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unraveling

30.March.2018 Permanent URL to this day's entry

No fame, no fortune Permalink to this item

The typical class action suit is not about relief to the members; it's about penalty to the (alleged) transgressor, and a business opportunity for counsel for the plaintiffs. Since corporations don't feel pain, and generally make ends meet with other people's money, it boils down to work for lawyers.

A 24-page Notice from the US District Court for the Southern District of New York provides a case in point. We're members of the class of all persons and entities who purchased or otherwise acquired Class A common stock of Facebook, Inc. from May 17 through May 21, 2012, and the court-authorized mailing informs us that the parties have decided to settle. Lead plaintiffs Arkansas Teacher Retirement System and Fresno County Employees' Retirement Association have decided that their share of $35 million will suffice.

That comes after 16 depositions for the class certification, depositions of 17 fact witnesses, 11 expert witnesses, 9 third-party witnesses, production of more than 1.5 million pages of documents, and 25 opening and rebuttal expert reports from a dozen experts on both sides, "all of whom were deposed."

Looks like the lawyers will get 25% and $5.6 million of the total, leaving a bit over $20M to divvy up pro rata. They don't say how many shares class members represent, but they do say that they sent more than a million notices back in 2016. And got 148 requests to be excluded from the class. The estimated recovery per share is $0.11.

Depending on whether you sold right away and lost money, or kept the stock and made money, and how many persons and entities turn in their paperwork, and so on. The latest kerfuffle about Cambridge Analytica repurposing a ton of FB user data whacked the stock back from $190 down to $160-ish which seems bad, but not if you got in at $35. For the first year or 14 months, there was probably some serious disgruntlement. Since then, who's complaining? Even after the 16% haircut in recent days, the price is more than 4.5x the 2012 IPO. As in up 360% in less than 6 years.

We managed to obtain 50, count 'em, 50 shares in the IPO. I forget how many we tried to get, less than life-changing, but more than 50. There were a lot of people who wanted in back in May, 2012, and we see they had good reason, in the long run.

If the individual payouts are based on whether or not we lost money (as I gather is so, skimming the notice), we'd be last in line. Even if we did as well as the estimated 11 cents per share, that would be a total of $5.50 on our account, minus the cost of the stamp(s?) to mail our 8 page proof of claim and release form no later than July 24, 2018.

Also, they say they won't be making payments for less than $10.

Oh well.

For its part, I imagine the $35M out-of-pocket for the company—a whopping 0.0075% of its $half trillion or so market cap—will not make much of a dent.

Update: Facebook's a newsmaker right now, and VP Andrew "Boz" Bozworth's 2016 memo, titled "The Ugly" is all the rage. Their business is connecting people. "Period."

"That's why all the work we do in growth is justified. All the questionable contact importing practices. All the subtle language that helps people stay searchable by friends. All of the work we do to bring more communication in. The work we will likely have to do in China some day. All of it."

Mark Zuckerberg says he disagrees. It's about "bring[ing] people closer together." Also, Boz said he disagreed with himself, "even when I wrote it." An unnamed "former senior executive" told BuzzFeed "there's a tremendous amount of soul-searching, internally."

Update #2: Brower Piven Encourages Shareholders Who Have Losses In Excess Of $100,000 From Investment In Facebook, Inc. to contact them before the lead plaintiff deadline. This is a new suit, for purchasers between February 3, 2017, and March 19, 2018, and connected to the latest news:

"The complaint accuses the defendants of violations of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 by virtue of the defendants’ failure to disclose during the Class Period that Facebook violated its own purported data privacy policies by allowing third parties to access the personal data of millions of Facebook users without the users’ consent and that discovery of the conduct would foreseeably subject the Company to heightened regulatory scrutiny."

Somewhere in the proceedings, the question of whether Mr. Z meant that kind of "bringing people closer together" will come up.

27.March.2018 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Reconstitution Permalink to this item

We all have the right to our own opinions, but some opinions seem larger than others. John Paul Stevens is retired, after 40 years as a judge, 35 of those as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. His legal career started more than 20 years before he became a judge. He was a clerk for Associate Justice Wiley Blount Rutledge during the 1947-48 term.

He'll turn 98 next month.

I read his Op-Ed suggesting we repeal the Second Amendment shortly after watching MediaMatters' comparison of Fox & Friends coverage of the March for Our Lives vs. the neo-Nazis, so this jumped out at me in the first paragraph:

"Rarely in my lifetime have I seen the type of civic engagement schoolchildren and their supporters demonstrated in Washington and other major cities throughout the country this past Saturday. These demonstrations demand our respect. ..."

His opinion is succinct, just over 500 words. He puts the 2nd Amendment in context, and identifies the tipping point, almost two decades after retired Chief Justice Warren Burger decried "one of the greatest pieces of fraud, I repeat the word fraud, on the American public by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime," in 1991.

"In 2008, the Supreme Court overturned Chief Justice Burger’s and others’ long-settled understanding of the Second Amendment’s limited reach by ruling, in District of Columbia v. Heller, that there was an individual right to bear arms. I was among the four dissenters.

