but in the end he and a small team of "civic hackers" were able to construct a framework that would allow applications to pull, for free, the very data the MTA said would cost $600,000 to publish. The team also produced a live tracking site on the Heroku application hosting platform to demonstrate the framework and then posted the whole thing on Github to allow others to use it.

And use it they did. The Montreal-based developer Transit App was one team that grabbed onto Whong's project. "With Chris’ help, we were able to pull the real-time vehicle positions from the MTA system ourselves," the Transit App team said in a blog post. "Using that data, we generated approximate bus arrival times with our in-house prediction engine. We then compared those predictions with the MTA’s tracker to verify our accuracy. And—with just an afternoon of work—Baltimore finally has the real-time tracking app it deserves. $600,000 under budget."
My guess as to why the MTA thought that they needed more than ½ a million dollars to do what took one guy a few days is tied in with that whole "Reinventing Government" thing that Clinton started in the 1990s.

Basically, it involved taking a lot of core competencies in government agencies, and outsourcing them to private contractors.

The MTA probably does not possess the internal knowledge base to understand just how trivial doing this was.

Supreme Court Rules that Industry Dominated Regulatory Panels Can Be Sued for Antitrust Violations

In North Carolina, the State Board of Dental Examiners is pretty much run by and for dentists.

When non-dentists started offering cheaper tooth whitening services, the board shut them down.

The Supreme Court has allowed state governments to engage in anti-competitive actions for over 70 years, and the question here was whether a something like the North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners, where the inmates were running the asylum, deserved deserved immunity from antitrust enforcement.

The Supreme Court, and the answer was no:
State licensing boards composed of market participants do not enjoy automatic immunity from antitrust laws, the Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday. The decision in North Carolina Board of Dental Examiners v. Federal Trade Commission affirms the Fourth Circuit and deals a setback to an increasingly common form of regulation.

State action antitrust immunity

Since 1943, certain forms of state action have been immune from the antitrust laws. Accordingly, state legislatures may pass laws with anticompetitive effects. Several important Supreme Court cases since then have addressed the doctrine of state action immunity and helped to define its contours, particularly as it applies to actions outside state legislatures.

Antitrust immunity generally covers non-state actors only if the state both (1) clearly articulates the anticompetitive policy, and (2) actively supervises the policy. This case deals with the second requirement. If a professional licensing board is a state agency, must another state actor supervise the agency in order for the agency to be immune from the antitrust laws?

The dental board

In North Carolina, the legislature delegated regulation of dentists to a dental board. By state law, practicing dentists must fill a majority of the seats on the dental board.

This type of “self-regulation” is common among state licensing boards. But it has the natural tendency to become anticompetitive. Members of a guild frequently want to keep insiders in, keep outsiders out, and prop up the profession. A broad range of modern professions fall under professional licensing boards, including not just doctors, lawyers, and dentists, but also interior designers, real estate agents, floral designers, and hair braiders.

In this case, the dental board tried to exclude non-dentists from the market for teeth-whitening services after dentists complained about the low prices non-dentists charged for teeth whitening. It sent threatening letters to non-dentists who offered teeth-whitening services and even encouraged mall operators to kick out kiosks used for teeth whitening.

The dental board’s actions were not supervised by any state officials from North Carolina other than the members of the dental board itself. On these facts, the FTC took action against the dental board. The FTC and the Fourth Circuit both rejected the dental board’s attempt to invoke the defense of state action immunity.

No immunity for the dental board controlled by dentists

In a six-to-three opinion written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, today the Supreme Court affirmed the Fourth Circuit, holding that the dental board is not immune from the antitrust laws.

The Court’s opinion explains that even though the dental board is an agency of the state, its actions must still be supervised by the state in order to enjoy antitrust immunity. The “formal designation given by the States” does not itself create immunity. Here, the board is controlled by market participants in the same occupation that the board regulates. “When a State empowers a group of active market participants to decide who can participate in its market, and on what terms, the need for supervision is manifest.”
Where this might be most significant is in boards for doctors and state bars.

I am reminded of the case of Closings, Inc. in Massachusetts, which attempted to offer low cost closings for house sales in the commonwealth.

The state bar banned them, even though they employed lawyers to do the work, nominally because they were a corporation, rather than a partnership, and the state courts agreed.

What is was really about was that they were offering services for less than half what the law firms were charging, and as a result, they had achieved a 40% market share, and the lawyers did not want to lose what was easy money for what was a routine operation that should never have required a law degree.

These days, with a plethora of services that offer assistance for routine legal services online, I hope that we see a number of complaints filed against state bars.

FCC Does the Right Thing, Part Two

The Federal Communications Commission today voted to preempt state laws in North Carolina and Tennessee that prevent municipal broadband providers from expanding outside their territories.

The action is a year in the making. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler announced in February 2014 his intention to override state laws designed to protect private cable companies and telcos from public sector competition. Wheeler took his cue from the federal appeals court ruling that overturned net neutrality rules; tucked away in that decision was one judge's opinion that the FCC has the authority to preempt "state laws that prohibit municipalities from creating their own broadband infrastructure to compete against private companies."

Nineteen states have such laws, often passed at the behest of private Internet service providers that didn't want to face competition. Communities in two of the states asked the FCC to take action. The City of Wilson, North Carolina and the Electric Power Board (EPB) of Chattanooga, Tennessee filed the petitions that led to today's FCC action. Each offers broadband service to residents and received requests for service from people in nearby towns, but they alleged that state laws made it difficult or impossible for them to expand.

“You can’t say you’re for broadband and then turn around and endorse limits on who can offer it,” Wheeler said today. “You can’t say, ‘I want to follow the explicit instructions of Congress to remove barriers to infrastructure investment,' but endorse barriers on infrastructure investment. You can’t say you’re for competition but deny local elected officials the right to offer competitive choices."

States have given municipalities the authority to offer broadband but made it difficult with tons of bureaucratic requirements, he said. "The bottom line is some states have created thickets of red tape designed to limit competition," he said. Local residents and businesses are the ones suffering the consequences, he argued, pointing to members of the two communities in the audience.
For most internet users, this may have a more noticeable impact than the FCC's net neutrality (Title II) decision, because in most of the United States, there is no meaningful competition, and so consumers are ripped off and abused by the telcos and the cable companies.

Their local monopoly status is why the big cable companies are free to behave in a manner that has made them the most widely loathed companies in America.

To rephrase Lily Tomlin, "So, the next time you complain about your cable service, why don't you try using two Dixie cups with a string? We don't care. We don't have to. We're the cable Company."

FCC Does the Right Thing, Part One

The Federal Communications Commission today voted to enforce net neutrality rules that prevent Internet providers—including cellular carriers—from blocking or throttling traffic or giving priority to Web services in exchange for payment.

The most controversial part of the FCC's decision reclassifies fixed and mobile broadband as a telecommunications service, with providers to be regulated as common carriers under Title II of the Communications Act. This decision brings Internet service under the same type of regulatory regime faced by wireline telephone service and mobile voice, though the FCC is forbearing from stricter utility-style rules that it could also apply under Title II.

