18 July 2024

Gee, Here's a Surprise

Supporters of private school vouchers in Arizona claimed that they would save the state money.

They haven't.  They never were going to save the state money.

While giving a (for example) $10,000/student voucher seems a money saver compared to the $15,000/student cost of a public education, what has happened, as it was foretold, is that most of the money is going to people who are already putting their kids in private schools or home schooling their kids.

That does not matter to voucher supporters, because their real goal is to defund public schools so that they can create their own segregation academies:

In 2022, Arizona pioneered the largest school voucher program in the history of education. Under a new law, any parent in the state, no matter how affluent, could get a taxpayer-funded voucher worth up to tens of thousands of dollars to spend on private school tuition, extracurricular programs or homeschooling supplies.

In just the past two years, nearly a dozen states have enacted sweeping voucher programs similar to Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Account system, with many using it as a model.

Yet in a lesson for these other states, Arizona’s voucher experiment has since precipitated a budget meltdown. The state this year faced a $1.4 billion budget shortfall, much of which was a result of the new voucher spending, according to the Grand Canyon Institute, a local nonpartisan fiscal and economic policy think tank. Last fiscal year alone, the price tag of universal vouchers in Arizona skyrocketed from an original official estimate of just under $65 million to roughly $332 million, the Grand Canyon analysis found; another $429 million in costs is expected this year.

………

Advocates for Arizona’s universal voucher initiative had originally said that it wouldn’t cost the public — and might even save taxpayers money. The Goldwater Institute, a conservative think tank that helped craft the state’s 2022 voucher bill, claimed in its promotional materials at the time that the vouchers would “save taxpayers thousands per student, millions statewide.” Families that received the new cash, the institute said, would be educating their kids “for less than it would cost taxpayers if they were in the public school system.”

But as it turns out, the parents most likely to apply for these vouchers are the ones who were already sending their kids to private school or homeschooling. They use the dollars to subsidize what they were already paying for.

The result is new money coming out of the state budget. After all, the public wasn’t paying for private school kids’ tuition before.

(Emphasis mine

I pretty much guarantee you that the private schools and home schooling collectives started holding classes on how to apply for the vouchers as soon as this was passed.

The people lobbying for this and the legislators voting for this knew that this would happen, and they did not care.

Yes

Has Private Equity Become a Ponzi Scheme?
UnHerd

This has been another episode of simple answers to simple questions.

More seriously, the way that private equity conducts business is indistinguishable from fraud:

The economist Hyman Minsky’s name can once more be heard in ominous whispers around Wall Street. Private equity firms have recently been undertaking such funny financial manoeuvres that those who invest in the funds have had to put a stop to it. With private equity markets depressed, fund managers have been taking on so-called net asset value (NAV) loans to pay their investors’ dividends. Far from being happy to get their money, investors realised that the funds they had invested in were borrowing from Peter to pay Paul, and told them to cut it out.

In his stellar 1992 paper “The Financial Instability Hypothesis”, Minsky argued that there were three types of borrowing which corporate entities engaged in. He called these: hedge, speculative, and Ponzi. Hedge financing involves loans which are taken on, typically for business operations, and can then be paid back using a company’s cash flows. Speculative financing describes loans usually taken on to invest in the company, which can then ideally be paid off by the future cash flows generated by the new investment. Meanwhile, Ponzi financing refers to loans taken out by desperate companies which use them to simply pay interest on previous loans.

Minsky argued that when Ponzi financing units became predominant in an economy — or in part of the economy — this indicated that a financial crisis was brewing. The clue is in the name: a Ponzi scheme is upheld only through finding more and more people to pay up in the promise of money that is itself a result of convincing more and more people to pay up. It is hard not to see in private equity’s use of NAV loans to pay off dividends a classic Ponzi-financing regime.

Private equity’s entire model is based on Minsky’s concept of speculative financing. Fund managers buy up companies and then load them up with debt. This debt is typically used to drastically increase investment in the companies — and in doing so grow them and produce returns for investors. This carries risks. If too many of the investments go bad, the fund might go bankrupt and investors might pull out. There is more than a little speculation that the NAV loans signal that much of the sector has already gone bad and is engaged in increasingly funny tricks to try to cover it up.

………

There are also questions surrounding the links between private equity investing and the property markets. After the 2008 crisis, the central banks and regulators said: “Never again”, and imposed strict regulations on bank lending. When we look at mortgage-lending data, we see that banks are not providing the credit for the current rise in house prices — leading to suggestions that it might be the so-called “shadow-banking” sector of private equity and hedge funds which is driving the market.

If the current murmurs proves correct, this could all collapse in a Minsky moment reminiscent of 2008, but with private equity and hedge funds responsible rather than the banks. Pension funds would be affected, but so would banks allocating capital to the private equity sector. If this scenario were to play out, expect there to be bailouts just as there were in 2008. The central banks and the regulators may have said “Never again”, but speculative credit, like life, tends to find a way.

The regulators never said, "Never again," they, specifically timothy "Eddit Haskell" Geithner said, "Foam the runway," and Barack Obama, said, "My administration is the only thing between you and the pitchforks."

The regulators said, "Don't worry, no matter how badly you broke the law, no one is going to jail, and no matter how incompetent you are, you will still have a job, except, of course for the scapegoats at Lehman."

Less than 2 decades later, we are on a path to repeat the mistakes that Obama made.

And they wonder why people are drawn to an spray tanned fraud who promises to burn it all down.

It's Thursday ¯\_(ツ)_/¯





So, not a great week according to the unemployment stats.

Initial claims rose by 20,000, about double forecasts, to 243,000, while continuing claims rose by 20K to 1.867 million.

Now, part of this is the impact of Hurricane Beryl, and part of this is due to automobile plant shut-downs for the new model year, but those are accounted for in the forecasts that were blown past.

The number of Americans filing new applications for unemployment benefits increased more than expected last week, but that did not signal a material shift in the labor market amid temporary automobile plant closures and disruptions from Hurricane Beryl.

The weekly jobless claims report from the Labor Department on Thursday, however, suggested that it was getting harder for the unemployed to land new jobs relative to last year. Unemployment rolls swelled to the highest level in more than 2-1/2 years in the first week of July, in line with a recent increase in the jobless rate.

A loosening labor market and ebbing inflation position the Federal Reserve to cut interest rates in September, with financial markets anticipating additional cuts in November and December.
"Taking a step back from the noise in the data, jobless claims have drifted higher since the start of the year," said Nancy Vanden Houten, lead U.S. economist at Oxford Economics. "We think the rise so far is consistent with a cooling labor market that is characterized more by a slower pace of hiring rather than by higher layoffs."

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits increased 20,000 to a seasonally adjusted 243,000 for the week ended July 13, the Labor Department said on Thursday. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast 230,000 claims for the latest week.

The rise pushed claims back to a 10-month high touched in early June and right to the upper end of their 194,000-243,000 range for the year. It wiped out the drop in the prior week, which was attributed to difficulties adjusting the data around holidays, like the U.S. Independence Day.

In addition, auto makers typically shut down assembly plants starting the July 4 week to retool for new models. But the shutdown schedules are different for every manufacturer, which can throw off the model that the government uses to smooth out the data for seasonal fluctuations. Plant shutdowns were also more concentrated this year relative to prior years.

……….

Unadjusted claims jumped 36,824 to 279,032 last week. Filings surged 11,537 in Texas, likely boosted by Hurricane Beryl. They advanced 6,917 in California.

