31 May 2020

The Princess Bride as Prophecy

It turns out that as a result of anthropogenic climate change, the tundra is turning into a real-world version of the fire swamp.

There has been an upsurge in smoldering fires persisting through the winter to reemerge in the spring:
The bitterly cold Arctic winter typically snuffs out the seasonal wildfires that erupt in this region. But every once in a while, a wildfire comes along that refuses to die.

These blazes, known as “zombie fires” or “holdover fires,” can burrow into the rich organic material beneath the surface, such as the vast peatlands that ring the Arctic, and smolder under the snowpack throughout the frigid winter.

With the Siberian Arctic seeing record warm conditions in recent weeks and months, scientists monitoring Arctic wildfire trends are becoming more convinced that some of the blazes erupting in the Arctic this spring are actually left over from last summer.


The drying and burning of Arctic peatlands has major consequences for the planet as a whole. Northern peatlands contain more stored carbon than rainforests do, Waddington said. He compared fires that smolder during the winter without flames, only to reignite in the spring, to scenes from the fire swamp in the 1987 comedy “The Princess Bride,” which features bursts of flame emerging from underground.
(emphasis mine)

This would be cool, if it weren't presaging the destruction of the world.

I'm Impressed

Bus deiver unions nationwide have announced that they will refuse to transport protesters to detention for the police.

People are noticing that hte police are actively stoking the violence, and refusing to support them:
Friday evening, bus drivers in New York City and members of TWU Local 100 refused to cooperate with police in transporting arrested Justice for George Floyd protestors.

The action comes a day after bus drivers in Minneapolis also refused to assist the police in transporting arrested protestors; shutting down the Twin Cities’ transit system.

“I told MTA our ops won’t be used to drive cops around. It is in solidarity [with Minneapolis’ bus drivers],” JP Patafio, vice president of TWU Local 100 told Motherboard.

Payday Report has learned that transit union leaders nationwide are instructing members not to cooperate with police in arresting protestors.
When juxtaposed with mainstream stories condemning the over-reaction of the police departments, see here, here, and here, this is a welcome development.

I just hope that this sticks.

The Impact of Police Unions

I came across a fascinating Twitter thread about the effect of police unions upon on law enforcement.

The study is preliminary, and the author is very clear on this, but the results are striking.

Police unionization has increased pay and benefits, no big surprise there, and a slight decline in police employment, which might correlate with the increase in the cost, which is also not a surprise.

The big take away is that there is a substantial increase in the lethality of law enforcement, with the death toll of minorities accounting for the bulk of the increase.

The number (admittedly preliminary) is stunning, "We find a substantial increase in police killings of civilians over the medium to long run (likely after unions are established) with an additional 0.026 to 0.029 civilians killed in a county each year of whom the overwhelming majority are non-white."

Given that there are (Googling furiously) 3,143 county equivalents in the United States, this means that we would see about 82 extra deaths a year, and over the past 40 years, this would be more than 3200 excess deaths.

The obvious conclusion is that the decrease in accountability of police officers has resulted in increased violence and police racism, though as is frequently stated, correlation is not causation.

Additionally, court rulings over the past 50+ years have had the effect of reducing police accountability for the use of force as well, so teasing out the effects specific reductions of accountability would be difficult.

The obvious take-away though is that we need greater accountability for our police forces.

Tweet of the Day

Almost perfect.

Wewease the Quacken would have been perfect.

Great Googly Moogly………

Believe it or not, this is a cat

Happy ending
The Humane Society of Arizona collected a cat from its now dead owner, and its matted fur was so extensive that they were originally unsure what sort of animal it was.

After removing 2 pounds of fur, from what appears to be an 8 pound cat, (25% of its body weight!) we can see that it is a cat.

What's more, some person or persons could see that this 4 year old queen* was a majestic specimen of the species Felis catus, and adopted her 2 days later.

Her name is "Fluffers."

H/t Naked Capitalism.

*Queen is a female cat. A male cat is a Tom.

30 May 2020

Headline of the Day

How A Feud Among Wolf-Kink Erotica FanFic Authors Demonstrates What The Copyright Office Got Wrong In Its DMCA Report
Yet more examples of how the DMCA take-down notice process is being abused by people who want to censor other people.

Of Course They Aren't………

Trump and his Evil Minions are refusing to release economic projections for the upcoming quarter, probably because they have run the numbers, and they are unbelievably f%$#ing grim.

I am not sure if this is reelection campaign thing, or they are just worried about the tantrum that Trump would throw if they released the data.

It really does not matter what reason they have for this, it's a thoroughly cowardly move:
White House officials have decided not to release updated economic projections this summer, opting against publishing forecasts that would almost certainly codify an administration assessment that the coronavirus pandemic has led to a severe economic downturn, according to three people with knowledge of the decision.

The White House is supposed to unveil a federal budget proposal every February and then typically provides a “mid-session review” in July or August with updated projections on economic trends such as unemployment, inflation and economic growth.

Budget experts said they were not aware of any previous White House opting against providing forecasts in this “mid-session review” document in any other year since at least the 1970s.


“It gets them off the hook for having to say what the economic outlook looks like,” said Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a former director of the Congressional Budget Office who served as an economic adviser to the late senator John McCain (R-Ariz.).

The Disturbances

And they wonder why people make porcine references
What is clear is that there have been an outbreak of demonstrations against police officers murdering black men with impunity.

What is also clear is that these protests are largely peaceful until the police riot, and so escalate the situation.

Police, and those above them in the chain of command, appear to be constitutionally incapable of deescalating protests against them.

While this won't be discussed by the major news media, who are wringing their hands over a f%$#ing Target being looted, most of the violence and disruption has been initiated by police, even if you don't believe (I am on the fence) that a significant proportion of those initiating property crimes and vandalism are not in some way police agents.

This, "You must respect my authoritay!" crap is getting old.

29 May 2020

Today in Evil

It's Amazon's turn, and Amazon has been so bad about protecting its workers, and giving any information to its employees about outbreaks at warehouses, that its employees have set up trackers so that they can know when they are being endangered by the company:
Usually Jana Jumpp works nights loading trucks at an Amazon facility the size of 28 football fields in Jeffersonville, Ind. Now, she spends them shut in her room, clacking away on her sluggish computer.

The emails and Facebook messages from Amazon workers at warehouses across the country tumble in.


Jumpp has a counterpart at Amazon-owned Whole Foods, Katie Doan, who has been collecting cases since April 2. The two women have never spoken, but they describe nearly identical work fielding a torrent of private messages, searching Facebook groups, Reddit, Twitter and news outlets for reports of infections, and meticulously updating Google documents with the numbers.

Jumpp and Doan, who until this week worked at a store in Tustin, a city in Orange County, say they do this because their co-workers don’t feel safe; they aren’t able to gauge the risk of reporting for work to their warehouse or store because Amazon won’t tell them how many people are believed to have gotten infected there.

As of Wednesday, 343 Whole Foods workers had tested positive, according to crowdsourced data in a publicly available Google document. Of those, 44 cases are in 24 store locations across California. At least Four Whole Foods employees have died, including a manager at a store in Pasadena.
Amazon's response is typical corporate bullsh%$

Yet Amazon has challenged the notion that it should be providing fuller data. An Amazon spokesperson said the company does track the information at a site level but does not release the aggregate numbers because those numbers might contain outdated information — cases that were resolved weeks or months ago — and thus are not informative to workers.