The decision comes after a year of intense public interest, with the FCC receiving four million public comments from companies, trade associations, advocacy groups, and individuals. President Obama weighed in as well, asking the FCC to adopt the rules using Title II as the legal underpinning. The vote was 3-2, with Democrats voting in favor and Republicans against.

Chairman Tom Wheeler said that broadband providers have the technical ability and financial incentive to impose restrictions on the Internet. Wheeler said further:
The Internet is the most powerful and pervasive platform on the planet. It is simply too important to be left without rules and without a referee on the field. Think about it. The Internet has replaced the functions of the telephone and the post office. The Internet has redefined commerce, and as the outpouring from four million Americans has demonstrated, the Internet is the ultimate vehicle for free expression. The Internet is simply too important to allow broadband providers to be the ones making the rules.

This proposal has been described by one opponent as "a secret plan to regulate the Internet." Nonsense. This is no more a plan to regulate the Internet than the First Amendment is a plan to regulate free speech. They both stand for the same concepts: openness, expression, and an absence of gate keepers telling people what they can do, where they can go, and what they can think.
Wheeler also said putting rules in place will give network operators the certainty they need to keep investing.

In May 2014, the Wheeler-led commission proposed rules that relied on weaker authority and did not ban paid fast lanes. Wheeler eventually changed his mind, leading to today's vote.

Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, the longest-tenured commissioner and someone who supported Title II five years ago, said the net neutrality order does not address only theoretical harms.

"This is more than a theoretical exercise," she said. "Providers here in the United States have, in fact, blocked applications on mobile devices, which not only hampers free expression, it also restricts innovation by allowing companies, not the consumer, to pick winners and losers."

Clyburn convinced Chairman Tom Wheeler to remove language that she believed was problematic.

“We worked closely with the chairman's office to strike an appropriate balance and, yes, it is true that significant changes were made at my office's request, including the elimination of the sender side classification, but I firmly believe that these edits have strengthened this item," she said.

Clyburn, Google, and consumer advocacy groups told Wheeler that language classifying a business relationship between ISPs and Web services as a common carrier service could give ISPs grounds to charge online content providers for access to their networks. This language was removed, but service that ISPs offer to home and business Internet users was still reclassified as a common carrier service. FCC officials believe this classification alone gives them power to enforce net neutrality rules and oversee network interconnection disputes that affect consumers.
In response, Verizon issued their dissent to the FCC, in Morse code, dated 1934, which is either a little bit clever, or a little bit lame.  (I am still trying to figure out which.)

I was wrong when I predicted that former cable company lobbyist, and current FCC Chairman would cave to cable company f%$#ery, and I am immensely pleased to be wrong.

25 February 2015

Clearly not America

An altercation in a hotel led to a sword fight in Dubai involving 4 people, with one of the participants being hospitalized with serious injuries:
Four people have reportedly been arrested after becoming involved in a fight with swords and knives at a Dubai hotel.

The fight between two Emiratis and two Saudis began following accidental physical contact outside a washroom at the hotel in the Al Rigga area, according to Khaleej Times.

All four were subsequently taken to hospital, with one of them said to be seriously injured.
Clearly, this would never happen in the United States.

In the US it would have involved firearms, at least two of the participants would be dead, and there would be injured innocent bystanders.

FSM bless America.

Quote of the Day

………Because right now, we have one goal in life: don’t be the Seahawks. We are running down the clock here, and this is not the time to try for a fancy play. We want to run the damn ball over the goal line and score our touchdown. That means we all huddle together and drive for that last few inches in the final seconds.(emphasis original)
Harold Feld on how to deal with the FCC's upcoming vote on net neutrality
It's a good point, and a rather topical way of using that old aphorism, "The perfect is the enemy of good enough."

Ethics for Thee but not for Me

It appears that the indictment of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has provided some impetus to make changes to the ethics laws in New York state.

Andrew Cuomo has a proposal, and to no-one's surprise, the proposal specifically excludes the Governor's office:
State legislators say they are willing to enact a number of new ethics reforms, but they argue Gov. Cuomo should subject himself to more public disclosure as well.

Republican and Democratic legislative sources say that while Cuomo has attacked lawmakers on the issue of outside income, the governor is making as much as $900,000 from HarperCollins for his recent memoir, which only sold a few thousand copies.

They also say that perhaps there should be a ban on governors giving paid outside speeches. While Cuomo during his first four years has not given such speeches, former Govs. Mario Cuomo and George Pataki did.

New Jersey bars governors from receiving “directly or indirectly” any compensation, salary, honorarium, fee or any other form of income on top of their regular taxpayer-funded salary.

An official in the New York Legislature argued there should be more public disclosure on what guests, if any, are staying at the governor’s Albany mansion.

And, in perhaps the most contentious suggestion, a number of legislative sources say Cuomo’s longtime live-in celebrity chef girlfriend, Sandra Lee, should be required to publicly disclose her income, investments and other financial information that the spouses of public officials are already mandated to reveal.

“A final negotiated package shouldn’t be just all about the Legislature,” said one high-ranking legislative official. “If you want to do something comprehensive on ethics, it should include the governor as well.”
Of course it should include the governor as well.

It's only a problem if you are Andrew Cuomo.

Here is hoping that US Attorney Preet Bharara is going to indict him.

While the People of Chicago Tolerate a Certain Level of Corruption, the Looting was a bit too Blatant

Last night, Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel failed to secure a majority in the election, and will be forced into a runoff:
Rahm Emanuel, who was easily elected mayor of this city four years ago, was dealt a setback Tuesday. Though he came in first among five candidates, Mr. Emanuel failed to seal a second term by winning support from enough voters to avoid a riskier runoff election this spring.

It was a serious blow after a campaign in which Mr. Emanuel had a huge fund-raising edge over lesser-known opponents, not to mention an in-person endorsement last week from President Obama in his adopted hometown.

The outcome underscored Mr. Emanuel’s newfound vulnerability in a mostly Democratic city that had not had a mayoral runoff since it began holding nonpartisan elections 16 years ago. In 2011, Mr. Emanuel swept into office on a first balloting with more than 55 percent of the vote in his first run for mayor.

“This makes it an entirely different ballgame — a brand new election,” said Dick Simpson, a political scientist and former alderman who has contributed to political candidates, including Mr. Emanuel’s opponents. “It becomes a real battle and it sharpens the issues.”

Mr. Emanuel, who angered some here when his administration closed nearly 50 public schools, clashed with public schoolteachers and oversaw the city through flashes of gang violence, received 45.4 percent of the vote, with almost 99 percent of precincts reporting, not the 50 percent plus one needed to win outright. His closest competitor was Jesus Garcia, a county commissioner known as Chuy, who had important backing from the Chicago Teachers Union. He got 33.9 percent of the vote, giving him a place in a runoff against Mr. Emanuel on April 7. The rest of the votes were split among three other candidates.
I think that this is the first since the election laws in 1995 that a sitting Chicago mayor has been forced into a runoff.

Considering the fact that Rahm got about 55% in the first round in the last election, when he was running in an open seat, this is a fairly epic.

What it comes down to is the fact while the good people of Chicago expect a bit of corruption in the provision of public services, under the expectation that services will actually be delivered to those who need them.

