Saturday, January 31, 2015

A Second Rate Life

More and more folks in the new crowdsourcing economy are finding out that customer ratings are now just as important as business ratings, and on the largely unregulated frontier that if you get pegged as a "problem customer" then your life is going to be very, very difficult

But the new platforms let reviews go both ways, and vary in their transparency about the process. Yelp is straightforward: Businesses can post replies to critical customers. On Lyft, the second biggest of the new cab companies, passengers are vaguely warned that “a low star rating” means requests for rides may not be accepted. Uber does not mention passenger ratings at all in its user agreement but noted in a blog post that “an Uber trip should be a good experience for drivers too.” 
It does not seem to take much to annoy some Uber drivers. On one online forum, an anonymous driver said he gave poor reviews to “people who are generally negative and would tend to bring down my mood (or anyone around them).” Another was cavalier about the whole process: “1 star for passengers does not do them any harm. Sensible drivers won’t pick them up, but so what?”

Even those who know Uber best appear surprised by how easy it is to fall from grace. “I was at a 5 for a long time, then I had a string of 4 stars,” Travis Kalanick, the company’s chief executive, recently told San Francisco magazine. “I don’t know what happened. I think what happened was I was a little stressed at work. I was not as courteous as I should have been.” 
Part of the confusion stems from the fact that the rental economy — taking its cue from the Internet in general — sees everything as either horrible or great, with little room for nuance. Lyft nods to this when it tells passengers reviewing drivers that ”anything lower than 5 indicates that you were somehow unhappy with the ride.” Drivers can be dropped from their services when they fall below 4.5, but it is unclear what it takes to get banned as a passenger. 
“Have riders been given a temporary cooling-off period or barred from using the app for inappropriate or unsafe behavior? Yes,” Uber said in a blog post, adding that it wanted only “the most respectful riders.” It declined to be more explicit.

So what happens when Uber or Lyft refuse you service because of ratings you can't see and have little control over?  What happens when there are drivers that intentionally rate certain people as bad passengers regardless of how they act?  It's a system that can be easily abused, and if you don't believe it, take a look at the comments section of any of the online articles I link to.

What happens when the comments section of the internet determines who gets service as a paying customer in general?  Uber and other companies like it are leading the way, but what if we get to the point where people start using this to blackball people they don't like?

What happens when your grocery store or your kid's school or your place of worship decides to take up this philosophy?

Something to think about.

Bibi's Bailout Bonanza

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu is hoping that congressional Dems can get him out of the gaping chasm he put himself in over his plan to visit Congress, and so far his pleas are falling on deaf ears.

Mr. Netanyahu’s office confirmed Thursday that he had called Democrats and “other friends” in Congress in recent days, and that he “reiterated that the survival of Israel is not a partisan issue.” 
Mr. Reid, a strong supporter of Israel, said in an interview that he had had a candid conversation with Mr. Netanyahu. He said he had advised the prime minister that the speech, scheduled for March, had become such a problem that some Democratic senators had backed off their support of the quick imposition of new sanctions on Iran. 
“It’s hurting you,” Mr. Reid said he told Mr. Netanyahu. “I said: ‘You have to understand this. I’m not telling you what to do or what not to do, but you have to understand the background here from my perspective.’ ” 
“It would have been wrong for me to say, ‘Don’t come,’ ” said Mr. Reid, who is recovering at his home in Washington from a serious exercise accident he sustained Jan. 1. “I wouldn’t do that.” 
Ms. Pelosi said late Wednesday that when she spoke with the prime minister, she had stressed that the speech “could send the wrong message in terms of giving diplomacy a chance.”

Gosh, it's almost like this too-clever-by half plan to "put Obama in his place" was such an overt insult that it blew up in Bibi's face. Doubly so since John Boehner is running as quickly as he can away from this so that Netanyahu and his ambassador to the US are the ones left holding the bag here, as Jeffrey Goldberg points out talking to Ambassador Dermer:

Goldberg: Democrats (including, and maybe especially, Jewish Democrats) believe that the prime minister is sometimes disrespectful to the president, and they worry that your government privileges its relations with the Republicans at their expense. Assuming you believe this is wrong, why is this wrong? 
Dermer: The prime minister and the president have disagreed on issues, but the prime minister has never intentionally treated the president disrespectfully—and if that is what some people felt, it certainly was not the prime minister’s intention.

