Later On

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Archive for October 29th, 2021

The Kyle Rittenhouse Judge

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Zak Cheney-Rice writes in New York magazine:

Imagine for a second that you’re a diligent citizen, the kind who shows up on Election Day with a checklist. You’re in Wisconsin, so state politics are a mess. The Republican-held legislature has nothing but contempt for majority rule, which means your preferences matter about as much as their last gerrymander lets them. You’ve realized your better bet is to influence local issues. People got angry about a police shooting last summer and set fire to a car dealership near the town center, so you’re especially interested in who’s getting jailed and put on trial in your area. You know that some judges are elected at the county level, but in contrast to the cheesing glad-handers whose faces flood your mailbox around this time of year, your research hasn’t turned up anything useful about who’s banging the nearest gavel.

Bruce Schroeder is here to help. On Monday, the Kenosha County circuit court judge did something that circuit court judges don’t usually do, in Kenosha County or anywhere: He made national news. Schroeder is presiding over the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse, the teenager who shot and killed two people, and injured a third, using an AR-15-style assault rifle during the unrest in Kenosha that followed the police shooting of Jacob Blake in the summer of 2020.

By most accounts, Rittenhouse was living out a fantasy. He was 17 years old and fawned over cops on social media. He had attended several police cadet programs before self-deputizing last August and driving from his hometown of Antioch, Illinois — half an hour away — to patrol Kenosha. He was filmed two weeks before the killings saying he wanted to “start shooting rounds” at people who looted stores, and was greeted warmly by cops when he arrived in Wisconsin, one of whom was filmed thanking him.

Judge Schroeder’s ruling that made the news was, on its surface, boringly semantic, and apparently standard for him when self-defense claims are being disputed. He said in a pretrial hearing that he wouldn’t let the attorneys refer to the dead (Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber) or injured (Gaige Grosskreuz) as “victims” — partly because the jury might later decide they were assailants whom Rittenhouse was justified in shooting. What caused a stir was that Schroeder also said he might let the attorneys call them “rioters” or “looters” if evidence of either behavior was presented. His explanation for allowing those and not the other was that “‘victim’ is a loaded, loaded word” — a term that could unfairly influence the jury’s feelings about the men who were shot, and thus its feelings about whether it was okay for Rittenhouse to shoot them.

Terms “such as ‘rioters,’ ‘looters,’ ‘arsonists,’ are as loaded, if not more loaded, than the term ‘victim,’” retorted Thomas Binger, one of the prosecutors. Whatever you make of his reasoning, Schroeder’s ruling was flagrantly political. It set up a clear hierarchy of permissible terms that was rooted in a clearly biased logic of who should get the benefit of the doubt in the case of a boy who crossed state lines with a firearm so he could play vigilante against anti-cop demonstrators.

Schroeder knows how this looks. He was appointed to his seat in 1983, officially elected for the first time in 1984, and has won all of his elections in the intervening 37 years. At age 75, he’s been a judge in Kenosha County for most of his professional life, and understands that when the media spotlight is on during one of his trials, rulings like the one he made on Monday could be — for better or worse — the closest thing voters get to a campaign ad.

The notion of a politicized judiciary has become a source of escalating glee for conservatives, panic for progressives, and furious denial for many of the judges themselves and their flacks in the punditocracy. This is especially clear with the U.S. Supreme Court. Some of its justices have become so invested in dispelling the obviously true perception that the country’s highest judicial body has become, in its current makeup, an organ of the conservative movement, that they’ve started writing delusional books and making whiny and defensive speeches at college campuses to plead their case.

But unless some dramatic structural revamp is around the corner, this isn’t something the average person can do much about. Supreme Court justices are appointed for life and can only be replaced, if they die or retire, by whichever president’s in office at the time — and only then if a Senate majority permits it. Not so at the local level. Circuit court judges might seem like a fact of life because nobody knows what they’re doing most of the time, and because they often run for reelection unopposed, but the typically clandestine nature of their work is actually, and incongruously, beholden to democratic will.

That doesn’t mean when . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

29 October 2021 at 8:31 pm

Dave Troy’s Situation Report for 29 Oct 2021

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Dave Troy writes:

Crypto bros continuing to try to make ‘fetch’ happen. If you’re trying to get a trend going, a good way to do it is to get people with a lot of influence to keep going on about it. We keep seeing this among a certain class of tech bro, this week from Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey who incorrectly proclaimed that “hyperinflation” is happening in the US, and soon would be affecting the whole world. This is, of course, nonsense; we are seeing some mild inflation in certain classes of goods. Economists generally agree that this is due to supply chain disruptions imposed by the global pandemic, and that prices for most things will likely drop once those conditions are eased. Hyperinflation by contrast is a condition where currency is devalued in a runaway vicious cycle of 50% per month over time, and, well, that is not happening.

Dorsey seems to have fallen victim to the same cult of cryptocurrency promoted by the likes of the John Birch Society, and has been convinced that he should be part of a growing chorus to try to take down the US dollar. That, of course, is insane, and the forces mounted against him in that endeavor are bigger than he can possibly imagine.

But that’s not stopping him, or others, from trying, it seems. Couple this with the lingering uncertainty over the pending infrastructure bill and the debt ceiling which must be raised on December 3rd, and it’s clear there are people who would like to try to take down the dollar. And like January 6th, which was not successful, any attempt along these lines could be incredibly damaging and costly, even as it is likely to fail. This all needs to stop. Now.