Emanuel's tenure as mayor has been marked by a devotion to the 1%, particularly Wall Street, makes Michael Bloomberg look like Che Guevera.

In Rahm's Chicago though, the ordinary citizen has become little more than a profit machine for the fat cats:
Why did progressives–why do progressives–want to humble Emanuel? The answer's been blaring from magazines like In These Times and Rolling Stone and the Nation for months. In the election-month cover story of In These Times, for example, progressive historian Rick Perlstein explained why the deal Emanuel cut with a company to remake the city's transit cards never stopped hurting him.
The transit cards can double as debit cards, you see, promoted as a boon for Chicago’s un- and under-banked. But dig the customer fees hidden in the 1,000-page contract the city signed with Cubic: $1.50 every time customers withdraw cash from an ATM, $2.95 every time they add money to their online debit account with a personal credit card, $2 for every call with a service representative and an “account research fee” of $10 an hour for further inquiries, $2 for a paper copy of their account information, and, if you decide you’ve had enough, a $6 “balance refund fee.” This all makes mincemeat of the pro-privatization argument that “the marketplace” is more transparent than a government bureaucracy. The city might have been able to anticipate this before inking the deal had they paid attention to the fact that Money Network, the payment processing company partnering with Cubic, had received the lowest possible grade from the Better Business Bureau, and that another partner, MetaBank, was fined $5.2 million by federal regulators for a scheme to issue debit cards funded by tax refund loans at interest rates of up to 650 percent.
Mayor Emanuel is clearly cutting sweetheart deals that will encumber Chicago for years, if not decades, with the implicit promise that he will get highly remunerative do-nothing jobs in finance after he leaves office, much like he did after leaving the Clinton administration in the late 1990s.

Sh%$ like this is why "Rahmbo" has been forced into a runoff despite the fact that Barack Obama flew to Chicago to campaign for him.

I do not expect Mr. Garcia to win.

Emanuel has more money for his campaign than God, I expect that the former White House Chief of Staff to win handily, though I expect "Chuy" to do better than yesterday's 33.9%.

As to the campaign, I expect wall-to-wall ads across the Chicago media, with a focus on driving a wedge between the Hispanic and Black communities through racist and nativist dog whistles.

In a multi-candidate campaign like the primary, negative ads tend to put voters off both the source and target of the ads.  In a 2-candidate runoff, this is not an issue, and Rahm's millions can pump out a lot of slime.

Case in point, a Republican mega-donor, and financier, Muneer Satter, has donated big time to the Emanuel campaign:
Chicago investor Muneer Satter has spent more than $1 million in the past three years helping Republicans win. He's so focused on the party taking back the White House that he paid for a poll assessing the 2016 Republican field, the results of which convinced him to get behind former Florida Governor Jeb Bush.

But one Democrat has managed to capture Satter's wallet: his hometown mayor, Rahm Emanuel, who is up for reelection Tuesday.

Satter doesn't just scatter campaign checks to the wind, fellow Illinois Republican donor Ronald Gidwitz said in an interview. Rather, his support is both tactical and complete. "He wants to see the best person win and is putting his money where his desires are," Gidwitz said.

Satter and his wife, Kristen Hertel, have put more than $352,000 into Emanuel's mayoral campaigns and supportive political committees, according to Illinois State Board of Elections records. They're among his top-flight donors, despite having spent heavily in 2012 trying to oust Emanuel's former boss, President Barack Obama. The mayor was White House chief of staff until October 2010.

Although he has a robust history of Republican contributions, Satter began giving to Emanuel in 2007, when he was an Illinois congressman, and Hertel was one of the first contributors to his first campaign for mayor. It's a reflection of donor pragmatism in Chicago, a city that last elected a Republican mayor in 1927.

"In Chicago, as everywhere, leadership is everything," said Lisa Wagner, Satter's spokeswoman. "Muneer looked at all of the candidates in the mayor's race, and Rahm was the only candidate who could effectively tackle the problems of our city."

We have also seen an orgy of no-bid awards to has donors:
In 2006, then-Congressman Rahm Emanuel attacked his Republican colleagues for oversight failures, focusing in particular on the awarding of a $7 billion no-bid contract to Halliburton, which had for a time been headed by Dick Cheney. Yet data examined by International Business Times show that, as Chicago mayor, Emanuel, a Democrat, has used an even less transparent no-bid process, where there is not even a contract, just a payout -- in many cases to some of the mayor’s largest campaign contributors.

In all, firms that have received tens of millions of dollars' worth of shadowy “direct voucher payments” (DVPs) from the Emanuel administration have given more than $775,000 worth of campaign contributions to the mayor’s political organizations. That’s a subset of the $1.2 million in total campaign contributions that Emanuel has received from employees of all vendors doing business with the city, according to municipal documents reviewed by IBTimes. Emanuel accepted those donations after signing an executive order purporting to ban campaign donations from city contractors.

Chicago’s DVP process is permitted thanks to loopholes in Illinois’ procurement law that allow municipal officials to circumvent the traditional contracting process. Unlike standard government contracts, DVP payouts do not require any type of public documentation. Emanuel appointees retain substantial discretionary authority to approve DVPs. The payments are not required to go to the lowest bidder; vendors receiving the payments do not have to list their qualifications and never need to document the services they provide to the city in return for the money. The DVPs appear to have been used for everything from phone service to interest payments to financial firms, but unlike the George W. Bush administration’s no-bid contracts, DVP payments do not even require a formal contract, so it is impossible to verify what the money purchased.

In 2010, Chicago’s inspector general issued a report that criticized the secrecy surrounding DVPs, alleged that some of the payments ran afoul of state law, and called for stronger contracting regulations. The report discourages the use of DVPs, but it does not appear to have prevented politically connected firms from benefiting from the process in a nontransparent way. The public can see which firms received the DVPs but still cannot ascertain what the citizens of Chicago received for the money -- more than $38 million of which flowed to Emanuel’s campaign donors and their lobbying clients.


Last year, IBTimes reported that Emanuel has directed tax subsidies to some of his major donors, and that he received cash from executives of firms managing city pension funds. (That disclosure prompted city lawmakers to request a Securities and Exchange Commission probe.) Emanuel also awarded coveted city-owned lakefront property to the George Lucas museum, after Lucas’ wife and Disney executives donated nearly $50,000 to Emanuel’s campaign. The Chicago Tribune has published a series detailing how millions of dollars' worth of city contracts have gone to the mayor’s top contributors.
Finally, it appears that Emanuel  has had some serious negative coat tails, with liberal reformers out-performing in the elections as well:
Not only was Mayor Rahm Emanuel forced into a primary runoff for the first time in Chicago history, there was a strong showing by progressives across the board:
Emanuel's weakness was felt all across the ballot. He'd created a super-PAC, Chicago Forward, to bail out 17 of his allies on the council and to beat progressive incumbents. Only seven of them won outright: Will Burns, Mike Zalweski, Danny Solis, Robert Maldonado, Margaret Laurino, Pat O'Connor, and Debra Silverstein. The rest were forced into runoffs, including Deb Mell, the sister-in-law of disgraced former Governor Rod Blagojevich. Meanwhile, Chicago Forward had lobbed mailers at two aldermen–Scott Waguespack and John Arena–who'd asked the SEC to investigate the legality of donations to Emanuel from the executives of companies managing the city's pension funds. Arena narrowly missed a win and will head to a runoff; Waguespack won outright.