Dr. David Eisenman, director of the Center for Public Health and Disasters at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, disagreed. He said that type of data, correctly gathered, is crucial for reducing future infections of employees and understanding which kinds of job sites and occupations carry elevated risk of contracting COVID-19.

“Saying aggregate data is not useful is like pulling wool over your eyes. Of course it’s useful, we’re using it to open the country up again,” Eisenman said.
Yet another reason to hate Amazon.

Who Had the 2020 Over and Under for Super-Volcano?

There have been a series of mild earthquakes which may indicate that the Yellowstone super-volcano might be becoming active again:
Monitoring services from the US Geological Survey (USGS) found there have been 213 earthquakes in the Yellowstone National Park in the past 28 days. The tremors were relatively small, with the largest being a 2.1 magnitude tremor on May 22.

However, some experts warn it is not necessarily the size of an earthquake which is an indicator a volcano might erupt, but the quantity of them.

Portland State University Geology Professor Emeritus Scott Burns said: “If you get swarms under a working volcano, the working hypothesis is that magma is moving up underneath there.”

But others disagree about whether an earthquake swarm near a volcano could be a sign of things to come.

Jamie Farrell at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City believes this is just part of the natural cycle for Yellowstone volcano, saying: “Earthquake swarms are fairly common in Yellowstone.

“There is no indication that this swarm is related to magma moving through the shallow crust.”

The Yellowstone supervolcano, located in the US state of Wyoming, last erupted on a major scale 640,000 years ago.
As an FYI, when the Yellowstone Supervolcano (also called the Yellowstone Caldera) last erupted, it put something on the order of 100 km3 material into the air, with heavy ash falls as far away as 1000 miles away.

Additionally, it would likely precipitate a climate catastrophe with widespread crop failures and famine.

I know that the chance of something happening is tiny, but if that doesn't sound like a 2020 thing to you, you have not been paying attention.

About F%$#ing Time

It looks like people are starting to look at Rat-Face Andy's record as governor during the Corona Virus, and his heroic façade is is curmbling.

It's good to see the world to come around to my point of the view about the Governor of New York:
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo made it very clear who was in charge as the coronavirus began to infiltrate his state. The governor — in near-daily nationally televised appearances — said he would make difficult but necessary choices to contain the spread and would take the blame for any negative effects on New Yorkers' lives.

“The buck stops on my desk,” Cuomo said to both a New York and national audience on March 17, after ordering bars and restaurants to close across the state. “Your local mayor did not close your restaurants, your bars, your gyms or your schools. I did. I did. I assume full responsibility. ... If you are upset by what we have done, be upset at me.”

Two and a half months into the crisis, Cuomo’s take-charge attitude has begun to soften. The governor, who gained legions of fans for his briefings that blended an authoritative tone with a personal touch, is increasingly on the defensive — and casting blame on the federal government and its guidance.


The limelight's fade coincides with mounting scrutiny of New York state's response to the crisis, particularly in nursing homes, where more than 5,700 residents have died from Covid-19. A growing body of research is finding that earlier shutdown measures could have averted many of the state's more than 23,700 fatalities.

“It’s ludicrous. You can’t one day say you can blame me and the buck stops with me, and the next day pass the buck to anyone besides yourself,” said Assembly Member Ron Kim (D-Queens), who has previously clashed with Cuomo.


The limelight's fade coincides with mounting scrutiny of New York state's response to the crisis, particularly in nursing homes, where more than 5,700 residents have died from Covid-19. A growing body of research is finding that earlier shutdown measures could have averted many of the state's more than 23,700 fatalities.

“It’s ludicrous. You can’t one day say you can blame me and the buck stops with me, and the next day pass the buck to anyone besides yourself,” said Assembly Member Ron Kim (D-Queens), who has previously clashed with Cuomo.


The governor has drawn particular criticism for his policy of sending recovering Covid-19 patients to nursing homes, which he effectively reversed this month — even as he denied the change was a reversal at all. State officials say the nature of the fast-moving and unprecedented crisis forced the state to follow national guidance on the issue.


Manhattan Assemblymember Richard Gottfried, a Democrat and chair of the Assembly’s health committee, is among state lawmakers calling for an independent investigation of the state's handling of the outbreak in nursing homes. He says the blame rests largely on decades of ignoring issues that became more acute during the pandemic.

“The federal government never told New York to tolerate low staffing levels in nursing homes or to have a lax or understaffed enforcement of health and safety safeguards in nursing homes,” Gottfried said. “The executive branch — going back decades — has done that all by itself.”
Cuomo was behind de Blasio on addressing this, and Bill de Blasio was just plain late to the pandemic, and Cuomo's antipathy to the Mayor of New York further hamstrung the response.

Additionally, he has turned the emergency legislation into yet another orgy of cronyism and corruption.

If, as some have suggested, Cuomo is the Democratic Party savior, then the Democratic Party is beyond saving.

It's Bank Failure Friday!!!

And we have the first credit union failure of the year, the IBEW Local Union 712 Federal Credit Union of Beaver, Pennsylvania.

So, we have had 2 bank failures, and 1 credit failure so far this year.

I figure that we are going to be seeing a lot more over the next few weeks, as the pandemic recession continues to widen and deepen.

A Bit of Blog Meta

Due to an avalanche of comment spam, I have turned on the CAPTCHA for the comments, for a while at least.

Also, I have fixed the recent comments widget on the lower left hand side.

28 May 2020

"Only" 2.1 Million New Jobless Claims

Yes, "Only", 3 times as many initial claims as had ever been filed before 2020.

That's just great:
The number of workers receiving unemployment benefits fell for the first time since February and new weekly claims continued to ease, offering evidence that layoffs related to the coronavirus pandemic are slowing.

Initial claims for unemployment benefits declined to a seasonally adjusted 2.1 million last week from 2.4 million the prior week, the Labor Department said. The level of claims is still 10 times prepandemic levels but has fallen for eight straight weeks.
Because employers are running out of people to lay off.

I will note that the recovery is not likely to be strong, because the people who are looking for work won't have the resources to buy sh%$ once they find a new job.

Oh, Now I Get It

I wondered why Andrew "Rat Face Andy" Cuomo sent all those Covid-19 patients to nursing homes.

It turns out that it may have been all about the proverbial Benjamins, send the patients to the nursing homes and the nursing homes make big bucks, and there is no downside for them, because Cuomo inserted immunity provisions into pandemic legislation, because their executives gave big donations to Cuomo's primary challenge in 2018.

This is an awfully convenient turn of events:
As Governor Andrew Cuomo faced a spirited challenge in his bid to win New York’s 2018 Democratic primary, his political apparatus got a last-minute boost: a powerful health care industry group suddenly poured more than $1 million into a Democratic committee backing his campaign.

Less than two years after that flood of cash from the Greater New York Hospital Association (GNYHA), Cuomo signed legislation last month quietly shielding hospital and nursing-home executives from the threat of lawsuits stemming from the coronavirus outbreak. The provision, inserted into an annual budget bill by Cuomo’s aides, created one of the nation’s most explicit immunity protections for health care industry officials, according to legal experts.

