31 October 2021

No Blogging Tonight

The real world has gotten in the way


30 October 2021

The Sh%$ Gets Real

In response to revelations and law-suits, Facebook has ordered its Evil Minions to preserve documents back to 2016.  It's pretty clear that they would not have done this if they did not absolutely have to.

It also means that the potential regulatory and legal action against the social media giant is rather more serious than I have previously been aware of:

Facebook sent out a companywide notice on Tuesday ordering employees to preserve documents and communications dating back to 2016 in response to legal inquiries from around the world, according to internal documents obtained by The Washington Post.

The social media giant is battling a flood of media coverage following revelations about how much it knew about the social harm it causes, after a whistleblower came forward with tens of thousands of documents. The Facebook Papers show how researchers knew that the platform caused polarization in numerous countries, led people down misinformation rabbit holes, failed to stop a violent network that led to the January 6 insurrection, and had negative impacts on the mental health of young people.

“As you’re probably aware, we’re currently the focus of extensive media coverage based on a swatch of internal documents,” read the internal memo. “As is often the case following this kind of reporting a number of inquiries from governments and legislative bodies have been launched into the company’s operations. To comply with these inquiries, we need to preserve documents and communications since 2016 — this is known as a “Legal Hold.”

The memo suggests that the whistleblower’s allegations are having wide-ranging effects, as governments around the world take notice of the documents and begin to pursue potential action as a result. It also shows that the company is on high-alert over the ongoing fallout from the revelations.

………

The company recently said it was also limiting access among rank-and-file employees to Workplace discussions among teams that tackle topics such as platform safety and integrity, according to people familiar with the edict and news reports.

Facebook is in full CYA mode, and they are not happy campers.

They are also trying to limit employees access to internal documents to forestall future whistleblowers, but I think (hope) that they are closing the barn door after the cow has left.

We Now Have a First Person Account

Majid Khan, who graduated from Owings Mills High School just down the road from me, went to work for al Qaeda, was captured by the CIA, and tortured, and now at his sentencing hearing, he has revealed in chilling detail his barbaric and cruel treatment at the hands of the US State Security Apparatus.

He has given this statement at his sentencing hearing, and even though the authorities have limited some of the details, this has been something that the government has actively tried to suppress for much of the of his confinement, largely as a part of Barack Obama's whole, "Look forward, not back," bullsh%$.

We really need to hold those who did this accountable, and we need to hold those who prevented accountability accountable as well:

A suburban Baltimore high school graduate turned Al Qaeda courier, speaking to a military jury for the first time, gave a detailed account this week of the brutal forced feedings, crude waterboarding and other physical and sexual abuse he endured during his 2003 to 2006 detention in the C.I.A.’s overseas prison network.

Appearing in open court, Majid Khan, 41, became the first former prisoner of the black sites to openly describe, anywhere, the violent and cruel “enhanced interrogation techniques” that agents used to extract information and confessions from terrorism suspects.

He spoke about dungeonlike conditions, humiliating stretches of nudity with only a hood on his head, sometimes while his arms were chained in ways that made sleep impossible, and being intentionally nearly drowned in icy cold water in tubs at two sites, once while a C.I.A. interrogator counted down from 10 before water was poured into his nose and mouth.

Soon after his capture in Pakistan in March 2003, Mr. Khan said, he cooperated with his captors, telling them everything he knew, with the hope of release. “Instead, the more I cooperated, the more I was tortured,” he said.

So, like other victims of torture, he said he manufactured tales that his captors wanted to hear: “I lied just to make the abuse stop.”

Mr. Khan offered the dark accounting Thursday evening to a jury of eight U.S. military officers who on Friday deliberated for less than three hours and sentenced him to 26 years in prison, starting from his guilty plea in February 2012.

………

In court on Thursday, Mr. Khan read from a carefully worded 39-page account that did not identify C.I.A. agents or the countries and foreign intelligence agencies that had a role in his secret detention at black sites — information that is protected at the national security court. He expressed remorse for hurting people through his embrace of radical Islam and Al Qaeda, but also found a way around a labyrinth of U.S. intelligence classifications to realize a decade-long ambition to tell the world what U.S. agents had done to him.

The remaining details are at the article, and they are painful to read.

Imagine how painful they were for him to be subject to this barbarity.

None of the people who did this will ever face criminal charges for what they did, and in fact have been promoted and profited from their behavior.  This is an abomination.

29 October 2021

Maybe It’s Time to Fire People for Incompetence

To be fair, the reason that all four major US intelligence agencies f%$#ed up the collapse of Afghanistan might have been corruption, rather than incompetence, their agencies and the former members of their agencies, were getting not-inconsiderable remuneration as a result.

In either case, these blokes should be fired ………out of a cannon and into the sun:

Leading U.S. intelligence agencies failed to predict the rapid Taliban takeover of Afghanistan prior to the final withdrawal of American troops and instead offered scattershot assessments of the staying power of the Afghan military and government, a review of wide-ranging summaries of classified material by The Wall Street Journal shows.

The nearly two dozen intelligence assessments from four different agencies haven’t been previously reported. The assessments charted Taliban advances from spring 2020 through this July, forecasting that the group would continue to gain ground and that the U.S.-backed government in Kabul was unlikely to survive absent U.S. support.

The analyses, however, differed over how long the Afghan government and military could hold on, the summaries show, with none foreseeing the group’s lightning sweep into the Afghan capital by Aug. 15 while U.S. forces remained on the ground.

………

Representatives of the CIA, the DIA, the State Department and the Office of Director of National Intelligence, which coordinates all U.S. intelligence agencies, declined to comment.

………

Bill Roggio, a senior fellow who follows Afghanistan at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a hawkish think tank in Washington, said intelligence agencies and policy makers bear responsibility for being blindsided by the Taliban’s swift battlefield success.

Mr. Roggio said individual analysts at several agencies he was in touch with foresaw a rapid Taliban takeover, “and for whatever reason that didn’t make it to the top.”

This is why we need to fire or sideline people at the most senior levels with responsibility in this area.

It's either incompetence through groupthink, or corruption through groupthink, and the only way to fix that is to break up the whole dysfunctional group, and make sure that they don't go onto lucrative consulting gigs in the private sector.

Gee, Corruption Much?

It turns out that a minute after he got off the phone with North Carolina Senator Richard Burr, brother-in-law Gerald Fauth picked up the phone and called his stockbroker.

It's nice that Burr and his BIL are family to the degree that they crime together:

After Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina dumped more than $1.6 million in stocks in February 2020 a week before the coronavirus market crash, he called his brother-in-law, according to a new Securities and Exchange Commission filing.

They talked for 50 seconds.

Burr, according to the SEC, had material nonpublic information regarding the incoming economic impact of coronavirus.

The very next minute, Burr’s brother-in-law, Gerald Fauth, called his broker.

ProPublica previously reported that Fauth, a member of the National Mediation Board, had dumped stock the same day Burr did. But it was previously unknown that Burr and Fauth spoke that day, and that their contact came just before Fauth began the process of dumping stock himself.

The revelations come as part of an effort by the SEC to force Fauth to comply with a subpoena that the agency said he has stonewalled for more than a year, and which was filed not long after ProPublica’s story.

In the filings, the SEC also revealed that there is an ongoing insider trading investigation into both Burr and Fauth’s trades.

………

Burr came under scrutiny after ProPublica reported that he sold off a significant percentage of his stocks shortly before the market tanked, unloading between $628,000 and $1.72 million of his holdings on Feb. 13 in 33 separate transactions. The precise amount of his stock sales, more than $1.6 million, is also a new detail from this week’s SEC filings. In his roles on the intelligence and health committees, Burr had access to the government’s most highly classified information about threats to America’s security and public health concerns.

Before his sell-off, Burr had assured the public that the federal government was well prepared to handle the virus. In a Feb. 7 op-ed that he co-authored with another senator, he said “the United States today is better prepared than ever before to face emerging public health threats, like the coronavirus.”

That month, however, according to a recording obtained by NPR, Burr had given a VIP group at an exclusive social club a much more dire preview of the economic impact of the coronavirus, warning it could curtail business travel, cause schools to be closed and result in the military mobilizing to compensate for overwhelmed hospitals.

