Month: February 2019

Also, I Did Not Expect This

A federal judge has ordered Texas election officials to halt a planned purge of electoral rolls, calling their effort “ham-handed” and “threatening” and saying there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud in the state.

The Wednesday ruling, a relief for voting rights activists, puts a temporary stop to the secretary of state’s search for noncitizens who may have voted illegally — a probe that proved deeply flawed just days after it began.

In late January, Texas Secretary of State David Whitley made the startling announcement that nearly 60,000 noncitizens over two decades may have voted in state elections. In response to this finding, Whitley said, counties must conduct “list maintenance activity,” a bureaucratic euphemism for canceling the registrations of fraud suspects.

Whitley’s statement galvanized lawmakers — nearly all Republicans — who claim that tens of thousands of noncitizens are committing large-scale voter fraud. Even President Trump weighed in.

But there was a catch: As U.S. District Judge Fred Biery said this week, the secretary of state’s numbers were wrong.

“It appears this is a solution looking for a problem,” Biery wrote in his ruling, saying the policy “exemplifies the power of government to strike fear and anxiety and to intimidate the least powerful among us.”

The government striking, “fear and anxiety [] to intimidate the least powerful among us,” was the intended goal.

Preventing non-whites from voting is a core electoral strategy of the Republican Party these days.

Needless to say, I expect the Supreme Court to overturn this, because 5 of the justices are partisan hacks.

I Did Not Expect This

The House passed a bill closing the gun show loophole:

The House on Wednesday passed the Bipartisan Background Checks Act, which would require background checks for all firearm sales, including those sold at gun shows and online.

Why it matters: This is the first gun control bill that Congress has considered in nearly 25 years. Gun control has been near the top of the Democratic agenda since the party took back control of the House in November’s midterms, galvanized by recent mass shootings and student-led activism.

Details: The bill, HR 8, also prohibits firearms transfers by a person who is not a licensed dealer. However, it does exclude “gifts to family members and transfers for hunting, target shooting, and self-defense,” according to the House Judiciary Committee website.

To be completely honest, I did not believe that the Dems would have the guts to do this.

Also:  F%$# the NRA.

Kind of Like West Side Story, With Nukes

In the most ominous military confrontation between India and Pakistan since both tested nuclear weapons two decades ago, Pakistan said it shot down two Indian military aircraft over its territory Wednesday and launched strikes in Indian-controlled Kashmir, while India claimed it shot down a Pakistani fighter jet in the “aerial encounter.”

An especially volatile aspect of the confrontation was Pakistan’s capture of an Indian fighter pilot. Pakistani military officials posted a photo of him on Twitter sitting in a room, and they said he was being treated “per norms of military ethics.”

But Pakistani television showed a video of the pilot, blindfolded and apparently with blood on his face. India’s Foreign Ministry said it “strongly objected to Pakistan’s vulgar display of an injured personnel” and expected “his immediate and safe return.”

While experts warned that the clash could easily escalate out of control, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan told his nation Wednesday that he wanted to avoid war with India, saying, “Let’s settle this with talks.” There was no public statement, however, by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.  

I really hope that this does not get out of hand, because there are no good dance numbers involving nuclear weapons.

Republicans Have Their Tongues So Far up Trump’s Ass That They Are Tasting Tonsils

Nothing that Michael Cohen said in his testimony before Congress was a surprise, thought the documentary evidence (Canceled checks, etc.) was impressive.

That being said, it really is remarkable just how aggressively the Republicans have stapled themselves to Trump. For all the, “Dear Leader,” jokes about Republicans’ devotion to George W. Bush when was in the White House, what is going on now is unbelievably creepy and self-destructive.

Stupid is as Stupid Does

Some exciting news…the wonderful @RobbyMook is taking over as President of House Majority PAC! House Democrats and Speaker Pelosi couldn’t have a better ally heading into 2020.