There were sizeable increases in Georgia, Missouri, New York, Pennsylvania and South Carolina. Applications also rose in Kentucky, Kansas, Alabama and Ohio. Most of these states have motor vehicle assembly plants. The increases more than offset declines New Jersey, Indiana and Massachusetts.

The Fed looks to be getting the recession that they want.

Ecch (Tweet) of the Day


What a surprise. Donald Trump's Trump media is already swamped in criminality.

As Mehdi Hasan observes, if we had a functioning press, this would be front page news, but we're just getting crickets.

Trump being corrupt is not news, I guess.

17 July 2024

Only 6.8%

Cloudflare, the content delivery and cyber security company, has done a study and determined that 7% of internet traffic is, "Malicious."

I'm surprised that it is that low. 

My guess is that this number does not involve scams like cryptocurrency.

In its latest State of Application Security Report, Cloudflare paints a sobering picture of the internet's threat landscape in 2024. How sobering? Try 6.8% of internet traffic is malicious, up a percentage point from last year's study.

What's driving this increase in threats? Cloudflare, the content delivery network and security services company, thinks the rise is due to wars and elections. For example, many attacks against Western-interest websites are coming from pro-Russian hacktivist groups such as REvil, KillNet, and Anonymous Sudan.

What's particularly alarming is the speed at which new vulnerabilities are exploited. In one case, attackers attempted to exploit a JetBrains TeamCity DevOps authentication bypass a mere 22 minutes after the proof-of-concept code was published. That speed is faster than most organizations can read the security advisory, let alone patch their systems. 
Here's an idea.  Hold software vendors liable for selling us insecure pieces of sh%$.

Security is not a priority because there is no money in that.

It's Called a Shot Across the Bow

Joe Biden is preparing to propose major changes to how the Supreme Court operates.

Among other things, he will be proposing a legally binding ethics code and term limits as well as possibly proposing a constitutional amendment to overturn the Trump immunity decision.

Your mouth to God's ear:

President Biden is finalizing plans to endorse major changes to the Supreme Court in the coming weeks, including proposals for legislation to establish term limits for the justices and an enforceable ethics code, according to two people briefed on the plans.

He is also weighing whether to call for a constitutional amendment to eliminate broad immunity for presidents and other constitutional officeholders, the people said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss private deliberations.

The announcement would mark a major shift for Biden, a former chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who has long resisted calls to make substantive changes to the high court. The potential changes come in response to growing outrage among his supporters about recent ethics scandals surrounding Justice Clarence Thomas and decisions by the new court majority that have changed legal precedent on issues including abortion and federal regulatory powers.

Biden previewed the shift in a Zoom call Saturday with the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

The start of such an effort needs to begin with a statement that the current justices are partisan and corrupt.

The current court deserves no deference, nor any respect.

It's in Mélenchon's Court Now

French President Emanuel Macron has finally accepted Prime Minster Gabriel Attal's resignation.

So, it's up to the left wing coalition, which has the most seats in parliament to form a government.

All they have to do is get their sh%$ together, which for any left-wing party is no small feat.

In addition to that, they need votes either from Macron's party or the right wing to get the majority necessary to appoint a prime minister:

President Emmanuel Macron accepted the resignation of the French government on Tuesday, July 16, and asked Prime Minister Gabriel Attal to head up a caretaker government for now. It will "handle day-to-day business until a new government is named", the Elysée Palace said, after Macron's centrist alliance was beaten in snap parliamentary polls earlier this month. It will stay in place for a number of weeks, until at least the Olympic Games are over.

Following their resignation, Attal and other cabinet members will be able to take their seats in Parliament and participate in any coalition building. The Assemblée Nationale reconvenes on Thursday and will start by filling the chamber's presidency and other key positions.

French politics have been in gridlock since this month's inconclusive snap election with parties in the Assemblée Nationale scrambling to put together a governing coalition, and no successor to Attal in sight.

A broad alliance called the Nouveau Front Populaire (NFP) which includes Socialists, Communists, Greens and the hard-left La France Insoumise (LFI) won the most seats, with 193 in the 577-strong lower chamber. Macron's allies came second with 164 seats and the far-right Rassemblement National (RN) third with 143.

Macron told Tuesday's cabinet meeting that it was the "responsibility" of his allies to come up with a proposal "for a majority coalition or a wide-ranging legislative pact." This, he said, would help preserve his government's "economic achievements" and favor "social justice."

………

The divided NFP alliance has been scrambling to come up with a consensus candidate for prime minister. But internal conflicts – notably between LFI and the more moderate Socialists – have thwarted all efforts to find a personality able to survive a confidence vote in parliament.

The Socialists are basically the equivalent of the Social Democrats in Europe, and I'm pretty sure that they are not interested in negotiating in good faith.

If the NFP gets much of what it promised, the phony left like the Socialists relegated to the dust bin of history, so they do not have a much an incentive to play nice.

I am not optimistic about the NFP's prospects, which would advantage to Marine Le Pen and her merry band of Fascists in the long run.

Ecch (Tweet) of the Day


This is truer than taxes. 

To be a Jew is to worry.

I am not sure why this is so, but it is, as Mt. Everest is, and Alma Cogan isn't.

16 July 2024

Good Point

Carl Beijer makes the obvious observation that, not withstanding all of the pious assertions that violence has no place in American politics following the Trump assassination attempt, the right-wing has enthusiastically endorsed political violence in America.

How many times have various reactionaries talked about, "2nd Amendment solutions?"

They actively support political violence and the threat of political violence:

“There’s no place for this kind of violence in America.” - President Joe Biden

“Violence such as this has no place in our nation.” - Vice President Kamala Harris

“There is absolutely no place for political violence in our democracy.” - President Barack Obama

“Violence has no place in America, especially in our political process.” - President Bill Clinton

“This horrific act of violence at a peaceful campaign rally has no place in this country and should be unanimously and forcefully condemned.” - Speaker Mike Johnson

Yesterday an American citizen took up arms against the former and potential next president, Donald Trump. And in response, politician after politician has given us some variation on the same statement: political violence is absolutely unacceptable in the United States.

But if this is true, can someone please explain to me why we still have the Second Amendment? Because one of its most common justifications today goes something like this:

“If [Clinton] gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do folks…Although the Second Amendment people — maybe there is, I don’t know.” — President Donald Trump

“A well-armed citizenry acts as a major check on the ability of would-be tyrants, enabling the people to forcibly resist oppression.” — The Heritage Foundation

“The 2nd Amendment’s purpose is to guard against tyranny…” — Cornel West

“The Constitution’s Framers knew that a free society could exist only if the people were truly sovereign and able to act as a check against tyrannical government.” — Rep. Bob Good

“…the Second Amendment…serves as a fundamental check on government tyranny.” — Sen. Ted Cruz
I have to admit, I cannot understand how one can say that political violence has no place in America and also believe that we have a sacred right to political violence that is supposedly enshrined in our Constitution. If you believe that then you can argue, perhaps, that Trump is not a tyrant — but that is a very different thing from taking the stance a lot of conservatives are taking right now, one which pleads that political violence is inherently illegitimate.

(emphasis original)

When Republicans object to political violence, they only object to political violence directed toward them.

Wear Your F%$#ing Mask

First, we have a couple of studies showing that COVID-19 causes long term impairment of its victims' immune system, in particular serum cytokine levels.