"That decision — which I remain convinced was wrong and certainly was debatable — has provided the N.R.A. with a propaganda weapon of immense power. Overturning that decision via a constitutional amendment to get rid of the Second Amendment would be simple and would do more to weaken the N.R.A.’s ability to stymie legislative debate and block constructive gun control legislation than any other available option."

Smack upside the head Permalink to this item

Invite from the IRS today, no, not a reminder I should be starting our 2017 tax return Real Soon Now (which I def should), but rather something they're calling THUNDERCLAP, which, first of all, WHUT?

There's a domain, thunderclap.it, there's branding, they want me to do something on a certain schedule (in addition to that special something by Tuesday, April 17, 2018), and there's... pricing?!

Thunderclap image for the IRS campaign

I guess it makes a tiny bit more sense that the IRS engaged a whizzy social media startup for their ad campaign to encourage people to check their paychecks and withholding to make sure employers have implemented the 2018 tax law changes correctly. But how much trouble is it worth? This is a weirdly mixed message:

"Having too little tax withheld could mean a tax bill or a penalty. And with the average refund topping $2,800, some may prefer to get more money in their pay now."

I was the optimize-my-withholding type back when someone was kind enough to withhold part of my pay for the federal and state governments. But if everyone's taxes are being lowered (aren't they?), maybe the IRS should be looking after helping 2017 taxpayers, and chasing down deadbeats, like publishing Donald J. Trump's tax returns as a public service, hmm?

Mostly, a bid for attention (nevermind the weird idea of collecting signups for a mass tweeting on Thursday) with the name "Thunderclap" reminds me of Microsoft's "Hailstorm"; a leader in the annals of marketing that make you go what were you thinking?

Thunderclap has something Microsoft hasn't had for a long, long time: A team of 5 people who apparently do everything toward amplifying transparency in government, girls' education, teaching programming at an early age, a swag surf to fight cancer, and last but not least, "media literacy (aka BS detection)." In addition to making things happen for clients.

As for checking your paycheck and your employer's withholding, you don't need to wait until Thursday. You could go ahead and jump to www.irs.gov/withholding right now, and beat the rush. (Brace yourself: their landing page isn't quite as lively as the stuff from their viral marketing subscontractor.)

26.March.2018 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Why can't we be friends? Permalink to this item

More than a few of Facebook's two billion data suppliers will be interested to find out whether the social network really has been collecting their phone call and text logs. Ars Technica reported on Saturday that they've been scraping data from Android phones for years. That story's updated with the Facebook newsroom post saying not so fast:

"Call and text history logging is part of an opt-in feature for people using Messenger or Facebook Lite on Android. This helps you find and stay connected with the people you care about, and provides you with a better experience across Facebook. People have to expressly agree to use this feature. If, at any time, they no longer wish to use this feature they can turn it off in settings, or here for Facebook Lite users, and all previously shared call and text history shared via that app is deleted. While we receive certain permissions from Android, uploading this information has always been opt-in only."

The update of the piece by Sean Gallagher, Ars Technica's IT and National Security Editor goes on to say that not all users report the experience of that data collection only after they knowingly and willingly opted in.

When I was new to Facebook, now most of a decade ago, I paid close attention to what all was in "my" archive. I downloaded the whole shebang more than once, but then didn't bother for a long time. The news reaching me today prompted me to visit the General Account Settings page, and click that "Download a copy of your Facebook data" link.

That showed me that I've now donated 1.1GB to their data-mining and advertising business. They warn me I should protect all that. "Your Facebook archive includes sensitive info like your private Wall posts, photos and profile information. Please keep this in mind before storing or sending your archive."

Fishing around the zipped archived had fewer surprises than I expected. It does not have any of my Android phone's call or text meta-data, nor any of texts sent or received outside of Facebook Messenger. So that's good. It does have all the messages I sent and received via Messenger, including incoming and outgoing photos and videos, which I expected it to. (There are a hundred MP4 videos, 3.3% of the total file count, and those add up to more than ¾ of the total bits.)

There was one surprise, but a pleasant one: I'm in a message group (I guess it is) that hasn't been catching my attention for some reason, and it has a bunch of videos I hadn't seen of our great niece in Australia.

Looking for the general facts, and for my particular case, I was struck by the variability of reporting. The way NBC News has it makes it sound like a much, much bigger deal than it is. To say "it" (Facebook) "records users' call logs" seems completely misleading, compared to the original source, and to Facebook's response. I have no doubt a lot of people signed up for more than they realized, and some people were swept into something they wouldn't have agreed to if they'd thought carefully about the decision. But this isn't like the NSA setting up in a switch room and tapping the mainstream of all telecommunications.

Tip of the day: when pretty much any web-connected app wants you to "share your contacts," just say no. Go out of your way to find out how to say no if you have to, and if you can't opt out, skip the app entirely.

