Later On

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Archive for July 2016

Getty Images learns the high cost of outright greed: $1 billion

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Michael Hiltzik has an interesting column in the LA Times that illustrates the idea of profit at any price occasionally does have a very high price:

Carol Highsmith is a distinguished photographer who has traveled all over America, aiming to chronicle for posterity the life of the nation in the early 21st century. She’s donating her work to the public via the Library of Congress, which has called her act “one of the greatest acts of generosity in the history of the Library.” The Carol M. Highsmith Archive, which is expected ultimately to encompass more than 100,000 images, is accessible royalty-free via the library’s website.

So one can imagine Highsmith’s reaction last December when she got a threatening letter from a firm associated with the photo licensing agency Getty Images, accusing her of license infringement by posting one of her own images online. The firm demanded a “settlement payment” of $120 from her nonprofit This Is America! Foundation, backed up by the implicit threat to take her to court.

Actually, one doesn’t have to imagine Highsmith’s reaction. One can read all about it inthe lawsuit she filed this week against Getty in New York federal court, accusing the agency of illicitly claiming rights to 18,755 of her photographs and seeking more than $1 billion in damages. The lawsuit also names Alamy, a British-based licensing agency that was purportedly the license holder whose rights were infringed. Neither Getty nor Alamy had the right to claim a license or copyright on her photos, she says.

The letter came from License Compliance Services, an arm of Getty Images. Gettyclaimed to Cyrus Farivar of Ars Technica that LCS and Getty have “no operational relationship,” but Highsmith’s lawyers say that’s dubious. The two companies share corporate quarters in Seattle, as well as three top executives, they observe in the lawsuit.

Highsmith, 70, found several aspects of Getty’s behavior especially irksome, beyond the fact that the agency “misrepresents the terms and conditions of using the Highsmith Photos by falsely claiming a user must buy a copyright license from Getty” in order to use them. (Indeed, numerous publications, including The Times, have used Highsmith images with credits to Getty.)

Getty nowhere identified Highsmith as the sole creator or copyright owner of the photographs it was hawking to the public. Nor did it volunteer to its clients that the photographs were available for free, in high-quality digital format, from the Library of Congress.

That could damage her own reputation, Highsmith says, since it could look as if she’s been trying to profit from images she had ostensibly donated to the public: “Anyone who sees the Highsmith Photos and knows or learns of her gift to the Library could easily believe her to be a hypocrite.”

Neither Getty nor Alamy has filed a formal answer to the lawsuit. In a public statement, however, Getty responded with bluster. The agency says the lawsuit is “based on a number of misconceptions” and plans to “defend [itself] vigorously.” It acknowledges that the images are in the public domain, but still maintains that it has the right to charge a fee for distributing the material. “Distributing and providing access to public domain content is different to asserting copyright ownership of it,” Getty says. That’s true as far as it goes, but skates over the question of who gave it permission to distribute the content on any terms.

Alamy has said even less. . .

Continue reading.

Greed-poisoning: it’s real, and this is an example. As the story notes later:

. . . In 2013, a federal court jury found that Getty and Agence France-Press had “willfully infringed” a photographer’s copyright on eight photos from the 2010 Haiti earthquake that the photographer posted on Twitter, but had been reposted without permission by another photographer. Getty conceded liability and, along with AFP, was slapped with $1.5 million in damages. . .

$1.5 million apparently wasn’t enough to teach Getty a lesson. Perhaps $1 billion will help them understand.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 July 2016 at 7:08 pm

Posted in Business, Law

Government betraying its mission: New Jersey Student Loan Agency to Staff: Don’t Tell Borrowers About Help Unless They Ask

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The government, as I understand it, is to be an advocate on behalf of the public. New Jersey doesn’t see it that way, as reported by Annie Waldman in ProPublica:

Some restaurants have secret menus, special items that you can only get if you know to ask. New Jersey’s student loan program has secret options, too — borrowers may be able to get help from the agency, but only if they know to ask.

New Jersey has the largest state-based student loan program in the country, with particularly stringent terms that can lead to financial ruin, as ProPublica and the New York Times recently detailed. The agency overseeing the program says it has a policy to help some families if the children who were supposed to benefit from the loans die.

But internal emails show that staffers at the Higher Education Student Assistance Authority, or HESAA, have been instructed not to tell families that they may qualify for help unless they explicitly ask.

“Families of deceased borrowers (or surviving cosigners) must inquire if HESAA has a policy on loan forgiveness,” a supervising staffer wrote in an email to employees in May 2016. “We should not be volunteering this information.” . . .

Continue reading.

