Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for November 26th, 2016

Sounds as though WaPo was played: Washington Post Disgracefully Promotes a McCarthyite Blacklist From a New, Hidden, and Very Shady Group

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Ben Norton and Glenn Greenwald report in The Intercept:

The Washington Post on Thursday night promoted the claims of a new, shadowy organization that smears dozens of U.S. news sites that are critical of U.S. foreign policy as being “routine peddlers of Russian propaganda.” The article by reporter Craig Timberg – headlined “Russian propaganda effort helped spread ‘fake news’ during election, experts say” – cites a report by a new, anonymous website calling itself “PropOrNot,” which claims that millions of Americans have been deceived this year in a massive Russian “misinformation campaign.”

The group’s list of Russian disinformation outlets includes WikiLeaks and the Drudge Report, as well as Clinton-critical left-wing websites such as Truthout, Black Agenda Report, Truthdig and Naked Capitalism, as well as libertarian venues such as and the Ron Paul Institute.

This Post report was one of the most widely circulated political news articles on social media over the last 48 hours, with dozens, perhaps hundreds, of U.S. journalists and pundits with large platforms hailing it as an earth-shattering exposé. It was the most-read piece on the entire Post website after it was published on Friday.

Yet the article is rife with obviously reckless and unproven allegations, and fundamentally shaped by shoddy, slothful journalistic tactics. It was not surprising to learn that, as BuzzFeed’s Sheera Frenkel noted, “a lot of reporters passed on this story.” Its huge flaws are self-evident. But the Post gleefully ran with it and then promoted it aggressively, led by its Executive Editor Marty Baron:

In casting the group behind this website as “experts,” the Post described PropOrNot simply as “a nonpartisan collection of researchers with foreign policy, military and technology backgrounds.” Not one individual at the organization is named. The executive director is quoted, but only on the condition of anonymity, which the Post said it was providing the group “to avoid being targeted by Russia’s legions of skilled hackers.”

In other words, the individuals behind this newly created group are publicly branding journalists and news outlets as tools of Russian propaganda – even calling on the FBI to investigate them for espionage – while cowardly hiding their own identities. . .

Continue reading.

And do read the whole thing. Bezos may be great at retail sales, but he sure doesn’t know how to run a newspaper. The WaPo muffed this badly by showing the shallowness of their “investigation and research” (if indeed there were any).

Later in the article:

Who exactly is behind PropOrNot, where it gets its funding and whether or not it is tied to any governments is a complete mystery. The Intercept also sent inquiries to the Post’s Craig Timberg asking these questions, and asking whether he thinks it is fair to label left-wing news sites like Truthout “Russian propaganda outlets.” Timberg replied: “I’m sorry, I can’t comment about stories I’ve written for the Post.”

As is so often the case, journalists – who constantly demand transparency from everyone else – refuse to provide even the most basic levels for themselves. When subjected to scrutiny, they reflexively adopt the language of the most secrecy-happy national security agencies: we do not comment on what we do.

Timberg’s piece on the supposed ubiquity of Russian propaganda is misleading in several other ways. The other primary “expert” upon which the article relies is Clint Watts, a fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, a pro-Western think tank whose board of advisors includes neoconservative figures like infamous orientalist scholar Bernard Lewis and pro-imperialist Robert D. Kaplan, the latter of whom served on the U.S. government’s Defense Policy Board.

What the Post does not mention in its report is that Watts, one of the specialists it relies on for its claims, previously worked as an FBI special agent on a Joint Terrorism Task Force and as the executive officer of the U.S. Military Academy’s Combating Terrorism Center. As Fortune’s Ingram wrote of the group, it is “a conservative think tank funded and staffed by proponents of the Cold War between the U.S. and Russia.”

PropOrNot is by no means a neutral observer. It actively calls on Congress and the White House to work “with our European allies to disconnect Russia from the SWIFT financial transaction system, effective immediately and lasting for at least one year, as an appropriate response to Russian manipulation of the election.”

In other words, this blacklisting group of anonymous cowards – putative experts in the pages of The Washington Post – are actively pushing for Western governments to take punitive measures against the Russian government, and are speaking and smearing from an extreme ideological framework that the Post concealed from its readers.

Written by Leisureguy

26 November 2016 at 8:41 pm

Posted in Business, Media

Interesting, eh? Some Fake News Publishers Just Happen to Be Donald Trump’s Cronies

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Ian Fang reports in The Intercept:

The extraordinary phenomenon of fake news spread by Facebook and other social media during the 2016 presidential election has been largely portrayed as a lucky break for Donald Trump.

By that reckoning, entrepreneurial Macedonian teenagers, opportunists in Tbilisi and California millennials have exploited social media algorithms in order to make money — only incidentally leading to the viral proliferation of mostly anti-Clinton and anti-Obama hoaxes and conspiracy theories that thrilled many Trump supporters. The Washington Post published a shoddy report on Thursday alleging that Russian state-sponsored propagandists were seeking to promote Trump through fabricated stories for their own reasons, independent of the candidate himself.