The interesting thing here is that while Fauth might be subject to prosecution over this, members of Congress have never been prosecuted over trading on insider information that they acquire as a part of their Congressional duties, so the SEC going after Burr is Terra Incognita, unless, of course, Fauth rolls on Burr.

 

About F%$#ing Time

The reason that PayPal was a success, and parasites like Peter Thiel and Elon Musk became fabulously wealthy, was not because they used computers and the internet in innovative and new ways, PayPal's technology has been created many times before the company was founded.

Their innovation was to use computers and the internet as an EXCUSE not to follow rules and regulations set up for consumer banking that had been established in the century or so prior to their founding.

Well, the new head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has made it clear, if tech gets into payments, it will have to follow the same rules as banks.  "Because Internet," simply does not cut it:

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Rohit Chopra is laying the groundwork for regulatory oversight of the largest technology companies as the agency crafts rules around consumer choice and control over financial data, observers said.

………

The information request was seen as a sign by many that the bureau is gearing up to be tougher on tech giants that expand their financial services offerings, despite complaints by big-tech advocates that the agency is veering outside of its lane.

“A tech company that decides to start engaging in basic financial services like payment processing is right inside of the wheelhouse of the CFPB,” said Chris Peterson, a law professor at the University of Utah's S.J. Quinney College of Law and a former special advisor at the CFPB.


………


The orders demanding the payments-related information from the largest tech companies come as the tech firms are already under massive scrutiny and public pressure in Congress, including the release of the so-called Facebook Papers divulging internal policies of the social media giant that are the subject of investigative stories by The Wall Street Journal and others.

The level of scrutiny means lawmakers from both parties who rarely agree on much may be receptive to Chopra examining the tech giants.

The information request requires the tech firms to submit details on their payments offerings, sale and handling of consumer data, fees, how they respond to consumers' complaints, and more. Chopra is set to testify this week before the House and Senate banking committees.

………

The CFPB already has the authority to regulate, supervise and oversee payment processors through the Electronic Funds Transfer Act.

………

Bankers allege that fintech companies increasingly are offering products and services that traditionally were handled by banks but they are not subject to the same federal supervisory oversight.

This is how the "PayPal Mafia" became the "Paypal Mafia".  Not innovation, nor brains, but regulatory arbitrage.

It's good that they are not getting a pass, because whenever tech gets a pass, particularly the tech giants, they proceed to abuse that advantage.

28 October 2021

It's Jobless Thursday!

For once, the lede is not the initial jobless claims, which are pretty good, but the 3rd quarter GDP numbers, which are not:

The U.S. economy grew at the slowest pace of the recovery in the third quarter, but economists expect strong consumer demand and an easing pandemic to boost growth in the coming months despite lingering supply constraints.

Gross domestic product grew at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 2.0% from July to September, the Commerce Department said Thursday, marking the weakest quarter of growth since the recovery began in mid-2020.

Growth was hit by two big factors: a surge in virus cases due to the highly contagious Delta variant of Covid-19 and deepening supply bottlenecks affecting goods from autos to food. Dynamics that helped GDP grow at a historically fast rate in the first half of this year—government stimulus, widespread business reopenings and rising vaccination rates—also faded.

Initial unemployment claims fell by 10,000 to 281,000 last week.

Kind of a mixed bag.

Evil Socialism

I'm actually serious here, and so is Joe Cortright at City Observatory, who notes that the United States embraces socialism in the form of parking for automobiles, and that this is a bad thing:

Florida Senator Marco Rubio has denounced President Biden’s $3.5 trillion spending program as un-American socialism.  Rubio claims:

In the end, Americans will reject socialism because it fundamentally runs counter to our way of life.

That’s not accurate, of course.  Socialism is well-established in the US, at least for car storage; something that is near and dear, certainly to Republicans.  You think otherwise?  Before you denounce socialism, Senator Rubio, consider this perspective.

Comrades, rejoice:  In the face of the counter-revolutionary neo-liberal onslaught, there’s at least one arena where the people’s inalienable rights reign supreme:  parking.

Fear not, comrade sister: you will not have to search for a parking space in our socialist utopia!

We may not be able to make health care a right or make housing a right, but the one place the revolution has plainly succeeded in usurping the market is in the case of parking.  Every worker’s council (though they may still brand themselves in the pre-revolutionary nomenclature of “city councils” or “townships” or “planning commissions”) has established the right of every citizen to abundant, free parking.

………

Throughout the nation, workers councils city councils have decreed that the people’s right to parking is supreme. No bourgeois developer may build so much as a small shop or an apartment without adequately providing for the needs of the automobiles that may travel to or from these destinations. We may still struggle to require inclusionary zoning for people, but we have long since achieved inclusionary zoning for cars.

………

Take heart comrades: whatever our challenges in other domains, we can proudly tell the masses that we’ve succeeded in establishing a socialist utopia for car storage.  Forward!

I have increasingly come to believe that if you want a livable and walkable city, you need to fully price the cost of parking.

The US fetishization of parking is destroying our cities and our public life.

As in Metastasize

Mark Zuckerberg has announced that Facebook will change its name to "Meta".

I am reminded about what happened when Allegheny Airlines, known as, "Agony Airlines," for the quality of its service, when it changed its name to USAir.

It is rumored that at the press conference announcing the new name, someone coined the nick name, "Useless Air."

Gentlemen, start your engines:

Facebook rose to prominence over the past two decades with some of the world’s most recognizable branding: a big blue-and-white letter F.

No longer. On Thursday, the social networking giant took an unmistakable step toward an overhaul, de-emphasizing Facebook’s name and rebranding itself as Meta. The change was accompanied by a new corporate logo designed like an infinity-shaped symbol that was slightly askew. Facebook and its other apps, such as Instagram and WhatsApp, will remain but under the Meta umbrella.

The move punctuates how Mark Zuckerberg, the chief executive, plans to refocus his Silicon Valley company on what he sees as the next digital frontier, which is the unification of disparate digital worlds into something called the metaverse. At the same time, renaming Facebook may help distance the company from the social networking controversies it is facing, including how it is used to spread hate speech and misinformation.

“I’ve been thinking a lot about our identity” with this new chapter, Mr. Zuckerberg said, speaking at a virtual event on Thursday to showcase Facebook’s technological bets on the future. “Over time, I hope we’re seen as a metaverse company.”

Two thoughts about this:

  • Mark Zuckerberg is batsh%$ insane.
  • This sounds an awful lot like Pete Townshend's abortive dystopian rock opera Lifehouse, and that is not a good thing.

Tweet of the Day


My kids are grown, so they won't fit, but this is perfect for my cats.

27 October 2021

Support Your Local Police

This is the story of a young man who got mugged delivering pizzas.

He reported it to the police, and then the cops called him in to look at mug shots.

None of them resembled the guy who robbed him, and then the cop pressured him to falsely identify one of the photographs, which he refused, and then he filed a complaint with the lieutenant, who spent two hours trying to convince him not to file.

He later talked with his dad, and the man who would later become his father-in-law, who worked for the district attorney's office, and they both gave the same advice, quit his job and sell his car or report it stolen, and then to lay low.

They told him this because they believed that the cops would plant drugs in his car to discredit his report.

He left Chicago forever shortly after this.

Even if no one at the Chicago PD was actually planning to plant drugs in his car, the fact that his dad, and his dad's friend who worked at the DA's office (as an accountant) told him to engage in extreme measures to prevent retaliation under the color of law, says a lot about the profoundly toxic culture of law enforcement, and not just in Chicago.

This is what the thin blue line is, and this is what the thin blue line flag symbolizes.

This is a profoundly dysfunctional and corrupt state of affairs, and it needs to end.

It is corrosive to society.

Stating the Obvious

Over at the Grauniad, Matt Stoller notes that Facebook in general, and Mark Zuckerberg in particular, has been operating as a criminal enterprise for since its founding.

When one looks at the social media giant's history of deception, and Zuckerberg's history of shady dealings with business associates, it does seem that criminality is a part of its core.

That being said, Stoller is right that much of this is more of an indictment of lax enforcement and regulatory capture:

Facebook is having a rough go of it these days, so you might expect the company to be in trouble. For instance, at one Senate judiciary hearing, the Republican senator John Kennedy of Louisiana let Facebook’s Colin Stretch have it.