— Alixandria Lapp (@AliLapp) February 26, 2019

Seriously, just how badly does someone have to f%$# up for the Democratic Party establishment to say, “That’s it, out of the pool.”

This man ran the worst campaign in the history of history, he lost to an inverted traffic cone, and he is still getting jobs.

In related news, Harvey Weinstein has been appointed by the DNC to head its gender equity committee.

Clearly, Ending a 69 Year Old War Is Clearly a Disaster of Unprecedented Proportions

There is no better example of a complete and total intellectual and moral bankruptcy of the American foreign policy establishment in general, and liberal interventionism in particular than Susan Rice’s OP/ED in the New York Times.

It appears that, in Susan Rice’s world, negotiations should only occur when the other side has capitulated completely, and putting the official end to a war that started 69 years ago makes one an enemy of peace.

She notes that Kim sees his nuclear program as, “Vital to his regime’s survival,” but seems to think, particularly as the US is fomenting a coup in Venezuela, that talking without further tightening of sanctions, which, incidentally, would likely trigger refugee flows into China, is somehow irresponsible.

In the words of Bugs Bunny, “What a maroon.”

Sortition in Ostbelgien

It looks like there will be councils established in the German speaking (eastern) regions of Belgium:

A fixed Citizen Council will set the agenda and monitor the follow-up by the elected politicians of the recommendations of individual Citizens’ Assemblies. Both bodies will be drawn by lot from the inhabitants of the region as of 16 years old. #OstbelgienModell

— G1000org (@G1000org) February 25, 2019

They are establishing citizens advisory councils selected by lot: (PDF)

As of September 2019 a Citizen Council (Bürgerrat) consisting of 24 members will propose policy recommendations to the elected parliament on its own initiative or after a request. In doing this, the Council will rely on recommendations drafted by re gular, independent Citizens’ Assemblies drawn by lot ( Bürgerversammlungen ). Parliament has to respond to the recommendations.

Members of the Citizens’ Council hold their seat for a year and a half. They are drawn by lot from previous members of the Citizens’ Assemblies and convene once a month. A Citizens’ Assembly on the other hand will normally last about three weekends over th ree months and has a maximum of 50 members. The Citizen Council will be able to decide how large a specific a Citizens’ Assembly needs to be and how long a given topic should be debated. Participation by citizens is not mandatory, but a daily fee will be given to those who do. The composition of both bodies, Citizen Council and Citizen Assemblies, needs to be representative in terms of gender, age, education and residence. Extra criteria can be added, if needed. Citizens’ as of the age of 16 can be chosen to be part of a Citizens’ Assembly.

As always, I am dubious of such efforts, but this is limited in scope, so it provides a relatively risk free way to evaluate the concept.

This Sh%$ Is Getting REALLY Old

A man named Volodymyr Zelensky is currently leading the polls to be the next President of the Ukraine.

Some guy with an unpronounceable name running for President in a former Soviet Republic would normally not be worth of a comment, except for the fact that he is a comedian who plays the Ukrainian President on TV:

A comedian who plays Ukraine’s president on TV is running for president in the country and led in two polls conducted earlier this month.

Volodymyr Zelensky, 41, stars in “Servant of the People,” a TV show where he plays a history teacher who is elected president of Ukraine after his anti-corruption rant goes viral, NBC News reported.

Zelensky, who has no political experience, had the largest share of support among respondents in a poll conducted earlier this month by Ukraine’s Razumkov Center, the Interfax-Ukraine news agency said. The country’s presidential election is set for March 31.

Zelensky, also a lawyer and businessman, has a unique approach to campaigning. NBC News said he doesn’t hold rallies but sells tickets to comedy gigs in which he parodies his competition and shares “behind-the-scenes campaign videos” on Facebook and YouTube.

If he is elected president, Zelensky will face ongoing tensions with Russia, which annexed Crimea in 2014, as well as a crumbling economy and widespread corruption, NBC News reported. Zelensky has also said he would speak directly with Russian President Vladimir Putin about the war in eastern Ukraine.