Facebook changes name to Meta; the world yawns. If there’s one thing that’s becoming clear, it’s that people are increasingly not interested in buying anything that Mark Zuckerberg is selling. People don’t trust him and they don’t trust his company to put societal or individual interests above profits.

This is going to become an increasing strategic bind for the company. As he is the majority shareholder, he controls the board and so thus can’t be “fired,” and if he were to step aside and install non-sociopathic leadership, he would still own a majority of voting shares. A reckoning is coming: he is creating negative value for the company.

In the meantime, we can rest assured they have done no work with ethicists or sociologists to consider how to promote a healthier society with their platform designs, just as he did not consult with ethicists when scheming about how to rate women via web browser from his dorm room. The intention seems to be to divert attention from an increasingly frail business model towards heavy cap-ex and bets on future products no one is sure anyone wants.

Libertarian blockchain-tech types are suggesting that we should want ‘decentralized’ versions of this stuff, which also has not been considered from an ethical or sociological perspective. We don’t really know how to reconcile ‘free speech’ with the tendency for humans to form cults and commit genocide, which is what is likely to happen if we pursue unregulated or self-moderated social media architectures. We know from experiences with structures like Facebook Groups that this is a possible if not likely outcome.

Koch Foundation behind Critical Race Theory assault. We’ve known that the Council for National Policy has coordinated an attack on local school boards. This week The Nation reports that Charles Koch has helped fund that assault. The US Senate hearing this week with Attorney General Merrick Garland was a bit like a horror film; while he was spuriously attacked by senators like Tom Cotton, no one would dare utter a word about the coordinated attack coordinated by CNP and Charles Koch. Why? Who knows. Ignorance? Are they beholden in some way? Hard to say. But reality has yet to poke its nose into the Congressional discourse.

Yale Law School working with disinformation purveyors, Wikileaks, and Russia. A network of people linked to Wikileaks is pushing a distributed blockchain-based social media platform called PanQuake. (The idea is that it can’t be controlled or regulated by governments.) Sean O’Brien, founder of the Yale Law School Privacy Lab, seems to be serving as a chief technical architect. Suzie Dawson, a self-described citizen journalist who had been involved with Occupy Auckland in 2011–2012 and with Wikileaks is leading the effort from Moscow, where she has apparently been in exile since 2017. The group also produces a blog and video series called Talk Liberation, which has promoted noted provocateur Laura Loomer as well as COVID conspiracist anti-vax activist Naomi Wolf. I don’t know why Yale is affiliated with this group, just as I don’t know why the Stanford Internet Observatory and Harvard Kennedy School are taking money from the Koch organization. But it’s worth understanding better what’s going on here. Do Yale Law alumni think this is appropriate? I find it troubling.

Rep. Mo Brooks has a lot of explaining to do—about Space Command and January 6th. Rolling Stone’s Hunter Walker reported this week that . . .

Continue reading. There’s more. We live in a time rich in event.

Written by Leisureguy

29 October 2021 at 5:33 pm

How the US fails to take away guns from domestic abusers: ‘These deaths are preventable’

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The US values guns more than it values lives — especially women’s lives. Jennifer Gollan for Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting reports in the Guardian:

Editor’s note: This story was produced by the non-profit newsroom Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting. Get its investigations emailed directly to you.

Paige Mitchell and Bradley Gray forged a bond over tragedy. Late one Sunday in October 2009, Mitchell’s husband borrowed a motorcycle from a neighbor on a whim, rumbled down a back road in rural Moundville, Alabama, and careened to his death. Almost exactly a year later, at almost precisely the same time of night, Gray’s wife died on the same county byway when her car crashed into a tree. Fate seemed to push Mitchell and Gray together, making their relationship hard to sever even as it descended into dysfunction.

Mitchell treated Gray’s son, Bradley Jr, like one of her own children, bringing him on outings with her daughters, Kayla and Kaci. Gray, who worked for a construction company, mowed Mitchell’s lawn and did repairs around her house. They went to concerts and cruised the Black Warrior River in Gray’s boat. Mitchell, a hairdresser with a gregarious personality, was glad to have someone to laugh with. But a darkness hovered over their relationship. Gray drank – a lot. And when he drank, his temper exploded. After beating a friend with a baseball bat in 2014, he was charged with felony assault, though the case was eventually dismissed.

Gray tried rehab, but he couldn’t stay sober, Mitchell’s family said. Many of the people who loved him gave up. Mitchell felt sorry for him, her family said; like the German shepherd she rescued and the foster children with disabilities she took in, she thought she could help him heal.

After Gray hit her in the chin with a metal hand-grip exerciser, bruising her face and and leaving her worried she would lose her tooth, Mitchell began to give up, too. But Moundville is tiny, and they kept running into each other. On the night of 9 July 2015, she went to Gray’s home to pick up her car and collect her belongings after another split. This time, according to the police, he showed her a Glock in a holster and threatened to use it: “I will blow you away.” Police arrested Gray at his house and confiscated his gun, evidence of a potential crime. Prosecutors charged him with third-degree domestic violence, punishable by up to a year in jail.