Conclusion from the first link:

………

According to the researchers, the long-term consequences of COVID-19 are presumably caused by an infection and the resulting long-term impairment of the function of the bone marrow, the central production site of immune cells. "Our results provide a possible explanation that certain long-term consequences of COVID-19 could be related to the damage to the cellular immune system caused by SARS-CoV-2 and the apparently reduced maturation and/or emigration of immune cells from the bone marrow," Winfried Pickl and Rudolf Valenta summarize the study results. This hypothesis forms the basis for further research in order to achieve a better understanding of the mechanisms underlying Long-COVID.

And the second link: 

………

Whole blood flow cytometric analyses revealed that 10 m after COVID-19, convalescent patients compared to controls had reduced absolute granulocyte, monocyte, and lymphocyte counts, involving T, B, and NK cells, in particular CD3+CD45RA+CD62L+CD31+ recent thymic emigrant T cells and non-class-switched CD19+IgD+CD27+ memory B cells. Cellular changes were associated with a reversal from Th1- to Th2-dominated serum cytokine patterns. Strong declines of NC- and S-specific antibody levels were associated with younger age (by 10.3 years, p < .01) and fewer CD3CD56+ NK and CD19+CD27+ B memory cells. Changes of T-cell subsets at 10 m such as normalization of effector and Treg numbers, decline of RTE, and increase of central memory T cell numbers were independent of antibody decline pattern.

And if that ain't enough, it looks like Covid is associated with a massive increase in type-1 diabetes among children, which is rather unsurprising, since juvenile diabetes is associated with immune dysfunction:

COVID-19 may accelerate progression of presymptomatic type 1 diabetes in youth, a German study suggested.

Incidence of clinical type 1 diabetes nearly doubled after the pandemic started among 591 youth ages 1 to 16 known to have presymptomatic type 1 diabetes, Anette-Gabriele Ziegler, MD, of the Institute of Diabetes Research at Helmholtz Munich in Neuherberg, Germany, and colleagues wrote in a JAMA research letter.

During the prepandemic period, the incidence rate for clinical type 1 diabetes development was 6.4 (95% CI 4.9-8.2) per 100 person-years, compared with 12.1 (95% CI 10.1-14.4) in the pandemic period (P<0.001).

"A key question was whether this increase was predominantly in those children who had been infected," Ziegler told MedPage Today. "The answer was yes."

Of the 353 kids that had COVID infection information, the incidence rate was 8.6 per 100 person-years (95% CI 6.2-11.7) for participants testing negative for COVID-19. This wasn't significantly different compared with the prepandemic period (P=0.16).

When people say that Covid doesn't effect children, they are either stupid, or lying, or both.

H/t E-Cop at the Stellar Parthenon BBS

Yeah, Not a Surprise

It appears that the New York State Education Department has finally taking action against special education fraud, and Orthodox yeshivas' strong opposition to reform.

Call me a cynic, but my guess is that said yeshivas were gaming the system to get undeserved state support:

In an effort to combat fraud, the New York State Education Department yesterday adopted a new rule that will change how special education funding is distributed for services to students who attend New York City’s non-public schools, including yeshivas.

The change comes after a 2022 New York Times report that found New York City was paying over $350 million a year “to private companies that provide services in Hasidic and Orthodox schools.” Since proposing the change in May, NYSED officials have worked to allay fears that the rule would not just punish fraudsters, but also make it harder for people who genuinely need special services to access them.

At their meeting on Monday, NYSED’s governing body, the Board of Regents, adopted the change as an emergency rule which will go into immediate effect before the start of the school year.

The subhead of the Times story pretty much says it all, "New York has paid companies millions of dollars to help children with disabilities in religious schools. But the services are not always needed or even provided."

That's a nice way of saying, "Fraud."

………

The rule targets a special education service called “special education teacher support services,” known as SETSS, which is similar to tutoring and only offered in New York City. According to the 2022 Times report, about 80% of requests for such services came from Orthodox districts in the prior year. The service, which is often one-to-one and takes place outside the classroom, is ill-defined and thus vulnerable to fraud, according to the Times.

The city is willing to pay up to $125 per hour for this service, but many tutors charge more than that, forcing parents who want to hire them to go through the complaint process that NYSED now seeks to limit.

According to Lloyd Donders, a lawyer who represents parents in such cases, the standard rate for the service is $42, but since “you can’t actually get someone at that rate,” the city has an “enhanced” rate of $125. “I don’t think the DOE puts up a fight unless you ask them for more than $125,” Donders told Shtetl.

At a public meeting on Monday, NYSED Commissioner Betty Rosa said too many people are profiting from rates that go far beyond $125 an hour.

I'm thinking that some private schools might have arrangements with the tutors.

It may not be something as blatant as kickbacks, it might be a way for schools to supplement salaries of their employees for state money, but I would not rule out the former.

Guilty, Guilty, Guilty!

The most incredibly guilty politician in the United States, New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez, has been convicted on all 16 corruption counts.

They caught him with a sh%$ load of gold bars in his house, so the conviction is not a surprise.

Good riddance:

Sen. Bob Menendez was convicted Tuesday of taking bribes from three businessmen who showered him and his wife with cash, gold bars and a Mercedes-Benz, an extravagant bounty for his help securing deals with foreign officials and trying to derail several criminal investigations in New Jersey.

The jury in Manhattan federal court found the once powerful New Jersey lawmaker guilty on all 16 felony counts. They include bribery, extortion, wire fraud, conspiracy, obstruction of justice and acting as a foreign agent for Egypt from 2018 to 2022, when Menendez was at the height of his influence in Washington, serving as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee or as the panel’s top Democrat while his party was in the minority.

………

Menendez did not testify in his own defense. He vowed to appeal, and legal experts say he could be helped by the Supreme Court’s rulings in recent years narrowing the scope of federal bribery laws. 
Anyone want take bets on whether or not Clarence Thomas has gold bars in his house?

It does appear that conservatives on the court have been determined to narrow the scope of corruption with a zeal that implies some degree of self interest.

15 July 2024

Vance, Huh?

Why on earth would Donald Trump choose someone like JD Vance as his running mate?

Vance is a serial exaggerator, a hypocrite, a narcissistic manipulator, and corrupt, so why would Trump  ……… Oh, now I get it.

It's like he is running with the son he never had, because no one in their right mind would run with the sons that he DOES have:

Senator J.D. Vance of Ohio, Donald J. Trump’s newly chosen running mate, has made a shift from the Trump critic he was when he first entered politics to the loyalist he is today. It was a shift both in style and substance: Now, on topics as disparate as trade and Ukraine, Mr. Vance is closely aligned with Mr. Trump.
In some ways, Vance may be worse than Trump, because he is in the pocket of literal vampire Peter Thiel.

Amazon Lying? Pshaw!!!!!

In the latest news about the bunch of contemptible rat bastard monopolists headquartered in Seattle  ……… No, not that one ………No, not that one EITHER ……… OK, it's Amazon, and they are lying through their teeth about their carbon footprint.

Of course they are lying.  It's kind of their thing:

Today, Amazon announced that it hit its 100% renewable electricity goal seven years early. But a group of Amazon employees argues that the company’s math is misleading.

A report from the group, Amazon Employees for Climate Justice, argues that only 22% of the company’s data centers in the U.S. actually run on clean power. The employees looked at where each data center was located and the mix of power on the regional grids—how much was coming from coal, gas, or oil versus solar or wind.

