B12 Solipsism

Spreading confusion over the internet since 1994

Chicago Avenue Bridge is For Sale

Chicago Avenue Bridge For Sale
Chicago Avenue Bridge For Sale

The funny thing is that this isn’t a joke! 

Loop North News reports:

 According to a public notice on the city’s website, the Chicago Avenue Bridge over the north branch of the Chicago River is available to anyone who will remove it at their expense, maintain it, and assume all financial responsibility.

 Otherwise, the bridge is expected to be demolished so that a non-movable concrete and steel bridge can be built.

The city is asking interested parties to send a letter by July 13 detailing means of funding, how the bridge will be moved, how quickly it will be moved, and where it will be moved to.

The current bridge at Chicago Avenue, a pony truss bascule bridge, opened to traffic in 1912, replacing a swing bridge that had been there since 1849. It was one of the first of the Chicago River bridges to have an operator house made of concrete and not wood. According to a 1911 report by Chicago Department of Public Works, the city intended to eventually build a subway under Chicago Avenue, and so the Chicago Avenue Bridge was specially designed to accommodate future construction of a double subway tunnel.

Today, with its rusted surfaces, broken lights, and loose wire, the bridge has suffered from lack of regular maintenance, according to Ward Miller, executive director of Preservation Chicago.

 

 

(click here to continue reading City offers Chicago Avenue Bridge free to good home – Loop North News.)

A shame that something engineered so well it lasted over 100 years is going to be discarded because the City has other priorities. 

Oxidized Infrastructure
Oxidized Infrastructure

Chicago Avenue Bridge
Chicago Avenue Bridge

The Days Fell On Their Knees
The Days Fell On Their Knees

Easier To Think
Easier To Think

Carter H Harrison Mayor marker  Chicago Avenue Bridge
Carter H Harrison Mayor marker – Chicago Avenue Bridge (I think. Maybe Grand Ave?)

Written by Seth Anderson

June 19th, 2018 at 6:33 pm

Posted in Chicago-esque

Tagged with , ,

Facebook conducting mass surveillance through its apps

Surveillance Society  Halsted and Division Edition
Surveillance Society – Halsted and Division Edition

The Guardian reports:

Facebook used its apps to gather information about users and their friends, including some who had not signed up to the social network, reading their text messages, tracking their locations and accessing photos on their phones, a court case in California alleges.

The claims of what would amount to mass surveillance are part of a lawsuit brought against the company by the former startup Six4Three, listed in legal documents filed at the superior court in San Mateo as part of a court case that has been ongoing for more than two years.

A Facebook spokesperson said that Six4Three’s “claims have no merit, and we will continue to defend ourselves vigorously”.

The allegations about surveillance appear in a January filing, the fifth amended complaint made by Six4Three. It alleges that Facebook used a range of methods, some adapted to the different phones that users carried, to collect information it could use for commercial purposes.

“Facebook continued to explore and implement ways to track users’ location, to track and read their texts, to access and record their microphones on their phones, to track and monitor their usage of competitive apps on their phones, and to track and monitor their calls,” one court document says.

(click here to continue reading Facebook accused of conducting mass surveillance through its apps | Technology | The Guardian.)

This is Facebook’s business model though, so what exactly are they going to argue? No, we don’t collect data on our users and then use this information to sell advertising to corporations? 

The one detail that is the most disturbing1 is that Facebook did this for people who weren’t Facebook users. How did these people consent? How do they request their data? How do they update their privacy settings?

Footnotes:
  1. and we’ve noted it previously []

Written by Seth Anderson

May 30th, 2018 at 9:06 am

Letter of Recommendation: Drinking at Lunch Is A Good Thing

Bringing In the New Cheer
Bringing In the New Cheer

Adam Sternbergh of The New York Times reports on a topic dear to my heart:

I may be wrong, but my hunch is that, when you go out for lunch with colleagues or even just office friends, you don’t order a martini, let alone three. I’ll wager you don’t order a beer, a glass of wine or a brandy-soaked cherries jubilee. That’s because, a few decades after the heyday of the notorious “three-martini lunch,” the act of ordering even one measly martini with your lunch on a workday is viewed as roughly equivalent to pulling out your heroin works and splaying them on the table between courses.

Would it surprise you to learn that the three-martini lunch was once such a staple of the American workday that it was celebrated by the former President Gerald Ford in 1978? Addressing the National Restaurant Association, Ford called the practice “the epitome of American efficiency. Where else can you get an earful, a bellyful and a snootful at the same time?” The three-martini lunch may be remembered as an anachronistic ritual during which backslapping company men escaped a swallowing sense of existential pointlessness. But Ford’s joke about efficiency ironically suggests exactly why the martini-at-lunch disappeared: not because of some renewed sense of temperance but because of our ascendant obsession with cramming every minute of our day with work.

When the Italian brewer Birra Moretti commissioned a poll in 2011 on daytime drinking habits among American workers, it found that, whereas nearly half of Italians reported they were “inclined” to have a drink with lunch, only 20 percent of Americans reported the same inclination.