………

Yet if you don’t recognize this particularly exchange, it’s because it happened more than three years ago, before the whistleblower du jour, Frances Haugen, even joined Facebook. And in the time since that hearing, the company’s stock has doubled.

Indeed, Facebook was born, lives and thrives in scandal. There were scandals before this hearing, such as violations of privacy that led to a Federal Trade Commission consent decree in 2012. There were scandals after this hearing, such as Facebook being exposed as facilitating a genocide in Myanmar. In 2019, the US government fined Facebook $5bn for violating its commitment to the government to stop deceiving its users over their ability to control the privacy of their personal information. In 2020, the House antitrust subcommittee revealed documents showing Mark Zuckerberg as explicitly predatory in his business methods, which were supplemented by the Federal Trade Commission complaint filed earlier this year. And yet, we see almost no action of consequence.

So forgive me, as a longtime critic of Facebook, for not seeing this latest round of bad press – which reveals nothing we don’t already know – as not getting to the heart of the problem.

That problem is simple. Lawlessness pays. We’ve known that Facebook is lawless and reckless for years. And yet despite all the light and heat, Facebook is still a globe-straddling monopoly over our information commons. One man is still in charge of it, making all key policy decisions, and he is worth $100bn and considered an important leader and philanthropist. To put it differently, when a bank robber robs a bank, blame the bank robber. When a bank robber robs 20 banks, and announces where he’s going to steal from next, and does it in broad daylight, repeatedly, and no one stops him, we should be blaming the cops. And that’s where we are with Facebook.

………

And this brings us to the reason we haven’t done anything about Facebook. In order to actually address the problem of dominant market power and conflicts of interest, we the people would have to empower our government to govern. We’d have to pass laws strengthening antitrust enforcement, we’d have to bar corporate conflicts of interest such as a communications firm vertically integrated into an advertising network, and we’d have to restore the rule of law against the powerful when they commit crimes.

Doing so is necessary, and long overdue. And policymakers are moving in that direction. In New York, for instance, state lawmakers are debating an abuse-of-dominance bill that would ramp up antitrust enforcement. At the FTC, enforcers are considering using new regulatory tools to address unfair methods of competition. In Ohio, the attorney general is using public utility law to take on big tech. At some point, hopefully, enforcers will even use criminal law and put handcuffs on powerful lawbreakers.

Yes, frog-march them out of their offices in handcuffs.

I really want to see these guys frog-marched out of their offices in handcuffs.

ER Docs Lobbying Group Says the Quiet Part Out Loud

Private equity is going big into emergency medical services, on the theory that there is an opportunity for massive up-coding (fraud) to generate outsized, and undeserved, profits.

Yet another example of my bromide, "There is nothing that the finance industry cannot ruin."

Well, the largest lobbying organization for ER doctors in the United States admitted it when they noted that doctors who follow Wall Street driven charging and coding advice are at risk of being prosecuted under the false claims act.

This is an admission that they are engaged in a criminal conspiracy to defraud patients and the US government:

Private equity firms have spent hundreds of millions of dollars convincing emergency room doctors and patients that they are all on the same team, fighting the greed of evil insurance companies. But in a remarkable “saying the quiet part out loud” moment, the major professional organization representing emergency physicians just admitted that private equity greed may be leaving the ER doctors vulnerable to criminal fraud charges.

The admission came in a document the board of the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) circulated to its roughly 400-member council in advance of its annual conference, which began earlier this week in Boston. Robert McNamara, [no, not that one] a Temple University medical school professor who has been working for decades to galvanize ER doctors in opposition to the “corporate practice of medicine,” had proposed a resolution that would essentially force all ER staffing companies seeking to do business with ACEP to periodically furnish their physicians with data on the services and procedures the company had billed for under their license numbers.

Buried in the middle of the otherwise mundane memo on past resolutions, the board addressed McNamara’s proposal. Unsurprisingly, the Board expressed extreme reluctance to adopting the proposal, noting that four separate attorneys it had consulted believed there was “substantial risk to implementing the resolution as written.” The ACEP brass had previously cited the (dubious) threat that forcing transparency could somehow invite an antitrust lawsuit, but this time they provided a new and eyebrow-raising concern.

“ACEP engaged outside counsel to advise on whether securing regular reporting of billing in a physician's name could inadvertently subject that physician to potential liability under the False Claims Act [emphasis added], since provision of this information could now leave them considered to be ‘knowing,’” they wrote.

In other words: emergency room doctors are better off not knowing what their private equity overlords are billing under their license numbers, because they are less likely to go to jail for Medicare fraud if they didn’t actually know they were committing it. This admission is especially eye-opening coming from ACEP, an organization that has evolved over the past several decades into a willing mouthpiece for the private equity industry that controls most of the biggest ER staffing firms and has pushed the aggressive billing practices for which they have become notorious.

You know, the FBI might better serve the public if they spent their time investigating stuff like this, instead of staging sting operations against Muslims who are still living in their parents' basements.

News That Makes You Smile

It appears that the National Rifle Association (NRA) got hacked, and its internal files are being held ransom by a group of hackers.

I know that it is a character flaw that sometimes I derive pleasure from the discomfort of others, but I am intensely amused by this:

The National Rifle Association (NRA) has been hit by a ransomware attack, becoming the latest victim of a massive spike in these attacks this year, according to multiple reports Wednesday.

NBC News reported that a Russian cybercriminal group known as Grief posted files on its website on the dark web on Wednesday that it claimed to have stolen from the NRA.

Experts told NBC News that Grief was likely a rebrand of the cyber criminal group Evil Corp, which was linked last week to the ransomware attack on Sinclair Broadcast Group.

I get that the NRA might want to pay Grief not to release members names, addresses, and social security numbers to the web, but I wonder if I should set up a GoFundMe to raise money pay Grief to release members names, addresses, and social security numbers to the web.

(Spoiler, I won't do this, making a payment to Grief would violate US sanctions, and I'm pretty sure that GoFundMe would want no part of that.)


26 October 2021

They Do Love Their Loopholes

In response to Peter Thiel playing games with his Roth Ira to turn two thousand dollars in a startup stocks into 5 billion dollars tax free, laws have been proposed to close the loophole.

The real problem is the Roth IRA.  It's bad policy, imposing costs in the future, and it encourages this sort of rich pig bullsh%$, and it is structured to ensure that it benefits those who have the most monehy to invest.

Placing a monetary limit on Roths is a good start, but wait, here come the lobbyists.

It appears that wealth managers everywhere are very aware of this dodge, and desperately want to keep charging their clients to provide it to them:

The Democratic plan to crack down on individual retirement accounts worth hundreds of millions, even billions, of dollars and to tighten the rules governing IRA investments is facing intense opposition from several industry groups seeking to kill or soften the proposed reforms.

Several retirement industry firms, including one backed by tech investor Peter Thiel, who amassed a multibillion-dollar IRA, have mounted a lobbying push against the plan, disclosure filings show. They have hired an array of former Capitol Hill staffers, a former congressman and at least one former U.S. senator to fight efforts to rein in and regulate the accounts.

ProPublica reported in June that, as of 2019, Thiel had $5 billion in one of the tax-advantaged accounts, which were originally intended to incentivize retirement savings by the middle and working classes. Other superrich Americans have also protected large fortunes from taxation using the retirement vehicles. Income generated inside an IRA is not taxed and, in the case of a Roth IRA such as Thiel’s, withdrawals are also tax-free once the owner reaches the age of 59 and a half.

As an FYI, that's in about 5 years for Thiel, who as I have mentioned before, is a literal vampire.

In response, Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee included a proposal to curb mega-IRA accounts as part of the package of social spending and tax changes being debated on Capitol Hill. The House proposal would effectively cap the total amount someone could hold in a Roth IRA at $20 million and compel the holders of the giant accounts to withdraw anything over that limit. “Incentives in our tax code that help Americans save for retirement were never intended to enable a tax shelter for the ultra-wealthy,” Ways and Means Chair Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., said earlier this year. “We must shut down these practices.”

The fact that Richard Neal, who is one of the biggest corporate whores in Congress, and even he things that something needs to be done. 

