Rotten Desi Plutocrats

This is the cultural rot of superiority and entitlement. They probably wouldn’t be able to do this in an Indian city because the demand gives workers some leverage despite the lack of labor regulations. Even their fellow Western plutocrats generally keep their exploitation of impoverished people at least marginally above slavery – unless, of course, trafficking is among their business practices. I’m sure Switzerland has a healthy pool of domestic labor like the rest of the global north, the only reason they’d bring workers in from India is to use them without the protections of the country’s labor laws.

Ian Bremmer on The Israel-Hamas War, and What It Means for the World

Ian Bremmer on The Israel-Hamas War, and What It Means for the World

Good analysis. The only hope he offered is that with Hamas gone, there might emerge a Palestinian leadership that is effective in negotiating for the Palestinians’ benefit, especially ending Israel’s settlement expansions. For now, of course, the Palestinians will bear the brunt of the war.

These scientists sabotaged their own work

… and ended up lying to the world.

Much of Tuesday’s hearing focused on a critical few days in early February 2020, beginning with a conference call February 1 that included the eventual authors of the paper and Drs. Anthony Fauci, then head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and Francis Collins, then head of its parent agency, the National Institutes of Health. Later minutes showed that the consensus among the experts leaned toward a lab escape. Yet within days, they were circulating a draft — including to Fauci and Collins — that came to the opposite conclusion, the first draft of which had been finished the same day of the conference call. How and why that rapid turnaround occurred has been the subject of much debate and interrogation.

The authors have said, and repeated during Tuesday’s hearing, that new data had changed their minds, but the new Slack messages and emails show that their initial inclination toward a lab escape remained long past that time. 


The intel agencies’ assessment seems closer to the truth: (PDF)

The Mellon Foundation’s $125 million program aims to address the unjust effects of the US criminal legal system

Right of Return Fellow Victor “Marka27” Quiñonez, bearded, with dark glasses and a dark hat. He holds up his unbuttoned green shirt to show the white t-shirt underneath that says, "All my homies hate prisons." [Photo by Maurice Sartirana, courtesy of Right of Return Fellowship]
Right of Return Fellow Victor “Marka27” Quiñonez [Photo: Maurice Sartirana/courtesy of Right of Return Fellowship]


Sometimes the news is uplifting.

Aside from the sheer scale of Imagining Freedom, what sets the initiative apart is its focus on tangible outcomes rather than performative conversation around reform. Intent on normalizing people and communities impacted by incarceration as leaders and cultural contributors, this initiative puts money directly into the pockets of those historically passed over as agents in their own lives and consequently excluded from funding. By centering art in its funding, Imagining Freedom is prioritizing financial and creative autonomy for its grantees in tandem. The former is necessary given the system’s intent on economically repressing communities and individuals impacted by incarceration; the latter integral to rejecting what has been historically ingrained in us as a just system.

The Swadeshi Jugaad in the Restoration of Gandhi’s Bicycle

“I don’t think the Mahatma would have approved of our little project.”

Source: How I restored Bapu’s bicycle with the help of local repairmen

This is a fascinating, well researched piece about how a team of craftsmen restored a bicycle that Gandhi rode around Sabarmati Ashram.

Whatever the provenance of this bicycle, the native jugaad and craft make the restored bike all swadeshi.

The _real_ fake news, from three US administrations

U.S. officials misled the public about the war in Afghanistan, confidential documents reveal – Washington Post

The lying had already taken hold when the duping began to sell the Iraq war. At least $1 trillion spent in Afghanistan so far. Regardless, the serious, “pragmatic” questions are about how we would fund Medical for All, free public college and other “socialist” evils.

The opportunity loss due to the choice of resource-intensive animal-based food over more efficient plant-based food exceeds supply-chain loss

Source: The opportunity cost of animal based diets exceeds all food losses | PNAS

Although the postproduction loss across the supply chain is similar for plant- and animal-based items, the production of a gram protein (or calorie) from animal sources requires about an order of magnitude more resources and emissions than producing a gram of protein from plant sources … Consequently, shifting to plant-based diets confers substantial environmental savings, comparable to or even surpassing projected improvements in agricultural productivity … In other words, due to the disparate resource requirements of plant- and animal-based food items, replacing animal-based items with more resource-efficient plant alternatives will increase food availability by permitting reallocation of production resources from feed to human food … Favoring resource-intensive food items like beef and pork over plant alternatives thus carries a substantial opportunity cost. Here we analyze the loss associated with such dietary choices as an effective food waste we term “opportunity food loss.” Because opportunity food losses reflect consumer choices, dietary preferences play a key role in determining their magnitude and mitigation. Unlike conventional food loss, opportunity food loss is hidden food that can be recovered via changes in diets.

… we compare the land use of each individual animal-based food item in the US food system with that of a nutritionally comparable plant-based alternative diet. Because plant alternatives need less land per unit protein or energy, replacing animal-based items with plant alternatives frees up agricultural land that can then be repurposed for growing additional food. Comparing this added food potential for the key animal categories—beef, pork, poultry, dairy, and eggs—quantifies the opportunity food losses their consumption represents and the food availability opportunities their replacement by plant-based alternatives offers.

Provisions of bill that sailed through Congress make employees vulnerable to dodgy 401(k)s and create IRS “money grab”

A large bipartisan majority of the US House of Representatives passed the SECURE Act. The bill has rule changes that many would welcome as well as some vexing provisions. The New York Times lists some of the bill’s highlights.

The otherwise relatively unobjectionable bill creates the potential of 401(k) investments being lost to badly managed or fraudulent annuities.

