You don’t want to be sued for what your robot did. (Photo: Frankieleon / Flickr Commons)

Before you put it to work for you, don’t forget to incorporate your robot!

The upside and downside of incorporating robots.

You don’t want to be sued for what your robot did. (Photo: Frankieleon / Flickr Commons)

You don’t want to be sued for what your robot did. (Photo: Frankieleon / Flickr Commons)

You’ve heard about e-trading, or high-frequency trading — the use of algorithms to react instantly and reflexively to the market. And you may have heard about robo-advisors, in which software manages your portfolio. Also, as Jerry Kaplan writes in his new book, Humans Need Not Apply (Yale University Press, 2015), of Amazon, etc.:

Super-human omniscient systems observe our individual and group behavior, then guide us to what we purchase, listen to, watch, and read— while the profits quietly pile up elsewhere.

In fact, the day may come when robots will own assets.   Continue reading

Politics: Don't Tread on Me

A poll says we’re fed up with big money in politics, but will it end?

From a New York Times story this week:

Americans of both parties fundamentally reject the regime of untrammeled money in elections made possible by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling and other court decisions and now favor a sweeping overhaul of how political campaigns are financed, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll.

A ray of hope? A touch of sunshine? Can our long national nightmare of billionaire-bought elections be ending?

Yeah. Right.

And by a significant margin, they reject the argument that underpins close to four decades of Supreme Court jurisprudence on campaign finance: that political money is a form of speech protected by the First Amendment. Even self-identified Republicans are evenly split on the question. [See the poll questions.]

Continue reading

Democrats embrace Citizens United in defense of Clinton

As reported from the actual left

Democrats Embrace Citizens United in Defense of Clinton

Hill just loves her some big money in politics. And the party machinery that spent years on end crying foul about it before? Suddenly they just loves ’em some big money in politics.

I think Hill should just stick with a snappy one-liner that’s served her well so far.

“What difference – at this point, what difference does it make?”

CATEGORY: SchadenFriday

It’s SchadenFriday! Who really got theirs this week?

You want to get away with this? Then be this guy. Otherwise, stop.

Sadly, nobody really.  Surprising no one, I’m sure, it can be terribly difficult to find tales of people who actually get the full spectrum what’s coming to them. That’s the degree of trouble that causes me the most perverse dance-a-jig-on-a-grave glee. Failing that, I’ll gladly accept for my prurient amusement any troubles at all for folks and institutions that, in my estimation, deserve that and so much more. This week we’ve got six stories that detail people who are at least feeling the heat for one kind of asshattery or another, or should be sometime soon.

Christian family home after ill-fated Pacific voyage to escape US tyranny

First up, we’ve got the Gastonguay family. This would be a real rib-tickler if not for one key point…children were endangered. I’ll settle for a round of hoots and jeers. Why is it even remotely amusing? Well, while I do give Ma and Pa props for having the courage of their convictions, I have a huge problem with a) inflicting those ill-informed convictions on children when b) such courage puts the lives of those children in jeopardy.

For one thing, these miscreants (if reckless endangerment of children isn’t a crime, it damned well should be) have the problem ass-backward. Government isn’t interfering with religion. Proponents of one particular religion, particularly the faithful in an especially virulent strain of that religion are interfering with government. Facts matter.

Ma feels deeply wronged because they have to pay taxes for things they don’t agree with, specifically, abortion provided for by Obamacare. Funny thing about that, there’s no truth in it.

For that matter, cry me a river when it comes to paying taxes for things you don’t agree with.  Maybe those of us who are against wars of aggression rife with “conflict of interest,” dare I say greed, should be exempted from paying taxes because that’s just not fair? After all, we have a bit of a history of killing hundreds of thousands of people for trumped up reasons, and those people happen to include civilians, women, children.

And puh-lease!  The state is controlling religion?  News flash:  nobody forces churches to file for tax exempt status to keep them however ineffectually, out of the political arena.  Smarter churches have even realized that the tax exemption is basically the government bribe to shut the hell up.  I don’t think you get to collect the bribe and still complain about being regulated.  Want to talk about having real government intrusions into your faith?  First, consider the Navajo.

Poor dear also feels, “”The Bible is pretty clear.” Really, now? Is that why the history of Christianity is a history of bloody schism and war resulting in no less than 200 denominations? Clear as mother’s milk, it seems. So clear, for that matter, that Skeptic’s Annotated Bible has a heyday with all that crystal clarity.  The Bible may deserve praise for a number of reasons, but clarity just isn’t one of them.

The just desserts? Poor Pa Cretin will now have to get a job to pay back the government to the tune of $10,000. Now if only someone would bring criminal charges against them for endangering their children and see to it that those kids are raised in a safe home, regardless of the religion (or lack of) espoused by the foster parents.