But a closer look reveals that some of the biggest fake news providers were run by experienced political operators well within the orbit of Donald Trump’s political advisers and consultants.

Laura Ingraham, a close Trump ally currently under consideration to be Trump’s White House press secretary, owns an online publisher called Ingraham Media Group that runs a number of sites, including LifeZette, a news site that frequently posts articles of dubious veracity. One video produced by LifeZette this summer, ominously titled “Clinton Body Count,” promoted a conspiracy theory that the Clinton family had some role in the plane crash death of John F. Kennedy, Jr., as well as the deaths of various friends and Democrats.

The video, published on Facebook from LifeZette’s verified news account, garnered over 400,000 shares and 14 million views.

Another LifeZette video, picking up false claims from other sites, claimed that voting machines “might be compromised” because a voting machine company called Smartmatic, allegedly providing voting machines “in sixteen states,” was purchased by the liberal billionaire George Soros. Soros never purchased the company, and Smartmatic did not provide voting machines used in the general election.

One LifeZette article misleadingly claimed that the United Nations backed a “secret” Obama administration takeover of local police departments. The article referenced Justice Department orders that a select few police departments address patterns of misconduct, a practice that, in reality, long predates the Obama presidency, is hardly secret, and had no relation to the United Nations.

Another LifeZette article, which went viral in the week prior to the election, falsely claimed that Wikileaks had revealed that a senior Hillary Clinton campaign official had engaged in occult rituals. Ingraham’s site regularly receives links from the Drudge Report and other powerful drivers of Internet traffic.

But LifeZette, for all its influence, pales in comparison to the sites run by Floyd Brown, a Republican consultant close to Trump’s inner circle of advisers. Brown gained notoriety nearly three decades ago for his role in helping to produce the “Willie Horton” campaign advertisement, a spot criticized for its use of racial messaging to derail Michael Dukakis’s presidential bid. Brown is also the political mentor of David Bossie, an operative who went to work for Trump’s presidential campaign this year after founding the Citizens United group. In an interview this year, Brown called Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway a “longtime friend.”

Brown now produces a flow of reliably pro-Trump Internet content through a company he owns called Liftable Media Inc., which operates a number of high-impact, tabloid-style news outlets that exploded in size over the course of the election. . .

Continue reading. There’s a lot more.

I don’t think much of seditious libel as a crime, but I think a case could be made for seditious spamming of fake news, which corrodes the basis for our democracy and government. In other words, I think the offense is quite serious. It’s no laughing matter.

Written by Leisureguy

26 November 2016 at 8:27 pm

Worth reading: “Why I Left White Nationalism”

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And worth pondering, since I think most with any trace of a liberal education will believe that it will be best for our communities, culture, and country if a lot of people left white nationalism, so it’s worth paying attention to those who do and discover what motivated them.

R. Derek Black writes in the NY Times:

I could easily have spent the night of Nov. 8 elated, surrounded by friends and family, thinking: “We did it. We rejected a multicultural and globalist society. We defied the elites, rejected political correctness, and made a statement millions of Americans have wanted to shout for decades.”

I’d be planning with other white nationalists what comes next, and assessing just how much influence our ideology would have on this administration. That’s who I was a few years ago.

Things look very different for me now. I am far away from the community that I grew up in, and that I once hoped could lead our country to a moment like this.

I was born into a prominent white nationalist family — David Duke is my godfather, and my dad started Stormfront, the first major white nationalist website — and I was once considered the bright future of the movement.

In 2008, at age 19, I ran for and won a Palm Beach County Republican committee seat a few months before Barack Obama was elected president. I received national media attention and for a while couldn’t go out without being congratulated for “telling them what’s what.”

I grew up in West Palm Beach across the water from Donald J. Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate, and he was always a loud presence in the neighborhood. I would drive a pickup truck with a Confederate flag sticker past his driveway each morning on my way to the beach and my family would walk out into the front yard to watch his fireworks on New Year’s Eve.

It surprises me now how often Mr. Trump and my 19-year-old self would have agreed on our platforms: tariffs to bring back factory jobs, increased policing of black communities, deporting illegal workers and the belief that American culture was threatened. I looked at my white friends and family who felt dispossessed, at the untapped political support for anyone — even a kid like me — who wasn’t afraid to talk about threats to our people from outsiders, and I knew not only that white nationalism was right, but that it could win.

Several years ago, I began attending a liberal college where my presence prompted huge controversy. Through many talks with devoted and diverse people there — people who chose to invite me into their dorms and conversations rather than ostracize me — I began to realize the damage I had done. Ever since, I have been trying to make up for it.

For a while after I left the white nationalist movement, I thought my upbringing made me exaggerate the likelihood of a larger political reaction to demographic change. Then Mr. Trump gave his Mexican “rapists” speech and I spent the rest of the election wondering how much my movement had set the stage for his. Now I see the anger I was raised with rocking the nation.