Amazon, like many other companies, buys renewable energy credits (RECs) for a certain amount of clean power that’s produced by a solar plant or wind farm. In theory, RECs are supposed to push new renewable energy to get built. In reality, that doesn’t always happen. The employee research found that 68% of Amazon’s RECs are unbundled, meaning that they didn’t fund new renewable infrastructure, but gave credit for renewables that already existed or were already going to be built.

Carbon credits are a scam, as I have noted many times.

Amazon is aware of this, and they don't care.  They just want some public relations mojo.

If federal or state regulators want to make the world a better place, antitrust lawsuits, and the rollback of direct and indirect subsidies provided by governments to Amazon would go a long way to doing just that.

Finally

I do not expect it to pass this Congress, but someone has finally introduced a bill cracking down on looting in the charter school system.

Basically, for profit entities will find or create a non-profit entity which will receive funding to operate a charter, and then the for-profit entity will own the building and collect rent, or license the curriculum, or be the employer of record for the teachers, or "manage" the school, and skim their vigorish off the top.

It needs to be ended:

In almost every corner of the U.S., charter schools are non-profit. And yet, there are numerous ways to run a non-profit for profit.

In two reports (Chartered for Profit and Chartered for Profit II), the Network for Public Education showed numerous examples of the most common techniques. Some charters lease their buildings back from related businesses. In one New York case, a chartering organization leased a space from the diocese, then leased that space to its own charter school for over ten times the amount it was paying.

………

To address the issue of charter schools operated for a profit, United States Representative Rosa DeLauro (CT-03) and Representative Suzanne Bonamici (OR-01) this month introduced the Championing Honest and Responsible Transparency in Education Reform (CHARTER) Act. Said DeLauro,

………

The CHARTER Act would ensure that for-profit education management organizations can no longer jump through loopholes that have given them access to funding that has always been intended for nonprofit entities. Educating our children should be for their enrichment and future prosperity – not to maximize the profits of their owners and investors.

The bill adds to the definition of a charter school given in Section 4310 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. In addition to the other qualifiers already in the federal definition of a charter school, the bill would add that a charter school:
does not enter into a contract with a for-profit entity, or have a charter management organization or other nonprofit entity enter into such a contract on behalf of such school, under which the for-profit entity operates, oversees, manages, or otherwise carries out the administration of such school, which may include curriculum development, budget management, and faculty management (such as hiring, terminating, or supervising school-level staff);

 The bill also specifies that a charter school may contract for food, payroll, facilities maintenance, transportation services, classroom supplies or other ancillary services.

The bill then goes on to require the amended definition be used for ESEA and IDEA, thereby blocking charters that don’t meet the amended definition from receiving any federal funds.

Even if charter schools did a better job of educating our children, and the evidence indicates that they do not, allow for profit entities to skim the money with a complete absence of public oversight is an abomination.

Good on DeLauro and Bonamici for trying to shut the door on corrupt charter operators.

Even if one supports charter schools, it should be a no brainer not to support charter school corruption.

Nakedly Corrupt

Judge Eileen Cannon took the clue supplied by Clarence Thomas in the Trump immunity case, and has used Thomas' nonsensical and self-serving assertion that a special prosecutor needs Senate approval and used it as an excuse to dismiss the document handling case against Donald Trump.

One hopes that Jack Smith appeals, and gets her thrown off the case.

In a just world, she would be thrown off the court:

A judge on Monday dismissed the federal indictment against former president Donald Trump on charges of mishandling classified documents — his second seismic legal victory in less than a month, after a historic Supreme Court decision on immunity.

U.S. District Judge Aileen M. Cannon’s 93-page ruling that special counsel Jack Smith was improperly appointed is a triumph for Trump, even if it is eventually reversed. Smith’s office vowed to appeal the ruling, saying the judge’s legal reasoning was at odds with past decisions on the issue.

………

By dismissing the entire indictment, Cannon’s decision also means that the charges are dropped for Trump’s two co-defendants, Waltine “Walt” Nauta and Carlos De Oliveira. The Justice Department’s appeal of the issue might eventually reach the Supreme Court.

“The dismissal of the case deviates from the uniform conclusion of all previous courts to have considered the issue that the Attorney General is statutorily authorized to appoint a Special Counsel,” said Peter Carr, a spokesman for Smith. “The Justice Department has authorized the Special Counsel to appeal the court’s order.”

………

Trump advisers have long considered the classified documents case to be the strongest of the four criminal cases against him — in part because the acts in question occurred mostly after he left the White House — and it was the case that most worried them. The case has been particularly concerning to those advisers because if it went to trial, it would feature first-person accounts from people in Trump’s inner orbit describing conversations with him.

The former president was charged with 40 counts of illegally retaining classified defense information and obstructing government efforts to retrieve the material. Some of the documents found in an FBI search of Mar-a-Lago, his Florida home and private club, contained information about top-secret U.S. operations so closely guarded that many senior national security officials are kept in the dark about them, The Washington Post reported last year.

Cannon’s opinion delves into the legal minutiae of special counsel regulations and does not address the crimes Trump and his co-defendants are accused of committing, or the merits of the evidence that prosecutors have collected. 

No, it doesn't.  It overturns over a hundred years of precedent and a number of laws passed because Clarence Thomas issued a concurrence, one that has no legal force, explicitly giving her a detailed set of instructions on how to throw a spanner into the works.

………

But the legal argument gained momentum this month, after Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in the presidential immunity case that the special counsel’s office needs to be established by Congress and that Smith needed to be confirmed by the Senate. Thomas urged lower courts to explore the issue. The justice wrote that he tacked on his concurring opinion to the immunity ruling to “highlight another way in which this prosecution may violate our constitutional structure.”

In Monday’s ruling, Cannon cited Thomas’s opinion — which none of the other justices signed on to — multiple times.

This is how you engage in a conspiracy to obstruct justice without the conspirators saying a word to each other.

Jack Smith should have been trying to get her removed from the case since day 1.  That's on him.

Thomas and Clarence though?  They should be investigated for obstruction of justice.

The complete lack of shame and blatant corruption exhibited by these two judges is more appalling and a disgrace.

14 July 2024

Of Course He Did

Everyone's 2nd favorite narcissistic psychopath, Elon Musk has endorsed Donald Trump, everyone's favorite narcissistic psychopath.

More accurately, since he has already been donating to pro-Trump PACs, he has made it official. 

Elon Musk endorsed former President Trump minutes after Trump was ushered off stage by Secret Service agents at a rally in Pennsylvania following apparent gunshots.

Why it matters: Musk is one of the richest men on the planet and controls of one of the world's biggest social media platforms. Trump has reportedly considered offering an advisory role to Musk, who has moved sharply to the right of the political spectrum in recent years.

  • Musk's tweet endorsing Trump came a day after Bloomberg reported that he had donated to a pro-Trump PAC.
  • "I fully endorse President Trump and hope for his rapid recovery," Musk wrote on X, sharing a video of Trump getting to his feet after the incident with a bloodied ear and pumping his fist to the crowd.

I guess, unlike much of the rest of the world, Donald Trump is still willing to blow smoke up Elon's ass.

Elon is such a delicate snowflake.

When You Have Lost Bernie Sanders


Don't make Bernie angry. You won't like it if he gets angry.
When Bernie f%$#ing Sanders is criticizing the Democratic Party for forming a circular firing squad, you know that the Democratic Party establishment (There is no Democratic Party establishment) is f%$#ing things up big time:

This weekend, we witnessed a horrifying assassination attempt on the life of former President Trump. There is absolutely no place for political violence in our country, and we must all condemn it at every turn.

