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Thursday, April 19, 2018

How Did These God Damned Spammers Get My Cell Number?

In our region, the Twin Cities, there are four area codes (612, 651, 763, and 952). I live in 952 but my cell phone's number is in 651, which is the other side of town. Most of the people I know are in the 612, 952 and 763 area codes.

Most every afternoon I get a call on my cell phone from a number in the same exchange. The few times I've answered these calls they have been spam calls for direct marketers or businesses I've never dealt with (auto glass dealers).

The number displayed when I get these calls isn't the caller's real number: it's fake. Direct marketers spoof the caller ID, using a number in the same area code and exchange to make you think that someone living in your neighborhood is calling you. But since I don't know anyone in that exchange of the 651 area code, I know immediately that the call is spam and I don't want to talk to them.

I've given my cell phone number only to friends, family and only recently the doctor's office. I used to give out my landline to companies that required it, but we recently dropped the landline. Now I use a Google Voice number for companies that I never want to talk to. So no companies should have my cell number.

But how did these spammers get hold of my phone number? The same way Cambridge Analytica got hold of 80 million people's data without their permission:

From Facebook, or some other app that one of my friends installed on their phone.

When you install the Facebook app one of the things you give it access to is your contact list. That means Facebook knows your phone number and, worse, the phone numbers of everyone in your contact list.

Does Facebook sell the phone numbers it harvests from our contact lists? I don't know. There's nothing stopping them from doing so. Google also has my number, since I have an Android phone, and Apple has the phone number of everyone with an iPhone.

It's possible that Google sold my number to spammers, or Apple sold the contact list of one of my friends. Or maybe it was a company that has an app that purports to do one thing, but exists solely harvest contact lists to sell to spammers.

And that's the problem. It's one thing for Facebook to sell the personal data of Facebook users. But Facebook and companies like it have access to mountains of data about the people that Facebook users know, and there's nothing to stop them from selling those people's data as well.

If your reaction is, "Pish, tosh. What's new about this? Phone companies used to publish big fat books with everyone's phone number in them."

The difference is twofold: first, these contact lists allow companies to create networks of people, to figure out who knows who. Phone books didn't list the phone numbers of all your friends as well.

Second, Facebook has access to all the information in your contact list, including physical addresses, email addresses and any other notes you may keep on your acquaintances. Like their birthdays, or the code for your friend's home security system so you can feed their cat. Some people might even store their bank account number or other sensitive information in their contact list.

Clearly we need legislation that limits what companies like Facebook, Google and Apple can do with this sensitive information, and controls on apps to prevent them from accessing information on your friends without their permission.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Lake Elmo: a Case Study

Conservative ideology and stubbornness isn't limited to the Deep South. It can also be found in states like Minnesota.

Lake Elmo is a suburb of the Twin Cities, in what was formerly the boondocks. It's now becoming intensely developed as the population of the region continues to grow.

In the last few year residents of Lake Elmo, like my brother- and sister-in-law, have been bitching because the Metropolitan Council ordered the town to install a sanitary sewer system that will cost a lot of money.

Residents complain that they can't afford $14,000 per house for the sewers. They don't mention that these assessments are not lump payments: they are assessments paid over many years. They don't mention that the state gave the city a million bucks to defray the cost. And they don't mention that they'll no longer have to pay to pump out their septic systems multiple times a year.

Lake Elmo started out as a small town long ago, unlike most Twin Cities suburbs that were developed from farmland over the course of just a few years. New suburbs were planned out all at once with roads, water, sewage and so on.

But since Lake Elmo grew up over a century, homes and businesses drilled wells and used underground septic systems, in which sewage is collected under buildings, and allowed to seep into the groundwater.

This works fine in thinly populated rural areas. But once you hit a certain population density, it's no longer feasible. There's more waste than the aquifer can safely absorb and decontaminate: pretty soon urine and feces start leaching into your water supply.

And right on cue, to illustrate the problem of well water contamination, Lake Elmo is facing another problem: PFCs in their water supply. Recently the town was forced to shut down a well and a water tower.

PFCs cause cancer and a wide variety of other diseases; infants and fetuses are most vulnerable. For years 3M discharged chemical waste into nearby landfills, ultimately contaminating local wells.