Then Gray bumped into Moundville’s police chief, Ken Robertson, in a convenience store and started “really ranting”, Robertson recounted in a deposition five years later. Gray called Robertson and his officers “you sons of bitches” and demanded that they return his gun. “Let me see what’s going on and we will rectify the situation,” Robertson told him.

Back at the station, Robertson read Gray’s arrest report – and, over the objections of another officer, he handed back the gun. The former police chief, who is now a sheriff’s deputy for Hale county, didn’t respond to requests for an interview. But in his deposition, he offered an explanation of sorts: police didn’t have a search warrant for the weapon, he said. In his view, “there was zero legal reason to keep it”.

In fact, under Alabama law, police could have – and should have – sought a court order to retain the gun through a process known as condemnation, said the Hale county district attorney, Michael Jackson, whose jurisdiction includes most of Moundville. Giving back the gun, Jackson told Reveal, “was a big mistake”.

That error was compounded a few weeks later after Gray pleaded guilty to the domestic violence charge. Along with a 30-day suspended jail sentence and a year’s probation, he was ordered to enroll in anger management classes. The timing was crucial: under a state law that had taken effect the previous week, on 1 September 2015, Gray’s domestic violence misdemeanor conviction meant he was no longer allowed to possess a firearm or have one “under [his] control”. As a convicted abuser, Gray was now also permanently barred from possessing a firearm under federal law.

If Robertson’s department had held on to the Glock, the rest of the story might have been different. But Gray had his gun – and the new Alabama statute didn’t spell out a procedure for him to surrender it. Nor was there any requirement for law enforcement to seize it. In his deposition, Robertson acknowledged that Gray was no longer allowed to have a firearm, but he said he didn’t follow up on the case: “We don’t have the authority to go and start checking everybody that’s been convicted.” He also admitted that he’d never notified Mitchell that he’d given back the Glock. The law didn’t require it.

A little more than a year later, Mitchell, then 37, ran into Gray unexpectedly at a friend’s place and made it clear one more time that the relationship was over. “Brad was trying to convince her otherwise, and she was moving on,” said Sylvia Ray, Mitchell’s aunt and adoptive mother.

Hours later, just before dawn on 26 January 2017, Gray broke in to Mitchell’s house through the back door, according to her family. When Mitchell’s foster child woke and went to check on the noise, Gray told her to go back to bed. In the living room, he found 14-year-old Kaci, who had been asleep on a couch by the front door, and shot her in the neck, according to her autopsy.

Next he turned the Glock on Mitchell, firing a single bullet into the back of her head.

The shooting was over so quickly that 10-year-old Kayla slept through it. She discovered the bodies of her mother and sister when she woke the next morning to get ready for school.

As officers waited on his front porch soon after to question him, Gray fired one last shot with the gun he wasn’t supposed to have. He died at a hospital three days later.

Preventable deaths

Every 16 hours somewhere in the US, a woman is fatally shot by a current or former intimate partner. The numbers have been soaring: gun homicides by intimate partners jumped 58% over the last decade, according to never-before-published FBI data analyzed for Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting by James Alan Fox, a professor and criminologist at Northeastern University. The pandemic has been an especially lethal period for abuse victims, Fox found; gun homicides involving intimate partners rose a stunning 25% in 2020 compared with the previous year, to the highest level in almost three decades. Women accounted for more than two-thirds of the victims shot and killed by intimate partners last year.

Many of these killings involve . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

29 October 2021 at 3:07 pm

This is the state of American justice: Federal judges working on behalf of corporations

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Isabella Grullón Paz reports in the NY Times:

Steven Donziger, the environmental and human rights lawyer who won a $9.5 billion settlement against Chevron over oil dumped in Indigenous lands in the Amazon rainforest, surrendered himself to the federal authorities on Wednesday to begin a six-month prison sentence.

Mr. Donziger was found guilty in July of six counts of criminal contempt of court for withholding evidence in a long, complex legal fight with Chevron, which claims that Mr. Donziger fabricated evidence in the 1990s to win a lawsuit he filed against the oil giant on behalf of 30,000 Indigenous people in Ecuador. The convictions were preceded by Mr. Donziger’s disbarment last year.

Late Wednesday afternoon, Mr. Donziger turned himself in to a federal prison in Danbury, Conn., where he will serve his six-month sentence. He had already spent more than 800 days under home detention after the court cited flight-risk concerns, his lawyer, Ronald L. Kuby, said on Wednesday.

“After 100 pages of legal briefing, the appellate court today denied my release in 10 words,” Mr. Donziger said on Twitter on Tuesday. “This is not due process of law. Nor is it justice.”

“We will get through this,” he added.

Representatives for Chevron did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

On July 31, 2019, Judge Lewis A. Kaplan of the U.S. District Court in Manhattan, a former corporate lawyer, tried to charge Mr. Donziger with contempt of court based on his refusals in 2014 to give the court access to decades of client communications on devices like his phone and his computer. That year, Judge Kaplan supported Chevron’s complaint in a 500-page ruling finding that Mr. Donziger and his associates had engaged in a conspiracy and criminal conduct by ghostwriting an environmental report used as a crucial piece of evidence and bribing a judge in Ecuador.

After the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York declined to prosecute the case, Judge Kaplan took the rare step of appointing a private law firm, Seward & Kissel, to prosecute Mr. Donziger in the name of the U.S. government, Mr. Kuby said.