This might explain how we’ve arrived at this improbable moment when microdosing LSD in order to increase workplace productivity is, in some precincts, more professionally acceptable than having a glass of wine. But it’s not LSD that has replaced our midday cocktails; it’s that other modern intoxicant: productivity.

(click here to continue reading Letter of Recommendation: Drinking at Lunch – The New York Times.)

Classic Martini  Hendrick s
Classic Martini – Hendrick’s

As someone who has been self-employed for a while, I don’t have a compunction about day drinking, when appropriate. If I’m meeting a prospective new client, and they are open to having a glass of wine with lunch, I’ll join them, but I won’t be the first to order it. However, if I’m the one being wooed by a prospective new business associate, wine with lunch is absolutely encouraged, or beer if sushi is on the menu. If I’m lunching with associates I already know, or eating to brainstorm, or similar kinds of “working lunches”, again, having a glass or two1 of something is absolutely encouraged. Some meals, I prefer the dose of caffeine of a good green tea, but often will also order an alcoholic beverage for after. 

21st C.E. Americans are weird though. This nation was founded on strong ale, cider, and eventually rye whiskey2 – we should not be adverse to having a tipple in the middle of the day.

Vieux Carré with Armagnac and Few Rye
Vieux Carré with Armagnac and Few Rye

Drinking like Don Draper is not required, you should still be able to go back to work after your meal and not end up on a three day bender.

Martini Hour
Martini Hour

Footnotes:
  1. never more []
  2. look up your early American history, if you’ve forgotten []

Written by Seth Anderson

May 29th, 2018 at 4:33 pm

Posted in Food and Drink

Tagged with ,

Trump donor vows to cut off funding to Republicans who don’t back DACA immigration fix

Screaming In the Night
Screaming In the Night

The Chicago Tribune reports:

Frustrated by congressional gridlock, WeatherTech founder David MacNeil, a megadonor to Donald Trump’s inauguration, said Friday he is cutting off funding to any Republican candidate who doesn’t support pending legislation protecting young immigrants who were brought to the country illegally as children.

“I’m not supporting politicians that aren’t working hard to get this done, from the dogcatcher on up,” MacNeil said by phone from Italy, where he was traveling.

MacNeil, an entrepreneur who built a car floor mat manufacturing empire in south suburban Bolingbrook, donated $1 million to Trump’s January 2017 inauguration. He shares the “made in America” mantra that dominated Trump’s campaign, as well as the call for tighter border security.

But Trump’s September decision to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program has hit home for MacNeil, who has at least two people covered by the program among the 1,600 employees at WeatherTech.

(click here to continue reading WeatherTech founder, a Trump donor, vows to cut off funding to Republicans who don’t back DACA immigration fix – Chicago Tribune.)

I’d be more sympathetic to this dude if he put his money where his mouth is, and supported the party that actually does support a DACA immigration fix: the Democratic Party. But for Mr. MacNeil, the other parts of the Republican agenda are just fine: shredding the social safety net, reversing Roe vs. Wade, tax cuts for the 1% and corporations, destroying the EPA, etc. etc. But not immigration reform.  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯  

So, uh, yeah, I’m not throwing a party for David MacNeil. 

Written by Seth Anderson

May 29th, 2018 at 10:16 am

Posted in politics

Tagged with , ,

Vermont passes first law to crack down on data brokers

Data Dump
Data Dump

TechCrunch reports:

While Facebook and Cambridge Analytica are hogging the spotlight, data brokers that collect your information from hundreds of sources and sell it wholesale are laughing all the way to the bank. But they’re not laughing in Vermont, where a first-of-its-kind law hems in these dangerous data mongers and gives the state’s citizens much-needed protections.

Data brokers in Vermont will now have to register as such with the state; they must take standard security measures and notify authorities of security breaches (no, they weren’t before); and using their data for criminal purposes like fraud is now its own actionable offense.

If you’re not familiar with data brokers, well, that’s the idea. These companies don’t really have a consumer-facing side, instead opting to collect information on people from as many sources as possible, buying and selling it amongst themselves like the commodity it has become.

This data exists in a regulatory near-vacuum. As long as they step carefully, data brokers can maintain what amounts to a shadow profile on consumers. I talked with director of the World Privacy Forum, Pam Dixon, about this practice.

“If you use an actual credit score, it’s regulated under the Fair Credit Reporting Act,” she told me. “But if you take a thousand points like shopping habits, zip code, housing status, you can create a new credit score; you can use that and it’s not discrimination.”

And while medical data like blood tests are protected from snooping, it’s not against the law for a company to make an educated guess your condition from the medicine you pay for at the local pharmacy. Now you’re on a secret list of “inferred” diabetics, and that data gets sold to, for example, Facebook, which combines it with its own metrics and allows advertisers to target it.

(click here to continue reading Vermont passes first law to crack down on data brokers | TechCrunch.)

Exactly why I wish the US would implement its own version of the GDPR that we’ve discussed. Corporations that mine our digital data, and sell it, and resell it, without oversight, or without giving “a taste” to the consumer are corporations that need to be regulated and watched by a consumer protection agency of some kind. Not every consumer is savvy enough to obfuscate their tracks, and honestly, even somewhat savvy consumers are no doubt caught up in these nameless corporations’ databases. Corporations like EquifaxQuotient and Catalina Marketing and a few thousand others don’t really need to use browser cookies anymore, they also use the unique ID of your devices, they track your IP numbers down to your block group, and can track you at home, at office, via phone, via credit card, via geolocation and via other means. I find it Orwellian and creepy.