I guess that every OP/ED over the next few weeks will lead with this sort of comment on the attempted assassination of Donald Trump.

It is what it is, I guess.  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

In the coming weeks, as the nation recovers from this shocking and tragic event, we must not lose sight of the incredibly high stakes of the November election, and the millions of working Americans whose access to affordable health care, decent wages, and a habitable planet is on the line.

I will do all that I can to see that President Biden is re-elected. Why? Despite my disagreements with him on particular issues, he has been the most effective president in the modern history of our country and is the strongest candidate to defeat Mr. Trump — a demagogue and pathological liar. It’s time to learn a lesson from the progressive and centrist forces in France who, despite profound political differences, came together this week to soundly defeat right-wing extremism.

I strongly disagree with Mr. Biden on the question of U.S. support for Israel’s horrific war against the Palestinian people. The United States should not provide Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing extremist government with another nickel as it continues to create one of the worst humanitarian disasters in modern history.

I strongly disagree with the president’s belief that the Affordable Care Act, as useful as it has been, will ever address America’s health care crisis. Our health care system is broken, dysfunctional and wildly expensive and needs to be replaced with a “Medicare for all” single-payer system. Health care is a human right.

And those are not my only disagreements with Mr. Biden.

But for over two weeks now, the corporate media has obsessively focused on the June presidential debate and the cognitive capabilities of a man who has, perhaps, the most difficult and stressful job in the world. The media has frantically searched for every living human being who no longer supports the president or any neurologist who wants to appear on TV. Unfortunately, too many Democrats have joined that circular firing squad.

He goes on from there to praise Biden's record, specifically things like the "American Rescue Plan",  infrastructure funding, cuts to (some) drug prices, etc.

I'm of a conspiratorial bent myself.  I believe that, in addition to their own general timidity, the Democratic Party establishment (There is no Democratic Party establishment) does not want to see increased enforcement of antitrust laws, price controls on drugs, and more regulation of our increasingly dysfunctional financial system, because that is who they get their campaign donations from.  (Also, where they make money trading on their inside information as members of Congress.)

In either case, Bernie Sanders is right. (Again)

Minor Cooking Disaster


This guy made it work
So, I attempted to make meat cooked on a fire wrapped in clay using the spice profile of a 4,000 year old Babylonian lamb stew recipe. (Lots of allium, onions, garlic, leeks and shallot)

The clay cracked and spalled, and the meat ended up a bit overcooked overcooked, though the spice profile was nice. 

I need to figure out how to adjust the clay mixture, adding some sort of aggregate to deal with the shrinkage and spalling issue.

I'm thinking about adding straw, which is added to the clay in historical smelters to improve structural integrity.  (The preferred alternative for smelters is cow dung, but I am not gonna cook with that.)

Back to the drawing board.

Things that Piss Me Off

So, listening to NPR was infuriating.

They had about 10 minutes of news about the alleged attempted assassination against Donald Trump.

This is what happens on breaking news.

They just repeated this four times an hour with an additional 5 minutes of someone making baseless speculation.

Rinse, lather, repeat.

I'm increasingly come to believe that the only serious journalists at NPR are on Wait Wait … Don't Tell Me.

13 July 2024

Speaking of Assassination Attempts

Israel launched an air strike on Khan Yunis targeting Hamas military chief in Gaza Mohammed Deif, and at least 90 people are dead.

Needless to say, I hope that they got him, but that is not clear at this time:

The Israeli army conducted a strike in Gaza's Khan Yunis on Saturday, targeting Hamas military chief Mohammed Deif and other senior members of the group. The strike killed at least 90 people and wounded 280, according to the Hamas health Ministry. Deif's condition is unknown.

On Saturday evening, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a press conference in Tel Aviv that there is no certainty that Deif was killed.

After the strike, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant held an evaluative meeting with IDF Chief of Staff Herzl Halevi and Shin Bet Director Ronen Bar.

The Israeli army says that Deif was in a compound above the ground, together with Khan Yunis brigade commander Rafa'a Salameh and other Hamas members, and it estimates that they were at least wounded in the attack. Hamas denies that its members were harmed and says the IDF's claims are false and "aimed at covering up the crimes Israel commits."
There is a report from an Italian news source that Salameh was killed and Deif injured.

Once again, breaking news, so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

Busy news day though.

It's a Scam

It looks like people are finally looking into Elon Musk's repeated lies about the self-driving capabilities of Tesla vehicles.

He's been promising that self driving were 18-24 months away for over a decade.

It's clear that he has been lying just as much as Elizabeth Holmes at Theranos, but he wasn't stealing from rich people, so it's alright:

A growing number of investigations and legal complaints are targeting Tesla’s claims that its cars are “Full Self-Driving,” scrutinizing the company’s decisions to brand and market its suite of driver-assistance technologies for evidence of potential fraud.

The U.S. Justice Department is probing the company’s marketing of both Full Self-Driving and Autopilot, Tesla’s advanced driver-assistance systems. California’s Department of Motor Vehicles is also reviewing those features in light of provisions including a 2022 law prohibiting companies from using marketing and language that would “lead a reasonable person to believe that the feature allows the vehicle to function as an autonomous vehicle.” Tesla has received inquiries from the Securities and Exchange Commission related to its claims to investors, according to news reports and public filings. And a civil lawsuit in California represents drivers who say they were defrauded by the company’s claims and are seeking refunds and damages over their purchases.

At issue is whether the term Full Self-Driving implies that the cars are autonomous — meaning drivers don’t need to pay attention. In recent court filings, Tesla says the cars are not “autonomous” and that its user manuals and sensors alert drivers to the need to hold the wheel and keep their eyes on the road. Yet in a post on X last month, Tesla’s head of Autopilot, Ashok Elluswamy, used the word, writing that the cars “have the most autonomous capability compared to any production car.”
Musk has promised full autonomy.  Not only has he promised full autonomy, he has promised that Tesla owners would be able to make money by using their fully autonomous cars as taxis to generate money.

………

Tesla promised customers years ago that this upgrade would turn cars into an appreciable asset — meaning their value would increase over time — after they one day become autonomous through a software update. That has yet to happen, and that’s what the California lawsuit is about.

“Contrary to Tesla’s repeated promises that it would have a fully self-driving car within months or a year, Tesla has never been remotely close to achieving that goal,” reads the civil complaint in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, which is seeking class-action certification. In addition to financial remedies, it asks for an injunction prohibiting Tesla from continuing to market its technology in “deceptive and misleading” ways.

“One of the arguments we make is you can’t get more self-driving than fully self-driving,” said attorney Andrew Kirtley, who is representing customers in the Autopilot class-action suit.

Among the statements under scrutiny, according to interviews and documents: Musk’s 2019 pronouncement that Tesla would put 1 million robotaxis on the road by 2020 and Tesla’s assertions that its vehicles have all the hardware needed to deploy the Full Self-Driving feature. The Northern California civil lawsuit specifically cites Musk’s assertion on a 2016 conference call that a Tesla would be able to drive itself from Los Angeles to New York City “by the end of next year without the need for a single touch.”

Yeah, that's an explicit and specific promise of a car driving on its own.

Throw his flabby white ass into jail.

Federal officials have focused at least in part on a 2016 Tesla marketing video, set to the Rolling Stones song “Paint It Black,” that purported to show a Tesla maneuvering near the company’s headquarters on its own, which came up repeatedly in the interview with Bernal. “The person in the driver’s seat is only there for legal reasons,” the 2016 video’s opening slide reads. “He is not doing anything. The car is driving itself.”

