Month: September 2017

We Are Unbelievably Screwed

A glacier in the Antarctic just calved an iceberg 4 times the size of Manhattan:

An enormous Antarctic glacier has given up an iceberg over 100 square miles in size, the second time in two years it has lost such a large piece in a process that has scientists wondering whether its behavior is changing for the worse.

The Pine Island Glacier is one of the largest in West Antarctica, a region that is currently Antarctica’s biggest ice loser. Pine Island, which loses an extraordinary 45 billion tons of ice to the ocean each year (– equivalent to 1 millimeter of global sea level rise every eight years — is 25 miles wide where its floating front touches the sea, and rests on the seafloor in waters more than a half-mile deep. The single glacier alone contains 1.7 feet of potential global sea level rise and is thought to be in a process of unstable, ongoing retreat.

That’s why scientists are watching it closely, and on Saturday, Stef Lhermitte, a satellite observation specialist at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, posted a satellite image showing that Pine Island had “calved,” or broken off a piece of ice about 103 square miles in area. (For comparison, Manhattan is 22.83 square miles in size.) The rectangular piece of ice then appears to have lost some of its shape immediately as smaller pieces splintered off.

“It’s the fifth large calving event since 2000,” Lhermitte said. “This one and 2015, they were much further inland than the previous ones. So there has been a retreat of the calving front, specifically between 2011 and 2015.”

Clearly anthropogenic climate change is a myth.

Quote of the Day

There I was, the black grandson of a slave, the son of a black sharecropper, part of a historic occasion, a symbolic hero to my people. The air was sparkling. The sunlight was warm. The band struck up the national anthem. The flag billowed in the wind. It should have been a glorious moment for me as the stirring words of the national anthem poured from the stands. Perhaps, it was, but then again, perhaps, the anthem could be called the theme song for a drama called The Noble Experiment. Today, as I look back on that opening game of my first world series, I must tell you that it was Mr. Rickey’s drama and that I was only a principal actor. As I write this twenty years later, I cannot stand and sing the anthem. I cannot salute the flag; I know that I am a black man in a white world. In 1972, in 1947, at my birth in 1919, I know that I never had it made.

Jackie Robinson, in his autobiography.

(emphasis mine)

Don’t Normally Comment on Football, but ………

I have commented on some egregious calls calls by the officials, when I it felt that it had to do with the unfair treatment of referees by the league.

This weekend, Donald Trump went after the league because some players kneeled during the national anthem to protest racism, and in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick, who has been shut out of the league by craven management.

Trump tweeted, and the players and owners just told Trump to go Cheney himself:

Some stood. Some kneeled. Some remained in the locker room, choosing to speak through their absence from the NFL’s pregame ceremonies, in which the American flag is displayed and the national anthem sung. But from London to Los Angeles, virtually all NFL players on the sidelines before kickoff of Sunday’s slate of 14 games locked arms with each other in response to President Trump’s three-day campaign demanding that team owners “fire or suspend” players who kneel during the national anthem and calling on fans to boycott games if the form of protest continued.

The silent rebuke to the president, determined independently by each of the 28 NFL teams in action Sunday, represented an unprecedented collective action and show of solidarity among players who battle against one another 16 weeks, some more, each season.

Some, such as the Jacksonville Jaguars, Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Redskins, were joined on the sideline by their team owners, Shahid Khan, Jeffrey Lurie and Daniel Snyder, respectively. Most were joined in standing shoulder-to-shoulder by coaches, staff and, in some cases, police officers.

All but two of the NFL’s 32 team owners and CEOs issued statements Saturday night and through Sunday in response to Trump’s crusade against protesting NFL players, which began in earnest during a Friday night rally in Alabama. After making a thinly veiled allusion to former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who sparked a national debate by taking a knee during August 2016 preseason games to protest police violence against minorities, Trump called on NFL coaches to get the “son of a bitch” players off the field if they continued to kneel. The president repeated his call with no less intensity on Twitter on Saturday and Sunday morning.


Among the more notable was New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, a vocal Trump supporter and a $1 million donor to his inaugural.

“There is no greater unifier in this country than sports and, unfortunately, nothing more divisive than politics,” Kraft wrote in his statement released Sunday morning. “I think our political leaders could learn a lot from the lessons of teamwork and the importance of working together toward a common goal.”

Well done, but Colin Kaepernick has still not been signed. 