People have approached me looking for a way to change the minds of Trump voters, but I can’t offer any magic technique. . .

Continue reading.

Later in the column, he points out that support of the measures was a good example of whose ox is gored:

Mr. Trump’s comments during the campaign echoed how I also tapped into less-than-explicit white nationalist ideology to reach relatively moderate white Americans. I went door-to-door in 2008 talking about how Hispanic immigration was overwhelming “American” culture, how black neighborhoods were hotbeds of crime, and how P.C. culture didn’t let us talk about any of it. I won that small election with 60 percent of the vote.

A substantial portion of the American public has made clear that it feels betrayed by the establishment, and so it elected a president who denounces all Muslims as potential conspirators in terrorism; who sees black communities as crime-ridden; who taps into white American mistrust of foreigners, particularly of Hispanics; and who promises the harshest form of immigration control. If we thought Mr. Trump himself might backtrack on some of this, we are now watching him fill a cabinet with people able to make that campaign rhetoric into real policy.

Much has been made of the incoherence of Mr. Trump’s proposals, but what really matters is who does — and doesn’t — need to fear them. None of the ideas that Mr. Trump has put forward would endanger me, and I once enthusiastically advocated for most of what he says. No proposal to put more cops in black neighborhoods to stop and frisk residents would cause me to be harassed. A ban on Muslim immigration doesn’t implicate all people who look like me in terrorism. Overturning Roe v. Wade will not force me to make a dangerous choice about my health, nor will a man who personifies sexual assault without penalty make me any less safe. When the most powerful demographic in the United States came together to assert that making America great again meant asserting their supremacy, they were asserting my supremacy.

And later:

Most of Mr. Trump’s supporters did not intend to attack our most vulnerable citizens. But with him in office we have a duty to protect those who are threatened by this administration and to win over those who don’t recognize the impact of their vote. Even those on the furthest extreme of the white nationalist spectrum don’t recognize themselves doing harm — I know that because it was easy for me, too, to deny it.

Written by Leisureguy

26 November 2016 at 5:49 pm

When advertising colonizes content so that you cannot escape it

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Tim Wu reviews an interesting if somewhat depressing book in the NY Times:

Black Ops Advertising
Native Ads, Content Marketing, and the Covert World of the Digital Sell
By Mara Einstein
248 pp. OR Books. Paper, $18.

I don’t often watch late night television, which may be why I was caught unawares. Jimmy Fallon’s opening monologue began hilariously enough, when abruptly he pivoted to a series of inexplicably weak jokes centered on a forthcoming football game. It slowly dawned on me that I was watching a commercial for NBC’s “Sunday Night Football,” albeit one baked right into the opening monologue and delivered by Fallon himself.

The realization that something you thought to be “real” is actually an advertisement is an increasingly common, if unsettling, sensation. Mara Einstein calls it “content confusion,” and if her book, “Black Ops Advertising,” is right, we’re in for even more such trickery, indeed a possible future where nearly everything becomes hidden commercial propaganda of one form or another. She forecasts the potential of a “world where there is no real content: Everything we experience is some form of sales pitch.”

Einstein, a former advertising executive turned media professor (who, among other things, worked campaigns for Uncle Ben’s and Miller Lite), makes it clear that things were not always this way. Once upon a time the line between editorial and advertising, if not exactly a Chinese wall, was somewhat clearer. Einstein’s well-researched and accomplished book is mainly about the effort to tear down that wall. The sledgehammers and pick axes in this case are things like “sponsored content,” “native advertising” and “content marketing” designed to fool you into thinking they are real. Such stealth advertising may entertain or inform, yet it also brands, or more cleverly, facilitates a later branding exercise or sales pitch. The handoff can be smooth enough that you don’t notice you’ve been steered to exit through the gift shop.

“Black Ops” presents some startling examples of stealth advertising. Remember that guy who in 2012 jumped out of a helium balloon at 128,000 feet for a new world record? Covered widely in the media, it was all, according to Einstein, a disguised Red Bull marketing campaign, but one where Red Bull’s role was so discrete as to be almost invisible. You may also recall the audacious “tagging” of Air Force One by a graffiti artist named Marc Ecko, which has been viewed nearly a million times on YouTube. It was a hoax intended for the branding of a clothing and accessories label. That “ad” fooled so many members of the public and press that it was awarded the top prize for digital media at the annual Cannes Lions advertising festival.