My sincere wish is that Vermont continues on this path of regulation of the wild, wild web of data brokers, and that other states and the entire country follows suit.

Written by Seth Anderson

May 28th, 2018 at 3:49 pm

Posted in Advertising,Business,government

Tagged with , ,

Trump Tells Congress it Has Deal to Help Out ZTE

Up To 10 1 11 Number of People Dump Chinese Communist Party
Up To 10-1-11, Number of People Dump Chinese Communist Party

The New York Times reports:

The collapse of ZTE would be an embarrassing outcome for China and the company’s fate has become a hurdle in trade negotiations between the two countries. President Trump directed the Commerce Department to re-examine ZTE’s penalty based on a personal request from Chinese president Xi Jinping, triggering a fierce pushback from some of Mr. Trump’s national security advisers, as well as lawmakers from both parties.

Mr. Trump, however, has appeared unmoved by those concerns and has been pushing to reach some type of trade resolution with China, which has so far proved elusive. The administration wants to cut a deal on ZTE in exchange for trade concessions from China, including purchases of American agriculture and energy products, people familiar with the discussions said.

Such an agreement is likely to face fierce resistance on Capitol Hill. Top lawmakers, including Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic senate leader, and Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, have urged the administration not to bend on ZTE, which they consider a law enforcement and national security issue.

“ZTE presents a national security threat to the United States — and nothing in this reported deal addresses that fundamental fact,” Senator Chris Van Hollen, a Maryland Democrat, said in a statement. “If President Trump won’t put our security before Chinese jobs, Congress will act on a bipartisan basis to stop him.”

(click here to continue reading Trump Administration Tells Congress it Has Deal to Revive ZTE – The New York Times.)

Make China Great! Isn’t that what the Trumper hat said?

Pope Doesn t Want to Wear Her Make Donald Drumpf Again Hat for some reason
Pope (RIP) Doesn’t Want to Wear Her Make Donald Drumpf Again Hat for some reason

Especially because the reason why ZTE was penalized is such a talking point of the right wing, trade with Iran and North Korea:

 

 

Last year the US imposed a trade ban on American companies supplying equipment to Chinese telecoms giant ZTE Corp. Now, it appears the two countries are trying to work things out. According to sources briefed on the confidential negotiations, there has been a “handshake deal” between US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Chinese Vice Premier Liu He which will lift the ban that effectively crippled ZTE’s operations.

 

The ban was imposed after ZTE was found to be illegally shipping US goods to Iran and North Korea. The US hit the company with a $1.9 billion fine, and originally agreed to suspend the ban for a three-year probation period. However, after the company was then caught lying about the way it punished those involved in the scandal, the ban was revived.

 

 

(click here to continue reading The US will help save ZTE even though it broke international laws.)

Written by Seth Anderson

May 25th, 2018 at 1:00 pm

Posted in Business,politics

Tagged with ,

U.S. Websites Go Dark in Europe as GDPR Data Rules Kick In

Keystone Chicago Tribune
Keystone – Chicago Tribune

Speaking of the GDPR, the WSJ reports:

Europe’s new privacy law took effect Friday, causing major U.S. news websites to suspend access across the region as data-protection regulators prepare to brandish their new enforcement powers.

Tronc Inc., publisher of the Los Angeles Times, New York Daily News and other U.S. newspapers [Chicago Tribune], was among those that blocked readers in the European Union from accessing sites, as they scrambled to comply with the sweeping regulation.

“We are engaged on the issue and committed to looking at options that support our full range of digital offerings to the EU market,” the company said in notices it displayed when users attempted to access its news sites from the EU on Friday morning.

Others U.S. regional newspapers owned by Lee Enterprises Inc., as well as bookmarking app Instapaper, owned by Pinterest. Inc., were also blocking access in the EU.

The EU’s General Data Protection Regulation foresees steep fines for companies that don’t comply with the new rules, aimed at giving Europe-based users more control over the data companies hold on them.

(click here to continue reading U.S. Websites Go Dark in Europe as GDPR Data Rules Kick In – WSJ.)

Tronc and many other digital news organizations are among the worst offenders of collecting information on consumers. Using this article at the WSJ as an example, Ghostery reports 24 different cookies/trackers being served to a reader, from Facebook, Google, DoubleClick, and so on. I’m a subscriber, and WSJ still allows companies like Bombora to shovel my information into their corporate maws.

Going to a random Chicago Tribune article, say for instance “Let’s hear it for Memorial Day weekend at the beach. Oh, but the litter …”, and Tronc is serving me, a subscriber, 18 cookies/trackers from various entities, like Amazon, Google, and a plethora I’ve never heard of. My print newspaper doesn’t track me like this.

So, I’m not surprised that many news organizations are not in compliance with the new GDPR regulations, I’m only saddened that the US doesn’t have a similar protection for consumers. Savvier consumers can install anti-tracking services, like Ghostery, but what about everyone else?

