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26 Aug 10:56

Eavesdropping Using Smart Phone Gyroscopes

by schneier

The gyroscopes are sensitive enough to pick up acoustic vibrations. It's crude, but it works. Paper. Wired article. Hacker News thread.

26 Aug 11:21

Security by Obscurity at Site

by schneier

The White House is refusing to release details about the security of because it might help hackers. What this really means is that the security details would embarrass the White House.

26 Aug 10:38

In Order To Check A Fact, You Have To Have A Fact To Check

by stevengoddard
Miriam Goderich says the reason her literary agency promoted client Barack Obama as “born in Kenya” for 17 years (until he announced his candidacy for president) – was a “simple fact checking error“ Exposing The Original Birther | Real Science … Continue reading →
25 Aug 21:41

Don't Believe Anything The EPA Says Unless It is Under Oath

by admin

That is the only conclusion I can reach based on this story on the Center for Biological Diversity challenging the EPA over ocean acidification.

In all of the EPA's public relations and political documents, its position is that man-made CO2 is causing ocean acidification  (higher levels of atmospheric CO2 causes more CO2 to get dissolved in ocean water which lowers the PH).  One can find thousands of examples but here is just one, from their web site.  This is a public briefing paper by the EPA on the general topic of ocean acidity.  Here is a screenshot of the top of the first page:

click to enlarge

Lets read that first bullet point in the purple section labelled "key points".  It says

  • Measurements made over the last few decades have demonstrated that ocean carbon dioxide levels have risen in response to increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, leading to an increase in acidity (that is, a decrease in pH) (see Figure 1)

This is a typical man-is-screwing-up-the-climate EPA statement made to affect government opinion.  It sounds official.  If I were to publicly challenge it, they would likely label me as anti-science.

The enlightening part of our story occurs when the Center for Biological Diversity took the EPA at their fear-mongering word and said, "well, then you should have an endangerment finding on the Pacific Ocean."

The Lawsuit, launched by the Center for Biological Diversity, seeks to impose enhanced clean water act protection upon the Pacific Coast. The suit argues that protection is necessary because, according to the EPA’s own climate narrative, ocean acidification is severely damaging the marine ecosystem.

According to the CBD;

“The CBD points out that the EPA has acknowledged that ocean acidification has killed billions of oyster larvae in the Pacific Northwest but still would not classify the waters as imperilled.”

The EPA had dozens of references to acidification in its endangerment findings, such as this example: (p. 137)

According to the IPCC, climate change (very high confidence) and ocean acidification (see Box 14.1) due to the direct effects of elevated CO2 concentrations (medium confidence) will impair a wide range of planktonic and other marine organisms that use aragonite to make their shells or skeletons (Fischlin et al., 2007).

So now the EPA is in court and supposedly subject to perjury charges.  And wham, their story changes in a flash:

The EPA’s response is that there is insufficient evidence to support an endangerment finding – an apparent contradiction of their own previous climate narrative.

“There were no in situ field studies documenting adverse effects on the health of aquatic life populations in either state,” the EPA’s motion says. “Nor was there any other information documenting effects on indigenous populations of aquatic life in state waters indicating stressors attributable to ocean acidification. The only information available regarding aquatic life in ambient waters under natural conditions was inconclusive.”

The EPA's position is that there is no evidence, but it is a huge problem we should have every confidence exists.  If you don't believe me, look at this passage from an EPA 2010 memorandum on the issue.  Ignore the gobbledygook in the middle, just read it with the parts I have bolded.

This Memorandum recognizes the seriousness of aquatic life impacts associated with OA [ocean acidification] and describes how States can move forward, where OA information exists, to address OA during the 303(d) 2012 listing cycle using the current 303(d) Integrated Reporting (IR) framework. At the same time, this Memorandum also acknowledges and recognizes that in the case of OA, information is largely absent or limited at this point in time to support the listing of waters for OA in many States.

We are really really sure it is a problem although the science is largely absent.

PS- By the way, no one thinks the ocean will turn to acid.  "Acidification" is one of those scare words that work better as PR than science.  The ocean is alkaline and will alkaline even under the most catastrophic forecasts.  The issue is with its becoming less alkaline.

25 Aug 06:01

NIST to sysadmins: clean up your SSH mess

by Richard Chirgwin

Too many keys, too badly managed

NIST has taken a look at how companies use Secure Shell (SSH), and doesn't much like what it sees.…

25 Aug 01:05

Revealed: Wisconsin John Doe investigation was full-blown anti-conservative fishing expedition

by William A. Jacobson

We’ve covered the abusive anti-conservative Wisconsin “John Doe” proceedings many times before.

The short story is that two separate proceedings were commenced under the auspices of Democratic District Attorneys in order to try to take down Scott Walker.

John Doe No. 1 concerned Walker’s time as County Executive and ended without finding any wrongdoing by Walker himself.

John Doe No. 2 concerned Walker’s time as Governor and recall election.   Both a state court judge and a federal judge found that even if everything the investigators claimed was true, it was not illegal.  This John Doe No. 2 resulted in a federal lawsuit by two of the targets alleging that the investigators violated the targets’ constitutional rights.

Some documents released Friday by the federal Court of Appeals reveal just how abusive this John Doe No. 2 was.  

The investigators conducted a widespread fishing expedition through the otherwise private records of numerous conservative activists, as described by M.D. Kittle of Wisconsin Reporter, who has followed the case more closely than anyone (h/t Instapundit):

‘Retaliation’: Docs show state prosecutors’ launched mini-NSA probe of state conservatives

Conservative targets of a Democrat-launched John Doe investigation have described the secret probe as a witch hunt.

That might not be a big enough descriptor, based on records released Friday by a federal appeals court as part of a  massive document dump.

Attorneys for conservative activist Eric O’Keefe and the Wisconsin Club for Growth point to subpoenas requested by John Doe prosecutors that sought records from “at least eight phone companies” believed to serve the targets of the investigation. O’Keefe and the club have filed a civil rights lawsuit against John Doe prosecutors, alleging they violated conservatives’ First Amendment rights.

Subpoenas also demanded the conservatives’ bank records, “emails from every major private email provider” and other information in what some have described as a mini-NSA (National Security Agency) operation in Wisconsin.

“In fact, Defendants’ submissions confirm and expand upon the scope and intensity of retaliation previously demonstrated,” O’Keefe’s attorney wrote in documents ordered unsealed by the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.

The documents raise serious concerns about the tactics of Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm, two of his assistant DAs and others involved in the investigation targeting dozens of conservatives.

We are in a dangerous place when prosecutors can identify the target first, and then try to find a crime.

Hey Wisconsin conservatives.  You’re not paranoid, Democrats really are out to get you.

Related posts:

11 votes, 4.27 avg. rating (85% score)
24 Aug 17:44

A Single Meteorologist Explains What $165 Billion In Government-Funded Climate Science Couldn’t

by P Gosselin

Large scale oceanic oscillations responsible for most of the post 1980 “warming”
By Joe Bastardi

I think global warming is a misnomer.

There is a distortion of the temperature pattern on the globe, brought about by the natural cyclical warming events of the warm PDO and warm AMO together. I spoke about this at Heartland a couple of years ago – how the sea ice increase in the south and the decrease in the north were the hidden message that here is no “warming” just a distortion.

When the tropical Atlantic and Pacific warm in tandem, there is a natural warming that takes place, especially in the northern hemisphere. The Pacific warming after both oceans being cold is a much more dramatic event, as it is the biggest ocean. The fact we have more land in the northern hemisphere and that the Arctic is surrounded by land means the summer seasons over the land masses can be hotter. Also the oceans in the north near North America are warmer. One can see this on the example of the warm PDO (left):

Bastardi 1

Modes of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, warm (left); cool (right. Source:

Notice the warmth near Alaska, yet the cool on the southern side of the globe near Antarctica. NOTICE THE TROPICS, THE NUMBER ONE SOURCE OF ENERGY TO DRIVE THE CLIMATE, are warm.  This adds more heat and moisture to the air, warming the atmosphere. It’s why we saw the rise in temperatures in the 1980s and 1990s.   In the cool version (right) the heat is where it had been cool earlier.  So the southern oceans around Antarctic are cool in a warm PDO, but warm in a cool PDO.

