Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Navient: Student Loans Designed to Fail


NYTimes |  Ashley Hardin dreamed of being a professional photographer — glamorous shoots, perhaps some exotic travel. So in 2006, she enrolled in the Brooks Institute of Photography and borrowed more than $150,000 to pay for what the school described as a pathway into an industry clamoring for its graduates.

“Brooks was advertised as the most prestigious photography school on the West Coast,” Ms. Hardin said. “I wanted to learn from the best of the best.”

Ms. Hardin did not realize that she had taken out high-risk private loans in pursuit of a low-paying career. But her lender, SLM Corporation, better known as Sallie Mae, knew all of that, government lawyers say — and made the loans anyway.

In recent months, the student loan giant Navient, which was spun off from Sallie Mae in 2014 and retained nearly all of the company’s loan portfolio, has come under fire for aggressive and sloppy loan collection practices, which led to a set of government lawsuits filed in January. But those accusations have overshadowed broader claims, detailed in two state lawsuits filed by the attorneys general in Illinois and Washington, that Sallie Mae engaged in predatory lending, extending billions of dollars in private loans to students like Ms. Hardin that never should have been made in the first place.
“These loans were designed to fail,” said Shannon Smith, chief of the consumer protection division at the Washington State attorney general’s office.

New details unsealed last month in the state lawsuits against Navient shed light on how Sallie Mae used private subprime loans — some of which it expected to default at rates as high as 92 percent — as a tool to build its business relationships with colleges and universities across the country. From the outset, the lender knew that many borrowers would be unable to repay, government lawyers say, but it still made the loans, ensnaring students in debt traps that have dogged them for more than a decade.

While these risky loans were a bad deal for students, they were a boon for Sallie Mae. The private loans were — as Sallie Mae itself put it — a “baited hook” that the lender used to reel in more federally guaranteed loans, according to an internal strategy memo cited in the Illinois lawsuit.
The attorneys general in Illinois and Washington — backed by a coalition of those in 27 other states, who participated in a three-year investigation of student lending abuses — want those private loans forgiven.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Jeff Sessions Will Reinstate the War on Black Men Drugs


WaPo  |  Cook and Sessions have also fought the winds of change on Capitol Hill, where a bipartisan group of lawmakers recently tried but failed to pass the first significant bill on criminal justice reform in decades.

The legislation, which had 37 sponsors in the Senate, including Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) and Mike Lee (R-Utah), and 79 members of the House, would have reduced some of the long mandatory minimum sentences for gun and drug crimes. It also would have given judges more flexibility in drug sentencing and made retroactive the law that reduced the large disparity between sentencing for crack cocaine and powder cocaine.

The bill, introduced in 2015, had support from outside groups as diverse as the Koch brothers and the NAACP. House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) supported it as well. The path to passage seemed clear.

But then people such as Sessions and Cook spoke up. The longtime Republican senator from Alabama became a leading opponent, citing the spike in crime in several cities.

“Violent crime and murders have increased across the country at almost alarming rates in some areas. Drug use and overdoses are occurring and dramatically increasing,” said Sessions, one of only five members of the Senate Judiciary Committee who voted against the legislation. “It is against this backdrop that we are considering a bill . . . to cut prison sentences for drug traffickers and even other violent criminals, including those currently in federal prison.”

Cook testified that it was the “wrong time to weaken the last tools available to federal prosecutors and law enforcement agents.”

After Republican lawmakers became nervous about passing legislation that might seem soft on crime, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) declined to even bring the bill to the floor for a vote.

“Sessions was the main reason that bill didn’t pass,” said Inimai M. Chettiar, the director of the Justice Program at the Brennan Center for Justice. “He came in at the last minute and really torpedoed the bipartisan effort.”

Now that he is attorney general, Sessions has signaled a new direction. As his first step, Sessions told his prosecutors in a memo last month to begin using “every tool we have” — language that evoked the strategy from the drug war of loading up charges to lengthen sentences.

And he quickly appointed Cook to be a senior official on the attorney general’s task force on crime reduction and public safety, which was created following a Trump executive order to address what the president has called “American carnage.”

“If there was a flickering candle of hope that remained for sentencing reform, Cook’s appointment was a fire hose,” said Ring, president of FAMM. “There simply aren’t enough backhoes to build all the prisons it would take to realize Steve Cook’s vision for America.”

Mass Incarceration: The Problem With the Standard Story


newyorker  |  So what makes for the madness of American incarceration? If it isn’t crazy drug laws or outrageous sentences or profit-seeking prison keepers, what is it? Pfaff has a simple explanation: it’s prosecutors. They are political creatures, who get political rewards for locking people up and almost unlimited power to do it.

 Pfaff, in making his case, points to a surprising pattern. While violent crime was increasing by a hundred per cent between 1970 and 1990, the number of “line” prosecutors rose by only seventeen per cent. But between 1990 and 2007, while the crime rate began to fall, the number of line prosecutors went up by fifty per cent, and the number of prisoners rose with it. That fact may explain the central paradox of mass incarceration: fewer crimes, more criminals; less wrongdoing to imprison people for, more people imprisoned. A political current was at work, too. Pfaff thinks prosecutors were elevated in status by the surge in crime from the sixties to the nineties. “It could be that as the officials spearheading the war on crime,” he writes, “district attorneys have seen their political options expand, and this has encouraged them to remain tough on crime even as crime has fallen.”

Meanwhile, prosecutors grew more powerful. “There is basically no limit to how prosecutors can use the charges available to them to threaten defendants,” Pfaff observes. That’s why mandatory-sentencing rules can affect the justice system even if the mandatory minimums are relatively rarely enforced. A defendant, forced to choose between a thirty-year sentence if convicted of using a gun in a crime and pleading to a lesser drug offense, is bound to cop to the latter. Some ninety-five per cent of criminal cases in the U.S. are decided by plea bargains—the risk of being convicted of a more serious offense and getting a much longer sentence is a formidable incentive—and so prosecutors can determine another man’s crime and punishment while scarcely setting foot in a courtroom. “Nearly everyone in prison ended up there by signing a piece of paper in a dingy conference room in a county office building,” Pfaff writes.