Written by Seth Anderson

May 25th, 2018 at 9:16 am

Posted in Advertising,Business

Tagged with ,

Trump vents his anger over immigration at Homeland Security secretary

Symphony of White Number 97
Symphony of White, Number 97 

The Washington Post reports:

President Trump began berating Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen in the Oval Office earlier this spring, according to administration officials, griping about her performance and blaming her for a surge in illegal border crossings. 

Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, who installed her in the job, jumped in to defend her. 

The two men then sparred over Nielsen as she silently watched.

[Trump] has also seen her as a proxy for Kelly, whose relationship with the president has frayed in recent months. Trump has decided, according to several aides, that Nielsen is a George W. Bush kind of Republican, the worst in his view.

President Trump walks with Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen during his visit to Joint Interagency Task Force South anti-smuggling center in Key West, Fla., in April. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP) Nielsen has complained that it is almost an impossible task working for Trump, according to administration officials and others familiar with her thinking, and that he doesn’t understand the nuances of immigration law.

…“The president has a very rudimentary understanding of what the border is all about and how you secure it,” said a former DHS staffer who worked closely with Nielsen. “And she’s also not one of the border fire-eaters that have his ear right now. She’s in an impossible, no-win situation.”

Tensions between the two could soon flare again — the Border Patrol’s May arrest numbers are due to be released early next month, and immigration hawks, including the president, now treat them as a kind of barometer for Nielsen’s performance.

Now, five months into her tenure as Homeland Security secretary, the measures Nielsen has implemented — separating families, boosting arrests, increasing prosecutions — have made her a villain to many Democrats and immigrant rights’ groups. 

But they have not delivered the immediate results the president demands. In April, the number of illegal border crossers arrested by U.S. agents topped 50,000 for the second consecutive month. The increase has stripped the president of one of his proudest accomplishments — the sharp drop in illegal migration in the months immediately following his 2016 win.

(click here to continue reading ‘We’re closed!’: Trump vents his anger over immigration at Homeland Security secretary – The Washington Post.)

I have zero sympathy for any of these thugs, Ms. Nielsen included. However, Trump and Kelly seem even worse. What evil people…

The NYT reports about the “pro-lifers” in the White House:

 

A top official with the Department of Health and Human Services told members of Congress on Thursday that the agency had lost track of nearly 1,500 migrant children it placed with sponsors in the United States, raising concerns they could end up in the hands of human traffickers or be used as laborers by people posing as relatives.

 

The official, Steven Wagner, the acting assistant secretary of the agency’s Administration for Children and Families, disclosed during testimony before a Senate homeland security subcommittee that the agency had learned of the missing children after placing calls to the people who took responsibility for them when they were released from government custody.

 

The children were taken into government care after they showed up alone at the Southwest border. Most of the children are from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, and were fleeing drug cartels, gang violence and domestic abuse, government data shows.

 

 

(click here to continue reading Federal Agencies Lost Track of Nearly 1,500 Migrant Children Placed With Sponsors – The New York Times.)

You’d think misplacing 1,500 children would be as big a story as the so-called Fast and Furious pseudo-scandal. But to the right wing, guns are more important than children. If it were 1,500 fetuses, maybe the Fox News team might mention it, but kids and especially immigrant kids are not important to the GOP.

Alice in Wonderland
Alice in Wonderland

And as a parenthetical:

Many senior staffers at DHS were stunned when Nielsen was appointed to lead the department. She had never lead a large organization, let alone one as unwieldy as DHS.

Nielsen, 46, worked as a Homeland Security adviser and DHS staffer under George W. Bush, then spent the Obama years remaking herself as a cybersecurity expert. Her high-level management experience was thin.

When Trump was elected in 2016, Nielsen was running Sunesis Consulting, a firm whose online profile listed her as its lone employee. The company’s business address was a condo in Alexandria. The firm’s phone number, still visible online, is Nielsen’s personal cellphone.

All the best people:

 

Contact Information Sunesis Consulting, LLC 926 N Columbus St Alexandria, VA 22314

 

Contact: Kirstjen Nielsen Title: President Phone: (202) 841-2107 Website: www.sunesisconsultingllc.com

 

Sunesis Consulting, LLC is the only company located at 926 N Columbus St, Alexandria, VA 22314

 

 

(click here to continue reading Sunesis Consulting, LLC in Alexandria, VA – (202) 841-2107 – Profile.)

Written by Seth Anderson

May 25th, 2018 at 8:58 am

EU Privacy Law Enters Into Force

Faux Vintage photo of a real vintage digital camera
Faux Vintage photo of a real vintage digital camera

The NYT/Reuters reports about the GDPR:

New European privacy regulations went into effect on Friday that will force companies to be more attentive to how they handle customer data.

The ramifications were visible from day one, with major U.S.-media outlets including the LA Times and Chicago Tribune were forced to shutter their websites in parts of Europe.

People in the bloc have been bombarded with dozens of emails asking for their consent to keep processing their data, and a privacy activist wasted no time in taking action against U.S. tech giants for allegedly acting illegally by forcing users to accept intrusive terms of service or lose access.