Nobody believes that. There's every indication that Bibi flat out despises President Obama and if Bibi going around him to speak to Congress as a foreign leader openly undermining the foreign policy of a sitting President isn't intentional disrespect, there's very little that does qualify.

And now the guy is scrambling to try to find some way to save his own ass, because he full well knows what the consequences are as the Palestinians decide to take their grievances to the International Criminal Court rather than the UN. He knows he needs the United States, and right now nobody will give him the time of day.

Can't say he doesn't deserve it.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Last Call For Demolition Derby Night

Republicans have finally come clean on their intent to watch SCOTUS fatally wound Obamacare, and to then watch it bleed to death.

Leaders in the GOP-controlled House and Senate see the court challenge as their best hope for tearing apart a law they have long opposed. If the court strikes down the subsidies, Democrats are expected to clamor for lawmakers to pass a measure correcting the language in the law to revive them. Congressional Republicans say there is no possibility they would allow that.

Greg Sargent notes this could play out as overreach as 30 states aren't going to sit idly by and do nothing with taxpayers suddenly having unaffordable health care because the GOP Congress won't fix it.

It is for this reason that there is a hidden upside in a Supreme Court ruling with the challengers. It just might finally force Republicans to own the consequences of their actual current stance on health reform, which is that they favor blowing up Obamacare and replacing it with nothing. Republicans could very well just allow the disruptions to unfold in hopes that chaos is their political friend in the 2016 election. Alternatively, Republicans could enter into real negotiations to fix the law in exchange for changes they want. Or Republicans could finally coalesce behind an alternative that would purport to expand coverage to those who lost it and continue to go without it. Or maybe that alternative wouldn’t purport to do this. Either way, that alternative could be evaluated against what Obamacare had been doing in many states before SCOTUS gutted it. Then we could re-litigate all this in 2016.

I think Greg has it right with the first option:  since when have voters over the last six years punished Republicans for causing chaos?  Certainly not in 2010, and they were rewarded with Senate control in 2014 for doing just that.

So yes, Federal exchange states will burn, it'll become a crisis, and voters will blame Obama not for causing the problem, but for being unable to convince Republicans to fix it.  If this keeps up for two years, the GOP may coast to an easy win.  So what if millions of Americans lose their health care? Most voters will say "Well, the Supreme Court decided the Republicans were right all along" and will choose to punish Democrats.

And the GOP knows it.

Persecution Not-So-Complex

The Department of Justice investigated reporter Sharyl Attkisson's claims that the Obama administration had hacked her computer in order to spy on her as a critic of the President, and found that the woman is pretty much talking out of her ass.

Attkisson, who has written a book about her experiences trying to cover the Obama White House which includes the allegation of hacking, has filed a lawsuit against the Department of Justice, outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder, and the Postmaster General for the alleged hacking of her home and work computers. Today, Attkisson testified at Lynch's confirmation hearing.

The report from the DoJ's Office of the Inspector General casts a different light on Attkisson's allegations:

The OIG found after inspecting Attkisson's personal computer that the episode she recorded video of—in which the contents of a Word document were being deleted off her screen—was caused by a stuck backspace key. And examination of Attkisson's iMac found that file metadata for the computer's logs had been altered by whoever inspected it. "The OIG’s forensic examination further found what appeared to be searches and queries performed by an examiner with knowledge of computer logs," the report noted.

"However, it appeared that the searches and queries were conducted while the computer was in operation and without write protecting the drive, which altered file information. This method of forensic examination is not forensically sound nor is it in accordance with best practices." And when the OIG asked for a copy of the report from the technician who did the examination, Attkisson said, "My attorney says our material isn't yet in a form that's ready to share."

CBS would not make Attkisson's work laptop available to the OIG for inspection, though it had issued a statement saying that her computer had been compromised. But CBS told the OIG that it hadn't hired anyone to perform a forensic test on her iMac, counter to Attkisson's claim.

Ah but in the end she's a hero to the tinfoil morons on the wingnut circuit, and always will be, another victim of Obama's evil liberal conspiracy to silence voices in the press that dare criticize him.
The best part is while the knuckleheads are clearly lunatics, their votes count precisely as much as yours, the difference being that while crazy, they actually vote, and vote Republican.

Bonkers?  Certainly.  But right now the party of bonkers controls 246 House seats, giving them a 58 seat advantage, 54 Senate seats giving them an 8 seat advantage, and control 24 state legislatures and governor's mansions completely, with another 19 states they split with the Dems.