In a justice system designed to be adversarial, the prosecutor has few adversaries. Though the legendary Gideon v. Wainwright decision insisted that people facing jail time have the right to a lawyer, the system of public defenders—and the vast majority of the accused can depend only on a public defender—is simply too overwhelmed to offer them much help. (Pfaff cites the journalist Amy Bach, who once watched an overburdened public defender “plead out” forty-eight clients in a row in a single courtroom.)

Meanwhile, all the rewards for the prosecutor, at any level, are for making more prisoners. Since most prosecutors are elected, they might seem responsive to democratic discipline. In truth, they are so easily reĆ«lected that a common path for a successful prosecutor is toward higher office. And the one thing that can cripple a prosecutor’s political ascent is a reputation, even if based on only a single case, for being too lenient. In short, our system has huge incentives for brutality, and no incentives at all for mercy.

Jeff Sessions Should Prosecute the Koch Bros. for Bribery


counterpunch |  On March 22, organizations led by Charles and David Koch, who have made tens of billions of dollars from the environmentally toxic business that they inherited from their father (Koch Industries), issued a lucrative offer to Republican congressmen: vote against Rep. Paul Ryan’s healthcare bill in exchange for generous 2018 campaign donations. Naturally, the flip-side of their offer was a threat: vote for the bill and we give you nothing.

The two multi-billionaires opposed Ryan/Trumpcare because of their libertarian, Social Darwinist belief that everybody, no matter how poor, is on his/her own and should not receive even the most minimal help from the government. This is an old American story – white plutocrats, deluded into thinking that they are self-made men rather than fantastically lucky beneficiaries of their parents’ wealth, opting to manipulate politicians into helping them keep as much of it as possible – and then helping them make even more to boot.

Aside from the Koch Brothers’ callousness, insatiable greed, and arrogant sense of entitlement, the real story here is that they just committed a serious white-collar crime: bribery. Bribery, as defined in federal statute 18 U.S.C. § 201, includes “directly or indirectly, corruptly giv[ing], offer[ing] or promis[ing] anything of value to any public official . . . with intent to influence any official act . . .”
For our purposes, the most important words in this statute are “offers” and “promises.” Even if the Koch Brothers were now to retract their offer or fail to follow through for any particular politician, they still issued it. In this sense, it’s like attempt or conspiracy. It does not require actual consummation – that is, an actual exchange of money for legislative action.

Many, if not most, Americans, including politicians and journalists, probably believe that this kind of “quid pro quo” – the exchange of a thing of value for an “official act” – though distasteful, is perfectly legal, especially after the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010. But Citizens United did not legalize bribery. On the contrary, it said that bribery – “quid pro quo corruption” or its appearance – is the one thing that corporations may not engage in; pretty much everything else, including spending anonymous and unlimited “independent expenditures” on political advertisements, is constitutionally permitted. Of course, we know that this bribery still goes on all the time between candidates and Super PACs, but we rarely have hard evidence because they are generally smart enough to do all their bribing behind the scenes, not directly in front of the media like the Koch Brothers just did.

Sunday, April 09, 2017

Greer, Kunstler, Martenson, Morris, and Orlov Chew the Fat...,


Tulsi Gabbard Drops the Mic on .45's Ridiculous Syria Strike


foxnews |  Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, told Fox News' "Tucker Carlson Tonight" Friday that the American missile strike on a Syrian airfield as "an illegal and unconstitutional military strike" that drew the United States closer to military conflict with Russia.

Gabbard, an Iraq War veteran, also said the strike was "an escalation of a counterproductive regime change war in Syria that our country’s been waging for years, first through the CIA covertly, and now overtly."

FLASHBACK: GABBARD SAYS SHE MET WITH ASSAD DURING SYRIA TRIP

In January, Gabbard met with Syrian President Bashar Assad in Damascus. When host Tucker Carlson asked if she believed Assad's forces to be responsible for the chemical weapons attack that precipitated the missile strikes, Gabbard answered, "It doesn’t matter what I believe or not. What matters is evidence and facts.

"If the Trump administration has the evidence, unequivocally proving this, then share it with the American people," Gabbard continued. "Share it with Congress. Come to Congress and make your case before launching an unauthorized, illegal military strike against a foreign government."
Gabbard also said that efforts to overthrow Assad would only strengthen extremist groups, and expressed concerns about Moscow's response to the missile strikes.

"Russia ... are very closely allied with Syria and ... have their own military operating [on] the ground there," the congresswoman said, "and when you consider the consequences of that, the United States and Russia being the two nuclear powers in the world, it should be a cause of great concern for everyone."

Miss Lindsey Graham Sucks Her Pearls and Plays the Fool with Tucker Carlson


media-ite |  Tucker Carlson spoke with Senator Lindsey Graham tonight and confronted him about his proposal to send 7000 troops into Syria.

Graham has been very complimentary of President Trump taking action, telling Carlson tonight he’s actually “proud” of the president for taking action where Barack Obama would not.

Carlson expressed heavy skepticism about what Graham was proposing, asking him if he’s calling for a “whole new war” and whether the U.S. should be getting into that fight in the first place.

He brought up Graham’s proposal and asked about the cost. Graham didn’t have a number ready, and Carlson asked, “Did you not think through what the cost might be?”

Graham responded that it’s “minimal compared to the threats we face” and that “our national security interest can’t be monetized.”

Saturday, April 08, 2017

A Kind of Thin-ness - Just Right for the Alzheimers Demographic....,


radiolab |  We begin with a love story--from a man who unwittingly fell in love with a chatbot on an online dating site. Then, we encounter a robot therapist whose inventor became so unnerved by its success that he pulled the plug. And we talk to the man who coded Cleverbot, a software program that learns from every new line of conversation it receives...and that's chatting with more than 3 million humans each month. Then, five intrepid kids help us test a hypothesis about a toy designed to push our buttons, and play on our human empathy. And we meet a robot built to be so sentient that its creators hope it will one day have a consciousness, and a life, all its own.