The attitude does seem to match that of Chris Christie, who is governor of the state and lickspittle to Donald Trump.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 July 2016 at 3:24 pm

Posted in Business, GOP, Government

Scott Finn, model cop for a model police department

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Radley Balko reported in the Washington Post:

Last week, the New York Times sent reporters out on police ride-alongs in 10 U.S. cities. The subsequent Times article, called “One Police Shift: Patrolling an Anxious America” got a lot of attention. One officer chosen for the ride-along, Prince George’s County, Md., Police Lt. Scott Finn made a derisive comment about Black Lives Matter protesters. As my colleague Erik Wemple points out, Finn has a long and problematic history.

— [Finn] was investigated for shooting an unarmed man. He was eventually cleared.

— Drew an anonymous complaint in March 1999 from another officer after an incident in which a Capitol Heights man alleged that Finn “shoved his head against a patrol car.” The anonymous tipster said that Finn “has two speeds: start and overdrive. His over aggressiveness is what makes a calm situation get out of control.” A civilian review board concluded that Finn should be charged with lying. He got a promotion and a raise.

— Drew complaints for harassment and a threat in 2000 from a Forestville [Md.] woman.

— Appeared on a list generated by a police department computer to flag officers who’d drawn misconduct complaints.

— Responded with several other officers to an “incoherent” 911 call in Suitland, Md., in September 1999, and after arriving at the scene arrested 29-year-old Elmer C. Newman Jr., an African American man who was high on cocaine.

In the Newman case, Finn and the other officers claimed to have arrested Newman after he attacked them. But Newman was later found dead on the floor of his cell. An autopsy revealed that the officers had broken two of his ribs and two bones in his neck, and caused other internal injuries.

As Wemple points out, a 2001 Post investigation found that despite the county’s long history of misconduct, the department had a history of clearing its officers of any wrongdoing.

Wemple’s post takes the New York Times to task for not revealing Finn’s history. My question: Why is Finn still a cop at all? Why did these incidents of misconduct not only not lead to discipline, but instead were followed by promotions or raises? Moreover, why in the world would the Prince George’s Police Department choose this particular cop to host a ride-along with a New York Times reporter?

The Prince George’s County Police Department, incidentally, was under federal monitoring for much of the 1990 and 2000s. From a 2009 article in The Post:

After a series of shootings early in the decade drew the attention of federal investigators, the county agreed to make the improvements under the watch of an independent monitor in 2004 to avoid legal action. At the time, FBI agents were also investigating four incidents in which suspects died after being injured in struggles with county police.

It took county police five years — not the planned three — to meet the requirements but County Executive Jack B. Johnson yesterday praised the accomplishment nonetheless.

“We have rebuilt a police department that was once and now is considered a model for law enforcement,” Johnson said at a news conference.

Johnson gave these comments seven months after his county’s police department participated in a botched SWAT raid on the home of Berwyn Heights, Md., Mayor Cheye Calvo, killing his two dogs and holding him and his mother-in-law at gunpoint for hours. Johnson had dismissed the idea that the police had done anything wrong in the case, explaining thatthe fact that Calvo had been cleared of any drug-dealing and that an internal investigation had cleared police was “a pat on the back for everybody involved, I think.” (Johnson would later be indicted for corruption and is currently serving a seven-year prison sentence.)

The department had also been under a consent decree from 1999 through 2007 for its K9 units, which had an unfortunate habit of biting people.

Go back through The Post archives, and you’ll find that Johnson’s assurances that the agency has made improvements that make it a “model for law enforcement” are a common refrain. Here’s a 1987 story about police brutality in the county. It notes that Prince George’s County had been accused of systematic misconduct, brutality and coverups since the early 1970s. Each time there’s a new round of brutality revelations, there were assurances from county officials that despite the ugly history, things were getting better.

Since 2009, the department  appears to have avoided more consent decrees, but hasn’t avoided more scandal and allegations of brutality, including from a TV reporter, in the beating of a Maryland college student that was captured on numerous cellphones and the beating of an off-duty cop from Washington.

The college student, John McKenna, was beaten and arrested for assaulting police officers. Cellphone video shot by numerous nearby students clearly showed that the officer attacked McKenna without provocation. When a security camera that should have captured the incident failed to produce any footage, police claimed it had been pointed in another direction. The officer in charge of the security cameras was married to one of the officers accused of beating McKenna. Despite a $2 million settlement to McKenna from the county, the officers were let off with a slap on the wrist. From a 2014 editorial in The Post:

IN PRINCE George’s County, it is now clear that the police, without provocation, can beat an unarmed young student senseless — with impunity. They can blatantly lie about it — with impunity. They can stonewall and cover it up for months — with impunity. They can express no remorse and offer no apology — with impunity . . .

