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Archive for October 6th, 2017

San Francisco: now with more dystopia

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If California is indeed the bellwether for the US, the outlook is grim. Perhaps Trump can fix it. Mike Hudack blogs:

I visited San Francisco for the first time in a year last week. Someone turned up the dystopian dial 20% while I was away.

I stayed in a hotel downtown. At about ten on the night I arrived I decided to walk to a wine bar for a glass of California Pinot Noir. I walked six blocks to get there.

On that six block walk I witnessed multiple homeless people crawling on the streets. Crawling. Someone shot up heroin right in front of me. Three separate women dressed like ’70s LA street prostitutes propositioned me. Then I got to a very nice wine bar where I had an unreasonably expensive glass of Russian River Valley Pinot. It was great but the juxtaposition not great at all.

The next morning I noticed that there are more self-driving cars on the street than there had been a year ago. There are also more people living in tents and in shanty towns. More people shooting up on the street. There are also more companies reinventing the world than ever before. Many of them are investing heavily in automation and eliminating human workforces.

I witnessed the worst of human destitution as self-driving cars rolled past.

One evening I had meetings in Palo Alto and dinner in San Francisco. I took a Lyft from Palo Alto to the Mission for dinner. It was cheap, easy, convenient. A little piece of the future.

Once we got off the highway we turned into the Mission. At around 19th and Folsom we were blocked by a house in the street. The house was a one room shanty built out of 2x4s and Plywood. It had a door and windows. It was on dollys and someone was pushing it down the street.

My driver flashed his headlights and pulled around the house. He dropped me off a few minutes later at Tartine Manufactury, which served my friend and I a very good but unreasonably expensive meal. The man pushing his house could have used the money we spent on that meal. The juxtaposition, again, was uncomfortable.

William Gibson will tell you that “the future is already here – it’s just not very evenly distributed.”

San Francisco is in the future. San Francisco’s future isn’t pretty. It’s cold, hard, technological. It’s  . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

6 October 2017 at 2:52 pm

Posted in Daily life

An innocent man lost his spleen after police shot him during a drug raid. The courts and city government say tough luck.

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Police in the US include quite a few who should find careers other than law enforcement. Radley Balko provides an example in the Washington Post:

In August 2011, a SWAT team in Binghamton, N.Y., conducted an early morning drug raid. As one of the officers took a battering ram to the door, Jesus Ferreira was sleeping on the couch. Ferreira wasn’t a suspect. He happened to be visiting. Within seconds, one officer shot him, claiming that Ferriera was “moving toward him” and had something in his hand. Ferreira suffered significant injuries, and doctors later had to remove his spleen.

No one disputes that Ferreira was unarmed. But the police claim he had a video-game controller in his hand, which the officer who shot him mistook for a gun. Ferreira and his lawyers say that he was sleeping at the time of the raid, that he raised his hands when the police entered and that they put the controller in his hand after the fact to retroactively justify the shooting.

Ferriera sued. The result of that lawsuit demonstrates yet again just how difficult it is for even completely innocent people shot by police to get any sort of justice.

In Ferreira’s case, the jury found that the officer who shot him was not personally at fault, but that the City of Binghamton was liable for not properly training the SWAT team. There’s good evidence for this. The raiding cops brought the wrong-sized battering ram, making it difficult for them to get inside quickly. One of the officers shot Ferreira within seconds, despite the fact that he was unarmed. They had no layout of the house. They weren’t aware of the fact that Ferriera was a guest on the night of the raid, which is at least suggestive of little or no surveillance. The jury awarded Ferreira $500,000 in damages, plus more than $2 million in future damages for his ongoing pain, suffering and medical care.

Both Ferreira and the city appealed. The city, of course, appealed the finding against it, and Ferreira appealed the jury’s finding that the officer who shot him wasn’t liable for his injuries. Late last month U.S. district court judge Thomas McAvoy issued his decision. Ferreira is out of luck. McAvoy first upheld the finding of no liability for the officer. He then found that the City of Binghamton isn’t liable, either.

Let’s first look at the officer’s individual liability. First, the judge’s decision was probably correct under the law. It is nearly impossible to overturn a jury verdict in a case like this. It’s basically Ferreira’s version of what happened vs. the police narrative. The jurors believed the police narrative. My guess is that the jury didn’t want to find the officer personally liable but did believe Ferreira was wronged, so it decided that the city should pay instead. Note this ruling by McAvoy during pretrial motions, in which he bars Ferreira’s attorneys from telling the jury that if the officers are found individually liable, they’ll be indemnified by the city. It takes a lot to overturn that.