Many-Worlds vs. Boltzmann Brains


nautilus |  In physics, the pressure, temperature, and volume of a gas are known as the state of a gas. In Boltzmann’s model, any arrangement of atoms or molecules that produces this state is known as a microstate of the gas. Since the state of a gas depends on the overall motion of its atoms or molecules, many microstates can produce the same state. Boltzmann showed that entropy can be defined as the number of microstates a state has. The more microstates, the greater the entropy. This explains why the entropy of a system tends to increase. Over time, a gas is more likely to find itself in a state with lots of possible microstates than one with few microstates.

Since entropy increases over time, the early universe must have had much lower entropy. This means the Big Bang must have had an extraordinarily low entropy. But why would the primordial state of the universe have such low entropy? Boltzmann’s theory provides a possible answer. Although higher entropy states are more likely over time, it is possible for a thermodynamic system to decrease its entropy. For example, all the air molecules in a room could just happen to cram together in one corner of the room. It isn’t very likely, but, statistically, it is possible. The same idea applies to the universe as a whole: If the primordial cosmos was in thermodynamic equilibrium, there is a small chance that things came together to create an extremely low entropy state. That state then triggered the Big Bang and the universe we see around us.

However, if the low entropy of the Big Bang was just due to random chance, that leads to a problem. Infinite monkeys might randomly type out the Complete Works of Shakespeare, but they would be far more likely to type out the much shorter Gettysburg Address. Likewise, a low entropy Big Bang could arise out of a primordial state, but if the universe is a collection of microstates, then it is more likely to find itself in a conscious state that thinks it is in a universe rather than the entire physical universe itself. That is, a Boltzmann brain existing is more probable than a universe existing. Boltzmann’s theory leads to a paradox, where the very scientific assumption that we can trust what we observe leads to the conclusion that we can’t trust what we observe. 

Although it’s an interesting paradox, most astrophysicists don’t think Boltzmann brains are a real possibility. (Carroll, for instance, mercilessly deems them “self-undermining and unworthy of serious consideration,” on account of their cognitive instability.) Instead they look to physical processes that would solve the paradox. The physical processes that give rise to the Boltzmann brain possibility are the vacuum energy fluctuations intrinsic to quantum theory—small energy fluctuations can appear out of the vacuum. Usually they aren’t noticeable, but under certain conditions these vacuum fluctuations can lead to things like Hawking radiation and cosmic inflation in the early universe. These fluctuations were in thermal equilibrium in the early universe, so they follow the same random Boltzmann statistics as the primordial cosmos, making them also more likely to give rise to a Boltzmann brain rather than the universe we seem to be in. 

But it turns out that, since the universe is expanding, these apparent fluctuations might not be coming from the vacuum. Instead, as the universe expands, the edge of the observable universe causes thermal fluctuations to appear, much like the event horizon of a black hole gives rise to Hawking radiation. This gives the appearance of vacuum fluctuations, from our point of view. The true vacuum of space and time isn’t fluctuating, so it cannot create a Boltzmann brain. 

The idea, from Caltech physicist Kimberly Boddy, and colleagues, is somewhat speculative, and it has an interesting catch. The argument that the true vacuum of the universe is stationary relies on a version of quantum theory known as the many-worlds formulation. In this view, the wave function of a quantum system doesn’t “collapse” when observed. Rather, different outcomes of the quantum system “decohere” and simply evolve along different paths. Where once the universe was a superposition of different possible outcomes, quantum decoherence creates two definite outcomes. Of course, if our minds are simply physical states within the cosmos, our minds are also split into two outcomes, each observing a particular result.

What is Artificial Intelligence?


bruegel |  The specific term “artificial intelligence” was first used by John McCarthy in the summer of 1956, when he held the first academic conference on the subject in Dartmouth. However, the traditional approach to AI was not really about independent machine learning. Instead the aim was to specify rules of logical reasoning and real world conditions which machines could be programmed to follow and react to. This approach was time-consuming for programmers and its effectiveness relied heavily on the clarity of rules and definitions.

For example, applying this rule-and-content approach to machine language translation would require the programmer to proactively equip the machine with all grammatical rules, vocabulary and idioms of the source and target languages. Only then could one feed the machine a sentence to be translated. As words cannot be reduced only to their dictionary definition and there are many exceptions to grammar rules, this approach would be inefficient and ultimately offer poor results, at least if we compare the outcome with a professional, human translator.

Modern AI has deviated from this approach by adopting the notion of machine learning. This shift follows in principle Turing’s recommendation to teach a machine to perform specific tasks as if it were a child. By building a machine with sufficient computational resources, offering training examples from real world data and by designing specific algorithms and tools that define a learning process, rather than specific data manipulations, machines can improve their own performance through learning by doing, inferring patterns, and hypothesis checking.

Thus it is no longer necessary to programme in advance long and complicated rules for a machine’s specific operations. Instead programmers can equip them with flexible mechanisms that facilitate machines’ adaptation to their task environment. At the core of this learning process are artificial neural networks, inspired by the networks of neurons in the human brain. The article by The Economist provides a nice illustration of how a simple artificial neuron network works: It is organized in layers. Data is introduced to the network through an input layer. Then come the hidden layers in which information is processed and finally an output layer where results are released. Each neuron within the network is connected to many others, as both inputs and outputs, but the connections are not equal. They are weighted such that a neuron’s different outward connections fire at different levels of input activation. A network with many hidden layers can combine, sort or divide signals by applying different weights to them and passing the result to the next layer. The number of hidden layers is indicative of the ability of the network to detect increasingly subtle features of the input data. The training of the network takes place through the adjustment of neurons’ connection weights, so that the network gives the desired response when presented with particular inputs.

The goal of the neural network is to solve problems in the same way that a hypothesised human brain would, albeit without any “conscious” codified awareness of the rules and patterns that have been inferred from the data. Modern neural network projects typically work with a few thousand to a few million neural units and millions of connections, which are still several orders of magnitude less complex than the human brain and closer to the computing power of a worm (see the Intel AI Documentation for further details). While networks with more hidden layers are expected to be more powerful, training deep networks can be rather challenging, owing to the difference in speed at which every hidden layer learns.