It was not all progressives wanted, but it was not what the super-PAC had wanted either. The progressive bloc was expected to expand to 12 of the council's 50 seats.

"The good guys won Round One," said Working Families Party national director Dan Cantor in a statement. "Forcing Mayor 1% into a run-off is a remarkable achievement. Along with the run-off, the progressive caucus on the Council is poised to make gains."
Again, I don't expect Rahm Emanuel to lose the runoff, but it has to be clear to his supporters, his patrons, and his various lackeys that he has been deeply damaged by his electoral performance.

As such, I cannot help but wonder if those who have hitched their star to his political career aren't making some serious contingency plans.

24 February 2015

More Evidence on Lead and Crime

Remember the red barns?

Do you know why they were red?

Because iron oxide (rust) was the only pigment readily available in many rural areas.

It was mixed with locally produced linseed oil, and then applied.

In the late 1800s, this changed with the building of the railroads, and changes in in both transportation and paints, allowed the use of white paint.

It allowed other pigments to be distributed, and the red barn became the white barn through the use of white lead (Lead oxide, these days white pigment is most commonly titanium dioxide) which appears to have created a surge in murders in rural areas:
Here's a fascinating little anecdote about lead and crime from a recent paper by Rick Nevin. It shouldn't be taken as proof of anything, but it's certainly an intriguing little historical tidbit about the association between lead exposure and increases in crime rates.

Here's the background. Homicides increased dramatically between 1900-11, but most of that appears to be the result of increased rural homicides, not urban homicides. If lead exposure is part of the reason, it would mean that rural areas were exposed to increasing levels of lead about 20 years earlier, around 1880 or so. But why? Nevin suggests that the answer to this question starts with another question: Why are barns red?
Professional painters in the 1800s prepared house paint by mixing linseed oil with white lead paste. About 90% of Americans lived in rural areas in the mid-1800s, and subsistence farmers could make linseed (flaxseed) oil, but few had access to white lead, so they mixed linseed oil with red rust to kill fungi that trapped moisture and increased wood decay. Red barns are still a tradition in most USA farming regions but white barns are the norm along the path of the old National Road. Why?

....The reason the red barn tradition never took root along that path is likely because the National Road made freight, including white lead, accessible to nearby farmers. USA lead output was a relatively stable 1000 to 2000 tons per year from 1801-1825, but lead output was 15,000 to 30,000 tons per year from the mid-1830s through the mid-1860s after the completion of the National Road.

....The first American patent for “ready-mixed” paint was filed in 1867; railroads built almost 120,000 track miles from 1850 to 1900; and Sears Roebuck and other mail-order catalogs combined volume buying, railroad transport, and rural free parcel post delivery to provide economical rural access to a wide variety of products in the 1890s.

The murder arrest rate in large cities was more than seven times the national homicide rate from 1900-1904 because lead paint in the 1870s was available in large cities but unavailable in most rural areas. The early-1900s convergence in rural and urban murder rates was presaged by a late-1800s convergence in rural and urban lead paint exposure.
In short, lead paint simply wasn't available in most rural areas before the 1880s except in very narrow corridors with good transportation. You can see this in the prevalence of white barns along the National Road. Then, starting in the 1880s, revolutions in both rail transport and mail order distribution made economical lead paint available almost everywhere—including rural areas. A couple of decades later, homicide rates had skyrocketed in rural areas and had nearly caught up to urban murder rates.
(Emphasis original)

I live in a white barn area, Maryland.  In fact, there is a lot of a lot of painted white brick here too.

It would explain why different police and law enforcement policies all achieved similar success in crime reduction in the 1990s.

Lead became a mainstream additive to commercial gasoline in the mid 1930s, and 25 years later we saw a spike in violent crime.

Lead became widely used in rural communities in paint in the 1870s, and 25 years later, we saw a spike in violent crime.

Lead was reduced in gasoline in the early 1970s, and banned in paint, and 25 years later, we see a drop in violent crime across the country, and different tactics used by law enforcement agencies appear to have (at best) minimal effects on this.

I think that the ink spilled over things like broken windows policing and community policing are more an attempt to take credit where none is due than anything else.

Guck Foogle

After requiring that blogs with adult content to label themselves as such for over a decade (forever in internet time) Google is now using this labeling to kick the blogs out:
Google is banning public explicit photos and videos from its blogging service Blogger, and giving affected users just one month to comply.

The new rules require any blog with “sexually explicit or graphic nude images or video” to take them down by 23 March, or the blog will be made private by Google. A private blog can only be seen by the owner or admins of the blog, and people who the owner has shared the blog with.

Google promises that the majority of users of the service, which Google acquired from Twitter co-founder Evan Williams’ Pyra Labs in 2003, won’t see any change from the new rules. But many users are concerned that the new rules represent a huge about-turn from Google’s previously stated support of explicit material on its platform. The company’s previous policy said: “We do allow adult content on Blogger, including images or videos that contain nudity or sexual activity … All blogs marked as ‘adult’ will be placed behind an ‘adult content’ warning interstitial.” Its only exceptions were to ban illegal explicit content, explicit images shared without the subject’s consent (commonly known as “revenge porn”) and making money on adult content.

Zoe Margolis, author of the Girl with a One Track Mind books and sex blog, joined Blogger in 2004. She says that “either Google believes in freedom of expression, or it doesn’t. Restricting blogs which contain explicit content to ‘private only’ effectively kills them off. This is like offering a library where all the books in it are invisible to the readers unless an author is standing there and personally hands each reader a copy of their book.”
Let me note that my ox is not gored on this.

While I may be f%$#ing profane, I tend to %$# out that sh%$ when I use those f%$#ing words.

Google needs to get its f%$#ing head out of its f%$#ing ass.

They should also admit that they have dropped the word, "Don't," from its favorite logo.

Their new logo is, "Be evil."

23 February 2015

Want Boots on the Ground to Fight Isis?

The Saudis funded & founded ISIS.  We put 1 boot on the ground for every 10 that the Saudis do.

Real boots.  Only infantry counts.  Not the Saudi Air Force, not the mechanized divisions, I mean guys who take a pickup truck to the area of conflict, and f%$#ing walk into battle.

And yes, at least a half the officers have to be members of the Saudi royal family.

22 February 2015

A Well Deserved Burn in Less than 140 Characters

As you are no doubt heard, Rudy Giuliani said that Barack Obama did not love the United States.

Representative Steve Cohen completely pwn35 (Owns) him in a single tweet:

Of course, Rudy Giuliani's entire political career has been based on demonizing "Blah people", so this is a particularly justified critique.