“You have to have a ‘yes or no’ option,” Austrian Max Schrems said before filing complaints in European jurisdictions. “A lot of these companies now force you to consent to the new privacy policy, which is totally against the law.”

(click here to continue reading EU Privacy Law Enters Into Force, Activist Takes Aim – The New York Times.)

Amazing really the number of these emails I’ve received. Several are worded in such a way that I did not accept their terms, and assume my account will become dormant. If it was a company I cared to still do business with, I might look a little deeper, but mostly I just shrug and delete.

We first heard about GDPR late last year and only wish the US took consumer privacy as seriously as the EU.

Dreaming Has A Low
Dreaming Has A Low

From December, 2017:

 

Almost a fifth of companies in the marketing and advertising sector would go out of business if they were to be hit by a fine for non-compliance of the new GDPR legislation.

 

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) comes into force in less than one year and covers everything from a consumer’s ‘right to be forgotten’ to data breach notification and accountability. At the heart of the reform in how companies must handle customer data is a fine, standing at €20m or 4% of an company’s global revenue, if they are found to be falling foul.

 

But, in a survey of 187 marketing and advertising companies conducted by YouGov on behalf of law firm Irwin Mitchel, 70% said they wouldn’t be certain of their ability to detect a data breach. Meanwhile, just 37% said they would be equipped to deal with it in the required timescale of three days.

 

 

(click here to continue reading 17% of marketing and advertising agencies would go under if hit with a GDPR fine | The Drum.)

Extraordinary Measures
Extraordinary Measures

A privacy regulation with teeth:

 

With 200-plus pages of regulation set to come into force in May 2018, it formalizes concepts like the “right to be forgotten,” data breach accountability, data portability and more — and is arguably the biggest disruption in the digital space in recent years.

 

Potential fines

 

Simply put, the regulations are being put into place to give individual more rights to their data, but brands and marketers need to get on board beforehand in order to avoid hefty potential fines – up to $24m, or 4% of annual turnover (whichever is the greater sum). Some of the requirements include:

 

  • Requiring consent for data processing
  • Anonymizing collected data to protect privacy
  • Providing data breach notifications
  • Safely handling the transfer of data across borders
  • Requiring certain companies to have a data protection officer to oversee GDPR compliance

 

 

(click here to continue reading What does the EU’s privacy reform mean for US marketers? And what should you do now? | The Drum.)

Written by Seth Anderson

May 25th, 2018 at 8:17 am

Posted in Business

Tagged with ,

Three Reporters Are Turned Away From an E.P.A. Event

Fiji Over Lake Michigan
Fiji Over Lake Michigan

The NYT reports in disgust:

The Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday barred reporters from three news organizations from an event on the impact of toxic chemicals on drinking water at the agency’s headquarters.

The event, during which the E.P.A. administrator Scott Pruitt declared that addressing the impact of a class of man-made chemicals was a “national priority,” came at a time when Mr. Pruitt is the subject of at least 12 federal investigations.

Among those denied entry from the morning session of the planned two-day event was a reporter from The Associated Press, Ellen Knickmeyer. When she requested to speak to an E.P.A. public affairs official, she was “grabbed by the shoulders and shoved out of the building by a security guard,” according to a report from the wire service.

Also turned away were Corbin Hiar, a reporter for E & E News, and Rene Marsh, of CNN, along with a camera operator and a producer from the cable network.

(click here to continue reading Three Reporters Are Turned Away From an E.P.A. Event – The New York Times.)

How is that even acceptable behavior for a thug like Scott Pruitt? In a normal administration, Pruitt would have resigned in disgrace as soon as this despicable action became public, but then in a normal administration, Pruitt would have been fired long ago.

 

Pruitt

via
https://www.gocomics.com/nickanderson/2018/05/23

What was the topic that Pruitt wanted hidden? How polluted our national water supply is, specifically in this case by perfluorinated compounds (PFAS), used mostly in teflon and fire-fighting foam.

As Politico reported:

Scott Pruitt’s EPA and the White House sought to block publication of a federal health study on a nationwide water-contamination crisis, after one Trump administration aide warned it would cause a “public relations nightmare,” newly disclosed emails reveal.

The intervention early this year — not previously disclosed — came as HHS’ Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry was preparing to publish its assessment of a class of toxic chemicals that has contaminated water supplies near military bases, chemical plants and other sites from New York to Michigan to West Virginia.

The study would show that the chemicals endanger human health at a far lower level than EPA has previously called safe, according to the emails.

“The public, media, and Congressional reaction to these numbers is going to be huge,” one unidentified White House aide said in an email forwarded on Jan. 30 by James Herz, a political appointee who oversees environmental issues at the OMB. The email added: “The impact to EPA and [the Defense Department] is going to be extremely painful. We (DoD and EPA) cannot seem to get ATSDR to realize the potential public relations nightmare this is going to be.”

More than three months later, the draft study remains unpublished, and the HHS unit says it has no scheduled date to release it for public comment. Critics say the delay shows the Trump administration is placing politics ahead of an urgent public health concern — something they had feared would happen after agency leaders like Pruitt started placing industry advocates in charge of issues like chemical safety.

(click here to continue reading White House, EPA headed off chemical pollution study – POLITICO.)