Critics say Cuomo removed a key deterrent against nursing home and hospital corporations cutting corners in ways that jeopardize lives. As those critics now try to repeal the provision during this final week of Albany’s legislative session, they assert that data prove such immunity is correlating to higher nursing-home death rates during the pandemic — both in New York and in other states enacting similar immunity policies.


And then came Cuomo’s annual budget — which included a little-noticed passage shielding corporate officials who run New York hospitals, nursing homes, and other health care facilities from liability for COVID-related deaths and injuries.


Prior to the budget language, Cuomo had already temporarily granted limited legal immunity to doctors and nurses serving on the medical front lines. But the carefully sculpted passage buried in the state’s annual spending bill expanded that by offering extensive immunity to any “health care facility administrator, executive, supervisor, board member, trustee or other person responsible for directing, supervising or managing a health care facility and its personnel or other individual in a comparable role.”
Every time you turn over a rock in New York state you find a trail of slime leading back to the Governor's office.

F%$# Jack Welch

Jack Welch's Con
General Electric is selling off its light bulb business as it continues to slowly consume itself following decades of earnings and stock manipulation by Jack Welch.

This is what happens when you make massaging finance more important than actually making stuff:
General Electric has finally found a buyer for its lighting business and will be selling off its last consumer-facing business after more than 120 years of operation.

Boston-based GE said today it would divest the lighting business to Savant Systems, a smart home management company also based in Massachusetts. The companies did not disclose financial terms of the deal, but sources told The Wall Street Journal that the transaction was valued at about $250 million.

Savant specializes in full smart home systems for the luxury market. Acquiring a lighting business directly will allow it to take advantage of vertical integration and take more control over the physical equipment it installs in consumer' homes. Savant will keep the business's operations in Cleveland, where it is currently based, and will receive a long-term license to keep using the GE branding for its products.

The lighting business is GE's oldest segment, dating all the way back to the company's founding through a series of mergers with Thomas Edison's companies in the late 1880s and early 1890s. The company became a conglomerate early, investing in a wide array of technology and communications businesses. It moved toward aviation and energy and away from consumer products through the 1980s and 1990s under CEO Jack Welch. That industrial mindset lasted into the 21st century, under CEO Jeff Immelt, from 2001 through 2017.

By 2017, though, GE was carrying a staggering amount of corporate debt—about $77 billion, analysts estimated—and GE's stock price dropped heavily through Immelt's term. In October 2017, the new CEO, John L. Flannery, promised to streamline the company's operations and divest $20 billion worth of businesses.
Jack Welch has destroyed GE by eating its seed corn, and the Wall Street masters of the universe still think that he's a genius for it.

This is everything that is wrong with your economy in one story.

Only the Moderate Democrats Want the Surveillance State

My guess is that so-called "Moderate Democrats" are the only ones who want an expansive FISA renewal because they are the ones who get the big bucks from members of the US state security apparatus and and their corporate profiteers.

We now have Donald Trump, the most right Republicans in the House, and progressive Democrats are cooperating to shut down the FISA renewal, while the Democratic leadership is determined to make sure that there the intelligence-industrial complex gets what they want.

What can I say, but "Puck Felosi".  This needs to stop:
Speaker Nancy Pelosi and top Democrats postponed a vote on Wednesday to reauthorize key parts of the federal surveillance program known as FISA, after an 11th hour revolt by Republicans and progressive Democrats.

Democrats have not decided when or if they will take up the bill. The legislation had broad bipartisan support in the Senate, but lost support from GOP lawmakers after sudden resistance from President Donald Trump and the Justice Department.

“We haven’t made that decision,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said in an interview late Wednesday as he left Pelosi’s office.

It was clear for much of Wednesday that Democrats lacked the votes, with few, if any, Republicans willing to buck Trump and his veto threat. Without them, the House’s delicate coalition fractured and Democrats found themselves without the support to pass it on their own. The Congressional Progressive Caucus, which has roughly 100 members, formally opposed the bill, virtually guaranteeing that Democrats would need GOP votes.


The latest rupture began over a proposal by Wyden to block the FBI from collecting the web browsing data of Americans. Wyden’s plan failed by a single vote in the Senate, but Lofgren negotiated with House leaders to bring it up for a House vote when the chamber considered the broader bill.

But Lofgren also negotiated a deal with House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff to tweak the language to narrow the restrictions on the FBI, a deal that infuriated Wyden and left him and other progressives calling for the defeat of the measure.
By, "Narrow the restrictions," they mean, "Emasculate."

The FBI, and the CIA, and the rest of these three letter organizations have no interest in protecting your civil rights, and they will go to whatever line we set, and cross that line if they think that they can get away with it, but folks like Pelosi and Hoyer don't care, they just want their money for their PACs.

During Pledge Week, DON'T GIVE

The Department of Justice has announced plans to retry Cliven Bundy and Evil Minions, and NPR decides to give this group of racist terrorists a big wet kiss in their coverage.

I do not know whether Kirk Siegler is a fellow traveler, or the folks at NPR are so deep in a protective crouch to the right wing that they have lost all integrity, but until it is fixed, you need to not give at pledge time.

At least ⅔ of this story is a stenographic reporting from the right wing, particularly the contemptible Larry Klayman, allowing them to make their claims unchallenged.

My guess is that this is a beat sweetener for Siegler, he wants another interview with Bundy, and so he does not want to offend him, but he, and whoever the hell his editor is, should both be ashamed of themselves.

America's Finest News Source

Protestors Criticized For Looting Businesses Without Forming Private Equity Firm First
The Onion
This is, of course, a reference to the protests in Minnesota.

The Onion encapsulates the zeitgeist of the situation in just 11 words.

27 May 2020

No Posting Tonight

My previous job was 'Rona'd and I've just started a new one, which includes a fair amount of work from home, and I'm dealing with setting up the home office (not taking the deduction, tax man), medical, etc.

Snark of the Day

Care of the less hairy Saroff:

26 May 2020

Tweet of the Day

This officer choked the life out of by kneeling on the back of George Floyd's neck for 5 minutes as he slowly suffocated.

And the same people who were offended about Colin Kaepernick are going to say that it's the black man's fault, for not dying quietly enough, I guess.

25 May 2020

Support Right to Repair Legislation

The hobbyist repair site iFixit has released a large online database of repair instructions for ventilators, which means that hospitals who desperately want to keep their equipment running will have an alternative to the overpriced, and frequently unavailable, support from the manufacturer and their distributors:
Teardown and repair website iFixit has just posted what its CEO Kyle Wiens says is “the most comprehensive online resource for medical repair professionals.” The new database contains dedicated sections for clinical, laboratory, and medical support equipment, in addition to numerous other categories of devices. It also provides more than 13,000 manuals from hundreds of medical device manufacturers.

Wiens says the effort began with a crowdsourcing campaign to collect repair information for hospital equipment, with a focus on “ventilator documentation, anesthesia systems, and respiratory analyzers — devices widely used to support COVID-19 patients.” But the effort grew from there, spanning more than two months as iFixit added dozens more staff members to the project; began talking to more biomedical technicians, doctors, and nurses about their day-to-day needs; and started collecting and cataloging information from libraries and other sources.