Section 204 gives a safe harbor to 401(k) plan sponsors who select so-called lifetime income products, another word for annuities, to appear among offerings to workers. This would mean that, if an employer picks an annuity provider and it goes out of business or rips off workers, they would not be able to sue the employer afterward. That could incentivize companies to find fly-by-night annuity providers that give good deals to the companies for business, making their money by ripping off the firm’s workers before filing for bankruptcy.

The lack of a safe harbor has been the primary hurdle to getting annuities into 401(k) offerings, said J. Mark Iwry, former senior adviser at the Treasury Department during the Obama years. “It’s the single most frequently mentioned obstacle by plan sponsors,” said Iwry, who is now a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

The piece by David Dayen at The Intercept describes the likely role of regulatory capture in the making of this imminent law. The Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee is Massachusetts Democrat Richard Neal…

The annuities industry is a $235 billion-a-year business, with brokers enjoying kickbacks like resort vacations and luxury watches, according to a 2015 report from Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. Insurance companies have longed to tap the trillions of dollars sitting in 401(k) plans for annuities.

That would include some of Neal’s biggest donors


All in all, Neal picked up $30,000 last quarter in donations from companies and trade groups with a direct interest in the SECURE Act.

Then there’s Forbes contributor James Lange, whose hackles are raised because…

A more appropriate name for the bill would be the Extreme Death-Tax for IRA and Retirement Plan Owners Act, because it gives the IRS carte blanche to confiscate up to one third of your IRA and retirement plans.  In other words, it’s a money grab.

Should you be concerned about “an IRA or a retirement plan that you were hoping you could leave to your children in a tax efficient manner after you are gone,” you’d best read his gory descriptions of the travesties of the SECURE Act. Mocking aside, if the beneficiaries of your bequeathments might have to rely on their inheritances, they’d be thankful for your attention to said tax efficiency.

Facial recognition deployed at major US airports without public comment or checks and balances, but US citizens can opt out.

“This is opening the door to an extraordinarily more intrusive and granular level of government control.”

Source: The US Government Will Use Facial Recognition In Top Airports

In the absence of laws or legal precedents addressing the constitutionality of its use, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol has deployed facial recognition technology at at least 17 airports. Airlines and governments of other countries are doing this as well, in a vacuum of international regulations to protect travelers’ privacy and information security.

US citizens can opt out of facial recognition at domestic airports, EFF explains how. Non-US citizens do not have this option, nor do US citizens at foreign airports. shows the airlines that use facial recognition and those that don’t.

In the US, there are no laws governing the use of facial recognition. Courts have not ruled on whether it constitutes a search under the Fourth Amendment. There are no checks, no balances. Yet government agencies are working quickly to roll it out in every major airport in the country. It’s already being used in seventeen international airports, among them: Atlanta, New York City, Boston, San Jose, Chicago, and two airports in Houston. Many major airlines are on board with the idea — Delta, JetBlue, British Airways, Lufthansa, and American Airlines. Airport operations companies, including Los Angeles World Airports, Greater Orlando Aviation Authority, Mineta San Jose International Airport, Miami International Airport, and the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, are also involved.

CBP says it allows U.S. citizens to decline facial verification and to instead have their identities confirmed through the usual manual boarding process. “CBP works with airline and airport partners to incorporate notifications and processes into their current business models, including signage and gate announcements, to ensure transparency of the biometric process,” an agency spokesperson said in an email to BuzzFeed News. But of 12 flights observed by OIG during its audit in 2017, only 16 passengers declined to participate.

According to Delta, less than 2% of its weekly 25,000 passengers going through the Atlanta airport’s Terminal F, which features “curb to gate” facial recognition systems, opt out of using the tech.

The government’s end vision, according to an early “Biometric Pathway” document from December 2016, is for CBP to build a vast “backend communication portal to support TSA, airport, and airline partners in their efforts to use facial images as a single biometric key for identifying and matching travelers to their identities.”

“This will enable … verified biometrics for check-in, baggage drop, security checkpoints, lounge access, boarding, and other processes,” the document says. “This will create simplified and standardized wayfinding across airports.”

According to the Concept of Operations document, “By partnering with other stakeholders, CBP can facilitate a large-scale transformation of air travel that, by using biometrics, will make air travel more secure … providing increased certainty as to the identity of airline travelers at multiple points in the travel process” and “build additional integrity into the immigration system.” Biometric capture, CBP explained, would be “integrated” into the “systems and business processes” of other stakeholders, including private ones like airports and airlines.

The idea is for CBP to be able to scale up the effort considerably. “Instead of a program that is built and developed exclusively by CBP, and that benefits only CBP missions,” the document states, “the result is a series of interconnected initiatives undertaken by multiple stakeholders, both public and private, and through which all will significantly benefit.”

This is not the first time DHS has seemingly overstepped its boundaries. In the mid-2000s, EPIC sued to obtain records, describing problems with the TSA’s airport body scanners: invasive screening practices, potential health risks, traveler complaints, and more. Then in 2011, EPIC sued again, asking the courts to compel DHS to undertake a public notice-and-comment rulemaking on the use of body scanners. As EPIC argued, “The TSA has acted outside of its regulatory authority and with profound disregard for the statutory and constitutional rights of air travelers.” The DC Circuit agreed, and for the first time, the public was allowed to comment on the body scanner program.

But this time, DHS appears to be arguing, a facial recognition program at the border is so critical that it should be implemented, even without going through all the steps of the rulemaking process. Three internal documents seen by BuzzFeed News state, “CBP will transform the way it identifies travelers by shifting the key to unlocking a traveler’s record from biographic identifiers to biometric ones — primarily a traveler’s face.”

As of the time of publication, the airports included in CBP’s biometric facial recognition program are in Atlanta, Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Washington (Dulles and Reagan), Boston, Fort Lauderdale, Houston Hobby, Dallas/Fort Worth, JFK, Miami, San Jose, Orlando, and Detroit.