A Tesla official later acknowledged, after reporting by the New York Times, that the video was staged and the car in fact crashed during filming.

Yeah, that's an explicit and specific promise of a car driving on its own.

Throw his flabby white ass into jail.

………

Tesla, in response to another lawsuit, called the video an “aspirational” demonstration of its software’s potential capabilities.

Similar videos have been used in other cases — even against another electric vehicle manufacturer. Trevor Milton, the founder of electric truck start-up Nikola, was found guilty of misleading investors in a federal fraud case that alleged a video demonstration of its truck’s capabilities, in reality, showed the truck rolling downhill rather than propelling itself on its own.

Yeah, that's an explicit and specific promise of a car driving on its own.

Throw his flabby white ass into jail.

………

In 2019, Musk made another audacious promise: to put 1 million robotaxis on the road by 2020, in part by utilizing the privately owned Teslas sitting in people’s driveways. “The fleet wakes up with an over-the-air update,” Musk said at the time. 

Yeah, that's an explicit and specific promise of a car driving on its own.

Throw his flabby white ass into jail.

 

 

Worse than a Crime, a Mistake

The Democratic Socialists of America have rescinded their endorsement of Alexandria Ocasio Cortez because she noted that there were some antisemites among the pro-Palestinian movement.

Note that I said, "Some," as did AOC, but that is too much for DSA, so they turned their back on their most prominent member. 

Stupid, and (ironically) antisemitic:

The Democratic Socialists of America on Wednesday pulled their endorsement of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for reelection until she publicly opposes all funding to Israel and publicly backs the BDS movement "to end Israeli settler-colonialism."
The phrase, "End Israeli settler-coloniasm,," means the destruction of the state of Israel.
DSA, the organization for which Ocasio-Cortez is among the most prominent members, specifically highlighted the New York lawmaker's participation in a panel with leading Jewish establishment experts on antisemitism.
Oh, the humanity.

………

Jewish Council for Public Affairs CEO Amy Spitalnick, one of the two experts on the panel, decried the DSA statement, saying "the fact that our – nuanced, complex, and frank – conversation on antisemitism is somehow beyond the pale for DSA should tell you everything you need to know."

No, it doesn't tell you everything about DSA that you need to know.  It just tells you about its moonbat leadership.

Two overly broad brushes do not create truth.

………

DSA further took issue with Ocasio-Cortez voting in favor of a resolution condemning Hamas, and equating the denial of Israel's right to exist with antisemitism. Republican Rep. Thomas Massie was the only U.S. lawmaker to vote against the resolution, while Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib voted present.

Yeah, right, Hamas is a bunch of Boy Scouts.  Boy scouts who take hostages and detain them in the middle of civilian concentrations in order to maximize civilian casualties.

This is stupid self-destructive sh%$ that DSA is engaging in.

It's a pity that DSA is intent on slitting its own throat.

Breaking

1:30 am

The shooter has been identified, one Thomas Matthew Crooks of  Bethel Park, PA, age 20.

If Twitter is to be trusted, and it isn't.  It never was to be trusted, he was a registered Republican and was wearing a 2nd amendment T-shirt when he took the shot.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯


8:30 pm

It was a shooting incident, Trump was nicked in the ear, the shooter and a bystander is dead.


7:18 pm.

Reports of shots fired at a Trump rally.

No clue on anything beyond that.

Will post updates on top with time.

Posted via mobile.

12 July 2024

Just Lovely

Since the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge following a ship crash, trucks using hazardous waste have been using the tunnels under the Baltimore Bay to make a transit through Charm City.

They could use the Baltimore Beltway, I-695, but that's an additional 30 miles, and perhaps an additional 45 minutes, so they risk a disaster by breaking the law.

Where the f%$# are the f%$#ing police on this?

When the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapsed into the Patapsco River, it destroyed a central passage for transporting hazardous materials up and down the East Coast.

Soon, fears surfaced online that hazmat trucks are now using Baltimore’s underwater tunnels instead, despite state law largely prohibiting them from doing so.

From a parking lot wedged between the two tunnels, The Baltimore Banner sought answers. Over several hours, Banner journalists observed 40 tanker trucks going through the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel, including more than a dozen with hazmat placards typically prohibited from driving through the underpasses.

………

The public could face dire consequences if a fire erupted or hazardous chemicals spilled inside the city tunnels. Noxious gas could fill the enclosed space. The infrastructure could crack and fracture, pouring water into the tunnel. Clean-up could take weeks or months — even years.

Given the stakes, some have questioned why state officials aren’t doing more.

It looks like one disaster triggered by corporate greed, the crash of the MV Dali, is going to trigger another disaster, when (and it ain't if, it's when) one of these trucks has an incident in the tunnel.

Gay Furry Hackers

We owe Gay Furry Hackers a debt of gratitude after they hacked the Heritage Foundation and revealed the internal discussions behind the now infamous Project 2025.

It ain't pretty stuff.  It's ugly people with ugly minds and ugly souls trying to make the world confirm to their own ugliness:

After claiming to break into a database belonging to The Heritage Foundation, and then leaking 2GB of files belonging to the ultra-conservative think tank, the hacktivist crew SiegedSec says it has disbanded.

According to a message on the group's Telegram channel, they had already planned to exit the scene this week. That missive continues:
Given the circumstances i believe its best we do so now. for our own mental health, the stress of mass publicity, and to avoid the eye of the FBI.

I've been considering quitting cybercrime lately, and the other members have agreed its time to let SiegedSec rest for good.

And while disavowing a life of crime, SiegedSec will remain "hackers and always fighting for the rights of others." 

………

The feud began on July 9 after SiegedSec said it obtained usernames, passwords, logs and "other juicy info" belonging to the Heritage Foundation, and then leaked that private data online in response to the org producing and promoting Project 2025. The information dump has now been taken offline.

Project 2025 is a lengthy and fairly detailed blueprint that outlines how a future conservative president – such as, say, Donald Trump should he win the election again – could overhaul the federal government and public policy to enact a far-Right agenda and give huge powers to the executive branch. Trump has claimed he knows "nothing" about it all though there clear links between Project 2025's advisory board, Team Trump, and the Republican National Committee.

The Christo-fascist wishlist includes, among many, many, many things, rolling back environmental protection rules [PDF], eliminating energy efficacy standards and programs, and ending the US government's "focus on climate change and green subsidies" [PDF]. It also includes eliminating [PDF] the US Department of Education. 

………

In a July 9 post on its Telegram channel, the cat-fanatics-slash-hacktivists noted: "Project 2025 threatens the rights of abortion healthcare and LGBTQ+ communities in particular. so of course, we won't stand for that! ^-^"

Here is hoping that Biden will use the new immunity given him by the supreme court to roll up a paddy wagon and send the Heritage Foundation rat-bastards to a very dark hole.

Full disclosure:  A friend of mine worked for the Heritage Foundation, but was fired for getting cancer, so it's a personal grudge for me.

Economic Update

Rather surprisingly, initial unemployment claims fell more than expected, down 17,000 as versus the 2,000 forecast, with continuing claims fell by 4,000 to 1.85 million. 

On the other hand, month over month core inflation fell to 0.1%,  about 1.2%, well below the 2.0% Fed target.