Seward & Kissel has represented many oil and gas companies throughout the years, including Chevron in 2018.

Misdemeanor criminal contempt carries a maximum sentence of one year. If the penalty is more than six months for this type of charge, Mr. Kuby said, a defendant would get a trial by jury. Even after multiple objections by Mr. Donziger, Judge Loretta A. Preska lowered the sentencing to six months — it had previously been set to a year — and denied Mr. Donziger’s request for a jury trial.

In July, Judge Preska found Mr. Donziger guilty of all charges. On Oct. 1, Mr. Donziger was sentenced to six months in prison, a day after he asked the court to consider an opinion by independent United Nations experts that found his court-ordered home confinement of more than two years a violation of international human rights law.

Judge Preska agreed to not incarcerate Mr. Donziger immediately, giving him a chance to appeal the conditions of his bail. In a court order on Oct. 12, Judge Preska declared that if Mr. Donziger’s appeal failed, he would have to surrender himself within 24 hours of the decision.

In 1993, Mr. Donziger sued the Chevron Corporation for oil spills that had a detrimental effect on the Amazonian region of Ecuador. Mr. Donziger has argued that Texaco, which was acquired by Chevron in 2001, cut through the Amazon, spilled oil into pristine rain forests and left behind a toxic mess.

At the time, Chevron said  . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more. And it stinks. The judge put his thumb on the scale, big time.

Written by Leisureguy

29 October 2021 at 2:53 pm

Rise of the war machines: Charting the evolution of military technologies from the Neolithic to the Industrial Revolution

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I immediately thought of The Pursuit of Power: Technology, Armed Force, and Society Since 1000 A.D., by William H. MacNeill, included in my list of repeatedly recommended books. This, however, is a paper in PLOS ONE by Peter Turchin, Daniel Hoyer, Andrey Korotayev, Nikolay Kradin, Sergey Nefedov, Gary Feinman, Jill Levine, Jenny Reddish, Enrico Cioni, Chelsea Thorpe, James S. Bennett, Pieter Francois, and Harvey Whitehouse. The abstract:

What have been the causes and consequences of technological evolution in world history? In particular, what propels innovation and diffusion of military technologies, details of which are comparatively well preserved and which are often seen as drivers of broad socio-cultural processes? Here we analyze the evolution of key military technologies in a sample of pre-industrial societies world-wide covering almost 10,000 years of history using SeshatGlobal History Databank. We empirically test previously speculative theories that proposed world population size, connectivity between geographical areas of innovation and adoption, and critical enabling technological advances, such as iron metallurgy and horse riding, as central drivers of military technological evolution. We find that all of these factors are strong predictors of change in military technology, whereas state-level factors such as polity population, territorial size, or governance sophistication play no major role. We discuss how our approach can be extended to explore technological change more generally, and how our results carry important ramifications for understanding major drivers of evolution of social complexity.

The paper itself begins:

Introduction

From simple sharpened stone projectiles in the Paleolithic to the weapons of mass destruction in the modern world, what have been the main factors driving the evolution of military technology? Many have argued that the evolution of military technologies is just one aspect of a much broader pattern of technological evolution driven by increasing size and interconnectedness among human societies [13]. Several cultural evolutionary theories, conversely, highlight military technologies as a special case, arguing that steep improvements in both offensive and defensive capabilities of technologies along with accompanying tactical and organizational innovations resulted in “Military Revolutions” (note the plural), which in turn had major ramifications on the rise and, of particular concern here, the spread of state formations globally [48] and the evolution of religion and other cultural phenomena [9,10]. But the evolutionary mechanisms underlying general technological innovation, adoption, and transmission (especially in pre-industrial societies) are not well understood. Moreover, available theories have drawn on evidence that is limited both in geographical scope and temporal depth and deployed in ways that are subject to selection bias. Here we explore a variety of factors that previous scholarship suggests may have played a role in the evolution of military technologies by systematically quantifying the effects of those factors for thousands of years of world history.

Earlier efforts to quantify levels of technological complexity in eastern and western ends of Eurasia [11,12] have been criticized for being unduly subjective [13], especially when it comes to measuring rates of innovation in military technology, and are obviously limited in spatial coverage. Here we propose an alternative methodology for quantifying technological evolution and expand the geographic scope from just these two broad regions to 35 “Natural Geographic Areas” across all ten major world regions, using SeshatGlobal History Databank, a major resource for studying patterns of sociocultural evolution in world history (see Materials and Methods below).

This article has two related goals. The first is to establish broad spatio-temporal patterns in the evolution of military technologies in pre-industrial societies. By technological evolution we mean here the dynamics of uptake (and possible loss) of technologies used by societies at significant scale (rather than simply whether the technology was known at all), regardless of how that society came to acquire that technology (indigenous innovation or adoption from another culture). For those interested in the study of technological evolution in general, focusing specifically on military technologies in pre-industrial societies has many practical benefits. Warfare was one of the most intensive activities of human societies, leaving abundant traces in the archaeological and historical record.

The second goal is to explore why these important military technologies developed or were adopted in the places, at the times, and as part of the technological packages as we observe in the historical and archaeological record. There have been several theoretical conjectures (discussed below) about the main causal drivers of technological innovation that we test. As our approach will show, the pattern of military technological evolution shows great variation in time and space, with different regions assuming a leading role in innovation at different moments in time.