The ACCEPT before installation screen for the United App

Which reminds me of a related story, having just taken 4 airplane rides for the first time in a while. I was steadily informed and/or reminded that there's a United app with a host of wonderful features. (Not that you need their app to do "mobile boarding passes" or check flight status. Plain old text messaging worked for them to send me a check-in link, and I got to experience the convenience of having a gate access reader scan a barcode imaged on my phone for the first time.)

In spite of it being free, I declined to download and install, and missed out on the in-flight entertainment, and real-time flight tracker. I'd brought a nice book from the Boise Public Library with me, for one thing, and for another, there was this confirmation screen that I'd have to agree to before it would go.

My... Calendar? Location? Phone? Photos/Media/Files? Camera? What the absolute hell? You want to tease me with entertainment on WiFi, in exchange for access to everything on my phone? Nope.

24.March.2018 Permanent URL to this day's entry

One step for a small man Permalink to this item

So much political chaos, and I was too busy for most of the week to write about it, I'll probably never catch up. No reason for me to echo the top headlines, but if you're not close to Idaho politics, here's a story you might have missed: our junior senator, in the immortal headline styling of the Lewiston Tribune, picks fight with dead man, loses.

He did, however earn the support of his inestimable colleague from Texas, Ted Cruz: "Every member has the prerogative to fight for issues they care about."

What did Jim Risch care about so much that he was willing to derail the $1.3 trillion omnibus pulled pork sandwich of a budget?

Marty Trillhaase's opinion fills in the local color: "Flummoxed reporters on the scene describe Risch as 'angry' and 'agitated,' a man who refused to back down." CNN's headline, was a bit more dry: Idaho senator holds up bill over political rivalry with deceased governor.

Jim Risch came up short.

"At around 10:30 p.m. ET ... Risch and McConnell stood in front of each other talking sternly. Risch's arms motioned up and down and he could be heard from the press gallery telling the leader, 'I'm not going to consent to do anything.'"

That's right, flapping his arms in agitation. But his initiative didn't take flight. The House, where our Congressman Mike Simpson originated the proposal to add Cecil Andrus' name to the White Clouds Wilderness wasn't interested, and the spending bill went through with the provision intact.

Lost and Found Permalink to this item

Funny I didn't see the irony in my first headline of the day (below), back from a 3 day business trip. One of the things that didn't make the whole trip was my Driver's License. It got as far as the TSA check-in at Logan's terminal B2, but it did not make it to the departure gate. I made it to the gate just fine, and flew on to Houston and back home on the strength of my friendly smile and my cellphone's ability to pull up two 2D barcodes and show them to gate readers.

You probably won't be surprised to learn that the Transportation Security Administration has a busy Lost & Found department, even if you might be surprised to see how well-designed its web page with a widget to enter the airport code is. I gave them a call, left all the information they asked for, and then followed up with the number for Massport, and likewise, in case it was between the TSA checkpoint and the airline's gate where it slipped away from me.

The TSA called back just inside 40 minutes (!), same Massachusetts number in the caller ID as I'd called, and I was all excited about that until he got to the part where "we don't have any Idaho Driver's Licenses in inventory from that day." Still, I appreciate the quick, and definitive answer. For their part, and with a much lower ratio of personnel per square foot, Massport's Lost Items recording tells me they'll only call me if my item is found. "If you do not hear from us, your item is consider Not Found." Sounds funny, but ok, it might not be what you call "lost," really. How would they know? They only know that it wasn't found by them.

Cape Cod from my window seat out of Logan

Looking for something? Permalink to this item

LinkedIn tells me people are searching me up, and I should go look. I half-expected it to be a teaser for a paid account, but no. (They did make me an offer for a Premium free trial, but meh.) Searchers in the last week work at Ferrari, Facebook, and Randstad Switzerland. 5 searches, 3 companies, huh. "What your [sic] searchers do":

Two out of four ain't bad? Keywords "my" searchers used: "Electrical Engineering + Computer Science + Physics + Customer Service Representative," which... makes me think their search facility must not be very good. But then, it just needs to be engaging, right?

Equinox Permanent URL to this day's entry

Legislating ignorance Permalink to this item

The Idaho Legislature is going like a house afire, so everyone can get out of Boise and start campaigning for the 2018 elections. Among the wave of bills becoming law is the "abortion reversal" job wherein we (along with Utah, Arkansas and South Dakota) are now supposedly requiring medical professionals to say stuff that simply isn't true.

What could possibly go wrong?

I mean, beside the inevitable lawsuits that taxpayers will be funding. And the harm done, if doctors violate their oath in favor of truly bad law.

What else? Fred Martin is holding the line on Boise area liquor stores.

Any good news? Some. Undoing the 2016 bill that made it easier for employers to enforce non-compete agreements on ex-employees, that's good. If Clem puts his signature on it.

Not too coincidentally, the US Supreme Court listened to arguments today about compulsory speech in the realm of abortion, in California. The authors of that NYT op-ed are in favor of quasi-medical "crisis pregnancy centers" being able to say (or not say) whatever they (don't) want. The alternative—having the government say who can say what to whom—seems slippery every which way.

