01/29/2015 archive

Who’da Thunk?

Trans-Pacific Partnership Contains Provison To Help Wall Street Avoid Regulations

By: DSWright, Firedog Lake

Wednesday January 28, 2015 1:00 pm

Try to hide your surprise. One of the reasons the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is being kept secret is because it has unpopular and reckless policies in it such as deregulating Wall Street. Framed as an effort to harmonize rules for efficiency’s sake the TPP contains rules to prevent “localization” or domestic rules that would restrain financial firms.

Much like Dodd-Frank in the US, many countries have local regulations on how the financial industry can operate in their country. TPP seeks to eliminate such local requirements and instead promote a low and loose universal standard to allow global financial firms and financiers to come and go as they please in each country party to the TPP agreement.

What could go wrong? Surely Wall Street can be trusted to follow difficult to enforce rules that if broken could jeopardize financial markets and the global economy. When has that ever not worked out?

Punting the Pundits

“Punting the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Punting the Pundits”.

Follow us on Twitter @StarsHollowGzt

Trevor Timm: Will the Obama administration finally bring the CIA’s torturers to justice?

The woman who will probably be the nation’s top lawyer opened the door to prosecuting the men and women responsible for the CIA’s torture program on Wednesday. And whether the President who nominated her likes it or not, she should act on it as soon as she’s in office.

President Obama’s nominee for attorney general, Loretta Lynch, in her first Senate confirmation hearing on Wednesday, admitted that certain actions taken by the CIA constituted torture and were illegal. In an exchange with Senator Patrick Leahy in which he asked her if waterboarding was torture, she responded:

   Lynch: “Waterboarding is torture, Senator.”

   Leahy: “And thus illegal?”

   Lynch: “And thus illegal.”

Given her comments, Lynch should immediately appoint a special prosecutor to seek charges against the CIA for waterboarding three detainees (and likely many more) as soon as she’s confirmed. Since there is no statute of limitations on torture, and the UN Convention Against Torture – ratified by the Senate and signed by President Reagan – requires that the United States prosecute violators, this should be an open and shut case for Lynch.

Daphne Eviatar: Senators Question Federal Court Terror Trials While Effective Prosecutions Continue Apace in NYC

As Republicans questioned U.S. Attorney General nominee Loretta Lynch at her confirmation hearing in Washington on Wednesday for supporting trials of suspected terrorists in federal court, the trial of alleged al-Qaeda leader Khalid al-Fawwaz proceeded apace in New York City, with an FBI informant providing critical evidence linking the defendant to the al-Qaeda conspiracy. [..]

Given how smoothly this and the other trials have gone in downtown Manhattan, and the absence of any disruption in New York or elsewhere because of them, it’s hard to believe some senators are still complaining about these cases, claiming the government should instead send them to military commissions at Guantanamo Bay. Meanwhile, due in large part to those complaints, the five alleged September 11 co-conspirators remain stuck in lengthy pretrial hearings at Guantanamo. More than 13 years after the attacks and despite more than a decade in U.S. custody, they are still nowhere near being brought to justice.

Since 9/11, nearly 500 individuals have been prosecuted on terrorism-related charges in U.S. federal courts. Only eight have been prosecuted in the Guantanamo Bay military commissions. Three of those convictions have been overturned.

Richard (RJ) Eskow: Anti-Koch: The Fight for Green Energy Is a Fight for the 99 Percent

The fact that this even needs to be said demonstrates that there’s been a breakdown in the democratic process, but we’ll say it anyway: Our number-one priority should be protecting the planet for future generations. That said, green energy makes sense even if we base our thinking on economic considerations alone.

Energy policies can roughly be divided into two kinds: those which benefit society as a whole, and those which only benefit the very few — the Koch brothers and their ilk.

Guess which kind the GOP supports? Republicans are blocking pro-growth, job-creating green energy investments while pushing a pipeline that would enrich the few at the expense of the many — with potentially disastrous environmental consequences.

If you want to know why, follow the money.