21 February 2015

Life Imitates Megas XLR

The Bit at 7m 10s is Very Similar to the Pizza
There is a bit in the Megas XLR episode "Space Booty" where Coop, when confronted with a food synthesizer, orders a "Philly Cheesesteak, wrapped in bacon, and deep fry it."  (It should be queued up on the embedded video)

That was all that I could think of when I read about Little Caesars’ bacon-wrapped deep dish pizza:
Guys, I love junk food. My Salon “brand” is to judge fast food conglomerates for poisoning millions of people until they die from heart disease and stuff, and yeah, I’m still of the mind that these companies are basically evil. But also it’s nearly 4 p.m. and I want a snack so much. And that’s why I’m having trouble mustering the requisite outrage for Little Caesars’ Bacon-Wrapped Crust Deep! Deep! Dish Pizza. Double the depth of a normal Deep! dish, we’re guessing.

The afternoon snack village banquet is wrapped in three-and-a-half feet of bacon and caramelized cheese edges and will cost $12 once it goes on sale on Monday, February 23. One slice will cost you 450 calories, 23 grams of fat, 830 milligrams of sodium and 40 milligrams of cholesterol.
Much like Coop did with the Philly Cheesesteaks, you could wring this pie out and fill a crank case. (15m 25s in the vid)

In any case, watch the whole episode, or for that matter any episode of Megas XLR, it's a great show, and is probably even funnier to someone who, unlike me actually was into giant robot anime.

BTW, unless you posses the genetic makeup that gives you a surfeit of the good (ultra-HDL) cholesterol, I would suggest that you eat the pizza and follow it with a handful of statins.

19 February 2015

Today's Must Read

Ted Rall's essay Obama Destroyed Libya. (alternate link here, the first link is twitchy)

He makes a number of points, that Libya under Gaddafi was generally prosperous, at least by the standards of Africa and the Arab world, albeit with a pretty horrific human rights record, and now it is a basket case with a growing lawlessness and it has become a locus for terrorist activity.

I think that the most important part of his essay though, is his conclusion that Barack Obama did not learn the lesson that he should have from this fiasco:
To Obama's credit, he admits that he screwed up in Libya. Unfortunately, he drew the wrong lesson. In 2014, he told an interviewer that a large ground invasion force might have helped Libya's post-Gaddafi government succeed. Because that worked so well in Iraq and Afghanistan. But if he really believes that, why doesn't he order in the troops?

Obama's real mistake was to depose a secular socialist autocrat and allow him to be replaced by a bunch of crazy religious fundamentalist militias whose factionalism ensured they'd never be able to govern.

Bush committed this error in Iraq. Obama made it in Libya. And now he's doing it again in Syria.
Obama's already destroyed one country with a "stupid war", and now he's trying for a sequel in Syria.

The foreign policy consensus as regards the Arab world is a toxic mixture of hubris, which, when juxtaposed with the incomprehensible need to appease the various Gulf monarchs (UAE in Libya, Saudi Arabia with Syria) has produced nothing but failure and insecurity.

This all looks so much like Athens' disastrous Sicilian Expedition during the Peloponnesian War.

H/T DC at the Stellar Parthenon BBS.

Live in Obedient Fear, Citizen, Eh?

Up in the Great White North, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police has determined anti-fossile fuel activists are a terrorism threats:
The RCMP has labelled the "anti-petroleum" movement as a growing and violent threat to Canada's security, raising fears among environmentalists that they face increased surveillance, and possibly worse, under the Harper government's new terrorism legislation.

In highly charged language that reflects the government's hostility toward environmental activists, an RCMP intelligence assessment warns that foreign-funded groups are bent on blocking oil sands expansion and pipeline construction, and that the extremists in the movement are willing to resort to violence.

"There is a growing, highly organized and well-financed anti-Canada petroleum movement that consists of peaceful activists, militants and violent extremists who are opposed to society's reliance on fossil fuels," concludes the report which is stamped "protected/Canadian eyes only" and is dated Jan. 24, 2014. The report was obtained by Greenpeace.

"If violent environmental extremists engage in unlawful activity, it jeopardizes the health and safety of its participants, the general public and the natural environment."

The government has tabled Bill C-51, which provides greater power to the security agencies to collect information on and disrupt the activities of suspected terrorist groups. While Prime Minister Stephen Harper has identified the threat as violent extremists motivated by radical Islamic views, the legislation would also expand the ability of government agencies to infiltrate environmental groups on the suspicion that they are promoting civil disobedience or other criminal acts to oppose resource projects.
It's pretty clear that the RCMP report was done at the instigation of the government, not the other way around.

It's also pretty clear that Harper is a nasty piece of work, at least by Canadian standards.

USAF to English Translation: If You Cannot Dazzle Them With Brilliance, Baffle Them With Bullsh%$

Now that the US Air Force's ongoing (As in: the wild blue yonder crowd has been trying to kill the plane since it was fielded) attempt to retire the A-10 close air support (CAS) aircraft is running into opposition, they are looking to, "reshape the discussion away from a binary A-10 versus F-35 fight."

This translates to, "F%$# you. We want our new toy, and we don't like doing CAS anyway".

The Air Force even went so far as to release dishonestly cherry picked data to support getting rid of the A-10.

And now they want to redefine the debate:
Few procurement issues—with the exception of the unsuccessful fight to continue F-22 production—spark the kind of impassioned pleas among U.S. Air Force officers as the unsuccessful struggle to retire the A-10 and make way for the Lockheed Martin F-35.


Not so in the case of the A-10. The Air Force is for the second year pushing to quickly retire the fleet in part because it is a single-mission aircraft, designed to provide close air support (CAS). Amid the budget crunch, the Air Force is shedding single-mission fleets.

Yet, the focus of its mission is exactly what has congealed support for the aptly named Warthog. The A-10 has been a visible savior for ground troops for decades and especially so in recent fights in Iraq and Afghanistan. But it is being replaced by the multi-mission, single-engine, stealthy F-35. A-10 boosters fear the CAS mission will be lost if it is only one among a host of missions to be handled by the F-35, which is also replacing F-16s in the Air Force. Some say the Air Force has lost it way on the CAS mission. “That’s a ridiculous statement,” says Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh, bristling at the notion during a roundtable with reporters Feb. 13 at the annual Air Force Association symposium in Orlando. “Guess how many CAS sorties we’ve flown? It’s about 20,000 a year. When is a little bit of credit given for that? . . . Let’s not change the facts to match whatever story we’re trying to tell.” Welsh also notes that CAS is “all the Marine Corps is buying [the F-35B] for, to replace the Harrier.”


Now the Air Force is on the offense, reaching out to officers in its sister services to outline the future of CAS in an attempt to reshape the discussion away from a binary A-10 versus F-35 fight.

Air Combat Command chief Gen. Herbert “Hawk” Carlisle is hosting a week-long, multiservice summit on CAS early in March. Among the topics to be discussed are conducting CAS in a “contested” environment, a term referring to airspace that is defended, though not with high-end integrated defenses seen in the anti-access area-denied (A2AD) situations. An example would be if the Islamic State posed a strong threat to allied jets in Iraq and Syria—although the A-10 has an armored cockpit, it would be susceptible to such a threat and CAS sorties would be forced to fly higher and to use different tactics.

