I Deleted My Facebook Account

I haven’t used Facebook much at all over the last few years. My last post was 15 months ago and it’s been more than three years since I logged in more than once a month. I stopped using it because the value I received was not worth the huge time suck. Plus the ads were terrible (I shudder to think what the ads are like today). I also hated (and still hate) the we-will-show-you-what-we-want-you-to-see-when-we-want-you-to-see-it news feed algorithm. I remember when the news feed just a chronological list of updates from your friends, and I liked it.

This morning I did a little research on how to delete my account. It appeared to me that I had to delete Facebook and Messenger separately. So I installed the Messenger app on my phone (which I have never used before in my life), and logged in so I could delete my Messenger account, which apparently you can only do from the mobile app. I was immediately reminded why I think Facebook is creepy. Within seconds I had a handful of inbound messages.

I finally got both my Messenger account and my Facebook account deleted. I also deleted my Instagram account. I never signed up for WhatsApp. Facebook says it could be “up to 90 days” before my data is really gone. That assumes that you trust Facebook to really delete the data. I trust Facebook no more than Facebook trusted Cambridge Analytica.

Zuck’s explainer post from two days ago (no link because FB doesn’t deserve it) doesn’t contain an apology, but he does admit that there was “a breach of trust between Kogan, Cambridge Analytica and Facebook”. In 2013 Aleksandr Kogan, a researcher at Cambridge University, created a personality quiz app which gathered data on 300,000 Facebook users, as well as a yet undisclosed number of those users friends. Since that time, Facebook has indeed made some changes to the policies third party developers must comply with. But those changes were not made to protect my privacy, they were made to ensure that Facebook was the only entity that could financially benefit from my data.

There was a time when I thought Facebook was cool. For me that mirage evaporated in 2010 when Business Insider published an IM exchange Zuckerberg had with a friend, where he boasts of having personal information on 4,000 Harvard students, and being happy to share it. When his friend asks how he got all the information, Mark boasts that people “trust me” and then calls us “dumb fucks”.

Mark’s explainers about privacy have gotten much smoother since then, but the fact remains that Facebook exists today because it sells my private information to anyone and everyone who is willing to pay. To make it worse, they claim just the opposite. If they don’t sell my data, what are those who pay Facebook buying?

Facebook is creepy and untrustworthy. I feel really good about permanently severing my association with that company.

Apple is Not Getting In To Healthcare

Gallons of virtual ink have been spilled drooling over Apple’s recent announcement about an onsite wellness clinic. The robowriters at Fortune rave that Apple Joining Amazon, Warren Buffet in Health Care Business. The fools wonder if Apple could become your primary care provider.

What really happened is Apple switched the onsite clinic provider from Crossover Health to AC Wellness, which may or may not be partially or completely owned by Apple.

Apple has 123,000 employees, and they likely spend approximately $9,000 per year per employee on healthcare premiums. Anybody who spends north of a billion dollars a year on healthcare will scrutinize that expense pretty carefully.

Apple’s primary motivator for this change is most likely a way to reduce their cost of providing an onsite clinic. When you strip away the marketing blather, the financial benefits of an onsite clinic are more about reducing absenteeism for employees who would otherwise have to drive through California traffic to get to and from the doctor. It’s the same reason there is a cafeteria in Apple Park.

Onsite clinics are neither innovative nor new. A wide range of employers from many industries have had onsite clinics for more than 25 years. Apple is not getting into the healthcare business, they are just prudently managing their expenses.

It’s a Trap

Shares of Long Island Ice Tea Corp., an unprofitable beverage maker based in NY, were up 289 percent yesterday. The reason? They renamed themselves Long Blockchain Corp. What do they have to do with blockchain technology? Absolutely nothing.

Definitely a bubble.

It’s Always the Media’s Fault

In 2013, news reports accused the IRS of illegally delaying or denying tax exempt status for conservative non-profit groups. The IRS “lost” a bunch of emails from people at the heart of the controversy, stonewalled congressional investigators by failing to respond to congressional subpoenas, repeatedly destroyed documents that had been subpoenaed, and refused to testify in hearings.

In this 2014 interview with Bill O’Reilly, then President Obama asserted:

  1. The investigations thus far had uncovered what actually happened.
  2. “Bone-headed decisions” had been made at the IRS.
  3. There was not mass corruption at the IRS, in fact there was “not even a smidgeon of corruption.”
  4. This was only an issue because Fox News kept promoting the story.

