Later On

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

Archive for December 6th, 2016

A clear-sighted look at the “Replace” part of “Repeal and Replace (in same session)”, based on industry feedback

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Kevin Drum has a very solid post here. Read the whole thing. The conclusion:

. . .Here’s the case for laughing: the insurance industry says it’s OK with repealing Obamacare, but we should maintain the pre-existing conditions ban, the individual mandate, the subsidies for low-income families, and the Medicaid expansion. Needless to say, that is Obamacare.

Here the case for crying: “The market has already been a little wobbly this year,” Tavenner said. If it looks like any of these four provisions are going to be repealed with nothing to replace them, insurers will simply pull out of the market at the “next logical opportunity.” That would be about six months from now.

And as I’ve mentioned before, there’s a good chance this doesn’t just mean pulling out of the Obamacare exchanges. If the mandate and the subsidies go away, but the pre-existing conditions ban stays in place, insurers might very well pull out of the individual market entirely. Republicans are playing with fire here, and it’s not clear if they even know it. Someone in the insurance biz really needs to have a come-to-Jesus meeting with them.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 December 2016 at 6:04 pm

If programming languages were countries, which country would each language represent?

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Dimage Sapelkin answers at Quora:

Hey, what a funny question! ;]

CRussia. Everything has to be done in a backwards way, but everything is possible, and there’s a lot of legacy.

C++USA. Powerful, but more and more complicated, unreadable, error-prone. Tends to dominate and influence everything.

Python Netherlands. Modern, rich, easily approachable, attractive for various reasons, but not the top performer.

Haskell Monaco. Not many people, but very rich, so they don’t have to consider lower classes’ problems.

Java Sweden. Comfortable, but has its own king and currency.

JavaScript China. Developing really fast and can do lots of surprising stuff. A lot of users.

Basic Finland. Easy to use, but not very powerful.

Assembly Lesotho, which is completely surrounded by South Africa. Rarely used nowadays to make a whole program, more often as an included part of a bigger code in higher level language.

PHPBangladesh. Poor, but numerous, and it’s found all over the web.

PascalGermany. Strict rules, good performance. And there are many people who just don’t like the language.

BashSwitzerland. Not very big in itself, but pulls the strings of the others.

Update – based on comments:

Lisp – . . .

Continue reading.

Last on the list:

Forth Maldives. Remote from all mainland and likely to disappear underwater due to climate change. Known for its backwards writing direction.

Sad but probably true. A great language in its initial context, and in many microcontrollers today. Forth is the easiest, fastest, and most powerful language you can install on a new microprocessor: just a few definitions and you have a powerful working language and lets you investigate the details. So it goes.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 December 2016 at 5:48 pm

Posted in Software, Technology

Wells Fargo is avoiding lawsuits by victims of its fake-accounts scam by insisting on arbitration

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Wells Fargo picks the arbitrators and pays them, so what could go wrong? And why is Wells Fargo, which ran the scam, so eager to avoid lawsuits? And why haven’t criminal charges been filed?

Michael Corkery and Stacy Cowley report in the NY Times:

In congressional hearing rooms and on national television, Wells Fargo has vowed to make things right for the thousands of customers who were given sham accounts.

The bank’s new chief executive, Timothy J. Sloan, in his first week on the job, said his “immediate and highest priority is to restore trust in Wells Fargo.”

But in federal and state courtrooms across the country, Wells Fargo is taking a different tack.

The bank has sought to kill lawsuits that its customers have filed over the creation of as many as two million sham accounts by moving the cases into private arbitration — a secretive legal process that often favors corporations.

Lawyers for the bank’s customers say the legal motions are an attempt to limit the bank’s accountability for the widespread fraud and deny its customers their day in open court.

Under intense pressure to meet sales goals, Wells employees used customers’ personal information to create unauthorized banking and credit card accounts in a far-reaching scandal that has rattled the San Francisco bank to its core, forcing the retirement of its longtime leader, John G. Stumpf, and enraging regulators and politicians of all stripes.