I’ll wait to hear about that.  (BTW, if the Raven’s performance today is any indication, sign him.) 

Not Again………

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s goons just beat more protesters in the United States again:

Violence erupted at a New York hotel after protesters heckled a speech by Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan with chants of “terrorist”.

Mr Erdogan was addressing supporters in Turkish at the Marriott Marquis Hotel in Times Square when he was interrupted by several demonstrators.

“You’re a terrorist, get out of my country,” one protester shouted before he was punched and dragged away.

Mr Erdogan is in New York for the UN General Assembly.

In footage from the speech on Thursday, protesters are seen being pushed and punched in the head as they are ejected from the venue by suited men.

It is not clear at this stage if they were pro-Erdogan attendees, presidential bodyguards, or guards providing security at the hotel.

It’s pretty clear what they were.

We saw this in DC as well. It’s his goons.

We need to declare his entire security detail personae non grata, and let some more responsible entity, say for example Blackwater, manage his security.


Gordon Ramsay makes a simple and intriguing breakfast:

Toys R Us Implosion Driven by Private Equity

That noted communist rag the Financial Times has observed that the Toys R Us bankruptcy was driven by private equity looting:

Who brought down Toys R Us? The 69-year-old toy behemoth listed a host of reasons for its slide into bankruptcy in a Chapter 11 regulatory filing, including “expensive debt service”, “unrelenting competition from ecommerce and big box retailers” and a news report that turned its consideration of bankruptcy protection into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

But the blame is perhaps to be placed most squarely on its private equity ownership. Toys R Us has spent more than $250m a year servicing $5bn in long term debt, which was “not a sustainable situation,” one investor said, as the company faced increasingly crushing competition from Amazon and Walmart.

After years of rearranging its debt burden, like other big leveraged buyouts of the pre-financial crisis era, it is presenting a restructuring under bankruptcy protection as a bid for freedom. Toys R Us says it now has a chance to bring its “vision to fruition”, announcing plans to invest in marketing and technology and even promising to raise store employees’ wages.


By 2005, as competitors ate into its profitability, Toys R Us hired Credit Suisse and found a buyer: a consortium of private equity firms KKR and Bain Capital, which had experience in retail, and Vornado, the real estate investment firm. The three firms put in $1.4bn in cash, split equally, and borrowed over $5bn to finance the transaction.


The three buyers who leveraged it are now expected to have their equity stakes wiped out in the restructuring. KKR and Vornado have written off their investment over time, while Bain has been carrying it near zero.
The Barbie brand owes a debt of gratitude to Toys R Us, which heavily promoted it in its stores, such as this New York outlet in 2007 © Getty

However, the losses to the firms and their investors are mitigated by the fact the buyout firms have paid themselves over $200m in expenses, advisory and management fees, according to SEC filings over 12 years of ownership

The losses accrue to the investors in their funds, the money for expenses and fees, that goes to the firm, and their bonuses.

There is nothing that cannot be ruined through an application of American financial professionals.

H/t naked capitalism

Tweet of the Day

If @MADmagazine‘s political cartoonists and art department don’t win a Pulitzer this year then we, as a society, have failed.

— Ian Brown (@igb) September 17, 2017

This is really some remarkably astute political satire, which is not something that I would expect from Mad.

It appears that Trump is good for political commentary.

I particularly like the Norman Rockwell sendup.

About F%##ing Time

After a continuing problems with driver vetting, incident reporting, and its treatment of its employees, Uber has been stripped of its operating permit by the Transport for London.

Specifically, they have been ruled that Uber is not a, “Fit and proper,” private car operator:

Uber has been stripped of its London licence in a surprise move that dealt a serious blow to one of Silicon Valley’s fastest rising companies and sparked an outcry from a coalition of customers, government ministers and drivers at the ride-hailing company.

The firm’s application for a new licence in London was rejected on the basis that the company is not a “fit and proper” private car hire operator.

Uber’s cars will not disappear immediately as its current licence expires on 30 September and it plans to challenge the ruling by London’s transport authority in the courts immediately. The hailing app can continue to operate in the capital – where it has 3.5 million users – until the firm has exhausted the appeals process. Uber has 21 days to launch an appeal but can continue to operate until the process expires – which could take months.

Uber chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi wrote to staff on Friday confirming that the company would appeal the ruling. He said he disagreed with the decision but it was based on past behaviour.