Enough already.

At the rate this is going, I expect an animated TV character to become the President of Belgium.

2 Words: Diego Garcia

The International Court of Justice has ruled that UK’s continued administration of the Chagos Islands is illegal.

Normally, this would be thought less serious than, for example, the ruling against China’s claims to the South China sea, except that one of the islands is the US mega-base at Diego Garcia.

The British government expelled all every resident of the island to accommodate the US military, so this could get ugly.

If the British blink, I would expect the Pentagon to continue squatting on the island:

The UK has been ordered to hand back the Chagos Islands to Mauritius “as rapidly as possible” after the United Nations’ highest court ruled that continued British occupation of the remote Indian Ocean archipelago is illegal.

Although the majority decision by the international court of justice in The Hague is only advisory, the unambiguous clarity of the judges’ pronouncement is a humiliating blow to Britain’s prestige on the world stage.

The case was referred to the court, which hears legal submissions over international boundary disputes, after an overwhelming vote in 2017 in the UN assembly in the face of fierce opposition from a largely isolated UK.

Delivering judgment, the president of the ICJ, Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf, said the detachment of the Chagos archipelago in 1965 from Mauritius had not been based on a “free and genuine expression of the people concerned”.

“This continued administration constitutes a wrongful act,” he added. “The UK has an obligation to bring to an end its administration of the Chagos archipelago as rapidly as possible and that all member states must co-operate with the United Nations to complete the decolonization of Mauritius.”


The judgment represents a significant defeat for the UK on virtually every point it contested in the hearing last September.

By a majority of 13 to one, the court found that the decolonisation of Mauritius had not been lawfully completed and that it must be completed “as rapidly as possible”. The only judge dissenting from the main opinion was an American.

Of course the only judge dissenting was American.  We want that airbase.

That British deported the entire population of the island chain to facilitate this.

It was an immoral theft of these people’s homeland.

Jail Time, Please.

If Elon Musk was a a CEO from anywhere else by Silicon Valley, he would already have been banned for life from managing publicly traded companies.

As it is, the fines have meant nothing for him, and so the SEC has filed a contempt of court complaint against him for his recent tweets.

If he spends a couple of weeks behind bars, not only will it deter him, but it will also deter the rest of the self-important fraudsters who infest the tech industry in the US:

The Securities and Exchange Commission asked a federal judge on Monday to hold Tesla Inc. Chief Executive Elon Musk in contempt of court over tweets he made last week discussing the auto maker’s 2019 projected production volumes.

In a court filing, the SEC said Mr. Musk violated a condition of his settlement with the regulator last year, when he was accused of tweeting misleading information about taking Tesla private. Mr. Musk’s deal with the SEC required that Tesla officials preapprove any statements from Mr. Musk that could affect the company’s stock price.


In a series of Twitter messages on Feb. 19 that began as a celebration over Tesla vehicles prepared for shipment to Europe, Mr. Musk noted how the auto maker had achieved strong growth in recent years. “Tesla made 0 cars in 2011, but will make around 500k in 2019,” he wrote in a tweet after regular trading hours.

The suggestion that Tesla would make 500,000 vehicles this year stood in contrast to guidance given by the company on Jan. 30. In his quarterly shareholder letter, Mr. Musk told investors that Tesla would reach an annualized build rate of 500,000 Model 3s sometime between the fourth quarter of this year and the second quarter of next year. Mr. Musk said in Tesla’s shareholder letter that the company planned to deliver as many as 400,000 in all of 2019.

Hours after his initial tweets, Mr. Musk clarified in another message, writing, “Meant to say annualized production rate at end of 2019 probably around 500k, ie 10k cars/week. Deliveries for year still estimated to be about 400k.”

The SEC said that Mr. Musk “did not seek or receive preapproval prior to publishing this tweet, which was inaccurate and disseminated to over 24 million people.”