The book is slightly guilty of exaggerating the novelty of present-day advertising techniques. Content that doubles as brand advertising is not exactly new. In the 1980s, “The Transformers” and “G.I. Joe” were popular children’s cartoons but also advertisements, and so of course was the much beloved “Mickey Mouse Club” back in the 1960s. The idea of inventing media stories for commercial purpose also has a long pedigree, dating to at least the late 1920s, when Lucky Strike staged a protest (the “torches of liberty”) featuring attractive women demanding the right to smoke outdoors as a part of suffragist liberation (yielding, ultimately, an equal right to lung cancer). Subliminal advertising, perhaps the blackest of all black ops, was popular in the 1950s, until it was banned. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

26 November 2016 at 5:42 pm

The US is a prison nation and it imposes solitary confinement a lot

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For a quick orientation, read the Wikipedia article on incarceration in the United States.  Martin Garbus reviews a book in the NY Review of Books:

Hell Is a Very Small Place: Voices from Solitary Confinement
edited by Jean Casella, James Ridgeway, and Sarah Shourd, with an afterword by Juan E. Méndez
New Press, 226 pp., $25.95

If you look inside a solitary confinement cell such as the ones I have visited in New York’s Sing Sing prison, you’ll see a gray-walled, eight-by-eight-foot room with a concrete slab bed; it’s underground, more like a tomb than a cell. The light is always on. Usually there aren’t any windows, but there is a toilet (no toilet seat or paper) and a shower.

The solitary cell is home to a single prisoner, twenty-three or twenty-four hours a day; the extreme isolation and sensory deprivation imposed by the cell can last for days, months, years, or decades on end. Someone who visits a solitary cell might not notice the feces or the urine that leaks from the cells above, down the walls into a puddle on the floor. He or she would not be shown prisoners mutilating themselves or fighting guards or one another to the death, or men in their underwear, or naked, shackled by their hands to the bottom of bunks, deprived of books, paper, radio, pens, or pencils. I have represented a range of defendants in constitutional and criminal cases during the last fifty years, and my clients who have spent time in solitary consistently testify to having witnessed, or been subjected to, these abuses.

They describe being shackled to their bunks by their feet and hands, and moved from place to place like animals. They report being fed slop and also left without food in a state of extreme hunger. They tell me that hooded guards, armed with tasers and bats, in body armor and riot gear, extract prisoners from their cells and leave them lying on the floor, beaten, bruised, and unexamined by doctors. Once you see—and smell—a solitary cell, you will never forget it.

I first saw a solitary cell at Sing Sing in 1963, when I went to visit Fred Wood, an inmate there. (Mr. Wood, who had the odd distinction of being the next-to-last man executed by New York State, laughed as he sat down in the electric chair and said, “You are about to witness the damaging effect electricity has on wood.”) Since then, I have had many occasions to visit clients and talk with inmates in solitary cells in federal and state facilities throughout the country. Each of the many solitary cells I saw was an abomination.

Hell Is a Very Small Place: Voices from Solitary Confinement is a collection of seventeen essays by men and women who have been held in solitary confinement in American federal and state prisons. They were collected by Jean Casella, James Ridgeway, Sarah Shourd, and Solitary Watch, a national organization that opposes solitary confinement. For readers who have no sense of the nature of the punishment that is exacted in their name, this collection offers an unforgettable look at the peculiar horrors and humiliations involved in solitary confinement.

America’s prisons hold 2,193,000 people. That is more than the number of people who live in Manhattan. It is also more than the total number of prisoners in either Russia or China, the countries with the second- and third-highest prison populations. The United States shares with North Korea the distinction of having the world’s highest incarceration rate. With 5 percent of the world’s population, America houses 25 percent of the world’s prisoners.

Approximately 400,000 people in our prison population move in and out of solitary, and many of America’s over two million prisoners know they can be put in solitary even if they are jailed for the most minor offenses. Between 80,000 and 120,000 men and women are held in solitary confinement every day. Every federal and state prison has solitary cells. More than 100,000 American children inhabit prisons in which solitary is considered a standard management practice. Men, women, and children can be put there for years on end, solely at the whim of a prison guard. There is no legal process that gets them there and no legal process that can prevent them from being put there.

“Cruel” and “unusual” are likely two of the first words most inmates—and most readers—would use to describe solitary confinement. But no United States court has ever held that solitary confinement violates the Eighth Amendment and its proscription against cruel and unusual punishment. It seems that few American judges have ever been inside a solitary confinement cell.

Hell Is a Very Small Place provides a harrowing guided tour of some of the country’s solitary units. The essays in the collection were written by inmates, some of whom have been confined for months to decades in solitary, as well as by one lawyer, two professors and legal activists, and two psychiatrists, including Stuart Grassian, a former Harvard Medical School professor who writes about the psychiatric effects of solitary confinement. Together these essays are both a condemnation of our prison system and an indictment of America. It is difficult to read this book without feeling shame.

The first American experiment in solitary confinement sprang from utopian ideals. In their introduction, Casella and Ridgeway observe that there are many historical accounts of people confined alone in towers and dungeons, and that, before the nineteenth century, many different societies used solitary as a way to torture and punish miscreants. But, they argue persuasively, “solitary confinement as a self-conscious, organized, and widespread prison practice” is a uniquely American creation.

The “penitentiary system” was introduced in the late eighteenth century in Philadelphia and was intended by its Protestant founders to quietly house “penitents” for as long as necessary in solitary so that they could have ample time to read the Bible, reflect, and change. Proud penitentiary supporters invited and encouraged important visitors from abroad to observe them; Casella and Ridgeway describe the appalled findings of Alexis de Tocqueville, Gustave de Beaumont, and Charles Dickens, who were among those who came to visit.