There were dozens of witnesses, including police. Yet what followed was an official wall of silence, dishonesty and denial from the department. Mr. McKenna’s injuries, the police initially said, were sustained when he was kicked by a horse.

The cops’ story fell apart when the video surfaced, but even then their stonewalling continued. For months, no one would identify the officers in riot gear who were shown beating Mr. McKenna.

It was only due to the persistence of Mr. McKenna’s lawyers that the cover-up and lies were shredded. At trial, in late 2012, a jury convicted Mr. Harrison on a felony charge of assault. Another officer, Reginald Baker, was acquitted, although he, too, used his baton to beat Mr. McKenna as he lay stunned and defenseless on the ground.

Harrison’s conviction was later thrown out by a local judge, who also happened to have once been married to a Prince George’s County cop accused of brutality. Even with the conviction, Harrison was allowed to retire with a full pension. When the judge threw it out, he was eligible to work again as a police officer.

The beating of the TV reporter and her cameraman was especially pertinent to the current discussion of police brutality. Because of one of the agency’s consent decrees with the Justice Department, all of its police cruisers had been outfitted with cameras. Nine cruisers were at the scene of the incident. The county claimed in court filings that there was no video footage of the altercation because all nine dash cameras had coincidentally malfunctioned, or the tapes had been lost. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 July 2016 at 11:17 am

How Benjamin Netanyahu Is Crushing Israel’s Free Press

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Ruth Margalit writes in the NY Times:

In its annual report released this spring, Freedom House, an American democracy advocacy organization, downgraded Israel’s freedom of the press ranking from “free” to “partly free.” To anyone following Israeli news media over the past year and a half, this was hardly surprising. Freedom House focused primarily on the “unchecked expansion” of paid content in editorial pages, as well as on the outsize influence of Israel Hayom (“Israel Today”), a free daily newspaper owned by the American casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and widely believed to promote the views of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Israel Hayom’s bias is well documented. A 2013 investigative report on Israeli television revealed drafts of several articles written by the paper’s journalists that had been systematically changed by the editor in chief to remove criticism of the prime minister. For a newspaper to have a political agenda is, of course, nothing new. But Israel Hayom isn’t conservative or right wing in the broad sense. Rather, the paper megaphones whatever is in the interest of the prime minister. Naftali Bennett, a far-right government minister, has said “Israel Hayom is Pravda — the mouthpiece of one man.”

In many ways, the Freedom House report missed the real worrying shifts. Mr. Netanyahu’s attempts to control the country’s pages and airwaves go much further than Israel Hayom. For the past 18 months, in addition to his prime ministerial duties, he has served as Israel’s communications minister (as well as its foreign minister, economy minister and minister of regional cooperation). In this role, he and his aides have brazenly leveraged his power to seek favorable coverage from outlets that he once routinely described as “radically biased.”

Efforts to stifle freedom of the press can be seen as part of a broader attack by Mr. Netanyahu and his ministers on Israel’s democratic institutions, including the Supreme Court and nongovernmental organizations. Dissent from the official government line is consistently called into suspicion. In this climate, the news media has become a personal battleground for Mr. Netanyahu. Nahum Barnea, a pre-eminent Israeli columnist, said last year that Mr. Netanyahu’s “obsession” with the news media showed him to be “gripped by fear and paranoia.”

On the first day after he was carried into a fourth term in office, Mr. Netanyahu took a seemingly small but unusual step: He fired the Communications Ministry’s director general and named in his stead a man best known for having once served as Mr. Netanyahu’s chief of staff. Any objections that this move may have raised were pre-empted by Mr. Netanyahu, who had already required all members of his coalition to sign a “communications clause,” guaranteeing their automatic support for any decision made in the future by the communications minister — in other words, by him.

Since the appointment of its new director general, the ministry has ruled on a series of decisions that have been highly advantageous to Bezeq, Israel’s largest telecommunications group. Bezeq also operates Walla News, one of the most popular news sites in the country, and a close associate of Mr. Netanyahu’s, Shaul Elovitch, owns a controlling stake.

It didn’t take long before the site’s coverage of the Netanyahu government turned decidedly positive. . .

Continue reading.

Hillary Clinton has pledged to support Netanyahu.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 July 2016 at 6:45 am

After Yemeni’s 13 Years in Guantánamo, Freedom for the Soul Takes Longer

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Charlie Savage reports in the NY Times:

TALLINN, Estonia — When guards brought Ahmed Abdul Qader to the plane that would take him away from the Guantánamo Bay prison a year and a half ago, he asked permission to pause before boarding. Closing his eyes, he tried to leave behind the burden of his 13 years of captivity.