In its response to the SEC, Tesla stated the content of Mr. Musk’s tweet had previously been preapproved for a Jan. 30 release by the company’s general counsel and designated securities counsel.

“Although the 7:15 PM EST tweet was not individually preapproved, Mr. Musk believed that the substance had already been appropriately vetted, preapproved, and publicly disseminated,” wrote Bradley Bondi, outside counsel working for Tesla, in a letter dated Feb. 22 and included in the material filed with the court by the SEC and released Monday. “Moreover, the tweet was made outside of NASDAQ trading hours.”

Bovine scatology.

This is a Bull Durham moment.

Elon Musk just called the umpires a c%$# sucker, and the umps have to toss him out.

Short of dropping his pants and mooning the SEC, I cannot see a clearer example of contempt of court.

They do sh%$ like this because they can, and they need to be disabused of this notion.

Break Up Facebook

It appears that Facebook knows when you are ovulating, which is making that old Santa Clause* song a lot less creepy.

Have you noticed that every “mistake” Facebook makes involves them lying to you about what data they are collecting?

It never makes an error where they don’t collect something that they should have.

It’s almost like they are lying motherf%$#ers who have no respect at all for your privacy:

Millions of smartphone users confess their most intimate secrets to apps, including when they want to work on their belly fat or the price of the house they checked out last weekend. Other apps know users’ body weight, blood pressure, menstrual cycles or pregnancy status.

Unbeknown to most people, in many cases that data is being shared with someone else: Facebook Inc.

The social-media giant collects intensely personal information from many popular smartphone apps just seconds after users enter it, even if the user has no connection to Facebook, according to testing done by The Wall Street Journal. The apps often send the data without any prominent or specific disclosure, the testing showed.


In the case of apps, the Journal’s testing showed that Facebook software collects data from many apps even if no Facebook account is used to log in and if the end user isn’t a Facebook member.


Facebook said some of the data sharing uncovered by the Journal’s testing appeared to violate its business terms, which instruct app developers not to send it “health, financial information or other categories of sensitive information.” Facebook said it is telling apps flagged by the Journal to stop sending information its users might regard as sensitive. The company said it may take additional action if the apps don’t comply.

“We require app developers to be clear with their users about the information they are sharing with us,” a Facebook spokeswoman said.


“This is a big mess,” said Patrick Jackson, Disconnect’s chief technology officer, who analyzed apps on behalf of the Journal. “This is completely independent of the functionality of the app.” 

This is not an accident.

Every data breach sells more ads on Facebook for more money.  Why should it be a surprise that these “accidents” keep happening?

Facebook has been slurping up user data, lying about it, crying crocodile tears and promising not to do it again, and then doing it again since Mark Zuckerberg was a Harvard undergrad.

They will act irresponsibly until they are compelled to by the courts.

*He knows when you are sleeping, he knows when you’re awake………

And Now the Koch Brothers are Corrupting Our Children

Their network is now trying to foist their Objectivist propaganda on schools:

I was one of a number of community residents who reviewed the textbook, Ethics, Economy and Entrepreneurship (EE&E), proposed for use in Tucson Unified School District high schools.

To me, the first clue that this textbook lacked academic integrity was when the authors, three philosophy and marketing professors, began their section on trade 40,000 years ago with the claim that the Neanderthals became extinct because they “weren’t entrepreneurs.” Further nonsense included the idea that Jamestown failed because the settlers didn’t have private property rights, that American bison almost became extinct because Native Americans drove them off cliffs, and that towns were founded before agriculture.


The EE&E textbook does not adhere to textbook guidelines recommended to educators. It was not written by experts in the field, peer-reviewed and published by a reputable publishing house — it is published by Sagent Labs, which is owned by the authors. Moreover, the textbook does not have footnotes, an index, a bibliography or references to help students distinguish between credentialed subject matter experts and propagandists. Why the textbook was written, though, is an interesting tale of dark money advancing libertarian propaganda.