Delineating the possible causes and observed consequences of changes in levels of military technologies will have far-reaching implications for understanding the evolution of technology broadly. To encourage further progress towards that ultimate goal, we present here a detailed methodology for testing theories about technological change in human history. This paper serves as a crucial step along this path.

Theoretical background

Here, we review several competing theoretical perspectives on the evolution of technologies offered in the past. Technological change is one of the fundamental drivers in social and cultural evolution and of long-term economic growth [1417]. Many have pointed to . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

29 October 2021 at 2:07 pm

I suppose not shaving can also be fun

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Participant Norbert Dopf from Austria arrives for the German Moustache and Beard Championships 2021 at Pullman City Western Theme Park in Eging am See, Germany, October 23, 2021. REUTERS/Lukas Barth

Written by Leisureguy

29 October 2021 at 1:36 pm

Posted in Daily life, Shaving

Hearing back from the hearing-aid industry

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Matt Stoller’s piece on hearing aids stirred up quite a storm. He describes some of the aftermath:

When I write about market power in specific industries, it often generates massive discussion within the industry. The cheer world, for instance, exploded in dialogue when I exposed how Varsity controls cheerleading, because I offered the moral framework of monopoly to show that their frustration wasn’t just whiny complaints but was situated in exploitative use of market power.

Similarly, my piece on the hearing aid cartel ricocheted inside the audiology world. A bunch of hearing aid users and audiologists contacted me privately with both praise and anger. As usual, several of the people saying ‘you got this right’ also said ‘don’t mention my name publicly I’m afraid of retaliation,’ which is, sadly, too common in American business. Here’s Johns Hopkins professor and hearing loss expert.

Clearly the analysis resonated, with leading hearing aid expert Dr. Abram Bailey saying on LinkedIn that it will “create quite the sh** storm.” In fact, the whole thread of comments from practitioners in the industry is interesting.

Manufacturing Costs Are $40 to $80

Frede Jensen, an engineer in the UK, noted the manufacturing costs are between $40 to $80 for hearing aids, though it’s important to note that production costs are only one part of the process of selling a hearing aid, and the actual device cost doesn’t include the critical services of a trained audiologist. Still, that amount is far lower than what people in the U.S., and other nations with similar setups like Australia, pay:

Regarding the NHS. Public data shows they, with their approved agents, buy 1 million+ mid-range hearing aids p.a. at an average price of USD78 each (to which they must add their own fitting overheads). This reflects the unit manufacturing costs of USD40 for basic to USD80 for advanced wireless models, including direct and R&D overheads.

The NHS contract hundreds of thousand basic hearing fittings (to the gold standard protocol, with REM, follow-up and 3 years patient management) to the private sector, including to Specsavers, at around USD450 for a single or USD600 for a binaural referral – although this can vary slightly between different local health authorities. This includes the cost of the hearing aid(s).

Jensen’s observations are confirmed by this market analysis by the Global Partnership for Assistive Technologies on the worldwide market for hearing aids. Some remarkable stats: . . .

Continue reading. There’s more — and the stats are quite interesting.

I’m glad President Biden kicked the FDA into acting on hearing aids (after the FDA ignored for four years the law passed by Congress). 

Written by Leisureguy

29 October 2021 at 11:57 am

Enough is Enough: The Criminal Case Against Mark Zuckerberg

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Matt Stoller writes in Big:

The rule of law does not apply to the powerful. It should. And Facebook is a good place to start.

Today I want to use Facebook’s recent scandals to go over the case for criminal charges against Mark Zuckerberg and other Facebook insiders. Behind this essay is a basic question. Does the rule of law apply to the powerful?

First, some house-keeping. I got incredible feedback on my piece on the hearing aid cartel, including a bunch of tidbits on just how dirty the firms are. As one expert in the industry noted, it caused a ‘shit storm’ among audiologists. I’ll be doing more reporting here, as the U.S. government might start paying for hearing treatment in Medicare or Medicaid.

Also, I’ve been looking into ports, ocean carriers, and containers, but I still don’t have a clear theory of what’s happening. Consolidation is certainly a big part of the story. What I will say is that the Ocean Shipping Reform Act of 1998 was an extremely bad piece of legislation, and lots of people in the 1990s warned about what tossing out 80 years of shipping regulation would do. I’ll write up what I’ve found.

Finally, this week, I wrote a piece for the Guardian on why Facebook’s litany of scandals is actually a function of a broader breakdown of governance.

And now…

The Metaverse, the Facebook Whistleblower, and Corporate Crime

This week, there were three important events involving Facebook. The first was a bevy of documents coming out about Facebook’s business methods from ‘Facebook whistleblower’ Frances Haugen, revealing deceit towards advertisers, investors, and the public. I’m not a fan of Haugen’s ideas, and the documents she offered, while helpful, are overstated. I mean three years ago, Louisiana Senator John Kennedy confronted Facebook officials about micro-targeting emotionally vulnerable teens. So none of what we are learning is remotely surprising. But still, details from these documents are useful.