MAGA, I guess. Probably good news for Nestlé ?

Written by Seth Anderson

May 23rd, 2018 at 9:39 am

Posted in environment,government

Tagged with , ,

China has called Trump’s bluff

Storing Wheat  Agfa Scala 200
Storing Soy – Agfa Scala 200

The NYT reports:

China has called President Trump’s bluff.

Chinese negotiators left Washington this weekend with a significant win: a willingness by the Trump administration to hold off for now on imposing tariffs on up to $150 billion in Chinese imports. China gave up little in return, spurning the administration’s nudges for a concrete commitment to buy more goods from the United States, and avoiding limits on its efforts to build new high-tech Chinese industries.

China’s propaganda machine took a victory lap after the talks, proclaiming that a strong challenge from the United States had been turned aside, at least for now. “Whether in Beijing or Washington, in the face of the unreasonable demands of the United States, the Chinese government has always resolutely fought back, never compromised, and did not accept the restrictions set by the other side,” the official Xinhua news service said in a commentary on Sunday.

In a cheeky expression of China’s rising power, two juxtaposed photos were widely circulated on Chinese social media, a post that was shared (but later deleted) by the Communist Youth League. One photo was taken during the trade talks in Washington, appearing, if somewhat biasedly, to trumpet the youthfulness of Chinese delegates compared to American lawmakers. Another, dated from 1901, showed the opposite as representatives from China and colonial powers signed an accord to end the Boxer Rebellion, considered a national humiliation.

(click here to continue reading Trump’s Charm and Threats May Not Be Working on China. Here’s Why. – The New York Times.)

Like so many of the other self-given descriptions of the Orange Dotard, the Best Negotiator is a lousy deal maker. 

China gave up nothing, and Russian farmers got a big sale of soy beans that American farmers lost. Heck of a job, Trumpie…

Wheel of Life
Wheel of Life

As Bloomberg reported:

 

China, the world’s biggest soybean importer, almost tripled purchases from Russia amid a trade dispute with the U.S., the biggest producer.

 

Russia sold about 850,000 metric tons of soybeans to China from the start of the 12-month season in July through mid-May, according to Russia’s agriculture agency Rosselkhoznadzor. That’s more than during any season before and compares with about 340,000 tons sold during all of the previous period, Chinese customs data show.

China has already canceled several shipments from the U.S. in anticipation of tariffs on the country’s products. While Brazil is expected to take much of that market share, Russia is also benefiting.

 

 

(click here to continue reading China Buys Record Amount of Russian Soy as It Shuns U.S. Growers – Bloomberg.)

Written by Seth Anderson

May 21st, 2018 at 2:04 pm

Posted in Business,politics

Tagged with , ,

House Farm Bill Collapses Amid Republican Disarray

Smiling Tractors Sometimes
Smiling Tractors Sometimes

The NYT reports:

The factional rancor threatening Republicans heading into the midterm elections this fall erupted into the open on Friday when a slugfest among moderates, hard-line conservatives and House leaders over immigration and welfare policy sank the party’s multiyear farm bill.

The twice-a-decade measure — which would have imposed strict new work requirements on food aid recipients while maintaining farm subsidies important to rural lawmakers — failed on a 213-to-198 vote. It was a rebuke of Speaker Paul D. Ryan by a key bloc of conservatives over his refusal to schedule an immediate vote on a restrictive immigration bill sponsored by the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

Republican moderates, for their part, were moving in the opposite direction, shrugging off the pleas of their leaders as they worked toward forcing votes on legislation to protect from deportation young immigrants brought to the country illegally as children.

The fights were striking, not only because of their intensity but also because of the participants. Capitol Hill has grown used to altercations between Republican leaders and their adamant right flank — showdowns that have shut down the government and edged the government toward defaulting on its debt. But in past fights, the party’s moderates have proved compliant.

This time, with their districts dominating the Democrats’ target list for the coming midterm races, the moderates are holding firm to their own demands.

(click here to continue reading House Farm Bill Collapses Amid Republican Disarray – The New York Times.)

More Congressional disfunction, and with no easy solution, at least until the 2018 elections. Paul Ryan has no “juice” left, as he’s a lame duck. He actually should go ahead and resign his Speakership now.

Hay Bales
Hay Bales

Tom Philpott of Mother Jones adds a little context:

 

Back in 2016, the Republican Party won the presidency and both chambers of Congress with strong support in rural areas, particularly among farmers. But since that triumph, the Grand Old Party hasn’t exactly been a champion of rural interests. As I’ve written in recent months, President Donald Trump’s crackdown on immigration is essentially an attack on the workers who keep America’s farms and many rural towns humming. And his trade belligerence with China and Mexico amount to near-surgical strikes against farmers who supported him in California, the Southeast, and the Midwest’s corn and soybean belt.