But it does illustrate the core problem with these raids. Even taking the police version of the story at face value, there’s zero evidence that Ferreira attacked them. They aren’t even arguing as much. They’re arguing that it was reasonable for the officer who shot Ferreira to thinkFerreira was attacking him.

At worst, Ferreira was holding a video-game controller and moving toward the SWAT team as it came in. There are any number of reasons he might do that. He may have just been getting up to flee from the armed intruders. He might not have known they were police. He might have simply been trying to get his bearings and process what was happening. As Ferreira’s lawyers argue, for him to willingly attack a raiding SWAT team with a video-game controller would have been suicidal. At worst, he woke up and was processing a mental state somewhere between disoriented and terrified. Here’s the thing: That’s exactly what these raids are designed to do. Even taking the police narrative at face value, Ferreira, an innocent man, did not act in any way different from how you would suspect someone to act in these circumstances. These raids are intended to surprise, to disorient and to instill fear. That’s why there’s no knock or announcement, or if there is, the police don’t wait long enough for anyone to come to the door to avoid the violence. It’s why they often wear masks. It’s why they yell. It’s why they do all of this in the wee hours of the morning. Of course, by Ferreira’s account, he didn’t move toward the police, wasn’t holding a video-game controller and did comply with police commands.

One other thing: McAvoy notes in his ruling that the city argues that these raids are extremely volatile, and therefore officers should be granted a great deal of leeway when making mistakes such as shooting innocent people. The city is right. These raids are extremely volatile. But the police themselves created that volatility. They didn’t have to go in with a SWAT team early in the morning. They chose to. And despite the fact that the police have the advantage of both training and of being the party that is aware of what’s happening, the police are given extraordinary leeway to make mistakes during these raids. The people on the receiving end of the raids are not. This case again is a perfect example. In the heat of the moment, the cop who shot Ferreira shot an innocent, unarmed man. He did this despite his training, and despite the fact that he knew what was happening as it was happening. The city of Binghamton argued in court that Ferreira bore the ultimate responsibility for his own injuries. Because he rose up and moved toward the officers with a video-game controller as the raid went down, he had no one to blame but himself. The cop who shot Ferreira can make mistakes that end lives. Ferreira was expected to react perfectly — to wake up, immediately realize that the armed men breaking into the home were police and immediately know how to surrender in a manner that could in no possible way be interpreted as a threat.

Even the jury that seemed to want to side with Ferreira found him 10 percent liable for his own injuries. McAvoy found him completely liable. Moreover, McAvoy found that the SWAT team’s own mistakes further shield them from liability:

The SWAT team entered the apartment after being informed that the occupants of the apartment likely had weapons, and after they had lost the element of surprise because the ram did not immediately open the door.

One more thing on this particular point. The police and city argued — and McAvoy agreed. He quoted this line from the shooting officer’s testimony:

[T]he only time we get called is if somebody reasonably believes or has done, you know, an investigation and they have a belief that there’s you know, firearms or something, that they’re a violent individual. Anything that would require that next step which is what we are. We’re not your standard knock on your door, pull a car over, something like that.

Perhaps that was true in this case, too. Usually in these types of cases, the police immediately release what they found in the raid. Local press accounts indicate whether any drugs or weapons were found in the house. In fact, the Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin reported in 2014 that it had requested documents such as the search warrant and affidavit and return sheet (listing what police found in the raid) under New York open-records laws. The request was denied. The city had apparently requested that the files be sealed. In pretrial motions, McAvoy did rule against Ferreira’s lawyers’ attempt to exclude as prejudicial any “drugs or drug paraphernalia” found at the scene. That suggests that police found at least something. But there is no mention of any weapons. And the fact that the police never disclosed the quantity of drugs at least suggests — but isn’t necessarily proof — that what they did find was negligible.

Let’s now look at the city’s liability. McAvoy writes that under controlling case law for the 2nd Circuit, a municipality is liable only for injuries due to negligence to a third party if the city has a “special relationship” with that party. The injured party has to meet four criteria to establish this relationship:

(1) an assumption by the municipality, through promises or actions, of an affirmative duty to act on behalf of the party who was injured; (2) knowledge on the part of the municipality’s agents that inaction could lead to harm; (3) some form of direct contact between the municipality’s agents and the injured party; and (4) that party’s justifiable reliance on the municipality’s affirmative undertaking.

McAvoy ruled that Ferreira did not meet these criteria.

Plaintiff admits that he was “not the subject of the no-knock warrant for 11 Vine Street on the morning of August 25, 2011, and the police did not know he was in the apartment.” No evidence at trial or in the record indicates that Plaintiff ever had any direct contact with the Binghamton Police or any Binghamton official before the SWAT team arrived to execute the no-knock warrant. Likewise, no evidence produced at trial indicated that the Defendant City ever took on any particular duty to the Plaintiff. Under those circumstances, no claim against the City for negligence could lie.