The bank’s arbitration push in recent weeks is fanning those flames anew.

“It is ridiculous,” said Jennifer Zeleny, who is suing Wells Fargo in federal court in Utah, along with about 80 other customers, over unauthorized accounts. “This is an issue of identity theft — my identity was used so employees could meet sales goals. This is something that needs to be litigated in a public forum.”

In arbitration, consumers often find the odds are stacked against them. The arbitration clauses prevent consumers from banding together to file a lawsuit as a class, forcing them instead to hash out their disputes one by one and blunting one of most powerful tools that Americans have in challenging harmful and deceitful practices by big companies.

Strict judicial rules limiting conflicts of interest also do not apply in arbitration, enabling some companies to steer cases to friendly arbitrators, according to a 2015 investigation by The New York Times.

Arbitration is also conducted outside public view, and the decisions are nearly impossible to overturn.

Ms. Zeleny, a lawyer who lives outside Salt Lake City and opened a Wells Fargo account when she started a new law practice, said it would be impossible for her to agree to arbitrate her dispute over an account that she had never signed up for in the first place.

The bank’s counterargument: The arbitration clauses included in the legitimate contracts customers signed to open bank accounts also cover disputes related to the false ones set up in their names.

Some judges have agreed with this argument, but some lawmakers and others consider it outrageous.

“Wells Fargo’s customers never intended to sign away their right to fight back against fraud and deceit,” said Senator Sherrod Brown, an Ohio Democrat, who introduced a bill last week that would prevent Wells from forcing arbitration in the sham account cases.

Yet even as the bank reels in the court of public opinion, Wells Fargo has been winning its legal battles to kill off lawsuits. Judges have ruled that Wells Fargo customers must go to arbitration over the fraudulent accounts.

In dismissing one large case seeking class-action status in California, a federal judge ruled last year that it was not “wholly groundless” that customers could be forced to arbitrate over accounts they had never agreed to. That case is now being settled, according to legal filings.

In a statement, Wells Fargo said it was working with customers to reimburse any improper fees. If the issues are still not resolved, the bank offers free mediation services. Arbitration, the bank said, is a “last resort.”

“We want to make sure that no Wells Fargo customer loses a single penny because of these issues,” the statement said. [The statement did not include “And we want to make damn sure we don’t pay a penny more than actual documented loss—there will be NO punitive damages and no Wells Fargo executive is going to face any accountability whatsoever.” – LG]

Although the extent of the scandal became known only in September, some fraudulent acts may have started a decade or more ago.

And Wells Fargo has been moving disputes about unauthorized accounts into arbitration for years, which lawyers say may have helped keep the problems from bursting into public view sooner.

In 2013, David E. Douglas, a Wells Fargo customer in Los Angeles, filed a lawsuit claiming that several bank employees had forged his signature and opened many sham accounts in his name to meet sales quotas. The actions he described in his complaint are precisely the kinds of illegal acts the company acknowledged this year, when it paid $185 million to settle casesbrought by federal regulators and the Los Angeles city attorney.

But Mr. Douglas’s testimony never reached a courtroom. A judge granted Wells Fargo’s request to move the case to arbitration, whisking it out of public view. . .

Continue reading. There’s lots more including a graphic showing the history of the scandal.

Something’s wrong here. Why can a company run a scam operation for decades and never face any accountability.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 December 2016 at 3:56 pm

Donald Trump’s wrecking crew and the damage they’ve done already

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James Fallows writes in the Atlantic:

In the four weeks since the election, which seem like four centuries, Donald Trump has dominated the news and done real strategic and economic damage with his stream of intemperate tweets. For a reckoning of the chaos that his tweets about Taiwan and China have already induced, please see these Atlanticitems: by Uri Friedman with Shen Dengli, by David Graham, by Chris Bodenner, and by Isaac Stone Fish, with links to many other analyses. The harm he petulantly inflicted today on Boeing, a company that is perennially the United States’s leading exporter and one of its most important high-tech manufacturing employers and standard-setters, is only the latest and most flagrant illustration.