Both these problems are the result of lax environmental regulation of businesses producing dangerous chemicals and a failure to plan for future population growth.

The conservative idea that everything should stay just the way it was 250 years ago simply does not work when the population exceeds a certain number.

For the economy to grow, the population has to grow. Growing cities and states that keep dumping excrement into aquifers, toxic industrial chemicals into landfills and car exhaust into the air will eventually kill their own people.

That's why Donald Trump's dismantling of the EPA is one of the biggest disasters of his presidency.

Alabama Inundanted by Excrement and Greed

The consequences of greed and lax environmental regulation are coming home to roost in Alabama:
A stinking trainload of human waste from New York City is stranded in a tiny Alabama town, spreading a stench like a giant backed-up toilet — and the "poop train" is just the latest example of the South being used as a dumping ground for other states' waste.

In Parrish, Alabama, population 982, the sludge-hauling train cars have sat idle near the little league ball fields for more than two months, Mayor Heather Hall said. The smell is unbearable, especially around dusk after the atmosphere has become heated, she said.
One woman complained, "Would New York City like for us to send all our poop up there forever?" she said. "They don't want to dump it in their rivers, but I think each state should take care of their own waste."

Hey, lady. If you don't like this, stop voting for Republicans who let businesses get away with literally any shit.

Other towns sued to prevent the waste from landing on their doorsteps: her mayor needs to get on the ball. The legislature of Alabama and other southern states need to take action to stop their countryside becoming a toxic dump. Just say no to the greedy companies that are importing this crap into your state.

New York used to dump this crap into the Atlantic Ocean, but the federal government banned the practice (for good cause) in the 1980s. The question then becomes, what should be done with all this human waste?

Many localities just burn it outdoors, producing air pollution and a horrific stench. In recent years many waste treatment plants have turned their waste incinerators into power plants, like the Twin Cities' Metropolitan Wastewater Treatment Plant.

But there are even better ways of dealing with waste: converting it to natural gas (methane) in giant digesters. There have been numerous pilot projects for this concept, and it is technically feasible. The problem is that as long as cities can find places to dump their crap more cheaply than turning it into natural gas, they will continue to do so.

So, Alabama, please help yourselves and your environment by banning the importation of toxic waste like human excrement and coal ash. Make other states dispose of their waste safely, or stop producing it altogether by shutting down coal plants.

This points out, yet again, the fatal flaw in the conservative dogma of laissez-faire capitalism: it doesn't scale.

Conservatives always think in terms of one guy, or one small town, or one small state. With so few people and so much land their lax attitude toward guns, zoning regulations and environmental protection will have relatively few downsides.

But when nine million people live in one city, you can't just dump your excrement in the river or in the back 40. And you don't have to be as big as New York City to feel these effects.

See my next post for another example.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Nikki Haley Has More Balls than Donald Trump

Last Friday Donald Trump looked like he finally stopped knuckling under to Vladimir Putin when the US, UK and France hit Syrian chemical weapons depots with cruise missiles.

When Nikki Haley announced Sunday that the United States would slap additional sanctions on Russia for supporting Assad's brutal dictatorship, it looked like Donald Trump was finally done being Putin's bitch.

Apparently, it was all for show: it turns out that the attacks did essentially nothing. And on Monday the Trump administration had changed its mind, and additional sanctions on Russia were off the table.

The Trump administration tried to blame Haley:
[A] Trump official accused UN Ambassador Nikki Haley of “momentary confusion” for announcing sanctions against the Kremlin this weekend that the administration later walked back.

But Haley isn’t going to take the fall. “With all due respect, I don’t get confused,” she said in a statement, according to CNN.

Her firm response came after National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow blamed Haley for the snafu. Haley said Sunday the US would punish Russia with sanctions for its role in supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapons program. But the White House reversed itself Monday, reportedly because Trump wasn’t okay with the sanctions.

“She got ahead of the curve. She’s done a great job, she’s a very effective ambassador,” Kudlow said of Haley. “There might have been some momentary confusion about that.” He added that additional sanctions were “under consideration” but not implemented.