“Hospitals are having trouble getting service information to fix medical equipment — and it’s not just a COVID-19 problem. We’ve heard countless stories from biomedical technicians (biomeds, for short) about how medical device manufacturers make their jobs more difficult by restricting access to repair information,” Wiens writes in iFixit’s blog post about the new database. “Thanks to travel limitations, the problem is bigger than ever. Manufacturer service reps can’t keep pace with the growing demand for repair of critical hospital equipment. Even if they could, they can’t respond as quickly as the biomeds, already at the front lines.” 
Needless to say, OEMs hate right to repair, because it cuts out a profit stream.

To them, I say, f%$# you, without lube.

GNOME Foundation: 1 — Patent Troll: 0

Patent Troll Rothschild Patent Imaging decided to sue the GNOME Foundation claiming that their patents have been violated.

The GNOME Foundation decided to fight back, and lawyered up, large with pro bono counsels, filed a counter-suit, and kicked the troll's slimy ass.

While the specifics have not been revealed, we do know that the Patent Troll agreed never to sue again, and that GNOME paid them nothing:
Updated The GNOME Foundation has settled a US lawsuit brought against it by Rothschild Patent Imaging, complete with an undertaking by the patent assertion entity that it will not sue GNOME for IP infringment again.

In a so-called "walk away" settlement, Rothschild Patent Imaging (RPI) and the open-source body are discontinuing their legal battle that began in October last year. RPI sued for alleged IP infringement of one of its patents by the GNOME photo-organising tool Shotwell, marking the first time a free software project had been targeted in that way.

In a statement at the time, the GNOME Foundation said RPI "offered to let us settle for a high five-figure amount, for which they would drop the case", something it said would be "wrong" to do. The open-sourcers thus countersued RPI, aided by lawyers from New York law firm Shearman Sterling who agreed to work on the case for free.


Not only did GNOME score a settlement with RPI that halted the lawsuit altogether, it also received an undertaking to prevent it being sued again for patent infringement by RPI (with the caveat that the software in question is open source). That settlement covers a bundle of around 100 patents, we are told.


[GNOME Executive Director Neil] McGovern also told Brock that the open-source community "managed to raise over $150,000 from over 4,000 individual donors" to fight the case, adding: "One of the strengths of the community is how passionately we care about what we do, and how we rally around each other when there's trouble."


Updated to add

In an article comment on this story, McGovern said: "For those asking about payment, I can confirm we paid RPI and Leigh Rothschild a grand total of $0.00 for the settlement."

I Think that We Have Identified the Problem

In an article about cuts colleges are making in response to Covid-19, we have the case of Johns Hopkins cutting retirement contributions.

The details include a list of overpaid and underperforming executives at the University that goes a long way to explaining why higher education has become ridiculous expensive over the past few decades.

The management of the university is increasingly a part of MBA culture, which involves overspending on non-teaching executives, who have bullsh%$ jobs, and who in turn make the people who actually have productive work generate endless reports instead of actually doing their f%$#ing jobs:
My university, Johns Hopkins, recently announced a series of exceptional measures in the face of a coronavirus-related fiscal crisis. Suddenly anticipating losses of over $350 million in the next 15 months, the university imposed a hiring freeze, canceled all raises, and warned about impending furloughs and layoffs. Most extraordinarily of all, it suspended contributions to its employees’ retirement accounts. "Many of our peers are grappling with similar challenges," wrote our president, Ronald Daniels.

That is true. The University of Michigan recently announced anticipated losses of at least $400 million this calendar year. George Washington University likewise anticipates losses in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Stanford University, meanwhile, predicted a $200 million reversal in its consolidated budget. But while many colleges face challenges, no major research university moved with as much haste or revealed as acute vulnerabilities as Johns Hopkins did.

How does a university with a $6-billion endowment and $10 billion in assets suddenly find itself in a solvency crisis? How is one of the country’s top research universities reduced, just a month after moving classes online, to freezing its employees’ retirement accounts?


For years, the AAUP and other faculty critics have wrung their hands as norms of shared and deliberative governance disappeared, replaced by the consolidation of administrative power in the hands of corporate executives. With little appreciation for transparency or inclusiveness, and little understanding of the academy’s mission, these managers increasingly make decisions behind closed doors and execute them from above.


Consider the process that led to Johns Hopkins’s decision to freeze employee retirement contributions, which came as a surprise to nearly everyone affected. In his announcement, the president explained that the decision had been taken after consultation "with our trustees, deans and cabinet officers, and a subcommittee of the Faculty Budget Advisory Committee." There was no mention of consulting employee unions, staff associations, or other institutions of faculty governance. There was no mention of possible alternatives, or of careful, deliberative assessments about who should bear the financial sacrifices. Certainly, there were no meaningful faculty votes. (The faculty budget committee is composed of a small number of members hand-picked by administrators, and lacks formal authority.)


This administrative centralization has come at a serious cost to the university’s sense of community. In the last few years, decisions taken by the upper administration have generated a series of controversies over policing, the power to grant tenure, and government contracts, to name a few. Last spring, students frustrated with the university’s governance occupied the university’s central administration building.


The president’s cabinet is a curious body — one that has proliferated throughout higher education, as the values of corporate America infiltrate university administrations. One would hardly think, based on the cabinet’s makeup, that it comprises the senior leadership team for an eminent research university. It looks much more like the C-suite at a public corporation, with two senior vice presidents, 12 vice presidents, an acting vice president, a vice provost, a secretary, and three senior advisers. Of the vice presidents, it seems that only the provost has significant classroom and research experience. Good as he is, he can hardly provide a counterweight to the rest of the cabinet members, who mostly have government, business, finance, or law backgrounds. Collectively, the number of J.D.s and M.B.A.s far exceeds the number of Ph.D.s.
(emphasis mine)
Gee, if you assume that each of these people, excluding the secretary, gets AT LEAST $½ million a year, you are looking at $9million a year in remuneration.

Maybe this is why college is so expensive these days, particularly when you consider that each of the these folks probably have (at least) 3-4 Evil Minions in their offices who also have to be paid, so we're talking serious bucks, and not a penny of it goes to actually educating the students.
As with most universities, the president reports to a Board of Trustees. But this body, like many across the country, has become a funhouse mirror of corporate America. At Johns Hopkins, 36 members sit on the board, almost all hailing from outside academia.

Johns Hopkins executives are paid much like their counterparts in the corporate world. According to the latest available public information, from 2018, the university’s president earned $1.6 million in salary plus $1.1 million in deferred and other compensation for a total of $2.7 million. That tidy sum doesn’t include the money he receives for serving on other boards, including the $310,000 he received that year from T. Rowe Price — whose chief executive happens to serve on the Johns Hopkins Board of Trustees.

But the president is hardly alone. That same year, the university’s senior vice president for finance earned $1.2 million, its vice president for development made over $1 million, the vice president for investments made over $950,000. Even the president’s chief of staff earned over $670,000. Although he earns a salary high in the six figures, the provost, ostensibly in charge of the university’s academic mission, did not rank even in the top 10 earners at the university.
Like I said, not chump change, and an interlocking series of boards of directors/trustees so that it's all one big game of, "You scratch my back, and I scratch yours."

It's self dealing and corruption:
All told, the compensation of the 28 key employees reported to the IRS in 2018 amounted to over $29 million. That sum alone exceeds by nearly 50 percent the costs of the pay raises the university would have granted this year to all of its employees.
And note that this does not including the direct reports to those "Key Employees".

Like said, not chump change.

Then there is the issue of deferred compensation for top executives. According to the university’s latest audit, total liabilities related to deferred compensation amounted to over $130 million — or $30 million more than the institution will save by suspending contributions to its thousands of employee retirement accounts this year.