 

In the middle of this drama, Congress is tasked with renewing the farm bill—twice-a-decade legislation that shapes US agriculture and food-aid policy. Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas), chair of the House Agriculture Committee, hopes to bring his version to a vote on the House floor this week. Let us count the ways it would bring pain to the US heartland:

The US House of Representatives voted down the farm bill this morning by a margin of 198-213. The Washington Post called it a “major embarrassment to GOP leaders” like outgoing House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who had hotly promoted the bill. In a Thursday Twitter thread, I laid out the political dynamics that ultimately killed the bill. It remains unclear whether the House Agriculture Committee chair, Rep. Mike Conaway (R.-Texas), will attempt to bring it back to the floor for another vote. House Democrats, who universally opposed the bill, hailed the failure as a victory for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which the bill would have effectively cut. Here’s Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.)

 

 

(click here to continue reading The House Farm Bill Just Failed – Mother Jones.)

Wisconsin countryside
Wisconsin countryside

and from that referenced WaPo article, the bill is dead anyway, as the Senate is not even close to accepting the House version:

 

 

A sweeping farm bill failed in the House on Friday in a blow to GOP leaders who were unable to placate conservative lawmakers demanding commitments on immigration.

 

The House leadership put the bill on the floor gambling it would pass despite unanimous Democratic opposition. They negotiated with members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus up to the last minutes.

 

But their gamble failed. The vote was 213 to 198, with 30 Republicans joining 183 Democrats in defeating the bill.

 

The outcome exposed what is becoming an all-out war within the House GOP over immigration, a divisive fight the Republicans did not want to have heading into midterm elections in November that will decide control of Congress.

The House farm bill would have been a non-starter anyway in the Senate, which is writing its own farm bill. Any legislation that ultimately makes it to Trump’s desk will have to look more like the version in the Senate, where bipartisan support will be necessary for anything to pass and there is not sufficient support for the food-stamp changes.

 

 

(click here to continue reading In blow to GOP, House fails to pass massive farm bill in face of conservative Republican showdown – The Washington Post.)

Sad that these are the supposed leaders of our country, and they can’t get anything accomplished. I blame gerrymandered districts…

Written by Seth Anderson

May 20th, 2018 at 1:27 pm

Posted in Food and Drink,government,politics

Tagged with , ,

Trump personally pushed postmaster general to double rates on Amazon

Post Office Gilbert Ark
Post Office Gilbert Ark

The Washington Post reports:

President Trump has personally pushed U.S. Postmaster General Megan Brennan to double the rate the Postal Service charges Amazon.com and other firms to ship packages, according to three people familiar with their conversations, a dramatic move that probably would cost these companies billions of dollars.

Brennan has so far resisted Trump’s demand, explaining in multiple conversations occurring this year and last that these arrangements are bound by contracts and must be reviewed by a regulatory commission, the three people said. She has told the president that the Amazon relationship is beneficial for the Postal Service and gave him a set of slides that showed the variety of companies, in addition to Amazon, that also partner for deliveries.

Despite these presentations, Trump has continued to level criticism at Amazon. And last month, his critiques culminated in the signing of an executive order mandating a government review of the financially strapped Postal Service that could lead to major changes in the way it charges Amazon and others for package delivery.

Few U.S. companies have drawn Trump’s ire as much as Amazon, which has rapidly grown to be the second-largest U.S. company in terms of market capitalization. For more than three years, Trump has fumed publicly and privately about the giant commerce and services company and its founder Jeffrey P. Bezos, who is also the owner of The Washington Post.

Trump’s attacks on Amazon date to 2015, when he accused Bezos of using The Post as a tax shelter to allow Amazon to avoid paying taxes, a false accusation. (Amazon is a publicly traded company, and The Post, wholly owned by Bezos, is private. The companies’ finances are not intermingled. The Post’s editors and Bezos also have declared that he is not involved in any journalistic decisions.)

Bezos responded to Trump’s 2015 attack with a tweet.

“Finally trashed by @realDonaldTrump. Will still reserve him a seat on the Blue Origin rocket. #sendDonaldtospace,” Bezos, who owns a space company, tweeted in December 2015.

This angered Trump, who at the time was fighting for credibility during the GOP primary.

(click here to continue reading Trump personally pushed postmaster general to double rates on Amazon, other firms – The Washington Post.)

It isn’t that Amazon irks Trump, it is that the Washington Post is reporting on Trump’s (mal)administration, and by the transitive property, since Jeff Bezos owns the Washington Post, and is a majority owner/founder of Amazon, Trump is angry at Amazon. 

Bezos is no saint, the USPS certainly has issues, the Washington Post has published plenty of ignorant or misleading articles over the years, but there is no reason Trump should be foaming at the mouth like this towards a corporation, much less a journalistic institution like the Washington Post.

The Irony of Freedom
The Irony of Freedom

Written by Seth Anderson

May 19th, 2018 at 7:49 am

Posted in Business,government

Tagged with , , ,

Illinois Supreme Court to weigh tax exemption for not-for-profit hospitals

Window Washers at The Peter Gilgan Centre for Research and Learning
Window Washers at The Peter Gilgan Centre for Research and Learning

The Chicago Tribune reports on a story we’ve been following for a while:

The state’s highest court will weigh the constitutionality of a law that lets not-for-profit hospitals skip paying property taxes — a question with potentially hundreds of millions of dollars at stake.

Current law says that not-for-profit hospitals in Illinois don’t have to pay property taxes as long as the value of their charitable services is at least equal to what they would otherwise pay in taxes. About three-fourths of the state’s more than 200 hospitals are not-for-profit.