More about the SCOTUS case National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra from Marcia Coyle of The National Law Journal on tonight's PBS NewsHour, and from the news side of the NYT.

17.March.2018 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Questionable candor Permalink to this item

Scenes of the unimaginable: the President of the United States of America dancing a premature St. Patty's Day twitter jig on the career grave of Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe, continuing his more than year-long program of obstructing justice, to cover his sorry rear end.

Could our Dotard's guilt be any more transparent, or pathetic? Tweeting at midnight? Having dispatched the head of the FBI for refusing to drop the investigation of the lies and corruption embedded in the deep swamp of his campaign, now this attempt to silence another witness. The New York Times' report beggars incredulity:

"Mr. Trump has taunted Mr. McCabe both publicly and privately, and Republican allies have cast him as the center of a 'deep state' effort to undermine the Trump presidency."

Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard "I Can't Recall" Sessions III, recused from the Russia investigation and short of candor himself, took the trouble to fire McCabe, two days before his retirement date.

Karma is going to be a bitch for a lot of these people.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation continues, tick, tock. Collecting tweets and television interviews is the easy part of it. Keeping track of the record-breaking staff churn is a little harder, but not a lot harder.

Keeping track of the full sweep of scandals is a full time job for a lots of folks. Jim Rutenberg and Maggie Haberman are on the Stormy Daniels beat, the "adult film" actress now being sued by that same President of the United States (in his, ahem, personal capacity), acting as if he's party to an agreement he doesn't seem to have signed, either as "David Dennison" or himself.

In addition to $130,000 or maybe $20 million, the seamy agreement also provides fodder for Quora's armchair litigators, and a page in which to artfully insert advertising for Truthfinder.com, offering to Find anyone's arrest record instantly. Related question on Quora: How will Trump's DNA on Stormy Daniels' dress impact his presidency?

Yeah, that's right, The Daily Mail had the story a month ago that she has a dress, and talk of DNA testing, including this hide-it-from-your-kids quote:

"[Clifford] said of her hotel meeting with Trump, 'the sex was nothing crazy,' and previously said: 'I can definitely describe his junk perfectly, if I ever have to.'"

Let's hope it doesn't come to that.

16.March.2018 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Octothorpe screed Permalink to this item

Here's a new one for the annals of epithets: octogenarian! I know some octogenarians, and a few nonagenarians, and let me tell you, it's a badge of honor. They're some of the finest people I know. That's not how Jeffrey A. Rendall, writing for Richard Viguerie's ConservativeHQ sees it though. (Fun fact: the Cajun Curmudgeon, CHQ's head man, is an octogenarian.)

The one Rendall's after is, and I quote, "a filthy-rich 84 year-old California Democrat senator," a.k.a. "feeble old Sen. Dianne Feinstein," a.k.a. "DiFi." He goes on. And on. And on. About how great guns are, and stuff, but mostly just about how illegimate all the arguments he disagrees with are. (Not giving CHQ free linkage; if you're curious enough, you can dig around the swamp of the internet and find it.)

"This whole back-and-forth proves Democrats and liberals aren't interested in preserving and protecting life as much as they’re searching for ways to harm Trump and Republicans politically. If they truly cared about life there would be more outrage from Democrats concerning the abortion issue..."

Proves! That's that then. But really, if you're serious about reducing abortion, you should be writing about comprehensive sex education and contraception, not about how much you hate liberals.

CHQ's masthead footer covers all of four personages: the Chairman (as the one and only "officer"), editor (and writer) George Rasley, and two others. Not Rendall. So who is Jeffrey A. Rendall? He hasn't risen to the stardom of having his own Wikipedia page yet, but there's this golf blog. Somehow I came to the CHQ category/tags listing for "Roy Moore" that looks like the "by Rendall" listing. All of page 1 and most of page 2 of 5 are by Rendall, with catchy headlines such as

Zoominfo about Rendall shows his connection to The Conservative Caucus Inc, apparently CHQ's parent. Weird that they have nothing at all to say about someone who's written so much for them over years. We want to know what his handicap is, at least.

pi Day.2018 Permanent URL to this day's entry

How to buy Permalink to this item

You may have noticed things got quiet around here (as opposed to "out there," where I understand All Sorts Of Crazy Things Are Happening, Even Crazier Than Last Week). I've put my head down and have been doing some engineering work that involves CAD software, a world I inhabited for most days of my 20 years in the cube farm, but that I left behind for other pastures almost 15 years ago.

It's a long story, but the funny/not funny shorter version is that in order to get at drawings and so-called solid models (not "solid" at all, just slippery bits) from that distant past, I'm trying to do business with a company now called PTC and once known as Parametric Technology Corporation. The "parametric" part had to do with the way they implemented their CAD software in the 1980s, and as opposed to the retronymic "direct" way that I was familiar with, using HP's succession of CAD products, from EGS ("engineering graphics system") in the 1980s, to ME10 (2d), ME30 (3d) in earnest starting in 1989, and eventually SolidDesigner by the end of the 90s. Back then there was a whole product family of "HP Precision Engineering Systems," and an article in the October, 1995 edition of the Hewlett-Packard Journal by Klaus-Peter Fahlbusch and Thomas D. Roser described the complicated software suite in glorious detail. (The terse abstract described HP's contribution, contrapuntal to the "parametric" software that most engineers suffered with, for which "knowledge of the history of the design is necessary to avoid unanticipated side-effects when making changes.")