Republicans are winning, and if they get the White House, then the party of Sharyl Attkisson will rule the country.  It's easy to make fun of her.  it's a whole lot harder to get off your ass and vote to stop the people she represents.

Breaking StupidiNews: Mitt Rom-Not

Mitt's out.

Mitt Romney said Friday that he would not seek the Republican nomination for president in 2016. 
Mr. Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, shared his decision on a conference call with a small group of advisers. 
In a second call to a larger group of supporters, Mr. Romney said, “After putting considerable thought into making another run for president, I’ve decided it is best to give other leaders in the Party the opportunity to become our next nominee.”


Texas School Justice Time

Now I can't think of anything that could possibly go wrong with giving teachers loaded weapons and telling them that yes, they can use them on students who are a "threat".

People who are concerned about the use of excessive force by law enforcement may have to deal with another fatal can of worms. If Texas state Rep. Dan Flynn (R) gets his way, teachers will have the right to use deadly force against students in Texas classrooms, in the near future. 
The Lone Star State already permits teachers to have firearms in the classroom, but H.B. 868, also known as the Teacher’s Protection Act, would authorize instructors to use “force or deadly force on school property, on a school bus, or at a school-sponsored event in defense of the educator’s person or in defense of students of the school that employs the educator.” Instructors would also have the right to use deadly force “in defense of property of the school that employs the educator.” Moreover, civil immunity would be granted to those who use deadly force, meaning they would not be liable for the injury or death of student.

For a group of small government conservatives, Texas Republicans sure do want to give government employees the right to use deadly force against people, and to make those employees the sole arbiter of when and when to use that deadly force.

Of course, if you were a Texas Republican, armed with the knowledge that the state's school students are now majority Latino, well maybe you'd overreact with a bill like this too, right? 


Thursday, January 29, 2015

Last Call For The Religion Of Tolerance

Republicans continue their outreach to red state Muslims, and they're doing a literally unbelievable job of it.

A Republican state lawmaker in Texas is sending a message to her Muslim constituents: if they want to come calling at her Capitol office, they better pledge allegiance to the United States.

Newly-minted state Rep. Molly White (R) wrote Thursday in a Facebook post that she'd left an Israeli flag on the reception desk in her Austin office to mark the occasion of Texas Muslim Capitol Day. She said she also instructed her staff to "ask representatives from the Muslim community to renounce Islamic terrorist groups and publicly announce allegiance to America and our laws."

"We will see how long they stay in my office," White wrote.

The best part of Texas Muslim Capitol Day?

Embedded image permalink

But remember, health care for poor people is liberal fascism.  Meanwhile, demanding loyalty oaths from citizens is just being a patriot.  I'm probably trying to silence her or something.

Post-Racial America Update

Old habits tend to die hard here in Post-Racial America.

A white politician in Virginia reportedly addressed a black reporter as "boy" at a meeting on Monday, but then tried to backpedal quickly.

Augusta County Supervisor Tracy Pyles, an independent who has run for office as a Democrat in the past, was apparently critcizing reporter Calvin Trice, 43, of the Virginia News Leader newspaper when the offending remark took place. 
"You got it wrong, boy — uh, son," Pyles told the reporter, according to the Virginia News Leader
"That has bothered me," Pyles later told the paper. "It certainly came out, and then I went to 'son.'" 
The News Leader reported that Trice, as well as others present at the briefing, were offended by the way Pyles addressed him. 
"The context was obviously angry and that's a term that when its been used against me was a racial slur, a put down," Trice told his newspaper. 
Pyles said it's just the way he talks, even to those who are dearest to him.

Black reporter reporting facts you don't like?  Hey, it's just the way the guy talks when you call him "boy" right?

And speaking of black professionals in Post-Racial America, it's interesting to note that black professionals with advanced degrees on average earn about the same as  white workers with bachelor's degrees.

You’ve heard of the racial wealth gap, the racial employment gap, and surely also about racial job callback disparities. Today, the Bureau of Labor Statistics offers an updated look at another dynamic of our racialized economy: the racial income gap. 
As in: In 2014, while white workers 25 years or older with at least an undergrad degree took home median earnings of $1,219 per week, similarly aged and educated Latino workers made $1,007, and Asian workers made $1,328 per week. Black workers with at least a college degree, meanwhile, posted median earnings of $970 per week
The racial income gap is so pronounced that black workers with an advanced degree made $1,149—roughly the same as white workers who had only a bachelor’s degree ($1,132).