In their 1833 treatise on US penitentiaries, Tocqueville and Beaumont wrote that, from the very beginning, the whole system had gone horribly, murderously wrong:

The convicts had been submitted to complete isolation; but this absolute solitude, if nothing interrupts it, is beyond the strength of man; it destroys the criminal without intermission and without pity; it does not reform, it kills.

Charles Dickens visited the Eastern State Penitentiary in Pennsylvania in 1842, and the editors call him “one of the earliest—and still one of the most eloquent—critics of solitary confinement.” He described the penitents there as men “buried alive.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

26 November 2016 at 4:00 pm

In Scotland, Trump Built a Wall. Then He Sent Residents the Bill.

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At least those in the US who are paying attention are forewarned about the sort of man we shall have as President. Katrin Bennhold reports in the NY Times:

BALMEDIE, Scotland — President-elect Donald J. Trump has already built a wall — not on the border with Mexico, but on the border of his exclusive golf course in northeastern Scotland, blocking the sea view of local residents who refused to sell their homes.

And then he sent them the bill.

David and Moira Milne had already been threatened with legal action by Mr. Trump’s lawyers, who claimed a corner of their garage belonged to him, when they came home from work one day to find his staff building a fence around their garden. Two rows of grown trees went up next, blocking the view. Their water and electricity lines were temporarily cut. And then a bill for about $3,500 arrived in the mail, which, Mr. Milne said, went straight into the trash.

“You watch, Mexico won’t pay either,” said Mr. Milne, a health and safety consultant and part-time novelist, referring to Mr. Trump’s campaign promise to build a “beautiful, impenetrable wall” along the border and force the Mexicans to pay for it.

So do Susan and John Munro, who also refused to sell and now face an almost 15-foot-high earthen wall built by Mr. Trump’s people on two sides of their property.

Michael Forbes, a quarry worker whose home sits on the opposite side of the Trump property, added a second flag — “Hillary for President” — perhaps because Mr. Trump publicly accused him of living “like a pig” and called him a “disgrace” for not selling his “disgusting” and “slumlike” home.

As many Americans are trying to figure out what kind of president they have just elected, the people of Balmedie, a small village outside the once oil-rich city of Aberdeen, say they have a pretty good idea. In the 10 years since Mr. Trump first visited, vowing to build “the world’s greatest golf course” on an environmentally protected site featuring 4,000-year-old sand dunes, they have seen him lash out at anyone standing in his way. They say they watched him win public support for his golf course with grand promises, then watched him break them one by one.

A promised $1.25 billion investment has shrunk to what his opponents say is at most $50 million. Six thousand jobs have dwindled to 95. Two golf courses to one. An eight-story, 450-room luxury hotel never materialized, nor did 950 time-share apartments. Instead, an existing manor house was converted into a 16-room boutique hotel. Trump International Golf Links, which opened in 2012, lost $1.36 million last year, according to public accounts.

“If America wants to know what is coming, it should study what happened here. It’s predictive,” said Martin Ford, a local government representative. “I have just seen him do in America, on a grander scale, precisely what he did here. He suckered the people and he suckered the politicians until he got what he wanted, and then he went back on pretty much everything he promised.”

Alex Salmond, a former first minister of Scotland whose government granted Mr. Trump planning permission in 2008, overruling local officials, now concedes the point, saying, “Balmedie got 10 cents on the dollar.”

Sarah Malone, who came to Mr. Trump’s attention after winning a local beauty pageant and is now a vice president of Trump International, disputed some of the figures publicly discussed about the project, saying that Mr. Trump invested about $125 million and that the golf course now employed 150 people. . .

Continue reading.

Read the whole thing. Trump is amazingly spiteful. Emphasis added in above article. Later in the article:

. . . Mr. Trump, whose mother emigrated from Scotland to New York in 1930, never showed any great interest in her place of birth. But in 2008, the same year he applied for planning permission in Balmedie, he visited the pebble-dashed cottage on the Isle of Lewis in Western Scotland where she grew up.

After emerging from his private jet and handing out copies of his book “How to Get Rich,” he reportedly told locals how Scottish he felt. “I feel very comfortable here,” Mr. Trump said before spending less than two minutes with his cousins in his mother’s homestead, The Guardian reported at the time. Within about three hours his jet had taken off.

The visit clearly did not impress Mr. Ford, then the chairman of the planning committee at Aberdeenshire Council, which refused Mr. Trump permission for his golf course on environmental grounds. The ancient dunes, the committee concluded, were a “site of special scientific interest,” or as Mr. Ford put it, “Scotland’s equivalent of the Amazonian rain forest.”

In the end, it was Mr. Salmond, a self-described golf fanatic whose constituency includes Balmedie, who came to Mr. Trump’s defense, granting permission to proceed in the “national economic interest.”

