Sunday, January 15, 2017

Reince Priebus threatens ethics official

In the circles familiar with people with narcissistic personality disorder, (NPD's) the term "flying monkeys" is used to denote enablers---those who drop everything---their own agendas, their judgment, their values---to carry out the NPD's game plan. Reince Priebus has clearly devolved to that status.
Donald Trump’s incoming chief of staff warned that the top U.S. ethics official “ought to be careful” after publicly criticizing the president-elect’s plan to step down from leading his businesses while keeping his ownership interests.
“That person is becoming extremely political,” incoming White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week With George Stephanopoulos,” about Walter Shaub Jr., director of the Office of Government Ethics.
“I’m not sure what this person at Government Ethics, what sort of standing he has any more to be giving these opinions,” Priebus said.
What sort of standing? Walter Shaub heads the agency tasked with overseeing overseeing the conduct  of office holders. That's his standing. This is his job. He's trying to protect the American people, and Trump himself, from being mired in a bottomless swamp of corruption, favoritism, kickbacks, bribery and selling off, and out, America.


Friday, January 13, 2017

Republican war on ethics

The Republican Congress continues its war on ethics, now with Jason Chaffetz leading the charge:
House Republicans have summoned the head of the independent federal ethics office to answer questions about his agency and his public criticism of President-elect Donald Trump’s plan to separate from his real estate empire.
A letter sent late Thursday from Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), chairman of the GOP-led House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, was viewed by ethics experts as a veiled threat to the budget of the Office of Government Ethics unless its director changes his rhetoric and approach.
The letter to Walter Shaub Jr., director of the Office of Government Ethics, asks him to appear before lawmakers in a closed-door, transcribed interview. Shaub is not being subpoenaed, but was asked to respond to questions in a setting much like a deposition, committee staff said.
The letter noted that the ethics office is up for congressional reauthorization.
“The Committee is thus continuing its examination of OGE’s operations,” Chaffetz wrote. “[The office’s] statutory authorization lapsed at the end of fiscal year 2007 and the Committee has jurisdiction in the House of Representatives for reauthorizing the office.”

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Useful idiot: Trump edition

Earlier today, a colleague, one of the most level headed, preternaturally calm people I know, rushed into my office after the Trump presser. What are things going to be like in four years? he wanted to know. I said, in my usual Panglossian way, in two years, things might be a smoking pile of radioactive rubble. Bracketing my usual end-of-the-worldism, my friend is right to be worried. It is impossible to keep up with the news without a sense of apocalypse, though the end times come with more than a tinge of absurdity. As in, our newly electorally college elected president is a Russian useful idiot.
Last April, the CIA director was shown intelligence that worried him. It was - allegedly - a tape recording of a conversation about money from the Kremlin going into the US presidential campaign.
It was passed to the US by an intelligence agency of one of the Baltic States. The CIA cannot act domestically against American citizens so a joint counter-intelligence taskforce was created.
The taskforce included six agencies or departments of government. Dealing with the domestic, US, side of the inquiry, were the FBI, the Department of the Treasury, and the Department of Justice. For the foreign and intelligence aspects of the investigation, there were another three agencies: the CIA, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the National Security Agency, responsible for electronic spying.
Lawyers from the National Security Division in the Department of Justice then drew up an application. They took it to the secret US court that deals with intelligence, the Fisa court, named after the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. They wanted permission to intercept the electronic records from two Russian banks.
Their first application, in June, was rejected outright by the judge. They returned with a more narrowly drawn order in July and were rejected again. Finally, before a new judge, the order was granted, on 15 October, three weeks before election day.
Neither Mr Trump nor his associates are named in the Fisa order, which would only cover foreign citizens or foreign entities - in this case the Russian banks. But ultimately, the investigation is looking for transfers of money from Russia to the United States, each one, if proved, a felony offence.
A lawyer- outside the Department of Justice but familiar with the case - told me that three of Mr Trump's associates were the subject of the inquiry. "But it's clear this is about Trump," he said.
Michael Hayden, former head of both the CIA and the NSA, simply called Mr Trump a "polezni durak" - a useful fool.
The background to those statements was information held - at the time - within the intelligence community. Now all Americans have heard the claims. Little more than a week before his inauguration, they will have to decide if their president-elect really was being blackmailed by Moscow.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Real offers from fake academic outfits