Alas, we now learn that Johns Hopkins’s managers failed to position the institution to weather unanticipated disruptions in its revenue streams.
And if there is ANY sort of expertise that MBA types should bring to their management positions, it's basic finance and accounting.

I guess that makes me naive.

If a president and his leadership team have one principal responsibility, it is to ensure that the university is on sound enough financial footing to weather unanticipated crises. Ours have not.

By the way, not everyone was unprepared. Dozens of scholars right here at Johns Hopkins have spent years studying and preparing for events like the ones we are now experiencing. So good are these people at their jobs, millions of people today turn to them for data and guidance about how to navigate the pandemic. The Johns Hopkins Hospital has had an Office of Critical Event Preparedness and Response for nearly 20 years.


The university set virtually nothing aside in anticipation of these or any other risks. Instead, the leadership began recklessly expensive building projects, including the purchase of a $372.5-million building in Washington, D.C., — a white elephant that had already brought a large foundation to the brink of collapse.
And I f%$#ing guarantee you that someone in the university president's cabinet or the board of trustees personally benefited from both of these decisions.
Perhaps that is to be expected: university leaders, like their corporate counterparts, are rewarded for their splashy acquisitions and grandiose construction projects, not for cautious stewardship. In this short-term thinking, university executives resemble the airline executives who spent years buying back their own company’s stock only to find they had no cash on hand when a crisis arrived. People are told to set aside money to cover six months of expenses in case of emergency. It took just one month for Johns Hopkins to launch its dramatic cuts.

What about that $6-billion endowment? "Unfortunately, we cannot rely on our endowment or philanthropic support to fill the breach," Daniels wrote in his announcement. Much of it is held in illiquid investments. But exceptional times call for exceptional actions. Is it really better to fund current deficits with employee retirement accounts than to damage the university’s credit rating with further borrowing? Do those in a position of power even bother asking what the purpose of an endowment is? Shouldn’t it serve as a bulwark of financial stability? Or did that idea disappear with the gradual accumulation of financiers on university boards and in senior management?
I would note that even if these investments are unbelievably illiquid, they could still be used as collateral for a loan to make sure that there was sufficient cash on hand, and since interest rates are so low that many businesses are moving from shorter term loans to longer term loans to lock in those rates, it would also make sense from a finance or accounting perspective.

They are f%$#ing their workers instead because they think that real managers screw their employees, as opposed to doing their damn jobs.
Today, university endowments all too often function like giant casinos, putting more than 75 percent of their capital in risky and illiquid assets. Some wealthy universities pay far more in fees to investment managers than they do in scholarships to students. We’ve entered a world where, instead of having an endowment to support a university, the university serves as a tax shelter for the endowment.

Johns Hopkins does not publicly reveal its investments. Available IRS filings do, however, show that over nine years it paid more than $88 million in fees to an investment firm whose founder formerly served as chair of the university’s board. Quite possibly, our endowment pays out more to its investment managers than our university contibutes, annually, to employee retirement accounts. Was there ever much doubt which would be cut in a crisis?
Again, self-dealing and corruption.

The problem is not, as the writer suggests, a narrow set of decision makers who don't understand the mission of a university.

The problem is control fraud.  These executives are acting in their own personal interest, and not that of the organization, and it's not only tolerated, but considered normative behavior.

H/T Atrios.

I Expect the Supreme Court to Reverse

A judge for the United States District Court for the Northern District of Florida has ruled that the Florida law requiring that all fines and legal fees be paid off before regaining voting rights is an illegal poll tax.

Of course, it is, that was the explicit intent of Republicans when they voted to gut the constitutional amendment passed by Florida voters.

I'm pretty sure that the Supreme Court is going to reverse when it gets there, because 5 of the 9 are partisan Federalist Society hacks who thinks that it's fine to use pretty much any pretext to prevent n*****s from voting:
A law in Florida requiring felons to pay legal fees as part of their sentences before regaining the vote is unconstitutional for those unable to pay, or unable to find out how much they owe, a federal judge has ruled.

The 125-page ruling, issued by US district court Judge Robert Hinkle in Tallahassee on Sunday, involves a state law to implement a 2016 ballot measure approved by voters to automatically restore the right to vote for many felons who have completed their sentence.

The Republican-led legislature stipulated that fines and legal fees must be paid as part of the sentence, in addition to serving any prison time.

Hinkle has acknowledged he is unlikely to have the last word in the case, expecting the administration of Republican governor Ron DeSantis to launch an appeal.


The judge called the Florida rules a “pay-to-vote system” that were unconstitutional when applied to felons who were otherwise eligible to vote but genuinely unable to pay the required amount.

A further complication was how to set the exact amount in fines and other kinds of legal fees owed by felons seeking the vote. Hinkle said it was unconstitutional to bar any voter whose amount owed “could not be determined with diligence”.

Hinkle ordered the state to require election officials to allow felons to request an advisory opinion on how much they owe, essentially placing the burden on election officials to seek that information from court systems. If there was no response within three weeks, then the applicant should not be barred from registering to vote, the ruling said.

Hinkle said the requirement to pay fines and restitution as ordered in a sentence is constitutional for those who are able to pay if the amount can be determined.
This is a good decision, and it is the right decision, but I do not believe that a profoundly corrupt Supreme Court will support it.

Of Course They Are

Republicans are looking to use the next Covid-19 stimulus to gut Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid:
A proposal by Sen. Mitt Romney to establish congressional committees with the specific goal of crafting legislative "solutions" for America's federal trust fund programs has reportedly resurfaced in GOP talks over the next Covid-19 stimulus package, sparking alarm among progressive advocates who warn the Utah Republican's bill is nothing but a stealth attack on Social Security and Medicare.

Politico's Burgess Everett reported Wednesday that Romney's TRUST Act, first introduced last October with the backing of a bipartisan group of senators, "is getting a positive reception from Senate Republicans" in coronavirus relief discussions, which are still in their early stages. The legislation, Everett noted, "could become part of the mix" for the next Covid-19 stimulus as Republicans once again claim to be concerned about the growing budget deficit.

Max Richtman, president and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM), told Common Dreams in an interview that he is not at all surprised to see Romney's bill crop up again and said it should be diligently opposed.


"Social Security is the piggy bank that Republicans seem to go to whenever it dawns on them that we've gotta do something about the debt," Richtman said, "notwithstanding the fact that they passed a huge tax cut that added trillions to the debt and benefited mostly wealthy individuals and corporations."


Richtman warned that in the near future the public is likely "going to start hearing more and more" GOP proposals to cut Social Security under the guise of "entitlement reform" as the party suddenly rediscovers its concern for the mounting deficit.

"Obviously this is a way to push in cuts to Social Security and Medicare without leaving fingerprints, or not many fingerprints," Richtman said of the TRUST Act.


Alex Lawson, executive director of Social Security Works, said in an emailed statement to Common Dreams that "at a time when current Republican policy is to let seniors die of Covid-19 by the tens of thousands without lifting a finger to help, it is beyond shameful that Mitt Romney's focus is to rob those same older Americans of their earned Social Security and Medicare benefits."

"Romney's TRUST Act would create a fast-track, closed door commission to cut Social Security and Medicare," Lawson said. "If Republicans cared about the American people, especially seniors, they'd be passing legislation to get PPE to essential workers, help the unemployed, and rush assistance to the nursing homes that are turning into death traps."