“Six thousand jobs across Scotland, 1,400 local and permanent jobs in the northeast of Scotland,” Mr. Salmond said at the time. “That outweighs the environmental concerns.”

Eight years later he contends that Mr. Trump took him in: “If, knowing what I know now, I had the ability to go back, I would rewrite that page,” Mr. Salmond said in an interview this week. “Most developments balance economic against environmental issues. The problem, and it’s a big problem, is that Donald Trump didn’t do what he promised.”

Mr. Trump later fell out badly with Mr. Salmond (whom he now calls “mad Alex” and a “has-been”), first because he refused to evict residents by eminent domain and then over his plans to install offshore wind turbines a couple of miles from Mr. Trump’s golf course. . .

Trump sees like a complete asshole.

Note, BTW, toward the end, where Trump is trying back-channel diplomacy to change Scottish government policy to benefit Trump financially. Do you think for one second that that sort of thing will abruptly stop once he’s sworn in for what he has to view as a temporary job? (i.e., 4 years).

Written by Leisureguy

26 November 2016 at 2:47 pm

Why businesses require regulation: “Air pollution hot spot in Paramount spurs calls for action on metal factory emissions”

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Tony Barboza reports in the LA Times:

en with the doors and windows closed, Venecia Yanez can’t escape the head-splitting, metallic odors that permeate her Paramount home.

Yanez says the harsh fumes and smoke that waft in at all hours and the rusty residue she finds on her family’s car must be coming from one of the metal-forging plants she can see from outside her apartment.

She and her neighbors on Vermont Avenue have long complained of headaches, nausea and burning throats. Yanez, 28, worries the emissions are harmful to her 14-month-old daughter.

“We breathe it every day and it just doesn’t feel safe,” she said.

Residents of this small, working-class city southeast of Los Angeles have for years watched regulators launch studies and promise stricter rules to protect homes and schools from toxic emissions from the array of metal-processing facilities operating in their midst. But they have seen little action.

Then, a few weeks ago, air quality monitoring detected high levels of a potent, cancer-causing metal in Paramount, forcing authorities to pay attention.

Now, what had been a slow-moving effort targeting one metal-forging plant has snowballed into a broad investigation, with teams of inspectors from several agencies fanning out to at least 20 facilities in the city’s industrial spine, searching for the origin of the toxic hot spot.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District has not yet found the source of hexavalent chromium, a compound known to cause lung cancer, that was detected at more than 350 times normal levels starting in late October.

And it’s not clear how long it could take.

Community groups and some civic leaders say the latest revelations in Paramount show that government in California has not done enough to address hot spots of pollution where industry operates near homes and schools.

California Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Paramount) said: “I am concerned that our community has become the latest example of people being exposed to toxic chemicals because a company is breaking the law and regulators haven’t been aggressive enough in enforcing that law.” He urged the air district to “find the culprit and fix the problem — now.” . . .

Continue reading.

Do read the rest: finding the source of the pollution is not so easy as it sounds.

This is a clear instance of where government is required. Individual homeowners do not have the power to force a business to clean up its act, particularly when they are (in effect) bystanders rather than customers. The business is dumping its toxic pollutants on them, and the only thing that can force the business to stop is the government.

Written by Leisureguy

26 November 2016 at 2:36 pm

North Dakota sheriff seems to have abused his authority: “Governor suspends sheriff, pending removal”

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Lauren Donovan reports in the Bismarck Tribune:

McKenzie County Sheriff Gary Schwartzenberger was placed on interim suspension Wednesday night, pending his removal from office, by Gov. Jack Dalrymple.

The governor ordered the interim suspension based on a recommendation from Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem after McKenzie County requested the sheriff be removed under a process available in state law.

The petition for removal was made by the county’s acting State’s Attorney Todd Schwarz on Oct. 24, alleging the sheriff is guilty of misconduct, malfeasance, crime in office, neglect of duty or gross incompetency. The county commission had voted in support of the petition for removal.

In a recommendation dated Wednesday, just short of the 30-day window to make his findings on the petition, Stenehjem said the allegations were investigated by the Bureau of Criminal Investigation and he recommended following through on removal.

Stenehjem said an assigned prosecutor will draft a formal complaint and once filed, a special commissioner will conduct a removal hearing within 30 days. He also recommended Schwartzenberger’s immediate suspension until the hearing is concluded.

Dalrymple told Schwartzenberger in a letter also dated Wednesday and copied to the county commission that he agreed with Stenehjem’s findings and said, “… it is in the best interests of the state that you be suspended from the performance of duty immediately upon receipt of this notice and until a final decision on removal is made.”

The county’s second-in-command is Capt. Larry Clock.

The suspension was enforced by BCI agents, who tracked down Schwartzenberger late Wednesday while he was working near Cannon Ball on the Dakota Access Pipeline protest enforcement, according to the Williston Herald.

Schwartzenberger told The Herald he’s been waiting for this step in the process so that he can depose witnesses and get to the truth.