The proposal would also bar IRAs from making certain nonpublic investments, an area that congressional investigators have flagged as ripe for abuse. Purchasing shares of startups through an IRA has become popular among the founders of Silicon Valley companies. Buying difficult-to-value shares at extremely low prices can sidestep IRA contribution limits and potentially generate massive tax-free growth.

Among the companies lobbying on the proposal is San Francisco-based Forge Global, which runs a marketplace for shares of private companies and also has a division that administers IRA plans. Forge hired lobbyists from Allon Advocacy in September, including former staffers for Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and former Rep. Gary Ackerman, D-N.Y.

Thiel was one of the early funders of Forge, and it regularly touts its connection to him in press releases. Forge CEO Kelly Rodriques was previously the chief executive of an IRA company formerly called Pensco. Pensco was the custodian of Thiel’s giant IRA for many years, ProPublica previously reported.

………

Several other retirement industry companies are also mobilizing to fight the proposal by backing a new group called the Individual Retirement Rights Association. It was formed in late August in Delaware, state records show. It hired the firm Crossroads Strategies to lobby on the IRA proposal. Disclosure filings show a team of eight lobbyists working for the group, most notably former Sen. John Breaux, a Democrat who represented Louisiana.

After leaving the Senate in 2005, Breaux launched his own lobbying outfit with retired Republican Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi. When in Congress, Breaux once famously commented that while his vote could not be bought, it could be rented. Crossroads didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Also jumping in are, former Senator Max Baucus, the Retirement Industry Trust Association, the Koch funded Taxpayers Protection Alliance, and former Representative Ben Quayle.

It's like a f%$#ing hit parade of corrupt ex-politicians f%$#ing profiting off of the f%$#ing revolving door.

Our system of government in all of its splendor.

Wut?

A hiker lost on the tallest mountain in Colorado ignored calls from rescuers he did not know the numbers, and thought that they were spam.

Something really needs to be to be done about phone spam:

A man who became lost for 24 hours while hiking on Colorado’s highest mountain ignored repeated phone calls from rescue teams because they came from an unknown number, authorities say.

The hiker was reported missing around 8pm on 18 October after failing to return to where he was staying, Lake county search and rescue said.

Repeated attempts to contact the man through calls, texts and voicemail messages went ignored, according to a statement released by the agency.

………

The hiker told authorities he had lost his way around nightfall and “bounced around on to different trails trying to locate the proper trailhead” before finally reaching his car the next morning, about 24 hours after setting out on the hike.

“One notable take-away is that the subject ignored repeated phone calls from us because they didn’t recognise the number,” the agency added.

“If you’re overdue according to your itinerary, and you start getting repeated calls from an unknown number, please answer the phone; it may be a search and rescue team trying to confirm you’re safe!”

Seriously, if a Presidential candidate threatened to bomb India to stop phone spammers (and it wouldn't Indian phone banks are only a part of the problem) they would win 48 states.

Being Evil

It appears that Google sabotaged ads to push its own AMP mobile web page format.

Let's see, 1 second per ad, a conservative estimate of 10 million ads a day slowed down, a minimum wage of $7.25/hour ……… That's Google taking about $2018.98 a day from consumers.

Even by the (hypocritical and corrupt) antitrust standard of, "Consumer Welfare," it seems to me that we have a good argument for breaking up the criminal enterprise known as Alphabet:

More detail has emerged from a 173-page complaint filed last week in the lawsuit brought against Google by a number of US states, including allegations that Google deliberately throttled advertisements not served to its AMP (Accelerated Mobile) pages.

The lawsuit – as we explained at the end of last week – was originally filed in December 2020 and concerns alleged anti-competitive practice in digital advertising. The latest document, filed on Friday, makes fresh claims alleging ad-throttling around AMP.

………

According to the Friday court filing, representing the second amended complaint [PDF] from the plaintiffs, "Google ad server employees met with AMP employees to strategize about using AMP to impede header bidding." Header bidding, as described in our earlier coverage, enabled publishers to offer ad space to multiple ad exchanges, rather than exclusively to Google's ad exchange. The suit alleges that AMP limited the compatibility with header bidding to just "a few exchanges," and "routed rival exchange bids through Google's ad server so that Google could continue to peek at their bids and trade on inside information".

The lawsuit also states that Google's claims of faster performance for AMP pages "were not true for publishers that designed their web pages for speed".


A more serious claim is that: "Google throttles the load time of non-AMP ads by giving them artificial one-second delays in order to give Google AMP a 'nice comparative boost'. Throttling non-AMP ads slows down header bidding, which Google then uses to denigrate header bidding for being too slow."

The document goes on to allege that: "Internally, Google employees grappled with 'how to [publicly] justify [Google] making something slower'."

Google promoted AMP in part by ranking non-AMP pages below AMP pages in search results, and featuring a "Search AMP Carousel" specifically for AMP content. This presented what the complaint claims was a "Faustian bargain," where "(1) publishers who used header bidding would see the traffic to their site drop precipitously from Google suppressing their ranking in search and re-directing traffic to AMP-compatible publishers; or (2) publishers could adopt AMP pages to maintain traffic flow but forgo exchange competition in header bidding, which would make them more money on an impression-by-impression basis."

The complaint further alleges that "According to Google's internal documents, [publishers made] 40 per cent less revenue on AMP pages."

………

As for the complaint, it alleges that Google has an inherent conflict of interest. According to the filing: "Google was able to demand that it represent the buy-side (i.e., advertisers), where it extracted one fee, as well as the sell-side (i.e., publishers), where it extracted a second fee, and it was also able to force transactions to clear in its exchange, where it extracted a third, even larger, fee."

Break it up, burn it down, and bury the ashes.

 

Race? Seriously?

Politico describes, "Biden expected to name 2 FCC picks in race to avert Republican majority."

This is not a race, this is negligence.

He's had 9 months to make the appointments, and he knew that he was going to make the acting chair permanent, but for reasons known only to (Perhaps) to Major Biden (which would explain why he is biting people), Joe Biden has fine with the FCC being a 2—2 split for months, preventing meaningfuyl action from being taken:

President Joe Biden is expected to name acting Federal Communications Commission Chair Jessica Rosenworcel to lead the agency permanently, three people familiar with the decision said late Monday — giving her a key perch to shape Democrats’ broadband and net neutrality agenda.

Biden is also expected to nominate progressive net neutrality advocate Gigi Sohn, a former FCC official, to the open Democratic seat on the commission, according to the people, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the decision is not yet public. The people said the White House has begun telling lawmakers about the imminent announcements.

The moves, which could be announced as soon as Tuesday, would give Democrats a majority on the five-person panel for the first time during Biden’s presidency, ending a 2-2 partisan stalemate that has stymied much of the progressive agenda for the FCC. That includes a restoration of the agency’s Obama-era net neutrality rules, which prohibited internet providers from blocking and throttling consumers’ internet traffic.

But the decisions come relatively late in Biden’s term: Of his predecessors, only Jimmy Carter and Richard Nixon waited as late as September of their first year to tap their FCC chair. And unless the Senate confirms Rosenworcel and Sohn by the end of December, Republicans are poised to gain a 2-1 majority on the commission come January.
Taking this long is political malpractice, particularly since the Senate is only 1 car accident away from Republican control.

A Quick Question

When one looks at the primary malefactors at Facebook, at lest the American ones, we see Mark Zuckerberg, Sheryl Sandberg, and Joel Kaplan, they all went to Harvard.

Is there something about an Ivy League Education in general, and a Harvard education in particular, that creates sociopaths?

25 October 2021

Gee, You Think?

Saad Aljabri, a former intelligence officer serving the House of Saud, has Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) as a psychopath.

I think that recent history has shown that the family of Abdulaziz bin Abdul Rahman Al Saud does not possess a surfeit of the milk of human kindness, but Crown Prince "Bonesaw" has sense of entitlement and impunity appears to be extreme even by those standards:

A former senior Saudi intelligence officer has claimed that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is a “psychopath with no empathy” who once boasted that he could kill the kingdom’s ruler at the time, King Abdullah, and replace him with his own father.

In an interview on US television, Saad Aljabri, who fled Saudi Arabia in May 2017 and is living in exile in Canada, also said he had been warned by an associate in 2018, after the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, that a Saudi hit team was heading to Canada to kill him.