Ponder that for a moment. Under McAvoy’s ruling, when the police break down the door to a house, rush inside and shoot someone, they owe a duty of care to the person named on the warrant, but not to any innocent people who may be inside. McAvoy’s very innocence precludes him from suing the city. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

6 October 2017 at 2:22 pm

Trump Personally Intervened to Sabotage Obamacare in Iowa

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Eric Levitz reports in New York magazine:

Iowa has a plan to stabilize its Obamacare marketplaces by transferring insurance subsidies away from low-income people and toward the middle class, while also setting up a reinsurance program to limit insurers’ losses.

Progressives hate the proposal. But the conservative Republicans who wrote it think it’s grand — and, critically, so does the state’s largest insurer, Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield, which has promised to reverse its plan to leave the state’s individual insurance market if the reforms are put into effect.

In its broad outlines, Iowa’s proposal would do much of what every version of Trumpcare has aspired to: bring down premiums for middle-class people aggrieved by their lack of access to Obamacare subsidies; screw over the poor; and please insurers.

And yet, when President Trump got wind of the plan in late August, he ordered his Health department to kill it. As the Washington Post reports:

For months, officials in Republican-controlled Iowa had sought federal permission to revitalize their ailing health-insurance marketplace. Then President Trump read about the request in a newspaper story and called the federal director weighing the application.

Trump’s message was clear, according to individuals who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations: Tell Iowa no.

… It was a Wall Street Journal article about Iowa’s request that provoked Trump’s ire in late August, according to an individual briefed on the exchange. The story detailed how officials had just submitted the application for a Section 1332 waiver — a provision that allows states to adjust how they are implementing the ACA as long as they can prove it would not translate into lost or less-affordable coverage.

Iowa’s aim was to foster more competition and better prices. The story said other states hoping to stabilize their situations were watching closely.

Trump first tried to reach Price, the individual recounted, but the secretary was traveling in Asia and unavailable. The president then called Seema Verma, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the agency charged with authorizing or rejecting Section 1332 applications. CMS had been working closely with Iowa as it fine-tuned its submission.

Now, there’s a strong case that Iowa’s waiver request should be denied — its proposed reforms are so right-wing, they may actually be illegal. “The courts won’t stand for this,” health-care law expert Nicholas Bagley wrote last month. “The [Affordable Care Act’s] guardrails are really restrictive …they suggest that a state’s waiver can be approved if and only if it doesn’t make a substantial number of people worse off than they were under the ACA. Iowa’s waiver flunks that test.”

But it’s highly unlikely that Trump tried to block the waiver out of deference to the letter of Barack Obama’s law. While the Journal did mention opposition from the National Alliance on Mental Illness and the American Cancer Society toward the bottom of its story, the article’s main thrust was that Iowa’s plan would keep its largest insurer in all of its counties, reduce premiums for the middle class, and serve as a potential model to other Republican-controlled states looking to strengthen their exchanges.

Given that the Trump administration is now openly sabotaging the Affordable Care Act, it’s safe to assume that the president tried to kill Iowa’s request for the very worst of reasons. In recent weeks, Health and Human Services has spread doubt about whether it will enforce the tax penalty for refusing to sign up for insurance; cut funding for the law’s outreach groups; slashed Obamacare’s advertising budget by 90 percent; spent a portion of the remaining ad budget on propaganda calling for the law’s repeal; cut the open-enrollment period by 45 days; announced that it would be taking (where people can enroll in Obamacare online) offline for nearly every Sunday during that time period, for “maintenance” purposes; instructed its ten regional directors not to participate in state-based events promoting ACA enrollment; and, when asked about their rationale for pulling out of those events, released a statement saying, “The American people know a bad deal when they see one and many won’t be convinced to sign up for ‘Washington-knows-best’ health coverage that they can’t afford.”

And the president’s most ambitious act of sabotage may still be to come. Under Obamacare, participating insurers are required to keep deductibles and co-payments affordable for low-income people. In practice, this means that insurers must underprice the risk of covering such individuals, and, thus, accept a financial loss. To make that proposition more appealing to these for-profit companies, Obamacare provides them with “cost-sharing reductions” — subsidies that defray the insurers’ losses.
But for complicated reasons relating to a lawsuit that House Republicans brought against the Obama administration, Donald Trump can cancel those subsidies at will. And he has threatened to do just that, over and over again, for months. These threats, alone, have led many insurers to either pull out of the exchanges, or else jack up premiums high enough to offset the costs of covering low-income enrollees without Uncle Sam’s help.

