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Archive for August 9th, 2018

Congress Makes Corruption Too Easy

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David Dayen writes in the New Republic:

Six years ago, Congress passed the STOCK Act, which for the first time made members of Congress liable for insider trading, just like any other investor. On Wednesday, the Justice Department issued the very first indictment under that law when it arrested Representative Chris Collins, Trump’s earliest supporter in Congress, and accused him of sharing inside information about an Australian pharmaceutical company with his son and other investors.

Last year, Collins allegedly learned, before the public did, about the failure of a clinical trial for a multiple sclerosis drug by Innate Immunotherapeutic. He told Cameron Collins, his son and a fellow shareholder, who dumped his stock. Cameron then distributed the information to at least six other investors, who also sold the stock before news broke about the failed trial, dropping the stock price by 92 percent. All told, the defendants and their friends avoided over $768,000 in losses, according to the indictment.

The STOCK Act was intended to prevent members of Congress, who have access to all kinds of non-public information, from using their knowledge to make money for themselves and others. But Collins came by his information in a different, almost unbelievable way: He was on the board of directors of Innate Immunotherapeutics while also serving in Congress. Collins also held 16.8 percent of the company’s stock, and he was the company’s unofficial tout on Capitol Hill, getting at least six colleagues—including, at one point, former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price—to buy shares.

Meanwhile, Collins sits on the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s health subcommittee, a position that gives him policymaking responsibilities over the pharmaceutical industry. As many Americans are learning for the first time today, there is no law prohibiting a congressman from serving as a corporate board member—even if that congressman specializes in policymaking that covers that corporation’s industry.

The details in the indictment are comical in the retelling of such naked corruption. When Collins learned about the failure of the multiple sclerosis drug trial, Innate Immunotherapeutics had halted trading on its shares at the Australian Stock Exchange, a routine circumstance when a company receives important news that they will later make public. But the U.S. over-the-counter market did not stop trading Innate, giving insiders the chance to financially benefit.

On June 22, 2017, Collins was at the White House Congressional Picnic when he got an email from Innate’s CEO about the “extremely bad news” from the clinical trial. Innate had put most of its hopes in the success of the multiple sclerosis drug, but it proved ineffective.

Collins got the email at 7:10 p.m. He wrote back, “Wow. Makes no sense. How are these results even possible???” Because Collins’s stock was held in Australia, where trading was halted, he couldn’t get his big stake out of the company. But his son Cameron had shares in Innate with a U.S. broker, which meant he could dump them.

From inside the White House, Collins immediately called his son, and they exchanged seven calls before finally connecting. Father and son had a short discussion, and the next morning Cameron began the first sale orders of what would eventually be a dumping of 1,391,500 shares, before release of the information on June 27. Cameron Collins also informed other shareholders, and at least six dumped their shares in Innate.

When news of the clinical trial failure broke, Collins’s spokesperson gave a statement to a local paper that “Cameron Collins has liquidated all his shares after the stock halt was lifted, suffering a substantial financial loss,” conveniently leaving out the 1.39 million shares Cameron Collins sold prior to that point.

While all this was going on, Chris Collins was already under investigation by the Office of Congressional Ethics, an independent watchdog, about his relationship with Innate. Collins was a co-author of the 21st Century Cures Act, which included provisions that would accelerate the approval process for drugs like the multiple sclerosis treatment being developed by Innate. He encouraged a National Institutes of Health employee to meet with Innate about its clinical trials in 2013.

Collins was also popping off to anyone who would listen about what a great investment opportunity Innate was, leading Republican representatives Markwayne Mullin, Billy Long, John Culberson, Mike Conaway, and Doug Lamborn to buy shares. Tom Price got in under a special discounted offer available to less than 20 people in the U.S. After being nominated for Health and Human Services secretary, Price sold his shares; it’s unclear if the others were tipped off. (Lamborn still owned shares as of last October—unfortunately for him, as they’re effectively worthless.) . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

9 August 2018 at 11:27 am

“I was lucky”: the hidden past of a London housekeeper

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Interesting story by Moni Mohsin in 1843:

Aisha showed up on my doorstep in April 2010. My housekeeper Hana, an Indonesian woman who had worked for me for three years, was leaving to get married, and she recommended her friend as a replacement. From the start, Aisha worked with impressive efficiency. Her ironing was impeccable. Bathrooms sparkled and furniture shone. She oiled squeaky hinges, replaced blown light bulbs and revived wilted plants. And she showed a curiosity about the inner workings of contraptions. She read instruction manuals; she opened up the hoover to diagnose a fault with the suction; she took down the Roman blind to understand why it was listing to one side. Aisha carried out all of this with a reserve that discouraged questions.