Aljabri told 60 Minutes on CBS he was warned “don’t be in a proximity of any Saudi mission in Canada. Don’t go to the consulate. Don’t go to the embassy.” When he asked why, he said he was told “they dismembered the guy, they kill him. You are on the top of the list.”

………

Saudi Arabia has previously denied there was an attempt on Aljabri’s life in Canada. The kingdom has also denied that the murder of Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist, was ordered by Prince Mohammed. But a declassified US intelligence assessment – released earlier this year – concluded the murder was approved by the crown prince.

According to Aljabri’s account of alleged plans to assassinate him in Canada, a six-person team landed at Ottawa airport in mid-October 2018, lied to Canadian border officials about knowing one another, and carried suspicious equipment for DNA analysis. The team was deported by Canada after being intercepted by the authorities at the airport. The Canadian government has said: “We are aware of incidents in which foreign actors have attempted to threaten those living in Canada. It is completely unacceptable.”

Even if one practices realpolitik, and chooses to turn a blind eye toward the disruptive and immoral policies of the House of Saud, it is increasingly obvious that the dynamics withing the Royal Family point toward an imminent collapse of this regime.

They make Czar Nicholas look like FDR.

The question is how to organize a transition from the Saud's monarchy to something that is sustainable, and it will not happen with MBS in charge.

Respectfully, Kiss Our Ass

The Atlanta Mutual Aid Group has been feeding the homeless for years, and now they have been threatened by the Atlanta Downtown Improvement District (ADID), because the Chamber of Commerce types find homeless people to be icky.

The response of the charity, "Respectfully, kiss our ass," is up there with General Anthony McAuliffe's response to the Germans at Bastogne:

The Atlanta Justice Alliance, an organization working to feed houseless people in Atlanta, shared on Twitter on Saturday that the Atlanta government served a warning of enforcement actions to come the organization does not stop helping unhoused people. 

The organization says it received the warning letter from the Atlanta Downtown Improvement District (ADID) on Saturday while members were providing food to homeless people in Woodruff Park. The Atlanta Justice Alliance immediately posted a picture of the letter to Twitter and said it will not stop helping the houseless.

“We refuse,” the organization tweeted. “We will be there Saturday, just like we have been all along. Respectfully, kiss our asses.”

According to its website, ADID is a public-private partnership dedicated to “create a livable environment in Downtown Atlanta.”

A "Public-private partnership dedicated to create a livable environment in downtown Atlanta," is a private organization that gets to to unleash the police against "undesirables."

ADID also put up lawn signs in the park warning visitors to “avoid feeding and donating to people on our streets.” The signs say “Prioritize Long-Term Hunger Solutions” but equate the houseless population to zoo animals, Ravin said.
Seriously, ADID can f%$# themselves with Cheney's dick..

We Are Living in a Sci-FI Dystopia

This is the only conclusion that I can reach when I see the headline, "Jeff Bezos Wants to Build a Business Park in Space."

Stop the world, I want to get off:

Blue Origin is leading a consortium hoping to put the first commercial space station into orbit. The craft is set to combine research and tourism facilities, and provide an office address in space for businesses.

Dubbed Orbital Reef, the two initial partners are Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin, which will get the platform into orbit atop the as-yet unflown New Glenn reusable rocket, and Sierra Space, developers of a mini-shuttle spacecraft and the inflatable habitats the space station will need.

………

“For over sixty years, NASA and other space agencies have developed orbital space flight and space habitation, setting us up for commercial business to take off in this decade,” said [PDF] Brent Sherwood, senior veep of advanced development programs at Blue Origin.

“We will expand access, lower the cost, and provide all the services and amenities needed to normalize space flight. A vibrant business ecosystem will grow in low Earth orbit, generating new discoveries, new products, new entertainments, and global awareness.”

Amazon in space.  That's a scarier movie than Alien.

Linkage

Have some Mark Twain quotes:

24 October 2021

The Insanity of the Current Global IP Regime

The World Health Organization (WHO) has commissioned Afrigen Biologics and Vaccines to reverse engineer the Moderna vaccine.

While there is a reason for patents and copyright, "To promote the progress of science and useful arts," to quote Article I, Section 8, Clause 8, of the United States Constitution, but this is a pandemic with tens of millions dead, and patents do not serve the public interest at this time:

………

The World Health Organization has hired the company, called Afrigen Biologics and Vaccines, as part of a $100 million plan to figure out how to make an mRNA vaccine against COVID that is as close as possible to the version produced by Moderna.

Until recently, Afrigen specialized in developing veterinary vaccines using fairly traditional methods. Now, says Afrigen's managing director, Petro Treblanche, the company's labs are a hive of research into the cutting-edge technology behind mRNA vaccines.

"You will see scientists in white coats and some with full personal protective equipment [suits] operating a bioreactor to make the actual DNA," says Treblanche. "You will see microbiology clean rooms where testing is taking place. You will see stability chambers where some of the products are put in to understand how stable they are in different environments of humidity and temperature."

As I understand it, mRNA vaccines, once you work the kinks out, allow you to set up the equivalent of a full vaccine factory in a walk-in closet.

The capital equipment required is tiny compared to a conventional vaccine factory.

Why Non-Compete Agreements Suck

Cory Doctorow relates a tale from the early days of Silicon Valley to illustrate just how dysfunctional non-competes are.

California bans non-competes, so when the increasingly erratic and increasingly incompetent William Shockley drove engineers out of his company, and they went on to found Fairchild Semiconductor, where they invented the silicon transistor.  (Shockley stuck with Germanium)

Note that non-competes are separate from trade secrets, and it explains why Silicon Valley is not Germanium Valley:

In 1956, the Nobel prize in physics went to William Shockley, John Bardeen and Walter Brattain for their work on silicon transistors. Shockley, a Bell Labs alum, had already gone to work commercializing this invention, moving from New Jersey to Mountain View, California and founding Shockley Semiconductors, the first “silicon” company in Silicon Valley. In an important sense, Shockley invented Silicon Valley.

He was a terrible person.

After the Nobel, Shockley turned brooding and paranoid. He installed wiretaps to spy on his engineers and family members and administered polygraph tests to employees.

He lost interest in semiconductors and threw himself into eugenics and the extermination of “inferior” people. He offered cash bounties to Black women who underwent sterlizing surgeries. He toured the US, debating biologists to prove that the human race needed to be purified through “race science” to preserve and refine the superior genes of the very best white people.

All of this would have posed a significant barrier to inventing the commercial silicon transistor, of course. But even without the racism and paranoia, Shockley was a genuinely terrible manager. He was prone to starting and then halting projects, switching up the corporate priorities based on his whims without regard to the work that his employees had put into work that he was scrapping or de-emphasizing.

Within a year of the company’s founding, eight of its top engineers had had enough. They quit Shockley Semi and founded their own rival, Fairchild Semiconductor. Less than a year after that, Fairchild launched its first silicon transistor, the 2N696, dooming the
germanium transistor to the scrapheap of history. Silicon Valley was finally making silicon.

As you might imagine, Shockley wasn’t pleased about this. He was, in fact, furious. He branded the engineers who started Fairchild “The Traitorous Eight.” He railed against them to his dying day.

But that was all he could do, really. You see, none of Shockley’s employees were bound by a noncompete agreement. In fact, no worker in California was bound by such an agreement, because California prohibits noncompetes. They are unenforceable in the whole state.

Noncompete agreements are all about keeping employees in serfdom, not about protecting trade secrets.

Lucy is Holding the Football

And Joe Biden is giving indications that he wants to reform or repeal the filibuster.

I don't believe that anything would happen, because there are simply too many Democrats in the Senate who really don't want meaningful change.  **Cough** Chuck Schumer **Cough** 

There are lots of careerist politicos who want an excuse to fail:

Joe Biden has given the strongest indication yet that he is willing to end or whittle down the Senate filibuster as a means of overcoming Republican intransigence and moving ahead with reforms to voting rights, the debt ceiling and possibly more.

Speaking in Baltimore a day after Senate Republicans yet again blocked legislation designed to secure access to the ballot box for all Americans, Biden expressed mounting frustration at the filibuster, which effectively gives the conservative minority a stranglehold over large swaths of policy.