“This is the time and place for it to come out,”said Schwartzenberger, adding he was never contacted by BCI during its investigation.

The county decided to go through the process of stripping Schwartzenberger of his job and badge after hearing a report from a firm it hired to look into a growing number of complaints about the sheriff from his employees and others in county departments. The Village Business Institute found grounds to remove the sheriff based on harassment and intimidation amid concerns that he fostered a quasi-military environment. . .

Continue reading.

What goes around, come around.

Written by Leisureguy

26 November 2016 at 2:29 pm

Posted in Law Enforcement

Most-googled food items on Thanksgiving:

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Via Business Insider:


Written by Leisureguy

26 November 2016 at 2:17 pm

Posted in Food, Technology

Some thoughts on Luke Cage

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I’ve been watching Luke Cage, and an image in episode 9 struck me. It’s when Cage is confronted by two police officers who have been told that Cage is a murderer (false, but they don’t know that). Cage has two superpowers (hey, this is a Marvel production): he is bulletproof and he is enormously strong. There’s an attempt to make this science-fiction, but it’s just buzzword blather. Suffice it to say, he is like the Hulk, but Cage does not have to be angry, and he doesn’t make such a production of it as the Hulk does: it’s quieter and and, somehow, more manly and controlled: Cage operates from observation and intelligence.

Okay, the police approach, guns drawn. Cage knocks one down and grabs the other. Cage knows that the officer knocked down will fire on them, so Cage locks the other officer in an embrace and holds him closely as he turns his back to the officer with the gun—who immediately (well, within 2 seconds, the amount of time Tamir Rice got when police went there to defuse the situation) opens fire and empties the gun into Cage’s back: harmlessly to Cage (though it ruined his hoodie, and he notices things like that) and, because of Cage interposing his (bulletproof) body, harmlessly to the officer.

Now consider: suppose you were a young African-American in the age-range of the program’s target demographic, and you had directly experienced years of unjustified harassment by the police. Note carefully: not all police will harass African-American youth, but it’s obvious that quite a few do, and the negative experiences are from those few, whom the police department pays and protects and allows (and sometimes encourages) them to harass young block men, is enough to create a negative impression of the police. For example, look at NYPD’s stop-and-frisk policy, which amounts to making harassment legal, and the quotas imposed for such stops. So harass they did.

It seems to me that that viewer, with that background and experience, would be hit hard by Luke Cage embracing a cop to protect him—protecting him from the exact sort of police response that has killed Tamir Rice, John Crawford, and many others.

That made me think of looking at other characteristics of Luke Cage from that point of view. Cage can be wounded, indeed grievously wounded as he was in that scene, having been previously shot with a super-bullet of some sort. But though he may be wounded, he does not give up. He struggles on because he is tough and strong, those being his superpowers and probably the superpowers the viewer would most like to have. Not flashy, like the Hulk, not uncontrolled, like the Hulk, but purposeful and searching and having superb situational awareness.

Cage seems like the very kind of role model that would work for many. (He’s also an ex-con.) But it’s definitely a struggle.

Empathy, it seems to me, is exactly this: trying as best you can to envisage reality from another’s point of view, to see things (as best you can) as s/he sees them. Luke Cage seems much more interesting when approached in this way.

Written by Leisureguy

26 November 2016 at 11:32 am

Posted in Movies & TV

Wells Fargo Wants Claims Over Fake Accounts Decided Out of Court by Arbitrators that Wells Fargo Selects and Pays

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And, of course, corporations go to great lengths to keep the government away from corporate activities (see previous post for an example of why): they fight against having government regulations, government inspectors, or trials in government courts. Corporations prefer arbitration to court proceedings because in arbitration the corporation selects the arbitrator and pays him or her, and the corporation blacklists any arbitrator who finds against the corporation, so that in time they have a large stable of pro-corporate arbitrators who are willing to decide in favor of the corporation to ensure future business.

Laura Keller reports at Bloomberg:

Wells Fargo & Co. is trying to keep dozens of customers suing over bogus accounts opened by its employees out of court, saying they agreed to resolve any disputes in arbitration when they began doing business with the bank.

The lender also asked for the lawsuits, filed by 80 customers in federal court in Salt Lake City to be thrown out. Wells Fargo noted in a Nov. 23 filing that a separate judge has already ruled that arbitration agreements can be enforced in a similar class-action lawsuit in Northern California.

The San Francisco-based bank has faced a torrent of criticism and the ire of regulators after agreeing to pay $185 million in September to settle claims that employees opened potentially more than 2 million unauthorized accounts. It fired 5,300 workers over five years. John Stumpf resigned as chairman and chief executive officer in the wake of the scandal. Carrie Tolstedt, the executive in charge of the community banking unit, retired this year.

Three Utah customers sued in September shortly after the settlement was announced and blamed the scandal on the lender’s push to increase the number of accounts held by clients — a strategy called cross-selling designed to boost the number of accounts on which the bank could collect fees. Wells Fargo vowed to eliminate sales goals linked by regulators to cross-selling.