HP branded this and other software under the "CoCreate" name, and eventually spun that off as its own company,

Oh wait, this isn't shorter, is it? Well, it is shorter than trying to do business with PTC these days. I started last Friday, with the basic questions of which of your products (if any) will solve a problem for me, and how much does it cost? Their website studiously avoids the issue, even as it features a "Try & Buy" navigation menu. Would you like to... Learn More? How cut to the chase, How to Buy. If you're "already a customer?" they want you to switch to a "subscription." Otherwise, what did you want? Let's say CAD Software Solutions. What's New? Learn More!

You can download the Creo Parametric Trial, maybe, if you fill out this form they lead you to, from many pages. Whether or not that's what you need. (In my case, pretty sure it isn't, never mind the promise of a "fully functional, 30 day trial." A colleague has done that, and found it didn't get the job done.)

Closer to what might work (IF ANYTHING DOES, BECAUSE NO BODY OF SOME HALF A DOZEN PEOPLE WITHIN THE ORGANIZATION AND ITS SALES CHANNEL KNOWS WELL ENOUGH TO SAY "YES" OR "NO" DEFINITIVELY, ON THE WEB OR ANY OTHER WHICH WAY) there's the "Creo Product Mapping" page you'll get to most easily from a redirect out of the old cocreate.com domain, and Creo Direct. Which has a How to Buy link. That goes to a subscription page for a different product, Creo Parametric Essentials.

Ay yi yi.

Somewhere along the line, I found the page to the software bundle they offer for free, Creo Elements/Direct Modeling Express 6.0, which is the not-too-fully featured offspring of the HP/CoCreate software. That's working for PART of the problem (capable of viewing old 2D .mi files, and drawings in the compressed MI format, once you uncompress them). That program forks a web page every time it start up, headlined with unintentional irony, Get Going Faster. Getting Started, More Tutorials, PTC Communities, and How To Buy. "READY TO BUY? LET US GUIDE YOU THROUGH THE PROCESS"

screen shot from PTC site

I'll admit I was still curious—here 5 days after I started—to see what that led to. Check it out:

screen shot from PTC site

8.March.2018 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Ok, Google (are you listening?) Permalink to this item

One of those helpful shared alerts posted on Facebook got me to take a look at Google My Activity. Says there, "only [I] can see this data" and assures me that it protects my privacy. I could "learn more" about privacy.

Mostly what I see is my YouTube browsing history, which is interesting, and familiar, scrolling back a month+. (Just think--they have YEARS of this stuff.) I've used Google voice a handful of times. The most recent, was while I was riding my bike through the Library Plaza near my house on February 6 at 5:33 pm, and said "OK, Google... What are the Boise Downtown Library hours?"

I can hear me saying this!

How creeped out am I by this? I'm not sure. If I were a regular user, that's quite a commitment they're making to store audio of me.

Of course the vaaaast majority of my time with Google is not spent searching (since I use DuckDuckGo on everything but my phone) but with gmail. Anybody on the inside who wants to know more about me could find out gigabytes, going back many years.

And I've recently started using Google Calendar for my (private) event scheduling. When I bought some plane tickets through Expedia, and that company sent me a confirmation email, Google took the helpful liberty to "read" that email, and add the flights to my (or should I say "its"?!) calendar.

Convenient, useful, and yeah, super creepy.

The search filter in this "view my activity" suggests this is ONLY about (1) Voice and audio, and (2) YouTube. So, I can see my whole record of the former (without losing focus). In addition to my query about library hours that one time, there are 5 "transcript not available" entries over 15 months, one with its own beep picked up, 2 with some "overheard" conversation that's unintelligible and the others "blank." (The "overheard" ones are actually the most disturbing, even though you can't make out who, or what. "When" is there.)

In my first real test, I asked "What's in a Manhattan," which must've been suggested by someone else, because I've never really wanted to know. Then I asked "why do you pronounce 'mare-a-SHEEN-o' 'mare-a-SKEEN-o'?" which it transcribed, "why do you pronounce Maraschino Maraschino".

I forget the answer.

Having deleted my voice and audio for all time (which required like 3 or 4 assurances that yes, I really want to), it offers a link to "activity controls" in case I want to change settings.

Not just now. I was curious about one thing. "OK, Google" I said, and it got ready, and I said "How long will you listen?"

It struggled to understand, eventually gave me the musical answer, of Ellie Goulding's song "How Long Will I Love You." ("As long as stars are above you, and longer if I can," oh my.) I can't love the song though, because the streaming keeps getting interrupted. The fragments seem kind of nice.