Eventually, she shared a few details of her life. She was in her 30s and had an ex-husband, two younger brothers and a son who lived with her parents. She came from a small village in West Java, where people either tilled rice fields or went abroad to find work. I knew from Hana that Aisha had escaped from her previous employers, a Saudi couple, while they were on holiday in London. Unlike many other domestic workers she knew, she hadn’t been held prisoner, kept working all hours or cheated of her wages. She simply felt that she would have a better life in Britain.

In the eight years that she has worked for me, Aisha’s circumstances have been transformed. She arrived virtually penniless, but managed within seven years to save enough to buy two rice fields and construct a house in her village – she oversaw the building over Skype. She signed up for accountancy courses and passed all her exams, including the rigorous Life in the UK test, required by the Home Office for obtaining indefinite leave to remain in Britain. She became a political activist and lobbied for the rights of domestic workers in the House of Lords and the European Parliament. Aisha’s career has been propelled by some of the world’s most powerful social forces – migration, globalisation, the emancipation and empowerment of women.

Though Aisha and I are both migrants, as much divides as unites us. We are both Muslim and come from poor Asian countries – she from Indonesia, I from Pakistan. But I am privileged and educated; she is not. We are also mothers, yet as with so much else, class and wealth has made our experience of motherhood quite distinct.

Aisha had been working for me for eight months when I gave her a month off to return to Indonesia and see her family. She went shopping and came home laden with bulging bags. That afternoon, when I went into my eight-year-old son’s room, I found him in his pyjamas standing with his arms aloft. Aisha knelt on the carpet before him. By her knee lay a pile of T-shirts and trousers. She was measuring each one in turn against him and flushed when she saw me.

“Sorry Madam, I was just trying these clothes on him. My son is same age as yours. But I not see him for four years. So I don’t know how big he grow.”

Two years ago I went with Aisha to Babakan, the village in West Java she came from. My presence created a stir. Though many women from the village had gone abroad to work as domestic workers, none had ever brought an employer home. A posse of excited children escorted us down the dusty main street, pointing at me and shouting, “Look, look! Madam is here! Madam is here!” On either side of the street, houses jostled together like crowded teeth. Many were solidly built, concrete structures, painted in bright colours – apple green, turquoise and purple – and adorned with wood carvings and satellite dishes. Caged birds sang on their neat verandas. Others looked poor and shabby, with broken windows, peeling paint and cracked façades. Almost a quarter were constructed in the old style out of bamboo.

Alleys between the houses were littered with cigarette butts, fruit peel, plastic bags, discarded flip-flops and rusting tricycles. The stream in which Aisha learnt to swim as a child had become a sewer clogged with household waste.

The smarter homes had been financed by the wages of workers who had gone abroad. “From every house,” she said spreading her arms to indicate both sides of the road, “someone go out” – “going out” is shorthand in her village for moving abroad to find work. When I asked her to identify which houses specifically, she sighed with impatience. “I’m telling you. From every house they go.” She worked her way down the street, ticking off the countries: Saudi Arabia, Brunei, Taiwan, Malaysia. “Every house,” she said.

In the 1970s, Babakan was an isolated hamlet. Though the distance from Jakarta was only 130km, the journey by road took six hours. Most villagers were rice farmers, living in houses made of palm and bamboo. They washed in the river and lit their homes with lanterns. The younger generation studied at the village school but no one went to university. Few had even visited the capital.

In the mid-1980s Suharto’s government signed an agreement with Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern governments to export manual labour. A trickle of volunteers soon turned into a flood of manpower pouring out from western Java: men sought work abroad as drivers, cleaners and labourers; women as nannies, cooks and cleaners. By 2016, nearly 5m people legally worked abroad, according to Indonesia’s National Agency for the Placement and Protection of Migrant Workers – some 4% of the labour force. The demand for live-in domestic help propelled the first waves of migration, so women were overwhelmingly preferred to men. Entire villages in West Java were depleted of women between the ages of 20 and 45. In 2009 around 80% of the documented migrant workers were women, though the numbers have begun to equalise as the government has introduced quotas on the number of women going to work in Malaysia and the Middle East.