"Instead," Lawson added, "they are focused on using this pandemic as an excuse to gut our most popular and effective government programs."

This is my Shocked Face
I am completely unsurprised that Republicans are using a national emergency to attempt to destroy Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

After all, this is pretty much what they do every time that they are confronted with an emergency and a must pass bill.

Republicans may be an unalloyed evil, but they own it.

24 May 2020

The Perverse Incentives of Big Pharma

It turns out that, in addition to remdesivir, Gilead has a drug with is less toxic, probably more effective, and easier to make, but they are refusing to test it because it has less life on its patent.

Once again, we see how rent-seeking through patents is the problem, and not the solution for developing new drugs.

Here is the money quote on all of this to my mind, "The attractive profile of GS-441524 from both manufacturing and clinical perspectives raises this question: Why hasn’t Gilead opted to advance this compound to the clinic? We would be remiss for not mentioning patents, and thus profits. The first patent on GS-441524 was issued in 2009, while the first patent for remdesivir was issued in 2017."

Gilead has a long history of sacrificing the public health to the altar of profits, so this should be no surprise.

As for the potential of GS-441524, there is significant evidence that it is at least as good, if notbetter than, remdesivir:
In the midst of a pandemic like Covid-19, for which there are no FDA-approved drug treatments, hope is important. That’s one reason why remdesivir, an antiviral drug that Gilead Sciences originally made to fight Ebola, has been propelled into the spotlight with the hope that it can stop, or at least curtail, the ravages of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19.


As chemists, we are troubled by the challenges to mass producing remdesivir. We aren’t alone. On the day that results from the two trials emerged, Gilead CEO Daniel O’Day praised the chemists behind the drug, saying he is “proud of the team because this is a complicated chemical process. It takes many, many steps.”

But does it really have to be that complicated? O’Day’s admission is interesting given that Gilead has another compound in its pipeline that is easier to make, has been shown to be effective against coronavirus in animal models, and is potentially as effective as remdesivir, if not more so.


Some background: Remdesivir works by interfering with the cellular machinery that allows viruses to replicate inside a human host. It is a pro-drug, meaning it must be metabolized and undergo a sequence of five bioactivation steps before it becomes GS-441524 triphosphate, the active compound that impedes viral replication.

Remdesivir isn’t Gilead’s only antiviral nucleoside analogue. The company has also developed GS-441524, another pro-drug that, as its name suggests, the body also converts into GS-441524 triphosphate, but in just in three steps. GS-441524 is easier to synthesize than remdesivir, requiring three steps instead of the seven needed for remdesivir.

Researchers initially thought that remdesivir would be activated more quickly than GS-441524 in human cells infected with the SARS and MERS coronaviruses. Yet data from primary human airway epithelial cells — one of the most clinically relevant cell-based models of the human lung — showed no statistically significant difference in potency between the two compounds. These data align with previous reports on the similar effectiveness of remdesivir and GS-441524 in coronavirus-infected cat cells. When GS-441524 was used to treat cats with feline infectious peritonitis, a progressive and usually fatal disease caused by a coronavirus, it displayed remarkable safety and therapeutic efficacy, with 96% of cats recovering after treatment.


Data in cats and primates have pointed to GS-441524’s safety. In the study using GS-441524 to treat feline coronavirus, the researchers noted its “impressive” safety profile when administered at high doses, and reported that no systemic signs of toxicity were observed over 12 to 30 weeks of treatment. In primates, GS-441524 was found to be present at high concentrations in the blood (1,000-times higher than remdesivir) with no apparent adverse effects.


When viewed through a different lens, the initial results from the NIAID-sponsored trial are more encouraging than they would seem. The active agent, GS-441524 triphosphate, clearly exerts antiviral activity against SARS-CoV-2 in humans, as supported by the accelerated recovery rates in advanced Covid-19 patients enrolled in the trial. Our analysis of preclinical and clinical trial data strongly suggests that early and direct administration of GS-441524 should be considered as a synthetically simpler and potentially more effective alternative to remdesivir, especially as GS-441524’s remarkable safety would enable higher dosing.

About F%$#ing Time

Green and progress members of the French National Assembly have left Emmanuel Macron's party, meaning that his party no longer has a majority.

Considering the fact that Macron has spent his time crapping on the poor and the environment to further pursue the agenda of the wealthy and powerful, the only question is, "What took them so long?"
French president Emmanuel Macron’s ruling party lost its parliamentary majority on Tuesday when 17 left-leaning, environmentalist and feminist dissidents set up a new political group in the National Assembly.

Paula Forteza, co-chair of Ecologie Démocratie Solidarité (EDS), said the new group’s proposals included a temporary wealth tax to help the country through the coronavirus crisis and universal income payments to everybody over 18 years old.

“We are at a historic turning point,” she told a news conference by video. “We want this exit from the crisis to be marked by environmental and social justice, not by a purely economic or short-termist plan.”

The split leaves Mr Macron’s liberal La République en Marche (LREM) with 288 seats in the National Assembly, one short of an absolute majority. But it does not so far threaten the government’s ability to legislate, because the ruling party can still rely on the support of 46 members of parliament from François Bayrou’s centrist Modem party.


Since then, however, some environmentalists and former Socialists in LREM have become disenchanted with Mr Macron’s economic reforms. These include the abolition of the country’s wealth tax and a contentious plan to simplify the pension system that has since been put on hold, and with what they see as his failure to champion green causes with sufficient vigour. They fear they will be punished by voters in the next round of national elections in 2022.


A 15-point manifesto released by EDS lays out a range of green and leftwing demands, including a €5bn transfer of funds over three years to local authorities for ecological and social projects, the protection of animal rights, compulsory paternity leave and the “reshoring” of industries in France and Europe.
Macron used the rhetoric of unity to serve the interests of the wealthy and powerful, which is par for the course for every "3rd Way".

I'm surprised that it's finally catching up with him.

The Most Karen Thing Ever

Have you heard about "No Evil Foods"? They are a vegan meat company that claims to be socialists, and they are waging a scorched earth campaign against its workers joining a union.

This so typical of the faux socialist bougie types.

Socialism for thee, not not for me:
Earlier this year, the company No Evil Foods, which sells a variety of socialist-themed vegan meats, fought a union drive at its Weaverville, North Carolina plant that included numerous “captive audience” meetings where management told workers to vote against a union.

Motherboard obtained a 23-minute video of No Evil Food’s CEO and co-founder Mike Woliansky repeatedly imploring workers to vote “no” in the union election, and telling workers that a union could hamper the company’s ability to “save lives” and “change the world.”

In his speech, Woliansky compared joining the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union, which represents tens of thousands of meatpacking workers in the US, to “hitching your wagon to a huge organization with high paid executives and a history of scandal and supporting slaughterhouses,” he said. “I don’t think that’s an organization you want to support with your dues money."

No Evil Foods brands itself with a socialist messaging and sells $8 packages of vegan products with leftist names like "Comrade Cluck" (a chicken substitute seasoned with garlic and onion), and "El Zapatista" (a mock chorizo), a reference to Mexico’s anti-capitalist indigenous movement. It sells its product at 5,500 stores nationwide, and, in online listings for jobs in its Weaverville production facility, the company says, “we do good no evil. We care about doing good through the products we make.”