“We’re going to have to move to the point where we fundamentally alter the filibuster,” the president said.

At a CNN town hall in Baltimore on Thursday night, Biden hedged on how far any reform would go. “That remains to be seen,” he said, “in terms of fundamentally altering it or whether or not we just end the filibuster straight up.”

Not gonna happen.

The filibuster, created by mistake by Aaron Burr, has the support of too many people who have a vested interest in supporting gridlock. 

Biden's support for change will not change that.

23 October 2021

This Is Worse than a Crime, It Is a Mistake

In negotiations with Iran over the US reentering the JCPOA (nuclear deal), Biden has refused to promise that he will rescind Trump's sanctions against the country, even just as it applies to his own time in office.

Iran's primary issue with the US taking up the deal again is that they believe that the US cannot be trusted to keep its promises.  This does not disabuse them of this concern:

Iran’s delay in rejoining talks in Vienna to revive the landmark 2015 nuclear agreement has fueled speculation that the new Ebrahim Raisi government has lost interest in the accord. Its deepened mistrust, optimism about its China option, and confidence that it can weather American sanctions have shaped this conclusion, leaving Washington with no choice but to publicly threaten its own shift to more coercion under an undefined Plan B, the narrative goes.

But new information obtained by Responsible Statecraft reveals that that impasse is not because of an Iranian sense of immunity to pressure, but largely because President Joe Biden refused to commit to keeping sanctions lifted on Iran for the rest of his term, even if Iran rejoins and complies with the nuclear deal.

A crucial turning point in the negotiations occurred earlier in May of this year. The Iranians had insisted on legally binding commitments that the United States would respect its signature and not re-quit the JCPOA, were it to be revived. Though the U.S. team found the Iranian demand understandable, it insisted it could not bind the hands of the next administration, nor guarantee that a future administration hostile to the JCPOA wouldn’t again abandon it.

But according to both Western and Iranian diplomats involved in the negotiations, the Iranians then lowered their demand and requested a commitment that Biden would simply commit to staying within the deal for the rest of his own term, granted that Iran also would remain in compliance. According to these sources, the U.S. negotiation team took the matter back to Washington but to the surprise of Tehran and others, the White House was not ready to make such a commitment, citing legal obstacles. Instead, it offered changes to the negotiating text that fell short of a legal commitment.

Even excluding the sordid history over US treaties with Indian tribes, the US record on following the dictates of treaties that it has negotiated is remarkably poor.

Refusing to address this merely makes the problem worse, and it makes it more likely that Iran will restart its nuclear efforts.

It Was Only Business

Twitter has admitted that its algorityms favor right-wing content and right-wing public figures.

This should come as a surprise to no one.  In 2016, the Macedonian sh%$ posters realized very quickly that they could get right-wingers to click through, share their stories, and thud and generate revenue, in a way that the political left would not.

From a business perspective, right wing content creates more user engagement, and hence more opportunities to make money.

Pushing right wing content is more profitable, so that is what they do, which is why we need some sort of regulations.  The magic of the market will not work here:

Twitter is publicly sharing research findings today that show that the platform's algorithms amplify tweets from right-wing politicians and content from right-leaning news outlets more than people and content from the political left.

The research did not identify whether or not the algorithms that run Twitter's Home feed are actually biased toward conservative political content, because the conclusions only show bias in amplification, not what caused it. Rumman Chowdhury, the head of Twitter's machine learning, ethics, transparency and accountability team, called it "the what, not the why" in an interview with Protocol.

………

Chowdhury emphasized that Twitter doesn't already know what causes certain content to be amplified. "When algorithms get put out into the world, what happens when people interact with it, we can't model for that. We can't model for how individuals or groups of people will use Twitter, what will happen in the world in a way that will impact how people use Twitter," she said. Twitter algorithms cannot just be opened up and examined for biases, and the home feed isn't run by just one algorithm. It's a system that works together, creating "system-level complexity."

………

Facebook has fallen under massive fire for failing to share the findings of its own social media research, revealed over the last month in a series of leaks to the Wall Street Journal. The company has seemed especially frustrated with how media and politicians have interpreted the leaked findings, and has also tried to emphasize the limitations of researchers' work. While they didn't mention Facebook, Chowdhury and her team have gone to great lengths to do the interpreting of the newly published paper themselves.

The right-wing, in the United States at least, has been conditioned to consume the scams of the elites.

If you followed advertisers on the late, and unlamented, Rush Limbaugh's shows, you found gold coin sellers, weight loss scams, foreclosure vultures, mesothelioma scams, and colloidal silver.

Facebook, and Twitter, and the rest of them, have taken to heart Weisshaupt's adage from the comic book Cerebus, "I firmly believe that if you can't fool all of the people all of the time you should start breeding them for stupidity."

Stupid people are good for the business of social media.

Reasons to Distrust Gypsy Cabs

It appears that rape and sexual assault are far more common than the rideshare company has admitted, with more than 300 rapes, and more than 4,000 sexual assaults observed since 2017:

Lyft collected more than 4,000 reports of sexual assault on its app dating from 2017 through 2019, in its long-promised first safety report showing the extent of the safety problems on it app.

The company released its safety report on Thursday — nearly two years after rival Uber released a similar set of data for its app — which tabulated five categories of sexual assault in an effort to make clear the extent of the dangers on the ride-hailing app. It included data for nonconsensual kissing or touching of sexual body parts; nonconsensual kissing of nonsexual body parts; and attempted and nonconsensual sexual penetration.

In total, Lyft said there were 4,158 reports of sexual assault on the app from Jan. 1, 2017 to Dec. 31, 2019; this included 360 reports of rape. Lyft said its definitions were overly broad to collect as wide a data set as possible.

Yes, "We will release data about our business to cast ourselves in the most negative light, and open us up to lawsuits," said no business ever.

………

Lyft indicated its report would follow shortly after Uber’s, but only released it Thursday covering a period through 2019.

Lyft did not immediately provide comment on the report or the timing of its release.

Lyft has come under scrutiny for its treatment of sexual harassment and misconduct on the app. The company won over many passengers in the wake of repeated scandals on Uber that led to the #DeleteUber movement, capturing nearly 40 percent of the U.S. market share as it approached its 2019 initial public offering. But The Washington Post reported in 2019 that some found Lyft’s response to reports of misconduct inadequate and dismissive, feeling their concerns were not seriously addressed.

There is no money in seriously addressing those concerns, so, absent aggressive enforcement by government, they won't be seriously addressed.

It should be added that, in California at least, the commission responsible for overseeing the Uber and Lyft ignored its duties:

The agency responsible for regulating the ride-hailing industry in California has failed to collect consistent data on claims of assaults, threats and harassment on Uber and Lyft rides, a San Francisco Public Press investigation found.

The California Public Utilities Commission is required to collect the information from the firms annually to fulfill its mission of ensuring that their rides are safe. But previously confidential filings and recent interviews show that the agency has permitted the companies to use very different interpretations of the reporting requirements, raising questions about the data’s reliability.

The commission received the 2020 safety reports more than a year ago. But it was not until Sept. 22 — two days after the agency released them to the Public Press and the first time it has made them public — that it sent letters to Uber and Lyft ordering the firms to provide “all definitions” of assaults and other misconduct used in their submissions for the last five years.

………

From the start, the agency has required the firms to file annual safety reports. But until now it has withheld them under an extraordinary grant of secrecy that frustrated local officials who said they needed the data for traffic planning and safety.

The 2020 reports were released to the Public Press after an eight-month effort under the California Public Records Act. The agency redacted them to protect privacy and proprietary company information.

This is what happens when a regulatory body is captured by the industry it regulates.

The ride sharing industry in particular, and the gig economy in general, is an exercise in regulatory arbitrage, not the product of innovation.

Roe v. Wade is Dead

The Supreme Court's latest decision, to allow Texas' abortion to remain in force while expediting arguments, is clearly a part the (illegitimate) majority's attempt to reverse Roe v. Wade:

The Supreme Court on Friday once again refused to immediately block a Texas law that bans most abortions after six weeks. But in an unusual move, the justices agreed to fast-track their consideration of appeals from the Justice Department and abortion providers in Texas, scheduling arguments for Nov. 1.