Mr. Qader was about 17 — an overweight Yemeni teenager suspected [and for the US, suspicion is sufficient to imprison someone for 13 years – LG] of being a terrorist — when the United States military brought him to Guantánamo. When he left, he was past 30, his hair thinning, and about to start a new life in Estonia, a tiny Baltic country he had never heard of before it had decided to resettle a detainee a few months earlier.

A day later, he was in his new home, a modestly furnished studio apartment in Tallinn provided by the Estonian government. But the past, he soon realized, was not so easy to escape. Snow was falling, and he was eager to touch it. He started for the door, then suddenly panicked, fearful that something — he was not sure what — could go wrong if he went outside.

“Any trouble I get myself in now — even an honest mistake — will be a hundred times worse than if any normal person did it,” Mr. Qader said recently, trying to explain how that sense of paralysis has stayed with him.

“I thought that after two months’ release, I’d be back to normal,” he said. “But I cannot live my life regularly. I try, but it is like part of me is still at Guantánamo.”

Mr. Qader is one of about 780 men who have been held at the prison since the Bush administration opened it after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. A central part of the war on terrorism, Guantánamo was an experiment: using indefinite detention without trial, a tool of traditional wars, for an open-ended conflict in which distinguishing truly dangerous enemies from people caught on the periphery can be particularly difficult.

President Obama inherited 242 detainees when he came into office vowing to close the prison. Today 76 remain, 32 of them approved for transfer to a stable country willing to accept them. Congressional Republicans opposeclosing the prison and further transfers, pointing to the minority of former detainees accused of recidivism.

In the long and contentious debate over Guantánamo’s future, former detainees who have been transferred and caused no problems have been largely forgotten. But while their files may have been closed, the ambiguity surrounding their release — deemed safe enough to transfer, but never proven guilty or innocent — continues to brand them.

Mr. Qader recently told me his story in a series of conversations over several days this spring — in his apartment, strolling through Tallinn’s medieval Old Town, and riding a city bus to Estonia’s Islamic Center. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 July 2016 at 6:48 pm

The path to prosperity is blue

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Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson have a very interesting column in the NY Times. From that column:

Screen Shot 2016-07-30 at 6.22.21 PM
Screen Shot 2016-07-30 at 6.22.44 PM (1)

Read the whole thing.

Here’s just a section of the column:

. . . We identify blue states as the 18 that supported the Democratic candidate in the last four presidential elections, and red states as the 22 that backed the Republican candidate (alternative definitions yield similar results). If you compare averages, blue states are substantially richer (even adjusting for cost of living) and their residents are better educated. Companies there do more research and development and produce more patents. Students score better on tests of basic science-oriented skills like math.

How can conservative commentators claim that red states dominate? A tactic favored by Mr. Trump’s economic adviser Stephen Moore is to rely on measures goosed by population expansion, like job growth or a state economy’s size.

That’s like portraying India as a beacon of prosperity because it has one of the biggest economies in the world and creates millions of jobs annually. Economic performance is measured in the lives of individuals, not aggregates.

Another favorite approach is to cherry-pick a handful of red states with decent records and contrast them with the most troubled blue states. With Texas now stumbling as oil prices fall, the new conservative favorite is Utah.

Utah’s low poverty rate and long life expectancy are impressive, but spotlighting a single state ignores the more numerous red states that dominate the lowest ranks of state performance — whether for life expectancy, obesity, rates of violent crime and incarceration, or labor force participation of prime-age workers.

Many of these differences are longstanding. Our reddest region, the South, has long been the poorest part, too. The gap between today’s red and blue states was enormous for much of the 20th century. It then narrowed substantially, thanks in part to huge federal transfers to the poorest states to raise them toward the national level.

Yet income differences between red and blue states stopped closing around 1980 and, in some revealing cases, widened. For example, Texas and Massachusetts — often considered exemplars of the red and blue models — had almost converged by 1980. Since then, Texas’ per capita income has fallen significantly relative to Massachusetts’. The same is true of Utah. . .

Written by LeisureGuy

30 July 2016 at 6:33 pm

Circuit Court: North Carolina Law Targeted African-Americans “With Surgical Precision”

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Another excellent post from Kevin Drum that exposes the festering pus of racism that constitutes the North Carolina legislature. Read how carefully and deliberately the legislature acted to keep African-Americans from voting. A rancid state legislature.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 July 2016 at 4:29 pm

Posted in Election, GOP, Government, Law

“Donald Trump Is a Pathological Creep”

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Kevin Drum calls it like it is.

And Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell support and stand by this pathetic excuse for a person. That’s pretty much all you need to know about them.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 July 2016 at 3:35 pm

Posted in Election, GOP

Fascinating prototype of an augmented quadrocopter

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Augmented with an annular ring for more efficient forward flight:

More info in this Motherboard report by Madison Margolin.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 July 2016 at 3:02 pm

Posted in Techie toys, Video

A Different Way of Looking at the Minimum Wage

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Kevin Drum has an interesting post worth reading. From the post:

blog_minimum_vs_median_wage_international

The other chart at the link is also worth checking out.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 July 2016 at 1:14 pm

Trump’s basic character: Uncaring, suspicious, hostile—much like an angry sociopath

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Read this post by James Fallows and watch the video.

Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell continue to support Trump, which shows that they are devoid of any principles other than clinging to such power as they have. (Marc Rubio and Chris Christie similarly are devoid of principle, but no one ever thought they had any. Ryan and McConnell tried for a while to pretend, but the mask has fallen and the face revealed is ugly.)

Written by LeisureGuy

30 July 2016 at 1:06 pm

Posted in Election, GOP

Harnessing the Immune System to Fight Cancer

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In the NY Times Denise Grady has an optimistic report on the fight against cancer:

Steve Cara expected to sail through the routine medical tests required to increase his life insurance in October 2014. But the results were devastating. He had lung cancer, at age 53. It had begun to spread, and doctors told him it was inoperable.

A few years ago, they would have suggested chemotherapy. Instead, his oncologist, Dr. Matthew D. Hellmann of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, recommended an experimental treatment: immunotherapy. Rather than attacking the cancer directly, as chemo does, immunotherapy tries to rally the patient’s own immune system to fight the disease.

Uncertain, Mr. Cara sought a second opinion. A doctor at another major hospital read his scans and pathology report, then asked what Dr. Hellmann had advised. When the doctor heard the answer, Mr. Cara recalled, “he closed up the folder, handed it back to me and said, ‘Run back there as fast as you can.’”

Many others are racing down the same path. Harnessing the immune system to fight cancer, long a medical dream, is becoming a reality. Remarkable stories of tumors melting away and terminal illnesses going into remissions that last years — backed by solid data — have led to an explosion of interest and billions of dollars of investments in the rapidly growing field of immunotherapy. Pharmaceutical companies, philanthropists and the federal government’s “cancer moonshot” program are pouring money into developing treatments. Medical conferences on the topic are packed.

All this has brought new optimism to cancer doctors — a sense that they have begun tapping into a force of nature, the medical equivalent of splitting the atom.

“This is a fundamental change in the way that we think about cancer therapy,” said Dr. Jedd Wolchok, chief of melanoma and immunotherapeutics services at Memorial Sloan Kettering.

Hundreds of clinical trials involving immunotherapy, alone or combined with other treatments, are underway for nearly every type of cancer. “People are asking, waiting, pleading to get into these trials,” said Dr. Arlene Siefker-Radtke, an oncologist at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, who specializes in bladder cancer.

The immune system — a network of cells, tissues and biochemicals that they secrete — defends the body against viruses, bacteria and other invaders. But cancer often finds ways to hide from the immune system or block its ability to fight. Immunotherapy tries to help the immune system recognize cancer as a threat, and attack it.

Doctors tried a primitive version of immunotherapy against cancer more than 100 years ago. It sometimes worked remarkably well, but often did not, and they did not understand why. Eventually, radiation and chemotherapy eclipsed it.

Researchers are now focused on two promising types of immunotherapy. One . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 July 2016 at 11:34 am

The arrogance of Uber knows no bounds, and a Federal judge is fed up

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Sam Biddle reports in The Intercept:

In December of last year, Yale environmental researcher Spencer Meyer filed suit against Uber, alleging price fixing by Uber’s drivers and founder in violation of federal antitrust law. Hardly the first person to accuse Uber of corporate malfeasance, Meyer nonetheless became the target of private investigators, working for a security company hired by Uber, who attempted to dig up derogatory information — an act the district judge hearing the case, Jed Rakoff, has now, in a 31-page order, called “blatantly fraudulent and arguably criminal.”

Emails turned over by Uber on the judge’s instructions and summarized in the order show that on the day Meyer filed suit, Uber counsel Salle Yoo contacted the company’s chief security officer, asking, “Could we find out a little more about this plaintiff?”

Uber investigations chief Mat Henley then selected a New York-based private investigative firm called Ergo, also known as Global Precision Research, and began working with one of its executives, Todd Egeland, Henley said in a sworn deposition. Egeland’s online bios state openly that he is a 28-year veteran of the CIA with experience in counterintelligence and cyberthreats.