But a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of that law has been working its way through the courts and will be heard Tuesday before the Illinois Supreme Court.

It’s an issue that’s stirred debate in Illinois and across the country, with some saying not-for-profit hospitals operate more like businesses and should have to pay taxes.

(click here to continue reading Illinois Supreme Court to weigh tax exemption for not-for-profit hospitals – Chicago Tribune.)

My position is the same as in previous blog posts: wealthy non-profits shouldn’t be able to avoid paying taxes simply because they sometimes do charitable work. If 100% of a particular hospital’s clients were not required to pay for any services, than perhaps I’d change my opinion. Wealthy non-profits shouldn’t be leeches on society.

Written by Seth Anderson

May 19th, 2018 at 7:19 am

Posted in Business,government,health

Tagged with ,

NRA gathers docs amid scrutiny over ties to Kremlin-linked banker

Buy A Dog Not A Gun
Buy A Dog Not A Gun

CNN reported recently:

The National Rifle Association is setting aside years of documents related to its interactions with a Kremlin-linked banker, as the gun-rights group appears to be bracing for a possible investigation, according to sources familiar with the situation.

The NRA has faced fresh scrutiny from congressional investigators about its finances and ties to Alexander Torshin, one of the 17 prominent Russian government officials the US Treasury Department recently slapped with sanctions. The gun-rights group has said it is reexamining its relationship with Torshin, who is a lifetime NRA member, in the wake of the sanctions. The renewed attention has highlighted the close-knit if sometimes uneasy alliance between top NRA officials and Torshin — a relationship that ensnared members of Trump’s team during the presidential campaign, inviting further congressional scrutiny.

Those inquiries could shed light on the tightly held fundraising practices and political activities of the NRA. The political powerhouse shelled out more than $30 million in 2016 to back Donald Trump’s candidacy — more than it spent on 2008 and 2012 political races combined, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

(click here to continue reading NRA gathers docs amid scrutiny over ties to Kremlin-linked banker – CNNPolitics.)

A deep, longstanding relationship between Russia and the NRA would not surprise me in the slightest. Where does the NRA get all of its funds anyway? Not from individual contributions, the math doesn’t work. At best, the NRA has 5 million members, and allegedly, many of these are inactive.

I find it extremely plausible that the Russians were funneling funds through the willing NRA leadership to help Trump, and other Republicans. 

FCK NRA
FCK NRA

McClatchy reported earlier this year:

The FBI is investigating whether a top Russian banker with ties to the Kremlin illegally funneled money to the National Rifle Association to help Donald Trump win the presidency, two sources familiar with the matter have told McClatchy.

FBI counterintelligence investigators have focused on the activities of Alexander Torshin, the deputy governor of Russia’s central bank who is known for his close relationships with both Russian President Vladimir Putin and the NRA, the sources said.

It is illegal to use foreign money to influence federal elections.

It’s unclear how long the Torshin inquiry has been ongoing, but the news comes as Justice Department Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s sweeping investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election, including whether the Kremlin colluded with Trump’s campaign, has been heating up.

Last February when Torshin visited Washington, Rockefeller heir and conservative patron George O’Neill Jr. hosted a fancy four-hour dinner for the banker on Capitol Hill, an event that drew Rohrabacher, Erickson and other big names on the right. Rohrabacher has labeled Torshin as “conservatives’ favorite Russian,” Torshin was in Washington at the time to lead his country’s delegation to the National Prayer Breakfast, where Trump spoke. The banker also was slated to see the presidentat a meet-and-greet event prior to a White House breakfast, but Torshin’s invitation was canceled after the White House learned of his alleged mob connections, Yahoo News reported.

Torshin’s involvement with the NRA may have begun in 2013 when he attended the group’s convention in Houston. Keene, the ex-NRA leader and an avid hunter, was instrumental in building a relationship with the Russian, according to multiple conservative sources.

Keene also helped lead a high-level NRA delegation to Moscow in December 2015 for a week of lavish meals and meetings with Russian business and political leaders. The week’s festivities included a visit to a Russian gun company and a meeting with a senior Kremlin official and wealthy Russians, according to a member of the delegation, Arnold Goldschlager, a California doctor who has been active in NRA programs to raise large donations.

Others on the trip included Joe Gregory, who runs the NRA’s Ring of Freedom program for elite donors who chip in checks of $1 million and upwards, Milwaukee Sheriff David Clarke and Pete Brownell, a chief executive of a gun company and longtime NRA board member.

In a phone interview, Goldschlager described the trip as a “people-to-people mission,” and said he was impressed with Torshin — who, he noted, hosted both a “welcoming” dinner for the NRA contingent and another one.

“They were killing us with vodka and the best Russian food,” Goldschlager said. “The trip exceeded my expectations by logarithmic levels.”

Read more here: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/news/nation-world/national/article195231139.html#storylink=cpy

 

(click here to continue reading FBI investigating whether Russia funneled cash to NRA to aid Trump’s campaign | McClatchy Washington Bureau.)

Written by Seth Anderson

May 18th, 2018 at 12:57 pm

Posted in crime,politics

Tagged with , ,