By categorising the ways this artificial neuron structure can interact with the source data and stimuli, we can identify three different types of machine learning:
  • Supervised learning: the neural network is provided with examples of inputs and corresponding desired outputs. It then “learns” how to accurately map inputs to outputs by adjusting the weights and activation thresholds of its neural connections. This is the most widely used technique. A typical use would be training email servers to choose which emails should automatically go to the spam folder. Another task that can be learnt in this way is finding the most appropriate results for a query typed in a search engine.
  • Unsupervised learning: the neural network is provided with example inputs and then it is left to recognise features, patterns and structure in these inputs without any specific guidance. This type of learning can be used 
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 It is particularly useful for finding things that you do not know the form of, such as as-yet-unrecognised patterns in a large dataset.
  • Reinforcement learning: the neural network interacts with an environment in which it must perform a specific task, and receives feedback on its performance in the form of a reward or a punishment. This type of learning corresponds, for example, to the training of a network to play computer games and achieve high scores.
Since artificial neural networks are based on a posited structure and function of the human brain, a natural question to ask is whether machines can outperform human beings. Indeed, there are several examples of games and competitions in which machines can now beat humans. By now, machines have topped the best humans at most games traditionally held up as measures of human intellect, including chess (recall for example the 1997 game between IBM’s Deep Blue and the champion Garry Kasparov), Scrabble, Othello, and Jeopardy!. Even in more complex games, machines seem to be quickly improving their performance through their learning process. In March 2016, the AlphaGo computer program from the AI startup DeapMind (which was bought by Google in 2014) beat Lee Sedol at a five-game match of Go – the oldest board game, invented in China more than 2,500 years ago. This was the first time a computer Go program has beaten a 9-dan professional without handicaps.

Friday, April 07, 2017

The Crush Control Chappelle Conspiracy Continues...,


esquire |  In 2014, before the sexual assault allegations against Bill Cosby went mainstream, a standup routine from Hannibal Burress went viral. "Bill Cosby has the fucking smuggest old black man public persona that I hate," Burress said during a set in Philadelphia. "'Pull your pants up, black people, I was on TV in the '80s. I can talk down to you because I had a successful sitcom.' Yeah, but you raped women, Bill Cosby. So, brings you down a couple notches." Buress's bit made headlines, prompting a procession of women to come forward with new allegations, which ultimately led to the undoing of Cosby the comedian—and Cosby the man.

Now skip forward two years.

"The '70s were a wild era, and while all this was going on, Bill Cosby raped 54 people. Holy shit, that's a lot of rapes, man! This guy's putting up real numbers. He's like the Steph Curry of rape." That's Dave Chappelle in 2017, likening Cosby's "400 hours of rape" to a Top Gun pilot. His first specials in 13 years—Netflix paid $60 million for three, the first two of which premiered last month on the streaming service—were considered his big comeback. Instead, they feel more like a throwback. In Age of Spin, Chappelle mimics flamboyant Hollywood producers, fears trans women cutting off their genitalia, and is in creases over a hypothetical superhero who rapes women to activate his powers.

No longer wiry like he once was, Chappelle is not only physically less nimble—he has also seemingly lost his nuance as a storyteller. His delivery is preachy, his punchlines banal. For Vice, Australian comic Patrick Marlborough writes that Chappelle's stand-up in the early '00s "had a sublime mastery of taking a taboo, reiterating it, guiding it to a point, flipping the meaning, and shooting it in the back of the head." As he watched the Netflix specials, however, he was forced to wait for the twist that never came. In its place stood a man who performed ignorance rather than questioning it, who had become trapped in the bubble of his own privilege—a world where the last 10 years of identity politics haven't really made much of a difference. ("The jokes were mean, they were lazy," Marlborough writes. "They were something I never thought I'd see: Dave Chappelle punching down.") Unfortunately that puts him out of touch with the cultural conversation at large, which has itself progressed and in turn shifted the way comedians tackle loaded topics like race, class, gender, and sexuality. In short, Dave Chappelle may not have progressed, but many of us have.

Ain't Tribulation Grand? Enjoy your Trump Steaks....,


fusion |  Being the head sucker of the party of suckers is in some sense an appropriate fate for a veteran purveyor of substandard garbage like Donald Trump. Slapping his name on shoddy products marketed to people who—like Trump himself!—buy into the myth of Trump as a man of class, intelligence, and distinction kept him afloat after real estate and casinos nearly ruined him. Trump Steaks, Trump University, Trump Wine, “Trump”-branded developments he had no part in building or managing; Trump sold bullshit for so long that he seemed to begin to believe in the bullshit himself. And once the product was literally him, how could he not believe in it?

As always, the people who’ll truly be burned are the ones who bought into the sales pitch, from voters in opioid-ravaged post-industrial shitholes (Chris Christie’s on the way!) to Trump-supporting right-wingers in Congress, who will find their president mostly uninterested in their agenda (and unable to help them implement it even if he did care). The operators will still get something out of it, because they usually do. Paul Ryan won’t get to completely dismantle the welfare state, but he’ll still probably get a friendly Supreme Court justice or two out of him.

Steve Bannon and Reince Priebus both probably think they can “manage” Trump, the same way a coterie of movement conservatives “managed” the elderly and checked-out Reagan, putting him out in front of the cameras to deliver his patter while they went about the business of running the country. You can see this in how apparently warring factions within the White House are attempting to control what intelligence Trump sees and who is responsible for analyzing it before it reaches his desk. But no matter what his handlers put in his briefing book, the president is getting his actual briefings from “Fox & Friends”—as if Reagan had listened only to Paul Harvey to determine his agenda and strategy.

There’s plenty Trump’s minders can accomplish despite how distractible and unmanageable he is. They’ve already planted right-wing shock troops in all the federal agencies. They’ll fill the judiciary with extremists. They can do a lot of damage simply because the boss doesn’t care about the actual details and responsibilities of his gig. But on the major legacy-building (or other side’s legacy-destroying) stuff, really anything involving Congress or extensive public debate, there’s no coherent path toward anything that looks like victory. If the bullshit-peddlers who attached themselves to Trump truly want to remake the nation—beyond making it meaner in the areas in which it is already pretty persistently mean, or beyond simply raining death down upon foreigners with even less regard for casualties or consequences than evinced by prior administrations—they’re screwed. They’re screwed because they and their predecessors engineered a perpetual misinformation machine, and then a bunch of people addicted to their product took over the government.