But, according to the Post, the number of insurers participating in Obamacare is still too high — and the premiums on its plans still too low — for the Trump administration’s taste: A White House aide told the paper Thursday that “officials are considering action to end the payments in November.”

It’s still possible that Iowa’s waiver will be approved — the White House has yet to formally reject it. Regardless, the fact that Trump intervened directly to block it has two significant implications. First, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 October 2017 at 12:20 pm

Stock market performance comparison: Obama v. Trump

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From a post by Kevin Drum:

Written by LeisureGuy

6 October 2017 at 11:54 am

Posted in Business

More on how Congress is willing for 9 million children to lose healthcare

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Alda Chávez reports in The Intercept:

A PROGRAM THAT provides health coverage to some 9 million children was allowed by the Republican-controlled Congress to expire over the weekend.

The Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, a bipartisan initiative that was originally co-sponsored by Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch and the late Ted Kennedy in the 1990s, allows children who fall above the Medicaid threshold to obtain low-cost health insurance.

Republicans diverted nearly all attention to another failed Obamacare repeal attempt. The bill’s co-sponsors, Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Bill Cassidy, R-La., claimed to have momentum on their side and enough votes to pass the measure, but that turned out to be false, as the effort fell short of even the mark set by the previous failed effort. Graham later acknowledged he had no idea what he was doing.

Democrats in Congress and around the country, however, fully mobilized against it, while paying little attention to the looming expiration of CHIP.

Low-income children, infants, and pregnant women rely on coverage through CHIP — it’s particularly vital for women and children of color.

Hatch, R-Utah, and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., the chair and ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee respectively, announced an agreement in September to extend CHIP funding for another five years and boost funding over time.

But the Graham-Cassidy bill, the Republican party’s most recent attempt to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, quickly drowned out any talk of CHIP’s future after being unveiled ahead of the deadline. “Momentum was building,” Bruce Lesley, president of First Focus, a children’s advocacy group, told a columnist for the L.A. Times. After Graham-Cassidy, Lesley said, “No one was even taking our calls.”

The Senate Finance Committee is holding a CHIP bill markup on Wednesday, but states have already been bracing for the worst and some may have to shut down their children’s health program until funding is received.

Ten states, including Arizona, California, Minnesota, North Carolina, and Washington, D.C., will run out of funding between October and December, according to the Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission, or MACPAC, a nonpartisan congressional advisory body, but most are projected to exhaust money by March 2018.

“Congress needs to act quickly to secure kids’ health care, and next week’s markup of the Senate’s strong, bipartisan CHIP bill is an important step,” Wyden said in a statement.

“Every day that passes without action following the funding deadline this Saturday means more heartache for children and families and more uncertainty for states. I will be pulling out all the stops to ensure Congress keeps its promise to America’s kids.”

At about $14 billion a year, the program is significantly smaller than Medicare and Medicaid, and is responsible for reducing the uninsured rate among children from 14 percent to 5 percent over two decades. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

6 October 2017 at 11:12 am

The Equifax Aftermath – We Need More Hacking

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An interesting perspective by Ido Kilovaty at Lawfare:

The Equifax data breach that compromised the Social Security numbers and other personal information of more than 145.5 million Americans prompted calls from authorities and consumers for more federal regulation to protect sensitive personal data. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Congress, and the Justice Department, among others, are investigating aspects of the incident. Some experts frame the cause of the breach in terms of market failure, arguing that companies have insufficient economic incentive to secure the data they handle. Others have suggested that the breach reveals no legal or regulatory failures because there is no legislation or regulation that effectively addresses the spate of very public  cybersecurity incidents against sensitive systems.

These approaches all have an ex post nature. But what’s needed, in fact, is to prevent such breaches before they happen. These intrusions occur because software and systems are imperfect and companies’ efforts to secure their systems are often ineffective (which could have roots in a perceived lack of economic incentive or the absence of binding regulation). Regulation and enforcement against cyberbreaches could work only if the cost of being compromised is so high that compliance is the only viable course of action. Of course, law enforcement has limited deterrence value against foreign hackers. Consequently, there must be a  shift in thinking about cybersecurity, particularly when sensitive data is at stake. Regulation is prone to inflexibility, which could quickly leave it ineffective as technology evolves and develops. Hackers could figure out ever more sophisticated ways into consumers’ data, and security methods prescribed by regulations would soon become outdated.