The justices will now be grappling with two high-profile abortion cases in the space of a month. The case from Texas will require them to sort through complex procedural questions prompted by a novel law drafted to avoid review in federal court — an approach to restricting abortion that other states are also considering.

Then, on Dec. 1, the court will hear a challenge to a Mississippi law that bans abortions after 15 weeks and that anti-abortion activists hope will lead the court’s expanded conservative majority to overturn or undermine the constitutional right to abortion established by Roe v. Wade in 1973.

The court’s decision not to bar enforcement of the Texas law was at least a short-term victory for anti-abortion forces. As a practical matter, it means that the procedure will remain all but unavailable for now in the state despite the court’s own precedents forbidding states from banning abortion before fetal viability, at around 23 weeks.

………

Only Justice Sonia Sotomayor filed a dissent from the court’s refusal to block the law in the meantime.

“For the second time, the court is presented with an application to enjoin a statute enacted in open disregard of the constitutional rights of women seeking abortion care in Texas,” she wrote. “For the second time, the court declines to act immediately to protect these women from grave and irreparable harm.”

………

The justices have also come under intensifying criticism for dealing with important issues not through their regular process of issuing elaborate decisions following full briefing and oral arguments but rather in a more rushed way on their so-called shadow docket. Such cases are often decided in orders that can contain little or no reasoning. Until now the justices were considering the Texas case on such an emergency basis.

Cases heard through the regular process — the “merits docket” — are usually argued months after the court agrees to hear them, and the court’s decision in the Texas case to schedule an argument just 10 days after granting review was probably the product of negotiation.

The court rarely acts that fast, and the exceptions tend to come in significant cases like Bush v. Gore, the 2000 case that handed the presidency to George W. Bush, and the Pentagon Papers case in 1971, which rejected the Nixon administration’s efforts to block publication of a secret history of the Vietnam War.

………

The question the court will answer in the providers’ appeal is “whether a state can insulate from federal court review a law that prohibits the exercise of a constitutional right by delegating to the general public the authority to enforce that prohi­bition through civil actions.”

The court is trying to balance the desire of its corrupt majority to eliminate a woman's right to an abortion, and eventually a woman's right to contraception, against its concern that doing so will undermine its legitimacy, possibly by implementing term limits or expanding the courts.

It is a hypocritical and dishonest calculus, and should be declared as such.

22 October 2021

I Don't Think that Kyrsten Synema is an Enigma

A lot of ink has been spilled about Kyrsten Sinema's motivations regarding the reconciliation bill currently making its way through the Senate, and I think that most of it ignores the obvious.

While there there are some politicians whose motivations are transparently clear, no one would be surprised if Mitch McConnell were to take his mother to the Soylent Green factory just to get another conservative justice on the Supreme Court, for example, there are people in Washington whose motivations are profoundly, and I would argue perversely, personal.

Clearly, Sinema's lack of professed ideology, and her reticence about revealing what she specifically wants, and does not want, from the reconciliation bill is confusing when looking using the calulus involved in either ideological or electoral motivations.

I think that when one looks at Sinema's history, her public personae, and her affect, it's clear that she is an toxic narcissist. (Note again, I am using the term "Toxic Narcissist" in a conversational and not a clinical way, as I am an engineer, not a psychologist, dammit.*)

This toxic narcissim is obvious, just look at her behavior on the minimum wage vote,when she gave the thumbs down on the minimum wage with a curtsy while dressed something like an extra on Japanese school girl pr0n film.

Her behavior makes perfect sense if it is seen as being driven by a personal rather than a political need: She has an overweening need to be the center of attention and this is accompanied by a need to be in complete control while doing so.

This explains why she is unwilling to express specific demands, and why she eschews town hall meetings with constituents: She wants to be listened to, not to listen.

Basically, she's nuts.

*I love it when I get to go all Dr. McCoy!
Again, I want to make this clear, I am not offering a diagnosis, I am using the term collocuially.

Why is This Guy Not in Jail?

Here in Maryland, former Harford County States Attorney, what we call District Attorneys, was just disbarred for withholding exculpatory evidence in a murder trial.

His response? "Oh, whatever. I’m retired anyway."

He does not give a sh%$ about breaking the law.

Two thoughts:

  • It should not take 30 years to uncover this.
  • We really need to apply criminal sanctions to prosecutors who do this. 

Maryland’s highest court has disbarred retired Harford County State’s Attorney Joseph Cassilly for withholding exculpatory evidence that surfaced in a 1981 double-murder case and lying about it over the years.

Cassilly learned of the court’s decision Friday from a phone call by The Baltimore Sun.

“Oh, whatever. I’m retired anyway,” he said.

The Maryland Court of Appeals found the former prosecutor lied about documents that undermined the credibility of an FBI agent on the case. In an opinion Friday, the judges noted Cassilly, a Republican, served 36 years as Harford County’s top prosecutor and retired in 2019.

The judges wrote that disbarring him would prevent his possible return to the courtroom and send a message.

“Disbarment recognized the seriousness of Cassilly’s misconduct and serves the goal of protecting the public and ensuring the public’s confidence in the legal profession by deterring other attorneys from engaging in similar misconduct,” they wrote.

Cassilly maintains that he did nothing wrong, but rather “fell into the whole anti-criminal justice movement, where the cops are the bad guys and the prosecutors are the bad guys.”

“I’m disappointed, but the real answer is: Do I care? I don’t give a damn,” he said. “I wouldn’t do anything to engage in the practice of law right now because it’s such a screwed-up obscenity.”

………

Harford Circuit Court Judge Barbara Kerr Howe found Cassilly broke the rules for professional conduct and lied about documents. She recommended the state’s high court reprimand him.

The Maryland Court of Appeals, however, went further to disbar him.

“The trust placed in Cassilly as the elected State’s Attorney for Harford County, and the high standard to which prosecutors are held, renders Cassilly’s misconduct much more egregious than that of a lawyer in an official or government position who simply fails to follow proper procedures or rules,” the judges wrote.

Seriously, criminal consequence for this sort of misconduct should be routine.

Quote of the Day

Plenty of cynics will tell you that the Democratic Party is best understood as a jobs program for mediocre loyalists, but it’s worth considering, for once, not the negative qualities of the people it elevates but the paucity of their actual successes. Rahm Emanuel, the administration’s nominee for ambassador to Japan, was mayor of Chicago for eight years, and while we all know he closed 50 schools and tried to cover up the police murder of a child, it seems equally significant that no one can point to any actual positive accomplishments. I’ve written before about the cult of “getting things done” Democrats, but it really is remarkable how little they actually do. “Competence” in Democratic politics is a pose and a personality trait unconnected to any record of achievement.
Alex Pareene

This is a pretty good description of the Democratic Party establishment (There is no Democratic Party establishment).

21 October 2021

I Would Pay for the Tape of His Deposition

The Washington, DC Attorney General has added Mark Zuckerberg to the lawsuit that filed against Facebook for their Cambridge Analytica scandal.

The short version is that in the process of investigating Facebook's behavior regarding user privacy, they AG has determined that Mark Zuckerberg far more aware, and far more directly responsible for the policies that led to repeated privacy breaches than was previously known.

This is not surprising, given that in the early days of Facebook, Zuckerberg mocked people who trusted him, "Dumb F%$#s".

It's not surprising that the AG now believes that Mark Zuckerberg was directly involved in this policy, which is really not surprising.  It's been his show for 17 years:

Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of scandal-plagued Facebook, might be held personally liable for damages in a consumer protection lawsuit filed in Washington, DC.

DC Attorney General Karl Racine’s office filed a suit in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia in December 2018 against Facebook over the Cambridge Analytica data-leak fiasco, alleging that the social media giant had misled consumers about its privacy policies. Racine announced on Tuesday that his investigation had determined Zuckerberg played a much bigger role in the incident than prosecutors were previously aware, according to the New York Times, and will be adding him to the suit. This would be one of the first times a regulator has tried to find Zuckerberg personally liable for the actions of his company.