Dave Johnson: Let’s Take Apart the Corporate Case for Fast Track Trade Authority

U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Michael Froman appeared before Congress Tuesday to make the corporate argument for “fast track” trade promotion authority. The USTR and President Obama are pushing fast-track pre-approval for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and other big “trade” agreements they are working on. The Chamber of Commerce, Business Roundtable and other corporate groups and lobbyists are also pushing hard for Congress to pass fast track.

The promoters of fast track say we need it to push “trade” agreements through Congress to expand trade and increase exports. “What we’re going to do through this trade agreement is open up markets,” Froman told Congress Tuesday, “and then level the playing field so we can protect workers, protect American jobs and then ensure a fair and level playing field by raising labor and environmental standards, raising intellectual property rights, standards and enforcement, making sure that we’re putting disciplines on state-owned enterprises that pose a real threat to workers.”

These corporate arguments (you can see them in this Chamber of Commerce slide show “Ten Reasons Why America Needs Trade Promotion Authority”) just make me more skeptical of what they are selling. Here’s why.

John Nichols: If Elections Matter for Greece, Why Not America?

Elections are supposed to have consequences. When countries establish electoral processes that are sufficiently free and functional to ascertain the clear will of the people-and when those votes are cast and counted in an election that draws a solid majority of eligible voters to the polls-that will should be expressed as something more than a New York Times headline or a Fox News alert. It should be expressed in leadership, law and governance.

That governance should be sufficient to address poverty, tame inequality and conquer injustice. And if outside forces thwart those initiatives, that government should challenge them on behalf of the common good. After all, if meaningful economic and social change cannot by achieved (or at the very least demanded) with a stroke of the ballot pen, then what is the point of an election?

Media Benjamin: Take Cuba Off the Terrorist List

The new U.S.-Cuba talks are a refreshing burst of sunshine in the 54-year dismal relationship between neighbors separated by a mere 90 miles. The nations negotiated a successful swap of prisoners. The onerous travel restrictions the U.S. government placed on just visiting the island are starting to crumble. Embassies in Washington and Havana will soon be opened. Rules designed to ease trade are being written. But despite this long-awaited meltdown of U.S. policies that added to the island’s economic woes but never succeeded in tumbling Cuba’s communist government, a portion of the Cold War edifice remains intact: Cuba is still on the U.S. state sponsors of terrorism list. [..]

Most people around the world would find it very strange that Cuba would be on a “terrorist list,” as it is most known worldwide for exporting doctors, musicians, teachers, artists, and dancers — not terrorists.

The Breakfast Cub (The Milgram Experiment)

breakfast beers photo breakfastbeers.jpgI hope everyone has at least a cursory familiarity with the Milgram Experiment.  This is a study of how willing people are to obey authority figures and believe me, it doesn’t take much.

I’ve been associated with survey research for many years and my magnum opus as a programmer is an integrated suite of cross-tabulation software designed to replace a $10,000 tab house (per study) with a bunch of $1500 Kaypro 10s and a some trained monkeys data entry profressionals.  There’s more to it than you think including a neat hash evaluation screener the make sure you don’t accidentally load the same set of data from the workstation into the consolidated database twice.

I got my start doing mall intercepts for Oxy-10 where my evaluation question (also called a screener) was- “Do you you have pimples, oily skin, blackheads, or zits?”

C’mon you pizza faced moron, I can see them.

Until recently I’d still pick up some change from doing interviews because I’m not above that sort of work, but I’m not getting calls so much anymore (though they still do what I’m about to describe) probably in part due to my moral qualms about it (which I did not disguise from my employer) and also since it’s cold and wet work that keeps you out really late at night.

You see, I did DUI Checkpoint testing for NHTSA and the IIHS.

Now the study was designed to determine 2 things, awareness of anti-Drunk Driving Ad Campaigns (“Have you seen or heard any advertising about increased DUI enforcement in the last 6 months?”  “Would that be on TV, the Radio, a Newspaper or Magazine or some other source?”), and how effective Police Officers were at detecting Drunk Drivers at Checkpoints (not very actually).