The second happened yesterday, when Mark Zuckerberg abruptly announced that Facebook’s name would be changed to Meta. The firm, he alleges, will now focus on building a virtual reality world in which all of us will work, play, and live, a vision ripped from 1990s dystopian science fiction writing. That this is a PR ploy to distract from Facebook’s myriad scandals is obvious, but I was struck by something else. Standing in a minimalist house presenting his vision of connecting people through a Ready Player One style virtual world, Zuckerberg seemed totally unchastened and unaffected by criticism of his corporation. He just doesn’t care about public anger. He sees himself as a builder, and builders build.

The third significant event also happened yesterday, and doesn’t immediately seem to involve Facebook. Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco spoke to the American Bar Association’s National Institute on White Collar Crime to announce a new more aggressive take on corporate malfeasance, encouraging prosecutors to take on tough cases against corporate executives. “Accountability starts with the individuals responsible for criminal conduct,” she said. “A corporate culture that fails to hold individuals accountable, or fails to invest in compliance — or worse, that thumbs its nose at compliance — leads to bad results.”

As part of this shift, Monaco asserted that the Department of Justice would change its approach to corporate crime. Rather than only examining specific instances, prosecutors would look at “the full range of prior misconduct, not just a narrower subset of similar misconduct,” which includes “their whole criminal, civil and regulatory record.” In other words, if your company is full of scandals, then those scandals are a factor in whether the DOJ will come after you.

Well I’m going to connect the dots, because it is hard to imagine a corporation beset with more publicly exposed problems than Facebook.

Why Is Mark Zuckerberg Still Worth $100 Billion?

In fact, this scandal-ridden nature of the firm is *why* Zuckerberg doesn’t care about criticism. Getting criticized vehemently for most of us is unusual, but for Zuckerberg, it’s actually what he’s used to. From the very beginning, when Zuckerberg dismissed the privacy needs of Harvard students, through the controversies over surveillance in 2007 to the first Federal Trade Commission consent decree in 2011, to its $5 billion fine for violating that decree in 2019, all the way to this week’s revelations, Facebook has been mired in trouble, often revealed as skirting or flouting the law. Yet, over the last ten years, despite multiple antitrust suits, fines from regulators, and investigations worldwide, the only constant has been Mark Zuckerberg’s dominance, more market power for the firm, and a rising stock price.

It’s arguable that the scandals, rather than damaging the firm, are actually the reason that Facebook is the powerhouse it is today. It is Zuckerberg’s ruthlessness and willingness to grab market share through whatever means necessary that shows why he, and not the founders of Instagram or any of the hundreds of other companies Facebook bought, won the race to monopolize the social media industry, and why he is worth $100 billion and some other founder isn’t.

Such corporate dominance isn’t innate to a market system. Had social networking emerged in the 1960s, it would have turned out very differently, because much of what Zuckerberg did – such as buying competitors to monopolize an industry – would have been considered illegal. But dominance is innate to our current public policy framework, which has de facto legalized monopolization. (We don’t need to guess on counterfactuals; email, which is very similar to social networking, did emerge in the 1960s, and it is not monopolized.)

In other words, Facebook is a creature of public policy, specifically lax antitrust enforcement and a failure to regulate privacy. But Zuckerberg’s nonchalance about inducing harm is also a function of public policy. The causal factor here is our refusal to use criminal law against powerful individuals who have political and market power. The result is that Mark Zuckerberg and the various executives in his orbit may have committed multiple criminal activities, but he, and they, are unchastened and unbothered by public concern.

If we want to address this problem, then authorities must . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

29 October 2021 at 11:49 am

The Kayak’s Cultural Journey

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Simon Morris has a fascinating article in Craftsmanship magazine about a Welsh artisan, Mike Morgan. The article begins:

1. A Disastrous Experiment   
2. Tuning a Boat     
3. The Magic of Symmetry    
4. The Kayak’s Comeback    
5. Who Owns the Kayak Story?   

What is the sound of a well-made kayak? The question might sound like an attempt at a Zen koan, but for the man at the center of this story—Mike Morgan, who makes skin boats as well as musical instruments—the question is a practical guide. Like those Zen puzzles, it’s also a productive question, pointing to a series of others: about the twists and turns that craft traditions often take, and whether a modern maker has any responsibility to knowledge that’s travelled a long way since it left the hands of the people who first generated it.

The town where Morgan lives and works—the hilltop community of Llantrisant, which sits a few miles northwest of Cardiff, the Welsh capital—is fertile ground for cultural explorations of this sort. Llantrisant’s history goes back to at least the Iron Age. The remains of a castle implicated in the 13th-century, Anglo-Norman conquest of Wales speaks of the town’s strategic position at the southern end of the valleys. Across the 19th century, this landscape was transformed from rugged pastoral into a begrimed engine room of Britain’s industrial revolution. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

29 October 2021 at 11:31 am

New format for 7 Habits weekly planning worksheet

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I am devoted to iterative refinement, and I can’t say how often I’ve returned to revise and improve my post on Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits. The most recent revision — and perhaps even the final revision — was this morning, when I worked over the second of the two formats offered of the weekly planning worksheet (PDF).

Both formats are shown in the post at the link, and under each image is a link to download (or print) the PDF of the corresponding format.

I have found that Covey’s method actually does work well, and in the post I suggest a way to test the method, along with other information about the method and why it works so well.

Take a look, and pass along the link.