The Fed wants more unemployment, which this weeks claims numbers do not support, but it has also stated publicly that it is targeting a 2% YoY inflation rate, which appears to be in reach.

My money is on the Fed not lowering rates, even if inflation continues to drop, because f%#$ the American worker is what real men do.

62 Years Ago Today

The Rolling Stones played their first gig at the Marquee Club 62 years ago today.

I feel so f^%$ing old right now.

Without Merry Clayton, Gimme Shelter is just a throw away song.  The raw emotion in her voice is magnificent.

11 July 2024

About F%$#ing Time

It looks like Lina Khan and the FTC are going after pharmacy benefits managers. (PBMs)

I knew that this would happen eventually.  PBMs are gatekeeping parasites.

Firms that serve as intermediaries to negotiate and control prescription drug access in the US "wield enormous power," largely with "extraordinarily opaque" business practices, and may be "inflating drug costs and squeezing Main Street pharmacies" for profit, according to a searing interim report released Tuesday by the Federal Trade Commission.

Amid a national focus on America's uniquely astronomical drug costs, the FTC is taking aim at firms that largely work deep in the bowels of the country's labyrinthine health care system, well hidden from public understanding and scrutiny: pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs).

PBMs were initially hired by various payors—employers, health insurance companies, government health plans, and others—to manage prescription drug benefits through various plans. But PBMs have evolved over the years to also negotiate rebates from drugmakers, set reimbursements for dispensing pharmacies, and develop drug formularies (the list of drugs that a health plan covers.) While those functions alone grant PBMs a large amount of power, consolidation and integration over recent years has concentrated that power in troubling ways, according to the FTC report.

………

In the FTC's investigation so far, the commission found evidence that PBMs are steering people toward their affiliated pharmacies—hurting small, independent pharmacies—and allowing their affiliated pharmacies to rake in payments "grossly in excess" of average drug costs. For instance, for two generic cancer drugs (one for prostate cancer and the other for leukemia), pharmacies affiliated with the top three PBMs collectively raked in nearly $1.8 billion in revenue from 2020 to 2022. That represents an excess of revenue of $1.6 billion dollars over the national average cost for the drugs. In other words, pharmacies not affiliated with the top PBMs would have otherwise seen revenue of under $200 million for the same drug dispensing.

Further, the FTC found evidence that big PBMs and big brand pharmaceutical companies make agreements to exclude cheaper drugs made by a rival manufacturer from a PBM's drug formulary in exchange for certain pricing and rebates.

Burn all the PBMs to the ground.

My Heart Bleeds Borscht

With the recent Supreme Court decision voiding the Purdue Pharma bankruptcy has resulted in dozens of lawsuits being mooted against the company and its owners, the Sackler family.

Good.

While I don't expect these lawsuits to impoverish the family, who consciously stripped the company of assets as its liability issues increased, they will, at least be less rich:

Purdue Pharma’s creditors and more than 40 states are preparing a barrage of legal actions against members of the Sackler family, less than two weeks after the Supreme Court denied them legal immunity for their role as the company’s owners in the opioid crisis.

Purdue itself is supporting a proposal by a group of its creditors to sue individual Sacklers for transferring billions of dollars out of the company and into family trusts and overseas holding companies.

The motions, some filed and others in the planning stage, are part of intense maneuvering to pressure the Sacklers to settle thousands of opioid lawsuits brought years ago against them and their company. Negotiations are expected to resume imminently in mediation sessions and are widely seen as a last-ditch effort to reach a fresh deal. If one isn’t struck by Sept. 9, thousands of lawsuits against the company and family members, which have been on hold for nearly five years, are likely to proceed.

The Supreme Court’s ruling, on June 27, effectively dissolved an agreement negotiated between the Sacklers and Purdue, the manufacturer of the prescription opioid OxyContin, and states, local and tribal governments as well as individuals and other groups. Under that plan, the Sackers had agreed to contribute $6 billion — but only on the condition that they be granted protection from all civil lawsuits involving opioid claims.

The court said that although Purdue was entitled to liability protections, the Sacklers were not eligible. That is because Purdue sought bankruptcy restructuring, in which liability shields are commonly granted, but the Sacklers did not file for personal bankruptcy.

The Supreme Court got one right this session.  Stopped clock and all that.

………

Documentation that the Sacklers withdrew billions from Purdue has been public for years, notably from an audit by an independent firm that Purdue commissioned.

“The case for fraudulent transfer certainly looks strong,” said Melissa B. Jacoby, a law professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and author of a book about the bankruptcy system.

Technically, the looting of Purdue Pharma by the Sacklers is fraud.  There should be criminal investigations in addition to the civil suits.

Good Riddance

According to the police officers' union, 56% of officers on the Phoenix PD are planning on leaving if the city signs a consent decree with the feds.

First, let me give you three rules for understanding the statements from police and police unions regarding common sense reforms and accountability measures:

  1. Police lie.
  2. Police unions lie even more.
  3. Goto 1.

I would also add that any officer who wants to leave the force because they will not be allowed to operate above the law is in fact lawless, and so their exit should be celebrated:

The Phoenix Law Enforcement Association is the largest union of rank and file police officers employed by the city.

The group is warning that more than half of its officers are thinking about quitting within six months unless city leaders fight oversight from the U.S. Justice Department.

The union known by the acronym PLEA represents roughly 2,200 officers and detectives. Just over half took part in an internal survey, and 56% said they’re considering leaving the Phoenix Police Department.

The survey also found that nearly 90% of those officers would be willing to stay if Phoenix leaders refuse to sign an oversight agreement.

If cops don't want to follow the law, they should not be cops.

10 July 2024

Speaking of AI

In addition to being frauds, they are a privacy nightmare that preys on children.

Go figure:

Human Rights Watch (HRW) continues to reveal how photos of real children casually posted online years ago are being used to train AI models powering image generators—even when platforms prohibit scraping and families use strict privacy settings.

Last month, HRW researcher Hye Jung Han found 170 photos of Brazilian kids that were linked in LAION-5B, a popular AI dataset built from Common Crawl snapshots of the public web. Now, she has released a second report, flagging 190 photos of children from all of Australia’s states and territories, including indigenous children who may be particularly vulnerable to harms.

These photos are linked in the dataset "without the knowledge or consent of the children or their families." They span the entirety of childhood, making it possible for AI image generators to generate realistic deepfakes of real Australian children, Han's report said. Perhaps even more concerning, the URLs in the dataset sometimes reveal identifying information about children, including their names and locations where photos were shot, making it easy to track down children whose images might not otherwise be discoverable online.

That puts children in danger of privacy and safety risks, Han said, and some parents thinking they've protected their kids' privacy online may not realize that these risks exist.

………

Once an AI model trains on the images, there are other obvious privacy risks, including a concern that AI models are "notorious for leaking private information," Han said. Guardrails added to image generators do not always prevent these leaks, with some tools "repeatedly broken," Han reported.

Silly rabbit, don't you know that, "Move fast and break things," means operate with utter disregard for the well being of society or compliance with the law.

Maybe if regulators started frog marching AI executives out of their offices in handcuffs, we would see less of thsi sh%$.

Oh, Snap!

When Goldman Sachs, the, "Great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money, says that there is no money in it for them, there is no money in it for anyone.

Now Goldman Sachs is saying that there is no "there" there about artificial intelligence.

