About a k wala

Avatar: https://is.gd/hueyfreeman – feel free to mistake me for him.

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.

AirlinePrivacy.com 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.

Canada has granted asylum to one of the refugee families who hid Snowden in Hong Kong

But others who helped Snowden still waiting for a decision from Canada on refugee status, with one ‘unraveling’ mentally and hospitalized

Source: Canada grants refugee status to some asylum-seekers who hid Edward Snowden in Hong Kong | National Post

HONG KONG — Vanessa Rodel was so afraid to believe the news, she asked her lawyer to repeat it, five times.

But each time, the message she had longed to hear was exactly the same, and each time it was every bit as momentous: Rodel, a Filipino national, and her seven-year-old daughter Keana would finally be leaving Hong Kong for a new life thousands of kilometres away in Canada, ending a decade of suspended animation here…

The others who helped Snowden — a Sri Lankan couple with two young children and another single Sri Lankan man — are still awaiting word on whether Canada will accept them as refugees. And the long years as second-class citizens in Hong Kong — with the ever-present threat of being returned to the countries they fled in fear — seem to be having a dire impact.

Supun Kellapatha, father of the two children, was hospitalized Friday due to increasingly fragile mental health; only his last-ditch court challenge now stands in the way of his being forced back to Sri Lanka.


University of California breaks with Elsevier and embraces open access.

The Geisel Library at UC San Diego (Lenny Ignelzi / AP)

Another woke fringe idea goes mainstream:

…the University of California, one of the largest research institutions in the world, blew up negotiations with Elsevier, one of the largest publishers of research articles in the world. The university would no longer pay Elsevier millions of dollars a year to subscribe to its journals. It simply walked away.

Not so long ago, blowing off a publisher as important as Elsevier would have been unthinkable. But academics have been joining in an open revolt against Elsevier’s extremely profitable business model. In 2012, mathematicians started a petition to boycott the publisher that has since been signed by more than 17,000 researchers. In December 2016, universities in Germany stopped paying for Elsevier’s journals. In 2018, the same thing happened in Sweden and then Hungary.

Source: University of California Drops Elsevier Contract – The Atlantic

UC press release: UC terminates subscriptions with world’s largest scientific publisher in push for open access to publicly funded research

Not woke: Incredibles 2 and Doctor Who episode ‘Kerblam!’

Contains spoilers.

Incredibles 2 isn’t the innocuous accompaniment you’d want to the stupor following a Thanksgiving meal. It seems to be unabashed propaganda, though it most likely isn’t; but it’s likely to cause dyspepsia. The movie dispenses with Hollywood’s sappy lip-service to wokeness and presents the world view of “job creators” unvarnished. Such brazenness is true to our times.

The voice that laments consumerism and choosing “ease over quality” is the villain’s, who tries to sabotage her brother’s mission to end the prejudice against superheroes, or “supers.”

Win Deavor launches a PR campaign by staging a disaster, and having Elastigirl spectacularly avert it, in order to sell superheroes as benevolent and necessary for security. These supers are benevolent of course, and the salesman trying to get people to accept them is benevolent by extension. Evelyn, his sister, sees people’s dependence on the superheroes as abdication of agency. When Win’s PR stunt succeeds, she secretly hypnotizes Elasticgirl and other superheroes, as well as the world’s dignitaries gathered to formally legalize supers. Evelyn has gone rogue and is trying to impose her will on the world through mind control. Win, the salesman, only wants people to recognize that supers just want to keep them safe.

The movie endorses deferring to those who are strong and have superior ability, treating them as inherently well-intended. Objections to this based on the resulting relegation of people to passivity are presented as sinister and destructive.

Kerblam!‘ is the seventh episode in series 11 of Doctor Who. It’s appropriate for Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving that is hyped, and duly celebrated, as the kickoff of the Christmas Holiday shopping season in the US and elsewhere. But the episode is problematic.

An automated warehouse of the galaxy’s largest retailer is 10% “organic” (human) powered. A human saboteur, posing as a janitor, modifies the bubbles in the packing bubble wrap to explode when popped, and hacks the system to have a huge number of packages sent simultaneously. The aim is to cause explosions when customers inevitably pop the bubbles upon opening their packages. He’s a militant activist protesting the low percentage of humans employed. The system sends a package to The Doctor with “Help” on the packing slip to get her to come and thwart the saboteur’s plan. After hacking the system herself to have the robots explode bubble wrap from all the packages within the warehouse, she lectures the saboteur about the problem being not with the system or technology, but with humans like him who use it for nefarious purposes. The saboteur dies in the explosion. The incident leads the “Head of People” to vow to recommend that the warehouse be “majority organic” powered.

Problem #1: The system ≠ technology. The system is how humans chose to use technology. It’s a proxy for the company that owns and operates it.

Problem #2: Portraying a human activist with a legitimate grievance as a terrorist, and the company (see problem #1) responsible for the grievance as benevolent, is an ideological choice, and not a woke one.

In which a US administration inadvertently achieves transparency

The US President clearly and succinctly lays out the policy underlying the country’s relationship with Saudi Arabia over the past several decades.

Statement from President Donald J. Trump on Standing with Saudi Arabia | The White House

After my heavily negotiated trip to Saudi Arabia last year, the Kingdom agreed to spend and invest $450 billion in the United States. This is a record amount of money. It will create hundreds of thousands of jobs, tremendous economic development, and much additional wealth for the United States. Of the $450 billion, $110 billion will be spent on the purchase of military equipment from Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and many other great U.S. defense contractors.

The United States intends to remain a steadfast partner of Saudi Arabia to ensure the interests of our country, Israel and all other partners in the region.

Feds Force Suspect To Unlock An Apple iPhone X With Their Face

Cops tell a child abuse suspect to unlock their iPhone with their face. It’s the first time since the iPhone X launched that any cop has used Face ID to force an iOS device open.

Source: Feds Force Suspect To Unlock An Apple iPhone X With Their Face

First came multiple cases in which suspects were told to unlock iPhones with their fingerprints, via Apple’s Touch ID biometric login. The same technique was then used on dead subjects. Earlier this year, this publication uncloaked GrayKey, a $15,000-$30,000 tool that could break through the passcodes of the latest iOS models, including the iPhone X. Another contractor, Israel’s Cellebrite, announced similar services.

American cops now have boiler plate language for using Apple’s Touch ID and Face ID to unlock iPhones.

…it may be more difficult for defendants to argue their face is a piece of knowledge protected by the Fifth, than it is for fingers. “Arguably if law enforcement says use your finger to unlock, the knowledge of which finger [will unlock an iPhone] is still an item of knowledge being produced by the individual,” Jennings explained. “Whereas with Face ID, by design it will only unlock with a very specific and obvious and body part.”

In modern iPhones, to hook the cellphone up to a computer and transfer files or data between the two, the passcode is required if the device has been locked for an hour or more. And forensic technologies, which can draw out far more information at speed than can be done manually, need the iPhone to connect to a computer.

Beyond the passcode, thanks to a feature called SOS mode, it’s possible to shut down Face ID and Touch ID with five quick clicks of the power button in older iPhones. In the iPhone 8 and X, the same is achieved by holding the side button and one of the volume buttons. And if the device hasn’t been opened within 48 hours, a passcode is required to open it again.

“Additionally, a long and unique alphanumeric passcode will prevent any forensic imaging attempts from decrypting your phone’s data,” said Ryan Stortz, a security researcher at Trail of Bits. “However, SOS won’t save you if the feds distract you and seize your phone out of your hand.”

(Emphasis mine.)