Month: February 2016

How Scalia’s Death Makes the World a Better Place

Without Scalia on the court, business have lost a staunch defender of a business’s right to defraud its customers, and so they are settling with plaintiffs:

Dow Chemical Co (DOW.N) agreed to pay $835 million to settle a decade-long lawsuit on price fixing, saying it had less chance of winning its petition at the Supreme Court after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.

Dow, which is in the process of merging with Dupont (DD.N), said on Friday it decided to settle, without admitting any wrongdoing, citing “growing political uncertainties due to recent events within the Supreme Court.”

The chemicals company was found liable by a federal jury in Kansas in February 2013 in the class-action lawsuit, which alleged Dow had conspired to artificially inflate polyurethane prices.


Justice Scalia died earlier this month. The next justice could tilt the balance of the nation’s highest court, which was left with four conservatives and four liberals.

“While Dow is settling this case, it continues to strongly believe that it was not part of any conspiracy and the judgment was fundamentally flawed as a matter of class action law,” the company said in a statement on Friday.

While we think of Scalia as a culture warrior, his role as the leading opponent of consumer protection and corporate accountability on the court has arguably hurt more people than anything else that he has done.*

*Except, of course for Bush v. Gore, but, as that opinion notes, it doesn’t count.  It never counts.

Another TTP/TTIP Talking Point Shown to be a Lie

One of the claims made by the supporters of current and pending trade deals is that the US has never been sued through the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) process, with the implication that such a suit will simply never happen.

Not so much:

A $15 billion lawsuit by the company behind the Keystone XL pipeline against the US government shows the serious threat to democracy posed by special privileges for investors, a new report has said. TransCanada is suing under investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) clauses of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) to demand damages following rejection of the controversial pipeline due to its climate impact.

Keystone illustrates how the increasingly common ISDS clauses, that are contained in the draft EU-Canada trade agreement (CETA) and the proposed EU-US deal (TTIP), can be used to undermine climate action, the report by T&E, Friends of the Earth Europe and Sierra Club stated.

Last year US president Barack Obama denied permission to build the US-stage of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would have transported crude oil from Canada’s tar sands to American refineries, as it was not in the interest of national security and would have undercut America’s climate leadership. TransCanada’s lawsuit is under chapter 11 of NAFTA, which allows multinational corporations to sue governments if they feel they have not been treated as a domestic company would have been.

TransCanada has reportedly invested $3.1 billion in the project but is seeking five times this amount in damages. It will be able to launch its case as early as May 2016. A three-judge tribunal will issue a ruling, which cannot be appealed to any national court. It can award damages but not force the US to grant permission for Keystone to be built.

The ISDS process as currently practiced is a morass of corruption and opacity.

It’s underlying philosophy is that government has no rights to protect the common good, and that any lost profits as a result is a taking.

It is a perverted and evil thing.

Huh. It Appears that He Can Talk

Clarence Thomas just just asked his first questions in a Supreme Court oral argument in 10 years. I am thinking that the absence of Scalia has something to do with this.

My guess is that he is confused, because Scalia is no longer there to tell him what to think:

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, for the first time in a decade, asked questions from the bench during oral arguments, according to reporters present at Monday’s Supreme Court hearings. His questions pertained to the rights of domestic abuse offenders to have a gun, in a case considering a federal law banning convicted abusers from owning guns.

The 10-year anniversary of the last time the conservative justice asked a question came just this month. In the period, however, Thomas did make a comment from the bench, but it was not a question. He has said that he would prefer to end oral arguments at the Supreme Court.

It appears that he was asking questions that had nothing to do with the actual issues raised by the litigants, so I am wondering if this exercise in “got from a Cracker Jack box judging” is an homage to the memory of Scalia, who frequently raised issues not brought forward by the litigants, and on many occasions assuming facts not in evidence. (Scalia’s Hobby Lobby opinion is a particularly egregious example)

This Ain’t Just About Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton. It’s Also About Debbie Wasserman-Schultz

That’s gonna leave a mark

Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), who is generally considered someone to watch in the Democratic Party, has resigned from the Democratic National Committee to endorse Bernie Sanders:

Representative Tulsi Gabbard, Democrat of Hawaii, resigned as a vice chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee on Sunday in order to endorse Senator Bernie Sanders for president.

The endorsement came a day after Hillary Clinton won the Democratic primary in South Carolina by a huge margin — she captured nearly 74 percent of the vote — in a signal of her support in the South right before several other Southern states vote in Tuesday’s primaries.