In recent weeks, the company fired several workers who led the union drive at its manufacturing plant (known as “the Axis”), according to a report in the Appeal. Four employees told Motherboard that the company has fired five workers active in labor organizing since April.


“Just when we filed for our election, they ramped up their [anti-union] meetings,” a former No Evil Foods worker who quit in March told Motherboard. “They told us we’d have to negotiate with shareholders instead of them and made emotional appeals to us like ‘we have our house in this.’ Hey, I would love to be able to afford a house that I’d be able to risk to start a business.”


The hypocrisy of capitalizing on socialist messaging while using anti-union speeches to defeat a union drive was not lost on workers.

“We are not a bunch of whiny kids who would complain at any job,” a former no No Evil Foods worker who was fired in May, told Motherboard. “Personally I wouldn’t be speaking out to the media if this was a company that didn't use socialism for its marketing. It's the fact these people are liars.”

“In my first few months, I thought this company was great. The $13.65 I made was the highest I’d ever been paid in my life,” a former No Evil Foods worker who was involved in the union drive and quit in March, told Motherboard. “But then they started making changes that impacted people with second jobs, and their response was just so starkly like ‘we don’t give a shit.’ I realized that their socialist messaging is all branding and tricking the consumer into making them feel like they have a consciousness.”
I am sure that the Wolianskys think that they are actually progressive in some meaningful way, it's just that they rationalize that anything that might inconvenience them is a bridge too far.


23 May 2020

The Incredible Shrinking Warren

After a Presidential campaign that was largely done in by her prevarications on Medicare for All, Elizabeth Warren is walking back her support for Medicare for All even more in an attempt to convince Biden to select her as his VP pick.

I've never been a fan of the snake posters on Twitter, but it's increasingly obvious that Warren has decided that her own integrity is a reasonable sacrifice to the altar of her Presidential ambitions, even while the snake posting was dumb politically, it was accurate:
In the thick of primary season, Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden brawled over "Medicare for All”: He called her approach “angry,” “elitist,” “condescending”; she shot back, anyone who defends the health care status quo with industry talking points is “running in the wrong presidential primary.”

Six months later, with Biden the presumptive Democratic nominee and Warren in the running for VP, she is striking a more harmonious chord.


The shift is the latest public signal Warren has sent Biden's way in recent weeks that she wants the job of vice president — and wants Biden to see her as a loyal governing partner despite their past clashes, which go back decades.

Warren’s policy-centered, team-player pitch is counting on Biden caring more about Jan. 20 than Nov. 3, when he makes his vice presidential pick. In other words, that the current crisis has elevated governing concerns above political ones — and that the times call for someone with her policy chops and, yes, plans.


Warren is trying to demonstrate her value to a future Biden administration and interest in the job without too explicitly campaigning for it, which could backfire. The Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a top Warren booster, has been muted on the idea of her being chosen as vice president, instead trying to draw attention to her legislative and policy work surrounding the coronavirus.


Still, Warren’s governing-partner pitch is complicated by her differences on policy with Biden over the years, particularly on domestic economic issues. Her willingness to bash fellow Democrats made some Obama administration officials feel that she was self-servingly sanctimonious.
Some context clear here, when some administration officials said that Warren was, "self-servingly sanctimonious," they really mean that the don't like women who are insufficiently deferential to men.

There is a reason that Christine Romer was quoted as saying, "I remember once I told Valerie [Jarrett] that, I said if it weren’t for the President,* this place would be in court for a hostile workplace."
Warren's answer on Medicare for All this week, however, is a possible sign of her willingness to align herself with Biden’s positions. Biden has shown a similar flexibility by embracing Warren's bankruptcy reforms, the subject of many of their clashes in the early 2000s. Biden and his campaign have also shown a new openness to big, progressive proposals to revive the economy.


People close to Biden say that politics and governing will both be factors in his VP decision but that the media coverage overanalyzes how a pick might affect the outcome in one swing state or another, as opposed to his own priorities.


"While people are always gaming out all the angles on who they think can best help the candidate win, I find they tend to underestimate the degree that someone who has been in the White House for eight years and held the job [himself] is going to be thinking about" the decision, he said in an interview.


Taking no chances, Warren has been trying to showcase her potential political upside. She deployed her robust email list to raise money for Biden after she formally endorsed him. “I never had as many [contributors] until she endorsed me,” Biden said in a joint donor call with Warren that the campaign posted online Sunday.
She is not going to get the nod, and she will have sold her soul for some not particularly magical beans.

* As the old saying goes, "A fish rots from the head."

And the Billionaire Sociopath Not Named Zuckerberg or Bezos Strikes Again

It turns out that the least safe automotive factory in America, Tesla, is once again putting its employees at risk, this time by ignoring Covid-19 precautions.

This is not a surprise.  Elon Musk is a sociopath.
SF Weekly, the Bay Area’s muckraking newspaper, today published an exposé about poor health and work conditions at Tesla’s Fremont plant. One Tesla factory worker said, “This is a life and death situation.” Another worker, who refused to return to work, said, “It’s a modern-day sweatshop.” Unfortunately, we’ve heard similarly harsh words from Tesla non-unionized employees, who helped build the company into a major success.

Carlos Gabriel, the worker who refused to return because social distancing is not being observed, said:

There’s really no room, and this is a factory with recycled air. You’re basically just breathing on each other.

In March, another employee who also wanted to remain anonymous informed Electrek about conditions at the plant when it was formally shut down.
I arrived at work this morning. We are still running full production. Does not look like they cut down on the workforce. They give us a mask and take our temperature when we walk in. They are not practicing safe social distance.

Tesla continues to call more employees back to work. Nonetheless, the company warns that employees who don’t come back to work might lose unemployment benefits.

A set of site-specific pandemic safety guidelines were created on May 12 via meetings between Alameda county and Tesla officials. The guidelines called for changes to the breakroom, temperature screenings, and having employees dispersed throughout the plant.


However, SF Weekly reports that workers say the measures outlined in the HR memo and Return to Work playbook are “not being implemented consistently on the Fremont factory floor, where plant management is still fumbling to establish safety guidelines on the fly.”


However, SF Weekly reports that workers say the measures outlined in the HR memo and Return to Work playbook are “not being implemented consistently on the Fremont factory floor, where plant management is still fumbling to establish safety guidelines on the fly.”

This Is a Definition of a COVID-19 Hero That I Was Previously Unaware Of

We already know that Andrew "Rat Faced Andy" Cuomo waited to long to respond to the pandemic, and now we learn that he dumped over four thousand virus positive patients on nursing homes throughout the state.

He figured out of sight, out of mind, I guess.

Not so much:
More than 4,500 recovering coronavirus patients were sent to New York’s already vulnerable nursing homes under a controversial state directive that was ultimately scrapped amid criticisms it was accelerating the nation’s deadliest outbreaks, according to a count by The Associated Press.

AP compiled its own tally to find out how many COVID-19 patients were discharged from hospitals to nursing homes under the March 25 directive after New York’s Health Department declined to release its internal survey conducted two weeks ago. It says it is still verifying data that was incomplete.

Whatever the full number, nursing home administrators, residents’ advocates and relatives say it has added up to a big and indefensible problem for facilities that even Gov. Andrew Cuomo — the main proponent of the policy — called “the optimum feeding ground for this virus.”