From the very start, the Uber-Ergo deal was set up to avoid potential scrutiny: Court-obtained documents reveal that both parties used Wickr, a self-deleting messaging app, and encrypted email “to avoid potential discovery issues,” although, as seen in the email message below, from Henley to two Ergo executives, including Egeland, some of the material was eventually discovered. . .

Continue reading.

Later in the article:

. . . In his ruling, Judge Rakoff described the investigation as a “dismal incident”:

It is a sad day when, in response to the filing of a commercial lawsuit, a corporate defendant feels compelled to hire unlicensed private investigators to conduct secret personal background investigations of both the plaintiff and his counsel. It is sadder yet when these investigators flagrantly lie to friends and acquaintances of the plaintiff and his counsel in an (ultimately unsuccessful) attempt to obtain derogatory information about them.

Rakoff goes on to highlight a litany of irresponsible and “arguably criminal” acts on the part of Ergo and Uber:

Moreover, if Ergo’s misrepresentations to sources were not sufficient evidence of the applicability of the crime-fraud exception, two additional features of Ergo’s conduct highlight their conduct’s impropriety. First, although Ergo was located in New York, Ergo, as previously noted, did not possess a private investigator’s license to engage in its investigative activities, as required by New York law. … Violation of this licensing provision may itself be prosecuted as a criminal misdemeanor. … Ergo seeks to explain this violation as, variously, an “oversight of a small company with limited resources,” … or as a product of Ergo’s understanding that its work did not “fit the traditional plain meaning of private investigation work in New York.” … But if concocting fictitious stories to induce acquaintances of a client’s litigation adversary to shed light on the adversary’s employment, finances, family life, and motivation for bringing a lawsuit does not constitute private investigation work, then the Court does not know what would.

Rakoff notes that . . .

Read the whole thing.

You know, this sort of behavior would be sharply curtailed if CEOs went to prison for it.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 July 2016 at 11:08 am

Posted in Business, Law

The FBI sometimes seems out of control

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Jenna McLaughlin reports in The Intercept:

The target of a federal investigation that set off a more than decade-long battle over secret subpoenas called national security letters was a Muslim prison reform advocate the FBI wanted to become an informant.

Nick Merrill, who fought to make the information public, revealed that information for the first time at a hacker conference in New York City.

Merrill was the head of an Internet hosting company when the controversy began. He had launched a small New York-based internet service provider called Calyx Internet Access in the 1990s, and he also consulted on digital security.

In 2004, the FBI sent him a national security letter demanding extensive records on one of his customers.

National security letters are secret subpoenas the FBI can send to internet and technology companies to demand various types of records about their customers’ online behaviors without ever getting a court order. In Merrill’s case, that request was particularly broad — for browsing records, email address information, billing information, and more.

In response, Merrill launched a court battle challenging the constitutionality of the letter itself, and then, when the FBI withdrew it, to free himself from the gag order forbidding him from ever speaking about it.

Speaking during the Hackers of Planet Earth, or HOPE, conference last week, Merrill shared previously nonpublic information about the nearly 12 years he spent first trying to challenge the FBI’s request itself, and then trying to lift the gag order placed on him after the FBI withdrew it. He disclosed additional details to The Intercept following his talk.

Merrill told The Intercept that the target of the national security letter was someone whose website he was hosting. He said the target was Muslim, but gave no further details, to protect his identity. He did not explain why the FBI considered this a national security matter.

Merrill’s national security letter was issued before President George W. Bush’s Department of Justice told the FBI it didn’t have the power to ask for such extensive records without consulting a judge — though as The Intercept reported in June, it’s not clear the agency ever actually stopped asking for such records.

Merrill said that as far as he knows, the target of the FBI investigation was never charged with a crime and turned over his hard drives voluntarily. The man had trouble finding jobs and boarding airplanes during the investigation, according to Merrill’s presentation.

Merrill said he maintained contact with the man for the entire 12 years, walking on eggshells when it came to the case and what he could share. One time, he told The Intercept, the target even sent him a photo of something he found on the bottom of his car — a device Merrill says a friend told him was a military-grade tracker. . .

Continue reading.

As noted in the article, the DoJ inspector general has repeatedly criticized the FBI for not following the rules in filing national security letter, and even when specifically told that a national security letter is not allowed, the FBI used it anyway. The FBI, like other law enforcement agencies, has many in it who believe that they are above the law. And, of course, they are not held accountable for their actions, just as police are rarely held accountable for their own law-breaking.