Now, and for the foreseeable future, the grifter-in-chief sits alone in the White House residence every night, watching cable news tell him comforting lies—that he’s a hugely popular president, that responsibility for his myriad setbacks and failures lies with the many powerful enemies aligned against him a grand conspiracy—in between the ads for reverse mortgages and “all-natural male enhancement.” There’s an image of America in the age of the complete triumph of bullshit. You spend a few years selling lousy steaks to suckers, then one morning you wake up and you’re the sucker—and the steak.

Thursday, April 06, 2017

Implementation of Permanent Healthcare Reform


theburningplatform |  Let’s talk about the implementation of my model bill that I recently posted to reform health care on a permanent basis.

It’s fairly easy to envision timelines based on complexity.  Simply put, most of this isn’t complex because providers have price lists now — you just can’t see them.  So with that said, let’s look at an example and assume The Bill was passed and signed somewhere around 30 September — or the close of the fiscal year.

What’s next? 

And…. it’s done.

The medical scam has ended.

There are no more Federal Deficits; in fact, we run a perpetual budget surplus and begin paying down the national debt.

Your standard of living starts going up every year even without a raise by about 1% each and every year instead of going down as it does today.

We no longer pay for illegal immigrant medical care at all from public funds.

You get a price that is the same as everyone else for the same good or service in the medical field just as you do at the grocery store, the gas station and the local restaurant.  The outrageous price discrimination (sometimes as much as 10, 20 or even 100x or more) served up on some people — discrimination that usually bankrupts the consumer in question — ends permanently.

You know exactly how much you will be billed for a medical procedure, drug or device before you choose to undergo that procedure or accept the treatment.  Your insurance company, if you have one, will have to make available what they will pay and the hospital, doctor or pharmacist must tell you what they will charge.  You will thus know what the total cost to you will be — before you sign a consent form or have a procedure done.


Half of Americans Account for 3% of Healthcare Costs


WaPo |  “The key takeaway message really is most people are in good health; they don’t spend a lot of money, and yet it’s important to have them be part of our insurance system. If they’re left out of the system, we’re not going to have the funds to take care of people who are very sick,” said Marc Berk, a health policy researcher and contributing editor of Health Affairs who led the analysis.

But Tom Miller, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, disagreed. He said that the study is based on quick and incomplete snapshots of health and argued that it is yet another way to divert from the health-care discussion we should be having: about how to rein in spending. Using this data to argue about where to get premium dollars from — from the pockets of the well or the sick — simply allows the system to grow ever bigger and prop up an even-more-expensive medical system.

“We all get diverted by hoping we can hide the bill under someone else’s pillow,” Miller said. “I think that’s the political argument you hear — these low spenders, we’re scared to death they might catch on to the fact they’re getting taken to the cleaners” by being forced to buy expensive health insurance they don’t need.

According to House Speaker Paul Ryan earlier this month, the inequality in spending and sickness is the “fatal conceit of Obamacare.” Ryan used a graph that showed that chronically ill people are a narrow slice of the population, but a big driver of spending.

“The whole idea of Obamacare is the people … who are healthy pay for the people who are sick; it’s not working and that’s why it’s in a death spiral,” Ryan said.

As critics have pointed out, this was part of how the Affordable Care Act was designed, and it is how insurance traditionally works. The auto insurance of people who don’t get into car crashes helps foot the bill for those who do. The premiums from homeowners who never file a claim help underwrite the insurance payouts for those whose houses burn down. It’s the same for health, and a major challenge in the exchanges, where people buy individual plans with government subsidies, has been getting enough healthy people to sign up to keep the premiums reasonable for everyone. Fist tap Dale.

For Profit Privatization of U.S. Healthcare a Primary Driver of Collapse

mauldineconomics |  We spend too much on healthcare relative to the health it buys us. As long as that is the case, no reform plan will work.

Did Obamacare cause this? No. It goes way back. Here’s another graphic showing the changes over time. 


You can see that the United States began diverging from other developed countries back in the 1980s. The gap has only grown wider since then.

Stranger yet, we spend all this extra money yet still leave millions of low-income citizens with little or no access to healthcare. Kaiser Family Foundation says some 2.5 million working Americans make too much to qualify for Medicaid, but not enough to receive Obamacare tax credits.

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Clinton Tries, Obama Spies, Media Lies, Susan Rice Fries...,


NationalReview |  Her interest was not in national security but to advance the political interests of the Democratic party. 

The thing to bear in mind is that the White House does not do investigations. Not criminal investigations, not intelligence investigations. 

Remember that. 

Why is that so important in the context of explosive revelations that Susan Rice, President Obama’s national-security adviser, confidant, and chief dissembler, called for the “unmasking” of Trump campaign and transition officials whose identities and communications were captured in the collection of U.S. intelligence on foreign targets? 

Because we’ve been told for weeks that any unmasking of people in Trump’s circle that may have occurred had two innocent explanations: (1) the FBI’s investigation of Russian meddling in the election and (2) the need to know, for purposes of understanding the communications of foreign intelligence targets, the identities of Americans incidentally intercepted or mentioned. The unmasking, Obama apologists insist, had nothing to do with targeting Trump or his people. 

That won’t wash.

Mainstream Media Caught Red-Handed Trying to Ignore Rice Scandal


fmshooter |  Yesterday, it was reported that Susan Rice, a national security advisor and close confidant of former President Obama, had requested that President Trump’s transition team be “unmasked” as it pertained to “incidental” surveillance on the President-elect and the team.  Bloomberg covered the story, but only after it was broken by “fake news” journalist Mike Cernovich, who himself had been attacked a week earlier on a CBS’s “60 Minutes” segment on “fake news”:

There was no mention of Susan Rice in any article whatsoever on their front page.  Brower wasn’t lying – CNN voluntarily chose to completely ignore the story, focusing instead on a nearly week-old story about hypoxia in F/A-18 jets.