Look at the graphic of Antarctic ice below: it fits perfectly. At the start of the warm PDO around 1980, the ice was below normal, but the NATURAL cooling, compensating for warming in the tropics and north during the warm PDO, means the stage is set for the Antarctic ice increase:

Bastardi 2


Now look at a warm AMO example:

Bastardi 3

The Arctic’s exposure to the warm oceanic currents is much greater from the Atlantic side. This warm water moving toward the Arctic ocean obviously has a huge impact.

The deck is stacked to warm the northern hemisphere, jack up the global temps and shrink the Arctic ice. But at the start of the period, because the cold PDO and AMO together in the 1970s cooled the Arctic, the Arctic ice cap was way above normal.

Bastardi 4



Bingo, this is compensating cooling. So there is a cyclical distortion. The real key is measuring the water vapor, using temperatures is the wrong metric! Because without the amount of water vapor increasing, there can be no trapping. Co2 is 1/100th of the GHG and it’s likely that’s just about its influence on the entire shooting match of temps. It is estimated that the GHG blanket adds 33°C to the planet’s temperature. Co2 is boxed in at a range of 0.4 to 0.7 of that. It can do nothing because of all that is around it.

This explains perfectly the whole temperature pattern. Given the way we measure temperature, and the fact most of the warming has been in the Arctic in its cold season when there is little overall effect on the water vapor at such cold temperatures, it is highly likely that the subtle compensating cooling in the south over a much more moisture-laden atmosphere means there is no change in the true global temperature. What is happening now is that the atmosphere has adapted to the added warmth in the same way your shower room adapts to the turning on of a hot shower. So what happens when you turn off the shower (i.e. oceans flip their cycles)? It cools.

Bastardi 5

Notice the cooling in the Antarctic summer, limiting the ice melt season!

We are now in the period of “temperature leveling off”, where the atmosphere is readjusting from the previous increase in heat and moisture from the warmer cycles.

So here is the test we are in. I said in 2007 global temps would come down because of the shift in the PDO. Since 2005, its plain to see a slight downturn in a jagged fashion has started – just as I predicted 7 years ago:

Bastardi 6

The reason for the fewer, less intense El Ninos is because we are going back to the cycle of the colder PDO periods, plainly evident in the Multivariate Enso Index.

Bastardi 7

You can see the warm PDO and the major ENSO events that occurred when the globe warmed and the leveling off since then. Naturally, once the Atlantic flips, the global temps will return to where they were, as measured by satellite, at the start of the satellite era, which coincided with the START OF THE WARM PDO!

Its intuitive and natural…if you warm the tropical Pacific, you warm the temperature, but the compensating cooling is waiting in the longer term. That was my idea with the triple crown of climate back in 2007. The sun, the oceans, and stochastic events rule the climate.

So the test is on, and it doesn’t cost 165 billion dollars to justify an agenda (amount US has spent on climate change). It takes a working knowledge of where the climate has  gone in order to know where it is likely to go. Once the AMO flips to its cool phase, global temperatures will begin a descent much like the ascent we witnessed back in the 80s and 90s, which got us to our current plateau.

The Arctic is already showing, with the lack of ice melt this summer, what it will do once the AMO flips for good (in 5-10 years). It will recover. The global temperature will drop, but it will not be a drop representing a coming ice age or true cooling, just the cycle swinging back the other way. Meanwhile the Antarctic cap will retreat, eventually to levels seen in the 1970s and early 1980s.

If the southern ice cap does not shrink, then that will be a problem, but I have confidence it will.

When you are right, there are reasons. And when you are wrong there are often excuses, which is what you see from the people today who label the very people who said there is climate change (naturally) and made the correct forecast, as Deniers. The real danger to the globe is not global warming, it’s the global warming agenda. In a way, that is what the increase in the Antarctic ice cap shows you.

See Joe explain it here at the Saturday Summary.


24 Aug 18:12

Worried About Date Rape? These Guys Have the Nail Polish for You

by Zach Noble

Many have spoken out against the epidemic of sexual assault on college campuses, and many others have spoken out against the booze-fueled party culture in which sexual assaults often take place and the “progressivism” that blurs distinctions between different kinds of assault.

While the pundits and policymakers debate the issue, four guys at North Carolina State University are doing something proactive (and unorthodox): inventing a nail polish that can detect date rape drugs.

Image via Shutterstock

Image via Shutterstock

As the Triangle Business Journal reported, the four undergraduate students started “Undercover Colors.”

They developed a prototype nail polish, which works like so: Dip your finger into your drink, and if someone has spiked it with date rape drugs, the nail polish will change colors.

The Undercover Colors team. (Image via Facebook)

The Undercover Colors team. (Image via Facebook)

The Journal reported that Undercover Colors has already raised a bundle of cash:

According to a securities filing, the four-person company, which recently appeared at the K50 Startup Showcase, just raised $100,000 from one investor, with $150,000 left to sell in the round.

And it has additional cash from competition.

The company won the Lulu eGames this spring, sponsored by N.C. State’s Entrepreneurship Initiative, a contest challenging students to design working solutions to real-world problems.


Follow Zach Noble (@thezachnoble) on Twitter

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23 Aug 23:15

15-Foot Parking Rules Signs Spotted in Culver City, Los Angeles County

by Ed Krayewski

Via the Facebook feed of KRON 4’s Stanley Roberts, a parking sign spotted in Culver City, California:

 15 foot Culver City parking sign

Curbed Los Angeles provides more details, reporting the height at 15 feet, with photos that include background objects for comparison. At least ten of these signs were apparently put up near a local elementary school.

(h/t Phil R.)

24 Aug 10:39

School Year Begins – No Student Has Seen Any Global Warming

by stevengoddard
The school year is beginning, and no student has experienced Al Gore’s inconvenient truth during their lifetime. But almost all have suffered through his sci-fi flick. Wood for Trees: Interactive Graphs By the time the hiatus ends, many of them may be grandparents. … Continue reading →
23 Aug 20:10

Who Is Morally Obliged to Pay to Level the Playing Field?

by Don Boudreaux
(Don Boudreaux)

A sure sign that someone is making an argument for a policy that will unjustly pick the pockets of consumers in order to artificially and unjustly inflate the revenues of some producers is that person’s use of the term “level playing field.”  This phrase is almost always a smiley-face mask for a plea for special privileges for certain producers.  (I say “almost always,” although I honestly cannot recall a single instance of the phrase “level playing field” being used in any way other than the way I describe here.  I could easily and truthfully drop the “almost.”)

There are many good arguments against this prevalent protectionist excuse.  (I made some of them in this October 2011 article in Economic Affairs.)  Here, though, I ask some questions while granting, arguendo, the dubious assumption that company B in country X deserves protection against the subsidized competition of companies A and C in country Y: Who, exactly, is morally obliged to supply or to pay for this protection?  Why are consumers or taxpayers in country A obliged to pay to protect company B from the “unfair” competition inflicted on company B by government Y‘s subsidies or other privileges dispensed to companies A and C?

Put differently, even if we unanimously agree that B is unjustly harmed by the actions of Y, it does not at all follow that the parties responsible for paying to protect B from Y‘s predations, or to compensate B for losses suffered as a result of Y‘s predations, are B’s fellow citizens.

For example, let’s grant – again, arguendo – that Boeing is unjustly harmed by special privileges dispensed by foreign governments to Boeing’s foreign competitors.  What theory of morality dictates that an ethical responsibility for rescuing Boeing from this injustice resides with American consumers and taxpayers?  I can think of no such theory.