Fortunately, in December, a small group of academics and concerned citizens convinced the Tucson Unified School Board to not include the textbook and its related course in their high school curriculum. This vote seems like such a minor thing: one textbook, one elective high school course, one school district. But elements of the yearlong effort by this small group, called Kochs Off Campus, has a number of national implications.

These are evil men who want to starve education so that they can prey on our children.

Walking the Walk

Not only does Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez advocate for a living wage, she pays her staff a living wage:

Claudia Pagon Marchena, like so many Hill staffers, moonlighted at a Washington, D.C., eatery to pay her rent until she took a job with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She celebrated her last day at her coffee shop job that same week.

That’s because Ocasio-Cortez, who has called on fellow lawmakers to pay their staffs a “living wage,” is making an example out of her own office. The New York Democrat has introduced an unusual policy that no one on her staff will make less than $52,000 a year — an almost unheard of amount for many of the 20-somethings whose long hours make House and Senate offices run.

For Pagon Marchena, 22, the pay bump meant an end to a grueling, seven-day-a-week work schedule that was wearing down her resolve to stay in Washington, where rents average more than $2,000 a month.

“It was unsustainable,” she said. “I needed an office that was going to pay me a fair wage.”

The policy, which has not been previously reported, is the latest sign that Ocasio-Cortez and other progressive Democrats intend to buck a long-established trend of ostentatious austerity in congressional offices. Government watchdog groups say deep cuts to office and committee budgets have contributed to a lack of diversity in Hill offices, high turnover and congressional brain drain.


Ocasio-Cortez is trying to force the conversation. She made national headlines in December by announcing that all interns in her office would make $15 an hour plus benefits — a rarity for Capitol Hill offices in which interns are often unpaid. She has also highlighted the high number of Hill staff members who work side jobs to make up for median salaries as low as $35,000 for staff assistants, the lowest paid positions in congressional offices, according to a Legistorm analysis last year.

“We think that if a person is working, they should make enough to live,” said Corbin Trent, Ocasio-Cortez’s communications director.

I am counting down the days until she can run for President.

Can Any Francophiles Comment on This Analysis?

I do not that massive and disruptive protests are very much a part of French political culture.

I do think that part of this comes from centuries old cultural traditions, but André Sapir makes a cogent argument that this is an artifact of France’s highly centralized government presided over by its imperial Presidency:

Outside France, many economists tend to ascribe the yellow vest movement to the fact that the French are rebellious and that France is politically unmanageable. But what is special about France is not its people but its institutional system, which differs vastly from those of other European countries. Three dimensions seem to me particularly relevant in the current context.

The first concerns the political system. Under the current constitution, power is far more personalised than elsewhere. France is not a parliamentary democracy like Britain or Germany. Sure, all three have a lower and an upper chamber, but political parties play a fundamentally different role in France.

There, the dominant party is a creation of the president – like the RPR was a creation of Jacques Chirac, the Socialist party was created by François Mitterrand, and La République en Marche is the creation of Emmanuel Macron, around whom the party entirely revolves.

Elsewhere, the history of the major political parties is clearly distinct from the persona of their current leader. The CDU in Germany or the Conservative party in Britain are not the creation of Angela Merkel or Theresa May.

The second French peculiarity concerns the role of intermediate institutions, and in particular labour unions. Among the large European countries, France is where the rate of union membership is the lowest. In 2015, it was 36% in Italy, 25% in Britain, 18% in Germany, 14% in Spain, 12% in Poland and barely 8% in France. And the current practice further weakens the role of labour unions in the management of social conflicts.


Despite this situation, France is the most centralised of the six biggest EU countries. According to the OECD, the share of sub-national entities in total public expenditure is only 20% in France against 50% in Spain, 47% in Germany, 32% in Poland, 30% in Italy and 26% in Britain.

The conclusion is incontestable. France is the European country where there is the most rebellion against its leader, because his power is the most personalised and the most centralised among the six big EU countries.