Besides the congressional investigation, the FBI launched their own investigation and unsurprisingly found no evidence of wrongdoing. A subsequent Justice Department inquiry found no evidence of illegal activity or the partisan targeting of political groups and found that no IRS official attempted to obstruct justice.

36 Tea Party and other conservative groups brought their own lawsuit against the IRS. After four years, in a consent order filed this week in federal court:

The IRS admits that its treatment of Plaintiffs during the tax-exempt determinations process, including screening their applications based on their names or policy positions, subjecting those applications to heightened scrutiny and inordinate delays, and demanding of some Plaintiffs’ information that the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration determined was unnecessary to the agency’s determination of their tax-exempt status, was wrong. For such treatment, the IRS expresses its sincere apology.


The Court hereby declares that discrimination on the basis of political viewpoint in administering the United States tax code violates fundamental First Amendment rights. Disparate treatment of taxpayers based solely on the taxpayers’ names, any lawful positions the taxpayers espouse on any issues, or the taxpayers’ associations or perceived associations with a particular political movement, position, or viewpoint is unlawful.

The IRS did break the law, and a corrupt IRS inspector, FBI, and Justice Department covered it up.

But it’s the media’s fault.

The Birth of a New Nation

It’s neither quick nor easy to create a new nation. Today, a majority of the members of the Catalan Parliament declared independence from Spain, making today the day that will be celebrated for generations to come. This follows a referendum vote nearly a month ago which was also overwhelmingly in favor of secession.

The Rajoy government of Spain promptly deposed Catalan President Carles Puigdemont and his cabinet and disbanded the Catalan Parliament. Madrid will seek to assert direct financial, civic, and law enforcement authority over the region.

Thus far the fledgling republic is on its own, with no recognition of statehood by any other nation. Germany, France, the UK, and the United States have all sided with Spain. The road ahead for Catalonia is fraught with peril, and the outcome far from certain, but I admire the courage of any people who are willing to “take this step on our feet, with our heads held high. Not on our knees like subjects, but as free people without fear.”

Godspeed to the Catalans, for they will surely need it.

Misguided Priorities

Dear Bluetooth SIG,

Thanks for releasing your newest specification for mesh networking over Bluetooth. I’m sure you believe this will be a great. I have a better idea. Why don’t you figure out how to make your existing stuff not suck. In your presser you thrice describe Bluetooth as “simple, secure connectivity”. I assume you don’t have a car with Bluetooth connectivity, because it’s anything but simple. You must never have owned a Bluetooth speaker either, because they require an immense amount of fiddling every time I want to connect. I’d describe the current state of Bluetooth as mediocre.

Why don’t you make your existing stuff bulletproof before adding on something as notoriously complex as mesh networking?

Did Trump Jr. Break the Law?

By his own admission, Donald Trump, Jr. met with some Russian nationals prior to the election. He thought they may have some dirt on Hillary Clinton. Many people are now saying that Trump Jr. committed a crime by allegedly accepting information from he Russian government intended to influence the election.

Eugene Volokh, who is a First Amendment attorney and law professor at UCLA discusses the broad consequences if this assertion is true:

But wait: This doesn’t just risk criminal punishment for the foreign businessman. What if a New York Times reporter is approached by the Turk, who wants to set up a meeting, and the reporter says, “if it’s what you say I love it”? Then, by the same logic being applied to Trump Jr.’s response, that reporter is committing the crime of soliciting the illegal expenditure — he’s encouraging the businessman to illegally give a gift of something of value (information).

The Paris Climate Accord and Impeachment

Marjorie Cohn, writing for the resistance-focused Truthout, claims that Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord is an impeachable offense. A credentialed, but clearly unprincipled hack, Ms. Cohn is professor emerita at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and former president of the National Lawyers Guild. She claims that Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord is:

  • a High Crime as defined in the Constitution and therefore an impeachable offense
  • an injury to society
  • a crime against humanity, an “inhumane act”

Let’s go back and remember how we got into the Paris Climate Accord in the first place. The United Nations guided the negotiation of the agreement, which has thus far been signed by 195 countries. President Obama signed for the United States, claiming that the Accord was just an executive agreement, not a treaty, and therefore did not need ratification by the Senate. Departing from his beloved “international norms”, Obama sought no approval from anyone but himself. Most other countries who ratified the agreement did it via legislative processes, including France, Denmark, Germany, United Kingdom, Italy, Japan, South Korea, South Africa, and dozens of others.