The methodology was that we’d set up just past the checkpoint and have someone in a white lab coat ($12 in any industrial clothing catalog) and safety vest wave over random cars and our team of interviewers (also in lab coats and safety vests) would go up to them and explain to the drivers that we were not associated with the police and were conducting a survey and asked them if they’d participate.

After a series of about 10 questions which were simply designed to get them used to saying yes we’d deliver the kicker-

One final question.  I have a Breathalizer here to measure your blood alcohol.  The results are totally anonymous and confidential and not shared with the Police.  Would you mind giving me a sample?

I’d get 80% compliance right out of the box.  If I applied a little cajoling (telling them that they were already past the checkpoint and there would be absolutely no consequences whatever the result which I wouldn’t know anyway) I’d get 98%.

Now the truth is we could easily have synced up those results using a license plate reader and given that they were ordered and time stamped.  I had a problem with that.

So I don’t do it anymore.

But what Milgram found in his experiments is true.  Almost everyone will do virtually anything an authority figure tells them to do, even if it’s administering fatal shocks because some guy in a $12 lab coat tells you to.

And when dealing with Police there are only 3 things you should say-

  • Am I free to go?
  • I am not answering any questions without my lawyer present.
  • I do not consent to any search.

You’ll probably get tased or shot anyway but at least you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing you did the right thing.

Rethinking One of Psychology’s Most Infamous Experiments

Cari Romm, The Atlantic

Jan 28 2015, 12:23 PM EST

Under the watch of the experimenter, the volunteer-dubbed “the teacher”-would read out strings of words to his partner, “the learner,” who was hooked up to an electric-shock machine in the other room. Each time the learner made a mistake in repeating the words, the teacher was to deliver a shock of increasing intensity, starting at 15 volts (labeled “slight shock” on the machine) and going all the way up to 450 volts (“Danger: severe shock”). Some people, horrified at what they were being asked to do, stopped the experiment early, defying their supervisor’s urging to go on; others continued up to 450 volts, even as the learner pled for mercy, yelled a warning about his heart condition-and then fell alarmingly silent. In the most well-known variation of the experiment, a full 65 percent of people went all the way.

Until they emerged from the lab, the participants didn’t know that the shocks weren’t real, that the cries of pain were pre-recorded, and that the learner- railroad auditor Jim McDonough– was in on the whole thing, sitting alive and unharmed in the next room. They were also unaware that they had just been used to prove the claim that would soon make Milgram famous: that ordinary people, under the direction of an authority figure, would obey just about any order they were given, even to torture.

(M)any psychologists argue that even with methodological holes and moral lapses, the basic finding of Milgram’s work, the rate of obedience, still holds up. Because of the ethical challenge of reproducing the study, the idea survived for decades on a mix of good faith and partial replications-one study had participants administer their shocks in a virtual-reality system, for example-until 2007, when ABC collaborated with Santa Clara University psychologist Jerry Burger to replicate Milgram’s experiment for an episode of the TV show Basic Instincts titled “The Science of Evil,” pegged to Abu Ghraib.

Burger’s way around an ethical breach: In the most well-known experiment, he found, 80 percent of the participants who reached a 150-volt shock continued all the way to the end. “So what I said we could do is take people up to the 150-volt point, see how they reacted, and end the study right there,” he said. The rest of the setup was nearly identical to Milgram’s lab of the early 1960s (with one notable exception: “Milgram had a gray lab coat and I couldn’t find a gray, so I got a light blue.”)

At the end of the experiment, Burger was left with an obedience rate around the same as the one Milgram had recorded-proving, he said, not only that Milgram’s numbers had been accurate, but that his work was as relevant as ever. “[The results] didn’t surprise me,” he said, “but for years I had heard from my students and from other people, ‘Well, that was back in the 60s, and somehow how we’re more aware of the problems of blind obedience, and people have changed.'”