I did a little poking around – was CNN alone in ignoring this story?  How was the rest of the media world responding?  I documented the evidence, taking screenshots of a lot of media websites’ home pages.  Starting with NBC and MSNBC, who unsurprisingly both followed the same trail of ignorance as CNN:

They also ignored the story last night.  But that shouldn’t be a surprise, as Susan Rice’s husband is employed by ABC news as an executive producer.  It also shouldn’t be surprising that ABC waited until this morning to run the Rice story, but only so they could run a story of Rice denying her involvement, and completely omit the original scoop itself:

Corn and Matthews Deploy Racist/Sexist Farce Fields for Susan Rice...,


wikipedia |  Rice was born in Washington, D.C.,[4] to Emmett J. Rice (1919–2011), Cornell University economics professor and the second black governor of the Federal Reserve System,[4] and education policy scholar Lois Fitt Dickson, currently at the Brookings Institution.[5] Her maternal grandparents were Jamaican.[6] Her parents divorced when Rice was ten years of age.[7]

Rice was a three-sport athlete, student council president, and valedictorian at National Cathedral School in Washington, D.C., a private girls' day school.[8] She played point guard in basketball and directed the offense, acquiring the nickname Spo, short for "Sportin'".[8]

Rice said that her parents taught her to "never use race as an excuse or advantage" and as a young girl she "dreamed of becoming the first U.S. senator from the District of Columbia".[4] She also held "lingering fears" that her accomplishments would be diminished by people who attributed them to affirmative action.[4] After her father's death in 2011, she said, "He believed segregation had constrained him from being all he could be. The psychological hangover of that took him decades to overcome. His most fervent wish was that we not have that psychological baggage."[9]

Why Was Susan Rice Hunting Down Trump Instead of Terrorists?


BI | Erik Prince, the Blackwater founder who reportedly met with a Russian close to President Vladimir Putin to create a communication back-channel between then-President-elect Donald Trump and Russia, blasted the intelligence community in a statement Tuesday. 

Prince attended a secret meeting in the Seychelles islands days before Trump's inauguration to discuss establishing the back-channel, The Washington Post reported Monday

In his statement Tuesday, Prince didn't deny attending the meeting, but still attempted to cast doubt on its supposed purpose. 

"If the politically fabricated delusion of President-elect Trump and President Putin's coordination was true, why would anyone need to meet me anyway?" Prince said in the statement, which was sent to Business Insider. 

In a statement that was included in the Post's story on Monday, a spokesman for Prince said the Seychelles meeting "had nothing to do with President Trump." 

"Why is the so-called under-resourced intelligence community messing around with surveillance of American citizens when they should be hunting terrorists?" the spokesman said. 

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Susan Rice Goes DC Dindu...,


thehill |  Former national security adviser Susan Rice on Tuesday categorically denied that the Obama administration inappropriately spied on President Trump or members of his transition team.

“The allegation is that somehow, Obama administration officials utilized intelligence for political purposes,” Rice told MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell. “That’s absolutely false.”

Rice had requested that at least one Trump transition team member be “unmasked,” Bloomberg View reported Monday, leading to claims that the Obama White House had intended to use that intelligence to damage Trump’s transition.

“The notion, which some people are trying to suggest, that by asking for the identity of the American person is the same is leaking it — that’s completely false,” Rice said. “There is no equivalence between so-called unmasking and leaking.”

Rice also flatly denied exposing Trump’s own former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, who was forced to resign in February after media reports revealed that he misled Vice President Pence about the contents of his discussions with the Russian ambassador.

“I leaked nothing to nobody,” she said.

thedailycaller |  Former President Barack Obama’s national security adviser Susan Rice ordered U.S. spy agencies to produce “detailed spreadsheets” of legal phone calls involving Donald Trump and his aides when he was running for president, according to former U.S. Attorney Joseph diGenova.

“What was produced by the intelligence community at the request of Ms. Rice were detailed spreadsheets of intercepted phone calls with unmasked Trump associates in perfectly legal conversations with individuals,” diGenova told The Daily Caller News Foundation Investigative Group Monday.

“The overheard conversations involved no illegal activity by anybody of the Trump associates, or anyone they were speaking with,” diGenova said. “In short, the only apparent illegal activity was the unmasking of the people in the calls.”

Other official sources with direct knowledge and who requested anonymity confirmed to TheDCNF diGenova’s description of surveillance reports Rice ordered one year before the 2016 presidential election.

Trump Should Arrest Coup-Attempting Obama/Clinton Operatives


counterpunch |  We are now in a position to see the real story behind “Russiagate.” It’s not about Russia, except incidentally. The Obama regime abused the government’s surveillance powers and spied on Donald Trump and other Republicans in order to build a dossier for the DNC to leak to the press in an attempt to slander or compromise Trump and throw the election to Hillary.

They’ve been caught, but we can now see that they took steps to protect themselves against this. They prepared a cover story. They pretend they were not spying on Trump, but on Russians – which only by fortuitous happenchance turned up incriminating smoke against Trump.

This cover story was buttressed by the fake news story prepared by former MI6 freelancer Christopher Steele. As Whitney reports, Steele “was hired as an opposition researcher last June to dig up derogatory information on Donald Trump.”  Unvetted and unverified information paid for by so-called informants “somehow” found its way into U.S. intelligence agency reports. These reports were then leaked to Democrat-friendly media.

This is where the crime lies. Obama regime and DNC were using these agencies for domestic political use, KGB style.

The Obama/Clinton cover story is now falling to pieces. That explains the desperation in the attack byAdam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, on Committee Chairman Devin Nunes to stop the exposure. Russiagate is not a Trump/Putin collusion but a domestic spy job carried out by Democrats.

Law requires Trump to arrest those responsible and to put them on trial for treason and conspiracy to overthrow the government of the United States. If Trump fears to prosecute the Obama operatives within the Deep State, they will try all the harder to attack him to the point of forcing his removal, or at least discrediting him and his fellow Republicans to pave the way for the 2018 elections.

Moral and Physical Cowards Insist That You Stay Focused on War with Russia!!!


unz |  The latest Democratic Party shill to demonize Russia is, I am ashamed to say, my state of Virginia’s Senator Mark Warner, who, on Thursday said “Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a deliberate campaign carefully constructed to undermine our election.” Last Thursday, Warner was the top Democrat on a Senate Intelligence Committee panel investigating Moscow’s alleged interference in last year’s presidential election. The panel inevitably included carefully selected expert witnesses who would agree with the proposition that Russia is and was guilty as charged. There was no one who provided an alternative view even though a little Googling would have surfaced some genuine experts who dispute the prevailing narrative.