Let’s say that we are Smith’s neighbors.  If Jones steals Smith’s car, we would all agree that Smith has been unjustly harmed.  But presumably we would all also agree that Smith would inflict unjust harm on us if Smith then hired an armed gang to force us, his neighbors, to recompense him for his loss.  Smith’s protestations that he is forcing us, because we are his neighbors, to give him some of our money only because another wrongdoer – someone from another neighborhood – robbed him of some of his wealth would hardly begin to rise to an ethically acceptable reason for Smith’s aggression against us.  We wouldn’t tolerate such aggression by Smith, and any sympathies we might have had for Smith’s misfortune would immediately turn into justified antipathy toward Smith for his presuming that we, innocent people who happen to be his neighbors, have an obligation – one enforceable by threats of coercion – to protect him from the ill consequences of someone else’s wrongdoing.


Again, I do not believe that European-government subsidies to Airbus violate any moral rights of Boeing’s shareholders, workers, or suppliers.  (Such subsidies do violate the moral rights of European citizens, but that’s a different story.)  But even if I were to change my mind and come to regard subsidies to Airbus as a violation of Boeing’s moral rights, it would not at all follow that forcing American citizens to compensate Boeing for its misfortune would itself be moral.  Quite the contrary

23 Aug 18:52

SWAT Team Surrounds White Male Carrying 'Large Umbrella' on Campus


Institutionalized paranoia

On August 20, a possible gunman was reported on the campus of California State University San Marcos (CSUSM), and orders to "Shelter-In-Place" (S-I-P) were put out until a SWAT team finally surrounded their suspect, "a staff member carrying a large umbrella and carry bag." 

NBC 7 said, "The first report came in as a man with a long gun" walking on campus. 

After about 30 minutes of S-I-P, staff member Bill Craig realized he fit the description of the possible gunman and surrendered himself to police. A SWAT team surrounded Craig and determined he had no gun in his possession.

According to, Police released the following statement:

Earlier this morning there was a report to University Police of a possible gunman at CSUSM. The campus was immediately placed on lock down. Police performed a security sweep and determined that the suspect was not armed, but was a staff member carrying a large umbrella and carry bag. We are grateful for the quick response by our police officers to the perceived threat and to our campus community for their cooperation during the brief state of emergency.

Follow AWR Hawkins on Twitter @AWRHawkins Reach him directly at

22 Aug 14:11

When a Man Was Handed a Speeding Ticket, He Noticed Something Fishy — Now an Alleged Scheme Has Been Uncovered

by Liz Klimas

A Houston police officer handed another man a speeding ticket and probably didn’t realize that the offender he was citing was also a cop. What this ticket-receiving officer noticed on his paper slip though has led to a department-wide investigation.

KHOU-TV believes it uncovered a ticket scheme in which Houston officers include the name of another witness officer who was not actually present. This later results in overtime pay when the officer has to appear in court. (Photo credit: Shutterstock)

KHOU-TV believes it uncovered a ticket scheme in which Houston officers include the name of another witness officer who was not actually present. This later results in overtime pay when the officer has to appear in court. (Photo credit: Shutterstock)

“I immediately [knew] that something’s hinky with the ticket,” the man KHOU-TV only identified as Jerry said. “There was no other officer, he was the only officer there.”

The ticket, however, listed another officer as an additional witness.

KHOU launched an investigation into Jerry’s claims and uncovered an alleged “ticket-rigging scheme,” where cops listed on tickets who were not actually present at the time of the offense were cashing in on overtime when they appeared in court later.

The Houston Police Department is conducting its own internal investigation into the issue, putting three officers — Gregory Rosa, Robert Manzanales and John Garcia — on desk jobs during this time.

KHOU reported that a fourth officer identified as Rudolph Farias, who was also being investigated, committed suicide earlier this week in a police parking garage. The 51-year-old was on the force for 21 years and, according to KHOU, made $158,000 in overtime within the past three years. How much of that could be due to falsely reported tickets is unknown at this time.

Here’s more from KHOU about what it uncovered:

The I-Team found the alleged ticket-rigging scheme took place mostly on highways. In one case in May, Officer Manzalnaes put Officer Farias down as a witness at 11:24 p.m. at I-10 and Westcott Street.

But at the same exact time, records show Farias was writing a ticket nine miles away at I-10 and Wilcrest.

In other example in April, three officers at once allegedly were in on it along the Katy Freeway. At 11:30 p.m. at the 610 Loop, Officer Manzanales listed Garcia as a witness on his ticket. But at 11:31 p.m, Garica also is a witness at Beltway 8, on a ticket Officer Rosa wrote. But records show at 11:31 p.m., Rosa is a witness over at Highway 6, on a ticket written by Officer Garcia.

Watch KHOU’s report about the investigation:

Ray Hunt, president of the police officer’s union, told KHOU that these officers are considered “innocent until proven guilty.”

Police Chief Charles McClelland offered a similar perspective to KPRC-TV.

“I can’t assume there’s an irregularity. I can’t assume the officers falsified a government document. I can’t assume anything until I have proof or evidence,” he told the news station.

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23 Aug 11:39

Obama Wanted to End This ‘Corporate Welfare’ Program When He Campaigned. Now He Wants Congress to Reauthorize It.

by Zach Noble

Option No. 1: It’s one of those government programs that “don’t work” and is merely “corporate welfare.”

Option No. 2: It’s an “independent” bank that “pays for itself” and creates jobs.

President Barack Obama has flip-flopped between No. 1 and No. 2 when it comes to the U.S. Export-Import Bank.

“Its sole mission is to create American jobs,” Obama said in his weekly address Saturday. “That’s it. It helps many American entrepreneurs take that next step and take their small business global.”

While urging Congress to reauthorize Ex-Im, Obama said, “the bank works. It’s independent. It pays for itself. But if Congress fails to act, thousands of businesses, large and small, that sell their products abroad will take a completely unnecessary hit.”

It’s a near-total reversal of what he said on the campaign trail six years ago.

As the Washington Free Beacon noted earlier this month, in 2008 then-Sen. Obama called Ex-Im “little more than a fund for corporate welfare.”

What exactly is Ex-Im?

“Unless you are part of the Ex-Im brotherhood, you couldn’t begin to guess when it was created—in 1934 by Franklin D. Roosevelt,” the Wall Street Journal explained in June. “It’s now kept on life support by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and an in-crowd of current and retired Congressional Republicans and Democrats.”

The bank is a government program that provides loans, loan guarantees and other financial support, ostensibly to help American exports compete in the global market.

“Two years ago a bipartisan coalition waved through Ex-Im’s reauthorization and increased its lending cap by $40 billion, to $140 billion,” the Journal reported. “This year Ex-Im wants another five-year reauthorization and a lending cap boost to $160 billion.”

While Obama may now be a supporter of the bank, a strong chorus of dissenters is still asking an important question: Is the bank necessary to “level the playing field” for U.S. companies facing tariffs and taxes abroad, or is it merely a crony capitalist slush fund that distorts market forces?

The Heritage Foundation is pushing to let Ex-Im expire, arguing that the bank will inevitably lose money (as it did in the 1980s) and saying that most of the bank’s financing goes to help mega-corporations, such as aerospace giant Boeing, not U.S. small businesses.

George Mason University’s Mercatus Center has produced a wealth of research showing the downsides of Ex-Im, including one study showing just how dramatically government money can be sucked up by powerful interests: Between 2007 and 2014, almost half of all Ex-Im disbursements flowed to one state, Washington, which happens to be the home of Boeing.

The Journal made the case that a government bank skews the market — and puts taxpayer dollars at risk unnecessarily — when it provides loans that private banks would have deemed too risky.

WASHINGTON, DC – APRIL 25: Former U.S. Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers delivers remarks during the 2014 annual conference of the Export-Import Bank (EXIM) April 25, 2014 in Washington, DC. The two-day event focused on global business environment and prospects for growth. Alex Wong/Getty Images

It’s also not entirely clear what impact the bank’s work really has on the U.S. economy.

The Washington Post criticized Ex-Im’s calculations, through which the bank estimated that for every billion dollars in Ex-Im-backed exports, 6,390 U.S. jobs were supported.

“[Ex-Im's] figures do not differentiate between full-time and part-time work,” the Post noted, “and, crucially, provide no information about what might have happened to employment at the firms in question, or others, if the resources marshalled by Ex-Im had flowed elsewhere in the economy.”