The summit will address CAS as it stands today, as well in the future when the F-35 enters service, Carlisle told reporters at the annual symposium. Among the alternatives, already in use for years, are precision-guided munitions deployed from a host of aircraft—B-1s, B-52s, F-16s, F-16s, and others—to provide support for troops in the midst of a fight. The F-35, however, will bring stealth to the table. “We just have to get to the point where the services all understand what the future looks like in this arena because there is a thread of conversation going on that really has become a little ridiculous,” Welsh, an A-10 pilot himself, said. The F-35 “will be a good CAS platform. It will take us a while to get to the point we want it to be, like it has with every other airplane [with which] we’ve fought, including the A-10,” he argues.


Welsh says that the CAS discussion is intended to reset the mindset about the mission to allow for new operational concepts and technologies, including the next-generation of CAS weapons. “How do you just change our mindset? Let’s have gun pods with bullets this long and put 50,000 of them in the pod instead of everybody trying to get 1,000 or 600 out of the airplane during a CAS sortie,” Welsh said. “There are just different ways to look at this problem that technology can help us solve. . . . None of this is new. But we’ve just got to energize it.”
I want to have the bullsh%$ concession at the CAS discussion, because the demand for bullsh%$ when the USAF presents their case will be at levels approaching that of a Republican Presidential debate.

18 February 2015

I Think that This Provides a Lot of Insight into Russian Views on the Ukraine

Saker, of the blog The Vineyard of the Saker, is definitely a Russian nationalist and an anti-Semite, but he is fluent in Russian, (He might be Russian) and does have his finger on the pulse of much of Russian society, so his missive on Russian perceptions of the intentions of the US with regard to Russia are a worthwhile read:
I parse the Russian media (corporate and social) on a daily basis and I am always amazed at the completely different way the issue of western sanctions is discussed.  I think that it is important and useful for me to share this with those of you who do not speak Russian.

First, nobody in Russia believes that the sanctions will be lifted.  Nobody.  Of course, all the Russian politicians say that sanctions are wrong and not conducive to progress, but these are statements for external consumption.  In interviews for the Russian media or on talk shows, there is a consensus that sanctions will never be lifted no matter what Russia does.

Second, nobody in Russia believes that sanctions are a reaction to Crimea or to the Russian involvement in the Donbass.  Nobody.  There is a consensus that the Russian policy towards Crimea and the Donbass are not a cause, but a pretext for the sanctions.  The real cause of the sanctions is unanimously identified as what the Russians called the "process of sovereignization", i.e. the fact that Russia is back, powerful and rich, and that she dares openly defy and disobey the "Axis of Kindness".

Third, there is a consensus in Russia that the correct response to the sanctions is double: a) an external realignment of the Russian economy away from the West and b) internal reforms which will make Russia less dependent on oil exports and on the imports of various goods and technologies.

Fourth, nobody blames Putin for the sanctions or for the resulting hardships.  Everybody fully understands that Putin is hated by the West not for doing something wrong, but for doing something right.  In fact, Putin's popularity is still at an all-time high.

Fifth, there is a wide agreement that the current Russian vulnerability is the result of past structural mistakes which now must be corrected, but nobody suggests that the return of Crimea to Russia or the Russian support for Novorussia were wrong or wrongly executed. 
I think that his statements that "nobody in Russia" believes various things is overstated, but when you have Mikhail F%$#ing Gorbachev saying that the US and NATO never ended their side of the cold war, it is safe to say that the Russian public and elites generally believe that they are the target of low level hostilities from the west.

I can't say that this perception is wrong:  It appears to me that there has been a long term campaign to reduce Russia to a client petro-state.

Quote of the Day

Almost every major terrorist attack on Western soil in the past fifteen years has been committed by people who were already known to law enforcement. One of the gunmen in the attack on Charlie Hebdo, in Paris, had been sent to prison for recruiting jihadist fighters. The other had reportedly studied in Yemen with Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the underwear bomber, who was arrested and interrogated by the F.B.I. in 2009. The leader of the 7/7 London suicide bombings, in 2005, had been observed by British intelligence meeting with a suspected terrorist, though MI5 later said that the bombers were “not on our radar.” The men who planned the Mumbai attacks, in 2008, were under electronic surveillance by the United States, the United Kingdom, and India, and one had been an informant for the Drug Enforcement Administration. One of the brothers accused of bombing the Boston Marathon was the subject of an F.B.I. threat assessment and a warning from Russian intelligence.
—Mattathias Schwartz, writing in The New Yorker
That's just the first paragraph.

The NSA wants to collect everything, but they already are collecting more than they need.

Our Private Little War is Going so F%$#ing Well

With a ceasefire coming into effect on Sunday, the Ukrainian rebels have seized the strategically significant town of Debaltseve:
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko called Wednesday for an international peacekeeping mission in his nation’s war-torn east, a stark admission that his nation can no longer fend off pro-Russian rebels after a major battlefield defeat.

Any international force on the ground would harden the battle lines after 10 months of fighting, forcing Ukraine to give up for now its attempts to reunify the nation. But it would also halt Russian-backed rebels from pushing onward toward Kiev.

The suggestion came hours after thousands of Ukrainian troops fled the encircled railway hub of Debaltseve, where fighting only intensified after a cease-fire ostensibly took effect Sunday. Nearly a year after Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula, the fresh loss threatened tough political consequences for Ukraine’s pro-Western president amid questions of how the troops became surrounded in recent weeks.

Soldiers described a chaotic nighttime retreat over eastern Ukraine’s frozen steppe, with shells raining down on them from two sides.
It's gotten to the point that even the German press are starting to condemn Victoria "F%$# the EU" Nuland and her role in creating this conflict.  (Google translate link)

The Europeans have begun to realize that following the reckless and bellicose US policies has created nothing but headaches for them.

It also appears that it's creating headaches at the Brookings Institution as well:
A new report co-produced by the Brookings Institution is not going over well within the think tank. The report calls for an escalation in tensions between the United States and Russia with a recommendation for the US to supply the government in Kiev with $3 billion worth of weapons. The report also had contributions from the Atlantic Council and the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. One of the authors of the report, Michele Flournoy, is expected to be selected as defense secretary should Hillary Clinton win the White House and operates a think tank underwritten by defense contractors.

Brookings Institution fellow and former US State Department official Jeremy Shapiro took direct aim at the report in a piece titled “Why Arming the Ukrainians is a Bad Idea.” While acknowledging it was difficult to write the rebuttal given that his boss, Brookings Institution President Strobe Talbott, had co-authored the report, Shapiro nonetheless took apart the report’s bellicose and reckless recommendations:
The Ukrainian calculus is one of immediate desperation. But the United States needs to think for the longer-term. And if U.S.-provided weapons fail to induce a Russian retreat in Ukraine and instead cause an escalation of the war, the net result will not be peace and compromise. There has recently been much escalation in Ukraine, but it could go much further. As horrible as it is, the Ukrainian civil war still looks rather tame by the standards of Bosnia, Chechnya or Syria. Further escalation will mean much more violence, suffering and death in Ukraine.
The report authors counter that if the United States does not stand up to Russia in Ukraine, the Putin regime will be emboldened to make similar mischief all over Europe and beyond. This is the familiar credibility argument that gave us the war in Vietnam, among other misadventures. In fact, U.S. credibility is not enhanced by making bluffs that we will not ultimately fulfill or by embarking on wasting wars that we do not need.
Ouch. That would be a brutal critique from a rival let alone a colleague. Apparently the war party has not secured its own base and the eagerness to play chicken with a fellow nuclear power has limited support even among DC’s deep state intellectuals.
The Neocon and Liberal Interventionist belief in the "unipolar world", and in the necessity take action to preserve the illusion of this state is harming both our own foreign policy interests as well as the rest of the world.