“It was the single dumbest decision anyone could make if they wanted to kill people,” Daniel Arbeeny said of the directive, which prompted him to pull his 88-year-old father out of a Brooklyn nursing home where more than 50 people have died. His father later died of COVID-19 at home.

Cuomo, a Democrat, on May 10 reversed the directive, which had been intended to help free up hospital beds for the sickest patients as cases surged. But he continued to defend it this week, saying he didn’t believe it contributed to the more than 5,800 nursing and adult care facility deaths in New York — more than in any other state — and that homes should have spoken up if it was a problem.

“Any nursing home could just say, ‘I can’t handle a COVID person in my facility,’” he said, although the March 25 order didn’t specify how homes could refuse, saying that ”no resident shall be denied re-admission or admission to the (nursing home) solely based” on confirmed or suspected COVID-19.
This is all a part and parcel of Cuomo trying to cut doctors and hospitals from the Medicaid program, literally to the point of his turning down billions of dollars in federal aid because it would not allow him to hurt poor people.

One of the ways that Cuomo is planning to cut Medicaid is by cutting hospital beds.

If his administration did not force infectious patients back into nursing homes, then it would appear that there was a shortage, and not a surfeit of beds, and so the budget could not be gutted.

22 May 2020

Snark of the Day

Space Force Graduating Class Suffocates after Tossing Helmets
Duffel Blog
Finally, a satirical news story where I did not have to confirm that it was actually satire.

A Return to Normalcy

Mass shootings are back.

First, a mass shooting in Glendale, Arizona, and then another at Naval Air Station Corpus Christi.

It's like flowers blooming in the spring.

If you find this reassuring, then you are a psychopath.


Trump has withdrawn from the Open Skies Treaty, which allowed a number of countries, most notably the US and Russia, conduct unarmed surveillance flights over each other's territory.

This is a truly stupid move, but it fits with the philosophy of many within the US foreign policy establishment, particularly on the right, that any agreement that is truly reciprocal is not for the US:
President Trump has decided to withdraw from another major arms control accord, he and other officials said Thursday, and will inform Russia that the United States is pulling out of the Open Skies Treaty, negotiated three decades ago to allow nations to fly over each other’s territory with elaborate sensor equipment to assure that they are not preparing for military action.

Mr. Trump’s decision may be viewed as more evidence that he is preparing to exit the one major arms treaty remaining with Russia: New START, which limits the United States and Russia to 1,550 deployed nuclear missiles [The reporter got this wrong, the limit is nuclear warheads, and not nuclear missiles] each. It expires in February, weeks after the next presidential inauguration, and Mr. Trump has insisted that China must join what is now a U.S.-Russia limit on nuclear arsenals.
Considering the fact that France has more deployed nukes than China, and the UK probably has more deployed nukes than China,  I would expect that this is not going to viewed with any enthusiasm by the civilian and military leadership of the People's Republic.
Mr. Trump’s decision, rumored for some time, is bound to further aggravate European allies, including those in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, who are also signatories to the treaty.

They are likely to remain in the accord, which has nearly three dozen signatories, but have warned that with Washington’s exit, Russia will almost certainly respond by also cutting off their flights, which the allies use to monitor troop movements on their borders — especially important to the Baltic nations.
Russia can literally do nothing but complain if they see something in the US, if European nations see a troubling mobilization on their borders, they can take immediate countermeasures.

You tell me who loses more from this.


Yet More Evidence that Natural Gas is Worse than Coal

It's not the carbon per unit of energy, where natural gas excels, but in the leaks from wells and pipes, where the methane has 84 times the anthropogenic climate change impact of CO2 in the decades following release.

The leaks are so bad in some places that it is killing trees in cities:
Natural gas leaks from underground pipelines are killing trees in densely populated urban environments, a new study suggests, adding to concerns over such leaks fueling climate change and explosion hazards.

The study, which took place in Chelsea, Massachusetts, a low-income immigrant community near Boston, also highlights the many interrelated environmental challenges in a city that faces high levels of air pollution, soaring summer temperatures and is now beset by one of the highest coronavirus infection rates in the nation.

Dead or dying trees were 30 times more likely to have been exposed to methane in the soil surrounding their roots than healthy trees, according to the study published last month in the journal Environmental Pollution.

"I was pretty blown away by that result," said Madeleine Scammell, an environmental health professor at Boston University's School of Public Health who co-authored the study. "If these trees were humans, we would be talking about what to do to stop this immediately."

The study measured soil concentrations of methane and oxygen at four points around the trunks of 84 dead or dying trees and 97 healthy trees. For trees that had elevated levels of methane in the surrounding soil, the highest concentrations were found in the dirt between the tree and the street, suggesting that the gas had leaked from natural gas pipelines, which are typically buried beneath roadways.


Stephen Leahy of the Northeast Gas Association, a natural gas utility group, said he had not reviewed the current study in detail but noted that "there are multiple factors that could be involved in tree damage, from disease to age to road traffic to methane."

Methane, the primary component of natural gas, is approximately 84 times more potent in warming the atmosphere than carbon dioxide over a 20 year period, making plugging even small gas leaks important when trying to tackle climate change.

A recent study found so much methane escaping or intentionally vented from wells in the Permian basin of Texas and New Mexico that the climate impact associated with burning natural gas from the region was likely greater, over a 20-year period, than burning coal.
Gas, and particularly fracked gas replacing coal is not a bridge fuel, it's toxic waste.

21 May 2020

When Ajit Pai Seizes the Moral High Ground………

Of course, when your competition is Elon Musk, it's a low bar to clear.

Pai just called out Musk's play for government subsidies by labeling his Starlink satellite network high latency:
The Federal Communications Commission is not convinced that SpaceX's Starlink broadband network will be able to deliver the low latencies promised by CEO Elon Musk. As a result, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai is proposing limits on SpaceX's ability to apply for funding from a $16 billion rural-broadband program.

While traditional satellite broadband generally suffers from latency of about 600ms, Musk says that Starlink will offer "latency below 20 milliseconds, so somebody could play a fast-response video game at a competitive level."

Everyone expects Starlink to offer much lower latency than traditional satellites because SpaceX satellites are being launched in low Earth orbits ranging from 540km to 570km. By contrast, geostationary satellites used for broadband orbit at about 35,000km.

"SpaceX claims that because its low-Earth orbit satellite system operates at 'an altitude of 550 kilometers,' it can deliver roundtrip latency at less than 50ms," according to a public draft of Pai's proposed rules for the $16 billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund distribution. But the FCC plans to classify SpaceX and all other satellite operators as high-latency providers for purposes of the funding distribution, saying the providers haven't proven they can deliver low-latency broadband.


SpaceX and other satellite operators are also being ruled ineligible for a gigabit tier. Both the latency and gigabit decisions would put SpaceX at a disadvantage. As Pai said in an announcement, his plan "prioritizes bids offering to provide even faster speeds (up to a gigabit) and lower latency by giving those bids greater weight in the auction and awarding support to the bidder offering the best combination of speed and latency in each area."
SpaceX has made demonstrations, but they are breadboards conducted under optimum conditions.

Once Starlink is in service, and is serving customers in the real world, that decision can be revisited, but my guess is that the claims of high bandwidth and low latency will be as much of an illusion as Tesla's claims of self driving cars being just around the corner.