The bank’s charter is set to expire Sept. 30.

Follow Zach Noble (@thezachnoble) on Twitter

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22 Aug 17:11

Shocking: Red Light Camera Company CEO And Chicago City Official Indicted On Corruption Charges

by Timothy Geigner

h/t Jts5665

We've long-argued that red light cameras, those little flashy things that ticket you for going through a stop light, have always been way less about safety and almost entirely about generating revenue for municipalities. And, while we've covered how corrupted the money-flow of these systems can be, you just have to admire the brazenly "Chicago-way" story of how the windy city got into bed with camera peddlers.

The former chief executive officer of Redflex, a major red light camera (RLC) vendor, has been indicted on federal corruption charges stemming from a contract with the City of Chicago. On Wednesday, in addition to former CEO Karen Finley, government prosecutors also indicted John Bills, former managing deputy commissioner at the Department of Transportation, and Bills' friend Martin O'Malley, who was hired as a contractor by Redflex.
Now, I can tell you as a native of the area that city officials getting indicted on corruption charges along with the company bribers barely registers as news here any longer. Hell, we send governors to prison like it was the official retirement plan for the office. The charges in this indictment, however, are a special brand of sleazy. Redflex sold the city on the cameras, hired O'Malley as a contractor for $2 million dollars, and O'Malley then sent much of that cash directly back to DoT official John Bills, like some kind of monetary boomerang. Redflex then got into the act directly, because why the hell not.
Via Redflex employees, Bills also acquired a Mercedes and a condominium in Arizona. A May 2014 affidavit written by an FBI special agent suggests that Bills likely used some of this money to purchase and store a boat, buy a car, pay for an addition to his Michigan cabin, pay for his girlfriend's mortgage, pay his own mortgage, pay his kids' schools, and hire a divorce attorney over the course of several years.
To be fair to Bills, it costs a lot of money to keep your side-piece living happily while you divorce the mother of your children and update that sweet cabin-pad. Oh, it should also be mentioned that Redflex employees sent Bills on a couple of vacations over half a decade, and by "couple" I mean seventeen. This all adds up to 23 counts of mail fraud, wire fraud, bribery, and some additional charges thrown in because screw these guys. And it's not as though these stupid cameras all this corruption paid for actually, you know, worked. The Chicago Tribune's reporting indicates that something like 13,000 bogus tickets were issued to city residents via Redflex cameras, which were dropped in 2013 due in part to this scandal.

But, hey, don't worry, guys. Redflex is all over this problem.
"Last year we announced aggressive leadership changes, industry leading compliance policies and procedures, and a distinction between our past and present," Jody Ryan, a spokeswoman, wrote to Ars. "Redflex Traffic Systems is moving forward. Since we announced these changes we have signed, renewed, or executed over 100 contracts. Redflex has cooperated fully with the investigative authorities while maintaining the integrity of our customer programs. Our focus is on making a life-saving difference in the communities we serve across the country."
Except their cameras don't do any of that and nobody is going to trust anything coming from the company or city officials about the effectiveness of the cameras, either, what with the details on how the Chicago bid was won by Redflex being revealed. It turns out that Bills actually coached Redflex on how to win the bid, rigged the voting order so that members of the evaluation committee Bills had convinced to vote for Redflex would vote first (indicating broad support to other members), and then had the company hire his buddy, O'Malley, as the Chicago account manager for Redflex.

When it comes to Chicago politics, contracts, and the like, this is as Chicago as it gets. However, given that the whole red light camera thing is a money-making scheme to begin with, the whole concept reeks of corruption. Kill these things off now, please.

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23 Aug 13:38

75 Years Ago, an Evil Alliance Was Formed. Why Do We Struggle to Remember It?

by Zach Noble

Saturday marked the 75th anniversary of an historical event that seems hard to believe, in retrospect: Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union teaming up.

Image via Mr.TinDC / flickr

The Victims of Communism Memorial in Washington, D.C. (Image via Mr.TinDC / flickr)

The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, also known as a “honeymoon for two dictators,” staked out an official alliance between two of the twentieth century’s mightiest totalitarian states, and now, three-quarters of a century later, the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation is dedicated to making sure the world doesn’t forget about the many millions who were killed under communist rule.

The group held a Black Ribbon Day ceremony Saturday at the Victims of Communism Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Aug. 23 is the anniversary of “[Josef] Stalin and [Adolph] Hitler conspiring to start World War II,” Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation Executive Director Marion Smith told TheBlaze.

He added that it’s easy to forget that for the first two years of the war, 1939-1941, there was “direct cooperation” between Hitler’s SS and Stalin’s secret police.

“The level of cooperation [between Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia] was official, real and deadly,” Smith claimed, saying that the Russians went so far as to round up German Jews who had fled into the USSR and returned them to Hitler’s genocidal control.

“The evil there is just so massive, it’s hard to wrap your head around,” he added.

Smith’s foundation works to keep the memory of the horrors of communism alive, which is a tougher task than some might think.

“When the Soviet Union crumbled in 1989 we started forgetting about everything, dusting off our hands,” Smith said.

The evil of Nazi Germany is nearly universally acknowledged, with the Holocaust standing as a singular representation of Nazi atrocities.

But communism has no one Holocaust to stand as an historical reminder; Communism created dozens of Holocaust-scale killings, which, Smith acknowledged, can make it harder for people to grapple with communism’s evil.

“After the fall of communism [in Europe at the end of the 1980s], they sort of came to terms country by country,” Smith said, contrasting that experience against the global rejection of Nazism in the 1940s.

Adding to the problem: The U.S. worked with the Soviet Union during World War II and afterwards.

(Image via Clair P. / flickr)

A wall in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. (Image via Clair P. / flickr)

“It was a practical matter of geopolitics,” Smith explained. “We had to deal with the Soviet Union.”

Nowadays, he said, Americans still struggle to commemorate the victims of communism, despite the ”tens of thousands” of Americans who died fighting communist expansion in Korea, Vietnam and “dozens of other flashpoints” around the world between 1950 and 1980.

“Very powerful interests are communist,” Smith noted, pointing to one particular power: China. “There’s a lot of diplomatic pressure, economic pressure not to highlight the atrocities of communism.”

Plus, as evidenced by the popularity of socialist economists like Thomas Piketty, or the “income inequality” rhetoric of President Barack Obama, many people are still drawn to the ideals of communism/socialism.

Why does there seem to be such a powerful modern pull back towards socialism?

“The idea gets separated from its consequences,” Smith said. “It’s a failure of accurate history, a failure of memory, a failure of truth-telling.”

Smith stressed the importance of remembering a few facts: ”Every communist regime has ended up killing a portion of its population,” and, ”Ideas have consequences.”

The modern media may harp on “income inequality” and the failures of capitalism, but Smith said that’s no reason to turn back to communist thinking.

“There is a constant and withering critique of capitalism going on,” Smith acknowledged, “but the only real alternative is Marxism. Two imperfect systems, but one is the best that there is and the other, so far as we’ve seen, is the worst.”

“The time is now ripe, 25 years after the fall of communism in Europe, to remember and ask ourselves, ‘What happened? What is at stake?’” Smith said. “We have an opportunity to honor the victims of communism, and to ensure that it never happens again.”

a group of ambassadors and human rights leaders in the Freedom Foyer of the US Capitol. This marks the first official US commemoration of Black Ribbon Day.

A group of ambassadors and human rights leaders in the Freedom Foyer of the U.S. Capitol. Saturday marked the first official U.S. commemoration of Black Ribbon Day, a Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation spokeswoman told TheBlaze. (Image via Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation)

More than 100 million people died under communist regimes worldwide in the twentieth century, with tens of millions perishing in Stalin’s brutal purges and tens of millions more worked to death under Mao Zedong’s “Great Leap Forward” in China.

As Smith noted, more than one billion people still live under communist rule in China, Cuba, Vietnam, Laos and North Korea.

This story has been updated.