But if you work hard and educate yourself, you'll make it in America as a black person, right?

Oh, and starting with some college education, your average black employee earns less than your average woman.  And black and Hispanic women?  That is a national tragedy right there.

Even when we play by the rules we lose.

Barack And Bibi And Not Buddies

The Obama administration has been holding its tongue over Republicans inviting Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu to speak to Congress without informing the White House so far, but it looks like that period of silence has more or less ended with a bang.

The Obama administration, after days of mounting tension, signaled on Wednesday how angry it is with Israel that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accepted Republican leaders’ invitation to address Congress on Iran without consulting the White House.

The outrage the episode has incited within President Obama’s inner circle became clear in unusually sharp criticism by a senior administration official who said that the Israeli ambassador, Ron Dermer, who helped orchestrate the invitation, had repeatedly placed Mr. Netanyahu’s political fortunes above the relationship between Israel and the United States.

The official who made the comments to The New York Times would not be named, and the White House declined to comment. The remarks were the latest fallout after Mr. Dermer, without the White House’s knowledge, worked with House Speaker John A. Boehner to arrange the speech, which is scheduled for March.

If there is a head around here that's going to roll, it's going to be Ambassador Dermer's.

Mr. Dermer, an American-born former Republican political operative who is so close to Mr. Netanyahu that he is often called “Bibi’s brain,” became Israel’s envoy to the United States in 2013. White House officials were at first wary that Mr. Dermer would politicize relations between Washington and Jerusalem, but over time cultivated a working relationship with him after concluding that there were advantages in his closeness to Mr. Netanyahu.

The last week has borne out their initial concerns.

Mr. Dermer relayed the invitation to Mr. Netanyahu from Mr. Boehner, Republican of Ohio, without notifying top officials in Washington or Jerusalem. American and Israeli officials said that Mr. Dermer, in the course of a lengthy meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry just before Mr. Netanyahu’s speech was announced, never mentioned it.

Let's not forget that Dermer was one of Frank Luntz's boys back in the GOP's "Contract With America" days of Speaker Newt Gingrich.  He's a GOP operative through and through, and he decided that his loyalties to Israel and the GOP trumped all.

We'll see how this shakes out, but the crosshairs are definitely on Dermer's career right now should the White House decide to persona non grata his ass.  That however would be a major escalation on our part.

It may very well be warranted.


Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Last Call For The Great Beturbaned Horde

I think of all the Republican politicians I dislike the most, Bobby Jindal has to be at the top of the list simply because he's smarter than a great percentage of them and chooses to spout ignorance like this anyway.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) expressed fears of an extremist Muslim “invasion” of America in an interview on Monday, outlining a strict vision for how Muslims should assimilate into the United States and doubling down on his recent controversial comments about Muslim “no-go zones” in Europe. 
According to Buzzfeed, Jindal spoke at length about Muslim immigration during an interview on the Washington Watch radio show, hosted by Family Research Council president Tony Perkins. Jindal began the segment by defending remarks he made earlier this month about so-called “no-go zones,” or areas in England and France that some American conservatives have erroneously claimed are so dominated by extremist Muslims that police forces simply do not enter.

If we’re not careful the same no-go zones you’re seeing now in Europe will come to America,” Jindal said. “What is not acceptable and what you’ve seen in Europe and this is a very serious particular threat, you’ve got those that do want to try to impose a form of sharia law. And sharia law is antithetical, mutually exclusive of freedom, in treating women as first-class citizens, it is antithetical to the values we hold dear. And you see, third, fourth generation immigrants in the U.K., France, in other places in Europe that don’t consider themselves part of those societies and that’s very dangerous.”

No-go zones are a complete lie, but Jindal understands that being an Islamophobic Republican as well as a man of Indian descent allows him to make a contrast as "one of the good immigrants" in this country.  He's lowering the discourse on purpose to further his own political ambitions. It's a form of self-hatred and loathing that's been practiced here for centuries, but it's just as tiring now as it was in the days of blaming the Irish, Italian, Greeks and Catholics coming into the country to join America.

Jindal should frankly know better about a lot of things.  But he's lying to his base for a reason.