Ms. Gabbard explained her decision in a video on YouTube in which she said that, as a military veteran, she wanted the United States to avoid “interventionist wars of regime change.”

“As a veteran of two Middle East deployments, I know first hand the cost of war,” said Ms. Gabbard, one of the first female combat veterans to serve in Congress. “I know how important it is that our commander-in-chief has the sound judgment required to know when to use America’s military power and when not to use that power.

This is a harsh, and IMNSHO justified critique of Clinton’s blithely bellicose foreign policy, but I have to think that a lot of this is that she no longer wants to deal with Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

Just to remind you, Wasserman-Schultz banned Gabbard from the debate audience for calling for more debates, so I am inclined to think that part of this is being driven by her no longer wanting to work with the hacktacular DWS.

Based on various statements from the Beltway media, I get the sense that it is not only Representative Gabbard who is getting sick of Wasserman-Schultz.

The DNC chair appears to be high handed, self absorbed, and threatened by competence around her, and that is a toxic mix in any organization.

Too Funny

It appears that during the last Republican debate, when everyone was calling everyone a c*cksucker, whoever was doing the closed captioning threw up his hands in despair:

Last night’s Republican brawl at recess was best summed up by some anonymous soul working at the closed-captioning desk at CNN who clearly was completely fed up with the idiotic proceedings on stage and decided to let the hearing-impaired citizens of the United States of America know that he was. (In fact, I hope that the hearing-impaired citizens of the United States of America know how lucky they were last night.) This wasn’t a political debate. This was a pissing contest among men who are worried about the size of their dicks.

(Unintelligible yelling)
Would you have trusted any of these clowns with the nuclear codes? (Maybe John Kasich, but only if there were absolutely no other option, Curly Howard being dead and all.) I wouldn’t trust any of them to park my car.

(Unintelligible yelling)

What was your favorite moment? Was it Dr. Ben Carson’s contention that the “fruit salad of their lives” are dangling precipitously on “the abyss of destruction?  What did he mean? Who knows? The mind of Dr. Ben Carson is not the mind of an ordinary man. The mind of Dr. Ben Carson is on loan from a curiosity shoppe somewhere on the moons of Saturn.

Perhaps I should start playing the Republican Debate Drinking game, because it does sound entertaining, if not particularly informative.

How Convenient

Normally, when one says that a Congressman is in bed with lobbyist, it is meant as a metaphor.

Not this time:

Congressman Bill Shuster from Pennsylvania, the Chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the lawmaker behind pro-airline legislation like this 2014 bill to remove any transparency from advertised airfares — and whose top campaign contributors are United and American Airlines — has admitted today to being in a romantic relationship with a top lobbyist for the airline industry.

A lengthy report from Politico shines a light on the too-close-for-comfort relationship of Shuster and Shelley Rubino, VP for global government affairs for Airlines for America (A4A), an industry trade group whose members include the aforementioned United and American, along with other top Shuster donors like FedEx, UPS, and Atlas Air Worldwide.

And when you look at which politicians have most benefited from A4A’s contributions, Shuster is right at the top of the list, at $16,700 for the 2014 election cycle. That’s more than A4A gave to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Not bad for a Congressman who represents a largely rural section of Pennsylvania.

“Ms. Rubino and I have a private and personal relationship, and out of respect for her and my family, that is all I will say about that,” said Rep. Shuster, who was recently divorced, in a statement to Politico.

The Congressman says his office has “a policy that deals with personal relationships that cover my staff and myself. This was created in consultation with legal counsel and goes further than is required by the law. Under that policy, Ms. Rubino doesn’t lobby my office, including myself and my staff.”

Even if the agreement prevents Rubino from lobbying Shuster directly, she is not prohibited from lobbying the dozens of other members of his powerful committee or their aides.

Legal experts say there is no apparent violation of House ethics rules going on here.

It does appear that the news of Congressman Shuster’s application of applied kinematics to Ms. Rubino has, temporarily at least, put the kibosh on privatizing air traffic control:

The House Republican leadership is shelving plans to pass an overhaul of the Federal Aviation Administration, a major blow to House Transportation Chairman Bill Shuster of Pennsylvania, according to multiple senior aides

Instead, the House will revert to a short-term extension of the FAA’s authority while “the Transportation Committee will continue their work on this transformative legislation,” a leadership aide said Thursday. The FAA must be renewed by the end of March.