Given their predilections, as so eloquently stated early in cephalopod terms, this means that they don't even think that there is the opportunity to cheat the rubes out of their pocket change:

A week and a half ago, Goldman Sachs put out a 31-page-report (titled "Gen AI: Too Much Spend, Too Little Benefit?”) that includes some of the most damning literature on generative AI I've ever seen. And yes, that sound you hear is the slow deflation of the bubble I've been warning you about since March.

The report covers AI's productivity benefits (which Goldman remarks are likely limited), AI's returns (which are likely to be significantly more limited than anticipated), and AI's power demands (which are likely so significant that utility companies will have to spend nearly 40% more in the next three years to keep up with the demand from hyperscalers like Google and Microsoft).

This report is so significant because Goldman Sachs, like any investment bank, does not care about anyone's feelings unless doing so is profitable. It will gladly hype anything if it thinks it'll make a buck. Back in May, it was claimed that AI (not just generative AI) was "showing very positive signs of eventually boosting GDP and productivity," even though said report buried within it constant reminders that AI had yet to impact productivity growth, and states that only about 5% of companies report using generative AI in regular production.

(emphasis original

………

The reason I so agonizingly picked apart [go and read the original, the deep dive is informative and fun to read] this report is that if Goldman Sachs is saying this, things are very, very bad. It also directly attacks the specific hype-tactics of AI fanatics — the sense that generative AI will create new jobs (it hasn't in 18 months), the sense that costs will come down (they're haven’t, and there doesn't seem to be a path to them doing so in a way that matters), and that there's incredible demand for these products (there isn't, and there's no path to it existing).

This reminds me so much of the, "We lose money on every sale, but make it up in volume," era at the height of the dotcom boom.

Lots of people made lots of money for sh%$ that never had the remote prospect of working as a business, but the rest of us paid for that, and paid for that, and paid for that ………

Well, That Explains That Particular Delusion

Over the past few years, Tesla has increasingly pulled hardware from its self-driving systems, and has made little, if any, progress toward its goal, and its claim, of full self driving.

It now appears that Tesla has dozens (hundreds?) of employees whose job is to make sure that Elon's trips and those of his buddies get personally curated driving tweaks.

If you know the route, and throw significant resources to pre-program for the peculiarities those routes, you can make it seem that FSD works, even when it does not.

Tesla's self-driving cars seem like a marvel of machine learning.

But in reality, the company relies on a small army of human "data annotators" who continuously improve how the cars drive by reviewing camera footage from thousands of Tesla drivers and teaching the vehicle how to behave like a human driver, like deciding when it's appropriate to use a blinker or identifying a construction cone.

Business Insider has learned that those annotators focus their efforts on two high-profile categories of drivers: Tesla CEO Elon Musk and a select set of "VIP" drivers.

BI spoke with over a dozen current and former Tesla employees, all but one who spoke on condition of anonymity, who said images and video clips from Musk's Teslas received meticulous scrutiny, while data from high-profile drivers like YouTubers received "VIP" treatment in identifying and addressing issues with the Full Self-Driving software. The result is that Tesla's Autopilot and FSD software may better navigate routes taken by Musk and other high-profile drivers, making their rides smoother and more straightforward.

That means, experts say, Tesla's resources are being unevenly distributed and could serve as a distraction toward the company's larger mission of truly autonomous driving. 
Think about the business culture here, Tesla is sabotaging what it considers to be its most important effort in order to keep the boss from knowing that his program is failing.

This is a text-book example of a bad boss and a dysfunctional organization.

The Horror

Republicans are horrified that the Biden administration is actually requiring that ISPs follow the law and provide low cost internet service to lower income subscribers.

The short version is that in order to issue grants to ISPs under the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) the Biden administration is requiring that actual numbers being provided, as opposed to just making vague promises:

Republican lawmakers are fighting a Biden administration attempt to bring cheap broadband service to low-income people, claiming it is an illegal form of rate regulation. GOP leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee announced an investigation into the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), which is administering the $42.45 billion Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) program that was approved by Congress in November 2021.

"States have reported that the NTIA is directing them to set rates and conditioning approval of initial proposals on doing so. This undoubtedly constitutes rate regulation by the NTIA," states a letter to the NTIA from Committee Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), Subcommittee on Communications and Technology Chair Bob Latta (R-Ohio), and Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations Chair Morgan Griffith (R-Va.).

As evidence, the letter points to a statement by Virginia that described feedback received from the NTIA. The federal agency told Virginia that "the low-cost option must be established in the Initial proposal as an exact price or formula."

The Republicans said anecdotal evidence suggests "the NTIA may be evaluating initial proposals counter to Congressional intent and in violation of the law." They asked the agency for all communications about the grants between NTIA officials and state broadband offices.

The US law that ordered NTIA to distribute the money requires that Internet providers receiving federal funds offer at least one "low-cost broadband service option for eligible subscribers." But the law also says the NTIA may not "regulate the rates charged for broadband service."

No, it means that the ISPs, and states, can't blow smoke up the regulators asses and make a mockery of the law.

Republicans believe that government cannot work, and they do their best to prove it.

The Joys of Asian Markets

So, I've been hitting Asian markets looking for lotus leaves, (more on this eventually) and I visited the Great Wall Supermarket, and buzzed past the fish section, and they had Halibut steaks for $9.99/pound.

I haven't had Halibut in about 55 years, when I lived in Alaska.

I've considered getting Halibut before, but this is the first time I've seen it for less than $25.00/pound.

I removed the bones, rather ineptly, the fish ended up in small pieces, and I grilled it in butter, garlic, pepper and other spices.

Ugly, but it was a good eat.

09 July 2024

About F%$#ing Time

I am not a Catholic, and I cannot claim to have a deep knowledge of the theology Catholic church, but I am a practicing feudal monarchist on weekends (The Society for Creative Anachronism), and I do understand how calling the King, and the Pope is the absolute monarch of the Church, a c%$#-sucker is not something that his subjects are supposed to do.

It comes as no surprise then that after years of public and vituperative ranting against Pope Francis, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò has been excommunicated.

Truth be told, I'm surprised that they did not defrock him (technically a lesser punishment) as well:

The Vatican said on Friday that it had excommunicated Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, the church’s former ambassador to the United States, after finding him guilty of schism for refusing to recognize the authority of Pope Francis and the liberal reforms enacted after the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s.

Archbishop Viganò has emerged as one of the most unbridled conservative critics of Francis, calling him in public statements a “false prophet” and a “servant of Satan,” while embracing right-wing conspiracy theories and lauding former President Donald J. Trump.

Though excommunicated, Archbishop Viganò will be able to keep his title, but he will not be allowed to celebrate Mass, receive or administer sacraments and hold official positions within the church’s hierarchy.

………

In 2015, when he was the Vatican’s ambassador to the United States, the archbishop invited a critic of gay rights to greet the pope in Washington, challenging Francis’ message of inclusivity. At the time, the Vatican said it had been blindsided by the archbishop, and his standing at the Vatican began to deteriorate.

In 2018, he wrote a 7,000-word letter calling for the pope to resign, accusing Francis and Vatican officials before him of covering up sexual abuse by an American cardinal. The bombshell accusations, which were published when Francis was on a mission to Ireland issuing wrenching apologies for clerical sexual abuse scandals, amounted to an extraordinary public declaration of war against Francis’ papacy.

People like Viganò were the ones who cheered on the expulsion of any vestiges of liberalism or modernity under John Paul II while that Pope canonized literal Fascists. 

Those who were of a more liberal bent in the Church accepted this, and did not rant about this in public.

His Grace should be following the same protocol.