The plaintiffs in the Utah lawsuit seek to represent other customers in a class action and to recover at least $5 million in damages from the bank. They said the company also should have to pay punitive damages for its failure to alert customers to the abuses for more than a year after it was sued by the Los Angeles city attorney.

SEC Probe

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, the Department of Justice, state attorneys general and prosecutors’ offices and congressional committees have started inquiries into the sales practices. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

26 November 2016 at 10:32 am

‘My Soul Feels Taller’: A Whistle-Blower’s $20 Million Vindication

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Corporations offer a poor model for government because corporations are focused on profit and not on serving the public. This is not to say all governments are good, but the idea of government (IMO) is that it have power to control corporations and exercises that power for the good of the public. Quite often corporations (and indeed some governments) have zero interest in the good of the public. And with the power of government, it’s possible to bring bad corporations to heel and curtail (through laws) bad corporate behavior. This, of course, is exactly why corporations try to take over the government, as we see them doing in the US (Koch brothers, anyone?).

Gretchen Morgenson reports in the NY Times:

Patricia Williams, 44, is a single mother of two grown children, as well as a grandmother. She is also a rarity: a whistle-blower who has succeeded in bringing to light abuses at a powerful corporation that wanted to keep them hidden.

On Nov. 17, Ms. Williams won a four-year legal fight against her former employer, Wyndham Vacation Ownership, the nation’s largest time-share operator. A jury hearing her retaliation suit in California state court in San Francisco awarded Ms. Williams $20 million covering her lost earnings and emotional distress, and punitive damages.

“My soul feels taller,” she said in an interview by telephone.

Christopher B. Dolan is the founder of the Dolan Law Firm in San Francisco and one of two lawyers who represented Ms. Williams. “I hope this case sounds an alarm for corporate America,” he said. “Change your behavior — or a jury will change it for you.”

That was only the beginning.

Despite years of experience, Ms. Williams was unable to find work as a sales representative in any field. As the suit dragged on, she and her longtime fiancé broke up. She began drinking heavily, and she said she was so poor that she had to raid her parents’ pantry for food. The only work she could get paid little; her most recent job was as a hostess in a restaurant in Virginia Beach earning $9 an hour.

“It’s been a long battle,” she said. “But I had faith every minute that if I got in front of a jury of 12 unbiased people and an unbiased judge, they would see the truth.”

Declining to talk specifically about the Williams case, Wyndham’s general counsel, Jorge de la Osa, said that the incidents that were alleged to have happened six years ago “are not representative of what we stand for as a company in terms of our values and culture.”

Ms. Williams had worked in the time-share industry for over 15 years when she filed her retaliation suit against Wyndham in 2012. Two years earlier, the company had fired her for complaining about questionable sales tactics she witnessed at the Wyndham Canterbury, an upscale time-share property in downtown San Francisco.

During her tenure there, Ms. Williams told her superiors about an array of dubious activities: Representatives were preying on older time-share owners to get them to increase their holdings and were falsely telling customers that Wyndham would buy back their ownership stakes if they no longer wanted them. She also said that credit card accounts were opened for buyers without their knowledge and approval.

Facts brought out in the case revealed a Wild West sales environment at the Wyndham property. Employees routinely flouted rules and regulations by making oral promises to customers that differed from the terms of the voluminous contracts they signed when making a purchase. Moreover, Wyndham employees charged with policing sales representatives, according to Ms. Williams, were paid based on those representatives’ production, an obvious conflict.

Wyndham’s sales goals for employees were impossible to meet if representatives adhered to the company’s policies and regulations governing time-share sales, Robert Parker, a former sales executive, testified in depositions. When sales at the Canterbury lagged, he explained, something known as “TAFT days” came into play.

“TAFT is the acronym for ‘tell them any frigging thing,’” Mr. Parker testified. “In other words, it didn’t matter what you said. We need business. Today’s your day. Just tell them whatever you got to tell them. That’s what TAFT is.”

Mr. Parker did not reply to an email seeking comment.

What would happen if a customer complained? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

26 November 2016 at 10:26 am

Posted in Business, Daily life, Law

A great shave with a now-vintage soap and the RazoRock Old Type

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SOTD 2016-11-26

The Rooney Victorian easily worked up a superb lather from Strop Shoppe Vivace, whose name now possibly should be Defunto, Strop Shoppe having closed its doors and left me with some really find orphan soaps. As you can see, I have a good supply in any event. Even if I used only this soap, the tub would last for months.

The RazoRock Old Type is a superb razor, IMO, and I love the original handle, which seems, like the razor itself, not to be available. However, you can buy the Old Type head for $8, and I do recommend it: extremely comfortable and extremely efficient.

Three passes to complete smoothness with no problems encountered. A splash of Chiseled Face Trade Winds aftershave, and the weekend gets going.

Written by Leisureguy

26 November 2016 at 10:15 am

Posted in Shaving

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