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23 Aug 12:49

She Accused Her Husband of Downloading Child Porn. Now She’s the One with a Felony Conviction.

by Zach Noble

If you’re going to accuse your husband of downloading child pornography to the family computer, you might not want to get him kicked out of the house before you try to frame him.

Meri Jane Woods was convicted of a felony count of sexual abuse of children/possession of child pornography and a misdemeanor count of lying to law enforcement Tuesday, the Indiana Gazette reported.

It’s a story TheBlaze has been following since last year.

“She download[ed] in excess of 40 images of different acts of child pornography to the family computer, took it to the state police and said, ‘My husband downloaded all this porn,’” District Attorney Patrick Dougherty said.

Investigators found that the images Woods claimed her husband sought out were date-stamped between Aug. 11 and 14, 2013, which meant they were downloaded after Woods’ husband had been forced out of the house by a protection-from-abuse order.

Image via Shutterstock

Image via Shutterstock

Now Woods faces two years in jail and a $5,000 fine for the misdemeanor, the Gazette reported, while the felony conviction could bring up to seven years in prison and a $15,000 fine.

She was convicted by a jury of six men and six women, the Gazette noted, and her sentencing was scheduled for December 15.

(H/T: Raw Story)

Follow Zach Noble (@thezachnoble) on Twitter

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23 Aug 00:08

Who Decides Constitutionality?

by Mike Maharrey

Who decides when the federal government has acted outside of those delegated powers?

Most Americans will quickly answer, “The Supreme Court, of course!”

Thomas Jefferson emphatically disagreed, arguing that the states make the determination in the last resort. Jefferson pointed out the absurdity of a branch of the federal government determining the extent of the federal government’s powers in the Kentucky Resolutions of 1798.

The government created by this compact was not made the exclusive or final judge of the extent of the powers delegated to itself; since that would have made its discretion, and not the Constitution, the measure of its powers; but that, as in all other cases of compact among powers having no common judge, each party has an equal right to judge for itself, as well of infractions as of the mode and measure of redress.

From elementary school on, we learn that the Supreme Court gets to make the final decisions on all things constitutional. In fact, the idea is so deeply engrained in the American psyche, to assert otherwise generally elicits howls of indignant protest. But if you stop and think about it, you will recognize the notion makes absolutely no sense.

Essentially, Supreme Court apologists argue that after fighting a bloody war to free themselves from a tyrannical government, the founding generation ratified a Constitution specifically limiting the general government’s power, insisted on a Bill of Rights to further define the limits on that power and ratified an amendment explicitly stating what was already implicit – that all powers not delegated to the federal government remain with the states and the people. Then, after all this, those same people gave one branch of the federal government absolute authority to interpret the Constitution.


It would be a little like letting a Dallas Cowboy player referee a game between the Cowboys and the New York Giants.

Simply put, if the federal government gets to decide the extent of its own power, through its own judicial branch, and the people of the states possess no mechanism to hold the government it created in check, the whole notion of  limited, enumerated powers becomes a farce. The federal government, in practice, becomes one of limitless power.

That was not the intent of the founding generation. They never envisioned nine federal employees determining the extent of federal power. They knew that a self-limiting institution simply doesn’t exist, and they would have never allowed the creation of one to rule over them.

James Madison emphatically asserted that the states retain absolute authority.

The States then being the parties to the constitutional compact, and in their sovereign capacity, it follows of necessity, that there can be no tribunal above their authority, to decide in the last resort, whether the compact made by them be violated; and consequently that as the parties to it, they must themselves decide in the last resort, such questions as may be of sufficient magnitude to require their interposition.

Further expounding on the subject, Madison pointed out that the president and Congress weren’t alone in the ability to overreach constitutional authority.

The [Virginia] resolution supposes that dangerous powers, not delegated, may not only be usurped and executed by the other departments, but that the judicial department also may exercise or sanction dangerous powers beyond the grant of the Constitution; and, consequently, that the ultimate right of the parties to the Constitution, to judge whether the compact has been dangerously violated, must extend to violations by one delegated authority, as well as by another; by the judiciary, as well as by the executive, or the legislature.

Madison went on to say it logically follows that the states must retain the final say.

However true, therefore, it may be, that the judicial department, is, in all questions submitted to it by the forms of the Constitution, to decide in the last resort, this resort must necessarily be deemed the last in relation to the authorities of the other departments of the government; not in relation to the rights of the parties to the constitutional compact, from which the judicial as well as the other departments hold their delegated trusts. On any other hypothesis, the delegation of judicial power would annul the authority delegating it; and the concurrence of this department with the others in usurped powers, might subvert for ever, and beyond the possible reach of any rightful remedy, the very Constitution which all were instituted to preserve.

21 Aug 14:54

Expert performance and training: what we really know

by Daniel Lemire

Movies such as Good Will Hunting tell beautiful stories about young people able to instantly master difficult topics, without any effort on their part.

That performance is unrelated to effort is an appealing belief. Whether you perform well or poorly is not your fault. Some go further and conclude that success and skill levels are primarily about genetics. That is an even more convenient observation: the quality of your parenting or education becomes irrelevant. If kids raised in the ghetto do poorly, it is because they inherited the genes of their parents! I personally believe that poor kids tend to do poorly in school primarily because they work less at it (e.g., kids from the ghetto will tend to pass on their homework assignments for various reasons).

A recent study by Macnamara et al. suggests that practice explained less than 1% of the variance in performance within professions, and generally less than 25% of the variance in other activities.

It is one of several similar studies attempting to debunk the claim popularized by Gladwell that expert performance requires 10,000 hours of deliberate training.

Let us get one source of objection out of the way: merely practicing is insufficient to reach world-expert levels of performance. You have to practice the right way, you have to put in the mental effort, and you have to have the basic dispositions. (I can never be a star basketball player.) You also need to live in the right context. Meeting the right people at the right time can have a determining effect on your performance.

But it is easy to underestimate the value of hard work and motivation. We all know that Kenyan and Ethiopian make superb long-distance runners. Right? This is all about genetics, right? Actually, though their body type predispose them to good performance, factors like high motivation and much training in the right conditions are likely much more important than any one specific gene.

Time and time again, I have heard people claim that mathematics and abstract thinking was just beyond them. I also believe these people when they point out that they have put many hours of effort… However, in my experience, most students do not know how to study properly. You should never, ever, cram the night before an exam. You should not do your homework in one pass: you should do it once, set it aside, and then revise it. You absolutely need to work hard at learning the material, forget it for a time, and then work at it again. That is how you retain the material on the long run. You also need to have multiple references, repeatedly train on many problems and so on.

I believe that poor study habits probably explain much of the cultural differences in school results. Some cultures seem to do a lot more to show their kids how to be intellectually efficient.

I also believe that most people overestimate the amount of time and effort they put on skills they do not yet master. For example, whenever I face someone who failed to master the basics of programming, they are typically at a loss to describe the work they did before giving up. Have they been practicing programming problems every few days for months? Or did they just try for a few weeks before giving up? The latter appears much more likely as they are not able to document how they spent hundreds of hours. Where is all the software that they wrote?

Luck is certainly required to reach the highest spheres, but without practice and hard work, top level performance is unlikely. Some simple observations should convince you:

  • There are few people who make world-class contributions at once… there are few polymaths. It is virtually impossible for someone to become a world expert several distinct activities. This indicates that much effort is required for world-class performance in any one activity. This is in contrast with a movie like Good Will Hunting where the main character appears to have effortlessly acquired top-level skills in history, economics, mathematics.