The suit claims that Facebook made misleading promises to users that their data would be kept private. In reality, its Open Graph API was so loose with protections that it allowed Cambridge Analytica, a shady political firm that worked with right-wing clients like consultants to Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign, to run off with extensive info on 87 million users. The DC suit states that Facebook not only gave users false reassurances about the security of their data, but failed to monitor third-party apps’ use of it, deliberately made it difficult for users to control privacy settings, and did not disclose how some apps could override their preferences. Facebook also sat on the Cambridge Analytica leak for two years with no public disclosure, according to the suit.

………

“Under these circumstances, adding Mr. Zuckerberg to our lawsuit is unquestionably warranted, and should send a message that corporate leaders, including the C.E.O., will be held accountable for their actions,” Racine told the paper.

………

Facebook can and almost certainly will file to dismiss Racine’s effort to add Zuckerberg to the suit, as it has fought every other element of the case. In September 2021, Facebook shareholders went public with a lawsuit that claims Facebook agreed to pay the Federal Trade Commission a multi-billion dollar settlement (which itself was chump change for the company) for the express purpose of keeping Zuckerberg uninvolved in the Cambridge Analytica investigation.
Discovery in this trial should be interesting, and I welcome any embarrassment and shame that results, though huge monetary damages and eventual criminal charges would be nice too.

The Term is. "Regime Change Mousketeers."

Robert Wright writes an essay to better define the characteristics of the folks who subscribe to the pro interventionist Washington foreign policy consensus, AKA, "The Blob."

I understand that there needs to be a description of the group, because they steadfastly deny that they exist, but I think that my term describes the phenomenon succinctly, with the additional benefit of holding them up to ridicule:

The people claiming that there is some sort of unified theory of Blob-dom are not thinking clearly, said Thomas Wright, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. For one thing, he said, even within Brookings there is a wide range of opinion on Afghanistan. He supported the withdrawal, for instance—which would seem to make him a traitor to the Blob, even though he is, by any definition, in the Blob himself.       
                                                 —The New York Times, Sept. 16, 2021

The term “Blob” has arrived. Within the past two months this recent addition to our foreign policy vocabulary has appeared in the New York Times, America’s newspaper of record, not one, not two, not three, but four times. In the first of those cases, I’m happy to say, I was the one uttering it. In the last of those cases, I’m also happy to say, it appeared in the headline; and, better yet, it appeared in the phrase “Beware the Blob”—which is something that those of us who embrace the term would definitely advise.

But what do we mean by the term? This has become a subject of contention. Some people we consider part of the Blob—such as Thomas Wright, quoted, above, in the last of those Times pieces—say it has no coherent meaning. Which is understandable: We’re using it as a pejorative, so the less sense it seems to make, the better for the people we’re applying it to. 

But the truth is that “the Blob” is a useful term with a coherent meaning. At least, it’s as useful as many other common foreign policy labels, such as “liberal internationalists” and “neoconservatives.” Both of these labels encompass people who don’t agree on everything. In fact, it’s hard to find any belief that all people in either of those two categories share that isn’t shared by a fair number of people in the other category. As the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein pointed out, this kind of fuzziness is characteristic of the labels we use to organize reality. There’s no distinctive property, he noted by way of example, that is shared by all the things we call “games.”

………

And I think we must! I’m not kidding when I say I believe the Blob is a grave threat to America’s and the world’s future. (Which isn’t to say that blobsters are bad people; like most human beings, they mean well.) To come up with a working definition of “the Blob” is to sketch a vision of what American foreign policy shouldn’t be—and, by implication, to come up with at least some rough outlines of what it should be.

……… 

Note the diverse forms of intervention: aerial military intervention, proxy military intervention, “peaceful” meddling in foreign politics (albeit meddling whose goals may have gotten a boost from guys with guns), and prolific drone strikes in countries we’re not at war with. Note also that all four of these policies had consensus support within the mainstream of the foreign policy establishment, from neoconservatives and liberal internationalists alike.

Sure, there was dissent on one or another of these policies from some people who carry those labels (more from liberal internationalists than from neoconservatives). For that matter, there were differences of opinion on the anti-Blob side; a few restrainers (not me!) are willing to accept fairly prolific drone strikes as a substitute for deeper military engagement. Still, notwithstanding such minor anomalies, these four Obama policies serve as a dividing line between blobsters and restrainers—while none of them serves as a clear dividing line between neoconservatives and liberal internationalists.

So there would seem to be analytical value, for at least some purposes, in squishing together liberal internationalists and neoconservatives (along with other, less salient foreign policy schools, such as “Jacksonians,” if you wanted to get more fine-grained about it) into a single category we call “the Blob.” Or, to put it in a slightly different way:  For purposes of illuminating the divide in elite opinion on these four very important Obama policies, “liberal internationalist” and “neoconservative” are not very useful terms whereas “Blob” and “restraint coalition” are. So, all told, I don’t see how people can use terms like “liberal internationalists” and “neoconservatives” as if they’re meaningful and valuable while denying such status to “the Blob.” [Note: I’m not saying liberal internationalists are compelled by their core ideological principles to be blobbish. Indeed, there are no doubt liberal internationalists, especially in academia, who opposed all these Obama policies—and who, more generally, would qualify as restrainers. But people who call themselves liberal internationalists and are influential within the foreign policy establishment tend to be liberal interventionists—which is to say,blobbish.]

………

I love liberal democracy and hate autocracy and authoritarianism. So do all the other restrainers whose views on this I’m familiar with. But most of them, like me, are suspicious of democracy promotion as practiced by America. That’s partly because it sometimes slides into proxy war (We were promoting democracy in Syria!); and partly because it sometimes involves economic sanctions that wind up harming lots of already needy people to no good end (Venezuelans, for example). And, especially for restrainers on the left, it’s because drawing a battle line between democracies and autocracies (which you’re starting to do once you hold a “summit of democracies”) could impede progress toward solving various global problems, ranging from climate change to pandemics to the control of such hard-to-control armaments as biological weapons and weapons in space. Restrainers tend to be very anti-neo-Cold-War. Blobsters, not so much.

OK, now for some positive blobology—a tentative list of inclinations exhibited by blobsters (with the understanding that, as Wittgenstein would say, these inclinations can qualify as characteristic of the Blob even if none of them apply to all blobsters).

1. Threat inflation. Blobsters don’t necessarily intentionally inflate threats. But they tend to get more freaked out by things (a single big terrorist attack, a decade’s worth of slowly creeping authoritarianism, growing regional assertiveness by a rising power like China) than is warranted. And they often favor policies in response to these things that could well make things worse—and in some cases already have.

2. Manichaeism. Dividing the world between “good guys” and “bad guys” (two terms uttered often, and not ironically, on Rhodes’s podcast) is common in the Blob.

3. American exceptionalism. We Americans, of course, are the good guys. Indeed, we are a light unto the nations—notwithstanding all the coups we’ve sponsored, the murderous authoritarians we’ve backed, the disastrous wars we’ve started or abetted, and the fact that our own democracy is in a state of advanced dysfunction, unworthy of emulation by any sensible country.

4. Meddling. Blobsters—having divided the world between good guys and bad guys, exaggerated the threat posed by the bad guys, and convinced themselves that America is the best of the good guys—feel that our country is thus justified in intervening in the internal affairs of other nations, if not by the massive application of military force (an option that is less popular even in the Blob than it was 20 years ago) then via subtler military means, or economic coercion, or other tools, sometimes covertly deployed ones. Blobsters are generally protective of American sovereignty but not so respectful of the sovereignty of other countries, especially the ones run by “bad guys” (though, on close examination, the bad guys whose countries we push around turn out to be morally indistinguishable from some bad guys we deem cherished allies). 

5. Na├»ve do-goodism. This meddling is driven not only by a conviction that we know what’s best for everyone, but that we have the skill to bring it into being—even though the last few decades of history strongly suggest that we don’t and that, in fact, we often make things worse. 

6. Hypocrisy when it comes to international laws and norms. There’s scarcely a blobster alive who doesn’t sing the praises of the “rules based order.” Many blobsters consider upholding this order—and punishing those who violate it—mission central. Their ability to overlook how often the policies that they themselves advocate break the rules that they themselves extol is one of the wonders of human self-deception.

It's the entire Council on Foreign Relations, the current Secretary of State, most of the State Department, the Commerce Department, the Military Industrial Complex, etc.

They have been in ascendance for roughly the past 75 years, and for most of that time, the results have been profoundly underwhelming.