The bill was also a priority for Airlines for America, the lobby that represents every mainline U.S. air carrier except Delta. Shuster is very close with A4A, as it is known, and dates one of its top lobbyists. POLITICO reported that earlier this week, Shuster spent time lounging in Miami with Nick Calio, A4A’s leader, and Shelley Rubino, the group’s vice president and his girlfriend. The trip came days after Calio testified before Shuster’s committee.

I gotta figure that the house leaders realized that this story was blowing up, and decided to put it on hold.

This is a good thing.

Air Traffic Control should not be placed in private hands, particularly when those hands are largely those of the 4 remaining large airlines, who are, after all, Shelly Rubino’s clients.

Not a Surprise

Japan has started engaging in a policy of negative interest rates, where you pay the bank for the privilege of storing your money.

It’s supposed to encourage people to spend money, because it creates a kind of a doppelganger of inflation to encourage consumption.

It appears that the only spending that this is encouraging is for safes to store cash in:

The Japanese are spending—but not in a way that is likely to strengthen the country’s economy.

Following the Bank of Japan’s decision to lower interest rates below zero in January, many consumers have reportedly rushed to hardwares store in search of one thing: safes.

Negative interest rates mean customers effectively pay a fee for parking cash in banks, so Japanese citizens are beginning to hoard yen, according to the Wall Street Journal, and they need somewhere to put it.

Sales of safes have doubled from the same period a year earlier at chain hardware store, Shimachu, according to the Journal. The chain has already sold out of one model worth $700. Others savers are considering more unconventional storage spaces.

“In response to negative interest rates, there are elderly people who’re thinking of keeping their money under a mattress,” Mariko Shimokawa, a Shimachu saleswoman told the Journal.

But hoarding cash is exactly what the Japanese central bank wants to avoid.

Bank of Japan Gov. Haruhiko Kuroda lowered rates to -0.1% for certain deposits on Jan. 29. The idea was to prop up the economy and increase inflation by encouraging consumers to spend and borrow while discouraging banks from keeping large reserves.

Officials have already noticed the increase in safe sales. The issue of cash hoarding was brought up in a parliamentary hearing Monday, with opposition lawmaker Katsumasa Suzuki saying that the increase in safe sales suggested a “vague sense of unease,” the Journal reported.

Central banks have been using quantitative easing, essentially printing money, and it hasn’t worked, because the newly printed money has been handed to the banks, who either use it to shore up dodgy loans, or park it in the deposit accounts of those central banks so that they can make money on the spread between their interest payments and their interest income.

Here’s an idea:  Print the money and give it to ordinary people, or drop it from a helicopter, as Ben Bernanke has suggested.

Once people pay off their loans, they will spend the money, and the banks will have to find new business to replace their usurious consumer loans.

It’s Bank Failure Friday!!! (On Saturday)

Still no commercial bank failures this year, but we have the 5th credit union failure of the year, ​Mildred Mitchell-Bateman Hospital Federal Credit Union, ​of Huntington, ​WI. (Full list)

I do not know why credit unions are failing so much more often than commercial banks, the last bank failure was about 5 months ago.

If my reader(s) have any insights, I would appreciate hearing from them.

The People Have Spoken, the Bastards!*

Hillary Clinton crushed Bernie Sanders in South Carolina:

Drawing overwhelming support from the African-American voters who deserted her here eight years ago, Hillary Clinton won her first resounding victory of the 2016 campaign in South Carolina on Saturday, delivering a blow to Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont as their fight turns to the 11 states where Democrats vote on Tuesday.

After supporting Barack Obama in 2008, black voters, who will be the dominant force in the coming Southern primaries, turned out in droves for Mrs. Clinton here. They chose her over Mr. Sanders by more than six to one, while white voters narrowly favored her as well, according to exit polls.


This time it was Mrs. Clinton who emerged from the first southern primary with a clearer path to the nomination. With 99 percent of the vote counted, Mrs. Clinton won 73.5 percent, to 26 percent for Mr. Sanders. Turnout was about 370,000, according to Edison Research — modest compared with the 532,000 ballots cast in the Clinton-Obama primary race here in 2008, and well below the record 743,000 votes cast in South Carolina’s Republican primary last Saturday, which Mr. Trump won.

Some observations:

  • She beat him by nearly 3 to 1, so Sanders lost this ugly.
  • There was not a whole bunch of voter enthusiasm. Turnout was low.