The Paris Accord allows for voluntary and nationally determined targets. There are no legal mitigation or finance terms associated with these targets, the only thing legally binding is the reporting requirements. However, Article 7 of the Accord states “adaptation action should follow a country-driven, gender-responsive, participatory and fully transparent approach”. Obama’s unilateral action hardly seems country-driven or participatory.

In addition Article 9 requires that “Developed country Parties shall provide financial resources to assist developing country Parties with respect to both mitigation and adaptation”. The Constitution requires that all funds spent be authorized by the Congress. Obama committed $3 billion, and paid $1 billion of that before he left office. Article 28 prevents signatories from withdrawing from the Accord for three years after signature, which also makes it seems less like an executive agreement and more like a treaty.

To understand whether withdrawing from the Paris Accord is an impeachable offense, we must decide the weight of our nation’s commitment to the accord. If President Obama was correct that the accord is merely an executive agreement because the commitments are voluntary and nationally determined, then Trump can easily withdraw by executive agreement. Likewise, changing those commitments are hardly crimes against humanity or an injury to society as Ms. Cohn claims.

If the financial commitments and limitations on withdrawal mean that the United States commitment to the Paris Accords is an act of treaty making and therefore must be ratified by the Senate, then absent legislative ratification, the commitments have not been made. Trump’s act of withdrawal therefore means exactly nothing, and hardly constitutes High Crimes.

Ms. Cohn, you do not deserve the credentials you have.

Presidential Obstruction of Justice

Critics of President Trump are wailing that the president has obstructed justice by firing former Director of the FBI James Comey during the ongoing investigation of Michael Flynn. Supposedly Lieutenant General Flynn had subversive contacts with the Russians, and then lied about it. Flynn was properly fired for the lying. With no solid evidence of collusion with the Russians, the President’s critics in the media have now turned to whether President Trump is guilty of obstructing justice in the various Russian related investigations.

Preet Bharara, a former US Attorney and outspoken critic of the President, says there is absolutely evidence to start an obstruction of justice case.

Constitutionally, investigating the President is a complicated matter. Article II and many years of case law give the President prosecutorial discretion. Every federal prosecutor, the Attorney General, the Director of the FBI, and even recently appointed Special Counsel Robert Mueller, works for, and can be fired by the President. In addition, the President has the authority to pardon anyone for anything they did or didn’t do (unless they have been impeached), which immediately prevents prosecution. It’s pretty tough to prosecute the president for exercising his constitutional authority.

There are few historical examples of presidential obstruction of justice. Not only did Nixon break into the offices of the DNC, but he refused to respond to a congressional subpoena for the unedited tapes and transcripts of Watergate related conversations. Those tapes ended up revealing Nixon’s personal involvement in both the crime and the cover up. The federal prosecutors guiding the grand jury empaneled to investigate the Watergate case told the jury that they did not have the authority to indict a sitting president, impeachment was the only remedy. The grand jury therefore named Nixon as an “unindicted co-conspirator” and turned their findings over to the House Judiciary Committee, who began impeachment proceedings for obstruction of justice, abuse of power, and contempt of Congress. Nixon resigned before the articles of impeachment came to a vote in the House.

Bill Clinton was impeached for both perjury and obstruction of justice. Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr was originally engaged to investigate the Clinton’s business dealings as part of the Whitewater Development Corporation. With the approval of Attorney General Janet Reno, Starr expanded his investigation to include a wide range of alleged abuses, including the firing of the White House travel agents, misuse of FBI files, and Clinton’s conduct during the sexual harassment lawsuit brought by Paula Jones. Linda Tripp provided Starr with a recorded phone conversation in which Monica Lewinsky described her sexual relationship with the President. Under oath in the Paula Jones case, Clinton testified he had not had sexual relations with Lewinsky. Clinton was impeached for perjury and obstruction of justice. However, after the trial in the senate he was acquitted, and remained in office to the end of his term.

During the Iran-Contra affair, Oliver North, a member of Reagan’s National Security Council, was convicted of aiding and abetting in the obstruction of a congressional inquiry, and ordering the destruction of documents. Casper Weinberger, Reagan’s Secretary of Defense was indicted on two counts of perjury and one count of obstruction of justice for his role in the affair. The Tower Commission and Congress both investigated the matter, but concluded that President Reagan did not have knowledge of the diversion of funds to the Contras. North’s conviction was later vacated, and President George H.W. Bush, who had been Reagan’s Vice-President, pardoned Weinberger before his trial began. Reagan’s role is not definitively known and he avoided impeachment, but took a major hit in the approval rating polls after he gave a speech taking responsibility for his own actions and of those in his administration.