Here's the original item, with its risible title on The power of Silence: Google Records Everything You Say – Here Is How To Hear It, Delete It, And Prevent It. (Google does not record everything you say. Get real.)

7.March.2018 Permanent URL to this day's entry

On the eve of destruction Permalink to this item

This is like an incredibly badly scripted reality show, isn't it? On October 28, 2016, just days before the election, a lawyer for the Republican candidate for president is signing a CONFIDENTIAL SETTLEMENT AGREEMENT AND MUTUAL RELEASE; ASSIGNMENT OF COPYRIGHT AND NON-DISPARAGEMENT AGREEMENT for a Limited Liability Corporation set up uniquely for the purpose of keeping Stephanie Clifford quiet about the naughty bits of her liaison with the pseudonymous Mr. "David Dennison."

("EC, LLC," "DD" and "PP" are pseudonyms whose true identity will be acknowledged in a Side Letter Agreement attached hereto as "EXHIBIT A")

Call it a Postprandial Agreement. For which there was consideration of $130,000, delivered by said lawyer, who now says btw, he was never reimbursed. (You can read about it on Crooks and Liars, of course.)

Mr. D.D. didn't get around to signing the exhibits, even as "EC, LLC" dutifully initialed pages 0 through 15, and scratched out that he was "Attorney for DD" in favor of "Essential Consultants, LLC" on the last page.

The big reveal of the SIDE LETTER AGREEMENT still has the true name of DAVID DENNISON blotted out. Also the true name of the one LLC that is some other LLC. It's all very CONFIDENTIAL, don't you know. Michael Cohen's printed name under his signature on the side letter is redacted too, but his signature there matches the ones on pages 14 and 15 of the main agreement.

Oh, and the caption for the Superior Court of the State of California for the County of Los Angeles in Stephanie Clifford vs. Donald J. Trump kind of spells it out now, too. NBC News reports all teh crazy, with a link to the filed complaint. Can't hardly buy publicity like this.

I remember when Congressional Republicans believed that lying about an affair was an impeachable offense. https://t.co/qtJ02eJQoE

— Andrew Janz (@JanzforCongress) March 7, 2018

5.March.2018 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The day Nunberg blew up Permalink to this item

Not 100% sure, but I don't think personal inconvenience amounts to a good reason not to comply with a federal grand jury subpoena. Sam Nunberg, left behind by the Trump administration for having the temerity to "hold the pickles," tried that tack today, along with venting his annoyance to three—count 'em, three—different reporters today.

Katy Tur on MSNBC, then Gloria Berger on CNN, then Jake Tapper on CNN. Absolutely ridiculous to imagine he might have to spend 80 hours to go over his emails for a grand jury. 80 hours! Just who does this Bob Mueller character think he is, anyway?

The final frontier Permalink to this item

This book that's been floating over there on the rail for a good while after I finished reading it and took it back the library comes to mind this morning, while reading the Sunday news about Robert Mueller's focus on this businessman-advisor to the U.A.E., who's "hovered on the fringes of international diplomacy for three decades."

There are questions about "possible attempts by the Emiratis to buy political influence by directing money to support Mr. Trump during the presidential campaign, according to people with knowledge of the discussions." Perhaps "an examination of how money from multiple countries has flowed through and influenced Washington during the Trump era" is also in order.

Zephyr Teachout's 2014 book, about the history and present status of Corruption in America seems absurdly prescient, and also unfortunately just a little bit ahead of its time.

From StarTrek.com's Ferengi page

Given recent events, what should be a flat-out arresting title seems slightly pallid. Just corruption? Now that we have a man who lacks the mental capacity to be president for a month, imagining gee, maybe we should have a president for life? (Some of his best friends are authoritarians.) And we don't know what Robert Mueller and his team know about side-dealings with the U.A.E., and the Saudis, even after it was all hands on the orb, and that odd dust-up with Qatar, which... huh, Robert Mueller's looking into that too, although on Saturday, Al Jazeera News reported that Qatar's ambassador said they're still waiting for a call. (Who knows, but I'm guessing they'd love to talk.)

The long and short of it is, we're not fussing over whether there's corruption, just working to determine the extent of the metastasis. Jump back 165 years, to Teachout's description of the SCOTUS decision for Marshall v. Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Company.

On the one hand, the Court held, there is an "undoubted right" of all persons to make their claims and arguments personally, or through a lawyer, in front of legislative committees. But any agents they hired would need to disclose their true incentives. The secrecy surrounding the contract necessarily invalidated it. Moreover, the lure of high profit combined with secrecy otherwise creates a "direct fraud upon the public." Legislatures had an obligation to the whole, and a court should not subsidize, through the enforcement of contracts, the opportunity for interested and "unscrupulous agents" to influence policy. Furthermore, the practice corrupts the agents themselves.

Those were the good old days.

Rather than the patriotic ideals that have our hands over our hearts with the sight of Old Glory, the new reigning theory of "originalism" is more accurately captured by the "law and economics movement" that Teachout describes in chapter 15, "Facts in Eile, Complacency, and Disdain."