Tenn. judge changes infant’s name from ‘Messiah’

Next up, we have a judge who is actually either stupid enough or genuinely corrupt enough to say out loud that her ruling boils down to, “because Jesus.” For now, I hope she’s squirming from all the attention. I’ll be much happier when her ruling is overturned. I will be ecstatic if she never gets to darken the bench again with her oppressive bigotry. Bonus points? There’s some indication that this is an issue where the left and libertarians have a chance of reaching agreement.

Charges: W.Va. judge tried to frame ex-mistress’ husband

For now we’re still stuck at the stage of allegations and accusations. Should it turn out this poor schmo has been unjustly targeted and that he’s really a nice, upstanding guy, I’ll feel bad for feeling good. I won’t hold my breath. Should it turn out that this man actually is a feculent lump of injustice disgracing his robe, I really hope he has to spend some time behind bars.  This story makes Newt Gingrich and Anthony Wiener look like ardent defenders of the sanctity of marriage by comparison.

Rick Santorum accused of soliciting illegal campaign contributions

This story should surprise nobody that already suspects Santorum of schmuckitude in the first dregree. It really would just be a matter of time that this walking conflation of stupidity and malice would cross a line where money is concerned. Oh, please, please, please let there be evidence that would grace a prison with his presence.

NSA broke privacy rules thousands of times per year, audit finds

I really want to be clear here. It’s not the difficulties of some nebulous “NSA” (as though it doesn’t comprise flesh and blood people), or even of people I’m mostly willing to give the benefit of the doubt to when it comes to good intentions and service to country, that make me merry when doused in sunlight. It’s the death throes of misbegotten policy that hit the sweet spot as far as I’m concerned. The more that comes out about NSA overreach and outright incompetence, the closer we get (I hope!) to drawing some clear and proper boundaries around their actions and those of the government in general. Just don’t bank on it coming from empty (or worse, misdirecting) posturing from the POTUS. After all, only three days after announcing that he wants an independent body to provide some oversight he suggests that known liar and policy apologist Clapper would be just the guy to set up that “independent” body. I can’t wait until the next Snowden release. Eventually we’ll hit a tipping point where we must do something adequate to remedy these violations of our constitutional rights.

Photo: Hooters Restaurants in San Diego Won’t Serve Bob Filner

Finally, SOMEBODY has to pay a pound of flesh now, sort of.  Pa Gastonguay’s $10k bill is ultimately far more satisfying, but it lacks a certain immediacy.  Right now, America’s new poster boy for misogynistic douchebaggery, Filner, is barred from America’s most mainstream meatmarket’s locations in San Diego. I’m sure he would have gone just for the sliders, right? Oh, wait, I guess that depends on whether that’s a euphemism. Seriously, when you get called out by Hooter’s for disrespecting women, you’re doing it terribly wrong.

—-

Image credit: twm1340 @ flikr.com. Licensed under Creative Commons.

CATEGORY: Taxation

IRS/Tea Party controversy: progressive groups “targeted,” too, and corporate media once again refuses to tell Americans the whole truth

CATEGORY: TaxationLate Saturday we posted a Scrogues Converse Roundtable looking at the IRS/Tea Party controversy. The debate got started when our colleague Dr. Sid Bonesparkle suggested that perhaps the IRS wasn’t out of line in taking a good hard look at organizations dedicated to undermining the tax system trying to organize using 501 status, which is reserved for social welfare oriented nonprofits.

Perhaps Sid was, if anything, too generous regarding the alleged facts of the case. Surprise, surprise: The version of the story that, thanks to the slothfulness of our corporate media establishment, has now been accepted as gospel turns out to be inaccurate.

In short, the IRS did not “target conservative groups.”

The corporate media is blasting out the story that the IRS “targeted conservative groups.” Some in the media say there was “IRS harassment of conservative groups.” Some of the media are going so far as claiming that conservative groups were “audited.”

This story that is being repeated and treated as “true” is just not what happened at all. It is one more right-wing victimization fable, repeated endlessly until the public has no choice except to believe it.

Conservative Groups Were Not “Targeted,” “Singled Out” Or Anything Else

You are hearing that conservative groups were “targeted.” What you are not hearing is that progressive groups were also “targeted.” So were groups that are not progressive or conservative.

All that happened here is that groups applying to the IRS for special tax status were checked to see if they were engaged in political activity. They were checked, not targeted. Only one-third of the groups checked were conservative groups.

Once again: Only one-third of the groups checked were conservative groups.

Conservative groups were not “singled out,” were not “targeted” and in the end none were denied special tax status – even though many obviously should have been.

Bloomberg details three progressive groups that were probed, noting that one of them had its application rejected.

The Internal Revenue Service, under pressure after admitting it targeted anti-tax Tea Party groups for scrutiny in recent years, also had its eye on at least three Democratic-leaning organizations seeking nonprofit status.

One of those groups, Emerge America, saw its tax-exempt status denied, forcing it to disclose its donors and pay some taxes. None of the Republican groups have said their applications were rejected.

Progress Texas, another of the organizations, faced the same lines of questioning as the Tea Party groups from the same IRS office that issued letters to the Republican-friendly applicants. A third group, Clean Elections Texas, which supports public funding of campaigns, also received IRS inquiries. [emphasis added]

All told, the IRS’s poking about seems to have been extensive and non-partisan.