Rachel Maddow is Wrong, and the Senate Republicans are Right

She ascribes the delays in her nomination purely to animus on the part of Republicans.

While I agree that the bulk of the opposition is driven by hatred and political expedience, but we also need to look at what the Republicans are actually saying, and the history of the Obama administration's approach to corruption in the finance industry.

The stated reason given by Republicans to oppose Lynch is her role in what is clearly a laughable settlement with HSBC over money laundering and tax evasion, and I would argue that Obama's selection of Ms. Lynch is likely to have been driven (at least in part) by her cozy relationship with the Banksters.

It is clear that Barack Obama is determined not to have a meaningful accounting of Wall Street criminality:
Senate Republicans are seizing on the global tax scandal engulfing HSBC to delay the confirmation of Loretta Lynch, Barack Obama’s nominee for attorney general, the Guardian can reveal.

The Republican chairman of the Senate judiciary committee, Chuck Grassley, was on Friday preparing a fresh tranche of questions for Lynch about the huge cache of leaked data showing how HSBC’s subsidiary helped conceal billions of dollars from domestic tax authorities.

Grassley and another Republican senator are planning to investigate whether Lynch could have done more to stand up to the world’s second largest bank.

Lynch negotiated a controversial settlement with HSBC in 2012, after the bank admitted to facilitating money-laundering by Mexican drug cartels and helping clients evade US sanctions.

Now there are questions over why she did not also pursue HSBC over evidence that its Swiss arm helped US taxpayers hide their assets.

The secret bank files – obtained and examined in detail this week in a series of reports by the Guardian, CBS 60 Minutes and other media outlets – reveal that HSBC’s Swiss arm colluded with some high net-worth individuals to hide their assets from tax authorities across the world.

The new data, leaked by a whistleblower, was obtained by French tax authorities and shared with the US government in 2010, raising questions over why the Department of Justice has yet to take action against HSBC in the US.
It's a legitimate question, particularly since HSBC's acts have been egregious enough to lead Swiss law enforcement to raid HSBC.

Considering the degree to which secrecy, and tax evasion, have been central to the business of Swiss banking, the fact that they have initiated a criminal investigation, and that the US Department of Justice has not, is telling.

It should be noted that Lynch claimed that she did not have sufficient evidence for criminal prosecutions, but as Empty Wheel notes, "Sure, she and her prosecutors were unable to find the evidence in Carl Levin’s gift-wrapped case. But trust her, she seems to be saying, she might one day see fit to charge some warm bodies with fraud if she’s confirmed."

Note that there are now allegations that HSBC gave material support to terrorists.

17 February 2015

Headline of the Day

The rolling disaster of John Boehner’s speakership

Here is the last 'graph and money quote:
So on the whole, Boehner is managing to combine legislative incompetence with PR incompetence. He’s already sure to be known as one of the weakest speakers in American history, for at least some reasons that are out of his control. But he might also be known as one of the least effective. Perhaps no one could have done a better job in his place, but since no other Republican seems to want the job, we may never know.
This is the Washington Post, so it's the very definition of a mainstream assertion.

I am not sure why he has remained speaker, he has failed the most basic job of that role, the ability to count votes, repeatedly.

I gotta figure that Boehner has convinced everyone on the Republican side of the aisle that speaker is the worst job in the world.

Considering his record, it's clear that he has certainly shown that it is an awful job.

He may have screwed up in reverse.

16 February 2015

This Must be a Definition of "Ethics" I was Previously Unaware Of………

The North Carolina ethics commission has decided that there is no need for a politician to report if they are f%$#ing a lobbyist:
Sex between lobbyists and government officials who are covered under North Carolina’s ethics laws does not constitute a gift that must be listed in disclosure reports, the State Ethics Commission said Friday.

“Consensual sexual relationships do not have monetary value and therefore are not reportable as gifts or ‘reportable expenditures made for lobbying’ for purposes of the lobbying law’s expenditure reporting provisions,” the formal advisory opinion says.

The opinion was in a response to an inquiry from the Secretary of State’s lobbying compliance director, Joal H. Broun, in a letter on Dec. 15.

“You have asked whether consensual ‘sexual favors or sexual acts’ between a lobbyist and a designated individual constitutes a gift or ‘thing of value’ that would trigger the gift ban and reporting requirements,’” the opinion says.

Broun’s request also wanted to know if that activity falls within the definition of “goodwill lobbying,” which is an indirect attempt to influence legislation or executive action, such as the building of relationships, according to state law, and is also considered lobbying.

The seven-member ethics commission says Broun’s letter was “general and largely hypothetical, with little or no supporting facts,” which also limits the commission’s response. But the opinion says sexual behavior would not constitute goodwill lobbying, either.

However, providing a prostitute to a legislator or other covered official would constitute a gift or item of value and would have to be reported on disclosure forms – which, of course, would also be evidence of a crime, the opinion says.
So, if you hire a prostitute, it's a lobbying gift covered by disclosure laws, but if you employ a temporary liaison officer at your lobbying group, at a predetermined hourly rate, there is no need for disclosure.

My guess is that we are going to see a lot of "Rent Boys" hired as consultants in North Carolina state politics.

15 February 2015

I Think that the ECB Just Blinked

The European Central Bank has just increased emergency liquidy funding to Greek banks by €5 billion:
The European Central Bank (ECB) just increased the amount of emergency funding available to Greek banks by €5 billion — despite indications that the savers were pulling less of their money out in February.

On Thursday, Reuters reported that the ECB was extending the Emergency Liquidity Assistance that can be given to Greek banks from its current (self-imposed) maximum of €60 billion to €65 billion. However, its reasons for doing so remain unclear.

Earlier reports had suggested that fears of deposit flight, where Greek savers withdrew their money from banks and deprived them of a key source of funding, after the left-wing Syriza party took power and the ECB altered its rules to prevent Greek government debt (and government-guaranteed debt) from being used to access its emergency loan programme were failing to materialise. A survey of Greek banks found that although savers remained nervous about the new government's plans deposit outflows had slowed in February, according to Reuters.
What happened here is pretty clear.

The ECB tried to get tough and saw the beginnings of a bank run, and they reversed course because they knew that if there were a bank run in Greece, it would spread to the Southern tier of the EU, as people took out cash, or transferred money to banks in the north.

Merkel has been emphatic that a Grexit (Greek exit from the Euro Zone) would be manageable.

This shows that this is a delusion.

14 February 2015

I may have to break out the Winter Coat

It is 11°F outside, -1°F with wind chill, and we got about 2 inches of snow, which is being blown about buy gusts of sound 30 mph.