Beginning in the late 1950s, and gaining force in subsequent decades, the movement is propelled by The Federalist Society, started as a student group in the early Reagan years. Five members of the 2014 Supreme Court were in synch with it, with Neil Gorsuch stepping into Scalia's post, courtesy of Mitch McConnell's perfidy. (Teachout includes Anthony Kennedy with Scalia, Roberts, Thomas and Alito as having "close ties"; Wikipedia's entry for the Federalist Society doesn't.)

Two of the essential orthodoxies of the ideology are that "people are highly mechanical and selfish rational maximizers of their own welfare, and that the public good is served by efficiency." Thus, "excessive self-interest is an idea that sounds incoherent if people are always self-interested."

Corruption simply disappears, into vapors. Absent a provable quid pro quo and a briefcase full of greenbacks, no man or woman can be proven guilty.

In the Conclusion, Teachout describes the motivation for new structures for financing campaigns, directly:

"A system that financially rewards candidates who appeal to large donors has internal moral negative effects: it makes the job of the candidate to serve excessive private interests, when the job of the representative is to serve broader interests. It creates a foundational role contradiction within the job. It institutionalizes corruption."

Given the depth of the swamp, it's easy to get tangled up trying to unwind the details, but if we had to personify institutional corruption in the present day, perhaps there is some family we might point to as an exemplar? You know, the biggest the world has ever seen.

In Citizens United, and the April 2014 McCutcheon v. FEC decision, just before her book went to press, the Roberts Court went all-in on the notion that corruption is utterly beyond the ken of the judiciary. Money is speech. Corporations are people. There are nearly no holds barred.

And now the Trump clan has taken us to a new level, exemplified by the fatuous head of it registering for the 2020 campaign on Inauguration Day, 2017.

4.March.2018 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Today's math lesson Permalink to this item

Excerpted from Quora's "Why are people against arming teachers?" thread:

"[The president] calls for 20% of teachers to be armed. There are 3.6 million teachers in the public and private schools in America. So he’s talking about arming 720,000 people. There are 476,000 regular Army troops in the military [...so let's...] create an army of school teachers, larger than our actual Army infantry size, without the training or equipment of our real Army, and that will solve the school shooting problem.

"The average cost of a 9mm is around $500 (with some ammo and a holster) and to arm 720,000 teachers it will cost $360 million. And they will have to be trained. And school doors are going to need to be reinforced, and more fences around schools, and extra resource officers assigned to the schools to augment our amazing K–12 paramilitary police force. ..."

3.March.2018 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Batten the hatches Permalink to this item

In east coast weather news, you won't get any argument from the seaboard that March came in like a lion. That new-fangled term you hadn't heard of before January is back: another "bomb cyclone," they tell us. A nor'easter. A winter hurricane. Big storm. Cold continental air mass, meet warm maritime, and boom.

In one of the alternate universes just next door to me, I might have been traveling to the east coast about now, and boy am I glad I missed that plane.

Felt from Georgia to Maine, five killed by falling trees, 3,000 flights canceled, 3,500 delayed, Amtrack suspended service, two million lost power, parts of NY with 3 ft. of snow, downtown Watertown, Mass. photogenically disastrous, and Wenham, Mass. getting in the act with multiple homes evacuated for an underground gas line that caught fire and sent a 30-foot fireball into the air. Let's just say "everyone's weekend plans had been ruined," as reported by a Ms. Willsky at Penn Station.

Fire for effect Permalink to this item

Give the big man credit for the power to move markets. And who knew, our Unitary Executive could turn the world economy upside down with an unhinged tweet from the middle of the night?

Just the headlines: Trump's Tariffs Stoke Fears that Trade War Will 'Kill' U.S. Jobs. Around the World, Threats of Retaliation. Trade Wars Are Destructive. Of Course Trump Wants One.

And Peter Baker's round-up: A Week That Leaves Even Trump’s Supporters Confused. Put it in the "Promise Kept" category: he's running the country like one of his many failed businesses. The difference is, corporate bankruptcy isn't needed to adjudicate the stiffing of creditors and turn him loose to the next thing.

“Many people voted for Trump in order to throw a hand grenade into national politics,” said former Representative Timothy J. Roemer, Democrat of Indiana. “It seems he has done the same thing to Capitol Hill, and no one knows from a tweet to an exchange in an Oval Office meeting what’s next.”

Kellyanne Conway is taking gaslighting to a new level. “This is what leaders do so everyone can see how the conversation is unfolding.” Starting right... WTF?

Tsar Cannon image from Wikimedia

Russia's Troll-in-Chief has jumped into the spirit of the times, playing into the soft spot of our fearless leader's fatuous saber-rattling, and the vague sense of aren't we on the verge of an impenetrable defense? (We didn't actually have the conversation. Start with a simpler question: if Kim Jong-un decided he was tired of presiding over military parades, and launched a suicide-by-world-cop attack with, say, half a dozen of his best rockets, could we stop all of them? No. Most of them? Probably not. A couple of them? Mmmaybe. Hard to say. Not something you can actually test ahead of time, you know?)