The Obama administration had it’s own brush with obstruction in the ATF gunwalking scandal often referred to as “Operation Fast and Furious”. The ATF illegally forced licensed gun dealers to break the law by selling weapons to straw buyers, in the hopes that they could track the weapons to drug cartels in Mexico. These illegally sold weapons were found at crime scenes on both sides of the border, and at the scene of the killing of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry. The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform subpoened many documents from the Department of Justice, in an attempt to determine who in the administration knew of and sanctioned this illegal activity. Some documents were provided, Attorney General Eric Holder refused to provide some documents, and President Obama claimed executive privilege over others. Holder was held in contempt of Congress, and after 4 more years of legal battles, U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson, an Obama appointee, rejected Obama’s claim of executive privilege. At this point, it’s unlikely that either Obama or Holder will be indicted.

Investigations of this nature tend to proceed at a glacial pace. Kenneth Starr worked for 4 years on the Clinton case. Nixon resigned more than 2 years after the break-in at the Watergate office complex. The first arms sales to Iran took place in the summer of 1985, but it wasn’t publically reported until November 1986. Regan’s speech was in Mar 1987, North’s trial wasn’t until 1989, and Wienberger was pardoned in December of 1992, 7 years after the original events. The first gunwalking events of the Obama administration happened in 2006, Congress didn’t start investigating until 2011, and Holder was held in contempt in the summer of 2012.

Trump has been in office for less than 6 months. Despite all the caterwalling in the media, we know very few facts about alleged Russian involvement in either the election, or with the Trump campaign. The President’s duties require him to have some level of engagement with and discussion about the Russians, so any wrong doing must have occured before the inauguration.

The FBI has been investigating the Russian matter for almost a year. Special Counsel Rober Mueller has now taken over the FBI’s investigation. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence is investigating Russia’s active measures in the spread of disinformation in the US. Perhaps they should expand their investigation to include CNN and the New York Times which have both have published anonymously sourced, incorrect reports on Russian involvement. The House Intelligence Committe and the House Oversight Committe also have open investigations.

If we do know anything factual and compelling about Russian involvement with Trump, his campaign, or his associates, it hasn’t leaked yet. It seems likely that Flynn made some bad decisions, and maybe even broke the law. Unlike Nixon, Reagon, Clinton, or Obama, who all used their power to protect underlings who broke the law, Trump immediately fired the alleged offender. It remains to be seen whether this was an act of enforced personal accountability or self-preservation.

The wild-eyed liberals of the resistance have a stated objective of removing Trump from office. That would require not only impeachment, but a two-thirds majority vote in the senate to convict.

Which has never happened before. The investigations are still in the early months. Let’s wait an see.

One final piece of political irony: Ken Starr was criticized by Democrats for spending $70 million on an investigation of Bill Clinton that substantiated only perjury and obstruction of justice.

The Spine and Sinew of the Nation

John Etchemendy was the Provost of Stanford University for more than 16 years and has a PhD in Philosophy. He stepped down from Provost role in January 2017. He recently gave a speech to the Stanford Board of Trustees:

Over the years, I have watched a growing intolerance at universities in this country – not intolerance along racial or ethnic or gender lines – there, we have made laudable progress. Rather, a kind of intellectual intolerance, a political one-sidedness, that is the antithesis of what universities should stand for. It manifests itself in many ways: in the intellectual monocultures that have taken over certain disciplines; in the demands to disinvite speakers and outlaw groups whose views we find offensive; in constant calls for the university itself to take political stands. We decry certain news outlets as echo chambers, while we fail to notice the echo chamber we’ve built around ourselves.

This results in a kind of intellectual blindness that will, in the long run, be more damaging to universities than cuts in federal funding or ill-conceived constraints on immigration. It will be more damaging because we won’t even see it: We will write off those with opposing views as evil or ignorant or stupid, rather than as interlocutors worthy of consideration. We succumb to the all-purpose ad hominem because it is easier and more comforting than rational argument. But when we do, we abandon what is great about this institution we serve.

Etchemendy was talking about Stanford, but his words ring true in a broader context. In the long term, intellectual monoculture is the single greatest threat to the American way of life. Our nation was forged by hard work and diversity of people and ideas. As we lose tolerance and receptivity to ideas and views different to our own, we lose the spine and sinew that hold us together.