    A superb scientist like von Neumann was able to make lasting contributions in several fields, but this tells us more about his strategies than the breadth of his knowledge:

    Von Neumann was not satisfied with seeing things quickly and clearly; he also worked very hard. His wife said “he had always done his writing at home during the night or at dawn. His capacity for work was practically unlimited.” In addition to his work at home, he worked hard at his office. He arrived early, he stayed late, and he never wasted any time. (…) He wasn’t afraid of anything. He knew a lot of mathematics, but there were also gaps in his knowledge, most notably number theory and algebraic toplogy. Once when he saw some of us at a blackboard staring at a rectangle that had arrows marked on each of its sides, he wanted to know that what was. “Oh just the torus, you know – the usual identification convention.” No, he didn’t know. The subject is elementary, but some of it just never crossed his path, and even though most graduate students knew about it, he didn’t. (Halmos, 1973)

  • In the arts and sciences, world experts are consistently in their 30s and 40s, or older. This suggests that about 10 years of hard work are needed to reach world-expert levels of performance. There are certainly exceptions. Einstein and Galois were in their 20s when they did their best work. However, these exceptions are very uncommon. And even Einstein, despite being probably the smartest scientist of his century, only got his PhD at 26. We know little about Galois except that he was passionate, even obsessive, about Mathematics as a teenager and he was homeschooled.
  • Even the very best improve their skills only gradually. Musicians or athletes do not suddenly become measurably better from one performance to the other. We see them improve over months. This suggests that they need to train and practice.

    When you search in the past of people who burst on the scene, you often find that they have been training for years. In interviews with young mathematical prodigies, you typically find that they have been teaching themselves mathematics with a passion for many years.

A common counterpoint is to cite studies on identical twins showing that twins raised apart exhibit striking similarities in terms of skills. If you are doing well in school, and you have an identical twin raised apart, he is probably doing well in school. This would tend to show that skills are genetically determined. There are two key weaknesses to this point. Firstly, separated twins tend to live in similar (solidly middle class) homes. Is it any wonder that people who are genetically identical and live in similar environment end up with similar non-extraordinary abilities? Secondly, we have virtually no reported case of twins raised apart reaching world-class levels. It would be fascinating if twins, raised apart, simultaneously and independently reached Einstein-level abilities… Unfortunately, we have no such evidence.

As far as we know, if you are a world-class surgeon or programmer, you have had to work hard for many years.

Credit: Thanks to Peter Turney for telling me to go read Carse.

01 Aug 00:00

Sorry, But a Job Isn't An Instrument for Social Justice

by Jeffrey Dorfman

In the U.S. labor market today a battle is being waged over the purpose of a job. One might think the point of a job is that the employer needs tasks completed and is willing to pay someone to perform said tasks. However, a fierce challenge is being mounted to such an idea and the outcome is currently uncertain. According to Obamacare, jobs are supposed to be a vehicle for providing health insurance. According to a push for paid sick leave around the country, jobs also exist to help support workers even when they do not work. According to those pushing for a living wage, or at least a higher...
18 Aug 04:00

Deputizing America


It’s an old Western movie trope. The harassed sheriff needs help against Desperado D. Blackhat and his gang of gunslingers. He goes into the saloon, finds the gambler who was once the most feared crack shot this side of the Pecos, and makes him his deputy. Together, they run Blackhat and his gang out of town. If you thought that type of quick-and-dirty deputizing died with the Wild West, think again. Government is deputizing people all over the country to do its law-enforcement work. But unlike that gambler, they don’t get the chance to say no.

Take, for instance, FedEx. The delivery company has been indicted by federal prosecutors for not doing the Drug Enforcement Agency’s (DEA) job for it. The DEA alleges that FedEx knowingly shipped pharmaceuticals for online pharmacies that were based on invalid prescriptions, because it should have known “the principals, company names, shipping addresses and billing addresses that were initially connected to” a network of pharmacies closed down by the DEA in 2003. As a recent Wall Street Journal editorial summarized:

Translation: FedEx employees should have connected the dots. But if it's so easy, why didn't the DEA do it? The truth is that unmasking the bad guys would have required an extensive metadata analysis of customer data that is not FedEx's job.

The DEA also alleges that FedEx should have known its orders were based on fraudulent prescriptions from visiting the pharmacies’ facilities for inspection. That’s not something a shipping company is set up to do. It is something a law enforcement agency is set up to do, but the DEA didn’t do it. So by its indictment of FedEx, the feds are telling all other delivery firms that they are now forcibly deputized to do the DEA’s job in the War on Drugs. If they don’t play along, they need to show up in court.

Banking regulators have been playing a similar game. Under a campaign known as Operation Choke Point, they have been telling banks that if they don’t investigate their customers for “high-risk” activity, they will be subject to subpoenas and everything that implies. As a result, banks have simply been cutting off links to potentially risky customers on the simple basis of what business they are in. As Department of Justice documents show (which I document extensively in my recent report on the operation), the motivation for Choke Point was the feds’ lack of manpower to investigate the risky businesses themselves. So they deputized the banks to do their job for them.

If New York’s Department of Financial Services (NYDFS) has its way, bitcoin businesses operating in the state will be deputized, too. The NYDFS, supposedly concerned about fraud risk, is demanding that businesses that use bitcoin keep a public record of every transaction. This would destroy the currency’s appeal by undermining one of its most potent selling points: users’ expectations of privacy. As Jim Harper, global policy counsel for the Bitcoin Foundation, told Coinbase

Surveillance of transactions is at odds with both bitcoin users’ and consumers’ privacy demands, and the level of privacy they could expect is similar to that dictated by deals between corporations and governments in the fiat currency realm.

There are many more examples, from gambling regulators forcing credit processing companies to stopping unlawful online gambling transactions—without a clear definition of “unlawful” in this context—to immigration authorities deputizing employers to confirm potential employees’ immigration status.

In each of these cases, the executive is essentially requiring businesses to deploy employees to work for the government, rather than the company. The justification, supposedly to protect consumers from fraud or other abuse by a third party, traditionally has been reserved to the government as part of its law enforcement powers. That’s why the term “deputizing” is so appropriate—the government is making businesses into its policemen. The only difference is it will charge them with a crime if they don’t agree. No wonder the easy way out is just to stop doing business with the third party at all.

This is a disturbing and unprecedented tendency. It’s time that we put a stop to it, before we all end up working for the government whether we like it or not. Next time, it won’t just be dodgy online pharmacies or payday lenders that are in the crosshairs, but anyone or anything the government of the day doesn’t like or understand. In a world where you can’t do business because the government has its nose in everything, innovation will grind to a halt much like the Western movie genre.

19 Aug 04:00

By the Numbers: How Dangerous Is It to Be a Cop?


Defenders of police militarization such as that on display in Ferguson, Missouri, often claim that it’s necessary to provide military gear to cops, given how dangerous law enforcement has become.

Indeed, in the name of the War on Terror and theWar on Drugs, the federal government has provided thousands of pieces of military-grade body armor, mine-resistant armored personnel carriers, assault rifles, grenade launchers, helicopters, and night-vision goggles to local police and sheriffs. Almost every county in America has received equipment from these programs.

But has policing really become so dangerous that we need to arm peace officers like an invading army? The answer is no. It's never been safer to be a cop.

To start with, few police officers die in the line of duty. Since 1900, only 18,781 police officers have died from any work-related injury. That's an average of 164 a year. In absolute terms, officer fatalities peaked in 1930 (during alcohol prohibition) at 297, spiking again in the 1970s before steadily declining since.

If you look at police fatalities adjusted for the U.S. population, the decline is even starker. 2013 was the safest year for American policing since 1875.

In 2013, out of 900,000 sworn officers, just 100 died from a job-related injury. That's about 11.1 per 100,000, or a rate of 0.01%.

Policing doesn't even make it into the top 10 most dangerous American professions. Logging has a fatality rate 11 times higher, at 127.8 per 100,000. Fishing: 117 per 100,000. Pilot/flight engineer: 53.4 per 100,000. It's twice as dangerous to be a truck driver as a cop—at 22.1 per 100,000.

Another point to bear in mind is that not all officer fatalities are homicides. Out of the 100 deaths in 2013, 31 were shot, 11 were struck by a vehicle, 2 were stabbed, and 1 died in a "bomb-related incident." Other causes of death were: aircraft accident (1), automobile accident (28), motorcycle accident (4), falling (6), drowning (2), electrocution (1), and job-related illness (13).

Even assuming that half these deaths were homicides, policing would have a murder rate of 5.55 per 100,000, comparable to the average murder rate of U.S. cities: 5.6 per 100,000. It's more dangerous to live in Baltimore (35.01 murders per 100,000 residents) than to be a cop in 2014.