Written by Leisureguy

29 October 2021 at 9:54 am

The Billionaires Tax Isn’t New

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Jesse Eisinger reports in ProPublica on a tax revenue source the US should use.

Having stumbled in their attempts to raise taxes on the wealthy in the conventional way, Democrats in Congress are moving to unconventional measures.

The new proposal is to tax billionaires on their so-called unrealized gains — the growth in the value of assets, such as stocks and real estate, that have not yet been sold. To understand why lawmakers might look to a group of more than 700 billionaires to underwrite a massive spending program, consider this statistic: Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, billionaires have seen a 70% increase in their wealth, from nearly $3 trillion to an almost incomprehensible $5 trillion, according to Forbes data analyzed by Americans for Tax Fairness and the Institute for Policy Studies Program on Inequality and the Common Good.

Unsurprisingly, critics, the ultrawealthy and even some Democrats have decried the idea as novel, untested and dangerous. Other experts worry about whether it would be too difficult to value billionaires’ assets or if the proposal could pass constitutional muster. These attacks have already jeopardized the idea in Washington.

But the billionaire’s tax is not nearly as novel and untested as it sounds. The main concepts already exist in the tax code. It just happens that these provisions currently serve the interests of the ultrawealthy class, who have so far skirted most taxes aimed at wealth rather than income.

The ultrawealthy live starkly different financial lives from other people. They hardly make anything in wages, or what the rest of us know as income. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos has typically pulled down a middle-class base salary of around $80,000. Others, like Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Oracle’s Larry Ellison and Google’s Larry Page, have, at various points, taken a symbolic $1 in salary.

But many ultrawealthy Americans have figured out how to fund a lavish lifestyle without owing any income tax. Their wealth is almost entirely in assets like stocks, such as the Tesla shares that account for the vast majority of Elon Musk’s $270 billion plus in wealth. Our tax code levies a 23.8% tax on capital gains for those with the highest incomes, but only when an asset is sold. Their holdings can grow by billions of dollars a year, but the wealthy owe nothing as long as they hang on to their shares. When they need money, they borrow it, as Ellison and Musk have done to the tune of billions, pledging the value of shares as collateral. It has been called “Buy, Borrow, Die,” and it’s a wonderful system for the superrich.

This system allows them to enjoy luxury cars, yachts, homes on multiple continents and occasional trips to outer space while reporting, in some cases, a salary of a dollar a year or less to the IRS.

This is why the ultrawealthy are able to pay negligible amounts in taxes, especially compared with the growth in their wealth, as ProPublica reported earlier this year, as part of our series “The Secret IRS Files.” In 2018, Musk paid $0 in federal income taxes. (He declined to discuss his taxes with ProPublica.)

The current proposal would tax billionaires on those unrealized gains. If shares of Amazon or Facebook or Berkshire Hathaway rise 20% in a year, Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg or Warren Buffett, respectively, would owe taxes on that gain — even if they don’t sell a single share. Assets that are harder to value, such as privately held companies or real estate, would also be subject to tax.

Part of the objection to the proposed billionaire’s tax is that it is a dramatic change from the current tax system, which taxes people only when they realize gains.

That’s untrue. There are several provisions in the current tax code through which unrealized gains are taxed.

Here’s one example of something in the code today. Certain hedge fund managers can do what’s called a 475 election, a maneuver named after Section 475 of the tax code. Using this provision, their entire fund is taxed on its market value at the end of the year. They have to pay taxes on gains, whether they sell the underlying stock or not. Are these hedge fund managers nuts? Nope. They do it because it confers several benefits for certain types of funds (particularly those doing rapid-fire trading every nanosecond), including freeing them from complying with trading rules they may find onerous.

Hedge fund managers are intimately familiar with the concept of placing a value on unrealized gains. Their compensation depends on it. Each year, they get a small percentage, typically 2%, of the assets they manage. If they do well and the fund goes up, they get a performance fee, often 20% of the increase in the fund’s value. How do they determine that 20%? They figure out the unrealized gains. On Dec. 31, they tell their clients that their assets went up and get paid 20% of that amount. If those stocks fall on Jan. 1, they don’t have to give the money back.

The mirror image of unrealized gains also exists in the tax code. Today, businesses that buy equipment get to take a deduction intended to approximate the amount that it loses in value each year. This concept is called depreciation. In other words, you get a deduction based on an estimate, not when you sell something. You could call it an unrealized loss.

And then there’s the wealth tax on unrealized gains that millions of Americans already pay: property taxes, which every owner of a house or apartment is responsible for. Property taxes are a town or city’s estimate of the value of your home or land, almost always in a year you didn’t sell.

The current proposal is not a wealth tax, but it has a similar goal of raising money only from the ultrawealthy. Its elegance is that it equates the gain in wealth with income. In theory, a wealth tax, which has its own complexities and constitutional questions, could be layered on top.

When people complain that the new billionaire tax is unconstitutional, they may be forgetting about all of these provisions that exist today that do similar things.

Another argument against such a tax is . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

29 October 2021 at 9:46 am

Would you like salmonella with your chicken? No? Too bad.

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Bernice Yeung, Michael Grabell, Irena Hwang, and Mollie Simon report on the abysmal situation regarding American food safety in preparing packaged raw chicken for sale in supermarkets. The report includes a link to a Chicken Checker so that you can see whether the chicken that you bought is from one of the plants that specializes in salmonella.