All you need for an "invincible" cruise missile attack on some random golf resort in Florida is an overtime budget for the computer animation department, which Vlad has. And he can outsource marketing: the name-that-weapon contest was announced by the Russian embassy on Twitter. (If Trump wins, I'm going to be verrrry suspicious.)

If you were wondering (I certainly was), can a president really just declare a bunch of tariffs like that? The NYT editorial board explains "a rarely used law allows the president to restrict trade on national security grounds."

We need a rarely used law that allows the Congress (say) to restrict the president on national security grounds.

2.March.2018 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Just a shot in the dark Permalink to this item

Would you, and every member of your household, be willing to chip in 4 cents a year to have the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study gun violence for the next six years?

Related: Why should a 1996 amendment to a funding bill that says "None of the funds made available in this title may be used, in whole or in part, to advocate or promote gun control" have anything to do with the first question?

The Hill explains.

March came in like it was lyin' Permalink to this item

The good news is that your child—no matter how ignorant, vulgar, self-centered, feckless, demented, amoral, or genuinely loathsome—can grow up to be president. The bad news is, you're soaking in it.

All kidding aside, to the annals of not-normal, add a three-part series on nepotism from the NY Times editorial board to the list: Intrigue in the House of Trump, Jared Kushner Flames Out, and Ivanka Trump’s Brand Building at the White House.

"I like taking the guns early."
sur-realDonaldTrump

Not to jump the gun on Amy Siskind's list (soon to be available in book form; call it "volume 1") for week 68, but we just had the POTUS say he'd come and git your guns first and then look after due process (the "Gitmo Way"), if he felt like it, and then get corrected by the NRA. (They tweeted they had a great meeting. He tweeted they had a great meeting.)

How crazy is it to have Donald J. Trump talking to the American public about "this crazy man"?

How about when the chief lobbyist for the NRA is putting words in his mouth? "POTUS & VPOTUS support the Second Amendment, support strong due process and don't want gun control," right there in his tweet.

The Feb. 16 news item on Snopes doesn't rate the question on the truth scale just yet, but it does appear true that the FBI is investigating the question, Did the Kremlin Give Money to the National Rifle Association to Help Trump?

Inquiring minds would like to know.

Meanwhile, this whole Jared Kushner thing, people. Even with the Grifter Old People's party running the show for the benefit of their donor class, and our Grifter-in-Chief live-tweeting Fox and Friends day to day, this is kind of mind-blowing. A private equity billionaire "paying regular visits to the White House," to (ahem) "advise" on infrastructure policy, meeting with the Grifter-in-Law (that title just seems wrong) and howzabout a $184 million loan to tide you over for that Windy City refi, with just a whiff of Qatari government's investment fund money to it? Also, $325 million from Citigroup.

Given the uncharted territory we're in, you need to limber up and streeeetch that credulity if you're going to keep up.

Christine Taylor, a spokeswoman for Kushner Companies, said Mr. Kushner’s White House role had not affected the company’s relationships with financial institutions. “Stories like these attempt to make insinuating connections that do not exist to disparage the financial institutions and companies involved,” she said.

Sure, fine, whatever, give him a pass on the $half a billion in loans propping up his ongoing real estate business while he's a super secret advisor to the president, because he's going to make peace in the Middle East, and wean everybody off opioids in his spare time. And never mind the $1.1 billion loan on 666 Fifth Ave. coming due next February, with s-i-l and father-of-s-i-l (isn't he a convicted felon? And a "hateful man"?) trying to round up funding from Qataris, Chinese, Israelis, French, South Koreans, Saudis, whomever. The NYT editorial board takes the measure of the man:

"So one year in, what has Mr. Kushner accomplished? The answers point to why, from the nation’s founding to the present day, the architects of American democracy have tried so mightily to restrict the hiring of presidential relatives. Mr. Kushner’s achievements have not only been paltry, but he is directly implicated in some of the president’s most destructive — and self-destructive — decisions, as well as in some of the most serious accusations of self-dealing that have been made against the administration."

Update: Eugene Robinson does a nice job of summarizing our present chaos and corruption in his opinion for the WaPo.

"None of what’s happening is normal, and none of it should be acceptable. Life is imitating art: What we have is less a presidency than a cheesy reality show, set in a great stately house, with made-for-television histrionics, constant back­stabbing and major characters periodic­ally getting booted out...."

Update #2: Probably just a coincidence, for sure, but remember that weird Arabian snit that led to the blockade of Qatar, which was also really weird given how tight we are with those oil-rich sheiks, and because Qatar hosts one of America’s largest and most strategically important air bases in the Middle East...?! That Kushner real estate wheeling and dealing was kind of wrapped up in it.

The Intercept's take is that "the Gulf crisis involving Qatar and its neighbors will likely be Kushner’s defining foreign policy legacy."

raveling

Tom von Alten
ISSN 1534-0007