Warner joined many of his esteemed colleagues in Congress who have completely accepted the allegations that Russia meddled in the election in spite of the failure of the Obama Administration to provide any indisputable evidence to that effect. Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland has called Moscow’s claimed interference an “attack” and labeled it a “political Pearl Harbor.” A number of other congressmen, to include Bonnie Watson Coleman of New Jersey and Eric Swalwell of California have called it an act of war. And then there are echo chambers Senators John McCain and Mark Rubio on the Republican side of the aisle while former Vice President Dick Cheney was speaking at a business conference in New Delhi saying the same thing. Yes, that Dick Cheney. Why anyone in India would pay to hear him speak on any subject escapes me.

Democrat Adam Schiff of California is leading the charge for his party as he is the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. He outlined his case against Russia two weeks ago, providing a heap of minimally factual “information”, relying heavily instead on supposition and featuring mostly innuendo. And again, it was largely evidence-free. One assertion is almost comical: “In July 2016, Carter Page, one of Trump’s former national security advisers, traveled to Moscow after being approved to do so by the Trump campaign. While there, Page gave a speech in which he was critical of the U.S. and its efforts to fight corruption and promote democracy.”

MSM Says "Move Along Folks, Susan Rice Was Just Doing Her Job"...,


msn |  Monday Bloomberg report alleging that a former top Obama administration official requested the unmasking of U.S. persons tied to the Trump campaign who were swept up in foreign surveillance is not the “smoking gun” that the President’s backers are making it out to be.

According to surveillance and national security experts, former Obama national security adviser Susan Rice would be within her rights to make such requests if she was trying to determine the extent of Russia’s interference in the presidential election.

“Part of her job as national security adviser is to pay attention to what foreign governments are doing,” Rebecca Lonergan, a former federal prosecutor who handled foreign surveillance cases, told TPM. “If she’s asking for specific names to be unmasked in order to understand what Russia may be doing to influence the U.S. political system and influence our elections, presumably in a way they thought would benefit them, she’s doing her job.”

Nada Bakos, a former CIA analyst, noted on Twitter that it was not “odd or wrong” for the national security adviser to read “a report of foreign officials discussing US persons coming into” the White House. And Susan Hennessey, a fellow in national security governance studies at the Brookings Institution, wrote of the Bloomberg article that “nothing in this story indicates anything improper whatsoever.”

Susan Rice: Interwebs AND MSM Far Enough In That Azz To See Your Tonsils...,


NYPost |  Do you suspect that the noise over Trump-campaign contacts with the Russians is just a political hit arranged by Obama insiders before they left? You got fresh evidence of that Monday, with news that then-National Security Adviser Susan Rice was behind the “unmasking” of Trumpites in transcripts of calls with Russian officials.

Again, nothing on the public record so far shows that anyone on Team Trump said anything improper on those calls.

It’s no surprise that US spooks intercept foreign officials’ calls. But intelligence-community reports don’t disclose the names of US citizens on the other end. To get that info, a high official must (but rarely does) push to “unmask” the Americans’ names.

Bloomberg’s Eli Lake now reports that Rice started doing just that last year.

Monday, April 03, 2017

Susan Rice - "I Know Nothing About This"


WashingtonTimes |  File this under Most Disingenuous Argument Ever. Susan Rice, of Barack Obama national security adviser fame, actually penned a piece for the Washington Post decrying President Donald Trump administration’s “false statements” about wiretapping — saying such unproven allegations present a danger to America.

That buzzing in your ears is from the rapid head-shaking that probably started, involuntarily, as soon as you finished reading that quick sentence.

Did Susan Rice Unmask Incoming Trump Officials?


medium |  Susan Rice, who served as the National Security Adviser under President Obama, has been identified as the official who requested unmasking of incoming Trump officials, Cernovich Media can exclusively report.

The White House Counsel’s office identified Rice as the person responsible for the unmasking after examining Rice’s document log requests. The reports Rice requested to see are kept under tightly-controlled conditions. Each person must log her name before being granted access to them.

Upon learning of Rice’s actions, H. R. McMaster dispatched his close aide Derek Harvey to Capitol Hill to brief Chairman Nunes.

“Unmasking” is the process of identifying individuals whose communications were caught in the dragnet of intelligence gathering. While conducting investigations into terrorism and other related crimes, intelligence analysts incidentally capture conversations about parties not subject to the search warrant. The identities of individuals who are not under investigation are kept confidential, for legal and moral reasons.

Under President Obama, the unmasking rules were changed. Circa originally reported:
As his presidency drew to a close, Barack Obama’s top aides routinely reviewed intelligence reports gleaned from the National Security Agency’s incidental intercepts of Americans abroad, taking advantage of rules their boss relaxed starting in 2011 to help the government better fight terrorism, espionage by foreign enemies and hacking threats, Circa has learned.
Three people close to President Obama, including his “fall guy” for Benghazi (Susan Rice), had authorization to unmask.
Among those cleared to request and consume unmasked NSA-based intelligence reports about U.S. citizens were Obama’s national security adviser Susan Rice, his CIA Director John Brennan and then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch.

Sunday, April 02, 2017

Healthcare - Our Sadistic Hostage Racket


kunstler |  If you thought banking in our time was a miserable racket — which it is, of course, and by “racket” I mean a criminal enterprise — then so-called health care has it beat by a country mile, with an added layer of sadism and cruelty built into its operations. Lots of people willingly sign onto mortgages and car loans they wouldn’t qualify for in an ethically sound society, but the interest rates and payments are generally spelled out on paper. They know what they’re signing on for, even if the contract is reckless and stupid on the parts of both borrower and lender. Pension funds and insurance companies foolishly bought bundled mortgage bonds of this crap concocted in the housing bubble. They did it out of greed and desperation, but a little due diligence would have clued them into the fraud being served up by the likes of Goldman Sachs.