I think that the Sanders campaign needs to work on its ground game in general, and its GOTV effort in particular.

Bernie’s demographic trends younger, and it is difficult to get younger voters to show up at the ballot box.

I was hoping for Sanders to stay within single digits, so I has a sad right now.

*Not my quote, it comes from the inestimable Dick Tuck.

Charlie Played the Lead in Little Shop of Horrors Tonight

He played Seymour Krelborn.

He did a very good job, and his portrayal was remarkably dark, at least as compared to my recollections of the original Broadway show that I saw many decades ago.

He mentioned to me that he was channeling his middle school experiences, and I saw that.

He and Natalie clearly got their singing voices from my mom, because neither my wife or I can carry a tune.

Emails: Flint water warnings reached gov’s inner circle

Another email dump, and now we have proof that the Governor’s senior staff knew of the problems with Flint’s water over a year before they acknowledged the problem

Two top advisers to Gov. Rick Snyder urged switching Flint back to Detroit’s water system in October 2014 after General Motors Co. said the city’s heavily chlorinated river water was rusting engine parts, according to governor’s office emails examined by The Detroit News.

Valerie Brader, then Snyder’s environmental policy adviser, requested that the governor’s office ask Flint’s emergency manager to return to Detroit’s system on Oct. 14, 2014, three weeks before Snyder’s re-election.

Mike Gadola, then the governor’s chief legal counsel, agreed Flint should be switched back to Detroit water nearly a year before state officials relented to public pressure and independent research showing elevated levels of lead in the water and bloodstreams of Flint residents.

“To anyone who grew up in Flint as I did, the notion that I would be getting my drinking water from the Flint River is downright scary,” Gadola wrote. “Too bad the (emergency manager) didn’t ask me what I thought, though I’m sure he heard it from plenty of others.”


Brader’s email alludes to festering concerns about how the chlorine used to kill the bacteria outbreak was causing the formation of a harmful disinfection byproduct known as trihalomethane, a carcinogen that can increase the risk of cancer, liver, kidney and central nervous system problems.

“Specifically, there has been a boil water order due to bacterial contamination,” Brader wrote. “What is not yet broadly known is that attempts to fix that have led to some levels of chlorine-related chemicals that can cause long-term damage if not remedied (though we believe they will remedy them before any damage would occur in the population).”

Two months later, the Department of Environmental Quality issued a Safe Drinking Water Act violation to Flint for the high levels of trihalomethanes in the water. Flint violated the law twice more until coming into compliance on Sept. 2, 2015, state records show.

Despite the staff concerns about the city’s brownish water quality, Snyder’s staff never took a recommendation to him that Flint be switched back to Detroit water until the following October.

The Governor was not told because he made it clear that he did not want to be told.

We need to see some depraved heart murder prosecutions.

F%$# the Mouse

You know, now that Mickey has stopped palling around with Michael Eisner, Disney has really gone to the dark side:

The Walt Disney Company has a reputation for lobbying hard on copyright issues. The 1998 copyright extension has even been dubbed the “Mickey Mouse Protection Act” by activists like Lawrence Lessig that have worked to reform copyright laws.

This year, the company is turning to its employees to fund some of that battle. Disney CEO Bob Iger has sent a letter to the company’s employees, asking for them to open their hearts—and their wallets—to the company’s political action committee, DisneyPAC.

In the letter, which was provided to Ars by a Disney employee, Iger tells workers about his company’s recent intellectual property victories, including stronger IP protections in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a Supreme Court victory that destroyed Aereo, and continued vigilance about the “state of copyright law in the digital environment.” It also mentions that Disney is seeking an opening to lower the corporate tax rate.

“With the support of the US Government we achieved a win in the Supreme Court against Aereo—an Internet service claiming the right to retransmit our broadcast signals without paying copyright or retransmission consent fees,” writes Iger. “In the coming year, we expect Congress and the Administration to be active on copyright regime issues, efforts to enact legislation to approve and implement the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, tax reform, and more proposals to weaken retransmission consent, to name a few.”

The source who provided the letter to Ars asked to remain anonymous, and they were bothered by the assumption that anyone who worked for Disney would agree with the company’s political positions on tax, trade, intellectual property, and other matters.