Matthew Hollander, a sociology Ph.D. candidate at the University of Wisconsin, is among the most recent to question Milgram’s notion of obedience. After analyzing the conversation patterns from audio recordings of 117 study participants, Hollander found that Milgram’s original classification of his subjects-either obedient or disobedient-failed to capture the true dynamics of the situation. Rather, he argued, people in both categories tried several different forms of protest-those who successfully ended the experiment early were simply better at resisting than the ones that continued shocking.

“Research subjects may say things like ‘I can’t do this anymore’ or ‘I’m not going to do this anymore,'” he said, even those who went all the way to 450 volts. “I understand those practices to be a way of trying to stop the experiment in a relatively aggressive, direct, and explicit way.”

It’s a far cry from Milgram’s idea that the capacity for evil lies dormant in everyone, ready to be awakened with the right set of circumstances. The ability to disobey toxic orders, Hollander said, is a skill that can be taught like any other- all a person needs to learn is what to say and how to say it.

Ah, you see, that’s the point.  However much they verbally protested, they didn’t stop shocking.  Some of them were quite distressed both by the experience and by discovering what they were capable of doing to another person with the proper motivation.  That’s why the experiment is widely considered unethical and unduplicable today.

The number of people who walked out is surprisingly low and the question for you dear reader is are you one of them?

The law that entropy always increases holds, I think, the supreme position among the laws of Nature. If someone points out to you that your pet theory of the universe is in disagreement with Maxwell’s equations – then so much the worse for Maxwell’s equations. If it is found to be contradicted by observation – well, these experimentalists do bungle things sometimes. But if your theory is found to be against the second law of thermodynamics I can give you no hope; there is nothing for it but to collapse in deepest humiliation.

Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington, The Nature of the Physical World (1927)

Science and Technology News and Blogs

Science Oriented Video

Obligatories, News and Blogs below.

On This Day In History January 29

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

January 29 is the 29th day of the year in the Gregorian calendar. There are 336 days remaining until the end of the year (337 in leap years).

On this day in 1845, Edgar Allan Poe’s famous poem “The Raven,” beginning “Once upon a midnight dreary,” is published on this day in the New York Evening Mirror.

“The Raven” is a narrative poem by American writer Edgar Allan Poe, first published in January 1845. It is often noted for its musicality, stylized language, and supernatural atmosphere. It tells of a talking raven’s mysterious visit to a distraught lover, tracing the man’s slow descent into madness. The lover, often identified as being a student, is lamenting the loss of his love, Lenore. Sitting on a bust of Pallas, the raven seems to further instigate his distress with its constant repetition of the word “Nevermore”. The poem makes use of a number of folk and classical references.

Poe claimed to have written the poem very logically and methodically, intending to create a poem that would appeal to both critical and popular tastes, as he explained in his 1846 follow-up essay “The Philosophy of Composition”. The poem was inspired in part by a talking raven in the novel Barnaby Rudge: A Tale of the Riots of ‘Eighty by Charles Dickens. Poe borrows the complex rhythm and meter of Elizabeth Barrett‘s poem “Lady Geraldine’s Courtship”, and makes use of internal rhyme as well as alliteration throughout.

The Daily/Nightly Show (New Koch)

So the brothers don’t like Rand and are prepared to dump a Billion in 2016.

I wish I could say this is news or a surprise.  Things that don’t go better with?  Democracy.

Tonight’s question?

Where are the ‘liberal’ Billionaires?

Keeping it 100 and being f#@ked up with your answers are not mutually exclusive.

Oh and I don’t trust the government or Tuskegee either and I’m never giving up comedy.  Sorry kids.  On the other hand I think I’ll keep my day job.


Friends don’t let friends broadcast drunk

This week’s guests-

The Daily Show

Sigh.  Tonight’s interview with Oscar Isaac is the sort of thing that used to be right in Stephen’s wheelhouse.  He’s an X-Wing pilot, Poe Dameron, in The Force Awakens AND En Sabah Nur/Apocalypse in X-Men: Apocalypse but he’ll probably only talk about A Most Violent Year which opened New Year’s Eve.

Below the fold is Jill Leovy’s web exclusive extended interview as well as the real news.