Haley, however, made it clear it that she wasn’t about to scapegoated. Kudlow later said he apologized to Haley for the demeaning comments, telling the New York Times that he was “totally wrong” to call her confused. “As it turns out, she was basically following what she thought was policy,” Kudlow said. “The policy was changed, and she wasn’t told about it, so she was in a box.”
The source of the confusion was, as always, Donald Trump.

What changed between Sunday and Monday mornings that had Trump shaking in his boots at the thought of angering Putin?

The Comey interview, in which Trump was reminded that Putin still has the pee-pee tape.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Christmas in April!

The Twin Cities Metro area got a foot and a half of snow over the weekend much to the consternation of the denizens residing here. But the giant white piles of snow aren't the only things that are reminding me of Christmas these days. The news headlines of late have made me positively giddy. Here's the one that dropped today...

Michael Cohen's mystery third client is Sean Hannity

Ah, Sean me boy...you hitched your wagon to a star that is rapidly imploding. Your life, as you know it, is over. Speaking of lives being over...

Donald Trump's presidency is collapsing

Michael Cohen and the End Stage of the Trump Presidency

Prediction: By the end of 2018, Donald J. Trump will no longer be president. 


Bolder prediction: By the end of 2019, Donald J. Trump will be in jail. 

Folks, it's all over but the crying. Consider all of the shit that Cohen has on Trump. It's now in the hands of the FBI. Soon we will all see just how much of fucking mafia thug he is and he will be gone. And then the real work will begin...

As I have said many times, Trump isn't the problem. It's his followers. Some will fall off as this information comes out but most will stick with him. They will believe exactly ZERO of the evidence present against Trump because to do so would mean admitting error. Worse, it would mean that liberals win...again! They will never be able to go against someone who trolls liberals so much because that's all they really care about.

So, what do we do about these people? Well, I'm sure some will pop off and do something dumb so we can arrest them. The other loudmouths (likely on INTERNET ONLY) will retreat to their parent's basement and have all sorts of things on which to grouse.

Meanwhile, a massive blue wave is coming soon to a theater near you this November. It's filled with women running for office for the first time who just can't wait to tell old, white men how to live their lives.

I can't wait!!

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Mission Accomplished??!!!

After hitting some chemical weapons facilities in Syria, Trump was oblivious enough to tweet "MISSION ACCOMPLISHED".

Does he not remember what ridicule was heaped on George Bush for uttering those fateful words just before Iraq turned into a trillion-dollar hellhole?

What mission was accomplished? Destroying Syria's chemical weapons?

Hardly. The US, UK and France hit a few depots. Syria's weapon of choice has been chlorine gas. Chlorine gas is required to kill bacteria in drinking water supplies and pools. That means pretty much every town that has a water supply has tanks of chlorine gas just sitting around. Assad can just put grenades on them and drop them from helicopters.

If we really did destroy Syria's entire supply of chlorine the country would erupt in an epidemic of cholera, typhoid and dysentery.

What mission was accomplished? Distracting the press from the raid on Michael Cohen's office, hotel room, home, and safe deposit box?

Hardly. Since Trump announced that he couldn't attend the Summit of the Americas the news has been filled with reports about Cohen. Like the revelation that the deputy finance chair of the RNC paid a Playboy playmate $1.6 million to have an abortion.

Trump himself has continued to tweet about it, with his inane "attorney-client privilege is dead" whining. That privilege goes away when your attorney is committing crimes with you.

What mission was accomplished? Burying the Comey book and interview?

Hardly. Except for a brief time on Friday night, quotes from the book and the ABC interview have been running nonstop everywhere (except Fox News).

And, of course, Trump himself has been tweeting nonstop about Comey, hurling childish Twitter insults at the former FBI director like some 12-year-old mean girl.

The only mission Trump has accomplished has been to make himself look petulant and foolish as he and most everyone in his administration is doddering toward some form of censure, impeachment or criminal prosecution.

The real reason that Trump had to declare MISSION ACCOMPLISHED was that he wanted to go to Mar a Lago. Since the Syria thing screwed up his weekend plans, Trump is instead going to Mar a Lago on Monday and returning to Washington on Thursday.