“It just seems insensitive to folks that support the company but don’t necessarily support all of its priorities,” the source said. “Especially for something like TPP, which I view as particularly controversial. We do have a company position, but there’s going to be a wide variety of opinion [within the company].”

The Disney letter has language explicitly reassuring employees that their jobs won’t be affected by their decision whether or not to give to DisneyPAC.

“Your contribution is important to all of us, but I want to emphasize that all contributions are voluntary and have no impact on your job status, performance review, compensation, or employment,” writes Iger. “Any amount given or the decision not to give will not advantage or disadvantage you.”

If you believe that Disney won’t be making a list and checking it twice, you still believe in Santa Claus.

This isn’t a United Way drive, this is a demand to employees that they give to an organization promulgating Disney’s interest.

As I said at the start, f%$# the mouse.

Very Long, Read Anyway

How America Made Donald Trump Unstoppable by the invaluable Matt Taibbi.

If  Mark Ames’ 2004 essay, “Spite the Vote,” gave us the big picture on Trump’s appeal in a moment of prognostic brilliance, Taibbi’s article explains the specifics, and the specific dangers.

He also makes a very good argument that Clinton is precisely the sort of candidate who will lose to him in the general.

I gotta look into Alyiah to Israel for my family and me. 

President Trump. 

I do not like that, Sam I Am.

Quote of the Day

Over at the LGM blog, notes that  Hans “Der novotenführer” Spakovsky is claiming that, “Voting is for Dead Republicans, Not Living African-Americans.”

Von Spakovsky, whose entire career can be boiled down to 4 words, “Keep n*****s from voting,” is now suggesting that Scalia’s preliminary ballots should be counted as final.

But that is not the quote of the day.  The quote of the day comes from Warren Terra in the comments of another post

The joke here is of course that the delightfully named Hans Von Spakovsky has built a career as the country’s leading advocate of rejecting would-be voters on spurious grounds; now he’s got an actual corpse, and he wants to let it vote.

They really have no shame at all.

Finally, Someone Confronts Hillary About It.

Just Desserts at a Fundraising Dinner

I could call Hillary’s endorsement of the penal state in the early to mid 1990s the “Elephant in the Room”, but given the attendant political symbology, it wouldn’t clarify the issue.

Bill Clinton was campaigning for president, and when he was campaigning for reelection, both he and Hillary Clinton acritively demonized black popular culture, see the “Sista Soulja Moment“, particularly with regard to young black men.

Their crime bill was an abomination, and Hillary was blithely talking about “super predators” as a code word for young urban black males.

A black lives matter protester shelled out $500 for a fundraising dinner, and got in Clinton’s face about her history:

Two activists with the Black Lives Matter movement interrupted a private fundraising event in Charleston, South Carolina, on Wednesday night, demanding that the Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton account for language she used as first lady about the need to “bring [at-risk youth] to heel”.

First reported by the Huffington Post, the protest began after Clinton told attendees about the need for police body cameras to stem police violence against members of the public. At this point, activist Ashley Williams stepped forward and unfurled a banner reading: “We have to bring them to heel.”

The banner’s text refers to a speech Clinton made in 1994 in support of her husband’s crime bill, the passage of which has since been criticized as having expanded the prison system and imposed unduly harsh sentencing on non-violent offenders.

“I’m not a super-predator, Hillary Clinton,” Williams said once Clinton turned around and noticed the sign, paraphrasing another line from the then first lady’s speech. “Will you apologize to black people for mass incarceration?”

Williams told the Huffington Post that she and another protester made a $500 donation to the Clinton campaign to attend the event, held in a private residence with roughly 100 attendees. Williams was eventually removed from the fundraiser by secret service agents.

Her eventual response, “Looking back, I shouldn’t have used those words, and I wouldn’t use them today,” is a non-apology apology.

What’s more it is further reduced in meaning in that she delivered this message only in writing.

There is a problem with what you said 20 years ago. 

The bigger problem was that you actively promulgated a racist trope because it helped Bill’s reelection campaign.

It is a very sad part of your history, and any apology needs to come from your mouth, and not from a memo dashed off to one of your pet journalists.

Sandoval to Obama: Drop Dead

It appears that Obama’s attempt to spelunk his way into a supreme court nominee has failed, because Republican Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval’s having none of it.

You know, this whole prenegotiating bit, where he offers concessions before negotiations start, is really pretty damn stupid.

You would have though that Barack would have learned by now that this is stupid, and all it does is demoralize your power base.

It almost makes me long for President Trump.