Cut And Bleeding Red

Reuters reporter Andy Sullivan has a piece today that all but accuses the Obama administration of cutting discretionary federal grants to red states more than blue ones for political reasons.

For the analysis, Reuters divided the U.S. into three categories: Republican-leaning "red" states where Obama got less than 45 percent of the vote in the 2012 election; competitive "purple" states where he won between 45 percent and 55 percent of the vote; and Democratic-leaning "blue" states where he won more than 55 percent of the vote.

Red, purple and blue states have all shouldered steep spending cuts after a 2011 budget deal, the analysis found. But those cuts have not been doled out evenly.

Discretionary grant funding to red states like Mississippi fell by 40 percent to $15 billion between fiscal 2009 and fiscal 2013, the most recent year for which reliable figures are available. Purple states like Ohio and North Carolina saw a smaller drop of 27 percent, to $19.8 billion, and blue states saw a yet-smaller drop of 22.5 percent, to $27.6 billion. (The tally does not include disaster aid handed out after Hurricane Sandy, which went largely to blue states like New Jersey.)

The disparity doesn't show up in payments like Medicaid that are distributed through pre-set formulas. It also does not appear in Obama's 2009 recession-fighting Recovery Act. It only shows up in federal aid that is most directly controlled by the administration: "project grants," which are doled out on a competitive basis by career civil servants and political appointees.

Of course, many factors other than politics come into play. Some states aren't good at writing grant proposals - researchers at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, for example, found that poor planning has hurt that state's ability to compete for federal dollars. A governor from an oil-producing state may be less inclined to pursue green-energy grants.

But the disparity can't be fully explained by these factors. At Reuters' request, Hudak ran a statistical analysis of spending over this period, controlling for differences in population, economy, percentage of elderly residents, miles of federal highway and the number of research universities and hospitals.

Red states still came up short. After 2011, the average red state got 15 percent fewer grants and 1.3 percent fewer grant dollars than the average swing state. That comes out to roughly 500 grants and $15 million for an average-sized red state like Tennessee - enough to pay for 115 additional police officers or upgrade a rural airport to handle larger planes.

All of this seems pretty odd until you remember that the Senate gave up earmarks in 2011 under this same budget deal, and oh yes, Sullivan does admit that previous presidents played the same game.

This approach isn't unique to Obama. Under presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, Hudak found that purple states got about 7.3 percent more grants and 5.7 percent more grant dollars than states that were firmly in one camp.

So federal grant money goes towards presidential swing states?  Whoever would have guessed that?

Super Zandar Funtime Land

And who should come along just under the deadline for filing for running for Kentucky governor than our old cockfighting friend Matt Bevin...

Months removed from a Republican Senate primary loss to Mitch McConnell, the fiery tea-party candidate launched another statewide race Tuesday, this time for Kentucky governor. 
Bevin's unexpected and late entry—he officially joined the race less than two hours before the state's 4 p.m. deadline—is a boon for the party's most conservative elements, as it will boost their voice in a crowded campaign. But for the party as a whole, it complicates an already difficult task: preventing the competitive primary from crippling its candidate before the general election begins. 
With Bevin, Republicans now have a four-way race. State Agriculture Commissioner James Comer is the perceived front-runner, but he was already competing against wealthy Louisville businessman Hal Heiner and former Kentucky Supreme Court Justice Will Scott. And with Bevin, the GOP adds a candidate with a combative history—particularly in his nasty race against McConnell last year. 
And if the party is unable to prevent its primary season from becoming an all-out brawl, it risks losing the governor's mansion yet again: Republicans have long sought the Kentucky governorship—and thought they had opportunities to take it in recent races—but the state hasn't had a Republican governor since Ernie Fletcher was ousted after one term in 2007. And over the past 50 years, Republicans have held the state's top spot for only eight.

"They'll beat each other up. Even if they're all good candidates, we'll have four months having a family feud, or at least a family discussion, and that's going to put [Democrats] in a good position," said Trey Grayson, Rand Paul's 2010 Senate primary opponent.

You can read more about Bevin's brutally ugly primary fight against Mitch the Turtle, his "cock-up" of a fall over cockfighting in the Bluegrass State, and a not-so-gentle reminder that Bevin didn't exactly hurt Mitch too much.

Having said that, cone of the other Republicans running for governor here are anywhere near as politically savvy as Mitch, so Bevin might turn out to be real trouble for them.

Which is good for Jack Conway and the Democrats.  We'll see.


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