Do read the entire article.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 July 2016 at 10:36 am

Gold-plated British Aristocrat goes to auction

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Gold Aristocrat bar side

This one, unlike the gold Aristocrat listed earlier, has a bar guard and is in fact British and not American. It’s listed here.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 July 2016 at 10:07 am

Posted in Shaving

Simpson Emperor, Gillette Slim, Meißner Tremonia Himalayan Heights, and Anthony Gold Red Cedar

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SOTD 2016-07-30

A cedar-themed shave this morning, and a very good shave it was. The Simpson Emperor 3 Super brush easily made a fine lather from Meißner Tremonia’s wonderful Himalayan Heights shaving soap: “the woody-spicy scent of Himalayan cedar and Himalayan salt.”

The Gillette Slim shown has been replated in rhodium, and it shaves quite well: a BBS result in three passes, with the setting at “5.”

A splash of Anthony Gold’s wonderful red-cedar aftershave from The Copper Hat in Victoria BC, and the weekend begins.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 July 2016 at 9:52 am

Posted in Shaving

When physicians betray our trust: Regents OK $8.5 million for 2 patients suing over financial conflicts at UCLA

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Of course, the doctor and the university have stated (through press releases) that they did absolutely nothing wrong. They are paying the $8.5 million simply because of their generous impulses. Medtronic also made a payment under conditions that require that no information be release (because they want to protect patient privacy? give me a break).

This sort of flagrant wrongdoing and blatantly false denial of wrongdoing undermines one’s confidence in our formerly trusted institutions. And it is also infuriating that the university and the doctor think that the public is so easily fooled. $8.5 million for nothing? Not likely.

Here’s the story. Judge for yourself whether the university and the doctor are simply lying.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 July 2016 at 8:51 pm

In the Hillary Clinton Era, Democrats Welcome Lobbying Money Back Into the Convention

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Debbie Wasserman Schulz actively recruited lobbyists to join the DNC, and Hillary Clinton’s praise and support of DWS indicates Clinton’s own predilections: a very accommodating attitude toward lobbyists (cf. her speaking fees that she personally accepted from Goldman Sachs). This is one big drawback to Clinton: business as usual with respect to lobbyists, Wall Street, and big corporations.

Just to be clear: Clinton is worlds better than Trump, but she is totally a part of the system and is way too accommodating to special interests. She has feathered her nest, so she doesn’t see anything wrong with nest-feathering. I support her in this election, but I do not for one minute think she has a progressive outlook.

Zaid Jilani and Alex Emmons report for The Intercept:

By quietly dropping a ban on direct donations from registered federal lobbyists and political action committees, the Democratic National Committee in February reopened the floodgates for corruption that Barack Obama had put in place in 2008. [This was Debbie Wasserman Schulz’s doing. – LG]

Secret donors with major public-policy agendas were welcomed back in from the cold and showered with access and appreciation at the Democratic convention in Philadelphia.

Major donors were offered “Family and Friends” packages, including suites at the Ritz-Carlton, backstage passes, and even seats in the Clinton family box. Corporate lobbyists like Heather Podesta celebrated the change, telling Time: “My money is now good.”

What was going on inside the convention hall was also reflected outside, at costly events sponsored by the  fossil fuel industrytechnology companiesfor-profit collegespharmaceutical companies, and railway companies, to name a few.

Craig Holman, an elections financing expert at Public Citizen, said that the end of the lobbyist contribution ban as well as Congress’s 2014 terminationof all remaining public financing of the party conventions has served to undermine democracy. “The implications of these changes are that we have opened up access to the parties and the conventions to just the very, very wealthy,” he said.

He pointed out that Congress originally passed the law to publicly finance presidential conventions after a 1972 scandal where President Richard Nixon terminated an anti-trust investigation eight days after the telecommunications company ITT donated heavily to that year’s Republican convention.

For the more than 1,900 Bernie Sanders delegates at the convention, the dependence on high-roller lobbyists was particularly galling. Sanders’s campaign was built on a simple promise: he would shun big-ticket fundraisers and corporate lobbyists in favor of a legion of small donors. And it worked. By the end of April 2016, Sanders’s campaign was actually raising more money than Clinton’s, which was welcoming support from corporate lobbyists and bundlers.

But an overwhelming majority of Democratic lawmakers we spoke to at the convention didn’t seem troubled by the rule change at all.

At a posh event hosted by The Atlantic and paid for by the American Petroleum Institute oil lobby, Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, shrugged off concerns about the influence of special interest groups.

“I don’t know, you’ll have to ask the DNC on that,” he said in response to a question whether lifting the ban was the right move.

“Do you think that lobbyists have undue influence?” we followed up.

“I don’t know.”

“What about energy lobbyists? What about oil lobbyists?”

“What about ’em?”