Salaried domestic work is one of the fastest growing occupations in the service industry globally. According to the International Labour Organisation, the number of domestic workers more than doubled between 1995 and 2015 to 67m. Of these, 11.5m are migrants. The actual figures are probably far higher since the sector is largely informal and invisible.

There are many reasons for the increased demand for hired helpers: rising female employment, the expansion of the middle classes in the developing world and ageing populations in the developed one. Many successful women I know in Britain wouldn’t have been able to forge their careeers without them. Domestic work currently accounts for one in every 13 women employed worldwide. In the last 30 years, millions of Filipino, Sri Lankan, Bangladeshi and Indonesian women like Aisha have left remote villages and travelled to distant places in search of livelihoods. Though they are largely invisible, their stories are extraordinary. They have crossed continents to live among complete strangers with alien customs and unfamiliar tongues. Often they lack any legal protections and rely only on their resilience, courage and ingenuity to survive.

In many senses, those who go out are winners. The remittances they send halfway across the world pay school and college fees, finance farms, fund small businesses, pay for homes, weddings and funerals and boost the foreign-exchange reserves of their own countries. But their achievements come at great personal cost. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

9 August 2018 at 11:21 am

Posted in Business, Daily life

Think the Constitution Will Save Us? Think Again

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Meagan Day and Bhaskar Sunkara write in the NY Times:

Consider a few facts: Donald Trump is in the White House, despite winning almost three million fewer votes than Hillary Clinton. The Senate, the country’s most powerful legislative chamber, grants the same representation to Wyoming’s 579,315 residents as it does to 39,536,653 Californians. Key voting rights are denied to citizens in the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and other United States territories. The American government is structured by an 18th-century text that is almost impossible to change.

These ills didn’t come about by accident; the subversion of democracy was the explicit intent of the Constitution’s framers. For James Madison, writing in Federalist No. 10, “Democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention” incompatible with the rights of property owners. The byzantine Constitution he helped create serves as the foundation for a system of government that rules over people, rather than an evolving tool for popular self-government.

Writers on the left such as Jacobin’s Seth Ackerman and the journalist Daniel Lazare have long argued that constitutional reform needs to be on the agenda. Even some liberals like Vox’s Matthew Yglesias rightly worry that the current system of governance is headed toward collapse.

These perspectives are vital at a time when many progressives regard the Constitution as our only line of defense against a would-be autocrat in the White House. Yet whether or not the president knows it, the Constitution has long been venerated by conservative business elites like himself on the grounds that it hands them the power to fend off attempts to redistribute wealth and create new social guarantees in the interest of working people. There’s a reason we’re the only developed country without guarantees such as universal health care and paid maternity leave. While preserving and expanding the Bill of Rights’s incomplete safeguards of individual freedoms, we need to start working toward the establishment of a new political system that truly represents Americans. Our ideal should be a strong federal government powered by a proportionally elected unicameral legislature. But intermediary steps toward that vision can be taken by abolishing the filibuster, establishing federal control over elections and developing a simpler way to amend the Constitution through national referendum.

How hard would change be? As Mr. Ackerman reminds us, while constitutional change is straightforward and feasible in most countries, “an amendment to the U.S. Constitution requires the consent of no less than thirty-nine different legislatures comprising roughly seventy-eight separately elected chambers.”

But it’s a problem worth confronting. As long as we think of our Constitution as a sacred document, instead of an outdated relic, we’ll have to deal with its anti-democratic consequences.

Written by Leisureguy

9 August 2018 at 9:55 am

Posted in Daily life, Government, Law

Rooney butterscotch Emilion, Meißner Tremonia Indian Flavour, Merkur Progress, and Pashana

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The Rooney Emilion I have is a highly satisfactory brush and with it I got a wonderfully fragrant and very slick lather from Meißner Tremonia’s Indian Flavour. As the label shows, fragrance is from coriander, mint, and lemongrass—very nice, it turns out.

The Progress is a wonderful razor—it’s the best modern adjustable I’ve found, though my Rockwell Model T should arrive sometime this month, and I’ll be able to compare.

Three passes, perfectly smooth result, and a splash of Pashana, then the walk (and I cut another minute off my time).

Written by Leisureguy

9 August 2018 at 9:53 am

Posted in Shaving

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