For years, a dangerous salmonella strain has sickened thousands and continues to spread through the chicken industry. The USDA knows about it. So do the companies. And yet, contaminated meat co

In May 2018, a rare and virulent strain of salmonella caught the attention of America’s top disease detectives. In less than two months, the bacteria had sickened more than a dozen people, nearly all of them on the East Coast. Many said they’d eaten chicken, and federal food safety inspectors found the strain in chicken breasts, sausages and wings during routine sampling at poultry plants.

But what seemed like a straightforward outbreak soon took a mystifying turn. Cases surfaced as far away as Texas and Missouri. A 1-year-old boy from Illinois and a 105-year-old woman from West Virginia fell ill. There was a teenager who’d just returned from a service trip in the Dominican Republic and a woman who’d traveled to Nicaragua. But there were also people who hadn’t traveled at all.

Victims were landing in the hospital with roiling stomach pains, uncontrollable diarrhea and violent bouts of vomiting. The source of the infections seemed to be everywhere.

Even more alarming was that this strain of salmonella, known as multidrug-resistant infantis, was invincible against nearly all the drugs that doctors routinely use to fight severe food poisoning.

With a public health threat unfolding across the country, you might have expected federal regulators to act swiftly and decisively to warn the public, recall the contaminated poultry and compel changes at chicken plants. Or that federal investigators would pursue the root cause of the outbreak wherever the evidence led.

None of that happened.

Instead, the team at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention closed the outbreak investigation nine months later even though people were continuing to get sick. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees meat and poultry, was not only powerless to act but said nothing to consumers about the growing threat. So supermarkets and restaurants continued selling chicken tainted with drug-resistant infantis.

And they continue to do so today.

An eight-month ProPublica investigation into this once rare, but now pervasive form of salmonella found that its unchecked spread through the U.S. food supply was all but inevitable, the byproduct of a baffling and largely toothless food safety system that is ill-equipped to protect consumers or rebuff industry influence.

Several European countries have dramatically reduced salmonella in poultry by combating it on the farms where chickens are raised. But over the past 25 years, the U.S. has failed to bring down the incidence of salmonella food poisoning — even as the rates for E. coli and other bacteria have fallen dramatically.

Consumers may get the impression that the meat and poultry they find at supermarkets is safe because it bears the USDA seal of approval. But the agency doesn’t prohibit companies from selling chicken contaminated with dangerous salmonella like infantis. And even when people get sick, it has no power to order recalls.

Instead, the agency relies on standards it can’t enforce and that don’t target the types of salmonella most likely to make people sick. The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, unlike its counterparts in some countries, has no authority to control salmonella on farms, where the bacteria often spreads. And even when there’s persistent evidence of contamination in a plant’s products, the USDA can’t use those findings to suspend operations. All the agency can do is conduct a general review of the plant, and that rarely leads to a shutdown.

“It’s a system that’s untenable,” said Sarah Sorscher, a consumer advocate at the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

ProPublica, as part of its food safety investigation, has created an online database that lets consumers look up the salmonella records of the plants that processed their chicken and turkey.

Last week, after repeated interview requests from ProPublica and years of criticism from consumer groups, the USDA announced that it was rethinking its approach to salmonella. The agency didn’t announce any concrete changes but said it would set up pilot projects and hold meetings in an effort to come up with a plan.

“Whether it should have been done sooner or could have been done sooner, the good news is we’re doing it,” said Sandra Eskin, the agency’s deputy undersecretary for food safety. “We’re going to really take a look at everything we could look at and, I hope, develop a different approach that winds up being more effective.”

Scientific advancements over the last decade have provided the USDA with tools to identify the most dangerous strains of salmonella. But the agency isn’t using those tools to prevent it from spreading in our food supply.

To piece together how food safety officials and the poultry industry allowed infantis to spread, ProPublica used the same genetic data available to . . .

Continue reading. There’s a lot more — it is (literally) sickening.. Do read the rest — and consider the benefits of a whole-food plant-based diet: no more poultry.

The USDA works on behalf of the corporations controlling our food, not on behalf of consumers. That is perfectly clear.

Written by Leisureguy

29 October 2021 at 9:23 am

More of that Barrister & Mann goodness, plus the superb RazoRock Old Type

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Reserve Classic complements Reserve Lavender

It’s nice to end the week with an outstanding shave. The brush is a Chiseled Face limited run from some years back. It has a synthetic knot, so is well suited to use with Barrister’s Reserve shaving soap, which today is Lavender — great fragrance, great lather.

The inexpensive ($20) RazoRock Old Type, available with a variety of handle styles at the link (and I have to say the UFO handle looks good), is an amazingly good razor. It has a comb guard, though I would have sworn it was a bar guard (and in fact I had to go check), and it is extremely comfortable — and yet, mysteriously, it produces an extremely smooth shave. This really is a razor that should be in your armamentarium.

A splash of Barrister’s Reserve Classic — a wonderful and indeed classic fragrance — finished the job and started the day on a very nice note indeed. I was up very early revising a planning worksheet (for this post), so I am truly appreciative the refreshing and restorative experience of the shave.

Written by Leisureguy

29 October 2021 at 8:38 am

Posted in Shaving

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