“Do you think they have undue influence in the United States?”

“I think they’re just like teachers, like firemen, like everybody who contributes.”

“What about the Koch Brothers, who spent $400 million on an election?”

“You’ve gotta go talk to the Koch Brothers,” he replied, ending the conversation.

Democratic Rep. Hank Johnson of Georgia offered a Willie Sutton justification for lifting the lobbying ban. “The lobbyists, that’s where the money is,” he said.

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley made . . .

Continue reading.

This selling out the Federal government is exactly what Bernie Sanders was running against. Hillary Clinton thinks it’s just fine. (She, after all, was happy to accept money personally from the likes of Goldman Sachs.)

Written by LeisureGuy

29 July 2016 at 6:55 pm

Lamb sausage one-pot meal

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I’m really pleased that I finally realized that the 2-quart cast-iron dutch oven holds four meals and not two (unless you are physically quite active). I noticed the meal tonight (1/4 of the pot) was reasonable in size and quite filling, not to mention extremely tasty.

Pour a little olive oil in the empty 2-qt cast iron pot, then with your hands coat the sides and also the inside of the lid. Then layers, from the bottom up:

4 chopped shallots
a little chopped celery (perhaps 1/4 c)
3 chopped domestic white mushrooms (about the size of a squash ball)
1/3 c hulled barley (I think next time I’ll go to 1/2 c)
1 lb lamb sausage (Istanbul sausage from Whole Foods: spicy)
minced garlic
chopped fresh fennel (this time the fronds, not the bulb: bulb next time)
1/2 medium zucchini, diced
4 slices Italian eggplant, diced
1/2 green bell pepper, chopped
about 16 pitted Kalamata olives, halved
crumbled feta cheese (sheep and goat milk)
2 Roma tomatoes, diced
1 lemon, ends cut off and then diced

If you make one of these one-pot meals, you’ll notice that it doesn’t take much quantity to create a layer.

You might wonder why I count this as a low-carb recipe, given the 1/3 c hulled barley. But 1/3 c hulled barley = 12g, which amounts  8.8g total carbs, of which 2g is dietary fiber, so roughly 7g net carbs for four servings: <2g per serving. That’s low carb.

The lemon contributes 12g carbs – 5g dietary fiber, for 7g net carbs: again <2g per serving.

The pour-over:

2 Tbsp Bragg vinaigrette
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp red-wine vinegar
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
2 tsp Dijon mustard
3/4 tsp smoked paprika

Shake well in a little jar and pour over the top.

There was a little extra liquid, but it is quite tasty, so no problem. But I’ll cut back on the added liquid. I imagine the tomatoes and lemon contribute a fair amount of liquid.

We each ate 1/4 of the pot, so the remaining 1/2 pot will be dinner for tomorrow—and a very tasty dinner it will be.

I’m very glad to get back to these meals. I like how they make improvisation easy, how they have a lot of vegetables while you can easily limit the amount of starch and protein, and how very tasty they are.

You really should try it. Cover and cook 45.0 minutes at 450ºF, and then let sit 15 minutes.

I will note that the problem with the Lodge 2-quart cast-iron dutch oven is that it is low and squat, which doesn’t work so well with layering the food. Still, $22.50 isn’t bad. Le Creuset is a better shape, but $200 seems steep.

But check this out: Macy’s has the Martha Stewart Collection Collector’s Enameled Cast Iron 2 Qt. Round Casserole in blueberry for $30 (on sale). Right now that looks like your best bet. (Price varies by color, note.)

The $20 Stansport (formerly Texsport) 2-quart dutch oven is perfect, and it is available at Walmart. I recommend you remove the two wire handles, which is easy; you can reinstall them if you at some point want to hang the pot over a fire. This one is not enameled, so before the first use you should season it: rub inside (including underside of lid) with fat (beef fat, or just a piece of bacon), then leave it in a 300ºF oven for half an hour or so. I find that seasoned and unenameled cast-iron pots are easy to clean, particularly if you use the Ringer, a scrubber made of chain mail. Just use that with hot water, and reseason as needed.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 July 2016 at 6:40 pm

Posted in Food, GOPM, Low carb, Recipes

6 state employees criminally charged in connection with Flint water crisis

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Excellent news: they betrayed their public trust. Here’s the story. From the story:

The six new indictments bring the total number of individuals charged in relation to the Flint water crisis to nine. Schuette had brought felony charges against two Michigan Department of Environmental Quality officials and one City of Flint official in April. . . .

Michigan governor Rick Snyder was reported to withhold information from the investigation.

 My hope is that Rick Snyder will be indited for obstruction of justice.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 July 2016 at 5:14 pm

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