That’s why, if we really want to secure our systems and prevent future Equifax-like breaches, the answer is counterintuitive: We should encourage more hacking against these systems. This would not be malicious hacking but, rather, the “ethical” type: cyber intrusions seeking to help secure systems by identifying security vulnerabilities before they can be exploited. If Nietzsche was right that chaos comes out of order, this is precisely the way to approach cybersecurity challenges. Incentivizing ethical hacking (or “white-hat hacking”) could be much more efficient than traditional forms of regulation. Put another way, encouraging a minimal degree of chaos could help prevent a major one.

Data breaches happen daily, and sectors are targeted indiscriminately. Americans’ credit card details, addresses, security clearances and voter data are just some of the sensitive information that malicious hackers constantly target, often successfully. Rarely discussed after initial reports of data being compromised are the ways breached companies handle vulnerabilities and whether they’re welcoming vulnerability disclosure efforts from the broader hacking community. While many tech companies including Google and Microsoft have vulnerability disclosure systems, companies that monitor credit, such as Equifax, do not have the same level of private-public cooperation with the community of ethical hackers. This often prevents these hackers from probing potentially vulnerable systems. HackerOne, a well-known platform aggregating vulnerability disclosure policies, has no reported guidelines for Equifax.

Although some companies have developed vulnerability disclosure programs, others are not particularly friendly toward ethical hackers who try to help. Cisco threatened legal action against researchers who disclosed vulnerabilities about its internet routers, and HP behaved similarly over a vulnerability in its Tru64 operating system. These inconsistent reactions about vulnerabilities reported by the broader hacking community point up an issue thoughtful legislation or regulation could address. Another foundational issue: making hacked entities directly accountable for data breaches.

Consider: Equifax’s breach might have been prevented if ethical hackers had more freedom vis-à-vis sensitive systems. In the aftermath of the breach, evidence of vulnerabilities was quickly publicized. Brian Krebs reported that Equifax used the default username and password—“admin/admin”—for at least one database. Had good actors been given more incentives to operate, or if vulnerability disclosure programs were mandated at every company that handles large amounts of sensitive information, this might have been spotted and secured earlier.

The issue here is not solely one of law and policy but also of democratic governance. A substantial number of companies process personal data without consumers having any form of influence over what these companies do and how they conduct themselves when it comes to that personal data. More freedom to ethically hack would create an oversight system that involves and engages the broader public and allow ethical hackers’ engagement in security research. In the arms race between malicious and benevolent hackers, law should create a  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 October 2017 at 10:48 am

After Four Years, IRS Finally Confirms There Was No Targeting of Tea Party Groups

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Kevin Drum comments on the result of an investigation into Tea Party charges of persecution by the government, and the result is that the charge is without any merit whatsoever. Read his post, and note the chart. The post concludes:

. . . Note that this audit is not based on miscellaneous PowerPoint presentations or emails. It’s based on actual cases referred for audit. Of those, only 15 percent were conservative groups. That’s it. The vast majority were liberal groups.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady, who was one of the ringleaders of the original Lois Lerner lynching, is pretending that the new audit confirms what “government watchdogs” like Kevin Brady have been saying all along:“Bureaucrats at the IRS, such as Lois Lerner, arbitrarily and haphazardly administered the tax code and targeted taxpayers based on political ideology.”

No. That’s not what they were saying at the time. They said the Obama IRS was corruptly targeting conservative groups for harassment. But they weren’t. Whether or not the BOLO list was a good idea, it never had anything to do with Obama. It got its start back in 2004, and during the Obama administration it was mostly used to target liberal groups.

There was nothing to any of this. There was never anything to it. Just a couple of PowerPoint presentations that were blown up into a “scandal” that never existed. But it took four years to officially confirm that.

Back in June 2013, Jon Chait wrote this:

Do you remember how all-consuming the “Obama scandals” once were? This was a turn of events so dramatic it defined Obama’s entire second term — he was “waylaid by controversies,” or at least “seriously off track,” “beset by scandals,” enduring a “second-term curse,” the prospect of “endless scandals,” Republicans “beginning to write his legislative obituary,” and Washington had “turned on Obama.” A ritualistic media grilling of Jay Carney, featuring the ritualistic comparisons of him to Nixon press secretary Ron Ziegler, sanctified the impression of guilt.

Four years later, we know even more about the “Big Three” scandals. It turns out there was never the slightest scandal associated with Benghazi. There was no IRS scandal. And Obama’s prosecution of leaks may have been unwise policy, but there was never anything remotely corrupt about it.

Oh, and Hillary Clinton’s emails? The more we found out about that, the less there was. Ditto for the Clinton Foundation. And her health. Hillary Clinton had her own Big Three scandals, and they turned out to be just as baseless as Obama’s. Imagine that.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 October 2017 at 10:44 am

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