“The truth is that there is a high cost to a bad reputation,” he wrote. “It really matters what people think of us, especially in a global business like ours.


TfL said it had rejected the company’s application to renew its licence because “Uber’s approach and conduct demonstrate a lack of corporate responsibility” in relation to reporting serious criminal offences, obtaining medical certificates and driver background checks.

The licensing body also said it was concerned by Uber’s use of Greyball, software that can be used to block regulatory bodies from gaining full access to its app and undertaking regulatory or law enforcement duties.

What Khosrowshahi is basically saying is that Travis Kalanick is simply too toxic to run Uber.

As Hannah Jane Parkinson has noted, “You name it, and if it’s sh%$#y behaviour, Uber has probably done it.” (%$# mine)

Uber’s primary innovation has always been a willingness to behave with complete disregard for the law and for ethics.

It’s nice to see that bubble popped.

Quote of the Day

Police Don’t Need Better Training; They Need to Stop Treating Noncompliance as Justification for Violence.

The Nation

This is an article about how police departments routinely treat disabled people as violent, because the disabilities prevent immediate compliance, and police routinely apply violence to any form of noncompliance.

Magdiel Sanchez, a 35-year-old Latino man, was sitting on his porch in Oklahoma City on Tuesday night as two law-enforcement officers approached his house. He got up and walked toward them, when, according to news reports and a statement, the officers noticed he was holding a metal pipe. They started giving him “verbal commands” to lie down, then one fired his Taser and the other shot him in the chest with his sidearm. Sanchez died. Officers later claimed not to have heard neighbors shouting that Sanchez was deaf and couldn’t hear their commands.

The police were there because allegedly Sanchez’s father had been in a hit-and-run (injuring property, not people, if the accusations are true). Sanchez carried the pipe, neighbors said, to ward off dogs. He was deaf and reportedly developmentally disabled. In a statement, the ACLU said, “Magdiel Sanchez was shot at his own home, without having committed any crime, and in front of neighbors who knew he was deaf trying to communicate to the police that what they were about to do was wrong.”

Sanchez is far from the first deaf or disabled person to be killed or brutalized by police. It happens almost every day. According to The Washington Post, police have shot 165 people in mental-health crisis in the first 263 days this year (and 715 total). When you add people like Sanchez and individuals with invisible, undiagnosed, or unrevealed disabilities, the numbers start to get much higher. In a white paper I co-wrote in 2016 for the Ruderman Foundation, I noted that disability-rights advocates routinely argue that a third to a half of all people killed by police are disabled. Most of those people, especially in cases where police clearly misused lethal force, turn out to also be marginalized by race, class, gender orientation, or other factors that intensify vulnerability.


At least four disabled people died at the hands of police this week. One previous case of unjustified police violence came to light. Except for the brief media attention of the Sanchez and Leibel cases, that’s a pretty normal week. It’s unlikely anyone will be held accountable, except possibly in the situation where Leibel, a white teenager in an affluent neighborhood, was brutalized. There, the combination of powerful video, a compelling victim, widespread coverage, and a good lawyer might help. In the other cases, the multiply marginalized status of the victims plus the lethality of the encounter will make accountability difficult, if not impossible. And then next week, alas, the same types of stories will play out again, and more people will die.

The subhead on the article quoted above makes it clear:  The problem is not individual police officers, or even individual policies.

Rather the problem is the intersection of court decisions and law enforcement culture which makes the application of violence routine, and in fact rewarded, in circumstances that no decent human being would do so.


Hillary Clinton says she made a mistake when she gave speeches on Wall Street after leaving government. Taking money from banks, she writes in her new memoir, created the impression she was in their pocket.

Her old boss doesn’t seem to share her concern.

Last month, just before her book “What Happened” was published, Barack Obama spoke in New York to clients of Northern Trust Corp. for about $400,000, a person familiar with his appearance said. Last week, he reminisced about the White House for Carlyle Group LP, one of the world’s biggest private equity firms, according to two people who were there. Next week, he’ll give a keynote speech at investment bank Cantor Fitzgerald LP’s health-care conference.

So much for hope an change.

They Really are Chicken Sh%$s

Trump’s HHS Secretary Tom Price has been burning up private jet hours so profligately that it might make Steve Mnuchin blush:

In a sharp departure from his predecessors, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price last week took private jets on five separate flights for official business, at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars more than commercial travel.