Most un-Maryland weather.

Posted via mobile.

Sometimes, My Son is a Bit Dense

We were at an SCA event today, in a hall ruin by the Manchester Volunteer Fire Department, and I noticed this little display in the kitchen. 

We spent a lot of time in the kitchen today,  as Sharon was feastocrat (head cook) for the event.

Charlie did not get it.

It took the better part of a half hour, each time getting more and more detailed, until he FINALLY got the joke.

For someone who is scary smart, he can be awfully dense on occasion.

Posted via mobile.

13 February 2015

Something is Going Right in Detroit

The Detroit City Council is passing a law requiring recipients of public benefits for development sign binding contracts as to their benefits:
When Marathon Petroleum received a $175 million tax break from the city of Detroit in 2007, they promised jobs for Detroiters. And, as of last January, the $2.2 billion expansion of Marathon's refinery on the city's southwest side had, in fact, created new jobs for tax-paying residents —all of 15 of them.

Now, members of the Detroit City Council want to pass an ordinance that will hold developers seeking public money accountable: They'll have to work out a community benefits agreement (CBA) with community leaders. A CBA is a legally binding pact covering everything from local hiring requirements and environmental concerns to redevelopment of public space and infrastructure. It's a way to assuage the fears of current residents wary of displacement and change and ensure the public's money is put to good use. It would be the first law of its kind in the country.

"We are allowing these large corporations—companies that could build a hockey arena without our money—to get in the corporate welfare line and take resources away from us," Rashida Tlaib, a Michigan state representative who serves Detroit, told me. "In exchange for what?"

The hockey arena Tlaib mentioned is for the city's beloved Red Wings, owned by pizza baron Mike Ilitch. The Ilitch family, whose net worth is estimated at $3.2 billion thanks in part to their Little Caesars pizza empire, received $284.5 million in public money to build a new, $450 million arena in the city's Cass Corridor neighborhood. (They are desperately and vapidly rebranding it as the "arena and entertainment district.")

While the Ilitch family was finishing up its honeypot stadium welfare deal last year—not to mention a wildly below-market rate $1 land transfer for 39 vacant parcels—they refused to sign a CBA that would ensure a certain percentage of permanent, non-construction jobs at the arena went to Detroiters. A group of locals formed the Corridors Alliance in an attempt to engage with the Ilitches, but their efforts were futile. The Ilitches did, however, agree to a mayoral executive order that demanded 51 percent of construction jobs go to residents and 30 percent of construction contracts go to local businesses. (The mayoral order, like Marathon's hollow promise, is not legally binding.)


The proposed ordinance in Detroit would take what Los Angeles and Pittsburgh have done a step further. It would require developers to engage in a CBA. Under the most recent draft of the ordinance, any project totaling more than $15 million in investment (or $3 million in renovation or expansion) seeking at least $300,000 in public tax dollars—from tax abatements to land transfers—will have to enter into a community benefits agreement. Developments between $3 million and $15 million are encouraged, but not required, to execute a CBA. Developments funded entirely by private money are exempt.

Business leaders—no surprise!—are pissed. It's another hurdle, they say. Just more red tape, they scream! In October, Rodrick Miller, president and CEO of the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation (DEGC), wrote an irritated and bullying letter to City Council expressing his true feelings.


The opposition made it all the way to the state capitol in Lansing during December's lame duck session, where Republican State Representative Earl Poleski introduced House Bill 5977, which would "prohibit local units of government from creating a 'community benefits ordinance.'" The bill, which died in December and was reintroduced in January, would ban Detroit's proposed ordinance outright.

"House Bill 5977 sets up the state as a dictatorship telling local units of government that they cannot do what is best for their community, workers and residents when it comes to wages and benefits tied to economic development in that community," Tlaib said in a statement.
Of course the klepto-capitalists pretty much all of the Republicans, and quite a few of the Democrats in Lansing, hate the idea, but this should be seen as an endorsement of an insanely good idea.

It's kind of like being condemned by ISIS.  It means that you are doing it right.

It's Bank Failure Friday!!!

We have had the 3rd bank failure of the year, Capitol City Bank & Trust Company, of Atlanta, GA.

And here they are, ordered, and numbered for the year so far.

Looks rather similar to the past 2 years.

Here is the Full NCUA list.

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

12 February 2015

1000 Words on Big Pharma Research Spending

9 Out Of 10 Big Pharma Companies Spent More On Marketing Than On R&D
I would also note that 84% of the basic R&D funding is by the taxpayers.

What I am talking about is the research that discovers the basic science that leads to drugs.

I would argue that if we were to repeal the Bayh-Dole act, and once again require that federally funded inventions be assigned to the federal government, we would get more innovation, because universities would not be acting like private companies regarding their (our) inventions, and it would save enormous amounts of money, particularly with regard to pharmaceuticals.

The Washington consensus, which is that no matter how badly the private entities loot the rest of society, we must privatize everything, because ……… Capitalism!

It's why we have hepatitis C drugs that are costing over $1,000.00 a pill.

As an alternative, have the government fund taking basic research to a marketable drug, and then allow drug manufacturers to bid for the right to manufacture those medications.

H/t The Big Picture.

11 February 2015

First Measels, and now Mumps, Thanks Jenny

A mumps outbreak in Idaho has spread to Washington state:
An outbreak of mumps that started at an Idaho university and infected 21 people across the state has now spread to neighboring Washington state, health officials said on Monday.

The spread of mumps, a highly contagious virus that leads to painful swelling of the salivary glands, comes as a wider measles outbreak has infected more than 100 people in California and over a dozen more in 19 other U.S. states and Mexico since December.

The mumps outbreak began in September at the University of Idaho campus in Moscow, near the border with Washington state, and later spread to the capital, Boise, the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare said.

Mumps, which leads to painful swelling of the salivary glands, spreads easily from sharing saliva through kissing, shared eating utensils or water bottles, public health officials said.

So far, there have been 21 confirmed and probable cases, including six around Boise, the state’s most populous city, a statement said. Then on Friday, two infections were reported in Washington state, the statement added.

Public health officials were urging students on the Moscow campus and anyone who might have come into close contact with an infected person to ensure their vaccinations are up to date. Mumps and measles can be prevented through a single vaccine, the MMR vaccine that also covers rubella, health officials said.
I would note that mumps can also cause sterility in adults and adolescents, as well as meningitis, pancreatitis,  encephalitis, deafness, and the occasional death.

It's less lethal than measles, but it's still dangerous and avoidable.

Let me send a big f%$# you to Jenny McCarthy, Andrew Wakefield, and the fraudsters, liars and stupid people who are endangering the rest of society.

Despite the Dispute Over the Ukraine, Russia and the US can Find Common Ground

Egypt's worst military band covers the Russian national anthem

Carl Lewis will never medal in vocal skills

Rosanne Barr's Infamous rendition, which I actually found hysterically funny
Specifically the pain of atrociously poor performance of our respective national anthems.

Unfortunately, I could find Robert Goulet's infamous rendition of the Star Spangled Banner at the Ali-Liston fight.

Oh Well.