…agency officials told lawmakers in a briefing yesterday that 471 groups received additional scrutiny, a total that indicates a crackdown on politically active nonprofit groups that extends beyond the Tea Party outfits.

A look at the questions presented to Progress Texas suggests that if the Tea Party was being “harassed,” so were they.

“Progress Texas and the Tea Party strongly disagree on the role of government,” the group’s executive director, Ed Espinoza, said in a statement. “Yet, when we applied for tax-exempt status, Progress Texas received the same type of additional scrutiny that Tea Party groups are complaining about. The similar treatment indicates the IRS was likely addressing a flood of 501c4 applications after Citizens United, and undermines the paranoid notion that Tea Party groups were singled out.”

The questions resembled the list of 35 questions (PDF) sent to the Liberty Township Tea Party, which has complained of IRS harassment.

The real culprit here is the infamous Citizens United decision.

The year 2010 began a busy period for the IRS office in Cincinnati, the home of the tax-exempt determinations unit. That January, the Supreme Court handed down its Citizens United decision, which loosened the rules governing contributions to political causes and candidates. Applications flooded in to the office from groups seeking tax-exempt status, many with a political agenda.

The IRS has admitted it flagged applications from groups with “Tea Party” or “Patriot” in their names. But applications from other groups were closely scrutinized as well.

An Austin, Texas-based progressive group, Progress Texas, was one of them. Its executive director, Ed Espinoza, says it took almost a year and a half for the IRS to review the application from his organization.

In 2010, some 1,700 applications for 501(c)(4) tax-exempt status came into the Cincinnati office. That number nearly doubled by 2012. Yet according to the IRS Inspector General’s Report, just one person was originally given the task of sifting through the applications deemed politically sensitive.

Another application that seemingly got caught up in the backlog came from a group of journalists in Chicago. The Chicago News Cooperative provided news for the Midwest edition of The New York Times. The co-op also sought tax-exempt status. Veteran journalist James O’Shea, a former managing editor of The Chicago Tribune, was in charge.

“There were political organizations trying to get these exemptions, and I think the IRS was concerned — and probably appropriately so — that some of these news organizations were really political organizations,” he says, “and so they were examining that, and we just got caught up in that.”

For more than two years, the Chicago News Cooperative waited for an IRS ruling. But without tax-exempt status, foundation support dried up, and the cooperative went out of business. [emphasis added]

The final score, then: Conservative groups “targeted” accounted for about a third of the total. None were denied nonprofit status. Meanwhile, at least one liberal group was turned down and at least one innocent bystander was forced out of business.

All thanks to a pro-corporate, pro-conservative Supreme Court ruling.

It’s probably not fair to assume that big money media organizations are always wrong, but you have to be positively daft to assume that you’re getting the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth from them.

Forewarned, forearmed.

Nota Bene #119: Think! It Ain't Illegal Yet

“My wife and I were happy for twenty years. Then we met.” Who said it? Continue reading

Some thoughts on Don’t Ask Don’t Tell

I’ve been listening to news about Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT) ever since a federal judge in California overturned it and subsequently had her ruling stayed by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. I’ve heard about generals who are arguing against it, claiming that allowing openly homosexual servicemen and women will damage the military’s readiness to fight by interfering with unit cohesion. I’ve heard about men and women who were discharged under DADT who filed to rejoin the military one day only to find that their ability to do so was stopped cold the next. And I’ve heard activists complain bitterly that the Department of Justice under President Obama is defending DADT instead of letting it die as Obama would personally prefer.

I have some thoughts on Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Continue reading

Nota Bene #106: [no title due to budget cuts]

“Working for a major studio can be like trying to have sex with a porcupine. It’s one prick against thousands.” Who said it? Continue reading

Nota Bene #105: The Illustrated Dick

“When all you are becomes defined as the amount of information traceable to you, what are we then? What have we become, in a world where there is no separation, no door, no filter beyond which we can say, ‘No. This is my personal space. Not yours. Here I am alone with my thoughts and free of any outside influence or control. This, you cannot have.’ I don’t know, but I don’t want to find out.” Who said it? Continue reading

Exclusive: How corporations secretly move millions to fund political ads

by Brad Jacobson

“It’s unclear whether the Court was being naive or disingenuous.” – Paul S. Ryan, an attorney and expert in federal election law at the Campaign Legal Center in Washington, D.C., on the Supreme Court’s touting of disclosure provisions during its decision last month in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.

My latest article for Raw Story:

The Supreme Court’s seismic January ruling that corporations are free to spend unlimited amounts of their profits to advertise for or against candidates may have been the latest shakeup of campaign finance – but gaping holes already allow corporations to spend enormous sums without leaving a paper trail, a Raw Story investigation has found.

Campaign finance experts confirmed that though disclosure rules remained intact in the new Supreme Court decision, there are effective methods to circumvent them.

READ THE REST…