This is not responsible behavior. This is not normal. This is not something the United States, or for that matter the world, can really withstand from a commander in chief. But this ungoverned, thin-skinned impetuosity is something the “responsible” GOP has decided, to its enduring shame, that it dare not criticize.

One other thing is true of Trump’s destructive outbursts. They come from a person who does not yet exercise any official power. The American-democratic principle of peaceful transfer of power includes the tenet that the United States has only one president at a time. And for the next 44-plus days, that president is Barack Obama.

As president, Obama has often been at his best in moments of national trauma, stress, or confidence-destroying emergency. I am thinking, for example, of one of  his very greatest speeches: his “Amazing Grace” eulogy and exhortation after the gun massacre last year in Charleston, South Carolina.

Our current exposure to Donald Trump is a moment that even experienced Republicans will say—carefully off the record—represents a confidence-destroying emergency. A man whose temperament makes him manifestly unfit to command the vast military, surveillance, investigative, and enforcement powers of the U.S. government stands mere weeks away from assuming that command.

There is nothing Barack Obama can do about the transition scheduled for January 20. But in the meantime he is the president, and he needs to be present— and visible, and heard from. So far he has been deferential to a fault, letting the chaos emanating from Trump’s Android phone disrupt markets and alliances. His latest major press conference was on November 14, more than three weeks ago. (Trump, of course, has not held a press conference since the election, and none at all since July.)

Obama’s lowkey approach is no doubt an extension of his statesmanlike invitation to meet Trump just after the election, and their strained handshake at the White House. It’s in keeping with “no drama Obama.” He has never been known for seeking confrontations.

But if he thinks that America stands for values different from Trump’s daily outbursts, if he thinks the institutions of the country can survive the tantrums of the man scheduled to control them, if he thinks democratic norms and limits deserve defense, if he thinks the United States can find a steady path in the world despite a most unsteady leader—and we assume that Obama believes all these things, and may even have thoughts about the path forward—then let’s start hearing from him. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 December 2016 at 3:30 pm

My House of Staunton chess set is up for sale

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Set in case

Purchased but not used. Here’s the listing.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 December 2016 at 3:24 pm

Posted in Daily life, Games

We find a new way that viruses hijack cells

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Veronique Greenwood reports in Quanta:

ruses travel light. Most carry just their genetic material and a few tools to break into the cells of their hosts — after that, they hijack the host’s own machinery to manufacture thousands of copies of themselves. In recent decades, biologists have gained a clearer picture of just how this heist is pulled off. Many viruses, it turns out, suppress the messages that cells send to control their daily operations. This information interference shuts down some cellular functions that the attacking virus doesn’t need, and boosts others.

But some viruses do something more subtle and complex, as biologists at the University of California, San Diego, reported recently. The scientists looked at cells infected with cytomegalovirus, a common cause of birth defects. CMV infection doesn’t block cellular messages; instead, it changes their content, the team found. In a new paper in Nature Structural and Molecular Biology, they detail thousands of changes in these host communications, which may be the virus whispering sedition to remodel the cell.

To understand the importance of what is going on here, first consider how the cell functions normally. At the heart of the whole affair is the DNA — a sort of code book of instructions for how to make everything in the cell — which is kept under lock and key in the nucleus. When the cell needs to manufacture a protein, the relevant portion of the DNA is transcribed. That transcript, called a messenger RNA, leaves the nucleus and heads to the machinery that will use it as a template to make the new protein.

But along the way, the RNA can be edited in a number of ways. It might acquire tags that give extra instructions on how to handle it; it might have parts snipped out; it might gain or lose end pieces that make it easier or harder to use. In the normal way of things, the cell employs all of these strategies to control its own functions. In fact, the altering of these RNA messages, so different versions of proteins are made at different times, is key to the process of development. The same gene can be used to make one version of a protein in a human fetus and a different version in an adult.