Because the only mission Trump is capable of accomplishing is a round of golf.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Trump Manages to Make Himself Look Even Dumber

After flailing into a trade war with China that could bankrupt American pork and soybean producers, Donald Trump suddenly wants back into the Trans-Pacific Partnership that Barack Obama negotiated but Trump pulled out of:
President Trump, in a surprising reversal, told a gathering of farm state lawmakers and governors on Thursday morning that he was directing his advisers to look into rejoining the multicountry trade deal known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a deal he pulled out of within days of assuming the presidency.

Rejoining the 11-country pact could be a sharp reversal of fortune for many American industries that stood to benefit from the trade agreement’s favorable terms and Republican lawmakers who supported the pact. The deal, which was negotiated by the Obama administration, was largely viewed as a tool to prod China into making the type of economic reforms that the United States and others have long wanted.
The whole purpose of the TPP was to form an alliance with other Pac-Rim trading partners against Chinese hegemony. But Trump was uninterested in making deal with our allies; instead he just insulted and attacked Australia, South Korea, Mexico, Canada and other signatories.

Throughout the campaign Trump either didn't understand what the TPP was or lied about it, implying that the deal included China (it doesn't) or disadvantaged the United States to the benefit of China.


Now that Trump is about to start a trade war with China, he's suddenly desperate for allies.

What this episode shows is how utterly clueless Trump is. He trashes things he doesn't understand (TPP, NATO, the rule of law), and then expects everyone to give him a hundred mulligans for all the catastrophically stupid mistakes he's made.

At this point Republicans in Congress should impeach Trump for sheer incompetence alone.

Teacher Leaves Gun in Public Bathroom Stall

Not the most normal sight: a gun left in the bathroom stall.

But that's exactly what went down on Sunday in a men's room at the Deerfield Beach Pier.

The circumstances of how the Glock 9mm got there are unusual.

According to the Broward Sheriff's Office, the weapon was left by Sean Simpson. If his name sounds familiar, he's the teacher at Marjory Stoneman Douglas who said he'd be willing to arm himself while on duty.


According to the sheriff's office report, Simpson told deputies he'd left his gun by accident. By the time the chemistry teacher realized his mistake, the Glock was already in the hands of a drunk homeless man who had picked it up and fired. The bullet hit a wall.

Simpson was able to grab the gun away from the vagrant, Joseph Spataro, who was charged with firing a weapon while intoxicated and trespassing.
Who could have predicted such a thing would happen? Me. And every other rational person.

The teacher didn't leave the gun in the school bathroom, so at least the school didn't get shot up. But the incident illustrates yet again the fallacy of the "more guns make us safer" trope.

The more guns there are, the more dropped guns, forgotten guns, lost guns, accidentally fired guns, and guns falling into the wrong hands there will be.

This kind of crap happens hundreds of times every day, across the country, but it doesn't make the news because the people who do it aren't school teachers. The more common guns are, the more gun handling errors there will be.

As guns become more common and prosaic the less dangerous they will seem, which will ultimately make the people who carry them less careful, increasing the frequency with which such errors are committed.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Is Trump About to Start a War of Distraction?

Today the White House announced that Donald Trump had canceled his trip to South America, where he was supposed to attend the Summit of the Americas. The reason? To "oversee the American response to Syria and to monitor developments around the world."

But in reality he cancelled the trip because of the raid on the offices, home and hotel room of Michael Cohen, the lawyer who paid porn star Stormy Daniels hush money days before the 2016 election.

Just a couple days ago Trump promised to pull American troops out of Syria completely. Then Syria gassed some more civilians. That made Trump's advisors nervous, because it looked like Trump was caving in to Putin and Assad.

Trump made a big show of hitting a Syrian base with missiles a year ago after Assad gassed civilians last April. But Trump had warned the Russians the attack was coming, so there was almost no damage: Israeli media reported that the base was operational the next day.

Syria has used gas on civilians nine times since the 2016 election, and Trump has taken no serious actions against the Syrian dictator.

But now, suddenly, Trump is about to take bold action. Why? Why now? Nothing in the Syrian Civil War is any different this time than it was the dozens of other times Assad used chemical weapons against his own people.