This morning, my inbox is full of offers from fake academic outfits including one from Beall listed Science Research Assocation (SCIREA) inviting me to join the editorial board for their journals (which one? doesn't matter). There's spam inviting me to submit a paper to a conference “Current Trends on Distribution and Selling of Goods (CTDSG-2017)”.(Surely I'm an expert on this, since I have in the past sold things at yard sales.) My old friends at ARIPD are writing to me again, soliciting for their Journal of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences, and CPI's fake IJAST is soliciting again on behalf of ---something.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Trump ignores ethics office

Guess what else is on Trump's dustbin of history? Ethics rules:

The office tasked with overseeing ethics and conflicts in the federal government struggled to gain access to leaders of the Trump transition team, and warned Trump aides about making decisions on nominees or blind trusts without ethics guidance, according to new emails obtained by MSNBC.
Office of Government Ethics Director Walter Shaub emailed Trump aides in November to lament that despite his office's repeated outreach, "we seem to have lost contact with the Trump-Pence transition since the election."
Trump aides may also be risking "embarrassment for the President-elect," Shaub warned, by "announcing cabinet picks" without letting the ethics office review their financial information in advance.
(Shaub here presupposes that Trump is capable of embarrassment, something that is more than likely false.)
The perils for White House staff were even more severe, Shaub argued, because they might begin their jobs without crucial ethics guidance, raising a risk of inadvertently breaking federal rules.
"They run the risk of having inadvertently violated the criminal conflicts of interest restriction at 18 USC 208," Shaub wrote, citing a federal conflicts law in an email to Trump Transition aide Sean Doocey.
"If we don't get involved early to prevent problems," he added, "we won't be able to help them after the fact."
(Shaub forgets that for Trumpers, there are no legal problems unless they involve emails from a Clinton account.)
Shaub also warned that if Trump tried to create his own "blind trust" without the ethics office, the effort could be dead on arrival.
(How soon after his inauguration will Trump shut down the Ethics office?)
The government might decide potential trustees were not independent, he cautioned, if Trump aides talked to them "before consulting" with the ethics office.
In contrast to most proposals floated by the Trump transition team, Shraub added that the ethics office only considers a trust blind if its underlying assets have "been sold off."
In his public remarks, Trump has mostly focused on who would manage the Trump Organization. He has not suggested he would divest, or sell off its assets.
The emails were obtained through a Freedom of Information Request from MSNBC and The James Madison Project, and represented by the law office of Mark S. Zaid.
(Savor the moment---this might be the last FOIA request to be fulfilled ---except perhaps for those involving Clinton emails.)

Friday, January 6, 2017

Just asking for a friend...

Now that Trump is besties with Julian Assange, does that mean that Trump will pardon Chelsea Manning?

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

House GOP nukes ethics (updated)

The first work day of 2017 and the House GOP shows what its priorities are for the 115th congress:
House Republicans voted 119-74 Monday evening to all but eliminate the Office of Congressional Ethics. Right now, it’s an independent office, created after lobbyist Jack Abramoff pled guilty to trying to bribe members of Congress, that can investigate allegations of corruption and unethical behavior and disclose its findings to the public.
House Republicans voted on a measure Monday night — on a federal holiday, with no advance public notice, and reportedly despite opposition from leaders Paul Ryan and Kevin McCarthy — that would eliminate both the office’s independence and its ability to communicate with the public. The full House of Representatives will vote on the proposal Tuesday as part of a new package of Congressional rules.
The Office of Congressional Ethics would no longer be independent: House Republicans voted to put it under the control of the House Ethics Committee, meaning that lawmakers — and in practice, the Republican majority — would be in charge of the office that’s supposed to be investigating them.
The office would no longer be allowed to speak to the public independently and would be formally barred from hiring a spokesperson, according to a draft of the rules change obtained by the New York Times.
The House committee could force the office to stop an investigation at any time, and the office would be prevented from accepting and investigating anonymous tips. The office would no longer be able to relay an issue to law enforcement if it determines a crime is committed.
And the new rules would rename it the Office of Congressional Complaint Review, rather than the Office of Congressional Ethics, as if to underscore its utter lack of importance. (Who doesn’t have some kind of complaint about Congress?)
What's next for the GOP---using tax money to pay for Panama lawyers to arrange for money laundering?

updated: they took it back---for now. But two lessons from this episode: first, there is nothing too sneaky or low that the GOP caucus won't try doing it and two, calling your congresspeople can be effective.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Fake academic enterprises