But as with so many things, once those tools are under the control of an enemy, it’s a different story. A virus that can edit a host’s RNA messages would be able to create versions of proteins that favor a virus’s goals, without ever having to break into the nucleus. And because CMV is known to be somewhat peculiar — it is one of those viruses that don’t suppress hosts’ messages the way many others do — the UCSD group, led by Gene Yeo, a molecular biologist, and Deborah Spector, a virologist, decided to see if it was doing something else to the host’s RNA.

First, the team infected human cells with CMV. Then they extracted the RNA made by the cells at different time points over the course of the infection. The extractions revealed the sum of the chatter between the nucleus and the protein-making machinery. They looked to see how many edits — extra tags, altered end pieces and so on — there were, as compared with healthy, control cells. And while the early stages of infection didn’t show dramatic differences, the late stages, when the infected cells were gearing up to burst and release tons of new viruses, were a different story.

These cells showed more than 2,500 alterations that did not appear in controls, a number that surprised Ron Batra, the UCSD researcher who is first author on the paper and has studied diseases that involve RNA changes. While it isn’t surprising that a virus makes such changes — after all, the goal is to take over the cell, and virologists have known about individual instances of these alterations for some time — the number of edits was striking. That’s as many changes from normal as might be seen in some cancers or ALS, he said. . .

Continue reading.

Things are more complex than one might assume. Evolution has had a lot of time to try variations.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 December 2016 at 3:10 pm

Walter Scott and the presumption of guilt for black Americans

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Steven Hale reports in the Washington Post:

To blame the jury that deadlocked and prompted a mistrial Monday in the case of a white South Carolina police officer who shot Walter Scott dead, hitting him withfive bullets as Scott fled a routine traffic stop, is to miss the larger, grotesque point.

It is a point that activists and people of color have been attesting to, and protesting about, for decades now. The point is, simply, that the presumption of innocence, a cornerstone of our criminal-justice system, at least in theory, is rivaled by another American tradition — the presumption of guilt that weighs upon black Americans and the devastatingly disproportionate punishments it wreaks upon its victims. It can be seen in the way black men are so often described as hyper-aggressive superhuman threats by prosecutors looking to convict them or police officers seeking to justify a use of force against them.

Still, that 12 jurors could not reach a unanimous verdict on what would seem to be as clear cut a case as a jury is likely to see is baffling. It must be noted that all the jurors except for one were white. Still, this case had video footage of a police officer calmly raising his gun, carefully taking aim and firing multiple rounds into the back of a fleeing, unarmed man and then handcuffing him as he lay on the ground. Former North Charleston police officer Michael Slager claimed that he was in “total fear” during a struggle between the two men and that Scott had grabbed his Taser. But he was captured on video placing his Taser next to Scott’s lifeless body after the shooting.

One must wonder: What detail could be added to make Slager look more guilty of Scott’s murder — or at the very least, of manslaughter, an option that was available to the jury?

It forces one, yet again, to confront the overwhelming evidence that this is a feature of our criminal-justice system, not a bug.

A Post investigation in 2015 found that out of thousands of fatal shootings by police since 2005, only 54 officers were even charged, with most of them being cleared or acquitted. A massive investigation by Charleston’s Post and Courier found similarly that African Americans were disproportionately the victims of police shootings and that subsequent investigations of those shootings heavily favored the police. Here at The Watch, Radley Balko has dug into South Carolina’s poisonous police culture.

I asked Seth Stoughton, a former police officer who is an assistant professor of law at the University of South Carolina, for his reaction to the mistrial. . .

Continue reading.

If a police officer feels great fear from a man running away from him, then that police officer should find another job. A person fleeing from you should not cause you to be afraid.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 December 2016 at 12:05 pm

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