The personalisation of power, the weakness of Parliament – with a dominant party dominated by a single person – and the weak role of intermediate bodies like labour unions all combine to create a situation where citizens have no recourse to make their voice heard other than taking to the streets and demanding the resignation of the president.


Many French economists rightly favour reforming France’s social model towards greater flexibility and greater security, like in Scandinavian countries. But they should remember that these countries have very high unionisation rates (67% in Denmark and Sweden) and extensive territorial decentralisation of public expenditures (with sub-national entities accounting for 65% of such expenditures in Denmark and 50% in Sweden). Attempting to copy the Scandinavian social system without changing the French institutional system would not be very productive.

France is not unmanageable. It simply needs a better governance. Why not start with a greater decentralisation of public expenditures? A reasonable objective could be to increase the share of sub-national entities in public expenditures from 20% to 30% by 2025, and further to 40% by 2030. But this cannot be done without a substantial institutional reform to ensure that decentralised public expenditures are both efficient and of good quality.

I think that a lot of this is history, mass protests in France have been a feature of their political economy since (at least) the French Revolution, but I do think that the weakness of political parties and the centralization of the government have exacerbated this phenomenon.

H/t naked capitalism.

Charming to the Last

Protesters who supposedly gathered to express outrage after Amazon dropped plans for a Queens headquarters included mercenary activists paid to turn up, according to video and some participants.

The crowd picketed outside the retail giant’s brick-and-mortar store on West 34th Street Feb. 15 in a protest spearheaded by Long Island City landlord Sammy Musovic, who said he’d borrowed money to renovate his four-story apartment building in anticipation of the company’s arrival.

Flanking Musovic was a group of about 10 men holding up signs reading “Boycott Amazon!” and “Amazon Left Us!”

But two of those participants told Patch they had responded to a Craigslist post recruiting people to hold signs for $30 an hour. A video obtained by Patch shows a man handing out cash to a group of protesters after the event.


Musovic denied any knowledge of the Craigslist post and the payments. “I don’t know anything about that,” he said by phone. “We were just trying to get Amazon back on the table.”

When a reporter described the video documenting the payments, Musovic repeated the denial and hung up.

I believe that the term for this is “Manufacturing Consent.”

I Approve of Apple’s Actions

Even better, it’s offering jobs to employees from those stores at stores across the district boundaries:

Apple has confirmed its plans to close retail stores in the Eastern District of Texas — a move that will allow the company to better protect itself from patent infringement lawsuits, according to Apple news sites 9to5Mac and MacRumors, which broke the news of the stores’ closures. Apple says that the impacted retail employees will be offered new jobs with the company as a result of these changes.

The company will shut down its Apple Willow Bend store in Plano, Texas as well as its Apple Stonebriar store in Frisco, Texas, MacRumors reported, and Apple confirmed. These stores will permanently close up shop on Friday, April 12. Customers in the region will instead be served by a new Apple store located at the Galleria Dallas Shopping Mall, which is expected to open April 13.

Apple did not comment on the stores’ dates of closure or the new store’s opening.


The Eastern District of Texas had become a popular place for patent trolls to file their lawsuits – which may be filed where the defendant committed the infringement. However, a more recent Supreme Court ruling has attempted to crack down on the practice. The court ruled that patent holders could no longer choose where to file.


The Apple store closures could have had a notable impact on area jobs, had Apple not offered new positions to its retail staff. 

I’m surprised that more businesses have not taken similar actions, given the thoroughly dysfunctional nature of this court district.

Tweet of the Day

The CA Labor Commissioner has fined a construction contractor $12 million for wage theft and other violations committed over 3 years against 1,000 workers. Rather than just back pay and fines, bosses who steal from their employees on this scale should be locked up.

— DC (@costadaniel) February 12, 2019

Yes, and also apply the much maligned asset forfeiture laws to this as well.