The secretary’s five flights, which were scheduled between Sept. 13 and Sept. 15, took him to a resort in Maine where he participated in a Q&A discussion with a health care industry CEO, and to community health centers in New Hampshire and Pennsylvania, according to internal HHS documents.

The travel by corporate-style jet comes at a time when other members of the Trump administration are under fire for travel expenditures, and breaks with the practices of Obama-era secretaries Sylvia Mathews Burwell and Kathleen Sebelius, who flew commercially while in the continental United States.

Price, a frequent critic of federal spending who has been developing a plan for departmentwide cost savings, declined to comment.


Price’s spokespeople declined to comment on why he considered commercial travel to be unfeasible. On one leg of the trip — a sprint from Dulles International Airport to Philadelphia International Airport, a distance of 135 miles — there was a commercial flight that departed at roughly the same time: Price’s charter left Dulles at 8:27 a.m., and a United Airlines flight departed for Philadelphia at 8:22 a.m., according to airport records.

Seriously, what is wrong with these people?

Now Which Pathological Liar Are We to Believe?*

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has claimed that Donald Trump apologized for forcing Turkish security forces to attack unarmed protesters, while the White House has denied this:

The White House on Wednesday denied Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s claim that President Donald Trump called him to apologize for an incident in May where Turkish security agents allegedly attacked protesters in Washington.

A White House spokesman told the Hill late Tuesday that Trump and Erdogan “discussed a wide range of issues but there was no apology.”

“It’s not true,” White House spokesperson Lindsay Walters said, according to BuzzFeed News reporter John Hudson.


Washington, D.C. police in June issued arrest warrants for nine Turkish security guards and three Turkish police officers accused of attacking protesters who gathered outside the Turkish ambassador’s residence. A grand jury in August issued indictments for three more Turkish security officials charged with attacking protesters.

This is seriously f%$#ed up.

*Not my line. It’s from the comments thread of the post.

Spain is Going Nuts

There are elements of the population of the Spanish province of Catalonia who want to secede from Spain.

They are pushing for a referendum, and the central government in Madrid has responded by sending federal police into to seize government buildings and arrest politicians:

Spanish national police have stormed ministries and buildings belonging to Catalonia’s regional government to put a stop to the region’s independence referendum.

The Guardia Civil, which acts with the authority of Madrid’s interior ministry, is searching for evidence regarding the planned 1 October referendum on Catalan independence, which Spain’s Constitutional Court has declared illegal.

In the early hours of the morning armed officers arrived at various Catalan ministries, including the economy department, foreign affairs department, and social affairs department, Spanish media reports.

At least twelve Catalan officials are said to have been arrested, including the chief aide to Catalonia’s deputy prime minister, Josep Maria Jové. The arrests come as the mayors of Catalan towns who back the referendum were yesterday questioned by state prosecutors.

Pro-independence crowds have formed outside the regional ministries in support of the provincial government and in protest against the raids and searches.

It should be noted that the Spanish Constitutional Court ruled the referendum illegal, so some sort of action to stop the election is justified, but what is going on now seems guaranteed to inflame tensions and make a peaceful solution less likely.

So, in Europe, we are seeing, the rise of the racist right wing, and now we are seeing a conflict in Spain that has the very real possibility of going violent.

History may not repeat itself, but it does rhyme.


Here is a classic Star Wars parody.  It’s 20 years old.  I feel old:

Pass the Popcorn

I’ve generally been pretty dismissive of the “A noun, a verb, and Vladimir Putin,” wing of the Democratic Party.

I’ve always observed that at worst, what we have is a violation of campaign finance laws, where, if the Russians explicitly coordinated with the Trump campaign, it was an illegal in-kind donation.

That’s a lot of “ifs”, and even if true, the penalties are minimal.

The real jeopardy only occurs if members of the Trump campaign engaged in obstruction of justice in an attempt to cover this up.

After all, it was obstruction of justice that took Nixon down.

I’m still not sure if there is any “There” there, but things is getting profoundly interesting:

CNN and the New York Times this evening published dueling scoops on former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

As Jim Comey might put it: Lordy, there appear to be tapes.