Medicine is utterly opaque cost-wise, and that is the heart of the issue. Nobody in the system will say what anything costs and nobody wants to because it would break the spell that they work in an honest, legit business. There is no rational scheme for the cost of any service from one “provider” to the next or even one patient to the next. Anyway, the costs are obscenely inflated and concealed in so many deliberately deceptive coding schemes that even actuaries and professors of economics are confounded by their bills. The services are provided when the customer is under the utmost duress, often life-threatening, and the outcome even in a successful recovery from illness is financial ruin that leaves a lot of people better off dead.

It is a hostage racket, in plain English, a disgrace to the profession that has adopted it, and an insult to the nation. All the idiotic negotiations in congress around the role of insurance companies are a grand dodge to avoid acknowledging the essential racketeering of the “providers” — doctors and hospitals. We are never going to reform it in its current incarnation. For all his personality deformities, President Trump is right in saying that ObamaCare is going to implode. It is only a carbuncle on the gangrenous body of the US medical establishment. The whole system will go down with it.

The New York Times departed from its usual obsessions with Russian turpitude and transgender life last week to publish a valuable briefing on this aspect of the health care racket: Those Indecipherable Medical Bills? They’re One Reason Health Care Costs So Much by Elisabeth Rosenthal. Much of this covers ground exposed in the now famous March 4, 2013 Time Magazine cover story (it took up the whole issue): Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us, by Steven Brill. The American public and its government have been adequately informed about the gross and lawless chiseling rampant in every quarter of medicine. The system is one of engineered criminality. It is inflicting ruin on millions. It is really a wonder that the public has not stormed the hospitals with pitchforks and flaming brands to string up that gang in the parking lots high above their Beemers and Lexuses.

Intel Official Behind "Unmasking" Of Trump Associates Is "Very Senior, Very Well Known"


thehill  |  Senator Chuck Schumer and Congressman Adam Schiff have both castigated Devin Nunes, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, for his handling of the inquiry into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election.  They should think twice.  The issue that has recently seized Nunes is of vital importance to anyone who cares about fundamental civil liberties.

The trail that Nunes is following will inevitably lead back to a particularly significant leak.  On Jan. 12, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius reported that “according to a senior U.S. government official, (General Mike) Flynn phoned Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak several times on Dec. 29.”

From Nunes’s statements, it’s clear that he suspects that this information came from NSA intercepts of Kislyak’s phone.  An Obama official, probably in the White House, “unmasked” Flynn’s name and passed it on to Ignatius.

Regardless of how the government collected on Flynn, the leak was a felony and a violation of his civil rights.  But it was also a severe breach of the public trust. When I worked as an NSC staffer in the White House, 2005-2007, I read dozens of NSA surveillance reports every day. On the basis of my familiarity with this system, I strongly suspect that someone in the Obama White House blew a hole in the thin wall that prevents the government from using information collected from surveillance to destroy the lives of the citizens whose privacy it is pledged to protect.  

The leaking of Flynn’s name was part of what can only be described as a White House campaign to hype the Russian threat and, at the same time, to depict Trump as Vladimir Putin’s Manchurian candidate. 

Saturday, April 01, 2017

Happy Passah's Day!!!





NGA - the Literal Eye of Sauron - in St. Louis


antimedia  |  If you’re one of the countless Americans who was distraught to learn of the revelations made by former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden, the mere idea that there might be yet another agency out there — perhaps just as powerful and much more intrusive —  should give you goosebumps.

Foreign Policy reports that the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, or NGA, is an obscure spy agency former President Barack Obama had a hard time wrapping his mind around back in 2009. But as the president grew fond of drone warfare, finding a way to launch wars without having to go through Congress for the proper authorization, the NGA also became more relevant. Now, President Donald Trump is expected to further explore the multibillion-dollar surveillance network.

Like the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the National Security Agency (NSA), the NGA is an intelligence agency, but it also serves as a combat support institution that functions under the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD).

With headquarters bigger than the CIA’s, the building cost $1.4 billion to be completed in 2011. In 2016, the NGA bought an extra 99 acres in St. Louis, building additional structures that cost taxpayers an extra $1.75 billion.

Enjoying the extra budget Obama threw at them, the NGA became one of the most obscure intelligence agencies precisely because it relies on the work of drones.

As a body of government that has only one task — to analyze images and videos captured by drones in the Middle East — the NGA is mighty powerful. So why haven’t we heard of it before?

Russiagate a Deep State Nothing-Burger...,


theduran |  To my mind what this episode shows is how sensitive the Democrats are about the raising of the whole surveillance issue.  This lends further strength to my opinion – which I note is coming to be increasingly widely shared – that it is the surveillance carried out during the election of Donald Trump and his campaign team which is the real scandal in this affair, and that the fake ‘Russiagate’ scandal is the smoke-screen concealing it.

Having increasingly given up on the House Intelligence Committee, the proponents of the ‘Russiagate’ scandal now seem increasingly to be resting their hopes on the Senate Intelligence Committee.

They will be equally disappointed there.  These attempts to use Congressional committees as investigative and prosecutorial instruments suffer from a basic misconception: these are oversight committees, not investigative or prosecutorial committees, and they cannot be used in that way.  They cannot magic up evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia that the actual investigation – the one carried out by the FBI – says is not there.

The single most important fact about the last few weeks, and the clearest possible sign that the ‘Russiagate’ scandal is flagging, is that there have been no more leaks from within the intelligence and security agencies since the ones at the beginning of March about Jeff Sessions’s meetings with the Russian ambassador.

That suggests that the former Obama administration officials, who I suspect were the people who were physically communicating the information in the leaks to the media, are no longer being fed  information about Donald Trump and his associates or about the progress of the FBI investigation by their sources within the intelligence and national security bureaucracy.

That could be because people within the intelligence and national security bureaucracy are being deterred by the investigation into the leaking of classified material which the President has been calling for but which the House Intelligence Committee hearing on 20th March 2017 suggested FBI Director Comey is resisting (almost certainly because people within the FBI were involved in the leaks), or it could be because increasingly there is no damaging information to leak.

Regardless of what the explanation is, in the absence of any more leaks there has been nothing over the last few weeks for the supporters of ‘Russiagate’ to work with.  The result is that in the absence of anything new the effort to keep the ‘Russiagate’ scandal going and in the public eye is flagging.
My best guess is that it will collapse entirely by early summer.