It appears all too likely that any attack Syria will just be an attempt to Wag the Dog and divert attention from the Cohen raid. Because if we're at war, it would be unpatriotic to investigate the president.

I can just hear Sarah Huckabee Sanders saying that the investigations into wrongdoing by Trump and his cronies are aiding and abetting America's enemies abroad.

Those investigations include Russian election hacking, the conspiracy between the Russians and the Trump campaign, large Russian contributions to the NRA and the Trump Foundation, numerous financial connections between Trump businesses and Russian oligarchs, financial connections between Trump cabinet members (like Wilbur Ross) and the Russians, secret backdoor negotiations between Trump proxies (like Eric Prince) and the Russians before Trump assumed office, several Trump flunkies who have already pleaded guilty to a wide variety of criminal activities surrounding the election and the early days of the Trump administration, as well as countless scandals about profligate spending and influence peddling by his cabinet members (Scott Pruitt, Ben Carson, Steven Mnuchin, etc., etc. ad nauseam). Not to mention Trump's history of sexual harassment and paying hush money to silence Playboy playmates and porn stars.

Nothing about the Syria problem today is any different than it was for the first 400 days of the Trump administration, yet Trump managed to spend more than a quarter of his days in office at one of his golf clubs. Now he suddenly can't go to South America?

We all know what Trump thinks about South America and all those "shithole/shithouse" countries, as he likes to call them. In all likelihood he was just looking for an excuse to avoid going down there and pretending to like those people.

What do you bet that by Friday everything will be calm enough that Trump will be able to spend the weekend at one of his golf resorts?

Monday, April 09, 2018

The NRA is a Terrorist Organization

Someone is Wisconsin is making me very happy today. Check this out.




















A quick glance at Mad Dog Pac shows a grassroots organization to fund billboards countering gun humper dogma. I fucking love it! It also looks like they are going after voters as well.

The tide has finally turned...


Sunday, April 08, 2018

Trump Tower Death Trap

The fire on the 50th floor New York City's Trump Tower that left 67-year-old Todd Brassner dead and six firefighters injured was the second fire in the building in 2018. President Trump's centerpiece Manhattan skyscraper opened in 1984, but does not have sprinklers on its residential floors, a measure required in new buildings since 1999. President Trump, then a private citizen and property developer, lobbied to try and prevent the mandate at the time.
It was the second fire in Trump Tower this year:
Saturday's fire is the second fire in Mr. Trump's Fifth Avenue building this year: Two civilians suffered minor injuries and a firefighter was hurt by debris in a fire on Jan. 8 on the top of the building. That blaze was sparked by an electrical issue, Mr. Trump's son, Eric, said at the time. Eric Trump said the fire had been in a cooling tower.
Donald Trump fought tooth and nail against a law that would have mandated sprinklers in residential buildings. In 1999 he said:
People feel safer with sprinklers. But the problem with the bill is that it doesn't address the buildings that need sprinklers the most. If you look at the fire deaths in New York, almost all of them are in one- or two-family houses.
What a moron Trump is. If a wealthy art dealer accidentally starts a fire in a 72-story high rise and the building burns down because there are no sprinklers and no effective way to evacuate the tenants, hundreds of people could die and losses would be in the billions. If some poor bus-driving schmuck falls asleep on his couch while smoking in his low-rent bungalow in Queens, he and his family are likely to be the only victims.

This is a typical argument for Trump and conservatives. They constantly rail against common-sense regulations using bogus strawmen. The more potential victims and the greater the potential losses, the more protection is required. This kind of short-sighted penny pinching ultimately cost lives and money.

And even though only one person died, units in the upper floors suffered heavy smoke damage, and some residents -- especially the elderly -- will likely suffer effects of smoke inhalation.

As of last November there were 21 vacant units in Trump Tower, and only five had sold since Trump took office. I expect that number to go up after this disaster and all the bad PR about sprinklers. And with all those Russian oligarchs being sanctioned, Trump is going to be hard-pressed to find tenants.

More ominously, this incident emphasizes how Trump's business interests and properties expose him to all manner of threats, from blackmail to terrorism.

Thursday, April 05, 2018

This Just In...