 In the Upshot, Kevin Carey scrutinizes the thriving business of fake academic conferences and publishing, staring with OMICS (does it rhyme with "comics"?)
OMICS is on the far end of the “definitely fake” spectrum. Real academic conferences evaluate potential participants by subjecting proposed papers and presentations to a rigorous peer-review process. Some 15,000 people attend the American Educational Research Association’s annual conference, for example, and only about a third of submitted proposals are accepted.
In October, a New Zealand college professor submitted a paper to the OMICS-sponsored “International Conference on Atomic and Nuclear Physics,” which was held last month at the Hilton Atlanta Airport. It was written using the autocomplete feature on his iPhone, which produced an abstract that begins as follows: “Atomic Physics and I shall not have the same problem with a separate section for a very long long way. Nuclear weapons will not have to come out the same day after a long time of the year he added the two sides will have the two leaders to take the same way to bring up to their long ways of the same as they will have been a good place for a good time at home the united front and she is a great place for a good time.”
The paper was accepted within three hours.
An OMICS employee who identified himself as Sam Dsouza said conference papers are reviewed by its “experts” within 24 hours of submission. He couldn’t provide a list of its reviewers or their credentials.
Having dispensed with academic standards, OMICS makes money on volume. Its website lists hundreds of so-called academic meetings, many at vacation destinations like Las Vegas and Orlando, Fla. On Dec. 1 and 2, the “2nd International Congress on Neuroimmunology and Therapeutics,” the “13th International Conference on Vaccines, Therapeutics and Travel Medicine: Influenza and Infectious Diseases,” and the “International Conference on Clinical and Medical Genetics” were all held, simultaneously, at the Hilton Atlanta Airport.
The upshot author turns to Jeffrey Beall for some guidance:
Mr. Beall’s list, which has grown to 923 publishers from 18 in 2011, also includes a British company called the “Infonomics Society.” Like OMICS, it publishes a raft of journals, 17 in all, with legitimately dry-sounding titles like “International Journal of Sustainable Energy Development.” Mr. Beall calls Infonomics an “impostor scholarly society” that is “designed to generate as much revenue as possible.” All 17 journals are run by a single person named Charles Shoniregun out of a modest two-story attached brick home in the outer suburbs of London.
Infonomics also sponsors a series of conferences. But when I looked into one of them, the “World Conference on Special Needs Education,” or W.C.S.N.E., the story was more complex than I expected.
Like many predatory publishers, the Infonomics website for W.C.S.N.E. has a certain word-salad, shaky-command-of-English-syntax quality familiar to anyone who reads the spam folder in their email. “The Infonomics Society has an established reputation for promoting research esteem that is valued by research community,” it says. The W.C.S.N.E. is attended by “Policy Makers and Stakeholders who care deeply about bringing creative, innovative and rigorous learning practices barriers.”
The W.C.S.N.E. paper submissions guidelines warn that all papers must be strictly limited to “a total of 4 to 6 pages.” That includes all figures, tables and references. Robert Kelchen, a professor of higher education at Seton Hall, says that this is “a red flag.” Education research papers are typically much longer, he notes — the tables and reference pages alone can run to double digits. But short papers are easier to pack into a single “journal.”
The website included a long list of “Program Committee members” with impressive academic credentials, as well as “Keynote Speakers” for the coming conference, scheduled to be held in August at Temple University, the W.C.S.N.E. host for the last three years.
But when I contacted those identified as committee members and speakers, many immediately replied that they had no idea they were on the website and had no affiliation with the W.C.S.N.E. The announced keynote speakers told me they were nothing of the kind. Within 24 hours of my inquiries, someone removed their names and biographies from the site and replaced them with a page that said “Keynote Speakers to be Announced!”
The scams are infecting what might have been legitimate scholarly organizations:
Take the Society for Social Studies of Science (4S), by all accounts a legitimate organization. This year, Peter Dreier, chair of the Urban and Environmental Policy department at Occidental College, described how he submitted a proposal full of jargon, misquotation, non sequitur and general academic gobbledygook to an international conference sponsored by the 4S. It was accepted. “I look forward to meeting you in Tokyo,” the panel organizer wrote.
Lucy Suchman, a sociologist at Britain’s Lancaster University and the president of 4S, acknowledges that the abstract review process is “not perfect” and that she would have rejected Mr. Dreier’s submission. But, she notes, 4S reviews hundreds of submissions every year with an “assumption of good faith.” It would not have occurred to them that someone of Mr. Dreier’s standing in academia was engaged in such an “unfortunate prank,” she said, emphasizing the overall high quality of 4S presentations.
Didn't Social Text say something similar about Sokol's hoax paper twenty years ago?