First, CNN reported that U.S. government investigators wiretapped Paul Manafort, the onetime Trump campaign chairman, both before and after the 2016 presidential election. According to CNN, the court that provides judicial oversight for the administration of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act authorized an FBI investigation into Manafort in 2014 focused on “work done by a group of Washington consulting firms for Ukraine’s former ruling party.” Manafort’s firm, among notable others, had failed to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) for work with the pro-Russian Ukrainian regime. This first investigation was reportedly halted in 2016 by Justice Department prosecutors because of lack of evidence, but a second warrant was later issued in service of the FBI’s investigation into Russian influence of the election and potential ties between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives.

CNN reported that interest in Manafort was “reignited” because of “intercepted communications between Manafort and suspected Russian operatives, and among the Russians themselves.” The FBI also conducted physical searches: one of a storage facility belonging to Manafort and a more widely reported search of his Alexandria home in late July. Manafort was not under surveillance when he became chairman of Trump’s campaign, CNN sources suggested, because of the gap between the two warrants.


Shortly after CNN’s story broke, the New York Times published its own scoop regarding Manafort. The story is largely a scene piece, but includes a number of highly significant facts. The Times catalogs what it describes as “aggressive tactics” that Special Counsel Robert Mueller has employed in his investigations of Trump associates, specifically Manafort and former national security adviser Michael Flynn. First, the Times reveals that after the July raid on Manafort’s residence, Mueller’s prosecutors warned Manafort that he would be indicted. The story also reports that Mueller’s team has subpoenaed several of Manafort’s associates, including Jason Maloni, a former Manafort spokesman; the heads of Mercury Public Affairs and the Podesta Group; and one of Manafort’s former lawyers (with Mueller’s team claiming an exception to attorney-client privilege). While White House officials have been given the opportunity to appear for “voluntary interviews” instead of before grand juries, Manafort’s associates have been subpoenaed, marking a less deferential approach to the Manafort investigation. The Times suggests that Mueller, leaving no rock unturned, is investigating Manafort for “possible violations of tax laws, money-laundering prohibitions and requirements to disclose foreign lobbying.”

I’m not sure where this is going, but it is getting interesting.

Headline of the Day

Hopeful Martians Emerge From 8-Month Experiment To Find Earth Horrific As Ever


This is an actual news story.

The headline is opinion, but I do understand the sentiment:

Before Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and other space enthusiasts can ship humans to Mars as easily as an Amazon Prime delivery, we need to figure out they’ll fare on a foreign planet. Luckily, NASA and the University of Hawaii have been all over this, funding several successful iterations of an experiment called Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (HI-SEAS), in which a crew of “astronauts” live in Mars-like conditions in a dome on a Hawaiian volcano. On Sunday, the fifth Hi-SEAS endeavor ended, meaning a crew of six “astronauts” have left the comfort of a literal bubble to greet the fresh hell that is Earth right now.

I do understand the urge to stay in a cave.  I have on occasion had an urge to go live in a cave.

A Good Explaination of the Brexit

At its core, the Brexit vote was a political act, not an economic one, despite the arguments made by both supporters and opponents of the UK leaving the EU:

Defending Brexit is not the easiest thing to do at the moment when we have a government hell bent on delivering the worst case scenario. It also doesn’t help that the Brexit groupthink produces pretty feeble economic justifications rather than looking at the issue as a whole. Fighting on the enemy’s turf is always a loser and the mainstream Brexiter economic justifications are collapsing

I have argued for a long time now that the economy is a secondary concern – and as far as that goes, the aim of the Brexit process should be to minimise what is bound to be economically stressful. Something this government is failing to do.

But then, I repeat, this isn’t an economic question and it never was. It is political, cultural and constitutional. It is said that Brexit has divided the nation but in fact all it has done is exposed a deep cultural chasm that was not being addressed by the status quo. There is a gulf of misunderstanding between the factions and it’s time we dragged it all out for examination.

And then comes this bit, which I found particularly informative:

When we look at that we find that it stems from a collapse of trust in UK institutions. And that can hardly be a surprise. Every major increment in EU membership has been done by subterfuge and deception. Direct consent has never been sought and our interactions in the EU have been yet more deception. Cameron’s phantom veto and the bogus attempts at reform were quite obvious pieces of political theatre from an establishment with no regard to the wishes of the public.

I think that this critique, when taken generally, is also at the core of the right-wing populist movements throughout the western world.

People feel that the sales pitch for increasing global integration have been dishonest, and I’m inclined to agree.