This is not to say that police officers do not have a difficult job. They certainly do. They’re required to have daily contact with drunks, the mentally disabled, and criminal suspects. Arrests can often lead to physical confrontation, assault, and sometimes injury. Police are constantly dragged into families' and neighbors' petty squabbles. It can be a stressful and sometimes thankless task.

But it just isn't unusually deadly or dangerous—and it’s safer today than ever before. The data do not justify the kinds of armor, weapons, insecurity, and paranoia being displayed by police across the country. Short of an outbreak of land-mine-related crimes in America's heartland, there's no reason to deploy mine-resistant vehicles and .50 caliber machine guns to rural sheriffs departments.

Instead of hiding behind gas masks, how about putting cops back on the beat and talking to the community? Instead of M16s and grenade launchers, how about dashboard and body cameras, which have been shown to reduce excessive force and improve officer safety? I bet Mike Brown's family wishes St. Louis County had considered that, rather than being dazzled by shiny new toys from the Pentagon.

Update: My estimate for the rate of police murders was probably too high. I assumed for the sake of argument that half of the 100 police fatalities in 2013 were murders, because the FBI hasn't released numbers yet for how many were felony killings. But the average from 2003-2012 shows that felony killings accounted for only a third (34%) of all officers fatalities. That would make the murder rate for police in 2013 something closer to 3.77 per 100,000, well below the national average.

21 Aug 11:46

The Decline And Fall Of The American Empire

by Kate

109,631,000 Americans lived in households that received benefits from one or more federally funded "means-tested programs" -- also known as welfare -- as of the fourth quarter of 2012, according to data released Tuesday by the Census Bureau.

h/t peterj

16 Aug 14:33

July temperatures sideways as Gore error trajectory continues upwards

by admin

For 21 months straight, global mean temperatures have been below the 3°C per century increase projected by the IPCC, and Mr Gore’s forecast turning point is nowhere to be seen. We wonder whether Mr Gore’s investment predictions in his August 6 op-ed in the London Financial Times are of the same caliber. For the latest temperature data and progress on the Climate Bet, see the updated chart to the right.

21 Aug 14:35

Obamacare Is A Disaster For Businesses, Philly Fed Finds

by Tyler Durden

h/t Jts5665

Remember all those allegations that Obamacare would be an unmitigated disaster for businesses, especially smaller companies? Well, now we have proof.

As the Philly Fed, which mysteriously soared at the headline level even as the vast majority of its components tumbled, reported moments ago, "in special questions this month, firms were asked qualitative questions about the effects of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and how, if at all, they are making changes to their employment and compensation, including benefits."

What the survey found was very disturbing: not only did businesses report that as a result of Obamacare the number of workers they employ is lower than higher (18.2% vs 3.0%), that there has been an increase in part time jobs (18.2% higher vs 1.5% lower), leading to a big increase in outsourcing and most importantly, Obamacare costs are being largely passed on to customers (28.8% reporting higher vs 0.0% lower), the punchline was that while there is basically no change in the number of employees covered (17.6% higher vs 14.7% lower and 67.6% unchanged), there has been a big jump in Premiums, Deductibles, Out-of-pocket maximums, and Copays, which has been "matched" by a far greater reduction in the range of medical coverage and the size of the network.

In short a disaster.

And what's worse, this sentiment will persist long after the current subprime auto loan-driven manufacturing renaissance is long forgotten.

21 Aug 00:14

50 Years Of Political Polarization In One Chart

by Tyler Durden

h/t Jts5665

King County, Texas has seen the biggest shift in political preferences of all US counties since 1960 according to WaPo; but as io9's Mark Strauss notes reveal that during the last two decades, this is not unusual - an increasing number of Americans have chosen to veer Right or Left in their political orientation - with almost no center ground. That trend becomes especially apparent when looking at U.S. election results, county-by-county, since 1960.


As WaPo reports,

We also identified the two counties that changed the most and least between 1960 and 2012. Wyoming County, N.Y., has voted 30-plus percentage points more Republican than the rest of the country in basically every election since John Kennedy first won. King County, Tex., however, has gotten remarkably more conservative.

This is how every single county in the United States has voted vs. the national average since 1960.


The redder the red, the more Republican the county voted than the rest of the country. The bluer the blue, the more Democratic it voted.

Source: The Washington Post

19 Aug 04:05

In Praise of Efficient Price Gouging

Uber’s most important innovation is the way it prices its services. But that innovation has not been unreservedly welcomed by customers. They’re wrong.

21 Aug 15:56

That Time of Year: TOR's Year in Review

Hey! It’s kinda, sorta the one year anniversary for The Old Reader. I know, some of you have been using The Old Reader since 2012. But the current team took over just a year ago. And now we’re going to celebrate, have some cake, and reminisce.

When we first got involved, there was a lot of mystery about who we were. This blog initially only said that a “a new corporate entity in the United States” was going to take over and improve the service.

We didn’t mean to be so mysterious. We were a new company ourselves. Levee Labs is our web application company. It’s the kind of work we’ve been doing since the late 90’s before starting our own shop a few years ago.


Like most people who used TOR, we were sad when we heard that the founders, Elena and Dmitry, planned to shut it down because the volume of users was overwhelming. However, they were willing to sell the application as long as the new owners had the same values and attitudes along with the technical ability to improve the application’s availability. I like to think we’ve delivered on both.

Our first priority was to handle traffic spikes better. We’ve been building high volume, highly scalable web apps for a long time, so we knew a lot about that particular problem. In the first few months, a lot of what we did was backend stuff to improve the architecture and performance.

Thanks to all of you who hung with us while we moved all of the data 5,000 miles to our new infrastructure.

Next came the new features. We’ve added a number of new social sharing features as well as usability features. Social sharing features like Starred items and Send To allow you you to highlight and share posts from The Old Reader for friends or social media. We also added the bookmarklet feature to send a copy of any web page to your TOR account.

A lot of these are features you’ve all been asking for, while other are just things we think are cool. More recently, we added Spritz to help you read faster. And of course, we have grown the list of apps to make your Old Reader feed available everywhere, as with the most recent, Reeder for iOS and Mac.

Of course, the biggest change was in February when we rolled out Premium accounts for The Old Reader. This was the biggest risk of all, but I am happy to say it has worked out. TOR now has well over a half million users and thousands of Premium users.

Premium isn’t just way to make sure the service is viable for the foreseeable future. It’s what lets us keep the service available without resorting to the ads, feed manipulation, data mining, sponsored content, and all of the crap that pollutes social media and other online services. We’ll also keep rolling out new Premium features to make the service even more valuable. 

Reading this, I am immensely proud of what we’ve accomplished. But know that we’re not even close to done. We’ve got a lot of stuff in the works, big and small. It should be a fun year. 

Now, back to cake.

14 Aug 19:10

"Don't Shoot!"

by Tyler Durden

h/t Jts5665

Presented with no comment...



h/t @Russian_Market

13 Aug 17:58

ACLU and National Media Intervene in Mann v Steyn et al

by Steve McIntyre

I get the sense that the Washington libel community and U.S. national media have belatedly woken up to the potential threat of Mann v Steyn and that the tide is now starting to run strongly against Mann in the anti-SLAPP proceedings. The most visible evidence of this is an impressive Amici brief from the ACLU and an imposing list of 25 other media organizations (the Reporters Committee for Press Freedom, the American Society of News Editors, the Association of American Publishers, the Association of Alternative Newsmedia (The Village Voice et al), NBC Universal, Bloomberg News, the publishers of USA Today, Time, The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times, The Detroit Free Press, The Seattle Times, The Arizona Republic and The Bergen County Record) filed on August 11, 2014.

In addition, Steyn’s own Amicus brief substantially upped the ante on a separate front. It repeatedly and directly accused Mann of submitting “fraudulent” information to the court and commented adversely on “the ease with which Mann lies about things that would not withstand ten minutes of scrutiny in a courtroom”.

Other briefs are by CEI; National Review, the District of Columbia, the Alliance Defending Freedom; the Cato Institute, Goldwater Institute, Reason magazine and David Horowitz’s Individual Rights Foundation;, The Daily Caller, PJ Media, The New Criterion and various Internet publishers.

The Brief by ACLU and 25 Others
On some points, the ACLU brief takes a pretty similar line to that previously taken by National Review and CEI, but it presents some interesting fresh nuances and authorities. I won’t attempt to precis the brief as it is well written and worth reading, though readers uninterested in the procedural details of anti-SLAPP litigation would do well to skip to section II of the brief (commencing on page 12).

They asserted that the “challenged publications bear all the traditional hallmarks of opinion” and that “permitting such a defamation claim to proceed will substantially chill speech that challenges scientific conclusions, as well as public policies based on them.”

They observe:

Mann essentially complains that the defendants accused him of manipulating data, including by molesting and torturing it, to serve a political agenda. … Because the statements are quintessential opinions about the validity of Mann’s scientific methods and conclusions, they are entitled to full constitutional protection.

The ACLU brief provides detailed commentary on the range of abusive commentary in scientific disputes that courts have found to be permissible, concluding that the commentary in this case was within permissible limits.

In subsection II(D) (page 20), the ACLU et al provide an interesting and, in my opinion, compelling argument against Mann’s claim that the defendants were obliged to accept the findings of the various government agencies – a topic that I’ve focused on in my previous commentary.

CA readers are aware that Mann’s claim to have been “exonerated” by Muir Russell, Oxburgh, NOAA and the UK Government are untrue (“fraudulent” is Steyn’s term), but ACLU’s argument is different: they say that “punishing defendants’ speech because Mann’s work had been backed by other scientists or governmental agencies is contrary to core First Amendment principles”.

They first counsel the court against getting embroiled in trying to resolve scientific questions, no matter how authoritative the apparent support for the scientific assertion – advice that any court would undoubtedly be willing to heed.

The ACLU et al also unambiguously said that any reliance given by the Superior Court to supposed vindications or exonerations by governmental agencies was an “error” and that such government agencies did not give Mann the right to “silence his critics in a defamation claim”:

Furthermore, to the extent the Superior Court credited Mann’s assertion that investigations by the EPA, the National Science Foundation, and Penn State, among other scientific and governmental bodies, “laid to rest” defendants’ questions regarding Mann’s research, Am. Compl. ¶ 24, this too was in error. See also July 19, 2013 Orders at 16 (suggesting that statements were actionable because “Plaintiff’s work has been investigated and substantiated on numerous occasions”). The fact that certain official panels backed Mann’s methodology – facts that were not only disclosed in the challenged publications but in fact formed the basis for them – cannot allow him to silence his critics in a defamation claim. Under the First Amendment, the government is not the final arbiter of truth with the power to foreclose further challenge to its policies.11

In footnote 11, the Amici unambiguously supported defendants’ right to disagree with the findings of government inquiries, describing the right to such disagreement as fundamental to the First Amendment. In doing so, they observed that the defendants had provided substantive criticism of the procedures of the investigative bodies:

11 Indeed, if the First Amendment and case law interpreting it stand for anything, it must be that disagreement with findings of government and quasi-government bodies are fully protected. Here, defendants criticized the investigative bodies as, variously, lacking independence, failing to interview a relevant witness and therefore being too limited in scope, and being overly reliant on evidence provided by Mann’s employers, who had “so much at stake.” See Am. Compl., Ex. A.

In the next footnote, they pointed out that Mann’s pleadings had omitted the relevant information that the commentaries had disclosed that the government agencies had sided with Mann (while disagreeing with the agencies) and had provided hyperlinks to the criticized agency reports thereby permitting readers to form their own conclusions:

In this regard, Mann’s description of the commentaries omits that they disclose that governmental agencies had in fact sided with him while also criticizing those official findings. That background is described in their text – and, in some instances, through hyperlinked sources – thereby allowing readers to formulate their own judgments about the opinions expressed. See, e. g., Boley, supra, 950 F. Supp. 2d at 262 (hyperlinking to an earlier article provided “the necessary context for the allegedly defamatory remark”); Abbas, supra, 975 F. Supp. 2d at 18 & n. 7 (finding hyperlinks were sufficient to disclose background for fair comment privilege); Agora, Inc. v. Axxess, Inc., 90 F. Supp. 2d 697, 704-05 (D. Md. 2000) (dismissing defamation claim based on facts disclosed through hyperlinks), aff’d, 11 F. App’x 99 (4th Cir. 2001); Adelson v. Harris, 973 F. Supp. 2d 467, 483 (S. D. N. Y. 2013) (relying on a hyperlink to a report about an official proceeding in dismissing a defamation claim).

The ACLU brief closes:

At bottom, a participant in the “rough-and-tumble” of public debate should not be able to use a lawsuit like this to silence his critics, regardless of whether one agrees with Mann or defendants. See Guilford Transp. Indus., supra, 760 A. 2d at 595-96 (endorsing Voltaire’s philosophy, “‘I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,'” which “anticipatorily articulated the spirit of our First Amendment”). The “law certainly does not insist” that a speaker “look kindly on [his] subjects,” nor that a plaintiff “simply by filing suit and crying ‘character assassination!,'” may “silence those who hold divergent views, no matter how adverse those views may be to plaintiffs’ interests.” Underwager v. Salter, 22 F. 3d 730, 736 (7th Cir. 1994). Rather, as the Seventh Circuit eloquently put it, expressing a sentiment echoed by other courts: “Scientific controversies must be settled by the methods of science rather than by the methods of litigation. More papers, more discussion, better data, and more satisfactory models – not larger awards of damages – mark the path toward superior understanding of the world around us.” Id. (citation omitted).13

Steyn’s Brief
Steyn’s brief (noted up together with the other briefs in Steyn’s blogpost here is far more direct in its allegations against Mann than previous pleadings, repeatedly describing claims and assertions in Mann’s previous pleadings as “fraudulent”.

Steyn rubbed salt into Mann’s false claim to have been a Nobel Prize winner and the imaginary tort of defaming a Nobel Prize winner, describing Mann’s priod claim as a “fraudulent misrepresentation”:

Mann’s fraudulent misrepresentation of his credentials and academic standing later earned him a rebuke from Geir Lundestad, director of the Nobel Institute in Oslo. One can well understand why the exposure of Mann’s fraudulent claim should cause him embarrassment but it should surely not justify resetting the procedural clock back to the beginning on this case, which is what in effect happened.

Steyn repeatedly used the term “fraudulent”, also using phrases like “the audacity of the falsehoods in Mann’s court pleadings is breathtaking” and that it was “deeply disturbing that a plaintiff should make such fraudulent claims in his legal pleadings”:

In his later court filings, Mann has made equally preposterous and objectively false claims. For example, Mann has claimed that he has been “exonerated” by such bodies as the University of East Anglia, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency, and even by the government of the United Kingdom, none of which have investigated Dr Mann at all, never mind “exonerated” him.

The audacity of the falsehoods in Mann’s court pleadings is breathtaking. For example, on page 19 of his brief below dated January 18, 2013, he cites the international panel chaired by the eminent scientist Lord Oxburgh, FRS as one of the bodies that “exonerated” him, whereas on page 235 of Mann’s own book, The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars , he states explicitly that “our own work did not fall within the remit of the committee, and the hockey stick was not mentioned in the report.” It is deeply disturbing that a plaintiff should make such fraudulent claims in his legal pleadings.

Steyn added:

It is clear from the ease with which Mann lies about things that would not withstand ten minutes of scrutiny in a courtroom that he has no intention of proceeding to trial.

All in all, it seems to me that Mann is facing far more formidable opposition than in any of the previous hearings, both from the ACLU et al intervention and from increasingly formidable defendant briefs. Mann presumably chose DC as a forum because he thought that it would favor him, but appears to have overlooked the possibility of intervention by the ACLU and national media. I can’t imagine that the DC Appeals Court will want the quixotic decision by J Combs-Greene (mostly adopted by J Weisberg) to represent the public face of DC libel law and I anticipate a different decision.